16 May 2022

the great dental disaster

It's time now to put this to rest. I am well past it, it happened years ago. I no longer freak out from the minor pain I get when my gums bleed - which happens regularly due to immune suppression.

There is this clever sentiment, often used by instructors in meditation, that toothache is only a toothache because the moment it's gone, we cannot remember what it was really like. But let me tell you that is not true. I used to remember. To the point of panicking.

But first things first. Spring 2007. We are getting ready to visit our daughter who is studying in SE Asia. The flights are booked, the bags are in the process of being packed. The necessary vaccinations are done etc. and I develop a nagging tooth ache. Just as well, we say, let's check our teeth before we head into the jungles. The dentist finds nothing wrong, adjust some surfaces, rinses my gums and we agree that I may need one of these newfangled bite rails, but postpone this until our return. The tooth ache progresses beyond nagging, however, and I am back within 48 hours. This time x-rays without any clue and prophylactic antibiotic. Three days later, I am back with by now considerable pain. The dentists decides to drill into a crown on the off chance that there's a hidden something or other. 

I cut it short here. Nothing was found to be wrong with the teeth but on the morning of our - now cancelled - flights, molar no. 1 was extracted, I drove home chewing on a wad of tissue and cried. The pain got worse. Over the next four weeks tissue samples from inside my mouth were taken to identify possible causes of infection, six courses of antibiotics were administered, two more molars were extracted, countless dry sockets were scraped with sharp spoons, layered with tissue soaked in antibiotics, clove oil and  various anti-inflammatory agents, rinsed and scraped again and again. Eventually, we are now well into summer, a small part of the jaw bone was sliced off. 

By now, I had been given every painkiller known to dentistry, local and full anesthetics when necessary and also when not, people held my hands, stroked my face, wiped my tears. The hole in my upper jaw was no longer infected but simply would not heal. And never for a minute did it stop hurting. It was a fabulous summer for soft fruit and plums but I climbed the walls in pain unable to eat or sleep. 

Enter morphine. It did the trick. No  more pain. NO. MORE. PAIN. But what next? I was not going to live my life propped up by  morphine. Have you any idea what it does to your digestion? By that time, I was on seemingly - forever sick leave, had lost a lot of weight, our daughter had returned and watched with helpless worry. In the end, I found an expert in pain management therapy, who reduced the dosage in minute steps over a period of, I think, two years? And shortly after I had left it all behind me, had briefly chanted "no drugs ever again for me" with the hole more or less closed and healed, I got the diagnosis of the shitty chronic disease and during one of the initial meetings, the immunologist warned me to watch for possible wound healing disorders, especially in connection with inflammation of facial nerves and there you have it.

Unrelated music for balance.

12 May 2022

words and music

Last night in a dream, far away from reality, I heard the words "sharp spoon" whispered in my ear, and I woke up with one of these silent screams - like in the movies. A sharp spoon is a dentistry tool and it is exactly that, a tiny stainless steel spoon with a very sharp edge. I cannot remember how often I heard these words uttered by a dentist leaning over my mouth, as in "hand me that fucking sharp spoon", but every time was gruesome. Maybe I inserted the f word in my memory.

Briefly, (and bear with me, you are all safe) a sharp spoon is used to remove connective and granulation tissue, i.e. bundles of inflamed matter, from the tooth socket when, after a tooth extraction and against all of the rules of dentistry, the gap has not filled with nicely and rapidly coagulating blood. Use your imagination if you wish. This procedure is applied when you are immune compromised or maybe because there's a spell on you and you have spent a seemingly endless amount of time in tooth ache hell.

Anyway, all over and done. Worse than childbirth, believe me. And it's only recently that I have been able to vaguely remember the time this happened, the three months of my life I lived with a large hole inside my mouth that would not heal, without getting a slight panic attack. 

I have no idea where all this dream stuff is coming from now but we are both having various bad dreams, almost nightmares. A sign of the times? I don't know. Life, when I look at it without the bigger picture, is gorgeous early summer, mild evenings, the beauty of a twice/week cycling commute through the lush forest, pleasant work atmosphere, the first strawberries to pick and so on. But, oh yes, the bigger picture. One of these mornings after wake up, we discussed selling up and moving back to Ireland, neutral country etc. and just that day, the state media in Russia showed a clip of a mock nuclear attack. At the end there was only green ocean where Ireland and Britain should be. No use shouting that Ireland is an independent state, nothing British about it. (If you want to watch it, click here). And instead I am getting worked up about a sharp spoon, seriously.

Here are some random garden pictures.

wisteria, horse chestnut and black prunus

sweet cicely under the apple tree

woodruff under the pear tree

And some peaceful music with an amazing cello solo, wait for it.

08 May 2022

I think it was Andrea Dworkin who said - ages ago - something along the lines of to men, women are private property. Or at least, men think this is the case. The way drivers think that public roads are made for cars, never mind the rest of the public. I realise, this is not necessarily the best analogy but I am mostly travelling by bicycle and it is Sunday evening and I have yet to recover from the week behind me while getting in shape for the week ahead. I did cycle today and yesterday and the day before, as a means of getting from A to B on public roads. Also, Andrea Dworkin probably meant right wing men.

Anyway, I have just worked my way through my usual Sunday paper reading tasks and here is my top find.

To All Those Who Dare Rob Us of Our Bodily Choice, I ask you:

What is it about our bodies that makes you so afraid, so insecure, so cruel and punishing?

Is it their singular autonomy or mere existence?

Is it their capacity for immense and unending pleasure – orgasms that can multiply orgasms inside orgasms? Is it our skin? Is it our desire?

Is it our openness that rattles you and reminds you of where you are closed?

Is it the pure strength of our bodies that allows us to bleed and birth and bend and carry and continue on in spite of all the ways you have reduced us and objectified us, humiliated us and disrespected us and tried to shape us into baby-making machines? Our strength that is inherent and doesn’t need to prove itself or show off or rely on weapons or violence to control and terrorise? Doesn’t need to abolish laws, or lie to become supreme court judges or president or rig the decks when they get there.

Do you know this power? Can you imagine it? A power that comes from respecting life, caring for others before oneself, holding communities together?

. . .

What is it about our bodies that make you think you have the right to invade them, determine them, control and legislate them, violate and force them to do anything against their will?

Perhaps you mistake our generosity for weakness, our patience for passivity, our vulnerability for fragility.

 . . .

This is our world now. And these are our bodies. We know what you are up to – this is just the beginning of your diabolical plan to rob us of contraception and marriage equality and civil rights and on and on. This is all part of your desperation to prevent the future that is on the verge of being born – a future where we know our past and begin to reckon with it, a future where we teach critical race theory and the truth about white supremacy and sexism and transphobia.

A future where we care for our Earth and devote our lives to protecting air and water and forests and animals and all living things, a future where people have autonomy over their bodies and wombs and gender and marry who they want to, and don’t get married if they don’t want to, and have babies if they want to, and don’t have babies if they don’t want to. Despite all your lies, strategies and devious ways you are simply never going to stop us.

You have unleashed our fury, our solidarity, our unity.

 (to read the whole commentary article by V (formerly known as Eve Ensler) click here)

I live in a country where abortion is generally punishable for all parties involved but exceptions apply which means that abortion is exempt from punishment in certain situations incl. medical indications such as if the woman's life is in danger or there is a risk of serious impairment of her physical or mental state of health. Also, if the pregnancy is based on a sexual offence such as rape. The costs are covered by statutory health insurance, i.e. everybody. But we are watching. We know there are (mostly) men who are getting very excited watching what's happening across the Atlantic.

26 April 2022


This is the last item from my grandmother's house and thus, my father's home-before-the-care-home and therefore also the last item from my childhood that I have rescued. It is my grandmother's bread bin and has been my father's for the past 25 years. As he no longer needs to store bread, he graciously let me have it. Graciously is a euphemism, it was more, what do you want that old tin for anyway.

When during my childhood, we visited my grandmother we would always have a look into that tin just in case she did have some of her soft home baked rolls in it - not often, usually it was Franconian sourdough bread. My father had the exact same bread in it over the years. 

At the moment it's empty, we spent the weekend polishing 25 years of neglect from its surface and got half way to my grandmother's standards. It's solid copper, you need two hands to hold it. For the time being I am keeping it. If the price of copper soars one day when we are old and poor, we will sell it and live the life of luxury.

I should be sentimental but no. I have a considerable selection of my grandparent's Wilhelminian period wardrobes (2), bedside cabinets (2), too-short bed frames (2), sideboards with cracked marble tops (1), all in full use around the house, and what my grandmother referred to "the vertico", which I am currently attempting to sell because we replaced it with a cheap and nasty but enormously handy ikea press (which we managed to scratch while assembling). The vertico could look fabulous (for a beautiful one, not exactly like mine, click here) but currently it is showing its age and the years of use.  It always stood in the hall of my grandparent's house and held hat boxes, a basket of leather and lace gloves, a shelf of many scarves and most importantly, the fox stole. Next to it was the umbrella stand with the fancy sun umbrellas. Apart from the fox stole, I still have the hats and most of the gloves and some of the scarves and of course, the fancy umbrellas. My daughter played with all of these things as did I when I was small.

I should mention that on the back of the vertico is a stamp by the US army, declaring it as German property item 16 on loan.  The US army had confiscated my grandparent's house for several years after the war.

In other news, we had a good day of rain, we harvest plenty of fresh lettuce, rhubarb, radish and I am watching the baby apricots and pears and peaches and plums. Also, the spuds are pushing up.



24 April 2022

tell them the truth?

Time flies. Magnolia flowering season is over and done with for the year, we are halfway through lilac season and wisteria season is just about to go into full swing. Also, asparagus and strawberries season.

tulips and flowering blueberries
woodruff spreading under the pear trees

What has been on my mind most of last night and this morning was the discussion I had with a friend on how to speak with children about climate change. It wasn't a discussion as such, we spoke past each other and in the end, we were really upset about it. 

Her children are small, mine is grown up. She wants them to live blissfully unaware for as long as possible. I argue to tell the truth, always, at least when asked. In our case, I don't remember when the issue first came, if it ever came up, from us, the parents or from school or the news. No idea. But I know that my child knew, was well aware of what we knew, guessed, hoped and despaired about. What I do remember is R insisting to teach her about the four wheres: where does the water that runs out of the taps come from, where does the water go to when we are done with it, where does the energy come from that provides us with electricity and heat and where is our waste ending up. He has been asking these questions in all the places we have lived, asked every class he has ever taught and keeps on asking.

This has always been the start of further activities, often her own initiatives and ideas. After all, he is a science teacher, even when a father. She did get fed up with her dad along the way, obviously, but now she is teaching her own child.

Anyway, this is why we had the discussion: 

Largest scientific study of its kind finds climate anxiety affects the daily life and functioning of nearly half of children and young people surveyed globally.

The inaugural study, based on surveys with 10,000 children and young people (16-25) across 10 countries, found 75% of young respondents believe ‘the future is frightening’ - jumping to 81% of youth surveyed in Portugal and 92% in the Philippines. It found, for the first time, that climate distress and anxiety is significantly related to perceived government inaction and associated feelings of betrayal. 58% of children and young people surveyed said governments were “betraying me and/or future generations,” while 64% said their governments are not doing enough to avoid a climate catastrophe.

The full study can be read here. A short communication is here.

This is on us. This is the mess we created. And now we sit back and say it's too late, sorry?

Ok, I am getting carried away as usual. 


And They All Lived Happily

All bad guys died in the end. 
My kiss did make bruises better. 
It was right to put lost teeth under a pillow 
and that time, when you didn’t find money, 
there really was a tooth-fairy holiday. 

I told the truth about castor oil 
as you have grown big and strong. 
Broccoli, porridge, the last bit on your plate,  
have been the making of you. 
I really believed your Granny would get better. 
I didn’t think your eyes would possibly stick 
that way, but it seemed the thing to say. 
That report card wasn’t worth all my giving out, 
I knew your teacher had a pick against you 
but how to admit that to a ten-year-old?  

We weren’t made of money. I did need a break. 
Our dog did go to live on a farm, for a while.  
When I said I’ll think about itI did. 
You do know I was I right about that girl. 
Honestly, most of the time, I told you the truth. 



18 April 2022

Franconian interlude

On the long drive back, we decided that what my father is lacking is grace and a sense of humility. I wonder if I have any. As kids we were taught to send thank you notes to relatives after they had come for a visit bringing gifts. I doubt, I'll ever get one from him. When I phoned after we returned home, he quickly noted that I had already been back for almost 24 hours. 

Anyway, he lives in a pleasant place with great facilities. He spends a lot of his time looking for someone to blame for the fact that he can no longer walk. We covered my brother, my sister, and also my neglect, but as I had brought a splendid cake, he eventually settled on the surgeon (who saved his leg). 

The Franconian sky was beautiful when we stopped for our al fresco lunch on the way. I had forgotten to pack mugs, so we drank the coffee straight from the flask while the skylarks were singing their hearts out.

On the way home, we stopped to take in the view of the village of Castell where the Romans had started these vineyards a good while ago. The church bells were ringing as I took this picture. No skylarks.


garden in April

If someone were to ask me what kind of cause is sufficient to live for in dark times, the best answer I could give would be: to take responsibility for the survival of something that matters deeply. Whatever that is, your best action might then be to get it out of harm’s way, or to put yourself in harm’s way on its behalf, or anything else your sense of responsibility tells you.

Dougald Hine

I am too tired to write down what is going on in my mind, the debates and arguments between my inner voices about war and peace and how to justify stocking up on arms and history repeating or not, about the strange weather patterns and the decrease in birdsong. We have booked extremely expensive flights to a country that has yet to open its borders to visitors, it's still a while before we hope to travel but we are either sinking a ton of money or shall be the luckiest, happiest we have been for years. And so right now it has become almost unbearable to look at my far away daughter's face on my phone screen with this uncertainty.

Tomorrow though we will be on the road for four hours to visit my father. I made his cake this morning, packed the Easter chocolates and while I made a short list of what to get ready early tomorrow morning, he calls with instructions on when and how and where to park the car. 

Here are some garden pictures.

peppers and tomatoes waiting in the greenhouse

various veg waiting too, also some early strawberries

tomatoes, they will stay inside, the thing behind it is the solar heater panel

wild tulips

forget me nots under the hazel bush

one of the apple trees

corn flower

wild garlic

miniature daffs

woodland strawberries taking over

some of the pink tulips

potatoes are up, look how dry it is

11 April 2022

Seed, second version

 The poem by Paula Meehan from my last post, with soundtrack.

28 March 2022



The first warm day of spring
and I step out into the garden from the gloom
of a house where hope had died
to tally the storm damage, to seek what may
have survived. And finding some forgotten
lupins I’d sown from seed last autumn
holding in their fingers a raindrop each
like a peace offering, or a promise,
I am suddenly grateful and would
offer a prayer if I believed in God.
But not believing, I bless the power of seed,
its casual, useful persistence,
and bless the power of sun,
its conspiracy with the underground,
and thank my stars the winter’s ended.

Paula Meehan

Flowering fruit trees, bees pollinating, warm sun, lunch on the patio. There will be rain, maybe even some snow in the coming days. April.

To date, 1 500 refugees from Ukraine have officially arrived in our city, in the coming days, weeks, this number will go up to about 10 000, schools and kindergartens, youth clubs, hospitals, vaccination centers, churches, local community centers are organising language support, extra teachers, staff, volunteers.

As a result of one of my new year's resolutions (concentrating life's necessities to within cycling/walking reach) I walk to the new dentist. She also meets another resolution (switch to female medical experts), and she hums while she polishes and cleans. She laughs when I mention sage tea, yes, yes, the stronger the better, rinse every day.

My country's government is considering installation of a vast missile shield system, an iron dome. Our nation's elected leader explains on national tv during Sunday prime time why and how "we will not become militarily engaged there" and that "even if they are called peacekeepers, they are troops."  We try to consider this, R coming from a neutral country that was brutally colonised for centuries, I was raised in the country that brought about WWII and the genocide of 6 millions Jews. My sister-in-law, a pastor in the Lutheran church and peace activist, sends me links to anti-war songs, urgent petitions to sign, war resisters statements on non-violent solidarity. My child and her family live peacefully in an insignificant far away country.

Later, we bake the first rhubarb crumble, a bit too sour and too soggy but delicious as every year.


25 March 2022

 This song was written for times like these.

The pianist is Davide Martello. He turns up from time to time in places and at rallies in my city too. There are some interviews with him online if you want to know how and why he travelled to the Polish-Ukrainian border, just google his name.


19 March 2022


Spring, definitely, colourful, noisy and thanks to the winds from Africa, sandy. 

I am not well, what else is new. Yesterday, I gave a short presentation of a woman in her 60s who is fed up with chronic illness flare ups and the tedious pretense of remaining cool and calm. It was quite a performance, if I may say so, which was met with a solid round of applause from the one person who has seen it all over the years. Bless him.

I cancelled all appointments and tasks for the coming week which was supposedly a holiday week, with plans to climb mountains/cross the seas and have a haircut, obviously, and now I am blissfully resigned to listening falling asleep to podcasts and getting lost on the internets., while R has taken on my assignment for today, namely power cleaning the patio and greenhouse. He usually hates power cleaning and gave a little speech just now to tell me that he is doing this in exchange of me getting better. We shall see. 

So, here is what keeps me entertained.

More sheep and sheep dogs.

Stuff about dreams. Although I would have guessed, flying is on top of any list.
Human evolution, briefly:

Groundbreaking scientific findings: 


Benefits of swearing

Swearing in the physical therapy setting should be used to accomplish specific goals, such as relief from pain or stress. When swearing is based on biopsychosocial utility, it may add significant value if used correctly. Swearing tends to be more tolerated in private settings and among peers as opposed to a more formal and public setting. Swearing can lead to tighter human bonds and create informal environments where people are more likely to be themselves [3]. Social groups depend on some degree of shared willingness to participate in risks or taboo practices, swearing being one of them. In the physical therapy setting, an improved relationship or positive connection between a patient and a physical therapist, otherwise known as the therapeutic alliance, has been linked to improvements in musculoskeletal pain.

 It is advised to use a swear word that you would use in response to banging your head accidentally [15]. If no clear swear words come to mind, the S-word and F-word are the two most common swear words [8, 9] and were used by many of the subjects in the research showing the positive effects of swearing. There is evidence that a patient needs to use an actual swear word, not a made up or bad sounding word, to elicit the pain and physical performance improvements.

I can only recommend that you read the complete article, it's an excellent read, click here.

13 March 2022

Today, I wake early. Spring and birds do that to me. I make tea and look out into the garden listening to the BBC World Service where various people from Ukraine are carefully explaining their situations. I set the table for breakfast and later, when R sits down with me, I tell him what I remember. By the time I get to the part where the poet spoke about the taste of blood he suddenly had in his mouth when he heard that all four bakers of his most cherished bakery had been killed, my voice gets tight and I am struggling to breathe. 

Our Sunday is peaceful, I sort out the week's laundry, clean the bathroom, cook while R fits a new drip feed watering system to the greenhouse, after lunch, R makes coffee and we drink it sitting out in the sun - a first - by the flowering peach trees. I've had a rough two weeks health wise and for the first time in two weeks, I manage my 10 k cycle and arrive back home tired but triumphant. I call my father and we discuss the state of the world. 

I hear him turning pages and he tells me, he has been browsing an old edition of The Odes by Horace, and he reads to me (in German, not Latin, the English is mine):

 The wicked man advances, but punishment, though lame of foot, has rarely let him escape. 

There you have it, he tells me. It'll all turn out right in the end. We proceed to talk about the weather.

12 March 2022

being afraid is not the problem, brooding is

Hope is not a form of guarantee, it’s a form of energy, and very frequently that energy is strongest in circumstances that are very dark.

John Berger

Things I do, apart from work. I pin the leaflet from the local health offices about the free distribution of iodine tablets to households on our notice board in the hall. We used to have some in stock (because several French nuclear reactors are close enough and in really bad repair) but I cannot find them. I stalk the social media accounts and wikipedia pages of the sons and daughters of Russian oligarchs and especially the offspring of the five men we have been informed are Putin's siloviki, his inner circle. On google maps, I look up their villas in Italy and Turkey and France. I get lost in glossy media stories about their interior decoration and pool table settings, the instagram world where the sun always shines. 

I brood, I speculate. What if they don't like what their dads are plotting. What if the dads don't want to go along with what their boss is doing. What if their dads' friends figure out that things are not going to plan. (Plan meaning blitzkrieg/coup, speedy occupation, locals waving flower garlands etc.).

Of course I am afraid, isn't that one of Putin's political goals. But I tell myself that fear must not paralyse me, or at least not for long. Is it because of my parent's memories that I am afraid, the war generation so particularly sensitive, or my own memories of nuclear war threats throughout my childhood? Or is it the old image of the Russian as a semi-civilised monster that has been popularised over and over again for the last hundred and fifty years? I'm thinking of James Bond antagonists, of World War II legends.
That what we want to call civilisation is only a thin layer, everywhere. Man's inhumanity to man runs through us all. My country, my parents and grandparents passed on to me the burden of genocide, gas chambers, an unforgivable war. My continent is not peaceful. Several years ago, we cycled along the river Neckar in southern Germany, passing through picturesque Medieval towns and villages for a pleasant sunny week in early autumn. One of these pretty towns, Oberndorf, is home to three of the world's leading weapons manufacturers and exporters (grenade launchers, rapid-fire rifles and tank weapons). You would not guess it. There is a Holocaust memorial on the town outskirts next to the picnic tables and the adventure playground. 

Wars have been raging on every continent for as long as I have been alive, some are silent, others atrocious, devastating.  How long ago was this?


And yet, I need to move on, we need to move on. Peaceful minds must prevail. Maybe some gestures, some deeds are not totally helpless. Have hope!

05 March 2022

here we are watching from our ringside seats

The above is a quote from an opinion piece by Ian McEwan in today's Guardian. I am lost for words or maybe I am simply ashamed for not having proper words, deeds and thoughts right now. 

I get mad when clever people try to tell us that for the first time since the end of WWII, Europe is facing war. Not true. As the hundreds of thousands casualties of the war in former Yugoslavia should testify. In my memory, two days immediately come to mind. 

One, a sunny Saturday in 1992, we are getting ready for a month in the country with S and her best friend. While they are packing the car, I have a last cup of tea reading the newspaper, the big article about women in Bosnia, the first report on systematic genocidal rape. I know I left the newspaper behind because half way through our holiday, the friend who looked after our plants and cats phoned and told me that she had read the article while having a cat moment on our balcony, lost too much sleep and was now joining some women doctors travelling to Bosnia to help. 

Two, on an early morning in 1999, with my colleagues at work. Since last night and for the first time since WWII, the German army is actively fighting, participating in the NATO air strikes against military targets in Yugoslavia. Good grief, we thought, our naive pacifist hearts crushed.

 "For all our pity and anguish, our status as onlookers is luxurious." writes Ian McEwan today.

 Over breakfast today, this is what we listened to:

Dear friends,

humanitarian organisations in Sarajevo are collecting aid for you and I am sitting in front of the closet in my apartment trying to remember what you would be needing the most. It's not my warm socks or my jacket or my warm boots that you most need now. It's my 30-year old t-shirt imprinted with a slogan that kept me up during the 1425 days that Bosnian Serbs fired at will and held my city under siege with no water, no food, no electricity, no heating, and no communication with the outside world. I wore that shirt and read its message as more than two million shells fell on our heads and I dodged countless bullets. The t-shirt says, Sarajevo will be, everything else will pass.

Bad times are ahead of you, my friends. But weapons are being sent so you can defend yourselves. We Bosnians fought back but the world imposed an arms embargo on us. It did not understand what the fight was about in Sarajevo. Thank God it understands now in Kyiv. 

You are going to be hungry, thirsty, cold and dirty. You will lose your homes, your friends and family members, but what will hurt you the most will be the lies. Lies, that you are somehow to blame for what is happening to you. Lies, that you are actually doing what's being done to you. Those lies will poke countless holes into your hearts but without stopping them from beating and without freezing them. 

I see they destroyed your tv tower. Ha! They want to keep you in the dark just as they kept us in the dark. They want to turn the lights off so we cannot see what they are doing to you. 

Write down everything. Record it. One day it will define your history. It will explain to Ukrainians who are yet to be born what happened and most likely, it will end up being used as evidence and proof in a court against those trying to kill you. 

In the dark times that are ahead of you, you will lose faith sometimes. But I am writing to you from the future and I am telling you, you will prevail. Just as we did. I was supposed to be dead. But I survived. I am going to take my grandchildren for a walk tomorrow. You will one day too. Because I can see in you the same resilience I saw here. I hear you singing your anthem while pushing tanks away with your bare hands. 

Over time, you will sing, as we did, new songs. About your courage during this plight. And you will come up with your own slogans that will keep you alive. But for now, I am sending you the most precious thing I have. It's my slogan. I modify it for you. Ukraine will be, everything else will pass. 

Aida Cerkez. You can also listen to her reading it here


26 February 2022

civilization watershed moment - again

Indeed I live in the dark ages!
A guileless word is an absurdity. A smooth forehead betokens
A hard heart. He who laughs
Has not yet heard
The terrible tidings.

Ah, what an age it is
When to speak of trees is almost a crime
For it is a kind of silence about injustice!
And he who walks calmly across the street,
Is he not out of reach of his friends
In trouble?

Bertolt Brecht

The Russian leader has invaded Ukraine, to ‘denazify’ a country led by a man whose Jewish forebears died in the Holocaust. 

Berlin yesterday:

21 February 2022

two voices


First Hisham Ziauddeen

Can I live safely with COVID? 

Take this simple quiz to find out! If you answer 'yes' to a question, just add the score in parentheses to your total. At the end, see what your total means.


1. Are you very rich? (-2) 

2. Can you choose how and where you work?(-1) 

3. Does your work place have protections in place? (-1)

4. Are you disabled? (+1) 

5. Are you immunocompromised or clinically vulnerable/high risk? (+1) 

5. Do you live with someone who is disabled or immunocompromised or clinically vulnerable? 

6. Do you live with a school-going child or are you a school-going child?

7. Are you a healthcare worker? (+1) 

8. Are you a teacher or work in a school? (+1) 

9. Are you unable to be vaccinated or likely to have a poor vaccine response? (+1) 

10. Do you have LongCOVID? (+1) 

11. Are you reliant on having a functioning health service? (+1)

Now calculate your total score.

If your score is 0 or less: You may be able to live with COVID. Continue taking safety measures like high grade masks and work hard to keep your score at or below zero.

If your score is more than zero: Think hard, is there anything you can do to get your score to or below zero? Are you absolutely sure you can't get your score down to or below zero?

In case it is not already clear, this is just an attempt to highlight the stark reality that for a lot of people in our societies, there is no option of living safely with an ongoing pandemic with high levels of transmission.     

We have a large number of disabled, immunocompromised and clinically vulnerable individuals who are at a higher risk of death and serious outcomes should they get COVID.

Many have been shielding for most of two years and under the plans to 'return to normal' and lift all protections, they have essentially no option but to continue to do so, with no end in sight. They have pretty much been written off as acceptable losses by the 'living with the virus' folks. Of course, these individuals are not a separate group in society. They are members of our families and to protect them, their families will need to continue to be very careful.  

Children will continue to be at increased risk given transmission in schools and any delay in vaccinating 5-11 year-olds. Clinically vulnerable children and children in vulnerable families will continue to have their lives significantly limited. 

Teachers and school workers and healthcare workers will continue to have high levels of exposure and be at higher risk. It's going to be tricky to 'return to normal' if you don't have enough staff to keep schools and the health services running properly. If you have or develop a health condition that requires a functioning health service to help you manage it, this will get more difficult. Without any other protections, we're left with a vaccines-alone approach and if you can't get vaccinated or have a poor immune response to vaccines, well... 

Btw, if you are immunocompromised, your vaccine course is 3 doses + booster not 2 + booster.  

Finally, people with LongCOVID are already suffering significantly, and some difficulties may take a long while to be investigated and understood properly, let alone treated. They can't risk getting COVID again. 

In short, getting 'back to normal' is not going to be an option for many people, and pretending that the pandemic is over and life just needs to get back to normal, will make life for many people more difficult and dangerous.

If you're in the 'we need to get back to normal' crowd, at least be honest about the fact that you're ok with lots of other people suffering, becoming ill and/or dying. Don't just leave that important bit of 'we need to get back to normal' remain unspoken. 

Next, Ed Yong

Dispense with the fiction that immunocompromised people are rare, secluded, or easy to identify. There are millions of them. Most don’t live in a bubble. Most look healthy. You probably have friends & colleagues you don’t know are ICd.  

A lot of immunocompromised people respond poorly to COVID vaccines & are mostly unprotected despite their shots. They're in limbo, uncertain about the odds & consequences of infections. Meanwhile, the gulf between them & everyone else widens.  

Policies like mask mandates that helped immunocompromised folks are vanishing. Friends & colleagues are dismissing their remaining risk because of the misleading idea that Omicron is “mild”. To be simply ignored would be bad enough. To be *mocked* is even worse. Many immunocompromised people . . . are tired of pundits who equate risk-aversion with irrationality. They’re sick of being a throwaway clause in someone’s callous op-ed. They’ve been made to feel that they’re holding society back. 

The opposite is true. Losing remote options forces many immunocompromised people into risky situations, "like asking someone who can't swim to jump into the ocean instead of trying a pool.” I spoke to 21 people . . . who are either immunocompromised or caring for those who are. I asked them what they want. Exactly no one said “permanent lockdown”. They want their lives back too. They need the world to be safer.

19 February 2022

We are the only animal that in the face of trauma continues to retraumatise itself, playing and replaying that which has already happened to frighten us.
Mark Epstein

I have led a sheltered life. In comparison. I have never ever been desperately short of money or work or friends. I was never stranded, lost or destitute, in a material sense. I never needed to pick myself off the ground all alone, there has always been someone around to lend a hand pulling me up.

But neither was I ever pampered or spoiled or handed opportunities, advantages, secret handshakes, that kind of thing, no family connections were played out for my benefit.

Mostly by my own choosing, naivete, ignorance or simply life, I have found myself in a couple of dodgy situations and sometimes, I could get quite scared remembering, imagining what could have happened. 

And then of course, I have had a smattering share of scary matters of life and health and death. Haven't we all.

But the most scary, frightening thing that ever happened to me is this - and while it happened a long time ago, the memory is as vivid and immediate as if it had happened yesterday.

I am in my early 20s. At this stage in my life, I am working as a bookseller and the local radical bookseller's association (yes, this was something that proudly existed at the time), has financed a trip for me to attend the annual feminist book fair. It is sometime after midnight and I am on the bus from Wales, where I disembarked the night boat from Ireland, to London. I am seasick and sit in the front near the door. The bus stops in a couple of places along the way and I hop out for a breath of fresh air when I get a chance. At one of these stops, literally seconds before the bus leaves, two men push something onto the seat across the aisle from me and quickly run away. It's not something, it's someone. A middle aged woman in a stylish coat, long hair, sunglasses. She has lost one shoe, wearing only one black boot with a high heel. A large handbag. And she is drunk. Absolutely, completely, utterly drunk. For the next five or so hours, we travel through the night and I am terrified. I force myself to stop looking, watching her as she mutters and curses, drops her bag and spills the contents, picks some of them up, lets her body fall forward and sideways, almost slipping off the seat, cries and finally, seemingly, falls asleep for a while. I am covered in sweat, paralysed by the fear of a lifetime growing up with an addict. Like the child I once was, not too many years ago, I am hiding, afraid she might discover me across from her, look at me, speak to me, ask for help. For, of course, this woman in her smart clothes, her shaky hands searching for her lighter, her cigarettes, that last bottle, trying to brush her hair, this wreck of a person is my mother. At least for a couple of hours on a night bus. 

I cannot remember what happened when the bus arrived. I know I met friends, attended the book fair, bought stuff, danced in a club, the usual.

How alone we are in the vast universe. 

my mother, my brother, me

06 February 2022

what else is new

Sunday is exhaustion recovery day, when I remain inside my dressing gown for a very long time. As always, I have made a list of stuff I want to do on the weekend, ranging from the sublime (baking, cooking, writing invoices for editorial work) to the ridiculous (clean bathroom, cut fringe, sort out fridge) and weather permitting, cycle for a bit before sundown. Weather is currently not permitting, we have storm force gusts of wind.

So far, I have managed to drink lots of tea while looking out into the middle distance, or rather the garden where the pigeons are mating aggressively. Also, one of the almond trees, the one closest to the side of the house, has started to bud and even produced a first few leaves.

Life is full of surprises. One of them is that I have to have yet another MRI. I could pretend it's fun, maybe I will. 

Of course there is the pandemic, we haven't forgotten that pesky virus. How could we. I am now double-boostered, as in four (4) jabs. Because contrary to what was believed a few months ago, the booster is not merely a booster vaccination that restores the number of antibodies that have evaporated a few months after the second dose. No. The vaccination is only complete after three doses, just like the vaccination against polio or tetanus. This means that with the booster, a protective effect is achieved that was still not there two weeks after the second dose.
Apparently, this is especially true for omicron, even though the booster has not yet been adapted to this variant. The risk of being hospitalised is half that of twice-vaccinated people. In addition, triple-vaccinated people are less likely to pass the virus on to each other, even within a family. (If anybody needs the source of my claims, let me know, there's tons of published study material out there.)

And since my booster (aka third jab) was way back in September, I was given another one. Just so, I didn't even have to sit around for 15 mins afterwards. I just cycled home and washed out the cold frames for the new seeds. Let the 2022 garden season begin.

I finished watching Station Eleven and I cried a good bit, especially during the episode when all the babies are born. But also because it is such an unbelievably hopeful ending. Once the emotional stirrings had calmed down, I reviewed it with my clever daughter and we agreed that even 20 years after a mind boggling all consuming planet wide pandemic, women - who are all courageous and powerful - appear to have access to excellent make-up produce and stuff to diligently shave their legs and other body parts while men - who on the whole are a bit lost, but strive to be wise and kind - have taken on a hairy, disheveled hobbit-like appearance. We left it at that. It's good tv.

Other than that, I am almost 65 years old, my mother has been dead for 22 years and I am still learning that I don't owe my parents anything, that, however unhappy my father is right now, it's not my fault.

Here's another nice video for distraction.

27 January 2022

the moral high ground

For me it feels like looking down and seeing for the first time that I’m standing on a minuscule ledge at a dizzying vertical height, and the only thing supporting my weight is the misery and degradation of almost everyone else on earth. And I always end up thinking: I don’t even want to be up here. I don’t need all these cheap clothes and imported foods and plastic containers, I don’t even think they improve my life. They just create waste and make me unhappy anyway. (Not that I’m comparing my dissatisfaction to the misery of actually oppressed peoples, I just mean that the lifestyle they sustain for us is not even satisfying, in my opinion.) People think that socialism is sustained by force – the forcible expropriation of property – but I wish they would just admit that capitalism is also sustained by exactly the same force in the opposite direction, the forcible protection of existing property arrangements.

Sally Rooney (from: Beautiful World, Where Are You)

The last time I have been inside a supermarket was back in July for extra cream when I ran out of it making R's birthday cake (and before that maybe some time in early 2020). I remember that day in July because, unknowingly, I had an infection that required a trip to A&E on the weekend, but there in the air conditioned shopping paradise, I thought I was simply overwhelmed by the variety of cream options. It's not as if I haven't been shopping since, but going to a shop, any shop, has definitely lost all its appeal. Thanks to covid. Not that it had much appeal before. I once fell out with a distant friend, briefly, because she insisted on us spending a day, or maybe an afternoon, I forget, browsing shops and when I realised it was not book shops and that she in fact refused to spend ages waiting for me to finish reading, which apparently is not what you are meant to do in a book shop, she had a bit of a fit and we parted ways for a while, she browsing for whatever and me reading on, before meeting up in a delightful cafe to catch up on old times. 

In our pandemic world here, we have been spending money and feeding the economy, but just not as much. Instead, we have lists for a few delivery and/or online shops. Occasionally, I cycle to the library to return/pick up my online loans. In two years, we filled up the petrol tank exactly three times. 

I miss a few things, goodness yes I do, none of them do to with visiting shops. A while ago, I listened to a zoom talk about inner cities after the pandemic and alternatives to shopping streets and malls and living centers with children and dogs and trees and actual life. What a wonderful dream.

(this is one of many wonderful little videos by Jan Kamensky, for more click here)

22 January 2022

happy birthday dad

When I call my father on the phone, his first words are "who's calling me?", which is his way to avoid not recognising the caller. These days, I have to shout back because he often does not bother to change the batteries of his hearing aid. He usually grants me three, four sentences of exchange before exclaiming how healthy and alert my voice sounds and then he either cuts me off or thanks me profoundly for calling, depending on his mood and based on how successful our brief exchange was. 

Today, he told me right away that there is nothing left for him apart from waiting to die and that he hopes it will be soon and that he won't have to live another ten years like this. By which he means living in a retirement home, confined to a wheelchair.

Today is his 93rd birthday. I know he will have the one allowed person-to-person visit later today and many, many phone calls. I also know that he sits by a table full of gifts to unwrap and cards to read and that there will be a spectacular cake, something he usually loves. But today, he sounded depressed and sad and lonely and my immediate reaction was one of panic. For a couple of hours after he put down the phone, my mind raced through what I should to, what I must do to make him feel better. I looked online for same-day deliveries of more flowers, ice cream, glossy picture books, photographs, interesting magazines, newspapers, more cake, I even looked at the cost of sending a limo round, one fit for a wheelchair and with a driver. Which is when I took a deep breath and got on with my life.

Look, he has been a great father, at times, occasionally and especially when we were little and on holidays. He taught me some important life lessons, valuable thoughts, ideas, concepts that helped me hugely and still do. He is a very clever, well read man and he earned his professional success with his sharp mind and dedication to science. 

But, and the list is long and there's no way to deny it, he has also been shit, really awfully so. 

And I do not want to feel sorry for him.

this was taken ten years ago

20 January 2022

spring is just around the corner

Every morning I wake up with my very best intentions. Honestly, I do. Having established what day it actually is, I make a list of all the purposeful tasks of the day waiting for me and, reader, I feel confident and ready. Every bloody day. 

And then the day is over and I sit here with aching joints and my intestine is screaming murder and the car engine cut out on me on a narrow uphill slope while about fifty or one thousand other cars were close behind me and for three hours I sat in a room with a person whose kid has since been tested positive and my GP doesn't like the shape of my left kidney or maybe the liver or whatever got her attention in the ultrasound and I have to go for another MRI and the city we live in has the highest infection rate in our state and on Monday I get my second (!) booster and, whoopee, the xmas parcel has finally arrived at the grandchild's house. Also, R took the car for a run and found nothing wrong. (Secretly, I still think the virus will get me any day now.)

Here is another nice sheep video.

16 January 2022

Sunday morning

I listened to the statistics, so many will get this disease and another percentage will get that and then I heard someone say that a hundred per cent of all people will die and felt such relief because we are all in this together.

Lani O'Hanlon

11 January 2022

anything you want

This is about all that's left to harvest in the winter garden, for us humans that is.

In the bed behind, there's phacelia growing which will be dug in to prepare the soil for the corn runner bean squash mix. Also, the first little pots with seedlings have appeared on the window sills. It's a start, as every year. 

It's really cold now. It takes me ages to warm up when I have been outside. I tried pretending I am an arctic explorer while cycling along the river. It doesn't make it any easier and for the last two days, I've stayed in pretending to be old and unwell. Instead, after working in my snazzy home office until late afternoon, I do a bit of this and that. Not that there is much of this and that to do. I could roll into a ball and hibernate. But:

I will admit that there are other people who are primarily interested in doing something. I am not. I can very well live without doing anything. But I cannot live without at least trying to understand whatever happens.

Hannah Arendt

My employer stipulates daily self-administered lateral flow testing which means that every morning, R can poke with a narrow white stick into my throat and around my tonsils or rather the space where my tonsils once lived. He enjoys doing this. The things that make a man happy. He has also turned into a kitchen tyrant manager, I am allowed a slot on Sundays for dinner and the occasional banana bread baking. And even then, he walks in to check whether I am using the proper ingredients. As the saying goes, a marriage is an economic relationship built on trust.  

Anyway, I made this risotto with the Brussel sprouts and it went down a treat.

And soundtrack. I taught the chorus line of this song to a gang of kids under the age of seven while driving them to Brittas Bay for a Sunday afternoon by the sea. I shiver when I think that back then we had neither seat belts nor kid's car seats in the back.

All that natter and telling of anecdotes is me cleverly disguising that I am truly deeply scared now. I know from past experience what well-known, middle-of-the-road infections, the ones with medication to treat, can do to my immune compromised body. Basically, always a hard time. So this covid bastard could top it all. 

05 January 2022

true or false

  1. The sars-cov-2 virus is an airborne pathogen.
  2. An infection with this virus is not just a respiratory but also a vascular disease that can attack other organs.
  3. The virus spreads well in indoor settings without proper ventilation (e.g. restaurants), but not when the indoor space is set on a sidewalk or in a street.
  4. In a queue, the virus weakens and dies if it must travel perpendicular to the direction of the queue and it hates right angles.
  5. The virus can only infect people when they are having fun. It spreads at parties and other social gatherings but not in schools or offices and never on public transport or in a taxi.
  6. The virus shies away from perspex, regardless of room size or the size of the perspex shield.
  7. The virus can kill. 
  8. It only infects people who don't wear masks.
  9. The virus causes poorly understood neurological changes and sometimes lingers for months.
  10. On airplanes the virus cannot infect people when they all simultaneously remove their masks to eat and drink when snacks are rolled out.
  11. In fact, the virus will neither enter nor leave your mouth when you eat because the food is blocking it.
  12. An infection with this virus can cause loss of taste.
  13. In classrooms the virus rarely infects any pupils because they are small people.  But when they are in the real world, it's a different story.
  14. Infection with this virus may also cause vomiting, diarrhea and nausea.
  15. The virus replicates in your lungs and airways, but is only exhaled through the mouth so your mask doesn't need to cover your nose.
  16. The virus is literate. If you print any sentence in the entrance of a place including the magic words "...all measures...safety...protocols", the virus understands it and avoids the place, no matter what you actually do.
  17. When someone famous or of high political standing says that they feel "quite safe"  in a particular setting or even at an office xmas party, the virus bows to this superior feeling and stops transmitting.  
  18. The virus cannot spread at political or sports events, but is highly contagious at small family gatherings.
  19. The virus stays well away from anti vaxxers.
  20. This is how you take a nasopharyngeal or nose swap to test for the virus.
Have fun. There is a box with 50+ test kits sitting in our hallway, we are old hats by now and test like there is no tomorrow.