01 July 2015

It's early morning, very early morning. When you are weaning yourself down to the lowest possible dose of cortisone, all according to the carefully designed protocols, sleep is more of an irritation than the restorative deep space it usually should be. That and the heat. And the man on holidays while you slave away at your desk. 
You make a cup of tea and walk around the garden. Of course it's all gorgeous, dewy innocence,  the first rays of sun so gentle, so benign, not a hint yet of the merciless heat it will throw down in maybe two, three hours. The garden smells like the boudoir of the queen of Sheba. Just out of interest and maybe for the Guinness book of records you start counting the flowering lilies (in myriad colours) and you stop when you reach 85 or maybe 95. He planted them, that same man you got so mad at last night because. Because. Because he was so healthy and fit and jolly after his glass or two of some stunning red wine (you guess it tastes stunning but of course you don't know because your drugs are prescription medicines and while you are required to combine all kinds of chemicals to remain human, alcohol is not permitted in the mix)  and he never even guessed the urgency in your eyes when you asked for whatever it was you asked for because you knew if you could not get this or that done now you would not have enough energy later on. Or something other, all so incredibly unfair and why-me-ish. That endless game.
And so here he is, all fresh from his sleep, ready to cut the hedge on maybe the hottest day of the year, the century. We're ok love, he reassures me.

29 June 2015



I just watched this short clip in the hope of hearing something positive. Not really.
Instead, I have been carrying this quote below inside of me like a heavy dark stone:

In a recent interview the Nobel prizewinning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the leading scholar of cognitive biases, was asked about our brains’ limitations when it comes to understanding the dangers of climate change. “I’m not very optimistic about that,” Kahneman replies, despondently sipping tomato soup. “No amount of psychological awareness will overcome people’s reluctance to lower their standard of living. So that’s my bottom line: there is not much hope. I’m thoroughly pessimistic. I’m sorry.”

28 June 2015

People tell me: do that, ask your doctor for that, insist on test xyz now. Don't wait, demand this new treatment. Do you have any idea how complicated this all is? How difficult it is some days to call and ask for an appointment. Should I let it get worse? Is this bad enough? 

Some days, I just want to move on, never see another waiting room, ever again. I could write a book on waiting room decorations, it would end on a tragic note. No more carefully rehearsed questions that fail to express what I really wanted to explain anyway. I gave up on lists some time ago, it makes you look like a hypochondriac nerd with issues. 

Some days, I just want to walk in there and look across the inevitable desk and roar: I feel ill, just do something. Whatever. Just let me lie over there on that stretcher and get on with it.

No more cheerful thank yous and smiles all round because I want to remain in the good books  when the shit hits the fan. I want to be the good patient, the one who is on the ball while at the same time understands the constraints of time and money, who can come up with short precise descriptions and not asks too much. In my ideal world, every person with a chronic illness deserves a personal assistant who organises appointments, tests, insurances, dinner dates and holidays, incl. cancellations and sick certs. I would settle for a robot.

And some days I want to test fate, just let things happen, just wait and see. What would happen if I pretend to be stuck somewhere without doctors and labs and pharmacies and all those shiny diagnostic tools. (After last week's x-ray, the young intern said, please remember to record it in your x-ray data card. Oh sweetie, I almost replied, nice try but I've lost track long ago.)
But whatever it is - panic, fear, worry or simply the fact that I love being alive just that bit too much - I cannot do that. 

And then there's this thought: I know I can look within and watch the stuff coming up - the restlessness, anxiety, impatience, fear and tears, the lot - just watch it come up and don't get involved. I know by now how it rises, how it eventually passes away. I know it requires patience, self discipline, sometimes distraction, sometimes a cup of valerian tea, a walk through the garden at night. I know that sometimes it takes ages and sometimes it can be just a matter of sleeping through it. And yes, I know that in the end I will be where I started: a woman with a serious chronic illness.  But what else is there? This is it, my gorgeous life. And I mean it.

This day 33 years ago, we got married.




26 June 2015

the lungs

Breath from The Mercadantes on Vimeo.

Another lung function test, another diagnosis to accommodate into my fabulous life. Shit happens. Summer is gorgeous.

23 June 2015




Watching footage of desperate migrants from the illegal camps near the Eurotunnel in Calais trying to board lorries, reading the report from a commander of an Irish navy vessel on their latest rescue efforts in the Mediterranean Sea, listening to one of my colleagues arguing that basically they are all scum, only looking for free welfare. I want to hang my head and cry. Seriously.

Listen, I want to shout, we are all descendants of one tribe, one family. This planet is our home, not yours alone. But of course, it's more complicated than that. Obviously. It must be. Once again, I am too naïve to get the point.
That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

Carl Sagan

21 June 2015

today's science lecture

don't worry, it's subtitled


19 June 2015

In order to test my stamina and the recovery status of my impaired balance organs I decided to clean R's study. Well ok, it just happened, I didn't plan it. As I was opening our insurance folder, I absentmindedly brushed away the quadruple layer of dust on the shelf and before I knew it, one hand was holding a bucket of water, while other one was washing one of the slightly immodest Kenyan ebony bookends - one of the many souvenirial artifacts so skilfully put on display here. Hence, one thing led to the next etc.

The study is a small room of pleasing rectangular shape, facing south and overlooking the garden. For probably another two years, the wall paper may be considered white in colour and the deep rich green of the organic linoleum floor reflects the mindset of dedicated nature lover, an image that is often reinforced by an urgent reverberating sound not unlike an approaching small herd of, say, wildebeest but which upon closer acoustic inspection reveals itself to originate from the rollers of a humble office chair. It is furnished in R's unique style, i.e. start at the bottom right hand corner and work your way up over the years. To the uninitiated viewer, it may indeed look somewhat messy or even haphazard and careless. But once you allow your visual capacities to let go of western cultural limitations - all those sad preconceptions and prejudices fostered by ikea and Martha Stewart - the open and indeed anarchic spirit with its garage-like ambiance will hit you with liberating vengeance.
As it has been sufficiently proven in recent years that most men suffer from refrigerator blindness, (aka selective loss of visual acuity in association with common foraging behaviour) and that this functional blindness extends to the display patterns applied in studies and esp. on large desks,
I was extremely careful to maintain the underlying order of all things with the obvious exclusion of recent nail clippings and about a car load of dust mites. 

But just in case, I send him a careful message, beginning with "do not be alarmed" and ending with the rather more cheerful note of "I am confident that you will be able to cope" - to which he just replied, "cut the sarcasm". 




18 June 2015

about the cats

Since you've been asking. 
We have had a couple of cats to date but we are cat-less at the moment - or as R calls it, cat-free.

First, there were Kieran & Donal, two black-ish toms, wild and vicious. The idea was that they would keep down the number of rodents in the basement of the big crumbling mansion that was our communal home in the south of Ireland - they didn't or maybe the rodent population was too big. We were a very poorly organised crowd with endless house meetings and an activist agenda but little time for pets. S would occasionally try to pull either of the two misfortunate animals by their tails up the grand staircase. As a result, both cats went into hiding when kids were around. And since I spent most of my time with S attached to me, I had little cat interaction. Before you think too badly of us, somebody did take care of them, incl. food and vet etc. But I have no memory of what eventually happened to them.

When we lived in paradise, we soon found out that local people disposed of kittens the same way they disposed of old car batteries or broken transistor radios. Also, the kids in our neighbourhood liked to play with kittens the same way kids in Europe play with teddy bears. This being a small island, cats - and dogs for that matter - are highly inbred with a poor life expectancy. 
But all this could not stop us from saving Minnie from a fate worse than death, or so we thought. Yet, Minnie was a lost cause. Not only did she pass on to us a huge variety of parasitic worms, she also made it her aim to attack us at any given moment, especially while asleep. It's not easy impossible to cat proof a small bungalow in a tropical location. Take my word. I am not going to tell you about Minnie's fate. But we had a couple of really nice dogs there.

Back in Europe, things improved. We got Molly. We picked her up from a friendly home where she had been the tiny runt of the litter and for the first three years of her life, she was an indoor cat in a city apartment. When not climbing up the xmas tree and sitting on top of the tv set with her tail swishing across the screen, she was polite and generous. And shy. 

Then came Ronia. She was an emergency. Friends hat discovered a tiny abandoned kitten, almost dead, in their barn and, well, put two and two together. We did. But those two hated each other. From day one and for ever. Lucky for them and for us, we were about to move into the house with the garden in this quiet suburb with cat-friendly streets and neighbours. Plenty of space to get lost in, trees to climb and be unable to come down from, mice and moles and squirrels to present as early morning gifts and so on. Soon, both cats had developed into fierce outdoor creatures with a busy nightlife away from us, winter or summer. Molly became huge and pompous with an occasional mean temper. Ronia was always slightly daft, and I mean this in the nicest possible way.  
I believe they were both extremely happy.

Molly died four years ago at age 16, Ronia was 17 years old when she died last November. We gave away all the cat's things only last month. But the basement doors are permanently fitted with cat flaps. You never know.



Molly
Ronia



15 June 2015

I showed this to R because it's the 150th birthday thing all over the Irish media and also because, well there is a fire in my head at the moment.

So, he watched it with the usual slightly bored yet generous patience he reserves for people who go all ooh and aah and generally fall over themselves gushing about Ireland as if it was a place of poetry and music and artists, many with red hair etc. But at about 1:38, he got all excited. Oh look, he called out, Ben Bulben in winter. Must climb that one again.



13 June 2015

W B Yeats, 150th birthday today.


Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.



12 June 2015

This much I can do:
sitting outside with a cup of early morning tea
listening to the birds
waiting for the day's heat to build up
reading for a while
changing the sheets just because I want to and feeling like a fool afterwards, shaking and sweating
eating fresh strawberries
missing my cats
waiting for the thunderstorm and the heavy rain supposedly hitting us in a couple of hours

Music and talking is not so easy but I watched tv last night for a while, some drama about the Danish Prussian war, excellent acting I have been told, it just went past me in a blur of beautiful images. For that I can recommend it.

I am still walking on water, waiting for the swells to calm down, hoping to reach steady ground eventually.






10 June 2015

elephants in the forest

First, I think it's a scam. Then I want to shout. Don't. No, hey wait! But my voice doesn't seem to work and I am sucked out through the open door of the plane and now I am in free fall, rapidly spinning through cold air, hot air, sluggish fog, icy wind, my tears freezing on my cheeks, my stomach churning in protest, shrill deafening noises ring in my ears, the air smells of burning pine needles.
But suddenly I can see my hand resting on the handlebars of my bicycle, the forest in all its deep greens around me, the sun is breaking through a small opening and shines straight onto a small pond, birds singing around me. I don't know where I am or what has happened and I feel the noise growing again so I take a quick picture. Frogspawn on an almost dried up forest pond.





How calm, how beautiful, summer in the forest, I try and convince myself. But now a herd of noisy elephants is racing towards me, I can taste the dust on my lips already and I fall on my knees, cradling my head.
Later on, while we watch the slow drip of a massive cortisone infusion, the doctor still cannot believe me: you came here on your bicycle? I must have, I can see it locked outside the surgery.
And much later, after R has smoothed the sheets, opened the windows wide to let in the sweet evening air, after I tried unsuccessfully to keep down a bit of dry toast, panic seizes me like a force I thought I never knew.



08 June 2015

passing the buck to future generations is not going to solve this

We've been had, sarcasm dosn't even cover it. 85 years? You must be out of your mind.
Who are these people? What planet do they live on?





05 June 2015

There is a man downstairs painting my kitchen walls. He tells that me he lives in a tepee during the summer. Yesterday, he showed me the scar on his neck where he had a tumour the size of a grapefruit removed last year, 38 radiation sessions. But you know, he said, I just got back onto my horse - which in his case is an imported US van. He smells of woodsmoke and sings church hymns while he works.
His daughter, he informs me, is afraid of the open skies and refuses to visit him.

Meanwhile, my daughter calls and we talk for a long time about everything and nothing. When people ask me how I manage what with my only child living so far away, I try to come up with a clever answer.  Because honestly, I can't tell you. What would it be like if she came through this door from time to time and put the kettle on in the kitchen? Would we talk about the same things? Would we have a different relationship? No idea. When I am awake, I know she is asleep and when she is up and about, I am asleep. We meet at the edges of our days. She is always 12 hours ahead of me. If in rare moments, I need comfort, I know she is not alone. That she is married to a wonderful man.

Do I miss her? Complicated. I just love what she is doing, has done with her life. I could not for a second ask her to abandon it. And no, we have not driven her away. If anything, we encouraged her.
This is where most people start shaking their heads in disbelief. I like to think she had a great childhood, what with the different countries and continents and schools and all that chaos. Or even despite of that. I know I made a mess of being a mother, many times. I think we all do. I told her that much.

Watch us, a small family of three, two adults, one girl, so close at times, we could walk with our eyes shut, holding each others' hands. One tiny shift of chin, one short stare and we know what's up. Even via skype. Beautiful and scary at the same time. We will never be without each other.

I can tell you this: she knows how to cook, grow food, swim, cycle, teach yoga, climb mountains, manage entire government departments, speak diplomacy, she is a ferocious reader, loves fiercely, and she has never ever been afraid of the open skies.

I could not ask for more.


She'll probably give out to me now for telling.




03 June 2015

Tomorrow the very skilled man is coming to paint the walls downstairs, some of them. It would make sense to have all of them repainted but we are finicky and stingy and who cares anyway.
It coincides nicely with the heatwave followed by thunder storms with heavy rain predicted for the next couple of days.

This morning I cleaned away various flora and fauna behind the shelves and sofas and where the pictures were on the walls and of course behind my great grandmother's sideboard. The spiders etc. all ran like hell and I hope they found homes elsewhere by now. The ants, I'm afraid, didn't make it. I could have rolled the dust bunnies into a large ball and spin it into gold but the hoover gobbled it all up.

Next week, after R will have perfectly reassembled the shelving, my task will be to put what feels like thousands of books back into some order. I am very tempted to chuck out most of them. I know, I know, books are holy and so on, but some are not so holy anymore and it's time to start clearing spaces, unloading my baggage so to speak.

Last night I foolishly started to calculate our meagre pensions and once again stared into the dark tunnel of poverty. Which is really quite arrogant because we will find a way to make ends meet, surely. And now my mind just brought me back 35 years when we were clearing out the attic room in Heidelberg. We had lived in this tiny room with its very crooked walls for almost a year while I was trying to figure out what to do with my university career and R was getting restless. In the end and for lack of options and cash, we decided to free ourselves from the shackles of careers and academia and start a new idealistic life in Ireland - or something like that, it was a long time ago, we were young and foolish then.

As a start, we decided to give away most of our earthly possessions - because hardly anybody wanted to pay money for it. The rule was: keep 20 books, 10 records, one bicycle and one rucksack with clothing and essentials per person. To this day, I still regret the 10 records rule and miss my Joan Armatrading and Cat Stevens collection and the fabulous Joni Mitchell live set, oh, and John McLaughlin's "Electric Dreams".

So we'll see what will happen to the books next week.



01 June 2015

the question

When the great ships come back,
and come they will,
when they stand in the sky
all over the world,
candescent suns by day,
radiant cathedrals in the night,
how shall we answer the question:
What have you done
with what was given you,
what have you done with
the blue, beautiful world?

Theo Dorgan

From this online collection: Keep it in the ground, a poem a day. There are 20, but try and don't gobble them all up at once, they will linger.

31 May 2015

the view from the kitchen window today

and the dining room


I am pretending to be perfectly healthy.

27 May 2015

For a long time during my childhood, my big sister was the world to me. We were not friends, we fought daily, about everything, we scratched and bit each other, we pulled hair, we drew blood.
To this day, our relationship is based on a deep current of resentment. At times it's the only thing that keeps us going. On my way to work today, I tried to list what it was and still is that we begrudge each other and, well, it basically covers everything.
And yet, at the time this picture was taken she was my rock, my guardian angel. There was a time when we used to joke that she was my little mother. But that was years ago, we don't find this funny anymore.
We were never close, we never helped each other. We bargained all the time. We never got each others back. When I was found smoking behind the youth club and got expelled for a fortnight, she ratted on me. So in turn I told my parents about her driving this guy's car around the block before she got her licence. And so on.
She paid me real money to do her Latin homework. I used the money to buy her silence when I lied about where I was going at night. And so on.
But I know that I owe her, that thanks to her I have this precious small bundle of happy warm childhood memories (incl. the fights we had), thanks to her massive strength, her protective spirit and her fierce instincts. 
My sister picked up all the pieces, kept the show on the road, pushed us along and told us what to do. Before she could read, she knew how to call the doctor, the ambulance, the police. She knew which neighbours she could turn to, how much she could safely tell them and, most importantly, she knew what not to tell. Never to tell. She figured this out so early and so well, you could think she has forgotten about it, about the things that happened, the threats, the dark locked rooms, the screams and the tears and the overdosing and the blood. I close my eyes and I see her wrapping a sheet around my mother's arm, round and round. She is maybe six years old, biting on her lower lip with the effort. 
It has taken me a very long time to understand the enormity of what she did for me, all these years, that it was more than anyone should ask a big sister to do. I understand that this is why we could never be friends.

23 May 2015


Ireland gay marriage referendum result: Yes vote certain

This is about decency, generosity, love and getting rid of a lot of negative morals, it's about moving out from the shadow of an oppressive church or to quote the Irish minister for equality:
Ireland hasn't just said yes, Ireland has said Fuck Yeaahhh!
This is also in memory of Marcus who in 1985 could no longer face the bullying and abuse from family and colleagues, who slipped out of our reach one tearful night to jump into the river. His body was found a week later.

some background here

22 May 2015

This is my 1000th post. Really? I find it hard to believe but I am not going to count.
All I can say or rather, write is that I love it. No idea where I would be without it and I don't care, this is good.
Thank you for reading and you have no idea, none at all, how I enjoy your comments!


18 May 2015



Hurrah, I crawled to work and made it home in one piece, feeling like a limp something or other, licking my wounds and coughing from a tight chest - that and my croaky voice, oh very dramatic! 
My colleagues full of sighs and tutt tutting queued up to offer to take a blood sample (the joys of working with medical scientists) and so I agreed and well, lots of not so normal parameters, aka a lab report from a tiny hell - hand me the smelling salts, quick. 
Yes, I know sort of hope this will could pass, but still, now I am scared of the things that will come and get me in my sleep.
For crying out loud, I am such a wimp.




17 May 2015


Beautiful May, garden full of blossoms, a bowl of fresh strawberries in my kitchen, green asparagus waiting for dinner, the first juicy apricots . . .
The news full of horror, devastation, cruelty, suffering.




13 May 2015

May

The little lane leading to the secret entrance of the garden on Monday morning after coming back from the doctor, who told me to stay home for another week. I cycled because it's only a short distance. I didn't tell her, just in case. It was the highlight of my day, the short cycle.
Wisteria above the bicycle shelter at the bottom of the garden. There are worse places to recuperate - or to lock up a bicycle.

12 May 2015

I am asking for quite a stretch in imagination and compassion, but isn't that what being alive is all about?

This morning I was sitting in my kitchen with my head under a towel, breathing in the supposedly healing vapours of thyme and sage, listening to online radio. As my luck would have it I had tuned into one of my favourite Irish stations just as the news came on. Or rather: nuacht, that is news as gaeilge/in Irish. One of the charming little rituals that probably mean very little to most and an awful lot so some people in Ireland. Like the Angelus at six pm, still live on radio every evening.

I can understand three words in Irish: agus (and), buíochas (thank you) and grá (love). When I listen to someone speaking in Irish it's all mystery to me, like an ancient chant.
And then suddenly I heard the word Kathmandu. Another massive earthquake. Oh dear, oh saints in heavens and people on this planet.
Of course, we will all and everyone try and do what we can. Surely. It will involve money. The media will supply us with enough horrific evidence to imagine a fraction of what is happening.

And here comes the stretching because I am now jumping from Nepal to the Indian Ocean. To a place hardly anybody knows. A most beautiful place, paradise. I can honestly call it that because I have lived in a very similar place for a couple of years not too far from there. It has been the best of times for me and for my man and our child. The very best of times. And although we have all had many more best of times since, 25 years later we are all three still homesick for it. 
Which is why I can feel some of the sadness (sagren in Chagossian Creole) you can see in these faces if you please take the short time to watch:

Let Us Return - The Story of the Chagos Islanders - 2015 from Evoque on Vimeo.

And while I have been working too long for human rights organisations to believe that online petitions have any meaningful effect at all, I nevertheless ask you to sign here anyway and hope for a miracle. There is no doubt in my mind that these people need to return and that they can have a happy life there. Not a single doubt.
If you have a bit more time, also watch this video.

 

09 May 2015

Impatiently, far too impatiently waiting for this whatshallwecallit to be over, an infection, surely,  just a virus, no doubt. Ever heard of sinusitis, that must be it. Collecting my wits in between bouts of vertigo and with a booming head under a towel, inhaling tea made from fresh sage and thyme. Pretending that I've never heard of the ENT symptoms of my disease.  There, I said, my disease. As if I owned it. But at this stage, it doesn't really matter. Believe me, it's not a thing about ownership or - worse - owning up to anything. And just to clarify, I am not battling or fighting here. I have rejected this terminology in connection with illness long before I got involved.
I am not even accepting. There is nothing to accept. (Except for the blessings of this country's "socialist" health system. I accept them gratefully and with a continuous sense of wonder and entitlement.)
In conclusion: Shit happened, I am dealing with it. Some days better, other days, not too well. 
Mostly, I am juggling between distraction and panic, occasionally I glimpse enlightenment. 
I love my life too much to whine - generally speaking.

Theoretically, we are all good here, while in reality, uuugh. Tedious.





05 May 2015

. . . our families contain everything and, late at night, everything makes sense. We pity our mothers, what they had to put up with in bed or in the kitchen, and we hate them or we worship them, but we always cry for them.
Anne Enright, The Gathering 


This being memorial month, 70 years since the end of WW2, we get to watch special features on all channels, in all shapes and forms from the sublime to the ridiculous, every morning in the papers another picture of the president or the chancellor speaking to survivors at various memorial sites (former concentration camps). I watched a couple of documentaries on children and war and I will never even get close to understand what may have been my mother's experience. Frankly, I have no idea. Only snippets, whispered during coffee and cake afternoons with relatives while I sat on someone's lap half asleep. I see her trembling outside the back door, trying to light a cigarette, gagging from the smell of fried meat. I hear her walking through the house at night, crying and muttering, packing a bag of essentials "in case". The larder always full of food, nothing ever thrown away, left-over bread soup. So many mornings with her face hiding behind sunglasses. The sound of a fire siren would send her running for her youngest child, both of them sheltering in the boiler room.
There were tall stories, too. I used to be disgusted about this when I got older, when relatives pointed out that she could not have been there or there at the time or whatever. Well, she was not a good a mother and for me, that was further proof of her failure. But what do I know. What do I know about forgetting and remembering and loss and trauma. For quite some time, she tried to cope, I know that. And yet, with all her arrogance and her high morals and superiority complexes, she was cowering, a frightened animal inside her Chanel suits and fur coats.


Here she is sometime in the early 1950s, at university. I like to think she was happy then. For a while.

03 May 2015

I can't write about the health stuff because last time, when I mentioned the lung diagnosis, my child got mad at me for blogging before telling her. And I understand.
Anyway, I have now reached a far superior level in this game, the one where I juggle symptoms around until it feels as if I can manage a semblance of normal life, ie being a gainfully employed woman with a bicycle. For a while at least. The default settings of this level no longer include being healthy. But this level is so advanced I have already forgotten what that could have meant. Ever.

And on Wed I am going to see my lovely immunologist. But shhh.




02 May 2015

Consider migratory birds, the ones that travel in V-shaped flocks enormous distances through strong air currents. 
Consider the V-shape: it means that one bird is in front battling it out, while the others float in his slipstream. 
How do they get the volunteers to fly in front?  Is it a clan thing, the alpha bird in front? This would make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. 
But apparently that's not the case.

The stuff you learn when you read the newspapers on a Saturday morning. Does it matter? 

Anyway. It turns out that it does, at least to a group of scientists who followed 14 juvenile bald ibises fitted with GPS gadgets on one of their long journeys. Some of the birds were siblings, but most were not related. Flying in formation they changed their positions cooperatively, taking turns so that all the birds got a chance to surf and all did hard work at the front, switching positions automatically and continuously, so quickly that it would be hard to see with the naked eye.   


Ok, it's only birds. But what if we were to follow their example? To do something without calculating the return? To give and take so quickly that we wouldn't even notice and probably not even remember? A scenario where self-interest and helpfulness are not seen as opposites but as mutually dependent. Oh my.



27 April 2015

The guy on CNN just said that the people in Kathmandu were odd in their Buddha-like fatalistic stupor, burning their dead and not expecting much.
Seriously. 
I shouted it up the stairs to R who is listening to Jefferson Airplane while reading through his student's reports on their charity walk whereby a bunch of well-off teenagers walked for an hour and a half along the river and another hour and a half back to simulate walking to schools somewhere in Southern Africa. Don't get me wrong, they may all have figured out something about the world. Teenagers are admirably smart.

In 1994, a young man named Shrestha came to stay with us for a week or two. A law student from Nepal attending a youth conference here. His first time abroad. He stayed in S's room and slept in her bunk bed with the toys underneath and the raspberry coloured wallpaper. When we sat down for our first meal together he told us about home. He was studying in Kathmandu and his family lived about three days away. Three days on a train, a bus, by car? we asked. No, first on a bus for a day, then walking for two more days. He talked about his family and their lives, about earning a bit of money as trekking guide and his childhood and plans for the future and much later, before we all went to sleep, he asked us about the different gadgets in the bathroom and the kitchen. I come from a different planet, he said with a laugh when he tried out the blender and during the night I heard him getting up and checking it again.

A few days later I brought him to work with me and while we were waiting at a pedestrian crossing, two German women ran up calling his name and hugging him. They had been to Nepal trekking the year before and of all the places and people, he and his brother had been their guides. We laughed a lot that day. See, I told him, we are all living on the same planet.

We lost touch. This was a long time before the internet and fb etc. You know how many Shresthas there are in Nepal?

But we are on the same planet and tonight I hope he and his family are ok.

26 April 2015

Looks like this is becoming an annual event, another double vertigo attack with the odd fever spike, shivers and the expected sea sickness. And sweet heavens, the nausea. Wow.

Almost to the day a year since the last big one. I feel so very sorry for myself. Very sorry. And I would bang my head against the wall if only that would help. Instead, I stagger around the house and  that heavenly garden, lilacs, tulips, wisteria, apple blossoms. No cats. My first spring without cats.

At least now I can leaf through last year's diary and count the days I was sick with it last year (16 days) and also that I waited almost a week before I went for the ENT appointment after the cortisone spike brought feck all relief. This time, I am not even starting on that stuff. Well, not yet. This time round, I'll do the ENT before the immunologist. Variety is the spice of life they say.


Does it help to realise that there are worse things happening in the world? I wish it would.
I wish I could see how insignificant my little portion of misery is in comparison.  I fail.



19 April 2015

They are men and women like us – our brothers - and sisters (my addition) - seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war.

I never thought I would quote the pope of all people but desperate news ask for desperate measures.
As I was sleeping in the early hours of this morning, as the first chords of a magnificent dawn chorus was just beginning, as the lilac prepared to open its first blossoms of the year, 700 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. They were adrift on an overcrowded vessel few would actually classify as such, never mind declare seaworthy, and tried to alert the attention of a real ship nearby. Seemingly, this caused the vessel to capsize and the latest news are that at least 700 bodies are still in the water.

These are the people we are allowing to die in the Mediterranean: teenage orphans of several (!) civil wars, pregnant women without family, young and old, labourers and academics, sons and daughters.
Nobody - and I dare you - is making this journey just for fun, to steal our wealth or to cheat on welfare systems.
Forget the fact that this society wouldn’t work without migrants, that nobody else will pick your vegetables and make your latte and get up at 4am to clean your office. Forget the massive tax contribution made by migrants to the Treasury. This is not about economics. Far too often, even the positive takes on migration are driven by numbers and finance, by “What can they do for us?”. This is about two things: compassion and responsibility.
There are half a million people in Libya waiting to make the crossing. Libya is chaos. Libya is at war. Syria is at war. Sudan is at war. Eritrea is a cruel dictatorship. And so on. I know, African/Middle Eastern problems etc. but wait and think for a minute, it's not that simple.

Not all migration is caused by the west, of course. But let’s have a real conversation about the part that is. Let’s have a real conversation about our ageing demographic and the massive skills shortage here, what it means for overstretched public services if we let migrants in (we’d need to raise money to meet increased demand, and the clearest and fairest way is a rise in taxes on the rich), the ethics of taking the cream of the crop from poor countries. Migration is a complex subject.

We may discuss this another time. Meanwhile, what are going to do?
... let’s not be cowards and pretend the migrants will stop coming. Because they won’t. This will never stop.

Let's remember this:

We can recognise the human right to migration. We can recognise that we are ourselves, all of us, doubly migrants. We are migrants historically: our ancestors came from somewhere else, and originated, long ago, in the same spot in Africa. And we are migrants personally: life is the experience of moving through time, of abandoning each present moment for the next, of temporal migration.

spring

Today was sunny and warm. Not hot yet, just mild.
Today I got mad with R because he took the car to get six bottles of wine from the shop which is about 2 km away. On a sunny day with three shipshape bicycles incl. panniers and baskets just waiting to be used.
Then I thought it must be a man thing and I apologised.
But before that we shared a grumpy lunch. Cheese on toast and coffee.
Today, I sat in the sun and read the paper while he worked in the garden. On and on. So I got up and washed the greenhouse. Inside and out, scrubbing and rinsing.
By the time I was done, he was still working.
When the sun had moved around the house and I packed up to go inside, he started to cut the lawn.
Then he cooked dinner. Fish curry. It was delicious.
Tonight, I started on our tax returns and when I went to get a folder from his study, he was asleep at his desk.
Tomorrow I will bake him a rhubarb crumble. Fresh rhubarb from the garden.

This and always.

13 April 2015

Thank you, Sheila Kitzinger

 
She was an inspiration. Thanks to her, I looked forward to labour, immensely, yes I did. I felt confident and strong.  My English was still pretty poor at the time when I discovered her name and her books and pamphlets, by chance, out there in the deepest catholic Dublin of the early 1980s, because Kitzingen is a small Franconian town not too far from where I grew up.

I met her in 1984 queueing at the entrance to the First International Feminist Bookfair in London, a big crowd of young women, all the feminist punk of the 1980s, the diagonal fringe, single earring, torn T-shirt, Doc Martens, flowery skirt, bangles and scarves, when this jolly tea lady started to push her way through, shouting, sorry love, I have to man a stall. Oops, I should say, woman a stall, yes?
Laughter all around. And later, we shared a cup of tea and talked and she listened to my birth story and told me to write about it and send it to such and such a place and I did and they published it and Dr. P. who had been there at the home birth of my girl phoned me and thanked me and that's how I found out that this gentle quiet obstetrician had a subscription to a feminist magazine.



06 April 2015

Almost finished packing for a short trip, just a week, to the coast. Against his usual reservations (beaches are very very boring compared to mountains) R decided I need sea air to help my lungs and in a flash, we had it booked, this being easter holidays for both of us.
Theoretically, all is well. He cleaned the car and has already dismantled and stored the bicycles in the back, the tyres have been checked and the tank is full.
Yet, in reality, I feel sort of awful with another bout of the gastritis and whatever, shakes and shivers and itches and nausea and why on earth not just crawl into bed and stay there for ever?
Well, he says, a change is as good as a rest. And having spent all his childhood right by the boring sea and never really being attracted to it, what with some of the most glorious mountains just behind you, he is surprisingly cheerful.
So I am packing porridge oats and rusks and herb tea and a hot water bottle and all my glorious medicines and one extra pair of warm woolly socks for each of us.
A last check of the weather forecast, cloudy, windy, not much sun.
Faced with her husband's retirement, which involved lots of golf and gardening, and too much energy on her part, my mother in law decided to become an artist, a painter. She joined a club and produced a variety of seminal works at a furious rate. She concentrated on copying favourite views and family photographs. Sometimes, she combined the two. Of course, we all encouraged her and she would invite us for viewings in the dining room, vol au vents, sherry and all. 
When we got married, she decided to change one of her surprisingly good pictures, originally a view of the beach at Seapoint or maybe Killiney. To mark the occasion, she inserted two little stick figures, walking hand in hand into the oncoming tide or maybe out to the outgoing tide. We called it the tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum picture and for the last 25 years it has been lovingly preserved in a black plastic bag somewhere in the basement.
Anyway, here we go, off to the seaside.

28 March 2015

I suppose that if I wanted to I could write something smart alecky about the stuff that's been happening in my lungs. About last week's tests and the results and plan A and plan B. About the way the lung doctor got off his chair and walked around his desk and took my hand in both of his. It's funny how this happens quite a lot. In the early post-diagnosis days, it made me feel better. I thought it was a weird form of respect, of team work, compassion even. Now I am not so sure. Now I find it embarrassing. Tedious even. Now I know that my first question should not be, how bad?, but instead, how many patients with this disease have you treated so far? But I haven't reached that level of sophistication yet. I will have another go next time. This time, I almost wept when he said, I think we can prevent further damage. This is plan A and if it doesn't work, we try plan B.

I could write something about how angry I am and how I get mad at everything and how I pick on R and how I explode at the slightest bit of imagined criticism,  all the time knowing deep in my bones and cells that this is not the way to do it. 

Instead I want to write about arrogance. Arrogance and ignorance or maybe it's one and the same. Arrogance to mask ignorance.
I want to write about the arrogance of knowing. To think that we could actually know our bodies or worse, what is good for them or what is wrong with them.

I used to be so full of that shit. I have been told I had a hard time with the childhood illnesses and that I was not the sturdiest of my mother's three kids. I don't remember. What I do remember is feeling strong and healthy as a child, teenager and later when I was at uni. Especially during those years of sex and drugs and rock and roll, stacks of unwashed dishes, sleeping in a room with ashtrays overflowing, long before the muesli revolution. We walked like hippy kings and queens on this earth, our healthy bodies at our command.
Don't get me wrong,  I cherish all the memories.

The first crack appeared when I took this one step further into believing that a mother knows best while I thought all was well when my baby was seriously ill, oh arrogant ignorance. Believe me, I have been slowly climbing down from my moral high horse ever since. And yet, it is so easy and pleasant to feel arrogant about health. To think that we know our bodies and like a child before Xmas we want to believe that health comes with cranberries or kale or ginger or turmeric, "fresh" coconut water flown in from Sri Lanka, with yoga and seven hours of sleep and pure bottled water from Fiji or the French volcanic springs. The one magic ingredient, the one magic change in our sloppy life style and all will be well.

OK this is not fair. I admit that for a long time I, too, have been a tad fanatic about a healthy diet (ask my child) and regional organic produce. I still am. But whatever, my health is slipping through my fingers. My arrogant well educated well informed fingers and all I can do is pretend that I am in charge.






25 March 2015



 (from this book)

I should be on the phone. At least. I should call two friends, one after the other. I got up in the middle of the night and put a pink post-it on my desk: call U, call A.
U is losing the ground beneath her feet with her partner falling deeper and deeper into the Alzheimer tunnel,  A has received yet another no-thank-you letter from a promising - we all thought so! - job offer and time as well as unemployment benefits are running out.
And I am sitting here searching for words and the right kind of energy and feeling to surface. But my hands are cold, the multitude of ailings hissing and kicking inside my body. Somewhere people are starving, suffering, dying, planes crash and bombs explode. Our planet is covered in festering wounds and my hands are cold and the phone is so far away right now.


23 March 2015

Lá Fhéile Pádraig

Patrick's day has come and gone and for an entire week this household was very busy and noisy. There was a short moment late Saturday night when I escaped to the upstairs bathroom to take a deep breath and my face in the mirror showed me this smile that was etched so deeply into my exhausted lines, I am still working on getting it off. Three days later.
Of course, I could go all what-has-become-of-me and this used to be a household with noise and music and banging doors and phone calls and pets and certainly more that two quiet persons going about their quiet little businesses.
I could, but I won't.
Instead, a little bit of Ireland. Here we have Philip King talking with a faint trace of a Cork accent and the lovely South County Dublin way of aspirating the consonants, especially the w.  It sounds gorgeous to my ears and it takes me about 10 mins to get back into it but considering the fact that I became bilingual in South County Dublin, this is my English.



Anyway, Philip is something of a very distant cousin by marriage to R. That whole six degrees of separation thing is a party game in Ireland. Not that he would know a thing about me.
And while he meanders on in this talk, showing off a bit and getting sidetracked, he nevertheless brings three gifts: a poem, music and a spectacular view.

First, the poem:

The Given Note

On the most westerly Blasket
In a dry-stone hut
He got this air out of the night.

Strange noises were heard
By others who followed, bits of a tune
Coming in on loud weather

Though nothing like melody.
He blamed their fingers and ear
As unpractised, their fiddling easy

For he had gone alone into the island
And brought back the whole thing.
The house throbbed like his full violin.

So whether he calls it spirit music
Or not, I don't care. He took it
Out of wind off mid-Atlantic.

Still he maintains, from nowhere.
It comes off the bow gravely,
Rephrases itself into the air.

Seamus Heaney


Next, the music or Port na bPúcaí (Spirit Music):



And finally, the view:

(I copied it from here.)

So many years ago, with our baby asleep with grandparents, we walked all the way up through the heather to look out over the Blasket Islands, on a mild summer's evening just before sunset when the air was still and we could hear the waves all the way down on the Atlantic.

17 March 2015

We aren’t on this Earth to improve endlessly, forever approaching infinite perfection but never quite getting there. We are here to notice the enormity and beauty of everything around us, and to notice each other – to notice how flawed we all are, and feel connected anyway.


Heather Havrilesky

14 March 2015



Remembering when I first watched this movie and the time I asked my teenage daughter to watch it with me many years later and knowing that she loves it and that she got the message, too.

12 March 2015

spring

Cold, yes. A touch of frost at night, yes. But, oh, the blue sky and the birds. The racket they make, mating and nesting and breeding. Cranes and geese and have you ever watched a pair of noisy magpies making a nest? Messy doesn't come close.
It's the best time.

What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here. 



Wendell Berry

06 March 2015

Working my way through a translation on malnutrition in elderly patients I wander into the kitchen in the utterly vain hope of finding a box of cadbury roses in one of the cupboards. But of course, we don't stock that kind of trans fat sugar decadence. No cookies, not even old crumbs, we are so fucking healthy in this household.  I cut a slice of (organic) whole wheat bread and spread a thin layer of home made (low sugar) loganberry jam on it. That will have to do.
The world is a better place again. We are so good, this kitchen is almost holy. Sigh and bloody sigh.

Some days we have this conversation:

Me: When (or depending on mood: if) I die before you, do you think you'll have another relationship?
R: You're not dying, stop talking rubbish.
Me: Seriously, can you imagine living here with another woman?
R: Shut up and eat.
Me: Or maybe a man?
R: For crying out loud, would you stop this!
Me: I hate the thought of you being here all alone, watching tv all by yourself and there's the laundry and the cleaning and the shopping and ...
R: Come on, I don't watch tv and well, I can tell you one thing, when you're dead, there will be far less shopping and laundry.
Me: See, you admit it. I could die before you and then what? Will you look for another partner?
R: Maybe. Come on, eat. 
Me: So you will!
R: Alright then: what about you, will you get yourself another man if I die before you?
Me: No. Of course not. Never.
R: Want some more of this broccoli? No? I'll finish it then.

I finish my slice of bread, which, in fact, tastes quite delicious. Still, I would very much like some unobtrusive person to come into the room now with bowl of, say, chocolate ice cream.


 


04 March 2015

Sometimes when I lie awake and need to calm my mind I make up lists. Memory lists, like my daughter's first shoes, starting with the pair of tiny warm sheepskin booties R made, next the soft red leather slippers from our Dutch friends, traditionally used as inlays for wooden clogs and passed on through generations and friends (see below), she learned to walk in these, followed by the first pair of solid booties (blue) and on through her first years up to the yellow sandals (with a good grip as we reassured S when she walked up the hills of West Cork one summer). These sandals were the only thing stolen from us in paradise and it happened while we were still living in the hotel among the wealthy tourists. We marvelled at the thought that somewhere deep in the rain forest a child was now walking in yellow Birkenstock sandals. It was a good thought. Still is.

So the mind wanders.
I try and match my child's face at the time to the shoes and I fail and of course, I worry. When she calls the next day, I move real close to the screen and count - once again - all the beautiful freckles on her adult face. 

The Nso people of Cameroon, I read recently, do not allow a close mother-child relationship. Childcare is the communal responsibility of the entire village. To avoid eye contact, mothers blow into their baby's faces. They have to work in the fields, they cannot afford time for cuddling and singing. 
I see it here, too. Only our fields are offices and that puff of breath, we call it education.



28 February 2015

the gum battle, part 1

Rinsing every 4 hours, i.e. elaborate rinsing with a variety of sophisticated gadgets. It's a tad complicated and as for my taste buds, meh. I hope I don't have to do this for ever. When R comes back from his conference trip tonight, he'll think I set up a dentist's surgery.
After every rinsing episode I listen to this song. I would have a smoke but I gave up cigarettes approx. 35 years ago. Would mask that chlorine taste. And I could lean against my door frame, tap the floor in my cowboy boots and look cool and in control. (That's 15 o's in one sentence.)



27 February 2015

a bit over 5 years

I remember the day I got the diagnosis. I remember the phone call, you have autoimmune vasculitis. Come back tomorrow and we set out a treatment plan. Gosh, I was so happy. It has a name! I am real! I will live!

All giddy, I called R at work and he took the next day off from work and after the appointment, we took the slow road home through the foggy winter wonderland along the river. We stopped for lunch somewhere fancy and laughed and he was all calm when I cried a bit.

I remember when the doctors explained the medicines and the side effects and what I needed to look out for and what I must avoid (trivial stuff like no grapefruit, no alcohol, no ibuprofen, no aspirin . . .) and so on.  Oh, never mind, I thought. What's a bit of hair loss, weight gain, moon face, nausea, maybe liver damage, possibly gastritis and a lot of other stuff with complicated Latin names like gingivitis and stomatitis - compared to lung and/or kidney failure or death? You couldn't possibly argue with that.

Luckily, I am still waiting for the hair loss and the weight gain or the moon face. I have more or less accepted that bitchy gastritis and I let my GP worry about the liver values going up and down. But there are nights when I lie awake and consider my future life stretching ahead for years and years with painfully inflamed gums, always the taste of blood and the feeling of my mouth being on fire. And that, I admit, is the worst. At night anyway.

And now for some soppy music from the boy from Monkstown, a place that once was home: