Friday, April 30, 2010


I'm away for the weekend, visiting my very good friend Alison in Fradley (near Lichfield)

It will be a proper girlie weekend, I'm leaving the children in the care of their father (which means that when I eventually return home my house will look like a bombsite, the dirty clothes basket will be full to overflowing, ditto the ironing pile, the dog wont have had a decent walk since Thursday and the fridge and the cupboards will be bare...) so that Al and I can get pedicures, go to the cinema, maybe get a curry, drink some cocktails and indulge in a little retail therapy.


The children aren't amused. They don't understand why I'm going without them and depriving them of the opportunity to see their friends - Katie, Christopher and Rachel (Alison's children) so I told them why -
  1. because I'm going friday to monday and you'd miss 2 days of school,
  2. it'd cost more to take you as well
  3. it's a girlie weekend, we don't want to have to worry about entertaining 5 kids, we want to entertain ourselves!
I know they'll make me pay for it later, but hey, every silver lining has a cloud!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

3D or not 3D?

Have you caught the 3D craze yet?

Are you being swept along by all the hype, happy to pay the £3 extra to watch a film whilst wearing silly glasses?

I'm with Mark Kermode on this one (in fact I have a great deal of respect for Mr Kermode, after all a film critic who can wnthuse about High School Musical 3, because it does what is says on the can, must surely be very confident of his own self) Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo are on 5 Live every Friday afternoon witha podcast here, I find them essential listening, despite the fact that living wher I do in Germany means that films in original language are hard to come by, yes there is usually more than one film per week available but all the same, and it's not even as if the films in German are just with German subtitles, oh no, they love a bit of dubbing here, most of them have no idea what Johnny Depp or George Clooney actually sound like!

This last year has seen a 3D films taking off, first with Avatar and now there's Alice in Wonderland, How to Train your Dragon, Clash of the Titans and so on. It is the latest thing. But is it all just hype? One cynical viewpoint is that is hinders the pirating market as well as allowing the companies involved to hike up the ticket costs.

I have to confess to be slightly biased about the whole 2D/3D discussion, because I can't see 3D. I have no depth perception due to an eye operation when I was about 3 to correct a nasty squinty eye, so now although my eyes look cosmetically fine, they don't work as a pair, which is how you get to see in 3D. It doesn't usually bother me, although I remember it freaking out the person controlling the eye tests when I tried to join the police after university, they simply couldn't understand how I couldn't see what they could and apparently depth perception in very important for the driving of fast cars (well, maybe more for the driving of fast cars 'safely', as I have lots of fun on the autobahns here) When we were in New York (did I say Iwouldn't mention that ever again? Oops) we went to the Sony Wonder Lab or whatever it was called (it was tipping down with rain and it was free) we visited the shop at the end where they had lots of Sony's newest gadgets including a gigantinormous flat screen TV screen that was 3D - you had to wear nasty NHS stylee glasses and everything, Simon and the kids loved it, they sat there entranced, flinching as cars shot off the screen towards them, I tried it, swapped glasses with all 3 of them and still couldn't get my head to work. I stropped off upstairs to Starbux to sulk nad wait until they got kicked off the couch. Clearly they're not going to be allowed on of those TV's, even if we could justify the HUGE cost.

Jas absolutely lurves the Jonas Brothers - pure Disney cheese, anyway, I got her the JB 3D concert experience, and the DVD came with 4 pairs of 3D specs as well as an extra 2D copy of the DVD (thank god) she really enjoyed the DVD but when I watched it it all appeared not only to be in black and white but also not 3D - crap huh? According to Jas it is in colour & 3D, but ot for me, damn, at least I'll be the only one not ducking when things appear to fly out of the screen!

Simon and Ben saw Avatar at the cinema when it was released last year, but were only able to see it in 2D, can you imagine the chances of getting to see a film in 3D and in its original language?! Zero. They were impressed enough with the CGI effects and didn't feel short changed by not having seen it in 3D (I was similarly impressed when we watched the video this weekend) and the reports I've heard of other films follow that line, great film, don't bother with paying extra for the 3D...

Personally I'm praying that 3D films don't take off, or that they ensure there is always a 2D option to watch, what's the point of paying extra for something you can't see?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I think asparagus is something people either like or loathe (a bit like marmite maybe?).

In the UK people view asparagus as just another veggie we can subject to death by boiling.

But in Germany? Of course, they take it seriously, very seriously.

Spargelzeit* is officially upon us now, the supermarkets and the veggie shops are all full of it, the cookshops will be full of the special implements you need to more thoroughly enjoy your asparagus and every restaurant has its own 'spargelmenu' - if ever there was a time for me to stay home and cook it's now, between the April and the end of June, certainly don't want to accept a dinner invitation to a friends and get a plate of hollandaise doused white roots....bleurgh!

According to my German teacher spargel, and whether you've had your first of the season is the hot topic this week, you see the spargel season officially opened this weekend (it's late this year (there have been apologies in the local rag 'n everything) on account of the extra cold winter) and everyone is indulging themselves, apart from me & mine that is, shall be keeping well away from the nasty anaemic sticks (they prefer the white, never seen sunlight, vampiric asparagus here) Even though the price per kilo is more than twice what is was last year (7euro as compared to last year's 3, shock, horror, gasp - inflation eh?!) that won't stop them, although apparently this spargel fest is a relatively new thing, the German's weren't always so obsessed with it, I wonder why they suddenly decided to champion it, I mean I can kind of understand the English obsession with strawberries around Wimbledon, what's not to love about strawberries, but asparagus? It's woody and tastes only of whatever you've smothered it in, whether it's green or white...roll on July!

*= asparagus time

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dib, dib, dib

Yesterday was the first bbq of the year (thanks Sam and Rebecca for the excellent hospitality and the endless flow of wine which means this blog is going to take much reading through to correct the equally endless typos from from nerveless fingers).

We'd been promised highs of 29C if you believed Google (which I didn't, choosing instead to take the average of the the 3 (or is it 4?) weather websites which I consult, thinking that 22C seemed OK to me) but it was a beautiful April, early summer, warm day, not blasting heat, but warm enough to sit out and chat without shivering and needing to ask if you can borrow a cardi!

We were 1; adults only just outnumbering the kids, & 2 dogs (both of whom had been thoroughly walked around the woods so that they wouldn't act like hoodlums from the off, by yours truly)

What can be better than a Sunday afternoon spent in the company of friends with whom you can banter and pass abuse (as the English do so well) with the alcohol flowing and the food in plentiful supply)? I'll tell you what - a Saturday afternoon which would mean we wouldn't have the Monday morning hanging over us and so could linger, amongst friends and wine until we're being bitten to pieces by the midges and the mozzies and the kids are falling asleep...ho hum, it's the 1st of hopefully many bbq's of summer '10!

With 4-5 hours worth of alcohol flow there's going to be a lot of banter;
- there was the pole dancing story, at an engineering exhibition no less, go figure
- too many cricketing & footballing stories by far - they would stop when they realised that Rebecca & my eyes were glazing over
- the new knife throwing thing that seems to be taking over from the softair craze, joy
- the volcanic ash keeping Ian from his home for 3 weeks and just how long the grass would be when he finally makes it back to Leeds next weekend
- how the thrill of being driven around the Nuerburgring by a pro driver compares to a helicopter ride around the bottom of Manhattan
- how the customer of a customer was bought out of his wedding at Alton Towers by David Beckham (or was it Victoria's influence?) wanting to take over the hotel there for his son's birthday party, for £200,000
- and how one of our nephews refers to his willy as his 'dibber', which caused a large amount of confusion when his grandfather was getting him to help plant sunflower seeds and telling him how you used your dibber to make a hole in the ground to put the seed into...I dread to think what's going to happen when he joins the cub scouts and learns to 'dib, dib, dib'...snigger

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Snaps 11

If you zoom in on this garden you'll notice some fake sheep, a fake duck and some people sitting on a bench, ornaments in a garden...just like the Brits and their garden gnomes maybe?

Saturday, April 24, 2010


I can't believe it...

It's Saturday morning, the start of the weekend proper - I do start celebrating the weekend on Friday evening or afternoon given half a chance, but Saturday morning waking up without the alarm clock and a wonderfully lazy breakfast is definitely when it feels like the start of the weekend.

And what's more the sun is shining and we have wall to wall blue sky with temperatures to match, bliss.

And it gets better, tomorrow is promised to be more of the same, more blue sky, more sun, more warmth on our skin.

There is something about the sight of the blue sky and bright sun combination that is guaranteed to lift my spirits, I automatically stand taller and feel better when I feel the sun on my skin, just that gentle caress on my arm or my face makes me exhale 'ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh' bliss.

Of course the good weather brings a downside with it - gardening. The non Brits I talk to here, be they German or French seem to be under the misapprehension that all Brits love gardening, I guess it's one of those stereotypes like the Frenchman on his bike with the strings of onions, the German with his bratwurst, and the sexy Italian lover...but the love of gardening is something that has passed me by. My mom is forever in the garden (shame she doesn't live closer eh?) as is my father in law...and when they visit they're full of helpful suggestions and tips, but to be honest all we want is a garden that is self maintaining, where no weeds grow, where the grass is uniformly green (have to get rid of the dog then) and where beautiful flowers grow. The problem is that all that takes time and effort and money. It's such a hassle, Simon's just finished mowing the lawn and so now I need to go and plant some stuff, maybe then I can take a book and sit in the sun on my (cleaned yesterday of all the winter's debris and birdshit) deck, without feeling guilty!

The other good thing about the lovely weather is the barbeque season starts up, so that's me not having to cook a Sunday roast for the next x months! We have an invite for tomorrow so it just gets better, all I need to do is make a pasta salad and get myself and the family around the corner, perfect, there might even be Pimms on offer!


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Soft in the head

or just plain bonkers?

Ben (about to be 13) has a really nice group of friends at gymnasium, they're all bright kids, in the bilingual stream, several of them with doctor parents, and they are all currently softair obsessed.
Softair guns are replica pistols, rifles and semi automatic weapons that fire plastic balls at a speed of 200 + feet per second.
Ben, naturally, wanted one, afterall, all his friends had one and he wanted to join in the same games. I said no. He asked some more. I said no. He got his friend Leon to bring his round to show me in the hope of persuading me. Big mistake. This thing looked and felt like a real gun (I used to shoot with my university rifle club so I do know what a gun looks and feels like) it totally freaked me out. I said no.

No, there is no way I'm having a gun in my house, no.

Finally Ben understood me. He stopped asking and now seems to think his friends are all a little bit crazy, to be so obsessed, I guess he misses having his friends to play with (he's hardly going to want to tag along when they're out 'playing' war, is he?) but they don't play it all the time and I hope it's like any craze - short lived.

For 20 euros you can buy a soft air gun here, it's not much is it? One of Ben's friends has 5 or 6 different styles of these weapons (but he's only got 2 hands I pointed out) one supposedly keeps his locked in a little safe in his bedroom (so that his younger sister can't get at it) and another can play war at home with his younger brother as he also has a softair gun (at the age of 9...).

I can understand that boys want to play with guns, it seems to be hard-wired into their genetics, along with a liking for football and understanding the rules of cricket, small boys will always play cowboys and indians or cops and robbers, making sticks into guns and shouting bang, it's what they do, their 'raison d'etre'.

What I don't understand is why all these intelligent German parents are letting their children run around playing with guns. You might think that they're German and so born to warmonger? Well I hate to disappoint you but this generation of adults is very much anti war and anti guns, as a direct response to the world wars that they were so much an integral part of, and German parents who I've spoken to about my hatred of this softair craze express their dislike also, and yet they've allowed their children to purchase these guns and to play war games. One of them, a doctor's wife admits the craze will probably only end when there's been an injury (handily her husband is an A&E surgeon) and another admits that if/when her husband finds the gun he will explode (she's pretending it doesn't exist, ignorance is bliss isn't it?)

You see what I mean? It doesn't add up does it? How can adults, who are anti war and anti gun allow their children to play with guns, it's yet another German double standard, they are bonkers, aren't they?!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kids these days...

Ben is almost, but not quite, a teenager and since changing schools at the age of 10 (3 tier school system of primary, middle (obviously) and high) and having to get on a bus to go to school (we lived in a one horse village (actually there were lots of horses, this being the hunting/shooting/fishing area of Staffordshire) pretty much only one bus though) he's had a mobile phone ever since.

His newest has just arrived, he saved up for it and paid over his hard earned cash (pocket money, and so not really does get reduced for poor behaviour though) to me, as the Amazon account holder and person with credit cards and bank accounts. This was on Sunday and today it's arrived.

His 6th mobile phone in almost 4 years.

Rather excessive wouldn't you say? I guess the number is so high because of moving countries and also because he's grown up and is suddenly interested in music and so the phone is no longer just for calling people, oh no, he wants a phone that creates a good sound, has a large memory - which he's enlarged already by buying a memory stick thingummy (to store all the music) and that also has a good camera (this one, he brags has 8.1 megapixels & HD video; 'what's your iphone got mom?' I shall be hearing I'm sure) so that he can take embarassing photos and then tweak them and make them more embarassing.

His previous phone, the one that is now (as I type) being ruthlessly and callously culled for its contacts (he didn't think to save them to the SIM card) has lasted well over a year, although it's demise has been long in the planning.

Children these days are frighteningly technologically aware, whenever I can't get satellite tv to work or the Wii or the playstation I call Ben, he can usually fix it straight away and is more likely to come when asked than Simon (actually there is a greater likelihood of him being home than Simon - but that's another story) The children of the noughties have grown up with computers and tv's with remote controls, they think nothing of using a microwave to heat last night's cold chicken so as to have a tastier sandwich and will happily pause a live tv programme for a quick wee rather than waiting for the ad break the way I remember having to do.

I remember Simon setting up the record player to copy stuff we only had on vinyl (we must have boxes and boxes of vinyl stored in our cellar, it seems rather hard hearted to bin it all) and Jasmine especially, being amazed by this thing that made music, and Simon being not so pleased when her bouncing around to the music made the needle bounce!

Jas has been banging on and on since maybe Christmas about having a mobile phone, and I've been refusing for several reasons;
- it will get lost, quicker than you can say 'where's your phone?', in her pit of a room
- Ben was 10 before he had his first one and needed it in case he got stranded without the bus
- who's she going to call (Ghostbusters!) it's not like all her friends have handys* yet

However, I'm starting to rethink my decision (although I haven't told her this yet), kids here are given a lot more freedom earlier than in the UK - I don't think there is necessarily any difference in the safety between the two countries, but maybe, just maybe the UK has gone a little over the top, this means that kids walk to and from school alone and now Jas and her friends are starting to walk between each others houses (and also to and from the ice cream parlour (you have no idea how integral a part of German society the ice café is)) and so to know she's at the end of a phone would give me some peace of mind, I need to think about this a bit longer...

*mobile phone = handy = cell

Monday, April 19, 2010

All quiet on the western front

It's soooooooooooooooooooooo peaceful here, apart from the 4 children (1 is mine) in the garden next door charging about on bikes and cars, my son and his maths teacher at the dining table and the cleaner hoovering upstairs (ooh yeah! I gotta new cleaner!) and the lawnmower in a garden somewhere nearby...but other than that it's quiet and peaceful, I can hear the birds singing in the garden, how wonderful.

You might think there is nothing unusual about such tranquility but you'd be wrong, you see we live under the flight path to Düsseldorf airport and normally from 6.30am to 10pm there are planes overhead on their landing approach (unless of course the wind is in the other direction in which case they take off over us) either way, there are always planes in the sky. ALWAYS.

So the last 5 days have been weird. We bought this house in full knowledge of the airport, in fact the proximity of the airport is one of the reasons for choosing the house, Simon flies, a lot, most weeks he's airbourne en route somewhere, and so to live somewhere only a 20-30 minute drive from the airport is a good idea, he lands, and half an hour later he's home, perfect. So we've never complained about the noise of the planes, we chose to live here afterall, but if this ash cloud continues I might just get used to the reduction in the noise pollution!

It is all very worrying though, just when we thought the financial crisis was drawing to a close and things were starting to look up we get another crisis courtesy of Iceland, as someone on Twitter tweeted at the weekend; "can't they spell? we said; 'send cash' "

On a personal level (noise aside) we're not really effected - although I could do without the ash making my car dirty (Simon's in Germany all week and although he should have flown between Hannover and Munich, he at least has the option to drive) but I know of friends who should have been in India for work and others who got stuck on the wrong side of the channel for the weekend and others who face a very long drive instead of a quick flight. It's amazing how the world suddenly shrinks isn't it?

It's wrong for me to trivialise this ash chaos that has descended, there will be many paying the cost for this act of nature from the obvious airlines and airports and passengers to the fruit and vegetable growers in Africa whose crops lie rotting in the sun instead of basking in the artificial light of Sainsburys. But I do enjoy the quiet - ironic that as I type that plane should go over, apparently German airspace has been opened to a few flights to enable people to get to where they should be.

It better be fixed and everything back to normal by next week though - I've got a girlie weekend to get to...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Snaps 10

OK. I promise* this is the last mention I'll make of our week in the big Apple.
This is the 'taxi' that Si booked to get us from JFK to our midtown hotel.
If we look rather the worse for wear that's because it felt like it was 1am to us all and Jas had been throwing up for the last hour!
It was a great way to enter Manhattan though! I think I'll always put Si in charge of booking the cabs!

* haha, I had my fingers crossed!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Money, money, money

One of my favourite ABBA songs, alongside, Ring Ring (which is the ringtone for calls on my mobile) and Waterloo - I have to confess to being a bit of an ABBA aficionado, me and my friend Audrey used to try and work out all the lyrics (this was before we were old enough to be allowed to buy Smash Hits magazine I guess) you can only imagine my delight when they made the movie Mamma Mia - I was in England for 2 weeks that summer and managed to see it twice and bought the soundtrack to listen to in my car (Ben wasn't amused)

But I digress, back to the subject of money...

What do you do with all the shrapnel that you get as a matter of course when shopping using cash and not cards? If you're anything like me you empty out all the tiny little bits whenever your purse/wallet/pockets get too heavy - we have a large glass Roses jar that was, once upon a time full of chocolate, now it works as a very effective doorstop in my bedroom when filled with loose change. In England we used it for the same purpose and when it was full I would sit down and bag up all the 20p, 10p, 5p, 2p and 1p pieces and then drag it all along to the bank, it usually resulted in £70 or so.
We've been collecting euro shrapnel in the same manner for the last almost 3 years and finally the jar was full to the brim and I had to start asking how did one bag it up and pay it into the bank. But Germans when asked what do they do with their small change (probably not politically correct to use the word 'shrapnel' in front of them) are confused...

'What do you mean? I spend it of course' is the usual response - stupid of me to ask really, seeing as I complain enough about them holding up the checkout queue as they count out 1 cent pieces to pay a 50 euro shopping bill...

Someone mentioned 'rolling' is that like those cheese rolling competitions funny little inbred villages in England have to celebrate spring/the solstice/whatever? No, apparently not, you stack the coins and roll them in paper - which presumably you have to get from the bank.

This all sounded very backward to me, and I was very disparaging (novel eh, me being disparaging about something German) about how behind the times the banks were here, and then my local bank was refurbished and in the atrium where the cashpoint machine is there came a new machine. I ignored it for a while and then one day (when I was alone there) had a quick look and realised that it was an in and out cash machine...although quite how it worked I had no idea.

Yesterday I persuaded Ben (whose German is so far ahead of mine now) to help me (actually I bribed him, with the promise of a 10% cut of the proceeds, which should be at least the euro equivalent of £70 I reasoned, Ben was unsurprisingly was speedy to agree, although he wouldn't carry the bag of cash to the bank as it was 8 kilos (he weighed it for some reason) and therefore too heavy for him.
I put my cash card into the machine, told it I wanted to put money in and that it was coins and not notes and the lid to a drawer slid open, we poured the coins in pressed 'confim' and the drawer closed and the machine started up. Occasionally it spat out a foreign coin and even the odd euro/cent but for the most part it muttered to itself for 5 minutes as it sorted all the coins we'd poured in before listing the amounts of all the coins and our total, 92 euros. We were well impressed, but then it haemorrhaged coins into the bottom reject drawer. Uh?

We went off to Romeos (ice cafe) with the reject coins to think about it. A waffle (Ben), a double ice cream (Jas) & a glass of water (me - it was my Nespresso day and I was buzzing until 8pm on a caffeine/George high following our coffee tasting session at 11 - normally I'd have a cappucino (winter) or an eiscafe (summer) - must be nearly time for those...) and 20 minutes later Ben said he'd take the rejected money back and try again, he could smell his commission! The machine happily took all the rejected coins and credited my account with another 90 euro.
Today I've discovered why it rejected the coins (we were back at the bank doing the paying in for a friend - Ben's on a very nice little earner with this) there's a sign on the machine (which I hadn't bothered to read last time) that says it will only take 1000 coins at a time - but who in the world is going to count out their coins first before dumping them all in the machine...Germans clearly!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Oh George, Where Art Thou?

Had my German lesson today, we took a field trip.

Am still buzzing from it - probably due to the amount of coffee I drank!

You see yesterday I took delivery of my new coffee machine, a Nespresso (hence the George Clooney comment in the title, for those of you who are immune to advertising and to the delectable George's charms, swoon)

Since our week in New York at Easter (did I mention already that we were in Manhattan?!) where our room had a coffee machine that Jasmine (age 8) could work and therefore bring us coffee in bed, I've hankered after a similar machine. A little research amongst friends revealed that the best coffee would be obtained via a Nespresso (the only problem I have with Nespresso is that it's part of the vile Nestlé, but hey, live and live, there's some things a girl shouldn't have to forego, and shoes and good coffee are just a couple of these) I thought about the matter for maybe a week and when Simon expressed no opinion either way I ordered one and 2 days later it was here.

The coffee capsules can be ordered on line or in some shops, but in Düsseldorf, just 30 minutes drive away there's a Nespresso bar, it's so chic and glam and you get free coffee!

We managed to park M's sexy motor right outside the bar, just under George's watchful eye (of course there's a gigantinormous monochrome pic of him in the window, looking all sexy - I mean, if you're paying him squillions to front your brand you'd want him plastered everywhere wouldn't you? Well I know I would) and then found seats inside where we could in turn also keep a watchful eye on the parking situation as we kind of thought it mightn't be a legal parking spot and neither of us is a fan of public transport.

After that the coffee flowed and we tried maybe 4 types of espresso (which would be why my fingers are burning up the keyboard and I'm feeling just a little light headed - I shall get SO much done this afternoon...) without paying a bean (!) for the coffee drunk anyway, I came away with coffee for my new machine as did M, a very successful German lesson methinks.

If only the coffee came with a George too, then it would be truly perfect.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Who am I?

How do you prove your identity?

At airports and borders and the like it's with photo id, normally a passport although in Germany sometimes just an Ausweis (personal photo id) will do rather than the passport. They always ask for this when I try to collect parcels from the post office and reluctantly make do with my driving licence (like I'm going to go everywhere with my passport in my bag, I don't think so) to add insult to injury (to them, not me) the driving licence is a UK issued one (complete with my old UK address on it) there's no pressure to change it (the speeding tickets go to the registered owner of the car and not to the home of the driving licence) so until that fateful day when I'm actually stopped by the cops for something (it wasn't me guv) and told off for not having a German driving licence, I'll continue to use my British driving licence.

Back to proving you are who you say you are...
To extract hard earned cash from a bank you need a PIN - personal identity number, the idea being that you, and only you know this secret number and therefore you, and only you can legally get money from your account.
The whole 'chip and pin' concept really took off a few years ago in the UK, I remember all the advertising from it still, suddenly cheques were no longer in vogue and signing for stuff was old hat and we all had to remember our PINs in order to pay for anything as a signature wouldn't do.

I got well confused when we were in New York last week (have I mentioned that already?) I got my little used UK credit card out to pay with for the first time and had my list of possible PINs ready (my UK cards get a battering in the UK once a year if they're lucky (although they do get used online, but that's a different story) and so the PINs get forgotten...) but I didn't need them (the PINs that, is not the cards) oh no, they have these fancy electronic signing gadgets for you to scrawl your moniker on - fine no?
Now I'm not a stranger to these electronic signature thingummies, we have them here for DHL, UPS, Hermes etc. deliveries (and trust me, with my ability to eshop, we get a lot of deliveries) I've been signing my name as 'Verena R Evans' for 20+ years and have perfected the quick scrawl - the first V and the R and partly the E are relatively clear (although it does depend on the machine) the legibility of the rest is variable, but still, it's quite definitely my signature, me, signing to say 'thanks, goods received'.

Today I was shocked.

The UPS man handed me a parcel (and this guy is a regular at my house) and I signed for it, an actually passable Verena R Evans signature today. Herr UPS looked at it, said 'Efans?' (they can't sound their V's here) I confirmed that yes it was EVans and smiled sweetly at him. At which point he took the plastic pencil thingy and wrote over my signature, making the curly E that I write 4 straight lines, he probably put an F in the middle of Evans too.
As he disappeared down the steps I shouted after him that it was no longer my signature...maybe I should call up the people the parcel came from and claim never to have received it, afterall they no longer have my confirmation of receipt!!

As I've said before and will say again and again and again, Germans are BONKERS!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sex Education

German style
  1. Transport a class of pre(just)pubescent high school kids from their sleepy little town into the big city centre by train for the morning (afterall that's how long school lasts here)
  2. Split them into boys and girls and send them to different classrooms (from here on most of the information is somewhat biased as I only have a male child available for interrogation purposes)
  3. Split the groups again into smaller groups and give each a (very) large piece of paper and some pens, get them to draw around a willing victim.
  4. Tell them to then annotate the outline of the victim with what happens during puberty - one of the drawings ending up looking like a monkey it had grown so much body hair, it also gained balls more suitable to kicking around a footie pitch, bloodshot eyes(!) and stinky armpits.
  5. Ask the boys what they know about sex, don't be surprised when many verbs are mentioned (I'm sure my son's knowledge of German vocab has been expanded yet again)
  6. Play a game where all the boys take it in turns to throw a tennis ball to one another, this sounds more like sports than sex education to me.
  7. Don't be surprised when at break time the majority of the students leg it to McDonalds, a couple go for ice creams and one shopaholic buys shoes

I had been expecting him to be learning about condom use and practising how to put one on a banana (that's what I was told to expect) but no, Ben says that if that had been the case one kid would certainly have knicked one and the others would have used them for water bombs.

When asked 'did you learn much then?' I was told no, although he did admit to having more fun than he would have done in normal lessons...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Time Flies By

..when you're the driver of a train...

well that's how the song/theme tune from my youth goes

and that's how I feel today.

The Easter hols are over, the school summer term starts today, so that means the next time the children break from school will be the end of the school year (no half term here, half terms are for whimps) and that will mean both of them moving up a year (fingers crossed eh Jas?!) where does the time go?

How can it be April already? And not just the beginning of April either, it's the 12th for heaven's sake, we're almost half way through the 4th month of the year, I'm sure time didn't fly like this when I was younger...double Latin and double maths seemed to last a lifetime and even Friday afternoons at work were at least 8 hours long...I'm sure my brother tried to tell me last month that we were gaining time but to me time seems to be whipping by.

Don't get me wrong, I'm very glad that it's April and spring at long, long last, but if time continues at warp speed then it'll be Christmas before I know it and summer will be just a fading memory - although I am looking forward to Christmas (sad eh? It's only 4 months since the last one and already I'm looking forward to the next) but I do have good reason -my brother has invited himself and his wife (naturally they come as a matched pair, well not matched exactly - she'd have to grow about 2 feet and have a rather unpleasant nose job) and our parents to come here for Christmas, which will be great fun, having my brother in the house is rather like having another child around, Ed's mental age is probably not dissimilar to that of my soon to be 13 year old son... little baby boy is going to be a teenager in just over a did that happen?
I can still remember the moment during labour when the midwife said (after an internal (eek) examination)

'hmm, I can't feel what I expected to feel'


You mean there isn't a baby in there afterall? For 9 months there's been something else growing in my belly?

It turned out that what she meant was that she could feel a bum and not a head (as the awkward little bugger (clearly wanting to start as he meant to continue) was planning to make an arse first appearance.

Still, when you're in the middle of it all and drugged up to your eyeballs (none of this modern 'natural, drug free labour' for me thank you very much, I entered the maternity ward demanding the drugs trolley, and gradually worked my way through everything they could offer) having a professional admit they're not sure what's going on isn't what you need...

That 'little' boy is now within an inch of being my height and takes at least 1 size bigger shoes than I do and tomorrow goes on a field trip with school to learn about sex my day it was the kind of thing covered in the lab or classroom and took about an hour, goodness only knows what will happen on a 5 hour sex education field trip, needless to say, I'll let you know tomorrow!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Snaps 9

Now you might think there's nothing odd about this photo...
It's just someone's garden isn't it?
Well, yes, it is just a garden, but do you see the cow - you might have to zoom in (sorry, but I took the pic with my iphone and it may be a wonderful phone but the camera function is rubbish, my 12 year old's phone takes better pics than mine)
The cow is a statue, now why would anyone want the statue of a cow in their garden? Bizarre eh? You just wait till I get a pic of the blue sheep (I think they're still in hibernation - obiviously not frost proof!)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How to catch a snake...

Once upon a time in Mulheim, a village not that far from where I live, a teenager bought a poisonous snake, a monocled cobra to be precise. That should be the story, complete with the ending 'and they lived happily ever after'...but no, this story actually continues 'three weeks ago the snake escaped'!

The escape of a poisonous snake has to be taken seriously, especially as it was living in an apartment block and so there were many lives in danger. The whole block was evacuated and the apartment where the teenager and his pet snake lived was gutted with the floor boards being ripped up in an attempt to find the snake, but to no avail.

Eventually the attic apartment was set with traps and sealed, with the fire service coming back each day to check the traps. It took 5 days for the snake to appear, they think it was due to the rise in temperature that made the apartment suddenly a more amenable habitat to the snake.

Can you imagine the high tech kind of trap the German fire service would use to catch a poisonous snake? Afterall this is the country where Bosch and Siemens and BMW are based, so it stands to reason that they must have some whizzy sensor operated trap that would shut and enclose the snake on entry, don't you think?


First of all they strewed the floor with flour (I assume this was before they ripped the boards up) to see if they could track the snake, this didn't work as clearly the snake was hiding.
Then they placed their traps - double sided sticky tape (it all sounds very Blue Peter to me) I kid you not, Germany's fire department taped up the apartment and waited for the snake to emerge and wriggle across/along the sticky surface.

It worked though, much as I may mock, they were successful as the Bild shows, although I can't see the response 'double sided sticky tape' being acceptable to the exam question 'how would you catch a poisonous snake?'

It's going to cost the 19 year old (ex)owner of the snake 100,ooo euro in costs apparently, while it's not illegal to own such a snake, the fire service costs have to be covered!

And my last thought on the matter? I'm wondering whether the snake was female...if so, what if it laid some eggs (typically 25-45 in a batch) the young are independant as soon as they are born. I think I'll keep away from the Mulheim area for a while!

Friday, April 9, 2010

1 martini, 2 martini, 3 martini, floor

Last night was expats, our monthly get together in Lulu's to drink martinis (other drinks are, of course available) I think I crawled into bed around midnight - just managed to get in before the pumpkin curfew!

It was a good evening as always, although we were only 6 we still managed to make our presence felt, can't let the locals think they're the only nationality here!

For a mixed group we managed to cover a broad spectrum of (I know, and to reduce my credibility further I have to confess that I even voiced concern over Rooney's availability for the upcoming world cup) and we're still plotting a bbq for the Germany-Australia game on June 13th, we figure Jenny (our tame aussie) will want to be surrounded by Brits and Krauts when the Socceroos wup der Mannschaft....we'll even throw some prawns on the barbie!
From footie we progressed via cricket (and the limited possibilities for the playing of the ancient game here in Germany) to Formula One (and the chances (almost none) of Schumi winning anything as opposed to the possibility of him shunting someone off in anger (high)) We laughed at the Virgin team's miscalculation on the petrol tank size (I pointed out that it was surely basic maths that my 12 year old could calculate - how much fuel does the car need for 1 lap? How many laps are there? In fact even Jas could work that out...) and Ian said how impressed he was so far with the Red Bull team's performance to which I said it was really no surprise they were doing well, after all Red Bull gives you wings...Ian nearly fell off his bar stool...

Kamesh has foolishly enlisted Rebecca and my shopping services - he's off to Mumbai again soon with 'work' and so will drop in on his parents and needs a present for mommy dearest, last time he went he asked our advice the night before he flew - we weren't impressed, this time we've 2 weeks or so, good job really as he hasn't a clue as to what we should get, nothing in the textile or jewellery line, not a book either, we suggested something ornamental and that was the only thing that didn't meet with disapproval, so an expensive knick-knacky piece of tat it is then! I'll let you know after Tuesday...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Memories of New York

We're just back from an Easter week spent in New York.

It's the 2nd time there for Si and me, the last time we were there was BC (before children) so that would be maybe 15 years ago...gulp

It was Ben's 1st time in New York although not his 1st visit to the states (he's a well travelled child, having been to Seattle (visiting friends) and Florida as well) but it was Jasmine's first visit to the US - shame she had to mar her entry by vomiting on landing - I blame Simon, he was force feeding her Mowams (chewy German sweets) for half the flight, quite approptiate that he had to hold the sick bag(s) eh? Don't quite know why I had to be the one running off to the loo (ignoring the seatbelt signs) to dispose of the brimming bags though...
Fortunately Jas managed not to heave in front of the immigration guy - they must be desperate to find excuses to refuse admittance and I can well imagine that upchucking over immigration guarantees you to be on the next flight home!

Si had pulled a blinder, 'I sorted out a cab to get us from the airport to the hotel' he'd said. I'd been impressed, afterall, he'd been away prior to our holiday and I'd been organising tickets and so on.
But this wasn't just any taxi (imagine this being said in the M&S advert stylee) oh no, this was a stretch limo taxi, with smoked windows and a sparkly ceiling, very bling. Shall have to find the photo (Si took it on his phone...goodness knows what happens to them then). Fortunately Jas had no more vomit left, phew!

And then the hotel, the pic at the top is the view we had from our room - cool eh? With the Empire State building just 3 blocks up to our left.

The first day we were there we seemed to have a monsoon style rainstorm, I've never seen rain like it, stand under a hose pipe and you'd get less wet, but what surprised me about it was that the locals (the women anyway) were wearing wellies, more specifically Hunter wellies, I have a pair here, that I use to walk in the muddy woods with my dog, would I wear them around town? No. Would I wear them around Manhattan? No! I thought Manhattan was the Isle of the Choo or the Manolo but wellies? Perrrlease! So not a good look. A decent pair of leather boots should keep your feet dry enough in the rain, wellies are a little over the top!

In my opinion the American Museum of Natural History is over-rated, it is yawn inducingly boring, talk about old fashioned and Victorian, whereas the USS Intrepid was amazing, it's an aircraft carrier that has seen so much action from picking up space capsules in the sea to being hit several times by Japanese Kamikaze pilots. There was so much to see and do (a way more intereactive experience than the natural history yawnathon) including a concorde to walk through and a submarine too.

One of the highlights for me was a bike tour around Central Park, we had great weather and a good guide, it was a lovely morning, we followed it with a trip to the Apple store on 5th Avenue the day before the launch of the iPad, as we emerged from the store Si got jumped by CBS news and asked his opinion of the newest gadget, Si wasn't impressed, where are you going to stick it, he wanted to know, it's too big to fit in a pocket, you'll have to carry a bag!

When we were booking the holiday Si was concerned that 1 week would be too long, it turned out that 1 week isn't long enough, I need to go back, there's the art museums to see and I'm positive there are shops I didn't get to...I can live without that grating New York accent though, it penetrates through solid concrete I'm sure!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Over the Limit

I began to get a little concerned towards the end of our week in New York, that maybe, just maybe we would be over our customs allowance, not that I had any idea of what it actually was (I looked it up while we were there, and saw $430 on a website and thought that wasn't too bad, but I've just done a slightly more thorough check and it looks as though the limit is still 175 euro (gulp) it's not much is it?)

Rather than falling asleep counting sheep I was falling asleep totting up the punishment my credit card hard taken in one week and coming to the conclusion that we would definitely be over the did that happen? Not that it stopped me continuing to flex my plastic muscle the morning before the flight - might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.

Arriving at the airport and then waiting for our luggage I could feel my anxiety building, I tried not to look over at the scary customs men in their green uniforms too often and prayed that our bags wouldn't be last off the conveyor belt making us last to run the gaunlet...walking through, I kept up a conversation with Jas, trying to act natural, trying not to think about the light that must have been flashing over my head 'I've got 1 bag more than I travelled out with' I could almost hear it booming...

I needn't have worried, the customs guys were probably more interested in checking that everyone was alive and kicking seeing as some krazy krauts tried to get a dead body onto a flight from the UK at the weekend....


You think I'm kidding?

It's true.

Even the BBC says so here and today it's made the German press!

At least I was only over my limit...

As I keep saying - these Germans are bonkers!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sunday Snaps 8

Still in New York,
I might be here today;or here;

or here;

wherever I am, I'm bound to be having fun!

Back soon!