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!

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake…

We’ve been talking about pancakes here at home this week. Pancakes did not play a large part in my British life, except on Pancake day. Pancake Day is the day before Ash Wednesday, and legend tells us it was traditionally a way of using up all those delicious eggs and creamy milk, before the start of Lent.

Over the years I have made pancakes with hundreds of my participants, and even held pancake races. Sometimes pancakes were tossed so enthusiastically they got stuck on various kitchen ceilings.

The pancakes we tossed are what Germans understand as crepes, and are usually rolled up and then eaten with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of sugar. Hmmn.

Imagine my delight on landing in the USA and meeting my first American pancake.

Not forgetting the maple syrup:

Then I came back to Germany and lo and behold, German pancakes are different again: and in Berlin, the word ‘Pfannkuchen’ is actually what we would call in English a doughnut and what the rest of Germany call a Berliner.

Not confusing at all.

Anyway, ‘Pat-a-cake’ comes from an English nursery rhyme. Here’s one version…

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man 1 - WW Denslow - Project Gutenberg etext 18546.jpg
Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man 1 – WW Denslow – Project Gutenberg etext 18546 – Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man – Wikipedia
…and another

Which is first mentioned in writing in the year 1698. Later, it was a poem in a collection called ‘Mother Goose’ Nursery Rhymes’, which was published in 1780. There are dozens of English nursery rhymes, all very old, and many with a political or historical background; Humpty Dumpty, Hickory Dickory Dock, Sing a song of Sixpence, Twinkle twinkle little star… I could drone on for hours.

The ‘Mother Goose’ character, by the way, comes from the French. Perrault’s fairy tale collection, Contes de ma Mère l’Oye, was first translated into English as Tales of My Mother Goose.

Talking of geese, on one of our daily walks this week we saw hundreds of Canada geese on the meadows next to the river Weser. They must already be on their way back home up north, ready for the spring and summer.

How nice!

Header:PAT-A-CAKE | Vintage book art, Vintage paper dolls, Victorian nursery (

Anyone who had a heart…

I always loved watching TV and my weekly highlight was ‘Juke Box Jury’, which was on BBC 1 on Saturday evenings. Newly-released singles were played and a jury made up of celebrities awarded points, forecasting which song would be a hit. At that time, the BBC did not archive their programmes, but two episodes of Juke Box Jury still exist, so you can get a flavour of my favourite programme.

Oh dear. It was great at the time.

Had my parents known the origin of the word ‘Jukebox’ I am rather sure I wouldn’t have been watching:

jukebox (n.)

also juke-box, “machine that automatically plays selected recorded music when a coin is inserted,” 1939, earlier jook organ (1937), from jook joint “roadhouse, brothel” (1935), African-American vernacular, from juke, joog “wicked, disorderly,” a word in Gullah (the creolized English of the coastlands of South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida). This is probably from an African source, such as Wolof and Bambara dzug “unsavory.” The adjective is said to have originated in central Florida (see “A Note on Juke,” Florida Review, vol. vii, no. 3, spring 1938). The spelling with a -u- might represent a deliberate attempt to put distance between the word and its origins. (jukebox | Origin and meaning of jukebox by Online Etymology Dictionary (

Jusr before my eighth birthday, Cilla Black’s recording of ‘Anyone who had a heart’ was released. I loved it. I sang it all day, every day, loudly (my mother reckoned I ruined my voice); I had a Cilla Black haircut and put toothpaste on my lips copying Cilla’s pale lipstick.

Those were the days.

Anyway, 14 February being Valentine’s Day, I have been thinking about hearts. Here’s a very interesting TED Talk about how and why the heart became a symbol of love, including why we wear our wedding rings on our left ‘ring finger’:

How did the human heart become associated with love? And how did it turn into the shape we know today? |

Most Germans I have met think that Valentine’s day is something modern and commercial. It really isn’t.

Back in the 1960s sweets called ‘Love Hearts’ were very popular: brightly coloured sugar hearts with messages on them: “Be mine!” “My girl”, “Kiss me!”. A few years ago, the company held a competition for new slogans. Here are the winners:

As Jimmy Ruffin sang, hearts can also be broken.

I think my heart has been in a brokenish sort of state for a few years; not I hasten to add to do with my lovely husband, but to do with the state of Brexit Britain and Trump’s America.

The last nights I have been sitting watching the impeachment trial in the Senate and have felt so encouraged. Seeing the intelligence, the integrity, the passion of the Democratic house managers has been inspiring and heartening. Lead manager Jamie Raskin summed up, quoting English-born Tom Paine:

“Paine wrote this pamphlet called ‘The Crisis’ and in it, he said these beautiful words, and with your permission, I’m going to update the language a little bit, pursuant to the suggestion of Speaker Pelosi, so as not to offend modern sensibilities,” Mr. Raskin said. “He said,

These are the times that try men and women’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will shrink at this moment from the service of their cause and their country; but everyone who stands with us now, will win the love and the favor and affection of every man and every woman for all time. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; but we have this saving consolation: the more difficult the struggle, the more glorious in the end will be our victory.”

Leaving on a jet plane (not)

In 1982 I was living in the USA and as this was pre-internet I got my news from the wonderful National Public Radio (NPR) and the rather less wonderful US news channels and broadcasts. I did subscribe, at huge cost, to The Sunday Times, which arrived in my mailbox on Melaleuca Drive on a Thursday; I read every letter of it, spreading it out on the floor of our open-plan living room, an unwise and provocative move bearing in mind my daughter was constantly riding her green tricycle at great speed and skill in the same house.

Anyway, people began to ask me what I thought about the ‘Falklands War’ and to be honest, I had no opinion as I didn’t understand how the whole thing had been allowed to get that far.

The benefit of hindsight doesn’t make the whole thing anymore reasonable, and the loss of life remains simply appalling.

The names Falklands and Malvinas cropped up again last week, when Lufthansa gave details of its longest non-stop flight ever: 13,700 km from Hamburg to the Mount Pleasant Complex on the Falkland Islands.

On board were 16 crew and 92 passengers, the latter bound for the Research Vessel Polar Stern of the Alfred Wegener Institute, which is based in Bremerhaven, just up the road from us.

If that’s not fantastic I don’t know what is.

I miss flying more than I could ever have imagined.

In early 1982 we flew with Air Florida to Washington DC (and back) and shortly after that, Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the Potomac river, killing most of the people on board. Instantly, I became petrified of flying, which was unfortunate bearing in mind that over the next years I had to travel by air. As I always do, I constructed all sorts of complicated tales about why I couldn’t possibly fly to visit (for instance) my friends in California, and when I really did have to fly I took all sorts of strange precautions like packing damp towels in my hand luggage to put over my children’s heads, ready to crawl along the floor with them both trying to find the exit. I always had a over-vivid imagination.

Many years later I started teaching engineers. I saw with what skill and care these people worked on their machines and projects, and I learned more about how and why planes can fly. I realised my fear was connected to my fears about myself, and the way my life was. I began to enjoy the thrill of the take-off, understood what turbulence is, and grew over the years to love the feeling of an airport, loved knowing Schiphol and Changi like the back of my hand…I loved the KLM sandwiches and the peanuts and the gin and tonic as I sat back in my seat on board Singapore Airlines, loved arriving in the Singapore heat in the early morning, rushing to the wonderful Changi ladies’ bathrooms to take off my cosy German underwear…just one more flight and I will be with my grandchildren again.

SPLASH! That was a tear falling on my keyboard, because it’s all gone.

‘Never mind’, the voice in my mind says, remembering a book I used to read to my own children, and grandchildren, ‘Could be worse!’

Indeed it could. Stay well everybody!

A surfeit of kiwis

Let’s be honest, life’s a bit monotonous these days and so I got really excited last week when I read that 2021 is the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables. Yes!

My childhood did not feature either very much. Vegetables may have been carrots, or, in late summer, runner beans (which could be stringy) going into the Brussels sprout season (yuk! yuk!). Turns out the little blighters were cultivated in Belgium in the 15th century, hence the ‘Brussels’ part of the name. In German they are Rosenkohl, literally rose cabbage which I think is an excellent description. Bitter rose cabbage would be even better.

Fruit was tinned, eaten on Sundays at teatime; maybe Australian cling peaches, or mandarin oranges, both served with evaporated milk (yuk! yuk!) and, inexplicably, slices of bread and butter. Once, I remember there were tinned pears, which were hideously sickening in their grainy-ness. I always had problems with the consistency of food.

What is a cling peach I hear you asking?

“Peaches can be classified by three different pit types: cling, semi-cling, and freestone. Cling peaches are the type where the fruit is woven into the pit. Freestone are those varieties where the pit is separated from the flesh. Semi-cling are an in-between fruit where the flesh is attached but not wholly embedded into the pit.” Cling Peaches – The FruitGuys

How interesting!

Anyway, finding out about this special year coincided with our local supermarket having kiwis on special offer, 15 cents per kiwi. I can’t remember when I had my first kiwi, but it was certainly not a common fruit in Europe until comparatively recently. They used to be called ‘Chinese Gooseberries’ and it wasn’t until New Zealand decided to go for the crop in a big way that the name was changed, gooseberries not being the world’s most popular fruit.

I remember they used to cost one German Mark per fruit. They were an expensive and exotic luxury. In the meantime, most of the kiwis we get in Europe are grown in Italy, and they are cheap.

I never quite know what to do with them. They feature in hotel buffet breakfasts (remember those!) and I sometime slice one and mix with grapes for the top of a Pavlova, but it is not my fruit of choice for snacking.

However, 15 cents per fruit was too much of a bargain to resist, and so ten unripe kiwis have been sitting in the dining room all week. We looked for a recipe for a cake, and found one which needed a Waldmeister flavour jelly.

Now, Waldmeister (Sweet Woodruff) is a very German thing. A Waldmeister jelly is bright green and tastes of perfume. The plant itself (which grows in abundance in our garden) is really quite nice, and is used for a popular punch:

Hmmn, I think I will try making some of that this year. I see one can also make syrup.

Anyway, my lovely husband make the cake yesterday (see header) and I can confirm it’s delicious.

My participants always had such fun learning the vocabulary for fruits and vegetables, especially loving words like asparagus and cauliflower. So I hope you all enjoy this Sesame Street video: Name that fruit!