Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Dublin to London and back again.

Travelling between Dublin and London can be fairly cheap and fairly easy. This is my guide to how to do it. I live in London and I'm from Dublin, and at the moment I travel between the two far more than any climate conscious person really ought to, but I'm definitely a frequent flyer when it comes to love miles. My commitments to family and friends in both locations are strong, and occasionally there is even some pesky work that has to be attended to in person in one jurisdiction or the other. Lately I've been back to Ireland from the UK around once a month, and I've done it at different times by plane, boat and train, in and out of every airport in London, to and from Dublin and several other airports around the island. I've learned many tips and tricks on these trips, which can make it cheaper and easier (and sometimes even both at the same time) to make the journey, so I'm sharing them here. I also want to subtly encourage more folks from there to come and visit me here in London - it's quite the city. I've written some version of this guide many times over for friends planning a trip to Londinium, so I'm finally putting it all together here for easy access. I've framed it in terms of travel from Dublin to London, rather than the other way around, but it should not be beyond you to apply it in reverse. Hope it shall prove useful, and please add comments below.

Ferry and train from Dublin to London

One good option to travel between Dublin and London is by ferry and train. This has the major advantages of being fairly cheap, about €90-100 return, even if booked the day before you travel, and always being the same price, so no need to worry about price changes. You can even show up at Dublin Port on the day and buy your ticket, which has a slight surcharge for same day travel, and you'll be in London later that day. There are two ferry companies, Irish Ferries and Stena Link, running the route from Dublin Port to Holyhead in Wales, and connecting to trains to London Euston station, in central London. They connect up with a variety of train companies as the rail system in the UK is fragmented, but this doesn't much matter, your ticket will take you on the relevant train by whichever company or companies are running it. The trains meet the ferries. There are fast ferries which take about 90 minutes and slow ferries which take about 3 hours. However because of the way the trains are scheduled the fastest you can do the whole journey is about 7 hours from Dublin Port to London Euston, and more usually about 8-9 hours depending which ferry or train you get. Obviously this is a long journey, and there can be delays on the ferry or train but there usually aren't. It has other advantages such as being able to show up at Dublin Port say 30 minutes before your ferry, and for the train in London 10 or 15 minutes before it is due to leave. When you factor in travel to and from the airports for flights, and the time in advance of your flight you need to be there, travel between Dublin and London by air can easily take around 5 hours door to door. Also the train brings you directly into Euston station which is central London, so you do not have to travel in from outside the city or from a distant airport after you arrive, and there are no additional travel costs. There is essentially unlimited luggage allowed on the ferry, you can check usually two bags while carrying another one with you onto the ship, for free. The ferry-boat combo is called SailRail from Dublin to London, and sometimes called RailSail in the other direction. Travelling by boat and train is also more ecologically friendly than travelling by air, with far lower carbon emissions, depending on the capacity and occupancy of the ferry, mainly. I have travelled many times on the boat and train to and from London to Dublin and found it quite relaxing, entertaining, and good value, despite the fairly long hours. Worth considering, especially if it's close to your travel date and prices are climbing.

Flying from Dublin to London

Four airlines currently fly between Dublin and London: British Airways (BA), Aer Lingus, Cityjet and Ryanair. There are five major airports in London, all with flights from Dublin: London City (airport code is LCY), Heathrow Airport (LHR), Gatwick Airport (LGW), Stansted (STN) and Luton (LTN).

Tips and tricks:

Not all airlines fly to all airports. You will need to search on each airline's website for their flight routes. It is worth checking the individual routes for each airport with the airlines, as prices to one London airport can vary radically compared to another airport, even on the same day and almost the same time of flight. At the moment (August 2016) BA flies between Dublin and Heathrow, Gatwick and London City. Aer Lingus flies between Dublin and Heathrow, Gatwick and London City. Cityjet flies only to London City. Ryanair flies to Stansted, Gatwick and Luton.

Definitely consider buying one way with one airline and return with another airline, if it is cheaper. All airlines sell one way flights on these routes, usually at little or no difference in price compared to one leg of a return. And one airline and airport in one direction may be radically cheaper while its return is much more expensive, and vice versa. You can also fly with the same airline into one London airport and out of another. It may be cheaper and may suit you better or make no difference to you to travel in to one place and out of another. So consider buying two singles with two different airlines and/or two different airports, and you can potentially save a lot.

Return flights are sometimes cheaper than two single flights made with the same airline. But for some airlines the prices are identical. Other airlines, buying a one way flight is €5 or €10 more expensive than the price listed for that leg as part of a return. But sometimes, with the same airline, buying a single is much cheaper than the leg as part of a return. I do not know why this is (any ideas, airline employees?), but I've had it happen enough times to know it is worth checking one ways as well as returns. It may be because when you buy a return, if one leg of it only has seats available at a higher price, then both flights get bumped up to the higher price bracket, costing you more overall. There is not necessarily any advantage in buying a return. Again, it is definitely worth checking two one way flights.

On some of the websites, you can enter London (code LON) or something like London England Area instead of an individual airport and it will bring up all flights by that airline to all the airports in London, saving you having to check each route individually. This is because London has its own “all airports” code for the whole city, like other hubs with multiple airports such as New York (NYC), Berlin (BER) and Paris (PAR). Annoyingly this is not possible on every website, and strangely, does not work reliably on some – for example, entering LON on the Aer Lingus website will bring up flights to Heathrow and Gatwick but not London City, for which you have to search separately.

Most of these airlines and routes are either not listed or not listed correctly on aggregator websites, like Skyscanner or Kayak, though these can give an indication of who flies where. Occasionally a cheaper flight may come up on one of these websites but I have never found it to be the case. It is a bit time consuming and annoying having to check the four airline websites and their routes into the five London airports, and of course each website loves to do things in its own idiosyncratic and highly irritating way, but with a bit of patience and multiple tabs in your browser, you can sometimes save some serious cash.

Every so often another airline starts flying between Dublin and London. Up until recently, FlyBe flew this route, which was great because its propellor planes are much more environmentally sound, it was cheap, they have lovely staff and service, and they also flew to unusual regional airports around the UK – handy if you were going outside London. Occasionally an airline flies the route only at a certain time of year, or flies more often during certain seasons. I have the feeling that Easyjet and Aer Arann once flew this route, but I could well have imagined that.

Some of these four and other airlines also fly from London to Knock and Shannon airports in Ireland and to Belfast's two airports in Northern Ireland. I've flown some of these routes and sometimes they are cheap and fast, but there are usually one or maximum two flights a day. There are also flights from Kerry and Cork direct to London though I haven't taken any. Depending where you are coming from, flying out of a regional airport can work out well.

The flights themselves take about an hour to an hour and twenty minutes. There isn't much difference between flight times from Dublin to individual London airports. Your plane will probably only be in the air for between 45 and 60 minutes. Not lots of time to work or relax between the seatbelt signs going on, when you'll have to put your laptop away. Bear in mind that if your flight is delayed, early, or cancelled, being at a major airport (like Heathrow) can be an advantage in terms of getting another flight out, but a disadvantage in terms of missing your scheduled landing time and having to circle for ages.

Don't be misled by airlines that seem to fly this route but in reality are merely codeshares with one of the four airlines above, i.e. one airline runs the flight but another airline can share the code to also claim it as one of its flights. Air France is sometimes listed but is just a codeshare with Cityjet. Aer Lingus flights to London City are in reality BA flights in codeshare. Almost always buying the flight with the codeshare partner is more expensive than buying it directly from the airline that is actually flying the plane.

There are many other airlines that fly indirectly between the cities. If desperate, you could probably take a flight that stops somewhere else in the UK first, but that would definitely be time-consuming and probably be expensive. Alternatively if you want to pay hundreds of euro, spend five or more hours flying for a supposedly hour long flight, and 'stop off ' in Copenhagen or Paris airports 'en route' between London and Dublin, go ahead. Personally, I'd say that's unwise.

Obviously flights tend to go up in price the closer you get to your planned departure date, but very occasionally the reverse is true and a few flights at a cheaper price are released closer to the date. I have also noticed that sometimes Ryanair in particular reduce the price of their flights by a few euro during the night – literally the price will go down at say 10pm at night, if you buy it then, but then in the morning it goes back up to what it was before. Bizarre but I have made use of this. However in general I would say buy as soon as you can, as prices usually just keep climbing closer to the time you're flying.

For the best views, I recommend sitting on the right of the plane when flying into London. Especially into London City, which really is in the middle of the city, and where you sometimes fly basically along the Thames over the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, before landing on the runway which is built out into the water and makes you feel like you are about to clip the buildings on either side as you come in for your approach. On a clear day even a jaded jetsetter will find it hard to stop themselves glancing out the window.

My views on the airlines:

BA is generally an extremely pleasant airline to fly with and can be very good value, cheaper than some others. They have tonnes of flights per day between Dublin and London. It is usually relaxing, efficient and stressfree, and you even get free food. It is like flying used to be. I have realised part of the reason it is relaxing flying with BA is because the cabin staff are there to save your life and serve you coffee, not to try and sell you stuff like on the budget airlines. Essentially nothing is for sale on a BA flight so the staff are not stressing trying to flog you an overpriced panini and scratchcards. They are based out of Heathrow which has advantages. Also they have astonishing baggage allowances – see below. Aer Lingus is alright, usually pleasant enough and on time, and sometimes cheap, with lots of flights per day between the cities. No free food and lately a good bit of upselling to put up with as it competes to the bottom. Cityjet is quite remarkable as an airline in terms of price and service. They fly only via London City which is very handy – see below. Cityjet used to market themselves as a business class only airline. Despite this I have gotten extremely cheap flights with them at times. It seems to follow no pattern, as sometimes their flights are astronomically expensive (but then so are everyone else's) but don't be put off by their pretensions, it is worth checking them out, even if, like me, you are clearly not anything like the businesspeople they try to woo. Also pay by Paypal or they will slap on a hefty payment charge on credit cards, about €5. I have no idea why either. Ryanair can be fairly cheap, relatively on time, and have lots of flights from Dublin to their three London airports. It is important to factor in the cost of getting to and from these airports into the overall cost of your travel – see below. Even without this, despite the automatic assumption that Ryanair=cheap, I have found other airlines often beat them on price. You will need to be prepared to tolerate them not having enough space on the plane for everyone's (packed to within a gram of the limit) hand luggage, and being forced to check yours (for free) and thus wait for it on the other end. There is also their constant selling of everything including bus tickets and three cheese pizza (because they are too cheap to do the usual four cheese pizza – no 'quattro formaggio' here). But at least they now allocate seats rather than the mad free for all endless queue and melee 'system' of yore.

Bottom line is that all four airlines are fine, are safe, can all be cheap, and will most likely get you from Dublin to London without any hitches or delays, and with varying degrees of pleasantness and sustenance during the flight, which all take about the same duration.

Two other key factors in choosing your airlines and route are the issue of getting to and from the airports in London, and baggage allowances. So important are these that I've given them their own sub-sections. Because sub-sections are cool.

Getting to and from the airports in London:

London is a large and spread out city of about 9 million people and its five airports are in very different locations, mainly way outside the city proper. It isn't that large by mega-city standards, it's not that sprawling and its transport systems are very good, but getting to and from the airport is a major factor in terms of both cost and time in your overall journey. The city is divided into nine zones (really six of importance) for public transport, which go in rings from Zone 1 in the centre of London outwards to Zone 6 and ultimately Zone 9. Zone 1 and 2 are very central and it's rare to go beyond Zone 3. Public transport is made up of the Underground, commonly known as the Tube, and its integrated other forms including the Overground, DLR (Docklands Light Railway) and commuter rail. The public transport system uses Oyster cards which can be purchased for £5 at any Tube station – definitely do this as tickets are about half price with such cards, it is otherwise difficult to buy tickets for each journey, and you can give the Oyster card back and have the £5 refunded at most stations when you leave London. Alternatively you can use cash. There are also London Buses which are public transport and only take Oyster cards – as of at least 2015 they do not take cash. There are also private coaches, private/express trains and taxis (the famous London Black Cabs, as well as private hire and account services such as Addison Lee). London City and Heathrow airports are within the zones and accessible by public transport, making them cheap and quite fast to reach, while the other three airports are all outside the city, meaning it requires time and private trains, buses or taxis to reach them.

London City is the only airport that is really in London itself. It advertises itself as such, and it's not lying. It is pretty much in the central docklands of east London. It is in Zone 2 i.e. very close to the centre and there is a DLR stop at the airport. It is possible to get off the DLR train and be at your gate, including having cleared security, less than 10 minutes later – I have done this more than once. It's a small airport with the pluses that brings – easy to get to and around, fast, accessible – and the minuses – not that many flights, bit run down. London City also advertises itself as having the easiest check in/boarding time cut off of any airport – you can be at the gate 15 minutes before your flight. It's quite reasonable to reach the airport say 30-45 minutes before your flight if you've no luggage. The best/worst I've ever done was that I once got off the DLR at London City at 14.22 for a 14.25 regional flight to Scotland and still made the flight, though I had to bang on the locked boarding gate to convince them to let me on – I don't recommend cutting it quite this fine. The airport is convenient for anywhere in or outside London, particularly to the north or east. Because it's in Zone 2 and has a public transport station actually at the airport it is very cheap to get to and from it by Tube/DLR - a journey to Zone 1, 2 or 3 is about £2.50. It is also fast – there are trains every few minutes and it takes maybe 20-30 minutes to reach most places in central London by DLR/Tube from London City.

Heathrow is in Zone 6, a bit far off to the west, and also has a Tube station at it. This makes it very handy. It is a massive airport and takes quite a long time to navigate through or to move between terminals, ensure you leave plenty of time to get to and from it and to clear security. It is on the Piccadilly line on the Tube, and there are three stops for it, depending on your terminal – Terminals 1, 2 & 3, Terminal 4 and Terminal 5. It takes about 50-60 minutes to get to most places in central London on the Tube from Heathrow, direct on the Piccadilly line, with trains running every few minutes. This costs about £5 using your Oyster card. Alternatively you can get the Heathrow Express private train, which is fast – it takes about 15-17 minutes to Paddington Station and runs every 15 minutes – but expensive – about £20. There is also the less well-known Heathrow Connect private train which takes about 30 minutes and runs about every 30 minutes, and is, guess what, £10. I imagine there are buses from Heathrow too which may be cheap but hard to imagine they are cheaper or faster than the Tube, have never tried them. If you ordered a taxi or Addison Lee car between a few people it could work out ok. Heathrow is convenient for anywhere in or outside London due to its transport connections. If you are headed outside London to Reading or Windsor in the west it would make most sense.

Stansted Airport is far outside London to the northeast. You have to get a private train or coach there, there's no Underground. The Stansted Express train takes 36 minutes to Tottenham Hale Tube station or 47 minutes into central London to Liverpool Street Station (these are usually the only two stops). Tickets are usually £19 one way, but can be £8 if you get an advance, or about £16 for a WebDuo or group slightly reduced price for two or more people travelling together. Quite often the trains are replaced by buses, especially at weekends, so check their website for scheduled Service Alterations before you buy. There are a variety of private bus companies between Stansted and London, such as National Express. Buses cost from £5 to £12 to get into central London, depending where you are going, and take 60-100 minutes. It is not unusual to be on the bus for 90 minutes or to get further delayed. The coaches stop in a few places such as Stratford en route to Victoria or Paddington stations. I have taken these buses a few times. Have never taken a taxi but it is conceivably possible, potentially very expensive as it is a long distance. Stansted is particularly handy if you are going to the north east of London such as Hackney or Finsbury Park, because Tottenham Hale station where the trains and sometimes buses stop is in that vicinity.

Gatwick airport is outside London in the south. So it is handier if you are going to south London. You have to get a train or coach there, there's no Underground. You can take the Gatwick Express train which takes 30 minutes non-stop to Victoria station and runs every 15 minutes. It costs £20, sorry, £19.90. Slightly less if you get your ticket online or with two people travelling together. There are also standard commuter trains run by Thameslink which take about 50 minutes into central London stations and cost about £10. The Thameslink trains are not advertised so visibly as the Gatwick Express but they run about every 20 minutes and go to a variety of stations. There are also coaches, which I haven't yet tried.

Luton airport is way outside London in the north west. You have to get a train or coach there, there's no Underground, and it does not have an 'Express' service, making it a bit trickier to get to. You can get a Thameslink train to Luton Airport which actually stops at Luton Parkway and a shuttle bus takes you to the airport itself. Trains run to various stations in central London every about 15 or 20 minutes, take about 50-60 minutes including the shuttle (though this depends on traffic) and cost about £15 one way. If you don't specify Luton Airport on your train ticket, rather than Luton Parkway which costs the same, you will be charged another £3 for the shuttle bus. There is often traffic which can delay the shuttle bus quite a lot. While ostensibly as close as say Stansted, Luton just takes more time to get to, quite a long time to get through as an airport and is more prone to delays. There are also coach services direct to Luton airport, such as Easybus and National Express, which in theory take around 50 minutes to central London, but I have never tried them.

Baggage allowances:

The four airlines have quite different hand luggage and checked baggage allowances and costs. So if you are looking to take more than a few kg with you, factor this in. BA allows you to take 23kg for free as hand luggage. Yes, you heard correctly, twenty three kilograms. That is on either a hand-luggage-only fare or a fare with hand luggage and a checked bag. The checked bag allowance is also 23kg, which is included in any fare with a checked bag. So you could take 23kg hand luggage and a 23kg checked bag, no problem. I think you can also take a 'small' personal bag in hand luggage on BA, such as a handbag, manbag, laptop bag, or small shopping bag, in addition to the 23kg, but haven't checked this recently. Cityjet also give you a generous 12kg hand luggage allowance and 23kg free checked bag on all their flights, even the cheapest fares. They will not look twice at you also bringing a personal bag. Ryanair and Aer Lingus on the other hand have the standard 10kg allowance for hand luggage. On Ryanair nowadays you can also take a small personal bag in addition, and usually also on Aer Lingus but they didn't used to specify that, they may have updated their terms recently. Be warned that Aer Lingus flights to London from other airports than Dublin can be termed 'regional' flights and thus the hand luggage allowance is only 7kg. On Ryanair or Aer Lingus you must pay extra to check a bag, which can be anything from €15 to €30 per bag. If you don't need much stuff with you, none of this will matter, but if like me, you have emigrated and de-emigrated multiple times, or are splitting your life between two cities, then it pays to think all this through.

No doubt there is more to say on all of this, and updates and corrections to be made constantly, but hopefully it's pretty much correct as of this moment, and that's enough to be getting on with. Happy travels!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

My back story: one beginning.

I fell to the floor in agony and for some minutes I could not get up. That is one beginning of the story. The analogies pale beside the reality. The pain was like a dagger of fire stabbed into my back. I have never had a blade of flame plunged into my spine, I have only experienced that pain, that sudden, all-consuming, agonising, incapacitating pain. Like being shot in the base of my spine, like a bullet entering and exploding inside my back. But I have never been shot. I am painting a picture, I am drawing with words, I am gesturing in the direction of what it was like. To help you understand. To help myself understand. But there are no words for what is was like. I can't know if it was like these other experiences I haven't had. I only know it was what it was. It was pain.

Twelve years ago today I bent over to pick something up in my hotel room in Bangkok and I fell to the floor in agony and for some minutes I could not get up. I am writing about it here today because I need to tell one beginning of this story, my back story. Every story has many beginnings. That day in 2004 I was in Bangkok to attend the International AIDS Conference, where I was both working for an NGO and exhibiting some posters on my academic research. The opening ceremony of the week-long conference had taken place the previous night and this was the first morning of the conference proper. I had been up quite early, downstairs at the computer, working. Back up in the hotel room, still early in the morning, I was at one side of the room, near the door and the wardrobe, preparing to go downstairs to catch the early morning bus to the conference venue with a friend. I was alone. I bent down to pick something up off the floor, I think it was a small black bag. I was knocked down by the sudden, excruciating pain in the base of my spine, a little to the right side in my lower back. I fell onto the floor. I may have blacked out for a moment, I'm not sure. I remember the image of the thing I was reaching for, then I was on the floor in agony. I was lying on my side, but sort of face down, sort of bent over. The pain was completely unexpected and all encompassing. For a while the pain didn't stop. It went on, at that intensity, that agony, that unbelievable level, for minutes. After a few seconds I thought it would lessen, that it must stop, that the pain could not go on in that way. But it went on. Some part of me was thinking, it's not possible to experience this kind of pain for more than a moment, it must get less. But it didn't. It was if something was exploding in my back and was somehow continuing to explode, remaining at the same level of explosive pain, without increasing or lessening. It was pain.

After that a lot more happened. Details, some preposterous, some predictable, medical intervention, non-medical intervention, understandings, misunderstandings, greater understanding, greater mysteries, highs, lows, it continues. Twelve years later I'm in a very different place. The back problem is still with me, but much, much less, and I have a chronic pain condition associated with it. That's an ongoing story. That first day? One of many beginnings? Here's how it went.

After some minutes the pain did lessen, and then lessened much more. It had been shooting pain down my leg and up my back, it was concentrated in my lower right back but spread elsewhere. I don't remember now exactly what happened next, that morning, the rest of the day. When I feel more able I will look again at what I must have written about it, then, shortly after. In the hotel room alone, lying on the floor at first unable to move, I kept thinking that I had to get help, that I had to reach my friend and colleagues who were downstairs in the hotel. As the pain lessened I somehow crawled on my side across the room towards the bedside table where the room phone was. It seemed extremely important that I get to the phone. Unable to get up from the floor I reached up and pulled the receiver and then the whole phone down onto the floor. I don't know who I was trying to call, as my friend's mobile phone probably did not work in Bangkok, and if I called Hotel Reception how would they reach her anyway? Perhaps I thought that Reception would help me. I don't remember now if I got through to anyone on the phone. It seems unlikely. The pain was less. Eventually I managed to get up, onto the bed, after some time I could sort of stand. I felt desperately that I had to get downstairs, to my friend, to the bus which was leaving for the conference shortly and without which I would be stranded alone in the hotel for the entire day. The conference was a huge one - around 20,000 attendees - and the venue was far away in Bangkok traffic. I was convinced I had to reach a friend or someone before the bus left, to get help, to tell them something was wrong with me. The pain was less now. Somehow I got up, somewhat bent over. I think my back muscles had gone into spasm and my back was somewhat immobilised and this was helping. I must have managed to take my bag, or something, some papers, something. My boss was giving a speech that morning and I was still concerned that I had to get her on paper the final edits for her remarks, which otherwise she would not have. That seems crazy now but at the time it just seemed like part of my job.

I do not remember how I got out of the room, but I remember being in the corridor outside my hotel room door, holding on to the wall, trying to hold myself up, not able to straighten, the pain coming and going, and looking along the corridor towards the exit. The corridor seemed endless. I remember gripping the wall, which didn't have much to grip on to, and making my way painfully slowly along the corridor. I have only flashes, broken images of this process, intermittent snapshots as I made it further and further along the corridor and eventually to the lift. Downstairs I made it across the hotel lobby, I could see the bus outside the glass on the street, I made it outside, the bus was about to pull away! I tried to wave, gesture, I could see my friends on the bus, they started to bang on the window, they got the bus to stop. The door opened, I hobbled towards it, there was no time to explain, the bus was full and running late, I had to just get on the bus. It was a large coach, I somehow got up the step into it, the doors closed, it started moving off. My friends, unaware at this stage that anything was wrong, were greeting me from the near the back of the bus, where were you, we thought you were going to miss it. I pushed myself slowly along to them using the backs of the seats and sat into a seat next to my friend. I was in too much pain to speak. I was so relieved to be with my friends but now trapped on the bus for who knew how long. At some point in the room or on the bus I took an over the counter pain reliever that I had in my bag. It was Aleve, naproxen sodium was the active ingredient. I could not fully sit down because of the pain and had to keep pushing myself up off the seat using my arms. Each bump in the road was more sharply painful. I explained what had happened. My back, I said. My back. Clearly there was a serious problem but I had no idea at this stage how serious it was.

When we eventually arrived at the conference - it was some time more than 30 minutes, but probably less than an hour - they got someone to come with a wheelchair. I was helped off the bus. We were in a carpark, a dusty lot, surrounded by other coaches, quite far from the massive conference venue. With some difficulty I wrote a note on the speech for my boss, and gave it to my friend with instructions, that she must just go up to her before the talk, that she must give her the notes. She was great, she did exactly that. Someone took me in the wheelchair to the doctor on the conference site. My friends had had to leave to go into the conference. The conference doctor checked me over. He was Thai and his English was pretty good, unfortunately my Thai was non-existent. He gave me some medication. As I was about to take it he asked if I'd taken any other medication, I remembered I'd taken the naproxen earlier. Do not take, he said, taking the medication away. Very dangerous. Very dangerous, he said, with naproxen. Then he said, the naproxen is better. Evidently it was not advised to take the two medications together. I think they got a taxi to take me back to the hotel. I was met with a wheelchair there. I got back to my room. I passed out on my bed for several hours.

In the evening the hotel manager came to my room, having been told what had happened. I was still in a good deal of pain. I had been alone and unconscious much of the day. He called an English speaking paramedic. This paramedic examined me and told me I definitely had to go to the hospital. Because of the pain into my leg it was clear something had happened to my spine. She called an ambulance. I wrote a note to my friend, I remember I repeatedly wrote, don't panic, I'm at the hospital, don't worry, try not to worry. I imagine this was not in fact reassuring. The ambulance came, I was probably taken to it in a stretcher, I don't recall. I remember that it was only when I was lying in the back of the ambulance going through the streets that I thought, hmm, I'm being taken by ambulance to hospital in Thailand, this could be quite bad. Of course the hospital was great, excellent staff, spotless, efficient, well-equipped. I was seen fairly quickly by an orthopaedic surgeon. He seemed excellent and I was impressed that he was there seeing patients at what at this stage was quite late at night. Later I remember in his report he wrote "she could barely turn in the stretcher". Because the pain was going down into my leg especially it meant there was a problem in the spine. I'm not sure if I knew, or they knew, what the problem was at this point, although perhaps they did, or suspected. I realise now, 12 years later, that I don't remember exactly when I found out what had caused the extreme pain. They did an x-ray at some point. I remember the radiologist or a nurse, whoever the relevant health professional was, saying to me, over and over again, "congenital, congenital". That person didn't have much English unfortunately, so we could not communicate well. That was pretty much all they said. I lay alone in pain in the hospital in Bangkok being told there was a congenital problem with my back. At some point I discovered that what they were talking about on the x-ray was spina bifida occulta, a relatively unimportant issue where a vertebra forms with a gap in it. Something other than that was causing the pain. I was admitted to the hospital overnight.

In the morning I was taken to a different hospital for MRI scans of my back. They did scans of the entire back, three sections. This took over two hours. Being inside the MRI machine for that amount of time was, frankly, awful. I had never had an MRI before. I was in pain, lying on a metal tray, inside a tiny tube, in semi-darkness, partially strapped down, with the immense noise of the machine all around me. I was not supposed to move during these two hours. Occasionally the operator would come on the sound system to admonish me not to move, or to tell me not to "make water in my mouth" i.e. not to swallow. The pain worsened throughout the time inside the MRI machine. I used every relaxation technique I'd heard of, every form of mental distraction, every kind of meditation I knew, to get through the mental and physical pain of the two hours of scans. When I came out I cried. Of course. During this first day I also laughed quite a lot. I was still in pain. I was taken back to hospital.

From the MRI we got an answer. I had a herniated disc in my back. In essence this meant that one of the discs that lies between two vertebrae in my spine had ruptured and a piece of it had stuck out and pressed directly on the nerves in my back, causing the agonising pain. It had been a little over a day since the problem began.

That is one beginning of my back story, one way to understand how it started. The explanations, the lack of explanations, the (mis)understandings, the consequences, the responses, the next chapters, all came later. Those stories are still being told. There are other beginnings too. They are stories for another time. My back story goes forward.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The disunited Kingdom votes to leave the European Union.

So last Thursday the UK had a referendum where they voted to leave the European Union. That's just in case you have been living under a rock for the last week (no offence to rock dwellers). There have been billions of words spilled about this, yet still no-one really seems to have a clue, least of all the leaders of two main political parties in the UK, or the leaders of the Leave campaign, or indeed really anyone in the Leave campaign. Most people in the Remain campaign are still too shocked to come up with a constructive way to challenge this or make it more positive, and despite what the Leave campaign seems to think, it was not really up to Remain to have a plan for what to do if their side lost. On the other hand, one might have expected the Leave campaign to have some kind of ideas for what to do if they won, as they now have, but no, they have persuaded a commanding chunk (but not the majority) of the country's electorate to vote Leave, yet have by their own admission no plan on what to do now or how to deal with the entirely predictable (and well-heralded) disastrous effects of this decision. The pound has plummeted causing France to overtake the UK overnight as the world's fifth biggest economy, major international companies are already announcing the departure of thousands of jobs from the UK, the EU is already referring to itself as being comprised of only 27 members, billions in EU funding to the most deprived areas of the UK is at risk, Scotland (having voted entirely Remain) has announced its intention to hold another independence referendum which would break up the UK, the peace process in Ireland and Northern Ireland is under threat, and there has been a large increase in openly racist attacks around the country. And that was just the first morning after the referendum!

Once the results were known, terrible things began happening at high speed in an apocalyptic manner. And that is still going on. It is a bleak bleak time to be in the UK. I'm an Irish and EU citizen, I live in London, I had a vote in this referendum and I voted Remain - of course. Though the tragedy is already turning to farce. David Cameron, Prime Minister and leader of the Tory party, resigned immediately the morning after the referendum. But that will only really take effect once a new leader is chosen. Might seem like he should have had to stick around to try and clean up the mess a bit, yes he didn't want the mess, but there needs to be some leadership as the country is facing a massive constitutional, economic and cultural crisis. Over the weekend, MPs in the Labour party rebelled against their leader Jeremy Corbyn who was overwhelmingly elected less than a year ago by the Labour party members. Most of the shadow cabinet resigned, a vote of no confidence was held and most MPs voted against Corbyn, who is technically still the leader but will have to fight a leadership battle now. Because obviously if you are the main opposition party and the Prime Minister has just resigned and the country is in chaos, the politically savvy thing to do is to immediately escalate a faction in-fight amongst yourselves, have no plan or solidity at all, present no united alternative to the leaderless flailing government, definitely don't provide a sane, stable, compelling vision amid the chaos, and certainly don't seize the once in a lifetime opportunity to be the people and the party who navigate a uniting, economically fair, tolerant, equal, anti-austerity path out of the nation's nightmare, which could potentially actually lead to something better coming out of this mess. Why would the Labour party be even interested in such a thing, right? Doesn't sound like any Labour party I know. Good work on essentially getting rid of your own leader instead. Meanwhile B*ris J*hnson, one of the chief proponents of Brexit, and pretty much presumed to become the next Prime Minister, today in his speech announcing his bid for the leadership of the Conservatives, took the unusual step of...announcing that he was not going to run for leadership of the Conservatives. He campaigned to leave, and he's left. He was hugely responsible for this entire Leave disaster, but he's not going to clean up one single bit of it. Yay leadership! Almost makes you think formal politics is defunct and we need something really crazy like participatory democracy.

There is so much more to be said but so much toxic and destructive nonsense is constantly being said about this situation, that I won't say much more. I just want to touch on a few things that people don't seem to be mentioning. Incredible that these things seem not to matter. One is that Jo Cox was murdered. Remember that? She was killed on the 16th June yet two weeks later no-one seems to think it is relevant to remember her or what she stood for. A sitting Member of Parliament, a woman aged only 41, a partner and a mother of two young children, she was shot and stabbed multiple times in the street and murdered by a man who gave his name in court as 'death to traitors, freedom for Britain'. Aligned to the far right, apparently motivated by his horrific anti-immigration sentiment, he killed this person who worked so hard for tolerance, diversity, multi-culturalism and democracy, who campaigned particularly for the displaced and brutalised people of Syria. This political assassination happened in an increasingly toxic political and cultural environment in the UK one week before a referendum in which 'immigration' had been made the central issue by one side of the campaign, an issue presented by them in a horrible, dishonest, inhumane and despicable manner. Yet now, when that side has won, the murder of Jo Cox apparently merits not a mention.

Two less angry points. There was very little discussion in advance of the referendum, or since, about the fact that UK voters are not used to referenda and because elections here are won on a first past the post constituency basis, where most of the votes cast in any constituency simply don't count, many voters are actually not used to their vote really mattering. If one candidate in a constituency gets more votes than any other single candidate, they win. That's it. One count, and most votes don't count. If say you have five candidates in a constituency, and one gets 19%, three each get 20% and one gets 21%, the candidate with 21% wins. Even though 79% of the people voted against him (and it's usually him). You can imagine the same with 100 candidates, one getting 0.5%, 98 getting 1%, and one getting 1.5%. Well done, victory is thine! Making the transition from that to a referendum where all the votes actually matter, is a tricky one for many voters. That is not to excuse the idiocy of the many people who now say 'I voted as a protest, I didn't think we'd win' or 'I didn't think my vote would matter'. If you vote, or choose not to, then know what you are doing, and what you are enabling to happen by choosing not to act. But really understanding that is a process that voters here were by no means facilitated in going through. At the same time, the political parties seemed to have no clue on how to campaign or win a contest where you had to win a majority of all the votes in the whole country. Not just have your side win more than any of the other people in a given constituency. Getting 1.5% somewhere wasn't going to cut it. Nor was getting 21%. Nor was getting 51% or more in one particular place, no matter how populous. All the votes counted. All. People kept talking about how different places would vote, and once the results came in, about how and by what percentage various London boroughs voted Remain, or this bit of Wales but not that bit, and of course that Scotland went Remain and most of Northern Ireland. That's all very well, and something of the democratic will of those people should be respected. Especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland which can argue that their overall view should be respected as states within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (to give its full title, which many seem to have forgotten lately). A minor point is that the views of Leavers in those states should therefore also be respected. The bigger point is, you didn't get it. You still don't get it. It's about what the majority of people want. In the country. As a whole. Wherever they are. Or at least what the majority of people who voted want - feeling guilty for not bothering to show up yet? 'Winning' a constituency doesn't matter. It's the overall total that matters. That's all that matters. The Remain campaign did not seem to understand this. The Leave side did, to a slightly greater degree. If you want a united country, then act and campaign like you are one country. A diverse country sure, but some kind of union, some kind of compelling unifying inclusive vision that everyone, in their many differences, can be part of. The irony is that those who wanted the United Kingdom to be 'free' of one union, the European Union, who thought the UK would be stronger out, not in, have likely precipitated the breakup of the very union they sought to 'make great' again. Now the UK is likely to break up entirely. The United Kingdom is united no longer. This could be not the UK's exit from the EU, but the end of Great Britain as a country and as a nation, its exit from the community of nations. And nothing looks likely to fix that Brexit.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Strike one, score one for Paris.

I'm currently spending the night in Paris Gare d'Austerlitz on a stationary sleeper train that was bound for Barcelona. This is quite mad and quite amazing. The Unfortunately Loyal Totally Amazing Boyfriend of Utter Greatness and I just took the Eurostar here from London. There is a huge petrol and now, since we arrived, train strike throughout France. All trains tonight are cancelled, however the sleeper train that we were booked on is here, in the station, but stationary. So we were greeted by the lovely SNCF people telling us that our train was cancelled, asking us if we had anywhere to stay, then giving us little cardboard boxes of meals, and organising for about 65 people to stay overnight on the sleeper train for free, while booking us on a high speed TGV to Barcelona tomorrow. We have a six berth cabin to ourselves. And our repas and petit dejeuner to tuck into. Which includes a apocalypse surviving self-heating can of hot chocolate. Along with the baguette from the artisan boulangerie and Beaufort cheese from the immense selection at a nearby Carrefour, which we stopped into on the way to the station, a small size of this shop, similar to a T*sco Express, But stocking minimum fifty types of cheese. I love this country. Strikes and all.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Nearby spring beauty.

Here are some photos of flowers heralding spring in the park right beside my home in London, which is a daily lifesaver of beautiful nature in the city. No time again to write much, and my posts have been lacking in photos of late, so perhaps this can make up.

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

100 years of this place.

This week in 2016 is being commemorated as 100 years since the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. An important event in the formation of the current state, and one that is being marked all over the country, in many ways throughout the year leading up to this week and no doubt for the year to come. That the commemorations are spread out over time and take many forms is fairly fitting, because the roughly week long rebellion began on Easter Monday but its date was 24th April 1916, and now the main focus of the commemorations is Easter Monday 2016, which falls on the date 28th March. So there is nearly a month to wait before the chronological hundredth anniversary. Yet it was only this year that it occurred to me for the first time that the April date might be significant or be observed by some people, the Rising had in my mind always been so inextricably linked to Easter, a moveable feast according to the Christian calendar. That this seminal event is moveable, fluid, that it shifts even so basic a feature as what date it is associated with, has been observed by many others and commented upon as an crucial feature that sustains the long-lasting fascination this event exerts over the Irish psyche. This malleability, this ability to be seen and understood in a myriad different ways, and the connections of the Rising to Easter, to Christianity, to 'blood sacrifice', have all been commented on and dissected by many more, and more knowledgeable, heads than mine. So I don't wish to add to that never-ending discourse.

I have many problems with the Easter Rising, beginning with its violence. I am against violence and for non-violence. I am a strong pacifist, in that I believe violence is never or rarely ever justified. The comparative lack of attention given to non-violent, peaceful and parliamentary struggles for the independence of Ireland from England over their long and intertwined histories is I think problematic for Ireland's sense of itself as a nation, and lessens its founding and sustaining narratives of itself as a country. Again many of the other problems I have with the Rising have been explored in depth by others - its unpopularity at the time, the lack of recognition of the important roles women played in it, its (possibly deliberate) failure, its association with Christianity and especially the death of Jesus Christ at Easter, the deaths of over 450 people during it most of of whom were civilians, the shrinking emphasis on socialist or radical politics within and after it. There are many issues, and because of this complexity this anniversary, whenever and however observed, has opened what I think is a valuable opportunity for reflection and analysis within Ireland and by those with Irish connections, or indeed English links, to think about what it means to be Irish and what Ireland means, today, 100 years later.

It is a sad enough picture to me, some days. Some estimates are that one in four people in Ireland has suffered abuse as a child, whether physical, sexual or psychological. The name of one organisation for abuse survivors is One in Four, in recognition of this. Even if the proportion is only half that, that is a huge number of people and a huge proportion of a nation's citizens. If the given percentage is roughly correct, that is one quarter of all Irish people who have suffered abuse as children. That makes abuse incredibly widespread as a feature of Irish experience. I have said for many years that this makes abuse a societal problem, part of the national psyche. As a nation we have survived abuse. And we act like abuse survivors and show the characteristics that sadly those who survive the trauma of abuse are left with, often for the rest of their lives - low self-esteem, a tendency to blame themselves, feelings of worthlessness, a misplaced respect or even love for their abusers, a fatalistic attitude to bad situations and a lack of belief in the possibility of change. We too often suffer with these and related characteristics, individually and as a nation. Many many citizens have suffered abuse, often in institutions or over long periods of time, when they were at their most vulnerable, as children. Meanwhile the abusers, powerful individuals protected by even more powerful religious and state institutions, are very rarely exposed, and even more rarely brought to justice or punished. This in turn makes it harder, although of course not impossible, for the children who have survived their abuse to deal with its effects and heal, and free themselves of its lifelong negative impacts. That is a tall order for any abuse survivor, which Irish society has made even harder, and it is all the more impressive that so many abuse survivors do manage to go on to regain their self-esteem and lead healthy and fulfilling lives as adults. The abusers meanwhile have continued to exert power over Irish society and institutions, in many other ways as well. Because of the pervasiveness of abuse in Irish society, particularly in the Catholic church, the industrial schools, the laundries and other institutional settings until the 1990s, presumably very large numbers of ordinary Irish citizens have suffered abuse and gone on to live and work in virtually every aspect of Irish society and every part of Ireland. Many of them have of course done great work. But considering how unacknowledged this abuse was for such a long time, and how even today we have so broadly failed to recognise its impacts or support survivors in overcoming its effects, or to bring its perpetrators to justice, it seems likely to me that many survivors, through no fault of their own, have inevitably brought to their lives and work the self-destructive, fatalistic, self-blaming mindset that is very often the sad legacy of abuse. And that this legacy and its direct impact on one in four citizens, and by extension on the entire population, has had a significant effect on our national attitudes and behaviour as a country. Essentially much of the time it seems that we act like people who have been abused and who have been denied justice or even a chance to heal. We don't criticise those who wrong us now or who treat us badly or act against our interests, in fact we often praise them, put them in exalted positions, or seek to emulate them. We have unfairly low estimations of ourselves. We say that 'this is just the way it is' and that it's not possible to really effect positive change, in fact we are likely to mock those who say 'it shouldn't be this way' or 'it doesn't have to be this way'. And while some part of us might think it would be nice to have things a bit better, deep down we believe we don't deserve it. And so it goes. Coupled with the guilt and inbuilt self-criticism of decades of Catholicism, even if now waning, and the perversities of being a post-colonial country (in Europe, next door to our former colonizer), even if now on friendlier terms, we have a fairly lethal cocktail that helps explain some of why Ireland was, and continues to be, 'the way it is'. When I believe this country, and the lives of everyone in it, could very easily be so much better.

What I have outlined here, and have said many times in the past, is not anything like the full explanation, of course, and there are many more complexities. It is just something that I think is part of our national story. And a part that I think needs much greater attention and change if Ireland is ever to become the healthy, happy, fair, even joyous place to live that it could be.

I intended here to write about the things that I've reflected on this week, that make my country truly my country and a place of joy and happiness and wonder and goodness, sometimes. The people, mainly, and the sea, and the trees, the rivers, the animals, the stones, the mountains, the writing, the poetry, the novels, the plays, the music, the bogs and the beauty, and, very much, the cheese. And so much more. Instead I've ended up writing more about the pain. But it is through acknowledging, being with, and starting to heal that pain, as well as ridding ourselves of its causes, that we can move to being able to enjoy all the things that make this country worth living in. And that doesn't have to take another 100 years.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

11 years of blogging.

I began this blog 11 years ago today, which has prompted me to reflect on this blog and its still all too vague purpose coupled with inexplicable longevity, and on my relationship with technology, particularly computers, and the multifaceted and often even vaguer purposes they have served in my life over an even longer span. The first substantial interaction with a computer that I remember was with our comfortingly bland beige and brown Vic 20 when I was a young child. This must have been in the early to mid 1980s. I always thought the Vic 20 was so named because it had an awesome 20 KB of RAM, but I now see that it had a mere 5KB. How impossible to imagine is that compared to today. And you could do so much with it. We played games on it mainly. I remember the way the keyboard plugged into a screen, I'm fairly sure it was our television and not a dedicated screen, and its separate, also beige, tape deck which was how you wrote and ran programmes, which were recorded onto magnetic tape. I thought this computer was absolutely amazing, I can still remember it sitting on our coffeetable in our old house, how the curved, beige and brown tape deck looked, that contained the mysterious power to make things happen on the screen. My older brother and I spent what seems now like months but was certainly at least weeks, laboriously typing in pages and pages of code to create a game that would feature pirates. I was very excited at the potential of this process, from lines of type, to magically transform into a pirate game. We had a book of all the code needed for this game. We would take it in turns, one reading it out, the other typing it into the computer, then waiting while it recorded it. This took hours and hours and we must have had to check it so laboriously as well as any mistakes might cause the game not to function. We would do a bit each day, gradually making our way through the book of code. I was probably six or seven, maybe slightly older. Then, a few pages before the end, my brother got sick of the project and wouldn't go on with it. Without my erstwhile collaborator, I could not finish inputting the code as it was extremely difficult to type it in while reading it yourself. So we never got to play our pirate game. Probably my brother doesn't remember this at all or has a totally different version of this story, I must ask him! It was to be the first of many experiences with computing that combined fascination, laboriousness, mysterious power and, frequently, unfulfilled potential and frustration, ending with the technology not quite doing what I wanted it to do. But I still loved that tape deck.

I also clearly remember going to a computer club in the school hall after school once a week, in primary school. No real idea how old I was, definitely younger than 11. I have a memory of the few computers, laid out in lines though there weren't that many. I think it was there, and maybe also at summer camp that I played, with great enjoyment, the bouncing pumpkin game. This was a game that involved, you guessed it, bouncing a pumpkin around a basement/dungeon type environment. The only movement possible was bouncing of various types, the pumpkin was quite difficult to control but with effort could be bounced in different directions and over and under obstacles, avoiding ghosts and candelebra and similar spooky dangers. Due to what I much later realised were deficiencies in the programming it was quite possible to get stuck in infinite bounces with the pumpkin, for example, under the stairs, where the pumpkin if moved in a certain way would get stuck in one position between the stairs and the floor and then ricochet back and forth between them, basically forever, it was actually impossible to escape from this situation. I loved this game though and would happily bounce the pumpkin for hours, moving through the different layouts in the dungeon/haunted house/whatever it was. Just last year I rediscovered that this game was not the figment of my imagination that many who had never sampled its delights assumed it was, but is entirely real, it is called Cauldron II. Apparently it subsequently got a lot of criticism for the unwieldy bouncing control mechanism. Probably you can find a way to play it now, certainly you can see footage of it, just as it looked in the mid 1980s, when I was a kid in Dublin relishing the infinite bounce.

Meanwhile my life-long commitment to the Apple Macintosh computer began when my parents purchased the first Mac for our house. I remember a series of these, including the SE II and the Classic, computers that were a single grey box, a tall rectangle, amazing, mysterious and clearly, deeply, in their very essence, computers. The little screen built in to the grey shell at the top, the disk drive slot below it on the right, the little Apple logo. They were still Apple Macintoshes then, but I have stayed with them through their many iterations over 30 years, their name and brand changes, their company highs and lows, the multicoloured bitten apple logo, the white boxes, the coloured boxes, the i-everything. And I am simply a Mac user, from those days making blocky black and white pixels move about on an approximately 6 x 4 inch screen in my Dad's home office before I was even a teenager, to the actually awesome power of my Macbook Air today. I spent a lot of time as a child messing about with Hypercard. A programme that was essentially electronic index cards, each with a story or a picture illustrating a feature or font of the programme, that you could move through one at a time, sequentially. But the really big deal about Hypercard was that it also had magical things called Hyperlinks, and by clicking on a Hyperlink, YOU COULD GO TO A DIFFERENT CARD OUT OF SEQUENCE. Incredible mindblowing stuff to late 1980s me. And indeed to the computing world, it was to turn out. I spent a lot of time making Hypercards, and using it to make cards and presents for people, because I recall it had things like nice-looking picture frames that you could put around text, and you could use different fonts, all difficult to do on a computer at that time, and then I would print out the carefully created cards, as presents for my family. No doubt they were deeply impressed by this computing prowess, or pretended to be. Whether I was able, or even if it was possible, to make your own Hyperlinks, I'm not entirely sure, I think it must have been. I do remember the brilliant stories on the example cards, such as one about the manifestation in modern offices of the Greek god Xeroxes, who would usually appear as a large grey or white box machine in a corner of the office, and how this god Xeroxes had the power to make copies of whatever was placed upon it, however as it was a god it could not be commanded and it would frequently refuse to do the bidding of its believers, unless an appropriate sacrifice was made to it. The Hypercard suggested a watch, or a small goat, I think. If the believer made the correct offering, then the great god Xeroxes could be magnanimous and agree to provide the believer with the copies it prayed for. The watch or goat would be gone, taken as just tribute by the wrathful, temperamental Xeroxes.

In secondary school there were computers, although the only time I remember getting to use them was when I took a Computer Aided Design class. We spent six weeks, or was it eight, meticulously following instructions until ultimately everyone in the class had produced a perfect electronic rendering of a doorknob. But what a doorknob. I can still recall the flat square bit at the bottom of the doorknob, and the roundy, knobby bit that was the top of the doorknob. Roundy! Now that was advanced computing. Meanwhile at home we played Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? And the amazing amazing Crystal Quest. And mainly I watched my older brother play Prince Duncan in the game Dark Castle and later on, Beyond Dark Castle. Wonderful games. I also played but he was better at it and it was more fun for my other brother and I to sit around him playing and try to warn him of impending dangers or cheer when he made it through a room or a level. I remember there were these small monsters that made a nyih nyih nyih nyih nyih sound. We called them nyih nyih nyih nyih nyihs, imaginatively enough. When they appeared we'd shout watch out for the nyih nyih nyih nyih nyih! But unfortunately my brother's character had usually already been killed by the time we reached the second nyih. Oh well. Definitely life preparation, that game.

And onwards it went, the technology evolving incredibly. When I reached university we knew about email which was just starting to appear in Ireland - this was the mid 1990s - but it wasn't much in use. Messages from the college were sent on paper to every student; essays were handwritten on paper and (later in my college career) typed on typewriters or on computers and printed out; there were several microfiche machines in the library with which to look up old newspapers. I remember whooshing at high speed through the blue of the microfiches, the little slides in the reader below the large screen, amazing stuff. The Maths society had email accounts, not many of them, you had to be a member of the society and then queue up at the start of the year to get one. Again my older brother who was at the same university and I collaborated on this, he had a Maths society email account so we shared it, we would each log in and read emailss, politely ignoring messages intended for the other person. This didn't seem at all weird at the time. Having an email account was extremely cool. Of course you didn't get many messages because so few other people had email accounts, but still, very cool. You could only access them using Pine or I think ELM on one of the few computers in computer rooms on the campus, including those the Maths society maintained. Just text, scrolling through screens and screens of text, white or green? on a black background, if my memory does not deceive me.

Later we all got email accounts - though the university still barely used them. In 1996 I went for a summer job. The director of the company asked if I'd ever used email, I said yes, he said brilliant, you can design our website. He had gotten the impression that a modern company needed a website but had no clue what this involved. Knowing virtually nothing about websites I got a printout (naturally) of the Beginner's Guide to HTML from a friend who also designed websites, hid it under my desk and would read a few pages each day, typing it up and adding incredible things such as titles and tables to their clipart adorned cutting-edge website. I wrote all the HTML for that website 'by hand' as it were. Its address had a tilda in the URL. They only had one computer with an internet connection in the office, it was their main accounts computer. I would have to wait for the accountant to go out on lunch and then I could go on that computer and upload whatever I had written. They were awed. When I hadn't managed to do much and they would ask me how it was going, I would mumble some technical sounding mumbo jumbo such as 'I just have to FTP that to the server' and they would say, great, great, sounds brilliant, whatever you need. This was the start of me realising that the key to success in technological jobs is not knowing a lot, or having any real idea of what you're doing, it is just knowing slightly more than your boss.

After a year or two of many all night essay writing sessions in the Arches computer rooms in the brick arches under the railway line at the arse end of the college, and some time of, probably very annoyingly to her, occasionally using my room-mate's computer to type up the essays I'd mainly written truly by hand, on actual paper, I got my own computer, a hand me down from my parents. It was, of course, a Mac, a Performa. Quite odd and quite big. Not one of their design classics. The Performa is not appearing in any MOMA any time soon. But hardwearing and powerful and MY OWN COMPUTER. I did many things on that. Even later there was a blueberry clamshell laptop, after my parents had gotten the blueberry iMac. With a blue handle! Amazing to look at but much more amazing to use. All of these computers are still functioning now, or at least probably would be, they were still going a few years ago the odd time I turned them on.

Ah there is much more to say. This has become just a first chapter in my lifestory of technology. How I went from someone almost making the pirate game work on the Vic 20 to someone almost making many things work on a 8GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, 2.2GHz processor MacBook Air. Someone who doesn't use Twitter or most of anything computery these days. But that's another chapter in the story. Which no doubt I will write on a Mac.