31 August 2018

happy 73rd birthday Van Morrison

There are many rumours about Van the man, especially in Ireland. He's said to be reticent, bordering on rude, a loner, mysterious. Today is his birthday.

This one's a true story, I swear. A cousin of a friend of a friend told me this many years ago. And he must know, he's from Belfast:

Before he became famous Van Morrison once met said cousin in a local pub and the two started talking about a tricky boiler repair job when they were interrupted. Van Morrison left the pub and subsequently his career took off, fame etc. Many years later, said cousin met him by chance at a function and Van Morrison's first words were "About that boiler . . . ".

Anyway, in my family, we have favourite songs.

This used to be my daughter's favourite when she was a young teenager, becasue she always likes a good story and as usual, there's a story behind this song (beautifully explained in Thom Hickey's blog):

This is R's favourite because it brings back memories, he says, of listening to the radio while waiting at the hairdresser's as a secondary school boy:

This is my favourite because it reminds me of a special day in Connemara:

And this is an extra just for the fun of it:

28 August 2018

. . . the slide into “post-truth” is not inevitable. In order to have the “post” you have to have had the “truth”, or at least some rough and imperfect arena in which it was actively pursued. That arena didn’t happen by accident. It was created and sustained by democracies for their own survival. History tells us that the awful questions never go away – but also that the decent answers don’t disappear either.

Fintan O'Toole

(There was a time when I found his writing sort of insiduous, distant, with that slight bit of contempt reserved to the lesser educated. But recently, he seems to be spot on and serious about it.)

26 August 2018

After the first cool night, and with a gentle breeze after breakfast, we walk, in fact, crawl through the garden and find hidden pumpkins and strange fruit, wasps buzzing and generally, the place is a mess.

22 August 2018

The last really hot day, so they say. The last really hot day, I whisper to myself, trying to imagine the normal summer that is being forecast, cool evenings, moderately high temperatures, dewy mornings, recovering lawns, even rain. Rain.

Summer heat has made me careless. I drop litter, kick an empty can along the dirty sidewalk. What's another one in all this dust anyway. In the mornings after not enough sleep when I realise that it's another scorching hot day, I grab whatever washed out tshirt outfit is lying around, drink a cup of bitter coffee and push my callused feet into the worn sandals. Door handles are sticky, the hallway to my office is packed with used-up air.

I briefly wonder if this is what it will be like in the last weeks, days, before human life will disappear from the planet. This lethargic couldn't care less approach, this looking away if you can help it. Just trod on as if, kick all the empty cans along the sidewalk, does it matter at all.

Later I sit in the passenger seat where a sign tells me that this is a rental car which I must treat with care because I crashed my car last week. Nothing dramatic, dented metal, scratched paint. While we stood in the midday sun, the other driver and I, waiting for the police to lecture us that we were both at fault, she told me her life story. Or bits of it. A long string of words, on and on, while I nodded and smiled and the sweat was running down my back and R's mailbox telling me he was currently unavailable.

The rental car is a testosterone dream fulfilment and all I need is to sit back and watch the dried up trees and the thick layer of brittle leaves on the forest floor while R happily chauffeurs me around, fiddling with the gadgets. Will it look like this, I wonder again, dry and dusty, sluggish. Branches hanging like exhausted arms unable to hold life. The river shrunk to a thin line meandering in a bed of grey pebbles. 

Trees and rivers. No life without them. Treat rental cars with care.

picture credit: B. Westhoff/General-Anzeiger

14 August 2018

an obituary 1944

Karoline H. was born on 30 January 1864 as the third child of the brewery owners Johann and Katharina O. in U.
She lost her father when she was still a child. Faithfully and diligently, she stood beside her widowed mother until, in September 1890, she entered into marriage to Johann
K. H in F.
The happy marriage produced four children. In her unselfish, devoted way, she dedicated herself to her family, assisted her husband in running the family business, and raised her children in quiet modesty.
In the year 1930, her husband predeceased her. For the last fifteen years she lived in retirement partly in F., partly in A.
Humbly and peacefully as she had lived, she passed away on Sunday morning, trusting in her Redeemer.

I find this obituary among my grandmother's letters. She wrote in her neat handwriting, adding and crossing off bits of information here and there, in the week after her mother's death. This appears to be the final version which must have been published in the local newspaper. My grandmother was the oldest of Karoline's four children. She may have been raised by her mother in quiet modesty but believe me, she was anything but quiet and as for modesty, it depends on definition.

But this is about Karoline of whom I know nothing.

Karoline is seated 2nd from left, my grandmother is standing next to her

So I call my father.

How did they meet, I ask, your grandparents, my great grandparents.
He laughs. "His family paid a Hochzeitsschmuser (schmoozer, matchmaker) to find her, it wasn't cheap."

What was she like, tell me.

"She was a tiny person, but tough, never talked much but always humming under her breath, always busy, cooking, gardening, sewing, knitting. After her husband died, her sons bought the old forester's lodge and fixed it up for her. You know the house, it's where E and G live now. The one with the steep slope of a garden, the typical Franconian orchard, pears and apples (I don't remember the house, in fact, I am quite certain I've never been there, but he is in full flow now and I just want to hear more). She had a bedroom upstairs for me when I was sent to stay during the summer months. But I was scared of the dark and so she fixed me a bed in her bedroom.
During the summer holidays in F. I roamed through town all day, playing with my cousins, getting fed wherever I happened to be at midday and in the evening, I found my way back to her house and dinner. "

(F. where my father's grandmother and most of his mother's family lived, still live today, is about 25 km from A. where my father lived as a boy - and where he has been living again for the last 30 years. He was sent there to get out of my grandmother's hair during the long summer holidays.)

"We grew tobacco together, she showed me how to test the drying leaves and later, during the war, we sold it on the black market.  She always had chickens and I learned all about them by watching her. During the winter months, she always came to live with us in the big house in A. She brought her chickens along, one of my uncles drove up in the family business truck with her sitting in the back watching her hens, and the other uncle would pick her up come spring. We kept the chickens downstairs in the laundry until after the frost. My uncle, the locksmith, built an elaborate hen house on wheels and when the days started to get warmer, I wheeled it outside and once the days grew longer and the hens became restless,  I was allowed to let them out, had to watch them scratching and digging in the rose beds. By the time her hens got broody, it was time for my grandmother to move back to her house and start working in her garden.
When she stayed with us during the war winters, she disappeared into the library with my father after dinner to listen to the BBC, to Mr Churchill, she had a soft spot for him and his deep voice."

 (I suddenly realise that my father's father, my grandfather, was only seven years older than her, my great grandmother, his mother in law.)

Did you get on, I ask. 

"Oh yes, mostly. Lots of gardening, really. She helped me study for my holy confirmation, she knew all the catechism by heart. But once I got really mad. You see, I had to do homework over the summer holidays, mainly revising my Latin vocabulary and she had to test me every evening. Of course, she only went to school for a few years and knew not a bit of Latin, so I fibbed and she found out and wrote to my parents and then my mother arrived the next morning and well, you can imagine."

He sighs. Eighty years later, I can still hear the little boy in his voice.

13 August 2018

another self seeded blue banana pumpkin

It's that kind of day when the very best thing I am looking forward to is curling up somewhere like an animal in a dark burrow and falling asleep. But no, I have decided that I am fit for work, whereby fit is a term open to definition. Today, it means I am attempting to avoid the deadline when my employer hands over all responsibility to my health insurance, which is all perfectly civilised and proper but for reasons I don't really know, it's become my freak-out point.
And so I head off into the world of activity and decision making, like the idiot I am.
Watch me fail.

06 August 2018

have a guess

When I read the news, I dawdle, I skip from one site to the other until I end up with funny gifs or cat videos.  Rarely do I allow my brain to highlight connections.  And that's not because I am scared or prone to panic attacks. No, it's because so far, I am not affected, we are not affected (if you exclude climate change which is kind of obvious but not yet dramatically so in our part of the world) and even if things progress as some wish and - heavens forbid - the ignorant right wing populists gain more influence, we will remain untouched provided we stay schtumm. Because we look and act the part in our quiet middle class neighbourhood, with just a mild touch of hippie eccentricity but a clean tax bill and no illegal asylum seekers hiding in the attic. We are way down the line of suspects.  But of course, who knows, there are several dual nationalities in my family, dodgy visa stamps in our passports, strange foreign names in our lists of contacts. Enough material for a collection of short stories or a list of crimes against the state, depending on circumstance. And we can be stroppy and loud, to the point of getting evicted from a venue, when faced with a perceived injustice.
But just by looking at us, we should be safe for the time being.

Of course, I am getting carried away. And yet, metaphorically speaking, it seems that these days,  politicians do not work for the people whose house is on fire or for the firefighters who help to put the fire out, but for the angry spectators who gape from a safe distance cross the road.

If you have the time, listen to this before reading the rest of my post, while you do the dishes, while you cook a meal for someone you love, while you weed the garden, while you wait in line, a traffic jam, while you hoover the carpets, while you have a bath, while you are otherwise involved in whatever civil and somewhat boring occupation:


Apart from that magnificent (and prophetic) line from a poem by W.B. Yeats:
There lurches past, his great eyes without thought
Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks,
That insolent fiend
This podcast mentions the Overton window. Which sent me on a long winded search.

It is a term from political science meaning the acceptable range of political thought in a culture at a given moment, created by one Joseph Overton, a conservative think-tank intellectual from the US, now dead.

It's the idea that there is a certain amount views on every sociopolitically relevant topic that society broadly regards as acceptable which are found inside the Overton window. All views outside the Overton window are considered provocative, sensitive, radical etc. If a politician  - on the right or the left - deviates from the Overton window they may risk their chances to be elected. 

But what's inside the Overton window can shift, slowly as well as intentionally, it seems.
According to wikipedia, the Overton window theory recognises four factors that favour a shift: facts and logic, moral appeals, emotional response and events, errors or disinformation. And once a factor has been found to be particularly effective to promote a change in the desired direction, eg more to the right, politicians tend to go for the overkill.  Example, the refugee situation where in Germany, right wing populists call for firing squads at the border (aiming at women, children, "the lot") and in the US, the construction of a gigantic border wall, neither of which will be feasible or - in the German scenario - constitutional. The purpose is not to actually shoot at the German border or build that wall, but to shift the window, to change the limits to what society tolerates, to normalise the previously unutterable. 

(Disclaimer: This is not a genuine right-wing populist idea, but simply a name for a strategy that has already been used in democracies, long before it was called Overton window.)

But - to return to the podcast (which again, I urge everybody to listen to) -  it's also a gigantic diversionary tactic.  So, maybe populist right wing politicians, the insolent fiends with the straw hair (the obvious ones in the US and the UK and that one in The Netherlands), are toys thrown at us by those who really want to pull the strings, via life-time appointments of extremely conservative supreme court judges, brexit, border walls, Muslim conspiracy theories, the lot.
Who are they? Have a guess.

BTW: I seem to have a very avid reader of absolutely every single blog post incl. comments. For the past month, someone from the same US IP address/location has been - quite systematically - reading every day and throughout almost all day and night.  R thinks I am done for. I tend to have a more benign explanation. So if you read this, who are you?  Even if you are a robot.