29 May 2022



Somewhere on my desk there is a piece of paper with the covid helpline of my employer, the opening hours of the free PCR testing sites at the university clinic (Monday - Friday) and instructions on what to do and what to mention incl. the information leaflet of my medication.

Two days ago, one of the regular rapid lateral flow tests I am obliged by my employer to administer at home showed a positive line.  I went downstairs and told R that I would not be able to go to the farmer's market after all. Instead, I drove to the nearest testing center to get a conformation PCR test, only they refused to do it because I failed to bring my lateral flow test as evidence. Instead, they did another rapid lateral flow test which was negative. Back home, I briefly dithered between being seriously ill and who cares anyway, but as it was not Monday - Friday, I decided to get on with life and take it easy - my usual weekend activity as it were. This morning I did another test, again negative, and I asked google for information on false positive results with that particular test kit and it turns out that this is a documented manufacturer's fault that happens when the sample size is too small.

I cleaned the bathroom, kitchen and hoovered the hall and staircase, baked a blueberry-lemon cake without icing, cooked Sunday lunch (red peppers, zucchini and mushrooms with fregula and parmesan), had one cup of coffee and went on my usual 10 km cycle along the river. 

Later, we will make tea and maybe have some grilled cheese on toast and some fresh strawberries and then watch the Sunday evening thriller on German TV and the late news.

The tendency to treat my imperfect existence as if it were a shadow of my real life, the one I would be living without a chronic disease, this mental image of my healthy self, it slows me down every time as if all people except myself are healthy and fit and have nothing to worry about.

When you are not one of the seemingly healthy, you need to work hard sometimes so you don't fall out of love with yourself as the illness tries again and again to run the show. At least I need to do that. Cycling, baking, strawberries, it all helps.


25 May 2022

Thank you Dervla Murphy


On May 22nd, three days ago, Dervla Murphy died aged 90. In my wildest dreams, I wanted to live a life like hers, at least the cycling and travelling part. When I read her first book (Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a bicycle), my then bicycle, my only means of transport, was a Dutch High Nelly with three gears and a wonky handbrake and I found it most reassuring that Dervla, before she set off to India in the middle of winter had the gears dismantled from her bike (an Armstrong Cadet men's bicycle from the 1950s) because she did not want to be bothered by cumbersome repairs and no spare parts along the way.

A couple of times, we drove past and once, actually stood in front of the gate to her house in Lismore, but  decided that it wasn't the proper thing to do, call in uninvited on a rainy Sunday. Her dogs went ballistic with barking, so we left in a hurry. I do wish I could have met her in person.

In Ireland, most people know her, know of her. I am always surprised that this is not the case elsewhere.

When we decided - on a whim, literally - to move to paradise, this small African country, with a five year old child, two tea chests of basics, mostly books and a sewing machine, eyes wide open and utterly clueless, I read On a shoestring to Coorg, her account of travelling and living in Southern India with her five year old daughter, penniless and with only a small backpack, and felt completely prepared. In fact, I was going to reduce the stuff we had packed but R stopped me (he had been working in Africa for a couple of years before we met and knew the drill).

This is from Eight feet in the Andes, her book of travelling in 1977 with her, by then, nine year old daughter and a mule from Ecuador to Cuzco. 

They have put down their tent for the night near Huamachucho, Peru, and Dervla has to get up at around midnight ("Nature called") and entranced by the moonlit night, writes in her diary:

. . . there was no stirring of a breeze, no whispers of running water: the stillness was so unflawed that it seemed the sovereign moon, floating high, must have put a spell on our whole world. . . . There is more to such experiences than visual beauty, necessary to mankind yet hard to put in words. It is the beauty of freedom: freedom from an ugly, artificial, dehumanising, discontented world in which man has lost his bearings. A world run by an alliance of self-hypnotised technocrats and profit-crazed tycoons who demand constant, meaningless change. A world where waste and greed are accepted - even admired - because our minds' manipulators have made frugality and moderation seem like failure in the Acquisition Game. . . . I know and have always known the we humans need to escape at intervals from that alien world which has so abruptly replaced the environment that bred us. We need to be close to, and opposed to, and sometimes subservient to, and always respectful of the physical realities of the planet we live on. We need to receive its pure silences and attend to its winds, to wade through its rivers and sweat under its sun, to plough through its sands and sleep on its bumps. Not all the time but often enough for us to remember that we are animals. Clever animals, yet ultimately dependent, like any animal, on the forces of Nature. Whole areas of one's humanity could become atrophied if one remained always within a world where motor-roads are more important than trees and speed is more important than silence.
She was exactly 25 years older than me, we share a birthday and she had a bad case of rheumatoid arthritis in the end. I have been calculating what my life could be like, another 25 years, maybe I can have that, as I already have the rheumatoid like disease.

23 May 2022

garden secrets

Yet another storm is brewing, the weather app is pinging and shouting. Again, we cleared the basement floors, tidied up the garden furniture, shut the green house and with any luck, it'll pass.

The skies on Friday were dramatic. But that was it. Not a single drop of rain.

Others were not so lucky and who knows what this evening will bring.

My new friends, a pair of wood pigeons, woke me at the crack of dawn. The have found a favourite spot in the almond tree outside the bedroom window, where they bicker for a while before cooing back and forth at length and at volume. I have decided to actually not mind this at all. Even at 5:30 am. 

the Robin rose

I had to get up anyway for my immunologist check-up. The new guy is very jolly and we agreed that not much has changed or needs to be done apart from more blood work to figure out the low iron levels and sure, why not, maybe see a phlebologist because of that markedly swollen right ankle etc. etc. We discussed the 30+ hrs travel (two stop-overs incl.) later this year with medication that needs to be kept below 5°C at all times. Not a good fit but there should has to be way. And in the end, in connection with one thing or another, I forget which, he uttered the fateful saying "never change a winning team" (in English) and I tried very hard to keep a straight face but failed. We then discussed at length the origin of this phrase (soccer) and how it found its way into medicine (he did recall an actual lecture with this title) and for the life of him, he couldn't see how a patient as tolerant as myself could find this inappropriate. I told him, he will get there over time and how silly sayings convey not a message that one can trust and that especially when saddled with a chronic illness, these stupid remarks don't get any better when one has to hear them repeatedly.  To cut him short, I uttered WTF (in English) which he thought was hilarious. And so we parted as friends.

ash, black cherry, rambling rose and mackerel skies

On my way back, cycling through the lushest of forest, I stopped at the frog spawn pond but failed to take a picture. As it was still before 10 am, I sat down for a café au lait outside at the French place and then got some of fancy tea, which is black Assam with cream flavouring and blue cornflower blossoms and a punnet of blueberries. My life of luxury.

This here is our covid patch, four square meters in a sunny spot we have left untouched in the bottom lawn since spring 2020. We just mow around it, never water it. Currently, it has about 25 different wild flower species in it, all humming with insects, one small walnut tree and a fat hedgehog moves through it at night. The secrets a badly tended lawn can bring forth. With the help of birds and squirrels and the wind.


16 May 2022

the great dental disaster

It's time now to put this to rest. I am well past it, it happened years ago. I no longer freak out from the minor pain I get when my gums bleed - which happens regularly due to immune suppression.

There is this clever sentiment, often used by instructors in meditation, that toothache is only a toothache because the moment it's gone, we cannot remember what it was really like. But let me tell you that is not true. I used to remember. To the point of panicking.

But first things first. Spring 2007. We are getting ready to visit our daughter who is studying in SE Asia. The flights are booked, the bags are in the process of being packed. The necessary vaccinations are done etc. and I develop a nagging tooth ache. Just as well, we say, let's check our teeth before we head into the jungles. The dentist finds nothing wrong, adjust some surfaces, rinses my gums and we agree that I may need one of these newfangled bite rails, but postpone this until our return. The tooth ache progresses beyond nagging, however, and I am back within 48 hours. This time x-rays without any clue and prophylactic antibiotic. Three days later, I am back with by now considerable pain. The dentists decides to drill into a crown on the off chance that there's a hidden something or other. 

I cut it short here. Nothing was found to be wrong with the teeth but on the morning of our - now cancelled - flights, molar no. 1 was extracted, I drove home chewing on a wad of tissue and cried. The pain got worse. Over the next four weeks tissue samples from inside my mouth were taken to identify possible causes of infection, six courses of antibiotics were administered, two more molars were extracted, countless dry sockets were scraped with sharp spoons, layered with tissue soaked in antibiotics, clove oil and  various anti-inflammatory agents, rinsed and scraped again and again. Eventually, we are now well into summer, a small part of the jaw bone was sliced off. 

By now, I had been given every painkiller known to dentistry, local and full anesthetics when necessary and also when not, people held my hands, stroked my face, wiped my tears. The hole in my upper jaw was no longer infected but simply would not heal. And never for a minute did it stop hurting. It was a fabulous summer for soft fruit and plums but I climbed the walls in pain unable to eat or sleep. 

Enter morphine. It did the trick. No  more pain. NO. MORE. PAIN. But what next? I was not going to live my life propped up by  morphine. Have you any idea what it does to your digestion? By that time, I was on seemingly - forever sick leave, had lost a lot of weight, our daughter had returned and watched with helpless worry. In the end, I found an expert in pain management therapy, who reduced the dosage in minute steps over a period of, I think, two years? And shortly after I had left it all behind me, had briefly chanted "no drugs ever again for me" with the hole more or less closed and healed, I got the diagnosis of the shitty chronic disease and during one of the initial meetings, the immunologist warned me to watch for possible wound healing disorders, especially in connection with inflammation of facial nerves and there you have it.

Unrelated music for balance.

12 May 2022

words and music

Last night in a dream, far away from reality, I heard the words "sharp spoon" whispered in my ear, and I woke up with one of these silent screams - like in the movies. A sharp spoon is a dentistry tool and it is exactly that, a tiny stainless steel spoon with a very sharp edge. I cannot remember how often I heard these words uttered by a dentist leaning over my mouth, as in "hand me that fucking sharp spoon", but every time was gruesome. Maybe I inserted the f word in my memory.

Briefly, (and bear with me, you are all safe) a sharp spoon is used to remove connective and granulation tissue, i.e. bundles of inflamed matter, from the tooth socket when, after a tooth extraction and against all of the rules of dentistry, the gap has not filled with nicely and rapidly coagulating blood. Use your imagination if you wish. This procedure is applied when you are immune compromised or maybe because there's a spell on you and you have spent a seemingly endless amount of time in tooth ache hell.

Anyway, all over and done. Worse than childbirth, believe me. And it's only recently that I have been able to vaguely remember the time this happened, the three months of my life I lived with a large hole inside my mouth that would not heal, without getting a slight panic attack. 

I have no idea where all this dream stuff is coming from now but we are both having various bad dreams, almost nightmares. A sign of the times? I don't know. Life, when I look at it without the bigger picture, is gorgeous early summer, mild evenings, the beauty of a twice/week cycling commute through the lush forest, pleasant work atmosphere, the first strawberries to pick and so on. But, oh yes, the bigger picture. One of these mornings after wake up, we discussed selling up and moving back to Ireland, neutral country etc. and just that day, the state media in Russia showed a clip of a mock nuclear attack. At the end there was only green ocean where Ireland and Britain should be. No use shouting that Ireland is an independent state, nothing British about it. (If you want to watch it, click here). And instead I am getting worked up about a sharp spoon, seriously.

Here are some random garden pictures.

wisteria, horse chestnut and black prunus

sweet cicely under the apple tree

woodruff under the pear tree

And some peaceful music with an amazing cello solo, wait for it.

08 May 2022

I think it was Andrea Dworkin who said - ages ago - something along the lines of to men, women are private property. Or at least, men think this is the case. The way drivers think that public roads are made for cars, never mind the rest of the public. I realise, this is not necessarily the best analogy but I am mostly travelling by bicycle and it is Sunday evening and I have yet to recover from the week behind me while getting in shape for the week ahead. I did cycle today and yesterday and the day before, as a means of getting from A to B on public roads. Also, Andrea Dworkin probably meant right wing men.

Anyway, I have just worked my way through my usual Sunday paper reading tasks and here is my top find.

To All Those Who Dare Rob Us of Our Bodily Choice, I ask you:

What is it about our bodies that makes you so afraid, so insecure, so cruel and punishing?

Is it their singular autonomy or mere existence?

Is it their capacity for immense and unending pleasure – orgasms that can multiply orgasms inside orgasms? Is it our skin? Is it our desire?

Is it our openness that rattles you and reminds you of where you are closed?

Is it the pure strength of our bodies that allows us to bleed and birth and bend and carry and continue on in spite of all the ways you have reduced us and objectified us, humiliated us and disrespected us and tried to shape us into baby-making machines? Our strength that is inherent and doesn’t need to prove itself or show off or rely on weapons or violence to control and terrorise? Doesn’t need to abolish laws, or lie to become supreme court judges or president or rig the decks when they get there.

Do you know this power? Can you imagine it? A power that comes from respecting life, caring for others before oneself, holding communities together?

. . .

What is it about our bodies that make you think you have the right to invade them, determine them, control and legislate them, violate and force them to do anything against their will?

Perhaps you mistake our generosity for weakness, our patience for passivity, our vulnerability for fragility.

 . . .

This is our world now. And these are our bodies. We know what you are up to – this is just the beginning of your diabolical plan to rob us of contraception and marriage equality and civil rights and on and on. This is all part of your desperation to prevent the future that is on the verge of being born – a future where we know our past and begin to reckon with it, a future where we teach critical race theory and the truth about white supremacy and sexism and transphobia.

A future where we care for our Earth and devote our lives to protecting air and water and forests and animals and all living things, a future where people have autonomy over their bodies and wombs and gender and marry who they want to, and don’t get married if they don’t want to, and have babies if they want to, and don’t have babies if they don’t want to. Despite all your lies, strategies and devious ways you are simply never going to stop us.

You have unleashed our fury, our solidarity, our unity.

 (to read the whole commentary article by V (formerly known as Eve Ensler) click here)

I live in a country where abortion is generally punishable for all parties involved but exceptions apply which means that abortion is exempt from punishment in certain situations incl. medical indications such as if the woman's life is in danger or there is a risk of serious impairment of her physical or mental state of health. Also, if the pregnancy is based on a sexual offence such as rape. The costs are covered by statutory health insurance, i.e. everybody. But we are watching. We know there are (mostly) men who are getting very excited watching what's happening across the Atlantic.