Friday, June 29, 2007

Magical Muck ‘n Moss Metamorphosis

We live in an area that used to be a dark, swampy kind of forest, and it is still today a haven for mosquitos and other animals of nuisance. It also allows moss to proliferate to the extent that it draws a dark veil over everything. When we moved into this ‘corporate accommodation’ three and a half years ago we knew nothing of the maintenance history of it. Then we got to hear about power cleaners from somebody, how you could use them to clean most everything. Bingo! Said and done.

I hired this beauty…

…and attached it to the cold water supply for the washing machine in the cellar,…

…with some difficulty I have to say, because it turned out that the hose that I had to buy had a faulty connection. As soon as I turned on the tap and increased the water pressure, it came off with a bang and sprayed water all over me and the laundry room. So I was soaked before I had even started using the damn thing, and I knew I would get rather wet spraying hundreds of litres of water.

After having gone back to the shop to replace the faulty part, it was a slow, arduous pleasure to see the dirt disappear bit by bit, on the patio, walls, path…everywhere. In the end this north-facing patio was transformed completely and I wondered why we had not thought of that earlier! See for yourselves.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Visit long overdue

Finally my mother got here. Readers of this blog might remember from an earlier post that our previous attempt to fly my 84-year-old mother here was sabotaged by a wild cabin crew strike. Two months later she is here. She was all smiles, supported by her trusted friend, the rollator, when we collected her at the airport yesterday. We had a welcome drink of champagne at home and later dinner. Still all smiles.

But this morning we had a minor crisis on our hands, she could not find her passport! Her best guess was that it had fallen out of a pocket as she wriggled her jacket off and on on the plane. So I had to spend some time on the phone. As I just had got the not so encouraging message that it would be complicated getting it back even if they found it, not to mention if they did not find it, she shouted from downstairs ‘I’ve got it!’ It had been in her handbag all along. All the excitement yesterday had been a bit too much and she could not remember that she had done ‘the right thing’ and put the passport where it should be in preparation for her stay here. All’s well that ends well, but I think her blood pressure was slightly challenged for half an hour!

Monday, June 25, 2007


Since I have not been a blogger, or a blog reader for that matter, for very long, I was a bit puzzled when Haddock left a comment on my blog, saying I had been tagged. Well, I understood roughly what that meant, but meme? What the heck was that? I went on to find out and then I had a look at Haddock’s blog. After that I had the whole picture.

I don’t ‘know’ many other bloggers yet so I will have to see how many I dare invite to take part. I feel a bit uncomfortable approaching ‘strangers’. What will they think? How pc is that? What about blogosphere etiquette? Throw caution to the wind? Well, I have put up a proper photo of myself in my profile now, so why not be bold and harass a few people in the kindest possible way?

Rules: Each person posts the rules before their list, then they list 8 things about themselves. At the end of the post, that person tags and links to 8 other people; then visits those people’s sites and comments, letting them know that they have been tagged, and to come read the post, so they know what they have to do.

1. Inspired by CanadianSwiss I will reveal what I wear in bed – ear plugs! It’s a habit from the days when we lived under the Heathrow fly path. Now it keeps out early birdsong, snoring (yes, I snore too) and noisy neighbours.

2. As a little boy in Sweden in 1958 I managed to get the autographs of the whole Brazilian World Champions football team, including Pelé, Garrincha, Didi, Vava etc. My father, whose favourite foreign language was Portuguese, interpreted for them on a couple of occasions, so I had easy access. Sadly, later in life I lost the autograph book with all the valuable signatures. Sentimental value, but also real money value. What would they have fetched on eBay, I wonder? A fortune I guess!

3. I saved somebody’s life on Hammersmith Bridge once, or at least I thought so. I was walking across the bridge when I saw a man standing on the outside with his arms behind him, clutching the railing. His briefcase and coat were behind him on the bridge. He was a big chap and the Thames was rushing out towards the sea far below. Without thinking about my own safety, I instinctively hurried up to him, grabbed him under his arms, held hard and said something like ‘What are you doing?’ All of a sudden the place was swarming with police, first-aid people, camera crews etc. They had all been hiding in little wooden hides, which I presumed had something to do with the forthcoming Oxford-Cambridge boat race. They were filming for a recruitment ad campaign for the Special Constabulary to see how people reacted in different scenarios. So, did I save somebody’s life? In a way I did, I suppose.

4. My own life was definitely saved 30 years ago when I was a passenger in a car crash. What saved me? My good habit of always putting on my seatbelt, even before it was made compulsory. Despite the trouble of lifting up three pairs of skis to fasten the belt, I stuck to my routine. It was quite useful when the car hit a lorry sideways in the fog. Every morning for many years after that, I said to myself ‘It’s good to be alive.’ It certainly is!

5. A life that wasn’t spared was that of a pheasant on the M25, the London Outer Circular. I was doing ca 85 mph and the dumb bird smashed up my front. I pulled over, walked back to try to recover my lost number plate and was severely told off by motorway police who had spotted me.

6. In the sixties I played in a band in southern Sweden. On a number of occasions we were the first support act to famous British bands. We ‘played with’ all of them except the Beatles and the Stones. Everything was so much simpler and small-scale in those days. I felt rather insignificant standing next to John Entwhistle of the Who tuning my bass guitar. We were becomingly embarrassed the time we played (from our regular repertoire) some Spencer Davis numbers, which they repeated an hour later on the same stage. Dooooh!

7. I still feel guilty sometimes for once having prevented a female colleague of mine from getting Paul McCartney’s autograph and photo. We were having an after-work drink in the Sun Inn in Barnes, London, when we spotted Paul having a chat with a friend. My colleague had the camera, paper and pen, but I convinced her to leave him alone. Even worse, a few years later a friend of mine gave me a birthday present, a demo single with a personal dedication from Sir Paul. I feel not a little rotten about that.

8. Five years ago I had a pituitary adenoma, a tumour/growth, which killed off my pituitary gland. So all hormone production was wiped out. Before I was completely diagnosed and got the proper medication sorted out (ca 2 months), I experienced something which is normally the domain of women, namely hot flushes. So, menopausal women everywhere, you have my full sympathy. I know what it is like!

I have tagged the following bloggers for this meme: TBA ASAP

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


We have a letting agency looking after our UK property, which is fine; it works well most of the time. Dealing with them remotely is not always plain sailing though. There seems to be quite a turnover of staff. New names keep sending emails about this, that and the other. Sometimes they ask you to reply to somebody else, the person who is actually dealing with the issue at hand. I am normally very organised, and with people like these, it is a must, but even I find it difficult to keep up with changes and to update my contact files. We have now had new tenants installed in the flat, and a change-over always raises issues. I just want it to be trouble-free, leaving the business in somebody's capable hands. This time it seemed to go well, the only issue being the identification of the sofa! Is it still the same sofa that we left behind? Because I cannot see how that could be taken apart and partly stored in the loft, partly under the double bed. Is it even the same bed? Have some previous tenants walked off with our furniture and replaced it with inferior quality? We don't know until the agents send us some pictures! How difficult can it be to take a few photos and email them? Frrrrustrrration!

Then there is the management company of the building. Frrrrustrrration again! Today we had a thick envelope with some letters sent to us by the letting agent. It contained a Council Tax demand, which we should not have, and a 'Final reminder before legal action' regarding unpaid fees from the management company. The letters had the London flat address on them and had been left in the hall by the leaving tenants. For more than three years the company have sent all correspondence to our German address, but now something had gone wrong. Guess what! They had a new computer system installed in the autumn and 'unfortunately all data had not been transferred, it seemed'. Monkeys! But we don't pay them peanuts. How many times have we all heard people blaming techie systems instead of human failure? There is always a person behind the keyboard, isn't there?

Maybe things would have gone better had they not had this little pop-up window on their PCs? You can't let the machines do it all, you know.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


After a period of more work than usual and little time to blog, it was lovely to get a phone call yesterday from a certain little person, my granddaughter. Well, I suppose Dad had a lot to do with it. The phone rang and there was no immediate 'Hello' or similar, just somebody breathing and making sounds rather than proper words; she is after all only two years and two months old. So I had to start the conversation by asking if it was A and I said who I was. The reply was a loud and happy-sounding 'farfar' (granddad); she knew to whom she was talking. After an outdrawn conversation with 'interpretation help' from Dad he told me that they had a cuddly moment on the sofa after work and nursery respectively.

When she lost interest in our long-distance conversation, Dad told me about the job offer he had just turned down. He had been headhunted and people had tried to make him move abroad to take on a very interesting and well-paid job. After some intense deliberation he had decided against it, admitting that he had been extremely tempted. But it would have been rather ironic had they moved to London, now that we have left London for Germany!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Du Gamla Du Fria...

Those are the first words of the Swedish national anthem which will be sung a few times today, because today is the Swedish National Day. It is a rather new occurrence; it used to be only a day to celebrate the national flag and these days it is even a public holiday (see link). In true Swedish egalitarian, democratic fashion the people had a say in which existing public holiday should be sacrificed. You must not have too many! To find out more about Sweden follow this link. I and Mrs S will celebrate in true, modest Swedish manner, although she is English. We will have a meal tonight at our favourite Italian restaurant in our German town before I watch England and Estonia play a qualifying football game. Sadly I cannot get the Iceland v. Sweden game on our cable so I have to rely on the internet. Du Gamla Du Fria....

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

French Holiday

St Quentin

On our way to Normandy we stopped over for two nights at Neuville St Amand, just outside St Quentin. The hotel was classed as a Chateau; French advertising speak for biggish house or possibly manor. It was beautifully situated in a small park with vast lawns and tall, mature trees. The restaurant served excellent food, all rooms were newly refurbished and staff were very friendly, a place to recommend.

On Saturday we explored St Quentin, a town of 65,000 inhabitants. It had some old-looking buildings, but most of them were in fact built in Art Deco style after WW1 when large parts of the town were flattened by artillery fire. This part of France has similar stories to tell, stories of total destruction and great loss of life. What insanity! Every time we go past those big, brown signs with references to the major battles of WW1, I shudder. The thought of so many lives lost, all these young men from both sides whose lives were taken from them, their family and friends, really disgusts me. How many men were sacrificed on the first day of the battle of the Somme? (Wikipedia says: “The British had suffered 19,240 dead, 35,493 wounded, 2,152 missing and 585 prisoners for a total loss of 57,470. Initial casualties were especially heavy among officers, who still dressed differently from non-commissioned officers and other ranks, and whose uniforms the Germans had been trained to recognise.”) (BBC says: “Sixty per cent of all officers involved on the first day were killed.”) (History Learning Site says: “By the end of the battle, the British Army had suffered 420,000 casualties including nearly 60,000 on the first day alone. The French lost 200,000 men and the Germans nearly 500,000.”). And what was achieved? An Allied advance of ca 10 km! Then of course, there was a second war which wasn’t much better. I sometimes think of statistics I once came across in a newspaper article about the Russian generation of 1922. Only 2% or so of those men survived the war. My father, who had a good, long life, was born that year. It makes you think, doesn’t it?

But back to today’s St Quentin. It just happened to be market day, so we mingled with the locals in the big square...

...and explored the basilica.

The market was full of everything; fruit, veg, leather goods, textiles, books, music etc.

Lining the vast square were the Theatre Municipal,...

...the Hotel du Ville (Town Hall)...

...and other impressive buildings. In the basilica we found the mummified hand of the Christian martyr St Quentin himself, creepy!

Then we strolled around in the central area and found, among other objects of interest, La Porte de Canonniers.

Today it is purely residential behind the gate, but some centuries ago it was the quarters of mercenaries, perhaps like the troops of some modern-day warlord. We never made it to the Musée Lécuyer, which has a famous collection of 80 pastels by Quentin de la Tour (1704- 1788). We have to return soon to continue our exploration of that museum and other places.

On Sunday we reached our Normandy house. The garden looked both beautiful…

… and very wild…

After some aggressive strimming it looked a little better?

Snake charmer, moi?

There is always a first, isn’t there? When I did the initial check for signs of mice of the new, not completely finished, upstairs bedroom, I spotted something odd. Along a stone wall, yet to be sealed with the final inner wall, I saw something long and dark disappearing into a crack. I realised quickly that it was in fact a snake in our bedroom slithering into the walk-in wardrobe!

I threw myself down the stairs to get my garden gloves, dashed back up, tried to grab it, failed, picked up a fly swat, opened the wardrobe door, it curled up snakelike (yeah, what else?), tongue flicking, picked it up with the swat a couple of times, shouted for Mrs S to get a towel, covered it with said towel and picked up our slithering serpent friend, dropped it on the bedroom floor a couple of times, could not hold on to it for long, Mrs S opened the low window on the landing, I dropped it out of the window and we went down to see where it had gone.

I stepped outside and the snake dropped on my head from above (must have been hanging on to the window sill or the Christmas wreath nail above the kitchen door) and the bugger bit me on the head as he fell! Where was the hidden camera? This was just one of those moments when you suspect a film team round the corner. After that it moved under the car and we started chasing it out by throwing gravel at it. It did not work so I reversed the car to expose it. Then I started taking photos as it moved its half-metre-long body across the gravel to hide somewhere, it curled up and flicked its tongue at me again. Strangely enough I was not at any moment afraid it was poisonous, I simply tried to copy what I had seen on telly, but I did not have a sack, just an ordinary hand towel. All along I was pretty convinced it was not an adder, since I could not spot any zigzag pattern on its back. Had it been, yours truly Indiana Jones would have ended up in hospital trouble! It was probably a grass snake. See for yourselves!

Natural phenomena

I like to play around with my digi camera and try out its features, in particular the macro function; you know, creep up on the object and get close and cuddly. Well, I don’t usually hug trees or anything but I had to document the prospect of our best fruit crop in six years, delicious Victoria plums and Canada Gris apples. Then I turned my attention to some smaller creatures. Mrs S says I am turning into my old granddad, but I say he used a tripod, which took forever to erect, and then he had to measure the light with another gadget, and then half an hour later he put in the film etc…. I just shoot wildly from the hip, so to speak.

Do you remember Judy Garland, Eva Cassidy and others singing about this? It lasted for over 30 minutes and was the most colourful and luminous rainbow I, or anybody in our area, could remember seeing. Breathtakingly beautiful!

First the sun tried to set.

Then the rain came (yes, those lines are raindrops).

The rainbow(s) appeared as if by magic.

The sky cleared and and all was calm again.

Isn't nature magical?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Happy Birthday, Brother P!

Just back from holiday so it will be a quick Happy Birthday. My "little brother" is 48 today. Have a lovely barbecue with all the family. I could not do this with you today!