Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Christmas has many rituals associated with it, and I'm not talking about the god bothery stuff here either.

Christmas to me is always turkey, Christmas pudding and Christmas crackers. Without those three ingredients it just isn't right*. So far we've been lucky. This was our fifth Christmas here in Germany and we've managed to get crackers and pud every year, they get smuggled in as contraband by friends and family.

The quality of Christmas crackers is hugely variable and it can be tricky to get 'nice' ones when relying on friends to bring them over for you, but we've been OK this year, the Hotel Chocolat crackers while expensive do provide delicious chocolate, gorgeous gold crowns and dubious jokes, while the M&S or Sainsbury ones also went down well with the children**. Jas took great delight in reading out all the "jokes", but neither she nor Ben could understand why the jokes were, so we had to explain. That cracker jokes are expected to make people groan, it simply wont do for a cracker joke to be too funny, that said, here's a sample of this year's:

- what happened to the hyena who swallowed a stock cube?
- he made a laughing stock of himself.

- what do you call a boomerang that doesn't come back?
- a stick.

- how do you make an apple puff?
- chase it round the garden.

- how do you make a jacket last?
- make the trousers first.

A funnier joke concerns two friends of mine. Friend W was in England and had promised to bring me supplies back including amongst other things some water biscuits for cheese, some Golden Syrup and my Christmas crackers. Talking to her before she left I mentioned that I didn't need the syrup any more as another friend, R, had given me a jar, but maybe instead she could bring R some crackers. This was all forgotten about until yesterday, when the three of us met for drinks and cake.
W: "I've got your crackers in a cupboard at home, I keep forgetting them"
R: "Crackers?"
W: "Yeah some Jacobs crackers, for cheese."
At which point I piped up that it was Christmas crackers she was supposed to have brought back...

* the presents are of course a huge part of Christmas but I'm not counting them as one of the rituals because the giving and receiving of presents is integral to Christmas in so many countries, it isn't what makes an English Christmas to me.
** actually that should be "child", as Ben at the grand old age of 14 seems to be finding everything we adults do "unamusing", it must take a huge amount of effort to tune us out so effectively.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sign my life away

At this time of year there are delivery men (& women) scurrying everywhere, taking parcels and packages of all shapes and sizes all over the place.

The DHL van stops so often outside our house that Logan (who is not blessed with the greatest of intelligence) can recognize the yellow van at 100 paces and expects food from whoever should have the misfortune to step out of the van and into Logan's path. The delivery men know that the only way to a dog's heart is through the stomach and therefore always* have a dog treat to pay for admittance into the dog's garden. And so Logan now equates the colour yellow with food - another reason not to get the new car in yellow, Logan would be like Pavlov's dog, and constantly salivating.

All the delivery people want 1 thing, a signature, or so I had thought. For surely a signature is proof of who I am, I'm quite certain no-one else can scrawl my signature quite the way I do, although those damn little electric reader things don't make it easy. Without a signature, anyone could be taking receipt of your ordered goodies and making off with them, which is actually what happened to Simon's fancy TV. The delivery note said it had been delivered here and at a time when I was in, but that certainly wasn't my signature they had. Someone got an early present and it wasn't us.

Some of the deliveries require proper id, which is a pain in the bum, because they expect to see a German 'Ausweis'** and they get a British passport, which has the wrong number of digits...they're never happy.

But recently a delivery guy thrust his electronic reader thingy at me for a signature and after I'd done my scrawl he stared down at it and asked my name. So I confirmed that yes, I was the person to whom the parcel should be delivered, and he stared down at my mark on his screen and then he got the stylus out and wrote over the top of my signature in block capitals "EVANS".
Now if he'd wanted me to write my name in the manner of a kindergarten kid then I'd have happily obliged, I can do capitals, I'm so advanced I can even do joined up capitals, but I always thought that by signing your name you were committing to something, I thought the signature had value? I guess not.

* unless we're the very last house on the run, in which case Logan is a very sad and dejected pupppy.
** Ausweis = identity card

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Snaps 92

Saw this on a friend's FB page and thought it was perfect for the 4th Sunday in Advent.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

So long & thanks for all the fish*

Last night was expats quiz night at Lulu, but it wasn't just any old, run of the mill quiz night,oh no, this was Ian's swan song, he's moving back to the cold, cold north of Yorkshire and foresaking the balmy** beauty of the Ruhrgebiet*** and abandoning expats forever.

Due to the proximity of Christmas Ian decided to theme last night's quiz, and so all but one round was tinsel clad, apparently he ran out of Christmas questions and so we had one round on news from the last year. Here are some of the questions, see if you know the answers.

- by what other name is the plant Viscum Album known?
- which country changed to Euro this year (bet they sooooo regret that decision now)
- in which year was the Christmas number one by Band Aid?
- what Christmas invention was made by Thomas J. Smith?
- which silent movie star died on Christmas day in 1977?

All good, topical questions, although the non Brits didn't seem to know what a Christmas cracker was and they were even more confused when we got to the panto round..."what's a pantomime?" was the chorus from all the non Brits, they looked even more confused when we tried to explain that it's a Christmas tradition in the theatre where the leading man is usually a voluptuous, leggy young woman, there is always at least one man dressed up as either an ugly sister or an old woman, there are frequently people dressed as animals, a baddie to be booed at is essential as is audience participation along the lines of shouting "he's behind you" and "oh no, it isn't".
Do you know the answers to these panto questions?

- in which panto does the character Baron Hardup appear?
- Widow Twanky is in which pantomime?
- in which panto is Buttons?

Emma wasn't amused by last night's questions (although I think the non Brits were even more unamused due to the panto round) all season the full house has eluded her, but often by only 1 point, she had pinned her hopes on Ian's last quiz only to fail with style. She still managed to win, getting 20/25 but this was apparently her worst score ever.

I think we gave Ian a good send off, he certainly provided a great final quiz, as at least one person wrote in his goodbye card "his boots will be hard to fill", and although I'm sure Chris will give it a damn good try I somehow doubt the quiz will be as English in the future seeing as Chris is very proudly Australian, I have the feeling that Emma's English joker has been played for the last time.

Thank you Ian, Quizie Rascal, for the great quiz nights you've provided us with, it was good while it lasted!

* spurious Hitchhikers Guide reference because it was felt last night that the quiz was rather lacking in Hitchhiker questions.
** actually tending more towards barmy.
*** tongue firmly in cheek here, the Ruhrgebiet, as this local area is known, is famed for its heavy industrialisation, Germans are never impressed and never get the urge to visit when they hear you live near the Ruhr.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

When is a word not a word?

When it's an 'unwort' of course. Duuuuh.

Every year, around this time, Germany publishes its "Wort des Jahres" (word of the year*) I've blogged about it before and will possibly do so again, when they tell us what the word is. Yesterday I googled "wort des jahres" (using clearly as would probably get a little confused) and stumbled across "Unwort des Jahres". My interest was piqued so I googled further.

It turns out that the same society that organises voting for the (probably slightly more prestigious) "Wort des Jahres" is also responsible for organising the voting for "Unwort des Jahres" (this must surely be the wooden spoon prize in dictionary admission applications) because surely if "Wort des Jahres" translates to "word of the year" then unwort must be unword**.

The idea of there being a "word of the year" that people actually vote for (oh, yes, things like this are taken very seriously here, of course) boggles me but that there should also be an unword of the year...double boggled.

I wondered, would the unword be a word that had fallen out of favour and risked deletion from the next year's dictionaries, or was it a piece of gobble-de-gook nonsense?

Neither it would seem. Where word of the year is a word, possibly new to the German language (such as vuvuzela last year) that has been popular in the year, and quite possibly over-used in the press and on TV, the winner last year was a new word "wutbürger" whose birth was apparently caused by the angry feelings (wut) of the common man (the bürger) due to politicians making decisions above their heads. The unword of the year is a word that is considered to have an "inhumane" or inadequate formulation - so a word that is ugly or clunky I guess, previous winners have been 2010 "alternativlos" (= alternativeless) 2009 "betriebsratverseucht" (= contaminated work council) and in 2008 "notleidende Banken" (= defaulting banks)

The unword of the year isn't settled until the end of the year, naturally, so you have until December 31 to get your entries in, you (yes, you) can email them into: vorschlaege(at) then in January we can find out what won, the suspense and excitement are almost too much too bear!

* personally I think this is their cunning plan to try to catch up on the number of words in the German language, no-one likes being beaten by the English (least of all the Germans) and as English has around 600,000 words and German a mere 185,000, we're winning by a long way.Link** which I personally don't believe to be a word, at least not in English, which is where it counts.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Snaps 91

Last night was Carols at the Corks, an expat tradition that helps make Christmas Christmas. We sang our hearts out.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hot Glue

Last night I went to the Essen Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market for the uninitiated) with a couple of friends (Rebecca and Julie - both expats) with the express purpose of sampling a little glühwein, there was no intent to shop, merely a desire to immerse ourselves in the festive spirit(s).

We made a beeline for the stand we hear about every year from those that have both time and opportunity to make multiple visits to the markt and therefore get to sample everything that's on offer. This is my fifth Christmas here and therefore my fifth chance to explore the yearly market and this is the first time I've been to this particular stand*. This is glühwein, but not just any old glühwein, oh no, this is flaming glüh!

The owner of the stall loads up mugs with glühwein and places them in a row on the counter, then he lays a funny triangular spoon (with holes in it) over the top of each cup and puts a sugar cube on each spoon. Spirits of some kind is then poured liberally over the row of loaded mugs and this is then lit. The flames die down and more spirits get poured over the mugs and the flames go higher. When the flames die down again they are extinguished, the spoons removed and the drinks distributed to the waiting patrons. The resulting beverage is very warm and tasty although the cups are rather sticky.

After finishing our first glühs we took the mugs back to the stall intending to claim our pfand** back and sample another stall. The stall holder had just done a round of drinks and had three cups over, cooling on his counter. Wouldn't we like another one he asked, no, we told him, we were off to try somewhere new. Then he started bargaining, three flaming glühwein should be 10.5oE and Julie bartered him down to 6E.

When we'd finished our second glühs we were hungry and definitely only wanted our pfand back from the stall, definitely no more glüh.

But again he had just dispatched a round of flaming glühs and had three left over***. This time Julie was wiser and started lower, we paid 2E for three.

Clearly years of being married to a money market dealer have paid off, all in all we got nine glühs at 3.50E each for a total of 18.50E a saving of 13E, if certainly helped that Julie is French and can make German sound sexy with her accent.

It has to be said that we are all little on the sluggish side today, it's probably a very good job that the market shuts down at 9.30 on a weekday evening otherwise we'd have never made it out of bed, let alone the house!

* the same stands come to the exact same spots year after year.
** pfand is the term used here to refer to the deposit paid for the item.
*** and it's not like he could see us from where we were standing to the side of the stall while we drank, he had no way of knowing we were about to come back.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Google It!

Have you ever been asked "how did you find that out?"
Only to answer "I googled it"?

The adoption of Google as a verb is even more noticeable in German, especially when used in the past tense - when a 'ge' prefix is generally added to a verb, leading to the word "gegooglet"*.

But the predominance of Google over the world wide web is incredible - can you remember which search engine you used before you started googling?

What is maybe even more bizarre are the subjects that people type into Google, the following is a list of the odder ways that people have ended up on my blog, goodness only knows what they were trying to find the answer to when they input:

- long weekend all roads lead to roam
- hollister hype
- crunchy nut lady
- notingale
- vomitorium germany
- german father sex
- guy fawkes eat yer heart out
- lulu the hoover teletubbies
- german suburb
- schnapsgurtel
- lobbylitiker
- logos of posche cars with names
- sept father sex
- kettwigfrau verene
- lulu bar germany
- quizy ie
- stammtisch canterbury uk
- hunter boots
- ian hookham voicetalk
- geschmucked
- filling in every tooth
- back of me hand
- advents kaffee, english
- gummiman - holland
- people who suck the joy out of life

Aren't people peculiar?

* the 'e' is probably not pronounced.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Teaching Germans... party like a Brit.

On Saturday we had our (what will now become) annual Christmas Cocktail shindig.

We invited even more people than last year (good job it's a big enough house with a large enough cellar for the kids to take over while the adults hog the kitchen) started an hour later and finished about about 3 hours later, we drank all the mulled wine, the cranberry punch and the bellinis, almost ran out of fizz - as it is my stock for Christmas are seriously depleted, I shall have to do something about that.

We were a fairly mixed group with Germans predominating, although there were more English speakers than native German speakers, and the Germans seem to be getting the hang of partying with the Brits. Drinking more than just two glasses of punch for example, the bellinis were a huge hit, maybe seeing the peaches made people forget about the alcoholic prosecco being added to the carafe. They weren't even the first to leave, this (dubious) honour went to Anne and Chris who had been back in Blighty the previous week and brought some hideous lurgy back with them - too much kissing according to Anne. All in all there were seven nationalities represented, with most people able to speak at least two languages.

But some people are never happy, one friend, upon being told that Ben was out (ice skating with a group of kids from school) was most put out, because it meant that her son (from Ben's class, and a friend of Ben's, although clearly not part of the ice skating/cinema going mixed* crowd) had no company. How stupid she declared. Sorry, but I didn't think to call her and tell her (I was a little bit busy) and anyway these teenage plans have a nasty tendency to fall apart at last moment and you can guarantee I'd be the last to know. As it was Ben turned up not long after, so harmony was restored.

Logan had a great time at the party, hoovering around the table as crumbs fell, he completely wore himself out and towards the end was asleep in the middle of the rug, ensuring that children had to walk around him.

Simon became a 3D TV salesman, showing pretty much everyone his and Ben's new toy, he should be on commission, I get the feeling that quite a few people now want one!

The only downside to hosting a great party is the clearing up afterwards. All those glasses and plates to wash and empties to cart down to the cellar. And my feet are still sore from wearing silly heels for too many hours (I did take them off eventually, but by then the damage was done) however my head wasn't sore - mental note to self; drink champagne/sekt/prosecco get squiffy but get no hangover.

So we're one step closer to Christmas, party's done, need the tree now, that's next weekend's job.

* when asked "who else is going?" you get a muttered list of some 4/5 boys names followed by the admission that such and such a girl is going and her friend and so and so as well...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What's yours called?

Bookgroup never fails to disappoint.

As it was Christmas (December, ergo Christmas markets and glühwein in full swing) we met at the best (IOHO) glü stand (at tad earlier than normal to be confessed) but at least we weren't a foot deep in snow like last year.

We made it to the Black Cat (only losing 1 member - who is 'in lurve', i.e. had a hot date) for 8 and settled down for the night.

The waitress there must hate us. Yes; we pay well and tip well, but you can tell that it galls her, a table of foreigners, who dominate the room (not the whole bar, we're loud- but not that loud) once a month and happily speak English to each other and a bastarised German to her.

We didn't talk about the book at all. Or rather, we didn't talk about last months book, we talked about Kevin (the book from October) lots, an amazing book - read it. I think we all found it impacted on our lives in some way.

For some reasoin (I blame alcohol consuption) next month's book is A Year of Living Biblically - that's just going to be a bundle of laughs for a self confessed aetheist...ho hum...

It never ceases to amaze me, the the topics of conversation that get covered at book group;

- "do you have a name for your bits" asked F...and then went on, " boys have a penis, so what does a girl have?" We were, surprisingly, for a book group, lost for words. And could not come up with a satisfactory answer.

- "what's a vajazzle?" Asked T. We tried to explain. Maybe the link will enlighten where we didn't...I'll ask!

- there was much fun made of Johhhnie's** shirt, which O thought had come straight from an A&F ad** and S thought made him look Canadian.

I happily admit to not using public transport, I have a car, so why should I have to learn how to? But this evening it made more sense to go the carbon friendly way. F and I waited at the bus stop for twenty minutes for a bus that runs every ten (having had three (we counted them) go past in the opposite direction) before finally giving up and catching a bus down to the train station - where we discovered what had happened to the bus we were waiting for - at a T junction in the centre of town it had turned right and found the angle little too tight, due a Porsche being parked right on the corner. The bus was perfectly jammed between a wall and the car, we look forward to seeing the photos in next weeks local rag.

* sic
** I'm sure he doesn't have the matching six pack

Monday, November 28, 2011

Car Conundrum

Here in good ole Deutschland we have to have winter tyres usually from October until Easter (O to O* as the saying goes) which is great, the winter tyres are much grippier and therefore safer, if you have an accident when you should have winter tyres on and you've still got your summer tyres on you will have a hell of a job getting your insurance company to pay up (so we're warned).

So every October the tyre garages are all crazy busy changing everyone's wheels and storing them away somewhere ready for spring when they'll be mad busy again. Sometimes they sell out of winter tyres (so I've been told) although once you have a set, unless you're doing huge mileage (or donuts in the local carpark on a Sunday) the 2 sets of tyres should last a fair while.

We've just decided to buy a new car, a Mini Countryman will be mine just before Christmas (hopefully), we've spent time choosing the colour (NOT black or silver (Simon's 2nd choice) and he wont let me have the yellow ("think of the resale value Verena") but I am allowed "Surf Blue"**) and various other twiddly bits and also some nice wheels - no point having a sexy paint job if you're going to stick a set of rims on that look like dustbin lids, trust me, I'm a part-time petrol head. The sexy wheels the car comes with are its summer wheels and so we have to arrange winter wheels either through the dealer or through the tyre garage that normally stores my this means that if we don't get the dealer to change the wheels for us prior to driving away the sheeny shiney new car we'll be taking it home (30 minutes from one side of the city to the other) on winter roads*** with summer tyres and therefore dubious insurance. We discussed this at the dealership with the salesman, angling for him to offer to come and drop off the new car and take away the old, but no, I guess we didn't have a particularly strong bargaining position seeing as it was +10C outside, maybe closer to the date, when I ring and tell him that no, I'm not going to drive over and collect my new car and pay him for it because the roads are too dicey, maybe then he'll reconsider.

Of course the other problem is that we have to change the winter wheels on the old car back to summer wheels before taking it to the dealer in part ex, because they only buy/sell cars in summer condition. Great, so I have to get the tyre garage to change the wheels on the car we're part ex-ing, put the old winter wheels in my garage to try to flog them on ebay**** and then drive said car across the city before driving the new car home and taking it straight to the tyre garage for its winter make under.

So, winter wheels, great in theory and in practice, but (mental note to self) try to only buy/sell a car in the summer, it's so much less hassle.

Anyone need any slightly worn winter wheels? Collection only.

* Easter = Ostern.
** the majority of cars here are black, those that aren't black are silver, other colours can be seen but if you're having a car colour counting competition with a small child, then black wins.
*** at that time last year we had 30 cms of snow, at least, everywhere, with sub zero temperatures and no respite in sight.
**** have no idea how strong the demand is for 2nd hand winter wheels, let alone in mid Dec when everyone sensible/law abiding is already sitting smug.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Snaps 89

The Christmas markets have started here - this is the view from the top of the Riesenrad (big & flipping freezing wheel). No snow as yet so only just cold enough for glühwein.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shocking Germans

I had a lovely morning today, frühstücking* with a couple of German friends. They're both mothers whose sons are friends with my son and so be default they've become my friends too. They're both lovely ladies, who both have a good understanding of English (although not necessarily of the English, which is a different matter altogether) and tolerate my wholesale massacring of their mother tongue.

We had a good, long, leisurely breakfast, starting at 8.30 and leaving around 11 - we made sure to get our money's worth out of Enzo's (the café) and we were maybe a little too loud for some of the (older) clientele - two ladies on an adjacent table pointedly moved to the other side of the room, while muttering under their breath, which just led Bettina to comment that she wasn't aware we were still in school. To be honest, the ladies got off lightly, if I'd been there with my usual frühstück crew (Brits and Yanks) the noise level would have been far greater amd the subject matter far seedier.

It's amazing what three women can find to chat about over breakfast (especially one that lasts 2.5 hours) we covered everything from sex starved OAPs (and how to deal with then) to teenage boys starting to get interested in girls, touching on organic ways of getting rid of moths, what we provide (or not) our families with for food whilst they're at work/school**, whether a child should choose Latin or French as their second subject at the age of 11 (oddly enough I was advocating Latin, mainly because the child is struggling with English and at least with Latin you don't (in theory) have to speak it) and what our variously aged children are asking for for Christmas (everything from "whatever", to a list that would keep Saint Nick and his elves busy for more than one night).

At one point my German was in free flow and Bettina paused to exclaim that I'd just used the "plus quam perfect tense" (or as the English know it, the pluperfect or past perfect) - I'm not sure who was more shocked, Bettina, clearly thinking that such advanced grammar should be beyond me (I must have got all the verbs in the right order for once!) or Ingrid and I for realising that Bettina can hear a tense and label it, just like that (I don't think she was a grammar teacher BC, maybe she's just naturally swotty?) This led us onto a loud and amusing discussion about German tenses, with a debate about the Konjunktive II - I declared it to be all but dead (I remember reading and translating an article all about it, where the author referred to this particularly nasty piece of grammar as an almost extinct animal in the zoo) so I happily likened the Konjunctive II to the black rhino. They were not convinced however which led us onto forms of the K II, how can you possibly take a tense seriously that turns the verb to eat (essen) into "äßen"?

Breakfast with a grammar lesson, how very Deutsch!

* breakfasting - teaching you Denglish now.
** the German way seems to be "butterbrot", sandwiches with cheese, ham, nutella or chocolate***
*** by chocolate I literally mean chocolate, in the supermarkets you can buy packets of chocolate which is in thin sheets, designed specifically for going between two pieces of bread - mad.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rendered Speechless

Sometimes, just sometimes, I'm rendered speechless.

This happens frequently when I'm trying to make a point in German, I know exactly the point I want to make but my brain realises that I don't know a particular word halfway through the phrase, there then follows a pause while my brain frantically recalculates another way of saying the same thing - it's amazing that I can still manage to crack jokes in German.

Last week I was speechless in my own language and that takes some doing, vast quantities of alcohol or sleep will do the trick but shock? Rarely.

We were at a school do (just Jas's class, so 23 kids plus assorted siblings and parents) to hear all about the fun that they'd had on their weeklong school trip a month ago. They had all had an amazing time and were keen to share it with us, I don't quite fully understand why the sharing had to be so wholesale, a little careful editing would have worked wonders, but hey, I didn't have anything else planned for those four hours...

During the break before the finale (video of the week's activities) we had supper* and so had to make small talk with other parents, fun. Both Rebecca and I managed to avoid sitting at any tables (not too hard to achieve as there were more people than seats) until the class teacher pointed out some free seats and we were forced to pull them over and occupy them or look very anti-social. Rebecca's younger daughter was sitting with us wearing her lovely new bright purple Boden duffle coat, over an equally loud Boden skirt. The teacher turned to Elsa and commented on her pretty coat. The remark was then made that it was from the English company Boden (which is available here either through the UK website or the German one). Which set the mother next to me on her high horse. She declared that that brand was expensive, to which we retaliated that quality comes at a cost, if the conversation had been in English she'd have got a whole lot more than that simple answer because I feel quite strongly about the fact that not only do cheaper goods not last but frequently the people involved in the manufacture are often underage and underpaid. She, being better at German (although not native) than either Rebecca or I, then continued her rant about expensive clothing before changing tack and exclaiming over the paucity of clothing being worn by Elsa in the depths (ha!) of winter - tights and a skirt and no vest and the tights weren't even thermal ones. No wonder the child is so thin she declared, using all her energy to maintain her body temperature (this in full hearing of said child) does she never get stomach ache, she asked, seeing as how her stomach isn't properly insulated with the necessary 3 layers of clothing**?

This rant (I'd say conversation, but it was so one sided that rant is more appropriate) annoyed me so much that I tuned out and turned away, eventually getting up and therefore missing the comment from the teacher, who maybe thought to diffuse the atmosphere. He turned to Rebecca and referring to Elsa's chic coat and skirt combo commented that he hadn't realised the English could be so stylish...

We're still (five days later) trying to work out if he was trying to make a joke or whether it was a back handed compliment, whilst the comment from my husband was "doesn't say much for what you and Rebecca wear, does it?" Grrrrrrr.

* or rather "Abendbröt" (literally "evening bread" because that's what the evening meal is traditionally, bread and ham/cheese)
** us English mothers are considered pretty lax parents by our German counterparts I think - our children never have vests on, rarely wear hats and don't possess thermal long johns, I keep trying to explain that the English are clearly much hardier than the Germans!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Snaps 88

Christmas is coming* and the cake (or at least the fruit for the cake - which is the main constituent of said cake afterall) is getting fed (brandy). In a week's time it should have absorbed enough to be combined into its final form...

* which, according an app on my phone, is today just 34 days away - cue screaming and mad panic!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Swiftlet saliva and other trivia

We had another Expats Pub Quiz last night courtesy of our soon to be ex expat Ian, we have just one Ian penned quiz left (the Christmas Special - I wonder if it will be a special along the lines of British soap Christmas specials where there's always high drama involving births/deaths/fires/ambulances and the like or whether it will be a special along the lines of those dodgy flavours that make an appearance only in the festive season - chestnut & prune soup anyone?) However all is not lost, we have people fighting over the quiz rights it would seem, there is an Australian faction and an American faction, both vying for the mentoring facilities of Mr Hookham...we'll have to wait and see.

It was another well attended evening, nine teams in all, with people from Mexico, Singapore, Australia, America, England and even the odd (well they'd have to be, wouldn't they, to want to attend an expats English pub quiz evening which is geared towards native English speakers) German. We're a diverse crowd, with even more diverse bakcgrounds which makes it impressive that every month Ian comes up with a quiz that frustrates all of us to the right degree, no-one gets a full house (a fact that torments a certain person* every month) and at the same no-one gets too frustrated with the questions - although there is a lot lost in translation, even when we all speak English perfectly some countries just don't play the same games and have the same rules.

Last night we had a food round, and I think this caused the most upset;
Q: What is added to yorkshire pudding to make toad in the hole?
The Mexican/Venezualan team were dumbfounded, they had no idea what yorkshire pudding was and certainly not a clue about toad in the hole. Their answer was "pastry"...having refused to follow our suggestion of "frogs".

Q: Name the soup traditionally made from the saliva of a swiftlet.
A swiftlet? As in a baby swift? We couldn't begin to imagine how you would even get saliva out of a baby bird, let alone how many you would need to "milk" in order to make a bowl of soup...

Q: What's the word beginning with P given to thin lentil crackers?
We had no clue, as a fully fledged non veggie I never knowingly eat lentils and so have no idea what they can be used for...Kamesh or Rebecca would have been useful at this point but neither was at Lulu's last night, one was babysitting and one sun bathing (Hawaii, no less, not jealous honest, he'll so suffer when he returns to the minus temperatures that have developed here in his absence!)

Other perplexing (for some) questions last night were;

Q: Name a playing token in Monopoly that you can wear.
Of course, nowadays there are versions of Monopoly to cover every eventuality but Ian was quick to qualify that he meant the "traditional" edition, so discounting Disney tutus (I'm sure that doesn't exist) and also Rachael's roller skate.

Q: Which city is closer to the equator, New York or Istanbul?
My geography is rubbish, but I had my secret weapon with me (Simon, whose brain is like a sponge for useless facts) and still failed to get it right.

Q: What does LBW in cricket stand for?
The Brits (and the Aussie) all knew this, unsurprisingly the Mex/Ven team hadn't a clue and only got the "wicket" part - which amused me no end.

Q: Captain Flint was whose pet?
I didn't know this, although my non reader of a secret weapon did, I guess Treasure Island got read to him during his childhood, although as there are also various film versions maybe that's how he knew, because I'd bet my boots on him never actually having read the book.

Q: How many points are there on the star of a Chinese Checker board?
Huh? We didn't even know what Chinese Checkers was (sorry Dad)...which feels really silly now that I've googled it and seen it...ho hum, another point lost.

Q: If in Poker you have 3 cards of one and 2 of another, what is this known as?
Ian is a "keen" poker player, so it was only a matter of time before we were tormented by some poker jargon. We went through all the poker terms we knew, discounting them until we ended up with the right answer, although it's a good job we didn't realise there were so many different poker hands or we'd still be debating!

It was a fun night, as ever.

We'll miss our Quizie Rascal when he's gone. The successor will have a lot to live up to!

* lives in Isenbügel, has 3 kids - you know who you are!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Home or away?

We've got to the point in Germany where we've been here long enough that stuff is breaking/wearing out/being out grown and needing to be replaced.

There are two options - replace like with like by sourcing from England or go local.

There are issues with both of these options...

- One of my Jamie Oliver stainless steel saucepans has decided to start leaking, you wouldn't think it possible would you, but the way the handle is fixed on means that it can and does leak through the fixing points (it's part of a set of three, so I'm guessing the others are going to have to be replaced sooner or later). Clearly this could easily be sourced locally and needed to be seeing as I need the pan NOW and the weight and feel of the pan is important and you can't get that impression over the internet. I interrogated one shop assistant about their pans and was told that they only offered pans of that size (I'm talking small/medium pan, 1-1.5 litre, the size that is useful for everything) with two little handles rather than one long sticky out one. But I wanted what I'd had, and what I'd had was one long sticky out handle. So I gave up on that store and decided to go somewhere else with more choice.
Same answer.
Apparently in Germany they only come with two handles over a certain size, so I had to bite the bullet and go native.

- I recently had to buy Ben a new duvet. We're having to accept the fact that at 14 he's growing up and therefore he has a new (slightly bigger) bed and new paint job on the walls and new duvet cover - the old UK ones were thought to be too juvenile (he had a point, planets and graffiti are aimed more at the younger boy and therefore childish and 'not cool'). I tried to get a duvet from M&S - they are quite happy to deliver abroad, but duvets are clearly the exception (of course you only find this out after spending some time choosing what you want, adding to the order and then getting to the checkout point. Grrrrrr). So I had to get the duvet and cover here. Not such a problem, although the duvet cover choice can be a little dull, then I had to get the duvet to fit in the cover and discovered that it was a good job that M&S didn't deliver duvets abroad as it wouldn't have fitted into the cover. I was informed that in Germany there are three duvet sizes; small (single/1 person) medium (almost a double/1-2 people or 1 very wriggly teen) and large. So I have the correct sized duvet for the cover but what I don't understand is why it doesn't look as if it fits, maybe I need to rotate the duvet through 90 degrees?

- The pillows in our house were getting old and decrepit and had to be replaced. Another tricky thing to source over the internet as again you need to test them, so we have to go local. The problem here is that the continentals have weird ideas when it comes to head/neck support in bed. You either go for something that is almost a metre square (which most people apparently double over) or you go for something that is a little longer than the standard UK rectangular pillow and also a little narrower. Fortunately this narrower pillow still fits in our existing English pillow cases, although they don't look as athetically pleasing, but as I'm not planning on entering a Good Homes competition they'll do, just.

- Wellies were one of the first things I had a problem with here. As a dog owner and walker (the two go hand in hand) wellies are an integral part of my autumn/winter/spring attire. I had a lovely pair of red wellies from England that expired after one year of German mud - which I think must be excessively corrosive (certainly wouldn't want to use it for a face pack), so I replaced them with a locally sourced pair (afterall when your boots start to leak they have to be replaced pretty damn fast) but these also lasted only one winter, fortunately then we were in late spring and had a week in England planned for the summer. My lilac Hunter wellies were collected on the trip and are still going strong, clearly impervious to German mud.

Of course the dilemma of buying locally or sourcing from the UK is only possible due to the ever spreading internet, it does make the transition smoother and less arduous. I just wish it was as worldwide as it's supposed to be - but that's a whole other story!

Friday, November 11, 2011


At eleven o'clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month the Commonwealth* pauses.

I don't have a poppy to wear this year and it seems rather tawdry to recycle last years, but I have made a point of making a donation online.

As I get older the significance of this particular day seems to increase to me, and I don't know why, unless it's the growing awareness of my own humanity and the fragility of life. It's not even as if my family were hugely impacted by the first or second World Wars. My father was just old enough to have to do National Service, but fortunately** just young enough that he missed any action (his photos of the time show him against a backdrop of pyramids) and the only tales I ever heard whilst growing up were rather scurrilous ones from my Uncle Harry who'd been in the Navy and served on the same warship as Prince Philip (Uncle H didn't have a good word to say).

If I were in England this week and this coming weekend I would be wearing my poppy with pride, observing the silence at 11 am and quite probably watching with pride as my children marched to the local cenotaph alongside the other guides/scouts/cubs/brownies and local servicemen. It's at that point I would struggle to keep emotions in check as the lone trumpeter played the Last Post.

Lest we forget.

* as well as other countries who got tied up with trying to keep the world free.
** choosing to be a rear gunner was probably not the wisest move he ever had, as they apparently had the shortest life span in the War.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wine o'clock

This morning I spent a very pleasant few hours at the local Essen exhibition hall. This week is the "Mode, Heim und Handwerk*" exhibition and Emma had free tickets courtesy of her wine supplier (who had a stand there). Emma and Laura (at 20 months old she gets no say in where she goes and what she does, she justs gets to sit in her buggy) picked me up just before ten and we were at the messe** shortly after the doors opened.

We started off in Hall 1, "fashion, beauty and wellness***", there was a reasonable amount of grey/brown/sludge coloured ruffled fashion (steered a wide birth there) alternative (i.e. brands I didn't recognise) make up stands, hair accessories (both Emma and I have hair that is too short for such things) scarves (the Germans are OBSESSED with scarves and I have to report that it is contagious, I now have two drawers full of different coloured scarves, before moving to Germany I had maybe two scarves. But scattered amongst all this health 'n beauty were many wine tasting stands as well as many food stands (dried fruit, würst, cheese, bread, chocolate, more würst) and the very first wine stand we came across was the company that had sent Emma the free tickets and so we felt honour bound to take a seat and sample a few (is eight/ten a few? Or is that a couple more than a few?) bottles of wine. The poor guy who got stuck with us must have cursed his luck, first there was the small child in the buggy who insisted on tipping her (non alcoholic) grape juice over herself, her buggy, the floor around us and quite probably passers by, but she did keep quiet (as long as we kept her occupied with pretzels) and then there was the fact that Emma and I are both English. Fortunately for him we both liked the Columbard white wine and two of the reds so we left the stand on the hunt for coffee with an Auftrag in hand that says we'll be receiving 30 bottles of wine shortly for us to divide between us.

After the wine we meandered our way through Hall 2, "living & free-time" which didn't seem to be that much different to Hall 1, less 'fashion' maybe but the same amount of food and drink stands, through to Hall 5, which was "Africa". Probably the most bizarre part of the exhibition, the stands were full of displays of the kind of stuff you might think it amusing to buy on holiday - eight foot tall wooden giraffe (although tricky to bring back on a plane) dresses and skirts in the colours of the South African flag, stuff (baskets and possibly mats - I didn't look too closely) made from coke bottle tops welded together, weird. Onto Halls 10&11 which were deadly dull, "building and technical" - garage doors, marble steps, fire places and then we were through to Hall 12 and Christmas.

All in all it was a pleasant way to spend a morning, although I don't think either of us would have paid the 7euro for the experience but as a freebie, why not?!

* Mode = fashion, Heim = home, Handwerk = handicraft
** messe = exhibition hall
*** wellness is one of those dinglish words that really grates on me, what they mean is not beauty or cosmetics but rather things that make you feel...'well', a massage chair or aromatherapy for example...

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pizza for Tea

I think Rome could well be my favourite city. Paris is romantic, New York is cool but Rome, Rome is something else. Beautiful buildings - everywhere, narrow streets - everywhere, gorgeous shops and little cafés - everywhere. The food is incredible, the wine even more so and even the men are pretty to look at! And don't get me started on the depth of history! I need to return, soon.

Some things that struck me last weekend:
  • Rome must surely be considered to be the heart of the Catholic faith and yet pretty much all the shops were open on Sunday, and the city was heaving that day, more so than on the other days we were there.
  • the Spanish Steps seem to be treated not just as THE place to see and be seen and pose for photos but also as an open bin/toilet - judging by the amount of litter needing to be cleared away in the morning and by the stench.
  • there were possibly more smokers there than in Germany - although at least in Rome there's no smoking in the restaurants.
  • American tourists could be recognised by their shorts and trainers combos and the Germans by their functional Jack Wolfskin apparel.
  • an afternoon can easily be whiled away sitting in a café watching the guys selling knock off designer bags trying to keep one step ahead of the cops, with a secret signal they suddenly all scoop up their goods and run off, one after the other, often hiding behind the stalls of legitimate market holders, emerging only when the police have walked by.
  • on the Friday bike ride I had possibly the most fun when I came up behind groups of German tourists, I loved the fact that I could ring my bell to make them scatter and then whizz past yelling "danke" over my shoulder. Sweet revenge for all the times Logan and I have had our walks ruined by German cyclists who misunderstand the word "footpath".
  • Leonardo da Vinci airport has to be the most disorganised in the world - ironic really when it's namesake was such a forward thinking brainiac, maybe that's why it also goes by name 'Fiuminco'.
A final note, I asked Ben what he thought of Rome...I got a one word answer:


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Snaps 86

Possibly the most bizarre of the street entertainers we saw in Rome.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pizza for Lunch

Day 2 of our Rome trip:
Saturday after breakfast (the kids were delighted to find that Italian breakfast includes lemon cake, blackcurrant tart, croissants and nutella as well as the healthier options of fruit salad, yoghurt and cereal) we grabbed a taxi from the square behind the hotel and nipped over to Vatican City. Not to go in of course (one day I'll do the Vatican museums and the Sistene Chapel, but it'll be without the children in tow, so that I can take my time, and appreciate the art, rather than having to repeatedly tell them to shhhh and racing through before they get too bored) merely to say "been there, got that photo," after continuing our competition to see who could the most nuns/priests or Minis* we meandered our way down to the banks of the Tiber and strolled along in the sunshine past the various street entertainers and market stalls before crossing back and along to Piazza Navona for lunch.

2:15 was our meeting time for a tour of the catacombs and crypts (chosen to keep a ghoulish 14 yr old entertained). Mike was our guide from Walks of Italy and there were only 6 of us on the tour. We started off at the nunnery of St Priscilla where, beneath the buildings are catacombs - 100's of meters of tunnels underground where 1000's of Christians were once buried back in the 2nd century, these particular catacombs are famous for containing the first documented image of the Virgin Mary which apparently the Vatican are keen to remove it to the safety and sterility of their museum.
From the catacombs, where there are no longer any bodies (removed years ago for a proper burial by the Vatican, to prevent tourists wandering home with a tourist trinket that's more than just a pope on a rope) we headed back into the city of Rome to the Capuchin Crypt. This is a series of six rooms decorated with the bones of 4,000 Capuchin monks. You hear that and you think that the bones are just lying about maybe or piled up against the walls but no. Each of the rooms had a theme and each had at least five whole monk 'corpses' posed, most of these corpses were purely skeletal but some still had skin and hair, one in particular really didn't look like it had been dead 250 years (gossip has it that he's thought to have been especially holy which is why his body isn't decaying). In the last room there were three complete skeletons that were smaller than the others, one was the 'Princess of Rome' depicted on the ceiling as death and the other two were cousins of hers, all three little girls (none older than 9) had died around the same time and the Capuchin monks were asked by the Pope at the time to 'take care of his 3 nieces'.
Apparently a few years ago health and safety visited and decreed that although what was pinned to the walls could stay, they couldn't put any more bones up. It was the kind of place that had we visited it with no guide we'd have wandered in and been done with it in a matters of minutes, but with a guide we had the symbolism of every room explained to us (and many other tourists hanging off Mike's every word.)
Our last stop of the tour was the Basilica of St Clemente, this is somewhere else we'd never have stepped into without a guide let alone learnt so much. The current building that is visible above ground dates back to the 12th century, but it's built upon the remains of a 4th century church, which is in turn built over the remains of ancient Roman buildings, including the apartment where St Clemente (before his sainthood) back in the days of Emporer Trajan used to hold illegal Christian meetings, but there was also a temple to Mithras which was a new cult back in Clemente's day. This building was amazing, we were walking on original Roman flooring from the second century and even weirder, they think that beneath St Clemente's old floor is possibly another layer of ruins to be discovered, probably from Nero's time (apparently they kept finding burnt wood before they had to close down excavations last year due to funding issues) wow!
As you can see, Saturday was a pretty historical day, we still managed to fit in a pizza or two though!

* At the beginning of the trip I bet Jas that I could count more nuns/priests in Rome than she could Minis. We clearly didn't hang about the Vatican area (or 'Pope City' as I like to call it) long enough as Jas saw twice as many cars as I did people in black!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pizza for Breakfast

We've just spent 4 days in Rome, flew out Thursday lunchtime and got back in time for Jas to go trick 'n treating yesterday.

Si and I were in Rome together (without the children) a few years ago and I remember enjoying it then. Second time round didn't disappoint, I think it could be one of my favourite cities. The architecture there is stunning, the golden light (we were so lucky with the weather, blue skies every day and only in the evening walking to and from the restaurants did we need coats) is every photographer's dream, I love the narrow, winding streets with the tiny little shops and cafés and as for the food and the wine - I love going to a restaurant where the wine list is more comprehensive than the menu!

We spent our first afternoon (after dumping the bags in the hotel) meandering our way from the Spanish Steps (brilliant, central hotel location - La Perla on the corner and Prada at the end of the street, guess who chose the hotel?) through various streets until we ended up in Piazza Navona, a handy place for the first pizza (Ben) and first beer (me). Piazza Navona might be full of tourists and therefore subject to over inflated prices but it is a great place to watch the world - the variety of street entertainers in Rome has to be seen to be believed, from the bizarre - a person in a full length black cloak topped with a goat's head to the creative - a guy dressed as a cowboy statue (all his clothing and skin was the deep grey colour of metal, who, when you put money in his bowl, pulled you (Jas, not me) up onto his little podium and posed with you (lasso around neck and pistol aimed at head) then there were the two drummers who would suddenly freeze, only starting up again when they heard the tinkle of coins, a trio of street/hip hop dancers and numerous golden sarcophagus (sarcophagi?).

Dinner was in a restaurant recommended by a friend, her children had eaten chocolate pizza there and that was enough of a recommendation for our two. Il Brillo is down a tiny side street and looks nothing from the outside (but that's true of so many restaurants in Rome) then you go inside and down into the cellars where there is a warren of interconnecting rooms. I had handmade pasta with ragu and barolo and something else but I forget what the other ingredient was, it was sublime. Jas had her fave pasta carbonara and I don't think she'll be impressed ever again by the version she gets back home! Ben had his second pizza of the trip.
Often we don't bother with pudding but this was the chocolate pizza place so that had to be tried, I opted for the strawberry millefieulle, something I have never tried before, will definitely have that again.

Friday was another lovely sunny day, I had a bike tour booked and we had to be over in the area of the Coloseum for 9.15. Looking at the map there seemed to be a straightish route, unfortunately Simon was in charge of leading the Evans crew...we got there eventually (and were on time) is all that I will say. We were a group of 10, with Jas being the youngest but not necessarily the least competant rider, Bruno was our guide.
The cycling tour around inner rome was fun, although I think for Jas it was maybe at its worst scary (Rome inner city traffic) and at at its best dull (she struggled to understand the tour leader because his perfect english was marred by his perfect italian accent and I don't think she got how old bits of Rome are for that matter, but then since when did kids ever get 'age', how can someone who thinks 20 is old understand how amazing the Coloseum at 1,940 years old is?)
Personally, I had a great morning (when I wasn't worrying about whether the children were ok that is) we cycled for four hours around inner Rome, the Coloseum, Trajan's Column, Piazza Navona, the Panthenon, the Jewish ghetto, over the river into Trastevere and then back via the Roman Forum. Bruno had lots of history to tell us although a coffee/ice cream stop would have been nice.
We were supposed to make a stop in the Piazza del Popolo but the pensioners had decided to gather to complain about something and the square (and many of the streets) were full of blue rinses waving blue flags. It was quite bizarre, because come the evening the students had taken over and as we walked along Via del Corso to our restaurant there was a flood of cyclists heading down towards us, the majority riding normal bikes but the odd one or two on crazy contraptions, stretched high like for a circus, stretched long like for an easy rider style, even a tandem but no penny farthings.

After the bike ride we grabbed lunch (pizza no. 4 for Ben) and then wandered our way down to Giolitti's, an ice cream palace (they have chandeliers inside you know) we were in the middle of eating our mountains of ice cream (champagne & nougat flavours for me, baileys for Simon and double strawberry for Ben) when it became apparent that there was 'someone' at the table next but one to us, we'd never have realised (he's an Italian musician, Antonello Venditti) but for the numbers of women almost throwing themselves into his lap in order for them to have their photo taken with him, poor guy.

On our way back from our evening meal at another little backstreet restaurant (not quite as good as Il Brillo) we detoured through Piazza del Popolo (all cleaned up after the rioting pensioners) and outside the hotel at the top of Via del Babuino we came across another guy suffering the fate of fame, Franco Baldini (some football boss or so I'm told) having to have his photo taken whether he wanted it or not.

The price of fame, to be unable to go for an ice cream or even an evening stroll without being hounded by wannabe paparazzi!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book Reviews #26

Prep - Curtis Sittenfeld.

A book group choice, and not a bad read but at 478 pages, in my opinion at least 150 too long.

The story is written in the first person, that of Lee Fiori who is 14 at the beginning, and covers the four years (I think) of American high school, although this isn't just any old high school.
Lee, back in 'small town' Indiana decided at the tender age of 13 that she'd quite like to go to boarding school. Her parents weren't poor, but neither could they afford boarding school fees, so Lee did her research and applied to those prep schools that offered scholarships. But life as a student on a scholarship, as opposed to one as a student who has always had and probably will always have money is very different. Lee goes from being the clever student at her local school who was popular with the staff because she was keen, to being average and at one point so far behind in her understanding of maths that she risks being "spring cleaned" (the pupils' term for those who aren't making the grade and are asked to find another school).

From the very beginning Lee is shy, self conscious and naive, an outsider whose only wish is to observe others, making no attempt to try to conform or even fit in. This is fine, and quite understandable at the beginning, afterall she is only 14. But to not develop at all during the four teenage years as she starts to mature into an adult is weird and also irritating to me as a reader, I felt that I really wanted to slap the girl or at the very least shake her and tell her to try, just try to enjoy herself and the opportunities she'd put within her own grasp. Afterall it was her decision and no-one else's for her to go to boarding school.

This is a well written book, critics have been comparing her to Salinger and Path and according to the Observer it's "The OC meets Donna Tartt's The Secret History". I think The Times review says it all with "it feels like adolescence", there's way too much angst, self doubt, self loathing, self analysis and insecurity in this book for my tastes, maybe my adolescent days are just too far behind me for to want to be reminded of them?

I've been revisiting Enid Blyton's Mallory Towers with my daughter for a while now and I much prefer her take on boarding school with the midnight feasts and jolly hockey sticks approach to life despite the stiff upper (British) lip to this angst ridden American dream.

Monday, October 24, 2011

All Roads Lead to Rome

We're at the start of our Herbstferien* here, we have two weeks ahead of us with no having to get up at stupid o'clock in the pitch black in order to get to school. Bliss, and better yet on Thursday we (the four of us) are off to Rome for a long weekend.

I've been organised this time (the last city herbst trip we did was to Berlin and the children got so fed up and antsy that at one point I refused to go on holiday as a family again) so we have free time to wander about on Thursday afternoon then bright and early on Friday we have a bike tour which should show us bits of Rome that we might not otherwise (by ourselves) find and also give us an idea about bits that we want to go back to. Saturday afternoon we have a tour of the Catacombs (nice and ghoulish for Ben) and Sunday afternoon an Ancient Rome Discovery tour that is targeted at families. Hopefully this itinerary will keep the family entertained so that then they wont whine when I want to peek in some gorgeous Roman boutiques (I have a list, complete with addresses).

I think/ I hope that the weekend will be a success, the weather forecast is good (20+ degrees, that's got to be better than the miserly 14 here) the food is a guaranteed cert - pasta, pizza, gelato and limoncello, a bit of culture and a spot of shopping - what could possibly go wrong...oh yeah, we're taking a 10 and a 14 year old with us, should have thought up a plan B and packed them off to the grandparents...

* Autumn half term (herbst = autumn, ferien = holidays)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Snaps 84

My pet grammar hate is incorrect apostrophe use-age.
This menu at our favourite American style diner gets it sooooooo wrong with item no. 283. How could tuna ever need an apostrophe?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book Reviews #25

Snuff - Terry Pratchett

I love TP. I'm fairly confident that I've read every one of his Discworld series, some of them twice, but none of them as many times as my dad, who is a bigger fan of the mighty TP than I am.

This book revolves around Sam Vines who is head of the police force in the capital Ankh Morpork*. His beloved wife, Sybil, insists he take a holiday and packs them off (him, her and their young poo** obsessed son) into the country to her family estate (she was born into nobility, while Sam was dragged up through the streets). Of course from the moment they arrive it is clear that there is something not quite right in the village and Sam can't help himself, he's a copper through and through and will not let injustice go unpunished.

There are fights to the death, plain out and out murder, smuggling, kidnap and slavery, flooding, interspecies love and at the end of the day justice triumphs.

TP hasn't lost his touch, this addition to the Discworld series is as good as any of it's predecessors, only the mighty Terry could get away with naming a river going paddle steamer (driven by oxen rather than steam...) the "Wonderful Fanny" (on account, supposedly of the owner's wife possibly being named Francesca) and then compose the line:
"The deck creaked under his feet as he crept inside the Wonderful Fanny"
And then there's Terry's description of yoghurt, which is so attune with my own thoughts on yoghurt that it was as if TP had been inside my head, for he says that yoghurt is apparently just a type of cheese that doesn't try hard enough.

I love Terry, the world will be a very sorry place when Alzheimers finally claims him.

Long live Sir Terry!

* for those of you who have never read a Discworld book (why?) here are some facts you should know:
  • the Discworld is flat
  • there's magic (proper magic - wizards, witches, spells and all that kind of stuff, we're not talking Paul Daniels here, although knowing Terry there is doutless some cabaret act somewhere on the Discworld where ladies are being sawn in half and then magically put back together)
  • there are trolls, dwarves, werewolves and now goblins living side by side with humans.
  • it's a world out of the 1900's, but with interesting modern technological devolopments happening, so you have horse powered travel, a form of telegraph machine, printing presses...
  • humour is ever present, I doubt TP is capable of writing a single sentence without a trace of humour.
** faeces and not Winnie the.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

America Invades Germany

So I walked into Lulu Bar for the local expats/English quiz night and there were already 9-10 people there - it's a tiny bar (but small is beautiful, right - and Lulu is GORGEOUS) it was early, just after 8pm, so I hadn't expected so many people to be there already (or maybe we expats are just desperate for similar minds) but what was really freaky was that I only recognised one person (and that vaguely) and...they were all...American.

So they were all high 5-ing each other and talking about the latest baseball scores (or whatever it is Americans make small talk about in a country far, far from home) and I sat myself down across/far from the madding crowd* and waited for some people I knew (properly, i.e. English - or at the very least Princie**) to turn up.

In the end, I think Quizie Rascal's Quiz Night was by far, the best attended, although the irony of it is that over half of those there were American and wouldn't recognise an English Pub Quiz if it came up behind them and goosed them. There ended up being three wholly American teams (under strict I.H.*** regulations we were only allowed two or three people per team) but none of them won any of the three prizes up for grabs (hmmmm, maybe next time we should share out the handicap...)

Here are some of the questions Ian amused us with:

1. - in what country is the airport Marco Polo? (we were helped by the fact that Rachael had recently just booked her & Wolfwang's flights there)
2. - in what sport do you play for the Ryder Cup?
3. - between which two countries is the Simplon Tunnel? (we struggled to work out which continent we should be thinking about)
4. - what is the name of the cocktail containing vodka, tomato juice and lemon juice? (the team with Leslie, the bar owner were whooping with glee)
5. - what is the name of the author of "Pride and Predjudice"? (with five members of bookgroup there, that question was a given - or would have been were the five spread evenly throughout the teams)

Our team, Rachael, Wolfgang**** and I, got a whopping 20/25, failed to get the most scored (23, swotty Emma's (of the gold sequined pants) team) and also beaten to 1st line and 1st to get 4 corners...ho hum. We were at least able to walk out with our heads held high, hopeful that we can do better next month - if we join Emma's team!

Answers, apropo the quiz, i.e. in a wonderfully random order:
4. - bloody mary
5.- Jane Austen
1. - Venice
3. - Switzerland & Italy
2. - Golf

* old English, trust me, Thackeray
** expat from Alabama, but we (me, Rebecca & Rachael) are working on her English.
*** Ian Hookham
**** haven't yet tried to get him to answer to "Wolfie"***** but maybe I haven't met him under the influence of sufficient alcohol, this space.
***** Citizen Smith

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gained in translation

I spent this afternoon translating a letter from Jasmine's class teacher, Herr B.

I wouldn't normally go to the effort of sitting down with a pad of paper and a dictionary (OK, electronic translating device) for a note from school but this was a side and a half of densely printed matter (Germans don't believe in short and snappy unless it's made of leather) and it was all about the six days the class spent in Langeoog last week, so I thought that if I just skim read it I'd miss stuff or misunderstand stuff, far better to read it properly and thoroughly and inwardly digest hour or so and four sides of scribbled A4 later I am in full possession of the facts about last week, embellished with Jasmine's personal anecdotes.

I'll give you the leather* version as I see it:

- not a single child was homesick - I'm sure this will have been a HUGE disappointment to some mothers who were wiping away tears as the children left on the Monday and then again when they returned on Saturday.
- there was no mention of any bodyboarding being done, despite a certain child managing to pack both a bodyboard and wet suit, according to my reliable source (that'll be Jas and not Herr B) the child in question "didn't want to".
- the bumper cake harvest** was enjoyed right up until the last day, they never knew what kind of cake they were going to find inside the tin foil, which in retrospect surprises me, I'd have thought the German moms would have labelled their products with ingredients, use by date and place of manufacture at the very least.
- we parents got a stern telling off for allowing some children (no names, no pack drill - although I interrogated my suspect and received a very honest denial, although she did give up a name during questioning) to take with them more than the 5 euro we'd been forced to agree to as pocket money. The comment went "how can children learn that it is important to keep to an agreement, if their parents don't set the example" - ouch!
- the children appear to hae spent the whole of one afternoon packing their suitcases in readiness for the trip home. Really? It certainly didn't look like it, everything was returned, albeit in a much grubbier and crumpled state than it went, but that's to be expected. Maybe the afternoon was spent trying to locate everyone's belongings, maybe that's what he meant?
- there was the essential misuse of deodorant by boys, a couple of whom sprayed one poor child's cuddly toy and bedding - I'm surprised that 10 year old boys had deodorant with them, maybe the mothers thought that it'd hide the lack of washing?
- Herr B took advantage of having two native English speakers on the trip (Jasmine and Jack) and tried to polish up his English, I shall have to ask him next time (in English) how that went!
- things that received criticism from the children were apparently; the local island swimming pool was salt water (and yet they'd have happily swum in the sea, were it not for the fact that it would have been toe numbingly cold) the man who led the island walk talked over their heads meaning that unfortunately the children are still completely in the dark about the influence on the tide of the moon and lastly, they didn't have enough time on the beach - what did they think it was? A holiday?!

In the middle of November we get to spend an evening at school, watching a video of what the class got up to, reading the diaries they were forced to write every day and I guess looking at the photo-montage and all the related debris they brought back with them. The session is scheduled to be at least two hours long, but hey, at least it includes supper!

Word of the day; die Wasserlinse - waterweed

* i.e short and snappy
** every child was asked to bring along a tin foil wrapped loaf sized cake (the Germans are nothing if not specific)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Snaps 83

A clear sign that summer is over. This is area of the river here in Kettwig is where you can rent pedaloes and motor boats, they've all been packed away for winter, to re-emerge around Easter next year. Time to get the thermals out.

Friday, October 14, 2011

This mouse is partying*

This week is quiet in the Evans' household. Two of my cats are away leaving just me and Ben (+ dog and hamster) rattling around a 4 bed house.
Jas is away on a school trip to Langeoog** for six days and Simon is away doing China/Singapore/Jakarta/Thailand***. My days are usually filled by me doing my own thing until lunchtime and then when Jas gets home between 12.30 & 2 (depending on the timetable/whim of the teachers) running around after her, making sure homework is done, overseeing maths/german tutors, ferrying her to friends/ although when asked "what did you do today?" I usually answer "not much". It's not because I didn't do much, it's just that what my time is filled with is 'not much'.
But this week has been different, Ben comes home, between 1.30 and 4pm (timetable dependant - gymnasium level teachers seem to take things a bit more seriously and so even if a teacher is 'sick' there will be a replacement) he demands food and then disappears until tea time when he reappears demanding food again. I literally have to tie him down or stand in his room next to him in order to have anything approaching a conversation. So this week has been almost like a holiday for me!

Monday - took it easy, had no special plans, mainly because Jas wasn't leaving until 8am and last time the actual departure was delayed by almost an hour due to the police check of the coach failing. I really didn't want to have made special plans that I'd then have to cancel so I kept my normal schedule - German lesson, dog walking & food shopping, which left me with time in hand and I'm embarrassed to confess that I did an hour or so of German grammar! Shocking I know.

Tuesday - I took myself off to Roermond a designer discount mall an hour away, just over the border. I got there just after opening and had too much fun. Simon later asked whether I'd looked for summerweight shirts for him...errr, no. Why on earth would I do that? I had one goal in mind and one alone - self gratification. FUN!

Wednesday - met Rebecca and Oscar for a walk in the most hideous weather of the week, before going to the gym for a torture session with my trainer. I'm still trying to work out which particular exercises would have caused such agony in my thighs that although I can walk (haven't tried running) the getting vertical from a seated position is pure pain. Again in the afternoon I had time on my hands so I did some more swotty German grammar.

Thursday - part usual routine (dog walk then yoga) but then lunch with a friend. Bliss. I so rarely have the time to do lunch here in Germany (have to do breakfast instead & they tend to frown at people who order a glass of Pinot Grigio with breakfast) and the weather was so lovely yesterday that we sat outside to eat and chat. Double bliss! Evening was an impromptu expats gathering at Lulu's, leaving Ben home alone and trusting him to go to bed at a sensible time (I haven't asked, on the principle that ignorance is bliss).

Friday - my morning was spent at the hairdressers (sorry, I should say 'haircutters' as Justin likes to call his shop) and then back home to work on the synopsis for a book. Pizza has been ordered for tea and then Ben (once he comes out of his pit for food) and I will watch a film together - one that doesn't have to entertain a 10 year old.

Tomorrow afternoon my life will return to its usual format as Jasmine comes back from Langeoog, so I shal have to cram as much playing into the next 20 or so hours as possible...anyone for a game of Twister?

* while the cat's away, the mouse will play - English idiom.
** of the North Sea German islands that the locals love - just the words "North Sea" are enough to put me off spending valuable holiday time there, I was brought up to associate the North Sea with oil wells and freezing temperatures, not the place I want to go and sit on the beach, add to this the fact that a German friend jokes that every year when they go she comes back with tanned feet and hands because she keeps everything else wrapped up against the chilling wind.
*** although the Thailand leg is currently doubtful due to flooding.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Reviews #24

We need to talk about Kevin - Lionel Shriver

This is a book I'd 'wanted' to read for some time, but could never summon up the courage needed and trust me it needs bucket loads of courage, especially for a parent. All I knew about the plot was that a problem child was involved, otherwise why the need to talk about him? But still I shied away.

Sing at bookgroup suggested it as she loves Lionel Shriver's style of writing, although she did warn us that parents might find the subject matter tricky - that's putting it mildly!

I was so relieved to finally finish this book, I'm really looking forward to reading something light weight and frothy, I have been page counting for the last week as the book got heavier and heavier. Part way through a new character entered the plot line and I blanched, leaving the book alone for a day or so, for fear of what was to come and then in the dying pages of the book there was yet another hideous twist to choke down, a truly tough read.

So here's the plot: set in America in the late 90's, Eva is the mother of Kevin, wife of Franklin, she is reminiscing about their life to date together in a series of letters to her estranged husband. Eva and Franklin were besotted with each other, then they have a baby, Kevin. From the very beginning Kevin is not a 'normal' child, seemingly full of anger with the world, no nanny or babysitter could tolerate him and as time went on his behaviour to others worsened, nothing obvious and nothing proven, his father always believing the good in his son, but Eva felt differently, she could see no goodness in Kevin. It becomess apparent very early on that Kevin at the time of the letters is in prison/young offenders institute due to going on a bit of a killing spree at school and his mother is visiting him every two weeks despite neither of them seeming to want or enjoy the contact.

As a parent of growing children this book made me pause in my life and consider the whole 'nature/nurture' debate, and also the impact that violent video games and films have on growing minds.

It is brilliantly written and Sing promises me that Shriver's other books are nothing like as chilling as this one, so I may go on to read more of hers. I can only recommend this book but be warned, it's tough.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Germans can't party...discuss

As you can see from yesterday's Sunday Snap we went to the Rocky Horror Show this weekend.

For those of you who've never been to the show/heard about it look here for more info. Back in England B.C.* I saw the show at least twice and it is a blast. All of the audience dress up, and we're not talking smart 'theatre' clothes, think trashy/slutty/transvestite and you're halfway there. Part of the fun of the show is dressing up and then going along with everyone else and joining in with the show - the audience is expected to know to shout 'boring' everytime the narrator appears, 'asshole' to Brad and so on. Then there are the supplies that are needed - confetti for the two wedding scenes, water pistols and newspapers for the rain storm, torches, party blowers and hats...this is not just a musical, this is audience participation taken to the max, you do everything but climb on stage and join in - needless to say singing along is de rigueur!

I had booked the tickets months and months ago thinking it would be a great way to celebrate my birthday. There were seven of us all fully primed (having watched the dvd prior to the actual show - afterall not everyone had seen the show before) ready for our second row seats, ready to get down and party.

We anticipated that a larger percentage of the audience than back in England wouldn't be dressed appropriately, I don't think we had thought just how large a percentage it would be. At the shows in England I would say that if you went to see Rocky out of costume you would feel the odd one out, 90-98% of the audience will dress up - and I don't mean wearing a party hat and a feather boa. Most of the men will take full advantage of the opportunity to wear stockings, high heels and a corset plus a full face of slap (I think they all like the chance to embrace their inner trannie!) Saturday night in Essen the percentages were the other way around, we didn't feel out of place because there is, afterall, safety in numbers, and what's more - we knew we were right and they were just BORING! The Friday night before had been sponsored by the local WAZ newspaper, I just looked through their pictures online and it's depressing, the people wearing red shiny party hats only have them on because they were supplied in the 'party participation' bags provided by the paper, some of the audience even made their newspapers into hats - really, no. Yes it would keep the rain off better but that's not how Janet does it and therefore not how the audience should do it.

My friend Rachael who has lived here in Germany for 10 years said afterwards that she finally realised how boring the Germans could be. But what is surprising is that come Karneval (February - yeah, can't wait - not) they're the first to don a silly wig and a corset, so you would think that going along to a show where dressing like a member of the cast is positively endorsed would be a dream come true.

The Rocky Horror official Facebook page has loads of comments from people who've seen the show here in Germany, every night there are people raving about it, saying how it was super sexy and how much 'fun' they had...but the people I feel most for are the cast, who almost every night are singing and acting and dancing their hearts out in front of an audience that sits back, legs crossed, arms folded, pretty much demanding 'entertain me'.

It's a good job we didn't go on the WAZ sponsored night, Rebecca and I seem to get in the paper enough as it is (without trying, honest) and we had enough people coming up to us on Saturday asking for photos, can't imagine why!

* before children

Sunday Snaps 82

How the expats do Rocky Horror, surrounded by lots of locals who don't know how to participate to the max.
Photo was taken by our 'Janet' (aka Muna) whose Brad is begging for mercy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Till death do us part.

I always struggle to buy presents for Simon. Back in the days when we had no cash it was a struggle to match the gift to the available funds, now the problem is that if Si desperately wants something he is unlikely to wait for his birthday or Christmas but will go out* and buy it - around the beginning of December we have to declare a moratorium on DVD and CD purchases, just in case.

Last year I had a great idea for Simon's birthday present and then we booked to go to New York at Easter and that idea got shelved in favour of something in New York (Easter was late and we were acutally in New York for Simon's birthday) - I sent him and Ben** up in a helicopter on a tour of New York. They had a great time, Ben even got to sit up front next to the pilot because he was the lightest. When I'd been booking the flight I read a lot of reviews online of the different helicopter companies and then chose the one that had the lowest accident rate (I know Simon's well insured, but better safe than sorry eh?) It was quite unpleasant to read the news today about a helicopter crashing into the river at New York, I'm glad that trip's behind us now rather than ahead - I think I'd be far more hesitant about risking the lives of two of my favourite men with any helicopter company!

This year's present was another flight, but this time in a Zeppelin - there's a little airport ten minutes away from us that sends a Zeppelin up over the area all through the summer, the tickets aren't cheap but it looks like such fun. Simon went on his birthday flight a couple of weekends ago and so I can now mention the fact that there was a Zeppelin accident earlier this year, June to be precise, and although the passengers escaped the airship itself and the pilot went up in flames. This happened after the planning and giving of the gift, but before the taking of it. I don't know if Si knew about the accident, I certainly didn't tell him, it would have kind of ruined the event don't you think? It's not like I was trying to get rid of him, it's just that the gifts I buy him seem to have a certain element of danger attached to them...the year before last I sent him to the Nürburgring for a ride in a BMW driven by one of the pro drivers there, another adrenaline fuelled gift - maybe I should consider a nice pair of argyle socks for next year?

* more likely to Google it and get it shipped straight from the internet actually.
** I'd have loved to have gone too, but someone had to stay on the ground with Jasmine.

Word of the day; um die Ecke bringen - to bump somebody off.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Two Left Feet

The latest fitness trend has arrived in Germany, well, when I say the 'latest' it's probably quite old hat in America & Britain, you've probably moved onto something newer by now, but here, in slow 'n steady Deutschland, Zumba is the new big thing in calorie burning.

At my local gym, where I go to earn my cake and wine, we currently have a week dedicated to Zumba, lots of extra classes laid on for us all to try out before they slot them into the normal timetable. We've had to sign up for the sessions which gave the impression that numbers would be limited - except that when the numbered slots were all filled in people continued to add their names to the bottom, consequently the class I went to today was jam packed, fling your arm accidentally in the wrong direction, meet someone coming the other way and you could take that person's eye out.

Zumba is like a dance aerobics class with salsa type moves, lots of ass wiggling, tummy gyrating and toe tapping, you certainly work up a sweat - supposedly an hour long class can burn up to 1000 calories, although this would require you to put the effort in, unlike the girl (she was definitely a girl, she was there with her mom & had chosen to wear her badminton skirt - to a gym class? Clearly not her usual habitat) in front of me who barely broke into a sweat, but then she wasn't working at it, the rest of us were dripping with exertion after 60 minutes, the instructor managed to make his stage area resemble a pool, seriously sweaty!

My natural location at a class is at the back, I like to hide out and be inconspicuous, this works fine in yoga as the class is rarely too full and so the instructor can be seen up on his stage even from the back. In a packed Zumba class it was a different matter though. Everyone was shuffling around trying to see what our feet were suppossed to be doing and of course the people at the front are the people who least need to have a perfect view as they're the ones who've done it before, know all the moves and want to show off their proficiency to the teacher, good luck to them, I think he was more interested in the two men who had the nerve to try out the class.

Despite the overcrowding the class was great fun, kind of like going to a disco and dancing your feet off solidly for an hour - while wearing sensible shoes.

I shall have to hope that when they timetabe Zumba it fits in with my (everso hectic) schedule, it'll make a fun change from the treadmill and the cross trainer!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Friday, September 30, 2011

Rising Star

Facebook is often accused of being nothing more than great way to fritter away time but it is also a great way to keep in touch with people, who you may not know well enough any longer to spend 30/60 minutes chatting on the phone to.

One of my FB friends is an ex neighbour from when we lived in England. We were next door neighbours for 4/5 years before they moved up to the St. Andrews area of Scotland and then a couple of years later we left for Germany.

Our friendship back then was helped by the fact that we were 'next door neighbours' and our sons, Ben and Ally, were the same age and therefore in the same class at the local village school.

After they relocated to Scotland we visited them once and after we moved to Germany, Kecia (mom & FB friend) visited us with a group of girlfriends. But other than that the only contact we have now is via FB. Seeing pictures of each other's holidays and so on. Then yesterday in my FB news feed there was a post from Kecia about Ally. It turns out that since moving north Ally has taken up golf, and is rather good at it, two years ago he had a handicap of 13, this year he's playing off 3! Earlier this year Ally won the St Andrews Links Junior Golf Association Order of Merit and thereby earnt a spot on the standby list for the European Tour pro-am event. Then this week a South African player withdraw from this weekend's event leading to the drafting in of Alasdair McDougall aged 14.

It was amazing to read this yesterday morning and then even better in the evening to read the news reports about how Ally's day on the Old Course had gone; he and his professional playing partner finished the day with a team score of five-under-par.

Simon and I are wondering if reading about an old friend's success will inspire Ben further with his golf (although I doubt it) but am I looking forward to following Ally's progress over this weekend and in the years to come, a rising star indeed.