Saturday 30 April 2022

Gone Walking

Well, not quite yet. But starting today, I will be away for a fortnight. It is my and O.k.'s usual first half of May holiday, and this year, it will start with the village May fĂȘte again - for the first time since 2019.

I still can not imagine being in a large tent with so many people for HOURS, but I guess I can always wear a mask when I feel unsafe. Of course, O.K. and I are involved; he's been helping setting things up since 9:00 this morning, and will play with the village band while I will be handing out food from behind the counter. (Provided my trains will be on time!)

This is going to be our "holiday" for today and tomorrow. On Tuesday, we'll be celebrating O.K.'s birthday - no big do, just the family. And finally, next Sunday (May 8), we will be driving deeper and further down into the Black Forest, to spend a week at a hotel where we've been before.

That hotel has no WiFi other than in the manager's office, and the entire valley has no mobile signal - therefore, don't wonder where I am when I won't be posting or commenting for a while.

The picture here was taken during an after work walk with my sister last week. It was such a beautiful day that we decided to have a shandy at a beer garden in nearby Asperg. We spent a couple of very relaxing and pleasant hours together, catching up with each other after our usual regular walks had not been possible for a while.

Thursday 28 April 2022

Remembering Martin

Most of you know that I have been a regular at the Irish Pub in my town, mostly to play the pub quiz on Tuesday nights, but also just for a drink or a meal outside on Ludwigsburg's beautiful market square in the summer; I even celebrated my 50th birthday there by renting the entire place for me and my 70 guests.

Of course, the two years under Covid-related restrictions meant no pub quiz, but I was able to meet up with my team a couple of times outside. And since my birthday fell on a Tuesday this year, it was the perfect occasion to gather The Corner Shop for our first pub quiz since before the pandemic.

I am telling you all this because the man who started it all, our friend Martin, died unexpectedly at the beginning of April. We'd known each other for about 15 years, which is when "our" Irish Pub opened, and he was there at its very first quiz night. Not much later, he asked me and another friend along, and since I had been to what my husband called queez neet in Yorkshire*, I was happy to have a similar event right in my home town.

It was through Martin that, one by one, I met the people who over the years have become not only my team mates, but also my friends. While several others came and went over the years (some moving away, some losing interest), the core of our team has remained. 

When we learned of his sudden death, we were hoping for it to be a mix-up with someone else by the same name. But it was soon clear that it was indeed our friend Martin. You can imagine the shock; he was only 61 and generally in good health. He played squash and walked a lot, and as far as I know, he never smoked.

It was on April 6 that I learned of Martin's death. After work, I went for a walk, and as I was thinking of Martin I turned around and looked at the sky behind me. It seems fitting to include the photo I took at that moment with this post.

Our friend C, who had become closest to Martin in recent years, wrote: "He died alone in his [London flat] without any signs of foul play. [...] After the autopsy was done, [his partner] learned that he died of pulmonary thromboembolism. Martin and Anne were in the UK taking care of things for 3 weeks with Anne taking a short side-trip back to her home state of Colorado when an unusual radio silence in Martin's response time to text messages started occurring. She had to ask the local police to break in and [they] found Martin."

Originally from Liverpool, after years in Berlin and Moscow, Martin settled in my home town. He ran his own company, an agency for copywriting and translation. Twice I worked for him there for short periods when I was between jobs, playing secretary and taking care of his terminology data base. I learned a lot from him and was pleased to find that working together did not harm our friendship at all.

I had organised for us to be at the pub quiz again this past Tuesday with Martin supposed to be there as well. In fact, his confirming email was the last time we were in touch. It still seems unreal that he's not there anymore, and when I send an email to all the team, it just does not feel right NOT to include his email address with the recipients.

We agreed that we still wanted to meet at the pub on Tuesday, and dedicated the evening to Martin. Chris, our host, had known Martin from the start, and he was equally shocked when we told him. After the quiz, he joined us at our table with a drink on the house, and together, we raised our glasses to Martin.

His humour and wit, his vast knowledge on many subjects, his creative thinking and grasp of languages and above all his kindness and friendship are sorely missed, but never forgotten.

*The first ever pub quiz I attended was at The Telstar in Wath upon Dearne.

Tuesday 26 April 2022

Easter Weekend

As usual, I am trying to catch up here, and as usual, what I am blogging about has happened at least a week ago. Here is a bit about my Easter weekend, which was beautiful and relaxing. In Germany, we have both Good Friday and Easter Monday off, making it a nice four-day weekend. 

I split Easter up between my family here in Ludwigsburg and O.K.'s family, starting on the Thursday with a traditional evening meal at my parents'. Friday saw me and my sister walking together. It was a beautiful sunny day, and we even had ice cream from a cafĂ© we found to be open along our way.  
On the Saturday, I had a nice long chat on the phone with my mother-in-law in Ripon before walking over to my parents' place again, where my sister and I spent the evening with our Dad so that he would not be on his own for too long while my Mum was out with a friend.

On Easter Sunday, I got up before 6:00. O.K.'s mother was hosting the family lunch for the six of us - O.K.'s parents, his sister and her husband, O.K. and I, so I had to make sure to arrive in time for that. Unfortunately, railway repairs were scheduled right for that weekend, making the journey twice as long as usual and with four changes instead of two. One of those changes would have meant a half hour wait at Karlsruhe station, only to get on the next train for about 10 minutes before having to change again. O.K. thought this was nonsense, and drove all the way up to Karlsruhe to pick me up there instead! That was very helpful and nice of him, and shortened my trip considerably.

It was another beautiful sunny day, and we went for two walks: One with the family between lunch and coffee (which we were able to have outside on the patio), and later an evening walk for just the two of us.


We met again the next day to "officially" open the BBQ season in the court/drive of O.K.'s parents. And again, it was a beautiful and sunny day, with the afternoon getting warm enough for wearing a t-shirt. 

Earlier, O.K. and I had been walking in the communal woods, so beautiful this time of year, and between the orchards and vineyards surrounding the village. There were blossoms everywhere - on the trees, on the ground, on hedges and in the fields. 

Some vineyards resemble a buttercup plantation.

Other vineyards have a carpet of daisies.

On Tuesday morning, I took the train home; it was the same train times I usually have on a Monday morning, but with a lot less people. In my suitcase were several chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs to add to the ones already given to me by my parents and my sister - and you wouldn't believe how little is left now, 1 1/2 weeks later :-D

Saturday 23 April 2022

Read in 2022 - 9: Illingworth House

Illingworth House by John Waddington-Feather is the first part of a trilogy of historic novels set in West Yorkshire. It centers on the Illingworth family, mill owners who became rich during the industrial boom of the mid-1800s. The first book starts in 1910 with the birth of John Illingworth, son to Abe and Rachel.

Much of the book is about Abe, who finds (and eventually loses) his only true love outside his marriage. A large cast of characters orbit the Illingworth family; people who depend on them for their livelihood, some of them showing great loyalty, while others become enemies. There does not seem to be much room for friendship in their world; it's all about class and business, about increasing their wealth and influence. Some handle that better than others, but they are all linked to Illingworth House and the nearby industrial town.

This first book spans the period of 1910 - 1930, with some references to past events where these serve to explain actions and events in the story. Everything has an impact on the lives of the Illingworths and the others: The first World War, the Spanish Flu, the "Golden Twenties" and economic crisis, the rise of workers' unions, and much more.

There really is a lot in this book I liked; I can't say I have a favourite character, but I did want to know how their lives developed and what was going to happen to them next. In many instances, the author reveals the general outline of his cast's future; for instance, reference will be made as to how happy a newly married couple are, "but not for long" - or the other way round, something like "but when she did eventually marry, it was someone completely different".

At first, those "mini spoilers" annoyed me, but then I began to see them as part of the book, spanning the arch of time into future chapters or books. When I began reading, I was not aware of it being part I of a trilogy, but now that I have started, I shall look for the other two (this one was a free ebook at the Kindle shop).

There is a lot of history, and I am sure the author put a good amount of research into his book. Sometimes its style reminded me of "The Valley".

The author's page on Amazon gives you a good idea of John Waddington-Feather and his work. I am looking forward to reading more.

Friday 22 April 2022

April 13, After Work & More

Last week Wednesday (April 13) was so warm the day felt more like early summer than spring. People tend to throw off most of their clothes as soon as the first rays of sunshine appear, and so on that day you could observe people looking as if they were on their way to the beach rather than in a middle-sized town in Southwest Germany.

My day was busy, but with daylight lasting until past 8:00 pm now I was still able to fit in a nice long walk after work. I chose a very familiar route and did not take many photos, just a handful as a future reminder and to compare with the ones taken on March 23, when I walked there as well:

No kestrel on that tree today.

Sahara dust once again.

The covering on this field is to help the asparagus come along.

And there is the ferris wheel again! Can't see it?

You can now!

There are two more pictures I want to show you, not related to my walk on April 13. The first one was taken on the morning of the 9th, which was the extraordinary Saturday I told you about here:

The second one, and last one for this post, was the full moon as seen from my bedroom window on April 15 (Good Friday) at 20 past 11 pm:

Wednesday 20 April 2022

April 12, After Work

Lately, I have been on more walks on my own than with company. My sister has been busy looking after a friend who was undergoing cancer therapy, and so I was mostly by myself. If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I don't mind that at all, but of course I miss my sister when we don't get to see each other as frequently as usual. Naturally, a friend in need takes precedence, but now that said friend is getting better and does not need my sister's help every day anymore, we will be out and about together more often again.

View from my kitchen window at 6:21 in the morning

The 12th of April was a warm day at 20 Celsius. Good part of the day was sunny, but by mid-afternoon, another swathe of dust from the Sahara covered much of the sky. Much as I love being out in the sun, my eyes are very light-sensitive and don't deal well with bright sunshine, something that has become more pronounced since last summer's operations. Therefore, I did not mind the sky being greyer by the time I finished work, and went out.

Some days, I have a pretty good idea of where I want to walk; others, I just have a vague general direction in mind and more or less follow the path on a whim. That day, I had the exact route in my head, and only towards its end did I cover  paths I was not familiar with, while always knowing where I was, and where I needed to go.

Starting out from my house and walking past the deer park, across the road to the ruins of the castle above Hoheneck, I spotted the ferris wheel even from there:

Can't see it? How about now:

There it is!

From here, I walked along the top of the vineyards and orchards on the slope this side of the river Neckar. By now, you will all be familiar with the landmarks here; the "rocket", the river and the beautiful white building of the Schiller Museum at Marbach, one of my work places. 

This is where I left the familiar path and followed signposts I had not paid attention to before. You can see the Schiller Museum overlooking Marbach in the distance:

A better view of the museum; I loved the way it looked from there, framed by the trees in their white spring dresses:
This was still part of the official path:
It went on across these fields and would have taken me all the way down to the river and into Marbach itself, but I took a left turn shortly after this picture was taken, and walked into Benningen, where I boarded the local train home:

Looking back the way I'd come, just before 7:00 pm.

One last glimpse at the museum.

I greatly enjoyed this walk and hope to repeat it soon, maybe with my sister. The few people I met along the way were mostly working on their allotments or in their vineyards; there were hardly any cyclists and only one or two walking their dogs.

Tuesday 19 April 2022

Read in 2022 - 8: Jerry's

Jerry's by Terry Ravenscroft was a free ebook I downloaded some time ago at Amazon's kindle shop without really knowing what to expect, not being familiar with the author's name. Had I known that he is an accomplished comedy writer (look at this website to learn more), I would not have been surprised at all when I started reading and found myself bang in the middle of Absurdistan.

And let me say this - as much as it made me laugh, for me this book has serious undertones, because how the story develops says a lot about the human character.

In brief, the book is set in a completey unremarkable Yorkshire village, so unremarkable that no tourists ever stop there unless they have to. Then, the village's very own millionaire dies, and his testament includes having a public convenience facility built on a hill overlooking the village, a replica of the Tadj Mahal, albeit on a smaller scale.

Soon, the new Jerry's becomes a tourist attraction (let me just mention that "celebrity WCs" are a magnet), thus increasing the village's economy to heights never seen before. Nearly everyone greatly profits from it, and the small team of councillors find things going well for the village beyond their wildest dreams.

But... there are two sides to every medal, and the new facility's back side (pun intended) is its commissionaire, part of the millionaire's conditions. That person is crucial not only in the running of Jerry's, as it becomes affectionately known, but also in the events that lead to a downward spiral of the hopes and dreams of the village.

Everything is told in neat chapters, including the (very entertaining) minutes of the council meetings. The entire story is full of comical absurdities - but there are always elements most readers will be able to relate to, knowing just such a person, remembering just such an event and such a way of doing things from their own communities.

Greed, not just for monetary gain but also for positions and influence, plays a prominent role in all that happens. Cultures and personalities clash, plans are hatched and shattered, and it is all spiced with a sense of humour that would not go amiss on a secondary school's playground. The f-word and related terms are used, but never just for the sake of it, always within character of whoever is speaking.

I had one or two favourite characters without really becoming attached to anyone, but that's not really the author's aim anyway, as I understand the book. It is there to make you laugh, but also to recognise the true core of what's happening.

Funny, but probably not everyone's cup of tea.

Wednesday 13 April 2022

An Extraordinary Saturday

As you would expect, my hometown of Ludwigsburg (a city of about 90,000 residents) has a central train station. But unlike what you would expect of a city otherwise rather attractive for tourists, what with its three palaces, extensive palace grounds, historic market square and other places of interest, said train station does not contribute to a positive first impression, nor will it create lasting memories to look fondly back to years after a visit.

Well aware of the station's many issues, a committee (called Bahnhofsrat, "Station Council") was established by the City. Its members were chosen from a pool of volunteers. After some ups and downs, the original 15 narrowed down to 7 members, me being one of them.

Now, what can a small group of volunteers with no official position within the City and no budget do to improve things? We can point out issues, get in touch with those responsible and nag them until something happens. We can also make things happen, and that's what we did last Saturday.

Separating the rail tracks and platforms from the central bus station runs a low building of roughly 100 m in length. It houses a variety of shops and will be torn down in a year or three, when the entire central bus station is to be rebuilt.

To most people, the back of the building was a nondescript dirty white wall. But to one of our members, it was a blank canvas, ready to be turned into street art. After we discussed the idea in one of our fortnightly meetings, the young man got in touch with everyone he needed to present his idea and get the necessary permissions. He met with approval and enthusiasm, and the idea got off the ground rather quickly.

The Master Mind
All day Saturday, various groups of people (such as an association of Turkish parents in Ludwigsburg, school children and of course the Bahnhofsrat) could be observed along Platform 1, armed with spray cans and working on segments of the formerly featureless wall. 
A street artist had been engaged by the City to help and make sure the series of single works of art was coming together in the end. The majority of those who participated had never before done graffiti, and so the artist's instructions were very welcome.

Our turn was the last shift from 3:00 to 6:00 pm, which enabled us to see what the other groups had done before us. We set to work, and after some trial and error - and of course with help from the artist - a 100 m long piece of street art came about.

The youngest of our group. She's only 13 but already more talented than the rest of us together!
Yours Truly in action

One of our segments at various stages of work.

These parts were done before we arrived.

The artist putting final touches to it all.

The back of the Kebap place has been nicely integrated.

We are quite proud of it, and although we are realistic enough to know that our graffiti does not actually change the overall problems in and around the station, we find that it does improve the atmosphere. Sometimes small changes can indeed make a difference.