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.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I know this ship like the back o' me hand.

Saturday morning was spent at a chemical plant - as you do.

An expat (bookgroup & quiz nite) friend of ours works for Evonik and he let us know about an open day that was taking place, lots of tours around bits of a huge chemical plant near here. I can think of better things to do on a Saturday (lie in, brunch, shopping, walk the dog...) but I did think that it might be something interesting for Ben to see, even if only to rule it out as a possible future career.

We were warned that the last open house Evonik hosted had been crazy busy, with 10,000 people turning up, consequently we were there before the first tours kicked off, ready to book ourselves onto my friend's tour, wanting to get that one done first of all before thinking about what other (of the 24 available) tours to go on.

Tour 15 was a control room and then the highest distillation columns in the plant. Our tour leaders were a Herr J Chan and a Herr Doktor Scotti. I didn't think twice about the J preceding the Chan, I know it stands for Jason. Others on our tour were childishly delighted about 'Jackie' Chan and Scotty - you'd have thought James Doohan himself had been there (although he's been dead a while) I think this was the highlight for them, forget seeing the highest distillation column (tall and industrial grey) no, the Evonik tour for them was all about Scotty and Jackie!

We were bussed to tour 15 and then bussed back to the registration tent. When we'd left, 45 minutes earlier, the tent was calm, we'd walked straight up to the relevant desk and booked ourselves onto the tour. We returned to find the tent heaving, queues at every desk stretching across the width of the tent. Fortunately I'd had the forethought to ask Jackie and Scotty what other parts of the plant might be interesting (pointless to ask two teens what they'd like to see as they can no more express a preference for something than they can talk to girls without being rude or sarcastic) and so we ended up on the logistics centre tour - robotic packaging, and a chance to play 'spot the orange ifm electronic sensor' - a game we play whenever we're out and about (that's what happens when your husband appears to be married to his job) Si hadn't been amused up to this point as he'd seen lots of competitor switches (blue and not orange) complaining at one point it was like a showcase of 'whatever' firm's sensor range. But in the logistics centre there was a shiny orange robot lifting and stacking and it had ifm sensors (probably just chosen by the robot manufacturer because they matched the colour of the automaton!) Simon was a happy boy.

Security was supposed to be tight, as you'd expect at a huge chemical plant, we had to take i.d. - but although it was asked for, no-one actually looked to check, we couldn't take photographs and had to turn off phones, consequently the only reminder I have from Saturday is a photo of the restaurant menu, where our attention was caught by the possibility of Bum Bum flavoured ice cream.
We had thought to get lunch there before heading home but the chemical smell in the air was so all pervasive and so evocative of 6th form chemistry that I said we should eat where the air tasted cleaner! Imagine having to work there every day and breath in that chemical smell, can't be good for you!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Snaps 80

What I'm doing this afternoon and why this post is later than usual - gardening the Verena way, slash 'n burn, although this being eco Deutschland it's just slashing, burning ist verboten.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Question too Far

There were some stupid questions asked the other night at the elternabend*.

This was the first meeting of the year, the year 4 moms (because it is pretty much only moms that go to these terminally dull events) setting eyes on the year 3 moms after a year apart**. I'd never met the year 3 moms before, whereas Rebecca had, she warned me before that they were a 'tricky lot' and afterwards she turned to me gleefully, pleased not to have been let down by the performance we'd witnessed.

The first issue was the election of the parent/teacher representative, the year 4's were sitting smug as our previous rep was 'happy' to continue. That left the year 3's. I have never seen a group of adults act in such a manner, they did everything but sit on their hands and stare at the ceiling, Herr B (teacher) sat back and prepared to wait it out, he wasn't moving on until this had been settled, we could have been there all night (it almost felt like we were) eventually one mom was talked into it, despite her protests about lack of time because her husband was changing jobs or something...Rebecca and I laughed later that one of us should have volunteered (except for the fact that we're not year 3 moms) it would have been worth it to see them trying to talk us out of it, there's no way they'd trust our German to be up to representing them with the teachers and taking down the minutes of every elternabend.

We moved onto discuss the upcoming trip to Langeoog and things started to get silly.
Question: what size suitcase can my child take? Clearly whatever is big enough to hold all their stuff.Question: how much pocket money should each child have? 5 euro was agreed upon (afterall the more they have, the more tat they will return with) but 1 mother wanted to send more because her darling would want to write at least 10 (ten!) postcards to family and not just the one that was planned. This was shot down and the mother was told that if the child was to write that many then she should take them with her, the mother didn't like that AT ALL.
Question: will there be anything for the children to drink between meals? Duh!
Question: can my child (be the only one to) take his bodyboard and wetsuit to use on the beach? Expected this to be shot down in flames also but this mother's stock is clearly much higher with Herr B as this is being permitted, a decision I can see being regretted.
Question: my child doesn't like fizzy water (which the Germans choose to drink) can there be a jug of tap water available for him or shall I send a six pack of Evian?
Question: how high (up the leg) should the wellies be?
Question: what is in the bedrooms besides the beds?

After the almost endless mithering about the 6 day trip we moved onto the subject of Klassenkasse. The first year we were here I remember being shocked at being asked to pay for stuff for the children to use in lessons. In English schools you send your child to school with a pretty much empty bag (certainly in primary school, where even pencils and crayons are provided) so to get a list (a complete side of A4) telling you all the things your child must have in their school bag and then be asked for cash for photocopying and such like - it was a shock. One I'm over now, Klassenkasse is a necessary evil so I listen to what I need to pay and pay up. But one of the year 3 moms (who is German and so doesn't even have the excuse of being foreign ) was shocked and complained that they'd only just last term paid 20 euro.

We escaped only after 2 and a quarter painful hours, the seats in year 3/4 might not be as diminutive as those in year 1/2 but they have they same numbing effect!

* see last weeks 'London is not Essen' for a definition of elternabend.
** our school mixes year groups so that 1&2 share a teacher for a year, then the year 2's go up into year 3 to a new teacher and a new mixed class with year 4's. There's open debate here as to whether this mixed year group thing works, but in comparison to the other system here, where a class stays with a teacher for their whole 4 years of primary school, I prefer the mixed years and 2 teachers option.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Father Sex

I'm struggling.

Every day I work on expanding my German vocab.
Every day, except for when I'm on holiday, am too ill (which rarely happens due to growing up in a household where to merit a call to the docs you had to be at death's door - you think I'm kidding? Ask my brother, he'll verify it) or am too busy with guests (which does happen due to living so far away from family that when they come to visit they come with at least one suitcase each and settle in for the duration*)
Anyway I have this great computer programme called "Phase 6", and every day I log in and it tests me on the words for that day, usually just 20 words, any less, then I input some new words that I've picked up and need to know**, anymore then I scowl, sigh mightily and knuckle down to it.

Phase 6 works on the principle of repetition.
Day 1 I put in a new word, 3 days later it asks me to remember the word, if I remember it then the word moves up a stage and will next be asked for it in 10 days, if I get it right that time then the word goes into the next stage, 30 days later the word is asked for again and after that 90 days. If I get the word right that time I'm never asked it again as it is deemed to be in my long term memory and the word sits in phase 6 for the way, every time you get a word wrong it goes straight back to phase 1 ready to start again, I must have masochistic tendencies.

I do this every day because if I don't and I've forgotten to tell the programme that I'm bunking off then it stacks up the words, and while 20 words a go is OK, 40+ is too many, especially seeing as my success rate tends to be about 50% - had a good day yesterday and steamed straight through, all ladders and no snakes, I think that's the first time in 4 years though!

There are some words that I just have a complete and utter mental block over, one of a trio popped up today, leading me to write them down in an attempt to remember which one is which, here they are;

apparently - anscheinend
actually - eigentlich
possibly/perhaps - eventuell

I keep getting the buggers mixed up, although one of them has made it to phase 3, goodness only knows how, it's only a matter of time before it's sent back to phases 1!

* not complaining, just commenting.
** whenever I read something in German I make a note of words that are new, this week so far I've jotted down the German for 'sneaky' (heimtückisch), 'to creep' (schleichen) and 'to walk the dog' (Gassi gehen) - I can't believe it's taken 4 years for me to hear this phrase, seeing as I geh Gassi every flippin day.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Snaps 79

If you look really closely you can see Simon in the cabin under the airship!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

London is not Essen

That was the news flash I came away with the other night...

I had to go to the 'Elternabend'* for Ben's class. We have two children and therefore two Elternabends per term (joy) I usually send Si to Ben's and go to Jasmine's myself.
I asked Si if he was going to go, he thought for a moment and then said,
"this is where they talk all evening about nothing?"
I confirmed that this was indeed what usually happened (or didn't) to which Si declared that he wouldn't go. Fair enough, I'm not overly keen myself. And I would have left it at that but then I had a thought, Ben has changed teachers, so I really should show willing and I was trying to decide whether to go myself or not when I bumped into the mum who'd drawn up the agenda, which had as the penultimate point 'England Fahrt Juni 2012'**. I commented that it was rather forward planning (even for the hyper organised Germans) to be discussing the possibility of a trip by the bilingual class to England some 10 months hence. Her answer made me determined to attend the Elternabend no matter how dull and boring it would be. Apparently some parents were concerned about the safety of their children because of the riots that took place in parts of England in August.

The meeting kicked off at 7.30 and I think I made it home by 9.30, we got side tracked by discussions about toilets (really), the unfairness of having vocab tests for two different subjects scheduled for the same day (sob, sob) and whether the children would enjoy reading Oliver Twist in English (probably not). But the discussion that took up the most time was of course the prospect of the trip to England. The teacher, Herr J, tried to joke they could always go to New York to which I called out that the kids are learning English English and not American English which is a completely different language (in my opinion) and then down to his overheads showing whereabouts they proposed to go (Hastings or Herne Bay) and the timetable of events as used in previous years.

Herr J talked a good talk and kept going without interruption for some time, but eventually a parent could take the suspense no longer and asked the question that they were probably all desperate to ask, "will my little Josef be safe?"

I'm so glad I'd been forewarned and had spent enough time on the internet, swotting, because Herr J turned to me and pretty much asked me to allay their fears. I had felt like telling them that there was more danger from the weather (especially seeing as the UK was at the time being side swiped by hurricane Katja) and what about the risks of B.S.E***, Bird Flu or Swine Flu? But as the Germans probably wouldn't recognize my feeble attempt at humour unless I smacked them in the face with a wet fish, I thought I'd better stick to the truth, the truth and nothing but the truth.
So I asked, are you planning to take the kids to Croydon, Clapham, Greater Manchester etc? No? Then I think you'll find that England is as safe as Essen. I was backed up by another mother who'd been in the UK shortly before the rioting, I forebore to mention that I was there when it all kicked off...there's a time and a place to be a drama queen!
Safety dealt with Herr J moved onto the fact that England has been hit harder than Germany with the economic downturn over the last few years and that it could be that students stay with host families who maybe can't afford to offer three types of muesli for breakfast, it was possible that the kids might have to make do with bread and cheese for their packed lunch. I was so embarassed, the way he was talking was as if England was a third world country. Yes, breakfast does seem to be a big deal to Germans, whilst for the English it is often merely a breaking of the night's fast - a quick bowl of cereal or a piece of toast, but Kettwig is an affluent area, most of these kids will have visited foreign countries before, and hopefully they are intelligent enough (gymnasium afterall, should be top of the food chain) to expect things to be a little different from home (although for my son a basic English style breakfast is what he's always been used to).
The itinerary was also thoroughly examined, the pros and cons of visiting Madame Tussauds discussed and then we came to Dover Castle. Apparently it has 'secret wartime tunnels' but Herr J said "kein Angst" (= don't worry) and started on about the tunnels dating from WW II and how the kids enjoy it. I sat there thoroughly bemused. What's to worry about? It's a tourist attraction, it's going to be 100% safe, clean and thoroughly sanitised, there wont even be a cobweb out of place, let alone an unexploded bomb or a loaded pistol.

I came back from this two hour interlude chuntering under my breath about how Enlgand was now apparently a third world country and unsafe for German tourists and had to suffer Simon taking me to task for 'making a drama out of things' time he can damn well go, see if he can hold his tongue longer than I did!

* Literal translation of Elternabend is 'parents evening', but this is not where you get a one to one session with the various teachers in the school who have the (mis)fortune to (try to) teach your little darling (that's the Elternsprachtag) This is the session where all the parents gather and discuss (argue) with the main class teacher whatever has been put on the agenda.
** England trip, June 2012.
*** In Germany I'm not allowed to give blood, because I lived in England during the B.S.E years and presumably am highly contagious.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Borrowed Time

I've blogged before I'm sure about German parties, and the 'programme' of entertainment that is usually involved. I can only recount what I've heard from my friends, who've had the misfortune to have to sit through powerpoint displays, teenage son's guitar recitals, family games etc. at various weddings, anniversary and birthday parties.

Each time we get invited to a party I gird myself in preparation for the possibility of an interminably dull evening, but have so far escaped, scot free.

At the beginning of this summer we had a 100th birthday party invite (a couple both turned 50) and I was fully expecting entertainment. But no, cocktails & canapés, then dinner and then a disco - perfect, I danced till my feet hurt (and then had to walk home.) Apparently Ludger (the male half who'd turned 50) detests the formality of a programme and refused to countenance one.

The next party was my neighbour (a mere 40 this one) and I was positive there would be at the very least games or a show or something because this is a couple, who although 'young', love everything that is German Karneval, every year their group of friends (who they will have known since forever) gather in autumn to organise what their costume theme for the upcoming February should be and then they get on with the making of said costumes*. We turned up at the venue, the vaulted, whitewashed cellars under the old station and I thought we were going to get a full on presentation, there was a laptop computer on a table at one end of the room, but no projection screen. It turned out that the laptop belonged to the DJ, so we had another party with canapés and prosecco and then a buffet and dancing. Excellent. When later quizzed as to why there had been no 'entertainment' Katja confessed that although they enjoy the whole Karneval thing, they do it for the social aspect and not for the tradition.

Two weeks ago we had a retirement party (I must be getting old!) and again I expected full on entertainment as the guy is traditional Deutsch, does Karneval every year and is a season ticket holder for his local Schalke football team, plus he's retiring and therefore of an older generation. It was a blisteringly hot day and evening, we stood outside on the terrace/balcony of one of the local upmarket restaurants here, drinking prosecco** eaLinkting weird*** canapés before being ushered inside for a 3 course dinner and wine, wine and more wine but not the hint of a presentation.

Last weekend was another 50th, this one was in the "Unperfekthouse" in the centre of town. A more bonkers building you couldn't dream of. It's a 3 or 4 storey building opposite the main shopping mall that seems to have a student bar/diner on the ground floor, an auditorium, and then rooms everywhere for painting/skulpting/potting/dancing/music/ can even rent rooms in order to stay over so you don't have to drive home. It's kind of commune meets art college, bizarre. Our friend Thomas had taken over a bar area and large room at the top with access to the roof terrace which would have been fantastic if the weather hadn't turned against him, there were palm trees (ok, so they weren't real and yes they did light up, or at least 2 out of 3 did) shaded seating, beach style showers and a paddling pool. The music had been put into the hands of the 14 year old son, which could have been distasterous as Thomas likes jazz but Timo likes reggae and alternative metal, but I think Thomas had had the forethought to lockdown the system so that Timo had little to do other than look cool with his mates behind the music desk. And yet again no programme, we had a short and to the point speech thanking us for being there and then it was a rush to the heaving buffet tables.

So I'm feeling pretty smug, four parties out of four and at every one the emphasis was on eating, drinking and having fun, my only complaint would be that Germans just don't know how to dress up for a party, to most English girls a party invite is an excuse to go shopping for something pretty and sparkly****, but here they sling on some ratty jeans with a black shirt and butt ugly shoes and think they're dressed.

* I'm not talking pirates and princesses here, we're talking serious costumes, so far I've seen them leaving the house dressed as toadstools, bumble bees and bears.
** Funny isn't it, that although the Germans produce some very fine sparkling wine of their own (Sekt) they mostly choose to drink Italian.
*** Isn't that odd? I always though "I before E, except after C" was an unbreakable grammar rule, loving the fact that it's weird!
**** OK, so maybe the sparkly is just me, I will admit to magpie-like tendencies, I am drawn like a magnet to anything with sequins.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Snaps 78

It's a palm tree, what's more it's an illuminated palm tree, and it blinked too. We were on the roof of an arty type building in the centre of Essen for a 50th birthday party - more of that later in the week!

Friday, September 9, 2011

quizie rascal strikes again

My grey matter was left well and truly wanting last night at our expats quiz night.

We had a full house, everyone who said they would make it, did, and I think we had 20 people - 1 solitary Australian ( but in my experience they are so competitive that a quiz only needs one) 4 Yanks, a Mexican (minus the sombrero) a Venezualan (who I had always assumed was Argentinian but as one of the questions was "in which country is the world's highest waterfall" and he crowed "I was born there" - not that at that point I knew he hadn't been born in Argentina...) 2 Singaporeans, 1 German and the rest Brits.

Here's a sample of the questions;

1. in Medieval times what did a fletcher make (taking my parents along paid off 'cos dad knew that one)
2. how many countries border Germany, 7,8 or 9 (Simon wanted to answer 10, I thought we should try to remember who they'd invaded in WW II)
3. what film is this the strap line for "be afraid, be very afraid"
4. who is the famous partner of Chris Martin (to which dad asked "who's Chris Martin?")
5. if 2 philatelists are talking together, what subject are they talking about (dads rule!)
6. this is the first line from what song? "she packed my bags last night, pre-flight"
7. German golfer Martin Kaymer is from which city? (Simon turned up too late (delayed flight from Majorca, not impressed) to be of any use)

And then there was the picture round, 5 bottles of beer with the name on the label photoshopped out, I (dad isn't a beer drinker and so was no use whatsoever, I really needed my brother for this round) got 3, not bad for a martini girl!

Our team didn't win a single prize (sob sob) we weren't the first to get a line of answers correct nor the team with the most answers right, we did get into a tie break with 4 corner questions correct though, three teams had to guess the percentage of men that admitted answering their mobile phone whilst on the toilet...the correct answer was 50% and with an answer of 45% we were close but not the closest!

Unfortunately for us expats, Ian is due to leave Germany in December and so we can only take advantage of his sadistic questioning technique for a couple more months, time enough for me to swot up on pub quiz trivia perhaps, not that I'm at all competitive!

and the answers (in case you didn't know)

1. arrows
2. 9
3. The Fly
4. Gwyneth Paltrow
5. stamps
6. Rocketman
7. Mettman (very, very local to here)

Word of the day; plusterig - fluffy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Reviews #23

One Day - David Nicholls.

Thought I should read this before the film came out...managed to be halfway through when the reviewers starting taking pot shots at the lead actress's mangling of a Yorkshire accent so I don't know if I shall get to see the film or not, maybe now that I've finished the book I should read the film reviews and see if it's actually worth seeing.

Anyway, on to the's good but I don't get it.

The actual story for one thing and then all the gushing about it.

There are other authors out there, writing in this genre, who are just as good, if not better and the review listing on Amazon is full of effusive praise for this book from said authors.

As I said, it's good, the characters are well written, the history gels - the story spans 20 years or so & it's the 20 years that pretty much match up to my own history, so it rings eerily to me, there's good humour...but I still don't get it.

The story starts as Emma and Dexter are finishing university, it's St. Swithin's Day and after that first chapter we meet them on the same day year after year, which could give quite a skewed view of their lives but doesn't seem to.

I think what bugged me about the actual story was that from the details in the first chapter I couldn't understand how there was such a deep relationship between Emma and Dex. It didn't add up. It was only in the last few chapters when more was explained about the period betwwen the first St. Swithin's day and the second, that the storyline made sense.

So to pararphrase a couple of the reviews from Amazon, it is "a moving and feel good read" (News of the World) but I don't agree with the idea that it's "destined to become a modern classic" (Daily Mirror).

Try it and see what you think, it's not ground breaking but neither is it rubbish.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hollister Hype

Have you ever seen sharks in a feeding frenzy? I'm talking on TV, clearly.

I was in a shoppig mall nearby this week and witnessed similar behaviour in a shop, it was quite bizarre, I've never seen Germans in a shopping frenzy before.

The shop is "Hollister", which is the younger sibling to "Abercrombie & Fitch" (an American 'lifestyle' clothing brand aimed at 18-22 year olds, where Hollister is aimed at the 14-18 market).

I first noticed A&F last year when we went to New York, it was one of THE trendy labels to bring back. The store on 5th Avenue had queues of people waiting to get in (no seasonal sale involved, just casual shoppers) but the South Street Seaport despite having the same stock was less popular.

The first thing you notice about these shops is the smell; every worthwhile clothing brand has its own perfume to sell and in A&F it must be pumped out through the air conditioning units so pervasive is the stench. Then you notice the lighting, or rather the lack of lighting, it's dark like a sultry wine bar, the darkness enhanced by the heavy wooden shelving along the walls and the solid tables displaying folded clothes. The third thing you notice is the staff, young, cute (not an ugly mug amongst them) and generally skimpily clad (although I have yet to visit in the depths of winter, maybe they'll abandon their flipflops and cami tops for Uggs and appropriately branded hoodies?) Then there's the muzak, a pounding thumping beat at probably a scientifically proven tempo to induce shopping lust. Finally, there's the clothes themselves. You wont know what colour you're buying until you've bought it and if you need to try anything on you will have to queue for the pleasure and then have to queue to pay (this is after you've queued to get in and made full use of your elbows to get to the shelves.

A friend commented recently that she likes the Hollister shopping experience because all other shops in Germany render the process sterile, at Hollister it's anything but! Personally I found it bizarre, it was early morning and the shop was crowded, no queue to get in but elbows were needed to get to the shelves, and a long line stretched out of the changing rooms and away from the tills. The funny thing is that in Germany the lighting is brighter, it's by no means the 100 watt starkness of all other German shops but also it's not the coal mine darkness of England's Hollister either, I could actually make out the different colours of the clothes - that has to be a good thing!

I'm sure there will come a time, very soon, when Jas becomes more label conscious than she is already and wants to wear Hollister branded clothes, but until that moment I think I shall keep away, I'm clearly way outside of their target clientele!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Snaps 77

I have shamelessly pinched this picture from Ian's FB page, he spent last weekend in 'the Dales' & I thought this was very amusing.