Saturday 29 June 2024

A (Somewhat) Quieter Week

After the very busy week and weekend (see my previous posts), the week from June 17 to 23 was somewhat quieter. Weather-wise, it was a mixed bag of sun and rain, with highs of up to 30C/86F and a lot of humidity.

On Monday (17 June), my trains home from Offenburg to Ludwigsburg were almost on time, and I was able to start work as usual. My last video call for the day started at 4:00 pm, and a little after 6:00, I was ready to set off for my standard walk to Benningen. 

Most of the time, I simply walk without checking which train I might catch for the way back, but that day, I looked it up and found that if I paced myself well, I would reach a convenient train; missing that one would mean a wait of half an hour. Since I was getting hungry and didn't feel like waiting, I sped up and made the walk in record time: about 1 hour 40 minutes, when usually it takes me about 10-15 minutes more than that, depending on the number of photo stops, red lights at busy roads, and so on.

I worked at the office on Tuesday (18 June) on what was the hottest day of the week. My office faces north and does not get direct sunlight, so it was good to open the windows in the morning and let fresh air in (no A/C in that part of the building) and still have a pleasant temperature in the room during the afternoon.

No walk after work that day, since I had two ladies coming to my place at 7:00 pm to talk about the service we wanted for the house, cleaning the staircase and the small outside area. They (mother and daughter) arrived a little earlier, and we soon agreed on the terms for the daughter doing the regular weekly cleaning, while together with her mother she would start with a thorough cleaning on Thursday. I was very pleased with our arrangement and liked the two women instantly.

Another day at the office on Wednesday (19 June); afterwards, my sister and I watched the Germany - Hungary match at her place (so far the only match of the European Championship I have watched properly).

Thursday (20 June) was another warm day of much humidity. I was working from home, awaiting the two ladies for their first thorough cleaning. They arrived as arranged, and after only a sip of water (my offers of coffee or tea and, if necessary, using my toilet anytime were declined) they set to their task, working a solid 3 1/2 hours - the stairs, front door, basement room where we all have our washing machines, and the area around the house have not been so clean and tidy in a long time! They also cleaned the windows in the staircase and did a really good job.

I had to leave them to it about an hour before they finished, since I was meeting  my Mum and friend R at the small palace by the lake for the weekly Wine After Work. 

It was nice, but the music from the stereo was a little too loud for our taste - we wouldn't need any music there at all; one of the nice things about the place by the lake is that it is peaceful and quiet, and birdsong provides enough background music for us. But apparently, many other visitors are of a different opinion. When I went to the wine stall and asked them politely to turn the music down a little bit, they did so immediately. A little later, someone else must have gone and asked to turn it up, because it was louder again. Never mind - we still had a beautiful evening, and as usual, I enjoyed the walk home.

On Friday (21 June), I hosted a web conference from 9:00 am to a little after 1:00 pm. After something to eat and a brief rest, I wrapped up work, did my weekly cleaning and packed my little red suitcase for the weekend.

The train to Offenburg was only about 3 minutes late, and by 9:00 pm, O.K. and I arrived at the cottage.

Saturday (22 June) started off nicely, but heavy rainfall in the early afternoon meant a drop in temperature. O.K.'s work place had their annual summer fest; spouses, partners and families were invited, and so I went along as well.

A good variety of food and drink were on offer, and a large tent meant we were sheltered from the rain - at least from above! There were puddles under nearly every table, and one really had to place one's feet carefully.

We went on a guided tour of the building (which O.K. of course knows like the back of his hand), had something to eat and drink, talked to O.K.'s colleagues and their families, and left a bit before the official end.

Instead of driving directly back to the village, we stopped at a big shop for sports clothes and equipment. O.K. needed a pair of trainers for everyday use (and found them), and I couldn't decide between two pairs and therefore bought both.

Back at the cottage, we prepared three glasses of our favourite summer cocktail (Apérol Spritz) and took them across the road to O.K.'s Mum, which was a nice start of the evening.

For the first time this year, on Sunday (23 June) O.K. and I had our morning coffee on the balcony in the sun - it wasn't too hot yet, and dry for a change!

We then set off for a walk in the Black Forest, straight from the cottage, our rucksacks filled with our standard fare for walks and hikes: flasks of water, sandwiches, raw red pepper cut in strips, quarters of apple sprinkled with lemon juice, and a small container with tomatoes. We liberally sprayed ourselves with mozzie repellant, resulting in only a few stings and bites along the way (mainly where we'd washed or sweated off the repellant in the course of the day).

The place names won't mean anything to you, but I record them here for my own benefit: Hucken, Niederschopfheim, Riedmühle, Diersburg, Lendersbach-Hütte (where we had our sandwiches), Pionierstein, Rebmesserstein, Gutta-Hütte (where we stopped for a shandy and sausage), Kammweg, Barack, outskirts of Zunsweier, and back to Hofweier.

It's a good year for wild poppies.

Also for cornflowers.

A poppy field, soon ready to be harvested.

Foxgloves line many paths in the Black Forest.

We ended up with about 29 km (18 miles) under our belts (or hiking boots). It was the longest walk/hike we've been on in a long time, and I enjoyed all of it - even the uphill bits, where I habitually puff and pant like an old steam engine. Of course we were tired afterwards, but tired in a good way; not the kind of drained exhaution you get after a long day at work or from lack of sleep.

We watched the football match Germany - Switzerland, but only half-heartedly, and went to bed straight afterwards, since Monday was going to be an early start.

Friday 21 June 2024

A Very Busy Weekend

With a busy week behind me, a very busy weekend was ahead: The Village Brass Band were celebrating their 100th anniversary.

It wasn't the first festivity of this year to mark this special occasion, but it was the biggest: All of Saturday and Sunday, we had a schedule choc full of brass bands, a parade, a variety evening on stage, a large beer tent, stalls serving food and drink, activities for children and more.

Many of the band members had taken the Friday before and the Monday after off work, in order to set up the large tent (bigger than the one we usually rent for the May fête) and pull it back down.

On five past 8:00 on Saturday (15 June) morning, we arrived at the parking lot at the centre of the village, along with many others. Rain had fallen during the night and early hours, but now the sun was peeping out, and it was beginning to warm up. A blustery wind helped to dry off the square, but there were still puddles right where we wanted to set up some of the stalls.

Never mind, we did it, and a little after 12:00, we arrived at the cottage for a brief rest and a quick snack of fresh fruit and yoghurt. We showered and dressed properly (of course we'd not been in our best clothes for the physical work), and a little before 3:00 pm, I was back at the tent.

From that moment on until 8:00 pm, I was constantly busy and on my feet nearly non-stop, and from 6:30 pm, a fellow band member and I were on stage to serve as MCs for the evening program which consisted of four different acts, all in honour of the 100th anniversary.

Two were bands who played different kinds of music, and two were dance groups; one of those were in traditional costumes of the area, performing traditional dances, while the others were teenage girls dancing to hip hop music - you couldn't get more contrast than that. It was to show not only the support of the other clubs and bands in the village, but also how during the century the band has now been in existence music and dancing have changed and developed.

My colleague and I each had a cordless mic and improvised a lot - most of the time, we prepared only very roughly who was to say what, and when. But it worked a treat, and apart from me holding the mic too far away from my mouth so that people found they heard me less well than my colleague, the audience seemed to be as happy with us as with the various performances.

Once we'd got off stage for the last time, O.K. and I went outside to get drinks, and then mingled with the many visitors. At 9:00 pm, a brass band of local and regional fame, consisting of 9 young lads, went on stage. We alternated between listening to them and getting more drinks. It was a good evening; the mood inside the tent was great, with folks eventually dancing on the tables and benches (not us).

We left around midnight, but the band kept playing for about another hour - their energy seemed endless.

No sleeping in on Sunday (16 June) for us - mass was held in the large tent at 9:30 in the morning, and of course we had to be there well before that. While O.K. and his fellow musicians got ready to accompany the hymns, I was handing out the music sheets to the church goers and directed the odd unsure person to where they would find an empty seat. 

It was an unusual setting for mass, but very well attended, and I quite liked what the vicar said. The music was beautiful, and I sang along like nearly everybody else.

Immediately afterwards, I was expected to help inside town hall with a reception for the leaders of the nine other brass bands who were here for the day. We prepared flowers, put out glasses and snacks and got the sparkling wine and other drinks ready.

The mayor was there, of course, and a few congratulatory speeches were made. O.K. and four others played a few pieces of traditional brass music, and the glass doors to the roof terrace were opened so that we could wander outside and see the village from a very different perspective - that was my favourite part of the reception.

Preparing the reception

View from town hall across the stalls, with the fest not yet started.

A view across the village I had never had before.

The five musicians at the reception.

I helped putting everything away again and then set off up the main village street to where a small truck had been set up - my place of work for the next two hours or so.

At the other end of the village street, the 10 brass bands had been gathering. Now one after the other, they marched down the street lined with spectators, playing music. First came the "birthday child", of course.

My colleague and I stood on our impromptu platform, mic in hand, and announced each band as they were approaching. We told the spectators a few facts about the bands and sprinkled in a little light humour; by now, we had come to like this MC lark and knew how to do it as a spontaneous dialogue.

One of the visiting bands on their way to the top end of the village street

Each band was special in their own way, but the most special part was yet to come:

Once they had all marched down towards town hall, they gathered on the main road that cuts through the village (it was of course blocked for traffic on this occasion). Imagine somewhere around 500 musicians, all in their band uniforms and holding shiny brass instruments, in one spot - and now imagine them all playing one song together! It was a moment for goosebumps, and many people were moved to tears.

Too many to get them all in one picture!

The one to the right is "our" village band, the one celebrating their 100th anniversary.

Finally, O.K. and I went home to freshen up a little, and he changed out of his band uniform. We went back to the fest, had something to eat and coffee, and at 5:00 pm we were manning one of the drinks stalls.

Usually on such shifts behind the counter we are rushed off our feet, but not so that evening. After what had been a mostly sunny day with only a few sprinkles of rain, a series of showers set in, and with the parade as the main event being over, many visitors left. The ones who were still there were more interested in beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks, none of which were available at our stall.

It was really slow going, but to be honest, after the two very busy days, it was welcome not be working an exhausting shift. We agreed to close our stall an hour before it was actually meant to close and started to pack up.

From 9:00 pm, the other stalls followed suit, and by the time we started to clean and fold away the benches and tables in the big tent, rain had set in properly. We helped with various jobs until after 10:00 pm, and were back at the cottage by 10:30, too tired to do anything else than get ready for bed and go to sleep.

It had been a very busy weekend indeed, but also a great one - it was fun to be involved, and we were mostly lucky with the weather; at least it had not rained on the parade :-)

Thursday 20 June 2024

A Very Busy Week

Being busy sometimes feels good, and even being VERY busy can feel good - provided I get enough time to myself in between, before or after such a period. Last week was a good example, and much as I enjoyed all the various activities, I really wouldn't be able (or willing) to keep that sort of pace for long!

On Monday (10 June), I boarded a train to Fulda, a city in a different federal state from mine. I arrived there at about 1:30 pm, found my hotel easily and checked in. A few of my fellow Data Protection Officers were already there, but with having sat on the train for a few hours and the prospect of more sitting at the conference we were having that afternoon, all I wanted was to stretch my legs and look around. 

My room at the hotel - very 1990s!

...and the view from it - but it was clean and quiet.

Across the road from the hotel was a park, a former cemetery. At one end, a gate lead across another road and into a second park, also a former cemetery. Both parks were beautiful, but quite different in their layout and atmosphere. I had a leisurely stroll and looked at some of the old headstones, the statues, the old trees and the wild flowers in the high grass.

The conference ended a little after 6:00 pm, and our group of about 12 was booked at a restaurant in the town centre. One of us knew the place well and offered to take those who were willing on a little detour on our way there, in order to show us a few highlights of the historic old town. I was among those who went on the tour, and although it was a little rushed so that we arrived at the restaurant in time, it was really interesting.

Fulda has a strong church presence with monasteries and a large baroque cathedral. Even some of the traffic lights pick up on the religious theme!

We had our meal, which was alright; many restaurants in Germany are closed on a Monday and so the person who organised the meal had to make do with what was open. Service was middling, but all things considered, it was ok.

Afterwards, our colleague who had given us the quick tour offered to take us to the area near the river, which was a long green stretch of parkland. There was still enough daylight left, and about half of us were eager to walk after the long hours of sitting and the meal.

A brilliant rainbow appeared and made the walk even better. Fulda is really a beautiful town - I had not known the place at all and was pleasantly surprised. Definitely worth returning to at some stage!

If you look closely, you can see there were actually two rainbows.

Not a river, but the lane along the long green stretch of parkland glistening with recent rain.

By the time I was back in my room, it was 10:30 pm and dark.

The conference continued on Tuesday (11 June). I spent part of the lunch break in the park next to the hotel again. When during the afternoon I learned that the middle part of my train journey home had been cancelled, I arranged with two colleagues who were driving in the direction of my area to go with them.

The three of us had a good old chin wag on the trip home (with no traffic holdups, thankfully), and I soon caught a local train from where the ladies dropped me off, arriving home at 8:30 pm.

The next day was sunny and bright, and as it was Wednesay (12 June), I worked at the office. Walking home from Kornwestheim took about 50 minutes, after which I spent a quiet, relaxing evening at home.

On Thursday (13 June) I learned that my favourite neighbour had died the previous week. Hers is the beautiful garden I see best from my kitchen window, a view you are all familiar with. Last year, she moved into a nursing home, where I went to visit her. We spoke on the phone every now and then, and I was planning my next visit - her death came unexpected, even though she was nearly 93.

Friday (14 June) was nothing out of the ordinary: I worked, I cleaned, I took the train to Offenburg where O.K. picked me up at 8:30 pm. We had our customary end-of-the-working-week meal of salad, bread, cheese and wine.

The weekend deserves its own post, I think - and then you'll understand why I have chosen the headline "A Very Busy Week" :-)

Wednesday 19 June 2024

Read in 2024 - 10, 11, 12

A small backlog of book reviews has been building up since I last posted one; sometimes it is just that way and I simply don't find (or don't take) the time to blog more than my weekly report.

#10: Mystery on Hidden Lane - An Eve Mallow Mystery
Clare Chase
You guessed it - here was another first of a series, offered at Amazon's Kindle shop for free so that readers would get interested and buy the rest.

This one ticked all the boxes for what is labelled a "Cozy Mystery": Not too much gory detail, but still making the story not all that foreseeable; a likeable cast of main characters in a cosy setting (here: a sweet little village) and maybe (but not necessarily) the start of a romance that can easily span several instalments of the series.

In this book, obituary writer Eve Mallow is given the task of writing about a famous cellist - and finds out that his death is much more interesting than his life. By interviewing his nearest and (not necessarily) dearest, as she usually does for an obituary, she finds unexpected reasons for people wanting the famous musician dead, and eventually uncovers the truth.

It was an easy, enjoyable read without too much daftness on the heroine's side; I know this is often used by authors who want to make their readers laugh and sympathise with the character, but it rarely works on me - I just get annoyed. So, thankfully, this was not the case here. I quite liked Eve Mallow and her dachshund, as well as the cottage and the village.

Certainly not a "must read", but a "can".
The author has a good website and is also a blogger.

#11: The Murder Mystery - A Beth Haldane Mystery
Alice Castle

Another one from the "read the first one for free and then buy the rest" section at the Kindle shop, I found this one more gripping and cared more about the main character than in my previous read.

Beth Haldane, the way-too-early widowed mother of a 9-year-old boy, is happy when she lands the job of assistant archivist at the most distinguished school around, hoping this will contribute towards her son eventually getting a place there.

But her first day on the job turns out to be the First Day from Hell when she stumbles across her new boss stabbed to death. 
Because she believes the investigating officer to see her as Suspect No. 1, she does all she can in order to find the real murderer, clear her name (and hopefully keep her job) and get to the bottom of it all.

It starts to look very much as if the motive for the murder of the school's historian lies in the 16th century, when the school was founded. Beth's office is ransacked, but when even her home is burgled, things get personal - with her son's safety at risk, she puts all her efforts into solving the case, and fast.

Eventually, the true motive and the murderer turn out to be unexpected, more sad than scary. And although Beth's life is saved by a hair's breadth, all's well that ends well... right? Only that, as it is the start of a series, the reader knows that Beth and her son won't simply enjoy the quiet, good life from now on.

A good read for those hours spent at train stations and on trains.

The author's website is here.

#12: Aunt Bessie Questions
Diana Xarissa

A bit out of the ordinary: This free ebook is actually #17 in a series, not the first book. Also, it is set on the Isle of Man, a place I know next to nothing about.

Maybe it was the appeal of an unfamiliar place combined with the heroine being an elderly lady that made this such a good read; I really enjoyed it.

A couple about to get married are meeting at the church to talk things through with the vicar who is to perform the ceremony the next day. When he turns up dead between the old tombstones in the church's graveyard, Bessie (who happens to be the bride's friend) is drawn into the mystery.

Yes, it's another Cozy Mystery and yes, some things are pretty foreseeable or at least follow the typical pattern of such books. But it flows along easily and yet one wants to find out what really happened.

The author's website is here.

Thursday 13 June 2024

A Week At Home

After my busy Berlin week, the first full week of June was spent at home with only two days at the office in Weilimdorf. The weather was a mix of sunshine and mild temperatures with a few showers thrown in, and I was able to walk a lot.

On Monday (3 June) morning, my usual train wasn't running because of the flooding that has been affecting much of south Germany. But an alternative connection worked well enough, so that I was home only about half an hour later than usual.

After work, I enjoyed my standard walk to Benningen.

The fields look more like what you'd expect in early July than June.

Tuesday (4 June) and Wednesday (5 June) saw me working at the office in Weilimdorf. On Tuesday afternoon, a gathering to celebrate the end of a big project was held, and since I had been contributed to that project, I was invited. There were a few speeches, the main project staff were given flowers and chocolates, and we had drinks and snacks. The gathering ended officially at 6:30 pm, and I left a little before that.

Wednesday morning was off to a bad start when my downstairs neighbour rang my doorbell just as I was about to leave for the train station. 

In our house, we've been having problems for a long time with people not cleaning the stairs and the paved area around the house when it is their turn. I am one of three owners, and the three of us have decided to employ someone for that service who does not live in the house. My neighbour rents the flat from one of the other two owners, and he misunderstood a few things when his landlord informed him about the change. He had nothing better to do than to unjustly accuse me, and shout at me in the stair case - before 8:00 am! His wife was very embarrassed about his behaviour and dragged him back into their flat, and I left for work.

I was upset, but managed to focus on work. Walking home from Zuffenhausen after work helped to further clear my head, and as soon I was home, I asked the couple to come upstairs and sit down to talk about it all in a civilised manner. We succeeded and are now "friends" again; the wife was so relieved at our peace-making that she nearly cried. Nobody needs "war" in the house - there is already too much aggression in the world as it is.

The process of finding someone who will provide us with that service at a reasonable price is ongoing.

On the fields between Stammheim and Pflugfelden
A beautiful sunny day followed on Thursday (6 June). My Mum and her friend met up with me for Wine After Work by the lake. It was a pleasant evening, followed (for me) by an equally pleasant sunset walk home

The pedal boats one can rent during the day are parked for the night.

For lunch, I had met with a friend who gave me his keys for the weekend. The family have a cat; they were spontaneously going away for the weekend and needed someone to look after the cat, something I am always happy to do for them if I am available - and this time, I was.

Because of various appointments for both of us, O.K. and I spent the weekend separately. Therefore, I was neither on a train to Offenburg on Friday (7 June) after work, nor was there any need for me to prepare things for us to stay at my place.

I had not been to Steinheim (where my parents used to have an allotment for many years) in quite a while, and so I took advantage of the wonderful early summer's day and the free time. 

What used to be my Mum and my favourite walk is nice in all seasons, and it takes just a little over an hour to reach the allotment from the train station in Marbach. I walked further on, to one of my favourite spots - the "grassy path" I have visited many times, and shown on my blog before.

With the recent rain and mild temperatures, the grass was elbow high and the path overgrown in parts. It wasn't the best idea to walk there with bare legs, but I had sprayed myeslf with insect repellant before leaving the house, and as soon as the overgrown part ended and I was on a "proper" path again, I brushed down my legs thoroughly and examined the hems of my shorts and the rims of my socks and trainers very carefully so as to avoid any ticks.

The river Murr, as seen from the bridge in Steinheim, was higher than usual, clay brown and fast flowing. It was obvious that it had been overflowing not long ago.

"My" grassy path

This was one of the better parts - in other parts, you'd hardly know there was a path at all.

All in all, I walked a solid 3 hours before I reached the station in Marbach again and took the train back to Ludwigsburg.

Back home, I had a short rest and something to eat before setting off again, this time to look after my friends' cat. He is a Maine Coon, one of two brothers. I looked after them before, but since one of them died, Haku is on his own. He was obviously very glad to have company, being used to a lively family with two girls of 8 and nearly 6 years old.

Haku at almost full length. Of course you have no comparison here, but believe me, he IS a big cat!

It was 9:00 pm by the time I was back at my flat and ready to call it a day.

On Saturday (8 June), I did the cleaning and other household jobs I usually do on a Friday. Mid-afternoon, I was booked for a massage; my neck and shoulders really needed it. Morning and evening, I went to look after Haku, and I combined my evening shift with a visit to a friend who lives nearby. We exchange books every now and then (she always lends me the latest Richard Osman), and it is always good to see her and catch up.

Sunset on Saturday (8 June) after a shower earlier that evening.

Haku's family were returning on Sunday (9 June) evening, so I was only required to check on him in the morning. Afterwards, my sister and I went to her garden and spent part of the afternoon in that beautiful oasis of peace and wildlife.

At 5:00 pm, I met my Mum in town for the "Brautage" ("brew days"), a small beer festival in the courtyard behind the townhall. They are not limited on beer, but there are also stalls that serve wine and cocktails. We had two drinks each, listened to the music (it was Rockabilly / Rock'n Roll, with the guys at the instruments being rather good but the lady at the microphone hardly up to the task), talked and left after about two hours.

A quiet evening at home followed; this relaxing weekend was really welcome, especially in view of a busy week and even busier weekend following.