Planning, the pigeon and statue and some more meandering thoughts

I like to think I have a good work – life balance. I love outdoor life, hill walking & hiking, running, training and generally keeping fit, but I also try spending as much time as possible with family and friends. It’s important for me to remember laughter is the food for the soul and memories are precious. I could be on a midnight train from A to B for fourteen hours, and all I have to keep myself amused, is the memories, which are like gold – the gold that makes you smile on a dark and lonely night in the middle of nowhere.

For me, work is fairly hectic, running an information and library department in a higher education institute, located on four sites with six thousand students and a 500 staff raises challenges daily. Add into the mix the seven EU Erasmus + projects I’m involved with and the calendar gets filled up quickly. All the spaces between the days and hours are filled up week on week, month to month, all of a sudden the year is full… boom! and another one is gone… and I’m not getting any younger.

Easter Holiday is a great opportunity to take time off, relax and enjoy life, put everything on hold and just enjoy unashamedly the self-indulgence which is planned (planned is a key word here).  Because as we go through life we reconsider that time is valuable, its common nowadays to say you are “time poor” as the demands on one’s spare time increases and make life more and more demanding. Like many, life can get in the way of work whereas it should be the other way around, work gets in the way of life. Here I was going to give an example on how demands on life can impede living, but its fruitless as everyone has their own list…

In preparation for the Easter break, there are of course some essential housekeeping duties which need to be put into order before I could go and put all work commitments on hold till after the holidays.
Department work, includes making sure sufficient staff are rostered during the holiday period, orders are all signed off for new material, finances purchase orders are all processed leave request are approved and health and safety and security protocols are all adhered to over the holidays. EU project preparations work included, sending out notifications and agendas to partner countries for upcoming meetings and booking flights and accommodation for countries such as Armenia (23/04/2017) China (10/05/2017) Belarus (17/05/17) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (02/06/2017)

So now all the “work” commitments are dealt with, just wanted to be sure that I was up to date with my PhD…and yes!!! Rewrite done of my research proposal, literature review done, research question nailed, methodologies, evaluative procedures and tools identified, all plain sailing from here (and only six months into my research, what a guy!) 1

With all the preparation, considerations, evaluations, gestation and incubation done, it was time to pick a destination of the wonderful Easter break.


Many will ask, why Poland and the simple answer is;
Poland, is a beautiful country, it’s the ninth largest country in Europe, its culture, history and landscapes are amazing. Its sunsets, mountains, hidden castle and magnificent town squares are remarkable. The food is astonishing, the colours and smells of herbs and fresh mixed vegetables with smoked meats delightful, its unique oscypek cheese, which tastes something between the best of feta cheese crossed with a magnificent mozzarella all blended from sheep’s milk to produce one of the finest cheeses in the World. If its desert your after you have to try Polish ice cream (lody) that will bring a smile even to a crocodile’s face :)

DSCF0804Creative Commons License Photo credit: John Seb Barber via Compfight

Poland is home to the majestic Vistula river, it’s the longest river in Poland, it’s a country where the people are fun, kind, warm and loving despite having been invaded over forty times in the past three hundred years, lived through two World Wars in recent history and survived communist rule,
The people of Poland are very resilient, maybe they get this from Copernicus, who was the one who said the Earth was not the centre of the Universe, or it could have been from Pope John Paul II or maybe it comes from their national symbol which is a white tailed eagle, whichever, they have found, a way to soar about the trouble and strife which society often presents a create a new dawn which puts Poland truly on the map for its culture, spirit, innovation and creativity.

Poland is a place I love visiting, I have been there many times and there is always something new to discover. The polish people have many common traits with Irish people, we love to enjoy life, have fun, play ticks on each other, music, to party and of course sport. Poland has a rich culture of sport, its number one sport is football, followed by track and field, boxing and ice hockey. Poland takes it football very seriously, at all levels and all ages.

Euro 2016: Polonia, numeri di una squadra rivelazioneCreative Commons License Photo credit: Nazionale Calcio via Compfight

On my recent visit I decide to give something back to the people of Poland, obviously, everyone was waiting for my arrival, to view my football skills. My understudy was a nine-year-old boy called Victor, who fancied himself as a good footballer, he knew of Lewandowski and Blaszczykowski but had he ever seen the likes of Cavanagh-ski this was a display which he would never forget, and memorable for all the wrong reasons.

To make this part of the story shorter, my first kick of the ball was my last, just as I kicked the ball, my feet went from beneath me, I could see the sky, the tops of trees, and in a split second I was on the ground, feeling a very sharp pain and the realisation that, yep, I had just made a fool of myself and to add to the bargain I had broken my ankle. Poor Victor didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but he did realise I was in excruciating pain both to my pride and also my ankle. So he did summon up the courage to go and get help. For me I had never broken a bone in my body before, I would have never guessed that it would have such a profound effect on almost everything I would do for the foreseeable future.

After a quick visit to the A&E department in Golub in Poland, a quick X-ray and when the radiologist who didn’t speak English, wrung his hands left and right and made the cheeeek sound...

Attribution Link: Creative Commons License

...kind of knew at that stage what he was referring to.  A temporary cast was put on the mid-section of the leg and foot as I had to return to Ireland on Easter Sunday, my lovely plans of a beautiful weekend in Poland shattered, bit like my ankle.

On Easter Monday I spent in A&E in Limerick. There I was faced with reality, the words uttered by the nurse, “now Mr Cavanagh, you won’t be able to put any weight on that foot for six to eight weeks…………. what did she say???…. days or weeks! Clarification was sought immediately and yes was the answer, it will take six to eight weeks! Minimum. Woooooo, how about my department, my work? I have to go to Georgia next week, then to Belarus and how about China…the nurse looked at me, with disbelief at the nonsense I was speaking and just smiled and said in her West of Ireland accent, “c’mere t’me you will be going nowhere” so walking was out, no hillwalking, hiking, everything was now on hold…so now where is my plan?

Next morning an important decision had to be made, I needed a new plan, I’m unable to walk, I can’t work and I can’t travel. This is a new experience for me, as I find it hard to sit down for more than a few minutes if I’m not doing something.  I find it difficult doing nothing, but not being mobile made me feel, like, I was not doing…
I needed a new plan and I needed it soon, and most importantly I needed to re-evaluate and prioritise what to do for the next six to eight weeks. I also needed to get an understanding that just because my mobility was restricted, that didn’t prevent me from planning activities which would not demand a lot of mobility.
I’m one of the lucky ones. It’s rare I get sick so even though a broken ankle would be regarded as a simple injury and not that big a deal.  And I realise that there are many other illnesses, accidents and events which would place my dilemma in the very lowest echelons of disaster, but for me, in my little World this is a major problem.

The way I deal with problems or difficulties is to immediately look for an alternative plan.  Like most events in life, when things don’t go according to plan, change the plan.  The longer you procrastinate the harder it will be to reschedule and set a different course. I believe even when you feel like life has just turned upside down, if you adjust your seat, you can get a different view.  I saw some graffiti somewhere “if life is serving you lemons…add some gin and tonic” – that would do the trick!

First of all was to think about my work and my department. I knew I would be unable to go to work for at least six to eight weeks. Luckily, I can access most of my files and work applications online. Also direct communication with my staff via Skype and WhatsApp makes life easier. However, despite the availability of the tech tools, it’s important to remember the priority is to get better… so I can’t work at home all day for the duration of the absence.

Second priority are the EU projects. Big decision had to be made… was I going to try and attend the meetings I booked just before Easter? Georgia, Belarus and China, all these trips were within six weeks of my misadventure. Command decision, all trips are off, because of a number of factors. The effect of a flight on the body, its commonly known that some of the effects include; blood pools up in your legs and feet and can make your legs and feet swell or worst again blood clotting, not a good thing after you break an ankle.  In addition to the problems with flying, there is also a major problem with mobility, crutches are one of the most difficult things I have ever had to use. One would have to have arms like Arnold Schwarzenegger and the balance of an acrobat from the Cirque du Soleil.  In addition, the environment where I was intending to travel, you won’t see too many people with crutches or wheelchairs moving around in Beijing as the environment is not disabled-friendly. So all the trips are cancelled, however I have made arrangement to Skype-in to the meetings and I also have a colleague who is attending so I will have access to all the minutes and discussions.

There is always a silver lining to every situation, the PhD… it’s a great opportunity to read around my subject, look for more literature, examine more evaluation tools and of course add some information to my blog.

Now that a new plan is in place for work and study, now comes the day to day stuff, the routine.  It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself and get demotivated however, as a school teacher once said to me “you have to turn that frown upside down” (I know…. it’s awful) But I have to admit, it’s a missed opportunity if you don’t try to turn a negative into a positive.

“We are all in the Gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”
Oscar Wilde

It would be easier to sit in the room, watching TV, going on Life Invader, ops typo, Facebook, hanging around in the PJs and eat your way through the next six to eight weeks. Or you can do something which at the end of the period will be of benefit, you need a routine.

So, I have a new daily schedule for the next eight weeks, I will continue to keep in touch with work, and my EU projects.  I have training plan using weights and yoga, so I will do some upper body exercises, stretching and flexibility, each day for 90 minutes, mixing up the routine of the exercise and the time between two 45 minute sessions to 3, 30 minute sessions per day. This is will help keep the mind and body fit.

I speak some Polish and even though I understand more that I can speak, I’m using the next eight weeks to improve my fluency in Polish. There are a number of good online language courses and apps. Free Duolingo is very good and very user friendly for Polish, however there are many different languages to choose from. I also use two other programs, one from our public library called Mango and one I purchased myself called Pimsleur Language Programs (probably best of the three). I spend about 90 minutes between the three programs, speaking, writing, reading and listening Polish.

PhD studies, I have only started my research in September 2016, but that doesn’t mean that there is less to be done.  I know the subject area that I will be researching well, however because it’s related to the European Union and Funding and Education in Higher Education it’s a vast area.  Also my research is focused on how do we show that the EU programs such as Erasmus + have an effect on the environments, on the people, the regions and on society. This time gives me more opportunity to further my research, my reading and my understanding of what I want to achieve. I have allocated about 2 hours per day for this.    In total I have scheduled in 6 hours for these activities per day. That’s quite a lot, when you take into account time for showers, eating and resting.  However, it fills in the day also, keeping in mind that I still watch for emails and phone calls from work and my EU projects.

The mission here is to turn the negative into positive. In my situation the negative is I broke my ankle so I can’t go into work as I have to rest my ankle. It has to be elevated above pelvic level and three pillows high!!! So can’t see myself sitting behind my desk for the next 6-8 weeks. I had to cancel my trips and EU meetings, so no, Georgia, Belarus or China, but I will be about to join in via Skype and also I will have access to minutes and all discussions. I was hoping to go and see my PhD supervisor soon after Easter, that has to be postponed however at least now I will have more to show when I meet in a few weeks.

The real testimony will be to turn what could have been a very negative period into an unexpected positive one.  I will be fitter in mind and body, I will have improved my language skills immensely and I will have a lot more time to spend on my research and study’s…overall I think that’s not bad.

Finally, it’s all about positive doing, rather than just positive thinking.  Yea, life can be unkind, and miserable things can happen and upset the mojo, your plans and your routine. It’s up to us whether we allow these things to be negative or positives in our lives. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s worth trying. You have much more too loose if you don’t try.

I’m writing this on the May 1st, the May Bank Holiday, I’m three weeks into my recovery, I’m sticking to my new schedule and getting used to my new routine. It’s a bit of a bummer that I can’t enjoy this May holiday the way I would like, but I’m half way through the process now, and all I can do is stay positive.  Life will give you choices, some days you can be the statue and some days you’re the pigeon, you have to take the good days with the bad the only difference is your attitude, but if you get a bad one, try and make it good. Remember this:

“All human plans [are] subject to ruthless revision by Nature, or Fate, or whatever one preferred to call the power behind the Universe” Arthur C. Clarke; 2010: Space Odyssey, Two

Hope this post helps anyone who is struggling, been injured or have just falling behind, drop me a line if I can help or just leave a comment on your own views.

Thanks for reading






  1. Disclaimer! The opinions expressed that of the author's and does not reflect the view of Dr. Lyn Robinson (my supervisor)

2 thoughts on “Planning, the pigeon and statue and some more meandering thoughts

  1. Dr Lyn Robinson

    I love the twist on ‘when life gives you lemons… ‘, making gin and tonic rather than merely lemonade is so much more positive ! :-)

    This is a very thoughtful piece of writing; bad things can happen to any of us, unexpectedly, and undeservedly. But it is how we deal with the difficulties that defines us. Understanding how others have dealt with interruptions to life plans can help enourmously – knowing others can cope helps us see that we can too.

    Good also to know that PhD research is a silver lining! It’s just a question of seeing the silver potential of grey!

    Look forward to catching up when the ankle is mended!


  2. david bawden

    Sorry to hear about your misfortune … but this must one the best advertisements for ‘PhD research as silver lining’ ever written:)


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