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


 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. 


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.