Friday, 21 January 2022

OF MICE AND MEN


Some of you know it already: I am having a nice sojourn on Gran Canaria at the moment. The sad thing is that it ends tomorrow. So, back again to the dark Northern ranges, battered for the moment by the (last?) onslaught of the Plague.

What can I say about these fourteen days of relief from darkness and coldness? Well, it's a repose and a most welcome at that. Even if the weather did not quite live up to expectations. Only four days of sunshine; five days of calima (sandstorm) and five days of rain and cloudiness. Do I complain? Far from it! I am not here to experience eternal sunshine. I am here to EXERCISE, more precisely to get my feet back in shape through walking barefoot on the beach each morning. And this I can do come rain or sunshine! And my toes, curling comfortably as I am writing this, are thanking me for it. By the way, if you want to learn more about this type of home-cooked cure, permit me to refer you back to an older blog of mine, Walking the beach.

Still, walking the beach all morning leaves the afternoon free for other activities. Now and then, I am perusing my laptop to receive the latest scientific advances to cope with the Plague. I am always amazed by the sheer bulk and timeliness of new insights that keep popping up from the scientific wondermen and -women. A recent scientific article from South Africa got my attention. It dealt with a study involving mice (thereof the blog title), since it would be unethical to carry it out with humans. Half of the critters were being vaccinated with Astra Zeneca vaccin (as I recall) injected directly into a vein. The other half got their injections into muscle tissue. The former got side effects in the form of blood clots and capillary leak symptoms, the latter did not get these side effects.

Since it is always delicate to apply results from animal studies to human conditions, I suspect that this study will go the way of many others, that is, into oblivion. Even I would have put it aside, hadn't yet another study rekindled my interest. That one was carried out by a Norwegian scientist, who studied all youths having been vaccinated (against Corona) in Norway and Denmark, respectively. He found out, to his surprise, that there were more than four times as many cases of myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation) following vaccination in Norway than in Denmark! What could explain this difference? The only valid difference the good doctor could find was: the Danish vaccinators aspired prior to vaccination; the Norwegians DID NOT!

I had to look up the term "aspiration" in a medical lexicon. In the context of vaccination it means that you pull out the plunger slightly before administering the vaccine. If the syringe shows some blood, you have inadvertently pushed the needle into a blood vessel and shall withdraw it! If no blood shows, you can go ahead and push the plunger as far as it can go.

I am not a doctor but have several old friends who are. They all assure me that aspiration before vaccination is good standard practice and should always be done. So, why do the Norwegian vaccinators desist from doing it? Come to think of it, NONE OF THE VACCINATORS that gave me my three shots did either! So, why do Swedish vaccinators also desist from doing it?

I leave it to the Swedish Health Authority and the Swedish Health Administrations to address this issue. To me, the whole affair resembles a playback of an old theatre piece, played in reverse. More than a hundred years ago, a young doctor called Semmelweis had to explain to his older colleagues that washing their hands before delivering babies was good standard practice, to prevent serious side effects of delivering. Nowadays, it is the old guard that knows what to do and has to explain to the youngsters that sloppiness in vaccinating can cause harmful side effects in youngsters (and possibly some oldsters). 

I rest my case and leave it at a message to all you youngsters in health care:

DO NO HARM; ASPIRATION BEFORE VACCINATION!

Important update (on 19 February 2022): As you can see in the comment below by Franz (an Austrian medical doctor friend), the German Health Authority (the Koch Institut) had hitherto not found the need for aspiration in Corona vaccination. I was a bit surprised by this conclusion, but am now pleased to note that the Institute, in its latest published bulletin of February, has changed its recommendation. From now on, all Corona vaccination is to be carried out with prior aspiration, with special reference to recently published research. I have not seen a similar change in recommendations issued by the Swedish Health Authority. Therefore, I would appeal to my Swedish medical doctor friends to use their influence to get our, as always sloppy, authorities moving and doing the right thing, as the German authorities have done. 

And to my other friends: I would advise you to explicitly demand aspiration before vaccination. If the vaccinator would refuse or not understand what this means, it is advisable to use another clinic that is better informed about how to avoid the risks with intramuscular vaccination. 

Friday, 31 December 2021

WENN DIE NOT AUFS HÖCHSTE STEIGT ...

 

During the past two years, I have touched upon the Plague in no less than ten blog posts. Hopefully, this time will be the last one for me to extemporise around the theme. 

Why am I into it again? Well, to judge from recent events in South Africa, and increasingly in our parts of the world, the worst mutation of the Corona virus hitherto is already upon us. It is by far the most infectious, maybe ten times as much as earlier versions of the Plague. It will blaze like prairie fire through the global population and affect virtually everyone in its path. As I am writing this, at least a million persons a week are being infected in the UK, which is a foreboding of things to come in our own countries, even in Sweden here in the North.

As far as can be glimpsed, no one is fully protected against its infection. We may now all get the disease, whether vaccinated or not, whether having been already through the disease or not. It is safest to assume that we have to go through this hand in hand. 

Whilst I am writing this, I can not keep from smiling and nurturing a rather rosy view of the year to come. Am I grasping at straws in desperation? Quite the opposite! At long last, the virus has reached a development stage that, with all probability, will lead to a timely ending of the pandemic, turning it into a relatively harmless yearly affliction, easily countered by recurring vaccination.

The reason for my prediction is of course the insight, that the new Corona variant does not affect us already vaccinated (or having gone through the disease) to a large degree. Don’t misunderstand me! People not enjoying the above protection will be as badly hit, when infected, as with the earlier variants. Therefore, the risk for them of getting severely ill or even die from the disease will drastically increase (compared to the earlier waves) in the one to two months to come. But once the wave has abated, most of our populations will have at least some kind of immunity

In that context, permit me to address those of my friends who have chosen to abstain from vaccination. I respect your decision, with the understanding that grown-ups should be free to make their own choices. However, you may wish to take a closer look at the situation and put your affairs in order whilst there is still time, including writing your last will. It is only too easy to fall into the trap of “dependence between taste and belief”, so please stay rational. By this I mean to be aware of the greatly increased risks befalling you within the next two months and act upon that awareness.

The rest of us, a great majority after all, don’t need worry too much about the great wave to roll over us within a month or two. We will most probably be infected, but almost none of us will get seriously ill. The risks involved for us may not be greater than from getting an ordinary flu.

This brings me to the title of this blog post. It refers to some wordings by a German poet that got popular through the melody added to them. The content appears particularly relevant in the present context. Why not experience it in the enclosed video, as being sung at a grand finale. The text is as follows:

Wenn die Not aufs Höchste steigt,
Gott der Herr die Hand uns reicht.

When desperation is at its utmost,
God Almighty will reach out to us.
[things will soon start out improving]. 
(alternative last line for us atheists)



With this edifying divertissement, all left for me is to wish you, Dear Readers of this blog, on this after all calm and serene last evening of the year,

A Very Happy New Beginning!


Thursday, 13 May 2021

DEN BLOMSTERTID NU KOMMER ...


Even if Sweden has been secularised since some twenty years back, Lutheranism, the former state religion, is still firmly entrenched in its culture. Every spring, when youngsters assemble to celebrate, one tune always reverberates through the air in jubilant buoyancy. Only a few of the jubilants are aware of singing a Lutheran choral, listed as number 199 in the Swedish Church Hymnal and sung in Church ever since 1695. I won’t let you be ignorant of the lyrics, at least the starter:

Den blomstertid nu kommer
med lust och fägring stor.
Nu nalkas ljuva sommar,
då gräs och gröda gror.

Blooming season now arrives
with sheer joy and beauty both.
Lovely Summer soon then follows,
lets the crops and forage thrive.

(Home cooked translation: Emil Ems)

This song resounds with particular timbre this year. Many of us now tend to interpret it figuratively. After a loong winter of troubles, with the plague forcing ever more caution and isolation upon us, suddenly, with the help of technical miracles, we are relieved of this terrible burden and can begin to hope for a more joyous future. Just yesterday, the news told us that one third of our population has already been inoculated at least once. Even if the rate of newly infected is still surprisingly high, the death toll is decreasing and intensive care units are getting a long awaited relief. 


As if to underline this new beginning, we have enjoyed an especially bountiful cherry blossom season here in Stockholm this year. Cherry blossoms as far North as Stockholm? Yes, indeed! Although not the original Japanese delights, our cherry trees here are of an especially hardy strain, cultivated to endure Northern climates. But, looking at the flowers, you would not notice a difference to the Japanese originals.

In fact, the Japanese community in Stockholm is pilgrimaging to Hammarby Sjöstad (my part of town) in droves every spring to satisfy their cravings for picnicking under a pink flowery ceiling. We ordinary Stockholmers gladly join in, even if most of us are content with ambulating around the trees and taking pictures.

Photographer as I am, I have lived in Hammarby Sjöstad for twelve years now without ever documenting the pink abundance. But this season is different. A new beginning, so to speak, apt to be feted with plenty pictures. So, without further ado, here it is, a small video showing off my home district at its flowery best, accompanied by the venerable Lutheran choral. 


 

Sunday, 4 April 2021

LOOKING FOR THE SILVER LINING



This winter has been a rather peculiar one. It got off to a good start. Most of January and half of February were being blessed with reasonably cool temperatures, hovering moderately below 0° C. With this, a nice cover of glittering snow mirrored a sun never failing to appear in the mornings. As made for nice walks in the proficient neighbourhoods of my home!


Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse after that, and a loong period of drabness ensued. Day after day laboured on, with grey skies and temperatures varying just around the zero-mark. It was as if a grey blanket of morosity had decided it proper to cover Hammarby Sjöstad. 


But why did I find this peculiar? Isn’t this the usual state of affairs in Stockholm, around February/March, before the sun is deciding to make a definite breakthrough to announce the advent of spring? It took me some time to find out why. Finally, I got it. The drabness I experienced was not that of the sky above us, rather usual this time of the year. No, it was the dread I felt within, in my mind as well as in my bones!


Back in January, life seemed to get honky dory again. Didn’t the authorities announce that vaccination of us old-timers was imminent? I already made plans for a quick trip to the Canary Islands in March, lapping sun on the marvellous beach of Playa del Inglés and ambling along, with my toes sunk in the sand. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Week by week, announcements came of the need to postpone the desired relief, and, in lock-step with the grey skies appearing regularly above my head, the mind started to dive into deeper and deeper folds of despair. 


Finally, two weeks ago, the long awaited announcement came. Time to register for vaccination at long last! Three days ago, on Easter Monday, it was time for me to get relief. My first shot of the AstraZeneca miracle lotion! Still, nine more weeks to get the second shot. And first two weeks after that will I be fully protected (to 95%, that is) against the current strains of Corona. This brings us to mid June!


Still, who am I to complain. Hitherto it was unheard of that a vaccine could be developed and applied whilst a newly arriving pandemic was still in full swing. We should be amazed at the progress in science that made it possible! Harken, you people who can but complain over the tardiness of vaccination and blame both companies and authorities for undue delay. We got the shots at an unprecedented speed! Time to relax and be content!

Still, even if the period of dread is passed, I feel its after effects. It is as if I suddenly have aged 5 years in the short period of the plague. Isolation and hopelessness have a price. Hopefully, this decay can still be reversed, once I have my trip to the Canaries!

In the mean-time, why not have a go at a nice tune I recently discovered, which seems to mirror my sentiments exactly. But in a much more humorous fashion. Enjoy!




Sunday, 7 February 2021

MIDWINTER


This time of the year we sometimes are subject to a peculiar phenomenon occurring in the Northern regions. It is February and, whilst  the morning sky is getting brighter, day by day, the air keeps getting colder and colder. The days are often sunny and dry, but very cold, with temperatures having difficulty to rise from nightly lows of around -15° C. All in all, these are conditions far preferable to the ordinary Stockholm winter, when temperature is alternating between +1° and -1°, with a lot of slush to wade through, and icy spots to break your bones on, whilst taking your daily walk. 

The above experience appears to me an apt metaphor for the present Corona malaise. On the one hand, more and more people are getting vaccinated and saved from the Plague; on the other, a recent mutation of the virus, much more aggressive and deadly, is getting closer and closer, having engulfed all of Albion to the West already, washed up on the shores of Ultima Thule and led Svithiod (Sweden) to close its portals to the outside world; in vain, it turns out, since the fiend is harrowing us already from within. 

5 February at 8.25 am ...

But back to reality: the other morning, I noticed a peculiar apparition from my breakfast table. On Hammarby Canal, towards its West, a huge ice floe had formed, finely powdered by light snowfall in the night before, and moving slowly but surely Eastward towards Hammarby Sound. The water in the Canal is essentially freshwater, since it is being replenished periodically from Lake Mälar, whenever the large lock between the two is being operated. Thus, it tends to freeze over sooner than in the Sound, which contains mostly brackish water from the Baltic. 

... at 8.50 am ...

As I was geting on with breakfast, 25 minutes later, the wandering floe had already entered the Sound ...


... and at 9.00 am

... where, after another ten minutes, the ferry crossing over had to traverse it. With some crunching, the ship was cutting it in half. At the same time, it forced the floe along towards the opposite shore, where it joined the firm ice already hovering there due to freshwater being fed into it from the upper lakes on the plateau.

Only rarely can we witness a complete freeze over of Hammarby Canal; it occurs usually on a calm Sunday morning, when temperatures in the night before have hovered well below -15° and no vessel has yet trafficked the narrows. The picture below was taken five years ago and I was lucky to catch it with just one small boat cutting up the flat surface. 

Looking at that picture now, it appears to me as another apt metafor for life in the times of the Plague. Each and one of us has to labour on, in self-isolation, looking forward to reaching the “open waters” of the company of others and social togetherness. 

An apt metafor for life in the times of the Plague

Let me take the occasion to deal with yet another facet of living with the Plague as a solitaire. Even if aspiring to be a world citizen and being, admittedly, a Swedish national, I feel drawn back to my place of birth off and on. To me, self-isolation has no great disadvantages in daily life, since I am a loner by nature and live by myself anyhow, even in ordinary times. But, I would age prematurely and certainly have a shorter life span if I were permanently prevented from revisiting my place of origin at least once a year. Last year it proved impossible to go back there, and it may remain impossible this year as well. 

So, as consolation, I listen from time to time to a tune that deals with the issue. I admit that many of You Readers will have difficulty understanding the impact of this song. But, rest assured, it means the world to a lot of the German speaking people in Europe (about a hundred million all in all), just as this song means the world to the Swedes. Its refrain goes like this:

I wüll wida ham.
I fül mi do so alan.
Brauch ka grosse Wölld.
I wüll ham noch Firscht'nfölld.

I want to go home again.
I am feeling so lonely here.
Don’t need the world at large.
Just want to go home, to Fürstenfeld.

For most of the about 100 million impacted by the song, the word “Fürstenfeld” just stands for “Heimat”. For me, it stands for exactly what it is. It so happens that the hamlet of Fürstenfeld lies just half an hour on bicycle away from my place of birth. So I trust you understand that this tune means the world to me as well. Enjoy!



Thursday, 31 December 2020

EL SENDERO LUMINOSO

No! I am not referring to an ominous party in South America. Neither to a famous climbing path in the mountains of Mexico. Rather, to my daily elations when treading the paths on my morning walking round.

This time of the year, I nurture the habit of going to bed way after midnight. This way, I can convince the body to awaken first around 8.30. when the first light of dawn is tickling my nose. A lazy breakfast later, I am ready to step out into the world, around 9 am, when the sky has definitely lightened, although retaining its blanket of greyness.

Right midway on my morning round, I have to climb a series of steps to gain access to my favourite nature spot: Sjöstaden’s oak grove, the only one remaining within the city limits. You of course remember that I have dealt with it before (see Serendipity), but, passing through it every morning, I cannot keep from mentioning it again. 


This time of the year, infallibly, when I pass the giant oak corpse seen above, I am enticed to start meditating. This morning again, my mind began wandering, musing about the effects that solitude has on our psyche, in particular the forced one imposed on us by the plague. 

For me, surprisingly, living isolated for a prolonged period of time has the particular effect of retrogradation. This may sound ominous, but really isn’t. Rather, it effects me like being peeled as an onion, or, if you prefer, being bereaved the bark like the tree you see above. In other words, the personality I was born with and which stayed with me when a child, and a bit into adulthood, is now slowly but surely reappearing from the shadows.

Thinking back, I can just about recall that I was a rather solitary youngster, quite content to play by my own and let my imagination be my favourite companion. And what a rich imagination I had! When becoming adult, I started to realise that I was an outsider with this propensity and tried to fit in with people my age. It now dawns on me that this must have taken a lot of effort, which may explain a certain decline in internal life, with its imagination and creativity. 


But never fear! It now all comes back to me. And even without giving me a bad conscience for preferring to be alone! It is, as if an enormous weight has been lifted from my shoulders, and imagination now can come to the fore again without being suppressed. 

I am glad that the plague came at a propitious time, precisely when I needed that extra boost of imagination. Thanks to it, I was able, this year, to complete fully six chapters of my magnum opus, the Emser Chroicles (see Three Men in a Car ...), a tale spanning more than a thousand years and now, thanks to Corona, already two thirds finished!. Will I be able to untangle the thread fully before the end of next year? I better hurry! Soon vaccination will put an end to solitude and may speedily force me back into my normal and more bland adult personality. 

But we are not really there yet! Permit me to enjoy solitude as long as it lasts! Still, whatever the future will bring, we can join hands now and wish each other

A Very Happy New Year!


 

Saturday, 7 November 2020

SERENDIPITY



It is the first week of November now, and the world appears to be completely held hostage by the drama evolving in various US States. Will they ever again get a democratically elected President over there? Here in the calm North, events evolve with considerably more serenity. Granted, the plague has taken off again, but even this abomination seems to respect the peculiar Swedish way to procrastinate. 

Even if hospitalisation is doubling by the week, and deaths are increasing, they do this from very low numbers. This allows the authorities to issue their usual mumblings, including noncommittal advices to us commoners. We oldtimers, on our part, have learnt our lesson and take care not to get too close to the youngsters, who continue with their life as usual.

For us seniors, this prolonged state of self-imposed isolation, which certainly will last well into next spring, is not without its consequences for the psyche. Routine tends to evolve into dread, and dread into depression, if contacts with our fellow humans are being kept at minimum. 

Fortunately, there is video-conferencing, which allows us to keep in contact with whomever we wish to share our solitude at the moment. There is an intriguing programme, called Zoom, which has bewildered many an old-timer, but, once reasonably mastered, gives us access again to all our family and friends. Many a birthday song has been sung on Zoom these days, and many a friendly congregation held, wine glass raised, in virtual conviviality. 

Despite these virtual activities, social isolation reigns supreme. How deeply does it affect me? I am a bit surprised over my resilience in that regard. But, being a solitaire by nature, the difference to ordinary life is not that large for me. Still, I am missing the daily roundtrips to cafë and restaurant, with their opportunities for short but still well-needed social contacts. So what has come to the rescue in this time of need?

Surprisingly enough, it is a resurge in photographic activity. Surprisingly, since I have thought for some years now that my ability in that regard had faded away, that I had outlived my creative years. But, the mind works in mysterious ways. If laid shallow, through social inactivity, other parts of the brain take charge and force you to adapt. 

Come to think of it, renewed photographic vigour should not have come as a surprise to me. Looking back the past fifty years, I have always been active in this art only with short outbursts, interspersed with long years of inactivity. Had I not written about this insight already in my book "Brussels/Stockholm..."? Well, yes, as the citation below bears witness to:

"...  one notices that my photographic life has not been marked by continuous activity. Instead, short-term periods of hectic picture taking in great creative bursts have been lodged within long years of inactivity. These short active periods have been linked to times either of great stress, illness or change. This may have reinforced the inclination to produce serene calm in my pictures, as a way to find solace in a hobby removed from the ordinary way of life. The photographic activity in itself may have helped me resolve difficult circumstances in my life, sparing me from seeking help and solace from outsiders." 

There you have it! The brain forces through photographic creativity as a way to coping with a time of troubles like the present one. Encouraged by this renewed insight, and asked by a Chinese friend to document Stockholm Autumn for her, I went forth with my camera last week, on a day as made for catching the coloured scenery of autumn.

I did not have to search far for motives. On that very day, "the light was right", as we fellow photographers use to say, and I just ambled along my usual morning trail, pointing the camera hither and thither, never failing to catch a serene scenery. 


At about the mid-point of my morning round, I always have the pleasure of entering an embracing and soothing piece of wood, which actually is a marble of nature: the only remaining grove of mature oaks within the city limits of Stockholm! Every time I pass through this enclave, my heart slows down its beatings and calm enters my whole being. This is what it was like to experience nature hereabouts when men's history was just beginning.

When I first saw this sacred place of gnarled and crooked oaks, ten years ago upon my arrival in Sjöstaden, it was still a rather unspoiled piece of nature on a hill, criss crossed by a few nature paths and quite fathomable to the walker.

Since then, already almost half of it is gone! Three new schools and several daycare centres have been built on its fringe and a substantial piece of it cut down and converted into play grounds, with just the odd old crooked witnessing about the site's former glory. 

The other half is still standing, "Thank God!", but is now being heavily "attacked" by some serious asphalted hike and cycle paths. I fear the worst for the grove's future, being loved to death as it is, by myriads of small trampling shoes, carrying horde after hord of small children through nature. It will do the children a lot of good to sample creation at its best, but it forebodes the demise of a truly natural habitat. A sign of the times in our age of overpopulation and demise of species!

Back out from the grove, the camera kept clicking away! Almost back home again, another angle at coloured bounty waited to be covered! What a piece of luck that I had my camera with me that day! 


Just a week later, when I am writing this, hardly any leave is left on the trees. Neither is coloured bounty covering the grounds, since caterpillars, gasoline spewing blowers and rakes have done away with it with a vengeance.

After all this largesse of colours, I cannot find a better way to finish the blog than to present you with a tune as accoutrement. Let the super smooth voice of the crooner render the rest of the day yet more palatable!