Wednesday, September 30, 2009

woe is me

I'm feeling sorry for myself, I've had a rotten cold for over a week now.

It started last Monday (after Simon ha finished with it) with a sore throat that gradually got so bad during the week that I couldn't drink a first cup of tea in the morning before taking painkillers...

Anyway the sore throat went (think I killed it off with an excess of wine on Saturday night at Sam's party) only to be replaced by snot & catarrgh, in copious quantities.
My brother says I should still be able to run if the cold is just in my head (which it is) however most of the time my brain feels like its only loosely attached within my skull so I don't think running is a good idea (my brother is a bit of an exercise nazi as will become clear this coming sunday)

Managed my step class this morning, well, maybe managed isn't quite the word, I was there. Petra, the teacher has a really bad habit of making the class too dance-y, and things got a bit too twizzle-y for my loosely attached brain, if I'd kept on I'd have fallen over with dizziness.

Although I was clearly the lucky one as someone had a heart attack outside of the class!
Our step class is held in the 'alter bahnhof' (old train station) and trains come and go regularly outside, the passengers get a few minutes to watch a group of crazy women stepping up and down and turning around, while the train is stopped. Today a train stopped and stayed stopped. People got off and made frantic phonecalls (probably along the lines of 'come and get me, I'm stranded in the middle of nowhere') and then in the reflections in the windows I saw an ambulance (or could have been a fire engine, you can't be sure here, as you call for either and you tend to get both...go figure)
We carried on the class until Petra in the end let curiosity get the better of her (true blooded German behaviour) and leaning out of the window asked what had happened...turns out someone had had a heart attack on the train, and later as we were getting into the car post torture session, we could see a group of paramedics gathered around someone in the carriage and chest compressions being administered, drama in Kettwig!

So at least I only have the cold from hell & don't need the paramedics.

I always wonder with a cold what is the deciding factor in its duration? Is there a specific quantity of snot that must be produced? If I blow more will I get rid of it faster? And why is snot green/yellow? Such an undesirable colour!

At least it's not swine flu, no temperature thankfully, at the end of the day it is just a cold, making me use up vast quantities of Kleenex Balsam (the only tisue I will allow near my much abused nostils, otherwise I just know that I will end up with a bright red and scaley nose once the cold has been beaten into submission) and making me even more short tempered than usual but also inclined to treat myself.

I believe in the motto 'starve a fever, feed a cold', so I've fed it well (afterall, as I mentioned, no temperature!!) it's had peanut m&ms, cake, biscuits, big bens (which are Germany's equivalent to m&ms) more cake, more takes a lot of energy blowing your nose every few minutes!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Serious Sport

It may or maynot have escaped your notice (depending upon how observant you are and how many Germans you know) that Germans are, to use a German word (that you should be able to work out the meaning for)
(=serious) about everything.
Life, the Universe and (to quote the much mourned Douglas Adams) EVERYTHING.
Not just work, or money, or health (and oh boy is that a whole 'nother subject for another day) but also things like humour (yeah, really - just you wait till I tell you all about the regimented riot of fun that is Karneval) and sport...

Now back in Britain we take sport on a national level reasonably seriously, maybe don't put enough money into some sports, but it's taken seriously, afterall no-one wants to lose and keep losing do they? It doesn't look good on the world stage to constantly never win and to always come bottom in the medal tables. It's not good for moral and other countries (or rather the people in those other countries) feel they can poke fun, anytime, and you become a whipping boy.
But if as a parent you wanted your child to experience some form of sport it would be simple to do by enrolling them in a club, either at school, sports centre, fitness club whatever and then once a week your child would trot off, do their sport thing for an hour or so and that's it, done.

No big deal (unless your child is a world superstar in the making with the chance of becoming the future Bekker/Ronaldo/Radcliffe in which case things get more 'ernst') in Germany, of course, its different. No chance here of joining a football team for a weekly knock about, not a chance, not serious or committed enough!

Most sports that children do at the ages of 8/10/12 they've already been doing since they were 5 (at least that's the way it seems to me) there seems to be little opportunity for changing your mind after a few years and deciding to do football instead of table tennis. And by the time they are 8/10/12 they are attending training twice a week after school and then matches on Saturday &/or Sunday. Like I said, a bit serious, for children, who're just doing a bit of sport!

And of course the adults are no different (why should they be, afterall they've grown up doing 2 training sessions per week with a day of competition - why change the habit of a lifetime?)
Consequently Germans do a lot of sport - or at least, I see Germans doing a lot of sport, in a very serious manner.
I'm convinced that every German has a cycle -usually a big 'sit up and beg' style but those that take their cycling seriously will also have a racing style bike or a mountain bike and all the kit that goes with...the lycra shorts, the yellow jersey (because clearly they've won the tour de france) the helmet, the fingerless gloves to grip the handlebars with...and then every weekend and bank holiday the cyclists are out there, hogging the roads riding 2/3 abreast, breathing in all the car exhaust fumes!

And then there's Nordic walking or walking with sticks as it seems to be. Germans love a bit of Nordic walking, they must all have a set of sticks/poles in the house for them to take with them when they want to look as if they're going on a serious walk, notice that I said 'take with them' and not 'use'...the majority of the people I see with nordic poles seem to be holding them and floating them through the air, now I'm no expert at nordic walking but I do know about exercise and what constitutes exercise and I'm quite sure that for the poles to increase the aerobic workout of your walk you actually need to move your arms dynamically, not just flap them about like a flighless sparrow.

My son Ben used to play golf in England and is starting to play again here, at a lesson with a pro (to assess which training group he should be put into) I was asked how much time in the week did Ben have to devote to his golf...I suggested to the pro that it was more a case of how much time Ben wanted to devote to his golf, crazy Germans.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Saturday afternoon-evening was spent partying, a big highlight for me, as since moving to Germany our social life has dwindled away to almost nothing (it is gradually improving what with bookgroup once a month and expats once a month but still, we don't get out much!)

We were celebrating Sam's 40th birthday at his house with music, food and drinks & because the summer decided to hang around for the weekend we were all outside socialising!

Sam works for RWE, a German power company, so the majority of the guests were German, although it was a pretty cosmopolitan crowd - Brits, Ozzies, Russians, Croatians, Latvians and even an Indian guy.

The standard format for a kids birthday party in Germany is cake first, then the present opening ceremony (I kid you not) then games/activities and ending with birthday tea.
Rebecca & Sam proudly flouted this tradition, afterall it wasn't a kids party & although it might be in Germany they aren't German, I have yet to find out whether the German guests were surprised by the format but they seemed happy enough to be supplied with endless alcohol prior to food (which came before cake in the time honoured English tradtion - and we sang happy birthday, although the Germans know this song as they tend to sing it, in English at birthdays...bizarre, We didn't give Sam the bumps though, would have been one tradition too far methinks!)

Whilst sitting & eating we got into a discussion about how hard German is to learn, I gave vent to my favourite rant (ok, one of my favourite rants) about der/die/das & declensions...
All German nouns are either male, female or neuter (or plural of course) and depending on which 'sex' they are alters the ending that needs to go on the adjective before the noun, so the simple word 'red' in German can be rote/rotes/roter/rotem/roten...depending on what the noun is and what case it I said, it's one of my favourite rants as I struggle to remember what gender nouns are & as some Germans make mistakes too I struggle to take it seriously!
In speech you can get away with the mistakes (in my opinion) by slurring and speaking faster and just whacking an 'e' on the end, but written is a different matter, although with written it's almost easier as you can check it in a book!!
However, although it does strike me as annoying it can also cause amusing situations - we were sitting, eating and a 4 year old girl asks her father who the man opposite is - now 'man' is a masculine noun but the little girl used the feminine article - because although the guy had a beard he also had long hair...most amusing, especially as it followed my rant about der/die/das. The poor guy has probably spent today at work being addressed as 'die Marcel'!!
I also managed to educate a couple of Germans about the meaning of the phrase 'blow by blow' - although I think in both cases they latched onto 'blow' and thought another expression was coming up...and I learnt that 'um die Ecke zu bringen' means to take someone off and kill them...good party gossip eh?
We struggled home about 11, my voice was starting to give up on me by then - a combination of alcohol's dehydrating properties, talking too much and the cold from HELL! But to be honest by that time there were only a few of us left (the younger set had left earlier having another party to go to) sitting around a small fire drinking - as you do. But then we had started out at 3pm so 8 hours partying is pretty good going I reckon!

Mind you, I did pay for it on Sunday when my cold and my hangover joined forces...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shopping - German style

The joys of internet radio - I can listen to Radio 1 while I blog in Germany (I do listen to German radio in the car (can't get anything else easily!) but I like to listen to music that's popular in the UK - afterall so much good music and so many great bands have come out of the UK and achieved international success!)
So shopping, German style, and here I mean food & supplies shopping, not the fun shopping that is for stuff you don't really need but suddenly have to have.
Germans seem to think that food shopping has to be a daily occurence and so all the supermarket trolleys, apart from 1 particular supermarket, reflect this -they're tiny, there's no way you can get a weeks worth of food for a family of 4 into one of these trolleys! And if you do try your damnedest and pile it high eventually you come to the checkout and the surley checkout woman.
Because you're not expected to buy a week's worth of food in one day the conveyors at the checkout are short, and the checkout Frau is usually mean - as fast as you fling food onto the belt she whips it through the scanner and hurls it down the other side to pile up amongst the advertising fliers, so you're under pressure to get your shopping onto the belt quickly in order that you can reload it into your trolley post scanning - no bag packing here. Not only would the staff not dream of helping you pack or even waiting for you to unload before scanning (I've tried asking them to slow up but they react as though I've grown another head and spoken Martian) but you have to pay for each and everyone of the bags you want (which is fine & ecologically sound) and most people just pile everything into their trolleys and reload into bags in the car's one of the things that drives me scatty about the whole German food shopping experience, the repetitive nature, into trolley, out of trolley onto the belt, off the belt into trolley, out of trolley into bags, out of bags & into cupboards - there has to be a more time efficient way - surely the Germans being recognised as one of the most efficient nations will resolve this problem of mine soon?

I think it must only be the Ausländer who try to do a weeks shop in one go, sometimes it makes me smile (on the inside of course, wouldn't dare to smile publically, they'd lock me up for being cheerful) watching the face of first the checkout Frau and then of the people who join my queue with their baskets of 10 or so items as they realise they're going to have to wait for me, unloading and reloading...Germans simply don't want to buck the trend, and if they get all the food for the week in one hit what are they going to do the day after and the day after?

Germans also like to go to one shop for part of their list and another for other items and then maybe Aldi for juice & water and so...I can understand maybe going to the butchers for fresh meat and the market for veg & fruit & the bakers for bread but a separate shop for juice and another for loo roll? GET A LIFE! Jeez!

One last thing that irritates the hell out of me on the subject of supermarkets - paying. The number of times I've stood behind an older German who is counting out 15.75 in 10 & 20 cent pieces (although this does usually give me time to offload my huge trolley load of food onto the conveyor) and then they walk away checking their receipt only to come back in order to complain that they've been overcharged by 5c because the cabbage is on special offer...

Supermarket shopping in the UK is a pleasant experience, here it's just an experience that I try to get through quickly, on occasional trip back to England I go into the huge supermarkets (to stop up on things that don't make it here - Minstrels, cheese biscuits, English Mustard, salt & vinegar crsips to name but a few) that are there (German supermarkets are more market than super) and although it's a polished experience it's also quite daunting after 2+ years of the small & shabby shops here that I've got used to!

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Today Jas has had no school (teacher training, but at least we had lots of notice with this one, unlike Ben's the other week) although I'm at a loss to understand why they have teacher training days in the middle(ish) of the week and not on a Monday or Friday and then we'd have a long weekend to enjoy, ah well, clearly whoever organizes teacher training is male and has never been a parent!

I've just been 'helping' Jas with her homework.

Maths is one thing, I mean 1+1=2 in all languages although before moving to DE I'd always thought that the 'x' was the universal multiplication symbol, but no. Here in Germany 6.2 is a sum and not an answer.
6.2 = 6x2 = 12
and so after that surely you can guess what 6:2=...3 of course.
We were so confused when we had to help with Ben's first lot of maths homework, it was a case of - but that's an answer, not a sum....

Anyway, helping with Jasmine's German homework.
Sometimes it really is the blind leading the blind, from a list of words we've had to pick out which are verbs, nouns and adjectives...takes a whole lot longer when you don't recognise some of the words (thankfully after living here for 2+ years we have a whole range of dictionaries both electronic (slovoed & casio ex-word) internet (babelfish & leo) and the traditional paper (can't beat the Oxford although as it's the size of a brieze block it could be used for beating)
I've had to help with dictation too, which really is pointless as my pronunciation of German is very English and so she made very few errors (which is fine until you compare that result with that from previously when the teacher had been dictating...) and today we've had making up sentences using the adjectives from the previous list, fun!
However, it's done now & I've started her writing a diary/journal (also in German to improve her German) first we had to go shopping for the book to write in and the pen to do the writing with and she's happily sat here and written about her morning's activities, it might have been a day off school but she's worked really hard too! Poor child.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

internet free zone

It's amazing how hard it is to cope without access to the internet & bizarre really considering that for the majority of my life there was no internet & yet 12 hours without it today have been hard! And not completely without it really as with my iphone its easy enough to check email and facebook etc, just a drag for normal internet cruising and the typing of blogs and certainly no chance of doing my Goethe language work online...

But T-com reckon they've fixed the problem now and only a day after we raised it with them, German efficiency eh?

It's funny that the Germans should be famous (to non Germans) for efficiency and yet when you live here and experience German life in full - from schools to hospitals to doctors to dentists, all the minutae of bureaucracy drives you crazy! There's rules for everything and nothing - for example you're not supposed to do 'noisy' gardening before a certain time, during lunchtimes or on Sundays or bank holidays and yet the children at school go on trips on buses without seat belts and sometimes where there aren't enough seats for all the children...bizarre? My friend Rebecca collected her youngest from kindergarten to discover he had a bite mark on his cheek, skin unbroken but come this morning the bite was still visible, kindergarten when queried about it had no answers, no-one had seen it happen & no accident book for it to be noted in and yet you make too much noise on a Bank holiday and your neighbours are more than likely to call the police! The bureaucracy isn't balanced, there's too much in some areas and absolutely none in others!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

school stress

Monday evening was our appointment with Jasmine's 2 teachers, we really weren't sure what to expect, as far as we were aware there's been no trouble at school, we're 4 weeks into term, she'd just got her first mark for German (5, the top mark being 1). I was dreading being told that my child is a complete monster/class clown/bully...but it's none of those.
She's lazy.
Does the bare minimum she can get away with.
Possibly doesn't take life seriously enough (she's 8).
But she's clever & this is the problem I guess, they want her to achieve her potential and so she has to buck her ideas up and work! School gets serious from year 3 on here and she has got to react to that!
Poor Jas.
So we have to work with her on her maths, work with her on her reading, check over her homework to ensure she's put enough effort in etc etc etc.

We were reasonably impressed that they wanted to talk to us so early on in the term, better that than leaving it till half way through the year when it's too late to turn things round in time.
With the schooling system here in Germany, the children part way through year 4 (aged 9-10) are assesed for streaming into high schools & that then sets them for life effectively (kids do transfer between the 3 levels of school but not frequently - why would they want to leave their friends?) gymnasium puts you on the route to Uni, realschule has that possibility also but I think you have to transfer for the last 2 years & gesamtschule is for the rest...consequently years 3 & 4 are important and so we need to make Jasmine aware of that, otherwise she's going to end up in a different school to her friends...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

slow saturday

I started off very slowly, due in no small part to the amount of wine consumed on Friday evening. It was a beautiful day, I can't believe that summer is lasting so long, with every good day I think 'this is the last day of summer' and then the next day dawns and still the weather is warm and sunny, but it really can't last much longer, it's the 20th September for heavens sake, the trees have already accepted that autumn is coming and the horse chestnuts are hurling conkers onto the ground (you have to walk under them at speed so as not to get thumped on the head) all too soon we'll be wearing jeans and boots and needing to take an umbrella everywhere.
Saturday was set to be quiet and so it was, Ben disappeared midmorning to a friends house prior to going to MoviePark for another friend's birthday and then Linus (nextdoor's son) had his birthday guests turn up - 10 or so 5 year old boys who ran around, yelling at the top of their voices, I was delighted to get an invitation to an impromptu bbq at Rebecca's which meant we could leave our noisy house!
And what bliss, to sit in the garden drinking Pimms (and then later wine) whilst the children played happily together, Sam cooked dinner & we debated the choices on his 40th birthday playlist - it's good, but with serious omissions - no Kylie, Madonna, Wham or Bros...but then it's his birthday so he gets the final say (although next Saturday it will be very tempting to take my iphone along with its poppier playlist & then if/when we get cheesed off with his just switch his ipod for my iphone...could be amusing, to see how long it takes for him to notice!)
So what was going to be a quiet Saturday turned into a late, alcohol fuelled evening, but it was lovely to be able to take advantage of the indian summer weather, long may it last!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

shopping fun

Friday morning was spent very happily shopping with Rebecca (after first having coffee of course, no shopping trip is complete without a coffee stop) Rebecca needed something to wear for next Saturday's birthday party (her husband's 40th) nothing too glam but definitely something new. Now I could shop professionally and if it were an Olympic sport I'd certainly medal, so the opportunity to help a friend spend money is never turned down! Anyway we found 2 possible outfits & bought both (of course, - I know from BITTER experience that one should never walk away from something that seems perfect, you can always take it back but you're guaranteed that if you leave it in the shop and then go back a week later when the siren call has grown too strong then it will be gone - it's a fatal mistake!) Then it was onto shoes, or rather boots. And this time we did walk away from one pair - totally gorgeous turquoise suede ankle boots but with a 3 inch heel and not quite the right size but so sexy...Anyway it was a very successful shopping trip although Sam is quite keen to ban us from shopping together now as I'm deemed to be a bad influence!!
Back from shopping I had to face a grumpy Larissa (Latvian cleaner, who is rarely happy, but then she cleans other people's houses for a living, how can that make anyone happy?) she wasn't amused by the note I'd left her which she thought intimated that she doesn't clean the cellar rooms very well (she doesn't) and she hates my hoover (a dyson that maybe is on its last legs but its health hasn't been helped by the brutal treatment it receives at her hands!) blah blah blah. Fortunately I couldn't stay too long to endure her moaning as I had to pick up Ben and take him to a golf lesson...
Later I had to drop Ben & Timo at Vincent's for a birthday party - which involved 12 or so boys being bussed to a studio to film their version of the German pop video 'das geht ab', that'll be a tough one to top!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

shitty, shitty day

Last night's session at school, to hear about the 6 day trip to Langeoog was LONG, too too long, 2 hours too long, I only escaped (by digging under the perimeter fence and outrunning the guards) after sitting through 3 1/2 hours of photos and all the children's (24 of them) stories. It was interesting up to a point...and I passed that point about an hour in! I definitely deserved the 2 glasses of white wine and trashy DVD that I treated myself to on my return.

So today brought more SS (school stress). Just moments after waving Jas off to school her teacher rang, requesting a meeting with him and the maths teacher - things like that are never going to be good news are they? They don't ring the class swot's parents to congratulate them, do they? I just hope it's to do with 'must work harder, concentrate more & needs extra tuition' which is all do-able, please don't let them already be threatening to keep her back a year...It must be something like that as the maths teacher also wants in on the meeting.

Thankfully Si is actually in the country on Monday evening (miracle) so I wont be alone, at least with the 2 of us we stand a half way decent chance of understanding the rapid fire deutsch that will come our way & be able to fight our corner!

So that was the 1st hour or so of my day, then I take Logan running with me & get home to discover the skiving mutt has managed to cut the pad of his hind paw (again). I'm sure he does it on purpose to get out of running with me...overweight beast of a retriever! So for the foreseeable future I shall have to exercise him on the lead with a special shoe on (to protect his wound) and that wont work well at running then I shall have run seperately, the upside is I'll get more exercise...the downside is less time for other trivia....but more exercise means more cake...think positively V!

The final ordeal of the day is approaching as I have to take Ben to the doc's for a check up - last year he broke his arm twice (in exactly the same spot) & this is the check to make sure all is well, just praying we don't have to go for an x-ray as well as that adds another hour onto the whole hanging around with lots of sick people thing. Joy.

And the day started off so well, autumn but warm and sunny, maybe tomorrow will be 100% sunny? One can but hope & I must be positive about life!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Langeoog - Abend

Today's a normal Wednesday, apart from Ben having no school & skulking around the house all the day with various other almost teen boys. So far I've been to my step class & managed only to get lost when everyone else did, then walked Logan with Rebecca & her equally mad dog.
Today is Jasmine's class's report back on their week long school trip to Langeoog (a north sea island off the DE coast), when we were 1st told about it it sounded like it'd be 'here's the photos & the pictures, bye'. But no, it starts at 5 & ends at 8 with food in the middle somewhere (that we all have to bring contributions towards (the chocolate muffins are cooling as I type)) 3 hours for a presentation by a class of 8-9 year olds...they don't do things by halves these Germans! And what a stupid time to have it, however, needs must!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday the 1st (blog)

I'm currently putting off doing my German 'homework' for the day. It's 12 o'clock and so far all I've achieved is getting B&J off to school, the dog & me exercised & the purchase of enough German wine to fill the spaces in my wine rack (its a big rack & it was pretty run down). Although I've also started with setting up this blog but that wasn't on my list of things to do for the day (unlike the ironing which is also being put off) The blog idea has been fizzing away for a while but putting it into action is down to reading the blog of Carrie Chaney whose carrotspeak blog declared blogging to be easy & not the domain of only computer nerds 'n geeks, so I figured why not?
Anyway enough, I need to do some proper work.