29 January 2011


I have very mixed feeling about what is happening in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen right now. On the one hand I am afraid of what might become of these countries, better the devil you know, than the devil you don't. What many people in the West fail to understand about Arabic nations is that they have never had a democracy. They are all Fiefdoms of one sort or another and have always been so. It has taken us in Europe over 400 years to arrive at the democracies we have. For us to impose democracy on the Arabs in the case of Iraq is wrong. So on the other hand I am now hopeful that as it would seem the democratisation of Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen is coming from within, it may work.

I spent time in Yemen and Egypt on the way through the Red Sea during my circumnavigation.  So have first hand knowledge of these countries.
On the first occasion I was in Egypt I got stuck in Port Tawfiq, Suez with a broken gear box and ended up staying 4 months there, before I was able to continue. After my experiences I just had to learn the language, which Hanna and I did by going to a language school in Cairo three times.
 Each time it was an adventure par excellence. The school was in the northern part of the city and we had a flat on the 14 floor with two balconies which gave us great views in two different directions.

This is one looking north.

Cairo is one of my all time favourite cities. It never sleeps and there is a constant hustle and bustle even late at night. Hanna and I love to hear the call of the Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. Our block of flats was served by a small mosque next door and the Muezzin came from Aswan and even today I think he was one of the best I have ever heard. 

Our Muezzin

El Quba where our flat was has no hotels or tourists and on our first trip out from there it took us some time to find a taxi  that was prepared to take us back. The first one we stopped refused on the basis that tourists had no business there! In fact we were not tourists, we were "Taliban" and had ID cards to prove it. These allowed us to get into all historical sites and the Egyptian museum at students rates. "Taliban" is Arabic for two students.
On another visit  we missed being blown up by a bomb in Khan al Khalili by 24 hours. Where we had stood the next day French tourists were blown up!
I have found that in all the Arabic countries I have visited, Yemen, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and Syria the people to be extremely friendly and hospitable. In Egypt, through our teacher we were introduced to the upper class intellectuals and only in all the other countries have we had social contact with the lower classes. They all have one thing in common, their friendliness and hospitality.
My thoughts at this time, therefore, is with our many Friends in Cairo, may they stay safe and may the changes that are about to happen, bring them peace, prosperity and perhaps a proper democracy.

Sunset over Cairo

27 January 2011

Photos of the day.

It was a cold day here, but I took the time to take a walk with the camera.

Going somewhere?

A view from platform 1 of the main railway station in Mönchengladbach.

Two smart cars?

Some blue reflections of the old goods station.

Lost bottle?

One of the many building sites in the city.

22 January 2011


While looking for a recipe for parsnip soup in a "Delia" cookbook which used to belong to my mother, I came across this photo of me in a former life time. How can they be so irresponsible and give someone so young, so much responsibility, I ask now some 43 years later?

I didn't find a suitable recipe, so will have to improvise. The majority of parsnip soups I have found recipes for are curried. Hanna is not so fond of spicy food, while I love Indian and Thai food, so my parsnip soup should not be spicy. I shall make a parsnip soup with garlic and vanilla and add grilled tiger prawns as a garnish. What do you think? Will it work? I'll let you know.

17 January 2011


Are you one of those cooks that has every conceivable gadget in their kitchen? I am not though I must admit to having a few which I like. Good knives are a must and here I have more than most which I do my best to keep razor sharp. I do have an AEG multi-chef which only gets used about 3 or 4 times a year. The one gadget I swear by is my Kenwood mixer. This has greatly improved my baking and does get used at least once a week.

One of the major skills in cooking is I believe the ability to get all the various parts of a meal together at the same time. Yesterday, because of a new gadget I almost got it wrong.

I was cooking roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, roast parsnips and caramelised brussel sprouts! All was going to plan and here I must confess to being a "Delia" fan and more or less doing as she tells it.  The mistake I made now was one I would never have done at sea, I relied on and believed a new electronic devise.

At sea I never ever relied on my electronic gadgets. They were always nice to have and, yes, they made life easier, but in the back of my mind was always the thought that, "what can go wrong, will go wrong!" So it came to pass during my circumnavigation where I on more than one occasion had to navigate the old way, with compass clock and sextant.

While shopping the day before I had made a spontaneous purchase of a Tchibo cooking thermometer.
Never having used one before I followed the instructions. I wanted my beef to be pink, that is medium rare. The time for getting my beef out of the oven according to "Delia" passed since the temperature had not been reached. This went on and one until my gut feeling said no. Needless to say the beef was not as ideal as it should have been and the other items were all ready sooner than I allowed my beef to be, even allowing for it's rest period.

So the moral of my tale is that even in the kitchen one should never rely upon electronic gadgets, but rely on ones instinct and experience. My experience on the kitchen front has still much to learn.

15 January 2011

A gray day here.

It's been a gray day here. I got on my bike nevertheless and found a couple of interesting motives. The best though was from my balcony at the end of the day.

13 January 2011


When my landlord, Herr Weber,  called sometime ago and saw my front door and the crib he called me a "Weihnachtsfreak" (Christmas Freak), which I readily admitted to.
Cherished Teddies Crib
I have ever been thus. The reason is simple. My mother always made a great deal of effort to make Christmas a special family celebration. At first, while I still believed in father Christmas, we celebrated in the English fashion with Santa coming on Christmas Eve while I was asleep. As a young boy of 8 I joined my first Church choir and thoroughly enjoyed singing Christmas Carols at this time of the year. I had a good soprano voice so sang the first verse of the opening carol "Once in Royal David City" solo. Later as a teenager at home we celebrated in the German fashion on Christmas Eve. Then when I married my first wife, my mother-in-law introduced me to an English traditional family Christmas. She too made a great effort to make the event special. The amount of presents that appeared under the tree on Christmas Eve was to me at the time something that needed to be seen to be believed. I had never seen so many before, but from this moment on it was to become the norm for me, for many years.

For a time after my second divorce I celebrated Christmas alone, from choice, yet still made sure I decorated a tree and packed presents for friends. Once again I was a member of a Church Choir and enjoyed the tremendous feeling one gets from belonging to a small intimate congregation.
The cherished teddies crib on top of the table
my oldest and best bears having a tea party
under the table.
Now with Hanna, my partner of over 22 years, I have a German family and we celebrate on Christmas Eve. The family, three daughters and their husbands/partner and one grandson, are not permitted into Hanna's living room where her Christmas tree stands decorated with the many presents around its base, until Hanna rings a little bell. Then we all file in and take our seats around the tree to sing carols and read the Christmas story from the Bible, in English. Each person present must perform a party piece, recite a poem or read a story, relevant to Christmas. Each year Hanna recites the poem she first learned and recited when she was 3 years old. Now we wait until the baton can be passed on to our Kutty. We sing both English and German Carols. Before the last carol, which by tradition is "Silent Night" in German I read Clement Clarke Moore's "The Night Before Christmas", something I have done every year, even when alone since 1972. Then follows the orgy of opening the many presents.
After my circumnavigation, when I finally settled here in Mönchengladbach, and while my father was still alive, I always brought him over to celebrate with us. One year while decorating our tree, the second one we had decorated, Hanna's being the first, my father asked, "for whom are we doing this?"
I replied that we were doing it for ourselves. A concept he had a little difficulty with. My tree will sit in pride of place in my living room. I am not sure this year when I will put it up, but soon I think. It will sit there until Candlemas (2 February) as this is the old traditional end to the Epiphany. I may well remove the Crib from my front door before then, so as not to annoy the neighbours, leaving just the teddies having their tea party under it. I hope that this Advent time for you, the reader, will be a happy one filled with all the nicest things this time of the year can bring.

11 January 2011

Enjoy the moment.

In the shadow of the water tower in Windberg, Mönchengladbach , some 500m from where I live is the Protestant cemetery.
It was here that the burial of Hanna's good neighbour took place on Friday.

I say burial because the funeral was a very large affair with a Catholic Mass said in the St Anna  church, Windberg before hand and the committal taking place immediately after in the protestant cemetery. The church was packed and we ended up sitting behind a huge column in this beautiful neo-Gothic church.

My going to two funerals in three days makes me realise that very soon I will belong to the older generation and the next to go, Inshallah! However, as long as there are relatives and friends of my parents still living I don't quite feel part of the older generation just yet. On my father's side there is a brother and his wife, a sister-in-law, my aunt, and at least two cousins of my father still living, as well as his war time comrade. On my mother's side there are no siblings left, but there are a couple of friends from her generation. That said a comrade from my Army service only three years older than me died over the Christmas holiday period as well. This all goes to show that the grim reaper is closer than we imagine.

The moral of the tale? Enjoy and live each day as if it were your last.

6 January 2011


Attending funerals causes one to remember and think about life, one’s own and that of the deceased. How did you meet? Why did you like/love each other? Why are you attending the funeral in the first place? Out of love? Duty? Both?

I believe that a funeral takes place not just to honour, and show respect to the dead, but it is a ritual whereby the family of the departed comes together to renew itself, as well as saying a formal farewell to the departed member. It gives us closure. Not being able to say farewell; not being able to show your respect and honour to the departed can cause problems later in life, particularly if you were close while they were alive.

In 1969 my German grandmother, whom I loved more than my mother, was due to return to Germany after having attended my wedding. She was to fly from Heathrow, for her a first flight. She was also frail and so I resolved to travel to Heathrow to say goodbye. At this time I was a young officer in the Queen’s Regiment stationed in Warminster. On the day of her departure, my heavily pregnant wife and I had a minor conflict for she did not want me to go. We lived in a small, cold, damp cottage in the darkest of Wiltshire with no neighbours for miles and no bus service. My wife was not feeling too bright and would be alone in the middle of nowhere for most of the day. Now I have certain sympathy for her feelings, at the time I had none. So I was late in leaving. My car was a 1957 Morris traveller. I wish I still had it, but even then the engine was not reliable. There were no motorways then and so it was a long and slow journey and to my utter shame I ran out of petrol, on the only bit of dual carriage way on the whole route, some 20 miles from Heathrow. I never made it in time and I never saw her again for she died the following year. Nor was I able to attend her funeral. I never ran out of petrol again, but nor have I ever forgotten or forgiven myself.

The funeral I attended on Tuesday of my ex-mother in law was a nice service and did credit to her life as did those who attended. We were close, she and I, while I was married to her eldest daughter. I never thought twice about calling her “mum” from the beginning of our relationship for she showed me great kindness at the outset. My divorcing her daughter broke this relationship for many years. I was pleased that some years ago I was able to renew the relationship and she forgave me the crime of divorcing her daughter. We met as often as I was able to travel to the UK and she knew and liked my present partner Hanna. I rang her the week before she died and was still calling her “mum”. She understood me and we had tremendous respect for each other.

While in England I journeyed down “memory lane”. Saw the house where my mother in law had lived and remembered the many good times we shared in it as a family. I saw how the house had changed, grown to accommodate the new family now living there. “Good memories,” as my father would say. I then travelled to the last house my parents and I lived in and saw how it had deteriorated, it was not well looked after and seemed to reflect the sad memories I had of living there as a teenager. A more complete contrast to that other house in Broomleaf Road which looked prosperous and cared for, there could not have been!

So when attending funerals one is inundated with good and bad memories. Losing a loved one is emotion enough for me; I can do without the bad memories. At least none of these apply to Rita Milman, my mother in law. May she rest in peace.

2 January 2011

New Year starts hard.

Well the new year started really hard. A neighbour and life long friend of Hanna's died suddenly this morning (1 Jan), a pen friend of Hanna's of almost 60 years has written to say he has terminal cancer and on Monday (3 Jan) I travel to the UK to attend the funeral of my ex-mother-in-law.
Rita Milman was the best mother-in-law a chap can have. I wish that when I got divorced I had not lost contact with my in-laws as they were always very good to me. I am truely grateful that I was able to re-establish a good relationship to my mother-in-law a few years before she died.
Life can only get better....I hope.

1 January 2011

Happy New Year

I did not get to bed until 0620hrs. Had a great night with some of the family. We let off the ubiquitous fire works as did the rest of the street. I have no idea how little Christopher Thomas slept through it all . There after we played a German type of Trival pursuit untill the wee hours of the morning.
Here's hoping 2011 will be a year where Peace can come to those that need it and that all in our family and circle of friends have a year filled with good health and happiness.