Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Infamy, they've all got it in for me, to quote Kenneth Williams in Carry on Cleo.

Last Sunday was the Bahnhofsfest, one I missed from my fest list the other week, not because I forgot about it (although that's also a factor) but also because it wasn't a fest in the true German, Kettwig meaning of the word - no all day drinking and music in the middle of town for the 36 hours of the weekend. This was 1 day, hardly a fest more of an 'open day' with lots of activities going on to showcase what the Alter Bahnhof offers the population of Kettwig & surroundings, there was a bit of theatre, ballet, 1 to 1 gymnastic (they never mean gymnastic in the manner of triple somersaults and vaulting, here they mean more of a muscular stretching kind of thing) dance workout, yoga, hip hop, dance for the over 50's and step, the last 2 were both labelled 'mitmachen' so you could come along and join in, if you dared.

Petra our step teacher had told us weeks and weeks ago that this was coming up and had been coaching us in one of her complicated step routines, trying to ensure that we would all look proficient, which is fine, makes us all look...good (I hesitate to use the word as it makes us sound as though we're halfway proficient, the best that can be said on most weeks is that at least no one fell off or over their step) This was a good idea as at least we looked as though we knew what we were doing, however it also made damn sure that no-one was going to try and join in with us...

Like I said, this was on Sunday, we were all given a little bottle of Prosecco (just one glass's worth) and some chocolate as a thank you for agreeing to putting ourselves forward for this humiliation and then we were on, lots of people watching and the mandatory photographer from the local rag, who seemed to be there quite a while and so must have taken a fair few pics, so why is it that the one that makes it into today's paper shows just 2 of us (and I'm one of them) and we look as though we're trying to fly, he must had taken other, better photographs surely, ones that showed more of the step group than just 2, or maybe we were all so out of time and unco-ordinated that this was literally the only pic he got where 2 people are actually synchronised? That wouldn't surprise me one bit. On the upside, at least the pic isn't on the internet, trust me, I've looked, backwards, sideways, anyway you can think of, it's not there, so you'll just have to imagine it, me in black leggings and a white vest (that was possibly as co-ordinated as we got, all in monchrome) one foot on the step the other lifted up and in the air, hands and arms raised up and above my head, head tilted down with eyes firmly fixed on feet to reduce chance of falling over - I look as though I'm trying to fly (if you've ever seen the film 'Karate Kid' then this is the crane pose from that film) and it's a damn big picture too, if only I'd sucked my belly in and not been looking down, or stood where Rebecca was (only her knee made it into the paper) or maybe I should have just stayed at home!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

News flash: Culture rots the brain

This year sees Essen and its surrounding sprawl as the Cultural Capital of Europe and amongst everything going on they've renovated the Folkwang Museum, since it's rebirth at the beginning of the year I've been 4 times. I know, 4 times to the same art museum, I can hardly believe it myself (and I shall be going again before the year's out as there's a lovely French Impressionists exhibition coming next - I wonder if they do a season ticket?) but all this culture isn't good for me you know...

The 1st trip to the Folkwang we only made it as far as the café, we (Rebecca & I) were meeting a friend and there was just so much gossip and catching up to be done that before we knew it we'd run out of time to actually look around the museum. We'd sat for a while in the café before realising that unlike most German cafés this one was self service...

The 2nd trip was a bit more successful than the 1st, we made it round the displays of art, however the full museum was not yet opened (a fact we hadn't realised before deciding to go) and so rather than getting to feast our eyes on passionate Picassos and romantic Rubens we got the modern I have nothing against modern art but some of it is s***e, it was a little disappointing as we knew what the museum had stored in its warehouses ready to put on display.

The 3rd trip and finally we got to see the old masters as well as the modern twaddle, a great visit, marred only by the café experience. We strode in and up to the coffee machine, about to hit the button marked 'cappucino' only to find waiting staff converging on us like cops to a crime scene, no longer self service now the museum was fully opened, we were told to go and sit and be waited upon - so we did, and we waited and waited (clearly being punished for our cheekiness) we finally had to catch the eye of the waitress in order to get served!

My 4th trip was just this morning, there's a great photographic exhibition on called 'A Star is Born' the display is wonderful (although it would have been more enjoyable with the accompanying sound guide that Rebecca got last week when she went, but apparently this week they're kapputt) although there was a bit too much wrinkly Iggy Pop on view for my liking, some fab Bowie, Jagger & Presley stuff though. After the exhibition we strolled along to the café, smug in the knowledge that it's not self service and looking forward to coffee and cake. However it was not to be, at least not where we thought it should be, what was the café is now just the upper end restaurant and we were directed to the back of the museum, we had to ask directions 2 or 3 times until we finally found the right place for coffee (it was self service as well, and just to add insult to injury there was no appetising looking cake) To make matters even more humiliating we then struggled to find our way out, it's a lovely new building, beautiful big windows letting as much natural light flood in as possible but there are no signs anywhere, in any language.

Next time I shall take a ball of wool with me or a bag of bread crumbs...

Sunday, September 26, 2010


German tv is not up to the standard that I'm used to.

I grew up in England and despite being hampered by having a father who worked for the BBC and who therefore 'preferred' me and my brother to watch only BBC1 or BBC2 (somehow we managed to sneakily watch the Tomorrow People but sadly missed out on the Six Million Dollar Man and Charlie's Angels) I'm used to quality drama - you only have to watch this summer's hit 'Sherlock Holmes' to recognise the fact that the Beeb is still number one when it comes quality tv shows with clever script writing, stunning cinematography and excellent casting.

Meanwhile German tv is stuck firmly in the 70's with evening long variety shows taking up prime time weekend evening slots, the ubiquitous reality shows and of course overdubbed US dramas like Grey's Anatomy and House.

Consequenntly I don't watch German tv, apart from Heidi's 'Germany's Next Top Model' (gotta wait till next spring for the new series though) and Germany's version of 'Celebrity Come Dine with Me' which is retitled 'Promi Dinners' here. I'm sure you know the format, in the UK the show is 1 hour long, which is the ideal length, here they've managed to stretch it to almost 2 and a half hours (90 minutes too long easily) I only watch it because I'm told by my teacher that I should be listening to more German than I do and this show is marginally entertaining, the Z-listers last week included a 7foot tall drag queen, an ex lead (for 5 years) of Mama Mia (I lost count of how many times she mentioned the show) a married pair of actors (he was either 20 years her senior, or she'd had work done) and the lead singer of a German rock band who had tame squirrels on his balcony. I watched it to the bitter end - as they tried to out do each other with their culinary (or not) expertise (3 of them had outside help, which I'm sure isn't really allowed) bitched about each others wardrobes and schnik schnak and generally delved into each others lives as the host sweated over the gulasch in the kitchen. Like I said, I watched the whole 150 minutes of it and can I remember who won? Not a hope!

What I should be watching instead I think is Saturday night's Supertalent, see what you think of it... personally I think it merely confirms my assertion that German tv is b******s...mind you I was impressed by the judge who put the guy through to the next round because he thought that it was what the viewers at home would want, I can see all those art classes springing up (snigger) now "paint with your penis" and "arse art". It was also amusing towards the end when the artist was asked how he cleaned his "brush", by drinking and peeing of course, silly question, like an Aussie needs an excuse to empty a few tinnies.
On second thoughts I don't think I want to add Germany's Supertalent show to my life, it seems to me to be rather like the old style freak shows that used to be part of the circus, take the woman with the rather large and aggressive boobs for example, she's really scarey, and then there's the self styled 'Mr Waterman', who drinks litres and litres of water just to spray them back up again.

Give me British telly anyday, even repeats have got to be better than this!

Sunday Snaps 31

Last week I threatened you with Christmas, but first we have to get through Autumn and that means Kurbisfest:

Closer to Hallowe'en I will be buying pumpkins to carve and display outside the house, but the locals will have their 'seasonal' displays by their front doors as soon as the novelty squash become available to buy, weird shapes and colours abound but very few will carve the big pumpkins - just another way for me to remind them that there are foreigners living here amongst them, slowly but surely infiltrating their society...

Friday, September 24, 2010

3 Little Things #1

Here are 3 little things that each on their own make me go 'hmmmmm', none of them individually big enough to warrant their own post, but together these 3 little 'amuse bouche' combine to make a main course, in my opinion anyway...

  1. At the bakers when you ask for a loaf (one of the maybe 20 varieties on their groaning shelves) they generally ask "geschnitten oder am Stuck?" (= sliced or not) I always opt for not, so that I can hack the loaf apart as and when I wish (although most German bread is best eaten on the day it's bought, doesn't last well due to the lack of preservatives in it (a good thing) and also really doesn't need to last longer than 1 day, or even 1 mealtime, as the bakeries are ALWAYS open, even on Sundays and bank holidays (except for maybe 2) It amuses me however, that there are some loaves that the bakers refuse to slice (I don't know why, haven't listened in to the conversation that follows the 'no, we can't slice that one' comment, maybe the mechanical slicer doesn't get on very well with that particular bread, I don't know, I'm sure there's a reason, but it does at the same time make me smile (internally, otherwise they'll think I'm a loon, grinning to myself at apparently nothing) because if that loaf isn't good for slicing then why do they make it so big, as surely you have to hold it like a bun or a roll and gnaw off chunks?
  2. Birthdays CANNOT be celebrated before the day. It's bad luck. In England I'd give a friend their card &/or present before the day if that was the closest day to their birthday that I'd be seeing them and expect the same behaviour in return. But here you shouldn't even wish someone 'happy birthday' before the event (i.e on the Friday before, saying 'happy birthday for Monday') I'm not sure why it's thought to be bad luck, maybe in case you die before the day - but then surely it'd be good that you had had the chance to celebrate beforehand? Rather than miss out altogether due to your demise? Back 9 years ago, when Jas was born we had Ben's whole birthday about a month before the event just because we didn't want his actual day overshadowed by the birth of his sibling (their birthdays are 3 days apart), everyone quite accepted it (obviously at the age of 4, Ben didn't have a clue that we moved his birthday) but that was in England, I can't imagine getting away with that here.
  3. 2 weeks ago I had to spend an interminable 2+ hours at school when the parents of the class got together with the teacher to discuss this term's work and blah blah blah. Dull, doesn't even start to describe how grim an evening it always is. One of the more irritating wastes of time was a discussion between 3 mothers about what to do, cake-wise (I'm not joking) one particular, imminent week, because their children all had birthdays on subsequent days and surely 3 days of cake was too many (is it possible to have too much cake? I think I'm turning into Marie Antionette) I think they spent 10 minutes debating which day they should join together to provide a breakfast buffet and so on. Fine (I guess). Imagine my surprise this week when Jas came home to report cake on 2 consecutive days and was fully expecting cake on day 3.
I don't think I'll ever understand the Germans.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Is it me or is it them?

I think I'm losing the plot, slowly but surely my sanity is slipping through my fingers...

The day didn't have an auspicious start, I was glad to hear the sound of my alarm clock, at 6.25am I was glad to be woken up from the dream I was having.
Actually it was more of a nightmare to me, but to a normal person probably not so.
I'm not sure where I was, Germany or England, remembering back the place doesn't look familiar, I was being dropped off by Simon to catch a bus to Lichfield (near where we used to live in England) but the bus I was looking for was a 142, which runs between where I live now and somewhere else in Essen - I'm vague about the details of the bus route because, as my friends here know (and laugh about) I don't do public transport, look, if Maria Carey can get away with saying she 'doesn't do stairs' then I can surely, in this modern world get away with saying 'I don't do public transport'? Why should I for heaven's sake when I have a car?

The last time I used public transport without adult supervision (you see I can do it if, and only if, there's another grown up there to offer support, you'll see why) I took my friend Al, who was visiting for the weekend, into Düsseldorf for the day, we got there fine, even managed to use the underground system there (such as it is) but then we tried to get home...wrong train/wrong platform/wrong time I don't know which - maybe all 3, anyway I started to feel a bit twitchy when I didn't recognise the stations we were stopping at, we ended up having to get off and travel back the way we'd come in order to find the right train, and so I vowed never again.
Which is why this morning's dream was more of a nightmare to me, goodness only knows where I'd have ended up if I'd found a 142 going to Lichfield...

So that was the start to my day, then I went shopping, had to get some boring ties for Simon (yawn) jeans for Jas, eyeliner for me - more exciting, except that the lady in the shop decided to pass comment on the state of my skin, how I need to to use an eye cream (I do) because the skin under my eyes is dry (I know it is, that's why I use an eye cream, silly woman) but that's not what's driven me over the edge today, and the old bint who tried to queue jump in P&C didn't make me question my sanity either, oh no, it gets worse - they're all staring at me!

Now I'm sure I've said before about the Germans staring, it's an Olympic sport here, they train from a really young age and I'm used to it, or I thought I was, but today I must have put the sign on that says 'stare at me really hard please', either that or I've grown another ear.

It was so bad that when the children both appeared from school I asked their opinion about my appearance - actually I only asked Jas, there's no point whatsoever in me wasting my breath asking a 13 year old boy if I look 'normal', I'm quite sure that if asked to describe me, or pick me out from a police line up Ben would fail to do so, eye contact and teenage boys are not close bedmates.
But no, there was nothing wrong with my appearance, jeans, shirt, waistcoat (they're bang on trend don't you know) and the de rigour (here in DE) scarf (no coat or jacket required since the weather forecast was for 20 degrees) nothing that screamed 'foreigner' or 'loony' apart from the flashing sign I was obviously wearing on the top of my head. I'd probably have just written off the whole starey thing as me being a little too sensitive were it not for what then happened in one of the smaller shops;
I was nearing the end of my morning and had a selection of bags from different stores with me, and was browsing casually through a ladies wear shop when a woman appeared from the back of the store and I'm sure spoke to me in English (curious eh?) and asked me to help her, I followed her mutely to the back, whilst doing a mental check of how I looked - surely she hadn't mistaken me for a sales assistant? Not possible with the bags I had, or was it? We reached her destination and she thrust a black strapless dress at me and asked if it was my size - mad, quite, quite mad. I told her it wasn't, but of course she wouldn't believe me until we'd held it up against my torso and it was clear that the dress was at least 2 sizes too small. I made my escape as quickly as I could after that, feeling truly freaked out.

But I'm left wondering, was it my behaviour that caused the locals to react to me in the way that they did, was I the one acting all weird, inciting them, have I lost the plot? Or was yesterday the local asylum's day trip to the centre of Essen? Either way, I think I need to lie low for a while, until I've stopped giving out freaky vibes &/or all the nutters have been rounded up.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book Reviews #6

People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks

This was suggested as our bookgroup read for this month and became the default book at the end of the evening after we'd all drunk too much red wine to be able to come up with any other suggestions, not an auspicious start.
Then before I'd even started it a friend commented that he'd read the back of it and didn't like the sound of it.
But I'd bought the digital edition for my eReader and there is no back blurb to read and be off put by.

I loved this book, absolutely loved it, despite it doing something that I find irritating in novels - stopping with one person's tale and starting with a new one, so that you have to learn new characters, again and again. However, it was an essential tool in this book as there were many people involved with the book of the title and therefore many stories to be told.

The book in question is the Sarajevo haggadah, which does actually exist, funnily enough in Sarajevo and if you want to know more about it click here.
Geraldine Brooks takes the haggadah almost as the central character and then explores how it came to be via the other main character 'Hanna' who is a extremely well thought of (in her circles) book restorer/historian. She is tasked with restoring the haggadah which has undergone many decades if not centuries of abuse so that it may be displayed to the public. Hanna views the book as a living organism and is keen to suggest theories for the way in which the book has evolved - there are various stains on its pages, it has at some point been rebound and there were once clasps on the book which are no longer in situ.

The possible explanations for each of the scars that the haggadah wears are almost separate stories each with its own characters, all revolving around the haggadah.
We are taken back through the Bosnian conflict when the book had to be hidden in a safe place in case the museum where it was stored was bombed, then onto World War II where again the book had to be hidden to protect it this time from the Nazi desire to destroy anything to do with Judaism.
We go to Vienna around the time of Freud where syphilis seems to be rampant (or at least it is in this chapter) where the book is rebound, from Venice we go back to the Venice ghetto of 1609 where the book narrowly escapes burning when the Catholic Church clamps down on what should and shouldn't be allowed to be in print.
Further back still we go Andalucia around 1492 when Isabella and Ferdinand kick out the Jews and the Muslims from their country and so the book goes too, this was actually its starting place, its inception point but the haggadah is not just script but illuminations too and the illuminations had already travelled when they were forced to flee from Spain. The painter of the beautiful illuminations in this story started life the beloved daughter of a doctor in Africa before being enslaved and sold to a harem from where she fled and fled again, somehow ending up in Andalucia just before the Alhambra Decree.

I came to enjoy the smaller stories that make up the whole, but found it frustrating to never entirely know what happened to the people around the central character of the haggadah, so it was a relief to find one of the last few chapters devoted to Lola from the World War II segment at the beginning, but this time in the present day.

If a book can teach me as well as keep me entertained then for someone as historically and geographically depraved as I am it's a huge bonus, I had never before realised that Jews have been so systematically persecuted, this book constantly shocked me and in writing this review I've learnt still more - whether I manage to retain any of it remains to be seen.

This is a brilliant novel, moving and educating and yet all the time enjoyable - read it, you won't be disappointed. The problem I have now is to decide which of her books to read next - March: A Love Story in Time of War or Year of Wonders or Foreign Correspondence...

Monday, September 20, 2010

How PC are you?

I spent the first 40+ years of my life in Great Britain and due to its ever growing multi cultural society (that same society that led naughty Cardinal Walter Kasper last week to comment on racial diversity in Britain, saying "when you land at Heathrow airport, you sometimes think you might have landed in a Third World country") consider myself to be reasonably PC*. I try not to offend people, honestly I do try, I hate conflict and I hate to embarass people so being PC works for me.

Saturday evening we went out for dinner with friends and our associated children and decided to get ice cream on the way homewards. Now here in Germany that doesn't mean grabbing a magnum from the nearest newsagent, oh no, this means sitting at an eiscafé, getting them to turn on the ozone eating patio heater and perusing the pages and pages of the menu before making your selection (2 Baileys macchiatos, 2 waffles with vanilla ice cream, 2 strawberry milkshakes, 1 kinder eis in the shape of a turkey (I think that's what it was...Thomas was swayed by the volume of ice cream and the extras it came with) and 2 bowls of specific flavours of ice cream, there's a choice of I don't know how many, here's part of the menu:

Can you see the name of the flavour at the bottom of the middle column? Just under the Snickers flavour.

Obama, which it turns out is chocolate and coffee flavoured ice cream.

To name a flavour of ice cream after the American president is one thing, but the chocolate and coffee flavoured one?
I'm told I shouldn't be surprised, afterall it wasn't so long ago that a certain chocolatey, marshmallowy confection here had to be renamed from Niggerballen to Dickmans...

Ho hum, it's gonna be a long, long road to political correctness here!

*PC = politically correct

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Snaps 30

Christmas is coming
The goose is getting fat...

the Lebkuchen, Domino Star, Zimsterne and Stollen are waiting in a supermarket near you (well they are if you live in Germany)

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Clash of the moms

How much is too much?
Judgement of quantity can be quite subjective don't you think?
Sugar in tea for example, salt on chips, number of cookies with a cuppa, scoops of icecream for pudding, volume of music and so. What can be perfect for one person/family can be too much or too little for another, it's even documented in fairy tales for goodness sake - remember Goldilocks & the 3 bears?

The problem of how much is too much takes another dimension when there is more than 1 nationality involved though. The English may be backward when it comes to learning languages but if you're talking about the integration and assimilation of technology into day to day life I* think the Brits are streets if not decades ahead of the Germans.

For example - most primary schools in the UK have now equipped every classroom with interactive whiteboards and beamers as well as a couple of PC's. No more chalk dust but also the threat of board rubber throwing has been removed (if it hadn't been made completely unPC many years before along with its siblings the cane and the slipper) Here in Germany there isn't a single interactive board to be seen, and computers in the classroom? Please! Admittedly the black boards are green and not black but chalk is still the writing tool of choice.

Another example - payment in shops, cash is still very much the king around here, visitors are always surprised to get their visa card rejected and quite embarassed to have to borrow cash from their host - while in the UK I hear you can even use your debit/credit card to pay for things less than £10 without even a signature or a PIN, just a swipe is all it, I have yet to find a supermarket here that's heard of the term 'cashback'. Although electronic banking/personal transferrals are popular here instead of paper cheques which is a step in the right direction - shame they can't team it with free banking which not even children seem to get 1 son is not amused.

And just don't get me started on mobile drives me crazy when I see the contract deals available in the UK that are with the same huge (German owned) parent company but I have to pay 3 times the amount for less than half the equivalent deal...seeth.

So back to the my subject;
Friend S has a son K who was playing at another friends house with a 3rd child, the parents were all busy, men talking work (yawn) women talking. At leaving time it became apparent that for the 2 or so hours that the children had been in the playroom they'd been playing electronic games. The German mother was outraged, shocked that she hadn't been asked permission for her poor innocent child to be so corrupted and is now blaming the events of Sunday afternoon on her child walloping its sibling the day after, because it's never done that before.

Friend S has another German friend who recently discovered that when her son and K are on the computer at S&K's there is a possibility that they have greater access to the internet than she allows. She now wants to get together to check websites and discuss what the boys are allowed to do and for how long. S isnot an uncaring mother by any stretch of the imagination and has a netnanny thingummy on the computer and doesn't allow the boys to spend all their time staring at the screen, but neither does she stand over them constantly, she also realises that the best way to make sure a child does something is to ban it completely.
The irony of it is that I can quite see both of these German children in a couple of years time being allowed to run around the woods with soft air guns shooting plastic bullets at each other, afterall, one of these 7/8 year olds is already the owner of not one but two penknives.

As I started by saying, quantity of anything is a personal issue but 'too much of anything can make you sink' as Cheryl says.

* I, these are my personal views and they may appear to be a little biased at times, maybe even one sided, sorry but it's my blog.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


No, it's not a typo, I do mean fest and not pest...

Maybe it's because we live in a quaint little town on the Ruhr that still has an altstadt with half timbered buildings that the RAF missed on their bombing raids or maybe it happens in the larger towns and cities as well (- although I find that hard to believe) but during the warmer months certainly there must be a 'fest' of some kind in Kettwig every month.

A fest seems to me to be basically an excuse for expanding the beer access out onto the streets, although they do dress it up a bit more than that.

Last weekend we had the 'Brunnenfest', brunnen is German for fountain or spring...quite why in the middle of September we have to celebrate the area's abundance of natural springs &/or fountains I have no idea, but the basic premise for most of the fests is that on the Thursday/Friday the centre of town gets taken over with many many flat pack tables (I think every household in Germany (bar ours) has at least one such table with accompanying benches, that get hauled out everytime they're grilling - so that's at least once a week during clement weather)) and stehtisch (tall bar tables that you can stand at and rest your beer on) and of course bars, and side stalls to keep the children entertained while you drink all day and bratwurst/schnitzel/pommes/pancake stalls so that you have access to something to soak up all the alcohol you drink (and to feed the children to save you having to go home any earlier than necessary) The Brunnenfest is also accompanied by 3/4 stages which all have live music playing throughout the day and evening over the weekend (saves you having to make small talk whilst drinking eh?!)

Before the the descent into the depths of winter we'll have the Ruddernfest (or whatever it is it get called) when the Ruhr itself is the main feature of the weekend with the rowing club hosting a 2 day long regatta and the Lions Club have a duck race, of course there's beer & pretzels & schnitzel as well, you can't have a fest without the main ingredients.

After that there will be a small Weihnachtsmarkt, where mulled wine is the tipple of choice and the emphasis is on shopping rather than drinking, altough somehow most people manage to combine the both.

And I'm sure there's a 'Kurbisfest' squeezed into the calendar around what I usually call 'hallowe'en' when the town centre is bedecked with fake cobwebs and everyone drinks beer.

This year's Fest season started off in March with the Frühlingfest (spring fair) which described itself as a 'Life-Style-Fest with 3 stages' - so that'll be beer and music and maybe a fashion show then.
The Stauseefest in May came next, a bit like the Ruddernfest in October but just earlier in the year...
Then we had the Seefest in June like the Stausee & Ruddernfests - along the banks of the Ruhr, beer, food, stages for music.
In July we had the Kettwig Meile, now don't be lulled into thinking this isn't a fest, just because there's no fest in the name doesn't mean there's no beer tents or day long drinking and entertainment - oh no, this is the culinary fest of the year where lots of the local restaurants have mini restaurants out in the open air (hence it being in the summer, in the faint hope of decent weather - this year we baked on the hottest days of the year) tempting people with miniature versions of their signature dishes. Of course there are lots and lots of tables, bars and stages for entertainment too, wouldn't be a fest otherwise.

And that kind of wraps up the year fest-wise. This year we seem to have more than usual, or maybe I just didn't notice them as much in previous years? I've been trying to count them up and I think that by the time we get to the end of 2010 we'll have had 8 fests in Kettwig, it's a lot for a small town don't you think? Or maybe it's that many because it's a small town? All I have as a reference point is Abbots Bromley where we lived in England and there we had a yearly madness when the village got taken over by the 'Horn Dance' on the 1st Monday of September, and that was literally 1 day in the year, not a whole weekend repeated under different guises throughout the year.

Personally I think the Germans here just love to have an excuse to party and there's nothing wrong with that!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Reviews #5

Practical Demonkeeping - Christopher Moore

A book 'forced upon' me by the husband of a friend, he's an avid reader but poo poo's most of the books we read in bookgroup (fair enough - everyone's entitled to their own opinions and judgements) He knows I'm a fan of Terry Pratchett (I've read every discworld novel and I think all of his other stuff too, and yes, even the books that are meant for kids) and so suggested I should try one of his favourite authors, who Sam reckons is better than Pratchett*.

I can quite understand this author's appeal to Sam, short chapters, less than 300 pages per novel and there's sex (although not graphic - this is no Jilly Cooper or Jackie Collins) and constant far, so good.

The book is set in the U.S, somewhere called Pine Cove which is supposedly on the coast somewhere, although for the life of me I can't remember where (or even if that geographical fact was mentioned) nothing much seems to happen in Pine Cove until a demon called Catch turns up with Travis his demonkeeper in tow, being persued by a Djin (a genie) who was tasked back in the time of Solomon (so a long, loooooooong time ago) with returning Catch to Jerusalem for his punishment.

It's an entertaining read, funny of course, but surprising too, there is much detail about most of the characters you meet and yet you can never be sure who will survive their meeting with the demon - he has to eat at least every couple of days (and we're not talking caesar salad with a side of tuna here) and since Travis became his keeper he's been on a short leash of pimps and other dubious people, but in Pine Cove Travis loses control of Catch, oops.
On Amazon many, many of the reviews call the book 'zany', but I wont, it's amusing yes and certainly bizarre, but zany? You try it, see what you think.

All in all not bad, if I stumbled across another book by this author, if I was staying somewhere and lying on a bookshelf was a Christopher Moore book I hadn't read and I needed something to read then I would more than likely pick it up (unless there was something else also on offer - like a Pratchett or a McCaffrey** that I'd never read) but I wouldn't go out of my way to buy one, borrow maybe, but buy? Maybe I need to read the other book by him that Sam's lent me (clearly very eager to convert me), maybe I'll be swayed...we'll see.

* shock, horror, gasp - is that even thinkable, let alone remotely possible?
** Anne McCaffrey, dragon/Pern series, love them to bits, and I know that I have read every single last one of them - many times

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Snaps 29

This weekend is the Brunnenfest* here in Kettwig.
Friday evening we (the Evans family) normally have 'film Friday' - watch a film together whilst eating pizza and eating other junk food (or 'nibbles' as the children call them) this Friday one of the bands from Lulu's was playing at the 'fest and I insisted we go and show our support. So here are some pics from Friday evening;

* more about that and what a festville Kettwig is on Monday

Friday, September 10, 2010

three days

and three 'things', for want of a better word.

Tuesday - I had to get my Toyota serviced, I knew it needed doing because they rang me while I was in England, so when I got back last week I called them to book it in. They couldn't find it on their system - rather odd seeing as 1. this the garage that sold the car to us & 2. they rang me to tell me that it needed servicing. Anyway eventually the man got my car into their system and told me it would need to be Tüv'd* as well being serviced. Fine.
Except that on the day they didn't Tüv my car...after saying that they could squeeze it in and consulting the man who was going to be doing it I was told my car would be ready to collect at 12.45, they not only didn't do it, but they didn't tell me that they hadn't done it. It was only because I felt unsure about the whole thing, being used to the MOT system back in the UK where you get a certificate, so I asked friends what you get with a Tüv here - the sticker on the reg plate apparently reflects when you next need Tüv-ing and mine, when I checked, clearly shows the 10 from 2010 and not the 12 from 2012. I rang the garage to confirm this lack and also to vent - but there's only so much venting you can do when you don't know the German for 'but why didn't you tell me my car was still illegal you moron?' so I hung up instead and cussed loudly.

Wednesday - is my Step day, and we were informed by the lovely Petra that on September 26th there's going to be an open day at the 'alte bahnhof' (where we do step & pilates) and she wants to have a step class running during the day, so now we have to practice until we can do one of her challenging, twizzly routines perfectly, without falling off our steps, bumping into each other or just grinding to a halt because we've forgotten that we should be mambo-ing and not salsa-ing. It's a step class, I know, but Petra has a lot of dance training under her belt and I guess once a hoofer, always a hoofer, it's always good at the start of term when we get some fresh meat who're worse than the rest of us at the routines - for a couple of weeks anyway!
As if that weren't exercise enough for the day I then went to a yoga class in the evening, which was so good, although next week I shall make sure to eat only a snack for my tea, I'd eaten 2 hours before the class but that was clearly not a long enough interval to prevent my cottage pie threatening to reappear with every downward dog we did (and last night we seemed to have our arses in the air a lot).

Thursday - expats at Lulu's otherwise known as the martini meetup. We arrived to find 4 expats already in situ, including a visiting US author who was touring old haunts from when he was last here at the age of 17, and our numbers were later swelled by 4 more - so a good haul in all. Due to the size of the group the conversation was divided and seemed to split between the sexes - I was in the fortunate position of being piggy in the middle which meant that I not only got to discuss the weird encounter with a Frauenartzt** that is the German yearly health check (it involves a chair with stirrups and pretty much no seat) and an internal scan that you watch on the monitor next to your head while the doc comments on the health of your ovaries/womb but I also got to talk cars & bikes and the smell of the pit lane with a fellow speed fiend who has also made the trip to the Nurburgring (but whilst I was merely watching Si go round in the BMW Ringtaxi, Martin actually rode his bike (motorbike) round).
The most surprising discovery for me at Lulu's was that H thinks he wont live till he's 75 (he's just turned 50) I was astounded that he couldn't see past that and it's almost as if he's counting down the days and it's not as if he's sick or unhealthy, he just seems to have decided to draw a line on his life in 25 years time, maudlin or what?
Last night was a 3 martini evening, so this morning has been a slow one, please accept my appologies for any errors!

* Tüv is the same as MOT in the UK - where a car after it's 3rd birthday has to have a health check
** doc who deals with all things feminine

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

WW 2 opposed to WW II, this is part 2 of wedding week, the grand finale - Saturday, the big day itself. I'd have blogged it before but I had other things to say and I didn't want to overdo the whole wedding thing.

I (and would expect Jacky (the bride) too) had been looking forward to this day with evergrowing excitement since she first mentioned the date to me in the spring. Simon just couldn't understand it, at all. And I don't think Kev (the groom) quite got it either...he'd managed to leave all (and I do mean all) the organising and planning to Jack, so not only did she decide what she was going to wear (a gloriously simple and elegant off white number) but as she was deciding the colour scheme she also chose what the men would wear and ordered it all and then made sure it all fitted. All Kev had to do (apart from turning up on the day) was agree with Jacky's choices and sort out the evening's entertainment - the booking of an Elvis impersonator Elvince, by day a mild mannered barber called Vince, by night a leather clad gyrating dervish, Kev was also supposed to get the best man a gift, but that went by the by (but I guess that's nothing new for the younger brother).

The wedding was at 1.30 and I spent the morning with the bride, trying to keep things as relaxed as possible, a feat required due to the ages of the bridesmaids (4, 5 & 9) who had to be kept calm and clean before meeting their public, my mission became a whole lot easier when all had had a big enough snack that they wouldn't decide to interrupt proceedings with a hungry wail, they had all had their hair done and we'd opened the prosecco. The photographer got them all successfully wound up again when it came time to get them dressed, I lost count of the number of times he had them bouncing up and down the stairs.

At Tyttenhanger Hall itself the groom was outwardly calm, although I do believe this was partly due to an excess of alcohol the previous night - but this could just be malicious gossip being spread by the best man!

Finally we were all in our places waiting on Jacky's arrival, the wedding itself was a civil ceremony and this was the first one I've ever been to, I was surprised to find out that any music that was played during the service could have no religious connections whatsoever, and instead of any hymns or vicar waffle we had 3 readings about lurrrrrvvvve. It was at this point that I started to feel nervous, not because I had any fears that Jacky wouldn't turn but because I was the 2nd reading, it's been years since I've had to speak in public and I was 2nd up. First to go was Anna, the professional (barrister and judge by trade, Kev's little sis) then there would be yours truly, the only reading out loud I do (apart from muttering to myself as I go round the supermarket) is either bad German in my lessons or evening Malory Towers sessions to Jas, and bringing up the rear was Beth, the 9 year old daughter of the bride and groom...

However, I survived, I didn't rush through at break neck speed, didn't stammer or stutter or miss out a verse of 'On your wedding day' and nor did I suffer a wardrobe malfunction à la Judy Finnigan, not that surprising given the amount of tit tape between my flesh and the dress, I even managed to make eye contact with the audience (hmmm, are they an audience at a civil wedding? They're not a congregation, guests maybe...) And that was that, finally they were married, the bridesmaids had behaved as though on Valium, no-one had stood up and announced a shocking reason that meant the wedding couldn't go ahead and after a 10 year wait the deed was done.

Then it was onto the rest of the usual wedding schedule, there were drinks outside (champers or Pimms, what a dilemma) or the bouncy castle (a definite no, no, given the narrow skirt on my dress) photos to be taken and canapés to be eaten - and there was always the possibility of a game of boules or swingball or even badminton - I stuck with the wine.

After dinner came the speeches, all very good, although I did have to miss part of the best man's as I was needed to escort the youngest bridesmaid to the toilet, joy. Until finally the 2nd highlight of the day - Elvis had entered the building, so reported the 20 or so children, who were so giddy with excitement you could almost believe they actually knew who Elvis was.

Elvince started off the evening in black leathers until he declared himself to be too hot and sweaty and required an urgent costume change, he reappeared very quickly in his Las Vegas white spangled persona and continued pretty much where he'd left off, singing his hits and swinging his hips (I know with Elvis it's generally his pelvis that's mentioned but I couldn't resist the 'hits' and 'hips', sorry) I thoroughly embarrassed Jasmine, as we'd both anticipated, she hates it if I even dance in the privacy of my own kitchen where no-one but her can see me, but to do it in public...she's had her revenge already and written in her 'what I did in the summer holidays' story all about my outrageous behaviour (drinking alcohol and dancing in public, the local authorities will be after me for sure once this gets out, having fun Frau Evans, es ist verboten).

A couple of thoughts from the day;
- there were 5 or 6 old Uni friends of Kev's there, I'd known them at the time (back at the dawn of time but hadn't been part of their group) isn't it weird how in 20 years some people age and change and others don't (and this is a group of blokes so there wont have been any tampering with nature going on) I mean they were all still recognisable as themselves but some still looked the way they should and others were mere caricatures.
- Jack and I both have short hair, are almost the same height and both have the same kind of figure/build is this why people kept asking if we were sisters? Bizarre.
- Kev's finally having to wear a wedding ring, which is inscribed (on the inside of course) with 'only fools rush in'.
- for the first time in ages I managed to maintain a steady level of inebriation, not falling down drunk and never in danger of slurring my words or babbling, just very, very happy & no hangover either - result!

It was a great day, happy memories!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Book Reviews #4

Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen.
This book was suggested as a possible bookgroup read ages and ages ago and no-one felt inspired to read it, I guess the summary of it just didn't appeal enough to us, or something was more interesting. I decided to read it because they've just finished filming it and if I'm likely to eventually see the film (which is highly probable seeing as one of the stars is a really cute actor) I'd rather have read the book first - which do you prefer? To have seen the film before reading the book or vice versa? I confess that it can be off putting to watch a film and find they've missed great chunks of the book out or, heaven forbid, changed the ending, but I'm far more likely to read the book before a film than afterwards...

This novel has 2 stories running, one is being told by the 93 year old Jacob and almost had me in tears many times as he despairs at the frailty of his body and his reduced circumstances as his humanity fails, he's stuck in a 'nursing' home and reminiscing about his life in the circus because a big top has appeared within sight of the front door of the facility. The portrayal of a crotchety old man who is aware of how little life he might have left and frustrated by the little enjoyment he is allowed to have by the staff is spot on.

The 2nd story is that of Jacob's reminiscing, back in his youth he ran away to the circus, by accident more than purpose, but at the age of 23 he found himself, an almost qualified vet, orphaned and penniless and on a train with a travelling circus for whom a vet was quite useful (seeing as they had lions, panthers, monkeys, giraffes, horses and eventually an elephant along as part of the show).

The book is set in America during the 1930's, complete with the Depression and Prohibition, so there is the struggle for money and the black market booze going on in the background of the story.
There are some great 3 dimensional characters here, from the human - the unpleasant 'Uncle Al' who owns the circus, the evil but charismatic August, the head animal trainer, Camel the alcoholic, Walter the clown and the gorgeous Marlene, to the animal - Rosie the lemonade stealing, Polish understanding (I'd say 'speaking' but she doesn't speak, she just understands the commands) cabbage eating elephant, Bobo the chimpanzee and Queenie the terrier.

A great story, into which a huge amount of research has been poured which leaves you with a thorough understanding of life on the railroad circus* in the 1930's and no desire to have actually participated in that lifestyle whatsoever. I loved the main character of Jacob and found the ending perfect.

I think I'd read another Sara Gruen novel after enjoying this one.

* the circus travelled from city to city by train, often staying in one spot for 1 day before packing everything up and moving on through the night, ready to set up and perform in another city the following day.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday Snaps 28

Jas had the pin removed from her arm last week and here it is.
Modern surgery is so amazing, they put that piece of metal down through the 2 broken pieces of bone via a 1.5cm cut in her arm. 1 tiny cut, wow.
The arm is now fine, the plaster's only on because Jas doesn't like looking at the teeny weeny marks on her skin from the 2 stitches!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

1st Friday of the month

so it must be bookgroup...

The number of people who turn up to BG varies every month, just because people have other lives and other commitments, one month there were just 2 of us and then there are nights like yesterday when we have to keep adding tables and gradually the over riding noise in the Black Cat is that of English (I'd say English voices but that would be wrong since we are a pretty diverse group of English speakers - Shanghai, India, Florida, Australia, Wales, Canada, Portugal...and all speaking English better than the Liverpudlian and the Brummie) at least last night we managed not to break into song (has happened twice so far, Bohemian Rhapsody & an Abba medley) but that was probably down to the absence of Jenny and (big) Rebecca (she's 9foot tall I'm sure) who are neither shy nor retiring.

By the end of the evening we were 15 and had scared away 1 table of quiet Germans, not that the proprietor would complain, we are a regular (does once a month count as regular?) booking (when we remember to book that is) and we don't just sit there drinking water, in a four hour period a number of bottles can be emptied - especially if (big) Rebecca and Kamesh are there (both were AWOL last night, although Kamesh wasn't expected as he's just hit Ibiza on the last leg of his 'Kamesh does Europe Tour') Unfortunately the largeness of the group and the weird shape of the table meant that it was impossible to have a proper discussion about the book (because that's what always happens at BG right? We spend at least...5 minutes talking earnestly about the book*) unlike the Dusseldorf BG apparently (which Michelle also goes to, or should I say used to go to) who have starting laying down rules about presenting the book you want to suggest and preparing questions...snigger, a bit too earnest, they probably all drink just water too!

So if we didn't talk about the book (although it turned out that about half of us had actually read the book - the Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton) what did we talk about?

- the 'joys' of the circus, especially one where 100 children between the ages of 3 & 6 are the acts and the show is over 3 hours long - Rebecca was literally gagging for a drink by the time she got to the bar
- what Ian plans to do next, if he manages to get early retirement from RWE
- Sam's favourite book - something about the devil visiting's really satirical apparently
- the fantastic BBC Sherlock, which was on in August and was truly AMAZING
- where a group of girls can go for a boogie without looking like they're trying to pull and without having to suffer techno/rave music
- the possibilities of going to Glastonbury next year
- watching live music, Michelle saw Keane and Franz Ferdinand in a small French club a couple of years ago and we're off to see Scissor Sisters in Köln in November and Arcade Fire too and maybe Sheryl Crow & maybe the Gossip

It was a good night, we even managed to agree on a book for next month, mainly because Leah was the only one who'd brought a book suggestion along and no-one else had any other ideas, and by the time I got home at just before pumkin time** my voice had almost disappeared (the effects of wine or my cold or both)

* complete fabrication, 5 minutes maybe. Earnestly? No. Heatedly, possibly - I'm often ranting how rubbish the book was and how I didn't finish it.
** midnight obviously, if you know your fairy tales

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Germans aren't like you & me...or?*

If you're a regular here you will have become accustomed by now to my rants about life in Germany. Now this isn't a rant per se, just a few observations that I thought I should share with you;

- Rebecca's youngest, T, goes to kindergarten which generally runs throughout the school 6 week break, apart from 2 weeks (I think, I'm not completely sure on this as I've never had kids at kindi here but it does definitely run during most of the school break) her elder 2 are now at primary school here and so kindi was informed that T wouldn't be there during the summer hols but would start back on Monday when the schools did.
But on Monday (when the schools started back) Rebecca was informed by kindi that they were all going to the circus (which has been in town all summer) that afternoon but they hadn't gotten T a ticket as they didn't know if he'd be back.
Kindi then told Rebecca that he could stay for his lunch though, as his lunch had been ordered for him...
Is it just me, or does that not quite add up?

- Ben (no. 1 son) goes to the bilingual high school here in Kettwig, he's in his 3rd year there now and about to start doing Geography in English (that's geography being taught in the English language and not Ben doing his geography work during an English lesson) Anyway, Ben was flicking through the school website yesterday and found the photos of his class, one girl is obscured by a very badly photoshopped potted palm. It turns out that her parents refuse to let any photos of her appear on the internet, no idea why (like a boy would think to ask) maybe they're on the run, maybe they've been given new id's by the state, maybe they're Russian spies in deep cover...I wanted to post the link to the photo but Si said NO...however there's only one bilingual gymnasium in Kettwig so if you're really curious you can find it!
We're now priming Ben to wind the girl up about the trip to England that happens in year 8 or 9 (could even be 10, I don't know) - all those CCTV cameras, there must be one on every street corner.

And finally;
- P, a friend of Ben's has been desperate for his rabbit to croak (maybe that's a slight exaggeration but he's a 13 year old boy, they're not known for their maturity or empathy) because he wanted to replace it with some kind of lizard. Anyway, they got back from their hols to discover the grandparents had offed the bunny & buried it, it then had to be exhumed and reburied in P's garden (kids eh?!) but this now meant that P could start looking at lizards. Unfortunately he hadn't realised that the kind he wanted (don't ask) would grow to about 30 cms or so and require a terrarium (and yes Ben, I do know what one of those is, cheeky monkey) that would take up a large amount of P's bedroom and would live about 20 was the 20 years that scuppered the deal, there was no way P's mom was going to be left looking after a lizard after P had eventually left home.
We got back from England to find that P now has 2 mice (purchased in a place called Leichlingen**) called Drei and Vier (Three & Four) on account of one of the newly purchased rodents only having 3 legs. Oh, the puns that followed, suggestions for more suitable names - Stumpy, Wonky, Hoppy and comments as to whether or not P got a discount for an incomplete mouse, or maybe he couldn't afford a whole one...

So there you have it, not a rant as such, merely a few things that have made me go 'hmmmm' and think to myself, 'these Germans are crazy' oder?

* Germans have a trick of making a sentence into a question by sticking the word 'oder' (= or) at the end, this is perfectly acceptable in German, but then they ALL try to do the same with English and it just doesn't work, or?

** die Leiche = corpse, I don't think I'd want to live in a place named Corpsey - there's a joke in there somewhere I'm sure of it...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

WW 1

as opposed to WW I, I'm talking about Wedding Week (part) 1.

I had sooooooooooooooooooo much fun last week, in the build up to the wedding we've (me & Helen*) been waiting over a decade for (they got engaged on Millenium Eve don't you know - I still remember having the duvet yanked from where it was shrouding my champagne induced hangover to 'talk' to Jacky (on the phone) because she had something important to tell me that couldn't wait until the pain had receded)

I missed most of the planning - choosing colour schemes, bridesmaids, venues, cake, menu, dress etc. etc. due to being here in Germany while she lives in St Albans, I even missed the proper hen night, but we still managed to have a good week though, here are some highlights;

- I took a couple of bottles of decent German Sekt over (i.e not the dead cheap, burn through your gullet stuff) so that got us in the celebratory mood

- one morning we left the 3 girls with her mom and took ourselves off to John Lewis to buy the very important lingerie and wedding night nightwear, girlie shopping is great fun and when you add in the extra girlie factors of a wedding & underwear & then we had to do lippie too - can a girlie shopping trip get more girlie? Knickers and lipstick?

- Wednesday night we had hen night part deux, just MIL, MOB, SIL, Jack and me at a pub that does great food & also happened to be having their weekly quiz night, so we joined in under the obvious team name of 'Bride to Be'. Our table was around the corner from the rest of the quiz teams and so we were able to cheat like crazy, googling & texting like mad, to no avail (fortunately, I'd have felt so guilty if we'd won the £100 prize, honest) but we did come 2nd.
After the main quiz came the Accumulator (I think when you read that you should put on a big, deep, booming voice) 5 questions in rapid succession (so no cheating possibilities) each with 3 possible answers (so multiple guess then) and the warning that no-one has EVER won this...see if you know the answers**;
1. Which type of sheep provides the fleece for tennis balls?
a) Perendale b) Herdwick c) Spongebob
2. What colour are the E numbers 120-129
a) red b) yellow c) blue
3. Which is the most northerly reaching county?
a) Warwickshire b) Worcestershire c) Cambridgeshire
4. Which US president was born on July 4th?
a) Hoover b) Coolidge c) Lincoln
5) US naturalist gave his name to which animal?
a) lobster b) porpoise c) catfish

The quizmaster was great at giving out the results, rereading the question, giving the answer and then saying how many teams (from 10) were still left in play, 9 after question 1, 5 after question 2, 1 after question 3 and that team was us...and we got question 4 right too...and question 5 (because the bride to be thought that the porpoise was cuter than the other 2 options...) I think we only got out of the pub clutching the £400 in our sweaty little paws without a lynching because of the team name.

- Friday night, the evening before the BIG day, we went out to l'Italiano in St Albans with the children and Jack's rellies, much wine was drunk and much pizza and pasta eaten

It was a good week!

*Helen had the room in Willoughby Hall (Nottingham Uni 94-97) the otherside of Jacky to me & ever since the engagement, whenever 2 or more of us were gathered together (no cauldron or stormy night required) we would discuss the possibility of the wedding and whether we had to go hat shopping.