Thursday, November 30, 2017

Homelessness and HIV.

There is a homeless man who seems to be living on a bench on the canal near my home. I see him there most days, sitting by his folded up sleeping bag, or lying in it with his hood up, making the most of the relatively warmer and safer daylight by trying to sleep. Sometimes he is walking near by. He seems like he is concentrating on being in his own world, as if he’s in his bedroom or on the sofa, trying to maintain the illusion that this is normal, that living on a bench by a canal is a normal way to live. Maybe trying to prevent people from interacting with him, from challenging him perhaps, or hassling him, even helping him, from puncturing the invisible wall that allows him to maintain something resembling sanity and privacy in this insane, publicly intimate situation.

Or maybe he is not thinking anything like that. I don’t know what he is thinking. I can hardly imagine what it is like to be living on a bench in the open air in the middle of a city. I just passed his bench again about half an hour ago. The temperature right now tonight is 2C. It feels even colder. My lungs hurt breathing in the cold air. There was a blue tent set up by the bench. I assume he is now in the tent. A large umbrella and a small cloth were positioned on the bench.

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Homelessness on the Grand Canal, Dublin.

I don’t have any idea what his life is like or what he is going through now, physically or psychologically. I only know that it is appalling that in this wealthy city in this wealthy country on this bountiful planet that this person and hundreds of others are sleeping outside in freezing temperatures the middle of winter, because they have no homes, because it isn’t safe for them to be in their homes, because sleeping on the streets of Dublin is the best or only option for them. That so many people would choose to, or feel that they have no choice but to, sleep rough. This, it seems simply, is wrong. People sleeping on the streets don’t generally want to be there. We as a society should be ensuring that everyone has a home, a roof over their heads, shelter from the cold, safety indoors. We shouldn’t need to state this. It is part of the social contract, the bedrock agreement of human society, basic humanity. It is a damning indictment of us as Irish society that we are failing to do this most basic thing, failing these members of our society, failing to provide decent shelter to everyone. In the last week in Dublin, two people died while sleeping rough in the city. One man died in Sandford Close in Ranelagh, “ritzy sixy”, an affluent suburb of Dublin 6. Another outside the Four Courts, the literal seat of justice in the country, in the heart of the city centre. Those two men who died were not alone, other homeless people have died, many, in recent months and years in Dublin and around the country. What are we doing? When are we going to stop this? When are we going to stop failing the members of our community who are most in need?

Tonight after passing the tent I did the only thing I could think of, I reported it to the Rough Sleeper Team of homelessness charity the Dublin Simon Community. They will send someone to check on them. I hope. Their phone number is (01) 872 0185. They picked up immediately when I phoned them at 11pm on a Thursday night. And Simon have generally seemed to me to do good work. Let’s hope they can help.

In addition I reported that I'd seen someone sleeping rough, to the Dublin Region Homeless Executive of Dublin City Council. They say they pass the information to the Housing First Service “who will attempt to make contact with the individual”. I’ve no idea how long that will take. The form allowed you to pinpoint the location precisely on a map, or with a street address, so they could locate the person sleeping rough. Completing the report required a confirmation from the email address you provide to them. So it’s a little obstructive. But maybe it will help too.

I’m not sure what else I can do. Or what we can do. But I know much more can and has to be done. People of Dublin, people of Ireland, take action before more of our people die.

- - - - -

Another thing on my mind. Once again it will be World AIDS Day tomorrow, 1st December. UNAIDS gives the figures. Those big figures are made up of millions of individuals, millions more figures. Each figure represents a person, a family, a community. A real person. In 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 36.7 million people living with HIV. Of them, 20.9 million people living with HIV were on anti-retroviral therapy in July 2017. We also know that there were 1.8 million people newly infected with HIV during 2016. UNAIDS prefaces these numbers by saying “tremendous progress” has been made against AIDS over the last 15 years. And that their goal is to end the epidemic by 2030. In many ways, a lot of progress has been made. But progress isn't enough. It should never have been this bad, and worse. We could be stopping it faster, saving more lives, improving more people's health. And I hope we can see the epidemic being over in 13 years’ time. But there are still millions of people getting HIV every year, millions living with it, millions who need treatment and aren’t getting it. And it’s not on UNAIDS top three headlines, but one million people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2016. I’ve talked about this before, in much greater depth, in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 - from Tanzania that time - and 2015. Not last year, with other things on my mind. I care very much about HIV and AIDS and I think I always will. I work on it professionally, I campaign and march about it, I research it, I try to do something about it. I don’t know what else to say right now. Let’s stop HIV for good.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Seaswim.

This, to me, is freedom and happiness.

P3250812 Swim at Seapoint, Dublin, Ireland.

First swim of the year at Seapoint, Dublin, 25th March 2012.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Beauty, damage, recovery and patience.

Almost exactly twenty years ago, in August and September 1997 I was lucky enough to spend some time in the Caribbean. In St. Lucia and Dominica mainly, and a little bit of time in Antigua, Guadeloupe and Jamaica.

This is one of only a few photos of Dominica I have from that time:

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Dominica, August/September 1997. View probably from Scott's Head, near Soufriere.

Dominica is an astonishingly beautiful country, with interesting, talented, friendly people, stunning rainforest, gorgeous waterfalls and a vibrant musical culture.

This month Dominica has been massively damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Especially Maria. At least 27 people have been killed, "almost every building on the island damaged or destroyed" and infrastructure and water supplies badly damaged. It will takes years to rebuild. Yet the world seems already to have moved on. The aid desperately needed to save lives now in the aftermath of the storms is not forthcoming.

In May 2003 I was again lucky to get to visit Vieques in Puerto Rico. Another beautiful and interesting place.

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A beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

It too has recently been hugely damaged by Hurricane Maria. People killed, homes destroyed, culture shaken, essentials of life erased. Yet again, less than two weeks later, the world seems already to have moved on. Even though Puerto Rico is part of the United States, it is having to beg the U.S. for assistance, which is not being provided, again putting more lives at risk after the hurricane.

Let us not forget our Caribbean brothers and sisters so quickly. They deserve our help. And they have much to teach us.

The majority of the island of Vieques used to be 'owned' by the US Navy which subjected it to bombardment, using it to test bombs, run war games and train its soldiers, with terrible environmental and health impacts on the island and its inhabitants. The inhabitants of the island had campaigned for years to make the U.S. Navy stop the bombing and return the island to its people. Just a couple of weeks before I visited in 2003, they had finally succeeded. The Navy had left and the bombing stopped. Around the island was ample evidence of the struggle and of the joy of Vieque's people at finally getting their home returned to them. A stone was painted with a message to the U.S. occupiers:

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Fourteen years later the message remains apt. It reads: "Los atropellos del Imperio tienen un limite…La pacienca del pueblo." In English it can be translated as: "The abuses of the Empire have a limit…The patience of the people."

Thursday, August 31, 2017

What cannot be represented.

The important things cannot be represented. Not fully. Perhaps it's in their nature to be ineffable, to be experienced but not communicated, to be known but not shown. Maybe it's that what is important are people, people I love, myself included, people I care about, and those relationships are private, and photos of those people, myself included, are not ones I'm willing to share except with those people themselves. So there is little to say or show here about those people who are the most important. And maybe it's that I simply don't take many photos of what's most important to me, even of people, and of things that are significant in my life. Those things are in my experience of them, and not in photographs. So I have remarkably few photos of cheese, for example, or of the sea, relative to the frequency with which those things feature in my life, and to the joy I get from them.

So it seems as if this blog is limited in how much it can be about the personally important, the private political. Instead it can be about the external, and about the public political. I'm reflecting this evening on the past and I struggle to know what to represent here from it. I have taken thousands of photos since I moved to London nearly four years ago. Most are not organised or sorted as I have laboriously done with the previous ten years of photos. The vast majority I have not uploaded, they are not accessible online and have never been seen by anyone else. Some I have not looked at again. I looked at some, not even a month's worth, this evening. There were many forgotten joys. And many of those joys were, again, unrepresentable, personal, private, people.

A picture I took nearly 4 years ago, a week before I left for London, seemed to reflect an aspect of that same absence of the important.

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A street art sticker in Portobello.

The 11,000+ photos I have on Flickr tell many stories. Some are significant, some beautiful, some trivial, some momentous. 10 years of photos there. They're all part of my story. But maybe they don't, and can't, tell my deepest stories. When I left for London I was looking for my voice. I haven't found it, though I've spoken all along. I have felt for a while that I want to tell a different story. Maybe it's not possible to. But I want to picture more of my real life. And I think I need to speak more in my true voice.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Pastnowfuture

This month is the past and the future.

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The Customs House in Dublin, looking unreal, still adorned with the preposterous symbols of the United Kingdom, of the British empire as it was then, the lion and the unicorn. The monarch too perhaps, or another authority, making sure then to lord it above what was truly important - the collection of tax. Nearly 100 years independent from the U.K., yet Ireland retains these symbols on its public buildings, and this deference to and defence of the "truly" important.

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A sign for a place of learning on Dawson Street in the city centre - Infinity College. Is that what I'm now enrolled in? Is that where I have been a student? Will I always be?

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Fragile Handle With Care. This is a version of how I felt this month, recovering from the past, being in the present, preparing for the future.

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A chance photograph that ended up containing a great deal of now and then: Joe Daly Cycles, a very old bicycle shop in Dundrum where I got my bicycle as a child and, I think, also the bicycle I was given by my grandmother at age 12 that I still have now. This is their newish building, futuristic somehow in this setting and for their old-fashioned business. And a place I later came some years ago for other reasons,as they rented the office space to others, strangely revisiting an institution from my past in a new form. On one visit a sign in the shop revealed that old Joe Daly himself had passed away, something I would never have known had I not happened to come to their eponymous building that day. The car crossing past it was chance, it too a symbol of Ireland, still too in love with its planet-killing cars. Behind it the Luas tram bridge, trying too hard to be modern and confident, but in reality cheap and ostentatious, too desperate to impress. Carrying the trams, an old idea removed decades ago from Dublin when they were successful and efficient, and reintroduced at great inconvenience and expense in the early 2000s, re-experiencing today something of its former success.

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Ireland's Eye on the right and Lambay Island on the left, viewed from the beach near Sutton. Formerly strategic, periodically disputed, latterly largely ornamental and inaccessible. On Ireland's Eye the Martello Tower can be seen, a chain of towers in line of sight built all along the coast to warn of invaders and defend against them. These old stone towers with their thick walls still stand solid and proud, but what is their purpose now?

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OKNOTOK 1997-2017 by Radiohead. A special issue of OK Computer by Radiohead to mark its 20 year anniversary. A good and perhaps important album then and I still enjoy listening to it now. 20 years later, this box set contains art books, vinyl, new and old songs, and a cassette tape that most people will have no way of playing. The materials are beautiful and interesting, and strange yet comforting to recall two decades of this music and its impact. I saw Radiohead play in Dublin last month, and their new music is interesting and powerful and still trying to do something different that they believe in, and hopefully they'll continue doing that for many more years. It knows where its come from, where will it go?

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A treehouse at the Glen of the Downs protest in 1997. I took this photo in Wicklow around October 1997. A protest had begun that year against the planned expansion of the road nearby which would cut down parts of the forest. People occupied the trees in treehouses they built themselves, and lived there for months, to try and prevent the trees being cut down. The protest was the first of its kind in Ireland. I visited and supported the protest, and while I was only ever slightly involved, it was important to me, and, much more broadly, to the environmental movement in Ireland. It changed things. It's still changing things now.

Knowing the past and being here now helps me to be OK in the future.

Friday, June 30, 2017

What are we nourished by?

Recently I re-read Paths Toward Utopia: Graphic Explorations of Everyday Anarchism. It is a small book of "picture-essays" illustrating ideas and examples of anarchism in action, such as 'Solidarity Is A Pizza', 'Borrowing From The Library' and 'Deciding for Ourselves'. I found them inspiring, artful and simultaneously calming and energising to view. The writer Cindy Milstein and artist Erik Ruin communicate their ideas simply yet allow for complexity, and their works enabled me to envisage and think through how anarchist ideas do and could work in practice in today's world and future worlds.

I kept returning to one page of a two page spread entitled 'Food For Thought'. On the left hand side was an illustration of 'what are we consumed by?'. Some of the negative and harmful things that take up our minds and time were listed, in an illustration of rushing water drowning and swamping desperate individuals. I identified with some of them, others don't bother me, but I could in seconds, almost automatically, come up with dozens of alternative 'negative' things that I think too much about and which sap my energy and joy. That's only too easy to do and we're all highly practiced at it, so skilled at this negative generative capacity that we barely notice we're doing it. That page was not the one I kept returning to.

Instead I was drawn to this page, entitled 'What are we nourished by?'.

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What Are We Nourished By? In Paths Toward Utopia: Graphic Explorations of Everyday Anarchism by Cindy Milstein and Erik Ruin.

Here was water flowing to and around people, as they gathered and washed in it, gazed at the life-giving liquid as they cupped some in their hands. Each wave had something written on it that nourishes. Many of these I identified with, and just reading them fed me a little, felt like water to a thirsty mind. It felt good to read them when I first got the book some years ago, it has been good to re-read them, and it amplifies the good to write some of them out here. Some answers given to the question of what nourishes us:

Getting lost in good conversation, in person.

Labouring out of passion, not compulsion.

Being healed, on our own terms and via support structures.

Noticing the stars.

Participating in processes of our own devising.

Breaking rules that don't make sense.

Empathy.

Loving oneself.

Listening.

Producing what we need, in ways we enjoy.

Hanging on to our humanity.

Playing.

Reaching out.

Speaking truth, as our power.

spiring towards abundance for all.

Mentoring, teaching, learning, as something we all do, gladly.

Others.

Asserting the commons against the commodified.

Consenting.

It's so important to practice these things and others that nourish and support and strengthen us. It's telling how much harder it is to come up with these concepts, to remember them, to practice them, how much less skilled I am, and I think most of us are, in thinking of such nourishing ideas. How much less automatic it is. This positive generative capacity feels less, even though it is greater.

I could think of a few more:

Swimming in the sea.

Laughing with joy.

Understanding and being understood.

Being with true friends.

Eating sustainably produced food.

Sharing.

Rest.

Thanks to Milstein and Ruin and everyone else involved in this book, for illustrating these paths towards utopia in such an encouraging and energising way, that at the same time is complicated and imperfect, just as the path itself is. Here's to thinking more of what nourishes us, taking more nourishing actions, and practicing more often our capacity for the positive.

--- Read more and buy direct from PM Press (no doubt you can purchase this book from larger, well-known online booksellers, but you may want to consider getting it from a more ethical source):

Paths Toward Utopia: Graphic Explorations of Everyday Anarchism by Cindy Milstein and Erik Ruin.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Beautiful things in May.

Here are some beautiful things I saw in Dublin this month.

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Deer in the Phoenix Park, Dublin.

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Swimming out to the first buoy at Seapoint, Dublin.

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El Viz, Smithfield, Dublin.

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James Earley, Blooms Hotel, Temple Bar.

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Alison O'Grady Byrne, Dublin.