In Presentation, Production on October 5, 2011 at 9:22 am

The Cory’s Shearwater. A compact and aerodynamic sea bird with greyish brown colouring and a distinctive white, dark trimmed underwing. There’s a little valley that slopes down to Tarifa town from the hills behind it and the skies above the valley are packed with them. There are many more than I’ve ever noticed before – more even than the ever present gulls it would seem. At first I imagine that they’re back in this part of the world for winter having spent summer further north. A little reading later and I realise that they are not arriving; they are gathering for departure.

The Shearwater doesn’t have a north-south migration pattern. They summer in the Mediterranean (and why wouldn’t they?) nesting in the cliffs of the sea’s many islands and in the winter they migrate to the Atlantic, fanning out in every direction – some of them as far north as the coasts of Ireland and Britain. Rotten choices for a winter getaway if you ask me but who am I to speak? This year, I’ll be following them.

For birds migration is life; life is migration. They’re rather good at it. Routes are well established and pinpoint timing is instinctive. There are no questions. You don’t hear about any dissent in the ranks; anti-migration movements or campaigns for a sedentary lifestyle for example. With the approval of the people at Nike, they just do it. They live it.

People, on the other hand, generally avoid migration unless strictly necessary. Generally. The great human migrations have been fuelled by war and hunger, scarcity and abundance, the odd dollop of exploratory spirit, but in the main by gnawing need. We certainly don’t undertake it so lightly that we do it once a year, Florida being a notable exception. It is for us a great upheaval, a struggle – at best a necessary evil embraced only by those who flee danger or chase a better life.

It was always my intention when we came out here, our intention I should say, that we would show up in our respective home territories (Ireland and Germany) at least once a year. Sometimes I would accompany K on her trips to Germany and sometimes I wouldn’t, but I would always make it back to Ireland in any twelve month period. It’s an appointment I have missed, just, so it feels good to have booked a trip to Dublin this November.

If any of you have ever had any involvement in any of the great institutional traditions – New Year in Times Square, an Olympic ceremony perhaps, Proms at the Royal Albert hall, Carnaval in Rio – then you will have experienced just a glimpse of the depth of feeling that Sunday Lunch At The Grahams’ engenders in its attendees. It is a beacon of shining light in a world growing dimmer! A bulwark against entropy and decline! A last bastion of gentility in a sea of barbarism! And also, usually, a right piss up.

It might be at Uncle J’s or it might be at Aunty E’s. If it’s at Aunty E’s we will have the additional resource of the magic grotto under the stairs; in all the years I’ve been visiting that house (my whole life – my father grew up in it) the grotto has never run dry – it is probably one of the world’s major wine producers, after France and California. If we drink enough of it there will be Planxty, and if things get really out of hand the biscuit tin of family photos will be produced. It’s a unique collection of family snaps in that none of us have any idea who the people in the older images are – they just seem to look a bit like us. We enjoy speculating about them when very drunk. Since I am back on a plane to Spain at an ungodly hour on Monday morning it might be better if this particular Sunday Lunch doesn’t turn into a “photies” occasion.

My mother, it turns out, is a migratory bird herself. After many years of Floridian and Californian warmth on the other side of the ocean, she has returned. Not to Ireland, but to England; it was our home for a time and is where my brother still lives. She has convinced my stepfather S, an American, to live there, which I think is ample testament to her powers of persuasion. And so I will find myself there this year for Christmas after a decade away, in a town that in terms of memories probably constitutes more of a home town for me than Dublin does – I was an adolescent there and a lot of shit goes down during adolescence. K is coming and I may be able to point out a few of the landmarks of my youth to her, as long as they haven’t demolished them to build another shopping centre.

I will have the company of a nephew and two nieces for whom I have been a shamefully absent uncle. They’re grown now and my niece, R, has two young children I’ve never met, so it will be a family Christmas on a level we haven’t achieved, as a family, for a very long time.

In both locations, and especially in Dublin which is coastal, I’ll keep my eye out for the Cory’s Shearwaters. Despite my difficulties in arranging what for them is a thoroughly unexceptional journey, I will feel that we have something in common.

[tweetmeme source=”@RobinJGraham” only_single=false]

  1. Wow! You have some pretty good powers of persuasion too! The thought just entered my mind that maybe I should migrate to somewhere new. I’ve been here for 5 years and there is just too much world to live stagnantly.

  2. I’ve never thought about the fact that humans generally prefer to stay in one place until something catastrophic forces a move. Guess those of us that like to have an annual (or more frequent) migration are in the minority.

  3. “A right piss up” sounds like incoherent babble to me. What does it mean? A drinking party?

  4. A pint or two or Guiness, your family, and a few yarns – sounds perfect! I am most concerned about the decision making of the Cory’s Shearwater though – Ireland and England in the winter – I’d say they aren’t thinking straight after the summer sun of the Med.

  5. So what is usually served at the Graham’s Sunday lunch, aside from the piss up? =) Sounds like you’ll have some epic reunions coming up! I always say that while I don’t want to live in the same cities as John’s and my respective family mobs, I love to go and visit. As you said, there’s something comforting about the love, ritual and atmosphere after being out in the cold cruel world.

    • Ironically, Spanish dishes are popular. Then there’s the odd bit of fish, or perhaps a roast. Good ol’ bangers and mash have been known to make an appearance. All good stuff!

  6. I’m wondering if the Shearwater is drunk to leave the Mediterranean for chilly Ireland and England in the summer? Hope you have a good holiday, even if it is in England :).

  7. I like England – and Ireland – in winter. Something very real about it, which I think is lacking in places like Florida and California. Winter isn’t meant to be just like summer – it’s meant to be cold, windy, mystical – with friends and family gathering around fireplaces…

  8. It’s interesting to think about human travel as migration, the way birds do. Here in Chicago, people stay put all summer, then migrate south during the cold winter.

    • It is. I was thinking more of the great historical migrations, eg. that of humans from Africa and then from the Indian subcontinent into Europe, but there is this equivalent nowadays where people “summer” somewhere.

  9. Like your mother, I have lived mostly in Florida and California… but would LOVE to live back in England. I lived there for 7 months and absolutely loved it. hopefully we will make the move soon!

  10. Love this post Robin and good question that you raise. As for migration, humans did it many years ago. Now we have become more sedentary – and not just in where we live. We are sedentary in all aspects of the word as we sit on our butts and are getting fatter. I digress…

    Hope you have a great time in Ireland. I am not sure I could migrate like birds but the idea is appealing. Not so sure why ‘home’ is so nice but I guess I find comfort and security in the familiar.

    • Thanks Jeremy – yes “home” is important but sometimes that has to be about the people rather than the place!

      • Yes and no. I agree that home is more about who you are with than a place. However, I think my perspective on things has changed has life has changed. I don’t necessarily view this as a person or traveler as much I do as a dad. And for kids, comfort and security can be a good thing.

  11. I can relate to the idea of preferring to stay at one place. Even though I travel a lot, I always have a “base” that I come back to in the end.

    But Chinese do have a saying “Four seas as home”, meaning someone has a lot of friends everywhere, and sees the world as his/her home, not a specific country or place. I hope I have “homes” everywhere in the future XDDD

    • It’s good to have a base but not possible for everyone. I make it about people and not about places because we’ve all moved round too much for anything else to be an option!

  12. Enjoyed some insight into your family’s migratory patterns, as well as that of the Cory’s Shearwater (never knew of this bird before)! Fun & interesting, as always, to read your well-written articles.

  13. I think most families in my home province of Newfoundland have a tin biscuit of photos too. And some make moonshine in the shed. Wine’s too hoity… 😉

  14. Sunday lunch with your family sounds like an interesting little get together. We’ve been shamefully negligent of England over the past three years, not returning even once! I’ve got the excuse that my dad seems to have taken a shine to visiting us here though and as for our friends from home, we can’t get rid of them. They’re always here! 🙂 Would like to reacquaint ourselves with the mother country one day though…

    • Good to hear from you Julia! Maybe we aren’t as popular or something but we haven’t been inundated with visits! Just a couple so far. It will be good to get back, both to Dublin and to be among family in England for Christmas.

  15. Beautiful writing, Robin!

  16. Much appreciated Chris.

  17. […] our day together and, notwithstanding the regrettable absence, it is a good day. We used to do something similar every Sunday when K and I still lived in Ireland. E, J, I and B still do and it’s the first thing […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: