Wednesday, March 30, 2011


...or rather - helping a 13 year old with his homework...

Ben's school likes getting the students to work together in small groups to research a project and then present it to the rest of the class who then participate in grading it.

In Philosophy (which Ben has to take because he opts out of religion on the grounds that we're not) the current subject for research and presentation is religion. A week or so ago he was wondering what religion to suggest to his group, foolishly I mentioned Scientology, and sold it to him on the basis that no one else would dream of doing it. Ben was unsure about it, but then Uncle Ed butted in with the mention of the SouthPark episode...and that was that.

A week later and the work is being done, so I've spent the afternoon being booted off my laptop so that Ben can Google on it while his does other more important things (like trying to track down his recently ordered game) and when I'm not being ousted from my seat I'm being asked to précis the history of the aforementioned 'church'. I don't know why he keeps asking me questions or for my opinion because we have quite different views on what the content should be, Ben doesn't think the dates matter (hmmm, that sounds like my reason for giving up on history XX years ago) and is unsure whether mentioning the fact that L. Ron Hubbard was a science fiction author is relevant.

I'm beginning to think that maybe I should have suggested he do a presentation on a religion that I actually know something about (without having to resort to the internet) - does that count? Or maybe C of E, I bet none of the local kids will be researching that! I guess we should be thankful he decided not to go with Satanism or Paganism (although the research could have been rather interesting.)
I'm quite looking forward to hearing what religions the children chose, but whatever mythical story they decide to present you do have to admire the teacher's choice of theme in the subject pupiled by R.E. opt-outs in the run up to the Easter Bunny weekend!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Reviews #16

Solar - Ian McEwan

This was another a bookclub read and what's more one that I wanted to read, but after finishing it I'm still unsure of whether I actually enjoyed it.

That it's well written and beautifully crafted there's no doubt, but what I do doubt is that anyone will have anything favourable to say about the novel come Friday evening. I almost expect to be the only person to have finished the book.

Look at the entry on Amazon for Solar and you find the reviewers split, with it averaging only 3 stars, not what you expect from Mr Atonement McEwan.

The subject matter is pertinent, that of climate change and the dwindling supplies of coal, oil and gas. That part of the book I loved, it intrigued the dormant scientist in me, the main character however is perfectly hateful. He has not a single redeeming characteristic, at one point you think he's going to change for the better, he certainly intends to but he's too old and set in his lazy ways.

Michael Beard is a Nobel Laureate for taking the work of Einstein one step further and proposing the 'Beard-Einstein Conflation'. What exactly this is, is never explained (and the story doesn't need it explaining.) Beard made the discovery and was recognised for it relatively early in his scientific career and then rode the wake of its success and fame for the rest of his life.

Beard is a man of excess, divorcing wife number five not long into the story and eating, drinking and fornicating his way through the rest of it.

The book is interesting from the science angle (for me) but possibly a little too clever, I doubt anyone reading this as their first McEwan would venture onto any of his other, better, books.

A shame, I so wanted to like it more!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pizza or Pasta?

An all too common dilemma one is faced with in an Italian restaurant don't you find?

Ben ALWAYS opts for pizza (proscuttio as that's the closest he can get to 'ham') Jas ALWAYS takes the spaghetti carbonara. I will NEVER have pizza when there are lots of other yummy options on the menu and Si will sometimes take pizza, sometimes pasta...not something you'd want to place a bet on.

There is a great restaurant here in Kettwig called 'Pizza-Pasta'. (Ruhrtalstraße 470 45219 Essen - 02054 82862) it has no fancy website and no Michelin stars but when Si asked a colleague to recommend the 'best' restaurant in Kettwig this was the place that he was told to visit.

We have been there as a couple alone (once) en famille (2/3 times) and as a larger family group (i.e. + grandparents) 3/4 times.

From the very first time it was obvious that the food was great and that t
he restaurant was VERY popular (booking advisable - a must if you're a non-smoker (don't laugh - this is Germany, smoking rules) and don't want to indulge your masochistic streak) and the icing on the cake (or maybe that should be the cream on the tiramisu - which is DEE-vine) it's not expensive.

But the more times we go, the better it gets. The staff don't seem to change, a
nd now recognize us (oh god, it's that bloody lippy foreign family again.) At Christmas we were there as a party of eight. The head waiter (which seems too formal a term for the amount of fun he seems to have in his job) served Jas her small spag. carbonara (see pic) she wasn't amused.
We haven't been back until last night, although we did bump into Jas's 'friend' in one of the many cafes here in Kettwig.

Last night all the waiting staff seemed eager to not befriend us, that sounds wrong, but we certainly felt like part of the gang, locals. Just little things like using English back at our German, unnecessary, but sweet. The main waiter talking to Jas about how many plates she needed to wash up, and then an 'argument' between the waiter and Jas and her friend Svenja over how many spoons he should bring so that he could share their 'spaghetti eis' ice-cream. Eventually he returned with the required two spoons (and not the three he'd talked about) and the pudding. A perfectly presented ice cube with a single swirl of cooked spaghetti over it plus a few dabs of cream and cocoa powder. The table erupted into laughter, the girls stood their ground and demanded that now he should eat it.

As we were devouring our puds (tiramisu for the adults) the solitary elderly gentleman at the tabe behind us was brought his small pizza.

I hope he was a local, used to the horse play that goes on at Pizza-Pasta. There, on a full sized pizza plate was a perfectly formed inch square piece of hawaiian pizza. I think the whole restaurant enjoyed that joke. And bless the man, he ate it, in one bite too! And the waiter took his plate away saying, "main course now sir?"

It's such a great little restaurant that I make a point of recommending to anyone who asks for somewhere good to eat in Kettwig but I can't believe it's been almost three months between visits, I shall have to make sure to go again sooner, it's like getting a cabaret with your meal. What fun.

Word for the day; Spaghetti-Eis = ice cream that's gone through a potato ricer type machine so that it resembles spaghetti, then covered in red sauce of some indeterminate flavour to look like bolognaise and crumbs of white chocolate representing the parmesan. Apparently it's delicious.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Matchsticks required

Today I'm tired.

Two cups of tea and I'm still tired.

I'm also giving the dog the cold shoulder.

Anyone care to give a truly stupid retriever a good home?

Lovely dog, apart from the fact that he should be prosecuted under the trade's description act for the fact that he doesn't retrieve. Oh, and he has a bad habit (apart from the eating of anything that could remotely pass as food) he needs to go to the loo in the middle of the night. Which would be fine, if he slept outside, but he doesn't.
I get woken by a single, solitary "WOOOOFFFF" - this from the dog that doesn't bark at the postman, at strangers, at nasty yappy little dogs or great lumbering testosterone fuelled humping machines (more commonly known as labradors, who can be lovely, when castrated or controlled by their doting owner - which doesn't seem to happen in my neck of the woods.)
Oh no, he never barks, apart from when he's decided, in the middle of the night to wake me (note that it's only ever me that is woken, I wonder whether being a mother and being attuned to a baby's cry ensures that one is evermore sensitive to a plaintive nighttime cry?)

3.30am I had to get up and let the stupid hound out, wait for him and then let him back in. He happily trotted back to bed and doubtless was instantly asleep, chasing squirrels and foraging for food in his dreams. While I spent an hour tossing and turning, listening to Simon's peaceful sleep (he used to snore but has clearly learnt not to after being turned black and blue) while my brain skipped around analysing stuff done yesterday and stuff to do today. I practised my yogic breathing for a while to try to still my brain - didn't work, at least I didn't start counting types of cheese (which is what my brother does).

At 4am I was wide awake.

So why is it when the alarm goes off at 6.30am, waking me from an unpleasant dream involving work in a supermarket and cyborgs who were taking over the world I was knackered? Where was the wide awakeness of 4am? Where did it go? I need it back because two cups of caffeine are not enough!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Snaps 56

The goddess Kylie singing to her congregation, Friday night in Oberhausen, what a gig.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

They make me laugh.

Germans that is. This week they are amusing me, however I'm sure they're not doing it on purpose...although maybe they are, afterall they do take everything seriously, so one shouldn't assume that accidental laughter production isn't planned with military precision.

- crowded. I was talking to a friend about her gym. The conversation was in German but when discussing the size of the gym (huge) she said it was never "crowded". I stopped her immediately (I do love pointing out to German speakers when they use a word that they've knicked from another language) and asked whether there wasn't a German word she could use instead...she thought about it and decided no, there was no word that worked descriptively like "crowded". Bizarre.

- pool. A friend asked me whether there was another word in English that we use instead of or as well as 'swimming pool'. I had a little think (you have to at least look as though you might have studied the language properly rather than just learning it at your mother's knee) and declared 'no'. Upon seeing her face (a mixture of doubt and sorrow were warring with confusion and disbelief) I hastily added that we usually say that we're "going swimming" without necessarily specifying where, although (just to confuse matters) I then added we do often call the swimming pool 'the baths' (at least where I come from* anyway.) She didn't like that as an alternative one jot and hastily asked another question, did we not have a word for a 'freibad'**? The only possible word, I said, would be 'lido', but there aren't many around, unlike here in 'sunny' Germany where every town/village seems to have one. That fact drew a gasp, no open air pools? How positively ungerman.

- grammar. I get on well with Ben's English teacher, I don't argue with her when she grades my son lower than someone else and she sometimes asks for my input on something that has caused confusion in an English class. She sent me an email asking for clarification, I had to read it several times before answering and telling her that maybe, just maybe she was being too German and analytical in her approach. This is what she wrote;

I said: 'Can you ask your mum if she has ever heard anybody saying clean your teeth' and Sarah corrected me it should be '...heard anyone say' = heard somebody say something.

Sometimes it's hard to know what is grammatically correct, I just know how to speak the damn language!

- Kylie. Last night we were at a Kylie concert. We had excellent seats, front row of the first bank of seating, the only way we could have been closer would have been to be in the pit. Now Kylie plays music to boogie on down to and yet pretty much everyone in the seated area stayed seated. Me and Ed didn't though (much to Jas's embarassment, "Mo-om!") and while the guys (the audience was quite male, althought possibly not in a hetero way) behind me didn't whine about having their view blocked, the guy behind Ed got really arsey. Asked him to sit down first of all and when Ed declined the guy got really grumpy and called Ed an "effing a******e". Like he's really going to sit down after that. But the silly thing is that in the programme for the concert it says across one double page spread "what's the point of living if you don't wanna dance?"

It's been an amusing week.

* the deepest, darkest Midlands
** freibad - open air swimming pool.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Return of the Klumster

I make no secret (or apology) for the fact that I believe German TV to be complete and utter s***e but there is one series that I watch religiously - 'Germany's Next Top Model with Heidi Klum'.

It's not ground breaking stuff, it's nothing new (seeing as its a format copied from the U.S.) and it doesn't teach me anything, apart from working on my German language skills that is.

I'm constantly being told I should watch German TV and hear German being spoken but when the choice is either American (or English) TV programmes dubbed (they don't like subtitles here) or crap gameshows that we (English) left well behind in the 70's (Wok World Championships anyone?) I would happily watch no TV (or alternatively Sky...)

But at last it's the time of year again for Heidi's show, so I can be a good German student and watch 2+ hours of German TV each week for the next couple of months.

When I first started watching Heidi maybe three years ago, I wasn't too impressed with her, she annoyed me, but I've grown to like her more and more. Don't get me wrong, I can see she has many faults, but I've learnt to be amused by her foibles...

- Heidi is Queen Bee, this is HER show and no-one else is allowed on who might possibly overshadow her. Each season she's accompanied by two other jury members who do a lot of the donkey work with the wannabe models, both are always male, one slightly more heterosexual than the other (this year's is cute too - eye candy, what a bonus.) But each year she changes the jury, gossip has it she doesn't like them to become too famous.
- For someone who's been involved in the fashion world for so many years her personal styling is poor...sometimes she look like an explosion in a pattern factory, the first episode this year she had on patterned black tights, latticed shoes and a black and white patterened dress. At the Oscars (the Yanks lurve Heidi for some reason) she had on a dress & shoe combo that was almost OK, but was just too much, shoes too sparkly, wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy too much leg on show & then the bodice of the dress...and chandelier earrings. Someone needs to tell her that less is more.
- The show might supposedly be about finding Germany's next top model but in reality it is a vehicle for Heidi. She will always be the star. We're two episodes in and in the first one, after making the wannabes parade along little more than a diving board over a swimming pool, she and her co-hosts dived, fully clothed, into the water (she went first of course, although I can imagine that she wont have been pleased when watching it back, that the new cute juror totally upstaged her with his fluid dive.) The second episode was in London and the final 'catwalk' was shot in a church with the models wearing teensy weensie 'wedding' dresses. One refused. She's a Catholic girl and the thought of wearing such a short dress in such a holy place was too much. After much tears and drama she walked down to the jury in her street clothes and Heidi magnanimously let her stay (bet she gets the boot next episode!) Germany is a fairly religous country and so it was a pretty canny move on the Klumster's part to appear to take the girl's issues seriously.
- Next episode we're promised a photoshoot with rats, I bet Heidi lets them run all over her just to show how it's done.

Best of all with GNTM there is no dubbing. And I know you're now thinking that of course there's no dubbing, it's a German show, therefore everyone speaks German therefore no dubbing required. Well, you're right, however, this last episode in London with Heidi's UK hair stylist, they spoke in English and subtitled it into German. Each year the wannabes end up in a mansion in L.A. (so Heidi doesn't have to be too far from home for most of the filming) and whenever there is interaction with an English speaker there will always be subtitles. Heidi also insists that her 'Mädels' can speak English, because she knows what an important language it is worldwide, last year a girl was almost booted off because her grasp of English was so poor.

This year the post production effects might just drive me crazy though, whenever they want to make a point of something, the clip is repeated with weird effects and there are annoying echoes, this is all compounded by Heidi's own little asides to camera.
Ah well, if it's this or 'Schlag den Raab', I'll take Heidi and her glamorous show over Stefan Raab's bid for megalomania any day.

Word for the day; das Mädel - girl

Monday, March 14, 2011

Gym bunny

Over the years I've been a member of various gyms but for the last five years I've been a stranger. Not that I haven't been 'keeping fit', just not been paying for the experience.

I gave up my gym membership after buying a dog and deciding that between running (without the dog in the early days of dog ownership - he was once a little puppy) and dog walking my fitness level would remain stable.

We moved to Germany and a friend convinced me to join her step class, then 2 years down the line another friend suggested a pilates class and that, plus the running and dog walking has been sufficient, the problem is that I'm fed up. The teacher of my step class drives me nuts with her constant inclusion of dance moves, we're forever 'cha cha-ing' or 'tango-ing' and twizzling and then there's stepping with our backs to both her and the mirror. I'm sure half the time she's the only one doing the right moves or any moves at all. So that class has to go.
My pilates teacher just bugs the hell out of me, she has an irritatingly false sounding laugh. It's taken Rebecca to stop going (because of a REALLY bad back) in order for the silly woman to get my name right (which I could understand if I had a tricky or foreign name but I don't, my name is as normal a German name (thanks M&D) as Eva Braun) and she has us forever 'painting circles' in the air with legs/feet held at various angles. Therefore I've decided to abandon both classes at Easter when we have to re-enrol and instead join the local gym, and what's more it'll be cheaper!

This week is apparently 'fitness week' at my local gym and so a friend has got me a free pass to try out the gym for seven days. I went today for the first time, bright and early, straight from dropping Jas at school.

I'd been warned that the place was huge, and it is. Weights and weight training machinery to the left of reception along with the changing rooms and (gulp) saunas and the aerobic machinery to the right along with the spinning studio (not a chance) and the class studio (where they do scary sounding stuff like Hot Iron 2 and Box Camp and FlexiFit* (no way José) but also Yoga and BodyFit both of which I shall have to try.)

I asked the lady at reception "where is everything?" and she pointed me in the direction of the changing rooms and told me how the lockers worked, well, she babbled something about a white pad, a card and the importance of remembering which locker you'd locked your stuff in...

Fortunately, because I was early, there was only me in the changing rooms and therefore no-one to witness the fact that it took me five minutes to work out how to lock the door to my locker.

Unfortunately, because I was early, there was no-one else in the changing rooms who I could ask to help me lock my locker...

Eventually I made it into the aerobic hanger (trust me, it's that big) where there must be 15 treadmills all lined up in front of a row of TV screens, the same number of cross trainers, maybe four step machines and some rowing machines and at least three types of bike.

As it was my first time there I hadn't taken my earphones or iPhone to listen to music/podcasts, I'd thought I'd use my time to be nosey, check out what was going on while exercising - shame there was no class on while I was there, that'll teach me to be so early. The TV's, even soundless, were quite a distraction though. There were seven of the 12 screens that were in my vision, two showing news, one weather, one shopping, two music and one a kind of morning magazine show. But it was the music/video channels that caught my eye and I really shall have to have my earphones with me next time. I'm more than used to MTV and the style of videos that accompany chart music but the stuff that was being aired at 830 this morning was verging on pornographic - quite why girls would choose to wear such teeny weeny skirts over pretty much non existant knickers whilst 'cleaning' an office is beyond me. Such impractical shoes too, and I'm quite, quite sure that feather dusters wouldn't find any dust where they were waving I said, next time I'm taking my headphones and I shall find out what the lyrics to the song are, I mean fair enough if it's all about cleaning some office and making the glass all sparkly - but somehow I doubt it!

Word for the day; crowded - crowded (not it's not a typo, just another bit of Denglish creeping into everyday use here.)

* involves the use of the 'flexibar' which I have previously discovered is as flexible under my useage as a titanium scaffolding pole.


The dictionary definition of plagiarism is as follows:
the unauthorised use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own.*

Children in first school learn that copying another's work is not a good thing (despite the fact that copying is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery.) In a class test any child who isn't clearly shielding their work from the eyes of others is either very confident in the illegibilty of their handwriting or doesn't care two hoots whether their work is copied or not.

With the increasing use of computers and laptops for student work and the ease of use of the "copy and paste" function, the temptation to lift wholesale from research found online must be dreadful. Instead of reading papers on a subject, thinking about the matter, mulling it over and finally coming up with your own interpretation, there's the easy option of click, click, click. No wonder there are so many tools available online to try and spot plagiarism.

Germany is a country that loves a title. Maybe it's because they lost their royal family in 1918 with the abdication of William II, but to get on in business a BSc. after your name can sometimes not be enough. I have a friend who is a very clever cookie who 'only' has a BSc., but in his office environment he's surrounded by PhD's, and although he's good enough to achieve such a qualification he can't afford the five years study time that it would take and yet worries about the ceiling that this qualificational lack may impose. There's always the alternative of course - cheat. Not that he would, because sooner or later cheats get found out.

Witness the downfall of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, ex defence minister here, forced out of office by the press after it was discovered that a large portion of his PhD thesis had been copied from other sources.

Karl-Theodor Maria Niklaus Johann Jacob Phillip Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg (to give him his full name and titles) was clearly not satisfied with being a baron who can trace his family tree back through dukes, princesses and counts. He must have thought that this was not enough to get ahead in politics. He must have thought he needed a few more letters of the alphabet adding to his already overflowing letterhead, a 'copy 'n paste' PhD was just the job.

Shame he got caught out really as he's very popular with the 'real' people (as opposed to the press) in fact he was being talked about as the successor for Chancellor Angela Merkel, and only eight days after his resignation at the political rallies his CSU party gave him their support saying, "You are one of us, you remain one of us, and we want you to return to German politics."

The opposition parties meanwhile had a field day at his expense, commenting that the CSU had shed its 'laptop and lederhosen' image combining modernism and traditional values for a 'copy and paste' mentality.

Klaus Ernst, of the radical Left Party, joked that if Guttenberg's offence was a 'citation error' then shoplifting could be redefined as a 'shopping error'.

At least we now have a new word - as well as a new defence minister, 'to guttenberg' is now being used instead of the phrase 'copy and paste'. Much simpler don't you think, one whole syllable less and two letters less, what an advance!

Word for the day; plagiarism = das Plagiieren

* I copied this from - literally.
eare has frequently been accused of plagiarism and has also been plagiarised. And with the internet information is readily available, just a few keys taps away and then what could be easier than highlighting the paragraph and copying it into the worksheet you already have open and waiting on the same laptop. No slavish copying out required just click, click, click. It must be so tempting to students.

In fact it is so tempting to students that most education facilities have guidelines concerning the issue, telling them not to do it and why they shouldn't do it, there are even lots of plagiarism checkers/spotters/detectors available - although I guess these are tools more useful to examiners than the students...

Plagiarism is quite a hot topic at the moment here in Germany. The defence minister was forced to resign from Merkel's government when he was accused of copying large parts of his doctoral thesis. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (a Bavarian Baron) has been part of the government for he last eight years and despite his resignation on March 1, he remains on of Germany's most popular politicians. Apparently the average German would happily let him stay on but the press have hounded him out.

There are a couple of things about this story that amuse me; the man's full name is

* just to let you know, I copied that definition (using the cut and paste function) from www.dictionary.referen

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Snaps 55

This was me, back from the Feathers and Pearls birthday do on Friday night, several glasses of champagne under my belt but only minus the feather headband (which was discarded after about an hour when the pressure behind my ears became too great).
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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Champagne and feather boas

Last night I went to a birthday party. Much planning of what to wear was involved, not because it was a fancy dress do per se (although the invite did say "feathers and pearls") but because the hostess and the majority of the guests were French, and therefore innately stylish.

Rebecca and I debated long and hard over what to wear, deciding not to do the whole flapper thing which the invitation suggested as neither of us is overly fond of dressing up. Instead we trawled the local mall for feathers and pearls. Thank the retail gods for H&M, suppliers of cheap tat to the masses, we both managed to acquire enough "pearls" and feathery head pieces to fulfill the dress code. We were also lucky that the timing of Julie's birthday fell in the Karneval period, meaning that the shops were full of dressing up items including feather boas in every colour of the rainbow - I chose a black one with tiger stripes while Rebecca was a little more restrained with white and silver lurex, I'm not sure who made the best choice, mine was rather tarty whilst Rebecca's was more Barbie - neither a particularly sophisticated look!

We needn't have worried. Of the 20 or so women at the party (it was ladies only - apart from Matts who was on hand to act as wine waiter & child wrangler) there were maybe only four who were completely flappered, one lady had teamed black leather trousers with what looked like a black feathery top (great look, shame about the scary German glasses) then there was a turquoise sequined dress with black feathery shrug, there were boas in every colour you can name, all shedding over the parquet floor, everyone had made an effort.

It was a fun evening, the champagne flowed (as one would expect at a French birthday party) the food was homemade and delicious (as one would expect at a French birthday party) and the conversation was entertaining. I've no idea who was who, after the fifth person was introduced I gave up trying to remember whether Eloise was wearing the black cocktail dress with the pink feather trim or Anouk the leather trousers/feathered top combo...all I could be certain of was that none of them spoke English as a first language! As the only two English people we stuck together (safety in numbers) but did however manage to have various conversations with a French woman who's recently back from living in New York and is keen to keep her children's English language skills up, a German woman who's not long moved back to Essen from Hungary, a French teacher who has lived so long in Germany that she seemed more German than French (and she is French, because we asked which part of France she was from - a slightly more polite way of asking the question "are you French?") and a lovely German lady who was something to do with the French Kindergarten (I think) but who spoke even less French than I do, although her English was good - not that we chatted in English.

And the most popular question we got asked last night? "How long are you here for?" Our replies of "Forever" were greeted with outright surprise. It's a question I'm used to hearing and always the questioner is shocked to hear that a foreigner should want to up sticks and live in their country - I end up doing a selling job on their homeland, extolling the virtues of the great bread shops & eis cafés before moving onto the quality of life and speed limitless Autobahns - then and only then can I bitch about the crap TV and rubbish schooling system!

All in all it was a great night out, although today I'm left with very sore toes (from wearing stupidly high heels for too many hours) and a threatening headache from the naughty bubbles in the champagne, maybe some red wine a little later will sort that problem out (the head not the toes.)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Help me, Rhonda*

We have a new family member, Rhonda the Roomba.

I've hankered after one of these wee beasties for some time. Ever since I discovered that a French friend over the road has not one, not two, but possibly three of these automatic little hoovers (in her defence I will say that she has a large house and four (four!!) children under the age of seven - eek!) For a while after this discovery Rebecca and I ruminated over them, googled them and checked to see how expensive they were. We also whiled away much time on youtube where there are many, many bits of video showing Roombas being ridden (there's a couple here, here and here.)

I did nothing about getting a Roomba though because, despite being a total sloth when it comes to house-keeping and having a cleaner once a week, purchasing a robot to do the job of the daily floor sweeping that a retriever and two children plus countless strays necessitates, seemed a little...extravagent.

Then I discovered Lufthansa Airmiles, and more pertinently Simon's large stash of such miles that were crying out to be spent. And there was the Roomba. And not just any Roomba, but the Pet special, it's designed especially for those 'hairy situations that pet owners face'.

Two days later it arrived and after charging all night the two men in my life had a testosterone powered gadget off as they attempted to be the first to work out how to get Rhonda up and running. Si lost, mainly because he had to go to work and tossed the instruction booklet to me telling me to read it...ha! I couldn't even tell you what size or colour the booklet is, I simply asked Ben to make it work for me.

No longer do I have to sweep the floor to remove all the dust, mud, grass and tumbleweeds of dog fur. All I have to do is press the 'clean' button and leave Rhonda to do her stuff.

My original plan had been that I'd set her going as I left the house, but I've decided that she's best treated like a curious toddler and therefore I should try to keep an eye on her. She has a liking for wayward cables, can get lost under the sofa and stuck under the TV console however her stair sensor does stop her from falling down the stairs and her love of Logan has her following him slavishly around - or is that just the dirt sensor working overtime?

The only thing left for me to do is empty her and remove the fur that gets wrapped around her wheels, it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it...which reminds why isn't Ben home yet?

* by the Beachboys, see here

Monday, March 7, 2011


I've been amazed at how many hits my blog gets due to people asking of Google "Rosenmontag, is it a holiday?"

So for Rosenmontag (today) I thought I should try to explain how this particular Monday** impacts on this particular area. You see Karneval isn't a countrywide 'celebration', but it is certainly a serious business here in the Düsseldorf/Köln area.

The whole Karneval thing kicks off in November sometime then dies down throughout December and January until the period of Lent draws near and the Thursday before Ash Wednesday*** is "Weiberfastnacht" or Ladies Day.
This should not be mistaken for Ladies Day at Ascot or Wimbledon, where ladies also dress up but I think the style of dressing up and the quality of the makeup differs drastically. Weiberfastnacht is when the women rise up and take power (I don't know why, maybe next year I'll find out for you) they basically run amok, cutting off men's ties (most men wear cheap ties or no ties at all that day) spraying their hair and then going off partying. Safer to stay indoors with the dead bolts on.

Friday the children tend to do their own Karneval thing at school, costumes, sweets, loud muzak and most importantly no lessons and no homework.

Saturday and Sunday there are Karneval parties, costumes are worn and much alcohol is consumed and much enforced jolity ensues. On Sunday afternoon there are often smaller children's Karneval processions. There used to be one here in Kettwig but this year the law has changed and insurance is required in order to throw Kamelle**** and so there is no local Karneval Zug - not a bad thing as I don't particularly enjoy standing in the freezing cold for an hour or so in order for my children to beg for sweets that they probably wont like.

Monday is Rosenmontag, the day for the big processions in the cities like Düsseldorf and Köln. It is a sort of 'bank holiday' (not that that term really exists here) most people are off work all day, but the shops are open until 2pm. The people who take Karneval seriously will get themselves all dressed up in order to go and watch the processions of other people all dressed up and the world becomes quite a bizarre place for a couple of days, people wandering around the streets dressed as anything from a six foot bee to a five foot toadstool and then there are the circuses of clowns, the rodeos of cowboys and the covens of witches and seriously, that's just the adults...
The rest of us, those who don't do Karneval, either lay low and take the day without work/school/any schedule as a freebie, or flee the country. You think I'm kidding? Both my German teacher and Jas's have left the country, they wont admit to actively disliking Karneval (afterall they are German and to do so would be disloyal) but rather than be seen to be not joining in the enforced "Helau"ing they vacate the country.

So to answer the question, "is Rosenmontag a holiday?"
Yes and no.
A nice grey answer for a specific question. Sorry!

Word for the day; der Zug - train/procession/puff/gulp/trait (another word for my hate list methinks.)

* or to a Brit, the day before Pancake Day.
** funny how Rosenmontag is a Monday and not a Tuesday isn't it? (inside joke, sorry. Shame the recipient is on holiday.)
*** I can't give a specific date because it's different every year. Apparently Lent starts 46 days before Easter Sunday, and Easter Sunday is determined by the date of the 'pascal' full moon...bonkers.
**** Kamelle = sweets, popcorn etc.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday Snaps 54

Jasmine's Karneval costume for this year - a jockey (in case you couldn't work it out)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Make mine a double

This week the U.K. press have been banging on about alcohol abuse, again.

According to "Alcohol Concern" naughty supermarkets have been displaying booze in aisles that aren't alcohol related. Putting tasty Italian reds near the fresh pasta, beer next to the tabloids and champagne alongside the smoked salmon I bet. Naughty, naughty Mr Sainsbury/Tesco/Waitrose, tempting us like that. Trying to get us to buy more than we need to, putting insidious ideas into our empty little heads, tsk tsk.

Here in Germany, where the supermarkets are not so super and life generally lags somewhat behind the U.S. obsessed U.K. such blatant over promotion of an addictive substance doesn't happen...or at least not in the same way.

In my local supermarkets the wine & beer is usually confined to the wine & beer aisles (although the beer aisle does get a bit mixed up with the water/fizzy drink aisle) apart from the times of the year that people traditionally associate with over indulging - Christmas, Silvester, Karneval, the grill such weeks the islands of beer crates float in every available space.
And then there are the miniatures. Cute little bottles of booze, all different sizes, shapes and colours, the perfect size for little hands and ideal for dolls tea parties and dolls' houses and even better than that, the supermarkets display them at the checkouts, between the sweets and the fags just at child height, great. At the moment there are special 'schnapsgürtel' available in the shops too.
This is because it's Karneval time and therefore fast and easy access to mood altering substances is necessary. Alcohol Concern would have a field day here.

Word of the day; der Gürtel = the belt

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

PC or not PC

Every now and then I'm shocked by how un PC* life here in Germany is.

Last night I had to endure almost two hours of an 'elternabend'**. I should be used to these by now, afterall with two children in the schooling system for a total of almost eight years (between them) and one elternabend per semester = a possible 24 elternabends I should/could have attended. Yawn. After the very first one when they (the parents) talked about flavoured milk for seemingly half an hour, I gave up attending. But I've come to realise that I should show willing, if nothing else it gives me fuel for my blog.

The agenda last night was pretty innocuous; a report from the parent/teacher meeting (well, the German equivalent) a look back at the previous term's subject matter, a soziogramm, a look at forthcoming themes, the Abschlussfest***, and Karneval. Nothing politically incorrect there you'd think, all quite innocent, and so it was until we got to Karneval****.

On Friday the school will celebrate Karneval, yes, I know I've said the actual date for celebrating is Monday 7th (this year anyway - it's one of those silly church dates that moves with the moon or it it the wind?) but the school is shut that day so they need to celebrate and cancel all lessons on Friday instead. This celebrating of Karneval involves decorating the classroom with streamers and balloons (but ABSOLUTELY no confetti - Herr B made this crystal clear last night, apparently he's still finding bits of it from last year - speaks volumes for the cleaners' work ethic eh?) and probably disco balls. The wearing of costumes is de rigueur, most boys go as cowboys/cops/robbers - anything that requires a cap gun basically, girls tend to copy their friends - thus ensuring that there is two of everything and Herr B, when asked, said he was going as an Indian...the term 'native American' just doesn't seem to have made it here yet.

Then there was the inevitale discussion about food for the Karneval celebration. Clearly it couldn't be normal 'frühstück' because it wasn't a normal day and to further complicate matters it's also one child's birthday which necessitates the bringing of cake. The debate about what to do took some time (cake is a serious matter in most countries but in Germany it can be a matter of life or death) and I lost track of the number of times I heard the phrase 'nigger kuss'. I thought this term had died out to be replaced with the brand name 'Dickmans' (so much better!) but apparently not, and on Friday the children will be competing to see who can eat as many nigger kisses without using their hands as they can - before going onto to play sport (last lesson) - I don't envy the sports teacher.

Word for the day; das Frühstück = breakfast

* PC = politically correct, but you knew that didn't you?
** elternabend translates literally as parent's evening, but this is no parent's evening like in the UK, where you have an appointment with each teacher for your child and then spend five minutes having them sing (or not) the praises of your child (we do get that here, but it's called something else - elternsprachtag, I think.) In the UK you don't get an elternabend (lucky, lucky you) all the parents for the class gather together and crouch on child sized seats, at child sized tables (I'm so glad we're in year 3 now, at least the chairs are almost daddy bear sized) and get talked at by the class teacher and everyone throws in their two penn'orth - it can take a while - the Germans will never use one word when ten will do the job just as well.
*** Abschlussfest = the goodbye party for the departing year fours.
**** Karneval is one of the times of the year when the locals feel legally obliged to go a bit crazy and have fun. But more about that sometime in the next seven days, afterall Rosamontag isn't until March 7, so you'll have to wait.