Category Archives: being me

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.

Random stuff I collect – Scissors

I bought another scissors today. I file scissors under the label of “useful tool” and “I need one for every project I have going”. By project, I mean needlework project. Tapestry, canvas, needlepoint. It gets called by different labels depending on your culture. Tapestry is what I grew up with. Needlepoint is what the internet gives me. Canvas apparently is the British term and it definitely is the French term.

Like pretty much any hobby it comes with gadgetry. The Americans are big into needleminders (check these things out on Etsy) which are basically pretty magnets to mind your needles. I either keep the needles in needle packages or stuck into the canvas and I’ve never felt my life would be changed by using a magnet while I was stitching.

Scissors on the other hand, they are important. I went through a period of never being able to find a scissors when I needed one and as a result of this, typically, any big tapestry project (anything bigger than 15cm x 15 cm counts as big) will get kitted out with a canvas project bag, the canvas, the threads, two needles and a scissors. I have acquired scissors over the years.

In general, my preferred scissors are Fiskars scissors. I own about six and I’ve give one to my sister. Apart from the fact that they are great, great cutting tools, they are the one company who puts effort into making pretty scissors. I am a sucker for pretty things. This is why I have a pink calculator, for example. Make something functional, and then make it beautiful. Fiskars are near trademarked with orange handles. Mostly if you find a Fiskars scissors it will be orange. But I was on holiday in Finland about 5 years ago and in the main department store in Helsinki, I happened across a scissors with Moomins on it. I gave that one to my sister after I found ones with white handles with mad dashes of colour. My bedroom scissors and my desk scissors are of this nature.

My stitch scissors were typically orange but recently, I ordered 3 nice coloured Fiskars from canevas.com which has to be the biggest needlework shop on the web, and I also acquired a bundle of Pryms. The Pryms have purple handles mostly so they look rather pretty as well as rather sharp and pointy. They are good on the sharp and pointy front so I’m happy enough to use them. I seem to have lost one small Fiskars much to my regret but as 90% of my possessions are in storage I live in hope that they will turn up.

The general view is that I am a hoarder. But I hoard very specific things. Scissors. Tapestry canvases. Crochet cotton. Scissors. Pens. Oh the pens that I have…But one thing they all have in common is that they are useful in some way.

There’s a lot to be said for that.

The 400m obstacle

Back in the day when my routine was nice and simple and I didn’t spend most of my life in Dublin stuck in and adding to the traffic chaos, I used to go swimming three times a week, sometimes four. But generally, on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I used to leave work and drive to the pool at DCU – still my favourite pool to swim in – and swim. When I got there first I was recovering from a recurrent back problem which was caused by something stupid stupid playing badminton around 17 years ago. It hurt. A lot. My physio and I agreed that my back muscles would have to be toughened up and I started swimming *again*.

I don’t think I really had a target other than not to be completely rubbish at swimming. I was completely rubbish at swimming at that stage. Anyway, on account of the back problems, and linked with breathing issues, after about two days, I decided to backstroke instead of freestyle/frontcrawl/your term of choice, and that blossomed for me over the space of around 5 months. By the time I sort of lost the habit by disappearing off to Australia (where I swam daily) for 2 weeks, I was backstroking 1600m in around 55 minutes.

One of the things I remember rather clearly about that time was how, every time I went swimming, getting fro 0 to 400m was hard. It was really, really hard and it never got easy. Once I got to 400m, it seemed to become plain sailing and the other 1200m were generally a lot easier.

I don’t like to talk about the wall – I know the marathon runners talk about hitting the wall – and I’m reluctant to call it a mountain to climb; after all I am swimming. But it’s there, this…barrier, somewhere around 400m…which is hard, and then the rest is easier.

I have been back in the pool twice in the last 7 days (let’s just say this does great things for my average) and I’m now freestyling. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  • I feel inadequate that I take the easy way out and backstroke despite the fact that most people tell me they find backstroking hard and therefore I must be a good swimmer
  • I know there is a speed target of 400m in 8 minutes for lifeguarding. I cannot do it, not on my back, and definitely not going forward.
  • I know that with a bit of work I can do this and it’s a question of putting in the time and especially, identifying and eliminating the inefficiencies that make this hard for me.

To target this, in the past I have taken private swimming lessons and this is why I own a pullbuoy, amongst other things. I know I have lots of faults. I know, for example that my body could be longer in the water. I know that my catch is a bit awry. I know that my head up to breathe might destabilise my body in the water. I’m overweight.

But.

And there is always a but.

Today I swam 625m.

625m is more than I have previous managed on a second swim session back stroking. The previous swimming session, 6 days ago, was 250m, and at least 50 of that was backstroke, possibly 75. I can’t remember.

Generally my target from swim to swim is “do at least as well as the last time, and try and beat it” which means today’s target was 275m. In swimming contexts this is pretty much nothing but in my context, it’s a start, and it demonstrated that I could a) still swim and b) still at least complete individual lengths. But 250m had been hard last week, very hard, and it was significantly shy of the point which I know is an obstacle for me when I am swimming. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it today. The pool was busy and to be honest, I went out rather against myself. I wasn’t in good form.

Most people reading that would suggest they were excuses. I operate on the basis of “well even if I don’t make 250m, at least I went out and lapped the version of me that stayed at home feeling guilty about not going”. It’s a bit convoluted as motivation goes.

I had two collisions, neither of which were really my fault. Both times a swimmer started swimming straight at me after I was 2/3s of the way along the pool. One of them disrupted me enough that I wound up dropping the length midway and got myself back to the end. It’s why I wound up with an uneven number of lengths. But the pool kind of cleared out after that and the collision risks dropped away to nothing. The rest times between lengths stopped. And I had some wonderful lengths. I reached 200, and then 250 and 275. There were moments where I hit an extraordinary rhythm and position in in the water, and just felt wonderful. And I hit 375m and so 400 became a single length away.

And after that, another 225 lengths followed easily. I stopped because I had budgeted one hour in the pool and that had arrived. But I could have gone on. I might have gone on for another two or three hundred metres.  It seems this 400m obstacle exists in freestyle as well – the first 400m are hard, the follow ups seem very easy.

I have a couple of goals – loose goals – in place. I expect them to take 3 to 4 months to reach but…

  • 1000m forward, 1000m backwards
  • Learn to do a flip turn.

625m is awfully close to that first goal. Of course, there are things like rest times which need to be cut, and the chaining needs to be a lot better. But neither of those things come if you cannot do 1000m in the first place.

It is very hard for me to explain just how easy some of today’s lengths were. I suspect most swimmers have days/moments where it feels better, perfect, more aligned than others. I struggle to describe the feeling but it’s as though the world is balanced.

I’ve tried to reach 1000m freestyle before. This is the closest I have ever got and for the first time, I actually can reach out and touch it happening.

Resources I use are:

Effortless swimming

Reddit Swimming

 

Pool review: Bonnevoie, Luxembourg

I’m currently without a real home pool at the moment which makes the building of a swimming habit somewhat difficult. My would be home, dCoque, which is Luxembourg’s National Sports Centre, is currently closed for renovations until 1 October which is a nice chunk of the year. I’ll be honest and say I have not really managed to get a swim habit. No swimming till October is  pushing it a bit though. The next replacement, which I haven’t managed to check out yet, Badanstalt, about a 10 minute walk from home, is also closed. The pool 5 minutes from home isn’t open to the public. And so on and so forth

Next on the list is Bonnevoie. Bonnevoie is not too far from the railway station in Luxembourg, and public transport wise it is served by buses 3/30. You need to get off at Leon XIII. It is open every day except Wednesdays, and weekdays, it tends to close at 20.30. On Sunday it is open from 8.00 to 12.00.

There are two pools in the swimming centre in Bonnevoie; what they call the large pool, and the small pool. The large pool is 25m long, and ranges in depth from 1.8m to 3.8m at the deep end. There is a shelf at around 1.5m around the edge under water. The steps are set into the pool wall. Temperature wise it is reasonable – it is cool enough to swim comfortably in, but not so cold that you fight against going into it. When I was there, 2 lanes were separated off for lane swimming. The rest of the pool was occupied by people swimming lengths anyway so basically the choice was yours.

The small pool is about 10 by 10 meters, and at its deepest is 1.25m. One side consists of steps rather than some ladders, and at one end, there is a barrier to hold onto when getting into the pool. There is a small slide as well. I understand the pool is also used for things like aquaerobics. Temperature wise it is around the same as the big pool.

Entry to the pool without discounts for an adult is currently 3.80E and the ticket is in the form of a chipped band which I wore on my wrist and which also serves as a key for the lockers. In my view, there are not a lot of dressing rooms, but they work okay. The lockers are tall and narrow, and while you did not have to fumble for a euro or a coin of some description to lock them. I did not like them. I struggled to get my clothes bag into them and eventually pulled stuff out. My personal preference would have been for wider but shorter lockers and they could have increased the number of lockers available had they done this.

From a layout point of view, the lockers are a distance from the showers which means that really, it’s wise to have a bag to carry towels and shampoo or whatever you want in the showers afterwards. I tend not to like this because it’s just another thing to remember. That being said, one item of design in Bonnevoie recognises the needs for that, and as a result, there are shelves poolside to store stuff, like small swimming bags with towels for example. I liked that touch because typically, in other places, to find somewhere to leave a bottle of water and flipflops or on other occasions, everything can be a hassle.

The other thing which the pool in Bonnevoie has which is not a common feature in pools in my experience is a fine big readable digital clock. This makes it handy to plan around bus services and dates and the like.

Given that currently, dCoque and Badanstalt are closed, it is likely that I will default to Bonnevoie as the alternatives are a) rarely open (Bel Air) or b) expensive (Les Thermes). I’d be happier if it were open for 30 minutes longer during the week and maybe a few hours more on Sunday but then the world does not revolve around me.

Bonnevoie Swimming pool
30 rue Sigismond

Bus 3/30, Place Leon XIII

Monday: 08.00-20.30
Tuesday: 06.45-20.30
Wednesday: CLOSED – although apparently open 8-17.30 while Badanstalt is closed until 1 September – I cannot check this myself.
Thursday: 06.45-20.30
Friday: 08.00-20.30
Saturday: 08.00-20.30
Sunday: 08.00-12.00

Cost of a swim: €3.40

Website: Ville de Luxembourg

Treasa’s Map of Pools

 

 

A Library, A Library, My Kingdom for a Library

Very few things make me terribly, terribly envious of other people, but home libraries, grand pianos and home swimming pools are on that short list.

I’ve always wanted a home library. A room with floor to ceiling shelves full of books. They don’t all have to be “worthy” books – although I have a collection of dictionaries which probably exceeds most normal people’s need for reference books.

Of course, I own a kindle, and carry around 300 books with me at all times. I can probably fit more books on the kindle than I could in shelves in my current living room.

But.

Actual, real books are special. Of course they are. They have a user interface which kindles really can’t touch. You know by looking at a book just how far through it you are, or are not. The average pocket book is more comfortable to read in bed than a kindle is.

Books have a special smell. Eau de Parfum de Brand New Book which slowly, over a long time period, moves to Eau de Parfum de Musty Dusty Book.

I love new books. I love leafing through them. I especially love the 2017 Edition of the Illustrated Grand Larousse. Did I mention I liked dictionaries?

I love casting an eye over a bookshelf and thinking “Today I will read (or reread) this book or that book”. It’s not the same as doing it through a kindle.

I don’t really care what my house looks like out on the outside. I care that it has a library, with floor to ceiling bookshelves, slowly filling up, in a chaotic but very personal mode. Not for me this utterly ridiculous idea of sorting books by colour to make a Statement. This is not about interior decor. This is about exploring the world.

In the room a comfy armchair with a table and a lamp so that I can see the words and have somewhere to leave a cup of tea as I vanish into a world that only exists in the imagination of a random stranger somewhere.

If the room is big enough, you know, I’ll put the grand piano in there too. Maybe a beanbag too for those days when the armchair is just too formal. Days when, outside it is raining but on the pages of a book in my hand, the world is full of possibilities, and no risk of getting wet, only of travelling a world currently unseen.

I’ve always felt that lots of money was wasted on socialites. I’d spend it on books if I had it.