Thursday, October 06, 2016

Frankenfinger on the road to Madrid

Little did I know when Dr. Gunter Frenzel was sticking a needle into my knee that I’d be seeing so much of him afterward. He does Unfallchirurgie too. He was there the day after the hospital (the day after the marathon that didn’t happen) for the post-op check-up, as surprised to see me as I him, and again today when he took the threads out of my finger. Well, he tried to. A nurse completed his job (no doubt for a fraction of his pay) and gave me a ridiculous cast to wear. I have to go back in four weeks for another x-ray to see if they need to operate again or not. At this stage I’d be happy if they cut it off. Frankenfinger. It’s only my wedding ring finger, it’s not like I need it.
I ran today for the first time since my pathetic effort the day after the crash. It was better than I thought. I’d the feeling I could actually run faster than before, as if it loosened a few bones. The hip’s still sore but it doesn’t stop me running. No, the main problem is the right knee again, which I noticed after 7.3 kilometers, same problem as before. I didn’t push it, no point. But it’s confirmation I couldn’t have run the 42.195 even without the crash. Better than I thought is still not good enough. I’m at a loss, don’t know what the problem is or how to fix it. It’s something right inside the knee. Twelve days’ rest didn’t cure it.
Recent words have been causing alarm bells at home. My aunt sent an email titled “Worrying present state of mind and body. [yours],” wondering “what the hell is happening, we are all in a state of severe anxiety.”
I rang her back and reassured her I’m not going mad and it was just a bad month, one to be written off, and that October was looking better. My uncle asked if the council had been in touch about the damage I caused to the pavement. I laughed a lot. They’re great. I’ll see them again in November when we go back, can’t wait.
“Take care,” I said to my aunt when we were signing off.
“You take care! I’m not in the mood for funerals or more misery.”
I’ll be fine. I’m fine already, Alles gut. No need for worried calls from Ireland or Madrid, where I’m more than determined to run the marathon on April 23. It’s for Syria, something, shit that puts everything else in perspective.
They gave out a wristband to all the runners signed up for Berlin, urging them to get their finishing times engraved on the thing. I took mine out of the plastic tonight, put it on, nothing to engrave. It’s a mark of uncompleted business. I’ll keep wearing it until I finish what I set out to do. I’ll do it, as I told the young fella this evening, but I could see he doubted me. I doubt myself too but I’ll overcome it. You’ll see. (I hope.)

Donate if you want to help support MSF’s work in Syria. All I can do is give them the money I raise, your money. I transferred €1,500 already but maybe that was blown to smithereens in a bombing raid on a hospital. It seems futile, easier just to pretend none of it is happening, but it is happening and it continues to happen, won’t go away if we try ignore it. I’m not giving up! Donate through IBAN DE09500105175554452542 (BIC: INGDDEFFXXX) or the Paypal button below.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Whack whack whack and the sound of glass smashing without end

In a café with a friend for some reason, I explained how I suddenly recognized the street (Stargarder Straße) because it was the setting for a TV show where the students went to school on one side (the Hokey Pokey side) and hung out in an ice-cream joint (not Hokey Pokey) on the other.
The café was all tables and chairs set back in rows and we were watching a film about something. No idea what. The guy sitting in front put his arm up to scratch his head or stretch and someone behind started complaining, can’t see the film, get your fucking arm down you asshole.
The guy got up and ran behind me and all I could hear were thumps, the soft repetitive thuds of bone-driven flesh on flesh. I tried look, get up, stop it, but my friend had grabbed my head in a lock and I couldn’t move. I struggled and strained against his arm but nothing. My eyes were covered, I couldn’t see a thing. Maybe he was trying to protect me in my post-crash condition. The thumping continued, I could hear it, whack whack whack, voices of complaint rising steadily from other café guests. Whack whack whack and the sound of glass smashing without end. I freed my head and woke up. These antibiotics are fucking strong.
Yesterday it occurred to me it’s easier to fill a hole with a body than sand. You just tip it in, cover it up, done. Less shoveling. But you have to find a body, or make one, which is work in itself. Then you’ve to carry it to the hole. And there’s the guilt involved, weighing you down. More work in the end. It’s better just to fill the hole with sand, shovel by shovel. Shortcuts are deceptive.
Nothing has a beginning and nothing has an end. Time passes but it never forgets. The past eats the present and the future is inside us.
To avoid going crazy you got to do crazy things. I booked flights for Cuba, went for a walk in the rain, took photos on a tripod in the dark, brought the camera home, dried it with the towel.
It’s European Month of Photography. Art will save us all.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Marathon postmortem

Today instead of running the marathon I spent the day at A&E to assess the damage after my bike crash Friday night. Whatever about the dodgy knee, there was no way in hell I could run it after the crash. That was it, the endgültig aus.
I was simply going too fast, hurrying home, nobody’s fault but mine. Ironically it was because I wanted to rest the knee instead of forcing it through a long cycle that I decided to take the train back, and I was on my way to the station when it happened, when what I was cycling on suddenly gave way to thin air.
It happened and can’t be unhappened. As soon as I hit the ground I knew it was over. Fuck. I hit everything except my head. I picked up the bike, hobbled the rest of the way to the station, sat in the carriage, still probably in shock, slumped over.
There was blood gushing from my hand onto the floor and a girl sitting opposite must have been a trainee nurse or something. She came straight over, took bandages out of her bag and wrapped them around my finger, like some sort of random angel plugging the leak. I mumbled thanks, still thinking marathon marathon marathon.
I even tried running the next day, yesterday, knowing it was over but trying to force another reality over this one. I winced my way around the block, but no alternative universe opened up and I admitted defeat. I was beaten. I am beaten.
I worked from home, got blood all over the keyboard, got through the day and the night and realized this morning I had to go to hospital when I still hadn’t stopped bleeding.
They had to do an operation on my finger. The nail had come off, the wound was open, still bleeding. Somehow the surgeon cut the skin and forced the nail back in and stitched it all up. Blood everywhere. I couldn’t look. He told me not to look as if I could. When he’d finished I told him I couldn’t thank him enough.
“Es ist kein schöne Arbeit, es tut mir Leid.”
A subsequent x-ray showed the top of my finger is also broken. They x-rayed my hip too and think that’s ok, though there’s a chance it’s not. Time will tell, the doctor said. But I know it’s ok. The finger hurts like hell, the hip only hurts when I walk. I can barely notice the knee anymore, so that’s something. I got painkillers and antibiotics and have to go back to an Unfallchirurgie tomorrow.
The surgeons gave out to me for taking so long to go to the hospital, seemed genuinely pissed off. I told them I was an optimist and believed everything would be fine. I still believe everything will be fine.
I was more down about it yesterday but people have rescued me. This whole marathon thing has been an incredibly humbling experience. I’m surrounded or in contact with so many wonderful people, people who have sent good wishes, showed their love through donations and/or messages and/or kind words. People have been there for me big time and I’m so grateful for that.
Apart from the personal side, this was all for Syria, to raise money for Médecins Sans Frontières. And tomorrow I’ll be able to transfer €1,500 that they’ll put to good use there. €1,500!!! I think that’s great. Thank you :)
I’ve signed up for the Madrid Marathon on April 23. I’ll be over my injuries by then, all of them except the blow to my pride, but I’ll overcome that by running 42.195 kilometers that day. Nothing is guaranteed in any life of course, but I’m pretty confident. I couldn’t do it now, this instant, but I’ll prepare properly and I’ll be ready. And I’ll fundraise for MSF/Syria again. They need it now more than ever.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Marathon Sans Frontières: Racetime for Zahra

The marathon’s Sunday. Finally. A year’s preparation comes down to one day.
Thanks to the generosity of friends and strangers, I’ve raised €1,163 for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in Syria so far. Hopefully there’s more to come.
I’ve run 1,199.2 kilometers but I might have run too many. I have to be honest – I’m not in good shape. I screwed up my right knee two weeks ago, couldn’t even walk, possibly an aftershock from the 34.5K I ran the Monday before. It was only 34.5K because I was stopped by cramps. It was 100K for the week. Mentally and physically I could not be in worse shape for running 42.195 kilometers.
I went to a knee specialist yesterday, fully expecting him to tell me to forget about it all. But he injected some clear liquid into my right knee, which was found to be bigger than my left, and he prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs that I have to take up to the morning of the race.
“You don’t need to run it in two hours!” he told me. But of course I want to run it in two hours. Gunter Frenzel was his name. He gave me the thumbs up, told me to stop and walk if I had to.
The knee seemed worse after the injection and even walking today is difficult. But I’ll keep taking the drugs and see what happens. Conversely, beer seems to help. My self-imposed beer-verbot ended that Radiohead weekend. I’ll try drinking my way through the marathon if nothing else works.
I picked up my starting number today, along with a bagful of promotional shit I don’t need.
None of this is important. It’s not about me. It’s all for Zahra and the millions like her, trapped in Syria and beyond, people who really know about sleepless nights. Life is littered with corpses but it goes on. The world keeps turning. And people need help more than ever.
I’ll give it my best shot. It’s all anyone can do.

Donate below or through IBAN DE09500105175554452542 (BIC: INGDDEFFXXX). All donations still very welcome.

Many thanks to AP for permission to use the photo above, taken by two-time Pulitzer winner Muhammed Muheisen, of Syrian refugee Zahra Mahmoud, 5, from Deir el-Zour.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

No escape from your thoughts

No escape from your thoughts. They haunt you and taunt you and kick you while you’re down. Underthoughts are the worst, sneaky ones you don’t even know you have. They wait while you sleep to you wake with a raw gnawing pain in your chest before you remember why. Hahahaha! Take that you fucker!
I think too much, always have. Think about the thoughts, wonder where they come from. Then I think about thinking about the thoughts and what I did to deserve them. Nothing. Everything. I think too much.
It’s dangerous territory, I know. Maybe I’m going mad. Everybody’s mad in some form or other. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself after a few knocks and I need to snap out of it.
It’s the last day of summer. For the first time I’ve brought my laptop to a café and I’m sitting writing in the sun. Beckett used to sit in cafés, I think. I’ve decided to write a book. Not right away but sometime, some day in the future when I’m good enough.
For I’m not good enough yet. One good thing I can say about that love story is that it made me want to be a better person. I signed up for a German grammar course at the VHS, faced up to certain weaknesses, sought improvement.
There’s no bitterness or anger, just a parasitic sadness immune to rational thought. Some things just cannot be explained and so it is with love. It’s hard to believe it can be destroyed so quickly, in one week or less. She wrote to me Monday to say she’d fallen in love with someone. Ja, I replied, I thought it was me. I wished her good luck and hoped that she’d find happiness and keep it. Then I spelled Tschüss wrong. Fuck it, nothing’s perfect, it fits.
I started reading the Murakami book she recommended to me yesterday. It’s great. I’ll always be grateful to her for that. She introduced me to good music too and shamed me into giving blood. I’ll get a donor card. They’ll throw away the liver but they can use the rest. It’s not all bad. It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate, it takes guts to be gentle and kind…
Writing helps, words, forcing thoughts to work for their keep. Fuck you thoughts! Where are you running to now?
I’ll write, I’ll learn, I’ll love (the young fella saved me Monday), I’ll run. The marathon’s in just over a week. I screwed up my knee last Friday but I’m running anyway. I’m lucky I have two. Many of the people I’m running for don’t have any. Donations have dried up but hopefully they’ll pick up again when people see me running with a broken heart and banjaxed knee.
There’s no escape from your thoughts. You can only replace them with other thoughts. In the silence you don’t know. You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Broken hearts make it rain

I stupidly fell in love. Let my guard down, took someone too close, believed for a second everything could be wonderful.
It was wonderful, that’s what got me. We were in a film, magical moments, actors in a screenplay, a clichéd love story.
One night we walked and walked, neither of us wanting to go home, till we got to the top of Volkspark Friedrichshain. We sat on a bench and looked at the night sky through the treetops and she put her head on my lap. I kissed her and held her and neither of us said a word for ages, even though we were both fucking freezing. The last frost before summer, she called it. The cold clawed at us from outside, I was shivering, but the moment’s warmth was so special we stayed. I sat there savoring it and nothing else.
I didn’t know I loved her at the time but I guess I must have. I sent her postcards from France, one from each city I went to during the Euros. Fuck! When I think of it…
I thought I really liked her, nothing more. There were no expectations, ever. She had a boyfriend and I dared not think ahead. Everything was present tense. We made no plans. We met and talked about the here and now, the past, life, never the future. The future’s too scary, too grown up. We stayed in our bubble.
I knew to savor it, to savor us, and even learnt to savor the pain of her being away. Not really, it hurt, I fucking hate it.
It took me a while before I admitted to myself that I loved her, the realization a shock that set off alarms in my head. I’d been hurt before and it’s shit, said I’d never let it happen again. But I ignored the fears, pushed the doubts away, took the risk and dared believe she might actually be interested in me despite my faults and weaknesses.
She seemed to be interested, said she was, dumped her boyfriend and told me about it in a text because “just maybe it might delight you in some way.” Not that it mattered. I was still in the bubble, enjoying every moment we had together. What she did in her own non-bubble life was up to her.
Reticence prevented me from rushing in but finally I told her I loved her when she’d all but told me she felt the same. Hab dich lieb. We kissed. No words, no thoughts, just happiness. We held each other, nothing more precious than our closeness.
Of course it didn’t last or I wouldn’t be writing these words. I don’t know why it didn’t last, it doesn’t matter. She fell out of love again for some reason, it happens. But it happened in a heartbeat. At least I savored the moment. There won’t be any more.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Frostsee: Baltic Bockwurst on the beach

Went to Ostsee for a few days, froze my arse off. It should be called Frostsee, it's bloody Baltic.
I went for a run and attempted a dip when I got back. Bracing myself, I inched forward, the water's icy tentacles trying to resist me, surging around me, warning me, taunting me, urging me back. Damn it, I dived in, and nearly died of shock. Alright Frostsee, you win. I climbed out again.
No matter how warm it is outside, the Ostsee is permanently freezing. It's best admired from the safety of land. Only nutters and FKK aficionados can withstand the shocking chill of its inhospitable edges, swimming with the fridge door open. I'm going to confine my sea-swimming to the Mediterranean, Atlantic and warmer seas of the Polar regions from now on.
Rügen is lovely though. It's impossible to get decent coffee on the island, or even coffee that doesn't make you gag, but then Germany's coastal regions are not known for their gastronomy unless you're a fan of Bockwurst on the beach. Maybe the Bockwurst wards off the wintry winds of summer. Maybe the only way to survive is to wave your heated sausage stick in front of your face much like people in normal countries use fans to cool down. Germany is a land of sausage swingers after all.
But Rügen, lovely, really, honestly. Soft golden sands, long grasses behind the long beaches, trees keeping the cruel sea at bay.
We were camping in Göhren: me, the young fella, Paul, and his young fella Luka. It was the first time me and the young lad camped together. We were lucky in that there was some sunshine between the clouds that alternate between doom and gloom.
The lads loved it, frolicking beside the water (kids are immune to cold until it kills them), kicking the ball around, playing soldiers, eating ice-cream, running for the sheer hell of it and just generally being kids. It was refreshing, possibly due to the bracing wind. But I know Paul liked being a kid again. There were times the young lad's exuberance was too much for Luka but then he'd wear anyone out. I was glad he was wearing someone else out for a change.
But I'm ashamed to say we did the trip without the Trabi. I wanted to be sure we'd get there so we took the train. I won't be doing that again, lugging a thousand bags, tents, sleeping bags, cooking gear that I didn't use, then contending with chemical warfare on the return as some mongo stood beside us with his arms raised to maximize the toxic stench of his armpits.
All in all though it was great. We have to go back, we'll go back, next time with the Trabi, our own coffee and heated wet suits for swimming, maybe hot water bottles, mittens and thermal hats. It was my third trip to Ostsee. I'm warming to it for sure.

Many thanks to Diana for the tip! :)

Marathon Sans Frontières: For Zahra and the millions like her

I won’t win it but I’m running the Berlin Marathon on Sept. 25 to raise money for Syria through Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. Every cent I raise is going toward MSF’s humanitarian efforts in Syria or to assist Syrian refugees fleeing the country.
Fundraising continues. I’ve raised €1,053 so far, including the $250 prize AP gave me for my work in Nice. I already lodged €600 in MSF’s Irish bank account, so that should be put to good use even before I run the first of those 42.195 kilometers.
Of course I hope to raise more over the next five weeks (only!) before the big day. Every little contribution will help alleviate someone’s suffering.
And people are suffering in ways you cannot imagine. MSF-supported hospitals have been constantly targeted by airstrikes, doctors and patients killed, while members of Syria Civil Defence, volunteer search and rescue workers, are also being killed as the barrel bombs, cluster bombs, napalm bombs, phosphorus bombs and simple regular bombs continue to rain down.
It’s just everyday reality in Syria. It’s hell. The world turns its back because it’s easier than dealing with the unending atrocity of indiscriminate murder, systematic starvation, wanton bloodshed, a cycle of bloody violence that feeds on death and nurtures extremism to keep the killing alive.
I’m lucky in that I still have my life and my limbs. So I’m putting them to use for people working to save others’ lives and limbs.
I’ve never run a marathon before. It’s not easy but I can’t complain. Today I clocked 1,001 kilometers altogether. Running gives me time to think about how lucky I am. I’ve a good life, the living is easy. The living. In Syria not even the dying is easy…
I cannot fail. As I said, I won’t be winning the thing but if I manage to raise a decent amount for MSF in Syria I’ll have won in a much more meaningful way. Please help me win! All donations great and small (small donations are also great) are very much appreciated.

Many thanks to AP for permission to use the photo above, taken by two-time Pulitzer winner Muhammed Muheisen, of Syrian refugee Zahra Mahmoud, 5, from Deir el-Zour. She’s at an informal tented settlement near the Syrian border on the outskirts of Mafraq, Jordan. There are another 4.8 million like her and more who cannot escape. If you can call it an escape. I’m running for them all.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Trabitrip Poland

We made it to Poland! Unfortunately we mightn’t make it back. As I type the Trabi is spending the night in a strange garage after springing a leak. Petrol was gushing out at an alarming rate. 
I wouldn’t mind but I was so proud of it for getting us all the way here yesterday. I’d given it a wash and a polish the day before – reward for 43 years’ unapologetic service – and it looked 20 years younger. The chrome was shiny again, the dirt was gone, the windows gleaming and the dull white wasn’t as dull as before. I even got new seat covers! Though I didn’t have time to put them on. Damn it, there wasn’t a moment to lose if we were to make it all the way to Poland…
I got a speaker too so we could have music en route. David Bowie’s “Cygnet Committee” was blaring as we flew slowly down the Autobahn with the windows open. That was the life! Escaping the big city and heading for a few days to the seaside. It was to be our second Trabitrip and more exotic than the first. Another country!
High fives when we crossed the border. We’re in Poland! Unfortunately the roads in Poland are shit. I thought the EU was supposed to sort them out but evidently not. Pretty soon they were shaking the crap out of the car, causing me to wince with every bump. The Trabi’s used to DDR roads, I tried telling myself.
We were nearing our hotel – a castle in the middle of nowhere – when I’d to switch the reserve on the fuel tank. Still 10K to go, I wasn’t sure if we’d make it. Then we hit a dirt track for the final stretch. It was hardly even a dirt track. Only a fucking tank could navigate it properly. But we’d to keep going, bouncing up and down, zooming over bumps and down cavernous inclines only to shoot back up the other side. We were airborne at times.
Finally we made it but obviously the roads have taken their toll. The mechanic, who thankfully spoke German, said a screw or something must have fallen out. We’ll find out more in the morning.
The castle we’re in is lovely, albeit small, probably not a real castle, but it’s beside a lake and a forest. I asked someone working here how old it was. “1,800” she replied, making it very old indeed unless she was referring to the year.
There’s nothing else in the run-down village, a huge church like in every Polish village we drove through, lots of chickens and a few old mangy dogs that growl their displeasure when you pass. Maybe they think we’re German.
I wonder if they know that all the dogs here used to be German, and before that Prussian, and that it is only for man’s eternal greed and the trivialities of history that they are Polish dogs now.
The castle has a huge tower and narrow round steps that go up forever until you emerge blinking and dizzy among the clouds, looking down at the stork who foolishly built his/her nest on a chimney that’s still in use. There was smoke billowing around the nest this morning. Smoked stork on the menu this evening.
We also saw a snake, frogs, dragonflies, fish in the nearby lake, thousands of crickets, and there’s a cat and a dog that seem to like following us around.
The young fella thinks the king and queen used to live here and he reckons “it was even nicer” when they did. It’s a good thing they’re gone though. He’d have driven them mad by now, constantly asking to play football or badminton or to go fishing or to read books or go off in boats, or everything at the same time.
Really I wanted to bring him to the sea, half an hour away, and let him run off his energy there, but the Trabi’s injury has put that plan on ice. To console myself, I shall treat myself to a mojito for 14 złotys. Tomorrow is another day.

UPDATE: The next day – It wasn’t fixed this morning. The mechanic and his assistants had given up. The screw might have been a special screw and there was no way they could find it in Poland.
The guy from the hotel had given us a lift in and he tried talking to them but there was nothing they could do. We went to another mechanic only to be met by the same head-shaking, even after the hotel-guy told him we were Irish.
On the way he’d said that being Irish opens lots of doors in Poland and that we should have told him we were Irish before.
I apologized for all the trouble we were putting him to, driving around in search of Trabi parts.
“For the Irish we do it,” he replied. “Not for the English.”
Another lead turned dead – literally. His wife informed us he’d died a couple of years before and no amount of Irish was going to bring him back.
The hotel guy was running out of ideas. Internet perhaps? I looked up the parts but neither of us is mechanically minded and it could be anything. Another dead end.
Tomorrow we’ve to go back to Berlin – how I do not know – get to the local Autobedarf that has Trabi parts, get whatever’s required, and then I’ll come back to Gryfice so the mechanic can install it and hopefully get the Trabi going again. The sea will have to wait for another visit, possibly with another type of car. Trabi troubles are no ordinary troubles.

UPDATE: The night after the next day again – The Trabi made it back to Berlin! I know I shouldn’t ruin the suspense with the ending but what the hell, you know now.
I hired a car in Gryfice, drove back to Berlin, dropped the young fella off, went to the Autobedarf only to find it shut, diverted to the Trabi garage and there – after an hour of searching and poking around among parts that hadn’t been moved since the Berlin Wall came down – we finally found the elusive screw. It was so small and immaterial they didn’t want any money for it. I hopped back in the car (one that works) and drove the screw back to Poland. The mechanic put it in and the Trabi roared to life.
Unfortunately it kept roaring all the way back to Berlin. There’s something not quite right with it. I genuinely thought it was going to explode. The noise was incredible. I stopped twice to let it cool down. BANG! The exhaust both times. I confess impure thoughts about selling the Trabi, banished them, but they kept coming back. I dared not put any music on, just in case. Then I risked it after all. Radiohead, what else? I’m not here, this isn’t happening, I’m not here, I’m not here.
It was dark. A sea of red blinking lights rose to meet me as the Trabi roared past invisible windmills. Down the Autobahn at 100km/h – it wouldn’t go any faster. White lights zoomed past as cars whizzed by and left me chasing more red lights in their wake. I felt alone, sailing, floating along, unsure if I’d hit land or was destined to float aimlessly forever more. But I made it, I made it, or I wouldn’t be writing these words. A candlelit beer was awaiting me at the door. It’s so good to be home.

UPDATE: A week later – The Trabi’s been running fine since it got back to Berlin. Perhaps it was only homesick the whole time. And now the new seat covers are on! It hasn’t looked so fine since 1973. All is forgiven. There will probably be another Trabitrip after all.