Monday Miscellanea

I’ve been in Bavaria with Mum and Curious Dog since the afternoon of December 10 and most of the time it has been foggy and dingy, with only about two afternoons when the sun managed to disperse the fog. But out I went every day anyway with Curious Dog for our walks and it was always quite pleasant. Rather unseasonably mild just a few degrees about 0°C. One afternoon, I saw three deer on a slope in the woods above our path. The deer and I looked at each other for some minutes before they leapt away. They blended in very well with the shades of brown of the trees and I only noticed them because CD was staring at them first. He didn’t bark and he didn’t try to chase them (well, as he was on leash he couldn’t have, but he didn’t even try). That was a nice experience.

A few weeks ago, when I was still at my place, I saw a grey heron in a field by the side of the road hunting for insects or frogs as I was driving by on my way to the shops. On the way back, it had been run over by a car and was dead. That was horrible and I’m still sad when I think about it today. I really hate that so many animals fall prey to traffic. Whenever I see such a tragedy, I always start musing about driving less, but it’s not practical. Here in the countryside in Bavaria, with spotty public transport, it would be a nightmare to do one’s grocery shopping per bus. You’d need half a day at least for one trip. Public transport tends to be good in cities, but rudimentary in the country in Germany. So, I have to continue using my car, but maybe when I retire and have more time, I’ll either move to a small town where I can do my shopping on foot or by public transport or perhaps I’ll get a freight bike. In the meantime, I try to drive carefully and am glad that I’ve not killed many animals myself (although a lot of luck is involved – a lot of times you just can’t help it). I once hit a blackbird who didn’t survive and once I had a close shave with a deer (that was years ago, and I still remember how shocked I was). The deer jumped into the fender of my car from the side, coming up out of a ditch. But I was driving very slowly through what was a dark and foggy night. I braked and swerved, and the deer ran off. There were no marks on the car which made me believe that the deer probably only got a bruise (if anything). But I was super shaky for a couple of hours afterwards.

On a more positive note, I’ve been reading a lot. I’ve finished all the novels by Dickens that I still wanted to read this year, Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities. I read a book for my book club and another non-fiction one for fun. I also read the two Toni Morrison novels still on my list (Home and God Help the Child). I want to write reviews for most of these and will hopefully manage to get started on them this week. Despite this progress I don’t think that I’ll get to all the books I mentioned in my End of the Year Book Tag post. I’ve been doing most of my reading at the weekends, when I was also baking some Christmas cookies, shopping and cleaning. So, I’m quite happy with what I’ve read so far in December, and I enjoyed it all.

I was incredibly busy last week with work. Lots of quality checks and end-of-the-year tasks. I was absolutely knackered at the end of each day and not up to blogging or even reading – I just nodded off in front of the TV. This week, I’m working today, tomorrow, and on Wednesday and then will be on vacation until January 17. So, lots of time for reading, watching films, playing games with Partner (once we are back at my place on December 31). I usually get lots of reading done in those weeks at the beginning of the year. After all, the weather will probably be wet and cold and this year there’s the lockdown. So, a good time to curl up with a good book, some hot tea and some left-over Christmas cookies. It’ll be great, I’m really looking forward to it. I love having a long break at the end of the year to wind down and get fresh energy for the new year and I usually save up my vacation days for it.

Corona infection numbers in Germany are still increasing despite the lockdown in place (it hasn’t been long enough). It seems that the first vaccines will be available at the end of December for residents of retirement or nursing homes. Mutti, at 82, will be eligible for a shot soon. I just hope that she will tolerate it well. She tends to have strange reactions to medications. I’m also not sure how it will work. I guess we’ll have to get the shot here in Bavaria as this is Mum’s main place of residence and so I expect her notification will be sent here. But it will take some weeks till all the elderly are vaccinated and I’m sure we’ll organize it somehow. Anyway, the vaccination is a ray of light in these times.

One of Mum’s sisters (my aunt) is in hospital, having just received an artificial hip. She’s spending Christmas in rehab and so far she’s not allowed any visitors. Mum calls her every day. She’s doing well, except for the loneliness and the boredom. Her husband is allowed to drop of things, but he’s not allowed to see her. That’s hard for them. I hope my aunt continues to do well and will be able to return home soon.

Brexit isn’t going well. There’s still no trade deal agreed on between the UK and Europe. Things remain interesting, but even with a deal it will be sad to see Britain leaving the EU at the end of the year. Without a deal, I can’t imagine the chaos. Worse than the current chaos at the borders because of the travel ban because of the mutated Corona virus in the UK? No doubt, we shall see.

Keep safe, world

Ready Player Two

by Ernest Cline. An excellent sequel to Ready Player One. It picks up and develops characters and themes raised in RPI. This will be a mostly spoiler-free review, as RPII was just published and I don’t want to reveal any of the surprising plot twists.

The novel starts off rather slowly with Wade (Parzival) reporting on some astonishing technical advancements made by the company GSS now owned by him, Samantha (Art3mis), Aech, and Shoto. The new technology had been developed in secret by James Halliday, whose heir Wade has become, because of the quest he solved in RPI. The new technology makes the Oasis even more addictive and Wade and Sam have a falling-out over his use of it and because Wade, Aech and Shoto vote to market it. I rather liked this estrangement between Wade and Sam as I’d found their relationship not very believable in RPI. Wade spends a lot of time regretting the fact that his life has gone nowhere while his three friends have found worthwhile careers and/or fulfilling relationships. But soon a new quest arises, again left by James Halliday, and the novel picks up speed and becomes as thrilling a page-turner as the first installment.

The themes of the dystopian near future are again touched upon and at first it seems no different than before: people hide in the Oasis from their dismal non-virtual life. However, there’s an interesting twist at the end of the novel that brings hope for the planet while showing a good balance between virtual and non-virtual existence (I don’t want to be clearer, as that would be a spoiler). There’s also an important new theme about artificial intelligence with an interesting twist on how AIs could come to be (although I don’t know if the idea of the novel will ever be possible, but it’s certainly intriguing).

During the new quest, Wade at first is the only one of the four friends engaged in it, and he doesn’t make much headway. But he gets a hint from some new friends that helps him solve the first step. And, once the stakes are raised because the Oasis and its users are held hostage under a strict time limit (meaning, they will all die if the quest isn’t solved in time), the friends reconnect and work together to save everyone. It’s engrossing and has the plot twists and pop-culture trivia like the first novel. I especially like the part of the quest that takes part on a world based on the tales in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion. Aech, Shoto and Art3mis (Samantha) each have a much larger role to play in RPII. They can shine with their pop-culture specialties – without them Parzival (Wade) would have had no chance to finish the quest successfully on time. They also helped in RPI, of course, but most of the ideas came from Parzival. In this case, they collaborate on an even level, which is heart-warming.

The development of the relationship between Parzival (Wade) and Art3mis (Samantha) is also nicely done. Each of them shows their stubborn side, but when things are dire, they work together, find that they still have feelings for each other, and both change so that their relationship becomes a lot more stable and believable by the end of the novel. As a Tolkien fan, I really enjoyed the quest the two of them had to complete in his world. It seemed very fitting.

So, I found Ready Player Two at least as good as Ready Player One. I’d been slightly worried that I wouldn’t like it, but I think it has a lot of new ideas mixed in with the exciting adventures in the Oasis that the reader is already familiar with from RPI. The beginning may be a little slow, but it soon picks up the pace. The ending is creative and very hopeful for the future of the entire dystopian world (not only for the four friends). And, I’m sure there’s enough material for a third novel. I, for one, would look forward to it (not that I’ve heard anything about a sequel).

Keep safe, world.

Ready Player One

by Ernest Cline. A re-read, as I wanted to remind myself of the story before reading Ready Player Two which has just been published. I like Ready Player One because it’s an exciting page-turner and touches on some themes that I find interesting.

It is set in a dystopian near future. Dystopian and apocalyptic stories are a favourite genre of mine. Weird, really, considering that we might be heading for a difficult future with climate change and that we are currently living in a kind of dystopian present with the Corona pandemic. But then I also like reading murder mysteries and other crime novels without wanting to have anything like that in my life. I like reading about travel without needing to do a lot of travel myself. So many situations that are fun, or interesting, or thrilling to read about, but would be horrible in real life.

It is about virtual reality. I also like stories about virtual realities. It would be great to log into a virtual reality like the Oasis for work or for school and for games. Interacting with one’s colleagues in a virtual reality would be a lot more fun than online calls. And virtual school could be fantastic – I liked the parts in Ready Player One about the schools in the Oasis. Of course, the real question, which is sometimes touched on in the novel, but not grappled with in detail, is how to balance virtual life with non-virtual life. I don’t want to contrast ‘virtual’ with ‘real’, because the virtual life would also be real, but I wouldn’t want to neglect the non-virtual life on which we all depend. We can’t live without nature, food, the planet. In Ready Player One people seen to hide from their dystopian natural world in the artificial Oasis world which doesn’t solve any problems. Virtual reality in Ready Player One can be like an addiction, like smartphone addition only worse.

I like the thrilling plot. It’s the usual fight against evil, where evil has all the advantages but good prevails. A good traditional plot well executed. I enjoy all the trivia about the 80s (although I can’t remember them once I’ve finished the book). I was a teenager in the 80s and missed all this computer and gaming stuff. I know a few of the movies and have read a few of the books that are mentioned, but that’s about it. The book doesn’t even trigger any nostalgia in me, as it is just not the life I lived.

I like the characters, Parzival, Aech, Art3mis, Daito and Shoto (to call them by their Oasis names). I like their fight against the overwhelming numbers of Sixers who are their rivals in the search for the Easter egg (or the quest for the Holy Grail of the Oasis – even the hero’s name, Parzival, reminds one of the Grail myths). That they can only win by working together is a nice moral. Parzival, or Wade, is the point-of-view character and the one who is best realized. The others are not well developed, but the book seems to me to be more about the plot and the action and less about character development, so it’s OK.

I don’t like the romantic love between Wade/Parzival and Samantha/Art3mis. It’s fine that Wade falls in love with her, but after she breaks it off, he acts like a creepy stalker. Keeps trying to get her to change her mind in obnoxious ways in Oasis, hanging around her virtual home trying to get her to communicate with him again. And afterwards, at the end of the book, they easily pick up their romantic relationship again. I didn’t find that very believable. Still, it might be interesting to see how and if their relationship will continue in Ready Player Two.

So, Ready Player One is a fantastic, mostly light and fun read and I’m looking forward to Ready Player Two, which I going to start today.

Keep safe, world.

Another Busy Day

Do I feel accomplished because I cleaned the entire ground floor area of my house? Kind of, yes, it’s nice to have a clean floor, but the entry hall already shows new dirty paw and shoe prints (only slight ones, but still). Isn’t it a pity that one’s house doesn’t retain its state of cleanliness for longer than it takes to bat one’s eyelid? At least it will take some time to accumulate the amount of grime that I cleaned away today, there is that. I think this weekend I’m making up for the last weekend’s laziness.

At least I read somewhere today that laziness is genetic. One’s subconscious wants to conserve energy and therefore prefers sitting down and reading to hoovering, washing and other annoying tasks. So, it’s not really my fault that I’m always behind on my housekeeping, it’s biology.

The day was lovely, freezing in the morning, but sunny and dry. All the fields were heavily frosted with rime; the sun was sparkling; a few billows of fog were disappearing. I’d forgotten to take my phone on my morning walk with Curious Dog, so no photo. The lovely weather inspired me to walk longer than usual, even though it was cold. We didn’t meet anyone much, the usual dog walkers were sleeping in, I guess, or had done their rounds earlier, as CD and I had set out later than usual. When we returned, I didn’t get out of my jacket, but just picked up my purse and my mask and walked to the bakery to pick up some bread as well as cake for afternoon coffee.

That was half the morning gone, and I hung around for a while surfing. After lunch, while Mum was mixing the dough for the Stollen in the kitchen, I hoovered the first floor and the stairs to my bedroom / office. Once Mum was done and the dough was rising under a clean tea towel in a spot of sunlight, I started washing the floors downstairs (but only after I’d done some reading for what was meant to be a 15 minute break that mysteriously turned into 45 minutes). I pretended that cleaning was a kind of sports, that made it less onerous. Do other adults have to trick themselves into things like that? Sometimes I still feel as if I’m playing at housekeeping although I’ve been living in my own flats or apartments for almost 30 years. It’s weird.

After I was done with cleaning, it was already time for a quick cup of barley coffee with a piece of cake and then off again with Curious Dog. At almost 4:00 p.m. the sun had already disappeared behind the hill, but the sky was still blue, and it was nice outside. A lot of parents with kids around, also enjoying the weather.

Partner returned from his place just a few minutes after CD’s walk. He’d also had lovely weather and a good trip. I cooked dinner; a sweet potato, fennel and chickpea curry. A new recipe. It was quite delicious and didn’t take long to cook. Mum’s Stollen turned out perfect (at least from the outside). We will have some tomorrow, in honour of the first Advent Sunday (we’re not religious, but it’s traditional to have some kind of Christmas baked goodies on the Sundays in Advent). I’m also planning to bake ginger chocolate cookies tomorrow morning.

I didn’t do much reading today during the day, but I did read a lot last night in bed. I’m hoping to finish Black Lamb and Grey Falcon tonight, as I’m on the last 100 pages. I’ll write a review, maybe on Monday. It was a very stimulating, varied and rather odd reading experience, not like anything I can remember reading before.

Keep safe, world.

Future Book Releases

A week ago, I signed up for The Guardian’s bookmarks newsletter and already it has paid off. In this weekend’s email, I learned about the future release of two books that I’m already enthusiastic about:

  • The Diaries of Alan Rickman, edited by Alan Taylor, publisher Canongate, publishing date autumn 2022.
    Apparently, Rickman wrote 27 volumes of diaries, which are to be condensed into one book. That should be fascinating.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, The Nature of Middle-earth, edited by Carl F. Hofstetter, published by HarperCollins, publishing date June 2021.
    These are previously unpublished essays by Tolkien about Middle-earth. As I’m a great fan of Tolkien’s works, this sounds great. And it’s already coming out next year.

Now I have to start keeping a list of books I’m interested in that aren’t published yet in addition to my other list of books that I’d like to read sometime (it’s huge). So many books, so little time for reading.

Work today was very busy, with one meeting in the morning and a very long, but rather interesting workshop that took up the entire afternoon, where my team discussed the challenges we will be facing next year. We haven’t come to a conclusion yet, but we are now clear about where the difficulties will lie and are now going to engage with other experts from other teams to come to a final plan on how to proceed with our operational work next year. It looks like a lot of changes are coming and it’s all quite complex. Should be an interesting year.

Poor Curious Dog had to do without his afternoon walk, as he refused to go out with Partner without me. Ever since I’ve started doing home office, he’s started to refuse to go on walks with anyone but me. Very weird. I tried going out for a walk with him after dark, but he didn’t seem very enthusiastic, so we just let him out into the yard. We did have an hour’s walk in the morning and we’ll go back to his usual routine of morning and afternoon walks tomorrow.

During yesterday’s meetings, which were boring, I amused myself by coming up with a plan to move my home-office corner to another part of my bedroom, but later on decided it wouldn’t work. A pity, because with that rearrangement I’d found a place for a bookshelf that I currently don’t have space for. Oh well, I’ll have to continue to do without it. Or come up with a different plan.

Keep safe, world

Frosty Fields

It was -2°C this morning at 8:00 when we went for a long walk with Curious Dog. Sunny, but cold. All the fields rimed with frost and there was a thin sheet of ice on the puddles. Hardly anybody was around. It was quiet and restful and lovely. The first subzero temperatures this autumn, here, I think (unless it was this cold when we were away). We took the normal way up our hill but went back down the long way. By the time we got back home, after about 1.5 hours, I was quite cold. But I like the cold, it’s the time for it. And it’s nice and cozy back in the warm house, with a warm cup of Caro Kaffee (a fake coffee made of roasted barley, as I only occasionally like to drink real coffee).

Afterwards I continued reading Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. I’m now well past the half-way mark. But I didn’t read for very long, as I then decided to prepare a hot lunch in the clay oven (usually we cook at dinner, but on Sundays we sometimes do it at lunch, so that we can relax at night without having to spend time in the kitchen). I peeled and cubed some carrots and potatoes, added some cubed onions, and diced dried dates, and mixed the lot in a bowl with curry and paprika spices. I also cut a head of cauliflower apart and added the same spices. Then I took a tin of coconut milk and some vegetable stock, boiled it and added some more curry and chili. I soaked my clay oven pot (Römertopf in German) for ten minutes and put some shredded Savoy cabbage that I had in the freezer into the bottom of the pot as the first layer of vegetables. I put the potato-carrot mix on top and the cauliflower florets on top of that. Then I poured the coconut milk mix over all the vegetables, closed the pot and put it into the oven at 200°C for slightly longer than 1.5 hours. That’s the great thing about cooking with the clay oven. You do all the work up-front and then you just wait until it is done. The drawback is that you can’t just open it to check how it’s doing (all the heat would escape), and you can’t add any more spices before it’s done. It turned out delicious, though, if a bit too soupy. I should have used less stock, but I’m used to making the recipe with rice instead of potatoes. The rice always soaks up all the liquid. Best of all, there’s some left for tomorrow, although I will need to add something to the curry as it won’t be enough. Still, that won’t be much bother.

While we were waiting for the food to cook, we watched a documentary about the history of writing which was fascinating. It’s a three-part series, we’ve got up to the invention of the printing press. There’s one more part to go, I guess we’ll watch it sometime next week in the media library of the TV channel Arte. Arte is a French-German public TV co-production that has lots of good documentaries and also shows news from all around the world, which other channels often don’t do. They also show interesting films. I like Arte, but I also like blockbusters. The best thing about Arte is that like the other public TV channels (in contrast to the private ones) it doesn’t interrupt films with adverts. I really can’t stand all those ad-breaks on the private channels and almost never watch them. It’s public TV or DVDs/blue rays/streaming all the way.

I spent the early afternoon reading, then we watched the second of the three episodes about the history of writing, and then Partner made a berry mousse (with aqua faber, that is, the liquid from a tin of chickpeas and berries and sugar). Sounds weird but is very nice. Aqua faber is a vegan alternative to egg white. We had the mousse on top of vanilla pudding, instead of baked goods for coffee.

Then it was time for CD’s afternoon walk, again. Sometimes all that walking it does get a bit tiring, but when I see how much CD loves it, I can’t not go. And anyway, he get super restless if he doesn’t get enough exercise.

On our return, I bit the bullet and did a bit of housework. Cleaned the bathroom. It didn’t take very long. These things would go better if I didn’t keep procrastinating, I should have done it yesterday or on Friday. The psychological hurdle is bigger than the job itself. I should know that by now.

In half an hour we’ll be watching the Tatort again. It’s supposed to be good; we’ll see.

And then to bed and tomorrow another day, another work week.

Keep safe, world.

Reading BL & GF

This morning I lazed in bed reading Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. It’s not a quick or easy read, because the writing is dense with historical background, descriptions of places, politics, personal opinions. Lots of topics that I have to think about, as I’m finding it fascinating but also strange. One of the chapters I read today “Salonae” illustrates this perfectly. It’s short chapter, at just 6 pages, but has much food for thought.

Salonæ (or Salona) is a ruined Roman city in the region of Dalmatia in modern-day Croatia. She gives a short but vivid description of the ruins:

It’s pillars and steps and sarcophagi lie among rich grass and many flowers under the high olive terraces overlooking the sea and its many islands […]

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West, Penguin, p. 163.

But then she writes about a group of young girls and nuns they meet at a museum, schoolgirls apparently. Of them she says:

They [the girls] were apparently waiting quite calmly to grow up. They expected it, and so did the people looking after them. There was no panic on anybody’s part. […] There were no little girls with poked chins and straight hair, aggressively proud of being plain, nor were there pretty girls making a desperate precocious proclamation of their femininity. But, of course, in a country where there is very little homosexuality it is easy for girls to grow up into womanhood. (p. 163)

What a strange pronouncement! How is homosexuality supposed to make it difficult for girls to grow into womanhood? It sounds like West has some kind of hang-up about homosexuality. I read one or two other off-hand weird comments of that sort in other parts of the book. It creates a weird vibe. Not exactly homophobic, but definitively strange.

There’s some judgements about the nuns and the education they were presumably providing:

I suspected that they [the girls] were receiving an education with a masculine bias. Indeed, I knew it, for they were being educated by nuns, who are women who have accepted the masculine view of themselves and the universe, who show it by being the only members of their sex who go into fancy dress and wear uniforms as men love to do. (p. 163)

Now this is arrant rubbish. I’m sure there’s innumerable criticism that can be addressed to schools led by nuns (we all know about the dreadful things that went on in many religious schools and orphanages up until our times), but becoming a nun and living as a nun is much more nuanced than this ridiculously prejudiced statement insinuates. Lots of nuns made lasting cultural and religious contributions. Sure, as a nun, one is under male domination, because the Catholic Church is infamous for its disregard and unequal treatment of women but being a nun could also be a fulfillment and escape from other restrictions placed by society on women (specially in earlier times). And the stuff about uniforms is also idiotic. What about nurses and all sorts of professions that wear uniforms? Even our modern business attire is a uniform of sorts.

She’s right about the male bias of the education the girls received, because that what happens in almost every school, even today. One hopes that more efforts are made to make education less biased against any point-of-view that isn’t male but in lots of instances women’s experience is not taught in schools. History, for instance, is still often heavily focused on the lives of men and the history of other countries and cultures apart from one’s own is also not included in many curricula, I’d imagine. In the context of the book this is hardly something that can be blamed on the nuns.

But then West goes on to make a valid critique of the way that the Roman Empire was seen (and taught to be) a “vast civilizing force which spread material and moral well-being all over the ancient world by its rule” (p.164):

We have no real evidence that the peoples on which the Roman Empire imposed its civilization had not pretty good civilizations of their own, better adapted to local conditions.

[…]

Yet neither I nor anybody else knows whether or not the conquest of Illyria by the Romans was not a major disaster, the very contrary to an extension of civilization. Illyria had its past. It was linked with Greek history, and had a double tie with Macedonia of alternate enmity and alliance. […] They had an extremely able and heroic queen, Teüta, who was not the sort of monarch that can be raised from a tribe in skins; and while she and her subjects are accused of piracy, examination proves this a reference to efforts, which history would regard as credible if they had been undertaken by the Romans, to conquer the Adriatic archipelago. (p. 164/5)

This critique of Roman expansion has something for it. History is written by the victors and who remembers the views and realities of the vanquished? Though I’m pretty sure that modern historiography has a more nuanced view of Roman expansion than that of the 1930s. It takes a long time for new historical insights to filter down to schools and I can’t say how up-to-date and differentiated the opinions are that are taught about the Roman Empire to schoolchildren today. I can’t remember the details of the Roman History I was taught in my high school years in the 1980s. And, modern historiography probably has it’s own biases.

The chapter goes on like this. Description of the scenic ruins amid beautiful nature interspersed with criticisms of the Catholic Church (some definitively valid), other historical background, personal opinions and judgement, and this and that. On the whole, this makes for a stimulating read. You must be on your toes, be an engaged and critical reader to stay with the text and not end up overwhelmed by the wealth of ideas and information. It’s fun if you like this kind of thing. If you expect a more conventional travel narrative, you might not enjoy it.

For myself, I’m going to continue with the book (I’m up to page 200 of the 1000 odd pages), but I’ll space it out over November. It’s too rich to read in one sitting. I’m going to start with Oliver Twist for some variety.

Keep safe, world.

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.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

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.