Wednesday 30 September 2009


How wonderful to have so many tools for recognizing and feeling textures!
Our fingertips, tongues, skin, lips, the soles of our feet - the manifold possibilities can make life an adventure in terms of textures.

Have you, for instance, ever touched a snake? In case you have not, do you wonder what they feel like?

A friend of mine had a pet boa. The animal was still a baby and measured only about half a metre in length. One of its favourite resting places was inside the sleeve of my jumper, when I was visiting my friend.
Since it was still only a little boa, and not heavy, I didn't mind it hiding in my sleeve. The smooth and dry warmth felt actually nice against my skin; it was like having a second, somewhat slimmer and slightly scaly, arm in there.

The other day, I stroke the back of a big fat carp in a pond in the castle grounds of my home town. The carp there are, I suppose, older than I am, and their skin is a bit rubbery, firm and smooth, but a little slimy. Actually, I had expected to feel the scales, but that wasn't so.

Small birds like sparrows and tits have often sat on my hands for feeding, and their tiny claws tickle the sensitive palm and fingers; a good method to practise self-control, because giving in to the tickling sensation means the birds get scared and fly away.

Fabrics like satin, silk and cashmere are, unfortunately, not part of my everyday outfits, but when I do wear something made of such luxurious quality, I truly enjoy the sensuous feeling all day.

Polished wood is something I can hardly keep my hands off, and a chestnut that has just fallen off a tree and is still shiny and newborn is irresistible.

On the rare occasion that I make pizza (believe it or not, my pizza is really good!) or any other dough with yeast, I indulge in feeling the smooth, soft, warm texture of the finished dough, and usually knead it for longer than it actually needs, just because it feels so nice.

Oh, I could go on and on about this - there are so many other wonderful textures that I have not even mentioned yet - but those few who read these excerpts from my mental library know that one of my continuous fears is to be boring, so I better stop


Monday 21 September 2009

Town & Country

Ever since I reduced my weekly working hours from 40 to 35 last year in September, I don't appear at the office on Mondays until sometime around or after lunch.

More often than not, I walk there, and I did so yesterday.

On the fields, there was such a lot going on: the coming and going of heavy agricultural machinery made it feel like rush-hour, the crows were making a racket, and where the maize had already been harvested and some crushed cob was still on the path, flocks of sparrows were fluttering about and chirping in alarm at anything and anyone moving towards their direction.

Not even during July and August, which are supposed to be the busiest months for the owners of wheat and rye fields, have I seen such a buzz of activity.

Many times, I had to leave the narrow field lane and step on the grassy border to let the rattling tractor-pulled machines go past in whirls of dust, and there was more than one situation during which two tractors had to display surprising agility to make sure one could get past the other.

Then, across the railway bridge, it was like entering a ghost town.

For the third and last 20-minute-leg of my walk to work, I saw hardly any cars, and only three other pedestrians shared the pavement with me; a mother with a child, and a man carrying a rucksack.

Quite odd, and so I decided to write about this here.

Friday 18 September 2009

In The Middle Of Nowhere

From the pavement running along the front gardens of a row of neat town houses, I can see a spider, about 3 cm big, seemingly hanging in mid-air.

A single thread is its bridge, leading from one big rhododendron bush to another. Below and above the spider, there is nothing but air.

And it sits there, or, rather, is suspended there, waiting for any uncautious flying insect coming its way.

Does the spider know or feel or sense where it is? Can it somehow measure the distance necessary from one point in its relatively small universe to the next, in order for it to have a chance for a meal? How and when did it decide to fasten its thread right there, between these two shrubs, and not between the next two, or between the platane trees along the pavement?
Isn't it worried about being so clearly visible to birds, who'd surely appreciate a juicy snack with eight legs?

Life without a frontal cortex must be so much easier.

Yes, there is such a thing as thinking too much (Jonah Lehrer makes that point quite understandable even for the likes of me in "How we decide"). Although that happens to me only very rarely.

Friday 11 September 2009

A Mystery - Continued.

We have had some news from my cousin (see to know what I'm on about here).

It is all a bit confusing, and I must admit, when it comes to this part of the family, any information from them has always had to be treated with caution as to what was actually the truth and what was what we were supposed to believe.


So, my uncle's visitor stuck to his word and got in touch with my cousin after his return to the US, and she phoned my uncle.
Apparently, her husband went into hiding (probably taking all their money with him plus taking away all her documents so that she could not leave the country) but has since returned; he lives now at his parents' place in the same town as she and her youngest daughter.

At the moment, because she has not got her documents replaced yet, she can not travel, but she wants to come to Germany for good.

The husband sent my uncle an email, asking him for some official confirmation that my cousin is a German citizen (she was born in Beirut and lived in Germany only for a short time), at the same time urging him not to tell her of his request.
My uncle reacted a) by telling him that no way he was going to give him any kind of confirmation and b) by contacting the three German consulates closest to where the husband lives and asking them not to hand out any documents concerning his daughter to the husband, should he request anything from them.

Now, all we can do is wait; I do hope that my cousin will manage to get away from there, if that is what she really wants.
At least she did get in touch with her father, so we know she is still alive.

Thursday 10 September 2009

An Adventure I Did Not Have... Or Did I? (cont.)

(Please read in order to know what this is about.
Note: This part was written by my "co-author", the same one who wrote a part for my dolphin story.)

After she had a quick bite to eat her curiosity got the better of her and she headed back to the tunnel. Armed with only her LCD keychain flashlight, she crawled over the barricade and cautiously walked down the concrete steps. It turned out that there were a dozen steps in total. When she arrived at the bottom her flashlight came across a metallic box on the wall with a lever on the side of it. She took this to be a power switch and flipped the lever.

She could hear a slight buzzing noise and then some lights overhead illuminated, showing a long tunnel. There were some dark spots which she assumed were due to burnt light bulbs. She was actually quite surprised that there were some that weren’t burnt. With the lights on she could see large arrows painted on the wall pointing inwards to the tunnel. She also saw several large looking cobwebs. She went back outside to grab a stick she had seen lying on the ground. She’d use this to help clear the cobwebs out of her way.

She placed her keychain back in her pocket and decided to see where the tunnel led. She walked roughly 50 meters before the tunnel made a sharp right turn. She was starting to get the smell of something musty. She figured that the air would be stale but it really wasn’t. The further she went in the tunnel the less stale it seemed. She walked another 20 meters before coming across a large steel door that looked more like a door to a vault.

The doorway led into a large room but without all the lights working it was hard for her to see how large it actually was. There were long rows of bunk beds along the walls and a whole bunch of tables and chairs in the middle of the room. There was a sign near the door detailing what to do in the case of a nuclear strike. It was a bomb shelter!

Beneath the sign was a clipboard with some documentation. The shelter was provided by the rail road company, for its passengers. The maximum recommended capacity was 250 people. The documentation also indicated that there was enough food and water for 1 month. There was also a backup generator in case the shelter lost power.

She decided to explore the room further. She ran her finger across the surface of a table and picked up several decades worth of dust. She slapped her hands together to shake off the dust and then wiped the remains on her pants. When she got to the back end of the room she noticed something strange. It appeared that one of the bunk beds had been made and that the covers were in disarray. There also appeared to be several cans and bottles strewn around the base of the bed.

It looked like someone was living in the shelter. Just then she heard a scraping sound from the direction of the door, which was followed by a metallic screeching sound. The vault door had slammed shut. It took her a minute to comprehend what just had happened. “No, no, no, no, no, no, noooooooooo!” She ran to the door and slapped it with her hands; they made a dull thudding sound. “Hey! Wait! There’s someone in here!!!”

After about a minute she realized that the door was too thick for any sounds to get through. She grabbed her cell phone from her purse and cursed. “There’s no signal in here. Oh crap, crap, crap, crap!” She ran around the room looking for another way out. In one corner was a door that led to the supply room and in another corner was a door that led to the washrooms. She tried one of the taps and the water was initially rusty but soon ran clear. At least she’d have drinkable water. She heard the scraping sound coming from behind her. She turned around and let out a high pitched scream.

Monday 7 September 2009

Undivided Attention

Does it happen to you, too?

There is a customer on the phone, and after some minutes of attentively listening to them, your mind starts to wander. Not necessarily far away from work, but maybe you have just noticed several new emails have come in while you are on the phone, and quickly checking what it is they want from you now won't do any harm, will it?

I have noticed this more and more in myself, and I do not particularly like it.

When I get in touch with someone, no matter whether it is face to face or on the phone, I would like to think that I have the other person's undivided attention - at least for as long as it takes me to get my point across, to ask my question or phrase my problem.
So, naturally, someone who talks to me can expect the same from me.

What does it take, then, in order for me to really stick with the conversation until both parties are satisfied with whatever conclusion has been reached, and then move on to the next task at hand?

It seems that my attention span is not longer than the average clip on youtube, which really makes me sound like a very sad person.
I almost feel ashamed these days when, as it happened today, a customer tells me on the phone that he is really happy with my work for him and that I am very good at what I am doing, and that he has also told my boss last time they spoke.
He obviously didn't have a clue that, while we were talking (or, rather, he was talking and I was - sort of! - listening), I was checking and sorting the contents of several email accounts.

Some time ago, I was home in the evening and my sister called. I had already been on the computer when the phone rang, and some minutes into our conversation, I started to reply to a post on one of the forums where I moderate.
She stopped in mid-sentence, then said: "You aren't really typing right now, while I am talking to you, are you?!"
I could tell she was hurt, and rightly so. She - like anyone else who gets in touch with me by phone or in a face-to-face conversation - deserves my undivided attention. And I was not granting her that, and hated myself for it at the same time, apologizing to her and really meaning it.

Guess what - a few weeks later, I did the same thing again. Am I a hopeless case?

It is not that I am not genuinely interested in what other people tell me - I am!
With my customers, I really strive to make them happy (in business terms only, of course), and I like my job.
Face to face conversations can not always guarantee undivided attention. When a colleague is telling me about what she's been doing last weekend, this kind of conversation will instantly be interrupted as soon as work (i.e. a customer) demands we be there for them.

Maybe I need to practise more.
At home, I can take the phone away from the computer and speak without looking at the monitor. At work, this is not so easy, since I usually am required to look things like prices and lead times up for the customer as we speak.
But, with a little self-discipline, it shouldn't be too difficult to give my conversation partners what they desverve:
my undivided attention.

Helpful suggestions are most welcome. Seriously.

Saturday 5 September 2009

About Reading

Of course there has been a time when I did not yet know how to read, but I can't remember it very well.
To re-evoke the feeling of not being able to read is not so hard, though; I simply have to look at anything written in Cyrillic characters, Arabic writing, Chinese signs and so on to remember what it was like before I was five years old and my sister taught me how to read after she had just mastered that art during her first few weeks at school.

The letters that are used in the precious few languages that I do know are very common all over the world, and so I can often "read" something even if I do not understand it.
And although I know exactly that I haven't got a clue about Czech or Hungarian (these two just being examples for the vast majority of languages that I do not know), I am still compelled to read whatever crosses my path.

Whether I am interested or not.

I read, because I know how to.
I read, because something written is there, in front of my eyes.
I read, because the letters do have a meaning and were put there, and in that order, for a reason.
I read, because I can't help it.

The milk carton, the adverts on the train, the cryptic error message on an internet page that does not work properly, the times on a sign that tells you when you are allowed to park at a certain spot in town (I do not even own a car)... all these, and much much more, I read. All the time. There is no stopping it, no un-learning of something as basic as this once I had learnt it.

And so I keep reading.

Tuesday 1 September 2009

An Adventure I Did Not Have

Today, I did not have an adventure, although there was one practically offering itself to me on a silver plate.

On my way home, I loosely follow the rail tracks leading through the small town where I work to the bigger town where I live.
At various points, those rail tracks are crossed by bridges.
One of the narrower bridges was blocked off when I walked past today, and there was a rather big hole in the road in front of it.
Something in the hole caught my eye, and I went back to have a better look.

What I saw were three or four concrete steps, leading from an underground room which had obviously been there all along and was now exposed, into a tunnel just about big enough for an adult to crawl through it, and that tunnel seemed to go right underneath the now blocked-off bridge.
The underground room was empty apart from common building debris, and the steps were clean; the tunnel was a black square with nothing visible in it.

What was the purpose of both the room and the tunnel? Who built it there, and when?
The bridge itself is not very old; it was, if I am not mistaken, erected in the 1950s or 60s, so the room and the tunnel are most likely from the same period.

The road block was only about hip-high, and I could have easily climbed over it and down into the hole to investigate the mysterious tunnel.
As a child, I am quite sure I would have done it.
Now, though, I heard the group of cleaners that had just come out of the big office building I had walked past a few minutes ago, almost right behind me.
And it was late, I had been at work for almost 10 hours and was starving, my stomach constantly reminding me with loud rumbles that I should really go home and get something to eat.

My tummy won.