Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Reread in January: Middlemarch

During January, I re-read another classic novel from my English literature university courses (30+ years ago): Middlemarch by George Eliot. It’s one of my favourite classics, and I have reread it a few times. It’s a long one: My old Penguin paperback has around 900 pages. This time I listened to it as audio book from Audible, read by Juliet Stevenson: 35 hours 40 minutes.’'

Middlemarch Audiobook Middlemarch 1.jpg

Subtitled A Study of Provincial Life, the novel was first published in eight instalments (volumes) during 1871–2. It is set in the fictitious town of Middlemarch during 1829–32 (there are references in it to some real historical events), and weaves together several intersecting stories and quite a large cast of characters. Important themes include the status of women and the nature of marriage; but also for example religion, politics, science and education.

The main character Dorothea Brooke is 17 when the story begins, and is living with her sister Celia under the guardianship of their uncle, Mr Brooke. Dorothea is a very pious young woman; interested both in literature, and in welfare projects like the renovation of housing for tenant farmers. She is courted by Sir James Chettam, a young man close to her own age, but is instead (to everyone else’s consternation) attracted to the Reverend Edward Casaubon, much older than herself. Dorothea accepts his proposal of marriage, in the hope of being able to help to him in his research and writing of a book on spiritual matters.  Chettam instead turns his attention to her younger sister Celia.

On Casaubon’s and Dorothea’s honeymoon in Italy, they encounter Casaubon’s younger cousin Will Ladislaw, an artist. Dorothea and Will come to spend quite a lot of time together, as Casaubon is busy with his research project. Will is attracted to Dorothea, but they remain just friends. Later on, with Casaubon’s health declining, and Will coming to stay in Middlemarch and renewing the acquaintance there, Casaubon gets jealous – which causes problems…

One of the other main characters is a young doctor, Tertius Lydgate, new in Middlemarch and trying to make a career for himself. At the same time he is more idealistic than prosperous. He gets married to a young girl of good education but no money (but with high expectations of her husband’s career);  and manages to get himself into serious financial trouble. 

Several more characters and minor story lines are involved too.

As I already said, it is one of my favourite English classics. I think it probably gives a good idea of small town life in England in that period of time; and not least, perhaps, for young women like the character Dorothea, who wanted something more out of life than just a conventional marriage and family life.

George Eliot’s real name was Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880). (I have to confess I keep forgetting her real name…) Better known by her pen name,  she was an English novelist, poet, journalist, translator and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era. She used a male pen name, she said, to ensure that her works would be taken seriously. Female authors were published under their own names during Eliot's life, but she wanted to escape the stereotype of women writing only lighthearted romances.

She did not have much formal education as a  young girl, but as her father was the manager of a big estate, she was allowed access to the library there; and obviously made good use of that. Her frequent visits to the estate also allowed her to compare the wealth of the local landowner with the lives of much poorer people. Her mother died when Mary Ann was 16, and when she was 21 she and her father moved to a place near Coventry, where she kept house for him until he died (when she was 30); but also made new friends who became important for her later writing career.

After her father’s death she went abroad for a while, and then moved to London and became assistant manager of a literary magazine, The Westminster Review. She met the philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes. They lived together from 1854 until his death in 1878. (He was already married when they met and unable to get a divorce.) In May 1880, she legally married John Cross, a man twenty years her junior. Seven months later, she died from a kidney disease, at age 61.

(For more details, follow the links to the Wikipedia articles.)

Friday, 27 January 2017

Anything, or Wolpertinger (Postcards)

The Postcard for the Weekend theme this week is “Anything you wish”. And once again, a couple of cards happened to drop in during the week that fit the theme perfectly…

Of course you might argue that anything would fit the theme Anything. But having taken a look below, I think you will have to agree that it hardly gets more “Anything” than this!

170125 TW-2153439; by Jimmy Liao

From Taiwan (arrived 25 January 2017)
The artist is a popular Taiwanese illustrator, Jimmy Liao.
No explanation of the image is given – so I don’t know the creature’s name, or if it belongs in a special a story.
Two days later, however, I got a clue from a different source: Obviously it must be a Taiwanese cousin of the Bavarian Wolpertinger…

170127 DE-5918745 Wolpertinger

From Germany (arrived 27 January 2017)
Wolpertinger: A very shy creature from the alpine forests of Bavaria, which can only be found (if you’re lucky) at night, in favourable weather and moonlight. Take care – it may bite!

Gefangen und gezähmt im südöstlichen Heimatland am 29. Februar des Jahres. Diese Tiere sind äusserst scheu und bei günstiger Witterung und Mondschein nur Nachts anzutriffen. Vorsicht – können bissig sein!

Do I hear anyone saying “Bah! Humbug!”, and claiming that such creatures do not exist??

Actually the Wolpertinger has a cousin in Sweden as well. Ours hasn’t got the horns, but it does have the wings... It’s called a Skvader, and although it may be rare, there is a famous stuffed specimen on display at a museum in Sundsvall. I’ve seen it myself. There is proof in my old photo album from 1968…


Weekend Linky Party:

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

8 Months of Duolingo

My previous Duolingo posts:
May 20, 2016 – On Learning Languages
June 26, 2016 – Buenos Dias
August 27, 2016 – 100 Days

If anyone is wondering – but mostly for my own memory, further down the line! – here is an update on my progress with the language app Duolingo.

Flag of Spain

Spanish: I first heard of the Duolingo app in May 2016, got curious, and decided to try a little Spanish. Six weeks later, I had worked my way through all the basic exercises on offer (on the phone app), and was graded by the app as being on Level 14 and “37% fluent”.

Since then, I have kept up almost daily “strengthening” repetition exercises. I’m now rated at Level 18 and 42% fluent.

I’m also still slowly working my way through a fantasy novel that I found free for Kindle in both Spanish and English. I read each chapter first in Spanish, and then in English. (Have read 75% now, so there’s a pretty good chance I’ll actually finish it!)

Flag of Wales 2.svg

Welsh: Tried a few lessons back in the summer, but gave it up…

Flag of Turkey

Turkish: During the autumn I worked my way through the Duolingo app while also watching 100 episodes of a Turkish soap opera on TV (with Swedish subtexts). Result: I have (with difficulty!) finished the exercises. Came out at level 13, but with NO percentage rating. Just the exhortation “Keep up the good work”… LOL

I’m not sure if the percentage rating works with every language? but have to admit it is probably fair enough to say that although I picked up a few words and phrases, and some little idea of the construction of the language (very different from any of the European ones I know), I did not get anywhere near any percent of fluency… And probably never will! I still wouldn’t call it a complete waste of time to have given it a go, though. (I’m sure I learnt something from it, even if it’s difficult to say exactly what!)

Flag of France

French:  Repeating some French simultaneously with learning Spanish was/is a bit of a challenge. (Because in some ways the two languages are a little too much alike. And yet not quite…) I studied French for five years back in school. But that was 45 years ago and I have hardly used the language since! Which shows off in the Duo rating… Having taken some shortcuts through the program, I came out at level 12 and 31%.

Flag of Germany

German: I studied German for three years in senior high, then one year as business language at secretarial college, and three terms at university. I did not check it out on Duo until a few days ago, but was relieved to find my foundations still pretty solid. I took a shortcut test and got rated at around 50% fluent almost from start. I’ll keep shortcutting my way through, but have decided to look into some lessons a bit more thoroughly, because after all, there have been some changes in vocabulary since the 1980’s. (For example, we had no computers back then!)

Flag of Netherlands

New Challenge in 2017: Dutch. After Turkish, in some ways starting with Dutch felt like plain sailing… At least as long as I both see it written and hear it pronounced at the same time, and just have to guess at the meaning and pair words together, one simple sentence at a time... When it comes to more active use, however… hrrm … The thing is, to me Dutch comes across like a mix of German, English, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish – but with its own weird* spelling and pronunciation… (*Sorry! to my Dutch friends…) So very easy to mix things up!

But hopefully at least my Swedish, English and German will prove solid enough not to get “dutchified”… (I thought I made that word up. But it seems to actually already exist!)

Friday, 20 January 2017

Sunrise/Sunset – Postcard for the Weekend

17-001 Bryn Cader Faner and Snowdon

Bryn Cader Faner and Snowdon (Wales)
From John in England, January 2017

I have been up on Mt Snowdon in the past (way back in the 1970s), but I don’t think we visited this bronze age cairn.

A bit of googling informs me that the cairn is thought to date back to the Bronze Age, around 4000 years ago. Originally there may have been about 30 pillars; but not only was the cairn probably disturbed by treasure-seekers in the 19th century – but on top of that, between the 1st and 2nd world wars, some of the stones were removed by the British army, and the rest used for target practice!

The name Bryn Cader Faner probably means 'the hill of the chair/throne with the flag'. Because of its appearance, it has also been called the Welsh Crown of Thorns.

Weekend Linky Party:

Thursday, 19 January 2017

About Snail Mail


… Mail trucks taking a holiday rest (Sunday after Epiphany) …

A few years ago when going through my dad’s study, I found a lot of stamps that were still good for use. Not knowing what to do with them, I decided to join Postcrossing and send them out into the World; which is what they were made for in the first place.

By now I have used up most of the leftover stamps of higher value, so I’ve started buying some new ones again as well. Because if I use only old low value stamps on the international cards, that leaves no room to actually write anything!

Last year, our international postage rate was SEK 13,00 (2x the domestic postage). However, when flickering through the latest newsletter from PostNord (the Swedish postal service) around New Year, I noticed that one of the new stamps to be issued in January had the eyebrow-raising value of SEK 19:50 - i.e. 3x the domestic postage (and equaling ~ $2,13 or £1,73). On closer investigation, I found that this is actually our new minimum international postage rate from 1st January.

This is not something that seems to have been noted at all by our newspapers or TV, though. Even when googling it now, besides on PostNord’s own website, I only find it mentioned on philatelist sites.

As upset as I am about the sneaky postage increase, I have to say I quite like the stamp. (I have a Dala horse just like that on top of one of my bookcases too.) Here it is for those of you who won’t be getting one on an actual card because no one can afford to send it to you:


(PS to my regular snail mail correspondents: Don’t worry.
You’ll still be hearing from me now and then…)

Monday, 16 January 2017

Home Office Makeover

‘Santa Per’ (my brother) came visiting this week, bringing Big Parcels from Ikea. He also spent one afternoon and the next morning assembling all the bits and pieces into nice new study/home office furniture for me; and when he left, he took all the old retired things away with him. (Almost. I’m still here…)

2017 study makover2
Bottom left: Before
Middle: After

Have to say the result feels like a major face-lift, even though ‘only’ three pieces of furniture were replaced. The new desk + two new chests of drawers are blackish brown on top but with white drawers; thus colour matching (more or less) my old bookcases (three tall dark brown ones + a lower white one next to the desk). Just as I hoped, this brought a more coherent look to the room, without making me feel I need to replace the bookcases as well (they still do their job well enough).

The new desk is a little bigger than the old one, and the drawer units also give me a few more drawers compared to before, making it easier to organize stuff. (Or at least hide it!) 

Bildresultat för office clipart free

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Postcard for the Weekend - 'Transportation, other'

This bus arrived very timely from the Netherlands this week, meeting the theme set for Postcards for the Weekend: 'Transportation, other' 

Weekend Linky Party:

Sunday, 8 January 2017

The Shepherd’s Crown (Audiobook review)

The Shepherd's Crown | Terry Pratchett The Shepherd's Crown (Discworld Novels) by [Pratchett, Terry]

The Shepherd's Crown
by Terry Pratchett
Series: Discworld, Book 41
Audiobook - 7 hrs and 49 mins
Narrated By Stephen Briggs

The Shepherd’s Crown is Terry Pratchett's final Discworld novel, published after his death, but written more or less parallel with the last one published before he died – Raising Steam, which I also briefly reviewed a couple of months back: here.

The Shepherd’s Crown makes some references to that book(and the Discworld having entered the age of railways and machines); but it belongs in the “Witches” subseries of the Discworld books, and is the fifth one to feature the young witch Tiffany Aching.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in his last years. To me there is really nothing in this novel to indicate memory problems, or his leaving this novel not fully finished. (It is explained in an afterword that Pratchett had the whole storyline worked out in his script; but had he lived to completely finish it himself, it is likely that he would have filled in some parts with more detail.) What I do believe I sense is an awareness in the author of life drawing to a close; and of a wish to tidy things up and leave everything in good order.

The novel starts out with the witch Granny Weatherwax doing just that: tidying things up, and making sure that her acknowledged position as head witch is passed on to the right person. And after she has passed away, the young witch Tiffany, even though she has proved her powers before, finds herself confronted with rather overwhelming challenges: How on earth shall she be able to cope with the tasks she has already, and step into Granny’s boots as well? Especially when on top of all, she has to deal with another confrontation with the Fairies trying to break through into the world of humans once again…

While it is rather sad that this is the last novel in the series (Pratchett’s daughter has said that there will be no more), I think it is really a very worthy ending – and I’m glad it was published.

If you want to know more about the Discworld, the Wikipedia article provides a lot of information, including a complete Bibliography which is very helpful whether you want to read the books in the order they were written, or according to subseries.  



Saturday, 7 January 2017

Trains / Trams (Postcards for the Weekend)

My dad was both a stamp collector and a railway/trains enthusiast. The first five cards I found when sorting through his study a few years ago. The first two are still in my possession; the next three have been sent out into the world on new adventures, and I only have the front scanned (not the details on the back).

The first three of those cards are British:

 I'm pretty sure this one was issued at the same time as the first two. In fact the first two should have the same framing as the third. It's my present scanner that for some reason refuses to recognise vague contrasts like beige/white. (The third card was scanned with my old scanner.)

The next two cards are Swedish. If memory serves me right, I think they are from a railway museum in Nässjö.

To finish off, two British tram cards from John in Britain:
(Received September 2015) Liverpool Trams at St. James St---

 (Received August 2016) Eastgate Street [Chester?] c. 1905

Weekend Linky Party:

Friday, 6 January 2017

Winter Walk


After a rainy and foggy New Year the weather suddenly turned very cold this week. Yesterday and today we had -13°C in the mornings, and still -8°C or so in the afternoons. Only a very thin layer of snow around here – but it’s on top on a layer of ice, which makes walking (as well as driving) rather precarious… So I haven’t been going very far! But this afternoon I ventured out for a walk around the old cemetery close to where I live. 





The sun is still very low in the sky, casting long shadows… The photo below was taken with my phone yesterday, around the same time of day (~ 2:10 p.m.)


Linking to:

Friday My Town Shoot Out

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Read in 2016 / Gone With The Wind

Going through my list of books read in 2016, I count 48 titles. Sounds about right. It happens that I forget to put some on the list; but I do usually end up with an end-of-the-year average of about one book per week. And some of the audio books were very long ones…

Some books I’ve read with the eyes and others as audio books; some in Swedish and some in English. Some have been charming new acquaintances - like the Mrs Hudson series by Martin Davies. With others I’ve seriously struggled – for example Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson. And (as already mentioned) some of the audio books I read lately were massive ones – like Bleak House by Charles Dickens (35h), The Mists of Avalon (51h) and – finished this morning! – Gone With The Wind (49h)…

[Some months ago, I joined Audible as member, and have been making good use - I think - of some of their bargain sales…]

Gone with the Wind Audiobook

Gone with the Wind

  • Written by: Margaret Mitchell
  • Narrated by: Linda Stephens
  • Length: 49 hrs and 7 mins

I remember first reading Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell (first published in 1936 and a best-seller from start) back when I was in my mid/late teens (i.e. in the early 1970’s). I also know I watched the film the first time back then (at the cinema). I am not sure whether I saw the movie first  or read the book first. But I’m pretty sure I read the book twice, both times borrowed from the library in the town where I went to school in my teens (not from the small library in the village where I lived); because I still have a “physical” memory of the copy of the book, and even roughly where in the library it stood. It had a red library binding, was thick as a Bible, and also printed in the same way – with two columns on each page. (I had never seen that with a novel before – and also not very many times since!)

As most readers of my blog probably know, the story is set in the southern United States in the state of Georgia during the American Civil War (1861–1865) and the Reconstruction Era following. If you want to refresh your memory of the plot further, you can check out the Wikipedia article.

Since I first read it (40+ years ago), I’ve seen the movie again a couple of times, but haven’t reread the book – until now. Sometimes it’s an odd experience rereading a book after such a long time. In my memory, I recall the novel as “romantic”. But what struck me when listening to it now was its realism. The characters certainly have their romantic dreams (don’t we all?), but they are also to a very high degree stripped of their individual youthful illusions in the course of the story. And what stands out for me now is more what I perceive as a high degree of realism in the descriptions of the horrors of war, the compromises involved, and the struggle for people throughout life to rebuild and adapt and change our lives according to circumstances more or less out of our control. And how now and again there are those defining moments and choices that perhaps more than others contribute to making us “who we are”… Both as individuals and society.

All in all, I found the novel well worth rereading. Reading it now also made me think about how the world has changed – and how I have changed myself – over these 40-something years.

Sunday, 1 January 2017


Experimenting with uploading a video clip...
From my phone via email to the computer,
from the computer to YouTube,
from YouTube to Blogger...
(Is there a simpler way?)

Just wanted to show you this rotary candle holder with Moomin characters... a Christmas gift from my aunt. The Moomin mug next to it is also new - it was a Christmas gift from myself to myself! :)

Another Year (2017)

2017-01-01 Nyår4

And once more we’ve said goodbye to an old year, and welcomed a fresh new one. It’s odd how every new year always starts with having to clean up the mess remaining from the old one, though!

It’s a long-standing tradition for me and two old friends (going back to when we were neighbours in the same building for many years) to celebrate New Year together. One friend’s sister, who lives in another town, usually comes too. For some years now, the other friend’s mother has been with us as well. And again this year, all four were able to come. For various practical reasons, we’re always at my place, and keep pretty much the same simple menu and routine every year now – I make quiche, and they bring salad and cider and snacks (and help with the first load of washing up!) We also always watch a film (back in the early days, on VHS – nowadays DVD). This year The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015)  - sequel to The Best… (from 2011 but watched by us in 2013). With that bunch of star actors - like Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Judi Dench, Richard Gere – you really can’t go wrong…

In spite of rain and fog, there were a lot of fireworks going on outside all evening as always, with climax around midnight. A law some years ago against launching fireworks in densely populated areas without permission hasn’t made any difference whatsoever that I can notice. Some of the major store chains having stopped selling them also does not seem to have stopped anyone from buying them; nor has a law against buying or handling them if you’re under 18 had much effect. (If anything, it all seems only to increase every year!)

So… something that’s not even really worth trying on New Year’s Eve around here, is going to bed early in the hope of sleeping through the midnight hullaballoo…

Usually the worst of the fireworks has died down around 00:30, though, allowing my guests to go home (by car). After they have gone, I always need some time to wind down – so while the rest of the year I almost never stay up after midnight, on that very first night of the year I rarely get to bed before 2 a.m. 

And as a consequence, my New Year’s Day morning is always lazy, and the rest of the day is usually spent slowly restoring my home to sort of “normal”… (Not taking down my Christmas decorations though. They stay up at least over Twelfth Day / Epiphany.) 

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