Saturday, December 31, 2011

GRAN

Jean Stirling by PhylB
Jean Stirling, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
New year always makes me think of my granny. Until I was about fourteen we always spent new year at my granny's flat and it always followed the same format.

From 6pm till just before midnight she became a manic demon. She got down on all fours scrubbing the floors with a tiny sponge, checking every corner for dirt. All hell would break loose if so much as a crisp wrapper remained in a bin her house as we approached midnight. She'd scream at us like an army sergeant major till she was safely into the next year. Superstitious to the point of insanity, my brother would be thrown out in all weather minutes before the bells with the last speck of dust in a bag while I remained in the kitchen baking the obligatory shortbread from her 'Lofty Peak' cook book. Burning it was not an option of course because it might then constitute rubbish and woe betide me if I should be the creator of pre-Bells rubbish!

One year poor Derek had the misfortune to be outside when the clock struck midnight... aged eight, short with dark reddish-brown hair, there was no way in hell he was getting to first-foot her so he was made to remain outside in the snow in his slippers until a kindly neighbour turned up with whisky and some more shortbread.

After the bells, we'd be allowed into her front room (a rare occurrence) where she'd play piano and we'd all sing till about four in the morning. I've no idea how the other three neighbours put up with the noise!

I guess if Anna had met her she might have called her Silly Mad Jean.

A DANISH PROBLEM

From tomorrow things are changing drastically for Danish ex-pats. One of the main problems is that no one has told the Danes! Basically from midnight consulates will be banned from issuing passports to ex-pats (or children of ex-pats when they are born abroad), only embassies will be allowed to issue all future passports (because of finger-printing equipment). Thomas found out completely randomly a month ago because his passport was due to run out just after the new year. He phoned the consulate (in Bishopbriggs) to make an appointment and they told him to hurry up because the only embassy in the whole of the UK is in London! If he'd found out three weeks later, he'd have been obliged to do the round trip to London (twice) to apply for and then pick up his (and, as it happens, the girls' passports). Obviously two return flights to London cost slightly more than two round trips to Bishopbriggs! Being up north in say Wick would of course be even worse but there are many countries with a reasonably high ex-pat Danish population where there is no embassy!

Take New Zealand. If Thomas and I lived there instead of here, he'd be obliged to go twice to Sydney to get a new passport. When Amaia was born he'd have been obliged to take her to Sydney to get her first passport... which begs the question - how would he have got her into Australia without a passport or visa to get her first passport?! Family passports aren't synchronized either so a person with two or three kids could end up having to fly back and forth every other year. For instance Amaia's current Danish passport runs out in 2013, Anna's in 2016, Amaia's replacement would run to 2018 and Thomas's would be up in 2021 - that is a fair number of plane trips to the embassy! Someone hasn't thought it through!

Anyway Thomas is so incensed he's started a Facebook group  to alert people to the change, and of course to try eventually to pressurize his government into a rethink. I'll keep you updated on the revolution!

ZOOPLA

I was trying to find an address online yesterday. I was aiming for 192.com or the likes but somehow stumbled upon Zoopla instead by mistake. It is quite interesting because they have a database (which is freely viewable) of house prices. I don't mean it is interesting because you can spy on how much your neighbour sold his house for (which of course you can!) but it is a good way of seeing how house prices around you are falling in the recession.

Take it with a small pinch of salt occasionally however - I did notice one flaw... When André and I got divorced I sold him my half of our house so the last selling price for his house is in at half of that of all his neighbours despite his house being extended unlike his neighbours'! This could cause a future potential buyer to worry unnecessarily what is wrong with it. But other than that it makes for interesting, and sometimes scary, reading.

BEECH?

Beech hedge by PhylB
Beech hedge, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
So the Bawbag storm has blown away our fence. Given the amount of rain we seem to be getting, a new fence will probably rot away before the next hurricane blows it over. And we all know that the insurance won't cover a new one blowing away so I've been wondering about a large hedge instead. I really hate conifer hedges - they are so incredibly boring (and I'm allergic to them which doesn't help!) Of course they are functional (the previous owner did put one round the front garden) but tedious. I was wondering about a beech hedge. Beech hedges are lovely half the year but I really think they look awful in winter too. Most of all I need something to keep Amaia in, so maybe I don't have time for a hedge... I need to look into it over the holiday, I guess.

Friday, December 30, 2011

TEENAGER OVERLOAD

Teeny teenagers by PhylB
Teeny teenagers, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
Charlotte has hit (pre-)teens big time - drooling over those little boys in One Direction and the likes! If that wasn't bad enough, she has discovered that her little sisters are just the right age to indoctrinate and even this week while she is away visiting her father, Anna won't be dragged away from looking at the Youtube video of their latest hit all dewy-eyed, singing along like a minipop-star with Amaia sitting beside her bopping away! I guess eight and ten years between daughters has its disadvantages as well as its advantages!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

FAILED WELLINGTON

Failed Wellington by PhylB
Failed Wellington, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
I always thought puff pastry was puff pastry but I am beginning to wonder if there is a difference between what we call puff up here in Scotland and what those south of the border call puff...

In the autumn Thomas decided to try to make Beef Wellington for the first time ever. He bought a chunk of beef and a roll of Jus-rol pastry in Tesco. It was a wonderful success. Even Marcel and Léon who are the least meaty of our kids loved it.

Thomas's parents and mine came to dinner a couple of weeks ago. I suggested the Beef Wellington would be a good choice as it had been so easy to make yet tasted as if you were in a restaurant. So I went up to ASDA and bought a chunk of beef and a roll of Bells pastry. The same steps were followed but as he turned the hot beef in the pastry it actually dissolved! It seems to me that the Scottish version of puff pastry is half butter, whereas the non-Scottish one is maybe 20% butter. Do we need our puff pastry to be more stretchy to fit across a traditional steak pie ashet?

In any case, whatever the reason, I'd warn against using Scottish puff on your Beef Wellington!

NOT JUST ROADS

The roads here in East Renfrewshire are in a bit of a state. Two have been resurfaced since last year's big freeze (Firwood and Capelrig), several have had the odd pothole filled and refilled. There are at least three that will become virtually impassable the first time we get frost this year (I'm thinking Fruin, Corrour and Rodger). One thing no one seems to be mentioning however is the state of the pavements and paths. When I was a child I used to cycle these paths. Eighteen months ago, when we decided to teach Léon how to cycle without stabilisers, we actually had to take him to the park because we couldn't find a path that was safe to cycle on, as a beginner. The at the back of Corran Ave is actually becoming so overgrown that it'll need mowing next summer! I'm not sure the look goes with the inflated house prices the local schools around here have brought!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

WHY?

Boxing Day by PhylB
Boxing Day, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
Why do little kids (in particular, though not in this case, boys) watch TV upside down? I've always wondered why they consistently do that up to about eight? It doesn't look better that way round, does it? Do cbeebies send subliminal messages coded upside down on the screen? Or do we just stop watching it that way up when we get too tall for the couch?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

HOW MUCH?

DSC_0603 by PhylB
Decorating the tree, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
How much do you have to spend to make your child's Xmas special?

Recently while shopping in Toys R Us a woman was buzzing around the aisle holding a large sheet of paper. In her basket she had three large toys each costing around £30-£35. The toys were aimed at a male child of maybe seven or eight. She was extremely organised, ordering around the man who was with her (presumably a husband or partner). Come on, hurry up - we've got the first three, it can't take that long! she ranted. Subdued, the man complained I don't see why we need so much. Completely unfazed, she explained that she had told their child he could choose ten things, so he would get the ten. Twenty minutes later, I passed them again and was more than surprised to see all ten of the presents were now in the trolley and the £30 one seemed to be the cheapest!

I have no doubt any one of mine would be excited if they were to receive everything they could ever imagine wanting, but is it really necessary? An hour after the child has unwrapped these ten gifts, he will have a favourite or two I imagine and the others will be forgotten or put to one side. This child, I guess, will probably also receive things from grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, family friends...

Yesterday I met an old friend of my mother. Léon was with me. She asked him what he was hoping to receive for Xmas. Léon actually didn't know how to answer the question. He looked quite surprised, as if he had never thought about it. She asked him again, he thought for a moment and then simply replied If I get a Harry Potter T-shirt I will be very happy! 

Léon wants love, affection, attention. He wants to feel safe and happy. He doesn't need £300 of plastic to achieve that.

Friday, December 23, 2011

ROYAL MAIL


What's going on with the Royal Mail parcel delivery service? Has the government run out of money to provide them with the little red vans they used to use? Three times in the last week a postman has come to my door with a parcel and the van parked at the end of my driveway has been sporting either an Arnold Clark or Northgate vehicle hire logo.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

GROWING UP

I was taking Léon, Anna and Amaia to bed on Sunday night. Anna was rather excited at the prospect of turning four the next day. I was lying beside Amaia giving her a hug in her bed when Anna let out a yell. I thought she'd got her leg stuck in the bars of her iron bedstead or something similar, the way she was behaving. What's up? I asked, worried. It's my leg, it really hurts! she replied and then completely believing her own over-active imagination, she added - I think I can feel myself growing!

Monday, December 19, 2011

SAAB

I was sad to see SAAB reach the end of the road today. I learned to drive in my dad's SAAB back in 1985. I remember I was so small behind the wheel at 17, I actually had to sit my driving test on a cushion! So I will always have a wee soft spot for SAABs. I was sure I had a photo of the one I learned in, but it turns out that although this is indeed the right car, you will be hard-pushed to admire it in all its beauty in this picture!

CONSISTENCY WOULD BE GOOD

09-02-09 (19) by PhylB
09-02-09 (19), a photo by PhylB on Flickr.

I'm the first to moan about the primary school's (or is it perhaps the council's) mollycoddlying of children.

The poor wee buggers are closeted in classrooms all winter at the first hint of a snowflake because they are so afraid a parent will complain if their precious actually scrapes a knee slipping in the snow.

I often pick up sad-looking kids who've been desperate to get out all day just to have a snowball fight or build a snowman. Of course, the first thing they do when I get them home is just that.

Today, however, I did have to question their consistency. It snowed a few times last week. Walking had compacted it into ice and rain and freezing temperatures had been added into the mix. By this morning the entire playground was an ice rink.

Granted, a small 30cm path had been de-iced round the edge of the building and out to the gate, so the kids would be fine when they dragged them in early... Of course, they would take them in early... wouldn't they? Or would they let all 600 slip and slide round the playground and fall into icy puddles for the twenty minutes till the bell? It was like watching a bad attempt at Torvill and Dean. Whole chains of them were sliding backwards down the little embankment, generally landing with a bone-splitting thump on the black ice. I stood and watched ten minutes, by the end of which Léon was possibly the only little boy I hadn't seen fall into a puddle and soak his school trousers. They seemed to be having fun but today - unlike on the fluffy snowflake mornings, it was genuinely dangerous.

So are they making a new anti-health-and-safety stance which will consist of giving them the childhood we had, or did someone just cock up this morning?

I'm betting they'll be re-cotton-woolled tomorrow. :-(

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

CULTURAL AILMENTS

poor sick boy by PhylB
I read this article today and it almost made me laugh out loud. I'm not sure how aware people are that ailments are a cultural thing until you have live in a mixed culture family. I, of course, have the joy of having lived in two mixed culture families - first my French/German/Scottish one for twenty years and now my Danish/German/Scottish one for over five. Add to that that I have spent my whole working life with foreigners too (being in bilingual publishing), so I can so relate to this Italian woman.

The Italian story doesn't differ too much from my French experience. Even at 35°C, my former sister-in-law believed that opening two windows in her car simultaneously to create what I would consider a pleasant breeze might cause her kidney failure. With common summer temperatures in the high thirties, the same relative believed that walking barefoot on the tiled floor of her flat would cause all sort of dangerous goings-on to occur in her womb area, possibly resulting in the need for an emergency hysterectomy! She was completely serious. She had learnt from childhood that any draught could be near fatal, not realizing that while avoiding one at 3
°C or 4°C on a cold December morning was advisable, a degree of pragmatism should come into it in July! I have often sat in her (and her mother's) house with the oven on, the outdoor temperature pushing 40°C and every one of them refusing categorically to open a window because of the danger! And when I would walk around the flat barefoot, and suffer no ill effects, they'd simply dismiss it with mutterings of 'What do you expect with her Nordic blood!' When the kids came along and survived open windows and cold floors, they too were deemed Nordic!

Medicine is another French necessity. Going to the doctor was an absolute must, even with the slightest cold, and because of the funny insurance system whereby medicines are paid for and refunded, you'd be prescribed a minimum of five items even for a cold - a nasal spray, an inhaler, some lemsip type thing, all sorts of antibiotics you didn't need and of course the cure-all suppository! A suppository is the standard for the likes of tonsillitis and so on.


My family members were also forever getting injections into their spines every time they had backache. That used to worry me. It seemed very OTT!


Like Italians, swimming after even looking sideways at a sandwich would, of course, cause you to drown so had to be avoided at all costs. I often had the pool to myself while my entire family sat looking at their watches after lunch. As I'd bounce about in the water with the kids, they'd shake their heads disapprovingly as if I should have my kids taken into care for the degree of irresponsibility I was showing!


Now Danes are a different kettle of fish. For example, all Danes I know own and treasure thermometers - usually anal ones and as soon as they or their child feels under the weather they need to know their temperature to the nearest tenth of a degree... Interestingly though, once they know it, they don't do anything about it! Calpol and baby nurofen are taboo words in Denmark. I had to haggle and negotiate to get paracetamol for Marcel once in a pharmacy in Aarhus when he was ten because he had an ear infection and a raging temperature. It isn't on the shelf in their supermarkets, it isn't even on the shelves in their pharmacies. Trying to buy a pack of kiddie disprol is like trying to buy cannabis over the counter here! And as for antibiotics, they seem to be taking the fear of over-prescribing them more seriously than anyone else on the planet. I am assured by all my family members that getting any antibiotics is more or less impossible! So in Denmark there are two degrees of illness: the first seems to be up to about 38°C where you do nothing, the second at higher than 38°C when you force your child to eat ice cream! :-)


I wonder what my foreign relatives, old and new, consider to be the idiosyncrasies of Scotland?


BARBAPAPA

Barbapapa by PhylB
Barbapapa, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
As I mentioned a few months back, Barbapapa is big everywhere in Europe except here. As you can see, kids here seem to love them just as much as ever. I wonder who makes the marketing decisions for them over here? They are definitely losing the franchise a lot of revenue. (Possibly a close relative of our beloved Prime Minister?)

NAIVETY

Happy Baby by PhylB
Happy Baby, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
There's a naive innocence in teenagers who aren't used to babies and their devious ways. On Friday last week Marcel invited two friends (who don't have young siblings) to stay over. They watched movies and played XBOX in the TV room till the wee small hours then disappeared up to Marcel's room to sleep. They left a full but open bag of M&Ms sitting on the couch, not realizing it'd be the last they'd ever see of it! Amaia got up two hours before them and discovered it all by herself. I think there were three left when the boys finally got up!

Monday, December 12, 2011

LUCKY TEACHER!

Léon came out of school jumping with excitement. His first tooth had come out. I asked him the story:
Well, I was in the dinner hall eating my lunch and it just fell out! he explained.
So what did you do? I asked
Well, I noticed my teacher was also sitting having her lunch so I just went over to her and gave her it!
Lucky teacher!

ROOF DAMAGE

Roof damage by PhylB
Roof damage, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
I had discovered the missing fence. I had found the smashed greenhouse panes. The leaking dining room window, hall ceiling and wall had not escaped me during the course of last Thursday's Bawbag. Even the two missing roof caps at the apex of the front of the house had been noted down... but I couldn't see any major damage on my roof...

Then the bloke who lives across the road dropped by today to ask basically if we shouldn't be wearing hard hats every day coming in and out until it was fixed... Until what was fixed? You see from his top floor he has a much better view of our roof than we do. I walked as far as I could away from it to get a better angle.

Holy shit! Has someone been up there with a crowbar and a hammer?

I have now been back on to the insurance company sheepishly mentioning I have found a few more issues since we last spoke!

Oops... roof tiles bloody better be covered!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

ANNA'S PRESCHOOL PHOTO

Anna preschool by PhylB
Anna had her preschool photo taken last month, just a few weeks before she got her glasses. I really like two specific bits of it.

When Anna is all grown up and I look at this photo of her at three, I will smile, remembering the fascination she had as a tiny child with nail varnish. Up till the day before this photo, Anna had always opted for a single shade, but on this day she insisted that every single nail had to be painted a different colour, so she could look extra-special! Her smile shows how proud she feels.

The other thing the photographer has managed to capture is Anna's odd eyes. I have been noticing since Anna's eyes changed from blue around nine months, that while her right eye is green, her left one is noticeably darker!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

SHAKER MAKER

I got this Shaker Maker set for Xmas round around 1978. I hadn't thought about it in 30 years until I was on Miller's webpage last night looking for a present for my mum to buy Anna. They still make them! I can still remember the smell of the powder and the fun of painting my Florences, Dougals and Zebedees over and over! I can't wait to help Anna make some.

Friday, December 09, 2011

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE!


Hurricane Bawbag by PhylB
On the left - my greenhouse with its missing back wall and detached door - storm damage that is covered by home insurance. On the right - my fence which is not covered. But I have a cunning plan! I am going to install a wind turbine in my garden! Next time we have a mini-hurricane, the sparks from the exploding windmill might just set the fence debris alight! Remember fire damage is covered! How clever is that?

Facetious, me? Never! ;-)

NOW HERE'S A CLASSIC

We phoned up about all our storm damage and were told the fence was not covered for snapping in hurricane-force winds...
What exactly do you cover fences for? we asked.
Fire and theft! was their reply!
Now, I ask you - what is most likely to happen to a fence? Storm damage, fire or theft?
So I guess I'm away out to try to cobble together a new fence out of all the shattered pieces of wood strewn up my street.
Should any of you feel like stealing my fence once I have finished building it, feel free! ;-)

Thursday, December 08, 2011

EITHER IT'S DANGEROUSLY WINDY, OR IT ISN'T!

All the schools in East Ren are closed (for the first time other than because of snow in all my parenting years). The Met office issued a 'red warning' of 90mph winds saying it was too dangerous to go out, so the council took the decision to close all schools. My fence (which has been in my garden at least five winters I know of without so much as a wobble) has blown over in the last hour, the crossbeams snapped and the posts uprooted so it truly does seem to be quite windy.
So I wonder what is going through the minds of the company that is currently installing cavity wall insulation all round Newton Mearns for the (very same) council? As I look out of Lots's bedroom window at the moment, I can see not one but two men currently up ladders (in this same wind) filling the walls of the house across the road.

So which is it East Ren? Too windy to open schools, or not windy enough to call off the insulation guys?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

CONFUSION

Siena by PhylB
Siena, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
Here is Léon in the country where he believes Danish is spoken! It doesn't look very Scandinavian, does it?

Léon hasn't been in Denmark since he was two and a half. (He is now six). When Brita retired as a minister at the end of 2008, they moved out of the manse that had been their home for forty years and now split their time between their beautiful, old Tuscan house and a small flat in Aarhus. That means of course that when they are in Denmark, they do not have enough space for us to visit, so as a family we visit them in Italy. It is such a shame they left the huge manse just a few years after Thomas and I got together, as it had so much space for us all and a wonderful garden!

Anyway, the upshot is of course that Léon is now beginning to think Danish is a language that you can only speak in Italy! Thomas only speaks Danish to the three wee ones, no English, so they know it can be spoken in Scotland, but are aware, as all bilingual kids are, after a mistake or two, that they can't get away with speaking it to many other random people here! In Italy though there is a lot of Danish spoken all day every day and many of the conversations around them are in Danish. Thomas's parents even have a new Danish next door neighbour with kids in Italy!

I became aware of this anomaly when Thomas started showing the kids Nissebanden as a TV advent calendar last week. It seems to be a story of a group of Danish-speaking elves who fly off to Greenland in a hot-air balloon - truly riveting ;-) I happened to walk in as they landed in Greenland. 'Where did they set out from?' I asked, feigning interest... 'Oh, they must have come from Italy', Léon piped up immediately, 'because they were speaking Danish to each other!'

I guess when you live in a family where a minimum of five languages are spoken in the home almost on a daily basis, nothing fazes you!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

TYPES OF GLASSES

Luss beach by PhylB
Luss beach, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
Since finding out she needed glasses, Anna has been observing the different types people use.

Yesterday she shared her findings with me:

You only wear glasses when you are reading Mummy, Pumpa (my dad) does the same. Granny, Léon and Farmor (Thomas's mum) wear their glasses all the time. Großvater (Thomas's dad) wears his for driving but not for reading. But Theodor (her Danish cousin who is 13) only needs his for sleeping!

You've got to laugh at the logic. Basically, Theodor has recently started wearing contacts during the day so Anna only ever sees him wearing his glasses at breakfast, so she assumes he only needs them for sleeping! Cute.

GLASSES - DAY 2

Anna's glasses by PhylB
Anna's glasses, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
What a pain in the neck glasses are!

All day they have been slipping down Anna's nose and sitting on the end of it so out we went in the torrential rain, back to the opticians to have them adjusted. Too loose is not good in kids glasses. Fortunately, I have learned from the Léon experience. We no longer choose opticians by the range or price of specs on offer, but by proximity to our house and usual haunts (yes, we opted for the one next door to ASDA again) because the number of times you have to drop in for repairs and adjustments (especially between nursery chuck-out at 3.35pm and closing time) really make an optician in town too much hassle.

We are home now and they've stopped slipping. The opticians closed eight minutes ago. Anna's latest complaint: They are too tight behind my ears!

Ho hum, I guess it's back to ASDA again tomorrow.

Friday, December 02, 2011

ANNA'S NEW GLASSES

Anna's new glasses by PhylB
Anna's new glasses, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
Anna picked up her new glasses at 5pm. She was absolutely thrilled... for the first hour. She had no complaints. Then she got home and was looking at the clock in the TV room. That's when the whining began. She couldn't focus on the numbers on the clock - all the numbers were black, fuzzy lumps. Distressed, because she could easily read the clock numbers without the specs, she started taking them off and on, claiming she needed to clean them.

Last year in September, when Léon first got glasses we had driven back and forward to the opticians at least twice in the first fortnight because they didn't seem to be the correct prescription, but what a difference a year of experience makes for the parent! We know now that a child who has always needed glasses but has never had them learns, with a struggle, to focus without them. When they first get glasses, it takes them a week to ten days to stop compensating. For the first wee while, they think that the glasses don't work. I swear I must have told Léon to look through his glasses, not over them a hundred times a day at first, until suddenly one morning he got up and was happier with them than without them.

I guess that fortnight or so for Anna has now begun.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

ANOTHER SELACHIAN CHILD

Like his brother and sister before him, Léon seems to have inherited the shark gene - with a twist. Marcel and Charlotte's big teeth all grew in before the little ones fell out but by the time they were half through, the little ones were always very wobbly. Léon, as you can see, now has an adult tooth through but his baby teeth aren't wobbly in the slightest. He has a dental appointment next week anyway so we'll see what needs doing then.

One thing is sure though - unlike his little cousin, who got his big teeth through much earlier than Léon, when the fairy turns up at our house, she won't be carrying anything like £5 per tooth! Let's hope they don't confer!

MORE FUNCTIONAL LANGUAGE

Amaia often watches the older kids playing board games. Being competitive they tend to shout 'six' when throwing the dice, willing them to land on a six. Amaia, therefore, assumed from fairly small that a die was called a 'six'. She has gone more generic now, deciding 'six' in fact means anything cube-shaped. Consequently, when she's building with blocks, she is often to be found running around asking if anyone has found any more sixes! I guess this is another example of her functional language!