20 October 2021

This afternoon I cycled through the wind and rain to have the second MRI in five days. Before I left home, I took a zoloft that was three years past its expiration date, the last one of the small supply I was given for future MRI examinations after the spinal surgery in January 2017. Inside the white tunnel, I hummed my songs and called up images of my daughter's birthdays from age 1 to 12. The wind had grown stronger by the time I was finished and I pushed the bicycle through the swirling leaves to the whole food shop where I bought a vast supply of chocolate and a bottle of lavender woolen softener before cycling down to the river. By now it had started to rain heavily and I decided to shrug off the couldn't-care-less from the zoloft and go home, make tea and eat chocolate. I haven't eaten chocolate for ages.

The third meeting with a medical expert is in two days time. I am pretending to be cheerful. I haven't got what it takes quite yet. It's all up in the air. But heavens!, please no surgery, please no!


04 October 2021

Here's the thing. When your body continues to act up in so many unexpected ways, when your days are filled playing this never ending role of remaining cheerful and as active as the situation allows, when you must wait for another hour (and another) in some nondescript room, white furniture, white walls, facing the two colour print reproduction of a Van Gogh and an August Macke  (or a tasteful black and white photograph of empty sandy beaches), waiting for the results or that next test appointment you know you have lost your center, for a bit. For the time being.

 

 



14 September 2021

everything ends up somewhere

In 2000, the British artist Michael Landy spent twelve months cataloging everything he owned, from handwritten notes to a single PG Tips tea bag on a string. The final inventory included 7,227 items, weighing a total of 5.75 metric tons. For two weeks in February 2001, Landy and a team of assistants systematically destroyed every single one of his possessions as a performance art piece, Break Down. His furniture was smashed, his passport and birth certificate shredded. A mechanic dismantled his car. Even old artwork and photographs weren’t spared. Everything he owned was pulped or granulated and sent to a landfill site in Essex. (. . .) The most difficult thing to destroy was a sheepskin coat that had belonged to his father, which he saved until the very end. (. . .) “destroyed” is really just a euphemism. The remains of Landy’s things ended in landfill, to begin a new, patient existence among the 16 million metric tons of household waste that enters UK landfill every year.

“Away” is a lie, the kind that lets us dream of lives cleansed of possessions. (. . .) At the end of the performance, Landy was a kind of modern miracle: a man entirely untethered from material possessions, lifted free of consumer society. But it didn’t last. Before he left the building, someone handed him a record to restart his collection. He had been the owner of precisely nothing for about ten minutes.

To read the entire story, click here.

I find this story somewhat moving, the effort, the futility. The stuff people do to find meaning, to learn, to forget. To occupy their time, maybe. 

Today, I've spent a good deal of my time looking at holiday accommodation in Singapore, chasing a dream. And I have not checked in with dr google for a definite diagnosis why my lower legs go numb. Not both, just one at a time, not always, just every so often. Instead I'll wait the 13 more days for the medical appointment with the expert, shaking with fearful anticipation. 

Can't all be bad, I did dance for a bit today. With abandon as the saying goes.


 

And we looked at the sunset from the good spot up high.


 

The garden is gone to seed.


 



 

10 September 2021

September

 

autumn crocus

austice

n. a wistful omen of the first sign of autumn—a subtle coolness in the shadows, a rustling of dead leaves abandoned on the sidewalk, or a long skein of geese sweeping over your head like the second hand of a clock.

(from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows) 

The first week of my September holiday is ending.  We are not cycling along the seaside in Holland or Belgium or even Denmark and not somewhere in the Alps swimming in an ice cold lake because, virus. We are also not on our way to meet my father and 10+ other people for lunch tomorrow for the same reason. Possibly also because he said I was being hysterical and would not hear anything about me being on immune suppressing medication and hence not prepared to share lunch indoors with people, aka my cousin and his crowd, who refuse to get vaccinated. I may have added that I find it irresponsible of said cousin to actually come and have lunch indoors with his geriatric grandfather. I swear I said nothing like, how come he only always tuns up when there's a free lunch. Anyway, my father concluded in his sharp snappy voice, you sound perfectly healthy to me and put down the phone. Despite initially feeling - as expected - once more hugely rejected and misunderstood, but what else is new here, I am actually relieved.

So instead, I have been sleeping A LOT, indoors and outdoors on the lounge chair, in between reading and watching R digging and harvesting and composting and - drumroll! - preparing the place and his mental stage for the imminent removal of the oil tank, burner and all traces of fossil fuel from this house. He is beyond excitement. He has also started full blown war with the field mice eating his seedlings and although I repeatedly and so far patiently explained the futility of his actions has so far killed five specimen. I fear that I may become somewhat more involved for the sake of the mice.

The sad news is that I had to find a new GP as the lovely one I have been going steady with for the last five years has retired. The new one ticks all the boxes as in young, well trained, friendly staff, 10 min cycle away and so on but we have a way to go. So far, she refreshed my pneumo vaccine, filed away the embarrassingly large stack of lab reports and referrals from the various experts I had accumulated and when I asked whether I could or should halve the beta blocker dosage because it's now almost six years since I was in intensive care with the afib, she said - and I kid you not - "never change a winning team". Before falling asleep, I briefly debated with my inner voices the use of a soccer witticism in connection with my health issues and whether I can live with it. Fittingly, that night the afib came back in a big way as if to tell me to stop being so fucking finicky.

What else is new? I made this crumble with the apples and blackberries growing at the back of the garden and R started some wine from the small amount of this year's grape harvest.

the very last peaches

So I am trying to hold it together here, sticking with the winning team but, hell, it's hard work. And that's not even wasting a thought on the virus and the upcoming general election and all the soul crushing frightening mess we are creating ion the planet.

We should keep our feet on the ground to signify that nothing is beneath us, but we should also lift up our eyes to say nothing is beyond us.

Seamus Heaney

 


 

 


29 August 2021

late summer garden pictures with irrelevant texts

 

Last Sunday, we sat in the shade with cold drinks while the laundry was drying in the sun. Today, I put on the water- and windproof gear to cycle my 10 km along the river dodging showers. Feels like October. All along the cycle path, the candidates for the upcoming national election - four more weeks to go - were beaming at me from their hoardings. Do election posters really serve a purpose or is it just me who finds them silly. 

So, hands up who still has the hope that if we grit our teeth and sit at home,  we will eventually return to normal life, and that somehow, it would all be over? Ha! 

By now, we should have figured out that this pandemic, any pandemic, behaves according to its own, not always comprehensible logic. I think, we still see humans somewhere at the top of the pyramid looking down at this obnoxious little virus. People, we must understand that this is not a normal disease that affects some and not others. Could be that we'll be dealing with mutants and recurrent infections for years. 

And yet, there are some who are convinced that by September 5th, or 15th at the latest, all vaccinated people will be dead. They even made posters and hung them next to the ones of the election candidates. Imagine spending money on stuff like that.

Don't sprout the idea that we somehow can live with the virus, that it will become, or already is, endemic, like flu. Wishfully thinking that the word endemic implies a mild disease with low case levels. The term endemicity means that a disease has a constant baseline level, not that it's mild or somewhere in the background.  The virus has already shown, several times in just one year,  that it can and will evolve to be more transmissible, and partly vaccine resistant. Let's not be so foolish and think it'll not happen again. And again.

Remember, humans have been living with malaria since prehistoric times, and it remains a deadly disease that infects hundreds of thousands of people every year. 

As for the hope that humans will adapt to the virus, bear in mind that we are talking about a survival of the fittest with a lot of death among the vulnerable. 

The way out, as far as I understand it, is that we manage Covid like we manage measles, which most countries have successfully eliminated through a combination of a population vaccination program and proper public health systems. 


 


 

25 August 2021

Charlie for ever


In view of a most recent event, please join me in celebrating youth and rock and roll, and especially the coolest of all drummers.

22 August 2021

the dragon is almost slain

 

Just like after 9/11, things will never be the same after Covid … things are changing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t adapt to them in a way that eventually feels normal again.

Jacinda Ardern

 

artist: https://kevinmcshane.org/

This virus is really smart. Make no mistake. It doesn't care about politics or election campaigns, wars and borders or even our own secret wishful thinking or interpretation late at night.

This is where we are now on a global scale (all quotes are from here):

SARS-CoV-2 did evolve to better avoid human antibodies. But it has also become a bit more virulent and a lot more infectious, causing more people to fall ill.
The Delta strain circulating now—one of four “variants of concern” identified by the World Health Organization, along with four “variants of interest”—is so radically different from the virus that appeared in Wuhan, China, in late 2019 that many countries have been forced to change their pandemic planning. Governments are scrambling to accelerate vaccination programs while prolonging or even reintroducing mask wearing and other public health measures. As to the goal of reaching herd immunity—vaccinating so many people that the virus simply has nowhere to go— (w)ith the emergence of Delta, (. . . ) it’s just impossible to reach.
There’s now enough immunity in the human population to ratchet up an evolutionary competition, pressuring the virus to adapt further. At the same time, much of the world is still overwhelmed with infections, giving the virus plenty of chances to replicate and throw up new mutations.
The most eye-popping change in SARS-CoV-2 so far has been its improved ability to spread between humans.                                                                                                                                   At some point early in the pandemic, SARS-CoV-2 acquired a mutation (. . . ) that made it a bit more infectious. That version spread around the world; almost all current viruses are descended from it. Then in late 2020, scientists identified a new variant, now called Alpha, (. . . ) that was about 50% more transmissible. Delta, (. . . ) now conquering the world, is another 40% to 60% more transmissible than Alpha.

 And this may be the way onward:

Although it’s impossible to predict exactly how infectiousness, virulence, and immune evasion will develop in the coming months, some of the factors that will influence the virus’ trajectory are clear. One is the immunity that is now rapidly building in the human population. On one hand, immunity reduces the likelihood of people getting infected, and may hamper viral replication even when they are. That means there will be fewer mutations emerging if we vaccinate more people. On the other hand, any immune escape variant now has a huge advantage over other variants.

(. . . ) the world is probably at a tipping point: With more than 2 billion people having received at least one vaccine dose and hundreds of millions more having recovered from COVID-19, variants that evade immunity may now have a bigger leg up than those that are more infectious.

There are some fundamental limits to exactly how good a virus can get at transmitting and at some point SARS-CoV-2 will hit that plateau.

But we have a long way to go. And there are days when I could get quite mad, which I claim as my privilege being a person on immune suppression medication. 

Apart from that, the late summer is quite spectacular with fierce thunder storms and fat peaches to harvest and a large flock of goldfinches in the bird bath every evening. We are half way through the house repairs and various alterations. The solar storage system is now installed and R spends many happy hours checking on the sunlight and how much energy we are now able to store to have available after dark and people, it's a miracle and the sun does not charge a penny for it. Next week we are getting rid of the fossil fuel (oil) central heating which will be replaced by a wood pellet heating system. Two small steps. And yet, a dose of optimism, badly needed.


07 August 2021

Do what you can.

"Earlier than expected" is one of two constants we now hear about the climate crisis. The second, concerning intensity, is: "Oh dear, it seems we underestimated it". Do not be fooled. Both are the new "seriously, (let's pretend) we didn't know".  They are smokescreens. Scientists have warned us for ages, we did not want to listen. First we avoided thinking about the climate crisis because it was too far away. Now we avoid it because it is so overwhelming.

Consider this: When you boil an egg, at a certain point the egg white becomes solid. Even if you stop boiling the egg, it remains solid. It does not become liquid again.
And no chick will hatch.  

In other words, what we experience now cannot be undone, it can only be mitigated. The floods, fires, droughts, heat waves etc. the planet is experiencing this year are the result of CO2 emissions from ten years ago. Imagine what the world will be like in another ten years if things continue with business as usual. 

And don't think it's just down to recycling, buying less of this and less of that etc.. That way you allow yourself to be reduced to a consumer, which is a pretty helpless position. And it puts you in a very lonely corner. Remember, we are much more than consumers, we are citizens.

(This) idea of reducing your personal carbon footprint, while not inherently wrong, has often been used as a distraction, pitting ... people against each other with morality choices about how sustainable you are, rather than realizing how much you actually have in common.

. . . the key . . .  is to think beyond the individual and seek community support and solutions — especially those that put pressure on governments and companies to make the large-scale changes that are necessary to truly curtail emissions.

 . . . we can choose the most meaningful actions that are doable for us. Things like reducing consumption of animal products, driving less, and taking fewer airplane flights likely have the biggest impact on our personal carbon use.

. . . we have such a myth of individualism. . . . That myth can make people feel that they have no power, because they can’t do anything against such as something so big as climate change. For many in climate movements, the antidote to that feeling — and the way to build real power — is to band together. 

 If you’re good at organizing, organize. If you’re good at taking care of people, take care of people who do other things, . . . no matter who you are, build community.

(all quotes from here)

by Kevin McShane (https://kevinmcshane.org/)

Imagine the life of your children and grandchildren in 2031 every time you burn fossil fuel, every time you go to/don't vote, every time you don't challenge a lousy political decision, every time you pretend to yourself that there's nothing you can do. 

On a more cheerful note, we had a surprise visit from a long time friend last week. Just in time for dinner, there he was at the garden gate. He is an artist, a carpenter, a baker, someone who has come in and out of our life for 30 years. It was such a delight to see him. 

But he is also deep into anthroposophy, always has been, the whole esoteric path with Waldorf schooling for the children and now grandchildren and so on. Normally nothing to write home about, each to their own etc. but in Germany, the various anthroposophic groupings form the most ardent opposition to Covid vaccines, happily marching with fascists (for details click here), and set up their own political party to compete in the upcoming general election (not a hope). 

In the end, it was a difficult evening, we sat out in the garden and first avoided the subject for a good while. He did not stay the night, but we supplied him with food and wine and memories and information. It will not matter the slightest. What remained was sadness and the knowledge that one way or another, his non-vaccinated family, his beautiful partner, his three children and their partners, six grandchildren, his elderly father, will be infected this autumn/winter and we can only hope that theirs will be mild cases.

(His main argument (and in my humble opinion, the most clueless of all): it will change my DNA. My reply: your DNA changes all the time, it's called aging.)




31 July 2021

sleep of reason

"If you believe that the virus is a hoax, that the vaccine has a satanic code and/or a microchip embedded in it, that wearing masks will cause brain damage to children, you will believe anything. And in the end, people who believe anything will do anything. The sleep of reason brings forth monsters."

Fintan O'Toole (borrowing from Francisco Goya

I had forgotten how weird life gets, overall, while on antibiotics. Given that thanks to years and years of immune suppression therapy, my white blood cell count is generally low, as in really low (which makes me wonder how there are even enough of them to show up in blood and piss above normal to indicate infection), this whole week was a mad tumble from bed to bathroom and back. Today, I decided I just about had enough of this and got up way before breakfast, cycled to the farmer's market and made it back in one piece bearing fresh apricots and big fat black cherries and the first greengages. After breakfast I repaired to my boudoir for a lengthy spot of resting. 

madly flowering pincushion flower (scabiosa)

R harvested all our own apricots as the tree has some sort of fungal disease (cladosporium stigmata or shotgun blasts disease) and R hopes that a radical cut will be enough to help. This is apricot tree number four, just not our luck. Other than that, we have reached that important stage of the gardening year where we just watch and harvest and basically let it grow any which way. A bit like that part of my app-guided meditation where the nice male voice tells me to just let my mind go where it wants to go to. Which is when I usually wake up realise I should concentrate on my breathing.

plain tansy competing with buddleia

Reading the news, regardless of source, I could get quite hysterical until I remember my upbringing and I hear my mother's voice in my head hissing "manners" and this strange calm washes over me, followed by the enormous sense of relief that my child and her family are living happily in a covid-free and relatively sane country on the other side of the planet. 

the agapanthus siblings from Madeira

Just as an aside, I had a major debate this week with a young scientist (me in the horizontal position on the phone, but little did he know) about the use of the word enormous. Or rather that he should not use it when comparing therapy success rates in hepatic cell cancer. I suggested he replace it with considerable which he said was boring. What has become of the youth, I ask myself. Anyway, I insisted. His career is only beginning, mine is on its last leg. I win.

some sort of coriander

Here's another poem to keep us all afloat.

The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you down like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

Ellen Bass



 

 


 

 


25 July 2021

Today the grandchild, freshly bathed and ready for sleep, and I, freshly showered and ready for breakfast coffeee, looked through the many photographs around the house and on my desk, photographs of all of us, the way we often do  - thank you social media - and as always, I ask, who is that, who are these people and this time the grandchild said: they are all mine people. 
 
Then R drove me to the on-call Sunday GP where I was told that yes, you do have an infection and we picked up the antibiotics. It is such a relief to have something plain and obvious like UTI for a change. Back home I ate a large slice of R's birthday cake, the 41st one I made him, this year it's mainly ricotta and strawberries and cream and now I am actively bed resting.

22 July 2021

welcome to climate change

We are people who know but pretend to not understand, full of information but without realisation of our power, brimming with knowledge but shying away from experience. Instead we move on and on, in all our comforts and unstopped by ourselves, hoping someone somewhere will show us how it's done or better still - do it for us.

The fingers of both of my hands are not enough by now when I count the colleagues, friends, neighbours, acquaintances, here and elsewhere, who have been affected by last week's massive climate events. It's all there, from death to houses washed away or packed with mud to a merely flooded basement.

A short reminder how the global water cycle works. Water evaporates from oceans, forms clouds that drop water over land that runs back into oceans and so on. Human emissions from fossil fuel use are heating the planet. The more temperatures rise, the atmosphere gets warmer and holds more moisture which brings more rain. For every one degree Celsius increase in temperature, the atmosphere can absorb about seven percent more moisture. 

When areas of drought increase, as is the case with rising temperatures in Siberia and Western US, the water falls elsewhere, actually, lots of water falls elsewhere. More rain in a short period of time than ever recorded. Rain like a black sheet. Last week "elsewhere" was in my region. (For other elsewheres, click here.)

So what next? In the words of a young Swedish woman admired and ridiculed the world over, listen to and follow the science. We have the answers in front of us.

As citizens of the 21st century, we have inherited an almighty mess, but we have also inherited a lot of tools that could help us and others survive. A star among these tools – sparkling alongside solar panels, policy systems and activist groups – is modern climate science. It really wasn’t all that long ago that our ancestors simply looked at air and thought it was just that – thin air – rather than an array of different chemicals; chemicals that you breathe in or out, that you might set fire to or could get high on, or that might, over several centuries of burning fossil fuels, have a warming effect on the Earth.

(read more here

 On a more beautiful note and as a reminder of superior intelligence, I welcome you to watch this.

 


16 July 2021

Today I sat for a while with a colleague who lost everything. Two days ago, she and her partner ran for the car and raced down the street of the village where their house had just been built and where the garden was going through its first summer. She could hear the house being washed away but they never looked back. 

Another colleague told me how she and her family watched the houses in the street below theirs being flooded by mud and rain water running down the slopes and that this morning the fire brigade carried the dead from the flooded basements.

All we had here was 48 hours of heavy rain and little sleep. Our house is still here, the garden is lush and green. My neighbours are all well. We are just a short drive away. The helicopters and the sirens are all around us.

This is climate change. This is the shape of things to come. We have been warned for years.


12 July 2021

covid data

 This is part 2 of my lecture on science data, bear with me.

As you can imagine, this virus, its proper name is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has become the center of attention for scientists the world over. Not just medical science, but a wide range of other disciplines (physics, microbiology, biology, geology, engineering, sociology, psychology and so on) have become involved.

As a results, there are literally thousands of manuscripts on research findings waiting for peer review and publication and as the number of research papers is so great, it's almost impossible to sift out what should be published first.
Quite early on, around April 2020, the biggest publishing houses of science papers (such as Nature, The Lancet and so on) decided to make so-called "preprint versions" of research findings available. These papers have not yet completed the peer review progress but instead are accessible online and open to peers for discussion and amendments. Basically, peer review live with the added bonus that these preprint papers are scrutinized not just by two or three but hundreds of researchers all over the globe.
Also, many of the experts in the fields of virology and epidemiology decided on transparent distribution of scientific data and made all of their peer-reviewed research data on covid freely available online. 

That's one reason why I am quite fond of scientists.

Listen to an expert with an Irish accent:

and then enjoy this totally unrelated picture of the last of my beetroot, goats cheese and pumpkin seed bread (for the recipe click here) which we just cannot stop eating.




11 July 2021

not back to normal

 I was only joking in my last post, normal? What's that? For the rise in new cases in your neck of the woods as well as worldwide click here. And listen:

 

This here is Dr Richard Horton speaking. He is the editor of the The Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal, one the world's oldest and best-known general medical journals.

A lot of my work deals with peer-review publications, preparing research findings for publication in  expert journals. So, here follows a short - and possibly boring - breakdown on how science data publication works.

Scientific findings can only be proven, verified or refuted by scientific evidence. Before scientific findings can be published, they are subjected to peer reviews. In order to be able to assess a finding, it is not enough to have an opinion, a gut feeling or 10% half-knowledge as in the youtube academy or the university of google&twitter. In science research, real expertise is required. A science peer is someone with real training, a completed degree, years of research, own publications, lectures at congresses etc. Such a researcher becomes an expert through exchange with other scientists and when they meet at eye level, at some point they receive - via an expert journal editor who has been approached - papers about new research findings from other scientists for review. And these reviews follow a plan. A paper is usually reviewed by several reviewers and always anonymously.  The reviewers check for deficiencies, statistical errors, lack of references and so on. This is a highly demanding (unpaid) activity and not something done on the side. A review can take days, weeks or even months, sometimes there is a lot of to and fro, asking for clarification, additional tests, more detailed information, corrections and so on. Throughout, neither the reviewers nor the authors have any  knowledge as to who reads or submits the paper.

Apart from exact science standards that must be adhered to, the language and grammar of a science paper is strictly regulated (no euphemism, no reference to personal belief/opinion, no hearsay, no embellishment or aggrandizement etc.) - which is where I come in.

Also, before publication, all authors must declare how their work is funded, who had any influence on content and if patients are involved, adherence to the Declaration of Helsinki (ethical principles for medical research with humans) must be proven. The same applies if animals are involved, here every country has its own animal welfare protocol.

Only when everybody is satisfied that all science standards are met will a paper be published in a peer-reviewed journal. And these journals are not for sale on newsstands, they are accessible for members of professional medical associations on their websites and on general expert websites like pubmed or google scholar

When scientists, experienced journalists and science commentators anywhere refer to data, that's where the data comes from, not from a news report or an article in some magazine or what you may have read or heard anywhere online.

unrelated picture to show off some roses (for Robin)




06 July 2021

back to normal

Numbers are really low, summer is lovely, people are getting vaccinated and maybe this country will get its shit together and kids will be next, school will be fitted with those amazing air ventilators that are already installed in most offices and court rooms and government buildings - we have the top range one at work. Still.

I got mad at a young pharmacist today who served me with her mask hanging below her chin. Masks indoors are still stipulated here. She was all chirpy with reassurances about how it's all over and anyway, masks are just so cumbersome when you need to wear them all day. I hissed at her something about lucky she was just a pharmacist and not working in an operating theater. And back home I wrote a sharp email to the manager of the branch. I am not that kind of person, normally.

This evening I went back to rewatching Mad Men, currently bingeing on season 5, the episode where Roger Sterling asks "When are things going back to normal?" (his context is 1966) and if I could, I would tell him, not ever, man, not ever.

. . . in reality, the crisis we just experienced was waking from a dream, a confrontation with the actual reality of human life, which is that we are a collection of fragile beings taking care of one another, and that those who do the lion’s share of this care work that keeps us alive are overtaxed, underpaid, and daily humiliated, and that a very large proportion of the population don’t do anything at all but spin fantasies, extract rents, and generally get in the way of those who are making, fixing, moving, and transporting things, or tending to the needs of other living beings. It is imperative that we not slip back into a reality where all this makes some sort of inexplicable sense, the way senseless things so often do in dreams.

David Graeber

 

03 July 2021

lost

 Today in a conversation I was told that I should learn to identify as a "person of the female gender" as opposed to "woman" in order to enable the term "transwoman", I was also told that as a mother, I should from now on call myself a "person who gives/gave birth" to avoid discrimination of those who cannot.

Please help.

01 July 2021

Nothing is complete without its shadow. 

Sometimes it seems to be that it's the old sodden weaklings like myself who have the least mercy on our own person. Maybe we expect nothing. Or have been through far too much. Maybe we are just bottomlessly foolish.

Time is the water in which we live, and we breathe it like fish. It's hard to swim against the current.

Louise Erdrich (Four Souls)

I am re-reading my way through Louise Erdrich's novels this year. I may have mentioned that before. 

clematis

Today, it's rainy and cold. (In late June/early July, a cold snap occurs relatively frequently in Central Europe, triggered by an influx of polar air, known as Schafskälte, "sheep cold", because sheep have traditionally already been shorn by now and the onset of cold - especially when summering in the Alps - can be quite threatening. As if we are surrounded by flocks of sheep here. Not a chance.) Anyway, this is normal summer weather for a change.



 

The garden loves it all. We are harvesting like mad, drying tomatoes and freezing berries. In about a week's time, R will dig up the spuds. 



We are waiting for the Delta wave, which feels a bit like standing on a beach looking out at the receding sea just before the tsunami comes rushing in.  Some mornings I wake up with the feeling that it will never be over and in my dreams I am travelling on secret passages across continents and oceans under the cover of darkness - from safe house to safe house like Offred in the Handmaid's Tale - to reach my daughter.

I have been to the bone doctor because my GP wanted another set of eyes to admire my arthritic hands and feet. He also looked at my knees and shoulders and basically predicted an all-round necessary renewal of most major joints in the near-ish future. After some angry tears I reminded myself of all the predictions from experts that have not come true and decided to improve my wait-and-see approach. 

Also, I lost a bit of a tooth today, while eating an overripe apricot for goodnesssakes, and now have to go to the dentist tomorrow,  which is a million times worse for me. 

Here is some soothing Irish music content to calm down.

14 June 2021

summer

After two days in a deck chair reading and dozing, aka the weekend, I went into full holiday mode and power washed the side patio. Now I am properly wrecked and it's not even midday. I still have another seven days, two of which will be spent preparing and recovering from a full gastro-/colonoscopy on Thursday. I know how to have fun.

the bird bath is hidden behind the poppy

Seriously, it's gorgeous outside. This is the time of year I love most, just before the real heat, when the wind is balmy with the aroma of the philadelphus and cheddar pinks blossoms, when robins and finches fight in the bird bath and warblers sing in the early mornings, when once again without fail, the first tomatoes taste like heaven and we sift carefully through the wild strawberry plants underneath the hazel bush. Tiny wild strawberries are the diamonds of fruit.

philadelphus taking over from the clematis

 

cheddar pinks

Anyway, just a few things that crowd my mind. 

On the importance of getting two vaccine shots (full article, click here):

A likely explanation for the high rate of Covid-19 among the recent vaccinees is an individual overestimation of the protective effect that occurs shortly after receiving the first dose. Weary from a year into the pandemic, the recently vaccinated ... may have exhibited a less defensive behavior towards becoming infected after the first dose, falsely assuming they are already protected. For example, they may have been less vigilant ... when socializing ... This may have led not only to an overall increased individual risk of symptomatic Covid-19 ..., but also to an increased risk of onward transmissions.

Making all members of the public aware that full protection will not be in effect until after the vaccination schedule of the administered Covid-19 vaccine has been completed is also essential to prevent public doubts about these vaccines' extremely high efficacy, to combat novel “variants of concern” and therefore to unveil their full potential in preventing deaths, and ending the pandemic.

 

Also, completely different subject:

To join in the company of women, to be adults, we grow through a period of proudly boasting of having survived our own mother's indifference, anger, overpowering love, the burden of her pain, her tendency to drink or teetotal, her warmth or coldness, praise or criticism, sexual confusion or embarrassing clarity. It isn't enough that she sweat, labored, bore her daughters howling or under total anesthesia or both. No. She must be responsible for our psychic weaknesses the rest of her life. It is alright to feel kinship with your father, to forgive. We all know that. But your mother is held to a standard so exacting that it has no principles. She simply must be to blame.
Louise Erdrich (The Painted Drum, 2005)


06 June 2021

Sunday reading and herd immunity

You'd be surprised how quickly 2 kg of blueberries can be consumed in and by a small household. In other words, there is very little left. We are now stuffed and have restocked our storage  of antioxidants or whatever beneficial ingredients blueberries surely must provide.

June has become sticky and close with short heavy showers. The garden is happy.

The roses have made their spectacular entrance to this year's season.

My favourite virologist has given another interview explaining his hypothesis of the origin of the Sars-2 virus and explaining why herd immunity is not what we need to look at. My rough translation (for the original click here):


In 2003, a doctor in Singapore contracted an unknown virus. Then he flew to New York, and there he got sick. It was known that he had been in contact with seriously ill patients in Singapore. On the return flight, the plane landed in Frankfurt for a refueling stop. The man was taken off board and placed in an isolation ward. At that time I was working in Hamburg at the Tropical Institute, which looks after imported infectious diseases, and had just developed a laboratory method that can identify viruses that had never been seen before. That's how I got involved in this detective story. At that time it was already epidemiologically clear that something was happening, something new, transmissible and triggering pneumonia, but nobody knew what kind of virus that was.

I applied the new method, and it turned out that there were sequences in this patient's virus from a coronavirus that were not yet known.

At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta had additional sample material from a second patient, a WHO doctor who had died of this disease in the intensive care unit in Bangkok. We were able to show through a joint investigation: two patients who have never met, but who both had an indirect epidemiological connection became ill in the same way from the same virus.

It is not that bats bring such a virus directly to humans. In my field work, I examined Sars-like coronaviruses in bats. In the laboratory, we could show that these Sars viruses in bat populations are not easily transferred to humans. So which animal is the in-between carrier? Often these are farm animals that are crammed together under conditions where the virus can boil up. Humans interact with these animals differently than with distant wild animals such as bats. Take fur animals. Raccoon dogs and viverrid cats have their fur pulled over their ears while they are still alive. They let out death screams and roar, and aerosols are emitted in the process. Humans can then become infected with the virus. These animals were shown in the early 2000s to be the source of Sars-1. And now Sars has come back, as Sars-2.

For me the source is the fur industry. The laboratory hypothesis, that Sars-2 is man-made, does exist. If you look at it from a purely technical point of view, if you just look at the genome, that's within the realms of possibility. But I know the techniques very well that you would need to change a virus in this way. If someone had developed Sars-2 in this way, I would say they chose pretty awkward method.

There are actually two laboratory hypotheses. One, that it is malice, that someone intentionally constructed such a virus. The other, that it was a research accident, that in spite of good intentions and curiosity, an experiment went wrong. The malicious thing, to be honest: you have to talk to intelligence officers about it. As a scientist, I cannot judge that.

You can't just put a virus in a Petri dish and do some kind of experiment with it. Building a DNA clone like this from a virus takes two to three years of molecular biological work. By the way, researchers actually have made such clones from the original Sars-1 virus. So if you had wanted to develop a kind of Sars-2 in the laboratory, you would have added changes to a Sars-1 clone to find out if this adaptation makes the Sars virus more contagious. But that is not the case here. The whole backbone of the virus is different: Sars-2 is full of deviations from the original Sars-1 virus.

Let me explain it with a picture: To check, for example, whether adjustments make the virus more contagious, I would take an existing system, incorporate the change and then compare it with the old system. If I want to know whether a new car radio improves the sound, I take an existing car and replace the radio there. Then I compare. I'm not building a completely new car for it. But that's exactly how it was with Sars-2: The whole car is different.

This idea of a research accident is extremely unlikely for me because it would be far too cumbersome. So the most plausible source is carnivore breeding. The fur industry.

I have no evidence for this, except for the clearly proven origin of Sars-1, and this is a virus of the same species. Viruses of the same species do the same things and often come from the same source. In Sars-1, this is scientifically documented, the transitional hosts were raccoon dogs and viverrid cats. It is also a fact that raccoon dogs are used extensively in the fur industry in China. If you buy a jacket with a fur collar anywhere in the world, it is from the Chinese raccoon dog, almost without exception. 

Fur animals are predators. They eat small mammals. They also chase bats in the wild. And bats only have one short window a year where they all have their young at the same time. A lot of newborns fall from where they are hanging during day time onto the ground. And these wild cats know that. They go into bat caves and eat their fill. And they can catch such viruses in the process. Often, the fur farms add wild animals to their stock. That’s why it’s easy to imagine how such viruses were introduced into these breeds. This is an industry with close contact with people, where they can become infected.

Fifty or sixty years ago, when an intercontinental flight was the exception and only diplomats flew to China and trade with Asia was carried out via shipping containers - at that time such a virus would not have spread so easily. Travel makes it easier for a local epidemic to turn into a pandemic. We humans use more and more land from the wild animal area and intensify livestock husbandry. We eat more meat. The richer people get, the more they use animals. The denser and larger the animal population, the greater the chances that a virus, once it is introduced into the population, will explode and mutate like Sars-2. 

The concept of herd immunity was a misunderstanding from the start, to think that 70 percent will become immune - regardless of whether through vaccination or infection - and the remaining 30 percent will no longer have any contact with the virus from then on. It's just not the case with this virus. Anyone who does not get vaccinated will contract Sars-2. The term herd immunity comes from veterinary medicine, from the cattle plague virus, the measles virus of cattle. Highly transmissible, but can be prevented for life by vaccination. There you can really do such calculations: We have a livestock population that is self-contained - how many of the animals do we have to vaccinate now so that the virus cannot circulate? That's where this term comes from. 

But we humans are not a closed herd. We travel and we exchange goods, and even without traveling there is the neighboring village, and that has a neighboring village and so on, all around the world. And this is how viruses spread. In a few years, one hundred percent of the population will either have been vaccinated or infected. Even after that, Sars-2 will still infect people, but then it will no longer be like the initial infection. The initial infection is the stupid thing, after that the disease that causes it is less bad. It will probably be some kind of cold.


 

 

 


 

 


03 June 2021

bear with me

It's very late at night or early in the morning, take your pick, and I am sitting here with the whole interwebs because my digestive system is in crampy and colicky disarray. I am so used to it, you have no idea. I know it will take between four and six hours since my last bite and we are almost there. Also, the messaging app from the insurance keeps bleeping about heavy rain and thunder to come.

So far, I have watched the last episode of Mare of Easttown and I did cry a little bit. I recommend this series to all, you may not cry. Then I watched The Mauritanian which is pretty much as expected when you have read the book. In between, I edited some boring stuff on end-stage liver disease. You know the drill, surely, alcohol is No Good. The liver is the diva of our organs. One glass of bubbly and all else falls to the wayside. Sorry, if this sounds disrespectful of divas. Not all divas are into drink the way the liver is.

It's summer, I am serious! After a cold and wet spring, at last. We have been told by those who have the authority, including my father, that this year's spring was close to what a normal spring used to be before climate change, we had forgotten or rather, we got so used to early heat waves and drought by mid May.

Look, clustering iris with buttercups at their feet:

and fancy clematis:



So all is gorgeously pleasant, we are picking strawberries for breakfast and pull up those cute little red radish for dinner and so on. The spuds and the brassica are coming along nicely:

white and purple allium this year:


 incredibly interesting fact:


 this quote describes my current state of mind.

I think of my brain as a dog whose owner is asked politely to leave obedience school because the dog is hopeless and is causing problems for the other dogs.

 Evie Ebert

Yesterday, we received an elaborately cooled parcel by post all the way from the coast near Huelva in Spain containing two kilos of freshly picked blueberries, fat and round and deepest purple-blue deliciousness. I put half in the freezer and the other half is sitting in the fridge, from where R has been gulping handfuls. This evening I prepared a pile of last year's almonds (soak in hot water and slip off the skin) and ground them up so that by tomorrow, once my intestine cramps have gone, I can make Ottolenghi's blueberry, lemon and almond cake. Because, tomorrow is that other holy Thursday, corpus christi, when all is shut and so on. Actually, it's already tomorrow. I can smell some rain.


25 May 2021

rainy garden


there has been so much rain that the three big barrels collecting the rain from the small roof area of the bike shed are full for the first time in years
 
my darling little trellis apricot tree

buttercup takeover

lots of woodruff under the little pear tree, should make some May wine
and this is the birthday letter from Michael D. Higgins, president of Ireland (and published poet) to Bob Dylan


21 May 2021

Friday selection

We are heading into the long Whit weekend, or Pentecost for some, with Monday a holy holiday. We have many holy days here in agnostic Germany, especially now, in May and June. Just past, there was Ascension Thursday, now Whit Monday coming up and next week Corpus Christi. On these days, everything is shut. If you forgot to buy food, you can try the petrol station and maybe find some old stuff deep down in your freezer. I remember my surprise when I first came to live in catholic Ireland where these days are not observed. Also, the amazed reactions when I explained about holy days in Germany. What, they exclaimed, in a country that has divorce and protestant churches?

Anyway, we have been informed that this year the local Corpus Christy procession will take place, albeit with distancing, which means it will be twice as long, snaking past our house, white and yellow flags and the rosary through a megaphone. One year, a long time ago, we were hosting a small group of African scientists attending an international conference (there is a private network in our city supporting people/countries who cannot afford the hotel fees) and they loved the display of this strange and mysterious local custom.

Anyway, long weekend. Time to recharge.

So for today, a few snippets only:

This excerpt is slightly edited and translated by me from a podcast script by Christian Drosten, virologist who identified the first SARS-associated coronavirus in 2003 and who developed the diagnostic test (PCR) used world wide.

Talking about herd immunity is pretty irrelevant, because everyone will become immune. 100 per cent, not 70 or 80 per cent, but 100 per cent in the population will inevitably become immune in, give or take, a year and a half. Either through vaccination or through natural infection. This virus will become endemic, it will not go away. Anyone who actively decides against getting vaccinated now will inevitably become infected. There is nothing you can do about it. Because, of course, the lockdown and distancing and masking measures will be cut back at some point. Then the virus will circulate in the population. It will circulate in the throats of people who have been vaccinated, who will not even notice that they are carrying the virus. It will circulate, of course, in the throats of children under twelve who cannot be vaccinated at the moment. The virus will spread in an undetected way under a blanket of immune protection. Then it will hit people who are not immunised by vaccination, who are fully susceptible. Those who are then infected, of course, may possibly end up in intensive care and many will die.

After the summer and in the autumn, people will have the opportunity to reconsider and say: Do I want to be vaccinated instead of getting infected naturally? If they don't get vaccinated, then of course they will get infected. This has nothing to do with political debates or compulsory vaccination or any kind of ethical debate. It is a free decision that people ultimately make. But I believe that those who actively decide against vaccination must know that they are also actively deciding in favour of natural infection.

And this music, oh how good is that! I have been listening to it for the last couple of days, the entire album is on youtube. There is a story behind it, click here for more. This is my favourite track.

and this is also my favourite track

18 May 2021

 

In illness .... We float with the sticks on the stream, helter-skelter with the dead leaves on the lawn, irresponsible and disinterested and able, perhaps for the first time in years, to look round, to look up--to look, for example, at the sky.

Virgina Woolf

If it were not for my never ending monotonous litany of symptoms, which with predictable regularity is calling on me, my patience, my stamina, my stoic self - where would I be these days? Theoretically I am all for remaining stoic, after all it supposedly involves an indifference to high flying emotions, but in reality, that has never been my strong point, so it is hard work. Asking me to recollect myself - but as what? To reorient - but towards where?

Also, I consider one of my major achievements that - after much tossing and turning and chaotic thinking in the early, early hours - I finally allow myself to just lie there and Observe What Happens Next. I feel very Zen writing this down. Mostly, I am so tired by then that I fall asleep but it's the thought that counts, surely.

So yes, I have now managed the art of stepping back, mentally (having long since stepped back physically) from the ordinary claims of the world. But somehow, I still find myself walking on eggshells waiting for things to get worse, especially with the novelty set of side effects a new medication brings, the way it messes with the nerves along my legs and the - as yet - moderate hair loss. I am not so sure whether I am ready to swap my thankfully thick hair and the full sensory faculties of my legs for - what? I quite forget. Maybe a longer life? 

Next year R will turn 70, which makes him older than his mother ever was and almost the age his father was when he died. He is a picture of health and fitness and unlike his father was never a smoker and unlike his mother did not have multiple pregnancies and a massive traumatic car accident. Everything is stacked in his favour. 

When the first medical expert mentioned to me that my life expectancy will be somewhat reduced, I cried while waiting for R to pick me up. That expert was a piece of shit, really, because he urged me to get on the liver transplant list as, in his words, my liver had five years, max. But my daughter hasn't even finished school, I replied. (He was wrong. My liver recovered, while other bits have since packed it in. I don't think about it much.)

On Sunday, during my duty phone call my father in his nonchalant way mentioned that he has accepted to be locked up in this care home until his death. I almost replied, maybe that won't be long now. But I held my tongue. Whereas he felt it appropriate to add, you with all your health issues and medications, you'll probably die before me anyway. I politely changed the subject.

It is disappointingly cold outside, so that on these long bright evenings, we sit wrapped in blankets and watch the rain showers blowing across the lawn. Everything is lush and soggy and colourful to look at, the garden is enough. Almost.




14 May 2021

 We are at the end of the tulip season and just before the roses, with lilac everywhere. This is what I picked yesterday walking through the garden, one blossom each, excluding anything that will become a fruit and flowers on trees, because: too high.



Cannot remember where I read this, but this week has served as an example that any idiot can weather a crisis, it’s the day-to-day living that wears you out.  

I could list now that this week, I washed the windows, baked bread (of the no-knead variety) twice and apple crumble once,  roasted miso glazed aubergines, cooked asparagus risotto, made jam with the last frozen strawberries from last year, finished the latest knitting project (and now I am at a bit of a loss), cycled 64 km in total, read two novels*, ate the first juice apricots from France, went to the physiotherapist twice to unclench my aching joints, drank gallons of tea and spent 25 hours being gainfully employed.

Worn out doesn't quite cover it. But still:


*We run the tides, by Vendeal Vida and My phantoms, by Gwendoline Riley