Tuesday, November 30, 2010
To be fair it started yesterday, around 11am, nothing serious, innocuous flakes drifting slowly and innocently to the ground, the problem was that the ground was cold and hard and very welcoming and the snow kept coming. Never a blizzard, thank god, just a constant stream of whiteness, it was still snowing when I went to bed and as I knew the overnight temperature wasn't going to get above zero I knew what I would be waking up to.
Si was in Sweden overnight (together with his stupid goat**) so the shovelling of the metres of snow was my responsibility, funny how he's never here for shovelling, whatever weather app he has on his phone/laptop - I want it, as it clearly gives a really clear long range forecast...
A friend of mine said I should have done the shovelling last night (as then I wouldn't have had to do it before breakfast) but it was still snowing, so surely then I'd have had to clear it twice? Anyway, I was out there only 5 minutes after my neighbour and at least an hour before my other neighbour (who has a good excuse in that he's at least 20 years my senior) at least once it's done I can feel smug and tut loudly as I walk along the bit of pavement where they haven't cleared in front of their property, and yes, we know who you are, maybe I should tag those properties on Google Street View, those people who are too idle to clear the snow away...
Shovelling can also, I guess, be viewed as a good upper body work out, I wonder how many calories snow shovelling burns? A cake's worth or merely a biscuit?
The snow is set to last till the end of the weekend I reckon, seeing as the temperatures are falling until then, we might even get more snow, goody, snow on top of frozen snow, my favourite thing (not). Even the children don't seem too excited by it this time round, back at the beginning of the year when we had so much snow that hung around for months (it sure as hell felt like months at the time) they were out sledging at every given opportunity, but this time, they can't be bothered, I think it's come too soon, stupid weather gods!
Last night I had to rescue Jas's German teacher, she was trying to drive home and the road conditions were so bad that her car was slipping all over the road (she's planning to get her winter tyres this week!) she abandoned her car in the local DIY shop car park and asked if I could take her to the train station (German trains are generally unaffected by snow, the buses however, are a different matter) And even with winter tyres on I could feel my car losing traction on the roads, mainly because the drivers were all so scared that they were driving along at 5km per hour, too slow, you need a little bit of speed.
Meanwhile life carries on, schools are all open, supermarkets are all fully stocked and today the main roads are all perfectly clear thanks to the snow ploughs that hurl the half frozen slush all over the previously cleared pavements.
When is it summer?
* well that's the impression given by the London based news agencies, afterall, if it doesn't effect the capital it doesn't count right?
** his Swedish collegue rang him to warn him that it was -10 there and that he should bring a thick goat with him...
Monday, November 29, 2010
The latest in TP's Discworld series, although aimed at non adults in theory. Having read this book I can only surmise that the reason it's supposedly for the teen market is due to the age of the main character, she's just 16 (I think).
Tiffany Aching is a witch, partly because she read the books of fairy stories when she was a child and realised that as she wasn't born into nobility and didn't have the appropriate genetic make up to enable her to marry into royalty then being a witch was the next best thing, not that she's prematurally aged, wizened or warty (afterall witches have to grow up through teenage years as well as the best of us), there's also the fact that her grandmother was a witch.
This is the 4th discworld book to star Tiffany and Sir Terry threatens that it's also the last as she's grown up past the point of her being a suitable character for children's books, although I would debate that this is at all a children's book. At the start of this novel Tiffany has to deal with a neighbour who has beaten his 13 year old daughter so severely that she has miscarried her illegitimate child - a surprising story line for an adult book let alone one aimed at teenagers. And then to deal with such a subject matter with sensitivity and his usual humour - wow, Sir Terry is truly a force to be reckoned with.
The main gyst of the story is a century old witch hunter, who is after Tiffany and not only must she evade him in order to preserve her credibility amongst the older witches in the community but she must trap him in a way that leaves her and the other witches unscathed. Along the way there is the death of the baron, the succession of his son Roland, the (almost) courtship between Tiffany and a soldier in the old baron's employ and of course no story about Miss Aching would be complete without the Nac Mac Feegles - a band of tiny blue vaguely Scottish pictsies who live to fight and fight to live, they also possess a magical ability to rebuild what they've broken, although the King's Head pub did have to be renamed after they put it back together backwards (this was no simple act of generosity, they had completely and utterly trashed the building whilst trying to find the baron's son, beer was of course involved)
The title 'I shall wear midnight' comes from the fact that witches traditionally wear black, Tiffany, as she is only a young thing chooses to wear dark green, saying that she'll wear midnight when she's older.
Another great addition to the discworld series, long may Sir Terry continue.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Elternabend is a joy that doesn't exist in the UK schooling system, but don't feel hard done by, the UK schooling system has so many things that the German one doesn't; positive feedback instead of criticism, a timetable of lessons that runs from 9 till at least 3, a timetable that stays put for the whole of the school year and doesn't change, and supply teachers...I could go on and on (but then I will be accused by some (mentioning no names, but you know who you are) of being 'negative') The elternabend is the opportunity for the parents* to get together en masse with their class teacher to discuss....stuff.
Some teachers are better at chairing these meetings than others, Jas's 1st teacher would let the meeting meander off track and the parents discuss for 30 minutes or so whether to get fizzy water or still and from which budget supermarket, our currnet teacher seems to value his personal time a little bit more and so can usually be relied upon to keep things more on track.
He got us there early last night, to show us photos from the last 2 trips out of school & from the 'ritterfest'** last week which seemed to have included lighted candles (and we're not talking tea lights in jam jars here, they had serious naked flame action going) and sword fighting as well as carving meat off the bone - if the photos I saw were anything to go by anyway, 3 things which would surely make any UK teacher run for the health & safety handbook. We seemed to sit through the photos at least twice as Herr B let it roll round again and again for the 'latecomers' (why d'you think they were late? Clearly planning on missing out that bit of the proceedings).
The first item on the agenda was a discussion of what our children had thought to the film they'd been to see earlier in the day (A Letter for the King, lots of knights, sword fighting and the barest of blood - good job seeing as 1 child has a blood phobia apparently) Of course most parents were keen to share their child's view, and if you didn't want to share (as in my case because Jas had said she couldn't actually remember much of the film or maybe because your child was so scared by the film she had her hat pulled down over her eyes for most of it) then tough, because Herr B singled us all out...
More interesting to me was the fact that 3 classes went to the small festival cinema in Mülheim, they walked down to the train station and caught a train into the BIG main station in Essen where they changed trains (presumably this meant getting all the kids off one train and onto the platform, going down a set of steps, through a subway to another set of steps and up onto another platform to catch the train out to Mülheim, 60 kids aged between 8 & 10 and 3 adults...I'm glad I only found out about this after the event.
After the subject of ritters had been thoroughly exhausted we moved on to next week's Lichterfest, the children make lanterns from highly flammable paper & glue, put a lighted candle inside (most of the classes use small battery powered lights but Herr B poo poos such modern thinking) the classes then march through the woods behind the school together while the parents stay at the school and drink glühwein (I knew there was a reason for going) then the children come back, we stand around a bonfire in the playground while the children sing songs before everyone goes off to their respective classrooms for a small performance and food.
So much to organise, but the salient points (or those that Rebecca & I were struck by) were that small children & other siblings should not be allowed to be disruptive, if they could possibly be left somewhere else/locked in a small windlowless room then all the better AND would parents please not talk amongst themselves while the children were singing, if we could request those caught chattering to shut up then that would be a good thing...
The bike training that the children are doing came next, Herr B couldn't resist the opportunity to comment that some of the bikes (that'll be 2 English kids then at least) don't have kick down bike stands and have to be leant up against the wall, damn! Good job schools have walls eh? I refuse as a matter of principle to put a bike stand on Jas's bike (sorry Jas) and if next year when the local cop in charge of bike testing doesn't pass the bike because of it's lack of a stand then so be it, to date there's no legal requirement for bikes to have stands to make them roadworthy therefore our bikes will be standless and I shall stand my ground on that one.
Next came Vera, sorry VERA***, and the analysis of the results from last year's year 3's. The results we were shown related to a group of 12 children, as soon as I heard the sample size I tuned out, what's the point on patting yourself on the back over statistics based on so tiny a sample size, even if they'd combined all 4 year 3 groups they'd struggle to reach a useful sample size, afterall there's lies, damned lies and statistics.
I've whined before about the willingness of German parents to waste time and oxygen banging on about something that is of no consequence, at least not when you compare it the that fact that the school is currently 2 teachers down and there is no supply teacher system nor even the possibility for the head to take a class as she already does, last night was no exception.
Milk was not on the agenda and was sprung on us by a well meaning parent (do-gooder) concerned that those children whose parents receive benefits and therefore get free school milk can only get plain milk not 1 of the 3 flavoured milks that are an option and so are they not then being labelled as 'poor'. The discussion went round and around, maybe we could take it in turns to pay the extra, maybe they should all have plain milk, maybe the milk cartons were too big anyway and they should have smaller cartons...we just sat there mute, rolling our eyes at each other, desperate to leave.
I came home whining to Si about what a waste of 2 hours of my life the meeting was and about the VERA and the milk and he asked whether I'd said anything at the time or whether I'd just muttered to myself...
Guilty as charged, consider my wrist slapped, but then again what good could speaking out in that particular forum do? If I'd told Herr B that in my opinion VERA wasn't worth the acetate he'd printed it out on then he'd probably have taken it personally, as a slight on him, and the milk? Well, that kind of issue needs to be addressed at a governmental level to get it fixed properly, all the parents can offer is a sticking plaster solution.
* parents are pretty much expected to turn up, I get the impression you get a black mark against your name if you don't make it to most if not all, and yes, there is more than 1 per term - double joy.
** ritter=knight, their topic since restarting school this year has been knights & the middle ages, great for the boys but a bit of a yawn for the girls, I don't know who's most looking forward to the next topic (sex, or maybe it's sex education) the boys, the girls or the parents (just for the entertainment value at the dinner table of course)
*** VERA stands for 'vergleichsarbeiten in der grundschule', comparison of schoolwork at a primary school level.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
It's a word on everyone's lips and in all the news stories at the moment because Google Street View has gone live, and shock horror some of the properties are pixelated out because the owners requested it...or not as the case seems to be.
A year or so ago when Google anounced it was bringing Street View to Germany there was uproar. They didn't want it here, compromising their privacy, threatening their security, quite happy to go for Sunday afternoon strolls throughout the neighbourhood, staring into everyone's front rooms, commenting on the cars parked in front of the house, but to put that same information on the world wide web?
Nein, danke. Whole streets threatened to get together and bar the Googlemobile's progress, smash the cameras and so on.
Now the whole of Germany on a street level is visible to the whole of the curious world, and guess what, it looks just like anywhere else, except there's maybe a bit more pixellation...you see to calm the German public down they were told they could go online and register their address to be verpixelt when Street View was launched.
Our neighbours' house (a pretty much mirror image to ours) is pixellated as are 2 others on our road, ironically not the house where Mr Roadstop lives or the house where one of the top*** businessmen lives. My neighbour is rather embarassed by her blurry house, she 'claims' that she opted for the pixellation online just to 'try out the system' and is now cross because she'd thought she'd be able to see how much her (horrid) laurel hedge has grown. I didn't help matters by laughing and telling her that now everyone will think she's got something to hide.
Some of the natives are grumpy that their houses are verpixelt when they didn't ask for them to be, not just because of some online 'test' but becuse they either live in rented property and the landlord opted for pixellation or they live in a building that's divided into several apartments and one of the other occupants has opted for anonymity.
Such is the uproar that there's a Facebook page called 'Ungewollt Verpixelt' (ungewollt = unintentional/inadvertant) and some 'Google fanatics' have been out and about in Essen this weekend throwing eggs at houses which are pixellated on Street View - the world is going slowly crazier methinks, especially as someone on that site is now suggesting stickers for those houses which don't want to be pixellated (but are) saying 'ungewollt verpixelt', maybe I should make one up for my neighbour?
The irony of this whole Street View thing is that when you look at the pictures on the internet they are maybe 2-3 years old, so the Googlemobile was trundling around our streets well before it was even announced that it would do so, before the locals could get upset about having their privacy invaded, sneaky, sneaky Google, did you really think we wouldn't notice the half built houses...
* there is probably a way grander title that is most certainly in German and is more than likely longer than 4 words, after all there is that famous German motto** 'why use 1 word when you can use 10?'
** well, it's a motto in this house anyway and we're in Germany...
*** so close to the top of the pecking order in the German business world is he that he must need oxygen - they even have security guards for goodness sake.
Monday, November 22, 2010
One of the things I miss about living here is my friends back in England. We've been here 3+ years now and there are some people who have slipped down to just being FB contacts and some have dropped off my radar altogether**. My friend Al is a different matter though, whereas in England we would meet up probably once a week for lunch or minor (sometimes major) shopping and gossip incessantly, this has now been distilled into a weekly chat. I always make sure that that particular evening has no other plans or possible interruptions because we can and do chat for an hour or so, without necessarily discussing world peace or the latest political scandal, indeed if Si were to ask 'what did you talk about?' ( an unlikely scenario) I'd probably have to think hard to find something concrete to offer. Children and schooling inevitably get a look in, the whereabouts of our husbands always crops up (hers travels as much as mine) and Al's work but other than that...
Our last chat followed a day where I'd been Xmas present shopping while keeping an eye open for some 'nice' shoes, a silly notion really seeing as Germany does 'sensible' shoes usually and then when you factor in the season (winter approaching) that can only mean doubly sensible and therefore not a cat in hells chance of finding something I might want to put on my feet. My search was then compounded by the fact that I have a funny foot (that's right I have a cloven hoof!) my big toe joint takes objection to anything too high or anything pressing on it (I think it's an age thing, gradually my body is decaying around me) consequently, despite trying on 3 pairs I came home empty handed (that's a lie, I had too many bags for my hands, I really needed another arm (Zaphod Beeblebrox got that right) or a pack donkey, but none of the shopping was for me)
While I was chatting to Al, I was surfing the web, looking at pictures of shoes, I mentioned my quest to Al and before you could say 'Manolo or Louboutin?' she was also online and we were shopping together.
It really was the next best thing to being in a mall together, except there were no bothersome shop assistants and we weren't weighed down with lots of other bags, on the downside we couldn't go off for a sneaky grande vanilla latte or a large pinot grigio either and nor could I take my chosen shoes home, but hey, a girl can't have everything at the same time, not always, sometimes you have to be prepared to have your cake and wait a day before eating it...
I found these and emailed Al the link asking her opinion, 'gorgeous' she said, so I ordered them and went to bed - by this time it was almost midnight & we'd been 'shopping' for maybe 2 hours...and 2 days later the boots turned up. Of course they came when Si was here, rather than on a different continent, so I was unable to whisk the evidence (shopping bag/boxes/receipt) away so that the item could emerge weeks later from the bowels of my wardrobe to be worn, and then when asked 'is that new?' I could honestly respond 'no'***. Simon was distracted by the box the boots came in,
'Mirapodo? What's that?' he asked, imagine my surprise when Ben answers 'only the biggest online shoe retailer in Europe' damn, no getting around the fact that I've bought new shoes then...
* I have commented on previous occasions how I wouldn't describe myself as a technophobe it's more a case of technology being Verenaphobic.
** not, necessarily through any fault of mine, but a long distance friendship takes work & if I'm always the one making the contact then that sends a certain message - don't you think?
*** I have a few variations on this response, I quite like the 'don't worry, it's been paid for' (not that I'm light fingered, merely implying that the item has been mine for long enough to have had its visa bill paid) or there's also 'new to you maybe, I've worn it before, but you're never here' (try hard not to sound too accusatory) the age old 'this old thing?' ceased to work many years ago.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Soaking the dried fruit in brandy.I started this earlier in the week and will keep adding brandy until the fruit can't take any more - fortunately they usually show more stamina than I do when confronted with a bottle of brandy!
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Nothing special about that you might think, well, you might think that if you're new here & haven't read my bio first...
English comedy in a little German town, especially a German town that doesn't have a huge expat community like D'dorf or Cologne have, although the number of 'foreigners' here seems to be growing on a weekly basis - met a new Yank last week (at the comedy night) and a new Brit the week before, slowly but surely we are infiltrating the local society.
So this was the 2nd such comedy night (the last was in the summer) and we (Rebecca, Rachel (new Brit to Kettwig) & I) were happily ensconced with large (is there any other size?) glasses of wine in the corner of the bar waiting for the 8.30 kick off.
The first comedian was a Yank, Casey James, who has a totally awesome day job, he works for the European Space Agency, he's ex NASA apparently and works with recruiting and training astronauts. Simon doesn't believe he's a rocket scientist, Simon is a sceptic and was heard muttering under his breath "well he is a comedian". I chose to believe that Mr James is ex NASA, if only for the fun I got the following day in telling my so hard to impress it's almost impossible, 13 year old, that I'd met a guy who was a rocket scientist.
The second comedian was actually a comedienne, from Belgium...now I hate Belgium, for the simple reason that everytime we drive to England we spend a large portion of the journey in Belgium, and in my experience the autobahn there are the worst in Europe, it's like the civil engineers made the road surface out of corrugated cardboard, and then to add insult to injury you have to put up with the Belgian drivers. Living here in Germany I'm fairly used to driving on the autobahn where some parts have no speed restriction (Jeremy Clarkson, eat your heart out) and on those stretches you get Porsches and the like shooting up behind you from literally nowhere, but it's OK, you know to expect it and so you check your mirrors and move out of their way, fine, no problem. Belgium doesn't have unrestricted autobahn but you still get idiots who shoot up behind you, pretty much into the boot of your car and expect you to pull over immediately, even if there's no space in the inside lane...when you don't respond to their threat and crash your car into the Stobart wagon alongside they pull back and then race up to you again - fun. Anyway the most memorable thing about the comedienne (from Belgium) was that her day job is doing voice overs in different languages for porn films...
The third and final comedian James Allan, was British ex army originally from Manchester, who now reckons he makes a living in Germany teaching the English language to Germans - I heckled him at this point, couldn't resist the opportunity to point out the irony of the fact that he's a Manc, teaching people how to speak proper English...
It was a great evening, marred only by my mobile - I'd left the children home alone, as the eldest is capable of earning good money babysitting other people's kids and therefore has to do the odd freebie for me, all well and good until the babysitter goes to bed...which he had done (it was mid week afterall) and then the stupid dog got confused (not the sharpest knife in the drawer is our Logan, although if there was a crumb of food in said drawer he'd find it) everyone had gone to bed but he hadn't been out for his snack & a wee**. So the stupid beast had woken Jas by barking (Ben slept on, oblivious) and Jas upset and confused rang me. In retrospect it was probably a good job I was called away from Lulu's, the 3 (large) glasses of wine I consumed seemed like such a good idea at the time, but the following morning I had to suffer through 90 minutes of tortuous pilates and then a further equally painful 90 minutes of German - I think it's fair to say that it was not one of my better lessons, there were moments when I couldn't even remember the English words for what I wanted to say, let alone the German.
* a great Elton John track that you can listen to here
** a routine that I have with Logan, in an attempt to stop him waking me in the night because he needs a wee, I encourage him to go out before going to bed, by throwing a doggie biscuit outside for him to find, a creature more motivated by his stomach you'd be hard pushed to find.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Rain, rain, rain.
It rained yesterday, and the day before that and the day before that....and when I say 'rained' I don't mean a half hour sprinkle, I'm talking about sunrise to sunset downpour, it's even been raining at night too, just in case everything wasn't completely saturated.
Consequently there's a lot of water about, our back lawn is turning into a pond (it has drainage issues), but at least there's no water in the cellar (touch wood). Rebecca's cellar meanwhile has a stream flowing through it - apparently the water builds up behind a window at the top of a cellar wall and flows through the gaps in the frame*, and then the water flows unchecked through 2 rooms until it reaches the drain - 'fortunately' this is a regular problem and 'fortunately' this is a cellar in the old fashioned style of the word, i.e. although not meant to be damp, it isn't meant for habitation, unlike our, much newer cellar. Aurelia (3 doors down from us) had her cellar washed out a year or so ago and her's is used as ours is - it's carpeted and full of the kids stuff - or at least it was...flooding of cellars seems to be a common thing here, but maybe that's because we have cellars, whereas in the UK a cellar is something that only seems to come with an old house, when we were trying to buy a house here I was insistent that any house I wanted to own had a cellar.
And it's not just the housing that's suffering from the volume of water, the roads are...interesting, puddles the size of duck ponds of indeterminable depth which is what always scares me - ever since the time, many years ago that Simon drove into a large 'puddle' and the wheels of the Rover lost contact with the road and water started to flood into the cabin of the car. I refused point blank to get out (because I had new boots on & didn't want to ruin them) I had to crouch on my seat until Si took pity on me and carried me to safety and the dry road. Consequently, when faced with water deep enough to ripple, that covers the road surface from one side to the other I will, if possible find an alternative route - this policy of mine suffered at the weekend when we went to Ikea and partway through the carpark was not 1 but 2 'puddles', I took the decision that as we had to go through (in order to get out) at some point, then it made more sense to do it sooner rather than later as the water would only get deeper and deeper - Jas shut her eyes, I was tempted to, but someone had to steer the car!
We went out to 'Road Stop'** for lunch, the children's favourite eating place, parked as close to the door as we could and then had to paddle our way into the restaurant. The building is at the bottom of a slope and all the water from the top end of the carpark was flowing downhill and into the outer indoor/outdoor area of the restaurant - nice. Fortunately the addition of fresh flowing water to the environment had no impact on the kitchen.
The photos running down the left were all taken on Sunday morning, the 1st few hours of the day were dry (from above anyway) and as the river had burst its banks at one point on the Saturday I knew the water levels would be even higher.
What can I say? I'm glad I had wellies on and Logan was in seventh heaven, he's not a dog for swimming, but he does like the water, he's more hippo than fish and will wade in and lie down no matter how cold the water (he does it in the depths of winter, when there's snow on the ground and a crust of ice to break through) the locals think he's crazy and can always be relied upon to pass comment/judgement.
* I should point out that this is a rented house with the most lax landlords known to man.
** an American styled diner owned by a guy down our road - they have an extensive menu of burgers, chicken wings, nachos etc and lots of U.S. memobabilia over the walls.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Yesterday (Sunday) was the last race in this year's season and with 4 drivers in the running for the championship it proved to be a good race. 1 crash - Schumacher spinning before being mounted by Liuzzi (pic from bild.de) where Schumi looked to be inches away from decapitation, but thanks to modern technology the F1 cars these days seem to have life preserving capabilities. Alonso (1 of the 4 in contention for the title) was kept back and away from the leading pack by Petrov (as Alonso clearly saw it, anyway) leading to Alonso coming alongside Petrov after the chequered flag had been waved and 'expressing his anger'.
Sebastian Vettel, a young German, won the championship for Red Bull, the youngest ever (23) F1 champion and was so emotional on his drive in after the final flag you couldn't tell whether he was laughing or crying.
It was great to see the final podium, 3 F1 world champions, Button and Hamilton flanking Vettel, standing tall and proud for the anthems before the obligatory champagne spraying of each other and the crowd.
A friend commented that she couldn't understand my fascination with Formula One, afterall I refuse to watch football or rugby or cricket, which are all far superior and more interesting sports in her eyes - although she is Australian, maybe if Mark Webber had won the championship she'd be singing a different tune? But I blame my parents for my love of speed, or perhaps more specifically my father.
When I was a child we spent many, many weekends at Mallory Park, Oulton Park, Aintree & I think even Castle Coombe, milling around in the pits while my dad was involved in the serious stuff of marshalling for the 750 motorclub, is it any wonder I developed a taste for speed*. I have a very vivid memory of a car being towed back into the pits with water and fish cascading out of it after it had been pulled out of one of the lakes at Mallory Park.
Two years ago I treated Simon to a ride in what's called the 'Ring taxi' - a ride around the Nürburgring in a BMW driven by an experienced racing driver, it's something I'd love to do, but just standing there, in the pits with all the street cars, bikes, vans (basically anything with an engine and wheels can take a turn) racing their engines as they waited their turn to enter the track took me straight back to my youth. The smell is amazing, an intoxicating mix of hot rubber, oil, petrol, exhaust fumes and adrenaline, there's nothing like it.
So now I have to wait until March 14th for the excitement to start up again, I guess I'll survive!
* does that mean I can also blame my dad for my mounting collection of speeding tickets?
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Today, people in Great Britain, all members of the Commonwealth (apart from Mozambique apparently) and France, Belgium, South Africa etc** pause at exactly 11am to remember 'the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and civilians in times of war'.
The wearing of a poppy is something I always associate with this period of autumn, when I was at school it was always felt to be an honour (as well as a good and legitimate skive) to go from class to class getting other children to pay whatever they could to the British Legion for their poppy. Then as an adult living in a small village with a son in the cub scouts we would have to stand around in the freezing cold (if we were lucky) or the driving rain (if we weren't) as the cubs, scouts, brownies, guides and any local veterans paraded from the pub at one end of the village down to the church and the village war memorial. There is something exquisitely poignant and eery about the Last Post (which you can hear here) especially as it always seemed to be played by the most elderly and decrepit looking ex serviceman, but again it's part and parcel of Remembrance Day.
Here, in the area of Germany where we live 11am on the 11th of the 11th is also a day in many people's diaries, but for an entirely different reason, it's the official start of Karneval, so there are many, many drunks to be found wandering around - and Karneval doesn't actually climax until the beginning of March (next year anyway, it's one of those crazy church dates that revolves around the moon and the tides and how many goats the pope has or something...consequently it's a moveable feast).
As you can imagine those of us here from the Commonwealth think that celebrating and excessive partying on the official day of remembrance is a little bit wrong, likewise the locals can't understand our stance when we refuse to go party.
Integration is all well and good (although Angela doesn't think it's working) but as the saying goes 'you can take a horse to water but you can't make him drink'. So I'm wearing my poppy with pride and will happily tell any local exactly why!
* this is a phrase I connect with Remembrance day in England, looking it up on Google I was surprised to find that it's a line from a Kipling poem composed for good Queen Vic in 1897 for her diamond jubilee.
** the full list is here although I don't know how trustworthy it is.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
I'd kind of thought about tackling Ikea first thing before moving onto proper shopping, but I talked myself out of it, planning instead to take Jas 1st thing on Saturday morning - which I could live to regret, but it's too late now.
I should have gotten an inkling about how sucessful my trip would be when the actual journey to the car park took forever, some exhibition on at the local Messe meant that I queued from red light to red light.
First stop on pretty much any shopping trip for me is Starbucks, now I know they're a HUGE multinational blah blah blah, but back in England I didn't have a Starbucks so readily available and although here there are hundreds and hundreds of little coffee shops, I quite enjoy the irony of going to the US chain instead of a little privately owned German coffee shop (maye one day I'll grow out of this phase) As it's 45 days to Christmas*** they have their Christmas drinkies & even seasonal cakes, the lebkuchen latte is delish and I was delighted to get my first mincey of the season, although this being Germany it's called a 'stern something mit rosinen' (= star tartlet with raisins) the guy serving me asked anxiously whether I liked raisins, because apparently lots of people don't...which led to me telling him that in England the mince pie a classic piece of Xmas & from there somehow we got onto the subject of English football teams...I'd have forgiven him that if he hadn't told me that I really shouldn't eat anything else for the rest of the day (seeing as I was overloading on the calories what with a cream topped latte and a fat loaded mincey) cheeky get.
My shopping goal (yes, I did have a kind of goal in mind, I wasn't aimlessly wandering) was to make a start on the Christmas presents, this was achieved, with 2 bought, but what I was really looking for was a sparkly top.
Last week I thought it'd be a fun thing to do, to have a Christmas do, one Sunday afternoon in December, and before you could say 'Glühwein' it was organised (I think I may live to regret this but hey, too late now) and now I'm thinking about what to wear, the dress I wore last Christmas or black trousers and something sparkly? Am tending towards the latter as Germans tend to be very...dull, when it comes to clothing, black, brown, grey and shades of all predominate so I wanted to find something spangly (but clearly not in black). Maybe I'm too early, maybe looking for pretty, party things in mid November in Germany the land of greige is a little optimistic? Maybe if I wait a couple of weeks I'll find racks and racks of vibrant turquoises and shimmering cerise...maybe, but I doubt it.
Why is it though that whenever I go shopping with Rebecca I can always find something sparkly (I think I was a magpie in a past life) I think the sequins and crystals call to me, I shall have to ask Rebecca to go shopping with me next week, either that or I give up and order something from the not so rainbow challenged UK websites.
On the upside, at least today I didn't get accosted by freaky women in shops or stared at more than usual (and this despite wearing a shocking pink shirt, hidden under a dark grey coat...) and I have made a start on my present buying, not quite on my usual gold medal winning form in the shopping stakes today, clearly out of practice!
* despite what my DH might think, my weekdays are fairly full, what with children finishing school at lunchtime, dog walking, pilates, step and German lessons have to be squeezed into the mornings so that then I can act as taxi/tea** service in the afternoon
** the childrens' maths & German tutors have to be kept supplied with caffeine
*** well it was when I wrote this but you can check how many days it is now here
Monday, November 8, 2010
It's not as bad as it sounds, honest, I'm not venting my spleen at all and sundry...not today anyway.
We've (that would be my German teacher and me) decided to compile a list of German words that make me go "grrrrrrr" accompanied more often than not by a rolling of the eyes and a sigh of despair from Muna as she prepares to explain to me, once again, the illogicality of some particular humble word.
It probably happens once per lesson, that Muna has to, very patiently, explain the subtlties of a particular group of vowels - amazing eh? German, a subtle language, who'd have thought it?
I shall start the hate list with a word I stumbled across on my own, while I was being a girlie swot and studying some grammar;
I looked it up in my Casio electronic dictionary (a necessity not a luxury when you have to look up as many words as I do) and discovered that it means "to borrow"
...and "to lend"...hmmmm.
I'm quite used to English illiterates saying "can you borrow me your book?"* but I thought the Germans had maybe escaped this, but here is a verb that seems to want you to use it whether you are a borrower or a lender...and this despite the fact that the German language has a word for "to borrow" = ausleihen and another word for "to lend" = verleihen.
The second word to enter the list we stumbled across today and it was the reason for the suggestion of the list, I guess Muna figures it'll stop me from venting during lessons, now she can just tell me to write it on the list and forget about it (so unlikely, I harbour grudges you know)
on the list because it has 2 meanings (or at least 2 that we discussed in the lesson, knowing my luck it probably has more, which is fine, but kind of puts you off using new vocab just on the off chance you use it in the wrong connotation) it means "to tempt" and also "to irritate", fine, but how can a word have 2 such starkly contrasting meanings?
"You're tempting me" and "you're irritating me" are surely at opposing ends of the happiness scale;
For example, if I was tempted by some chocolate cake** I would probably eat at least once piece (no will power, that's my problem) but if chocolate cake irritated me (highly unlikely, the only thing I'm seriously allergic to is detergent) then I wouldn't risk eating a single piece of it would I?
Bizarre, don't you think?
So there you have it, the first two on my German word hate list, more to come I'm sure!
* which, for those of you reading this who are not native English speakers, is not correct use of the word 'borrow'.
** am currently being tempted by such a cake that has been left in my house by a very bad person, fortunately Jas likes it and so will hopefully eat more of it before it starts to irritate me in its temptation.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Thursday, November 4, 2010
'I go tomorrow/today/yesterday' instead of 'I am going/I go/I went' but then again I don't think I'd actually want to live in that particular country...
I have days here when I think it's finally coming together, when I don't put off making phonecalls before I've planned what I'm going to say and when a letter from school that covers 2 sides of A4 makes immediate sense without me resorting to my dictionary or my 13 yr old translator. There are also days when I feel at a complete loss and as though I am never going to be understood even if I live here till I die - which could be sooner rather than later if I don't stop with my really bad habit of shouting abuse (from within my car) at other road users - but that's another story.
I had a few conflicting experiences of my language prowess last week, but on the whole I feel more up than down about it all (at the moment);
- my tumble drier is making a funny noise and so at the request of my darling I called into to the local repair shop (called in, in person because that way I can make sure I'm not misunderstood, or at least there's less chance of me being misunderstood) the guy took all the details and said they'd call the following week to make an appointment, I didn't get why they couldn't make an appointment there and then but hey, who am I to argue with the crazy way they run their business? It got to Wednesday of the fiollowing week and I'd had no call to make an appointment so I bit the bullet and rang. 5 minutes later, after speaking to a very efficient woman, I had an appointment for the following morning - I guess I should have spoken to her from the get go as she clearly wears the trousers in that small organisation.
- in the same week as the noisy tumble drier my kitchen tap decided to go all leaky. It's done it before (this is a 3 year old kitchen we're talking about, taps should not be leaking) so I knew the procedure, call the kitchen company who then call the tap company who then call me to arrange to come and fix it. The man came on Friday, I didn't stand over him while he worked, I trust him to know what to do and to do it (and besides I have other stuff I can be doing) so he faffed about over in the general sink area and then turned the water back on and asked me to sign the paperwork. At this point I asked him what he'd done and whether other people have had the same problem with this design of tap (stupid really, like he's going to admit to that?!) now this man said he'd replaced the potato something...I swear I heard him say 'kartoffel blah blah' and as you should know by now, kartoffel = potato. I smiled sweetly at him and said 'really? how nice' or some blather in German and as soon as he was gone looked in the bin to see what exactly he'd thrown away that could possibly be called a potato.
When I had my German lesson she told me the word I'd heard was 'kartusche' (= cartidge) but that she only knew that because she'd also had one replaced by a plumber recently!
- I had cause to visit the T-mobile shop last week, took with me the relevant information and waited while the guy finished up with his customer. I explained to Herr T-mob that I wanted to upgrade my phone whilst retaining the same contract and that I'd spoken both on the phone and via email to T-mobile about this and it was do-able.
I showed him the documentation I had that showed otherwise (stood my ground and argued my case like a proper German) Herr T-mob then phoned head office to seek advice. Meanwhile a queue was forming, it was the end of lunchtime and there was just the one guy serving (2 others were hiding in what looked like a cupboard round the back) the guy at the front of the queue was of course old and therefore crotchety and started making verbal waiting noises, where upon I turned to him and told him that I'd had to wait too (German is such a great language to be argumentative in!) The outcome of my visit wasn't ideal, I didn't get what I wanted but I had forced Herr T-mob to take me seriously enough that he questioned what he was saying, I stood my ground and fought my corner in true German stylee, all with only lapsing into English once (when I declared the situation to be utter crap*) I walked away not happy, afterall I didn't get what I wanted but I did feel that I dun good.
* note to self; learn more mild German swear words...
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Don't you just hate it when the rules are changed or the goalposts moved, but it's possibly worse when this happens and no-one tells you to expect the change, then there's no opportunity of halting such a change (even if I had power) it's a fait accomlpi.
Reading to me is a necessity of life, like breathing or a supply of chocolate or caffeine, essential. Without a book to read I am bereft. It's what I do in any moment of down time and what I do whenever I can (MIL very kindly bought me a little tapestry kit thingy of a golden retriever, because it looks like Logan, well it will when it's done, except it will never be done because if I'm at a loose end I read, even if I'm not at a loose end I read. The only time I don't have a book ready to be opened is when I've finished one and am allowing it to 'settle' before moving on to the next. I am a voracious reader.
Moving to Germany has made the acquisition of reading matter trickier, it requires more planning because surprisingly* the German bookshops have only a small percentage of their shelves turned over to 'foreign' literature, so my browsing along the shelves and inhaling of print has been curtailed.
For a while Amazon benefitfed from this problem and then Simon surprised me with a Sony eReader. It was love at first sight (once I'd got past trying to turn the pages over) hundreds of books in one little package that is smaller than any respectable novel, the only downside is that you can't use it on an airplane when the seatbelt light is on.
Now I could get books from anywhere, what with the internet being all reaching and all, I didn't have to fly to the US to buy books there, I could do it from my kitchen worktop with a cup of coffee in one hand and my Visa card in the other. Bliss.
But as I said, my world has started to close in on me, and I do wonder how close it's going to get.
I have had, in the past, many books from Waterstones, my account is registered to my German address and I pay with sterling from my UK bank account. But no more. Last week I had a shocking email from Waterstones. I was so shocked that I left it a day or two before replying to it (because I felt that I had to reply to it, because if you don't register your point of view, you have no right to then sound off about it**) The email I received said;
"We see from our records that you have previously purchased an eBook from Waterstones.com whilst having a registered address outside of the UK and Ireland.
We regret that as of 20th October 2010, we are no longer able to sell eBooks to customers placing an order from anywhere outside of the UK and Ireland. We have had to take this action to comply with the legal demands of publishers regarding the territories into which we can sell eBooks.
Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience that this may cause."
I wasn't going to take that lying down, I can tell you. So I enlisted the help of my dad (who's always keen to cock a snook at those in authority) who had a credit card registered to him in the UK that he doesn't use. Tee hee.
Damn and blast those sneaky Waterstones peeps. They can tell my IP address is not in the UK. Good job there are other eBookstores eh?! Might have to go on a bit of a buying spree though just in case that loophole is tightened around me too.
And I thought free speech was part and parcel of a free world? Clearly you have to be prepared to read that speech in the native language of the country in which you reside (or make do with the restricted choice available on their eBook shelves (don't envy the choice of titles my brother living in Libya will have left open to him)
A thought though, how does Kindle get around this? Their big selling point is that you can buy books WHEREVER you are...sneaky deals or ignorant bliss?
Right, enough typing, where's my book?
* please note the sarcasm, I doubt there are many English bookshops with even 1 shelf turned over to 'foreign' literature.
**probably not the gospel, just the way I feel.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Si heard it from a colleague at a meeting last week and then heard from another colleague (who lives outside of Kettwig) about it, and even my hairdresser (who lives in the next town along the river) has heard about it, so it must be true right?
This is the way the story goes...
There's a family in Kettwig with a teenage son, who is either Downs syndrome or autistic (depending on the person who heard/tells the tale).
The boy was at home and rang his mother in her office at work.
"Come home now" he tells her "There's a troll in the house"
Naturally the mother didn't believe him.
"Mom, you've got to come home, I've caught a troll" the boy was insistent, and so reluctantly the mother went home.
Her son took her to the bathroom where he'd locked his troll.
The mother was greeted by the sight of a dwarf/little person* who wasn't very amused.
"thank god you're here" he said "I've been trapped here for hours"
It turns out the dwarf/little person worked for the circus which was in town for the holidays and he was going from door to door, drumming up business, a walking advert for the circus.
All had been fine until the teenager had answered the door and believed he had the opportunity to catch a mythical creature!
* I'm trying to be PC here, and according to wiki in the US & Canada people of particularly short stature prefer the term 'little people' but 'dwarf' isn't pejorative whilst 'midget' is...