Sunday, January 31, 2010

The lost week

Where did last week go?

How can it be Sunday already?

I feel as though I fell asleep at the beginning of the week and have just awoken to discover I've missed 6 days.

Except if that were the case I wouldn't be this knackered.

Instead the week was swallowed up by sickness, childrens' sickness. It's a good job that one of us here is able to abandon whatever plans they may have had for the week and become parent on call, if I had a paid job for example that'd be tricky. When Ben was little and I worked part-time, he caught chicken pox, really badly, and had to be nursed at home for well over a week, at the time I was able to call on both grandmothers to come and stay and help, but here? They might only be an hour or so away but it's an hour by plane now, not by car.

I have been at the beck and call of my children all this week, 24 hours a day. Now don't get me wrong, I love my children, would do anything for them (in fact Si was telling me about a colleague who has discovered his adult son needs a new kidney NOW, because his have packed up for whatever reason, this guy is the perfect match and so at the age of 60 or so he's donating one of his kidneys to his sick son. So Si asked me, would I do that. I said of course, I wouldn't even hesitate) but a week of fetching and carrying cups of water and bowls of sick does get a little...wearing.

Thursday and Friday Jas seemed to be on the mend and I said to Si that I'd bunk off for a couple of hours on Saturday morning, on my own, I was really looking forward to it.

The gods had other plans.

We were woken at 3am Saturday by Jas complaining of stomach pains again, which rapidly became vomiting before subsiding into dry wretching (only because her stomach was completely empty) At 6 we gave up any pretense of sleep and decided we should take her to A&E, which is when we discovered the snow. About 3 more inches of the damned stuff.

So not only was my Tuesday to Friday written off but so was my Saturday, as I said, a lost week.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Confession time

I admit it ok?


I confess.


I am a bag lady.


I'm not sure when this bag (or should that be bad?) habit began, although seeing as I can remember some of the bags I used to haul my school books around in 35 years ago maybe it goes back to my teenage years...

I wouldn't describe my habit as being too serious, it's not like I have to have the latest IT bag or anything like that, when it comes to bags the label isn't important to me (maybe because I know that within a season (that's 6 months in my fashion book I do summer and winter with degrees of layering to accomodate temperature variations - although clearly this layering doesn't apply to bags) within a season I'll be bored with the bag and itching for something new, and even I with my spendthrift ways can acknowledge that you shouldn't do that with a bag you've paid hundreds for.


I have a few categories of bag...

the everyday bag - (this is the one that gets the most use and is changed every season) needs to be a decent size, I need to be able to fit in a paperback, maybe an umbrella (a small telescopic one!) a cloth bag for those unexpected purchases when I, in a fit of planetary awareness decline the plastic bag offered, purse, diary, phone, keys, lippie, tissues plus whatever else the kids/husband decide they no longer want the responsibilty for. Examples of this bag are the first 4 pics.

the holiday bag 1 - this has been for several years my big pink Boden number (pic 5), it's sole use is as hand baggage, it could possibly hold the kitchen sink, yet still fits beneath the airplane seat in front of me (and fulfills the airline size regulations) and looks good at the same time.

the holiday bag 2 - needs to be smallish, but able to hold sunnies and cash and maybe a phrasebook, needs to be able to be worn across the body and preferably slot into holiday bag 1, currently this slot is being filled by pic 6, but it's not quite right...it doesn't quite do the job. Maybe it's just too old and past it?

the evening bag - I've several (surprised?) possibly because none of them quite do the job, there's the cute little Radley (pic 7) that's black on one side and patterned on the other, and a little green sequined clutch (pic 8) that is GORGEOUS but holds only lippie and a mirror and none too securely at that...

Looking at this collection of mine (another confession (I'm sooo hoping this is one blog that Si doesn't read...) what you see here is possibly not quite all of my bag collection (I am 45 this year, and at 2 bags per year that's a lot of bags, even if I only started buying them when I was actually earning money)) what strikes me about my bags is that I say I'm not a label buyer - but most of my bags are Boden (I have a couple of Radleys too but good old Johnnie seems to be able to scratch my bag itch every time, it was touch and go this season as to whether I'd just replace the broken silver satchel with the new updated pewter version they have for this spring - but then the purple patent stole my heart).

Every season as the new fashions hit the magazines and shops my eyes are always drawn to the bags (ok, and to the shoes and the clothes) I've been very proud of myself this winter season, I stayed with my summer 09 bag, a silver satchel (pic 4) across the body number, stayed true to it despite one of the magnetic clasps breaking back in August (which is definitely grounds for replacement in anybody's book) but the bag was a great size and it left my hands free (to carry other bags full of shopping) One bag lasting 2 seasons, almost... last week I was in Essen, just window shopping alone for the first time since the Christmas break and I saw it, a purple patent shopper (pic 1) and it was reduced by 50%. I gave it a thorough examination and then walked away...around the shop and back to the bag, I knew I'd regret it if I left it there, it called to me and so now it's mine. I debated telling Si that it was old and I'd had it ages (my usual ploys) but I knew that even he with his colour blindness wouldn't be fooled by such a line - so I hit him with the 3 pronged attack instead of,


- it was 1/2 price
- I never got a bag last season
- I got points on your P&C card

Maybe this is why he's now going on and on about his desperate need for a new suit carrier and a new suitcase, he'll be wanting a manbag next!!

another confession - if you think this is bad, you should see my earring collection....or my shoes....

Friday, January 29, 2010

Technology - love it loathe it?

I have a love hate relationship with technology and I'm sure the men in my life would agree (those men being husband, son and father, am not counting the dog or the hamster as neither have the opposable thumbs that most gadgets require)

I love a gadget (one of my favourite tv shows is the Gadget Show (back on UK tv screens Feb 1 I believe) I have an iphone, an e-reader, a Garmin run tracker thingummy, an electronic translator, a TomTom, had an MP3 player (or 4) but that's now obsolete with my sexy iphone but with all of these dinky electronic toys I am lost if I can't 'plug 'n play'.

I want to be able to unbox my new toy (have you seen those websites where people take loads of pics/video of themselves unboxing their new toy? How warped and deprived are they?) and then have it work, OK, so maybe I need to charge it up first, I can live with that. But what I really don't like is having to connect it to the laptop/computer whatever, install some software, register online, download some software, download some updates etc before I can play. The reason I hate the delay? It's not because of the time factor (well partly I guess, I can be a little bit 'now, I want it now' at times) but also because you can usually guarantee that if there's some connection required between the toy and a computer then I won't be able to make that connection...

I don't understand it, I'm not a technophobe but I think the problem may be that the gadgets are all Verenaphobes...that's it! It's not my fault at all, the gadgets hate me and conspire against me...

Examples:

The iphone, intuitive? Maybe to someone who's been paying Steve Jobs' salary for the last xx years, but to me? Of course not. I was overjoyed to receive it, then spent hours cussing and swearing at it before working out how to make it function. I didn't know you had to have iTunes installed...this was the first Apple product into the Evans' household (but it's funny isn't it, how insidious these products are, since Christmas and Santa's visit the number of Apples here has doubled) we'd been holding out against the ipod revolution, despite having had MP3 players for years and all our music stored on the harddrive (I'm kept safely away from that).

The Garmin training thingummy. Love it, it tells me where I've run, how far I've run, how slowly I've run and when I stopped and for how long (honest I wasn't catching my breath, I was waiting for the dog to get out of the river, if I ran on and assumed he'd catch up he wouldn't - he's blonde & would probably head off in the opposite direction) But for all that to work well you have to connect it to the laptop which has had the software installed (think my brother did that for me when he handed over the gift, telling me it would make me run further. Ha! It doesn't even make me run faster, I merely note the number of calories used that day and then work out how much cake that equates to) Anyway following on from New Years Eve and the death of the laptop I have lost all that data and the software, now I have to reinstall the software and try to get it working again. Have got the software but not bothered with the trying to install malarkey yet as we've had conditions unsuitable to run in (for me anyway - I've mentioned before about what a fair weather runner I am) I really must get around to doing that, ideally before spring...

The Sony e-reader. Absolutely lurve my e-reader. Love it, love it, love it. Love the size of it - like a dead skinny paperback. The weight (lack of) of it. The fact you can 'turn the pages' whilst holding it in one hand and a cup of tea/glass of wine in the other. The number of books you can have on it (100's). And especially that at any time, night or day you can download a book from the internet and then be reading it within moments...as long as you have the appropriate software on your computer that is. Following on from the death of the laptop we have a new laptop and whilst trying to download a couple of books to read yesterday and failing I remembered the fight I had back in August with it...it was a definite fight, resulting in me stomping off and leaving it for 2 of my 3 men to fix. So now I just have to wait for them to leap heroically into action, until they do I'm back to my bookshelf and my backlog of paperbacks bought last summer before the e-reader appeared in my life.

Technology eh? It hates me!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A paradox?

The word paradox takes me back to lower sixth at school, or was it 5th form? Anyway, that was the year we performed 'Pirates of Penzance' with line

'A paradox, a paradox,
A most ingenious paradox'
however, I digress....

Germans are keen to appear healthy, they have a great health care system and embrace every sport going (and seem to make some up to my mind as there clearly aren't enough sports already in existence to satisfy every German - I would point you in the direction of voltigieren, just what is the point of gymnastics on horse back? Unless you want your child to run off and join the circus, that is. Or Rhönrad, gymnastics within a rolling wheel - why?)

So Germans love their sport, summer months find every German worth his/her salt out on their bikes klingeling away to make sure you're not impeding their progress along the footpath, they drive me nuts, them and the other crazies who insist on taking walking poles with them on a walk and then just waving them about ineffectually.

And as I said, a great healthcare system, if you have had a serious operation you will often get sent to a recuperation centre for several weeks afterwards to help you to be rehabilitated.
There are 'wellness' (nice bit of Denglish there) hotels everywhere throughout Germany where people go to drink the waters, bathe in the waters, walk in the waters...get the picture? Like a spa, but less fun (it's bound to be less fun isn't it? It's German and therefore meant to be taken seriously)
The health system even gets you a yearly MOT and yet something doesn't quite fit.

- Maybe it's the number of Germans who smoke?
- The availability of cigarettes - they still have machines on street corners and next to the checkout above the sweets in the supermarkets
- The number of solariums around (Kettwig has 5 that I can think of without trying) and the number of permatanned women walking about.
- The sale of schnapps in petrol stations
- The quantity of ice-cream that is consumed throughout the whole year (come on, you're not going to tell me that that's low fat ice-cream you're opting for?)
- Every office desk seems to have a bowl of gummi bears
- Children are always handed small packets of sweets if they accompany you to the Apotheke (dispensing chemist- as opposed to a 'Boots' equivalent, of which there isn't) or the DIY shop, the pet food shop...
- Portion size 1, seriously, have you seen the size of a piece of cake you get here with your mid morning coffee? I'd order one with 2 forks but; 1. I'm usually alone & 2. if I'm not alone then I'm with Si, who would eat more than his fair share!
- Portion size 2, when Si is away with meetings they get a full breakfast, danish pastries all morning, 3 course lunch and then 3 course dinner

Like I said it's a paradox, they want to be healthy and they do all the sport and have all the gear but then they're sneaking around all sunkissed & scoffing pies....hmmm, doesn't quite sound as though they've got the message!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Marie Celeste

Our house is so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

It's not because it's empty, there's only Si (skived off to Copenhagen) and Ben (gone to school because it's too boring at home) not here.

Jas is the loudest member of the family by far (unless one of the hamsters is hammering his wheel or the dog is dreaming - stupid great oaf doesn't really bark but will whimper and woof the night/day away) but Jas is still poorly sick and the loudest she gets at the moment is whilst retching...

Ben has bounced back like a rubber ball from this rotten stomach bug and although may be still a little tired this morning he declared he would go to school (I left the decision entirely up to him) as he'd be bored here at home - so off to double German and double maths he's gone!!

I feel...fragile, just not 100%, if I take everything at half speed I should be fine but Jas? Poor little mite, it's another day on the sofa in her pj's with a bowl to throw up into and a glass of water for company, although I'm sure the damned Disney Channel will make an appearance sooner or later - later I hope, I 'watched' maybe an hour of it yesterday and could almost feel my brain liquifying and turning into saccharine, give me Blue Peter anyday!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's like russian roulette

But with a fully loaded pistol....


I'm just waiting, waiting for the inevitable.


Yesterday I had one of those dreaded calls from school

'can you come and collect your child? she's not well'

At least Jas waited till she'd been home for 15 minutes or so before starting her 7 hour vomiting spree (or should that be spray?)

I hate having sick children, but the vomiting has to be the worst (before you start on the more serious things that need hospitalisation that is)
There is so little you can do for them, clean up afterwards (joy) keep hair out of the flow, keep them warm or cool depending on which way the fever is going and keep water going in, if only to see it coming out again 10 minutes later.
At least with pain you can give medicine, itchy skin can be creamed and cuts and bruises can be bathed/iced, but vomiting? You feel so helpless.

She was in bed by 7pm and after one last hurl at 8pm I should have had a quiet night.

Oh no.

I have 2 children (1 dog, 2 hamsters and a husband - this is not the order of importance...) and just after 1am I was woken by number one son being noisily sick (I'd opted to spend the night on the spare bed in Jas's room in case she needed me - this meant I was fractionally closer to the bathroom also)

So today I have 2 sick children at home from school and get to spend the day, when not ministering to them, wondering if or when the bug will get to me (Simon, the crafty bugger has flown to Copenhagen for 3 days) and trying to stay awake seeing as I spent most of the night cleaning up the bathroom.

And there I was muttering yesterday about the awful Monday feeling, I should have been grateful at the time that it wasn't 'throw up Tuesday'.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Blahhh it's Monday

I do wonder why I still have an allergic reaction to Mondays...I mean it's not as if I have to go to work or (heaven forbid) school, but Monday's can still be guaranteed to give me that Monday feeling (the complete opposite to that happy Friday feeling, which I start feeling from Wednesday afternoon onwards usually, despite the fact that I don't work (actually I should change that to 'work for money....') etc etc

This Monday is no different, in fact it's marginally worse today.

- Look what we woke up to:

More of the damn white stuff, and the sky's so grey that there's clearly more snow hiding up there. We'd only just got rid of the last lot. And I'd kind of thought that tomorrow I'd take my car into Essen to Mr Wash & get it cleaned (it's disgustingly filthy with all the salt and stuff off the roads, they'll kick me out the country if I'm not careful!) but if there's all this damn snow around again is it worth it? I guess so, at least it'll look clean for a day or so and actaully it is so dirty that I can barely see through the windows to look in my mirrors...

- Ben has no school today, the teachers take a day off from educating children to discuss what grades they should get in their half yearly Zeugnis* (which I think they get the end of this week and then have next Monday off because they got their Zeugnis 2 days ago...) This means that I have a 12 year old moping around all day, wanting to be entertained (especially if there are no friends to play with...) although it does mean that I can get him to walk the dog in the snow.

- We've just had a meeting with Ben's maths teacher following on from a very poor (in fact dreadful) maths test result, we asked for the meeting to try to find a way to help Ben with maths tests. The problem Ben has is that the tests are all text based and as German isn't his first language he has to first understand the question, he's also unused to such text based questions (although after a year of it you'd think he'd have gotten his head around it by now...) So we came away from the meeting with a list of books and a DVD to get that will give Ben lots to practice with.

Other than that Monday is just another day in the week, another day closer to the end of January, another day closer to spring...I am so over snow!


*see word of the day

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Germans...mad or just bonkers?

I've seen it all now.

Walked Logan through the woods today, it was dry but cold, pretty much all of the snow has gone without the help of any rain, so the ground underfoot was a little muddy but not too bad, it was no quagmire by any stretch of the imagination.

Normally when I get back from a walk and Logan is wet (a frequent occurence due to the proximity of the river and Logan's belief that he is a hippo) all I do is throw down a large and old towel and make him lie on it until he's dry - this is helped by the fact that we have a tiled floor in the hall with underfloor heating. This procedure works when he's muddy also, although then later I also have to sweep up the resulting detritus, again no biggy due to the tiled floor.

But I just saw a man (who had been walking in the same area that I had) who has a retriever like ours and a silly little dachshund also, standing with his dogs outside his front door, picking up the dogs' paws one by one and cleaning them off with a brush. Both dogs are clearly used to this procedure as they stood dociley throughout.

Am I alone in thinking this is a little extreme? Or am I just idle?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Himmel und Erde

Himmel und Erde is actually a popular meal here, it's potatoes and apples cooked and served with onions and often blood sausage or bacon...not something I'm planning to try anytime soon.

It translates as 'Heaven and Hell'

But don't panic! There hasn't been another Evans family outing to Ikea...

Thursday morning was my return trip to the dentist (hell) and Friday in exactly the same time slot I had a hairdressers appointment (heaven)

My new ceramic tops (inlays or whatever it is she calls them) had been made and had to be fitted, although Barbie was a little concerned that one mighn't fit perfectly as the manufacturer had commented that the mould wasn't very good (that was probably the one done at the end of the morning's session when my jaw was aching with the effort of staying in the open position for 2 hours, as well as from that bloody big needle she kept sticking in, and so it was quite possible that my teeth kept closing onto her hand...well, when everything's been numbed you can't feel what you're doing until they yelp)

The new top one went in smoothly then they tried the bottom left, only to discover, when I screamed in pain that the injection hadn't been effective enough.

Bottom right went in OK, but I think now it's too high, so I shall have to get her to do something about it next week when I get it all checked, I couldn't tell at the time because everything was numb.

And back to the bottom left, 3 injections and still I could feel pain (very low pain thresh-hold clearly) so Barbie stropped off for a sulk while the anaesthetic took a firmer hold (I was numb for 2 hours after escaping from the torture chamber) and finally work was completed.

I felt very sorry for myself afterwards, desperate for a comforting cup of tea but only capable of sucking water through a straw...pathetic!

Friday morning more than made up for it though.

I hate people messing with my hair, Jas would love to tweak it (to get her own back on the way I play with hers I guess) but it really freaks me out, makes me all shivery.
However, the hairdresser is a completely different matter.
I lurrrrrrrrrrrrve trips to the hairdresser - once I've found a good one that is (and that can take a while, one of the most traumatic things about moving to Germany was leaving my hairdresser, one who cuts your hair just so, and is entertaining at the same time - they can be hard to find)

Justin is English, but has lived in Germany for about 25 years and he cuts like a dream! We chat away in English (clearly) making jokes about the Germans, it's very relaxing.
But this time it was even better! Normally Justin has BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) playing in the background which is OK, but Friday he had got Radio 1 playing - the wonder of the internet. It was just like getting my hair cut back in England (although it's cheaper here).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Size zero

In my German lesson yesterday we bitched, nothing new there.

We bitched about the photos in a magazine, still nothing new there (wait till the week after the Oscars - that's a real bitch-fest, all those NASTY dresses that silly women wear, whatever were they thinking, I mean it's not like they don't have stylists and advisors for god's sake)

This week though the photos in the magazine were all of real life women, women who have jobs, not the usual crazy, half starved waifs who get paid 1000's to stand around as living clothes hangers.

The magazine in question 'Brigitte' (a German monthly, maybe a bit like the UK's 'She' or a more mature 'Red' - it has up to the minute fashion but also recipes, travel features, book & film reviews, it's not a gossip mag, it takes itself seriously) so Brigitte has decided to involve itself in the whole size zero model debate that is taking over the fashion world. They feel that agency models no longer represent their readership and in order to truly represent their readers they've asked the public to step up to the camera.

Obviously Brigitte do the photoshoot in the usual manner, the only thing that's different is that the person modelling the clothes isn't a professional and so doesn't look as though she's never eaten (and enjoyed) a 3 course meal. The photos are all on location, carefully styled, makeup looking immaculate (although one of the girls did look too pale for our liking) and clothes looking just so, and if they are all on the slender side (in this issue) then at least they are not all perfect, and maybe in the future issues they will also use larger size models, afterall if they want to represent their readership properly they will have to, otherwise the letters page will surely reflect this!

I have to confess to being a bit on the complusive side when it comes to magazines.
I blame my parents.

I remember as a small child having the Disney comic bought for me (possibly once a week, it had certainly become a weekly thing, because when I outgrew the comic, the money that it cost became my weekly pocket money)
I was then free of a magazine addiction until school, when my friend Audrey got me hooked on the ITV children's magazine, I think I was trying to fit in with friends who all watched the cool and trendy shows like 'Charlie's Angels' and 'the Bionic Man' (we didn't get to watch commercial tv 'cos our dad worked for the BBC, we felt so deprived...it's left a permanent psychological scar...)
After that came the likes of 'Jackie' and 'My Guy' (all those lovesick photostories, popstar histories and advice on snogging) before finally I graduated to 'Elle'...

My favourite magazine of all time was 'Eve', it was the one that seemed to talk to me personally, that matched my age and my requirements at that time, in everything from fashion (i.e not stupidly expensive or ridiculously impractical) to recipes and features. Sadly it closed down in 2008, an early victim to the financial crisis I guess.

Now I have to make do with 'Red', which is almost too young for me, and 'Marie Claire', probably too young for me. I get quick and illicit fixes from the likes of 'Heat' and 'OK' but they always leave me feeling guilty, it's like eating too many sweets in one go, all that voyerism, can't be good for the soul!

German magazines don't quite hit the spot yet, reading to me should be fluid and almost osmosis-like and my German isn't up to that standard yet (nor will it be for some time) and so reading any German magazine whether it be the more 'intellectual' Brigitte or the lower end trashy Heat equivalent feels like homework, and isn't the relaxing read that a magazine to me should be. Mind you now that Brigitte has changed its model policy it is almost worth buying it every month to see what the non professional models are achieving...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Do I look like a slut?

So started another step class....

Petra starts up the music and the first line out is clearly enunciated (for a 'pop' song)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUz75nc_JRw&feature=related *

It's very clear (has been the last few times class has started with this track and every time I've sniggered loudly - I think maybe she finally realised that there was something not quite...right) on the version she uses there's no music behind the vocal at that point, a woman very clearly asks

DO I LOOK LIKE A SLUT?

This week Petra (late 40's, maybe 50's) turns to the native English speakers (me and Rebecca) who are the ones still laughing (not that the others were laughing at all, it's just that we are (or at least I am)) and asks;

'what's a slut?'

Rebecca came up with 'sie ist eine Schlampe' - which is 'she's a tart/slut'

I went one further with 'she's a woman who 'sleeps' with many men' (but in German clearly) would dearly loved to have known how to say in German 'the class/school bike' but my German teacher hasn't covered that (yet, Monday's lesson I guess!)

And I should stress here that we were both VERY quick to say that slut is not a word to be bandied about, it's not a word to be used lightly, not a nice word, we both stressed.

Another step inmate then joined in with the fact that she was confusing 'slot' for slot machines with 'slut' for...tart - we put her right quite quickly.

Then Petra asked,

'Isn't 'bitch' nastier than 'slut' ?'

Great, the first 5 minutes of our weekly step/torture session become a semantics session (ah, the SS, how we miss that here (heavy, heavy irony, please ignore if of a sensitive nature))

No. We both declared (thank god there were the 2 of us, otherwise they'd have argued the toss) slut is infinitely worse than bitch.

And there endeth and beginneth the lesson (semantics/English cussing & step, respectively)

Germans do like to use English swear words, they use 'scheiße' (=shit) ALL the time, kids use it from kindergarten age to their teachers (I was shocked) so maybe they like to use the English swear words because they've gotten bored with all the standard German ones?

However, they don't understand the level of 'badness/nastiness' (how would you rate swear words, what word would best describe the amount of vitriol in one word?)
For example a British member of the band Franz Ferdinand who spent his childhood growing up in Germany, going to German schools, speaking German at school and English at home (with his English parents) was asked the obvious question in an interview (by a German broadcaster) 'do you dream in English or German?' (can't remember the answer, sorry)
and 'which word would you say without thinking when swearing ''scheiße' or 'fuck' ?' and the interviewer just couldnot or wouldnot accept that the two words were completely different...



*for those with a sensitive disposition, maybe don't listen to the lyrics too carefully...you have been warned

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A tale from Lulus

Last Thursday was expats night.

For those of you latecomers I should explain, Lulu's is a small 'girly' (in that the decor is gold, purple and hot pink rather than bavarian wood stylee) bar in Kettwig run by 2 non German women, a Texan and a Mancunian) and once a month they host an evening for expats (other drinkers are not disallowed entry but they have to endure lots of loud, fast English and jokes at their expense (although with the English being spoken so fast and so coloquially they'd need to have damn good language skills to understand the puns that fly)

There is a core of expats - me and Rebecca, then there's Ian and Kamesh who both work for RWE, and Anne & her husband (whose name escapes me, I'm dreadful at remembering names, always have been, honest, it's not senility creeping up) look as though they're set to become regulars also.

Last Thursday Anne asked all of us the question that we all get asked living here;

'where in England do you come from?'

When a German asks me that question I'm normally nice and polite and tell them Birmingham (which is not the truth, the truth and nothing but the truth. But rather a version of the truth) I always assume that most people who haven't actually lived in the UK will only know of London, maybe Stratford and possibly Birmingham, they will certainly not have heard of 'Abbots Bromley' seeing as it's a tiny one horse kind of village (except that as it is deep in the country there are lots of horses - pretty much only one bus per day though)

So back to Anne's question, we all answered appropriately apart from Kamesh, who despite speaking perfect Queen's English has never been to England, he's from Bombay (as he insists on calling it, as it was Bombay when he was born and so it shall remain - in his head at least) grew up in India and has travelled extensively but never actually been to England.

Which led to us having to explain to Kamesh that in the UK you would NEVER, on pain of death ask any none white English speaker where they came from, because the probability is that they are the 3rd generation of their family to be born in the UK, and the asking of that question is tantamount to saying to them 'go home, back to whichever remote part of the British Empire you've come from, go home'.

Something you just wouldn't do if you,
a) possess half a brain,
b) are even remotely polite &/or
c) want to remain in your current form.

Kamesh then took off on a highly entertaining rant about 'foreign' Indians, the possibly British born Indians who decide to visit their ancestral homeland and who can speak the language of the country they're visiting but effect a fake accent to make the point that they're not actually from India but from somewhere else.

They call them NRI or ABCD's.

NRI is actually a correct abbreviation for such people, its correct meaning is 'Non Resident Indian' except the residents know it as 'Non Reliable Indian'...

While ABCD refers to 'American Born Confused Desi' ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desi )

So while these expat Indians are proud to not live in India but happy to visit, the residents are lauging at them behind their backs.

You learn something new every day!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The last piece

Today Simon is away (not an unusual event by any means, and indeed this year promises to be a year of much travel for Simon - China, Korea, Australia getting added to his more usual venues of Sweden, Finland, England and Norway) and I plan to take complete and absolute advantage of his absence.

I'm going to eat the last piece of Christmas cake!

I know it's not exactly a momentous occasion, it wont be written down in the anals of history, there will be no fanfare or tickertape parade, but it is an occasion worthy of note, in my opinion anyway (and as this is my blog, that's what counts)

If the last piece were to be eaten while Si was in residence it would have to be (whisper it) shared...and I don't think it's big enough, although it is admittedly almost too big for 1 serving, I shall manage!

The end of the Christmas cake marks the ultimate end to Christmas, it is the final, lingering reminder of the one day in the year that families strive to spend together and then strive to enjoy (I find a bottomless bottle of fizz helps*)the decorations came down 2 weeks ago, the presents have all been forgotten (by the children anyway) we still have the credit card bill to look forward and so the cake is the final reminder.

It was a long time in the making.

At the end of November I hunted for all the ingredients (Germans don't make fruit cake like the Brits so the constituent parts have to be hunted for in many different supermarkets, and you know I don't hold with multiple trips to different supermarkets) it was important to start this early as the 1st stage is the most important one, soaking the fruit in brandy until the dried fruit is no longer dried and can take no more alcohol.

A week and a bottle of brandy later the fruit finally waved the white flag of surrender and stage 2 commenced, combining all the ingredients and baking, this involved a panicked rush around town as I discovered neither I nor my emergency supply cupboard (Rebecca) had any brown paper (which while not a constituent of the cake is required for the wrapping around the tin during the 4 hours of baking, no idea why, but Nigella says to do it and who am I to argue?)

Stage 3 was one of the easier ones, the cake is left to stand, all wrapped up in layers of foil, in a nice cool cellar until icing time.

I had to phone a friend (actually email as she's the wife of a friend and I don't have her number) to find out what quantity of icing I should be making for a cake so large - Janice has her own cake making business http://www.top-tier-cakes.co.uk/ and was the ideal person to seek advice from. Simon helped with the actual icing of the cake, I think it was Christmas Eve or maybe Christmas Eve eve and he was at a loose end, either way, I think he makes a better plasterer than me, although I added the finishing flourish of silver sprinkles...

I have to admit to being mightily proud of my cake, better than last years I think, we enjoyed eating every morsel (especially those with Wensleydale on the side, yum) but now it's gone and Christmas is vorbei.

Although I seem to remember a small container of mini mince pies lingers in the freeezer.


And there it was...gone!




*it's a joke dad, I would personally be bereft if you two weren't here to witness the ritual present opening at 6am on Christmas morning...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Run Rabbit Run Run Run

Yeah! The snow that has been lurking here for the last 2 damned weeks has (almost) disappeared, pavements are safe again and with no frost overnight and the promise of no rain I was looking forward to getting back to running again today.

I don't run far, I'm no marathon/iron man nutter (like my crazy mad fool of a brother) but 5-10 kilometres 2-3 times a week is good for my soul and allows me to eat cake (I'm not kidding, I use running as a form of dieting, that way I can eat what I want and not feel guilty - so I do, eat that is, not feel guilty!) I have tried in the past to increase my distance up to a steady 10k but then I started developing problems with my hips and ankles and stuff, it's as though my body knows what distance it can do and any further than that it starts to fall apart (well it is 45 (gulp) later (much later) this year)

I make no appologies for the admission that I'm a fair weather runner, not keen on running in the pouring rain, although as I do have the appropriate gear I really have no excuse, I refuse however to run in temperatures less than zero, if the ground is slippy you can guarantee I will slip. So today was OK, no rain and above zero.

We live at the top of a hill (well, not quite the top, maybe 2/3 of the way to the top...) so I run down and into Kettwig proper, then along the river (nice and flat) before having to work my way back up the hill to home - fortunately this climb is aided by 2 lots of steps (I don't run up those - Rocky Balboa I am not) and then along the last road before my house which you don't realise slopes until you come to run UP the bloody thing, it's a long drag along Thiemanstrasse. My circuit is a minimum of 5km and as I get fitter I might run further along the river, I like running along the flat, or downhill, really not keen on uphill...(I'm sure you're getting the picture of the type of runner I am, don't like nasty weather or uphill slopes...)

I run with my dog, I think Logan associates the word 'runnies' spoken in a happy, jaunty tone with masochism - he kind of likes it, or rather the idea of it, but the reality of it, being dragged along on the end of a lead at a pace decreed by me, rather than ambling along sniffing and peeing at will, is not really suited to the idle temperament of a golden retriever...I think he's praying for more snow already!

I can pinpoint where Logan will stop to poo on a run to a 10 metre area, this morning he threw the brakes on at the end of Thiemanstrasse (literally sitting down and glaring at me, daring me to carry on and drag him along the floor) but this was just a false alarm, he waited until a little further along where there was grass to deposit onto - he prefers a soft landing for some reason) fortunately there's a bin not too far away and I'm ALWAYS equipped with poo bags (you'd be surprised (or maybe not, depending on how many dog-walking (as opposed to goose-stepping!) Germans you know) how many Germans don't poop-a-scoop)

Once we're near the river I let Logan off the lead and trust (ha! how stupid am I?) Logan to keep up with me (he has been known to vanish into the bushes on the trail of some abandoned food or a nasty tissue) this being along the river, Logan will of course take the opportunity to bathe - there's realy no better word for it, he wades in and often lies down and drinks ('cos he has access to no clean, fresh water at home of course) I joke that he's half hippo....even when the air temperature is below zero Logan will get into the water, crazy dog.

I've been running since I had my first child. At the gym, following the birth, I started using the treadmills for the first time ever, keen to lose all that babyweight, watching the number of calories being burnt, and the realisation slowly dawned that if I went faster then I burnt more (sad eh? Maths and science A levels & a science degree and it still took actually doing it and seeing it for the realisation to hit home) After that it was a small step to running outside for a charity thing and then moving house to a more countrified area where running outside along the lanes with friends could be fun.

The running with the dog didn't actually happen till we moved to Germany, I see it as killing two birds with one stone, my exercise and Logan's 'walk', I think Logan may have a different opinion but as he can't talk and is overweight he has to put up with it!!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hell on Earth

Ikea.

4 little letters.

That spell H.E.L.L.

Today's road to HELL had 14 steps:

Step 1
Persuade the whole family that the trip to hell (and hopefully back - home that is) is essential and cannot be dodged by any member of the family - no sick notes accepted and skiving off to play with friends also not permissable.

Step 2
Drive to Ikea in 2 separate cars to ensure we can fit in what we buy (on this occasion a 2m high wardrobe) & try to park 2 cars in the already full Ikea carpark

Step 3
Fight our way through the masses within the shop to the wardrobe area.
Spend 30 minutes with the master of indecision (no. 1 son) debating the pros and cons of glossy white over plain beech, the choice of handles, & what should actually go inside (yeah, I know clothes, ultimately, but shelves & drawers & hanging space, just shelves & hanging...)

Step 4
Stand in the queue to talk to the man to make sure we get all the bits we need.

Step 5
Abandon place in queue just as you get to the front to talk to m.o.i who is now deep in discussion with traitorous husband about a completely different wardrobe...Persuade them both to come to their senses and go with original choice as better.

Step 6
Stand in the queue to talk to the man to make sure we get all the bits we need.

Step 7
Walk away from man clutching piece of paper.

Step 8
Drag family through the 'marketplace' area trying to stop them dawdling too long and buying too many other 'essentials'.

Step 9
Stand in HUGE queue at checkout, get to front and realise that the list the nice man gave us in Step 7 should have been collected by us as we went through the self service warehouse (at this point I should make clear that we are not Ikea virgins, but the last time we bought something the size of a wardrobe we had to wait to pay and then wait again at the other warehouse bit while they found what we'd paid for...and so we just assumed that the same would apply here, duh!)

Step 10
Drag family around the warehouse, locating the bits of the wardrobe.

Step 11
Stand in queue to pay

Step 12
Escape from Ikea and attempt to load everything into car while cars wait for our spaces.

Step 13
Drive home and empty contents of car into garage.

Step 14
Put off until another day the assembly of item from HELL as it will only cause arguments and much cussing...and besides there's footie on telly!

Friday, January 15, 2010

girl trouble part 2

The fallout from Monday's phonecall with Herr B (Jas's teacher) - for this post to make any sense whatsoever you will need to have read the post on January 12 'girl trouble' - your choice.

Jas took the note she'd written in to school, must have shown it to Herr B 1st thing and he said to keep hold of it till 1st break time.
At first break time Herr B gathered the 5 girls together and they sat down and talked about what Jas had written and so on.

This clearly took up all of the play time as they were supposed to continue during the 2nd break time, unfortunately Herr B had forgotten a previous appointment and the 5 girls were left to talk about it alone, without an adult facilitator. Jas says that 'this didn't work' and I can imagine it wouldn't! I'm also not surprised that they would need more than 1 break time to talk it through as Germans will never use 1 word when there are 10 others desperate to be used as well.

I don't think I'd be much good at interrogation, all I've really managed to establish is that now Jas is feeling happier with the situation and that she had actually had her friends to play with after the intervention.

2 days on and the situation seems to be back to normal with Jas recounting conversations between her and her friends and today going over to play after school with one of the girls.

Herr B apparently asked on Thursday (for some reason he (as their class teacher at primary school) isn't there to teach them on a Wednesday, has more important things todo I guess...) how things were going between the group of girls and whether they were all playing together. Jas in true German-English told him 'it goes' (which is the literal translation of the DE 'es geht', which made me smile, and then I corrected her!)

Normality resumed, for the meantime anyway! And just in time for the weekend.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dreams

Have you ever thought of keeping a dream diary? Or thought to analyse your dreams?

I haven't. Although sometimes I do wonder what inspired my subconscious to put such weird things into my dream.

Some of my dreams would I'm sure have me locked up as certifiably bonkers, take last Tuesday night's for example....

I was in our kitchen running the tap and sand was coming out, water with a bit of sand in it, so that the water was discoloured at first but then the amount of sand increased until there was sand and no water. While this was going on Amanda Holden (don't ask me why she was in my dream, she's not on e of my favourite people and I think I last saw her on TV a couple of days ago in an ad) was arguing with a guy (I got the feeling (in my dream) that he was also off TV but I didn't recognise him - in my dream) they were arguing and not doing anything constructive to help with the sand situation. Moments later John Prescott (aka 2 Jags, MP for Hull) appeared in a black jacket and skirt (a straight, knee length skirt) black tights and sensible shoes - I must have been lying on the floor as my view was definitely of his shoes up to his knees. I told him that he looked like a woman wearing a skirt like that (a kilt he could maybe have got away with, but not a straight knee length number) and he disappeared in a huff.

And then last night's;

I was walking along a corridor and then up some stairs, I met my mother in law who was wearing a stunning, backless, olive green fitted dress with a peplum (she's always glamourous in reality)
I turned left and walked into a huge apartment as she carried on down the corridor, on my right were HUGE displays of Christmas chocolates, everything from the gigantic boxes of Quality Street you get in the UK to the Weihnachtsmen that I bought from a delicious little chocolate bar newly opened on the Rü here and everything in between, in the distance (must have been through a window as I was definitely inside) I could see a young Ben playing around rose bushes with other children, spraying each other with a hose pipe.
Then , with no transition (as happens in dreams, don't you find?) I was sitting on Si's lap and we were snogging like there was no tomorrow, when we came up for air I could see that our chair was to the side of a desk, at one side sat Tom Jones dressed and acting as a marine commander (although when tight, jodpurs became forces uniform I don't know) on the other side of the desk was a dishevelled Fidel Castro. Their conversation went something like this,
Castro 'so what do you think of my time saving work ethic?'
Tom 'it sounds to me as though it will take more than 9 men' which made Castro laugh
Then my alarm woke me up.

However, my overactive nocturnal imagination still hasn't managed to top a dream I had 15-20 years ago...I can date it reasonably accurately as it took place in the very first house that Si and I lived in together.

I was standing in our (teeny tiny) kitchen looking out into the back garden where Peter Shilton was standing towards the back (of an equally tiny garden) as I watched he started diving to save goals being scored by balls coming from the bedroom window above me.

This dream was made more odd because I don't enjoy football (although Si will watch any match he can - but draws the line at ladies football, they don't play very well apparently) and I will avoid watching football if at all possible.

Even further back, at university, I had a vivid dream (or perhaps a nightmare seeing as it awoke me in a sweaty panic) about monsters (GREAT BIG ones) coming up between the wall and the bed - this was an evening where we'd been to see either Alien or Aliens at the cinema. From that day I have refused to watch scarey films, I retreat to the kitchen* when the going gets (even remotely) bad...

Simon's opinion is that I shouldn't eat cheese before going to bed...

I don't plan to ever try to analyse my dreams, for fear of finding out the truth that my subconscious is trying to tell me!!

On a worrying note, I think that my daughter has inherited the crazy dream gene - some of the ones she reports could easily have come from my mind!!


* I wouldn't pay money to go to the cinema to watch a film that might scare me (even if there was the possibility of finding one such in original language here in DE rather than dubbed to hell and back) so it'd be on DVD or Sky, hence the chance to run to the woods at the first sign of danger.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dentist Barbie

I was at the dentist yesterday, for almost 3 hours. 3 hours (thank goodness I'd had the forethought to take my phone fully loaded with unlistened to podcasts)!! I shall be popping pills till Friday I reckon while my jaw recovers...

There was nothing dramatic going on, it's just that ever since coming to Germany and visiting this particular dentist she's been banging on and on about replacing my amalgam fillings. They're not pretty I know (or at least they weren't) but they were quite possibly state of the art when they went in, they're all pretty old (that makes it sound as though I have a filling in every tooth in my head but I swear I don't, ok, I have more than 1 filling, but I defy any adult my age to show me a full set of perfect teeth, there are a few of you out there, those poor kids who were never allowed sweets and who were chained to the bathroom sink until they'd brushed their teeth for 5 minutes after every meal)

I've out it off and put it off, partly because I couldn't quite see the point in it and also because Rebecca goes to the same dentist, had had the same ongoing 'discussion' with Barbie (will explain in due course) but because she's been here almost a year longer than we have succumbed sooner. Anyway Rebecca reported that the discomfort of having the nasty amalgam fillings replaced was such that her teeth were on edge for months afterwards (oh god, I've only just remembered she said that...) the reason being that the replacement procedure isn't just drill out nasty amalgam filling and apply sparkly new white ones, oh no, I'm sure in the UK it still works like that but here? Not a chance.

Step 1. Drill out old fillings (after injection of course - she offers to do it without an injection, I just laugh at her)
Step 2. Make moulds of teeth (a truly unpleasant but not painful procedure - I thought I was going to gag while she was holding the mould in my mouth for 3 minutes, that would have gone down so well wouldn't it? Vomiting all over the mould & Barbie's hands - at least they were latex clad)
Step 3. Put in temporary fillings (!)
Step 4. 1 week later, drill out temporary fillings.
Step 5. Apply the new ceramic fillings/crowns whatever they are

Steps 4 & 5 I'm guessing at, as that happens next week. In the meantime I get to live with the temporary fillings for a week and have been told not to eat anything too crunchy, like nuts...(remebered this warning as I was eating my cereal earlier - crunchy nut cereal...oops)
Whatever, I get 2 trips to the dentist, 2 lots of injections (don't you just hate that numb mouth you're left with afterwards when you can't tell whether you're dribbling or not?) and 2 lots of drilling. Good job I'm not scared of the dentist eh?

As for Dentist Barbie, this is her photo...it's Barbie in everything but the clothing don't you think? Fortunately she's very nice, speaks English (which helps a great deal, although I had to translate the word 'torture' for her when I was trying to be humorous - prior to treatment!) and clearly makes enough money inflicting pain in Kettwig to take expensive holidays and run a flashy car, but then it is her own dental practice...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

girl trouble

Life is never easy is it?

I remember being pregnant the 1st time and going to antenatal classes to learn how to 'get through' childbirth. We spent 2 hours a week over 8-9 weeks learning all about the stages of childbirth and pain relief etc etc etc.

Fine.

We all survived. As did all the babies.

But that was just a tiny part of what happens after you've had sex and made a baby. 16-18 hours to help you prepare for what? 12-48 hours of labour.

What about help for the years to come? The 18 years of nurturing that is supposed to come naturally (I guess, 'cos they sure as hell don't teach it) why does no-one prepare you for the fact that the terrble 3's are way worse than the terrible 2's (I asked the nurse at the baby clinic that and her expression seemed to say 'if I'd warned you, you'd never have believed me')

This week it's the turn of my 8 year old to try to make me even more grey - maybe she's on comission from my hairdresser?
On Friday she came home from school declaring that she had no-one to play with as she no longer had any friends...the other 4 girls from the group who play together had all told her they weren't her friend and wouldn't play - charming. She insisted her innocence and I told her that it'd hopefully blow over during the weekend and that girls can, unfortunately be quite mean - I should know, I was one once. (I should say that it is quite possible that she isn't as innocent as she makes out but I can't simply disbelieve her)

Yesterday she came out from school clutching a piece of paper on which she'd written very neatly and precisely (in very amusing Deutsch) that she no longer had any friends, they (listing them) had said so and she didn't know why. It made my heart break reading this, even if she had done something to cause the problem initially, it seemed so harsh that it was continuing enough that she felt she wanted to write it down.

We discussed it, and I asked did she want me to call one of the other moms to talk it through (I'd prefer to stick pins in my eyes actually than confront a German mother about the behaviour of her child but I had to offer) fortunately I drew the easier option, calling her teacher to ask him about it. So now I have to wait to find out what he discovers and then expect the other mothers to call me I guess...fun.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Le Weekend

I don't have a hugely active social life and so normally when someone asks, during the course of conversation what I've done over the weekend I have to pause and think (hard) before usually coming up with the same old answer 'nothing much'.

This week the answer will be the same, but at least I have a solid reason for the doing of not much - Daisy, and all her snow.

Actually that's not quite true, yes, Daisy did make an appearance on Saturday but we (here in NRW at least, I can't comment on the rest of Germany) only got 8 inches or so of snow and not the half a metre originally threatened/promised (depending on your liking of the white stuff) which was quite enough thank you very much seeing as we already had the same amount left over from last Sunday...

Saturday it snowed ALL day causing weather warnings and public announcements to 'only drive if it's ESSENTIAL'. Simon decided that a trip to the opticians was essential and dragged Jas and I along. Surprisingly the opticians was all but deserted as were most of the shops (apart from the supermarkets where people were still laying in stocks of food and candles to see them through the oncoming STORM!)
I went out again later (on foot) with the dog and Rebecca (& her dog - no one would choose to go out in the middle of a snow storm without a very good reason, like a dog who stares at you balefully everytime you walk past) We often walk the dogs together as it's quicker (the 2 dogs chase each other around and so cover more distance than if they were alone) and in vile weather company on a walk is a good thing, it also ensures that you can't back out of it as you've committed to a friend! But after that walk I refused to go out again, stayed in the warm drinking red wine and eating curry (that I didn't even have to cook myself (Simon did) good life eh?).

Sunday was expected to be a repeat of Saturday but Daisy had other plans and had either moved on to fresh pastures or lost all her petals, we did get a sprinkling of snow, but nothing like Saturday's, and again the highlight of my day was walking the dog, through the snow - but at least this time it wasn't snowing so we didn't get wet.
We passed some people with a couple of sledges in the woods, walking up a steep hill and stopping at the top, Rebecca thought they were stopping to then go down the hill, but I thought they were stopping for a drink...and sure enough as we walked past, a rucksack was open and a thermos flask was being passed around - what did I say recently about the preparedness of the Germans? Personaly I'd never think 'ok, going sledging, what do I need?' and answer myself 'thermos of hot tea/coffee'. I'd be thinking, 'sledge' and 'gloves' - might just about manage to think 'tissues in case my nose runs' or 'mobile in case of emergency of broken bones' but thermos? No.
Just not prepared enough like the Gemans - however as I pointed out to Rebecca - we did win the war...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The not so 'super'markets

Look away now if you can't deal with a rant today, sorry but I feel the need, the need to rant!

I HATE GERMAN SUPERMARKETS

Shall I count the ways in which I hate them?

Fasten your seat belts, I'm going in:

  1. Teeny weeny itsy bitsy trolleys, fit a whole weeks shop in a German trolley? In Your Dreams!
  2. Lack of choice, I was used to having a choice of several brands + store's own for EVERYTHING, here? You get a lot of choice for obscure things - I think maybe dependant on the store manager, so if he/she likes honey then there are shelves of it (I'm not joking) or marmelade ditto, haven't found the 'super'market with a manager who has a predilection for Cadbury chocolate yet...I shall carry on the search
  3. Manky veg, you have to carefully examine all fruit and veg, you cannot assume that if it's on display it's suitable for consumption - especially irritating with a net bag of clementines or satsumas - finding one in the middle has gone all squishy and icky after you've emptied them all into the fruit bowl does not a happy bunny make.
  4. Sell by and eat by dates, should be used to checking these before parting with hard earned (by Simon) cash by now, always remember to with yoghurts, but the naan bread bought yesterday was over a week past it's best by date (which is what has tipped me screaming over the edge) good job I'd bought some pitta bread as well eh, - with a much longer date on the packet, I'm guessing the Germans use pitta bread more than they do naan...can't say I'm surprised, there are very few Indian restaurants here and even fewer that are worth spending money at.
  5. Grumpy staff, they say 'morgen' and the like, enough to serve you, but cheerful? I can think of 2 members of staff who aren't grumpy and that's it. Surly would be a better word for it or miserable...
  6. Grubby shops, of the 6 'super'markets I could use easily only one is sparkly like pretty much all of the ones in the UK are, and that's because it hasn't been open more than a year, it has great wide aisles where you don't panic if there's a trolley coming towards you in the opposite direction, and bright lighting that illuminates everything encouraging you to 'buy me'. All the other shops are slightly dingey and grubby (and that's not including the likes of Aldi, Lidl or (shudder) Plus)
  7. The checkout assistants seem to think that it's a challenge to get all your shopping over the scanner and down the other conveyor as quickly as possible, so that everything is heaped up at the end or (as happened yesterday) mixed in with the previous person's shopping because they were so slow in finding the right money to pay for their shopping.
  8. The expected procedure at the checkout is to load everything you're buying after scanning back into your trolley and then put it into your bags at your car or at the back of the 'super'market, try to load it into your bags straight from the till/scanner and you get a look that says 'ausländer'.
  9. The basic selection of toiletries that is available in the 'super'markets here, OK, fine if I could guarantee that the Schlecker (kind of a down at heel Boots cum Superdrug) round the corner might have what I want but more often than not it doesn't.
  10. The truly revolting, vomit inducing smell that lingers permanently just past the fish counter on the way into the strong spirits section in my local Rewe (yes, I confess, I am scraping the bottom of the barrel with this point as it does only relate to one specific shop, but it is a disgusting smell that has been there ever since we moved here (I hold my breath as I go past) and I did think 10 points was a nice round number, so much more attractive than 9) I think maybe they keep the smell to stop people lingering in the strong spirits section...
Phew. I'm glad I've got that out of my system...and is there anything I really like about German not so super supermarkets? Yes. But that's not for today...I need a while to think up 10 points!!!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Be Prepared

Now I have always thought 'to be prepared' was the motto of the scouts http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scout_Motto but I think it should maybe also be the motto of the German people...

Yesterday we were warned by the 'Civil Protection Office' (the BKK) to keep three or four days' worth of provisions, including alternative cooking fuel (!) in case of power cuts. Among the essential items listed by the BBK is a battery-powered radio, for checking weather reports. A friend's 7 year old son was asked by the father of his friend whether they'd stocked up on candles before the storm came - causing the child to then panic in case they didn't have enough candles (after all, his English mother is highly unlikely to be as prepared as a German mother!)

But Germans are usually prepared for any eventuality, they'll be the ones with the packet of tissues, ready to offer when your sniffing gets too irksome, with the healthy snacks when your children are complaining of hunger, a spare 1 Euro for the shopping trolley (although they never seem to have their money ready to pay at the checkout so causing a backlog on the conveyor) and as soon as October comes around they change their car tyres to winter ones, a policy I'm sure the British would welcome at the moment during their own 'big freeze'.

They have barbecues for the summer months and ski gear for the winter ones, watching the children at school this week I was struck by how well kitted out they were for the snow, all (pretty much without exception) in salopettes, padded jackets, fleecey hats and waterproof & thermally insulated boots (they probably had 6 layers of thermal clothing underneath the jacket too) in fact, from August onwards throughout the winter the only kind of footwear you seem to be able to buy for children are these hideously ugly but oh so practical winter boots with layers of gortex and thinsulate and fleece. I'm starting to wish I had a pair, maybe then I wouldn't be viewing the prospect of walking the dog in the middle of 'Daisy' with so much trepidation that I phoned a friend to come and walk her dog at the same time, this way neither of us can back out and also we don't have to go so far as the dogs hoon about like demented puppies usually when they're together...

Anyway, back to the subject of being prepared and footwear, I commented over Christmas about how the Germans seem to be non slip (Non Slip Germans) yet don't seem to be wearing particularly grippy shoes/boots, I have discovered their secret! Ha ha haaa (evil laugh)
A friend of mine here (to spare her blushes I wont name her, let's just call her M) who shares my shoe fetish and love of pretty (and also essentially impractical) shoes decided that this year she would give in and buy something to put on her feet that would stop her slipping over and also keep her feet warm and dry - something that thin leather soles and patent uppers can never achieve. She's just had a big(ish) birthday and realises that maybe, just maybe she's a grown up now... M is German and therefore took this matter seriously and did her research - as Germans do before making an important purchase and for M, footwear is a serious business. M discovered a company, Högl http://www.hoegl.com/goto/en/catalog/categories/gore-tex__x?shoe=8-10-49521 an Austrian company who make not unattractive shoes and boots including a range that is waterproof and insulated and also has a ridged sole to prevent slipping over, after purchasing she completely tested the boots and reported happily that there was no unwanted slippage and yet the boots look like normal footwear, a little on the sensible side for M but I guess she can cope with that for a couple of weeks in the depths of winter, at least she's prepared now, whatever the weather gods decide to throw at us!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Daisy - a dog? a flower? or more snow?

I'm typing this looking out of my kitchen window at the sun shining in a beautiful blue sky while the inches of snow (that we still have from Sunday) twinkle in that pretty way they do, lulling you into a false sense of security, making you think that going outside is a good idea, that you wont freeze your bits off or slip over in a comedy/slapstick manner to add yet another bruise to your ever expanding collection.

Well, I ain't being conned, no sirree!
I've done my going out for today thank you very much (although there is the minor problem of fetching Jasmine at 3pm, I wonder if I paid him, would Ben go and collect his little sister... hmmm, definitely worth considering, it's amazing what a 12 year old will do for money)
I was up bright and early (actually, it was so early it wasn't bright, and when I have to get up early I'm not bright either - before 2 cups of some caffeine reinforced beverage have passed my lips there is no way I could be described as 'bright' - 'grumpy' or 'sleepy' (if you want to go down the Disney route as a friend on FB did yesterday morning when I was griping) or just simply 'not awake' would cover it) anyway, up at 6.25, out straight after Jas left for school (7.35) putting the recycling bin onto pavement, loading dog into car & going to the closest 'super'market to stock up on essentials (chocolate, milk, wine, bread, chocolate) before the low pressure system 'Daisy' hits over the weekend and leaves us with more snow (yeah, I know, a weather system called 'Daisy', how bonkers is that? Daisy to me is either a pretty flower in the lawn you make into daisy chains as a kid or my parents' Samoyed - cute, white and fluffy - well I guess the white and fluffy could be applied to the snow that this system is supposed to be bringing us, but cute? No. I'm so over snow now!) Anyway, the Germans are all stocking up so I thought I should join in! Then it was onto a friend's house to walk the dog, and well over an hour later we made it back to hers (having been up frozen, slippery hill and down frozen, slippery hill) to defrost with hot coffee, I'm still not completely warm, I feel like wrapping myself up in a blanket or sitting on a radiator, it's not that the house is cold, just that I'm not warm, and looking at all the snow outside just reinforces the cold inside of me. 3 layers of clothing is clearly not enough!!

And the sub zero (doesn't that sound so much colder than minus?) temperatures are here for another week, which means that the snow stays too, joy! I'm so happy!

When is it spring?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Don't Panic!!

We've had snow here since Saturday (I think) it snowed a bit during the day and then we woke up buried in the damn white stuff on Sunday morning, and as the temperatures have gone through the floor there's no way this snow is going anywhere fast...

This is fine (well, in truth I'm sick of the damn stuff and the freezing weather, want to be out running (gotta shift the Christmas cake weight somehow) but can't for fear of slipping and falling and breaking something more than a nail - it's happened before and it wasn't even icy then - I'm not the most stable of people...)

However, I will admit it does give the children something else to do outside in winter - living at the top of a hill does mean that the sledging (or sledding for you people of the American persuasion) is very good.

Germany copes well with snow, as I've mentioned previously, the schools are all open today for the first day of term, unlike in the UK, where they all re-opened on Monday only to shut mid morning on Tuesday because for health and safety reasons snow is too dangerous - the children might throw snowballs and get a bit wet, or go sliding on the slippery ice and actually slip, whereas here the kids are ringing their teachers asking if they can take their sledges to school with them for play time, and I wouldn't put it past them (the kids) to splash buckets of water over the playground in order to make an ice rink...

But, (it's a big but, so I should probably type 'BUT') we have more snow coming as I've been informed over and over again this morning by Germans (who love to spread doom and gloom) a 50 centimetre dumping is due on Saturday. That sounds like quite a lot...half a metre's worth of snow? It'll be over my wellies...up to the dog's chin, that's going to take some shovelling.

Apparently the locals are all stockpiling food as if for a war - I had to smile to myself as I was told this - thinking; 'we'll win, like we did the last time!'

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

So near and yet so far...

I think I've mentioned in a recent post about how lucky we are to have our family and friends living such a short flight away from us....hmmm, I think I need to rethink that comment and apply it to clement weather conditions only.

Yesterday I dropped the outlaws at 1500 at Düsseldorf airport (which is a very handy 20-30 minutes drive up the autobahn from our house) Their flight was due to leave at 1630, but due to heavy snow in the UK it hadn't actually left Birmingham when I abandoned them at the terminal, but what else can you do? You have to check in on time, whether or not your flight is on time...their flight eventually left Germany at 1820, a 2 hour delay - but as I pointed out to them, at least they weren't travelling with children...

They must have been feeling quite optimistic when they finally taxied to the runway and took to the air...shame that Birmingham had closed its runways for the night because of the heavy (or heavey as the official Brimingham Airport website said) snow...

For some time we had no idea at all where the outlaws were, the Birmingham website said merely that the Flybe flight was 'diverted' but not where to. The Flybe website had a list of all the flights they'd cancelled that day (40-50) and the 2 that they'd diverted including the airport to which they'd been diverted. But this didn't include the outlaws' flight. We discovered why. Flybe staff go home at 1800 (or 1830, I don't remember which) and so I guess the website is then not updated and there is no-one answering the phones. Simon cheated (afterall it was his parents we were trying to find) on the website there's a press office number which diverts to a mobile after hours so he got hold of a lady from the press office at home who couldn't actually give him any answers but who was willing to help - and then the outlaws landed...in Cardiff. Panic over.

But not the journey. They then had to get to Birmingham, at 2200, in thick snow. Flybe's responsibility, so they were loaded onto a coach for a journey that should be 90 minutes (ish). The roads were deserted (but I guess full of snow) and they finally reached Birmingham Airport at 130 (official eta for their flight was 1710) where they checked into the Holiday Inn because they didn't want to drive home in the dark in such awful weather conditions.

Consequently they're not home yet, a flight of 100 minutes will have taken up the better part of a day by the time they eventually get to their front door.

Somehow I don't think they'll be wanting to visit us here in winter again anytime soon!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Christmas done, for another year

I think I can now safely say that the Christmas/New Year 2009 holiday is OVER!

  • Final set of visitors have been deposited back at the airport (altho the flight that they're trying to catch hasn't left the country they're trying to get back to yet)
  • Christmas tree has been stripped and is awaiting council collection
  • Christmas cards are in the recycling bin
  • All the twinkly lights have been packed away
  • Husband back at work
  • Kids back to school on Thursday
  • Still have 1/2 a Christmas cake to eat, but that's a GOOD thing, it's way too good to share with all and sundry!
I do enjoy the Christmas/New Year holiday, it's lovely to have friends and family here, but it's also nice when they're all GONE, and I have my house back, I can make a cup of tea without worrying that I should make someone else one, I don't have to constantly think about what I'm going to feed everyone and so on.

It's also good say goodbye to this particular Christmas break, in these two weeks we've managed between us to;
  • lose the emerald from my engagement ring (& find it again)
  • have Simon body surf down the stairs scraping his forearm almost to the tendon
  • knock a glass of wine over the laptop (New Year's Eve) - it's dead
  • lose another ring - completely (however it resurfaced after an absence of 3 days)
  • break a part of the present I got for Si, before we'd even used it or admired it
  • damage Si's glasses so that he needs to get a new pair
To brighten things up I thought I'd share with you the jokes from our Christmas crackers - a very important part of the traditional English Christmas, it's also traditional that the jokes are groan inducingly bad, and you have to wear the paper crown from the cracker...

- what do you get if you cross a lion with a snowman? - Frostbite
- what happened to the lady who stole a Christmas calendar? - She got 12 months
- what do you call a blind reindeer? - No eye deer
- what did the police officer say when he saw the snowman stealing? - Freeze
- which king do all kids love at Christmas? - Their stocKING
- what do Eskimos use to hold their homes together? - Ig-'glue'
- what do elves learn at school? - The elf-abet
- how do snowmen travel? - On icecycles
- what do you call a penguin in the Sahara? - Lost
- what did the cow say when she woke up on Christmas morning? - Moooey Christmas
- where did the mistletoe go to become rich and famous? - Hollywood
- what do snowmen eat for Christmas? - Snowflakes

So that was Christmas for another year, here's to 2010!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Snow, again


We woke up on Sunday morning to more snow, probably 5 inches of the white stuff.

It wasn't a surprise, for 2 reasons:

- it had been forecast

- and I'd been woken at 3am by Jasmine (who'd had a bad dream apparently) who informed me then that it was REALLY snowing.

Logan (our wonderfully blonde retriever) loves snow, possibly more than the children do, as a natural scavenger (think refuse bin on legs) Logan treats snow as another, unlimited food group. He had his breakfast and then disappeared into the garden to frolic - that's the only word that can be used to describe his antics, he was digging his toys out of the snow, rolling in the snow, making snow angels (trust me) and generally acting like an overgrown & overweight puppy!

Kettwig is a very quaint town, lots of black and white, half timbered buildings in the Altstadt (that we managed to miss out on the bombing raids in the war, although the 'munitions factory on the river's edge took a direct hit) and in the snow the area is beautiful.

I have to give where it's due (this time to the weather gods) for timing the snow so well. A day or so earlier and the new Year's Eve celebrations would have been messed up, a day or so later and the children would be back at school. But the dumping of a good 5 inches on Saturday night (probably more like Sunday morning) was perfection indeed.
The children needed another distraction (new Christmas presents soon lose their appeal) so yesterday was spent sledging and I guess the next 3 days also, because this snow ain't going anywhere, it's cold out there, our highest high, forecast this week is minus 1 (I wont tell you the lowest low...suffice to say I need some thermals) so the snow isn't going to melt and at the end of the week there's more snow forecast, joy! I'll be so fed up of it by then!

When will it be springtime?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Starlight Express

Yesterday was the family trip to the theatre.

When we lived in England, Simon's parents (who are BIG theatre goers) would always try to arrange a trip to some show or other over the Christmas break, and so now we live in Germany Simon seems to like to do the same for them.

The first time they visited we went to see 'The Blue Man Group' http://www.blueman.com/ - a truly surreal experience, if you ever get the chance to see them then please do.

Last year we didn't manage to organise anything (although prior to Christmas we'd seen Cirque de Soleil and another circus style act 'Flicflac' http://www.circusflicflac.de/) it was probably a good thing we hadn't managed to organise anything last year as Simon was recovering from an operation .

This year we got tickets for Starlight Express http://www.starlight-express-musical.de/
In Bochum (about 30 minutes away from us) there is a purpose built theatre for this show which has been running there for over 20 years (Simon went to see it there in 1989) it is amazing. The skating 'tracks' are woven in and throughout the seating and we made a point of getting tickets close to the action (about where you can see those people standing up at 9 o'clock in the photo) which meant we could see the whites of the skaters' eyes as they whizzed past!

The theatre was packed which is surprising as the show has been running for so long, but equally not surprising because it is a fantastic spectacle, there is so much going on, I would happily go again just to catch up on the bits of action that were happening behind me or to the other side of me!
As I said, the theatre was purpose built for this show and even the entrance reflects this, it's like a station from the golden days of steam, such as Grand Central station in New York, with a magnificent chandelier hanging down over the central bar, the cloakrooms look like ticket offices and the departure board above the main doors shows the current cast list - which was very non-German, I think out of a cast of 20-30 maybe 3 were German, the rest of the names were very Anglo-Saxon (with the exception of 1 Vladimir).

A great show, and I'm looking forward to taking some other visitors!