29 June 2014

It has been raining for the last 24 hours, nice and steady, long overdue. I sent R on his way to inspect and discuss various new solar energy gadgets at one of these gatherings where people teach each other how to save the planet or cut their electricity bills, whatever. I am usually too impatient to do this and am prone to sarcastic comments. 

You know the joke about two planets meeting in space? 
The first one: "How are you?"
"Not so well", the second answered "I've got the Homo Sapiens."
"Don't worry," the other replied, "I had the same. That won't last long."
Well, that's me these days and I better not dwell on it.

Instead I should be working my way through a riveting piece of publication on the latest groundbreaking research in laboratory methods to detect early prediabetes. 

But as usual, there is so much to organise on my desk and in the kitchen and so I dawdle and mess about like the next best teenager.
And there is my child's tired face to think about, the way she smiled at us this morning from the other side of the planet. She works hard long dedicated hours, she is skilled and smart and she has the bigger picture right in front of her, she is changing the world. I just hope her health is up to it.

Here she is aged nine months after R taught her how to read maps.

23 June 2014

The little old cat, blind and deaf as she is, had a touch of diarrhoea, to put it mildly. She succumbed to it in the dining room and most of downstairs in her gentle quiet way before she wandered upstairs - leaving a neat trail of footprints - while we were enjoying a most pleasant cup of tea outside before watering the garden. 
Things went on from there and soon I was on my knees washing the hall and the kitchen floors and basically every surface and by the time I got to the stairs I suddenly remembered the time when I sanded down the banisters and the steps and the smell of wood, which was quite some years ago now. 
Upstairs I could hear R talking on the phone to Nuala, who is also quite deaf now when she wants to: So, I hear you went walking down the East Pier? What was that? Someone stopped you? Oh, your walker got stuck on the bus? A Spanish student, you say? Ah, people are so nice. He kissed you? Well, aren't you the lucky girl. Sure, of course we'll have a grand party for your 100th. 
And so on.

22 June 2014

We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that.

Pema Chodron

20 June 2014

World Refugee Day

This picture was taken by Stanislav Krupar who earlier this month joined a group of refugees from Syria on their harrowing journey by boat across the Mediterranean to Europe. Here, we see the group stranded on a small island off the Egyptian coast waiting for the trafficker to return. They were left without food or water.


Someone asked me recently, what if these boats carried dogs, poor lost puppy dogs, would we then take them in, would we not carry them out of the water in our arms, wrap them in  blankets and hold them until they felt safe again? Picture by Mashid Mohadjerin.

19 June 2014

After easter, ascension and whit Sunday, this is the last of the spring/summer holy holidays, corpus christi. Here in this country with an agnostic majority, we take all this stuff very seriously. After the procession today, the catholic youth group down by the river is having a barbecue, which I think is quite the suitable thing to do. A touch of the Varanasi Ghats.
Of course, I won't dare to clean windows or cut the lawn and all the shops are closed . Instead, the nation indulges in watching  football soccer, food and drink, procrastination and all the other stuff that comes with it.

We decided to stop forcing the whatever pills down our little old cat's throat twice a day. And yes, we tried all the right moves, excluding the burrito thing which involves wrapping her tightly in a towel, R will not hear of it. Being blind and deaf and very sleepy, she has now started to hide in fear and my hands and arms are covered in bleeding scratches. This is not the way to do this. I am not sentimental or sad, she is an old lady who so far has enjoyed a fabulous life since she was found as a very very young abandoned kitten covered in ticks and maggots. We will not turn the last weeks/months into a miserable daily battle.

15 June 2014

Once again I sit opposite another medical expert answering questions and when he reads through my stack of copied lab reports and medical records, I look out through the window behind him, it is such a beautiful morning. Ninety minutes of tests later he turns the monitor my way to show me the colourful diagram of where and how my left inner ear is permanently damaged, a pie chart of my poorly responding balance organs, graphs of erratic zig zagging lines depicting my impaired response to stimuli and - thankfully - my near perfect hearing.
All this is nothing new and I smile while he explains that in his opinion (and I have been told that he should know) this latest scenario is all autoimmune related. Old hat, I want to tell him but instead listen politely to his lecture about micro vessels and autoantibody attacks.

And because the day is so beautiful I take a detour on the way home, crossing the river by  ferry. There is just enough time to step out of the car and take in the view of the lush forests on the hills and the castles in the sunlight. The Italian tourists from the car behind me ask for names and directions and I recommend a place for lunch downriver. Look at me, I am just another healthy woman enjoying the day. And, oh, what a day to be alive.

As I drive off the ferry and up to the traffic lights, the first niggling doubts start somewhere in the back of my head or maybe in the pit of my stomach. It is always hard to tell. What does he mean, in his opinion? Isn't this a bit vague? Was he evasive? I desperately want hard facts, something I can carry like a badge, feel like a hard stone in my pocket. Somewhere to stab my finger, place my palm. This here, this part of my body, this is where my white blood cells are being attacked. Let me circle it with permanent ink. See this spot here, this is where it is all going wrong. 

But it's complicated and of course I know that, I have been tangled up in these thoughts too often and by the time I get home my breathing has calmed down and once again, I look and act just like the next best healthy woman over 55.

And yet, there are times when I want nothing more urgently than to be told what went wrong, what I did wrong because surely once I know things will fall into place.
Remember that hot day when I stepped onto the sharp piece of glass on the lawn at the back of that dingy hotel? And R forever telling me to put on shoes? The slightly grimy towel when I washed off the blood? The pain slowly increasing over the next couple of days, along the foot moving up towards the knee? The shivers, the red hot circle, septicaemia, penicillin? I can come up with two of the current scientific theories of what triggers an autoimmune disease, the bacteria on the dirty towel and the penicillin - or both or none of it, take your pick. It's all opinions.
The evidence is insufficient, the statistics have not yielded significant results, I know my stuff when it comes to medical reporting. 

Which is why you better get a grip, you foolish woman.

In our lives, there is nothing, absolutely nothing we can take for granted. Ok, there is death. But apart from that, there are no entitlements, life is not fair, whatever that means. If I have figured out anything, there are good days and bad days and if you are like me, you go from one to the other, up and down, like a yo-yo.

heavenly music

14 June 2014

a very quiet summer weekend in June

 Our little old cat is now blind and deaf and outside, she is lost. So I watch her sleeping, sniffing in the wind, timidly wandering off and when I carry her back from wherever she got lost in the hedges, she spits and hisses.

 Last week's apricots are this week's cherries.

 an abundance of grapes this year

08 June 2014

The long hot Whitsun weekend, I got R interested in Happy Valley, in three nightly portions. I know I am a telly addict. My mother always knew,  in her opinion watching tv was common and lazy, and of course I was a weakling, wasting my precious talents. Often enough she would switch the thing off, sending me upstairs to get involved in some academic challenge like reading or homework or piano practice. 
Anyway, now we are hooked.

It helps - massively - to be told by three handsome dentists, after careful examination and the obligatory x-ray, that my ache pain is not related to a dental problem. Also, since it comes and goes I have reasons to be cheerful. That and another medical appointment next Friday to investigate possible connections between vertigo, sinuses and autoimmune disease. As long as I can keep what's left of my shiny white teeth, I don't mind. Honestly. For the time being.

Last night, listening to a program on the world service we were reminded of this week 25 years ago. 
Another gorgeous day in paradise and there I was, sitting in my air conditioned office on the ground floor in the government buildings.  We had a tv set and a video player, so there was always a gang of government drivers lolling on the sofa watching kung-fu videos during their many breaks. It could get quite crowded. 

That morning, my magical twins,  two beautiful shy young men I was supposedly instructing in the skills of capitalism, asked me very quietly if I had a minute.  The priest in their village across the mountains had received a phone call, they told me. Their youngest brother was in trouble and it was decided that I would be the person to ask for help. For all the obvious reasons, namely that I was white, European, filthy rich - in their eyes (we had a car!) - and probably also connected to the powerful rulers of the world. They had seen me talking to one of the government ministers only days ago, right?

The trouble was in China. The youngest brother, apparently most gifted, had recently received a scholarship to study art in Beijing. Together with other African students he was living in a hostel, isolated and segregated because black people in China - well, use your imagination. In the days after the Tianamen Massacre on June 4th, 1989, a mob had set the hostel on fire. Somehow the brother managed to escape, others were not so lucky. All we could figure out was that he was somewhere in China, maybe still in Beijing, alone, without food, without his papers, without money and certainly unable to speak the local language. 

Meanwhile the men and women in charge of this small impoverished African paradise refused to jeopardise their enormous financial ties with China and pretended to be unavailable.

My first thought: Oh fuck this, why me.
But of course it wasn't just me after I managed to get someone from one consulate and another someone from a high commission on the phone and a short while later we were waiting to meet another someone and so on. Very colonial in the end. Just as well, Hong Kong was still British. Six days later, my shy twins introduced me to their equally shy brother, we all cried a bit and that was that. On fb I can see his latest paintings and sculptures. He returned to China eventually, completed his studies there and later in the UK, and has been teaching art in paradise, he is a star. He really is.

03 June 2014

And so life goes on, like a river, meandering along with all those beautiful and ugly sights along the shores.  Slow, deep, on and on.

There are things that worry me. What else is new. Once again, I am spending too much of my time with doctors and one of these occasions left me angry and bruised, in my soul and the crook of my right arm thanks to a botched attempt of blood sampling. There are still doctors (usually young, male and sun tanned) out there who are convinced that autoimmune diseases (vasculitis?, never heard of that one) are all in the mind (usually of middle aged menopausal women). Mostly, I give them a quick laugh and walk away but I have run out of patience recently. Let's not dwell on that one - I was not my usual friendly self.

And I have a tooth ache. Hah! This is where I turn into the ultimate hypochondriac. Not without reason, let me add. While the dentist - due to the absence of obvious signs and a couple of complicated reasons only he knows - suggests a week of the wait-and-see approach I lie awake at night considering the possibility of losing yet another tooth, trying not to freak out.

Some time earlier this year, the wonderful Angella wrote in a comment to one of my oh-look-I-am-so-ill posts  I am at the stage of making peace with the pain. Reading this sentence felt like a cool refreshing wind on my hot face. I am not good with tooth aches and it is a struggle. A week, I ask R, how will I handle a week? To which he responds, Friday the latest, ok? Well, watch this space. I may hit the roof before that.

Ah, but the summer is here. Apricots, strawberries, cotton wood seeds floating in the breeze, pigeons cooing and long bright evenings outside. I really should be working but it's complicated because I have started on a big thing for a human rights NGO, free of charge - obviously - and heavy and important as hell. At the same time, a pile of medical manuscripts, all urgent and all worth a good bit of money, is waiting in my inbox. And of course I am dramatically torn between being good and greedy.

Which is why I am doing nothing at all - apart from reading. Bad, terribly bad stuff about the catholic nuns in Ireland and babies in mass graves. About girls raped and hanged from a mango tree, about a pregnant woman being stoned to death by her own family. And we all know there is more.

I think of my vagabond daughter and how at home she is in the world. And the countless nights I would lie awake, hoping she was safe, trying to reassure myself that always and everywhere on her travels there would be kind strangers, mothers, daughters, women looking out for her. The way we all - surely - look out for someone's daughter when we see her at a bus stop or waiting for a cab, watch over her asleep on a train, or looking for spare change in a busy pub. In the 1980s I went on reclaim the night marches. We were so full of it, really, the world was going to change, no less. And yet, every woman I know has been warned about walking back in the dark, as I have warned my daughter.

How did I get here?  Tooth ache panic.