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 :-)

Thursday, 16 June 2022

Read in 2022 - 15: To Sin By Silence

To Sin By Silence (A DI Ellis Yorkshire Crime Thriller Book 1)
by Oliver Davies

Here was yet another free ebook to entice the reader to buy more of the series, and once again, I guess the strategy has worked with me - I have not yet bought the next book(s) but am most likely going to do so.

A convicted paedophile is murdered shortly after ending his prison sentence. At the same time, a young man, friendly and kind with not a cruel bone in him, is accused of possessing child pornography. Coincidence? DI Ellis does not think so, and soon finds himself investigating both cases.

Things are not made easier by him being newly partnered with someone who seems to actively dislike and distrust him, nor by the fact that he knows the young man through their common hobby. Having to juggle family duties with a somewhat belligerent ex-wife and work does not help, either.

The evidence does not add up - has it been planted? Could a person be in two places at once, and show a completely different personality to various people? Is it a case of Jekyll & Hyde, or have they overlooked something (or someone)?

How the cases develop is rather gripping, and I really found myself looking forward to the next chapter. There was not much in terms of gruesome detail but more in the way of psychologically trying to get to the bottom of things, just the way I prefer it.

Places around Yorkshire, with a National Trust managed ruined abbey, flooding river and farmland, felt familiar, as did some of the characters such as the upright busybody who finds the murder victim at the start of the book.

In the end, I was not at all surprised at the outcome, but somehow the way the murder is described at the beginning through the eyes of the murderer did not completely add up for me with what came to light later. Still, I enjoyed the book and the main characters enough to want to read more.

The author's website is here; you can learn more about his books and even the various detectives he has created, as well as about himself.

Tuesday, 14 June 2022

The Rest of That Week

The day after my return from Berlin was Wednesday, the 1st of June. I only had a few hours working from home in the morning before I set off to Marbach around lunch time for a meeting with my client there. The German Literature Archive is my favourite work place - I love the location, the buildings, and everybody there is exceptionally nice and cooperative.
Usually, I take advantage of my Marbach visits to walk there for a while, but not today. I took the next possible train back to Ludwigsburg, left my heavy bag with the laptop at home and walked right back to the train station where a Covid testing centre is nearby.

Unlike at the beginning of the pandemic, we are now allowed to visit our loved ones in hospital, but everyone (regardless of how many times we've been vaccined and boostered) needs to produce an official negative test - even though I must say I am a lot more thorough when self-testing than the rather sloppy way the staff at those "official" test places go about it. But it is mandatory, and so we comply.
Test done and negative result obtained, I walked to the hospital and spent the rest of the afternoon there with my Mum (who was of course also visiting) and Dad.

With everything that had been going on, my Mum had not yet been to the palace grounds this year, and so we decided to have a little walk there after saying good-bye to Dad. His room at the hospital was on the 8th floor, overlooking the palace grounds, and the view was about the only thing he liked about his stay in hospital. He frequently saw the family of three storks nesting in the grounds fly past his window, and when we were there, he always pointed something or other out to us.

Thursday, the 2nd of June, no hospital visit was possible (long story and a case of organisational hiccup). After work, my Mum and I took a taxi to the small palace by the lake (often seen on my blog). There, an open evening at the winery was being held, called "Wine after Work", open meaning no registration or tickets were needed; one could just walk up, get whatever wine one fancied to try, find a seat and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere in beautiful evening light. We did exactly that, and for the first time in a long time Mum had the chance to be at this particularly beautiful spot, so close to home.

Friday, June 3, was the usual mix of work and household things. At about 4:00 pm, I was on my way to the test centre and then to hospital again. This time, all three of us met at my Dad's bed. My Mum went home on her own, while my sister and I took advantage of the beautiful evening and walked back through town. We decided to stop at the recently opened industrial area at the train station for a quick shandy, a bag of freshly made chips (very nice!) and a good chat.
It was also the day I picked my first handful of cherries from the tree at the side of my house, directly through my kitchen window.
I looked up older posts of mine to find out whether they were ever ripe so early in June; it looks like I always had my first batch of cherries some time in June, but never at the start of the month.

I started my weekend at O.K.'s only on Saturday, but it was still a long weekend with the Monday off (Pentecost). But that will be one of my next posts.