Monday, 19 August 2019

Read in 2019 - 16, 17, 18

# 16: The Scotch Twins
by Lucy Fitch Perkins

It is actually Monica's "fault" that I downloaded and read this free ebook from Amazon's kindle shop: She reviewed it on her blog here, and her review made me interested enough in looking for some of the series myself.

This childrens book is set in late 19th/early 20th century Scotland, somewhere in the highlands. There is a small house where a widowed shepherd and his twelve year old twins live, a village with church and school, and of course a "big house", the manor or castle where the lord resides who owns everything, including the shepherd's house.

The twins are of course the book's heroes. The girl does all the household work, with a little help from her brother every now and then. In their free time, they are pretty much free to roam the woodland around them, often with a friend or two.

Their life is perfect for them - but there is talk of the lord of the manor wanting to transform all his land into hunting grounds, not renewing the leases of his tenants, forcing them to find accomodation and make a living elsewhere. It worries the small family and their friends and neighbours, but they feel helpless about it.

One day, the children meet a stranger while they play near the river, a boy their age. They soon include him in their circle of friends, and have many adventures together, even winning an informal "war" against the game keeper with the help of the newcomer.

Then the old lord dies, and nobody knows what is going to happen next. Will the heir carry out the plans and force those who have been living here for generations to seek their fortune elsewhere?

Needless to say, all ends well. I enjoyed the book for its simple and clear message, and the old-fashioned language (it was published in 1919).


# 17: The Heavenly Italian Ice Cream Shop
by Abby Clements

My mother-in-law often sends or gives me books she has enjoyed particularly, and this one was accompanied by the words "You'll love it". And while it certainly was a very pleasant and undemanding read, to "love" it would say too much; I simply did not care enough for any of the characters, and I can not even tell you why.

The author has done nothing wrong - the people, places and situations are described well and most of their actions are credible. Many readers can probably relate to what it means to lose a beloved aunt, mother or grandmother; to start a new chapter in life, moving to a new place or even a new country; to be young parents or new shop owners; to deal with overbearing in-laws and suprise encounters with ex-boyfriends or -girlfriends.
All of this and more happens in the book, and all of it is of course solved to satisfaction, after some obstacles are overcome.

On the cover, it says "The perfect summer read - love, secrets and sorbets!" which pretty much sums it up. 

I have only just discovered that this was not my first book by Abby Clements; I read a Christmas-themed one back in 2013. You can find the short review here.

Extra points for good editing - I don't think I noticed any typing or editing errors. 


# 18: This Green and Pleasant Land
by John Andrews

The contrast between this and my previous two reads could hardly be greater - the settings, the cast of characters, their problems and how they go about to solve them.

Out of laziness, I am copying here the summary from Google Books:
Set around the northern city of Leeds, the main character Alex Roberts, an ex-soldier, has everything in life he wants, in his mid-thirties with a beautiful, pregnant wife and young son he loves dearly, he owns a successful business and has a happy contented lifestyle, which is shattered by the tragedy of his wife and child dying in a motorway accident. His life and his business collapse in a haze of sleepless, nightmare ridden nights and excessive drinking. As he attempts to rebuild his life, a spiteful character from his past comes back to haunt him and contributes to his downfall. With his home repossessed he moves to a flat on a council estate where through a series of random unrelated incidents Alex finds himself in violent conflict with the gang who control the area and most of the drug dealing in West Yorkshire. The story centres on the fight of good against evil and explains how each of the individual characters involved developed into the people they've become and how they interact with each other.
I suppose the Leeds-based setting was what originally made me download this free ebook, but maybe I should not have bothered. Even for a free ebook, this one is particularly badly written and edited. There was hardly a page without errors; grammar was mostly absent, and the only reason I kept going was that I wanted to know how Alex manages to win his one-main fight against an army of drug dealers and other criminals without it sounding too unlikely (it still DID sound rather unlikely).

Also, I must admit the author seems to know a lot about how organised crime works, and that in itself was interesting; a bit like reading an article explaining the business-like approach behind so much of what makes our world a dangerous and brutal place; a glimpse into a parallel universe I knew does exist but hope never to come into close contact with.
At least a tiny bit of editing would have done some good, but I guess one can not expect that from a self-published (?) free ebook.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Reminders of Summer

Two or three weeks or so ago, I noticed the first orange lampion flowers in the gardens I regularly pass on my way to work. They and the harvested fields I saw around the same time made me realise that summer is sowly but surely on its way out. Last night, it was dark at 10 past 9, and this morning for the first time in many weeks, the in-built thermometer on the alarm clock on my bedside table showed just under 20C - more signs of summer ending and autumn approaching fast.

As every year, part of me wants to hold on to summer for as long as possible, while at the same time I look forward to all the beautiful and good things autumn brings. It is a time of mixed feelings, but not unpleasantly so.

Here are a few reminders of this summer.

This first set of pictures I took during a walk on the 21st of July, on the fields on the outskirts of my town:





On the 1st of August, my friend and I went for a leisurely evening run after work. By the time we were on our way back, the light was fast fading; this picture was taken just after 9:00 pm:


Two days later, on Saturday, the 3rd of August, O.K. and I rented a canoe for a few hours and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the river Enz. We set off near the viaduct in Bietigheim, a town about 15 minutes north of Ludwigsburg. The Enz flows very slowly in this part; the water level is too low for larger boats or ships, and therefore ideal for beginners such as me.
Viaduct at Bietigheim. The train I frequently use to travel to O.K.'s passes across it.
Bietigheim has a famous horse market, traditionally held on the fields near the river. The steps in the background lead to the water; that is where we got on and off the canoe.


It rained a few times during our tour on the river, but we found shelter under a bridge, and I actually enjoyed sitting there quietly in the canoe, watching the rain fall on the surface of the water.
I even saw a kingfisher flitting across the river once! Photos were not possible, as we had stowed away our mobile phones and other things in a watertight container and couldn't (or wouldn't) get them out while on the water.

We were on the boat for about two hours, which was enough to make my arms and shoulders feel like they had done a lot of work. 
The rain had stopped and the sun came out, giving us the opportunity for a stroll in the historic town centre of Bietigheim and having ice creams. 


Later, we walked along the river to the same spot where we had turned round on our canoe tour, a former mill that holds shops and restaurants today. There, we had something to eat before walking back to the car.
It had been a good and full day of outdoors activities, and by 11:00 pm, we were flat out.


Sunday afternoon (the 4th of August) saw us once again walking in the palace grounds; you have seen this view before and will probably see it again - it is one of my favourite parts of the park.

By the way, I made a big blunder with our canoe tour: I had booked a specific tour online and was convinced to have put in the proper date. But it turned out I had booked for the wrong date - the Saturday a week later, when we definitely were not going to be in Ludwigsburg. We have postponed that to a later date, and decided spontaneously to rent a canoe only for the two hours, for a much shorter tour, which wasn't a bad idea after all; it gave me the opportunity to test how I'd manage, since I had not been on a canoe for 16 years.

Of course I will let you know (and hopefully manage to take some photos) when we do the "proper" tour!

Monday, 12 August 2019

Ten Years Later

Back in July, I took part in my home town's City Run. I've done this before and blogged about it; you can easily find my older posts about running (if you are interested in them) by typing "CityRun" or "Running" in the search box in the top left corner of my blog.

This year was exactly 10 years after my first run. Since my school days, I had not been running anymore until the spring of 2009, when I started again at the age of 41, after my gym had put up a notice that they were looking to get a team together for the 10K race, offering free yellow t-shirts (yay!) and a regular training group until the big day.

My gym has long stopped organising a team for the run, and my own participation was on and off over the years, what with the run being in the middle of summer and me often away that time of year, and with various health issues not allowing for enough training beforehand to make it feasible.

In 2016, O.K. ran with me (and was 7 minutes faster than I was). This year, we could not see each other that particular weekend, as he was busy with other things and we decided it would not be reasonable for me to spend large part of the weekend alone at his place while he'd be busy.
I signed up as a runner only a few days before the event, as I really wasn't sure I'd be able to do it. I am now 51 and definitely not as fit as I'd like to be, mostly due to my own laziness.
Each runner gets an A4-size sheet with their number and name to attach to their t-shirt. It contains the RFID chip that reads your time as you pass the start and finish gates.
A bit lop-sided, but who cares!
The Saturday of this year's City Run was warm (some would say hot), but as the 10K race only starts at 8:00 pm, the roads between the city's buildings were not fully exposed to the sun anymore, and the temperature was not unpleasantly hot.

Admittedly, I did feel a bit nervous. Was I going to be alright? Would the 10K prove too much for me, forcing me to give up before reaching the finish? After all, I had not run any distance over 8,5 km in three years, and more often than not, resorted to walking breaks during my twice-weekly runs (which are always at a leisurely pace anyway).

But it turned out to be a good run for me. Of course, as I usually run with only one other person (either O.K. on weekends or my friend on weeknights) or on my own, running with about 5,000 other people on streets that are lined with cheering crowds is a huge difference and also big motivator.

Here are few pictures I nicked from the official website. I am on none of them.

The starting zone has different sections according to how fast you think you'll be; under 40 minutes, under 45, under 50, and so on, in order to avoid clashes right after the start.
Ludwigsburg's townhall is the starting point.
Across the market square, it is still a bit packed, but then the running crowd gets less and less dense, as we all find our individual pace.


The first 5,5 km were easy. The long uphill bit between km 6 and 7 I cautiously (and lazily) walked. The 2 km between 7 and 9 felt exhausting, but I never thought of giving up. The last km was easier again, and the last 500 m made me think "so what" when I came past the sign at the roadside. After the finish, I felt as if I could have run some more, but was nonetheless glad to have made it - and actually proud of myself.

I had to wait a while for the free drink all runners are given and then walked home, had a shower and something to eat. Next year, I hope I'll be able to do it again, maybe with my running buddy (according to her own words) and/or with O.K.

Sometimes it really feels good to challenge oneself a bit - and win that challenge :-)

Friday, 2 August 2019

Sand, Sand, and More Sand!

Like last year (and for a few years before, I think), there was/is a Sand Sculpture Festival in my home town's palace grounds. You can look at last year's pictures here if you like.
On Saturday three weeks ago, O.K. and I went for a walk in the palace grounds without knowing the sculptures were there until we came across them.

The part of the park we enter first is one of my favourites and has often featured on this blog. Here is what it looked like on the 13th of July:



A few more impressions:


Exhibitions in the greenhouse change a few times a year. In July, the topic was water lilies - another repeat, as I have showed you pictures of these beautiful flowers already two years ago in this post


One part of the park is supposed to look a bit as if it were in Tuscany, and I think it's not doing a bad job at that:

An unusual type of decorative cabbage - not meant to be eaten, but rather attractive:


Summer flowers and shrubs around another pond:


And then the sand sculptures! They had only just started to set everything up and create the sculptures, which is why we could look at some work in progress and the tools the artists use. I found this particularly interesting, as I like finding out how things are made and how they work.


This year's topic is Fairytales, namely the most famous ones brought to us by the Grimm brothers. I wonder whether you can guess at them all!
 

Not sure about this one - maybe it isn't meant to represent a specific tale.


Same here - I don't know any tale that matches this sculpture.


Note the artist's equipment still around - he/she wasn't yet finished.

Kneepads are probably rather useful when part of the work requires long kneeling in the sand, such as for the creation of this sponsor's logo:






I was fascinated when I discovered the tiny person in the entrance to the magic castle:
 


Not sure about this one; to be honest, I find the facial expression of the man in that situation a little... odd, to say the least. But the sculpture was as well done as the others, and I liked the idea of the books making up the armchair for the man and the reading girl.


We've had quite a bit of rain since the start of the Sculpture Festival, and I wonder whether they have suffered much. I know they are sprayed with a mix of liquid glue to keep them from eroding too fast, but I doubt they can withstand heavy rain or hail for long. Anyway, we saw them, and now you may guess which was my favourite of the lot!