26 November 2019

Blogland (reblogged)

Cartoon from socialmediatoday.com
Cartoon from socialmediatoday.com

Blogland is a funny old place. The country doesn't really exist, of course, but its people certainly do. They are the people you meet through the comment they leave on your blog and the comments you leave on theirs.  I suppose they are the modern equivalent of penpals. 

I remember at the age of 12 getting a French penpal through my school.   Our French teacher had insisted on us all writing our first rather faltering letter in French which was to be forwarded on to a school on the outskirts of Paris. Our London borough was twinned with theirs.  A few weeks later I got a letter back from what was to be my penpal. Her name was Annick. At first, like with most friendships or penpals, the letters were simple, almost awkward. My name is....., my hobbies are....., I live in a...... , my mother is called...., my father works in..... etc. The letter would probably have half a dozen sentences and finish with "avec mes amities" or "best wishes". Gradually, Annick would send me a cutting from a French comic or a French coin or I would send her something with a little English on.  After a year or so of awkward letters to-ing and fro-ing between us, she sent me a music disc of her favourite singer, Johnny Hallyday. I was into the Beatles at that time and I knew then that out tastes were not remotely the same. The relationhip went downhill rapidly from there really.  I think she was angling to visit Britain, so invited me to come and  stay with her in Paris first. I'd already decided in advance it would be dire, so made my excuses and I never heard from her again. My love of German and Germany (and particularly Karl-Heinz, whom I met on a school trip to the Rhineland)  took over at the age of 14 and ever since I've never had a great desire to go anywhere near France. I do genuinely think about Annick once in a blue moon and wonder what she's doing with her life now, but that's as far as it goes.  However, I digress.

In a way, blogging can be compared to a much more civilised form of penpalship. You chose the people who interest you (rather than haphazardy having an address foisted on you by a teacher). You choose their blogs for their style of writing, their philosophies, their type of lifestyle, their topics. You tend to have something in common - they have kids your age or live in your part of the world or may be they live in a place which fascinates you or share your hobbies. What may start as a single comment on their blog, escalates over time into an acquaintance with them, until you feel you have got to know that person quite well. You almost feel like a fly on their wall or a far-flung relative. With the addition of photos you almost know what wallpaper they have in their bedroom and what they've had for supper.

When some bloggers suddenly stop blogging, you become anxious. Are they all right? Simply tired of blogging?  Fallen under a bus? Been kidnapped and held hostage? Sometimes you feel compelled to ask on their now abandoned blog, just in case they were just waiting for someone to appreciate their absence or dial 999. I know of several bloggers I used to read who have over the years disappeared into the night. It's a very strange and rather worrying feeling that they have not surfaced again since. One was a lady with a slimming blog. I wonder whether she overdid things and starved herself.  Or maybe fell down a drain? It can play on your mind.

Of the rest, I have occasionally been tempted to meet up with them, as some bloggers often do at conventions, but have often thought that the mystery was better than the reality. A bit like my husband's penpalship as a teenager. He wrote to a girl in the USA and she was absolutely stunning in the photo she sent him. He was quite besotted and they wrote back and forth avidly until he was able to meet her in person by arranging a holiday to the USA before he went to university. As he stepped off the plane and through the arrival channels, she was there waiting to meet him. It was then that he realised the one and only treasured photo of her was only from the neck up.  Head and shoulders. Passport-size. There she stood before him in reality. Five feet tall and five feet wide. The bubble was well and truly burst. I'm not saying Greg was shallow and that only beauty mattered to him (that was certainly not the case), but sometimes,with the best will in the world, reality does not match with what you imagined or what the penfriend would have you imagine. 

I am sure my elderly mother (who had absolutely no interest in learning how to use a computer) thought I was completely bonkers spending a fair bit of time on the computer writing to what she imagined were complete strangers, but it is surely no worse than writing a letter and sending it through the post to a penfriend. After all, some people even knowingly write to axe-murderers on death row. Now I am quite sure you are all not THAT bad. But it got me thinking: "Why do we blog or comment on them?"

Twenty years ago, the Internet started to take off on a grand scale. Who could have envisaged then that the world would be as it is now, where you can sit in the comfort of your home and within seconds: 
  • click on a map of somewhere on the other side of the world and travel along its streets;
  •  get a recipe for Chocolate Cheesecake at the click of a mouse;  
  • translate a sentence into Japanese; 
  • send a message to someone else in an instant rather than post it in an envelope;
  • look at images of Justin Bieber until you find the right one to print for your bedroom wall; 
  • look up all the Presidents of the United States; 
  • watch a programme you've missed on TV;
  • talk on Skype to your uncle in Outer Mongolia; 
  • or read a blog written by a total stranger. 

All of these things are now possible and no longer weird.  They have become the window to a much wider world where facts, thoughts and ideas can be exchanged instantly and promote our own further education.  Contact with other people through their blogs is just as much part of that education.  I'm off to look up Annick on Facebook. I wonder if she's there and whether she still likes Johnny Hallyday?

17 November 2019

The Berlin Wall

I am a little tardy in writing about the thirty years since the Berlin wall came down. The date was 9 November 1989, of course, and I watched with interest the news coverage of the 30-year celebrations last week, but didn't have a chance to post about it. It was only when I was dusting the lounge yesterday that the penny dropped that I should write a post. Why when dusting the lounge? You will find out later.....

Many will know the history that led to that to this event, but, for those that don't, here is a very potted version.

Following the end of World War II in 1945, Germany was divided up between its four allied captors - the US, the UK, France and Russia.  The capital, Berlin, was in the Russian zone. However Berlin itself was also divided up into four zones.


West Germany, or the Federal Republic of Germany as it became known, was looked after by the UK, US and France whereas the Russian zone in East Germany became the German Democratic Republic. The capital of West Germany became Bonn in the Rhineland, whereas the GDR boasted that Berlin was still their capital. Life post-war was very different between the two areas. West Germany began to prosper again under the Allies, whereas the GDR suffered under the Russian Communist regime with little spending on the infrastructure or to repair war damage. Many East Germans voted with their feet and moved to the west. In Berlin alone, 3.6 million fled to the West. To stop this, on 13 August 1961 the Communist government of East Germany built a wall effectively overnight separating East and West Berlin and cutting the Allied part of Berlin off from West Germany.  The thick wall was manned with armed guards, tanks and minefields. The Allied area of Berlin became an island in the middle of the GDR reached  from West Germany only by air or a patrolled autobahn corridor. Families in East Berlin were trapped and were suddenly cut-off from their relatives or jobs in West Berlin. Any attempt by East Germans to escape met with their being shot or imprisoned. Up to 200 were killed trying to cross the wall into West Berlin and an additional 800 trying to escape from the GDR into West Germany.

Greg and I visited Berlin in 1977. We drove from our home in Cologne to the border between East and West Germany and then through the 2-hour autobahn corridor between West Germany and Berlin. As Greg worked in the media, we were convinced our every move was watched and we literally had the brush-off in a park in a suburb of East Berlin, when two men in uniform deliberately brushed past our shoulders as a warning, while we were taking photos. Entry and exit to both the GDR and to East Berlin itself was closely monitored and papers checked and double-checked with snarly German shepherd dogs in attendance at every turn. It became a way of life! I still have cine footage of East German guards patrolling the Berlin border wall on motorbikes. A live piece of history

In the late 1980s under Gorbachov, things began to mellow a bit with the Soviet block and the introduction of glasnost meant that there was more communication between East and West. The Cold War was slowly melting.  Several countries in the Communist block began to change the way they governed their people. Hungary opened its border and people from East Germany began moving to the west through Hungary. In October 1989 mass demonstrations against the government in East Germany began. In November, 1989, the Central Committee of East Germany decided to make it easier for East Germans to pass through the wall. A mistake by the press officer meant the border was opened several hours before it should have been. As a result millions of East German citizens stormed through an opening in the wall. Many collected souvenirs of the wall with chisels and some television stations filmed the now famous footage of people hitting the wall with sledge hammers. The government began demolishing the wall the next day. The fall of the wall destroyed the ruling party of the GDR and caused many of its officials to resign. The GDR ceased to exist and East Germany was reunited with the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October 1990 (Unity Day or Tag der deutschen Einheit). Berlin became the official capital of the united Germany once again and western civil servants, diplomats and media organisations began moving back to Berlin from Bonn.

By then, Greg and I were living back in the UK in London and Greg was working for the BBC. On Unity Day, Greg was sent over to Berlin with a group of foreign journalists to comment on the official ceremonies. As part of the official information pack given to him, he brought back a paperweight containing a piece of the Berlin wall. We still have it on our coffee table. Set in some sort of synthetic resin, it has deteriorated over the last 30 years but I still keep it on our coffee table. We also have pieces of the wall Greg scrounged on his walks round Berlin afterwards. It was these I was dusting yesterday.....

The (now disintegrating) paperweight with a small piece of the wall set in the resin

The paperweight from the back

Piece of Berlin wall taken from the Western side which was highly painted with graffiti

Piece of Berlin wall taken from the Eastern side which was plain all the way along - you would never have got that close to put grafitti on it without being shot!

Section of the wall from the Eastern side showing its components of concrete and stones

11 November 2019

An unusual walk in the park

Early every Monday morning I go for a walk in the local park. I used to go every morning when I had our dog Freddie. As a result I got to know a lot of the other dog walkers and one lady in particular, Shirley, whose dog was rather nervous, not to mention grumpy, and would only tolerate my dog as a companion. Over time, Shirley and I became firm friends, so much so, that when Freddie died, I would still go to the park to walk with Shirley and her dog every morning. A few years ago, Shirley in her 80s broke her hip. Twice. So with a hip replacement and then a replacement's replacement, she now walks with a stick and cannot drive any more. For the last few years, I collect Shirley in my car very early morning on a Monday and drive her and her dog to the park, so she can still exercise a bit and meet up with the dog-walking crowd. On other days she employs a dog-walker.

This morning was a Monday morning like any other. Our walk almost didn't happen, as Shirley and her dog both hate the rain and will cancel in that case, but half an house before I left the house, the skies turned blue and the sun shone, so we set off as usual. 

We were halfway into our walk around the park and were just approaching a curve in the lake, when a familiar face came into view. A portly man of about 70 with grey hair sporting a blue Conservative rosette on his lapel. It was our local MP. He made a beeline for us and greeted us with "Good Morning, Ladies". For 20 minutes, we stood and talked, barely a word about politics. A bit about his dogs, his wife, his hip operation and his time serving in the army in Bosnia. It didn't seem appropriate to discuss politics or the antics in Parliament. It was just three people chatting in the park about this and that, as dog-walkers do. 

At the end of our long chat, he asked me if I would mind taking a photo of him on his phone with the lake in the background, so he could use it on his blog. I obliged, but his face was in shadow, so his face was not clear. I suggested he move a few yards to the right, where there was a sunny patch and retook the photo. He seemed happy with it, we said our goodbyes and parted in opposite directions. Well that encounter certainly took me by surprise and was never in a month of Sundays what I envisaged when I got up this morning. 

08 November 2019

The Continuing Saga

Image result for freezer cartoon pictures
courtesy of 123rf.com
The continuing saga of the freezer, that is.....

After my experience last week and having made an appointment for an AEG engineer to call back today, I was a little nervous that all would not go smoothly. I was reassured somewhat last night, when I received a  mobile text message to say the engineer would call between 1200 and 1500 today. As I had not been sleeping brilliantly this week, I was pleased that it gave me the chance to have a much needed lie-in this morning. As it was, I woke several times in the night and again at 7am, but turned over and went back to sleep.

I was woken rudely at 7.45am by someone hammering on the front door and ringing the doorbell at the same time. I jumped out of bed half zombie-like and got to the front door to discover an elderly AEG man, toolbag in hand, all ready for the repair. 

"I wasn't expecting you until at least 12 noon", I said bleary-eyed, showing him the text message on my phone.

He proceeded to mumble a very long monologue to the effect that AEG always give him a terrible schedule which basically covers the whole of London, Kent and Surrey. He can be in Twickenham one minute, Ashford, Kent the next call, then North London for the next call and so on. He spends his life travelling one long distance to another with little thought by those who arrange the schedule for how much time is needed, plus of course trying to deal with problem appliances inbetween. He had therefore decided, as his previous call-out was close to mine, he would put the two together and come earlier. He said he was planning to quit before Christmas and find work locally. He was no spring chicken, so I wondered what work he would find. He also  confirmed that the AEG telephone system was bad and even he had trouble getting through to talk to his managers.

He set out about dismantling my freezer to solve the problem - a blocked evaporator drain hole apparently. He also had to rearrange the hosing at the back to allow the water to flow freely from the freezer to the evaporator plate to allow self-defrosting (which my freezer was clearly not doing!) He worked fast, was a little gung-ho, ramming drawers back into the runners and I had to point out that he was about to sever the electrical cable, when pushing the freezer back into position. He was gone in less than an hour, on to his next long drive. I couldn't help feeling sorry for him.

The freezer is now plugged in and I am waiting for it to reach its -18C before I do a big shop to stock it up again. I'm not holding my breath. I'll wait a week or two before I really fill it up. I'm not that confident the problem is solved.......