Monday, January 31, 2011

A Doctor a Day...

Last week I didn't eat any apples, couldn't, except for Tuesday that is.

You see, last week I had an appointment with a doctor of one kind or another every day (except for Tuesday) and as the saying goes;

An apple a day keeps the doctor away

So surely the reverse can be true as well?

I realise that this sounds rather extreme, a doctor every day bar one, and I'm in the peak of health too...

It started on Monday, I had to go and see my Hausartz (GP) had made the appointment the previous Friday and then on the day turned up and pretty much walked straight in, I commented to Herr Doktor Deusse how different the health care systems are in England and Germany, how so he enquired, so I pointed out that with the NHS you would probably have to wait a week for an appointment (by which time you're probably feeling a lot better - cunning plan eh?) and then you'd wait again in the waiting room surrounded by sick people, spreading their bugs all around them. He's planning to tell all his patients who have the temerity to complain* how it is in other countries. Anyway all I wanted was a referral to get my knee scanned** and the Dok was quite happy to provide this.

Tuesday, although I didn't see any docs I did speak to 2, first my friendly knee surgeon*** rang me with the number for the radiologist their clinic uses, then I rang said radiologist and made the appointment for an MRI (MRT here) scan.

Wednesday, I had an appointment with Doktor Zwez, or Barbie as we refer to her in our house, the dentist, for an hour of oral torture. She seems to be under the impression that I have very sensitive teeth, admittedly there is one tooth that can be a little...temperamental, shall we say, but I defy anyone to lie there in the chair of pain and not wince and yelp when their gums are being poked by a pointy metal stick.

Thursday, my appointment with the radiologist and the MRI scan. I hadn't had one before but knew enough to know that thoughtful dressing would be important as anything metallic would have to be removed, therefore no jeans or underwired bras, unless I wanted to strip and don a hospital gown...I was pretty proud of myself, all I had to take off was my jewelry. As for the scan itself - I'm almost curious to know how the hell it works, I say almost because I'm quite sure that the explanation would get very scientific very quickly and leave me nodding mindlessly. I had to lie on a 'bed' and after being given headphones (because of the noise) and a panic button, I was told it would take 15 minutes then I was slid feet first into a narrow tube. I lay there, day dreaming and fretting over whether the loops on my camisole that looked and felt like plastic were actually plastic and not metal, until the banging and clopping noises started almost making me jump. Finally it was done and I got to see the sections through my knee that this machine had taken, weird.

Friday, the final day of the working week and I had to leave a very nice and relaxing expat breakfast to go for my Frauenartz**** appointment. This is like a health check up and should happen every year or twice a year if you're German/obsessive/have a fetish for sitting in chairs with stirrups wearing no pants. Anyway, it's over and done with for another 12 months as is my week of dealing with the medical profession.

* but they're German, so of course they'll complain.
** knee has been unwell since Christmas when I smashed it down onto a wooden step - hasten to add that I didn't break either of the bottles of wine I was carrying at the time.
*** Lucky eh? I have a friend who specialises in knee and hip surgery, so when my knee didn't seem to be getting better I got him to have a feel.
**** literally means 'ladies doctor' but mainly gynaecologist.

Word for the day: das Gesundheitssystem - health care system

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Snaps 49

A sad sign...
This is our local Eis cafe, closed up for winter, which we're used to.
But displaying a 'zu vermieten' sign now, does this mean that this coming summer we're going to have to walk further for our ice cream fix?

Word for the day: vermieten - to let.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Yesterday my friend Ingrid decided to mark her birthday by inviting a small group of friends round for breakfast.

To me, this is somewhat bizarre, breakfast for me is the breaking of the fast - i.e. something to go into a ravenously hungry stomach at the break of my day (typically 6.30am) but of course breakfast is different here as I've commented before, often people will have a small something when they get up and then a proper German breakfast anytime before lunch. Also, why, on your birthday would you want the hassle of preparing a lovely breakfast and then having to clear away all the detritus later? The last time she did this at least her husband was at home playing at being the egg chef and so hopefully he did all the tidying up afterwards too...

We were invited for 9.30, although it was maybe 10 before we were all there and seated and eating (good job I'd had a small bowl of cereal when I got up, otherwise I'd have fainted from hunger). The food was good as was the company, all moms with at least 1 kid in high school, consequently much of the conversation was about school/teachers/grades/up coming half year reports blah blah blah.
Then one mom started on the subject of the kids being shown films at school that are inappropriate for their age (she has a daughter, who I think had nightmares after watching a certain film) which led onto Harry Potter being 'too scary' for many kids and besides which there are many other films, real stories that aren't so scary.
Which led onto Ingrid remembering her daughter being upset when at the age of 7 they read a book in school about the Kristallnacht where it was clear to her from the pictures that if a little girl's teddy bear was all that was left of a family then the little girl must be in terrible trouble herself.
This then led onto the wasn't me OK, I didn't even mention it once, they started it (in more ways than one) and I just sat there thinking to myself, "are we really talking about the war? During a birthday breakfast?"

It was on the tip of my tongue to make a "what a happy subject for a birthday" type comment, but then I decided not to, seeing as this was the first time I've had a group discussing the war like this. The conversation wound itself up when they started talking about a TV show this week (it's Holocaust week you see as it's the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945, which Germany has marked since 1996 with official memorial ceremonies for Holocaust victims) the programme had made the point that the companies that had made the ovens for the death camps had put their company name on said ovens...again I bit my tongue whilst thinking to myself that of course they would do such a thing, they knew what they were doing, they just never thought they would be prevented from continuing, so why shouldn't they promote their companies?

I forget now what subject diverted us from more war chatter but soon attention was turned to me - probably because I mentioned I would need to leave soon as I had a German lesson to get they needed to know what I learnt in my lessons - grammar? Yes, I happily confirmed, grammar and translation and chat.
But who was my German teacher they asked, a German?
And that's when I expanded the truth somewhat.
She's half Arabic I told them. You could have heard a pin drop.
You can't learn proper a German from someone who isn't German they declared. So I had to tell them the whole truth, how it's only the father who isn't actually Aryan, but how my teacher is a 'proper German'...didn't tell them that she spent her formative years living and loving London and that while her German is as good as, if not better than theirs, her English is as good as mine.

* word for the day: Frühstück - breakfast

Thursday, January 27, 2011

It's only a game


It's as devisive as religion don't you think?

Like religion people are either for it or not, and then if they are a supporter then that faction is again split into what team they support. At least football doesn't seem to be an underlying cause of wars...just minor violence & thuggery.

I confess to knowing nothing about the game of football, although I probably know a bit more than your average American, they do insist on calling it soccer and thinking that football is played by men wearing tight leggings and body armour and carrying a rugby shaped ball.

I maybe know enough to get a group of girls anyway, with a group of football obsessed blokes I keep my head down and when asked an opinion am able to pass comment on the colour of the kit (should anyone ever wear that shade of orange?) fit (or not) of the shorts and surnames - when forced to endure 90+ minutes (see, I even know how long a game lasts) of TV hell I can be relied upon to make jokes about most of the players names - this has been made so much easier by the habit of the UK clubs of buying up lots of foreign talent who must have it written into their contracts that a silly sounding name (to English ears anyway) is de rigueur*, however I would never, ever dare to judge whether a ball was offside or not. I've had the stupid rule explained to me enough times that I think I know the gist of it but to actually confidently call it? I don't think so, not when every self respecting football fan has an opinion on said subject.

A woman who dares to make such a call has to be damned confident in what she saw, I would say that any woman who wants to get in the pit with the guys and debate the whys and wherefores of what is essentially their game (in their minds anyway) would make tripley sure of her facts before even thinking of an opinion, let alone voicing one.

Before last Saturday the name Sian Massey was probably unknown outside of her home town, now it's a name linked with the suspension of 2 Sky TV sports presenters and the offside rule.
Ms Massey is a highly thought of young referee within the FA, she has been refereeing since her teens and made her debut as an assistant in the men's game in August 2009.
On Saturday she was one of the team officiating at the Liverpool-Wolves game when Richard Keys and Andy Gray, believing their microphones to be off, decided to make sexist comments about her ability to do her job, amongst the things said was;
"well somebody better get down there and explain offside to her"


Did it honestly not occur to either one of them that a women choosing to put herself into a male dominated arena would make sure she was at least twice as capable as any male counterpart of making the right decision and keeping up with the lads.

And it turns out that the offside she did/didn't call has since been judged to be “the sort of decision only a top-quality official, of whatever gender, would get right, a crucial decision that leads to a goal" according to Ian Blanchard, the FA’s senior national game refereeing manager.

Meanwhile Ms Massey is probably quite sick of the furore over, what was for her, one small, split second decision in the 5,400 other seconds (plus whatever time added on for stoppages etc. yawn) of the game. I dread to think of the chants that the fans will have pre-prepared for her next match appearance...

Some time ago a friend thought to help/patronise us girlies by explaining the notorious offside rule in terms he thought we'd understand, here it is, but prepare to feel patronised:

You're in a shoe shop, second in the queue for the till. Behind the shop assistant on the till is a pair of shoes which you have seen and which you must have.

The female shopper in front of you has seen them also and is eyeing them with desire. Both of you have forgotten your purses.

It would be rude to push in front of the first woman if you had no money to pay for the shoes.

The shop assistant remains at the till waiting.

Your friend is trying on another pair of shoes at the back of the shop and sees your dilemma.

She prepares to throw her purse to you.

If she does so, you can catch the purse, then walk round the other shopper and buy the shoes!

At a pinch she could throw the purse ahead of the other shopper and "whilst it is in flight" you could nip around the other shopper, catch the purse and buy the shoes!

BUT, you must always remember that until the purse has "actually been thrown", it would be plain wrong for you to be in front of the other shopper and you would be OFFSIDE!**

Word for the day: Abseits-Regelung - the offside rule

* for example: Andrei Arshavin, Carlos Costly, Danny Shittu
** thanks to Ian for the 'joke'

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Tuesday is my one day of almost freedom.

Here in Germany the children only have shcool until lunchtime (a very nasty shock coming from the UK's civilized 9am till 3.30/4pm) and so if I want to go do stuff without having company I have to cram it into a morning. Which wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that although school starts just before 8am the shops don't actually open their doors until 10am (and I'm not counting supermarkets/post offices or chemists as shops, they're not fun) a whole 2 hours, 120 minutes of recreational consumertime gone before before I can even say 'can I try this on please?'

On Tuesday Ben is in school until sometime after 1pm (although he can pretty much be discounted as he's old enough to come home with a key and hopefully not burn the house down before I get home) Jas meanwhile has choir practice until 2pm. 2pm!

Hence Tuesday is my day of almost freedom. I don't have enough time to go far - I can get to Düsseldorf but not achieve much, can get into Essen centre or to the Rhine Ruhr centre but that's about it, Oberhausen (another fancy mall) is just within reach but unfortunately Roermond
is just too far...

I think the benefits of shopping are vastly under-rated. I wouldn't dare list it as a hobby and yet I could certainly visualise it as an occupation - personal shopper, oh yeah, that's so my calling! Could you imagine having to have intimate knowledge of the contents of a store, needing to know about the new stock, the new colours and shapes, heaven.

Yesterday was the first day Rebecca and I had been able to flex our shopping muscles together for some time, ever since her husband was foolish enough to volunteer her services to help teach English at the school back in November.
Now, however the fates have intervened and knackered R's back so badly that the German doctors are all but sharpening their knives (she has a stay of execution (possibly not the best turn of phrase in this situation) but if things aren't better within 3-4 weeks it's another story) this means that standing and teaching isn't on and she has loads of physio appointments, but today there was a window of opportunity that happened to coincide with my own shaft of sunlight, this meant 2 hours of happy aimless wandering around, drinking coffee and chatting. Bliss.

Word for the day: einkaufen - to shop

Monday, January 24, 2011

Book Reviews #13

The Choice - Nicholas Sparks

I'd downloaded this book around Christmas time but not read it as I had book group reading to do. I was delighted to have this waiting for me after I'd finally finished the unbearable pile of poo that is Eat, Pray, Love (see book reviews #12), Nicholas Sparks can never be described as high brow, he's not a great literary author, just a writer who does a damn good job at writing stuff you can quaff like a mediumly priced Pinot grigio! And boy did I quaff this, 2 days, maybe 3 at the most and I was done, I very nearly stayed up late last night to finish it, having gotten to a point in the book where I went, 'What? Oh my god!'. But sensibly I put the book down and went to bed. I had to wait until this afternoon before I had time to pick it up again, because I didn't want to just read it in snatches, I wanted to have the time to wallow in it.

The story starts in almost too trite a manner - cute, successful, single guy meets cute woman. He's never been able to find a woman he liked enough to have a meaningful relationship with, despite his friends all marrying off and having kids, she's in a relationship but something isn't quite right with it.

The first half of the book deals with the first weekend of Travis & Gabby's relationship, and this should have alerted me to the fact that the second half of the book would be no bed of roses (for the characters involved, anyway) that and the fact that Nicholas Sparks' books can usually be relied upon to reduce me to tears at some point during them.

I won't tell you more about the plot, because if you do want to read it then I should hate to ruin it for you.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and am sorely tempted to download another of his right this very now but that would be very self indulgent of me when I have so many other books waiting for my attention!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Snaps 48

* photo courtesy of Tristram Kenton

We went to see the musical Wicked yesterday, great fun, although I don't think we followed all the story line (what with it being in German).

Two amusing things about the trip:
- as I was paying for the programme the cashier asked me if I was part of the cast...many of whom are native English speakers...if I had been I'd have got a discount apparently, whilst Si & Jas have taken it as independant corroboration that I am a witch.
- we came out for the interval and Si turned to me and asked 'is Elphaba green?'...well, yes, I guess you could say that...(she's the one on the right of the pic, Si).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Reviews #12

Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert

This will be a short review I warn you now.

I'd bought this book on the recommendation of a friend (although thinking back, I don't remember her actually saying to me 'Verena, you should read this, it's totally up your street' I think she maybe remarked that she was reading it and thought it OK).
I hadn't gotten around to actually reading it though, so when someone (I forget who, but when I remember/they own up - I shall be merciless) at bookgroup suggested we read it I felt quite smug as I had it ready to go, wouldn't need to search it out, could start right away.

I told a friend I was reading it and was finding it...dull, she asked which country I was in because, she said, the Italy bit is good...crap, that was the very bit I was finding dull, and that was supposed to be the best bit of the book?

The story is all about Julia Roberts, sorry, Elizabeth Gilbert's taking a year out of her 'normal' life following a 'nasty' divorce in order to try and 'rediscover' herself and put balance into her can tell already that this is a woman who has been making full useage of psychoanalysis can't you?

I enjoyed the first 28 pages or so of this book (shame it has 384 in total eh?), I like Ms Gilbert's casual, humourous style and her self depreciating and ironic manner. Then she mentioned God and she lost me, especially when she started expounding on her religious theories and I started to skip bits whenever she went all holier than thou.

She started to really annoy me when she would, in the middle of a passage change tenses, switching from the past to the present, I actually turned back to the passage to make sure I'd read it right, and she does it again and again, dramatic effect maybe? Annoying as hell definitely.

I forced myself to finish this book, rather like you have to force down nasty tasty cough medicine, and like cough medicine it was hard work and I don't know that I feel any the better for it. If I turn up to bookgroup and everyone else abandoned it I shan't feel smug, merely annoyed that I wasted good reading time on such drivel.

Elizabeth Gilbert is (imho) the woman who truly put the anal into analysis, she writes in a journal and her inner voice writes back with sound advice for goodness sake (tells her to go to bed or not to worry but I'll still love me) but she's clearly doing something right (write?) as her publishers gave her the advance to go stare at her navel for 12 months and then write about what she found.

And you know what, she's only gone and written a sequel...shan't be buying that one, nor even borrowing it, I have better things to do with my time, like emptying the dishwasher or my ironing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Stammtisch*

Last night I forced myself out of my very comfy zone and met up with other parents and Ben's class teacher for drinks and in theory something to eat (I say in theory because I assumed that as we were meeting in a place that is more a restaurant than a bar and that the place it'd previously been arranged for was a definite restaurant then we would be eating) as it was, only 3 of us from 10 actually ate (rather nice tapas, although it's a good job Si's away (again, I know) as I probably have garlic oozing out of every pore).
The table was booked for 8pm, I pretty much flew out of the house, convinced that I was going to be late, needn't have worried. I arrived punktlich at 8, expecting to find a large, loud table awaiting me, with me having to squeeze into a space, but no, lots of tables occupied by couples instead...had I got the right place? The right day? I cornered a waitress and asked and she pointed me to the table reserved for the tardy parents and said she'd be straight over.

5 minutes later they started arriving, fortunately the first was a mom I know well, Ingrid, as Paul and Ben are firm friends and Paul came to Cornwall with us last October.

The evening, much as I had dreaded it, was OK. Not a barrel of laughs the way expats night or bookgroup or Wednesday's comedy night at Lulu's are, but OK. I think it was helped by the fact that the group wasn't so big as to be intimidating (for a grown up I do find large groups of people I don't know quite scary) but it was more than just people I know.

I've been tasked with something that none of the others can do - try to find schools in England that study German (I did warn them that schools these days prefer to learn trendy (and possibly more useful - although I was tactful (hadn't had any wine) and didn't mention that fact) languages like Spanish and French rather than German as I did, many moons ago) and are in need of exchange schools. So I shall be emailing English friends later today on that mission.

I learnt that in a years time my son will be going on a school trip to England (Herne Bay/Canterbury/Hastings and London) where they stay with host families. I do pity the family that gets Ben, they'll have been so looking forward to getting someone they can try out their wonky German on, and whose English they can improve, all those expectations will be dashed the moment he opens his mouth and greets them with his Midlands accent.

There was also a discussion as to what subjects the children have to take at Abitur level (this is the final school exam that gets you into Uni - dependant on how good you are of course) the decision for which, for our kids, is in 3-4 years time, so I tuned that conversation out (especially as it was at the other end of the table and I had to strain to hear the response from the teacher, although not from the father who had the query, he had a loud voice).

Then there was the amusing conversation about whether in the 3 years of being their class teacher Frau Nierhaus has noticed any 'relationships' spring up, she said no, to which we laughed, as Ben and Paul certainly seem to have no idea what use girls can ever be, although Frau N was quick to point out that Ben seems to get on well with the girls, enjoying teasing them and so on...

I got home shortly after 10, to find Ben just going to bed (with no first lesson today I had said he could stay up till then) and he then demanded to know exactly what had been talked about and who had been there (a point on which I'm sure I was annoyingly vague as I barely know the names of the kids in the class, let alone who their parents are...).

So, first Stammtisch done, got no excuse not to go the the next one now, unless of course I'm washing my hair or cleaning the shower or defrosting the freezer!

* word for the day; der Stammtisch = regulars' table

Monday, January 17, 2011

As easy as falling off a bike?

Do you remember when you first learnt to ride a bike, there were two wheels either side of the back wheel to give you extra stability and reassurance so you could learn how to cycle without falling off all the time, until of course that time came when you were deemed old enough by your parents to do it by yourself and off came the extra wheels, away went any feeling of confidence and you were incapable of cycling anywhere without a parent attached to the back of the saddle preventing you falling off...

I have various memories of this, I remember my own dad holding tight (or so I thought) onto the back of my bike as I pedaled along Gunners Lane, him shouting 'I've got you, I've got you,' lying through his teeth as it turned out he'd already let go...and then of course I have the memories of teaching both of my children to learn to ride.
The clever Germans have gotten around this whole stabilisers/attached parent malarkey with the 'laufrad'*. Kids here seem to get one of these pretty much as soon as they can walk, and then they learn to balance themselves on two wheels and to steer although not necessarily how to stop, this makes the transition to a bike with pedals pretty painless for all parties - we witnessed our neighbour's little girl who has an older brother as a role model, take on his castoff laufrad as soon as she was old enough to reach the floor from the saddle and now at the age of 4 she is happily pedaling up and down in front of the house terrorising all motorists who dare to try to come past. No stabilisers ever needed.

In our house whenever there is a technical problem Simon is the person who is shouted for (unless he's in China/Finland/London) in fact the problem doesn't have to be in our house, his parents have always made free use of Si's technological know how. When we lived in England and we would be invited over for Sunday lunch Si would invariably spend half the time ensconced in the back bedroom (actually it's at the front of the house, but you know what I mean) fixing some problem that had cropped up with the computer/internet/printer. They can't have been pleased when we moved to Germany, not only were we removing their son and heir from easy access and their grandchildren but their technical help desk was relocating...

I should be impressed that it's taken almost 4 years for their system to hit meltdown, but boy when the sh*t hit the fan there was a big splatter zone.
The outlaws were here over New Year and Linda in a panicked call to the help desk (aka Simon) before the visit had had to turn it all off NOW and leave it alone, a virus had got in and was doing nasties. During their visit there were several little huddled discussions about the problems awaiting them back in England and this weekend after a couple of very long phone calls the issues seem to have been resolved.

Si thinks the computer problem isn't helped by the fact that sometimes windows pop up asking whether something should be updated/installed etc. and maybe just clicking to accept isn't a wise move. Si's way round this is to set up both his parents as users on their computer and revoke their Admin rights, not that they can't do the admin thing on their own computer, it's just now you have to be specifically logged in as the Admin in order to say yes to updating/installing anything, so hopefully this logging out and then logging in will be sufficient to make them think 'is this right? Shall I check first?' before merrily clicking the yes button to any little asylum seeking bug.

Ben thinks this is hysterical as he has recently had his Admin stabiliser wheels taken off (because Simon got fed up of Ben calling him at work (no matter what country he was in, no time zone gives safe haven from a frustrated teen) to ask him if he could do xyz on his computer) it has to be said though that Ben will soon overtake Simon in his technological capability, I updated my mobile just before Christmas, Ben took it off me as soon as I'd unboxed it (I wasn't going to let him have that bit of fun) to set it up (fine by me, I get it handed back to me shortly afterwards, in working order and we're both happy) then Christmas day my present from Si was an iPad and again Ben took it and set it up, now I'm not saying that I couldn't have done this but why not let him have the fun of doing it, he'll do it so much quicker than I would and they (the male of the species) need to feel useful don't they?!
So Ben is now crowing that Nanny and Grandpa have had to have their stabilisers put back on while he's cycling off into the sunset waving both hands in the air as he zooms away!

* a direct translation would be running wheel, laufen = to run, rad = wheel

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Snaps 47

This one is for a fellow blogger, Jayne in South Africa, on her blog she has a pic of the Giles granny and when I was walking recently I was behind this little old lady who reminded me of her (the granny that is, not Jayne)
although my dad points out that she's wearing the wrong type of needs to be black straw with a flower brim, but come on, this is winter, there's snow on the ground...!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Just another night

Last night was the monthly Expats meetup at Lulu's, some months there can be just the 4 diehards of me, Rebecca, Ian and Kamesh and it's also possible for the bar itself to be pretty empty, afterall it is on a Thursday with the probability of an early rise the following day for most people, and then there nights like yesterday.
As well as the loud group of 9 Expats clustered at the bar (makes the flow of the evening so much smoother when you don't have leave the conversational group in order to get another drink!) there was also a long table behind us of parents and staff from the kindergarten that Rebecca uses for her youngest, and they were keen to compete with us 'foreigners' for the noisiest group trophy.

The evening started well, with a black martini* for me, and Ian and I claiming our prizes from the Christmas bauble draw (well, I say claiming 'our' prizes, that's not quite true, the prize I was claiming was the bauble won by my brother, he's won Sunday breakfast at the bar, shame he's a 3 hour flight away eh?).

It was a good evening as ever and I was even home at a respectable time (11pm), we stayed long enough to make sure we outlasted the kindergarten group (the majority of whom were probably drinking fruit tea or water) afterall we have an image to protect!

Now I shall try to rack my brain to see if I can remember what we talked about....

- the Royal Wedding, we're planning 'a bit of a do' here, featuring dusk till dawn TV coverage and accompanying bitching, bucks fizz & champagne (well what else does one drink at a wedding?) wedding cake (construction of which has already commenced) and of course the wearing of wedding hats is de rigueur - not only that it has to be a 'self made' hat. The house will be completely decked out with bunting and flags and we might allow the men folk to join us later (after they get off work (after all it wont be a bank holiday here)) so that they can bbq for us...

- the Rocky Horror Show is coming to Essen in October and what's more it's here the week of Emma & my birthdays so we're going to go, but it has to be done properly and that means dressing up - which piqued the boys interest, when the words stockings and suspenders were mentioned. Funnily enough they don't want to come along, neither have the legs to carry off fishnets apparently!

- squash, Ian and Kamesh were fresh from the squash court, where Kamesh has yet to beat Ian, who says that all he has to do is stand in the centre of the court while Kamesh charges around and keeps hitting the ball straight back at him. Ian tried to challenge me to squash but I dodged that one, blaming first a lack of depth perception (didn't wash as Ian says he also has none) then my bad knee**. I think I've got away with it for the moment but I can guarantee it's one of those subjects that will raise its ugly head again.

- Chrismas presents, who got what and who gave what. Rachel said her worst present was a glass angel that she looked at and wondered immediately who she could re-present it on to! I have to confess that this year the ugly present fairy passed me by.

- discussion about what makes a cocktail a martini, is it just the fact that it's served in a martini glass? Or is it the proportions of each spirit? Afterall the traditional martini is vodka and vermouth, but the cocktail list at Lulu's has everything from a chocolate martini to a fuzzy martini, there's even a virgin martin with no alcohol in it (shudder).

And that was just another night at Expats, here's to the next one!

* vodka and black sambuca I'm told
** hurt between Christmas and New Year, I had a bottle of red wine*** in each hand and fell up the wooden stairs from the cellar, smacked my knee cap right into the step. It swelled up and has bruised nicely, is back to its normal size now but not its normal functionality - it didn't enjoy Wednesday's step class much, nor parts of the pilates class, haven't tried running again yet.

*** importantly I managed not to break either bottle!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It's a slippery slope

I know that I am guilty of banging on and on about the differences between life in Britain and life in Germany and I am also guilty of pointing out the negatives (as I see them) here, I do try to point out the positives too but I am clearly not yet unbiased enough...anyway here's a little story highlighting exactly how different matters can be:

The week before Christmas (or maybe it was the week before the week before Christmas) we'd had a ton of snow, a veritable shed load and the telephone tree for Jasmine's class sprang into action late one evening (after 8pm, very late for Germans, who normally wont stir themselves afer such an antisocial time) I was to take note and pass the message on that each child should wear appropriate clothing and take their sledge into school the following morning as they were going to spend second and third lessons in the snow*. Message duly noted and passed on to the next branch on my tree, I also then rang my English friend (who taught primary children before moving to Germany) with a child in the same class, and we discussed the possibility that someone could quite easily be spending part of the following day at the local A&E department, but maybe, just maybe the kids were only going to be sledging in the school grounds (it has at least 2 decent enough slopes for that age group (8-10 yr olds) and hopefully it wouldn't be just the one adult and 34 children...

Interrogation of child after the event showed that the class of 34 went with their teacher, Herr B, and 1 mom, into the woods onto the path that, whilst wide enough for a vehicle to pass down also has trees (big, old, solid trees these, not young little whippy, soft saplings) on either side, at least one bend and a drop at the end that is severe enough to warrant a hand rail (that a child on a sledge would shoot straight under). I'm so glad I found out these details afterwards, ignorance is bliss don't you find?

Compare that event to this week in the British press, here in the Mail and here and also in the Telegraph where the life of a design and technology head of department has been pretty much wrecked by the health and safety regulations which saw him lose his job in June 2009 following a day in February that year where he and 2 pupils took his 30 year old 'design classic' of a sledge down a snow covered slope. His mistake was failing to fill out the necessary health and safety forms required by the education system and not ensuring that the children were wearing protective clothing and head gear (he also chose to disregard the head's advice 2 days prior about keeping the children off the snowy slopes).
Mr Tremelling's 2 day hearing this week ended with a reprimand that will stay on his record for 2 years but will not prevent him from teaching again.
I dread to think what his punishment would have been had he taken 30 pupils, each with their own sledge out into the snow.

Told you life was different here!

* You can tell what an affluent area we live in, it is assumed that each child will have padded winter trousers, winter boots (and this doesn't mean boots that are worn in winter, this means boots that are fleecey lined and waterproof with grippy soles that would shame a mountain goat) and a sledge.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Lemming or logical?

Germany is being rocked by a food scare at the moment.

Dioxin has been introduced into the food chain here through chicken feed*, that's bad news because Dioxin is classed as a POP (persistent organic pollutant) which means that it doesn't break down over time but remains within the body and can build up until dangerous levels are reached. POP exposure can cause death and illnesses including disruption of the endocrine, immune and reproductive systems, neurobehavioral disorders, and cancer.

This 'little' problem hit the news over the Christmas period when the dioxin levels at the firm in Uetersen were measured and found to be 77 times greater than the 'safe' level. Like I said, bad news, but it gets worse...this was December, but the daily Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung reported that a self-assessment (within the firm) showed positive results for unacceptable levels of dioxin on March 19, last year but was not reported to authorities.

So by emptying my shelves of eggs and chicken that isn't bio/organic I guess I'm shutting the door after the horse has bolted right? Except that as I mentioned, dioxin builds up in the body so better late than never in my attempts not to poison myself and my family eh?

Or by acting in this manner, reading all the sensational headlines, throwing away good (but possibly contaminated) food, buying organic where I wouldn't normally, am I acting like one of the herd, being a bit of a lemming by following along with what everyone else is surely doing (seeing as I bought the very last pack of organic eggs from the supermarket this morning) or am I being sensible and cautious and acting in a way to protect my family's health?

A bit of both I guess, while I object to the sensationalisation of the scare it would be foolish of me not to act in such a way as I can to protect my own and if that means spending more on food because I'm buying organic then so be it, it's probably better for us anyway!

* An animal feed maunfacturer, Harles & Jentzsch, has admitted it was 'careless' in mixing fatty acids meant only for industrial use into animal feed, leaving that feed potentially contaminated with the harmful chemical dioxin. This feed has been used only by 'breeder' hens who produce eggs and which are not used for meat, although there are concerns that the feed has been sold into Denmark and also that contaminated eggs may have made their way into other European countries in products such as mayonaise and the like.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunday Snaps 46

Today the snow is but a memory, we now have warm (above zero is warm) wet weather and pretty much no snow. So here's 2 pics from last week, can you tell which is the result of German snow clearing and which the result of British clearing?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Book Reviews #11

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

This was another book group read & amazingly I finished it with 2 days to spare and this despite it being Christmas and having a houseful of guests. Someone came up with the idea that we should read more classics & this is definitely a classic, most of us had read it for school (which doesn't necessarily make for good memories!) and I think it's probably still on the curriculum...

I have to admit that when I started the book I couldn't remember the plot (not too surprising as I was 16 when I last read it) and the main plot line, that of the defending of a Negro on a charge of rape, by the father doesn't kick in until about a third of the way into the story.

The storyteller is 9 year old Scout who lives with her 13 year old brother Jem and her lawyer father Atticus in a one horse town in deepest Alabama. It's the 1930's and segregation and the Great Depression play a huge part in this story. The novel kicks off with the siblings plotting with a friend how to get the mysterious guy (Boo Radley) next door, out. It never happens but they do enough to bring themselves to his attention and after that they start finding little, insignificant gifts in the hollow of the tree in front of the Radley house until they find it filled up with cement.

This novel is a truly great period piece, undated and still with an important story to tell, what is more amazing is that this was the first novel by Harper Lee.

At book group last night we actually managed a decent discussion about the book, despite the fact that only a few of us had read it, I think for some it still holds too many school time memories for them to contemplate re-reading it. We were agreed that the story has a valuable message even today and personally I feel that any book that has me reaching for Google to continue research is good for me, with my poor knowledge of both history and geography!
It's also a book that clearly impacts on many people, since I first read it Bruce Willis named one of his daughters Scout and in the 80's there was a moderately successful pop band called the Boo Radleys.

Book group was busy last night, 15 of us, 6 male (shock, horror - the normal male quota is 1) so the conversations were well spread and diverse, from the joys of Colin Firth films to the film Animal House, which only the Americans in the group had seen, Chilean erotic poetry got a look in as did the subject of hairs styles & cutting hair to donate to cancer charities for wig making purposes, which led seamlessly onto John's new wig (he's a barrister or something). We had an interesting chat about nicknames or rather terms of endearment and the fact that in Germany they all seem to be animal based (mouse and snail being popular) while in Spain they're food based and England they tend to be adjectival, Michelle gets upset by her boyfriend calling her little fat mouse and insisting that he doesn't mean that she's fat, but that's not the way she sees it, Felix (German) agreed with us that it wasn't nice and that he would never dare to use it as an endearment for his wife (who was sat right next to him). I managed to leave before the end of the evening (although it was after 11:30) having drunk enough Sauvignon blanc to give me a fuzzy head this morning, I shall have to make enquiries as to when the last diehards left the bar.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

That was 2009 that was

I appologise now for the reduction in blogging action over the festive period, I haven't been away, just a little too pre-occupied with a houseful of guests to find the time to sit at the keyboard and do anything other than simply absorb what's on the screen above.

As we went to bed last night (before 10pm) after shipping the last guests off to the airport, Si commented that he couldn't understand why we were both so tired, he at least has a halfway decent excuse in that he went back to the grindstone on Monday. Personally I blame my tiredness on never being able to fully relax (as you would normally) when there are guests in the house, it doesn't matter whether they need 'entertaining' or not, you just never never feel like you can slob out in your pj's on the sofa with a bowl of crisps and a glass of white wine, you always have to be smiley...

So there you have it, my feeble excuse for my absence, I hope it's acceptable.

As my first proper blog of the new year I thought I should look back at the last one (kind of traditional isn't it?) but I shan't give you a top 5, merely a meander throughout my year - highs and lows...and not in any particular order apart from date, I'll start with January.
  • for Jas it wasn't a great year healthwise, we had almost 2 weeks of some revolting viral bug that involved at least 3 trips to the doc and then in the spring she broke her arm badly enough to need it operating on and pinning, here's hoping that 2010 is healthier!
  • I discovered culture and went to numerous exhibitions at the newly refurb'd Folkwang Museum in Essen, an appropriate year to be doing so I guess, seeing as 2009 was Essen's turn as 'European City of Culture' - mind you, despite the myriad of cultural events put on in this area during the last 12 months that was all I managed.
  • We spent Easter in New York, an amazing holiday that we'd all love to repeat and I think the best bit for all of us was the guided bike tour of Central Park, although the shopping was pretty damn good too!
  • I spent a great girlie weekend at my friend Ali's, eating, drinking and shopping, even got to the cinema, what a treat. Had thought that I wouldn't make it as that was the weekend straight after Jas had broken her arm.
  • Jas's school choir performed several times in a special Kettwig concert thing over a blisteringly hot bank holiday weekend, the outlaws came over to watch.
  • I got a Mini Cooper S, finally a fun car to drive, the Corolla Verso is practical and sensible but ultimately for a secret petrol head - DULL. The Cooper puts a smile on my face, although it's confined to the garage at the moment as the snow is so deep that it grounds on the middle of the road!
  • I went to several performances at the Recklinghouse Arts thingummy, including The Tempest, Our Lady something and Infernal Comedy - shall have to look out for that this year, it was good fun.
  • The number of expats in Kettwig grew and grew, first we 'found' Emma in Isenbugel, then Robina, then towards the end of the year, Jane and Rachel and Princie - the English speakers are taking over Kettwig!
  • The Football World Cup came and went, accompanied by much drinking and bbq-ing and honking of horns.
  • Simon flew around the world on business, managing to clock up 96,000 miles in the air (and that doesn't include private mileage) am currently trying to work out how big a carbon footprint that makes and how many trees he needs to plant to offset this...
  • We spent a relaxing 2 weeks in Spain while my parents house and dog sat for us, this year we're going again (but only for 10 days this time, grumble, mutter, grumble) wonder if they fancy the job again?! Although last year they only just made it as mom had nearly been hospitalised with pneumonia but they hadn't told me because I'd only have worried....parents!
  • My brother came for a short visit and demanded to be taken to a nudist beach so that he could swim in the lake...yeah, right, apparently it's all part of training for ironman competitions!
  • My friend Jacky finally got married and I spent a very excited week helping in last minute preparations, it was a great day.
  • Went to England again in the autumn half term, me and 3 kids - a crazy idea but it was kind of good fun once we got there...Cornwall is stunning given the right weather, and we had wall to wall blue skies and sunshine.
  • My sister in law, Rachel finally made it to Germany to visit us, along with her family of course, it was bitterly cold that weekend at the end of November and on the Monday after they'd left it started to snow...since then we've had snow on the ground more days than not and only today, 38 days later is it starting to seriously thaw (helped by +4 and rain - never have I been so glad to see rain)
  • We had our first Christmas Cocktail 'do' here, which was fun, mixing together our English and German friends, shall have to repeat it this year, especially as I now have a proper punch bowl to serve heated wine in (a clever Christmas present that one)
  • And that brings me to Chrstmas itself, I feel as though I've eaten far too much of the wrong things for the last 2 weeks and I know I've certainly drunk too much. Bring on the salad.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sunday Snaps 45

A few pics from December 31, New Year's Eve/Silvester celebrations in the Evans' household:

me & Al, at the beginning of the evening.

Bleigießen.Children's fireworks.

Karaoke(!)Midnight fireworks.