By now I hope that you have received various answers to your examinations, and the questions raised on your clemency, both of which you mentioned in your last letter which, for some strange reason, only recently made it over here. I was thinking that there must be a strike in one of the countries then letters pass through, but North American post flies direct into Frankfurt am Main, and we do not have that many strikes or go-slow days over here. Regardless, it made the long journey undamaged, unlike my recent copies of the Times Literary Supplement from England, which have been arriving not only after amazing delays – they do have strikes – but also partially torn. Not that the strikes in England have made too much difference, I only get the TLS regularly from there, as a new kilt I ordered from Scotland got here within five days, surprising me and the kilt maker. The main thing is that the post does arrive, whether late or not, and the conversation remains unaffected.

I was amused to read your comments on government employees and their safe, benefit-packed jobs, knowing that the work and employment culture is different in Europe. I often read complaints and comments from people in the States who have been summarily fired from their jobs, with no notice, with no pay-off, for the most trivial things. And, of course, the lack of regulated holidays, health insurance and all the rest of it which we, in our “Socialist” states do tend to enjoy. Also, the same people telling me that such a “Socialist” working environment cannot work, although it clearly does and has done over here for decades. But we also have the same problem with some government officials, and with those who believe they are above the law, or so ingratiated within their jobs that no one can touch them. The difference here, since it is far harder for someone to lose their employment due to a minor misdemeanour, is that many have a yearly bonus to look forward to, and that is what can be threatened. Too many complaints, or a serious complaint, and the bonus can be removed for that entire year.

I also receive a yearly bonus in my work – well, two really: the bonus for quality of work, and an end-of-year bonus of a month’s pay – but am in the fortunate position of having it guaranteed. My main position here remains with the vehicle control section – taking photographs of those who insist on travelling a little too fast – even though I have not been working there for over a year. I am only on loan to the immigration department, probably until the end of October this year, when the flood of Ukrainian refugees has lessened somewhat, so all the benefits I have from my main work remain in place. And all the benefits of my temporary work, a higher pay scale and slightly better working hours, fall to my lot too.

I, too, have come across colleagues – in the widest possible sense of the word – who are less interested in completing work to the benefit of others, than they are in ensuring their own comfort. In a fairly recent telephone I tried to pass a message over to a colleague in our job centre, but a direct telephone call wasn’t possible, and the telephonist who answered started quoting all sorts of reasons why they shouldn’t pass the message on, including something about data protection, and the correct way to do things. The refusal to pass a message on took longer than it would have done to simply tell the other person what I needed them telling.

In personal news: I have had my left eye operated on, and a new lens inserted to replace the cataract infested old, natural, version. It has been an interesting experience, also involving people who tend not to take their jobs too seriously. Not on the side of the medics, but from my health insurance company. Normally I would be required to be accompanied for the operation, as a return journey half asleep and with only one functioning eye, isn’t the best way to travel. Since I had no one, I received an order from the medical centre for the health insurance company to provide me with a taxi. This, unfortunately, didn’t work, as they only replied to my application for a taxi two weeks after the operation. Instead, I told the medical centre I was going back by taxi, and used one – them watching to be sure as I was unaccompanied – to take me to the nearest train station.

I should have just coughed up the hundred euro myself, it would have saved a lot of time and trouble. From the station in Walsrode, I travelled to Hannover. Since the first train was delayed by ten minutes, I missed the connection and had to wait an hour for the next. This next train, however, had no connection to take me back to the nearest railway station to home, so I had to travel to Bremen instead – through the station I would normally have alighted at – and then take another train to Syke, and then a bus to home. The total travelling time came out at over seven hours, for a journey which, by taxi, was only about fifty miles direct. Clearly not a very enjoyable experience, especially since, because of the change with my eyes, I couldn’t spend any of my time reading.

Now, several weeks later, I finally have my new glasses, having had to wait for the operated eye to settle down, and then wait for the glass for my normal and my reading glasses to be ordered, made, cut, and inserted. The hardest part was trying to get used to the strength of the new lens for my left eye, which simply did not seem to want to accept the change. When I first put on my new normal glasses, I saw two of everything, a very unsettling experience. If I had been drinking and there was a good reason for the double vision, my brain would have accepted the change and adapted, but not this way. And the difference between my reading and normal glasses being so great, that has taken a while too. Now, however, I am almost attuned to the work around me, and don’t need to worry that I will miss the curb while out walking, or simply wander across the pavement like a drunk with no sense of balance – sailing into the wind like a small, uncontrolled, yacht.

In a move which I would not have expected from myself a few months ago, I have created a Facebook account. I haven’t told anyone about it, because I don’t want to be pestered by all the people I know in real life. The sole purpose of this account was to join a closed group of old scholars from my old school in Yorkshire. For some reason, a few years ago, the webmaster of their web site decided not to run the chat and comments functions any more, and just make their web presence a static record of what was, but without the possibility of any new additions. A waste, in my not so humble opinion, of web space, since there are photographs and recollections from the thousands of former pupils constantly turning up in one form or another. Rather, they have had to move over to Facebook, and set up camp there, which means anyone who wishes to converse and communicate is forced to create an account. And it has to be under their real name, so that the administrators of the group can see who is applying, and whether they really were at the school. Despite my adversity to such systems, I created an account, and applied for membership of the group, and was even accepted, which surprised me. And it turns out that the group is pretty much a dead area on the internet, with rare conversations, hardly a single photographic memory, and just the occasional comment that someone has met up with someone else and they had a beer together.

Except for one conversation, which started a few weeks before I joined, and was still going strong: bullying. Many years ago, back in the days of pen and paper, I wrote to the editors of the old scholars’ magazine on this very subject – the school had long since closed down – and was told that this is not the right time, a phrase we usually hear after another mass shooting in an American school over gun control. There was no reason why it was the wrong time, but that was their decision. Now the theme came up in full swing, and almost everyone was throwing in their sixpenny worth, and showing that it was a theme well worth discussion, and that many had not been able to find closure, even after fifty years. There were, of course, a few who claimed not to know anything about bullying, and one or two who insisted that it had caused no harm to anyone, but the general consensus was that it had been a bad thing, and had caused harm. The bullying, I must add, included teacher-pupil bullying, something which I experienced, right down to physical assault. All swept under the carpet at the time, but not mellowed by the passage of time.

Then we had a new member join the group, and practically shout across the virtual airwaves that we should leave the subject alone, it was fifty years since anything had happened, and discussion was useless. Sadly he decided not to stay in the group, and deleted his whole Facebook account after I pointed out that he, and his younger brothers, were three of the main bullies during my time at the school, and he out to put a zip across his face, or man-up (as they still say, even though it is no longer considered Politically Correct) and accept his due. As said, he didn’t man-up, but slunk away, hopefully with his tail between his legs and duly chastised. Bullying takes so many different forms, even today when we are supposed to be more aware, more woke, but there is precious little anyone can do to stop it aside from stringent and harsh reprimands against the perpetrators, through to removal of such people from their positions. That doesn’t happen very often, it’s more likely that a person will be fired for not putting the right sauce on someone’s fries, than that they will be removed for physical or mental abuse. Amusing watching a short video of a woman in a fast food shop – I can’t bring myself to call them restaurants – shot by one of the staff, as she called 911 because there weren’t any more chilli-fries. I suppose we all have our breaking point.

You mention masks worn to prevent infection, and I can only sympathise. Even the high standard FFP2 masks we wear in public transport have limited effect when you are crowded in together with a whole bunch of people for a longer period of time. Masks can reduce the chance of infection, but not eliminate it completely, and cloth masks really don’t do a great deal. I am surprised, and grateful it to have become infected, although I am in constant contact with people I do not know, who do not necessarily wear a mask, and might not be vaccinated. One of our section heads has been off with Corona for the last three weeks, and that despite her taking every single possible precaution to prevent infection, right down to having no personal appointments with outsiders. I have between twenty and thirty different people in my office every day, and close contact – also physical when I need to take their fingerprints and they cannot manage to machine on their own – but seem to have been spared. I am, of course, smacking my hand down on wood for good luck, and a continuation of this good luck, as I write! But the pandemic seems to have stabilised here, and there is talk of a relaxing of the stricter regulations. In effect that is not a great deal, but the main change would be that we no longer need to wear an FFP2 mask in public transport and can change it for a cloth or medical mask. The need to regularly test in some work areas would also disappear, which probably means that employers will no longer be required to provide the tests free of charge, something that I have taken advantage of since day one. And which reminds me that I should order a new batch of tests, as I will be taking my last one this afternoon, and the new regulations come into effect at the end of this month. But then, that is not too bad, as I am due to move, as mentioned, back to my old position at the end of next month where, unless someone gets really upset about being photographed and wants to challenge me, I will rarely come into contact with other people.

The main advantage of a reduction in the regulations, is that we can go back to our old ways and enjoy a party or two without restrictions. No one is going to be knocking on the door to see whether there are more than a certain number of people present, unless it is the fire service checking up on over-filled dance halls and clubs which try to get around the fire regulations. Many towns and villages have planned and set up their harvest festivals, and their end of year special celebrations, with bands, and games, and all sorts of interesting things to buy and stuff into your face. I was at a Scottish Highland Games event a few weeks ago, and there was a medieval market in my town last weekend. This weekend there is the Altstadtfest in a local city, and an open Sunday shopping – with flea market and all the rest – in another. Open air concerts have been held everywhere, and you are now allowed to sit next to someone else in a cinema, or on the bus.

One thing that the pandemic has taught many is that things do not have to be expensive. Admittedly, we are all suffering slightly because of those who are claiming higher expenses due to the war in Ukraine, and making a healthy profit as a result, but many things are coming down in price, especially transport. The German government introduced, for three months through the summer, a special ticket for everyone, to travel anywhere in Germany, for nine euro a month. The fast trains and a few private companies were excluded from the offer, but it was taken up by millions, and took many people away from their cars and onto public transport. For me it made a difference of several hundred euro each month: I pay eighty-three for my monthly ticket to work and back, and then extra for each trip to Bremen, to Hamburg and elsewhere. All those trips were included in the nine euro ticket. Now that we are back to being able to sit next to one another – when a few stiff-necked fools also condescend to remove their luggage from the adjacent seat – the claimed overcrowding of buses and trains will also disappear. And the government, having learned a lesson from the nine euro ticket, wishing to cut back on cars and the dangers to the environment of fuel burning vehicles, are considering a forty-nine euro monthly ticket, fort the whole of Germany.

A slight difference in price, but I suspect many will take it without a second thought. The savings are still not to be sniffed at. And, in my own area, the local price of a monthly subscription ticket has been halved. From next weekend I will only need to pay about forty euro a month for my work ticket. There will probably be more people on the bus as a result, but I catch my bus at the third bus stop – going into work – so there’s no problems here, and I miss the school bus on the way back home, which means enough room to stretch my legs out under a seat too. And I can settle down to read a book on the way home too, which is new for me.

New for me because, as a child, I suffered car sickness. The only way to get around the sickness was to ensure I could see out of the windows, could see where we were driving. This was something that I discovered for myself as a teenager, after many attempts to read and relax during longer journeys. Now, as an adult, it seems as if this problem is no longer there, although I have not tried it in a car as yet. The extra three quarters of an hour reading is an absolute delight, although I have plenty of opportunities o read during the day – even at work – and do not let them slip through my fingers. At present I am working my patient way through the literary novels of John Banville, an Irish writer of some note. In between his works I have a few crime thrillers which have been worthwhile, and one or two other literary works from foreign writers. I am still at two or three books a week, which makes my bookseller happy, and I don’t think there’s any real need to increase that rate. Last week one of my bookshelves, double packed, collapsed down onto the next shelf, taking it and one hundred and twenty books with it, so I need to re-think the idea of only buying books, and look at a few bookshelves too. And then there is the need to buy new tartans and kilts, growing strongly within me. I now wear my kilts all the time, very rarely switch back to trousers – unless I’m thinking about gardening or something similar – and have a strong desire to increase my wardrobe. It is at five kilts right now, with my latest arriving just last week from Scotland – the parcel which defied the postal strike – but I was checking on new possibilities last night.

The thing is, there are so many different tartans on the market today – excluding the private ones which only certain people wear and have access to – that I could wear a different kilt every day of the week, and that for several years. I have been using, as I’ve probably mentioned in another letter, a Scottish kilt maker near Hamburg up until now, but he has fallen to one side in my estimation. I ordered a certain tartan, and he told me it would take a week or two longer, which is fine, but it has been several months, and I suspect that he didn’t order it at all. The price from him is quite reasonable, and I am more than happy to support local businesses, providing their live up to the service they claim to offer. So this new kilt came direct from a kilt maker in Wick, Scotland, which is the town where my direct family – not the clan – comes from. There is a price difference, but he has some tartans other kilt makers do not have. Now I am checking another kilt maker – the supplier is in Germany, but the kilts are made in Scotland – where there are also exclusive tartans not available elsewhere, and the price is slightly lower. To give you an idea: my German kilt maker charges four hundred and fifty for a kilt, and two hundred and fifty if I supply the material. The Scottish kilt maker in Wick charges six hundred, plus delivery. The German / Scottish kilt maker I am looking at now charges four hundred. There are some who expect near a thousand euro for a kilt, but their designs are very exclusive indeed, and some who expect considerably less, but also deliver less, in terms of quality of work. Doing everything online is not as easy as it sounds. You only get to see the quality once the goods are in your hands, since there is no high street shop nearby to compare products.

I know the feeling about trying to find peace and quiet to read or write, and the threat of, or actual disturbances. I have given up writing in public, sitting down in a café or similar and putting words down on paper; I don’t even write my diary in public any more – although I must also admit to having neglected my diary of late, and feel a need to get back into it on a daily basis. Even reading is difficult, not so much because of the noise around a reader, which I have no problem cutting out and ignoring, but because some good natured soul often wanders over and asks whether you are reading, or starts making comments about the books they have read. I don’t mind recommendations for good books, but no one can tell where another person’s interests lie simply by seeing the title of one book they happen to have in their hands. As I’ve mentioned before, there are some works which I read simply to clear my head, and not necessarily because I find the author good or the story appealing. I am, however, moving away from this old habit as the years advance, and spending more time catching up with all those titles that I meant to read but never got around to, or which are new on the market and strike a chord with my real interests. Even so, when I’m sitting somewhere and lost in the depths of fifth century Mongolia or similar, the last thing that’s going to interest me is someone trying to tell me why Marco Polo couldn’t possibly have travelled where he did. Or, worse still, someone explaining why they cannot read about Chinese philosophy without getting stomach pains and having to lie down for a while. And it is difficult to tell them to disappear, without using words unsuited to public discourse, no matter how you might want to.

Final thing on my mind, before I close this letter – which I spread across an entire day as there was a special autumn market in the nearby town of Bruchhausen-Vilsen I wanted to peruse – everyone talking to me at work, and out on the streets, about the death of Queen Elizabeth as if I must be personally affected. I am not. She was ninety-six, had an exceptional life, was a wonderful woman, and had everything presented to her on a silver platter. I’m not a monarchist, and would quite happily see the royal family dispersed and sent out to work with ordinary people – which will never happen thanks to their massive accumulated private wealth – especially as they continue, one after the other, to do all those things ordinary people would be persecuted and prosecuted for with virtual impunity. But, as a person, she was fine; I just don’t need everyone coming up and commiserating with me because of some ill-conceived perception that I must be deeply sorrowful or in mourning. I heard about her death through a comment on Twitter, and then scrolled on. I am sure my eventual death will be greeted by many people in exactly the same manner.

Hopefully our correspondence will speed up again, and you next letter won’t be subjected to long delays somewhere or other en route. Stay healthy, and in good spirits.