Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Snaps 131

Even after five years here the idea of the ambulance service being called "die Johanniter" still amuses my childish brain.
For those who have never had to study German grammar (lucky, lucky you) "die" is one of three words for "the" ( the other two being "der" and "das").
This was a bouncy castle version of an ambulance that was in the main shopping street of Essen yesterday.

Monday, September 24, 2012

When Ten became Five...

..but we actually needed 20...

In a couple of weeks time it's the annual regatta here in Kettwig and there's a group of us taking part in the Saturday Dragonboat race.

I talked about it before and back then we were very bolshy about it all being about the taking part and having fun and drinking beer whilst oggling men in lycra (there's serious rowing action going on too) and totally poo poohed the notion of training.  That was for wimps and Germans* and not for the team that was concentrating on co-ordinating their nail art with their hoodies with their wigs...

Then a (German) friend got in touch about training, saying she had a couple of friends who raced (like seriously) in a couple of dragonboat teams down in Mulheim (next town down river) and that they'd be more than happy to 'help' us...

So there we were yesterday in a 20 man boat on a river that was as grey and threatening as the sky while Jan-Dominik (the steuerman** and trainer) shouted abuse and encouragement (depending on how well we were doing) at us.

As I said, it was a 20 man boat...we have registered to race as a 10 woman team but the gender wasn't the issue (fortunately boats aren't sexist) the numbers were.  When we organised the training session we knew we needed to blackmail as many partners/friends/children into helping out but even with those extras we were still only looking at 17 people but we ended up with only 14, and only five of those were actual team.

However, the lack of numbers didn't stop our training session, although I think most of us would have willingly taken a tow from the pleasure cruiser that puttered past playing some godawful muzak and ensuring the air being sucked into our lungs was diesel heavy.  I think what surprised most of us was just how much fun it was, in spite of the cold weather and wet water, and despite expecting to wake up to an aching shoulder and blistered palms I am uninjured (unlike the 90 minutes rollerblading around the Baldeneysee a couple of weeks ago - that bruise is still fading)
There is much more to powering a dragon boat than just dipping the paddle in and out of the water, as we learnt yesterday.  First there's the start position - the paddle has to be in the water and so you have to consciously hold it still because depending on the flow of the river the paddle gets pushed/pulled away from where it should be, I think we're supposed to dip the paddles when the steuerman says 'attention' and then actively paddle on the 'go'...I might need to go over this before the race with other team members like Karen or Emma , in the hope that their memory/hearing/understanding is holding up better than mine...Although before the start position there's the 'how to hold the paddle correctly' - inner hand on the top and outer hand*** at the bottom end of the stick at the top of the paddley bit that actually goes in the water, this hand and arm gets very wet, by the end of the session I could wring out my sleeve, and am seriously considering getting extra long marigolds (in pink naturally) for the day of the race.

Then there were the different paddle strokes, the one to five, high power, fast take off stroke and then the one to ten longer stroke - not completely sure of the use or point of this one as surely if you want to win you just have to be as fast and powerful as you can, especially as we're only racing over 250m...

One thing none of us expected was that after plowing up and down the Ruhr to the amusement of the Sunday walkers and hauling the boat out of the water we had to wash it...bit odd really seeing as it had just spent an hour in water that is clean enough for fish to live in and I was under the impression that cleaning in Germany was verbooten verboten**** but after that had been accomplished under the attentive gaze of Jan the steuerman we all scooted off to change into dry clothing (I knew that had been a wise move) and back to Karen's for a potluck barbie.

All in all a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, roll on October 13 when we do it all again, but for real.
this a fraction of the team and a fraction of the outfits we'll be sporting on the day

* not that Germans are wimps, far from it, but they do (in my experience) take everything seriously, so if you can train for something then you do.
** steuerman = guy that stands on the back of the boat and ensures you go in the right direction and don't bash up his (probably very expensive) boat or mow down some unsuspecting and innocent rowers.
*** with two bums per bench it's pointless saying left and right hand.
**** verboten = forbidden. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Snaps 130

We practiced Dragon boating today, in preparation for the regatta on October 13. Bizarre how after you've been in the boat on the water for an hour you then have to throw more water into it to clean it...then this all has to be emptied out, but the boat is wayyyyyyy to heavy just to be rolled on its side.
And I thought cleaning in Germany on Sunday was verboten, damn.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I can't dance*

us and the leader singer.
- well I can, not brilliantly and my daughter** would (& does) cringe whenever she catches sight of me shaking my booty, but I do enjoy a bit of a boogie now and then, when the (rare) opportunity arises.

Friday night was one such occasion. Over the river and up the hill there's a one horse kind of place called Isenbügel (trust me on this, there is allegedly a store and a hotel, but no butchers, bakers or candlestickmakers) I have a couple of expat friends who live over the hill and far far away and last weekend was an event there called the Blotschenball. This is 200+ year old tradition which kicks off on the Friday with a couple of bands, then Saturday there's fun run for the children and on Sunday there's the "highpoint" of the whole event, the "Blotschentanz" - school kids in clogs, idea what the history behind that is, we're not close to the Dutch border.

But back to Friday, apparently the ball used to be a full on ball, a black tie & party frocks kind of affair, but over the years interest in it waned until they reinvented it as a rock night.
I'm sure you can picture the scene; a large marquee (apparently in a carpark, but as it was dark when we got there I have to rely on my friends' information) with a wooden floor, a bar at one end, a few stehtisches*** and a stage for the bands. Outside there was another bar and sausage tent and a big enough area for people to mill about it if they didn't want to be in the tent with the loud music (although, quite why you'd spend 8€ on a ticket just to stand around in the cold and chat to your mates is beyond me.)

The first band on was the headline act.
the band

Bizarre huh? Normally the headliners come on after the warm up bands have got the audience warmed up, but either the band all had an early bedtime/curfew, the organising committee couldn't afford the late fee or maybe they thought that the main band should go first so that then people could slope off to their beds at a sensible time**** without feeling that they'd been short changed.

The headline act was a band called Bounce, a Bon Jovi tribute band no less, and they made a very good sound.

the motionless crowd.
We'd had a beer shortly after arriving and having finished it fairly quickly thought we'd go boogie.  We walked into the tent and my friend was alarmed, "there's no one dancing" she said. We wormed our way almost to the front of the crowd, stopping 2-3 rows of people back where the movement started. I say 'movement' because I hesitate to use the word 'dancing'.  There was a bit of swaying on the spot and shuffling of feet but actual dancing?   That might actually be aerobic exercise?   No.  Didn't stop us though!  We had a great old boogie.

The second band, "Thunder and lightning" or something like that, are there every year apparently and do Celtic rock, involving bagpipes...we decamped to ExpatEmmas for coffee and a night cap shortly after they started up - German bagpipes I think I can live without!

All in all it was a fun evening, although Si told me I was overdressed in my pink sparkly top but that was a very conscious decision of mine, there was no way I was going to wear dull black when everyone else would be, although whether Si even realised it was pink*****AND sparkly I don't know!

* A Genesis track from eons ago (showing my age).
** Teenage son would ensure he wasn't even remotely in the vicinity.
*** A high table that you stand at with your drink, no chairs & yes, the plural of Tisch isn't tisches but it looks better this way!
**** Germany remember, very sensible.
***** He's colour blind, shades of red and green are wasted on him.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Snaps 129

These blue sheep usually appear in this huge parklike communal garden (it's nothing to do with us, it just happens to be down the road & I'm quite nosy) at the beginning of spring (marking the official end to winter and overnight frosts - in my mind anyway) and stay out all summer. This year was different though, they made their spring, post hibernation appearance and then vanished. Curious. Even more curious is the fact that they've just reappeared. They wont be out for long, the nigts are drawing in, the temperatures are dropping, they'll soon have to return to their shoeboxes of straw or wherever it is they overwinter.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Another one bites the dust

Or maybe I should title this post "the Quiznight Curse" - at Expats last night we discovered that our quizmaster Chris is leaving us.
Forever and moving back to Australia. 
Despite the fact that we'll miss him, none of us can really blame him for wanting to live back on the coast in the sun, instead of here in fickle weathered Europe, but did he really have to plan to leave in January, that really is just rubbing salt into our wounds, we'll be knee deep in snow and he'll be splashing in the surf. So very unfair.

And now we have to find another person, daft enough to want to spend hours researching and preparing 25 trivial questions every month, that have to be tricky enough to fox the locals who like to try their chances, hard enough to prevent quizqueen Emma from getting her elusive full house and yet easy enough that the rest of us plebs don't feel as IQ limited as we actually are.

Despite the sour note to start on, the quiz was as usual, good fun, and Emma won, as (almost) usual.

We had a whole round on sport and R and I managed to get all of them right - so smug.  I think Chris had had fun writing those questions, there was inuendo and more inuendo - hookers, playing a round after breakfast and getting tackle out were all mentioned.

However we completely failed the boyband round, not managing to recognise the Backstreet Boys or Hanson (got Take That and One Direction though - I dread to think what that says abut our musical tastes!)

We struggled to think of which letter in the alphabet doesn't appear in any of the U.S. states, hampered by the fact that neither of us could list all the states, we originally put the letter Z (Arizona) and then changed it to Q, which I think was the correct answer...

Then there was a question about beer and bugs and poo which almost caused a diplomatic incident between the Aussie Quiz master and the Venezuelan science teacher.

The concept of strip billiards had to be explained to the bar owner, while another American struggled to remember which prince it was that had just got married and therefore hadn't been the one in Vegas.

We have just four quizes left with Chris, I wonder who feels up to taking on the mantel and responsibility of quizmaster, it would be a shame if, come February there was no expat quiz, we'd have to talk to each other*!

* which is what happens anyway, we chat before the quiz, during the questions, over the top of the quizmaster and after the quiz.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Theatre in Germany is a big deal, well funded, well attended and everywhere. Essen itself has at least two theatres and even tiny Kettwig has theatrical shows on at the Altebahnhof. But Saturday evening was something new, we were at the GOP* varieté theater. Usually just the sound of the words 'variety theatre' conjures up images of Saturday night at the London Palladium type thing with dodgy comedians interspersed with third rate bands and dancing rabbits. But at GOP on Saturday this certainly wasn't the case**. The current show is called "Dummy" (of the manequin variety not the baby soother) and was a feast of acrobatic gymnastic dance, if art moved, this was it.

The set up is perfect, banked seating ensures everyone gets a great view (except for those in the cheap seats who probably ended up with a crick in their necks - I bet they pay more for their tickets next time) but instead of rows of chairs there are tables with waiter service so you can sit and enjoy the show, eating and drinking without having to miss a beat.

And really, you wouldn't want to miss a second of this particular show, I was transfixed from the beginning to the end, over two hours later.  The cast is small, two women and maybe four men all clearly with gymnastic and dance training, a female cellist and one or maybe two singers/sound technicians.

The staging was very simple but complex...simple on the eye; a grey backscreen with a solid 'roof' (that could act as a small stage) and drawers and a door in it, and a white floor that could be raised to a 45 degree angle against the backscreen.

There was no story being told but rather a sequence of 'gymnastic dances' interspersed with humourous asides, the best of which had the floor at 45 degrees with a small table and two chairs at the bottom, leaning onto the sloping floor.  A guy took one of the seats and then another slid down the floor/wall in a seated position so that he came to rest exactly on the spare chair.  The two men then acted out a fight, first a shoe was 'thrown' against the backdrop so that it appeared to be moving in slow motion getting stuck mid arc, before it could hit its target.  A chair followed.  It was so cleverly choreographed and so witty it even made my teenage son laugh.   A gymnastic highlight for me was two men almost pole dancing, parallel poles stretching up out of sight about five feet apart, these two guys climbed up, swung down, ran up, slid down, jumping over each other in the process sometimes, breathtaking stuff.   Another guy used a full sized manequin as a pommel horse, astounding us by balancing upside down one handed on the its head, no ordinary shop manequins or caberet dancers here.

We were lucky to see the show on only its second night (not because we were desperate to see it, but because we thought it'd be nice for our visitors) the show runs until the first week in November and I shall be telling all my friends to go, because it is amazing.

* I have no idea what the GOP stands for, sorry.
** Although a friend went earlier in the year and had to suffer a singer and a comedian on the same billing.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday Snaps 128

We're getting a last blast of summer here, temperatures set to reach 28C today and tomorrow.
I'm so glad I walked the dog nice and early.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Of mice and men

It was the usual gathering last night at the Black Cat, plus two, who I do hope we didn't put off coming again by our raucous behaviour and lack of proper book discussion...

Don't get me wrong, we weren't totally out of order, we've been far louder (I remember at least one evening where singing was involved) and far drunker and somehow despite all our best intentions the books never get a proper doing over.

I had high hopes for last month's book, Fifty Shades of Grey.  For once almost everyone had read it, but we still managed only five minutes or so before someone diverted the conversation away. In fact we've probably talked more about this particular book over the previous weeks than we did last night.

A fair amount of the evening was spent chatting about the upcoming dragon boat race, hardly surprising really seeing as the majority of the team were there. Everyone seems to have decided to take it really seriously, Zumba-ing with arms weights on to build up triceps and biceps seems a little extreme to me, but who am I to judge?  The upshot of this enthusiasm is that I have to organise a proper training session with a boat and a trainer... the hardest part will be getting as many of us together as possible. The other issue, and possibly the more important issue, is that of costumes.  We want to look the part, most of the teams seem to think that co-ordinating T-shirts with the team name on suffices, but we have much grander designs, involving wigs and pink tulle.  With only six weeks to go we need to get our act together.

Another hot topic was our girlie London trip. At the end of November five of us expats are flying over for a girlie weekend, staying at SexpatEmmas sister's in Vauxhall and introducing one of us to the beauty of Britain, poor little American has never been to Blighty before so we're looking forward to indoctrinating her to proper curry and English pubs and warm beer, as well as shopping till we/our plastic can take no more!

I'm not quite sure how we ended up discussing boobs...I can remember the conversation, I just can't recall how we got onto the subject...maybe it followed on from changes to your body in pregnancy or was it breast feeding...somehow there were three of us, all with very different body shapes, one with definitely the largest cup size, who although being the winner in the 'how far down the alphabet' competition was last in the pertness without scaffolding. Which left me and my other friend eyeing each others chests and discussing whether our nipples pointed up or down and where our boobs ended up when they weren't firmly tethered to our ribcage by strips of lace and elastic. Bizarre.

Possibly more bizarre is the book choice for this month, something about mice and cheese, which shockingly my husband has even read (and he doesn't read books, not ever*). This morning bookgroup people seem surprised by our choice, but as I've pointed out, the blurb on Amazon says it only takes an hour to read, so even I should be able to manage that without tossing aside as pointless, although whether I then declare it to be a thief of my time** will have to be seen!

* this is the guy who failed his English Literature GCSE because he thought it would be sufficient just to read the study guides.
** see yesterday's blog.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Thieving pastimes.

A friend posted on her Facebook page today a picture for our bookgroup, the caption reads:

"There is no robber worse than a bad book"

While I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment I feel personally that a bad film is a more annoying thief.

A bad book will usually be abandoned before I get to page 100.  This is my personal rule following an attempt to read Captain Corelli's Mandolin over 11 years ago*, I was struggling with it when a colleague told me that to give it to page 100 as then it would make sense.  I kept going and loved the book, but since then it's been my personal rule and if a book isn't 'calling to me' by page 100 I will abandon it, heartlessly casting it aside.

For me a good book is a book that demands me to read further, lying there on the table or the worktop calling me to open it up and bring the characters back to life and I will squeeze it into whatever time I have available for it - while eating cereal at breakfast or stirring risotto for tea I can easily do both with a book in my hand (have yet to master ironing whilst reading)  To me, reading is like breathing or eating - essential to my well being, so a book that I actively avoid is not good for me and I find myself glaring at it every time I see it in the corner of my eye, lurking.

Bookgroup has been responsible for the majority of the books that I eventually abandon, I'm currently trying** to read "The Elegance of the Hedgehog", a translation (which I usually don't like, but this is well translated) set in Paris about a precocious child and an intellectual concierge.  I love the idea and the characters but nothing is happening so I'm currently debating whether it's worth reading another 220 pages, what if nothing carries on happening?  My bookgroup friends blame the translation for losing the spirit, but I'm not sure maybe it's just too pretentious for moi?

Another bookgroup bomb was "Vanilla Beans and Brodo" we all loved the idea of the book, life in Italy and wine, how could that go wrong?  Very easily and quickly, I'm not sure I made it to the second chapter, but in my defense most of bookgroup felt the same.

Then there was "The Monk who sold his Ferrari", far too cerebral for me, as Simon pointed out, maybe the book that came before - "The Monk who bought his Ferrari" would have been more interesting.  Unfortunately that was never a book.

There have been many misses on our bookgroup list, in fact so many that we really need to consider our method of choosing a book***:
- Three cups of tea, Greg Mortenson (never attempted, I was put off by the negative hype about the author)
- Jump, Jilly Cooper.  She used to be relied upon for the quality of her bonkbusters but this was a damp squib, I read a fair way into it before getting bored by the OAP main character.
- The sweetness a the bottom of the pie, Alan Bradley. I made it to the end, but by the skin of my teeth.
- Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld.  I found this irritating, but I finished it, so proud!
- The year of living biblically, A J Jacobs.  IMHO - bilge.
- White mischief, James Fox.  I had such high hopes, I really wanted to enjoy it but had to give up.
- Catch 22, Joseph Heller.  A book I had wanted to read for years and was so disappointed, just couldn't get into it.
- Eat,pray, love, Elizabeth Gilbert.  More bilge.  Actually read to the end, hoping it would improve.  Truly cannot believe the publishers got her to write a sequel and I have no wish to see the film.

I set out on this blog to write about thieving films and got sidetracked by the dreadful books I have cast aside, I guess that's a blog for another day!

* I know it was at least that long ago because I was still at work having not had child number 2.
** I'm on page 98 - its days are literally numbered.
*** We tend to operate a 'whoever shouts the loudest/what book was the last to be mentioned policy', we used to have a list of books we wanted to read, maybe we should re-instigate that.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sunday Snaps 127

Saw this yesterday on a bridge at Mülheim, don't quite understand what it's trying to imply, the 'Ruhrpott' is slang for the area where we live, so the locals are all dead birds? Weird.