Thursday, November 28, 2013

Marcel's trip and charity work

I know this will come as a shock to the many of you who probably, like me, think Marcel is still wee and cute and cuddly - I did only have him, like yesterday, after all... but the thing is he's going off to India to work in a deprived community after his Highers next year and is fund-raising and working to pay his way. Every weekday morning he works from 6-7am and on weekends from 5-30am to 9 to pay his way. He's baking, arranging pay-to-watch football tournaments at school and doing this sponsored 10K too to reach his full target of £2300. So far he's managed to earn £800 himself, so I hope a few people might encourage him with a little sponsorship, if you can. Thanks from a proud mummy xxx

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Denmark's designer chair culture

I didn't really discover the finer nuances of Scandinavian culture till my late thirties. I had my preconceived notions of course but it wasn't till I had family there and therefore entered their houses that I started to observe all the things that stand out as different.

One of the main things that strikes a foreigner in Denmark is seating. Scotland, on the whole, for all of my childhood was mainly a three piece suite kind of country. Later people got daring and bought two couches occasionally or even a corner couch but that was about as exotic as it got. Denmark is full of very minimalist seating. Armchairs are tall, short, oddly shaped and elegant but often, in my humble, foreign opinion, rather uncomfortable! :-) Houses I've been in have an odd assortment of these (extremely) expensive curvy seats.

I've been watching Borgen a lot recently. I started to notice something else that struck me as very foreign. Although I often work for Danish companies, I work remotely, so am not actually in their offices. I started to notice that every time Torben calls a meeting with his staff, which isn't terribly different from a publishing office in the UK, they all start to discuss everything on the agenda, standing around a tall table, with no seats a bit like they were in a German sausage bar! Furthermore, when we see scenes from Katrine's TV news programme in the first series or those from Juul og Friis in the second, the panel are always standing rather than sitting.

Now, it struck me, that that would be quite daunting for me, were I to be living in Denmark. You see, from my experience of travelling around Copenhagen, I would potentially be dwarfed by all my workmates. I would certainly find it intimidating to try commanding a team from a foot below it!

So is everyone in Denmark the same height? And why aren't they using all their fancy seats? Are they perhaps merely ornamental? ;-)

If I do ever get invited over for a meeting, I might just take my IKEA BEKVÄM with me, in case I need it to stand on!

Scandinavia, where they are racing to the top instead of the bottom.

If you missed this last night, it is well worth a watch.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Léon with wild hair

Léon with wild hair by viralbus
Léon with wild hair, a photo by viralbus on Flickr.

Léon has the most amazing hair. I think if it gets much longer we might actually be able to spray it orange and turn him into a lion!

Marcel and Amaia

  by marcelbuchanan10
, a photo by marcelbuchanan10 on Flickr.

I know I've said it before but when you find the two of them (number one and number five) playing together in her room, you realize what a special relationship siblings can have even when they span childhood in its entirety. Even thirteen and a half years isn't too big a gap when love is this big. He lets himself play the child he no longer is for her and that is lovely to see. I think they'll always have a special bond.

Equal marriage

The topic of women's suffrage has come up over dinner on several occasions recently as both my older kids are studying various aspects of the world women's suffrage movement in history at the moment. At just 16 and 13 it is completely inconceivable to them that women were ever denied equal rights. It just seems ludicrous to them.

I hope one day when they are sitting with their own children at dinner, that generation will be both shocked and surprised that in the 21st century people used to be denied the right to marry simply because of their gender. The time for that is long over. I'm ecstatically happily married to my best friend and can't believe anyone should be denied that right simply based on the bigotry of others.

Monday, November 18, 2013

More on the cone.

Just saw this on Facebook - it's well worth a share to start this Monday morning ;-) I just love weegie humour.



(Apparently his horse was called Copenhagen!)

Parental empowerment

Tuscany 2012 by PhylB
Tuscany 2012, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
I'm not sure if it is the sheer size of my family that has changed the way I approach life compared to many of the people around me... (some don't realize that when you have five kids, you still only have the same two incomes you had when you had none, to pay for everything, including the five extra bedrooms). Or perhaps it is the instability of the current economic climate, especially given I own my own business. But sometimes when I look at the positives, rather than the stresses this lifestyle affords me I have to conclude that it can even be empowering...

I used to play the game... the middle-class game of providing my children with all-class parties, of attending all the mums' dinner nights, even when I was too busy, too tired or too skint. I paid for the obligatory swimming lessons at a fiver a go, the summer clubs, the badminton, the martial arts, the football and all the rest. Childhood was regimented instead of wild like in my day.

But now I couldn't go to five sets of mums' dinners even if I wanted to - I'd be out all of December for a start and two stone heavier at the end of it, so I can choose not to! I can take back my childrens' birthdays and have a few kids to my house, ones they actually want to play with, rather than lining the pockets of the local softplay and having my kid ask me at the end of the day whose party they had just been to, lost in the circus of it all. I have been spurred on by their overpriced swimming lessons, to get into my own swimsuit and actually get in the water, as my father did before me and, with Thomas, teach Léon and Anna to swim all by ourselves. You feel a sense of achievement, and dare I say empowerment, taking back your life to the individual level once more. I know society doesn't expect parents to go swimming with their kids any more. Everything conspires against it - the crazy permitted ratios of adults to kids in public pools - it is only now that Léon is 8 that we can take all three wee ones together. And when Léon tried to get his swimming badge at Beavers last year the leader said he needed to bring in 'a letter from his swimming teacher' to prove he could swim. When he pointed out he had learned without lessons - in the river on holiday, they scratched their heads and weren't sure that counted! But shouldn't that count more? Passing on your knowledge and skills to your child rather than delegating them to someone else is definite a recession positive I have learned to cherish.

(Oh, and if you are wondering what inspired this - Anna learned to swim under water today using only her pretty pink goggles - she was very pleased with herself! But of course, you're not allowed to take photos in public pools either, grrr, so you'll need to wait till she's next at the seaside for photographic proof!)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Switzerland and Children in Need

I was reading about the Swiss vote on pay in the Financial Times last week. We have been hearing since the 80s that the rich are getting richer. I certainly know from my own situation and that of many of my friends and acquaintances that the once comfortable middle class (for want of a better word) are finding it harder and harder with time. But nothing has shown me quite how stark that gap has become than, surprisingly, Children in Need.

Anyone who follows my blog knows I am not Pudsey's greatest fan. It's not charity I have an issue with, but being told when to give and the minimum acceptable sum to give to. For example this week has been Pudsey mad once again - all money in the country apparently has to go to Children in Need. Much as I appreciate how much better and more fun they make some kids' lives, this week I would much rather donate the pounds the various schools, shops, afterschool clubs, radio, TV etc are trying to get out of me to the orphans and the starving in the Philippines, for starters. I can think of at least half a dozen causes I would prefer to support, but that is apparently not acceptable.

Anyway back to the point... I listen to Chris Evans on the school run most days and this week he's been auctioning stuff - the kind of things money can't buy - there was a five day golf tour with some well-known celebs, the hiring of a dozen or so vintage Ferraris for five days, a five course meal prepared by world-renowned chefs while some well-known pop stars entertain you and finally a five day Monaco Grand Prix thing. Given I only spend a total of about 18 minutes in the car going round all my drop-offs I missed some of the more pertinent points of the packages but those are the bare bones anyway. These packages on auction, of course, can only be bought by the richest in the land (or perhaps even corporate buyers) but for the most part they seemed to be going to individuals.

So let's put the proposed Swiss model to the test. The best paid in the country ought to earn no more than twelve times the worst off. The UK national minimum wage is currently £6.31. That's about £12K before tax if you work a 35 hour week. So let's imagine a couple on minimum wage earns £24K. If you are a couple on that income you might be willing to spend one month's salary on your summer holiday if you have no dependants or debts, so let's say £2K. Given these prizes are not something you could ever hope to buy in a life time you might just try to stretch to £3K and forego next year's holiday. Of course these packages are not aimed at Mr and Mrs Minimum wage, they are aimed at the top earners. So on the Swiss scale the top execs should be bidding somewhere in the region of £24K or even stretching to £36K for the privilege of partaking in this treat, but no, the bids on Radio 2 this morning, all in the space of half an hour (so with no time to organize a bank loan or rob a bank) were around £225K which suggests to me that the current UK gap between rich and poor is not in fact 12 times salary but 120 times salary. Whether you think the Swiss model is ideal, or could even be argued up or down to say 15 times or 8 times minimum working wage, I find it hard to stomach that some people earn 120 times more than others. In the current climate people who have spent years studying at university are working day and night, skimming along on close to minimum wage while others, oblivious, are bidding around the average house price (which some of us work for 25 years to pay) for a five course meal for two. Much as it is nice for the charity to gain some of their obviously superfluous cash, it really is a sick society that allows a gulf that large.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Danish

Copenhagen by PhylB
Copenhagen, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.

I'm feeling a tad frustrated on the Danish front... 

When Thomas and I first got together we visited Denmark several times a year and saw his parents often. That meant I was often immersed in a Danish-speaking environment and it seemed only natural that I would eventually be as fluent in it as I am in French. 

There have been several hurdles however. Changes to our financial circumstances since the big crash in 2007, coinciding with Thomas's parents getting rid of their large manse in Denmark have meant that we rarely go there now as meeting them in Italy, where they have a house makes more sense than meeting them in Denmark in a one bedroom flat. When a trip to Denmark is called-for it usually makes more sense for Thomas to go alone as seven flights are dear and there is nowhere we can stay. While good friends and family could, at a pinch, be asked to find floor space for us all for one or two nights, the cost of seven flights makes such a short stay completely unviable. Often in the old days we would take the opportunity to visit Denmark whenever the three biggies visited their gran in France. Many people are perhaps not aware that I now have full custody of the three older kids and they no longer visit their father or grandmother, so we are now always a package of seven, for better, or for worse. So I don't ever find myself in a Danish-speaking country. I was last there nearly four years ago.

We've also been seeing fewer Danes here. I guess at first they were curious but I can't remember the last time someone other than family was over. Maybe we overwhelm with our numbers! We have a large family and so does Thomas's sister so sadly a long weekend every couple of years is about the extent of our socializing with them. It is sad that the cousins have little opportunity to get to know each other. Thomas's parents seem to dropping by less often too. This year we had on so much work in the company during the school break, and we are tied to that for any trips we make, that we were unable to visit any of them so I think my all-Danish immersion periods this year can't number much more than about 10-12 days.

We have managed to watch two series of Borgen and all of Matador (without subtitles I hasten to add!) and I have done quite a bit of translation work for Syddansk Universitet. And of course all Thomas's conversations with the three youngest kids take place in Danish too but the level of language isn't exactly challenging and the topics seldom vary! I could expertly tell Léon to sit on his bum while he's eating, or remember to use his knife but I'm not sure those skills are overly transferable on the social front! The problem is that none of these pastimes are active, they all involve passive use of the language - listening to it, reading it, translating it and so I feel my ability to converse, interact and write Danish are all stagnating horribly. It is terribly frustrating. I am often commissioned for translation work by email. I receive and instantly understand what I am being asked to do but I feel I can't reply as I have never learned to write grammatically correct Danish so replying in Danish would frighten people off but explaining that I am competent enough to translate a series of children's books from Danish to English (one of the things I have done this year) but not capable of replying to their email correctly is a hard one!

I have a feeling that if I spent a year in Denmark or Thomas's parents spent six months in Scotland I could get somewhere but as it is I am probably destined to feel forever tongue-tied in a language I understand almost fully. I could try switching to Danish while talking to Thomas himself but our discussions are too deep and fast moving for me to keep up on anything other than the mundane. I'll probably be a grumpy pensioner one day, being laughed at by my own children for my eccentric and incomprehensible pronunciations... oh wait a minute I already am!

Lone man in the woods

Greenbank gardens by PhylB
Greenbank gardens, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.

I quite like this photo I took yesterday. Thomas was standing in the morning sun across the water from me looking very mysterious so I snapped him before he could move! I love the way the blue sky that you can't see reveals itself hiding in the water...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sunlight

A trip to the park by PhylB
A trip to the park, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.

I took this photo of Charlotte in the park yesterday. She turned to look at me half in the shade of a tree and as I took the photo I noticed the strange effect the sunlight had on her eyes. One pupil was in the shade, the other in very strong, low sunlight. It's quite spooky really.

In'cone'ceivable


Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art by PhylB
Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
There I was going about my daily business when this story jumped off Facebook's page at me. I had to sit down from shock! Once I'd gathered my thoughts I had to marvel at the logic of GCH paying £200 a week to send someone up to take it off when every week for 30 years (plus) it has reappeared. Everyone who has studied in this great city knows that someone in the pub/union on a Friday night will always get merry enough to suggest a trip to the Wellington, so this is the most colossal waste of money imaginable. Moreover whoever got them to agree to £100 a pop is definitely a shrewd business person (has no one in the council ever looked at it?) - I know for sure that I could easily pop it off with my extendable window-washing mop (it reaches to top floor of my house from the garden so why, if they are so hell-bent on removing it twice a week, is the street cleaner for Queen street not simply given one of these poles? - they cost a tenner in B&Q)! (Otherwise Complexli Ltd would be happy to put in a lower bid for the contract!) Furthermore, they are going to use £65K during the worst financial downturn in 100 years to raise the plinth by less than a metre! This, my dear council members, is not a deterrent, it's a bloody challenge! No matter how high the plinth gets, Wellington will always have a cone on his head. If you put him in a perspex cage some witty chap will superglue a cone to the top of it. If you take him away someone will put a cone on the very apex of the GoMA itself! And finally, one thing is sure, after it was revealed that an Edinburger was at the heart of the campaign for its removal, old city rivalries were stoked to the point where all I can say is: they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR CONE!

PS I can thoroughly recommend following this on Twitter as it unfolds - we are awash with true Glasgow humour from WellingtonCone to everything #conegate! Loving it...

PPS Here's a useful petition!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Amaia's first selfie

Amaia's first selfie by PhylB
Amaia's first selfie, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
I love the way kids as young as two or three are already so competent with technology. No sooner had I left my phone down on my bed this morning to have my coffee, than Amaia had turned it on, bypassing the lock, chosen the camera, reversed it to selfie mode and had taken a shot of herself!

And of course, not to be outdone, it was then Léon's turn to fill my entire memory space with silly faces!







Saturday, November 09, 2013

... That feeling of guilt you get when you microwave a cuddly toy...

So it's -2 and our heating has packed in (thanks boiler!) We're scurrying around the house looking for things to warm us up. Two, three, four and five have been dispatched to bed in onesies with a hot water bottle/lavender and wheat microwavable bed warmer toy and I have finally given in and become the last member of the family to buy a onesie. I am seriously hoping an undiscovered volcano doesn't erupt nearby in Pompeii fashion and engulf us in this state forever - my husband in a Santa onesie, me in a giraffe one. How would future generations analyse that?
I'm looking forward to British Gas turning up tomorrow morning as promised and hopefully fixing the heating in time to wash the kids for school on Monday.

Pies


I was out last month for lunch with two of my old uni friends in the West End. The waiter in the café mentioned that their special of the day was chicken and chorizo pie. Now, I'm not chorizo's biggest fan, simply I guess because I am not a great sausage eater but I was lost in conversation and it was a bit dark so I was finding the menu hard to concentrate on and simply agreed to a pie. When it came, I have to say it was a taste sensation. Suddenly I remembered what a big pie fan I am. The funny thing is, I never make pies. I don't have a pie cookbook and wouldn't know where to begin. I think I might make 2014 my year of the pie. I just have to find a good recipe book first.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Autumn ferns

Autumn ferns by PhylB
Autumn ferns, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
I've always had a bit of a thing about ferns. My granny had a fern in her garden when I was a child and I used to sit and watch, fascinated, as it uncurled and reached out its arms. It seemed almost animal-like rather than plant-like to me.

I think if I'd a big garden, like the one in the house where Thomas grew up, I'd have my own wee corner of ferns that I could watch and photograph all spring, summer and autumn.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

A new word for my next dictionary?


The homework instruction read 'Read your words, cover them and write them out three times from memory, without looking'. I think I might be tempted to add 'Pay attention and focus' onto the end... ;-)

Monday, November 04, 2013

Granda

68gramps granda

I was born with three grandparents. (The untimely death of my grandmother, five days before my birth, changed my name (from Linda to Phyllis) and my relationship to my grandparents forever. Let's take Willie first.



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Willie was a school janitor and lived in the little building attached to the front of this school in Govanhill until 1981.

(Don't you love the way Google Maps can take you down memory lane without you ever having to leave your bedroom!?)

I don't know if Phyllis, my dead grandmother, lived here too or if he moved into it after her death but it is the first place I remember him living. It was situated exactly six miles from the house I grew up in. We visited him here probably twice a year. He also later had a 'girlfriend' who lived in Burnside so we would go there once a year too. In addition, he would drop by our house once or twice a year. So all in all we would probably see him six times a year for an afternoon.Visits were not planned and when we turned up unannounced he would make us a cup of tea and he'd chat to my parents for an hour or two. I don't remember Granda ever playing with me or taking me away on a day trip, despite his relatively young age (52, when I was born) and I never stayed a single night at his house. He never stayed a night at mine. He never babysat me alone so we had no chats. He never helped me with my homework so I have no idea what he was like intellectually. No Christmas days or birthdays were spent in his company either. Months would pass between our visits. Months feel much longer to a child than to an adult so the three or four month stretches between his visits meant that he was not really on my radar. He was mostly invisible in my life and as I was a child, that didn't bother me. Despite the fact that he lived until I was 22, I never knew him, not really. Any information on his personality was gathered not from my meetings with him but from anecdotes told to me by my father, mainly after Willie's death.

He was injured in a house fire (caused by his downstairs neighbour) during my finals at university, when my parents were abroad. That made me his next of kin so I felt I ought to go and sit with him in intensive care. His fingers were blackened because of the fire and his flesh smelled of smoke. He lay in a hospital bed and I remember the feeling of trepidation as I walked through the door for the first time. He was my grandfather and I barely knew him. What was I going to say to him? How could I comfort him? He'd never told me anything about his life, about my father's childhood, or about my grandmother. We'd barely got past milk, no sugar in twenty years. He was unable to speak after the fire so there was nothing I could do other than sit with him. I remember taking his hand in mine. It was large and rough in comparison to my very small hand. I looked at his nails as I held his hand and realized I had never touched him before. Of course I probably sat on his knee as a toddler but this was the first time in my living memory that I had held his hand in mine. We'd never hugged. I was 22. I thought I was grown-up back then but now I know I was merely on the brink of adulthood. I had so many questions I wanted to ask... I'd spent 22 years carrying his wife's name and I had never asked him what she was like. He had never told me anything about her. I guess the timing of my birth had put a wedge between us. It could have gone either way at the time. He could more or less have moved in and been a permanent fixture in my life, or he could have shrunk from us and the week I represented in his life history. The latter is what happened unfortunately. He didn't write down anything about his life, no memoirs, and there are few photos so I know so little. When my gran died that week, it was as if he died too. I went over in my head how things would change once he got out of hospital. I would visit him and get to know him. I would ask him about his life, his parents, his siblings. I would get to know the man who was my grandfather, the man who had fathered my own father, who was unimaginably dear to me.

We held his hand for 22 days and then he died. He never spoke again. I have no idea who my grandfather was. I know he must have been dear to my father because I remember his tears at his death. One morning before my mother and brother were awake, dad and I sat looking through the only tin of photos he left behind until dad, who was 47 at the time, dissolved, sobbing 'I'm an orphan now'. That man who hadn't let me in must have been special after all. I feel terribly sad to have grown up with a grandfather who was able to visit me but didn't, who was able to have created memories for me to cherish, but didn't and who has left me with many 'what ifs'.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Lone quince

Lone quince by PhylB
Lone quince, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.

I noticed today, now that most of the leaves have blown off our quince tree, that we missed one fruit when we were picking them last month for jelly. It looked rather atmospheric on the bare tree with the grey, winter backdrop. I think I'll leave it there until the first snows or fog. I think it'll make for a nice photo.