Tag Archives: life

Three Years, Three Months On

Starting to write this while watching an extremely aggravating Six Nations match is probably not the best way to kick off a review of the past year. Better to have a clear mind, surely? To offer a dispassionate view of the past thirteen months and all that they’ve contained.

Nah. This particular repetition of the Six Nations has already caused me heart palpitations, during the epic first half between Ireland and France, so I think I can handle a ramshackle Ireland trying to avoid falling apart against Scotland in Murrayfield. Probably. In any case, I’ll provide a final score when the match gets to that point. (Currently it’s 7-8 to Ireland at 54 minutes.)

So, to my own situation. It’s actually pretty good, all things considered. As my late-year catchup post probably stated, I had a pretty good 2022 overall, despite getting caught with Covid not once but twice. In fact, the second time, coming around the end of November, presaged something more serious. The cough wouldn’t shift and proceeded to get worse. By the time an early January CT scan rolled around, I was pretty certain I knew what it was going to show.

My old friend alectinib had, after three years, decided to hang up its boots. The cancer was back on a growth path and new options were needed. Luckily there was a new candidate ready to go. Second choice it may have been, but lorlatinib was an able deputy: one pill once a day instead of four twice a day, and a new suite of side effects to take stock of.

Three months down the line from that changeover and I’m pleased to report that things are, if anything, better than they were. The cough and raspy breathing are gone, I have plenty of energy, and the side effects seem restricted to a rising cholesterol level. For which I need to take another pill. The final count on the pill front has thus halved, so I’m pretty happy, and if I get another three years out of lorlatinib, I’ll be ecstatic.

Thinker/crank Aubrey de Grey has a concept called longevity escape velocity, according to which there will come a point at which expected lifespans will be increasing so fast that that mortality itself will be left behind. There’s not much sign of that yet, but I have my personal version of “cancer escape velocity,” in which advances in cancer treatment outpace my cancer’s ability to colonise my lungs.

On that front then, so far, so good.

(The match has now ended, with Ireland winning 7-22, so add that to the good news. Six days to a showdown with England in Dublin, a Grand Slam at stake.)

As for the rest of life, no complaints and onwards and upwards. The job continues to be fascinating and engaging (and the office is walkable in good weather), and the family are all well, with the gaggle of nieces and nephews expanding in recent months by two of the former, Clodagh and Brigid. There’s even a family wedding to look forward to later in the year and Best Man duties to be executed in a fashion that suggests I might actually know what I’m doing.

It all suggests something of a return to normality, and in truth I’m even planning some travel for later in the year, Brussels this month and something new and worthy of a blog post or two around September time. I might even (whisper it), dig out the running shoes in the next week or two and see if the lungs are up to a light jog.

So everything seems to be going pretty good for me. I wish I could look around and say that the same is true for the rest of the world. While politics in Ireland seems to be running along more-or-less standard lines (which is to say, venal and dishonest on the part of the ruling power block), things either side seem to be taking a distinctly nasty direction.

The U.K., of course, remains consumed by the mire that Brexit was always going to become, and it trundles on seven years in, currently trying to heave its bulk over the largely flattened roadblock that is Northern Ireland. (Where the fundamentalist DUP have come to the end of the knots they’ve spent the last few years tying themselves in, only to find that they’ve, well, run out of rope.)

The Conservative regime, desperately unpopular and now on its fifth Prime Minister since Brexit, is reduced to culture war gestures, targeting refugees and trans rights in a desperate bid to gin up a bit of good old-fashioned hatred. Their latest efforts on this front have led to them going to war with the BBC’s Sports department, or rather its personnel, who have left work en masse rather than condone one of their number being victimised for having a public opinion contrary to that of the government.

Transphobia, meanwhile, is being used as a wedge issue by the U.S. far right—sorry, the Republican Party—as it plays its own games of hate and works to make the Hunger Games a real thing in time for the next Olympics. There’s a weird cultural cross-contamination process going on, as right-wing groups on both sides of the Atlantic spout the same talking points within days of each other, even when they’re wildly inappropriate.

The claim that “15-min Cities” were a globalist conspiracy to restrict movement may have made some sense in car-addled Los Angeles, but in much of British suburbia it’s just how life is lived. And faking moral outrage at children being brought to drag story time at libraries is a lot harder to do in a country where most children grew up watching drag performers on stage during pantomime season, every Christmas.

But logic and common sense require a firm footing in reality, and there’s precious little of that to be had these days. Facebook groups share all the poison gossip in restricted circles while Elon Musk burns Twitter to the ground in the desperate hope that someone, somewhere might someday like him. You’d be forgiven for forgetting that there’s a war on, but though Ukrainians are bleeding for Bakhmut as I type this, there’s a breed of online narcissist who’d as quickly blame them for the bloodshed.

Beyond even that, there’s the accelerating degradation of the world we live on. The increasing desperation of fossil fuel companies to extract as much wealth as they can from the planet before their business model crashes into the ground and takes us all with it. The way that market-driven capitalism cheers them on, a system for extracting value, never suited to run a society filled with complex human beings, now governing the fate of a planet. The only planet we know of that we can live on.

It’s all a bit much, and far beyond the compass of a blog post to comprehend. I can only reiterate what I have read and found to be good: that no person is illegal. To which I’d venture that no person is good or evil either. Only deeds. People are complicated and sometimes broken, sometimes by choice but more often not.

Given the option, most of us would help and share rather than hoard and compete. I believe that. I still see it regularly, even in the middle of myriad systems that encourage the opposite. Green shoots push through concrete, given time.

And if nothing else, there’s a Grand Slam to look forward to. Now who do I know might get me rugby tickets?

The Fringe of the City Beast

I’ve completely let updating this blog slip, haven’t I? I’m not going to pretend it’s not my fault either. I had a big piece planned on revolutions—how they happen and why we might be staring down the barrel of a few of them—but the subject slipped away as I got distracted, and it’s still lurking in my drafts folder, far from finished. It’ll have to lurk there for a while yet, as I’ve not the time to devote to making it worth showing to the masses.*

In the meantime, here’s something more ephemeral but personal for your delectation. After an extended period of joblessness and temporary work, I am once more gainfully employed. (I ensured this would come to pass by such actions as renewing my library card, which I’ll now never use, and taking up time-consuming hobbies like, oh, keeping this blog filled with content.) This job is a bit of a departure for me in one specific way though: after many years of working within walking distance of home and the city centre, I am now out in the wilds. Not quite outside the city of Dublin, but not quite inside it either.

This has wreaked merry hell on my previously relaxed commuting habits. (As opposed to my even more relaxed non-commuting habits of the past few months.) A four-hour walk to work is clearly untenable, a one-hour-plus cycle might work if it didn’t route me through the horror that is Dublin city centre traffic, and a two hour bus trip was only acceptable for the first few weeks. Which means that after years and years of avoiding it, I now have a car.

But it’s not the new experience of driving to and from work, or the multitudinous indignities of trying to get a used car insured, that I’m writing about. No, this post is about the things I’m seeing on that commute, out where the city meets the countryside.

Dublin’s geography is pretty traditional, by and large. The city centre, which clusters around the River Liffey, is surrounded by neighbourhoods that were once towns and villages in their own right, before ravenous Dublin swallowed them up. The further out you go, the larger the spaces between those neighbourhood centres, and into those space have grown suburban sprawls and small industrial estates, served by buses and the occasional tram (if you’re lucky). Beyond those lies the ring of the M50, alternately artery and car park, depending on traffic conditions.

And beyond the M50? Well, that’s where I am now.

This is very much the edge of the city, the place where its tendrils have stretched out but not yet taken over. The new and the old rub shoulders, and green spaces have been marked off for future use but not yet inhabited. I’ve spotted hawks and pheasants around the fields near work, fitting into ever smaller spaces as their living space becomes someone else’s. Country houses with ample space can now see massive warehouses and data centres from their back doors, and ruined and abandoned buildings stand ready for reuse or demolition, as fate or fashion require.

Cities grow not just not just in extent but in time. The collision between a city and the spaces it expands into is a collision between two different eras. All around my new workplace, roads are being ripped up and resurfaced, provided with ample pavements and cycle lanes, as current trends require. Of course, the trend now may not have been the trend during an earlier era, and so those cycleways tend to disappear as the reach the inner, older city. In time, those more interior, older areas may catch up with the fresher outer, but here and now, this is where things are newest.

The idea of cities as living things, growing organisms, whether benevolent or parasitic, is not a new one. There’s a lot of evidence for it, if you look. Imagine hanging a camera high in the sky above Dublin and taking a time-lapse video spanning months and years. Humans would disappear from the city organism, which would itself be seen to expand in pulses. Like a tree, the heart of the city would change little, and instead all the activity would be seen on the edges, as economic factors drive the need to swallow up more space.

Is this a good thing? Cities are necessary to the way the world works now. Population has grown and civilisation has grown complex to the point where a return to rural life is only an option for a few. Even so, the way that cities swallow up the green spaces and quiet villages around them is naturally unsettling. Speed and a lack of planning leaves a sense that the process is out of balance. Dublin’s a particular case in point. A combination of planning restrictions and the presence of major multinational companies have made life in the city unbearably expensive for many, and that expense and those multinationals have pushed that sprawl out further and further.

A pile of tree roots and pieces sits behind a prefab stone and metal fence.
Uprooted hedgerows replaced by prefab fences. Not a better outcome.

I’ve been lucky up to now in not having to confront the results of this. The first few weeks saw me spending four hours a day commuting by bus, into town and out to my new employer, then back in the evening. Getting a car was close to a necessity, as it is for many others, but in doing that I’ve just added to the congestion that strangles routes into, out of, and around the city at different times of the day. In the meantime, the city continues to grow, and I’ll be far from the last to hop on this treadmill.

The living fringe of city isn’t a place I’ve ever worked or lived before, so it’s interesting to see how it works. Whether you count it as growing into or devouring the space around it, it’s a process that’s going to continue. We need to get better at managing it, and at using the space the city already occupies. Both so we can move around them and so we can live in them. The city beast is one we have to live with—it’s up to us whether or not it runs wild.

*By which I mean however many of you actually read these occasional sound bites from my brain.

Everything Echoes

Dawn over Meteora.

Twenty years ago, I was preparing to start college and live away from home for the first time. Sixteen years ago, I was about to interview for a job that, counting promotions, would keep me employed for the next dozen years. Three years ago, I watched the sun rise over Japan during a journey that was a reaction to losing several of the props of the life I’d built for myself and trying to figure out something new. Two years ago, I was beginning a Masters course that was a bigger challenge than anything I’d taken on in years, and one year ago I was completing it successfully. This year, I woke to see sunrise over the pinnacles of Meteora and will go to sleep in Delphi, the centre of the ancient Greek world, in time for sunset.
Draw any straight line through a life and you’re likely to find a similar degree of drama. This particular history sticks in my mind because my birthday and that of two thirds of my family fall within the space of a month at this time of the year. Late September and early October has always been, for me, a time of change and new beginnings. (That school years in Ireland, north and south, also begin at this time of year probably also helped to set this association in stone.)
For today though, I’m not so much starting something new as passing from one thing to another. Walking among other the monasteries of Meteora this morning (as the image above depicts) has been followed by much travelling by bus. Lamia, amid the mountains of central Greece, was my resting place for the past few hours. Unable to make my way to Thermopylae, only twenty kilometres away (sorry dad), I avoided being stuck in the bus station for four hours by heading into town for a stroll and a frappé (a Greek habit that’s proved worth picking up), returning to the station a safe hour before the bus to Delphi left.
Sunset was lost behind the mountains south of Lamia as we followed a road that Xerxes would have given a king’s ransom for. The closest I got to Thermopylae was passing around the wrong side of a mountain, though perhaps not far from the goatherd’s path that betrayed Leonidas and the 300 Spartans (minus two injured “tremblers” but plus their normally ignored helot slaves and allies). From there it was switchback corners up and down mountainsides into the gathering gloom, changing in Amfissa to take on even narrower mountain paths in the dark, heading towards a site of pilgrimage for a thousand years and more.
In Ancient Greece, travellers to Delphi went there seeking answers to what the future might bring. It was a dangerous business though, seeking out prophetic wisdom. Even if they heard what they wanted to, there was no guarantee that their interpretation was the correct one. Not for nothing has the word “Delphic” come to mean “enigmatic to the point of deliberate ambiguity.” (Look up Croesus for an example of the trouble misinterpreting prophecy can get you into.)
The Pythia’s not been in business for centuries though, and I’m not inclined to look for answers from inspired sources. For me, these blog entries have provided answer enough to something that’s been bothering me for a while. I’ve been trying to get back into the habit of writing for a few months but unable to break through a barrier of self-consciousness. What Greece has provided is a chance to get away from habitual surroundings and strip back my tools to the basics. (I have with me a pen and notepad for writing and an iPhone for posting notes and photos.) With less to worry about, I feel more relaxed, and I hope that shows in my writing. Unlike the ancient Greeks, I’ll be arriving in Delphi with no question in dire need of answering.

The Maliakos Gulf. Down there, Xerxes’ army once camped. I wasn’t quite so held up.

The Bilocated Man

The bowl of ages…

In my kitchen cupboard sits a bowl that’s stands out from the crowd. My crockery tastes tend to run to bachelor minimalism, but this one has a faded floral border. It also has a couple of hairline cracks, one of which covers more than half its width. It may not be long for this world, but it’s the venue for my breakfast cereal every morning.

This bowl, along with one other plate in that cupboard, is the sole survivor from the package of crockery and cutlery that I was given when I moved down to Dublin from County Down, just over 19 years ago. At the time, I had just turned 19 myself. So, as of late September/early October this year, I’ve officially lived in Dublin as long as I did in Northern Ireland.

It’s not quite that neat, of course: my first year in Trinity College Dublin was very disrupted, and I spent most of it, especially the latter half, up north. Still, insofar as I can identify a tipping point, this is it. When I came down to Dublin to go to college, I was a kid. Now that I’m still in Dublin, having just finished a Masters course, I can’t really claim the same measure of youthfulness.

I will forever be from Northern Ireland. When I first moved to Dublin, I had to face the question of whether I was Irish or British. I definitely didn’t feel like the latter—growing up in a nationalist, Catholic family saw to that. But I didn’t feel like being Irish suited me either. The experience of growing up in the North during the Troubles was a thing all of its own. So I eventually settled on insisting on my Northern Irish identity.

Though being Northern Irish hasn’t changed, it no longer seems to cover everything. This is not necessarily a bad thing. One way of reading it is that there’s more to me than was when I first arrived here in Dublin. I recently added an Irish passport to my British one, so maybe what’s grown about me is the Irish part.

It’s a funny thing, to realise that you’ve built a life in a particular place. Friends, work, education, habitation. An interest in local culture and politics, a landscape littered with memories and associations. The same thing is true up North, of course, but up there it’s a case of experience accumulated in the accidental form of childhood. Down here in Dublin, it feels a little more deliberate. Or perhaps necessary is the right word.

Perhaps the nature of it then is that we all live multiple lives, often overlapping one another. Childhood, teenage years, college, first job, first house. Sometimes, as in my move to Dublin, you get a clear break that allows you to divide what came before from what came after. Not that live is usually that clean. It is, and always ought to be, a work in progress.

With my Masters over and a job hunt underway, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that another life has started, adding another layer to the person that I am. I have no idea where this current path will eventually take me. It might just be that 19 years down the line, I’ll get to write something entitled “The Trilocated Man”. Wouldn’t that be interesting?