The Laodicean and some words

Feeling lukewarm after tussling with fake covid and then the after-effects of my second shingles vaccination, what could be better reading than Thomas Hardy’s The Laodicean. Not one of his greatest novels, the Dorset background is muted, in fact it is said to  be located in Somerset, although there are references to folk travelling abroad from Budmouth (Weymouth). Hardy was ill for a long period at the time he wrote it. For me, it doesn’t at all have the same resonance as Far from the Madding Crowd, the Return of the Native or Tess where the Dorset landscape is ever present.

I’ve read it before but it could be as long as a half century ago. Disturbed because I remember so little with only a few scenes laboriously reconstructed in the course of reading (the first being Paula, the main female character, who is presumably the Laodicean, who refuses adult baptism just before the ceremony). The title with its (somewhat obscure?) reference is typical of Hardy; he uses frequent biblical and classical allusions. At least the biblical references were probably more comprehensible in the latter half of the nineteenth century when greater knowledge of the bible was part of the standard formation of educated folk. At the same time, this novel was written as a serial with a much broader catchment area than the professorial. I  used to think that the references reflected Hardy’s sensitivity about not having had a university education and a desire to show that, despite this, he was an educated man. Had that been the case, however, it could perhaps be expected that these references would decline as  Hardy became the self-confident successful author. And I’m not sure that that’s the case.

Another Hardy theme is the decline of the old land-owning aristocracy, old money (or perhaps no old money). The De Stancy family has come down in the world and no longer owns its historic home, Stancy Castle, which has been bought by new money, a scientist and investor in railways. Typical also for Hardy is the personal entanglement between old and new money, where the new money heiress is greatly attached to one of the surviving members of the De Stancy family. At the end of the tale, the heiress gets her modern man, the talented architect Somerset, the old castle burns down and Charlotte de Stancy shunts herself off to a Protestant Sisterhood, a rather mediaeval solution.

The Laodiceans were one of the Christian communities named in Revelation (according to Wikipedia) and criticised by JC for their lukewarm attitude.

Apart from reading Hardy, I have a collection of words which attracted my attention  (both from the novel and elsewhere).

These were “burly”, which comes from Middle English. According to Wiki “in the sense ‘dignified, imposing’): probably from an unrecorded Old English word meaning ‘stately, fit for the bower’. This puzzles me. There is, of course,  a bower as shady, leaf place, and a lady’s bower, but earlier it also had a sense of being a living area that was apart from the hall, presumably with more private access. The meaning of “burly” has clearly drifted as we mostly think of it as a physical description rather than other personal qualities.

And another word which is not new but useful in a new context “composite”. A composite postcard is one of those cards which have not just one scene but a number of pictures of a locality (I’m not keen on these but I’m pleased to have the technical term).

Then a word which comes from Hardy “gibbous”, which when applied to the moon means that the illuminated part is greater than a semicircle and less than a circle.

According to one source on the net “Why is a moon called gibbous?

The term waning means decreasing, and the term gibbous means “humped-back.” Therefore, this phase is called Waning Gibbous because the surface area of the Moon that you see is decreasing and the shape of the lit-up part of the Moon looks like a hump-back.

late Middle English: from late Latin gibbosus, from Latin gibbus ‘hump’.

Gibbous and I  have followed our respective paths through life for almost 80 years without meeting but now at least we have a nodding acquaintance (although I fear it’s usefulness is limited for romantic moonlit walks – too much of a whiff of jabberwocky about it).

And I wondered about “nowt”, which I learn is from Middle English nowte, noute, nawte, naute, borrowed from Old Norse naut. Cognate with Old English nēat

“. A nice undergrowth word that has defended its place in dialect for very many years, a scrabble-friendly saviour.

“Post-nominal”, with or without a hyphen, is self-explanatory. It’s a fancy way of saying that you have letters after your name.

And “rigamarole” which is mid 18th century: apparently an alteration of ragman roll, originally denoting a legal document recording a list of offences.

Rigmarole, with many variant spellings in the 18th century, is probably a reduction of ragman roll, a long catalog or list, a sense dating from the early 16th century. In Middle English ragmane rolle was a roll or scroll of writing used in a game of chance in which players draw out an item hidden in the roll.

 And I have a better grasp of the difference between nauseous  (likely to vomit) and “queasy” (uncomfortable feeling but not quite as bad). Queasy is late Middle English queisy, coisy,

‘causing nausea’, of uncertain origin; perhaps related to Old French coisier ‘to hurt’.

and “slur” Middle English: originally as noun in sense ‘thin, fluid mud’, later as verb meaning ‘smear, smirch’, ‘disparage (a person)’, ‘gloss over (a fault)’.

And finally to complete my circle, I had to look at “luke” as in lukewarm.

According to Etymology on line, it comes from Middle English le, leoh, from Old English hleo “shelter, cover, defence, protection, the same word as “lee” turned away from the wind. It doesn’t feel satisfactory but the meaning has obviously evolved via some form of alleviation, moderation.

Wikipedia and etymology of line have been among my sources. I have to sharpen my act as noting where these explanations come from….next time.

In honour of the day

There was our food shop, Station Stores, tiny,  without telephone or fridge which my parents managed to sell before the approaching  self-service wave swept such places away, their purchaser wasn’t so fortunate,  it being demolished a few years later and replaced by an estate agent. I would like to go there to find out what became of the blown Victorian glass in the window between the shop and the cramped living quarters behind, which had a strange acidic taste when sucked by a curious child. . And upstairs the main bedroom facing the street, where there was functioning gas lighting. And the stairs to the attic with their blue lino, used by me as a playroom apart from the short inglorious period when we had a lodger. I could survey the street from the dormer attic window. Watching the crowds of railway carriage workers cycle by on their way to and from shifts and the few aristocrats with their Fords, Austins, Hillmans, Standard Vanguards and all the rest of the fifties and pre-war fleets.

The attic faced west and I remember the blissful feeling lying in the spare bed enjoying the calm, yellow light.

Some of the furniture consisted of fruit boxes painted in bright colours. I’m not sure why they didn’t  buy second-hand furniture if budget and rationing put a stop to new; the economics of painting boxes can’t have been great but it wasn’t quite respectable to use someone else’s bedside table, better a virginal repurposed Tasmanian apple box.  

Behind the shop and living room, there was a galley kitchen,  no washing machine but a copper for heating quantities of water. A tin bath to be hauled up to working level or bent over, a dreadful working environment for the housewife of those times, especially with a disabled husband unable to assist with heavy lifting.

And beyond the kitchen with its brass door knob, source of anxiety for me after I’d touched it after touching our hermit neighbour’s deadly nightshade (quite why I didn’t simply wash it is beyond me). A strip of concrete leading to a cycle shed and the toilet (no such fancy facility in the house).

I had no feeling of  poverty or restriction, it was simply home.

I remember one game in the garden with a boy of my age, a relative. I persuaded him to run to the house from the garden shed and remove an item of clothing for each completed round. I can’t recall any openly erotic aspect to this – the first hesitant stings of desire came much later at the end of of my time in Lancing. Maybe I was timing him to see whether his performance improved with lighter loads but I don’t think so. It was probably more curiosity as to how long this game could continue before the adults intervened. They eventually did but, engrossed in chatter, after a surprisingly long time as this increasingly naked child flashed past.

Next next door was the Luxor cinema where the projectionist suffered from the hot little room at the top and liked to keep the door open making the soundtrack only too audible to the neighbourhood. My mother had the distressing habit of writing notes of complaint and sending me to the cinema with them). I hated this but had not at this tender age developed ways of derailing this undesired behaviour.

And a few doors up were my parents’ friends who ran the stationery shop with its notebooks and pencils of much interest to me. There was, however, the question of money which was in scarce supply, my collections of the maid and old lady Victoria, Edward, George etc. nor being impressive.

I knew where the supplies of notebooks were kept in a box on a bottom shelf near the floor. Probably inspired by some violent scene from Saturday morning children’s cinema, I cased the joint and waited for my opportunity. I wasn’t however, thinking of some sneaky child’s filching but planned to charge into the shop in style, shouting, grab what I wanted and retreat. It worked surprisingly well – I was well away with my haul before my parents’ friends recovered from their surprise. How I expected to get away with this is unclear. I can’t remember the consequences in detail but they were surprisingly mild after the products had been restored. A lesson for life – if you’re going to misbehave, make sure you do something really bizarre which people have problems taking on board; they will tend to forget it rather than struggle to work it out.

Finally, on 23 January 1958, this world disappeared when West Country class 34046 Braunton steamed out of Worthing station with the Plymouth express en route for my parents’ retirement home in Somerset. And hence this blog post, dagen till ära.

Back in the frozen north

There is a monument in Göttingen market place, a university town in Lower Saxony, to Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, famous for his alphabetically numbered annual notebooks, his sudelbūcher or commonplace books, admired by Wittgenstein, Freud and Nietzsche. He got as far as L before the reaper put a stop to the project.

According to Wikipedia, these notebooks contain “quotations of passages that struck Lichtenberg, titles of books to read, autobiographical sketches, and short or long reflections, including keen observations on human nature, in the manner of the 17th-century French moralists. Those reflections helped him earn his posthumous fame as one of the best aphorists in Western intellectual history.  “Arthur Schopenhauer admired Lichtenberg greatly for what he had written in his notebooks. He called him one of those who “think .. for their own instruction”, who are genuine thinkers for themselves in both senses of the words”. He is also described as a great procrastinator with a lifelong ambition to write a novel like Tom Jones, which never got beyond a few pages.

He was an eighteenth century person with a less hard division between natural science and other branches of knowledge. Alien from my, technical and scientific ignorance, but otherwise a man who I am fond of and who inspires me.

I too have a large number of notebooks but not in neat alphabetical order. I have scribbled things down here and there, sometimes in creamy French notebooks, other times on rougher paper with a fine Indian cover, a dream of Bengal. A large box of notebooks where obscure facts about family history jostle with book titles, words that have attracted my attention, shopping lists, notes on translation customers and orphaned information which I take under my wing. But this trip I have drained these ancient swamps and extracted what I want to keep and now have separate books for Dorset,  Uppland, German and French language, Bengal, Cooking, Plants, Greece and Rome, book titles and various political and social topics; Reluctantly, I think I have to at least partially digitalise as bearing a bag around my neck with 30 notebooks reminds of the Ancient Mariner with his albatross.

The project also has a whiff of Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet but this doesn’t bother me nor am disturbed by writing as jogging rather than practising for the Olympics.

It was a good project to complete during my trip to Germany but seriously challenged my aim of travelling light. Most of my return journey went well but arriving at Arlanda was a trial where the plane parked at a distant terminal, a long trudge from the exit.

Well home and tired, I fell asleep more or less immediately fully dressed after reading a friend’s Christmas greeting describing his project of writing about ancient bench ends in a Cornish church. Chaotic dreams about what I had to do as the shards of my German and Swedish lives reached out to one another. And worse repetitive dreams about things I didn’t have to do. I woke up after a couple of hours, dehydrated from running my heater at full blast to compensate for the landlord’s refrigerator-light approach to central heating. And then footled for an hour or so emptying bags in a chaotic jumble, trying to work up a sense of progress when I found an appropriate niche for some item. The night continued with a couple of such rounds but now I’m refreshed and able to think. In a an hour or two, the shop will open and I can get something to eat as the flat’s resources consisted of two bad lemons, a tin of sardines and a bottle of alcohol-free beer. And I am struck by my own stupidity at not doing what my children would have done, to call and get food delivered.

Seeing but not seeing

For eight years I wore a blazer with a badge of a viking ship and never wondered why. Much later I learned that a replica had been built and sailed past south Sussex; I don’t remember exactly when but probably before the last war. And then following my parents into their West Country retirement another school, another badge, another eight and a half years, This time with a double-headed eagle with spread wings. And now I learn that spread eagle has come into the language from heraldry, a fine bold word uncertain of its hyphen. The spread eagle on the arms of Hugh Sexey, a royal auditor from the time of the first Elizabeth, who preserved his name by founding schools and a hospital. His grave is not so far from my old school but I never saw it nor was even aware of the hospital he founded other than by name. For me, he was mostly a nuisance when interviewers penetrated beyond my mumbled “went to school in Bruton” and forced me to say that I went to Sexey’s School.

The spread eagle is rather fine though unappreciated by the gauche youth. In heraldry, it’s a symbol for perspicacity among other things and has roots way back to the Bronze Age, to the Hittites and later Roman legions. There’s a vague reference to the German origins of the Sexey family but I know nothing more about that, for the time being contenting myself with spread eagle and marvelling at my lack of curiosity for so many years. The strangeness and exotic is all around us and we pass by unseeing, amused by surrealist pictures but blind to the weirdness of the familiar.

And now my life is about to change again, back to Sweden tomorrow. I’ve been in Germany for two months, two intensive months feeling my way beyond my incessant shuttle between my English and Swedish worlds, where yet another life starts to take form. Reliving ancient memories of the first stimulating struggle in Sweden and later efforts to keep hold of England when I realised that I’d unwittingly passed beyond youthful exploration to emigration. A third country is a solace, neither here nor there, neither where I came from nor the place of softened exile, familiar after more than a half century. My German is better than my hardly existent Swedish at the time of expatriation, but weird as I’ve picked it up from the frenetic days of my last university term when I started learning it to avoid thinking of the approaching catastrophe of finals after almost dropping out. I’ m close to being able to read a novel but the Germans are taking time to become accustomed to my steadfast flaunting of grammatical rules.

But soon I will be back sifting my way through two months post, with pangs about unresponded Christmas cards. Back to my books and those dear to me there, back to a frantic round of damage limitation of various parts of the body and renewal of my lifeworthiness certificate for another year.

Back to my Bengali lessons and sneaking into the pensioners’ centre for an anonymous lunch, fending off the friendly.

This year, I will continue my study of Uppland and Uppsala while not forgetting Dorset and the box of family history documents demanding action to become an archive. And I will long to come back to Germany and to Bengal, France and the West Country; exile is intense longing to be somewhere else, intense sadness to leave one world for another, intense efforts to join up the unjoinable. But I’ve learnt to live with this and wouldn’t swap my life for monocultural insularity.

Idle musing

Floozie and friends

Reflecting on the origin of “floozie”, I find that the spelling ”floozy” is more common in the US. According to one etymological source on the net, it was perhaps a variation of flossy “fancy, frilly” (1890s slang), with the notion of “fluffiness.” The c. 1700 “Dictionary of the Canting Crew” defines Florence as a slang word for “a Wench that is touz’d and ruffled.”

Synonyms are floozie, hooker, hustler, slattern, street girl, streetwalker. type of bawd, cocotte, cyprian, fancy woman, harlot, lady of pleasure, prostitute, sporting lady, tart, whore, woman of the street, working girl.

Cyprian caught my attention and I thought first of St Cyprian (c 210-258 AD, renowned writer of Western Christianity until Jerome and Augustine, He doesn’t seem much of a man for floozies unless, like Jerome, he spent his Christian years repenting youthful joie de vivre.

The connection, however, is not to Cyprian but to the island of Cyprus, birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess associated with love, lust, beauty, pleasure, passion, procreation, and as her syncretized Roman goddess counterpart Venus, desire, sex, fertility, prosperity, and victory.

Aphrodite even has a rock there near Paphos although the locals also call it Petra tou Romiou (the stone of the Romans), allegedly thrown there by the Roman defender of the island, Digenis Acrita, to scare off the Saracen attackers. Unclear how Aphrodite gets into the picture.

The other terms were more run of the mill although “bawd” from Middle English bawde, from Old French baud, bold, lively, jolly, gay sounds as if it was once rather fun but has become rackety with time.

Harlot has waltzed from sex to sex originally in French indicating a “young man, knave, vagabond”, later “lecherous men or woman”

And cocotte is apparently early 20th century French from cocasse, a kind of pot from Latin cucuma cooking vessel.

In my attempts to extract the details of Aphrodite’s rock from tourist pics, I find I have deleted my notes on sources but much of this material is from Wikipedia.

The plan for 2024

2023 is approaching its end and once again I work on my annual plan for the coming year, the languages I want to concentrate on, what I want to read and learn about, where I want to travel, even improvements in personal habits, although that part is classified information. It’s not a rigid plan but a general guide as to my priorities. And perhaps three-quarters of it is unfulfilled as I am wildly overoptimistic and don’t take into account the waning energy of old age and the increasing need for footle time.

At the end of every year, I mourn the neglect of my school Latin and the lack of progress on resurrecting it (French I have retained and developed but not Latin). And the scant progress with Ancient Greek, which I regret not learning at school. My plan has never been to achieve a mastery of ancient Greek but to know the alphabet and how the language is constructed, to be able to be make better use of a language so important for etymology. My three languages for the following year will be German, Bengali and French. I am now so often in Germany that I am impatient to make progress on understanding as well as reading the language.  And Bengali excites my curiosity is it really impossible for a soon 80-year-old brain to learn a non-European language or is that just a crude generalisation? My powers of retention have clearly waned but perhaps the brain can be trained in other ways to compensate for this. In French, I hold my own and have no complaint although my grand plan of knowing more about the impact of the Germanic on the Latin language world remains in its infancy.

And every year I express a desire to improve my knowledge of the workings of the world, both in my home countries, the UK and Sweden (with Germany and Bengal waiting in the wings with “candidate” status). I’m becoming more systematic in my efforts but there’s much room for improvement.

There are also my home counties in the UK, above all Dorset and Somerset, where I know quite a bit, much more than when I took the ferry from Harwich to Esbjerg in 1973. I love to revisit the same territory but from slightly different angles. My plan was ambitious  to study the county as if I was going to produce a comprehensive Germanic encyclopaedia of the old school, with sections on geology, archaeology, architecture, language, agriculture etc. I still haven’t really got beyond Dorset churches which attracted my attention long ago. It’s highly satisfactory though to know what I am looking at when I am there and not just skim by in false familiarity. I find it so refreshing to dip back into a time when I was less complicated, not split by exile.

My new world has, however, become increasingly important and I have become increasingly fond of Uppsala and Uppland, finding echoes of my own past in its relatively dense population with many villages and buildings of interest, stories and histories. I hope to make more progress on this front in 2024 ,but have to be systematic and well planned as links with families and friends pull me elsewhere and time is limited.

Music, the history of ideas, religion and philosophy have their place in my plan too. A long-planned website on Jerome, the patron saint of translators. has been inching forward and I am determined to complete in 2024. I’ve no ambition to play music but I would like to understand better what I am listening to. The last months in Germany have been satisfying on that front with two visits to hear parts of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in northern German churches and soon, today in fact, a Chopin concert.

I won’t be able to complete more than a fraction of my plans but the journey is more important to me than the end; to see life as a personal work of art where there is always some corner that can be changed, improved or embellished.  And while it’s sensible to come to terms with the physical aspects of aging, we don’t have to accept the socially conditioned and traditional; it need not mean the end of development or personal change, it’s still possible to remake oneself, to overcome the power of inertia.

And even if at some point, infirmity or a visit from the Grim Reaper interrupts the process, so what – I’m not responsible for the wonky nature of creation.

Full marks to my guardian angel on the serendipity front.

Tuesday, 12 December 2023

My spirits are soaring with the departure of the snow and the reappearance of attractive Warnemünde from the slush.

The last two days I’ve travelled into Rostock as I’m getting documents ready for my accountant and need to print. And buying a cheap printer to dispose of at the end of the month,  however sensible in terms of time and comfort, was unpalatable. Finding a print shop was serendipitous; I stumbled across it when I was looking for a tram stop, having not initially noticed that the tram lines dive down under the central station.

I had another such moment today, this time on the tram when, engrossed in sending a text message to an offspring, I went a stop too far. And got off right by the university bookshop, which I hadn’t found before and which had some books in English. I have the Nobel prizewinner Jon Fosse’s A new name Septology VI-VII in English. I don’t think I’m going to get through it. I admire his style of writing and like his resistance to filtering but his interests and take on the world are too far removed from mine. At the University bookshop, I picked up Scott Fitzgerald’s “This side of paradise”. I know nothing about Scott Fitzgerald but will learn more.

Full marks to my guardian angel on the serendipity front.

I also found a good second-hand bookshop and since I dislike filching the ambience without contributing anything I bought Winfried Löschburg’s Ohne Glanz und Gloria about the Hauptmann von Köpenick (published in 1979).

My stay in Rostock is drawing to a close but I will come back. Next time I want to explore the City Archives at the Town Hall but think I will prepare this by writing to the author of the book about the Bailiff’s House to see if I can get him to talk about his sources.

My German has developed in unexpected ways. My plan was for a radical improvement in my ability to understand, for example, TV news. I have made some improvement but the demands of everyday life have compelled me to speak to folk. And my German is weird. I have a large German vocabulary but have never been taught German. My communication consists largely of nouns with a few seriously overworked verbs scampering heroically around. I state the general area of interest and then whittle it down until it’s clear what I want. And it works fine at least for multi-socket plugs, stationery printing. As long as people concentrate and don’t panic like this morning when my clearly-designated cheese cake became a blueberry muffin.

And the New Year is approaching. I need to prepare my plan for 2024. This year I want it to be a realistic plan so that my plan for 2025 can be a step forward and not a rehash of unfulfilled goals. And that means developing sensible interim goals for, for example, languages that I would like to develop but can’t realistically concentrate on this year if I’m going to make a major effort with German and Bengali: Ancient Greek and Latin are in this category and I could, for example, aim to master the Ancient Greek alphabet by the end of the year, perhaps moving on to common prefixes and suffixes if there is time over.

I am pleased about one target that I have almost achieved, which is to replace about 50 notebooks which I’ve jotted things down over the years but always as an inglorious mixture. But now I’ve got about 20 books for different subjects and the fathers of the church will hopefully stay in their pen and not get tangled up with unemployed shipyard workers in Rostock after the Fall and the etymology of the obscure.

Gotland, gryphons and granite

It’s low season here in Warnemünde but it’s still bustling with open shops and restaurants, a far cry from bleak and boarded up English resorts. I’m curious about who the bustlers are and what brings them here; I shall ask my contact in the tourist office or perhaps at the Neptune Hotel on the seafront when I get that far.

I’d planned to spend time on the seashore today but a raw chill kept me in the town, It seems very much to be a resort for Germans. Some information in English at museums but I have only found one book in English about Warnemünde, which makes me cringe because of its relentlessly chummy tone (this may be a matter of taste). It had some information about the Bailiff’s house, which I went to look at today. It’s just over the swing bridge, a remarkable old building, one of the oldest in the town with 1605 written on the wall, this being a replacement for an earlier mediaeval building, of which traces remain. Apart from the chortling of my guide, I was also irked by my having strode past the building a number of times without noticing it. I like to think that I have sharpened my architectural eye but my gaze is as inward as ever. The bailiff referred to was an official from Rostock, which has been in charge of Warnemünde from mediaeval times. I wanted to see the granite blocks in the wall that my guidebook assures me came from the island of Gotland and were used by the masons of the Danish king Menved to build a “palace” on the site, The Danes were powerful in the thirteenth century around the Baltic and ruled Gotland after the battle of Visby in 1361 though the king was Valdemar IV. I’m not sure where Menved fits in but the Danish connection seems not unreasonable. However, I am curious about the granite from Gotland as I’ve always understood Gotland to be mainly cretaceous in contrast to the Swedish mainland. The older rocks are there but very deep down below sea level and overlaid. Perhaps there are outcrops of older rocks. It’s a good question for me as I’ve wanted for a long time to know more about geology. I see from the net that they do sell slabs of something called Swedish granite from Gotland but these seem to be thin and mainly decorative.

I’m planning to visit Rostock tomorrow and will spend a few hours in the library to see what I can find out about the sources of the granite story. It need not be incorrect even if the granite was from elsewhere as it could well have been taken to/traded in  Gotland en route to Germany.

The old house also has the coat of arms of Rostock on its wall, two lions rampant and a gryphon (griffin) superimposed on the colours of Mecklenburg. According to sources on the net, a gryphon has the body, tail and back legs of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. A wyvern, on the other hand is a two-legged creature resembling a dragon with deadly breath that roamed the French countryside (and appears to have a special relationship with the English city of Leicester). I’ve yet to have any practical use for this information.

Edvard Munch and Warnemünde

I was amused to find that Edvard Munch had been in Warnemünde between 1906 and 1908; Munch whose paintings I have often referred to to explain my distaste for the dark and dismal Nordic winter. And now he pops up in Warnemünde, my winter refuge. The house where he lived beside the Alten Ström is not a museum but a cultural centre tended by the Norwegians and the Germans with a library, artist exchanges and a small exhibition of Munch’s photographs. There is a fine restored gallery where the artist used to sit and peer out, seeing but not being seen, on the seaward side of what was once the cottage of fisher folk.

Initially, Warnemünde suited him well, calming his nervous disposition leading him to compare it with his youthful days in Norway, although that must have been his very youthful days before a series of misfortunes led to the deaths of his mother and some siblings, Munch talked of his healthy diet and being reborn. I agree with him, it is a relaxing and beneficial place although I shall go easy on the fish diet.

Munch was very productive here but after a couple of years, the picture darkened. Warnemünde was developing as a tourist location and the crowds of seaseekers displeased him. But there also seemed to have been a clash between Munch and the locals as he describes Warnemünde as a terribly bourgeois place. I’m not sure whether it was his lifestyle, his work or a mixture of both but I noticed that one of his most famous nude photographs of Rosa Meissner was taken at a hotel and not his atelier, which was presumably more easily penetrated by the watchful prude. His travails, however, were not just the work of the world; he suffered from feelings of persecution both by the living and (if I have understood the German correctly) the dead.

He did, however, live to the age of 80, although his last years must have been darkened by the applause of Europe being silenced by the Nazis who confiscated 82 of his works as degenerate art. By then he was back in Norway although the Nazis came soon after and he did not live to celebrate their departure.

For the time being, I am glad to think of him on my daily circular walk around Alten Ström. I shall continue to develop warm feelings for Warnemünde, hopefully without a whiff of scandal.

The excitement of the new

The GDR border officials at Warnemünde were not enthusiastic about my plans to travel along the East German coast to the ferry to Sweden at Sassnitz. And I made it worse by ignoring the call to visit the on-board visa office when a transit visa to Rugen might have slipped through as they tackled the flow to Berlin. Realising that I’m in danger of getting a formal record of refusal of entry, I beat a retreat and agree docilely to the administratively convenient solution of returning to the ferry for the “normal passage” to Sweden via Copenhagen.

It then gets hairy. No walk along a lighted bridge to a hole in the wall entrance to the ferry; instead steps down to the open-air forecourt and a vague wave in the direction of the ship. The story of the Italian communist Benito Corghi at the Bavarian-GDR border was fresh in my mind. Returning to his lorry on the western side to collect a forgotten passport, he was shot to death by a border guard. I walk, all alone, very slowly, to the ship, trying to look like a man out for a stroll enjoying the ambience of the border area. My guardian angel is awake; there is no sudden crack and sharp pain but I get to the ferry intact.

It was just as well. I had too little money and the detour was pointless, able to produce only a jumble of odd associations to add to my youthful foreign frenzy travel where beautiful cities became memories of salami sandwiches in motorway service stations.

Decades later, another trip to Rostock or rather Graal Müritz just down the coast where I stayed a week on a study visit. By then my tourist skills had improved along with the slow late maturing of DK.

But my associations were not all good – being taken by car back to the hotel by the local mayor to collect presents, coffee to be distributed to the folk we’d spent the evening playing skittles with. I didn’t begrudge them the coffee but the break in not unpleasant conversation for the act of charity felt shabby and unpleasant.

There was no Warnemünde that trip but now I’m here for a month to escape to a softer, lighter winter. So far better than I dared hope, a spacious and tasteful flat far from the leftover bits and pieces of furniture of my stoic imagination. It’s central too, five minutes from bed to bookshop. And the town is not boarded up and bleak like the winter seaside in dear old Albion but bustling with open restaurants, museums and galleries but no seasonal hordes.

Today, I’ll plan how to get to know the area (2024 is fast approaching so I need to work on my grand plan for next year too). And to think about what I want to get out of this month. Better understanding of spoken German is high on my list. I made a start yesterday grappling with cryptic zappers. The TV eventually came on, grudgingly accepting my refusal to be contented with sport and fashion. But I have no idea what was effective among my increasingly manic button pressing. So for the time being, it´s 24-7 TV time, although thankfully I have mastered the mute button.

I’m close to the centre but also to the “kurpark” which is unexpectedly appropriate. At home, I’ve glided into bad habits with too little exercise and an increasingly disturbed relationship to time. So now I have two months to work on improving my act so I earn a refreshing pat on the head at my heart check-up in February and not a furrowed brow pondering yet another exercise in damage limitation.

It feels good too to be in a spacious dust-free flat with sofa, bath and kitchen table rather than living in a soft existential corner of  a library. I love my hundred shelves of books but there are definitely some arguments in favour of a less eccentric life space.