Tuesday 27 September 2016

From thermals to t-shirts as Easter sun lifts the spirits

Ann Fitzgerald

Published 15/04/2015 | 02:30

Fast food - a part of life today
Fast food - a part of life today

The kids are back at school after a fortnight's holiday, which was split by two distinct weather systems. The first week was so cold, wet and windy that they had to be hunted out the door to walk the dog. Days later they were pleading for a barbecue; from thermals to t-shirts in the blink of an eye.

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On the first weekend, a student from France, Estelle Platre, arrived for three weeks' work experience. She is living with us, as a member of the family.

It's kind of like travel, in reverse. We got out the atlas to learn some French geography. And everyone was delighted when Estelle made some real crepes.

Over the previous few weeks, I had noticed Robin looking at me somewhat misty-eyed across the kitchen table; that was until I realised he was looking over my shoulder, out the window, at the shooting garlic plants in a sheltered spot in the garden.

On the Wednesday of Holy Week, between the showers of hailstones, we planted some bare-root Scots Pine. Hopefully, they will do better than the birch and oak we planted over Easter two years ago.

A long hot dry summer followed and, though Robin did his best, he eventually had to give up trying to keep them watered. When it came to the cattle or the trees, there was no contest. About half of them didn't make it.

By the way, Sam Dunne of Dunnes Garden Centre in Durrow says there is another week or so left to plant bare-root plants, so hopefully we will get a few beech trees in.

Bare-root trees are cheaper than the potted ones and grow just as well. It's just that there is a limited time-span during which to plant them and unfortunately it's usually closed by the time I get around to it.

On Holy Thursday we went to the movies in Kilkenny and afterwards headed to a well-known fast-food chain outlet. It was my first visit to this particular venue and I was gobsmacked. Not in a good way.

I've no problem with ordering machines or with a table where you press a button and part of it swivels out to make a bigger surface area. And a physical play area is always welcome.

But there was also a row of game consoles, which are like magnets to a lot of kids.

The image that jumped to mind was of food being shovelled in with one hand while the other was tapping away on a console. (There was a sign saying no food was allowed in the area but also evidence that this was being ignored).

Fast food is part of life today and is fine on occasion. But I wonder and worry about where our relationship with food is going. To me, the message the consoles send out to an impressionable age-group is that food isn't worth focussing on for even the few short minutes that it is being downed.

And it's hard to see where the idea of sharing a meal with other people fits this scenario at all.

Having got the weather forecast badly wrong on a number of occasions in the past, Met Eireann have been more cagey of late but, heading into the Easter weekend, they were positively bullish that a massive improvement was coming.

Change

Looking out the window on Good Friday morning at a grey sky hovering just above the roofs of the sheds, it was hard to see it happening. But the bitter wind was gone and Saturday brought some real heat.

'Calm before the storm' is a common term but the running order was reversed this time. The roaring winds were followed by silence. It was as if the birds were afraid to believe it might really be gone.

But over the following few days they started singing like they had never had a chance to sing before.

Estelle had arrived during a bad week. While there was work to be done on the land, the weather didn't allow it. Though very enthusiastic she hasn't much practical experience and had never driven a tractor. That has now been rectified.

We had a field that was slightly poached after being grazed. Following the time-honoured introduction to tractors for generations of farm children, she was dispatched to roll it.

On Monday morning, an artic passed the house carrying bales of silage and sitting in their midst was a pallet of fertiliser. I guess that pretty much encapsulates the fodder situation.

There isn't much grass around - and the clear skies mean there is still some frost at night - but there is also a big push to get fertiliser out in the hope that grass growth will take off.

Fertiliser spreaders were zooming up and down the fields along the route to Limerick where we headed to my sister Rose's for a few days.

Everywhere we went, people were outdoors, often just standing about like lizards, soaking up the heat and replenishing their vitamin D.

All this delicious fresh air has bolstered a sense of energy and peace.

Last week I came across a new study, led by Canadian psychologist John M Zelenski, which suggests that greater exposure to nature "may promote cooperation and environmentally sustainable behaviour" among us humans.

One group of students watched a nature video, such as the BBC's Planet Earth while another group watched documentaries about New York's urban architecture.

They subsequently played a game. It was based around fishing over a number of seasons and the objective was to make a profit while still leaving a sustainable level of fish in the water for the future.

By season 15, almost half the urban viewing group's oceans were extinct, compared to just over a quarter of the Planet Earth viewers.

The authors suggest this behaviour may have something to do with "shifting people's preferences from immediate gratification to larger but more distant payoffs."

So much might be solved just by a walk in the woods.

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