Monday Miscellanea

Back in Bavaria, one week earlier than planned. Mum, Curious Dog, and I drove here last week on Thursday afternoon. I took the afternoon off and worked on Friday morning instead. On our normal schedule, we would have driven a week later, this Thursday, but Partner had an unplanned appointment at his place, and it didn’t make sense for him to drive there and back again, so we just changed our plans.

We had a good trip without any traffic jams, detours, or other obstacles.

We’ve been having very grey autumn weather. Lots of cloud cover or fog, no sunshine, but also no rain. Today was the first time in a week or longer that it did rain. It was only a soft rain so that Curious Dog and I got slightly wet but not drenched on our Morning walk. Curious Dog is quite recovered from his infection and we didn’t need another trip to the vet. I’m very relieved about it. The grey weather, while fine for walks (especially when it’s dry) is no hindrance for our daily morning and afternoon walks, but otherwise it makes me sleepy. I’m either sleepy or hungry – I could spend all day chomping on something.

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Work is currently a little less stressful, with only a couple of deadlines looming at the beginning of December. Last week we had another couple of days when the software tools we use to manage our documents was again slow and buggy, but as there are no urgent deadlines it was inconvenient but not as serious as when we can’t finalize our documents just before a deadline. There’s hope that the situation will improve next years as some of the problematic processes that cause the instability of the software are planned to be changed. Of course, during the transition period to the new processes it’s very likely that things won’t run smoothly, but hopefully afterwards, once the dust has settled, everything will run smoothly and we won’t be stressed out all the time, trying to salvage the situation. But it will take time to implement the changes and test them. It will be months yet before we can expect real improvements. We can look forward to an interesting year in 2022. But before I start thinking about work next year, I will take a nice long vacation for at least three weeks (as I usually do). Can’t wait, but there’s still four weeks to go.
Mum is currently baking our first Christmas cake, a Stollen, which is a German fruit loaf traditionally eaten during the Advent time or at Christmas. Next Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent. We will be returning to my place; Partner will be back as well, and we’ll celebrate with the cake (which will taste better for having had some days to develop its full aroma). Maybe Mum and I will even bake some Christmas cookies this week.

I still have to come up with some good ideas for Christmas presents.

Last Saturday, Mum and I spontaneously headed into the Corona vaccination centre at the county town. Mum got both her vaccinations there in February and March and we hoped to get her booster. I’d tried to get an appointment, but the earliest available one was on the first of December, when we will be back at my place (I considered staying here longer but didn’t really want to). I was quite surprised to get an offer for such an early appointment though because what with the escalating Corona situation in Germany, demand for vaccinations is rising even among some of the non-vaccinated people. I’ve heard that appointments in some places are all booked out until January or February. So, considering that the vaccination centre was offering vaccinations without prior appointments on Saturday, we decided to gamble and try if we could get a slot for Mum. And we did! There was a middling long queue but after about 1.5 hours Mum had her booster. Since I was only vaccinated in August, I am not yet eligible for one and so I didn’t get it. However, my company is again offering vaccinations starting soon and I hope to get my third vaccination in January or February. Just leaves Partner, but he’s not yet eligible either. Hopefully he’ll manage to get one somewhere too.

Despite vaccinations the Corona incidence among 100 000 persons is higher than it ever was, with the majority of cases among those not vaccinated. Considering that millions have been vaccinated with hardly any ill effects, it’s strange that people are still so suspicious of the vaccinations that they are willing to risk death rather than getting vaccinated themselves. Public life is being restricted again. In the worst-hit German states (such as Bavaria), Christmas markets have been cancelled again, for the second time in two years, and strict rules about what one may do or not are being introduced to get the situation under control. About time too. The government has fumbled the ball quite badly this autumn. At least they came up with an incentive to get the non-vaccinated to reconsider: if they end up infected or need to go into quarantine, they won’t receive any pay during that time. That, I hope, will galvanize a few of the non-vaccinated. I wonder if a general obligation to get vaccinated (except if one has a condition that makes vaccination impossible) will be legislated like in Austria. Politicians deny that it will happen in Germany, but if things get really bad… you never know. I think it would be only fair. People need to do their part so that everyone can live a normal life again. Everything is just such a mess, currently. I feel really sorry (and worried) for all the young people and children who haven’t had a chance to get vaccinated yet and for the medical personnel that has to deal with this catastrophic situation. All because people wouldn’t get vaccinated, and politicians were too busy campaigning or forming the new coalition! It’s a debacle all around.

Keep safe, world.

Monday Miscellanea

As you may have noticed, I’ve totally given up posting every day in November. Life got in the way – well, Curious Dog’s prepuce infection. He has to wear a body to stop him from licking his infection and he doesn’t really like it. I spent the weekend, when I wasn’t out grocery shopping, sitting reading in the living room with him instead of up in my bedroom at my computer, typing up posts. I made quite a bit of headway through my November non-fiction read From Dawn to Decadence and on my project reading The Tale of Genji. I’m halfway through the former and about two thirds through the later. They are both very interesting in quite different ways. Dawn is a cultural history of “the West” and Genji is a tale about court life in ancient Japan. Dawn covers a topic that I’m somewhat familiar with but with lots of details and interpretations new to me. Genji shows quite an alien world which I often find extremely puzzling, but it’s fascinating.

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But to return to Curious Dog. I was sitting in the living room with him so that he didn’t have to wear the body – I just stopped him when he started to lick. On Friday I chased him around the living room for about an hour with a syringe to irrigate his prepuce with an anti-bacterial liquid and I actually managed it without holding on to him at all. He just kept still by himself (he probably got fed up with being chased all the time). That was very surprising. Partner and I didn’t manage it at all on Thursday, we couldn’t hold him. He kept squirming away and the nifty way of holding him that the vet showed me did didn’t work with us. I guess we are not as practiced as the vet. But Friday was the only time I managed it, the rest of the weekend he never held still. Nevertheless, he got all his antibiotic tablets, and it looks like the infection has cleared up. One more night of wearing the body and that’s it. That’s a relief. Curious Dog was still very keen on his walks, but he was a bit off his food on a couple of days. He left kibble in his bowl, which he never does (normally it’s all gone in a few minutes). He did, however, eat it when we fed him by hand. Very odd. Maybe the tablets didn’t agree with him. Or maybe he was milking the situation because he enjoyed the extra attention (dogs do that). I don’t know, but today he ate all his food again at his usual speed and I think he’s back to normal.

The weather was very dreary on the weekend. A very soft rain on Friday – CD and I got quite wet on our afternoon walk. No rain the rest of the weekend but the sun hardly got through the fog and the clouds. It grew a bit warmer, so walks were quite pleasant, but it was still very muddy. Since it was so dreary, we streamed a few episodes of München Mord (meaning “Munich Murder”, which is in German a play on München Nord which is an exist on the Autobahn: Mord = Murder, Nord = North). It’s three oddball police detectives investigating murder cases in weird ways, hindered by their superior who panders to higher-ups. It’s very quirky and has funny elements. The chief detective of the trio has a weird way of reenacting how he thinks the murder took place which makes him look crazy to most of the police department (although his method is very successful). The other two are always looking for love in the wrong places and have other character quirks. The relationship between the detectives is one of the many highlights of the series which we just really enjoy. Perfect for dingy autumn days.

We did a lot of cooking and baking. Partner made some very tasty pastries filled with shredded apple and spiced with cinnamon and I cooked a lovely vegetable soup on Saturday. On Sunday I made a mushroom, carrot and kidney bean stew in a dark beer sauce with dumplings and a purple cabbage side-dish (Partner helped). It was delicious and I made enough to last us for today as well, so Partner didn’t have to cook today for once.

Today is still dingy weather-wise, but it’s back to work, no time for films. I had a virtual training about developing a “growth mindset”. Basically, a lot of truisms about keeping an open mind and seeing possibilities instead of problems. The concept makes sense, that’s why it’s a cliché, but those type of trainings always put me into a contrary mood, where I try to come up with examples for when positivity and openness don’t help much. Which is quite hard, because most bad experiences are probably not helped by being in a negative frame of mind. Mostly I feel cynical about these trainings, because it’s the company trying to motivate us into becoming better employees: flexible, hard-working, and innovative to influence the bottom line positively and make investors happy. They always use a lot of examples from sports. How being in a “growth mindset” leads you to being more successful in your chosen sport. I don’t enjoy competitive sports, so those examples make me grumpy (I guess I’m difficult). I’ve heard these types of things so often that I’m surprised at myself for still waiting for new insights from these kinds of trainings. This time there was a refreshing point from a colleague about keeping a sense of proportion and humour to deal with difficult situations. That took me out of my cynical mood and got me to acknowledge to myself that the training was at least a change from normal work. Which, you know, nothing to be sneered at. But I don’t believe I learned anything new at all, so it wasn’t a very effective training. I’ve had very good trainings at work, I guess a dud now and then isn’t unexpected. Newer colleagues, who haven’t had such motivational trainings before, may have found it more interesting.

Keep safe, world

Trip to the Vet’s

Yesterday I missed another November post, because instead of writing one I had to take Curious Dog to the vet. He has developed an infection of the prepuce. This was the first time we visited the vet at my place. He always gets his yearly vaccinations at the vet’s in Bavaria and he’s only ever needed other vet visits (very seldom, luckily) when we were in Bavaria. I looked up the vet’s surgery hours here yesterday and they were only open between 4 and 6 p.m. When I turned up with Curious Dog (I left him in the car while I dealt with the registration), it turned out that the surgery was really full. I ended up waiting an hour outside in the cold (didn’t want to stay in the waiting room because of Corona). I didn’t want to sit in the car because that was cold too. I basically paced around my car and recited all the poetry I could remember to myself, hummed some songs and otherwise tried to pass the time. Curious Dog was sitting in his car box.

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When at last it was CD’s turn, he was quite excited (as usual when he’s at the vet). The vet and her assistant tried to lift him onto the examining table, but he wouldn’t let them. In the end I had to do it. Then I had to put his muzzle on because he kept growling just a little bit (good thing we practiced that). We made him lie down on his side and the assistant had a nifty way of holding him still, while I held onto his head. The examination didn’t hurt him, he just didn’t care for it. So, the vet diagnosed the infection problem and irrigated CD’s prepuce with a syringe full of anti-bacterial liquid. She did it very well, but Partner and I have to do it for the next 5 days. We’re starting tonight and I’m not really looking forward to it. CD also got an antibiotic shot and some tablets and if all that doesn’t clear the infection, we’ll have to revisit the vet in 5 days. In the meantime, he has to wear a body, so that he doesn’t keep licking himself. He’s very good about letting me dress him up in it, but afterwards he looks put out about having to wear it. We take it off when we go for walks. Otherwise, he would have had to wear one of those cone things around his neck and I’m sure that would have been even more annoying for him. I’ve had to order another body online, so that he can wear one while the other one gets washed. Wearing the same one for 5 days would be quite unhygienic and not exactly good for the infection.

I hope the infection will have cleared up at the end of the 5 days. He’s otherwise fine, as hungry as ever and as eager to go on his walks as ever, which is good. I’d be worried if CD was off his food.

Yesterday at work I had a quite surreal meeting with a colleague from another team who wanted to show me some inexplicable things our content management tool supposedly did with their content. Turned out the tool did nothing inexplicable but that the colleague had absolutely no clue what they were doing. They’ve been working with that tool for years and don’t understand the most basic things about it. I was very patient and explained everything but actually I was horrified. I was tempted to advise them to repeat the basic tool trainings but I didn’t dare – they probably would have been insulted. Most of my colleagues are super competent, some of them know more about the tools than I do, but with some colleagues one is left wondering…

The weather is foggy and cold – yesterday the sun came out in the middle of the day and stayed awhile, but today the fog was stronger. It never cleared up and it looks like the weather will stay that way for most of the weekend. Perfect for cozying up with a book and a cup of Glühwein (hot spiced wine). I’m glad that my work week is over, and the weekend is at the door.

Keep safe, world.

Monday Miscellanea

Sadly, I already broke my goal of posting once a day in November by not posting anything yesterday. I just didn’t feel like it because I was totally busy, as I always am on the days we travel from Bavaria to Baden-Württemberg or the other way round. I should have written a post in advance… I guess.

Anyway, yesterday I got up quite late and took Curious Dog on a slightly shorter walk than usual on Sunday mornings. I’d packed my office stuff and clothes the night before, but still needed to pack my books, all the left-over food, Curious Dog’s things (he’s got his own bag of toys, leashes, and towels). Then we had to check that everything was properly locked up and ship-shape and load all our bags into the car, so by the time we got started, it was almost noon.

The trip was fine. Almost no traffic, no traffic jam at the construction site on the Autobahn junction so that I didn’t need to take the alternate route I’d looked up on Google maps. There was a lot of rain on the way, but luckily it didn’t rain when we arrived, so that I could unload all our bags without getting wet. But it must have rained recently, because when Partner and I took Curious Dog on his afternoon walk, CD got totally muddy because all the paths through the fields were in a terribly muddy state (and still are – it was another mud-fest this morning). Fortunately, we have a lot of old towels which we use to clean and dry CD after our walks.

After the afternoon walks, I cooked a creamy soup made of potato and leek. It turned out very nice. Just some potatoes cooked with two stalks of leek in vegetable broth, some ginger, a small onion, and a few chili flakes, a bit of sweet paprika and curry powder, some fresh garlic. After the vegetables were done, I pureed the soup with an immersion blender, added some soy milk for creaminess and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for taste. It turned out very nice. I love soup anytime, but most of all on rainy autumn or winter nights.

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By then it was quite late and although I set up my home office again, in preparation for work today, I really wasn’t inclined to post anything.

Today has been the usual Monday mess. The usual lot of Monday meetings and in addition post-deadline quality stuff to deal with. People who should know better doing stupid stuff and mailing me about their problems. Their mails showed them to be super clueless – I like helping new hires, but if I have to explain elementary stuff to colleagues that have been working with our tools for years and still don’t know what they are doing… And it’s always the same colleagues. They always seem to think that the software is out to get them (it probably is, by now). When I see their particular names on e-mails in my inbox, it’s time to roll my eyes. Sometimes it’s quite funny.

There was no time for anything except meetings before lunch and after lunch I had to do some obligatory trainings. They were easy and only took about half an hour, about stuff which isn’t anything I need to deal with in my daily work (thankfully). Then another couple of meetings, a short coffee-break and the afternoon walk with Curious Dog. Nothing very exciting.

I finished reading Laurie R. King, Island of the Mad, the 15th novel in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes yesterday. That’s why I got up late on Sunday, I was reading in bed when I should have been packing. That hunch I had about why the missing person had gone missing (I talked about that in my last post) was correct and Mary Russell had apparently kind of known the reason all along but “had managed to squirm out from the unpleasant hypothesis” (p. 318 of my edition, a Bantam paperback from 2019). That was probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever read in the series. Even if Russell had managed to ignore this hypothesis, what about Holmes? He should have caught it. That’s the problem with characters that are established to be a great deal more intelligent than normal people. It’s just not believable when they make normal-people mistakes. This novel is definitively not my favourite in the series, but I found other things in it to enjoy that made up for this silly plot device. These novels usually have interesting settings and in this case it’s 1925 asylums for the insane in London and Venice as well as life for rich expats in Venice. And the rise of fascism in Italy and, to a lesser degree, in Britain. That did make for interesting reading.

Keep safe, world.

Rainy Day

It’s been a very wet day at my place in Bavaria. It rained in the morning when Curious Dog and I did our morning walk in the woods. It rained on our afternoon walk. I had to dry CD twice today (his towels got quite muddy). He doesn’t get very wet from on top, as the rain tends to just slide off his fur, but his legs and belly do get very wet because when he walks, his paws kind of fling water up from the wet ground. It’s quite strange, really. I enjoyed our walks despite the rain, as it was a soft kind of rain without wind to blow it into our faces. The woods are still colourful and autumnal as the leaves haven’t all fallen yet.

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My work week is done again (as I don’t work on Fridays), and so is our week in Bavaria (almost). It was a short one, because we only arrived last Sunday and will leave again this Sunday. Usually, Mum and I arrive on Thursday, so that we spend 10 days here, but this time Thursday didn’t work out. I quite enjoyed the drive, as there wasn’t much traffic last Sunday. When travelling on Thursdays, we often get stuck behind trucks on the country roads once we’ve existed the Autobahn. When we return on Sunday, I’ll be trying an alternate route to bypass a motorway junction that’s currently a huge construction site. Last time we returned to Baden-Württemberg, we were stuck in a 45-minute traffic jam because of that construction.

Tomorrow I wanted to take Mum on a shopping trip to one of the towns in our vicinity, but we’ve scrapped that idea, because the Corona numbers are rising again, and Mum hasn’t had a booster shot yet. She was already fully vaccinated in March (or April?) and that’s been six months. I’ll try to organize another vaccination next week.

Today I had a meeting with my manager and asked him if I could soon get rid of one of the projects that I volunteered for earlier this year. The first part of the project has ended and I think I’m not really needed anymore and anyway, I found that I have quite enough to do with my other tasks. And it wasn’t much fun. Happily, he thought that it was probably feasible that I could drop it at the end of the year. I hope that this will actually be the case, as it would be a real relief.

Otherwise, I spent quite some time today updating a document that was published three weeks ago because some colleagues had forgotten that their topic needed to be covered. It meant changing a few chapters as well as some graphics and I was slightly annoyed about it. But it always happens. You publish something (only online, fortunately) and a few days later someone sends an email “Can we add this and that to the latest document?” and I reply somewhat sarcastically “That latest document that was published three weeks ago?” and they say “Oops… yes, that document.” Next week I will publish that document again, with a note at the beginning listing the changes.

Partner and I have been to a cinema twice this autumn. Once before our vacation to see Dune, and once last Saturday to see the latest James Bond, No Time to Die. With masks and both of us vaccinated. That may have been the last outing until the Corona numbers drop again. I liked Dune but felt that it stopped when things were becoming really interesting (no wonder, since it’s only the first part). As far as I remember the film was fairly true to the novel. I read Dune while I was in college – borrowed the book from the college library and I can remember quite a bit of it (rather strange, since I’m usually not good at remembering details after such a long time). I didn’t even like it all that much. It was too esoteric, I thought, especially the sequels (of which I didn’t read all). I think I’m going to have another go at them as I believe I may like them better this time round. But I’m not starting before next year, because I still have a lot of books to read to achieve the goals that I set for myself this year. As for James Bond: I’ a great fan of the Daniel Craig films, but the ending of this last one was not at all Bond-like. It annoyed the hell out of Partner and me. No details, because I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

Things have been terribly busy at work and I have been too tired at the end of the day to write anything. Last week was especially awful, with escalation meetings on Monday (at least we managed to solve the problem in question – at least for now though hopefully forever) on top of the usual Monday meetings. Then two colleagues called in sick and one was on vacation, so that only myself and another colleague remained to do the work usually done by the five of us. One of the sick colleagues was supposed to be the substitute for the one on vacation. There were a lot of tasks that had to be done, and after they had called in sick for the second day, I had a look at the list and found that things were quite off track. Stuff that should already have been done had been forgotten and of course the tasks for last week also hadn’t yet been done. I spent the rest of week working on those things (and I wasn’t impressed by the substitute – it’s bad luck to be sick, but if you are supposed to be doing a lot of stuff which you can’t do because you’re ill maybe a short mail pointing out that stuff needs doing might be in order). Also, I kind of expected some heartfelt thanks when they returned, but that didn’t materialize either. As I wasn’t as familiar with those tasks as with my usual ones, it took longer and was more tiring. My other two colleagues and I had more of a clue than official substitute, very odd. I’d always suspected that the colleague on vacation did most of the job, now I’m sure. At least this week the sick colleagues are back at work and next week the person on vacation will be back – phew, I’ll be relieved.

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I’ll be on vacation from end of September until the middle of October, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m feeling stressed and fed up with work. A few days away will be lovely. I’m spending the next couple of weeks finishing up my work as far as possible, so that my colleagues don’t have to do too many things on top of their usual work. Some can’t be avoided, because the tasks can only be done on certain dates during my vacation, but I’ll try to keep everything else down.

Last Friday, Partner and I went shopping for bed sheets and duvet covers at a large furniture store. Partner had a voucher and at the store we won another one, so in sum we had vouchers for € 100. We got three fitted sheets (two for us, one for Mum) and a double set of duvet and pillow covers. While we were there, we looked at the store’s entire selection of couches. Those couches were quite expensive, sometimes ugly, and most of them much too large for our modest-sized living room. We happened to find a set of couches, one for three people and one for two, in red leather (bright, but not too bright). Reduced to half-price because they were sample pieces. Well, while we were at the store, we couldn’t decide if we should buy them or not, but when we returned, we measured where they could go in our living-room and decided that it was an excellent match. Currently we have a three-seat couch and two armchairs. The set is 25 years old. The last seven years have been especially hard on them (otherwise they would still be in good shape), because of Curious Dog. In the end, we decided to buy the red set (our current one is a bright dark green – we like some color in our living-room). I returned to the shop and when I spoke to the salesperson, they gave us an additional discount (which I didn’t even ask for – I mean, the couches were already at half-price). In addition, the delivery is free of charge and our old couch and armchairs will also be removed at no expense. A very nice piece of good luck. The leather should be easier to clean than the weird material of the old couch set. I would have preferred couches not made of leather, but this was a case of a gift horse, so no quibbles. The delivery will be after my vacation in October. Can’t wait.

On the weekend, we watched the last episode of The Underground Railroad. It was a very striking series, really showing the horrors of slavery and how runaway slaves were not safe anywhere. It had an open end, but one could hope that things would improve for the main character. The acting was excellent. I’m very much inclined to read the novel one of these days. The only thing about the series that I disliked was that a lot of the action took place in darkness where you hardly saw anything. It’s just not that much fun watching shadowy shapes poking around in the dark. Maybe it was symbolic or verisimilitude, but still a dark TV screen is just not that great.

Poor Curious Dog has an eye irritation in both eyes. It started on Sunday and became quite pronounced yesterday. The eyes themselves are clear, but the lower lids are slightly swollen with a discharge. Last night, I bathed his eyes with weak black tea (I didn’t have any chamomile) and surprisingly today they are much improved. If they hadn’t improved, a trip to the vet’s would have been necessary. I think he’s been brushing through too much high grass and got seeds into his eyes or perhaps he got some dust into his eyes when I pruned our huge Buddleia bush on the weekend. A very dusty business which Partner can’t do because it causes his hay fever to flare. The Buddleia still needs a lot more pruning. Anyway, I’m glad that CD’s eyes are better and that he’s so good at letting me bathe them.

Next Saturday I have to see an aunt of mine in Düsseldorf, which is about (at least) 3.5 hours away (one way). She’s my last relative on my Dad’s side (his elder sister) and wants me to pick up some tableware from my grandmother. She asked me a few years ago if I wanted to inherit it and I said yes, but now she wants to get rid of it immediately. I’m not really looking forward to the drive, there and back on one day, sevenhours in the car, but it will be nice to see her. We’ve never been very close, because Dad’s relationship with her was rather contentious, but we’ve been keeping in touch by phone for years. Maybe Mum will come along (although she’s not too keen on such a long drive either).

I’ve been reading, but not too much, because of work and other things to do on the weekends. Maybe September will turn out to be a not-so-great reading months, but we shall see.

We’ve been having quite pleasant weather early fall weather. Sometimes already a bit cold, but no rain, and we haven’t had to turn on the furnace yet. The storks we used to watch on our morning walks with CD seem to have left.

Keep safe, world.

Last Workday

For a change, it was a pleasant sunshiny day. In the morning a light fog, harbinger of worse fogs to come in November. Cool enough to wear an old (very old) fleece jacket on my morning walk with Curious Dog. The path up into the woods was still muddy, the leaves dripping from the fog condensing on their leaves. Spiderwebs outlined with tiny droplets of water. A lovely morning for a walk and the best part of the day (except for the evening walk).

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Luckily, it’s the last day of my work week – I’m quite fed up. I spent half the morning hunting down an error using Excel comparisons which wouldn’t work because the downloaded data contained invisible tab spaces at the end of the strings. A new bug in the download. I think I’m specially fed up with work because I haven’t had a longer break for some time. When was my last vacation? Can’t remember. Good thing I’ve got one coming up in October, but it’s still four weeks until then. But then I still have to organize a lot of things: winter tires for the car, as we are going to the South Tyrolean Alps, road charges to be paid in advance for Austria, keeping an eye on Corona-related travel paperwork (online or otherwise), organizing a set of snow chains (to be on the safe side)… and what not. I can’t help feeling that it would have been simpler to travel to the North Sea or the Baltic as we usually do instead of into the Alps. I also wonder what the Corona situation will be like by October, what with rising numbers all around. Maybe we won’t even be able to go (hope this doesn’t happen).

If already checked that Curious Dog EU pet passport is up to date with all his vaccinations and that he will tolerate a muzzle. He’s very good about wearing one for a short time, but also very good at squirming out of it when he’s had enough. I’m hoping we won’t really need it, but it’s good to be prepared.

One of the cousins can’t join us, because she is working as a primary school teacher while also writing her thesis. So, we’ve invited the boyfriend of the other cousin to come along. Wow, our little cousins now have jobs and boyfriends and aren’t so little anymore. The first time we took the two of them to the seaside, the younger one spent all the trip barfing – it’s a joke now, but it wasn’t at the time. I was really worried about dehydration and such, as she was only 9. Probably it was the excitement of her first vacation with us. One the way back she only threw up once. Well, cousin number two will be travelling in her boyfriend’s car this time, which is quite useful, as otherwise we would have been three people plus one dog plus a lot of luggage in one car. The cousins are incapable of travelling light and we need some provisions, games, book and dog stuff as well. If both cousins had been able to join us, we would have used my car and Partner’s. We’ll meet up at our place in Bavaria first, as it’s a much shorter drive from Bavaria than from Baden-Württemberg or Hessia (which is the German state my cousins are from and, incidentally, where I was born).

This morning I chopped off some of my hair. I haven’t been to a hairdresser since last March, at the beginning of the first lockdown. It’s grown quite long now, but a bit scraggly. I’ve been thinking of making an appointment for getting the ends cut, but I never seem to get around to it. On the spur of the moment, I did it myself. Let’s just say, I wasn’t cut out to be a hairdresser. Fortunately, my hair is still long enough to pin up so that my dreadful cut isn’t noticeable. I’m planning on letting my hair grow until I can put it up in a proper bun and if I still like that style (which I last wore in my early twenties) I will keep it long. Otherwise, I’ll return to my pre-Corona short hair style.

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

It being vacation time, yesterday I was asked to do something that’s usually done by a colleague who’s on holiday. It wasn’t a big deal, I just had to start a background job in our main content management system and this morning I had to finish up with some manual adaptions. I tried doing these settings but when I was done, the system didn’t let me save them. It kept giving me an error message with an object ID that I couldn’t find when I searched for it. Being an optimist (or an idiot) I tried a few times but the behaviour never changed. I tried some other fixes which didn’t work either. Then I called the only other colleague not on vacation and we looked at it together and couldn’t find anything wrong. Then I chatted with a support colleague who told me that it was a bug that only a support super user could solve. They fixed it for me, but I had wasted a couple of hours. A very annoying start to the day.

NextDoor

Yesterday I received the book for my book club in the post, just in time for me to read it. A thriller, which I feared would be a terrible but quick read. Sadly, I was right about it being awful: The Couple Next Door, by Shari Lapena. I spent a good deal of last night reading it and finished it off on my lunch break. The plot was convoluted and unlikely, the characters were flat and horrible people. There were convenient revelations and the ending was an  unnecessary dramatic gore-fest. The writing was plain and simple, mostly in present tense and with short sentences, probably to create a sense of urgency (which it succeeded in doing). The novel consists of dialogue and the characters’ thoughts and we jump from one point-of-view to the other. Nobody trusts anyone else and they all have things to hide. There weren’t any descriptions or background explanations. The narrative was like a shallow but fast rushing river. It’s probably not easy to write that way and to keep track of the plot twists, but I just didn’t like it. The paperback’s headed for the recycling bin as soon as my book club meeting is done.

Spoilers ahead – don’t continue reading if you want to read the thriller. It begins with Marco and Anna, having dinner with Cynthia and Graham, their neighbours in the terraced house next door. Marco and Anna’s baby girl, Cora, six-month-old, is sleeping at home. Marco and Anna have brought a baby phone with them and check on her every thirty minutes. When they return home at 12:30 p.m. the baby is gone. They call the police, who suspect Marco and Anna of having killed the baby. We learn that Anna has postpartum depression and has had violent episodes in her past. We learn that Marco has money worries and that he hates his father-in-law. Eventually, when the reader is just starting to believe that Marco and Anna are probably innocent after all, Marco, out of the blue, reveals (just to the reader) that he’s the one who arranged for the kidnapping of his daughter. His accomplice was supposed to share the ransom with him (and, of course, keep Cora safe), but he ends up dead and Cora disappears. In the meantime, Anna convinces herself that she had a mental breakdown during which she killed Cora and Marco is just covering for her. By and by, it turns out the father-in-law, Richard, manipulated (how is that even possible?) Marco into coming up with the kidnapping plan via his accomplice, who’s a crony of Richard’s. Richard uses the kidnapping to steal the ransom money from his rich wife, whom he is planning to leave. She owns all their money and he wouldn’t get any in case of a divorce because of their prenuptial contract. He wants to leave her because he’s having an affair with Anna’s and Marco’s nasty neighbour Cynthia. Cynthia, by the way, has filmed Marco kidnapping the baby and tries to blackmail him. We find out that Richard set Marco up to take the blame for the kidnapping, but Marco saves himself by giving evidence against Richard, who not only instigated the kidnapping but also killed his crony. He does return Cora to Anna, so we almost get a happy end, except that Anna unnecessarily confronts Cynthia and it gets gory on the last few pages.

The plot is based on the characters being stupid and/or terrible people:

  • Marco: using his own child to extort money from his in-laws and handing her over to some guy he hardly knows.
  • Annie: keeping secret her weird blackouts and slapping her baby instead of asking for help. Totally unnecessarily confronting her nasty neighbour at the end.
  • Cynthia: a creep and Graham: a pervert.
  • Richard: a sociopathic money-grabbing control freak, thinks he’s clever.
  • Alice (Richard’s wife, Annie’s mother): keeping Annie’s mental health issues secret and putting up with Richard all those years – she could have divorced him ages ago.
  • Failure to communicate: the whole thing would have been unnecessary if Marco had told Annie about his cash-flow problem. If Annie had asked for help, her mother would have supported them.

Is it possible to avoid being prosecuted for kidnapping your own daughter just because you give evidence against the person who apparently manipulated you into the plan? Seems unlikely. Also, how can you be manipulated into such an unethical deed? Ugh!

At least it was a quick read. In general, I prefer crime novels with less thrill and more likeable characters (with at least some character development and less stupidity and/or nastiness), a more believable plot and less choppy writing. Previously in the book club we’ve read Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins and The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware, both of which I also hated (especially Cabin 10 – that woman was so stupid…). Luckily, some of my fellow book-clubbers also didn’t like them and we had fun complaining about the idiocy and hatefulness of the characters… the club meetings are always amusing, even when the book selections are suboptimal. I’m looking forward to the meeting, we’ll have fun slagging the characters.

Still, it’s about time we read a good book for once (like Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer).

Keep safe, world.

Daily Rituals

On a mission to read all the books that I bought this year and haven’t read yet, I started with Daily Rituals: Women at Work by Mason Curry. It’s about the working habits of 143 painters, authors, actors, designers, composers and other artists. I got it back in March and I think it was probably suggested to me by Amazon’s algorithm. As I’m interested in how creative people (or anyone really) organize their work and their lives I thought I might as well read it. It was cheap, and it started off with Octavia Butler, one of my favourite authors. So I bought it and then never got round to reading it.

DailyRituals

Well, when I initially started reading, I was irritated, because the profiles of each artist are very short and at first sight appear superficial. But then I got into it and found it interesting and congenial. Naturally, a book about 143 artists can’t go into depth (what was I thinking?), but it does what it set out to do: it gives the reader an insight into the working habits of these women. I read about a lot of creative women I’d never heard of and found their different work habits kind of inspiring for my own life. Some of these habits wouldn’t suit me at all and I’m not half as intense and driven as most of these women, but I can relate. The reports got me thinking about my own talents and how I want to continue to develop them.

What is my greatest talent? I’d say reading. It’s the one thing that I’ve been passionate about all my life. Is reading even a talent? It’s definitively a skill and one can get better at it through practice and challenging oneself. I like reading for pleasure and for a very long time during my working life that’s all I did. This side of my reading doesn’t need improvement (what would that even mean?). I certainly won’t stop reading books for pleasure but I also like reading to learn things and to participate in world culture – in my case with a focus on the humanities, on literature and history, biography and memoir and whatever else strikes my fancy. Sometimes I also read about scientific topics, rather seldom though. I’d like to not only read but get better at thinking critically about the things I read and retaining them. I started the blog to keep a record of the books I read and it also evolved into a kind of journal. The blog is a creative outlet and I’d like to improve my writing skills, too. I’m happy that I’ve managed to keep this blog going for almost two years and I hope to continue with it for a long time. This means, of course, making time for both reading and writing.

Making time for reading doesn’t seem to be terribly difficult for me, but there are some pitfalls. I read at least every morning and each evening in bed, before getting up or going to sleep. But reading at night in bed isn’t great for complicated topics, I’m too tired to concentrate. After work I usually do my blogging (although I usually start during my lunch break) and then from around 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 I hang out with Partner, which I don’t want to change that – my relationship with Partner is important. Also, Curious Dog needs to be walked and played with (also not negotiable). So most of my serious reading time is on the weekend and I’m not particularly well organized. Luckily, I have long weekends, because I don’t work on Fridays. But I still have to do everyday life stuff like cleaning the house, gardening, washing clothes, cooking… whatever. Also, I like just hanging around in a leisurely way on weekends, so I certainly don’t want to organize my weekends to the last minute or hour (sounds gruesome) – I am definitively not as passionate as some of those artists in Daily Rituals. Some of them wouldn’t bat an eye about sacrificing their weekends to their calling. Others got a lot done during short amounts of time.

Making time for writing, well, that could definitively be improved. Somehow, I only seem to manage it on workdays. On weekends and on vacation, other things seem to gobble up all my time. I’ll have to see if I can get myself to do at least some writing during my leisure time.

As you see, I found the book very thought-provoking. It also introduced me to many creative women I hadn’t heard off and reminded me about others. When I’m looking for a new biography or memoir to read, this book will be useful guide to find people with interesting lives.

Some quotes that I liked:

“It’s really all about establishing a flexible routine,” Zittel said in 2017. “Having a pattern helps ensure that you fit everything into a limited amount of time, but too much of a pattern and you get stuck.”

Andrea Zittel (an American artist) in Mason Curry, Daily Rituals: Women at Work, 2019, p. 121.

“I enjoy people best if I can be alone much of the time,” Butler said in 1998. “I used to worry about it because my family worried about it. And I finally realized: This is the way I am. That’s that. We all have some weirdness, and this is mine.”

Octavia Butler (sci-fi author), in Mason Curry, Daily Rituals: Women at Work, 2019, p. 4.

“The only thing that I do every day is I read something,” Giovanni said. “Even if it’s just the comics pages, I read something. And I say that to my students: I think it’s way more important to read something than it is to write.”

Nikki Giovanni (a poet), Mason Curry, Daily Rituals: Women at Work, 2019, p. 180.

I also found Jean Rhys, author of Wide Sargasso Sea (which I haven’t read yet) intriguing. She had a difficult life and a difficult time writing, as I gather from her profile. Near the end of her life she wrote: “Isn’t the sadness of being alone much stressed and the compensations left out?” (Daily Rituals: Women at Work, p. 323).

Curry has written another Daily Rituals book focused on famous men with a smattering of women. I guess it would also be interesting, maybe I’ll check it out sometime.

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.