Tuesday 31 March 2015

What I Watched Sunday Night

Every now and then, I come across a film that impresses me because I find it very funny, very sad, very gripping, disturbing, perfectly styled; I find it impressive because of its actors, its music, its atmosphere – or a combination of several of these elements. Sunday night, I watched one such film: Django Unchained.

If you have not seen it, don’t worry; I am not going to spoil it for you by telling you exactly what happens and how it ends. If you have seen it, maybe you experienced similar emotions as I. The film is set in the US’ Deep South in 1858, where slavery was still widespread at that time. There is some really witty dialogue, but because of the sad and serious background, sometimes your laughter will die in your throat. The story is well plotted, the characters are convincing, and there are so many hints at other movies that I am sure I caught less than a quarter (me not knowing all that many movies of course played a role).

The cast is excellent: Who does not see Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson as very talented actors? 
Admittedly, I don’t think this is Jackson’s best performance; he was great in “Jackie Brown” and brilliant in "Lakeview Terrace". (Click the title if you are interested in my review of it.) As for DiCaprio – well, I had a hearty dislike for him when he rose to stardom with “Titanic”, and have come to appreciate his skill only in recent years, when I (very reluctantly at first) watched films like “Catch Me If You Can” and “Blood Diamond” with RJ, loved the first and was very impressed with the latter. (More about both movies and how my opinion regarding Di Caprio has changed here.) Foxx I’ve only seen once before, in “Ray”, a (really good, in my opinion) film about the life of Ray Charles. And Waltz? He’s one of those faces that used to be very present on German telly when I was a teenager. Even back then, I saw his talent for comedy (although he did not play that many comical characters), but sort of lost track of him, not being all that interested in German telly or movie productions in the first place. For “Django Unchained”, he is perfect, and if I were a member of the team of judges for the Academy Award, I would have voted for him in 2013, too.

Those few Quentin Tarrantino movies I've seen so far I've all enjoyed very much (on different levels), although I must say they are rather... extreme, and certainly not to everyone's taste. Still, "Jackie Brown" is one of my all-time favourites, and the only one I've watched several times, having it on DVD.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Read in 2015 - 12: Life After Life

Have you ever read anything by Kate Atkinson? If yes, you will know that her books are truly unique, both in style and in “build”; her stories follow paths that will surprise and delight you just as often as they will make you sad. My sister, who lent me “Life After Life”, made an interesting comment. While she was reading it, she said, she wasn’t sure whether she actually enjoyed the book or not, but afterwards, she couldn’t stop thinking about it for a long time. 

Well, I know for sure I have enjoyed the three or four books I have so far read by Kate Atkinson over the last 15 years. “Life After Life” was something to look forward to at night before going to sleep, and more often than not, I found myself reading “just one more chapter” when I really should have switched off the light.

The main character is Ursula Todd, and the book narrates her life from her birth in 1910 until 1967. Sounds simple enough, but it isn’t: It is not just the one life of this one person, but the story explores all the different turns her life could have taken – if she or someone else had taken a different decision, had done something else, had gone somewhere else. Each time her life reaches a point where it could have gone either way, both branches are followed up with. One always inevitably leads to Ursula’s death (the first time this happens is at the moment of her birth), the other sees her continue through the Great War, the 1920s and ‘30s, WWII, and so on. Both times, her death or life have consequences for all the other characters that make up the cast of “Life After Life”: her parents, siblings, friends, lovers, colleagues, children… and dogs.

All characters and places have in common that they are described so well you can really see them. Some are more lovable than others, but all matter one way or another in Ursula’s lives (and deaths). Apart from Kate Atkinson’s writing style, which I love very much, she also gives her readers detailed (but never tiringly so) insight into what life was like in the particular time and place Ursula finds herself in for each chapter. 

I not only highly recommend “Life After Life” as a Very Good Read, but I also found the information I found on the author’s website (including a youtube interview) well put together and very interesting. Some of it can also be found in the book itself; there is an "author's note" at the back which is something I would like to read in every good book.

Monday 23 March 2015

Party's Over

The one I threw last night, that is. 
You've seen it all before, if you have been following my blog for a while; I started throwing a cocktail party on my birthday in 2012, and with slight variations have not changed their true & tested recipe. (In case you want to compare, here are the links to the posts; just click on the year: 2012, 2013 and 2014.)

Once again, RJ went booze-shopping with me (it is just so much easier by car). Once again, I set up the bar in the kitchen, the buffet in the Third Room and the extra chairs, streamers etc. in the living room.

The pictures are all from Sunday, while I was getting ready. At 6.00 pm, everything happened at the same time - people arriving, flowers needed putting in vases, cheese platters (a great gift from one of my friends) and other food (more great contributions from my Mum) wanted putting on the buffet, and so on - I had no time (and to be honest, wasn't even thinking of it) to get the camera out to take pictures of the complete buffet and bar.

Last year, I didn't get any flowers, because all my guests knew I was going away the next day and would not be back until a week later. This year, there were flowers again, and lovely presents:

The "Dr. Space" book is, of course, about Wernher von Braun, and I put it on my Amazon wish list. It will be the next book I read, can't wait to start! There is a Cath Kidston bag from one of my sisters-in-law, a bottle of Batida de Coco (from my sister, same as the Dr. Space book), a book about Nidderdale and Ripon (also from my sis, this will come in handy when we'll be in Ripon for nearly 2 weeks in August), a jar of peanut butter (yes, I do consider this a present), "Sense and Sensibilty" both as a book and DVD, vouchers for my hairdresser and a treatment at a salon, a potted yellow orchid and some choccy. 

The last picture of this post is just to show you what I wore. I've had this dress for a long time - wore it for the first time on a weekend away in occasion of our second wedding anniversary when Steve was still alive. Then, I wore it again at the first ball I've ever been to (there is a post about this on my blog), and last night.

Only three more years to go until the Big Five-Oh! I already know where I want to celebrate that :-)

Saturday 21 March 2015


...that wasn't very impressive, was it? I'm on about yesterday's solar eclipse, of course. Serveral of my fellow bloggers have written about it, such as Neil here and Frances here. But unlike them, I felt somewhat disappointed.

As is the custom with nearly everything (just not the really important things, one can't help to notice every now and then) nowadays, quite a hype had been stirred up by "the media". Here in Germany, the big topic on the news was how our power stations and energy providers have been preparing for the day (for the few minutes, actually) months in advance. Anything from a total power loss to next to nothing could have happened, apparently. They said that a lot of power in this country is fed into the grid from solar panels, and if the sun disappears for a while (as it does every evening!) and then returns (as it does every morning!), the grid could be under- and overfed, and maybe not cope with the sudden up and down.

Well, looks like nothing of the kind happened. Am I cynical to believe that this was not so much due to excellent preparation and organization on the part of our energy providers, but really simply because it never went really dark or even dusky? The only perceptive difference in light I could tell was not much different from what happens on any windy day, when clouds pass in front of the sun. The birds were as unimpressed as I, they just kept singing, building their nests and doing all the other stuff birds do all day.
I did take some photos spaced within 10-15 minutes from each other (without looking through the camera - I just held it out of the window; I am not quite as daft as I look), but all they prove is what I have just said: nothing really happened.

My neigbhour was looking out of her window, too; the sunlight on the garden isn't any different than what it was in the hour before and after the eclipse. 

How different was the eclipse of 1999! I remember it well. My colleagues and I went outside and looked and waited. It was surreal, somehow: Not only did it get really darkish (not pitch black dark, but much darker than what a big fat cloud could cause), it also felt decidedly chilly, and - that was the most surreal bit - the world seemed to be completely silent around us for a few minutes. No birds, no cars right there and then on our street, and we didn't speak.

I am sure elsewhere on the planet, this week's eclipse was spectacular to watch. It certainly wasn't so here. (Of course I am glad we didn't have any power outtage.)

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Read in 2015 - 11: Speak Easy

„Speak Easy“ by Barry Gibbons was a truly delightful non-fiction read that I felt myself looking forward to when I knew I was going to have a chance to read a few chapters on my kindle during my trips to and from work.

Like “Healthy Heart”, which I have recently read and reviewed here , it is part of the “Infinite Ideas” series and came to me in the shape of a free download from Amazon’s kindle store.

The topic is public speaking, something many people find scary and avoid as much as possible. For others, it is part of their working life, or they simply enjoy speaking at occasions such as weddings and anniversaries. No matter whether the reader is an experienced speaker, has been given the task to give a full business report to Senior Management for the first time, or has been approached by a friend who wants someone to “just say a few words” at some social gathering or other, they will benefit from the 52 ideas presented in this book.
I found myself grinning more than once, and recognized similar experiences (not as a speaker, but as part of an audience) to the ones described.
Public speaking is not rocket science, but there are some dos and don’ts – and they are not always the same for every occasion, and certainly not for every audience in every country. Therefore, good advice by someone who knows what they’re doing (and has been doing it for a long time), advice that is presented soundly and with humour, can only be useful.

Although I do rarely speak in front of groups (and even rarer are those groups larger than 20), and usually only to introduce someone else, I know I am going to apply those bits that fit my situation.
If Barry Gibbons’ other books are as entertaining as this one, it will certainly be worth looking for them, especially his (as far as I know) latest one, published in 2013: “Pushing Doors Marked Pull”, subheadline “An Unlikely Life in Three Parts” (love the title!). Here is an excerpt of the blurb I found on the “Infinite Ideas” website:

In the first part of the book we meet Barry as a directionless teen in Manchester during the early 1960s. Although the swinging sixties seem to largely bypass him a world is opening up to his generation, and he is not going to miss out. Part two catches up with Barry two decades later [...]. As chairman of Burger King Barry introduces us to the life of a corporate rock-star [...] as well as the fish-out of water trials of a Mancunian in Miami. In the final part of the book, he navigates his way through the trials of cancer [and] begins to ponder what it is that determines his chances of survival. Is it luck, genetics, medical science or something else – does he have his own unique collection of traits that could make the crucial difference?

Monday 16 March 2015

Sure Signs

As soon as I typed this post's headline, I felt that I'd used it before. A quick search on my blog showed me I was right - I did a "Sure Signs" post here, in November 2013. That time, of course the "sure signs" were about Christmas approaching. Now, it's about spring in general, and Easter in particular.

I suppose I am not much different in my eating habits from many other people who go for food a little on the heavier side in the colder season, and long for fresh greens when spring arrives. Here is an example of a typical mid-week TV dinner for me:

Hummus, carrot sticks (sometimes I use other vegetables, depending on what I happen to have) and a leafy mixed salad with tomato and cucumber. I love hummus (as you will know if you have been reading my blog for a while), and this ready-made one is very nice.

Other greens appear in my wardrobe again, now that it is a bit warmer. The sleeves on this top are too short for me to wear it in winter; I often have cold hands and have the habit of pulling jumper sleeves over my hands when I can. Therefore, this top is my choice for the office only when I feel I won't need the comfort and warmth of full-length sleeves.

Yesterday, I decided it is time to get out what little Easter or spring-themed decoration I have. You know I love my clean empty surfaces, but for Christmas and Easter, I allow for a little deco. Here is what I have put up this year:

The best decoration, though, is the one that was to be seen from my kitchen window today:

Blue skies and, clearly visible in the close-up picture, primulas in many different colours! The trees and shrubs are still bare, but it won't be long until the first tender leaves will appear.

Happy spring, everyone!

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Up in the Air

"Up in the Air" is the name of a movie I've written about here, but today's post is not about movies - it is about ME being up in the air!

Of course, I have been aboard passenger planes many times; there are my annual trips to England, there used be regular work trips to Leipzig and Hamburg, and some other holiday flights in between, the longest I ever had being to one to Florida in 1999 (ten hours). But it is not that often - and has an entirely different feel to it - that I get to be on a small plane.
A bit over 10 years ago, I won a sales contest at the company I worked for back then. First prize was a flight from our small local airfield, Pattonville, on a Cessna, seating four. My Dad and Steve went with me, and it was a great experience.

Apart from that one, all flights I've been on were "big" planes, where you sit in a (relatively) comfortable seat and have a tiny window, and your travelling height is too high up to make out much detail on the ground (when you're not above the clouds, anyway).

This Sunday, I had the chance to fly with a friend who has a pilot license. The weather was perfect, and so was my mood - I was excited and happy.

We went to the airfield early enough for me to have a good look round and then sat in the sun next to the take-off and landing strip, waiting for "our" machine to come back from its first flight after having undergone essential repair and maintenance.

Here are some pictures I took while still on the ground:

Pattonville airfield tower and club house:

Inside the tower. It does not serve as a directing/guiding ground control station, but its main purpose is to inform whoever is flying to or from this airfield, and of course logs are kept. Club members take turns in staffing it regularly on weekends.

Inside one of the big halls. Hmm... this one looks as if something's missing!

Oh, there they are (the wings) :-)

Not all of the planes here belong to one of the three clubs sharing the use of the airfield's facilities, some are privately owned.

This one once belonged to Henry Ford, I was told. It sports fine leather seats and posh wooden panels and a steering wheel like you would see in a classic car. Beautiful to look at, but apparently the engine is not in such good condition.

My friend had arranged for us to have use of this ultra-light two-seater:
This picture is not from Pattonville. I took it at Heubach, where we stopped after a first 20-minute hop. That first short flight served two purposes: First, we needed to refill, and second, we wanted to know how I'd be feeling up there, and whether I'd be ready for a longer flight. My friend has been accompanied on his flights several times by passengers who are not pilots themselves, and most of the time, things went well (not counting the occasional urgent need for a bag). But once, a passenger nearly had a panic attack - something nobody had expected beforehand, least of all the passenger. Therefore, it was good to find out how comfortable I'd be before we'd set off on a longer trip.

It turned out to be no problem at all - I did not feel even remotely queasy, or scared. It was just a really wonderful experience, exciting and relaxing at the same time, and I want to do it again - and soon!
My friend is an experienced pilot, a calm and well-grounded (pun intended) character to begin with, and I trust him 100 %. I knew I was in very good hands there and had no reason to feel anything but safe.

Of course, my camera went up with me. This first set of pictures is all from not too far away from home, taken during that first short flight:

Lighting and reflection from the aircraft's window weren't always easy, but I am mostly content with how the pictures turned out. After refueling, we went further south, where to my suprise there was still a lot of snow about:

The Danube valley makes for spectacular views! I have deliberately not straightened out the pictures, so as to give you an impression of the viewing angles we had.

This is Reutlingen, a city not far from Stuttgart, with the Achalm (the mountain) in the middle of the picture. From here onwards, there was no more snow.

We had requested (and received) permission to fly back to Pattonville across Stuttgart; without that, you are not supposed to enter the air space above a large town or city*. This is the regular airport at Stuttgart-Echterdingen:

Stuttgart's centre, with the railway station and many other landmarks clearly visible:

Coming back in towards Pattonville, we flew above the fields where I so often go to walk and run. The garden centre and nursery you see here is the same one I've showed you here - it looks different from this perspective!

I hope you enjoyed the flight - I know I did, and can't wait to go for another (maybe longer) trip!

* Addendum: My pilot friend rang me last night, after he'd been reading my blog. He pointed out that I had misinterpreted what he'd told me during the flight, so here is some additional information, straight from Someone Who Knows: 
1. Places like Heubach are called aerodrome.
2. Places such as the Stuttgart one are called airport because they provide for scheduled flights (which is not the case in Heubach or Pattonville).
3. Flying above a town or city is not regulated the way I thought - you can actually do that without requesting permission. What IS regulated, though (and justly so), is access to the air space near an airport - that air space is called a control zone. It has check points for flying in and out, where an aircraft has to request permission from air traffic control before entering, and check out with them when leaving the control zone, which is what we did.
Thank you, HJ, for clarifying these points!