This was originally posted on my old blog on 8 February 2013.
I just talked to my oldest son about the schools I attended in South Africa, and for some reason, when we finished talking, the anthem of my primary school was stuck in my head. I sang the first few lines to him, and he asked me what language that was. “Afrikaans,” I replied. “It means… it… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!”
Primary school anthem (this was in an all-white school on the outskirts of Boksburg, which wore the mud crown of racist capital of the world for a while in the eighties):
“Busy working, vigilant” is our motto. To obey this motto remains our choice! (we sang together in a forced choir). Diligently, eagerly on the job! We stand strong against temptation (I always wondered what temptations these were we were supposed to stand strong against). (from here my memory is a bit sketchy, but I recall this line:) We remain vigilant against slacking off.
High school, not quite as hilarious as primary:
We have received the order to, with hearts that are fierce and free, climb the steep bits to high, where the morning star gleams.
Aware of our calling we will serve we will learn, we will see with more clarity (this is hilarious if you’ve been in that school. A more accurate song would be: aware of our calling we will learn, we will conform and abandon all uppity ideas of thinking for ourselves) Calling-aware we will stride along the road, looking forward.
The songs are well-meant, and don’t sound strange at all in the original Afrikaans. It’s one more of the things that just have me rolling with laughter when I try to translate it into English.
This was originally posted on my old blog on 12 January 2013.
Years ago, as a child, a snippet of a nature documentary stuck in my memory. I’ve thought of it often since. Today, I thought of this snippet again. I Googled it, and found the origin of the remembered film footage. It was more significant in so many ways than I had realised.
The documentary must have been about the work of Eugene N. Marais, one of the greatest Afrikaner scientists, authors and poets ever. His life was a tragic one, marred by addiction and loss, notably Maurice Maeterlinck’s plagiarism of the most important work of his life. It’s this work, Die Siel van die Mier (The Soul of the Ant, translated into English as The Soul of the White Ant) on which the documentary I remember must have been based.
Marais talks of the Black ants you commonly see in South Africa, explaining their fear of water. He describes an experiment in which you dig a little furrow across the paths laid down by these ants, one leaving the nest to collect seeds, the other returning to the nest with their burden:
On both sides of the furrow, an excited group will congregate. It takes them a very, very long time to discover that an easy solution would be to make a detour. Before they think of this, however, a grass stalk may be placed across the waterway to serve as a bridge. You will immediately be able to watch their very peculiar and mysterious behaviour. The ants begin to test the dangerous bridge. One by one, they try the bridge with their forelegs, stretching their bodies across it, while they cling to the bank with their back legs. They feel the bridge with their forelegs and antennae. They then become aware of the water and hastily retreat to tell their fellow ants that the bridge is quite unsafe. This is what happens on the bank which is on the same side as the nest, where the unladen ants congregate. On the other side of the bridge, the side fartherst from the nest, the behaviour of the ants is quite different. The ants arrive here, each laden with a grass seed. Generally, the seed is so heavy that the ant’s progress is both difficult and hindered. What happens at the bridge? With apparently not the least hesitation, each ant steps on to the straw with its gigantic burden…. it always succeeds in bringing its load to safety and hurries home to its nest as if nothing had happened.
The behaviour of the unladen ant which leaves the nest is determined by only one instinctive urge – to fetch food. In any case, it is not a very strong urge, for it always operates in opposition to the ever-present and very great urge – the homing instinct.
This struck me deeply back when I first saw the documentary, and stayed with me. If we know we need to do A, but the pull to do B is stronger, we will find excuses to not do A. Every obstacle’s importance will be overestimated. Yet if we really want to do something, the obstacles will seem less daunting. We’ll find a way.
If you’re seeing each and every potential problem as insurmountable, it says one of two things. Either your heart is not really in it, and you should consider whether it wouldn’t be better to just drop the whole thing. Alternatively, you’re reluctant or scared of something you really do need to do, and you must recognise the source of your overestimation of problems, and ask yourself if they are really that bad.
Also, of course, you can see this in others. If someone professes to want to do something, yet every possible problem is made out to be the end of the world, they may be lying to themselves and to you about their desire to do this thing. You may need to confront them with the truth.
This was originally posted on my old blog on 16 May 2012.
I just saw this on a friend’s Facebook wall:
When you have faith in yourself, you don’t need others to believe in you.
That’s simply not true. We’re interconnected creatures, we need each other. It’s only the most exceptionally exceptional among us who could keep having faith in themself when nobody else does. We don’t like hearing this, but unfortunately a truth doesn’t become untrue if we dislike it hard enough: you need people to affirm you, to believe in you, to give you positive messages about yourself. Sometimes, it only takes one, but more likely, you’ll be your best if you find friends who see the best you can be.
The flip side is true: we all need to understand just how crucial our role in others’ lives is. You can affirm, build up, encourage, or break down and kill spirit. Which will it be?
I remember watching a documentary about Karen Carpenter years ago, and I wish I could find it now. What stands out in my memory is someone, it might have been her brother, remembering how during her teens, Karen overheard someone say to a friend: “If only she wasn’t so fat.” From that point onward, Karen became obsessed with her weight. Of course there’s a myriad factors involved in a disease such as anorexia, but who knows? Maybe if Karen had heard: “What a beautiful young woman that is,” it might have set her on a different path. So much rests on us not so much believing in each other, but seeing and highlighting what’s good.
This was originally posted on my old blog on 13 August 2008.
I just returned yesterday from a cycling trip in Switzerland. It was… an experience.
The adventure started on Friday, 8 August, really, when I went to my local bike shop to have the bicycle packed for the flight. It was a busy time for Danny, the bicycle mechanic, with people in and out, a pile of other bikes waiting for attention and me not only watching (I’d have to put it back together again myself when I arrived in Switzerland and pack it again when I left), but also constantly picking things up to look at them and interrupting with a hundred questions.
Saturday morning we got up at 3:30am and left for Dublin airport at 4am. My flight left for Basel airport at 6:30. I got through checkin with my bicycle no problem, as I’d booked it beforehand and packed it according to Ryanair’s instructions. However, when I arrived in Basel and opened the box to assemble the bike… I found that in the previous day’s chaos, my bike’s saddle had been left behind.
No problem. I closed the box again and got on a bus to Bahnhof Basel SBB (train station), hefted my 15kg luggage which was packed in panniers and a bag very suited for cycling but hell to carry. I dragged my boxed bicycle, a total weight of another fifteen kilograms, after me. Lucky for me there was a bicycle shop just near the station, and I bought a saddle and seat post for the journey. Here is the bike at the entrance to the station when at last I had it ready:
Basel SBB was an experience in itself. There must have been a fancy dress something on somewhere, as people looking like this were all over the place. One lady wearing a teddy and suspenders was ahead of me in line to buy a train ticket.
When you get in the train, there’s a special little compartment for bicycles. Here’s Ronan, my bicycle, snug and ready for our journey.
It took me more time to make my way to Meiringen, where I spent the first night, than you’d imagine, as I am directionally challenged and awfully scatterbrained in spite of my best efforts. That night in my tent I had the Swiss version of a Mars Bar. The interior of the tent was soon in chaos.
There were loads of other cyclists at the campsite. Mine is the little green tent.
Next morning I set off on the route I intended to do. I aimed to complete Route 61, but back to front, as I wanted to get the longer train journey between Meiringen and Basel out of the way on the first day. I also wanted to get the worst part of the route, the climb up to Grosse Scheidegg, out of the way on the first day, not at the end when I would be knackered. What a wise girl I am. Here’s the starting point of the route.
It was Steep with a capital S. After two kilometres I texted Micky that I couldn’t do the route and wanted to give up. I was considering just doing some day cycles out from Meiringen instead. Micky sent me an encouraging text back, and I decided to change my tactics. I would pedal 100m, rest, then pedal another 100m.
In this way, I managed to make my way ever farther up the route. This was the first serious giant of the Alps that I saw.
Typical Swiss house I saw on the route. It’s interesting to see the piles of firewood stacked against the walls outside.
I managed a giggle when I saw this sign, thinking, “Darn, and I lugged my bugle all this way specially to blow it right in this spot.”
At this point, according to the height profile, I should have been another two kilometres from the high point. But as I sat here, I stared at that particular way the road winds, twisting back on itself, and it looked familiar. I whipped out my map, and true as bob, this was what the road looked like just before Grosse Scheidegg. I tried not to get happy, but I was right. The high point was just around the corner.
Looking out over this monster mountain, I sat at Hotel Grosse Scheidegg and had an ice cold juice. It had taken me seven hours to cover sixteen kilometres.
This is the Eiger, seen from Grosse Scheidegg.
It was downhill all the way from Grosse Scheidegg. I passed through Grindelwald in a flash, and went on to Wilderswil, just before Interlaken, where I camped for the night. Here’s the view of the Jungfrau, I think, from the campsite. At night I could see the lights of the Jungfrau railway right on the saddle between those two mountains.
And there’s my little green tent:
After a long search for a place to eat that wasn’t a restaurant, but just a plain old spot where I could sit with my wrinkled clothes and my messed up hair, I had the best hamburger and chips I have ever tasted here at the snack shack:
Next day I left for Thun, taking an easier path, along the lake, instead of the more difficult route I had planned to do. At first it was a bit of an epic finding the starting point of cycle route 8/9, but with the help of a lovely lady called Cathy, I was on the right road at last and pedalled along the edge of the lake. The water was crystal clear and the route beautiful.
This is Spiez, the last town I went through before reaching Thun:
All in all a wonderful experience, though it was one of the worst I’d had in a way. The cycling difficultly was way too much for me. However, I did it. While travelling along the flat, calm route to Thun, I swore I would never do something like the previous day’s nightmare again. Yet last night I already found myself thinking, “Now if I train more specifically for hill cycling, and if perhaps I attempt the route without fifteen kilograms luggage on the bike, I can try again and see if I can do it in less than seven hours…”
Day 1, Sunday 10 August: Height gain of 1364m (4 475 feet) over a distance of 16km (10 miles), achieved in seven hours. Average speed (when I moved) 6km/h (3.75mph) After that another 32 km (20 miles) done in an hour and a half. Yes, the rest of the route was downhill all the way (thank God). Total distance on day 1 was 48km (30 miles) over a total of eight and a half hours. Day 2, Monday 11 August: Flat route of 37km (23 miles), done in four hours.
Note, 28 November 2009: I see I didn’t mention it at the time for whatever reason, but I felt as if I was developing a cold on the last day’s trip. When I arrived at the hotel, I had to first pack my bicycle for the next morning’s very early flight. It had started raining heavily by then, and I spent half an hour outside, soaked and chilled. Less than an hour later I knew I was very sick indeed. There were, fortunately, two single beds in my room, because I sweated so much I had to change from one to the other in the middle of the night. I was in pretty bad shape on the flight back. Back home, the doctor diagnosed my dry cough and illness as a combination of dehydration, overexertion and altitude sickness. Next time, I’ll have to spend two days adjusting to the altitude before tackling Grosse Scheidegg.
Yes, I did say next time.
Except if I can go cycling in Norway instead. We’ll see.
This was originally posted on my old blog on 13 July 2008.
I have this theory about Opels from the early nineties: they bring out the arsehole in anyone who gets behind the wheel. This theory was borne out again yesterday when I cycled from Dundalk to Shercock.
My wrists and back were aching, and, being on a slight downhill, I went handsfree so as to be able to roll wrists and shoulders and ease the cramping muscles. I made extra sure to stay as close to the side of the road as I could.
Before I’d gone too far a car passed me and, when it was right next to me, blasted its hooter. It of course startled me, and I might easily have fallen off the bike. As it was, I didn’t, but if the fate I wished on the arsehole behind the wheel were to befall him, you’ll hear it in the news this week. Worldwide.
The car in question was a silver 1994 model Opel.
After stopping in Shercock for a brief rest, I set off on the Cavan road. My goal for the day was to cycle 100km, and I needed to go 12km beyond the village. About 4km on, I passed a house with two big dogs sitting in front of it. One of them was a German Shepherd.
The German Shepherd’s aggressiveness was apparent from a distance. He got up and came for me. I played an interesting game of pedalling with my eyes glued to the snarling dog, kicking out against his muzzle every time he attacked. It took a good 100m before he gave up.
I seethed right up to the spot where I turned around, exactly 50km from home. I swore to myself I’d never cycle in the South again (I usually cross the border to Northern Ireland when I go cycling). The county seemed filled with a selection of idiotic inbreds in Opels who haven’t enough brain cells to figure out their huge, agressive, slavering dogs should not be allowed to run around unrestrained.
Then all of a sudden I had this zen moment, which is remarkable, as I’m not even really sure what zen is. The stress melted away. I had a strange conviction the dog would not be there any more when I passed by again. My better self reminded me that stupidity is universal. It was just my bad luck to run into it twice in one day.
And lo and behold, the dog was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps its owners had heard and seen the commotion and locked the animal up. Drivers were, for the rest of the day, courteous and considerate.
I managed my 100km. The price is that my tendon injury has flared up again and I’m back on anti-inflammatories. Still, it was a good day. I’ll try to forget the idiot in the Opel. Maybe I’d inadvertently swerved into the road when I sat upright, and the angry driver didn’t realise startling me like that could send me under his wheels. I’ll remember the dog is just a dog, and that perhaps he had got out accidentally. The owners had, after all, rectified the situation by the time I passed there again.
I’ll remember the snack stop I made shortly after turning around. I’ll remember turning a single corner into a leafy little track and disappearing from the world, from whizzing cars, from modern life and its hectic pace. I took my shoes off, waded into a muddy stream and sat down on a half-submerged gate. A ripe nectarine filled my senses with sweetness while I listened to the quiet burble of water gurgling over stones. Mud squelched between my toes when I made my way back to the bike. I wiped them with a tissue before putting my shoes back on, then pushed my bike through a tunnel of green back up to civilisation.
This entry was originally posted in our family blog on 19 March 2008. In the process of moving blogs, I lost all the photos, though I still had most of them stored elsewhere. The order may be somewhat messed up, but as far as I remember, these are the pics I posted with the commentary.
Two weeks ago, Micky bought me a decent bicycle after I’d been getting along with a very old, rusty, heavy mountain bike for some time now. As I’ve become quite an avid cyclist, it seemed worthwhile to invest in a decent machine and some of the associated paraphernalia. So here’s my new bike:
Seeing as I now had the lovely machine, I decided to do something I’ve been keen to do for a long time now: go on a multi-day trip.
On Saturday, 15 March 2008, I took a train to Belfast.
From there I set out along the A8 towards Larne.
I listened to my favourite music all day long every day, my mind otherwise occupied with deep philosophical musings on the nature of happiness and the relationship between happiness and risk.
After Larne, I cycled along the coast road, which was very beautiful.
I finally reached Glenarm, and around the corner from it was Carnlough, where I stayed the night. I took a wrong turn and paid dearly for it by adding about ten kilometres to the journey. At the end of Saturday, I had covered 81.96km at an average speed of 14.4km/h over 5h39min. My maximum speed that day had been 46.6km/h. That’s cycling time only, my very snazzy little speedometer only counts the time while the bike is moving, so my total travelling time was much longer than that.
This is the sight from the guesthouse window in Carnlough:
This photo, taken on Sunday, day two, might look insignificant, but it marks the bottom of the hill from hell. I was heading for Ballycastle from Cushendall, and it was pretty much all uphill – and I mean not interspersed with the odd downhill. Really, it was all up.
I was just seriously starting to wonder why in hell I feel it neccessary to do this to myself, when I saw this:I know you can drive there in a car to see it, but from experience I know that a view earned the hard way is just somehow more beautiful.
Just before Ballycastle I stopped for lunch:
I went inside, of course, where I had the most delicious Scampi and Chips I have ever tasted.
From there it was on to Bushmills (yes, the home of the famous whiskey). At the guesthouse where I stayed that night, there was a very sweet little cat:
At the end of Sunday, I had covered 71.64km, at an average speed of 15.5km/h, over 4h35min. My max had been 39.4km/h.
The next day, Monday, was lovely, sunny and warm. I stripped off my track suit bottoms and treated the world to this ghastly sight:
Coming into Garvagh, I managed to get a thorn in the front tyre, and had to change the tube. Thanks to the brilliant foresight of Allan at Tommy the Bike’s, it was no problem.
I managed to take another wrong turn, this time diverting my course onto a little piece of road that had been sliced from Hades and implanted onto the Northern Irish landscape. It had the most horrendous hills and dales imaginable. Having this way added twenty kilometres to my trip, I ended the day having covered 83.8km, at an average of 16.5km/h, over a time of 5ho3min. Max was 48.9km/h.
I took a photo of my dinner that night at the guesthouse near Magherafelt, to show more or less what I ate at night. I find that when I’m cycling, my appetite is often virtually non-existent.
This is the last photo I took on the trip, early morning over Lough Neagh. It was stunningly beautiful. I made my way to Portadown, covering 54.17km, at an average speed of 15.2km/h over 3h32min. My maximum speed was 47.5 km/h.
I took a train back to Dundalk from Portadown. All in all a very, very wonderful trip.
I am quite sure this was taken just before the photo of the bottom of the hill from hell, but couldn’t figure out from the commentary I’d written, where it was placed in the original post.