Thursday, August 30, 2012

Here be Dragons*

Yesterday, whilst drinking a cup of coffee I browsed through the local midweek newspaper, pausing only to look closer at certain photos (in case I recognised someone) and very occasionally to read something that peaked my interest (not often).

My attention was however grabbed by the half page spread (and this is a full scale BIG paper, non of this namby pamby A3 size for the Germans) all about the October rowing regatta and the accompanying dragon boat competition.

This little fest is of course a yearly occurrence, the rowing club is very active and I believe quite well thought of, the regatta is a two day extravaganza of lycra clad young men (and women) beer, bbqs and music.  On the Saturday there's the dragon boat racing for all comers and on Sunday a duck race in aid of charity.

Every year I've seen the signs and thought to myself, "that could be amusing" but either forgotten about it, not been here for the date (usually mid half term) or been too late.

Not this year.

Oh no.

Saw the article.  Texted another crazy expat, KM (as we call her, to differentiate between the 2 Karens).  And acted on her almost instantaneous positive response by contacting my other expat friends and signing up for a 10 (wo)man boat.

I then set up the event on a Facebook page and invited all those who expressed an interest/those whose arms I twisted, and less than 24 hours later I'm wondering what I've unleashed on the unsuspecting inhabitants of Kettwig.

First off we needed a team name, as a matter of urgency as well because that's part of the signing up process, team name...KM didn't hesitate, "Puff the Magic Dragon" it is and I believe all those rowing/paddling** Puff will be known as "Puff's Power Girls" (although this could of course be subject to change).

The team is pretty much set, we have a definite nine with three possibles and a teenage daughter or two in backup.

Costumes are the BIG issue, we're going loud and distracting, thinking big and fairly wigs have been talked about, tutus in either pink or green*** are happening, hoodies with an emblem of Puff have been mentioned and I think somewhere along the line we're going to need to incorporate our many, varied national flags**** as a reminder to all the Germans that we're expats and proud of it.

A German friend of mine sent me a message last night, having seen my message on Facebook and offered to put us in contact with a couple of her friends who are members of a proper dragonboat team, because they could help us train...apparently we're supposed to be taking this seriously rather than an opportunity to get together on a weekend and lark about, in a boat, surrounded by lots of young guys in lycra...I think that once we turn up with bright pink bobbed wigs and flourescent pink tutus our aim will be obvious, although maybe a bit of training wouldn't go amiss, then we might manage not to disgrace ourselves totally!

* as seen on ancient maps apparently, quite appropriate for what we're planning.
** whatever the term is for the powering along of a dragon boat.
*** and this is pink/green in flourescent, not pastel tones, oh no.
**** U.S., Mexico, Singapore, Australia, England, France and Scotland are all possibly in the mix.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Wherever you live there are...characters, be they old or young, there are always people that the rest of the community "twitches" about, just because they don't seem to fit in with the rest of the crowd.

Kettwig isn't big and isn't small either, large enough to have two primary schools and two seconary schools, two (and a half) petrol stations, more bakeries than I can think of and at least seven "super"markets.  

The perfect goldfish bowl.

The first person who springs to mind to a guy known as "the walker".  A well kept gentleman who is in his 60's (I think.  I'm not German, I don't like to stare)  he always has on a pale (creamy coloured) trench coat and light coloured trousers.  He seems to spend his days walking around, I come across him many times when I'm out with the dog.  The first time Logan met him he approached him as he does all strangers, with the singular thought "I wonder if they'll be my friend, maybe they have food"**.  But Logan hadn't gotten with two feet of him when he (the dog) veered away, spooked.  The guy had done nothing, but there's something peculiar about the way he walks, he's clearly injured one leg many years ago and it kicks out from the knee with each step.

Then there's the cat lady.  About five minutes walk from us is a fancy, Michellin starred restaurant, it has a waist high wall running around its gardens next to the pavement.  Every day (and possibly more than once a day) this little old (70's surely) biddy comes along with a plastic supermarket bag and sets out bowls of food for local cats along this wall.  What makes it even more bizarre is that she wears her hair contained in a big net, it looks like a white conical beehive do.

Another unusual lady is someone I see often at the bakery in the supermarket, sitting having coffee and cake (I presume, I don't like to look too close in case she catches my eye and starts to chat - been there, done that, never again)  Jas has met her several times at the swimming pool when she was told off for splashing her and getting her wet.  Nothing so unusual about this woman I can hear you thinking, until I tell you that she always, always wears big white sunglasses (think Elton John) with palm trees on the sides of them.  Always, even in the pool.

Jas has just started a new school, so now she gets to experience first hand all the teachers that her big brother has been telling us about for the past four years, more specifically a certain arts teacher.  These new students have now met the teacher who infamously turned up to lessons once dressed as a bee and said she was going to jump out of the window and fly away.

The final Kettwig character I shall introduce you to is normally seen in our favourite bar, Lulu.  Another eldery gentleman, he's probably lovely when sober, but we only ever seem to meet him when he's three sheets to the wind.  He will approach a group of women, all happily chatting away, engrossed in their girly conversation and start talking to the closest one to him, trying his damnedest to chat them up.  Fortunately, Lesley the owner is very good at reeling him in and getting him back to the other end of the bar, although last week when we were there he kept sneaking back.

I have no doubt that the Kettwigers all gossip about us "foreigners", although they don't seem to manage to tell us all apart, we're always being confused for one another.

*  I really, really wanted to title this "Kettwig Crazies" or "Kettwig Krazies", but although it sounds good to the ear, it looks nasty written down and also, in retrospect, it's not very P.C.
**  He's a golden retriever, bascially a stomach with legs.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Snaps 126

We've seen a couple of this rather sleek sportscar around in the area in the last month or so and have been wondering what it is, then a neighbour backed one out of his garage, the engine sounds almost as good as the car looks.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

High School

My little girl started high school today, or rather I should be more precise and say "gymnasium", because here there are four different types of high school here, with gymnasium being the one for the more academic, those more likely to go onto uni, or at least that's my understanding of the system.

The first day at high school is as big a deal as the first day at primary school here, although without the whole schultüte nonsense*.

Because we weren't due at church (!) until 10:15 we arranged to meet with friends at our favourite eiscafé at 9 for breakfast (how German are we?) I have to confess that we're at Romeo's on a regular basis and so when we turned up (8 of us in total, the 2 children are starting together, going into the same bilingual class, poor teacher) Enzo and his wife were very sweet, making sure to serve the special guests first.

Jas had dressed specially for her first day, white cropped trousers and her green German football team goalie shirt, it could have been more pointed, afterall she does have an England shirt and a couple of Liverpool ones too! But I think most of the children had dressed with thought, there was one little boy who looked as though he'd come straight out of an American clothing catalogue, hair parted and smooth, chinos and shirt, I bet he had deck shoes on too or loafers but I couldn't see his feet so I can't comment - I could imagine he was dressed by his mother. Another girl had on a long vest top (over another t-shirt) with a sparkly union jack on it, I'd have put money pn her going into the pure bilingual class, but I'd have lost.

We got to church around 10 to find people milling around in the sunshine outside, fortunately we made the decision to go straight in rather than stand around making small talk, because five minutes later the church was full. 99 children each bringing two parents and maybe a couple of grandparents/godparents/hangers on = a lot of people crowded into a not huge church on a warm August morning.

The service seemed interminable, two priests (in order to keep both the catholics and the evangelists happy I guess) we had a story about Abraham, I can't remember why, I clearly got distracted and lost the plot. Then there was a whole thing about some slices of a tree trunk, there was a chunk of wood for each of the three classes, I think we were supposed to relate childhood and schooling and learning and development with a bit of dead tree...must have got distracted again - the light can be so pretty when it comes through coloured glass, don't you find? Of course we sang...well, some people sang, we even had song sheets but that didn't seem to help anyone in the congregation because everyone seemed quite happy to chat to their neighbour during the musical interval, they should have had a karaoke screen with a bouncing ball, might have made it more obvious that we were supposed to participate!

An hour in the church was followed by almost an hour in the school sports hall (hot and stuffy but at least there were seats for everyone who wanted them). There was music (but we weren't expected to join in) and more oration - head of year and head of school, and then the children were called out by their teachers, one by one, to stand on the stage before disappearing into the bowels of the school for schooling to begin.

The parents were then expected to hang about drinking coffee and chatting to their friends for the 45 - 60 minutes of schooling that took place before the children emerged, blinking into the bright sunshine.

We learned from Jasmine that her teacher got married over the holidays, there are twins in her class that are almost identical but not quite, the classroom was horribly warm, there's a girl in her class who she hates and tomorrow they are spending the day running around the school...and she only has one 'full' day of school compared to Ben's two.

A successful day I think!

* it's not really nonsense, it's a lovely part of a special day for the child and it's very funny to watch all the dads having to carry these great big cones down the street to and from school.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Just a blip

100 days ago my dad introduced me to a website called "blipfoto".

Actually that's not true, 100 days ago I decided to follow my dad and sign up to blip, after he kept sending me links to it with either his photos on it or other people's.

The premise is this;
  • You take a photo and you post it on the site under your name/pseudonym/whatever.
  • The photo has to have been taken on that day, you can't store up loads of good ones to post at your whim, that's cheating.
  • You can "backblip", if you're away on holiday (or just too idle to post) but have photos from those days you can input them. Cameras are dead clever these days, the images all have times and dates attached (even if you don't think they do) so you can't cheat the system*.
  • People subscribe to your "photo journal" if they like what they see and read (some blippers write lots, treating the blip site like a journal cum blog, some write nothing).
  • Some blippers are seriously talented artists and photographers, others just enjoy it, most blips are accompanied by a description of what equipment was used (another technical tag) sometimes it's some fancy, schmancy SLR, often it's just an iphone.

So, over 100 days ago I started looking at this website and decided that I wanted to play along. For as long as I've known him, my dad has been an amateur photographer, our holiday photos were usually slides, the downstairs loo could also function as a darkroom and Monday evenings were always spent at the Redditch Camera Club.

I was reasonably artistic at school and enjoyed taking photographs first with an old camera and then with the Pentax I had for my 21st birthday. At work people used to complain that my holiday photos were of landscapes or chateaux, rarely of people, until we had children that is. And gradually my photographic urge was subsumed by the need to document our children's lives.

Thanks to blip I have "permission" to be artistic again (well, to try anyway) and cameras have moved on a lot in the years I've been away, no longer do I have to worry about shutter speed and focal lengths, or buying film and processing it, and there are lots of cool apps to tweak photos with, and by this I don't mean that I subscribe to the desire to photoshop everything into perfection, but rather that there are ways of fiddling with photos so that the colours are changed or the clarity is altered, it's great fun.

I started out taking my blips with either my iphone or my ipad, often when I'm out and about with the dog my phone is all I'll have with me but this became more and more restrictive.  Then on holiday I admired a friend's rather smart SLR and Simon clearly saw me turn a rather unattractive shade of green and decided that his problem of what to get me for an anniversary present had been solved.

Ironically today's "blipday"** photo was taken with my ipad and then tweaked with an app called "snapseed" (just a bit of cropping and fuzzying of the edges), I like it.

One of the other great things about blipping is that you "meet"*** people from all around the world and get to experience their world, it's amazing seeing pictures of beaches in New Zealand's winter whilst sitting in our European summer, for some reason I seem to stumble over people from the UK, Norway and New Zealand, not found many Americans yet, I've even found another British expat living in Germany, bizarre huh?

When I first started I did wonder if I could keep it up, a photo a day, it takes thought and effort.  I did miss most of the time I was in Spain, mainly because the internet connection was so rubbish and I couldn't be bothered to backblip (lazy, I know) but I've done 100 blips now and am looking forward to the next 100, so I guess it's not just a blip!

* well, you probably can, but I'm so technologically stunted I'd have to ask my teenage son for help on that.
** blippers celebrate all the 100's as far as I can see and the years too.
*** virtually that is, although some blippers do organise get togethers...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Snaps 125

It was forecast to be hot here today (32C) so after I'd had a cup of tea first thing I took Logan out before the temperatures started to climb and before the whole of Essen descended on the banks of the Ruhr.
We had a lovely walk together, despite the bikes and the runners and by the time we got home you couldn't tell that Logan had submerged himself in the river (he's too lazy to swim, he bathes instead!)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

36 Shades of Quizical

Last night was Expats quiz night down at Lulu, it was a hot and sticky evening (fortunately I made it home just before the thunderstorm hit) but it was fractionally cooler in the bar.

Chris promised us a 'bumper holiday' quiz and he then proceeded to torment us with 36 instead of the usual 25 questions.

Emma, our quiz queen, had been bagsied as a team partner* by KP, and as it was KP's first quiz we let it go.  Emma's sister, H, and brother in law D, are visiting this week and as D works for a proper, grown up newspaper** I thought I'd have a good chance of winning with him as a running partner.  No.  He is clearly only the tea boy at the Telegraph*** as I'm sure the only question he got right was:

- where did Napoleon meet his Waterloo?  Admittedly, if left to my own devices I'd have put either France or Sweden**** but D did confess that 'Belgium' was just a good guess.

Quite how we managed to get 28/36, the top score (along with two other teams) is still beyond me. 

We were rubbish on the music round getting only 2/6 right - Chris cheated and played Donna Summer singing the Gloria Gaynor hit 'I will survive', so when having to put the artist singing for the answer I think almost everyone wrote Gloria.  There was very nearly a riot when that answer was read out!

Then there were the six questions all about abbreviations used in the internet, these were clearly compiled with the help of a teen, that was another disastrous round for us:

- ROFL.  I think everyone knows that.
- LOL. Ditto.
- AFK.  Not a clue...we were truly clueless, 'Away From Keyboard'.
- BRB.  Ditto, we were told it's 'Be Right Back'.
- IMHO - honest or humble?  Maybe it's a north/south divide?
There was clearly one other question but I left the answer sheet in the bar (either that or D hid the incriminating evidence)

We had only one round of questions about the Olympics, hardly surprising seeing as the quizmaster is Australian (10th*****) and the quiz is held in Germany (6th) and they weren't 'serious' sport questions:

- what's the colour of the middle Olympic ring?  I was adamant the top left was black...but no, at least I don't actually live and work in London, haven't been going past the Olympic emblem 
10 times per day for the last month/year.
- what nationality was the diver who became an internet star due to his backflop off the 3m board?  I knew this, because diving is my favourite Olympic sport (nothing to do with the trim bodies and tight little speedos they sport!

Then there was the round all about holiday reading matter.  We had to finish the title to the books listed on some dodgy website as THE books to read by the pool this summer:

- Fifty Shades of ?  Which brought howls of laughter from all bookgroup members there, because that's what we read this summer.
- Captain Corelli's ?  Can't believe this made a summer reading list, I read this 11 years ago at least (it was definitely before Jasmine)
- The French Lieutenant's ?  Ditto (although I haven't actually read this, yet)
- Game of ?  Thrones, in case you haven't seen the TV mini series (very good adaptation, IMHO) and I've read all the books up to now, shan't be reading the next ones though, the story is being dragged out, new characters being added at the author's whim...
- The Hunger ?  Games, if you haven't read the books or seen the first of the trilogy of films, a good story, even if it's written for teens.

All in all it was an entertaining evening, I didn't even have to walk home after my normal chauffeur left to go home to bed (thanks KP for risking turning into a pumpkin and dropping me home) I came away with a dinner/bbq organised for Saturday and what looks like a girlie weekend in London in early December to see Naked Boys Singing... 

Congrats to Karen and Emma for winning the quiz, how many wins is that Emma?

Edit: oops, it wasn't Emma & Karen that won (although they did also get the 28/36 score) the congrats should go to Ve & Hannah.  Sorry guys, I blame the fizz.

* Chris only lets us have teams of two, because we're all so good at trivia (not).
** which prints world events and not just gossip.
*** I think it's the Telegraph that pays his wages, but that could just be a vicious rumour. 
**** think Eurovision.
***** position in the overall medal table, I seem to remember the host nation coming 3rd, squeezed between China and Russia

Monday, August 13, 2012

Run Rabbit

On Saturday I ran in a "Women's Lauf" in Cologne, only 5k, but that was quite far enough.

I've done these runs before, in England, but there they are always promoted as sponsored runs, with all the proceeds going to breast cancer charities.

I ignorantly thought that this would be the same idea, the fact that it was for women only and the T-shirts being pink emphasised that in my little head.


We were never at any point encouraged to raise money for any charity and I have the feeling that all the proceeds from entrance fees and T-shirt purchases went straight into the coffers of the organisers.  Sad eh?  What a missed opportunity.

As to the day was was was also good fun.

My friend Marianne had suggested it months and months ago and we were four, we just needed a friend from Africa then we'd have had all the continents covered M joked, there was me, Natalia (Russia), Sing (Singapore) and Marianne (Mexico), but in total there were well over 6000 runners, I'd say "women" but as there were several men in drag* I wont.

The warm up session was a zumba class**, would have been better if we'd been closer to the stage then we could have seen what we should do with our legs - all we could see was the waist up!  And then we had to find the starting line, or rather the queue to the starting line, which was when S and I lost M & N.
here we are in the midst of the starting crush
waiting for the B of bang.

The route, once we eventually got through the starting gates, was reasonably scenic, along the Rhein (past many beer gardens, full of people relaxing in the summer sun) and past an entertaining oompa band, through a bottle neck, over the bridge, along the other bank of the Rhein, up some steps (didn't run up the steps - couldn't (and wouldn't have anyway) because everyone was walking up them) over another bridge, past the oompa band again and then looped back to the starting point.  As we were going over the 2nd bridge we were trying to work out how much further there was, I'd seen the 1km marker but no others and S had seen none, she tried to convince me that there was less than 1km to go and then we went past the 4km sign.  I was gutted.  But I made it.  Thanks to S, who is much younger and fitter than I am and is used to running considerably longer distances too, a couple of times along the course I told her to run ahead if she wanted to, but no, she said we'd stay together which was great, because I know I'd have walked that last 1km if she hadn't been there too!

The atmosphere during the afternoon was amazing, people clapping and cheering along the pavements, cars hooting and at one point an ICE was slowing down to come into the main station and sounded its horn (it was very, very loud, but then he was only a matter of metres away) and once we got through the finish line there were stalls with fresh fruit and water and even beer (hey, it's Germany***) but all I wanted to do was get home and showered.

Unfortunately this run has exacerbated a pre-existing foot problem of mine so now I'm limping around like a 60year old and wont be able to run for sometime!

* odd that, it's advertised as a women's race, presumably with the idea that women feel safer running with just other women...
** it's the latest fitness craze, although as M commented, Mexican women have been dancing like that for years and suddenly it's the next big thing.
*** I think it was alcohol free beer, but we couldn't be bothered to queue, so I can't confirm that rumour!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Snaps 124

Saturday I & three friends took part in a "Womens' Run".
5K alongside the Rhine in Cologne on a hot, sunny weekend afternoon, it seemed like a good idea back in March.  
This was taken by a friend of one of the girls I was running with, I'm in the black cap, we're queued up waiting for the start.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sundy Snaps 123

A week ago I was lying in the sun in Spain (this was a view from the sun lounger)  
We flew back last Monday and I have now caught up on the washing and ironing, just in time for friends to visit.
Haven't quite got back into the blogging zone though, sorry.  
Will try harder....