10 October 2019

It was 20 years this summer, August 4th in fact, that my mother died. I still don't miss her. I still feel relieved. Sometimes I think that maybe now I can remember her more often, from a distance, with something like kindness, understanding, even respect. But I can go days, weeks, months without a single thought of her, even when I walk every day past the one picture of her, here on my wall (she is four years old) and I come across the odd thing or two of hers that I have kept, a cookbook, her binoculars, table linen. There is that box of her good china wrapped in newspaper down in the basement.
What did I expect? I don't know. There is no sense of loss, also no need for forgiveness.
She was beautiful for a while. Energetic, purposeful, interested. Clever, intelligent; in fact, educated is the word she would have used.  Education, learning, reading, investigating, experimenting, testing, she valued all this above else. Always a book in her bag, another one open on her lap, a stack of them on her bedside table. She had no time for people who would not read, who could not remember the books they had read, could not recite at least one poem, never attempted to play at least one musical instrument, had no interest in science, birdwatching, plants, growing and harvesting. She could be harsh in her judgement of the - to her - ignorant masses. The people we were told to not mix with. To look down on.
Our relationship was never easy, marred by mutual disappointment.
Two memories.
Sunday afternoon walks, as a rule, mother, father, three children, along the street through the housing estate and across the main road into the forest or along the fields and back again. In our Sunday best. Parents deep in conversation, my father carrying my brother on his shoulders. I am almost five years old and have discovered words. On a fence post I stop and start to read out loud the sign the local authorities have put up as a warning after a rabid fox had been killed earlier that week. I have no idea what I am reading but I remember the excitement that these are printed words and that I can read them. When I finish, I can hear my mother laughing behind my back. Laughing at me and my stuttering attempts of proper reading. I feel ashamed, foolish and run ahead, my ears now roaring with her laughter, I know I have done something that was not expected and that I made a fool of myself. We all walk home. Nothing is said.
A year later. It is her birthday. I have made her a little book. A graphic novel.  Four pages about a rabbit under a cherry tree picking flowers. Red cherries, blue flowers, long rabbit ears. That kind of thing. It's a bit smudged and crinkled but I run downstairs as soon as I wake up to show her and to be the first to sing the birthday song. And there she is at the bottom of the stairs and I jump into her arms and she laughs and then she puts her hand on my forehead, you are hot, look at me. Oh no. I think you have a fever. I start to cry then and my throat hurts terribly and she sighs and sends me back upstairs.

05 October 2019

Occasionally, R gets asked about his wife at some event he attends, social animal that he is. He goes out a lot, meeting people, plotting to change the world, listening to music and/or dancing or simply eating and drinking red wine.
There was a time when I came along, naturally, when we went to these things together and returned home tired, maybe talked about it for a while in the kitchen.
But I rarely go out if I don't have to, not because I don't want to but being in a noisy place with lots of people is difficult, exhausting and it can take me days to recover (- I'm ok for small gatherings, walks in the woods and stuff like that).
Anyway, when he gets asked about his wife or, more specifically by those who have met me before, he says, oh she is a social recluse.
Mostly, I find this amusing and I almost feel kind of special, like a mysterious writer or artist living in a fabulous hideaway, haughty but with a purpose, maybe with some cats and so on.
But other times, when he tells me, it just makes me cry.

Yesterday on my way back from work, I listened to Lou Reed on the car radio and my mind wandered and I contemplated when and where he had an impact on my life and I could not remember the name of his partner, the wonderful Laurie Anderson. I frantically whispered The ugly one with the jewels, The ugly one with the jewels, The ugly one with the jewels, but every time my brain responded with Patti Smith.
The moment I walked into the house, almost running, almost calling out to R, I remembered.
So, not all is lost.

02 October 2019

It has rained for two days in a row. Not downpours or showers but that steady rain that goes on and on. The barrels and tanks are not quite full, there's a way to go yet, but now they say, this was it for the time being. They say, don't complain but don't rejoice either. This is not enough. They say that the winter could be wet and cold. There are models and statistics and meteorology has advanced in leaps and bounds, they say, but really, who knows.

And then there is the wind and the falling leaves which feels like November and we whisper to each other, strange, early.

My family has travelled and regrouped and some have returned to their far away home and others are walking across Tuscan hills and some are preparing for storms to arrive across the Atlantic. I wake in the night and check flight paths and departures and arrivals and storm maps.
Nobody is safe in this world of strangers and yet, wherever we are, we are surrounded by humans.

I have been back at work for two days showing my energetic cheerful self, or what remains of it, walking with a bounce along the corridors and calling out greetings here and there - as if.
This charade works for a couple of hours and when I arrive home, I fall asleep for a while and I wake feeling very old and stiff and not quite together.

My father's commanding voice informs me that to him I sound strong and healthy and then he quickly changes the subject. That's settled. We exchange our delight with his latest great grandchild and he briefly entertains the thought of flying for a visit to the other side of the planet, three stopovers in 35 hours. For a moment, I panic and then I tell him, no. There are too many steps up to their house, I say, you would find it too tedious with your walker and he relents.

And then there was that evening when I held my daughter in her arms, when she was sobbing and overcome with worry. When she asked me whether it was the biggest mistake of her life, bringing a child into this world and I told her that there was no answer but that children are not goods we exchange or replace and that I am counting on her to raise this child to become a guardian of our blue planet and all its life forms, that I am expecting her to teach this child about what matters and not to waste time and energy on useless stuff and gadgets and distraction. I told her about resilience and respect and the joys of being part of community and change and that we are all in this together shaping this child's challenging future to be amazing and fulfilling and worthwhile.

I read to her Joanna Macy:  
The most remarkable feature of this historical moment is not that we are on the way to destroying our world–we’ve actually been on the way quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millenia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves, and to each other.
I said all this this with all the conviction I could muster and in my calmest voice until I could feel her breath become more steady and she let me dry her tears. And then the grand child crawled across the hall and sat in front of us and clapped hands and of course, we could not help but laugh with delight.

24 September 2019

I’ve no idea what shape grief will take over the coming years, but I’m in for the long haul. The loss of human and nonhuman life, of systems and ways of living isn’t showing any signs of abating, and I think making friends with suffering and loss is one way through that promises a degree of sanity. Perhaps it’s because grief and love exist as a call and response to one another, a daily reminder in these times of the paradox at the heart of the human experience. It’s obvious to me that I can’t live a deeply human life without either, and that they are – everyone knows – intricately linked: we only grieve what we love.
Em Strang 

This morning I sat with my grandchild by the kitchen window and pointed out the signs of autumn, leaves, spider webs, dried up flower heads, windfall apples, foggy air, cabbages and phacelia and a pale moon in the sky. Then we sang for a while, mostly Row, row, row the boat and If I had a hammer (with a real bell to ring). I am the happiest and the saddest person on earth.

Here are a few Holland pictures.

22 September 2019

We are back. My father's gathering was the usual family thing, sly comments amid very loud laughter, story telling and three kinds of Zwetschgenkuchen with cream. He was happy and fell asleep sitting for short periods. It was very hot and sunny, I almost joined him but I cannot sleep while sitting.
The seaside was refreshing and calm and Dutch. The Dutch cuisine is to a large extent based on sugar and straight away, our teeth started aching. We cycled because that's what you do there. One of the bicycles had a child seat and the grandchild wore a cute helmet and waved a lot. From mid September the beaches are open for dogs and consequently, we made friends with several dogs. The grandchild loves dogs, and sand. We spent a lot of time watching the grandchild crawling after dogs through the warm sand.
Now we are back and my daughter has a cough and last night, R finally agreed to go to the A&E because the strange insect bites on his belly were definitely spreading and started to look suspiciously like - yes, shingles. We all started to itch and ache and have examined ourselves and each other about a thousand times by now but so far, it's just him. He is very brave of course and is taking the meds and seems to have no pain. When this morning, he started to fix some faucet and drill holes into a wall, I raised my voice and told him to get his act together and be sick like real.
Pictures to follow.

13 September 2019

feeling a bit snappy

Pushing along. I am climbing mountains. It feels like it. Every day. So now they tell me that cutting down the cortisone after almost ten years does produce symptoms such as all the shit that is going on. Now! Seriously. There is me learning about the cortisol metabolism and how cortisone fits in and the adrenal glands and, wait for it, adrenal fatigue. Brilliant, isn't it, that there's a name for almost everything which feels great for a while until you realise it doesn't matter and certainly is of no help. None whatsoever.

Anyway, it could last for about 12 months, they said. And we all know that 12 months is one whole year. But, they said, it comes and goes. Ah sure. Doesn't everything. Come and go.

Cutting down the cortisone has now become my mission in life. I have a chart drawn. I am keeping a cortisone tapering diary and I am the best pupil in the school of cortisone tapering the young and well-dressed immunologist has ever had. He in his pretty argyle socks.

And, in the words of a learned and sceptical friend, if it all goes sideways, everybody'll know why and let them pick up the pieces then. Well-dressed or not.

There are bigger things to concentrate on. It rained! One whole day and most of the night. That was weird and wonderful. The word lush comes back into use. But with caution.

The larger family is assembling in my father's garden on the weekend. Instead of coming out in a rash, as some would at the the thought of 17 people talking at the top of their voices pretending to be close, I woke up with vertigo in the early hours and have been spending a considerable amount of time today dealing with seasickness and the various ways this causes voiding of half digested food stuff. Somehow I will get to sit in my father's garden eventually, R can do the driving, and once we arrive I could hide somewhere in a tree. Or under one.

After that, we are going to the sea side. At least it's booked. That's the plan. Let's not think of what could go wrong. In other words, I am on holiday. My boss suggested I take a rest. Very funny.

In an effort to not lose sight of the bigger picture, to avoid getting lost in too much self pity, and to keep the mind occupied during sleepless hours, I have listened to episodes from the Awake at Night podcast (https://www.unhcr.org/awakeatnight/) where "listeners will join UNHCR’s communications chief, Melissa Fleming, in personal conversations with an array of humanitarian workers, and learn what drives them to risk their own lives protecting and assisting people displaced by war". It's strangely uplifting, reminding me of the fact that there are good people everywhere.
I leave you with another sign of hope and happiness.

Trevor Mallard, New Zealand's House of Representatives speaker, bottle feeding Mr Tāmati Coffey's baby while he presided over a debate. Mr Coffey is an elected politician and is married to Mr Tim Smith and this is their son Tūtānekai Smith-Coffey.

03 September 2019


asparagus gone to seed
And suddenly, the air is cool again. It rained for a short while. We are beginning to grumble about dark evenings to come. It has been a hot dry summer.

In the garden, losses, surprises and changes.

horse chestnut, drought damaged leaves, paper thin and brittle

herbs thrive without rain, hyssop in large bundles

mirabelle plums are small sweet pearls, you eat a handful and another and another, while the reine claude vert plums are thick marbles with a crunchy skin and juicy delicious flesh - gorgeous, sticky, you end up with dripping fingers

morning glories by the almost empty rain water barrels behind the bicycle shed

conference pears, still waiting for a first taste

tiger flower, also called jockey's cap

swan plant, a bee's favourite, grows up to my shoulders

miserable grape harvest

the vineyard peaches will be a deep red when ripe

petunia, indestructable

orange cosmos everywhere

01 September 2019


MOOC stands for massive open online course. MOOCs are provided online and free of charge by universities, incl. top universities, and institutions from all over the world.

They usually consist of video lectures, questionnaires, readings, problem tasks, discussion boards etc. and provide access to sources such as libraries, journals, research papers and archives.

When I explained the concept of MOOC to my father, I said it was an online activity for bored teachers and their wives. He understood.

A MOOC typically lasts for a couple of weeks and depending on how serious you are, you can spend between 3 and 30 hours a week on it. There is no pressure, you can take from it what you wish and drop out any time. The language of a MOOC is not academic but you are encouraged to use your brain cells. If like me you get lost after the first bit of statistic or maths, there is the discussion forum and about 2k people ready to explain. I am also known to have skipped the hard bits. Nobody noticed.

I have done a MOOC from UCLA on dental medicine  (when I was struggling from the aftermath of gruesome oral surgery, you can ask me anything about tooth decay), a MOOC from Trinity College Dublin on the Irish Easter Rising of 1916, a MOOC from the University of Melbourne on the effects of climate change on Pacific island nations (not just because I find their names and language so amazing), one by the University of Copenhagen on Nordic cooking (that was weird), one by the University of Norfolk on food as medicine (which was very helpful) and I failed/dropped out of about 20 more.

The worst was the MOOC from the University of Cape Town on the threat of a sixth mass extinction. I did that together with a friend who is a biologist because I am shit at biology. About half way through, we just sat there shattered and in tears, calling our daughters across the globe to listen to their carefree voices.

I have stayed away from all this dangerous fact finding since then. Despite the fact that I open my big mouth all the time.

But today, I enrolled again.
This MOOC is provided (free online, click here) by Harvard and MIT via edX:

Climate Change: The Science and Global Impact
In this course, you will explore the science behind anthropogenic climate change with climate expert, Michael Mann. By joining this course, you are becoming part of a global movement to act on climate change. The first step toward any action is knowledge and understanding.
Because, once you have a firm grasp on the science, you'll be able to translate your understanding into action, so we can ultimately curb our emissions and keep our planet from warming beyond dangerous levels. 

 The course is open to all and is accessible to learners without prior background in the topic of climate science.

(Michael Mann is professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University)

I expect to be completely lost. But if a 16 year old girl with Asperger's can sail across the Atlantic Ocean and less than an hour after disembarking, speak to the media in clear sentences (and that not in her native language) about science and facts, fully aware of the hostility awaiting her from - let's face it - angry white men, I can at least give it a try.

23 August 2019

just another sunset in paradise - yes this was home for a while

There are new guidelines for the treatment of my shitty disease and let me tell you, according to the new immunologist I have been assigned to, guidelines rule. Which is why I am on yet another road of discovery. Which is also why the other expert I was sent to this morning gave a sharp whistle through his teeth when he saw the recommended procedures. I kept my head up and my face straight, no an easy task right now, but I did admirably. In the end we agreed on a deadline after which he may take matters into his educated hands, guidelines or no fucking guidelines.
We shook hands on the deal, like two cool stock brokers.
Whereas by the time R picked me up, I was back to being the miserable patient. One of these days, R's capacity of listening to my moaning will be exhausted. Or maybe it already is and I haven't noticed.
The house guests are on the road to a variety of other houses here and there and we are supposedly joining them in a while. That's the plan. I told the stock broker but I think he took it as a joke.

Anyway, another thing altogether:

From an essay by Douglas Rushkoff (the bold highlights are mine, I like to bring my messages home)

Last year, I got invited to a super-deluxe private resort to deliver a keynote speech to what I assumed would be a hundred or so investment bankers. It was by far the largest fee I had ever been offered for a talk — about half my annual professor’s salary — all to deliver some insight on the subject of “the future of technology.”
 . . .
After I arrived, I was ushered into what I thought was the green room. But instead of being wired with a microphone or taken to a stage, I just sat there at a plain round table as my audience was brought to me: five super-wealthy guys — yes, all men — from the upper echelon of the hedge fund world. After a bit of small talk, I realized they had no interest in the information I had prepared about the future of technology. They had come with questions of their own.

They started out innocuously enough. Ethereum or bitcoin? Is quantum computing a real thing? Slowly but surely, however, they edged into their real topics of concern.
Which region will be less impacted by the coming climate crisis: New Zealand or Alaska? 
 . . .
Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asked, “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?”

The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down.
This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival. Or maybe building robots to serve as guards and workers — if that technology could be developed in time.
That’s when it hit me: At least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology.  . . . they were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape.
. . .
I suggested that their best bet would be to treat those people really well, right now. They should be engaging with their security staffs as if they were members of their own family. And the more they can expand this ethos of inclusivity to the rest of their business practices, supply chain management, sustainability efforts, and wealth distribution, the less chance there will be of an “event” in the first place. All this technological wizardry could be applied toward less romantic but entirely more collective interests right now.
They were amused by my optimism, but they didn’t really buy it. They were not interested in how to avoid a calamity; they’re convinced we are too far gone. For all their wealth and power, they don’t believe they can affect the future. 

Luckily, those of us without the funding to consider disowning our own humanity have much better options available to us. We don’t have to use technology in such antisocial, atomizing ways. We can become the individual consumers and profiles that our devices and platforms want us to be, or we can remember that the truly evolved human doesn’t go it alone.
Being human is not about individual survival or escape. It's team sport. Whatever future humans have, it will be together.
To soften the blow, here is some music from the 1980s, a time when we thought we had it all.

17 August 2019

Is it a sign when you look at the clock in the top right hand corner of the screen exactly at the moment when 00:00 turns to 00:01 or are you just having another one of these nights. (You have.)
Coping and suffering. I've decided to have a go at these. 
Another way of accepting fate, the imponderable cruelty of life - depending on my mood and whether the sun shines nicely.

This morning, or to be precise: yesterday morning, my GP took one look at me and decided that I need to stay home until the end of the month. What if I feel better sooner, I ask. She raised her eyebrows and shook her head ever so slightly, just take it easy, on doctor's orders and now go and rest.
I went home and worked on some excel shit for two hours feeling guilty and relieved at the same time. Until R found out and shook his head in the most disapproving way. He is in charge of house guests, no time to discuss.

I know. I know. My options are to continue as is, with the health insurance and my employer checking my work ability at closer and closer intervals, or getting my act together and apply for early retirement  accept the meagre little pension that awaits me.
On good days, I know that we have what we need for a good life in the years to come (shelter, comforts, garden, community, family).
On bad days, I am working hard at not being a bastard capitalist counting out the money.

The Irish visitor groups are going through the usual adjustments (weather, German bread, the wrong side of the road etc.) and I think I have a good excuse for keeping out of it.
There is more to come. The summer is not over.
The kitchen is still where it's at.
The grandchild reigns supreme from the ikea high chair. All of us here are - one way or another - hooked on that thrilling, complex bribery strategy known as (grand-)parenting. Wonders abound.

14 August 2019

Everything is Going to be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

Derek Mahon, from Selected Poems

The place is mayhem. Gorgeous mayhem. People are arguing about who will be cooking food in my kitchen.  They are almost fighting about whose turn it should be because, my recipe is soo amazing etc. Elbows are involved. Also, we are plotting to make the world a better place.

The days are mostly sunny. The plumeria started to flower!

People, I am delighted with it all.

But you have no idea how unwell I am. Just made the requested list of symptoms for tomorrow's appointment with the immunologist.

04 August 2019

More empathy Less greed More respect

Hot Sunday. I am crawling along below the radar. With a bit of a fever, slight vertigo, nausea and the usual stuff that builds up when you are sick and try to do it anyway. I changed sheets twice last night, almost convinved that the menopause has come back to haunt me. Not sure if I'd mind instead. But never mind. Seriously, never mind.
Because in general, the mood is upbeat. The summer visitors are on their way, the phone calls and bleeps, the fridge is being stocked, the garden and patio beautified, sheets washed and stacks of towels readied. You can never have too many towels.

The world is a beautiful scary mess.
Have a listen. Five minutes of your time. Kate Tempest.

02 August 2019

31 July 2019

On a hot summer's evening we meet friends. A long table has been set in the garden. A pot luck dinner. Children and dogs are jumping on a trampoline.
Some of the guests that evening work for the UNFCC, one of several international employers in our city. We talk about the future, about the lives of our children, we try to keep it light. Someone mentions Greta Thunberg. Of course someone mentions Greta Thunberg.

The big mistake, someone says, is that people are expecting her to have answers, solutions. While all she does is tell the truth. But here we are, we sit back and say, great, she is great, and somehow we think that's enough. She's doing something. At last.
Aren't the young people great, they are going to change it all for the better. 
(As if none of us clever fuckers ever knew what to do until now.)

Today, he calls us. We talk about Greta Thunberg's plans to sail across the Atlantic, to spend a year on the American continent. We are excited about the boat, a zero emissions racing boat and we speculate on the cramped conditions, the length of the journey, the seasickness.  
Actually, he adds, I am afraid for her, afraid for her life. All of us at UNFCC are.

And we know he is not taking about the sea or the weather.

27 July 2019

the mind is baffled and happy in small ways

flooded La Digue road

The temperatures have dropped somewhat, all day there was heavy cloud cover, but apart from a meagre 500 drops which evaporated midair, no rain. And that despite multiple warnings, from the house insurance (they're always the first), the local authorities and media, the federal office of civil protection (they are usually late), neighbours and my father over the phone (400 km away). No hail storms, no flooding, no nothing.

Morne Seychellois

Three days ago, after another of my adventures into the make believe world of being fit and healthy, cycling for an hour under the midday sun without helmet or any other head covering, I eventually keeled over.
It was quite embarrassing. Not only because I should have known better but also because I am a well documented braggart about my heat tolerance. Well, I reached my limit and according to dr google and based on five of eight symptoms - none of them pleasant and all requiring lying low in a darkened room - R diagnosed a mild heatstroke. He also delivered a brief albeit unwanted lecture on the different types of sun rays and their effects on the cerebral membrane. There is a lesson in everything.

I am slowly picking myself up, moving towards a vertical position. According to dr google, recovery should be imminent as suffering is restricted to two days max. Also, remember, R identified only five of eight symptoms, so I could just be normal sick. The way I am most days after doing something stupid, like pushing myself despite being an old woman with a chronic illness and a carload of side-effects. My instincts are all over the place, replaced by a general sense of what the heck, just do it, you can crash afterwards.

And like the icing on the cake I am going to bake when I have established a more stable stance, it has started to rain. Nothing dramatic but fairly steady from the sounds of it.
Three days ago was also R's birthday. Hence the cake. Overdue. Chocolate and coconut something or other.

Meanwhile, I need to unload a couple of quotes I have picked up here and there.

Nationalism teaches you to be proud of things you have not done and to hate people you do not know.
from a social worker (locally)

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed.  
 Wendell Berry

That is what happens. You put it away for a little while, and now and again you look in the closet for something else and you remember, and you think, soon. Then it becomes something that is just there, in the closet, and other things get crowded in front of it and on top of it and finally you don't think about it at all.
The thing that was your brightest treasure. You don't think about it.  And now it becomes something you can barely remember.
 Alice Munro

. . . everybody develops a whole armour of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outer world, and the crush of circumstances. And when we meet people this is what we usually meet. And if this is the only part of them we meet we're likely to get a rough time, and to end up making 'no contact'. But when you develop a strong divining sense for the child behind that amour, and you make your dealings and negotiations only with that child, you find that everybody becomes, in a way, like your own child. It's an intangible thing. But they too sense when that is what you are appealing to, and they respond with an impulse of real life, you get a little flash of the essential person, which is the child. Usually, that child is a wretchedly isolated undeveloped little being. It's been protected by the efficient amour, it's never participated in life, it's never been exposed to living and to managing the person's affairs, it's never been given responsibility for taking the brunt. And it's never properly lived. That's how it is in almost everybody. And that little creature is sitting there, behind the amour, peering through the slits. And in its own self, it is still unprotected, incapable, inexperienced. Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person's childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It's their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can't understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That's the carrier of all the living qualities. It's the centre of all the possible magic and revelation.
Ted Hughes (writing to his son)

In spite of illness, in spite even of the arch-enemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.
Edith Wharton

I know a cure for everything: salt water . . . in one way or the other. Sweat, or tears, or the salt sea.
Karen Blixen

There are a hundred thousand species of love , separately invented, each more ingenious than the last; and every one of them keeps making things.
Richard Powers

24 July 2019

My phone bleeps with weather warnings, extreme heat, and the long lists of what to do (drink water).

We are sitting inside our cool cocoon of a house - still cool without air conditioning but I wonder what would happen if this heat were to continue for a month. Stepping outside is like walking into an oven. It just climbed above 40°C.

This morning I cycled to work early and the forest smelled of dry pine and dust. Cycling home after lunch was another story I don't really wish to repeat.

It's officially a drought now. Or a threatening drought. A period of drought.
People talk about rain like a long lost friend, the sound of soft rain at night, the smell of rain on a summer lawn, the steam rising from the tarmac after a downpour.

after the rain from Mt. Brulee

When we lived in paradise, 3° south of the equator, it rained often, almost several times daily, mostly sudden thrilling showers.  For a moment, an orchestra of drumming raindrops on the tin roof, sheets of water gushing down all around the house, the ground covered in mirrors of water, dripping breadfruit trees and angry bird call.
Is this the rainy season, I asked one of my neighbours. He just laughed politely, no no Sabine, the rains come much later, after the xmas, and skipped elegantly over the puddles.
The daily rain made everything look immaculate. Shiny and moist and brand new and promising.
The rainy season could involve almost a whole day of steady rain, occasionally a landslide, flooding, the mangroves waist high in deep red water down by the estuary. The very stylish and careful would wear a long-sleeved garment for a brief period, looking like aliens.
after the rain down by the river

On a rainy season Sunday, we would sit on the plastic tiles by the open door, playing rounds of scrabble, listening to the Dexter Gordon tape, S outside, barefoot and dripping, splashing, a gang of shouting children.

21 July 2019

We must focus on what we can do. Not what we can’t do.

With more than 7 billion people on the planet, we need to cooperate. I don’t believe we are continuing to ruin the biosphere because we are evil. I am convinced we are doing it because we are not fully informed of the consequences of our actions. And this is very hopeful to me, because I believe that once we know we will change.
The problem is not the people. It is what we do. But of course it is more difficult to live sustainably with more people on the planet. But these solutions can never be discussed on a personal level – it must be handled on a global level. If we are to control the number of people on Earth then I guess we must start with the high emitters. This debate would take decades and leave no space to solve other problems. It’s simply too big for us individuals. In my experience, the “we are too many people” argument is used as an excuse for not taking action ourselves.

Greta Thunberg 

18 July 2019


I am so tired of waiting,
Aren't you,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two-
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.
 Langston Hughes

15 July 2019

mostly lilies

day lilies
A few cool days. But no rain. The garden looks shaggy, I pick up dry stalks, pull out plants that didn't make it. Others don't seem to mind the lack of water. We need to make changes. Smaller leaves, deeper roots. Two days ago, I furiously watered the lot, it took ages. Too late for some anyway.

white agapanthus a friend brought from Madeira
My father talks about the dry summer and I can hear the concern in his voice. Something he rarely shows and never about people. But land, dairy farms, rivers, aquifers, forests, even after 30 years of retirement, all that matters so much to him. We also talked about the tennis and the soccer worldcup or rather, he did because what would I know about that anyway.

tiger lilies

After much deliberation and a couple of angry painful nights, I increased my medication last week without consulting the expert. Today I lost my nerve and called in to my GP and she waved all my concerns away with a brisk smile and a couple of reassurances and, don't worry, it's still a low dose and why don't I give you a sick cert. Which I declined and she shook her head in sorrow.

purple heart lilies

Let's face it, I'll never be rid of cortisone - no matter how careful I am tapering the stuff - and my digestive system will never fully recover.

happy tansy

I have been eating comforting bland porridge, crunchy plain toast and delicious alphabet soup (from a packet) for the last couple of days, topped with probiotics, and just one slightly milky cup of coffee. Surely, something good will come of it.

queen feijoa
But hey, I can move my hands, fingers and feet with considerably less pain, sleep without colics waking me at all hours and the mouth ulcers are in the single digits again. This is the life!

I intend cycling to work by Thursday or maybe even Wednesday.

trumpet vine

07 July 2019

Last night, we went to hear Joan Baez sing on a small island in the river. A scenic location.
Sometime two days ago virus no. 125 or maybe 525 had caught up with me and consequently, yesterday was pretty gruesome but by early evening I took one of the forbidden ibuprofen and told R told me to get a move on.
I have never been a true fan of Joan Baez and folk music gets kind of tedious after a while but I was hoping for encouragement, some kind of message on endurance and hope from a 78 year old artist and veteran civil rights activist.
Instead, I felt melancholia, nostalgia, loneliness even, sitting there in the crowd on our 3000 small chairs on the lawn by the river, like good children at assembly. There was a high wind rustling in the poplar trees and occasionally, the tuktuktuk of a passing river barge. Of course, she was a commanding presence but I felt such loss and when as a second encore, she sang "Where have all the flowers gone" (in German), I wanted to leave, I felt so sad. Walking across the bridge with the sky darkening so beautifully above the river, her last song ("Imagine") felt like a bad spell following us and I wanted to shout, this is getting us nowhere, enough.
I hadn't eaten since lunch, that plus the virus, who knows.

Early this morning it rained, gently. Like a whisper and then it was over and the birds, reinvigorated no doubt, began their show in earnest and at full volume. From an open window down the road I could hear my neighbour calling for help as she does every morning. She still looks as stunning as she did when we moved here so many years ago, the short Jean Seberg haircut and the stripy Breton shirt, tanned legs and elegant long arms. But her posture is that of a small bent woman, Alzheimer's disease does that to a person, and she barely looks up when someone from her devoted family brings her for a walk.

I listened to her for a while, trying to send her my best wishes, and made my mental list for the day, my list of all the tricks I intend to pull out of the bag to ignore my aching hands and feet, to play the game of being energetic and full of purpose. A game I play entirely for myself. There's no fooling R who carries the breakfast tray out to the patio table while I trudge along with the breadbasket.

The heat wave is over for now and today was a perfect summer's day. I slowly worked my way through my list, cleaning the bathroom, hanging out laundry, making the peach and star anise tart from the Chetna Makan book and watching R digging up carrots and potatoes. After lunch, we sat outside under the big umbrella looking through the family tree he has been working on with his older sister, reading about  James and Patrick and Theresa and another James and another and several more Patricks and the many Desmonds and Peters and Marys and so on. Stories of emigration, foreign and domestic careers, dead infants, death during childbirth, poverty and riches. At times, we laughed but mostly we sat there thinking of these lives, these losses, the hardship, the courage.

And now, the ibu has delivered the expected results in my digestive system (whereby system is an euphemism, let's call it chaos, or hell) and has sent me to lie down with a hot water bottle, reading and thinking.

We carry our burdens on our backs, in our stomachs, in our hearts. We carry the burdens of those who hurt us, those for whom we are responsible, those we’ve lost.
(from a beautiful essay by Amy Scheiner)

06 July 2019

breakfast with a teacher

It so happens that R is not only my gardener and my cook but also a science teacher. Last month was our 37th wedding anniversary, BTW,  and that makes him my personal science teacher. Never mind that he is officially retired because, once a teacher always a teacher. There are moments when for me, this translates into once a stroppy student always a stroppy student, but as a lifelong proponent of positive affirmation, he just ignores my antics.

Anyway, breakfast. Outside under the pear tree.
Out of the blue, he tests my knowledge about genotype and phenotype and I bullshit along, mumble something about genotype + environment = phenotype* and so on for a while, waiting for the punch line - knowing full well that he is onto something but wants me to figure it out (see above: once a teacher . . .).  OK, he lectures on in his benign teaching voice, so what do you know about the extended phenotype?
I am in deep water here because biology is not my forte and bullshitting only gets you that far. But I remember something he mentioned a while ago and I reply, oh you mean that stuff about the brainwashed ants climbing trees for the fungus? Yep, he says, that's an excellent example.
 **Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the zombie-ant fungus (. . .) infects a carpenter ant, (. . . ) grows through the insect’s body, draining it of nutrients and hijacking its mind. Over the course of a week, it compels the ant to leave the safety of its nest and ascend a nearby plant stem. It stops the ant at a height of 25 centimeters—a zone with precisely the right temperature and humidity for the fungus to grow. It forces the ant to permanently lock its mandibles around a leaf. Eventually, it sends a long stalk through the ant’s head, growing into a bulbous capsule full of spores. And because the ant typically climbs a leaf that overhangs its colony’s foraging trails, the fungal spores rain down onto its sisters below, zombifying them in turn. (more here)
I didn't quite use all these clever words, but I passed the exam.

But let's take this a step further. Consider the Earth. We humans have been identified as a virus and so, quite naturally, the earth is producing antibodies and stimulating a fever to rid itself of the disease. 
Humans are like any other organism, e.g bacteria, with access to an almost abundant energy source — in our case, fossil fuels. 
By the time we run out of energy and resources to exploit, our population will crash back to something manageable or die off completely. We are the zombie ants.

How stupid is that compared to the clever fungus. And I don't mean we should enslave ants but good grief, what are we thinking!? Where is the extended phenotype when you need it?

Our problem is the fact that we continue to convince ourselves that since we have all sorts of meaningless gadgets we are special and above such natural processes and that describing our violent and cruel ways of trampling around on this planet with the word 'civilisation' means we are onto some sort of noble path. 
We call it progress and think it's normal to be able to buy foods from all over the world when we fancy them and then throw them away when I forget to eat them, to (insert your favourite non-sustainable activity here).

And we all know that this cannot last forever. We pretend we don't, But We Do. Don't tell me you don't. We are skilled in creating delusional thoughts. Anything to stave off the forecast of a much poorer and more vulnerable way of life, while (just look!) nearly every other human’s life on Earth, now and throughout history, has been poorer and more vulnerable than ours. 

The hardest part of this is, really, that we know, WE KNOW, how to solve this. 

(Remember: 1. It's warming. 2. It's us. 3. We're sure. 4. It's bad. 5. We can fix it.)

* https://pged.org/what-is-genotype-what-is-phenotype/

01 July 2019

Chinese trumpet - incarvillea
The temperature has dropped a teeny weeny bit today and we had approx. 200 drops of rain this morning which rapidly evaporated on impact.

Yesterday evening just before sunset we headed out on our bicycles to see the river and collect large amounts of sweat everywhere on our bodies. It was nice, the sky turned pink and everybody was down there, dipping their feet in (it's too dangerous to swim in it) and watching the boats go by. On our way home we tsk tsk tsk at the guys watering their front lawns because we felt smug. Back home I tipped a couple of buckets at the berries and a few select vegetables and flowering plants but told the trees to dig deeper with their roots because, tough.

When we bought this house 20+ years ago, we were basically broke but managed to persuade the mortgage bank to include finances to cover costs to install thermal and pv solar power on the roof and a rain water collection system.
The two slim thermal solar panels (6sqm) produce all our hot water from April to October and some of it for the rest of the year, the pv panels (12sqm) produce most to all our electricity when the sun is up (yes, even when it's cold and cloudy) and we feed the surplus into the grid and get paid for it. In the early days I would stand in front of the meter thinking what fools we had been waiting and dithering endlessly discussing costs while all the time the sun has been there providing free electricity.
Endless. Free. Electricity.

We collect all rain water from the roof of the house into a tank that sits below our lawn and that is connected to a small pump and filter system that feeds our toilets cisterns. If there isn't enough rain, the usual water supply takes over - you have no idea how many of our visitors are worried about that aspect.
That was a big headache with rules and regulations and water fees and we had to install meters which we regularly forget to read and I think we are in the bad books because of it but the city officially is all for sustainability so we have escape fines for now.

Next tasks - and believe me R is working on it because he basically will not shut up about it and serious guys with clipboards and tablets have been calling - include storage of the surplus energy for the night, feeding the radiators in winter with thermal solar energy and dancing for more rain.

27 June 2019

greetings from the European heatwave

Many years ago, almost in another lifetime, while preparing to disembark from the plane that brought us to Delhi, the pilot warned us to mind our step on the slightly molten tarmac (this was before the invention of passenger bridge tunnels) as the temperature outside was 48° Celsius. My seven year old daughter let out a little yelp of excitement and we walked out hopped onto the soft squishy surface and into the dry Indian heat with all the nonchalance you acquire after living close to equator for several years where seasons are marked by the direction of the wind rather than a drop in humidity of even temperature. 

hazy spuds

We are no way near this, of course. I only mention this family anecdote to show off how we can do heat.

Admittedly, it is hot. Especially in the evenings when the wind drops. AC is not a thing in private homes here. It's all down to keeping the heat out which is not too difficult in these boring proper energy efficiency regulated buildings with triple glazing, brick walls, cool basements and insulated roofs - and blinds. I love the smooth swishing sound of the blinds going down when the sun climbs over the hedge.
We also have a total of three ventilators, which we move from room to room.
herbs gone wild

At night, we open all the windows and wait for the cool night air to arrive while we drift off to sleep. I love open windows at night. For one thing, nightmares can escape so much faster, escaping in a silent whoosh. But also, the birds. They wake me at five and thanks to them I am up and showered and with my first cup of tea on the patio by six, reading the news. And I arrive in my office before eight after cycling through the magic forest. All before the heat starts in earnest.

The office is another story. In theory, the building I am in is top notch energy efficient, designed and built according to the latest renewable whatnot's requiring no CO2 gobbling AC. Unfortunately, inside we are surrounded by gadgets such as computers and scanners and printers and monitors and all their latest offspring, which all produce heat. But - as we all agreed this morning while we were fighting for the best position in front of the one and only stand-alone fan - we cannot cheer the school kids striking for action on climate change one week and demand AC the next. Surely not. Definitely not. Not us. (Occasionally, we sneak into the research lab freezer room - purely for comparison.)

 So far so good. I'll report back when the garden has dried up.

23 June 2019

Singing the dolphin through

Greetings from la-la-lily land, the secret boudoir of the queen of Sheba, aka the garden just after midsummer.

This morning as I hung up the freshly washed sheets to dry in the garden I could feel the wind changing direction and within minutes, the air got hotter and drier. We've been told and warned from all sides about this heat wave, hot winds from the Sahara, possible new temperature records and so on.

The weekend edition of our local newspaper was completely dedicated to climate change, all sections, politics, sport, business, local news, culture, travel, gardening, even the tv critics and the ads were on it. We read it silently, shoving the pages to and fro across the breakfast table on the patio.

A bird flew into the sitting room as we were reading, a young robin. She blended into the carpet so well it took us a while to find her. Come on, sweetheart, we whispered, here, here, this is the way out. I like to think she left reluctantly, that she wasn't quite finished exploring. For some time, she sat in the pear tree just beside us chirping her message we could not understand.

This summer I have seen exactly two butterflies in the garden but the birds are abundant. A woodpecker comes every evening to hammer away at the string of peanuts hanging on the bicycle shed. He is completely unimpressed by our presence and last night, R managed to walk up right next to him. He continued to hack and bang and then he shrugged, at least I like to think that, he shrugged us off and flew away in a long low swooping curve across the garden.

Soon it got too hot for my taste and I sat at my desk editing some manuscripts for a while, whispering encouraging words to my stuck-up intestine (I am on my second round of antibiotics for the year thanks to immune suppression and sneaky E. coli).

Later I cut my fringe - almost expertly - and snuggled up on the bed reading The One Inside by Sam Shepard, laughing and crying a bit and I realised how sad we are, how lonely and sad.

And now it's almost evening. The temperature has soared another few degrees, the wind is hot. The climate activists who had been blocking the coal mines not too far from here have all been arrested and/or removed. R is cooking downstairs listening to Manfred Mann's Earth Band.

20 June 2019

we can fix it

. . . the narrative that has both driven and obstructed the climate change conversation for the past several decades (. . . ) tells us climate change could have been fixed if we had all just ordered less takeout, used fewer plastic bags, turned off some more lights, planted a few trees, or driven an electric car. It says that if those adjustments can’t do the trick, what’s the point? The belief that this enormous, existential problem could have been fixed if all of us had just tweaked our consumptive habits is not only preposterous; it’s dangerous. It turns environmentalism into an individual choice defined as sin or virtue, convicting those who don’t or can’t uphold these ethics.

Climate change is a vast and complicated problem, and that means the answer is complicated too. We need to let go of the idea that it’s all of our individual faults, then take on the collective responsibility of holding the true culprits accountable. In other words, we need to become many Davids against one big, bad Goliath.

We need to broaden our definition of personal action beyond what we buy or use. Start by changing your lightbulb, but don’t stop there. Taking part in a climate strike or showing up to a rally is a personal action. Organizing neighbors to sue a power plant that’s poisoning the community is a personal action.
Voting is a personal action. When choosing your candidate, investigate their environmental policies. If they aren’t strong enough, demand better. Once that person is in office, hold them accountable.
Mary Annaise Heglar

It is important (. . .) to take care of your body. You have to have pleasure, joy and humour in your life, otherwise you just become bitter and full of sadness. Nature is critical, dance is critical, sex is critical.
Pleasure is what fuels us. Sometimes when we are doing this work, it can feel like we are not allowed to feel anything but pain, yet having done this work for a long time, if you want to keep going you need to have joy, as that’s what will keep you motivated to go back.
Eve Ensler

There is no way around this is horrible. There are things to do. Draw together with people you love, work hard at making spaces, times, networks in which our ideals and values prevail, reach out for the vulnerable, and pitch your tents big (. . .). Love is what you have, and generosity, and imagination. What we have.
Rebecca Solnit

19 June 2019

Somewhere along the lines, over the years and so on, I lost the capacity to blame someone, something for the unhealthy mess I am in. 
Auto-immune disease, it spells it out, doesn't it. Especially to someone who had to spend five boring years in secondary school learning ancient Greek. 
Because, auto, that tiny innocent prefix, means "self".

In my younger years I was quite skilled in finding blame elsewhere. My mother taught me. She was the expert in finding blame - there was The War, obviously, then the cruel occupying forces, the lack of decent contraceptives (if only the pill would have been available to me, one of her favourite sentences when we failed to entice her), I could go on. And yet despite her so fervently despising us, her offspring, she taught us that we were beyond blame, much too superior, too intelligent, too gifted to be made responsible for things going wrong on our way to greatness. My mother's children never made mistakes. It was simply impossible.

This indoctrination does something to you when you are a teenager. It makes you despicable, is what it does. Angry, haughty, sarcastic and ultimately, very lonely.

It was the driving instructor who cut me down to size, who stopped the car abruptly after I had once again blamed the driver of the other car for whatever it was that I had missed. If you can't accept your mistakes, get out, he said and waited. For a while. More than 40 years later, I still feel the wave of shame and recognition all the way to the pit of my stomach, while I fight back the tears. 

Anyway, that was a start and years later, I could say to my child, many times and in so many different ways, face your mistakes, go and fix this, you can do it. You will feel so much better afterwards.

And yet, the urge is still with me. If only I could find someone, something to blame. 
But: auto, meaning "self".

Something completely different but nevertheless on my mind requiring urgent answers: swifts, could their swooping and swaying up there in the high cerulean summer sky be happiness, are swifts happy or is it just exercise, feeding, survival?