It had been my intention to take the blog on vacation with me to see what — in a very restrictive sense — ubiquitous computing might feel like. And to see whether a travelogue should ever form part of this miscellany. I bought a 3G dongle (not from a spam email…) and carried more digital and optical equipment than you can point a telescope at. The only things lacking were the skill to use it all and a guarantee of internet connection.

The immediate consequence of an absence of wireless reception beside the remote estuary where we perched for the duration of last week was that for the first little while there was not much to do but stand still. This was a good thing, but as the Knackered family has not stood still for well more than six months of rolling crisis, it was only natural that some of the tangled thoughts of grief found an opportunity to unwind and, for those few early days, occasionally overwhelm.

Cornwall April 2008 004

Road to Nancenoy

But the Cornish peninsula is nothing if not varied. And would a geographer pick an argument with me if I said it may be one of the most fractal landscapes on earth? — whether one is talking about the trees, the rugged coastline, the self-similarities of those flooded river-valley creeks, or the surf as the Gulf Stream makes landfall.

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Kynance Cove

Within barely a few minutes’ drive the contrasts can be extraordinary. We’re quite happy with beaches out of season and in most weathers, and now — with the necessary neoprene — the option of body-boarding (and, someday soon, surfing) before supper presents itself.

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Kynance Cove

In true amateur form, much of our expedition was inspired by reading Simon Barnes’ book, How to be a Bad Birdwatcher. And with a much diminished self-consciousness, this point-and-shoot ethos carried us through birdwatching itself, astronomy, body-boarding, rowing our own boat up the muddy creek (with paddles, thankfully), and much lower-maintenance-than-usual holiday gastronomy (pasties and fish pies from Gear Farm in St Martin).

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Nancenoy

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Serpentine rock at Kynance (on the Lizard peninsula)

Helford-Aerial

Helford River

Stonechat

Stonechat

Photo credits: stonechat, Andrew Pescod; aerial view of Helford River, Google ;the rest, Knackered Hack

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It could be prescience, but highlighting Grant Washburn‘s expression only a couple of weeks ago about the oppressive effect of successive waves on the wiped-out surfer, has turned into some real, personal truth.

In my earliest days as a practising journalist, electronic reporting did not allow for much in the way of bylines. Then we decided to go interactive and put names and phone numbers on every story (people did not have email back then). I still prefer the kind of journalistic group anonymity favoured by The Economist, though it must be said that more recently it has been retreating from that style.

The self-disclosure encouraged by blogging is still something that I’m not totally comfortable with, although the experiment seems necessary. Facebook, compared with MySpace, actively invites us to say who we really are. And indeed, it helped a cousin contact me only the other day to express condolences.

Only a few weeks ago, by way of explaining an absence from blogging (or “a worryingly long apple harvest” as Michael, one of my good friends, described it – because my last post had been about an over-enthusiastic seasonal fruit display at the Bath Farmers’ Market), I disclosed the death of my father. I was going to remain silent on the subject of my brother’s sudden demise, which took me off to Ohio last week. But it seems inconsistent.

Those awaiting more Kino pictures will understand why I still have not produced any. And those who have contacted me in that regard will understand the silence. It was indeed odd to be focusing on the loss of Viktor Tsoy and then to be suddenly brought up short by a more tangible bereavement.

The death of two family members in three months (and three if one includes my great aunt), is devastating in an obvious way: an archetypal double whammy, I guess. But I am also struck that such losses are much easier to narrate than some that I and others will have suffered, where the complexity and invisibility of the experience mean that it is beyond ready comprehension or sympathy. I have an intension to write about those other losses at some point in the future – possibly through the blog, possibly through some other medium.

Meanwhile, I’ve had to write and deliver two eulogies in quick succession – something I could not say I was comfortable having to do. It can be tricky enough dealing with one’s own loss without having to contextualise it adequately for others.

But the title of the post is to focus on that sinking (or even floating) feeling a surfer experiences when plunged beneath a wave that is completely overpowering. One is out of one’s element. There is an eerie silence, a numbness, and a not-knowingness of which way up is.

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Among the reasons why blogs stop updating, bereavement is unlikely to be high up on the list. But that is why the Knackered Hack fell silent these past few weeks.

Spending an extended amount of time in limbo in hospital brings to the fore all sorts of extraneous thoughts about time and uncertainty, not to say the complexity of information that tired, exhausted relatives have to absorb and sometimes make important decisions from.

Hospitals are all about corridors, lifts, stairs, inadequate eating facilities, irregular food and drink, and not a lot of fresh air. That’s especially true if you are there for a long-term vigil and not just popping in during visiting hours. There was a moment when I realised that it had some of the hallmarks of the Opec meetings I was required to cover professionally in my early 20s. They involved endless days in hotels in Geneva or Vienna, chasing important-looking men speaking English with thick foreign accents, the majority of whom were under the mistaken impression that they were in control of things. Time was completely elastic. In fact we even called it “Opec Time” because nothing ever happened when it was meant to. When the Hotel Intercontinental in Geneva gave us watches with the Opec logo on them we all laughed.

But the business of how to manage your own expectations in hospital — and how your expectations are being managed by the medical authorities — is a serious one. There are definite differences between junior doctors and the more senior consultants. The key qualifier, in my recent experience, is frankness. Hope in a hopeless situation is very confusing, but I guess the younger you are as a medic, the more idealistic: the closer you are to your original motivations to help and do good. You are less used to death and less practised in the application of those heuristics that permit the cutting through all the possible treatments that a modern hospital has to offer to the more simple need for palliative care, which, where it involves ever larger doses of morphine, is itself terminal.

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Kino’s Viktor Tsoi

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