Blog Archives

First Birdsong

This is a little embarrassing to post.

As a wildlife enthusiast, I should not admit to not taking my kids out into the wild often enough that my son has heard his first birdsong only after he’s been walking for three months…

But life is hectic with a one-year-old and a five-year-old doing dance and swimming lessons in winter, and even though Pamplona is a small city with wildlife all around (including BEAVERS in the river not 200 yards from my house as the crow flies) it’s damn hard to get out of the brick and concrete on a daily basis.

We do go to village on the weekend, where there’s plenty of birdlife (kites and bee-eaters etc…) , but the evening birdsong is not something I’ve experienced with the kids recently.

 

First Birdsong

 

I consider myself privileged

To see hills at a distance from

My window over the garden,

Graced by more than mere sparrows;

 

But my son has just heard birdsong

Today, for the first time, I had time to

Take him to city’s edge and embrace the

Twilit twittering of tits and thrushes

Scolding one another in the gloaming,

And experience, absent the ubiquitous din,

A blackbird’s sonorous cry to spring,

And say, “listen, hear the birdies sing.”

 

 

90 Years of the Sun Also Rising

In Pamplona at the moment, we are celebrating the 90th anniversary of the publication of Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises (a.k.a. Fiesta).

 

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There are several activities organised, and a large exhibition in the Plaza del Castillo of photos from when he visited Pamplona – of him, and taken by him and his friends.

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Some of the places he stayed are still here, under different names to those used in the novel, some have changed.

It was interesting to see that Heminway, though he never ran with the bulls himself, did get gored by a baby cow, which they release in the plaza after the encierro.

 

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I was struck by a quote they have printed on one of the posters, which he wrote to a friend: “Pamplona is the most enjoyable place you’ve ever seen.” It was true then and it’s true now.

And my good friend JD Martins would agree.

 

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Have you had One Night in Pamplona?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lines written in Pamplona

In the thick of the festival of San Fermines now.

san Fermin

A couple of dangerous and incident-filled bull runs the last two days. Reminds us that this is not a joke, and it reminded many of us of the way the bull runs used to be – before anti-slip coatings and better street surfaces.

I’ve been busy with kids and having meals with friends on our street, and have only gotten to see the fire works once, the bull runs on the telly, and haven’t been near the bull ring yet.  It reminds me of a poem I wrote during my first San Fermin festival – exactly 20 years ago (my mother-in-law was astounded when I told her we met that long ago!).

Lines Written in Pamplona

 

I have held my red bandana aloft,

Tied it round my neck

And worn it proudly:

Opened champagne at noon;

Held a candle at midnight.

Sung and danced and drank and walked and watched

And smiled in between.

But to experience San Fermin;

You need to have no need for sleep,

A body unaffected by alcohol,

The pulling power of James Bond,

The stamina and sperm count of a bull;

A bottomless stomach, to hold all there is to taste,

The ability to float above the crowds, so dense;

And omnipresence.

 

16/7/96

Yes, that was in the days when you could take a bottle into the packed Plaza Consistorial – and I was a young man!

Now I spend the afternoons doing thinks like bringing my kids up on the big wheel and having a picnic as the heat of the day dies down.

Big wheel

And another poem, before my first ever San Fermin lunch, of which my son just shared his first ever this year – he’s 7 months.

Lines Written in a Spanish Home

 

A stranger sitting at a Spanish table,

Eating things he never thought of

In ways he never knew,

Listening to the lunchtime

Talk of the household,

In another language he does not know;

But understanding something of the banter,

Wishing he could speak;

Thinking;

If, he could

Live like this.

 

5/7/96

 

 

San Fermines 2016

Things are all set here in Pamplona for this year’s famed “running of the bulls” festival.

The barriers which will keep the bulls from the public on their way through the town are in place, the TV cameras are set up along the route, the stages are constructed in various plazas.

Plaza castillo

La Plaza del Castillo, with San Fermin figures over the band stand and the stage ready for concerts.

 

Santo Domingo

Bull Run Barriers along Santa Domingo and the Town Hall square, with some tourists taking in the scene.

 

Today is the day of the Peñas. This afternoon we were treated to a parade of giants, and this weekend many folk are getting a head start on the carousing.  I’ll hear how hard the party is later tonight as the stragglers stagger home past my bedroom balcony.

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Giants dancing along Calle Estafeta.

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The corner of Mercaderes and Estafeta will have bulls rather than giants taking the corner come Thursday morning.

I’ve written about the fiesta before, but a few things are worth mentioning this year –

The new city council have taken the pains to put recycling dumpsters in place as the replace the vacuum refuse disposal system for the festival, which is a great thing for the environment, considering the enormous tonnage of trash produced during the festival.

They have also decided to spray hydrophobic pain on the walls of many streets to discourage the out of hand urination that takes place  – believe me, I’ve seen some stuff, and it’s just ridiculous, so I hope it’s a help, so when we walk through the town with our kids in the morning, we’re not jumping streams of urine.

Last, but not least, my good friend JD Martins has a great novella which will give you a glimpse of the whole thing in 25 thousand words, with a great story and some sexy scenes to boot!

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And as one of the characters says – if you want to run with the bulls, you have to stay more than one night. Study the route, figure out where you want to run, read about it, watch the videos of the previous runs, and get to bed early the night before. It’s no joke. You wouldn’t want your One Night in Pamplona to be your last night on the planet.

 

Bison in my Back Yard!

Some good news about re-wilding.

Rewilding Europe have been posting on facebook in the last week or two lots of good news stories of the reintroduction of bison, and second generation tauros (ancient cattle stock) in several places around Europe. The most notable location piece of news for me was from Holland, where Princess Laurentien attended not their first, but their third bison reintroduction project.

I don’t think bison were ever present in Ireland, and I’m not suggesting it be brought back – but it struck me that when I was studying ecology in University, we were told that the Netherlands were trying to reconstruct and reconstitute their bogs. While we in Ireland still had lots of biologically important fens and bogs, and were busy destroying them under the turf cutters of Bórd Na Mona (producing what they called renewable electricity from it into the bargain; not sure we’ve quite stopped, either) the Dutch had already realised they’d made a balls of things and were scrambling to return some of what they’d destroyed.

The other thing is that the Netherlands are famously densely populated, while Ireland is famously under-populated. If they can find a space to squeeze in a herbivore the size of a bison, surely we can find some room for some boar, or at least stop bitching about the red deer in Kerry taking over our country roads like the bastard hedgerows trying to trip up our country walkers.

 

Another story which hasn’t made the social networks yet, but was in our local newspaper in Pamplona, is that an association right here in Navarra, where I am writing now, has been set up to promote the reintroduction of Bison in the region.

Bison were apparently killed off here in the twelfth century – and there is a bit of a kerfuffle about the fact that the animals killed off are not the same species as the ones which survived in the rest of the continent, though of course with rewilding, you do what you can with what’s left – It’s not so much going back in time as moving forward.

Some of those I discussed the news with were a bit leery – if they’ve been gone since the lovely Romanic churches were being built, perhaps they should not return. (And yet the rebuild Romanic churches.) There were apparently visions of running into these wild and therefore clearly dangerous animals on the country roads.

When I explained that it would be a herd of 5 animals to start, and would build to perhaps a hundred over a decade or two, located up in the hills where they’d forest to roam in, things calmed down. I also explained that generally bison are not aggressive – as any visitor to Yellowstone NP can testify (well, I can).

But it also struck a note with me – if gentle herbivores can engender such fear, then what terror must the idea of returning wolves create.

People assume the bison were killed off because they were dangerous. Likewise the wolf, the boar, the bear, the lynx, the golden eagle, etcetera and etcetera. Not that they merely competed for food with our farming ancestors. Or through blind ignorance.

They thus consider a reintroduction dicing with death. When it’s the opposite.

Leaving these creatures to struggle on in the few places left wild enough for them to so far survive is dicing with death. Theirs and ours. At least emotionally, in our case, but possibly more.

I just watched Racing Extinction two nights ago, and it’s a scary future we’re not facing.

 

J.D. Martins on Blog Tour with Boston

My follow Tirgearr author J.D. Martins is on blog tour this week with his new erotic romance novella, One Night in Boston.

At each stop there’s a chance to win one of his previous novellas, One Night in Madrid and One Night in Pamplona.

Yesterday he wrote about writing characters of different races and interracial couples on Lily Harlem’s blog, and today he’s writing about where characters come from in my City Nights stories on Muffy Wilson’s page.

I’ll post the links to the other locations later in the week. Happy reading!

tourbutton_ONiBoston

 

 

 

Five Minutes from a Hectic Schedule

Five Minutes in Spring

 

Five minutes on a park bench

To catch sight of birds other than doves,

 

A walk along a tree-lined street

Instead of screen-staring upon a bus,

 

A pause between passing engines to

Actually hear the blackbird,

 

Lingering by a flowing fountain

To listen to the lovely gurgle,

 

A long gaze upon a hillside

Growing shades of green for grazing,

 

A halt, a hesitation, to inhale the

Heady horse chestnut scents;

 

Five minutes in spring, just five,

To remind us this here is life.

poppies.jpg

 

It’s been a busy few weeks here in Pamplona.

I’ve my children’s book, Peter and the Little People out today!  You can get it here... https://museituppublishing.com/bookstore/index.php/museitup/fantasy/peter-and-the-little-people-detail

As well as that, I’ve a novella under the name JD Martins, One Night in Boston, out tomorrow!     You can get that here…   http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/Martins_JD/one-night-in-boston.htm

What with promoting these and my other books, and preparing a blogtour for One Night in Boston, as well as normal life stuff like end of school year, taking care of the kids and having a baptism, I’ve not had time to do much reading or writing, or getting a chunk of time to get out in the mountains.

But it’s vital to take just a few minutes as spring spins past to appreciate why we’re here, to pause to see just how fast life is flying by. Then get back to the kids and exam correcting, and the edits of the book you swore would be done by Christmas…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Anomaly

 

We are indeed an anomaly.

That is what they will say about us. By us I mean those alive right now in the early twenty-first century.

 

don-t-keep-calm-make-change-the-earth-is-being-destroyed-by-psychopaths

When we talk about the environmental havoc humans have played with the planet, we have a tendency to say “it was the time” – in the Fifties they didn’t know any better, like they didn’t know that corporal punishment or locking up unmarried mother was barbaric or smoking, or lead, or asbestos was bad for your health, or that it was worth preserving national monuments for posterity.

They let the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger die in the 1930s because they weren’t aware there were no more left in the wild, and captive breeding programs were unheard of.

The Alhambra in Andalucia, now a huge tourist attraction, was let go to rack and ruin until the eighties. The walls of Pamplona were torn down in grand part in the early part of the twentieth century to extend the city, and now what remains is the town’s main attraction outside of San Fermines. An application as a Unesco site was denied in the eighties because the walls weren’t complete.

 

But they didn’t know any better then. Not like we do now.

Now we’d never destroy a piece of patrimony, an example of our heritage. Except Isis, the mad bastards.

But we still do.

The wooden road discovered in Ireland which is a millennium older than any Roman roads and which is right now being shredded for sale as peat moss is just an example. The people in control just don’t give a fuck, simple as that. Same now as it ever was.

 

We hear about the dangers of cigarette smoking and asbestos and lead all the time. The companies peddling or using them knew a hell of a lot longer than the general public, though. However, they’d never endanger public health with those things now.

 

Oh yes they would, and oh yes they do.

 

They still use asbestos in developing countries to build houses. They still sell cigarettes to people and pressurise, or sue, governments to allow them do so in the way they want. A look at the headlines tells us all we need to know about what they think about saving money to keep kids away from being poisoned by lead in their environment.

 

Despite the horror show awaiting us at the hands of global warming, companies like VW and Exxon keep on trucking the same way they want to and fuck us and our flimsy attempts to use the law to keep us safe.

 

It seems we humans are intent on keeping on destroying things until they’re gone. Then we will try to rebuild the treasure we have ruined, like they rebuilt the Liceu opera house in Barcelona when it burnt down. Hey, there’s money in construction… like there’s money in war. Better build up Miami Beach than slow down the submerging…

Easier to rebuild the walls of Pamplona, or of Rome, than the kind of treasures we are letting die out around us. A Tasmanian tiger is a loss, but so much more is the Sumatran, the Siberian, the Bengal.

 

They call it business as usual. But it’s not. It’s only been like that for a very short time. And it will only last a little bit more, no matter what we do in the next few years and decades. It’s only a blip on human history, never mind geological time.

Afterward, when we all – what’s left of us – will live a very different kind of life; one more in tune with the planet, more in line with its resources.

 

The great pity – though only one of the pities – is that if we went now towards the way we must all live, it would be so much easier, so much better for us and the world around us.

Like getting by without asbestos is better than having to remove it, and preventing illness is better than paying the healthcare costs of those affected, or letting them die, as many are.

This radio show about life expectancy says that of American Whites is declining, and that of Hispanics much higher than expected simply because of the difference in smoking rates between these two groups. John Oliver’s very informative and funny show about lead says that every dollar spent in lead abatement brings back seventeen in savings of special education, healthcare and crime effects of lead poisoning.

Think of how much better things would have been if those bastards running those lobbies didn’t do their jobs so well and we had stopped using them way back when they figured out they were dangerous.

 

I know it sounds pessimistic, but I really think we’ll be living very different lives sooner than we think. We won’t be driving the cars we are now for one. We will all go to solar electricity and drive cars that don’t contaminate. It’s the only way forward, because of what economists pretend we don’t know – that finite resources thingy.

 

Most of these vehicles will go a little slower than your average Audi. And that’s okay. I mean, why do we need to have cars now that can go so fast? It’s not as if they can do that on city streets more accelerate to the next red light. Why do we need cars that can go double the speed limit so smoothly that we hardly notice we’re endangering ourselves and others and are surprised when we get the speeding ticket? We’ve seen that they can’t do this without producing a shit load of pollution, and so called efficiency in engines has been mere illegal IT trickery and pollution control fraud (for which I can’t see anyone in jail yet).

 

So why not start now? Why not stop making cars which are so fast? Especially since it seems basically impossible to make them both fast and as efficient as they are legally supposed to.

 

What’s the point in one generation having the experience of super gas guzzling cars – which never see their full potential on our roads –  when every other generation in the future will have to get by with a the equivalent of a Prius?

 

If we don’t stop this short aberration of extreme greed – for we’re all greedy, but usually our peers slap us around the head and tell us to get a grip on ourselves when we go too far. This has not unfortunately happened to CEOs and hedge fund managers yet (who sometimes get billions of dollars a year – I mean, like, what the actual fuck? They could pay for lead abatement out of their back pockets, they could fucking buy Sumatra to make a tiger reserve…) Unless we slap the hands of those holding the reins, we’re liable to ruin the little wonder we have left around us in this anomaly of idiocy.

 

People post quaint photos on social media and ask if you could stay in a cabin in the woods and live a simple life. Many say no. Not me. I’d love it. But even I would say no if there was no woods around the cabin. That’s the simplified future we could be facing, though.

 

 

 

 

What, Exactly, Is Rewilding?

 

I read an interesting article about rewilding today – calling it the “new Pandora’s box in conservation.”

Hardly a title to inspire confidence…

One problem the authors see with rewilding is that the term is fluid and quite ill-defined as yet. It would be better to firm up exactly what rewilding is and is not, and define what it aims to achieve.

I agree, as a scientist, that it would be better to know exactly what we are talking about.

But I think there is room for maneuvering yet.

Rewilding is a new term that has yet to come into its own. It has yet to capture the public consciousness.

And in order to let that happen, I think the term should be as broad as possible for as long as possible.

In fact, perhaps we can have two meanings – just like the word “theory” has two meanings – one in common parlance, and the other in scientific terms. It won’t be that problematic if we have a broad meaning for the wider public discussion and then a more precise, concise or even split terms for use in ecology – for example, the Palaeolithic rewilding, or passive rewilding as mentioned in the article.

I say this because what we don’t want to have happen is that the general public decide that rewilding is some scientific activity which only trained ecologists can pursue, or have a hand in, or a stake in.

Because we will need lots of rewilding, of all types, if we are to get through this century with functioning ecosystems. There are some, such as passive rewilding, which the general public can have a great, and direct, impact on. There are things they can do themselves at home, in addition to supporting more extensive projects and translocations by voting, signing petitions and going to visit places which have had formerly extinct species reintroduced.

An article in the Guardian today, about not mowing the lawn so often so that dandelions can flower and feed the multitude of insect species that rely on them highlights this.

Flowers verge

As we live in a world steeped in pesticides, we will need the gardens of our suburbs and cities to give a refuge to the species which would otherwise die out. While research suggests that farmers should plant wildflowers themselves to aid keep pests down in their crops, it’s plain that insects like bees are suffering as we continue to spray.

flowers verge purple

Luckily, the terrain of the farms I visit near Pamplona makes wildflower verges almost unavoidable, though even here the number of butterflies seems to have plummeted in recent years.

To a certain extent, rewilding is just allowing that little slice of wildness to exist alongside our lives and our lawns, instead of keeping wilderness far from us as we push into that very wilderness.

The man on the street with a garden can help this rewilding, just as the building companies who can’t get financing to build on the lots they bought during the boom can let the weeds grow in the meantime. It might not provide habitat for wolves, or bison, but it can keep bees alive, let butterflies and lizards and small mammals survive.

Instead of even planting grass for lawns, home owners, and councils and building management companies, can plant wildflower meadows instead. I showed an example of one in Pamplona last summer. I look forward to it blooming again this spring.

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Wildflower meadow planted in Pamplona park about to bloom in 2015

 

One type of rewilding that the article didn’t mention, but George Monbiot among others does, is rewilding ourselves – getting back in touch with the nature we have too long either ignored or tried to tie up, impound, mow short and neat. I’ve seen the kids approach this wildflower meadow in a much different way to how they’d approach a lawn. I’m sure you can imagine which they’re more excited by.

We might be disinclined to let our kids dig in the muck these days when everyone’s so obsessed with cleanliness, but allowing them romp through a few flowers will set us smiling more than any pretty new frock or well-maintained playground.

 

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What child can resist making petal angels?   And collecting conkers can be done in a clean frock.

 

And just as we might one day be delighted to have dandelions, we will be grateful for the general public’s work in keeping our lives just a little bit wild.

 

 

 

Harbingers

Praying for an Early Spring

 

Sitting in shirt sleeves

This late January afternoon,

Lettuce sprouts in greenhouse,

Bumblebees in almond blooms;

Annuals keep flowering and

Geraniums haven’t faded.

Newts and salamanders swim in pools

Wondering, too, if it isn’t too soon

Despite the lack of ice and instead

Should still slumber.

 

And though we’d love to see some snow,

It would be safer to let winter go

Unannounced, unpronounced, this year,

For fear it will freeze the very things

That would bring life to the spring.

 

geraniums in snow

This photo is from the week before, but one snowfall does not a winter make: the geraniums are still as colourful, the snow melted mostly that day, the sunny sky remained. The lettuces were fine; there are cheap strawberries in the supermarkets already. Unfortunately my phone camera didn’t work when I was trying to take a snap of the almond blossoms or the amphibians…