Tuesday, 27 July 2010
Actually, the language skills are coming on in leaps and bounds. I can now construct vaguely useful sentence fragments, describing little bits of what I am doing or will do, and can also construct whole sentences, as long as one is not too fussy about the grammar.
I had a visitor these past few days. She actually came prepared with an itinerary, and we went out and did a variety of interesting things.
On the first day, we went for a tour of Münster. This was in two parts. First, we walked. Second, we went on the bus. It was expensive, but I now know about a few of the important bits of Münster. Some of the churches have lovely organs within them! Then we had a tasty meal and a few drinks.
On the second day, we went on a boat ride on the Aasee. This is an artificial lake, through which the river Aa flows. Afterwards, we made ourselves beautiful, then went to an event in which restaurants which sell particularly expensive food participate and sell their food at a much reduced price for a couple of days. It’s a publicity thing.
We arrived there slightly later than we should have done, apparently. There was nowhere to sit. We sat on the grass. For the first course, I had crab with courgette capriccio, whisky cocktail and caviar sauce and quail’s egg, on a nest of cress. It tasted good. For dessert I had Valrhona chocolate torte with anis mousse. Except that I didn’t, really. The torte had gluten in – it was basically a cake. The other dessert was goats’ cheese in milk and white chilli chocolate. We swapped, except that she had the jam stuff with mine, and I had the anis mousse, which was the main thing that I wanted, anyway.
We also had some expensive prosecco, both with and without lemon sorbet, and some local strongly alcoholic stuff, which tasted a bit like brandy. Then we went to the pub. We had cocktails. It was good. Then we went home and had some Martini. I also had a cup of tea. That was better.
In the morning, I felt OK. I said goodbye to my friend at lunchtime, then returned home. Then the effects of the gluten hit me, and I was glad to be at home. Then I slept. That was good.
Today has been my first day alone for a while. It has been good. It is far more fun having a day to oneself after three days with another person than after ten days alone. I spent the morning and afternoon listening to German CDs, and the evening visiting a church for an incomprehensible service (although those around me appeared to understand what was going on) and then spending time on the Internet. I sent some e-mails and caught up on some blogs. It was good.
However, the really exciting thing, other than that fact that this visit seems to have taken me away from despondency, is that I have found the wire to connect the computer to the speakers! This means that I can watch DVDs. Of course, I do not have any DVDs, but at least if I manage to get hold of some, I can have entertainment which does not consist of listening to a German CD, or reading a book about how to speak German.
I have decided not to post any more updates unless I actually have something to say. My definition of "something to say" may well not be the same as that of other people. We shall see. Less of the "diary of utter boringness" format from now on, though.
Wednesday, 21 July 2010
Either the new bike has been named already, or it is owned by Raphael.* The sticker on its handlebars says so. Raphael seems like a good enough name to me, so Raphael it is. I think that Raphael will be my main bike, as she comes with a working dynamo and two lights attached, both of which work.
Today has been a day of shopping and dynamos. It is Wednesday, which is market day, so I went into town first thing this morning** to buy fruit and vegetables. That accomplished, I treated myself to pea soup with some sausage in and returned home.
I had been told that the guy in the flat across the way from me had a dynamo that I could use on Dinky bike. I was to ring his doorbell at 3pm. I was only three minutes late (I was trying to finish my tea – I sensed that the dynamo exchange could be long, involved and incomprehensible, and I wanted both to be properly hydrated and to ensure that no flies could drown in my tea while I was away. I am all about the safety of flies), but there was no answer. I didn’t push the issue,*** and returned to the flat to make poppies out of felt, and to learn German.
At 4pm, my closest neighbour rang my bell, and asked if I had seen neighbour across the way. I said that he had been out, which she translated (I think) as he had been sleeping. She probably had a lot more knowledge about the situation, so it was very good that I didn’t push the issue. When she rang the doorbell, it was answered, and the quest began.
It all started out simply enough. We went into the basement and two dynamos were located. One was deemed to be suitable, and I was shown how it must be fitted. I said that it was not difficult to fit a dynamo, and that I had a spanner to go with the proffered spanner, then thanked the neighbours. Neighbour across the way departed. So far so good.
But it was not good enough. Neighbour below me had to be summoned by closest neighbour to fit the dynamo. I don’t think that females here are expected to be able to handle two spanners round here. He came, and we eventually got the dynamo attached. It would have been faster had I been left alone, but it hadn’t taken all that long. I thanked the neighbours and hoped that the task had been completed.
The task had not been completed. Although I had seen how to fit the wires to the dynamo, I had to do it while watched. The back wire connected easily enough, but the back light didn’t work. Closer inspection revealed a distinct lack of bulb. This was quickly remedied, and all was good.
The front light, however, was a problem. Its wire was too short to reach the dynamo. As I have a spare front light with batteries in in the flat, I wasn’t worried. My neighbours, however, were. First, the light was inspected and a bulb was fitted (which sounds simple, but took about ten minutes). I gather that these are important for proper functioning of bike lights. A piece of copper wire was obtained, and put into the dynamo. It was held against various parts of the bike light to no avail (please note that we did turn the wheel to make the dynamo do its thing). Apparently, electricity in Germany is no more magic than the English sort. The wire was poked into bits of the light and the process repeated. Eventually, the bulb was removed and put into the rear light. It was found not to be working.
A new bulb was procured. I inspected the inside of the light and wondered how it could possibly work. I have, for a number of years, been of the opinion that electricity has to have an in and an out to make a light bulb work, and this only had an in. Or an out. Either way, one of the directions appeared to be missing.
While I was pondering this mystery, another light was procured from another bike. The bike was rather dead, apparently, although it looked a lot better than those I am riding. I think that the bottom bracket was kaput. Also, it had no saddle. Again, it was poked and prodded, and the copper wire was inserted. Again, this process was to no avail. New bulbs were inserted, wire was removed from kaput bike, connections were made, bulbs were moved around. Nothing.
The dynamo was then removed from kaput bike, and attached to Dinky bike. It wasn’t sitting against the wheel properly, but I figured that I could fix that when I was alone. When appropriate, I discreetly held the new dynamo in place so that it produced power. Still nothing.
By now, it was 6pm. I had things to do (more shopping and e-mailing), so I asked if I could finish fixing it myself tomorrow. I think that I won’t be fixing it alone (or, possibly, at all), but the project eventually came to an end at 6.15. This is when I was given another bike to use, and promised that the lights worked. They did. I am very pleased.
Finally, I was able to send e-mails and do the rest of my shopping. This wasn’t very interesting. I then returned home, tidied up a bit in preparation for my friend’s arrival tomorrow (today’s train tickets were too expensive), learned some more German while playing the recorder (go, Blackadder theme tune!) and cooked and ate an artichoke. It was delicious, but the butter didn’t contain enough salt.
The flat looks good now, though. It needs to be hoovered and some surfaces in the kitchen need to be wiped, but I finally feel as though I am settling in properly.
And before you say anything, I am immensely grateful to my neighbours for their help and concern. They really do go above and beyond the call of duty for this uncommunicative foreign girl who arrived in their midst (in the flat of the strange foreign man who doesn’t wear shoes a lot of the time). Without them, my stay here would already have been a lot more difficult. I am thinking of making them a cake. And possibly also something out of felt.
*I don’t ask where the bikes come from. I would have to use German to ask the question, and even more German to understand the answer. I just trust that they have come from authorised sources, and will give them back when I leave.
**OK, at 1pm. This lack of routine is not doing my sleeping any favours. Nor is my lack of self-control.
***One pushes the issue by ringing the doorbell multiple times. If nobody is in, they do not know that one is pushing the issue; if somebody is in, they come to the door eventually (generally), but they are angry. Good things do not come from pushing the issue, particularly when one does not speak the language.
Tuesday, 20 July 2010
Also, it seems to go quite fast. I expect that this is just the illusion one gets when one is pedalling hard, but it is a comparatively exhilarating ride. I like it a lot. I think that it will be a she, and I will call her Dinky.
Dinky is, however, part-Dutch. Obviously somebody’s German bike had a bit of a thing with a Dutch bike, and this was the result. She has one actual brake, and also the pedal backwards thing going on. I find that I don’t mind this – having one brake makes me feel a lot better than having no brakes, and I appear to be able to control my pedalling backwards a lot better than I could when I was riding the Dutch bike on the first day. So far, there hasn’t been anything even approaching an incident.
I must make the saddle higher, though. And attach some lights. I discovered some lights on the table by the front door, which will save me some money. They look good, too. They are, however, too big – the little black things which attach round the bars of the bike will rotate freely at their tightest. I must ameliorate this problem!
I am thinking of making something out of felt to make the black things tighter. I know – profound thought! Think of all of the engineering involved! But it’s OK – I have started to make things out of felt again, and so far it is going well. I would like to set up an Etsy shop, but first I must have some things to put in it. At the moment, I am making a large (i.e. approximately poppy-sized) poppy, which can either be a poppy in its own right, or some sort of accessory. I think that it will be pretty when it is finished. If it is not, I think that perhaps this Etsy project is not meant to be. I have half-made some fuchsia already – I think that they will make good earrings (well, these two flowers will not, but my next lot could well do. Tricky things, fuchsia flowers). I still need to obtain some dangly bits for the bottom. I was thinking of spinning my own from the same wool as I am using for the outer, but I am not convinced that I will get round to buying the spindle. Having said that, I would only need a few centimetres of thread. It shouldn’t be too difficult to spin some myself without the aid of a spindle. Well, it’s not as though I am short of time at the moment!
No news on the arrival time of my friend tomorrow. Perhaps she is not coming. Ah well – perhaps I will buy myself an interesting new pesto to make up for it. Perhaps supermarket own brand this time – last time I was accidentally extravagant. Tomorrow is also market day. I promised myself cherries, a lemon and some vegetables. Tomorrow will be a good food day! I must also obtain more breakfast cereal. I am running out and experimented with the oats again today. There was cramping. Bearable, but I certainly won’t be eating oats more than once a week!*
Mind you, if my friend does not come to stay, I needn’t have put off making the teff pancakes.** Apparently, the batter needs to ferment for three days, and I didn’t think that teff pancakes on their own (which could well be what I will end up eating) would necessarily make an entertainment-worthy meal. Especially if they don’t work out as planned. Having said that, I could experiment with that oniony orange dish. I wonder what its ingredients are, apart from onion, injera and chilli powder. Must do some research!
Hmm. This post looks to be a bit of a brain-dump. This posting every day thing is all very well, but it might not be right for me, given that I am not exactly doing a lot at the moment. I suppose, though, that it isn’t really an issue, as nobody is reading my blog. I can ramble away to my hearts content, and nobody cares at all!
Speaking of rambling away, I have just noticed that my arms aren’t really fat any more! My recent weight gain has been way above and beyond what I have ever gained before, and my arms, which usually manage to stay reasonably slim-looking (I am the classic English pear shape, with a lot of weight on the bottom and very little on top) became quite fat. Now they look OK again. I keep getting a shock when I look at them.
I think that I am about 68kg now, compared to 77 when I arrived at Taize. And no, I don’t know what that is in real weight – I did the calculations and was so horrified that selective amnesia immediately took hold. It is for the best – it was a big amount of weight. You can work it out for yourself, if you care. Anyway, I think that I am trying to lose another 10kg, although the selective amnesia wasn’t suitably selective, and I don’t remember that bit, either. It’s definitely more than 50kg (the final weight I want to be, as opposed to the amount that I want to lose), because 50kg is a weight for some 14-year-old girls, and I am not one of them. I remember weighing 45kg when I was 13, and that equates to about 7½ stone. I think that I want to be more than 8½ stone. How much more, I do not know. We shall see. Not more than 9¼ stone. That is the heaviest I can be and still have something like a flat stomach.
It’s a bit strange to care about this again. I suppose that having very little to do will warp one’s mind. I find the idea of watching football to be an OK one at the moment, as long as it is in English. I enjoyed watching the horse riding event in Aachen, even though it was in German. BBC world service is excellent except for the repeats (even the short attention span it seems to encourage does not upset me too much), and those can be avoided by watching CNN world service, or the Dutch channel which occasionally (or possibly frequently – I may find out over the next few months) has old sitcoms in English with subtitles.
Even the German CDs make suitable entertainment when combined with some felting. I must do more felting and learning, though. I am currently revising CD 3 of 16, which really isn’t good enough, considering that I have been in Germany for over a week now. I should be on at least CD 8. Must try harder!
I can also water plants. The seeds I planted have started to germinate, and I must go to the vegetable garden again and water that. It is slightly exciting, waiting for these things to sprout. I have just this moment started to regret planting one edible thing each in three different pots, though. It could be a little confusing. Hopefully I can be relied upon to pick the parsley and not the poppies when I want something tasty to eat.
*Note my hierarchy of worries. Loneliness is obviously a concern, but the real issue is whether or not I will get to eat nice things. Hang on – isn’t this using food as a reward? Don’t people who do that end up really fat? Well, that explains a few things!
**Teff being the staple grain of Ethiopia, apparently. It is gluten-free, and full of protein and all sorts of nutrients. This is partly because the grain is so tiny that the husks cannot be separated from the insides, so teff flour is always wholemeal, and partly just because it is just generally great. Teff pancakes, or injera, are really yummy when made by people who are not me. I have only had proper fresh ones once, and they were delicious, but I have eaten a lot of mushed up ones in traditional Ethiopian food. Oh, the joys of having a housemate who lived in Ethiopia. I have been waiting for several years to get my hands on some teff flour. This had better be good!
Then (then being after I wrote the list, but before I started to accomplish things on it. My time-line is not excellent), in a fit of responsibility, I took out my biological waste, which consisted of two tea bags and some cereal on which I poured milk which smelled fine, but looked, shall we say, gloopy. Not a good look for milk. It does have a big advantage, though – I was able to salvage most of the cereal by scooping the really nasty bit out and putting the rest in another bowl. This pleased me – gluten-free cereal is not cheap, and this has something approximating real chocolate in it.*
While I was accomplishing this great feat of preventative flat maintenance (avoiding both fruit flies and bad smells), I decided that I would go to the bike shop over the road if the time was after 2pm. As it was 1.58 at the time, I gave myself a day’s grace and went into the basement to get the bike (phew – that was a close shave!). On the way up the basement steps, with the considerably heavy bike by my side (well, at arms length ahead of me – I find that if I lock my arms straight it makes pushing the bike up the cunning slope at the side of the steps that much easier), I was accosted by a man.
When one of my schoolfriends tells these stories, they always end badly. I have been involved in a few myself. She has a strange man magnet, I think. Hers normally start, “I was (insert place and activity here) and this really strange man started talking to me/started to follow me/was minding his own business until I started to talk to him and thus sealed my own fate” (note that she doesn’t actually say the third option, but I have been involved situations with strange men and her more times than I care to remember, and the last option does occur in times of crisis involving lost hikers and a need to know whereabouts on the map we are. At least two times in Wales alone). My stories end better. They usually give me houses, or something.**
This man asked me if I needed a bike. In German, of course. I wonder if he was the Russian man who fixes bikes and is rumoured not to speak much German but to be good at English. If he was, the rumours are not to be relied upon – his English was almost as bad as my German. However, he showed me a bike chained to a nearby railing, unchained it, and motioned that I was to try to ride it. I did this, and marvelled at how diminutive it felt. I think that it was the perfect size for me, but my perception of what a bike should feel like has changed somewhat over this past week. I rode it round, noting that it uses the pedals to brake, like a Dutch bike (although it has a “standard” brake, also), and that it felt like a bike (which is a good thing) He said that he would come to my flat this evening.
This evening, he did indeed come to my flat. He took me to the bike again, greased its chain, and got me to ride it round again. Then he put it in the basement for me. He pointed out that it has no lights (well, no dynamo to power the lights) and I said that I had a rear light, but not a front one, but that I could get them both (note that the conversation was not nearly this succinct – it involved a lot of gestures and, at one point, the English-German dictionary (thank you, Henry – it’s excellent!)). I do need to obtain a screwdriver now, also, but I think that I can manage that.
Alas, that means that I must once again go buying things tomorrow. I have no idea which is the cheapest place to buy cycling accessories. I get the impression that my local supermarket is not it. Perhaps Lidl is the way forward. If only Germany knew about Home Bargains (aka Half-price or less). I don’t understand why countries make do without Home Bargains. I wonder if Germany has an equivalent. I already found the Superdrug equivalent, and was delighted to find a shop which is waay better than any organic chain I’ve seen in the UK (and, in some ways, better than Lancaster’s own Single Step shop. Not in all ways, though. This shop is clearly out to make a Profit). It has teff (flour and non-milled), and everything! But no general cheap shop yet.
It is amazing how expensive some stuff can be in Germany. Take tea, for example. I am paying 10 cents a tea bag. For an English person to pay that much is ludicrous. I can’t afford to support that habit! I just did some maths and discovered that I am accustomed to paying about 5 pence per tea bag. Not such a big difference, then. The paper wrapping on every tea bag does feel a bit excessive, though. A cup of tea is not an occasion – it just happens.
Some things are a lot cheaper, though. Those little holders you can get for felting needles are ¼ of the price, compared to the UK, for example. Also, there is some tasty fruit juice which costs 89 cents for 1 ½ litres. It’s not all that specific about which fruit (I think there are 12 of them, so presumably they blend them according to seasonal availability)
There appears to be some sort of party going on around here somewhere, judging by the music. I cannot imagine that the other people who live in this block like it very much... The not so good thing is that I feel slightly sad that I am not invited. Listening to the music, though, it sounds as though it isn’t a very good party. I remember those. Very awkward. I suppose it is for the best that I am not invited.
Wow – the double glazing here is excellent. They have just closed the window and suddenly the music is just a little background noise. I imagine that my neighbours don’t mind the noise at all if they like to keep their windows closed. Oh, the marvels of German buildings.
Ooh – they’ve opened the window again. The party is happening in the next room. Wow. This building was built well. The music is terrible, though, and the lads there sound like a load of thugs (here’s hoping they don’t find my blog and work out who I am!). The girls have started to sing something very annoying.
For the past three nights, it has been so cold that I have had to sleep underneath my duvet cover, not on top of it. I think that tonight I could be closing the window, also.
I feel ever so guilty, though. I should so be a Catholic. I feel as though I am being bad listening to the music, and that I should turn it down. Ah well – I shall revel in the reflected badness of it all, and feel like a rebel. They can’t pin anything on me! If people knock on my door demanding silence, I shall just mumble in English, and that will make them be quiet! Mwah ha ha ha ha!
Midnight, and the party appears to have stopped. What sort of a party is that?
12.30, and it is in full swing again. I think that the lads have gone, as ABBA has started. It is a big improvement. It is “Knowing me, knowing you”, though. “Breaking up is never easy, I know, but it’s time to go”. Great. Just what I need. Britney Spears. At least it is nothing to do with me this time – last time I heard it, it was coming from my common room. Very embarrassing for all concerned, especially those who decided on the music. I don’t get the impression that they realised that it was embarrassing, though, so I didn’t say anything. How would they have shown their faces again after that?
Argh! James Blunt! I wish that people didn’t think that his music was so abhorrent. If they thought more of it, I wouldn’t have been subjected to input on the TV which means that I can identify some of his music and dislike it with authority. I much prefer not knowing what it is that I dislike. Somehow, the dislike is harder to put up with when it is defined. Also, they forced me to think about the music, as opposed to simply letting it wash over me.
Oh – they didn’t finish that song. Is he so bad that even people who choose to listen to his music, and go to the trouble of obtaining it, can’t listen to the end of the track? Poor guy. Did you know that he’s really posh? Do you realise that admitting that I know this makes me feel a little bit bad inside? But it is my duty to ensure that you are informed of Relevant Facts, when deemed appropriate. As I am the one doing the deeming, we can consider that this timing was indeed appropriate. But if you are better at deeming than I, please do speak up.
In other news, I have people coming to visit me. One friend is rumoured to be coming the day after tomorrow, and staying until Sunday, and Mother and Anne are due on 4th August for a week. I have the transport problem solved as long as I fix the puncture on the fold-up bike, and Anne doesn’t mind riding a Dutch bike. I think that I would really be better finding another bike for her, though. If her braking by use of pedals ability is anything like mine, there will be Incidents. This is one accident-prone child. Hmm. Had better see what I can do. Mother will be riding the “new” bike – her idea of a big enough bike is much smaller than mine, and there is no way she would be prepared to ride the large bike. Which I have just decided to call Hubert. The little Dutch bike is Franzi. It seems like a Franzi to me. The “new” bike doesn’t have a name yet; I’ll keep you posted. I am absolutely sure that you are on the edge of your seat with anticipation, so I will try not to take too much time. Naming bikes is a serious business, though. One cannot name a bike until one has taken it through its paces. It would be a mistake. The name might totally not suit the bike and then one would have to change it, or have a bike with an unsuitable name. Imagine the shame! Not only would one be the crazy person who gives names to a variety of inanimate objects, but one would be seen as having poor judgement.
Louise might visit, also. We shall see. It occurs to me that the weekend she is thinking of visiting could well be while I could be visiting the parents in France. That might not be good. On the other hand, it would be cheaper to entertain her than to take the train to the other side of France! Unless she takes exception to a braking system in the pedals, also. If she has an accident, it could get expensive. If she makes me buy a new bike, it could get expensive. I don’t think that she has that much power, though, and she certainly shouldn’t know my PINs. (Notice my cunning use of no superfluous words! Please note that I actually say “PIN number”, though; I am not actually suitably committed to the cause of Not Saying Things Wrong,*** because it sounds quite strange omitting the “number”. I am inconsistent in my use if correct English, and should be punished. But you’ll have to find me first. Do try – I could really use the company right now.)
*I always wonder why people put real chocolate in these things, though. It’s like ice cream – the chocolate can’t melt because the ice cream is too cold, and so you get chocolate which you can’t taste, which has a weird texture. With the milk in cereals, the chocolate stays similarly cold and weird. However, the chocolate pieces are small and heavy. They sink to the bottom of the bowl. This means that I get a mouthful of chocolate at the end, which I can then hold in my mouth until it warms up and I can taste it. It turns out to be a lovely way to end breakfast.
**Well, the first house in which I lived after ceasing to be an employed person living in student accommodation came to me when I was accosted by an old man in the street asking me if I needed a house. As a matter of fact, I needed one rather urgently. He only charged me twice as much rent as I was prepared to pay, which was about half of the (very cheap – this was in Lancaster) market rate – it was the summer holidays, and one can get some very good deals at times. So that ended very well indeed. The flat in which I am currently living was also offered to me by some guy. He obviously has a well-developed sense of trust! To live up to this trust, I have learned how to put the bins out (very complicated in Germany, although most of the complication comes from not being able to understand the descriptions of what goes in which bin), and have only spilled tea once! That is some sort of record for me, I think. The tea, not the bins. I can usually understand the bin concept and did, in fact, work for two weeks as Queen of the Dustbins in Taize. Although nobody called me that. But I totally was.
***Or, perhaps, Not Saying Things Incorrectly.
Sunday, 18 July 2010
I tried to go to church. I got very lost on the way, and ended up in totally the wrong part of town, but I did eventually find the correct road. I think that I even found the building in which the service was taking place, although it was not very clearly-labelled. I didn’t see anything which said that this building was what I was looking for. However, I shall try again next Sunday, and make sure that I get there on time. The people going into the building should give me a clue about the location of the entrance. I shall have a look on the website again, also.
Being unemployed is starting to lose its attraction, also. Being employed full-time doesn’t seem like such a good idea, either, but a job in which I got to talk to people from time to time certainly sounds more fun than hanging around, wondering when something is actually going to happen.
I know, I know – in order for things to happen, I have to make them happen. It’s just that this language barrier thing has taken me way outside my comfort zone. It’s not great fun going up to people who speak your language and asking them to interact with you; when you have no idea whether or not they will speak your language, it is an awful lot harder. I know – moan, moan, moan. Sitting there playing Spider Solitaire (which I am not doing – you can clearly tell that I am typing right now) is going to solve nothing. I need to learn the German and go out and make friends.
On the plus side, though, I missed out on a week of silence at Taizé, but I am certainly getting one now! I have had plenty of time to contemplate my life, although there has been very little spiritual guidance.
Yes, this is pathetic, oh life is so hard, me. I want to give up and return to Taizé, or home, but I know that if I do that, I will regret not giving this a proper try in the future. Also, I am really enjoying getting around by bike. I think that perhaps I will do more cycling when I get a bike which is my size.
Are there any good blogs written by people who don’t talk to other people?
Saturday, 17 July 2010
Thinking about it, you were lucky not to have to read my previous blog post (the one eaten by W0rd), as it started off describing what I was going to eat for dinner, then saying that this really wasn’t an adequate blog topic, and that I could really do with some human interaction. This paragraph was much shorter and only a miniscule amount less funny.
It’s funny, though, because I don’t appear to be making a very good job of responding to my e-mails, and they are interaction with a real person, albeit at a distance. I suppose that I don’t really feel like responding to other people’s questions.
It is lonely here, you know. I don’t speak the language, and don’t know anyone who is helping me to get integrated into any sort of social scene. I missed going to the garden to help out today because I got up late, and figured that people would be unimpressed were I to fail to be punctual, so I made no new friends today. Tomorrow, I shall try out the English-speaking church. It looks like totally not my scene, and could take a long time to get there, but social interaction is social interaction, and it might surprise me...
However, in order to get there, I must ride the bike. The bike is a lovely piece of machinery, which really seems to want to be good. It could teach Marigold the Death Bike a thing or two about being nice to people (although I feel that it would be a mistake to expose it to Marigold’s malign influence). However, it has a few problems. It really likes to select its own gear (although it has been holding steady for a few says now), it is only the forces of good holding the front wheel straight, and it is too big for me. The first two problems would only really be an issue with a bike which wasn’t so anxious to please (go, anthropomorphic personification!), but the third problem has started to hurt my knees. My knees are important to me, and so I shall have to brave the bike shop very soon. Probably on Monday. Argh! If I could speak German, it would be less frightening. I only hope that the shopkeeper speaks English. I think that the place over the road from here is a bike shop which sells a lot of second-hand bikes, and I think that their prices will be reasonable, especially as I particularly do not want a bike which looks good. Here in Münster, bikes are disabled by means of a bike lock, and then abandoned, not attached to anything but themselves. I feel that a bike which looks as though it might be worth actual money might not last long here. There’s no point in paying extra for a more nickable bike. Oh, how I miss Marigold. Apart from her lack of seat (thank you, Louise) and stand, she is exactly what I want. I suppose that her homicidal tendencies are hardly ideal, but she has never actually tried to kill me...
I made a discovery today. Orange-flavoured milkshake does not taste good. Of course, I knew this already, but I decided to try it anyway. Now I know for sure. Please trust me when I say that it is as bad as you might imagine it to be. There really is no need to try it out for yourself. I should have trusted my instincts, but I was thirsty and it was cheap. Never go shopping while you are thirsty! (Although I realise that sometimes it is necessary to go shopping while thirsty in order to buy oneself a drink, and that one might possibly become ill were one to be denied this opportunity to go shopping, should a suitable drinking water tap not be in the vicinity. Under these circumstances, I would argue that it is more useful to go shopping than to refrain therefrom. Which is a word the spellchecker seems to think that I just made up.)
I bought plants, seeds and nectarines at the market today. The plants were basil, parsley, sage and lavender, the seeds were sweet peas and wild flowers (all due to be planted before the end of last month), and the nectarines smell tasty. They will be eaten with yoghurt – this is my new favourite snack. It makes me feel healthy and virtuous, and tastes excellent. Any deficiencies in the nectarine’s flavour can be disguised with honey, which is so much better than sugar because it is more natural. Or something.
Anyway, I now have a little garden on my balcony, and it should smell good. The sweet peas, should they grow big enough, should climb towards the balcony above me, and hopefully won’t cause me to fall to my death while trying to cut a particularly high-up bloom (because that would totally be the fault of the flowers, as opposed to me). The wild flowers may look pretty, should they do the flowering thing. The Lavender will annoy my mother, and the other herbs will smell good and help with my cooking. Which reminds me – I need to get Delia’s parsnip and parmesan bread recipe at some point (the tenuous link being that it involves sage, and is pretty much all I ever used my previous sage plant for). Probably before I have someone to visit me for a meal. Although perhaps I should be feeding them potato soup with potato croutons, followed by mashed potatoes with potato sauce and potatoes on the side, then sweet potato fritters (as in potatoes with sugar on, as opposed to sweet potatoes themselves, which are, in fact, a different species from potatoes and, moreover, are absent from this flat). Perhaps with a potato smoothie. Potato lassi, anyone? I have cheese to go with it now. Anyone?
Tomorrow marks the one-week anniversary of my arrival here in Münster. It’s weird to think that this time last week, I was sitting in my last church service in Taizé. How things change. At Taizé, life goes on, and here, nothing much happens.
I felt, when I arrived, that it was a good idea to cut myself some slack and not worry about getting a job straight away. I felt that one or two weeks would be long enough to get settled in, and then I could start to look. Now I am feeling slightly guilty because I have scarcely made a start with advertising my amazing English skills (about all I have that is marketable at the moment, I think, because pretty much every other job requires some German skills, at least while one is applying for the job), and certainly feel no closer to finding out how one might go about getting a cleaning job. Of course, it could all change tomorrow when I go to church. Or it could not change at all. The latter scenario seems more likely to me, but I am aware that I am a reasonably cynical sort of person. Also realistic, sometimes. Except for that time I really trusted that guy, and it turned out to be a bad idea. That wasn’t cynical at all. So not only am I inconsistently cynical, but I am also not good at arguing my own point, and step in to ruin my own argument. Go me. I don’t think that I have a point any more. Instead, I shall have a shower and go to bed. I shall see what tomorrow brings.
Friday, 16 July 2010
Anyway, I have been here for a week and I still can’t speak German. Also, I still only have one friend. The former problem does not help in my quest to solve the latter. I went to the International Students place today, only to find out that the only event left to happen this academic year will probably take place in Hungarian, and probably wouldn’t be all that interesting anyway.
Still, tomorrow is Saturday, and I shall go to the vegetable garden to help. I may make myself some new friends there, or I may just be disappointed to find out that everyone there speaks German, also.
This is al very sedentary and dull. I kind of though that moving to a different country would somehow make my blog posts better. I suppose that human interaction is an important factor in a lot of good blog posts, and I get most of mine at the moment by nearly being run into by cyclists who don’t like the way I am wavering on my bike, and by shop assistants who scan my items and tell me how much they cost. Which I understand sometimes. I even questioned a total the other day*. I said “nein” in a disbelieving tone of voice. Sure enough, I was right! I saved myself 5 Euros with the combination of my amazing language skills and my amazing maths skills.
So, dear reader, I suppose that I ought to do something exciting so that I have something to write about, and so that my blog is therefore worth reading. I think that listing the things I bought since coming here will not impress you, but I am going to try with the list of things (abridged) that I have eaten since coming here.
I started off with yoghurt. It was a bit battered, having come from Taize, but tasted lovely. I also ate oats and UHT milk, but that wasn’t going to last me very well – it’s breakfast food, really. After going shopping, my food options expanded to rice and spicy pesto. No further, as I cooked enough rice for four days on the first day post-shopping, and was feeling in a parsimonious sort of mood. The microwave here is excellent. After that, we went to the vegetable garden, and my dear, lovely neighbour (and I mean this without even the slightest trace of sarcasm – she is wonderful) decided that it was a good idea to dig up most of the potatoes; I didn’t have enough German to ask her to stop in a polite manner. I am supposed to give them away, but I don’t yet have enough friends to give them to. I therefore have several kilograms of potatoes waiting in the kitchen.
I am on the third day of potato-based meals now. I boiled some two days ago (when I decided that the rice was no longer fit for eating), and fried the remaining ones yesterday. I also made some extremely dodgy clafoutis (recipe: some milk, some eggs, some gluten-free flour, some sugar, loads and loads of delicious cherries from the market), which was nonetheless edible (less flour next time), and at the same time as baking that, baked some delicious-smelling peppers, again from the market. This morning I finished the clafoutis, and this evening I made a sauce from the peppers, the remaining tomato sauce, some bacon, some garlic and some low-fat spread. And, of course, some wine. It is Friday, after all. I ate it with microwaved fried potatoes. My best meal so far. Tomorrow, I eat leftover sauce, and will have to cook some more potatoes. If you fancy eating potatoes, please do call round!
The oats have gone on hiatus, though. Apparently my body doesn’t like oats. They have been going through me... well, I’ll spare you the details. I have been feeling perfectly well, though, so they can’t be that bad. Perhaps they can be a once-weekly treat.
Ooh – I hear rain, I think. It is fairly consistently above 25C here, and all rain is welcome. Except, of course, for the rain which comes after I have made the effort to go to the vegetable patch and water the thing. I got lost twice on the way back. Well, perhaps “got lost” is putting it a bit too strongly, but I assert that it would have taken me an exceptionally long time to get home this evening, had it not been for my adequate sense of direction.
Ooh – it’s definitely raining now. There’s lightning, and everything! So much for my good intentions with the potatoes.
Hmm. This really is rambling, isn’t it? Ah well – there’s a week (nearly) of stuff to be dumped in here. Having got it out of my system, hopefully I will be able to post in a more orderly and less crap fashion.
Mmm – lots of rain! I am getting splashed. I’m sitting here in the bedroom with the window open, and the computer between myself and the window. Perhaps I should close the window a little. It doesn’t like to be closed a little, apparently. There we go – just open at the top now. I still get the lovely breeze, but the monitor is no longer being splashed.
Shower, then bed? Then we forget that this horrid post ever happened and I return (stop sniggering) to my usual good blogging form? Thank you. Goodnight.
*15 + 1 + 1 does not equal 22.
Sunday, 11 July 2010
Well, I have certainly had a lot to blog about these past few months. Unfortunately I have had neither the time nor the Internet access to convey these things to you. I could have written them down using a pen and paper, I suppose, but where would be the fun in that?
Now, however, I find myself in yet another foreign country (told you I had a lot to blog about), unemployed and without knowing the local language. While this may not be conducive to a happy time, it should certainly allow me some free time to write about it.
But I shall try to start from the beginning. I forget where I left off. Did I tell you that I handed in my notice for my job, and was preparing to move to Taizé, in France, for several months? I think that I did. I don’t think that I told you about my boyfriend, though. I don’t think that I shall tell you much about him, as it may come back to bite me. Suffice to say, this guy is wonderful. Let’s call him Henry. I applied for a job in the company where Henry works, and was told that I would get an answer in July or August, and that the job itself, where I to get it, would start in September or October. This gave me the safety net I needed to take the plunge and leave the country.
I left England on 1st May, if I remember rightly. I flew to Geneva, and spent the night with a school friend and her particularly cute children. The youngest, aged 18 months, appeared to be lacking a concept of gravity, which made supervising him quite fraught at times, but we all survived. I was supposed to arrive in Taizé on 2nd May, but it turns out that Geneva is not an SNCF (the French rail network) station, and so has no SNCF machines. This makes retrieving a ticket from an SNCF machine particularly challenging. I was not up to this challenge, and I missed the train while I tried to sort out the problem. Fortunately, help was at hand in the form of a friendly ticket seller who sold me some new tickets for some more money. These tickets enabled me to arrive at Mâcon only 20 minutes after the last bus of the day to Taizé had left. I stayed overnight in a hotel near the station, and arrived at Taizé at about 9am the next day, having had an excellent night’s sleep.
I expected that I would feel some sense of triumph or achievement when I arrived, but I didn’t. Taizé looked familiar, but I didn’t feel any particular sense of rightness as a result of being there. Still, it was better than being at work!
I really don’t like writing this so long after it happened – I don’t feel that I can remember accurately what actually happened. I hope that what I am saying is truthful. I see that what I am saying, however, is not even remotely humorous. Unless, of course, you find the idea of staying in a monastic community funny, in which case these next few entries should make you laugh rather a lot. Perhaps the funny will come back again in a bit. (I am, of course, taking some of my earlier writing to be funny. I may be wrong about that. If you don’t find my earlier entries amusing, you are unlikely to find subsequent ones to be any better.)
But I digress. Upon my arrival I was given breakfast (for me, a stick of chocolate and some hot chocolate), and then welcomed. I was given a dormitory which I shared with two Swedish girls, one French girl, one Polish girl and one Dutch girl – quite diverse, especially as the first week in May was Netherlands week, and it seemed as though three people out of every four were from there. As I was 28 years old, I was put into the 25-35-year-old group, which was fortunate enough not to be allocated any work for the week. I figured that this would be the last time I would have off for a long time (I was correct, of course), and so vowed to make the most of it.
My discussion group was mostly Dutch, of course. They were all lovely people (from what I could tell, at least; certainly, none of them seemed to be concealing weapons about their person. Although it wouldn’t be very good concealment if I could see the weapons, I suppose), who had lots of interesting ideas which I attempted to take on board. I think that I failed miserably, alas, but I enjoyed trying. In my free time, I started to learn the alto recorder. There are tents for socialising around the back of Oyak (the place where one goes to socialise; hence the tents for this purpose), and I spent many pleasant hours sitting in the sun, trying to learn new notes. Well, about three hours, anyway; there wasn’t all that much sun around that week. In fact, it was a particularly cold and wet week, and I only had one pair of trousers up to the task of keeping me warm. They did not smell good by the end of the week. I also spent time catching up on sleep. By the end of the week, I was the most rested I had been for a very long time.
During that week, I had to discuss staying longer in Taizé with one of the sisters. I said that I wanted to practise loving people in a practical way, and that Taizé seemed to be a good place in which to do that.
I suppose that I should clarify a little bit here. God says that the most important thing is to love. I do not believe that he means us simply to think that other people are wonderful (i.e. to use “love” in the sense of an abstract noun); I believe that he wants us to use “love” as a verb, and to carry out acts of love for people. These are not necessarily big things. In fact, the little things are often the hardest, especially when one is trying to do little things whenever there is an opportunity to do so. It takes a lot of training (or, perhaps, a very godly nature) to be able to do that.
Anyway, the work at Taizé is not really allocated on the basis of whether or not the individual would like to do the work – it’s more to do with what needs to be done. The work changes on a weekly basis, in general, although there are some jobs which last for longer. I figured that being obliged to do whatever work was allocated to me would be very good for me, although I hoped that I wouldn’t be allocated any toilets to clean.
But I digress. I was allowed to stay on and, as far as I am aware, my plan to leave in September or October (confirming this in July or August) was approved, presumably provisional upon my not doing anything stupid.
That Sunday, I moved into N’Toumi, the place in which girls who stay in Taizé for between (I think) six weeks and six months live. I was in room C, and I shared it with three other girls. Three doors down was the common room; very large and spacious, and friendly-looking. It came with what was basically an unlimited supply of food, which did not bode well for the weight I was proposing to lose there. Still, it meant I didn’t need to go hungry at all; chocolate and cheese on demand (ooh – now I’m starting to get hungry), plus yoghurt, hot chocolate, tea and coffee (and bread and cookies for those who could eat such things). Oh yes, and various types of fruit. There were, I think, 23 girls there that week. It was great! Everyone had come for a reason other than that they simply had too much time on their hands. Of course, it took me a while to learn everyone’s name, but I think that I had managed by the end of the week.
My first jobs were El Abiodh kitchen in the morning (preparing the easy bits of lunches, such as salad and counting cheese), silence keeping in church during the midday service, and Cadole in the afternoon. Cadole is the place in Taizé in which they fix things, and one can end up doing pretty much anything other than food preparation there. I started by fixing benches, which was enjoyable albeit a lot harder than it looked, and finished by cleaning drains which was not enjoyable, albeit a lot harder than it looked. It was a suitably gentle introduction to Taizé life. It wasn’t exactly gentle, but at least it left me under no illusions about how hard I would be working. Generally, there are about four hours of work in each day except for Sunday, in which there are often more; Sunday is the day on which people arrive at, and depart from, Taizé.
The weeks continued along a similar vein. The jobs I did were: driver for Cadole (same as Cadole but with the occasional bit of driving thrown in); cleaning houses (mostly outside Taizé – I got to drive and to explore new houses. Perfect!); adult animation (making sure the adults (those aged 30 and over) look after themselves and tidy up after themselves); El Abiodh house (cleaning rooms. I am pretty amazing at cleaning sinks, especially limescale-encrusted taps); Point 5 (cleaning toilets, mostly. Not a problem at all with a good team – it is over very quickly and the work isn’t particularly nasty at its worst, in general. Plus, you get used to it); rubbish collection (queen of the dustbins, driving around in the rubbish van. It’s not called the rubbish van for nothing, although don’t tell it I said that); washing-up responsible (convincing teenagers that it is a good idea to wash, dry and put away dishes, mostly. Sometimes they are excellent...); black boxes responsible (emptying insulated boxes containing food into the bin or into storage for the next meal, so that every meal is used twice and only twice); and a quick stint cleaning the massive pans in one of the kitchens. Plus some driving. I have gained some useful experience. Should I decide that my next job will be cleaning hotels, I should be well-qualified.
While I was working in adult animation, I was offered the chance to stay in Münster (in Germany) rent-free and learn German. I decided to go there from July, after Henry had been to visit me, and stay until the end of October at the latest, returning sooner if I got the job for which I was waiting. Alas, Henry came to the conclusion that I am not the girl for him, and so I have withdrawn my application for that job. I am now thinking of staying in Münster until the end of the year at the earliest, unless I am offered a suitable job in England before then.
So, I now have several tasks:
- To learn German
- To get myself a job
- To tend to the vegetables that I am growing as part of looking after this flat
- To make some new friends
- To avoid falling in love with a German; it is a bit of a cliché in my family to marry somebody from Germany
- To visit friends who live nearby
- To have friends to stay
- To lose some weight
- To learn how to play the recorder properly
- To find out where the things I need are located (the fact that you are reading this indicates that I do, at least, have Internet access)
- To buy some food – it’s oats, rice cakes, cheese, coconut macaroons, milk and coffee at the moment
- To clean the flat – start as I mean to go on...
- To make the bed – have washed my bedding (by hand, alas) already
The tasks are pretty much in inverse order of magnitude, although the four at the bottom are obviously the most pressing at the moment. I feel that the vegetables must have attention soon, also – I shall see them tomorrow. Right now, I want to go to sleep! I have to wait for one person to visit me (“in the evening”), then I’m free to sleep. Tomorrow, the exploration starts. I shall endeavour to write about what happens here; if nothing else, it will be interesting for me to read it back in years to come.