It looks almost as if, after such a long time, I will be breaking with my own traditions, with my own routine, and changing letter writing days. I had thought that last week would be an exception, but a little something came up this week as well, completely unexpected, and threw my well-planned and time-honoured timetable out of the window. Usually, or now during the pandemic times, a few of us get together early on a Friday evening, talk, check Masonic education, have a few small drinks and a cigar or two, and then wander off in our separate directions again before the night really gets dark. That, I had thought, leaves me enough time to sit and pass review on the week with my letter to various people, and leaves enough time on the Saturday and Sunday for my letters to those who have written during the week, and the few other things in my long-term plan. This week would have been much the same but for the small consideration that I did not have any small change.

Which is not quite true, because I do have small change, it’s just that I left it at home, rather than having small change in my wallet. Those small coins which annoy us because of their weight, having to count them out at a till when buying things, or just not knowing what to do with them in an increasingly digital age, do have their uses. But not when they are in the wrong place. And in this case the wrong place was not in my wallet, weighing down my sporran with their weight, but in the small coin collecting box next to my desk. There I have them all neatly laid out according to value, and regularly either take them out to the car, pack them into my wallet, or bring them back to the bank in a plastic bag to add a little something to my meagre bank balance.

The thing is, I didn’t get the telephone call in time. Normally we arrange to meet on a Friday several days in advance. We make the appointment the previous Friday, and then refine the details early in the week: where we’re going to meet; who will be there; when it starts. But we didn’t meet last week; the weather was too hot for one of the youngsters, and he decided he wanted to sit alone with a cool breeze and do other things, which is fine, and we can accept that, and so we didn’t meet. So, no appointment made for this week, and the telephone call came through to me shortly before three in the afternoon, yesterday, that we were to meet in the Havanna Lounge, in Bremen, at four. Not ideal. I was correctly dressed, of course, in my kilt and everything as if the appointment, the meeting, was to go ahead. I have made it a new tradition for me to go to work every Friday in my kilt. The problem was that my small change wasn’t in my wallet, it was on the side next to my desk, because we had no appointment, and I wasn’t expecting such a late call to drive to Bremen.

Because, you see, you need small change to be able to park a car in Bremen. That is, if you want to be anywhere near your destination, when that is in the centre of town, as the Havanna Lounge is. Depending on where you park, outside of the multi-storey car parks, which are rather more expensive, you can expect to pay anything between fifty cents for an hour, and an euro for half an hour. I tend to go for the fifty cents for an hour, right on the river Weser, and then walk across the bridge to the club. A little exercise for these old bones, and not too much change given out for parking. If you happen to have change, that is. And if you do not, the alternative is to either park in one of the more expensive multi-storey car parks right next to where you want to be, and pay with a card, or park where no charges are raised. There are still, unbelievable as it may seem, still a few places in Bremen where you do not need to buy a parking ticket.

The only problem with these parking spaces is that they are either constantly full, or a long way away from the centre of town. My favourite area to park free of charge is Huckelriede, which is about four kilometres from the centre. Taking a tram – one way – is much the same as the cost of a parking space in my usual area near the centre of town. It gets more expensive when you try and come back with the tram, because there are no longer any cheap tickets. There was a time when ordinary people like me could buy four or ten tickets in advance, using them as necessary, and saving something on the overall price. Those days are no more. It’s a single ticket, or a day ticket, and the day ticket, for one time there and back, isn’t worth it.

So yesterday afternoon I parked in Huckelriede, bought myself a single ticket into the centre of town, and travelled on an almost empty tram to my destination. That, of course, is not the problem. Everything is working out fine as it goes, and nothing is unusual, yet. Our small meeting was finished at six, as one had a birthday party to attend, another wanted to go to a wine tasting. I wandered through Karstadt and C&A for a while, looking at the prices they require for a shirt – as mine are all starting to go blank at the collar – and wondering how they are going to survive post-pandemic. It seems to me that the shelves are almost bare, and in C&A at least, half the display cabinets and tables have disappeared. Even so, I saw a few shirts I can afford which also appealed to my aesthetic eye, and marked them down in my memory for the future date when I can afford to buy a shirt or two again. Which, taking a glance at my calendar, will be next week. And then came the bit where, if I had had small change with me, nothing unusual would have happened: it was such a pleasant evening, and still early, so I decided to walk back to the car.

Three or four kilometres, not too hot, hardly a problem. And walking along the street, hearing people walk into lamp posts or falloff the curb because they are too busy staring open-mouthed at my backside, in its kilt, has a little bit of the sadistic kind of fun attached to it that I can enjoy. The problem, if you can call it that, was that I was seen by a few people who understand and appreciate the art of wearing a kilt, and who have kilts themselves, even if they do not often wear them in the open. They even wear a kilt – the tartan is called The Malt – which was designed and made by my own kilt maker.

On Friday evenings the Scotch Whisky Club has its members’ evening and, because of the current restrictions on how many people may be in a room of a certain size at one time, many of them were out on the street as I, resplendent in my kilt, walked along the opposite side of the street. One of them made it across the three lanes of the road, two lanes of tram lines, and caught up with me, since I tend not to respond to people shouting anything in my general direction, and there we were.

Now I know about the Scotch Whisky Club in Bremen, because we wanted to organise the Robert Burns Supper with them at the start of the year and, of course, I had checked them out on the internet and marked them down as an interesting idea to explore at a future date. A date when there is a little bit more than loose change sitting around in the wrong place. I knew, too, that they were somewhere in the areas, but thought their clubhouse to e on one of the side streets, not the main drag. It turns out that they moved, a long time ago, and took over an old shop between kiosks and Döner restaurants. This shop is now converted into a small area with a large table, shelves filled with various brands of whisky – and possibly also a few bottles of whiskey, but I didn’t check – a kitchen to wash their whisky glasses, and a toilet. Ten people inside, and five or six outside, who decided to invite me, in my kilt, to join them.

The end result was that I spent several enjoyable hours with this group of mixed English and German speaking whisky fans, discussing whisky, the last time they were all in Edinburgh, the state of the nation, how to wear a kilt, and drinking three samples of very good whisky without the necessity to be a member of the club, or pay for the drinks. I’m not an absolute cheapskate, I hasten to add, and I did fold a note and push it into their charity box on the way out again. And the further result was that I didn’t walk in quite as straight a line back to my car as I would normally have done, although I had been very careful to ensure what I drank kept me well under the legal limit to drive. After all, a good whisky isn’t alcohol, it’s food for mind and spirit. And a good whisky that you don’t have to pay for tastes even better.

The Friday evening meetings that I mentioned in a previous letter, and which you come to in your latest reply, have been going on for a few weeks now, with occasional breaks where one or two have other things to take up their time. It is more than just a chance to meet up with friends, since we have much to discuss, much to prepare for when we finally get to meet officially in September. Not everyone is quite as successful at arranging these meetings as we are, but out connections go back many years, and we have been very successful in keeping the life alive in them.

The loose change is also a theme which goes through many of my moments right now, and the idea that the problem with our Treasurer not knowing his obligation to pay bills and to do his job is, sadly, not yet at an end. Loose change in this case is about twenty thousand euro sitting on an account only he has access to, while it should have been transferred to a new account, to a new Treasurer. The money is not lost, it has not disappeared, it is merely not in the right place, and that entirely through the bull-headed attitude of this one person. He damages himself, however, far more than he believes he can damage the reputations of others. But this is more of an aside than anything.

Aren’t we all mysteries to those we have never met, to those who have perhaps some form of contact to us but having never stood face-to-face with and held a personal conversation with? I’ve always been of the opinion that a letter writer can reveal much of themselves through their writings, and much comes between the lines too, with a good deal being more interpretation than anything else. And, of course, it is more what the writer wishes to reveal than what is necessarily provable as true. We can all create a different character for ourselves, an alter ego for certain circumstances, for certain people and places. Some people at my present work are surprised to hear that a read a good deal, others that I collect old and antique photographs, or even that I enjoy wearing a kilt and have several to choose from. There are those who write their first letter to another, someone they have never met, with an introduction to themselves, as they see themselves, and are then at a loss for what else to write. Which, as you will recall, is my reason for beginning a letter writing friendship in the middle of life, where we are now, and not trying to piece the past and present together in one fatal description.

My interest in literature, history and philosophy has resulted in a published book, which has long since gone out of print, and there are many articles and short stories from my pen which have been published here and there, now and then. I wrote a short piece for a newspaper’s online edition today, and will be writing another for a newsletter this week. Many more ideas are running around in my head, and there will always be somewhere prepared to take a piece from me, regardless of which name I append to the piece. I have had several names for many years, and this has worked out very well indeed, with certain names for certain types of writing. It is difficult, for example, to convince a serious, straight, highbrow philosophy magazine or web site to take an article on, say, Kant or Nietzsche when your name is also associated in many minds with writings of a more popular and erotic nature. You will remember that Stephan King attempted this, having a different persona with a different writing style, with his Richard Bachmann books; although there he fell down in that the final work was too like his own Stephan King style, and a bookseller’s clerk blew his cover.

As to collections, who knows what will happen in the future? Will my heirs decide that these letters, or my diaries, are worth bringing out and into the public gaze? Or will my collected private writings be sent off to the Institute for Private Diaries in London, and added to their collection? I am considering sending my father’s travel diary off to this collection, once I’ve read through it, so why wouldn’t someone do the same for mine? It is better, I think, than consigning a complete life to the paper-recycling pile.

And as to the creation of a different personality: this was a challenge by friends who told me it could not be done. It is impossible, they told me, to create a person who will be accepted by others as being real when that person is completely different to the creator. In fact, with the internet, it is relatively easy when a person follows the right paths, and even when the person created is completely different. So I, as a fifty year old (roughly), created a twenty year old Vietnamese-American woman from Wichita, Kansas, who travelled from her small home to Europe, began studying philology, writing magazine articles and short stories – which were published under her name – had her own web site and Twitter account, and thousands of visitors to her daily blog entries. She existed for about five years, was in a relationship, had a Companies House registered business under her own name in London, and also had a very promising future ahead of her. At least, she would have had, had she been a real person. No one called her out, and no one came through my facade to her real identity. Not even those who knew me, who had made the challenge. And that despite the fact that she had followers who were in the same town, at the same time as she was.

Creating a virtual person, even with many real-life aspects, is different to creating a real person, or changing your identity into that of another. There are no SSNs or birth certificates involved, no official documents, no personal meetings which could blow a person’s cover. In some ways it is much the same as letter writing: we write that which we wish other people to know, and they read that which they wish to see. It was a fascinating experience, putting my old self into the virtual body of a much younger woman – successfully – and living her life online, but a one-time piece of fun. When I say one-time, I mean that I don’t need to prove myself as a creator again, but the figure I created has not gone: she is still there in parts of the internet, with the books written under her name, articles and short stories, and her social media presence all intact, if no longer updated.

There have been many changes in Germany over the last few weeks, mostly for the good, although the new Delta variant of this virus could cause a few problems if an infected English person makes their way across the channel and wrecks what has been a very secure reduction in cases. The incidence has fallen to single percentage figures now, and the number of people who have been vaccinated, at least once, is approaching sixty percent. Being a relatively young and healthy person, my first injection came rather late – although there are plenty of younger and healthier who are still in the queue – and my second will be administered toward the end of this coming month. We are all still masked, all still washing our hands, all still sneezing into our elbows and avoiding contact with other people – all except British department of health ministers who have been carrying on extra-marital affairs in the office, that is. The restrictions are now being lifted, slowly, so that we can walk around more places without a mask, meet up in larger groups, drink a beer inside rather than on street corners. Museums and cinemas are reopening, concert halls, clubs and theatres are following close behind. They must all still produce a hygiene concept, and we have to take regular tests to see that we are clean, but that is a minor price to pay to avoid another set of lockdowns, of unnecessary deaths. Since I have no direct contact with the public I get to take a test once a week, paid for by the government, and this has worked out as a good way to ease the mind, as well as a confidence builder. I stick something up my nose once a week, let it soak in a solution for a while, then drip the results onto a plastic thing and, fifteen minutes later, the final result is there. In addition I have the warning software on my phone, although I am not sure whether that is quite so effective, as not everyone we come into contact with will have the same device.

The article I wrote for our local newspaper this morning, which appeared on their online edition this afternoon, was about the future as we move away from the restrictions, away from the old normal and into a bright new normal. Only a short piece of a few hundred words, I asked whether we would be able to recognise one another now. There are some people I work with in my new office whose face I have never seen uncovered, who I probably wouldn’t recognise in the street. And, for me if for no one else, this is not quite so important, as I expect to be moving to another office – or back to my old offices – sometime in the coming month, and then I don’t need to see their true faces at all, will probably never be in the same street as them, but it is an almost disturbing feeling, from a social point of view. We are social animals, desiring closeness with others – mainly – and with a need to recognise, a desire to be remembered. Take that away and we have nothing left.