When I was a young man, I was a very bad driver.

In my mind of course, I was a better driver than everyone else. 

I used to overtake 10 cars in a row regularly, because I was far more capable than all those other losers.

I used to overtake on bends, on blind intersections, you name it. According to me, I was shit hot at driving.

Until I nearly killed myself and my dad. I avoided hitting an oncoming car by mere inches.

Soon afterwards, I got stopped by the cops. They wanted to take the car from me.

Turns out, I wasn’t such a great driver after all.

It was then that I began to realise that all these ‘slow’ drivers (or so I thought) were actually quite good drivers. It was I, in my arrogance, who was the bad driver.

I thought I was better than everyone else. I wasn’t.

That, to me, is how I see Covid deniers today. They think they know more than everyone else. They think we are all stupid, that they are better informed; that they are asking all the right questions, and we are sheep, happy to go along with the consensus.

In reality, they know almost nothing.

They don’t have degrees in medicine, nor virology, nor epidemiology, nor public health. They have no particular knowledge or expertise on the virus. They have not held the hands of people as they slip away from this world. They have not had to survive on caffeine and adrenalin as a patient is sent to the ICU, while another is zipped up for the morgue. If they did, it might give them an opportunity to reconsider their beliefs. Even if they had an opportunity to show empathy with those on the front line, they might reconsider their beliefs.

Alas, they won’t. They are so full of the importance of their own ideas, and the stupidity of everyone else’s.

Arrogance like this does not serve these people well. A little bit of humility might be more appropriate.

When I see Covid deniers, I don’t see thoughtful intellectuals with whom I must have a considered debate about the facts.

No. Instead I see young men in cars, who have a lot to learn about the world and their fellow travellers, and who could yet do great damage before this pandemic is finished with us.

After the last book has been read

The last Netflix series watched

The last puzzle solved

The last tweet, the last Like,

The last Zoom meeting endured:

The virus persists

And we are left with

Nothing,

But our own empty thoughts

In this relentless merging

Of days into weeks into months.

Here are some photos I took this year. 2020 wasn’t a year for travel, so most of these shots were taken in or near the 5km zone around the house. Inevitably, I kept on returning to the same subjects: Ballycotton and Garryvoe in County Cork. This reduced range forced me to consider new ways of looking at the same things. It was also the year I got a 400 mm lens, giving me much more visibility of objects in the far distance.

Garryvoe hotel at sunrise. I took a few photos like this during the year, when the conditions were right. Morning fog has a profound effect on the local landscape.
The short summer hiatus afforded us an opportunity to go slightly further, and this one was taken by the cliff walk.
The ghost ship MV Alta washed up on the Ballycotton coast just a few weeks or so before lockdown. A harbinger of what was to come as we too became trapped by the forces of nature.
Ballycotton moonrise This one was very popular indeed. I love the colours and the shine off the waters. The evening wasn’t very clear, but the clouds added a mysterious quality to the moon.
It seems like ages since Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE lit up our night skies in the summer. The camera required some serious tweaking to get right. Taken in the back field around midnight back in mid-July.
A fortuitous one, this. The island swathed in fog, apart from its topmost parts. Like an otherworldly city in the air.
Birds departing in a line from the local wood. An almost oriental quality to this photo.
A boat in Ballycotton bay, awaiting the setting of the sun. This was taken while out with a few other photographers in Ballycotton.
Stormy waves in Garryvoe, looking east to the signal tower by Knockadoon.
A funny one this: a goose washing itself in The Lough in Cork.
Ok, last one: a tree illuminated by the sunrise, with fog in the near distance.

Wishing you all a better year ahead. Stay safe.

What is a story? A set of events in time, in sequence, possibly with a beginning, a middle, and an ending.

Yes, but what makes a good story?

Perhaps it’s when you move from not knowing to knowing- knowing it all. A good story begins with great ignorance, but ends with all the loose ends tied up. In essence, a good story preys on our natural sense of curiosity – wanting to know. It gives us a chance to second guess, and to be pleasantly surprised when our assumptions turn out to be wrong.

Perhaps it’s when you get a bunch of characters, each of them doing their own thing, and you bring them together in interesting and unexpected ways.

Perhaps is when you get to know the characters. You feel for them. You want to know what they are about, what drives them. You need to care about them.

Perhaps, good stories need conflict. They are driven by it. They need that sense of dissonance – the itch that needs to be scratched.

Perhaps, they need repetition and clarity. Do it wrong and the reader gets lost. Do it right, and you keep their interest. To tell a good story is to build on solid foundations.

I’m asking myself all this because I don’t know much about stories, or how they are constructed. I’m asking myself this because I believe storytelling – good storytelling – is one of the most powerful weapons in our intellectual arsenal. To be a great communicator is to be a great storyteller. I want to know more.

Why so many people voted for that charmless fraud is a question that will exercise historians for decades.

To so many of us, Trump was a nightmare president. Narcissistic to an extraordinary degree, petty, nasty, uninterested in the world or the wider concerns of humanity, uninterested in solving any problems other than his own, dangerously tempestuous, and a profound bully who valued abject obeisance over truth. What we saw was an authoritarian who explicitly wanted an end to American democracy, to be replaced by one-man rule: a fascist dictatorship in effect. Despite all this, nearly 70 million people preferred him to the alternative. Without a massive democratic counter-vote, he would have won a second presidency. That would have been disastrous.

70 million Americans. Is it that those people are avowed racists? Some, but surely not all of them. Is it that they are all deprived working class people? Almost certainly not. In fact, his vote seemed to transcend many of the traditional categories, with plenty of Latinos voting for him, women, urbanites, suburbanites, and younger people too. Almost everywhere in America – rich and poor, there was a substantial Trump vote. On many levels, this was a very scary and disturbing election.

The best and most common explanation I’ve seen is “He told them what they want to hear”. I believe a whole lot of people were convinced by a particular narrative: that their lives and livelihoods were under threat, and to stop it they needed a monster on their side. This way of thinking put them in the centre of this story, making them out to be the most put upon, most maligned people in America, with others out to take what they had away from them.

A whole media universe was in place – 24×7 – to tell them how great they were; particularly if they had earned a bit of money, owned their own house, educated their kids, and put away savings for their retirement. Now a nasty socialist government was coming to tax them hard, take away their prized possessions, and laugh at them in the process. Tax money would be given to the undeserving poor to fund their drugs habits and there were so many rich urban elitists who were there to ridicule them, dictate to them and possibly control them through undefined means. To survive, they needed to go to battle. The general they chose seemed like the right fit: exceptionally pugnacious and unwilling to leave anything on the floor, except blood.

This narrative, while compelling, is absent of one crucial ingredient: hope. Should the vision be realised, it would only lead to more division, more anger, more nihilism, and more hatred. It’s the vision of a grubby medieval state at best. At worst, it leads to concentration camps.

To fight the rot, the narrative will need to be fought, and fought hard. There are better narratives available- ones that ask people to work together to confront the considerable problems facing America and the wider world. Ones that don’t think zero sum and instead think about building a better world that raises all boats. Ones that help the younger generations to come together with new ideas for a world-leading society. Ones that engage with friends rather than seeing everyone as mortal enemies.

Combating the narrative will require lots of hard work at government and grassroots level, where local leaders, activists and workers can feel invested in the future. It’s not just ad campaigns and messaging. Big and bold new projects may be required – on the level of the 1960’s Space Programme or greater – to get Americans working together again. Whatever they are, they need to be inclusive and defined, and not grand outsourcing projects passed to crony monopolists and fulfilled in distant lands. It is time to be bold.

Trump’s presence on the world stage caused many to dive deeply into a very dark narrative. With new hope in the air and a new president, perhaps people can start to move away from such an entrenched, hopeless position. Bold, inclusive projects that create hope and dispel the cynicism seem to be an obvious way the narrative can be changed.

There are two ways the shitstorm that is the United States goes now.

In one scenario, it gets worse. America becomes a police state, run by rich white people for rich white people. The president gets to stay on, and on, and on, passing the reins onto Ivanka or Jared when his brains eventually turn to mush and he spends his days barking at the TV, his howls a meaningless sequence of animalistic drivel as he shits into his underpants. The country doubles down on foreigners, minorities, women and everyone else that gets in their way. America, the horror story: a republic in name only.

In another scenario, it gets better. America gets over this. China had bad emperors, but it kept going. Britain had some terrible kings. As did France and Spain in their heyday. An anomaly such as Trump has to happen sooner or later, if the history of any great nation is long enough. It doesn’t mean that the country falls just because it elected a Nero or a Caligula.

Despite everything, I still believe the second scenario will happen. America is better than this. It is bigger than all this.

I think we are seeing something like what happened in Russia, before the Soviet Union fell. It’s not an exact comparison of course and I expect some might be pissed off with the analogy, but bear with me.

America stopped working for most people a while ago, and that’s why there are riots and street protests, and they’re getting louder. Healthcare is a joke. College fees are unattainable. Infrastructure is crumbling. Drug abuse is sky high. The climate is changing and despite it all, fuck all is being done. The philosophies that lead to this are bankrupt. Only the super-rich have benefitted from the current state of affairs. It’s unsustainable.

Right now, those who profited the most are in a state of near constant panic. That’s why they chose a ghoul to lead them and they’ll stick with him through thick or thin. That’s why they need to pack the courts with their sympathisers. That’s why the police are so fucking aggressive and the prisons are full. Thats why their media is so toxic. That’s why gun sales are through the roof. It’s because they are losing, and deep down, they know it. They are doing everything they can to prop it up, through fair means or foul.

In the long run, it’s not going to work.

And just like the Soviet Union, in the end it could all come down very quickly, because more and more people are tired of the bullshit. It’s not the country of entitled Christian white people any more. Like it or not, they have to share it with black people and brown people and Asian people and gay people and women and Muslims and atheists and educated people and lots more folks. Those people are not going away. They are in America to stay and they want, and deserve, a slice of the pie.

And in its place, who knows? The older generation have fought so hard and with such bitterness that what happens now is going to be very painful indeed, even if, as I hope, things get better.

Right now, the talk is of civil war, but I don’t know.

Middle aged people do not great revolutionaries make. We can’t run far or fight for long. We have heart problems, weight problems and joint problems, cholesterol problems and bowel disorders. Something is always inflamed or in pain. All we have is our anger and disgust for everything and anything. Full of rage and fear and self-righteousness, we’re pathetic.

In a straightforward battle with the youth, the youth always win. Always. They will outsmart us, outthink us, outmanoeuvre us, outpace us. They have boundless energy and time on their side. You pick a fight with young people, you lose. Eventually, they will emerge victorious.

More likely, it will remain very, very chaotic for a while more. We will probably witness some terrible scenes yet, before the anger of the aged class subsides into inevitable depression and hopelessness, and the harder the fight, the deeper that depression is going to be, A hated generation: that’s us. We better get used to it.

But green shoots could arise yet. A fairer society. A more diverse, equal place. And from there, I think America rises again, albeit humbled and weaker compared to peer nations. Maybe eventually it becomes again a place where people want to travel to: that shining beacon on the hill. Maybe.

Or not. What do I know? Americans might yet be kneeling prostate in front of statues of Empress Ivanka as the Imperial Forces goose-step down Pennsylvania Avenue.

After an 18 month voyage around the North Atlantic, with no crew aboard and nothing but the currents and endless storms to guide its way, the MV Alta ended its travels on the rocks of Ballyandreen, Co. Cork: no more than 10 km from where I live.

Apparently the ship was travelling between Greece and Haiti when it got into trouble. Its crew, running low on food and water, had to be rescued by the US Coast Guard. It was last seen somewhere near Bermuda. A jogger, running by the Ballycotton cliffs on February 16, was first to see it.

It’s unlikely to be going anywhere else for some time.

I took a lot of photos and video footage during my road trip from San Jose to Canada last year. When I got back home to Ireland, I started on the mammoth exercise of putting all the videos together, patching in some of my favourite photos along the way. This proved to be a bigger task than I expected and I ran out of steam after processing the fifth or sixth video. The remaining videos had to wait until this Christmas – almost 18 months afterwards – to complete.

So here they are. They are mainly a personal memoir of an amazing trip up into the Pacific Northwest – a journey of 1,400 miles (2,256 km). In the space of just a week, I saw coyotes, vultures, eagles, massive waterfalls, lofty redwood trees, huge dust devils, elk, whales, and some of the finest scenery imaginable in this world. I came across a road accident where a car had fallen into a steep ravine. I travelled by boat from the United States into Canada and witnessed some of the rawest landscapes in North America.

What were the highlights? Crater Lake, perhaps, or the Multnomah Falls. Or perhaps the old quarantine station around Knappton Cove and the enormous bridge by Astoria, Oregon. Cannon Beach was also a spectacular sight. And the gigantic redwoods of the Avenue of the Giants. I fell in love with the scenery and the freedom of the road. It will stay with me forever.

These videos are sometimes not the greatest and I don’t make for the most entrancing host either, particularly after days of not shaving. It’s mainly a personal photographic memoir for me as I engage on of one of the most incredible driving holidays in my life.

Day 1

In which I drive from San Jose to Nevada and I end up in the shittiest hotel room in Reno.

 

Day 2

In which I drive from Reno, Nevada to Eugene, Oregon – a distance of over 750km. On my way, I passed through the quirky side of roadside America, taking photos as I went. I saw a massive dust devil. I stopped for a while close to the Tulelake Japanese American internment camp. I witnessed the grandeur of Crater Lake. On my way down the mountain, I came across a road accident. This video describes of the most amazing days of my life.

 

Day 3

In which I travelled from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver Island, Canada. I visited the Multnomah Falls near Portland, and I took the COHO ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria.

 

Day 4

I took a tour around southern Vancouver Island, taking in Fairy Lake, Avatar Grove and and abandoned power station. Lots of photos were taken along the way.

 

Day 5

I took the COHO back to Port Angeles, and travelled down the coast of Washington State. I got to Ruby Beach, Moclips, Aberdeen, Knappton Cove and finally crossing the long bridge into Astoria, Oregon.

 

Day 6

I travelled Route 101 on the Oregon coast from Astoria to Bandon. This is one of the most amazing drives in the world – Cannon Beach, Neakahnie Mountain, Cape Kiwanda, Cape Foulweather and Seal Rock, Cape Perpetua, Florence and North Bend. I saw sea lions and bald eagles, and I took so many photos it kept me busy for weeks afterwards.

 

Day 7

I drove from Bandon, Oregon to Arcata, California. Route 101 took me past Port Orford, Humbug Mountain, Gold Beach and Cape Sebastian. I eventually reached Crescent City, then I headed into the Redwood forests and Paul Bunyan. I visited the coastline around Klamath, accidentally fell into the sea and kept an eye out for elk crossing the road.

 

Day 8

On the final day of my road trip, I travelled from Arcata, California to San Francisco, taking Route 1 almost all the way down. I passed through the Avenue of the Giants and the enormous redwood forests. I hit the ocean at Westport, and followed the road down past Fort Bragg. I saw a whale near Gualala and flocks of pelicans near Jenner. I reached Bodega Bay as the sun was setting. My journey ended over the Golden Gate Bridge.

50 years ago today, during a time of strife, great political division and poor leadership, three Americans blasted off on a journey of hope for all humankind. Theirs was a mission of incredible risk, but behind them stood 400,000 people, all guided by a singular goal: to set foot on another world.

They travelled so far, you could hide our whole planet behind an outstretched thumb.

50 years later we still applaud the achievements of these people. They brought the world together, allowing us to imagine something greater than ourselves. The trip to the moon was such an expression of what we as a species are capable of when we set our minds to an awesome task.

In a time of political turmoil, strife and great impending danger for humanity, with political leaders unequal to the challenge faced, we again need this kind of inspiration.

When things seem gloomy and grim, it inspires me to think about all the things that are wonderful and marvellous about being alive on this planet, right now. We are so privileged to have the fortune to be conscious and aware enough to appreciate them.

I can think of so many:

Bumblebees, old castles, rocket launches, thunderstorms, Mozart, eyes, waterfalls, snow-covered mountain tops, deep sea living organisms, rainbows, probes on distant planets, supernovas, volcanoes, singing, colour changing chameleons, rock concerts, spiral distance athletes, galaxies, a capella, laughter, children, kittens, long Jupiter’s clouds, oxygen, microscopic insects, octopuses, global religious celebrations, magnets, hobbies, auroras, holograms, echolocation, ice ages, dinosaurs, the smell of rain on a summer day, friendship.

What else can you think of?

This world – this whole universe – is extraordinarily wonderful. We only get one chance at experiencing it. Even though sometimes it’s not possible to appreciate it fully, we should try not give up on it.

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