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my dog’s thoughts this morning

Oh, she moved. I think she’s waking up.

Light! It’s another day! Oh, I’m so happy! Gotta go wash her face! With my tongue! She loves it! It helps her wake up! I’m such a good dog.

Down the stairs, down the stairs, down the stairs – do you see how fast I am?! I’m the fastest dog in this house! I’m great! Open the door!

Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, there’s the other one! The one that cuddles me! Oh, there she is! There she is! Gotta jump up and try and lick her face as well! No, gotta curl up in a ball on her feet! No, I got it: throw myself on my back and present her my belly for scratching!!! Yes, what a great idea!

Oh, the other one’s in the kitchen! Food!!!

No food. She’s opened that place where they hide their human food. I never get anything from in there. Maybe if I stare into my bowl? Stare. Stare. Oh, this is boring, better go right up to her and sit down and beg. Yes, that’s it! Oh no, she’s only scratching my ears. Oh, nice spot. Yes, perfect spot! Yes, scratch harder! Right there! I’m going to help you! Watch this. Look, I can do it with my hind foot! Look at me! Look at me!

Oh my gosh, now the other one is in the kitchen as well! I’m right in the middle! I love it when the whole pack is close together like this! Maybe they’ll feed me now!!!

Oh, they’re talking about me, I heard my name! I wish they weren’t talking so fast. Something about… FOOD!!!

Oh no, someone walking past the house! Better run to the window and bark at them. Oh, now my pack is angry. How strange. My job is important! Gotta defend our territory! It’s what dogs do! Get out of that street, you! There’d be people running all over our street if I didn’t pay attention. Better bark again, just to be sure. Alright, alright, I’ll stop, if they absolutely insist, then I won’t… FOOD!!!

False alarm again. I’m so unhappy.

OH MY GOD WE’RE GOING OUT!!! Finally! Finally! She said it! We’re going for a walk!!! This is it!!! Gotta try and lick her face!!! No, come back, let me lick your face! Oh, I know! I’m gonna jump up at you! Here we go!! Yes, what a wonderful idea!!!

Alright, I’ll wait right here on the steps, okay? Can you see me? Here I am! Just waiting for you to get ready. Now she’s gotta put on extra paws and extra fur – humans are strange sometimes. I’ll best sit still and wait… wait…. OH! She’s ready! Yes, I’ll show you the door! Here it is! It’s a door! You open it and we go out! YES! You made it! It’s open! Oh, you’re so clever!!!

Wait, what’s that? Oh, that funny thing they put around my neck. It makes a strange noise when they put it on. Like a click. I don’t like the noise. Why do they do that? Oh, the LEASH!!! Oh my god, oh my god, the leash!!! I LOVE the leash!!! Oh, there it is! Yes! I’m going to carry it myself. In my mouth. So I can chew on it. Hm. Leash. I’m so HAPPY!!!

Oh, better concentrate now. Wearing the leash is a job. I gotta defend my human. It’s a big responsibility! I gotta huff at everyone who gets too close. Warn them off. Yes, that means you as well!!! Out of the way!!! Oh, now she’s taking the leash off!!! That means she doesn’t need my protection anymore – let’s run!!! Come on!!!

Nobby running


Merry Christmas!

To all my beautiful blog readers, friends and the whole world – I’m wishing you a wonderful and merry Christmas and may peace and joy guide your days. All my wishes go out to those who have to spent these days in need, fear or danger (I’m thinking particularly of the refugees from Syria, but everybody else will be in my thoughts tonight as well). And I’m thankful for and grateful to all the good people out there who try to do something to change things for the better in so many different ways.

Merry Christmas!

Frohe Weihnachten!

Joyeux Noël!

Feliz Navidad!

Buon Natale!

I’D Miilad Said! (Arabic for those refugees)

Shubh Naya Baras! (Hindi, because my parents are in India)

snow and window star

not all that glitters is gold

… because sometimes it’s just the twinkle of the gleaming bathroom fittings.

Yep, I’ve spent the whole day tidying up, putting things away and other things out, and dusting, vacuuming, polishing, scrubbing, … And who’d have thought that cleaning was actually so suitable for producing the proper Christmas spirit?!

I sure didn’t expect that, but it seems to work. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m looking forward to having (almost) all the pack back together. My two younger sisters are arriving home tomorrow and our brother will join us on Sunday. True, our parents are somewhere in southern India, cruising a National Park on a motorcycle or something equally cool, but it’ll be so nice to have all my siblings back together! Since there’s five of us, that rarely happens. There’s always at least one somewhere abroad for any family event throughout the year. But we usually manage to get together for Christmas!

So I’m preparing some local dishes for the two that are coming from abroad (one from the UK, the other from Berlin, which is not abroad as such, but it’s on the other side of Germany, so it counts!) for the weekend, and planning dinner for the 24th and when we’ll go to Church and what we’ll do in between… We’ll have our grandmother join us on Christmas Eve and so far, the plan is to go to Church for the afternoon service, which is weirdly early, but the later one is always so packed and it might be nice to go about it in a more leisurely way. Then we’ll have tea and gingerbread and each of us can show some photos of what they did this year – catching up, you know? Then we’ll have dinner, then do the presents – which don’t exist this year since we’re all broke and out of ideas and time, but we’ll pretend there are some – and then on to dessert and champagne! Sound good? Yeah, I think so, too.

And I can imagine how ecstatic our dog will be when they all start showing up! He almost has a heart attack from joy every time one of the pack turns up.

Have I mentioned that I’m looking forward to seeing them all again? Even if it means taking all my office/work stuff out of my sister’s room and turning it back into a bedroom – it doesn’t matter, I just want her to be happy to be home again. That’s also the reason I polished the bathroom fittings, because that’s part of coming home: clean, fresh bed linen, a glitteringly clean bathroom and local food. And a dog that is narrowly avoiding a heart attack from sheer joy of seeing you.

things that live in the cellar

It all started innocently enough. It was during the summer, I was ready for bed and just doing something last-minute on the computer. The rest of the family had retired a good while ago and everything was quiet. There was a gentle breeze coming through the open (but fly-screen-protected) window. I heard a scuttling, rustling, scratching noise behind and above me and thought: ‘Oh no, one of the dragonflies has got in!’ It was exactly the kind of noise they make when they get inside the house and fly along the walls, trying to find the window again. I turned around and saw a huge, eight-legged creature scurrying along the wall behind me, just below the ceiling, its legs on the wallpaper producing the sound I’d heard.

My heart stopped, my breath stopped and I felt like screeching, but I didn’t dare move. The spider came to a stop in the corner of the room. Unfortunately, that corner was just above the door and I needed to use the door to get help. Slowly I stood up, knees knocking, my eyes fixed on the fleshy, hard-shelled critter and slowly, slowly I inched towards the door, keeping as far away from its corner as I could. I eased open the door, sure that any sudden movement would send it running off, and as much as I didn’t want it sitting above my door, I wanted it even less below my bed, behind my books or beneath my desk. That would have meant evacuating the room.

Once safely outside, I closed the door equally carefully and raced up two flights of stairs to get to my parents’ bedroom. The side of the bed facing the door is my Mum’s, and she is a very light sleeper, but for an emergency like this I really needed my Dad. I crept around the bed in the dark, trying not to wake my mother and got entangled in the carpet that the dog had thoughtfully rearranged earlier to make a big, soft, cushiony pile for his spoiled head to rest on and almost fell right on top of my Dad. He slept through it, but when I’d managed to rouse him (“Dad! Wake up! Right now!”) and had dissuaded him from his notion that either the house was on fire or one of us was on her deathbed, he was awesome beyond belief. I told him of my intruder and apologized for waking him as we hurried downstairs and he was calm and cool and just said: “That’s quite alright.”

I didn’t dare go in the room again, so he equipped himself with an old metal can that had at some distant past contained paint and a thick piece of cardboard and thus armed, bravely entered my room. I waited outside, nervously shifting my weight from one foot to the other, wondering if I could ask him to snatch my blanket and pillow if it got away and if I should seek refuge in my sister’s room or sleep on the couch. And then he came out, my Dad, my hero, gingerly holding the paint can in one hand and pressing the cardboard over the opening with the other hand. I hastened to open the door to the outside, so he could throw it out, and that’s what he did. He also admitted that it had been exceptionally large. I returned to my room, shut the door, shut the window, switched on all the lights, checked all the corners and finally fell into sleep. Yes, I left the light on.

This could be the end of the story, but actually, there’s more.

Two days later I opened the door in the morning, ready for another day, when, with my foot in the air, I realized that a spider – the first one’s brother, its cousin or maybe its father – was sitting right there on the floor, pressed against the doorframe, poised to storm my room. To this day, I’m proud of my reaction in that moment. In one leap, I jumped across the spider, while at the same time slamming the door shut behind me. Again, it was Dad to the rescue. This time, however, he messed up by dropping the can, so the thing could escape and hide behind the small cabinet in the hallway. I kept my room tightly shut for weeks, only opening the one half of the window that has a fly-screen cover for ventilation. And every time I opened the door, I peered out cautiously, checking the floor and the ceiling. (This spider fell prey- many, many weeks later – to a vacuum-cleaner-attack when it was incautious enough to show itself again.)

The next encounter with that particular spider family was in my bathroom. There isn’t a full bathroom down in the cellar, but there’s a toilet and wash-basin and while I was brushing my hair one morning, I dropped one of my hairpins, bent down to retrieve it and froze – another of the beasts was sitting right there, half protruding from its hiding place between the floor and the toilet fixtures, ready to pinch my hairpin. That’s what it looked like, anyway. I pride myself in how calm I stayed at that point. I left the hairpin to its spidery destiny and simply left the room, closing the door behind me. I went upstairs for breakfast and mentioned the spider, looking hopefully at my Dad. He seemed disinclined to be heroic before coffee, so my Mum got up and said: “I’ll do it. I’ve raised five children, I’m not afraid of a spider.” I tried to explain that this was no ordinary spider, but she only seemed exasperated by my efforts to save her. So down we went again and she equipped herself with the spider-removal tools (the paint can and the cardboard) and opened the door and I pointed it out to her and to my deep (and evil) satisfaction, she jerked back. “It’s certainly big,” she said. I said yes. (In my head, though, I said: “Yes!!! I told you so and you wouldn’t listen!”) She was absolutely heroic nonetheless and captured it, only to let the can fall again, so that we had to resort to the vacuum cleaner once more.

All of this brings us to last night. Last night, what happened was this:

I open the bathroom door, already in my pajamas, ready for bed and there it is, right in the middle of the hallway, with all the doors open. Probably not moving because it can’t decide which room to infest with its presence. I forbid myself to screech, concentrating on gathering my courage instead. First priority: somehow reach the door of my room so I can close it. I creep around it in as much of a big circle as the geography of the cellar hallway allows me, on tiptoe so it won’t feel the vibrations and scurry off. I manage that first and most important task. I even remember closing the bathroom door before I leave it. Now it’s only me and it. I feel a little like a Western hero in a standoff. The only way of escape is behind the spider and there’s nothing in my part of the hallway that I could put over it, no bucket, no paint can, no nothing. After debating with myself for a while and growing steadily colder with bare feet on the tiles, I finally manage to jump across it. Then I run up the stairs and get the vacuum cleaner down and carefully ease back into the hallway. I know my duty. There’s no choice here about whether or not I should call help, since the parents are currently enjoying the beaches of South India. It hasn’t moved. It’s mocking me. I plug in the vacuum, roll off enough cable so that I have freedom of movement, extend the arm to the fullest, switch on the machine … and everything goes dark.

At this point I’m freaking, my fertile imagination is painting technicolour pictures of a spider racing towards me, hundreds of spiders, the whole hallway awash in spiders, all intent on climbing all over me and I can feel a tingling, tickling sensation all along my legs and with one gigantic bound I fly through the air, out through the door, race up the stairs, heart pounding, sweat on my forehead, up, up, up until I reach my sister’s room, where I burst in on her, probably with my hair turned grey and my eyes rolling wildly. She’s in the middle of putting cream on her face and looks at me in dismay. I proceed to unfold my tale, which makes her two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, her knotted and combined locks part and each particular hair stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

Alright, maybe it doesn’t quite have that effect, and she doesn’t have knotted and combined locks anyway, but I couldn’t resist. (Such a great picture of terror, isn’t it? Also, I’ve always wondered why the porcupine would be fretful, but that’s another story.) She looks at me and says: “There’s a spider and you call me for help?” I have to add at this point that my dislike of spiders is but a gentle breeze to the raging hurricane of her fear of them. “I only need you to fix the electricity,” I plead. She agrees to come as long as she doesn’t have to look at the terrible sight. So down we go. (At first, accompanied by the dog, trailing his cuddly blanket behind him and his face all mussed up because we’ve rudely wakened him from his first slumber, but he’s man enough to know his responsibility and accompany the womenfolk to the danger. We sent him back to his bed. He leaves, still half asleep.) My sister, the genius, clicks the fuse back into place and waits at the top of the stair. I descend, careful to check where it has moved to (nowhere, still the same spot, still mocking me), switch on the vacuum and do the evil deed. After that, I go through every reachable and almost unreachable part of my room, vacuuming hundreds of imaginary spiders before I give my sister the all-clear and finally retire to dreams that are mercifully spider-free.

The morale of this tale? If there’s nobody there to be a hero for you, you just have to be your own.

to my grandmother

Every Wednesday noon, one of the family meets my grandmother at her physiotherapist to drive her and all her grocery shopping home. Sometimes she’s in a hurry because she’s got some social engagement scheduled for the afternoon. Sometimes we invite her over for lunch. Sometimes she just wants someone to chat with for a while. Today it was the latter, so I stayed a while and she told me of another visit at the old people’s home where she goes regularly. It’s the place where a lot of her classmates, friends and acquaintances now live and it’s just down the hill from her house, so she often goes to visit there and to help out. She knows all the nurses and she knows they are chronically short on time.

I know all this, none of it is new to me. I know the stories, I know a lot of the people she talks about, at least I can remember them from when I was a kid. I know that she is very practical and kind in her assistance to her friends, I know the stories.

And yet, today, as we sat in her formally-comfortable living room at midday, with the grey sky outside and the heating on, I looked at her and it all felt new to me. I saw that her body was old, so much older than I remembered. I saw that she can’t see or hear as well as she used to. And I listened as she told me in her matter-of-fact way of the friend whose sight is failing and who she bullies to be as independent as she can be despite her insecurity over not seeing, and who she indulges in all those instances where indulgence is harmless. I listened as she told me how she helped another friend to change her trousers and discovered that she hadn’t made it to the bathroom in time and how she dealt with it in her calm, practical way. And I realized that I was sitting at a table with a heroine and suddenly I felt like bursting into tears.

And so, I’m dedicating this post and these thoughts to my grandmother, who is by no means a saint, who exasperates me regularly, and who is the coolest, strongest, toughest, kindest octogenarian I know. Who goes out of her way to help old friends. Who volunteers once a week at a charity shop. Who works as a volunteer in the church community, visiting elderly folks on their birthdays. Who loves to travel and has gone off to travel places like Alaska, South Africa, Peru in the last ten years alone. Who once threw out a very close friend, because that friend thought her social visit was more important than a promise that my grandmother had made to her four-year-old granddaughter that she could stay the night at her place, which the friendship didn’t survive and which she’s never regretted. Who played tricks on her teachers as a schoolgirl, who worked as a nurse throughout the war and the falling bombs, who fell in love with my grandfather at first sight, who, years later, had to be tricked in her turn by my grandfather into trying her very first pair of trousers, who prefers spending her money on her nine grandchildren than keeping it “safe”, who watches the news and reads and is well-informed and goes to the theatre and the opera and concerts and who always let me lick out the bowl when we baked cookies.

a practical exercise in role reversal

It is said that in everyone’s life comes a point when instead of your parents looking after you, you start looking after your parents.

It hasn’t come quite so far yet, but I’m experiencing a good dose of role reversal at the moment nonetheless. I think I mentioned before that my parents are going off travelling around the world. Well, they are leaving today. After the last weeks being one hectic whirl of preparations and visa applications and flight research and last-minute-medical procedures and all those things, everything has now calmed down. Actually, everything has come to a stop. They are  ready to go. The backpacks are packed. Everything from passports to tickets to money to electrical equipment has been double- and triple-checked. They are wearing the clothes they are going to wear on the first journey (with the train to Frankfurt Airport and then a flight to Dubai). It’s ten thirty in the morning, everything is ready, and we’re waiting.

I was much more nervous yesterday, but I’m still not calm today. Nor is my sister. We’re fluttering around them. The dog, although he doesn’t usually like the sight of backpacks, seems to be relaxed – he’s lying stretched out in the warm autumn sun streaming in through the windows and from time to time he heaves a heavy sigh. My parents are calm.

My Mum is doing some last-minute phone calls, saying goodbye to friends. My Dad is walking through the house, tidying up. He’s about to go outside with my sister to change the tires on the car from summer to winter ones. It seems pretty normal under the surface, but on a normal day I would just be sitting here at the desk, probably listening to music while I tried to write or do some research into one of my projects or any other normal thing. I wouldn’t be getting up every two minutes to go outside to check on both of them. My stomach wouldn’t be behaving like it is. I wouldn’t shoot random questions at them in a panicked voice:

“Are you SURE that you have your passport?” – “You WILL remember to buy some water after the security checks on the airport, won’t you? Flying for so long is terribly de-hydrating. And do you remember the exercises I showed you for your feet, so that your blood can circulate?” – “Do you have the reservation number somewhere ready for the rental car?” – “Are you certain that you have the phone number safe that you’ll have to call to report your bank card stolen?” – “Remember to also take photos of the two of you together, alright? You do remember how the photo camera works, right?” – “Remember what we told you about the importance of sitting still and enjoying and about ‘going with the flow’ and everything, don’t you?”

I shouldn’t be doing this. I should be the one to travel. They should be the ones to worry. The world does not make sense at the moment. Is it okay to be jealous and envious of my parents, while at the same time being totally proud of them and afraid for them? Is this part of growing up? Is this NORMAL?!?

Role reversal. I’m turning into my Mum. Someone help me. Even better: someone give me a pill, please. I need to calm down.

Pill, that reminds me! Sorry, have to go, have to make sure they packed the aspirin in the hand luggage…

the first day of August

After scorching temperatures and then a spell of spring-like weather, the first of August was beautiful. Twenty-five degrees or a little above, sunny with a few fluffy clouds to make the sky look pretty, and after everyone being very industrious all the morning, the family sort of informally congregated on the terrace in the afternoon, lying about in bikinis or rolled up T-shirts and reading books. It was very relaxed.

In the evening, we had a little BBQ, just the family (all of us except my brother, which is still six people, five of which are women… poor Dad!) and some steaks and sausages and three bottles of dry red wine. We ended up exchanging family histories. ‘Do you remember when…?’ Most of the time, I don’t remember, which leads me to conclude that I have a very bad memory. Or maybe to put it more positively: a not very organized and highly individual memory, because I remember a lot of things, I just can’t place them in any context that makes sense.

There’s the memory of me and my brother and my middle sister sitting in a dark green tent with our Dad while outside there’s a huge summer thunderstorm and we’re not allowed to touch any of the canvas because the water’ll seep in otherwise. Which apparently happened on a totally different vacation than the one I thought it happened on. Then there’s the bike tour that I remember was during an incredible heat spell and I remember my middle sister refusing to go on because she was so tired and it was so hot, and I remember that we all tried to divert her mind because there was no choice – we had to make it to the next hostel on our bikes and that hostel was another twenty or thirty kilometers away. She can’t remember that, however.

Then there’s the things I’ve forgotten: how I diverted my two youngest sisters’ minds from the exertions of biking uphill in the pine-forest midday heat by telling them a story. How I told my youngest sister a story to make her go on after she’d inadvertently sat down in a bunch of nettles by telling her another story. She says that every time I didn’t know how to go on, I’d say that I’d continue at the next crossroad. And my middle sister reminded me that I told her a story once that she liked so much that we tried to record it on cassette, but after a lot of experimenting with water, we gave up because we couldn’t get the sound effects rights. (It involved a kind of monster that was made entirely of water, in case you’re wondering.)

So apart from spending a really nice evening talking and telling stories of our shared past, and sitting outside – next to the fire – until almost midnight, which is one of my favourite things about summer, and admiring a beautiful full moon, I also realized that maybe I started this whole thing with inventing people, inventing worlds, inventing stories that happened in these worlds, … so much earlier than I thought. That’s a nice thought. Although I didn’t write them down, it appears that my younger siblings have fond memories of me telling them stories and that these stories were good enough to keep them amused even when they were bored, exhausted or ill. I find that a very encouraging thought.

So have you had a good start into August? And when was the last time you sat around swapping memories with your family?

this afternoon (word picture)

I’m sitting in the reading nook at the back of the garden, on a comfortable chair, my laptop on a small table in front of me, feet propped up on a stool, right below an orange cloth that is fashioned tent-like above the wrought-iron structure that shades this corner. The Moroccan lamp dangles down from the highest point and isn’t lit because it’s bright afternoon.

Outside my shady tent my youngest sister lies on the soft green grass of the garden, reading a book and tanning in her bikini, while dragonflies zip through the air around her. Birds chirp and sing and sometimes the far-away humming sound of a plane can be heard, as it cuts its way across the pale blue sky and the wisps of clouds up there. Playful gusts of wind tease the branches of the roses that have climbed over the arched garden gate and flutter my tented roof.

On the terrace, separated from the grassy garden by a stone bridge over an artificial little brook that runs around two sides of the garden, with little ponds in between, is the terrace, where my father naps in the sun, and my mother reads on a reclining chair in the shade. The dog moves from shade to sun, from sun to shade, and cannot decide if one is too hot or the other too cool. Whenever one of the big black flies, or bumblebees, or dragonflies or bees come too close to him, he jumps up and snaps at them, trying to catch them, but he never succeeds.

All around, trees are softly waving their branches, blue and purple and yellow and white and pink and red flowers are nodding their heads in the breeze, and on the pond, pink and white waterlilies have opened their petals and float serenely on the glittering surface.

It is a long weekend in early summer, and I’m so very happy to be where I am.