26 May 2018




There it is again. That amazing urge to be alive. I wake up and walk through the garden.  Eight different roses are in bloom. After breakfast, I carefully go through the motions to get the dreaded sick cert and R walks me back from the surgery under the flowering linden trees and briefly, the scent reminds us of a visit to Paris many years ago with a moody teenage daughter and everybody arguing for a while until life/love caught up with us. A scent bringing back tiny sparks of memories that mean family and us and always and wide open hearts.

There it is again. The realisation that this memory sits inside our cells and all we need to do is lift our heads to the trees and say, Paris, laughing quietly.

To say that my health is rapidly improving would be an overstatement, but often within overstatements are kernels of truth and frequently at the nub of a kernel can be found the essence of possibility. See, I actually have the energy to type out such a convoluted drivel of a sentence.

Like so many people attached to Ireland one way or another, I spent a good part of the last two days on various news and social media sites following the run-up to the referendum. It's a lot more than voting for the right to have an abortion and I won't go into it. There's others who have done a great job explaining this.

As with the same-sex marriage referendum of 2015, tens of thousands of Irish people working/living abroad travelled home to vote (there is no postal vote for Irish citizens abroad).
Following #hometovote can restore your idea of dedication and may even make you cry.

But then this: Yesterday, a train service from London to meet the ferry in Fishguard (Wales) crossing to Rosslare (Ireland) was experiencing some hold-ups and delays. A considerable number of Irish people were on that train who would now miss the boat and thus their chance to vote in the referendum. Several passengers used twitter et al. to alert the railway co. and the ferry operator and both responded, providing a bus to bring the passengers to the boat, while the ferry operators agreed to wait until everybody was on board.  There were massive cheers from the other ferry passengers.

Life is a string of anecdotes that keep me afloat.



21 May 2018


the only thing to do is simply continue
is that simple
yes, it is simple because it is the only thing to do
can you do it
yes, you can because it is the only thing to do
. . .
and surely we shall not continue to be unhappy
we shall be happy
but we shall continue to be ourselves
everything
continues to be possible

Frank O'Hara 

Not quite, let me add. Not everything. But who am I to ask for more.
My mood is lousy, my health is rough, I am doing all the wrong things and for reasons I pretend I cannot figure out. So yes, another medium sized flare up, unexspected and believe me, I tried to ignore it. But tell that to the vestibular nerves, the clue lies in the term labyrinthitis.

Once I was a schoolgirl on exchange in a strange land, afraid to enter the maze at Hampton Court, when a kind soul explained that upon entering a labyrinth, all you need to do is move with your hand along the right side of the path, never let go, no matter how many twists and turns, and you'll find your way out.

This is me at the moment, holding on to the wall on my right as I move through the house, slapping it with my hand in anger and frustration. And no way out in sight. Certain people are avoiding me for good reasons and so on.

This will pass, we all know that. I wish I was a better patient person.

(Oh. And I am reading all your blogs and in another life, I would comment. Believe me.)









11 May 2018

Spring morphed into a bit of summer, there is the beginning of a drought and basically, my mood is all over the place, incl. a couple of door banging episodes and frustrated shouts of anger to the world at large.
Some days I have to dig quite deeply to find my hidden store of tranquility. But, there it is still, surprise, surprise, once I have exhausted the latest wave of fury and self pity.

My grandmother has been in my dreams, also my mother and the war and I am attempting to sort it into shape and words. But, difficult.

For the time being, there is the garden. I play no part in this, I just watch. And eat.










01 May 2018

Hidden between faded holiday pictures, I find this letter from my grandmother. (The holiday pictures are from my aunt's first trip to Greece, sometime in the late 1960s. My wild aunt, my father's only sister, long dead. Another story.)

Barely two weeks after this letter was written, the US troops arrived and the war was over in Franconia.
The front door of my grandparent's house, now my father's house, is made from strong oak and there is a small window in it. When we were kids, we would climb on a chair and play the game of opening and closing this small window, shouting hello, hello, hello.
It was through this small window that my father, sent there by his parents (go, speak English), saw his first black person, a GI pointing his gun at him, and said "Hello, I am a schoolboy".

My grandmother's birthday is on May 30th. Always celebrated with fresh strawberries and large bouquets of Margeriten (leucanthemum), her favourite meadow flowers.
My father has cried real tears three times in my presence. When his brother died a sudden death in 1965, when Germany won the football world cup in 1974 and when he first told me of his mother's birthday in 1945.
He had gone out early to pick the flowers, the table was set under the plum trees, strawberry cake, when the garden gate opened and there were his brother and his sister, exhausted, dirty, hungry.



1st of April 1945

Dearest E.

Today is Easter Sunday! We enjoyed our Easter baskets, ate fresh fruit salad with sweet curds and later, we even had a cup of real coffee with our apple cake. Our Easter spread didn't look very warlike. 
But when I prepared it, I had to spend more time down in the shelter than in the kitchen. The air-raid sirens went off at 8.30 in the morning and while we were on our way to church, low flying aircraft started to strafe and we barely made it back home unharmed. Since then there has been no end to the sirens. 

We hear that there is fighting in M. and that the Western front is approaching in giant steps. The Russians are already in Vienna. Is there any help for us? When will we meet again? I am keeping N at home with a stomach ache but his school mates are already in uniform.  Still no word from A, all our letters have come back.
Now it is quiet and peaceful but what will it be like tomorrow. Let's not think ahead.
How much would I have liked to climb B hill today but nobody would join me. They are all afraid and hiding indoors.

Write to us. We may not be able to stay in touch for much longer. Please answer.
Everybody sends their love but especially, your mother.


sweet curds: a very German dairy product, I just had some earlier
the shelter was the basement of my grandparent's house
M. is a town about 30 km away
N is my father
A is his older brother, in uniform and at the time last known to be fighting in Croatia or Serbia, but as we found out later, he had already deserted and was walking home
B hill is a local attraction with a viewing platform
I wrote about my father's account of these days here.
My aunt E who had started to study medicine before the war was at the time working in a military hospital in Austria.

26 April 2018

There it is, spring. Currently, we are enjoying lilac week. A flowering lilac in every garden here. It's a German thing. Which is why R doesn't like it and has been sabotaging - by constant replanting - the gnarled old one we inherited when we bought the house back when we were younger. The man who gardens here has a strict hierarchy and on top are plants that produce food not feasts.

This is today's view for those who arrive via the back lane on bicycle. I left my bicycle there for show.
 
 
My energy levels are shitty and I try not to think of the woman I used to be, the one who cycled daily come rain or shine. Right now, I mainly concentrate on making it through half a day at work and the tiniest, shortest cycle if I'm lucky.

My brain is equally shitty, tired and certain thoughts are going round and round where I wish they would not. I am now on five different meds throughout the day. According to the experts, this has become necessary in order to reduce too many risks and therefore will keep me alive. 
Seriously. All these new versions of being alive, I am learning. Must polish my appreciation skills and all that stuff about acceptance. Taking things for granted is overrated.

So, what else happens.
Steve's post on the collecting impulse brought back memories of stuffing the bib pocket of my overalls, getting water into my wellies trying to catch tadpoles, trapping maybugs, peeling flattened lizards off the road. And then I found this image online:


In which we see what writer Katie Munnik found in her 4-yr old's winter coat before washing. Essentials, basically. 

And BTW wasn't that congress speech by Macron refreshing. 
 
Whereas on a much more somber note, this did not lift my spirits but read I had to:
 
Without hope, goes the truism, we will give up. And yet optimism about the future is wishful thinking, says Hillman. He believes that accepting that our civilisation is doomed could make humanity rather like an individual who recognises he is terminally ill. Such people rarely go on a disastrous binge; instead, they do all they can to prolong their lives.
Can civilisation prolong its life until the end of this century? “It depends on what we are prepared to do.” He fears it will be a long time before we take proportionate action to stop climatic calamity. “Standing in the way is capitalism. Can you imagine the global airline industry being dismantled when hundreds of new runways are being built right now all over the world? It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.”

Mayer Hillman (here)
 

 
 

 
 
 
 
 






. . .

13 April 2018

No matter where I go these days, people talk about war and not in a detached way. Even my Heidi Klum colleague, who has a somewhat delicate selection of topics of interests, is very concerned about a real war that could even have an effect on our lives. In a way, that is.
Also, the news are of blood rain coming, which sounds almost as bad but actually only involves large amounts of reddish Sahara sands that have been detected in higher atmospheric clouds above Europe. Should it rain, chances are these sands will come down with it. Dramatic.

Anyway. Spring. Always so sudden.

When we lived in paradise with its eternally tropical climate and our time of departure and inevitable return to damp and rainy Dublin was approaching, I tried to prepare my daughter to things to come, incl. seasons.
There she sat on the sagging hammock that provided a handy bridge for the ants to wander from one mango tree to the other, sucking on a bilimbi ot maybe a green mango dipped in salt as she listened with wonder to my tales of spring with snowdrops and daffodils and strawberries and I must admit that I made it sound rather lovely, one happening after the other in a long string of delights, like chapters of a fairy tale. I left out the other seasons as they can be tricky in Ireland. She laughed at it as one laughs at a good joke and skipped off to vist the women singing and washing clothes down by the river.



So no, I don't think I made an impression one way or another. We returned to a mild and wet autumn and by the time there was real snow in February, life had caught up with us in so many unexpected ways that winter was actually enjoyable for the (one and only) day of chaos and snowball fights.

This spring feels different, everything seems to be happening late and all at once while I am still picking up withered blossoms of the xmas cactuses in my office.
Outside, magnolia reigns supreme. And as every year, R tells me in his teacher voice that magnolia are the dinosaurs of flowering plants, 50+ million years old and so on.
This one is about 150 years old, whenever I walk past it I take a bow.


Yesterday, my drug regimen was reshuffled and I sat there all timid and well-behaved listening to The Lecture on rest and paying attention to symptoms. On the way home I spontaneously decided on a short detour to the DIY store and totally out of the blue decided to hire a high-pressure cleaner for the weekened. As a result, for most of today, I have been cleaning the patio stones. Very soothing, let me tell you, and with the added surprise of rediscovering the actual terracotta colour.
My arms, however, are a shaking mess and I cannot lift my cup of tea. As for tomorrow, ah feck it, one day at a time etc.


06 April 2018

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

E.M. Forster

This may be the last day for the winter coat for a while, I am ready to chuck it deep into the darkerst corner of the wardrobe. This morning, I cleared the ice from the windscreen in the sharpest sunlight full of promises. Warmth, birds, colours.
The fog in my head and my bones is lifting, slowly. Getting ready for spring.

I am already overdoing it. Trying to calm the niggling thoughts that this exhaustion may stay with me - as predicted. Yesterday, I cycled furiously, yes furiously, for half an hour against the cold wind and pretended to feel invigorated for a while. In my office, I worked hard at being efficient and laughed at the right moments. Nobody noticed.
At night, angry dreams woke me up. At one point, I watched my feet changing shape, toes fusing into thick round swellings, nails curling upwards as if to tell me that my walking days are over.

Still, stuff happens, life is wonderful - enough.


31 March 2018

Can you feel the world pull apart,
the seams loosen?
What, tell me,
will keep it whole,
If not you? If not me?

Blas Falconer


The thing is, when you are caught in the loop like me, the loop of chronic illness, that never ending hamster wheel, you are generally expected to be either noble or depressed.

Noble in the sense of, look how she copes, look how she finds meaning in every day things, look how brave she is, but most of all, look at her sense of humour.
Depressed as in downtrodden, slow, sad, withdrawn, but most of all no fun to be around.
Mostly, you are expected to be both.

Things get even harder when you don't look ill. But that's for another day to discuss.
Oh, I could write a book about the supreme efforts of schievement and the wasted days of doing nothing at all.  It would read like an ancient lament. Or like one of these self improvement tomes, complete with a set of motivational calendar wisdom cards, a whale sound dvd and a wall chart of pilates exercises.

However. I mostly ride the waves of sarcasm and distraction. Pretend there is nothing to get hung about. Be fucking jolly. Don't dwell and for goodnesssake, don't be such a drip.










22 March 2018

To insist on life's being life and recognising that it could easily be less but shouldn't be.

Richard Ford 



Rain and sleet, cold north wind. I get up and make tea. I go through the motions of a normal morning but something isn't quite right. My muscles ache, my hands will not hold this mug firmly, my taste buds are numb, I feel ravenously hungry and yet, the food on the breakfast table makes me gag. The voices on the radio are too loud and my eyes, my eyes, my eyes just don't want to take anything in.
My head, however, is full of thoughts and plans, swirling with distant images and ideas, potential. 
Alas, the effort.
Day one after the seventh monoclonal antibody therapy. This is what it's like when approx. 90% of my overactive B-cells have been told to disintegrate for a while so that whatever ongoing inflammation they have been involved in is shut down.



16 March 2018

Adorno and snow


How innocently we thought that this was it, winter was well on its way to outer Lapland or wherever. Little did we know. The wind has turned yet again from west to east and rain is slowly looking like snow.

This winter has done something to me, I can't put my finger on it yet. But I feel I've crossed into a new terrain, a sense a resignation. I couldn't tell what it is that I've lost but I feel it. The loss, a gap, like taking a breath and not getting any fresh air, just standing there waiting for it.

My immunologist called me four times in as many days with instructions and results from our last appointment. Because. The treatment of shitty-diseases-that-will-not-go-away follows protocol. And I tend to question some most aspects of it. As in: why should I have to take a prophylactic antibiotic that is contraindicated for people - such as myself - with a known history of gut inflammation? And being the good doctor she is, she assures me that this will be discussed with the experts and in the meantime, I better not take it. So we go back and forth in our merry ways.
This morning I almost asked her, what do you really want to tell me, but of course that was all in my mind. After a night of dramamine-induced swirling in space, I tend to be a tad otherworldly.

Anyway. Spring. Can't get its act together yet. So I am stuck with winter thoughts. And I was reading Colette's post about visiting a psychic and briefly, I encouraged various ideas of the metaphysical and the spiritual and the religious world.

I was raised by atheists and in my teens, experienced a short-lived infatuation with baptists, the benign European variety. After a few months, it got too tedious, no heavenly father ever spoke to me and getting up early every Sunday lost its appeal. Also, my parents took no notice at all, which somewhat dampened my enthusiasm. But I still know most of the songs!

My secondary education was heavy on philosophy, ancient philosophy, Plato's cave allegory and so on. I was not too keen, at age 15, my mind was on other things. But I went through the motions and yes, it does something to you. The concept  of a rational mind, reality and illusions. And before you know it, religion becomes something irrational, fed on myths, unconsciously experienced 'certainties', read tea leaves.

After a while longer, this happened:
I realised that there is no god. And not because my father always said so. And it got worse. I realised that the belief in a person-like god tempts us hand over our responsibility for our life and our world to some imaginary institution beyond our understanding. In other words: a cop out.

But there is something I would - for lack of words right now - call the god-like principle, the good that is incarnate in humans. (And in turn, there is no devil, no hell, only bad deeds done by humans.)
I admit that we cannot exclude metaphysics. It's actually exciting. I adore the thought that that there is something beyond our limited concept of reason, our rational and careful experiences. If we need to call it anything (yet I think we maybe should not have to) I suggest something along the lines of "always question yourself".
Because we, and we alone are responsible for this life. That's our terrible freedom. I can understand that this can be unbearable for some, at times I wish I could cop out, too.

Once we had regurgitated the classic philosophers for seemingly ever, we jumped to the critical theorists and Adorno in particular. I may have missed out some stage in between, I was often extremely tired in class for obvious reasons. But I managed to stay awake for an entire term dedicated to watching and discussing the replay of a seemingly ancient televised debate (1965) between Adorno and one of his adversaries (Gehlen) on the nature of human suffering and human violence. First they go back and forth for ages defining this and that in their clever words - the language and terminology of philosophers and sociologists is out there with Finnish or Hungarian (no offence), i.e. quite impossible to grasp.

 And at some stage half way through, Adorno said this:

I have a particular conception of objective happiness and objective despair, and I would say that, for as long as people have problems taken away from them, for as long as they are not expected to take on full responsibility and self-determination, their welfare and happiness in this world will merely be an illusion. And will be  an illusion that will one day burst. And when it bursts, it will have dreadful consequences.

And that's my credo, has been ever since.



28 February 2018

The days are getting longer, there is a small streak of apricot light low on the horizon around sunset and I feel the connection again, to the natural world around me. But oh, that cold frosty air.


All my life, winter was a hard time, physically, a struggle to keep warm outside and always overdressed indoors.
My childhood winters seemed endless and were cluttered with toboggans, ill fitting ice skates, skies stacked at the back door in a messy tangle of poles and bits of bindings sticking out. In winter, there was always too much to watch out for, too many things to put on hands and feet and head and trying not to lose any of it before the day was over. The exciting races on the frozen canals and carp ponds more than once ended in the discovery that some boys had filled our boots with water and so we were forced to walk home on skates and face my mother, furious because we were late and what did you do to the boots!
In my late teenage winters I wore one of my grandmother's moth eaten fur coats, cut off at waist length and button-less. Waiting for the bus in the mornings, I tried to keep warm wrapping the long hand-knitted scarf - a must have - around myself and smoking too many cigarettes. One day, a brand new dufflecoat, navy and with the correct type of toggles, was waiting for me at home. My mother never said a word. And neither did I.

My mother had a strict regimen of hand-me-downs for clothing and shoes, for mending and darning, stopping ladders in nylon tights with clear nail polish and forever letting down hems. She would sit in the kitchen, furiously unravelling sweaters and cardigans we had outgrown and later, my sister and I fought over the balls of wool to knit yet more scarves.

Once a year, the kitchen table was covered with piles of worn nylon stockings which my mother would cut into long strips (on the bias, mind you) and roll up into fat bundles. These were sent off to the Bethel Institution - a place my mother would never set foot in. Some time later, strangely shaped plaited rugs arrived in the mail, their sickly pale brown nylon hues static to the touch. One or two of them would eventually find a place  in the garage to mop up grease. But as for the rest of them?

Once an item of clothing had finally, at last, outgrown its use, my mother carefully cut off all buttons, eyelet hooks, toggles, buckles, unpicked stitches that held zippers. The buttons were stored in old biscuit tins, in fact they still are. I have three of them here in this room. I played with these buttons, my daughter played with them as did (and still do) visiting children.
The zippers, however, we threw out, seven large bin bags, upstairs in the spare bedroom, when we moved her to the apartment she hated so much.

My mother was not a collector, she had no interest in old buttons. I don't think she ever reused a single zipper.
But, the war, you see. The war. That's what you did in the war.


13 February 2018

the 2100 scenario

Don't build your home by the sea. If you own one by it, sell it and move inland.
And these are very conservative and cautious predictions based on multicenter data models. It could well be worse and much sooner.

If sea level continues to change at this rate and acceleration, sea-level rise by 2100 (∼65 cm) will be more than double the amount if the rate was constant at 3 mm/y.


source: 
Climate-change–driven accelerated sea-level rise
R. S. Nerem, B. D. Beckley, J. T. Fasullo, B. D. Hamlington, D. Masters, G. T. Mitchum
This will not go away. It's only 82 years to 2100.


Also: We made pancakes today, because Shrove Tuesday tradition. With icing sugar and lemon juice.

11 February 2018

We learn as we go along. At least, that's the plan. And yet, we drink a fresh cup of strong coffee despite the first signs of stomach cramps fully aware blissfully ignoring all evidence of what the next couple of hours will be like.
This is minor. Just a tiny bit of denial. I accept full responsibility.

Winter tried its thing for a while but the snow did not last and two nights of frost meant nothing. Hear that? Nothing. Crocus and daffs are eager little pushers.

This morning, in our warm bed, we discussed the finer points of Dark having binge watched nine episodes on the two previous evenings (or was it three?), explaining to understand who is who and who is related to whom, what is the lunar solar cycle, why the number 33, is there such a thing as the Einstein Rosen bridge and so on. I was ready to admit that I haven't the slightest idea when R in his matter of fact science teacher voice mentioned that he can handle black holes and gravitational waves, no problem. But that dark matter was in doubt according to latest research. Also, that exoplanets are an amazing concept and nothing to fear.

I feel safe now.

It's a great series, very entertaining, somewhat mind blowing. Don't miss it. The English subtitles are well done, for a change.


03 February 2018

imbolc

As of yesterday, we are looking into the possibility of spring and beyond, the bigger picture of seasons and the cycle of growth and harvest and rest, using the Gaelic seasonal festivals  for orientation. Now that R has been liberated from the restrictions of a school calendar.

Accordingly, Imbolc is the gateway to our year ahead.  The feast day marking the beginning of the light. Which called for sowing of seeds of the following: two varieties each of capsicum (peppers) and tomatoes, sturdy broccoli, cauliflower, two types of basil and Tibetan gentian. They appear dormant snug inside tiny peat pots in the heated cold frames on the big window sill, but we know, they are busily stretching and growing and expanding as of this minute (!!) and on and on and on.
And this is only the beginning. There are many small bags of ordered and collected and exchanged seeds waiting patiently on R's desk. The man has a plan.

This winter has been exceptionally mild, the two almond trees on the west wall are about to flower.
Today, alas, it started to snow.

In a complete turnaround from last year, when I was on sick leave most of the time and could not take holidays, I am now portioning out my accumulated holiday allowance to be sick. It feels very secretive and only I know that I am cheating.
I try to pretend and make a show of coping. Yesterday, after a short visit to the whole food store and the library, I slept for the next couple of hours and when R woke me up, I continued pretending some more.
Mostly, I try to not listen to the hissing voices inside my head reprimanding me, demanding that I face reality and all that other weird shit. Ah! Not now. It seems I have lost any sense of what feels healthy or unwell, I just plow on, crawl through the day and hope for the best, for the next morning. I am so used to it, being well would come as a real surprise now. Admittedly, this latest level of weight loss and exhaustion is new but for now, I have decided to ignore it couldn't give a shit.

We spent last weekend in Franconia, celebrating my father's 89th birthday. He was in top form, everybody arrived on time at the inn, a medieval building once home to the minnesinger (poet) Wolfram von Eschenbach, who wrote the original Parzival (Perceval) story (forget all about Wagner). Of course, this is strictly for tourists, we Franconians just accept it as our birthright, all that medieval history everywhere. We let it shine briefly, just enough to feel somewhat superior and then we ignore it.

As we sat along the tables under the fat wooden beams, eating a proper Franconian Sunday lunch, my father looked proudly around his clan, most of whom are sharing his surname, the youngest barely six weeks old, all on the right track, or so he believes. We played it well.

Franconia did not disappoint (see below). It never does - even on a grey cold January weekend. On the way home, I curled myself into a ball of deep exhaustion, while R drove us home through fog and rain, disobeying the speed limits as usual.





















01 February 2018



This music. There should be a better word for it. Something about force, heart, soul, depths.

Hugh Masekela died last week.

In the late 1980s when I was living in paradise, we would listen to this song in silence. My co-wokers, who normally were happily skipping and shuffling to reggae and zouk and moutia and sega, sat motionless whenever this song was played on the radio or from the boomboxes they brought to work.

I may have been their boss, in theory, but when it came to music at work, visiting family, girlfriends/boyfriends, buying and selling of home produce incl. illegally collected seabird eggs or the trading of foreign currency, I was powerless. And reader, I didn't mind one bit. I only tried eating an omelet made from seabird eggs once, too fishy for my taste.

For the men and women in my office, the ultimate shithole country was apartheid South Africa and they told me by the way they listened to this song. 

In my time there and since, I have met a good few people who call this beautiful stunning natural beauty of a country a shithole mostly because the shopping experience is severely limited, there are too many mosquitoes, it is always hot and humid, it rains almost every day, the birds make a racket every evening before sunset, the bats make a racket all night, the dogs bark all day and night, there are children everywhere, and so on.

And I should add nepotism, that terrible African trait whereby members of the ruling clan are given cushy government posts. Plus, backhanding, blatantly corrupt officials, off shore tax schemes, all these strictly African shithole characteristics. No?
The tinier the country, the more obvious they are.
And the rumours of political intrigues, secret prisoners, coup attempts, exiles. Yes, many of them were true. Every week someone would walk up to my desk with secret information, sometimes testing me and if I fell for it, and I usually did, there was much slapping up thighs and laughter.
Paradise was (is) a bad place. Human greed etc.

(But also, free school for all, free health care for all, clean buses running to almost everywhere, more women in government positions than anywhere else in the world, active trade unions, a ban on all plastic packaging, strict observation of environmental protection laws etc.)

I was lucky to see/hear/experience Hugh Masekela live, here in our city. It was a cold night for an open air concert. He had us all sweating and shouting in no time.






21 January 2018


This is what defeat looks like, thankfully. The river showed me my place and when I arrived back home after a mere half hour, my knees were buckling under me and my conscience kicked in.

On a good day, I can cycle on and on until that castle ruin on the other side is a long way behind me. (In my fitandhealthy life, I cycled all the way to almost Switzerland.)
But it has been a while.

So yes, I am miserably unwell but what else is new. Keeping fingers crossed that it's just a bug or a virus simmering below the surface. Even cancelled the all important meeting with the big boss on Friday. Exhaustion is my middle name. Consequently, this post is all over the place.

But otherwise life is good enough, seriously. We got the first (hopefully of many) bunch of daffs.




The dawn chorus is swelling, mostly blackbirds. The ladybirds that have been hibernating inside the house are getting restless. They make these tiny sliding noises when they crash against the window panes. Don't worry, they are tough.


I have been reading, as always, and this here stuck in my head:

I’d like to teach my daughter to protect herself. I’d like to teach her not to be thankful for the leering eyes of a man on the street, or the groping hands of a man at a bar. I’ll teach her that she is the ruler of her body, and I’d like to imagine a world where she can go to the grocery store at night and not walk fast to her car with her keys poised like a weapon.
Because I tried, I swear I tried. I wanted her world to be so much safer.  I wanted her to grow up feeling free and welcome and fearless almost everywhere. I want all women to feel free and fearless and I think every single person I know wants the same and yet, I have failed. For a while I thought if I encourage her sense of fearlessness that surely will do the trick. But before I knew it, she learned that "N O spells no" in kindergarten - and we pretended it's a funny game, enrolled her in self-defense training not once but thrice and arranged for safe passwords, secret codes and pretend phone calls while walking home from the night bus. Mothers should not have to buy pepper spray for their daughters or warn them about the safe way to dress because men cannot help it or whatever shitty backlash comes next.

Meanwhile, listen to the fabulous NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who is pregnant with her first child and will show the world that work and motherhood are not incompatible.




10 January 2018

it's terribly important not to be too gloomy



The fabulous Mary Beard speaking.



At around 6:30 am after a night when I exhausted myself on the battlegrounds of gastritis I realised that I really don't have to go to work at all today, I can just call in sick and if they hold it against me, so be it.  Which of course is paranoia on my part because labour protection etc. Also, as my clever daughter pointed out to me, complaints about my work in general solely based on my age is a rights violation (that's called ageism, mum, don't let them get away with it).
So, I am staying home because I am old and sick or maybe because I am sick and old. Take your pick.
Or rather, because I feel like shit and just want to potter about a bit, watch/listen to Mary Beard, not brush my greying hair, read my book with a hot water bottle placed on my bloated tummy.
And: no apologies.

The river is receding, the birds are very busy courting and getting things ready in the hedge for their spring marriages. Even the sun came out for a (very) short while.

07 January 2018

midwinter is in the past

2015, all innocent



The river  burst its banks three days ago and this lunchtime, the water level reached orange alert  with red alert forecast for tonight. Like all good citizens, we duly made our way to see it with our very own eyes. Let no disaster happen without crowds to witness.
It was as expected, ducks and swans showing off their best plumage, a couple of canoeists paddling along where some eight meters below, we would normally cycle. Only the NE wind was icy cold.

In the morning, I can hear a timid dawn chorus, the days are getting longer, so R reassures me.

At nights when exhaustion has me in its tight wrap, I lie in the deep silence and although I cannot see the moon directly, I watch the blue light, the way it shimmers and shivers along the walls and across the ceiling and this longing for life comes over me, like an urge from deep inside of me that I had almost forgotten existed. 


01 January 2018

new year's resolutions

According to reliable sources, Seamus Heaney’s  final words just before his death in 2013, texted to his wife, were noli timere –  do not fear.

If I should have to try and spell out a new year's resolution, Looking forward to next year, I could do worse than to bear these words in mind.

Because the more we fear, the more they win. Right? But then another new year's resolution of mine is to always ask, who are they?

My dream resolutions, the ones I haven't yet properly examined but which the spirits and fairies and pixies of winter have been whispering into my ear: retireretireretire and see someone about that paralyzed right foot (as in get to walk properly again).

And while we're at it, the big one, the resolution of resolutions, is to only buy stuff we need, absolutely need. This is actually not  very difficult now with R starting on his meagre pension next month. And seriously, we have everything we need. Stuff wise.

Other than that, I will let shit happen. I am 60 now, no need to get too excited.





New Year's eve was exceptionally mild, a weird spring day. We sat outside with our mugs of tea. We cycled without gloves. Today, it is cold again and that poor Meyer lemon is probably going to react badly to us moving it in and out and in and out. Right now, it's flowering and downstairs smells like Spain.
This was a week ago:






27 December 2017

Irish word of the day

Iarmhaireacht 
the loneliness felt at cock-crow
(pronunciation here)


I cannot speak a word of Irish, which is the official language of Ireland, in use - so to speak - at least for the last 2,500 years, outlawed by the British in the 19th century, an act that eventually, during the fight for independence in the 20th century, lead to the modern era Celtic Revival including a sudden deep interest in the Irish language. So, thank you Britain.

All I know is trivia, that there are no Irish words for yes or no, but at least three for woman. Also, three different sets of numbers, one for humans, one for non-humans and one for the maths.

My Irish family can speak Irish, some better than others, some mumble along if need be. Most of them have complicated Irish names like Caoilfhoinn, Rionagh, Eavan, Aoife, Oisin, Tadgh - and these do not even include what my man's R stands for or our daughter's S, but both are equally mysterious.
My Irish family has a great time listening to non-Irish speakers trying to pronounce their names. They all hated  - more or less - having to learn Irish at school and university where it was compulsory. R had to sit his Irish exam twice before he was allowed to teach science.
My Irish family couldn't give a damn whether anybody speaks Irish or not as long as they speak up and share what's bothering them.

As for cock-crow, this is the time in very early morning when it begins to get light.  Just in case.

Whereas loneliness is up for individual definition.
But when you bung it all together, cock-crow, loneliness, early morning, a distant single bird waking up with a chirp, your lack of sleep, the human silence everywhere, that big knot of fear in your stomach, an inconspicuous little box of dreadful drugs on the bedside table, there's that one word for it in Irish. Just in case.


Ancient Irish traditional tune in support of my post:




20 December 2017

the infinite succession of presents


"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."
Howard Zinn


The sky is grey and a heavy wet fog has been hanging over everything like a dark curtain.
Our life is eminently comfortable. A few minutes ago, a steaming cup of tea and two hobnob biscuits were placed next to this laptop on my desk by an almost invisible hand. 
The bills are paid, the house is warm, the larder is stacked, the freezer full of summer memories, only the oven has packed it in, which gives me a wonderful excuse for not baking anything even remotely festive and R the opportunity to immerse himself into gadget investigation. He is in full research mode and earlier delivered a lengthy and I am sorry to say, boring lecture on induction vs. ceramic hob and other mysteries. Apparently, magnetism is involved. My polite suggestion to go for something basic, reminiscent of an open fire even, was met with disgust. 


A few weeks ago,  we spent some time in Heidelberg, forever my place of longing and eternal happy memories. The town where I found the adult me. It was freezing but we bravely cycled along the river and up and down the cobbled streets, stopping slightly dumbfounded in front of our old digs. Only when we looked at each other, did we notice our age. What have we done, we asked ourselves. What happened, did anything actually matter, then, now. Tomorrow.

Oh! How we cheer each other up, look for signs, facts, the science behind it, if need be, consult the cards, throw the dice, read the tea leaves. Anything. Give me anything. Tell me how to hope.



Today's students are so very nicely behaved and clean. I wanted to march into the well lit dining hall (with sushi, wok, fusion food, an army of baristas, for crying out loud)  wake them up, shout into their pretty faces reflecting the fb blue screens of their gadgets. But who knows, maybe they are plotting the real revolution. I do worry like a mother hen with my new sadness:

"The nature of the sadness that is and will be experienced in the face of the effects of global warming . . . struck me as unlike anything in memory or imagination. It occupies an entirely new category. Though it may contain aspects of malaises we know quite well, like regret, nostalgia, penthos, depression and despair, there [is] an unnamed something else; it seems as a whole to be other than conditions we are familiar with, other even than these in novel arrangement, with an unidentified intensifier."

Tim Liburn, quoted here.

Tomorrow, one more dreaded medical appointment, on Friday, one more day at work before the year ends.

And this:
One more night. Solstice.





12 December 2017




We got up at the crack of dawn. In fact, before sunrise, but that's easy in December. Last week when I mentioned to my Heidi Klum colleague that midwinter was only so many days away and she replied with her beautiful eyes all big and round, really? I almost said that it happens every year at the exact same week but instead I just nodded and she was so happy.

Anyway, after we got up so extremely early, we cycled in the dark to the station and took the train to the big city of Cologne because I had to attend a hearing at the Social Court. We both felt extremely sorry for the poor commuters crammed into the train around us and slightly smug for not being one or rather two of them.

The hearing went smoothly and as expected I lost my case but not without the judge telling the lawyer representing my health insurance to be a tad more socialist in future. As the dispute value was below 150 euro and since I had lodged my claim for non monetary reasons (also there are no costs/fees involved for plaintiffs at the Social Court)  everybody was happy with this lesson of participatory democracy.

Afterwards we briefly looked at the imposing-as-ever front of the big fat cathedral, complete with queues of Asian tourist, Peruvian pipers and schoolkids singing carols. Inside the station,  I bought an overprized small bowl of apple and walnut porridge from a hipster bar because the train back home was delayed as expected. The porridge tasted a bit lot like the papery wooden bowl (with such a pretty wooden spoon) it was served in but at least it provided some warmth and I did not want to spoil the day getting a coffee-to-go in one of these non-recyclable you-call-this-paper cups with a plastic lid because I was right up there on my moral high horse.

The last couple of weeks have been hard. Professionally, especially. While most of my colleagues are delightful and delighted to have me back for a couple of hours four/five days a week, there are some who think it's time for me to act my age and my illness and make way for a younger, healthier and most importantly, cheaper person. So for a few weeks, we moaned and grinned and some called it mobbing and I didn't really because I put my foot down - and in it - for a bit.

Predictably, I will once again get too ill to work sooner or later and we shall see. But it left a dent in my armour, disrespect, disregard does that. If you let it. If I let it.

As for the bigger world, I am in despair and seriously so. I find myself in need of excessive hugs and love because well, what is happening to us? I want to scream. I want to shake people out of their apparent shopping stupor and their sloth and what feels like grievous neglect but what do I know. They all may be crying inside.
(But: Watch this video and read the comments and tell me I am imagining it all.)

Mostly, I feel ashamed. For my failure, for my lack of action. For being old and ill (and watching The Crown on netflix).

So here, let me moan and lament for a bit that I cannot see a light, a tiny, flickering one at least, of goodness and promise on the horizon.

The man in the house is trying his best to be reassuring, elaborating on tipping points and how species adapt until I ask him to shut the fuck up.


Also, it snowed - think blizzard - briefly, on Sunday and I don't do winter (as explained here).





03 December 2017

We wake to a cold grey day, a slushy snowfall, the smoke from the chimneys is drifting sideways and everything is silent. It could be a day for candle light and advent stuff but I am not so inclined. I wonder what will happen to that fat box in the basement with the trinkets and baubles and the beeswax candles in their fancy clip-on holders. 
It sits right next to the box with my mother's tea set and the one with my aunt's coffee set and the one with my grandmother's stemware and the engraved tumblers (my father's initials), the heavy crystal (you could knock someone out with the creamer), the silverware in red felt cutlery trays. Upstairs, there is the drawer stuffed with the thick table linens, matching and monogrammed napkins (my grandmother's initials).
Boxes and drawers of memories, dark rainy Sunday afternoons, waiting, willing the clock to move forward, may I leave the table. Denied. Just because. Be still, for once, oh do keep still for goodness sake.
I can count on one hand the times this stuff has been used (and duly washed, folded/repacked again) in my house.
Once, I tried to flog it but I am not the only one trying to cash in on dull childhood memories, it seems. Unfortunately, the market is flooded with gold edged bone china from the 1950s and incomplete sets of WMF silverware. 
One day. Out it will go. But for now, I hesitate and I don't know why.

It was easier with the books. The almost complete 18-something century edition of Goethe, every morsel he ever wrote except for that one missing volume, which according to family folklore, was appropriated by one of the GIs who occupied my grandparent's house for five years after the war. As a souvenir. I rather like the thought that he read it and forgot to put it back on the shelf. 
(Goethe is to Germans what Shakespeare is to the English speaking world.)
However, for the antique book trader (and I am not one) that one missing volume is a most dreadful thing to be burdened with rendering the remaining 74 or so bound volumes totally and utterly worthless. Think stamp collections.
I chucked the remaining ones out with great relish. 

I fell in love with Goethe once, in my final year at school. German literature class in the principal's office, Persian carpets, deep armchairs, just the five of us watching him pour tea and pass the delicate cups around, while we twiddled with our beads and bangles and braids (get it?). 
Whatever, we were cool.
For six months we went through Goethe's tragic play Faust with a fine comb. To some, Faust is simply the most important work of German literature, but I didn't care, all I needed was to top up my overall score. I steeled myself for nothing but boredom. But, oh, the sheer brilliance of it.  Especially when you are 17 years old. Every page was brimming with meaningful stuff that I needed to underline and reread and learn by heart:

"As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live."

and:
"There are but two roads that lead to an important goal and to the doing of great things: strength and perseverance. Strength is the lot of but a few privileged men; but austere perseverance, harsh and continuous, may be employed by the smallest of us and rarely fails of its purpose, for its silent power grows irresistibly greater with time."

also:

"... all theory is grey but green the golden tree of life."

Anyway, I could go on. In the end, the required exam. I wrote my best ever essay and our principal was gushing with praise, announcing that it would be printed in the yearbook. Seriously, quite the achievement, especially since that year, the school was celebrating its 450th birthday with much pomp and celebrations. I played it cool and kept schtumm, waiting for the surprise to hit my family and the world at large.
Alas, as Goethe would say, it wasn't meant to be. An essay on Goethe's Faust was indeed published in the yearbook, only not mine. You see, it so happened that the father of one of my fellow literature class mates had made a large donation to the renovation funds and . . . you get the picture.

In the end, not just literature but an important lesson in social sciences (graft, lobbying, corruption, favourism etc.).

As Faust says at the beginning of the play:

"And here, poor fool I stand once more . . ."


In the afternoon, the sleet turned to rain, the temperature rose barely above freezing and I cycled for a bit along the river - like the poor fool I am. I dwelt on deep thoughts of the injustices of life as a whole and how difficult it all has become until I came across this cheerfull couple battling it upstream.



"Rejoice that you have still have a long time to live, before the thought comes to you that there is nothing more in the world to see."












































21 November 2017

Stuck in traffic on a dark wet evening. Before I succumb to the usual moaning I try what a friend has offered me this morning, take ten mindful breaths and see where it gets you. I struggle and cheat a bit (eight, ten, wait, concentrate, was that twelve?) and then I resign and fiddle with the radio stations.
A report about an art exhibition. In one of the big wonderful cities on our planet. All of the eight artists have been prisoners and most of them for the last 15 years without trial and from the little I know this will remain so for most of them. In recent years, they have been given the opportunity to attend art courses and this exhibition is a first show of their work.


I listen as the reporter tells me that these men paint the sea, again and again, that in fact, almost all the work on display concerns the sea. Yet, none of them can reach it, none have been able to see or hear or smell the sea in all their years of imprisonment.
I also hear that the work is considered controversial, that it was scrutinized at length for secret, harmful messages and that not all of the intended paintings were accepted by the authorities.

And I hear that none of the work can be purchased or will be given back to the artists or their families.
No, the government of the country where this exhibition is currently on show has decided to burn all art from this exhibition and all other work from these artists.

Burning art, paintings, sculptures, drawings. In the 21st century, in a democracy. Back home, I find the website and scroll through the artwork, looking for any dangerous secret messages. In vain. But what do I know.


Eighty-four years ago, In Mai 1933, the nazis staged the first of their massive book burnings. Five years later, in 1938, they banned all art they deemed degenerate. Not so long ago.

more here

19 November 2017

Awake in the dark I watch how my thoughts wander and get lost. I am thinking this and that and the darkness just sits there around me, unrelenting. I hear my father's voice from our last phone call, the way he mentioned that - by the way - his back pain is now under control. He describes briefly how he solved this particular problem, the way he solves all problems, by defining its cause. I listen to his short lecture on pelvic muscle exercises, delivered with all the confidence of someone who is in no doubt that I certainly wouldn't know the first thing about it. 
And on we go. Once you know the cause, the rest is easy etc.: Once you can confirm it's a virus, you wait for your immune system to get rid off it. Once you identify the error in a specific calculation, you go back to the step you need to correct. Once you realise you said something rude, you simply apologise for it and move the fuck on. How often have I listened to this. Did it ever make sense.
Did I know that my brother, his youngest child (he is 58), has been suffering from back ache for years (yes)? And what has he done about it? Obviously nothing. What is wrong with us. And so on.

In other people's families I have often observed the moment in time when the parent, the father, becomes the child, when his adult children start to explain things to him the way he once explained life to them (and not just about the internet). When the adult children wait - impatiently or patiently - for him getting on with old age. And depending on the secret coordinates of a lifetime, developing a new state of empathy, friendship, gratitude even.

We haven't reached that stage yet. I doubt we ever will. When I wait for him to get out of the car and slowly walk up the three steps to his front door, the same three steps that made him fall down twice in three years out of sheer spite or maybe due to an architectural error, I am just three steps behind the man who has commandeered us around and who has never shown patience or any sign of leniency. He has no time to discuss my sister whom he stopped talking to (or vice versa) months ago. He has identified the problem, female hormones, and come to think of it, the symptoms have been obvious for a long time. So no, nothing he can do.  A simple equation, identify the problem, define the solution. Move on. Leave her behind. 

I catch my breath but in a way so he cannot notice. Better stay neutral. What if I am next. Or maybe I have already been solved out of the equation. Your voice sounds perfectly healthy, you always had a vivid imagination, he tells me. Always had a hard time accepting the science behind a problem.

My daughter, however, his first and most distant grandchild, this enigmatic young woman who moves freely across the globe, working in far away places he never showed any interest in, switching between languages he cannot speak, she can twist him around her little finger, scold him like a naughty boy and he flirts, clumsily and hopelessly. They don't meet often but when they do, I watch with envy.

Today I am tired. In ten days, I will turn 60. Winter is here, dark and damp and cold. I should allow my memories to become gentler, softer. I know. But today, there is nothing I am looking forward to. 

compulsory Sunday walk in the rain


16 November 2017

There are so many things, too many things, that occupy my heart and mind with worry and sadness and yes, anger.

This morning in the waiting room of the ENT doctor (another attack of vertigo requires a medical certificate and once again I am reminded that I would not need to sit here, nauseous, the artwork on the walls and the fish tank in the corner reeling and turning, if I had the courage to apply for early retirement) I met a women from Sudan, a scientist attending the UN climate conference. All week she tried to ignore an ear infection. But after yesterday's lukewarm and non-committal speech by the German chancellor, she gave up. We don't matter, she hissed at me. You affluent countries will just look after yourselves and won't give an inch while we in the poor South are suffering the consequences of your careless lifestyle.  And then she apologized. And thanked me for my city's hospitality. Briefly, we whispered about alternatives and what about women rising but then she was called in and I quickly wished her well and a safe journey home.

We used to get a new edition of the local phone book every year. Before the internet and smart phones took over. There would be a card in the letter box which you handed in at the counter of your local post office to collect the new one. You'd quickly check whether your entry was spelled correctly and put it in that spot reserved for it somewhere by the phone.
We don't do this anymore. The books have become thinner and full of ads and are delivered once a year to the doorstep in the early hours. This morning, we got the 2018 edition. I leafed through it on my way to the paper bin.
The warning is still printed at the bottom on the first page where all the emergency numbers are listed. That it is advisable for women to not list their full first name but if they wish to do so, to not list their address. For safety reasons, it says. 
Later on, I read in a new essay by Rebecca Solnit
"What would women’s lives be like, what would our roles and accomplishments be, what would our world be, without this terrible punishment that looms over our daily lives? It would surely rearrange who holds power, and how we think of power, which is to say that everyone’s life might be different. We would be a different society."
In the afternoon, in a conversation with a friend. I mention the phone book warning and we laugh our sarcastic laughs and then she remembers her teenage years and the priest shaming her from the pulpit for dressing indecently and not braiding her long hair. And how her father slapped her on the way home. I tell her of the time when a potential future boss, then a celebrity in the Dublin alternative scene, forced me to sit on his lap and drink whiskey from the bottle he was pushing into my face (physically, chipping my front teeth) to prove I had what it takes and when I didn't seem to have it, asked me to crawl out the door (physically, on my knees) and when I didn't do this but burst into tears instead, throwing my bag out and down the stairs and how I ran before his foot could kick me.

And all during dinner, I argue with R and get more and more angry and he just looks at me trying to make sense. Where is all this anger coming from, he asks. I don't know what to tell him, where to start.

Caitlin Moran
 



13 November 2017

today at the UN climate conference








After this flashmob by members of the alternative US delegation (www.wearestillin.com), the room was fairly empty. Only a handful stayed on to hear the preposterously titled presentation of the official US delegation ("The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation"). Outside, the crowd of protesters included representatives from all participating nations. In the footage I spotted Amy Goodman and Dallas Goldtooth.

 

08 November 2017




Many years ago - and this is important because even back then we thought things were bad but little did we know - a friend said to me, I give up. I don't believe we are able to handle climate change. We are too stupid, to selfish, too comfortable.
Some days I know that this must be true.  That we are programmed for destruction of our habitat. It fits my general mood. Like the next best climate change denier, I bury my head in the sand. But instead of rubbish arguments based on wishful thinking and outright lies I moan about our failures and impending losses. I have run out of ideas and for a moment while watching the young and healthy masses at last Saturday's climate march (25,000), all those eager people with their dreadlocks and vegan snacks, their inventive signs and colourful flags, the salsa drummers and the pretty young women shaking their long shiny curls, I had to swallow the derisive comments waiting to fly out of my cynical heart.  And then I felt ashamed.
Meanwhile, R feels far more confident. Humans adapt, he tells me, the always have. You are just scared of change. Humans will tolerate a lot and then reach a tipping point and start acting.
I am not so sure.

Anyway, our city is currently hosting COP23, the UN climate change conference and there is a low humming buzz. But people hold back, we are cool. Next week, Leonardo is due to come, we shall see how the masses react. For a few hours each day, we follow a session of two, online. Everybody is very polite.



I met her on Saturday, the Marshall Islands poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, she stood right in front of me and I could see how tired she was. I was just one of too many who shook her hand. I am glad we did not have a chance to speak. What should I say, sorry your islands are disappearing because we burn massive amounts of fossil fuel and love our cars and cheap flights? So sad your baby daughter won't have a homeland?