Light in the morning (40.2021)

I started the week in Scotland, and spent a long, leisurely Monday travelling back by train from Fort William to London. I managed to have my solo time on the West Highland Line after all, staring out the window and watching the scenery slipping by, while I nibbled at my packed breakfast, dreaming of one day when I can come back and hike across the gorgeous emptiness of Rannoch Moor.

Glasgow sneaks up on you gradually, and when leaving the train at Queen St Station, finding yourself in the centre of a city can be a bit of a shock. I had an hour to walk around and stretch my legs walking up and down the streets between Queen St and Central before folding myself back into another train seat for the final 4.5 hours back to London.

“So do you feel a sense of achievement now?” A few people have asked me that this week. Yes, I have climbed the highest mountain in the UK but I don’t feel any sense of achievement from it. Is it because the time on the summit was so rushed, and I was so exhausted, too exhausted to process the achievement at the time? Is it because we were enveloped in clouds and the wind was spitting snow in my face and there was no view, no visibility, no opportunity to do a slow spin and look around at the other mountains and think “I’m higher here than all of them.” Perhaps a sense of achievement will come when the pain in my Achilles tendons finally fades away and I can go up and down stairs without wincing.

Facebook Instagram and WhatsApp had an outage this week. Did you notice? It happened while I was on the train back from Scotland, trying to message Husband about how I was getting home from the train station, and wondering why none of my messages were getting through. Old school text messages still worked though. And then Facebook went down for two hours again on Friday. Maybe it’s a reminder for us to not rely so heavily on these means of communication.

While on the train back from Scotland, I did some reading and writing. The book I have just started is The Highly Unreliable Account of the History of a Madhouse by Ayfer Tunc. I started reading and realised after some time I had not reached the end of a chapter yet. I flicked through the book – there are no chapters. It’s one long stream of story. Do you have a friend or relative who when telling a story will drift off into side streams of information? This book is a little like that. You’re introduced to one Evrem, who might get into a taxi, that is driven by Mustafa, and you will then get some details about Mustafa’s life or perhaps his parents, or his wife or his children, and their life will flow on to introduce someone else, and someone else, until it loops back to the original Evrem getting out of the taxi to go into the shop that’s run by Deniz, and you go on another spool around Deniz’ life.

The Highly Unreliable Account of the History of a Madhouse By Ayfer Tunc

It sounds confusing, but somehow it’s not. It’s helpful that the new characters are introduced with their names in bold so you are visually alerted, that a new storyline in coming. You might think that as this book is not about one character’s journey, you would not get involved, but you do. Each side step story, each new character, is drawn out in concentrated detail, so you don’t have any trouble connecting to them as their story unfolds and folds back in and connects to the next story. It’s certainly one of the more unusual books I’ve read this year. The absence of chapter breaks makes it hard to pick when to stop reading. I’m stopping at points where a new character is introduced as this is where the plot flows in a different direction. It would be a great book for a long plane/train journey, somewhere you have a long reading space with not many interruptions.

On the topic of books, Local Book Club has woken up. Someone (not the original organiser) has reignited the conversation and suggested we meet up again for the winter. WhatsApp messages have been pinging as people suggest random books. Girl, Woman, Other was suggested (I’m hopeful this might get picked, as it has been on my to-read shelf for some time); Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, which by coincidence, I picked up in a 2nd hand shop of Saturday before it was mentioned in the chat. Someone else suggested The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Let’s see how this goes, if this new leader who has emerged from the ashes of a broken book group can organise some book selections and meetings and get people to show up.

This week is the time of the year when the dark of the morning reaches the point where I activate my Lumie light. I struggle to get up in the morning at the best of times (which would be in the summer, when it’s warm and light from sometime after 4am), but as we tip forward into winter, the dark and cold of the morning makes it much harder for me to pull myself out of sleep. I worked out many years ago that an early morning alarm that pulls me hard out of sleep into a dark room does not work well. I switched to a Lumie light in conjunction with a radio alarm. The Lumie light works as an artificial sunrise. If I set the Lumie for 06:30, somewhere around 06:00 it starts to light up slowly, adding brightness gradually, until it reaches maximum brightness at 06:30, which is when the radio alarm comes on. It works as a more gradual way of waking up. According to Facebook memories, without me knowing, there is one day this week where I have always activated my Lumie light for the first time of the autumn.

Although unnatural light is making my mornings better, unnatural light is making my days worse. I spent two days in the office in a row this week and came down with a headache again. Conversations with colleagues confirmed they are suffering the same headache, and we can only assume it’s because we are back under artificial light, away from the natural light we’ve had the benefit of in the past 18 months working from home.

It was while I was at work this week getting my morning coffee that I saw part of the speeches for the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. The award this year went to two journalists: Dmitry Muratov, from independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and Maria Ressa, co-founder of Philippine news outlet Rappler. Both these news outlets are critical of their governments in an environment where criticism in not well tolerated. Six journalists from Novaya Gazeta have been killed since 2000.

“Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda. Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations, disarmament and a better world order to succeed in our time,” said the statement from the Nobel Institute. Freedom of the press is on the decline across the world, and that is something that troubles me. I rely on journalists to tell me the truth about the world. I fully understand that certain newspapers will tint that truth according to their political leanings, but I hope to get some objective assessment and not word for word reiteration of government press statements.

One other story that didn’t seem to make as much noise in the news as I thought it should, was the roll out of a malaria vaccine. As the sub-heading on the story in The Scotsman said, “The 100-year search for a malaria vaccine is now finally over.” Surely this is big news? Maybe this news was feted and discussed on some news channel that I don’t watch, but apart from a short mention on the radio news, I didn’t hear it being discussed anywhere.

It’s great news and will save the lives of many children, although it’s not going to be easy – the full vaccination comes as four doses, to be given to babies at five, six, seven and eighteen months. The logistics of that will be a challenge. But it’s hopeful news, that something, somewhere in this world is improving for someone.

Wishing you health and truth and light this week, readers.

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