Sunday 30 March 2014

Party Post

Two years ago, I threw my first cocktail party. The event was repeated in 2013, and I did not have to think about what to do for my birthday this year: it was, of course, yet another cocktail party. How easily a good thing becomes tradition!

The 2014 one presented a bit of a challenge, in that I was actually getting ready for three things at once: the party, having a house guest for the weekend, and leaving the day after the party for a week away from home (on a work-related course). But none of it is particularly time-consuming to prepare, and so it wasn't a problem; I just had to make sure everything was ready when it had to be. 

Friends and family helped with the party stuff; my sister made savoury biscuits and dainty little cocktail sandwiches, my parents lent me the large long-stemmed wine glasses that are perfect for Hugo and Aperol Spritz, my Mum made a "Cold Dog", and I was once again able to borrow the vintage 1950s dishes and bowls for all the snacks and things from a friend. RJ went booze shopping with me, since I can't carry more than a few bottles on foot.
The lovely 1950s dishes and party things, courtesy of one of my friends.
Snack away!
If you prefer something sweet, try a piece of "Cold Dog".

The bar was, as before, set up in the kitchen. The living room looked just like it did in the pictures you can find on the 2012 and 2013 posts, with the garlands and candles and chairs. 
The steel bowl was filled with crushed ice just when the first guests arrived. The lime is needed for several drinks, such as Mojito.

19 invitations were sent out; there were 11 of us there in the end. It was a great occasion to be with my friends and family, drink my favourite cocktails, and of course it was also an occasion to dress up - always welcome with me!

Normally, my first choice for a cocktail party outfit would not be a dirndl. But satin practically screams "party!!!", and since my hand-made dirndl has a pink satin skirt, I wore it for the first time since I bought it in December.

Every year, I am amazed at the number of presents and cards I get for my birthday. And once again, everybody knew just what to give me; there were books, chocolate, not just one but TWO necklaces, a season's ticket for the palace grounds, vouchers for the spa near where I live, and much, much more. Since my guests knew that I was going to leave the very next day, they were all sensible and didn't give me any flowers.

In short: I had a great time, and hope the same was true for everybody else who was there! A lot of booze was left over, which means that I will "have to" throw another party soon...

Read in 2014 - 9: Scarhaven Keep

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you'll know that I often read books that I found as free ebooks on Amazon's kindle shop - free mostly because their authors have been dead more than 70 years (which means their works are, if not specifically protected, available to be published for anyone who wishes to do so) and/or the authors are relatively unknown today. Many of the books I have been reading through this rather random way of choosing were published in the 19th century, or very early on in the 20th century. So, the one I am about to review now is comparatively modern:

"Scarhaven Keep" was first published in 1922, at a time when people were already well used to telephones, telegrams, trains and cars, although it was still a long way from phones and cars becoming everyday objects for nearly every household, even the more modest ones.

It is a detective story set in a picturesque fishing village on England's north coast, Scarhaven, with the ruins of an old castle keeping watch over it. There are dangerous cliffs for those who don't know their way around, and even a place called "Devil's Spout" which the natives say is a bottomless hole where nothing that has gone in has ever come out again.

A young playwright arrives for a meeting with a famous actor and producer to talk about a play they want to produce together, only to find that the man has not been seen since the weekend. Everybody agrees that not turning up for an appointment is very uncharacteristic for the famous man, and the young playwright finds himself drawn into the mysterious case of the actor's disappearance very soon. It seems he has nothing better to do, and so he teams up with those who want to find out what happened.

In the course of the story, we come across murder (really?), an impostor, a young lady who is very sensible and another young lady who plays a rather mysterious role, her very unpleasant character of a father, a good-hearted poacher, a ship's captain who has more to him than meets the eye, an invalid curate who turns out to be neither invalid nor a curate, and many more. The cast is fun to look at (mentally, of course - there are no pictures, but you can imagine them all quite well), the places have charm, and everything is logically explained - something I really like in detective stories.
The reader never has to guess at "how did they do that?", but every time something is organized, the characters explain what they are about to do; who is to take which train, where and when they are to be reached by phone, and so on.

I really liked this book. There were some surprises, although the romantic interest was clear from the moment the woman appears in the book for the very first time. But romance is not the main feature of the story; it is all about finding out who did what, and why, and when.

Scarhaven and the other places featuring in the story, such as Norcaster and Northborough, do not really exist. But the way they are described, and the place names themselves being so similar to Scarborough, Doncaster etc., make me think the author had Yorkshire in mind.

Speaking of the author, I found a mini-biography about him here. Should I happen to come across another one of his books for free at the kindle store, I will download it.

A detail I found interesting: The sentence "mum's the word" appears in this book, just as "mug" used to mean someone's face. I didn't know these expressions had already been around in the 1920s.

Saturday 22 March 2014

Here's to Me!

On Thursday, I had a day off and did all those things you hardly find time for during a normal working week, such as paying a badly needed visit to the hairdresser's, and attending a fashion show at one of the largest and best established fashion stores in my town. 
It was the most beautiful and warmest day so far this year, with temperatures reaching 22 Celsius in the afternoon. The view from my kitchen window was this:

My Mum and I love going to those shows (twice a year); they give you sparkling wine and snacks, and of course watching the show itself is fun. It is rare for me to find anything I want among the outfits presented (I am not quite part of their target group - that will be the case in another 10-20 years), but we usually stay after the show and have a look round on the entire floor. I nearly always find something for myself then, and this time was no exception.

Here is the dress I bought:

And what it looks like on the fashion label's website:

Tonight, I'll be having another one of my beloved cocktail parties. Tomorrow, I'll be off to Ulm, a town a 1 1/2 hour train ride away. I'll stay there all of next week and will only come back next Saturday evening. This is the start of my course at the Academie for Data Protection and Information Security. I won't be able to visit blogland from there, so it's good-bye for a week. Be good!

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Read in 2014 - 8: This Freedom

What would you expect a book by the title "This Freedom" to be about?
Of course, "Twelve Years", the true story of an Afroamerican man kidnapped and sold into slavery and turned into a multiple-award winning movie, is quite present in many a mind. But "This Freedom" is not about slavery in its commonly understood sense. It is a book that, when it was first published in 1922, was heavily criticized by defenders of women's rights. It tells the story of a woman who wants, above anything, freedom - freedom to live her life the way she sees fit, which is not quite the way women were supposed to be living around the turn of the century and the time of WWI.

Rosalie grows up as the youngest in a country reverend's family, a family that is rich only in children. From her earliest conscious memories she knows one thing for sure: The world belongs to men, and women have but one task, to be there for their men. Men and boys can go where and when they want, with whoever they please, while women and girls are expected to be always at home, ready and willing to do the men's bidding.
Like her sisters, Rosalie is largely educated at home by her mother, but a combination of unexpected occurrances (some very sad and tragic, others positive for at least two members of the family) leads to her being installed in London at a girls' boarding school. Weekends are spent with a rich aunt, who, in a generously good-hearted, boasting way never fails to make Rosalie feel the poor relation she is.

Rosalie loves to learn, and the older she gets, the more obvious her exceptionally bright, logical mind becomes. She also loves about the school that it is an almost men-free world - here, it is the women who determine what is done when, and how. When she comes across a book about economics and banking, this book ("Lombard Street") becomes her "bible"; it shows her what she wants to do in life. Marriage and raising her own family never enters her mind.

Love does not ask whether it fits into someone's plans or not, and so it happens that Rosalie falls in love with the most unlikely candidate. (I must admit it was not much of a surprise to me, as it won't be to many a reader; too often have we already seen this trick of the authors' trade: boy meets girl, girl detests boy, girl falls madly in love with boy.)
By that time, Rosalie has already carved out a niche for herself in the business world. She is successful, she earns her own money, she loves her work, and is highly esteemed by her employer and his clients. Marriage will not change that, she is sure, and neither will having children. With her husband, she has what looks like the ideal marriage: both partners have equal rights, both thrive in their work, both love each other and their children very much, and the household is well organized, running smoothly from morning to night.

Things begin to change, gradually at first, but then in leaps and bounds. Decisions have to be taken. Decisions are taken, but they do not yield the expected results. Helplessly, Rosalie and her husband watch their family, which they had always perceived to be an extraordinarily happy one, disintegrate. Blow after blow they receive, until it seems they can't take any more. The book ends on a hopeful note, but many sad and dramatic events line the last of its four parts ("House of Men", "House of Women", "House of Children" and "House of Cards").

I was happy for Rosalie when she made her dream of a self-determined life come true. Her enthusiasm is described so well, it is infectuous. The sadness that follows is infectuous, too, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for her and her family. 

The criticism the book received originally is justified, if the story is taken at face value. But there is more to it than that, I think. To me, the author does not suggest Rosalie did wrong in putting her work first. He rather shows how difficult it is to balance family and work, and that is true for both women and men. It can work out, and probably does in many families (made easier nowadays in some ways, more difficult in others). But it can also go horribly wrong. 
On the other hand, the family life at Rosalie's childhood home can hardly be described as happy, although her mother was always at home; Rosalie's home life with her husband and the children, while they were young, sounds happy. The things that her children do and that happen to them as they grow up could have happened just the same if Rosalie had always been a stay-at-home mum.

A book I can recommend; I'll probably go and look for more by the same author on the kindle shop.

Speaking of the author, Arthur Stuart-Menteth Hutchinson (often just given as A.S.M. Hutchinson) was yet another one of those immensely successful authors in their day whom I had never heard about before. Hutchinson lived from 1879 to 1971 and, while Wikipedia lists less than 20 novels and a few short stories as his works, some of his books were bestsellers. According to the New York Times, one of his novels ("If Winter Comes") was the best-selling book in the US in 1922. What I find quite touching is that he was so thrilled after the birth of his son that he wrote a book about it. Were he alive today, he probably would have blogged about it :-)

Saturday 8 March 2014

Another Walk, and: Who Was Dolly Dick?

With daylight lasting considerably longer now than it did only a few weeks ago, I have started to walk home again whenever I have enough time and the weather is right. This week, this was the case twice; I walked home (not directly from work, but getting off the train in the small town next to my hometown, one stop before I'd have to) the 5 km or so both on Tuesday and yesterday.

On Tuesday, it was nearly 6.00 pm by the time I reached this crossing on the fields, and the light had the particular mellowness I like so much about that time of the day. I had this beautiful sunset to my left for a while until I decided to take a picture of it (with my mobile phone, which really doesn't have a good camera).
Yesterday, I left work a lot earlier (at 4.00), and there were many other people out and about, so I did not take any pictures.

We're in for a beautiful weekend with plenty of sun and temperatures are expected to reach 20 Celsius! What a difference to this time last year, when I still had to wear my padded winter coat, scarves and gloves in April.

Unfortunately, though, I'll have to be careful about weekend activities. On Wednesday, I woke up with a sore throat, and it has become worse over the last two days; can hardly speak now (which maybe isn't too bad for some, he he) but generally feel alright, not ill as such. 

Were you wondering about the headline of today's post? Let me get to that now.
On this recent post I showed you pictures from the Old Cemetery. One picture I did not show you was this one:

A large family grave (when do you actually say "grave" and when do you say "tomb"? I honestly don't know the difference), such as a wealthy family would have back in the days when this cemetery was not yet the "old" one, but the only one of Ludwigsburg.

What intrigued us at first when we walked up to this grave was the small, simple stone cross, just visible behind the rusty iron fence in the left corner of the plot. Why was this one seperate from the others? It certainly wasn't for lack of space on the large stone tablets against the wall, because on there, a name was added as late as 2001, when actually the cemetery had long ceased to be used officially, and the stone cross was much older than that. Who had been close enough to the family to be buried on their plot, but not close enough to have their name added to the headstone?

My imagination was captured in particular, though, when I saw one person's name and dates:

Look at the middle panel, where it reads (in the lower half of the panel):
"Dolly Höring geb. Dick" (meaning Dolly Höring, née Dick), followed by
"geb. in London, 23. Juni 1873" and "gest. 23. Febr. 1933 Schlachtensee".

Now, who was Dolly Dick? How did a lady from London end up marrying into a family of doctors in Ludwigsburg? Which one of the men named on the headstone had been her husband?

Three cheers for google! I managed to find out a few things about "Dolly". First of all, Dolly was her nickname - unusual for that to appear on a tombstone, isn't it? Her full name was Kate Anna Dick. Her father was one Charlos (I imagine this to be a transcription error; isn't it much more likely that the name was Charles, not Charlos?) James Adolph Dick, a London merchant who had married a German woman, too: Anna Scriba from Darmstadt.
Kate ("Dolly") had four siblings. In 1899, when she was 26, she married Otto Höring from Ludwigsburg. The wedding was in Frankfurt. Otto was 33 and, unlike most of his male relatives, who were doctors, worked as "Regierungsbaumeister". Today, I suppose that would be a Civil Engineer. 
A typical bridal couple of around this time would have looked like this:

(These pictures are not mine. I nicked them from various places on the web.) Possibly, Dolly had a hairstyle like this around that time:

And maybe one of her day dresses looked like this:

Anyway, it is entirely left to my imagination as to how she met Otto, and what her life with him was like. Her father died 4 years after the wedding, her mother died in 1913 in Oslo (then called Christiania), Norway - another intriguing change of scene. The person underneath Dolly's name on the tomb, Adolf Höring, was probably her son, born seven years after she married Otto.

Dolly was only 60 when she died. By then, in 1933, people dressed and lived differently from when she left her parents' home in London to live in a foreign country with her new husband. It was the beginning of a new era for Germany, one that would lead to terrible atrocities commited by many of my countrymen and -women, the extents of which are still very much in our minds today. 

She did not live long enough to know about any of this. Her husband died in the last year of WWII, by then back in his hometown. Whether Dolly ever lived in Ludwigsburg at all, or was merely buried here because it was her husband's hometown, I don't know.

Thursday 6 March 2014

Read in 2014 - 7: Dora Deane

Another free ebook from the Kindle shop, "Dora Deane" was not always quite what I had expected.

This novel was first published in 1859, written by Mary Jane Holmes whose short biography you can read here. Isn't it funny how all of these authors I've never heard about before are said to have been bestselling in their days? Without the kindle shop and its many free editions of old books, I'd never have known about most of the writers I have been mentioning here on my blog.

Dora Deane, orphaned at the age of twelve, is grudgingly taken in by her aunt; on the surface, as a family member, but reality soon shows that she makes a very convenient servant, especially for her cousin Eugenia, who has high ambitions.
These ambitions lead Eugenia to plot and deceive, all in view of the coveted prize: To one day be Lady of the Manor at Rose Hill, the Big House in the small town where the Deanes live in comparative poverty.
Dora does not suspect anything until years later, and without complaint does all the menial tasks set on her, although she'd much rather go to school, having developed a fondness for books and learning.

How the owners of Rose Hill get to meet Dora, resulting in an improbable friendship and, eventually, her finding love and happiness, is told over the course of several years. Everyone gets their reward in the end - there is some moralising in this book, but it is more out of a deep sense of justice than the overly pious attitude of Charlotte M. Yonge, making for a read not unpleasant, and not without its moments of tension (especially when Eugenia is about to find out that she has been found out).

Places and people are described clearly enough for a good mental picture without dwelling too much on every little detail of ladies' hairstyles and attire. Several times, I had been expecting something else to happen, but the overall outcome was not surprising.

Neither particularly recommending this book nor advising against it, I found this a relatively pleasant read, not overly challenging - and not too long :-)

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Read in 2014 - 6: The Tennis Party

When I went visiting my Yorkshire family last summer, my mother-in-law gave me a pile of books she had enjoyed reading to take home with me. Because I was in no hurry to read them all, I have only now finished reading the next-to-last one of the pile:

"The Tennis Party" by Sophie Kinsella, writing as Madeleine Wickham (her real name).

I have read several of her books before, and I know I am repeating myself here, but it never fails to astonish me how much the characters in these books drink. Of course, my previous Kinsella-read (Cocktails For Three, reviewed here) had drinks in the title and therefore was no surprise in this respect. But in so many books of this genre (I suppose it is "Chick Lit"), the ladies (and sometimes the gentlemen, too) drink, and drink, and drink. They don't just have a nice glass of wine to accompany a good meal, or the occasional glass of champagne to celebrate some special occasion or other. They drink like buckets, and seem to be quite proud of it. Now, don't get me wrong - I am certainly no teetotaler; after all, I throw a cocktail party for my birthday every year, and hardly ever say no when offered a glass of champagne at someone's birthday. But to drink for the sake of drinking, and that being the only way to make a gathering worth attending, is absolutely not my style. I can have immense fun (and be very, very silly) on nothing but tap water, if I am in the right mood and good company. I also don't want to get into preaching mode here (I leave that to YP, who is a lot better at using ecclesiastical sounding language than I). But I can't help finding this amount of drinking puzzling, no matter how often I read of it.

Enough of that, now to the story:
Several couples are invited to spend a weekend in the country at the mansion of rich self-made man Patrick, his wife Caroline and their horse-loving daughter. The reason given is to play a tennis tournament among the party guests, who are Stephen and Annie (their neighbours back in the days before Patrick and Cressida became rich), Charles (who used to be just as averagely poor as the others before his marriage) and his aristocratic wife Cressida, plus new rich neighbours Don and Valerie. Stephen and Annie and Charles and Cressida also bring their children, and it looks like everyone is set to enjoy a great weekend with plenty of sunshine, barbecues and - of course - drinks.

Rather soon, though, the true intention for inviting them begins to emerge, and a surprise guest turns up - very welcome to some, most unwelcome to other members of the party. 

Temptations of various kinds are thrown at Stephen and Charles, while Annie and Caroline are determined not to let anything come between them to ruin their long standing friendship. Cressida and Charles have troubles of their own to sort out, and the children are not just there to make up numbers, either.

How new and old friendships, as well as love, prevail in the end, is interesting enough to read and not quite as predictable as this type of story sometimes is. So, if you don't mind to read about a lot of drinking (and I mean a LOT), you can enjoy the well-depicted atmosphere of a sunny weekend in the country, where not everything (or everyone) is as it appears on the surface.

Saturday 1 March 2014

March Already!

Am I the only one to feel as if we've only just been celebrating New Year's Eve? And look - it is already March! Of course, looking back at everything I did over the past two months and at all the things that have been happening around me and on a larger scale, the two months become entirely credible.

Let me start this month with a random collection of pictures I took during January and February; pictures that (in my opinion) do not merit their own post but which I did not want to delete without sharing them, either.

In January, we often had rather mixed weather. It was the mildest January I can remember. One afternoon, sleety rain was falling straight out of the sun - or so it seemed:

It lasted mere minutes, and afterwards, the light was exceptionally brilliant, as you can see from my kitchen window. Everything appeared to have sharper contours than usual.

Of course I was hoping for a rainbow - and there was one, but it was too pale to show up properly in a picture.

An outfit I favoured during that month (not for work, only for play) was my dear old Fuchsia dress:

(Yes, that's right, I have Hello Kitty bed sheets. They were a gift from my sister, if I remember correctly.)

February saw some beautiful sunrises. I must confess I rarely get to see a sunrise in summer, because I sleep until 7.00 on an average working day, but winter is a different story. 

Some February mornings, my kitchen was sunlit when I came in to have my morning coffee. Seeing this made for an even better start of the day!

A favourite business outfit during this month was my black knit dress. You can't see it in the picture, but it has a small knitted collar with black shiny "jet pearls" (of course they are fake) sewn on to it. At the office, I wear a tailored jacket over it; I'd soon get too chilly with short sleeves at this time of the year.
There is a lot lined up for me this month; for one thing, it'll be my birthday towards the end of the month, and the day after, I'll be travelling to Ulm (about 120 km from Ludwigsburg), to start the course for my certificate for Data Protection Officer. I've been working in this field for over a year now without a certificate, but since Germany is quite obsessed with official documents and regulations for each and every little thing, it will be better for our business when not only RJ has the official stamp on his job.

I have no idea how I am going to fare at the course - three times a full week, with each day being an entire day of lessons - after I have not been in a proper learning environment since my last day at Librarian School in 1988. Learning does not become easier with age, but I have two advantages: first, I really want to learn all the theory that is behind my actual work, and second, RJ has kindly lent me the study material he used when he took the same course some years ago, so that I won't arrive totally unprepared.