Category Archives: Travel

A clean sweep

Thanks to this blog I know how pernickety [some] Germans can be about cleaning. For several months I have ‘lived in fear’ of failing this great test of cleanliness. Myself, I wash every week (!), but I’m not keen on house cleaning. Nor was Mother-of-witch, so I blame her.

Ah, sorry. I see how you are still wondering what Bookwitch had to do with this knowledge of pernicketyness. I meant that thanks to her I know someone who this summer failed at his/her German cleaning test. There was a small surface with some dust still on it when the judges looked. It’s so easy to overlook these things.

So, yesterday Daughter dispatched me to one of her Berlin flats, to see to it getting cleaned. We don’t make a habit of this. Neither the being responsible for several places in which to live, nor the cleaning. And before you find her too harsh, I was only meant to be present when someone else cleaned the flat for her.

Because she had also heard about this failed dust test. The letting agent hinted that they expected a great deal of cleanliness when she moved out again, but that they could recommend a cleaning firm they trust. In short, by using this company he ‘would know’ it was clean.

Well. I was there. I witnessed the place being cleaned by two people (mostly using the kitchen roll we’d left behind). I didn’t feel they did anything I’d not have done myself, had I not been let off the hook.

And when they’d left I couldn’t help myself. I ran my finger over a few surfaces. A good number of them were dusty.

I look forward to seeing what the man who ‘would know’ will say. Well, I don’t, of course. Not if he finds the dust. But if the knowledge of who cleaned properly turns out to be all he needs…

Amtrak tales

If you thought leaflets were the only things to be brought home when the Resident IT Consultant returned from the other side of the big water last month, you were wrong, if hopeful.

Not unexpectedly, Amtrak have a magazine on their trains. I suppose they need to, seeing how slow the trains go. 😉  You might run out of books. When the Resident IT Consultant travelled the current issue was The Kids Issue, which was a suitable thing to bring me.

I thought it was really quite nice. As with many ‘kids’ things, not all was aimed at children, but was about them. But it was all good. There’s an excellent interview with Michelle Obama, done by a 12-year-old. I learned new things about the former First Lady, and that’s saying quite a bit.

There are games. There’s a nice photo travel piece by someone travelling with her young child. There’s an article about food. ALMA winner Jacqueline Woodson has written about travelling by train with her best friend when they were young.

Best of all were the four stories from real life written by author Lois Lowry, whom I’ve never heard of but wish I had. She tells of four trips by train, beginning when she was five in 1942, and ending with Lois at 25 travelling with her baby son. These were interesting and so full of life, and I could have gone on and on reading about her life on trains. Possibly even off trains, too.

In all, this magazine was the right thing to have brought home for me to read.

The second leaflet

And then I found myself searching the floor plan of the Stephen A Schwarzman Building for the Mark Twain Room. When I didn’t find it, I looked again at the second library leaflet the Resident IT Consultant brought.

Ah, Mark Twain’s room would be in Buffalo. Obviously. I’m no Twain expert, but I gather he had important, if brief, ties to Buffalo.

He gave them half the manuscript of Huckleberry Finn, having lost the other half. The remaining pages were discovered in a trunk in California a hundred years later, the way things always are.

I’m neither interested nor not interested in lost manuscripts, or in Huck Finn, but it makes for fascinating reading anyway.

I began wondering what I’d think of Tom Sawyer or Huck if I were to reread them now. Are they still my kind of book, or was that mainly when I was very young, and had rather fewer books to read?

When I was eleven, I was given a prize at school, which was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in English. It was presumably because I was good at English, and it was this that was being rewarded. But I was never good enough to read Mark Twain in the original. I often thought I’d try, but never did. Besides, I’d already read the story in translation.

Which in itself helps determine at what age one used to read classics before Harry Potter. I’d not put Huckleberry Finn into the hands of a pre-eleven child today. Whether that’s wrong of me I have no idea.

Buying a book for my sister

About to visit my eldest [half]-sister for the first time; and the second time we’d meet, I felt I needed to turn up bearing a gift. But what?

I ‘always’ give books. But I knew she’d left school early, so didn’t expect a children’s book in English to be any good. But after some more thinking I came up with Adèle Geras’s first adult novel – Facing the Light – which I knew had been translated into Swedish.

In the end I managed to source what appeared to be the last copy on earth of Ljus och skugga, from an online shop in Sweden. I had it sent to me in England. After that I contacted Adèle asking if she would sign it, and she very kindly invited me round to her house and we had a nice chat, mainly about wearing green, chocolate from Oxfam, and swimming in the sea, which caused a very cold May/June and no swimming in the sea. And she signed the book.

After which I carried the novel back to Sweden so I could hand it over.

Daughter and I had a lovely day with our new sister/aunt and it was gratifying to see how pleased she seemed to be given a personally signed book.

Adèle Geras, Ljus och skugga

We met a few more times after that, and I’m glad we did. Acquiring an older sister in one’s forties is perhaps slightly unusual, but why not? And we discovered we had a connection through School Friend, whose older brother was at school with my sister. Sweden really is a small world.

My sister died a few weeks ago. I’m grateful to have known her. And kind of pleased that they played Elvis at the funeral.

Leaflets

He likes leaflets, and brings many of them home. So it’s not surprising that the Resident IT Consultant’s recent travels meant he brought quite a few of the things here, and now they sit on the dining table. He did say that he thought I’d be interested in some of them, but that after reading I could get rid of them if I wanted to.

Note that there wasn’t an option of not reading, and putting them in the recycling immediately.

I found the two library ones interesting, and far more so than the menu from the Indian restaurant in Montreal.

The Stephen A Schwarzman Building on New York’s Fifth Avenue is a lovely looking place. I’d like it even without the books, because I like buildings in general. I would love to have it as my local library.

But looking at it via the leaflet will have to do. I mostly can’t determine the scale of it. The floor plans seem modest, but then the photos of the individual rooms make them look huge, so I am guessing it’s like much in America; it’s really large.

I hope and pray it will remain a library for many years to come, even though – or do I mean especially because? – they have a real stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh.

Kanada bound

Well, he was. The Resident IT Consultant is now safely back from his Kanadian adventures. (Sorry about the Ks. I got a bit karried away, what with Swedish and German and all the rest.)

He decided he wanted to go and see his relatives over there, so he went. I was allowed to come too. I just didn’t feel up to it. Besides, there is so much a witch can get up to when all alone in the house. I suspect he still hasn’t found the things he’s not found yet. And it’s been a couple of weeks, so I no longer recall what I hid where.

Just like when Son went the first time, there were cousins to see. An uncle. Even a brother, if you allow for the US detour. There’d have been another uncle, but he very sensibly decamped to New Zealand. Cousins once removed (which is a really odd way of putting it).

They looked after him well.

After all, I sent along books as bribes. I chose several of my favourites, mostly with some sort of connection to Scotland, to possibly entice some of them to come and visit us. Gruesome murders is a sure way of tempting people to come. I don’t remember all my choices, but James Oswald was there, as was Elizabeth Wein and Catriona McPherson. And naturally Meg Rosoff and Hilary McKay for a bit of comfort reading.

There were oatcakes too, but I imagine the books were the best.

And when they’d swapped their Grandfather’s jigsaws with each other, the Resident IT Consultant escaped across the border near Niagara Falls. Really fishy visitors obviously walk across, and here he is, looking surprisingly all right for a man who never selfies. Anyway, he’d have needed extra long arms for this one.

The Resident IT Consultant

Burning witches

I have been taking Dust medicinally. By which I – naturally – mean that I am reading The Secret Commonwealth in order to feel better. Most reading for pleasure is good for you, and there aren’t many better things than having hundreds of pages by Philip Pullman standing by to entertain. Especially after the long wait we endured for the Books of Dust.

But then I thought of my Bookwitch timetable and what I had planned for today. So a couple of days ago I told myself that I could very quickly read that book, while Dust waited for me to return. I immediately felt a lot worse. Not because of the other book, which I am certain will be good. No, it was the idea that I’d pause my ‘drug taking’ of one book to hurriedly read another.

It didn’t feel like a great idea. I decided I wasn’t going to interrupt my time with Philip Pullman at all. After all, medicine is medicine. And The Secret Common-wealth definitely counts as medicine.

All this made me think back to the email that arrived in the midst of the Edinburgh book festival, linking to the Notes From the Slushpile blog post by Nick Cross about burnout. The topic line was ‘Are you burning out?’ and I thought, ‘yes, I am. Actually.’

It was very timely. I wasn’t in a position to do much just then, but I made plans. I’ve not done terribly well with those plans, and until my medicinal issues this week, it seemed as though it’d be another fail. Well intentioned and all that, but not going anywhere.

Anyway, not sure what will happen now either, but Philip and I will plod on. I will get to the other book soon. Probably. And to the other ones I happen to have lying around, that I really do want to read. But I shall do my utmost not to hurry.

This could mean fewer posts here, but then so be it.

Besides, I have a kitchen to build in Berlin.

Philip Pullman, The Secret Commonwealth