Thursday 26 November 2020

Read in 2020 - 25: The Body in the Dales

The Body in the Dales

J.R. Ellis

It was through Monica's blog that I came across this series of Yorkshire Murder Mysteries, and of course I had to read them! There are five of them available at Amazon's Kindle shop, and I bought them all. My Kindle reading is mostly reserved for travelling, on trains and while waiting at the station, but last night I finished this one in bed as there were only a few "pages" (in Kindle terms: 5 %) left.

A caver is found dead at the bottom of a cave - an unfortunate, but not too unusual occurrence. But this time it was not a caving accident; the highly unpopular man was clearly killed elsewhere and his body put there for reasons unclear. The unusual hiding place also means the murderer was not alone. 

With many in the village having reason to hate or fear the victim, the list of suspects grows as DCI Oldroyd, a Yorkshire man through and through, and his young partner DS Carter, newly arrived from London, start investigating.

Then, a second caver is killed in his home - shortly after telling Oldroyd that he knew who the murderer was.

The story covers not only the case, but also parts of the personal lives of the detectives. With Carter, the reader sees the area and its people through the eyes of a newcomer. With Oldroyd, we have a character firmly rooted in the landscape. There are aspects of village life less than idyllic, and there is struggle with financial worries and addiction. Thankfully, the author skips the gory details but concentrates on the people, their motivation and emotions.

The book is well written and edited and most of the places really exist. I am now looking forward to read the next one in the series. You can find out more about the author and the series here.

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Read in 2020 - 24: A History of the World in 21 Women

A History of the World in 21 Women

by Jenni Murray

Like many, many others, this year I did not really have a birthday party. But I still had birthday presents, and one of them was this book, which I finished reading last night.

As the title suggests, it spans a period of several thousand years, told through the biographies of 21 remarkable women. Out of these, there were four I had never heard of, but even in the chapters about the women I had known about before, I learned a lot. 

Starting with Pharaoh Hatshepsut and ending with Cathy Freeman, the book represents the author's personal selection of women she feels have contributed to their time and place considerably - some of them shaping the future in a manner they could not have foreseen. One example is Catherine the Great, who completely reformed the legal system of her vast Russian Empire, introducing equal protection under the law for everyone and emphasising prevention rather than punishment of crimes, ideas that were quite ahead of her time and still need working on.

In each chapter, Jenni Murray briefly explains how she came about to include that particular woman in her collection. Some of her contemporaries she has met and interviewed personally, while of course she had to rely on various sources for putting together the chapters about the women who lived in past centuries. She manages to present the facts in a concise manner and yet at the same time like a friend telling you about a person whose biography she has just read, over a leisurely meal together or during a walk.

All of it makes for more than just a good book, and there are suggestions for further reading. It was a thoughtful and welcome gift from a friend, and one I can recommend to anyone - man, woman, young, less young.

You can find out more about the author (a Yorkshire woman, by the way) here.

Tuesday 24 November 2020

Two Sundays Ago... felt much more like spring or late summer than mid-November. It was sunny and warm at almost 20 C (68 F). But the autumn colours all around us, and the produce of most of the fields, vineyards and orchards being harvested, were a constant reminder of how far advanced this year already is.

As has become our habit, we packed our water bottles, prepared sandwiches and other food, and set off directly from O.K.'s cottage. This time, we walked south across the fields, passing the villages of Niederschopfheim, Oberschopfheim and Oberweier.

On a bench overlooking the Rhine valley with views all the way to France and the Vosges mountains, we had our packed lunch - plus a glass of rosé wine, which O.K. had carried in his rucksack, protected by an insulating bag and therefore still reasonably chilled.

From there, we made our way back through the woods; as you can see, the Black Forest was anything but black. We crossed the village of Diersburg and had the rest of the wine on a sunny bench overlooking the village. Sitting there in the sun with the man I love was one of those timeless moments that are so entirely "there", with no thoughts of work or other things intruding.

It was just after 4:00 pm when we were home again, in time for coffee and cake. The sky had changed quite a bit by then, making it look and feel much later than it actually was.

The next morning, O.K. dropped me off at the station as usual. 

Unlike all the other Monday mornings since I have begun taking that particular train, it was late by more than half an hour. I still managed to catch the second half of the first meeting at work; it is not a meeting that requires preparation or even presence but goes ahead whether I am there or not, but I try to participate whenever possible. Therefore, I don't fret when this happens - also because fretting wouldn't change a thing; the train wouldn't go any faster and I wouldn't arrive home any earlier. Having had such a beautiful weekend certainly contributed to my relaxed state of mind. 

Of course I still hope that next Monday, my trains will be on time again.

Monday 23 November 2020

Around Our House

The flat I have been living in for 17 years now is on the first floor (the first upper floor from the ground up, not the ground floor) of a semi-detached house. The two houses were built in 1953; Steve and I moved here in October 2003. The following year, the path around our house was redone; the original paving tiles were cracked in places, plus the owners of the other semi wanted to have their front garden paved over so that they could use it as a parking space for their cars. Back then, the paving wasn't done very expertly, and it showed.

My semi is owned by me (middle flat) and two brothers (downstairs and upstairs flats), the other semi is owned by one family. The three of us on our side got together earlier this autumn to discuss what to do: The paving had become bumpy and uneven over the past 16 years, and between the wall of the house and the rim of the paving, a gap had begun to form. So far, we'd been lucky in that we did not have all that much rain in recent years, but it was only a question of time before enough water would have seeped into that gap to make the foundation walls damp. If that happened, big works would become necessary - digging a trench around the walls, getting rid of the damp, making sure any water would be directed away from the walls, closing the trench and re-paving the path.

Before that happened, we decided to have the path repaved now, with a slight slope away from the walls and a seal between wall and pavement.

The two brothers got in touch with a few construction firms, we decided on one of their offers, and the work started on Friday, the 13th (we're not superstitious).

On the 12th, I took pictures to remember the "before", so that we would be able to compare it with the "after".

Here is our front door with the mail boxes and the cherry tree:

 The side of the house:

 Side of the house, looking the other way:

This is how far the workmen have come already on the afternoon of the 13th; back garden, looking down from my living room window:

...and from my Third Room (my work place); as you can see, the bins have been moved so that they were still accessible:

I was at O.K.'s for the weekend and returned on Monday, the 16th, when I took the next picture. Not much seemed to have happened round the back, but if you look closely, you can tell that the path has been leveled in preparation for laying the stones:

Looking straight down from my Third Room on the 17th shows where the old stones meet the new ones, i.e. where our property begins and the other semi ends:

One day later, on the 18th, it looked like that around our front door:

Most days, there have been two or three men working. To my surprise, one man was there all day on Saturday, too. Shouldn't be more than a few days now before they wrap up the work. We're glad to have this done before winter sets fully in, with rain being more likely.

Thursday 19 November 2020

Witches, Woodland and a Rocking Horse

The first week of November continued as nicely as it had begun (see previous post for the Monday). 

On Tuesday, the 3rd, my sister came for a brief after-work-chat and a cup of tea. Wednesday saw me spending my lunch break at my parents', with - as always! - delicious home-cooked food. Thursday was the 11th anniversary of my husband's death, and my Mum joined me in the evening for a drink and some reminiscing. On Friday, I took the usual trains to spend the weekend with O.K.; everything went smoothly that day, from the meetings at work to finding my reserved seat on the long-distance train unoccupied and the trains being on time. Saturday had us doing some work in and around the cottage; we had a brief visit from a couple of friends (outside, if you want to know) and later managed a quick walk around the village, catching the mellow light of sunset and dusk.

On Sunday, the 8th, we were free to do as we pleased, and of course that meant a hike! Friends and family had told us of a circuit called Hexensteig (Witches' Climb) where we had not walked yet. They warned us of steep and exhausting ascents and descents, and I was a bit worried, knowing how hard I find going uphill. We still decided to go for it, packed our rucksacks with the usual collection of water bottles, sandwiches and other food, and set off.

The circuit starts and ends in the small town of Lautenbach, about half an hour's drive from O.K.'s village. As it was a beautiful and rather mild day, many other people were out walking and hiking, but I find I do not mind that so much if I am mentally prepared for it. Also, there were suprisingly few cyclists about.

Most of these pictures are O.K.'s; I only took very few. This first one looks as if it was overcast, but it was just that moment when the sun was behind a haze, as we were climbing up the path and looking back over Lautenbach:

See? The sky was actually more blue than cloudy:

The witch theme is carried on throughout the circuit, like this hut adorned with brooms:

We were not even half way up yet, but I really needed to sit down a minute, and take off one layer of clothes:

Don't you love walking on a carpet of rustling leaves?

This tiny witch house was really cute; a couple were sitting in it and asked us to take their picture. We came across them a few more times in the course of our hike. Had they not been there first, we would have probably sat in there for our packed lunch.

Instead, we walked on until we came to the next witch house. This one was bigger than the first, but there were many other people nearby, families with children, so we just had a quick look. A former colleague of O.K.'s was there, too, with a group of four. We chatted with them while they were finishing their meal, and then took their seats on the wooden benches and table as they continued their walk.

The path was taking us in and out of the woods, up and down, and past this big rocking horse - of course I could not resist, and had to have my silly moment! The hut is made out of a giant wine barrel, meant for visitors of the nearby winery to have wine tastings there. Due to corona, it was shut.

The afternoon was getting on, and the light changed; it was not yet sunset, but looked very much like it with the clouds and haze. At this point, we met O.K.'s former colleague and his group again, and joined them for a quick drink - just one tiny one, as O.K. still had to drive us home, and we definitely did not want to make the descent in a tipsy state.

It was now 4:30 pm, and this time, it didn't just look like sunset - the sun really was setting.

We were almost there now.

Just before the path leads back down into Lautenbach, there is another place with benches and tables prepared for walkers and hikers wanting a rest, along with a fridge filled with drinks one can buy, leaving the money in a box.

This witch looks rather uncomfortable on her broom, doesn't she!

We arrived back at the car about 4 1/2 hours and 16 km later, including the two breaks that had been longer than usual because of us meeting the former colleague and his group.

At home, O.K. made us a delicious meal of fried mushrooms. I was very tired; the hike had been really beautiful and much fun, but also exhausting, and I was in bed just after 9:00 pm (also knowing I had to get up at 5:20 the next morning for the trip back to Ludwigsburg).

Another themed circuit starts and ends there, it is called the Devil's Climb, and I am sure we will walk it sooner or later!