09 April 2020

How are you sleeping these days? Are you having vivid dreams?

I read somewhere that dreams tend to be more vivid in times like these. I can only agree. Two nights in a row I have woken up in tears or should I say, from the discomfort of a wet pillow. No idea what the tears were for but maybe I will find out another night.
We sleep poorly, as expected. I wake up with the dawn chorus, as if jetlagged and make tea. I bring the tea back to bed and fall asleep again, the tea gets cold.

Our life is very cosy and comfortable, R has started to work in various neighbourhood gardens. In return, jars of jam and pickles are deposited by the back gate. A banana bread, a bunch of wild garlic.

We lunch outdoors and sit for a while reading and gossiping. I work in my virtual office and just after sunset, we cycle along the river under the moon's silver light.

My sister tells me that she fears for her sanity, being cooped up and unable to go out for her events and meetings. I try and reassure her. I am the social recluse of the family after all but she waves me off impatiently, chronic illness doesn't count, not even ten years of it, this now is much more serious.

We briefly discuss whether we should attempt to cut our own hair now so that a potentially disaster haircut will grow out in the weeks to come or whether we better wait and try the long hair look for a change. After watching a couple of online haircut tutorials, I resign and search for hairbands. I find myself inspecting the news readers' hair styles and come to the conclusion that the male ones tend to go for letting it grow.

A friend calls with a campaign, she wants me to help her press charges so that hospital patients can receive visitors again, at least those who are about to die. She is outraged how this crisis is shaping our compassion in a "twisted way" with people now having to die all alone. I briefly remember my mother's death and some statistic I saw recently about the lack of palliative care in hospitals and the resulting lonely deaths - prior to this virus - but it's not an easy subject and what do I know. In the end, we both express our hope that, when this "hubbub" is behind us, we will find ways to make sure that those in power look at life and death differently.
When I put down the phone I feel overwhelmed by all the changes I have been promised will happen when "this" is all over. 

And our tiny ancient Irish aunt, the last remaining sister of my mother in law, blind and deaf, she is mostly asleep these days in her small comfortable bed in a nursing home shut to the world, shut because all of the staff have been tested positive. This is all we know.

07 April 2020

So, masks. I've been reading and listening. This is what I learned:
All previous evidence about virus load and mask protection has been based on other viruses, not this Covid-19 virus. What we could read until very recently about virus transmission and protection via masks was based on the influenza virus and a variety of respiratory common-and-garden-cold viruses.

But in the last week, two studies have been published that looked specifically at the corona virus and mask wearing. Hurray for science, yes!

I've muddled my way through the two publications (one from a team in Hong Kong, one from a team in Singapore) and in short, they both conclude as far as I get it:

  • Wearing a mask in a possible early stage of the infection could well protect the virus from being released and passed on. However, a simple mask does not protect the wearer from airborne infection.
  • Only highly technical masks that can filter a pore size of up to 500 nanometers would also filter virus aerosols in the room. 
There was another result from the research team in Singapore, which I found reassuring:

The Singapore team also took samples from wiping surfaces in the hospital room where 30 of the infected patient were treated (one patient per single hospital room).

  • In these 30 patients, the virus swab samples were only positive in the first week of symptoms. In the second week, when the patients were still sick, the wipe samples were no longer positive. So there was no virus left on the surfaces.
  • This is due to the fact that patients gives off less virus in the later course of the disease. This gives us important information as to how long a patient is actually infectious. But it also means that at home where we live in our bubble, we don't have to clean all possible surfaces with disinfectants.
As usual, and I say this after 20+ years working as a language editor in medical science, I am baffled by my limited understanding but if I have learnt one thing, it is that there will be an avalanche of further studies testing and retesting these results in different settings.

Anyway, masks, my take on it is, if you are living, working, shopping in a place with widespread community transmission of Covid-19, do wear a mask when not at home.

But remember to wash your hands before you put your mask on, and then again once you’ve got it on. Don’t touch it while you are wearing it. And, if you do, immediately wash your hands. Wash the mask after every use (hot ironing works just as well) and allow it to dry properly before using it again. 

And keep up with regular hand-washing and physical distancing.

Click on sources: Hong Kong study  and Singapore study

05 April 2020

03 April 2020

This is a temporary state. It helps to say it.

In the late 18th century, Matthias Claudius (poet) wrote the Abendlied (evening song), a hugely popular poem to this day. A couple of years later, a composer of popular ditties at the time, Johann Peter Schulz, set it to music and this tune is part of our national DNA so to speak. It goes on a bit, seven verses.

Last week, the RIAS chamber choir from Berlin met for a physical distancing recording of verses 1-3 and 7 to warm our hearts.

There are many English translations of the lyrics, I just picked this one at random.

The moon is risen, beaming,
The golden stars are gleaming
So brightly in the skies;
The hushed, black woods are dreaming,
The mists, like phantoms seeming,
From meadows magically rise.

How still the world reposes,
While twilight round it closes,
So peaceful and so fair!
A quiet room for sleeping,
Into oblivion steeping
The day's distress and sober care.

Look at the moon so lonely!
One half is shining only,
Yet she is round and bright;
Thus oft we laugh unknowing
At things that are not showing,
That still are hidden from our sight.

Lie down, my friends, reposing,
Your eyes in God's name closing.
How cold the night-wind blew!
Oh God, Thine anger keeping,
Now grant us peaceful sleeping,
And our sick neighbor too.
So much for music on a Friday. (RIAS btw stands for Radio in the American Sector, one of Berlin's radio and tv stations during the cold war, discontinued obviously, but the choir continues to this day).

Who would have thought that working entirely from home can be so tiring. I had been dreaming of a scenario like this as a super good thing for years and now?
I fly through the first two hours in my PJs with the bowl of cold porridge and the pot of tea for company before I take the shower-and-back-exercise-and-getting-dressed-properly break and let me tell you, it's all downhill after that. I am doling out the stuff and keep track of it all but, whoa, it's a struggle.
And we all know (because we are realistic and grown ups, aren't we) that this will go on for a bit.
Anyway, this is only the first week, there is room for improvement.

The garden is coming along gloriously, not just with all the fruit trees in flower and tulips lined up in colourfull formation, but also because R is there on his knees hour after hour fine tuning the weeding and replanting and literally carving out neat corners. It's Kew Gardens standards, honestly. Every so often, we cram into the greenhouse to get high on the flowering lemon trees and to nip the fresh spinach leaves and dig up a crunchy radish or two.

I could go on in this chatty vein but no matter what, there's this serious dark heavy stuff sitting on my chest. I try to compare it to the weeks and months after Chernobyl but that time was infinitely more dangerous and we were utterly helpless. Which is not the case now. And when I get as far as this in my thoughts, I feel almost stupid. First world impatience etc.

Because what do I have to complain about? I can't go out and shop. But, but, but. I never do that anyway. I can't go out and meet friends. But instead, tons of friends and others have been in touch one way or another, much more than ever. The larder is stacked. We even have fresh asparagus.
Basically, the only thing I could complain about is that our comfortable life is currently somewhat repetitive and that the seaside is an awful long and, let's agree on that, impossible drive away.

Meanwhile, this here from Louise Erdrich's blog:

When people say "this has never happened to our country before" I want to say, "yes it has."  Indigenous people suffered wave after wave of European borne epidemic diseases, which killed 9 of every 10 people.  The trauma continued through the Flu of 1918 and the scourge of tuberculosis.  When treaties were made it was thought that Native people were going to vanish, but no.  We are still here.


Unhealthy anticipatory grief is really anxiety, and that’s the feeling you’re talking about. Our mind begins to show us images. My parents getting sick. We see the worst scenarios. That’s our minds being protective. Our goal is not to ignore those images or to try to make them go away — your mind won’t let you do that and it can be painful to try and force it. The goal is to find balance in the things you’re thinking. If you feel the worst image taking shape, make yourself think of the best image. We all get a little sick and the world continues. Not everyone I love dies. Maybe no one does because we’re all taking the right steps. Neither scenario should be ignored but neither should dominate either.
Anticipatory grief is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst. To calm yourself, you want to come into the present. (. . .) You can name five things in the room. There’s a computer, a chair, a picture of the dog, an old rug, and a coffee mug. It’s that simple. Breathe. Realize that in the present moment, nothing you’ve anticipated has happened. In this moment, you’re okay. You have food. You are not sick. Use your senses and think about what they feel. The desk is hard. The blanket is soft. I can feel the breath coming into my nose. This really will work to dampen some of that pain.
You can also think about how to let go of what you can’t control. What your neighbor is doing is out of your control. What is in your control is staying six feet away from them and washing your hands. Focus on that.
Finally, it’s a good time to stock up on compassion. Everyone will have different levels of fear and grief and it manifests in different ways.  (. . .) be patient. Think about who someone usually is and not who they seem to be in this moment.
David Kessler

30 March 2020

thoughts for a pandemic - a collection part 4

I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.

Blaise Pascal 

There are two ways this could go. We could, as some people have done, double down on denial. Some of those who have dismissed other threats, such as climate breakdown, also seek to downplay the threat of Covid-19. Witness the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, who claims that the coronavirus is nothing more than “a little flu”. The media and opposition politicians who have called for lockdown are, apparently, part of a conspiracy against him.
Or this could be the moment when we begin to see ourselves, once more, as governed by biology and physics, and dependent on a habitable planet. Never again should we listen to the liars and the deniers. Never again should we allow a comforting falsehood to trounce a painful truth. No longer can we afford to be dominated by those who put money ahead of life. This coronavirus reminds us that we belong to the material world.

George Monbiot

27 March 2020

If this vile virus can do any good at all, maybe it is this: that it will teach us to recognise our fragility. We think we own the Earth; we certainly think we can dominate it. It is salutary to discover that our dominance is based on a very wobbly foundation and that we can only hope to co-exist, carefully and thoughtfully, on this Earth, with our fellow-humans and our fellow-creatures, respecting and managing our environment and its ecosystems.
What this experience teaches us is that as humans, we can only survive in interdependence. The borders and divisions we have constructed to mark out our own territories, what we own, what we defend, are blown wide open by an experience like this – even as we seek to mend the problem by closing those very borders.

Stanislaus Kennedy (Sr Stan) 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a wallydraigle is a lazy, unkempt or slovenly person.
In other words: me, working from home.
Next week, the boss wants to start telemeeting and facetime chats. I have already installed the tidy office background app and will wash my hair.

It's not funny, this life. I fairly hissed at my neighbours when they announced that they were off on a holiday as of now. This involves driving to the coast, crossing borders. Apparently the rentals for beach houses are unbelievably low and the owners desperate for customers, some of the restaurants promised delivery and as for shops, surely money can buy whatever. What part of "no direct contact, social distancing, only necessary trips etc." did they misunderstand?
They are both in their 70s and have health issues. I hope they come home safe and well and that they haven't transported the virus to polite Dutch seaside villagers.

Just to be clear: When you go for a drive, a day trip long or short distance, whatever, you could become involved in an accident, a traffic jam, a break down, and so on, or you may need a rest stop, get petrol. This will involve people having to get in close contact with you, in some cases even a lot of people.

And bear in mind: There will be a vaccine. It takes time but as far as vaccine science goes, the building blocks are in place. Let's just be patient until the system is up and running. Also, treatment for severe cases, it's in the pipeline. Definitely. The researchers are not looking for a magic cure, a needle in a haystack sort of thing, no, there are already a good few studies on the go, potential candidates. That's the beauty of global scientific networks, all these researches getting their heads together.

Also, it's time for music on a Friday, remember that guy?

23 March 2020

thoughts for a pandemic - a collection part 3


What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

Lynn Ungar 

21 March 2020

thoughts for a pandemic - a collection part 2

Hope is not optimism, which expects things to turn out well, but something rooted in the conviction that there is good worth working for.

Seamus Heaney

 As you move through these changing times… be easy on yourself and be easy on one another. You are at the beginning of something new. You are learning a new way of being. You will find that you are working less in the yang modes that you are used to.
You will stop working so hard at getting from point A to point B the way you have in the past, but instead, will spend more time experiencing yourself in the whole, and your place in it.
Instead of traveling to a goal out there, you will voyage deeper into yourself. Your mother’s grandmother knew how to do this. Your ancestors from long ago knew how to do this. They knew the power of the feminine principle… and because you carry their DNA in your body, this wisdom and this way of being is within you.
Call on it. Call it up. Invite your ancestors in. As the yang based habits and the decaying institutions on our planet begin to crumble, look up. A breeze is stirring. Feel the sun on your wings.

Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers 

Two more examples of leadership:

Jacinda Ardern:

Angela Merkel with English subtitles:

 And one of practical wisdom (Dr Mike Ryan, WHO):

And a message in music:

We are here, tucked up in our luxurious hideout, semi locked down. Bewildered, yes, but surrounded by entertainment and distraction. The experts tell us to expect this to go on until August, September, December, a year.
But first, spring.

Friends, readers. Now that we are in the middle of what we find so hard to define, let us feel it, how strange this time is, how sudden, how forced, how interrupting.  Let's see it as a collective encounter that calls on all of us.

Be well. And if you are short of tp, click here.

19 March 2020

thoughts for a pandemic - a collection part 1

You may have been told all your life that there were certain things you needed and certain things you needed to do, but it turns out that you don’t need most of those things and you don’t really need to do anything. In fact, nothing would be better for the world right now than if we all stopped trying to achieve things and said, “We no longer believe work will set us free, it is the opposite, in fact,” and behaved accordingly. There is nothing to achieve right now except to insist that the only achievement is caring for others, and not caring specially for family or friends, but in caring for every person as our family or friend.

Sarah Miller 

I cannot help but think that every injury and slight and pain, is what gives us value, that life well lived is an accumulation of such.

Louise Wareham Leonard 

And the people stayed home. And they read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And they listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live, and they healed the earth fully, as they had been healed.

Kitty O'Meara

18 March 2020

"we are with you"

This morning, three things happened.
My GP called and told me to stay home.
My boss, the top one, sent me an email telling me to work from home.
My father called to inform me of his bp and temperature readings.

I find all of that reassuring. Not sure what to make of th bp readings but so what. We are both aware of the fact that personal visits, incl. driving from one federal state through three others to a fourth is currently only possible in an emergency and who knows what can happen to a 91 year old not entirely healthy man over the next couple of months or whatever eternity this may take. At least he is in good shape, shouting his scientific insights (all spot on) down the phone.

We are fine tuning our gardening tasks - ah spring, thanks for coming at the right time - and who knows, I may even wash windows. But to be honest, I am just being lazy and useless, reading in bed. The fruit tree flowerting is gorgeous and there's laundry drying in the sun. My subconscious takes note that the patio needing a good sweeping. So what.

On Sunday, we walked in the woods for a while, ate our sandwiches sitting on a log, coffe too hot from the flask. It was lovely.

Here, it's a semi lockdown scenario, schools etc. are closed and shops have started to reserve special opening hours for people at risk, i.e. the elderly. The shelves are not empty for long, we have enough tp. We have had many offers from younger neighbours to do our shopping. The situation may get tougher, e.g. curfew like France, Austria etc. if people don't comply.
At times,  I do want to shake every single entitled know-it-all into submission. But basically, so what.

I went to the osteopath on Monday morning and panicked only briefly until we both had washed our hands thoroughly and she had donned her mask (you do know that hand washing with hot water and soap is more effective than hand sanitizers?). R had a brief meltdown when I told him but he has recovered. Anyway, all other appointments have been postponed. The word is postponed, never cancelled. 

Together with probably millions of my fellow citizens, we are listening to the daily podcast by the country's leading virologist  and yes, we feel informed and prepared. 

An example of leadership in these times (Happy belated St Patrick's day BTW). I am no fan of Leo Varadkar and his party but this is where it's at:

Also. This here makes me - almost - weep.

We have been debating what selection of tunes could go down well here and elsewhere.

Obviously, for the German air force, it would have to be Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

Any ideas?

13 March 2020

new territory

Greetings from an active member of the social distancing movement. We have set up our headquarters here with toilet paper and pasta in the cupboards and indulge in secret hand washing movements at the appropriate times.
As a well experienced social recluse I basically continue as usual and act unimpressed.

There are exactly five door handles I have to touch between home and my lonely desk at work where strict hygiene measures have always been in place anyway. I am waiting for the day when I will get the email telling me to stay home entirely. It will happen. (I am doing home office for most of my work anyway.)

The highlight of our (and the nation's) day is the half hour podcast at midday by one of the leading virologists here who patiently explains the latest findings and developments in words of science, reason and calm.

  • Fun fact no.1: the virus spreads via droplets and fomites during close unprotected contact but this is where all similarities with the flu ends.
  • Fun fact no.2: most transmissions at the outbreak in China have been within households. This means you are unlikely to pick up the virus just walking down the street or having casual contact with someone.
  • Fun fact no.3: there are no indications or science models that promise a slowing down of the virus come spring and summer.
  • Fun fact no. 4: known human corona viruses (seven of these have been around for a while) can stay on inanimate surfaces for up to nine days and there is a strong indication that this new one will be just as persitent (source). But remember, the virus does not jump from the surface into your face, it's your hands that bring it there.
  • Fun fact no 5:  if you wash your hands after touching a person, a surface, five door handles between home and office desk etc. and before you touch your face, your chances of not having infected yourself are high.
  • Fun fact no. 6: kids are not a risk group but can carry the virus to their grannies and granddads who are vulnerable.
  • Fun fact no. 7: we will all get it, or at least about 70% of us. I have never been good at maths but I am beginning to get a vague grip of exponential growth. Ever heard of the lily pond parable?

Regardless of how healthy you are, how much yoga you do, or how many smoothies you drink, you are going to be susceptible to catching this virus. If you get it, it could be a mild or a serious infection. The data so far suggests that severity increases with age and if you have other underlying health problems. So please, let's all behave like we could get infected and not be deluding ourselves that it couldn’t possibly happen to us. And instead of hugging and kissing, let's take care of each other by keeping a safe distance and helping out with practical stuff.

21 February 2020

For what it's worth, I have tried and failed. There was a bit of tsk tsk tsking yesterday when I finally sat down in front of my GP but we both had a moment of hilarity when I eventually got up again, waving my latest sickness certificate (which allows me to stay home until Wednesday). It was her mentioning work life balance that made me smile at first and when I told her how my boss had responded to my calling in sick (how much can you work from home?) we both laughed out loud.

For lack of energy and also because I am somewhat deranged in my mental capacities (hello vertigo), this is a short post. But here's a bit of music from Italy - after all, it's Friday, music day.

Gianmaria Testa

Lascia che torni il vento
E con il vento la tempesta
E fa che non sia per sempre
Questo tempo che ci resta

(Let the wind return
And with the wind the storm
And let it not be forever
This time we have left)

14 February 2020

Currently, I can touch with my tongue seven open sores inside my mouth. Not too bad. I've had more. Once upon a time in my innocence I tried herbal rinses, sage tea, mint concoctions. Now I go straight for the hospital size tube of chlorhexidine forte and lather it on, reeking like a dental clinic.

Things have been rough recently. Don't ask. Winter. Cold air. The News. My aching hands and feet and shoulders and that whole chaotic mess of a compromised body. The exhaustion. Feeling too sorry for myself. The medications. Always that. I am a bunch of  walking side effects. Sometimes it's a bit much. I know it could be worse, don't fucking tell me how to cope. Don't even start.

I am working, I carefully design my days so that I can spend four to five hours at work. My golden hours, my smiling face. Two cups of coffee before I leave home to keep myself upright until I force myself to walk up the stairs of the multi storey staff car park and drive home with the radio keeping me awake. My friends in HR calculated that I have 461 working days left before retirement. At night, I do the numbers, substracting leave entitlements and overtime and public holidays. Like counting sheep.

The news. I read. I watch. I listen.
The Syrian nurse (he really is a fully trained surgeon but has no papers to prove it) who works a floor above me laughs into my face, I am going insane, does it show? Nine years of war and nobody cares.
There is a scene in For Sama (this important documentary is free online) on endless repeat in my head, the scene where the pregnant woman is brought to the underground hospital where the blood runs along the floors and the doctors deliver her baby by emergency cesarian while she is unconscious. The rough way they rub and slap that newborn until it finally finally draws a breath and screams. Life and death in war on earth. This is where we are stuck.

Last week we saw the first bold attempt of the fascist right wing party to uproot our democracy here. They failed.  But, history, people, history.

After breakfast I watch my grandchild climbing stairs with concentration. I will not allow myself any speculations about this child's future. In the evening, R rubs arnica ointment into my shoulders, hands and back and we both believe for a while that it helps.
"Most people want to believe in the idea of a just world. They want to believe that the consent of the governed still matters, so they try to give it in retrospect. Because for most people, these are crimes so enormous they undermine our sense of safety, crimes so big they can’t be allowed to be crimes at all. And that’s a kind of innocence we can no longer afford. It’s happening all over the world, wherever swollen strongmen swindle their way into power. It’s happening in India, in Britain, in Brazil. And wherever it’s happening, the center ground, people who believe in the “decency” of the system, are clinging to the swinging basket of institutional checks and balances, holding their breath as the ground disappears and the air gets thinner, wondering if it’s too late to let go."
Laurie Penny

Today is Valentine's day, that sticky commercial ritual that arrived here in Europe along with coca cola and fast food. Everything is sugar coated if we let it. But remember. Sugar is bad for you.

02 February 2020

Don't be afraid.

The most hopeful day. Today we are halfway between winter solstice and spring equinox. Today is all about the light. The ancient Celts in Ireland called it Imbolc, and celebrated it as a fertility festival, honouring the goddess Brigid. The catholics swiftly made her into St Brigid, as you'd expect.

Brigid, holy or not, is known as the patron saint for good crops and healthy babies, for bountiful milk supplies (both in cows and nursing women), for children born out of wedlock, children born into abusive families, children born after the father has left. She is the patron saint of blacksmiths, boatmen, brewers,  fugitives, and travellers. She looks after midwives, nuns, poets and the poor. Basically, it's good to have her on your side.

In Germany, this day is candlemas day, which is a much holier and churchy day. But whatever legend the church rulers saw fit, even then it's called festival of lights. So there you have it.

Without much ado or ceremonial intent, went out into the gloomy wet garden and cut a few hazel branches and brought them into the house where they are now in a jug of water on the kitchen table, because that's what you do here.

In Ireland, we would walk down to a river or a well and dip our hands in the water. Don't ask. Of all the strange Celtic traditions, this is the one I buy wholeheartedly.

Anyway, Luke Bloom explains it all here:

31 January 2020

Not that I miss it, but it feels odd to finish off January without that winter feeling. If anything, we had maybe a night or two of minimal frost, not a single snow flake and all the sounds and sights of spring. It's not over yet and February can be a real monster. I'd like to think that all this is just a quirky year but well, you know all the science and the patterns and the big picture stuff.

So for a little while, I shall enjoy that we have no winter this year. And I admit that I like it, that I've always dreaded winter and if I had magic powers, would do away with it once and for all.

Anyway, Friday it is, music day (thank you Robin) and this week it's F, so here are the Fleet Foxes singing about winter.

27 January 2020

Today, I spent my time in trains, staring at thick fog and drizzle and rivers and deep forests. Not listening to the podcasts I had downloaded, trying to gather hwat remnants of energy I had after a weekend with the extended clan (25+ energetic people) celebrating my father's longevity (91 years).

He was brisk and to the point, late comers had to sort out their own seating. Presents were refused and simply left behind as threatened. Lunch at 12 noon on the spot, guided tour of the Rococo castle at 2 pm and coffee and cake at 3:30 sharp. Great grandchildren were hushed. My sister had a crying fit because no gluten free cake.  Also, question and answer session on the history and origin of Rococo (think ornamental gold, parks full of topiary and over the top everything), just to check that everybody was paying attention. Like a 13-year old, I mentioned Watteau and got a bonus point. My brother kept his mouth shut but gave me The Look. My sister was still sobbing.
And then the king of the castle got up and drove home in time for sports news. We looked at each other and mumbled our good byes. I retreated to my hotel room and stared at the ceiling for a very long time.

His declared aim is to live at least 100 years (his mother died aged 103) and right now, I could weep at the thought that this is going to happen every January.

Five and a half hours on a train each way provide some soothing but hell, I'll be 71 when he is 100 and maybe I'll pass.

Not sure how and when I'll recover, so forgive if I won't comment for a day or three.

24 January 2020

good times

This morning on the radio, some clever person warned us to wrap up well because of arctic wind. I did that - only the wind was blowing - icy cold admittedly - from the south, and we know the difference between the arctic (north, polar bears) and the antarctic (south, penguins) but let's not be a stickler for details.

So I cycled my cold and weary body against the arctic wind to the osteopath and after I had unwrapped several layers of scarves and sweaters and mittens and hoodies, let her do her stuff, all the proper hands-on kneading and shifting and never mind the mumbo jumbo kinesiology and pendulum chakra incense whatever. It was warm and cosy and generally, I find that osteopath rooms smell very nice, they use some kind of woody linseedy oil. Anyway, when I left the hushed sanctum, the wind had gotten stronger but was pushing me now along the river and there was birdsong, somewhere. It came as a sudden insight, flushing me with all its glory, that at least the weather is going to get better, the days are getting longer, birds will be nesting and leaves will sprout on trees and so on.

Wonderful news. And obviously, I had to sing at the top of my voice.

It's Friday, here's my music for the letter E for Edie Brickell.
All I know about this song is that it came with windows 95, seriously. I remember, when we stood there and listened and thought, computers now have theme songs? Littel did we know etc.
All I know of Edie Brickell  is that song and that she is Paul Simon's wife. Or has been, I don't know.

. . . and do go to hear Robin's Friday music choice, because this is all her idea.

17 January 2020

It's the freakiest show

Friday it is. And as I am a great fan of Robin, I will again tag along with her fabulous idea of music on a Friday.

And because I am somewhat afflicted by patterns and lists and order in my life, I am doing this alphabetically by first letter of the first name.

This is week D and well, obviously, there has to be David Bowie. I could write a long essay here, how David Bowie came into my live when I was a dreadfully lost and bored teenager on school exchange in Grimsby (a town as grim as the name implies), how my stealing glittery blue eye shadow  in Woolworth still burdens my conscience some 40 something years later and yet, how the memory still cheers me on a rainy day. Painting my eye lids blue (and refusing to wash it off with the result that I was expelled from school) may for some be nothing more than pointless cosmetics in poor taste, but for me, on that day, it was a thrilling act of rebellion.

15 January 2020

In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the highest and most mendacious minute of ‘world history’ – yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.
Friedrich Nietzsche

I struggled with Nietzsche (and not just the spelling of his name), he was introduced at a most unfortunate time in my life when I was 16 and philosophy was taught at 2 pm. I vividly remember struggling to not fall asleep in class.  I was a poor student with poor grades but I did have a couple of brilliant ideas at around that time and possibly also later on, but definitely before I started school when there was knowledge sprouting out of every crack around me and all I had to do was watch and ask. That time when I thought that people basically grow up, not just in size but also in knowledge and understanding and that I was going to be one of them, eventually.


But despite the fact that Master Nietzsche was convinced that a woman who has scholarly thoughts must be sexually frustrated, he had a point there about the star with the clever animals. OK, so he got the thing about the temperature slightly wrong but basically, clever counts for nothing.

Today, January 15th 2020, the temperature rose to 14°C, a first for January. In the garden, calendula, Sweet William, assorted roses etc. have been flowering since last June. The fruit and nut trees are budding. There has not been enough rain this winter.

In other news, I am mentally preparing myself to return to work tomorrow. Physically, I am not yet convinced but what could go wrong.

Totally unrelated, here are today's contents of our bread basket.

13 January 2020

be scientifically realistic, demand the politically impossible

In reply to a friend:

Another one of these discussions where I listened sympathetically to your tearful lines of "I feel soo helpless, can't handle it" and then basically, pretending that you don't get it, trotting out the old argument of too late anyway, and that we are lost at the hands of merciless big industry, self-serving politicians, powerful oligarchs, and anyway what about China and India and the world population and blahblahblah.

To which I reply, why so defensive, what do you fear more, having to become active, informed, rebellious, demanding, supportive, loud - or are you afraid of just having to do something that's possibly hard work and most likely will upset your established routines?

What is it you love more, your comfortable life style, your entrenched patterns of food, travel, entertainment plus assorted stupefications - or this planet, this wonder, this home?

Do you seriously want this all go to hell or is it that you could not care less because you'll be dead anyway? You have neither children nor grandchildren, so devil may care?

Do you want to be that helpless? Who told us that we are helpless? Who wants us to feel helpless?

You don't know what you can do apart from refusing plastic packaging (another red herring if there ever was one)? Seriously, for someone who knows how to book cheap travel online, buy whatever you fancy on amazon, watch hours of silly series - you are suddenly acting overly foolish.

You tell me there is nobody 'doing anything' in your neighbourhood? Oh yeah?

There’s a thing I call naïve cynicism, when people strike a pose of sophistication without actually knowing what they’re talking about. I see it a lot with the ill-informed about climate, when they say it’s all over and we lost.
That’s not what the scientists say, and it’s an excuse to give up instead of trying.
Rebecca Solnit

I am constantly reminded that the demands of groups like Extinction Rebellion, who are calling for zero emissions by 2025, are politically unrealistic. And my response to that is, yes, but anything else is scientifically unrealistic.
And political realism is actually a highly flexible thing. Something which seems completely impossible today, suddenly seems possible tomorrow. If you look at the extraordinary ructions taking place in UK politics over the past few months, every single one of them was impossible until it happened.
But you can't bargain with scientific realism. You can't say, let's just suspend the first law of thermodynamics for a few months because it's highly inconvenient. You can't do that.
And I think what's happening with collective action, is that people are shifting the dial of political realism towards the point of scientific realism. And in doing so becoming empowered and leaving despair behind. That's certainly being the case for me.
George Monbiot

Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness - and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we're being brainwashed to believe.
The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling - their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.
Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.
 Arundhati Roy 

12 January 2020

Timothy Morton is a British writer and philosopher. Currently he holds a position as professor of English and Philosophy at Rice University, Houston, Texas. He has written quite extensively on his feelings and concepts regarding climate change. I often find him to be just the right voice I need to hear.

And now he has a podcast about our psychological relationship with global warming. He asks, why is it so difficult for many of us to engage with it? How can we cope and what can we do for our planet?
It is a quirky, moving, unusual mix of thoughts, interviews, quotes and music.  Strangely uplifting and I had a couple of oh yes moments.

This mornring, we listened to the second episode and there is an interview with Hilton Kelley about hurricane Harvey and the aftermath and thoughts on the future and I have been thinking of Ellen a lot since.  We, i.e. the basement of our and our neighbour's houses, have been flooded twice during sudden short unprecedented flash floods in the last six years but nothing like what people experienced during Harvey. 
Anyway, this podcast is just half an hour long, and I promise, not at all depressing. 

I hope this link works:

If not, try searching for: BBC Radio 4, Timothy Morton, The end of the world has already happened.

10 January 2020

It's Friday. It's raining but very (much too) mild. It was still dark as I watched my GP this morning signing the certificate which condemns me to stay home for the next ten days. After days of aching joints and sore muscles and a bit of a fever, we agreed that, while it's all guess work, maybe matters could improve earlier. After that I went home and straight to bed and fell asleep listening to excellent podcasts.
I woke up when the rain started to really hammer down and R came inside, cursing that his pruning plans had to be postponed.

Music day it is (thank you to Robin for the idea) and my letter C stands for Cat Stevens, for some time my teenage heartthrob no. 1.

There was a time I could sing along to any of his songs and I am not embarrassed to admit that. I watched Harold & Maude three times in a row one summer, 1975 or 1976. By the third time, I and everyone else sang along to I think I see the light.
Plus, I actually and completely coincidentally met him in person on one of the occasions he spoke about his conversion to the muslim faith. This happened at an exhibition show in Holland Park, London, in June 1982, on the day before or after we got married. It was all esoteric stuff, the beginnings of the organic movement, and he had us sit on the floor and hold hands and think of how everything was connected. As I sat next to him, I felt that connection very deeply but possibly on another level (also, I was pregnant and experiencing my baby's first movements). He didn't sing, he was all done with it, he said.

He dropped from my life after that for no particular reason. He had only been a good looking guy with a lovely voice anyway and I was now a mother.

And then years later, I friend of a friend travelling to Washington was sat on a plane next to him or maybe in the same row, when he was denied entry to the US because of his faith or whatever fear mongering was top of the list so shortly after 9/11. Apparently, he was told this fact while the intercom played his Morning has broken. Totally coincidentally of course.

08 January 2020

Losing my religion

I was raised by atheists. My parents went through the motions of baptism and confirmation (in the predominant denomination in Germany which is Lutheran protestant) and the xmas service with us kids but this was just an exercise of not being different. Occasionally, my father would issue a long speech about the failings of religions and the christian churches in particular but that was it. 

For a while, we, the kids, sans parents, would go to the childrens' Sunday service because at the end they gave out these little pamphlets with stories and quizzes and rebuses. We loved them. My parents abhorred comics, so this was the next best thing. I remember my father waiting for us at the garden gate on a Sunday when we had walked back home, asking about the sermon and shredding it to bits, the stuff we were able to recall anyway. I remember vividly his outrage when we told him that the sermon mentioned the killing of Robert Kennedy. No respect for the dead, no decency, he shouted, they will just use anything to brainwash people.

So - in a part of the world littered with medieval cathedrals, baroque chapels and crisscrossing pilgrim trails -  I grew up godless, without prayers, bible stories, confessions. 

When I was a teenager I went to a Baptist church for while because my best friend in school was part of that church. They had fun evenings with handsome guys playing guitars and I was invited to come along to their youth camps, a summer week by a lake in Sweden, a winter week in the Alps. At that time, I was waiting for god to speak to me. I was 15 years old and I expected him to speak to me in a real voice or at least in a way I could recognise as something not made up by my imagination. Somehow I was convinced that he was most of the time speaking to all of the others and one day soon, this would happen to me. All I had to do was catch up with singing and praying and believing. Although as the daughter of scientists, I wasn't too sure what believing involved. Anyway, there was lots all night singing and prayers and enticing whatnots. And during one of these nights I - somehow fed up with waiting - asked one of the fervently praying handsome guys for guidance and he replied, what do you mean god speaking to you, surely you are not expecting a voice like humans, use your imagination. 
Well. That was my oh shit moment when I knew that it was high time to leave that particular setup.

Still, some nights I am hoping, quite desperately, that I did not make a huge mistake. That there isn't the slightest chance of me, once I am dead, that I will have to watch from heaven how the future unfolds on earth.

If there is one thing I believe it is that, surely, we - i.e. people with the power of language and memory -  figured out at some stage how distinguish between good and evil. Generally speaking.  I realise there are endless variations. We all know what pain is.  And we know that whenever we deliberately cause pain, physically, emotionally, in whatever way to someone, be it a person, an animal, any life form, we do evil.

05 January 2020

belated new year's resolutions

New Year's resolutions are not my thing. I may think up some but then real life starts to interfere.

In recent years, I only managed to stick to two: 2018: no more coffe to go cups, if I need a coffee, I can wait until I drink it from a cup sitting down, and 2019: no more plastic bottles of water - because a, I am never about to die of thirst and b, if really necessary, I can carry a reusable container.

But these here from Woody Guthrie are worth taking a look at, especially no.s 11 and 31-33.

picture credit here

And, of course, we know what else we have to do:

  • Drive petrol-powered cars less. 
  • Ride a bike more or use public transport or walk. 
  • Get solar panels, the sun shines daily and for free. 
  • Think carefully about the food you eat and how it’s grown. 
  • Purchase thoughtfully. 
  • Fly less.
  • Insist that our leaders are serious about climate, and expect them to follow through on their promises.

03 January 2020

B stands for mysteries

And now letter B in my list of music on a Friday (thank you Robin for this).

This song speaks to me in so many ways. And I am not a fan of Portishead or Beth Gibbons in general, just this song. Which I think is near perfect.

It has been a comfort and reassurance. I first listened to it when I was knocked sideways with a diagnosis that since has changed almost all aspects of my/our life here, when the easy way out would be to withdraw into anger and loss and misery. But that would mean to let go of mysteries, of wonder, of that whole shebang of living with all my senses. I try, believe me, I do. It's brilliant at times, not always but we are all going through shit, aren't we.

01 January 2020

love is an action verb, but . . .

The year starts with the smell of baking. R is making flapjacks, or correctly, he is mastering the art of making flapjacks thanks to a large bag of unfamiliar chunky oatflakes that have been refused by the porridge eater (me) and now must be used up. This is the third round of flapjacks in as many weeks. We are approaching flapjack perfection.

Flapjacks are ideal for storage. I realise how ridiculous this sounds - this is definitely not a household where baked goods survive the idea of being stored and we secretly believe that people who open well stocked cookie jars to surprise visitors are doing this out of pure smugness, possibly baking cookies and keeping said jar just for show, which is admirable, I have to admit. Whereas we only bake sweet goods - or flapjacks - when we need to use up something that's been sitting in the larder. Seriously.

In the last couple of years our kitchen has become R's domain and I have to politely ask for permission should I feel the urge to cook or bake, which I do less and less. We obviously continue to argue about the correct way to stack the dishwasher, who isn't anyway, and the golden rule that cooks do not have to clean up still holds. But otherwise, I have become a mere visitor in our kitchen and since R has discovered that there are actual techniques and combination skills involved - comparable to the science experiments he used to oversee during his teaching years - he has created surprisingly tasty dishes.

I am running on maybe 30% of my available 80% but it appears to be completely sufficient for the tasks at hand. This is an improvement on yesterday when I slept through most of the daylight hours and after a short appearance around dinner time, went back to sleep, fireworks and all.

So, happy new year!

This here is what should count as my new year's resolution, and on a better day, I would try and find my own words to express it. Instead, I pulled some quotes from an essay by Mary Annaïse Heglar (the full essay is here):

There’s many different schools of thought about how we should feel about climate change. For decades, the dominant narrative has been that we should feel guilt. Then, there’s the dual narrative that calls for hope. Others have called for fear, or panic. I myself am on the record calling for anger.
But, I don’t always feel angry, to tell the truth. In fact, sometimes I’m hopeful, sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed, and sometimes I’m downright stubborn. (. . .)
That’s because none of those emotions really get to the heart of what I truly feel. None of them are big enough. If I’m honest with myself , what I truly feel is…love.

I don’t mean any simple, sappy kind of love. I don’t mean anything cute or tame. I mean living, breathing, heart-beating love. Wild love. This love is not a noun, she is an action verb. She can shoot stars into the sky. She can spark a movement. She can sustain a revolution.

I love this beautiful, mysterious, complicated planet we get to call home. The planet who had the audacity to burst with life, from her boreal crown to her icy toes at the South Pole. 

A love like this doesn’t live in your heart. She’s too big for that. She’s in your blood, your bones. She’s in your DNA.

When you love something, or someone, that much, of course you’re frightened when you see it under attack, and of course you’re furious at anyone or anything that would dare to harm it.

. . . this love is strong enough to break through the terror. She is hot enough to burn through anger and turn into fury. She can shake you out of your despair and propel you to the front of the battle field.

It’s a love that can also —even in the teeth of these most insurmountable odds — give me hope. If I’m brave enough to accept it. I’ve seen her looking back at me in the eyes of some of the bravest climate justice warriors I have ever met, and I can feel that tickling tingle of “maybe, just maybe, we’ll be okay.”

And before we get all lovey dovey, let's not forget - in the words of the adorable Jarvis Cocker - that cunts are still running the world. We have our work cut out.