Archive for the ‘Life Philosophy’ Category

The Activist

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

‘You know, I have become an activist Nymph.’ Peirene is standing on a ladder putting books back into their shelves after they’ve been redecorated. It is not a job she enjoys.31653672943_9f795a8d7d_z-2

‘I know you are,’ I hand her another pile while I keep my ears pricked to hear the door bell. I’m waiting for the phone technician. Our landline has not been working properly for the last three weeks. This is the first appointment they could give me.

‘For example, I do a lot for women,’ Peirene continues. ‘Over half of our authors are women.’

I don’t react. My thoughts are elsewhere. It’s embarrassing – and bad for business – if a company’s phone line is down for such a long time.

‘And let me tell you another thing: I’m also doing a lot for our community. I support Counterpoints Arts.’ She draws a deep breath. ‘So, I’m defying Trump & Brexit and xenophobic right-wing politics with my actions. Right or wrong?’

‘Right,’ I nod vaguely. I’m unsure why she feels that she has to tell me all these things. I know them anyway.

‘So aren’t you feeling guilty-?’ Her voice has suddenly turned accusing.

I look up at her, standing there on the ladder like a Nymph of The Mighty Judgement.

‘-for us not having joined the women’s march today.’

The coin drops. She clearly feels unhappy that we decided not joining the march taking place right this moment in central London.

‘Peirene, neither you nor I should feel guilty. If we could have gone, we would have.’ I hand her another pile of books.

‘You could have!’ She folds her arms in front of her chest, refusing to take the books from me. ‘All you are doing is waiting for a phone person to turn up. What a weak excuse.’

I struggle for a response. Then find one. ‘As you have just pointed out, there are all sorts of different forms of activism. Marching in protest is one. Mine is to get our phone line back up and running so that readers who want to buy our books over the phone, can do so. And that surely will help to spread international understanding.’

For a moment the Nymph remains with her arms crossed. But I know that she knows I’ve scored but she doesn’t like to admit it straight away.

‘And what if the phone technician doesn’t turn up?’

In that moment the bell rings. I flash her a smile of relief and zip down the stairs to open the door. I’ve not stayed at home without reason. Soon the phone will be working – and the world will be, ever so slightly, a better place.

Image by Tom Hilton, creative commons.


How Peirene Will Change The World

Monday, November 14th, 2016

‘What a disaster!’ It’s Wednesday morning, I’m staring at the US election results on my laptop. For the next couple of hours I’m glued to the news. Eventually I get dressed and head into the office.8795626821_f77d56312e_z

‘What time do you call this?’ The Nymph is not amused.

‘I have been thrown off balance by the US election results,’ I mumble.

For the next half an hour I organise my desk. Then I check on facebook how my friends have reacted to the elections – tears and rage and sadness and incomprehension everywhere. I find it difficult to focus. Peirene, on the other hand, exudes intense concentration this morning.

‘Aren’t you disturbed by what has happened in the US?,’ I finally ask, while I begin to put our stationary in order. That’s at least something I can do without much thinking.

She shrugs her shoulders absentmindedly. ‘I am. But so what!’ She continues typing. ‘Brexit shocked me more. That was my wakeup call. The American election has merely confirmed that the shift is taking place all over the Western world.’ The Nymph now stops typing and glances at me sternly, her eyes appearing huge through her reading glasses.  ‘You and I,’ she then continues, ‘are part of a social group that has done well over the last 30 years. We settled in London, educated ourselves, set up a publishing house. You yourself tell me that you feel lucky that you weren’t born in your grandmother’s or even your mother’s generation. Right?’ I nod and she adds ‘There are many fellow country men and women who clearly don’t feel that way. I like to understand them better and then see where we all have to adjust our thinking in order to progress together towards a more inspiring future.’

‘That’s a tall order.’ I sit down. ‘And how are you intending to reach that wisdom?’

The Cut, our Brexit novel. It will give me some insights.’

‘No pressure on Anthony as the writer,’ I say sarcastically. I pause for a moment. ‘And me as the editor.’ I swallow.

‘Anthony is up to the task. As for you – it depends if you will now finally get down to work and stop wasting your time clicking through news channels and social media.’

Image by Monica H., creative commons.

Holidays in the Back Garden

Monday, September 5th, 2016

The doorbell rings. A man wants to deliver a freestanding stainless steel patio heater. I’m about to tell him that he must have got the wrong address, I didn’t buy this, when the Nymph appears next to me.5779715772_ede39d38a2_z

‘I’m so pleased. Thank you.’

She signs the delivery and drags the heater through the kitchen and into the back garden.

She has arranged a deckchair underneath a big sun umbrella. Next to it stands a table with a pile of books and jar of fruit cocktail. She places the heater beside the deckchair, strips down to her bikini, puts on her sunshades and drops down in the deckchair.

‘Do you mind moving, please.’ She waves her hand at me. ‘You are blocking the sun.’

I don’t move. Instead I put my hands to my hips. ‘May I point out that it’s Monday morning, 9am, our work week is about to start. Holidays are over.’

‘You might have had your holidays. But I’m exhausted. You made me work far too hard over the last few weeks. Our first Peirene Now! title breach was launched successfully with reviews in the national press and a blog tour by the authors, the second Peirene Now! title -  about Brexit -  has just been commissioned, Peirene No 21, The Empress and the Cake has arrived with our subscribers and we have recently announced our 2017 series.’ She drinks a few sips of her fruit cocktail through a straw. ‘I’m in desperate need for some serious me-time,’ she sighs. ‘Otherwise I will collapse before Christmas,’ she adds.

‘Peirene, I think you are exaggerating. Both James and I have been around on and off to help you throughout the past two months.’

‘On and off.’ She puts the back of her free hand to her forehead. ‘That’s precisely the problem. I had to carry the entire responsibility on my own.’

I feel guilt creeping up inside me. I have indeed relied on her, expecting everything to run smoothly.

‘I see your point,’ my tone is less harsh. ‘So how long would like to spend out here?’

‘Two weeks.’ She is now creaming her arms. ‘And I’m prepared for all types of weather. For sun,’ she points to her shades, ‘for rain,’ she points to the big umbrella, ‘and for the cold,’ she points to the heater. I’m about to say something, but she interrupts me. ‘And I’m doing it the cheap way – in our back garden.’

Her last argument has defeated me. ‘Fair enough,’ I agree. ‘But how about reducing it to a week?’

Her face breaks into a big happy grin and she blows me a kiss. ‘Thank you. That was my plan all along. But I thought if I say two weeks I would stand a better chance of you agreeing to one.’

Image by Erich Ferdinand, creative commons.

Step By Little Step

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

I’m on the stairs heading down from Peirene HQ to the kitchen. I’m precisely half way. I’ve counted the steps. Sixteen in total. I’ve done eight.14331687384_b0ea843c47_z

Peirene skips past me. At the bottom of the stairs she suddenly stops and turns around, looking at me in surprise as if she hadn’t noticed me standing there before.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m trying to get down the stairs,’ I mutter through clenched teeth, holding on to the banister firmly with both hands while I carefully lift my left leg in order to bring it down onto the next step. The pain is excruciating.

For a moment the Nymph appears to be rooted to the spot. ‘Oh my God, you  have forgotten how to take stairs.’ She brings both hands in shock up to her mouth.  ‘It’s the onset of early Alzheimers.’ She has turned totally white in the face. ‘I knew it. You’ve been forgetting so many names recently.’ She sits down on the last stair and leans her head against the wall. She closes her eyes. ‘Breathe, Peirene, breathe,’ I hear her say to herself in a soothing voice. ‘You have to help Meike. You’re a team, no one needs to notice yet.’

In the meantime I’ve managed to get both feet onto the next step. I, too, breathe in deeply. Out of relief. As long as I don’t move my legs, I feel no pain.

‘I’m perfectly OK,’ I mumble, mentally preparing myself to take the next step. My legs are like lead. I haven’t had such muscle pain for years.

Suddenly I hear the Nymph break out in laughter. ‘Don’t tell me – it’s the effect of your new Gym routine.’ She’s now clutching her sides. ‘Didn’t’ I advise you not to do it. Why change if something is going well. But you insisted. Your old regime was no longer effective you said. You had done it for five years without ever changing a single exercise, you argued. You had become complacent, you explained.’

I’m onto the next step. Six left to go. ‘Peirene, you are not helping.’ I throw the Nymph an irritated glance. ‘It’s good to keep on setting yourself new challenges. In all areas – intellectually and physically,’ I add defensively, although right this very moment, I wonder about the truth of my own words. It feels as if I will never live pain-free again. Ever. For the rest of my life.

Peirene stands up, wiping away the laughing-tears from her cheeks. ‘I’ll go ahead into the kitchen and make the tea. Don’t be too long. I wouldn’t want to serve you cold tea.’ She blows me a kiss and disappears around the corner. I concentrate on the next step. Only five to go now.

Image by Richard Leeming, creative commons.

Nymph on Politics

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

‘So, the election…,’ Peirene says. But I interrupt her with a stern voice:6660241449_ec366e2044_z

‘Peirene, we don’t talk politics here are on the blog.’

She pauses for a moment, before she calmly finishes her sentence:

‘…. I really hope that they might forget about the EU referendum.’

‘I agree,’ I mumble.  ‘But I doubt it.’

There is a silence. Then the Nymph can no longer hold back:

‘What century do they live in? The world has become so interconnected. We can’t just sit on this island and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist.’

Once again I nod in agreement.

‘We need to do something!,’ Peirene says emotionally.

‘We’re already doing something by publishing foreign literature. That’s our contribution to broaden people’s minds, ’ I try to calm the Nymph down.

‘I know I know.’ Peirene shakes her head. ‘But our reach isn’t wide enough. More urgent action is required.’

I throw a side-glance at my Nymph. She has a determined look on her face.

‘I’ve got it,’ she suddenly announces.  ‘We need people to focus on the future.’

I’m intrigued to hear her vision.

‘In a few generations, due to the rising sea level this island will sink. Then all of sudden the British will want to be best friends with the Europeans because they will be desperate to find new homes.’

Peirene may be an inspirational nymph but her political forecasting aims high – and then goes even higher.

‘Are you sure people will care enough about future generations?’ I question in an even tone and add: ‘Humans don’t think about the long term’.

‘But I’m not human. I’m a Greek Nymph,’ Peirene beams across her face. ‘And I will still be around in a hundred years – and so will the next generation of Peirene subscribers. So, when this island sinks I will put in a good word with my fellow Greeks and other mainland Europeans – and tell them that broad-minded Peirene subscribers wouldn’t have wanted to leave the EU in the first place. An EU ferry will come and rescue them while everyone else will have to swim.’

Peirene stands up, ready for action.

‘I’m their only hope. It’s a pity I am one week too late. Otherwise I might have stood as an MP’.

Image by garlandcannon.

A New Queen

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

‘What a great newspaper!’3343380147_354fc7a29d_o

Peirene is sitting in the office armchair, reading the latest edition of our newspaper.

She reads out loud from the introduction: ‘Best-selling German author Birgit Vanderbeke allows us a glance into her creative process, comparing writing to cooking. Internationally renowned Polish author Hanna Krall talks about stories of the Holocaust. ‘They are stories in which everything has been multiplied. Enormous evil and enormous good.’ Translator and writer Emily Jeremiah gives us an insight into the art of translation: ‘There are things one cannot render.’ And the Deputy Director of English Pen, Katherine Taylor takes us on an eye-opening journey through the world of literature. ‘Imaginations are ignited in infancy by fairy tales drawn from diverse cultures and languages.’

The Nymph pauses for a moment. Then continues: ‘Plus interviews with film makers and authors. And extracts of our forthcoming books.’ She is slightly out of breath. ‘Wow. This is so impressive.’

‘I know. Isn’t it just.’ I am proudly beaming across my face. She lowers the paper for a moment. ‘I am so pleased that the newspaper has a new editor. The last editor really didn’t know what she was doing.’ She once again disappears behind the paper.

‘Peirene. That was mean of you.’ I feel hurt. After all, for two years I used to be its editor. And I felt I did what I could at the time. However, I have to admit: what was not much more than a glorified catalogue under my control, has now evolved into an exciting magazine about foreign literature. Thanks to Clara, our new newspaper editor. Still, I like to be given a bit of credit from the Nymph.

‘Well done for delegating,’ comes Peirene’s voice from behind the paper. ‘ May I just point out, though, that the position for Queen of Delegation is already occupied within our company…’

The voice wants to continue, but I am quicker. I have walked over to the chair where the Nymph has been sitting for over an hour. I pull the paper away from her in a single sweeping movement.

‘May I announce: There has been a revolution. We have a new Queen of Delegation. And you my lady will now get back to your desk and continue working through the to-do-list I have given you.’

Image by Amazing Cupcakes.

21st Century Exam Skills

Monday, September 1st, 2014

I’m back after a wonderful summer. What was the highlight? An exam, actually. My first in the 21st

A couple of months ago I finally decided to apply for a British passport – and for that you need to pass the ‘Life in the UK’  test.  I have been living my ‘life in the UK’ for over 25 years so I felt well prepared. But not so fast. Apparently you have to buy a book. Then you study it. Then you register for the test. Then you sit in a room at a set time with a crowd of others and the test begins. Suddenly I felt a little nervous.

The morning of my exam, I sharpened my pencil, I made sure my fountain pen had enough ink. And I also put a newly purchased ball-point pen into the pencil case. After all, I wasn’t sure what sort of pen we’d be allowed to use, and I wanted to be equipped for all eventualities.

As I cycled down to Islington, in my mind’s eye I saw myself bending over a desk writing my name at the top of a sheet of paper. And at the end of the exam I would clip the sheets together and pass them over to an examiner who would tick the correct answers and then add up the ticks.

I arrived well in time – I was always a good student. I locked my bike and went inside. There were no desks, no examiner, no paper clips, not even any paper. Instead we were shown into a room with rows of computers. The images in my head evaporated into thin air as they were confronted with the stark, technological, reality. What would my son have said? ‘Dah, Mum, which century did you take your last exam in?’ And I would have had to admit that it was indeed in the last millennium.

Exam nerves subsided and full-fledged digital panic took over. What if my computer of all the computers won’t turn on. Or perhaps the machine turns on, but won’t let me access the right programme. Or it turns on, I access the programme, but then it saves my answers wrongly. Or doesn’t save them at all. It might even explode! My heart started racing. My palms became sweaty. And I feared my fingers were too wet to touch the keyboard.

‘Pull yourself together, woman. You are the head of my publishing house. Don’t disgrace yourself – and me.’ This were Peirene’s last words as I left the house that morning.  And as always, the Nymph’s words did wonders for me.

The computer did not explode, it let me enter the programme, it saved my answers. And I passed the test.

Back at Peirene HQ, the Nymph greeted me with a clap on the shoulder. ‘Well done, proud of you. Can’t wait to encounter the new, modern, technologically savvy, British you. We will from now on all look to you when the internet doesn’t connect in the office.’

Two-Hour Triumph

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Last week my 14-year-old was awarded the Classical Civilization prize for Year 9 from his school. Well done, my son.5495880511_d1a9ef5a0a_z

But, actually, the prize belongs half to me. Without me he would not have stepped onto the podium. Without me there would be no academic triumph and public recognition.

At least not in ClassCiv.

A few weeks ago he started to prepare for his end of year exams. I asked him to show me his notes. I was impressed. Science, history, geography notes were tip top. Maths, English, foreign languages all under control. He loves music and art– so no worries there. I was about to leave his room when suddenly it struck me that I hadn’t seen any ClassCiv notes. My son shrugged his shoulder:

‘No one is going to study for it.’

‘So do you know it?’

‘It’s boring. I am going to drop it next year anyway.’

‘That’s not a good enough reason for failing your exam.’ I paused after this piece of maternal wisdom. Then added: ‘Show me your note books from this year.’

He got out a nearly empty folder.

‘Is that it?’

‘Yeah,’ he shrugged his shoulders again. ‘I threw most of the sheets away. They were too confusing.’

Since he started to play the piano at the age of four, my son and I have developed an effective modus operandi. The starting point: he doesn’t want to practice and I want him to practice.  First I blow my top. Then he shouts at me. Then I shout at him. Then we shout simultaneously at each other. This little intermezzo usually lasts about 10 to 15 minutes. Then we sit down next to each other and get down to work.

It took him a mere hour and a half to reconstruct the time line from the Greeks to Julius Caesar that had been covered during the school year. We then spent a further half an hour adding bullet points. He looked over it a couple of times, headed into the exam and achieved top marks.

‘You see,’ I couldn’t restrain myself from commenting when he came home with his A, ‘that wasn’t painful, was it? All you had to do was to concentrate for two hours.’

And so, dear reader, just in case you wonder why I recount this little domestic tale, we have now come full circle and we are back in Peirene land and our two-hour reads. It only takes two hours to read a Peirene novella. And if you, like my son, take two hours, the Nymph and I promise that you, like my son, will obtain unexpected rewards and pleasures.

Image by Xuan Che.

The Beauty of Being Right

Monday, May 19th, 2014

‘You have absolutely no clue what you are talking about!’ I slam down the phone and march out of the room. In the kitchen I put on the kettle. ‘That was not a very mature reaction.’ I hear the Nymph say behind me. ‘I don’t care.’ I take a cup "Miss Philadelphia 1924" by velvettangerineout of the cupboard. ‘The way the man handles literature makes me so angry.’ Before pouring the boiling water, I take a few deep breaths to calm down.

The man in question: my husband. The issue: the ending of The Blue Room. He took the latest Peirene book on his business trip. He then called me up to tell me his thoughts. And: I totally disagree with his reading of the final sentence.

‘You know the thing about literature,’ the Nymph says in a tone as if talking to a small child, ‘it’s open to interpretation.’

I roll my eyes. ‘I know that, Peirene, don’t lecture me.’

‘Then don’t get angry. It’s nothing personal.’

I suddenly have to smile: ‘Oh, look who is talking!’

Now it’s the Nymph’s turn to throw me an irritated glance: ‘Our classification of books into a series – that’s different’.

Peirene has become a liability at our stalls. Whenever a customer decides to buy just one book rather than all three making up one of our annual series she is in danger of uttering sharp remarks under barely held breath along the lines of ‘You are missing the point of our books,’ or ‘Why don’t go away and learn about creative reading first.’

Needless to say, the Nymph’s heart is in the right place. She is adamant that reading all three books in the order of their appearance in the series adds another, deeper dimension to the reading experience.

Because: our curation of our annual output resembles a three part musical piece. Each section is self-contained. The A section (this year: The Dead Lake) provides the theme and key (Coming-of-Age). The B section (The Blue Room) is in a contrasting but closely related key and displays a different character. The C section (Under The Tripoli Sky) than returns to the A section and continues where A left off.

‘Let’s make a deal.’ I turn around to the Nymph. ‘I will call my husband, and continue our conversation in a calm fashion, while you from now on will be nice to anyone who comes to the stall.’

P.S: I will be away next week and back here 2nd of June.

Image: “Miss Philadelphia 1924″ by velvettangerine

Gym Power

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

‘For all the weight training you do,’ Peirene loves teasing me, ‘I can’t really see much of a result. Where are your Michelle Obama arms?’Exercise. Image by  classic_film

I often wonder the same. I stand in front of the mirror in a sleeveless top. I lift my arms and tense my muscles – and there is not much to admire.

I go to the gym twice a week. I hate every minute of it. I started because I love running. Five years ago my hips and knees became painful. I was told I needed to do weight training if I want to continue with jogging to maintain equal muscle strength throughout my body.

Each time I attend the gym, I do three machines for the legs, three for the torso, three for the arms and one for the neck.  With summer and short sleeve dresses just around the corner, I’ve been eyeing my biceps, however, more with hope than expectation. But then this week my arms suddenly revealed their inner strength and gave me one mini-triumph and helped Peirene HQ avoid a mini-catastrophe.

First the triumph: I’ve beaten my 13-year old son in arm wrestling – twice. He’s just outgrown me by a centimeter and thought he’d have me under his thumb. Well, not yet. He’s distraught and has intensified his push-ups.

Then I saved the Peirene Masterclass from drowning.  On Thursday, during a Masterclass marketing meeting, Shelley, Claire and I suddenly heard water dripping from behind the fridge. It’s a big free standing fridge-freezer. With the kitchen in imminent danger of flooding I got up and pulled the fridge away from the wall. Without batting an eye lid. Nearly. Shelley, our Masterclass tutor, was impressed. ‘Do you work out?’ she asked.

So, my dear Peirene, I hope you no longer mock my arms, nor my weight training. In fact I advise you to join me at the gym. After all, I run across the Heath like a young goddess, you huff and puff next to me like an Ancient Greek Nymph.

Image by classic_film.