Very good friends of mine have been devastated by 2020. Their livelihoods have been decimated, career plans have been ruined, long standing and successful businesses that even endured the harsh bight of recession have drowned in the deafening silence of quiet streets. Professional musicians continue to feel let down and forgotten by the government, pubs and even the people they entertained. It is a horrible time for many people. It has been no walk in the park for me either. But with all this said, 2020 was quite okay for me. I write this post knowing that many people who are very good friends are having a terrible time of it right now. My intention is not to diminish or disrespect the situation that they are in. This post is mainly for me. It will remind me in the years to come that 2020 was for many reasons a year that I could be reasonably happy with.
Maybe it is because I started 2020 with a horrible sense of dread and
sorrow. I was looking at the imminent retirement of Nama, my previous
guide dog with no successor lined up. There were situations in work that I felt
uncertain about, music in Drogheda had come to a standstill for me since the
departure of the Fleadh and still musicians all over the country were posting
to Facebook about the joy they were having several nights a week by simply
playing music in their hometown. So last year, I put a brave face
on things and launched myself into a new year.
I had meant to write this post before now. But I did not bother.
Mainly because I was trying to give myself some time away from typing.
But it is actually timely that I write this today. This day last year, I
was sitting in my kitchen. It was 6:52am. I know this because I
have a rigid morning routine and I can time it all exactly so that I know
exactly when I need to leave for the bus. I got up at 6:40, fed Nama,
took him out to relieve himself, prepared breakfast that consisted of a few
Weetabix and a coffee, told Alexa to play my flash briefing and finally sat
down for no more than 10 minutes before I had to jump into the shower.
The flash briefing ends after 10 minutes so I know to get moving. Anyway.
I digress as usual. The flash briefing thatday had the normal daily tech
news etc. But as I like keeping up with global news, I had the BBC world
service lined up next. I remember the presenter; a stern sounding woman
talk about this thing called the Corona virus that had broken out in Wuhan China. I remember
thinking that I was just hoping that something more relevant would come
up. Three months later, I would understand that news article was
going to change the world in significant ways. Even now, the significance
of this is probably still not known to it is fullest around the world.
But this is not a Covid-19 blog post. I cannot really help it. I am a glass half full kind of person. Or maybe that’s just because things have turned out quite well for me. The first thing that happened was we were all asked to work from home. This worked out well for me. I love working from here. I have a fantastic office. It is large, quiet and I have a 5.1 surround sound speaker system that keeps me motivated. I also have a computer here that blows anything in work away. 2 Xeon CPU’s. 8 cores each with 32gb of RAM. There’s also 4tb of solid-state storage on an array of several disks for high performance. I also have a particularly nice keyboard, plenty of desk space and did I mention it is perfectly quiet? I worked from home years ago, so I have noise insulation in the walls. There are also 4 doors between me and the rest of the house so there is a very specific barrier between me and everyone else. I also love what I do so there is no need for any kind of incentive to create a structure where I must be in the office at a certain time. In fact, the problem I have regularly encountered is when I should switch off. However, ……… I was going to say that I am going to get better at switching off but the only person I am fooling with that sentence is me.
One other thing that happened around the end of February was Nama retired. This was very difficult for me. Taking the fact that I really liked Nama’s character and that we clicked immediately out of the equation, I really missed him as a guide. I hate using the cane. I feel slow and inaccurate with it. Lock down made my life easier in many ways. Not commuting every day removed a major stress point.
During lock down, I decided to spend some time in the evenings refurbishing my back yard. I have a tiny scut of a back yard but still, it was the last part of the house that we had not renovated since buying the house in 2008. So armed with a few shovels, a pick, a sledgehammer, two wheelbarrows, a nail bar, and a saw, I set about ripping up the old rotten deck. Each day I spent about 20 minutes during lunch prying up more wood. In the evening, I would do more for an hour or so. Then I started digging it out. Each time I had a wheelbarrow full, I set up a ramp so that Emma and I could then wheel it through the house to get dumped in a pile at the side of the driveway. While wheeling it through the house, Emma steered the wheelbarrow, and I went at the front. Walking forward, I angled my hands to grab the wheelbarrow. I took the weight of it going through the house. Six months later, I still wake up without the ability to move my ring finger and my middle finger on my right hand. I have probably damaged it. But at the time, I was trying to not let the weight of the wheelbarrow crack the tiles in the hall. I am a strong enough fella so at the time, it did not feel heavy but looking back on it, I had a very heavy object pulling out of my fingers several times a day for a few weeks. It was a very stupid thing to do. But it is grand. The job got done. Finally, after weeks of work fitting it in here and there, I cleared the deck and the soil. Yes. I am not ashamed to say it took me that long. When I was doing this, the weather started getting warmer, exams were starting so I was busy in work and, I am not used to this kind of manual work. It was difficult. Very enjoyable, but hard. Then, I got builders in to finish the rest of it. They removed two very old telephone poles from the space, used a cango hammer to dig down through the old concrete and remove the old dog run. They then took in a few tons of 408 stone, compacted it and lay wires for the lights. I also ran two cables for Ethernet as I have a server running in a little watertight shed at the back. Finally, we put down porcelain tiles, added 16 up lights and put in a slightly better dog run. The lights are using smart bulbs so the colour can change, and we can turn them on using various voice assistants. I am happy with the job. The area is now much more modern, it feels larger and I saved a lot of money by clearing it myself. I even managed to get rid of almost all the topsoil, the old tiles, and the phone poles without it costing me anything. I asked people if they wanted the wood for burning, then I asked someone else if he wanted the tiles to fill in a big hole, I knew he had from old foundations. Finally, I asked online if anyone wanted soil. I had people pulling up in cars for over a week. It was at the height of lockdown, so no one came in, no one rang the door. They just pulled up, took as much soil as they wanted then drove away again. Finally, the remaining wood from the deck was taken in our car by loading it up as much as we could to the recycle centre. 3 Euro and it was all disposed of. We spent time removing nails etc and Emma got to use a jigsaw to cut the wood into much smaller lengths, but a few hours of work saved us a fortune on jumbo bins. It was also more environmentally friendly as all the unwanted rubble and soil is now reused.
In the summer, Kaiser arrived. This has made a huge difference to my life. I had been very busy over May, June, and July. So, I admit. I probably walked a maximum of 3km a week. Since Kaiser arrived, I started walking about 6km a day. Now I am walking 8 to 10km a day. It is not just about the exercise although that is incredibly important. It is about simply having the independence to get out alone. From March to May, I was walking almost every day with Emma, Rían and Méabh. But we were walking at a very slow pace and I could not really strike out on my own. Now, I want to say at this point that Méabh although she was just 6 at the time took great delight in guiding me during these walks. Rían got in on it then as well of course. Most days, I had one child hanging on to each hand. But instead of me taking them for a walk, they were taking me for a walk. I got to bring them all over Drogheda. Because I was finishing work before 6, by 6pm, we were already out the door enjoying the spring weather. We walked around places that they would never have reason to visit before. We even walked through areas that we would drive through regularly just so they had a moment to stand and look around from time to time. Exploring your hometown by foot is very different to driving through it all the time. I valued these walks. Again, going back to my point about commuting earlier, by the time I got home, got something to eat, took the dog out to relieve himself and said hello to everyone, it was at least 10 to 7. During a school night, the children go to bed at 7:30 so there is not much point going for a walk. I relished the extra time that lock down gave me to spend with them. Sorry. I keep going off track. Going back to Kaiser. I have written about him before. He is so much more involved with the family compared to Nama. Nama and I had a great bond. But he would ignore everyone else at home. It is lovely to see Kaiser engage with Emma, Méabh and Rían so much more. Of course, he knows who feeds him and who walks him so when I go to my office to start work in the morning, he is still my shadow waiting to follow me in. But I am delighted that he knows when it is time to collect Rían. I bring him out around lunch time, and he knows that it is time to walk to the bus. He stands at the harness waiting to go. Kaiser and Rían have a very close bond. They are both very relaxed in each other’s company.
Finally, in 2020, I was given the promotion to senior Systems Engineer. This comes with some additional responsibility and some extra reward as well. It is nice to be acknowledge for something that you particularly like doing. I will not write much about that as I do not want to be unfair to readers who are not having such a great time right now.
You will notice that there is absolutely nothing about music in this post. That is very unusual for me when writing a year in review. But 2020 was void of music for the most part. I did some nice gigs at the start. I have also featured on a few videos in the latter part of 2020. But there is nothing that has really given me the satisfaction of a good roaring gig. I miss the distraction that music gives me. I have said before that playing the uilleann pipes is like a drug. A drug that requires you to become hyper-focused on one specific act. When playing them in a good gig where there is a connection between the musicians and the audience, there is only one thing on your mind. That is the instrument in your hands. Nothing else is important and every problem gets pushed aside. It is one of the most freeing things. If you do not play music, I wish for your sake that you could experience what I am talking about.
There you have it. My rambling year in review. 2020 was difficult, it was different, it was even disastrous for many people around the world. But for me in my little corner, it has been decent. Maybe it is because I started it with very low expectations. But overall, I am reasonably happy with the hand I was dealt.
I hope you have a good 2021. I hope I have a good 2021 as well. I am worried about the situation now. I have no intention of traveling to Dublin for the foreseeable future. I am walking Kaiser every day; I am spending time with my family and I’m continuing to learn. I am happy with that right now. I hope wherever you are, that you are doing well.
Seems that I forgot a few things. I had just published this, gone back inside and set the alarm for the night when Emma reminded me of a few important items. firstly, we bought a new car in August. We got a caravan in March as well. So with the caravan and the new car, we have had a few really nice short holidays in Donegal and Galway. Pictures will follow in a later post. Now, I’m typing no more as this last part has been reluctantly tapped out on my phone.