Sunday 27 December 2020

And There Was Christmas

Living alone and keeping to the recommendations of only celebrating Christmas with members of one's own household... One might think that would mean lots of time for a blogger to to blog. Somehow, it seems I still managed to fill my time mostly with other things, though!

What you see above is a closeup of one of the decorations on a bridge over the river in the city. Picking up where my 4th Advent post left off, here are some more photos from my sunny walk last Saturday. (Blogger/the internet seems to to be cooperating better today.)

There is an ice skating-rink in the park - frozen by artificial means, though, as it hasn't really been that cold here yet (mild December, and temperatures still hovering hesitantly just around freezing point for Christmas).

Actually, the Christmas days themselves offered quite nice weather for walks as well. A bit chilly, but nonetheless I manged to get out twice on Christmas Eve, and one walk per day the next two days. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were mostly sunny. Boxing day was grey but with a few snowflakes in the air. (Not enough to cover the ground, though. And today is windy and rainy, and I think I'll be staying in...)

Christmas Eve: Sun still very low, and a bit reluctant to get out of bed at all... (Photo from around midday.) Went for walk across the cemetery and down to the river to say hello to some ducks.

In the afternoon I had a Skype meeting with my brother; and there were also phone calls and messaging with a few other friends. And enjoying my decorations, and all the cards that had been dropping in during December. As this has pretty much been my "new normal" for a number of years now, I can't really say that this Christmas will stand out for me (personally) as very different. (New Year's Eve will be, though, as that will be the first time in two decades that I won't be having my usual party with a handful of friends.)

 (Well, I guess that one thing that might stand out as different in retrospect would be my haircut. Or rather, lack of. Haven't been to see my hairdresser for months...)

The dawn of Christmas Day, from my balcony (around 10 am)

 A bit of frost on the ground that day, and ice on the puddles!


And the ducks in the river obviously don't care about any rules about keeping distance.

The Good News this last weekend of 2020 is that the first dosages of vaccine have started arriving. The first corona vaccinations in Sweden have been given today to elderly people living in care homes. Hopefully we'll see the situation gradually improving during 2021.

Saturday 19 December 2020

Weekend Reflections - 4th Advent & Winter Solstice

December so far has been pretty much all grey and rainy here so far - but today, with the Winter Solstice only a couple of days away - the Sun decided to come out of hiding and show its face for a little while. (Sunrise here now is around 9 am and sunset 3:20 pm.) So I decided to take my camera for a walk downtown around noon. I stayed well away from the shops (and people) - the only thing I was after was the sunshine and some water reflections!


I have more photos from this walk, but it seems Blogger isn't in the mood to load images just now (awfully slow!) so I think I'll save the rest for another time and just try to see if I manage to post these for now.

Weekend Reflections

Sunday 13 December 2020



If you haven't seen me around much in Blogland this week, one reason is that I'm still busy writing Christmas cards. The greetings flying off to foreign countries were posted early (a couple of weeks ago), but I'm still working on the Swedish ones...

Friday 4 December 2020

Read in October: Postscript Murders & Troubled Blood

The Postscript Murders
by Elly Griffiths (2020)

Audio book narrated by Nina Wadia (9 hrs) 

The death of a 90 years old woman would not normally be regarded as suspicious . But when Peggy Smith dies, there are still factors involved that makes both her carer Natalka, and later also Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur, think twice about it.

For one thing, it turns out that Peggy had been a "murder consultant", helping authors of crime novels to invent murder plots for their books...

The Postcript Murders is the 2nd book by Elly Griffiths to feature DS Harbinder Kaur, a lesbian Sikh police sergeant in her 30s who still lives with her parents. I have to admit that I if I hadn't happened to see it mentioned somewhere beforehand, I  might not even have remembered the detective from the previous book where she figured, The Stranger Diaries (which at the time I thought of as a standalone, from which I remember other characters better than the detective). And I still like the Ruth Galloway series better. On the whole, the characters in the The Postscript Murders rather failed to engage me. But that may also have had something to do with me having difficulties to concentrate on reading/listening because of other things nothing to do with the book itself.


Troubled Blood (Cormoran Strike #5)
by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) (2020)

"Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough - who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974.

Strike has never tackled a cold case before, let alone one forty years old. But despite the slim chance of success, he is intrigued and takes it on; adding to the long list of cases that he and his partner in the agency, Robin Ellacott, are currently working on. And Robin herself is also juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike.

As Strike and Robin investigate Margot's disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . ."

This book I bought for Kindle, and as it is a long and complex one, and my own concentration wasn't tip top, it took me two months to read. Actually I think I'd really recommend reading this book in print, since it also involves a few "illustrations" of notes and drawings by hand, which play a part in the plot. (Not that I'm sure anyone is really supposed to be able to make sense of them anyway - but still! On Kindle it was definitely not possible.)

Having read the previous four Cormoran Strike novels, I knew beforehand that I wouldn't prefer this one as audio book; because for one thing, these books tend to involve too much gory detail of the kind that I have to admit I prefer to just skim-read. In this book, as they're investigating a cold case, very much of the plot is also in dialogue, between the detectives, or between them and various witnesses trying to recall things from the past. I know the books have also been turned into a TV-series (but that has not been on Swedish television, so I haven't seen it). I actually couldn't help thinking with some of the scenes in this book that the author had fallen into thinking 'screenplay' rather than novel... (Knowing that she has done a lot of writing directly for the screen as well.) I think I have to agree with some reviews I read which were of the opinion that the book could have benefited from a bit more editing. And perhaps especially towards the end.

In general, I also always feel a bit skeptical about detectives solving (c)old cases, and interviewing witnesses about things that took place like forty years ago.

All that said, the book still kept my interest up enough to want to keep on reading and find out how it would all fit together in the end. As always, the author is a supreme plot-twister, and also good at keeping up the dynamics between main characters. What I miss compared to Harry Potter and her other fantasy stories is the comic relief, though. This series, closer to reality, is a lot darker. This book also involved a lot of rather heavy "me-too" kind of stuff.

Thursday 3 December 2020

Read in September - British Humour and Murder Mysteries

Somehow the autumn turned out so stressful that I never got round to writing any reviews of the books I read and listened to during September-November. By now, I've probably forgotten too many details to be able to write proper reviews, but I'm thinking I'll try to at least list them (one post per month), and add some blurb quotes + general impressions.


Born to be Mild - Adventures for the Anxious
by Rob Temple (2020)

Audio book, 8:30 hours, narrated by Mathew Baynton

"Rob Temple runs a social-media empire from the comfort of his sofa. Living the dream! But what happens when a lack of colleagues, bosses and alarm clocks means that your sofa and the four walls of your very quiet living room become your whole world? 

In this tender and life-affirming memoir, Rob explores what it will take for him to become a little less Bear (Pooh) and a little bit more Bear (Grylls) and how mild-mannered, anxious rule-followers can get their own share of (gentle) adventure from time to time."

I know the author as the man behind "Very British Problems" which I've been following on Facebook for years, and whose Very British humour often makes me smile and think that I must have some British DNA somewhere in my genes if I dig deep enough. (Viking ancestors, perhaps?) This book I think I'd call a biographical novel (not knowing exactly how much he's twisting reality). I enjoyed it very much, and in some ways it remins me of one of my all-time British favourites, Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (1889). I bought it as audio book and I think it's one I'll return to when in the mood for some mild and humorous encouragement. I'd also say it's a great book for Corona times, when even the more sociable among us have been forced to live a more isolated life than usual.


I also read/listened to four detective novels by T.E. Kinsey (new author to me), which I bought on special offers including both Kindle + Audible version. (There are three more books in the series, so far; whether I'll some day buy those as well remains to be seen.) The audio books are narrated by Elizabeth Knowelden; each about 8-9 hours long.

The author T.E. Kinsey grew up in London, studied history at the University of Bristol, and had some other writing jobs before he started writing his own historical murder mysteries. 

A Quiet Life in the Country (1)

The first book is set in 1908 and introduces Lady Hardcastle, an eccentric widow with a secret past, and her lady's maid/companion Florence (Flo) Armstrong, as they have just moved from London, hoping for a "quiet life" in the countryside.

... But it is not long before Lady Hardcastle is forced out of her self-imposed retirement. There’s a dead body in the woods, and the police are on the wrong scent. Lady Hardcastle makes some enquiries of her own, and it seems she knows a surprising amount about crime investigation…

As Lady Hardcastle and Flo delve deeper into rural rivalries and resentment, they uncover a web of intrigue that extends far beyond the village. With almost no one free from suspicion, they can be certain of only one fact: there is no such thing as a quiet life in the country.

In each of the following books, of course, they keep getting involved in more mysteries; and we also gradually get to know a little more about their background(s) - which also included travels in foreign countries.

In the Market for Murder (2)

Spring, 1909. A week after a trip to the cattle market, Spencer Caradine, a local farmer, turns up dead in the pub, face-down in his beef and mushroom pie. Once again, it is up to Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Florence, to solve the case.

Death Around the Bend (3)

September 1909, and Lady Hardcastle and her maid, Florence, have been invited to Lord Riddlethorpe’s country estate for a week of motor racing and parties. They both agree that it sounds like a perfectly charming holiday. But when one of the drivers dies in a crash…

A Picture of Murder (4)

Late October 1909, and the season of ghouls and things that go bump in the night has descended on the village of Littleton Cotterell. Lady Hardcastle and her trusted lady’s maid, Florence, find themselves hosting a colourful cast of actors whose spooky moving picture, The Witch’s Downfall, is being shown to mark Halloween. But things take a macabre turn when the first night’s screening ends with a mysterious murder...

What I enjoyed most about these books was the main characters, Lady Hardcastle and Florence, and the relationship between them: Florence is employed as lady's maid but at the same time is really treated more like a friend and companion than like a servant...

(End of book review)



... and this intrigued me, because it made me think of my grandmother's older half-sister Gerda, who worked in similar positions around the same period of time (and onward). I think I've told her story before, but: As a young girl Gerda emigrated from Sweden to America in 1901 or 02 (only a year or two after my grandmother was born). There she worked her way up as maid/ lady's maid/ travel companion. She stayed in America (Chicago) for around ten years; then made her way back to Europe, working as lady's maid/travel companion for one or more English ladies who liked to travel the world. At some point the travels even took her to India. During WWI Gerda got stuck in France and couldn't get back to Sweden until after the war. In 1928 or not long after, she got employed as lady's maid / housekeeper to a young American 'lady', Estelle Manville, who married the Swedish count Folke Bernadotte, related to the Swedish royal family, and who came to play an important role as an international diplomat, especially during WWII. Among other things, towards the end of the war he organized prisoner exchanges to bring home thousands of prisoners of war from Germany via Sweden. He was also appointed United Nations Mediator in Palestine after the war, but was sadly assassinated in Jerusalem in 1948. My great-aunt Gerda remained living with his widow, countess Estelle, long after that; way past normal retirement age (she lived to be 92). Estelle eventually got remarried - but not until the same year Gerda died, in 1973. I don't think I ever met Gerda (possibly in my very early childhood, but I'm not sure). But when I've been digging a bit into the family history (after my own parents died), her story is certainly the most intriguing. I have some old photos and postcards, but no long letters or diaries or anything of that kind; so a lot of things I can only guess at. Like, for example, how formal or informal her relationship with her employers was. (I know she accompanied the Bernadotte family on some of their travels as well, though. In her photo album there are photos from what I've managed to identify as the Manville estate in Pleasantville, N.Y.; and also of her sitting on a donkey in front of the pyramids in Egypt. ) (More about Gerda can be found in my blog Greetings from the Past - which I've not had much time to keep adding to lately, but the info I have gathered there so far is still there. And readers who came across that blog in their own internet searches have actually helped me confirm and fill in some facts and gaps in the story.)


Tuesday 1 December 2020

Baking Ginger Snaps


No Christmas without ginger snaps!
Today, and 60 years ago...


Baking a small batch of ginger snaps today made me think of these old photos in one of my  early photo albums. The year was 1960. I'm 5 years old here. Back in the spring or summer the same year, we (my parents and I) had moved from a flat in town to a house of our own in a village nearby. The kitchen was a galley kitchen with a dining alcove. Whether mum also made her own Christmas ginger snaps while we were still living in the flat, I can't remember. But I'm pretty sure she did it every year from then on. I have baked my own most years of my adult life as well. Not quite every year, though - for one thing, there have been years when I couldn't manage it because of neck/arm problems. But I've always missed it when I've not been able to do it. 


Our World Tuesday

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