Yeah, that’s Me, 35-40 Years Behind the Times

Yesterday, when Spouse was occupied, the dog was asleep, and the cat and a half (Big Kitty plus Grey, the stray who has adopted a spot in our yard right next to the food bowl) were outside, the latter trying desperately to be friends with the former, both of them sitting in the sun, facing into the wind, like very own little flock of seagulls, I decided to listen to some music.  And not just any music, but exactly the right sort of music for this day and age of a world fairly barricaded inside its houses and apartments, hospitals and morgues overwhelmed with patients, and not so much as a single sheet of toilet paper to be found on grocery store shelves. Yes, that means I put on Kate Bush, in particular, the Kate Bush that is The Ninth Wave, which is the second half of her brilliant Hounds of Love album.

There are some great songs on there.  Like this one


And this one


Down through the years, I have slowly learned that The Ninth Wave, whose name stems from the idea that every ninth wave in the ocean is a crazy big one, is a series of songs about someone literally lost at sea, all alone and hoping not to die, who is visited by fear and nightmares, hope, love, and, finally, rescue helicopters. But it has never been clear to me whether or not this person lives or dies at the end.  The final song, which wraps things up, seems to me like it could go either way, yet it also ends so abruptly that, listening to it for decades in my kitchen or on my personal stereo (I was always too cheap/broke to buy a real Walkman) on a tape I’d made from the record I’d bought, I’d always assumed that, so close to the end of the cassette, the bulk of the song had been cut off, that that was the life, popped like a soap bubble into the sweet morning light.

But, thanks to the internet, now I know the truth, from the mouth of the auteur herself.



But the song from a million years ago that I keep coming back to is one I’d been shockingly unaware of until its performer died a few days ago from Covid-19.  In fact, I’d been brutally ignorant of her existence until I read the tributes that poured in, at least to certain corners of the internet.  How had I missed Cristina?  Mind… blown, and… this song came out in 1980?!  No wonder it died a death and she gave up her pop-star career.  We simply wouldn’t have been ready for it or her back then.


It’s even more mind-blowing when you compare it to the original

Pot-Bellied Pigs and Other Omnivores

Lately, my mother has been sending me lots of short little emails, which, times being what they are, is probably what everyone’s mom is doing these days.  Cut off from playing Scrabble with her friends, going to movies with her friends, eating in restaurants with her friends, and walking along the beach with all the dog-walkers and exercisers, she has been taking a daily walk in her neighborhood, more or less along the same route, more or less at the same time each day.  It is the sort of neighborhood that, if you do this, even under ordinary circumstances, you also end up to running into the same people also out for their daily constitutional.  My mother has discovered that in these most unordinary circumstances, this includes a family of five- mom, dad, babe-in-arms, small dog, and mid-sized dog sized pot-bellied pig.  Apparently it is white with pink and black spots (which I think means it is not a true pot-bellied pig).  Many questions spring immediately to mind (how big is that thing going to get?!), not the least of which is: aren’t there ordinances against the keeping of pigs within city limits?

Anyway, I guess you can feed them just about anything.

Speaking of which, oh. my. god.  Dogs really do eat just about everything.  I did not grasp this before becoming the proud owner of a fast moving working terrier mix.  Have I mentioned this already?  If you’re not careful when you open the fridge, a little snout will stick itself in and pluck a carrot off of the shelf.  But our little Ru-Ru doesn’t like carrots even a tenth as much as he loves ice-cold, crisp slices of kohlrabi.  Apples are the bomb, too.  And eggs, potatoes, rice, stir-fried zucchini, sausages (duh.), lettuce, cornbread, bread bread, the wet mix of pulverized breadcrumbs and minerals I give to the chickens every afternoon (because otherwise I just can’t get them to take their vitamins*) {*sensu super latissimo}, all walks of cardboard, all important pieces of paper** {**and here I used to think that ‘the dog age my homework’ was a joke}, used tissues from the bathroom garbage pail, hand towels, bath towels, anything small and plastic enough to require surgery if it lodges itself into any gastrointestinal nook or cranny, clean socks, dirty socks, my underwear (and my underwear only) out of the dirty clothes basket, cat food in all of its forms (wet, dry, chucked up, pooped out), horse apples, cow pies, deer pellets, chicken shit, mummified rats, and, as of 24 hours ago, single-use rubber gloves chucked out someone’s car window as they drove down a country lane not far from our house (assholes).

Schlucked down whole, even, before the horrified eyes of Spouse.  When they got home from their walk, we called the vet, expecting to hear a Thank god you caught it so quickly!  Come right in and for a mere couple of hundred euros, we can put him under general anasthesia and endoscope that thing right out of him.  But she just laughed and said, it happens (read the internet; generally it’s not single gloves but boxes of them).  Feed him sauerkraut.  That’ll help it slide out.

The sauerkraut was another big hit.

Anyway, thanks to the 12 hour average gut transit time of your typical small dog, it all came out, ahem, in the end this morning before breakfast.  Although apparently Spouse had to provide the final tug.  (It is at times like these when little Ru-Ru is not our dog but his dog.)

The only other news from here that’s fit to print is that German tv is full of montages of celebrities of various flavors (actors, moderators, sports stars, musicians) thanking the overworked and underpaid hospital workers and exhorting people to stay at home.  The new one I saw last night actually included a guy in a bright shiny new t-shirt that said FUCK THE VIRUS.  Because only in Germany could you show that on prime time tv during a public service announcement.


That Curve Better Be Flattening!

Another day, another one mile march away from home and then straight back again, woot.  At least it’s sunny!  But, pollen.  By evening my eyes are inevitably burning, my throat is scratchy, I’m drop onto the floor exhausted, and even though I haven’t been within 2 meters of another human being other than Spouse since my last foray to the grocery store nine days ago, I’m all oh my god I’ve got it.  Then I have to decide if it is a relief to get it out of the way, because, then, when I’m well again, I can gallivant around footloose and fancy free, without worrying that I might accidentally kill someone by infecting them.  Then I tell myself, no, no, no.  I only have one goal right now, and that’s not to spend my upcoming 50th birthday on a ventilator.

Anyway, I took yesterday’s walk in the afternoon because it was too butt cold in the morning.  Rudy did his usual, after having spent the whole day out in the backyard, he waited until we were just too far away from home (and, more to the point, the trashcan) to turn around and carry a plastic bag home then start the walk over from scratch to poop.  Sigh….  But at least there is a trash container by the school bus stop, and that wasn’t too far away, so, hah, take that, Rudolph!  I didn’t have to walk the greater part of two miles with a bag of your warm poop danging from my fingers.

But shortly after that, I found I was having to drag Ru-Ru along because about 100 meters behind us was a woman walking a bike with some sort of little baby trailer attached to it and next to her was a white toy poodle.  And, you know, how awkward, bumping into another dog walker in the time of social distancing.  So I spent ten minutes dragging Rudy along by the leash and at every junction I thought, oh, maybe she’ll turn here, but, nope, the lady and her dog just kept following us.

Eventually, I just gave up and stopped and made Ru-Ru sit until they passed us.  And it wasn’t a baby trailer.  It was a little dog trailer.  How totally cool is that?!  So when little doggy legs get all worn out, you can stow the little beast inside, hop on your bike, and take it for a ride!  If you were super cool, you’d let it wear Ray-Bans and stick its head (and tongue) out the window and you speed along.  (Are Ray-Bans still cool?  Or does this just make me sound old and out of it?)

On our way back home, we were overtaken by a woman out for a walk and clearly excited about the prospect of talking to someone.  She was one of those people (or the children of one of those people) who’d come to German from Italy as a guest worker after the war and then never left.  She thought my accent was super cute, which I thought was super devastating, because I like to think I don’t have one, because I know exactly how horrid native English speakers speaking German sound.  I got to hear all about how a couple of years ago she and her husband were on vacation in Mallorca (nearly 4 million Germans go on vacation there every year) and he had a heart attack, which was why she was glad that the weren’t on vacation there right now, like they were supposed to be.  Not that the healthcare there was bad or anything like that, just, how stressful to be stuck in a major crisis someplace where you don’t live and don’t speak the language and don’t know anyone.

Then we shared a shudder at the carnage that will cut through India and Bangladesh when the virus goes viral there.  They’re such crowded places!  It’s hard to imagine any health system failing to collapse under the strain that is headed there way.

After that, I ran into my across the street neighbor and her nearly 90 year old mother who still goes out for lots of short walks every day.  The neighbor’s husband is in Brazil and was too cheap to spend the extra 1000 euros for an early flight home.  So he’s planning to hang out as planned until his visa runs out at the end of April.  Presuming that flights will have started back up again by then.  At least he owns a house down there and has good friends and there are lots of people there who speak German (and no, not because they are all Nazis who escaped there after the war; the settlements are older than that).  But, still, in his shoes I would have totally paid to change my ticket.  It’s not like he doesn’t have the money.

There was a really interesting article on the npr website this morning, an interview with the guy who wrote World War Z, about how the US could have totally nailed their response to the pandemic and I don’t mean that in an ironic way.  Here’s a guy who has definitely done his research and can speak about it incredibly expressively.

But, anyway, I’m getting a bit bored with not going anywhere.  I’d like life to go back to normal now, please!


How Did We Survive the 1990s?


Not for another second.

(Switches the media player off)

Ah…..  So much better.

This is what another day of isolation has driven me to (and again, I’m not complaining, just grappling a bit with the will to live, even though I have it 1000x better than someone stuck in, say, mandatory quarantine in their room in an apartment building)… I’ve scrubbed the shower and all the sinks; I’ve plonked zucchini seeds and butter lettuce seeds into soil in little pots and put them in the cold frame (unheated mini greenhouse) and, wow, even though it’s butt cold outside, it’s tropical in there;  I took the Ru-Ru for a walk; I did sit-ups and push-ups and that sort of stuff (for ten minutes, woo hoo); I ate half a bag of tortilla chips; I worked for a few hours on one of my books; I worked on the cross-stitch; I brought 10 eggs over to the neighbors we chicken-share with and we shouted at each other from more than the mandated 1.5 meter space between us; and I fished the soccer ball out of the little pond that Spouse had left in there hoping that Rudolph would just in after it and learn how to swim.  And then I thought I’d dig out all the CDs of music I haven’t listened to in ages and load it up on my computer.  Because I’m kind of sick of all the rest of it (except Mitski!!!! and the newest Lana Del Rey, which I am wavering between loving and hating, but anyway, at least it is a lush sonic landscape).

First up, one of the last two Eels albums I bought (which I bought, gosh, it must have been when I was still living in England, which was more than 15 years ago).  There’s no way I could be sick of them, I thought, because I never succeeded in listening to them all the way through (even though I used to love the Eels and their beautiful sad songs.  But, ARGH.  I. JUST. COULDN’T. STAND. IT.

I still couldn’t get even halfway through the first one (which might have been the second one, chronologically, but it was the first one that I grabbed).

HOW DID WE SURVIVE THE 1990s, listening to stuff like this?!  It’s so… miserable.

And it’s definitely not what you want to listen to at the beginning of weeks of social isolation.

On a brighter note, the farmer husband of the farmer up the street came with his loader yesterday and scooped up the mountain of alpaca poo and urine-soaked straw that is piled up against the corner of our back yard and whose run-off has turned our pond into a fetid cesspool of algal overgrowth (only the blood worms in the gunk at the bottom are happy about this).  He got free manure (not that he needs it, since his wife keeps 60 or so cows and who knows how many he has on his farm a couple of villages over) and the alpaca people didn’t have to pay to have the waste hauled away.  And now maybe toads will lay eggs in our pond again. A win for all involved.

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print from here, except that the nearly 80 year old friend of ours did succeed in cooking pasta.  I was thanked, not just for the pasta sauce, which he managed to stretch out to three meals, but for pushing him into that first-in-a-lifetime experience.

It may turn out to have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, in fact, now that he’s discovered that one of his local haunts is still open for take-out.



11 Days Down and How Many More to Go?

Three cheers for living out in the boonies, on a short street, not even a village.  I have more chances of running into a tractor (literally) than another person if I go out for a walk.  And I don’t even have to do that to spend time outside, since we have a fairly good sized yard in desperate need of tending and ready to explode with growth now that it’s spring and the days are getting longer (although not yet much warmer).

So, yeah, two trips to the grocery store aside, is has been 11 days since I mingled with other human beings, during my once every half a year or so trip into town to see a movie.  I can’t imagine doing this in an apartment (even one with a balcony), much less keep it up, off an on, for the greater part of year (which is the current estimate for what it will take for COVID-19 to die down).  OK, I don’t have to do this.  I’m not in the age bracket with the ~40% mortality rate from COVID-19 infections, but I strongly suspect I’ll have a severe case needing hospitalization and there is no way I want that to happen during a peak in a wave that has the hospitals overwhelmed.  Although at least I finally have a goal for my fast looming 50th birthday: not to spend it being ventilated.

Despite our instincts to the contrary, earlier this week (or maybe it was even late last week), we’d invited a nearly 80-year old friend over for dinner.  That was supposed to happen yesterday.  But he has not spent the last 11 days socially distancing himself.  No, he’s been going out for lunch or dinner in restaurants every day, going to a restaurant for coffee every afternoon, and visiting people left, right, and center, because he’s a very social guy.  (OK, he’s a couple of years too old to be a baby boomer, but it is exactly like this article in the New Yorker.) So, yesterday afternoon, Spouse, who does not want my heart getting re-inflamed and failing again, gently retracted the invitation.

As a consolation prize, he later drove over a heaping portion of the bolognese sauce that I’d already cooked and, because I thought pre-cooked spaghetti would be a disgusting mess, enough uncooked pasta to eat with it.  Our friend is hard of hearing so, although he was home at the time that Spouse dropped by, he didn’t hear Spouse ring the bell.  So Spouse left the food on his porch.

We received a phone call a few minutes later: how does one cook spaghetti noodles?

I think my  jaw hit the floor.  How can it be that someone who is nearly 80 and has lived alone for almost every last minute of his adult life not know how to cook pasta noodles?  Spouse had to walk him three time through every step.  Bring salted water to a boil.  Ease in the noodles.  Cook for 11 minutes.  Remove when al dente.

I hope he at least has a pot!  (Although he has in the past confided in us that he’s an expert at making lentil soup as good as what his grandmother used to make: open the can, pour in a pot, add a shake of vinegar, heat it up.  He may have also said something about eating it straight from the pot, but that just might be my mortified mind playing tricks on me.)

Anyway, it seems clear that an actual stay-at-home order will be coming from the German federal gov’t within the next 48 hours or so.  It’s sad that things have to get bad (more than 20,000 cases and hospitals edging towards being overwhelmed) before people will accept such a thing from the gov’t.  Numbers of cases would already be going down if we’d all tucked ourselves into our homes ten days ago already.

That’s how I read it anyway.  If it takes 5-24 days to show symptoms and some days after that to get sick enough to be hospitalized or die, then the people catching the virus today will show up in the count roughly ten days later.  So it will take at least 10 days from the social distancing measures to show any effect and longer than that for them to make a dent in the number of people needing to be hospitalized or dying per day.

Anyway, anyway, my elderly parents, who live thousands of miles away from me, have figured out how to order groceries online (phew!).  And spouse’s parents, who live a few hundred miles away, phoned last night to say that a niece and a nephew (who, like us, are also about 50 years old) have stepped up to do their grocery shopping.  So that’s good, because Spouse’s dad has diabetes on top of being in an age bracket with a scary high mortality rate.




Miraculous Mayonnaise

After 1 hour of increasingly fouler swearing and having to pour three batches (nearly a full liter!) of unset mayonnaise down the drain (argh, the waste of eggs and oil!!!), I resorted to the internet and discovered that, yet again, all you need in life to be successful is an immersion blender.

As in, dear reader, there was homemade aioli for our homemade superiority burgers and it was fabulous.

Click this link and you will not only never buy mayonnaise again, you’ll never again be cursed with curdled egg yolks while you whisk and whisk and whisk, howling in the agony of futility while trying to make your own.


The state we live in has added bars, museums, all clubs, and brothels to its list of anti-coronavirus closures.  They are nothing, if not thorough.

I Never Would Have Thought…

If you had asked me even just three and a half years ago if I expected to face down the barrel of my 50th birthday without a career (save for unsuccessful novelist), with spouse’s career (and allegedly permanent position) a heaping pile of stinking ashes thanks to a psychopath, the family income about to enter freefall because the last unemployment check is nearly upon us and Spouse’s company hasn’t officially been born yet, much less reached the stage where it is in diapers and not yet even toddling, although almost, and in the midst of a continent currently at the heart of a pandemic that has emptied the streets and is bringing the whole world to a halt, I don’t think I would have laughed, but I wouldn’t have believed you.  None of this was part of the plan (although for years, hadn’t I joked that ‘unsuccessful novelist’ was my plan B for when my scientific career didn’t work out; I just hadn’t expected I’d be the one to burn out and throw a secure professorship away).

But, of course, everyone has some version of this story right now, especially the people in their last few months of high school or college, the people who’d planned to get married and honeymoon this spring, and the generally older people with underlying illness (which is just about everyone past a certain age) who, if they catch this, have a good chance of not surviving the season.

Speaking of which, Spouse was reading in Der Speigel this morning that if you are over 70 and have a heart or  lung issue and catch the new coronavirus, the doctors will not waste a ventilator on you. There’s not enough ventilators to tie up on someone with so little chance of surviving.  They’re using them on younger, stronger people instead.  And while that’s understandable, it’s chilling.  And it makes you understand exactly why we’re all staying at home right now… not to save ourselves (although that’s a good part of it), but to flatten that curve, as they say, so that there aren’t too many people sick at the same time that it comes down to thousands of wretched choices  like this.  Because some of those people would live.

The state we live in here in Germany, last time I saw the numbers, which I think was for two days ago, had 50 cases.  If the numbers are increasing by 33% a day, that means by now there are about 90.  We don’t yet know anybody who knows anybody here (etc) that has it or thinks they’ve been exposed to it… except the next door neighbor who works for a huge periodical publisher in Berlin.  Eight days ago we had dinner with him (he comes back here for weekends) and he was saying that he was surprised he hadn’t been told to self-isolate yet, because a department in a neighboring building already had cases.

Well now he’s stuck home alone for two weeks (at least) in his apartment in Berlin (hopefully his toilet paper situation has been, um, rectified (a word which, indeed, shares a root with rectum)) because he has now certainly been in close contact with a co-worker who has tested positive for the virus.  His wife, meanwhile, who lives here every day of the week and has an abysmally low white blood cell count, has been told to isolate herself, not to avoid spreading the virus, but to avoid catching it, because it would almost certainly become severe in her case, even though she’s only 51 or 52.

Spouse is becoming more and more concerned about the whole thing.  He’s cut his meetings with potential customers and potential investors and electricians and programmers, etc, back to a bare minimum (but can’t stop entirely lest his almost born company suffer a stillbirth).  But he’ll probably drive down to see his parents in a day or two.  Give the geometric progression of the numbers of infections, it would be unwise to wait any longer.  Clearly he’s worried that if he doesn’t, he might not see his father, who is over 70 and has diabetes and Alzheimer’s, again.

It’s weird to think that maybe I should be thinking about rushing home to take care of my parents.  They’re even older than Spouse’s parents and, unlike Spouse’s, they’re both totally alone (my aunt as well).  There’s no one who can say, “I’ll do the grocery shopping for you, so you don’t have to go out in public and catch the virus.”  Although, of course, that would only work until I caught the virus myself.  And do I want to face hospitalization in a country where I don’t have health insurance (although I do have travel insurance that would probably cover it)?  Because, with my weak heart and tendency to get asthma and pneumonia from ordinary colds, I’m also pretty sure that if I catch it, it will become severe.

Spouse is also ready to stop grocery shopping entirely.  I’d prefer to go out tomorrow (today is Sunday and the shops are closed) or the next day and stock up on apples, oranges, and other perishables first.  But by then, who knows?  Every day brings new restrictions.  First all meetings with more than 1000 people were cancelled.  Then it was 100.  Then 50.  Now all the schools, universities, and community colleges have been closed for 6 weeks.  And they’ve shut all the gyms, theaters, discos, public offices of government (like the places you go for residence permits, wedding licenses, weapons licenses, etc), public swimming pools, and movie theaters (thankfully I caught Emma. last week.  Great film!!!  And I’m not even a Jane Austen fan.  I’d tell you to go see it, but…).  I suppose restaurants and bars will be next.  Also, while the government keeps telling people not to “hamster shop” (Hamsterkauf is my newest favorite German word), who knows what will be left in the shops by, say, Monday evening.

I’m glad that, having seen the writing on the wall, we got our own personal hamster shopping done several weeks ago.  Although I was so depressed by the selection of frozen veggies (cauliflower, peas, spinach, Brussels sprouts, ugh, and other stuff that either doesn’t seem like an inspiring choice for freezing (texture, people, texture!) or I only eat once in a blue moon because it sends me, for one reason or another, into intestinal distress.  So, again, I would at least like to go back tomorrow or the next day and stock up on apples, oranges, onions, bananas, sweet potatoes, and other fresh veggies.  Also, horror of horrors, our little barrel of salt pickles that the neighbor made for us last summer just ran out.  😦

I also feel like, when the cases get thick on the ground, I ought to volunteer to grocery shop for our immune-compromised neighbor and for our two nearest neighbors in their 70s who are always helping us out and inviting us over for dinner.  I don’t want then to get sick and die!

The Joys of Puppy Ownership

Spouse was half-watching tv last night, as he always does each evening while writing emails, surfing the web, or playing Candy Crush or sudoku.  Having emptied the internet of unread content myself, and unlikely to get anything useful done because I’d burned myself cooking lunch and my hand hurt like hell, I wandered over and sat down on the sofa.  First we watched a couple of tv shows about meat-fixated Germans going (mostly) vegan and were inspired to further cut back our consumption of animal products (Spouse) and added sugar (me) because we wouldn’t eat the dog, so why would we eat a pig and because we’re getting old enough to feel like crap for a couple of days after eating too much crappy, inflammation causing foodstuffs like sugar.  But, oh, is giving up candy going to be hard.  As my dad said of himself when I talked to him on Skype yesterday (because he’s discovered the gastric reflux he’s endured for the last 50 years just goes away if he doesn’t eat dairy products or sugar), I was born with a sugar spoon in my mouth (or at least that was probably the first thing I managed to get my grubby little hands on as soon as I’d learned to crawl (and then climb up the counters and open jars)).

Later, when we were well into What Happened to Monday, Big Kitty left the sofa, scratched around in the cat litter in the bathroom, and then wanted to be let out of the house.  Two minutes later, Rudolph disappeared for 30 seconds and then came back to sit next to me.  And then I thought… did the dog just fart?  What is that smell?  GAG.

Meanwhile the dog was smacking and chewing happily.  And the smell was just not going away.

Well, you see where this is going, don’t you?

“ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I screeched and Spouse, looking over from his easy chair, just started laughing when the situation was explained to him.

Which brings me to the list of things I’ve looked down at Rudolph when he has been sitting next to me and realized he is chewing on:

1. Yes, cat poo.  Swallowed it even.  Ugh.

2. Spouse’s brand new smart phone, which now needs a new brand new cover.

3. Rudolph’s own collar.

4.  Dirty socks off the laundry pile.

5. Clean socks off the drying rack.

6. Seat cushions dragged off the kitchen table chairs.

7. The doormat.

8. My running shoes.

9. My wood + leather garden clogs.

10. My plastic garden clogs.

11. My slippers.

12. Spouse’s slippers.

13. My knitted winter hat.

14. Spouse’s knitted winter hat.

12. My gloves.

13. The car keys.

14. A small rock out of the garden.

15. A raw potato.

16. My sweater (while I was wearing it).

17. The quillow on the sofa.

18. The vain attempt to save the sofa from animal hair that is the blanket we have over it.


And that was just yesterday.  At least Rudolph didn’t succeed in bringing the giant self-mummified rat inside.

I stayed up late to finish watching the movie because I was enjoying it although it wasn’t exactly an original plot, I have no idea why this day in age there are still people who think the future looks like 80’s minivans, and it was dubbed into German which sucks, period, but also means I don’t always understand everything that’s going on.   But then, ugh, the end.  It just turned into an ultra-conservative propaganda movie against the horrible, liberal idea that we should stop overpopulating the world.  And that just drove me crazy, because, jeepers, you know, it is possible not to want to overpopulate the world without thinking that it would be a great to execute children.  I don’t know why sometimes the otherwise imaginative people writing sci-fi have such failures of imagination.  And I say that as someone who has spent a lot of time trying to write sci-fi but feels like they don’t really have the imagination for it, and yet I can see there is a whole lot of grey in between the ends of the spectrum that are go forth and heedlessly multiple and kill all the superfluous children.



Three Cheers for Speed Cameras

Having grown up in Southern California, my understanding of speed limits has always been: add 5 miles per hour.  But when I lived in France and was complaining grievously to a German friend of mine that the local understanding of the speed limit seemed to be either 15 miles an hour below it or just slightly faster than the car in front of you, leaving me sandwiched in the middle, simultaneously stymied and honked at, she laughed and said but the limit is just the maximum speed you’re allowed to drive at, it doesn’t mean you have to go that fast.  Having always felt burdened by the duty of driving 5 mph faster than the speed limit, so as not to irritate everyone else on the road, this was a revelation to me that, fifteen years on, I’m still trying to wrap my head around.  Shouldn’t I be doing my best to keep the flow of traffic going and stay out of everyone’s way?

That being said, now that I’m a frumpy, middle aged woman, I’m one of those irritating drivers who sticks to the speed limit on the roads around where I live, mostly because they’re mostly, imho, a bit high given how narrow, curved, and likely to be covered in ice, puddles, mud, foxes, deer, mice, bunnies, birds, bicyclists, or all of the above.  Spouse, on the other hand, although he’s not a horrible driver, is one of those drivers that I hate and think are horrible human beings when they’re behind me: the ones who seethe and fume when I’m going anything less than about 15 miles over the speed limit and then pass me aggressively on a blind curve (at least he has not yet gone so far as to be one of the ones (young male sexually frustrated drivers from Brittany, I’m looking at you) who has then purposely nearly clipped my bumper returning to the lane and then slammed on the brakes, bringing us both to a complete stop, and then dared me to get out of the car and duke it out with them, and, yes, this happened to me more than once when I lived in France, a country I am now not only never going to set foot in ever again, I’m never going to eat its cheese nor drink its wine nor cook its puy lentils nor, harrumph, do anything else to support its GDP, not that I’m still bitter or anything like that).

Which is all to say that from time to time, Spouse gets a letter in the mail from a speed camera, generally one of the ones on the autobahn between here and his parents’ place (because the autobahn only has brief stretches where there is no speed limit).  These last few months, though, the letters have been coming from between here and one or the other neighboring towns.

Now, ordinarily, I think speed cameras are unfair.  OK, they’re not tripwire attached to machine guns pointed at the Iron Curtain unfair, but, still, it seems inherently authoritarian if there isn’t a human element involved (although, actually, at least, lacking the human element, there is no possibility for discrimination, provided that the cameras are distributed fairly).  Also, goddammit, the only ticket I’ve ever received in my entire life was from a speed camera that caught me doing 21 miles per hour in an 18 mile per hour zone that, being outside of town and nowhere near any buildings or crossroads, should have by all rights been a 45 or 60 mile per hour zone.  Grumble.  At least it was only a 15 euro fine and I didn’t have to identify myself as the driver.  So, technically, I have never received a ticket.  It just got sent to me as the owner of the car and as long as it got paid for, The Man did not need to know who the driver was.

But the latest letter from a speed camera to Spouse got hit him in exactly the right spot.  It caught him doing that incessantly annoying (not to mention unsafe) 20 miles per hour over the limit on the roads here whose speed limit is 45.  That one was more expensive (70 euros) and he had to fess up because someone had to take the 2 point hit to their license and it sure as hell wasn’t going to be me (also I don’t look anything like the guy in the picture).

As long as Spouse doesn’t accumulate something like 13 more within the next 2 years, it’s okay.  After 2 years, those points will go away.  But yesterday, when we drove to the beach and back to go for a walk because the sun was shining (finally!) and it was Sunday, I realized that Spouse has a new and better but admittedly also slightly irritating habit: driving 10 miles an hour under the speed limit.