Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I'm packing today, well actually that's a lie.

I'm washing and ironing today the stuff that I need to pack tomorrow.
Trying to stop people wearing and dirtying stuff I want to pack because if it doesn't turn up in their wardrobe on holiday they'll complain about it and of course blame me.

Tomorrow we fly to Spain for 2 weeks, actually that's a lie too.

We fly to Faro in Portugal because that's the closest airport and then drive across the border (sounds adventurous already doesn't it?) to Ayamonte.

This will be our 3rd trip to the same place, same complex even (but different apartments) it worked so well the previous years that we thought we'd do it again this year, afterall if it ain't broke don't fix it and when you finally achieve a holiday where the children aren't complaining of boredom every other minute it's a damn miracle!

I think I've got everything sorted out at this end, house/dog sitters (i.e. parents) are safely installed (so don't even think about trying to break in and rob the house, the savage dog is still here!) we've been gradually showing them the ropes - where the wine is, the fridge, the better coffee shops, opening hours for the bakery, Ben has showed my dad how to work the TV/sky/dvd system and now needs to check that he can do it and I've hopefully stocked them up with enough food to last a few days...

So what I'm trying to tell you is that for 2 weeks you're on your own, you'll have to find some other blog to read, but don't get too settled elsewhere because to quote the great Arnie Schwarzenegger

"I'll be back"

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Snaps 23

Gotta new app for my phone, different lenses for a camera, so 1 scene, different versions, I like.

Friday, July 16, 2010


I laughed my socks off the other night.

Or I would have done had I been wearing any!

I was at Lulu's for their 'Funny Wednesday' evening. This happens once a month but July's was special - English comedy, with English (speaking) comedians, I make that qualification because 2 of the 3 were American and so can only loosely* claim to speak English.

The evening started badly.

Temperatures had hit 35 degrees here during the day and then the around 6pm the sky darkened and the wind started to build and the dog started to follow me around the house, sticking as close to my ankles as he could. Only when the windows had all banged themselves shut did the thunderstorm actually hit, knocking out the satellite TV at the same time.

We'd planned to walk down into Kettwig, but that idea was thoroughly quashed by the gewitter**, fortunately Muna had to drive anyway so she acted as our taxi service, managing to park nice and close to Lulu's but at the same time picking up a ticket (at least you didn't get towed we said!).

We were onto our 2nd Mojito before the comedians started - not their fault they were late, they had to come along the autobahn in the middle of the storm and the Germans hate driving in the rain, they always panic and slow down to a snail's pace, and I guess trees throwing their branches onto the road didn't make it any easier!

First up was the leader of the pack the self styled 'Johnny Hollywood' who claims to have been one of the 2 cowboys in the Marlboro Country ad that used to be shown in cinemas before the main feature back when smoking wasn't such the socially disgusting habit that it is today. Johnny also does the German comedy circuit, reporting that the grammar gestapo can ruin his jokes very quickly when their heckling points out that he called a table female when it should be male.

The 2nd guy turned out to be from Rugeley (about 5 miles down the road from where I'd lived in England) which was bizarre and I think he could be really funny in that dry, caustic way the English have, but last night his material didn't quite work, maybe it was the crowd, small in number and maybe a quarter to a third German, who probably didn't appreciate his bitchy (but true) comments about German service.

Then last but not least (although in retrospect he was fairly diminutive) came a guy from San Francisco, who was very keen for us not to think him gay and who had so many nervous habits (constantly running his hands through his white hair and hitching his black trousers up) that I was surprised he could actually bear to be out front talking to an audience. Andy was however, very funny, talking about the German dating/flirting scene and how Germans just don't flirt, Muna later confirmed this to me, German men don't flirt, they take dating (as with the rest of life) very seriously as do the women, they want (allegedly) a man with a serious/sensible job (accountants are top) a good health care plan and a pension, anything else is a bonus...I thank my lucky stars I have a good, honest Brit for a husband whose ability to make me laugh is endless.

It was a great evening and the best news is that we get to do it all again in November (I think) as they want to make the English comedy night a quarterly event, can't wait!

* what a weird looking word, then I tried it without the double 'o', still didn't look right, so then I googled it, which is why it's writ as it is.

** gewitter = thunderstom

Thursday, July 15, 2010

and exhale.....................

It's the first day of the summer hols.

Never, never have I so much looked forward to the 6 week break from school, back in the day*, I used to dread the approaching end of term, knowing that I'd have 2 children in my house and on my hands, demanding full-time entertainment. Those 6 weeks of summer could be tortuous.

But for the last few weeks I've been willing time to fly by, desperate for July 14th to appear as the date on my phone and computer screens.

I think it helps that the children are getting older with each year (weird that isn't it? it's like every year they're another 12 months older, almost said mature - but that might never happen, after all one of said children is male & my 41 year old brother still has the same mentality as my 13 year old son) and so they don't need me and my Butlins redcoat (thank goodness, it was getting a bit tight after all these years) but also as I've sat down to plan out the 6 weeks school free-ness it's obvious that we don't have much down time...

- the first weekend my parents arrive to house and pet sit while we swan off to Spain (the offer to pay their airfares was rejected in favour of me providing sherry for them to quaff, the rate was (I think) 1 bottle per pet - don't think they were too amused when I had to plant a hamster**)
- then we actually go on holiday to Spain for 2 whole weeks
- after Spain we have 2 and a bit weeks at home during which time hopefully Jas will get the metal supporting pin in her arm removed, it's supposed to be an "in 'n out" job at the krankenhaus, it better be, I do hate hospitals (full of sick people you know!)
- then the last week of the hols we have to go to England for a wedding ('have to' = booked everything the moment I heard about it)

And that's it, summer hols 2010 sorted.
Back to school at the end of August, goodbye summer, hello autumn and my birthday and then it's Christmas. Not that I'm wishing my life away or anything.

Another reason I'm not dreading the summer break this year is because I think we're so desperate for it. It seems to have been a hard year so far, stressful what with Jas being ill at the beginning of the year then the stress with school, then the broken arm, and the constant getting up at 6.30 doesn't help (although Simon is always more tired than me, it is physically impossible to be more tired than Simon, I just don't go there anymore) It will be so nice to not have to get up and not have to force the children to bed.

So why, oh why, was I WIDE awake at 6am this morning? I was looking forward to sleeping in...ho hum, maybe tomorrow!

* inside joke, sorry.
** it died shortly after Easter and we buried it under the apple tree (which has a bumper crop this year... wonder if there's a connection?) and a friend's 6 year old reported to her mom that we'd 'planted' said rodent.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Don't hit me!

I heard a funny story at the weekend, well, not actually heard, more kind of 'read' - I was 'chatting' with my brother via Facebook messaging, I'm sure we communicate far more now than we ever did when we both lived in the UK!

Ed is living the expat life out in Libya (he works in oil & I gather the weather is a tad better there than in Aberdeen where the oil industry is also huge, although I'm guessing that the quality of life probably leaves something to be desired!) They (he & his wife Dear*) have a great house and a pool, and a guard (!) house all behind a big wall with an equally big gate. This is the norm for expats living out there, I don't think the locals like having foreigners in their country 'taking' their jobs (that they don't necessarily have the training to do, btw) and so security is essential.

A big problem in Libya (for women anyway) is that although they're technically allowed to drive there (I know, such a modern, forward thinking country isn't it?) if a man finds himself behind a car he thinks a woman is driving he will overtake no matter what. I guess a tall woman can get away with this, but Dear is knee high to a grasshopper (Ben was highly delighted last year when they were with us, as he was as tall as she was, this year he's almost as tall as me) so Dear will never be mistaken for a male driver (I'm sure even in Libya there's a minimum driving age). Consequently Ed and Dear have a driver, who doubles up as a guard I think, who takes Dear around and about.

Ed was complaining about the drivers in Libya, not being very safety conscious, I think was the message he was trying to get across, and I commented that he didn't need to worry too much as he had a driver, to which Ed replied that Dear had had to hit said driver the day before.
Why on earth would tiny Dear feel the need to actually punch the driver? (I did ask how hard had she hit the guy) and it turns out he was driving like an idiot, speeding and trying to overtake when there wasn't any space and Dear had already told him to quit being so stupid. Quite how a 6 foot tall Muslim man who is used to be kowtowed to by his women folk has taken this remains to be seen but then this is the guy who wanted to take his gun with him on a flight to Egypt...

* not her proper name, nor is it a pseudonym, she's Thai and I think many westerners struggle with the pronunciation of 'Phanrutai'.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Kerrazy Kraken

The football worldcup is finally over, thank god.

Just in case you didn't know;
  • Spain won
  • Diego Forlan (Uruguay) got the Golden Ball (!) for best player of the tournament
  • Thomas Müller (Germany) got best young player & the Golden Boot for most goals
  • Ike Casillas (Spain) was awarded the Golden Glove for being the best goalie

But the surprise star of the last four weeks has to be Paul the octopus.

Since the UEFA 2008 tournament Paul has been predicting, with a decent rate of success it would appear, the outcome of Germany's matches (getting 4 out of 6 correct in that tournament).

This summer though his fame has increased with German TV broadcasting Paul's predictions.

Of course he has his doubters, those who say he shows a preference for flags with lots of red in them, but this can't be true as octopi (I think the correct plural is octopuses, but I prefer to use octopi) are believed to be colour blind, however they are thought to be the most intelligent of all the invertebrates (a bigger bunch of spineless idiots you couldn't hope to find) and
individuals can distinguish brightness as well as an object's size, shape, and orientation. Shelagh Malham of Bangor Uni. states that they are drawn to horizontal shapes, and indeed, there are horizontal stripes on the flags he chooses.

Matthew Fuller, the senior Aquarist at the Weymouth park, judged the flag-shape theory to be plausible, saying that studies have shown Octopi are able to distinguish shapes and patterns, so maybe Paul can recognise flags. Vyacheslav Bisikov, a Russian biologist, agrees that it is possible for an octopus to become attracted to a striped flag. However, Pascal Coutant, director of the La Rochelle Aquarium disagrees thinking that complete chance that guides Paul's choices.

Interestingly, when Paul this year predicted that Spain would beat Germany, the Germans took this to be a good sign (yeah, I know!) because (pay attention now) in the 2008 UEFA thingummy wotsit Paul forecast Germany to win but Spain did, so this time when he 'said' that Spain would beat Germany the (normally pessimistic) Germans decided that Paul was just getting it the wrong way round like the last time the 2 countries played one another. How wrong they were!

It seems unlikely, however, that Paul will be able to do much predicting for the next European footie championship seeing as in the wild octopi only live for 12-18 months, so Paul could well be dead by then, a new oracle will be required.

It turns out that Paul's an expat like me (although I don't have 8 limbs, 3 hearts and am unable to breathe underwater). He was hatched in the Sealife Centre in Weymouth in 2008 before getting a lucrative transfer to Oberhausen (about 40 minutes drive away from me).

Sushi, anyone?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Snaps 22

We had a blisteringly hot day yesterday, up to 38 degrees during the day and at 11pm the temperature was still above 30.
In the middle of the night we had an almighty thunderstorm and vertical rain, so this morning as everything started to heat up things got a little bit steamy.
Walking Logan through a small wooded area near us it was like being in a rain forest, he didn't appreciate the view of course, he was just keen to get to the proper woods so he could root about off the lead.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

German Traditions I

There are many, many traditions close to the German heart, I'm going to introduce you to one of them.

Today was our last pilates session of term (school term ends next Wednesday & so naturally, as in England, everything else stops too) and our teacher suggested weeks ago that we all go out after the lesson for coffee (and cake, they go hand in hand, like strawberries and cream, salt and pepper, dark chocolate and red wine (or is that just me?)).
This was no real surprise to me as last year the same thing happened with our step class, except that was Prosecco & coffee (my kind of after exercise drinkies, but at 10am? Just a fraction too early). So a venue was agreed on and tables reserved (1 member works at that particular cafe).

The first problem was that the tables reserved for us were all in the sun (it's hot enough to melt the tarmac out there today, blistering) We could easily have sat indoors in the open windows thereby benefitting from the cool interior and the 'fresh' air, but no, outside seating was demanded, the staff managed to find another sun shade and we'd all got seated when tables in the full shade became vacant so we moved again.

All this demand for shade led to the first topic of conversation - how dangerous the sun* is, 1 woman remarked that a friend of theirs had died early this year from skin cancer which started the interrogation, no sensitivity shown but straight on in with - how long had they been ill? what had been the treatments? and so on. A cheerful subject that was exhaustively covered before being cast aside.

The learning of languages was also discussed (I wonder why that was?) and how easy it is for children to become bi/trilingual, how they can flick between languages within a sentence (lucky beggars - I only do that because I don't know the word in the language).

And then because they felt they'd softened us up they wanted to know whereabouts in the UK we're** both from, how that compares to here, what we like about Germany that the UK could do with (an eis cafe on every corner and decent bakeries) why we're here (husbands). I bet they were so glad that we were the first to leave (having commitments like providing lunch for starving children) because then they were free to gossip about us, I could literally feel my ears burning as we walked away, or maybe that was the sun?

Our last step class is next Wednesday and so far no-one has mentioned going for post class drinkies, although that's not to say it wont be sprung on us at the last moment, bah humbug!

* It's funny though, that despite everyone of us wanting to sit in the shade everyone had a tan, 1 woman is scarily brown right to the tips of her tippy toes - sunbed is my opinion, they're not into the healthier spray fake tans here.

** This would be me and Rebecca, my fellow expat.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Day Dreamer

Ben came home from school today and after inhaling his lunch and before disappearing into the bowels of the house where it is nice and cool and where the PS3/Wii/Xbox all live, grunted at me that he had a letter for me and that he was going on a train to Turkey to visit a Roman museum on Tuesday with his class and had to be at the station at 7am.

He was outraged. He'd have to be up at 5 to be at the station for 7 he reckoned - I can't quite see how this logic works, seeing as the train station is probably as far from our house as his school is and he currently takes just over 1 hour from getting out of bed to arriving at school. I was still reeling from the idea that a day trip with school was to go to Turkey by train, especially as it turned out that the letter from school he had for me didn't concern the trip at all but something else entirely...

So I emailed his class teacher, wishing her a happy evening watching the Germany/Spain football game & querying the trip...

Of course they're not going to Turkey, she mentioned that to catch out those who weren't paying enough attention (!) but they do have to be at the train station at 7am and they are going to a Roman museum at Haltern, I think he's quite disappointed to be staying in Germany!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Don't talk to strangers

This is the message we drum into our children at a very early age (along with don't smoke, wait for the green man & don't pick your nose).

And quite rightly too, stranger = danger (it even rhymes).

My daughter has picked me up on this a few times;

"who was that mommy?", after stopping to chat in a supermarket
"oh, no-one ", as in 'no-one that you know and to explain it to you would take too long and is quite unnecessary'
"but you say we shouldn't talk to strangers"


It's funny how a change of environment causes a change in behaviour. In England I would never dream of going up to strangers on the street or in the supermarket or in the coffee shop and starting up a conversation, it's just not what I do...shy and retiring me (unless there's a glass or 3 or wine involved that is) But here in Germany if I hear English being spoken I'm all over them like a rash (after first checking to make sure they look 'nice' and that they are speaking 'proper' English (i.e. that they're not gymnasium kids showing off their language skills - although this is unlikely given the inherrent laziness of such kids, and I speak from experience here).

Yesterday I accosted a couple outside of Aldi (narrow escape there, I was about to go in myself (looking for Portugese wine, honest guv) call me a snob, but I don't do Aldi, or Lidl (shudder) and certainly not Netto) I heard the guy saying something in English to his wife as I walked past and I turned back to talk to them, because you just don't hear English being spoken here (unless all us expats are out together, scaring the locals, that is) It turns out they're visiting their daughter who (as if by magic) appeared (clearly not keen to entrust her parents with supermarket shopping on their own). She lives in the next town along the river from here and seems keen to employ me on an adhoc basis as an English teacher to business people, I have her details here and everything, shall have to give her a call and set up a meeting to chat about the possibilities. I, in turn, recommended our favourite expat drinking hole, Lulu's, which she hadn't heard of, surprising really seeing as the martinis are to die for!

Today I was in Starbux and overheard English again, which is not as uncommon in the middle of Essen as it is in Kettwig, although still a rarity. I stopped myself going over though - a group of dull business types, bleurgh! Definately strangers. Jasmine would be proud of me.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hell on Earth II

Sunday afternoon was Jasmine's 'Abschlussfest' (end of term party). They happen every year (naturally) and feel as though they last 365 days.
They are interminable, if I had a good excuse I wouldn't go, but it'd have to be an excuse that'd convince the kids, 'cos they like going - they get to charge about with their friends and have fun, I have to hang around looking like a spare part while all the other parents who known each other since kindergarten (more often than not kindergarten when they, themselves were preschool kids - I'm soooooooooo not joking) gossip in little huddles.

It's not fun.

And I have Ben's next weekend.

It started with cake, they always start with cake, kid's birthday parties always have the cake at the beginning, then the activity then the meal, so I should have known to expect a long, drawn out do shouldn't I?

So, 28 degrees, blazing sun, we're eating cake and drinking tea and coffee and chatting - well, when I say "we", I really mean "they". I couldn't face cake or tea or coffee in that heat, so I had some water - which was probably meant for the kids.

After an hour or so of "socialising" we got down to the entertainment. First the children had a little piece for us based on St Saen's Carnival of the Animals which they've been studying, and then we were taken outside for some "games"...

Imagine "It's a Knockout" meets school sports day and put 2 bossy German mothers in charge...there was tea bag throwing (tea bags here come with a string and a tag, so easier to throw), bobby car racing (small plastic sit on car for 2-4 year olds), apple bobbing (that I know), a tug of war (between the parents of years 3 and 4 - we won) hula hoop-ing, scooter racing, a water chain thing and a Dickmanns eating competition.
It was endless, and then there was a presentation from the children (or rather mother of one of said children) to Herr B the teacher, a song from the leaving children and then finally a song from the year 3's to the departing year 4's, which was quite sweet, or would have been if it had come earlier, maybe 3 hours earlier...

As soon as the last chords of the last song died away I was out of there, collecting my apple cake container and my tea thermos (we'd all been given explicit instructions on what to bring, I was instructed to provide apple cake & tea - had to borrow an apple cake recipe from a friend (and a tin to bake it in) as it's not one of my 'go to-s' when I think "let's bake a cake") and dragging my unwilling child behind me. Jas wanted to stay, not for the barbeque, but just for the fun of charging around in the heat with her friends. I was declared to be an unfit mother by her for ruining her fun, but as I told her - I had another child at home (there was no way on earth that Ben would have stooped so low as to join us, he's 13 for heaven's sake) who needed feeding, quite apart from the fact that they'd neither of them been to bed before 11pm on Saturday (Germany's thorough thrashing of Argentina had to be celebrated by children as well as adults - although they indulged with the soaking of each other with wet stuff, while we grown ups drank it).

At least for Ben's abschlussfest I will have Simon's company, he gets back from almost 2 weeks away in Korea & Shanghai on Friday evening and then is going to be expected to partake in one of the busiest Saturdays we've had in a long while, I should start taking bets on when he'll crash and burn...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sunday Snaps 21

I saw these socks on sale yesterday in my local (not)supermarket.
You have to admire the Germans for their presumtious behaviour, if nothing else...

Saturday, July 3, 2010


We really do need to consider changing the name of our first Friday in every month meetup.

Last night we discussed the book (Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals) only long enough to agree that NO-ONE (apart from me, who read it aeons ago) had read it - yet. So it's kind of being carried forward, woe betide anyone who thinks they can get away with jumping straight to Vanilla Beans & Brodo or whatever the next book is called.

So what did we talk about if not the book? Let me try to remember...

- Nancy and Jenny had a great excuse for being late, they got lost, which surprised me as they've both lived in the city long enough to know their way around and we've been using the Black Cat as our venue for ages (mainly because of the extensive wine list and the delicious French cheese platters that are available, and it's no smoking before 10/1030) Then they confessed, they'd been on their way through a park and came across 3 dancers (male) playing football in just their Calvins. We had to agree that we'd have been a bit dazed and confused after that also (apart from Kamesh, who isn't that way inclined)

- Football, the Ghana - Brazil match was on at the back of the bar, mainly for the benefit of the staff, 2 of whom are Ghanian (hmmm, that doesn't look right, I know how it sounds though) we didn't actually watch, but were aware of the action by the noise of the crowd.

- Cricket, we're trying to arrange a day for us expats to get together & 'play' cricket, this is the brilliant idea of Jenny (Australian) & Kamesh (Indian), the one is hideously competitive no matter the subject and the other is (allegedly) quite good. The rest of us are going along with the idea because it sounds like fun. Actually, that's not true, it doesn't sound like fun to me, but hey, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

- The heat, 32 degrees for 3 days running is not normal, Kamesh said even he can't deal with it having lived too long away from the heat of India.

- Rebecca received an emergency phonecall from her husband who we'd merrily left in charge of her 3 kids and 1 of mine (who refuses to stay home alone with her elder brother "because he's too bossy") The 2 eldest (mine being one) had taken Sam's cigarettes and broken them all up and thrown them in the bin. Their motive was well meant, Jas had 2 years schooling in the UK where it's drummed in at an early age that SMOKING IS BAD & CIGARETTES KILL & Jack is concerned about his father's life expectancy...the result was 2 packets of fags purchased and dropped off by Emma on her (early) way home with baby (3 months old & tetchy in the heat).

- More football, as in "where are you going to watch the Germany vs. Argentina match on Saturday" (this from Jenny, who, despite the Aussies being sent home early for playing so badly, is still trying to watch as many of the games as possible) I joked that I was considering going shopping as the shopping centres would not only be nice and cool and air conditioned but also empty & Rebecca laughed that she was thinking of going to one of the open air swimming pools for the same reason (the lack of people, not the air conditioning) in this weather the open pools are not for the serious swimmer, they are (so I've heard, having managed to avoid that particular hell on earth so far) so full of people it's standing room only, both in the water and around the sides. How can that be fun? Anyway we came up with a cunning plan, barbeque at my house, with the proviso that Rebecca's husband does the charring of the food - it's man's work, I don't know how to bbq and nor do I plan to find out thank you very much.

Quiet evening really, quite how we managed to drink so many bottles of white wine I don't know, I blame the heat...now where's the corkscrew?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Konfused* of Kettwig

Dear Sirs

I'm a little bit confused, you see, I thought children went to school to learm stuff, get an education and such like, so that they could carry in the footsteps of their parents (looking after said parents, by getting good, well paid jobs, paying into pension schemes and NOT putting the much loved parents into 'old people's homes', but instead installing them in a granny** flat, that would of course (in Germany) be part of their own abode.

I thought (silly me) that school terms were when children learned stuff, had proper lessons, sitting at desks, homework etc. etc. - come on, if you can read this you've clearly had enough of an education to know how it works. And that there was a clearly delineated (see, I've had a proper education, me, I can use 5 syllable words - even if I do have to check their spelling) beginning and end to that period of learning.

Back in the day (inside joke, sorry) when I was at school (yeah, I hear you, it was a longggggggggggggggggggggg time ago) we had lessons from 9am till 3.45pm from the start of term till the very last (but one***) day - when we could bring in board games or in high school maybe the teachers relented slightly and we did "amusing" quizes.

But of course, that was in England, "cough" years ago (although, I don't think the teaching regime has changed that much over the last "cough" years) Here, in Germany, where I'm still reeling from the godammed stupid 'hitzeplan' we're being inflicted with just because the weather is being so terribly mediteranean, my high school son is taking all his text books back to school tomorrow, 8 school days before term ends...


What the hell are they going to be doing at school for the next week and a half? That is of course in the 3 1/2 hours that they're actually in school at the moment...

He, of course, is filled with glee, no proper lessons for 8 "whole" days - ooh, make that 7 days as I've just remembered they have a day off (well 3 1/2 hours to be precise) next week so that the teachers can confer over the end of term reports, which I don't understand the reason for either, seeing as Ben seems to come home every day telling me the history teacher says he'll get this grade and the English teacher says this grade (it better be a 1 btw, or his allowance is being seriously reduced).
So, 7, 3 1/2 hour days with no text books, lots of education to be got methinks...not.

I'm confused, I thought we sent our children to school to get an education?

* Yeah, I know, but it looks better OK?
** Sexist, I know, but have you ever heard the term 'grampy flat'? Grumpy flat maybe, grampy flat, no.
*** Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, hence the brackets, sorry.