On rage against ridiculous rules

It’s the last day of my holiday and I’m on a train back home. Just one (three counting the local trains at each end) with no changes between Düsseldorf and Berlin (which is a very good thing considering how much luggage I have* and how often the lifts are broken).

Besides being tired and achy and looking forward to getting home and having a bath, I am currently incredibly smug and incredibly angry in fairly equal parts.

***

I booked a ticket for myself and my bike in advance. For unknown and uninteresting reasons, the train carriages are in a different order today and the space I booked doesn’t exist at all. There is still a fairly large bike compartment though, so I set up camp here in the corner.

I have a seat, my bike and luggage was on the train and out of the way and there was enough space for multiple people with suitcases to get on at the same station and wait until they find a seat.

So far so good.

When the ticket lady checked my ticket a couple of hours into the journey she told me that I had to hang my bike on one of the allocated bike hooks. I told her it was less in the way as it was and she just repeated that I had to and added that there would be stress if I didn’t.

After a while she went away and I went back to what I was reading.

Cue the next ticket lady’s entrance.

Ticket lady 2: What did my colleague ask you to do?

Me: *shrugs*

TL2: She told you to hang your bike up on the hooks, didn’t she.

Me: Mm. It would be in the way if I did that.

TL2: We will need the space if other people with bikes get on the train.

Me: Mhmm.

TL2: Hang your bike on the bike hooks, now.

Me: Whatever. *hangs bike on hook*

We now have the following situation:

My bike is now on a hook. It is officially conforming to all the rules and regulations concerning bikes on trains.

However.

The hooks are arranged in such a manner that you can fit the maximum number of bikes into the minimum amount of space with access to each of them separately. The theory is good, in practice it only works if there are no people in the area at the same time.

Unfortunately the train before this one was cancelled so there are a lot of extra people on board. It’s not bursting at the seams but there are a lot of people who haven’t found seats in the main passenger areas and are sitting in the bike section.

My bike is now perpendicular to the windows. It is about two thirds of the width of the carriage and there is a fold-down seat directly behind it. That leaves approximately 30cm between the back wheel and the-smallish-kid-on-the-fold-down-seat’s knees. Everyone who wants to walk along the train has to squeeze through the gap. After already squeezing past the smallish-kid’s family, and before squeezing between a foolishly placed dividing wall/electricity box and a lady with a large suitcase.

I feel sorry for everyone getting on or off the train with a suitcase or a buggy, and for the smallish kid who has to stand up to let them through, BUT, I take great pleasure in watching the (large :)) ticket lady squeeze past. If anyone complains I will refer them back to her too.

***

Just to clarify, I don’t think rules (and their enforcement) are automatically unnecessary, but I am 100% against enforcing rules purely for the sake of it, to the detriment of other good things like comfort.

Not that I am personally affected one way or the other. My seat is protected by the electrical box. At least until all the bike hooks are taken. I’d have to move then. It’s unlikely though – no new bikes have arrived in the compartment since I moved mine and I doubt any will. It’s November. The chances of five more bikes needing space on this train is remote.

🙂

* I’ve been back to my friend’s house and picked up all the things she brought back from England for me.

On memory

My phone is striking.

Apps stop working mid-process, the map doesn’t know where I am, messages don’t send, emails don’t load, the camera won’t take pictures. It’s a pain.

Especially when I still have a weekend left on the road (/rails) and a million photo opportunities. The sun’s out, autumn is well and truly here and it’s golden and crunchy and beautiful. And I want to catch it, preserve it for grey days when I can’t remember what the sun feels like.

Memory full.

Please delete everything to continue.

Ok. Maybe not quite everything. But lots.

I don’t want to delete anything at all. I want to keep everything. Always. Almost always. Even the blurry photos are keys to memories of train rides, bike rides, cold hands, rushing to be somewhere else but desperate to get a picture of where I am as I go. The picture itself is often meaningless, but it reminds me to remember something else.

It’s true of my life as much as my phone. I don’t like getting rid of memories. Mostly. Sometimes I try and they refuse. Much like the photos on my colleague’s phone that kept reappearing no matter how often he deleted them.

On the other hand..my memory strikes too, sometimes. Remembering things seems hard, harder than it should be. Or maybe I’m running too many programmes at once. Hard to say.

For instance, I don’t remember when I last manually backed up my pictures. More accurately, I remember joining my phone to my computer and starting the import, I just don’t remember when it was relative to now and if it worked or not. Sometimes my computer strikes too. If it did work, I could delete the pictures I already have on the computer and make space on my phone. But I don’t remember.

Various clouds have my name on but I don’t trust them enough to just delete everything and hope for the best. My colleague asked me for help with his disappearing and reappearing photos. In the process of finding out what was going on, we discovered that his cloud is only accessible from his phone, since then, my already low view of virtual memory has sunk further.

Memory full.

Please delete everything to continue.

I won’t. I’m spending time during the boring bits of train journeys, going through the masses of old pictures and deleting the ones I probably wouldn’t miss if I really don’t already have them. It’s long-winded so it’s a good thing I’m travelling so far in the dark and/or in trains with windows so dirty I can’t see out.

On the first night in a new city

I moved to Germany to be an AuPair a couple of months over 13 years ago.

I set out by myself with a suitcase and a backpack, flew a few hundred kilometres and got a bus and a train across Germany, in order to live with a family I hadn’t even heard of a week before.

Afterwards, people asked me if I’d been scared, or told me that I was brave or crazy or that they couldn’t have done that. I didn’t understand them, I was just doing what was necessary for the next step. You can’t learn a language better than if you fully immerse yourself in it after all.

I can’t claim I wasn’t at all nervous, but I had so much more to do than concentrate on it.

***

Today, I got a train from Murcia (and K) to Barcelona (via Alicante but that’s another story).

I am currently staying with people I don’t know in a city I’d never been to until last week (and even then only for a matter of minutes). I say ‘staying with’, but I actually mean I am staying in a room they’ve made free for me. Our paths hardly cross besides exchanging pleasantries and the keys.

As I lie in this tiny room, sprawled out across this bed that is mine for one night only, I realise that I haven’t ever been on holiday by myself. I’ve moved house multiple times, I was an AuPair for 3 families in 3 different places, I’ve been to conferences and seminars and schools and last year to a fish meeting. But I’ve never been anywhere by myself just because.

Purely for the fun of it.

Without a good raison d’etre.

Without a plan or a purpose or anyone I know coming along for the ride.

It feels frivolous – I’m spending money on myself without any kind of visible or tangible or describable payback. There are no course notes, no minutes. Nothing I can show to anyone else afterwards, nothing for a CV or an interview. Nothing I can point at and say, “Look. It was worth the money and effort and time off”.

I’m not spending time with anyone, not helping anyone, not listening to anyone, not filling anyone’s ears with my words. (Your eyes don’t count ;p)

There’s no one else who benefits from it, except maybe my hosts. Just me. Anything that happens, or doesn’t happen, pretty much only affects me.

It feels really weird, and unexpectedly more scary than it has any right to be.

And yet.

And yet.

And yet it also feels good.

And kind of addictive. Like a kick from a drug I haven’t let myself have for a long time, reawakening the urge to just do things without so many millions of thoughts.

I might have to do this more often.

But first I have to find something something to eat.

🙂

Barcelona here I come!

😛

On mysterious markets and frustrating pastries

There was an “antique” market held here today.

When I think of antiques I usually think of expensive furniture. In this case the antiques were a mixture of things without any obvious age limit or theme. It was more like a sale of anything old enough and/or bizarre enough not to be wanted by the original owner.

After wandering through the market and back we needed sustenance.

Luckily, Murcia is full of bakeries.

Unfortunately, not all pastries are as tasty as they look. These are filled with overly sweetened strings of an unidentifiable fruit.

Later this evening, I tried yet another good looking pastry and it was disappointingly dry and unremarkable.

In the last few days, on the walk to the sanctuary and on trips around the city, we tried various different sweet and savoury pasties. All of them had the potential to be delicious. Most of them failed. I probably use more herbs and spices and less sugar in my cooking than K does, but we both agreed that the savoury pasties are mostly bland and the sweet pastries often too sweet or too sticky or too dry or too oily.

Considering how attractive they are, it’s very frustrating not being satisfied with the taste/texture.

On being a late starter

I signed up for Ra’s nanopoblano gig and promptly missed the first day. (ironically because I was deeply involved in a conversation about being late until the early hours of today).

Here’s to starting late and talking later 🙂

On looking out of the window

I’m taking my bike to France by train..

I thought I could spend the 15 hour journey writing and catching up with myself and re-working my website etcetcetc.

Instead I’m looking out of the window and taking numerous blurry pictures of the rivers and mountains I’m going past.

The writing will have to wait.

On vegetable shopping

Train station, half past 6.

Smallish kid: “Mum! Mum! Mum! Can we stop and buy vegetables?!”

Kid’s brother: ” No!”

Smallish kid: “Mum! Can we buy vegetables, please!”

Kid’s mum: “No. We’re in a hurry to get to <Somewhere>. Wait, what?”

Smallish kid: “Can we buy vegetables?”

Kid’s mum: “What do you want to buy vegetables for?”

… And then they were out of earshot. They didn’t buy anything.

On making the most of being ill

Sometimes all you need is a sunny day off to fill with a 2 hour massage and a peanut butter and chocolate brownie ice cream..

A cycle ride through the autumn colours and along the canal into the sunset doesn’t hurt either.

🙂

Written yesterday but for some reason not posted properly.

On turning pumpkins into food (and mostly failing)

Dear Internet,

I currently think carriages are the best thing to turn pumpkins into. Lanterns come a close second. The last thing I think they’re good for is eating.

On the other hand, a large population of the world goes wild about autumn because they can finally eat pumpkins again.

I think I’m missing something fundamental. Please provide inspiration and maybe some understanding of the crazy pumpkin lovers out there.

Thank you!

Jesska xx

***

I just produced this:

It is a reminder of why I don’t buy or eat pumpkins very often.

***

As part of a plan to eat more healthily and to expand my repertoire, I’ve been looking for (and buying) things I don’t usually eat and learning what to do with them. I always ate quite a lot of veggies, but I tended to stick to the same few sorts. I can now cook not only the basics (peas, sweetcorn, carrots, parsnips, (sweet) potatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions, garlics, leeks, beans, swede, sprouts) but also the slightly more weird stuff; aubergines and courgettes and fennel and kohlrabi and cabbage and spinach and I occasionally chop spring onions onto things before I serve eat them. I add chickpeas into currys and puffed quinoa into my müsli. Sweet potatoes have become my current [accessible] favourite [healthy] food (they very rarely sell parsnips here).

Recently I went shopping (to buy sweet potatoes 🙂 ) and found a rack of hokkaido pumpkins and butternut squashes. I bought one of each (as well as the potatoes).

Today was pumpkin day.

I don’t feel any urge to rush out and buy another one. Except maybe as a masochistic challenge to try again and maybe make it better next time (and risk failing).

I assumed I could cook/bake it by itself and eat it with butter and pepper – the easiest way I know to prepare anything, and the same way I enjoy eating pretty much every other vegetable. Yes, roast potatoes/carrots/parsnips/whatever are amazing but new potatoes/carrots/parsnips/whatever boiled/microwaved and smothered with melted butter* are a very fine thing. Although I add butter and pepper to all kinds of vegetables to enhance the taste, I will readily eat them unbuttered too.

Today I discovered that there is no amount of butter and pepper that can make anything exciting out of a pumpkin. I tried adding salt, paprika, curcuma, cinnamon, curry, caraway, Parmesan cheese and, by the end, a mixture of all of the above. I tried scooping it out of the skin and mashing it. I briefly thought about making soup before remembering that soup is only as good as the flavours you put in it and pumpkin doesn’t have any flavour worth mentioning. I gave up, leaving the skin and the bowl of mash on the sideboard, and consulted the wealth of online recipes Google has on offer.

The first thing that struck me was how many sweet things people make. I’d always imagined pumpkin pie like chicken pie – something dinnery. I thought pumpkin cookies were like cheese biscuits – savoury. I thought pumpkin-flavoured coffee was just bonkers but each to their own.

Turns out it’s hard to find anything to use a pumpkin for that places any value on the actual pumpkin. Using it to make cake or emptying the spice cabinet over it or adding it a spoonful at a time to other meals counts as cheating in my mind. It’s almost like an excuse to eat more of whatever you’re stretching by adding pumpkin, or as if you have to get rid of the pumpkin by any method possible, kind of like hiding carrots from fussy toddlers by grating it into spaghetti sauce. Maybe that’s just me being cynical. It’s just…, I mean, I like apples, and I like apple pie because it tastes like apples. I don’t make pie to disguise the apples or make them qualify as edible. I make apple pie as an alternative way to enjoy eating apples. I might add cinnamon or cloves but that’s to enhance the taste of the apples, not completely hide it. If you’re going for the spice-flavour you can do that without pretending anything else. You can make spiced cake without pumpkin or apples or any other unnecessary additions.

One of the first savoury recipes I found online suggested using it to fill tortellini. I figure it doesn’t make too much difference whether the filling is inside or outside the pasta and I had an open packet here so I cooked some and used the mashed pumpkin mess as a sauce.

It actually looks surprisingly good in the photo.. I am amazed 🙂

I ate it because it would be a waste not to. I didn’t eat it because it was in any way a culinary delight.

***

I buy a pumpkin approximately once every two years or so. I cook it, eat it and avoid buying them again. After a while I see them for sale, forget that I’m avoiding them, think they look pretty and take one home. Whereupon I cook it, eat it and remember why I don’t regularly buy them. This is a very foolish cycle.

If anyone has a recipe for something pumpkiny that will make me change my mind, feel free to let me know. I am open to suggestions. Especially at this time of year when pumpkins are cheaper than pretty much anything else by weight ;p.

Suggestions for other vegetables I should try are welcome too.

* I don’t eat butter on bread. I eat all my sandwiches “dry” and save the butter for drowning crumpets, muffins or vegetables instead.

On working and walking and retyring

I’ve been meaning to write all summer. And yet I haven’t. I haven’t walked much either. Why walk if you can cycle? Besides, it’s been far too hot and too still to walk. The air at least feels like it’s moving when you cycle through it.

The writing? Tja. Whatever it is that makes me write hasn’t been working.

I have tho. Mostly. I’ve been working at work and on my flat (pictures to follow) and on myself. Except when I haven’t. There have been days of doing nothing but being.

I’m working again today, which is more than I can say about my bike. It decided enough is enough and is having a retyrement party at the bike shop. Complete with celebratory cogs and a shiny chain for loyalservice and new brakes for good measure. It went in yesterday but it seems a proper celebration and recovery takes time. Especially allowing for all the breaks*..

Yesterday I walked home.

6 km (plus an hour on the sofa) of long overdue, easy flowing conversation with a friend I don’t see very often.

The world goes by more slowly when you walk but the ideas come faster when you have someone to share them with. All the happenings of the last few months, condensed into an hour, two if you count both tellings. The highlights and the lowlights. A lot of busyness contrasting with the slow steady plodding.

This morning I walked to the train station. I saw the litter in the newly cut and untypically dry grass on the banks at the side of the road and thought about how you don’t notice it so much on a bike. Or when the grass is longer and greener and lusher. Now would be a good time to go litter picking. Now, before the grass grows again or it snows on top of it all. I think I will at some point. It sounds therapeutic. Like weeding. Much easier than weeding and looking for litter in my life, although I know I should probably do that too, before it gets full again. The ground is dry too, the sand trickles out of the spaces between the roots – a perfect example of soil erosion. It’s about time it rained, the ground needs it even if I don’t want it.

***

Going to work on the train provides me with a few minutes of undisturbed writing time. So I’m writing. To prove I still can. To hopefully kickstart the idea that writing doesn’t need to be “special” or particularly interesting, it just needs to be written.

Tomorrow the bike will work again and I can go back to cycling to work.

I have no idea what my writing will do, but I hope it will stick around for a while. My mind could do with a good litter picking session. 😉

*Brakes and breaks are important. Breaking and being broken aren’t.