27 April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

26 April 2015

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

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

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

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

19 April 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Let's remember this:

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


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

This and always.

13 April 2015

Thank you, Sheila Kitzinger

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

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

06 April 2015

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