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September Song – More Like A Lament

So much has been happening lately. The month of September was intense: at each momentous event I thought I should write about how deeply it struck me and then something else happened. So my reflections on the death of our beloved Queen and the accession of Charles III, the ruthless and pointless narcissism of Putin as he drives his hapless conscripts to wreak havoc in Ukraine, and now the devastation caused by hurricane Ian, particularly where it made landfall on the beautiful island of Sanibel which I know so well – all were overtaken by the subsequent events before I could even start to sort my emotions into words. Other people have expressed similar sentiments to mine, so I’ll spare you.

Behind my house – mountains and mist and blue sky

Here at home in Eastern Switzerland the weather seems to be attuned to all this. Autumn has most definitely arrived with pouring rain and a noticeable drop in temperatures, the mountain peaks are white with snow, the forests on the lower slopes are changing colour, and I have reluctantly taken in the cushions from my garden furniture as I acknowledge that from now on I’ll have to eat my lunch inside and not on my patio.

Breakfast on 1 September

Can we expect a golden October? Fingers crossed!

It isn’t all doom and gloom, though. Retaining the rhyme, here’s Noom: and I’m pleased to report that I have lost five and a half kilos (about 12 lb) since mid-July. Not a spectacular loss, but a loss nevertheless, roughly equivalent to a pound per week, but it will still be a while before it’s noticeable to others. Counting my steps (with an app on my phone) means I’m moving more and that gives me more energy – enough to have given my apartment a thorough clean and shifted some of my furniture around so that I have a slightly different perspective as I sit on my sofa. I think my clothes fit better and that gives me more self-confidence. Can I touch my toes again? Almost! 

I’m not sponsored by Noom, so this is a genuine recommendation for the programme which I find just as effective as Weight Watchers or Slimming World without having to attend regular meetings. Instead, there are daily “lessons” that upload themselves onto my phone – informative, instructive, amusing and encouraging. The app also logs my steps and analyses my food intake, making it easy to keep track and balance out the odd splurge on chocolate, desserts or cheese, and tells me how many calories I’ve burned when I exercise.

Before the almost incessant rain started, I was honoured by daily visits from a sweet little feline who decided to annex my apartment for the afternoon. She made her first appearance here at the end of February when she was still a kitten, and made sporadic forays into our garden during the spring, but from July onwards she ventured through the French windows and into my apartment, which apparently received her seal of approval. Once or twice I heard some brief caterwauling from a neighbour’s garden and presume that she had trespassed onto Queen Ayesha’s territory (Ayesha’s coat has now grown back even more luxuriantly than before, I’m pleased to say).

Mimi baby

I privately nicknamed my little tricolour friend “la Coquette” as that sums up her behaviour: if she were human, she’d be a dainty soubrette or a Gigi as incarnated in the famous film of the fifties. Once I’d determined which of the neighbouring houses she belonged to, I discovered she was called Mimi, which suits her down to the ground.

“This is MY bed!”

She always announced her arrival with a series of mews, winding herself around my feet, then after receiving the requisite amount of stroking and fuss, she’d settle herself comfortably for a long nap. I haven’t seen her lately, so I assume she doesn’t like getting her feet wet. 

J’y suis, j’y reste.

Mimi is one of the prettiest little cats I know, with very bright contrasting colours. Tortoiseshell cat in the UK, calico cat in the US – I have often wondered why “calico”, as this is a rough, unbleached fabric and I can see no resemblance whatsoever to Mimi’s gorgeous silky coat. Perhaps one of my readers across the pond can enlighten me?

First Love

It was the end of the 1950’s. I was seventeen, in the Upper Sixth of the Grammar School. A gangly, spotty lad, and something of a lone wolf. Not much use on the football field and even less on the cricket pitch. Books were my escape, birdwatching my hobby.

Ours was a mixed school, but I was invisible to the girls and so I decided to let them be invisible to me. There were occasional exchanges of course, but on the whole nobody would have noticed if I hadn’t been there. Sometimes, that came in useful and I’d skip a particularly boring class so I could hide in the library, which was quiet and peaceful and I could lose myself in other worlds.

It was on such a day, when I was trying to think of something sagacious to write in my essay, that I became aware of a girl sitting a few feet away from me, at the next table. A sudden shaft of sunlight shone right onto her, a spotlight that lit up her head, and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, a shiver ran down my spine, and my whole body was covered in goose bumps. Her hair looked aflame, and her face aglow. The rest of the room faded away in a mist and I could only stare at the vision before me. Did my jaw drop? Did I gasp? Did I whoop for joy? I don’t know. All I knew was, I was in love.

Did she feel me looking at her? Perhaps, because she raised her eyes from her book and looked straight into mine. She smiled, and the smile wasn’t just on her lips but also in her eyes. Then she went back to her reading. I floated back to the present, and dropped my eyes in embarrassment. Until the bell went for break, I didn’t dare look up again. When I did, she had gone.

It was a week before I saw that wonderful halo of golden hair again, and this time, to my surprise and pleasure, I realized that she took the same bus home as I did. My fevered brain invented excuses to speak to her, scripted long, involved conversations, devised exciting scenarios for interaction. Eventually, it was she who spoke to me, on the crowded bus: “Mind if I sit here?” All my clever responses dried up in my parched mouth and I could only nod and mumble an indistinct, “Sure.” She was sitting beside me! Her sleeve was actually touching mine! And then she turned those eyes like headlights on me, smiled that wonderful smile, and asked, “Are you any good at Latin?”

My opportunity, and I seized it with both hands. “Carpe diem!” I replied and she looked blank. So I cleared my throat and told her I was doing A-Level Latin and wasn’t too bad at it.

“Could you help me?” she asked. “I don’t understand the gerund.”

She was in the Lower Sixth, so fortunately for me that meant I was a year ahead of her and yes, I was able to explain both the gerund and the gerundive, topics which had not figured in any of my imaginary conversations, but in fact led to a perfectly normal, almost relaxed chat. Next time we were on the same bus, she made a beeline for me and sat down with a Cheshire cat grin on her face. 

“Thank you for helping me,” she said. “I got full marks for my Latin homework, and did OK in the test, too.”

I would have been chagrined had she not received full marks, but didn’t say so. Instead, I smiled back at her and noticed a dimple in the corner of her mouth that came and went as she spoke. All my prepared smart comments vanished from my mind. How was I going to impress her?   

“Any time,” I shrugged, “just ask, and … well, er, just ask.”

In the following weeks, I occasionally saw her around school, in a corridor or at the other end of the hall, once or twice in the library, but never had any chance to speak to her there. However, she made a habit of sitting next to me on the bus once a week, and for the fifteen minute bus ride, I coached her in Latin.

One day, after thanking me yet again for helping her improve her grades, she invited me to tea. I was over the moon! Sunday afternoon, high tea at 5 pm, at her home. Her mother greeted me kindly, her father looked at me as if inspecting an unidentified object left on the doorstep, and her little brother just stared at me with an inscrutable expression that made me feel very uncomfortable.

At about a quarter to six, her father looked at his watch and said, “Well, if you’re going to Evensong, you’d better be on your way.”

Evensong? I wasn’t a churchgoer, and in fact prided myself on my agnosticism. We certainly hadn’t discussed any plans other than having tea. I looked at my gorgeous angel, and she beamed her disarming smile. 

“Come on, then,” she urged me, “don’t want to be late.”

And thus I found myself walking beside her up to the lychgate of the parish church. Was I ready for conversion? Would I find my salvation here? Was I destined … ?

But a couple of yards short of the lychgate she stopped and turned to me.

“Thank you for coming with me. I hope you enjoyed your tea. I know you don’t attend church, so you can go now. Bye!”

And before I could say a word, she had flown those few yards and vanished through the gate. I stood stock still for a long moment in disbelief. Then my paralysis melted and I followed her tracks. I looked through the lychgate, and what I saw broke my heart. 

On the church steps, about to pass through the main door, was the girl I had been dreaming about for weeks, clinging to the arm of a young man wearing a ‘varsity scarf. As I watched, she put her face up to his and he kissed her on the lips. She gave him her most beautiful smile, and he hugged her. Then, holding hands, they went into the church.

*****

Through the years life has been pretty good to me, though there have been some rough passages as well as smooth sailing. I met and fell in love successively with a range of young women, married one of them, and then, realizing our error, we divorced. I had settled into my bachelor retirement and hoped for a few years of quiet pleasure pursuing my genuine interests rather than those that brought in an income, when a chance phone call turned my world completely upside down.

An old friend of my youth whose path had continued to cross mine at intermittent intervals rang to tell me he had run into an old schoolfriend whilst visiting family who still lived in our old home town. 

“And guess what, he lives next door to somebody who used to know you!”

“Who might that be?”

Of course, you have guessed the name he then spoke, a name that I had locked away in a never-to-be-opened compartment of my heart, and had never dared to mention in over 60 years. 

“Oh.”  That was all I could say. “Oh, really?” 

“She remembers you very well … hold on, I have her e-mail address here … “

Instantly I was seventeen again, suffering the agony of having my heart broken for the first time.

I wrote down the e-mail address but it took me a week to pluck up the courage to re-open a wound I had thought long scarred over. She replied the next day, suggesting a video call. I hesitated. I could see what Time had done to me – but could I stand the shock of seeing what the decades had done to her? Well, I decided, confront your demons: maybe this is the way to heal that pain that I have been repressing all these years. I made the call. 

The face that appeared on my screen stopped my heart. Those eyes, that smile, just as bright and warm as I remembered them – no, even brighter and warmer, with a glow that only maturity can give. The golden hair was now silver, but all I saw was the sixteen-year-old whose radiance had enthralled me sixty years before. I was in love again.

What did we say to one another? Strangely, I don’t recall any of that first conversation. But there were many more, and although we were now in different parts of the country we talked and shared our experiences as if we were in the same room and had never been apart. She was widowed, with grown-up, middle-aged children living far away. I was alone, childless, a retired teacher of Classics, still birdwatching, reading and playing chess on my computer. In our regular video chats we created our own world of comfort and common interests, shared and discussed all kinds of topics, and found that even where our views diverged, we could differ without arguing.

Finally, after about a year of video chats, we decided to arrange a meeting. I would travel to her place, and we would see whether we were as compatible in the flesh as we were on the screen. Did we have a future together? I was feverish with excitement, planning my long weekend, envisaging scenarios, packing and unpacking then packing again, until finally it was the day of departure. 

I was on the doorstep of my house, about to turn the key in the lock, when my phone rang. 

A voice I didn’t recognise spoke, asking if I was Mr D. I affirmed that I was indeed he, assuming this was yet another nuisance cold call, but then the speaker identified himself and my blood ran cold.

“I’m really sorry to have to break the news to you like this, but I need to tell you that my mother had a stroke and died this morning. She had written your name and phone number on her calendar for today, so I thought …”

I didn’t hear the rest of what he had to say. I stood there for a long, long moment with the phone in one hand and my suitcase in the other, as my mind replayed a scene from long ago. 

A golden-haired girl walking away from me, hand-in-hand with a young man wearing a ‘varsity scarf, into a church.

And silence.

Reasons To Be Thankful

Hohenklingen Castle rises above a cottage in Stein am Rhein. 1 August, Swiss National Day

After endless weeks of wonderful sunshine, it’s finally raining – and like the plants and trees all around me, I am filled with gratitude. It makes a change to sit outside on my little terrace sheltered by the balcony above me, and enjoy breathing in this fresh, damp air, seeing the grass, leaves and flowers reviving, and listening to the soothing sound of the falling rain. Nature, too, is grateful.

Evening on Lake Walensee

Prior to this, I have been away: visiting my daughter and son-in-law at the end of July and beginning of August, and my best friend for the following two weeks. With the fantastic weather I felt I was on holiday, so my thankfulness also extends to my hosts/hostesses:  I have been pampered and cossetted like royalty! It was also an opportunity to meet and catch up with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who are all growing apace and even starting to overtake me in height. It also brought another instalment of assorted cheeses from my middle granddaughter and her husband as they continue to fulfil their promise to me on my 80th birthday, to give me 80 different sorts of cheese!

With my daughter and son-in-law, I was also able to see a little more of Switzerland, places I know but haven’t visited for a long time  – the picturesque little town of Frauenfeld, the pretty marina at Steckborn on Lake Constance, 

Steckborn marina

the quaint village of Stein am Rhein 

Village Square, Stein am Rhein

and the magnificent scenery around Lake Lucerne. 

Lake Lucerne from Hergiswil
Steamer on Lake Lucerne

The current President of Switzerland, Alain Berset, happened to be visiting Stein am Rhein on the same day we were there, and it was heartening to see with what little fuss and bother he is able to move around the country. Yes, there was a very unobtrusive bodyguard, but Mr Berset stepped from his car on the public carpark, a rucksack slung over his shoulder, strolled to the helicopter waiting in a neighbouring field and flew off to his next appointment as casually as if he were catching a bus. A few people who happened to be walking by the river stopped to watch, their attention caught by the helicopter, but it was really no big deal. That says a lot about the security of this country.

Helicopter waiting for the President of Switzerland to board – not exactly Airforce1

Many of you responded to my last post, so thanks for your insightful comments. I’m relieved to report that the gentleman in question messaged my friend with an apology and assurance of his enduring friendship. I now know quite a lot more about the lady’s background and I think I understand where her low self-esteem is coming from. We shouldn’t be over-hasty in judging these two; they live in a milieu that really does put accomplishments above character, which I think is very sad. 

Super Sturgeon Moon

I am particularly grateful to my hostesses for their kind understanding of my “Noom needs”: support for my dietary requirements and encouragement to exercise. My best friend has a swimming pool, so I was able to do my 50 lengths (600m) each morning before breakfasting at the side of the pool. In fact, we spent most daylight hours in and by the pool. Just like a super luxury hotel! A very blessed time indeed. Happiness, I am convinced, is a side-effect of an attitude of gratitude.

Morning swim

And having mentioned Noom, I suppose I should give a quick update. Yes, I can recommend this programme. The diet is very sensible and healthy, easy to implement even when I’m eating out or at someone else’s house, and the frequent little prompts and cues – which would be annoying if it were a person nagging – are actually quite helpful and encouraging. I have managed to reach my target number of daily steps and to exercise a bit (especially the swimming) and I can report that since 16 July I have lost 3 ½ kg, which is 7lbs or (for my British readers) half a stone. Something else that I can be grateful for. I seem to have hit a plateau this week, but Noom is reassuring about that, too. So onwards and – downwards! 

Snub or Snob?

Recently, I was at a friend’s house when another old friend, David*, arrived with his partner Margaret.* I had already met David a couple of times, but I wasn’t acquainted with his lady. The four of us  enjoyed an animated conversation over dinner, ranging over a number of different topics. Alone with Margaret – who I knew had taught at a university and therefore had publications to her name – I innocently inquired what her field was, and what her speciality. She informed me very briefly, then continued telling me about her grandchild and the time they had just spent together.

A little later, however, David turned to our hostess and asked in a most accusatory tone, “How come you didn’t tell Cat about Margaret?” Nonplussed, my friend said that she had told me about her. “No, you didn’t,” he replied, ”she didn’t know that Margaret is a highly distinguished scholar and a world authority on her speciality.” 

Margaret nodded “Yes,” she said sourly, “I wonder what exactly you did tell her about me, since you didn’t mention the most important thing!”

My friend explained that as I didn’t yet know Margaret she had simply told me that she was David’s partner, and a university professor. She may indeed have mentioned Margaret’s field of study but I hadn’t registered that fact. This explanation only added fuel to the fire: Margaret felt that her status had been greatly reduced, if all I had been told about her was that she was an appendage to David. Alas, she most definitely felt snubbed. Feathers were very ruffled. I also tried to defuse the atmosphere by saying that in my opinion, what matters is not so much what a person does but rather who the person is. In addition, we are all well past retiring age so you can’t really assume that we are all still working– although  as it turned out, we are.

No, no, no! David and Margaret were both very adamant that what you do professionally defines who you are: your achievements and social standing are primordial, your identity is shaped by your work. There was no budging them on that, and Margaret’s wounded pride may sadly mark the end of a very long friendship between my friend and David, although I fervently hope not

However, the question raised has occupied my thoughts since this event. 

I agree that we probably choose our career path as a function of our tastes and talents as well as whatever opportunities come our way. Personally, I could never have had a career in medicine or engineering, for instance. But over the years, I’ve filled a multitude of roles both personally and professionally, and not all in the same field, interacting with people at many different levels of the social and academic scale, and making friends with people from all walks of life. It seems snobbish to me to put a higher value on a person because he or she has a title – be it academic or noble – than one who is equally faithful, fun and sincere but at the bottom of the class system. Prince or pauper, for me it’s character that counts. 

I put this same question to my readers, and would really be very interested to know where you stand on this issue.

Are our accomplishments more important than our character? 

Am I the person I am because of my professional success or failure? 

And does that set the criteria for my personal worth?

Do you value yourself for what you do or for what you are? 

And do you value your friends for what they do or for what they are? 

*Names changed to protect the innocent!

My YouTube Debut

Back in April, I took part in a virtual conference and wrote about it here. This made an interesting change to my normal routine, and I have been looking forward to sharing the video of the presentation / interview with all of you. Now at last Montgomery College, who hosted the Confluence Translation Conference in Maryland, have uploaded all the video-recordings from the conference onto their website at https://www.montgomerycollege.edu/events/confluence/past-conferences.html.

If this also piques your interest, and you want to see me discussing my translations of Nelly Sachs’ poems, scroll down to Videos and click on Session 1 (where you can see an image of my Nelly Sachs blog). It’s quite a long session, so feel free to fast forward if you find it boring. Anyway, I just thought that after reading my waffling here in print and seeing my uploaded photos, it might make a change to actually see and hear me “live” too. You might also find some fascinating insights and information in the other videos.

My thanks are due to my interviewer, dear Elly Sullivan, and Montgomery College Confluence organisers – or should I spell that organizers – for this opportunity to share with a lot more people than I would otherwise have reached. This seems to be bearing fruit: since the conference, my site has received over 3,000 hits so somebody must have been motivated! I’d love to know who – not a single one of those visitors has left a comment. I really do appreciate feedback and can take constructive criticism (I ignore any other kind).

So follow the link above, and let me know what you think – at least I might get some comments on this site!

Queen Ayesha

I suppose this ought to be on my “Cats & Catterel” page, since it’s pure catterel (i.e. not doggerel) but that has become long and rather unwieldy although I have just added two contributions to it from comments by freefall852. Anyway, I find it easier to add this “pome” here instead.

Just a little background: Ayesha belongs to my neighbour and is indisputably Queen around here. If she’s relaxing in the middle of the road outside her house, she will not deign to move for any vehicle and you just have to stop and park where you are.

I was taken aback the other day when I saw her lurking on her doorstep in a most un-majestic attitude, and on closer inspection discovered that someone had shaved her body, leaving mane, tail and legs still bushy. However, poor Ayesha most definitely did not appreciate this new look – if a cat could blush, she was blushing, Whether it was done because her gorgeous fur was matted or as a gesture towards helping her combat the present heatwave, I don’t know. But the sight inspired this:

QUEEN AYESHA

We live in a cul-de-sac
Where Queen Ayesha reigns supreme
Over any other cat
Or human who may dare to dream
Of trespassing where she reposes
Amid the sweetly-scented roses
Or in the middle of the road –
All traffic stops at her abode.

White and black
Fur, long and glossy,
Stately gait
Majestic pussy.

But what is this? Alas, alack,
Big bushy tail and legs and mane
But body shaved – a buzz-cut cat!
No signs of majesty remain
She sits head bowed
As if she’s cowed
By all her loss of body fur
And brings forth not a single purr.

Still, when temp-er-a-tures soar
To 35 degrees or more
What seems most sensible to you?
To suffer from the heat? or do
The same as humans – doff your coat
And hide yourself somewhere remote
From prying eyes and ridicule?

You may look funny – but you’re cool!

Going down!

Thanks to my readers for their comments to my post about losing weight (I won’t say “slimming”, that’s too ambitious!). In response, I should point out that I am my own worst enemy owing to my double deadly sins of greed and sloth (laziness). All I really need is self-discipline and a kick in the butt. Hopefully, Noom will provide the latter. Yes, I know that what I lose in pounds I will inevitably gain in wrinkles, but I’m putting health before beauty. Here’s my starting point (I have shrunk in height by 3 cm since I was 40)

Here I am at eighty,
Shorter, but no less weighty
When my horizontal matches my vertical
Soon I shall be spherical.

I come from a long line of hardworking peasants, domestics, labourers and miners whose bodies learnt to make good use of every calorie they could get, so my inherited metabolism tends to be slow. Moreover, I also have an under-active thyroid which probably also affects my tendency to hold onto fat. Excuses, excuses! 

I’m combining Noom with intermittent fasting, that is, I’m only eating between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm, with nothing but water in the “fasting” hours. My guru Andrew Huberman has a good podcast explanation of the value of this at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tRohh0gErM, in case you need evidence. 

I am also really grateful to Aunty Uta, who posted a delightful YouTube video of Les Plus Belles Chansons Françaises at https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/7160824/posts/4138891250   This transported me back to a happy-go-lucky time of my youth, so I hopped, wiggled and danced around to these nostalgic melodies for a good half hour, and as I collapsed at the end I discovered I had completed over one thousand steps already and it was only half-past nine! No need to drag myself out for a trot around the block in the blazing heat: this is a much more pleasurable way of getting my steps in! In the privacy of my own home, nobody is going to grin at my clumsy attempts to repeat the moves I used to perform so gracefully!

One of my difficulties with this American program was gauging food quantities in terms of cups rather than grams and litres. Happily, I have found a set of US measuring cups and spoons lurking at the back of my saucepan drawer, brought back goodness knows when, never used but now coming in useful. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that a cup is actually quite a lot more than I thought, so my portions can be a bit larger. I was also delighted to find that, as individuals can add food items and there are obviously other Swiss people following this program, some of our brands and typical foodstuffs are already in the food list. 

And if you are waiting for a progress report, I’m happy to say that in the past week I have lost just over a kilo. Not much, but better than nothing, and motivating. Why couldn’t I do it by myself, you ask? I can only say that Noom provides me with 3 incentives I didn’t have before, in spite of my best friend’s encouragement: constant nagging, food and step tracking, and calorie control. I think twice before I reach for the cheese – yes, it’s allowed, but only a quarter of what I was permitting myself up to now: and how much more I appreciate that creamy, stinky, mature Epoisses when it’s rationed!

(And by the way, my fingernails are looking decent again – no coloured polish this time! – and I’m going to tackle my feet today. )

I need a manicure …

As I was eating my breakfast, I noticed that my nailpolish was chipped so I decided that I’d remove it immediately after I’d washed up the dishes. My manicure stuff is in my bathroom cabinet but I can’t enter the bathroom without my bladder clamouring for attention. Sitting on the loo, I noticed that my bathroom floor wasn’t as clean as it should be, so I got out my Swiffer mop and other relevant cleaning materials  and gave the bathroom a thorough clean. 

Mop in hand, I moved to the only other room with a tiled floor, the kitchen, and there also left every surface sparkling – at least, as far as I could reach up on the cabinet doors. Tall people might notice a tide mark at the 6 ft level. Cleaning the kitchen, I noticed that behind the door there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in Horatio’s philosophy – but Horatio was a man, so he wouldn’t have needed to dream of ironing boards, aprons and recycling. There was also a fair amount of sorting out needed among my cleaning products and utensils, but now that job is done too.

As I bent down, the waist button popped off my shorts (yes, this is a sweaty job, shorts and a suntop are my indoors Mrs Mop gear) and without it, the zip kept coming undone so that button had to be sewn back on and my sewing things reorganised. 

With bathroom and kitchen gleaming, the carpet in the other rooms looked in need of attention so out came the vacuum cleaner. I love my vacuum cleaner. It’s small and easy to use and takes up very little room, unlike those I have had before with long hoses that refuse to wrap into a neat little parcel and hide behind doors or curtains (my apartment is small and short on storage). I had covered about two square metres when the battery died. 

Oh well, it’s actually recommended that you should dust before you hoover, so while the battery on my vacuum cleaner was recharging I dusted all the surfaces in my living room, including all the picture frames and little knick-knacks (yes, I did pick each item up and dusted under it, unlike the last cleaning lady I had, even though she was Swiss!), polished the mirrors (I have several, not because I like looking at myself but to reflect the light and make the room look bigger) and other glass surfaces – but resisted the windows this time.

After this some  pictures were hanging crooked, so I tried to straighten them but the nails holding two of them fell out; my walls are concrete, and it’s a devil of a job to get a nail to hold without drilling but if the picture isn’t heavy and nobody breathes within a metre of it, the nail will usually hold. When the nail falls out, though, it tends to leave quite a large hole. Out came the mastic and as I was smoothing it into the holes with my finger, I noticed that my nail polish looked really bad …

Well, the vacuum cleaner battery is fully charged now, so I’ll just finish off the living room and start on the bedroom before I do my nails, otherwise the polish will get chipped again before it’s dry … And anyway, it’s almost lunchtime, so I’ll just remove the polish and come back to the rest later … I think …

Thirty grams down, 15 kg to go …

On taking stock of what two years of Covid restrictions have done in my life, I conclude that I’m one of the lucky ones. Firstly, I haven’t yet had Covid-19 (though I shouldn’t say that too loudly, I don’t want to tempt fate) and secondly I didn’t have to miss going out to work as I’m retired and what work I do, I do from home anyway. On the other hand, there are two consequences that I’m not so happy about: the first is that I’ve become a social recluse, almost a hermit, and the second that I have gained at least 10 kilos. 

I’ve been muttering about my weight for a while, but my attempts to lose any were pretty half-hearted and my addiction to cheese triumphed over my willpower. A week or so ago, I responded to an ad that popped up on Facebook for Noom. Have any of you tried this? 

They have some pretty aggressive marketing which I tried to ignore, but finally I gave in when they offered me six months free on an annual subscription that – they say – can be cancelled any time. Immediately I was inundated with encouraging messages and e-mails, and an app that allows me to log almost every minute of my day one way or another. If Big Brother is interested in my antics, he will have no trouble whatsoever in tracking me down.

I haven’t actually learned anything I didn’t already know about nutrition and exercise, but I must say there’s no lack of positive feedback and encouragement from the second I wake up until the moment I tap “Finish the day”. And some tempting recipes – even though, as they are American, I’m not always sure what this or that ingredient is or how many grams of a certain item make up a cup. For instance, how many cups are two sticks of celery or five leaves of an iceberg lettuce? How heavy is an American slice of bacon? (Ours is cut very thin, 8 slices weigh 100g)

One of the things I signed up for was a “customized workout program” downloaded onto my computer. When I saw the photos, I laughed out loud. I can do all these things in my head, and certainly was physically capable of them 30 or 40 years ago, but can I do a plank, crunch or push-ups now? No way! I can’t jump or jog, let alone do power-walking or running, and as for some of the bending and stretching – let’s just say, my elastic has perished! No use saying “Just try, it will come with practice” – it won’t. If I sit or lie down on the floor, it’s a cardio session just getting up again. I can walk at a leisurely pace and I can swim, and that’s about it. 

However, what did impress me was that as soon as I informed Noom of my incapacity – I am, after all, now 81 years old and pretty well spherical – they instantly refunded the cost of that workout sheet. Somewhere on the Internet I saw some exercises you can do on or with a chair so maybe I’ll give those a try. 

“Stand on one leg while you’re cleaning your teeth,” I’ve been told. 

OK, as long as I can hold onto the washbasin with the other hand, but I’m wobbly even then. 

“Walk up and down stairs without using the handrail,” is another one that isn’t as easy as it sounds. I’ve tripped UP the stairs in my house a couple of times, and am not eager to fall DOWN them, seeing as they are stone.

Well, I can still do most of my housework unaided, including cleaning the windows, emptying the dishwasher and hanging up my washing, so I reckon that will have to count as a workout for me. And walking to the shops with my little trolley gives me a couple of thousand steps, as does going to my local park to watch the squirrels and ducks. I just need to get over that Covid-induced reluctance to step over the threshold into public space … 

Follow that name …

As I crawl out of my latest rabbit hole, I wonder if my discoveries down there are of any interest at all to anyone outside of my immediate family. Yes, this particular rabbit hole weaves in and out around the roots of the German side of the family tree, and although I have now added a dozen or so new names I know very little about the individuals. 

Records for “ordinary” people are scant in fourteenth and fifteenth century German provinces so we can’t be absolutely sure whether the person we have tracked down really is our  15th great-grandfather, but sometimes the line does seem to hold up. At any rate, some of these people have very evocative names that roll around on the tongue, so we’d really like them to be our ancestors simply for that reason. Who wouldn’t want to claim Anna Magdalena Ham Charau or Vuarin Marin Augustin as great-grandparents? Or Königunda Zollmann-Zinck?

I have now come across forefathers who lived in the beautiful alliterative village of Traben-Trarbach at the end of the fourteenth century. The earliest identified, born about 1385, are Peter Holderbaum von Corvey and his wife Anna Glessgin. These are the eighteenth great-grandparents of my daughter. Corvey was a Benedictine abbey in North-Rhine Westphalia so this “von” is not an indication of nobility but simply an indication of where Peter Holderbaum had come from. See  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princely_Abbey_of_Corvey

Peter’s son Michael Holderbaum von Corvey married the delightful sounding Elssgin von Leurtzbeuren (my daughter’s seventeenth great-grandmother) about 1440. I haven’t identified Leurtzbeuren, but Elssgin is a diminutive form of Elsa. 

I know absolutely nothing about this family, apart from their names and a few key dates. Sometimes, frustratingly, ancestry.com will provide me with lots of information for instance about the father-in-law of a seventh grand-aunt, but nothing whatsoever about the person I am actually researching. Still, eventually we all get back to Charlemagne!

This particular line records the antecedents of my daughter’s fourth great-grandmother, Maria Katharina or Catherine Buchheit, who became Catherine Sommer – my namesake – on her marriage to Johann Georg Sommer in 1801. The Buchheits were very prolific over the centuries, so if you find one or more in your tree, it may well be a shared ancestor with us. Many of them emigrated to the United States. I’m also intrigued by the variations in spelling, reflecting different pronunciations of this name, and am wondering if that dear fictitious lady Hyacinth Bucket may also have sprung from this root?

Incidentally, I found four consecutive generations of my daughter’s direct ancestors bearing my name! Catherine Buchheit-Sommer’s mother-in-law was Catherine Hafner, born in 1754 in Alsace, and married Joseph Sommer in 1774 (fifth great-grandparents). Her son Georg Michael Sommer married Katharina Regina Becker (third great-grandparents). By that time, the fashion for Frenchifying names was over, so this third namesake retained her German spelling, and passed it on to her daughter Anna Maria Katharina. 

These are, of course, not my ancestors but my in-laws – however, I can’t help wondering what these women were like, and if we have any traits in common apart from our name.