Sunday 31 July 2016

Read in 2016 - 24: Sandlands

This morning, I finished reading "Sandlands" - but wished it would have gone on! Rosy Thornton's short stories managed to make me want to read more, lots more, about nearly each and every character I encountered.

First of all, the language/style of writing: So very good! Proper, good, often elegant English, without ever being so high-brow as to be wearisome or hard to understand. Especially after my previous read, this book brought home the difference between someone who thinks they can write and someone who truly is a good writer.

If the stories were paintings, I would say the author managed to depict each character accurately with a few brush strokes. I could picture them all, even hear their voices - something that sometimes does not even happen to me for the main cast of a full-length novel.
Their actions, thoughts and background stories were credible and realistic. Even the mysterious bits were plausible - one could read "more" into those bits, if so inclined, but also simply find natural explanations for everything.

Had I to choose a favourite out of this collection of short stories (all set in or near the same village), I wouldn't know which one. They all "need" each other, I think, to give a complete picture, even though each story can very well stand alone.
Should the author ever decide to create a novel (or even a series of books) about the village, its inhabitants past and present, visitors and legends, I would make sure to get my own copy as soon as it became available.

Thank you, Rosy - reading "Sandlands" was 99 % pleasure, and 1 % disappointment, when each story ended far too soon for my liking!

You can find out more about Rosy and her books at

- - -

About three weeks ago, completely out of the blue, Rosy Thornton approached me by email, asking whether I'd be interested in reading and reviewing her latest book. I must admit I had not heard of her before, but the few times so far that I have been similarly contacted by authors have all resulted in rewarding reading experiences and an interesting correspondence with kind and generous people - the authors themselves - who have all then commented on my reviews.

The contents of my reviews are not influenced by how I came about a certain book, or whether I "know" the author or not. If I am not happy about a book or a specific aspect of it, I will say so. 
Anyone who asks me to read and review their work will get my honest opinion - nothing more, nothing less.
I utterly respect anyone who has the inspiration (and the necessary stamina to follow it up!) to write a book. My literary endeavours stop at the end of each blog post.

Thursday 28 July 2016

A First: "Live" Blogging!

For the first time since I started this blog, I am blogging not from home but (more or less) "live" from the place I'm at right now: Ripon, Yorkshire, England.

This is possible thanks to O.K. who has kindly lent me his MacBook. It does not only mean that we can stay in touch easier (and not depend on text messages which can run up a substantial mobile phone bill from one country to the other), it also allows me to keep up with your blogs, look up timetables for buses and trains or opening times of places of interest, and of course I can blog, too.

I won't do much of the latter, as I do not have the equipment here to transfer pictures from my camera to the MacBook, but every now and then my sister takes a photo with her mobile phone, and I am allowed to use these.

The account of our journey from Ludwigsburg to Ripon is long... as was the journey! So brace yourself for more detail than you probably care to know, or simply skip the next few paragraphs.

We set off at around 1:20 pm from home and arrived at the cottage in Ripon around 9:00 pm. Add one hour for the different time zone, and the trip took nearly 9 hours. Only a small portion of that was spent in the air; the flight from Stuttgart to Manchester takes well under 2 hours.
But we had to take two different trains from Ludwigsburg to the airport. Our flight was delayed; it had not yet arrived from Manchester at the time it was actually supposed to be already in the air again with us on board.
While we were being processed for boarding, we saw the plane landing and people getting off. Then it was our turn. The 40 minute delay was cut short to 25 minutes thanks to favourable winds.

In Manchester, waiting for our luggage took some time, too. We then made our way to the train station as quickly as possible, but it was a rather long walk all across the airport. One train took us into Manchester itself. The next train - the Transpennine Express to Leeds - was already at the platform, and left exactly at the time it was supposed to leave.

In Leeds, it was the same story - our connecting (local) train to Harrogate was already there. It left even 3 seconds before its scheduled departure! In Harrogate, we walked out of the train station and over to the bus station, when the bus to Ripon was just pulling up. So, apart from the plane's delay, everything went really smoothly. We were so lucky!

The only "problem" about never having any waiting time between one leg of the journey and the next was that we did not have a chance to buy anything to eat or drink. Lunch had been little and early, and there had been nothing to eat or drink on the plane (flying with a cheap airline means they expect you to fork out an inordinate amount of money even for a small bottle of water). The plan had been to get sandwiches and drinks at some stage while waiting - but we never had to wait!
On the Transpennine Express, a friendly man with a trolley sold us a bottle of water, tea and a packet of crisps. That was all we had until we arrived at the cottage, where a most welcome surprise was waiting for us:

My sister-in-law had kindly left a bag for us, with bread, milk, orange juice, cheese, butter, eggs, jam, tea, coffee, biscuits and even a bottle of white wine! How kind and thoughtful that was!
Slices of bread with butter and cheese have never been so tasty :-)
You won't be surprised to hear that we slept like logs.

The next day, Wednesday (yesterday), was beautiful - warm, sunny, blue skies. We spent all afternoon in our garden, with my sister-in-law and my niece joining us for tea and cakes, and catching up with each other. It was a wonderful day, the first of our two weeks here in Ripon at "our" Matchbox Cottage.

(The pictures are from around lunch time, not in the garden but taken right in front of the house. The cat is our new little friend; we think she belongs to our landlord's daughter and have not yet had occasion to ask her name.)

Monday 25 July 2016

Leaving Tomorrow

...for my annual Yorkshire Holiday, I did not want to go before showing off my newest two dresses (there has not been a "Fashion Post" from me in a while, has there!). I bought them in Ulm, the town that, apart from Ludwigsburg and Ripon, features regularly on my blog as a place where I go to brush up on the skills and knowledge needed for my work as a Privacy/Data Protection Officer.

The last time I was in Ulm, I had a bit of a gap in my schedule until my train was due. So I did what I do best - went sightseeing (back to the Minster, which is always worth a visit, no matter how often I've already been inside and have climbed the spire) and shopping :-)
I found these two dresses; they were on the "reduced" items rack because late summer/early autumn collections were already in the shops and these were still from the spring/summer collection.
The price I paid for both of them combined was less than what one of them would have originally been.
One is (obviously) meant for work, the other for going out.

For the second dress, I have found pictures on the shop's website. The detail picture shows the rather unusual material quite well:

My sister and I will have a long day of travelling tomorrow: First, two different local trains from Ludwigsburg to Stuttgart Airport. Then, you know what it's like - you hand over your luggage and do all the other stuff to check in and go through security, and then you wait... and wait... and wait. Hopefully not too long! 

The plane will take us to Manchester, and there we'll board the Transpennine Express to Leeds. From there, it's a local train to Harrogate, where we'll get a bus to Ripon. From the bus station behind the market square, it's another 10 minutes or so walking (with all our luggage, of course) to the wonderful Matchbox Cottage we have rented for the third time - this year for a full fortnight!

We are very much looking forward to our holiday, meeting the family and friends, going on walks and hikes, revisiting favourite places and finding new ones, cooking and eating nice meals together, sleeping as long as we want in the mornings (it is never very long, but it's nice knowing we don't have to be at a certain place at a certain time), and sometimes simply doing NOTHING.

O.K. spent the weekend here with me, and he very, very kindly and generously lent me his MacBook for the holiday. We have WiFi at the cottage, so I should be able to keep in touch with him easily by email, but of course it also means I'll be able to read your blogs and leave comments, although I probably won't be posting on my blog while I'm away.

Friday 22 July 2016

Read in 2016 - 23: Happy Hour

"Happy Hour" tells the stories of four very different women who are close friends, meeting regularly for - you guessed it - a happy hour of sharing meals, wines and catching up with each other.

Alyssa, Danielle, Jamie and Kat are all in different life situations. One is widowed, two are divorced, one of them has remarried and another one never tied the knot but broke off her engagement for a mysterious reason that is revealed as the story unfolds.

Their respective children, former and current partners, ageing parents and in-laws and sometimes people at work make sure there is not a minute of boredom in the women's lives.

The book covers only a few months (with a glimpse into the characters' past every now and then), but a lot happens in those few months. New jobs, new places to live, life-threatening illness, the birth of a first grandchild, teenagers moving out, works of art created and new hobbies found along with new love - it's all in the story, and told in a credible manner. Sometimes entertaining, sometimes touching; for me, it was not always easy to relate to the four women, as my life couldn't be more different from theirs.

I did enjoy the fast-paced storytelling and the change of perspective, the chapters alternating between the four friends, the end of a chapter often leaving the reader with a mini cliffhanger.

The language is not particularly elegant, just average contemporary fiction level, nothing highbrow (not that I expected or wanted that anyway). When the characters get angry, the f-word is sometimes used, but thankfully, there is no overuse of vulgarities.

Everything ties up nicely at the end of the book. There is an epilogue (I do like epilogues!), and even an interview with the author, which I found really interesting.

This book was free from Amazon's kindle store. I am probably not actively going to look for books by Michele Scott, but wouldn't mind reading more from her if I happened to come across another freebie.
You can find out a lot more about the author and her books here on her website, where she also has a blog.

Thursday 21 July 2016

Containers Galore!

Last week, I went on a guided tour with a group of people I regularly organize outings for. We're all members of XING, a "social media" platform aimed at business people (comparable to LinkedIn), and I manage the Ludwigsburg group with 1.200 members. Most of these members never turn up and never say a word in our forum, but there is a nice core group of about 20 who meet more or less regularly to visit places of interest, have guided tours, listen to talks or just have a meal and some drinks together, plus a wider circle of every-now-and-thens of maybe 50.

The meeting last week took us to the freight container station situated next to Kornwestheim, the small town close to Ludwigsburg where I often get off the train to walk the rest of my way home from work.

Kornwestheim itself is small with less than 35.000 inhabitants (compared to Ludwigsburg's 90.000). All the more surprising is the fact that the freight container terminal is one of the - maybe even THE - largest one in Germany. Some facts about the terminal can be found here in English.

I had not brought my camera with me; for one thing, I had come directly from work and did not want to have my camera with me all day. Also, I trusted someone would take pictures anyway, and share them with me. And I was right :-) One of the group members took the pictures you can see here, except for the first one - that one I nicked from the official website.

We had a very interesting tour of about 1,5 hours, walking up and down the (considerable) length of the place. Our guide was the kind you want for such a tour: Enthusiastic and knowledgeable about his work, not boring you with endless facts, but answering all sorts of questions coming from the group. 

Would you like the little glass cabin to the left to be your place of work for 8 hours every day? (There is no toilet up there. I've asked!)

The atmosphere of the place was fascinating. This was a busy work place for many people; the drivers delivering or picking up containers with their huge heavy lorries would spend anything from 15 minutes to two hours on the premises. The people running the place would be either out and about, manning the cranes and other devices, or at their desks, sorting out the paper work (there is still a surprising amount of papers to fill in, digital age or not).

And yet with all the business going on all the time (24/7 really), it did not feel hectic. The containers, lorries, trains and machinery involved are so big and heavy, nothing here happens at high speed. You can not swing tons of goods around high above the ground and do it fast! Instead, everything is happening at a steady, efficient pace.

We were all glad for having been allowed a glimpse into a world none of us was familiar with. 

Wednesday 20 July 2016

Read in 2016 - 22: Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery

"Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery" by Jenny Colgan is actually the 2nd book about the principal characters of the story, but I have not read the 1st one and it can very well stand alone.

Polly, her boyfriend and their tame puffin have recently moved into the lighthouse on a tidal island off Cornwall. It is a most unusual - and certainly not very comfortable - dwelling with each small circular room on its own floor and many, many stairs to run up and down every day.

At the bottom of the lighthouse, next to the fishing harbour, is Polly's bakery. Strictly speaking, it is not hers, but belongs to an elderly lady. Polly runs the bakery successfully and has made many friends among the locals. When the elderly lady dies, her daughter and grandson, both neither living on nor fond of the island, inherit the property.

Difficulties ensue, and soon Polly sees her whole world falling apart: Her boyfriend has to go back to the US to step in for his brother on the family farm, she is thrown out of the bakery and needs to find another means to earn a living (and pay the mortgage on the lighthouse), and to top it all off, her pet puffin has to go to the wildlife station for re-habitation in the wild where it belongs.

A cast of more or less credible (and some rather stereotype) characters make sure the book is not boring. Some twists and turns are foreseeable, others less so. It all culminates in a night so stormy and dangerous nobody on the island can remember anything like it. As Polly faces real life-threatening danger, all her other problems seem less significant. When the sun shines again, it does so in a metaphorical way, too.

I must admit I was not overly fond of Polly or any of the other characters, nor did the puffin's cuteness melt my heart. But I put that down less to the author's writing than to my mindset these days. Maybe I simply wasn't in the mood for something you could call typical chick-lit.
The book is certainly pleasant and easy reading; if you allow it, it can even become something of a page-turner at times. But the allover impression it left on my mind was simply not deep enough, I'm afraid.

It wasn't my first Jenny Colgan read and possibly won't be my last, but I am not actively looking for more of her books; it's my mother-in-law who sent this to me, probably having several more piled up for me when I arrive in Yorkshire next week :-)

Tuesday 19 July 2016

Nine Minutes

That (nine minutes) is about the time I have left before I am going to leave for work today. I have done some work here at the home office already but will spend the largest chunk of the day at our custmomer's, where RJ, our colleague and I share a small office. Except for in the server rooms down in the basement, there is no air conditioning in the building, and therefore we're in for a rather warm eight hours or so - it's forecast to be at nearly 30 Celsius here today.
I love it, because that is what summer is supposed to be, and it's not humid, just beautiful and sunny.

Anyway, here are a handful more summery pictures I wanted to show you before I go:

The view from my kitchen window these days; zoomed in and "as is":

O.K. brought these beautiful flowers for me the weekend before last (the day we ran the City Run):

My living room yesterday, with the flowers from O.K. and more flowers (on the sideboard) from my dear neighbour, the elderly lady whose garden you know so well through the views from my kitchen window:

Most of these 9 minutes were taken up by uploading the pictures. I have to go now, or I'll have to wait 20 minutes for the next train.

(Note how I have managed to avoid all talk of the horrible news we are flooded with day after day right now!)

Friday 15 July 2016

Read in 2016 - 21: Penny for the Guy Mr. Olivier

What a strange title: "Penny for the Guy Mr. Olivier"! I had no idea what to make of this, but the sub-headline "A coming-of-age novel" caught my interest.

Mike Hogan puts the reader into the shoes of Mikey Cleary, a 12-year-old boy living in London. The year is 1963, many of the working-class community being originally Irish, with a sprinkle of Pakistani and other families in between.

Streetwise Mikey has learned that everything in life can be handled by bending the rules, sometimes breaking them, and by outsmarting "the system" -  those in power and authority - be it his teachers or members of the police force.

We follow him through various endeavours and adventures while he pursues his main goal: Getting enough money so that he can buy a bike. Sometimes he gets a bit sidetracked by making friends in high places (Laurence Olivier and Peter O'Toole, for instance; hence the book's title), trying to find out why his Dad never talks about the War, breaking and entering on behalf of the priests of his local church, working paper rounds and at other jobs, skipping school, saving the life of an elderly neighbour and worrying about his sexuality because woman's breasts leave him cold.

The thread linking all this events happening in the space of a few months is the Old Vic, a theatre in London where Mikey happens to rub shoulders with many a famous person from the world of drama.

A production of "Hamlet" is in the making, and everything comes together at the dress rehearsal for friends and families before the opening night.

For a time, I wasn't too happy about the way Mikey and nearly everybody else in the book approach life. But after a while, I began to understand, and to care. I really liked the way the author brings it all together at the end, and the message for Mikey (= for the reader): " was the bloody beauty of it that sent us all wild; the bloody, shining, shivering beauty of it. It was the love and pity of it. And the hate and the forgiveness, and the humanity, that was it. And that's what it was about [...]. Nothing else."

A lot of the language is Irish and/or Cockney slang. I didn't have trouble understanding the words in context, but for some, the glossary at the end of the book could come in useful. Interestingly enough, many of the terms I'd heard from Steve, whose Yorkshire family are of Irish descent.

I had not heard of the author before and went to check his website, where I found that the book has been renamed to "Hamlet & Me" and received a different cover.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

More Summer!

Only two posts ago, I mentioned that O.K. and I were going to participate in Ludwigsburg's City Run. And we did! Last Saturday saw us ready to start at 8:00 pm, along with about 2.500 other runners and I don't know how many thousands of people lining the streets. It was still sunny, but not too hot (27 or 28 C), and while O.K. did really well, I became a little tired after the first 5 km and came in nearly 7 minutes later than he. It was entirely my own fault, though; the night before, I had been out dancing with my girlfriends, came home at 2:00 am, and got up after maybe 5 hours of sleep. All things considered, though, I am content with my result; I wanted to run the 10 k in under an hour and managed that at 58:50 :-)

The next day was the most perfect Summer Sunday you can imagine - blue sky, 32 Celsius, no mugginess in the air at all, just beautiful!

There was no way we were going to stay indoors on a day like this, and so we set out for a nice long walk (much of it under the welcome shade of trees) after breakfast.

The lake I've showed you a few times before on my blog was where we were headed. We rented a rowing boat, and I spent a very pleasant (and rather romantic!) half hour leaning back in my comfortable seat while O.K. was doing all the work.

There were surprisingly few other people about; they probably found it too hot to do much walking and rowing etc., and preferred their own gardens or the public swimming pools in and around Ludwigsburg.

We walked around the lake after the boat and said hello to the large carp that live here. Compare their size to that of the duck:

At the top end of this beautiful tree-lined path lies the park you've seen in past summers, the one where I spent whole afternoons on a blanket in the sun, reading and dozing and having picnics with myself.
We walked through that park, too, and back into town where we had ice creams before heading home for a little rest.

The evening ended with us going out again, this time for salads and the most delicious fresh bread (fluffy inside and with a crisp crust outside) at a beer garden. The football championship finals was being showed on a big screen; we didn't care either way (Portugal or France), but still watched the second half later at home.

It really had been a perfect Sunday, of the kind I will remember for a very long time.

Wednesday 6 July 2016


We've had some very nice summery days recently, with the odd rainy, chillier day in between. Altogether, what is supposed to be summer according to the calendar has been much wetter than average and a lot less hot than last year's heat wave.

Yesterday after work, I met up with my sister for ice cream. I chose the "Baileys Cup" which was somewhat disappointing in that I couldn't really detect any Baileys in it. Have you ever tried a little splash of Baileys on top of ice cream? It works best with Maple Walnut, and/or with Chocolate flavoured ice cream.

It was still nice, just not what I had expected. Next time, I'll go back to my favourite Caramel Cup.

Friday night last week, my girlfriends and I had our regular get-together (usually the first Friday of the month). I had a bit of time left between work and meeting at the open-air restaurant, and decided to go for the scenic route and walk through the palace grounds on my way there.

It was beautiful, with the scent of roses and other flowers everywhere. Here are the pictures I took:

I am not sure I have ever showed you this part of the park, the "Alte Gärtnerei" - "old nursery". It is what it says, the old nursery for the palace gardens, nowadays a teaching garden. It explains about many different plants. The square raised beds are planted with herbs and other plants used for medicine and in the kitchen; signs explain not only what they are but also their use. School classes and other groups can book events in the buildings, with gardening experts teaching them about nature, gardening and environmental matters.

It was a most pleasant start to a fun evening with my friends, good for winding down after work.

Sunday 3 July 2016

Three in One

Most of the time, you are used to my posts covering just one topic; either reviewing one book/film, reporting from one place I've been visiting, bragging about one new outfit, or giving you the recipe for one dish (which reminds me: I have not posted a recipe in a long time).

Today, I have three topics, each of which is (in my eyes) too insignificant for its own post. But see for yourself:

1. Football/Soccer:
Maybe you are aware of the ongoing 2016 UEFA European Championship (men's football/soccer). I'm not a follower normally, and have no favourite team. But when it comes to European or World Championships, I watch Germany's games when I have time and nothing better to do - and only further on in the tournament, not from the start.

I've never quite gotten the point of patriotism; most people did not choose their nationality or country, they were simply born in a certain place by certain parents, all by coincidence, not by merit.
Still, when "my" country's national team plays, I am a little more interested than when other countries' teams are playing.
Last night, my sister and I watched the game Germany v. Italy together. It was nerve-wracking (after a rather boring first half) and in the end only decided by penalties.

We shared a bottle of sparkling wine and had some specially bought football-themed crisps in front of the telly:

Afterwards, I walked home to the sound of car horns and cheering and flag-waving people. Ludwigsburg's centre was one huge party, it seemed. But they were very welcome to party on without me; I am not a fan of drinking, out-of-control and possibly violent football fans.

The one song that keeps coming to mind is this one, made popular in 2006, when Germany hosted the World Championship:


2. Running:
Running is truly my kind of sport. It's not marathons (or even half marathons) I'm after; I have no ambitions to "win" anything, either. But I do like running, because apart from dancing and one other physical activity (which I won't describe but leave to your imagination), there is nothing so good to your mind AND your body at the same time, nothing that makes you feel so complete and "one". I know, this sounds rather esoterical, unusual for me, and it's not meant that way at all. I just can't think of any better way to describe why I enjoy running as much as I do.

Anyway, my hometown's City Run is less than a week away, and after a break of two years (both due to a conflict in schedules), this year I am going to participate again.
And guess what - O.K. will run, too! We have been running together almost every weekend we've been spending at each other's places, and I knew he won't have any trouble completing the 10 k well under an hour. As for me, I wasn't really sure about my level of fitness until this morning, when I went for the official trial run organized by the same folks who are behind the "proper" race.

Doing the 10 k was no trouble; the greatest challenge was being at the meeting point at 9:00 in the morning, when I came home only around midnight last night. I didn't eat breakfast, just had coffee and a very superficial wash before donning my running gear and setting off with several hundred people from Ludwigsburg's market square on the original route we'll be running next Saturday.

I wrote about running back in 2009, if you are interested.   

3. Addendum to "Undoing One's Enemy"
As is my habit with most book reviews, I posted the one for "Undoing One's Enemy" not only on my blog, but also on Amazon.
The author, Camille Oster, commented there, and I think you should see what she wrote as a reply to my review:

1 Jul 2016 21:17:02 BDT
Camille Oster says:

Hi, I apologise for all the mistakes. You are reading a very old copy of this story, from when I learned family and friends could not do the job of proofreading. It has since been properly proofread.