Outside by Michéal Eastwood

I opened my eyes and sat up in bed looking around the bland, empty room as I did every morning, to remind myself of where I am. I stood up and walked over to the corner of the room where there was a small dirty bucket that had the word “toilet” painted on it. I did as I did every morning and when I was finished I walked to the centre of the room and sat on the floor with my legs crossed adjacent to the window. The light from the outside hit my face and I thought to myself “The sun must be out to play”. As I looked up to peer out the window, the light blinded me so I had to squint to see. The outside was like a painting that has been worked on to perfection, the clear blue sky was bright and full and there was only a few chalky clouds perfectly placed so as not to disrupt the view. The sun was in its full glory, it appeared to be smiling onto the world with such grace and joy as to bring life to the planet and made the distant green hills that showed their peaks look all the more alive. I sat here a while looking out the window taking in the beauty of what was through the glass portal in my wall.

I heard footsteps coming from outside the door and, as they drew closer, I sprung to my feet and shouted out “Mommy” as I ran towards the door. My mother walked into the room and quickly shut the door behind her. She did this every time she walked into the room and I never questioned why. She turned to look at me, I always thought my mother was the most beautiful person in the world. Her eyes were light blue like the sky and always had the same look of love, She had gorgeous blonde hair that would glisten when the sun would hit it and a slight smile that always made me smile right back at her. She opened her arms and wrapped them around me. “How are you my son?” she whispered in the most delicate voice I could imagine, I looked up at her and softly kissed her pale cheek before replying with, “I want to go outside”. My mother’s embrace loosened as she bent down to my level holding my shoulders and looked deep into my eyes with hers, “You know the outside is dangerous sweetheart” she said while brushing her hand through the hair around my ear. “I’ll be safe I promise”, I protest with a grin on my face, She looked into my eyes again “We’ve talked about this sweetie, the outside world is a dangerous place filled with people who will hurt you”, she says calmly. I could feel her grip tighten as she said this and her voice sounded like she had a lump in her throat, however she kept the same smile and never looked away from me, she kept her composure.”But what if….” I started but she halted me by saying, “Now lets get you fed sweetie”, as she rose back to her feet. She now continued with the usual morning routine, she walked over to the window and opened it to “let in the freshness” as she always told me. This was my favourite part of the morning because I could hear the sounds that were outside. I ran up to the window and looked up, I couldn’t reach it but I just closed my eyes and listened to all the wondrous sounds that came flooding into the room. My mother left to go get my breakfast but I just stood there with my eyes closed, listening to the seemingly endless world outside of my window. A familiar sound met my ear “BIRDS!” I shouted happily, as I listened to their careless chirping, a grin once again appearing on my face I kept listening for more sounds and as I focused in on the things such as cars, the wind, motorcycles and footsteps. I waited for my favourite sound of all…..People. I love listening to the voices of people walking past and especially the sound of other children playing in the streets, although it made me want to know what it would be like to be out there with them, the sun on my face, the wind in my hair and maybe, just maybe, I could be the person that someone else is listening to out of their window.

I heard the door opening again and my mother walked in with a bowl in her hands. She placed it down on the desk in the corner of the room and gestured for me to come and sit on the small tattered stool that was beside her. I had already guessed what she had made for me and as I sat down and looked into the bowl I was confirmed right. “Porridge again?” I moaned, She laughed a little and calmly said, “Don’t you want to grow big and strong?” in reply. “Of course”, I said enthusiastically grabbing the spoon in my hand and taking my first mouthful. I left it in my mouth and smiled happily when I realised she had added honey, I quickly ate the rest of the bowl and turned to face her. She was just standing there smiling at me, I smiled back and she put her hand on my head and said quickly, “Time for lessons”. Everyday my mother would give me lessons in reading and writing and she taught me lots of interesting things. She got my pencil and copybook and placed it on the desk in front of me. She picked up the pencil and began to write out a sentence for me to copy down. As she did this I noticed a bruise on her arm. I asked her about it but she quickly pulled her sleeve down and told me she fell. I knew she was lying but I copied down the sentence like I was asked and did my work.”Its your birthday soon”, my mother said with a smile, “what would you like?”. I was suddenly filled with excitement but I could only think of one thing, “To go outside maybe?” I asked cautiously, she gave me a disappointed look and I quickly said, “A new chair? This one is old and falling apart.” Her look softened and she just nodded in agreement and once again ran her hand through the hair around my ear. Suddenly I heard another pair of footsteps at the door. I turned to look only to see my father standing there. My father was a tall broad man with small, sharp eyes and a rough face. He always had the same look of anger on his face and he rarely came into my room. I saw my mother tense up as he entered as if she was scared. My father didn’t say a word but instead just looked at me, then at my mother and snapped his fingers I knew what this meant, mother had to leave now. My mother bowed her head, she kissed my forehead and whispered “Goodbye sweetie, I’ll see you later” before closing the window and leaving with my father. As my father closed the door he turned to me and ordered “behave” with a sharp tone. I simply nodded in reply bowing my head sad to be left alone again.
I jumped awake. A nightmare had once again haunted my night’s sleep. It was about my father. He had taken away my mother from me once again, except she wasn’t coming back. I spent a while curled up in bed, tears streaming down my face. I didn’t dare cry in case I woke father. Eventually I rose from the bed and walked over to my best friend, the window. I sat cross legged and once again peered through this portal to a world much bigger than my own. The moon was full and high in the sky spreading light throughout the darkened world. The sky was not quite black but rather a dark blue which silhouetted dark clouds and birds gliding through the air. I stood and walked towards the window, reaching for the handle that mother uses to open it every morning like clockwork. I couldn’t reach. Disappointed and upset, I crawled back into my bed and forced myself to close my eyes, I doubted I would sleep. I lay there for a while wondering if I would ever fall asleep and if my mother would be here in the morning. I wanted to see her so badly. I turned to my side and clutched a pillow to my chest. I didn’t like this, I wanted my mother to stay with me longer but she always left. I lay thinking about this for a while before I found myself growing more and more tired, before falling back to sleep.
The next morning seemed to come almost instantaneously. The room began to light up and I slowly peeled open my eyes. I stayed laying in bed for a while before I was disturbed by a crashing sound from beneath the floor. Startled, I put my ear to the ground and tried to listen. It was mother and father. Father was shouting, he must be mad. He gets mad a lot and that’s how mother gets the bruises. Sometimes he isn’t happy giving her bruises and he tries to give them to me, but every time he’s tried to, mother has stopped him, even if it means her getting more herself. The sound of them fighting and the thought of mother being hurt caused tears to flow down my face. I lift my ear from the floor and sat up, keeping my head down. Sitting there for a while I heard a sound coming from above me. I looked up to see my friend, my window to a world beyond this one that I knew all too well. As I glared through the glass I realised out what the noise was, rain. “The sky must be crying too”, I whimpered to myself under my breath, taking in the scenery that I’ve memorized by heart. The sky was filled with dark, looming clouds that seemed to have an ocean’s worth of water flowing from them. The raindrops bounced off window and trickled down to the bottom over and over as I stared through it. The fields in the background were barely visible; of what I could see they looked wet and dreary, as if the sky’s tears had washed away the life. I buried my face in my knees and continued to cry along side my only friend. I waited there in the middle of the room waiting, waiting for my mother to come up with my breakfast and for her to let me get that “fresh air” she thinks is so important for me. I waited for what felt like years, just wanting to be able to talk to someone again, although it seemed like today would be the first day mother wouldn’t come to be with me. My tears had dried up but the heavens still wept like a newborn child. Just as I had given up on the idea of seeing mother today I heard fumbling outside the door. The handle moved and the door slowly opened. It was mother. I jumped to my feet and ran towards her, arms open wide and a grin on my face. She fell to her knees and held out her arms, grabbing me as I came into reach. This close, I noticed it. She had blood on her lip. She mumbled the words “people are cruel and evil things sweetie” under her breath and I just replied with, “I know” ,holding her close. She smiled and kissed my cheek before standing and walking over to the window. The weather was still terrible but she still turned to me and said, “You need your fresh air” and opened the window regardless. The noise of the rain suddenly became much louder and a cold breeze blew through the room. I could hear a whistling sound from the wind outside and an occasional car driving on the wet road below. Mother looked at me and smiled “I have a surprise for the birthday boy”, she said still smiling at me. My face dropped, “Its today?” I asked confused. “Mhm”, she answered walking over to me, “I’ll be back soon with your present and your breakfast”. She kissed my forehead and left the room. I got excited now, had she gotten what I asked? and would she spend longer with me today? After a while I heard a noise on the opposite side of the door. I lept back to my feet in anticipation, eyes locked on the door. For a few seconds there was nothing but then the door flew open revealing not my mother but my father. He was rocking on his feet as though he was half asleep and a stale smell quickly filled the room. His hands were unsteady but in the left he held a brown bottle and in the right thick, black belt. He took an unbalanced step towards me, mumbling inaudible sounds beneath his breath. My hands were trembling, I was scared, and I didn’t know where mother was. He raised his right hand. I put up my hands to shield my face and closed my eyes, waiting for the impact. Smack! I felt it come down on my side. I stayed there as I felt the belt strike me again and again and again before eventually hearing the sound of my mother’s voice screaming at him to stop. My father started to turn around and walk towards her but as he was about to reach her, he fell flat on his face, unconscious.
I was still shielding my face when mother walked over to me with the same bowl of porridge and a spoon. I could see out into the hallway, I had never seen it before and it was a long room with cream coloured walls with a few doors along the walls. When mother noticed me looking she immediately closed the door. She then hastily said, “Wait here”, leaving the room once again. I began to eat the porridge but was taken by surprise to find nothing special about it. “It’s my birthday I thought she had a surprise for me”, I thought to myself. This thought was interrupted by her walking back into the room; in her arms was a solid wooden chair. It was much bigger than the stool that I have been using for as long as I can remember. She put it down beside the old stool and beckoned me to come sit. I did as she wanted but as I sat, I clenched my side in pain. Mother lifted me up and pulled up my shirt, There were red marks along my side that felt like they were throbbing. I saw mother starting to cry but she stopped herself, I couldn’t help but think she was doing it for my sake. I was confused. Mother knew father was like this but she stayed. She knew he would hurt her but she let him. I turned to her and asked her this. She wiped the tears from her eyes and brushed her hands through my hair as she did when she spoke with me. “I stay to keep you safe and away from the danger sweetie”, she said, still caressing my hair. I froze. The reason she stayed was to keep me safe? I was the reason that father could hurt her. I began to cry and buried my face in mother’s shoulder. She put an arm around me and rubbed the small of my back. I caught a glimpse out the window. The weather that had began to lighten up had only worsened. The rain was pelting down from the sky like little bullets shot from the clouds. The outside looked dead, empty and void of life, as if the water had just washed it all away.
Both mother and I jumped when we heard staggering from outside the door. Father must have woken up. Mother told me to wait as she quickly staggered to the window forcing it shut, then leaving in a hurry, not wanting father to come back inside the room. Left to my own thoughts an idea struck me. My only wish was to be outside and the only thing keeping mother here was me. I heard father shouting again and mother shouting back at him but only one thing was going through my mind. Outside! I wanted to see what was beyond these walls but more importantly I needed to help mother. If I left then mother would have no reason to stay. My body began to move on its own, running over to the window, reaching for the handle, my only way to the outside. I couldn’t reach and began to become disheartened, thats when I saw it, the chair. Grabbing it and dragging it over to beneath the window I climbed up onto it. I reached once again stretching as much as I possibly could before finally grasping the handle in my hand. I’ve never been this close to the window before, I could see myself in the glass. I had never seen my reflection before and was surprised by what I saw. My eyes were light blue like my mother but my hair is black like my father’s; the thought of me looking like him repulsed me enough to ignore my reflection. As I twisted the handle I noticed something, the rain had stopped and there were spears of sunlight piercing through the clouds. Amazement struck me, I had seen something I had only ever seen once before. A rainbow. It was so beautiful I could only compare it to one thing, mother. It was as if it was her, smiling at me as I looked at the shining colours in the sky. Smiling back like I only do to mother I forced the window open and a cool breeze hit my face. Pulling myself up, I saw more than I have ever seen before. The world does not seem so dangerous but rather beautiful to my eyes, I see the hills that I have adored my whole life and the roads where I heard the cars drive past, I see the world that I want to explore. If I did this it would let my mother leave, this was the only thing that gave me the confidence I needed to pull myself through the portal in which I have only ever looked into before now and now I am entering it, the world beyond these walls. As the first beam of sunlight hits my face I realise what I had done, I’m outside.

The Tern


For more than a year now my elderly neighbour, Jack, has been sorting through his life and getting rid of some of his stuff. While we’re not family, and have known each other for just a couple of years, a lot of what he has no more use for has come my way.

He began with hardback copies of The Encyclopaedia of Australian Tractors and Tractors and Modern Agriculture. He offered them to me one sunny morning as we were talking across the scraggy hedge of lavender that passes for the fence separating us. Read more

Returning [again]

The Yarra River at Collingwood

The Yarra River at Collingwood

As part of the Weather Stations project, in September and October of 2014, I visited the cities of Berlin, Dublin, London, Warsaw, Gdansk and Hel, working with school and community groups. I learned a great deal. Some of the knowledge I came away with surprised me. It was most common for people to tell me, ‘of course, you have it much worse out there,’ (climate change); a reflection on the issue as a visible catastrophe. Everybody knew about the experience of bush fires in Australia (which we are again experiencing), drought, and the damage to the Great Barrier Reef, reflecting an understandable but severely limited engagement with the issue.

Historically speaking, bush fires in Australia have little to do with climate change and have been, and are, a natural environmental phenomenon. Certainly, with the planet getting warmer (and 2014 may be the warmest year on record), fires will occur with both greater frequency and ferocity. And while some in Australia accept the link between climate change and the increase in bush fire activity, at a psychological and intellectual level we respond to fire as a disaster to be fought, conquered and overcome – even in grief. Even when the immediate disaster is associated with the broader issue, the language used to describe our response is couched in militaristic language. We battle and defeat the enemy. Confronted by widespread flood, caused as much or more by irresponsible urban planning than changes in weather patterns, we are Queenslanders, as if the heroic label somehow grants special status to a group of people hardy enough to defeat all – until the next flood visits.

The negative impacts of climate change on the environment do not manifest themselves in sudden bursts of meteorological activity alone. Climate change is not simply a recent phenomenon or future event. Its impact is both gradual and profound. The effects of climate change on the planet should not be reduced to a sound bite or dramatic image, such as the devastation caused by a bush fire. Remembering back to the catastrophic Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009, the weather conditions leading up to the weekend of the fires were extreme. What most people do not know, or have forgotten, is that more people died in Victoria as a consequences of extreme heat before the fires than those who died in the fires themselves. Without doubt, the trauma and violence wreaked by the fires had an immediate and shocking impact on the lives of the people who experienced them. But, as most of us know little or nothing of the many hundreds of deaths that had nothing to do with the fires, but everything to do with the warming of the planet, we do not give enough thought to an issue that does not abate between fire seasons, being the impacts of climate change that are ever-present. While people in other parts of the globe watch images of fire in Australia on their TV screens and regard this country as a Global Warming Horror Story, they, like us, will have their lives changed, not by shock and awe, but stealth. For instance, the Arctic Circle is melting – melting too slowly to produce a 30 second YouTube clip of any consequence, but changing the planet in a way we have not known for thousands of years.

Yesterday I again walked the banks of my river – the Yarra, in Melbourne. I have written about the river several times now for the Weather Stations project; I have behaved as provincially, ‘non’ global, and perhaps small-minded as I can get. I’m not sure why as yet, but I think my understanding of the issue of climate change has to be found here, on the river. I’m reading as much as I can about the politics and science of climate change. I speak to as many people as I can about the issue. I came to this project as a writer and teacher. And yet, increasingly I have become interested in not the power of language, but its limitations. The planet is more powerful than any words or narrative that humans ascribe to it.

As I was about to leave the river yesterday, I walked by a favourite bend. At a particular moment, lasting no more than a second or two, I could smell the river the way I did over forty years ago. I could feel the memory of the river in my body. It was as much a physical as a psychological reaction. My next thought was that there were no words, not a single one available to me to describe the feeling.

I was content with that feeling.

Tony Birch


Let’s Walk – number one – Tony and Nina

[map 23 - Mr Wolf, Yarra River, Melbourne]

[map 23 – Mr Wolf, Yarra River, Melbourne]

How do we speak about the places we love? If we are not poets, if our education has been limited, if saying to a teenage mate, ‘I love this place,’ causes embarrassment (all round) and results in ridicule and possible humiliation, how can we express our fierce loyalty and attachment to place? When I was a teenage boy, I loved my piece of the Yarra River in inner Melbourne. I lived on a Housing Commission estate, typical of the brutalist architectural response to ‘slum clearance’  across the globe in the post-WW2 era of ‘reconstruction’. We spent most of our time on the estate discovering new ways to slam each other into concrete walls – which dominated both the inside of the flats we lived in and the surrounding outdoor spaces.

[map 24 - my literary hero]

[map 24 – my literary hero, Barry Hines]

Tony Birch_03Despite my delinquent behaviour at school, I was always a voracious and serious reader. My favourite novel around the time I discovered the river was Barry Hines’ A Kestrel For A Knave, a story set on the other side of the world in a grim northern England mining town. The central character, Billy Casper, is a boy who suffers violence; in the home, the street, at school and on the football pitch. Billy is a boy who roams and falls in love with the ‘wilds’ surrounding his town. He also falls in love with a bird, a kestrel – Kes.Tony Birch_03

The book affected me in a deep and lasting way. I felt great affinity with Billy, and developed an admiration for the author of the book. I thought it remarkable that a writer could create a story that could travel across the globe and produce such influence in me. Hines became the first literary hero of my life, and has remained so to this day. When I was writing my first book, Shadowboxing, I thought of Billy Casper and Kes each morning before I sat down to write. And I wondered if I could, like Barry Hines, write a story that teenagers would connect with.

[map 25 - Shadowboxing]

[map 25 – Shadowboxing]

In Shadowboxing, and with each book I have written since, I have produced a story about the river: on each occasion, attempting to articulate more clearly my deep attachment to it. While I would not say that I have failed to express the extent of my attachment through words, it is clear to me that my words and stories are yet to fully satisfy me – as should be the case for any writer attempting to reiterate an idea mediated through landscape.

What is more revealing to me is that when I was a teenage boy, I did not possess the expression of language to convey my love of the Yarra River. And now that I do, the words still fail. Perhaps that is a good thing? My (slightly more mature) intellect and my creative work are no more able to express that love – that way I felt about the river, as I lived it, walked it, swam in it and dreamed of it when I was a boy.

[map 26 - Nina Birch looking for her father's demolished home - Abbotsford, Melbourne]

[map 26 – Nina Birch looking for her father’s demolished home – Abbotsford, Melbourne]

Yesterday, I went walking with my sixteen year-old daughter, Nina, along the Yarra River. On the way there, we stopped at my mother’s place for a cup of tea. She is in her mid-seventies, and has lived her entire life within a couple of miles of the centre of the city. While we spent many years as children on the move from debt collectors, the police and government bulldozers, we never travelled far, living by a rule passed down to my mother from her mother – ‘if you can’t hear a tram bell when you’re in bed of a night, you’re living too far away.’

[Map 27 - 'Slum kids' - looking happier than they ought to, 1966 - author is second from the left]

[map 27 – ‘Slum kids’ looking happier than they ought to, 1966; author is second from the left]

After we left my mother’s house, we walked along a plantation separating Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway from the narrow streets leading down to the river. The plantation had once been a street of terrace houses, full of kids, and kitchen tables, and backyards with barking dogs. It is all gone. When I pointed to a spot on the plantation and told Nina she was standing on my childhood front doorstep, she looked around as if searching for a ghost. The house I lived in at the time was knocked down for the freeway development. It was close enough to the river that I could lay in bed of a night and smell the scent of the water drifting into my bedroom, and could hear the water rushing over Dights Fall, no more than a few hundred yards from my back gate.

[map 28 - Dights Falls, Abbotsford, Melbourne]

[map 28 – Dights Falls, Abbotsford, Melbourne]

In the years that I hung out at the river, it was the remnant of a nineteenth century industrial site. Cotton mills and factories had been built along the lower side of the river. The workers for the mills were crowded into narrow houses built in the shadows of capitalist expansion. Dights Falls itself, built over a ‘natural’ waterfall, was a ‘man-made’ construction. It powered a turbine in an adjoining wheelhouse that supplied water for the mill. By the time I inhabited the river, more than 100 years later, both the mill and the wheelhouse were in ruin; all the better for young teenagers laying claim to our own place.

[map 28 - the wheelhouse wall, Dights Falls]

[map 29 – the wheelhouse wall, Dights Falls]

Nina and I took photos at the falls and walked across to the wheelhouse. While the ruin has been stabilised, its past remains present; in the rancid smell of stagnant water laying at the bottom of the wheelhouse, the damp mosses creeping up the redbrick walls, and the scratching sounds coming from the darkness below, which could well be bare tree branches bending with the wind. Or the river rats we witnessed as kids, happily strutting their stuff in the mud and rubbish and weeds. I pointed to various spots around the falls where we rode our bikes, where we jumped from rocks into the water, and where we came across burned-out wrecks of stolen cars. I would not say Nina was envious of the stories of my teenage years, but I do know she has a yearning to discover places of her own; places outside regulation, outside the prying eyes of authorities, parents and invasive CCTV cameras. Such places are harder to find in the contemporary city, but I hope she stumbles across them before its too late, before she grows up.

[map 29 - Nina visiting the site of her father's beautifully misspent youth]

[map 30 – Nina visiting the site of her father’s beautifully misspent youth]

We left the falls and headed downriver toward the city, passing endless numbers of drains that wash rubbish from the streets into the water. When I was a boy, it was nothing to see chemicals dumped directly into the water from the factories above. Until the 1970s, the lower Yarra was widely accepted as the open drain of industry. Swimming in it was hazardous (as I experienced as a teenager, collecting pus-filled sores and alien rashes after a swim in the river).  In the 1970s, Melbourne’s Age newspaper began a campaign, ‘Give The Yarra A Go’, in an effort to raise both the profile of the river and the consciousness of citizens. The campaign had some success, and the river did become cleaner (although over the years, many setbacks have occurred).

[map 31 - a man expressing angry over the violence done to his Yarra River]

[map 31 – a man expressing anger over the violence done to his Yarra River]

I often felt angry over the poisoning of my river. I would sometimes see dead fish in the water, in the area around drain outlets. Or oil and paint trails drifting downstream with the current. In those days, I would not have considered that the environmental damage done to my river could be stopped. I felt powerless. My parents were powerless. My community did not have a voice that could be heard. All we had was our anger. An awareness of environmentalism was an impossible notion. Today, so many of us are aware. And we are also more informed. There are also outlets for us to articulate and express our concerns. And yet many of us feel equally powerless.

Why is this so? I cannot provide an answer here. It is, though, a central idea in my thinking and writing for the Weather Stations project.

[map 33 - Nina visits another childhood home of her father - Nicholson Street, Abbotsford, Melbourne]

[map 32 – Nina visits another childhood home of her father – Nicholson Street, Abbotsford, Melbourne]

We left the river and went to the Salvation Army shop in Abbotsford. Nina bought a woollen cardigan, and I picked up a t-shirt and running top. I’ve been going to ‘op-shops’ for more than 50 years. I love the smell of the places. They smell of life, or use rather than refuse. We stopped for one last photo opportunity outsider another house I lived in during the 1970s. Nina asked if I had enjoyed living in the house. ‘Yes. I was happy here. We were never far from the water.’

The house had been seriously renovated and would fetch a packet at auction. I remember walking by the house many years ago when it was being fixed up. I was angry then also. When we rented the house, it had holes in the roof, the walls and the floors. The rising damp reached the ceiling, and the only hot water was supplied by a ‘chip heater’. I was annoyed that it took someone with money to make the house decent to live in.

I don’t think that way any longer. I’m simply happy that this is one childhood home of mine that was not bulldozed for some grand scheme. There was a kid’s bike on the front verandah, and a muddy pair of gardening boots. There are children in that house, playing and crying and sleeping. There is somebody living in that house who turns their garden over and clips their roses and sits on a chair on the front verandah in the afternoon sun. I hope they love their house.

Tony Birch

Mount Seskin Community College, Tallaght, Dublin – Weather Reflections

2nd year English class ( students 13-14yrs). Work developed following the Tony Birch creative writing workshop at Trinity College Dublin, TCD, September 2014


Mount Seskin CC Weather Stations webpage



Last night when I went outside to look at the sky, it was like a blanket that covered us from the sun. It was quite humid out and it was spitting rain .I couldn’t see the blue of the sky. The sky was covered with a grey like colour. A few years ago the sky was covered with broken cloud and it was nippy (cold) just the way I liked it.               Chloe Mc Carthy

Weather Stations: Memory

I remember when I was 11 years old and it was extremely hot outside. I called into my friends’ houses. We all played a big game of football on the green. We played for ages and then we all got water guns and balloons and the biggest water fight ever. By the time we finished it was only 1 O’clock but we were all soaked.               Lee Hyland

Colourful sunset


As I look into the sunset the colours of orange and purple beam in the sunset, there are only a few clouds but it’s cold.

As I look to my left it is dark but if I look the opposite way it is purple and orange.

When I was young at this time in December it would most definitely be dull and rainy.

There would be puddles on the ground, the grass would be muddy and it would be misty.  Josh O’Keeffe


Description of the Sky


The sky is white and calm.

It makes me feel calm and happy that it is not cloudy, rainy or sunny.

It is just right.

It is also windy and cold which goes well with the white sky.

By Awais Zafar


Description of the Sky
It was nearly seven o’clock and the sky above me was still bright. The sun made the whole sky light up. There were very few clouds in the sky tonight. I sat there in my back garden, lying down on warmish grass and watched the sun set. It was so beautiful and colourful. Pink spread through the blue gloomy sky.       Siobhan Samoila


Weather Stations

It’s about half 6 and I am looking up at the sky and the sun is shining beautifully. I love when the sun is shining because it gives me an opportunity to play my favourite sport football. When the sun is shining it puts me in such a happy mood.

It was the end of summer and before we go back to school me and my thought it would be great to end the summer on a high and go to the beach with the family and also our cousins. We checked the weather forecast to see if it could go ahead and it turned out that it was 17 degrees. So we grabbed all our gear and told our relatives and we all headed up to Bray beach. We were having so much fun building sand castles and putting our parents in the sand. The funnest part was splashing in the water with my 2 year old baby brother. Then all of a sudden it started lashing rain, then it started to hailstone. We all took our belongings and ran to the cars. While making our way to the car the hail was hurting my back because I was topless but thank god we got into the cars before it got really bad.           Tawwab Owalabi


My memory

When I was young I went to a place called Glendalough,

I was only about 6 and I was there with my family. It was very hot out, so hot we didn’t see one man there with upper body wear on.

It was from 27 degrees to about 35,

I fell asleep for 5 minutes and when I woke up it was misty, rainy and very dull and the dog was soaking wet, we all had to go home.     Josh O’Keeffe




10/10/2014          Description of the sky

Today wasn’t a clear day at all it was raining all day. It was dull outside and very cold and foggy however there wasn’t that many people in class as well and the teacher still went on and on about work in school. When it was lunch time it wasn’t a highlight at all because I was drenched and really cold on the way to lunch and back. School was finished early today because there was a teacher meeting after school. I was so glad that school was over early. My mum came to pick me up from school after I was done. She asked me how was my day, and I didn’t answer. I went to bed early and when I woke up I was happy again.    Kashifa Morenikeji



Jobstown Flood


In 2012 there was a flood in Jobstown. It was raining heavily all through the day and by the evening it had flooded. Water came into some peoples’ homes but my house was safe. Everybody was outside their front doors observing the flood. People were helping to push cars through the water. The people who went onto the street were wet all the way up to their knees. It was a surprise for me because I had never seen anything like this before in Jobstown.         Awais Zafar


Colourful sunset Josh OKeeffe

Description of the sky by Awais Zafar

Description of the sky Siobhain Samoila

Jobstown Flood by Awais Zafar

Kashifa Moreniken a memory

My memory JoshOK


Sky description WarrenDowman


Weather Memory Siobhain Samoila

Weather Station Siobhain Samoila

Weather Station Kristan O’Neill

Weather stations Tawwab Owalabi

Weather Stations by Lee Hyland MEMORY

Weather Stations by Lee Hyland Sky.

Weather Stations James PosseOliver

Weather Stations Dylan Byrne Carr

Weather Station Tori Deegan

Late Summer Afternoon – Lukas Hoffman, Sophie-Scholl-Schule

Berlin, 20 September 2014

Berlin, 20 September 2014


I look up.
The ocean that we call sky is clear.
The burning light of the sun hurts my eyes.
Instinctively I turn my head in another direction.
What I see is the reflecting after-glow on the other side of the big mirror.
My brain tells me it’s a good day,
but it’s been a cold day.
The sun wants to tell me something,
now that I have been thinking about her.
But she doesn’t like what I have been thinking,
so she goes and her place takes a red and orange cloud.
This beautiful blue ocean turned into a dark unclear cover.
All that happened within a few minutes.

Lukas Hoffman, Sophie-Scholl-Schule, Berlin

Shout To The Top?: for World Environment Day

One of the priorities of the Tony Abbott Coalition government (Liberal/National Party Coalition) when it came to power in 2013, was to axe the federal Climate Commission, an advisory body on matters of climate change and the environment more generally. Thanks to crowdsourcing and philanthropic donors, the organisation was reformed as the independent Climate Council.

The Council’s most recent report, Abnormal Autumn, provides sober information for those concerned about climate change. Not only has Australia experienced our warmest two years on record, with the likelihood of an El Niño weather event affecting the continent later in 2014, into 2015, it will only get hotter and certainly drier in the southern half of Australia. As the overwhelming majority of scientists now agree, the Council is telling us that climate change is not a concern for future generations; ‘Climate change is here, it is happening and Australians are already feeling its impact.’ (Climate Council report, quoted in The Guardian, 2 June 2014.)

[map 19 - 'I'm not going to take it anymore' - factory wall, Melbourne, Australia.]
[map 19 – ‘I’m not going to take it anymore’ – factory wall, Melbourne, Australia.]

The Weather Stations project asks creative writers to express our views on climate change. When the four writers from Europe were guests of the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, we talked a lot about the basic question – what can writing and writers do to inform the wider community about the issue? The talk was healthy and helpful, although, not unexpectedly, we didn’t come up with a clear answer (not to my knowledge, at least). I was initially frustrated by my own inability to confidently state – ‘I can make a difference’.

I’m no longer frustrated, because I realise that there is no answer to the question. I do not know if my writing makes a difference or not. But I do know that many writers have had an impact on the way I understand and respond to climate change, including our guests from Europe. The only way forward for writers and artists, I believe, is to do the work and put it out there. Give an essay, story, poem, film or image its life. And hope it connects …

In the meantime, we have the here and now – real weather change – to deal with. Here and now. I’m positive than if politicians and businesses continue to ignore the drastic need for new and assertive policies to deal with climate change, there will be increased levels of protest and direct action across the globe. This is an act of necessity when confronted with inaction.

When I was in Sydney last week for the writers’ festival, I went for a long run around the harbour. The sky was clear and the water sparkled. It was a beautiful day. While running, I thought about what would happen if I were to take a gallon of dirty oil and pour it into the harbour – in front of locals, tourist and the water authority. I expect I would be set upon and arrested (and, possibly, beaten to a pulp).

We are pouring poison into the atmosphere – NOW – and we’re getting away with it. Or so we think. In fact, we are paying a heavy price for our vandalism. And we’re not poisoning somebody else’s water and air, somebody we can forget about. We’re poisoning ourselves and each other.

Tony Birch

An Irrational Appeal to Your Power

There are times when, in order to succeed, we must suspend rational thought.

I say this in response to a word that has come up a lot with people I’ve talked to about climate change: ‘Powerless’. Now, this is not a Nike ad – I am not a lifestyle guru. But I need to explain why we should remove the word ‘powerless’ from any further discussion about climate change.

Okay, so we live within limits. For a start, even those of us living in democratic societies are not actually free to do whatever we want . . . and in truth, the vast majority of us wouldn’t want complete freedom and what comes with it. We are not free to live as we like because, as social creatures, we have chosen to accept responsibility by placing constraints on our behaviour. We live our lives according to sets of values and rules of escalating severity. Social skills, traditions, notions of respectability, maintenance of reputation, honour, the rule of law and ultimately, physical capability. We accept these restraints because they protect us from extremes of behaviour and channel our efforts into maintaining and improving society.

And our society, despite frequent claims to the contrary, is improving. Progress is, at times, excruciatingly slow and sometimes events occur that seem to pull us so far back that you think your heart would break with the injustice of it, but mankind is dragging itself forward. As a race, we should not allow ourselves to be deluded by nostalgia for a better time that never was.

Ask yourself where and at what point in history you would rather live. Pick a time when things were more just, more fair, more enlightened. A time when government was more democratic, when there was more equality, when you had a better chance in most countries of a fair trial, a decent meal, access to life-saving medical expertise or relatively painless dental treatment. The cost of this progress to our planet and many of its people has been almost unfathomable and we are still capable of horrific acts, but our tolerance of such things is far less than it used to be. Our awareness is greater than it has ever been before. Our empathy has a far wider reach. On the whole, our world is a better place (for humans at least) than it has ever been.

While the constraints our society places upon us may limit many of the things we could or would do, they also enable us to do far more together than we could do individually. Money TalksBut this structure has also resulted in our granting a great deal of importance to political, religious and business leaders and, in doing so, we have given them a large degree of influence over our lives.

We are prone to thinking in terms of those who have power, and those who have none. Given the way power is distributed, this is a very rational way to think. It is easy to believe that those in ‘authority’ make all the important decisions – and that those who have neither power nor money in abundance are excluded from those decisions. It is a very reasonable assumption to make.

As the other writers and I on the Weather Stations project seek out the knowledge, opinions and viewpoints of the experts, the word ‘powerless’ keeps arising in our conversations. Because this is seen as the greatest obstacle to making the changes that will help us overcome the challenges that face us as our climate transforms our world. It’s not the lack of power, but the inertia this belief instills.

Where our weather, our environment is concerned, most people believe themselves to be powerless. It is too big, too much to take, too overwhelming. Higher tides drown coastlines, storms uproot giant trees, dry heat triggers bush-fires and rain-swollen rivers flood farmland. And it would be a mistake to consider this attitude to be an ignorant position. Many of the people who know the hard facts of our situation, who have fought  for years against the causes of climate change, are oppressed by this belief. Powerless-1You know an environmental campaigner has descended into despair when they start looking to nuclear power in the hope of reducing the amount of carbon we’re spewing into our atmosphere.

Something else that kept coming up in our discussions was the idea of ‘being positive’. I think this very phrase is problematic. ‘Being positive’ can suggest that you’re merely looking on the bright side, putting a brave face on it . . . turning that frown upside-down. Those who have a good understanding of the facts, but have little hope, regard the phrase as a superficial attitude to a crippling problem. Many of those who have little comprehension of the facts, but feel even more powerless as a result, have even less regard for the notion.

As far as our response to our changing environment is concerned, ‘being positive’ is not a facile attitude. It’s the only one we can have. Either we take action to meet this challenge or we accept our fate. And given that we’re looking at events that will inevitably lead to mankind having less land to farm, less food and therefore experiencing more conflict; given that some pretty sober, intelligent and well informed people are now talking about the possible collapse of our civilization within the lifetimes of our children, then accepting our fate isn’t really an option, is it?

Any rational person would be right to feel overwhelmed by the scale of this problem . . . Which is why I need to make an argument against rational thought.

The progress of our society has, from the outset, been driven by people who defied reasonable expectations of failure. Humans have a proven history of attempting things that reason suggested could not succeed . . . and confounding this belief by succeeding.

This kind of irrational ambition is something I – along with almost every other professional artist – have a bit of experience in.

If you want to make a living as a writer in Ireland, statistics would suggest that you have more chance of winning the lottery. And if you want to devote your life to an art form, it takes a lot of time and effort to develop the skills you need – diverting you from investing in other careers that offer far more chance of success, and certainly security. PowerlessnessAnd yes, your chances of becoming a full-time writer are very slim . . . but the statistics are a bit misleading.

For a start, you have to count all the people who tried, but didn’t try hard enough; who failed to put in the work, or develop their technique, or their thought processes. All the people who didn’t try enough different approaches, who took too narrow a view. All the people who simply didn’t persist long enough. If you can crack all of that, you’ve substantially increased your odds, though there’s still a good deal of luck involved.

It is extraordinarily difficult to become a professional artist of any kind, but people still go for it all the time . . . and every now and then, someone actually makes it through. But nobody who took a completely rational view of it would ever try in the first place, because in terms of time, money and emotional trauma, the risks don’t make sense. And imagine a world without people who have the passion to defy those odds.

It is the very definition of truly historic achievement that some succeed where others think it impossible. Whether it’s in exploration, science or medicine, in sport or the arts, engineering or humanitarian work or social justice, ignoring good sense is part of what makes us what we are.

The apathy, this lack of belief that we can rise to the challenge of climate change, is not a fact, it is an attitude. And attitudes can be changed.

And I don’t accept that it’s just the powerful people who are in the position to take action. Even those who are driven by greed and self-preservation can, despite sometimes enormous power, be forced to change their path. They may be determined that we burn every last crumb of coal, or drop of oil or breath of gas (and there’s every chance we’ll do just that), but when you get right down to it, these people are small-minded giants who will go with the tide in order to follow the flow of money and protect their positions. Because tides do turn, and I have faith in these giants’ dedication to self-preservation.

Ireland has its fair share of corrupt, greedy and small-minded leaders – though like any country, we do have some people in power who look at the bigger picture too. And the writing of new laws to make change concrete has as much to do with what the majority of people will refuse to tolerate any longer, as it has with the demands of the powerful.

Let’s take a look at some of the fundamental changes that have happened in Ireland, just within my lifetime:

We no longer tolerate beating children in schools, or drink driving, or secondhand smoke. Religion has a steadily decreasing influence over our politics. Where the environment is concerned, we have made huge improvements to the levels of pollution in our rivers, around our coastline and in the quality of our air. Powerless-3-Black Banks Wind FarmWe dealt with the plastic bags that littered our country. We cut our use of CFCs because of the damage to the ozone layer. Solar power is becoming a practical option for home-owners (this in a country not known for its levels of sunlight) and we are setting standards for wind-power, with nearly 20% of our electricity now coming from wind, with occasional levels capable of supplying 50%. The target for 2020 is to be able to produce 40% of our electricity with wind farms.

All this in a country that, despite a lot of economic growth, is not wealthy by the standards of many of its neighbours. And each of these things has been achieved often because of changes in legislation, not because one person in power decided it was necessary, but because ordinary people who cared enough campaigned for it until attitudes changed, the public began demanding it and the law-makers judged the time was right and carried it through to the legislation that finally provided the tipping point.

Each time, because of a change in public attitudes, the new law became desirable, then necessary, then inevitable. We need to, we can, we will do the same to tackle the changes in our environment, because we have no real choice in the matter. This has to get done.

Even the world of business is coming round, with investors looking increasingly towards renewable sources of energy because fossil fuels are seen for what they are: a dead end. They are a resource we are completely certain will run out, while the alternatives are, effectively, limitless. The prices of oil, gas and coal have nowhere to go but up. It is absolutely clear to those who are crunching the long-term numbers that we have to end our reliance on these dwindling resources, because scarcity will lead to conflict, conflict makes for an unstable market and markets don’t like instability. It gets in the way of making money.

But beyond all of this, there is one utterly compelling and persuasive fact that makes me believe that we can meet the challenge of climate change, that we can reduce the damage we’re doing and adapt to the changes past damage has caused. There is a reason we should stop referring to ourselves as ‘powerless’, a reason we should have hope and be forthright and energetic in the action we take. A reason why we should promote a positive attitude among ordinary people, and even an expectation of success. And is it this:

Human beings are so powerful that we fundamentally changed the weather on our world . . . and we did it by accident.

Imagine what we could do if we actually put our minds to it.






Mining for Ideas

Mining for IdeasThe one question that writers get asked all the time is: ‘Where do you get your ideas?’

The world is full of things that inspire us every day; what we see around us, the things we hear, the events we experience. No one should ever be short of ideas for stories, once they know how to look. This stuff gets into our heads, whether we want it or not. Even if you’re not writing stories, your thoughts are being influenced by these things. I write in a range of genres, though most of them will have a weird aspect that could categorize a story as science fiction, fantasy, mystery or horror. I am fascinated by the strange, the unexpected, the challenging and by how often ‘ordinary life’ thrusts these in front of me. Most writers of fiction make up stories to describe their experience of reality.

But our ideas influence our surroundings too. I am working with Weather Stations to explore this mutual influence. We decide to mine the earth, dredge the sea-bed, burn fuel that sends carbon and other pollutants into our air. We affect the environment that has such a profound effect upon us. And that’s where I’ll be getting my ideas.

(This piece was originally written for the Tallaght Community Arts newsletter)