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