Friday, 1 July 2022

Read in 2022 - 18, 19: The Riddle of the Dunes; No Trace

#18: The Riddle of the Dunes (Inspector Blades Mystery #3)

by James Andrew

Not long ago, the topic of World War I and conscientious objectors has been cropping up on one or two blogs I have been reading as well as in books; this was one of them, and much of what I already knew about them was brought up in the story.

The book is set in a small Yorkshire seaside town a few years after the war, when many former soldiers have not managed to pick up their pre-war lives but are forced to roam the roads as homeless tramps.

Was it one such tramp who killed the young woman found in the dunes? What about similar killings that shocked the town a few years back - a suspect was convicted and hanged for them, but was it the right man?

Inspector Blades has a list of suspects ranging from the victim's own brother to her fiancé, a "conchie" who nobody seems to have much good to say about, to an elusive violent tramp the other tramps are scared of.

The book is not only about the inquiry, but the reader learns about life between the two wars and how the war had changed things forever. Women police officers were still a novelty, and although fingerprints were well known as possible evidence by then, DNA was not yet part of an investigation; detectives still had to rely much more on their own skill than anything else.

I liked Inspector Blades and the well researched portrayal of the time. If I come across another book of the series, I won't mind reading it; the only thing I would have liked different was the frequent repetition of things. For instance, the inspector's thoughts would be in one chapter, and in the next chapter, he would repeat them all to his sergeant; it seemed quite unnecessary.

The author's website is here; he also has a blog but there are no entries after April 2021.

#19: No Trace (A Yorkshire Murder Thrillers Short Story)

by Jane Heafield

Although called a short story, it is actually a short novel, featuring DI Liz Miller investigating the case of a missing woman, reported by her worried husband.

It was my first book by this author, and I wonder whether her other books are similar. This one focuses much more on police procedure than on the people in the stories. To me, most characters (including the DI) remained rather flat; I did not really come to like or even care about any of them.

Still, the way the mystery is solved has its moments, and reading this free ebook was not a waste of time.

I like what the blurb I found on a website says about her: "Jane Heafield was born and raised in South Yorkshire, where she works as a scientist in a busy hospital. When not using a microscope or a TV remote, she likes to write. Plotting for her novels is done with a voice recorder while strolling around English Heritage sites."

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

A Night Out

Let me breeze through the week starting on Monday, June 13. It started a little cooler after the hot weekend, still beautiful and summerly, with not a single drop of rain.

On the Monday, both trains taking me from Offenburg to Ludwigsburg were on time. My cherry tree was in full swing and allowed me to pick a small bowl for my elderly neighbour; she'll be 90-something on July 6, and in previous years I brought her cherries for her birthday - not anymore, since they ripen much earlier now.
I went for a good long walk after work but did not take photos.

Tuesday was spent at my client's office, where I went on a short walk with my client during our lunch break. On my way home I got off the train in Zuffenhausen, walking from there via Stammheim and across the fields back to Ludwigsburg. I enjoyed that walk of about 10.5 km - taking just under two hours - very much, as it is one I have done only once before (some time last year), and the weather was very pleasant.

I had to take an early train into Stuttgart on Wednesday morning for my regular appointment with my eye doctor. My operations are now a year ago, and my doctor is still very happy with how it all turned out - and so am I!
After work, I went to see my parents.

Thursday was a public holiday in my part of Germany - Fronleichnam (Corpus Christi). O.K. and I spent the day separately, as he had to play with the village band for the procession through the village (it is a mainly Catholic village), and we were both working the next day.
After a morning of doing household stuff, I joined my sister at her allotment for the afternoon and went for a walk on my own quite late, returning home at 10:30 pm. 

It had steadily become warmer during the week, reaching almost 30C by Friday. O.K. arrived at my place relatively late, so we only had a light supper with two bottles of well-chilled beer.

Saturday was hot at about 33C, but we so wanted to go for a run and knew it had to be early. And indeed we managed to get up so that we could catch the relative fresh morning air. We'd not been running together since February, which was the last time I had done any running at all - it showed, but the 5 km went well enough. We spent the afternoon with my sister at the allotment, enjoying the shade of the large trees and cool drinks.

Then it was time to go home, freshen up and change: We had tickets for a wine tasting at our favourite wine bar, a birthday present from my Mum. And a very pleasant night out it was! The tasting started at 7:30 pm and lasted until 10. 

When we left the wine bar, it was still very warm, and many people were out and about. Of course, we had come to the wine tasting on foot, and our way home lead us across the market square. For a minute or so, we just stood still on the square, taking in the atmosphere - the soft murmur of a multitude of people chatting, laughing, clinking glasses, and the night-blue sky above the square. It was quite wonderful and had a mediterranean feel to it.

Hopefully, the above video works for you - I have not uploaded videos here in a long time.

Glimpse of one of the churches on the market square through a gate to a court yard off the main road

Sunday, June 19, was too hot at 35C to do anything much. We went to see my parents at 10:00 in the morning, which was just the right time, and had a late breakfast afterwards. The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the darkened living room, sipping water, watching TV, reading and snoozing.
When O.K. left at 9:30 pm, I caught the last of the evening light and the sunset on a short walk on the fields, returning home an hour later.

The whole week was what summer should be like, only the Sunday was a bit too hot for my liking. I enjoyed the night out with O.K. very much, and one of the wines we tasted is definitely going to make a good present for someone I know :-)

I picked a bowl of cherries every evening that week for my desert, and shared some with my parents and my neighbour.

Friday, 24 June 2022

A Walk Repeated

Two years ago, O.K. and I walked a circuit in the Black Forest near Durbach that was to include several remote farms, the Gebirge-Höfe-Weg (literally "mountain farms way"). Back then, we only really enjoyed the first half, as we were totally soaked on the second half. We knew that we wanted to repeat that walk under more favourable circumstances, and we did just that on the 12th of June.

Pictures and a description of that walk are here on my 2020 post.

This time, not a single drop of rain was in sight - it was very hot, and some of the steep uphill bits were a real challenge for me; I had to stop for breath a few times, and any bit of shade was very welcome. Much of the walk was in the woods, though, and that was definitely the best place to be on a day like that!

Back at O.K.'s cottage, after an afternoon nap we felt much refreshed and spent the evening on the balcony. O.K. grilled zucchini and aubergine for us along with merguez, and the well chilled rosé was perfect on that beautiful summer evening.

All week, I had been picking cherries through my kitchen window - enough to share with my elderly neighbour and with my parents, and a small bowl for me as dessert every night. The weather turned very hot then, and after a few thunderstorms with rain, my cherry season was over - plenty left on the tree, but overripe and rotting faster than we could pick them. Still, the ones I did have were great, and I gladly left the rest to the blackbirds.

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Read in 2022 - 17: The Importance of Being Interested

The Importance of Being Interested - Adventures in Scientific Curiosity

by Robin Ince

Was it a birthday gift, or did I already receive this for Christmas? Anyway, my sister came across this wonderful, wonderful book and immediately thought it would be something for me - and right she was!

I enjoyed every single page of this work of non-fiction, savouring it over a period of several months. It is the best book I have read so far this year, and has great potential of becoming my personal Book of The Year, as well as being re-read at some stage.

Part of the blurb on the jacket reads: "In this witty and often profound tour through science, Robin argues that scientific wonder should be for everyone. Packed with interviews featuring astronauts, comedians, teachers, quantum physicists, neuroscientists and more [it shows] that many wrongly think of [science] as distant and difficult. [...] This optimistic book will leave you with a thirst for intellectual adventure."

And it does exactly that! Just have a look at some of the chapters' headlines:

  • Armchair Time-Travel - Putting out your beach blanket on the sands of time
  • Big, Isn't It? - On coping with the size of the universe
  • Swinging from the Family Tree - Inviting yeast to the family reunion
  • More Important than Knowledge - On the necessity of imagination

Now, aren't these intriguing as well as promising? Believe me, each chapter lives up to that promise, delivering insights and plenty of food for thought in a very entertaining manner. More than once, I found myself chuckling at the end of a paragraph, regardless of whether it was about the existence (or not) of God, what's happening at a subatomic level or standup comedy.

Don't think this book isn't for you - it really truly is for everyone who can read, and I guarantee it is just as much a page turner as the latest Harlan Coben.

Robin Ince is the co-creator and presenter of the BBC Radio 4 show "The Infinite Monkey Cage" and has toured the world with scientist Brian Cox to make science accessible to everyone. The Covid pandemic put an end to their touring, and the enforced confinement lead to him writing this book in order to keep (?) his sanity. You can find out more about him and his work here on Wikipedia.

Thank you, sister, for finding and giving me this gem!

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

The Longest Day

Of course, the day as such wasn't longer than any other day, but you know what I mean - the time between sunrise and sunset was at its longest yesterday, June 21st. From now on, slowly but surely we are moving towards the shortest day. It is comforting in a way, isn't it; knowing that this has been going on for millions of years regardless of what's happening in our little lives. Everything seems so insignificant compared to the workings of the universe in general and of our solar system in particular.

Here, we were lucky in that the day was not too hot with even a rather chilly morning, making it easy to fill the house with fresh air and cool everything down a little after the very hot days of the weekend.

After work, my sister and I met up and bought Asian takeaway food, bringing it over to our parents' for a meal with them. My Mum cooks every day and makes sure they both eat healthy homecooked food all the time, but every now and then, a change is welcome when she does not need to cook.

The food was nice and we're going to use that shop (it was our first try) again.

It was still only about 7:30 pm when my sister and I left; it had been a long and somewhat difficult day for both my parents and they needed to rest. Sunset was going to be at 9:30 precisely, giving me plenty of time for a long walk, and that's of course what I did.

It was just beautiful out on the fields, the air was pleasant and balmy with not too many annoying little flying things about. I deliberately chose grassy paths and dirt tracks where possible, to avoid the many cyclists still out and about.

I love it that more and more, you now see flowers on and along our fields; gone are the days when each and every little "weed" (who classifies a plant as a weed anyway - don't they all have the same right to grow, and are playing their part in the ecosystem?) was sprayed to kingdom come. 
People now understand how important it is for insects, birds and other wildlife to have at least SOME natural growth left, although of course we still need the arable fields planted with crop so that our species can eat (or drink - much of the barley growing on our fields is used for beer).

Sunset was precisely on time - isn't it wonderful how we can calculate such events with great precision for centuries ahead?

The last picture is the view from my Third Room, which has been my work place almost exclusively for more than two years now. Two large trees have been cut down in the neighbouring gardens recently, which I found a pity, but it now enables me to see more of the sunset.

Bye-bye, longest day! I am glad I had the chance to accompany it to the last bit.

Monday, 20 June 2022

First June Weekend

Here in Germany, the 1st weekend in June was a long weekend, with the Monday being a public holiday (Pentecost).

As mentioned three posts back, instead of my usual Friday evening train, I travelled to O.K.'s only on the Saturday. Trains and train stations were EXTREMELY crowded, not just because of it being the start of a two-week school holiday (Pfingstferien in German, "Pentecost holiday"), but also because the government here has introduced a monthly ticket for all local and regional public transport at the price of 9 €, to induce people to use more public transport.

It certainly works, but my guess is that after this special offer spanning three months ends, most of those who used their own cars before will go back to them - last but not least because there has been so much chaos with overcrowded, late and cancelled trains due to the masses of people flooding the trains and stations with their 9-euro-tickets. 

This was a political decision and not really coordinated with the railway companies, who have been totally overwhelmed by it all. Things were bad before (you know how often I have mentioned cancelled or late trains on my blog) but are even worse now.

Anyway, back to topic: I just about made it to O.K.'s in time for us to attend a garden party, a friend's birthday we'd been invited to. The party was nice, the food so-so, and at some stage a quick shower saw us all gathering under the marquee - along with about a million mozzies! We escaped relatively unscathed, though; mosquito bites are an inevitable part of summer here anyway, and no big deal. Still, I hate them with a passion!

A thunderstorm came through properly during the night, with the rain being more than welcome and necessary.

Sunday, the 5th, was a mix of sun and showery clouds. We had enough time for a quick walk around the village before setting off in the late afternoon.

Again, we were meeting friends, this time driving for about 20 minutes in the opposite direction. It was a bring-in BBQ, and there was plenty of food on the large table for the ten of us.

On Monday, June 6, was quite warm and sunny with few clouds, and we started by having our first mug of coffee on the balcony - always an event worth mentioning, as it marks the "true" beginning of summer for me.

The woods are the best place to be when it gets so warm, and since we had not had a chance for a proper long walk all weekend, we were glad about the extra day off.

Starting directly from the front door and leaving the car comfortably in its cool garage, we walked on familiar paths, covering places with names such as Nächstenbach ("next beck"), Sägereck ("sawyer's corner") and Handwerker-Hütte ("craftsmen's hut"). We took in Diersburg on the way back, one of the neighbouring villages to O.K.'s, and were home about 16.5 km later.

On the way to Nächstenbach, where a small fête was going on; a nice occasion for a shandy and a chat with a fellow member of the village band and his family we bumped into there.

Diersburg - a familiar view for you by now.

A door to a secret garden?

This old building is part of an estate owned by a local count and his family. They run a winery and have tables and chairs in the courtyard, but so far we've never really visited this picturesque place.

My trip back to Ludwigsburg on Tuesday morning included a delay of about 1/2 hour, because there was an unannounced change of tracks at my connection in Karlsruhe - by the time I (and all the other passengers waiting on the platform) realised this, the train I had meant to catch was long gone.

Not to worry, though, as I was still home in time for my first call that morning. After work, I went to visit my Dad in hospital (after yet another test, of course) and then accompanied my Mum home on the bus, where we had a glass or two of well chilled rose secco - a drink only the two of us really enjoy; the rest of the family can't be bothered with anything tasting of roses.

That was my last hospital visit - hopefully for a long time! -, because my Dad was home on Thursday, the 9th.

Friday, 17 June 2022

Read in 2022 - 16: Hammersleigh


by Nicola Thorne

Not long ago I read my first book by this gifted author; click here for my review of Coppitts Green. Much of what I said there is also true for Hammersleigh.

The story is set in Yorkshire, in a fictitious dale with everything you'd expect: a small village with some lone houses and farms dotted at its outskirts, and a big house complete with the ruins of a priory in its grounds. The time is the 1970s - so, no internet where the characters could do reserach, and no smartphones that would make it easier to stay in touch and exchange news!

Same as Coppitts Green, the book is well written with characters and places portrayed in a manner that allows the reader to picture it all clearly. The story has a paranormal element to it but does not necessarily boil down to that; for me, it is more a coming of age story, about people finding their place in life.

Karen, recently widowed and not yet 30, returns to the village where she was born. She enjoys getting re-acquainted with the place and the people, and after an extended and comfortable stay at the inn, she even moves back into her childhood home, renting it from its new owner.

Also, she takes up painting again, a talent that was left dormant during the busy years travelling the world with her airforce pilot husband.

But then, strange things begin to happen: Karen discovers things in her paintings she can not remember having painted, or even known about before. Also, the arrival of the big hall's owner with his new wife creates quite a stir in the village, and in Karen's tranquil life. And what role does her mostly absent landlord play in all this?

I really loved this book and am certainly going to look for more by Nicola Thorne, whose website is here. I wouldn't mind clinking glasses with her - check out her picture on the website to see what I mean :-)