Make memories, experience emotions

Months ago, Kileen suggested a night out. Of course I agreed. We arranged the eating part & connected with the others. We were going to a talk by someone I was only just aware of – a floppy haired tv explorer chap. I’d seen a programme or two, but he’s been doing it for years and I’m not an explorer type of gal.

I got home hours later than expected, and am now a fan. Bloggy buddies, Simon Reeve is your man. He was a troubled teen, leaving school without qualifications and with mental health problems. When he admitted to being overwhelmed by life, a kind woman at the dole office told him to just take things step by step, and he did. To the gate, to the corner shop, to the train station, to Scotland, to Glencoe, to that rock, up another bit. Somehow, woefully unprepared, he avoided the need to be rescued & celebrated enormous physical achievement. He even made it home again in one piece. Prior to that, his experience of exploring had been in Granny’s car, directing her to go left, right or straight on, regularly ending up by the biscuit factory.

Eventually, Simon got a job sorting the post for the Sunday Times. When he gathered himself enough to look round the workplace beyond the post room, he got involved in investigations. By 19, he was leading a team. By 20 he had the bit between his teeth and left to research his own book, The New Jackals. That was published in 1998, was quietly well received, and vanished.

In 2000, he published One Day in September, about the massacre at the Munich Olympics in 1972. The accompanying documentary of the same name won an Oscar.

When the attacks happened on September 11, 2001, Reeve’s phone started to ring before the second tower was hit; it didn’t stop ringing for a year and a half. All that research for The New Jackals had made him the author of the only work on Bin Laden & al Qaeda, and in demand.

By this stage I was entertained, moved and agog. There is more to smiley tv guy than I could have imagined. Isn’t that the way?

Nearly half way through the show, and he moved to chat about the programmes made for the BBC. There are many, many series, starting with Meet the Stans and Places That Don’t Exist, moving around the equator and the tropics, and currently working on the Americas. I have much to catch up on.

Tales of toilets (and pigs), being arrested by the KGB and starting down the barrel of a rocket launcher. Armoured undies, wooden swimming goggles & a huge bolt (thrown locally, Belfast is kind to visitors) were all pulled out from travel kits.

The message wasn’t about tall tales or beautiful views; instead, you haven’t journeyed unless you’ve met people. Talk to people, eat the food, experience the light and shade of the world. Push yourself to experience a wee bit more. Look for adventure close to home. Meet people.

When questioned about when or where he’d like to have lived, Reeve was also clear that he’s happy with the here and now, the opportunities to travel, and ‘my lad’.

Grounded and humble, curious, open and grateful, Simon Reeve is worth checking out. I have much to explore!


We’re all bored of Brexit, and it hasn’t even happened yet. Politicians are being asked if they wouldn’t just vote for something ‘to get it over with’ as if it weren’t their job to do better than taking the easy option. But, ye gods, the politicians we have in Westminster…

The government has no idea what’s happening, and the opposition aren’t doing much opposing. There’s a bizarre fixation on the marginal result of a flawed referendum. They ignore that the result was achieved via fraudulent means. Leavers no longer suggest that leaving the EU will bring an economic boost. There’s talk of ‘enough calories’ & ‘surviving’. I still don’t know for why. I understand that some people thought that the EU was bad for the UK. My view was different. I can’t claim to always be right, but nothing in the years since the referendum has convinced me that leaving is a good idea. The majority of the votes in NI – the only part of the UK with a land border with the rest of the EU- were for remain.

I have lived my life in the UK, ultimately governed by Westminster, and I wish only the best for the whole population. But, for many of us, Ireland is not ‘the rest of the EU’, it’s the rest of us. It’s as much part of our lives and identity as where we currently live. Donegal means more to me than Derby.

Lots of folk from NI choose to spend time in Donegal. Holiday homes, caravans, AirBnBs, hotels are all filled with the likes of me and mine. Family history, family holidays, family & friends. And our pets.

As I’m getting excited about our seaside site opening for the season, I thought I’d check out what I need to do to keep Harry right.

I shouldn’t be surprised by nobody having worked out how to apply international rules to the practicalities of NI life, because OF COURSE they haven’t. Because Brexshit.

He needs a rabies jab, and to get a passport. He’ll not be happy, but grand.

Read on. A blood test 10 days later. A health certificate after 3 months. (We leave the EU in 3 weeks, unless a miracle happens.) A new health certificate for every visit (most weekends & more during school holidays). Well, that’s awkward, impractical and probably expensive. Surely nobody’s going to be able to do that?

Read on. Pets can only enter Ireland via Dublin airport. Really? Nobody can even pretend that can apply to NI visitors.

Wouldn’t it be great to think that our local politicians were negotiating arrangements to suit our reality? But that’s not the case. The NI politicians with influence are working against the wishes of the majority of the NI electorate, the voices of business, farming and our civil service. They are so happy to have some power, they are listening to nobody when it comes to how they use it.

I’d switched off, worn out by the nonsense. A westie sized problem has reignited the rage.

Update! Lovely vet dismissed my concerns and suggested we all go get a beer in Donegal. Yay! We love lovely vet.

However, nothing has actually changed. Official guidance is what it was yesterday. A collective decision to simply ignore it doesn’t change that reality. We’re due to leave EU in 3 weeks, except today the Prime Minister says it might not happen. Nobody seems to have any idea what’s going on & there are no reliable sources of information. I got riled by the Brexit issue in miniature- not because I was scaremongering, but because I’m scared. We’ve had years of havoc, and no end in sight. If I were a business owner, I’d be beside myself. The government is so caught up in internal battles that no energy has gone into real world planning.

3 weeks until Brexit and the best advice is ‘ignore all regulations’. How is that Not Scary?

on being broken

I’m in limbo, I feel. Not quite one thing or the other. I don’t know much about what’s going on, and I don’t have the energy to care. I should be freaking about the unseasonable weather and upcoming shambolic departure of UK from the EU; I’m more ‘meh’. These are potentially life changing processes being handled poorly, if at all, and I don’t have the oomph to even tweet my MP. She appears to be in denial about one, and thinks the other is going swimmingly, so what’s the point? Also, who am I?

Tomorrow is international Rare Disease Day. Traditionally, this is the busiest time. There are presentations to perfect and politicians to persuade. There is the clutter of banners and posters, and the play packs to assemble. There is usually snow. All is different this year- the weather is scarily warm and pleasant, and I have no banners or lists of to do. I’m not organising or presenting; I’m tagging along.

I spent years doing all I could do. I made it my business to be in or around all the conversations- rare disease, neurology, co-production, ME, system transformation, leadership. And right now, I’m done. I’ve stepped back from most of the things with which I used to fill my days. I’d wondered if I’d be bored, but no. I don’t even have the brain power to be bored.

I’m sleeping and reading, and sleeping some more. My brain and body are slow moving- I have no idea what day it is and the family are home from schools before I’ve properly woken up. I have taken to tidying and organising in little chunks. Charity shops and sellers of little boxes are happy that I have taken inspiration from Marie Kondo. I discovered books I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen before, without any recollection of choosing or purchasing before losing on the shelf behind the drawers. I got rid of many many books, as well as the wee cheat of drawers. Kitchen cupboards have been transformed-we can find things without all the other things falling out. Radical stuff.

I’ve signed up for some volunteering at events in March- getting to participate in festivals in this way is new for me. I’m dipping a toe into a different aspect of living in Belfast. My health has meant I’ve missed out on lots over the years- I’m hoping I can manage these, with plenty of rest and a seat. Spurs Fan does wonder how my decision to step back from volunteering has resulted in volunteering for new things, but why not? Events are not the everyday business of running a charity. They are short bursts of interesting activity to tempt my dormant brain cells. They are the outside world and community and conversation. They are time to remember myself.

Soon, it will be time to head west to the seaside, to the caravan at the beach. The weather will be back to normal by then. I will be sleeping and reading and embracing the emptiness, the wind and the constant sound of the sea.

I’ll need all that space to deal with whatever the changes resulting from the UK leaving EU will actually be.

the tale of the someones

Nearly 30 years ago the water service were doing repairs near where I lived. As a way of warning us to fill kettles and saucepans full of water for the day, a wee man in a van drove up and down and around the streets announcing his presence via a loudhailer on the roof of the vehicle, “This is the WATER SERVICE. The water in this area is GOING OFF”. The water supply was stopped, and then started again by about 4.30pm. It was slightly inconvenient, but predictable and plannable for. The man told us what was going to happen, and it happened. The chief result of the process was that I still shout “WATER SERVICE” in my head when I think of it.

In truth, I haven’t had much cause to think about the water supply since. While our drains have caused chaos once or twice (read all about it, if you must, in previous posts), the water supply has just been there. Easy, reliable, convenient as turning on a tap. There’d be the odd bit of low pressure, but nothing to remark upon, until a young man in a big yellow coat (#1) appeared at the door.

There was indeed low pressure, and it might be our responsibility. His listening equipment suggested there was a leak near the wall. On the pavement side of the wall, it would be up to the water service to fix; on the garden side, we’d have to do it. A week later someone came out and checked the pavement side. Another week later, a different someone, tidied up the pavement. I phoned to see what was going on, and a fourth someone landed at the door to tell me I might get a letter.

Someone #5 phoned, sounding very knowledgeable. It’s a difficult leak to find, but they’re working on it, and hope to get out in a few days. Grand.

Message from #5- they’ll be out on Wednesday pm. Nothing happened. When I called to see where they were, #5 was adamant that all was done and fixed. They’d come through the green gate, and worked at the back of the extension. But I’d been in the whole time, and could see no sign of activity at the back. Eventually it began to dawn on us both that we were talking at cross purposes. There’s a person with a similar name, living in number 6, similar address, in a different town. Her water leak was fixed, through her green gate, and at the back of her wee bathroom extension. Somehow, the system had given #5 the wrong phone number, and he’d thought he was talking to that person all along. I’d thought I was talking to #4.

So, four weeks after we were told there was a leak, we were no further forward. In the meantime, the washing machine had died because we kept trying to use it. We’ve been relying on the kindness of others for weeks to get some laundry done.

As I was relaying the tale of the wrong water leak, the chap in the big yellow coat (#1) returned, bringing a colleague (#6, who never spoke) to stand at the door beside him. This time he was telling me we would definitely get a letter, as they’d decided the leak was on our side of the wall. Time to talk to the insurance company.

The letter came. #5 called anyway, feeling some ownership of a problem that’s never been his. He suggested I ask for a replacement pipe rather than a repair.

I phoned the insurance, who couldn’t confirm that we’re actually insured- if it’s not been accidentally damaged, it’s all ours to pay for- but they’d contact their local company. The company phoned, they’d send somebody.

#7 arrived today. He was here for about 2 minutes. Since #1 had done sound tests, #7 didn’t have to. He’ll send someone else out next week.

Over a month since the start, at least 7 chaps at the door and 3 women on the phone, we still have a water leak. It reminds me of the old story of four people called Everyone, Someone, Anyone and No-one.“There was an important job to be done and Everyone was sure that Someone would do it. Anyone could have done it, but No-one did it. Someone got angry about that because he thought that it was Everyone’s job. Everyone thought that Anyone could do it, but No-one realised that Everyone wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everyone was angry with Someone because No-one did what Anyone could have done!”

Of course, I don’t know which of those folk I am. When #1 appeared, should I just have gone straight to the insurance company in case it was our problem? Should I have hunted for a local chap to just come along and fix the blimmin thing weeks ago? How would I know where to start?

What if I was living alone, or vulnerable? How would the washing get done? Could I cope with all the Someones calling?

There has to be a more efficient system of maintaining the fabric of our services than simply passing from pillar to post, from subcontractor to subcontractor, and leaving the public with no idea what’s going on.

I’d really welcome the man with a van right now, shouting “WATER SERVICE”.