28 December 2011

in theory

in theory I am strong and courageous and generous and calm and compassionate, obviously compassionate, theoretically I am that noble

sometimes I find myself waiting for a bus - in theory I am a great proponent of public transport but in reality I hate going on buses - and I watch people to still my impatience
in theory I am patient, forgiving, relaxed, at peace, even kind
I really don't like waiting for buses

and so I look at shoes 
when I was a child, no: even when I was a teenager, I used to judge people by their shoes and I once broke off with a guy because he didn't have a single pair that was in any way decent

but looking at shoes gets tedious, they no longer bother me so much
I can handle ugly sandals or smelly sneakers these days
some kind of achievement
and so I start guessing that many of these people here mingling and waiting at the bus terminal must haved experienced death
death of a loved one, an elderly relative, a partner, a colleague, a neighbour killed in a car crash,
someone's child, a former boss, someone close, part of their lives, maybe even someone they are glad is finally gone, 
that long final thing, the life without

and they look ok, they walk and wait and some of them probably look at shoes while waiting
life goes on
look at them, the little voice inside me whispers full of awe, they can handle it, people manage
you are one of them
in theory

27 December 2011

pale pink shirt, dancing


1980

when we were young and had long hair and absolutely everything was seemed possible

just as well

Not a single candle, the ornaments purposefully forgotten in some box in the basement, no angels, no sticky sweet cards lined up on the mantle piece, just us and the cat and long breakfasts and reading and not much else, we thought. And then the vague phone call about my father - while visiting his floozie -  stumbling and maybe in hospital and of course his cell phone is off. So I go online and call the hospitals in floozie town and eventually a friendly nurse in some A&E tells me that he is still in the operating theatre. 
Outcome:
A father with a fractured arm and fractured pelvis holding court from his comfortable hospital bed, rescheduling his opera tickets, while he jokingly tells me that he was felled like an oak tree. (To which S calls out Timber! all the way from NZ).
But also: Two siblings mad at me for finding him and speaking to doctors etc. before they did. WTF!

The journey to floozie town was grey, grey motorway, grey fog, grey silent forests. 

These endless forests most of the time. I sit and look ahead and all these wonderful plans and resolutions come up in my mind. I always have so many fabulous ideas on the motorway, long lists of what I'll do differently, better, from now on. Can't remember now, but nifty things, small things, every day things. Also, I cleared up a couple a nagging thoughts, if only I could remember which ones.

The floozie was even more horrid than I remembered and of course she really is not a floozie, just a slightly pompous elderly woman who told me many years ago (in a foolish attempt to win my favours) that she secretly thinks that I must be my father's favourite child and I can still hear me clenching my teeth and vowing to never go anywhere near her again.
Well, there in hospital I tried to be nice and grateful and compassionate, I really tried but she was also wearing a gold lame top with leopard skin print.
So we left them sharing his hospital dinner and took off and ordered pasta and stir fried veg from the room service at the hotel and watched British Xmas TV channels, flicking between Downton Abbey and Armageddon and before that the Gruffalo.
 
Anyway.
And going home we thought, why not stop for coffee in Heidelberg and so we did. And that was lovely, never mind the tourists. It's really nice to reassure myself from time to time that this place is so well looked after - and with it our memories.

21 December 2011

winter music

Snow, ice frozen on woolly mittens, cold feet, cold red cheeks, toboggan, warm drink, back home. Memory.

19 December 2011

Could be that one of these will come true: I think I found a choir to join. Nothing dramatic, more fun and games, no serious concert schedules. I'll have a go in January.
I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, wrote Christoper Hitchens. And so he did and what strange comfort I find in his reports and thoughts about being so terribly ill.

Anyway, I never did. But there was a time when all the struggle and resistance  became just too much and instead of this futile dream of waking up one morning to glorious health you start facing your new reality and hope every day a little bit more that the volcano won't erupt again too soon. 

The worst advice I received in the past two years was to start reading about Helen Keller because one - extremely rare - complication of my brand of autoimmune vasculitis is loss of hearing plus blindness.
The best advice in the past two years was to endure and be patient and watch myself cope.
And not run away from the experience. Face the fear and panic. Another way of saying, give in, give up.

No, I am not courageous, sometimes I am that small, cowering in fear, if only for very short moments, yet I do.
And I admit to distraction, hiding behind distraction, often. Sometimes stupid mindless distraction, killing-the-day distraction. Less so these days, I like to think. One day at a time.




18 December 2011

cornea care

Another rumble from the volcano. After the first warning in my right eye three (?) weeks ago and a little interlude in the left one, those blasted autoantibodies took a full swing at the right eye again. But, hey, don't I know these critters! I was back in the ophthalmologist's dark room before they could hiccup twice and I have now a strict regimen of drops and ointments and more drops to keep me busy throughout the day and some of the night. And with patience and a good bit of luck this should be over by New Year's day - that's when the drops and ointment schedule ends, anyway. I tell myself that it's just a nuisance once the first round of drops has calmed the burning and my eyes look ever so beautiful now. Only Dr F with her fancy magnifiers  finds various ulcers and craters along the edge of my cornea. 
Was told not to read for a day, so I watched the sky turn dark and stormy and blue and sunny for a while and when I got dark and gloomy I watched almost all of Downton Abbey online in one go and I swear the voices in my head began to speak ever so properly to me, I daresay. How tedious.


16 December 2011

11 December 2011

The two windows of my mother's kitchen faced north overlooking her vegetable garden with the row of bean poles along the fence. To the left of the windows was an in-built larder where we would store butter and jam and cheese and bread, but it was also crammed with gadgets and boxes and an old basket to collect bread crusts. When this was full, she would cook bread soup, a dreadful concoction. The smell alone made me gag. But from time to time we were made to eat it in memory of how she suffered during the war when there was nothing to eat. I like to think she needed this form of cruelty to reassure herself that those days were over.
But she could also be found in a white lab apron, with a neat row of clean bottles and the juice extractor humming and steaming, full of red currants and sour cherries. In summer, we would sit around the table with scrubbed hands carefully placing peach halves into bottling jars, while she measured sugar and sterilised the clips. In December, cigarette in hand, she would watch us cutting out Xmas cookies from the dough she had cursed at just minutes earlier. Shortcrust was not her forte, but her yeast dough always rose to perfection.
My mother's kitchen had clean surfaces. You could run your finger along the top of the fridge or the backs of the chairs anytime. An entire cupboard was dedicated to the various appliances and dusters and brushes we would need to carry out our household chores after school. You could open the cupboards and find neat rows of boxes and tins and orderly stacks of cups and saucers. But pushed well behind the tins and folders with recipes and the brown-cream striped pottery tea set from Denmark and the heavy stainless steel pots, in the back of the cutlery drawers and inside those neat boxes with the pastel coloured lids there was chaos. A grimy mix of spare buttons, rubber bands, hair clips, shop receipts, aspirins, newspaper cuttings, Xmas cards, dried up biros, broken crayons, candles, long lost notes from school never signed or returned and - if you were lucky - nail scissors, a pen that would write, coins, stamps.
My mother's chair was right beside the window with her ashtray and her collection of medicines within reach on the window sill. She would sit there for hours, smoking, her feet against the radiator, waiting.
Coming home on the last bus at night I would try to sneak past the glow of her cigarette shining through the half-closed kitchen door. But of course she had been waiting, hissing and where do you come from at this hour  as I was frantically fabricating stories involving cinemas and well behaved girl friends and ice creams, when only a short while ago I had been leaning against a wall at the bus stop kissing and smoking and drinking beer. I don't know what she believed or thought of me. I didn't care and, really, I don't think she did either.

look, no humans


except, of course, for one. And what a good one, indeed.

09 December 2011

So there I was last night with my head swimming in nausea after the MTX injection, unable to sleep, contemplating - I mean what else is there to do in situations like this? - and snippets from the day rushed past me: another earthquake shaking the ground beneath my child's feet, cat dragging a dry bit of fish (whoever gave her that!) through the house, a colleague telling me in tears that he left his wife, one of the car low beam headlamps went as I was driving home through the dark storm, someone knocked over the paraffin container in the laundry room, both too tired for a meaningful exchange over dinner and then the dishwasher started to leak soapy water from below and behind and all over the kitchen floor. 
And I thought to myself - just for a second, mind you - this is good, this is wonderful, what a life we have.
Oh, mustn't forget those menopausal hot flushes.

05 December 2011

If you have the heart to feel and the eyes to see, you discover that the world is not flat. The world remains a rich tapestry. It remains a rich topography of the spirit. The myriad voices of humanity  [incl. the so-called primitive societies] are not failed attempts at being new, failed attempts at being modern. They're unique facets of the human imagination. They're unique answers to a fundamental question: what does it mean to be human and alive? And when asked that question, they respond with 6,000 different voices. And collectively, those voices become our human repertoire for dealing with the challenges that will confront us in the ensuing millennia. Our industrial society is scarcely 300 years old. That shallow history shouldn't suggest to anyone that we have all of the answers for all of the questions that will confront us in the ensuing millennia.
 
Well, the bad eye is ok, but now the other one has started. Ah, the mysteries of autoimmune inflammation. Today the masters of war had their conference patting each other on the back for the great job they did in Afghanistan and the limos with the flags have been whizzing past down the road, apparently. While I listened to Lyse Doucet on the world service pronouncing it ever so properly (ofghonistawn).
R has started his campaign to save the little patch of wilderness/forest beside the school and I am so proud of this man, he wrote to the board very politely that they should think twice before destroying 20 years of growth in one afternoon for the sake of "security".
Fierce freezing wind today. There is talk of snow. Talk. Midwinter in 16 days.

04 December 2011

The rain came. It's grey, wet, damp, shoes get mucky, hair curls again, darkness sets in at 4pm. Endless pots of tea, toast and soup. Satsumas and big round oranges from Spain. Fat Sunday papers to read - in print and online. Earthquake in New Zealand sent S diving under the table.
Surprising what a chubby little Irish man with receding hair can do to a relatively good Pink Floyd tune.


01 December 2011

world aids day

December 1982. We were standing in the hallway, the drafty hallway of this old ramshackle mansion, between the mucky wellies, bicycles, a cat asleep on an old chair. Our breaths steaming up the cold damp air. Carefully, L handed over this warm little bundle, my baby girl, wrapped up in colourful wool asleep and warm after spending the last two hours carried tightly against his chest. We both looked at this gorgeous small life and suddenly he started to cry. 
No, L never cried, he was too angry, always, he quickly wiped away a few tears and shoved the latest issue of Gay News in my face. Read it, he shouted, they don't know what it is, but we are dying all over, gay men are dying, someone's trying to kill us!
On the phone, my father rapidly works his way through his two standard concerns, health and weather. His questions come like bullets (How is work? Can you manage? How is your digestion/hearing/balance? Medication side effects in line? Outside temperature? Air pressure? Rainfall? Windy/icy?) and my answers must be brief and to the point. This is all about the big picture, no fretting over minor inflammations or elevated liver enzymes, certainly no mention of feelings  or fear, ohgodnono!  And of course rainfall is never soft or gentle or hard or depressing, forgoodnesssake didn't he install it himself down at the bottom of the garden, the, the what shall we call it, the thingy with a scale recording the rainfall precipitation.
Once we have this covered and ticked off to general his satisfaction, we proceed to politics.






S tells me she has started to play the ukulele and I imagine her in a crowd as cheerful as this.
The first clouds are visible on the rain radar. Hopefully by tomorrow, the river needs it badly.


29 November 2011

I was in the kitchen, making chocolate pudding when it started,  my mother used to tell me. And it was really easy, hardly any labour. You were born just minutes after we got to the hospital. What a pleasant surprise, but still - the disappointment that you were only a girl. Ah well.

She really wanted this second baby, my father tells me today, she looked after herself, plenty of rest, she was very happy during the pregnancy. You know how she had this thing about sons, but apart from that, you were very much a planned , a wanted child. And she tried to enjoy having another daughter, she sang to you, give her some credit.

25 November 2011


It's back in my eyes, ok, just an itsy bitsy inflammation on the edge of the cornea of the right eye like I had before, and the liver values are climbing. Grrrrr, patience! I am staying home today, wrapped up with my cat and a stack of newspapers, eye drops and tea. And for the liver, silymarin, the Blessed Milk Thistle.

Another cold, very dry and stormy day and our big and mighty river is about to disappear. No more ships, no more ferries, just pebbles and birds picking through the debris. No rain forecast. We'll just dry up and shrivel down to brittle stacks of bones crackling in the freezing wind. Oh misery. Oh self pity. What would I do without you.


24 November 2011

Officially the driest November on record and the month isn't even over yet. Forest fires are spreading and not a single snow flake anywhere. Sun and more sun every day, cold and dry.
The river looks pityful, scavengers are crawling around the exposed riverbed and yesterday someone found live WWII grenades, together with other discarded rubbish, the odd bank vault - empty. I remember during the last serious drought in 2003 when a car appeared complete with dead driver - he had been shot before the car was pushed in.


23 November 2011

I am nodding my head just like the eager monk behind him.

20 November 2011

The river this morning is a shy little stream after 12 weeks of no rain. As I cycled slowly with R jogging beside me and the dog walkers and the tai chi groups under the trees and the geese and deer and a magnificent heron cleaning its feathers way down on the pebbled beach I tried to imagine the future scenario which has just been predicted again by another major conference (as usual without much media coverage) on the earth's dwindling natural resources (esp. water) and I hope I'll be dead by the time the glaciers feeding this river have disappeared.

18 November 2011

dream

Sometimes the MTX nights are really odd. Last night I was tossing and turning in and out of sleep for the most part and this dream kept on resurfacing where I was giving a speech in front of a huge audience dressed like the guests in the Rocky Horror Picture show, all outrageously fake diamonds and tight dinner suits, while I was standing there in my washed out jeans and R's scratched old Blundstones holding up a gold coated Superman figurine, shouting at the top of my voice, "From the people who gave you Bad Bank and Greed, from the producers of Outsourcing and Landgrabbing, here is their new blockbuster: Vulture Funds!" And the crowd went ballistic. And I woke up in a sweat.
Think I better try and watch more silly romcoms for a while.

16 November 2011

ca. 2 years

Doesn't feel that long, really. Obviously also due to skype and fb and cell phones. I even walk the way from her house along the sea and into Wellington on google earth from time to time. My Heidi Klum colleagues are all oh my god, you poor you oh no how saaad  and I wonder, should I feel miserable? But no I don't, most of the time. There are occasional moments of intense physical longing, so heavy I want to hit something. But not unlike the menopause flashes these are quickly forgotten. Most of the time, I think I can catch the reflections from her shiny sparkling life no matter how far away she is. Maybe even better. Also, I don't see the grubby bits and I can smile when she tells me, you would't believe how organised I am now, Mum, no, seriously.


15 November 2011

So maybe I am just too watchful, too geared towards disaster happening again. So maybe this is not the volcano rumbling louder and louder below the surface. So maybe I am just stressing the finer details too much. I need distraction. I need to concentrate. I know I need to act really fast if it is an eruption but all I want is to let it happen and anyway, shit happens.  Who cares.
Last night for a short while I think my good ear went out or maybe my bad ear got better or maybe the evening at home noises to my right stopped for a moment, like a short power cut. Off. On.
This morning my tinnitus orchestra has reshuffled and some noises have gone, others have joined and all have changed seats it seems. My head feels heavy, too slow when I turn it and the world moves at delayed speed. And I feel wobbly. Creepy. Sleepy. Flu-ish.
First frost last night. The nasturtiums and the last cosmos are still flowering bravely. I picked a good handful. Another night like this and they will be gone for good.
R tried out the paraffin heater in the greenhouse and it stinks but the lemon tree is alive and happy, it seems. I think it'll die from the fumes. R laughs at me, plants don't have noses, silly.
It is so very bright outside, if this were summer, we'd call it a drought, no rain for over a month and none in sight.

14 November 2011

alright alright

Many people think that patience is a sign of weakness. I think this is a mistake. It is anger that is a sign of weakness, whereas patience is a sign of strength.
Dalai Lama

13 November 2011

angry today

Bad night stuck behind a table with not so good food and a conversation dominated by a loudmouth too full of himself who dished up predictable xenophobic and misogynist prejudices. Why do I end up in these corners? Should have left much earlier.
Then there are the Sunday papers spilling over with hysteria about moneymoneymoney and old and not so old men (and that woman in the eternal three-button blazers) playing their power poker and another beautiful song gets screwed so that we spend more moneymoneymoney.
So what else is new?
Tell us again, Jarvis.


11 November 2011

What is your favourite word?
And. It is so hopeful.

Margaret Atwood in the Guardian

09 November 2011


activity

The lab report arrived today and some things have gone up (the yuk things) and others have gone down (bye bye), a weird picture of health-illhealth and as Dr B said, all we know is that there is activity, too much to reduce the meds.
Yesterday I was too active, the day was too full and too long and too many things happened. I was knackered - I love that word, it reminds me of Knackwürste bursting in a pot of potatoe soup. 
It is pitch black dark now when I cycle home and until yesterday I found it utterly thrilling and exciting to cycle through the night forest. There are odd joggers and other cyclists but not many at this time. So yesterday suddenly this man appeared out of the dark, walking straight towards me, not attempting to walk by me or let me pass on my bicycle. I had this vision of him raising his arm and hitting me and I knew that there would not be enough time to press any buttons on my mobile phone (which sits inside a zipped pocket anyway) and so I hissed loudly the way I hiss at the marauding tom cats that come into the garden at times and I pushed past him and he laughed and my heart was beating so heavily I thought it would crack. I raced on and left him behind me. I keep thinking that maybe I imagined it all, that maybe I just blinded him with my bicycle lamp and he was startled. No, he laughed!? Whatever, it gave me the creeps and at least today I cycled a different route, which is longer and involves traffic lights and lots of cars and busses and I don't like it. I don't want this.
And then to top it all I was almost run down by some idiot who drove through a red light. I roared at him and he grinned and I memorized his registration like a mantra in my head and when I got home I went online and for the very first time in my life I reported someone to the police.
Sleep was a long time coming, too exhausted, too much activity in my mind.

06 November 2011

So if I were you, I'd have a little trust




Saturday

Late this morning I cycled into BG and walked around for a little while, what a surprisingly mild day. Weird looking Xmas decorations here and there. I sat down at an outside table of the new French bakery with A and we had coffee in those big wide bowls and talked for almost two hours until our hands were cold and time was up. After we said good bye I quickly ran over to the whole food shop to get some tangerines and coconut milk and when I bent down to pull up my bicycle lock vertigo hit me like someone pushing me from behind. It got a bit better once I was upright again and somehow I cycled home in one piece. I sat down on the brown sofa and watched the embroidery on the Rajasthani wall hanging move rapidly to the left while my heart was skipping and my wonky ear started roaring intermittently. Too much coffee, said my prince and I took a deep breath.

I didn't move from the sofa for a couple of hours, eating tangerines and somehow I never freaked out and then I managed to make a lovely dinner - if I may say so - using the gorgeous little parsnips and celeriac that R harvested this morning (onion, parsnip, celeriac, sauteed in olive oil, some stock, crushed garlic, fresh rosemary, simmer for a while, mash a bit, but not too much, add some chopped  black olives and parsley before serving) and now I just finished watching Patti Smith Dream of Life on TV, back on my sofa. And I got all weepy about the fact that I will never ever again be able to go to a live concert which is bullshit because even before I got ill I hadn't been to one for ages and never felt tempted, too pricey, too loud and too late and so on. The last one was that UN gig with Bob Geldof and Hugh Masekela which anyway was for free because I did all that translation work for the  alternative summit and I remember checking my watch and yawning for goodnesssake.

But anyway, went back in my mind to the time when I first heard Patti Smith in Sylvia's kitchen in Heidelberg in the days when I rolled my own fags and had long long hair and we talked about travelling to Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer next weekend or so, no big deal, only we never did. We were so cool and so broke. And Patti Smith, oh my, oh well!


04 November 2011

03 November 2011

waiting for the lab results

What I advise you to do is, not to be unhappy before the crisis comes; since it may be that the dangers before which you paled as if they were threatening you, will never come upon you; they certainly have not yet come. 

Seneca

22 October 2011

18 October 2011

Felt like shit all day with a heavy head and so many new noises in my wonky ear and sinusitis all over with the usual headache/pins and needles feeling inside my forehead but I cycled all the way up the hill to see Dr F who was a bit shocked when she heard about the liver values but let's not jump to conclusions and do another lab test on Thursday. At work I went on autopilot and got through it and surely all will be so much better and the sinuses will clear because it's not autoimmune but only a nasty little virus with the chills and so on.
And on Sunday I want to sit in the car next to R and drive to France and someone will email the lab results to me.
Because this is nothing, really.

17 October 2011

where is the deputy

The immune system is not something that sits at a specific place in the body; I cannot point to it or put my hand on it like I would on a sore tummy.
In a generally healthy body, not one like mine, the immune system is a well organised team of different cell types employed to destroy viruses and bacteria which try to attack the body from outside.

Imagine your body as a quiet little town of friendly neighbours where everybody knows each other. Obviously, sometimes it can get a bit noisy and restless when the virus gang or the bacteria boys come into town. That’s when the sheriff, the big helper cell, rings the alarm bells to call the posse. And everybody knows what to do: the phagocytes shoot without asking and clear away the dead bodies. They quickly put up wanted posters to warn the whole town about the attackers, while the good citizens start repairing the damage. The sheriff instructs his courageous team of killer cells to search all over town for any intruders trying to hide.  Another group of the sheriff’s team, the plasma cells are also active right from the start, firing off a canon of powerful antibodies. So that the next time the gang comes into town, they get marked right away and are easy to eliminate. But sometimes the cowboys in the posse are a bit unruly and things get out of hand. That’s when the deputy steps in, the regulator cell. He calms everybody down. Usually, that is.

But there are also bad days, when the cowboys and the sheriff had too much to drink and start to run riot in town. And sometimes even the best deputy has enough of it and slinks away while all hell breaks loose.

My liver has started to complain, the lab work points to some unruly behaviour. The sheriff must be drunk again.

11 October 2011

10 October 2011

We have the same job that we have always had, to say as thinking people and as humans that there are no final solutions, there is no absolute truth, there is no supreme leader, there is no totalitarian solution that says if you will just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you will simply abandon your critical faculties, a world of idiotic bliss will be yours. 
 Christopher Hitchens

and the day was dragging on

I think I slightly messed up one of the bright young things today. He is so very keen sure of himself and already sees the shiny future of international conferences and prizes for his eventually outstanding research. If only. 

So there I had edited out all his "cirrhotics" and replaced it with "patients suffering from cirrhosis" and - to be generous - the odd "cirrhosis patient" and now he was all huffed because this messed up his word count. Oh dear. And my little lecture that medical expertise must always be about treating patients and not about treating diseases went in one ear and out the other. I offered to set his word count right again with a few changes elsewhere but he went off in a huff. 

And so the day dragged on and my phantom teeth started to ache and the stupid automatic blinds went up and down because the wind was blowing from all directions.
When I leave these days the sun is already way down behind the buildings in the west and when we turn the clocks at the end of this month it will be dark when I get on my bicycle. I am already excited about racing through the dark forest. Today it looked like this:

And tomorrow I will make a big pot of shufta just for the heck of it.

06 October 2011

it sure helps to pass the time

I hear that expression more and more. When people are playing euchre or assembling a jigsaw puzzle or listening to the radio, they say they are passing the time. As if time were something to get through and be done with. But if one regards time as finite, then would one not want to slow it down somehow and savour its every moment? Impossible, of course, but that might be an ideal worth striving for.



Richard B. Wright (Clara Callan)
The wind is strong today and the clouds in the west are black. Suddenly the signs of autumn are everywhere but what a weird late summer we had. Delphiniums shot up to flower a third time, our neighbour's lilac burst into bloom last weekend with three mishappenly huge blossoms and R even picked a handful of strawberries. All this while the trees started to drop leaves. At my usually quiet place in the forest where I stop on my way to work, there was a cascade of noise around me when with every little gust beech nuts and acorns were showering down. The ground dry with crackling needles and leaves.
And soon, very soon, the rain will be here.

03 October 2011

02 October 2011

deep breath

It's done, in the end I raced through the paragraphs and after I did my final edit I felt pretty washed out, enough to take a day off from work. And although I tried to take it easy I found myself much too preoccupied, still. My head overflowing with the terminology of human rights abuse, land grabbing, right to water and denied access to land and livelihood, Monsanto crimes and farmer suicides and like a bright shining light in the middle of my doom and gloom mood the postman drops a battered postcard in my post box from Mustang where SC has been staying with her dedicated Nepali friends, a women's co-operative involved in the education of girls and women, income-generating measures, promotion of hygiene and health, and the cultivation of vegetables and medicinal plants in the upper regions of the Himalayas far away from the trekking tourists.





24 September 2011

we are on the road to nowhere

Here I have been sitting hunched over the keyboard of my fancy new laptop for the best part of the day translating and editing an endless paper on human rights violations to indigenous communities at the hand of large multinational corporations (those with the shiny ads for the glamorous and easy life, gold jewellery, diamonds, oil, cars, the works, you name it) where one unimaginable cruelty is followed by yet another even more horrendous one. 
But here is the catch: when it becomes too much for my feeble imagination and when my neck and shoulders are all stiff, I can get up and make myself a lovely cup of (fair trade, organic) tea and walk around the garden for a bit and lie back in a deck chair and let the sun shine on my face. And I try and chase away all thoughts of how futile this all seems, how many years I have been reading and translating these reports from NGOs and all those dedicated human rights advocates. There is no end to inhumanity.

21 September 2011

my life of luxury

Tomorrow is bulky waste collection and all day the treasure hunters and scrap metal peddlers and their friends have been cruising the neighbourhood. We put out stuff and the old toaster which is slightly banjaxed. I got too nervous using it because it gets too hot or nothing at all and I had visions of flames coming from it one day and I was looking around the kitchen figuring out how quickly everything could burn down incl. the cat and the me. So the minute we put it outside this man jumped out of a dishevelled van - with Hungarian/Polish/Romanian registration - and took it out of my hands and politely said thank you. I still feel woozy and quite ashamed, actually.

delightful life

To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is. 

Pema Chödrön

harvest time


Suddenly the evenings are cold a bit chilly, it gets dark too soon and the air smells of wood smoke. Plus all that other stuff: falling leaves and ripening pumpkins and spiders inside the house and a cat that wants to sleep all of the time. And figs to pick and eat and delicious fresh grape juice every other day.

18 September 2011

when I first heard this silence turning into music some years ago I sat and cried for a good while


14 September 2011

gossip

My neighbour across the road tells me that 'they' have been robbing his flowerbeds. They? I ask stupidly, you mean it's more than one person? No, no, them, he replies. 
Them are the riff-raff, lay-abouts, foreigners, kids with no manners, maybe even foreign kids with no manners, or possibly eco-communists like us with the no nuke stickers. So now he has erected a sign warning all and sundry that he is counting the cosmea flowers and should he catch the culprits (incl. children) he will prosecute.
So there.
He is out there now with his fan club of blue rinse ladies all tut-tutting about the dramatic demise of the neighbourhood. Godlovehim, I'll sneak out through my back door, he gives me the creeps.

13 September 2011

cheer up

to get a sense of proportion once in a while

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. 

Carl Sagan  1994

11 September 2011

A friend wrote me an email wondering how I can manage with S being so far away right now implying that she would find it very hard if that was happening with her own daughter. Others are surprised that I haven't booked the flight first thing.
But no, I don't find it harder than any other day. It's still the same feeling, heavier at times, but generally there always, like a scar. Maybe it's better with me out of the picture. I know I would do the heavy control thing, not outright but scheming all the way like that time after Xmas when I sneaked into that flat in town when she and all her flat mates were away and I actually cleaned her room and - yep - the bathroom and the kitchen and afterwards carried bags and bags of trash down the four steep flights of stairs. It was very messy and very dirty there, probably borderline health hazard but she was already above 18 and well, I have no reasons to be proud of having done this. But lots of excuses, obviously.
Anyway, no one noticed I think.

04 September 2011

my crooners

Driving up the hairpin bends from Baie Lazare after a day on the beaches. S is sitting in the back between her grandparents, they are teaching her to sing Fly me to the moon  and Swinging from a star.
On top, we stop for a while and get out to enjoy the view and S performs her new songs with granny and grandad dancing to it.

reading a bit of Joseph Conrad

The world of the living contains enough marvels and mysteries as it is – marvels and mysteries acting upon our emotions and intelligence in ways so inexplicable that it would almost justify the conception of life as an enchanted state. No, I am too firm in my consciousness of the marvellous to be ever fascinated by the mere supernatural, which (take it any way you like) is but a manufactured article, the fabrication of minds insensitive to the intimate delicacies of our relation to the dead and to the living, in their countless multitudes; a desecration of our tenderest memories; an outrage on our dignity.
Whatever my native modesty may be it will never condescend to seek help for my imagination within those vain imaginings common to all ages and that in themselves are enough to fill all lovers of mankind with unutterable sadness.

01 September 2011

There are things in life we don't understand, and when we meet them, all we can do is leave them alone. Sounds reasonable.

music for late summer





So it's hot again and clear and a big big sky but I feel like coming down with something, headache, weird pressure in my ears and of course I am checking my hearing like mad. Felt like a beetroot on fire all afternoon. Cycled into town and then to work (25 k round trip back home) on Monday and basically collapsed after dinner. So there is a limit. For the moment. Wait. WAIT, stupid woman. This is not the end of the world. Just a bit shitty right now.

Booked us into a gorgeous rustic B&B in the Cantal en Auvergne for late October and I am already super nervous and lots of what-ifs (S's health, my health...) run around and around my head, while R just shrugs and gets on with it. He is already overworked after only three weeks of school and we are back to skimming along the surface of things, work always hovering at the back of his mind. Late in the evenings I hear him yawning in his study where he is marking home work, preparing lessons with some loud music blasting from the speakers.

I mentioned S and her surgery to my father when he called but all he wanted was for me to book him online tickets for an exhibition in Berlin hey presto (and I did). He is so scared. I remember him passing out at the sight of blood from our scratched knees when we were small.



30 August 2011

Making predictions is difficult, particularly about the future.

28 August 2011

smells from the kitchen

Half moon hiding in the clouds, my darling
And the sky is flecked with signs of hope
Raise your weary wings against the rain, my baby
Wash your tangled curls with gambler's soap

27 August 2011

The cat is jealous because I am looking after the two bunny rabbits from next door for a week. Every time I climb through the hedge with my carrots and a handful of hay she hisses at me and whenever I sit down she climbs onto my shoulders and digs her claws in before she gets on with the purring - very loud and very uncomfortable.
Made lots of tomatoe sauce from the massive harvest. And there are more, lots more. Tomorrow.
S made it through her surgery and as a reward she went to see Dylan Moran live. That's the spirit, good choice. She also fell in love with her doctor and the nurses.
And now it looks like we have little bitchy battle with the fancy health insurance outfit on our hands because - aah what the hell. I am postponing all thinking and arguing and basically all mental stress until we get the final results.
Yesterday when I went to work the thermometer said 34°C, this morning it was 13°C. Weird, weird and cold.
My teeth are hurting - again, and it's really only a small bit of sore gum, I think, I hope. 
All in all, I am hanging in there like a limp sack of beans.

21 August 2011

weekend

We harvested the last of the sweet peas and when R spread out the compost, he found a mango growing in it. It is now potted and on the patio.

Last night we drove up into the hills to watch the stars but a cloud blanket was moving in just then. So we looked at the lights of the city reflected in the river and when we drove down again the moon was a huge orange slice in the sky to the east.

After breakfast this morning R and S exchanged gardening news over skype and then he said, we will phone you again on the big day, love and we all held our breath for a second.

When R was making coffee he was whistling along to Neil Young.

I discovered that the online rain radar is quite accurate and useful to check before hanging up the laundry to dry in the sunny garden.

In the afternoon I sat in my deck chair and watched the figs ripen. And then my guts started to react to the kilo of apricots I have been eating in the last 24 hours.

So when R set out his pizza plans - zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, sweet corn, anchovies, two cheese... I suggested a more minimalistic approach.

19 August 2011



my lucky girl

It rained heavily last night after a very hot day. I am curled up in my bed listening to the sounds of dripping water feeling the wet air coming through the window. Inside of me, deep in my belly and sometimes in my chest and even in my throat is this smooth cold dark heavy stone. I am trying to accommodate it as best I can while I am thinking of how lucky and happy her life has been so far, my daughter with the golden hair and the laughing eyes.

Remember, I say to her over skype, how you were twice within minutes, hours of death and how calmly we all knew you would pull through and how you had looked at me with your wide baby eyes full of concentration and trust? But of course, she cannot remember her birth or the time when she almost died of meningitis.

And remember the dangerous escapes we have had, from dodgy planes with bombs discovered onboard after a safe landing, or coming down the hairpin bends in paradise one heavy monsoon rain day when first the wipers gave in and next the breaks? And you in the back in a car with no seatbelts or doors? 

I know her life has been so happy, I know it because it shows: in her eyes, her smiles, her chuckles and her sharp remarks, the way she observes the world around her, makes friends and adapts to every new situation. Whatever unhappiness and even personal hell she has had, she knows that is all part of the deal. And I know that.

Remember the time right after we moved to the house?, I ask her. All that winter you were hiding inside your dad's big red winter anorak. I would watch you walking home from the bus stop, all skinny legs and lanky hair huddled up in this oversized bag of a coat with your hands hidden inside the sleeves, trodding along, eyes to the ground and your shoulders pushed down by your schoolbag. And all I could do was watch you and hug you and wait for you to leave this cocoon, which of course you did, eventually.

When I was around that same age I would sit in my father's car on my way to school in the mornings, dozing in the back and listening to the car radio. That was long before iPods or even tape decks and there was no debating the station my father had picked. So I would listen to big bands and what we called movie music, soppy stuff warbling on with violins and simpering choruses, but once in a while there'd be Roy Orbison or the Carpenters or even Leonard Cohen and every morning I waited with expectation and increasing certainty for those gems.
So this is a bit how I feel at the moment, waiting through the dreary bits, for the next gem to pop up.

I looked up the website of the hospital she will go to for the surgery and I find comfort in every thing I see. At least they did a great job with the web design.
And, as it is the case so often, I suddenly meet women who have had that exact diagnosis and surgery years ago, not a bother, fine since  and a couple of the medical staff have come forward with reassuring expert talk and latest statistics from renowned oncology studies.

Of course there is a voice inside my head hissing away: not fair, she is so young!
Yes, the drama of it, hence the stone in my belly.

Here we are, this is life, we take the next step. You are in my heart, my wonderful wonderful girl.




13 August 2011

legless

bursitis in my right ankle joint
something like bursitis, dunno, heavy stiff and painful, in my left knee
I am floored like a beached whale

12 August 2011

It's a bit like a punch in the stomach, this news from so far away and fuck you skype, you are no help. I want to hug and hold my child across the widest ocean and all that I can try to do is stay calm. And grateful that she is not in some jungle without doctors and that the great and wonderful B is with her.

10 August 2011

Oh how I wish I could be harder, let stuff bounce off me and not let it come so close, so overwhelming and all consuming.
Some people can just stay calm no matter what.

05 August 2011

off with the ghosts

Too gloomy, too many memories. The garden smells like a gigantic compost heap. Summer today is heavy grey skies, silent birds and the humidity makes the little hairs on my arms curl up.
Time to cheer up.

04 August 2011

I was only trying to take the easy way out, to cross off another item from my list of unpleasant things that have to be done. And of course I thought I was  really smart, calling the intensive care ward on the day after surgery, talking to a nurse in a hurry or maybe a doctor. I am the other daughter, I am calling long distance, etc. and they would reply with some of the medical talk  reserved for next of kin and a bit of concern and regret that I live too far away to be with my mother who had to get a triple bypass, her poor heart.

But instead the nurse said, hold on, I'll  just put her on to you  and then there was her voice in my ear, her real voice, not the usual drug/booze slur - ten days in hospital and major surgery, what a way to get clean! - and before I could catch my breath there was my mother from long long long ago saying, hello my little one, what a lovely surprise.  And we talked and I realised that this was the first time in my adult life that she was totally sober.

About six hours later her lungs, paper thin from a life of chain smoking, collapsed and when my sister arrived the next morning, she was hooked up to all sorts of gadgets and gagged with tubes.
She never spoke again and my sister was mad at me for a very long time, maybe still is, that I was the one who spoke to her last, that it wasn't fair, I was the one who had run away, never visited, hardly called and basically had never shown any Responsibility for Family the way she did.

On my first visit she was stretched out, small like a child with beautifully smooth skin and large open eyes. When the nurse told me that they often put on a country music station "to keep her entertained" I thought I saw a flicker of despair in these eyes. Back home I recorded tapes with some of the music she liked but when she was moved to another hospital they got lost.

By the time I managed my second visit, she had shrunk further and there was nothing resembling my mother and yet everything was so recognisibly her more than ever, urgently and furiously. When the young doctor with the shiny earrings told me that they have to sedate her more and more and even strap her in at night because like a naughty child she tried to pull out the tubes, I just lost it: Who are you, I shouted in her face, how dare you let this woman suffer on and on. Have you no shame? Look at her, look what you are doing, this woman was a research scientist, you have a copy of her living will in her files. You know perfectly well that she never wanted medical technology to prolong her dying.  How can you act so disrespectful?  

I remember being very loud and that tears were streaming down my face. Later on R told me that they could hear me shouting out in the hall and that the nurses came along tut-tutting ready to sedate me, too.
A week later my mother developed pneumonia and some merciful doctor decided against antibiotic treatment. She was allowed to die that night.

30 July 2011

hate is not the answer

Bano Rashid was 18 years old and had many plans and dreams. She wanted to become a lawyer and a member of the Norwegian parliament. For the upcoming local elections in September 2011 she was standing as a candidate of the social democratic party. On 22 July 2011 she met her role model Gro Harlem Brundtland on the island of Utoya and they had a lively discussion. A few hours later Bano was shot dead by an extreme right-wing killer. 
With her Kurdish parents, Bano had come to Norway as a refugee. 
At the specific request of her Moslem family the memorial service was held in a Christian church attended by an imam and a priest. Her mother said at the service: The answer is not more hatred but more love.

29 July 2011

it's hard, I know

the world tickles my heart

Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. 
It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. 
You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world.  
You are willing to share your heart with others.

Chogyam Trungpa

28 July 2011

After the hottest May on record and the stormiest June on record we are now seeing the end of the coldest and wettest July on record with the forecast of a heatwave starting Monday.
I cycled home through lashing rain, which seemed to hit me from all sides and a steady trickle was running down my back through a hairline crack in my raincoat, soaking its way through my shirt and down into my jeans. 
Now the sky is a glorious pink, the rain has stopped (obviously, now that I'm home) and I have burned my gums with the hot tea R has made me.
I have been thinking of my mother for days now, a jumble of memories and ghosts and shivers down my spine. It is 13 years now since I saw her last. Only that time she was so zonked out of it she did not recognise me at first. My sister stopped me from running out the door and eventually persuaded her to remember that she had two daughters. She tried to hold it together the next morning and brought us for lunch to the restaurant on the corner. She was very slim, wearing a purple woolen dress and silk stockings, did not touch any of her food, instead she smoked one fag after another and bit her nails. We hardly spoke. 
I know there are good memories somewhere. But not these ones. But I think I must make the effort. Maybe. Tomorrow.

23 July 2011

I made a really elaborate cake for my birthday man this year, all chocolate, pity about the weather, all rain and cold winds. Last night I watched a stupid talk show where a Zen master did a short meditation demo with the round of guests including a nasty comedian, two Sikh taxi drivers, a food critic and an Italian actor famous for a series of silly ads for instant coffee. Weird. Just be here, no striving, no rushing, he said and then someone coughed.

14 July 2011

after the first hour

The dusty path endlessly ahead of me, deep forest to one side, the lake sparkling down a deep slope to the other. The sun is hot and there is a high wind but I don't mind. From time to time I break through a dense cloud of minute flies, sneezing and keeping my mouth shut, blinking to clear the eyes. 
On and on I follow the rhythm of my legs pushing the pedals, the wheels crunching along the dry track. I am humming my breath tune, my cycling mantra.
Around another bend, the track goes on and on and look, here I come and I am moving along, I am flying. I am laughing. My tears run backwards into my ears. I punch my fist in the air and shout to R, this is the life, look at me!

09 July 2011

away we go

Tomorrow morning after a lazy Sunday breakfast we shall pack the red bag and load the bicycles in the back of the car and we will pretend all is normal because the cat smells a rat as soon as I lift the shampoo bottle from the bathroom shelf and we will let down most of the blinds to make sure the house stays cool and the cat will start biting my heels at this stage while I tell her reassuringly that H will take good care of her as well as the tomatoes and aubergines in the greenhouse and then we will probably remember some last minute stuff and run back and forth for a bit and then we'll be off for a week because longer could spell disaster for R and his garden. Oh, yes, we will also pack the telescope because we are going to the hills and the lakes, the nature reserve, away from roads and city lights and we will cycle a bit and swim and at night we will look at the stars.

08 July 2011

and now what?

Resting on my comfortable sofa looking through the window into this clear evening sky after a brief shower, birdsong, the this-is-summer aroma of the flowering buddleia mixes with the smell of rain evaporating from the hot patio stones, and while I am licking my spoon after I finished a bowl of organic yoghurt with - would you believe it-  rose blossoms, the voice on the TV tells me that 12 million people are threatened with imminent starvation in north east Africa.

06 July 2011

tail wind

Well, first of all he paid up. Surprise. Surprise. And with most of the money I bought myself wings, my wonderful new set of wings. A pedelec is not a little scooter or whatever, it is a bicycle with a little electric motor that is activated while pedaling. It feels like cycling with tail wind. When I switch off the motor it is simply a snazzy trekking bicycle.  
And it's so, so liberating. I am back on two wheels and my mind races and I am thinking of all the trips we had planned: crossing the Alps, continuing on along the Danube from Vienna to the Black Sea or the one we were about to start when I got sick, from the Rhone glacier in Switzerland to the delta in France - or maybe only as far as Geneva.
But that's dreaming.
I am dreadfully nervous, afraid of overdoing it. And I am knackered at the end of a day with only 20 km done.

28 June 2011

so small so big

when you lie down on the hot patio stones at night and watch the stars you realise how small you really are, how obsessed with the minutae of your little existence and how easily you lose sight of the enormity of life and the incredible potential presented to you

26 June 2011

At night waiting for sleep to come I have now started to allow myself to think back over the last 18 months and very carefully, almost gently I am beginning to take stock, compare, look at myself then and now. What comes to mind at times is definitely startling, almost feels like an achievement - last year at this time I was more or less flat out with mega doses of drugs suppressing my out of control immune system, so obviously there are dramatic changes I can observe now - and then this list of all the things that have now become a most unwelcome part of my life starts rolling in my mind and what a struggle it is to accommodate it all and I quickly switch off, or try to switch off before I get too upset. The amount of anger is still overwhelming at times. But at least I am starting to step back and take a look at that anger and I find myself saying, well as interesting as this may be dwelling on it gets me nowhere. And so I try to take another step out of this sluggish sticky mess of ill health and another and another and another and another...
Even going round in circles you can change, surely. Please?

breathing in again

Being able to breathe out
one's unhappiness
breathe out deeply
so that one can
breathe in again
And perhaps also being able to speak
one's unhappiness
in words
in real words
which are coherent
and make sense
and which one can
understand oneself
and which perhaps
someone else can understand
or could understand
And being able to try
That again would
almost be
happiness
 Erich Fried

24 June 2011

barefoot

Mahatma Gandhi’s central belief was that the knowledge, skills and wisdom found in villages should be used for development before getting skills from outside. 

This is very inspiring.

23 June 2011

the garden in June

lily ladies
Bergamot punks
blue beauty
calm valerian
drink
food

remember

When we think that something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know. Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. We try to do what we think is going to help. But we don’t know. We never know if we’re going to fall flat or sit up tall. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure. Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know. 

Pema Chödrön

22 June 2011

Now finally nothing, only a blackbird's song coming in through the open door as if from far away.
The garden is cool now after the thunder storm. The sticky mist of the humid day has lifted. The clouds are turning pink and grey with the sun setting.
I wonder what time it is.