Thursday 28 March 2024

Birthday Week

Another week full of activities, including my birthday on the Friday; there were warm sunny days but there was also some April-like weather with cold rain and hail.

On Monday, 18 March, I arrived home in time to start work mid-morning. Part of my lunch break was spent dashing to the office near the train station where my volunteer group met for the cleanup the previous Saturday; one from the group forgot his backpack there, and since I live closest and have the key, I picked it up. My after-work walk that day was used to take the backpack to his house in a different part of town.

The magnolia trees in my street were in full bloom; there are two of them, one next to the other in front of two identical blocks of flats:

Sunset on my way back from returning the backpack to its owner.

Tuesday, 19 March, was a wonderful day - sunny and warm at 16C/60F. I worked from home and of course simply HAD to go for a good long walk afterwards. Hardly surprising, I chose my standard route to Benningen.

There are often herons on the fields that time of day (between 6 and 7 pm), but storks are rare here (it's the other way round where O.K. lives). I spotted the stork first, and one by one the grey herons emerged - I ended up counting six or eight of them, when at first I thought there were only two.

What the afternoon looked like near O.K.'s.

It was my Office Day as usual on Wednesday, 20 March, but with a difference: My department had its annual outing, and ten or eleven of us took a train into Stuttgart after work. 

We were booked for a meal and a guided tour after dark. The tour took in several historic buildings and places in the old city centre of Stuttgart, with our guide telling us a mix of historic facts and legends, some of which were about ghostly appearances and gruesome events. It wasn't excactly a ghost tour, but well done and really interesting.

Statue of "Stuttgardia" on a wall of the townhall

Shopping district

Our guide in his dramatic cloak

Stuttgart by night

Stuttgart Opera House

Just like Wednesday, Thursday, 21 March was even warmer at 18C/64F and sunny, a perfect spring day - very appropriate in view of the date. I spent all day at a meeting for Privacy Officers and visited my Mum in the evening.

The attic flat above mine stood empty for 10 months since the former tenants moved to a larger flat. A new family with two small children moved in that day. The current tenant is the City of Ludwigsburg, who assigns the flat to people in need, mainly refugees. I didn't have a chance to speak to them that day, but was determined to welcome them as soon as possible.

Sunrise from my kitchen window

The neighbour's garden shows a carpet of primroses.

The magnificent magnolia tree again - even more beautiful than on Monday!

Friday, 22 March, was my 56th birthday. I worked all morning, and with the recent sad events felt not at all birthday-ish. Still, it was a beautiful day, and it was lovely to receive phone calls, emails and cards with good wishes and kind words.

O.K. arrived late afternoon, and soon after we'd had coffee, we were on our way into town, walking through the town centre and towards the palace grounds - but the grounds were not our actual destination today: We were to ride the giant ferris wheel!

Maybe you remember that I did the same on my birthday in 2022, with my Mum, Dad and Mum's friend R. And maybe you remember that I blogged about the wheel being set up, and finally finished; you can see the pictures from back then here.

Approaching the wheel:

Model (meaning, not full-size) hot air balloons were in the grounds near the wheel; a festival "Balloons in Bloom" was being held:

Sunset over the palace grounds...
...and over Ludwigsburg:

Looking up at the wheel before getting on:
And finally, up in the air:
View of the palace and the hot air balloons (some of them, at least - there were more than 80!):
Looking across the city centre towards the part where I live:
A venue for concerts and all sorts of events, built in the shape of a grand piano:
Back on the ground, looking at the wheel with its changing colours:

We then went to my place, where just the four of us (Mum, my sister, O.K. and myself) had pizza and drinks. Understandably, I did not feel like a big "do", but it mattered to me to have my loved ones with me, and by now it did feel like my birthday.
Here is the atlas my sister and I used in school - we are talking late 1970s and early 1980s here. It has a special meaning for us, and my sister got hold of a copy and gave it to me for my birthday, among other things :-)

My presents and cards.

We had nothing planned for Saturday, 23 March. It was much colder than the day before and very windy, with sprinkles of rain in between. After a leisurely breakfast, we went for a walk to the lake and back through the deer park, about 10 km altogether.

In the evening, we watched "Love & Friendship" on TV, a costume drama after a Jane Austen novel - just the right kind of escapism we find helpful these days.

Monrepos palace close up

Lady by the lake

Monrepos palace seen across the lake

part of the buildings housing the winery and offices next to the lake

Favorite palace in the deer park from the back...

...and front.

On Sunday, 24 March, we set off to O.K.'s at lunch time. The motorways were really busy, and driving was also made difficult by all sorts of weather: in quick succession, we went from sun to rain to sun to hail to rain, and it was very windy.

We met at O.K.'s Mum's with his sister and her husband in the afternoon; not only does it help to spend time together, there was (and is) of course still a lot for the family to discuss, decide and organise in connection with O.K.'s Dad's death.

It definitely was a very mixed week, and not just weather-wise.

Friday 22 March 2024

A Week of Wins and Losses

Actually, there was just one win, but two very sad losses. I have decided to touch on the latter only briefly, as it is not my place to go into detail - you will understand when you read on.

Our early start on Monday (11 March) meant we witnessed a beautiful spring morning with birdsong and sunrise. It was cold at 4C/39F but rose to 13C/55F during the day. I made use of that with a good walk of 2 hours after work.

Working from home on Tuesday (12 March) allowed for a quick drop-in at my Mum's during my lunch break. Later, it was Quiz time at the Irish Pub for my team - and we won! It was a really good evening out with my friends, lovely to see them. Four of the team are Americans, and one of them had been in the US for family matters for several months, so we had not seen him in a while. He brought along his teenage daughter who helped us with questions about current music, which we "oldies" rarely know the answers to. That made the difference, and so we walked out with the first prize (a bottle of whiskey).

I asked Bing Image Creator to give me a picture of six friends, three men and three women, playing the pub quiz at an Irish Pub - and this is what I got:

Not only can Bing not spell, it can't count to more than four, either. (Of course my friends look nothing like the people in the picture, just like I don't look like the person meant to be me.) About the spelling/counting issue, see my recent post about AI. That I nearly always have cider and never beer is something Bing couldn't know.

Wednesday (13 March) saw me taking the usual two trains to Weilimdorf for my customary office day. The sixth of a series of train drivers' strikes had ended during the night, and it was no problem getting to work.

My lunch break was spent with three fellow Privacy Officers at a nearby company; they have an excellent canteen where many from around the industrial estate go for lunch.

It was chilly and wet most of the day but the weather took a turn for a better mid-afternoon. Therefore, on my way home I got off the train in Kornwestheim and walked the rest of the way which did me good.

A glorious spring day on Thursday (14 March) was in sharp contrast to the sadness dominating our hearts and minds. O.K.'s father had been very ill for some time; he was in hospital and we knew he was not long for this world anymore. Thankfully, O.K. and the family were with him in the afternoon. He died later that night.

After work, my sister and I met for a walk to Hoheneck and back of about 2 1/2 hours. You may remember how frequently we used to walk together, and how that changed when our friend R became so ill and my sister was his main carer. It is good that we are now able to pick up our walks again every now and then.

I had an early start on Friday (15 March) for an event with about 20 fellow privacy officers I had organised and was going to moderate, taking two trains in order to get to Obert├╝rkheim.

Of course, I was there before anyone else.

View from my kitchen window early evening that day.

Back home, I had a quick cup of coffee before starting my usual weekend cleaning and then spent a quiet evening, of course including a long phone conversation with O.K.

Saturday (16 March) was the day of a city-wide spring cleaning: Volunteers collected rubbish all over Ludwigsburg. My volunteer group were responsible for the area around the train station (not the platforms and of course not the actual tracks). A surprising number of almost 20 people helped - surprising, because our group only consists of four active and two currently inactive members, and we only were certain about a handful of helpers.

It was not just rubbish that was picked up that day - one lady found the little bird in the photo (not a baby one; a common firecrest from the regulus family, I think) sitting dazed, but otherwise unharmed, on the pavement near a gym. She brought it to the office where I was based for the morning, and we kept it for a while. Once the little fellow became a little more animated, she carried him back to where she found him, put him safely out of people's way among the bushes there, and waited until he flew up into a tree.

I went home, packed my little red suitcase and was off to the train station again shortly afterwards. At 4:30 pm, I arrived in Offenburg.

On Sunday (17 March) O.K.'s sister and her husband had asked us (O.K., his mother and me) for lunch at their place. The excellent meal was of course also an occasion to talk about all those things that now need organising and deciding.

Afterwards, O.K. drove us back to the village where we stopped briefly at the cemetery before taking his mother home. We went for a walk around the village and then, as is mostly the case on Sundays, spent the rest of the afternoon and evening quietly at the cottage.

Compare this with the photo for 9 March in my next-to-last post - the blossoms are now fully open.

The second loss of that week was RJ's father, who died on Sunday night; I learned about it early this following week. (Long time readers of my blog may remember RJ; we were once in a relationship and have remained good friends. Also, he is still one of my employers.)

Such is life - we all know the ups and downs, sunny and dark days. That week had it all, and I must admit it has been getting a bit much lately, even for me.

Saturday 16 March 2024

Read in 2024 - 5: Mrs England

Mrs. England

by Stacey Halls

What attracted me instantly when I spotted this paperback at The Little Ripon Bookshop last summer was of course the beautiful cover design. Looking at the blurb on the back, I thought it was going to be a good read.

And now that I have finished it, I can say it was not just a good, but a great read!

From start to finish, I found it to be the kind of story that takes you right in. You know, when you are so "in" a book that you think about the characters in the story while you're not reading, and can't wait for the evening to arrive when you can finally retreat to your bed, prop yourself up with pillows in your back, turn on the lamp on your bedside table and open the book? It was exactly like that for me with this one.

Set in 1904, the story follows a young nurse who has left her position with a wealthy family in London and moves to Yorkshire where she looks after the children of mill owners Charles and Lilian England.

It's not just the change of scenery, local dialect and use of words (such as "dinner" for the midday meal the nurse always knew as "lunch", and "tea" not necessarily meaning a hot drink but the meal called "dinner" in other regions) the newcomer has to adjust to - it's the entire household.

At first, it just seems a bit odd how little involved with her children Mrs. England is; everything Nurse May needs to ask, all decisions her employers make regarding the children, their education, diet and schedule, are to be discussed with Mr. England instead.

Sounding like the perfect family when they were first described to her, Ruby soon finds out that things are not what they seem - but what ARE they, then?

Strange incidents occur (nothing paranormal or supernatural), and slowly but surely the situation escalates to a point of no return.

I am not going to tell you any more - just that I found everything about this book to like and nothing not to like. Language, style, excellent research that makes you feel you know what day-to-day life in a wealthy household (and also in a less well-off one) was 120 years ago. Characters you can relate to, and others you can't work out any better than the young nurse can.

There are points in the story where you may think you know where it is leading, but for me, where it actually did lead to was not what I was expecting.

Read it, if you get a chance! The author's website is here; Mrs England is her third book.

Friday 15 March 2024

First Full Week of March

And (as usual) a full week it was - not just because it was "fully" in March, calendar-wise.

On Monday (4 March), I was able to schedule my work tasks so that I could go for a back, neck and shoulders massage mid-afternoon. The evening saw me at a meeting with my volunteer group.

Tuesday and Wednesday (5 and 6 March) are quickly told: I spent both days at the office in Weilimdorf, and both days were chilly, grey and wet, so that no walk was on the cards other than the few minutes it takes me to get to and from the train stations. 

Wednesday was the 50th birthday of our Head of Department, and she had food and drinks (no alcohol, of course) brought up to our meeting room. After the work part of the meeting was over, we remained together for another hour to celebrate. It is good to have a boss and colleagues I really like and where I feel truly appreciated and part of the "gang".

The 5th strike of train drivers within the past few months on Thursday (7 March) meant I was working from home, and any walk I would want to go for after work would have to be without relying on a train to get back home. 

During lunch break, I quickly popped over to my Mum's for an errand. After work, I walked on the fields for about 1 3/4 hours, which did me good, in spite of it being a cold day with near frost during the night and early morning.

Hedgerows were bursting with buds that day - now, a week and several sunny and mild days later, more and more flowers and the first tender green leaves are showing by the hour.

My mother-in-law in Ripon turned 90 on Friday (8 March). As arranged with my sister-in-law, I called her in the early afternoon. We had a nice little chat and she sounded upbeat and like always - she may sometimes repeat things she has told me before, but all things considered, at 90 she does not sound any different than when she was 70 or 80. (Besides, I do that, too - telling someone the same story again because I forget I have told them already.)

Weather-wise, it was a good late afternoon / early evening for my standard Benningen walk. Entering the little nature reserve just before the first houses of the small town was like walking into fluffy clouds, with trees and bushes covered in white blossoms.

The big ferris wheel is back!!

I travelled to Offenburg on Saturday (9 March) on what was a beautiful sunny day, the warmest of the entire week. My trains were on time, and O.K. and I set off for a walk around the village almost as soon as I got there. Coffee & cake were next, followed by a brief rest and then a visit with O.K.'s Mum.

View from O.K.'s living room into the neighbours' garden. The tree was not yet in full bloom that day, but I am sure it is now.

Sunday (10 March) started sunny again; it rained in the afternoon and for most of the evening, but we didn't have time for a walk anyway. The village brass band were playing in church in the morning, and although O.K. did not play this time (his cough was still quite bad), we still went to church. 

The band members and their families, friends and supporters (such as myself) gathered in the Rectory Hall next to the church afterwards. Lunch was served, and at 2:00 pm the official part began: It was the band's annual General Meeting, plus a retrospective of the last 100 years - 2024 is the band's 100th anniversary.

We were home at about 5:00 pm and spent a quiet evening in, like we do most Sundays when we have an early start on Monday.