2018 Grateful 28

So, if I were a kid, watching Billy Elliott might make me gay? Really? I’m mortified that this is making headline news outside of Hungary. The Irish Times led with:

Billy Elliot shows scrapped amid ‘gay propaganda’ row: Opera chief in Hungary denies pressure from nationalist government promoted the move

The Guardian ran with:

Billiot Elliot musical axes dates in Hungary amid claims it could ‘turn children gay’

The Washington Post went with:

Billy Elliott shows canceled in Hungary amid cries that musical is ‘gay propaganda’

The mind boggles, particularly when I heard that the one gay character in the original show wasn’t gay in the Hungarian version. Go figure. But just when I thought I’d seen the capital L on Ludicrous illuminated, I heard another story that has left me reeling.

Walking on the island today, we got chatting to a fisherman who said he had caught some fish. We asked to have a look as I’ve never seen any of the many fishermen who regularly line the lakeshore catch anything other than the occasional palinka fugue. And sure enough, he had some live ones swimming around in his net. Nice ones. But he had a problem. The goverment has apparently decreed that the Busa and the Kárász  (both types of carp) are not truly Hungarian fish and therefore have to be taken from Hungarian waters. Forcibly removed. If you catch them, you cannot put them back, no matter how small they are. You have to keep them. And, what’s more, you have to kill them where you catch them. You can’t take them home live and then kill them and cook them fresh. Nope. It’s death before departure.  This was a problem for me man, as he lives some 150 km from the village and figured that his fish would be well souped by the time he got them home.

Kárász (Crucian)

Now, in the grand scheme of things, I’d have thought that there were other, more pressing matters, for the government to focus on. Like the increasing rate of emigration. Or the state of the hospitals. Or the abortion rate – I heard tell this week of one hospital with 18 beds in the gynaecology ward performing an average of 10 abortions a day. But no; it would seem that fish are in focus. Foreign fish.

Of course, there’s always a chance that this chap was a tad disillusioned or perhaps read the law wrong or maybe even had been in the sun too long, but he seemed convinced and was very convincing. And what’s more, he seemed to find the whole thing as ludicrous as I did. We shared a contemplative moment as we considered the madness of it all, then shook hands and parted ways.

In a week that’s seen no shortage of visitors and entertainment, I’m grateful for interactions such as these, conversations that keep me wondering at where the world is headed. There’s nothing like a bit of suspense to liven up a Saturday.

 

 

2018 Grateful 29

I was in Venice during the week for a few days. I packed my laptop. I had about an hour’s work that I didn’t quite get done before I left, so I brought it with me. As I like to blog, too, it’s handy to have. I have it in my mind that one day I’ll use the text in my three blog/websites as the material for three books: Unpacking My Bottom Drawer (a work in progress, scheduled for later this year); Any Excuse to Travel (a vague notion for 2019); and Dying to Get In (still in my head). I like the discipline. I like that when I write about a city, or somewhere I visit, I have to research. I have to read around it. And all too often, I learn of places I would have gone to visit had I know about them while I was there. [Next time, I want to visit the Armenian Monastery where Byron went to study the language.]

We didn’t walk through St Mark’s Square. We didn’t take a Gondola trip. We didn’t visit Murano. Or Burano. Or San Michele. We didn’t go to Harry’s Bar for a Bellini. And I never once ate pasta. But I did get a taste of life on the water. I discovered Tintoretto and his amazing story. And I got to the Biennale. We stayed on Lido and even spent one entire day lying by a pool. What poor tourists we were.

I can’t remember when I stopped always doing what was expected of me. I don’t have a firm recollection of when I began to lessen the hold that obligation had over me. I haven’t been able to pinpoint the date when I started to offer a considered no in place of a blind yes. None of this happened overnight. You can’t change a lifetime of behaviour just by willing it so. I’ve had to learn…and often the hard way.

I know it’s working because I’ve heard that I’ve changed. I’m not nearly as much fun, apparently. Not nearly as sociable. Not nearly as available. And I’m hearing more and more lately that I seem to have settled. Oh man – the first time I heard my name and that word in the same sentence, I had palpitations. Me? Settled? Seriously? But perhaps I have settled. I still like a drink but no longer want to waste the next day recovering so those times when the weakness in me get strong are few and far between. I still like to go out but enjoy my time at home even more. I still like to travel but am picking and choosing my destination a little more carefully.

I’m still working, still chasing my tail, still trying to juggle a million things at once, but I’m also taking more time to experiment, to pick fruit, to paint tables. I’ve given up on SEO, and social media, and tweeting resigning myself to the fact that people don’t have time to read anything but headlines. So when I write now, I write for me. For my own records. And for some dear old friends who, through age and circumstance, like to travel virtually with me.

Happy birthday week DLW – hang tough. UNESCO has it right – normal life is a full-time job. And I’m grateful for mine, however settled it might be.

2018 Grateful 30

I’ve had one of those weeks when I wonder what the universe is trying to tell me. It started when I left two bags of cherries in the fridge in the village. I’d meant to bring them to the city to stone and freeze. I wouldn’t mind, but I wondered not once, but three times, why the food carrier was so light.

Then my store of novelty Budapest chocolates, treats for a workshop I was running on Friday, treats that I’ve only ever found in one little shop over in Buda – I had those all ready to pack – but didn’t want to crush the boxes, so I Ieft them aside and then left without them. Airport chocolate is five times more expensive and not nearly as nice.

Then the flight was late.

When I got to the car rental desk, the lovely lady told me that my credit card had expired last week. So no car. They, of course, don’t take cash. Or a debit card. And even had I taken full insurance, they’d still need a credit card. Why or what for I’m not sure. Thankfully, the mates I called came to my rescue. They’d rent the car but name me as the driver. They arrived with a credit card but no licence – why would they need it if they weren’t driving? So another friend had to be called in. I was now three hours behind schedule. But I was on the road.

Next day, I get to my workshop more than an hour early. I wanted to be sure that I’d be able to use my laptop with their system and if not, have time to source another. All was good. But the that massive Windows update that I’d been putting off all week kicked in and for more than an hour I wanted the minutes tick away, one percent at a time. I just about made it.

I couldn’t get my Internet to work, so I texted their support guy, who asked questions like when I run config/all (or some such) what does it say? WTF? The presumption of knowledge was hilarious. It was something to do with hardcored DNS numbers in the end.

The workshop went fine. They enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. All good.

I still had time before the shops closed so I headed into TK Maxx to buy a frying pan. I get lost easily and if I enter the shopping centre from a different door, I find it nearly impossible to orientate myself. I spotted a lift that I knew would open on the floor I needed, so in I got. Halfway between two floors, the electricity cut out and the lift stopped. With me in it. And I was in it for 29 minutes. I counted. They eventually got the door open and lowered a ladder for me to climb out. It was, of course, the only day this year that I’ve worn a floor-length skirt. All I can say is that it wasn’t pretty.

I had yet another fruitless trip to M&S who really need to do something about their ordering policy. It’s pretty clear to me (someone with little to no retail experience) that if something regularly sells out, you should order more of it than of anything else. Every other woman in Ireland must wear the same bra size as I do because M&S has not had that size in stock the last three times I’ve shopped there.

So, with the week about to close and a new one set to begin, I can only hope that the universe has said whatever it needs to say to me. These were, of course, all first world issues. As the rest of the world continues to go mad, I’m grateful that my issues are trivial.

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 31

I’ve never thought of myself as someone who needed affirmation – confirmation that I was doing the right thing or making the right choice. I pretty much do what feels right when it feels right to do it. Nothing more complicated than that. But occasionally, when affirmation and unsolicited approval come my way, I do a damn fine imitation of a peacock in full preen.

I’ve long since realised that I live a blessed life. My wants outnumber my needs and even those are manageable. I have the best of both worlds, with my time split between city and country living and frequent trips to Ireland and abroad. Work comes my way when I need it and life is never dull. I have so much to be grateful for.

But I’m in danger of taking it all for granted. I do things on a daily basis that others have never had the chance to do at all. I have a friend visiting from home home who is crossing firsts off their list of things to do at an alarming rate.

We’ve picked cherries and made jam and cherry syrup. We’ve shelled and candied walnuts. We’ve picked mulberries and having researched their superfood properties, made syrup of those, too. And this was just Day 1. Today, with so many working in the service industry and the manufacturing industry mainly automated, few of us get to see the fruits of our labours. We miss out on the satisfaction that comes with turning a bowl of cherries into a pot of jam. We don’t get to feel that sense of tired satisfaction that comes after spending a day doing… doing stuff.

Day 2, being Sunday, was a rest day that started with us scoring some nice pottery at a flea market outside Keszthely and then finding a birdhouse, a hall table, and a compost bin at another market near Tapolca. Lunch at the Istvándi winery overlooking the Balaton in Káptalantóti, with its cold cherry soup and home-grown mangalica pork was about sustainability. Everything we ate was grown locally. Everything we drank, from the syrup to the wine, was made locally. A stunning environ with great food; a model worth replicating.

From there it was over to Szigliget for a dip in the Balaton waters, before popping into the neighbours for a chat and a catchup and then catching a nightcap in the local presszo. From my viewpoint, looking out, these were normal days for me. For my friend, looking in, they were days with a difference.

Sometimes, looking at our lives from another’s perspective can make us appreciate what we have just a little bit more. And that new perspective is one to be grateful for.

 

2018 Grateful 32

Wednesday. May 23rd. The day John Malkovich came to Budapest and taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. Right now, I’m trying to decide if it was worth the experience.

In true marketing fashion, I made a rash purchase (4 tickets) and am now trying to rationalise my decision. Apparently, this is what we consumers do all the time. It’s what keeps the marketers in business.

The facts I had at the time were:

  1. John Malkovich was coming to Budapest for one night only.
  2. He was performing what was billed as one of the top 10 shows in the world (I can’t recall where I read that snippet)
  3. If I didn’t see the man this time, I was unlikely to cross paths with him again.
  4. The cheapest tickets I could get were 20 000 huf (~€60 / $70).
  5. We were expecting visitors and I thought it would be night for them to rememeber.

And it was, but probably not for the reasons I imagined.

We rocked early to Budapesti Kongresszusi Központ, in plenty of time to have a pre-show drink and take our seats at a leisurely pace. I was all excited. I’ve had a thing for the bould JM for just about ever. What a voice. The 26-piece string orchestra – Danubia Orchestra Óbuda took their place. And the show started. No sign of the man himself. But I didn’t panic. Perhaps, I thought, he’d enjoy a grand entrance. Above the stage, rain was being projected onto a white screen. I quite fancied that I saw his face in the droplets and given the title of the programme – Report on the Blind – my imagination began to run riot.

Maestro Dirk Brossé was conducting and violinist Ino Mirkovic also made an appearance. Now, had I done my homework, I’d have been all the wiser. But I hadn’t. And I wasn’t.

Psycho Suite by Bernard Herrmann and the Adagio (To the Unknown Soldier) by Dirk Brossé and still no sign of John. My blood pressure began to rise, slowly. I could feel the anxiety setting in. I began to wonder if we were in the right place. I drew a map of the venue in my mind and decided that there were no other gigs on that night (and it would have been strange, anyway, not have to have been ousted from our seats had we been in the wrong place). The rain at this stage had turned to snow and the images of frosted glass and the ice patterns provided only a mild distraction. The avalanche footage was quite compelling though. But 45 minutes in and still no John.

Then a man appeared on stage – and I breathed a sigh of relief – a short one. On closer inspectection I saw a face that was too round, a body that was too slim, and a hairline that wasn’t quite far back enough. Not John. They danced. At one stage he blindfolded himself and hope rose within me briefly – I was grasping at blind straws. I tried to control the angst. And then came the intermission.

I left my company inside and went outside to calm my nerves. Everyone seemed to be wondering what was up. I wasn’t the only one. Then I heard that this was just the prelude. The warm-up. The man would make his appearance in the second half. And he did.

Accompanied by pianist Anastasya Terenkova, Malkovich took us on a rollercoaster ride, his voice doing more than the 26-string orchestra could have done. He was quite something. He posited some theories:

  1. God does not exist
  2. God exists but he is a bastard
  3. Good exists but falls asleep and his nightmares are our existence

I quite liked No. 3. I thought ‘wow – he wrote this stuff. Amazing.’ But he didn’t. It was a chapter from Ernesto Sabato’s novel On Heroes and Tombs. Malkovich played the protagonist Fernando Vidal who reckons that blindness drives the world. It was mesmerising. Mesmerisingly short. Just 30 minutes, if that. And it was over.

It’s taken me a week to process it all. Am I glad I got to see and hear the man in person? Yes. Am I glad I didn’t pass up the opportunity? Yes. Do I reckon it was worth the guts of €250 – which is a plane ticket somewhere – I’m not sure.

But I learned a lot about myself. If I have no expectations at all – which is generally the case – I can’t be disappointed. My mother tacked that one on as the ninth beatitude. But if I have expectations, and I’m thrown off course, then I get ansty and anxious. I let it consume me. I tried to enjoy the music in the first half, which was stellar by the way, but my heart was racing and my mind was all over the place. I had brief moments of enjoyment but peppered as they were by a sense of being utterly lost, I barely remember them.

I wanted to see him so badly that I didn’t think to check what it was he’d be doing. I could have. It’s out there. I could have done my homework, perhaps before I bought the tickets. But I was blindsided by fame. Still, though, as a lover of oratory and the spoken word, I think Malkovich would be hard to match.

I’d like to see  Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters. The interview with photographer Sandro Miller makes for fascinating reading. And I never knew that JM owns a restaurant in Lisbon, speaks fluent French, and lost millions in Bernie Maddoch’s Ponzi scheme. For the background reading, I’m grateful. For the opportunity to hear the voice in person, I’m grateful, too. I only wish he’d spoken for longer and that I’d known what I was letting myself in for.


 

2018 Grateful 33

I like the road of least resistance. I can be quite lazy. If you can do it better, quicker, and more effectively than I can, then have at it. I’m not one to feel I have to prove a point. Usually, when confronted with an easier, equally moral option, I’ll take it. I see this so often when it comes to using my pitiful Hungarian. If I’m with someone who speaks it better, I simply don’t try. If I get a firm nem (no) to my initial inquiry as to whether the other party speaks English, which, by the way, is just about the only complete sentence I can pronounce pretty near perfectly in Hungarian, I usually thank them, hang up, and have someone else call for me.

But on Friday last, something clicked in…or clicked off. Perhaps the lazy gene is on sabbatical.

The electricity lads have been after me to do a meter reading. I’ve been away each time they’ve called and their notes were getting slightly more frequent. They dropped a note in my box sometime Thursday to say they’d call Friday between 4 and 6. I  didn’t see it till Friday lunchtime – I don’t check the mail daily because it’s usually window envelopes and junk,  neither of which particularly rock my world. Anyway, I was meeting a mate for a coffee at 4 and didn’t want to reschedule. Himself had plans, too. So I took a deep breath, picked up the phone and rang the number.

The chap who answered, answered simply with a harried Igen (Yes?) I wondered if I had the right number. No mention of the company at all. I asked, haltingly, ELMŰ? Another igen. This time a little softer. 

I asked if he spoke English and got a firm nem for my troubles. I was about to thank him and hang up but a voice in my head taunted me. It’s been a while since I was called a scaredy cat!

So, in pitiful Hungarian, I explained that I didn’t speak the language very well (another sentence I can say almost perfectly!) and that I was slow, hoping that in Hungarian it didn’t have the same alternate meaning as it does in English – there’s nothing wrong with my intellect – just my language skills. He laughed. So perhaps it does mean the same.

Anyway, I went on to say that I had a letter in my mailbox saying I had an appointment that day but that I wasn’t at home. It said that they could come on Monday, even though Monday was a holiday, so I asked when he could come then. He suggested Saturday instead. Now this is where I got a little cocky, I tried my hand at banter. I think I said that working on a Saturday wasn’t a good thing. I got another laugh. Man, I was on a roll.

I asked what time. He said 10am. And then he took off… a fast roll of three consecutive sentences that I completely missed. But I wasn’t even listening. I was on a high. We said our goodbyes. I thanked him for his patience. And as I hung up, I wondered if he’d come.

The next morning, I was out. But himself was here. And they came to read the meter shortly after 10am. Score for me!!!

I’m ridiculously pleased with myself, which is sad really. Ten years and this one successful conversation is what I have to show for it. But perhaps this is the start of it all coming together. Regardless. I’m grateful that I can chalk up a Hungarian language success, however minor.

2018 Grateful 34

“‘There’s a James Thurber cartoon I’m very fond of …’ He turned to Shaw then, the face relaxed, honest, and open. ‘Thurber – you know Thurber?’ Shaw nodded. ‘He sketched this graveyard, glimpsed through railings, the pavement crowded with determined men and women walking to the left, to the right, clutching shopping bags, briefcases, pushing prams. The caption read simply: Destinations. Devastating, really.’” This conversation is from Death on Demand, by Jim Kelly.

“It reminded him of one of his favourite cartoons, by the humourist James Thurber, depicting a street full of determined men and women striding to their next appointments, against a background of a cemetery. The caption read simply: Destinations.” This reference is from The Funeral Owl, also by Jim Kelly.

Were I cynical, I might scream Lazy! But I like how Kelly writes and I enjoy his characters (Valentine & Shaw and Philip Dryden). This is something that obviously resonates with him. And now that I’ve come across it a second time, it resonates with me, too.

I’ve been making a conscious effort to slow down, to stop occasionally and smell the grass cuttings. I ran into someone I knew from my early days in Budapest who took to country life a lot sooner than I did. We compared notes, Both of us in our day had been medium-sized fish in a very small pond and had enjoyed a certain measure of fame and attention. But neither of us miss it. Both of use have crossed the half-way point and probably have fewer years ahead of us that are behind. Perhaps that has something to do with the mellowing. But this Thurber cartoon sealed the few cracks that might have been lingering in my perspective. Life is simply too damn short to keep up that level of manic candle-burning.

I’m readying my jam-jars as the cherries ripen. I’m culling recipes for preserves. I’m noting bookings in the diary as friends make plans to come visit.

But recognising the danger of becoming too insular, too settled, too comfortable, I’ve decided it’s time to go somewhere I’ve never been before. The itinerary changes daily but Thailand and Indonesia are on the cards later this year. It’s never too late to try Paniki (a dish made from wild bat) or Belalang goreng (deep-fried grasshopper) but I might just draw the line at Tikus panggang (grilled rat).

Am grateful this week for the life I’m living and the adventures to come.

 

2018 Grateful 35

Usually I don’t get heat-cranky till late June but this hot weather is playing havoc with my schedule. The hottest April on record here since records began 218 years ago, the highest low temperature ever, and the highest morning temperature registered on 1 May.  We’ve skipped spring and leapfrogged into summer. Madness.

Over in Alaska, friends are waking up to snow-covered decks. They had summer last week and have now reversed back into winter. Avalanches are being forecast with 33 inches falling on Thompson Pass since 4 May. More madness.

In Dublin, they’ve had a rocking weekend with an Irish hot of 20 degrees. That’s practically a heatwave. I’d say it was madness, but sure they’re mad anyway 🙂

And with far more to complain about, friends in Hawaii are watching lava warnings after a massive earthquake the other day. Evacuations are underway. Lives are falling asunder. What’s happening in the world?

 

All I needed was some perspective. My lot don’t seem half-bad in comparison. I’ll quit my bitchin’ and deal with the perspiration. I’ll bring out the perfumed hankie to combat the rampant BO, and start planning a trip to the sea. Lots to be grateful for.

 

2018 Grateful 36

I spent a lot of time this week with my dad. Even after 50+ years of knowing him, he still has stuff to teach me. We went to visit his younger brother – there’s 13 months between them all. For him, time has taken on new meaning. He has something – dementia, Alzheimer’s – he’s lost his memory. We were chatting and he told me that he’d lost it. To which I found myself replying – Everything to you is new, wow. Every meal, every experience. Imagine tasting ice-cream for the first time, every day? But no, he said, it wasn’t the experiences that he’d forgotten, it was the names, the faces, the connections, the links. He’s 91 but he’s open to being any age.

While we were there, an elderly lady came and stood at the door. She was holding on to a baby doll, as if it were a real child. She remonstrated with us telling us to ‘be proper, be proper, be proper’. God only knows where the woman’s mind is. But no matter what they remember or don’t remember, that human contact seems all too important.

At the end of the second WLC week, my wellbeing was to make contact with three different people each day. You’d think that wouldn’t be a problem. Just fire off three emails or make three comments on FB or, God forbid, actually talk to three people. But it wasn’t simple enough to manage, to get the 35 points on offer for successful completion. I’ve noticed that I’m guarding my time, and being very careful whom I spend it with or on. I’m avoiding group meet-ups and parties, as energy is limited and I’m easily drained. And while I know that as a card-carrying introvert, my happy place is sparsely populated, the danger of retreating is all too real.

Reading Death on Demand recently, a cop novel by Jim Kelly,  Valentine had this to say: ‘You won’t know this yet but life stops when you’ve got no one to tell; no one to receive. We’re like radios, I think – transmitting and receiving, but if there’s just you, what’s the point?’

Last year, Joseph Lindoe opted to live alone in a flat for a week. He did this to highlight the loneliness that is rampant among the elderly. His account makes for interesting reading.

This is in the UK. And it’s a problem in Ireland, too. But here, there’s the added element of fear. Just yesterday, I heard of an elderly couple in the village who had moved in with their daughter because they were afraid to live alone. Not because they might fall or anything, but because they might be robbed and beaten up – in their own homes. This is a real fear. It happens. The elderly are being targeted. What sort of person could do this? I can’t begin to imagine.

One of the pluses, though, of having close neighbours, is that everyone watches out for each other. Remember the 1919 novel The Valley of the Squinting Windows? I used to hate that everyone knew everyone else’s business, but now that my parents are of an age, and I’m not always around, I’m very grateful that there are those who would notice if Mam didn’t show up for mass of a morning or if Boss wasn’t seen up the garden. It makes being at a distance that much easier.

Paradoxically, though, until himself came on a scene a few years back, I often thought that if I fell out of reach of a phone on a Wednesday afternoon, it would be a full week before anyone would notice I was missing. And a lot can happen in a week. Such is the plight of single people all over the world. Back in 2007, 44-year-old Sandra Drummond was found dead in her flat in Hulme, Manchester. She’d been dead for nearly a year and no one had missed her. Elizabeth Day, writing in The Guardian, described Sandra and her ilk as

modern-day Eleanor Rigbys who die with no friends or family to notice.

How sad is that? Young and old alike, those living on their own need to connect. And those of us who tend towards solitude, need to take care not to lose ourselves in it.

2018 Grateful 37

I set my alarm to snooze so I can enjoy having a lie in. Madness, really. I should just wake and get up. No dithering, or luxuriating, or procrastinating. Just up and at it. And maybe 2 out of 7 mornings in a given week, I might do this. Perhaps one morning a fortnight I’m awake when I wake up and have time to think about what I might to that day. And those days are usually better days. I get things accomplished. I get to the end of the day and look back and feel I did something. But they’re few and far between. I’m more likely to dive in and then fly around like a one-winged wasp trying to do too much and not getting a lot done.

I’ve been getting better lately, ever since I discovered that the calendar on my phone syncs with that on my laptop. And everything I want to remember to do goes in the calendar, so much so that if it’s not there, it doesn’t get done. I had a minor meltdown a few weeks back  – I had four things to do one day and only wrote down three of them so one didn’t get done – to pick up a bench-cushion I was having covered. But I had the time to do it, and I was minutes from where I needed to be for a good hour with nothing else to do. But I didn’t remember until after the place had closed. Unfortunately, I was on the metro when it dawned on me and the carriage got to witness my ranting self-beratement as I called myself every name under the sun. It was irrational, I know. But hey, I’m of an age.

I mentioned last week that I was doing this six-week WLC challenge. And this week, part of the challenge was to write down each morning one thing that would give a sense of accomplishment to my day. Okay, okay. Be sceptical. I was. But you know, something happened this week.

On Day 1, I wrote that my measure of success for that day would be if I turned up at the anti-government protest scheduled for 5pm. I’m not a great one for large crowds anyway, but I have just enough paranoia to fear the consequences of being caught on camera with face-identification tools readily available. I spoken to a few prominent business men who because they’re responsible for hundreds of employees, cannot show up and risk being caught on camera for fear of the consequences. I’ve heard stories of visits paid requesting passports in the aftermath of simply signing petitions. And while I know I have sod all to hide and my legal status isn’t in question, my trust levels in those who rule are in the minus figures. There’s nothing I’d put past them. And I have to wonder if that’s a healthy environment in which to live and if, deep down, it’s somehow leaving its mark upon my soul. The first time I rallied was when the Hare Krishnas were removed from the register of religious organisations and their lands were in danger of being commandeered by the state. That was back in 2011. I did show up at the one against Internet Tax and perhaps got caught up in another about education reform. But that was accidental. On Saturday, though, it was something I wanted to do. It was frightening and heartening at the same time.

Day 2 was more mundane – I had two papers to get off my desk and a mountain of bills to pay, but I also wanted to play. So I played first and paid second, so not my usual order of things, but it worked.

On Day 3, my measure of success was whether I managed to clear airport security with half a dozen champagne flutes in my carry-on bag. The Internet, as usual, answered whichever way I wanted it to answer, depending on which page I read. I decided to chance it – and pray for the best. My bag was sidelined and I had a moment or seven of doubt, but it wasn’t for a search, just a swab. Nice.

Day 4 was about logistics. I wanted to get to Dublin airport on time. Time is always tight on this particular journey and if there’s an accident on the M50, I’m screwed. It’s a toss up. The oncoming traffic was at a crawl because of a fender bender. Then the motorway displays showed an accident after J4. I needed J5. But J4 was clear and the backdoor worked.

On Day 5, I had to make up my mind whether to buy a rather expensive lamp I’d spotted the previous week in an antique shop. I wanted to feel good about it and not berate myself afterwards. But I also didn’t want to waste money. I have enough stuff. Did I really need more? Then the inimitable SR told me that I’d spend the money anyway, but if I bought the lamp, I’d have something to take pleasure in. I bought with a clear conscience and yer man even knocked off a few thousand … forints, that is.

Day 6 was about resisting the temptation to stay up half the night watching a series I’m hooked on. I only watch it in the village so I had to figure out a way to just watch one episode. But if I wanted to be up early in the morning and get my hours in, then one was all I had time for. I resisted temptation.

On Day 7, the weed-ridden garden path was my daily project and although my fingers were sore and my back was screaming, I had a chicken for company so I persevered.

None of these actions in and of themselves will radically change my world. Granted, adjusting what I eat and how much water I drink and how much sleep I get will rock it one way or another. But what struck me most from this week-long exercise in self-discipline is the power of mindfulness. It was sobering how many times I caught myself mindlessly reaching for a biscuit or a beer or a slice of bread. It was sobering to see how often I disregarded what my body was telling me. And it was heartening to sit back at the end of Week 1, lighter in body and spirit. And for this I’m grateful.