Saturday, 18 April 2015

Reminiscences of a Military Brat - Part 8 - On To Lahr, Germany

Sites from Lahr, Germany
In 1969, with 3 Wing Zweibrucken closing down, we were moved down the Autobahn, into the Black Forest to Lahr, Germany, RCAF Station 1 Wing. It was quite a different base from 3 Wing. 3 Wing was a fighter base, home to the 104 aircraft. Our only remaining fighter base was in Baden - Baden. Lahr may have had fighters too, but it was primarily the Air transport hub to Europe for the Canadian Armed Forces. PMQ's were scattered throughout the town of Lahr, they had been taken over from the French Army by the Canadians in the early '60s. The Air base proper was at one end of the town while the Headquarters and most of the recreation facilities and schools were at the other end of town in the Caserne. In the photo above, taken from my Grade 10 yearbook, you can see Area 31, one of the PMQ areas. In fact, we originally lived on the Economy in the village of Sulz, in a two bedroom flat next to a beer distributor. We had great neighbours, the Popp family and even after we moved into PMQ's (into Area 31 in fact), they remained great friends of my parents. In the photo of Area 31, you can see three buildings running parallel to the main street, Schwarzwald Strasse (Black Forest Street). We lived in the middle one, on either the 2nd or 3rd floor, end apartment. You can see my bedroom window. Lucky you. We had an apartment that had been made from two individual apartments, so from the front door you had the kitchen on the left, one bathroom on the right. You entered straight into the living room, turned right into the dining room and then into the bedroom area (which had actually been the other apartment). So unfortunately for my parents, John and I had to go through their bedroom to get into the other part of the house.

Photos of the Caserne, including bottom right the school
The PMQs were scattered throughout the town, as I mentioned earlier. They started at the Bahnhof (Area 30, I think) with some apartment buildings. (In the first photo, it's the top right photo). As you went up Schwarzwald Sstrasse towards the Caserne, you next hit our area (31). Continuing on you came to the Grocery store for the Canadians with another section of PMQs, some apartments like ours. Just a bit further were somewhat fancier buildings that were used by the Officers and then you pretty well in the downtown core. One of my best friends in Grade 9, Grant Gerlitz, lived in this area and I spent many an evening visiting with him. He had a basement room that he turned into his bedroom and the gang of us spent many evenings, listening to music and fooling around with his electric train and other stuff.

In the first photo, middle left, you see the big building with the KK, that was the big German department store, Kaufhaus Kreuz. I found many of my first 45's (records, not guns) there. That area was the main German shopping street. If you turned left, you followed the road that lead you to the Caserne. That's where I went to high school. Second photo, bottom left picture is the High school, I'm pretty sure. Other pictures include the Arrowhead Arena (where my dad worked as a Ring Rat) and I think the curling club. Also at the Caserne was the big Canex department store, a book store (loved it) and just by the main gate, the Teen Town, where we could hang out. Friday nights there was always a dance (the excellent sound system explaining my poor hearing nowadays).

So that's a general picture. A few other items of interest. There were two Canadian cinemas, one nearby to the grocery store and one at the Main airbase. My dad was manager of them and quite often, the whole family would help out working at the concessions at the cinema on the base. Mom made the popcorn and I sold candy and drinks. John was a bit young so would have been classified as child labour, so he sort of hung around the concessions with us. Sometimes my friend Peter Emberley (from Grade 10) would help out. It was lots of fun and, as I recall, the popcorn that we made was so popular that people used to come and get it even though they weren't going to the movies. John and I got to go and watch the movies once we finished serving the initial crowd. There were some relatively racy films for kids our age... we didn't complain. Quite often on Sundays, if we didn't go out on the town and have dinner at a local Gasthaus (we learned pretty quickly not to go out if we were already hungry and we also learned just to get John an empty plate. The meals were slow and lovingly cooked and there was so much food we only needed 3 meals), we would have dinner on the Base at the Junior Ranks dining club. The food was great and it was a nice formal setting.

Grade 9B class photo (me in the centre)

In Lahr, I finished Grades 9 and 10, probably my favourite two years up to then. School was interesting, I was involved with so many activities and I had so much freedom to do what I wanted. As you can see, we wore school uniforms at that time, the boys, blue blazers and grey slacks and the girls, blue vests and grey skirts. I have to say, I really started to notice girls then.. :0).. unfortunately they didn't notice me that much.

Our hotel (pension) on the Lido
In Grade 9 English, we took The Merchant of Venice and each of the Grade 9 classes had to act out certain scenes. I think I played Bassanio. Anyway, the class that did the best job, according to a couple of judges, got the opportunity to go to Venice for a week's trip. What a great trip! It got off to a rough start. As soon as we boarded the train in Lahr, we were told there was a train strike in Italy so we would have to bus from the Swiss/ Italian border to Venice. That, in itself, was an adventure and after an evening water taxi ride across form Venice to the Lido, we staggered into our hotel late in the night.

Me on Attila the Hun's throne
We got to see so much, sample excellent Italian cuisine (there was a restaurant down the street from our hotel and we ate there every night. The waiter taught us the proper way to eat spaghetti and we got to drink vino with our meals. It was cheaper than coca cola.) The train trip back was much simpler.

My nickname in Grade 9... *sigh*, yes Baby Dumpling
Checking back through my old yearbooks has brought back a memory that I'd forgotten. I can't remember why, but it seems my nickname was Baby Dumpling in Grade 9... probably something to do with my actual name, eh? It must mean they liked me, right?

800 Black Forest Squadron, the first Cadet Sqn overseas
During Grade 9, some of the military people on the base formed the first Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron (800 Black Forest Sqn) in Germany. I joined up and had a great time. We used to meet once a week in the evenings at the Caserne, so I would either ride my bike up or walk there in my uniform. We wore the old RCAF battle dress, which I thought was so cool. In the evening classes, we of course spent most of the time doing drill, even fancy drill movements, then would watch war movies, play games, learn about the military. On weekends there were often activities on the base; we got to do the High Altitude Indoctrination course (meaning we were in the high altitude tank that fighter pilots use), learned Morse code (Dot Dot Dash), fired weapons at the range, etc. The first summer about 20 of us got to take the service flight back to Canada and spend a couple of weeks at the Summer camp they had every summer in Trenton Ontario. (You can see a picture of the tent city we lived in just above.) We arrived a week early for our camp (the exigencies of relying on a once a week flight) and spent that time travelling around Ontario by bus visiting the Ontario Science Centre, Royal Military College and other places. That first week was kind of lonely and I remember feeling very depressed for awhile. But my Aunt Loreine and Uncle Norman came down to spend on day with me and that helped get me over the hump. Yes, yes, I was a sensitive fella. After the two weeks of the actual summer camp, I got to stay behind and spend a couple of weeks visiting with relatives. I'm pretty sure my Uncle Bob and Aunt Tove Charbonneau were stationed in Trenton by then and they put me on the train to Ottawa, where I stayed a night with my dad's brother, Rene and his family. Rick came down from North Bay, where he was stationed at that time and took me up there, where I stayed in Barracks. (I stayed in one of his buddy's rooms, who had an interesting wall hanging outlining all the positions of the Kama Sudra... not that I noticed) We went up to visit our relatives in Kirkland Lake and Timmins and then I was handed back to Aunt Loreine and Uncle Norman who took me to Toronto. I'm pretty sure I got to go to the CNE for the first time with them. Overall it was a great time. For some reason, I'm sure that my Dad came over and we travelled back to Lahr together on the service flight. It was one of the first times that the Boeing 707 was used and when we landed in Lahr, it was such a bouncy landing that the oxygen masks all fell down from the ceiling. I stayed in Air Cadets for our two years in Germany, got promoted to LAC (Leading Air Craftsman) in my second year. I think that my enjoyment in polishing boots began then. I used to do my Dad's for him as well.

Grade 10.. which girls did I have crushes on.. :0)
In Grade 10, we had another great trip, a ski week in the Austrian Alps, located in the town of Bichlbach. I had never skied before and I remember every night as I fell to sleep I dreamed I was breaking my leg.. skiing down a hill, knee deep in snow, my legs going farther and farther apart until Boom... That actually did happen, except for the broken leg part.

High School Curling Fun
I got back in to curling again while we lived in Lahr. There was a great High School league and I enjoyed it so very much. I loved nothing better than trying for double and triple take outs. It was a great activity and very well attended.

As I mentioned earlier, my Dad was also a rink rat, meaning he worked at the Arrowhead Arena, maintaining the ice. The Lahr Arrows was the base hockey team and they played against German, Swiss and Dutch teams as well as against the other Canadian Air Force and Army teams.

The Canadian Figure Skating Team
While we were in Lahr, and I can't remember which year it was exactly, the Canadian National Figure Skating team spent a week in Lahr, training for I think the World Championships in Prague (I'm not sure of that) and spent a week practising at the Arrowhead. We used to go down at lunch time and watch them practising their figures. Not all that exciting but I had a bit of a crush on Sandra Bezik who was there with her brother Val as our Pairs team. Also on the team and in the photo were Karen Magnussen and Toller Cranston. I'm afraid I can't remember the others names. Maybe someone else does.

I've kind of rambled on here but it was a great time. After Grade 9, the Canadian government closed down the army bases in Northern Germany and moved them all down to Lahr and Baden Soelingen. It made a bit of a change for all of us Air Force folks. All the buildings were painted brown (or green, I'm colour blind) and place names changed, the Teen Town became the Teen Hut, that sort of thing and there were now tanks and armoured vehicles all over the place.

I was fairly unworldly at the time but while we were in Germany, the October Crisis (AKA the FLQ Crisis) happened back in Canada and as I understand, the government was ready to send troops back from Germany to support those in Canada when they declared the War Measures Act. We were also on the forefront of the Cold War and there were many, many nights when the Military Police would drive through PMQ's with loud speakers on, announcing Snowball, Snowball, meaning the fathers had to report to work immediately, just in case. When we lived on the Economy, they travelled door - to - door waking up those families that lived out in the countryside, as we didn't have phones there. Well, some people might have but we never did, as far as I remember.

The Hideaway Show Group
In Lahr, we did get more access to information from back in Canada. Lahr had its own radio station and it featured a mix of broadcasts from Canada (via the CBC) or local shows. A favourite for we high school kids was the Hideaway show which was hosted by some of the school seniors and they played great music. I remember the whole family used to gather around Dad's stereo (he brought a nice Grundig system) to listen to The Royal Canadian Air Farce on Monday nights. We also had a TV for the first time (I don't think we had one back in 3 Wing) and we got one German TV channel. They did show the odd Canadian or American show, of course, overdubbed into German. On Saturday nights they also had movies, quite risqué for a youngster.

Well, I think I've finished my ramblings over the past 3 'Reminiscences' of our time in Germany. It was such a great opportunity for a teenager from Canada to experience a bit of the outside world. I don't know if I grew up at all, but I do think it made it easier when I joined the military to adjust relatively quickly to new locations, new situations, new friends. The one bad thing about this moving around, for me anyway, was the constant making new friends, losing friends and then starting over again. For some people, it's not an issue, but I did find that I began making acquaintances, rather than close friends. Having said that, I treasure all of these memories and wouldn't trade them in for anything. They did help make me the person I am today, for good or bad.

We moved back to Canada after I completed Grade 10, this time to Ottawa Ontario. More on that next entry.

Friday, 17 April 2015

April 2015 Book Reading/ Purchasing Update

Well here we are, half way through April and spring has sprung in our neck of the woods. The dogs can now spend their afternoons in the back yard, lying in the sun and we don't have to worry about having to dry them off every time they come back in the house. Of course, it also means we've got to get the yard back in order after the winters winds and rain, but hey, small price to pay to look out at all that lovely plant growth.

Relaxing on a Friday morning, I've taken Friday and Monday off so can revel in a nice long weekend. I hope to finish off a couple of books in between watching Blue Jays baseball and doing yard work and helping the missus enjoy her birthday.

So let's start off with my current reads. I have to admit they are all a bit of a slow go, two because I'm just starting them and they are new authors so I have to get used to they story-telling and method of presenting their ideas, the other because it's a classic and, even though so very well-written, I do find them a bit slower to read as I like to absorb what they have to say about the time - frame and their characters. So here we go -

Currently Reading

1. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (1860). I'm trying to read at least 4 classics this year and I know they'll take me a little longer than my average book, but I have enjoyed delving into these stories the past few years. I've previously read Daniel Deronda by George Eliot and enjoyed so very much. I like the intelligence of her writing. So far, and I'm about one - third through this story, I'm also enjoying this story. The synopsis - "The Mill on the Floss, based on George Eliot's own experiences of provincial life, is a masterpiece of ambiguity in which moral choice is subjected to the hypocrisy of the Victorian age. As the headstrong Maggie Tulliver grows into womanhood, the deep love which she has for her brother Tom turns into conflict, because she cannot reconcile his bourgeois standards with her own lively intelligence. Maggie is unable to adapt to her community or break free from it, and the result, on more than one level, is tragedy."

2. Cool Jazz Spy by Paul J. Bartusiak (2015). This is a first for me. The author is a member of one of my Goodreads groups and asked if I minded reviewing the book. So, I said yes and here we are. I've just started and will readily admit I've struggled a bit at first with the technical, computer jargon, but we'll see how it goes. I've just barely got into the story and the premise does sound interesting. "Friday morning at Dallas/ Fort Worth International Airport, Terminal A is bustling as business travellers await their flights, anxious to return home for the weekend. All of a sudden, information on arrival and departure monitors becomes distorted; pixels seem to melt away from the screen. Airline computer systems crash. Even the building's lights and HVAC system shut down. Crowds form around flight desks, but no one knows what is happening. When extra security suddenly moves in, confusion turns to fear. Just as panic reaches its peak, the malfunctions mysteriously stop. Airport infrastructure performs an automatic reboot, and operations eventually return to normal. The US Intelligence Community is later summoned to a top secret meeting of the utmost importance: DFW Airport was hit with a highly sophisticated cyber attack. The perpetrators remain a mystery, the motive unclear. Even more alarming, evidence suggests something bigger is coming. Cyber experts, cryptologists, and data scientists feverishly combine their skills to try and prevent the ultimate cyber attack - one on the scale of a cyber nuclear bomb!"

3. Death at Bishop's Keep by Robin Paige (1994) - This is another new author for me, or rather authors as Robin Paige are a husband/ wife writing team. I found this book series while exploring one of my favourite book stores in Victoria, The Chronicles of Crime, but it's been on my bookshelf for a little while now. One of my reading challenges this year was to first book in a number of series that I had not yet had a chance to try. Death at Bishop's Keep is the 11th new series. It's classified as a Victorian mystery. "Kathryn Ardleigh is everything the Victorian English gentlewoman is not - outspoken, free-thinking, American... and a writer of the frowned upon 'penny-dreadfuls.' When Kate arrives in Essex, England, she shocks the household at Bishop's Keep - and captures the interest of amateur detective Sir Charles Sheridan as they begin their first case together. A dead body has been uncovered at a nearby archaeological dig. The investigation provides the perfect research for Kate's fiction. But the curious writer may be digging too deep - especially when the trail leads her into a secret occult society known as the Order of the Golden Dawn..."

So there you go, my current reading. I'm basically on track with my planned total for the year and if I can finish off one at least this weekend, I'll right on schedule. Now onto my latest purchases. I dropped off a few books at my local, Nearly New Books, but came out, as usual, with a few new selections to keep my library full of books. Much to Jo's joy.. ;0)

New Purchases

1. The Common Lawyer by Mark Gimenez (2009). Another new author for me, recommended in my Mystery book group. The stories did sound interesting, in the John Grisham line. "Andy Prescott is the most laid-back young lawyer in Austin, Texas. Specialising in traffic law, he operates from a small room above a tattoo parlour. Ambition has never been Andy's strong point - he prefers to take it easy. That is, until one of Texas's wealthiest men walks into his office. On the spot, billionaire Russell Reeves retains Andy as his lawyer and pays him more money than he has ever earned before. Andy's life is transformed. But nothing comes for free. Russell is a desperate man whose sole aim is to save the life of his eight-year-old son, Zach. He is prepared to do anything - even if it means putting Andy's life in danger.."

2. Murder in Washington Square by Victoria Thompson (2002). This is the fourth book in the Gaslight mystery series, featuring mid-wife (cum detective) Sarah Brandt and Police detective Frank Malloy. I've enjoyed the first books in the series, each one a bit better than the past one, so I'm looking forward to starting this one. "To Sarah Brandt, the mere thought of mild-mannered banker Nelson Ellsworth murdering his mistress seemed absurd. But to the police, it made perfect sense. Especially since the woman was allegedly carrying his child. But Sarah met the young woman the day before the incident. And something in her eyes made it quite clear that she was neither as poor nor as innocent as she would have people believe. Now it will take the seasoned skill of Detective Frank Malloy to help clear Mr. Ellsworth's good name. And to determine if Sarah's suspicions are correct - that the victim may have been the victimizer.."

3. Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson (2011). A new book for me that I'm not sure I've heard of before, but is an international best seller and has also been made into a movie (2014) starring Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen. Interesting synopsis "Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love - all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may be telling you only half the story. Welcome to Christine's life."

4. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (2003). A historical mystery series, a new one for me that was recommended in one of my book groups and sounded very interesting. "The daughter of a struggling greengrocer, Maisie Dobbs was only thirteen, when she was sent to work as a maid for wealthy London aristocrats. But being bright and thoughtful beyond her years, Maisie studies her way to Cambridge, then serves as a nurse on the Front during the Great War. Now, it's the spring of 1929, nearly ten years after the Armistice and Maisie has just opened her own detective agency. Her first assignment, a seemingly open-and-shut infidelity case, will reveal a much deeper, darker mystery, forcing Maisie to revisit the horrors of the war and the ghost she left behind."

5. The Butcher's Boy by Thomas Perry (1982). A thriller series that I believe my older brother reads and recommended. Time to give it a try. "How good is a hit man who blows his big hit? As good as dead. How good is the woman assigned to catch him before his killers can? As good as her next move. How good is The Butcher's Boy? As good as they come."

6. From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell (1964). I've been slowly searching for the Inspector Wexford series books and finally have found the first in the series. Time to get started reading it. "No one believed Mr. Parsons' fears for his missing wife. Until two days later she was discovered in the woods, her face swollen and her clothes damply clinging to her lifeless body. With no useful witnesses and a victim known only for her mundane life, Chief Inspector Wexford has just one clue: a lipstick found at the scene. To find the killer, Wexford must first discover a motive. Because what he can't understand is how such an unassuming woman became the victim of such a passionate and violent crime."

There you go, another successful shopping trip. Now the dogs are getting restless, awaiting their noon walk and lunch.. See you later!!

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Reminiscences of a Military Brat (Part 7) - Various Travels and Visitors

It's a beautiful Easter Sunday, cool and sunny, kind of nice weather for looking out the window and thinking back. While in Germany, my dad was stationed at two bases; 3 Wing Zweibrucken, as I've described in my previous Reminiscence Blog and after a year and a bit, 1 Wing Lahr, in the Black Forest. I'll talk more about that stay in my next Blog. I think this time I'll focus on some places we visited and some of the visitors that came to see us while we were in Germany.

For my mom, moving to Germany was a move back to her past. She was born in the town of Schneidemuhl, which after WWII became part of Poland. Her parents and one uncle and aunt moved to Canada after WWI and settled in Kirkland Lake, Ontario. My mom moved when she was very little, like 4 years old. So her memories of Germany were few. She still spoke very good German. Her family spoke Hoch Deutsch (high German), like the Queen's English, or Parisian French. When we moved to Germany, the area we lived in had their own unique dialects and as well, technology had advanced considerably so even the words she knew had changed.

Visiting Mom's family in Northern Germany
But with Mom, we were able to travel in Germany easily. I also took German in high school so that made it somewhat easier for me. One of the special things for Mom was the opportunity to reconnect with her German relatives. We had family in Dusseldorf and also living in Northern Germany, around the Wolfsburg area. We visited a couple of times and were treated royally and enjoyed ourselves very much. It was especially interesting seeing the subtle differences in the cultures between the North American and the German.

My brother, John, was just very little the first time we went to Dusseldorf to see Uncle Reinholt and Aunt Hilde. As a youngster he was somewhat fussy about what he ate and drank. He was fond of Tang, that was pretty well all he drank, besides water. At our first breakfast there, they tried to offer him so many things to drink; milk with the cream still floating in the top, sproudle wasser. My parents countered by saying he would drink water. Shocked looks about that as water was only for washing in. It was quite funny. We were also amazed at how much they fed us. We were used to our three square meals a day. It seemed that there was always a meal of some sort being prepared during our visit; breakfast of cakes and coffee, mid -morning snack, a cold lunch, more snacks before supper, then supper and maybe coffee in the evening with cakes. It was quite amazing. We heard stories about the war, refreshed memories of my Mom's family.

Our visit to Northern Germany was as fruitful. There were many more family living there and we had the opportunity to visit with all of them. The big business in that area was the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg and many of my mom's family worked there. We visited (I will apologise here as I can't remember all of the names) Heinrich's (I'm pretty sure that was his name) farm, where Mom got attacked by one of the geese. It stuck its head into the handle of her purse, causing much uproar. Heinrich's wife grabbed the goose by the head, swung it around a few times and then tossed it across the yard. Hilarious!!

There were other members of the family who lived in Southern Germany and we visited them and they came to see up in Lahr as well. I think that was one of the special times for my Mom, this rare opportunity to find out about her roots.

In my previous Blog, I mentioned our trip to Italy with your new trailer. We saw many fun spots and also some of the history that demonstrated man's less proud moments. We took a trip to Munich and stopped to see the concentration camp at Dachau. It was very sanitised, the majority of the buildings were gone, just spaces where the huts had been. The 'tourist' centre had many displays, showing the evil of which man is capable. Interesting, thoughtful. Wouldn't it be nice if man could learn from this. It doesn't seem so at times.

Carnaby Street
We did manage to see quite a bit of Europe in our travels. Quite a few of these trips were made easier by the availability of military service flights which travelled around Europe to locations where Canadians were stationed. We drove up to Dusseldorf to catch the Hercules aircraft that had a weekly trip into London, UK. Had a great time there, visiting Madame Toussaud's, Carnaby Street (where I bought some paisley ties), Buckingham Palace, etc. We stayed at the Canada Club while we were there. When my parent's went out to see  a play, I think it was called The Pyjama Game or something like that, John and I got to watch English TV in the hotel lounge. What a treat after two years of no TV. I saw my first ever episode of Star Trek then and about 10 years later when I saw my second, it was the same one. When we were in London, they were going through the process of switching to the new pound. We had many helpful people explaining what things cost, so we could get on a bus or pay for meals.

We had a few visitors while we were in Germany, my cousin Sheila and Uncle Lawrence and Aunt Irma came over to visit. We travelled all over with seven of us squeezed into my dad's VW 1600. Poor John spent much of the time in the wheel well of the front passenger seat or sitting on the hump between the driver and front passenger. My brother Rick and the two Daves, his friends Dave Morrow and Dave Jowett, newly minted officers in the Canadian Forces came over for a couple of weeks as well. For some reason we managed to find room for all these visitors in our three bedroom apartment. I'm not sure where everybody slept but there always seemed to be room. Rick and the Daves rented a little car and we toured around Europe with them, driving through snow-covered Alps, checking out Garmish and Bertchesgaden. We used to watch Dave Morrow in the car behind us, snapping photos with his Instamatic camera. We'd be waving frantically at him, he'd be waving back. He took so many photos of the inside of his camera cap, it wasn't funny.. Well, actually, it was quite funny. We had a great time. The young officers used to spend evenings playing bridge with my Dad and Swede Olsen, our neighbour. I don't think they one too many games; Dad and Swede were pretty cagey players.

Jim Nabeta (probably our best friend)
My parents' best friend, during our time there, was probably Jim Nabeta. He worked with my dad, was a single guy and a great friend. Whenever he went somewhere; both he and Dad were often deployed for exercises in the Mediterranean. He would bring back all sorts of presents, alabaster statues, tapestries. He used to own a small Japanese sports car and he would regularly drive John and I around in it, pretend John was his son, causing all sorts of surprised looks. He was going to give me his sports car when he bought himself a Lotus Europa, but my parents said I was a bit too young (I was about 16, so they were probably right). Good thing anyway as he totalled the Europa avoiding a slow tractor on the Autobahn.

One of Jim Nabeta's photos (hand painted)
He was a good hockey player, photographer, whatever he turned his hand to. He was a regular at our house, both in Zweibrucken and Lahr and just a great friend to all of us.

The only photo of Cyprus that turned out
While we were in Germany, Canada still had a large detachment of soldiers stationed in Cyprus, along with other countries, trying to maintain the peace between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots. As such we had a regular supply flight that went from Lahr to Nicosia and families could take that flight if they wanted to vacation there. We went down for a week and camped at a place called 6 1/2 mile beach near Kyrenia, at that time in the Greek area. We arrived late in the evening and grabbed a taxi which we assumed would take us to our camp site. Little did we know that the trip meant travelling all around the Turkish area, a good hour drive. The only way to go between the Greek and Turkish areas was in a convoy, escorted by UN troops. We missed that convoy. So we ended up having to stay over night in a hotel in Kyrenia and then go to the camp site the next morning. My dad made the mistake of telling the man at the hotel counter that, yes indeed, we would come down for supper. We were so tired that we decided not to but they had cooked a special meal for us, so Dad and I went to dinner, and enjoyed a 7 - course meal. Well worth it. The camp ground was fantastic, located right on the Mediterranean, white sand beaches, clear blue water. Of course we all got sunburned in the first day and spent many uncomfortable nights in the trailer that my Dad had rented. This was during Spring break and I was working on a speech about the European Common Market, which I kept confusing with the British Commonwealth. Yes, yes, I wasn't all that smart.

I managed to find a book store in Nicosia
Cyprus was an eye-opener for sure, especially travelling between the two zones. We saw school grounds where young Turkish Cypriots were training with weapons. The UN troops were everywhere; I think we saw Irish, Swedes, as well as Canadians and British troops. I did manage to find a book store in Nicosia and bought the book above; another eye opener. Terrifying story.

The Laughing Whale Campsite, Barcelona
I've rambled quite a bit today, but have one more spot to highlight, that being our summer vacation trip to Barcelona. We gathered up the trailer once again and headed south. For some reason, we always bypassed Paris, I think because we wanted to avoid the traffic. We spent a week at La Balena Alegre, The Laughing Whale, another wonderful campsite on the Mediterranean. We also met another Canadian family and spent lots of time with them. For the most part, we left the trailer and car at the campsite and travelled around the area with bus tours.

The Happy campers and our Canadian friends
Our big tour was to see the bull fights in Barcelona, an interesting and sometimes bloody experience (for the bulls that is). The great El Cordobes, Spain's premiere bull fighter of the time, fought that day.  My poor mother got too much sun in the first couple of days and came down with heat stroke. It took the rest of the trip for her to recover and while the rest of us were wandering around in shorts and short sleeve shirts, she ended up wearing slacks and long sweaters, trying to stay warm. Not a fun trip for her.

Well, there you go, the latest instalment. As you can see, we tried to make the most of our 3 and half years in Germany. It was a wonderful experience, one that I treasure. Next entry, I'll continue with our life in Lahr. Enjoy your Easter weekend!

Friday, 3 April 2015

March 2015 Reading Update

April is now upon us and it's the start of the Easter long weekend here in Canada. I was able to leave work a bit early yesterday so it's a nice break ahead. Off until Tuesday now. Unfortunately, even though it's Good Friday, it's been rainy, cool and windy today. So the missus and I are instead relaxing and taking it easy, watching some curling (later anyway), some spring training baseball and updating our online pages. Bonnie is curled up on the poof at Jo's feet and Clyde is on his pillow keeping an eye on us and waiting for a possible opening to join Jo on the easy chair.

I hope to do at least one more 'reminiscence' post this weekend, maybe two if I have the inspiration. But for today, time to look back at March and see how my reading came along.

Let's start with the statistical type info first.

According to Goodreads, I'm about a book behind schedule if I want to make my total for the year. I've managed to complete 22 of my plan to read 95 over the course of the year. I think it'll all balance out, but we'll see. In March I completed 7 books. I have one more month of full-time work and maybe after April I'll manage to get up to 8 or 9 per month. Total pages around 7,900 for the year. Here are my basic stats for the month of March -

Authors - Female (3), Male (4)
Mystery (a mix of historical (2), one set in Africa (1), one set in the US (1), and another in the UK. Well both my historical mysteries were also in the UK. Total 5;
Fantasy (werewolves) - 1
Adventure - 1
Ratings - 4 stars - 5, 3 stars - 2
These are the books I managed to complete this month -

1.  The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson (Mystery USA) (4 stars). This is the first book in the Walt Longmire mysteries. It didn't disappoint, was as entertaining as the TV series based on the books. This is my review.
"Fantastic intro to the world of Walt Longmire. It brought me similar joy reading it that I found reading Martin Walker's Bruno series and Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti series. You get more than just a mystery, you get a life style, wonderful characters, humour and finally a great mystery. Walt Longmire is a crusty sheriff in Wyoming, with a quirky support cast, his Cheyenne friend, Henry Standing Bear, his deputy, Vic, his secretary, Ruby, his sometime deputy and the ex-sheriff, Lucian, plus many others. It's a joy immersing yourself in this folksy world and getting to know the place and the characters. And, hey, you also get to solve an interesting mystery. Excellent story and I will definitely continue with this series. As an aside, I was introduced to the books by the excellent TV series that was on AMC and is supposedly going to be continued by Netflix. Both the TV series and the book were excellent."

2. One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (Jackson Brodie #2) (British mystery) (4 stars). This is the second in the Jackson Brodie books and we finally see Brodie in Edinburgh, the location of the TV series. I love Kate Atkinson's writing style, a style that is recreated quite effectively in the TV series, as well.
"This is the second book in the Jackson Brodie series and we now find Brodie in Edinburgh, which now matched up somewhat with the TV series. In this story, Brodie is only in Edinburgh because girlfriend, Julia, who we met in the first book has an acting job during Edinburgh's festival. Brodie is a retired police detective/ private detective and finds himself somewhat out of pace during this visit. He doesn't really know what to do to occupy his time but suddenly becomes involved in a road rage incident and then finds a dead body, which also manages to disappear on him. We are introduced to a cast of interesting characters; writer Martin Canning, from the road rage incident, Gloria Hatter, the wife of conman Graham and my favourite character, Detective Sergeant Louise Monroe. The story rotates from each character's perspective and moves along nicely, gradually interconnecting their individual story lines. It's an intelligent, well-written, entertaining story and I look forward to reading the rest of this series. I enjoyed the TV series immensely and the books, so far, have not let me down at all."
3. A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (African mystery) (Emmanuel Cooper #1) (4 stars). This is the first book in Malla Nunn's series, set in South Africa. It was another great surprise. I enjoyed the feel for the story and liked the characters very much.
"I picked this book by chance while looking through my local book store. The synopsis looked interesting and I hadn't read many mysteries set in Africa. I'm so glad I took a chance on it as I enjoyed the story immensely, right from the first few paragraphs. The story is set during apartheid and the plot revolves around the shooting death of an Afrikaner police captain in a small village. An English police detective is sent form Johannesburg to work the crime. He suddenly finds himself in the midst of tension with the Security services who want to find a Communist threat as the cause for the murder and also from the Police Captain's sons, hard core Afrikaners who provide a constant threat to Sgt Emmanuel Coopers well-being. The story moves along so very nicely and highlights the tensions implicit in the apartheid system; from the ruling white Afrikaners through the mixed - race peoples (the coloureds) to the blacks (the Zulu races. The characters are well-crafted, I particularly liked Emmanuel Cooper and the Zulu constable, Shabalala (excuse any spelling mistakes) and the Jewish doctor, Schneider (once again apologies for any errors in spelling). Cooper and the story itself remind me of Arcady Renko in the Martin Cruz Smith books set in Russia. Cooper also is a man in the middle, a police officer trying to solve a murder but having to deal with the tensions caused by apartheid, and the constant threats from the Security Services, even the threat of physical violence to his person. Malla Nunn has crafted an excellent story, creating tension and making you want to keep reading. My only slight dissatisfaction and the reason I gave it a 4 (actually a 4.5) was the ending. While I was satisfied with it overall, it was a bit pat. However, if you want a tense, well-written mystery story, you have to give this a try. I will move on to the next book."

4. The Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth (British historical mystery) (John Madden #3) (4 stars). This series gets better with each story. The first book tweaked my interest and the next two have been superb. Thrilling and with great characters, I think anyone should give it a try.
"This is the third in the John Madden series of mysteries. The stories get better and better. I enjoyed this very much. It's more than just a mystery featuring one detective. In fact, in this story, John Madden has been retired from Scotland Yard for a number of years, now happily married and living in the country with lovely country doctor, Helen. The story is set during the final throes of WWII, during the Battle of the Bulge as Hitler's army tries a last desperate attempt to throw back the Allies. Mind you, this story is basically set in England, with a warm up from France, when a Jewish businessman is murdered. We move to England and another murder, that of a Polish girl who has been working on Madden's farm. This brings Madden into the story as he feels an obligation to help solve the murder. But the story also focuses on Deputy Inspector Angus Sinclair, Madden's old boss, and a team of police led by Billy Sykes and others. The investigation is handled nicely as they try to find a mystery man, a possible serial killer. It's such a nicely paced and choreographed story and all of the characters are well-presented. I kind of had some things figured out by the end, but it didn't matter, the story was excellent, the tension nicely built and it was an all-in-all enjoyable mystery. One more in this series, unless Mr. Airth decides to write another. Enjoy!"

5. Sharpe's Fury by Bernard Cornwell. (Historical adventure) (Sharpe #11) (4 stars). I usually try to read one or two of the Sharpe books a year. I enjoyed the TV series based on the books very much and the books are always entertaining, exciting adventures. This one was no exception.
"As always the Sharpe books are an entertaining and exciting adventure series. This is the 11th book in the series and I enjoyed it very much. I like the historical aspects of the story, the British battle at Barraso in 1811 and how Cornwell fits Capt Sharpe and his riflemen into the action. There were excellent supporting characters, including Sir Thomas Graham, who I liked very much. There is always a slight romantic interest but not quite so prevalent in this story. Sharpe has to contend with a plotting, vicious Spanish priest and a French Colonel, Vandal, who doesn't play according to the rules of war. If you like a page turner and well-crafted historical adventure, try the Sharpe books."

6. A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch (Historical mystery) (Charles Lenox #1) (3 stars). Another book I found by chance and decided to give it a go. It was an interesting mystery but disappointing somewhat. I will probably give the second book a chance as sometimes it takes the author a book to get a feel for the characters and stories.
"I don't have a lot to say about this story. Charles Lenox is an arm-chair detective and Victorian gentleman. He seems to spend a lot of time planning exotic trips and never taking them. He's somewhat fussy but likes a good  mystery. He seems able to inculcate himself into investigations with little protest from the regular police, even though there is friction between him and them. And people who are involved in crimes don't seem to mind him wandering around their homes, investigating the crime. In this story, a maid is killed and his friend Lady Jane asks him to help investigate her death. With help from his butler, his brother, who is also a Member of Parliament, and other friends, he works to solve the case. I like the era in which the story is set and overall was entertained."

7. Bitten by Kelley Armstrong (Fantasy - werewolves) (Women of the Otherworld #1) (3 stars).
This is the first book in this series and was used as the basis for a popular TV series on Space TV, especially popular with the missus and I. It doesn't hurt that it's written by a Canadian and the series is made in Canada.
"I've read a few supernatural series; the Anita Blake books, the Blood Ties books, etc. I'd started watching the TV series that is based on Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series before I read this first book. It was interesting to compare the two. There are differences, different characters, some different story lines, but all in all, both are very interesting. This story is told in the first person by the only female werewolf in the world, Elena, and she is a woman who has struggled to accept her werewolfness. She tries to live a normal life in the city, Toronto, but is called back to the Pack's home in the country at Stonehaven when the Pack is threatened by a group of mutts, unpacked werewolves. The story is slow at times, with Elena's time spent on Elena trying to discover what it is she actually wants to be. She can be frustrating at times, but the story moves along and the action picks up steadily. I did enjoy the story and I think part of the slowness can be attributed to the fact that I was comparing to the TV series. I enjoyed the story and will find the others in the series and continue to read up and see who the other women in the Otherworld might be. Looking forward to finding out."

So there you have my March summary. I've started off April by finishing the first Wallander mystery by Henning Mankell, Faceless Killers. It was enjoyable but a bit disappointing. That may have something to do with the translation. I do have a couple of others of the series on my bookshelf and plan to continue with the series.

At the moment I have these books on the go.

1. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (Classic)

2. Liberty Falling by Nevada Barr (Mystery US) (Anna Pigeon #7). This mystery finds Park Ranger, Anna Pigeon, in New York city, nervously waiting for her sister to recover from surgery and also trying to solve a mystery on Ellis Island/ Liberty Island National Park.

3. The Missing File by D.A. Mishani (Israeli mystery) (Avraham Avraham #1). Another new series for me. I'll let you know how it goes.

So hopefully some ideas for future reading for you. Enjoy your weekend and Happy Easter!
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