Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Rip-off Britain

I know the Tories love to line the pockets of their friends but my god this Day2 PCR test nonsense takes the biscuit. 

Here in Denmark we kindly offer tourists free PCR tests, done in person and available within about 15km of anywhere you happen to find yourself, including airports, border points etc Charlotte needed three tests while she was here for various reasons, Marcel and Milly took two each - one to get into Germany and one to go back home.

The UK currently requires you to take a PCR test two days after arriving in the country, fully vaccinated or not, but there are no free tests on offer. You click on the government website and it offers you tests starting from £2 per person. Not too dire, so you book your flight. Then four days before your flight you click to book your test and of course the first one on the list says they have none of the £2 tests left but are, funnily enough, willing to send you a test for £68 per person. You go onto the second on the list and as if by some miracle the same happens. You then go through the first forty on the list and every single one of them has the same message - Cheap tests sold out, tests start at £68 or £70, and the tiny little test that fits in a tiny little envelope somehow requires £10 in postage per test! Because you couldn't possibly stick five in one envelope if you could charge £50 in postage instead, could you?.

I would sympathise slightly if I thought these were in place to make the UK a safer or more Covid-free place, but these tests are sent to your home/holiday address, done in private and returned to the lab in the post so there is no way of knowing whether the passenger has completed them or if they have asked a friend or relative to scrape their nose, mouth or wherever. These tests serve three purposes as far as I can see. Firstly to line the pockets of labs that have been okayed by the government, secondly to pretend to the public they are keeping the UK safe, unlike their abysmal performance throughout the pandemic and finally to hack off the foreigners so they stay away... I'm sure that will be great for the economy going forward.

I, for one, won't be caught out like this again. Next time I want to see my mum, I might just fly her to Amsterdam or the Canaries instead of wasting £350 on bogus Covid testing. Then I can use my money to boost some other economy instead. Grrrrr!

Oh and this all means by the way that I may be in the UK Mon-Fri next week, or I might just take my £350 and bugger off somewhere nicer and more tourist-friendly instead!

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Paris marathon

Marcel's done a lot of charity work over the years, from building irrigation systems in India, to volunteering in charity shops and soup kitchens and giving up his time to paint vulnerable people's houses free of charge.

His latest offering seems to be running the Paris marathon (he's never run a marathon before) for a cancer charity. So if anyone fancies rewarding his hard work and training, here's the necessary link!

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Brexit and language students

How can destroying a young person's ability to educate themselves ever be good for a country?

Charlotte is in 4th year at Glasgow university studying for a language degree. As a compulsory part of the degree, she needs to spend a minimum of 9 months in the country of her primary language and after that a minimum of 3 months in the country of her second one. Charlotte went to Madrid last year and spent exactly 51 weeks there before returning to see us in Denmark and finally after 54 weeks, returning to Scotland. She battled Covid alone, twice, was in lockdown away from her family and all the friends she knew in Spain from previous visits and spent Christmas day alone... Yet the hesitant, though adventurous young woman who left us in September '20 had been replaced by a self-assured, open and very capable adult on her return a year later.

She now has to go to France around February 25 next year. If you look at previous year's recommendations on the uni syllabus, kids were advised to go to the second country for the three months, so until around May 25, and then to try to work the summer in that country, to further improve their language, or to return to the country of their first stay to brush that language up before returning to Scotland at the end of September for their final year at uni. Of course by this point in their studies many have picked up a foreign boyfriend or girlfriend, some foreign friends they'd like to visit or even just a friend from uni who is staying nearby who they might like to interrail with. In Charlotte's case she has her family in Denmark she'd like to see at some point after those three months. And over and above that she has the two families in Madrid she has au paired for since she was 18, not to mention her step-grandparents in Tuscany, and potentially her aunts, uncles and father who live in France, who she also might like to drop in on. 

This year's students were called to a meeting yesterday to look into the logistics of this now they are post-Brexit. The year long assistantships are still going ahead where possible for now as visas can be obtained for those, though at some cost. Though some kids have gone straight from second year into fourth bypassing the once-compulsory part of the degree. As someone who has been through the system, there is nothing quite like a year in a country to change your ability to speak. Waiving that year will belittle a language degree enormously. 

This year, however the 'minimum three-month stay' now reads 'maximum three-month stay'. They have to find a job before they go, as they are no longer allowed to seek work on arrival. They can't obtain a longer visa without a more permanent signed contract, and of course once they have found an employer who will allow them to stay less than 90 days, they have to leave before the end of the 90 days and go back to the UK where they need to sit it out until the end of August when their 90 day clock is reset. But let's face it, who is going to run back to France or Spain with three weeks to go before uni starts after spending the entire summer tied to the UK, unable to further their studies? 

And those who made some good friends during last year's stay can't visit them again this Christmas as that would eat into the 90 days the student is allowed in the EU which they need to save for February, nor can they visit them after their stay in the other country as they would again need to wait until the last week of August. Going forward, those who are passionate about language will find themselves constantly being sent back to the UK to cross off days on a calendar in much the same way as a prisoner might in his cell.

When you study languages, you want to work in that country in your free months, you want to be free to visit the friends you made last time round, you want to be able to fall in love in that country. If you're studying in Spain, you might want to jump over and learn a bit of basic Portuguese for a few months. Leaving this generation in limbo by negotiating no student exchanges or visas will have two effects as far as I can see. Some will muddle through, resentfully working their summer in the local supermarket or McDonalds in Glasgow when they really want to be doing the same but in Madrid or Bordeaux, finally becoming a slightly more mediocre version of what they wanted to become and others will bottle up their resentment till they can get on the first plane out of the UK as soon as they graduate, having negotiated a contract that will slowly bring them closer to a residence permit for a different EU state, never to return.

Charlotte, of course, is in the odd situation where the new rule does not affect her. She can fly into France on her French passport, so have no stamp and no 90 day countdown, and yet it does affect her as she is surrounded by students who are being forced back home when the summer is about to begin. As the friends she would have interrailed with are forced back into exile, she will be left all alone to backpack round Europe, a kind of post-Brexit Norma-no-mates. But had she not had her other passport, she would have to choose between completing her degree requirements and seeing her mother, her siblings, her friends. All because the Tory arrogance opted not to negotiate any sort of reciprocity for students. Why would the Tories want to encourage the youth to mix with Johnny Foreigner types, after all? 

My heart is breaking for these kids. At that age, I spent 13 months in France over the course of my 3rd year of uni and then went on to stay in Germany and France again from the February to the October of the following year, not to mention a further trip at Christmas of the same year. This did wonders for my languages. There is nothing quite like an extended stay abroad to broaden your mind and make you grow and mature into an outward-looking person. You open your mind to new ways of doing things, thinking about life and accept new possibilities. My five months in Germany are still amongst my fondest memories to date and the friends I shared those times with will be with me to the end of my days.

Coupled with the 50% fall, this year alone, in EU students applying to Scottish unis, which I expect to increase, not decrease as time goes on and fees become transparent, we are looking at a generation of kids who will have little opportunity to have their minds opened to new cultures both at home and abroad. I find it hard to imagine being as passionate as I was about language in my early 20s, and as Charlotte is now, but being sent back to the UK every 90 days to cross off the days till I could once again spread my wings.

Some say it is time to move on and work within the confines of Brexit, but I for one will never move on and will never get over what ignorance has done to a whole generation of kids. I, for one, hope they all up and leave as soon as they can.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

An allergic reaction

When Léon was a small child, he had a bit of an allergy to blue food colouring. It always manifested itself as skin irritation, rather than breathing issues, thank goodness, but still, he was sent home from school on several occasions when staff refused to believe it was an allergy rather than a contagious disease.

We thought it had gone. He's had various blue sweets and similar over the past few years with no side effects. 

At the weekend we went to a family confirmation party in Copenhagen. They were serving blue fizzy juice to the teenagers. Léon had two over the course of a couple of hours. He was sitting on the opposite side of the hall to us with the other adolescents so we hadn't noticed till, when listening to one of the speeches from that corner of the room, Charlotte spied him from a distance. What a state he was in! His normally blemish-free skinned looked like he'd been roasted in front of an open fire.

Back in the day I would never have left home without an antihistamine in my bag but it's been so many years since this happened, I had no supplies. I double checked it was only his skin and he had no tightening in his throat or similar. What could we do? I suggested, for want of a better idea, that he should maybe drink some water in an attempt to dilute the effects or flush out his system. He disappeared into the kitchen area and returned with a glass of juice. I went for elderflower juice instead of water, is that ok? Of course, I said, positively encouraging him to down copious amounts as quickly as possible. Six elderflower juices later he looked more relaxed and laid back and was no longer scratching. I wandered through to the kitchen to get myself a juice too. Standing on the table where both Léon and I had served ourselves elderflower earlier in the evening was a large juice dispenser but it no longer contained elderflower, but rather mojito! I rushed to Léon and asked him if I could taste his elderflower juice. He handed it to me and I immediately noticed some tell-tale leaves floating on top. The silly wee bugger had only gone and downed six mojitos in the space of ten minutes, for purely medicinal reasons, while also mentioning how good his aunt was at making elderflower juice!

To cap it all, when I related the story to his aunt, she delved into her handbag and handed me an antihistamine! But I guess it had the desired effect, given he didn't seem in the least bothered by the irritation in his face afterwards and he was more than pleased that he'd managed to acquire six mojitos entirely innocently!

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The difference ABBA made to my life.

I don't think I saw the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton in 1974. Obviously I've seen the footage countless times since then, but on the actual night, at the tender age of six I was already long tucked up in bed before ABBA were declared the winners and their Scandinavian isolation came to an end catapulting them onto the international stage.

Fast forward a year to the spring of 1975. I had just turned seven and I remember my mum was ironing. Whether she was listening to the radio or ABBA the album, I don't know but I heard the song I do, I do, I do, I do, I do come out of the speaker and it was a life-changing moment, literally... I thought it was to most beautiful and romantic song I had ever heard and once we had the record, I used to play it while having my teddy bears marry each other. I admit I was a nauseatingly sweet child at times!

For the remainder of the 70s I lapped up their every offering, joined the fan club and subscribed to the magazine. Through the magazine, I got myself dozens of like-minded pen pals from as far apart as Iceland and Malaysia who in turn fostered my love of language, travel and the exotic. By the time I started high school in '79, I was trying to write to my ABBA pen pals in their own languages - first French then later German. I'd noticed another girl in my s1 class with ABBA badges on her blazer so Elaine and I became firm high school pals. By a year later, kids were starting to insinuate that ABBA were passé and punk was the way to go. Most jumped on that band wagon, but Elaine and I stuck to our ABBA badges despite the derision. 

When ABBA stopped recording in 1982, I had nothing new to listen to. I followed their solo careers, while also importing all their original late 60s Swedish material. I knew no Swedish so sat and diligently transcribed all the old songs in Mickey Mouse phonetics so I could sing along in Swedish. I could sing whole albums, despite not understanding what I was singing about. At the age of 22, I was offered a choice between extra Middle High German as one of my Honours modules in German or learning the Swedish language... There was no contest and I found myself in a small group of semi-closet ABBA fans, learning finally what I had been singing about a decade earlier.

With the Mamma Mia revival in the 90s, all notion of them being passé flew out the window and I even bumped into several of the punk proponents from my schooldays in the foyer at the Odeon in Glasgow!

Many years later, with my marriage on the rocks, I had fallen in love with my best friend after hours and hours of heart to hearts. I had small kids, I was a complicated package, so I decided not to enlighten him about my feelings. After a year of keeping my secret, we were at the work's New Year party when he asked me to dance. I refused, saying I was pretty shit at dancing, he insisted and dragged me onto the floor, we danced for 30 seconds to some Robbie Williams track before it came to an end. I turned to walk off the dance floor and had taken two steps when I heard the famous piano intro; our fate was sealed. I turned back and we danced to Dancing Queen and by a year later we were a couple looking for our forever home. ABBA had once again changed my life and that of my kids and kids to be, quite drastically!

Today I live in Scandinavia. My passive Swedish is definitely now at a level that would have helped me significantly back in the day, though my Danish is now much better. I was sitting on the computer this morning writing some applications for freelance work when who should pop up on Messenger, but one of my old uni Swedish class pals, Marc. What he sent me blew me away. It was simply the letters OMG and this link. Seeing the logo again after all this time, the backwards B, that this 13 year old used to wear around her neck always, the typeface, the sleek image brought it all back in an instant. I'm thrilled, I'm excited, and at the same time I'm devastated my dad and my friend Sheina aren't here to wait with me in anticipation. 

Bring it on!