Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas 2010

What a week.
I think I ran myself to a full stop, last night saw me in bed at the same time as my 9 year old and waking up almost 11 hours later...I really needed those zzzzzzz's!

We started the week (last Monday) with maybe 15-20 cm of snow, and I collected my baby brother from the airport (minus his wife who didn't make it through Libyan passport control as her exit visa was non existant). Ed and I spent that evening down at Lulu's with a load of expat friends celebrating a birthday and getting rowdier as the night and the drinks wore on.

Tuesday I had another trip to the airport (good job it's only 20 minutes away) to collect the parentals who were bringing with them an essential part of Christmas day - the pud.

Wednesday and another airport trip to collect missing wifey, the two of them (Ed ' Dear) then went into Düsseldorf for some retail therapy (apparently the opportunities for such exercise in Tripoli are almost none existant).

Thursday was the last day at school for Jas (Ben finished mid morning on Wed) and we went along for the carol singing which was followed by a half hour play put on by Jas's class. It was being performed in the music room, one of the only classrooms in the school to have carpet and so all the adults were told to remove their (theoretically) snow encrusted winter boots before entering - except for those parents (about half) who came after the thing had actually started and therefore missed the de-schoe-ing command.
After escaping from the school we went into Essen for the last day of the Weihnachtsmarkt, had planned to have some Glühwein, but the weather turned against us, becoming bitterly cold and starting to snow, not nice, even when you're dressed for it.

Friday was Christmas Eve, and I had a plan. Get up and get into Kettwig for 8am, in order to get the turkey from the butchers, yummy cheese from the market and whatever else I needed but didn't yet have (afterall, it is impossible to have too much food in the house over Christmas) from the (not so)supermarket.
Slight problem with the plan.
It had clearly been snowing for some time and the amount of snow outside had now doubled.
By the time I'd had breakfast Simon had seen the extent of the snow and declared that he would chauffeur me (I knew that Audi Quatro would be useful some day) and so he did, dropped me outside the butchers to wade through seemingly thigh deep drifts to get to their door and after I'd thrown the bird onto the back seat I was told to go to the cheese stall 'just across the road'*. Then to the supermarket - always a tricky venture when accompanied by a man who doesn't usually do the food shopping but who is partial to all the little nibbley things that I normally scoot straight past, at least he helped pack it all!
We then had a dilemma. The roads were horrific and friends up the hill on the other side of the river were due to be meeting us at 11 for coffee and to bring us the crackers for the 25th which they'd brought back from England the previous weekend**. A quick call revealed that we would have to go to them as they had even more snow than we did. I think Si was quite gleeful to be told this, up the steep and hairpin bendy hill in thick snow, a perfect challenge, almost too easy for Simon - although the snow plough coming down the hill didn't think so.
After the escapades of the morning we didn't venture out again, it snowed and it snowed all day, I was just glad of a houseful of guests who could be relied upon to entertain the children and shovel snow!

Christmas Day dawned bright (it's amazing the effect of a little daylight on a ton of brilliant white snow) and not too early (the older the children get the more amenable they are to the suggestion that 5am is not a happy time for parents to be woken) and we had the ritual present opening ceremony before I had to get stuck into the dinner preparations.
And then it was all over for another year, the freezer is fully loaded with turkey for pies, the garage is overflowing with empties that need to go to the bottle bank***, the bins are all full (some more than others, due to the Thursday and Friday bin men not making it along the road through the snow****) and the beer and wine levels are considerably lowered.

Boxing Day (or the 2nd day of Christmas according to the Germans) was its usual respite after the storm, no-one desperate to do anything but maybe get some fresh air. I refused to cook and booked a table at the local Italian, which was nice, but would have been better if, when I'd booked I'd asked for a non-smoking table - ho hum. And it started snowing again.

Which brings us to yesterday and the start of the exodus, Ed left first, the parents had time to try the Christmas cake, which leaves us with Dear who goes tomorrow just a few hours before the the guests arive for New Year's Eve!

I wonder how much sleep I can get tonight?


* through the deep drifts on either side of the road and then the knee high snow between the market stalls and back again.
** Christmas crackers are clearly not a German tradition as you can't easily get them here.
*** it was one of the jobs I wanted to do before Christmas (clear out before starting a new hoard) but the piles of snow everywhere put the kibosh on that.
**** apparently the various refuse collection companies have said that if they don't make it then we can take our refuse to the recycling site and they wont charge us - loving the irony.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday Snaps 44

Our house on Christmas Day, although our neighbours icicle display is a little more impressive...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Book Reviews #10

Sebastian Faulks - Birdsong

I've probably read this book 3 times at least now, and still it staggers me with its beauty, and yet when I say that to people and they then say,
"what's it about?"
and I have to say that it's about the First World War, specifically the grim life in the trenches, understandably people do a double take.

I think I read this for the first time with my book group in the UK and I found it so incredible that I have since read anything and everything that Faulks has written (most of it good, but none of it has had such an impact on me as Birdsong) I also recommend it to everyone, I even got my husband to read it for heavens sake (and his reading matter of choice is either some work related business bore or Top Gear/Stuff magazine).

I've just reread Birdsong for bookgroup because that particular bookgroup meeting occured on November 12th, the day after Remembrance Day and it seemed an appropriate choice.

The story starts before the war in 1910, our hero Stephen is in France on business, he falls in love with a married woman and they run away together, leaving chaos in their wake. It doesn't work out and Stephen is forever haunted by this love. The story is mostly about Stephen and other soldiers in the trenches, the futility of war, detailing the minutiae of their lives - how the tea tastes of the petrol that had originally been in the cans it's been brewed in, how the dormant lice within the seams of their clothes can never be completely removed, the lies that the officers have to tell their foot soldiers, denying to themselves the certain death they are being sent to and the sheer infinite number of men, young and old who died and yet were never found.

There is another storyline running also, as the young(ish) grand-daughter of Stephen decides she wants to know more about the Grandfather she never knew, at one point she visits the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing and is shocked by the seemingly endless number of names inscribed on the monument,
"Nobody told me" she says, "My God, nobody told me".

That line is probably one of the reasons I keep coming back to this book, to remember, and also why I will keep on recommending it to people who haven't read it (even recommended it to a German friend last week, found the link on Amazon.de for the book in German and emailed it to her) I have toured around Brittany and visited areas where trenches have been preserved and where land is still fenced off due to the possibility of unexploded bullets and seen the memorial at Bayeux, at sunset, when the light turns everything blood red, we should never be allowed to forget the extreme lengths to which man will push himself, never forget.

If you haven't read it, do, please.

Monday, December 20, 2010

1 Rule for them,

and a different rule for me...or am I just becoming increasingly paranoid?

This is something that's been gnawing away at me for well over a week and I think I have to finally give vent.

At least 10 days ago I was dreadfully organised and started my Christmas present wrapping, specifically those presents that needed to be posted off somewhere. I then packaged them up into boxes, wrapped them again in brown paper and trotted off to the local post office. I took with me the few Christmas cards I needed to post too.

So I had 2 boxes, each a little larger than a shoe box, but not too heavy, 1 smallish jiffy bag and 6 Christmas cards, all going to either England or Ireland, just a quick hop across the canal (as the Germans call it) not far at all. And my bill? 50 euro...now I always mishear/misunderstand fifty and fifteen when spoken in German but even so, I wasn't amused to get no change whatsoever from a 50 note...

The guy commented that my cards cost 3 euro each to post because they were a 'funny size'. I don't know about you, but I choose cards for the picture/joke/message first and size second (although I certainly steer well clear of those huge padded numbers that come in their box) but these cards were smaller than the average card and would certainly fit through even the meagerest letterbox (which I thought was what the rule was - pay more if it don't fit, no?)

There was nothing I could do about it, just suck it up, I thought to myself, forget about it, at least the job's done, parcels and cards sent...but then this last week I've been receiving Christmas cards from the UK, and it was the last one that tipped me over the edge. From my sister in law, and it's A5 sized at least, just about fit into a letter box, and how much stampage did it have?

88p.

88p!

Where is the logic in that? I. DO. NOT. UNDERSTAND.

Maybe I need to be more German in my approach to this matter and either not send any cards or maybe I should argue the case with the guy in the post office, it just seems to be ridiculous to have to pay more for the postage than for the card, especially when it is only going across the canal and when I know I can order parcel after parcel from Next/Boden/M&S and pay only £6 per awkwardly shaped box....mutter, mutter, mutter.


Phew, vent over.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Snaps 43

The Evans family Christmas tree 2010, decorated mostly by Jas, although I did the lights & the fairy and the higher branches she couldn't reach and unlike 1 friend I didn't reorganise the baubles after she'd gone to bed!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wort des Jahres

There are over 1 million words in the English language and I was rendered speechless to discover that the German language has fewer - way fewer, in fact 600,000 fewer according to my 'official' source...I found this fact so shocking because whenever you compare 2 books, that are the same book, but one is in English and one German then the German book is always, always thicker, and no it's not down to thicker paper/larger print, therefore surely there must be more words in the book. Maybe it's just because Germans can never say anything briefly, a note home from school will normally be a side of A4, mostly blather and wind that you have to hunt through in order to divine the actual message, it's annoying to put it mildly.

The sheer volume of words in a language also makes understanding what people say to you tricky, you say one thing and they respond with something that doesn't match the template you had prepared which leaves you looking, as usual like someone who doesn't know what they're talking about! There are 3 words in German meaning 'to dare', 3 words for ducking and yet then there's the word 'das Rezept' which can mean either a prescription from the doc or a recipe (à la Delia/Jamie).

The number of words in the German language is growing every year, although a lot of these words I don't have to learn as they're imports from the US and the UK, things like 'It Girl' and 'Aftershow party', and every year the German language celebrates a new word in the 'Wort des Jahres'*. Last year the word was 'Abwrackprämie' - coined to explain the rebate a customer could get from buying a brand sparkling new car whilst consigning an old wreck to the knackers yard.

This year's is yet to be decided, so here's the short list:

Lobbylitiker - noun, describes a politician who is not interested in the people they represent but is instead guided by larger concerns and industry.

Schäubeln - verb, to publicly expose a co-worker.

App - noun, straight from the English that one.

Afrika - noun, another obvious one, because of the summer of football...

Radicalminski - a Soviet style revolutionary, who is willing to sacrifice anything for their beliefs.

I wonder which word will win? Watch this space!

Meanwhile, on the otherside of the pond the Yanks of course have their own 'Global Language Monitor' which has already forecast what the most popular words of 2011 will be...a tad extreme don't you think? Although bearing in mind the misuse of the language that occurs at the hands (or should that be tongues?) of the Americans I don't think we should put too trust in their belief that 'Twenty eleven' will be the most popular word of 2011, especially when you consider that the top word (according to them) for 2010 is 'Spillcam'. Personally I think that the people behind the 'Global Language Monitor' need to revisit the definition of global.


* word of the year

Rulebound or...

...just plain bonkers?

Last Friday the weather got a little bit warmer and then it started to rain and so the thick layer of snow that we'd been living with for the previous 10 days gradually, gradually disappeared.

Bliss, I was able to walk the dog and drive my car without fearing for my safety on Saturday and on Sunday...Monday was also a good day - up to a point. It was bitingly cold but the forecast said there was only a 20% of us getting snow...

If this is what 20% chance looks like I dread to think what 100% certainty is...

And I thought I'd successfully put the kibosh on any more of the white stuff falling by getting Jas fitted out with proper, sensible (i.e. German) winter boots* and ordering myself some equally sensible (although not German**) winter boots to try and keep me upright in the slippy conditions (so far I've landed on my rump twice - am now avoiding that particular spot).

The snow started early yesterday evening and although it probably only snowed for 2-3 hours it did so with single mindedness so that by the time it stopped (as I was about to go to bed) there was a good 2 inches on the ground, maybe 3 (having looked at what 2 inches is and thinking back to the depth of said snow as I shovelled it this morning). Joy.

Here in Germany the law says that each homeowner is responsible for making the path outside their property safely passable (on foot btw, I don't have to clear the road as well thank goodness)
between the hours of 7am and 8pm. That's fine I guess, although 7am on a non school day is pushing it a bit, in fact 7am on a school day is hard, I need at least 1 cuppa before I'm up to the physical labour that is clearing snow off 40 metres of paving. But the locals of course take this VERY seriously, as soon as it stops snowing they're out there, snow shovels at the ready, I'd thought I was imagining this anality (gotta be a word surely?) but I have evidence, and not just from me:

- Anne in Werden (just along the river) was woken up at 3am (3am!) by the caretaker of the apartments next door clearing snow.
- Rachel in Kettwig Altstadt witnessed all her neighbours pretty much shoulder to shoulder clearing snow at 11pm as it was still snowing.
- I was encouraging the dog to go outside for one last time around 11pm and could definitely hear that distinctive scrape, scrape of a snow shovel. I realised who it was when I eventually got out there at 7am, my neighbour's father. He lives around the corner and clearly has WAY too much time on his retired hands. When he clears snow, he does it properly (surprise) the whole path will be clear & by clear I mean spotless, if it weren't for the huge-mongous piles of snow he builds you wouldn't think it had ever snowed, first he shovels (the complete width of the path, not just a snow shovel wide track through for him, oh no) and then he brushes away any errant flakes. So he'd done this last night for his daughter (whose husband is in Sweden and therefore exempt (like my own husband) from shovelling duties) and then today he was back waving a snow shovel around again (well there was nothing else to do as it hadn't snowed again - note the use of the word 'hadn't', since he took himself off to do something else - polishing the wheels on his car maybe, it's snowed again, not much, but just enough so that you know it has) The man clearly has not enough to do - I wonder if he's for hire?

One 'person' who's happy in the snow - Logan;







* waterproof, heavily treaded and fleecey lined for warm tootsies
** German winter boots whilst seriously practical are the epitome of ugliness and a girl has got to maintain her standards - which reminds me, a friend went on a date last week (snow was still on the ground) and the date dared to pass comment on the unsuitable nature of her footware given the weather conditions...do we think he's going to get another date? Somehow I doubt it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Snaps 42

It's the season for the Weihnachtsmarkt, here's the one in Essen:
well, part of it anyway!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Love/hate

I don't know about you, but I have a love/hate relationship with snow.

There's a part of me that is forever a child, seeing the snow & thinking how great it will be if the schools are closed, but the reality is quite different.

We've had snow (and when I say 'snow' I don't mean a pretty sprinkling, this is thick, compacted & frozen to the ground stuff, that will only give up its hold on the earth if attacked with venom and salt.

But, keeping in mind that I try to be a 'glass half full' kind of girl (unless it's the last bottle being passed around and then my glass is definitely empty and needs a refill - NOW) I shall approach this in a fair manner and give you the positives and negatives of snow according to me.

On the plus side.
1. I love the sound of snow crunching underfoot, it's a great sound and if it's making that noise then it's probably not wet 'n soggy snow that is waiting to soak through to your pinkies.
2. The dog always comes back from a walk clean, wet perhaps, but clean, this means less sweeping up after him, bonus!
3. Everywhere looks prettier when bedecked with snow, everywhere.
4. The dark mornings aren't so dark, what little light there is reflects off all those white sparkly surfaces, meaning that the early morning walk to school/in the woods with the dog are almost pleasant (if it weren't for the ungodliness of the hour).
5. It is against the law to eat salad when there is snow on the ground, trust me, they have rules 'n regs for everything here, salad being verboten is surely in there somewhere.

The negatives.
1. It's cold.
2. It's slippy.
3. When it starts to thaw the world goes very quickly from pretty to pretty hellish.
4. Shovelling - in 8 days I have lost count of how many times I've had to shovel the paths & steps, Simon always seems to be away & Ben does such a rubbish job of it he mightn't have bothered, maybe he didn't, maybe he just hid round the side of the house for half an hour?
5. I have to plan my route to anywhere with military precision, our own road isn't cleared and has a high ridge of snow down the middle that scrapes alarmingly on the underside of my Cooper, so I try to go out the top end but then I have to detour along other roads to avoid a nasty slippery hill, the road parallel to ours is half closed it's so slippery.

I'm in a grump today because I woke up to find it snowing again & as I write this it's still snowing, and to add insult to injury I did a full comedy fall on my way home from walking Logan, both feet lost contact with the floor as I went up in the air and then whumped back down, taking my weight on my arse and my hands, or more particularly on my right thumb, which is slowly turning a pretty shade of purple - should get me out of shovelling duties in the short term eh?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Nikolaus

Yesterday was December 6th and Nikolaus came.

He actually visits between the 5th & 6th but the children only get to see the results of the visit on the morning of the 6th.

It's yet another tradition that Germany has that England doesn't and that we have therefore had to adopt. The children go to bed leaving cleaned boots waiting for St Nik, who visits in the middle of the night with his big book. In the book is written all the deeds and misdeeds of the children, if the children are thought to have been good then they wake in the morning to find their shoes filled with goodies - traditionally nuts, fruit and candles*, but if they've been bad then they might find potatoes, coal or twigs.

The first year we lived here Ben craftily told me that St Nik came on the 9th, he wanted to check out if he existed or not. This backfired splendidly on Ben, as my neighbour had decided to play at being St Nik to the ignorant Ausländers - I am forever in her debt as the look on his sceptical face as we left the house to go to school and discovered 2 little sacks of sweeties, was, as the ad says 'priceless'. It also meant that the small gifts I'd bought as the St Nik pressies could be held over till Christmas itself. Double whammy.

Since then I've managed to get with the programme and actually write the date in my diary so that I don't forget it, but I declared it a sweets only zone this year.
The children in Germany get their Christmas presents on the evening of December 24th and in England it's the morning of the 25th, consequently I stupidly made a rod for own back our first Christmas and the children got 1 present each on Christmas Eve (from German Santa - who I think is the Chriskind...but I need to look into that one further) and then their normal present load on Christmas morning. If you then add in the need to think of something for St Nik to bring on Dec 6th...it's a nightmare, so this year was just sweets & they seemed ok with that.

Ben has been regaling me with stories about what his friends received, Timo got a ticket to go and see 'Starlight Express', presumably the rest of his family also got tickets, which for Marcie (younger, gymnastic star of a brother) is probably really cool, but Timo isn't amused, especially as Ben has been to see it already and declared it to be pants (we all thought it was amazing but then since when have 13 year old boys been the epitomy of taste?) whilst Paul G got a new Quiksilver jacket that is apparently so garish he is probably visible from the space station, so I think Ben's quite happy with a haul of chocolate that is his and his alone.


* I think most kids would be straight on the phone to Childline if they found such items gifted them.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Doing a Desmond

That'll be a reference not to Desmond Tutu but to Desmond Morris, whose books on animal behaviour were much read throughout my Zoology degree course, specifically The Naked Ape & Manwatching, except in my case this was Germanwatching (not naked German - shudder).

I've had a busy weekend, bookgroup on Friday evening (I might recount that tale later in the week - as & when I remember it...what can I say, but much much red wine was drunk) then Saturday we went and got the Christmas tree (as you will already know if you checked out the latest Sunday Snap) and Sunday afternoon was our little Christmas Cocktail shindig, so much to prepare and on top of that it decided to snow - all day Saturday and then with serious intent, all day Sunday - nasty English, wet 'n heavy snow it was too, 2-3 inches of the damned stuff, that has since frozen, nice.

Back to the Germanwatching and new words to describe the natives:

- Organised. The Christmas tree place just a 5 minute drive from us was crazy busy on Saturday, we'd thought to grab lunch there, no chance. Got a good tree though, after walking through driving snow in sub zero temperatures to the far end of the field as we dismissed tree after tree as being 'too tall', 'too wonky', 'too dead', 'too small' and so on. Fortunately, pine is nice and soft and a tree just over 6ft tall doesn't have too thick a trunk so it didn't take Si too long to saw through it.
As I said, this place was heaving with natives, all buying their trees and carting them away. But why were they buying them in the 1st week of December when the tradition here is to put up the tree on Christmas Eve (needless to say this is why our tree is up early - standing proudly in the front window for all those passers by looking up and staring through the windows (that'll be everyone walking past then) to see and think to themselves 'bloody Ausländers*') I put this question to my tame German today (that'll be Muna my German teacher) and she says that everyone buys their trees early ('cos if you leave it too late then all the good ones are gone...well that's a self-fulfilling thingy then) and then they leave them outside in the garden until December 24th - this would be presuming that none of these early buyers have male dogs then.

- Black; the colour to wear. I know it's flattering to almost everyone (except those with a certain skin tone anyway, eh Rebecca?) makes you look chic, everything matches and it makes you look slimmer/taller etc. But when everyone decides to wear black it's like being at a funeral, dull, dull, dull, and no longer a fashion statement surely, more of a uniform. I'd have worn red to my party if I could have found anything in that colour in the shops here, went with a jade-y green frock instead and impossibly (for me) high heels, which my feet were relieved to be out of when the last (of the black clad) guests left!

- Teetotal; well they might as well be. Pretty much everyone who came on Sunday lives close enough that they were able to walk here, they even pointed this out to me (especially my neighbour) as I served them their first glass of mulled wine. But after 2 glasses they pretty much all started raiding the fridge, for all the wrong reasons, they were after water...at a party...when they're walking home.
What's that all about then?
It's just a good job I'd made 2 different alcoholic beverages, 1 a mulled wine and the other a cranberry punch (the punch being the fact that the cranberry juice was diluted with cassis) because this meant that most people were keen to try both before switching to water. Imagine if I'd only made the mulled wine! Next year I'll have to have 3 concoctions to offer!

- Overprepared; this morning Si had to be at the airport at 8.45, it's a 20 minute drive in decent weather if it's not a Monday morning, otherwise maybe 60 minutes. Si's lift turned up at 7.10, Si was still in the shower, not packed & certainly not dressed...but his colleague was keen to point out that there was thick snow on the ground and long staus** on the autobahn. I don't think he was too impressed to be kept from his steering wheel while I had to entertain him (desperately needing to get into the shower so that I could get Jas to school) for the 10 minutes or so before Si was ready.

- Lunacy; 'Wetten Dass' is a godawful show (imho) on German tv which everyone here watches, it is the most watched show in Europe apparently and the guy who compères it makes a hugely sucessful living out of it, so much so that he no longer lives here amongst us mortals but in Malibu amongst the stars...Saturday was possibly one bet too far, the 23 year old Samuel Kochs bet that he could somersault over 4 (or was it 5?) moving cars using springy strap on thingies. He managed the 1st, passed the 2nd and then didn't get enough height to clear the 3rd properly,
he's in hospital now having undergone emergency surgery and we wait to see whether he can walk again, let alone jump or somersault over cars.



* Ausländers = foreigners
** Staus = traffic jams

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunday Snaps 41

Cutting down the Christmas tree.

I know it's ridiculously early and it will be tinderwood by Boxing Day but we have a house full of guests tomorrow afternoon and I want everything to be festive with a capital F

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Groundhog day

It's that time of year (December 1) when Jasmine's school make us all (parents and pupils, but if you have younger/older siblings please don't allow them to talk or run around or in anyway attempt to enjoy themselves as they will be a distraction and that is VERBOTEN) gather together in the school grounds to celebrate something, winter maybe? Being freezing cold certainly (-6 plus windchill = a feels like temp of -15, f*****g freezing in anybody's book).

The children have spent a couple of weeks making paper and glue lanterns at school which they then suspend from a short wooden stick and stick a lighted candle (none of this new fangled electricity allowed, oh no, we need the opportunity for ignition of complete lantern and possibly child to add to the frisson of excitement engendered by a walk through the snowy woods in the pitch black (apart from the flickering candles that is - if the force whatever Siberian gale doesn't blow then all out).

First we got a song or 2 (I don't know the words, although 1 did seem to be to the tune of 'Auld Lang Syne') then the children went off through the woods with minimal adults accompanying - not because we didn't want to (although actually, I really didn't want to, I'm in the woods often enough as it is with the dog & I prefer to be there when it's light and I can see where I'm walking, I find it safer that way) but because they don't want parents coming along with electric/battery torches and chattering to each other and spoiling the atmosphere for the children.

While the children stumbled through the woods trying to keep on their feet and to keep their candles alight we stood around in the playground making small talk and getting slowly sloshed on glühwein (I knew there was a good reason for going) then the children got back, there's more singing, but NO talking from the adults (on pain of death) and then we got to go indoors where each class put on an individual little show (happy face) - in Jas's case it's a fraction of a show we will see the whole of on the last day of term (when other family members can come along too*). At least the classrooms were warm.

Pity those parents with the misfortune to have 2 (or more) kids at the school - how do they manage to be in two differnt classrooms (quite possibly in 2 different buildings) at the same time in order to witness their little darling's performance and record it for posterity (or youtube)? That's when spouses come in very handy - if you can persuade them to leave the comfort of their centrally heated offices early...

Next year Jas will be in year 4, so I only have to revisit this experience (standing around in the freezing cold flirting with hypothermia whilst listening to kids singing) once more.

The event itself was almost eclipsed by my walk home, going past the house of the man who has security and gates and cameras, there were what appeared to be 2 security men outside his gate, busy conferring. Odd, I thought, not seen that before. Then I rounded the bend to our house and could see 2 cops on the junction ahead, pacing around. Really odd, I thought. As I was leaning out of the window, 5 minutes later, trying to see what the cops were up to, Ben rang from the other side of said junction, where he was babysitting, he also wanted to know what the cops were doing...it turned out they were just waiting for the truck with the road salt...I almost wish I hadn't found out now!

Roll on groundhog day 2011.


* that'll be you M&D & Ed!!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let it snow

It's the last day of November and winter seems to have Europe firmly within its grip, over the weekend the UK ground slowly but surely to a halt because a little bit of snow fell* and today my world has gone white.

To be fair it started yesterday, around 11am, nothing serious, innocuous flakes drifting slowly and innocently to the ground, the problem was that the ground was cold and hard and very welcoming and the snow kept coming. Never a blizzard, thank god, just a constant stream of whiteness, it was still snowing when I went to bed and as I knew the overnight temperature wasn't going to get above zero I knew what I would be waking up to.

Si was in Sweden overnight (together with his stupid goat**) so the shovelling of the metres of snow was my responsibility, funny how he's never here for shovelling, whatever weather app he has on his phone/laptop - I want it, as it clearly gives a really clear long range forecast...
A friend of mine said I should have done the shovelling last night (as then I wouldn't have had to do it before breakfast) but it was still snowing, so surely then I'd have had to clear it twice? Anyway, I was out there only 5 minutes after my neighbour and at least an hour before my other neighbour (who has a good excuse in that he's at least 20 years my senior) at least once it's done I can feel smug and tut loudly as I walk along the bit of pavement where they haven't cleared in front of their property, and yes, we know who you are, maybe I should tag those properties on Google Street View, those people who are too idle to clear the snow away...
Shovelling can also, I guess, be viewed as a good upper body work out, I wonder how many calories snow shovelling burns? A cake's worth or merely a biscuit?

The snow is set to last till the end of the weekend I reckon, seeing as the temperatures are falling until then, we might even get more snow, goody, snow on top of frozen snow, my favourite thing (not). Even the children don't seem too excited by it this time round, back at the beginning of the year when we had so much snow that hung around for months (it sure as hell felt like months at the time) they were out sledging at every given opportunity, but this time, they can't be bothered, I think it's come too soon, stupid weather gods!

Last night I had to rescue Jas's German teacher, she was trying to drive home and the road conditions were so bad that her car was slipping all over the road (she's planning to get her winter tyres this week!) she abandoned her car in the local DIY shop car park and asked if I could take her to the train station (German trains are generally unaffected by snow, the buses however, are a different matter) And even with winter tyres on I could feel my car losing traction on the roads, mainly because the drivers were all so scared that they were driving along at 5km per hour, too slow, you need a little bit of speed.

Meanwhile life carries on, schools are all open, supermarkets are all fully stocked and today the main roads are all perfectly clear thanks to the snow ploughs that hurl the half frozen slush all over the previously cleared pavements.

When is it summer?



* well that's the impression given by the London based news agencies, afterall, if it doesn't effect the capital it doesn't count right?
** his Swedish collegue rang him to warn him that it was -10 there and that he should bring a thick goat with him...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Book Reviews #9

Terry Pratchett - I Shall Wear Midnight

The latest in TP's Discworld series, although aimed at non adults in theory. Having read this book I can only surmise that the reason it's supposedly for the teen market is due to the age of the main character, she's just 16 (I think).

Tiffany Aching is a witch, partly because she read the books of fairy stories when she was a child and realised that as she wasn't born into nobility and didn't have the appropriate genetic make up to enable her to marry into royalty then being a witch was the next best thing, not that she's prematurally aged, wizened or warty (afterall witches have to grow up through teenage years as well as the best of us), there's also the fact that her grandmother was a witch.

This is the 4th discworld book to star Tiffany and Sir Terry threatens that it's also the last as she's grown up past the point of her being a suitable character for children's books, although I would debate that this is at all a children's book. At the start of this novel Tiffany has to deal with a neighbour who has beaten his 13 year old daughter so severely that she has miscarried her illegitimate child - a surprising story line for an adult book let alone one aimed at teenagers. And then to deal with such a subject matter with sensitivity and his usual humour - wow, Sir Terry is truly a force to be reckoned with.

The main gyst of the story is a century old witch hunter, who is after Tiffany and not only must she evade him in order to preserve her credibility amongst the older witches in the community but she must trap him in a way that leaves her and the other witches unscathed. Along the way there is the death of the baron, the succession of his son Roland, the (almost) courtship between Tiffany and a soldier in the old baron's employ and of course no story about Miss Aching would be complete without the Nac Mac Feegles - a band of tiny blue vaguely Scottish pictsies who live to fight and fight to live, they also possess a magical ability to rebuild what they've broken, although the King's Head pub did have to be renamed after they put it back together backwards (this was no simple act of generosity, they had completely and utterly trashed the building whilst trying to find the baron's son, beer was of course involved)

The title 'I shall wear midnight' comes from the fact that witches traditionally wear black, Tiffany, as she is only a young thing chooses to wear dark green, saying that she'll wear midnight when she's older.

Another great addition to the discworld series, long may Sir Terry continue.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Snaps 40

The making of the Christmas Cake part 2


The fruit was soaked in brandy until it could take no more and this is the washing up I had to do as the cake was cooking...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Elternabend

This translates literally as 'parent's evening' but this is not parent's evening in the English sense of the word, oh no, that's 'elternsprechtag' and I get the joy of that on Thursday (Jas) and Friday (Ben) when the parents sit down with the teachers and get told the good/bad news about the performance or otherwise of their pride and joy.

Elternabend is a joy that doesn't exist in the UK schooling system, but don't feel hard done by, the UK schooling system has so many things that the German one doesn't; positive feedback instead of criticism, a timetable of lessons that runs from 9 till at least 3, a timetable that stays put for the whole of the school year and doesn't change, and supply teachers...I could go on and on (but then I will be accused by some (mentioning no names, but you know who you are) of being 'negative') The elternabend is the opportunity for the parents* to get together en masse with their class teacher to discuss....stuff.

Some teachers are better at chairing these meetings than others, Jas's 1st teacher would let the meeting meander off track and the parents discuss for 30 minutes or so whether to get fizzy water or still and from which budget supermarket, our currnet teacher seems to value his personal time a little bit more and so can usually be relied upon to keep things more on track.

He got us there early last night, to show us photos from the last 2 trips out of school & from the 'ritterfest'** last week which seemed to have included lighted candles (and we're not talking tea lights in jam jars here, they had serious naked flame action going) and sword fighting as well as carving meat off the bone - if the photos I saw were anything to go by anyway, 3 things which would surely make any UK teacher run for the health & safety handbook. We seemed to sit through the photos at least twice as Herr B let it roll round again and again for the 'latecomers' (why d'you think they were late? Clearly planning on missing out that bit of the proceedings).

The first item on the agenda was a discussion of what our children had thought to the film they'd been to see earlier in the day (A Letter for the King, lots of knights, sword fighting and the barest of blood - good job seeing as 1 child has a blood phobia apparently) Of course most parents were keen to share their child's view, and if you didn't want to share (as in my case because Jas had said she couldn't actually remember much of the film or maybe because your child was so scared by the film she had her hat pulled down over her eyes for most of it) then tough, because Herr B singled us all out...

More interesting to me was the fact that 3 classes went to the small festival cinema in Mülheim, they walked down to the train station and caught a train into the BIG main station in Essen where they changed trains (presumably this meant getting all the kids off one train and onto the platform, going down a set of steps, through a subway to another set of steps and up onto another platform to catch the train out to Mülheim, 60 kids aged between 8 & 10 and 3 adults...I'm glad I only found out about this after the event.

After the subject of ritters had been thoroughly exhausted we moved on to next week's Lichterfest, the children make lanterns from highly flammable paper & glue, put a lighted candle inside (most of the classes use small battery powered lights but Herr B poo poos such modern thinking) the classes then march through the woods behind the school together while the parents stay at the school and drink glühwein (I knew there was a reason for going) then the children come back, we stand around a bonfire in the playground while the children sing songs before everyone goes off to their respective classrooms for a small performance and food.
So much to organise, but the salient points (or those that Rebecca & I were struck by) were that small children & other siblings should not be allowed to be disruptive, if they could possibly be left somewhere else/locked in a small windlowless room then all the better AND would parents please not talk amongst themselves while the children were singing, if we could request those caught chattering to shut up then that would be a good thing...

The bike training that the children are doing came next, Herr B couldn't resist the opportunity to comment that some of the bikes (that'll be 2 English kids then at least) don't have kick down bike stands and have to be leant up against the wall, damn! Good job schools have walls eh? I refuse as a matter of principle to put a bike stand on Jas's bike (sorry Jas) and if next year when the local cop in charge of bike testing doesn't pass the bike because of it's lack of a stand then so be it, to date there's no legal requirement for bikes to have stands to make them roadworthy therefore our bikes will be standless and I shall stand my ground on that one.

Next came Vera, sorry VERA***, and the analysis of the results from last year's year 3's. The results we were shown related to a group of 12 children, as soon as I heard the sample size I tuned out, what's the point on patting yourself on the back over statistics based on so tiny a sample size, even if they'd combined all 4 year 3 groups they'd struggle to reach a useful sample size, afterall there's lies, damned lies and statistics.

I've whined before about the willingness of German parents to waste time and oxygen banging on about something that is of no consequence, at least not when you compare it the that fact that the school is currently 2 teachers down and there is no supply teacher system nor even the possibility for the head to take a class as she already does, last night was no exception.
Milk was not on the agenda and was sprung on us by a well meaning parent (do-gooder) concerned that those children whose parents receive benefits and therefore get free school milk can only get plain milk not 1 of the 3 flavoured milks that are an option and so are they not then being labelled as 'poor'. The discussion went round and around, maybe we could take it in turns to pay the extra, maybe they should all have plain milk, maybe the milk cartons were too big anyway and they should have smaller cartons...we just sat there mute, rolling our eyes at each other, desperate to leave.

I came home whining to Si about what a waste of 2 hours of my life the meeting was and about the VERA and the milk and he asked whether I'd said anything at the time or whether I'd just muttered to myself...
Guilty as charged, consider my wrist slapped, but then again what good could speaking out in that particular forum do? If I'd told Herr B that in my opinion VERA wasn't worth the acetate he'd printed it out on then he'd probably have taken it personally, as a slight on him, and the milk? Well, that kind of issue needs to be addressed at a governmental level to get it fixed properly, all the parents can offer is a sticking plaster solution.

* parents are pretty much expected to turn up, I get the impression you get a black mark against your name if you don't make it to most if not all, and yes, there is more than 1 per term - double joy.
** ritter=knight, their topic since restarting school this year has been knights & the middle ages, great for the boys but a bit of a yawn for the girls, I don't know who's most looking forward to the next topic (sex, or maybe it's sex education) the boys, the girls or the parents (just for the entertainment value at the dinner table of course)
*** VERA stands for 'vergleichsarbeiten in der grundschule', comparison of schoolwork at a primary school level.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Verpixeln

Every year, around this time (i.e. towards the end of the year) the Germans announce the 'word of the year'*, we were discussing just recently what it might be - it's usually something that's had to be added to the language because of a new development, and then yesterday it struck me that it could well be 'verpixeln'. I'm sure you can work out what it means, afterall it is so very close to its original English.

It's a word on everyone's lips and in all the news stories at the moment because Google Street View has gone live, and shock horror some of the properties are pixelated out because the owners requested it...or not as the case seems to be.

A year or so ago when Google anounced it was bringing Street View to Germany there was uproar. They didn't want it here, compromising their privacy, threatening their security, quite happy to go for Sunday afternoon strolls throughout the neighbourhood, staring into everyone's front rooms, commenting on the cars parked in front of the house, but to put that same information on the world wide web?
Nein, danke. Whole streets threatened to get together and bar the Googlemobile's progress, smash the cameras and so on.

Now the whole of Germany on a street level is visible to the whole of the curious world, and guess what, it looks just like anywhere else, except there's maybe a bit more pixellation...you see to calm the German public down they were told they could go online and register their address to be verpixelt when Street View was launched.
Our neighbours' house (a pretty much mirror image to ours) is pixellated as are 2 others on our road, ironically not the house where Mr Roadstop lives or the house where one of the top*** businessmen lives. My neighbour is rather embarassed by her blurry house, she 'claims' that she opted for the pixellation online just to 'try out the system' and is now cross because she'd thought she'd be able to see how much her (horrid) laurel hedge has grown. I didn't help matters by laughing and telling her that now everyone will think she's got something to hide.

Some of the natives are grumpy that their houses are verpixelt when they didn't ask for them to be, not just because of some online 'test' but becuse they either live in rented property and the landlord opted for pixellation or they live in a building that's divided into several apartments and one of the other occupants has opted for anonymity.
Such is the uproar that there's a Facebook page called 'Ungewollt Verpixelt' (ungewollt = unintentional/inadvertant) and some 'Google fanatics' have been out and about in Essen this weekend throwing eggs at houses which are pixellated on Street View - the world is going slowly crazier methinks, especially as someone on that site is now suggesting stickers for those houses which don't want to be pixellated (but are) saying 'ungewollt verpixelt', maybe I should make one up for my neighbour?

The irony of this whole Street View thing is that when you look at the pictures on the internet they are maybe 2-3 years old, so the Googlemobile was trundling around our streets well before it was even announced that it would do so, before the locals could get upset about having their privacy invaded, sneaky, sneaky Google, did you really think we wouldn't notice the half built houses...




* there is probably a way grander title that is most certainly in German and is more than likely longer than 4 words, after all there is that famous German motto** 'why use 1 word when you can use 10?'
** well, it's a motto in this house anyway and we're in Germany...
*** so close to the top of the pecking order in the German business world is he that he must need oxygen - they even have security guards for goodness sake
.

Monday, November 22, 2010

These boots were made for walking

When modern technology works I just love it*.

One of the things I miss about living here is my friends back in England. We've been here 3+ years now and there are some people who have slipped down to just being FB contacts and some have dropped off my radar altogether**. My friend Al is a different matter though, whereas in England we would meet up probably once a week for lunch or minor (sometimes major) shopping and gossip incessantly, this has now been distilled into a weekly chat. I always make sure that that particular evening has no other plans or possible interruptions because we can and do chat for an hour or so, without necessarily discussing world peace or the latest political scandal, indeed if Si were to ask 'what did you talk about?' ( an unlikely scenario) I'd probably have to think hard to find something concrete to offer. Children and schooling inevitably get a look in, the whereabouts of our husbands always crops up (hers travels as much as mine) and Al's work but other than that...

Our last chat followed a day where I'd been Xmas present shopping while keeping an eye open for some 'nice' shoes, a silly notion really seeing as Germany does 'sensible' shoes usually and then when you factor in the season (winter approaching) that can only mean doubly sensible and therefore not a cat in hells chance of finding something I might want to put on my feet. My search was then compounded by the fact that I have a funny foot (that's right I have a cloven hoof!) my big toe joint takes objection to anything too high or anything pressing on it (I think it's an age thing, gradually my body is decaying around me) consequently, despite trying on 3 pairs I came home empty handed (that's a lie, I had too many bags for my hands, I really needed another arm (Zaphod Beeblebrox got that right) or a pack donkey, but none of the shopping was for me)
While I was chatting to Al, I was surfing the web, looking at pictures of shoes, I mentioned my quest to Al and before you could say 'Manolo or Louboutin?' she was also online and we were shopping together.

Girlie heaven.

It really was the next best thing to being in a mall together, except there were no bothersome shop assistants and we weren't weighed down with lots of other bags, on the downside we couldn't go off for a sneaky grande vanilla latte or a large pinot grigio either and nor could I take my chosen shoes home, but hey, a girl can't have everything at the same time, not always, sometimes you have to be prepared to have your cake and wait a day before eating it...

I found these and emailed Al the link asking her opinion, 'gorgeous' she said, so I ordered them and went to bed - by this time it was almost midnight & we'd been 'shopping' for maybe 2 hours...and 2 days later the boots turned up. Of course they came when Si was here, rather than on a different continent, so I was unable to whisk the evidence (shopping bag/boxes/receipt) away so that the item could emerge weeks later from the bowels of my wardrobe to be worn, and then when asked 'is that new?' I could honestly respond 'no'***. Simon was distracted by the box the boots came in,
'Mirapodo? What's that?' he asked, imagine my surprise when Ben answers 'only the biggest online shoe retailer in Europe' damn, no getting around the fact that I've bought new shoes then...


* I have commented on previous occasions how I wouldn't describe myself as a technophobe it's more a case of technology being Verenaphobic.
** not, necessarily through any fault of mine, but a long distance friendship takes work & if I'm always the one making the contact then that sends a certain message - don't you think?
*** I have a few variations on this response, I quite like the 'don't worry, it's been paid for' (not that I'm light fingered, merely implying that the item has been mine for long enough to have had its visa bill paid) or there's also 'new to you maybe, I've worn it before, but you're never here' (try hard not to sound too accusatory) the age old 'this old thing?' ceased to work many years ago.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Snaps 39

The making of the Christmas Cake, part 1

Soaking the dried fruit in brandy.I started this earlier in the week and will keep adding brandy until the fruit can't take any more - fortunately they usually show more stamina than I do when confronted with a bottle of brandy!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rocketman*

Last week we had English Comedy night at Lulu's.

Nothing special about that you might think, well, you might think that if you're new here & haven't read my bio first...

English comedy in a little German town, especially a German town that doesn't have a huge expat community like D'dorf or Cologne have, although the number of 'foreigners' here seems to be growing on a weekly basis - met a new Yank last week (at the comedy night) and a new Brit the week before, slowly but surely we are infiltrating the local society.

So this was the 2nd such comedy night (the last was in the summer) and we (Rebecca, Rachel (new Brit to Kettwig) & I) were happily ensconced with large (is there any other size?) glasses of wine in the corner of the bar waiting for the 8.30 kick off.

The first comedian was a Yank, Casey James, who has a totally awesome day job, he works for the European Space Agency, he's ex NASA apparently and works with recruiting and training astronauts. Simon doesn't believe he's a rocket scientist, Simon is a sceptic and was heard muttering under his breath "well he is a comedian". I chose to believe that Mr James is ex NASA, if only for the fun I got the following day in telling my so hard to impress it's almost impossible, 13 year old, that I'd met a guy who was a rocket scientist.

The second comedian was actually a comedienne, from Belgium...now I hate Belgium, for the simple reason that everytime we drive to England we spend a large portion of the journey in Belgium, and in my experience the autobahn there are the worst in Europe, it's like the civil engineers made the road surface out of corrugated cardboard, and then to add insult to injury you have to put up with the Belgian drivers. Living here in Germany I'm fairly used to driving on the autobahn where some parts have no speed restriction (Jeremy Clarkson, eat your heart out) and on those stretches you get Porsches and the like shooting up behind you from literally nowhere, but it's OK, you know to expect it and so you check your mirrors and move out of their way, fine, no problem. Belgium doesn't have unrestricted autobahn but you still get idiots who shoot up behind you, pretty much into the boot of your car and expect you to pull over immediately, even if there's no space in the inside lane...when you don't respond to their threat and crash your car into the Stobart wagon alongside they pull back and then race up to you again - fun. Anyway the most memorable thing about the comedienne (from Belgium) was that her day job is doing voice overs in different languages for porn films...

The third and final comedian James Allan, was British ex army originally from Manchester, who now reckons he makes a living in Germany teaching the English language to Germans - I heckled him at this point, couldn't resist the opportunity to point out the irony of the fact that he's a Manc, teaching people how to speak proper English...

It was a great evening, marred only by my mobile - I'd left the children home alone, as the eldest is capable of earning good money babysitting other people's kids and therefore has to do the odd freebie for me, all well and good until the babysitter goes to bed...which he had done (it was mid week afterall) and then the stupid dog got confused (not the sharpest knife in the drawer is our Logan, although if there was a crumb of food in said drawer he'd find it) everyone had gone to bed but he hadn't been out for his snack & a wee**. So the stupid beast had woken Jas by barking (Ben slept on, oblivious) and Jas upset and confused rang me. In retrospect it was probably a good job I was called away from Lulu's, the 3 (large) glasses of wine I consumed seemed like such a good idea at the time, but the following morning I had to suffer through 90 minutes of tortuous pilates and then a further equally painful 90 minutes of German - I think it's fair to say that it was not one of my better lessons, there were moments when I couldn't even remember the English words for what I wanted to say, let alone the German.

* a great Elton John track that you can listen to here
** a routine that I have with Logan, in an attempt to stop him waking me in the night because he needs a wee, I encourage him to go out before going to bed, by throwing a doggie biscuit outside for him to find, a creature more motivated by his stomach you'd be hard pushed to find.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

40 days and 40 nights



Rain, rain, rain.

It rained yesterday, and the day before that and the day before that....and when I say 'rained' I don't mean a half hour sprinkle, I'm talking about sunrise to sunset downpour, it's even been raining at night too, just in case everything wasn't completely saturated.

Consequently there's a lot of water about, our back lawn is turning into a pond (it has drainage issues), but at least there's no water in the cellar (touch wood). Rebecca's cellar meanwhile has a stream flowing through it - apparently the water builds up behind a window at the top of a cellar wall and flows through the gaps in the frame*, and then the water flows unchecked through 2 rooms until it reaches the drain - 'fortunately' this is a regular problem and 'fortunately' this is a cellar in the old fashioned style of the word, i.e. although not meant to be damp, it isn't meant for habitation, unlike our, much newer cellar. Aurelia (3 doors down from us) had her cellar washed out a year or so ago and her's is used as ours is - it's carpeted and full of the kids stuff - or at least it was...flooding of cellars seems to be a common thing here, but maybe that's because we have cellars, whereas in the UK a cellar is something that only seems to come with an old house, when we were trying to buy a house here I was insistent that any house I wanted to own had a cellar.


And it's not just the housing that's suffering from the volume of water, the roads are...interesting, puddles the size of duck ponds of indeterminable depth which is what always scares me - ever since the time, many years ago that Simon drove into a large 'puddle' and the wheels of the Rover lost contact with the road and water started to flood into the cabin of the car. I refused point blank to get out (because I had new boots on & didn't want to ruin them) I had to crouch on my seat until Si took pity on me and carried me to safety and the dry road. Consequently, when faced with water deep enough to ripple, that covers the road surface from one side to the other I will, if possible find an alternative route - this policy of mine suffered at the weekend when we went to Ikea and partway through the carpark was not 1 but 2 'puddles', I took the decision that as we had to go through (in order to get out) at some point, then it made more sense to do it sooner rather than later as the water would only get deeper and deeper - Jas shut her eyes, I was tempted to, but someone had to steer the car!

We went out to 'Road Stop'** for lunch, the children's favourite eating place, parked as close to the door as we could and then had to paddle our way into the restaurant. The building is at the bottom of a slope and all the water from the top end of the carpark was flowing downhill and into the outer indoor/outdoor area of the restaurant - nice. Fortunately the addition of fresh flowing water to the environment had no impact on the kitchen.

The photos running down the left were all taken on Sunday morning, the 1st few hours of the day were dry (from above anyway) and as the river had burst its banks at one point on the Saturday I knew the water levels would be even higher.

What can I say? I'm glad I had wellies on and Logan was in seventh heaven, he's not a dog for swimming, but he does like the water, he's more hippo than fish and will wade in and lie down no matter how cold the water (he does it in the depths of winter, when there's snow on the ground and a crust of ice to break through) the locals think he's crazy and can always be relied upon to pass comment/judgement.



* I should point out that this is a rented house with the most lax landlords known to man.
** an American styled diner owned by a guy down our road - they have an extensive menu of burgers, chicken wings, nachos etc and lots of U.S. memobabilia over the walls.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Neeeeeeowmmmmmmm

I think that's the noise Formula 1 cars make as they hurtle around the track at life threatening speeds, that's certainly how it sounds to me.

Yesterday (Sunday) was the last race in this year's season and with 4 drivers in the running for the championship it proved to be a good race. 1 crash - Schumacher spinning before being mounted by Liuzzi (pic from bild.de) where Schumi looked to be inches away from decapitation, but thanks to modern technology the F1 cars these days seem to have life preserving capabilities. Alonso (1 of the 4 in contention for the title) was kept back and away from the leading pack by Petrov (as Alonso clearly saw it, anyway) leading to Alonso coming alongside Petrov after the chequered flag had been waved and 'expressing his anger'.
Sebastian Vettel, a young German, won the championship for Red Bull, the youngest ever (23) F1 champion and was so emotional on his drive in after the final flag you couldn't tell whether he was laughing or crying.
It was great to see the final podium, 3 F1 world champions, Button and Hamilton flanking Vettel, standing tall and proud for the anthems before the obligatory champagne spraying of each other and the crowd.

A friend commented that she couldn't understand my fascination with Formula One, afterall I refuse to watch football or rugby or cricket, which are all far superior and more interesting sports in her eyes - although she is Australian, maybe if Mark Webber had won the championship she'd be singing a different tune? But I blame my parents for my love of speed, or perhaps more specifically my father.

When I was a child we spent many, many weekends at Mallory Park, Oulton Park, Aintree & I think even Castle Coombe, milling around in the pits while my dad was involved in the serious stuff of marshalling for the 750 motorclub, is it any wonder I developed a taste for speed*. I have a very vivid memory of a car being towed back into the pits with water and fish cascading out of it after it had been pulled out of one of the lakes at Mallory Park.

Two years ago I treated Simon to a ride in what's called the 'Ring taxi' - a ride around the Nürburgring in a BMW driven by an experienced racing driver, it's something I'd love to do, but just standing there, in the pits with all the street cars, bikes, vans (basically anything with an engine and wheels can take a turn) racing their engines as they waited their turn to enter the track took me straight back to my youth. The smell is amazing, an intoxicating mix of hot rubber, oil, petrol, exhaust fumes and adrenaline, there's nothing like it.

So now I have to wait until March 14th for the excitement to start up again, I guess I'll survive!


* does that mean I can also blame my dad for my mounting collection of speeding tickets?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Snaps 38

Because it's Remembrance Sunday...


picture courtesy of http://www.freefoto.com/index.jsp

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lest we forget*


Today, people in Great Britain, all members of the Commonwealth (apart from Mozambique apparently) and France, Belgium, South Africa etc** pause at exactly 11am to remember 'the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and civilians in times of war'.

The wearing of a poppy is something I always associate with this period of autumn, when I was at school it was always felt to be an honour (as well as a good and legitimate skive) to go from class to class getting other children to pay whatever they could to the British Legion for their poppy. Then as an adult living in a small village with a son in the cub scouts we would have to stand around in the freezing cold (if we were lucky) or the driving rain (if we weren't) as the cubs, scouts, brownies, guides and any local veterans paraded from the pub at one end of the village down to the church and the village war memorial. There is something exquisitely poignant and eery about the Last Post (which you can hear here) especially as it always seemed to be played by the most elderly and decrepit looking ex serviceman, but again it's part and parcel of Remembrance Day.

Here, in the area of Germany where we live 11am on the 11th of the 11th is also a day in many people's diaries, but for an entirely different reason, it's the official start of Karneval, so there are many, many drunks to be found wandering around - and Karneval doesn't actually climax until the beginning of March (next year anyway, it's one of those crazy church dates that revolves around the moon and the tides and how many goats the pope has or something...consequently it's a moveable feast).
As you can imagine those of us here from the Commonwealth think that celebrating and excessive partying on the official day of remembrance is a little bit wrong, likewise the locals can't understand our stance when we refuse to go party.

Integration is all well and good (although Angela doesn't think it's working) but as the saying goes 'you can take a horse to water but you can't make him drink'. So I'm wearing my poppy with pride and will happily tell any local exactly why!



* this is a phrase I connect with Remembrance day in England, looking it up on Google I was surprised to find that it's a line from a Kipling poem composed for good Queen Vic in 1897 for her diamond jubilee.
** the full list is here although I don't know how trustworthy it is.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Down but not out

If I'm squeezing a 'bit' of shopping into my week it's a Tuesday it'll happen on, I have nothing else on in the morning and Jas is in school till 2pm so it's also the largest block of 'free' time available to me*.

I'd kind of thought about tackling Ikea first thing before moving onto proper shopping, but I talked myself out of it, planning instead to take Jas 1st thing on Saturday morning - which I could live to regret, but it's too late now.

I should have gotten an inkling about how sucessful my trip would be when the actual journey to the car park took forever, some exhibition on at the local Messe meant that I queued from red light to red light.

First stop on pretty much any shopping trip for me is Starbucks, now I know they're a HUGE multinational blah blah blah, but back in England I didn't have a Starbucks so readily available and although here there are hundreds and hundreds of little coffee shops, I quite enjoy the irony of going to the US chain instead of a little privately owned German coffee shop (maye one day I'll grow out of this phase) As it's 45 days to Christmas*** they have their Christmas drinkies & even seasonal cakes, the lebkuchen latte is delish and I was delighted to get my first mincey of the season, although this being Germany it's called a 'stern something mit rosinen' (= star tartlet with raisins) the guy serving me asked anxiously whether I liked raisins, because apparently lots of people don't...which led to me telling him that in England the mince pie a classic piece of Xmas & from there somehow we got onto the subject of English football teams...I'd have forgiven him that if he hadn't told me that I really shouldn't eat anything else for the rest of the day (seeing as I was overloading on the calories what with a cream topped latte and a fat loaded mincey) cheeky get.

My shopping goal (yes, I did have a kind of goal in mind, I wasn't aimlessly wandering) was to make a start on the Christmas presents, this was achieved, with 2 bought, but what I was really looking for was a sparkly top.

Last week I thought it'd be a fun thing to do, to have a Christmas do, one Sunday afternoon in December, and before you could say 'Glühwein' it was organised (I think I may live to regret this but hey, too late now) and now I'm thinking about what to wear, the dress I wore last Christmas or black trousers and something sparkly? Am tending towards the latter as Germans tend to be very...dull, when it comes to clothing, black, brown, grey and shades of all predominate so I wanted to find something spangly (but clearly not in black). Maybe I'm too early, maybe looking for pretty, party things in mid November in Germany the land of greige is a little optimistic? Maybe if I wait a couple of weeks I'll find racks and racks of vibrant turquoises and shimmering cerise...maybe, but I doubt it.
Why is it though that whenever I go shopping with Rebecca I can always find something sparkly (I think I was a magpie in a past life) I think the sequins and crystals call to me, I shall have to ask Rebecca to go shopping with me next week, either that or I give up and order something from the not so rainbow challenged UK websites.

On the upside, at least today I didn't get accosted by freaky women in shops or stared at more than usual (and this despite wearing a shocking pink shirt, hidden under a dark grey coat...) and I have made a start on my present buying, not quite on my usual gold medal winning form in the shopping stakes today, clearly out of practice!



* despite what my DH might think, my weekdays are fairly full, what with children finishing school at lunchtime, dog walking, pilates, step and German lessons have to be squeezed into the mornings so that then I can act as taxi/tea** service in the afternoon
** the childrens' maths & German tutors have to be kept supplied with caffeine
*** well it was when I wrote this but you can check how many days it is now here

Monday, November 8, 2010

My German (Word) Hate List

Don't panic!

It's not as bad as it sounds, honest, I'm not venting my spleen at all and sundry...not today anyway.

We've (that would be my German teacher and me) decided to compile a list of German words that make me go "grrrrrrr" accompanied more often than not by a rolling of the eyes and a sigh of despair from Muna as she prepares to explain to me, once again, the illogicality of some particular humble word.

It probably happens once per lesson, that Muna has to, very patiently, explain the subtlties of a particular group of vowels - amazing eh? German, a subtle language, who'd have thought it?

I shall start the hate list with a word I stumbled across on my own, while I was being a girlie swot and studying some grammar;

borgen
I looked it up in my Casio electronic dictionary (a necessity not a luxury when you have to look up as many words as I do) and discovered that it means "to borrow"
...and "to lend"...hmmmm.
I'm quite used to English illiterates saying "can you borrow me your book?"* but I thought the Germans had maybe escaped this, but here is a verb that seems to want you to use it whether you are a borrower or a lender...and this despite the fact that the German language has a word for "to borrow" = ausleihen and another word for "to lend" = verleihen.


The second word to enter the list we stumbled across today and it was the reason for the suggestion of the list, I guess Muna figures it'll stop me from venting during lessons, now she can just tell me to write it on the list and forget about it (so unlikely, I harbour grudges you know)

reizen
on the list because it has 2 meanings (or at least 2 that we discussed in the lesson, knowing my luck it probably has more, which is fine, but kind of puts you off using new vocab just on the off chance you use it in the wrong connotation) it means "to tempt" and also "to irritate", fine, but how can a word have 2 such starkly contrasting meanings?
"You're tempting me" and "you're irritating me" are surely at opposing ends of the happiness scale;
For example, if I was tempted by some chocolate cake** I would probably eat at least once piece (no will power, that's my problem) but if chocolate cake irritated me (highly unlikely, the only thing I'm seriously allergic to is detergent) then I wouldn't risk eating a single piece of it would I?
Bizarre, don't you think?

So there you have it, the first two on my German word hate list, more to come I'm sure!




* which, for those of you reading this who are not native English speakers, is not correct use of the word 'borrow'.
** am currently being tempted by such a cake that has been left in my house by a very bad person, fortunately Jas likes it and so will hopefully eat more of it before it starts to irritate me in its temptation.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Snaps 37


No, I wasn't geblitzt, it's not a real speed cop standing on that balcony, just a shop manequin dressed up like up...and you thought the blue sheep in the garden were one step towards crazyville?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Deutsch...pah #2

German is not the easiest of languages to learn as I've spoken about before, I keep thinking that it would have been so much easier to have moved to China where the language sounds so much easier to actually speak (although I guess a complete pig to write) because they have no tenses, instead they 'time stamp' what they say;
'I go tomorrow/today/yesterday' instead of 'I am going/I go/I went' but then again I don't think I'd actually want to live in that particular country...

I have days here when I think it's finally coming together, when I don't put off making phonecalls before I've planned what I'm going to say and when a letter from school that covers 2 sides of A4 makes immediate sense without me resorting to my dictionary or my 13 yr old translator. There are also days when I feel at a complete loss and as though I am never going to be understood even if I live here till I die - which could be sooner rather than later if I don't stop with my really bad habit of shouting abuse (from within my car) at other road users - but that's another story.

I had a few conflicting experiences of my language prowess last week, but on the whole I feel more up than down about it all (at the moment);

- my tumble drier is making a funny noise and so at the request of my darling I called into to the local repair shop (called in, in person because that way I can make sure I'm not misunderstood, or at least there's less chance of me being misunderstood) the guy took all the details and said they'd call the following week to make an appointment, I didn't get why they couldn't make an appointment there and then but hey, who am I to argue with the crazy way they run their business? It got to Wednesday of the fiollowing week and I'd had no call to make an appointment so I bit the bullet and rang. 5 minutes later, after speaking to a very efficient woman, I had an appointment for the following morning - I guess I should have spoken to her from the get go as she clearly wears the trousers in that small organisation.

- in the same week as the noisy tumble drier my kitchen tap decided to go all leaky. It's done it before (this is a 3 year old kitchen we're talking about, taps should not be leaking) so I knew the procedure, call the kitchen company who then call the tap company who then call me to arrange to come and fix it. The man came on Friday, I didn't stand over him while he worked, I trust him to know what to do and to do it (and besides I have other stuff I can be doing) so he faffed about over in the general sink area and then turned the water back on and asked me to sign the paperwork. At this point I asked him what he'd done and whether other people have had the same problem with this design of tap (stupid really, like he's going to admit to that?!) now this man said he'd replaced the potato something...I swear I heard him say 'kartoffel blah blah' and as you should know by now, kartoffel = potato. I smiled sweetly at him and said 'really? how nice' or some blather in German and as soon as he was gone looked in the bin to see what exactly he'd thrown away that could possibly be called a potato.
When I had my German lesson she told me the word I'd heard was 'kartusche' (= cartidge) but that she only knew that because she'd also had one replaced by a plumber recently!

- I had cause to visit the T-mobile shop last week, took with me the relevant information and waited while the guy finished up with his customer. I explained to Herr T-mob that I wanted to upgrade my phone whilst retaining the same contract and that I'd spoken both on the phone and via email to T-mobile about this and it was do-able.
He disagreed.
I showed him the documentation I had that showed otherwise (stood my ground and argued my case like a proper German) Herr T-mob then phoned head office to seek advice. Meanwhile a queue was forming, it was the end of lunchtime and there was just the one guy serving (2 others were hiding in what looked like a cupboard round the back) the guy at the front of the queue was of course old and therefore crotchety and started making verbal waiting noises, where upon I turned to him and told him that I'd had to wait too (German is such a great language to be argumentative in!) The outcome of my visit wasn't ideal, I didn't get what I wanted but I had forced Herr T-mob to take me seriously enough that he questioned what he was saying, I stood my ground and fought my corner in true German stylee, all with only lapsing into English once (when I declared the situation to be utter crap*) I walked away not happy, afterall I didn't get what I wanted but I did feel that I dun good.


* note to self; learn more mild German swear words...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lilliput

My world is shrinking around me, contracting like heated cellophane and there I was thinking smugly that the word might be vast but at least it was open and easily accessible to me, so it didn't matter if I lived in Germany or Guatemala, as long as I had access to the internet and an airport, then I could get what I needed/fly to where I needed to be.

Hah!

Don't you just hate it when the rules are changed or the goalposts moved, but it's possibly worse when this happens and no-one tells you to expect the change, then there's no opportunity of halting such a change (even if I had power) it's a fait accomlpi.

Reading to me is a necessity of life, like breathing or a supply of chocolate or caffeine, essential. Without a book to read I am bereft. It's what I do in any moment of down time and what I do whenever I can (MIL very kindly bought me a little tapestry kit thingy of a golden retriever, because it looks like Logan, well it will when it's done, except it will never be done because if I'm at a loose end I read, even if I'm not at a loose end I read. The only time I don't have a book ready to be opened is when I've finished one and am allowing it to 'settle' before moving on to the next. I am a voracious reader.

Moving to Germany has made the acquisition of reading matter trickier, it requires more planning because surprisingly* the German bookshops have only a small percentage of their shelves turned over to 'foreign' literature, so my browsing along the shelves and inhaling of print has been curtailed.
For a while Amazon benefitfed from this problem and then Simon surprised me with a Sony eReader. It was love at first sight (once I'd got past trying to turn the pages over) hundreds of books in one little package that is smaller than any respectable novel, the only downside is that you can't use it on an airplane when the seatbelt light is on.
Now I could get books from anywhere, what with the internet being all reaching and all, I didn't have to fly to the US to buy books there, I could do it from my kitchen worktop with a cup of coffee in one hand and my Visa card in the other. Bliss.

But as I said, my world has started to close in on me, and I do wonder how close it's going to get.

I have had, in the past, many books from Waterstones, my account is registered to my German address and I pay with sterling from my UK bank account. But no more. Last week I had a shocking email from Waterstones. I was so shocked that I left it a day or two before replying to it (because I felt that I had to reply to it, because if you don't register your point of view, you have no right to then sound off about it**) The email I received said;

"We see from our records that you have previously purchased an eBook from Waterstones.com whilst having a registered address outside of the UK and Ireland.

We regret that as of 20th October 2010, we are no longer able to sell eBooks to customers placing an order from anywhere outside of the UK and Ireland. We have had to take this action to comply with the legal demands of publishers regarding the territories into which we can sell eBooks.

Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience that this may cause."


I wasn't going to take that lying down, I can tell you. So I enlisted the help of my dad (who's always keen to cock a snook at those in authority) who had a credit card registered to him in the UK that he doesn't use. Tee hee.

Damn and blast those sneaky Waterstones peeps. They can tell my IP address is not in the UK. Good job there are other eBookstores eh?! Might have to go on a bit of a buying spree though just in case that loophole is tightened around me too.

And I thought free speech was part and parcel of a free world? Clearly you have to be prepared to read that speech in the native language of the country in which you reside (or make do with the restricted choice available on their eBook shelves (don't envy the choice of titles my brother living in Libya will have left open to him)

A thought though, how does Kindle get around this? Their big selling point is that you can buy books WHEREVER you are...sneaky deals or ignorant bliss?

Right, enough typing, where's my book?



* please note the sarcasm, I doubt there are many English bookshops with even 1 shelf turned over to 'foreign' literature.
**probably not the gospel, just the way I feel
.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A (not so) tall tale.

There's a great story going around town at the moment.

Si heard it from a colleague at a meeting last week and then heard from another colleague (who lives outside of Kettwig) about it, and even my hairdresser (who lives in the next town along the river) has heard about it, so it must be true right?

This is the way the story goes...

There's a family in Kettwig with a teenage son, who is either Downs syndrome or autistic (depending on the person who heard/tells the tale).
The boy was at home and rang his mother in her office at work.

"Come home now" he tells her "There's a troll in the house"
Naturally the mother didn't believe him.

"Mom, you've got to come home, I've caught a troll" the boy was insistent, and so reluctantly the mother went home.

Her son took her to the bathroom where he'd locked his troll.

The mother was greeted by the sight of a dwarf/little person* who wasn't very amused.

"thank god you're here" he said "I've been trapped here for hours"

It turns out the dwarf/little person worked for the circus which was in town for the holidays and he was going from door to door, drumming up business, a walking advert for the circus.
All had been fine until the teenager had answered the door and believed he had the opportunity to catch a mythical creature!


* I'm trying to be PC here, and according to wiki in the US & Canada people of particularly short stature prefer the term 'little people' but 'dwarf' isn't pejorative whilst 'midget' is...