Tuesday, 30 September 2008


The Oxfam shops have to be the best kept secret ever! The children's book section is always a treasure trove!

Ishie is now 21 months old and will sit with a book on her lap for 5 whole minutes. While she loves to be outside (and so does wee Alastair) once we come inside, she will settle absorbed in the pictures babbling to herself.

More words are starting to come. "Puddle" just about says it all!

Two wee charmers as we sashay around Bearsden Cross with people stopping in the street "Oh, look at those two!" The Oxfam ladies fairly coo over them!

Mums and babes get to-gether for coffee. Ishie and I go out walking around the block and invariably meet people we know on the street or in, for example, the butcher's or the newsagent's shop.

They will tumble about together quite happily. They laugh at each others' antics. It all bodes well for the future. Certainly, neither one gets cross when their hair is being pulled or a foot steps on the wrong place.

Two high chairs! Ish is cutting her molars and loves to chew on toast. The mess? .... Don't ask!

Monday, 29 September 2008


We were guests of Catherine and Paddy in Paris last month. Having traveled from London on the Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel we were very impressed at how easy it was to navigate our way to their home on the outskirts of the city centre.

I liked this ceramic number plate at their front door. Fun and French!

They took us to the graveyard in Auvers where Vincent and Theo Van Gogh are buried. The day was slightly threatening with black clouds passing over the land. I though the artist himself would have liked the way the light kept changing.

The reason for visiting Auvers was to see the place where Van Gogh spent the last 10 weeks of his life before he died "by his own hand".

Van Gogh moved to Paris (aged 33/37 years) where his brother Theo worked as an art-dealer. He then went on to live in Provence. Due to his mental health problems he was admitted to an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. In May 1890 he headed north to this town, Auvers-sur-Oise, north of Paris. He lived - albeit for a fairly short time of ten weeks - in a tiny attic room in the inn, Auberge Ravoux. He was being treated by a famous doctor Paul-Ferdinand Gachet. Sadly, he shot himself in the stomach while working at his easel in a nearby field on July 27, 1890 and died 2 days later, aged 37 years, with his brother Theo present.

Just seven weeks before his death, van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo in Paris: "Some day or other I believe I shall find a way of having an exhibition of my own in a cafe."

This cafe has made the upstairs rooms into a museum. There are no paintings there - far too expensive for the owner to even contemplate!

In those last ten weeks of his life he produced over 100 works, including the painting called The Church at Auvers. This is the church and it is a short walk from the wheat fields and the cemetery.

The Church at Auvers
Vincent van Gogh, 1890
Oil on canvas
74 × 94 cm
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

For the record: Paddy and Iain and Catherine (hidden) - a photo badly in need of a bit of Van Gogh colour!

Saturday, 27 September 2008


This is the Last Post (forgive the pun) in the Oberstdorf Series (No. 7 of 7). Sabina went to great trouble to get us all singing - given that there were 4 languages! We liked the tunes of her German songs but did not understand the words!

However, what better tune to try out - and eventually use - than the very international Auld Lang Syne!

Dietrich translated Auld Lang Syne into German as printed below. When sung it scans perfectly. Well done, Dietrich! Robert Burns would be proud of you!

Auld Lang Syne in German

Nehmt Abschied, Brüder, ungewiß ist alle Wiederkehr,
die Zukunft liegt in Finsternis und macht das Herz uns schwer.
Der Himmel wölbt sich übers Land, ade, auf Wiedersehn,
Wir ruhen all in Gottes Hand, lebt wohl, auf Wiedersehn.

Nehmt Abschied, Brüder, schließt den Kreis, das Leben ist ein Spiel,
und wer es gut zu spielen weiß, gelangt ans große Ziel.
Der Himmel wölbt sich übers Land, ade, auf Wiedersehn,
Wir ruhen all in Gottes Hand, lebt wohl, auf Wiedersehn

* * * * * * * *

Auld Lang Syne in English

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine,
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne!

Robert Burns (1759 -1796)

Note 1
: There are more verses but the verses here are what are normally sung in, our experience, of 'everyday' practice.


Fiddles etc play in the key of G. F is easier for audience singing. C gives you the basic idea.


Note 2: The tune, again, which is normally sung at the end of the evening at parties and public events, is one that is 'Traditional' and was used, i.e. 'adapted', by Burns' publisher for Burns' song. Burns' own tune to his words is different, but equally beautiful.

Friday, 26 September 2008


This part of Germany is mainly Catholic. There is a tradition which involves writing the initials of the three kings Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar above the main door of the home to confer blessings on the occupants for the New Year.

In this year of 2008 it appears 20 + C + M + B + 08, which also represents "Christus mansionem benedicat" (Christ bless this house). This is done by children, dressed up as the Magi, carrying the star. In 'exchange' for writing the initials, they collect money for charity projects in the third world.

Above the door of this restaurant in Oberstorf are the symbols 20 + C + M + B + 08 written in chalk. In the photo below the right-hand door of this chapel has the second half [ +B + 08] of the writing on the door.

Red geraniums on the doorstep of the guesthouse where we stayed.

Window boxes on Dietrich's house.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008


Tents are set up on the edge of the field where friends, neighbours, and visitors can meet and greet over a glass of beer.

This is Manny, Dietrich's friend, and a great fella! Manny treated us to his culinary creations both in the restaurant and on the back deck patio. For the Vieschield Festival he was dressed for the occasion and made the rest of us feel pale cardboard figures!

Pils is excellent beer and this size is not quite so daunting! We sat outside at a big picnic table having our lunch while inside the adjacent tent an acoustic band was keeping all the customers entertained with sing-along folk tunes.

It's hard work driving the cattle down from the high pastures. A fella gets a terrible thirst.... which of course brings its own logistical problems in such a public place...!

Sunday, 21 September 2008


The Vieschied Festival is the seasonal event marking the arrival of the cattle which have been brought down to the valley from the high pastures at the end of summer. Every year it takes place the second weekend in September. To be part of this festival is the main reason we were Dietrich and Reingard's guests at this particular week in September.

It proved to be a wonderful day for us and I have many photos to share. In fact, I have so many I have divided it up. This is Part 1 of 3 and is about the animals as they arrive in the valley, how they are sorted for identification and the process of getting them ready for their trip back to the farms. Part 2 is about the people and Part 3 is about ... the beer!

This picture (above) is really about Sound. The procession is arriving but the best bit isn't what you see but what you hear!

Take a look at it closely. First of all, you have to imagine this lane through these trees as being empty and quiet with everyone milling about elsewhere on the verges and pasture. However, all are expectant. They know the cattle herds are due for arrival - about 40 animals in a herd - as they are coming one after the other down to this final arrival field on the edge of town.

You stand there straining your eyes for the first of the herd filling the lane. There is nothing to see but ... you become aware of a sound in the air - is that a waterfall? It is coming from afar. The sound begins to get louder ... then you begin to identify the sound of deep toned cow bells ... a lot of cow bells! It is quite thrilling! And then you can see in the distance the herd and their herdsmen slowly getting closer!

Everyone moves to the edge of the road to watch. Quite spectacular in an understated sort of way! We are witnesses to an event that goes on every year and, indeed, herds will be arriving all day and well into the night as the farmers' routine moves through the calendar year.

Again you have to look closely. Between the 2 herdsmen - bottom right - is the animal bedecked in flowers rather in the shape of a floral mantilla.

The herd has now arrived in the receiving area which is a fenced-off space giving the herdsmen room to line them up for the identification process.

This fellow's job is to identify the cattle as they are led, one at a time, through a channel where he stands on a platform with his microphone (covered in a poly bag for the drizzle) announcing which animal belongs to which farmer. He has to know all the animals! Apparently he has a mate who can spell him off!

The owners and their helpers are ready and waiting to take the animals, remove their finery and tether them to the railings while they go and collect the others.

Everything is done in a very orderly fashion. These lads appear to be Keepers of the Cow Bells - all lined up: small, medium, large.

And lastly, we have the lead animal now back with its owner and no doubt looking forward to a well-deserved trip home.

Saturday, 20 September 2008


Dietrich drove us to the beginning of a most amazing walk through a deep canyon called the Breitachklamm the beginning of which is not far from Oberstdorf. The depth and geological formation show up rather well in this photo I took (thinking that it would be too dark, deep in the canyon). After walking through the gorge we continued on up the river and ended up at a lovely hut called Waldhaus which is actually in Austria.

The owners are friends of Dietrich's. Unfortunately I have no photos of the lovely young couple with their school-age son and the mother-in-law who live there. The family run the inn. They have a website www.waldhaus.de.cx (It doesn't seem to work. However other various websites - mostly German - have photos and descriptions of the area).

I was impressed that they make their own marmalade and many other hand-made foodstuffs which they sell in the inn. It is definitely worth a visit!

The whole of this area is surrounded by mountains so Iain was in his element!

Dietrich (right), Sabina (left) and Iain had a long climb and then a ridge walk in the Nebelhorn area. The rest of us took the cable car to the top of the Nebelhorn where we all met for a barbecue meal.

These lads were great fun. In the minutes before the cable car descended for the night, they came out on to the roof-patio and played for all of us. Their forte was good ol' fashioned German polkas and marches! Knowing it was heading for 8 o'clock and the ride back down we got them to join in 'Auld Lang Syne'. They picked up the tune easily, of course, but heaven knows what they made of our singing!

As we were eating the weather socked in - just like Scotland - and then cleared giving this wonderful etherial lighting. I took this shot as the cable car was moving down the mountain.

There are many hiking trails and pleasant woodland walks along the icy rivers that come down the valleys. This is Reingart beside a covered wooden bridge. Sometimes the bridges get swept away in the spring run-off and have to be replaced.

Friday, 19 September 2008


Maps certainly are not what they used to be! We are now back from Oberstdorf in southern Germany. Have a look at this different sort of map which is provided by Google Maps. Click here. Try zooming in and out - amazing! (For a diagram of the valleys with the trails and ski lifts click here .)

We are a very international group enjoying luncheon at Birgsau located further up the Trettachtal valley from Oberstdorf. Dietrich and Reingard were our hosts and we - Christine and Neil from Scotland, Inga from Sweden, Francois and Alain from France and Iain and I - were their guests for a week. Being 'locals' meant we were taken to places where we met their friends and local contacts.

Over lunch we enjoyed hirschgoulasch or vension stew cooked by Dietrich's friend Manny (who appears in later photos).

The sun shone - nothing but blue skies all day! Half the group took advantage of the hiking trails up and down the Trettachtal valley; half took public transport.

If one was to drive due south from nothern Germany, Oberstdorf is the end-of-the-road. Keep going and one gets (as the crow flies) to the Austrian border. If it was possible to continue south over the mountain range one would end up in the Arlberg region east of Innsbruck.

Walking in the surrounding valleys - long and fertile with cattle grazing- one feels its remoteness. It is now the end of summer and this is the week farmers are preparing to bring the animals down the valley to the lower pastures for the winter. The festival to mark this is on the Saturday of the second week of September. See photos coming later.

The region is mainly Catholic. This mountain village is typical with its very cared-for chapel like the others with their fresh white paint and wooden carvings and furnishings. The glass in this chapel window is recent.

Thursday, 18 September 2008


We are back from our mini-tour of Europe, i.e. Paris and Bavaria, and feel much the better for the holiday with friends in such pleasant surroundings! It has whetted our appetite to return as we still have the musical tones of the French and German voices in our head. (Iain arrived at the Glasgow ticket office to buy our rail ticket to Helensburgh and when served replied "Danke schon "!)

Having changed our Pounds Sterling into Euros I was interested to learn, from Neil, the story of the artwork on the front (recto) side of the Euro banknote.
On all the notes, or in this example, the ten Euro note with its Romanesque arch, the structures depicted on the banknote are fictional, i.e. they are a synthesis of many styles (in this example, Romanesque arch styles). They are what you might call a 'generic rendition'. This makes them devoid of any particular identifiable characteristics. Therefore, being close to a specific type of arch, people - in whatever country - will think that they can identify 'their' arch! This one looks like Paisley Abbey!
* * * * * * * * * * * *
A postscript: When scanning in this note a message popped up on my computer to the effect: I see up are scanning a banknote and that while you can do it successfully you will not be allowed to print it! Do you think someone is keeping tabs on this? Gulp....

Friday, 5 September 2008


Iain and I are heading off the the Alps in south-east Germany. Oberstdorf to be exact. We are going to be meeting Dietrich and Reingart, Sabina, Inger, Neil and Christina. I, for one, am looking forward to the clear mountain air, the alpine meadows and the festival of bringing the animals down from the high pastures.

Iain has polished his boots and laid out all the stuff for his back-pack. We leave on the Fort William to London sleeper tonight. The station is only 5 blocks from the house! Then it's the Eurostar to Paris and, after visiting folk in Paris, it's the train to Frankfurt, Ulm and lastly Oberstdorf.

Got the Euros, the mobile phone, the digi and a clutch of train tickets. The best view is looking back. (Not exactly Patrick Leigh Fermor but the idea is the same!)