Category Archives: Travel


For her current commute, Daughter needs audio books. They will keep her sane and entertained during the 25 minutes on the S-Bahn and the 5 to 10 on the bus. Twice a day, five days a week. I understand that’s about the equivalent of The Hunger Games. (Not that I applaud her choice.)

Now, I have to admit here that I have not studied the finer details of having an Audible membership. Daughter has, and while she’s not thrilled with the cost, she hasn’t come up with anything better. There probably isn’t anything better, i.e. cheaper per hour.

When they were still cassette tapes I used to buy a lot. They were expensive, but I felt the benefits outweighed the cost, and there were four of us who would potentially listen, one at a time. Son wore out our copy of Kim, so bought a more hardwearing version of this Kipling story when he got older but still wanted to re-listen. As for Harry Potter, I winced when paying, but knew it was worth it.

I also frequented the mobile library when it stopped down the road, and borrowed a lot of audio cassettes, mostly for Son. That’s how I discovered children weren’t meant to read Terry Pratchett… Or Agatha Christie.

Thinking back to this time, I remembered that I must have contacted the library service at some point, about audio books for Daughter, who at that time really needed them to access literature at all. Somebody very nice provided her with a library card that allowed her free audio books, and I proceeded to request books from the mobile library, and every time they came, they would wave their latest haul at me. It was great.

Until the time we lost the nice and friendly crew and the replacement librarian got fed up with looking out for my requests, and told me so in no uncertain terms.

So that was that. Daughter learned to read for pleasure, mainly thanks to Nick Sharratt. But on her commute she prefers sound to paper. If only it wasn’t so expensive!

I recalled the event in Edinburgh in August where Sally Gardner ‘suggested to someone in the audience that if they can get a certificate from their GP that their child is dyslexic, then they have the right to access audio books for the blind and partially sighted.’ That’s probably similar to what I arranged for Daughter 15 to 20 years ago. I don’t know what would happen today.

Discovered from one author that the seemingly fair free exchange of a book if you don’t like it, can be abused. Readers listen to one book and then return it and read another for the same cost. Not surprisingly that money doesn’t then benefit either the author of the book or the narrator.

We looked at the audio books in the sale over Christmas, but there wasn’t much to her tastes. I went through my library and suggested really good books, that it would be worth paying for. Most of them weren’t available on audio…

Marie Fredriksson always said hello

Marie Fredriksson has died. I know that has very little to do with books, but it affects me. Part of her past happened in the place where I lived with Mother-of-witch. I had long moved away when Roxette burst onto the music scene, so I came late to that wonderful voice of hers.

The odd thing was that last week when countless Roxette tracks made their way into my iTunes shuffle I stopped and thought again what a great voice she had.

When Offspring were small we spent part of what was still term time in England going to the playgroup near my old home, because we had weeks and weeks and needed something to do. “The other mothers had cause to gossip about rich foreigners with houses nearby, and people too grand to behave like normal people. ‘But at least Marie Fredriksson always says hello’, was the verdict. She lived near at the time, in the house Mother-of-witch desperately fancied living in. Perhaps if she’d been a rockstar?”*

So, basically, Marie behaved as though she was a normal person.

I recall when she was diagnosed with the brain tumour. I had just arrived in Sweden to sit with Favourite Aunt as she lay dying, and saw the tabloid headlines on my way past the newsagent’s. It’s a memory that has stayed with me, and I was so grateful when it seemed Marie had beaten her illness. After all, with two small children, that’s what you’d hope for.

Ten years later she was well enough to tour, and did a concert at the Manchester Arena with Per Gessle. Offspring and I went, and Marie was definitely the star. Better voice than Per and much prettier. Nice memory, and we were lucky to catch them.

There is a book, actually; Kärleken till livet, by Helena von Zweigbergk. After the brain tumour Marie could no longer read and write, but she still had a story to tell.

Marie Fredriksson

*From CultureWitch August 2010

When stuck

I should have realised. I watched as the taxi driver put my rucksack in the boot, next to my suitcase. But I thought, ‘I don’t need access to any loose change, or anything, and it’s only 20 minutes…’

But it’s that thinking that does it. You don’t know why it’s important, but it will turn out to be.

Apart from a u-turn when the second road blockage caused by Glühwein was necessary, it seemed the journey to the airport on a late Monday morning would be uneventful. But there was that rucksack in the boot issue.

Near the airport, where various biggish roads meet, there was jam. Very non-moving [traffic] jam, at that. But I was calm. I had time. I was being driven, and therefore looked after.

But after a while of non-movingness, my nerves kicked in, and I knew it was time to read something to take my mind off the jam. Except, the book was in the boot (because I’d never read in a moving vehicle). Except, it wasn’t moving.

It could have been worse. I could have been on the bus, in the same jam, standing up, crushed by lots of people.

After some consideration, I realised I did have one thing in there with me. My phone. Facebook proved very boring, by which I mean, no one had had the courtesy of posting lots of new titbits for me to read.

So I did the Gwendolen Fairfax thing and read my own writing. Not a diary; just Bookwitch.

It sufficed. Even the more recent posts took my mind off the jam.


New set of new shelves

So, a few days ago Daughter could finally put books on her new Billy. There was a slight delay because Billy had to be handcuffed to the wall first. The room he’s in has a spectacularly wonky floor.

But I’d say he’s now unlikely to fall over, even if he leans this way, and also that way.

The books – on those shelves that are not yet full – are also unlikely to slide, because I brought my small collection of bookends. For some reason I don’t seem to need them any longer…

There is still room for knick-knacks, but not for long, and certainly not if I were to insist that Daughter’s UK based book collection leaves Bookwitch Towers. On the other hand, I’m not sure we are up to fixing any more Billys to any more leaning walls.

I might insist that she sticks to ebooks in future.

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.