Tuesday, 30 September 2014

More Flowers...

...and a short update. This time, the flowers are not on food, but where they are at their most beautiful:

It was great to have last Friday off after two extremely busy months. I spent the morning doing my tax forms and then set off to the palace grounds with my Mum. You'll see more of that in one of my next posts. Aren't the flowers fantastic this time of the year? Late summer has such an abundance, but different from spring in atmosphere and colours. You can see a top-down view of the flower beds  here.

It was great to have last Friday off after two extremely busy months. I spent the morning doing my tax forms and then set off to the palace grounds with my Mum. You'll see more of that in one of my next posts.

The statues are on top of the roof, and the only way for me to see them close up is by zooming in with the camera. 

And what's the update I was talking about at the beginning of this post? Well, for one thing, there is the weather. We've had some cold nights already, with temperatures down to 4 Celsius (39 F). This meant for me wearing gloves (yes, gloves!) on my way to work on two or three mornings, turning the heating on in the bathroom for half an hour before having a shower, and having a blanket on top of my duvet for a few nights.
Then, some time last week, summer was back with highs of 25 Celsius (77 F) and more on a sunny afternoon, so out came the summer dresses once again. 

But the best update I have for you is that the grassy path I like so much has NOT been spoiled! Remember when I told you about the heavy building machine I saw there last time? This was at the end of August; you can read about that here. Last Sunday, I went there again to check on any progress, and found the machine gone and the place unchanged. What they did that short bit of gravelling for I have no idea, but I am relieved that one of my favourite places is still as it should be!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Say It With Flowers

Alternatively, you can simply eat them, for instance when you buy the "Wildblumenbrot" (wild flowers bread) from the bakery at the train station where I get on and off most days for work.

Of course it's just a gimmick, but since it does not cost more than flowerless bread, I thought I'd give it a try. It does not taste of flowers - they are just on top, not in the dough. You can see it in the picture with the slices cut off that it is just normal, plain, good bread.

And what is the point of this post? To break up the row of four book reviews. As mentioned before, this series of reviews was due to me not having much time for anything else but work recently. A very busy period is slowly coming to an end; October should be a bit quieter work-wise, with more time for my blog (and yours!) again.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Read in 2014 - 36: The Human Machine

„The Human Machine“ is not a work of science fiction, dealing with cyborgs as the title could suggest, but non-fiction by Arnold Bennett first published in 1925. Its main goal is to show the reader that it is possible to use one’s own brain to a great extent and therefore improving one’s own life significantly, without depending on (or blaming!) circumstances that can be controlled by ourselves, if at all, only in a limited way. 

It was a delightful read, although I did not always agree 100 % with the author’s theories. But everything he says is presented in a chattily confidential manner without ever being condescending or too banal. In fact, the style is elegant enough to make this a good book even for someone who is not overly interested in the subject, and the relative shortness adds to its being more of a pleasure than a tedious struggle from page to page, as can sometimes be the case with theoretical works on the subject of the human brain.

The author starts by comparing us humans to a machine we have no manual for. This instantly reminded me of a friend of mine who has been using very similar words when talking about how wonderful he finds the discoveries he has constantly been making about himself and in connection with others in the past years. 
With each chapter, more reasons for wanting to exert the fullest possible control about one’s brain are given, and also suggestions as how to get there – eventually. Nowhere does the author promise a “miracle” of instant inward and outward change of a person; instead, he admits that it will be a continuous process, not free from setbacks, probably for a year or more before success becomes evident. He also dedicates a chapter to how useless the striving after material goods is in contributing to real happiness and to perfect the “art of living”. Altogether, I was as much entertained as intrigued by this book, and as it was of course a free find at the kindle store, I can recommend it to anyone who would like to read something different for a change.

The author mentions Annie Besant as the author of “Thought Power”, calling it “…one of the best books of this astounding woman”. Since I have read Mrs. Besant’s autobiographical sketches not long ago (the review is here), to come across her once again so soon, after I’d never even heard her name until quite recently, was interesting.

Arnold Bennett is yet another one of those prolific and rather popular authors I had never heard of until I found one of their works in the kindle store for free. He lived from 1867 to 1931 and wrote many novels and short stories, but also numerous works of non-fiction. He worked as a journalist and in Public Service. He lived in France for some years and married a French lady. They separated 13 years later. For the last ten years of his life, Bennett lived with an English actress he had fallen in love with. She changed her last name to Bennett without ever being legally married to him. They had a daughter together. Bennett died at the age of 63 from typhoid.
A quirky bit of trivia about him I found on Wikipedia: “Bennett is one of a select number of celebrities to have a dish named after them. While he was staying at the Savoy Hotel in London, the chefs perfected an omelette incorporating smoked haddock, Parmesan cheese and cream, which pleased the author so much he insisted on it being prepared wherever he travelled. The 'Omelette Arnold Bennett' has remained a Savoy standard dish ever since. It is served in several other hotels and restaurants in London as well.”

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Read in 2014 - 35: Kepler

Three book reviews in a row, maybe more to come, and nothing else on my blog? Don't worry, there will be other posts again. I have just been exceptionally busy this month, which meant more time to read - an apparent contradiction, but it is none if you consider that I read a lot on the train, and being busy at a customer's office means I travel there 5 or 6 days a week instead of just 3 days. So, normal business should soon be resumed!


You know my habit of feeding my brain with non-fiction every now and then, particularly needing something more substantial after I have been reading a book that was a bit on the shallow side (NOT referring to "The Headland" here!). 

“Kepler”, a biography by Walter W. Bryant and first published in 1920, certainly was substantial enough – even too substantial in those parts where the author (from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich) describes in much detail all the equations and theories Kepler and other astronomers before him worked out. I must admit I quick-read several chapters; I wasn’t overly interested in the exact mathematical formulas for each of the three Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motions, but much more in his life and in himself as a person.

(If you are scientifically minded and want to see what I mean, have a look at the wikipedia-article and then imagine having it all explained in mere text, without any of the illustrations.)

What I’d known about Johannes Kepler until now was precious little enough: He lived in the 16th and 17th century, was born in Weil der Stadt (a small town not very far from where I live) and worked as an astronomer, sometimes in close association with Tycho Brahe. With what I have learned from the book, a different picture emerges; that of a troubled man who was never really able to live off his scientific work, a man who had to deal with many problems and obstacles in both his personal and his professional life, and who most likely was never very happy during the 58 years of his life.

He married twice; his first wife and several of his children died of various illnesses, no doubt due not only to the not very hygienic circumstances people generally lived under at the time, but also because the family were poor and probably could not always afford good meals and what limited medical help would have been available. Because of his constant shortage of money (he was patronized by several high-standing persons, for instance the Austrian emperor Rudolf, but payment was irregular at best), he wrote and sold horoscopes on demand – something he hated, because he knew it to be unscientific and untrue. The political and religious changes of his times meant he frequently had to change post and move his family from places in Austria to Prague, to Denmark and Germany, and he even could have gone to Italy on invitation of Galileo Galilei, but declined the offer on the grounds of feeling it was unsafe.

To top all the problems coming from outside, he was physically weak and affected by vision problems due to having nearly died from smallpox as a child. Knowing all this, his great efforts in achieving something in the world of science seem even greater. Although his own knowledge was limited (for instance, Newton had not yet discovered the Law of Gravity), his work became crucial to the further development of astronomy.

Like I said, I had not known much about Kepler until reading this book. It was well worth it, because I now have a more complete picture of someone who did not give up easily in the face of adversities.

Not much can be found about the author with a superficial research; his name is listed several times in connection with various posts at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich for the years 1892 to 1923; apparently, he died in office as Superintendent of the Magnetical and Meteorological Department on 31 January 1923. He wrote other books and scientific articles, too, but little seems to have been recorded about himself.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Read in 2014 - 34: The Headland

„The Headland“ was a truly enjoyable read, and I am not only saying that because its author, Neil Theasby, is known to (and highly appreciated by) me and some of my fellow bloggers as „Yorkshire Pudding“ (click here if you want to have a look at his blog).
The story is well plotted and well written, gripping, and with a few surprises thrown in so that you just want to read on and on while at the same time you don’t want the book to end.

14-year-old James and his best friend Corry are on holiday in a small town at the seaside with James’ relatives. The headland, jutting out into the Sea and topped by an ancient lighthouse, is a most prominent landmark and point of attraction for James, Corry and their cousin. They find a path leading not only to the headland’s bottom and an otherwise inaccessible beach, but to much more exciting discoveries. Those discoveries will influence their lives in more ways they could imagine, and as events unfold, the reader can’t wait to read on and find out what happens next.

I felt at home with the characters nearly instantly, although I have never been a 14-year-old boy myself. The way everybody acts and speaks is completely credible (except maybe for the fact that, for 14-year-olds, the boys seem to be drinking a lot of coffee – something I certainly didn’t do at that age; coffee was a drink I started with only when I began work at the library at 18 and it was a social thing to have coffee with the colleagues during breaks). When James is at school, the days are described in a manner that reminded me of the way I felt about school often enough; when he is with his family or his friends, he comes across as a perfectly normal boy – sometimes he gets on with them, sometimes they irritate him by their behaviour.

There were some bits I enjoyed even more than the rest, for instance the chapter about Bonfire Night. I almost felt as if I was there with James (or as James) myself. That the author is very observant is obvious to anyone who has been reading his blog for a while. This also shines through in the book; for instance, he remarks about the strange habit people have in seaside places: they just sit in their parked cars and look out at the sea. When my husband was still alive, we spent most of our holidays in Scarborough. I remember very well that I thought how strange it was to see so many people just sitting in their cars when for us, the experience of being near the Sea was only complete if you heard the sound of the seagulls and the waves and smelled the salty scent and felt the wind (and sometimes the sun) on your face.

Towards the end of the book, a supernatural element is introduced, but it only plays a significant role in one instant. Therefore, the story is not really one that could be classified as “Fantasy”; most of the time, it is more a mixture of James’ life between his home, school and the Headland, where what he and his friends find turns into something of a detective story, and how the subtle (and some less subtle) changes in their lives affect their relationships – or the other way round, the changes in their relationships affect their lives.

Had the book been twice as long, I wouldn’t have minded. If there was a sequel, I’d buy it for my kindle instantly!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Read in 2014 - 33: The Only Way Is Up

Reading the title „The Only Way is Up“ of course instantly put the tune of that late 1980s (or was it early 90s?) pop song into my head – I wonder if it will be the same for you now reading this review!

So far, I had not come across the author, Carole Matthews, although she has published 22 “hugely successful” (according to her website, www.carolematthews.com) novels in 16 years. They are, as you’ve probably guessed from a glimpse at the cover picture, what generally is known as Chick Lit. My mother-in-law, Mary, gave this one to me during my stay in Ripon back in June. It is the kind of book she likes; nothing too terrible, a plot easy enough to follow, a bit of simple humour, and some kitchen-table wisdom thrown in for good measure. This type of reading does have its allure, I don’t deny it – it is good to wind down with after a long, demanding day at the office, and I did want to know what’ll happen next.

But what does actually happen? In brief: Rich family loses everything and discovers life isn’t all about money, and money can’t buy happiness.

Lily, Laurence and their two children return from a very expensive holiday to find their posh home has been repossessed by the bank – they can’t even get in to fetch some personal belongings. All they have left is what little cash they happened to be carrying and the holiday clothes in their suitcases. There is no way they can turn to any of their former “friends” – who prove not to have been true friends at all – but end up in a council housing estate of the worst kind. Everything there is very different from what life had been like for them until now: the rubbish tip that doubles for a terraced house and “garden”, the state school for the children (as opposed to the posh boarding schools they attended before), the shabby little shop offering low quality food for high prices, the run-down pub, the neighbours…
With surprising swiftness, the family settle into their new surroundings. Nearly all of their neighbours turn out very different from what they expected them to be at first glance; the children like their new school much better than the old one, and although it takes some time before Laurence finds a job, Lily surprises everyone by getting work nearly as soon as she starts looking.
But every time something good happens to the family, something else occurs that threatens to throw them back to Square One. Even Lily’s job, although well paid and not strenuous, begins to create more problems instead of solving them.

Of course, it wouldn’t be this kind of book if things weren’t going to end with happy smiles all around. But to get there is not a straight, easy line, and (although predictable more often than not) the twists and turns kept me wanting to read on. The idea of what happens if you have to start over from scratch, and how different people react under the same (extreme) circumstances, is fascinating. I’ve had my own share of life-changing events (although so far the bank has not attempted to evict me from my flat – and hopefully never will!), so I can sympathize to an extent.

One thing I have remarked upon in what I’ll broadly class as “contemporary British novels” several times here in my reviews is the amount of booze consumed by the characters, and “The Only Way is Up” is no exception.
Everything that happens – good or bad – is an excuse for drinking. Lily finds a job? Get the cheap white wine out! The neighbour has a problem with a credit shark? Fetch the brandy! Laurence discovers the joy in working on an allotment? Hand him a beer or four! And of course, as is the habit of this type of book, it is always very, very funny (not in my eyes) the way people behave when they are drunk. I am actually a little surprised that Mary, who enjoyed the book enough to have given it to me, wasn’t bothered by all that drinking. She never drinks any alcohol and has had unpleasant experiences with alcoholism in her own family more than once. Please don’t get me wrong; I do drink alcohol, heck – I even throw cocktail parties for my birthdays and other occasions – and certainly like a few glasses of sparkling wine, but I simply don’t see the point in drinking all the time, or getting so plastered that the day after you either can’t remember what was going on or you remember only too well and are ashamed about what you did (and who with). If you’ve ever been out with me, you’ll know I am certainly not a spoilsports. I just can’t see why people (= characters in books) can’t have fun without copious amounts of booze.

OK, that was my rant for today. I did like the book well enough but I’m afraid I would never spend any money on Carole Matthews works.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

September Selection

Although my favourite times of the year are certainly spring and summer, somehow September has managed to establish itself as a secret favourite in recent years. Maybe it has to do with our weather, maybe it is the general atmosphere of getting back to familiar (and not unloved) routines, maybe it is the combination of often still warm and sunny days and the first cosy nights in, or the abundance of flowers and fruits in gardens and on fields, and the transition of summer wardrobe to more substantial clothes, the change of light and colours outside, or... Whatever it is, I like September very much.

For months now, I haven't shown you the view from my kitchen window. Not that it has changed much since you last saw it; there are still the same gardens and houses. But the ever-changing flowers and trees are something I always love looking at when I am in my kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil or doing any of the other things people genereally do in kitchens. This was what it looked like on the 6th of this month:

After the general view, I zoomed in on the yellow flowers. The green is still very much the green of summer, but everything else is strongly pointing towards autumn:

Speaking of autumn - the weather was finally right for me to wear this vintage dress I brought back from Ripon this year:

I am not sure what day I bought it; my best guess is that it was on the day described here. The shop is on Ripon's Westgate (that is the road leading westwards off the market square). It is called "Fabulous" and sells vintage clothing. The first dress I tried on was very, very pretty; a Fifties' ensemble with narrow waist and wide skirt with matching short-sleeved jacket in a caramel-brown cotton with tiny roses on it. However, it was made for someone much smaller than I am. The next one was a "Bond Girl" type of shift dress from the 1960s in a black-and-white dogtooth pattern. Again, it didn't fit. But by now I was in full clothes-shopping mode and my eyes fell on the dress the dummy in the corner was wearing. I asked the friendly lady whether she'd let me try this one. She did, and for the third time I went back to the tiny broom cupboard that doubles as a fitting room. Third time lucky - this one fitted so well as if it had been made for me! It wasn't exactly cheap, but the wool fabric was in top condition, it was clean and the zip ran smoothly (not something to be taken for granted - this dress is, after all, probably a few years older than myself!), and all of last year I had been thinking about getting something green to wear without finding anything I really liked.

The lady in the shop was very kind and friendly; she even said something like "I am so jealous because this looks so nice on you", and my sister (who had been very patiently waitng for me while I was trying on the dresses) and I left the shop in the best of moods. The shop has its own page on facebook, by the way.

I am not entirely happy with this picture; I look as if I don't have a waist (I do - believe me!), but it's the best I could come up with in the few minutes I had left before leaving the house to catch my train to work.

Have a good second half of September, everyone! 

PS: I have emailed the shop owner and she tells me she now has a proper changing room :-) That is one more reason (as if I needed one...) for me to go back next year!