Friday, September 28, 2007

Not the Hoff

I started to write this post last week but it got delayed as I haven't been at all well. I have been laid low by a nasty bug and was unable to focus on writing anything for very long. I had to stay home from work and spent the time dozing on the sofa, and I never usually sleep in the day. Bob the cat applied feline care in the form of sitting on me and going to sleep purring. The fact that I feel a bit better is patently down to his ministrations. I am now as weak as a kitten but at least I'm on the mend.


Anyway, while I was in Vienna I was amused to find old episodes of 'Knight Rider' on the TV, dubbed in German. In fact 'The Hoff' turned up quite a bit. I had heard that he was big news in some European countries and this confirmed it. Lately he has resurrected his career in the UK, through a largely tongue in cheek take on himself but elsewhere, 'The Hoff' seems to be a serious force in entertainment.

I was much more taken by a different 'Hof' (see what I just did there?), namely the Hofburg Imperial Palace. This was the first of the palaces that I saw, being located in the Inner Stadt, not too far from the hotel I was staying at. I was walking through Vienna, on the first day I was there and turned down a very well appointed street, full of designer shops to see this domed and high arched entrance at the end, bathed in sunlight

The facade was quite impressive as it was richly adorned with fountains and statues, including ones of Hercules and Archangel Michael. The photo below is part of a water feature at the corner of the building, where the pigeons liked to bathe and then preen their feathers.

The Hofburg is a palace that has been home to the powerful Habsburg dynasty, who were rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It served mostly as the winter residence, while the Schönbrunn Palace, further out of Vienna, was the preferred summer residence. The Hofburg area has been the documented seat of government since 1279 for various empires and republics and it currently serves as the official residence of the President of Austria

The palace was immense, having been expanded over the various generations that inhabited it. It currently encompasses six museums, a chapel, the president of Austria's offices as mentioned previously, the national library, the famed Winter Riding School and a park. One of the museums contains an impressive collection of arms and armour where I spent a couple of happy hours. The collection mostly belonged to the past Emperors and included practical as well as dress armour and diverse weaponry. The photo below shows the jousting armour of the Emperor Maximilian I.

Inside the Hofburg the interior was a homage to marble with marble staircases, marble bannisters and marble columns. It was vast and sumptuous and my photo below really does not do it justice. As I walked up these stairs I wondered at the powerful and rich people that had walked there before me.

The Hofburg is big. You could easily spend a couple of days looking around this alone. The photo below shows one of the inner courtyards where there was a cafe (just out of shot to the right of the picture). I spent a leisurely lunch here, eating wurst, followed by torte and washed down with Viennese coffee, watching the tourists all pose by the monument. There is so much to see and do in Vienna that it is easy to rush around looking at this and that, but it is equally important to take time to stop and stare, to drink in the atmosphere and rest before moving on.

Of course, I saw so much more in Vienna, including visiting two other palaces which I will post more about soon.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Not a Night at the Opera

It has taken me a while to sort through the photographs I took whilst in Vienna. I never realised I took so many as I honestly did not spend all of my time viewing things through a lens. My tactic is much more one of seeing something for myself and taking it in with my own eyes and experiencing being there, then if the urge takes me, if the subject demands me to capture the moment, then I will lift the camera and view life through a lens.

For me, part of the fun of being on holiday is taking photographs. It allows me to tap into my creative side and allows me to merge two of my most favourite things, travelling and exploring new places with taking photos. Of course, once I return the creative process continues as I sort through my photos and file them. This always allows me to savour my break as the images transport me back to where I took them. Even though I use a dSLR camera I prefer not to rely on software enhancement of my pictures, preferring to compose my shots in situ, so when I get back minimal treatment is required. Sometimes though I see a photo that just screams for the artistic treatment.

My last day in Vienna was overcast compared to the other days which had been hot and sunny and as such the photos were moody. I felt that, for some of them, this lent itself perfectly to black and white and so I have converted the images to monochrome and I am very happy with them. The images below are of the Weiner Staatsoper, home to the Vienna State Opera.

The shot above was taken from the roof of the Albertina museum which is opposite the opera house. The original Opernhaus was inaugurated in 1869 with Mozart's Don Giovanni but was gutted by fire in 1945 during WWII. The foyer, the main stairways, the vestibule and the tea room were spared. The rebuilt theatre, the Staatsoper, seating more than 2,200, reopened in 1955 with Beethoven's Fidelio. The opera house has hosted some of the finest directors and opera singers.

I just love the photo above which is of one of the covered and arched walkways that surround the perimeter and form part of the building. This photo was taken standing near the stage door. I was walking around the outside of the building when I noticed this couple ahead of me and thought that it made a good composition.

I very much hoped to go to the opera while I was in Vienna but alas tickets are hard to come by and very expensive (unless you want to stand with obstructed viewing!). This time I did not make it and had to content myself with a circuit of the opera house but I did go to a very fine concert by the Vienna Imperial Orchestra who played Mozart and Strauss (of course, Vienna having been home to the musical Strauss family) with opera singers and ballet dancers. I had a wonderful evening, even if it wasn't the opera.

I am still sorting through my photos so there is much more to come!

Saturday, September 22, 2007


I've spent the last day or so going through my photographs of Vienna. I took over 400 so I have been sifting through them, filing them and trying to select which ones I will put here on my blog. I managed to do so much in the few days I was away, but then Vienna is a city rich in culture, with so much to see.

I always like looking at my photos after a return from a holiday; they always evoke feelings of well being and have been an antidote to coming home where it has done little more than be grey and wet which has been fitting for the sombre mood of grief that envelopes my family but does little to lift the spirit.

One thing that has been a lift is that Shephard has awarded me for the 'Nice Matters' award.

I am extremely flattered as this award is for those bloggers who are nice people; good blog friends and those who inspire good feelings and inspiration. Also for those who are a positive influence on our blogging world. Coming from Shephard this is indeed a great compliment and I do always try to be nice though as I think there is enough unpleasantness in the world as there is. My grand mother always said, if you can't say anything nice then don't say anything at all.

Apparently, once you've been awarded you should pass it on to 7 others who you feel are deserving of this award. So I now have the honour of passing on the award to others. This is very difficult as there are so many of you who deserve it. I know several of you already have been presented with this award and deservedly so: Naomi of Here in the Hills, Susan of West of Mars and Shephard himself get a special mention from me as I believe they all to fit the description above but they have already been nominated.

Soooo, I will pass the award onto Kross Eyed Kitty, Melody, RS of Musings from the Hinterland, Sarch, CrazieQueen, Breadbox and Rashbre and especially Mar of Maremagnum. (I know that is one more but I really must bend the rules for the wonderful Mar, who I thought had already been awarded this award but hadn't). Each one of these people has been a great blog friend to me in some way and have especially offered their support at times when I needed it. In addition, the blogosphere is a better place for their inhabiting it. There are many more of you that I would like to give this to. I have not overlooked you but I am certain that you have or will receive this award soon. The blogosphere is a better place for you being here too in my opinion or you wouldn't be on my side bar.

Vienna photos to come soon!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Back Again

I'm back.

My niece's death hit me pretty hard. I had had a short break booked for some time and felt that what I really needed to do was to get away. My niece was a vibrant little soul, effervescing with life and I felt the best way to honour her memory was to live life to the full. I needed time and space to make sense of what had happened and to heal, so off I went.

I had a nice few days in Vienna, Austria. I walked miles in gorgeous parks and exploring the city, took coffee and torte in street cafes overlooking magnificent architecture, visited museums and sumptuous palaces. The sun shone and the early autumn days were warm but all of this had a shadow cast over it. The distance and space away from home helped me very much though. I have always been the same. When I am hurt I need time and space to lick my wounds.

My nieces' funeral was the other day and now the whole family is starting to get on with the business of life again. I took my camera with me to Vienna and I will be sharing some photo's with you very soon. Once again many thanks to all of you who stopped by to leave me messages of support, to those who directed others to do so and those of you who sent me an email. Your support has been greatly appreciated and will not be forgotten.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


The local news have covered my niece's accident which was to be expected. Hordes of people have turned up at my sister's house with flowers and laid them in the garden and her lawn is like a floral sea. I found the following on the site of the local newspaper and thought the tributes paid within it were very fitting. They describe Jess to a 'T':

09:00 - 11 September 2007

Tributes have been pouring in for 11-year-old Jessica who died following a road accident at the weekend. Jess was riding her bike on Saturday in the street near her home, when she was involved in a collision with a car.

She had started at Secondary (High) School a week before the accident. An assembly was held for fellow year seven pupils yesterday morning and a remembrance book put in the library for pupils to sign and record their thoughts. Her death has also hit the community of her Junior School hard. In a prepared statement, head teacher Dave Smith remembered a child who loved dancing.

"Jess always gave her best at school, impressing a string of teachers with her effort and application; she achieved some super standards in her classwork," he said. "But what she lived for most was her dancing. "Jess's love of dancing and her enthusiasm for performing were legendary, whether the audience was an impromptu gathering of pupils and staff in the school playground or, as in last year's year six drama production, a full hall and audience of more than 200, she loved it all - and we loved her. "She was a girl with true sparkle, one that will burn bright in the hearts of anyone who was fortunate enough to know her."

He said she joined the Junior School in September 2003, transferring from the nearby Infant School. "The younger sister of Chris, she announced her arrival with an infectious smile and a sense of fun that became the outstanding feature of her personality," he said. "As a result she made friends with teachers just as easily as she did with the boys and girls."

The secondary School head teacher, Simon Packer, said: "There are obviously many kids who knew Jess and who are very upset today. "She made an excellent start at our School and she was a popular girl in her tutor group. "At the assembly the staff and pupils had a minute's silence. Mr Packer added: "I spoke to them about thinking of the family at this difficult time and for those who knew her well, I told them to remember the good times.

"The collision happened at around 6.30pm at a T-junction off the road where she lived. A 17-year-old man was driving the black Vauxhall Corsa involved in the collision. Jess was taken to hospital with head injuries, but died on Sunday. Tributes were posted on the local newspaper website all day on Monday.

My niece had her whole life ahead of her. I am deeply saddened that she will never dance again, that she will not fulfill the potential that everyone saw in her, that the world is quieter without her and that she simply never got the chance to experience life; you know, growing up, dating, studying, getting a job, marriage and all the things that follow. I have a story. Recently she was heard remarking that she had an 'In a minute' Grandad. "What's that?" she was asked. "Well", she explained, "whenever you ask him to do anything it's always 'in a minute". She cracked me up.

I am truly touched by all the people that have visited here and left supportive comments. Each and every one of them has been appreciated. Thank you especially to Mar, Naomi of Here in the Hills, RS of Musings from the Hinterland, Melody and Beckie who reached out to the blog community on my behalf. I have never met you but it meant the world that you cared. I will not be around for awhile now but I will be back soon and I will get around to visiting again then.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

My niece died today. Jessica was pronounced at 12:35pm. She was only eleven years old. There was no miracle. She never regained consciousness as her brain was too damaged. I was able to see her before the ventilator was switched off but part of me wished I hadn't. It was good to get the chance to say goodbye but it wasn't my niece lying there any more. There was no more chattering. My sister is still in shock as she was very close to her daughter, as is her brother. Our whole family is grieving.

Apparently, Jessica wanted a carriage with white horses and a pink coffin for her funeral. She will get it and it has been decided that everyone will wear something that Jessy would approve of, which means bright colours. She was a vibrant child and that is how she will be remembered.

I can't write any more right now. Please see the post below to read a little about her and please understand if I don't do much visiting for a while. Thank you for all your prayers and sympathy.


I have a niece. She just started school last week. I was talking to her last weekend and she was looking forward to going to 'big school' and making new friends. Yes, she was wondering how it would go and she talked a lot about missing her old school too, about the teachers who were obviously fond of her and the friends she had made and who were now going elsewhere. I admired her for her certainty she would make new friends and for the way she was looking forward to this new experience despite there being scary aspects.

She also explained a million other things to me. My niece cracks me up. She is a little chatterbox. Her narrative is a constant stream of consciousness as she has not yet really learnt to filter things out and express every little thought that comes into her head. She has an idea and she is off again, full of enthusiasm for it until the next one comes along. It's funny and endearing, if a trifle exhausting at times. Then she is up and off outside dragging us with her, to show us how she can spin on the spot. She takes dance lessons you see and has not long ago passed her grading exams in modern, ballroom and Latin American dance. I have no idea where she gets her energy from.

Except now she is quiet and still as she lays in intensive care. My sister rang me late last night. She was knocked off her bicycle by a car. She isn't going to live and there is nothing anyone can do. I had to break the news to my brothers and they can't believe it either. We all want to do something but nothing we do can make this better. Her brain is going to keep swelling until it kills her and there is nothing anyone can do. How can any of this be?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

So far...

So something. There have been high points and low points. It has, at times, forced me to take a good look at myself and the way I behave and why. It is not a comfortable thing to do, and discussing it with others, I don't think any of us are having an easy time.

The good news is that I am still alive though I am very tired so this will be short. The tasks we have been set as part of the course have meant having to work on in the evenings. Tomorrow is a big day as we are to make a presentation as the culmination of one of the tasks. The presentation is being made to a senior manager who will 'grill' us on the decisions we have made and then later we will get feedback as to how effective we have been as part of the group in the task, and also in presenting ourselves. We have also been doing other group work which has been very intensive and challenging and has left me quite drained.

I really must go to bed but I will let you know how it goes.


I'm back now. I wanted very much to post more while I was away but I found the experience mentally and emotionally draining and the days were full and long so it was difficlt to find spare time. I am going to post about it in the next day or so but I can tell you this. It was the most difficult, uncomfortable, challenging and yet rewarding course I have been on. I have learned much that I can use both at work and in other areas of my life.

It was strange having to leave the course today. For a week we had spent so much time together at the training centre adn it felt a little weird to be returning to the real world though we were all keen to go home. It was like leaving a community where we had shared things and once we left we knew it would never be the same again. Apparently, it is not uncommon for such a sense of commaraderie to develop on this course as it is so stressful. Oh, and by the way, the presentation we had to do went very well. More to come...

Monday, September 03, 2007

A course and a car

So, I am now a day and a half into the course and it is a lot of hard work and very intensive. So much from my break from work! The course started with the inevitable introductions and then it was straight down to it with our first exercise briefing. All this on a Sunday evening when I should be enjoying a film and a bottle of wine!

Today, the pace increased. We started by completing the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI) which helps to assess your strengths in both 'fair weather' and 'conflict' situations. The SDI categorises you as a 'type' of person with various behavioural traits:

Red: These are assertive, goal focused people who take decisive action and are constantly on the lookout for opportunity.

Green: These tend to be cautious analytical people who judge carefully before acting. They are predominantly concerned with practicalities, fairness, weighing up the issues and using careful consideration before acting.

Blue: These are people-focused carers who consider the needs of others before their own. They are warm and friendly and will defend the rights of others over and above everything else.

Hub: This type of motivation is a combination of all three colours and reflects people who are adaptable, good at team building and able to see issues from a number of different viewpoints.

Of course, there are people, like me, that are 'blends', that is they are a mix of two of the colours and I fell into this category. Having this information is an advantage as it helps you understand your value system and what motivates you. Understanding your motivations helps you to communicate effectively with others, and to get more from interpersonal relationships, it also helps you to develop an insight into the ways in which you, and others around you, alter your habitual behaviour, especially in conflict situations. This understanding can then be used to make choices and change behaviour to bring about improvements in how you manage others, act in a team and communicate. That is the theory at least. I found it very illuminating. It immediately made some things very clear that immediately spoke to me. It wasn't a 'Road to Damascus' moment but it was like upgrading turning on a light. I now understand why I behave in certain ways and more importantly, why some people might not understand my behaviour. Make no mistakes though, this is simply a tool. I know it will not make me a more effective person overnight but understanding something is the first step to making improvements. I liked the way this inventory took account of the shift in behaviour we all make when we are in stressful situations too.

After this we scarcely had time to draw breath before we received another brief for a group exercise and then later on we were divided yet again into groups and briefed on another group exercise. More on these in a later post as we will be completing these tasks over the next couple of days. In that respect this course is designed very much to be 'work like' where we are not doing just one thing at a time but juggling tasks and priorities and planning ahead and dealing with different people and sometimes conflicting situations. This is the essence of the course, as throughout we gauge our own and others effectiveness. Everyday there is an hour session where we give and provide feedback and we have been warned that we will not always be comfortable with what we hear. I will let you know how it goes.

Meanwhile, thanks to all those who took a guess at the mystery car. Those of you who guessed the Ford Edsel can give yourselves a big pat on the back from me. Below is a picture of the car from the front. Check out that chrome!

The Edsel is best known as being one of the biggest automotive flops of all time. Indeed, the name is synonymous with marketing failure. The model in the photographs is the 'Corsair'.

There is no single reason why the Edsel failed, and failed so spectacularly. Popular culture often faults the car’s styling. Poor workmanship has also been cited and marketing experts hold the Edsel up as a supreme example of corporate America’s failure to understand the nature of the American consumer. Business analysts cite the weak internal support for the product inside Ford’s executive offices. The Edsel was "the wrong car at the wrong time."

I took these photo's on a recent day out to the Science museum. More photos from that trip coming soon. Meanwhile come back to find out how I am doing on my course and if I end up throttling one of the other women on the course who is very annoying. If you have a black cat, apparently hers is blacker. You know the type!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

What is this?

I am off on a course today. Yes it is Sunday and I am going on a work course, and no, I don't usually work on Sundays. The course is one designed for people on management development schemes and is vaguely titles 'Personal Effectiveness'. Hmmmm. I read the course material and it is full of buzz words and phrases such as 'increase self awareness', 'improve interpersonal relations' and 'making a good impression'. Apparently there will be role play and group discussions where I must be prepared to share insights into my work behaviour and traits. Ah, so there will be introspection too.

From all this I have come to the conclusion that this course concerns aspects of 'Emotional Intelligence'. This is an ability to perceive, assess, and manage the emotions of one's self, of others, and of groups. It is one of the latest fads to hit the world of management. Or is it more than a fad? I guess I will find out for myself.

I will hopefully have access to the Internet while there so I will keep you updated on how I am doing. I am hopeful that this will be a good course, that I will get much from it. At the same time I am mindful that I will be taken out of my comfort zone and stretched somewhat. My behaviours are going to be analysed and criticised by relative strangers. This makes me a little nervous but at the same time it will be good. Sometimes it is good to hold a mirror up to yourself even if it can be uncomfortable.

Anyway, I thought I would leave you with a little test. I went to a museum recently and I had my camera with me. I found quite a few things that were great to photograph but this one in particular was interesting. It has so many shapes and lines and features. It is also an 'infamous' American car. Can you guess what it is? I will give the answer next time :)

This was on the bonnet or hood...

This was on the front of the car...

A view of the front from the side. Any guesses?

And finally a wider view from the front. Do you know what it is now? As I said I will post a full pic of the car soon and the answer. I will also keep you updated about the course, as long as I can get Internet access. Come back soon and see how I am doing!