Thursday, December 18, 2008

Way Up North

Trapped in glass and silver It is time to head up north to Sweden for Christmas and New Year. We hope for green driving conditions but a bit of frost for the celebrations. Stuff the car with Christmas spirit and presents to have a lovely time with family; that's what it is all about.

They don't have to be as big as this though. We will relax and enjoy until we feel like this.

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Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year


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Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I have not written a post about all the birds in our garden for quite some time. They are still fascinating to watch and the number of species is impressive, which is partly explained by the fact that we live in a very wooded area and that our garden backs on to a small copse.

I don't spend a lot of time idly watching garden life, but even when you cast a fleeting glance through a window you might see something interesting. The other day I suddenly noticed an unusual bird under the feeders where many other birds also feed since birds on the feeders drop seeds all the time, some by mistake, but also because they have their favourite seeds and simply discharge unwanted ones.

This bird looked like a big finch with what looked to be a very powerful bill. He also did not flinch an eyelid when other birds came and went around him; he was obviously high up the pecking order by nature. He just flicked his head, all that was necessary to make smaller birds fly off. I had never seen this bird before, I was sure, and I stood there observing, trying to memorise colours and shape. Then I rushed upstairs for my European bird book.

I looked through all 550 pages plus just to make sure I did not miss it, and I came to the conclusion that, despite the fact that the colours did not quite match neither the book's nor the RSPB Bird Guide's colours, it must be a Hawfinch.

According to the information I found I had been rather lucky to catch a glimpse of this rare visitor.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Grandfather

AA Pic of the Week 125 w I am thinking of buying myself a new camera in the new year, and as I was navigating through some of my pictures this one caught my eye. It is one of the many slides that I have had rescued. Camera, I said to myself, old Henrik's camera. In the mid 1960's, when I think this was taken by my father, cameras looked like this, which perhaps will surprise younger readers. Although it might have been even older, most likely from the fifties.

The majority of photos of my grandfather depicts him as a serious man, not often laughing. But he did laugh, just not in most photographs. The camera and the coffee cup are very representative of our visits, in particular to my grandparents' summer house in Ljunghusen. We always sat outside round the coffee table and he always had his camera close at hand. At least that is how I remember it.

What makes this picture even more appealing to me is the fact that he has this gentle smile on his face, and his hair is standing a little on end. He looks like he is up to something. What?

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

This Could Only Happen in Germany!

This is the time of year not only for Christmas shopping of presents but parts for your car too. In recent days I have sorted out our cars, winter check/service and also bought new winter tyres for the new Volvo. As can be seen in the photo, the hub caps are not on yet, but will be tomorrow. I was surprised when they were not included by default and insisted they got me some, because I think the tyres look pretty ugly naked like this.

Winter tyre

So I went for the low-energy, lazy option of letting the garage do it all, even storing the summer tyres for a modest fee. Why get dirty and sweaty if you don't have to? So there I was, on my way home behind the wheel, thinking how sensible I had been to get some winter tyres, looking possibly slightly smug but most of all relieved that it was done before they were really needed. I tried to detect any difference to the driving with these tyres and I believed I could sense a slight stiffness, hardness in them, but nothing much. As I was doing this my eyes swept across the dashboard routinely and a little sticker just below the hazard light button caught my attention. It showed the recommended top speed with these winter tyres.

Speed restriction

210 km/h is roughly 130 miles per hour! That is the maximum speed the car can do anyway according the manual I believe. I wonder what the sticker might say for summer tyres? 300 km/h? I could not stop laughing. This could truly only happen in Germany!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Christmas Shopping

Duckhead soft plastic Duckhead says: It's hard work isn't it, Christmas shopping? In and out of shops, standing waiting, looking at this and looking at that, comparing prizes, guessing sizes, 20% off, 3 for 2, no wrapping service, wondering what you bought them last year, the question of the right colour, feet starting to ache, back starting to complain, Christmas muzak everywhere, arms getting heavy, stomach beginning to rumble, crazed shoppers jumping the queue to the check-out, a freezing car waiting for you in the cheap outdoor car park, and yet we do it every year.

But that is not why I look a bit queasy today; that is the Irish pork spiked with dioxin I had last night! I wonder if a pint of Guinness would help?

Friday, December 05, 2008


No, I have not made a typo in the title.

I was talking to Mrs S at lunchtime, and I referred to a phone conversation earlier in the day when I had spoken to a friend (little Noah's mum) who is not into blogging, yet. I explained about how easy it was to set up a basic blog and how you could manage and moderate it. She mentioned comments I have had, and how there seemed to be people who are regular visitors/commentators.

In my conversation with Mrs S I used words/expressions like bloggers, blogger friends, blogger acquaintances and other visitors for various people. So, a blogger blogs, a visitor visits, but when do they become blogger acquaintances and friends, I ask myself? Somebody you know a little is an acquaintance, who can later develop into a friend, you might say.

Then I misheard something my wife said, and I knew instantly that I had found the Word. She said blog links, but I heard blogling! What a perfect new word for people, other bloggers, you communicate with. It does not matter how close you feel to them, how you define them, they can all be your bloglings. I think the word has a positive ring to it. Instead of saying "Oh, darling!", you can now say "Oh, blogling!" or "Oh, my little blogling!". If you have very strong feelings you might get slightly confused and call somebody "snogling" by mistake. Tread carefully!

Am I silly or mad? (Please don't say yes!) No I just love words and languages, and to sometimes have fun with them like this. Somebody's got to come up with new words. Why not blogling? What do you think, my bloglings?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Stumbling Blocks

At Your Feet 175 w

Walking along the pavement of the famous Königsallé in Düsseldorf I saw two metal cobbles next to each other. I had to bend down to take a closer look and see if there was any inscription. Yes there was, and it revealed the names of two people who had lived there; they were not famous people, but people who somebody wanted to remind the world about. The message was instantly clear to even a non-German speaker.

Remembrance metal cobble 1 DuesseldorfRemembrance metal cobble 2 Duesseldorf

The place names on Hulda Hornstein's cobble were all too familiar. When I researched the names on Walter Erle's cobble I found out that Heilanstalt Grafenberg was a mental hospital on the outskirts of Düsseldorf and Hadamar was a similar place a little further away which was part of the Nazi euthanasia program between 1941 and 1944. Out of more than 5000 Jews, only 57 returned after the war to Düsseldorf.

I also found out that these cobbles or blocks are called "Stolpersteine" (stumbling blocks) and that there are more than 100 of them all across the pavements of Düsseldorf, and they are part of an art project by Cologne-based artist Günter Demnig.

These chilling reminders of past history are today at the feet of all the Christmas shoppers in Königsallé with its posh, up-market establishments. With all the brightly-lit shop windows, does anybody look down long enough to discover these shiny "Stumbling Blocks"?

For more information:

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

My Father

AA Pic of the Week 125 w This week's picture is three and a half years old. It was taken the day my father met his first great grandchild, Amanda, who was 6-7 weeks old. My father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and was sometimes not quite with it and did not understand what was going on and who the people around him were. Luckily he was not particularly confused this day and at this moment, and when he got to hold his great granddaughter you could see an understanding spark in his eyes. In the picture, his face reflects an awareness of the importance of the situation and I don't know who was the happiest and the proudest of us three; me, my son or my father.

This was Amanda's first visit to her father's family's hometown and it was my last visit to see my father, who passed away ten weeks later. You can see why I treasure this photograph.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas Market in Cologne

We have just come back from a Mediaeval Christmas Market in Cologne. Yes, it's not even December yet, but the Germans don't care. If there's an opportunity to eat and drink something outdoors in the cold, they go for it. And why not? We went with some friends who live there.

There were various kinds of entertainment ...

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... and little Noah seemed happy ...

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... possibly because we all had some mead, which was served hot.

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No, no, no, Noah did not have any although the picture might indicate he did! On the way back in the dark along the river we came upon this boat with an inflatable Father Christmas on the lookout for ...


... customers, since this turned out to be a well-lit, floating Christmas Market as well. There's no stopping them, is there? Mark my words; Christmas is upon us! You have been warned.



Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Historic Memories

AA Pic of the Week 125 w ... this week features two photos in fact. The first one is taken in August 1968, five years after the second one. 1968 was the year of student revolts in many countries and the year when the Soviets crushed Dubcek's dream of a better life for Czechoslovakia after his "soft revolution", the Prague Spring. I was sitting in a 5th Avenue lunch bar in New York at the time with my sister when suddenly people started flooding in. There was a tangible buzz in the air; everybody was talking about the big news; the Russians had rolled into Prague to smother any chance of "socialism with a human face", as it was called. Shocking news!

That summer I was staying with my sister in Washington D.C. for eight weeks. I enjoyed the company of a group of Scandinavian air hostesses and their friends. I had a great time. My sister took me sight-seeing, as one does, and I saw all the sights, including a three-day trip to New York.

Looking at this picture, with my sister walking towards the Lincoln memorial in Washington, I can't help but think about today. At the time, I was obviously thinking about the events that had taken place five years earlier (second picture). Martin Luther King had been standing on the steps of that historic building in the background delivering his momentous "I Have A Dream" speech, which still today can bring tears to my eyes. I was walking where all those people had been standing, and I had a feeling of something I could not find words for then, and not even today.

But today when Barak Obama is waiting to take over and I look at this old slide photo, that same feeling comes back. President Obama, will he perhaps have a memorial building named after him in the future? Who knows?

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

First snow!

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Yes, it's here! I am sitting here with a mug of hot chocolate, mit Schuss (Stroh from Austria), as we say in German. That's my reward for walking in this heavy snowfall coming from every direction. I did my duty and had the first go of the season at clearing the pavement from snow, and then I just had to put our wooden snowman on the doorstep.


Clothes Moths!

Look what they have done to my jacket, the little ba ****ds!


I thought we had got rid of them. Do they ever go away? I have found holes in various sweaters and cardigans before, and the odd jacket or suit. It's terrible! I have used various tricks to deal with them, like lavender, some bits of wood that were supposed to act as a repellant and also some trap which sends out a sexual hormone smell to attract them and then they get stuck on a surface with tough glue. Did all that help? Apparently not! Oh, and I keep my Sunday bests in plastic covers, and they are fine luckily. I'm fed up with the little so-and-so.

There are other ways of renewing one's wardrobe you know! Can anybody suggest a foolproof way of ousting these wardrobe terrorists? Pleeease!


Friday, November 21, 2008

Guck Mal, ein Klassiker!

Old "Guck mal, ein Klassiker", was what the shop assistant said to his colleagues when I pulled my old running shoe out of my bag. I had come to Runners Point in Düsseldorf to get a new pair of shoes, bringing an old one to show what type of shoe I wanted. I have not done a lot of running over the last few years, I have to confess, so I have not bothered getting a new pair, which any runner knows is a deadly sin. Your poor body normally has to pay for such nonchalance, and my knees reacted to the lack of cushioning from the tarmac last time I tried to use them.

The three shop assistants looked long and hard at the footwear relics of yore. The one who was the most excited kept repeating the word "Klassiker", which is not difficult to understand even if you speak no German. I honestly cannot say how old the shoes are, but we are talking decades here, rather than years, I fear. The situation reminded me of the time when my rather old Omega watch was passed around among admiring watchmakers on a sight-seeing coach. That watch is now 30 years old and is still working perfectly. Not so my running shoes; they are now more like a pair of rubber tyre flip-flops.

Mind you, I did a lot of long-distance running as late as 15 years ago, and I managed to run a half-marathon in 1hr 28 min once, which is quite a respectable time I believe. I would not bet against me wearing those old Nike shoes then! So it was about time I got myself a new pair. I am determined to keep fit (not letting these become "Klassiker"), so I tested the new ones this morning, and they were wonderful. I was running on air, fluffy clouds, anything soft you can think of. Tomorrow will tell if I overdid it the first time in a long time, but so far so good! Here are the treasured beauties.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

On The Right(eous) Way

At Your Feet 175 w

Signposting is not always easy, and it never was. How did our ancestors find the way when they travelled long distances? They could follow a river or the coastline, aim for some hills or mountains or walk along a winding path. But if they travelled over land in particular, and they had many days or weeks ahead of them, how did they find the way? They would most likely be dependant on guides or people who pointed at an object on the horizon.

For the pilgrims of the past there were markers on the ground that led them on the right way, to the next cathedral or perhaps even to Santiago de Compostela.  Scallop shells on the ground would guide them, eventually all the way to, what is supposed to be, the relics of St. James. Still today you can find metal markers in the shape of a scallop shell in many European villages, towns and cities. This one I spotted in Liège, Belgium.

Scallop Shell (pilgrim route) Liege

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Summer Flowers with Granny

AA Pic of the Week 125 w I just love the closeness and the friendship that this picture (old, salvaged slide) demonstrates between grandmother and grandson. They are out to pick some flowers in the meadow to decorate the summer house.

They are still close despite the 600 km that separate them today. She is now an almost 86-year-old lady and he is a proud father of two children himself. She takes a loving interest in him and his family and he keeps in contact much more often than duty demands. I am proud of both of them. They are my mother and my son.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Don't I Know These Ladies?

Duckhead Duckhead says: They look familiar, I thought, as I spotted these two beauties in the window. Maybe they look too sophisticated, and they have no fags glued to their lips, but surely... or ...

I had just paused for a moment on my way up those 406 steps in Liège to get the view when I caught sight of these two women who looked strangely familiar. They reminded me of two Scottish ladies, acquaintances of mine, who write this wonderfully funny, quirky and interesting blog, Scottish Natterings.

It turned out that they were indeed relatives of 1st Lady and Lady Muck of Edinburgh. They invited me and Mrs D for, not tea, but strawberry beer and chips with mayo. They are after all Belgian; but since my French is only slightly better than my Flemish, the visit did not last very long. However they did ask me to send their love to 1st Lady and Lady Muck of Edinburgh.

!st Lady's and Mrs Muck's Belgian Relatives - framed

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Soft Focus

AA Pic of the Week This week's picture is without a real focal point, so maybe it is misleading to use the word focus in the title. But if *you* focus on the soft texture in the foreground and then let your eye travel further and further away, it is like plowing through different layers of solidity/hardness, first the delicate, soft, plume-like grass, then the main field, which I believe is rape-seed after the yellow flowers have disappeared, and last the harder-textured, dark forest under a grey sky.

Or, if you don't like too many words to describe it, I could say that I simply like the muted colours and the calming effect the view has on me.


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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Child Danger in Düsseldorf

At Your Feet 175 w

How often do you look down when you are on the tourist trail or just visiting a place for the first time, or indeed in your own neighbourhood? Most of the time we look ahead or possibly slightly up. We look at people, buildings and the sky, and only check occasionally where we put our feet. We don't very often look down unless we are botanists searching for some rare species or have a fear of stepping in dog faeces.

I have started looking at what is in front of my feet as well sometimes, and to my amazement there is quite a lot to discover in various cities. I have come across all sorts of ornamental metal objects like manhole covers, trail markers and remembrance plaques. I thought I would share those with my readers, and so far I have assembled a small collection, which I hope will keep growing with time.

My first piece of street art, if you like, is a manhole cover in Düsseldorf. It informs you that it is the capital city (of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia) and also displays the coat of arms. What is puzzling is the fact that two children are doing a one-armed handstand on said coat of arms, or are they doing cartwheels? I don't know.

The more drastic interpretation is of course that it is meant to be a warning to children not to play in the street, otherwise they might end up flattened by a car or a bus! On a more serious note though, I think of the length they have gone to to make an entrance to the sewers rather attractive. What do you think?  

Manhole cover Duesseldorf

Monday, November 10, 2008

Are You Prejudiced?

Duckhead    Duckhead says: Look at his menacing back! Would you dare ask him to move aside to get a better view? Scary tattoos and everything. Is he armed with some nasty bike chain, knuckle-dusters or knife? Will he headbutt you? Spit in your face? What might he have in common with the little boys on the bench paying close attention?

Don't worry. He must be as soft and sweet as spun sugar because he and all the others are at a flax market watching a demonstration how to comb and brake flax! What I was doing there? OK, I'm a bit soft too, but I did not stop to watch, honest!



Saturday, November 08, 2008

Hello Grandson!

Last weekend I met my grandson for the first time. When we arrived, big sister was proud to show us "her baby" and pointed to where he was sleeping in his pram after having been for a walk earlier. He was just starting to wake up, so we simply followed the sound. It felt very special to be able to pick him up and comfort him the very first time I saw him. Him seemed happy to see me, because he stopped crying. That was one of those magic moments to remember.

It took some digging and rooting around in the pram to pick him up, since he was well wrapped up deep down there, as you can see in this picture out in the garden. He usually slept outside in the fresh air during the day, very healthy!


Indoors he sometimes sat in his baby sitter, i.e. if he was not being fed by mother or carried around over somebody's shoulder, which he liked the best. Big sister was very sisterly, and you could see that there was this natural bond between them. He was fascinated by her and there seemed to be some silent communication between them, the kind of which you often find between children without words, or indeed foreign words.

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When Amanda was not busy with her little brother, she played with LEGO or her Pippi Longstocking jig-saw puzzle.

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We were often outdoors; the adults could stretch their legs and tire out the children so we all slept well. Amanda was on her little pink (!) bike (see previous post) and I happily did my duty, pushing the pram everywhere we went, you know, the sort of thing a granddad does.

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As you can see from the pictures, autumn is in an advanced state and winter is approaching fast, which means that the winter tyres have to come on, one of those dreaded annual tasks. In Sweden most people use the kind of winter tyres that have metal studs in them to get a good grip on ice. My son was very deft at it, did it methodically and even had white plastic bags to keep the stored tyres in. How's that for clean and tidy? He is my son after all!


My best memory is when little Hampus was fed, dry and comfortable, and he looked at me with a smile and made some guttural sounds that I am sure was his way of taking part in the conversation. Bliss!

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Boy or Girl?

AA Pic of the Week Before I tell you about the latest visit to Sweden to see my son and family, in particular my new grandson, which will be in a separate post, I want you to take a look at this photo.

My son and partner (they will eventually get round to getting married one day) always claim, and rightly so, that they do not want to treat a girl or boy differently, purely based on gender. Amanda has both dolls and toy cars, and she is particularly fascinated by tractors, diggers and other big machines. They also try to avoid pink clothes and toys, but despite all this effort I spotted this lot all pegged up last year. It is not easy being a conscientious parent. Will little brother's clothes line look the same, I wonder?

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