Tuesday Tidbits

On Sunday, I suddenly decided that I was going to revive my Yoga practice. So, I pulled out my copy of Yoga: A Gem for Women by Geeta Iyengar (the daughter of B.K.S. Iyengar, a famous Hatha Yoga teacher) and looked up the asanas of the introductory course. And did them. And I did them again yesterday and today and hope to do them on at least 5 days a week.

I first started Yoga with this book in 2010 and did the introductory course for a long time, at least 6 months (it’s supposed to be for 3 months and then you can go on with the elementary course). I was very stiff but got better with time. However, I never went on to the other courses in the book, because I started doing Yoga with a friend who’s a Yoga teacher. After about three years, my practice kind of petered out and then we got Curious Dog and although I’ve always wanted to start up again, I never seemed to have the time. Which is silly – I just need to make the time.

2021_07_27

I like Geeta Iyengar’s book because the descriptions of the poses (asanas) are very detailed and there are a lot of photos which help to explain the asanas. There are also a lot of explanations what the different asanas are good for and the photos are of normal-looking women, not super-slim and athletic types. But I also learnt a lot doing Yoga with my friend. My friend has moved away to establish a Yoga school in a town in Bavaria (but not where I live when I’m in Bavaria) so I can’t do Yoga with them anymore. Maybe in future I’ll find a different Yoga studio, but maybe I’ll just find some good teachers on YouTube. I think it’s super that you can do Yoga anywhere with just a bit of space and a mat. I’m not very fond of sports and if I must pack up stuff and leave the house, the hurdle to do so is higher than just doing it at home. I wasn’t great at Yoga, but I was a lot less stiff and I felt my body more (and this has stayed with me even when I stopped doing the asanas). I even enjoyed it, so it’s stupid that I stopped doing it. I want to get used to my current introductory course and then then build up from there. Especially I want to get back to doing sun salutations with a flowing sequence from one asana to the next. That’s very good for developing strength and stamina. I hope I stick with it – it’s always easy at the beginning, when one is full of enthusiasm, but it needs to become a habit like it once was. We’ll see how it goes.

The weather is nice at the moment. It’s not too hot, only around 25°C, sometimes a bit less, sometimes a bit more. Not too sunny, but not too rainy – luckily, after those terrible floods parts of Germany suffered. If it hadn’t been for those floods, I would have counted this summer a win, as so far there haven’t been many really hot days.

My Japanese raspberry, which is like a normal raspberry, except that the berries are encased in hairy, very sticky leaves, currently has a few ripe berries every day. The leaves open as the berries ripen, but the stickiness remains. It’s hard to get off one’s fingers, you have to wash your hands with soap twice to remove it. Also, like all raspberries, the plant itself is very thorny. It’s not that much fun to pick the raspberries but as I only have the one plant and can only harvest a small desert bowl of fruits each evening, it’s not too bad. They taste a little sweet but mostly tart (I guess they don’t get enough sun in my garden). It’s fun being able to harvest things even if one’s garden is very small. We’ve also eaten the two salad plants in my small raised bed and continue to use the herbs. That’s about it, except for the red currants we froze earlier.

Work is not very exciting at the moment. Everybody is busy and there haven’t been any emergencies. I am busy, too, but I’m getting along well with the review of my documents. We are at the beginning of the summer vacation period, which I always find slightly weird. There’s lots to do, but if you need an expert for something they are sure to be on vacation. On the positive side, some meetings will be cancelled because too many colleagues are out of the office and there are fewer emails. I kind of like this vacation time.

Keep safe, world.

Monday Miscellanea

On Friday, Partner and I started the day with a long walk with Curious Dog through the woods. It was sunny, but still early and therefore cool and pleasant. We met one of CD’s dog friends (a Doberman bitch – she’s very sweet and friendly). CD got muddy paws in a small trickle of water – earlier this week he played with a puppy and then took it upon himself to jump into a muddy ditch full of stagnant water. He was covered in mud up to his belly and we had to clean him up with a bucket of water afterwards. He looked a bit put out when he floundered in the mud, I guess he hadn’t expected it.

Afterwards I went on a shopping tour in the town on my commute, the first (except for grocery shopping) since the start of Corona. I went to get a new battery for Mum’s wristwatch and then I had to wait until it was put in, so I had time to kill. I meant to get some plain (or plainish) white t-shirts but couldn’t find any. Instead, I got a pair of rather nice cropped summer jeans and a blue paisley patterned shirt. I don’t much care for shopping for clothes, because I usually get fed up after trying on a couple garments that don’t fit. But a lot of my jeans are very old and falling apart, and the same goes for my summer t-shirts. I like wearing favourite clothing until it disintegrates, but it’s getting a little ridiculous. I’d love to just keep getting the same things again if only they were still available. I guess I’ll have to search online for some plain basic t-shirts.

I also got a book for Mum, a travel report (I’ve forgotten the title) where someone walked with a donkey from Munich to the Mediterranean. It sounded interesting. I also tried to find a book for Partner, as it’s his birthday soon. I couldn’t think of anything special, so I’m thinking that I’ll give him a selection of things. I found a DVD that I think he’ll like (Fisherman’s Friends), and a nice t-shirt, and I’m planning to get a book and a good bottle of wine. I also got a couple of other DVDs, a German comedy and the biopic Tolkien. Quite a shopping spree for me. I found that the main shopping road in town was quite sparsely populated and there weren’t a lot of people in the shops (but it was a workday).

After lunch I went grocery shopping and then was quite exhausted for the rest of the day. I did a bit of internet surfing and a bit of reading my current book, which is a biography of Samuel Johnson by Peter Martin (the guy who wrote Perth, the dog tale that I read in March). I wanted to read a modern biography of Johnson in addition to Boswell’s and got this one on Kindle earlier in the year.

About books I got earlier this year: I find that I have 10 Kindle books that I got this year that I haven’t read yet and 8 paper- or hardbacks (2 of those are poetry anthologies that I’ve started, the German one and the one with poetry by women from the 18th century). One’s a book about reading and one’s a selection of Adrienne Rich’s essays. And 5 are Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes novels (I need to get 2 more in order to complete the series). Plus 6 more Louise Erdrich novel that I wanted to read this year (but haven’t got yet). That’s 26 books. I’d better not get any others this year. Luckily at least 10 of those are crime novels, which are quick reads. It would be great to read all the books I got this year and not increase my backlog from previous years. Looking at my list of books read this year, I haven’t made much inroads on my backlog because most of the books I read, I got this year. Maybe I’ll come up with a plan for concentrating on unread books I already own next year. And only buy one new book at a time, so as not to enlarge my TBR. If I never have unread books from the current year, and keep reading unread books from previous years, naturally at some point I won’t have anymore unread books. That would be cool.

On Saturday, after the walk with CD, I spent reading until around noon when I did some cleaning. In the afternoon, we watched the latest episode of Bad Batch and then I decided to tackle our big bookcase in Partner’s office, which also doubles as a guest room. My two cousins are coming for a visit on next weekend, and the office was super dusty, especially the bookshelves. One of the cousins has asthma and both are allergic to dust mites, so a clean-up was in order. I thought it would go quickly, but I wanted to rearrange two thirds of the shelves, as we just dumped books on the shelves without sorting when we moved in. The sorting took much longer than I thought it would. I only managed half and had to had to finish the rest of the shelves on Sunday. Now it’s nice and clean and the books are properly sorted. I even managed to get rid of a few that I decided I’d never want to read again.

2021_07_26

Partner and I watched a new Disney+ series for kids. It’s well-made and amusing: The Mysterious Benedict Society. It’s based on a series of books by Trenton Lee Stewart. I’ve never heard of them before, but now I’m tempted to read them – but then I’d really like to reread the Wolves Chronicles by Joan Aiken. I loved those books as a child (I actually can’t remember when I first read them but it must have been at around 12) and collected them later when I started working (as a child, I borrowed them from the public library). I think I’m missing one of the later ones – I dusted and sorted them all yesterday and noticed that I’m missing one. They are alternative history mixed with magical elements and the main hero is one Dido Twite (but some of the book have other main characters). I think they are the kind of books that you can love as a child and still enjoy as a grown up (at any age, really).

The weekend was nice, what with walking with CD, reading and watching Disney+ and the Tolkien movie (which was ok, but not great). Quite productive, too, with the cleaned and sorted bookshelf. It’s just a pity that the bookshelf took up too much time and I didn’t get round to cleaning up the rest of the house. Oh well, I’ll do it later in the week. Maybe I’ll take Thursday afternoon off (I’ve still got half a day’s holiday from that Friday on which I worked in the morning a few weeks ago.

Keep safe, world.

Jane Austen July 3

Another one of my TBRs for Jane Austen July was The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow. I read it last weekend; it was very engrossing. It tells the story of Mary Bennet, the annoying middle sister in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, who’s a moralizer and a bore. Hadlow’s novel gives a different view of her.

The novel is divided into five parts. The first one basically retells the events of Pride and Prejudice with a focus on Mary. We learn that she’s basically alone in the family, as Jane and Lizzie are close as are Kitty and Lydia. Mary is deemed ugly by her mother, unlikely to catch the eye of a promising suitor and as such disregarded or actively denigrated.

Only one of her daughters had failed her. Mary had made the mistake of inheriting neither the looks nor the charm shared by all other female members of the Bennet family. This was a sin for which, in Mrs Bennet’s eyes, there could be no forgiveness, as Mary herself had quickly discovered.

Janice Hadlow, The Other Bennet Sister, Pan Books, 2020, Kindle Loc 138.

Mrs. Bennet in this novel is even more unlikeable than in the original. Mr. Bennet is also not of much help. In her efforts to gain the love and notice of her parents and others Mary makes a lot of missteps but we see the reasons for her behavior in P&P.

By the time she was fourteen, Mary knew she came first with none of her sisters. She was no one’s special friend or confidante. Neither her mother nor her father looked on her with any particular affection. In the midst of so large a family, she was utterly alone.

Janice Hadlow, The Other Bennet Sister, Pan Books, 2020, Kindle Loc 231.

BennetSister

Part two starts after the death of Mr. Bennet, two years after the end of Pride and Prejudice. The Collins’ have moved into Longbourn, all the Bennet daughters except for Mary are married. At first, Mary lives with her mother at the Bingleys, but she is tormented by Caroline Bingley (who turns into Mary’s nemesis) and therefore goes to stay with the Darcys at Pemberley. In Lizzie’s small family, she feels like the odd one out and escapes to visit Charlotte Collins for an extended stay. This doesn’t turn out well, either, for she becomes too friendly with Mr. Collins, who is lonely in his marriage, as Charlotte completely disregards him. Mary is only taught Greek by Mr. Collins, but Charlotte is jealous and uses underhand tactics to get rid of her, which embarrasses and disappoints Mary, who had considered Charlotte a friend. So Mary has to find yet another place to stay and this time chooses to go to her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners, in London.

Part three describes her life in London, with the Gardiners, who are the best thing that’s ever happened to Mary. At last she’s found a home. The Gardiners encourage her to make something of herself, to become more outgoing, to dress well, to make friends, to gain the interest of two young men.

Part four is all about a romantic trip to the Lake District, following in the footsteps of Wordsworth. Things go wrong with her two love-interests.

Part five bring the resolution, but I don’t want to spoil it by giving details. We get another good look at horrid Mrs. Bennet before the end, but Mary is by now self-assured and doesn’t let herself be bullied anymore. She takes the responsibility for her future happiness into her own hands.

I enjoyed the novel very much and got quite fond of Mary. I’ll never look at her in the same way again. Hadlow wrote in a style that’s reminiscent of Austen’s, it’s very readable. Just a few things struck me that could have been done differently: there was a parallelism between an action by Caroline Bingley in Hadlow’s novel and Catherine de Bourgh in P&P which I found a bit much (you will know it when you come across it). I also felt that the character of Mrs. Bennet was too awful, much worse than in P&P. And, thirdly, I believe the story could have been told more concisely. The retelling of P&P took up a lot of space, and the Mary’s sojourns at Jane’s, Elisabeth’s and Charlotte’s could have been tightened up a bit (it was fairly clear that things wouldn’t go smoothly and one was just kind of waiting for the sticking point to appear that would cause Mary to depart yet again).

The novel can be real quite well without having read Pride and Prejudice, but I believe that there’s a deeper enjoyment if one has read Austen’s novel.

I’ve now read all the books I put on my TBR for Jane Austen July and watched one of two films (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – very amusing). I just need to watch another one film (Emma), then I will be completely done. Not sure when I will get to it, maybe only at the beginning of September, but that’s fine. Jane Austen July was great fun – I’m almost sure that I’ll take part again next year.

Keep safe, world.

Jane Austen July 2

One of my TBRs for Jane Austen July was Claire Tomalin’s autobiography A Life of My Own. Tomalin wrote a biography of Austen, which I liked, and I also read (and liked) her biography of Nelly Ternan (who was Charles Dicken’s secret lover) last year. A rather tenuous link to the challenges of Jane Austen July, but who cares? I enjoy reading biographies and therefore thought the autobiography of a writer of biographies would be an interesting read – and it definitively was. I think I’ll eventually read some of Tomalin’s other biographies, as I do enjoy her writing very much.

Tomalin

Tomalin belongs to the generation of my mother. She’s actually a few years older than my Mum, but I found a couple of episodes in her life that resonated somewhat with my own experiences (although in general her life was nothing like mine – I’m not a well-known editor and author to name just the most obvious difference). Tomalin was born to an English mother and French father, who divorced when she was a child so that she sometimes lived with one, sometimes with the other parent (though mostly with her mother, who was a composer of music). Tomalin studied English at Newnham College, Cambridge. She married young and had 5 children one of whom died shortly after birth. She worked as a literary editor for the newspapers New Statesman and The Sunday Times before she started writing biographies full time at 53. She lost her first husband, a journalist, who was killed covering the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Later in life she had a second marriage.

Her autobiography is a mix of narrating what happened with a lot of name-dropping (but not obnoxiously so) and some introspection. I would have preferred a bit more of the latter, but that’s just a quibble.

One bit I could specially relate to was that she got glasses when she was twelve, which I did too, although my reaction was the opposite to hers. Here’s Tomalin’s account:

At the same time, it was discovered that I suffered from short sight and I was given my first pair of glasses. I detested having to wear them and left them off whenever I could; and I was especially disappointed to find that the stars, which had appeared to me as fuzzy shining shapes, became merely small dots in the sky. I still often take my glasses off during a walk in the country, to see it with a softer aspect, a vagueness I find congenial.

Claire Tomalin, A Life of My Own, Viking 2017, p.55.

I’m also short-sighted. When I got my first pair of glasses at 12, I was amazed at how clear and shiny the world was after having seen everything as a murky blur for quite some time. I remember that as I was going to pick up my glasses with my parents, I saw a dingy brown shopfront with grey writing above the shop window. This shop was opposite the optician’s shop and when I first put on my glasses, I looked out straight at that very shopfront and was absolutely astonished at the lovely chocolate-colour and the bright crisp white lettering on that building. I couldn’t believe it – I took off my glasses and put them on again to check. And then I spent the entire afternoon hanging out of the window of the house where we were staying just looking. Cars were especially noteworthy. They also were so crisp and bright, not just coloured blurs on wheels. I absolutely adored my glasses (still do) and never take them off (except when I’m sleeping). Quite different from Tomalin’s experience but I find her appreciation of “vagueness” intriguing.

During her studies at Newnham, someone introduced her to Moby-Dick:

He also urged me to read Melville’s Moby-Dick, and I bought myself a small edition of that very long book, dating it January 1953 […] I tried and failed to get on with it, but kept my copy for six decades and, when I finally read it in 2015, I found that George was right: it is a great and noble book, presenting many men of different faiths who live tolerantly together, different topics, chunks of history, distant seas, complex feelings and sensations.

Claire Tomalin, A Life of My Own, Viking 2017, p.105

I also read Moby-Dick at university (in 1996 as I noted in my paperback). But I loved it straight away and it is one of my favourite books, up with Toni Morrison’s Beloved or The Lord of the Rings. I’ve still got that paperback and maybe it’s time to revisit it.

She writes about grief, how it changes your perception and relation with the “pleasures offered by the world” (p. 254) which is relatable to anyone who’s ever lost a loved one. You get over the grief eventually (although it can spike now and then), but you never forget them and in time you focus on the good times and it makes you appreciate your life and relationships more deeply, I find.

She was 53 when she left her job at the Sunday Times and became a writer of biographies:

Working on a biography means you are obsessed with one person and one period for several years. Another life is bound up with yours and will remain so for the rest of your own life – that at least is my experience. […] Your interest is so strong it can be called a passion.

Claire Tomalin, A Life of My Own, Viking 2017, p.284.

This kind of struck me and made me ponder my own situation, because I’m currently 53 but I’m not going to leave my job and start a new career. I haven’t got a passion like Tomalin except for reading but who’s going to hire me to read? Also, as a job, reading might become a slog and that would be just terrible.

Luckily, although my job is not my passion, it’s a good job, so no need to drop everything and start anew. It’s also quite secure, even during the pandemic, and I like the reassurance that a secure job provides. My colleagues are mostly very lovely people and the job has a lot of different facets, so it doesn’t get tedious (some bits are boring, but you get that with most jobs). It does sometimes get stressful and annoying, but on the whole it’s quite doable and often even enjoyable. I tend to moan on the blog about the things that go wrong, but it’s also kind of fun to deal with roadblocks (to a degree, not if it happens all the time). Also, my job pays well and has good benefits which is nothing to sneeze at (especially if you have a degree in the humanities which can make it hard to find a good job). I can even afford to work only 4 days a week instead of 5. That’s the best decision I ever made (10+ years ago), even if it cost me 20% of my salary – the additional free time is so, so worth it). Sometimes I think that it’s a pity that I haven’t got a job that’s also a passion, but then I think “count your blessings, it could be much, much worse”. There are so many dreadful and underpaid jobs – I generally think passion about jobs is overrated. It’s great if you’ve got it, but it’s very possible to be content in a job without being passionate about it. Though it’s helpful if you have something to be passionate about in your free time.

But to return to A Life of My Own: it’s very good and I enjoyed it a lot. I always like it when other people’s experiences broaden my view of the world and cause me to reflect on my own life. That’s why I read autobiographies, memoirs and biographies.

Keep safe, world.

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 4

This is my fourth post about my project to read the entire Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King, which I used to be keen on, but then lost track of. Previous posts:

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 1
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 2
Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes 3

I’ve now read the next three installments in the series, books 8, 9 and 10, as well as a short story collection. Three of the books I read in Bavaria last week:

Locked Rooms

In this novel (which I already read in June), Russell and Holmes travel to San Francisco, where Russell spent part of her childhood before it brutally ended with the death of her mother, father and younger brother in a car accident. The story starts with our two protagonists on the ship bound for SF. Russell is plagued by strange dreams, has trouble sleeping and is irritable. Holmes becomes quite concerned, but later on we find that the dreams are due to Russell’s subconscious grappling with traumatic experiences she had as a child: the 1906 earthquake with it’s destruction of much of San Francisco and, at 14, the fatal accident of her family where she was the only survivor. Russell had been convinced for years that the accident was partly her fault, but this novel clears up what really happened and why.

For much of the novel, Russell denies that anything is wrong or that her family might have died for other reasons than just a random accident. Holmes therefore starts investigating behind Russell’s back (or at least without her involvement in his investigation). He teams up with Dashiell Hammett, the well-known writer of hard-boiled detective novels who worked for the Pinkerton detective agency (in real life). This was a fun little gimmick.

I liked this novel, because we learn something of Russel’s background before she met Holmes and because her childhood traumas are put into their proper perspective.

2021_07_20b

The Language of Bees

The novel is set directly after Locked Rooms. Russell and Holmes have just returned from America when a relative of Holmes turns up, needing help. The novel is about the involvement of the relative’s wife with a budding cult leader (I don’t want to reveal who the relative is, because that would be a major spoiler). The wife has disappeared and later her husband also disappears with their young daughter. It becomes a thrilling race against time to save the child and her father – let’s just say that the cult leader has some rather gruesome plans.

I really liked this book, as it contained some new revelations about Holmes and the story was thrilling. It is the last of my re-reads in this series. It ended on a bit of a cliffhanger (although not a very urgent one).

2021_07_20a

The God of the Hive

This novel goes on where the last one left off. Weirdly, I got it when in came out in 2010 but never read it until last week. Somehow, I lost momentum with the series and never found a good time to go on reading until this year, when I restarted the series from the beginning.

It turns out that the would-be cult leader was manipulated by another mastermind, someone who in this novel becomes very dangerous to all the members of the Russell/Holmes family, including Mycroft, the all-powerful spymaster. Most of the novel Russel and Holmes spend in hiding from the villain, but of course, they manage to foil him at the end. Some memorable secondary characters were introduced (some of which will turn up in later books) and all the open plot lines were nicely tied up. Russell had a bit of a (to my mind silly) crisis of faith in Mycroft, but otherwise it was an enjoyable read. I should have read it when it came out.

2021_07_20c

Mary Russell’s War

This is a collection of short stories some of which give some more and interesting background to some of the staples of the series. We get a story with Holmes point-of-view of his first meeting with Russell, we get some more of info about Russell’s childhood and a story when she is 92 years old. This one was rather strange as Holmes was still alive (!). He would have been about 128 years of by then, which was pretty unbelievable (there’s a bit of a joke about that in the beginning of the book). I’m kind of interested in how Russell would deal with Holmes’ death, since she is so much younger than him. So, I thought that this story was a bit of a cop-out. Still, it was tongue-in-cheek, so maybe I’ll get my “death of Holmes” novel at some time in the future.

The collection should not be read earlier in the series, as it contains some, if mild, spoilers for some of the novels in the series.

All-in-all, still a very enjoyable series and I’m thrilled at the prospect of now reading only completely new-to-me installments.

Keep safe, world.

Monday Miscellanea

In Germany we’ve been following with horror the situation in the areas affected by last week’s floods it’s now not only in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, but also in Bavaria (near the Alps, which isn’t where I live when I’m in Bavaria). More than 150 people were killed and many more have lost their homes and livelihoods. Some villages still cannot be reached except by air, as roads and bridges have been swept away by the floods. It’s devastating. Thankfully my family isn’t affected, as nobody lives in the flooded areas in the western parts of Germany. Partner lives near one of the flooded areas and had a bit of flooding in his village but nothing that caused a great deal of damage. One of my aunts lives in a town that had a flooding river, but her part of the town only had a few inches of water so she’s safe and there wasn’t any damage except for a bit of water in the basement of her apartment building. That’s already cleared up. But of course, we are all thinking of the people who were not as fortunate. There have been floods in Germany before, even bad ones that caused a lot of damage, but so many deaths… very shocking.

Compared to that, my weekend has thankfully been mundane. Just the usual, grocery shopping, cleaning (well, not very much), packing up our things and returning to Baden-Württemberg after our week in Bavaria. We’ll be returning sooner than usual, in the first week of August, for practical reason to do with the appointment Partner and I have for our second Corona vaccination. During the first week of August Partner must be at his place, the other week I must be at my place – juggling three places of residence between us is sometimes a bit of a pain. Sooner or later we will need to consolidate, as I don’t think we want to continue this way of life forever. But that’s a project that’ll take some time (especially as Partner and I haven’t decided on where we want to end up living in future – we’re also not really working on a plan yet).

2021_07_19

I did a lot of reading on the weekend (and didn’t have much time left for cleaning and other annoying tasks – story of my life). I finished The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow in two days. It was a great smooth flowing read (although Jane Austen would probably have managed the same story in half the pages). I’ve also started reading Claire Tomalin’s autobiography (and stayed up too late on two consecutive nights because of it). This means that I’m pretty sure to finish my Jane Austen July TBR this week – which is good, because my two cousins are coming for a visit on the last weekend in July. I will therefore have to do a proper cleanup of everything plus the guest room (that is, Partner’s office) next weekend and I can’t afford to spend all the weekend reading. We’re really looking forward to their visit. Curious Dog is also very fond of them, especially the younger one.

Yesterday we had a hot and dry day (for once, but the next rain is supposed to come on the weekend, though hopefully not as another deluge). On our way back to Baden-Württemberg we were stuck in a traffic jam for a hour – the were roadworks on the Autobahn and three lanes were diverted into just one. As it was quite hot, 30°C, I was worried about Curious Dog. There wasn’t much reason to worry, because the car has air conditioning and I always bring water along, but I still worried about the car breaking down and leaving us stranded in the heat. I’m a worst-case scenario worrier which I think I inherited from my Mum, who thinks she got it from her experience as a refugee at the end of WWII when she was six years old. I tend only to worry excessively about other people (or animals). If I had a breakdown on the Autobahn on a hot day by myself, I’d call a towing service… but with CD and Mum in the car, I worry about overheating. But it didn’t happen (phew!).

Sunday evening Partner and I watched the last two episodes of Loki – very good. They ended on a bit of a cliffhanger and there’s to be a second season. Looking forward to that. We still need to catch up on The Bad Batch and we haven’t yet watched the last episode of The Underground Railroad.

Work has been rather annoying again, with processes that should’ve taken about half an hour taking two (!) days instead. Our tools had developed another bug and the support experts were not available. So, very stressful (but I missed the second day as it was on Friday, when I don’t work). It would be a relief if things went smoothly for a change. Today wasn’t great either, as on Mondays there are too many meetings on my schedule. But at least tomorrow’s only meeting was cancelled, so I’m looking forward to a day of uninterrupted time where I can hopefully review a document that I should have reviewed earlier (but I’m still within my allotted time-frame, as I always make sure to have a large buffer which, however, is now gone).

It’s warm and sunny and I’ll take Curious Dog on his afternoon walk very late today to avoid the heat. The corn fields through which we walk have grown amazingly high, at least three metres. All that rain. It’s pleasant walking in their shade when the sun is low in the sky in the evening.

Keep safe, world.

Jane Austen July 1

Last month I came up with a TBR for Jane Austen July. I’ve now read Persuasion and Death Comes to Pemberley, so here’s a short review of both:

Jane Austen, Persuasion

It seems strange to write a review of any of Austen’s novels, because they are so well known. Persuasion was a re-read for me, but I’d forgotten all the details, except for the part where Louisa Musgrove falls down that flight of stairs and bashes her head (which is, of course, narrated much more elegantly by Jane Austen).

Anyway, the novel is about Anne Elliot who broke off her engagement with Captain Frederick Wentworth because all her relatives were against the marriage. Wentworth wasn’t good enough for them, not being titled or rich. Anne was 19 at the time and grew to regret her decision. At the time of the novel, she is 27 and basically and old maid. Captain Wentworth has in the meantime been very successful during the Napoleonic Wars, advancing in his career and gaining a fortune and is on the look-out for a wife. Anne meets him in her social circle, but at first tries to avoid him and he pays his attention to other, younger women at first. The novel shows how they come to care for and love each other again.

I wondered why the novel is called Persuasion. According to Wikipedia, Austen referred to is as “The Elliots” but it was published posthumously as Persuasion. It seems clear that the title refers to Anne’s being persuaded to drop her engagement, but I think it can refer to a lot of other cases as well. Sir Walter Elliot, for example, needs to be carefully handled to prevent him from embarking on stupid enterprises – thus he is persuaded that Bath is a better place to reside than London (where he would probably have lived above his means). Anne’s shady cousin William Elliot tries to persuade her to marry him. Foiled, he persuades one Mrs Clay to set up as his mistress when before she had seemed to angle for a marriage to Sir Walter. A foolish decision on her part, but a safeguard for William Elliot (as he wouldn’t inherit Sir Walter’s title and lands if Sir Walter married again and had a son). Mary Musgrove, Anne’s younger sister, who is an attention-seeking hypochondriac, also often needs to be persuaded out of bad moods. The novel is full of such instances of persuasion.

Anne is the nicest and most intelligent member of her family. Her father, Sir Walter and her oldest sister are arrogant fools and her younger sister Mary is an egotistical whiner. Anne’s motherly friend, Lady Russell, is a sympathetic character, but it was partly her advice that led to Anne’s broken engagement – still it seems that she can be persuaded that this was a wrong decision. Anne now clearly sees that the advice she was given was wrong, and Frederick Wentworth grows to understand the constraints under which Anne broke off the engagement. So eventually we get a satisfying resolution, and, on the way, we get a good look at the pretensions and foibles under which the characters labour. It’s very amusing in places and very insightful of human motivation.

2021_07_15

P.D. James, Death Comes to Pemberley

P.D. James is probably best known for her Adam Dalgliesh mysteries. I’ve read them all and they are very good – I love P.D. James, she’s one of my favourite writers. I was quite surprised that she had written Death Comes to Pemberley, a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. I expected it to be a crime novel with someone investigating a murder, but that’s not what the novel is about.

There is a dead person and it was murder, but the novel looks at the effects the death has on the inhabitants of Pemberley, Elisabeth and Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy’s sister Georgiana, the Bingleys (who often visit), as well as the servants instead of focusing on the search for the culprit. It’s very well done, in the manner (if not quite in the style) of Austen.

The story is set a few years after Elisabeth’s and Darcy’s marriage. They have children and are happy. Elisabeth has grown into her role as mistress of Pemberley and the main things on her mind are the upcoming annual ball and Georgiana’s future (she has two suitors). But then her sister Lydia Wickham brings mayhem into the household. There’s a dead body and Wickham is the main suspect and is taken into custody. We are not shown much investigation, but there’s an inquest and later a trial. The resulting unrest (what with having a murder suspect in the family) makes the characters reconsider some of their long-held assumptions and actions done in the past (some reaching back to the events in Pride and Prejudice). The murder is solved in the end (though not by any brilliant investigation) but the real interest of the novel lies in showing the character’s increased self-knowledge and moral growth (especially for Mr. Darcy).

Although the novel differed from what I expected, I thought it was excellent and well worth a read.

I also read the fanfiction on my TBR (it was fun) and watched the film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which was also fun (I wrote about it here). So now I have two more books and one film. Not sure if I will manage both books, but I’ll try.

There has been a lot of flooding in parts of Germany, with a lot of destruction and some deaths, but not where I live, for which I am grateful. It’s been raining all day today, but it was a gentle rain (as opposed to the downpours in those other parts of Germany). It looks like the rain will stop by tomorrow, which is fortunate. My Partner is stuck at his place in North Rhine-Westphalia, because he is surrounded by lot of towns and roads in his area that are affected by the floods. Fortunately, no flooding in his immediate surroundings, as his house is up on a hillside. But the road at the bottom of the hill was flooded (but it has already receded). Some of the worst floods are in Rhineland-Palatinate, where 6 houses were obliterated and many others badly damaged in one small village. Another horrid manifestation of climate change.

Keep safe, world

The Memory Police

I read this novel by Yoko Ogawa in June for my book club. It was published in Japan in 1994 but was translated into English only in 2019. It was a very good read, one of the best novels I’ve read this year, but it was very strange.

The novel is set on an island (presumably a Japanese one, but we are not told). It has only a handful of protagonists, a woman novelist, her editor (referred to as “R.”), and old man who lived on a boat and later moved in with the novelist. Near the end of the novel, the novelist also adopts a dog.

The novel has a strangely calm atmosphere, with life going on mundanely despite all the strange things that are going on. Every now and then (and it accelerates towards the end of the novel), things disappear. People wake up in the morning with a strange feeling and suddenly they know that something has disappeared. But there are still relics of these things, which they then gather up and destroy. Most people then immediately forget that these disappeared things ever existed and go on with their lives as though nothing has happened.

But our memories were diminishing day by day, for when something disappeared from the island, all memory of it vanished, too.

Yoko Ogawa, The Memory Police, 2019 (1994) p.18.

However, some people are immune. They remember the disappeared things, even keep some of them, and talk about them – all of which is forbidden. These people are persecuted by the Memory Police, who round them up and “disappear” them. Anyone who ends up in the clutches of the Memory Police is never heard from again.

The main protagonist, the novelist, finds out that her editor “R.” is also one of the immune people, and, because she is in love with him (despite his being married and his wife expecting a baby), she offers to hide him in a secret compartment in her house, which she built with the help of the old man. So, life goes on with R. hidden in the novelist’s house. More and more things disappear, including books, so that the novelist is no longer able to write novels, but instead turns into a typist. She’s still trying to write her novel, but it’s difficult, as lots of words have disappeared and the whole concept of a novel is gone. Her novel also strangely mirrors her life, being about a typist who’s locked up and loses her voice and her ability to communicate.

In the later part of the novel, people’s body parts also start disappearing – they don’t really disappear, but they disappear from one’s perception, so that you can’t really use them. This also affects animals. The first thing to disappear was left legs. People and animals can’t perceive their left legs anymore or feel them. They still exists, but can’t be used anymore (luckily, they didn’t try to destroy their legs, that would have been macabre).

Gradually we came accustomed to living without our legs. Needless to say, things did not go back to the way they had been before, not exactly, but our bodies acquired a new sense of balance, and a new kind of daily rhythm took hold.
[…]
No matter how much time went by, there was no sign that our left legs were going to rot and drop off. They remained firmly in place, fixed to our hips. But no one seemed to care.

Yoko Ogawa, The Memory Police, 2019 (1994) p.251.

MemoryPolice

We are never told why things disappear, why people can’t remember disappeared things, why some people are immune and why they are hunted by the Memory Police. We also don’t know who the Memory Police are working for (are they part of a totalitarian regime?). We don’t know if the disappearances affect only the island or if this is happening throughout the world. This openness made for a lively discussion in my book club. One or two of the book club members really hated the novel and thought it was idiotic, some quite liked it and others liked it very much indeed. I was one of the latter.

The writing is lovely, and a lot of things happen in the novel (it’s not a novel without a plot). It’s just that absurd things happen without explanation and the ending is totally open. Maybe one can call it Kafkaesque although I personally never liked what I read of Kafka (too depressing) and I did like this novel (somehow not depressing). I found it fascinating and thought-provoking and would recommend it for readers that don’t mind that questions aren’t answered, and the ending remains open.

Some of the book club members found that the novel spoke to their experiences during Corona, where things also kind of disappeared in so far as they couldn’t be done anymore and one had to adjust to doing without – no longer going to the office, no concerts or sport events… Though these things are luckily not lost forever.

A remark about yesterday’s post: I wanted to try the hypnosis app recommended by Huberman, but it wouldn’t start on my smartphone. So, I deinstalled it again. I’ll have a look at his other video on the topic to find out the details, and if I’m still intrigued, I’ll look for other instructions for self-hypnosis. As it is, I did some meditation instead after lunch today. I’ve done that sometimes before I ever heard of Huberman and it’s quite a good way to recharge (certainly better than surfing the internet during one’s lunch break). I’ve also put blocks in my work Outlook calendar to remind me of the best productive times in the mornings and afternoon for working on difficult topics. The other times are left for things like email and mindless quality checks and other busy work. I was quite energized at work today, but I usually am when I try out new things (or resurrect old ones). Usually, after some time I revert to my old habits of doing the easy daily stuff in the morning and then being somewhat exhausted in the afternoon. I always get everything done, but I should stick with the ways that make getting things done more efficient and enjoyable.

This morning, as I was in a meeting, I happened to look out of the window and saw a deer with two fawns jumping through a field of grain in the valley. The deer would run and jump a few paces, with the fawn following, then stop and look around, the fawns also stopping, and then start again. After a few minutes they disappeared into a corn field. They were almost the exact shade of brownish yellow as the grain and very hard to see (and too far away to take a photo). I just saw them because I chanced to see their movement. Very sweet.

Yesterday it rained from early afternoon until late afternoon. And today it was overcast and will probably rain again tonight, but we also had few instances when sunlight burst through the clouds. It’s very cool for the middle of summer, only 20°C (or even less). On our morning walk, Curious Dog and I met a woman with a child and a young female German shepherd, a very cute and friendly dog. Both dogs refused to walk on; we had to let them play a bit. CD and I then had a lovely walk through the soggy woods. I like rain in summer (although we do need a few hot days soon, so that the grain in the fields can dry out in time for harvesting).

Keep safe, world.

Optimizing Health and Productivity

Have I mentioned that I’m a health freak and that I like optimizing my workday to get things done as efficiently as possible to avoid overwork and anxiety about work? I recently found a YouTube channel that talks about these types of topics. I’ve only watched one video (episode 28), a kind of summary of the videos shown since the channel started earlier this year. Having watched it, I believe I will follow up with the other episodes, to get a more in-depth view of the main ideas. The channel belongs to Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist at Stanford University: Huberman Lab.

Huberman has what he calls protocols to incorporate scientific insights into daily life, 17 of which he mentions in the contest of a day (because the circadian rhythm is crucial for a healthy and productive life). I’m going to list the gist of them and how I may or may not be able to integrate them into my life (some of them I’m doing already anyway and others would have to be tweaked – Huberman encourages personal tweaking). But the full video / podcast is very interesting, and I encourage you to watch it (it’s quite long but well worth your time).

1) Record your daily wake-up time to determine your temperature minimum.

What’s the temperature minimum? It’s the time in each 24 hours that the body temperature is lowest and typically occurs 2 hours before your wake-up time. The temperature itself is not important in this context.

This sounds interesting and I will do it (it’s also easy to do). I usually wake up between 5 and 6 a.m. but I’ve never taken note of it. This info will be needed for at least one of the later protocols.

2021_07_13

2) After waking up, take a walk.

When you walk (or move forward on a bike, for instance) you get something called optic flow. You see your surroundings moving past and you get lateral eye movements. The optic flow has a calming effect on your nervous system (specifically the amygdala).

I don’t walk straight after getting up, but I do walk with Curious Dog straight after breakfast. Huberman says 10 to 15 minutes is enough, but CD likes a longer walks so it’s usually around 45 minutes for me.

3) Get morning sunlight (basically, you already get if you follow protocol 2).

This is good for your circadian rhythm and specially needed to trigger a small but important rise in cortisol. It makes you alert.

Don’t use blue light filters in the morning, as blue light serves to wake you up if you can’t get sunlight (although sunlight is better).

4) Hydrate properly.

Huberman drinks 0.5 to 0.9 litres of water with a little salt straight off after returning from his morning walk. It’s supposed to improve cognitive performance.

Well, because I know that one gets dehydrated during the night, I drink a cup of herbal tea or water before I get up, but that’s only about 250 ml. I can try to up this and see how it works out, but I think I’ll stay with 0.5 litres.

5) Delay tea or coffee until 90 to 120 minutes after getting up.

This is to avoid a caffeine crash in the early afternoon that you may get if you drink black tea or coffee early in the day.

I usually have my first cup of black tea at breakfast. I guess I could try postponing it and see if it has any effect. I don’t usually have a pronounced afternoon slump.

6) Fast until noon.

This is supposed to make you alert, calm and focused, with a better learning experience. Huberman drinks Yerba Mate and Guayusa tea (whatever that is) and some kind of smoothie that I didn’t quite catch.

Definitively not going there. I have porridge with fruits and nuts for breakfast and would probably drop dead on the morning walk with Curious Dog if I didn’t eat anything beforehand. And I usually need a snack midmorning (I could try going without).

7) Facilitate “deep work” – a kind of flow state.

You should do 90-minute bouts of work because the brain goes through 90-minute so-called ultradian cycles. 90 minutes is about the normal length of time you can work in a focused way, although there are ups and downs in that time. It’s useful to set a timer and keep distractions to a minimum. Maybe use low-level white noise to get into the flow state. And here’s also where your temperature minimum comes in: Your best 90 minutes will come 4 to 6 hours after your temperature minimum.

Some of Huberman’s tips: looking up makes you more alert therefore you should place your monitor (if you are an office worker) so that you look up at it or at least straight at it, not down. I’ve gone and sat my monitor on a few large books to elevate it. Looking down all day is supposed to make you sleepy and the same goes for reclining: sit up instead.

In the afternoon you will be most alert during the time of steepest temperature rise (although I can’t remember if Huberman said how to find out when that is. I’m guessing it’s after lunch).

Huberman believes that we can only do two 90-minute cycles of real deep work each day. The rest of the workday can be spent on less taxing jobs (replying to emails, meetings, and such). I tend to agree with him from my work experience. The trick is to make sure that those 90-minute slots aren’t filled with busy work or annoying meetings (sometimes hard to do at work – people aren’t going to cater to my predilections). I’m going to try if I can do this at least some of the time (well, I kind of try it already, but sometimes lose sight of it). I’ve heard this theory about the 90-minute slots before.

8) Get optimal exercise.

This is apparently a ratio of 3:2 strength training to endurance training for 12 weeks and then the other way round for the next 12 weeks. You should exercise for about an hour every day for at least 5 days a week. Huberman talked a lot about the ins and outs of this protocol, but I’m not doing it.

Walking with Curious Dog twice a day is enough exercise for me. It’s more than an hour and I haven’t got time for more – and if I did try to do something else, I’d do yoga.

9) Have your first meal around noon.

And then don’t eat too much, especially not starchy carbohydrates, as that will make you sleepy in the early afternoon.

Lunch is my second meal of the day and it’s usually fairly light, because we cook dinner at night. As I mentioned above, I’m not dropping breakfast. Huberman mentions that a short walk after lunch is good for one’s metabolism. I used to do this when I still went to the office, but now that I walk with Curious Dog twice a day, I’ve dropped the after-lunch walk. I don’t think I’ll start it again.

10) Make sure your testosterone and estrogen are in balance.

I’ve no idea about the status of my hormones and am just going to assume that everything is fine (this was too complicated for me).

11) 10 minutes of non-sleep deep rest after lunch (good for everything).

With this Huberman means meditation, yoga nidra, or hypnosis. Apparently, hypnosis allows you to steer your brain towards specific outcomes, like gaining a greater ability to more focus. He mentioned a free-of charge app that you can use to do hypnosis. I’m into meditation already (and will not stop it) and I do think I may try out the hypnosis app (you can find details about it under his YouTube video linked above).

Update, July 14, 2021: The app didn’t work on my Android smartphone. Maybe my phone is too old…

12) Hydrate properly.

See protocol 4. I can’t remember how much one is supposed to drink after lunch, but just do as seems best.

13) View late afternoon and evening light to support sleep.

This help to balance your melatonin and serves as a buffer to mitigate bright light at night (which you should avoid according to Huberman).

I do this anyway on my afternoon walk with Curious Dog.

14) Eat a dinner that promotes calm sleep.

This means eating starchy carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.) with veggies and protein. The carbohydrates promote the creation of serotonin, which calms you right down.

We do that already. As we are vegan, we eat a lot of carbs. And we have dinner in the evening, so that works out.

15) Optimize falling and staying asleep.

A warm bath or shower (or sauna) helps you to fall asleep faster, as the body then works harder to cool down. Cooling down is a prerequisite for sleep. You should also keep you room dark and cool.

I don’t usually shower at night, but I may try it. My bedroom is dark, but pretty warm in summer (nothing I can do about that). Huberman also mentions a few supplements that one could take to facilitate sleep, but I’ve not noted them down. I don’t need them.

16) Prevent middle of the night waking.

I wake up once or twice each night, but usually don’t have a problem going back to sleep. I don’t think I can change this, so I didn’t take notes about this bit of advice.

17) Use your weekend correctly.

Here he says that you can use the weekend to catch up on rest and relaxation, but you should ideally wake up and go to sleep at the same time as during the week, so as not to disrupt your schedule too much.

I know about this, but I still tend to sleep longer during the weekend. By the end of it, I have trouble falling asleep at the usual time because I’m not at all tired. But I don’t feel that it’s particularly bad so therefore won’t change my behavior.

I’ve really shortened these points. If you are interested in detailed scientific explanations, you should look up Huberman’s channel. He’s got extra videos on each of the topics (or almost all of them, I didn’t check) as well as his summary video.

On another note, it’s been raining all afternoon and I’ve just had a pleasant late afternoon walk with Curious Dog (that’s no. 13 nailed for today). 🙂

Keep safe, world

Monday Miscellanea

Last Friday I drove to our place in Bavaria with Mum and Curious Dog while it was pouring with rain. The rain started just after a few kilometres on our way and ended just before we arrived which was useful as I didn’t have to load and unload our luggage in the rain. On the way we passed some small hamlets (on one of the diversions roads) which were surrounded by flooded meadows. In places it seemed that the water was almost ready to flood the road. On the afternoon of our arrival, our neighbours told us that it had rained every day since the last time we were here (but I’m not sure if this wasn’t slightly exaggerated).

The garden has certainly kind of exploded, green everywhere. Our old red currant bush gave us about slightly more than a kilogram of berries – a lot, for that old bush. All the other plants are doing great (the sweet potatoes, the juneberry bush, the small apple tree…). Our small half-dried up Korean fir tree has perceptively grown and is now a lot greener. It’s now a mix of dead dry fir needles and new green ones. The grass (and dandelion greens and other stuff that make up our lawn – it’s a mess) has grown a lot again, too, but I ruthlessly mowed it all down on Saturday. Some bits will need to be done by hand again, probably this evening, as today is supposed to be the last dry day until maybe Saturday. Normally at this time of year the lawn is dry and brown, it’s nice that it’s so green.

The downside of the green explosion is that some of the rain was accompanied by thunderstorms and some of our rosebushes are very much blown about and need to be pruned (or tied up, or both). Unfortunately, we can’t get rid of our gardening rubbish as the municipal collection point has been shut down because some idiot concealed electronic scrap in their garden waste. You can deposit all sorts of scrap and rubbish at the collection point, you just have to separate it properly. Also, someone else (or maybe the same person) dumped a canister of old oil in the waste metal container which then leaked and contaminated the soil. So now the entire collection point is shut for decontamination and we have to keep our garden rubbish until it opens again. Who knows when that will happen? What a pain. Why are people so stupid and inconsiderate? The people who work at the collection point are all volunteers and are always very helpful. It’s not showing a lot of appreciation for their work to dump illegal waste in with the legal stuff. Also, bad for the environment and probably bad for future prices – I bet the council will start charging more to regain the costs of the decontamination. Very annoying all around.

2021_07_12

I had some lovely walks in the woods and fields with Curious Dog while it was either foggy or mildly raining. The woods are quite wet, it’s like walking on a sponge. I hope that this weather does a lot to fill up the ground water stores that were depleted during the last two dry summers. I guess we’ll have some more wet walks during the next few days, as the weather forecast indicate that it will rain a lot until the weekend.

An old friend from Australia phoned my Mum on Sunday. It was lovely to hear from them and lucky that we were here and not at my place. We will ring them back one of these days now that we have the telephone number. They are the same age as Mum and are doing well. Unfortunately, our landline phone died after a while during the call because it needed new reloadable batteries. Not a very useful time to die on us.

Apart from gossiping with the neighbours, mowing the lawn, grocery shopping and walking with Curious Dog, I did a lot of reading on the weekend. I finished Jane Austen’s Persuasion already last week and continued with Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James and with an Austen fanfiction. So, I’ve managed to read about half of my Jane Austen July TBR. Then I read two more Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, The Language of Bees and The God of the Hive. The latter was one I hadn’t read yet. I’ve got another unread one at home, but I still have to acquire the rest of the series. I did some research on Amazon and have ordered those that are in stock. One or two I’ll get when I return to my place in Baden-Württemberg, as they will take longer to arrive. It’s a pity I didn’t keep up with the series when it was published, especially as I really like it now that I’ve started up again. It would have been cheaper to get them on Kindle, but as I’ve got the other ones as paper books, I don’t want to switch to e-books. As usual, I’ll review the books I read in a later post.

My work problems from last week have luckily been solved. I was quite embarrassed to learn that our documents disappeared from the database because of something that I myself did. It was very strange, because I’ve done exactly the same thing in the past (and also with other documents) and never had these problems (other colleagues have done it too). I will of course not do this thing again…but it was odd. I’ve also reverted to my old notebook (which I luckily brought along with me to Bavaria) because my new one isn’t compatible with my external monitor (well, it needs a different connecting cable and I’ve managed to order the wrong one…). I can’t work with just the small notebook screen, it’s too hard to compare things in different apps and views. The new cable will arrive on Wednesday, I hope. Next week I will have to return the old notebook, but I’m glad I brought it along, as otherwise I’d have been sunk.

Keep safe, world.