I’m not sure whether I should be feeling sorrier for myself, or for my neighbour’s fish. We’re all suffering from the cold, some considerably more than others, but at least I can move from one place to another and seek out the warmest room in my house. The fish are trapped under ice in their small pond, and have been huddling together for quite some time, possibly trying to seek either warmth from one another – an impossible task – or community spirit, along the lines of: we’re all in this together. I feel a certain affinity toward the fish at the moment as my own heating is broken, and has been for a few weeks, and will probably only be repaired in the coming week. This is the time, according to the weather forecast, when the temperatures will rise again, and we will leave the white winter landscape of minus behind us. In three days or so the gauge should hit double figures during the day again, and we will all feel as if winter is over for another year.

Not that everyone will be happy, of course: a White Christmas for the Children is something that I have heard quite a few times over the last weeks, but something for the children is a term used in so many different contexts, it is hard to take it seriously any more. Nature doesn’t let itself be played about with, or ordered about would be better, by us mere mortals, and that is a good thing. Meanwhile, while all these people want a white Christmas, they are also complaining that the weather is holding things back, with trains being delayed or cancelled, and difficulties getting into work, or rising heating prices bringing them down, as the prospect of higher fuel bills rears its head yet again. Perhaps I am lucky in that respect, as my heating bill will definitely be lower next year than it has been this. Since I’m only using the heating for hot water, and not to keep the frost from forming on the inside of my windows, I don’t think that I’ll be getting much more added to my monthly bill this time. My only hope is that none of the water pipes freeze in the next two or three days, and then burst when the thaw comes; that would be a real problem. I am, instead, concentrating myself in one room – my library and work room – during the day, with a beautiful mass of candles to heat the air around me. This seems to work wonders, although I sometimes need to rub my fingers together a little, as the heat penetrates everything except the furthest extremities, and typing while wearing thick woollen gloves on my hands is not exactly the way to go.

No complaints, though, I am accepting the way things are, and thinking more of others. Not just the fish, of course, but those many thousands in my old country who, thanks to the cost of living crisis and an uncaring government, have been forced into poverty, and are faced with fuel bills they cannot hope to cover any time in the future. I hear that the cost of fuel, in England, has risen several hundred percent, and their government has done nothing to alleviate the problem, or to cap the price at a decent level. Meanwhile the oil and gas companies are making massive extra profits, and declaring these profits, while pouring extra money out to satisfy their shareholders in the form of bonus and benefits. Dropping the price of fuel doesn’t seem to be on the cards, and increasing their tax levels is also not being considered. Here in Europe we have price caps and have received energy costs benefits, paid out direct to everyone through their pay and salaries, or through welfare benefits. Energy companies have been nationalised, especially in France where the price increases have been limited to 4%, and all is right with the world, so to speak.

There are times when I simply do not want to hear any news from or about England, but it is impossible to avoid; since their vote to leave the EU in 2016 it has been nothing but bad news coming out of the island. And several of my English friends, one of whom was a very strong believer in leaving the EU and England going its own way again, have very quietly returned to Germany and settled back into their old routines again, as if nothing had happened, as if they had not said anything about the way forward for the country six years ago. The country is on its way toward a general strike, with railway workers, nurses and postal workers all threatening strike action, or actually walking out, at the moment. All we need now is a march of poverty-stricken and starving people from the northern regions down to Westminster, as happened in the Thirties, and the scene will be perfect for a return to the problems of the past, the grey and dismal times between the two World Wars.

Funnily enough, no one asks me if my miss the land of my birth any more, not that I let them know where it really is. I am happy to have people assume I was born somewhere in Scotland, and that I am better off as a result, and just working towards independence. The last is very true: I would welcome independence for Scotland from this forced union without a second thought, especially when looking at the differences between the way Westminster is handling the series of crisis, and the way the Scottish parliament is reacting. They are worlds apart. And it is amusing to hear the English, from parliamentarians right down to ordinary people, complaining about what a burden Scotland is but, at the same time, telling Scotland they cannot have independence since the Union is something worth keeping and both countries need each other. The problem, for the English, is that the oil is around Scotland and a large, necessary portion of the energy England needs to function is produced in Scotland, as well as many other things of a more minor caste. Once they give up on Scotland, they give up on the oil fields and their last direct major trading partner.

It does seem strange that letters between our two countries are taking considerably longer to get over the waters, even though everything is direct. I wonder whether it has anything to do with the destruction of the postal service in the States by this Trump-appointed official, the one who was removing sorting machines despite them being needed, and closing down postal offices as well as removing letter boxes. It could be something completely different, but this is what has been happening between England and Europe too, with many delays. Sometimes a letter from the States gets here quicker than a letter from Scotland or Ireland. Regardless, it is always good to have letters arriving, and to read the news and views and know that things are going their way as they should, even if there are many things we would rather change or correct.

I have always been a cat person, I must admit it at some stage, although there have been dogs in my life and I have had many pleasurable years with a dog in one of my former households. I suspect I am more attuned to cats because of their much vaunted independence, of their ability to care for themselves, which domesticated dogs seem to have lost. They seem to take command of a situation, assess everything that is happening, and then blithely wash themselves regardless. Of course, the sense of family loyalty is not there, the signs of gratitude and affection are missing too, but dogs are also quite hard work, and cannot be safely left on their own for two days when someone goes out on their travels, as I so often so. That said, I appreciate dogs far more than cats when it comes to family feelings, and to their uses as guides, as protection, as an inspiration to get out of the house and get some exercise. I am sure half the population would grow into their couch and become one with the remote control if they did not have a dog which needed to get out and point itself at the nearest tree. And dogs tend not to swipe everything off your mantelpiece just to see what happens, although I am sure many a wine glass has been swept off a coffee table by an over enthusiastic tail through the annals of history. Which can happen by other means too, to be fair, as I know to my own cost. I visited friends – quite a while back now, we were an illegal gathering in a small house on the outskirts of Bremen during the lockdown period – and managed to swipe a full wine glass off the table with the pleats of my kilt swinging out; as they are meant to do, just not necessarily across the path of an innocent glass.

Is it more fun, or does it take more energy, working with a younger puppy? I can imagine they are more inclined to play, but the whole idea of learning at that age is to make it into a game as much as a learning experience. If it works with children, learning foreign languages, or reading and writing as a game with prizes at the end, I am sure it works just as well with dogs. I’ve seen many dogs here, out for their training sessions, but they tend to be in unruly groups, rather like a classroom full of children let out into the wild, but with one parent or teacher unable to control a single child. I wonder at what age children lose the ability to walk along the road in an orderly form and become a massive group of people going in all the directions of the wind. That’s pretty much what these dog groups are like, a mass of writhing bodies at the end of a lead, with a human trying to guide them in this direction or that according to some plan the dog has no conception of, and the humans often too. Kindergarten children, here, going out to the sports hall, or walking from one area to another, all manage to do it in pairs with the guidance of two teachers, at front and back of the orderly line. Not that I would expect an orderly line, two perfect ranks, holding hands, of teenagers.

I have to tell you, I have often considered what the future holds for my books – already knowing that the children will chuck or sell them once I’m gone – but there are few possibilities. Most of my books are in English, and are very specialised. It would be difficult to find a school library, even if they would accept such a donation, suited to English-language books on history and philosophy. Libraries here are very well subsidised, and almost always up-to-date with their offer selection, and also very attuned to the desires of those who live in the area and are more likely to borrow a book or two. My local library, as one example, would not be a suitable place for such works, even if they did have a selection of English-language titles. Going to a larger town, the titles on offer are also dependent on what the locals read, or might wish to read, and we do not have a high population of former Brits here, despite the area being a former British zone following the war. The next level is a city, and my nearest cities are all university towns, with libraries matching the specialist subjects being taught, as well as the university libraries themselves. My style and subject matter of reading is either well covered, or unnecessary.

Then, to add to the whole, I simply would not feel comfortable without my books around me. They are as much a part of my life as anything else – and I have t-shirts which date back to the early Nineties, so you can see how ordered and careful my life of hoarding really is – and add a certain level of warmth and comfort to a room which nothing else comes close to. Or, in my case, four rooms. One of the greatest pleasures I can imagine is being surrounded by this personal history, as well as by the history and thoughts of others, always at arm’s length, and ready to be perused and reused at will. And I do open all my books quite regularly, as I write articles or papers, or even reference something in a letter, a social media posting. Admittedly I have not quoted many books in my letters to you of late, but there is always something in the back of my mind which a letter or reference calls up and reminds me of something, and gets the thinking juices working and flowing again. And, of course, cross references when I am reading something else, as many books are not original source works, but rely on the writings of other researchers and thinkers.

Added to which, this coming year I am thinking about doing a few more diploma programmes, adding a few more certificates and qualifications to my long list, just for fun, and such works are vital for the best possible results. And I can come up with a thousand or more other reasons and excuses why the books should stay – quite aside from the fact that my house would be fairly empty if they were not there, and I wouldn’t be able to justify such a spacious living area – I am well rehearsed in such things.

There are other things on my kind, though. I’ve just ordered myself a new laptop, as my internet laptop is dying a death. The M key no longer functions as it should, which can be very frustrating if I want to answer an email quickly. So I am waiting for the delivery, on Tuesday, and then planning the many hours I will need to get it up to scratch. It’s all very well people claiming that a computer is easy to use, and they generally are, but getting them that way in the first place is like riding a donkey backwards through the first seven levels of hell. Installing the basic software takes several hours, and then all then other programmes which have to be added, from writing through photography, mail and browsers to records and databases. I can easily write off two full days just to get a new computer to the same level as the old computer, where I would much rather be doing something else, something more constructive or enjoyable, such as reading a book or two. Luckily I have vacation from Tuesday on into the new year, although there are many other things I’d rather be doing instead.

Judging by the post at the moment it will already be new year when you receive this, so I hope that you had a good Christmas and came safely into 2023 which, I am convinced, is going to be a good year for all of us, in one way or another. I am told that if you look on the dark side, the down side of things, you are rarely disappointed, but I shall remain optimistic and seek out the best that is possible as, I am sure, you will too.