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.

06 June 2023

exert yourself

Young person worry: What if nothing I do matters?
Old person worry: What if everything I do does?

Buddhist practice includes the notion that we have all been born many times before and that we have all been each other's mothers and fathers and children and siblings. Therefore, we should treat each person we encounter as if they are our beloved.

Survival instructors have a saying: get organized or die.

. . .  at the wilderness camp they teach the kids something called "loss-proofing." In order to survive, you have to think first of the group. If you look after the needs of others, it will give you purpose and purpose gives you the burst of strength you need in an emergency.  . . . you never know which kids will do well. But in general the suburban kids do the worst. They have no predators . . .

Jenny Offill (all quotes from her novel Weather) 

The osteopath said, it's probably a nerve or maybe a disc in your neck. Can I say this, she asked, you are not going to freak out?, you don't seem the type. No, I replied, I am not the type. Freaking out was years ago. Also, she said, this is acute and after acute always comes subacute, so something to look forward to. Ok thanks, I replied. But you need to see an orthopedic surgeon, sooner better than later, she said as I got dressed. I'll do that next week, I reassured her. I'll let you know. 

Look at it from a mechanical view point, R tells me. It's bones and tendons, not the end of the world.

Summer is pleasant so far. No sticky heat yet. No drought yet. Fat dragonflies sit on the vegetable beds.


All of the apricots have disappeared from the tree. I suspect squirrels but R claims the parakeets did it. We've never been lucky with stone fruit in this garden.

These days, we walk through the garden looking for signs of damage, climate damage. And changes are visible. We have lived on this piece of land, this suburbia garden for 25 years now. 25 years is not a long time - but it is enough to understand when something is no longer right with the nature in which you live. In the beginning, it was just a hunch, but now it can no longer be overlooked or explained away.

We think we let the roses, all of them, just die off, same with the peonies and the other flowering shrubs that are beautiful to our eyes, these wonders of horticultural breeding, but of no interest to insects. Also, so far, not a single butterfly.  In this part of the world, a healthy insect world needs a wide range of sturdy, sustainable flowers, preferably from February to November. We have work to do.

For a short while, I sit down via zoom with a group of young climate activists to help with translations. The age gap is massive, my advice to beware of AI translation apps is politely waved off. We have nothing to hide, they laugh when I mention that what you put online is there to stay. Intellectual property, what's that when the planet burns.

I wake very early with the dawn chorus and lie there, breathing and thinking that like so many others, I love someone who will still be alive in 2100 and that this loved one will either face a world in climate chaos or a clean, green utopia, depending on what I do today. I text this to a friend after breakfast and she writes to me, no, don't get confused, climate action isn’t about individual sacrifice. That’s a lie you’ve been told. It’s the job of governments to make climate-safe choices. It's about changing the world together, not changing our lifestyles alone. Understand that we can accept that there is unimaginable, unbearable suffering in the world while simultaneously there is a heartbreaking amount of mercy, kindness and beauty. Love and righteous anger is our fuel rather than grievance and discontent.

You are not some disinterested bystander / Exert yourself.


27 May 2023

key changes

Agh, things have been tough. This week was a holiday week and I spent it mostly resting because my left shoulder, neck, upper arm, whatever, hurt like hell. This started as a stiff neck three weeks ago, something I let slide, applied some heat when I thought about it. I am right handed, so there is that. I even went to get a relaxing osteopathy treatment not covered by my health insurance. And then I got some abdominal pain (which is an old chestnut with me when under stress) and R delivered me to our GP who sent me to the ER and no, it's nothing to do with my heart (check here for neck, shoulder and abdominal pain as a heart attack symptoms in women). Also, the two guys who occasionally do some house repairs for us were here yesterday and repainted the hall and the kitchen. Of course, I lifted stuff and cleaned and held shelves while R drilled holes and so on. So now I am cursing and have made another osteopath appointment.

The worst is that cycling and walking are really painful and I feel like a beached whale looking with longing at the horizon where everybody is having fun in the sun.

So, limited typing. Instead, I'll drop a few links and quotes that have cheered/enlightened me,


To say that the nervous system is connected to the immune system, and the immune system is connected to the emotional apparatus, all of which is connected to the hormone system, is incorrect. They are not connected; they are the same system.

Gabor  Maté (read the full interview here)


The Mower
by Philip Larkin

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found   
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,   
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.   
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world   
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence   
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind   
While there is still time.


You don't care for things because they share the same country, religion or politics. Life itself is kinship.

We should not differentiate between all that breathes.

A quote from All That Breathes, this amazing documentary, watch it if you get a chance. 


And finally, some music, strange to begin with, a bit dull, said R, but then there's that key change just after 6 min. Every time, I feel my chest opening, I want to raise my arms and shout something like, all is forgiven, all will be well. We even discussed the power of key changes in music. 

24 May 2023

the singer with the big, brave soul



Tina showed us women that attitude was more important than age.

15 May 2023

Mother's day

Motherhood is the place in our culture where we lodge, or rather bury, the reality of our own conflicts, of what it means to be fully human. It is the ultimate scapegoat for our personal and political failings. For everything that is wrong with the world, which it becomes the task - unrealizable, of course - of mothers to repair. What are we doing to mothers when we expect them to carry the burden of everything that is hardest to contemplate about our society and ourselves? Mothers cannot help but be in touch with the most difficult aspects of any fully lived life. Why on earth should it fall to them to paint things bright and innocent and safe?

 Jacqueline Rose

When I was small, there were the drawings and cumbersome school art projects, fiddly cardboard baskets and stuff.  My mother put them on display for a while. Three kids meant three of each.

Later,  there was the debate on how the nazis glorified mothers and the day, never really a marketing gig anyway - it was the early 1970s - lost its appeal. One year, probably when I was 15 or so, I bought my mother a set of household scissors, bold and red with a magnetic hook, in a clear plastic box. She recoiled when I passed it to her, she knew quite well that I bought this because in our/her messy household, scissors were always hard to find.

Later, the feminists  helped me along, why celebrate just ONE day? With flowers and sweets? Motherhood as a marketing strategy, sentimental advertising features to demean women's work etc. when you are a mother every day and every night, often single and juggling employment.

And that was that. As for my own mothering life, not a tinkle. Possibly my daughter went to schools that did not buy into the hype. It's never been an issue but then, we are also a Valentine's day-free household. 




14 May 2023

In ancient Greece, the term idiots was used to refer to people who wanted to remain private, only cared about their own stuff, didn't want to get interested in politics, democracy, war. Ancient bourgeois, so to speak.

from Wikipedia: The word "idiot" comes from the Greek noun ἰδιώτης idiōtēs 'a private person, individual' (as opposed to the state), 'a private citizen' (as opposed to someone with a political office), 'a common man', 'a person lacking professional skill, layman', later 'unskilled', 'ignorant', derived from the adjective ἴδιος idios 'personal' (not public, not shared)

The secondary school I was sent to by my father was big on the classics, five years of Latin and three years of ancient Greek were mandatory, in my case it was eight years of Latin because I was a miserable student of all other foreign language requirements (I failed English completely) and the less said about my Greek endeavours the better (well, I can quote the odd party piece, first lines of Homer and so on). Philosophy was a main subject all the way through, the school hall was a muralist paradise dedicated to Plato's cave allegory and there were weekly debating sessions and stoicism weeks where we all had to pretend to adhere to logic, calm and self control over wild passions. It could be fun at times. But at the same time, there was rock and roll and drugs and sex, in that order for most of us.

Anyway. this afternoon I watched the live transmission of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, president of Ukraine, receiving a prize* in the German city of Aachen. The prize was awarded to the people of Ukraine and their president. He looked exhausted. It was a long affair, speeches, music, poetry, more speeches, the Ode to Joy and many people in tears. I felt very European today. Gratefully so.

Basically, we were reminded once again that thanks to Ukraine we can sit on our patio in the spring sunshine with a cup of tea, watching the birds and the bees. Or in other words, if on the night of February 25th of last year, Zelenskyy would have accepted the offer made by the US to leave his country and seek asylum somewhere safe, we could be hiding in our basements. Like a flash, this memory my father once told me, came up. The people of Ukraine are defending Europe because this is what happened on February 25th of 2022.

Let's not become idiots. Now is not the time.


*the International Charlemagne Prize which is annually awarded for work done in the service of European unification. The prize is named for Charlemagne, a Medieval emperor who is considered by most historians as the father of Europe.

02 May 2023


It is strange how, when people die, they exist in a part of my mind where they would have loved this or where they are smiling or where they are one with something or someone or the very earth itself. 

Devin Gael Kelly

My sister asked if we, R and myself that is, want to join them later this summer for a week or two on a Danish island. They are renting a house big enough for six people right by the Baltic Sea. I admit that I am tempted but while I check the website with the oxblood red wooden house, the white gable trim, the patio furniture on the deck facing west, I can hear myself asking her, possibly on day 2, why after we, three siblings, had deliberated and decided in a string of phone calls on wording and design and procedure, she then had the agreed address for condolences from the death notice deleted just before publication and why she decided to cancel the additional publication in the daily paper of our father's birthplace (first answers: that way we don't have to bother sending replies and why waste money when there's only a handful of old distant cousins living there, probably with dementia). So, an isolated island paradise is probably not the place we should be together. We all grief in our different ways. 


On the day of the funeral, it rained heavily and there was agreement that he would have loved it, maybe even made it happen (joke), how he was always concerned about not enough rain for farmers in spring. As half of the ceremony involved walking behind the urn across the cemetery and listening to more speeches and prayers and yet another sermon by the open grave, we all got the message - and fairly soaked. 

At first, I tried to get to know all the people attending but as always, found the various branches of the family tree confusing, and regarding the non-relatives, no idea. My brother was much better and did the greeting and thank-you round in a dramatic fashion on crutches (just had knee surgery) which was much appreciated. And yet, nobody was able to identify the man wearing green socks. I invited him along to the meal but he declined. 

The bit that was lovely and that my father would have loved happened on the previous Sunday when the soccer club of my father's town, the one he had been a members since childhood and which he so generously supported financially, invited the family for a home match. My brother and his sons went, were led to the seat where my father regularly sat and found it decorated with flowers and various soccer paraphernalia. Before the match, two representatives of the club's youth groups - a young woman from Syria and a young man from Ukraine - came on the field and briefly explained how they remember him and how much they benefit from the financial support and his personal interest in their lives. And then the audience, all 2000 of them in this small town stadium, stood up for a minute's silence and then clapped and cheered him for a good while. 

And now, it's all over and done. Downstairs on the dining table, there waits a box of his last personal papers, a few letters and pictures, the original draft of his doctoral thesis from 1957, a booklet of unfinished sudokus and of all things, his hearing aid. 

We drove the slow way home, with an overnight here and there, a long walk in the chilly spring and some wine tasting for R while I slept in the car. We won't be coming back to Franconia for a very long time.


20 April 2023


I am bored, the usual boredom that comes with recovery from vertigo. Not yet able to do normal stuff, not quite confident enough to cycle to the library or along the river or anywhere, not keen on walking, not working. I cleaned the bathroom in stages and did some laundry, almost fell into the big basket of dirty towels.

Lots of memories come up at the early hours or late hours, about our wandering years when we stayed with various hippie/non-hippie communes in Ireland and the UK, the bizarre and the wonderful, the diggers and dreamers, the radicals and the feminists, looking for and at times finding a home for a while. Memories of mucking out stables and making apple cider, planting poly tunnel greenhouses, travelling musicians organising wild barn dances into the early hours, magic mushrooms and baking bread, always baking bread. At one place where we lived for almost a year, we baked a dozen loaves early every morning in the Aga stove. It was either milking the goats or kneading the dough at sunrise. Every night, twelve empty bread tins sat waiting on the stove and the starter dough was fermenting in the larder. 

Later when we lived in Dublin, in a ramshackle Georgian terrace house with gashing holes in the floorboards - at one point, you could look right through into the basement from the top floor - I baked sourdough bread and sold it to a wholefood shop run by a guy who later attempted to sexually assault me. He pushed a whiskey bottle into my mouth so hard I fell onto the floor and in the surprise of the moment, him struggling to get his precious bottle, I managed to get out the door and run. 

I never baked any bread after that. R took over. We moved away from Dublin. None of this was due to the assault. 

In our new home, we had a baby, lived in a ramshackle Georgian mansion with a gashing hole in the floor of the one bathroom shared by mostly eight, sometimes more people. R baked six loaves, all that the oven could hold, every second day. The smell scent of freshly baked bread would bring whoever was home into the kitchen and one loaf would be cut, butter melting, honey dripping and eaten up on the spot.

The bathroom in that house was a narrow space on the first floor landing of the beautiful, imposing, massive staircase, separated by plaster boards with a tank and an immersion heater that used so much electricity it occasionally blew all the fuses. At the weekly housing meetings, we debated for ages  whether we should install a shower with an instant water heater and how to finance it and who and when can take how many showers and oh yes, housing meetings. I still get the shivers thinking of it. We did install the shower, our hair started to look good again.

Anyway, bread. I stopped baking because I had a baby and once the baby was weaned, I went to work. When my baby was beginning to speak, her name for me was "back soon".  She had a wonderful childhood in that ramshackle mansion with its walled garden and orchard and lots of shoulders and laps and arms for comfort. She has very little memory of these years.

One of the entries in my notebook-of-ideas-for-retirement is baking bread. I have already glued a clear plastic protective cover on our disheveled copy of the Tassajara Bread Book, I am ready.

16 April 2023

The man got a new lawn mower, solar powered no less. He is happy and the lawn, though shrinking as we allow the wild patches to take over more of and more of it, looks smart enough for a match of tennis. But not our sport and much too cold still.

My employer has started to make suggestions of me working on beyond retirement, which is somewhat flattering and confusing at the same time. Confusing because I have started the notebook of ideas and thoughts of what I want to do when the time comes. A real handwritten notebook no less. I have also already put myself of the waiting list for the book club, the one I have been told about again and again, and they already emailed me to get in touch. I am not good at negotiating and have missed so many opportunities to "sell" myself but maybe now is the time. I have said nothing so far.

The eleven fruit trees in the garden have flowered or are in the process of it and no frost, so keeping fingers crossed. Eleven fruit trees makes it sound like an orchard but the trees are kept smallish, most of them trellised along walls and fence. Three pears, two apples, three plum varieties, one apricot, two peach trees. Plus two almond and one walnut. And a chestnut, of the horse chestnut variety, producing gorgeous blossoms, shade and conkers.

The tulips are in abundance, the grape hyacinths were massive. The forget-me-nots are about to take over. 

So that's the garden.

The latest immunologist, there's a new one at every appointment now, is not happy with the weight loss. Too much, he says, in three months. I explain that I go through phases like that, no appetite, less food, simple. I catch up in the summer, I tell him. He orders more tests which come back fine.

Grief is a strange thing. After my mother's death, I danced with joy and relief. And now that my father has calmly and quietly died in his sleep, no struggle, no drugs, no pain, I expected nothing less. And then I wake in the dark early morning and my mind tells me: I miss him, I miss him, I miss him. I go back to sleep and wake again, go about my day, sort out funeral arrangements, the music and the pictures and the food, with my siblings. R even books a short get-away treat for afterwards. We share memories of my father, silly, awful, hurtful, funny stuff he said and did. We laugh a lot. My employer grants me two days extra leave. Since yesterday, I struggle with a bad case of vertigo, I am seasick, when I move my head, I fall backwards. I walk through the house like a drunk, holding onto the walls. I have exactly ten days to get better before I will have to meet maybe 200 people in a chapel by the graveyard.

I can sleep, but cannot eat.

04 April 2023

De mortuis nil nisi bonum - of the dead, say nothing but good


My father was born in 1929 as the third and last child of Max and Sophie in a busy Franconian town in Northern Bavaria. His schooldays were interrupted by the war but he eventually got his high school diploma shortly after the end of WWII. He often remembered his mother's birthday in May 1945 as a special moment in his life and saw this day as great gift and moment of happiness, because both his siblings arrived back, on foot, from the war on that day and the whole family could be together again, unharmed, drinking coffee in the garden.


His big brother awakened his love for soccer and of course both boys were active in the local soccer club from an early age. As an adult, as long as he could drive his car, he attended almost all the games of this, his favourite club. He generously supported the club’s youth section financially throughout his life.


As a schoolboy, he took care of his grandmother's chickens, and he successfully, so the rumor goes, grew tobacco and raised barn rabbits in his home garden. Certainly the desire to study agriculture stems from this time. His path therefore led him to Munich university, where he successfully completed his studies with a doctorate in agriculture.


As a student, he had the opportunity to spend an extended period on an agricultural internship in southern Sweden. This experience and the contrasts between Germany and a pragmatic, open democracy like Sweden in the early post-war years sparked his lifelong love for Scandinavia.


After graduating, he first worked in animal research, got married and became the father of three children. In 1961, he left academic work when he was offered an exciting position in the newly developing dairy industry. With a lot of heart blood and energy, he took on the challenge and was soon known as a sought-after contact and problem solver. His work also meant that throughout Franconia and beyond, he knew every little street, every hamlet and farm, every shortcut and – importantly - the best ice cream parlors.


For many years, the family spent summer vacations in Denmark and when the children had grown up and left home, his way continued to take him regularly to Scandinavia. In later years, as a pensioner, there were extensive trips to various places all over Europe and the Middle East.


Planning and organizing was not only an important part of his professional life, he also planned and organized in great detail every excursion, hike and vacation with his family and later with friends. From fuel stops to sightseeing, whether historical or scientific, to visits to restaurants or hotels, everything was thought out and scheduled long before the event.


After retiring from professional life, he moved back to his parents' house. For decades he tended the garden and especially the fruit trees planted by his mother and regularly distributed plums and freshly squeezed apple juice to family and friends.

Now he also found time to learn languages, especially Swedish, which he mastered to the point of translating in later years, and he greatly enjoyed French.

He was always broadening his horizons, went on opera and concert tours, and up to a very old age, he planned and enjoyed historical or natural history excursions in the near and far surroundings.


His camera accompanied him everywhere. He documented every event and trip, often to discover and photograph specific rare plants. The family and friends were then presented every year with a self-designed calendar of his pictures.


He was very fortunate that he was able to live independently in his beloved home with the active and loving support of family and friends until his fall in 2020. Accordingly, it was a huge change when he had to move to a nursing home due to a tibia and fibula fracture. But after a period of acclimatization he appreciated the good care he received there.


My father was an intelligent, open-minded person, always interested and ready to talk, he hugely enjoyed debating and discussing any subject we would bring up. He was often surprisingly generous and above all, he was always on time. He will be remembered for his great willingness to help family, friends, acquaintances, and victims of crises worldwide. This was due not least to the fact that he was very content with his life.


He died in his sleep this morning.