Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Holiday


Tomorrow we are off to celebrate with family in Sweden. Hopefully it will not be as wintry as in this photo from the Space Station since the car is not equipped with winter tyres, but this is where we are going.

Monday, December 17, 2007

1947



This is the actual midwife’s note from when I was born. It has been sitting in my childhood album all these years. I was a healthy little baby who arrived a few days early. The doctors had predicted I would be born on 24 December, but I could apparently not wait that long. I was born at the darkest time of the year, but I like to think of it as bringing the light, because this is when the days start getting longer again. Be positive! Just like my wife tries to convince me to feel happy about the up-coming birthday, not everybody gets to be this age, which is true, I suppose.

As a child I always suffered from having my birthday just before Christmas; all aunts, uncles, grandparents etc always combined my birthday present with my Christmas present, so I only got one when everybody else got two! ‘tsnot fair! I thought. Nowadays I can just about cope with it.


This is a picture from my christening a few months later. There were two more siblings to come.












The money in Sweden looked like this.








One of film’s objects of desire.












A popular Disney film of the day.












And the very first SAAB. Doesn’t it look futuristic!










When I googled the net I found some facts from the year I was born as well as the day, mostly from Wikipedia.

FACTS

In 1947 Pakistan, India and the CIA were created; Pakistan and India, a messy conflict left behind by the British. CIA – I dare not even comment!

Liz and Phil (Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh) got married on 20 Nov.

In New York City, Edwin Land demonstrates the first "instant camera", the Polaroid Land Camera, to a meeting of the Optical Society of America.

The International Monetary Fund begins to operate.

Saab produces its first automobile.

Thor Heyerdahl's balsa wood raft, the Kon-Tiki, smashes into the reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands after a 101 day, 4,300 mile journey across the Pacific Ocean proving that pre-historic peoples could have traveled from South America.

August 14 - After 90 years of British colonial rule, Pakistan gains independence from the British Empire. While the transition is officially at midnight on this day, Pakistan celebrates its independence on August 14 compared to India on the 15th. Muhammad Ali Jinnah became the first Governor General of Pakistan.

August 15 - After a long struggle India gained independence from British rule. Pakistan splits from India. Rajendra Prasad is the first President of India. Jawaharlal Nehru takes office as the first Prime Minister of India.

American test pilot Captain Chuck Yeager flies a Bell X-1 faster than the speed of sound, the first man to do so in level flight.

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which is the foundation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is founded.

November 16 The British begin to withdraw their troops from Palestine.

November 29 - The United Nations General Assembly votes to partition Palestine between ArabsJews. and

Mikhail Kalashnikov designs the AK-47 assault rifle.

In a cave in and around the Wadi Qumran (near the ruins of the ancient settlement of Khirbet Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea), several tall pottery jars containing leather scrolls are discovered, which later became known as the Dead Sea scrolls.[1]


Born this year:

Hillary Clinton, Elton John, David Bowie, Ry Cooder, Emmylou Harris, David Letterman, Salman Rushdie, OJ Simpson (oh dear me!), Carlos Santana, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stephen King, Meat Loaf, Marc Bolan (I know exactly against which tree he died!), Kevin Kline, P.J. O’Rourke, Ted Danson, Farah Fawcett, Dan Quayle (Mr Potatoe Man!), Sandie Shaw (“Puppet On A String”), Mitt Romney, Glenn Close, James Woods, Iggy Pop, Johan Cruijff (Dutch footballer and coach), David Blunkett, Arlo Guthrie, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall (Prince Charles’ wife), Brian May (Queen guitarist), Richard Grifftiths (British actor), Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Willy Russell (British playwright), Barbara Bach (Ringo Starr’s wife), Sam Neill, France Gall (French singer), Richard Dreyfuss, Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra) and Paco de Lucia (virtuoso Spanish guitarist) same day as I.


21st December

On this day in…

1620 - Plymouth Colony: William Bradford and the Mayflower Pilgrims land on what is now known as Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

1913 - Arthur Wynne's "word-cross", the first crossword puzzle, is published in the New York World.

1968 - Apollo program: Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, is launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. At 2h:50m:37s Mission elapsed time (MES), the crew performs the first ever manned Trans Lunar Injection and become the first humans to leave the Earth's gravity field.

1970 - Elvis Presley meets with President Richard Nixon to discuss the war on drugs.

(Didn’t work, did it?)

1988 - A bomb explodes on board Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, killing 270.

And then of course, adding to all the famous people above, …. I was born.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Rheinturm Düsseldorf


Yesterday evening Mrs S and I went with her work colleagues to a rather unusual, but not unique, restaurant in Düsseldorf. It was located high up in a tower which we have had our eyes on many times, wondering what it would be like to view the city from up there. Finally we got to experience it. It was stunning! Seeing all the glimmering city lights in the dark was breathtakingly beautiful. The restaurant floor was slowly revolving, while the windows on the outside and the kitchen and central areas in the middle were stationary. On the windows, names of what could be seen in that direction were displayed. Facing the window for best view, you kind of got disoriented with what was behind you. At one time you had the reception area behind you, only to find some flower decoration by a wall the next time you turned round. It was quite tricky to locate the toilets, so many people often sat tight and waited for the toilets to turn up again! Have a look what Wikipedia says and then check out the links for a spectacular 360-view and also the light clock in action. At last I know what those lights are!


(From Wikipedia)

The Rheinturm Düsseldorf is a 240.5 metre high concrete telecommunication tower in Düsseldorf, Germany, capital of the federal state (Bundesland]]) of North Rhine-Westphalia. It was built from 1979 until 1981. The Rheinturm carries aerials for directional radio, FM and TV transmitters and has in a height of 174.5 metre a revolving restaurant and at a height of 170 metres an observation deck.

The Rheinturm was inaugurated on December 1, 1981 . It contains 7,500 cubic metres of concrete and weighs 22,500 tons. Until October 15, 2004, when an aerial for DVB-T was mounted, it was 234.2 metres high.

As special attraction there is a light sculpture on its shaft, which works as a clock. This sculpture was designed by Horst H. Baumann and is called Lichtzeitpegel (light time level). The light sculpture on the Rheinturm is the biggest decimal clock in the world.


360° interactive panorama

View this clock in action(Javascript)

Monday, December 10, 2007

First Christmas Card


When the first Christmas card for the season arrives you know it’s getting closer. This year the first card to reach us was a rather special one. I, like so man other people, have a list (on my PC of course) of cards received and sent. People who fail three years in a row will be struck off our outgoing list. Then again you might forgive some people an oversight due to age or illness for instance. People lose your address, although I always put our address on the back, but there might be other acceptable reasons for failing to send a card.

Our first card this year came from somebody, from whom we did not get any card last year, and with whom we have no other contact. In this case I feared he was no longer with us, and I will tell you why.

Five years ago I was hospitalised for four weeks and next to me on this ward was an elderly gentleman who had been there for some time when I was admitted, and who was there for some time after I had been discharged. We were both seriously ill but I was going through some testing and he was waiting for a certain procedure to which there was a long waiting list. He had to stay in hospital not to get pushed down the list into another category. You have heard of the British NHS (National Health Service) I guess. It has not exactly got a reputation for speed and efficiency, to put it mildly.

Both he and I had soon slid into this institutionalised state of mind, living by the hospital routines and procedures. Breakfast, lunch, afternoon coffee, dinner and visitors – day in, day out. I soon got tired of the hospital food, which might not surprise you, but there was a break in the pattern when Devi, my bed neighbour, offered me some of his food that his family had brought him. He and his family are Sikh and were among the people whom Idi Amin expelled from Uganda many years ago. They regularly brought spicy and interesting food and were all very friendly, his wife, his adult children and other relatives. They always had a little chat with me and Mrs S if she was there, before sitting down by Devi’s bed. Often the women were dressed in traditional, colourful Indian dresses, brightening up the whole ward. Devi’s daughter even flirted with me in the presence of Mrs S! I was flattered.

We heard from the nurses on the ward, when we came to visit Devi after I had been discharged, that he had left the previous day. We never had the opportunity to take up his offer of visiting them since we moved to Germany shortly afterwards, but we kept up our exchange of Christmas cards.

Last year we feared Devi was no longer with us since we did not get the customary card. I had even been thinking about writing to inquire about his health. So to get this card as the first of the season was a wonderful moment. For a non-religious person to get a Christmas card from a person of the Sikh faith is perhaps unusual, but this one in particular certainly warmed my soul. Call me sentimental if you like, I don’t care!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Yes, It’s That Time Again

First Sunday in Advent has been; we are officially in Christmas mode and perhaps mood as well. We have some lights up already, we play some Christmas music every now and then (some with little kids singing their hearts out and also superb Sally Army brass music) and we have Mr Snowman on the step accompanied by a welcoming sign on the door.

Quite a few Christmas presents have been purchased although we will have “Secret Santa” for the adults, so we only buy one adult present and receive one, all very hush, hush! For the young children, well, the word “abundance” comes to mind. My young nieces still love pulling out the usual fun little things from their English-style stockings (that Mrs S loves filling) as does my 85-year-old mum. This year will be the first year of stockings for my 2 ½ -year-old granddaughter. I know she will be intrigued and excited when she gets hers!

The good thing about Christmas for somebody like me with one foot in each culture, English and Swedish, is that I get to celebrate the Swedish main day on Christmas Eve and the English one the following day. Not bad! My Swedish relatives love the added English ingredients and some German for that matter. So we are looking forward to our annual Christmas trip to Sweden with great anticipation. What is not so wonderful sometimes is the atrocious weather conditions in which one sometimes has to go Christmas shopping! Like last Sunday when we went to our nearest Dutch town in search of some good bargains. There were extremely strong winds and torrential rain; we had to crawl along the motorway and all the bins in the town centre looked like below. Somebody will make a lot of money this week from selling brollies to the unfortunate.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Photo Blog


Yes, I have started a photo blog, Camera Digitalis. I have been thinking about all the photos I’ve got on my PC, several thousands of them, including some old slides and also scans from old albums. I could have uploaded them to sites like Flickr, but I wanted to do something more with them, so I have selected them in a particular way and organised them in pairs or sometimes threes. On the odd occasion I have borrowed from other sources, but then I always include the source in the file name. I have uploaded 15 posts so far and there are many more in the pipeline. Most of my digital photos enlarge quite well when you click on them, which obviously is the best way to see details, but otherwise it might be more beneficial to look at them together.

You will get the picture (ha ha) when you visit. There’s a thought behind every post, sometimes obvious, other times more obscure, but since I have such intelligent and lateral-thinking readers and visitors, I am sure you will experience brief moments of enjoyment if you take your time to check out my photo blog. Comments are, as always, very welcome!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Roaaar


Thank you Eric for that honour.

Eric says : Those people I've given this award to are encouraged to post it on their own blogs; list three things they believe are necessary for good, powerful writing; and then pass the award on to the five blogs they want to honour, who in turn pass it on to five others, etc etc. Let's send a roar through the blogosphere! The image above can be copied and pasted onto other blogs. Also, a small size of the award for sidebars can be found over at the writing circle site.

I don’t write my blog with literary ambitions, I just write a personal blog, nothing like a short story or a novel. It was very kind of Eric to award me this roaring lion; I hope I am a worthy recipient. The five blogs I will send this to are also personal bloggers, most of them expats. I always try to visit them regularly to keep up with events.

Good, powerful blog writing would involve:

  1. A catchy post title and/or an interesting, attention-grabbing first paragraph.
  2. Good descriptive writing which engages the reader.
  3. The ability to be non-offensive when using expressions of strong emotion or opinion.
  4. Extra – Remembering to use the spell-check function! ;-)

So, here are my five (OK, six then):

Mausi

I have to begin with Christina, who was the first blogger I visited after having read an article about expat bloggers. She writes lovingly about her family and she writes a lot about recipes and cooking. I always enjoy visiting her blog.

Northwest Ladybug

It’s fascinating to read Carol’s blog. She writes mainly about her family with four children, and she has a very good sense of humour. I find myself laughing quite often.

Ham Life

Matthew is a very busy blogger. Ham is in south-west London, my part of the world for 17 years. His work takes him to interesting parts of the world and his travel writing is compelling. Otherwise I keep myself updated about what’s going on in my old habitat through Matthew’s writing about music, theatre, local politics, local education etc. Always a good read!

Green Haddock

Haddock is an English family man living in Germany. He writes about family life and much more. We can follow his daughter’s achievement on the football pitch and in the swimming pool for instance. I always try to keep up with events in the Haddock household.

The Canadian Swiss Blog

CanadianSwiss writes about life in general, travels, friends, OrangeX (visit to find out!) and what it is like living in Switzerland. I keep coming back for a read and always enjoy it.

An American Expat in Germany

Christina G lives in Regensburg with her German husband and baby Oliver. She is an advanced blogger who newly moved away from Blogger and started a site on her own. This caused some stir in the blogger community; go there to see why. Otherwise Christina writes about life as an expat in general, and of course little Oliver.

If you don’t know these people already, pay them a visit and see if you agree.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Visit Stats

All bloggers like visitors to their blogs, unless they are just letting off steam in an online diary and don’t care about anybody but themselves. Some are desperate to get as many visitors as possible because they are advertising stuff for themselves or for others, eager to make money out of their blog. Fair enough, but sometimes the content of the blog is very dubious. Take all these mock-blogs for instance; you know, the ones that are set up just to display links to p**n sites (don’t want to write the word in full to avoid hits by googlers!). They put up a blog with an innocent-looking title and blaaadi…blaaah posts. Every time I click on the “Next Blog” button, I seem to find one of those, more and more often. I suppose they are very difficult to police. But I have also found some good, genuine blogs that way. Otherwise it is much safer and rewarding to find interesting blogs through online friends and contacts. Some of us even sign up to MyBlogLog and show our face, part of it or just a dummy picture. This makes it a little more personal, as personal as it can get on the net. You know who has visited recently.

Most of us, if not all, have some stats provider. I have signed up to Sitemeter, but only the basic version, not wanting to part with money unnecessarily. So I have to accept the limitations in the stats provided. Sometimes I can tell who it actually is from the information. For instance some employers, big companies, institutions etc display their name, making it obvious to you who the visitor is. Then of course there are the ones who keep coming back to your blog, with the company name and location revealed, and you still cannot figure out who it is. Very frustrating! I am intrigued and puzzled sometimes; who is that? And they never leave a comment; it is like being teased!

Other visitors have somehow suppressed the information almost completely. Domain Name and Location display “Unknown”. What have they got to hide, I wonder? But the IP address is always there. Maybe there is a way of tracing that? Who knows.

Then of course there is the issue of the location of the service provider. If the visitor lives in a certain place, it is not necessarily the same place as where the service provider is located, so you cannot tell. Do I sound like an obsessed control freak? I would just like to know; I am inquisitive.

With my basic version of Sitemeter I don’t seem to be able to trust the Visit Length either. In the past I have spoken about a specific visit with a relative and asked how long it was, where Sitemeter told me “0 seconds”. Oh no, it had lasted several minutes. There must be some technical issue here, because even if you get a hit from somebody searching for certain words, surely they must spend a few seconds reading before they realise that you are for instance not an “Old Vinyl Dealer”. How does that work? I have no idea.

Anyway, it is good fun trying to keep up with who is visiting, but I do not spend sleepless nights over it!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Meme

I have been tagged by Greenhaddock for the 7 Random Things meme. I will endeavour to mirror his 7 randoms, find something as close as possible to his. Is that a bit too cheeky?


1. My parents put my first name in the middle, because it flowed better when you said my full name. Consequently I get a lot of “official” mail looking like it was meant for my 86-year-old uncle!

2. I happen to think that grey/white is a perfectly beautiful, distinguished-looking hair colour. ;-)

3. I like driving, anything you can drive. I am not interested in the vehicle itself; it’s the controlling of them in traffic that I’ve always loved, from hunting with the wolf pack in the fast lane of a German motorway to negotiating a shopping trolley in the supermarket. I just can’t get enough of it, and I have never caused an accident in over forty years!

4. My pituitary gland has been killed off by a benign tumour, so I am on HRT for the rest of my life. Some cheating athletes would envy my stash of steroids!

5. One winter night in my teens I had been to a Hungarian restaurant (in Sweden) and had Goulasch Suppe and some sickly, sweet wine. When I got home I noticed that the alcohol did not go well with my Suppe, so I had to open my window on the first floor and “let the food out again”. The following morning I had to explain to my parents why the otherwise beautiful, snow-covered shrubs outside the living-room windows had an added orange colour. Embarrassing!

6. My favourite bird has to be the Kingfisher. When I proposed to my wife by the river Thames at Marlow, we saw a surface-skimming fly-by by a Kingfisher, twice. How’s that for romantic?

7. My grandfather never had to do anything like fighting a war, just dressing up in a funny uniform. Check out that triangular hat from ca 1910.

Here are the rules which you must abide by if you are tagged.
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself: some random, some weird.
3. Tag 3 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).
4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs.

I am tagging Scattered Chatter, An American Expat in Deutschland and Lulu’s Bay.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Life Goes On

I have been away from my blogging desk for a little while because I had to make a trip to Sweden. The reason was yet another sad occasion, a dear old friend’s funeral; so the hours on the German motorway felt extra long, especially since I travelled on my own. The positive side of it was that I would see other people that I hold dear. The weather was not very pleasant on the day of the funeral, but my thoughts were elsewhere anyway, among all the lovely memories of the deceased.

The downside of living abroad is obviously not being able to see loved ones more frequently, but on the other hand, when you do, it is the more intense and wonderful. It is like a concentrate of feelings that you have to hold on to and treasure until the next opportunity. Christmas is really just around the corner, so it won’t be that long, which makes it time to get into some serious shopping!

The icing on the cake is, as always, seeing my granddaughter, to follow her development, experiencing everything new that she is capable of. It all happens so fast in a little person’s life. She represents life, promise, the future, and does a very good job of compensating for the loss of an old life. What a sweet smile she’s got.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Garden Bird Watch


All year round we have the privilege of watching birds feeding from the feeder right outside our glass patio doors. I am not a proper ornithologist, I just enjoy watching them and learning a little about them, their behaviour most of all. Sitting at the dining table I have learned about the pecking order for instance.

When a Nuthatch approaches, every other bird takes off instantly. He or she picks a few seeds and then disappears into the woods at the back of our garden. The next species down in the order is the Greenfinch, and they are generally quite aggressive, in particular a certain male (I believe). I call him the Big Bully. He does not approve of anybody sitting down on any of the other three pegs. Not even the one opposite, which is more or less hidden by the seed container itself. He just “shows his muscles” and looks extremely aggressive; when other minor Greenfinches act out proper aerial battles around the feeder, they hover much like Hummingbirds, nearly coming to a standstill in the air. They normally accept other Greenfinches sitting opposite, or possibly a Great Tit or Blue Tit.

When the Greenfinches feed, they remain sitting on the peg, obstructing others from feeding, whereas the Great Tits and the Blue Tits take their seed off to a branch, which they use to hammer the seed against to open it. These two species are number three and four in the pecking order, and they are much friendlier towards other species.

Quite a few seeds end up on the grass below the feeder, and all the birds above sometimes go down there when the feeder is crowded or they have been out-muscled by the Big Bully for instance. Many other species visit our garden regularly, like Long-tailed Tits, Robins, Black Caps, Crested Tits, Wrens and Woodpeckers. The list is long. But yesterday there was a first. I only recognised it thanks to the many times I have flicked through the bird book looking to identify newcomers.

Two metres away from the dining table, right by the glass doors, there is a shrub. All of a sudden there were two minute birds, jumping frenetically between branches, looking for food by the looks of it. They were not much bigger than a big insect, and I immediately thought “Goldcrest”! But after having consulted the bird book, I realised they were most likely (juvenile) Firecrests, because of the white stripe above their eye. I had seen Europe’s smallest bird.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Memory Lane – Frankfurt Trip Continued

You might remember from an earlier post that I and my friend R went to surprise my sisters who were meeting up in Frankfurt in the late sixties. (My older sister flew with Pan Am based in Washington D.C.). R had this old Ford Anglia with a souped-up Ford Cortina GT engine in it, which he managed to get into pole position on the ferry, as you can see in the picture. I had never noticed (or possibly forgotten about) the number plate on the little Fiat on the right until I started organising the old slides, turned jpg:s. “Stau” in German means traffic jam, which has always been a dreaded word in German motorway traffic reports. I don’t know if the owner was just lucky, lived in the right area or had to pay for what looks like a personalised number plate. But would an owner of such a small car be likely to be able to cough up extortion money for some letters? Maybe the registration number was worth ten times the value of the car itself, who knows? (Click on photo to enlarge)

After disembarking we sped down the Autobahn (via a stop-over in Hamburg which I mentioned in an earlier post) to Frankfurt am Main where we put up our tent on a camp site by the river Main. This beautiful view greeted us when we unzipped the tent in the morning. (Sorry, but I have not had time to clean it up.)

Then it was time to surprise my sisters, so we found their rather posh hotel and boy did their jaws drop! All crew members posed very willingly and thought it was all a wonderfully crazy idea. Here they are with my younger sister and friend R. Not only was R a good car mechanic, he had also sewn the trousers he is wearing in this picture. He has since made a good life for himself, starting out as a plumber and ending up owning more than one company, mostly based on his clever hands, but most of all he was what George Bush did not think the French had a word for, an entrepreneur.

In the next picture my sister can be seen on the right and her Swedish flat mate on the left. Pretty young women in uniform seem to have a certain attraction and influence on young men’s hormones. Just look at the smooth operator on the right in the suit! Does he look interested or what!

We had a lovely reunion after many months of not seeing each other, and then it was time to wear out the tyres on the German motorway again. All went well until all of a sudden we started losing speed, and my friend uttered a few words not suitable for children’s ears or this blog. Mechanical problem! The car came to a stand-still on the hard shoulder and I started going over my German vocabulary from school in anticipation of having to deal with a rescue situation. But oh no, R knew instinctively what the problem was and quickly figured out how to sort it out himself. It turned out that the accelerator wire (Sorry, but I don’t have the correct vocab here) had got disconnected from the engine. Does that make sense? So, a little stopper thing with a screw in it had come off and disappeared on the motorway. He needed to attach the wire again somehow.

R goes to the boot, opens his case, finds his toiletry bag, gets his electrical shaver out and I just look on perplexed. Next he gets a screwdriver out from the toolbox and starts disassembling the electrical plug. I am none the wiser. He takes one of the two pins from the shaver plug, disappears under the bonnet, puts the wire through the accelerator lever, attaches the little shiny pin on the end of the metal wire, thus securing it to the lever, which makes the engine go vroom, vroom, revs the engine up.

And rev it up he did, and off we went. We got home safely without any more adventures of the unforeseen kind, but I always knew that R’s clever hands would always rescue us if needed. I have heard of green fingers, but I can only think of “clever” hands for somebody who is so versatile. What if he had used razor blades for shaving? I am confident he would have come up with another smart idea, Mr Clever Hands.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Is this me?

I found this self-assessing silliness on Ham Life . As you will find if you venture to this quiz site, the questions are not of the very scientific, serious kind, but fun. This is apparently me!



Thursday, October 25, 2007

Die Mosel

We have just come back from a few days in the Mosel Valley, and what a beautiful, charming river valley that is. The winding river, those romantic castles and all those vineyards climbing the steep slopes! It is surely one of the most beautiful parts of Germany.

We entered the valley at the lower end, near Koblenz, at a little place called Kobern-Gondorf where Roman artifacts were discovered in the late 19th century. Then we headed for the very picturesque town of Cochem, but we felt obliged to visit one of the most spectacular castles on the way there, the Burg Eltz, which is still privately owned by the family von Eltz. They have quite a challenging walk to the shops, is all I can say!

After a meandering drive in the drizzly weather along the Mosel we found our hotel…

…which astonishingly enough was built 20 years before the town wall on the left, which, in its turn, was built by Kurfürst Balduin in 1352! The hotel was filled (read ‘cluttered’) with old paintings, hunting trophies and suchlike, and had a beautifully decorated Postbriefkasten mounted on the outside wall. Although staff were friendly, they charged us extra, quite disproportionately, for a two-hour extended stay due to illness and topped it up with charging us for an extra cup of tea for Ms S, who due to said illness had not been able to enjoy her breakfast. So much for being friendly! As for the kitchen, I have had better school dinners. So there, ha!

Cochem itself is a very picturesque little town with a pretty square, relaxing river promenade and the famous Reichsburg Cochem on a hilltop. The castle, which was originally built in the 11th century, was completely destroyed by French soldiers in 1869. The castle that stands today was rebuilt in the 19th century. From it you have some stunning views, and if you take the lift up to the nightly illuminated cross, you will have an impressive view of the castle itself, and if you walk even further up, you can take in both the cross, the castle and the whole of Cochem. Can you spot the cross? (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Next stop was Trier, allegedly the oldest town in Germany. To get there we chose to follow the somewhat slow road that intertwined with the river Mosel; first you’re on one side of the river, then you’re taken across a bridge to the other side, then back again, and so it goes on. We could see people harvesting those succulent grapes in the sunshine; could that be Spätlese, I wonder? Just like when we were in the Beaujolais district in the summer, we recognised place names that we normally see on wine labels. Magic!

Trier was founded in 16 BC by supposedly Emperor Augustus himself. In the 5th century the town was conquered and destroyed by Germanic tribes, but it still boasts a rich architectural heritage, and it was of course the birthplace of Karl Marx.

The Porta Nigra, the town gate, is the oldest German defensive structure; it stands today at the one end of the lively, pedestrianised town centre, so it really feels like entering the town when you walk through it. The fact that it is still standing, is quite a construction achievement, since they did not use any mortar, only iron rods to hold the massive stone blocks together.

Passing through the old gate you soon find yourself at the main market square, Hauptmarkt, where you will find the Petrusbrunnen (St Peter’s fountain), with St Peter and the Four Virtues, the Marktkreutz (Market cross), symbolising the right to hold markets and also Germany’s oldest pharmacy with records dating back to the 13th century. The present Löwenapotheke building is as young as from the 17th century though.

In our modern times we speak about carbon footprint, but now I understand better why the Romans were able to leave behind such long-lasting imprints on our culture. Hail Augustus!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Baby Whisperer


That’s what my wife called me the other day when she offered my services to our new neighbours. She did say that she would ask me, but how could I deny helping them? What would you have done? Our young couple and their two toddlers moved in recently and were just up and running when mum had to be admitted to hospital. The following day dad had one of his most important days of the year at work, and simply could not stay away. They knew nobody else, we had just had some initial conversations with them, but we were really strangers to each other. I am a teacher who has been vetted and gone through every possible police check in the UK, so they knew they could not get better reassurance as for the safety of their children. They had no alternative child care and must have felt absolutely desperate. Both sets of grandparents live in the UK, so stand-in granddad entered the scene.

Having had recent practice with my granddaughter I wasn’t worried how I would cope with the situation, but I was only concerned with how the little ones would perceive me. Being at home with mum normally, how would they react to a stranger in the house? Would they see me as an intruder in their lives? After a while I could forget all of my worries; they were as good as gold all day. We had met briefly the previous day and I had played a little with them in their garden, but that was all.

We went through their whole, normal day without a tear or whine. They had breakfast, played inside, went for a walk in the double-buggy, listened to crows in the trees, saw some cows in a field, went to the playground with swings, slides etc, played in the garden, then quietly inside before midday nap (bottle, nappy change, a little cuddle, tuck in). They went to sleep without any fuss and woke up later with smiles on their faces. Some more play before lunch, which ended with the 18-month-old having a yogurt-covered face. How could I not let her practise eating with a spoon? Full tummies and happy faces. The 2 ½-year-old was quite happy staring at the TV screen with English children’s television, but when I asked him if he would like to go out and play in the garden, he went for his shoes and ran to the kitchen door.

So when dad came home from work in the afternoon, he was expecting to find me slumped across the sofa completely exhausted. He looked almost bemused at me when I reassured him I was fine. The children were happy, clean and nice-smelling. Then I helped dad getting them ready to go and see mum in hospital, and I was left with a very good feeling inside.

I hope nobody suggests I start a Rent-a-Granddad business; that would be too exhausting. But the odd, emergency baby-whispering is just about OK.

BTW – I have been a bad blogger lately, not enough time to write, and not even time to read other blogs. I have to do better!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Memory Lane

When my dad passed away a little over two years ago, he left behind a rather large collection of old slides. Many of them were from his trips abroad with my mother to do research for a number of travel guides that he kept on writing well into his seventies. That was at least the purpose of the trips he declared to the taxman to make the holiday cheaper; clever man! Others were your typical family slides from birthdays, holidays etc. My mother did not know what to do with them, but I had an idea. I wanted to transfer them to digital, i.e. jpegs, to store on a PC. I wanted to make sure they did not just sit in a dark cupboard forever.

So once when I visited my mother, I got the old projector out, selected the family photos and brought it all to Germany. When I got home I dug out my own old slides from “the dark cupboard” and took the whole lot, several hundreds of them, to a photo dealer. It would still be cheaper to let them do it than to buy the machine to convert them to digital myself, according to the guy in the shop.

So now I had a treasure of old slides on my PC, but some of them had not fared well over the years; there were scratches, cracks in the colours, dark spots, minute hairs, fluff and so on. This is where the newly acquired Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 (too long to say!) comes in handy. I have started working on some photos, cleaning them up by using mostly the Scratch Remover tool, with stunning effect.

I have also learned how to add watermarks to photos, so I thought I might do that with some of my most precious pictures. The first picture is of my dad when he was not yet forty, I believe. He is standing somewhere on the south coast of England, probably Bournemouth, where he taught English to summer students in the late fifties and early sixties. I think he looks really handsome in his cricket-inspired outfit, and those cool clip-on sunglasses!

The second picture is of yours truly in the late sixties. It was taken at Rödby ferry port in Denmark. My friend and I were on our way down to Frankfurt to surprise my two sisters. My younger sister had travelled to Frankfurt to meet our older sister who was an air-stewardess with Pan Am, and was stationed in Washington D.C. So my friend and I tossed a tent and a few things in the boot of his Ford Anglia (I think), which had a souped-up Ford Cortina GT engine under the bonnet. He had done a few other things to it, which I don’t remember, but was not overly concerned with the exterior. Looking at that picture now I think, was the car small, me big (183 cm) or was it just the angle?

Our first stop-over was Hamburg, where we obviously had to look at the Reeperbahn. There we were pulled into, literally, a bar of some sort, and then quickly thrown out when we said we did not have any money (to speak of). We only wanted to look at this sinful place and were not even used to drinking beer. Sweet innocence! I actually found the postcard I sent from Hamburg to my parents, among my dad’s belongings. OK, I’ll throw that into the blog as well then. I just might tell you later about our continued adventures in Germany. Auf Wiedersehen!