The Watchers

In another piece of prose poetry, Ian Macnaughton imagines life in a post-Covid-apocalypse England.

The Watchers

The sky greys, blood-framed as it leeches edge in.
Drifts often tailed across the flat worn ground.
No one watches even I gaze without sight.
My breathe catches, phlegm lines my mouth, bruised and blistered. Guarding our shelter I lean and catch my flagging attention;
she dozes, fitful and sick. Has she long? I wonder.
The ashes are still warm. Though enough to warm a bevvy?
Most likely not. Our hide lets my eyes grasp the gap:
all passers, to’ers. But no fro’ers. Seldom see those now.
Them in the wood take their toll. She stirs, a cry;
my eyes drawn up, instinct, questioning how?
No birds seen since the long night. So why?

When the sickness came first we did not See.
Months rumoured a new illness.
Places with a name we knew not. All seemed vague and distant.
Which shrunk the problem. Made sleight, it becomes fiction.
But like a day dream we had to wake.
Which we did to a creeping shroud.
Slowly obscured the world we believed we knew.
Through its dense weave contrasts grew.
Life or death, withdrawn or at risk, shielded and key.
We had leaders then. Blind they be.
Listened, hearing nothing, threatening only
that which sung their song. Sated a thirst for the apex.
We belittled it. But no sense of scale
allowed our leaders to scale it wrong.
They, full of empty rhetoric, unmasked, grew silent.
Following the science in fits and starts, senseless or unconcerned.
They, only arse covering, hung back.

The cities like a slide revealed our demise:
hollow, eaten out. A ‘donut’ too sweet on the edges,
hole at centre remodels our true being,
broken from within. Grow disquiet,
as idle hands, eyes, desires, breed envy – and hate.

This was long time back.
Not stopped, slowed, seized,
without any maker to oil or note the stop.

Now is the time to clean, wash, purge; hands first and, with a count,
palms, knuckles, nails, back, lines are scoured with stone, safe saved,
then the outer garb and any skin or surface on which particles may fall.
Last is mask renewed. This time the only time I see my face –
and only me. She does not see me.
Only her sees her and I see I.
I know her eyes and the bridge that links but the rest is felt.
That instant in each eve when the mask is shed
is the one time I see self now – a stranger,
glimpsed in fragment.

Because we no longer make, things ran out over time.
Firstly parts so The Machine stops! Later fuel, lubricant,
oil, not because we run out. Because too few need.
So no one will make. So fewer will need.
and soon we are impoverished.

We can laugh, what makes man less feared?
A mask. How do we know? By their masks. If you
love them reveal it by not two.
Whom it may concern know them not.
As love is blind.

 

Testing Times

So you’ve been feeling a tad Covid.

So you order a test, which arrives.

First off, they give you a three D cardboard box net to construct.

Great, you’re right at the top of your game. Love origami.

Not sure what it’s testing for though? Spatial awareness?

Then a series of bags and containers that have to be assembled very carefully in a specific order, Russian doll-like, when you do the actual test. Weird, I thought I’d already started, and then I notice in the book of instructions – that was in the bag – that I shouldn’t open the bag without washing my hands for 20 seconds, and that I should also clean all the surfaces before I get them out, but I haven’t finished the box; but then I shouldn’t have started, because I’ve got to clean everything first. How the fuck am I meant to know that, as, to read it, I’ve had to open the bag? So now I clean everything because it’s wrong. Could have Covid on it. So I go back and I wipe everything and I think I’d better finish the box, or maybe not? Maybe I should unfold and start all over again, in case I’ve missed something in the instructions? When I do read the instructions, I say “thank goodness I didn’t just see the big cotton bug and stick it up my nose and throat,” and then it tells me to do that anyway, but it must be an hour before the collection at our priority letter box, and we mustn’t touch anything with the cotton bud apart from two and half centimeters up my nose and the back of my throat. By this time I’m feeling so much better: I mean I’ve made the box, laid everything out and I’ve cleaned everything three time,s and I’ve learnt a lot about my area and where our priority post boxes aren’t, probably super spreading all the while. So then I find the link to the you tube video – which is handily in the booklet – so much easier to click on a link in paper instruction booklet – or rather it isn’t – but I manage to type it and link to Ali, the nice man who explains everything handily and simpl,y including which things might not be in the kit they’ve sent me. He says he know it’s a bit fiddly and frustrating but not too much he hopes, as I guess I could be feverish and confused at this point. He then reminds me to wash my hands for twenty seconds exactly. I nearly scald myself with the tap, but guess that’ll kill Covid as well. He also shows me how to stick a cotton bud in my throat and up my nose without touching anything else with the fabric. This all needs to go into the tube with liquid, and I must snap off the handle and close the tube without contaminating the contents. At this point I have a headache and have discovered how to stimulate a gagging reflex from the back of my throat without touching anything else. But have I rubbed my tonsils, and who knew they weren’t the dangly bits, for fecks sake? Also, this is where it goes into a second tube-  that I don’t have – and into two bags: one labelled bio hazard and the other with a pinch seal. All in a specific order, which is then all packaged in my handcrafted origami box, which has a special seal sticker that is in the bag in the box. Bollocks; still, it’s all part of a test, so I backtrack and seal the box thankfully with all the contents. I’m now running late for the priority collection, so in my feverish and somewhat confused state I, masked to the eyeball, stagger to the priority post box, narrowly evading non-socially-distancing pedestrians who ring the post box.

I then wait for three days. For a result which by the time it arrives; merely confirms the obvious: that I’m positive. Never has positive seemed so negative or vice versa.

But the test is still not over, as I now get sent a link for feedback to ‘test and trace’ (not ‘track n’ trace’)? Guess they’ve changed the name in case someone asks about the missing twelve and and a half billion.  But to give them feedback I have to set an account with a password, so I offer my best password effort, and of course it’s found wanting, not strong enough. So I try a random selection of letters, symbols and punctuation. No, that won’t do, too short. I lengthen it and, oh no, it’s too sequential, so I try another and another. But they’re all sequences. Yes, surely that is the nature of a password. It has a beginning and a middle and an end. Finally, randomly, it accepts something.

What have I learnt?

That I wish hadn’t started.

I also know, two days after I need to know, that I can stop self-isolating, that is, if I haven’t developed another symptom, maybe confusion?


			

Opportunity

Once again Ian Macnaughton moves away from the column format, also with prose poetry, but this time on the sardonic side.

Opportunity
Take it from me
it’s the key.
You
See it
Everywhere
And in everything.
Someone else’s grief is your opportunity
So take it
Don’t hesitate
Cause if you don’t
I will grasp it with both hands and milk it
Because anyone who tells you that’s wrong is a killjoy
Life is for the taking
You, we, all of us choose our destiny
The proles see this corona virus as a sentence, a ball and chain.
But really it’s the dogs bollocks, it’s the wings.
See it the right way and you will go far.
So
Set up that delivery service for the shielded
Start buying up the PPE
The textile machinists for masks
The cemetery plots or the crematorium
Or maybe just shares in Amazon and Netflix
Because if you don’t someone else will….


Why Lockdown has been a Lifeline for me, by Mary Tynan

Lockdown may have made life smaller for many people, but it made mine bigger.

Unlike most people, I wasn’t that upset when the first coronavirus lockdown began.  As far as I could see, it wasn’t going to make much difference to my life.  But I was wrong: it made my life better.

As a chronically ill, disabled person (I suffer from the neurological condition (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) living alone in a rural location, I had long been used to spending most of my time alone.  Many weeks, if I didn’t visit a shop, I didn’t see anyone.  And shopping was becoming harder – I had already begun the transition to grocery delivery before the pandemic.  I connected with people mostly via telephone or, more and more as time went on, via the web.

I used social media such as Facebook for two main purposes: to keep up with people that I rarely saw, such as friends from my previous life as an actor in London, and to make new friends, especially within the ME and chronic illness communities.  I joined support groups, book clubs and other interest groups; I attended and ran virtual pub quizzes and parties.  I also used the internet for solo activities, such as practising and learning languages on Duolingo, and studying everything from Archaeology to Cyber Security.  I was well-practised at living life online.  What happened early this year is that everyone joined me.

Right at the beginning of Lockdown, some friends and I decided to set up an online school.  Ar Líne Le Chéile was small, and part-time, and wasn’t intended to replace or compete with anything that children were getting from their regular teachers – rather, it was to help combat loneliness and isolation.  In this it succeeded, and our small class of primary school children had formed great friendships by the time we finished in June.  As I was already an experienced teacher, I took an active part in this, the highlight of which was the weekly multidisciplinary lesson where we made virtual visits to such places as the British Museum, NASA and the London Underground.  It was a lovely feeling to have my own class again, for the first time since 2008.  A side effect of this for me was that my old interest in coding was reawakened by a Scratch class run by another teacher (Philipa Farley, the writer of our Farley’s Philosophy column), and I ended up learning the Python programming language during the month of April when Pluralsight offered free courses for a month.

There was so much life online all of a sudden!  Musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber and plays from the National Theatre, for example, were available to watch free of charge.  I attended an online 80s concert with a couple of friends, who didn’t know each other previously; we watched in our separate homes and chatted via text at the same time.  I joined an online choir, and played board games with friends all over Ireland via WhatsApp.

I had an online magazine, Notes From Xanadu, predominantly an arts review, which had been semi-dormant over the preceding five years.  I had written a couple of Covid-related articles, and was in the process of revitalising it.  Then I had an idea: instead of relaunching as just a magazine, why not do something novel and create an online arts centre?  I set the date for the May bank holiday weekend, and got in touch with artists of all genres.  Over the four days of the launch we had 20 different features, ranging from writing to opera (world-renowned soprano Ailish Tynan was one of our first contributors) to puppetry.  We had visitors from numerous countries on six continents, and have continued to gain new followers and artists since then.

Although I don’t generally manage to get out much, I always do something for my birthday, whether that’s a restaurant and/or pub visit, or a small party at my house.  I decided not to let the virus stop me this year, and organised my first audio-visual virtual party.  I had guests from as far apart as London and New Mexico, and we played games, performed music, chatted and generally had a “night out.”  Unfortunately, problems with internet connections kept a few people away, but the evening was enough of a success for me to decide to develop a theatre as part of the online arts centre.

On 23 September 2020, Xanadu Online Theatre was born, with a launch concert/variety show featuring artists from three different time zones, and an invited audience from countries stretching from Finland to the US.  Unlike other similar ventures that have begun since Covid 19 gave us the New Normal, which use Zoom and other such platforms, this theatre is embedded in the Notes From Xanadu website and uses the open-source software Jitsi, which very much fits ideologically with the values of the online arts centre.

As part of the launch concert, I decided to perform a short scene with an actor friend in New York, Ash Reddington, and thus I found myself practising my craft as an actor for the first time in almost 6 years.  I have since set up an in-house theatre company, and we are having our first show in December.  Thus, as a result of the virus, I find myself where I thought I would never be again – in the rehearsal room, preparing to act on stage in front of a live audience.

This is the first in a series.  Watch out for accounts of other people’s positive lockdown experience in the coming weeks.

 

We Riders

Here Ian Macnaughton gives us something different from his usual Covid Life column: a piece of prose poetry based on his experience as a delivery rider during the pandemic.

Happen we ride, we  ride, take route pedal
Stepped hard thrust fully stretched down but we are
Free. To be riding, driving through for fee.
Cutting not corner. Slicing wind behind
And through the line. Furrow the holloway,
Grooves cut, burnt friction clattering we take
The back route, the cut through, clear of traffic.
That’s dead, slunk solid, jammed not going,
We gone. Looking back and grinning all way,
Through night and on, passed to the drop (beat),
Hauling rolling, wheels cut through muscle flesh,
Scars deaden, waking to stiff pushed locked legs.
A gap – we  ride it quick. Across darted
past, you hang alone. Our rhythm around
step that lifts again, shifting cogs whir, know
only when ground thrusts back and legs seem bruised.
Brutal, dis-jointed our frame dents no flex,
But take the beak between the thighs, and we,
born in newly strung bones, can translate stride
Into ride, step into schlep, harnessed (beat).
One with the bike, apart moving, mapped mind,
Motor transferred through the limbs as reflex
Involuntary, the will subject to
Wheel, channelled through the app becoming whole,
But still lingers in the surface fuzz a
Soul voice commenting in stream, washing clean
Through, like tears, wet, salty, anger, muted,
In play on the last rake, spit sprayed within
the hollow head of saddled puppet (beat).

The New Normal

What the fuck? The new? New, new, new what? Normal? Fuck no! Are you seriously telling me this is new? What, we weren’t governed by a bunch of self entitled, public school, ‘man of the people’ wannabees before this? No, and they couldn’t run a sack race or world beating track and trace before this either, yeah. This is not a revelation to me. Or you, I’m thinking, at least if you have a grasp on whether it’s Sunday or not and who Meghan Markle isn’t?

And have you heard it’s a virus that effects the poor, old, under classed, vulnerable, and ethnically other than white wealthy worse? What are the chances of that eh? Exactly, nothing abnormal or radical or different about this shite. So new that it’s no surprise. It’s exactly what it was before, the old unchanging order. Because, lets face it, the odds have been stacked breathtakingly high against the usual suspects for ever.

The only new is that that bunch of no marks are too incompetent to have worked out how to really squeeze the rest us of yet, even if their incompetent management is ensuring that those with least to lose are losing most. But don’t worry. they soon will have found a way of dodging the bullet – by using the rest of us as a human shield – even if Dominic Bummings and Dido Hardarse do decide to return to producing limp dance music. Because, while they are apparently very bright and see the real picture, they don’t exactly seem to be having the required surgical impact on the virus. They’re not the antidote. You need to worry though. You need to fire your fluffy little minds up about this, because their masters and mistresses are not up to the task of articulating a short sentence let alone killing the new cancer that is consuming our weakened corpse just as they throw away the EU drip.

In the Queue

In the seventies we used to be sniffy about queues. They were an Eastern Block thing. Behind the iron curtain you’d queue to buy anything; everything had it’s own queue.  A successful purchase could lift the spirits for the week. Pavlov has got wodka; he managed to swap his wife for two bottles, and his little Micha is queuing in Gdansk – for what, she doesn’t know – but we’re bound to need it by the time she arrives at the front. Oh, how we laughed at the foolish communists. Why queue for a Trabant?

Who’s laughing now eh? We got some lovely garden furniture and slug pellets. We were queuing for filler and paint, but you’ve got to take what’s available. It isn’t just shopping either: we now queue virtually as well and, frequently, without a clear objective in mind. Yes, I now understand online means you’re in the queue. It’s weird: I keep finding myself in the waiting mode – buying a ticket, logging in and then waiting in zoom. Time has changed. Anyone would have expected lockdown to make it less relevant. I mean, people are frequently working from home – they can do it in their pyjamas and, probably, whenever they like, but wifi has even inserted a queue there – because everytime you wait while the screen freezes or buffers, you are essentially back in a queue. My youngest gets up every Tuesday at dawn to get a place on the supermarket ‘merry go round’. Whatever we are, wherever we go, we are infront of someone and behind someone, and we don’t really know what we’ll be getting.

You can see it way off. The outriders on the hill down to the junction, along to the gates to the retail car park, and then the extended spiral that allows for social distancing, and on. But do take a trolley before you start, oh, and a novel, script, bottle of water, sandwiches – and always a sense of humour. Oh, you may as well dispense with the list, or at least write it whilst you wait, because, by the time you get there, you are going to be a different person, and stuff you thought you were buying may not be what you leave with.

Happy queuing!

The Plot

It’s been tidier, everywhere, here. I mean, normally they encroach on any area of vulnerability, the small, frail, tender and new. Anything emergent. This was seen as usual until recently. We have the new normal, the aged, depleted and compromised, and like before it is often someone we could identify if we ever saw them or spoke to them, types who are more likely to suffer. But in the main people have been put away, stored for their own good, shielded; we’ve been obedient, compliant and safe. But there are still junctions that allow us to fraternise. That’s what the plot is, an edge, a vantage point, a hide?  Where we can look.

Like any point that can be occupied, it has a defined area and edges, although faces might be more visual. These surround the centre of the plot and can be defined, or limited or, apparently, infinite. At least your eye could just keep travelling infinitely upward, but be under no illusion – the plot has limits. For a start, you can only really see things one way. When you look at something, you’re not looking at something else. Or is that a limitation in us and not the plot? I guess how this limitation changes us could only really be tested if we were like, maybe, ducks, with eyes on the side of our heads, or maybe the compound eye of a fly or nine eyes in or across our back. Anyway, within the plot, we are with our two eyes placed in parallel mounted on the front of our face giving us stereoscopic vision, and we have the element of time allowing for movement. Particularly rotation – the capacity to look different ways and then remember what we’ve seen before. But do we remember, or does what we see in the immediate downgrade our memory? Should I have asked this?

Because where we are now in the plot? Our plot seems quite overwhelming. I’m engaged with a cone of experience that projects from me. I move, it moves, the world shimmies. Suddenly I have neighbours. How do they operate? Do we speak? Do I engage? Do we both? When we do engage, it seems better to me – at least richer. I watch them unfold, and, if they engage with me, we find ourselves dancing, shadowing, allowing. Some information sticks: his face, how I placed my tools? Where they’re from? But not their name or the distance thing. Did I step too close? When they’ve moved on, I am no longer engaged, but I construct them. He: big head almost as wide as his shoulders, quilted jacket, curly hair, eyes like black olives, teacher, political, funny. She: scatty, frizzy ball on a cone. Arms gesticulating, jointed? Teacher, geography, Tallis, thinks she had the virus. Agree on everything with them or at least everything we say.

The dances with other neighbours are different, but the scorecards reveal after the event.

A phrase:

’Work in telly’ and I’m split. Part of me says.

’What does he do?’ Yeah he looks like an editor. Another part continues to weed and dig the border. I don’t ask for detail, just as I don’t ask her is she scared? Because I know it puts me in the wrong territory. I must not be too interested. We are allowed to compare our plots, but with self critical amusement and irony, and without actually saying what we think. He is jumpy, small head, suspicious, thinks I’m going to be too close to his beloved. She, girlish, frail, dry dark humoured, has the air of not-quite-dead crow, road kill, limping but bright-eyed and sharp, able to forage and possibly exaggerating her gait. Her mask is medical grade, not cheap disposable, no full PPE filter. She takes pride in it.

The newbies, one man and his puppet child, clearly get in everything including the way. He feints inexperience. But clearly does it by the book. Each day he leaves a neat illustration from the Readers Digest Home Garden Manual, down to the fork and sacking bookend. As the weeks pass, his master plan emerges: bamboo palaces, pyramids and teepees, dust surrounding de-potted seedlings, bought already striving.

The plots surround and jostle for attention. Further back, they fall into types; the diggers, the builders, the ornamentalists and then the warden.

He who watches. His plot immaculate, admired. Everyone knows his name. He decides: strimmer or not? Tidy your plot border. Even an email reminding us not to allow those from other households on our plot, because it had come to his attention that someone was bringing visitors to the site. Yes, and avail yourself of the sanitiser, with rigour to hands and handles, at the beginning of your time with us and at the end.

Secretly, his perfection rubs me up the wrong way. I intentionally choose to plant my plot without a rectangular grid. My planted areas include curves, and I frequently deviate from the mono cultured rows. Every little poke gives me a little more pleasure, and I hope he somehow knows it and resents it.

Ian Macnaughton,

 

 

 

Philipa Farley

Wheels Within Wheels – Part I

Following on from previous columns, where I had a bit of a moan about lockdown, I’ve decided to focus on change and being positive about change.  I’ll also alter my style a bit for this series.  Slightly more serious – but only slightly.

We’ve all had to change – whether we like it or not, whether we wanted to or not – over the last while.  Change is difficult.  Alongside the change, I’ve personally gone through varying cycles of emotion that range from utter despair and anger to acceptance and joy.  I have had to maintain being mindful throughout, as the negativity can take over quite quickly.

One of the tools I’ve used as part of my mindfulness practice is the ‘Wheel of Life’.  What is the Wheel of Life?  The Wheel of Life is a tool that is widely used in coaching circles, to simply benchmark where we’re at against where we’d like to be in certain areas of our life.  I use it as a personal accountability and development tool.  It keeps me on track, and from wandering down rabbit holes where I can get lost for days or months at a time.  You can adapt the concept to suit yourself and your own needs.

Before we get into the practicalities, some history first.  Some like to say the original, original concept came to us through Buddhism, however, the original concept originated with Paul J Meyer, the founder of the Success Motivation (R) Institute in the 1960s.

The original wheel, with six slices of the pie, looked like this:

You’ll note the sections were labelled:

  • Financial and Career
  • Mental and Educational
  • Physical and Health
  • Social and Cultural
  • Spiritual and Ethical
  • Family and Home

The more modern Wheel of Life is usually subdivided into 8 sections.  These are, commonly:

  • Business and Career
  • Finance
  • Health
  • Family and Friends
  • Romance
  • Personal Development
  • Fun and Recreation
  • Contribution to Society

My wheel of life is very similar, except I would have ‘Physical Environment’ in place of ‘Contribution to Society.’  This doesn’t make me a cretin who isn’t interested in society.  My contribution to society runs as a natural thread throughout my interactions with society; I don’t feel the need to actively measure this or set goals for it.  However, my physical environment is very important to me for various different reasons, so I prefer to measure this.

If you want to focus in on one area and break it down into other sections, the Wheel of Life can be used that way too. Some people use it to assess themselves in each of the roles they play in life, such as partner, manager, parent, sports coach, teacher, etc.  Try and keep your set consistent when designing it.

The Wheel of Life is used in two styles: pie and spider web. When we use the pie style, we draw a line to mark how far up the slice we are, whereas with the spider web wheel, we can plot points on the slices as if it is a graph.  Both result in the same messaging, though.  Personally, I use the pie style, keeping it simple.

In the next part of the series, I’ll look at how to get started: identifying what an aspirational 10/10 is for us in each of the categories of the Wheel of Life, and how we benchmark where we’re at now.  I look forward to sharing more with you in the next column: showing you how I use it in a very practical way, from longer term goal setting that then translates into small, daily actions that I take to reach said goals.  Through this, you’ll get a glimpse of how I managed to maintain a semblance of sanity during lockdown, even though our lives were turned upside down.

As a small teaser, you might want to try this online assessment: https://wheeloflife.noomii.com/

Philipa Farley

 

Come Shopping with Me, by Ash Reddington

Ash Reddington is a talented Irish actor, writer and filmmaker who is based in New York City.  In this short comedy film, her character Svetlana goes window shopping in Manhattan during lockdown.

You can find out more about Ash at her Backstage page.

Many Diminishing Returns

It’s not helped by the weather.  I mean, it’s definitely that time when you start thinking about getting away.  Dawn chorus is actually getting louder; maybe it’s just the contrast.  I mean, there’s nothing happening.

Anyway, that’s the time for me.  We always used to set off then.  Car was packed, evening before, and then we’d eat something.  And I mean something; Mum was always thrifty – Dad said ‘Mean.’  So, whatever was left in the fridge was cooked and eaten, then off to bed, too excited to sleep.  Eyes shut, make it pass quicker, then woken by my dad saying “Shhhh, it’s time.”  We’d dress in that curious garb only worn for holidays.  Dad’s weird trousers that had zips just above the knees so they converted into badly fitting shorts.  Then downstairs without breakfast, off through the empty streets.  How long before we see another vehicle?

Like now.  The rumble behind all the other sounds is gone.  But we are still waiting to go away, to escape, to be released, for the summer, vacation, va-ca-tion?

Well it seems more vacant than a holy day.  I mean, the next step is unlikely to be a celebration.  It is not a return.  The new normal is not so easy to shed; it has to be tailored to fit the circumstances.  We’ve not been here before, and this journey is not a reversal – more a gradual course adjustment, a slight curve.  People say ‘when it’s over’ but can it be?  Over the horizon perhaps?  Which means we might glimpse further ahead.  Are we there yet?  Yes, we’re always there.  Is there a real ‘us’? Maybe the immediate household.

The family has, for some, returned to staycation; children are suddenly familiar with family.  For some, this will be a positive discovery; for others it will be ‘domestic.’  For some, it will be duty or servitude as carers; for others solitary ‘lives in parallel.’  Our main community is. in many cases. now digital and is itself fragmented.

So, which ‘us’ are they briefing?  Who is in it together?  The death rate among the solitary and the marginal has risen, the rest shunted into a virtual world in which social relations are through a screen, muffled, partial, and easily monitored.  Does this contribute to a sense of disempowerment; of being done unto?  It might be a contributory factor to recent rise in active protest.  Is that where ‘we’ need to be next?

Philipa Farley

Lockdown Lunch

It has been a while, dear readers, since I have been sat down and writing.  Much has happened in ‘lockdown’ which I won’t get into right now.*  Yes, I prefer the term ‘lockdown’ to ‘self-isolation’.  Like, I’m not self-isolating.  I haven’t chosen to isolate myself.  I’m not isolating because I’m not by myself.  ‘Self-isolation’ is a very confusing term.  We are, according to public health advice, limiting our interactions with people outside of our core home unit to the absolute essentials.  What do we call that?**  It’s definitely not ‘self-isolation’ in my book.

‘Lockdown’ is far more sexy and intimates some kind of purpose or goal, maybe.  If you say it the right way.  You can’t say it in a sad or whiny tone.  You have to say it with authority, possibly with your eyes slightly wider than usual, giving you a bit of a crazy look.  Practice in the mirror.

We started ‘lockdown’ gloriously.  Well, I think I did.  I spent hours in the kitchen making wonderful exotic dinners for the family.***  I’ve since lost count of the cheese toasts and teas I’ve consumed.  Unfortunately my waistline insists on bearing evidence.****

We have managed to avoid the whole artisan, bread starter craze but only because I’ve been there and done that.  That ish is worse than caring for a baby.  It gets everywhere and becomes all-consuming. The only excuse you’ll ever have for keeping a live starter is if you’re baking for your neighbourhood.  Don’t bother, otherwise.*****  We did build an open fire pit in the garden so we’ve reverted back to the African way of cooking over the open fire a bit.  That has been particularly enjoyable.  Possibly have gone feral making pallet furniture.  Yet to be completed.

On the food note, I decided to sign up to a cooking newsletter on email.******  First edition just arrived.  Full of soup recipes.  Soup.  Even the word: soup.  Say it.  The mouthfeel of the word soup is not even satisfactory.  If soup is not accompanied by a nice big fat plate of toasted sandwich with everything in them (preferably snackwich style for dunking), it’s not worth it.  I don’t know how I feel about drinking my food.  Never got into the juicing craze.  Smoothies need to be thick enough to eat with a spoon.*******

I also have just realised thanks to the red underline that snackwich is probably not a well known term.  South Africans call toasted sandwiches with the sealed edges from the home toasting machine a snackwich does in fact have a good mouthfeel when you say it.  Far more satisfactory than soup.

Cooking newsletter did not just seem to put soup on a pedestal.  It advocated biscuit making with lard.  Yeah yeah to the pros.  I get it.  Crispy biscuits.  Ireland has spoiled me for life.  Butter is queen.  Lard is not.  I love bacon, don’t get me wrong.  But knowing the fat from the abdomen of a pig is inside my delicious crispy biscuit is just not a great feeling at all.  Similar to handling raw chicken.  It makes me want to scrub, violently, with soap and hot water.  At least I won’t catch corona in my kitchen.

‘Til next time.

*Suffice to say, I cackle every time I see a man saying we’re all inadequate if we haven’t learned a new skill, blah blah.
**Being A Responsible Human?
***Didn’t last a week.
****Trying not to bare the evidence…definitely not a bikini ready summer, lads.
*****You’re welcome.
******Feels like 1999 again.
*******Smoothies count as food only when fruit to liquid (yoghurt) ratio is correct.

Dear You

I remember the first time I saw you. The light haloed you. What do they call it? An aura? Yeah, you had something about you. Something that drew me in. I knew I wanted to …. not to question but know, know you. Not like an address book, no I wanted to understand what makes you tick, at a molecular level, (chuckles). I wanted to be close to you. Yes you were beautiful, different, easy to look at, fit, elegant, nothing overstated, something drew me. Maybe your taste, I’m sorry, is this too much? Curiosity killed the cat. Or maybe the Cat had nine lives?

So I surveyed you. I’m not one to leap in. I like to know my locale. I’d find a comfortable position in the middle of the class. Part of your inner circle. I start to know you, through them. The neat way you take in the world, your habitat, the community? You are a warm, reliable, person. Not one who needs to see themselves liked by social media; a people person, touchy feely, a hugger; people feel they can rely on you, and you smell good. Not cheaply floral, no, broad, sweetly herbal, maybe spice and a healthy scent of exercise. I wanted to be immediate to you. The thought of being confined with you tickled me; in a warm closet or airing cupboard, dry and warm, intimate, shared breath, I can still feel your heat, smell your hair, taste your constrained breath. Your body frames mine. Clasping together. Your brother searches having reached ten. I was still small, too small to be taken seriously. But I meant it. Even then I was feeling it and it would only get stronger. But I had to bottle it. I, in the …. past, well, I suppose I’ve been too obvious, wooden, gauche. To win you, it had to seem like your victory. Otherwise you might think I was a stalker.

I love you. I don’t mean in a half hearted flirtatiously attached sort of way. Not dalliance, not a teasing exchange. You make me complete. I no longer imagine going places without you. You’re long term. Not just a travelling companion. In you I’ve seen myself. I can see our potential. You embody it. I commit to you fully.

But what do I get in response? Fear, I can taste it. The way you distance yourself. Not just slyly relocating the table tent at the meeting so as to avoid being my neighbour. No, excusing yourself from events, soirees, involving our mutual friends, always a reason, not a school day, migraine, need to catch that train and look, they can all see it. They know we fit together. Complimentary flavours, primary colours in our social palette. But you don’t buy it. Anyone would think I was toxic, I just need to be close. I’m not asking for conscious commitment. Choice is irrelevant. Our willing compliance is unnecessary. Our connection is fundamental. It seems trite to say we’re made for each other.

An item; we have a future; potential to make something simply beautiful. So this change in your behaviour, this cruelty will not go unanswered. I’m afraid, or rather I’m not. To be brutal is a mark of my passion. It’s all or everything. You can’t just cut me. I know where you are. How you behave and how to exploit your instinct. Take a long hard look at yourself and reconsider. Because I’m resilient, persistent and patient.

C

Perspectives, by Mark Fitzpatrick

Today we are featuring photographer Mark ‘Fitz’ Fitzpatrick.  Fitz describes himself as a “full time parent and teacher, part-time visual story teller, background artist, silversmith, bargee and recovering layabout.”

“I like to view the world around use from a different perspective to show there is art all around use, sometimes we just need to step back to see it.”

Bugs, by Colin Byford

This is the second of two exhibitions in our gallery by Colin this weekend.  The first, entitled “Water” debuted on Friday, 1 May.

“I have had a 4 plus decade relationship with photography mostly as a high level amateur and a couple of years fully professional both in Ireland and back home in New Zealand.  My main commercial work to date has been in family and event photography.

I am fascinated by the technical aspects of photography. I learn the capabilities of the equipment and then push them. When combined with my computing background I can get some pleasing results. Sadly the artistic side is hard to teach but I am told I have a good eye.

I hope you enjoy my images. Prints of all these images are available to buy up to A3 size.  My website is www.byfocal.ie and I am on fotocommunity.com as Colin S Byford.”








Energy Saving Lightbulbs

Bloody energy-saving lightbulbs, eh? They’ve attracted a lot of chatter lately, and the last thing this debate needs is rabid, misinformed invective from me. But here it is anyway.

For I have vast and unhappy experience of Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs), aka energy-saving or long-life bulbs. It started when an electrician skilfully smashed one in our small bathroom, a facility used mostly by the kids who were cavorting barefoot nearby. Naturally, he sloped off without a word, believing perhaps that placing one large shard of glass in the sink was sufficient duty-of-care for one lazy shiftless lifetime, and possibly unaware that (a) CFLs contain mercury and (b) mercury is bad.

That’s when I learned the proper, EPA-approved clean-up procedure for such scenarios. I won’t bore you with the details because well, they’re boring, but highlights include not being allowed to vacuum or brush (because that makes the mercury airborne) and using sticky tape to pick up small fragments and powder (because you’ve got all weekend to do this, right?)

Also, be aware that CFLs don’t play nice with dimmer switches. Don’t use them together, or, bang!, you’ll end up exploding both.

We have a CFL upstairs which has started to flicker. Constantly. It cost €7.99 a few months ago, but now it has to go. Last week I replaced the candle-style CFL in a child’s reading lamp, for €5.99, because it was melting.

Yes, melting. The whole energy-saving point of CFLs is they don’t get hot – unless, it seems, a fly gets incinerated inside their ugly tubular coils, which is what happened here. But c’mon, who knew that insects would fly towards lights? You can’t expect the bulb people to plan for something as rare as that, can you?

In the kitchen, we have an even more expensive “soft” CFL which supposedly replicates the warmer glow of incandescent bulbs. It also replicates their curvy, tasteful, almost mammary appearance. Sadly, however, it fails to replicate the not-being-a-piece-of-crap aspect of old-fashioned bulbs, in that it only works half the time. Weeks will pass without a single lumen – then one day it’s back, shining away. And I can’t throw it out if it’s still semi-working. I’m not made of lightbulbs.

Look, I’m being moderate here. I haven’t mentioned CFLs’ alleged links to epilepsy and migraine, the cancer scares around their ultraviolet emissions, and the distinct probability that the CIA is using radiation to brainwash and seduce our beautiful redheaded women. I’m not a crackpot.

But dammit, I’d rather sit in the dark than clean up after another broken “long-life” bulb.

George Wells

Youth and Love, by Laney Rie

Laney Rie is a singer songwriter from Colorado. She has been writing songs since she was 12. Her inspiration comes from her life experiences and the people she has come in contact with. Her musical style is indie pop, with mellow piano and poetic song lyrics. Laney has a soulful sound, especially for her youthful age. She wants her music to impact people in such a way that they don’t feel alone in this world.

This is our third song from Laney this launch weekend.  Her EP, Childish Dreams, can be purchased from Apple Music.

May for ME

May is ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) awareness month. It’s probably the awareness month for several other medical conditions as well – let’s face it, we have more than 12 of them after all, so maybe we should be going for a week, or even just a day?

Whatever. I’m not going to be posting about ME every single day of May (we’re already on day 4, and this is my first one, after all). But I am going to be posting. Today, I’m going to start with a short description of the illness, and then tell you a little bit about my experience with it.

ME is a debilitating neurological illness with numerous symptoms, including bone-weary exhaustion, muscle pain, joint pain, stabbing neurological pain, headaches, intolerance to light and sound, sleep disturbances, light-headedness, orthostatic intolerance (inability to stand), inability to regulate body temperature, persistent flu-like symptoms, nausea and IBS, fibromyalgia, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, short-term memory loss, slurred speech and more. But the overriding symptom that differentiates it from every other illness is called post-exertional malaise (PEM). This means that patients have a severe, delayed reaction to exercise, and in many cases never return to the same baseline they were at before whatever sent them into a “crash.” Have you ever massively overdone it on the weights at the gym, and been in so much pain you were unable to move the next day? Add that to having influenza and the fatigue you might feel after doing your first marathon, and you might have some idea how it feels. Plus, if you ever do manage to return to our metaphorical gym, you will only be able to lift half the weight you could before. This is no exaggeration: I moved my sofa a couple of inches in mid-December last year (pushed it with my whole bodyweight), and I was confined to bed for weeks. I almost missed Christmas Day – I did miss singing with the church choir on Christmas Eve.

My ME journey began in 2004. I got a flu-like illness that never went away, although I suspect I had already had fibromyalgia for some time before that – it had been misdiagnosed as ankylosing spondolitis. My doctor thought the original illness may have been glandular fever. Strangely enough, the diagnosis made me feel a bit better – I didn’t know then what I know now about ME. I took a three (long) days a week teaching job and tried to just get on with it. That didn’t really work, and I had to resign from the job. However, shortly after that I discovered a local chiropractor, and spent a lot of money on intensive treatment which put me into about 95% remission, or at least that was what I attributed it to. I later learnt that it is common to go into remission in the first couple of years, and for it to come back again a few years later, in a more permanent form.

I spent the next few years working as an actor and also as a supply teacher – two very physically demanding jobs. I thought I was fine. I even did the couch-2-5k programme at one point with my friend Tracy – although I was a terrible runner: I could almost walk faster than I could run. I would train in the gym every day if I could, and I attended Body Pump and Pilates classes. I went clubbing when the opportunity presented itself. I did physical theatre and danced in musicals.

But at a certain point in 2010, I felt the illness return. In retrospect, it had probably been creeping up on me for a while, but I had been too busy to notice. I was temping in an office Monday to Friday, teaching GCSE English catchup lessons in a secondary school on Saturdays, and directing and playing the leading role in a play for which we were rehearsing three evenings a week plus Sunday. (I am a bit of an overachiever, but this is also what it took to make enough money to live on).

My next play was a physical theatre piece. I had to tell the director that I couldn’t do that part of it. Luckily, I had one of the speaking parts, which didn’t necessarily have to involve a lot of movement. At this point, I could no longer run, work out, or go clubbing, but I could still do the dancing required for a musical a couple of years later, go to two tap classes a week, swim, and walk for miles. Standing up for more than a few minutes was beginning to be a bit of a problem though.

Fast forward to late 2014. I had to give up the intervention teaching job I had been doing (in the same school, but through an agency) for several years. By this point, I could only swim for about ten minutes, there was no tap dancing, or cross-city walks, but I could do yoga. Standing for more than five minutes was problematic, as was navigating steps. I had one last stab at work a few months later when I took over the lead role in a play after someone fell ill. I learnt 70 pages of script in five days. I had worked with the director previously, and he set up the stage in such a way that I could sit down whenever I felt the need to. In the third week of our four week run (with a lot of my friends in the audience – it was St Patrick’s Day and I had arranged for there to be a half-price ticket night), everything went black around me, apart from the face of the actor who was right in front of me. I almost passed out on stage. I finished the run, but I haven’t worked since.

A few months later, I left London and moved to a house in the country in the West of Ireland. At first, I could still walk 5 k each day. It would use up at least half of my daily energy, but I prioritised it because made me feel good mentally. Things have got progressively worse since then, and I recently acquired an electric wheelchair. Some of the simplest household tasks are beyond me, such as changing my bed sheets. Although I live in a dormer bungalow, I rarely go upstairs.  Sometimes I don’t eat, because I’m not well enough to wash the dishes afterwards.

I have already mentioned the sofa incident. In early 2018, I spent three months in bed after a one-week visit to London. I can no longer travel by any form of public transport on my own. Before Covid 19, I was travelling to my nearest city maybe every 5 – 6 weeks.

ME is what is known as an invisible illness. If you see me, it will be because I am having a good day. If I am having a bad day, week, or month, then I won’t be going anywhere. If I seem to be enjoying myself at your birthday party, I probably am – but I will be paying for it for weeks afterwards. This is the reality of life for people with ME, especially those who live alone. There is no treatment and no cure. We are the #millionsmissing.

Mary Tynan

To understand more about PEM and energy debt, please read my article “Living Life with a Low-Capacity Battery,” which was previously published in The Mighty and Yahoo News.

Stock Take, by Flaura Atkinson

This evocative short zombie film was made by Director Flaura Atkinson in 2009.  Please note that smaller children might find this a bit scary.  Parents are advised to watch the film themselves first and use their own judgement as to suitability.

Image

Blackrock Diving Tower, by Anne Tynan

Galway City native Anne painted this picture of the famous diving tower at Blackrock, Salthill.  This picture is particulary poignant, as, in normal times, there are swimmers at Blackrock every single day of the year, with Christmas Day being a particular favourite.  Anne says:

“Definitely not comfortable with describing myself as an artist.  I was inspired to paint this iconic neighbourhood scene after a thoughtful birthday gift from my sister.  I hadn’t painted for decades, pretty much abandoning it after a year of art school when I was 16.  However, having enjoyed this painting thoroughly, I will definitely keep it up and hope to improve!”