26 November 2023

November almost over

Aging is another word for living, so it has been said and wise words etc. but somedays the living is bloody hard. I say this from my comfortable home with great privilege, of course. After a 24hr colic attack and nausea, which felt like labour without the breaks between contractions. Anyway, it's over for now.

We are in the dark grey rainy, sleetish, dull November phase of the year.  Feeding peanuts to the jays from the kitchen window every morning is the highlight of our day. After that, we withdraw into our grumpy selves. I cleared out some of the paper files that crowd my desk. How exciting. Last week, the pension people called to tell me that my pension has been finalised and that the statement is "in the post". I forgot to ask what they actually mean by "in the post" and whether this means I will actually find out - if anything - how much I'll get and most importantly, when? But everybody was extremely polite.

I've been thinking about this here for a while. My early childhood was pretty wild, I ran after my sister with a gang of kids around the neighbourhood. We were in and out of each other's houses and gardens, building dens in the forest and climbing trees on good weather days, playing in basements and garages and barns when it rained. School interfered to some extent, also the piano and sports stuff my mother insisted on, but nobody really cared where we went in our free time as long as we were back for dinner.

When I think back to my daughter's earlier years, living with others involved also other kids that were around all the time, big messy gardens and trees to climb, later in paradise, life was always outdoors, many children every day, lots of paddling, swimming, snorkeling, catching fish in the estuary, collecting breadfruit and making charcoal from coconut husks. Years later, when we already lived in this city, a visiting friend from Denmark looked out over the endless rows of cars parking along the footpaths and asked quite perplexed, where do the children walk and play. Later that year, we visited her in Copenhagen in her small suburb where the cars must be parked way outside the living areas and the streets were full of children playing safely.

Modern loneliness masks itself as hyper connectivity. And so people have easily 1000 virtual friends, but no one they can ask to feed their cat. That loneliness, which is really a depletion of the social capital, is extremely powerful. […]

One question I keep asking that I had no idea was going to be so pertinent: When you grew up, did you play freely on the street? … And the majority of the people learned to play freely on the street. They learned social negotiation. They learned unscripted, un-choreographed, unmonitored interaction with people. They fought, they made rules, they made peace, they made friends, they broke up, they made friends again. They developed social muscles. And the majority of these very same people’s children do not play freely on the street. And I think that an adult needs to play freely on the street as well.

For us as adults, that means talking to people in the queue with you, talking to people on the subway, talking to people when you create any kind of group. Book club, movie club, sports club. You stay in the practice of experimentation, doubt, of the paradox of people: You need people very much but the very people that you need are the ones that can reject you.

We do not have the practice at the moment. Everything about predictive technologies is basically giving us a form of assisted living. You get it all served in uncomplicated, lack of friction, no obstacles and you no longer know how to deal with people. Because people are complex systems. Relationships, friendships are complex systems. They often demand that they hold two sides of an equation. And not that you solve little problems with technical solutions. And that is intrinsic to modern loneliness.

  Esther Perel

20 November 2023

limited energy levels

The river has flooded all the pathways along its shore and now I am bereft because it means I have to use the hideous street lanes and back roads for cycling and walking. For the time being. We walked as far as possible yesterday watching the driftwood flowing past and by the time we turned back, the water was lapping across the path.  I had this sudden image of the ground being washed away, which is not something that could happen any time soon. Still more rain to come.

The sun sets before 5 pm now, six more weeks to midwinter. 

A few things that have come my way.

Amazing cats:


A short film:



 An interesting quote:

I think the world is pretty awesome right now – not in a good sense. I mean awe in the sense of just being awestruck by the weight of our historical moment. We really are alive on the knife’s edge of whether or not this earth is going to be habitable for our species. That is not something that we can handle just on our own.

So we need to reach towards each other. That’s really tricky work. It’s a lot easier to come together and agree on things that are not working and things that are bad than it is to come together and develop a horizon of how things could be better.

That’s the only thing that’s gonna let us get out of the mirror world and the reactivity of dumping everything that we can’t stand about ourselves on to other people.

Things could be beautiful, things could be livable. There could be a world where everyone belongs. But I don’t think we can bear the reality of our moment unless we can imagine something else.

Naomi Klein

 And an amazingly skilled and sharp short story to listen to: 

So late in the day, by Claire Keegan 

15 November 2023

Two weeks into retirement, I am back at work, albeit only for two mornings from home (i.e. less pay, two week notice period). It's a bit of an in-between feeling. I am collecting ideas, read through a couple of requests for volunteering (they have been coming for weeks). The spectre of yet another surgery is looming on the far horizon but first more tests which are scheduled for January and February. This means I cannot really commit myself to anything new. So I go for long walks, cycle along the river, watch R dig up the roots from the almond tree that had to be removed and just wait. Made the mistake to look up the surgery procedures and was sent back into my own personal trauma from many years back. 

Which I have pondered during my walks in the autumnal forest, telling myself the whole story again and again. And one of these days, I will need to write it down.

Here we have a glorious young beech tree, aglow in the midday sun, now that the tall trees, having already shed their leaves, allow the sunlight through. 

The Roman historian Tacitus, in the years around 120 AD wrote a lengthy treatise (Germania, which every poor suffering middle school pupil who for regretful reasons opted for Latin as foreign language requirement had to translate) on the German peoples - yes plural, there were many different tribes around at the time- , their characteristics, customs, lifestyle and so on. He wrote at length how these strange blue-eyed, fair-haired tribal warriors saw forests as their sanctuaries, places of worship and home. A lot has been made of this over the years, poems were written, songs composed, lots of glorification and so on. All good, lots of kitsch, yes, but the romantic forest longing is something I would describe as truly German.

But here it is. The nazis knew a thing or two about symbolism and the power of terminology. The German name for beech is Buche and it is one of the most common trees in Germany. They are beautiful, sturdy trees and most people will recognise them. A forest of beech trees is a Buchenwald. But there is only one Buchenwald now and it is not a forest. It was one of the largest concentration camps on German soil. The German name for birch tree is Birke, another much loved tree in Germany. The German word for a meadow surrounded by birch trees is Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest German extermination camp. At least one million Jews were killed there.

Walking through a German forest is a history lesson whether I like it or not. 

Last Friday, as we have done irregularly in previous years, we attended the Kristallnacht memorial ceremony. Usually, this is a short ceremony by the river near the remains of the original synagogue, now a monument, but this time, it was held inside the opera house with a large police presence, security cameras and all bags were checked, long queues, many people.

A former colleague and active member of the local synagogue walked up to me. I was lost for words but it turned out they wanted someone to listen, so I did. This is what they asked me and I paraphrase.

What do you think happens after a ceasefire in Gaza? That is assuming that Hamas actually agrees to one. Hamas has publicly stated that its strategic goal is to continue the war until all Jews are annihilated. So, who will sit down and talk to them? How?

People who live comfortable lives come up with irresponsible political agitation, loaded with huge moral pathos. Who would not be against the bombing of cities? No sensible person, of course. But if you ask about context and consequences, silence. Did people march in the streets of the West demanding ceasefire when Putin attacked Ukraine? When over 190,000 Ukrainian children (still counting) were abducted by Russian forces? 

That is why it is negligent, cheap and dishonest to simply put forward abstract demands (often in the guise of left-wing radicalism or Christian loyalty to principles or similar) instead of embedding them in a coherent political strategy and then thinking it through to the end.

I wish I was Irish or Danish or of any other nationality that would allow me to simply express sympathy.

02 November 2023

All Souls

Today is All Souls Day in Germany. Yesterday was All Saints Day. When I was a kid, both days were public holidays meaning that everything except for churches and cemeteries was shut, TV/radio had only very somber programs and the weather would always be dismal. Two excruciatingly boring and seemingly endless days. Now, only All Saints is a public holiday based on some agreement between the two main churches and the catholics have won. Maybe catholic saints somehow overrule protestant souls. Today, there will be candles lit on graves, basically fat tealights in red holders, and it will look a little spooky after dark walking there. I often walk through the local cemeteries and must take some pictures one day, German cemeteries are basically parks, lots of tall trees etc. and nobody adheres to the no dogs, no cycling rules.

Hallowe'en isn't really a thing here (yet). The pubs and clubs have special drinks or theme nights, but the whole decorating and dressing up, no. I saw one group of teenagers walking down the road but they were not interested in trick or treating, they were heading for a place to hang out and take legal/illegal drugs.

When I was living in Ireland in the early 1980s, Hallowe'en was still Samhain, lots of mythology and bonfires and stuff I did not understand. Especially Barm Brack, or bairín breac, a round soft yeasty fruit bread with a ring hidden inside. And yes, the ring miraculously landed on my plate one day and all of R's family started to whoop and clap. The first crazy Hallowe'en parties with dressing up were becoming  fashionable and one year, we both dressed up as Rubik cubes, very uncomfortable as I remember.

Here the big day, again thanks to the catholics, is the feast of St. Martin, a Roman soldier born around the year 316 AD. According to legend, on the 12th of November, he rode past a starving and freezing beggar. He felt so sorry for the man that he split his warm coat with his sword and gave the beggar one half. During the night, the beggar appeared to Martin in a dream and revealed himself to be Jesus Christ apparently. This is celebrated by the primary schools and kindergartens with lantern parades, hundreds of kids walking behind a person dressed like a Roman soldier sitting on a real horse. The kids carry their home made lanterns and sing special songs. This culminates in a bonfire on a local field and after that, the kids walk from door to door, hold up their lanterns and sing songs and in return get sweets. The best part for most kids is the big fire truck that comes last at the end of the parade in case one or more of the lanterns go up in flames. Also, the horse. The Roman soldier gets mistaken for Santa by some but never mind.

It can be a parent's nightmare, especially the lantern part. These are made in school and I learned the hard way that the required wooden lantern holders sell out rapidly and that teachers have no mercy. My penance is that I now always have a large bucket of sweets waiting for very few kids who make it to our door and we then have to eat the sweets ourselves.

All Souls day is meant to be the day you get your act together regarding death, according to some members of my family, the how and where you want to be buried, what kind of funeral incl. your list of music and readings. I've written my list, a very short one, as I assume that I will not be around on the day, asking for no grave, no funeral (whatever is the cheapest option, I wrote) but if there's time and place, a party. If the religious members of my family should insist on a church funeral (my brother is married to a very lively and persuasive Lutheran pastor), go ahead, I wrote, but only if all of you sing  John Lennon's Imagine.

My mother opted out of it, donated her body to science. We have no idea what happened to it, there is no grave. My father is buried with his parents, for many years he had the letters ready for the shared gravestone incl. numbers and when he lived beyond 1999, got a bit mad at the fact that his set needed more 2s and what to do with all the 9s.

30 October 2023

Anger is a bitter lock. But you can turn it.

Anne Carson

Who knows what will happen now, where the violence will spread and increase, what will happen to those who have been displaced, how the humanitarian situation in Gaza will continue to deteriorate, how much civilian life will be damaged and destroyed. But it will not work without recognising the Jewish experience of defencelessness - and the historical causes of it.  Especially when you were born and raised in Germany, where the Holocaust is our never ending stain.

Five things happened on 7 October. 

First, the Islamist terrorist organisation Hamas murdered 1400 people, the vast majority of them civilians, with a brutality that one does not even have to imagine. The murderers filmed themselves doing it, posted their deeds on the internet, leaving no doubt that the children they were torturing to death, the old and the weak, were not collateral damage of a military manoeuvre, but that there was no other goal to achieve than to murder as many civilians as possible as cruelly as possible. 

Second, Hamas sealed the suffering and death of countless Palestinians, because even if Israel were just an average country with average security needs, there is simply no country in the world that would not react massively after such a brutal massacre. None of what happens in the following weeks, no suffering, no hardship, not a single dead Palestinian child, was not clear to Hamas beforehand. Even if you condemn every act of Israel, even especially if you condemn every act of Israel, you cannot claim that Hamas did not know what they were doing, that they did not willingly sacrifice their proteges if it only meant murdering as many Jews as possible (Jews, not Israelis, because that is the word they use).

Third, Israelis and Jews around the world lost their basic insurance on 7 October. The conviction that a history of pogroms spanning more than a thousand years had finally come to an end with the founding of this state 75 years ago. The knowledge that - unlike generations before - you have a place that protects you when everyone else no longer does. As Hamas announces a "Day of Rage" and calls for violence against Jews worldwide, we hide in our homes and are closer to our ancestors than ever before. For the first time we understand why they did not leave then. Not because they did not recognise the danger, but because they did not know where they could be safe.

Fourth, the problem, by the way, is not that Jews are afraid - some are, some are not, people, including Jewish people, are different - but that they are in danger. Fear is a subjective feeling that should often not be taken into account. When synagogues are attacked, female rabbis stabbed and airports stormed, it is an objective threat situation.

Fifth, left-wing Jews all over the world realised on 7 October that they had made a colossal mistake. It is not always easy to condemn atrocities because those who commit them usually try to hide them. But it's really not hard to condemn people who broadcast live on social media how they torture and murder civilians. It's really not hard to condemn people who murder not as collateral damage of a military manoeuvre, but for the sheer pleasure of it.

In the days following 7 October, the international left could have demonstrated quite naturally that they are as interested in protecting Jews as in protecting any other minority under threat. Remember: 0.2 per cent of the world's population are Jews. They could have, just for a few hours, once clearly condemned Hamas.

They could have shown solidarity with Israel, just once, to prove that criticism of Israel feeds on a commitment to universal human rights and not on anti-Semitism. It could have assuaged the age-old Jewish fear that being murdered bothers a few and delights many.

Those who just shouted "Woman, Life, Freedom" should have consistently supplemented the "Free Palestine" with a "Free Palestine from Hamas". They could have helped - they preferred to escalate. They would rather make fun of dead Jews, they would rather heroise dead Palestinians than seriously try to save their lives.

Nele Pollatschek, born 1988, writer, author and lecturer (Germany)

read also: 

The Decolonization Narrative Is Dangerous and False
It does not accurately describe either the foundation of Israel or the tragedy of the Palestinians.
By Simon Sebag Montefiore

27 October 2023

There is always this one colleague. In the days last week during my good-byes from the work at the campus, I repeated that I never not enjoyed working.  I made it into a thing, said it in English to stress the concept of a double negative - which to non-English native speakers is seen as one of these peculiar, somewhat amusing aspects of the English language. This one colleague wasn't around, they were on a break.

The top boss wasn't around in person either because attending international conferences, back pain, giving talks, the usual, but he did a zoom call to thank me for my work. There is this work ritual that parting staff members get a gift and I had stressed weeks beforehand that I don't want anything, suggested a couple of NGOs for donations in my name. Well, he said, we cannot do this, you've been with us too long, let me come up with something, just a token, ok?  Decent enough of him, we left it at that. 

So this week I received an envelope in the mail from him with one of these stylish, not Hallmark-ish cards, with a long message, handwritten by him, about my work and how much he always appreciated it etc., ending with,  . . . enclosed is a little something, for you to use for whatever you wish, please do so and don't send it back.

Only there was nothing enclosed. The address on the enveloped was handwritten by this one colleague, back from their brake, and the envelope was re-sealed with sellotape. 

Speculations abound. Whatever did happen, it was a clever move.

22 October 2023


When my daughter was about 15, she had a problematic teacher, someone who would stand very close behind the female students, bending over their shoulders looking at their work, breathing down their necks, that kind of thing. Other parents, mothers had warned us, he's a piece of shit, they said. One day, my daughter told me that she had to stand up and keep standing until she figured out how to answer one of his questions, which she could not and thus remained standing during the entire lesson. I was enraged and told her to walk out of class and come to me if he ever did that again. And he did, my daughter appeared at my office the exact moment I got the call that she had left school unexcused. We went to see the head mistress the next day and to cut a longish story short, probably destroyed the man's career, because suddenly other parents started to complain until one day, he was gone.

When I was in primary school, aged seven, the local protestant priest, a jolly elderly man looking like Santa, was responsible for teaching us things like the ten commandments and catechism. There was a lot of rote learning and reciting involved and if you failed, he would call you to the front desk, make you lie across it on your belly, pull down your pants and hit you with a rubber stick he produced from his briefcase. He only did it to the boys. On Xmas, he visited the families in his parish and my mother always had a plate set for him. I remember his jolly laughter booming across our dining table.

Later, when I was maybe 14 or 15, we had a young teacher who was clearly challenged by us, this snotty, noisy, entitled gang of teenagers, and his method of getting our attention was to throw his set of keys at you. When one day he hit me across the forehead, I admit that I purposefully did not duck, I walked to the headmaster's office and complained. There was an inquiry, witnesses were interrogated, it took a while before any of the adults actually believed us and stopped blaming us for enticing his reaction on purpose, but he was eventually transferred. I did not feel any remorse.

This morning over breakfast, I asked R about his experiences as a pupil of this posh Irish catholic boy's school. Not for the first time, because whenever another report surfaces about sexual abuse in religious institutions in Ireland, I run to him so he can reiterate and reassure me that, no, he never experienced any of that. So today I asked him if he was ever afraid of any of his teachers and he said, in a matter of fact way, oh, all of them all the time. How many would use corporeal punishment I asked. Almost all of them, every day, he said. Usually a stick, a belt, across the hands. But the geology teacher didn't hit us, he was a nice man.

Later we danced to Bruce Springsteen in the kitchen.

20 October 2023

Today was my last day at work, I brought in 75 home baked cupcakes (lemon, marzipan, chocolate, apple cinnamon, banana, nutella flavoured), handed over my keys, wrote the necessary last messages, emptied my email account, deleted tons of files incl. all waste folders from my work computer, hugged many people, picked up my mug and my bits and pieces, had a long conversation about working part time for the top boss for another six months (I'll wait and see what his offer looks like on paper) and went home in the rain.

Now it feels like everything is all over the place.  As soon as the rain stops, R will bring me for a long walk.


Night Bird

Hear me: sometimes thunder is just thunder.

The dog barking is only a dog. Leaves fall

from the trees because the days are getting shorter,

by which I mean not the days we have left,

but the actual length of time, given the tilt of earth

and distance from the sun. My nephew used to see

a therapist who mentioned that, at play,

he sank a toy ship and tried to save the captain.

Not, he said, that we want to read anything into that.

Who can read the world? Its paragraphs

of cloud and alphabets of dust. Just now

a night bird outside my window made a single,

plaintive cry that wafted up between the trees.

Not, I’m sure, that it was meant for me.


Danusha Laméris

15 October 2023

work work work

With the end of my working life approaching (the official end of the official one that is, in other words: I shall be paid a pension and must give up my official job at the university), I was thinking of writing about the various ways I have earned my living - barely or insufficiently incl. - in my life, but halfway through I realised that this would be a very long post, too long really.

But for the sake of record keeping, one never knows how long the mental capacities remain intact, here it goes in chronological order with short info on pay scale and work satisfaction:

  • German tuition, first ever money earned at age 16, I was suddenly rich enough to enjoy sex and drugs and rock and roll etc. but essentially a very boring couple of hours every week.
  • Dairy order processing office, the summer between school and uni, now rich enough to include travel in my life, sent 100 litres instead of 10 litres of full fat milk to a tiny shop on my first day.
  • Waitressing, on and off while at uni, who hasn't, not a good way to make money but excellent training in how to handle awkward social situations.
  • Language tuition, summer camp supervisor, general contact to teenage emigrants/refugees mostly from eastern Europe/Asia (families of German origin, a big thing during the 1980s), lots of work, lots of fun, lots of hard human experiences to cope with, too hard at times, good pay,
  • Milking goats, mucking out stables, chopping wood, making bread, yogurt, cooking with and for 12 people on a daily basis, communal living, excellent life skills, minimal to no pay, supposedly on sabbatical from uni.
  • Cleaning hospital wards while contemplating my university career, quite decent pay once I was promoted to assist the night nurses, supposedly (but not really) writing my master's thesis.
  • Manufacturing hard cardboard rolls, e.g. for use inside toilet paper rolls or as soap containers in a small factory in Dublin, one of the physically hardest things I ever did, lousy pay, amazing co-workers, passed out from glue exposure in the second week and quit. Ireland in the early 1980s, dark times economically.
  • Childcare, cooking and feeding, playing, school pick-ups etc. of wealthy family's children, holding hands of distraught mothers who wanted but could not get a divorce in catholic Ireland at the time, barely enough pay to survive.
  • Chair caning, after a crash course from a visiting American furniture restorer, irregular but excellent pay from the rich owners of the fancy manors of south Co. Dublin. Enjoyable working hours while listening to Irish radio, my English language skills improved beyond all expectations.
  • Co-founder, co-organiser of a workers co-op, cooking vegetarian meals, catering for everything from anti-apartheid, feminist, miners strike solidarity, AIDS hotline, you name it rallies. The night before the unexpected onset of the birth of my baby, we had made a massive vat of black bean chili with brown rice for a concert/party to raise funds for Greenham Common peace camp and we danced into the early hours. The money was almost non-existent. We were all in it together.
  • Having a premature baby, feeding, sleeping, feeding, sleeping, learning and so on. No pay, much love.
  • Setting up a "radical bookshop" (i.e. non-profit) at the workers co-op. Long hours, miserable pay, excellent contacts, meeting many international authors, organising readings, getting lots of rewarding recognition and feedback, always well-stocked supplies of children's books, my daughter's private library.
  • Selling expensive ceramics at a posh gallery, burn-out recovery, pay was tied to sales and could be amazing.
  • Implementing co-operation, administration and accounting frameworks in various semi-state small industries in a very small African country against a stiff wind of nepotism and corruption, wonderful co-workers, generally pleasant and memorable superiors, life skill expansions beyond all expectations, decent pay, still the best job I ever had.
  • Bookseller in a large Dublin bookshop, long hours incl. weekends, good pay for the times just before the onset of the Celtic Tiger years, a year that went in a blur with R's mother's rapid decline and death due to pancreatic cancer.
  • Selling whole foods in a German food co-op while going back to university for a translation degree, making new friends, new networks, new everything for the three of us.
  • Editing and translating for medical research projects at the local university, suddenly I am a civil servant, my job is protected even during long absences after I am diagnosed with a serious chronic illness, my pay is regulated by collective bargaining between state and trade unions, I have arrived in the world where my parents wanted me to be. I have never not enjoyed my work.

And now, we will see. 


12 October 2023

I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystems collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy… and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation and we, (Lawyers) and scientists, don´t know how to do that.


Gus Speth

02 October 2023

back to routines

Monday, October 2nd. It is a hot day, despite the occasional cool breeze. I don't remember days like this in October and neither can anybody I have spoken to. Still, there could well be frost by the end of the week. 

All of the summer visitors have left and are by now safely tucked in at their respective homes. I am slowly realising that for some time now there will be no more large gatherings at the dinner table, no more cooks noisily creating gourmet meals in the kitchen, no more obstacle courses designed around the house and garden, no hide and seek hysterics or story reading before breakfast, changing of towels, filling the fridge, the dishwasher, the washing machine and that for now we two old geezers will have all that time to ourselves again. For what it's worth.  I am only slowly catching up on blogs. Bear with me.

The last load of towels and sheets is drying in the garden next to the brambly bit of the hedge where I pick blackberries every morning now.  

Early mornings start to feel somewhat autumn-ish, but barely so.

There are ten more working days before my official retirement. I go from, oh no only ten more bike rides through the forest, to, thank goodness only ten more climbs up that hill - and this in spite of the e-bike which I got reluctantly - thank you chronic illness - after cycling up there for 12 years, all sweaty achievement.

Today I had the prep day for a three day/two night hospital stay next week to check whether I did actually have an allergic reaction to the local anesthetics during the skin cancer surgery last November. I had to sign a document declaring that I am now fully informed about the risks and that while I will be supervised at all times, cardiac arrest could be one outcome - in which case I have agreed to immediate defibrillation procedures. I mean, who wouldn't. In fact, I was told that my attitude today was a tad too la-di-da. This by a junior doctor who reached maybe up to my shoulder, at a stretch, and please don't think I am putting her down, but I had to fight a smile while I apologised, almost said, sorry mum.

So, on we go into autumn and winter and all it will take is one wrong decision in the Kremlin and we could become refugees. We can only do what Anna did in Frozen - believe me, I have watched it several times by now and know my stuff about Anna and Elsa and Olaf  - which is, move forward step by step. Trust our intuition, follow our body's feelings, keep feeling, keep groping, take risks, keep thinking, always keep thinking, not with a view to miracle technology or technocratic solutions, but with a view solely to the good life for all on our planet.

If you are a pessimist, human history is a history of failure, a history of empires unable to respond to crises. If the glass is half full for you, you see an amazing resilience of humanity to disasters, whether natural or man-made. Probably the second perspective is the more rewarding.

Peter Frankopan

10 September 2023

things are not always what they seem

It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars, and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely the same reasons.

Douglas Adams

Last night we went to the open-air rooftop cinema and watched Oppenheimer, all three-and-a-thousand hours of it. There are three female characters in it, none of them likeable, all strongly displaying the bad and sad characteristics of my mother. I shrugged them off. In my opinion, the film could have been done without them in it. Also, there was a slightly tedious lengthy section in the middle with guys getting in and out of jeeps, hammering and undoing big nails from/on wooden boxes, putting on googles and taking them off as the music reached more and more dramatic levels and then, boom, the explosion and a bit of an action movie momentum. Who could have seen that coming? Me, seriously. But those were the days, scientists, career politicians, the survival of the world depending on some of them being good guys while their women took to drink and went downhill. We cycled home through the dark talking about the war in Ukraine and options and the nuclear threat and that mad man in Russia meeting the other mad one from North Korea so that by the time we got home, we were exhausted, mentally and also physically because earlier that day I had been power cleaning the patio and R had been picking most of the grapes and it was very hot, much hotter than we think September should be.

Also last weekend, we went hill walking. Here.


The hills weren't very high but beautiful nevertheless. We had a specific route in mind but somehow got lost because R said he trusts me (i.e. the walking app on my phone) and while he pointed out the the sun was in the south and west is this way, I mixed up east and west the way I usually do - same with left and right, don't ask, I have been living with this all my life - and we ended up crawling down a steep pathless slope through dense forest to find a proper path. Or rather, I crawled while R skipped ahead like a young stag, bless him. I should mention that I started a fight there and then but he refused to participate as usual. It is so frustrating at times. I had my arguments ready in my mind but all he could say was, shh, hear this? Look up, a hawk! (and yes, there was one, yeah!). We stuck to the forest and when we got out of it, found a pub, well, we knew it was there, and inquired about the cottage even deeper in the forest which we had heard about and decided to rent sometime in maybe January or so, for more walking and dark evenings away from civilisation, and R is getting very excited already.

Anyway, I am really good at reading actual maps.

The next day I spent most of the afternoon on a call to the pension hotline listening to four different songs on repeat and some unusual recorded pep talk (We are giving it all we got!  You are almost there! Hold out! Whoah, we are getting ready to take your call soon!) and remained moderately cheerful and polite with my list of questions when I actually got a live human on the line who cheerfully and politely sorted all some of my concerns, incl. me being able to take time out sometime maybe January or so to do hill walking and spend dark evenings in a cottage in the forest away from civilisation.



02 September 2023

September, hello


what you cannot see is the tons of bees and their friends

It's been a long week, lots of walking and even more cycling as I've temporarily handed over my parking permit on campus to a new colleague with a toddler who needs to be dropped at the campus creche at a certain time so that she's on time herself. As I've only have another five or so weeks of actual work ahead of me before official retirement, I decided to cycle for the remaining days come rain or storm. It sounded great and worked out well during August but yesterday, we had flash floods and extremely heavy rain all day. But of course, I reassured R, I've got all the waterproof gear. Only it wasn't waterproof after the first couple of what?, minutes? Twice I arrived completely soaked which elicited some wonderful reactions from the people I was meeting incl. towels and fresh T-shirts.  


the shape of things to come


I've been asked by a friend of a friend to participate in a project of grandparents writing a letter to their grandchildren about personal mistakes, hard lessons learnt and (optimistic) visions for their future. I said yes without thinking this through. I know that I have been asked because of my involvement in housing co-ops and feminism but that seems to have happened in another lifetime.


one of many, shared with some bugs


At least, while I was cycling through torrential rain yesterday, I started on my list of personal mistakes, muttering angrily to myself against the heavy splattering of fat raindrops into my face.

The garden is slowly moving into autumn mood, although the next two weeks will be hot and there's hope for the grapes and red peaches. I just spent a mellow morning just sitting and reading and watching R doing stuff with hedge clippers and secateurs while the kids from next door were bouncing on the little trampoline singing the Hey Makarena song - only they insisted on Hey Margareta, but so what.  

these peaches will turn dark red when ripe


Back at my list of mistakes and lessons. It remains a great mystery to me how people can believe that our society is unable to adapt to less meat consumption, different energy production, less air travel or cities with bicycle lanes, but easily to a 3 degree Celsius hotter earth.

The one who pollutes the environment must not become richer than the one who protects the environment. At the moment it is the other way round. There are so many opportunities to improve things. I still hold that thought. But sod the housing co-ops, the reclaim the night marches, the pay gap campaigns, the long distractions from what really matters, the last and only issue that we must not pretend we cannot see or understand. I haven't even dared to think of visions yet.

The belief that success in the fight against global warming depends on how much each and every one of us does keeps us from taking the really important and courageous actions required today. Instead, it promotes a consumerism that functions like an indulgence handout in order to relieve our conscience and continue to close our eyes to the reality of the crisis. Capitalism pretends to care about the environment and we even fall for this greenwashing.

Kohei Saito

27 August 2023

So where was I?  My exciting life and so on.

My fancy bluetooth keyboard is probably shot or nearly and most of my week was spent re-reading and re-writing I had labourosly written for hours earlier. Shoddy workmanship, as my daughter would say. Another family phrase which has its origin here:

Now there is a lot to be said about the wisdom of an episode of Father Ted, any episode. And in case you haven't ever watched one, this one is as good as any to start. I do realise we all have to be aware of any triggering, un-woke remarks we may come across in old tv series, but I assume we are all adults, no?

Too much of my time this week was spent resting a hot water bottle on my bloated abdomen, cursing and trying to be stoic. To be honest, this has been going on and off for quite some time in one way or another, which is why I had been to the gastrologist about a hunderd times in recent months. Alas, all his tests have come back with nothing to date. I could have told him that I am neither lactose, nor fructose intolerant, nor celiac and if I remember correctly, I actually did tell him that but now he has it all tested and could tell me back in person that I am neither of these. My friendly GP got it even in writing but faced with my symptoms of which the ongoing weight loss is slowly reaching a somewhat alarming level, muttered something else as the cause but to be certain she wants me to, you guessed it, go back to the gastrologist for more tests. The funny thing is that this is what R was told when he asked dr. google about my symptoms weeks back but, oh boy, will I ever keep schtumm about that because experience has taught me that some experts like nothing less than a patient who has researched health stuff online. Even if it wasn't me.

Summer has reached that point in time when I actually look with a certain longing at my warm sweaters, imagining sitting on the sofa with a hot cup of tea looking out into the cold rainy night. Not there yet. 

Also, I have been gifted a fitbit and am now working up my steps at a fierce rate. Last night, we both reached 13,000 each meandering through the back lanes of the suburbs before we called it a day. By the time I retire, if I ever will, I may be ready to walk across the Alps or maybe to the northern end of Norway. When I not walking, I spent an inordinate amount of time checking and refining my settings on this device which also told me today that I slept 7 hr and 11 min last night, a reading I am willing to discuss as my memory tells me something quite different but hey, maybe fitbit knows something I don't.

Workwise, I spent a considerable amount of time transcribing and translating various talks and conferences. Often, this is all way over my head even if some of it is quite interesting, occasionally with little gems such as this one

Proof implies there is no room for error. Quite simply, that doesn’t exist in the real world. In science you don’t have proof. You just accumulate evidence towards something until new evidence comes along to make it implausible.

I also got into an argument with a local journalist at a small public meeting about climate change mitigation - the things one attends nowadays instead of poetry readings - when he complained about local activist causing traffic to come to a standstill and I loudly replied, no, not traffic, just car traffic. And he then retorted, streets are made for cars and I shouted back, and for cyclists and pedestrians and buses, and some people clapped and cheered and he turned to face me and when he saw that I was merely an old woman, winked at me, shrugged and sat down.






15 August 2023

Briefly, this happened in the last two weeks.

I got up very early every morning, starting with 4:30 am on day one and slowly moving to 7:30 as of yesterday due to a curious but seriously jet lagged grandchild - my welcome gift to the grandchild's parents. We discovered early morning bird call, picked berries or tomatoes, read books on the sofa until someone produced jam on toast (not toast with jam) for us.

An exhausting day was spent in a "theme" park with life size toys, hundreds, no thousands, of overstimulated children, lousy food options but extremely well organised merchandise sections. A masterclass in consumerism. Not sure who prospered most. The grandchild when asked insisted on the fact that R got his feet wet at the pirate pond as the most memorable event.

Hotel breakfast buffets were lovingly rearranged and as usual, the strict German staff mentality gave way to lots of ooh and aah once a four year old guest explained in English that they were searching for  blueberry pancake. 

We met all the relatives and some more.

It rained a lot, mostly at night. 

The ability to score high at memory games decreases with age. 

I got a throat infection with a funny voice. 

There is a mountain of sheets and towels in the laundry looking at me.

Also, about 50 library books are waiting to be returned.

Not a day went by without a moment of terror.

Now I am on a short hiatus before they all come back for more in a few weeks.


13 August 2023

You are not crazy, it’s the patriarchy You’re not a loser, it’s the capitalism You are not old, time’s not really a thing You’re not alone, I’m here You’re made of stars, that’s fucking cool
Ana Božičević 


10 August 2023

So now they buried Sinead O'Connor back in Ireland and the Irish media is slowing down the coverage and memories and special broadcasts. A colleague here in Germany asked, what's all that fuss, wasn't it just that one song she was fanous for anyway? And I am at a loss for words because Sinead was so much more, loved and hated, ridiculed by few, respected and accepted for all of her open admissions of mental health struggles and her complete lack of stardom attitudes. 

I am sharing this letter that was received and published by the UK Telegraph shortly after her death. It came to my attention through the fabulous blog/substack Letters of Note by Shaun Usher.


I was greatly saddened by the death of Sinéad O’Connor. She was a very different person behind her fame.

In 1991, my 20-year-old daughter, Louise, was suffering from terminal cancer, when she received a phone call from Sinéad out of the blue.

Sinéad had heard of Louise’s illness from some source, probably the press, as we were raising funds for our local hospice. My daughter was a great admirer of her and loved her music.

During this long call, Sinéad invited my daughter to travel to London to spend some time with her. Needless to say, Louise was thrilled.

A few days later, she met Louise at Euston station and, to cut a long story short, Louise had the best week of her short life. They dined, they drank, they danced – but most of all they laughed irreverently. Sinéad was at the height of her fame at this time and found it highly amusing that, when they were out, people were asking for Louise’s autograph. Louise returned home exhausted and happier than I had seen her since her devastating cancer diagnosis.

It didn’t stop there: this lovely, compassionate woman always stayed in touch. She sent Louise wine and flowers and letters right up until her death in 1992.

On Louise’s last visit to London, Sinéad gave my daughter her platinum disc for her song Nothing Compares 2 U and dedicated her Christmas record Silent Night to her.

During all this time, Sinéad never sought any publicity for these acts of love and compassion. Today my thoughts are with two remarkable women who, I have no doubt, will be somewhere still laughing, dancing and singing.

Philip Woolcock
Preston, Lancashire


Another story that was shared on Irish radio was from a group of drag artists who regularly received boxes of stage make-up supplies from a woman who gave her name as Magda. Only when one day one of the artists offered to pick up a box to save Martha the postage and arrived at her cottage in Wicklow, did they realise that Magda was a name Sinead had adopted as her own later in life.

29 July 2023

The morning started with rain and this kind of damp heat that wraps around you like a sticky gel. We went to the market for cherries and some other fancy food stuff for the deluge of summer visitors currently in the air and on bicycle on their way to our suburbia hideout. 

Next, we sat down for a coffee outside the French bakery and as we were about to leave, we noticed a very disheveled barefoot young woman with many bags, rooting through her pockets. There was a thick streak of dried blood on the back of her pants and so I walked up to her. Are you ok? I asked while I started to collect all the change I had in my pockets ready to hand it to her. Actually, would you go in and get me something? she asked. Sure, I said, what would you like? Get me two large latte with soy milk, a bag of croissants, two waffles with jam and one with Swiss cheese, also one, no make that two of the extra large walnut baguettes. Oh, and would you also pay my tab from last week, that's why I cannot go in myself. For a moment, I was dumbfounded, I must admit. We looked at each other, she grinned at me. I pulled out a bank note, topped the change with it, handed her the money and said, you should have enough here to get breakfast yourself.

I walked up to the library to calm my thoughts holding books and smelling print and later walked through the posh area home, looking up at the high windows of the old villas, into their manicured gardens with e-cars charging from wall boxes on the driveways. 

One of my oldest friends is a social worker. She has worked on the streets of our city for the last 30 years. We do have accommodation in this city for all of the strays, she assures me. Not luxury, not even comfort, but a bed, a shower, food, advice. The very basics. It's not our place to assume what people should need. If you feel the need to help, give money, not food, and if it's used for drugs, allow them that choice. Women are more vulnerable than men, always remember that. The world is cruel, you can only do so much.

A while ago, my daughter urged me to do the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test, a personality assessment that is often used by big organizations and companies as part of their recruitment processes. Of course, I checked the science behind it, I am that kind of a mean person and no, there is no scientific basis, it's been called a fad, pseudoscience like horoscopes over and over, it' been retested and assessed with new statistics and analysis methods, but it's still just a fad. I did it anyway and once again 24 hours later, to check for reliable reproduction of results etc., and the personality I was twice identified as based on my answers is the woman who handed over her money this morning. 

To do the test, click here. A comprehensive review of the (non-)validity can be found here.  



26 July 2023

much too soon

I just loved her. She was radical at the right time in the correct way, never afraid to show how hard her life was. Beautiful Sinead. Thank you.


22 July 2023

Saturday on the patio

I am still struggling with some health issues but what else is new. Thankfully, we have had some relief from the heat, enough to be able to sleep well and to spend an entire afternoon on the patio in the deckchair watching the grapes ripening with no energy for more. Yesterday, I spent the day editing manuscripts from a scientist who works on pollinator loss and what we can do about it.

One solution is coriander, go out and plant coriander, at the edges of your vegetable plots, in pots you can place around the garden, in a window box, wherever. It attracts pollinator insects like no other plant, herb or weed, regardless of climate or agroecological zone.

no coriander involved here

I have been listening with growing fascination to Burn Wild, originally a BBC podcast but widely available on various podcast platforms, "a story of two fugitive environmentalists, an eco-terrorist cell and a burning question: How far is too far to go to save the planet?" The story goes back to the late 1990s and early 2000s and so many questions are popping up in my head. We do know (about) two people who have been living off the grid for at least ten years now, hiding from prosecution for their environmental direct actions. I remember many years ago meeting one of them, who had been to uni with my daughter and had come for a short visit with my daughter who was minding the house while we were travelling. It was late at night and I was tired and cranky and of all the things I could have said or done, I chose to start cleaning the dishes. Good grief.

As for music, this has made me happy.


11 July 2023

Early on after I had been told that I had a rare disease, that while thanks to modern medicine I could reach some form of remission even over longer time periods, I would always need medication and regular tests to ensure things wouldn't get worse, and after I had made sense of the meanings of chronic and flare ups and the numerous restrictions that had entered my up to then happy go lucky spontaneous life, the fact that I have to adhere to stipulations of the health insurance and my employer and the disability regulations and the tax office and a couple, in fact too many, other institutions that will from time to time dole out the various perks one is meant to benefit from when chronically ill, in short, once the dust had settled a bit, I began to develop this new skill of always looking over my shoulder, of trying to be ready for the worst, of watching, always watching for symptoms - I had been given a handy list - and I have made an art form of this. My permanence, if there is any, is to remain alert to looming danger, which in itself is exhausting and tedious. Of course, and I am not stupid, I can observe this, myself, and tell this person, myself, to get a grip and I can let go or at least allow my brain to relax, to stop trying to be in charge and vigilant and ready. And by now, 12 years in, I mostly do succeed, but then there are days - and nights - when I remember glimpses of what I used to be like, what my life used to be like, and I need to muster all the cells of my brain and every fibre of my heart and soul to bring myself back, to reach that place somewhere deep inside where I feel complete.

I am mostly fine, I can say this honestly. But I know I'll never again be really fine, the way I meant it when people asked, hey how are you and I would reply, oh fine, without thinking what it means.

The shoulder is still shitty but either I got used to it or the physio did help and it doesn't bother me too much. I can only cycle short distances before my arm gets numb and I stay off the main roads as I don't trust my braking skills. Also, I have a list of questions for my next appointment with the orthopedic guy who told me that no, it's definitely not a herniated disc in my neck that needs surgery and that it probably Just Takes Time. Meanwhile R has started to investigate ways he could adjust my handle bars. 

I am still figuring out ways to not fall asleep listening to podcasts and audio books. Obviously, listening while driving or walking is ok but I don't much like doing it, too much other stuff going on around me. Anyway, some books are too good and I just finished Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton, which is rightly termed a "gripping fast moving ecological thriller". But it's more and I have been thinking about the novel and the ending and what I think could happen after the book's last page, it's dramatic ending. I really hope this is going to be made into a film or a series.

Here is a quote from the Eleanor Catton, author about her novel, or rather, her ending of the novel:

We’re staring down our own finitude as a species, as a planet, and I think that there’s something very dangerous about thinking like that. It can become a licence to behave however you like, really. But it’s also this kind of depression, the kind of depression that Macbeth voices at the end of Macbeth when Lady Macbeth dies and he says ‘tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’ – you know, who cares, this is all just ‘a tale told by an idiot’. He’s such a nihilist in that moment, and so I was very certain in myself that I didn’t want to write a nihilistic book, I didn’t want to write a depressing book. I wanted to write a book that excited you because it made you want to know what was going to happen to these characters. If you achieve that as a writer you’re giving the reader a sense of the future, you’re making them want to keep reading, and so even for a little moment, in that brief time that they’re reading your book, they have a reason to live.

The full interview:

01 July 2023

This here is a public talk given on 29th of June 2023 by Canadian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe at ETH Zurich. I challenge you to give this one hour of your time and I can assure you it will not be wasted. It is unsettling, yes, but it is also inspiring and most of all, full of hope.



30 June 2023

Overconsumption, not overpopulation, drives climate change.

 Last night it rained. Such a lovely sound. As a result, today has been somewhat cooler. 

The garden is hard work at this time of the year, at least for the gardener who picks berries and harvests assorted vegetables and has to weigh the produce and record the yields on his excel sheets and stuff the freezer and make jam and salads and dinners. I join him in the evening picking raspberries and obviously, I am full of praise for all the work he does.

this year the melons look good

spot the one miserly apricot

onions and parsnips

the raspberries

a wild mallow that grew out of nowhere

invasive R calls it, taking over

abundant feijoa from NZ


we call this one dyer's chamomile

the yellow day lilies look a bit messy

finally the plumeria

Because I've read it again as an argument why nothing can be done about climate change and also because some of you have mentioned a couple of times in your comments, here my attempt to explain why I think it's a straw argument.

Yes, overpopulation is often used as an explanation for the climate crisis. Almost 8 billion people currently populate the earth so of course, population growth has and will increase global emissions of CO2. But here's the thing, rising incomes have a much greater impact. Because people do not all produce the same amount of emissions. In the richest countries, emissions are 50 times higher than in the poorest countries. And while in the low-income, low-emission countries the population is growing fastest, industrialised countries (20% of the world's population) are responsible for 80% of CO2 emissions through excessive consumption. Also, in the rich nations, emission levels are linked to income and age of consumers, with older people emitting more, as they often live in smaller households and have carbon-intensive lifestyles.

Overpopulation is a convenient idea. To some, it means their life style isn't what's damaging the planet, but rather the sheer mass of people — so there's little point in changing their behavior.

Anyway, while population growth has increased greenhouse gas emissions, it is dwarfed by the rise in emissions per person. A densely populated world running on clean energy could have lower emissions than one with few people powered by fossil fuels. If anything, population growth should move us even more to work on climate change mitigation

Sometimes people try to use population as a way to let rich countries off the hook, whereas in reality, it's our consumption and our level of economic activity that drives emissions more than the number of people we have.

Zeke Hausfather (more here)

There are vast differences between particular communities and societies in terms of the greenhouse gas emissions they are responsible for producing and therefore their contribution to climate change. Those communities which have high fertility rates have a negligible impact on climate change.

Lisa Tilley (more here)

You can read current scientific articles on population growth research here and here and here.




23 June 2023

hope is a duty


I think I lost the temperament for summer. It's become an almost fearful time with storm warnings, heat warnings, brown lawns, trees dropping leaves in June, rubbish building up outside gullies after too much sudden rain the dry soil could not accommodate. There is a brief beauty in the early mornings with birds and dew in the garden. We pick the berries and the peas and reset the drip irrigation timer, a hasty cup of tea on the patio before it's already too hot, time to go indoors, close the shutters and wait for a bit of a breeze sometime after dinner. Our plan was to walk up to the top of the hill across the river for sunset on midsummer but the air was hazy, cloudy, thick with moisture, not a chance to actually see the sun. We slunk back inside and searched for distraction. Summer has become a time of unease, the signs of climate change are unmistakably there. I compare notes with birders and insect watchers and butterfly counters and wish for a magic wand. 

I require myself to be hopeful. Optimism and pessimism are predictive inclinations. My predictive inclinations are rather dark. Hope is a duty. I embrace that duty.

David Quammen 

I am still dragging a limp arm and shoulder around with me. At least I now know it's all due to hard neck muscle and I mean hard as stone. I had my first painful but effective trigger point treatment with a wonderful pep talk assuring me that I will get back to cycling and lifting and all the stuff you want to do with a proper left arm. And of course, movement and warmth. I am probably the only woman currently wearing a thick woolen scarf wrapped around neck and shoulders In.This.Heat.

The weight loss continues but my blood works are wonderfully normal. The term elongated or redundant or even tortuous colon has been mentioned. I just eat when I am hungry while R feeds me with various  vitamin supplements and feeds my lab data in an Excel table. I am his current science project.

A bit of music to brighten the day.


 And a few thoughts.




14 June 2023

Our ongoing efforts of clearing and discarding has brought a box of soft toys to the surface we had forgotten about. Some of them are downright ugly, collected, no doubt, as gifts. Others have a place in memory, the lamb, the mohair teddy, the little hedgehog and so on. All played a role in my daughter's life. Not a dramatic one, they were somewhat down the line in the hierarchy of important soft toys.

After 25 or so years in a tea chest in the attic, they have this dank smell of neglect. Not mold, but that old unwashed smell. I have put them through the washing machine twice, with added vinegar and disinfectant, left them in the hot blazing sun for three days in a row. I can still detect some smell. Maybe others would not. I have asked friends and the internet and in a next step, will place each toy sprinkled with baking soda in a plastic bag overnight. Next on my list of helpful suggestions is the plastic bag treatment using coffee grinds. A neighbour recommends soaking them all in the bathtub filled with a bleach dilution for a couple of days. I find that harsh, I woke up last night thinking that this must be the very last resort. I don't understand why I am so obsessed in getting them clean and, well, actually, good as new.

Yesterday at work, one of my longtime bosses (a professor of medicine) asked me into her office and in a quiet voice wanted to know if I was alright. The thing is that I have lost a noticeable amount of weight in recent months and at a meeting earlier that day, she watched me pick up my watch which had slipped down my wrist and hand. I have stopped wearing rings because they just fall off. The weight loss is unexplained, I am not (and never would go) on a diet. It has been noted by the doctors that I need to see regularly, a couple of diagnostic steps so far have yielded no cause, some more are due. I tell her all that and she is reassured that I am paying attention.

Last night, in my dream I was trying to walk and could not and when I looked down where my legs should be, they weren't there anymore. I sat up and calculated that if this goes on, I will be dramatically underweight by Xmas. 

Meanwhile, it has become hot and dry. The potatoes are harvested, masses of blackcurrants are almost ready, strawberries are picked every morning, we are giving away fat heads of gorgeous iceberg lettuce. The lack of rain is obvious already, the raspberries are small, there are new brown patches on the lawn every day. 

And lastly, this! Watch this!

08 June 2023

There was a time when we asked my mother how she fell in love and how she knew that my father was the one she wanted to marry. We were young then, her three blond kids. When my father was late coming home, when he was still out there in the dark night, driving home alone in his car through the forest, we sat in our matching pajamas in the kitchen eating oatmeal or semolina pudding while she read fairy tales, the gruesome kind with wicked stepmothers and gnomes scheming for blood and gold. And my mother was the queen, we were her princesses and her prince, waiting for the king come home.

He was the only one who treated me with decency, she always replied.  I remember my confusion and my disappointment. I wanted to hear her fairy tale. After all, we often watched them embrace and kiss, watched the way he brushed the hair from her forehead, noticed their secret smiles of amusement when one of us did something silly or remarkable. 

Decency. She used the old fashioned word Anstand. Decorum. Chivalry. And so I imagined my father as a dashing and well behaved man who bowed and offered his arm, who opened doors for her to walk through. Maybe wearing a prince's uniform, like the one I had seen the nutcracker wear at the ballet (where I had fallen asleep to my parent's bemused smiles). 

It wasn't until much  later that I understood. Only a couple of years ago in fact. And not because I was ignorant but because I didn't really want to spend time thinking about her and my parents and the way he just walked out on her and how she finally fell apart, something that was a long time coming. 



They were students. There was a chess club, of course there was a chess club. Also, a hill walking club. My mother disliked hill walking for as long as I can remember and I have never seen her play chess but that's the story, that's where they met. At the time and at that university, my mother was the only female student of agricultural science, the only woman not a lab assistant or a secretary or a cleaner. Most if not all of her fellow male students were members of an all male fraternity, who would invite 'girls' to their parties, or some other male network of handshakes and offers of positions and career moves. I still try not to think of what she had to cope, to compete with.


He adored her, I have been told over and over again. By relatives, friends of my parents, acquaintances and so on. He was totally smitten with her. 

I did everything for him, she later told me, full of bitter anger. She trapped me, he would say. I gave up my career for him, she complained all the time. She was the worst mistake of my life, he exclaimed once and only once because I told him that I would not tolerate this talk in my house. I thought he was decent, I thought he was better than all these men, she wailed and I told her to shut up and get on with life.