Soft Furnishings

Having moved around a lot, and not always having any money to spare, I learned quite early about what I need to make the place I am living in feel like home.

For me this has to do with pictures, lamps, colours, photographs, ornaments, and often in the past had to do with covering up holes in the wall (or broken mirrors) through unusual use of fabrics. And loads of things which are of no value to anyone, yet for us are invaluable.

We all know that tastes are different. My Mum used to moan about ‘heavy dark German furniture’ and I told her I found her magnolia-painted walls boring. I did understand why she insisted on keeping an ancient sofa: it was because my dad had always stretched out on it for forty winks after lunch, the sofa was a connection to him.

It would be hard for me to live in a house like this, but I am sure that I would have it cosy and homey in the shortest of times:

We all want to leave our own imprint on the place we choose to live in. So I sort of understood when I read that the current inhabitants of 10/11Downing Street had redecorated, and brought in new furniture, but…

First, some explanation of the Downing St situation.

The street is named after George Downing, who was (my) Charles II’s ambassador to the Netherlands, helping to cause several wars.

He hired Sir Christopher Wren (as in St Paul’s Cathedral) to design the row of houses which were then cheaply built, on boggy ground.

King George II gave 10 Downing Street to Sir Robert Walpole, who was First Lord of the Treasury at the time, and is considered as Great Britain’s first Prime Minister. Walpole refused to accept the house as a personal gift, asking the king to make it an official residence for him, and future First Lords of the Treasury – Walpole moved in on 22 September 1735.

Find out lots more here:

History of 10 Downing Street – GOV.UK (

And visit some famous rooms here:

Take a tour through the historic rooms of 10 Downing Street – 10 Downing Street — Google Arts & Culture

The British PM also has a country house called “Chequers” (given to the nation in 1921 by Sir Arthur Lee), for the weekend or entertaining guests:

In London, Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street are full of offices and meeting rooms; above, there are separate, private flats for the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Traditionally, the PM lived at No.10, the Chancellor in No. 11. This changed when Tony Blair became PM: he and his wife Cherie already had three children, and Chancellor Gordon Brown was a bachelor. As the No. 11 flat was bigger, it made sense to swap, and that’s how it’s been ever since.

As the flat goes with the job, it’s clear that one may need to move out – or in – rather speedily. So there is a (hope you’re sitting down) yearly allowance of 30,000 GBP for each PM, to redecorate the flat to their taste. This wasn’t enough for B. Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds, it seems, and that has caused uproar this week in the UK and beyond. It seems their flat was redecorated using the services of Lulu Lytle:

Lulu Lytle: Who is Carrie Symonds’ favoured interior designer? | Evening Standard

and rumour has it that the soft furnishings – sofas, occasional tables, lamps – and wallpaper at nearly 900 GBP per roll came to a cost of many thousands of pounds more that the 30,000 which was actually available. Oh dear.

Even worse, it seemed that was Ms Symonds especially wanted to get rid of Theresa May’s choice of ‘John Lewis nightmare’ soft furnishings.

John Lewis? John Lewis! My students all know JL very well, thanks to our Christmas tradition of watching UK company Christmas ads. John Lewis is always the funniest, the cutest, the most moving… if I had a euro for every time I had seen tears in my participants’ eyes after watching the John Lewis Christmas ad, I would be buying my own gold wallpaper.

For all those for whom John Lewis furniture is an out-of-reach aspiration, how can this be anything but a slap in the face?

Never mind. Let’s not think about this now. There are so many to choose from, but I would like to share two of my favourite JL Christmas ads, as a sort of mind-cleanser from obscenely expensive furniture.


Have to stop now and go and blow my nose.

On being vaccinated

I remember some lessons extremely fondly, times when I happened to catch the mood and enthusiasm of my students – who can forget, for instance, the time I bought a job lot of Barbie dolls on ebay and took them – with their Kens – together with loads of fabric, rickrack, feathers, sequins, scissors, pins, needles, thread, sellotape and glue to class, and the students (in groups) dressed the dolls as members of the Royal Family attending Harry and Meghan’s wedding?

There were some stunning designs, I can tell you, and when the wedding actually took place we noticed that many of our creations had been spot-on. Happy days.

There were other times when lessons fell absolutely flat, such as the one where I asked each student “What would you save if your house were on fire?” and every single person looked at me as if I were totally bonkers and said, “My papers.”

How continental. Being British, ‘Papers’ never existed in my life. Unlike many of my students, my family never had to flee hundreds of miles, with the grandmother entrusted with a special box containing everybody’s ‘Papers’.

My careless Britishness came to the fore recently when we heard that we could register for the Covid-19 vaccine at our village doctor. All we need do is take along our Impfpass, vaccination record booklet. Real Germans keep this yellow, WHO-approved booklet most carefully. It contains a record of all the vaccinations they have ever had.

When my lovely husband got his out of the file specially designated for such things, he also found the pink certificate (header), stating that as a one-year old baby he had been successfully vaccinated against smallpox. This piece of paper has been carefully kept and filed not only for nearly 70 years but through countless moves and even divorce and re-marriage.

I am obviously the wrong type of German. I did have an Impfpass, when I got vaccinated to go to India in 2002, but even without any moves and no divorces since then, I have no idea where it is. I don’t know where my children’s Impfpass are either, although for several years I could locate the dog’s without too much trouble.

The words ‘vaccine’ and ‘vaccination’ come from Latin vaccinus, from vacca ‘cow’ (because of the early use of the cowpox virus against smallpox).

Here is the story of Edward Jenner and the smallpox vaccination:

Since Edward Jenner, vaccines have become part of our everyday life, with many diseases – measles, whooping cough and of course polio more or less banished.

The international race was on at the start of the Corona pandemic to find a vaccine, and in the worry and trouble of the last months it has not always been easy to realise what a tremendous achievement it is that we already have so many vaccines to choose from.

There has been impatience with governments and vaccine companies, and misunderstanding after misunderstanding, sometimes fostered by the same governments and companies, along with journalists who really should have known better.

I am so happy to have discovered the work of Kai Kupferschmidt, a scientific journalist who has become my voice of authority.

I follow him on twitter, and also read his contributions to Science Mag:

Kai Kupferschmidt | Science | AAAS (

In Germany it began to feel hard to trust that we would really all be vaccinated. It was all so s l o w, vaccine trickling into the federal states. Anyway, this month things suddenly began to speed up, even in Germany. Visiting the Impfdashboard everyday was a cause for joy rather than groans:

COVID-19 Impfdashboard

And last Friday the phone rang and it was our village doctor, offering us appointments: BioNTech on Tuesday for my lovely husband, AstraZeneca on Thursday for me. I ran into the garden (where said husband was pouring more and more concrete into the greenhouse foundations, Chernobyl R Us) to tell him the wonderful news, so excited, so happy, so relieved.

At the same time, I thought of those still waiting, all over the world.

This week, TIME magazine produced a video about the massive new BioNtech plant in Marburg:

And just yesterday the Evoniks company announced their exceptionally fast ramp up of lipids production, a vital ingredient for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine:

Fortunately, I had bought myself a new Impfpass on Amazon, and so, with a feeling of being part of something really momentous, I drove to our doctor’s surgery yesterday and was one of the very many people in their masks, clutching their Impfpass, and got my vaccination.

When I got home, I put my Impfpass (which has special little metal loops for the purpose) into the big white file which also has my birth certificate and German Citizenship papers. And should our house catch fire, we all know what I will be rescuing.

The best foundation

When I first met my lovely husband I wrote to my parents in England to tell them about him. I wrote, “…and he loves visiting open-air museums as much as I do!”

Over the last 28 years we have certainly visited hundreds of such museums, in different parts of Germany but also in many different countries. In the north German museums we often end up in a house which is actually just like ours, and each time I have to pinch myself to realise how lucky we are, that we and our house found each other.

I always find the foundations of these houses both alarming and fascinating: there aren’t any to speak of. The house sits, rather like a table, on large stones.

Hallenhaus – Wikipedia

One reason I find this alarming is that I spent a large part of my childhood in Sunday School singing choruses about what happens to houses (or lives) which are not built on firm foundations.

Zoom forward to this spring, and we came to the idea to have a greenhouse in our garden. Starting by looking at smaller, more simple (and cheaper) versions at Aldi and Lidl, we began to ask ourselves what we wanted this greenhouse for. Growing vegetables? Not really: in the summer here in our village we lock our doors to stop neighbours sneaking in and leaving zucchini on the kitchen table.

We came to the idea we wanted the greenhouse as a place to sit in, to enjoy the winter sun (Oh it would have been lovely in the snow!) and watch the bats and hedgehogs, squirrels and woodpeckers enjoying our garden on summer evenings.

My lovely OH found a company not too far from here which makes greenhouses which have (we think) a rather English flair and before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’ we had ordered the model of our dreams, which will be delivered in June.

Das Gewächshaus Bio-Top t-line mit Fundament
Gewächshaus Bio-Top T-Line aus Glas jetzt günstig bestellen » (

This greenhouse needs what is called in German a ‘Streifenfundament‘, a strip foundation, and the plan was to find a local contractor to do this for us. Many phonecalls later we had to face the reality that nobody had any capacity or desire to this work, and so my not only lovely but noble and talented husband decided he could do it all by himself.

Reader, you would not believe how much concrete is needed for such a foundation. So, the first question is: What is the difference between concrete and cement?

Many years ago we visited New Zealand, and in the north of the south island stayed in a bed and breakfast in a place called Greymouth, where the husband worked at the local cement factory. Of course we were totally fascinated and eagerly accepted his offer of a tour of the facility.

(Because visiting production plants is almost as good as visiting open-air museums.)

So this week, thanks to Click and Collect, my lovely husband could be spotted with his car and trailer fetching sack after sack after sack of cement. He had already dug out the foundation and prepared the wooden cladding.

I get to do the fun parts of all this, which are to think about the decorations and colour schemes; at some stage in the discussions one of us said out loud what fun it would be to have a chaise-lounge in there. A fun fact is that in German these are often called récamière, and I found out that this is named after a very beautiful and sophisticated woman, Julie Récamier, who obviously spent a lot of time lounging on one. Juliette Récamier – Wikipedia

By Jacques-Louis David – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain,

I mentioned this vague desire for a chaise-lounge to our daughter-in-law and in a flash she had found such a piece of furniture, up for auction at a local auction house, starting bid €50. In yellow.

Reader, we bought it!

Choosing to know

Sometimes I can’t sleep for regrets. I am so sorry for all the stupid, wrong, thoughtless, unkind things I have done: to my family, my friends, my students, well the world, really, and would give anything to be able to start again, and get things if not right, then better second time around.

I always loved history and always got very good grades in school, and in exams, but now I wonder that the person I was never questioned what she was being taught.

In my English school in 1972 I learned, for instance, that the famine in Ireland was due to the feckless Irish themselves being unwilling to eat anything but potatoes and so when the potatoes got blight, they either starved or emigrated.

Nobody told me that, for instance:


“More than 26 million bushels of grain were exported from Ireland to England in 1845, a “famine” year… nearly 4,000 vessels carrying food left Ireland for ports in England during (1847) while 400,000 Irish men, women and children died of starvation.

Shipping records indicate that 9,992 Irish calves were exported to England during 1847, a 33 percent increase from the previous year. At the same time, more than 4,000 horses and ponies were exported. In fact, the export of all livestock from Ireland to England increased during the famine except for pigs. However, the export of ham and bacon did increase. Other exports from Ireland during the “famine” included peas, beans, onions, rabbits, salmon, oysters, herring, lard, honey and even potatoes.”

And I didn’t ask.

Part of the problem was the system of absentee landlords:

“Absentee landlords were a highly significant issue in the history of Ireland.

During the course of 16th and 17th centuries, most of the land in Ireland was confiscated from Irish Catholic landowners during the Plantations of Ireland and granted to Scottish and English settlers who were members of the established churches (the Church of England and the Church of Ireland at the time); in Ulster, many of the landowners were Scottish Presbyterians.

Seized land was given to Scottish and English nobles and soldiers, some of whom rented it out to the Irish, while they themselves remained residents of Scotland and England. By 1782 the Irish patriot Henry Grattan deplored that some £800,000 was transferred annually to such landlords.”

Absentee landlord – Wikipedia

And no, I wasn’t told about that either, and didn’t think to ask.

While I was learning for my exams, Bloody Sunday was happening in Derry / Londonderry, and none of my teachers thought to talk about it, and I didn’t ask or connect it to what I regurgitated so perfectly in my exam.

Anyway, I was living in England, or Wales, or Germany, or the USA, and Ireland was far away and more or less irrelevant, except when there was an IRA bomb warning in a mainland English city I happened to be in – or the murder of a prominent person: Gordon Fairley in 1975, Airey Neave, Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland, killed by an Irish National Liberation Army bomb in 1979, and Lord Louis Mountbatten in summer 1979.

I did pay attention to a news item on my birthday, March 1, in 1981. It was that a man named Bobby Sands had started a hunger strike in the Maze Prison in Belfast; he died 66 days later, aged just 27, having been elected as the Member of Parliament (in Westminster) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone on April 9.

This video is produced by Sinn Féin, which is an Irish republican political party dedicated to the reunification of Ireland and an end to British jurisdiction in the north of Ireland.

Ten more young men died on that hunger strike, and even I began to wonder what was going on.

The whole thing is horribly complicated, such terrible deeds on both sides, angers and resentments which were fostered and polished rather than being laid to rest.

There’s certainly a lot to do with religion, and who better than the Derry Girls to tell us about the difference between Catholics and Protestants?

It’s been much quieter in Ireland over the last years, since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

I remember the Good Friday Agreement quite clearly, and that is because I had been in England visiting my family. I drove there with my son, in my old blue Honda Civic and stole a traffic cone.

For those who have never been there, Britain is the land of traffic cones, and I wanted one to bring back to show my students. My son and I spotted one lying obviously unwanted in the hedge near where our family lived, and as we drove past every day and saw it still lying there, obviously unwanted, we decided to steal it.

My son was of an age where he had to sit in the back of the car anyway and so we put the cone, which was much bigger and heavier than we had thought, on the front passenger seat and covered it with a blanket.

This was very well until we got to Dover and had to pass through various checkpoints, due to the Good Friday Agreement being signed that day, and all of England on alert for IRA attacks. In life’s embarrassing moments, being caught by an armed policeman trying to smuggle an old traffic cone out of the country is fairly high. (The proud cone made it onto the continent and can be seen in the header as it is today).

I digress.

The Good Friday Agreement was the achievement of many people who should have their own blog posts, among them Mo Mowlam, Betty Williams and Mairead Maguire, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.

And the vital importance of Ireland and the United Kingdom both being members of the European Union.

Oh, wait…

Leave voters were told, again and again, that Brexit would cause problems in Ireland. Theresa May understood this, Michel Barnier understood it too. I don’t know if the current British Prime Minister understood: whatever, he didn’t care.

Here he is, drink in his hand, being ‘misleading’, in November 2019:

This week, the Troubles are starting again in Belfast. Loyalists are furious that what they were promised is not reality.

While Belfast is burning (again), the economy crumbling and companies closing due to Brexit and a pandemic, on the day that an important announcement was to be made about the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, where was the current British Prime Minister, we ask ourselves, choosing to know? Oh yes, he was in Cornwall, on one of his many ‘Away Days’.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson answers Cornwall EU fund concerns before going  on cheese tangent - Cornwall Live

Prime Minister Boris Johnson answers Cornwall EU fund concerns before going on cheese tangent – Cornwall Live

Musa Okwonga: ‘Boys don’t learn shamelessness at Eton, it is where they perfect it’ | Books | The Guardian

We know boys, especially Eton boys, just wanna have fun, after all. But don’t think we don’t know.

Down by the Water

I was born, like so many others, in Hemel Hempstead. It’s just north of London, and the part my parents lived in had been newly built post-WW2 to house all those new young families moving out of London.

21, Shepherd’s Green as it is today.

It’s quite tricky to be far from the sea in Great Britain, but my parents had managed it and this was especially annoying as my dad certainly loved the sea. He had grown up on Barry Island in South Wales and had the sea in his blood, his grandfather being the famous channel pilot Lewis Alexander.

The Kindly Light, Lewis Alexander’s boat.

The closest my dad could get to water in Hemel Hempstead was the canal, and so every Sunday afternoon we went for a walk along this canal, which scared me absolutely stiff. I hated the greasy dark water and was petrified of the locks, imagining how it would feel when all that water smashed down on top of me if I happened to be at the bottom at an inopportune moment.

This was the Grand Union Canal, which stretches for over 200 km from London to Birmingham and includes 166 locks.

Grand Union Canal | Canal Boat
Grand Union Canal | Canal Boat

I went back to dear old Hemel a few years ago and was (of course) surprised at how small that canal, and lock, really were:

Still dark and greasy though

The first thing I do in the mornings (after I have said ‘Good morning’ to my lovely husband) is check my mobile phone to see if any messages have come in from my Borneofamily. Sometimes there are photos, or some news of what they have been up to already, seven hours ahead of us.

I miss them so.

Anyway, one day last week my daughter had written: “Pleased to announce that I have not blocked the Suez canal today.”

“?” I replied.

“You haven’t looked at twitter yet”, she wrote and of course then I looked and saw the Ever Given. Stuck.

This week the whole world was looking at a canal, namely the Suez canal and it all made me realise how little I had ever thought about it and how even less I knew.

If I had ever thought about the Suez Canal, it was in connection with the ‘Suez Crisis’ of 1956, still often mentioned today as some sort of trauma for Britain, which was apparently left with egg on its face.

“Politically, the intervention in Suez was a disaster. US President Dwight Eisenhower was incensed. World opinion, especially that of the United States, together with the threat of Soviet intervention, forced Britain, France and Israel to withdraw their troops from Egypt. In Britain too there had been widespread outrage.”

BBC – History – British History in depth: The Suez Crisis

After marching in, British troops had to be withdrawn, leading to the resignation of the Prime Minister Anthony Eden two months later.

(The narration is really fast! Sorry…)

Back to last week, when the huge containership ‘Evergiven’ got stuck (and it wasn’t my daughter’s fault).

We all saw the pictures, and I wondered, not that it had happened, but that it had never happened before. Fortunately, and thanks to the clever Dutch, the ship is now moving freely again.

All this talk of water reminds me of happier times. Pre-Covid 19 I flew regularly to Borneo, my suitcase bursting with (hopefully) exciting and fun presents for my adorable grandchildren. One of my biggest hits so far was Billy Bass:

So I will now batten down the hatches and wish you all fair winds and following seas.

The poster on my wall

Pop groups and film stars came and went on the walls of my room as a teenager, but there was one constant figure: King Charles II. Charles Stuart. Sigh.

After I wrote about the cardigan, balaclava and co recently, good old Charles popped into my mind again. My, but he had a tricky life!

He was the oldest surviving son of King Charles I and his wife, the French Henrietta Maria; regular readers will remember that Charles I was beheaded by parliament in 1649, after the Civil War in Great Britain. His son Charles, after hiding in an oak tree, was able to escape to the continent, where he lived in the Netherlands.

My Charles and his cousin Rupert of the Rhine (sigh) and countless good-looking, long-haired, brown-eyed, lace-collared young men had fought (wearing high leather boots and velvet capes) in the Royalist cause against the boring and unpleasant parliament forces, the Roundheads, who wore sort of knitted grey outfits.

Another Sunday lunch in our family was ruined when, in the course of the conversation, my father made it clear we would have been on the Roundhead side. I was absolutely appalled and argued the Royalist case most ferevently, ending in door slamming and me spending the rest of the day in my room, looking at my Charles II poster. (This was in 1973 by the way.)

As we know, the Roundhead side, led by Oliver Cromwell, won and for eleven whole years Britain did not have a monarch. There was also no Christmas, no theatre, no fun at all and when Oliver Cromwell died and his son Richard took over (just like a monarchy really) things got unruly and to make a long story short Parliament asked Charles (2) if he would like to come back, and be King, under certain restrictions of course, and my Charles said Yes, he could go for that and arrived in Dover on 29 May 1660, his 30th birthday.

Theatres opened, singing was allowed again in church and life was back in colour again under the reign of the ‘Merry Monarch’.

This period, called the ‘Restoration’, is famous still today for its plays, comedies, fashion, architecture and much more.

It wasn’t all fun for Charles though.

In 1665 the Great Plague of London killed a quarter of the population:

and this was followed in 1666 by the Great Fire of London, which destroyed a fifth of the city:

As Henry VIII would have told him, the main, indeed only requirement for the King is to produce a healthy son, and that Charles and his wife, Catherine of Braganza, did not manage. Her pregnancies – at least four between 1662 and 1669 – all ended in miscarriage or stillbirth.

I could imagine that modern psychologists would say that Charles, through his love of parties and alcohol and women was trying to fill up some dreadful void in his core, one’s father being publicly executed must be one of life’s more stressful events.

He certainly had many, many mistresses, including the beautiful, red-haired Barbara Villiers, whose husband received a title and land for her services and was thus the ancestor of the illustrious Spencer (as in Lady Diana) family.

Charles’ most famous mistress is Nell Gwyn:

It was a matter of some inconvenience that these mistresses did manage to become pregnant and give birth to live children, who then expected titles and favours, and so our Charles turned to his court doctor for assistance in contraception. The doctor invented a sort of re-usable sheath made of leather, which Charles could pull on to the part involved, lacing it up before the deed was done.

Charles’ doctor’s name was Dr John Condom, and that is how the condom got its name (better than Cardigan).

I always enjoyed telling that story to my students, who learned that they should use the word ‘eraser’ rather than ‘rubber’, which may be misunderstood in the USA.

Many years ago I had the most adorable elderly student, I will call him Hans. He came to class with his wife Erika and over the years they attended it was mostly Erika who did the talking. So we were all very surprised when, after I had told that story, Hans raised his hand with a question, his first ever, which he asked in German:

“Dieser Kondom – war der Glattleder oder Wildleder?”

“That condom – was it napa leather or suède?”

Charles II would have loved it.


Paul Ehrlich & Co

I have never understood why Germany describes itself as the ‘Land of Poets and Thinkers’ (Dichter und Denker). I suppose it’s because of Goethe and Schiller and Freud and Kant and so on, but I always think hmmn, but what about Bach and Handel and Beethoven – shouldn’t it be ‘Land of Composers’? And, since I have lived with my lovely husband and had so many trips to interesting industrial and science museums, for me Germany is the Land of Scientists. I will tell you about my personal favourite, Justus Liebig, later.

Dotted around Germany are various institutes, supported by but independent of government, each with a different mission, and named after a famous scientist. My heart, of course, belongs to Fraunhofer, as its website writes:

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, headquartered in Germany, is the world’s leading applied research organization. With its focus on developing key technologies that are vital for the future and enabling the commercial exploitation of this work by business and industry, Fraunhofer plays a central role in the innovation process. As a pioneer and catalyst for groundbreaking developments and scientific excellence, Fraunhofer helps shape society now and in the future. Founded in 1949, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft currently operates 75 institutes and research institutions throughout Germany. The majority of the organization’s 29,000 employees are qualified scientists and engineers, who work with an annual research budget of 2.8 billion euros. Of this sum, 2.4 billion euros are generated through contract research. 

Each institute has its own speciality. Here’s what happens at Fraunhofer IFAM in Bremen:

Here’s all about Joseph Fraunhofer himself (in German, Youtube will provide English subtitles)

Close to Fraunhofer in Bremen is the Max Planck Institute:

Max Planck Institutes are built up solely around the world’s leading researchers. They themselves define their research subjects and are given the best working conditions, as well as free reign in selecting their staff. This is the core of the Harnack principle, which dates back to Adolph von Harnack, the first president of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, which was established in 1911. This principle has been successfully applied for nearly one hundred years. The Max Planck Society continues the tradition of its predecessor institution with this structural principle of the person-centered research organization.

The currently 86 Max Planck Institutes and facilities conduct basic research in the service of the general public in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. Max Planck Institutes focus on research fields that are particularly innovative, or that are especially demanding in terms of funding or time requirements. 

Max Planck himself was born in Kiel in 1858, died in Göttingen in 1947 and was a physicist who is regarded as the founder of quantum mechanics. Of course.

I’m an English teacher and due to how it was all arranged in England back in the 1970s I spent a lot of time in school learning about history and geography and French and German and even more time grappling with English, language and literature. Science got lost completely, so I started all this from an embarrassingly low level.

I swear some of the lines on my face come from trying to look as if I understand when my scientist participants told me of their latest research. I mostly didn’t.

Which brings me to Paul Ehrlich. My, what a Corona-week this has been. Just last week some countries started reporting unusual symptoms in a very few of their patients who had been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. On Monday, Germany paused vaccinations on the recommendation of the Paul Ehrlich Institute.


Paul Ehrlich was born into a well-off Jewish family in 1854 in Lower Silesia, at that time part of Germany. He studied medicine, married, travelled and in 1891 was invited by Robert Koch (There’s a Robert Koch Institute too!) to join the staff at his Berlin Institute of Infectious Diseases, where in 1896 the Institute for Serum Research and Testing was established for Ehrlich’s specialization. Ehrlich was its founding director. His research fields included immunisation, serum, chemotherapy and much more: Paul Ehrlich – Wikipedia

In 1908 he was awarded The Nobel Prize for his “work on immunity”. Kaiser Wilhelm was very sad when he died in 1915. He would have liked to raise Ehrlich to the nobility: for that, he would have needed to convert to Christianity, and that he refused to do.

Germany now has an Institute with his name, which has made international headlines this week:

“The Paul-Ehrlich-Institut (PEI), the Federal Institute for Vaccines and Biomedicines, in Langen near Frankfurt/Main is a senior federal authority reporting to the Federal Ministry of Health (Bundesministerium für Gesundheit, BMG). It is responsible for the research, assessment, and marketing authorisation of biomedicines for human use and immunological veterinary medicinal products. Its remit also includes the authorisation of clinical trials and pharmacovigilance, i.e. recording and evaluation of potential adverse effects.”

And it was the findings from these scientists which caused such concern and worry to many people.

Personally, I am reassured to know that top scientists are on the ball, and once everything had been thought about and clarified at the highest levels, vaccination began again with the AZ vaccine in Germany after 72 hours. I will be thrilled to get any vaccine I am offered.

In the middle of all the furore about vaccine this week, our President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, presented Özlem Türeci und Uğur Şahin, founders of BioNtech, with the Bundesverdienstkreuz, Germany’s highest honour

All of this is way beyond my understanding, I see my job as to keep quiet (difficult) and stay home until the brilliant scientists all over the world have found a way for us all to deal with Covid-19. I am so grateful to them, and that we have such humans whose brains work in such mysterious ways.

Oh yes, I promised to tell you about my favourite scientist, and that is Justus von Liebig, father of modern chemistry and more importantly from my point of view, father of the meat stock cube – OXO!

Land of Dichter and Denker? I don’t think so.

Header photo of Paul Ehrlich’s study: Von Waldemar Titzenthaler – Georg-Speyer-Haus (Ullstein-Bild, Bildnummer: 00161452) (transfered from; original uploader was Armin Kübelbeck), Gemeinfrei,

The Cardigan

I used to hate cardigans, and I don’t know why. Maybe it was connected to the dreaded twinset, which I still hate. No idea what this clip is about (and Senta Berger is very beautiful), but it shows the twinset to perfection:

Let’s say I cannot imagine Emma Peel ever wore a twinset.

Now I find my wardrobe full of cardigans, in all sorts of colours: what fun it was to match my cardigan to my shoes (see header), Those days are gone, of course, one spend’s one entire time in leisurewear and nothing matches anything these days.

But I was just chatting (online) to my lovely daughter-in-law, because we decided to share a special offer of Easter decorations – a surprise box, value €40 for a mere €20! We can even choose the colourway: pink (that would be a ‘no’), natural (maybe) or blue/mint (also maybe). Anyway, I asked her if I she would like my share of the cost to be transferred to her account, or if she would like it ‘bar’.

Bar is the German word for ‘cash’, and comes from the idea of bare or naked, meaning you put your money in plain sight. How interesting! The origins of the word ‘cash’ are up for interpretation: some claim it comes from the Asian word for a small coin, Chinese copper coins being called ‘cash’, or is could be connected to the French word ‘caisse’, meaning a chest which money was carried around and kept safe in.

All of that reminded me of how much I always enjoyed the first lesson with new groups, where we looked at the origins of words. English is really frightening for the sheer amount of vocabulary it has, and often several words for exactly the same thing, depending on when the word entered the language and where it came from.

So words like umbrella, alcohol, yacht, assasin, jazz, bungalow and shampoo have only been ‘borrowed’ into English.

Which takes me back to the cardigan.

Cardigan is actually a small town in Wales (Aberteifi in Welsh) on the Cardigan Bay:

And just as there is a Duke of Sussex, there is an Earl Cardigan, a title dating back to 1661. One particular Earl Cardigan is famous for one of the most pointless military actions in the history of the country, the charge of the Light Brigade:

The British were outnumbered and defeated by the Russians, but just six weeks later Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote his epic poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, portraying the battle as heroic.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
   Someone had blundered.
   Theirs not to make reply,
   Theirs not to reason why,
   Theirs but to do and die.
   Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

From: The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord… | Poetry Foundation

“Do or die” entering the language as a good way to behave. My Mum often said it when she was doing something she didn’t really want to, such as processing the tons of spinach my dad brought back from his allotment on a Saturday evening for the freezer.

Anyway, that charge was led by Earl Cardigan who had already spent over ten thousand pounds of his own money making sure his regiment had the smartest jackets in the entire British Army. He personally loved wearing cosy, knitted woollen jackets – which became the ‘cardigan‘.

The Trooper is all about the Charge of the light Brigade!

They must all have been madly into knitwear at that time, because along with Cardigan, we find Lord Raglan – who had already lost an arm in battle – who had invented the Raglan sleeve.

The ordinary British soldiers in their camps suffered dreadfully from the cold in the Crimea and when this news reached home, everyone started knitting for them, including special woollen caps to be worn under their helmets and over their faces: so the balaclava was born.

Hmmn, I do have a story I could tell you about a family member and his balaclava, but – unusually – my Lips are Sealed.

The Street Where you Live

German is a language with awfully l o n g words. It’s because you can clip words together, like LEGO bricks, e.g. Automobil (car) Hersteller (manufacturer) = Automobilhersteller. There’s a very famous word, Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän 

which is the longest word ever published in German, and not one (as it deals with the river Donau, the Danube), I am ever likely to use.

When I first came to Germany I was amazed at the lengths of some street names. How on earth would one fit “Woty-und-Theodor-Werner-Weg” on an envelope? My confusion was not lessened by the fact that as a non-German, I didn’t know who these people were. August Bebel? Friedrich Ebert? Rosa Luxemburg?

Rosa Luxemburg! That’s a lovely name, and it adorns streets in many German towns and cities, in fact our dear Tax Consultant now has his new offices in Rosa- Luxemburg- Strasse.

Who was she?

Born to a Jewish family in Russian-ruled Poland, she emigrated first to Switzerland and then gained German citizenship through a marriage of convenience. During WW1, she and Karl Liebknecht (lots of streets named after him too) formed the Spartacus League, breaking with August Bebel (see above) of the SPD. In December 1918 she and Liebknecht founded the German Communist Party; they were both arrested and subsequently brutally murdered in Berlin on January 15, 1919, by members of the Free Corps (Freikorps), a paramilitary group.

There’s an awful lot more to her than that, as you can see:

I just found a photo of her with her friend and socialist colleague, Clara Zetkin.

Clara is on the left.

( I can reveal that there are at least nine Clara-Zetkin-Strasse in Germany.) I am particularly fond of Clara, as when we were still allowed to go on holiday, I really loved going to the former East Germany (interesting cities and fascinating industrial history) and my lovely husband especially enjoyed staying in hotels or houses which had been used as holiday domiciles in the GDR. Each ‘company’ (VEB, LPG or Kombinat) had a ‘Holiday Home’ – maybe on the coast, in the mountains or in the country, where the employees and their families could go away for a holiday, either for free or very cheaply, every year.

In West Germany, my lovely husband’s father’s company, PREUSSAG, had a similar scheme and my husband and his parents and brothers went to the North Sea or the Harz mountains, courtesy of his Dad’s company.

Such places in East Germany were often called after communist heroes or heroines and once we stayed in a place which had formerly been the “Clara Zetkin Recuperation Home”. It was a lovely holiday and I became fond of Clara. She was a teacher, a campaigner for women’s rights and:

“Zetkin was renowned throughout her career for her passionate oratory skills. She represented the German Communist Party in the Reichstag from 1920 until 1933 (when the party was banned by Hitler). Her election to the Reichstag in 1932 made her its oldest member, and tradition dictated she opened the parliamentary session. She did so with a 40 minute attack on Hitler and the Nazi party.International Women’s Day: Who was Clara Zetkin? | International Women’s Day | The Guardian

Clara and Rosa, Karl and August and all the rest – including many local heroes (e.g. Anita-Augsburg-Platz in Verden) – not only have streets named after them: there are bridges, schools and parks.

Speaking of street names, yesterday I planted a new rose in our garden. It’s a pale pink climber, and should grow up a laburnum tree. But, top secret, although I am sure it is beautiful, I actually chose it for its name: ‘Penny Lane’.

Header: Von Vwpolonia75 (Jens K. Müller, Hamburg) – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus

My family was Welsh. Sort of. The really Welsh part, my father, had been born in Australia when his genuinely Welsh parents decided to emigrate. The relatives who lived in Wales (my mother’s family) were very careful to tell everyone they were actually from Bristol, and had moved to south Wales because my grandfather got work there. So when my mother talked about ‘Going home to Wales’ she meant her family, but she didn’t mean Wales, as in terms of culture or language.

I was born near London, but my parents chose to give me a Welsh name, Carys. It comes from the Welsh word ‘cariad’, which means sweetheart or darling. In 1960s Hertfordshire nobody had ever heard of the name and mostly got it wrong. It was my heart’s desire to have a mug or an eggcup with my name on it, but in all the shops there was only ‘Linda’ or ‘Caroline’ or ‘Susan’ etc. It’s different now, there are plenty of Caryses around, but still when I hear the name I think it must be me.

Anyway, there I was living in this supposedly Welsh family, in England, and my dream was to go and live in Wales, so when I decided to become a teacher, that is where I went to study. Oh dear. Surrounded by real Welsh people, including Welsh speakers, I realised really fast that I wasn’t Welsh at all.

Nevertheless, as well as all this faux-Welshness, and my Welsh name, I actually managed to be born on Wales’ National Day, St David’s Day, which is March 1.

Wales has a tradition of Eisteddfod, which is a festival of song and poetry, and because my Welsh (?) father was the headmaster of the school I attended (yes, it was strange) we never did school work on March 1, but had a school eisteddfod. It was a marvellous birthday for me: I loved singing, loved writing and reciting poetry and loved the chance to show off. I once won a prize for singing this song:

I sang in English, by the way. I can’t speak or understand Welsh, neither could either of my parents.

Here is some background to St David and his day:

There is even a city in the west of Wales named after him:

I was always proud of being Welsh, although I wasn’t really. My Welshness was supporting the Welsh rugby team:

and making Welsh cakes sometimes:

(I am not sure they are really delicious. Wales was always a poor country, no abundance of delicious ingredients: plenty of coal in the valleys, which was mined for and brought wealth to the English and not much else except beautiful mountains, castles and beaches.)

And that was about it, really. Anyway, St David said “Do the little things” and it seems to me this is the perfect saying for these times of Corona, and reminds me of William Blake’s poem:

William Blake quote: To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a...
William Blake quote: To see a world in a grain of sand And a… (

The flowers are certainly out around our house this week, and the air has been full of insects and bees. A reminder that even in times of Corona, small joys can still be found.

PS: Happy Birthday me!