Insomnia

Last night I was tilting back glasses of yellow, smoking cigarettes and talking like a man who had a handle on things. The bar was crowded with smiling faces, the dance-floor a blur of bright dresses and dark suits.

Now though, I’m alone in my bedroom. My body hums in rejection to the whole idea of sleep. Thoughts race through my mind. I keep expecting these thoughts to arrive at a conclusion, whereupon I turn over, drift off into a satisfying slumber, wake up refreshed and go forth into the rest of my life with a brand new attitude. But, it ain’t happening.

I’m scared too. Of what? I don’t know. Something I forgot or did or said, or something I should be doing, apart from sleeping.

I throw off the cover and let the air at my legs. It’s 3am and I have work tomorrow. Fuck, today. I envision the pre-work routine; getting the bus, a quick coffee, the stale air of the classroom, devising plans, photocopying, checking my tired, weary red eyes in the mirror. I picture the students coming through the classroom door; The kids loud and boisterous, the teens slow and unenthused, the adults chirpy. How am I gonna do it?

Outside, a distant dog yaps. A car passes.

My mind jumps from past to present to future.

I think of last night’s sing-song. The choruses were belted out, loud and assured. The verses were fragile things, often solo efforts with muddled lyrics. We leaned in and willed on the one charged with taking us to the good parts. My cousin was confident with ‘Streams of Whiskey’ though. He galloped through the verses.

‘I have cursed, bled and sworn/Jumped bail and ended up in jail/Life has tried to stretch me/But the rope always was slack…’

I can’t think of the rest. The lines hang there, dissatisfied, like their journey has come to an abrupt and unwanted ending. I guess that’s what makes Shane McGowan such an amazing song-writer. When he puts words together, they belong to each other. I contemplate turning on my phone to check the lyrics but then I think of Paula and how I should never have given her such power. I don’t know what’s bringing my thoughts to her but I can’t control the bastards. The last few weeks were shit. I knew it was gonna happen but I clung on anyway. Let her do it, I thought. Still though, if I had more self-respect I would have split. How could I let someone waste my precious time like that, worrying over whatsapps?

I think of girls I have dumped. I’m haunted by the look in their eyes. What gave me the right to cause such hurt?

You can’t win.

I get out of bed. I get the pack of cigarettes from my shelf, open the window, sit on the bed and spark up a fag. The escalators are still. There isn’t a soul around. I see the ‘Hanging Bridge’ looming over the buildings. I like that bridge. So do the locals. There is a photo of it in every café in town. Portugalete and its famous hanging bridge.

‘How did you end up in Portugalete?’ Paula had asked, mystified.

‘Well, before I moved here, I was worried about two things more than anything else; not having any job and not having any friends. Dee promised me both, in Portugalete.’

And Dee had delivered. She was unhesitant and unrelenting in her help. Recently, she was told to move out of her apartment. There were two rooms available in my apartment.

‘Do you mind if I move in?’

She saw the look on my face, my shrug.

‘I understand if you don’t like the idea,’ she added.

‘It’s just we work together and socialise together and to live together too…’

‘Okay. I get it.’

What the fuck was I protecting? My solitude? I should have been a better friend.

The difference a day makes. Yesterday I felt like things were tidy, that behind the scenes things were somehow working in my favour. Today, the opposite. The tide was in, now its out.

I stub out the fag and close the windows. I lay down and look up at the ceiling. I try to concentrate on my breathing. I hear birds tweeting. Please.

What can’t be more than thirty minutes later a too loud alarm goes off. My bones, tongue and eyes are heavy. They have been touched by sleep and yearn for more. I force myself to sit up. Sleep has arrived and is ready to carry me away. I have to push it off and get outta bed.

nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar? A Post-Holiday Whatsapp Crisis

Something Different? A Trip to Quirky Salamanca

Cans on the Bench

Every time I see the date on my phone I feel a jolt, like I’ve just woken up and realised I’ve overslept. September 7th – I should be back at work. Then I remember I’m midway through my two year career break.

My hometown is making the transition from summer to autumn. The amusement park has closed. The Topsy Turvey and The Sizzler are being packed up. Lorries wait to ferry them away. The kids have substituted the bright summer outfits for uniforms. The tan tourists are no longer vying for the attention of the pretty barmaids. The men they leaned across are still there though, the ever-present pint before them. They pine for the barmaid – her pretty smile and perfect ass were a wonderful distraction. But she’s gone too and now it’s just the usual ugly bastards.   

A mist hangs over the town in mourning for the passing of summer. Neil and I have been walking through it for five minutes.

‘It’s like a ghosttown,’ he says.

‘Yeah. Here, where we going anyway?’

‘Lets see where our feet take us,’ Neil says.

I have a good idea where our feet are gonna take us. Twenty minutes later we are settling down on a bench overlooking the bay with a bag of cans and a packet of fags.

‘So how’s San Francisco?’ I say cracking open a can.

‘It’s wonderful. I really like my life there. The people there aren’t afraid to be true to what they want to do and I respect that.’

Some people can’t tell you how great their life abroad is without shitting all over Ireland . Neil is one such person. I ignore what’s implied because I don’t wanna get into an argument. He offers me a box and I draw a cigarette. We share a light. We smoke and contemplate the sea and the orange lights illuminating the deserted promenade.

‘ I hear you’ve extended your career break,’ he says.

‘Uno mas por favour!’

‘What do you want out of it?’

‘Em…well if I can come home with a good level of Spanish that’d be something.’

‘So, you’re not just pissing around.’

‘Well, some people may beg to differ.’

‘You looking forward to getting back out there?’

‘I am now yeah.  It has the potential to be a great year, now I have a certain standard of Spanish, a group of friends and work experience. ’

‘It’s gonna fly.’

‘I know yeah.’

We slug from our cans.

‘You could be there for a few more years yet,’ Neil says.

‘Well, she’d have to be pretty special…Nah.I wanna settle here eventually. My family are here, my friends too. Except for you ; you’re not my friend.’

‘Haw-hawww.’

‘You still single?’ I ask.

‘Yeah. A few false starts but nothing that lasted. Ah, I’m enjoying the single life. There’s a good social scene out in San Fran; a lot of thirty-somethings that don’t wanna grow up yet, so it suits me.’

‘ So when are you going to grow up?’ I ask.

‘What? Settle down and have kids and stuff?’

‘Well – you went to college, you got a job…It’s the next stage isn’t it?’

‘Well,’ he says taking a final drag from his ciggy. ‘If I don’t do it soon people here might start thinking I’m weird. Or worse, gay.’

 ‘Do you want kids even?’ I ask.

‘I’m thinking of it a little more these days.’

‘I was over at Willy and Roisín’s the other day, to see their little fella. Jesus – even walking out the door was an operation; have we got this? Have we got that? It’s tough. There’s a dramatic loss of independence. And there’s  the cost of child-minding, the sleepless nights and all that. But, when they talk about it, you know they wouldn’t change a thing.’

‘Yeah. I saw them too. I remember Roisín telling me – ‘There is no love in the world as strong as a mother’s love for her child.’ I was like ‘Well what happened to my Mom?’ Neil sparks up another cigarette. ‘Not everyone’s supposed to be a parent, I suppose.’

I don’t know what to say to that so there’s a spell of silence. Then I start thinking about a kid I once coached.

 ‘A few years back, I was coaching a football team. There was one kid; a scrawny little fella. He never missed training and had all the gear and stuff. He had a nice stroke of the ball but he was a coward. Anyway, we put him in the full forward line. He was hanging back out of the melee, as usual, but at one point, the ball bounced over his man and nestled into his arms. He turned. It was just him and the goalkeeper. Me and the other coach were holding on to each other. He took three steps and with a sweet strike, delivered the ball to the back of the net. We were buzzing. That kid had a glow about him for the rest of the day, as had we. And we fucking lost that day and all. The thing is, how happy we felt for him. And we were just the coaches.’

‘Imagine how his Dad felt.’

‘Exactly.’

We drink in silence another bit.

‘ I might never come home,’ Neil says, playing with his ring pull.

‘Really?’

‘Maybe. I dunno. It doesn’t have to be wife, kids and mortgage next.’

‘True. I was in the park the other day with my niece. All the kids were swinging, climbing and spinning saying; ‘Look at me!’ and all the adults were bored off their tits. They’d love to be doing what we’re doing.’

‘What? Drinking cans on a bench?’

‘Yeah!’ I laugh.

‘There are many ways to live a life.’

‘Sure are,’ I say.

We bump our cans together.

‘Lucky,’ he says.

‘Yeah.’

‘One short year in Spain. And then what?’ Neil asks.

‘Ah, I’ll just follow my feet.’

 ‘Is it wise, the way we are?’ he asks.

‘Whattya mean?’

‘Just making it up as we go along? Not having any set plans?’

‘Well. We have two more cans. How’s that for a plan?’

‘Perfect.’

nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar? Hanging with the Kids

Something Different? A Bit of Romance

Hanging with the Kids

I amble half-asleep into the kitchen when my niece surprises me with a big hug.

‘Oh my God you’ve gotten so big!’ I say, about three times. She rolls her eyes and I realise I sound just like my Uncles did when I was little. She has sure stretched in the 8 months I’ve been away. We get reacquainted over breakfast.

‘What’s your favourite colour?’

‘Well, it’s turquoise or light blue.’

‘It’s not red anymore?’

‘NO. It was red when I was little. I’m going into Senior Infants now.’

‘Oh excuse me, I didn’t realise you were so grown up.’

‘Well I am 5 and ¾’s, ya know.’

My nephew circles the kitchen, reacquainting himself with my presence. As I drain a glass of water, he runs up and plants a fist in my thigh, ‘na-naas’ and runs away while checking over his shoulder to see if I am in pursuit. I give chase. He takes small, quick steps up the hallway. My steps (in role as a cool, calculated villain) are long and slow. The 5 doors of the hallway shut out light and create a gloom.  He comes to a dead-end. I slap the soles of my flip-flops off the wooden floor as I bear down on him. He squeals and howls in anticipation of the impending tickles.

He laughs with unbridled joy, then breaks free from my clutches, lets out a triumphant roar, runs down to the sitting room and hides behind the curtain.

‘I wonder where Toto is!’ I declare, like a pantomime gobshite.

After more high jinks we sit down in front of the TV. I summon cartoons with the zapper and flick through the channels.

‘No, no,no, no,’ Nini says as colourful images blink past. ‘Wait!’ she commands as a princess appears. ‘No.’

So many channels.

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ she says eventually.

‘Yeeeahhhh,’ Toto agrees. 

Twenty minutes of a cartoon. Welcome relief. Nini and Toto stare at the TV, mouths wide with wonder. My mother comes in and plants Jim-jim down on the floor in front of his favourite toy. His chubby hands explore the colourful chunk of plastic that twirls, breathes, bobs and jingles; ‘dododo doodleydo dodododo dooo do.’ I pick up the Sport Supplement on the couch. Kilkenny manager Brian Cody says he has a full complement to choose from for Sunday’s semi-final. He goes on to say ‘dododo  doodleydo dodododo dooo do.’ I throw the newspaper aside.

The ads come on.  

‘I want that for my birthday,’ Nini says.

‘An’ I want That for my burpday,’ Toto says.

I spring to my feet and zap the TV. They look to me.

‘Let’s go outside and play,’ I say.

‘Play what?’ Nini inquires.

‘Whatever you want,’ I say.

She considers this.

‘Okay,’ she says and slides off the couch.

Toto is looking at the blank screen, his face clouding with concern. I tell him we’re going outside. He buries his head into the cushion and sticks his bum in the air. He howls in protest. His anguish is as sincere as his laughter earlier. Jim-jim stops whacking his toy and watches the tantrum curiously. Eventually, I put the TV back on. Toto readjusts himself. The baby coos and gurgles and slaps the chunk of plastic ‘dododo doodelydo dodododo dooo do.’

 Out on the green, Nini has a game.The name of the game is ‘Big/Small Hit the Ball.’ There’s a long, convoluted set of rules, one of which states that you have to be either 5 ¾’s or 33 years of age to play (thankfully, we both make the cut). I’m not sure I follow all the rules but once we start I realise she’s the goalkeeper and I’m taking shots. Nini pulls off some great saves.

 After, she lays down on the grass and looks up at the sky.

‘You can be anything you want when you’re older can’t cha?’

‘Yeah.’

‘You can be a princess, a fairy, or a camogie player….’

‘Can I be a fairy?’

‘No you can be a prince or a knight.’

‘But I decided to become a teacher instead.’

‘But you don’t have to be anything if you don’t want to be, don’t cha?’

‘I have some friends that aren’t anything.’

Nini considers for a few moments.

‘Did you keep your dream?’ she asks.

‘Well. When I was your age I wanted to be a footballer.’

‘But you have to keep your dream secret.’

‘Why?’

‘Because, if you tell someone, it won’t come true.’

Nini gets back to her feet and insists on showing me a series of manoeuvres she calls gymnastics.

‘Wow,’ I say.

 A toddler waddles across the green followed by a man on his mobile phone.  He looks incredibly bored. We raise our eyebrows in salutation.

Later, I can’t wait to get out of the house.I put on my football gear and head for the door with my bag on my back.

‘Hey.Where are ya going?’ Nini asks.

‘I’m going to play football.’

Her eyes light up.

‘You kept your dream!’

‘What do you mean?’

‘You said you wanted to be a footballer when you were little.’

She comes up and gives me a big hug, like I’m some sort of hero.

nocktoebenaughto

Something similar? A Day at the Beach

Something different? Second Date

 

Second Date

I text my cousin to say the date’s going well and I’ll be late. One hour. No probs, he says.

We are not going anywhere, Maria and I. I’m returning to Spain mid-September and she’s returning to Mexico in April. Still, here we are, snogging on our second date. It’s a long, slow one. We part and smile at each other. Our dancing eyes seem to ask the question; where can we go?

‘We should get a hotel together,’ I say.

‘When? Tonight!?’

‘Uh, next weekend; Saturday.’

‘Okay.I would like to see more Ireland.’

‘Wicklow maybe?’

‘Okay.’

‘The following weekend I am returning to Spain.’

‘I know. It is sad. Can I visit you?’

‘Uh, yeah. I mean it is expensive and there are no direct flights after October, but yeah.’

‘Okay.’

We kiss on the lips, drain our drinks and stand. Tonight we are going separate ways. I’m sleeping on my cousin’s couch. She shares a bedroom with a Brazilian housemate.

We walk down Dame Lane. It’s Friday night and the place is buzzing. She links my arm. I consider crooking my elbow but don’t want to look like Lord of the Shire, so I hold her hand, loosely. Ahead I notice another couple holding hands. The man looks at ease but I feel like an inadequate actor playing a role. I’m also anxious we will bump into someone I know. I mean here we are on a second date acting like an engaged couple in Paris in Spring time.  Kissing and staying in hotels is one thing but holding hands? It feels like we’ve jumped a few levels here.

None of us take the reins and we end up squaring up to the couple. After awkward laughter Maria and I walk around them. I tell her how, in many African countries, a man and woman holding hands is frowned upon, as it is seen as an inappropriate display of affection. I use both hands to tell her this piece of trivia.

We arrive at the bike stand. She points out her bike. It’s a crock with tiny wheels. I tell her off for cycling with no lights or helmet on the topsy-turvy streets of Dublin city. She laughs off my concern and reassures me everything will be alright. Again, it feels like I’m playing a role alongside a more convincing co-star. We say our goodbyes.

In the taxi I send a message to my cousin telling him I’m on my way. Then I begin to wonder if a hotel is such a good idea. Sure, the plush, cosiness would help take things to the next level, but is it financially viable? On the two dates I had paid for everything and not once did she present me with an opportunity to brush aside an offer to pay. It’s a Mexican thing, apparently. Finance aside, I feel that, once I go to Spain that will be the end of our courting. She might have the impression that a weekend away is the beginning of something. It would be unfair to indulge this notion.

I’m not sure.The fact that she’s nice doesn’t help. I’ll let it sit in my gut for a couple of days and see how I feel.

I pay the taxi man. I ring my cousin to let him know I’m outside. There’s no answer. He hasn’t read my last message. I ring again. Nothing. I find the apartment buzzer and give it a little push. I listen for the clunk of a key from the bowels of the building but all I hear is a TV with the volume up. I give the buzzer a longer, angrier push. Then I try the phone several times. Ring, voice, beep. Ring, voice, beep. My battery is dying. Time for a new plan.

I walk out onto the street and hail a taxi. The taxi man puts a bit of juice in my phone. He takes me to Smithfield.

‘Any beds available?’ I ask the man on the door.

‘It’s 1 o’clock in the morning on a Friday night in Dublin,’ he deadpans.

On the quay we stop at another hostel. The taxi waits while I run in. Full.

‘Jaysus, course. It’s fuckin’ All Ireland weekend an’ all,’ says the taxi driver.

Next we go to Gardiner street.

‘If ya don’t get one here ya may as well through yourself in the Liffey. There’s loads of hostels. Start at the bottom, work your way up.’

I give him a tip and he turns the taxi back towards the heart of the city. The first hostel is full. My phone burps a message. It’s Maria! She’s still up. My phone then gives another squeak to remind me of the battery situation. Better do this before it’s too late.

A sleepy hello.

‘Maria! Hi! Okay, this is very unusual but my cousin did not answer the door. He is asleep. I am looking for a place to stay. I’ve tried three hostels but they are all full. I am going to try more hostels but if they are also full, is it possible for me to stay in your place? Just on the couch for a couple of hours?’

A pause.

‘I am asking now because my battery is dying. If the other hostels are full I am stuck.’

‘But it is not possible.’

I wait for an explanation; something regarding her complicated living arrangements and housemates.

‘You cannot because I am falling asleep.’

‘Okay. I’ll let you go. Thanks anyway Maria. Goodnight.’

 

It gets off to a bad start…

Portugalete train station. 927am Sunday. The platform is empty. I look up the track – nothing. I listen for a toot or a chug – nothing. The screen is a blur of red letters, but I don’t need it spelt out for me; I’ve misread the timetable and there’s no train coming. Fuck. I exit the train station and start running towards the taxi rank. The clouds are heavy and low and it’s humid. I picture what will happen if I don’t get to San Mames on time; frantic messaging, my friends annoyed faces, hasty rearrangements. I run faster. I feel sweat teasing through my skin. My bag bounces on my back.

The taxi gets me to San Mames bus station on time. My mistake costs €22.

I’m relieved to find that Paul and Bren are also hungover. Their faces are shiny with sweat and there’s a wiff of stale beer.

I throw my bag into the luggage compartment. We board the bus.

Then it gets worse…

Paul spends the journey with his head in his hands, saying very little, except ‘I wanna die.’ Then he announces that he needs a plastic bag. Bren says he has one. Perhaps Bren has forgotten that the moments before puking, with the cold sweats and the stomach’s rising bitter soup, are awful. He seems in no rush at all.

‘Now, which bag do you want? I have a BM bag and an Eroski back. Mind you the Eroski bag has my runners inside. They’re a little smelly so maybe we’ll go for the…oh wait, I have another bag here…’

Paul drops his bottle of water to the floor and pokes his hand through the gap in the seats. Bren gets the hint and provides the asking hand with a bag.

I try to ignore it. I stare straight ahead. I hear the retching and the plopping as the bag fills with the contents of Paul’s troubled stomach. I feel a new film of sweat forming on my skin. I feel my chest tighten. I take deep breaths and hoover in the sickly aroma from the plastic bag. I feel like I’m gonna have a panic attack or something. When we arrive in San Sebastian I hurry off the bus.

I stand against a cool wall and calm myself.  The bus to Biarritz is in thirty minutes.  I’m coming round. I pat down my pockets; passport, wallet, phone, raincoat. Bag?

‘Fuck. My bag!’

I run out to the bus bays but the bus has gone.  On the way to Biarritz, I feel jolts of regret every time I think of something in my bag.

‘No! My new shorts.’

‘Nooo! My swimming togs.’

‘Noooo! My glasses.’

Then it gets a little better…

We stalk the streets of Biarritz like vampires, seeking out shade and wincing in the sun.

‘This is France for God sakes, there must be a good place to eat.’

‘Well, you say that, but I haven’t seen one McDonald’s yet.’

Eventually we settle for a burger bar near the beach.

‘Fuck me,’ Bren says with a mouth full of burger.

‘What?’

‘There are so many hot women.’

Our eyes follow another arse down the street.

‘Yeah. Fuck.’

Fed, we go for beers. Bren is extremely positive.

‘It’s great to get away’

‘I can’t wait for this festival in Bayonne.’

‘These beers are going down nicely.’

The beer and Bren’s positivity steer us out of the hangover towards good times.

Then it gets better again…

Bayonne. The streets are full. Machine gun carrying soldiers walk by in twos and threes. There are snipers silhouetted on the rooftop of the town hall.

We are appropriately attired with white t-shirts and red handkerchiefs. We swagger up to a stall and order a pitcher of beer. The bar man explains that they are about to close so we can have two pitchers of cider for the price of the plastic pitchers; €2. He becomes our new favourite person in the world. We tell him he’s wonderful, Bayonne is wonderful, France is wonderful, the French language is wonderful. He reacts by crinkling his forehead, pouting his lips, shrugging slightly and rocking his head, slightly. He is nonplussed.

Next, a firework display. Its awesomeness shoots energy to our bones. As soon as it finishes the DJ takes the party by the reins. Everyone dances. Everyone sings. The sniper watches over us.

We hold our red handkerchiefs aloft like defiant football fans.

 

Bayonne 2.jpg
Bayonne festival (Fetes de Bayonne)

 

And then it gets a bit mental…

The party veers away from the town hall towards the back streets. Bren hooks his arm around a passing girl, swings her in close and plants a kiss on her lips. She pulls back in shock, appraises him, then tilts her head in for more.

There’s a guy dancing on top of a barrel. He’s topless and his trousers are down around his ankles. A girl stands under him, arms aloft in praise of the fucks he is not giving. Suddenly, she jumps up, grabs his jocks and tugs. The jocks get stuck around his thighs so he works them down. The crowd respond with a mixture of bemused cheers, laughter and shock at the sight of his penis that hangs there like the trunk of a shy animal. The French girl next to me indicates with a thumb and index finger that she is not impressed with the size of his penis.

There are loads of hands supporting me. They take my weight. My feet leave the ground. I am hoisted up. My feet feel the top of a barrel. The hands leave me. I stand shakily, not quite trusting the barrel. It’s secure. Naked guy is on my left. I give him the thumbs up because I admire his balls. Bren is on my right. I give him the thumbs up because he is making it okay to be here with your trousers still on. Jackson 5 I want you back chimes out of the speakers. I howl approval. The street howls back.

Finally…

Three buses and a metro join the dots between Bayonne and Portugalete. When I get to my room I close the door, drop my bag on the floor and sigh. How else was it going to end?

Something similar? The Karaoke Delusion Something different? Glimpses into Classrooms

A Black Star on the last Day of School

The 3332 bus pulls up. I board, swipe my card and walk down the aisle. Same glum faces. Dee smiles. I sit next to her.

‘Yaaay! Last day!’ she says.

‘Yup.’

‘You don’t sound too excited.’

‘Well, I don’t really like the last day of school.’

‘Of course you don’t.’

‘I like the holidays, don’t get me wrong, it’s just the last day. The kids are wired, there are always loose ends to tie up and the kids are wired.’

‘You said the same thing twice.’

‘It’s a salient point.’

‘So what? Entertain them for an hour and then ‘Be Gone Bitches.’

‘Yeah, I suppose.’

We stop at traffic lights. Dee sighs.

‘Only you could be depressed on the last day of school.’

‘It’s just experience. I used to expect to feel this huge rush of relief once the kids walked out the door but I just ended up feeling empty.’

‘It’ll be easy.  We haven’t seen most of the teenagers for weeks. They’re not even gonna show up today.’

‘That’s the other thing. We’ve been teaching them all year, gone beyond the call of duty for some, and then one day they just stop showing up.’

‘Well what did you expect ‘Oh Captain my Captain?’

‘No but a goodbye or thanks would have been nice.’

 ‘I suppose.’

‘I mean not even a shrug or a pout. They just don’t bother showing up.’

‘It’s just teenagers being teenagers. Don’t read too much into it.’

The bus curves a roundabout.

‘I remember when I was teaching in Ireland. It was the last day of sixth class. The kid’s last day in the school ever. And as one of ‘em was leaving he came up to me to say that he didn’t think it was fair because he didn’t get as many sweets as Colm did. I looked at him like ‘Really? Those are your parting words? Eight years in the school. Two with me and that’s all you gotta say.’

‘Well there are lots of jobs where people don’t get any thanks.’ 

‘But –  they all left and I was there on my own. Next thing, two of the girls came back into the class and hugged me.’

‘What did you do?’

‘I said thanks. They said thanks. It was a goodbye. It was lovely.’

‘That’s sweet.’

‘Yeah. ’

We get off at our stop and go to work. Later, we meet for beers.

‘Did you have many?’

‘I had all the kids.’

‘How were they?’

‘Grand. I didn’t expect much, so grand. You?’

 ‘Had the kids. None of the teens. You had Asier and Endika, right?’

‘Yup. They showed up every class this year. Nice lads. Asier is going to study film next September. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a famous director one day. He’s so passionate about film and music. It’s mad that they’re such good friends. I mean Endika isn’t really into music or film. He’s sporty. And he’s tall and thin whereas Asier is- Holy shit!’

I notice Asier and Endika walking up the road. I smile and wave. They wave back and walk towards us.

‘Hi guys. How are you? We were just talking about you two.’

They smile.

‘Brian, we went to the cinema and afterwards we went to the music shop and got you this,’ Endika says and gestures towards Asier.

Asier dips his hand into a plastic bag and produces a CD. David Bowie – Black Star.

I stand up.

‘We had a very good year with you,’ Endika says. Asier nods in agreement.

‘ Jesus. Thank you so much! This is the album we talked about in class – remember – when he died?’

‘Yes. We remember.’

I don’t say much on the bus home. I just keep staring at the CD. I think about them discussing the whole idea, counting their money after the cinema, picking up different CDs in the music shop and the light bulb moment when they saw David Bowie. I think of them going to the academy first to find me. I think of the embarrassed way they approached me. I replay the sentence ‘we had a very good year with you.’ I think about them pushing themselves through all those stages. I’m so glad they did.

blackstar[1]
David Bowie -Black Star
Something similar? Glimpses into Classrooms Something different? The Karaoke Delusion

A Day at the Beach

PE Store

I’m looking for tools to fend off the two words that I have come to hate the most these past few weeks of summer camp; ‘I’m bored’ (In fact, that’s not true; ‘I’m bored’ would be a welcome use of the English language. The two words I have come to hate the most are ‘No quiero,’ Spanish for ‘I don’t want to’.) I choose six tennis balls, four bats, two softballs and four Frisbees.

Today is our first excursion to the beach and I am hopeful it will be a success.

Take your Seats

The kids arrive. The bus arrives. Excitement grows. Feet move fast. Seats on a bus can be the source of anxiety for kids. For some, it’s where you sit. Squares up the front. Cool kids  at the back. And if you’re in the middle, you’re in the middle.

For others, it’s a fear of sitting on their own.

‘Can I sit next to you?’

I look down at Sofia’s worried face.

‘Of course you can.’

For the three BFFs it’s who is going to be cut loose?

‘I like the two of you the same,’ explains Enara, ‘but we can’t get three seats together.’

Enara understands the unwritten rule regarding bus seats which states; if you are a senior kid with a loud voice and a bullying streak then a backseat is a God given right.

But not everybody is schooled in the rules.

Two little lads are first to board the bus. They are all set for the beach; peak caps, shorts, bags on their backs and smiles on their faces. Their eyes widen as they see all the empty seats.

‘The back seats are free!!’

They run the length of the bus and settle in. Their classmates amble on.

‘Look. Look. It’s us! We’re back here. Come on.’

But their classmates aren’t as keen. They choose a seat near the front or middle.

Then the big boys enter. They are a little late. An absolute dick of a summer camp leader held them back because some girl was crying, or something. The five of them clamour, push and laugh all the way to the back. Three of them take seats.

The other two loom over the little lads. The little lads’ facial expressions have changed from ‘Ain’t life grand’ to ‘Oh Shit!’

Despite this they stand (or sit) their ground. By the time I arrive the big lads are shouting and baring their fists. The bus is moving. I calmly tell them to find another seat. They ignore me and continue shouting at the little lads. I get right up in their faces.

‘Did you hear me? Find another seat! How could you shout at them? They are half your age!’

They skulk off to another seat.

I am an absolute dick of a summer camp leader.

Teacher – Pupil

I take my seat next to Sofia. I’m addled after the back-seat dilemma and I’m hoping the next words out of her mouth will be;

‘Clearly this isn’t a good time for you. You gather yourself and what I wanna do can wait until later.’

Nope, instead she launches into a Spanish lesson.

She points at her hat and says ‘Gorra.’

I say ‘Gorra.’

‘No!’ she says. She shakes her head and wags a finger in my face.

‘Gorrra.’

‘Gorra’

‘No!’ she says and shakes her head and makes a tch, tch sound, as if I’ve been a naughty boy.

I let this pupil –teacher role reversal carry on for a bit and then I hammer her pronunciation of ‘slaughtered’, just to remind her who the grown up is.

Salvaje
La Salvaje Beach, Bilbao

 

The Beach

The kids are happily occupied, for about twenty minutes. Then the bats, balls and Frisbees get tossed aside. A group approaches me. I brace myself for the dreaded words.

‘Can we do sandcastles?’

‘Yes! That’s a great idea.’

The group walks towards the shoreline. They find their spot, drop to their knees and start clawing at the sand with their hands. There is feverish work with instructions being issued back and forth. I peer over their shoulders and see a drawbridge, a moat, a high defensive wall and a dome tower taking shape.The group consists of boys and girls, a mixture they sometimes resist when I suggest it. Their aim is to build a castle that will stand up to the incoming water.

The water approaches. They watch eagerly.

A wave slides up the shore and casually destroys the castle.

Child Vs Sea

Their reaction seems muted at first. They walk back to our nest of bags and change into their swimming suits. Then, ten of them stand shoulder to shoulder and stare down the sea. On a count of ‘3,2,1 Go!’ they charge forwards shaking their fists and screaming.

A band of pebbles and broken shells, impedes their speed. They pick their way through the minefield. There is a cry of pain as one takes a tumble. I tend to the stricken soldier’s foot and notice the rest of the kids in the camp running past. But once the water wraps around their ankles they freeze. I watch on, fearing a hasty retreat, but soon they are completely engaged with the enemy. There are shrieks and howls and explosions. Their skinny bodies are knocked about by big brutes of waves.  They get back up after every pummelling, or lie face down in the shallows, playing dead.

They re-emerge from the water in twos and threes, cleansed and calmed and happy with what feels like a victory.

Sandwiches

They are too hungry to make faces. They unwrap the tinfoil and start eating. They watch the beach scenes before them. A feeling of contentedness settles over all of us.