Thursday 31 March 2022

Read in 2022 - 7: The Murder at Sissingham Hall

What a contrast to my previous read! This book by Clara Benson is not only well written and edited (with very few errors that I came across), it also kept my attention so that I was looking forward to my lunch breaks and other occasions such as train rides, when I knew I would continue reading.

After eight years abroad, Charles Knox returns to England. He spends time with his oldest friend and his family, and before he settles down somewhere on his own, they are invited to a house party at a remote country estate. The hostess of the party is no other than the woman Charles was engaged to before he left the country - Rosamund married a rich man, much older than herself, and has been leading the typical life of a society lady before her husband decided they sell their London house and retreat to the country permanently.

Charles is curious and nervous about their first meeting, but all goes well, and a rather pleasant time is had by all, even though some of the other guests are not the type of company he would usually choose.

One morning not long after their arrival at Sissingham Hall, the Lord of the Manor and Rosamund's husband is found dead in his study. Of course it was not an accident, even though everybody wanted to believe that at first. The police are called, and the investigation begins.

As the place is so remote and the party of guests is small, the circle of suspects is quickly narrowed down to a handful of people. But can it really have been one of them? Charles, generally of a trusting personality, is not inclined to think bad of anyone. But even he has to admit that someone must have done it, and when the life of another house guest is threatened, it becomes obvious even to him that there has to be a murderer in the small group.

I really enjoyed this variation on the classic Locked Room / Country House Mystery. Charles and some of the other characters are very likeable, and the place and people are described well without going into unnecessary detail.

Interestingly, the author chose to write the story from Charles' perspective, even though her main character is one of the guests, Angela Marchmont. She actually solves the case (although she wishes she hadn't), and features in a series of books which I think I shall look into (this one is #1). I wonder if they are all written from someone else's perspective with her at the centre of each case.

I wonder now if I have downloaded this free Kindle version because I heard of it first at Monica's blog - it sounds like something she enjoys (a quick check with the search box on her blog shows no entries for "Benson", so maybe it was Nan's blog.)
Anyway, the author's website is here. The "about" section reads very well.

Tuesday 29 March 2022

Birthday Week

The rest of my birthday week saw my usual pattern of work and walks. It was sunny throughout, and warming up nicely during the day after chilly nights and mornings.

I walked one of my favourite circuits on Wednesday, taking in the golden late afternoon light. It was the time of day when one can nearly always spot herons in the fields as well as kestrels, buzzards and of course plenty of crows and doves.

Kestrel (I think)

Yes, I'm pretty sure it is one.

Three herons in a (very dry) field. Sometimes I spot eight or more together.

Neat barn and shady figure.

On the way back, I crossed the patch of allotments that offers a good view towards the town center, and although I have seen it many times now, I keep being amazed at how the ferris wheel is visible from almost anywhere. It was only the day before that I was on it myself!

Can you see the ferris wheel?

Zoomed in, you can see it better.

On Thursday, I was expected to participate in an online after-work event hosted by one of my clients. The event was to start at 7:00 pm, meaning I had to go early if I wanted to fit in a walk. It was around 4:00 pm that I came past this beautiful magnolia tree:
The weekend arrived, and O.K. with it, bearing more birthday presents for me, from himself as well as from his parents and his sister & husband. There were so many that they did not even all fit on top of my living room cabinet!
On Saturday, I had booked massages for both of us at the spa across the road, and then made us a proper breakfast with bacon and eggs on toast, Earl Grey, sparkling wine and tomato juice.
Also, I had my second ride on the giant wheel. As there were only the two of us, we had more room in the cabin to move, and could take pictures without the steel frame being in the way. There was nothing we could do about the sunshine reflecting on the cabin windows, though:
Afterwards, we took a stroll down the road to the palace grounds for a closer look:

We spent the rest of the afternoon at my parents', enjoying coffee and the sunshine on their balcony. 
For the evening, my sister joined us at my place. We had ordered food from the nearby Indian restaurant, and while the food was very good (it always is from that restaurant), the Sicilian rosé wine I had bought was bland - we could have just as well have had water. Never mind; it was still a nice post-birthday celebration for the three of us.

The Sunday was going to be another day of wall to wall sunshine, and I wore short sleeves for the first time this year. Still, it was chilly in places, and I was glad about my long-sleeved hoodie more than once.
After a leisurely late breakfast, we walked to Asperg and the castle on the hill (you've seen it a few times on my blog already). 
And again, the ferris wheel was visible - much better to the naked eye than what the camera was able to capture:
Can you spot the "rocket" in this one:
We took a different route back to Ludwigsburg and had a good view of the castle on the hill where we had just come from:

I am now 54 years and one week old. Cheers!

Friday 25 March 2022

Birthday Things

It was my birthday on Tuesday, and I find it hard to believe that it will only be another six years before I'll be turning 60. 

The day was sunny and (after a cold morning) mild, perfect for the ride on the ferris wheel that I had planned with my parents and their good friend R, who lives on the ground floor in the same house.

I only worked until about lunch time and walked to the ferris wheel in the early afternoon. My Dad can hardly walk anymore these days, and even getting to the bus stop, climbing on the bus and getting back off would be too much. Good job then that friend R drove my parents there, and of course she was part of the party, too.

Once our tickets and vaccination certificates were checked, the four of us boarded our cabin. The ride takes 15 minutes and goes round three times, so if you have missed something you wanted to look at the first time, you have another two chances.

Taking pictures wasn't easy - the sun shone brightly, reflecting on the cabin's glass walls, and of course the structure of the wheel itself can not be avoided. Also, there being four of us, I did not move around much. But photos weren't what we had come for - we wanted the views, and views we got!

The pink bit is my Mum's coat. She loves pink! I took this picture to show you the structure of the wheel.

A glimpse of the palace and the palace grounds. We really saw it a lot better than that.

I enjoyed this very much, and will definitely go at least twice more before the wheel is dismantled in a couple of months: I want a nighttime ride and one with O.K., of course. One can even book meals, wine tastings and cocktail evenings aboard the wheel (the rides are longer than 15 minutes then, obviously), but I am not sure whether I'll do any of that.

Afterwards, friend R drove us back to my parents' place. We clinked glasses there and had coffee and snacks, and a table laden with presents and flowers was waiting for me:

My sister joined us once she'd finished work, and walked home with me later; one of her gifts were new flowers for my "mini garden" (you remember that from last year, don't you?), and she even planted them for me! I will show you pictures of it in another post.

And the evening? Well... that was a true highlight, too: For the first time in 2019, my team and I went to the Pub Quiz again!! It was quite exciting, and with Covid numbers breaking all records at the moment, I am still not sure it was a good idea... but everyone is checked for vaccination or test certificates at the entrance, and I simply hope nobody caught the virus because of that meeting.

It was so much fun, and felt so good (and normal!) to see my friends again! We came out 2nd; I lost us a point when I answered a question about the name of a French kitchen utensil used to keep dishes warm; my quess was rechaud, but the correct answer was baine marie. Oh well, 2nd place was still a very good comeback for our team!

Those flowers look beautiful at home!

The flowers on the left were sent to me from my sister-in-law in England.

Now the weekend is almost here, and I am looking forward to O.K. arriving here tonight. We have more birthday-related stuff planned. I'll keep you posted!

Thursday 24 March 2022

Read in 2022 - 6: Varga's Passage

Forgive me for being lazy today - I am not going to write a full-length review about this ebook which (you knew it!) I found for free at Amazon's Kindle shop. Instead, I am going to quote from the description on Amazon and just add a few thoughts of my own.

The full title of this book by Tom David reads "Varga's passage: What has 17th century to do with late 20th century? Why are the KGB in Yorkshire?".
I obviously downloaded it because it showed up when I used "Yorkshire" as a key word in search of reading material.

Here is part of what Amazon says about it:

Thriller set in the 1980’s. The Cold War, people trafficking and murder become fatally entwined. From ancient city to wild moorland and rugged coast. The mystery unfolds when a cynical CIA agent and a museum curator are thrown together. Suffused with historical narrative from Eric Bloodaxe to Guy Fawkes and Rasputin. All within the time-line of that classic England/Australia cricket match at Headingley.

Now, I must say I still don't know the answer to the first question in the title. Throughout the book, place names and bits of background history are explained, which is largely why I stuck to it - not because I was so gripped by the story itself (I wasn't).
More than once, I thought of giving up, as the writing style is really not very good. The book reads like the first work of a person who has decided to write a book, with no background or practise in writing other than what they did at school decades ago. Also, I was not fond of any of the main characters (or the lesser important ones, for that matter). 

But apart from the obvious Yorkshire factor, the book also had its charms because the 1980s setting came across in many small references to what people wear, songs played on the radio and other detail. That was quite well done.
And the author obviously knows the places he writes about very well, even the ones in Russia, Afghanistan or elsewhere.

So: Definitely not a must read. I was trying to find out more about the author, but  information is sparse and my search directed me to several writers whose names are similar, but no exact matches. 

Wednesday 23 March 2022

Spring All Around

Last weekend, I was at O.K.'s (after an almost punctual train ride - we don't even count 5 minutes late as "late" anymore). After a week of overcast skies filled with Sahara dust, a series of sunny days was announced, and the weather people were right.

O.K.'s area is usually a tad warmer than where I live, with spring and summer often being about a week ahead where flora and fauna are concerned. This year, there seems to be only a few days of difference; I took these pictures on a walk around the village on Saturday afternoon:
View from the cottage's living/dining room

Can you spot the bee? The tree was buzzing with them, but it was very hard to take a picture - they just would not sit on a blossom long enough:

Maybe you remember that O.K. plays in the village brass band. They have a General Meeting once a year, but due to the pandemic, it has not been possible to hold such a meeting for the past two years. Saturday was the first one since 2019, and since I am a "passive member" (meaning I pay annual membership and help with events, but don't play) and elections were to be held, I came along, too.

Tradition calls for the band to attend mass at the village church before the meeting. They commemorate their deceased members, take communion and the congregation sing to the band's music. Church finished at 7:00 pm, and while I was waiting for O.K. to gather his things and walk to the village hall with me, I took these pictures from the top of church hill:

The Sunday fully lived up to its name! We left the cottage at around 1:30 pm and walked across the fields to the next village and up into the woods. At one of our favourite spots, we stopped to eat the rhubarb cake we had brought along before completing our circuit of just under 21 km.

Other people were out and about, of course, but nowhere near as many as I expected, and most of the time, we were on our own, with birdsong and sunshine for company.

This last picture was taken at 10 past 6 on the Sunday afternoon, shortly before we arrived back at the cottage.
We could both feel the 20+ km in our bodies and were looking forward to sitting down for some food and drink, but it had been such a  good day - hard to believe there are terrible things going on in so many parts of the world.

Tuesday 22 March 2022

Walking After Work

Maybe one or the other of you have experienced it as well, or heard or read about it: For much of last week, part of Europe was covered in dust coming up all the way from the Sahara desert. We have this phenomenon twice a year on average, and although car owners and many other people are quite annoyed at seeing an ochre layer of sandy dust on every surface, nature welcomes it - the silicate contained in the dust acts as a natural fertiliser, adding minerals to the ground.
Anyway, the dust made for a series of overcast days, and Wednesday was no exception. Still, it was mild enough and dry anyway, so that I thought of taking a longer walk after work.

An early start meant I was able to wrap up things at 4:00 pm already, and take a 10-minute train trip to Marbach.
From there, I walked the familiar route that is firmly imprinted in my mind as a favourite of my Mum and I. You have seen it on my blog several times in the past, too; this time, I only took very few pictures but enjoyed the walk nonetheless with a mixture of nostalgia and longing for those comparatively carefree times, and simply being glad that I am still able to walk there (almost) whenever I want.

Of course my parents' allotment has changed hands and therefore I did not enter the grounds of the gardening club - I have no business there anymore. But I did walk right up to the gate and had a quick look from the path.

Then, I chose a different route back, stopping briefly at the castle ruins above Steinheim before walking back to Marbach where I boarded the local train once more for the short trip to Ludwigsburg.

For such a mild and dry afternoon and evening, there were surprisingly few people out and about. I met one or two families with children, a few cyclists and dog walkers and two young women walking (not riding) horses.

My original plan had been to walk past the allotment and further on (to my beloved grassy path along the woods), but that would have meant at least another hour of walking, and I would have had to walk back in darkness - not advisable on the fields where there are no lights. As it was, I reached the station in Marbach just as the street lights started to come on.

It was an enjoyable 2 1/2 hours of walking, and definitely not the last time I did this. Next time, with daylight lasting longer, I want to take a snack and my water bottle and walk further.

Tuesday 15 March 2022

Two Different Weekends

The weekend before last was different for us in that O.K. and I spent it separately. O.K. had pulled his back at the beginning of the week and was still in quite some pain and on medication, which did not recommend itself for the long drive to me.  Almost every day during that week, I had woken up with a headache pulling from somewhere around my right shoulder. Most days, about two hours after getting up, I was already so tired again I wanted to go back to bed. I still worked, but the week dragged on in an untypical manner, and so we both agreed it was best if each of us stayed at their own place for the weekend and tried to get better.

On the Saturday (we are talking the 5th of March here) I felt well enough to go to a guided tour at Ludwigsburg's city museum, and arranged to meet up with my Mum and sister afterwards. The tour and of course our meeting up was really good, and after my sister and I had accompanied our Mum to the bus stop and waited with her until she was on the bus, we walked up to the "giant wheel" (you remember it from previous posts, don't you) where a few stalls have sprung up, offering food and drink. Nowhere near as big as the funfair we usually have in the spring on that square, but still more than what we've had for the last two years! And the best: Our favourite stall from twenty years of Christmas markets is there on weekends, too!

Compare with one of the pictures in this post from 2019.

We enjoyed our Dinnede (although they could have been in the oven a tad longer) and then went for a short walk together. By the time I came home in the early afternoon, I was feeling pretty rough; all of a sudden, I could not stop sneezing for what felt like 100 times and was extremely exhausted, certainly not justified by the outing. 

All of Sunday I did not set foot outside the house in spite of the good weather. I felt weak and tired, and not motivated to do anything or see anyone. For several days in a row, I have self-tested, always resulting negative (which in itself does not say much, I know that). So, have I had "it"? I don't know - but what I do know is that I was back to my old self by about Wednesday, and O.K. was better, too.

Monday (March 7) morning, view from my kitchen window

Wednesday (March 9) I was finally out again for an after-work walk.

Therefore, last Friday evening saw me on the train to Offenburg again. This time, all went well with my trains, also with the return trip. We had a sunny Saturday and mostly sunny Sunday, and went for walks on both days.

Sunlight on the fields. It is all rather dry and dusty.

But there is also green, and new growth.

On the Sunday, we met for breakfast at a café with a small group of friends we had not seen in a long time. It was very noisy at the café - we are simply not used to many people anymore, are we! The food was nice, and it was really good to see our friends again. Of course, the conversation included what is on most people's minds today; we covered the pandemic, the Ukraine war, increase in prices for fuel, gas and electricity and so on. But there were also other news to talk about such as one of the couples having a baby. Yes, life goes on, doesn't it.

After our breakfast (which lasted until about 1:00 pm), O.K. and I walked directly from there through an area of Offenburg where we had not been in years. We love looking at houses and gardens, and if we can combine such walks with a bit of a view as in this case, even better.

It was (you guessed it) time for coffee and cake when we arrived home. The sun shone beautifully, luring us out once more half an hour before sunset, but then grey clouds in the west meant there was nothing to see. Still, the quick turn around the fields was nice; so much more is in bloom already in O.K.'s area than where I live. That's not unusual, as even just a difference in temperature of two degrees can bring things forward by a week or more. In any case, spring is here!