Monday 29 April 2024

A Musical Week

It wasn't actually a week of musicals, or a week where I went to concerts or something like that. Instead, I watched documentaries about musicians on Netflix every night - all good, all very different from each other. I will list them at the bottom of this post.

Monday (22 April) morning was just 1C/33F "warm" - and it was getting colder during the week. But the sun was out, and it warmed up a little during the day. I was working from home, and for the evening, had been invited to a meeting through my volunteer work. The meeting was held at my old school, which made it interesting for that reason alone. (The meeting itself was alright, but I can not see much happening in terms of cooperation between their volunteer group and ours.)

I worked at the office in Weilimdorf on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (23, 24 and 25 April), needing my padded winter coat each morning, as temperatures went just a little below freezing point. It remained mostly dry, and I knew  that Tuesday would be my best (and only) chance for a walk to Benningen. Therefore, on the Tuesday after work, instead of getting off the train in Ludwigsburg, I got off the next stop after that, Favoritepark. From there, the walk to Benningen was a real pleasure, and I caught a train back to Ludwigsburg with only a few minutes' wait.

On Wednesday, I went to see my Mum after work for a chat, while on Thursday, I stayed on at work for another 1 1/2 hours or so. 

Once a month, the company has an informal after work gathering in the foyer for anyone who feels like it. People can grab a bottle of coke, a shandy or just water, and on stand-up tables (no chairs) are bowls with crisps, choccies and so on. It is nice to meet colleagues outside a meeting (where of course you have a specific work-related subject to talk about) or not at the tea/coffee machine (where you never have much time because of course you have to be back at your desk or in the next meeting).

On Friday (26 April), my Mum, my sister and I met in town after work. It was finally a little warmer, a bit windy but remained dry the rest of the day after a sprinkle of rain in the morning. 

From my Third Room (which is where I work when working from home), I was watching the house next door with great interest. It was a bit like a theatre performance with the curtain going up slowly to reveal the scene:

We visited the small French Market on the square behind the town hall, like we've done in previous years. The stall holders come all the way from France for just a few days (it's not THAT far, really, but too far for an everyday thing) and offer their products. You can buy cheese, lavender products, bread, macarons, all sorts of other sweet baked goods, wine, olives, salami, honey, soap and so on. 

A row of beer tables and benches are in the middle, and one can buy drinks and food from two stalls, which is what the three of us did. It was nice after the cold week to sit out in the relative warm sun and catch up with each other.

Winter coat and scarf still on...

...and then off.

Some silliness on the way home (pictures taken by my sister).

My sister and I visited an exhibition on Saturday (27 April) morning about the history of Ludwigsburg's train station. Very interesting, and very well presented. The small museum is run by volunteers and open to the public only rarely; I sat next to the leader of that group on Monday evening at my old school, and he had kindly suggested to open the museum just for us on the Saturday to give us a chance to see the exhibition.

Afterwards, we walked into town centre for an errand, and intended to have a stroll in the palace grounds next. However...

...I went to the toilet in another museum while my sister waited for me outside in the sun. On my way out, at a very determined pace I walked full on into a sliding glass door which I took to be open - well, it wasn't. The crash or bang was heard throughout the building, and the staff came running. They gave me a cooling pack for my nose and upper lip, and I sat down for a little, with my sister (and the staff) making sure I was alright.

I was alright; no headache, my specs intact, no tooth smashed out, not feeling dizzy, no nosebleed. But I needed a little rest to get myself together, and assess the damage.

So stupid!! You had to see it to believe it - my moment of slapstick. It cut our outing short, since after only a brief stint at the palace grounds I felt I wanted to go home for some peace and quiet. I rested on my bed for about an hour with a cold cloth on my face, which was the best thing to do.

Later, I was well enough to do my usual cleaning, and well before sunset went for a walk on the fields (once again meeting up with my sister) for about two hours.

There were up to 12 or 13 hot air balloons in the sky at one time.

This mysterious UFO was among the balloons, but much larger. We couldn't figure out what it was.

Anyway, I am now going to start my May holiday with O.K. with a swollen left upper lip and a scratch just above it. It could have been so much worse, and I only have my own daftness to blame.

On Sunday (28 April) I took care of the usual things to do when you are going to be away for two weeks. Much of the day was spent quietly pottering about, a bit of blogging (preparing this very post you are reading), playing my favourite computer game, reading. Late afternoon I went for a 2-hour walk to Pattonville and back, meeting several cats along the way but taking pictures only of these two:

In about 2 1/2 hours, I'll be on my way to O.K.'s. As usual, our May holiday starts off with the May fête in the village, where we'll be helping with the setting up, manning the drinks counter, playing music (not me, of course) and dismantling on the next day. O.K.'s birthday is next, and the day after that, he'll drive us deeper and higher into the Blackforest where we'll be staying at a nice hotel for a week, looking forward to our favourite combination of walking/hiking, spa and fine dining.

Therefore, over the next two weeks, I probably won't post or comment all that much since I don't like typing without a proper keyboard and will only have my iPad with me. But I will be reading your blogs most days.

Here are the music-related documentaries I watched during the week:

  • "Not Just a Girl" about Shania Twain; trailer on youtube.
  • "The Greatest Night in Pop" about the making of "We Are the World"; trailer on youtube.
  • "Wham!" about the eponymous 80s pop duo; trailer on youtube.
  • "Quincy" about Quincy Jones; trailer on youtube.
  • "Halftime" about Jennifer Lopez; trailer on youtube.
I found each one interesting and entertaining at the same time. There was a lot in there that I had not known before, and it strengthened my resolve not to (mis)judge anyone by their public image. Much was familiar, reminding me of different times in my life when a particular song played a specific role for me. I can highly recommend these and am sure you'll find them, if you want to (and not just on Netflix).

Sunday 28 April 2024

Read in 2024 - 9: The Last Devil to Die

The Last Devil to Die

Richard Osman

Not that long ago I read the 3rd book in Richard Osman's brilliant series about the Thursday Murder Club; my review for that is here (and should have a link to my post about the 2nd book, which in turn should have a link to the one about the 1st book).

The 4th in the series was once again pure reader's delight from start to finish. Not one scene, not one character made me wish the author had put that differently, or left it out altogether. There are tears and laughter, often close together; just like in real life.

Of course, in real life I don't think you'd meet a group of pensioners in a retirement village solving murders, usually being ahead of their friends at the police (unofficially, of course). Also, I very much HOPE that there aren't money laundering, drug smuggling and other serious crimes behind each and every shop or business - there must still be some legtimate businesses around, surely?

But it all makes for great storytelling, and of course it is lovely to meet up with the main cast, even though some of them go through some very real drama that is obviously based on people the author knows in real life (see his acknowlegements at the end of the book).

Some characters we've become acquainted with in the previous books make an appearance, too: There is Connie Johnson, everyone's favourite cocaine dealer, who is still doing her time in prison and for the first time in her life finds herself confronted with new, unwelcome emotions to handle; there is Kuldesh Sharma, antiques dealer and long-standing close friend of Elizabeth's husband Stephen, and a few others.

But a new set of characters liven things up considerably: A superior officer is put in front of Chris and Donna's noses, making things difficult for them; an art-forger is dappling in a new line of business; someone is thrown off a multi-storey car park, and what does the bear-like Canadian who seems to love dogs more than people have to do with it all?

Unlike in the other books, this time Joyce takes more of a lead than Elizabeth, in her very own style. Ibrahim makes a new friend, and Ron... is just Ron, and we love him for that.

I have learned from another blog that a film is going to be made of The Thursday Murder Club (the 1st book, I suppose), and much to my delight, Helen Mirren is going to play Elizabeth - I saw her in my mind from the first time she was introduced to us in the first book. An elderly Pierce Brosnan fits Ron very well, and Ben Kingsley will be the perfect Ibrahim. As for Joyce, her actress is yet to be revealed. I have a few ladies in mind but am not sure about any of them. We'll find out eventually!

Until then, I shall be anticipating more news about the film, and of course book #5.

Saturday 27 April 2024

Read in 2024 - 8: All Teachers Bright and Beautiful

All Teachers Bright and Beautiful

Andy Seed

Last Christmas, my sister gave me the 1st book of Andy Seed's memoirs from when he was a young teacher at a village school in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1980s. That first book was a paperback, and I reviewed it here. Then, I read the 2nd book on my kindle, ; you can find my review here.

Earlier this week, I have finished the 3rd - and, from what I see on the author's website - last one (again on my kindle). That's a shame, because I really enjoyed them very much, and wouldn't mind more!

Just like with books 1 and 2, the author follows an entire school year along with the seasons, and as before, each chapter bears the name of one of his students. Those chapters do not focus exclusively on the one student, but they feature in a special way; we learn about their background, their strengths and problems, and how their teacher is able (and very rarely, unable) to build a good relationship with them and help them grow.

In this one, we find Andy and his young family having a few adventures: They go for walks that turn out longer than expected, take a short holiday in a caravan at a farm, the little boys (now 4 and 2 years old) have birthday parties, and much more. But of course the main thing is the teacher's work at the school and his aim to do the best he can for his students.

There are a seaside school trip and other memorable events such as football matches against other schools, visits from school inspectors, fêtes and performances for the parents, and some new additions such as a herb garden and modern whiteboards.

Just as in real life, it's not all rosy; there are financial hardships, friends move away, and one particular parent keeps pestering his son's teacher for perceived unfairness. But there is also a lot of joy and fun to be had, and some real bright moments when Andy knows it's all been worthwile.

In my opinion, buying and reading these books was certainly worthwile!

Tuesday 23 April 2024

A Typical April Week

Germany is not the only country where April is seen as a month of extremely varied weather - sometimes having everything from snow to sunshine to hail to thunder and back to sunshine within a couple of hours. We have a rhyme "April, April, der macht was er will", meaning April does as April wants. Last week was a typical example of that.

After the summerly weekend with highs of 25C/77F, Monday (15 April) was much cooler at 12C/53F. It was also very windy, if not to say stormy, making for rapidly changing light and a quick succession of showers and sun. After a quiet day working from home, I went for only about an hour's walk to the Old Cemetery and back; it was just a little too windy to make being outside a pleasure.

I passed through this part of town often on my way to the hospital in autum 2022.

Tuesday (16 April) was more or less the same in terms of weather and temperature, but I was lucky: After my quarterly eye examination in Stuttgart, the sun was out and the wind not too strong, allowing me to walk the first part of my trip home, getting on the local train at the third instead of the first station from the surgery. 

Like most big cities, Stuttgart has several parks and other green spaces. Starting from the Schlossgarten (palace grounds) in the middle of the city, one can walk through parkland for miles without having to battle the constant flow of cars; foot bridges (also used by cyclists) cross the big roads that cut through the parks at some spots.

In my teens, I often had a special ticket for our local trains available to students during school holidays. Sometimes I would use that ticket to take a train into Stuttgart and then walk through the park(s) until getting on a train back home at another station. 

I'd not done this particular walk in many, many years, and with it being such a beautiful day and no pressing obligations for the rest of the afternoon, I decided to walk.

The map - courtesy of Google maps - shows two red circles added by me. The one in the bottom left corner shows the train station where I usually get on and off for appointments with my eye doctor. The one at the top shows the station where I boarded a train back to Ludwigsburg, after having walked for about 1 1/2 hours through the parks you can see on the map, starting with Schlossgarten.

Here are the pictures I took along the way:

Wednesday (17 April) was spent at the office. At 4C/39F, it was cold enough in the morning to wear my padded winter coat and a warm scarf again. Once more, there was a mix of wind, rain and sun, with the odd clattering of hail against the window. But it remained dry almost until the end of my walk home from Kornwestheim.

A second day was spent at the office this week on Thursday (18 April), and the evening at my Mum's where the three of us enjoyed another delicious meal cooked by our Mum. In line with the wintry weather, she made a classic: mashed spuds, Sauerkraut and "Schäufele" (a dish of meat popular in my and O.K.'s regions).

It rained most of the day on Friday (19 April), and at 3C/37F, time to put the heating back on except for when I did my cleaning round in the afternoon. O.K. arrived shortly after 9:00 pm.

Saturday (20 April) was going to be a mix of rain and very little sun, according to the forecast. We still ventured into town after a leisurely breakfast, visiting some shops in view of O.K.'s upcoming birthday, and did not need our hoods or an umbrella (which would have been useless with the strong wind anyway).

I'd ordered food at the Indian restaurant in our neighbourhood, and at 6:30 pm O.K. and I went to pick it up and take it to my Mum's where the four of us (my sister was there, too) tucked into our delicious spicy food.

After I'd been struggling with a headache (coming from my neck/shoulder area) for most of the day, shortly after the meal I really couldn't keep going, and we went home unusually early. At 9:15 pm, I was in bed, knowing that only sleep would really make a difference.

And so it was; waking up on Sunday (21 April), I was right as rain again. 2C/35F was cold, but we just wrapped up well and went for a good long walk on the fields in the afternoon. 

Snow, maybe icy rain and slippery roads were threatening, and therefore O.K. drove home about 1 1/2 hours earlier than usual on a Sunday night. 

We ate early; I made green asparagus tarte on a base of puff pastry. The pastry was bought ready, everything else was by me after a recipe I'd taken out from a magazine many years ago and had always wanted to try. It turned out really nice, I think - a dry white wine would have been perfect with it, but of course O.K. had to drive and so we stuck to water.

My week ended with an early retreat to bed with my current read - the fourth installment of Richard Osman's Thursday Murder Club series (brilliant!).

Friday 19 April 2024

A (Mostly) Sunny Week

+ + + Update: I added something to the Thursday of that week. + + +

Last week was mostly sunny and really warm, with not a single drop of rain (a total contrast to this week). I had the chance for some good walks, making the most of the spring that felt more like early summer.

My trains from Offenburg to Ludwigsburg were on time on Monday (8 April). After an already mild morning, 25C/77F in the afternoon meant I went out in short sleeves and 3/4 length jeans to meet a friend for coffee and cake. It was very good to catch up with her - we'd not seen each other since last autumn.

A back & shoulders massage followed; after that, I met up with my sister for a walk in the palace grounds with the tulips and other spring flowers at their most beautiful, as you can see from the pictures.

Tuesday (9 April) was much chillier at a high of 11C/51F, but at least the forecast rain did not materialise for us. I only worked until lunch time, then my sister picked me up for the drive to a small town not that far away but hard to get to by public transport. 

We were there for the funeral service of our friend RJ's Dad - he was the fourth person in my circle of family and friends to have died in the first three months of this year, only three days after O.K.'s Dad. I hope there won't be another funeral for me to attend for a long time.

I had a brief rest at home before setting off to the pub where my team and I were booked for the quiz. It was good fun even though this time we did not walk home with a prize - we ended up with 22 out of 26 points, coming fourth.

A chilly 7C/44F warmed up to 14C/57F on Wednesday (10 April), my usual office day. After an unremarkable but productive working day, I walked home from Zuffenhausen across the fields in beautiful late afternoon sunshine, enjoying every moment of the just under two hours it took me.

I started Thursday (11 April) working from home, glad not having to be out on that sunny but very cold morning at 3C/37F. By lunch time, it was much warmer, and it was good to be on a train to Marbach, where I had a meeting at the Literature Archive. 

Afterwards, it was 14C/57F again, and in the beautiful sunshine I walked along the river until I reached the bottom of Ludwigsburg (actually, the suburb of Hoheneck). From there, I took a bus up into town and walked the remaining 10 minutes to my house. The roughly 8 km were a beautiful walk, but my work laptop is large and heavy, which was one reason why I opted for the bus for that final bit through town.

Schiller National Museum in Marbach (part of the complex of buildings connected with the Literature Archive, and therefore occasionally my work place)

 View of the museum from across the river

One of the many vineyards turned into orchards and allotments

Another ex vineyard, with a shed high up at the top of the steep slope

Nobody has been working this very steep vineyard in a long time.

I did not stay home that evening; actually, I merely dropped off my heavy work laptop and was off again to my Mum's where my sister and I were to enjoy once more our Mum's great cooking. This time, she made green and white asparagus with slices of ham and savoury pancakes - a seasonal dish that suited the evening very well.

Friday (12 April) saw the usual succession of work, groceries shopping and cleaning, changing the bed sheets and so on, with a rare addition: I cleaned my windows :-D They really were very dirty, and knowing that I was going to have visitors on Saturday added extra motivation for tackling my least favourite household task.

When O.K. arrived shortly after 9:00 pm, I served green asparagus with slices of ham, a salad of baby spinach leaves, yellow pepper and feta cheese, ciabatta and a crisp dry white to go with it. Even if I say so myself, a delicious and fitting meal for a beautiful spring evening.

Since I had postponed my little birthday party to Saturday (13 April), in the morning O.K. and I went to a large supermarket nearby for the drinks and crushed ice. After that, we picked up the party Brezel I had ordered from my local baker - made of 1 kg of dough and prepared with four different kinds of cheese and three types of ham, as well as slices of egg, radishes and lettuce.

There were only going to be eight of us, and with the drinks bought and part of the food ready, we had enough time to go for an ice cream in the afternoon. It was beautiful and warm at 25C/77F or more, and accordingly, very busy in town. But the long-ish queue at the ice cream counter moved swiftly, so that we were soon holding our takeaway cups. We found empty chairs on the market square (a small miracle on a day like that) and enjoyed our ice creams before crossing the road for a short stroll in the palace grounds.

Soon, it was time to get back and prepare the rest of the food, bring up the extra chairs from the cellar, set out glasses for the drinks and so on.

A close-up of the big party Brezel :-)

It was nearly as big as my kitchen table!

From 7:00 pm onwards, my guests started to arrive, some of which I had not seen in quite a while. As it was meant to be my birthday party (originally planned for the day after my birthday three weeks ago), they brought presents and cards as well.

It was a lovely, fun evening with my friends and family (of course my Mum and sister were there, too), and I was glad and grateful for everything and everyone.

After the guests had left, clearing up didn't take long, and I was in bed before 2:00 am, the dishwasher quietly humming in the kitchen.

Sunday (April 14) was another warm day of wall-to-wall sunshine. After a leisurely brunch, O.K. and I walked to the lake, then further on to the casle on the hill (Asperg) where we had a shandy before completing our walk of about 13.5 km.

Field of rapeseed on our way to the lake

One of the paths around the lake

Up on Hohenasperg, the castle hill above the town of Asperg

Looking west across Asperg

Looking east across Asperg towards Ludwigsburg in the distance

The beer garden where we had our shandies

Back home at 5 pm, we had coffee and strawberry cake; later, I made another salad of baby spinach leaves and yellow pepper, this time with slices of avocado, and heated the rest of the party food. 

O.K. left shortly after 8:00 pm and was home less than two hours later.

That Sunday would have been my Grandma's (Mum's mum) 110th birthday.