26 November 2023

November almost over

Aging is another word for living, so it has been said and wise words etc. but somedays the living is bloody hard. I say this from my comfortable home with great privilege, of course. After a 24hr colic attack and nausea, which felt like labour without the breaks between contractions. Anyway, it's over for now.

We are in the dark grey rainy, sleetish, dull November phase of the year.  Feeding peanuts to the jays from the kitchen window every morning is the highlight of our day. After that, we withdraw into our grumpy selves. I cleared out some of the paper files that crowd my desk. How exciting. Last week, the pension people called to tell me that my pension has been finalised and that the statement is "in the post". I forgot to ask what they actually mean by "in the post" and whether this means I will actually find out - if anything - how much I'll get and most importantly, when? But everybody was extremely polite.

I've been thinking about this here for a while. My early childhood was pretty wild, I ran after my sister with a gang of kids around the neighbourhood. We were in and out of each other's houses and gardens, building dens in the forest and climbing trees on good weather days, playing in basements and garages and barns when it rained. School interfered to some extent, also the piano and sports stuff my mother insisted on, but nobody really cared where we went in our free time as long as we were back for dinner.

When I think back to my daughter's earlier years, living with others involved also other kids that were around all the time, big messy gardens and trees to climb, later in paradise, life was always outdoors, many children every day, lots of paddling, swimming, snorkeling, catching fish in the estuary, collecting breadfruit and making charcoal from coconut husks. Years later, when we already lived in this city, a visiting friend from Denmark looked out over the endless rows of cars parking along the footpaths and asked quite perplexed, where do the children walk and play. Later that year, we visited her in Copenhagen in her small suburb where the cars must be parked way outside the living areas and the streets were full of children playing safely.

Modern loneliness masks itself as hyper connectivity. And so people have easily 1000 virtual friends, but no one they can ask to feed their cat. That loneliness, which is really a depletion of the social capital, is extremely powerful. […]

One question I keep asking that I had no idea was going to be so pertinent: When you grew up, did you play freely on the street? … And the majority of the people learned to play freely on the street. They learned social negotiation. They learned unscripted, un-choreographed, unmonitored interaction with people. They fought, they made rules, they made peace, they made friends, they broke up, they made friends again. They developed social muscles. And the majority of these very same people’s children do not play freely on the street. And I think that an adult needs to play freely on the street as well.

For us as adults, that means talking to people in the queue with you, talking to people on the subway, talking to people when you create any kind of group. Book club, movie club, sports club. You stay in the practice of experimentation, doubt, of the paradox of people: You need people very much but the very people that you need are the ones that can reject you.

We do not have the practice at the moment. Everything about predictive technologies is basically giving us a form of assisted living. You get it all served in uncomplicated, lack of friction, no obstacles and you no longer know how to deal with people. Because people are complex systems. Relationships, friendships are complex systems. They often demand that they hold two sides of an equation. And not that you solve little problems with technical solutions. And that is intrinsic to modern loneliness.

  Esther Perel

20 November 2023

limited energy levels

The river has flooded all the pathways along its shore and now I am bereft because it means I have to use the hideous street lanes and back roads for cycling and walking. For the time being. We walked as far as possible yesterday watching the driftwood flowing past and by the time we turned back, the water was lapping across the path.  I had this sudden image of the ground being washed away, which is not something that could happen any time soon. Still more rain to come.

The sun sets before 5 pm now, six more weeks to midwinter. 

A few things that have come my way.

Amazing cats:


A short film:



 An interesting quote:

I think the world is pretty awesome right now – not in a good sense. I mean awe in the sense of just being awestruck by the weight of our historical moment. We really are alive on the knife’s edge of whether or not this earth is going to be habitable for our species. That is not something that we can handle just on our own.

So we need to reach towards each other. That’s really tricky work. It’s a lot easier to come together and agree on things that are not working and things that are bad than it is to come together and develop a horizon of how things could be better.

That’s the only thing that’s gonna let us get out of the mirror world and the reactivity of dumping everything that we can’t stand about ourselves on to other people.

Things could be beautiful, things could be livable. There could be a world where everyone belongs. But I don’t think we can bear the reality of our moment unless we can imagine something else.

Naomi Klein

 And an amazingly skilled and sharp short story to listen to: 

So late in the day, by Claire Keegan 

15 November 2023

Two weeks into retirement, I am back at work, albeit only for two mornings from home (i.e. less pay, two week notice period). It's a bit of an in-between feeling. I am collecting ideas, read through a couple of requests for volunteering (they have been coming for weeks). The spectre of yet another surgery is looming on the far horizon but first more tests which are scheduled for January and February. This means I cannot really commit myself to anything new. So I go for long walks, cycle along the river, watch R dig up the roots from the almond tree that had to be removed and just wait. Made the mistake to look up the surgery procedures and was sent back into my own personal trauma from many years back. 

Which I have pondered during my walks in the autumnal forest, telling myself the whole story again and again. And one of these days, I will need to write it down.

Here we have a glorious young beech tree, aglow in the midday sun, now that the tall trees, having already shed their leaves, allow the sunlight through. 

The Roman historian Tacitus, in the years around 120 AD wrote a lengthy treatise (Germania, which every poor suffering middle school pupil who for regretful reasons opted for Latin as foreign language requirement had to translate) on the German peoples - yes plural, there were many different tribes around at the time- , their characteristics, customs, lifestyle and so on. He wrote at length how these strange blue-eyed, fair-haired tribal warriors saw forests as their sanctuaries, places of worship and home. A lot has been made of this over the years, poems were written, songs composed, lots of glorification and so on. All good, lots of kitsch, yes, but the romantic forest longing is something I would describe as truly German.

But here it is. The nazis knew a thing or two about symbolism and the power of terminology. The German name for beech is Buche and it is one of the most common trees in Germany. They are beautiful, sturdy trees and most people will recognise them. A forest of beech trees is a Buchenwald. But there is only one Buchenwald now and it is not a forest. It was one of the largest concentration camps on German soil. The German name for birch tree is Birke, another much loved tree in Germany. The German word for a meadow surrounded by birch trees is Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest German extermination camp. At least one million Jews were killed there.

Walking through a German forest is a history lesson whether I like it or not. 

Last Friday, as we have done irregularly in previous years, we attended the Kristallnacht memorial ceremony. Usually, this is a short ceremony by the river near the remains of the original synagogue, now a monument, but this time, it was held inside the opera house with a large police presence, security cameras and all bags were checked, long queues, many people.

A former colleague and active member of the local synagogue walked up to me. I was lost for words but it turned out they wanted someone to listen, so I did. This is what they asked me and I paraphrase.

What do you think happens after a ceasefire in Gaza? That is assuming that Hamas actually agrees to one. Hamas has publicly stated that its strategic goal is to continue the war until all Jews are annihilated. So, who will sit down and talk to them? How?

People who live comfortable lives come up with irresponsible political agitation, loaded with huge moral pathos. Who would not be against the bombing of cities? No sensible person, of course. But if you ask about context and consequences, silence. Did people march in the streets of the West demanding ceasefire when Putin attacked Ukraine? When over 190,000 Ukrainian children (still counting) were abducted by Russian forces? 

That is why it is negligent, cheap and dishonest to simply put forward abstract demands (often in the guise of left-wing radicalism or Christian loyalty to principles or similar) instead of embedding them in a coherent political strategy and then thinking it through to the end.

I wish I was Irish or Danish or of any other nationality that would allow me to simply express sympathy.

02 November 2023

All Souls

Today is All Souls Day in Germany. Yesterday was All Saints Day. When I was a kid, both days were public holidays meaning that everything except for churches and cemeteries was shut, TV/radio had only very somber programs and the weather would always be dismal. Two excruciatingly boring and seemingly endless days. Now, only All Saints is a public holiday based on some agreement between the two main churches and the catholics have won. Maybe catholic saints somehow overrule protestant souls. Today, there will be candles lit on graves, basically fat tealights in red holders, and it will look a little spooky after dark walking there. I often walk through the local cemeteries and must take some pictures one day, German cemeteries are basically parks, lots of tall trees etc. and nobody adheres to the no dogs, no cycling rules.

Hallowe'en isn't really a thing here (yet). The pubs and clubs have special drinks or theme nights, but the whole decorating and dressing up, no. I saw one group of teenagers walking down the road but they were not interested in trick or treating, they were heading for a place to hang out and take legal/illegal drugs.

When I was living in Ireland in the early 1980s, Hallowe'en was still Samhain, lots of mythology and bonfires and stuff I did not understand. Especially Barm Brack, or bairín breac, a round soft yeasty fruit bread with a ring hidden inside. And yes, the ring miraculously landed on my plate one day and all of R's family started to whoop and clap. The first crazy Hallowe'en parties with dressing up were becoming  fashionable and one year, we both dressed up as Rubik cubes, very uncomfortable as I remember.

Here the big day, again thanks to the catholics, is the feast of St. Martin, a Roman soldier born around the year 316 AD. According to legend, on the 12th of November, he rode past a starving and freezing beggar. He felt so sorry for the man that he split his warm coat with his sword and gave the beggar one half. During the night, the beggar appeared to Martin in a dream and revealed himself to be Jesus Christ apparently. This is celebrated by the primary schools and kindergartens with lantern parades, hundreds of kids walking behind a person dressed like a Roman soldier sitting on a real horse. The kids carry their home made lanterns and sing special songs. This culminates in a bonfire on a local field and after that, the kids walk from door to door, hold up their lanterns and sing songs and in return get sweets. The best part for most kids is the big fire truck that comes last at the end of the parade in case one or more of the lanterns go up in flames. Also, the horse. The Roman soldier gets mistaken for Santa by some but never mind.

It can be a parent's nightmare, especially the lantern part. These are made in school and I learned the hard way that the required wooden lantern holders sell out rapidly and that teachers have no mercy. My penance is that I now always have a large bucket of sweets waiting for very few kids who make it to our door and we then have to eat the sweets ourselves.

All Souls day is meant to be the day you get your act together regarding death, according to some members of my family, the how and where you want to be buried, what kind of funeral incl. your list of music and readings. I've written my list, a very short one, as I assume that I will not be around on the day, asking for no grave, no funeral (whatever is the cheapest option, I wrote) but if there's time and place, a party. If the religious members of my family should insist on a church funeral (my brother is married to a very lively and persuasive Lutheran pastor), go ahead, I wrote, but only if all of you sing  John Lennon's Imagine.

My mother opted out of it, donated her body to science. We have no idea what happened to it, there is no grave. My father is buried with his parents, for many years he had the letters ready for the shared gravestone incl. numbers and when he lived beyond 1999, got a bit mad at the fact that his set needed more 2s and what to do with all the 9s.