10 March 2023

Spring is coming very slowly, we had sleet, snow and rain so far, frosty nights, which are unusual for this corner of the world. There's not much of the obvious happening in the garden, even the daffodils are taking their time. Every morning, R looks out and wonders whether today is the day to put down the potatoes and then it rains and he postpones.

Instead, he has started tentative relationships with the jays, magpies and parakeets, hiding peanuts in various places to see how clever they are in finding them. And oh are they clever. I swear, the magpies just look at him thinking, that fool.


Jane Goodall observed members of a chimpanzee society in Tanzania approaching a rushing waterfall in a forest clearing. The apes fell into a swaying dance, threw rocks and swung across the waterfall’s spray on lianas. Afterward, some would sit on a boulder to watch the rushing water, seemingly in a state of deep contemplation.

(found here)


I have exactly 129 working days left after deducting public holidays and my holiday entitlement. I swear I will not count them. Just thought I will mention it once and for all.

Two more things I would like to share:

We are contemplating a visit to Amsterdam to see the Vermeer exhibition but ticket sales are tight and I am not in a place for a schedule right now, so this is sufficient for now, click here and enjoy.

Many years ago, this guy started a blog called Letters of Note. which has grown into books and very enjoyable public readings. Now he has started a new project, Diaries of Note, which is simply a wonderful idea.



28 February 2023

the exact opposite of control

It is now two months since my father decided to stay in bed and keep his eyes shut most of the time, sleeping, dozing, waking for brief moments. Sometimes, he seems to be aware of time and place, mostly not. He is calm. No medication.

Some researchers think that one of the reasons why humans have become thinking beings is because we have to make a lifelong effort to deny our mortality.

I read that from a psychological point of view, our dying begins as soon as we become aware that our death is imminent. As soon as this awareness determines our life.

I read about research where young people were asked to imagine their eventual death and most described it like a wind-up toy, you know one that runs and runs and runs, losing a critical function, a bit like a broken gearbox that forces it to stop working - a sudden death, unexpected, out of full health. But very few of us will die like that, because our body is too complex a machine for that.

Remember, our body is supported by more than 200 bones, more than 600 muscles perform our movements. When we are in a hurry, our heart beats more than a hundred times a minute, pumping blood with such pressure that we can hear it  ringing in our ears. Our brain, barely three pounds of tissue, generates our thoughts, actions, memories, dreams, sends impulses through our nerve cords at an incredible speed. We are made up of billions of critical components, some self-repairing at full speed, some duplicated again and again throughout life - we are more complex than a power station. Such a system rarely stops in one fell swoop. It happens gradually.

From 30 onwards, our heart loses strength. From 40, the muscles lose mass. From 50, the density of the bones diminishes. From 60, on average, a third of our teeth are missing. From 70, the brain in the skull has shrunk.

We wear ourselves out until we can't do it any further. Then the system falls apart. And even that is usually slow.

When we die in old age we can call ourselves lucky. We did not drown while fleeing. We were not taken in the dark of night and killed. We did not die during birth or shortly afterwards, not in war, not from a plague, terrible wounds, an infection, a mad shooter, none of the catastrophes that bring death elsewhere.

We may even be able to choose the place where we die, maybe safe at home, maybe in a hospital with specialist care and support. And above all, with luck, we can choose whose hands will close our eyes.

I read another research paper, how some dying people speak in pictures, like my father asking for his (non-existent) hunting jacket, organising catering for his birthday. The symbolic language of the dying they call it. 

My father drinks less and less. The doctors tell us that his body will slip into a state of dehydration that is natural in the last stages of dying. They tell us that his body is releasing neurotransmitters dulling any pain. They tell us that his skin still feels touch, that he can still hear us. But he is already so distant, like in another world, maybe he also sees and hears people we don't.

His breath is still regular, no sign of Cheyne-Stokes respiration as yet, but could be any day now, we are told. Or maybe another month. His skin is waxy pale.

I read another bit of research, about the last hours, how the activity of our brain begins to die down. Some researchers think that during this time our body floods our brain with serotonin and endorphins. The same hormones we experience when we fall in love, have sex, experience euphoria. I read of an experiment with anesthetized rats, in the seconds before they died, their brain waves flared up more than they did in life.

Maybe this is just a last gasp of a dying brain desperately trying to figure out what is happening or maybe it's a beautiful final firework sending us off.

But there's the problem with all the stuff I read, research on dying in the language of science is always etic, i.e. obtained by observation from the outside, never emic, i.e. based on descriptions from the dying person. (For more on emic and etic, click here.)

Whatever, dying is the exact opposite of control and I wonder if or when my father accepted this, whether as defeat or blessing.  Maybe he didn't need to. I'll never know.

Anyway, it could be weeks.

14 February 2023

“HyperNormalisation” is a word that was coined by Russian historian Alexei Yurchak, who was writing about what it was like to live in the last years of the Soviet Union. He described how in the 1980s everyone from the top to the bottom of Soviet society knew that it wasn’t working, knew that it was corrupt, knew that the bosses were looting the system, know that the politicians had no alternative vision. And they knew that the bosses knew that they knew that. Everyone knew it was fake, but because no one had any alternative vision for a different kind of society, they just accepted this sense of total fakeness as normal.  

 Adam Curtis

I think the same applies to climate change. After a long time of denial, which as we know was and still is funded by the fossil fuel industry, we have more or less accepted that science has got it right, that the burning of fossil fuels causes CO2 emissions which in turn result in climate heating and that to avert the devastating consequences of this, we humans must act now. As in NOW. But instead of decisive actions by governments (renewable energies in all areas of life, such as building, housing, transport, work, you name it) to implement the existing alternative visions and concrete plans for a different kind of society, we are presented with this fake message that individuals must reduce their carbon footprint (a concept designed by the fossil fuel industry) and that we must use less plastics and recycle our household waste and buy EVs to commute long distances and whatever tiny steps we are shamed into doing. And all this while the big corporations continue to make as much money as possible from fossil fuels.

Sometimes I think if sunshine (e.g. solar energy) would need to be mined/drilled and thus become a lucrative source of wealth to the few the same way that oil, coal and gas are, renewables would be the most wanted commodity on the planet. And we would not be where we are now.

We had what was hopefully the last night of frost. Although R talks alarmingly about The Polar Vortex.

I listen to the blackbirds belting out their mating songs before sunrise. One early February when S was maybe 12 or 13, she had to identify the number of blackbirds mating and mark the area on a map as part of a biology project and while her science teacher father blissfully ignored her efforts (not my school etc.), her mother, i.e. me, would sit with a tape deck and a map next to a very sleepy girl by the window, sipping tea, nudging her on. I don't think the project was very successful but I found out a good bit about blackbirds. I hope she did too.

This is the river on a very frosty morning.

And this is a lovely song.

05 February 2023



A long long time ago when I was living in paradise, where life was hard and beautiful, hard because money was tight and apart from lots of communal goodwill and a very well stocked public library, there was little in terms of the service and the commodities we, living in consumerism, take for granted, took for granted even back then, and beautiful because of the colours, smells, sights, feels of the rain forest, the Indian ocean, the fruit on the trees around our little tin-roofed house, the slowly meandering tortoises in the yards and the call of the flying foxes in the night,  I found myself on one of these morning digging my bare toes into the fine coral sand of a path coming down from the old wooden house behind me, the sea lapping a short distance in front of me, a tree lined road to my left and a group of massive coco-de-mer palm trees to my right.

I was waiting for a bus and without a timetable this always involved a degree of luck or long stretches of contemplation and discovery. Often, I would take off my shoes and trace complicated patterns into the sand with my toes. Occasionally, people would join me waiting, always impeccably dressed, smiling at my bare feet and greeting me shyly. 

I could hear the birds in the trees to my left, the rooster from the house behind me, a group of children playing in the surf in front of me and the wind swishing through the palm fronds to my right.

A few weeks earlier I had met an Irish nun. I didn't know she was a nun, we met at the hospital where I had been visiting a sick neighbour for a while, she was a nurse. Hearing her Irish accent, we got talking and often shared a cup of tea and stories of fun and grief and loss, as you do when you find yourself in company with a strangely familiar voice or face in a place far from home. And one day she told me about her daily prayer, said she wanted me to say it with her. Now, my inner arrogant voice initially cringed and my smile was forced. But in the end she smiled back and said, that wasn't too difficult, dear, wasn't it?

May it be beautiful below me. May it be beautiful above me. May it be beautiful to the right of me. May it be beautiful to the left of me. May it be beautiful behind me. May it be beautiful in front of me. May it be beautiful around me. I am restored in beauty.

I know now that it's her version of the Navajo prayer but at the time, there was no internet to inform me. I just called it the nun's prayer and I have been whispering it on many occasions ever since, whenever, wherever I have been waiting, for a bus, a train, a medical appointment, a drip to empty itself into my veins, a delayed visitor to arrive, a sleepless night to end, a day to begin. It always brings me back to a place, which is not the exact place of the day, but a conglomeration of places from paradise where at the time, I have often stood and waited.

A few days ago, I was listening to a podcast with psychologist Dacher Keltner speaking about his research on awe and the vagus nerve and how science can show (via cortisol/stress hormone levels, functional MRI imaging etc.) the way experiences of awe influence our emotional state and the first thing that came to mind was this memory, of these places, of the Irish nun's prayer, the heat of that morning, the sounds, the feeling of sand between my toes. 

If I should put into words the feeling that I experience when I remember that exact moment and the way the nun's prayer is connected to it, my first response would always be awe. And this despite the fact that it's neither outstanding scenic beauty, nor drama, nor religious or transformative event, but memories of a fairly ordinary daily experience some 30 years ago.

To listen to the podcast click here. To read about the research in a long interview, click here. If you need to see scientific publications on the subject, click here.

And BTW, you may have heard of the story where a father asked his daughter to stop using two words that drove him mad and before he could proceed, the daughter said, "Awesome Dad, what words, like, do you have in mind?"

01 February 2023


First: Thank you all so much for your kind and thoughtful comments!

Today is Imbolc/St Brigid’s day. We are half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Today, the light takes over. When I left for work the birds were singing and the sunrise was almost there. It felt so very hopeful. 

In Ireland this day is now a public holiday, the first Irish public holiday named after a woman, to mark the beginning of spring and the Celtic New Year. 

I have posted this many times before on or around this day. Many traditions are observed on this day, both here and in Ireland. 

My Irish mother in law would go to mass and bring back a St. Brigid's cross, freshly blessed, and put it inside above the front door to prevent any of the bad spirits entering. It definitely worked, that or her dogs.

Today, her heathen son stands by the kitchen window watching the birds, convinced that they are more active because of St. Brigid. Seriously, I ask. Come one, he laughs, you know what I mean. The light, of course.

My mother, a dedicated atheist and scientist, would light candles on this day, which is known as Maria Lichtmess (Mary's feast of light) in Franconia. 

The Celts, of course, celebrated in style, with bonfires, dancing and dipping of their hands into wells. It's raining now, not so sure about a little bonfire later on, but we've dipped our hands into the rain water barrel and we did some dancing at breakfast.

Anyway, isn't it just the most hopeful day in the year. 


All nature has a feeling: woods, fields, brooks

Are life eternal: and in silence they

Speak happiness beyond the reach of books;

There's nothing mortal in them; their decay

Is the green life of change; to pass away

And come again in blooms revivified.

Its birth was heaven, eternal is its stay,

And with the sun and moon shall still abide

Beneath their day and night and heaven wide.

John Clare


28 January 2023

. . . this is real, this is here, and here is where I am

There is loss and there is only loss, which means that life is what we make of loss, which is an impossible task, to make something of loss, so life must simply be how we live, and continue to live, amidst the unthinkably unmakeable. It is, every day, so deeply humbling to take each and every breath. If I don’t hold onto that, I know I will let it go. 
Devin  Kelly

Sometimes, usually in the early hours before sunrise, when I am awake but not quite yet fully there, I wonder whether the almost daily painful abdominal cramps that have been bothering me for some time now are somehow related to my father slowly dying four hundred kilometers away. But then I think, no, he's not that important in my life. I am not going to be at a loss, grief will be minimal. And in any case, if he starts having an impact on my health now, in his final stretch, what about all the years earlier? Obviously, I could connect it all to him at a stretch. Or to my mother, just to be fair, spreading the blame evenly. But I know it won't stick. I will not deny that illness is connected to how we feel, what stress we face and that we know little about the myriad causes of what affects our physical and mental well being. But anxiety has never been a strong case with me, I think I don't have the imagination for it. I am too plain, too absorbed in worry. 

Earlier today, a stink bug that overwintered in one of the flower pots on the window sill beside my desk walked onto the monitor and I picked it up with a tissue, crushed it in the course of it and then flushed it down the toilet. Bad bad karma, my inner voice tells me, look what you've done, you killed the bug unnecessarily. You could have released it into the garden. But it's below zero outside, it would have died anyway. So? At least you would've given it a chance. A chance? I should have keep it inside, somewhere safe, the basement maybe. but what about the stink? Isn't it released when you crush the shell and what if it's toxic, is there some trace of it on your fingers. Etc.

Today, I got up really early because I cannot handle cycling to work at sub-zero temperatures. My hands go numb, no matter how efficient the windproof, arctic tested felt lined gloves and it takes ages to get some feeling back. The car parking spaces for staff are limited at the moment because of road works at the campus and it's first come first serve. On the way, driving as one of the thousands in our dark cars I got myself into a fit imagining that everybody must have had the same idea and that I would have to spend ages cruising around the area trying to find semi legal parking to the point that I even contemplated turning around and calling in sick. In the end of course there was lots of space and I was one of the first to arrive. 

Also, two days ago, I fainted when I got in from the cold. I have fainted before and in comparison, this was a teeny tiny mini faint but one nevertheless because I found myself on the bottom of the hall stairs and had no idea how I got there and why my keys and mittens were on the hall floor. My previous faints were more dramatic swooshing affairs, once I knocked down a small chest of drawers while going down, another time I vomited in full flight so to speak (I was pregnant), once I was actually driving or rather waiting at a traffic light but luckily, it was a quiet side street and when I came to, no cars were honking behind me.

It's not half as hilarious as I try to pretend. I am due for a check-up next week.

When I sat with my father on Sunday, he said these sentences in between sleeping:

    A selection of refreshments has been ordered from the kitchen.

    Please accept my sincere apology for this late reply.

    Get me my hunting jacket and the new shoes. 

None of it made sense, obviously. He never had a hunting jacket, he never apologised to me for anything. But I repeat them in my head, like a silent mantra with a hidden message.



23 January 2023

Yesterday, I held my father's face in both my hands and looked into his eyes. His pupils were like tiny black pinheads, not really focusing on anything. Do you recognise me? I asked. He nodded and said my name loud and clear before closing his eyes and falling asleep again. He sleeps almost all the time now. 

I never held his face like that ever before, like you would hold a child's face. 

It was his 94th birthday.

On the way back, the train carriage was crowded with soccer fans on their way to some important match and I watched them rehearsing their chants, putting their team's jerseys over their hoodies, having a beer or three. I imagined how my father would have been amused. But then, he would never have gone by train anywhere he could drive. But soccer, anytime.

The Franconian countryside was covered in snow.

20 January 2023

Music is love

After reading of David Crosby's death, I started to hum Teach Your Children but R quickly interrupted, no, that's a Graham Nash song. Credit where credit is due.

So instead, Music Is Love, remember. We are all getting older. I almost picked Eight Miles High (he co-wrote that song, yes) but decided no, probably not appropriate, liver transplant and so on.

15 January 2023

In defense of the man who has become the kitchen god in our house, I should add that he has been cooking and baking since we met. In fact, he knew a lot more about it than I did at the time and without him, I probably would never have mastered the skill of baking bread or making yogurt or fermenting all sorts of vegetables - and grapes, which he turns into wine.

The jam making is just a follow-up from growing masses of soft fruit in the garden which clog up the freezer, which needs to provide space for the overload of Brussel sprouts we are currently harvesting. Tiny, sugary, soft lumps. 

This year is my retirement year - my last official day at work will be 31st of October but depending on accrued overtime and holiday entitlements, I think I'll check out early September. I have just made an online appointment with HR to apply for my meagre pension.

Anyway, another Sunday. I have by now recovered from reverse jet lag, I think. East is the beast and west is best, as the saying goes but I think we sort of went northwest and depending on where you start, could also have been doing a massive planetary somersault. Apart from working for money, I have done very little. Yet.

Watching: Live Stream from the waterhole in the Namibian desert, very soothing. 

Reading: Did Ye Hear Mammy Died by Seamas O'Reilly Foster by the wonderful Claire Keegan and now Akin by Emma Donoghue. 

Other than that, lots of sleeping. Bear with me. It's a big step from there to here.

Seatoun morning

08 January 2023

Sunday morning life on mars

It's sunny outside, I can see how dirty the kitchen windows are. I know it looks worse in winter with the sun coming in at a different angle (lower? higher?) and anyway, what do I care. I have neither the energy nor the willpower to clean windows. 

Instead, there is R to watch. He is making jam. Since he retired from teaching science, the kitchen has slowly turned into one of his places of action. There now are a variety of fancy gadgets such as complicated mandolin slicers, variously shaped thermometers, frighteningly accurate scales, hot-water tongs, steaming baskets, grill attachments that look like spare car parts and research facility-grade timers. with alarm sounds you really need to get used to.

It's all very meticulous, weighing and stirring and putting a plate into the freezer. Wait. What's that for? Obviously, that's standard, how else could one determine whether the jam has set if not by putting a measured spoonful on a plate that has come straight out of the freezer. Anyway, with precision and detail, he ends up with a neat row of filled jars, now lidded and upside down on the window sill. 

All I have to do is watch and praise. And while this is happening, we are listening to Sunday Miscellany, our Sunday morning radio program, the one we have been listening on and off wherever possible for the past 40+ years. R starts to grin while Conall Hamill reads his memory of finding out about David Bowie as a teenage boy sent to the summer camp to learn Irish. And we both cheer when he describes how his life was changed listening to the sacred mysteries of Hunky Dory every night for three weeks. 

We have different memories of this song and where we were when we heard it first but we totally understand.  And I'll never need make jam again, I know that much.

(You can listen to it here: https://www.rte.ie/radio/radio1/clips/22192988/)

01 January 2023



The effort of imagination is to turn the boundary into a horizon. The boundary says, here and no further. The horizon says, welcome.
Barry Lopez


Let us lose our cool. Let us think of the billions of people who will come after us and lose our cool.

The apocalypse is the wrong story to tell about climate change. It’s self-serving, exploitative, clickbait rhetoric that paralyzes us with fear and excuses any action. It's so easy to blather on about collapse. Pick up some climate predictions, read them at a moment when you're not feeling well, cobble together some horror news, there's your apocalypse. But really, it's just lazy to put something like that out in the world. You take what you already perceive around you and extrapolate it into the future. That's so convenient because you don't have to change anything. Yes I get it. Looking into the future and not just seeing darkness is not easy. Imagining something new is fucking difficult. But the impulse to act never comes from staying calm. It comes from emotion. From excitement. From hope and from love. There is a great deal of work to do, and as climate change continues there will be even more. 

Remember: small changes are phenomenal. It’s not just about impact, it’s about our soul, about living the best life we can in respect of each other and the life around us. Let's concentrate on that. Let's work for a society that is not based on individualism and competition, but on trust and care, a democracy that is not representative, but direct, an economy based not on extractivism but on cycles.

We have all the tools.

Rather than feel impotent and useless, you must come to terms with the fact that as a human being you are infinitely powerful, and take responsibility for this tremendous power. Even our smallest actions have potential for great change, positively or negatively, and the way in which we all conduct ourselves within the world means something. You are anything but impotent, you are, in fact, exquisitely and frighteningly dynamic, as are we all, and with all respect you have an obligation to stand up and take responsibility for that potential. It is your most ordinary and urgent duty.

Nick Cave 


Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

Vaclav Havel