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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.

What Would We do Without Wooded Banks

The Arga along the edge of Pamplona’s older parts just outside the old walls. A flock of cormorants roost just around the bend here.

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            What Would We Do Without Wooded Banks?

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Walking a dammed riverbank, autumn evening,

Scanning still water for a hint of beavers,

Seeking signs of these elusive animals, 

Watching for ripples in the reflection of the gloaming.

See a shimmer sent out to midstream but

Just a wind eddy as aspens shiver overhead,

Their yellow leaves tied tenuously to baring branches.

Below, a pale place in the gloom of the bank shows 

The scene of beaver eating on a poplar bole,

But no body approaches, so I pause and pad across

A footbridge to pause and snap a photo of autumn:

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The trees arch out over deep water, and I wonder

What life could live in a river without the banks 

Well wooded? Where would these cormorants aloft 

Alight for the night? The herons roost? Dropping 

Guano to recycle. Kingfishers eye the minnows below

Before dropping down to snatch the flashing fish, 

Well fed on fallen leaves and dung. What would become 

Of them? What would hold the water when it rises, 

Hold holts for otters to hide within? How would 

We hope to halt in our walks, to take in these 

Scenes of such reflections, all glittering and glinting, 

Hinting at the invisible, holding hope? 

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And only 

When darkness descends over thoughts do I 

Give up on the hunt and head home.

when the banks are well wooded, there’s plenty for beavers to eat. and for everything else

Sometimes I see a tweet from home of the destruction done unto rivers and the shredding of any foliage along their banks. Here, there are beavers back from past extinctions, and it can be a nuisance if they bole an old poplar on a part of the riverbank well-frequented by walkers and with few other trees to shade us, but a bit of chicken wire protects the most important and moves the beavers off towards this end, where there’s plenty to eat and a few trees felled will only add to the diversity of the river.

It’s for the Kids!

            Saving the Next Generation

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Wherein comes the urge to chastise

Children chasing chaffinches, ducks;

Picking wildflowers for bunches just 

To steep in water and later pour it out?

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These innocent actions seem almost 

Painful for some of us to see, since 

It seems every seedling, even insect, is 

Particularly precious in this sinking era.

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Now we need to encourage kids to 

Lie down on a lawn, plucking daisies

As they please, ripping leaves and 

Flicking petals to the breeze, immersed

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In the verdure that surrounds us. Thus

They will in turn appreciate the wonder

Of these tiny treasures of orchids, clover,

Cornflowers as especially as do we mourners.

Getting close to the Geology of Ireland in the Dargle

I’ve been offline to a certain extent so far this summer. But I’ve been outside a lot, enjoying the nature left to us, as you can see from these photos ( I don’t publish anyone’s face in this blog), and with my kids in Ireland.

On our way to the Sally Gap. Saw a sika hind into the bargain!

But I have republished Peter and the Little People, and it’s out in paperback!

It’s for the Kids!

Of course, anyone of any age can enjoy it, so go ahead and pick up a copy. It’s perfect for reading aloud, too.

Like everything we do, it’s for the kids who will have to visit places much changed and degraded unless we stop what we’re doing.

I don’t let my kids pick some wildflowers, like orchids, but then the local roads authority or the farmers come along and strim or spray the ditches and hedgerows…

The view from Killiney Hill might be slightly different towards Shankill in the future if we’re not pro-active to prevent it.

The news this summer is of course pretty depressing, with the IPCC pretty much saying we’re in big trouble unless our so-called leaders act like we need them to…

So have a read of Peter and the Little People, and then help your children write some letters to the Taoiseacht or whoever supposedly leads your government telling them they’ll have a place in history – good or bad is up to them.

Sun Set Sun Day

Happy Summer!

Though I’m Irish, and for me Summer started in May, making this MidSummer’s Day, logically, it seems that the astronomers around me disagree. Whatever.

Here’s a short poem I thought of a couple of Sundays ago, to make you think of the joy of these short nights.

A sunset that makes you want to stay till every last ray and photo has faded away…

            Sunday Sunset

Other days we rush inside 

From the porch, to prepare

Dinner, drinks and sit upon

Sofa to see a movie or TV; or

Drive to the city for dusk, but

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Sunday is when we want to stay 

Watching sunset and slipping 

Off to bed when the bats and 

Owls calling have taken over

From twilight blackbirds and

Nightingales, the last rays of

Sun replaced by moonbeams,

The gleam of glow worms when

Cicadas are silent to let crickets

Sing, as peace settles like aspen

Cotton in the stillness between

Breezes. Then sleep suggests itself 

Until we rise again to catch the dawn.

The Winter of Our Discontent?

          

a local park in Pamplona… pondering the leaves, the pigeons, the life about the park benches and how long we’ll be allowed to look at it this fall – will the gates close before the last leaf falls?

   The Winter of Our Discontent?

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We sit and watch autumn fall upon us, daily;

The park employees still sweep up leaves,

Now the last grass mowing has past.

Pigeons and ducks tuck into tossed bread, 

Filling up for colder times, robins arrive from 

Colder climes, while we wonder whether 

Gates will weather open all the way to winter:

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A thought neither here not there for the

Twittering finches in the turning trees

Above the bench as I write, depressing

Ideas of Christmas devoid of cavalcades,

Parties or people we would gift our presence.

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To live with this disease in our midst, we need lifts:

Standing amid pines, or plans to participate,

Smiles and simple hugs: scenes to celebrate.

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While robins free to fly away in warmer weather 

Pigeons will persist on unswept seeds, 

Finches filled with felicity, we will sit inside,

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Pining, and chastising ourselves this idiocy;

Sitting watching screens instead of celebrations,

Imbibing wine in place of cherished faces.

Loch Ness Mystery Solved! Perhaps

Well, it didn’t take the New Zealand Scientists very long to reveal their findings after all.

But then again, it wasn’t very exciting, or inspiring, so why hold back?

Their DNA sampling of the water of the lake showed no sign of genetic material from a Jurassic era reptile, or a shark, or a sturgeon – the latter being my guess…

But there were lots of eel DNA, so they reckon the mysterious creature might be a giant eel…

skynews-loch-ness-scotland_4751570

Spot the eel? Neither do I…

 

Really?

Not very impressive deduction, in my opinion. Of course there was lots of eel DNA, just like there was lots of trout DNA if they were looking for it. Eels are common fish in such catchments. But do they grow to the size where people might see one from a great distance?

I’ve no idea how long a freshwater eel can actually grow, but this story shows a near-record size, caught in Australia, and it’s less than two metres long. So the adjective giant is hard to be precise about….

So, if there is one or two really huge eels in there, they might leave their DNA, but so would all the small normal sized eels we expect to find there with or without any giants or monsters….

The findings haven’t really found anything, other than they’ve not found anything. You can’t prove a negative, as they say.

It does add one more plank to the argument that there is nothing big enough, at least not a population numerous enough, to produce the quantities of DNA that makes it simple to find in the mass of water that is Loch Ness…

Still waters run deep, as they say, and Loch Ness is one very deep lake.

The_Ecology_of_Lonesomeness_by_David_OBrien-500

 

 

 

Things you learn from reading books

It’s amazing what you can learn from books.

Sounds silly, that sentence…

I love when I’m deep in a book and something stops me halfway through a paragraph and makes me say “Holy shit!” out loud – I never knew that! Or, “Wow. Who knew?”

And sometimes it’ll send me off to investigate further.

There are some writers, editors etc., and I suppose readers, who don’t like this. They don’t anything that makes you interrupt the story, that keeps your nose in the leaves.

But for me, a really rich book is one that makes you pause every now and then and think about what you’re reading, ponder the meaning of what you’ve read, assimilate the knowledge this piece of writing has given you over and above an entertaining read.

This is why people read fiction. This is why science indicates that people who read fiction are more empathetic.

Here are three examples:

homo deus.jpg

I started reading Homo Deus, a recent non-fiction book, the sequel to Sapiens, which you might have heard of.

But before I go deep into it, I wanted to read a similarly titled novel – Men Like Gods, by HG Wells.

men like gods.jpg

An interesting book. We are clearly still in Wells’ Age of Confusion, with our population soaring way, way past what Wells worried was too many (2000m), and our world yet being pillaged by the rich.

But what really amazed me, in a book about a crossing dimensions into new universes (where the telecommunications department knows where every human is at all times but the knowledge can only be used for the good of the individual!) was the fact that the main character commented on the fact that there were thrushes singing in July – that he knew these birds stopped singing by June.

This is a character who writes for a liberal paper in the centre of London.

I’m a zoologist – sorry, I have a doctorate in zoology (there are picky fuckers out there in twitterlandia who like to point out that there’s a difference if I no longer gain employment from zoology except by teaching biology, who I hope die when they’re on a plane and a retired doctor tells them he’s no longer qualified to give them first aid while they suffer cardiac arrest, but I digress) – though not an ornithologist, but I had no idea.

He also commented on the fact that nightingales could be found in Pangbourne and Caversham, both in Reading just outside London were great places for nightingales (I wonder if there are any there now) which was amazing knowledge for an average Joe, too.

Why don’t we all know such things now? Where is our general knowledge of the life of other species around us gone? I was only familiar with the Blackbird and Robin – aside from the magpies and seagulls – back home in my hedgerow.

 

How much we have lost, even from such busy, hedonistic, polluted and poverty-stricken times as 1920’s London.

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Another book I recently read, and commented on in my facebook feed, is Point Counter Point, by the contemporaneous Aldous Huxley, who only predicted the future in this particular novel by talking about the fact that the world would run out of phosphorous, and other important raw materials and minerals due to unhinged addiction to progress, while politicians fucked around with petty, inconsequential nonsense that they hoped with get them elected over someone equally competent – or in competent, as the case usually is – while the problems that really affect us only snowball.

 

The third novel was Meridian, the second novel by Alice Walker, the author of The Colour Purple.

meridian.jpg

 

 

At the end of the book, Walker describes the main character in the following paragraph:

“On those occasions such was her rage that that she actually felt as if the rich and racist of the world should stand in fear of her, because she – though apparently weak and penniless, a little crazy and without power – was as yet of a resolute and relatively fearless character, which, sufficient in its calm acceptance of its own purpose, could bring the mightiest country to its knees.

And I couldn’t help but think of Greta Thunberg – a beam of light in our own dark times, who seemingly powerless, is nonetheless, so resolute in her purpose that she has an immense effect upon countries.”

It is so often the person who seems weakest who can stand the strongest.

I only hope that in contrast to how people treated people like Meridian in the era of civil rights, that we will appreciate Greta for the positive influence she is on global justice and the survival of our society, and protect her from the evils we know some amongst us would wish her.

 

 

 

The Drought Breaks

 

The Rains Return

 

The sky weeps;

Bent low,

Hills soak to refill rills.

Upon the porch, we sit still.

 

The rain – snow in the high ground – has finally returned to much of Spain, bringing some relief to the drought we’ve been experiencing this year.

The spring that supplies our village in the Valdorba is still flowing at a trickle, though. It will take much more rain to raise the water table and refill the reservoirs.

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the spring last week above, the same spring in September below…
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But everyone has been happy to see the rain, despite the need for umbrellas instead of sunglasses.

This is a photo of one of the beaches in San Sebastian, aka Donostia, taken when I was there last week.

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I sat on the beach and wrote this poem.

 

Donostia, December 2017

 

On the breakwater, as tide rises,

Shielding eyes to see gleaming mountain

Snowmelt trickle by.

 

 

We shouldn’t be able to see the mountain from the beach at this time of year, for the blanket of cloud that normally shrouds the city.

But what is normal anymore?

 

Anyway, I wrote a few poems that afternoon. It reminded me of another poem I wrote a few weeks ago, which describes a little of why I’ve written so little recently, and posted less.

But maybe we’ll get back to normal sometime soon…

 

Words Come Forth

 

They say our words won’t be kept down;

They bubble up, under pressure, like lava

Pushing through a fissure,

Bursting forth if they can’t flow.

 

But instead, they are drawn

Under empty sky,

Sucked out by silence,

Pulled forth by the vacuum

Of open space,

Giving them a place to emerge

Timidly into tranquilly

Like deer from the thicket at twilight.

 

 

Five things I learned writing the Silver Nights Trilogy

So, I know it’s been a while, but things have been as hectic as a 2-year-old in a new playground. Literally.

My final chapter of the Silver Nights Trilogy is out now, and so I thought it a good time to recap what I learned in the process of writing it.

 

1) Things take longer than you think…

Especially when you think you can squeeze side projects in there between…

I always knew I’d finish my trilogy (I advocate the finish your shit mantra) but I thought I’d have it done a couple of years ago – around six months after the first novel came out and I realised just before publication that it was going to be a trilogy. The nuclei of the second two parts came to me very clear and I reckoned that I’d have them both done by Christmas – I had a part time job and summer in between, after all.

But then I got the idea for a novel about Loch Ness, and that just grabbed my attention like a talon clutching my balls, insisting I go along with it. So I thought it best to comply. The first draft spun out easily, but then there were drafts to go over before I submitted, and another project popped up. This was going to be easy – my publisher put out a call for erotic romance novellas set in one night in any city, for a series called City Nights. Well, I had a long short story set in Madrid that could be refitted in a jiffy. Or not. The challenge of writing erotica wasn’t half as hard (fnarr!) as shaping it into a longer story that was still under 25k words. Anyway, despite it taking me several rewrites I got the bug and did 2 more cities since, Pamplona and Boston (for these the story was simple, starting from scratch always is simpler) published under the name JD Martins – yes, I am a school teacher. Then there were edits for a YA paranormal and a children’s fantasy novel to go over for publication (yes, I’d a drawerful of old novels that I finally found willing publishers for). And of course, real life did it’s usual trick of getting in the way. Our daughter was diagnosed diabetic at two and a half, so I spent a lot of time cycling across town to inject her at lunchtime, we had another sprog six? months ago… all that great stuff. But the sequels kept simmering away in the meantime, slowly taking shape… of course, people kept asking when they’d be ready and I kept telling them a date not too distant in the future – three months or so, by this Christmas, as soon as submissions reopen, I’m sending both books straight away…

 

2) Think before you decide to write a trilogy.

At least, think before you tell everyone, and have the second and third pretty much ready to go before you tell everyone. Sure, the idea for the second and third novel might come to you real quick and seem pretty safe and secure, but they need to tie together like a trilogy, and, more importantly, people are going to be waiting on them – some won’t even read the first part till they know the second and third are written and out there for them to read straight after – hands up who’s waiting on Game of Thrones to finish it’s run before even starting? Only me? Oh… anyhow, though the ideas might seem pretty solid, they have to lead directly from the first to the second and into the third and though there might be three books, hence trilogy, a series can have three books, too – you just don’t write the fourth book, and nobody’s going to feel cheated. Are you? It’s not that the second and third novel aren’t solid, but the challenges facing the characters can’t be the same, and things that happen in the sequels need to have a coherency with the first, so perhaps write them all at the same time, rather than have one done and decide to add two more

But definitely write part two and three together. It might piss off those waiting impatiently for the second to come out, but it’s better in the end. Also helps keep all those characters in your head at the same time – werewolves have big families, dammit, especially when they’re trying to build up their numbers after centuries of persecution.

 

3) Stick to your original vision

I wrote the first novel in this trilogy, Leaving the Pack, twenty-five years ago. The time in between turned out to be very useful. I was inspired by Whitley Strieber’s novel Wulfen, and to honest, I never really read much about them since then. I liked my werewolves (almost as much as Strieber’s) and I didn’t much like the movies I occasionally saw or the few books I read. Having a book out before you write the next leads to the temptation to take reader’s opinions into account as write. But making everyone happy isn’t a possibility and if the reader didn’t like the first book, it’s pointless to try please them in the second, or the third. Besides, when I looked around at some of the other werewolf novels out there, I realised their tastes were more aligned with the books I wanted my story to stand out from – the real tribe who engendered the original myth.

 

4) Don’t bother reading in-genre – it’s probably not your genre, and there’s some weird shit out there.

I did read a few other books over the years, but reading other werewolf novels was a bad idea. They filled my head with stuff that I didn’t like, making me second-guess the world I’d created – a real world where shifting is just as physically impossible as it is in ours.

In tandem with their physiological lunar rhythms, these people worshipped the wolf, had an affinity with their four-legged brethren that had led their enemies to assume they turned into beasts.

As a zoologist, I knew that wolf mating is similar to dogs, where they are unable to separate afterwards for a while. I went to double-check the term (knotting) in the final edit and discovered a sub genre of werewolf novels that was eye opening, let’s say.

 

5) The real world has changed, and so must your characters.

Even though my werewolves are first found roaming the city during the late Eighties, when homosexuality wasn’t nearly so visible in our cities, and I have no interest in writing gay sex scenes – and I doubt I could make them hot enough for the readers of werewolf knotting – I totally agree that we need more diversity characters in our novels. The werewolves are an ancient tribe, and the poster boys for patriarchy, but even they have to evolve to deal with the way things are nowadays, including equality for their daughters. But such changes are a joy to write, to put your characters in awkward situations. One thing that has not changed for the pack, however, is they still hate vampires, and real vampires are not so nice as they’re made out to be.

You can get all three books here….

 

 

Real life keeping me from writing.

Haven’t posted in a while because real life is keeping me from any sort of writing.

I am back to work – the day-job stuff. Since I haven’t been flooded with movie option offers, or thousands in royalties, I’ve still got this nine-to-five teaching stuff to do.

And getting time to write fiction is very complicated; it’s hard to get some intellectual space to enter any imaginary realms.

This year I have increased my hours in the school so that I don’t have to do the evening classes I have been doing. This doesn’t give me more time to write. In fact, it gives me less.

I used to have a chance to get a few hundred words done in the spare hours between classes. Instead, the new schedule gives me time to do the things people do with their kids – collect them from school, go to the park, take them to swimming and dance class. Then there’s going home to have baths and prepare dinner. The six hours between 3pm and 9 go by faster than the six between 9am and 3pm!

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Collecting conkers in the park…

It hasn’t helped that my daughter broke her arm two weeks ago, and so can’t cycle her own bike, among many other inconveniences and incapacities. That means I spend more time commuting back and forth, to collect push chairs and catch buses.

I have had a chance to read a few pages of novels while the kids play or take the bus, but I haven’t written anything other than a shopping list in the last two weeks. I am one of the last letter writers left, and I love to write and receive them, but I just sent a birthday card to my sister and I didn’t include a handwritten latter – for the first time in the sixteen years I’ve been away from home.

Not only have I not had a chance to write letters, but I can’t keep up with my emails. I usually read or delete the mails in my inbox within a day or two. Sometimes I leave one or two pending – longer mails or links to articles. At the moment I have four hundred to get through. Many of them with links to longer texts. I open my mail each morning hoping that I can delete as many as possible without even opening them. Much of these would be interesting if I had time, but my priorities don’t include reading mails.

I have also been busy living life. I’ve been out collecting mushrooms in the beech forests north of Pamplona. I am not much into mushrooms myself, but any excuse to get into the woods is good, even at dawn. And foraging is my second favourite food collection method after hunting!

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Pickin’ mushrooms with the lads.

I’ve been collecting veggies and making tomato sauces for jarring, roasting and preserving peppers, and I have prepared my patxaran, a local liqueur like sloe gin but with anis.  These are all excellent ways to spent time, both in terms of healthy eating and zero-kilometre food, and in the simple manual labour tasks that are communal and relaxing.

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not a big fan of this myself, but friends and family love them, and it’s foraging – second only to hunting in my favourite food collection methods!

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My tomato sauce stash, made from fruits picked off the village veggie plot. Should keep me for the year.

And while such activities don’t remove the urge, and need, to write, they are therapeutic in their own way – better than colouring books, in my humble opinion, in reducing stress. Which reminds me of a poem I wrote back in August, when I had time to think. Apologies to my friends who are fans of adult colouring books!

Colouring Books for Adults

I know someone who bought a book

To colour in, in her spare time.

It’s the new trend in stress relief,

She says; takes her mind off thinking,

Relaxes in its repetitive actions,

Easy, simpleminded tasks that pass

The time of a dark evening

Much more calming than movies

Or reality TV.

I think it’s akin to knitting;

If you didn’t have a niece who needed a scarf,

Or whittling sticks; since who wants to hoover

Up the shavings off their sitting room floor?

Or darning socks that are too darned thin to bother nowadays,

Or jarring jam, or bottling sloe gin, or

Washing up; which filled in time, once upon a time,

As we talked between dinner and sleep.