After almost a week of blazing sunshine and warmth, bearing in mind the time of year, it was pleasant to have a brief respite with rain today. Walking through town and along the banks of the river in the freshened air, the smell of freshly mown grass from nearby fields, the sound of numerous birds from nearby trees. I think I might be forgiven for thinking that, if the world changed and there were hardly any humans left over, it would be a much better place. Not, of course, that I am wishing death and destruction on our race, but to see the changes when fewer people are out and about on the streets and country lanes, to hear of clear skies in towns and industrial areas usually hidden by smog and smoke, does give rise to such thoughts. On the downside, this is the first day in a week that I haven’t been out and about with my camera, trying to capture images of all the places which are so normal and everyday to me, but fascinating for those who do not live here, have never been to this part of Germany. It is one of the challenges which came up, although meant for people who are in a stricter lockdown than I am, to try and get their spirits up and get them to do things. Vegetating in front of the television, or on the internet, is not the best way to go and, something which really did surprise me, many people simply do not know how to fill their free time. They do not understand the concept of finding something to do in leisure hours.

I can well imagine the daily routine of your average German: finish work and come back to a meal, the television, and off to bed. Friday night would normally be out for a drink, in the old days, but has now become more of a party time for the younger generations, and family time for the older ones. Saturday is gardening, shopping, barbeque. Sunday is a lie-in and then laze about doing nothing much at all. Now, all of a sudden, many are faced with working from home, or with waiting until they are allowed to go back to work again, and they simply do not have a single idea what to do with their time. Puzzles? Read a book? Watch television, or do the garden and clean the car? Three or four weeks of the same routine, outside the normal routine, and they are lost. And yet everyone wants fewer working hours for the same pay.

Not that I have anything against fewer working hours for the same rate of pay, if someone can live from what they earn, since it is exactly what I have been enjoying for nearly four years. I work less than five hours a day with thirty-three holiday days a year, and am paid for nearly nine hours a day, so I am hardly one to complain. I fact, looking back to my youthful years, I recall Margaret Thatcher, before she was Prime Minister, claiming that the future would be more automated – which it is – and everyone would have more leisure time – which they do not. The idea was to plan for a society based on this idea, but that fell by the wayside as with so many other things.

What amuses me even more at the moment is the number of people who have taken to the internet and started complaining that the lockdown, where they have to remain at home and are only allowed outside for essential shopping trips, visits to the doctor and similar, is like being in prison. I am sure I could name several thousand people who would gladly exchange this style of imprisonment for what they are themselves. In some areas of Italy and Spain it has been a complete ban on going out, in my part of northern Germany, a fairly loose ban. Of course it makes sense to remain out of harm’s way, whether we see that as diminishing our Rights and our Freedoms is another matter entirely. I’d much rather be alive to enjoy these Rights and Freedoms than rotting under the ground after an early death. As of this week, though, the rules are being refined once more, more shops are being allowed to open, and our normal way of life is returning. Still no bars, concerts, museums and galleries. No hairdressers and nail polishers. For the former we now have virtual tours, for the latter, patience. Some people seem to put too much faith in their hairdresser making them look halfway attractive, or presentable, anyway.

Strange for me, having been furloughed for three weeks, to go back to work for four days and then start a fortnight’s holiday – of which I am now enjoying the second week. I had planned on being in Bavaria for some of this fortnight, with an annual convention, but these plans were cancelled, and I just left my holiday to run as it should do. The same is staring me in the face for the end of May, a trip to Heidelberg planned with a major meeting, but the meeting is postponed to November, and my hotel room – unlike with Bavaria – is booked. I’m hoping that hotels are re-opened before the end of the month, so that I can travel down there, and spend some quality time in this beautiful city.

That many people are interested in what it is like to be in prison, as you mention in your wonderful letter, does not surprise me at all. I wonder how many are also interested in the person who is in prison, and not their environment or just the sordid details of their crime. I know that many write to prisoners as a form of groupie thing, are fascinated by the crime rather than interested in the human being and, if they don’t fall in love with this image they’ve built up in their brains, tend to fall off with letter writing fairly quickly. There is only so much which can be written about the daily routine you have, before it gets too much to constantly repeat on paper as much as in real life. We all need a break from any form of reality, and a chance to find something new to think about, someone new to converse with, ideas to play through our minds, visions to see and realise. In some ways it is rather like a book: you can appreciate the cover as much as you want, but you’re going to get nowhere until that cover is opened, and the words inside are read.

Having considerably more freedom of movement during this lockdown than many other people here, I have tried to put it to good use. Sneaking out so that no one sees me going, I’ve been wandering around this town and some of the neighbouring villages, and even as far as Bremen, with my camera. A little while ago I came to realise that what I see each day, what is normal and every day for me, is unusual for everyone else. Of course, I already knew this from letter writing, but the idea of capturing some photographic images to add to memories is another step I hadn’t taken. Collecting old and antique photographs and cameras is fine and good, but making what will become old photographs in the future is also an art for itself. One of the things which has always made me feel sad is the number of images I have in my collection without notation. There is no date, no names, nothing to say who these people were, what their life was like. I can mostly work out a rough date for the photograph itself, depending on when the photographer was working, when he or she was active, but nothing over the people. For my own images, of which there are not that many, I keep a small book with details of where the photograph was taken so that, in the future, if something has changed out of all recognition, it is easy to work out where I was at the time, and what I was seeing that is no longer there. This strikes many people who know me as a little strange, until I tell them to think back to where they live and the people they have known, and compare details with today. In the quarter of a century that I’ve been living in this small city many things have changed, not just the people, but buildings have been demolished or renovated, new housing estates, industrial estates, even complete streets have altered their appearance. And it goes without saying, of course, that the people have changed.

I collect two kinds of images, and choosing them is simple enough. The first are all Carte de Visite, or photographic calling cards in credit card size with a portrait on them. These were the cheap versions of the studio portraits which practically everyone could afford, and which simply overran the number of full-blown studio portraits produced after a very short period of time. The larger Cabinet Photographs were still made, but people could now come in off the street and have a smaller portrait made which, because of the convenient size, could be used as a gift, a memento, or even as a calling card of sorts. These I collect without looking at them when I buy them. I get them by the box-load, if possible, and sort through them at a later date. Here my collection is primed toward the photographer themselves, who usually had an advertisement for their studio printed on the photographic board – the photograph itself being a thin sliver of paper pasted onto board. I catalogue and publish them according to the town or city where the studio is listed, and the name of the photographer. Since it is rare to have any other information, this is the only means which makes any form of sense.

Then I have a few larger photographs which I have collected over the years. These are mainly images which have appealed to me at the time, whether I can identify the photographer or not, whether the photographer is famous and collectable or not. One of my favourites shows a military parade ground, with a group of older soldiers ion German uniforms – prior to the First World War – complete with pointy-topped helmets and swords. Marching directly through this parade of veterans, and being addressed by the officer taking the parade – probably being told to get off his parade ground – is a crow. Then I have old photographs from this town, streets and houses which are no longer there, including a good selection of negatives from a postcard company, dating from the late Fifties and early Sixties. These are based on the idea that the image appeals to me, that I see something enjoyable in them, and not that they have any form of material or financial value. In fact, all of the art that I have, be it prints, watercolour, oil paintings, was bought because it appealed to me, and for no other reason. If you cannot buy things that you like, regardless of their other values, there is no point in having them, I believe. I mean: who wants to live in a house full of valuable art which they simply cannot stand the sight of? Thank you, but I’ll pass on that one.

As a very old person, I am often surprised at how many people are offended by something someone else says or believes, and find it difficult to understand why they are offended. We all have our own opinions, hopefully based on knowledge, learning and experience, but these are all different from one person to another. I know people who are offended that I, an Englishman, live in Germany which, as some people considerably younger than myself are keen to point out, was our enemy in a war that began over eighty years ago. I know people – mainly the English – who are offended that foreigners do not speak English when they go and play the tourist in that person’s homeland. Then, of course, there is the major offense of having the wrong religion, voting for the wrong political party, having the wrong skin colour or ethnic origin. The list could go on, but you’ll already have gathered exactly what I mean.

I fail to understand how anyone can counter an argument when they have not read or tried to understand that argument. I also fail to understand people who will only accept something which is exclusively good for themselves, and at no personal cost if possible, but refuse to accept things good for others. I’ve come across too many people who believe in the adage: Do what I say, not what I do. But perhaps I am just old-fashioned, past my prime, living in ideals of the past. Or, perhaps, I’m the one with my eyes open?

I would be foolish to think I am the only person you write to, and it would please me greatly if you did have many correspondents where you found conversations of interest, depth and pleasure. I am also one of those strange breed of people who understands that your time is not your own, that you do not just sit around and do nothing all day. So, with that in mind, if it takes you a while longer to answer one of my letters, that is fine with me. I notice when people writing to me have thrown a letter together just to satisfy some mistaken belief that they have to write back as quickly as possible. It shouldn’t be seen as an obligation, but as a pleasure, and as a pleasure to be taken at the right time, the right speed. If we all rush around doing just the things we believe everyone else expects us to do as quickly as possible, where will we find time for the personal pleasures of life?