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Yuck. I went to my third lecture on biodiversity in German this evening and could understand almost nothing. The lecturers might as well have been howler monkeys (they were both bearded). So I just sat there, feeling about a million years older than the students who were passing notes and doing other stuff that I used to do in 1986.

I observed one possibly non-student-type like me wearing a rainbow jumper like this:

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(Thank you for fulfilling the stereotype, The Ethical Clothes Company!).

There was also a rainbow jumper present at the climate change summit I went to a couple of weeks ago. The presence of a rainbow jumper per se it is not notable – in fact, it is to be expected at these tree-hugging events – but it is interesting that there is only ever one person wearing a rainbow jumper. Either they all arrange beforehand who gets to wear their jumper at each event so as not to cramp each other’s style (the rainbow jumper being the John Galliano evening gown of the green social scene), or there is only one rainbow jumper in the whole world and it is passed around to be worn at each relevant outing by the person who has eaten the most organic peanut butter and rice cakes over the past week.

Anyway, I was musing on such things when I should have been understanding German and expanding my brain. Useless. Then when I got home I found a note from one of my housemates asking me to clean the flat. Double yuck.

But I mustn’t grumble because at lunchtime today I met some nice people from an NGO called OroVerde and they have agreed to let me volunteer for them. Hurrah! They conceive and support all kinds of project to do with conserving or replanting rainforests in Central and Southern America and Indonesia, and they also create educational materials about rainforests for German schools. They seem like good eggs and my bosses at work have given me permission to go ahead, so now I am just hoping that they will have lots of work for me to do on the weekends and that I won’t mess up.

To celebrate (and to mark Halloween), here are some pictures of a spooky tree I like:

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On Friday night I got talking to a hydropower engineer from Nepal (I think we’ve all done it). He was very kindly discussing some of his work with me and after a while I asked him, “So how come you got into hydropower, when Nepal is landlocked?”, thinking myself super clever for knowing that Nepal is thus coastally challenged. But instead he gave me the idiot face (not the face that an idiot makes but the face that an extremely clever person makes when they look at me) and impassively explained that hydropower doesn’t have anything to do with oceans or tidal power – that’s, er, tidal power.

A bit later I was chatting to an astronomer (we were a pretty happening crowd), who was about to start a Master’s on these things in space called something like ‘extremely ultra small teeny-tiny dwarf galaxies’. Apparently studying them has absolutely no practical purpose whatsoever but they are interesting because they collide and their stars do fun stuff. And I said, “Oh! Do galaxies have more than one star then?” He also gave me the idiot face, and said, “Yes. Our galaxy, for example, has about 400 billion stars.” Slightly more than one, then. It’s not my fault that I temporarily confused a galaxy with a solar system; I was distracted because he had stopped blinking completely when he began to talk about astronomy and I am never sure when to break eye contact with people like that.

Embarrassing incidents like these are good for my ego. Well, my stupidity continues. In my last blog post I was a bit rude about the King’s German Legion, which I thought sounded like some two-bit operation of drunk ex-pats that got together a few hundred years ago to shoot the tails off stray cats. It turns out that at one point the King’s German Legion contained over 14,000 soldiers (many of them from Hanover) and was considered one of the most professional fighting units in the British army under Wellington. Don’t I feel stupid.

Excitingly, in the course of my ignoracity-correctional research I found the most awesome thing: a letter written by an officer in the KGL in 1811. He is discussing a battle at Albuera in Spain, during which, he says, “One of our Captains received a shot in the forehead, and the ball is now actually in his throat, He is, however, expected to recover.”

Yikes! Apparently the officer might have been exaggerating in his letter, but even so, it is pretty exciting stuff and makes me glad I am not a man. Er, a man in the nineteenth century. Er, a man in the army in the nineteenth century:

“During the heat of the action a heavy rain came on, and continued for some hours; but at the time the enemy was completely repulsed on the right, the blood in that quarter was so profuse, that in several places, mingling with the rain, it ran in torrents like blood itself; but recollect, at this moment, it had, within the space of three-quarters of a mile, flowed from the veins of upwards of 8000 men.”

Wikipedia confirms that losses at the Battle of Albuera were terrible: 4,159 British, 389 Portuguese, 1,368 Spaniards and around 7,000 French, and says the battle didn’t even really achieve anything. Good Lord. Anyway, I totally want to join the King’s German Legion re-enactment society now. But would I have to be a serving wench?

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Guns!

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French!

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Women?

(All photos pinched from http://www.kgl.info/index.htm)

Poor Germans. They have no Roundheads, Arthurian Knights or Confederates in their history, which means that entire domains of the magical world of the historical re-enactment society are closed to them. Worst of all, Vikings never troubled Germany much, which must have been a relief to flaxen-haired Celtic virgins in the eighth century but is absolutely rotten news for German geeks in the twenty-first century who fancy a little raping and pillaging action (re-enacted, of course) on the weekends.

I imagine World War II would be a rich re-enactment seam, but dressing up in Nazi uniform isn’t really on in these parts. (Having said that, a quick Google reveals several WWII enactment societies elsewhere in the world, including, horrors, the “1.SS Panzer Division re-enactment unit”, whose website makes it clear that its members do not intend to further National Socialist ideology nor promote hatred, racism or violence but just want to play with some really big weapons.)

Anyway, it seems that all Germany is left with on the re-enactment front are yawnsome choices like the King’s German Legion enactment group, which is hardly breeches-stirring*, and laissez-faire groups like the Historical Impressions Group of Munich, which appears to take in so many historical periods (“the Celtic late latin times, the late Middle Ages, the 18th century, the Napoleonic era, and the American Civil War”, to be exact) that if you turned up dressed as a haddock and said you wanted to re-enact the Paleozoic Era, I am sure there would be a place (plaice?) for you.

Then (and this is really scraping the barrel) there are the 1980s-Soviet-Russia re-enactment societies. I stumbled upon one such society recreating a bread queue in a supermarket yesterday:

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It’s super: a bit like a flash mob. What you do is to close all the bakeries after 2pm on a Saturday and all day on Sunday, to create insatiable demand for carbohydrate. Then you ensure that the bread sold on supermarket shelves is complete bobbins. It must be thin, dry, nasty-tasting, and ideally have a photograph of someone called Barbara on the packaging, like this:

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Then the society members put on their ugliest clothing (how to choose, how to choose) and queue up for hours to buy some of the slightly less bobbins bread sold at the bakery counter. The societies ensure that there are always slightly too many of the boring plain white rolls called Brötchen and slighty too few of the fun, exciting rolls with sunflower seeds. And someone always plays the role of the man who buys up all of the croissants just when the queue is at its longest. I was disturbed that no one was wearing an authentic Russian fur hat yesterday, but I expect they’re waiting until it gets really cold. Anyway, it’s the most marvellous fun on a freezing weekend, especially if the queue extends out of the shop. Who needs nice bread when you are part of living history?

* To be fair, I don’t actually know what the King’s German Legion was, so it is probably slightly presumptious to write them off as “yawnsome”. For all I know, they was a crucial part of Wellington’s army and put up a brave stand at La Haye Saint in the Battle of Waterloo. Oh, hang on…

I just want to point out that German newspaper headlines really do contain words like ‘Achtung’ and ‘Schweinehund’. Well, exactly the words ‘Achtung’ and ‘Schweinehund’, to be precise:

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Somehow, these words are so much more wholesome here than when the sports headline writers of The Sun or The Mirror use them. I think it’s the friendly exclamation points that do it.

By the way: that bloke in the photograph above is Joachim Löw, the manager of the German football team. Apparently he is known for his Mourinho-esque zip and fashion sense. Huh. It takes more than a metrosexual scarf to fill Jose’s shoes, Joachim. Plus does anyone else think there is a touch of Chancellor of Germany circa 1933 about that haircut?

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[Obligatory caption: Germany hit a Löw point recently with a 3-0 defeat to the Czech Republic.]

Actually, I must use one of those Firefox tools to stop my browser being able to visit www.thesun.co.uk. It’s filth but I can’t control myself. I should start reading local newspapers more, but (a) they’re super boring to look at, (b) they’re in German and (c) they don’t keep me up to date on whether my local hospital is housing paedophiles, illegal immigrants or the MRSA virus.

For example, pictured below is the aesthetically-challenged newspaper favoured by my housemates. Note how the reporters appear to be paid by the consonant, and how the picture editor seems to have disappeared for a cup of tea and a lie down after the effort of sorting out one photo:

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Now compare it with the multi-coloured, typographical gorgeousness of The Beano Guardian:

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Sigh. I’d forgotten just how big broadsheets are: their pages are a sea of text, and the German page designers don’t you give much to look at while you’re floating along. Admittedly, the photography and illustration in papers like SDZ and Die Welt are pretty good, like this…
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… or this…

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[nb: this is part of an illustration for an article about geology. Geology! Who wants to read about geology in a newspaper? I want to read about current affairs and extreme weather events and Roy Keane, and maybe Britney Spears if I don’t think anyone can see me.]

… or this…

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But the editors are happy to present column after column of blindingly boring newsprint. BEHOLD!

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For all I know, what we’re looking at here isn’t dull news stories at all, but page after page of vampire erotica. But as the layout offers few entry points, it’s rather difficult to get into the text to find out. Of course, the fact that the text is in German is another slight hindrance to its readability, but I assume that if it were vampire erotica there would be some recognisable words, such as der Sukkubus or Vlad he Impaled-her (geddit?).

If I do read a paper, it is Die Tageszeitung. As far as I can tell this is the Indy of the German newsstands. It reports on environment stories and has a colour scheme of black and Socialist Worker red, plus it doesn’t seem to run any CCTV stills of Lady Diana, which is always a bonus. Let her rest, for goodness’ sake! Or at least, let her get changed! How would you like it if your enduring image after death was a picture of you wearing nasty 1980s white jeans and a Jeremy Clarkson blazer?

“Leaked documents seen by the Guardian show that Gordon Brown will be advised today that the target Tony Blair signed up to this year for 20% of all European energy to come from renewable sources by 2020 is expensive and faces ‘severe practical difficulties’,” reads a story headlined Labour’s plan to abandon renewable energy targets in today’s Guardian.

“Mr [John] Hutton [secretary of state for business] will tell Mr Brown that there are severe practical difficulties about meeting the 20% target. These include persuading the Ministry of Defence and the shipping industry to accept more offshore wind power, as well as increased research and development costs for marine and tidal power.”

Don’t listen to him, Gordon! The little I have read about climate change mitigation recently suggests that the share of renewable energy will have to be dramatically increased. Of course there will be “severe practical difficulties” in transforming energy policy. The point is, we should all be convinced by now that the difficulties are necessary – that was Al Gore’s inconvenient truth.

The supposed opponents from the MoD and elsewhere are only one of the obstacles to the renewables target cited in the Guardian story. But they caught my attention. Who are these recalcitrant people who apparently hold such power? Under what forces do ordinary people become, for example,  the very worst climate change deniers or corporate culprits? I bet they drew pretty pictures of polar bears when they were children, and no doubt would have argued vociferously and instinctively that the planet should be saved if you had asked them their opinion. I am probably not in the right position to speculate on what has happened to them in the intervening years. But I think I am safe in making a general comment that sometimes adults seem to take on their employer’s causes as their own (no matter what that cause is) in a way that would be unthinkable to a self-reliant, self-satisfying child.

In other news, it was right frosty this morning:

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La la la. I don’t have anything to blog about. Tra la la. Well, this is rather embarrassing. Should I mention that I watched four films back to back on Saturday night and thereby saw an estimated 59 people get killed and am waiting for the violence I witnessed to leak out of my brain in the form of an act of vandalism against one of the EXCRUTIATINGLY SLOW cash machines around here? Probably not. That’s even worse than not blogging at all.

Tra la la. I am listening to guitar rawk on the radio, so it is more rah rah rah. The last hour’s playlist is as follows:
Johnossi – Execution Song
Queens Of The Stone Age – Make It Wit Chu
Jurassic 5 feat. Dave Matthews Band – Work it Out
Sportfreunde Stiller – (Tu Nur Das) Was Dein Herz Dir Sagt
Smashing Pumpkins – Bullet with Butterfly Wings
Underworld – Crocodile
The Chemical Brothers – The Boxer
The Hives – Tick Tick Boom
Michael Jackson – Billie Jean
Hole – Malibu
Maximo Park – Girls Who Play Guitars
Hot Hot Heat – Bandages

Not bad eh? It turns out German radio is good. Even German bands are good. I like I Wanna Be Your Dog by La Grande Illusion. And I like Young Folks by Peter, Bjorn and John. Except they’re Swedish.

I got an email today from an EU organisation in Stockholm telling that regrettably I have not been selected for a post I applied for in March and was offered an interview for in May. Seems a pity. If I worked there I could totally mess up and it would take them six months to fire me.

Tiddly pom.

I have a new hobby! It is… going to environmental lectures and seminars! Sometimes I wonder if I can be any more rock and roll, yet I constantly surprise myself.

Oui, I went to an all-day climate change summit on Saturday and this evening began a new evening lecture course at the university on biological diversity. You may be thinking that two seminars do not make a summer, but please note that my summers usually only last for three weeks (especially horse-riding flavoured summers), so I have to get out and make hobby-flavoured hay while the sun shines.

Given that this is possibly my most boring blog topic so far, I will be considerate and present only my most salient findings:

(a) We, the right-thinking majority, are apparently correct in hating forest-denuding biofuel plantations, but I have it on good authority that we must hate cattle ranching and rainforest-denuding soya farms more. Soya farms don’t even employ that many local farmers: they throw the seed* out of planes, for goodness sake! Meat eaters must give up beef, vegetarians (and cattle) must give up soya, and everyone must eat pretzels.

(b) Students in lectures here give a round of applause to their lecturers, and they do so by rapping their knuckles on their desks. I don’t think we ever showed any appreciation to our lecturers when I was a student. Except for my nymphomaniac bisexual power-hungry study partner, who wanted to show appreciation to ALL her lecturers if you know what I mean. Mind you, I didn’t go to lectures much. I was too busy lying in bed all day reading Virago women’s fiction and beat poetry from the college library because they didn’t have any Mary Stewart books. (Please read Nine Coaches Waiting (pub. 1958). It’s dope.)

(c) I have discovered a totally cool organisation that advocates using horses for ploughing, pulling carts and so on because they’re environmentally friendly (methane emissions aside). Work horses? What a preposterous idea… Actually I think it is enormously sensible and I would reintroduce horses to agriculture if I were prime minister. When I told people at work about this, they gave me the “you are peculiar, and we don’t mean kooky peculiar or even funny peculiar but ‘just slighty uncomfortable to be around and probably affianced to at least one prisoner on death row’ peculiar” look.

(d) When German is spoken at length, it does not sound like a babbling brook or a lark ascending; it sounds like someone playing the piano. To be precise, it sounds like someone playing the piano after the strings have been severed, so that all that you hear is the relentless duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh of the hammers. Honestly, it hurts your head.

(e) A lot of species are dying.

(f) If you were thinking about attending a climate change summit in the near future to ogle all the good-looking men, I wouldn’t bother.

I leave you with some humdinger Geman words I picked up. Perhaps you could memorize them in case you ever find yourself at a loose end in Duesseldorf with three off-duty soldiers and a Scrabble set.
Biogaseinspeisungsgesetz
Steinkohlekraftwerke
Nichtregierungsorganisationen

*Does soya grow from seed? I might not have understood that part. Er, eggs, then? Tadpoles?

Read on the BBC News website: It’s quiz time! Guess what astronaut Peggy Whitson will be carrying into space. I haven’t peeked at the answer yet. Is it a chinchilla sexual aid pink fluffy pencil case potter’s wheel?

I’m afraid I have been procrastinating again. It’s not my fault: science is hurting my head. I am trying to study environmental science in spite of my mental deficiencies, and sometimes it is like trying to squeeze my brain into a very small box. For example, I have had extreme difficulty understanding why we need to be careful using water. I can understand why we are depleting our resources of coal: when we process and burn it we turn it into something else. Even if you dump a mountain of non-degradable plastic doll limbs into a peat bog, they are not going to turn back into coal any time soon (though they would provide an interesting find for an archaeologist). But with water, even if it gets turned to a gas, you know it’s going change into rain while no one’s looking and get returned to the source eventually, no? What does it matter, I reasoned, whether the water happens to be lying under two kilometres of sandstone or temporarily stored in my bottle of Robinsons’s sugar-free squash? Yes, I am that stupid.

I think I have finally cracked it by imagining what would happen to our water resources if everyone on the planet had a bath at teatime on a Sunday while Last of the Summer Wine was on. Er, eureka! It’s OBVIOUS to me now that it’s all about balancing the rate of recharge with the rate of discharge in our underground porous and permeable rock aquifers.

Which brings me to my Quite Interesting finding from the Environment Agency: “Water in the chalk in the south east of England can be 20,000 years old, originally falling as rain towards the end of the last Ice Age.” Ooh, is that water tapped? It should be. Imagine drinking a glass of water from a well that is pure filtered Neanderthal urine!

Bad things have happened.

The other night I went to the open-air book cabinet in the park on Poppelsdorfer Allee. This is where Germans leave intellectual-looking books to share – all very bohemian – and I helpfully leave the trashy English novels that I can’t bear to have in my room any more. I’m sure someone enjoys them. Jolly good hamster bedding, if nothing else. Anyway, this was to be my last trip to the cabinet, as I had decided to go cold turkey on reading any fiction in English ever again until I was fluent in German, had passed my A Level and had saved the world.So, I had purged my bedroom of the final traces of my book binges and sidled along to the cabinet after dark to offload my guilt. Maybe I was annoyed because some man (in a mac) was standing in front of the cabinet for ages and ages. Or maybe I was just sick of looking at the spines of books and not understanding a single word. But anyway I sort of blacked out and when I came home I discovered I had picked up two books in English. Foresaken by my own willpower!

Seeing as they were the only two books in English in the cabinet I knew the chances of their both being super-quality titles weren’t good, but even so my heart sank when I saw what I had brought into my newly purified room: Further Chronicles of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery and Fast Courting (“A Classic Novel of Love”) by Barbara Delinksy (pictured).

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Readers, I read them.

And things have gone downhill since then. First of all, I actually enjoyed all that hokey Canadian bunkum of L. M. Montgomery, with her Aunt Cynthias and revival meetings and freakin cherry trees everywhere. Worse, I also read all of Fast Courting, in which Nia – tall and shapely with “heavily layered mahogany hair” (not literally mahogany, of course, though it probably felt like that if you touched it; this was in the eighties) – had met Daniel (“fathomless brown eyes”) and was hopelessly trying to resist their mutual attraction, which was so powerful that it left plot and believable dialogue whimpering and broken by the side of love’s highway. Favourite line: “Tall. Virile. Compelling. But he was a basketball star. How could she have done it?” (Actually that’s not my favourite line, but I don’t think the best ones are suitable for a family blog.) Yes, poor Nia had fallen for a basketball coach again – an edgy, devillish, rolling stone type she seemed unable to resist despite their being BAD NEWS. I know the feeling. If I go out with one more paleobotanist…

Well, since then it’s been a pulp fiction free for all. I have discovered a ridiculously entertaining author called Janet Evanovich and I have bought FIVE new books and I’m afraid it is Dick Francis, 1999, all over again. Help me Obi-Wan!

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Addictive personality much? (Note how I sneaked the Hitler book in there to make me look slightly intelligent.)

Clearly this can’t go on. I’ve discovered a second-hand bookshop in Cologne where they might take this filth off my hands once I’ve read it (which won’t take long). I think I might keep hold of the Montgomery, though. The book is inscribed “With all best wishes, From Bert, Easter 1927” and I am not sure Bert would have wanted his gift to have been left out in the cold or flogged all over Germany. Do you know a Bert who would have given Further Chronicles of Avonlea to someone in 1927? COULD YOU in fact be the recipient of Bert’s best wishes? I am sorry that I sometimes blog disrespectively about old people; please get in touch.

nb: I was going to blog about ecological footprints and stuff today but seeing as I am single-handedly doubling Germany’s paper and pulp (ha ha!) consumption I don’t think that would be quite the thing. Also I have a couple of chapters still to read…

Greetings, nature lovers! Spotted in the woods today:

A deer.

A wild boar*.

The larch.

A pair of Homo sapiens nordicwalkensis:

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Two super-magnifico birds of prey. No, this is not a caption to the above image; I mean I saw two real birds of prey. I do not know what sort. They kind of go “Peuw” at each other. Does that help? If not, this expertly taken photograph will aid identification: note the brown-grey plumage and white undersides.

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A strong candidate for the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

It was cool because I had kind of trespassed into a field in order to go up one of those scary watchtower things to see if it makes you feel like a prison warden, and I realised that the sound I could hear wasn’t guards blowing whistles and running towards me with big dogs, but birds calling to one another overhead. They wheeled around the sky for a bit, then I watched them launch a coordinated dive into a nearby copse. I expect they were scaring rabbits for a laugh. Bullies.

Also seen: a girl riding a pretty white horse. Sigh.

Last but not least, I made a rare sighting of hoverleaves. These otherworldly forest creatures are able to float in the air between trees, as you can see:

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Recent research has discovered that practiced hoverleaves actually use yogic powers and an ancient controlled transpiration technique to levitate, but spiders assist young hoverleaves with ropes and safety harnesses.

I hiked a bit far, but serendipity presented me with a waiting bus in the middle of nowhere. I asked the apparently manically depressed bus driver where he was going. With the immense effort he raised his head from the steering wheel and said, in the manner of Marvin the paranoid android, “Where do you want to go?” I didn’t have enough money to get to Kjerag, Norway, so we reached on a compromise of Bonn railway station.

What did you see today, blog watchers?

*Stuffed, admittedly, as seen in the local Haus Der Natur exhibition. Here I also saw bees coming in and out of a hive, carrying pollen on their legs like bicycle panniers. Quite amusing.