Category Archives: Travel

Affordable?

We went to a new-to-us charity shop this week, Daughter and I. It’s on the outskirts of our holiday town, and I only knew where, because it’s across the road from the designer furniture shop.

I had filed it away as being cheaper premises and easier parking. That was until I looked at who was buying. Apart from a few people looking for trendy second-hand bargains, the customers were immigrants. Recent immigrants, most likely, carefully examining the shoes to see if there was anything they liked, that fit and was reasonably priced [to them].

This made me think again, and I realised that these outskirts next to the motorway are just across a busy road from the town’s ‘ghetto.’ I don’t like calling it that, as the standards of the flats will be good Swedish 1960s, but you can’t get away from the fact that it’s where you expect the latest arrivals from other parts of the world to live.

As Daughter looked at furniture I did a quick recce to see what the shop’s layout was like, and I noticed a man, maybe in his thirties, obviously foreign, looking at necklaces over on the far wall.

I took in the exercise bikes, and the wine glasses and varying vintage furniture. They had lots of books, including a whole set of – seemingly unread – Denise Mina in translation, and a copy of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke in the original.

While we looked at most of what the shop had to offer, the man continued studying the different necklaces. He was still there as we paid and left.

Unlike shoes, I’m fairly certain he didn’t need a necklace. It probably wasn’t for him. I’m guessing he wanted to buy someone a gift, and this was the prettiest and cheapest non-essential item he could manage. I was touched by the care he took in selecting his gift, and I hope he found something pretty and that she likes it.

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What shall we do without Kerry?

Yesterday the Bookseller delivered the unwelcome news that my favourite publicist is retiring. Yes, Hodder’s publicity director Kerry Hood is hanging up her, well, I don’t know what she’s hanging up. But something. Her not being one of those 27-year-olds, I did realise this time would come, but I pushed the thought away and hoped for the best.

Because that’s what Kerry has given me; the best PR help and some of the bestest authors. (I’m sure the woman cherry-picks…)

We first met eleven years ago, when I forced her to bring me Sara Paretsky. Seriously, I had no idea people were so easy to force. Nor did I know that publicists could speak, I mean type, like normal people, which is why when I got this email I’ve treasured it all these years, ‘Crikey! Yep – that’s you!’ (It refers to an unexpected appearance by me on Sara’s website.)

Hodder's Kerry

The next time was in that maze they call Nottingham, and I will link to the whole blog post here, because it shows so clearly how Kerry provided 110% book & author experiences.

More recently I have had thoughts such as, ‘that looks like Peter Robinson over there! I wonder where Kerry is?’ I’ve not had enough time to be a Peter Robinson fan, but his choice of publicist is certainly a recommendation.

Kerry has not only facilitated meetings with authors of interest, but she has gently pushed me in the direction of others that she just knew would be my kind of author. And there have been so many books, usually dispatched with that admirable hands-on technique that I – well – admire. Everyone should be like that.

I have so many great Kerry-related events that I can’t link to them all. Hence Nottingham. I know I’m not alone in this fan behaviour. Just mentioning her name leads to others admitting they love her too.

Daughter and I met Kerry’s dog when we were in London. I had no idea that having your dog in the office could work so well.

I hope there will be another lovely dog for Kerry’s retirement, if that’s what she wants. And maybe the odd appearance at book events? Please? Or just call in for tea.

The nines, ten years later

By the third evening I wanted to be home, alone. But instead I sat down on the suitcase-unpacking surface in the hotel room and stared into space. It sort of worked.

Ten years on from this event, we were back in Oxford. And isn’t it amazing how similar we all are? OK, the people from Bangalore have bougainvillea in their garden. I do not, but wish I did. And it sounds like the Indian ID [card] system is far superior to the Swedish one.

It was also very English – and in this instance I don’t mean British – with college gardens, afternoon tea and chats about Roedean. The trees blossomed by the side of the streets and it was all I could do to not move to Oxford there and then.

Because it was ten years since the last celebration, our hosts – yet again – offered us a Ceilidh, although it was more English dancing than Scottish, and everyone made fools of themselves, except for me and Aunt Scarborough (because we sat it out). Only one guest needed to join in via Skype, from the top of some volcano, the other side of the world.

The 2019 Ceilidh

It was, as many of you will know, unseasonably warm. This was due mostly to the fact that I had brought my padded jacket, the same one I’ve worn all winter. I know that such a hot Easter is a bad sign, but it was actually quite nice, except for those who turned over-pink in the process.

But oh, the luxury of sitting outside like that, and the balmy evenings!

The day before, the Resident IT Consultant and Daughter accompanied me to, lightly, grill Linda Sargent and Mr ‘Sargent’ over Easter Sunday lunch. Well, roof terrace type of places are likely to do that. We had such a good time and sat for so long, that we had to be asked to leave as they were closing. But not before we had moved tables to achieve more shade.

Also discovered a place that serves enormous Kransekager, so I will just have to return. Or move to Oxford.

If all this sounds nice, let me tell you how nice it is to be home. Alone.

One day is here

Don’t know whether I mentioned the trip we made last month? Doesn’t matter. Long train journey; out one day, home again the next. I used up – almost –  my whole quota of good reliable looking children’s books. I needed three, one out, one back, and one in reserve. The books I had with me were good, and I was pleased with my selection.

Then came two more trips, one just finished and one soon to happen. I had to select reading material for them together, to make sure they were evenly balanced, and so I didn’t accidentally pick all the best books for one, leaving nothing sensible for the other. Same principle of three books per journey.

Trouble was, there were not many children’s books left in the to be read pile. At least not enough to fit in with my needs. There are some hardbacks, but they are too big to hold, and weigh a little too much. Others are short, and would be over too quickly.

So I actually went into the twilight zone. I have a bookcase where I put the ones which have had to drop off the to be read pile due to space and time issues, but that I still believe will be really good to read. One day.

In the end I had two well matched piles, each containing two adult crime novels and one children’s book. That’s not how I like things to be, but frankly, the children’s books coming in are not long journey material. OK, travelling in Britain I could obviously buy a replacement at some point, but not perhaps when I needed it.

And, erm, I even managed to colour coordinate one pile. It was a sort of orangey tinge, until I swapped one book for Death in Berlin, which was rather faded and grey. Not to mention dry. Pages 24 and 25 sailed away on the plane, and I had to anchor them with my foot until I could rescue them.

From the other pile I decided against another ancient copy of a book with print that was far too small for [my] comfort. That’s another thing about old, sometimes used, books. They don’t age well. It can be content, or it can be physical, with dry spines and faded covers where you can barely see what the book is. The tiny print is presumably one reason so many books back then were around 200 pages.

And who knows, before I get on the next train, there could have been a mass arrival of perfect travel companions. Some books are really good, beginning when I get to the station and ending as the train and I are almost at our destination.

Death in Berlin

M M Kaye wrote six ‘Death in …’ novels, each featuring a lovely young heroine meeting crime in a thriller setting, somewhere exotic. And also meeting love in the shape of dashing and mysterious man.

So, therein lies the problem, now that it’s the 21st century. On rereading Mary Stewart’s romance set in Vienna last year, I found it had grown old gracefully. Her heroines were usually a little more mature [than barely out of their teens] and her men not too frightfully macho. They had good conversation, and who cares if they were all rather unfashionable [by today’s standards] and belonging to the more entitled social classes?

Not me. Not then, and not now.

But this one by M M Kaye, the Death in Berlin one, was every bit as bleak as I recalled. Possibly because a cold and wet March in 1953 in a divided Berlin, with lots of ruins still, can never be as charming as a sunny romance in Africa or India. And I do remember being disappointed in the hero. He’d almost have been all right – at least now when I’m older and wiser – and then she had to go and compare him to Alec Guinness!

M M Kaye, Death in Berlin

And the class thing; it’s really not working. They are so frightfully British and superior in war torn Germany. Fine, you can hate the life as the wife of a British army officer, the moving round the world, and all that. But it’s not attractive voicing such hatred of foreigners. Fine, you want your heroine to do well. But in this case her man has a job. He doesn’t have to tell his new love that she needn’t worry, because he does have a private income as well. And his attitude towards this beautiful young female would be highly inappropriate today.

The crime, though, is pretty satisfying, and I couldn’t remember who did it. Quite a good thrilling end.

And as I mentioned yesterday, I liked the Berlin connection, even if it wasn’t exactly Zanzibar. It was clear that M M Kaye had lived there herself, at that time. I was amused to see that even back then there was a noticeable difference between British workmen and German ones. Seems that foreigners are good for some things, then.

Deer Dale

And to think I was childishly pleased to see the three deer from the tram near Edinburgh Airport on Friday morning. I should have realised.

There was a stag party on my plane. Stephen was getting married. I’ve no idea who Stephen was, but I shocked Daughter by mentioning the best man by name. Dale. ‘How do you know?’ she wailed. Well, it was on his t-shirt, wasn’t it? If I met any of these stags on their own, I’m sure I’d find them as charming as, well, as anyone I meet. But together they were a noisy lot, rather drunk, and needed to go to the toilet very frequently. (I usually reserve that last activity for myself.)

We had a pleasant couple of days in the German capital, Daughter and I. Well, there was the nightly serenading outside our window I suppose; first from the karaoke, and later the happy groups of people ‘just passing by.’ Like the group of English people singing [surprisingly well] at four am. The acoustics were great down there, between the tall buildings. Made the singing really stand out.

I found myself lying in bed, wondering if that was what winning the war had been about. Making travelling to stag weekends in Berlin affordable, or enabling nightly singing in Berlin streets. And what effect will Brexit have on this wine, women and song stuff?

After mentioning M M Kaye’s Death in Berlin on Friday, I decided to reread the book. I always thought it was her weakest romantic whodunnit, and that opinion still stands. It was interesting to read from the purely Berlin point of view, though. Saturday morning found us standing more or less where the heroine was, in the Soviet part of the park, watching that woman behave suspiciously with that man. The fictional characters. Not us. That was quite fun.

We had drinking problems, too. As in how to get proper tea, with milk. After a highly unusual tea and cake session where we discovered – not surprisingly – that green tea with hot milk just doesn’t cut it, we tried to work out how to ask for black tea, as opposed to green, which is then to be made not black by the addition of milk, preferably cold. In German.

On a Sunday, when you don’t get ‘any’ open shops, you still find plenty of shops open, selling alcohol, juice, fizzy drinks, chocolate, postcards, etc. Just not milk. But it is perfectly possible to drink that black tea black. Not as nice, but perfectly possible.

A half marathon on the Sunday sent us to the zoo. When it looked like most of our potential routes anywhere would be blocked by runners, we walked the five minutes to the zoo and spent the morning looking at sad elephants and sad chimpanzees. And a panda.

Also antelopes and the head of a polar bear.

When it was time for your Witch to fly home again, by plane rather than broom, she discovered that the stags seemed to have survived the weekend and were ready to fly home with her, nicely lubricated. I recognised Dale, even without his t-shirt (=he was wearing something else), and the cute stag who actually had hair, unlike most of today’s young men, and who looked exactly as I have imagined Mary Hoffman’s Lucien, from City of Masks.

But I’d rather have flown home without them.

Berlin

Erich und Lisa, and Paul and Matt, too.

No, that’s not a new book.

Travel gods willing, I’m off to Berlin today, so thought I’d ‘fob you off’ with some Berlin books.

I’ve never been, so am writing this blind. I’ll be interested to discover how much of Erich Kästner’s city remains. Having watched all three Emil und die Detektive films, I should know. Only one was made before the war. If Emil was English, it’d be easy enough to film a boy in prewar London now. There are plenty of houses and buildings left. I hope quite a bit of Berlin is also still there.

The other old Berlin I ‘know’ is Lisa Tetzner’s, where her child characters lived in tenements in the 1930s. Surely some remain? And I have no idea how large Berlin was in those days. I’m assuming the children in no. 67 lived quite centrally.

You can find countless children’s books set in today’s London. There must be a Berlin counterpart. It’s ‘just’ that we don’t get to see those books.

The more recently written novels that come to mind are British. There was Paul Dowswell’s Ausländer ten years ago. Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen from last year. Both showing life within Germany. Both featuring WWII. There’s more to Germany and Berlin than that.

Death in Berlin, by M M Kaye, set in postwar Berlin. It’s decades since I read it, and I recall a sense of bleakness.

Ich bin ein Berliner, as JFK said. Whether or not that makes us doughnuts I will leave unsaid. I’m certainly rounded enough.