Tuesday 28 February 2017

(A Kind of) Guest Post: Pancake Day

Did you know that today (Shrove Tuesday) is Pancake Day in many Commonwealth Countries? You probably did, especially if you live in one of said countries.

Well, I didn't know that until yesterday, when George Pickles, Ripon's former Hornblower, told me about it in an email. 

Here is what he wrote, and I am adding a photo he sent with the email:

"So here in Ripon, tomorrow is Pancake day. I don't think this is an event celebrated in Germany?

I have attached a picture of a typical Shrove Tuesday Pancake race, setting off in relays from the front of the Cathedral, running up the length of Kirkgate. Each race would be arranged according to ages, or the representatives of various City groups. All very good fun.

I would usually be involved with the Dean helping to set off the individual races. The Dean and I would then have a two man race at the end, to much cheering and laughing. The Hornblowing is not involved these days as the role is shared by a team."

George is right in thinking that this is not celebrated in Germany, at least not to my knowledge. But many places here have their own traditions for Shrove Tuesday. I will simply go to the office, as I usually do on Tuesdays, and work on whatever our customer sees fit to set before me. 

If you wish to know more about Shrove Tuesday, the meaning of the word and some of the traditions around the world, click here for the wikipedia article.


Spring has really showed its face last weekend, and yesterday! It was so mild I did not need gloves or a scarf for the first time in months. Already the weekend before last, it felt very much like spring. O.K. and I were on a walk between his and the next village, and he took these pictures for me of hazel trees along the path:

Don't they look beautiful against the blue sky? You should have heard the bees humming - a sound that was completely absent for months, too.  

Thursday 23 February 2017

Warum ist es am Rhein so schön?

"Warum ist es am Rhein so schön?", literally "Why is it so beautiful by the Rhine?" is a German folk song praising the beauty of the Rhine, Germany's longest river. I've done what Kay (Georgia Girl with an English Heart) often does on her blog and did a bit of research about the song. One Adolf von Bergsattel wrote both the music and the lyrics. He was possibly helped with the latter by Franz Suppan, and the website I found this information at dates the song as "before 1928".
That's about all I could find out, except for a differing claim on youtube saying that the music was written by someone else.

Today's post is not really about music, though. It is about the Rhine's beauty and how impressive this majestic stream can be even on a somewhat dull winter's day.

When I was 5 years old, my parents, my sister and I lived in a small village close to the river. We often drove across to France, both for groceries shopping (some things were considerably cheaper there than on our side of the water) and for holidays. Going for walks with our parents where the river was still more or less in its natural state (we call these parts the "Old Rhine") was always something of an adventure.  

About a year later, we moved back to Ludwigsburg, almost 100 km away, too far for a quick stroll along the river. My parents kept going back to visit the friends they had made during our short stint at the village, and the love for that particular landscape has stuck with us.

O.K.'s home (about 70 km south of the village we used to live at in the early 1970s) is not all that far from the Rhine. And yet it took almost a year of regular visits at his place before we went to the river for the first time!

At the end of January, we were invited to join a group of friends and acquaintances for a winter BBQ in the woods. The woodland borders the Rhine, and while the barbeque was still in full swing, we snuck away on a little walk.

Here are the pictures O.K. took with his mobile phone. To enlarge them, simply click on them. Have a look, and you'll be able to answer the question in the song title:
This is not the Rhine, of course. Just a small canal behind the dyke.

The land on the other side is France.
This type of woodland is very typical for the area.

You can read all about the Rhine here on wikipedia.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Read in 2017 - 7: Mothers, Daughters, and other Mysteries

"Mothers, Daughters, and other Mysteries", a detective story by Heather McPhaul, was unusual for me in that it is written almost like a screenplay.

It was (very) fast-paced, witty (if you don't mind sarcasm) and surprising enough to keep me going.

The story is quickly told: A young woman finds herself, as so often before, between jobs and decides to work as a private investigator. Her first case proves to be as dangerous as can be expected (otherwise, it would not have been turned into a book, would it?), but in the end, the results are worth all her efforts: Not only does Leann solve the case (surprise, surprise!), but she also (re-)gains the love and respect of her somewhat estranged mother AND walks off the set with a wonderful new boyfriend at her side.

Does this sound banal? It is, and it isn't. The quirky dialogue and surprising twists in the story, combined with quick changes of perspective between Leann, her mother and their adversary, make for an entertaining, if rather short, read. 
It was a free ebook, and the few typos I noticed weren't too bad.

After I have looked up the author and found out that she is also an actress, the screenplay-style of her writing is less surprising.
Here is her website, if you are interested.

Saturday 18 February 2017

An Update on Heating and Fashion

A week ago, I told you about our problems with the boiler and the resulting lack of heating and hot water. We thought we had a temporary solution and were all set to discuss which way to go next, when my upstairs neighbour's son suggested he let someone else look at the boiler, so that we could choose between at least two offers.

This sounded reasonable to me, and so on Wednesday, another expert checked out our boiler. 
He said the repairwork so far had been done well. He also said that he was not of the opinion that the whole boiler needed to be replaced - it is not that old, after all (around 15 years).  He suggested we make a little adjustment in the setting of the boiler as well as in the way we use our radiators. 
Apparently, it is much better for the boiler to just leave the radiators on at all times (not on full blast, of course), so that water can circulate. What we had been doing - turning the radiators completely off when we weren't at home, and then cranking them all up more or less at the same time, giving the boiler a sort of "shock" reaction - was not good, it seems, and did not save us any money. If the radiators are slightly open to circulation, pressure inside the boiler is at a constant level all the time, which makes for a much healthier boiler and better regulation of room temperature.

Again, it all sounded reasonable enough to me. I am glad we do not need to fork out a lot of money for a new boiler or extensive repair work. Actually, it is less about the money and more about the upheaval; installing a new boiler would mean work on the roof as well, since the pipe goes through there, and possibly days without hot water.

So, we are sorted, and I have instantly put the new "heating policy" in action in my flat. It feels odd to leave the house with the radiators slightly on, but I suppose it is better on the long run.

In the meantime, I have been keeping warm wearing wintry outfits.

One is a padded Barbour coat in a nice dark shade of olive green. It is a hand-me-down from my sister's colleague. She has given me items from her wardrobe before, and they are always expensive brands which I probably would not buy for myself, and in excellent condition. Thank you, Andrea!
I apologise for the dark picture. You probably can't make out the rest of the outfit; it is a pair of charcoal grey tweed winter shorts, warm pair of tights and the boots I nearly always wear in winter.

The other outfit is a very soft woolly jumper I bought back in September - at Aldi, my local supermarket, of all places! I really like the softness, the colour and the pattern, and there happened to be already  a pair of trousers in exactly the same colour in my wardrobe.

That's it from me for today - an update on the heating situation as well as a fashion post, something I have not done in a long time.

Thursday 16 February 2017

Read in 2017 - 6: Our Endless Numbered Days

If I am not very much mistaken, my sister bought "Our Endless Numbered Days" by Claire Fuller at The Little Ripon Bookshop, a must-visit every time we are in town. You can find the bookshop's website here.

This is only the 6th book I have read so far this year (not counting one I have started earlier this week on my kindle but soon deleted, as it was unbearably daft), but I can already tell that it will be among those - if not THE one - to impress me most of all my 2017 reads.

What is it about?
In the mid-1970s, Peggy is 8 years old and lives in London with her mother Ute, a famous German concert pianist, and her father James, her young husband who is content to live off Ute's money and spend most of his time with a group of friends. The group are Survivalists or Retreaters, believing nuclear war with the Soviets is imminent, and the world as we know it will end. They talk about fallout shelters, provisions, regions of Earth that could provide relative safety and the means to survive by living off the land, but talk is all they do - with the exception of James. He does indeed set up a shelter in his cellar, filling it with all sorts of provisions, making endless lists of things needed.

When Ute leaves for a concert tour, James tells Peggy they are going away, too - on a holiday.

Peggy soon understands that this is no ordinary holiday: Her father takes her to a remote cabin in the woods of a mountainous region in Germany, never to return home again.

For the next 9 years, all Peggy knows is the forest around the cabin. She and her father live in complete absence of any communication with the outside world - in fact, James makes her believe the outside world, including her mother, has ceased to exist and they are the only two people left.

The book starts with Peggy being 17 years old, back in London with her mother and the little brother born after she was taken away from home. Therefore, the reader already knows she will somehow leave her life in the wilderness behind. The how and why is what the reader does not know until very near the end of the book.

I was certain of one aspect of the outcome pretty soon, but the story held me in its grip nonetheless, and I found it unputdownable at times. I liked Peggy and cared for her, and I am still not entirely sure about how to interpret what happens at the very end of the book.

"Our Endless Numbered Days" was Claire Fuller's first book, published in 2015. Her homepage is here, where you can find information about her, her books and her other work.

Wednesday 15 February 2017

Read in 2017 - 5: No Such Thing As a Secret

"No Such Thing as a Secret" is the first book in the "No Such Thing As..." series by Shelly Fredman, featuring Brandy Alexander - not the cocktail, but a young woman working as a "puff piece" reporter for a cable news network who starts to privately investigate the murder of a young man after one of her best friend disappears shortly after he told Brandy he may inadvertedly possess a clue to the case.

Brandy grew up in Philadelphia, but left for Los Angeles after Bobby, the love of her life, ended their 10-year relationship on grounds she never really understood. In L.A., she builds a whole new life for herself, including the job for the news network.
Four years later, she is back in Philadelphia for a short break and the wedding of one of her friends - and finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation shortly after her arrival.

The inevitable encounter with Bobby happens under the worst imaginable circumstances: Not only is he a police officer, warning her off the private investigation she has started. He is also married and has a little daughter. Regardless, there is still attraction and spark enough between the two to keep Brandy on her toes whenever Bobby is near.

But there is also the mysterious Nick, who helps with Brandy's investigation and leaves her confused as to what his - and her own - intentions actually are.

Last but not least, there is a murder to solve, and the police seem to be getting nowhere.

You already know that this is a series, so it is clear that Brandy will solve the mystery, and the author leaves enough loose ends to make the reader want to find out what will happen with some of the characters in the next book.

I must admit I did not (and still do not) care all that much for Brandy as a person, but the mystery was something of a page-turner in parts. In fact, one evening after work, I was reading while waiting for my train and so absorbed in the book that I did not look up when a train arrived; I simply got on. Two stops later I realised I was on the wrong train! I made haste to get off, get the next one back to Main Station and then finally catch the right train home.

While I did notice quite a few typesetting errors that could have been avoided with careful editing or proof-reading, they were not so many as to distract too much from the story. I downloaded the book for free from Amazon's kindle shop a couple of years ago, so I should not complain about typos.

Shelly Fredman's website has a lot of background info on herself, her books and characters and Philadelphia. You can find it here.

Monday 13 February 2017

Woodland Wanderings

On some of the blogs I read, people have been musing about how January and February are their least favourite time of the year, with the gloom and cold of winter still very much there but without Christmas and New Year to look forward to.
Yes, we're still nowhere near proper spring, even though a hint of spring is definitely in the air already - just listen to the birds in the mornings and late afternoons, and notice the considerably longer hours or daylight as opposed to December.

And few things are better to combat late winter blues than spending time outdoords.

Yesterday, O.K. and I went walking in the woods. We drove to a nearby village and took a route through woodland and vineyards, enjoying the sun once we were above the level of the rather dull, grey mist still sitting on the valley's bottom. 

Our route was not all that long, not even 10 km altogether, but much of it was rather steep. And because it was too cold for my liking to go for a run, we got all our exercise from walking up the steepest bits rather fast - we both expected sore leg muscles today, but I'm fine.

I did not take my camera, so these pictures were all taken with my mobile phone - as is so often the case with pictures on my blog, they are a bit blurred. Sorry!

This formation of rocks in the middle of the woods is called Devil's Chancel:

 A bit further up next to a really comfortable path is Angel's Chancel:

Doesn't this little weekend house look like something straight out of a fairytalbe book?

On our way back to the car. It was almost 5.00 pm, and the light was a lot more beautiful than this picture shows, really mellow: 

And all of a sudden after an afternoon spent outdoors, February does not look so gloomy anymore!

Friday 10 February 2017

The Heat(ing) Is On...

...at least for now.

After a chilly week in my flat, early morning trips to my parents' place so that I could have a hot shower before work, and evenings spent either eating out with friends (in nice, well-heated restaurants) or wrapped up in a super-warm blanket on my settee, steaming tea mug in hand, today at around lunch time our heating and hot water was working again.

...it won't last.

The man doing the repairs said he discovered more problems with our boiler as he went along. Somehow, water has entered the main circuit board, and even someone like me who does not really know anything about boilers understands that water and electricity are not best friends.

He said the board was still working, but faultily so, and could fail anytime again. He could replace it, but said it was very likely that he'd find even more parts that got wet when they shouldn't have, and would possibly need replacing. All in all, we could be in for about half the price of an entirely new boiler.

Now it is up to us to decide whether we want the small or the big solution. Both have their pros and cons, and we will discuss it on Monday with my upstairs neighbours' son who speaks German as good as I do. Until then, I feel a little bit on edge as I don't know how long this lovely warmth and the option to have a hot shower will last.

Good job that I'm going to travel to O.K.'s tomorrow morning! Let's hope I won't return to a chilly flat again on Sunday night.

And isn't it odd that the boiler at my parents' house broke yesterday early afternoon, too? Well, maybe not that odd, considering that boilers are probably breaking left, right and centre these days, as they do in winter.

PS: It is snowing.

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Keep Cool!

Right now, keeping cool is really easy for me - we have no heating and no hot water.

One day last week, I came home from work to find my flat a bit chilly. The radiators were luke warm, though, and so at first I did not think anything was amiss. When I am out all day, of course I do not have the heating blast away, but keep it at a low level.
But when I was washing my hands, no hot water came from the tap (I HATE washing my hands in cold water), and so I knew something was wrong.

There are three flats in my house, mine being the one in the middle. The downstairs flat has its own boiler in the cellar, while mine and the top floor flat are connected to a second boiler up in the attic.

I could hear my upstairs neighbour already rummaging about in the attic and called up to him. He told me that the boiler had turned itself off a few hours ago and he had been trying to reactivate it a few times. As he was not successful, he rang a friend of his who happens to be an expert for gas boilers. The kind man came to our house at 8:30 pm - not his usual working hours - and managed indeed to temporarily fix the boiler. But he warned us that it could happen again anytime, and we should start thinking about a new boiler, as repairing it would probably not be worth it for such an old one as ours.

Well, we were happy for the moment, having hot water and heating again - until yesterday morning. About five minutes before I wanted to have a shower, I noticed the radiators were cold again. Just like last time, I could hear my neighbour upstairs, and decided to wait a little and see whether he'd be able to fix it. He did, and I could have my hot shower as usual.

Then after work, it was the same all over again: a chilly flat and no hot water when I washed my hands. This time, my neighbour said he had called the company who originally installed our boiler. One of them came to have a look right away and explicitly told him NOT to try again to fix the boiler himself. Instead, he promised to order the necessary parts immediately and would come in tomorrow (i.e. today) in the afternoon to repair it. (All these conversations were a bit difficult, as my neighbour's German is not exactly fluent, and my Turkish is limited to a handful of words.)

Now we hope that the parts will arrive there today, so that our boiler can be fixed this afternoon.

It is not yet too cold in my flat - the downstairs flat is giving off some warm to me, and I still have almost 20 Celsius in my rooms. But I do not want to go to work without a hot shower, and have arranged to go to my parents' this morning. I'll pack my work clothes and my cosmetics bag, and it will be no problem - my Mum is going to the kindergarten for her weekly reading anyway, so she is up early today and does not have to adapt uncomfortably to my schedule.
But I hate the idea of getting dressed and leaving the house un-showered! I know this is silly, and there are millions of people who never have the luxury of a hot shower, but it is all about what we are used to, isn't it?

If the boiler can not be fixed today, I will have to think about asking my sister or my parents for a few days of staying with either of them.

Thursday 2 February 2017

Read in 2017 - 4: The Millionaire Baby

This was, you guessed it, another free ebook from Amazon's kindle shop. "The Millionaire Baby" was not my first novel by the author. Thanks to "book-keeping" here on my blog, I know that I have read two more by Anna Katharine Green: "That Affair Next Door" and "Initials Only"

In "The Millionaire Baby", a young detective has more than one reason for desperately wanting to solve the mysterious case of little Gwendolen, a millionaire's daughter who disappeared on a hot August day from right under the nose of her nurse.

Was the little girl, who appears to have been everybody's darling, kidnapped for money? Nobody comes forward asking for a ransom. Did she sneak down to the river and drown? One of her shoes, found on the slope, seems to point in that direction. No wonder then that her mother will not let go of her conviction that the small body will be dragged up from the water.

Our young detective has had dealings with the family before, which facilitates his access to the house and grounds. He soon meets the widow living next door, a close friend of the bereft mother. Something does not quite add up with neither mother nor neighbour - but then there are several other characters offering clues. Or are they red herrings?

Everything happens within a few short days, and of course you can be sure that the detective not only solves the case (although not without some surprising twists), but also a budding romance looks promising for him.

I did find some of the conversation and accompanying thoughts unnecessarily lengthy at times, but generally, the story marches along at a good pace. No swear words, no steamy sex scenes and no violence - after all, the novel was first published in 1905.
Guessing part of the solution was not all that hard, but there were still a few riddles in store for me. All things considered, a good old-fashioned mystery, although not a "must read".

Because I have already written about the author in my previous two book reviews (see the links above), I will not repeat it here.

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Read in 2017 - 3: Frühe Zimmer, kleine Jahre

Someone gave this little book to my Mum at Christmas, and the moment she saw the cover photo, she exclaimed "That's me!".
Well, it is not my Mum, and she was prettier, with her blonde curls and a doll-like face, but she had the exact same dress as the girl in the photo.

The author Ingeborg Santor - whose picture it is - is about the same age as my mother. In the book, she shares her childhood memories, to most of which my mother can relate very well. Those were the years just after the war. My mother was born in 1944, a year before the war ended. Like the author, her childhood was characterised by lack of money, the need for making do with what was available, and a lot of things adults did and said that did not make much sense to children.

For the little girl in the book, finding dead baby birds that have fallen out of their nest in a storm is as dramatic as losing a beloved person. What the neighbour's son, a few years her senior, says has the same authority as what her parents or a teacher at school tell her.
Getting enough to eat is just as important as having the "right" kind of slate for school.

I enjoyed this book very much and just wish it would have been longer. As my parents are of that generation, and have told me a lot about their childhood, I find it very interesting to read anything about this period. It was a very different time from when I was the same age as the little girl in the books - my childhood took place in the 1970s, and yet again, that was a very different time from now.
Still, a lot of the experiences that are part of our childhood, the way we approach things and people, what we understand and what not, is similar.

As far as I know, "Frühe Zimmer, kleine Jahre" has only been published in German. If you are able to read German, you could give it a go. Chapters are brief and the language is simple enough. 

The author's website is here.