Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My gig at Freiburg

We are back from Freiburg – an excellent trip. First let me say how pleasant I found the Frieburg people. All absolutely charming and helpful and most people we spoke to able to help us with queries in English if we were lost. Can you imagine the majority of the English population turning to another language to help a visitor?

M & I travelled with Irene on Wednesday, and met her friends in the evening when we arrived from Basle (Basel) airport on the bus. We deposited our luggage and all went out for a pizza.

M & I were in a small hotel, The Minerva, catering probably for a dozen families – once again, very friendly. Only one problem. We awoke at 6 a.m. Would you believe the curtains were like ours at home with a very thin lining letting in the morning light? And we had left the masks back in England. So we rose with the lark, and during the morning in the town square outside the Rathous (Town Hall) watched and listened to a group of young Ukrainian dancers.

Frieburg, in case I didn’t say, is twinned with ten towns - Besancon, Innsbruck, Padua, Madison, Matsuyama, and Lviv in the

Ukraine – hence the dancers, Granada and Isfahan; it’s a historic town and you can find out all about it here: It is also known as an "eco-city". More of that later.

The dancers overran their slot, and as the day got hotter and hotter, finally Irene came to read from her two

books in the tent for the performers. Sometime during the afternoon we went to a lecture on the environment, a subject of great concern in Frieburg. M was very interested and went on to an estate fitted with solar heating. I bowed out in view of my evening talk, and went to the Cathedral with Irene’s friends. Alas, it was really too hot to be out in the street and I got more and more uncomfortable as the day wore on. By the time evening came, when I was to meet Nadine of the German-British Society, who had invited me to Frieburg, I was already feeling decidedly queasy. Nadine, who was much younger than I had expected, had invited M & me to dinner. M ate enthusiastically, while I picked at a salad. After the heat, and with my talk in front of me, food was the last thing I wanted. Poor Nadine must have thought I would faint away, possibly throw up, by the time we arrived at the venue the Schwanhaeuser Bookshop.

Fortunately, adrenaline got me through the talk, and it was very well received. I also answered questions and, to my surprise, there was a great deal of interest in my non-fiction book, The Fruit of the Tree, and in the topic of cot death. For the second time, at one of my talks, M was full of praise. Refreshments followed and then we went with Irene and her friends for more drinks.

Actually, the queasy stomach remained with me for almost the whole time we were away, which may have been the day in the sun, or the meal the day before, but was certainly not just a case of stage fright.

Friday morning was wet and cold and Irene’s reading was abandoned. We had hot chocolate, and after Irene had returned to the Twinning tent, to the Guildford/Frieburg stall, M & I took a trip by tram and bus and then on the cable car to the Black Forest. All transport, except the cable car, was free with a ticket from our hotel. It was freezing at the top, and we had another hot chocolate, and Black Forest Gateau – as you would – to compensate.

On Saturday, after a walk around the old town, which is lovely, we found there was another solar heating trip – to a factory. M said, his face all eager like a little boy’s, ‘Can I go?’ So off he went, and I joined the Guildford contingent in the tent. I didn’t have lunch, but was happy to have tea and cake, provided by the Anglo-German society. (Lots of societies, there.) I enjoyed being part of the team promoting Guildford – much more fun than a solar heating factory. We all had a meal out in the evening.

On Sunday, we went with Irene and another lady to the Black Forest by double decker train, and took a boat on the lake. We returned to Frieburg to collect our luggage and took the airport coach back to Basel. Back in the UK, Irene’s daughter picked us up – and now it’s back to the old routine.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Our friends, the animals

This video is not featured to show off my amazing photography skills, but to introduce you to the newest member of the extended family - the gorgeous Sorrel, a three month old chocolate labrador. My daughter tells me that she resisted suggestions to call her 'Cocoa' and Cadbury. It was GD2 that thought of this so much more sophisticated name.

Animal life has had me worrying about bees. I understand the government is funding some research into the decline in the bee population and other pollinating insects and the WI is also trying to support bees. When the weather was pleasant a week or so back, I had a wander around the garden to see if we were doing our bit. I was delighted to see that the cotoneaster at the back of the garden had attracted many buzzy insects; so too had an evergreen hedging plant with variegated leaves, whose name I don't know. Though I have made the decision what to plant over the years, I am not always happy with my choices. The cotoneaster, for example, I thought was an uninteresting addition. Now though I'm delighted to have it there. I also noticed some bees around the rhododendrons and also visiting my perennial geraniums. These are an anassuming little plant with nice foliage and produce many small pinky mauve flowers; they're not showy like the rhododendrons, but they do stay around for several weeks from May onwards. Try to have something flowering every day of the year, I've heard it said. I can't quite do that but on the whole, I do achieve a flowering season from the early bulbs in February through to late autumn. This year, I'll be keeping a closer eye on them.

Today, I was in Guildford to give a talk at the Writing Your Life Story Workshop at the Guildford Institute. Mine was a contribution of one hour, talking about my own autobiographical book, The Fruit of the Tree. I had spent much time revising it since my last talk, and I think it was improved this time. The Institute are holding a two-day workshop once each term, and I will be there again in October. Now that I've finished with that, I am going to work on another talk for the twinning celebrations at Freiburg, Germany, which I am attending next week. I shall also have to sort out my packing list - is it to be winter or summer clothes. That's the crucial question.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The duo in the velvet masks

I haven’t managed yet to get my recent novel extract down on paper, and my desk is still choc-a-bloc, despite getting rid of the end of month statements yesterday. The good news is that there have been more orders for A Bottle of Plonk and Tainted Tree, and royalties from Virtual Tales for the American e-book of A Bottle of Plonk Have Wine will Travel. Coming up soon, my trip to Freiburg in the Black Forest, to give readings of those books, and a talk at the Guildford Institute on writing your life story, at which I will give readings from The Fruit of the Tree. To add to the fun, Irene is travelling with M and me, and will give readings of her own books at the Freiburg twinning festival. This is a coincidence – I have been invited the German/English society and she is being sent by the Guildford organisation.

A continuation in the curtains saga - since putting up the wretched things, we haven’t been able to get a good night’s sleep. M, particularly, wakes at dawn – about 5 a.m., so I understand, and can’t get back to sleep. I contemplated getting the curtains lined, yet again. All our other curtains have millium lining – a metallic lining, and have had no problems with any of them. It just didn’t seem to be on offer this time. The lady at the curtain shop suggested that I either put up a roller blind or had a piece of lining attached to Velcro and velcroed the lining against the window each day. Not an ideal solution. Today, at a gathering of my Surrey graduate friends, I told them of my problem, and they suggested flight masks. What a brilliant idea. Tonight we will try that. It may even prevent a murder or divorce! The other thing that happened today was that some friends from the Reading Circle came back to my house, and we had a Q & A session about Tainted Tree. I probably talked for two hours. I enjoyed it – and they kept coming up with questions. And Guildford Waterstone’s are down to one copy of TT in each of their two shops – so thank you Guildford readers. Much appreciated.

Another view of Hotel Bon Sol, our holiday destination. Whilst ploughing through my holiday writing, I’ve found a blog, written early on, while we were there. Although I’ve already described the holiday, this is more immediate than my other description, so I’ve included it.

'After two days of rather dismal weather, the sun came out and temperatures rose to around 22 to 25 degrees C. – perfect Majorcan weather. M & I didn’t – don’t attempt to do anything adventurous. We have the same daily ritual – M gets up an hour earlier than I do and finds a good position in the sun. We meet up for breakfast in the restaurant by the sea – either in or out of doors. M heaps his plate with fruit, sometimes an egg and then French bread and toast; I eat cornflakes and two slices of toast and marmalade – my concession to being on hols. We don’t, as some guests do, indulge in a fry-up, or cold meats or sausages. Some people on half board, no doubt, store up food, so they don’t have to bother about lunch, but we enjoy the buffet lunches, as much for their visual appeal as for the food. Salads of red and greens – peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries, peaches, apricots; desserts – gateaux, creams and chocolate – ice-creams; and of course the meats, fish, roasts and veggie delights. I try to be modest when selecting, but the range is a pleasure to behold.

In between breakfast and lunch, I pay a half hour visit to the gym and cycle, walk and row away between 100 and 200 calories. The afternoon is spent under a perfect blue sky, the sun diffused by the shade of an umbrella, and in the evening, after dinner, there is chat with other guests. For me, this holiday is meant to be only a recharging of batteries and an injection of sunshine – a tonic if we are to have a miserable English summer. It’s also an opportunity to do things I don’t necessarily do at home, because something else is in need of my attention.

The paper reads – A late bounce in British bookings for Spain and the Balearics – a reminder how the recession spreads its tentacles into holiday places such as this. But hopes too that confidence is beginning to return. It’s 1 ½ years since Northern Rock – also since the Market hit its high point and started to descend. The Stock Market anticipates events as well as reacting to them. I hope the current rise is a genuine forecast of improvement in jobs and businesses for the wider community.'