Tuesday, November 01, 2022

ABBA, without mum


In October we went to London to visit Marcel and Milly (and their flatmate, Anton). It had been on our to-do list since they moved there at the beginning of Covid, but for the first year after the pandemic began the world was a bit mad. Denmark did so much better than the UK during the pandemic, the kids all visited me here rather than there whenever possible and I only ventured to the UK to visit mum, not London. The following summer I had a breast operation so couldn't fly until autumn when we needed to go see mum. And by that Xmas mum's quick illness and death meant everyone in the family meeting several times in Glasgow instead of London, once again.

This time last year ABBA had just announced their Voyage Abbatar concert. I knew Marcel lived there, so if I could get to whole family there, we could go. With this in mind I decided it was the obvious Xmas present for the eight of us. I spent ages toying with whether or not to buy mum a ticket for her Xmas too, given she liked ABBA and concerts and it was definitely going to be a show to remember. I put it in the bigger picture of a week in London. Obviously I would not hire a car on a city break, so it would have meant getting her to London, then many buses and tubes all around and probably an airbed at Marcel's. Eventually I concluded that it probably would be too much for someone who would be 78, so didn't get her a ticket. In the back of my mind, I was still tossing up whether to make a separate trip to Marcel's just with mum for maybe a weekend, especially as she had made an annual trip to see him in Edinburgh after he moved there in 2015. She loved being nosey about where he was living and taking him out for a couple of drinks in town and he loved the street cred afforded to him by taking his granny and her pal Joyce on a pub crawl once a year. Mum would have loved to see her first grandchild buy his first house. 

When I booked those tickets the week before Xmas for October 2022, it didn't even cross my mind that she would be dead within two months and all my mental logistics about how to get her to London would be in vain.

So, last week was the concert. I definitely got a wee bit twitchy in the last few days in the run up to it. NOTHING was going to come between me and my trip to see ABBA. When I fell off my ladder a month ago I had decided I was going even if I was on crutches!

ABBA had come to Glasgow in 1979, hence the 'I was sick and tired of everything, when I called you last night from Glasgow' lyrics used in Super Trouper. I was 11 years old at the time and it was long before the Internet. To buy tickets, you had to phone the venue and book them. I was so terrified on missing out, that although I was a painfully shy, phone-phobic child, I rang up only to be told the tickets would not be on sale till the following week. When I rang back the following week, the concert was sold out and I collapsed in a heap on sobs and didn't stop crying for a month... in fact I didn't get over it till last Monday, at the age of 54!

On arrival last Monday, with my husband, my five kids, my daughter-in-law, her mother and her auntie, I was 11 years old again. All the hurt from November 1979 was finally laid to rest. In the queue to go in my darling boy bought me a T-shirt that I was too tight-fisted to buy myself. He sensed how to please his 11 year old mummy on the night! I guess if you work in London banking, concert merch is more affordable! In the foyer many, many people my age wandered around, often accompanied by friends or their kids... so many of the 11 year olds from the 70s. There were people dressed in well-known ABBA costumes, such as the blue and yellow cat T-shirts or the outfits used in the 1979 tour. There were people in 60s flower power dresses, there were sequins, sparkles, platform boots, bearded men in blonde Agnetha wigs, camp, loud, happy people hand in hand, all sorts of exuberance. It was just perfect!


The show was absolutely magical, the sound system perfection. They were so real I could believe I was finally there in the room listening to them sing to me and speak to me. Although we were in the seating rather than the dance floor, everyone was on their feet for the greatest of their hits singing and dancing along. I won't go into details about the content in case anyone is planning on going, but I will say that if you are an ABBA fan, you have to go, no ifs no buts, sell your house if you need to! And I was right, mum would have loved it.😢

I have now vowed to myself, though might not yet have mentioned it to the rest of the family, that I intend to go every time I visit Marcel and Milly. And if anyone is desperate to go but has no one to accompany them, gimme a shout!

 

Greenhouse hell

I'm slowly developing a loathing of greenhouses.

It started in 2009... interesting he didn't buy one in all the years we lived together but waited till we were married to get one. I wonder if he was waiting till I'd signed on the dotted line, making escape harder 🤔.

Yes, in 2009, my beloved other half bought a wee lean-to for our Newton Mearns house. At first I was quite excited, having grown cherry tomatoes in the window of my west end flat and even having bought myself one of those little plastic zipped bags back when I was with my first husband.

I imagined juicy tomatoes galore. 

The model he chose was the masochistic greenhouse model. Every piece of glass was different, all with number codes in the tens of thousands and no pieces of the frames were repeated. The 50 page instruction book nearly beat Thomas, despite his 12-year university education! In a final gasp at putting the bastard together we laid every pane on the lawn and penciled each number on a post-it and stuck it to it. We spent two days working out which piece went where, only to finally realise that glass left on a lawn in June leads to scorched grass that takes a whole season to grow back! I wrote up the whole saga at the time.

I vowed back then never to let him near a greenhouse purchase site again, but 13 years is long enough that I dropped my guard momentarily and suddenly this enormous pallet of metal and polycarbonate was delivered to the middle of my driveway a few months ago.

For some reason, Thomas waited till the weather got autumnal before suddenly deciding it was now the optimal time to build the bugger.

Give him his due, he did 85% of it himself, coming in again and again covered in mud, looking exhausted, but the last 4 days he's needed help. The last 4 days I've had a stinking cold and zero desire to be outside holding massive sheets of polycarbonate while he drills and screws. Suddenly all the kids had other places to be or were simply 'washing their hair' that day and I was 'it'!

Not only did he overrun the weekend, but he needed to take a day of his annual leave to finish it. He'd got it into his head that some storm that was meant to be coming today or tomorrow would see it destroyed, upended and flown off to Oz or similar if all the walls and doors weren't on. I was dubious, but given manual jobs aren't something Thomas is a greater finisher of, I played along, rather than ending up with half a greenhouse for the best part of the next decade.

I came home from my evening class yesterday to find he still wasn't finished so had put up floodlighting. Lucky me! Such bright floodlighting it turns out, that you couldn't even see the frame when you walk eye-first into it😠. We were out till after 10pm in the cold screwing tiny little screws into the frame at ground level lying in the mud, following instructions which were helpfully only written in Cyrillic. Thomas loves a challenge.

The bastard had the cheek to finish up the evening with 'Remind me if I ever have to assemble another greenhouse, that it is best done in summer!' I retorted 'Remind me if you ever have to assemble another greenhouse to find myself another husband!' 

I have since threatened him with ending up under the patio if he even thinks of buying another one, so hopefully my greenhouse days are now over as I am way too old for crawling around in the mud looking for small nuts and bolts.

He still has the door to put on, but found a work-around last night around midnight when it became obvious he wasn't going to get it completely sewn up before the storm. I fear it may end up looking like that for the rest of the winter! Why finish a job 100% if you can leave it 98% done after all?!



Thursday, October 27, 2022

Naw!


Having been at his school, with the same English teacher now for 18 months, Léon decided she was probably up to speed with his Glasgow accent enough that he could stop enunciating quite so much when answering her questions. Asking him something today in the passing, he mumbled the reply 'Naw!' She looked blank, he repeated himself, she looked even more blank. She crossed to the board and wrote down four letters... Is this what you are saying Léon? she asked. He looked up and couldn't help but laugh when faced with the word 'GNAW' hahahaha. Think he'll need to go mid-Atlantic for a while longer!

London

I'm just back from a week in London visiting my son, his girlfriend and their flatmate who have been working there for the last three years. The visit was meant to have taken place years ago but what with Covid, boob ops and my mum's recent death, it didn't materialise till now.

I hadn't actually been to London since 2010. When you have family abroad, holidays don't tend to send you in that direction, though now my family abroad is London, I guess I'll be there more often in the future.

Visiting London post-Brexit is fascinating. As someone whose main friend and family group is based in Scotland, the decline in the UK is glaringly obvious when I go back home. There are more pot holes, more empty shelves, products are dearer or missing, the immigrant shops have closed down, you rarely hear foreign languages in the street any more, the high streets are full of empty retail units, homelessness is on the increase. My daughter, who's in 5th year at Glasgow uni, tells me about the chronic lack of student accommodation to the point that the uni actually messaged people the week before uni started to say that students who hadn't yet found a room should not turn up! (what exactly is that meant to mean if you are half way through a degree?), uni staff members who don't show up till a course is half way through as their work visa hasn't come through yet. Charlotte's six or seven weeks into a course that is yet to receive both a native French speaker and a native Catalan one. I could go on...

London is still a wonderful, vibrant, reasonably well-functioning place! The shops around Marcel's area are still all in use, you hear ten different languages in the space of one tube ride, you can still buy Polish products if you so desire, the roads are in a better state etcetc If you live in London, you could be forgiven for thinking that Brexit has not changed the standing of the UK and given the MPs with the power to do anything about it all live in London 90% of the time, I have to sadly conclude that it will be a long time before the penny drops and they realise that one city cannot support a country of nearly 70 million people. I will never stop being angry and I will never stop mourning the country that used to be so welcoming.



Still, like in Glasgow, the house prices there, as far as I can see, are becoming even more unrealistic than they already were. Marcel and Milly have spent just shy of a half million on a quarter of an old house in Streatham. It is lovely and has great potential but is in need of modernisation but at half a million, it is pricing most young people out of the area. I can see walking around Streatham and Brixton that the people who live there could not afford to move there now, so I'm not sure where their kids will go as they grow up and leave home. Could you afford to pay over 2 million for this house?



It feels slightly like the whole city is on a knife edge and things could suddenly take a turn for the worse when the economy fails to live up to the expectations that have been set for it. I hope I am wrong, given I'd hate to see a housing crash where my child has bought a house.

We were actually there the day the lettuce ousted Truss and within a few streets of Westminster. We wandered over to watch developments in Downing street. There were fifty or so protesters, but for the most part life was going on as usual. Shanghai TV actually stopped and interviewed me, asking whether I thought a change of Prime Minister would solve the UK's problems. I managed both to keep my face straight and to refrain from shouting 'Are you fucking kidding me?' I said that in my humble opinion even a change in government wouldn't solve things given the opposition is so terrified to admit Brexit was a wrong move or prepare people for the reality of the hole they are actually in. The guy almost rubbed his hands together in glee as he filmed the footage, so I guess that was the angle he was looking for.



Wednesday, October 26, 2022

More annoying foreigner rules in Denmark

I have three kids living here in Denmark. All three have lived their whole life with me and Thomas, all three have grown up hearing Danish at home, celebrating odd things like Fastelavn and eating klejner at Xmas. All three sound completely Danish and are somewhere near the top of their class. Unless you have a conversation with them in English and suddenly hear their Glasgow accents, you cannot guess they haven't been here always. Léon, unlike the girls who have picked up standard boring Danish accents, speaks in the local dialect, with a rather Funen accent and I am often asked if he has ever left our island. Some aren't even sure he's ever left Stillebæk! There is only one thing that differentiates my three kids and that is their citizenship. Where Anna and Amaia have Danish and British passports, Léon has a French and a British passport. My marriage to Léon's dad, to be quite honest, was on the rocks long before Léon came along and I had moved in with Thomas before he was a year old. Léon has always considered Thomas as his father and last saw his biological father when he was 6 years old, (he's 17 now). 

As EU nationals we decided to escape the UK when it went down the Brexit route. We did it more for the kids' futures than for either of us, as we could probably have just about muddled through in the UK till retirement, avoiding potholes and improvising toilet roll or whatever!

Until the early 2000s kids who grew up with one or more immigrant parents in Denmark, and who stayed in full-time education through to its natural end, could bypass some of the many adult requirements to gaining citizenship here. That seems only natural given they feel Danish, having grown up here. They didn't need to sit the fairly difficult language exam as they could show their Danish high school diploma instead. They were exempt from the fulltime 4.5 year work requirement, as long as they applied straight after school and went straight to university or further education. I'm not sure whether they got out of the ridiculous citizenship exam (that few Danes can pass, and the other week Anna's class tried in school and all failed). That was abolished a few years back unfortunately so now Léon has a mountain to climb. Léon is at Gymnasium majoring in Samfundsfag (which is like a mix of Modern Studies and Political science) and History, with Danish, English and Spanish all at the most advanced level. So it seems unfathomable to me that when he finally leaves school he needs to sit tests to prove he knows about Danish History, Politics and can speak Danish. Surely showing his high school leavers' certificate should be enough. There is no way he will fail the language requirement as it is two years below the level of his school certificate.

But while these requirements are irksome, the work requirement is the part that really angers me. To apply for citizenship, despite having moved here as a child, Léon will need work for nearly 5 years fulltime before he can apply. I have no doubts he will one day fulfil that requirement but by saying that only work, not higher education counts towards the citizenship requirement, Léon is indirectly being encouraged to go to work after school instead of university. He will leave school around 19 and a degree would take him to around 24, which would mean he couldn't start to work on the employment requirement for citizenship till his mid-twenties. He would therefore be nearly 30 before he could apply to be a Dane, something he already feels himself to be. He will have grown up here, gone through a Danish education system, and will have lived in a Danish family with a Danish father. He could have kids of his own before he is eligible to attempt to be a Dane! 

Léon's young and impatient and although he is definitely bright enough for uni is leaning towards working first so he can become like everyone else. What kind of country pushes bright kids away from higher education, making them into second-class citizens, just to please the knuckle-dragging right wingers?



Annoying bits of Danish bureaucracy...

...or how to make your foreign residents feel like second-class citizens!

I have an ulterior motive for this post, and that is that I hate handbags, always have. It's the main reason I can often be seen sporting an ever-so-uncool bumbag, I just hate the need for a bag. It's a shame really, given my mother left two dozen, in every shade of the rainbow and every size when she died earlier this year. I could have satisfied my life's handbag requirements, no problem back in March, if only my life had required a handbag! I just want to be a bloke and wander about with everything I need in one pocket.

Now I know given the state of my home country at the moment, I really should complain about something so minor, but I feel I have to, given it is unnecessary.

Denmark, like many countries, requires you to have your driving licence on you whenever you are driving. Now that most people have all their credit, debit and loyalty cards scanned into their phones, the only thing left to carry about is that driving licence, or rather it was till a couple of years ago when the Danish State decided to make that an app on your phone too. Hurrah, I hear you call... unless you are a foreign Danish resident, that is😡. As a UK citizen, I was required to swap my UK driving licence for a Danish one back in 2019 when I moved here. I had no issues with that. I went to the town hall, swapped it, had them take a new photo of me to upload to it and one to put on their official centralised records.


As a non-EU (thanks to the shitty Brexiteers) resident of the EU, I am also now required to have a residence permit to live here. That I did too over a year ago and have a foreign resident ID card which again involved a photo of me taken at the Foreign residents bureau and finger printing. So the Danish authorities have two official photos of me and one official set of my finger prints. 

When I go on the driving licence app, however, to download it to my phone to make all my handbag-free dreams come true, it tells me I am not eligible to have it because to do so they need to access the photo they have on my Danish passport records. This works fine for all Danish passport holders and Thomas gets to go out with just his phone, but I still have to carry my wallet at all times because of my licence. How hard would it be for the app to give the following options? Retrieve photo from:

  • Danish passport
  • Danish driving licence
  • Danish residence permit 
I tell you something. I'd definitely consider voting for the party that wants to introduce that after next week's general election... Oh I forgot, I'm not eligible to vote either. Sigh!


Thursday, September 08, 2022

A little too much haste

I have too many windows in my house... 28 to be precise, not to mention the five main doors. I got it into my head, given we're in the middle of a drought, that it would be nice to freshen up the paintwork a little; they're wooden double-glazed units, you see, and I thought it would look better if they were all the same shade of grey/lilac. Off I went to Bauhaus a couple of weeks ago and bought a massive tub of special outdoor wood paint mixed to my colour specifications - the best quality, most expensive they had, mainly figuring it would be cheaper in the long run than me having to paint them annually, which was never likely to pan out. I also thought the whole project was quite doable, given it's a bungalow and none of the window frames is more than two to three metres up and I have no less than three different-sized ladders. 

I was down to having three windows and all the doors left on Tuesday morning. I was particularly pleased that I was yet to run out of paint and that there was definitely enough left. The only thing worrying me was the ominous forecast of rain, starting on Wednesday afternoon, for the first time in months. So, I got out extra early around 8:30am with my Danish audio book, my various brushes, and my glasses for the fiddly bits. 

The sun was quite strong and I could feel it starting to dry up the paint, so time was short. I dragged the ladder into the shade and ran up it, slapping on the paint as quickly as I could while still doing a decent job. I needed to go back down to move another metre to the left. That's roughly when I realised that over-sized crocs, ladders, and haste isn't the best combo... Pot of paint in hand, I somehow missed my footing, falling not just from the top of the ladder onto the patio, but spectacularly bypassing the patio right over the top of the garden wall and landing half way across the lawn in a flower bed, all the while watching in slow-mo as the grey paint rained down on me and the sun-scorched lawn. I was right, there definitely was enough left in the pot, because it managed to cover my clothes, hair, and about 3m2 of the lawn. Lying on the lawn, winded, I could hear my Danish novel in the distance. It was just getting to the exciting bit where the kidnapped journalist was trying to throw molotov cocktails at the serial murderer! I tried to sit up but the searing pain in my left ankle decided that wasn't the best idea. I lay there for a whole chapter looking at my phone on the windowsill, unable to reach it to ring Charlotte to come outside and pick me up or ring anyone else. 

Eventually I managed to crawl in shaking and dripping with paint and text Charlotte that I needed someone to make me lunch. Fortunately a colleague had asked Thomas to drop some crutches off at the hospital for him so I used them for the remainder of the day. But I could not use my foot AT ALL. By day two, still unable to do anything I was forced by the busybodies in my family into a trip to A&E, which is quite different here, but that's one for Contemplating Denmark. I seem to have torn some ligaments in my foot, sigh. And now that the pain of that is getting slightly more bearable on that side, it would appear I also hit my shoulder, arm, side, hip, and bum. I vaguely remember them connecting with the top of the garden wall somewhere mid-flight. Funny how I could only feel the foot for the first day. 

Anyway, as usual, I am being a totally unbearable patient. After two days stuck in a chair, I'm climbing the walls... unfortunately not literally. I cannot stand sitting. I have windows that need painting. I can't drive, so I can't go to Bauhaus to buy the now-necessary replacement paint. I need this to be over now! I can already tell that there is NO WAY I'm spending the advisory two weeks 'resting with my foot up'. I'll give it till the weekend, MAX! 



 

Omelettes, Muslim men, and death

 


This one is a bit more personal than my standard ones, but it gives me comfort and it makes me smile and is a memory I will cherish, so for what it is worth...


Let's go back to February 13. I'm visiting mum in hospital. She has less than two weeks left, though we didn't know that then. The catering staff come in with her evening meal: an omelette and mash, accompanied by some nuclear-fallout-coloured carrot and turnip cubes. Weird in itself. I’m not sure I’d put those together. They leave and mum, who’s been completely lucid and coherent throughout my hour-long visit till then, looks furtively from side to side and suddenly exclaims ‘Muslim men!’ I’m puzzled, given the guy who’s just delivered the food is almost a caricature of your bog-standard ethnic Scot of the gingerheid variety. ‘Muslim men know a thing or two about these matters!’ she elaborates, gesturing with her head towards her plate. I wonder if she’s trying to tell me she’d rather have a decent curry from the Village Curry house round the corner, than more hospital food.

‘About what?’ I ask, vaguely terrified of what she’s going to come out with!

‘Omelettes!’ is her rather unexpected reply. ‘I can see them out my window’ she explains. The photo above is of the view from her window that afternoon. ‘Can you see them down there?’ she asks. I can see nothing but rain and a rooftop carpark. She insists that I look all the way down the seven floors to the pavement below. She is insistent, so I play along. She needs me to see them – I don’t know if the brain tumours are causing her to see them or the high doses of morphine she’s taking for the brain tumours but I know there is no point in arguing, she needs me to confirm what she can see so I look down. ‘Oh, yeah,’ I say.

‘Do you know what they are doing down there, crouched on those little carpets?’ she asks. ‘Eh no?’ I reply, lost for words. They’re comparing their omelettes, swapping them, then passing them along the row so they are ordered perfectly, by size – from biggest to smallest, fluffiest to rubberiest. And once they are all in the right order, they bring them back inside and up here to us! Told you! Muslim men – they know exactly how to go about these things – clued up they are, well clever! They sure as hell know a thing or two, especially when it comes to omelettes!’

And then, as suddenly as the topic had been brought up, it disappeared again, and with a wink and a smile she sat happily in her bed, slightly in awe of and genuinely impressed by the prowess of the rows of Muslim men on their knees below her hospital room on that drizzly Glasgow winter Sunday.

I’ve no idea at all what inspired the story other than the rubber omelette handed to her by the catering staff. No notion why Muslim men were involved, but by agreeing to her story, she was so calm and happy that I could see them too. It’s truly fascinating how the human brain works. That afternoon, I had gone up to visit her alone, having flown in on the Friday night but Covid restrictions meant she was only allowed two visitors a day and Thomas had gone with Charlotte the day before. She’d been moaning constantly about the insipid hospital coffee that tasted of nothing, so I stopped on my way and bought her a caramel cappuccino to go from Costa. She was happy. Dying, and yet receiving a decent coffee seemed worth mentioning more than the news that she'd just been diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread to her spine, bones, liver, and brain just days before. 

I enjoyed my visit that day, in a bittersweet way because she was pain-free and at peace. I think age has helped my perspective. When my gran was dying of lung and brain cancer when I was 16, I found 'mad' stories of this type excruciatingly embarrassing but learning to lean into them and go with the flow was somehow calming. At 16, I remember desperately thinking, that I would prefer to die than come out with something mad and unreal. I wanted to leave this planet with my dignity intact, but at 54, I realised it no longer matters. My mum was happy that day. She appreciated that I could confirm her belief that Muslim men were to be admired for their skills in this department. I know mum loved a good curry so I guess she was probably just complimenting Muslim cuisine and it just came out a bit jumbled up. Nothing positive would have come from me contradicting this moment of confusion. Dying is also a part of living, it's just taken me this long to work that out.

And as an addendum to this story, it seems sweetly fitting that when we put mum's house up for sale after her death, the young family who moved in were 'the Islams'. It's nice to think of their two little girls growing up in the same house we did. I guess Muslim men know a bit about house hunting as well as about omelettes! And I expect there will be some excellent cooking coming out of her kitchen after many years of microwave meals from Aldi.


Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Windows or Mac?

I've been a bit remiss on the blogging front this last year. I guess between my boob problems and my mum dying suddenly things have just all been a bit too up in the air. But my other issue was more mundane - my computer. 

Over the last decade, I've bought three, if not four windows laptops, all of which have been hopeless. They start out fine but within six months are on a go-slow, taking up to half an hour to boot up. Thomas fixes them and the problem recurs within days. He's been telling me for a decade to get a MacBook - he's been using one for eight years, as has Marcel and neither have had any issues other than the battery. So, I finally gave in, figuring that even at Mac prices, one would cost less than four. It turned up last Monday night. I'm not used to Macs but I'm willing to learn a new set of workings as long as I have something that starts up nicely.

Tuesday morning, I tried Zoom for the first time while I sat chatting to my Danish language helper, Jens. He said the picture and audio coming from my end was much better than usual. Result!

Wednesday, I replied to a couple of emails and looked for a recipe to make plum tart. Again, I got in at lightning speed and all was well.

Thursday, I was busy with other things so didn't check it out.

Friday, I decided to upload all the photos I took when Derek and Amanda were here...

I opened it but it appeared to be out of charge. I plugged it in but no light appeared on the charger cable. We phoned Apple support. They went through a troubleshoot to no avail.

Yesterday, I drove it into town to the Apple specialist who has declared it dead as a dodo.

FFS! Even the Windows machines lasted more than three days! 

I guess I am sending it back now to be replaced but I'm now less than confident that I have found the laptop to take me through into the 2030s, after all.