The Old Curiosity Shop

is one of the Dickens novels I read in October. I had heard that it is supposed to be over-the-top sentimental and felt like I would probably not like it much, but that wasn’t the exactly the case. True, it’s not one of my favourite Dickens novels, but it was enjoyable, because to offset the plot-line with the sentimental parts, Little Nell’s story, there are a lot of other plot-lines that are very amusing with memorable characters and dastardly dealings. I’m putting the review, as usual, under the cut, as it contains some spoilers.

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Barnaby Rudge

A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty is the Dickens novel I read in September and one of his two historical novels. It is about anti-Catholic Gordon Riots that took place in London in 1780. It also contains a murder, a Romeo and Juliet kind of romance, the titular Barnaby, a simple man and his pet raven, Grip. I enjoyed it very much and can heartily recommend it. The rest of the review is under the cut, as it contains spoilers.

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Monday Miscellanea

I had a mostly relaxed weekend after my stressful week at work. The weather wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. On our walk with Curious Dog on Sunday, we found some more walnuts that had fallen during the night, when it was windy and rainy. I thought that they were all already fallen, but obviously not.

Talking about walks with Curious Dog, he currently doesn’t want to go out in the Morning, ever since he gave himself that electric shock from the cattle fence last Monday. Somehow, he seems to think that it’s dangerous leaving the house in the morning. He has no problem with afternoons. I’ve always managed to get him to come out, but it’s not been easy. A lot of bribery and a bit of scolding. Once he’s outside, he walks as normal unless we want to go in the direction of the offensive fence (even if it is really far off, like a couple of kilometres). Then he sits himself down and refuses to go on. So, another round of enticements and scolding. Oh well, I guess sooner or later he will forget about it and act normal again. Then we’ll probably run into another problem. Poor guy, real bad luck with that stupid electric fence. But there’s no point in giving in to his hang-ups because mornings are the best times to go for walks, especially in summer. Anyway, once he’s outside, he does enjoy his walk.

We watched Little Women (2019) on Saturday but I didn’t like it as much as I had anticipated. The March girls were played by the same actors all throughout the film, while I remember from the book that they started out much younger. Also, while I don’t mind it normally when a film jumps forwards and backwards in time, in this film I found it slightly hard to follow (at least at first). Also, with all those jumps and the actors looking the same age all the time, it didn’t work well for me. Not a bad film, but not great in my opinion. I hoped for more, from what I’d heard about it. Maybe I’ll have a look at some other adaptations sometime.

I did a lot of reading on the weekend and not very much of the usual weekend chores. I went grocery shopping and hope that I can avoid having to go again before maybe Friday. Since Corona is worsening, it’s probably better to only shop once a week, also it’s probably unlikely that one gets infected while out shopping. All the shoppers wear masks and do distancing, and I’m only in the shop for a short time, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Still, I hate shopping and once a week is quite enough ̶ it’s only that I often forget things (even if I write a list, as I forget to put things on the list).

Otherwise I only washed the kitchen and hall floors (both very small) and cleaned the small bathroom. Also did three loads of washing, one colour, one white, and one of Curious Dog’s towels and dog bed covers. Dried it all during consecutive nights in the living room. Worked out very well.

I read The Mystery of Charles Dickens, by A.N. Wilson. It’s very interesting and explores how Dickens’ life experience influenced his works, and how he had a light and dark side to his personality. This is mirrored in his novels and other writings. I don’t agree with all the theories that Wilson proposes, but they are certainly thought-provoking and a lot of it rings true. Dickens comes across as a bit of a split personality and must have been quite difficult to live with. He could be extraordinarily kind and very cruel. Both the kindness and the cruelty can be seen in his characters. Afterwards I felt interested in the life of his long-time lover, Ellen Ternan, and so I read Claire Tomalin’s biography of her, The Invisible Woman. Also a very interesting read. Ellen Ternan grew up as a child actor in a family of actors or stage managers. As a young girl of 18 or thereabouts, she started a secret relationship with Dickens (or rather he started one with her) and after his death, she made an entirely new life for herself. The relationship was kept so quiet that it was almost forgotten entirely, especially as a few key people in Dickens life did all they could to keep the secret, including Dickens’ first biographer. Quite fascinating.

Partner and I tried out a new vegan burger recipe involving beans and green beans as the main ingredient. The taste was good but maybe they are not worth the effort. The consistency was a bit soft. He also baked some very nice cakes. First, last week, a sunken apple cake (easy, but yum), then a sweet yeasty loaf eaten with jam, jelley or honey, and lastly another and more complicated apple cake with an apple pudding topping with cashew cream on top. That’s a very nice cake, but I forgot to take a photo and we had the last pieces today for afternoon coffee.

The work week is shaping up into another stressful one. We’ve got two deadlines on Wednesday and some more coming up next week. But then, maybe it won’t be as bad as I think. On Mondays half my day is meetings, or rather calls. They always tire me out, either from talking about all the things that need to be done during the week, or through bore-out if I have to listen to a lot of rubbish that doesn’t concern me.

Keep safe, world.

September Reading

September was very busy with work and I didn’t read as much as usual. Also, at the start of the month my cousins stayed with us for a long weekend and I didn’t do much reading then. Now, rather late, my reading report:

Ongoing projects:

  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
    138 pages, my quota for September ̶ one more month and I’ll be done.
  • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
    Total fail again, as usual.

Poetry:

Daniel Karlin (ed.), The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse
I’m really enjoying this collection and am almost done.

Short stories:

  • Jay Rubin (ed.), The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories
    I continued with some of these. They are very interesting, but some of them are very intense, so I’m getting ahead rather slowly.
  • Gardner Dozois (ed.), The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection
    These are fun to read. I’m planning on eventually reading my way through all the annual collections.

Non-Fiction:

  • Redmond O’Hanlon, In Trouble Again: A Journey Between the Orinoco and the Amazon
    Very good, see my report here.
  • Carol Ann Lee, The Murders at White House Farm
    Don’t know why I read this, see my report here.
  • Laura Cumming, On Chapel Sands: My Mother and Other Missing Persons
    Also excellent, see my report here.
  • Helen Bevington, The Third and Only Way: Reflections of Staying Alive
    A memoir about life in old age, when one’s loved ones are already dead. What keeps one alive? I like reading about how people go through old age. It’s coming for everyone and, who knows, maybe it will be helpful. It’s a quiet reflection, with lots of vignettes and musings on books and life experiences. I enjoyed it a lot and may read some this author’s other books.
  • Thomas Mallon, A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries
    So far, I’ve only read about two thirds of this book. I found a reference to Bevington in it, which lead me to read her memoir. There’s lots of other reading inspiration in the book. I’ll be returning to it again and again, I believe, to find diaries and memoirs to read. And maybe it will help me to keep up with my own blog/diary. I wrote up a few blog entries in September about the chapters I’ve read, too many to link.

Graphic novel:

Total fail. I’m currently not feeling like reading graphic novels.

Novels:

Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge
One of Dickens’ two historical novels. I liked it a lot and mean to write a review.

Toni Morrison, Love
Also a very good read, as usual. Somewhat disturbing, but then, all Morrison’s novels are disturbing. Will write a review.

Lots of non-fiction this month and only two novels. No graphic novel. Not too bad, but I’ve had better reading months.

Back at Work

The last few days of my vacation were really uneventful. It rained a lot and I hung around a lot, doing nothing except taking Curious Dog for walks, reading, surfing, watching TV and going grocery shopping. Also planting the shrubs we bought in our garden while it was sopping wet, not much fun (but hopefully good for the plants).

Last Sunday we returned to my place and on Monday I started work again. The work week was a repeat of the two weeks before my vacations. Lots of tasks to finalize for deadlines, but our tools were on the blink again, so we had to postpone deadlines and do weird workarounds. Some colleagues were on vacation, some were ill, one is on parental leave and so things were a bit stressful. On my first day, I dealt with about 600 emails (or more, I can’t remember). But quite a lot of them were automatically generated ones (feed updates) that I deleted after reading the subject line and the rest had more or less interesting things to say, but only about three of them actually contained something I had to deal with. So, I got them all done, and got myself sorted and then by Tuesday things started to fall apart. Wednesday was stressful, but we rolled out a mitigation plan and Thursday I spent all day finalizing four documents for a deadline next week and doing quality checks that I couldn’t do before my vacation, because of the tool problems we had at that time.

Today, Friday, my day off, I had a crisis call with my work colleagues, but it turned out that the support colleagues had fixed our tool issues during the night. Crisis averted. All that work stress tired me out and I didn’t feel like doing anything as strenuous as writing a blog post (not to mention that I’d got out of the habit during my vacation). But now things are hopefully on an even keel again.

Now I’m planning on enjoying the weekend and maybe catching up on my book reports. In the meantime, I’ve finished Great Expectations. I loved it ̶ it may be my favourite Dickens so far. I’ve only got Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities to go, then I will have read all Dickens’ completed novels. I’ve read both of them before but can’t really remember much although I don’t think Oliver Twist will be a favourite.

Poor Curious Dog had a stressful week, too. On Monday morning, while Partner and I were on our morning walk with him, he managed to give himself a shock by touching an electric cattle fence (Partner and I were talking and didn’t notice it in time). Poor guy, he gave a yelp and a huge jump and was kind of on edge for the rest of the walk. Then we also had to walk by a noisy power shovel and the garbage collection truck was in our street as we returned ̶ Curious Dog is scared of all big noisy machinery, so that was stressful for him on top of the shock. So, for the rest of the week, every morning at some point on our walk he’d remember these incidents, sit down and refuse to go on (even though we walked other routes). He was fine on our afternoon walks. This morning he refused to go out at all and only changed his mind when I decided to give up trying to entice him out. Hope he gives up on this weird behaviour soon. It’s a little like around the New Year when people set off loud fireworks at random times during the day (even though that’s illegal) and he always has to return straight home whenever that happens. Considering that he is otherwise a boisterous and rough dog, he can be quite touchy and anxious about some things, especially electric fences and loud noise.

It was raining today, a soft sort of country rain. Should be good for the environment. I’m always happy when it rains nowadays since the last few summers have been so hot and dry. After walking with CD (once he’d made up his mind about going out) and dialing in to work for a couple of calls, I went grocery shopping and did a load of washing. I’ll have to hang it up in our bedroom since it’s raining outside. Or maybe I’ll hang it up in the living room before we go to bed so that the clothes can dry overnight. Always the winter solution. I don’t have a dryer, as I think it’s a waste of power and I don’t like the feel of clothes dried in a dryer but hanging stuff up in the house in winter is a bit of a nuisance. It’s a pity there’s no big attic to hang the washing up to dry, but we manage.

It continued raining all afternoon, but Curious Dog and I still went out and got rather wet. CD doesn’t mind rain and I don’t really either. It’s just a bore drying everything afterwards. CD gets lovely soft fur when he’s been rained on. After our walk I made a delicious vegan goulash soup for dinner (with soy cubes instead of meat ̶ they soak up the flavours of the soup very nicely and have a pleasant texture). Also cubed onions, carrots and potatoes, as well as a tin of chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, spices and red wine. Nice and warming on a rainy October night. Later we are going to watch the DVD of Little Women. We got it for our vacation, but didn’t get round to it, as we were playing Settlers of Catan all the time. I love Louisa May Alcott’s novels, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film based on them, so I’m looking forward to it.

Keep safe world.

Vacation Report 1

Lots of vacation preparations in the last week before our vacation’s start. I’d had everything planned for the last two weeks before October 01, but events threw those plans topsy-turvy. So, I had lots of things to finalize and some things (small ones, luckily) that I had to write handover instructions for my colleagues, as they had to be done during my vacation and couldn’t be done before. Also suddenly two other colleagues raised the idea that they wanted to go on vacation during the time I was going, which was a pain for the single other colleague who would have been the only one left at work (in our little team). Luckily, one of the colleagues changed their mind (and anyway, I don’t think our manager would have approved all of us except for one being away, and quite right, too).

Partner left already for his place on October 01. He took a lot of things along that we needed in our vacation flat. I also went shopping one last time, mainly to fill up our depleted pantry, as it’s no fun returning and having no staples at home. Once he’d left, I finished up work and took Curious Dog for his walk. It was generally overcast with a bit of light rain and a bit of sunshine in between on Friday and Saturday. I collected a lot of walnuts as they are currently ripe, and the wind and rain make them fall. There are lots of walnut trees on our walks and quite a few people who collect them. But if you are early, as I generally am with CD, you have the pick. It’s quite interesting how different trees have differently shaped nuts. Some are rather oval and pointy at the ends while some are quite round. One tree has especially huge round ones, but that one is in someone’s yard and I only picked up a few that had fallen outside the fence.

In the evening, after work, on October 01, I cooked a big pot of lentil and leek, carrot and potato soup (all the vegetables I had left) and kept heating up portions for lunch and dinner on Friday and Saturday. I like soup and that way I didn’t need to cook on those days. I was quite busy, because I always go into a cleaning frenzy before vacation for some weird reason. I vacuumed and cleaned the ground floor, tidied up the patio and put the plants that spent the summer outside back inside (only two pots, but there’s not much space for plants in the house). On Saturday I vacuumed the first story and washed all the windows of the living room (three, but two are quite small) as well as the glass patio door and window. That tired me out but made me feel accomplished. I spent the evening pottering around packing up my and Curious Dog’s stuff. He was quite surprised, because I put all the luggage in the hall before going to bed, ready for loading the car in the morning. I also took a shower, which I never do at night, and prepared CD and my food for the trip. Despite all that cleaning and walking with CD, I found time to finish War and Peace (this will need a separate post, eventually).

On Sunday, I got up at 4:45 a.m., got dressed, put Curious Dog into the car (he only barked three times, not bad), loaded the rest of the stuff and took off at about 5:15 a.m. It was still pitch dark and quite windy. I was heading for my birthplace in Hessia to pick up my Cousin 1 and Cousin 2 and their luggage (always a lot, those two are incapable of travelling light). I’ve done that trip quite a few times and only needed my smartphone navigation for the first few kilometres until I got onto the Autobahn, but somehow, in the dark, I ended up on the wrong Autobahn near Darmstadt where another one splits off the A5. The navigation app (Google Maps) fixed it in a few minutes ̶ I took a turn around the Forrest Graveyard in Darmstadt, it’s apparently surrounded by motorways. When it got light, I stopped at a rest stop and fed CD. At just before 9:00 I arrived at my cousins’ and let Curious Dog run around their huge back yard for a while. Weirdly, he at first didn’t want to get out of his box in the car and kept jumping back in. Maybe he didn’t like the wind, which was still quite strong (but not stormy). Anyway, just before 9:30 a.m. we’d stowed the cousin’s stuff in the car and headed onward. It was Sunday and therefore no trucks on the Autobahn, but there were tons of road works where you could only drive slowly as well as a few traffic jams (though not longer than 15 minutes). We arrived at Rerik, a little tourist town on the Baltic, at 15:30 p.m. Partner had already arrived and had picked up the keys to the flat and paid the visitor’s tax. It was quite a nice little flat, but too small for everyday living. But perfectly fine for a week of vacation, and it was only two minutes to the beach. There are clay cliffs around there and you get to the beach via long stairways, which was a bit dicey with Curious Dog in his usual leash-pulling mood.

It was quite warm, 18°C, when we arrived and quite a few people on the beach (but one could keep one’s distance). It turned out that they were mostly day trippers who had disappeared by the next day. The weather was otherwise a mix of overcast, rain and sun, but the rain never lasted long. The beach was lovely, lots of sand interspersed with rocks that people use to build cairns and lovely little stone arches in one place. We took a lot of walks on the beach and at the top of the cliffs which are wooded. A nice mixture: sea and woods, my two favourite places. Curious Dog did his usual pulling on the leash and we couldn’t let him off as I was afraid he’d disappear up small tracks in the clayey and woodsy cliffs. So that’s not as nice as when we spend our October holidays on Fehmarn. There he can run around, and we can keep him in sight. But on the whole, it was lovely at the seaside and very calming.

On Monday (October 05), after breakfast (toast, jam, and cheese, with coffee or tea ̶ a break from our usual porridge) we took a long walk on the beach and returned before lunch. The cousins and Partner then went grocery shopping and reported that nobody was taking physical distancing very seriously and I must say that I found the same when I went on Tuesday. But it wasn’t very full, so it shouldn’t be a problem. At least everybody was wearing masks in the store, except for the cashiers, who were ensconced behind transparent plastic barriers. In the afternoon, we took another walk on the beach. In the evening Partner and the cousins watched the sun set on the sea. Exhausted from all that walking and being pulled around by Curious Dog, I slept quite well despite the unfamiliar bed. There were about 20 to 30 mosquitoes in the bedroom which Partner hunted down and swatted. I guess they came in the window which I had opened when calling Mum as my smartphone’s connection was better with the open window. I didn’t notice them then.

In between walks and at night, we watched the first part of the Lord of the Rings (extended edition). If we had watched the other two parts as well, we wouldn’t have had time for any other films (we’ve brought Little Women and Matrix along, as well as some other DVDs ̶ too many to watch all).

Tuesday, Partner and the cousins drove off to see Heiligendamm, a very well-known beach resort for the rich and famous. It has lovely old white hotels along the beach and is very pretty to look at. It used to be a haunt of the aristocracy around 1900, when there was still a Kaiser in Berlin. It got run down during the German Democratic Republic but was restored after the German reunification. I’d seen it before and didn’t want to go, mostly because I didn’t want to be pulled around by CD. I preferred taking him for a walk on the beach in Rerik. They brought back some delicious Italian ice-cream on the way back. Amazing that it was still being sold in October!
Over lunch it started raining and we spent the early afternoon playing Settlers of Catan, which we hadn’t done in an age and was great fun. Later, we went for another trip to the beach. Curious Dog so annoyed me with his incessant pulling on the leash that I took him for a round through the woods at the top of the cliff and insisted on him behaving himself. I’m quite fed up and do need to get him to walk properly on the leash. He can do it ̶ he always does it at dog school ̶ but he’s just always very excited. I have to be stricter. He did walk better when we were done, also when we went to look at the sunset again, but it didn’t last. Why can’t he be a bit calmer? It’s always worse when we are somewhere strange, probably because everything is new and exciting.

During the first two days, in between other activities and at night in bed, I read and finished the autobiography of Mary Seacole, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857). BookTube inspired me to read this for Victober (reading Victorian literature in October). It’s very interesting, I’ll write a review later. I started Dicken’s Old Curiosity Shop.

On Wednesday, Partner and Cousin 2 got up early again to watch the sunrise, but it was overcast and there was nothing much to see. They then didn’t feel like going to the beach again for Curious Dog’s morning walk, and so I took him by myself. He walked very calmly down the stairs to the beach and was generally fairly well behaved, but I kept it up and didn’t let him pull, although of course he did try to. On the whole, much better than on the previous days. I guess I just need to be stricter in general and not let him have his head most of the time. Maybe he will then become habitually well-behaved on the leash. Still, I’ve tried this many times and it never stuck.

Later in the day, the cousins went off with Partner to have a look at Kühlungsborn, another resort nearby which I have been to before and didn’t want to visit with CD in tow, as he’s dreadful in strange towns. Maybe, if I practice a lot with him, we can take him to strange towns next year. Although now that I’ve put this plan in writing, I’m not sure. Maybe he just isn’t a “take everywhere” dog and we’ll just have to live with it. We used to go for walks in the nearest towns with his dog school for training purposes and it was always a nightmare. He was super excited and only walked nicely when the trainer took him in hand. This probably shows that it’s all my fault. Ah well, I usually only care about this when we are on vacation, and we only go on a real vacation away from home once a year for a week. Still, he pulls at home too, though not as badly. A bit of stricter training for a while is really indicated, it seems.

The rest of the week, we didn’t go on any excursions. We either walked up and down the beach, had some Italian ice-cream near the pier (which was closed for repair and sometimes full of seagulls sitting on the railings). Once, on Thursday afternoon, it rained a lot and Curious Dog and I walked in the rain on the beach. Only a couple of other dog-walkers were around and it was surprisingly nice although we did get drenched. There was a rain-induced small creek running into the sea near one of the cliff-side staircases. It cut quite a little creek bed into the beach. I noticed later that it was overflow from a rain-water retention basin at the top of the cliffs. Otherwise, we finished watching the first part of the extended version of Lord of the Rings but didn’t get around to watching the other parts as we had all got very much addicted to playing Settlers. Friday afternoon we did watch Matrix, which I hadn’t seen for ages and didn’t really remember in detail. The cousins hadn’t ever seen it and I think enjoyed it.

We cooked for ourselves all the time except on the last day, Friday evening. We didn’t have anything particularly adventurous, just things like pasta and sauce. Once Cousin 1 made a nice vegan Mac and Cheese version (I need to get the recipe). Last year on our vacation we cooked and baked a lot of special dishes and cakes but this year we were too lazy. Also, the pots in the vacation flat were quite small and it was a bit difficult to cook for four people with them. Had to cook pasta in two pots, for instance. We didn’t do any baking at all but picked up something for afternoon coffee from the bakeries in town. We were too busy playing Settlers.

Friday evening, Partner and Cousin 1 had smoked mackerel with potato chips, while Cousin 2 and I had burgers. I had a Beyond Meat burger and didn’t like it much. The patty was not bad, but the whole thing was rather soggy and messy to eat. It was much too expensive, but I wanted to try it ̶ won’t be repeating the experience.

We packed up all our luggage Friday night and got off early on Saturday, at 6:00 a.m (I was aiming for 5:30 a.m. but that didn’t work out). Partner headed off to his place and I took the cousins back to their town in Hessia. We managed to get through Hamburg early and avoided the usual traffic jams and arrived at 11:30 a.m. Curious Dog and I had half an hour’s break in the cousin’s backyard, where we met up with my aunt and uncle (the cousin’s grandparents). We kept our distance for Corona reasons. CD chased his ball around the garden and behaved very well. Much better than in previous years when he’d always shot out of the car and jumped on everyone around. He must be getting a little sensible now that he’s older. At noon, CD jumped back into his box and we drove on to Bavaria, where Mum was waiting for us. The drive was just over 4 hours. There was a short traffic jam on the Autobahn, where a new construction site has been set up ̶ what a bore, it will affect Mum and me when we drive back to my place in Baden-Württemberg next Sunday. Hope they’ll be done soon. Anyway, all in all the day’s drive from the Baltic to Bavaria took almost 9 hours of driving. It went better than I expected, but I was quite tired that evening. Curious Dog was great. I took him for a short walk after we arrived at home, but other than that and our break in Hessia, he spent most of the day in the car and didn’t make a fuss.

The following day, Sunday, I slept in and did nothing except walk with Curious Dog (still insisting on proper behaviour on the leash), read and surf the Internet. On Monday, I went grocery shopping and otherwise hung around all day. Went to dog school with CD in the evening. I started reading Dickens’ Great Expectations (having finished The Old Curiosity Shop on Sunday) but haven’t got very far yet. I’m really behind on book reports but couldn’t bring myself to get started on them. Tuesday morning Mum and I drove to a large gardening centre hereabouts and picked up a Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) to plant on Dad’s and brother’s grave for the winter. We also wanted to pick up a few shrubs for our garden but didn’t find all the ones we wanted. We improvised and got three small red Barberry shrubs which we will plant up against a part of the fence and a Juneberry (Amelanchier lamarckii). And a dwarf apple tree (Galina apples) which we’ve already planted. It’s supposed to require porous soil, but the soil in our garden, after 30 cm of topsoil, is a stony kind of clay. Hope the tree will flourish anyway. Our neighbours have a couple of dwarf apple trees and they are doing well, so there’s hope. We did put some compost soil into the hole I dug for the tree. We haven’t planted the other plants yet but will do so before our return to Baden-Württemberg.

It appears that we took our vacation just in the nick of time. Currently the corona infections are on the rise again, and, if our county should come to have more than 50 new infections per week per 100 000 inhabitants, travel will become difficult if not impossible. I’m nervous that this will interfere with our next trip to Bavaria in November. I wouldn’t like to leave our house unattended all winter and I’m not sure if travel restrictions within Germany are valid if one is only travelling from one place of residence to another and isn’t planning to host other people. I will have to research this if it becomes necessary, which hopefully it won’t. Both my rented house in Baden-Württemberg and our family home in Bavaria are in country areas where the numbers are currently still fairly low (though in B-W it’s already at 29 per 100 000), so I’m hoping for the best.

Keep safe, world.