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Something strange is happening.

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Can this obsession be healthy for a nation? I know yellow is the colour of the sun and happiness, but isn’t it also the colour of madness: The Yellow Wallpaper, a choleric disposition and all that?

 Oh my God. Just realised that the walls of the room where I am typing are yellow.

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Went to the German equivalent of Boots today. Everything in store was shipshape and Superdrug fashion until I found the aisles for wine and cat food. Rather unnerving in a chemist. Still, it’s nice that I’ve finally found a shop where I can buy all my daily essentials (toothpaste, salmon Cesar and a fruity Pinot Noir) all in one place.

Sorry to learn about the damage that storms are doing around the world, especially in India. I have been reading that developing nations have a lot of work to do to adapt their infrastructure for challenges of the present climate, let alone a future climate altered by greenhouse gases. Happily for you, dear readers, I cannot whinge about climate change today, because I have been sheltered from any media comment surrounding these storms. To and from work I have been listening to Deutsche Kultur Radio, which is the closest I can find to the Today programme on Radio 4. The difference is that DKR plays horrific jazz and Lighthouse Family numbers between interviews, and goes a bit easier on its guests than John Humphrys would (presumably because the German guests have had the fight sapped out of them by the afore-mentioned muzak).

The point is that because my German is still more Duplo than Lego Technik, I only understand the news in very broad brushstrokes. Tony Blair has gone, I think, and may go somewhere else. Poland was up to something naughty in the EU, dunno what. Germans drink 40 million bottles of vodka a year. Or, the average German drinks 40 bottles of vodka a year. One of the two. It’s quite nice, being in a bubble.

When I cave in to my cravings for spoken English media, I have been turning to NPR: the American National Public Radio played for the benefit of the forces over here. This is a quite marvellous aural resource that frankly by itself justifies my move to the Fatherland. For a start, there are weather reports for all of the discerning traveller’s top destinations: Germany, Italy, Norway, Iraq (always “110 degrees and dusty”). Then there are extraordinary public service adverts for soldiers, imploring them to, “Visit your transition office at least 12 months before your separation,” and letting them know that “It takes a man to be a dad. Call 001-970-DAD,” or “Heard the latest rumour about where your husband or wife will be deployed next? Rumour is a piece of gossip spread by word of mouth. That’s the dictionary definition. Rumours can destroy morale. Talk to your duty commander to get the real deal.” My favourite so far goes along the lines of:

<classical music interlude> Wry voiceover: “That’s not the kind of music I’d usually listen to.” <fade music> Perkier voice: “Hi, I’m Mary-Jo Flange. You can always choose between Beethoven and Bo Diddly. That’s discriminatory choice. But don’t discriminate between people because of their colour, race or gender…”

The NPR highlight, though, is Paul Harvey, who I had never heard of but appears to be a news-reading legend. He sounds about 97. I suspect he has been in the same window-less studio in Kansas City since 1974, reading out sheets of news shoved under his door fresh from the wires. He stutters, pauses inappropriately, stresses completely the wrong syllables, and has the listener in the palm of his hand.

If you woke at 3am to one of Harvey’s bulletins, you wouldn’t know you weren’t still sleeping. I know, because I wrote this down in wonderment last night: “… a full-sized stuffed bear with a KIND FACE. A mechanical BEAR designed to take soldiers… away from combat. IN Karachi PakisTAN, rain and wind have killed HUNDREDS… philanthropy is the Greater Good GOLF NEWS! … he freed himself… by cutting off two FINGers with a pocketknife… Association of Retired Persons – ARP!… Cheese prices are on the up and inCREASing… It’s something everywhere: in the mangrove swamps of Uttar Pradesh, hungry TIGERS are looking for anything potable…”

A better example of the goodness of radio you couldn’t hope to find. Well, that’s all the news that’s fit to print today.

I travelled on a highly efficient double-decker train today!

Felt a bit sulky yesterday: misgivings about the whole venture. I knew taking the new job was a risk, but I was unprepared for the reality of it… Unfortunately I was offered a different kind of job at the same time in the south of France, and I’ve been wondering about that. Which is completely pointless, since I’ve taken this job because of where it might take me, and I don’t think I’m going to leave here unless it gets so bad that I start shooting off fingers so that I can’t work, like the soldiers in the trenches did during World War I. I mean, I have no idea where you can buy guns around here, for one thing.

I was also reflecting on life in a mid-size German city. Am realising I am going to have to make quite an effort to get into the countryside, avoid suffocation in the English-speaking expat community and be a generally good low-carbon kind of person. They have supermarket chains selling apples from Chile just like in England. Resist! I must resist!

Happily, I got out of my funk (not the German kind) by taking my first look around Bonn. To wit, I saw the following life-enhancing, funk-reducing items:
– Bonn’s botanic garden, which seems a bit heavy on the plant side of things but nice all the same;
– a lovely egg yolk-yellow baroque construction housing the Mineralogisch-Petrologisches Institut and other large-brain nexii;
– a statue of someone with a beard;
– metal pretzels for door handles;
– two buskers playing a Bach fugue on French-style accordions;
– a shop selling Iranian caviar; and
– Beethoven’s death mask*.

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Doesn’t that lady look delighted with her purchase? 

Most excitingly of all, after exhaustive investigation at some risk to my physical person, I have answered the Haribo Question. I cannot reveal my sources, but here is unequivocal proof:

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Excellent preparation for the journalism distance course I am considering studying. Just as insurance, you understand…

* This may have been a copy.

I have thought up my first climate change joke:

Q: What do you call the layer in the Earth’s atmosphere that gives astronauts hot flushes when they pass through it?

A: The mesopause.

(See here if that joke kind of passes you by. If it still doesn’t make you laugh, I think we know where the problem lies.)

Now that I have my new job, I can work with renewed vigour on my environmental science A Level. At the moment I am reading a great book called The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery (details at this site). It isn’t particularly recent (2005), but I am finding it very moving and easy to read. However, there are some areas of poor logic or lack of clarity. For example:

“The key thing about the troposphere is that its temperature gradient is ‘upside down’ — it is warmest at the bottom… At first sight this appears contrary to common sense, but this peculiarity accounts for the well-mixed nature of the troposphere — after all, hot air rises.”

So he explains the consequence of the upside down temperature gradient, but not the cause. I think what happens is that as the air rises its pressure decreases (why?), which leads to temperature loss under the ideal gas law of pV=nRT, but this has made my head hurt and probably caused you to lose consciousness, so I will stop there.

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Offsetting my recent air travel guilt with in-flight study about climate change.

Very important: Have just heard that Haribo is based in Bonn and has a factory outlet. Will ascertain the veracity of this exciting suggestion with some urgency.

Woken by street cleaners hoovering up dead blossom at 6:15 this morning. Will they be ironing the snow in the winter?

As it happens, I have landed in a rather chi-chi neighbourhood. I think it’s the diplomat hangout. You know the kind of place: tree-lined avenues, BMW in every driveway, Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon on every corner. Most of the houses seem to have come from a Playmobil catalogue (see here for details if you were more of a Lego kind of frood). It is quite likely that this area provided the blueprint for the Playmobil toy designers. Either that or an oddball millionaire recluse decided to recreate a life-size version of the Playmobil town he never had time to play with as a child.

A house on my street.
A house on my street.

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A house from the Playmobil catalogue.

Despite this, people are inferring that this is the dullest neighbourhood in the whole of Bonn*, so I am already expecting to look for somewhere else when my two months here are up.

My expectations of what living in a European city is like have been shaped by perfume ads: a beautiful woman going to the opera in a swanky dress or running home barefoot at five in the morning. They are always looking over their shoulders in those adverts – not in a, ‘dear God, am I about to get mugged?’ way, or even a, ‘sweet Jesus, are the street cleaners hoovering the pavements already?’ way, but more in a ‘what’s that you’re saying in Italian? That I’m insufferably gorgeous? A ha ha ha’ kind of way. Me, I have been running along the Rhine every morning (well, two mornings: doesn’t that make it a regular thing?), where I have to dodge not suave Italian men with bow ties askew but yet more crazed middle-aged Germans cycling. Honestly, these people are animals. I am not going to blog about work, but I think it is safe to recount that I have been invited to play badminton with a 60-year-old female colleague who practises three times a week. I’m dead meat. Or should I say, pretzel dough?

*Quite an achievement, I suspect.

Readers, I am in Bonn! Today I have walked along the Rhine (not its full length, admittedly), seen two (two!) tandem bicycles already, and spoken incompetent German several times.

First things first. I visited Ma and Pa on Friday, which was nice. Ma has discovered eBay. Be afraid. Then I took a train journey to Stansted, during which I saw several horses, two rabbits and a stork/crane/heron/meh. I have noticed that as I am getting older I am seeing animals everywhere. It’s like that scene in Snow White. Is it because as we get closer to death we tune in to our spirit animals who will meet us in the liminal zone to take us to the other side? Almost certainly.

Anyway, I got to the airport, where I resisted the urge to upgrade my suitcase (why are there luggage shops in airports?) and sprayed several noxious perfumes all the way up my arms (no one sat next to me on the plane). Just before we reached the coast of Holland (I presume) we flew over a school of white energy turbines out at sea, which was rather beautiful.

On arrival I checked into the ‘Holiday Inn’, a small, timberframed guesthouse full of vernacular detail and local charm. To help me sleep I watched a bit of German TV. Highlights: a German version of Strictly Come Dancing with Ute Lemper as a judge (isn’t that like Marlene Dietrich being on X Factor?), plenty of grey-haired men with Architect glasses, and about 14 yoghurt adverts. Yoghurt seems to dominate the German advertising industry. Distressingly, my digital radio isn’t able to pick up British radio channels, but there is ‘Funkhaus Europa’, which I look forward to immensely*.

Have reached my new house, but I will leave description thereof for another day. It#s taken me hours to tzpe this because all the letters are in the wrong place on the kezboard. Vis a vis my bicycle cliffhanger: it will be arriving in a few weeks’ time. By the look of things on the streets I don’t think I will be able to register here without one.

* Sadly I think ‘Funk’ means radio in German.

My last night in Bath, and my last post on my venerable PC before it is packed away for its overseas excursion. I walked home late this evening to savour the balmy kebab-scented Georgiana of Walcot Street and Camden one more time. I am such a pompous idiot, I was halfway down London Road before I realised I was walking with my hands behind my back, just like Prince Philip. I’m lucky I wasn’t McFlurried*.

Anyway, I have had a rather lovely leaving do-birthday drink combo, attended by many people of high worth. I am lucky to have such nice friends, and am rather sad to be leaving just when they have reached critical mass. Will enquire into opening a Gasthof to accommodate visitors as soon as I reach terra germanica.

Because Elizabeth says successful blogs feature a lot of photography and go easy on incidental details of meals and such like, I will scrap the amusing story I had planned about dropping my earphones into chocolate mousse this lunchtime, and instead present pictures from the evening:

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Work that umbrella, Lucy!

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Straight outta Widcombe.

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Filth.

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A whole pot of tea: a daunting task for anyone.

Elizabeth also says I have to leave readers hooked by suspense. So I sign off with this question: will I manage to avert my man-sized (well, bike-sized) bike from going into landfill? Find out next time!

*To be McFlurried is to be attacked with items of junk food in public by hoodlums, whose behaviour is partly provoked by the smug ‘ain’t it grand to be outdoors’ whimsy displayed by the victim. I was first McFlurried in the summer of 2005 by three youths in an unidentified pimpmobile while strolling on a sunny day in the Newbridge area of Bath.

It’s super late for a school night, but I can go to bed happy because I finally feel like I am getting somewhere with the article I’m writing about free software in the developing world. Going to give it a headline of ‘Power to the people’, and talk about the different ways communities are using free software to improve their situations, and how some of those solutions can seem rather hardnosed and pragmatic to people who are used to caring about the philosophy of free software more than whether it will bring internet connectivity to a refugee camp or kickstart a small country’s IT sector.

Apologies for that very long sentence.

Am just annoyed with myself for delaying the article for so long (I should have finished it two weeks ago). Because I’m having to finish it now, I haven’t been able to see friends and family much before leaving, and all because I’ve been so lazy. Procrastination has MADE me watch episodes of Hollyoaks, Eastenders, Any Dream Will Do and related filth. Oh, and I have been visiting TheHollywoodGossip.com a lot. All very bad behaviour. I am less lazy than I used to be, but it can still get me!

I saw a dog owner walking a well-built bulldog (white) and a bony greyhound (black) today. Like yin and yang. The greyhound seemed to have a limp. Hope it’s all right.