Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I think one of my favourite ages to photograph is around three or four months when you can stick a baby on a tabletop and snap all their wonderful expressions without fear of them crawling out of shot! How cute is this whole session? We get the whole spectrum of Amaia's personality - coy, curious, happy, worried and gentle.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I am a seasoned traveller. I have backpacked round Europe and even NYC alone and with kids and babies for the best part of 25 years so I don't normally find getting from A to B difficult. This time however crossing the 1400km from Copenhagen to Calais via Aarhus with over a million other stranded air passengers was proving tricky and costly. I didn't for one minute believe my MP (East Renfrewshire's Jim Murphy - Secretary of State for Scotland) could offer me anything I hadn't come up with myself but I wanted him to be aware there were people stranded in Europe for whom a bus in Madrid was not the optimum solution. More for fun, and for want of something better to do given the vacuum of information we were facing in Northern Europe, I decided to tease him with the following email first thing on Monday morning:

Hello Jim
I am one of your constituents living in Newton Mearns. This morning I had to ring all three of my children's schools to explain I, my husband and my 5 children are currently stranded in Europe unable to return home because of the Volcano. I was told many children and teachers are in the same situation.I find it interesting that no one is coming up with any solutions to get us home. Flying is a cheap form of transport these days - being able to fly to Europe doesn't mean you have enough money to finance endless nights in unbooked hotels, meals in restaurants or buses, trains and ferries across Europe. I simply cannot afford to come home by means other than budget airlines.

Today I was utterly dismayed to hear Gordon Brown on BBC world coming up with a plan to repatriate people in the US via Spain not even mentioning people stranded in Europe itself. I was due to fly from Copenhagen last Friday morning. I have tried overland and managed to get as far as Hamburg where the trains are now so full I cannot proceed given I have 2 babies with me. I am being offered 5 hour waits between train connections in the middle of the night in the middle of Germany and they are estimating 2 days overland to Calais where I might get a boat and then try to find my way from Dover to Glasgow. Three days overland at huge expense, with 5 kids between 12 weeks and 12 years is unaffordable.

Apart from Mr Brown no politician seems even to have noticed the crisis. I will be deciding who to vote for on May 6, depending on who has some real and practical solutions for me and the many families stranded at the end of the Easter school holiday.

I look forward to hearing your suggestions.

Of course I heard nothing back for 48 hours, which had I not had my mother-in-law's flat keys would have cost me another £300 at Danish prices if I had needed to pay two days food and two nights in a hotel at the current exchange rate. So 2/10 for a speedy reply for starters.
Then suddenly this afternoon I received this reply from one of his minions - I will copy it for you verbatim:

Thanks for emailing Jim, he has asked me to respond on his behalf.

Several constituents have contacted Jim about the terrible disruption that the volcanic ash has triggered across the world.

As I am sureyou can understand there is little that individual candidates can do, but please rest assured that the prime minister government is taking the matter extremely seriously and doing all it can to get people home as quicly as possible.

The Foreign Office's current plan for the dealing with UK nationals stranded in Europe can be found here -

I hope that this is of some use to you and reassures you somewhat.

If there is anything further you would like Jim to do please get in touch.

Best regards

Funnily enough I had actually found the foreign office's page of advice several days ago. What I do find interesting is that when I wrote pointing out crossing Europe to Calais or Madrid was too expensive and impractical with small children and the crowds currently on the trains and asked if Jim had any more helpful advice or suggestions, his second in command simply sent me an email full of spelling and grammatical errors linking me to the foreign office page that tells me to make my way either to Calais or Madrid after checking with my airline. Let's have a big round of applause for that one!

So I will sit here till Friday and if my flight is cancelled again, I will make my own expensive way to Calais (£500) and as a thanks for the 'prime minister government' sending all the buses he could find to Madrid rather than various centres around Europe, I will make a point of making sure I do not vote for Mr Murphy and his crew on May 6.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I was checking out my flickr photos and found to my amazement that this is one of my most popular ones. In fact, if you ignore the breast feeding photos where I suspect people aren't looking at the baby, this is possibly my most viewed photo. I guess it must be the curiosity evoked by it. Pianos are so hard to lift so why would anyone go to the bother of dragging one out into a field in the middle of nowhere?

Monday, April 19, 2010


Several points on the stranded passenger issue:

I have heard several flippant remarks on the TV about people getting a prolonged holiday. The thing is when you book out of your hotel on the last day of your holiday, you don't tend to have budgeted for an extra £100 or so a night to stay on somewhere else. Nor have you budgeted for another week's meals in restaurants. You have no more clean clothes, so you go looking for a laundrette and end up doing your very own impersonation of the old jeans ad sitting in your underwear. You may not have necessary medication with you - who takes a month's supply of say the pill or asthma medicine when they go away for 4 or 5 days? You don't know when any of it will end so you are stressed financially.

I read today on the BBC a quote that summed it up. Someone who had flown to Copenhagen like us with a budget airline (we paid £250 roughly to come with Norwegian) was now facing an overland trip back to Scotland choosing between car hire at over £1000, land travel at £700 or as he put it 'haemorrhaging money indefinitely on Copenhagen hotels and restaurants'.

I heard a suggestion that as many people as possible should try carpooling to get home. On the face of it, this sounds like a reasonable idea but stop a minute. Why would people be on holiday at this time of the year? Because the schools are off. If you choose now you are likely to be a couple with at least one child with you, more likely two. Sharing a taxi home or car hire when you have to pay 4/5 of the cost makes carpooling insignificant as an option for most.

We fly everywhere because flying is the only means of travel we can afford. Flying is much cheaper than trains these days. Journalists are acting as if people who could afford to be in Europe can simply pay whatever it costs to come home overland as if paying out an extra £1K or £2K is nothing to your average passenger. We paid, as I said, about £250 for our holiday. We cannot simply fork out an extra £100+ a day to stay on or travel overland. Most people will be in this situation.

People are also acting as if the problem stops when we reach Dover. The UK is unlike the rest of Europe. We fly everywhere because internal trains are three times the price and because of that when we arrive in Dover, getting to Glasgow is another financially significant trip if alternative means of transport are even being laid on. Everyone who is stranded did not come from Kent. Scots are even more likely to have flown because they are further from Europe on land.

We are in the middle of a recession. How many employers will be happy when the workers don't come back for weeks after Easter? How stressful is it for those who can't afford to lose their job to be stuck here haemorrhaging cash they can't pay back indefinitely?

And to cheer us up this morning Gordon Brown has finally noticed the problem (probably when many fewer kids and teachers than expected turned up for their first day of school after the Easter break) - great at last we might get an extra few buses or boats... but no, it seems no one is stranded in Europe, it is simply a problem for people stranded in the US and further afield so he's going to have them flown to Spain and brought home by bus - he hasn't noticed us at all...

I guess the solution in that case is to try to get a boat from here to the US so Gordon will repatriate us eventually via Spain. Grrrrr.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I was half-packed and psyched up to come home on Thursday. We had planned a day of farewells to the relatives in Copenhagen and then a quick flight home on Friday morning. Dad texted me about an Icelandic volcano that was erupting and causing chaos. My first reaction - Is this an April fool's joke? It was too weird to be anything else. I turned on the Danish news and realized it wasn't a joke. News was saying it would last 12 hours so we signed up with Norwegian airlines for text updates on our Friday morning flight and went to the goodbye dinner with Miriam and Bjørn. The news told us before dinner that Danish airspace had been closed as a precaution until 12pm Friday. Our flight was 12-10pm - I was beginning to doubt our chances of escape but maybe we would just be the first flight out of Denmark after the crisis. Sitting on the bus home from dinner at 9pm Norwegian texted us that our flight was officially cancelled. :-(
We watched the news as they prolonged the airspace shut-down hour by hour. We checked Norwegian and they had no more flights before Monday. There was no point in hanging about Denmark as long as that so we opted for a refund and a landtrip. Thomas went out at 8-30am on Friday to find the best land route. At 9am I got a rushed call. He had managed to get train tickets from Copenhagen to Amsterdam via Hamburg - a fourteen hour trip with just six train changes followed by a ferry from Amsterdam to Newcastle leaving 24 hours later, arriving in England on Sunday morning - a 48 hour trip in all. The only problem with it was that it was leaving in 45 minutes so I had to finish packing the two cases, and the rucksack and get myself and both girls across Copenhagen in about 30 minutes. It was a beautiful morning and it was the Danish Queen's 70th birthday into the bargain so there were more people on the streets than usual awaiting the royal parade.
First my in-laws phoned for a taxi but they said it would take more than an hour to find one with baby seats and they wouldn't take us without. They then rang Miriam who said there was too much traffic to guarantee getting to me and then to the station. They started surfing the Danish bus system. I tried to explain I knew how to navigate Copenhagen myself and would take a bus to Nørreport and a train or Metro from there. They kept surfing - how could the foreigner know how to navigate Copenhagen better than them? They aren't from Copenhagen and had been using a car all week but... I made to leave. My mother-in-law decided the best bet was her coming with me to the station while Peter drove the luggage in the (3 seater) car. We got to the station with 15 minutes to spare but there was no sign of Thomas or Peter. I rang Thomas - he yelled 'complications' and hung up. There was still no sign of Peter!
With five minutes till the departure Thomas appeared running and told me to follow him. We both sprinted into Copenhagen's main station 'Travel shop' skipping ten queues of 50 people each all shoving, pushing and screaming in many languages. We weren't the only ones who had worked out there had to be a land route. After all those years of flying everywhere (I haven't interrailed since the early 90s) this actually came as a surprise to me! Oh dear.
So what was the 'complication'? There were two departments - one for train tickets, one for ferries. Thomas had bought the train ticket and reserved the ferry one but by the time he'd been redirected to ferries, some numpty had sold his reserved ticket and we had approximately 2 minutes to decide whether to go to Amsterdam without a ferry ticket or simply abandon the plan.
I figured if we got all the way from Copenhagen to Amsterdam over land then going down the coast trying for ferries in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Zeebrugge, Ostend and Calais wasn't going to be too hard. I'd done it so often alone as a student, it really wasn't rocket science so agreed to go to Amsterdam.
We found Peter beside the train throwing in our luggage while Miriam fought the guard valiantly to stop it leaving without us. We jumped in as it pulled away and then set about trying to find seats given we didn't have reservations.
The first train was fine. We crossed half of Denmark sitting together. We had a 15 minute change half way across, where again we had no problems finding seats. It was quite a fun adventure!

We checked the schedule. Most of the trains had about 15 minutes between them, the one in Hamburg at 6pm had half an hour. That was our only window for finding food. Miriam had thrown in a box of cold rice from the night before and a couple of slices of ryebread so we'd survive the first 8 hours.
Things went fine until the Danish border. On leaving it the train ground to a halt and sat for half an hour with no explanation. Strange... Half an hour into Germany, half an hour before our scheduled changeover in Hamburg the train stopped again and a guard announced only in German that there were major trackworks ahead and that the train was stopping. All passengers were to get out and transfer to buses and we'd be driven into Hamburg. This didn't seem over-problematic, just a pain to move all the luggage. It turned out however that the German railways (DB) had been assuming normal levels of passengers and had laid on a bus, but with many intercity passengers instead of the handful of locals they'd expected on a normal Friday, they suddenly had to scramble up two more buses and drivers and by the time we arrived onboard we had 25 minutes to reach our departing train in Hamburg and the driver was estimating it'd take just over an hour.
On arrival in Hamburg we confirmed our train had already left then joined the 60 people queue in the Travel Centre. The guy in there gave Thomas a new train timetable that necessitated a 4-5 hour wait for a connection in the middle of nowhere at 2am and warned us the station there would close so we'd be out in the cold. We were then redirected to the lady who stamps the tickets to revalidate them.
A very smiley, chubby friendly-looking woman looked up from her desk and we explained where we were going. She peered over her glasses and inquired as to whether we really fancied 4 hours in the cold or if we'd rather DB paid us a hotel room for our 'Minikinder'. Hard choice?
She set her colleague to ringing around warning things were fully booked because of the crisis. I envisaged a scabby, dodgy hotel like you often find around large stations - the kind of place pick pockets hang out but if DB were paying, I'd just sleep on my handbag. We were given a ticket for free Bed and Brekkie in the Hamburg Park Hyatt and set out on foot to look for it.
Much to my surprise I found myself in front of a luxury hotel ten minutes later. At reception we were asked where the girls were to sleep in a double room. We asked if they had something even cot-sized for Anna and told them Amaia could sleep with us for the night. They saw the DB certificate offering to pay unlimited costs 'We'll upgrade you to a suite with two Queen-sized beds, Sir' they informed us, rubbing their hands together as they pocketed (I have since checked on the Internet) €435 of DB money!

The next morning we were met with a feast fit for a king - unlimited everything washed down with oranges pressed for us. Anna was given her own silver cutlery with bears on and after our long trip I could happily have stayed there all day but we'd a train to catch at 9-45 to Osnabrück.
We dashed to the station and manouvered the cases and the buggy down to the platform. We waited and five minutes before departure a sign popped up saying in German that the train would leave from Harburg. What was Harburg??? Once more the trackworks were causing a problem. We'd to take a metro to a suburb and catch a train there but we'd no idea what time it was leaving at and no one else knew either. We hopped on the metro and arrived to find we'd to climb three or maybe four floors with no lift to get to the station from the metro. We had two cases, a rucksack, and two babies in a broken double buggy. One wheel had snapped on the girls' buggy on Thursday but we were trying to coax it to the ferry because carrying a baby and a two year old was more impossible. My back ached from trying to push the broken buggy while Thomas dealt with the cases. My boob ached from my latest bout of mastitis just two days earlier - I'm so run down from being on antibiotics on and off since Amaia was born.
We reached the top of course to find Osnabrück had already left. We joined yet another queue of grumpy travellers with large cases to find out plan C or were we on D by now? I was beginning to notice that the percentage of travellers with airport tags on their oversized luggage had gone from 20% on Friday to 70% on Saturday. More languages were being spoken around me. I recognised they were from further afield. It seemed everyone on mainland Europe had decided to try to go home overland and Germany's trackworks were throwing a spanner in everyone's works. A new plan was produced which meant Amsterdam was another day further back and the ferries and Eurostars were all fully booked beyond Monday. The buggy died at that point and we'd no way to carry the girls. The DB asked if we wanted to go on or if we wanted a free ticket home to Thomas's parents.
At this point my kids rang to say they were stranded in France too. I spoke to my ex-husband and established they couldn't get out overland on a bus without two overnights in Strasbourg and London and couldn't get Eurostar tickets either. The first flight (if it flies) that they could get on was April 23. At the thought of not seeing my big babies for another week, I just lost the strength to carry on and stood in Harburg with the tears rolling down my cheeks.
Given we were going to have to sit it out for days and we couldn't afford hotels, we reluctantly opted to return to Denmark - this time to Århus where we could sit in Thomas's parents' flat as they were driving to Italy.
The Intercity train arrived and we tried to get on - I swear the whole of Hamburg airport had the same idea - there was standing space only till the Danish border. I perched on the suitcase trying to feed Amaia standing up as Anna sobbed in distress 'I'm sooooo sad' over and over for an hour. An old lady (maybe late 70s) got on at the first stop. She asked to push through the people saying she had a reservation. People tried to let her pass, and a guard arrived. She explained the same to him. He shook his head and said there was no hope and told her to stand till some people got out.
Eventually Thomas got enough space to sit on the floor in a compartment.

And after a while I even got a seat. At 6-30pm we arrived back in Århus having spent exactly 32 hours on the road getting nowhere.
We are now stuck here hoping something will fly soon, with tickets for (you'll laugh if you've been reading all my recent ranting) the only flights we could get - yeah you guessed it - Ryanair next Friday.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I have been watching the election campaign on the TV and, as a woman, I am finding the media's interest in Sarah, Samantha and Miriam more than a little nauseating.
Firstly, I am not in the slightest interested in who made their clothes or what shade of nail varnish they are wearing. If these women in any way pertinent to the campaign, it would be from a policy point of view, and given they have certainly all been gagged so as not to cause their partner to lose any points in the polls, they are irrelevant. I find it more than a little patronizing too that they are all assumed to be supporters of their husbands' parties. For these three, it does seem to be the case but I can imagine a marriage or partnership where two people love each other but actually don't agree politically, and for that reason, again, their presence in the campaign is unwelcome. Imagine a situation where two of the three support their partner's partner, and the third doesn't? How would the media deal with that?
I would have loved to have seen Hillary become president last year simply out of curiosity to see if the media would have dared to ask Bill for his best apple pie recipe, or to hear how his suit compared to the designer gear of Mrs McCain, but I'm off on a feminist tangent.
The one thing that is niggling me most is the mainstream media's almost blanket insistence on calling Miriam González Durántez Miriam Clegg. When I first married back in 1991, the registrar said 'Sign the certificate here using your maiden name for the last time'. It was taken for granted that I would change my name to my husband's. That was then, but this is now. I, like a growing number of UK women have chosen not to change my name. Whether Miriam has chosen not to become Clegg for UK or Spanish reasons is irrelevant. The fact is that she goes by the name Miriam González Durántez, so how dare the media rechristen her to suit their antiquated ideas? It should be her choice, and hers alone, to change her name.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

OMA'S 80

My kids are over in France visiting their German grandmother this school holiday for her 80th birthday. Of all André's family, I miss Annie most of all. I miss sitting on the stool in her kitchen chatting for hours and hours about nothing and everything. I miss her homely cooking. I miss her warmth. Much older than my own parents, my old mother-in-law was a bit like the Granny I didn't have as an adult, having lost my only Granny as a child. They weren't at all alike, she is simply a lovely, fascinating, genuine old woman. I would love to be able to drop in and give her a birthday hug, but in the absence of that possibility, I've printed out this photo of her three grandchildren, framed it, and sent her it so she knows in her heart, that I still miss her terribly.

Monday, April 12, 2010


After my displeasure with good old Ryanair over the past few days, imagine my delight at finding this little paragraph tucked away in one of their rival's terms and conditions. Norwegian Airlines actually says 'Children under the age of two are allowed to check in up to 5 kilos of luggage free of charge. A car seat and a pram will also be accepted free of charge.' Well blow me over - someone has thought through that crazy airline policy whereby the person who pukes, poos and dribbles on all their clothes, who uses nappies and who isn't allowed luggage and offered the poor stressed parent a token gesture. Wonderful! So I can choose between Ryanair Edinburgh to Billund or Norwegian Edinburgh to Copenhagen... a hard choice!

Sunday, April 11, 2010


My dad just emailed me this and I thought my fellow Ryanair-haters may be amused by it.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary arriving at Dublin Airport and going into the bar for a pint of Guinness.

“That’ll be one Euro please,” said the barman.
A delighted O’Leary handed over his Euro and said: “That’s a great price.”
“Will you be wanting a glass with your Guinness, sir?” enquired the barman.

I think it'd have been better of course if O'Leary had been charged for his bar stool, his beer mat, the washing of his glass afterwards and the right to pay using cash, debit or credit card of course but you can't have everything ;-)

Saturday, April 10, 2010


I was looking at flights from Stansted to Denmark on Ryanair just now. The flights were £11.99 each and the luggage charge was £20. That got me to thinking... I wonder what Ryanair would do if their customers started booking their luggage a seat instead of checking it in. I can see the form now: Mr Green Suitcase, Ms Navy-Blue Holdall... come on troops, let's give it a go. It's time people-power brought them to their senses ;-)

Friday, April 09, 2010


I remember fondly when Ryanair started out, back in the days when they actually used their grey matter. They thought through the plastic meals and worked out that many customers would rather fly cheaper and not receive the plastic food. That was about the last time they got a policy right. Now I hate them with a passion. Apparently to 'incentivise all of its passengers to travel light' during the summer months, they are going to charge passengers £20 per case per flight. Now bearing in mind that they don't allow you to pool luggage and per flight means per leg of your trip, then for my family to go to Italy via Stansted (not because we love Stansted but because they don't go directly) we have to pay 7 people times 4 flights times £20 to take our bags with us, because let's face it, whether they want us to fly light or not, not many families with kids can fit enough luggage in the their back pocket for a three week stay in another climate. This gives us a £560 surcharge over and above flight costs. Of course they also still slap on the wonderful charge per person for paying with a debit (no, not just credit) card. This is a charge per person, not a charge per card of course because processing that one payment using one card for one amount is apparently seven times more costly to them :-\ So we have our flights, our surcharges for bags, for paying them, for wanting our kids to travel sitting near us etc etc The original £11.99 flights are now costing us over £1000 and they then put a coin slot on the loos to 'incentivise all of their passengers to go to the toilet before boarding'. Two hundred passengers sharing a single toilet that will get jammed the third time someone puts a quid in the slot and nowhere else to make your kid pee, just great. No matter how well travelled my bladder is, I can hardly tell Anna at just 2 that she has to hold it in for a two or three hour flight. If I was planning to reboard a Ryanair plane, I think I'd take a potty and ask the flight attendant where I was meant to empty it after use! But I fully intend to boycott them till they come to their money-grabbing senses, so it won't be a problem.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


I was commissioned once again by the little ones to decorate their room with a mural, this time the theme was to be space. With Léon visiting his grandmother in France this week I actually had time to get it done. It is amazing how much more time you have on your hands when you only have a two year old and a newborn to look after when you are used to looking after five! As ordered by Anna, the space ships on her side of the room had to be pink, and those on Léon's side had to be blue! This was all her own idea! Who says sexual stereotyping isn't in-built?! I can't wait till Léon comes home now to see his face :-)


Léon is a bright little boy but one sticking point we've had over the past year or two is jigsaw puzzles. He can do them, but no matter how many times I explain to him that there are edge pieces and middle pieces, he still insists on trying edges in the middle and vise versa. This usually results in my usual calm mothering demeanour going into meltdown. I start calmly trying to remind him 'Remember honey the ones with the smooth sides go round the edge'. As he tries this for the 25th time, I start to twitch and by piece fifty I am usually jumping up and down sweating manically shouting 'Pudge put the smooth pieces round the edge'. I start to look like Basil Fawlty when Sybil tormented him from her hosptial bed while awaiting her toenail operation. Thomas says he can always tell when I am doing jigsaws with Léon from the tone in the room below his office! Oh dear.
Anyway, by last autumn I had finally got it through Pudge's jigsaw-challenged little mind that the smooth pieces went round the edge. Phew - my sanity was saved (only just) and the little white van with the men in white coats was no longer on standby...
Then mum bought Anna a lovely jigsaw in Marks and Spencer for Xmas. What Granny wouldn't buy a 2 year old something nice like that? But what on earth are M&S on???? What kind of bastardized jigsaw is this? Is someone out to get me? It has smooth pieces in the middle too! Pudge tried to help her out and is now back at square one. If I could get my hands round the neck of whoever commissioned this piece of nonsense for M&S I'd choke him/her to death! Anna likes it too much for me to lose it, Léon is more than puzzled by my year of jigsaw rantings and I am ready to order the straitjacket.
Thank you very much Marks and Spencer :-(

Thursday, April 01, 2010


According to our darling chancellor in this week's debate, the UK has come out of the recession and things are looking up. Something is striking me as odd however...
I was a commuter on Glasgow's hellish M8 for the best part of 20 years before I started working from home. When I lived in the West End and drove to Bishopbriggs every day the journey was 40 minutes instead of the 25 it took outwith rush hour. When I moved to the south side the no go period on the M77 started at 7-20am and went right through to 9-20am... bumper-to-bumper chaos, 20 miles in 2nd gear. The only respite was school holidays when suddenly many parents took a holiday and you could drive almost freely at least till the M77 merged with the M8. Fridays were often slightly lighter (not sure why) but in general the 25 minute trip to Bishopbriggs at rush hour took the best part of an hour.
Last Friday Amaia had an appointment at Yorkhill hospital. It was at 9-30am. Nightmare... Factoring in 10 minutes for parking, I left early around 8-40am and was in town by 9am without going below 6th gear. Where had rush hour gone? Assuming it was a Friday anomaly, I didn't question too much.
Yesterday Anna had an appointment at Yorkhill hospital at 9-30am. Nightmare... Factoring in 10 minutes for parking, I left early around 8-40am and was in town by 9am without going below 6th gear. Now I was really puzzled. It was Wednesday, it wasn't a school holiday and the weather was miserable. All these factors should have meant I would grind to a halt at Silverburn Tesco but no. Rush hour was simply non-existent.
I have to conclude either that at least 60% of Glaswegians have started working from home, or that they've lost their jobs and are still home under their duvets at rush hour these days. What is the truth?