31 December 2013

That was the year that was (2013 Edition)

The Pergamon Altar, depicting a battle between the Titans and their children, the Olympian gods. Spoiler alert, the kids won.
Pergamonmuseum, Berlin, 5th February, 2013
There is a roller coaster in New England, in the Six Flags amusement park near Springfield, MA. In 2003 it was called Superman: Ring of Steel. The ride started off slowly, pulling you at a 70 degree angle up a 67 meter slope before plunging you over the top and down again at 124kph. Your stomach lurches and the scream builds inside you as you accelerate towards the ground, tension building up again as you wait for the car to level off, counting down the seconds until you hit the ground, wondering breathlessly when it will happen as it rushes up towards you, faster and faster - then, at the very last second, it plunges on deeper still into an underground tunnel, and drops deeper still. The ground was just an illusionary ending, the ride continues on even beyond what you thought was the lowest it could go.

Can you see where I am going with this?

The Beacon, guarding the entrance to a very grey Baltimore Harbour in Cork
Baltimore, Cork, 3rd March, 2013
2013 has been, shall we say, a series of ongoing challenges. Taken individually on its own any single challenge would prove to be the low point of an ordinary year. Taken collectively, they have moulded me into the defeated and resigned passenger trapped in the front car of the roller coaster who can now no longer believe that they have finally reached the ground, constantly bracing themselves for what surely must be the next inevitable plunge into the tunnel of darkness below.

A late spring flowering near Ross Castle. Insert 'Irish Spring" joke here.
Killarney National Park, Kerry, 12th May, 2013
None of these individual challenges have been earth-shattering or soul-destroying in their own right, and compared to the traumas endured by many of my friends this year I am both reluctant and embarrassed to even mention them in passing conversation. However the cumulative effect has left me punch-drunk and shell-shocked, with all my armour and shielding long since worn away.

Boards, en route to being en-Bunburried. There may also have been a wedding involved (other people's, I hasten to add).
Lisnavagh, Rathvilly, Carlow, 29th June, 2013
I think this is what it means to be middle-aged, that life now becomes a series of unfortunate events, with the joys and triumphs arriving with the regularity and frequency of a Sunday-service bus on a winter's eve, still there, but if you miss one you're going to get very cold and wet while you hang around waiting for the next.

The road along and through Broad Lough in Rathnew.
Rathnew, Wicklow, 17th June, 2013
That's why, although the pages of this blog have been somewhat bereft of content these last few months, I have found it a very useful exercise to take a few moments today and go back through my photographic chronolog of the year that was 2013. I have come to the realisation that the fundamental difference between the mind's eye and the camera is that the camera only records the moments of joy, whereas the mind's eye captures all, and tends to bring the moments of doubt and darkness to the fore.

Achill Henge, with Our Nation's Sons an installation by Emily O'Callaghan and an inner zoetrope by street artist Eoin
Achill Island, Mayo, 16th June, 2013
Throughout the year there have been many small moments of joy, almost all of which were spent in the glorious company of The Very Understanding Girlfriend. We cycled to Achil and travelled to Cork and Kerry and further afield to Berlin. We wandered along graffiti-strewn walls and through tagged car-parks, ate our way through vegetarian restaurants near and far and enjoyed all the highs while standing firm together through all the lows, and, more than anything else that this year will be remembered for, we emigrated once again to new shores and began the next chapter of our lives together.

And then I came home again the following week.

I guess emigration is no longer the trauma it was for our forebears.

Jellyfish, doing whatever it is that jellyfish do, at the California Academy of Sciences
California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, 14th November, 2013
Thus while I may end the year being Mayor of three hospitals on Foursquare (a stunning feat for one not formally in the medical profession), the year has seen more than a few moments of genuine joy. The trouble is that they have been glimpsed so quickly while rushing by, ever-downwards, on the roller coaster that in a moment they are forgotten as the next tunnel of darkness envelops you.

Cops Off Campus, chalk on Brickwork, artist unknown, 2013
Mallet Street, London, 11th December, 2013
So consider this post the gift shop at the end of the ride that has been 2013. A moment to pause, catch your breath and buy the souvenir snapshot of you with your mouth open screaming in terror as your arms flail wildly above your head. A pause just long enough to forget all the horror just past, and suddenly believe that joining the hour-long queue for the next ride is a great idea, for surely the next one will be even better than the last.

Yes, it's a Banksy, carefully preserved under glass.
Clipstone Street, London, 7th October, 2013
Onwards to 2014, ladies and gentlemen. A happy New Year to you all.

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