A complete lack of organisation in an institution which should run as if oiled by the smoothest system ever invented comes as no real surprise to me. There are so many where things have been running according to a set of rules, which have rarely been changed or checked, simply because that is the way they have always done things, and there have been few problems before. But there have always been problems, has always been someone who has to sit down, bite the bit, and do the work. I suspect that, in this case, there is no one with enough authority, let alone experience, who can take charge and get things rolling. The problems are also at a higher level, where too many people in positions of power are refusing to accept that there is a problem, but just with the system, but also incapable of accepting that there is a pandemic which needs a better reaction. How many politicians of a certain party have said that this virus is merely a cold, or the flu, and told people there is no need for a vaccination, or that wearing a mask is a destruction of freedom? And how many still believe that it will never effect them, and simply disappear with the passage of time, from the Former Guy right down to ordinary people in everyday life today. What we are seeing is often an overreaction from those who have no idea, but must be seen to be doing something, and who do not appreciate what they are doing simply because they rarely get to see the effects of their actions. People sometimes hundreds of miles away who have never even seen the inside of a prison, a modern school or any other place where people are packed in close to one another.

I suppose we are lucky here in that there is a good deal of back and forth between politicians and people, meaning that when something is said it tends to be listen to, and reacted to, regardless of which party the speaker belongs to. There is no writing-off of a person just because they are Red or Blue, Green or Yellow as a voter; they vote, and they are a constituent, and that is what is important. Admittedly there are many, especially in the former eastern states, who have objected and demonstrated – as is still their right – but they have also suffered as a result, whether they wish to admit to it or not. The major problem with an institution such as yours is that people on the outside tend not to care as much – a children’s home or a school would provoke a completely different reaction – because they consider those inside to be locked away anyway, and s a lockdown – the mass of which they cannot comprehend – is no different. Lock them up and throw away the key, is the general mentality. And generally the only time problems will get into the media and provoke a possible public reaction is when there is a riot of such a level that it cannot be hidden away and ignored.

But I am also on the outside and have not needed to suffer the inhumanity of a lockdown, as my work at the time precluded me being removed from public. At one stage I spent a few weeks at home, doing Home Office, but nothing worse than that. And Home Office, for me, was sitting in my comfortable chair, reading a book, drinking a cup of tea all day. That couldn’t be sustained for too long, though, and I was offered a new office, good working conditions, few risks of infection, and back to the grind. At the start of this month I was raised to a full-time official and, as of this week, I have another new office (my fourth in the course of things) with new responsibilities and precious little disturbance. I have even been assigned a (paid) intern to handle paperwork while I do the necessary work of registration, fingerprinting and taking photographs of refugees from the Ukraine, primarily, and elsewhere. I wear a mask to walk about the building, from one office to the next, but otherwise all the restriction s around the working environment have been removed.

The difference here, of course, is that Germany and a few other European countries went a completely different way to others, with minor lockdowns, mask and hygiene regulations, and a major vaccination programme. If we had followed the path taken by England, as one example, things would be completely different: the hospitals would be overflowing, and we would be burying hundreds of people every week. But in England – not Scotland and Wales – the Prime Minister, between illegal drinking parties, has said that he has beaten the virus, there is no pandemic any more, and so the English are safe, no matter how many die. No more tests, no more quarantine, no more masks. The hospitals are overrun, underfunded and understaffed, and no one seems to see the problem anymore because, as the PM said, he has beaten the virus, and it is all over.

But I have just experienced a completely different form of disorganisation, which annoyed me considerably more than what is happening in some foreign country – now typically called Plague Island by many, including those who live there – because it was rather closer to home. We have our Annual Communication – the main meeting of the year for elections and so on – usually in a small town called Bad Kissingen but, as they wanted to raise the prices for the first time in many years, by about twenty-five euro, some objected and we were due to meet in Berlin. This would have been fine, if the person designated to organise the meeting had done his job. He did not, there were no conference facilities available, and we ended up in Stuttgart in a four star hotel about five kilometres outside the centre of the city. Which would have been fine, I suppose, but for the fact that a single night in this hotel was roughly ninety euro more expensive than what a few people had objected to. So much for that: if the service and quality of accommodation had been there too, then the price could have been almost acceptable. However.

The hotel is being renovated at the moment, so parts of the building are unavailable, there is noise and dirt all over. I can live with that, but the price should have been adjusted accordingly. In normal life here, in Germany at least, when a landlord carries out work on the building you live in, you are entitled to a reduction in the rent paid until that work is completed. I don’t see any reason why hotels should be any different. But the problems were considerably worse, and I am now going to write out a litany of badness, so make yourself comfortable.

We arrived at the hotel and had to negotiate an entrance way strewn with rubbish, as the buildings workers had not thought to use a closed container or to cover the one they had. A good gust of wind, and there was a sudden movement of all the contents across the front of the building and into the nearby railway station. First impressions mean a lot, and a dirty front door does not bode well. We then checked in, and discovered that our hotel price for the first night did not include an evening meal. In addition, as they only had one member of staff in the restaurant, this was closed, and we were recommended to either eat out, or to eat at the bar. Our mistake: we ate at the bar. Three members of staff, small bar, no control or efficiency. The meal my colleague ordered – a simple burger with fries – took an hour to be delivered, and was of the quality of a standard burger bar at over five times the price. They had problems charging the bill to our rooms, so that my colleague paid in cash out of frustration, and I waited since they had begun the process of changing my hotel bill and could no longer stop it.

Day Two: breakfast, a buffet in the main restaurant, was excellent. Surprisingly few people there, but a very good spread of everything one might desire, so I ate my usual two sets to keep my strength up for the rest of the day. I am not a breakfast person, I eat my first meal at about ten in the morning, and that does me until the evening meal. Except when I am in a hotel, and then I pile my plate high each and every time something is offered. On to the conference, check in, find the best places – at the front since I am a voting member of the Grand Lodge – where we have three small bottles of water and a small bottle of apple juice between three people. Midday meal, and we are all hungry and looking forward to eating something having completed almost all of our agenda well ahead of time. Even the accounts and the budget for next year raised no questions, which is very unusual indeed. The meal was something else, though: cheese and tomato sandwiches on white bread, and the chance of a bowl of soup. Self service. No drinks. Sixty-two euro.

I took a slight pause in my letter writing there, because I hadn’t added the actual costs together before writing this letter. I knew it was too much, and I knew we were overcharged for things which were simply not there – the midday beverages – but actually seeing the price written down does tend to take a person’s breath away, especially when they have already paid the bill. But we haven’t reached dinner yet, the crowning achievement of the day! Here we had another self-service buffet – they certainly saved money on waiting staff over the whole weekend – for one hundred and fifty people, roughly. We sat at our tables, laid out with knife, fork, napkin and a water glass, and waited for the call to come to the queue for food. In the meantime one of the three (I believe) waiting staff for the evening came to our table to take orders for drinks – there was neither water nor anything else set out, despite the water glasses – and took the orders for three or four people. He then disappeared – long tables, about thirty to each – and returned with those drinks: three or four people because that was all he could carry in one go. He then proceeded to take the money for each individual drink, before moving on to the next three or four people. Not his fault: those were the orders he had been given. That said, if he still works there I would be very surprised.

The buffet dinner was delayed, because the understaffed kitchen could not get enough meals out for one hundred and fifty people in an orderly time or manner. There was a small selection of soup, vegetables, potato, and a choice of meat or fish, but this hardly makes any difference when the one cook on duty cannot keep up with the demand. I waited for so long that I had come to the conclusion it would be quicker, and probably better, to find a local restaurant, and eat there. I sought one out on my smart phone and was setting off for a decent evening meal, but for a torrent of rain and my disinclination to pay for a taxi too. In the end I did manage to get something to eat, but half of the group had already finished their meals before I even got to the warming trays. Having eaten, I noted that it had stopped raining and, rather than spend a frustrating evening trying to get served in the bar, I sought out and walked to the local Irish bar, for a well-earned Guinness or two. It was snowing on the way back.

Day Three: breakfast was excellent, and I made up for a certain degree of hunger in the best way possible, by eating anything which was close at hand. I’ll jump to the finish line here, otherwise this will be a letter filled with nothing but sadness, frustration and recriminations. Lunch was a buffet. The soup was the same as the sauce for the spaghetti on offer, and had no meat in it. The alternate sauce was a white mushroom sauce, and the first two people in the queue, I suspect, managed to get all the mushrooms. No drinks. We paid for drinks, but there were none anywhere close, and even the bar was closed. A coffee machine in the lobby – black coffee or espresso – cash payment at reception. Dinner was at smaller tables this time, but a self-service buffet with a slightly shorter waiting time for replenishment – and it’s hardly worth recounting what we were offered as a meal, but it was slightly better than what we’d had on the preceding days. Drinks, ordered in small quantities, paid for on delivery, if you were lucky enough to find a member of the waiting staff.

Day Four: breakfast was excellent, and you know, or can imagine, what happened there. A long train journey ahead of me, no guarantee that the restaurant on the train would be open – it was, but they’d sold out of most things by the time the train pulled into Stuttgart – I made sure that bacon and eggs, sausages, mushrooms and so on were joined by fruit, yoghurt, and bread rolls with all that goes and on with them, and a good-sized pot of coffee. I even thought of making myself a packed lunch, but that was a step too far, even for me.

The rules here are still that masks have to be worn in certain places, so we had the pleasure of wearing our masks in the train, from Bremen to Stuttgart and back, and an extra hour on either side for me as I do not live in Bremen, making a total of about seven and a half hours masked. It’s uncomfortable after a while, especially when you have a long beard as I do, but nothing that cannot be overcome. And I would much rather be on the safe side, not knowing who is on the train with you, who might be breathing the four riders of the apocalypse out in your face, it’s not worth taking the chance.

I think that’s the first time you’ve written about your dog training, which I found interesting. A while back you sent me photographs with one of the dogs, so I can at least see what is happening. For some reason, perhaps because I was wearing a kilt for the entire weekend, several people insisted on having me pose for an individual photograph, or as part of a group, so I no longer need to worry about having my portrait taken. Sadly not all of them were kind enough to send me copies, but this small example shows me in full regalia as a Shriner, as I was escorting a friend into the temporary Shrine to be initiated, and also Inner Guard for the ceremony. I do, of course, have my family tartan on, and not the Masonic tartan, but that makes precious little difference in the end. My friend was initiated after a two year wait, and that’s good enough for me.

I have had very little time to read anything this month, spending most of my time travelling here and there, and that is going to be the same for the rest of the month, and into the next. If I travel on my own I can use the time to read, but travelling companions seem to insist on conversation for some reason, and get a little insulted when I open up my book and start reading in their presence. And some of them are silent right up to the moment that I open my book and glance down at the page, before breaking out into a veritable flood of words, which have nothing to do with what I am reading in most cases. But of late I have continued reading a few psycho-thrillers in between historical works. The other day I had a new delivery of volumes through my bookshop in Berlin, and can now look forward to a few Scottish works, and an interesting one called Origins of Moral-Political Philosophy in Early China by Tao Jiang, and another: The Bells of Old Tokyo: Travels in Japanese Time by Anna Sherman. It is hard to walk by a bookstore without glancing inside and, often, wandering through the doors too, but I have managed to train myself to take a photograph of the titles which interest me and order them later. This saves me a lot of trouble with my bank manager, and means I am not carrying a pile of books around wherever I go. Shops here rarely use bags any more, since the end of plastic, unless someone insists, and then they have to pay out more money. Not that I have a great problem with that; I’m glad to see plastic disappearing from society, but just the carrier bags is hardly a real step forward. So now I often have a wealth of photographs, which I forget are there, and end up cleaning up my phone at the end of each month without ordering too many of them. My To Be Read pile is far too big, again.

I can well understand your frustration at the slowness of your course papers. We tend to forget about such things out here, having an almost instant contact through electronic mail, and the ability to just download items from the internet, from specific educational web sites or, not that I would do such things, some other less than kosher sources. There are a few sites which offer specialised courses from the major universities – not at degree or diploma level, but some can be used as credits – and I enjoy taking a look at one or the other now and then. He advantage here is that a course can be done without a certificate at the end, free of charge. Anyone who wants a certificate has to pay up to about sixty dollars, but that is fine for those who need it. I have done a few courses on Japanese texts, on Chinese and Western Philosophy, archaeology, and politics, as well as museum curatorship and philology. It makes an interesting change from the normal level of schooling.

And, of course, there is also the advantage of a wealth of lectures from the better universities which can be watched at leisure, although I am not sure that my level of patience is quite high enough on some subjects. I can watch one of the British Museum curators talking about how he managed to build Noah’s Ark – based on original Babylonian texts, but a long discourse on Chinese philosophy which demands a high level of previous knowledge tends to go over my head rather quickly. At the same time I know that, if I sat and watched the whole thing, it would fit in and make sense with what I already know, what I have already read, but I never get that far. The mind wanders, there are books to be read, whiskies to be tasted friends to be met and conversed with. And, of late, many electronic mails to be answered according to which position a person has just taken on in our Grand Lodge, and what is planned for the future on the Lodge level. And, naturally, according to my position in Grand Lodge too, which has changed once more. I have now been appointed as Grand Historian with the idea that I compile a continuing history of the Grand Lodge and all of its components, as well as giving talks and writing papers. We live in interesting times.