Category Archives: being me

Saturday mornings

I like those Saturday mornings where I wake early, and get up * reasonably * early and have a chance to ease into the day. I like doing it during the week as well but for some reason that’s not happening much lately.

Facebook has been begging me to install their mobile app on my phone for ages but I’m just not interested. I took twitter off my iPad and I’m getting close to pulling it off my phone although if I do that at least on the phone it will stay logged in on a browser. I get a lot of my news and quite a few interesting bits and pieces through Twitter – far more than I ever did through Facebook. But it is too easy to get hooked into reloading twitter all the time and that distracts me from being distracted by my own thoughts. Saturday morning’s get me back there sometimes.

I never feel all that great if I stay i bed late on a Saturday morning. Mostly I like to be up before 8 if possible, well before 9 at best. After that things start feeling not great. I feel behind, unrelaxed. Online social media often contributes to my still being in bed at 10am on a Saturday morning and it frustrates me.

I sometimes wonder how much of this is evidence that in fact, and in agreement with all appearances and a selection of calendars, I am getting old. Not so much the getting up early – because I mostly did that anyway – but the feeling that social media is not bringing so much to my life any more.

Saturday mornings bring the opportunity to relax a little, think about where I am in the world and what I want to do. They are always much better if I am not also trying to frantically catch up with things. There is pleasure – surprisingly enough – to be got from the sound of getting the washing machine done on time and listening to it going through its cycle early on a Saturday morning. It gives me a feeling of control. And relaxation because at least I don’t have to scrub the clothes thanks to technology.

I wonder sometimes – coloured a lot by what I read on line – how much time we devote to not being stressed, not being under pressure. Even our hobbies can add pressure by adding a time dimension to them – three of my local swimming pools close at 12 on a Sunday which puts you on a bit of a time table. The please on Saturday mornings for me is not being on that much of a timetable. Not needing to rush out the door.

I like Saturday mornings. Above and Beyond in the background. A leisurely breakfast and the knowledge that no bus I get on today will be the same as a sardine can fitted with a sauna.

I must buy all the things!!!!!

Someone posted a craft link to my Facebook feed the other day on how doing craft stuff and buying craft stuff were two separate hobbies. I totally understand this.

Yesterday, I bought some mechanical pencils. When I lived in Ireland, basically, if you wanted a mechanical pencil, it was a 0.5mm or a 0.7mm you got. And the choice in the cheap price range was a bit pathetic. This is why I tended to bulk buy mechanical pencils when I was out foreign. They had pretty pencils. They had good pencils like Uni Kuru Togas and Uni Shalakus. They were pretty, and they came in a nice range of colours and as 0.5s went, they tended to stay fairly pointy.

When I started drawing I realised that I needed something slightly finer again to deal with fur. I drew mice.

And evil looking kittens.

And I struggled to find anything finer, like that really nice 0.3 the guy on the Youtube video was using. I tore Dublin apart looking either for a clutch pencil that was nice and long (duh) or a 0.3. I eventually found a 0.35mm Faber Castell. For a long time, that was the only 0.3 pencil I had. I bought some class of a Japanese one in Delfonics in Paris once for a friend who liked particularly lethal stationery and spent months afterwards regretting not buying two.

We’re talking about 0.05mm here but the other problem with this is the lack of replacement leads.

Which brings us to yesterday. I discovered another stationery shop in Luxembourg a few weeks ago and yesterday, I got to go and Check It Out. It didn’t have Uni Kuru Togas (pity) but it did have a few Pentel Orenz in various sizes. I have coveted a Pentel Orenz for ages. I actually owned one (having picked it up in Delfonics in Paris a few weeks’ ago) but they had them in a lot of different sizes and colours. And they had other Pentels that I didn’t see too often. I’ve a bundle of Pentels in the mechanical pencil role but they are 0.5s and 0.7s.

You know, when you start drawing they keep telling you to, you know keep trying stuff till you find what you like. I have a lot of pencils both wood case and mechanical and clutch. I’m finding that I like different pencils for different things.

Anyway, my little eyes lit up, and I bought 2x 0.2s and 2x 0.3s. I was strong on the 0.7 and 0.5 front, even to the extent of not buying a 0.5 Pentel Graphgear which I sort of thought I didn’t have but rationalised it on the grounds that I had about 4 Kuru Togas and 5 Shalakus, all 0.5. And that wasn’t including all the other 0.7s (hello Faber Castell and Caran d’Ache). There’s a moratorium on a number of stationery items at the moment although it’s possible if they were selling Kuru Togas in anything other than a 0.5 I’d have capitulated.

Today then, I needed to find homes for these new pencils, the joy of my life, which which I would be drawing fur till the cows came home, metaphorically. I have seen no cows since I left Ireland. As part of that job I also did a census of boxes of mechanical pencil leads. I took the opportunity to tidy out the pencil section of my tool box (this means I didn’t deal with the fineliners) as well. From this experience I learned that I have a lot of 0.3mm mechanical pencils. Now, the one that was in my handbag pencil case has been causing trouble but because it was one of 3 Staedler Mars I’m not entirely sure whether it’s the same one that came out of my handbag pencil case (it’s a small case to impose discipline), these new ones which I got yesterday and the infamous Faber Castell 0.35 which I bought a few years ago from the only shop in Dublin which did, at the time, sell something that fine.

As a result of this exercise – I deliberately did not take any photographs, I have discovered that

  • the reason my tool box wouldn’t close was because it had LOADs of pencils in it. It’s still pushing it tightness wise but it looks less uck than it did this morning
  • I have enough pencil lead to open my own shop but surprisingly enough, the lead I am least well supplied in is 0.7 of any graphite grade. I have more 0.3, and 0.2 than I have of 0.7. I think this is linked to panic buying. IF you know every shop will have some variety of 0.7 then you don’t panic about it. Given that historically I’ve found it impossible to get either 0.3 and smaller pencils and associated lead, I clearly binge bought it any time I saw it.
  • My desk is nice when it’s tidy.
  • I also have a lot of international ink cartridges, colour blue (they were in the same drawer as the pencil lead supplies). I have no idea what to do with them; I have plenty of fountain pens, this is true, and many of them even take international cartridges (I have loads of Lamys too). But I really have no idea how I accumulated so many blue cartridges because I do not buy them. I’m pretty certain I did not ship them from Ireland. And while you tend to get a cartridge or two when you buy a cheap fountain pen (like 10E worth of neon colour plastic things), I still seem to have an order of magnitude more blue cartridges than can be reasonably explained by the number of dirt cheap plastic school kid fountain pens I have acquired in the last year.
  • If I had any guts I’d do something about the fineliner supply in my tool box but to be honest, I think one of the key issues there is the inability to differentiate between the “live” fineliner and the “spare fineliner because the wretched things go dry at the most inopportune times”.

Anyway, courtesy of this morning’s work, my pencil lead selection is currently tidy, and there is a moratorium on buying any pencil lead at all. Whatever I have, I need to work through and this includes the random colour lead I seem to have acquired as well. No more. Although, no wait, I am allowed get graphite when I run out of that. But we’re talking about an event sometime in the long term here.

I’m getting good at actively not buying any more cheap plastic fountain pens (I dread finding out about the colours of next year’s special edition Lamys). This at least is not adding to the orgy of blue ink in one of my stationery drawers.

I need to spend more time drawing. I did a dragon for Inktober the other day but I seem to lack the time to actually do anything major, any painting lately. I also started designing this year’s Christmas card – I’d apologise but the Christmas card designs tend to need to be done several times. I don’t have any of my large format watercolour paper with me so it gutted me this morning to do this, but I bought some. I have about 150 sheets of the stuff in Ireland. That aside, I think one of the key reasons I don’t draw much is that my desk suffers from Flat Surface Law Syndrome, the one that says No Flat Surface Remains Uncluttered for more than 5 seconds.

For weeks I’ve considered that a good solution to the lack of desk space would be buying more desk space but really, I think what I need are more shelves. It frustrates me that I can’t keep my home desk tidy when my work desk looks immaculate. I think it’s because my electricity bill does not travel to my work place. Things wind up on my desk though because there is no home for them.

There was a time I used to buy books and CDs. They did, in all fairness, take up more space.

Multilingualism Day at the European Parliament – 30 September, 2017

Yesterday was international Translators and Interpreters Day and lined up with that, the European Parliament ran a Multilingualism Day at the Parliament buildings in Brussels. In particular, I think, it was targeted at would be interpreters and translators and featured some specialist talks; some briefing talks in the debating chamber, and some games and try it out stuff. The interpreting service had temporary interpreting booths set up with a bunch of recorded speeches for anyone to try.

Because of issues between Luxembourg and Brussels, I wound up arriving later than I would liked so I missed a bit of a talk about life long education for interpreters, and also because I decided to do what they called a Hemicycle briefing tour, I missed the tips and tricks talk. I sort of regret that because I’m sure there were some great war stories.

One of the things which struck me about the population of visitors which I saw is that it was heartening to see the range of ages of people who were interested in knowing more about the language careers, particularly the interpreting. You could see this watching people having a go at interpreting – there was a broad range of ages stepping into the booths to voice their versions of Plastic Waste or The Beetle in French.

I’ve been in the Brussels Hemicycle a couple of times now between the Open Day in May and this. It’s quite a stunning room – my eyes are always drawn to the interpreting boxes, and English in number 2 and Gaeilge in Number 23. We had a terrific speaker who didn’t just talk at us about the Parliament but also engaged us in debate about the present and future of Europe, and the contexts which sometimes get forgotten and how they feed into the choice of representatives sent by the different countries. I’d strongly advise anyone who hasn’t seen either it, or the hemicycle in Strasbourg to grab opportunities when they present themselves. May is usually good for both and the plenary sessions should be accessible as well I think. It was heartening to see young British people attending, even now when it seems as though the EU may not be a part of their country’s future. It seems to me they still hope.

The one interpreting talk I did get to was interesting in terms of listening to the questions people ask. The young Dutch interpreter who gave the talk admitted that it took him about 4 years to get any newly acquired language operational for interpreting and that yes, learning for interpreting caused different learning strategies with a focus on passive understanding more so than active writing, for example. You could understand that too. I kind of wished things like this existed when I was a recent graduate – I would have killed to sit in those rooms wishing and dreaming.

As for the interpreting itself, I was slightly disappointed not to get to sit in one of the hemicycle booths to look out on the room but I had a go at the plastic waste speech which didn’t go too badly. I can’t complain.

On a vaguely related note, uncomfortable and all as they are, I’d really like to know how to get my hands on headphones similar to the ones the Parliament has. Yes they are flat, yes they are plastic and sure they are fairly austere compared to my nice puffy on earphones that look like they date from the 1970s but the sound is crystal clear from them.

Anyway, I think outreach events like this are great – I loved both this and the SCIC Europe conference thing in the Berlaymont in May – and I really do think any one with an interest in working for the institutions, particularly as an interpreter or translator, should try to get to them when they turn up. Finding out about them – well the best thing to do is follow both the European Commission and Parliament Interpreters on Facebook.

 

Wandering through pages

I’m not entirely sure how but this popped up on my twitter feed this morning:

Alex Stubb wrote a piece for Finnair’s inflight magazine on the question of reading and the fact that he seemed to be doing less of it. I must confess I was a bit envious of his 4000 books. I cleared out a good lot last year when I was moving house, much to my sadness. What he said about the place of reading in his life resonated. I have been thinking about this on several fronts myself lately. I’ve recognised that I read far less than I did in the past. This despite the convenience of a Kindle which currently has a queue of about 200 books to read. The fact that I have not been reading much has not necessarily meant that I have stopped actually buying books.

So far this year, I have finished reading 12 books. This is about 8 more than usual lately and this is mostly because I decided to make a concerted effort to read more. I just haven’t formalised it in a 1+1+1 plan like Mr Stubb has. But I am inclined to follow his lead, or at least give it a shot. I’m not able to do 1 hour of exercise every day on the grounds that in theory, most weeks I go swimming 3 to 4 times and that’s a minimum 2 hour cut out of my day. I also feel that twitter absorbs a good deal of my time but not necessarily productively. So in addition to reviewing and rebuilding my reading habit, I’m also looking at chopping the number of accounts I follow on twitter.

Two things led to the loss of reading from my life. I felt the loss of Terry Pratchett enormously. Additionally, I used to read a significant amount of children’s fiction and with Harry Potter, I seem to have tapped out of that lately. Most of what I have been reading of late has been non-fiction. I’ve just finished Motherfóclóir which is the better of the two books focused on using the Irish language which I read this year. I also finished Silk Road by Peter Frankopan which is a book I had been travelling with for some time. More frivolously I have started reading Calvin and Hobbes again. But I have also drawn heavily on the field of science and genetics for escape.

I have a massive reading queue, and it is hard to know what to start with. I have some frivolous German stuff, and a classic of travel writing by Heinrich Boll lined up. In a way, I feel a bit overwhelmed by the number of books both on my kindle and on my Amazon wishlist and I wonder if that perhaps, contributes to the paralysis I sometimes now feel about reading. Like I have a lot of books to get through.

Mostly recently acquired are the memoirs of a US interpreter which I expect to be relatively easy to read, and apart from that, I have been journeying with Empire of the Word by Nicholas Ostler for some time. I think it is sometimes more difficult to make progress through very in-depth, long books on kindles. We lack the visual evidence of progress; the movement of the bookmark through the pages. I regret that and somehow, I need to be practical as well.

What I lack at the moment is a way into fiction. The last piece of fiction that I read that truly took my life by the scruff of the neck and pulled me out of reality – and it was a re-read – was Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I have another of his other books to hand but I have somehow not found a route into them.  In a way, I think for years I was sated by the escapism guaranteed by a visit to the Discworld but I don’t think Terry Pratchett would appreciate the idea that he had spoilt me for other books.

I need to get involved in a little exploration. Just as soon as I’ve read a few more of these books I have lined up for the last 5 to 10 years.

 

 

 

Generation Emigration and the Irish Abroad

I’m not entirely sure when but at some stage during the last recession, the Irish Times started running a regular feature called Generation Emigration.

I was living in Ireland at the time, as I did for all of that recession, and I was mildly annoyed with them. Firstly, this was hardly the first generation to have emigrated in mass numbers and the previous lot were less than 10 years previous. I emigrated in 1994. A lot of people I know did. And secondly, emigration can either be mourned, but you’ll be more successful if you see it as an opportunity and an adventure rather than a complete imposition.

I’ve no doubt the Irish Times did this because it paid them to do so but having read a bunch of the pieces, I found it all mildly depressing, and perhaps that was the angle they were aiming for. They’ve since renamed the section The Irish Abroad which I suppose is a little less depressing.

I don’t know that it was the label Generation Emigration that made it depression. It’s just I read enough pieces talking about people missing home that even though I was in Ireland, I was starting to climb the walls, and then when you got the pieces about people who had decided to Come Home it was really depressing.

I did all this. I did the emigrating in 1994, and I did the Coming Home in 1999. One of the things I knew then and still know now is that having lived elsewhere changes you and there will always be things that you miss. Certainly, Lidl and Aldi alleviated a lot of those things over time and eventually Tesco started stocking couscous as well. But nowhere in Dublin did hot chocolate like they do in Italy and only in that small village in Germany where I was working for a year could you get that really nice Mohnkuche. The years after coming home from Brussels were spent desperately missing street waffles. And I couldn’t get a decent haircut for love nor money.

The biggest problem when I emigrated the first time was tea. You couldn’t get that very easily at all or at least, you were stuck with Liptons Yellow Label which is the equivalent of hell for the discerning tea drinker; that is to say, someone for whom Barrys is the top level of tea. But there wasn’t much else. When I got back though, there were lots of things. Stroopwaffel (Lidl helps now and again), Parma Ham (took a few years but everyone eventually caught up), Butter with salt crystals (take a bow, and quite a bit of money, Marks and Spencer). Your horizons broaden and then, when you go back, they narrow again a little. I read a lot of pieces from people coming home that just made no sense to me because they focused very much on how everything was going to be perfect in Ireland this time. There never seemed to be any consideration given to the idea that in fact, being away changes people and well, with it, comes a little bit of longing. Of homesickness for a bunch of different homes.

Emigration now is different. I emigrated again last November. When I left the first time, I wrote lots of letters. Now, we have email, Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook. Phone calls don’t cost a fortune any more either. Ryanair makes a lot of journeys a lot easier and a great deal less expensive. Aer Lingus have seriously upped their range of routes. It’s all, in practical terms, far easier than it used to be.

It’s just, for some reason, I read a lot of pieces in the Irish Times that suggested emigration was really hard, and coming back was a lot easier. For me, it really was the inverse. Leaving wasn’t so hard. IN a way, it was an adventure. Coming back left little pieces of me in Finland, France, Germany and Belgium. Maybe not so much in London. And yet, I knew this would be the way it was. I sometimes wonder if the current returning ex generation emigration are set up to face this.

Holliers in the mountains

I discovered rather too late that the school holidays in Luxembourg ended two weeks’ later than every other country in Europe which means that those two weeks where I had time off work, chosen because “shur all the schools will be gone back” were extortionately expensive to get to Spain with. Plus, bad and all as it was to get to  Spain, it was profoundly bankrupting to actually get home.

So I had to go somewhere cheaper instead and I chose Switzerland. The irony is not lost on me here.

The easiest way to go to where I wanted to go in Switzerland is usually fly into Geneva, have lunch with a friend and get a train and a couple of buses. However, that was too expensive because only Luxair flew into Geneva, and only Swiss flew into Zurich which left not-terribly-obvious option three, fly into Milan with either Ryanair, EasyJet or Luxair. In the end, I flew into Bergamo with Ryanair.

 

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You can see the mountains there. In fact, since we flew over them, you could probably have seen them from the aircraft. I had an aisle seat and could see nothing.

I had to overnight in Milan with a really early morning train on a Sunday morning so I picked somewhere near Milano Centrale. Milano Centrale is a great building.

It’s massive.

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It screams delusions of grandeur and when you realise Mussolini had an interest you kind of understand why. It’s a stunning building.

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with lots of halls and massive high ceilings.

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and art.

I could spend a day in Milano Centrale and probably go bankrupt in the shops there.

Growing up in Ireland, the train network is kind of limited to Ireland, and doesn’t seem terribly exotic.

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Continental train stations on the other hand…Mine was the EC 32 at 8:23, destination Geneva.

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It was a Swiss train. It takes a fascinating and stunning route into the mountains via Lake Maggiore.

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…and then the landscape starts getting a bit pointier.

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and pointier.

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The last stop before the border with Switzerland is a place called Dommodossola. This is a good warning to switch off your data roaming because in Switzerland, there is no Roam Like Home and even the phone calls come in at 1.72 a minute.

We don’t do snow capped mountains in Ireland much, never mind in summer.

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Switzerland does.

I was staying in the Valais.

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The mountains are full of character.

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I got off the train in Sion and had an early lunch.

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Surprisingly, there were a couple of shops open, including a bakery. This was unexpected since it was Sunday.

From Sion, I had to get two buses to Ovronnaz. The next change was in Leytron.

This is vineyard country.

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So lots of vines on practically vertical terraces.

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Leytron was kind of quiet.

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But it was Sunday morning.

And the land was a bit pointier than I am used to.

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Despite McGillycuddy Reeks being a formative part of my life

I got on the second bus.

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That’s Leytron as we started winding up our way an eternal number of hairpin bends. I don’t know that we would send buses up there if it were Ireland to be frank Some of the turns were nervewracking and we frequently met enthusiastic traffic coming at us. I’ve only been more scared in a bus once and that was in Fuerteventura.

I was staying in Ovronnaz.

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Ovronnaz is at around 1200m, and it’s well known for thermal baths and skiing. During the summer it also gets a bunch of hikers. I didn’t actually take any pictures of the baths but what follows are pictures of mountains, quite a few of them.

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I think this one was the view from my apartment.

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and we were below the snowline.

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The place is stunning when the sun comes out.

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So I decided to take the skilift up to 2000m. This was still below the snowline.

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Apparently you can walk to the top of that. I didn’t.

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Yay. Snow caps.

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We don’t get a whole lot of snow in Ireland or indeed in Luxembourg so I find this joy inducing. Although I draw the line at doing those hairpins in a bus in the snow.

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This is the chairlift posts looking down. I didn’t want to take my camera out while I was hanging in midair so that’s really all you’ll get of that.

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But I loved it up there.

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Sunset one evening.

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Weather not so great another day:

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Sunset another day.

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View from my balcony.

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View from the front of the hotel.

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It rained the last night I was there.

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This was how it looked at 7.20 in the morning as I started the 12 hour journey home. The trip down the hairpins was sufficiently dizzying that I took no photos and I only had 60 seconds in Leytron to make the bus back to Sion.

The train from Sion to Milan was packed. This is what the luggage area looked like half an hour out from Milan

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Would I do this again? Yes, despite a few stupid mishaps (I lost a full swim kit including swimsuit, goggles and nose clip on day one) but I’d like to be a bit hill walking fitter. There is no actually horizontal piece of ground up there – you’re either walking up a very steep hill or down a very steep hill. During the snow season, there are buses moving people from hotels to skilifts and the countryside is dotted with skilift lines which leads me to think there’s a good few more than the one I got up to 2000m, Jorasse. Switzerland is not terribly cheap and the exchange rate is really not in the EU’s favour at the moment (but it was more than offset by the cost of flying to Spain). Ovronnaz is a hassle to get to from outside Switzerland but the buses worked out okay. The food was generally good. Plus, if you’re European, seeing the Alps really should be on your bucket list. You can also do it in winter (duh) and I did the Glacier Express in 2016.

Protecting ourselves…

I went  on a bit of a twitter rant this morning and screwed up the threading which is proof that when it’s longer than 3 tweets, you really should get up, have breakfast and write a blog post instead. Here we are.

I was on holiday last week but since Friday, my newsfeed from Ireland has featured the name George Hook in rather distressing frequency. I don’t listen to the guy’s radio show and have not for a very long time. He wasn’t entertaining as a rugby analyst but as a radio presenter, he annoyed me on a few levels. What did for me originally was a comment to the effect that if you were in a relationship with someone, didn’t you de facto give consent for sex? Well…no. Actually it took a while but even in Ireland we got laws against marital rape. Typically, for sex not to be rape, all participants have to have consented to the activity. It’s not that difficult to understand. Giving consent once is not de facto, consent for every other time a person might want sex, ever.

At some point end of last week, however, he made some comments about a high profile rape case in the UK, details of which I will skip, but in which he made a few comments on how awful the rapists were and then said “But -”

“Buts” like that are not really a good sign. They tend to go a good way towards negating everything that went before the “But”. The general outcome of what he said is that women perhaps have a responsibility not to put themselves in a position of getting raped. This is actually very difficult.

The case he described entailed drink, agreeing to have sex with one person, and somehow getting raped by a few more. Perhaps she shouldn’t have agreed to have sex with that one person, maybe should have drunk less.

I could, to some extent, take elements of that apart and point out that if you agree to have sex with one person, you don’t agree to have sex with all their friends later by default. And this would be still be true.

The thing is, I started wondering, how do you prevent yourself from getting raped. What can women do?

Well, I considered it this morning and concluded that the only way to reduce the risk of getting raped was to avoid men all together. This struck me as somewhat extreme, to be honest. I have a bunch of male friends. None of them have ever tried to rape me. I like to assume that this is more the general way of things because in general, my experience is that people tend to be decent rather than scum.

I just want to guard against those men who are not nice, whom I don’t know and who might rape me. Clearly, the best way to do this is to dress in a way not to tempt them and not to go out partying and have a few drinks. QED. Safe from rape.

Except. Or But.

The problem is personally, this is not my experience. I’m fortunate never to have actually been raped. But I have had a couple of experiences where I have been fortunate. The last one was relatively recent and the following were all true:

  1. it was about 6pm on a Friday evening
  2. I was standing at a bus stop
  3. I was completely sober
  4. I was wearing a pair of jeans.
  5. I was wearing a non-skimpy top.
  6. There were about 8 other people standing around waiting for the bus.
  7. I was asked for directions by a softly spoken person.

I feel very fortunate that there were 8 other people there because once I had given directions, I wasn’t left alone. Despite repeated comments that I was not interested, and I did not want him to touch me. He accused me of lying when I told him I was not interested in the activities that he was proposing. His operational mode depended on not drawing attention so the fact that there were 8 other people meant that walking away was an option. I’m not sure it would have been if there were no potential witnesses.

It freaked me out. I didn’t report it to the police at the time because it’s hard enough to get a rape complaint taken seriously and in this case, you know, I was lucky.

The only thing I did wrong was give directions to someone who asked for directions.

So I get antsy when I hear people talking about what women should do to avoid getting raped because sometimes, merely existing is a risk factor. I sometimes think a lot of men don’t realise just how much of a risk factor being a women is in terms of getting raped. Yes, men get raped as well and to be honest, it’s probably hard to figure out what the exact statistics are because rape is an notoriously under reported crime.

And it nearly always comes with either an overt or implied querying of what the victim did wrong. Did she wear the wrong clothes? Was she too drunk? Did he look a bit weak?

The implication that there’s some sort of an excuse. Something similar plays out with domestic violence.

I used to be friends with a woman some years ago who was with someone for a few years when he started battering her. I saw some of the bruises. He eventually got as far as threatening to kill her – there were a few more details to the threat which I really don’t feel like going into here – at which point she figured that between the bruises she couldn’t cover up any more and some comments he had made about her family, there probably wasn’t anything retrievable there.

But there is often a subtext of “What did she do to draw him on her” when a woman is being abused domestically, or “why is he so weak” when a man is being abused domestically. We call it victim blaming and the annoying thing above all else is that it effectively proffers an excuse to the abuser, the rapist, the attacker. It actually doesn’t matter what a woman is wearing – this does not actually give anyone a right to rape her. And yet, it gets used as an excuse. We need to stop taking those excuses seriously.

There is no given right to sex and yet some men seem to operate under the impression that they have an absolute right to it. It’s worth reading up on the Isla Vista killings as an example of what can happen when this gets taken to extremes.

Women already take precautions in a milion myriad little ways against the risk bad things happening from the moment they get up. Many women in abusive relationships spend their time working out how best to manage their abuser so as to minimise the risk of a blow out. Women walk out the front door, choose not to go certain places, choose not to talk to certain people. These are coping mechanisms which women come up with. But it’s not good advice for men to come together as a society and tell women how to behave because instead of that being safety advice, it is actually controlling behaviour. Instead of telling me not to go jogging in the park on my own, or on realising that I already don’t go jogging in the park on my own, the bestresponse would be to figure out how to make it safer for me to jog in the park on my own. This doesn’t just benefit potential rape victims – it’s good for people who aren’t likely to be rapists as well. They usually get benefit out of the improved lighting or the cctv.

I remember reading a fascinating piece which I have no chance of tracing any more on the question of all the advice that women got given to avoid being mugged, raped, assaulted, murdered. It amounted to a serious amount of activity limitation. Don’t go out after dark, don’t drink, make sure you get home at a certain time, ring someone to tell them you’re safe. The piece operated on what it would be like if, given that most rapists tend to be men, we advised all men to effectively curfew their lives so that the risk of any of them carrying out rapes was minimised to zero. The response was very different. This was seriously limiting, how could they live like this? And yet, that is often what we expect of women. To shut themselves away to some/a lot of extent to reduce the risk of someone else doing something awful to them.

I don’t think it’s all that helpful.

There are a couple of things which I think need to be understood.

  1. you cannot always identify a rapist in advance of being raped
  2. there is no distinct way that you can behave which guarantees that you don’t get raped.
  3. instead of limiting the horizons of women who might get raped, we need to reinforce a value in society that raping women is wrong

In many respects, that’s a peer education thing and in other ways, it’s an enforcement issue. I wrote to Alan Shatter when he was Minister for Justice while I was living in Ireland on the question of rape sentencing after we had a bunch of very questionable sentences on rape/sexual assault conviction.

Rape is a violent crime. That it typically is visited upon women does not make it less violent or less of a risk to society, and when you bear in mind that men who are victims of rape are even less likely to report than women are, you can see the poison that it sows in a society when we don’t treat rapists seriously. This means no excuses. She wore a short skirt? So what. She’s allowed to – you don’t get to rape her just because…we’re not in the business of forcing women to dress a certain way to prevent men from behaving a certain way. She had a couple of drinks? Well why didn’t you wait until the morning before having sex with her? Oh she didn’t know you, why did you invite her back to your hotel room for sex if you didn’t know her?

The questions we ask of victims, we need to ask of rapists. Ask them to account for their behaviour, what they have done, take responsibility for what they have done.

Cities for living

tl;dr: read this Intelligent urban transport systems

When I left Brussels for Dublin in 1999, I was operating under the assumption that Dublin was becoming a better place to live. The bus system was still catastrophic, but the Luas was under construction, and there was a buzz around the place which suggested there was a focus on how people could live more easily in a city which to be honest, had been a bit of a disaster when I was in college there in the early 1990s. People from Dublin do not tend to like hearing this but fine.

However, against that any time you as a returning emigrant highlighted things that could be done better (and were elsewhere), there was still a prevailing attitude of “Well here’s the Ryanair website, off you go if it is so much better in France”. Most people would take the view that health care in fact was better in France. In general.

I spent 17 or 18 years in Dublin before eventually escaping again. It took about 5 years of planning, battling, thinking about stuff and trying to catch opportunities before it all came together and I got out. The thought of growing old in Dublin depressed me and when I look at debates around certain aspects of living in Dublin still going on I reckon I would be old before Dublin reached a stage where in fact it was an attractive city to live in. Essentially, it can be very difficult to create a healthy life style in Dublin – I managed it for around 12 of the years I lived there and when it went bad, it went quite badly. In the end, I was losing 2-3 hours a day in commuting over a commuting distance of 7 km. It’s one thing to lose that sort of time if you’re travelling 60 km each way. It is ludicrous if the distance is 7km. I walked it one day. It was deeply unpleasant as well.

I’ve long been of the opinion that people in Dublin would be a lot healthier if the place had a coherent, dependable, integrated public transport system. It doesn’t. Not only that, it isn’t getting one any time soon. There is a current project in place which will displace 13 million bus journeys to facilitate something like 1 million bike journeys. There just isn’t an integrated consideration of the question “How do we make this place a good place to live”. Symptoms are attacked piecemeal, other problems are not addressed at all. All in all, if I had to pick one word to describe trying to navigate Dublin, the word Stress would line up.

I whinge at length about public transport in Dublin, but in particular I want to highlight a key problem in that particular city – I am not sure that it is unique to Dublin but my experience is that it is particularly bad in Dublin. It is a city and society in which the default is an unhealthy lifestyle rather than a healthy life style.

For more than 10 years, I worked somewhere that was a guaranteed 20 minutes from where I lived. Every single morning, that’s how long it took me to get there and that’s how long it took me to get home. This meant I had more time to do things like go swimming three times a week, cook in the evenings when I got home without being utterly exhausted, go climbing, do more needlework, go to more concerts. The logistic reality of my life was not all that stressful in the grand scheme of things. When I started working in the city centre I attempted to make public transport work for me because really, it’s more environmentally sound, and in theory it should be a bit cheaper. In reality, the transport times across two jobs in two different city centre locations were either completely unreliable, or consisted of a mode of which one was completely unreliable. I eventually went back driving because the journey times were generally more reliable, and came in at shorter than the public transport options. Again, that was for 7km, and one of them was sa point to point bus service.

People cannot live healthily like this. And yet in Dublin we just took it for granted? Appointment at 7pm? Travel wildly early because travelling on time didn’t guarantee you’d be on time. The amount of time wasted in inefficient travel in Dublin for me was just beyond calculable and it was utterly depressing.

Time wasted like this has all sorts of knock on effects. It puts stress on parents trying to collect kids from childcare, arriving home later from work cuts into time for doing stuff like oh preparing and cleaning up food, doing any sort of a hobby, getting exercise. I can clearly flash back to having spent a crazy amount of time figuring out how best to fit swimming into my schedule and still failing because an 8km journey could take up to 2 hours. Arriving home at 8pm with a need to be up at 6am has a fairly desperate impact on your ability to manage things like a regular healthy eating habit, a reliable sleeping patter and any sort of relaxation. We have increasing rates of burn out and our health indicators are pointing towards obesity and diabetes and other environmental issues in the area of air quality.

As a society we create an environment where the default option is to be unhealthy and to be in an unhealthy environment. It’s a macro level problem. And we expect people to fix it on a micro level. Individuals need to fight hard to sort out diets and eating habits, and getting enough exercise even as they still don’t have time for either and are trying to operate in a lifestyle which is designed to counteract every effort they make. It doesn’t have to be that way.

When you move outside the public transport side of things, there is also the general social issue of presenteeism. Where people work crazy hours and make a virtue of it. Despite the fact that it adds to their stress, adds to the amount of time they don’t spend recovering, doesn’t necessarily add value to their working day. And then they complain about people who they perceive to have easier lives and instead of working on the premise of improving life for all, they look to disimprove life for all

It’s corrosive and it is something we will have to address urgently particularly in the wider context of things like minimum basic income and especially automation of jobs and moves to replace workers with intelligent systems (for a given value of intelligent anyway).

It is clear that we need things to be sustainably financially for things to operate without causing war or catastrophe. But against that, we need to ensure that the benefit of things are shared relatively fairly. We don’t tend to have this debate either and ultimately, it is not going to be healthy to have an increasing number of people unable to find work while another sector overworks itself to an early grave.

I suppose, the point I’m making is we don’t ask whether the way our society operates is healthy and whether our objectives are sane and sensible in terms of enabling people to live healthy lives. I’m not sure how we start that conversation. But I do know that reliable transport would make people’s lives a lot better.

Let’s go exploring

About 4 years ago, I was prepping to leave a job which I had been doing for a  *long* time. It still represents well more than half of my working life.

Anyway, one of the last things that I did was write a note to my soon to be ex-colleagues thanking them for their friendship and cooperation over the course of the previous N years and I closed it off with a comment a long the lines of

In the meantime, I leave you with the words of the greatest philosopher, Calvin, of all time, on his final public appearance.

 “It’s a magical world, Hobbes ol’ buddy….Let’s go exploring”

 (citation: The Complete Calvin & Hobbes, Bill Watterson, the final Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, 31 December 1995)

The comic strip is all over the web.

Anyway, one of the things which stunned me at the time was it taught me that there were people who had never heard of Calvin and Hobbes. I could not believe this. I mean, it had already been a shock to realise there were people working in IT who had never heard of xkcd.com but Calvin and Hobbes? Are you kidding me?

I was reminded of this because a recently acquired skill which might have been kind of useful when I was at school and totally unpopular, and considered weird because I liked Jean-Michel Jarre whom no one had heard of (which means they didn’t pay attention in French class) has suddenly seen me drawing cartoon characters. I’ve done the Pink Panther, the Roadrunner, Yogi Bear. Every once in a while I pop up and have a go at another childhood memory – I suppose it is revealing that I have no interest whatsoever in trying to do any of the Frozen girls. Amongst the characters that I have done are both Calvin AND Hobbes. And people seem to want them.

I find myself exploring anyway, a place which was not on the schedule at all 4 years ago but you know it’s been fun. And I learned to draw along the way.