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Last Light on the Sage Flats

So I finally went and done it.

I published a collection of short stories.

Something I’d had on the long finger for a decade thereabouts.

And it’s out now and available in digital and paperback versions.

And the cover is a photo I took a few years ago now, on the Eastern Cape, where springboks bounded past just moments before the sun began to set. It’s one of my favourite photos, and it’s the background for my blog homepage (behind the cover of Unleashing the Pack ) and my youtube channel, as well as my personal facebook page.

And it’s part of the inspiration for the title story of the collection – 23 of them, all from various points in the places I’ve visited and lived in over the past thirty years, from home in Ireland, to Scotland, Madrid and other parts of Spain, to the USA. Of course, many could have been written anywhere you find humans.

Sometimes short stories are perhaps more prone to being analysed for signs of the writers own life and ideas. When writing a novel there’s always a little incident from life you can put in – usually only a few people pick up on them, and they’re like Easter eggs, in a way. With short stories the incident is most of the plot, and so some of these might seem like they’re just me putting down pieces of my life I considered worth recording. But they’re not. There might be a germ of an idea engendered by something that I saw or heard, but the rest is pure speculation on my part, putting my ideas into the being I created on the page, or more often, imagining what ideas such a person might have.

So I hope you enjoy them for what they are, a sketch of a growing body of prose sculpted by an amateur who aspired for self-teaching to reach pinnacles he hasn’t quite attained yet.

End of 21, start of 22….

        Well, another year’s over, and a new one, just about to be begun…

And what have we done?

Well, we hung on in there, I hope. It’s been pretty crappy. There has been a flood of shit news, and it’s not getting any better, nor will it anytime soon, if it ever does.

I know it’s not nice to think of depressing things this time of year, but after the floods in Pamplona (and then downstream in the days afterwards) a few weeks back, I wrote this poem….

I don’t hope you enjoy it, but do read it.

And watch Don’t Look Up while you are at it, this new year’s break.

the floods before they receded.

    It’s Only Getting Worse

.

The recent flood recedes from fields;

Ducks return to the river, magpies 

Scan the sodden banks for stranded

Shells of drowned snails and worms

About the larger flotsam: scarves of

Polytunnel plastic wrapped round trees,

Piles of pallets and branches, miscellany.

.

Detritus, with the magpie foraging just in front…

The older bridges have weathered well,

While barrier walls and fences will

Have to be mended. The stench of

Fetid faecal matter mulched in mud

Hovers over the flood plain as men

Spray down streets, machines sweep

Up debris, sewers are pumped clean.

.

pump truck working on the sewer lines.
washing away the mud

The greatest flow of water recorded,

The worst flood in living memory; but

Just another on a list occurring during

One news cycle – Bolivia got battered

And a mile-wide stream of tornadoes

Thrashed six US states, leaving deaths

In its wake as well as destruction of wealth.

.

And it’s never getting better, as a

Song says: the slippery slope we sang

About is beneath our soles now, and

We’ll slide ever faster, repeating wreckage,

Building back broken bridges, other 

Constructions lasting less time until

The next deluge or other artificially-

Exacerbated natural disaster.

.

The things we counted on for

Christmas will be dependant on

Whatever’s already arrived: the

Shipping and chips yet pending

Slows supplies perhaps until a 

Year passes, but the shortages

May last till we die; living again

With scarcity, like our ancestors

In times past we thought we’d 

Superseded, but let ourselves slip 

Up, back, due to too much greed.  

.

So these scenes we’ve seen recently

Are those to keep upon our screens:

Fond memories of former times

When our world was right, and we 

Never accepted the sun was setting

Till we saw nothing but dark night.

.

I know we have just too many things on our minds, and that it’s easier to stick to the day to day, but this is going to be our day to day soon enough if we don’t drag our so called leaders into the daylight.

Migrants and Why They’re Dying.

Photo taken by the Guardia Civil of the boy, Abou, in the suitcase / ATLAS (The eyes are blurred because it's illegal to identify a child's face in the news in Spain)

Photo taken by the Guardia Civil of the boy, Abou, in the suitcase / ATLAS (The eyes are blurred because it’s illegal to identify a child’s face in the news in Spain)

I talked earlier this week about being an ex-pat rather than the emigrant/immigrant I’d always assumed myself to be.
The last day or so in Spain there has been a big news story about an eight year old boy, Abou, who was found in a suitcase crossing the border between Morocco and Spain.
He’d come all the way from the Ivory Coast. His father, legally residing in Spain had tried to get his family visas to join him. He was refused. Why? Because to do that he’d have to be making 1350 Euros a month. Now I know plenty of people here who don’t make that. The average wage is way lower. The father made 1300 euros a month. So for fifty quid a month, he was not allowed to have his family with him. I say made, because he’s in prison now: he could go down for human trafficking. The kid is in care, and the mother and his sister are alone waiting to see what the authorities will do.
Just one story of desperation. And the regulations seem stupid in their ability to take human needs into account.
But of course, that’s exactly how they are designed. Keep out the migrants, whatever their reason for trying to come.
I also learned a couple of weeks that reason people don’t take a plane to Europe to seek asylum, is because Europe doesn’t allow them. Not really. It makes the airlines refuse them because if they don’t, the company will have to pay for the flight back. It’s called EU directive 2001/51/EC. It’s there to stop illegal immigration of economic migrants. That’s “people looking to stay alive on more than a dollar a day in a drought-ridden country” to you and me.
It would actually be cheaper for an immigrant to buy a return ticket than pay the people smugglers, but I guess the airlines aren’t allowed do that.
So they have to sneak in, no matter where they are coming from or what they’re fleeing.
And we all know that’s some pretty bad shit there.
But they’re black, or mostly so. So they don’t matter. Their lives don’t matter, just like in the USA, but less, since they’re not even citizens. So the government of Spain can tell their police to shoot into the water to make some men drown rather than get shot instead of reaching dry land and have to be taken care of and processed, knowing few people will protest. They can take men down off the razor wire fence they’d been sitting on for hours and shove them through a gate back into Morocco without even bothering to tend their cuts, or see if they’ve stopped bleeding.
And they can wring their hands in worry at the plight of thousands drown after falling from boats designed to carry twenty weighted down with hundreds, but do nothing to make such voyages unnecessary.
The British government says they will help fish for survivors, but won’t let those they pick from the sea go anywhere near Britain.
And so we sail on.
We are currently debating marriage equality in Ireland, and in the USA. Meanwhile, inequality of application of Universal Human Rights is blatant in all our societies.
If there were true equality between people, the urge to migrate, or expatriate would vanish in 90% of the people who find themselves outside their own countries. Only those who want to live elsewhere for reasons such as my own (love!) would be bothered to move, to learn a new language, find friends and put down roots in a strange place.
But we don’t have anything near that.
Spaniards flock to Germany and England, or South America. The Irish hit the planes to America (illegally staying on past their tourist visa limits in some cases) or Australia.
And those destination countries do their best to discourage them. The only reason some can’t stop them is because of the “freedom of movement we supposedly have in Europe. If they don’t get a job, they want to send them back.
There are some countries, like Germany and England, who didn’t even allow the citizens of other European countries, like Romania and Bulgaria, to even try get a job until seven years after they’d joined our wonderful union.
All of the European Union is equal? Bollox.
The idea of a European Union is farcical until we have equality of citizens, and that means equality of employment rights and salaries. If the wages in Spain (or Bulgaria, where the minimum wage is six times lower) were the same as those in Germany – the minimum wage, if not the median – Germany would not need to worry about people going on the dole there – what they call benefits tourism and poverty migration (and when I came to Spain I had the right to the dole here). But people in rich countries like to have cheap holidays in Spain, or cheap products from counties where people have low wages. And the governments of poorer countries seem to think it’s good to have their citizens working for low wages to attract companies and tourists.
However, until we have a situation of true equality in this globalised world, there will be an unstoppable flow of lives across borders. Some to sink on the way, or die in the desert, or suffocate in the bottom of a truck or container.
But again, they’re only migrants.

Migrants, Emigrants, Immigrants and Expats…

I learned the other day that I am an ex-pat
No, not a former paddy – though my government would no doubt love to take those like me off the list of people they answer to – but a person living outside his own country.
Sorry, that’s white person living outside his country. And living in a less well off one (or at least one further south…)
I always thought I was an immigrant – or an emigrant. I actually thought that ex-pat meant the same as emigrant – one outside his native country, viewed from that country. I’m an Irish ex pat living in Spain; an Irish emigrant living in Spain. Not the same as an immigrant from Ireland living here in Spain.
But migrants and their prefixes only refer to non-whites, it seems. Silly me.
When I lived in the states, I knew I was an immigrant, despite my lily-whiteness. Homeland security was pretty good at getting that message across. There everyone is an immigrant. At least…. the Irish were, since they hardly counted as white back in the day.
And yet, when my former students of colour learned I was an immigrant, they laughed. And now I wonder if it wasn’t because I was not supposed to be called that, being white. I mean, it was obvious I wasn’t American. They asked if I was illegal, and lamented the fact that an illegal immigrant could be a teacher. I patiently explained. But for some, immigrant and illegal were words that were bound together like fried chicken. Can you be an immigrant if you’re not illegal? Can you have chicken if it’s not fried? Sorry, perhaps that’s an inappropriate metaphor, but I can’t think of anything else right now, and they’ll take it the right way – the way I did when I patiently explained that we don’t eat Lucky Charms in Ireland…
But I’d never thought there was anything bad in the word immigrant, despite the ignorance of a few kids. I was wrong. Silly me.
There was a stigma attached to the word, and kids who were obviously not born in America were reluctant to use it. I used to tell them I was an immigrant to how them that it was okay to be one, that immigrants could be “white,” too. But no. Now I realise they were right. Their reality is the truth.
There are those who like the fact that “immigrants” sounds like “illegal immigrants.” People who don’t want those who come to their country to have the same advantages (or luxuries in many cases) that they themselves have when they go to those persons’ countries.
These are the same guys who insist on a tight border control between the USA and UMS, yet like to take a trip to old Mexico now and then. Or the upper- and political-class Europeans who like to travel to the tropics to show how worldly they are, but let thousands drown in the Mediterranean.
They’re only migrants dying, after all.