Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The English Language Junkie

Want to win a bundle of romantic novels? Then scroll down to the bottom of this post. Best-selling romantic novelist Samantha Holt, whose interview I featured here in October, has organised a Christmas giveaway. The link to enter is below. (If you don't see any of my books featured, I can assure you that one of the runner-up prizes is a copy of Rules of the House).

As an expat in an area where there is no expat community, I miss the opportunity to speak my own language with other native speakers. The OH (who is becoming more and more of a part-time OH and may well gradually fade off the radar completely at some stage) speaks fluent if ungrammatical English. I try to practice my teaching skills on him, but he stubbornly refuses to recognise his verb tenses and tends to mix up his word order still. I get ratty with him in a way I cannot do with my “proper” students, for whom I have to remain patient – I never used to, but although his English improved for a while after we met it is probably not helped by being back in Germany where he only speaks it with me. Apart from writing, and exchanging messages and sometimes phone calls with English friends, I rarely get to have a real conversation in English. I am now like a drug addict who can’t get her fix nearly often enough and will speak to anyone if they can speak to me in fluent English. An English language junkie, if you like. At a restaurant where I was taken for my birthday I quickly realised that the couple on the next table were also English – a real rarity around here – and eventually I gave in to temptation and spoke to them. We chatted happily away with them for the rest of the evening (they were on holiday in the area).  

In the adjacent village, I know there live a South African couple and an Englishman. I was once, a matter of years ago now, in the local supermarket when a young woman wove her way as fast as she could through the aisles, saying “Schuldigung” repeatedly as she dodged around the other customers. She found what she had obviously forgotten and re-joined a man at the front of the queue as I joined it further back. They then started to speak to each other in English as I stood frustratedly wanting to approach them but unable to do so. I later learned that a South African couple live not far away and they must have been that couple. We’ve never actually met. Two or three years ago a woman came and rode with us a few times when her own horse was out of action. I found out that she also lived nearby with her (then) fiancé (now husband) – who is English. I met him once; I see her occasionally, but never bump into him.

On a medieval market where I was helping my friend with pony rides for children (they were horses, not ponies actually, but horse rides for children sounds odd, somehow) a woman, one of many, brought a couple of children, asked how much, paid, saw the children settled on the horses, took them away afterwards and all was carried out in German – naturally. The market was small and compact, all packed into one street in a village, and we led the horses the length of the market and back, repeatedly. I passed the woman, who called out to me - in English – that someone had told her I was English. In a series of exchanges transacted as I led a horse up and down the street past her, I discovered that she was Canadian, had come over here to get married, had had a child, divorced, stayed in order for the child to stay near his father, worked as a teacher. She found out a few details about me, too. When I was eventually given a break, we sat down and talked nineteen to the dozen. She lives a little way from me and we’ve never seen each other again.

On yet another medieval market, I encountered an American running a stall. He had a sign prominently displayed proclaiming that he spoke only English. Of course we got talking and he told me he lived in the west – a long way away. I asked how long he had lived there and he told me 17 years. My mind boggled. How can anyone live in a foreign country for so long and not learn the language? I realise that here in the east it is probably much more of a necessity to learn German as so few people do speak English, whereas in the west English has long been a standard subject in school. Before the wall came down, the first choice of second language taught in schools in the east was Russian. Few ever learned any English at all. Those who did have mostly forgotten what they learned all those years ago. Nowadays children do learn English, but of course relatively few gain any degree of real competency and many lack the enthusiasm to try and speak it. There are exceptions, of course, but it is impossible to live here and not learn German if you want to talk to anyone. I suppose if English-speaking people move to somewhere where there is a large expat community they feel  less pressure to learn the local language, and for older people it does become increasingly more difficult to learn a new language (as I know only too well, having uprooted myself at a relatively advanced age) so if the pressure to learn is not there perhaps it is tempting to take the easy option   

Once a week I teach in an after-school place where coaching is given in various subjects including English (when I started there I was asked if I could teach maths as well. The answer was an emphatic “no”. Maths was never my strong point, and I certainly couldn’t teach it here where I have no idea of the way it is taught beyond the first couple of years. For the latter knowledge I have my friend’s ten-year-old to thank. I was at least able to help her with her homework when she first went to school). There is another teacher who is, apparently, American. When she is off sick or on holiday I provide cover for her but, like ships that pass in the night, we have never met. In two days’ time there is a Christmas party. I am told that the other teacher is looking forward to meeting me, to which I replied that I was looking forward to meeting her as well. We can talk! In English! There were general groans around the room as everyone knows that once the two of us get talking in our own language there will be no stopping us – and nobody else will be able to join in. There is a small satisfaction in that as that is the way I felt when I was first here.

There are of course, those here who speak good English. The surgeon who replaced my knee a couple of years ago is fluent (which is very helpful as if I didn’t understand the German he could explain properly to me). I met a woman who was part of a television film crew – they were filming in the local butchers’ shop one day and I just happened to go in there to be confronted by lights and cameras and everyone looking their very best behind the counter. When one of the assistants pointed out that I was English (I’m still a novelty hereabouts) the woman broke into perfect English. Turned out her mother is English. But the funniest example happened in Vienna. We were talking to a group of Austrians, who evidently twigged that I wasn’t a native German speaker (that was when my German was much worse than it is now, but I’m aware that nobody mistakes me for anything but a foreigner) and one of them spoke in English. In a broad, southern Irish accent. Apparently his grandparents were Irish and he spent a lot of his childhood over there. Which caused a few problems during more politically sensitive times because he was suspected more than once of being a terrorist carrying false Austrian papers and was almost refused entry to England when he was en route to Ireland. 

Meanwhile I shall get my fix of talking English later this week. I’m looking forward to that more than to the meal.        

Now, as promised, here is the link for the competition:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Day in the Life

Once upon a time I led a fairly “normal” life. I went to work Monday to Friday, getting up early, walking my dogs and cat, cleaning up and making myself presentable for the world before, for the eight years before I moved to Germany at least, driving a couple of miles to the local station to catch a Manchester-bound train full of harassed commuters (except for the times when they closed the lines for work, twice in less than two years, totalling nearly a year in all, when I mostly joined the harassed drivers on the motorway rather than travel to another station). I would then work a full, sometimes over-long, day before doing the journey in reverse, walking the dogs and cat and having a short evening of relaxation before bed. (In previous years I had also mucked out a horse before work and, in the summer, ridden after work. Then there was a long, horse-free pause before I acquired my German equine companion.)

You might wonder why I walked the cat. I had two terriers, pretty much cat-sized, who were initially brought up with my two older cats. They sadly passed away at the respectable ages of sixteen and seventeen, leaving a cat-sized gap in the house. So I went to a rescue home with one of the dogs, to ensure that I found a suitable candidate that wasn’t scared of dogs, and brought home a year-old cat who had recently had the kittens that she had had far too young weaned off her. After the initial settling in period, during which she was spayed, she looked around her, spotted that I regularly went out with the dogs for some mysterious reason, and decided she didn’t want to be left out. For ever after she accompanied us on our walks early in the morning and late at night. It was only when I chose to walk later, at the weekends, that she hid from the other dogs and their owners taking exercise and stayed at home. Meanwhile, while I was at work, the dogs shared the cat-flap for access into the (secure) garden when I was not around. But all this is by the by.

My life now is just a little bit different. To earn a crust I have to resort to all means possible. Which, apart from my writing, means that I teach and I translate. The latter only recently as the majority of my German has been slowly and painstakingly learned in situ. This means that I have had to learn to juggle, metaphorically, to ensure that I do all that needs to be done as well as getting a little time for fresh air and exercise for me and the dog and horse – the poor cat having sadly succumbed to cancer a few months ago. And, of course, my writing has to be squeezed in as well. But that is going rather more slowly than I would like at the moment due to the volume of translation. Yesterday I was told one of the teachers at the after-school place I spend an afternoon a week in wants to cut back on her hours. My boss was very pleased to tell me about this; inwardly I cringed. At the moment fitting it in would be a problem, but if the translation work eases off I’ll need the teaching work. What to do?

Anyway, last night I finished my latest translation and today was the day when the OH checked the final chunk that he had not to date seen. He’s German, he speaks fluent but hopelessly grammatical and incorrect English although his vocabulary is excellent, streets ahead of my German vocabulary, and has a fair bit of technical knowledge. Which, seeing as I’m translating technical stuff and I’m no engineer, is a good thing. Except, perhaps it’s not. Today we spent five hours going through the work I had done; he checked everything and I retyped everything he had corrected with the red pen I had thoughtfully supplied him with. The row started when I realised he had added a chunk to what I had written.

This translation has been made rather more difficult than it should be because the original text was in French. The English is at times reasonable, sometimes dodgy, at other times complete nonsense and, just to complicate things further, sometimes isn’t. Isn’t English, that is. There are sentences that start off in English and suddenly carry on in French. Whole sentences not translated at all. And headings that purport to be English but bear no relation to an accurate translation of the original. I know a bit of French, but have had to resort to looking online for translations of the technical words and phrases, of which there are many. So, by the time I passed over the first draft to him, I was feeling somewhat fraught at the whole experience.

Anyway, I found the extra words. I remarked that these hadn’t been in either the English (which in that sentence was a mercifully acceptable and accurate rendition of the original) or in the French. But he said what he had written was more accurate technically (it was about the degree of tightening or untightening of a screw – I forget which, but the original didn’t mention how tight or loose the screw should be). I pointed out that my job was to translate, not to rewrite nit-picking bits about just how tight the screw should be. After all, the engineers doing the job can probably work that out for themselves. He told me that it was better the way he had written it. I told him I needed a translation in accurate German of the text I had been provided with, not a rewrite of the details. We discussed another sentence where he had cut something out that he told me was unnecessary. I put it back in again because it was in the original and I felt that it is not my place to remove things. He threw a sulk.

Now, my German isn’t too bad, but it’s not brilliant either. As the OH and I had agreed when I took on the job and he committed to helping me with my grammar etc., I could turn out a job which would probably contain all the required detail, but would look like one of those many manuals you get that you just know have been translated from the foreign by someone with an extremely poor grasp of English. Well, maybe it would be a little better than that but it would still look like it wasn’t written by a native. My aim is to turn out an accurate version of the original in good German. Without either adding or taking away bits of the text I am working from.

So the next page I was handed had far fewer red marks. In fact hardly any. The odd “der” was changed to “die” or whatever (for those unfamiliar with German, they don’t have just one word corresponding to our “the”. Oh, no. They have a whole range depending on whether the subject or object is masculine, feminine, neuter or plural and what case the word should be in Something I really haven’t perfected. Yet). I looked at the page. I looked at the OH. And I asked him what he was playing at. He grimly informed me that he wasn’t going to change anything any more because I didn’t want him to. I told him that wasn’t what I had meant. Etc. This continued for some time. He went into his martyred mode. I tried to explain exactly what I wanted and he blocked me out. It’s no wonder it took five hours to get the job done…     

At last we managed to reach a compromise. Which involved him doing what I wanted (my sort of compromise, that), mainly after I pointed out to him that any errors in translation would be on my back not his, and I wasn’t going to take the flak for his amendments. And then he started commenting on whole sentences and paragraphs which I had translated well. The first he told me was perfect and he duly wrote “perfect sentence!” beside it. Then I was handed a sheet of paper which had the words “nicly done!” (sic) written on it. Of course I couldn’t let this go. “What do you mean, nicly done?” I had to ask. I have to admit to being quite pleased with myself that I had done some stuff both perfectly and nicly, given the fiendish nature of German grammar (I spend ages sometimes working out the order of complicated sentences, only to have the words shuffled around when my work is checked), but until I have honed my language skills I shall have to continue to ask for help if I don’t want my words to look like one of those examples that are the butt of linguistic jokes everywhere.    

Finally, grumbling about five hours having been spent on all this, the OH went into the garden to rake up quantities of leaves, of which there are many quantities at this time of year. I spent a further hour and a half inside preparing for the lesson I had scheduled for late in the afternoon before driving off to take said lesson. Oh, boy, am I glad that the next translation to be done was actually written in English.

PS I’ve just realised the date. So, to anyone in the US who might be reading this, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Today I had a “Thank God I’m not Liz Jones” moment

Before I tell this tale, I think I’d better take a small diversion to answer the question that you may be asking: namely, “Who the hell is Liz Jones and why don’t you want to be her?” If you are a Daily Mail reader in the UK you already know so please forgive me for this, but if you are unfamiliar with the British press in general and Liz Jones in particular you need to know the background. Liz Jones is a “journalist” and “writer” who has various columns in the Daily Mail and its sister paper, The Mail on Sunday. The reason I have put those two words in inverted commas is that she is a very poor example of both. Liz Jones has a weekly “Diary” in the Sunday version of the paper in which she catalogues her sad and sorry life. The Diary is supposed to be factual, but who knows to what extent it really is. She bemoans the fact that she has no friends and that her family no longer speak to her, which facts appear to be a direct effect of her reporting every dealing with anyone close to her in minute and possibly (allegedly) inaccurate detail. She moved five years ago from London following the break-up of a short marriage, to Somerset where she proceeded to report on the locals and alienate them. She is a “fashion guru” who believes women should never be seen in public without being fully made-up and dressed in designer gear. She is on a stupendous salary compared to that of many of her readers yet constantly complains that she is broke. This may well be due to the addiction to the aforementioned designer gear, to the fact that she decided to “rescue” large numbers of animals (and leave them under someone else’s tender care while she was working in London), to the fact that she spent £26,000 on a bat sanctuary, another £26,000 on a new floor, and possibly multiples of £26,000 on various other “essentials”, apart from the large mortgage she took out on the country pile. She claims to be hugely insecure about her body (having had a breast reduction years ago) and face (the face-lift was more recent) yet appears in numerous photographs dotted about her columns. Her life in Somerset was so awful she put her house on the market some time ago, two or three years ago, I think: it has recently, after many hitches, sold, and she has moved out – to the jubilation of her neighbours. Whoever bought the house, which Liz readily admits stinks of dog wee (“wee” being one of her words) because her dogs are not house-trained, deserves a medal. Although it is a beautiful house from the evidence of the pictures.  

All this is mere background: Liz also frequently writes about occasions when she has to shout at shop assistants to get attention (she has trouble with her hearing but that doesn’t excuse sheer rudeness) and is, as she reports, astoundingly rude to many people she has dealings with. Call centre operators get short shrift as does any poor innocent worker in a shop that doesn’t stock her preferred coffee.

So, back to the main topic. At the weekend I went riding wearing my winter jacket – no designer label, bought a couple of years ago from a catalogue produced by a major horse supplies company. For the purposes of practicality, I bought a jacket with zips on the pockets so I can keep keys, money, mobile phone, gloves, tissues, horse treats – you get the picture - secure. Not so long ago I went on a nice ride with some friends and the owner of one of the cars found, when we returned to the field, that she had lost her car key somewhere along the way. Unfortunately the other car driver had given her key to the first car driver, who had locked the second key safely in her car. We had to wait an hour or so before we were rescued. I like to minimise the risks of a similar scenario. But, going back again to where I was, I found at the weekend that one of the zips on my jacket was broken. Everything of value had to be transferred to another pocket. Then someone mentioned to me that there is a shop in Gotha where they mend and replace zips and don’t charge the earth. Great, I thought. I work in Gotha on Tuesdays (Gotha is the Gotha part of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, where Prince Albert came from, by the way. In case you were interested). I can take the jacket in and, if I’m very lucky, I may get it back by Wednesday, when I pass by Gotha on the way to working elsewhere and could pop into town if necessary.

Today I emptied all the other pockets of the jacket, brushed it off (I wore it riding this morning and haven’t had time to wash it) and took it into town with me. The shop is conveniently situated on the road I walk down to get to work. Couldn’t be better. I walked in and was greeted by a smiling woman standing behind the counter. I produced the jacket, apologised for the fact that it was slightly grubby (I had wiped off the slobber my horse had deposited on it earlier, so it wasn’t too dirty) and showed her the problem. Oh dear, she said, it was a tricky one. They couldn’t put in a zip of the right colour and it would cost a lot. £26,000 at least. No, ok, I tell a lie. She quoted €14. But still. Now, had I been Liz Jones, the appropriate reaction here would no doubt have been to stamp my foot, shouting loudly that this was not good enough and what has happened to customer service nowadays? Keeping a snarl on my face the while. Although, I suppose, had I been Liz Jones I wouldn’t have taken my designer jacket into such a shop in the first place. In fact I would have thrown it out and bought a new one because the zip on one of the pockets was broken. However, assuming the theory that she would take her jacket into a shop to have it repaired, she would have thrown a major wobbler at being told that a new zip was possible but impractical and wouldn’t look 100% right. But no, I restrained myself. The smiling woman then asked whether I really needed a zip. I explained that it was my riding jacket and yes, I needed secure pockets to hold the already mentioned keys, mobile phone, cash etc.  Hmm, she said (or the German equivalent thereof), since £26,000 (sorry, €14) was a lot of money for a zip that didn’t even match, would I put up with a couple of buttons or similar, making the pocket secure enough for a mobile phone or a glove. Yes, I said, I could live with that. Good, she said. And could I come back in a little while? I said that I was working round the corner until five and would happily come back then. Are you English? she asked? Yes, I said. And do you live here in town? she asked. Nearby, I replied. Then we said our goodbyes and I left, promising to come back later to collect the jacket. As I went out of the door I could hear her excitedly telling a couple of colleagues who were seated busily making repairs, She’s English, you know. I left with a smile and went off to teach bored teenagers who would rather be anywhere other than stuck inside learning English after school.

Later on I went back to the shop and the smiling woman recognised me immediately. She retrieved my jacket and showed me the two press studs that had been neatly sewn on the pocket and looked absolutely in keeping. My mobile and a glove will be perfectly safe in the pocket once more. Then I took out my purse, looked at her with that sort of “how much” look that needs no words and she waved me away. She really waved me away and didn’t ask me for a single, solitary Euro cent. Now there’s a shop I’ll go back to the next time I have a broken zip, and I’ll be happy to pay what it costs next time. As I left the shop, with a big smile on my face, my first thought was along the lines of the milk of human kindness and all that. And my second thought was – Thank God I’m not Liz Jones.      

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Surfeit of Dogs

Due to having rather too much work of the kind that is guaranteed to pay money for me to keep up with settling the bills, as opposed to the writing kind of work that has no certain pay cheque attached to it, I’ve been a bit lax about writing blogs of late. But since I have just finished something and am taking a short breather before going on to the next thing, I decided I had better squeeze in a new post. I don’t want to get out of practice.

My house (actually it is a flat, but never mind semantics) has been invaded. I am playing host to two small dogs for a few days and they have taken over my space and my time. My own dog, a mixture containing some German Shepherd, at least a little Husky and I’m not sure what else – she was given to me and I never saw her parents, but she is a lovely dog whatever her breeding – is settled in her ways and has her own place and routines. One of the two visitors has stayed here before, but although the other has been here for the odd evening this is the first time she has stayed overnight. The owners, who have gone away until the weekend, have four dogs and share them out amongst friends when they need dog-sitters. One of the other usual volunteers is herself on holiday (that is another story. She and her husband went to New York for a fortnight a week ago. I believe they have upped sticks and moved on to Niagara Falls, but I’m sure they will have some interesting hurricane stories when they get back) so this time I have not one but two extra mouths to feed, and dogs to walk.

On the other occasions I have hosted visitor number one the weather was warmer. Ten days ago we had temperatures in the 20s (Celsius, of course. Not Fahrenheit – they don’t do Fahrenheit in Germany, although the temperature scale was named after someone with German antecedents. Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, in case you’ve ever wondered) then early last Saturday I opened my front door to let my dog out and was greeted by two inches of snow. That has melted, but it is still pretty chilly. So my wood burning stove is burning merrily and keeping the flat warm and cosy. My dog has never been allowed in the sitting room, where the fire is (although it is next door to the kitchen and the heat permeates through the open door), but the two visitors have taken up residence on the sofa in front of it. Number one visitor occasionally growls, mainly because she suffers from the Napoleon complex that haunts many small dogs. She is noisy – the noisiest of my friends’ four dogs, as well as the smallest – and can be aggressive with strangers. As well as with other dogs who want to take her toys off her. She is also fiercely loyal to those people she had decided to attach herself to and will guard their possessions, growling at all who approach as she sits by a pair of shoes or a rucksack belonging to one of the girls who stays sometimes with my friends. So now she lies on the sofa warning her companion away from the chew bone she has adopted. My own dog’s nose is rather out of joint as a result of this invasion.

Last night, I took all the dogs out – no letting them run free in the garden, since the fence is not totally secure for such small dogs (have I mentioned their size before? Sorry. But to explain, number one is a Chihuahua x Dachshund and number two is Bichon Frise x Jack Russell, both rather hairy, both very cute) so I have to get up and dressed early as well as going out late with them all – then brought them back in for the night. My dog has her bed in my large hallway, and number one visitor understands the system. Number two, however, made it quite plain that she wasn’t happy with that. She barged her way back in from the hallway and took up residence once more on the sofa. So I gave in to her. I’m now worrying whether tonight number one visitor will decide that she is being discriminated against and insist on joining number two visitor on the sofa. Or, worse still, she will decide to move onto my bed, since I keep the bedroom door open in order to keep the room warm. If she stays on the sofa, I shall probably be kept awake by intermittent growling, but I’m not keen on having her on the bed; that may encourage number two visitor. Coupled with which, I would then start feeling guilty about shutting out my own dog. And that would never do.

To give my own dog a bit of time away from the interlopers, and because I can let her run free without worrying about her, which I obviously can’t with the other two, I took her when I went to check on my horse today (no time for riding, sadly) but left the other two behind. I returned home to be greeted by barking. Number one visitor, of course; number two is not generally a barker. Settling at the computer, where I can swivel round to the table piled with dictionaries (standard German-English / English-German, Technical English-German, Technical German-English) and files of machine operating instructions that I am translating, I had to fend off dogs who wanted to sit on my lap. When this failed I had to type with one hand. After a satisfyingly productive time I decided to walk all the dogs before it got dark. The clocks went back last weekend. I swear that last week it wasn’t dark until seven, but now it is more like five o’clock. How can this be when the clocks only moved back one hour? Anyway, it seems that half the dog owners in the village had the same idea. I am fortunate in that I can go out of my back gate into the local park and from there I am soon in the fields, so I don’t need to walk along the roads. Which was a good thing as the two visitors were whizzing around causing the three leads to plait themselves. I wasn’t able to let my own dog off the lead, which would have made the situation at least a bit easier, as walking along the field were several of the more aggressive of the village’s dog population. Having been supplied with a very short lead for number one visitor, I had substituted it with an extending one of my own (which used to belong to my one of own small dogs, now sadly no longer with us) and she hurtled around from side to side and forwards and backwards until she reached the full extent of the lead and sprang backwards, then she repeated the exercise. Number two dog, who is rather more mature, and my own, bounded around with almost as much enthusiasm but a little less velocity.  

It will soon be time for bed and before that I will be going out again. It is drizzling now. Or it was an hour or so back, but since the forecast is for heavy rain it may be worse by the time I go out. I really like my friends’ dogs, and I’m happy to look after them for a short while, but it will be so nice to get back into my own routine and not have to go out in all weathers in the pitch dark. (Before you jump to the conclusion that I am a cruel dog owner who is too lazy to walk her dog, that is far from the truth. On the days when I don’t ride, I make sure we go for decent walks. On riding days we can sometimes be out for many hours, so my dog is extremely well exercised.) The two visitors now have started a growling duet. I’m not sure what that is all about, so I suppose I’d better go and check on them. Next time I manage to post, I should be back to the normal complement of dogs. Or dog, to be more accurate. She will be happy about that, I’m sure.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Guest author - Samantha Holt

As mentioned in my last post, I have been lucky enough to secure an interview with Samantha Holt, best-selling author of historical romances including her latest, The Angel's Assassin.

And so, without further ado, here is the interview:

What is your name and where do you come from?
Samantha Holt and I come from Warwickshire, England.
You write medieval romances. What is your absolute favourite time during the medieval period, and why?
I enjoy writing around the era of the Third Crusade - late 1100’s to the early 1200’s, though my writing spans from shortly after the Norman invasion, up until the 1400’s. But for me, those times were so full of turmoil and life was still quite gritty, so it adds an extra edge to my stories. I don’t like my characters to be too comfortable perhaps!
When and how did you initially become interested in this period? Have you studied it formally or did your interest spring from other roots?
I studied history and archaeology in college but didn’t resurrect my love for history until I was older. I can’t really say what drew me to the medieval era so strongly - again, the turmoil is a big pull for me and the fact that life was so very different to what it is now. Although I adore the Regency/Victorian periods, life was not as raw as it was in medieval times. I like the added excitement that a sword fight or a castle siege can bring in.
Where do you do your research? Libraries, record offices, or mainly on the internet? 
The internet is great as you have information at your fingertips but you do have to be careful as not all sources are trustworthy. I have a few very trusted sites that I use and several large books that I refer to a lot. Ideally, I like to visit places. We’re lucky in Warwickshire to have some wonderfully preserved castles and sometimes that is the best way of doing research. To feel the chill in the air as you step into the stairwell of a tower is just amazing and I love to draw that experience into my stories.
Does your research inspire new ideas, or do you stick clearly to the object of the research you are doing?
It varies. My most historical book so far, A Summer Siege, was written entirely around one event in history and that story only developed through my research of that moment in time. Certainly ideas spring up when I’m researching something but generally I remain focused on the task at hand. People don’t realise quite how much research goes into the books sometimes - it’s the smallest of things that count - and if I tried to write a story off everything I researched, I’d be writing for an eternity!
 What makes your book different than others in your genre?
My use of language is different. I know my native English tongue differs slightly but I hope that brings a sense of realism, particularly when it comes to dialogue. I love writing dialogue and I think that comes across. I’m lucky in that I’ve been able to visit places featured in my books (castles etc) and I hope to bring a sense of realism into my stories by blending my experiences into my tales.
How long did it take you to write your book?
Generally I take about three months. I write full time so I put in anything between 4-6 hours of writing a day.
What are some writing goals for the future?
I’d like to perhaps expand into a different historical era or even write some contemporary romances. For the moment, I still have some untapped medieval stories but I imagine there’s only so many you can write. Having said that, I’m always sure the one I’m working on will be my last one and then another miraculously comes along.
Samantha Holt resides in Warwickshire, England, with her twin girls, having followed her soldier husband around the UK for nearly 10 years. Growing up in Hampshire, she was inspired by the authors Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell, both of which lived and wrote only miles from her home town.
Samantha loves the romance genre and has been devouring romantic literature for as long as she can remember. History is another passion of hers and she loves to combine her love for history and romance into exciting and passionate tales.
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Monday, October 15, 2012

Missing the homeland

On moving from one’s native land to live abroad, it is a sure thing that there will be things one misses from the home country. And not always the things one expects one will miss. I was reminded of this today when I visited a factory that manufactures sweets.

People asked me when I was about to leave England what I thought I would miss most. Near the top of that list, I knew, was Marmite. Well, by occasional visits home, by asking visitors to bring pots with them and now, when one can buy it online from Amazon among other companies, I have not, to date, run out of it. If you’re not English, you may not understand this, but Marmite is an English institution. It is said that you either love it or hate it and I, obviously, come into the former category. It is thick, brown, salty and sticky (and edible, no misunderstandings, please). It is a by-product of yeast and it is vegetarian-friendly. The taste is strong and a limited amount spread on bread is lovely; spread it too thick and the taste is somewhat overwhelming. Hardly anyone here likes it (good – all the more for me), but I couldn’t envisage life without it.

There are, however, many things that I hadn’t really thought about that I now long for. Take bacon. In a nation where pig is the most frequently eaten meat, they don’t make real bacon. There is one more imported pack in my freezer that I am debating taking out, but I have to ration myself. Also strange, considering that the Germans do use ginger in biscuits and cakes, is that proper ginger biscuits – tasting nicely of ginger – are not available. Cook-in sauces, for the lazy cook, are for sale, but different varieties from those on the shelves in an English supermarket. Similarly I have never found chilli powder that is quite right. Self-raising flour is missing and I had to go to a specialist shop to buy cornflour. I have a big tub of genuine English beef stock cubes and some packets of other flavours – all I have found here is jars of stock powder which, again, are just not the same. Golden syrup (an ingredient essential if you have to resort to DIY ginger nuts) can’t be found and there is only a poor substitute. Strong cheeses are not so popular, and although I can buy, in some places, pre-packed cheddar, it is not the well-matured cheese that I prefer. The list of foodstuffs goes on, never mind the lack of decent vegetables – even in summer you can buy plenty of winter vegetables but hardly a fresh pea to be found; I have only seen plastic-wrapped mange touts to date. The only sweetcorn comes in tins apart from the odd plastic-wrapped pair of corn cobs. Nobody knows what a broad bean is (and, sadly, although I bought a packet of seeds in England in the spring so I could grow my own, they went missing so I haven’t managed to do so. How can I lose a packet of broad bean seeds?). A neighbour grows her own green beans and kindly gave me some in the summer, but if you want to buy those they too come mostly pre-packed in plastic and the quality is often not the best. A couple of years ago I was in the very west of Germany, close to the French border, and we made an excursion over to France to delight in the choice in a supermarket there. People living near to where we were staying said that they often did the same, so it’s not only me.

Of course, buying books in the English language is something I miss. I buy most of my books online now, but it would be so nice to go into a bookshop and just browse. There is a bookshop in Erfurt, the capital of Thüringen, which stocks a few English books, but the selection is limited and the prices high – no discounts there. I prefer to read books that were written in English in that language, although I now do read others in German if they were written in anything but English, so I am now an avid online buyer. Inevitably, there is no library available for me.

Newspapers can be bought, although at a price, and in this distinctly rural area if I wanted to buy them I would have to order. Once again, they can sometimes be found in Erfurt, in the shop at the station, but they are cut-down versions of the papers in the English shops. I have resorted to getting my crosswords online from an English newspaper site, and I read my news online. (I stopped reading The Times when they put up a pay-wall. Since I only browse and don’t read all the content, it’s not worth my while paying on a regular basis for access I use spasmodically.)

I have got used to many of the differences in the products I can buy here. Loo rolls are smaller and, almost without exception, white. No buying toilet tissue to colour-coordinate with the bathroom! Tissues are not bought in boxes but in small packets (usually in packs of small packets). Buying drinks by the case is common practice, whether beer, lemonade, cola and other soft drinks or even Sekt (sparkling wine, which is very drinkable and reasonably priced). There is a deposit on beer and soft drink bottles (but not wine or spirit bottles, strangely), although the way some people throw bottles – usually beer – around in fields and the forest you might not realise this if you didn’t live here. Bread is darker and heavier as a rule – white loaves can be bought but tend to be sliced and sold for toast and not very tasty. Bread rolls, though, are pretty good. Cakes are heavy and stodgy, and popular. I’ve just realised I’ve got back to food again. Oh, dear!

So back to the sweet factory. What was I doing there and why did it bring thoughts of things I miss to mind? Well, I went to talk about some translation work. But before I was put onto that I already knew someone who works there – inevitably, she rides with me, which is how I know a lot of people. And a little while ago she brought me a present. Now, although you can buy a Mars or Snickers bar, or a Kit Kat, here, there is some chocolate – my favourites – that hasn’t crossed the channel to this country. I hope Cadbury’s, after their sell-out to America, continue to manufacture the chocolate I know and love, because Milka – very popular here - just doesn’t do it for me. Expensive, good, chocolate is to be had, but not ordinary Dairy Milk. I’d love a Flake just now! Although I have had a bit of chocolate today, since the man who interviewed me ordered some to be brought into his office. And what chocolate! Germany had already acquired Rolls Royce before I came here, but now they have taken over manufacturing Bendicks chocolates. And my friend, as a Christmas present, brought me, not knowing that they are my all-time favourites, a box of Bitter Mints. Now proudly manufactured not an hour’s drive away from here, in order to be sent back to England – they don’t sell them locally. I walked from the car park to the factory with the scent of chocolate wafting in my direction. I’m glad I don’t work there; I don’t think I could resist the temptation on a daily basis. But I do have a welcome source of chocolates, at least intermittently.

So now I have to type up the test translation I did earlier and email it back to the chocolate factory. But before I do, I have one more thing to add. Please look out for my next blog in a few days’ time, when I shall be featuring an interview with best-selling historical romance author Samantha Holt.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My personal space is my cultural space

After over five years of living in Germany, I am aware that there are some areas in which the English mind set and the German mind set do not agree. I’m not talking  here about things like a sense of humour – I have friends with a very good sense of humour. But lately I’ve been wondering why I’ve been getting stressed in certain situations, asking myself whether it is them or me at fault. Then, following an encounter with someone I only know slightly, I suddenly realised what the problem is. And it’s not so much a case of them or me as them (the Germans) and us (the English). Unless I am an exaggerated example of Englishness in the aspects that I have observed.

There is a wonderful book called Watching the English. Written by a social anthropologist by the name of Kate Fox, it examines many of the traits that make us, the English race.  One of the conclusions she draws is that the English are repressed and inhibited. Now you may or may not agree with this, and your opinion may depend on whether you are English or not, but in certain respects I feel, now I have lived here for a while, that she has a good point.

Our repressions and inhibitions are only a part of the picture, but certainly I hadn’t been in Germany long before I came across situations where the lack of inhibitions here are clear. Having been brought up in a very inhibited family, where the bathroom door stayed locked when the room was occupied, and as far back as I can remember I only ever saw family members when we were all fully dressed, my first visit to a swimming pool over here was an eye opener, to say the least. The changing room was mixed. Now, I’ve been in amateur dramatics and shared a dressing room with the entire cast, but a certain amount of modesty and decorum was exercised at all times. Apart from one stage manager (who filled that role once and once only) who would peer through the door and leer at the woman as they changed, everyone turned away discretely as a member of the opposite sex disrobed. Or, if it was not possible to do this, they made a point of not staring. In this swimming pool changing room, everyone let it all hang out, wandering around as if it was quite normal. And indeed it seemed that here it was. Luckily for my own inhibited self, and that of my God daughter who was with me, there was a very small number of cubicles available for the faint of heart. We immediately occupied two of these and emerged clad in our costumes having hidden our nakedness from the view of the general public.  

I have also been involved in a number of medieval markets, which are extremely popular here. The majority of the participants stay overnight on and around the market site and either camp or live in vans for the period of the market – generally a weekend at least. One of the features of these markets is often a giant bath, generally wooden, filled with warm water (with a bit of chlorine or similar for hygiene purposes) and with enough space to accommodate a number of people – eight to ten is normal – sitting on a wooden ledge around the tub. And most people strip off and leap in. Starkers. On my first occasion at a market with one of these, I did not participate. Later on I took a swimming costume. But nobody is in the least concerned about the size and shape of their fellow occupants. I just can’t get past that barrier. The only times I have been persuaded to strip off a little – and on those two occasions it was only the trousers that came off – were when I rode in first the sea and then a lake, bareback on the horse. Then it made sense to take off not only the saddle but also the clothes I didn’t want to get soaked. I showed off no more then than I would have done wearing a swimming costume.

It is not only that Germans aren’t bothered about displaying their bodies. It is what they are prepared to talk about quite openly that goes against the grain. I’m not talking about anything smutty here, unless you count financial matters to be smutty. But they have no hesitation in asking you straight out what you paid for something, what you earn, how much money you have. I remember a work colleague back home showing us the details of the house she and her very high-earning husband were buying. She had carefully blanked out the price. (Someone went straight on the internet afterwards and had a look at the estate agent’s website, telling all and sundry what he had found, but that’s beside the point. She didn’t want us to know and nobody discussed it with her when we did know the price.) And in England I never knew anyone who would push for details if you were obviously reluctant to give them away, unless they were a very close friend or family member. One of the first German visitors to the first flat I lived in over here looked around, asked how much the rent was, commented that some expensive work had been done, and quizzed me a little more on finances. This was the second time I had met her and she hadn’t been in the flat fifteen minutes. I have worked with people for years and not known what they earned, how much their mortgage or rent was and how much they had paid for their important possessions. Unless they chose to tell me.

The thing that has been getting me stressed, however, was talking not just about finances but about one’s personal affairs in general. Now not everything in my life is going smoothly at the moment. But that is the extent of what I am prepared to reveal. My friends know about some of the issues and aren’t afraid to quiz me about them. In public, in a group, in the pub even. I know they mean well, but I don’t feel comfortable about discussing these things with everyone. And the thing that brought this home to me was the aforementioned someone I know only slightly quizzing me about some things that I would prefer were not aired in public. Obviously my mutual friends had told her, but she then made it plain that she knew a lot of detail and didn’t hesitate to ask me for more. My epiphany came then. In England it just wouldn’t be done. The odd tactless person might let on that they knew things, that you were obviously being talked about in your absence – and that does happen of course - but most would keep their mouths shut until you volunteered the information. I talk to people over the internet sometimes. I belong to a group on Facebook and I have befriended one person with whom I chat regularly. She asked me something fairly personal one day then hastily apologised and told me I didn’t have to answer if I didn’t want to. As it happens I didn’t mind in the circumstances. But nobody over here would dream of asking whether I mind. If I prevaricate they merely press further. Which leaves me with a dilemma. Do I carry on getting more and more English and repressed and saying nothing, or do I confront the whole group and tell them that it just isn’t English, it isn’t done? When in Rome and all that, but if it intrudes on your own personal comfort zone is it acceptable? I haven’t yet come up with an acceptable answer to that question.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A heartfelt plea to road users everywhere

Whatever your thoughts about the rights and wrongs of horses on the roads, might I ask you to read this to the end. This applies, wherever you are in the world, especially if you don’t like horses and horse riders!

Living where I do, and riding horses regularly, I count myself extremely lucky. It is possible to ride for hours without riding on the roads, sometimes without even having to cross one. But, inevitably, it is sometimes necessary to share the roads with cars and other vehicles – especially when riding in a carriage, which can’t always stay away from roads. The horses in our group are almost without exception extremely good in traffic and hardly bat an eyelid at heavy lorries, tractors or anything loud and noisy that they encounter. But there are exceptions. Horses are not machines and, however good the rider, there can be times when the horse is not on its best behaviour. Most of the horses we have in our group have been together for some time and are used to traffic; they even live part of the year near a railway line and aren’t in the least bit afraid of trains passing close by. But there are a couple of young horses which don’t know the ropes. They can only learn about traffic by going out on the roads and will of course be unpredictable, no matter how much care is taken. And occasionally a new horse comes along and is initially an unknown quantity. It is also the case that if one of the horses is ridden out alone it is more likely to be frightened by something unusual than if it has the security of other horses around it.
In England I had to ride on the roads far too often, and the behaviour of some drivers defied belief. They drive past horses too close, too fast, and in many cases extremely recklessly. If a driver gives the horse a wide berth and slows down sensibly, I try to thank him or her every time. As a driver myself, I am well aware that not acknowledging sensible driving can irritate those who do slow down and make them more liable to drive carelessly past the next horse they see. I get annoyed when I slow down and riders seem to ignore this. This is not to say that all drivers are inconsiderate. On the contrary, there are many who do slow down and if you are one of them then all riders do appreciate this – even those who are not considerate enough to thank you, for whom I apologise.

Over the past two or three weeks I have witnessed, here in Germany, several examples of idiotic driving. On the first occasion a group of us – seven horses – was crossing a road. A motor bike came up to us as we were in the process of crossing and was clearly irritated at having to wait. The rider sat on his bike revving his engine until the last two horses were on the road, then he sped past the heels of those horses – on his back wheel. On the second occasion I was sitting in a carriage pulled by two horses, followed by one being ridden. Several motor bikes came past and one in particular made sure he revved up just as he was parallel with the horse behind the carriage. Then a Mercedes convertible with the top down followed the motor bikes and accelerated hard to overtake us just before a bend. Now you might think this was a good thing as he would get past us faster that way, but if he had overtaken a car immediately before a blind bend he would have been taking just as big a risk of another car coming in the other direction. Yesterday, once again crossing a road, a pickup didn’t even slow down as it approached, once more risking running into the back of a horse. And recently, riding through a village, I was parallel to a car in which the driver had been sitting as I rode closer. She could see me quite clearly. She waited until I was as close as I could be before starting her engine. I was as startled as the horse, so I can’t blame my horse for jumping.

If you don’t like horses, and/or believe that horses shouldn’t be on the roads, believe me we only ride on them or cross them when we have to. It is much nicer riding over fields and through forests. But sometimes, even over here, we have no choice. So would you please consider the possible consequences of not waiting those few seconds for us, or of passing us as fast and as close as you can. Don’t forget, too, that if something goes off with a loud bang, or something flies in front of the horse’s face in a high wind, it will not only be the horse but also the rider who is, at least, briefly startled. It only takes a split second for an accident to happen. Approaching horses cautiously minimises the risk.

It is true that one of the possible scenarios if the horse is frightened is that the rider may fall off. The horse could fall in a ditch and injure itself, possibly fatally. You may think this is fine as you won’t be affected. Indeed, if you drive away fast enough and there are no witnesses, it is unlikely that you will have to pay any penalty, especially if the rider doesn’t live to tell the tale.

But, as I said before, a horse is not a machine. Another scenario is that the horse might leap towards you rather than away from you. It might turn round and kick out in the direction of your car or motor bike. A horse is a heavy animal and a kick can be very powerful (I know, I’ve been on the wrong end of one). In this situation it is highly possible that the horse, and probably the rider, might be badly injured. And so might you. Your car may be written off and you along with it. A well-aimed kick in the direction of a car or motor bike could have disastrous consequences – for you. Had our horses not been extremely well-behaved, imagine what might have happened to the motor cyclist riding on his back wheel. It is not only the horse and rider that might be killed – it is you. And nobody wants that to happen.

If you see two horses being ridden abreast on the road, this is not usually, as you might think, just so that the riders can chat amongst themselves. Sometimes the horse on the inside is younger and in training, or just not as confident in traffic as the one on the outside, who is acting as a shield and to give the other horse a modicum of confidence.    

So can I please ask you, if you come across horses on the roads, to think about what might happen. You don’t know the horse or how it will react. You may be in a hurry, but it is better to be a minute late than not to get where you are going at all. Please, please, slow down, give horses plenty of space as you pass them and don’t overtake them where it wouldn’t be safe to overtake another vehicle. 

Rant over. Thank you for reading this far.      

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Of Harvest Festivals and Full Moons

The first time I saw a poster advertising Erntefest*, I misread it as Entenfest** and, not unnaturally, was mildly curious as to what a duck festival involved. It was only when I received a flyer in my post box inviting me to the village Erntefest that I realised my mistake and discovered that it is the German word for Harvest Festival. (This is on a par with my faux pas in my first week in Germany when I was looking for a car to buy. I read the list of features on one of the cars and asked what a Nebelschweinwerfer was. Cue hysterical laughter from my other half – the salesman’s laughter was more restrained probably because he wanted to make a sale – and something I’ve never been allowed to forget. A Nebelscheinwerfer is a fog light, but by the accidental insertion of a ‘W’ I had invented some sort of device for throwing pigs into the fog.) Although a church service is involved, the Harvest Festival celebrations involve much more than the religious part. And, in common with many occasions here, a parade kicks off the party.

So, I’ve just been riding in a Harvest Festival parade, along with three others on horseback and two horses pulling an old wagon with a lovely decorative straw load, all of us dressed in black waistcoats and trousers, with white shirts and cowboy hats. (I don’t think I’ve mentioned before that we all ride Western style despite my many years of riding in an English saddle before I moved here.) We followed a line of tractors of varying degrees of antiquity, all belching smoke of varying degrees of noxiousness. The horses are all used to this sort of thing and mine in particular was on very good behaviour today. Unlike the last – carnival this time – parade in which we took part, but in mitigation the fireworks being let off in our direction definitely didn’t help things much then. So we moved along at slower than a horse’s walking speed and had to make frequent stops to avoid colliding with the plough directly in front of us. The streets along the way were lined with people, and many residents watched from their windows. One woman, sitting on a chair outside her house with a glass in her hand, put the glass down before standing up and applauding us. Most people had smiles on their faces, which made all our dressing up and the prettifying of the horses feel worthwhile. After the parade we took advantage of the free food and drink vouchers we had been given as participants before the carriage horses were once more harnessed to the covered wagon in order to give rides to children. The other four horses diligently mowed the grass and were stroked by some of the children who stood around admiring them, while various tractors gave demonstrations of ploughing with sundry interesting old ploughs on a strip of field a few yards metres away. Only one driver asked if the horses would be bothered when he started his tractor beside them (they weren’t), and I was intrigued to watch him detach his steering wheel, complete with column, insert the column somewhere in the side of the tractor and turn the wheel to start the engine before putting the steering wheel back where it would be needed when he drove. Enjoyment was helped along by the fact that although the day had started cold, about 2 C, and foggy it developed into glorious, warm sunshine. At the very end of September.

The Harvest Festival coincided with a full moon. One of the latest innovations at the yard where my horse is kept is the full moon ride. It starts with a traditional German barbecue of Bratwurst (sausage) and pork steaks, together with a lining of alcohol, then after dark the horses are saddled up and we set off in the moonlight to ride alongside the fields. The popularity of these rides is growing and there were so many bookings for the available horses (mine is only available for me and chosen friends when offered) that we had two scheduled on consecutive nights. I went on the one before the Harvest Festival day itself, resulting in a late night followed by an early morning. I pleaded exhaustion and didn’t ride on the second, so my poor horse didn’t have to go out yet again.

The first ride was so oversubscribed that it turned into a carriage ride for some. The riders followed the carriage and one of the passengers ran frequently through the nine horses that were being ridden, crying ‘Catering Service’ (exactly the same as the English except for the capital letter denoting that Service is a noun)  and offering bottles of beer or a Schnapps bottle to swig from and even a few nibbles. Taking the latter in a gloved hand while on a moving horse resulted in broken nibbles, but never mind they still tasted fine. A stop was made halfway for some of the riders to swap with passengers on the wagon, in the middle of which came the sound of breaking glass and a cry of ‘There isn’t any more wine.’ But nobody went short of alcohol – apart from the children and those who had to drive home afterwards, of course.

Contrary to what I might previously have thought, the Germans have a great capacity to have fun. When I first started to make friends I was invited to more parties than I had been to in several years in England. Carnival season is important here and many villages hold several parties a year for various other celebrations. In my younger days I rode horses in competitions and for fun, but since I started riding with my group of friends I have had more fun rides than I remember in my entire life. It helps that we do very little riding on roads and it is possible to ride for miles and miles kilometres and kilometres without risking life and limb in traffic. And although alcohol is, as already mentioned, often involved, there is no rowdy drunkenness when we ride. We have a bank holiday this week – German Unification Day – and are planning a long ride then. Partying on horseback has become part of my life now.

*Ernte = harvest, Fest = party or festival
**Ente = duck (the quack, quack variety, not the get out of the way before you hit your head variety)        


Our two carriage horses and two of the group

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Free full-length romantic novel this Sunday and Monday

My latest full-length novel, Family Affairs, will be available free on Amazon Kindle this Sunday and Monday, 30th September and 1st October. The link on is:

And on

If you are in Europe, it is also available on all the European Amazon sites.

I would really love you to read this and, if you would be very kind, to write a review. Most of all, I hope you enjoy it. If you do, please tell all your friends about it!

If you want to know what it is about, this is the blurb shown on Amazon:

After a whirlwind romance Tanya Webster has found her ideal man – rich, handsome Phil Clough. At Tanya’s wedding, elder sister Chrissie meets Phil’s cousin, the magnetic Matt Brinklow. But newly single Chrissie isn’t looking for love and Matt isn’t used to being left in the lurch. Add to the equation the loss of something very precious to Matt and things don’t look promising for him and Chrissie.

When Tanya’s marriage runs into trouble, she runs to big sister Chrissie for help. But then Tanya takes things into her own hands and makes a very big mistake. Meanwhile Chrissie’s love life takes a turn for the better- or so it seems. Not all is as rosy, however, as it looks at first.

While Chrissie has to be on hand to give her little sister some much needed advice, it takes a nosy but mostly friendly supporting cast, and not a few four-legged friends, to help smooth the path of true love for her.

Have a good read.

PS - I've just found a really good site by the name of Author Marketing Club. Any site that can help me sell my books has to be good. So I've joined and entered all my books on the site. Take a look. You'll find it here:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mangling the English language

If you’ve tried to learn French, or if you’ve visited France without trying to learn French, you will no doubt have heard of Franglais. Well, visit Germany and you’ll come across Denglisch.

In the part of Germany where I live, which belonged to the other side of the Berlin wall, most children  before 1989 and reunification learned Russian when they were at school, but not so many learned English. Which opens up a good market for the private English teacher here as there are a lot of older people who never learned any English and now find they need to do so. Whether it be for business, increasing amounts here being transacted in English, or for holidays (and it’s not in only English-speaking countries where they need it. Visit many countries like Greece, France, Egypt and more, and the second language there is English. So if you want to read the menu it’s the local language or English), I get adults wanting to learn my language. So I can keep on practising my mother tongue on a regular basis.

But even those who never learned English and never want or need to come across plenty of examples of what is perceived to be English. I’m not denying that some of it is, but a lot is English as you have never seen or heard it before. Of course some springs from American English (Wellness, for example, which is much used), but some is just a marketing ploy that has gone a little wrong in the translation. T-shirts bear incomprehensible slogans. Some English words have been imported into the German language and are used more or less side by side with their German equivalents. The pronunciation, however, can be a little unrecognisable. Hi-Fi is Hee-Fee when spoken. So not far from where I live is ‘Der Car Hi-Fi Spezialist’. In Erfurt, capital city of Thüringen, is a ‘Second-Hand Laden’ (Laden being the German word for shop. Some shops do call themselves a Shop instead of a Laden.) Another word which sounds the same but has a subtle difference from our usage in English is Kompetenz. This sounds just like ‘competence’ when spoken, but is used more as ‘expertise’ or ‘authority’. So while I would think of someone competent as being quite capable of doing a job, they might not be astoundingly special at it. Someone here who is ‘kompetent’ is the bee’s knees. Not a million kilometres away from the Car Hi-Fi Spezialist is another shop that has a proud sign declaring, ‘Celebrating Coffee Competence.’ Now, I don’t know about you, but do I need my coffee to be competent? I mean, I assume that the shop itself, or at least the people who own or work there, are meant to be the competent ones, but even so…

The trigger that prompted me to write this was a slogan I spotted on the side of a lorry this morning. The lorry belonged to a company that galvanises metal. And the slogan read, ‘It’s beauty and forever.’ Now intrinsically there is nothing desperately  wrong with this as a piece of advertising-slogan English at least it was spelled correctly - but it just doesn’t sound English. Well, not English as I would use it, anyway. It’s not as bad as the posters displayed on lamp posts all over here advertising ‘Life Music’ or ‘Life Musik’ for those who prefer their posters to look a little more German. I itch to change the F to a V when I pass those posters, but I’ve not yet given in to temptation. A DJ is a DJ. A computer is a Computer (note that German nouns start with capital letters; I am not using them merely for emphasis, in case you have been wondering).

Of course, not all German words are derived from the English. There are some that amuse me because they read like something entirely different from what they actually are if your brain doesn’t work primarily in German. So, again not too far from my other examples, there is an ‘Angel Shop.’ How sweet, I thought, until I found out that the German word Angel means angling or fishing in English.

I cannot finish this without commenting on German music radio stations. I’m not referring to classical music here, but those that play modern music feature a very high percentage of English language songs. (Which is nice for me as I can relate to them!) Some of those songs that are played regularly haven’t been played on English radio for many years, certainly not very often. And whether they know English or not, people sing along and ‘know’ the lyrics. That is, they have learned them phonetically and generally haven’t got a clue what the words they come out with mean. So when a friend sang along to Frankie Goes to Hollywood singing Relax, I asked him if he knew what he was singing. He confessed he didn’t. So I told him. He stopped singing.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A bit of a ramble

I realise it’s a week or more since my last post and I’m slacking. So I shall have a bit of a burble about things because I’m in the middle of cooking for a party I’m going to tonight (the theme is chicken and my Coq au Vin is finally in the oven).

Last night, instead of writing a post as I had intended, I had to spend hours removing a virus from my computer. Well, I didn’t spend hours doing it, more like hours trying in vain to get rid of the thing. I finally gave up at nearly two o’clock this morning after the software I was trying to install stubbornly refused to be installed. After a restless night, I switched on the computer this morning, tried once more to install, and hey presto! So finally the computer is clean again. But I’m feeling worn out and stressed.

Stress is not helped when I’m trying to cook something special – like real Coq au Vin without resorting to a cook-in sauce. Nor is the situation improved when the phone rings at a crucial moment, when I’m trying to slowly add stock and wine to a paste of oil, butter and flour. Resulting in my dumping all the wine in in one go and having to spend some considerable time later sieving the sauce to get out the lumps. Then after the big dish was finally in the oven I had to clean up spatters of red wine sauce not only from the hob (I hate ceramic hobs. They look lovely when they’re clean, but they’re such a pain to get clean) but from the tiles behind the oven and even splashed down one of the kitchen cupboards. The kitchen currently smells strongly of garlic and red wine.

One of the beauties of writing is that the characters you create can be anything you want. You need someone who is a technical whizz and can sort that computer problem out? There he or she is at the tip of the fingers. A brilliant cook who can produce any dish you want without resorting to a recipe book or making an almighty mess doing it? Just write. And of course, for the terminally untidy like myself, a neat freak is there or not at will. For every tricky situation the characters get into, there can be a solution, as well. Not like real life! I love making my characters up.

My romantic novels are all written in the third person, so I can get into the heads of those characters I wish to lead the action. My short story, Suspicion, has a first person narrator so one sees an entirely different perspective as the reader sees the views of only one person. I like experimenting, and Suspicion was an experiment. I know it’s relatively expensive buying one short story, even when it is a long one and I priced it as low as Amazon would let me, so I was happy to use the option Amazon gives me to offer the story for free last weekend. I shall do so again in the not too distant future and shall of course post here when it is planned. I have had only one review so far, but since it’s a nice one I’m quite happy! The reviewer suggested she wanted to learn more about the characters in my story, so I’m thinking over ideas for making a collection featuring the people in the village I made up. Perhaps I shall write them in spaces when I get a bit stuck with the full length books, or just need a short break from whatever I’m writing. It is really good when readers give me pointers like this, telling me what they want to read. It means I’m not just doing it all for myself, and it’s so nice to know that.

Since I’m not a work of fiction, I have to go back to my food now. There will be twenty or thirty people gathered later, all bringing their own contributions, either chicken things or side dishes. I hope they like my Coq au Vin as much as my fictional dinner guests would if my brilliant cook character had made it!