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March Madness

15 Mar

I’ve just realised it’s been more than a month since I updated my blog. And what a month it’s been.

I spent 2 weeks in Tenerife mid-February. It was an opportunity to get back into a regular running routine and to get back into a regular writing routine. I would say I managed to achieve both of these goals. I ended up running more than 60km in total in February and I managed to write quite a bit too. I was pleased with some of the writing.

I then got caught up in the sandstorm in Tenerife that saw flights being cancelled but I go lucky because my flight wasn’t affected in the end. A day earlier and I would be stranded there.

The night the sandstorm hit

Of course, a few days later the news about the Coronavirus making its way to Europe hit. Since then madness has reigned supreme. Here in Switzerland we are in a semi-lockdown situation. Schools, libraries and restuarants and bar with a capacity of more than 50 people have been ordered to close. People have also been advised to stop using public transport. When the Swiss are stopping using public transport, you know that something serious is afoot.

We’ve had to cancel our trip to Dubai next week because the situation is so volatile and getting stranded abroad is not a situation I want to find myself in. Plus my employer has urged people not to travel unless 100% necessary.

Life is not going to be the same for a while. I just hope everything returns back to normal soon. In the meantime, I will be focusing on some of my challenges that don’t involve international travel. I have a stack of non-fiction and German books to read and that list of 250 films is not going to watch itself!

Stay healthy!

Book Challenge by Erin 12.0

12 Feb

As usual I kicked off this year by getting very excited that it was time for the Book Challenge by Erin to start again. I have been taking part in this online book challenge for a couple of year now and it always gets me excited to start reading again in the new year.

I managed to finish the challenge by 30th January – 10 books in 30 days isn’t bad going. I managed to read 8 books that I already own which means I have more space on my book shelves now. The other two I borrowed from the library.

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As ever there are 10 different categories. Here are the books I read:

Freebie (any book over 200 pages) – I chose The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham. I don’t often read biographies but I’m glad I made an exception for this one. In my ignorance I had no idea about the struggles of Burma gaining independence nor about Aung San Suu Kyi and her and her family’s part in the fight for independence. It’s incredible that the book touches on points of history within my lifetime. It makes me want to read more about Buddhism, non violent struggles and the story of India’s independence which the author compares with Burma’s story throughout the book. I still have no idea how to pronounce her name though.

Starts with ‘I’ – I chose It Ends With You by S. K. Wright. I picked this up from the second hand book shop because the cover looked interesting. Not the best way to choose books, I know. It was a quick and easy read. It was told from the perspective of several different characters and via different mediums (WhatsApp, Blogs, diaries as well as individual characters narratives). It was a who-dunnit and I did work out who was responsible before it was revealed in the book but that didn’t spoil the ending.

Two or More Authors – I chose Run Faster: How to be Your Own Best Coach by Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald. I have had this book gathering dust on my shelf for longer than I care to remember and, as I want to try to improve my running times this year, it’s about time I read it! The book was aimed at runner who are far more advanced and better than I am but I still found a lot of useful tips in the book that I will definitely try to incorporate into my running. I am super keen to beat one of my PBs this year and I hope this book has helped me to work out areas I can improve on to do that.

Tree on Cover Art – I chose Frau auf der Treppe by Bernhard Schlink. This is a German novel that I’ve had for a long time. The book starts with a dispute over the ownership of a painting and ends up being a tragic long story between an unlikely pairing. It didn’t end as I expected it would. It was a good read but I can’t say I loved it.

Who What When Where or Why in the title – I chose What to Do When You Become the Boss by Bob Seldon. I bought this book when I got a job as a manager for the first time. It didn’t work out and I left the job but I decided to read it anyway. There were a lot of interesting tips for people who aren’t managers and it gave a different perspective on working in a modern environment. Some of the tips I don’t agree with, like only checking your email once a day. I guess it depends what your role is but, as my job is operational, it’s just not all that practical to do that. I do see how constant email checking can be addictive and a waste of time though!

Set in Africa – I chose Dinner with Mugabe by Heidi Holland. I went to Zimbabwe went Robert Mugabe was president and this was a fascinating read. I had no idea that he was very intelligent (he had 7 degrees) and he was a very religious man. The account in this book paints a different picture to what I imagined the man to be like. It presented a balanced view of him by looking at historical events and talking to people who knew him the best, while trying to pinpoint the reasons why such a shy and thoughtful man ended up becoming one of the world’s most famous dictators.

A Female Relative in the title – I chose Motherland by Paul Theroux. This is an incredible novel. It’s written in such detail that it reads like an autobiography. The narrator is a writer who’s writing a memoir about life with his aging mother and his six siblings. The characters were so relatable, especially the matriarch of the family. I loved it.

A Winner of the Edgar Award – I chose Mr Mercedes by Stephen King.  I always had the impression that King’s novels are just out and out scary but the more I read them the more I know that’s not true. This was a straight forward thriller. I was completely hooked from the beginning of this book – a person in a Mercedes kills people who are waiting in line for a job fair and the now retired police officer who was involved in the case comes out of retirement to hunt down the killer. This is the first of a trilogy and I am tempted to read the rest.

Locked Room Mystery – I chose And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. A locked room mystery is is a subgenre of detective fiction in which a crime (almost always murder) is committed in circumstances under which it was seemingly impossible for the perpetrator to commit the crime or evade detection in the course of getting in and out of the crime scene. I thought this book was a bit slow to begin with and it took me a while to get into it. Once people started dying one by one it started to get a lot more interesting!

A Book mentioned in Show Us Your Books blog post – I chose One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus. This was similar to the book I read for the Title Begins with ‘I’. Both of them are YA books. I thought this was a good read. There was a lot of intrigue around the death of a high school kid. I liked the characters and the pace of the plot was good.

There is a bonus round for the challenge but the rules have changed slightly. I would have to read a book from all of the categories again but all of them would have to have been chosen by other participants – before you only had to choose five previously chosen. As my to be read list keeps getting longer, I have decided not to take part in the bonus round this time to concentrate on the books I already have to read!

40 Before 40: Challenge #1

17 Jan

My first challenge for my #40Before40 is to pass the C2 Goethe German exam. On the European Framework of Languages this is the highest level and means that you are almost on the same level and understanding as a native speaker.

One of the reasons I moved to Switzerland was to learn a language. A lot of people I know, and I mean mainly British expats, don’t bother to learn the local languages. It is possible to survive working here in an international company where the preferred language is English. However, I feel it is a bit of a shame not to try to learn it because, I believe, your experience will be much better for it.

That is not to say that it is easy. I came here not knowing a word of German and now I still don’t think I know any of it some days. It requires a huge investment of time, brain power and perseverance. So, I have worked doggedly for the best part of four years and slowly but surely I am getting there.

I have now finished my C1 course. So that means I am one more level away from completing this challenge. If you have every been stuck on a level in Candy Crush, you will know that “just completing one more level” is not as easy as it sounds. I will begin the C2 level when I am back from my travels in March.

To become even a little bit closer to being considered as a native speaker, I know that I have to improve quite a bit. Mistakes are not looked upon kindly in the exam. Also I know that I need to work on managing my stress levels in the build up to the exam because it is pretty unbearable how stress I manage to get myself. I dare say it is worse for people who know me.

I am under no illusions that this could be hard to achieve but I am going to give it my best shot and see what happens. I have got this far so that has to mean something.

One thing that I found equally laughable and endearing is that a colleague of mine confessed that I have inspired her to take her German exams as well. I never thought that I would inspired anyone to do anything, let alone take German exams. From the sound of it, she is doing more work and preparation than I have for the last four years.

But as a former boss of mine once said: You only need to be one mark above the pass mark. Everything else is wasted effort.

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How informal is too informal?

1 Dec

I have encountered many problems on my journey to learn German. The grammar is hard and nothing like English and the words are so long that sometimes I need to take a breath in the middle of a word just to make it to the end of it without going purple due to lack of oxygen.

One thing that I may never get my head round is the use of Sie and Du. In English, we just say You to everyone. A high court judge is You. Your neighbour is You. Your best friend is You. The Queen, however, is One (which just proves that there is always an exception to a rule)

In German, it’s not so straight forward. You have to use Sie for polite and formal situations and only Du for situations where you have a pre-existing and familiar relationship.

I always forget this. I say Du to my doctor and to the lady at the pharmacy. It just comes out. I don’t even really realise I am saying it and five minutes after the conversation, I think “Oh no! I’ve done it again!”

My argument is that I just want to be friendly and get on with everyone. This doesn’t wash in German speaking countries. It’s considered impolite to use Du when you mean Sie. However, in my defence, I think I have every right to use Du when addressing my doctor. After all she probably knows me on a more intimate level than some of my closest friends. So let’s stop pretending that there is not some degree of familiarity about our relationship.

Also, the “rule” of deciding when a relationship moves from the Sie to the Du form is unclear to me. I have always been told that when a German speaker uses Du to speak to me then, and only then, I can say it back to them.

Excuse me? I’m an intelligent (on occasion) individual so do I get no say at all in the decision about when we switch to Sie or Du to refer to one another? Perhaps you want to be on more familiar terms that I do with you! Why don’t I get a say in this?

I will continue to struggle with this for a long time I think. My strategy for phoning the doctor now includes a 10 minute pacing around repeating loudly “Könnten Sie bitte…” to get me mentally prepared for the right pronouns.

If you ask me, English is far simpler. But then I shouldn’t have to tell you that.

The Good, The Fake and The Ridiculous

23 Sep

We live in a world where we are surrounded by news. It’s virtually impossible to stay away from current affairs. There was a time when our only source of news was news bulletins in the morning, lunchtime and in the evening. Now, news is available 24/7. There is no getting away from know what is happening in the world with smartphones, tablets and the internet.

In my view news comes in three many forms: The Good, The Fake and The Ridiculous. Good news is something that, hopefully, we are all familiar with. Fake news is a relatively new phenomenon, in which news stories with questionable reliability quickly spread over the internet and social media sources. It can be hard to spot these fake news stories and lots of people take them at face values. This can be very dangerous ground, especially during election times where the general population can be more susceptible to believing things that they want to read.

By far my favourite type of news is the ridiculous news; the news that seems like it has to be made up because there is no way that could happen in real life but actually turns out to be true. This type of news has me howling with laughter.

I have spotted two examples of this type of news this week. One of them involved a family calling in the RSPCA, an organisation who protect animals within in UK, because they thought that a rare type of lizard had nested under a bed in their house. Terrified at the prospect of an unusual beast taking refuge in their home, they called to ask for it to be removed. The RSPCA were baffled. Approaching the lizard very carefully, they soon realised that it was, in fact, a dirty sock.

I cannot imagine how embarrassing it would be to be the person who made the phone call only to discover that they had called about a dirty sock. You can read the full report here. If you look at the photo, I don’t think it could have possibly looked like a lizard under the bed. How many red and white striped lizards have you seen in your life? And what is the likelihood that a lizard would survive in the milder climates in the UK.

This did remind me though of the type of embarrassment that we all must have endured on occasions when we are convinced we have lost something, only to find that it was in the first place that we looked. I regularly do this with my bank card. I turn the flat upside down because I have already looked in my handbag, my coat, my trouser pocket and every other logical place. Just when I am ready to call the bank to report it stolen, I look “one last time” in my coat and there it is in the pocket. It’s almost as if someone has placed it there while I was searching the flat madly because it definitely wasn’t there when I looked 20 minutes ago. Sure, this situation is embarrassing but not as embarrassing as calling a third party to remove dirty washing rather than a potentially dangerous reptile.

The second story I read this week was about a group of tourists who were rescued from a forest. Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? Where exactly were they? In the Amazon jungle? Some remote part of Africa? No, they were in a rhododendron forest in Killarney, Ireland. I’m not an expert on gardening and flowers but I don’t think that rhododendrons grow all that big. Apparently the group became disoriented and a helicopter and boat rescued them. I am glad that they weren’t somewhere more treacherous, like a butterfly house. You can read the story here, if you don’t believe me.

I guess this type of ridiculous news puts life into perspective. Reports always seem to be about bad things happening in the world. Wthout these amusing stories to lighten the load, would modern life seem too horrible to bear? Deep down I think that they strike a chord because we could imagine these things happening to us or, at least, someone that we know because we all know one person who would find themselves lost in a mass of rhododendrons.

 

A long weekend in Edinburgh

22 Jun

This time last week I was getting ready for an early night for a subsequently early morning flight back to the homeland.

I normally take the morning flights because they are cheaper and then normally run like clockwork. Not last week though. To my frustration, the flight was delayed by over an hour because of “technical problems with the aircraft”: a reason that I find a little nerve-wrecking to hear as I am about to board. Because of this delay, I missed the train I had pre-booked and had to buy another, more expensive ticket.

Nevertheless, we arrived in Edinburgh at around lunchtime. I had booked a serviced apartment on The Royal Mile for us to stay in. It took a while to find it because the GPS had us walking around in an area not near where it was and the name of the place was different to the name I had received on the confirmation booking. The apartment was really nice and we had the option of self-catering as well. The only problem was it was on the top floor and we had to go up 7 flights of a spiral staircase to get to the top.

The rest of the day we wandered around, saw the castle and had dinner at an all-you-can-eat Pan Asian buffet. It was a bit unhealthy but the choice of foods was surprisingly good and I limited myself to one plate of desserts!

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On Friday, we did one of my favourite things to do in an unfamiliar city – a free walking tour! We were told some really interesting stories, from the Middle Ages to the 18th century to more recent times, about the city of Edinburgh. We were lucky that the tour leader was a student of the University and had been brought up there so the information was definitely reliable. We even visited the grave of Tom Riddle, which was the name of Lord Voldemort, before he became Lord Voldemort, in the Harry Potter books. J. K. Rowling wrote the books while living in Edinburgh and it is thought that this was one of the many inspirations for her writings that she took from the city.

In the afternoon, we thought it would be a good idea to walk to the Royal Yacht Britannia, which is moored in Edinburgh. I completely underestimated how long the walk would take and promptly complained for every step at the end of the journey. We got the bus back.

IMG_6622In the evening after a lovely and slightly posh looking haggis, carrots and tatties and a few drinks. What better way to finished the day off than with a Ghost Tour! Wooooh! Spooky! Or in this case not. As the summer nights are with us, it wasn’t all that spooky, walking around hearing, not so much ghost stories, than gruesome happenings, which we had mainly heard about on the morning tour. All in all, there were only about 2 stories about ghosts and hauntings and I wasn’t really all that scared at all.

The next day we visited The Real Mary King’s Close. This was a live museum tour, where a person dressed in the costume of the 17th century takes you underground for a tour of how life was like in Edinburgh in the Middle Ages and beyond. Interestingly, because the city is so hilly, over the years they have just built on top of houses rather than knocking them down and starting again. This means that the city today is just one layer of the city, many more lie beneath. We were able to go underground and see the houses and the conditions that people would have had to endured. It was a really interesting way to learn about how life was. I think that this is far more effective than reading about history from books.

It got quite hot underground so I was glad when we could resurface. It wasn’t just escaping the heat that I was excited about; it was also our next stop: a gin distillery.

I have been to plenty of breweries but never to a gin distillery. The distillery was Pickering’s Gin at Summerhall Distillery and I can highly recommend it. The distillery only started in 2013 and is still relatively small but is already the official Gin of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is quite some going. The actual distillery is just three smallish rooms in an old veterinary school which is now one of the biggest arts centres in Europe and is home to many start-ups and art projects. We had the lovely Lisa, who had left Australia to come to Scotland to distill gin, explain to us the process and the challenges that the business faced in the beginning. It was fascinating from a business point of view and also to see how a kraft distillery operates. Of course, the best part was the tasting! Pickering’s currently have 3 gins: the original, the 1947 reciepe and the Navy Gin, which is 52%! My favourite was the 1947 reciepe gin as the flavour was a bit smoother than the others. On these sorts of things, I normally feel obliged to part with money and buy at least something but this time (and maybe it was because of the gin) I had no problem parting with my money for a bottle! As I say, I highly recommend this tour if you ever go to Edinburgh.

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After a nap in the afternoon, we headed out to see some former work friend of mine, who now live and work in Edinburgh. It was great to see Martin and Katie. I don’t think we have seen each other for 4 or more years but it was like we had never been away from each other. No awkward silences. This for me is a true sign of friendship: when you can carry on as if no time at all has passed. We had some cocktails at a bar and then headed to an Indian restaurant called Mother India for some delicious food. There is indian food in Switzerland but somehow it is not the same as in the UK when you go out, have a few pints and a good curry.

On the Sunday, we were heading back to Liverpool after lunchtime but there was time to walk to Holyrood Palace and see the Scottish Parliament. I don’t wish to offend anyone but the Scottish Parliament really isn’t a nice looking building. It’s sort of a mismash of ultra modern with a bit of traditional but too many glass surfaces. Just my opinion. And it doesn’t look as big as it does when you see in on the TV.

A 4-hour trip back to Liverpool, through the lovely green Lake District, meant that there was time to appreciate the beauty of the English countryside as well. A relaxing evening drinking beer in the garden and the weekend, as ever, was over too soon….

Disaster and two murders in a weekend!

5 Feb

Disaster might be a bit of a strong word but bad things have happened this weekend. The Wifi modem has broken and since Thursday evening there has been no internet connection at home.

I am not the sort of person who can’t go without the internet. In fact, not having the Internet  when I travel is one of the reasons that I like to travel so much. I normally only have the internet when I am at a hotel or restaurant and I can get a connection. I never pay for data roaming; partly because I don’t want to age 10 years when I finally get the bill and I realise how much data I have actually downloaded. I find pleasure in not being 100% contactable during time away and also not worrying why someone hasn’t replied to one of my messages.

It was a bit annoying that it had to happen this weekend. I had nothing planned this weekend, except a two phone calls via FaceTime with a friend and with my mum but now with no Wifi and a weak signal on my phone, that is not possible. I was looking forward as well.

fax-1904656__340Also, I had planned to spend some time this weekend on the internet researching some thing to do on my holiday in April. The weather is so cold and grey that a bit of research and thinking about holiday in a few months time was going to be momentary release from the drudgery of February. It seems like it was not to be.

Instead I have managed to do quite bit of reading. I have finally finished the second ever German book I have read. I am feeling a little smug again. This book was harder to read than The Reader because there isn’t a film that the book is based on that I have already seen. The book was a sort of crime thriller. A man is found dead and a private detective is hired to find out what happened. The book is called Happy Birthday, Türke by Jakob Arjouni, if you are interested. I also finished an English book that I only started on Wednesday evening. Because the Wifi broke on Thursday and the TV was also not working so well, I managed to get through a lot of it before the weekend even started. Coincidently, this book was also about a private detective. And, thinking about it, the book does start with the death of a man at the beginning. They weren’t the same book though. I am pretty sure that my German is not so bad that I wouldn’t have noticed.

If you are wondering how I am writing this without Internet, I am actually writing it on my phone. It isn’t the same as typing on the computer. I have fat figure syndrome and I keep hitting the wrong keys on my phone. It is taking me a lot longer than it would do normally. It’s frustrating. But hopefully a new modem will arrive tomorrow and normal service will be resumed. If not, I did visit a book shop yesterday with the intention of “just having a look”, but I came out of the shop ten minutes later with a bagful of books, so I should be able to keep myself entertained for a few days more at least.