Amazing Grace*

I was in an outdoor cafe recently when I met a bloke who told me how he had suddenly woken up blind! It was terrifying, as you can imagine. He had had a stroke and a blood clot had formed in the occipital cortex of his brain, slowly starving his vision centres of blood and oxygen.

I have nothing to compare with that but in a recent eye test I was told that I had cataracts in both eyes with one being far worse than the other and that henceforth, driving would be at my own risk. Ah hah, I thought, that was why I was seeing double when I looked at the moon.

Eye surgery, as pioneered by the Australian Dr. Fred Hollows is a fairly simple procedure where, after cataract extraction, an inter-ocular lens (IOL) is implanted, usually resulting in a massive improvement in sight for more than 99% of patients.

I had my right eye done several months ago and the effect was immediate. Within a day or two, I was up and running, as it were, with no side effects. The second operation on my worst eye was a different matter. Itchy, red, uncomfortable and incredibly blurred vision, so much so that, for more than three weeks, I was unable to drive and any bright light was intolerable.IMG_0320

This was all normal, the surgeon informed me, after a major operation and he cautioned me against “using the eye too much”! Twenty-two days later, my vision is still quite blurry in the recently operated upon eye and I can expect another three weeks or so before the eye fully heals. Amazing!

Even more amazing is the surgery. The inter-ocular lens is manufactured in both Nepal and Eritrea for approximately $8 in factories set up by the Fred Hollows Foundation and the cataract extraction and IOL implant can be performed for $25. Not so in Australia, as I discovered, where the mark-up is, roughly, $2500 per eye. The fee is made up in three parts – the surgeon’s fee, the anaesthetist’s fee and finally the rental of the surgical theatre.  Thank God for public health, which is what I used for both eyes and thank God for the Fred Hollows Foundation for all the afflicted punters in those less developed countries where the Foundation works.

I suppose the above is an excuse for the total neglect of my blog after I uploaded the 100th post quite some time ago. Anyway, YIPPEE, I can see again and it is only going to get better. Thank you to my doctor and all the people who have put up with my semi-incapacity. All I have to do now is get new ears and possibly a bigger brain!

*  I once was lost but now I’m found.
Was blind but now I see.

Dilettante, Renaissance person or just MOOCing Around!

I was talking to someone recently who regretted that, more than 40 years ago; they had never gone on to tertiary education. I couldn’t quite work out if it was because the fees were too high or because they had not made some type of academic grade at the time deemed necessary for university entrance.

I have to admit to having coasted through my first year at University so much so that my second year was spent repeating the year to get a marginally higher grade allowing me to progress to a slightly higher level in my overall degree.

Even then I felt that knowledge and ability didn’t always merit a badge of recognition, a public certificate, for example in swimming or social media or marketing or historical periods or anything for that matter. Knowledge could just be for enjoyment and pleasure.

I got my first computer in 1985 without having the slightest notion about what a computer was or what it could do for me but it soon became apparent that (some) academic qualifications were unnecessary with regards, anyway, to computing. Some people just took off and seemed to have an innate understanding of how computers and their coding languages worked long before both PC’s and Macs introduced their graphical interfaces. A blinking C:>Dir/w on a blank, black screen seemed scary while it became apparent that in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man was king.

It all seems so small and petty now. Jump forward to the present day and there are literally tons of free and open courses offered by a plethora of institutions, academies and universities worldwide. Perhaps the most widely known is MOOC – Multiple Online, Open Courses – which is an umbrella grouping of thousands of courses offered by hundreds of providers. “We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall” Joni Mitchell © 1970 – “My Old Man” from the album Blue. The main idea here being things (education} are free, certification is not.

So, whether you want to learn through watching videos, or through assigned readings and discussions with others world wide studying the same courses or whether you just wish to broaden your knowledge of, for example, Art History or brush up your high school Spanish or delve into quantum mechanics, there is a free course available for you. Rediscover deep interests in things from many years ago and invest time in them now but without the burden of either payment or financial stress by using one of the incredible MOOCs now so easily available.

And therein lies the problem which I call the Chinese Menu syndrome – there is so much on offer that to wade through the various offerings can be daunting in itself. To find something you might be interested in just try MOOC, or to narrow down your search slightly, try any of the following,

http://www.class.central.com

or

http://www.edx.org

or

https://www.futurelearn.com

or

https://www.coursera.org/

One of the extraordinary things I’ve discovered is that after i signed up for a free course in an area that particularly interested me, but which wasn’t due to start for another month or so, I got an email “recommending” some other courses which were starting soon and which I might like!

I paged down contemptuously (how dare they think they know what I like, sort of thing) and was gratified to find that the first half dozen courses they offered had no interest whatsoever for me until something caught my eye – Trinity College Dublin.

When I went to university in Dublin in 1971, Trinity was pretty much the preserve of the old Protestant Ascendancy. Catholics were not excluded from the university but the Archbishop of Dublin, at the time, would demand written reason why Trinity and not the Catholic university was suitable for the recognised course of study.

Anyway, it caught my eye and I signed on to Trinity for a short two week course in such and such an area – something I knew nothing about and had never seriously considered before – and I thought I would just ghost through. Instead, maybe because of the video lectures or the reading content or provoking questions, I became interested enough to follow the first week of material.

Initially tempted to reply to other participants comments with a curt “well done” or “I agree” type of comments, I found myself engaging with people I had never seen or heard from before. I think that is really the first time I have ever done that. Not anyway since I first got a modem and heard non-global sounding squawks and squeals from cyberspace and logged on to obscure chartrooms where abuse and requests were hurled.

MOOCs, TEDs are all amazing and I wish you well in your explorations.

European Peace Walk

fullsizeoutput_151eI recently received the European Peace Walk (EPW) guidebook for 2017. I know I mentioned ages ago that I was going to do this Walk – a 500+K walking trail through six European countries – Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Italy – over three weeks. It seems a bit daunting, given the current state of my overall fitness. Some days involve 30K hike between sleepovers and the most I’ve done so far is about 16k or so. Anyway, I don’t begin until mid summer – July 04, – so I still have a few months to get up to speed.screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-8-59-50-pm

I’m really looking forward to this – it is going to be both an adventure and a bit of a learning curve – grappling with languages I don’t know – I only have a smattering of German and Italian, spoken, respectively, at the start and end of the journey, and no idea of the cultures, history, topography, everything.

Croatia, Slovenia and Slovakia didn’t exist as separate entities when I was in school and when the Balkans began its tragic breakup after the death of Marshall Tito, I was no longer living in Europe and the events passed me by, for the most part. Since its debut in 2014, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the First World War, the EPW now passes through Slavic, Teutonic & Romantic cultures, a route only made possible by the geo-political collapse of the region’s former Democratic, Communist and Socialist political allegiances. As recently as 1989, the EPW would not have been feasible, as Europe was still divided into the above contrasting ideologies and its borders and peoples were firmly closed. Now, it is possible to have breakfast in Hungary, lunch in Slovenia and sleep that night in Croatia! So an exciting learning curve there, getting to grips with the tangled histories of the region – I think Bismarck once referred to the Balkans as “the sick man of Europe” – and that, along with the dourness I associated with the former Iron Curtain countries may have contributed to my former lack of interest in the area. But now? Rolling countryside, originally populated by Celts before they (were?) moved on in their endless migrations and then there is the wine and food of the different regions. Can’t wait!

It’s kind of exciting to know that I will have to be totally alone, solely responsible for my own safety and enjoyment in exciting and new environments. I think the whole journey will be a mixture of ‘down-time” and reflection – perhaps not as spiritually reflective as on the Camino, – as well as a physical challenge (in between wines, beers and exciting food) as well as meeting and communicating with locals along the way as well as the 9 other walkers who begin on the same day I do. I suppose both the EPW and the Camino bring people together to share common experiences as well as to learn about each other’s differences and I think this might well embody the ‘Peace’ aspect of the EPW.

Anyway, I have already started planning and preparing,and that’s half the fun, isn’t it?. I bought a new 30 litre capacity backpack, a good pair of walking shoes – not boots – shirts and jackets and pants made of modern textiles which “wick” the sweat away from the skin while at the same time keeping me warm in cold weather and cool in hot. We’ll see. I want to travel really light, total weight, including my bag, should be no more than 10Kg. I’ll have to start carrying the bag when I walk soon. So, that is my current curve – start walking more in this Perth summer heat and build up to at least 20 – 25 k a day so that when July rolls around I will be in some type of fit condition to actually enjoy the walk and the surroundings. Wish me luck!

http://www.facebook.com/european.peacewalk

http://www.peacewalk.eu

 

Another Direction

“Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat,

Please put a penny in the old man’s hat”

is a rhyme from this time of year that I remember from my childhood and as I start laying in stocks of booze and food for the festive period I thought I might well update my blog with a new section devoted to … you guessed it, Food.

I haven’t done much on Curves recently, too busy with other rubbish, I suppose (more about that later), but I think I will overhaul the site and give it a new look as well as.

So, Food … hmm, recipes, I suppose. Now I can limit myself to traditional Irish recipes, given that the site is Red Branch Chronicles and was originally set up to promote my novel set in iron-Age Ireland, Raiding Cooley or … I can cast the net a but further afield and do world-wide recipes from places I’ve lived in and travelled to. Hmm, tugs at hair absent-mindedly, I’ll have to have a think about that.

Anyway, while I think of it – Happy Christmas everyone!

I will attempt to justify my lack of new Curves by telling you that I have been struggling with a wealth of data recently in an attempt to untangle where and when Irish people and their language came from, looking at the old annals as well as modern linguistic, genetic and archeological research.  Drowning in data at the moment but will hopefully make sense of something before Christmas.

The other thing is that I have finally decided to start on a new novel.  Spent the last two days scribbling away in a notebook and got quite excited about the whole project.  Something completely different to what has gone before, but that is all I can say at this moment.

A Dip of the toe!

cropped-p8170324.jpg
CURVES

 

l  know I haven’t written much recently  on Curves – sounds like I have been stagnating – but I’ve really been doing loads of things and been just too busy to blog about them.

Anyway, I dusted off the bicycle – which hadn’t been used for a while – and headed off to the beach. Not to swim, unfortunately – it’s still freezing here, something like the coldest Spring in eleventeen years or something. For the first time ever, I had to get off and push the bike up the last bit of a small hill but  I am digressing – the point is …this is my new learning curve – right now is the moment I dip my toe (gingerly) into the … – struggles to maintain the metaphor here – … morass of cyber mobile blogging. This, then, is my first ever post to my blog – or anyone else’s, for that matter – from a mobile phone, despite the fact that I am sitting in front of a perfectly good computer! I know, it’s amazing that I should vaunt the minor ability to use a modern phone, a skill that seems almost innate to most people nowadays. Oh btw, here’s a photo of the beach.img_0193

Regression – not Progression

Before I went off to South America in August 2015, I cut my hair. I have been back just over a year now and I haven’t cut it since! It is almost exhilarating – I haven’t had long hair since I was a teenager – and it was never that long to begin with. I remember once, when it was at its longest, I could cross my arms over my chest and, reaching up with my left hand, grasp a thick hank of hair and pull it under my chin to where my right hand would have grabbed the left hank and the two ends would meet.

That was back in the early seventies and I’ve never had particularly long hair since and nor have I wanted to. Now however?

I enjoy it, much, perhaps as a shaven headed man must feel running his hands over his smooth pate whereas I run my hands through my hair, pushing an errant lock out of my eyes.

So, here’s a photo of me with long hair from my bus pass back in the early seventies. Notice the segmented wheel around CIE, the national bus company at the time – Coras Iompair Eireann. I always though it a bit odd that a broken wheel should be the logo for a bus company!

cie-photo

Here’s one of me now.

photo-on-29-10-2016-at-9-39-pmAnyway, I seem to have regressed to my second childhood now, despite the fact that I grunt whenever I sit down or stand up and already I am describing my age in terms of that old e-mail attachment which I include here:

“Do you realize that the only time in our lives when we like to get old is when we’re kids? If you’re less than 10 years old, you’re so excited about aging that you think in fractions.

‘How old are you?’ ‘I’m four and a half!’

You’re never thirty-six and a half. You’re four and a half, going on five! That’s the key 



You get into your teens, now they can’t hold you back. You jump to the next number, or even a few ahead.

‘How old are you?’ ‘I’m gonna be 16!’

You could be 13, but hey, you’re gonna be 16!

And then the greatest day of your life! You become 21. Even the words sound like a ceremony. YOU BECOME 21. YESSSS!!!  



But then you turn 30.

Oooohh, what happened there? Makes you sound like bad milk! He TURNED; we had to throw him out. There’s no fun now, you’re just a sour-dumpling. What’s wrong? What’s changed? 

You BECOME 21, you TURN 30, then you’re PUSHING 40.

Whoa! Put on the brakes, it’s all slipping away. Before you know it, you REACH 50 and your dreams are gone. 



But wait!!! You MAKE it to 60. You didn’t think you would! 

So you BECOME 21, TURN 30, PUSH 40, REACH 50 and MAKE it to 60. 



You’ve built up so much speed that you HIT 70!  After that it’s a day-by-day thing; you HIT Wednesday! 

You get into your 80’s and every day is a complete cycle; you HIT lunch; you TURN 4:30; you REACH bedtime.

And it doesn’t end there.

Into the 90s, you start going backwards; ‘I Was JUST 92.’



Then a strange thing happens. If you make it over 100, you become a little kid again. ‘I’m 100 and a half!’

 

Hibernations

I feel I have slowed down and gone into a form of hibernation, as it were. That’s not quite true though. I have loads of plans – for the garden anyway – but not so much in the writing area and while I have started on a few garden projects recently, I’ve put off finishing anything – it’s too cold, or wet or stormy and such excuses.

Mind you, it has been the coldest start to Spring in something like forty-five years, apparently. Windy too – a tree in the back garden was uprooted, taking out a whole stretch of fence with it. My chooks are now truly free-range!

Anyway, this hibernation might be a metaphor for my (lack of) writing. Just as I have a score of undone things to do in the garden, I also shirk from the idea of writing a sequel to Raiding Cooley or even a different type of novel, and have also started to neglect my website and blog. As for Social Media – FaceBook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, – I have completely reneged on all my intentions of getting to grips with it!

So, I need a new Curve! Summer is approaching here and – in lieu of physical travel which I am planning for next year – I am adding a new category to go with Celtic Trivia, Curves and Book Stuff. So, welcome to Travel Section with stories, comments and recounts of peregrinations worldwide.