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.