Monday, December 12, 2016

Mixed marriages

This ad and in particular the Guardian article written about it moved me because it found a way to put into words the only adult life I have known.

For better or worse both my marriages have been to 'immigrants' and as the spouse, you too are caught up in a life that is very different to the lives of those who simply married the boy or girl next door. From my eighteenth birthday on, Xmas was spent shuffling, overheated in a winter coat and rucksack from bus to train to ferry to Eurostar, from plane to plane sitting often for hours on the floor in airports waiting for the snow to stop or the plane or runway to be de-iced. Although you are one in an enormous anonymous crowd, you are also comrades in arms and you often found yourself chatting to other families of mixed souls like yourself. Xmas '96 saw me almost alone on a Boeing 747 departing Frankfurt. I remember watching from the window as an airport worker sprayed down the wings with some de-icing product while the captain explained that they were using such a large aircraft into Heathrow that night as the smaller ones could cope with -18. As I looked down through that snowstorm they confirmed they'd had to shut the airport after my departure. Xmas '97 found me sitting with a four month old baby waiting for a mini-hurricane to die down once again before flying nearly 24 hours late into London sideways through purple skies forked with lightning. Xmas '06 saw me clock up 18 hours in Stansted with numerous children while I waited apprehensively to lift off for my first ever trip to Denmark - me a not-yet fully divorced woman trying desperately to avoid bumping into my soon-to-be ex husband who was also transiting through Stansted that day.

That is the life of the mixed marriage... the warning no one puts on the label when you choose that spouse.

In 1997 I gave birth to my first child. I knew his family knew no English so painstakingly spoke to him all day every day only in the language of his family, far away who he'd see maybe once a year. My language took second place to my attempt to build that relationship and had I not, there would have been no relationship. Our family sat round the table speaking three languages at all times - French, German and English. We mixed customs and traditions and each of us became richer for it. It was my perfect life, but not my perfect partner. So second time around I chose willingly to repeat that part of the formula in my new relationship. Back we went to living between several countries and several languages - now Danish was added to the dinner table and this time the challenge was mine. I had two years of rusty, written Swedish in the far recesses of my mind from 16 years earlier. The Swedish did help me to pick up the gist of the headlines on the local newspapers but to be honest it didn't help me with sitting at a table where everyone spoke quickly around me in Danish - learning to understand that has taken many, many years of work, and I'll still be working on that till my dying day.

So I have been in this man's situation... learning a language to keep a family together, I have been in the situation of teaching a language to keep a family together. I have been the one who flies abroad with the whisky and haggis and I've been the one who sits here asking people to bring delicacies that remind me of my other homes - Mont Blanc desserts, confiture de lait, ymer and ymerdrys, pålægschokolade... 

If this is the only upbringing you've known, you often find the next generation repeats that pattern and the family becomes an even greater, more wonderful and more diverse patchwork. Both Thomas's mother and André's father had also married foreigners and lived this life. Thomas's sister has also married a half Dane half German like herself. I know there is very little likelihood all five of my kids repeat the pattern but I'd also be quite surprised if none of them goes down that route. Once the culture mix is in your bones, it's hard to escape fully. Maybe they will pick up a foreign spouse, or maybe it'll manifest itself in the form of a Scottish mixed-cultural partner - I don't know. But I think this is at the heart of why I feel more devastated by Brexit and the lurch to the insular right than many of my like-minded compatriots. I feel it is almost a personal attack on my life and lifestyle. It feels as if someone is saying that what I did with my life should no longer be a legitimate option. I feel someone is trying to force my kids into a box that is very alien to their upbringing... other languages, other passports will no longer be allowed under their roof. Their children will be forced to be monolingual. Never again will a member of my family sit in an airport waiting for a family reunion. It is as if my life choices are being outlawed and I find myself wakening some nights bolt upright in bed, panicking, desperate to scream and run away to one of my other home countries. For my sanity's sake, I only hope this mess can be sorted out in a way that makes my life choices a continued valid option.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Coping with accented characters

Charlotte: I might make something from my chocolate cookbook. (Picks up this book) Come see my book. Can you read it, Amaia? What's my book called? 
Amaia: I dunno. 'G' smiley face? Awwwwh!

Monday, December 05, 2016

Lily Hamster 9?-9-14->30-11-16

Little Lily has gone.

Whereas Rosie was a bright and wild escapologist, Lily was a cuddly, loyal and sweet pet. She loved to be taken out and stoked and put back in her cage. She never once escaped or even tried to (unlike Rosie's weekly escapades in the early days). We could even take her into our bed once the kids were asleep to play with her!

She's been noticeably aging since the end of July, no longer running for hours on her wheel and the last week or so she's been rather wobbly. On Wednesday, I thought she was older and wobblier still. I noticed she was struggling to get up her ladder, so I lifted her up and gave her a wee pat. She was quite content. Later she was sitting in her jar breathing faster than usual so I gave her another wee pat. But at dinner time when I passed she was lying motionless on her straw looking a bit too peaceful for my liking.

She had died some time in the previous hour because I had spoken to her an hour earlier.

Now we have the dilemma that Amaia is crying hysterically and claiming she can't go through this pain ever again so never wants another pet, while Anna is crying just as hard and saying the only thing that will help her get over it is - you guessed it - a new pet!

As for me - I'm going to miss my wee beast. Soft and gentle and a good listener. Already last night Charlotte was eating a pomegranate and I was upset at the thought that I never gave Lily a piece of pomegranate and now it's too late. Silly, soppy old git.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Interesting interpretation

Anna is sitting flicking through the Guinness Book of Records with Amaia. So we now know the oldest person, the person with the longest nails, the tallest dog, the smallest hamster etc. Anna read the stats out for each of these, then turning the page read out to Amaia: The longest living reigning Monarch is Queen Elizabeth the 2nd.
Quick as a flash Amaia replied: And how long is she exactly - 1 metre 50? 1 metre 60?!

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Seven or eight years ago when Marcel's voice broke, I have to say I wasn't really aware of it happening. Was I too busy with life, or did I simply not know what to look out for? Maybe he was simply quieter about it? Léon, on the other hand, is in full swing and it's so obvious he might as well have a flashing neon sign on his forehead. He's really loud, often making me jump out of my shoes if he speaks to me from outwith my line of vision and every single word he utters grates and screeches like a cat's claws against metal. I hope to god this is a swift process because it is hurting my ears!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A favourite thing to do

Sadly the Scottish climate doesn't often lend itself to marble making. It can be miserable for months on end in winter but it's usually not very cold miserable, just wet, dark or blowy miserable. But this week we've had below zero temperatures for about three days so the girls were out like a shot. First, Home Bargains for a budget pack of balloons, then, Aldi for food colouring. The coloured water was mixed and put in the balloons and then they were chucked out for the night. 

So far only the smallest one has set but hopefully it'll stay cold long enough for the rest to solidify. If not, they can stay outside till real winter hits!

Anyway - if only it was a wee bit more consistently cold this is more the effect we're aiming for!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Misheard lyrics

I showed the kids Sunshine on Leith the other week - they all love musicals, they all love Edinburgh because their big brother lives there and the littler ones are definitely interested in the linguistic differences between Scottish and English. They couldn't really fail to be, given how often it is the main topic over dinner. And I for one needed a night off the nightmare that is Brexit - for sanity's sake I needed a happy, feel-good night off. Almost instantly Léon fell in love with the Proclaimers and started trying to work out how to play the songs from their greatest hits on his violin. He's taken the cd out to the car and has it on repeat. Unsurprisingly his favourite is I'm gonna be/500 miles . Today instead of playing it on his fiddle, he was singing it. It was then I realized he was actually singing:

But I would walk 500 miles 
And I would walk 500 more 
Just to beat the man who walks a thousand miles 
To fall down at your door

He must think it is some kind of race or competition between two different guys - maybe the twins!? It lends it a whole new meaning.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Parenting in the early years is all about paying attention. If you don't, you miss the sweetest gems...

Today's school run was done with the car registering -6 degrees.

Amaia: 'Look mum! I never noticed before but Chuggy has furry mirrors. Do all fiats have furry mirrors?'

Monday, November 14, 2016

Oh, the irony!

Back to school 2015

Amaia comes out of school today and I ask as always how her day has been.

Amaia: Well, I fell out with X (one of her best friends) - he was being a right pain!
Me: What did he do?
Amaia: Well, he had the cheek to call me a wee grassbag!
Me: What did you do to annoy him?
Amaia: I've no idea, but when he said that I just told on him and the teacher put him on an amber light!
Me: And what do you think he meant by grassbag?
Amaia: Dunno - Beats me!

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Multi-cultural life

"Anyone who risks a life with someone outside of his in-group — not only across lines of nationality, but also those of religion, race and class — becomes a participant, whether he knows it or not, in a global experiment in developing empathy. The awareness and negotiation of small differences add up to a larger understanding about the complexities of the world." 

I read this today in the New York Times and thought it summed up my life quite nicely.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


I can't have been a very confident child. I was never brave enough to ask my grandparents to explain half of their Scottishisms when I was a small child so constantly sat puzzling over what they were on about, as I mentioned recently.

Another amusing misunderstanding was my Gramps's name for my brother. I'd say up for 90% of the time when we were little Gramps called Derek Henson. Obviously the other 10%, he actually called him Derek.This confused me. You see, Derek's middle name is Henderson (my Granny's family name). So, what went through my eight-year-old brain was something along the lines of - Isn't it odd  a) that Gramps calls my brother by his middle name? (I don't have a middle name, so had no precedent to compare this to) b) that my Gramps gets his middle name wrong when it is after his own wife? I think I was about twelve before it suddenly dawned on me. Being a wee Glasgow man, he called me hen. Being a wee Glasgow man he called Derek son, but through habit came out with hen first (I had been around for three and a half years before Derek showed up so he was more used to addressing a grandchild as hen than son) then corrected his own mistake. So he wasn't calling Derek Henson, he was calling him hen...emm... son! D'oh!

First Bus 4

It's been a long week. No, in fact, it's been a loooooong week.

When you work from home and you have five kids, albeit only four at home term time, you need to schedule your time down to the last minute to fit everything in. You need to write to do lists all over your house so you don't forget that school meeting, that kid's party, that dental appointment, that presentation... You know there's something to hand in by the date specified somewhere... somewhere in one of those letters in one of those piles on the coffee table, or was it the dining table... or did someone stick it on  the fridge door? I swear there are weeks when I am hanging on by the tips of my fingernails and as I reach the end of my forties, I find that if I don't have my phone appointment system remind me everything not only when I waken in the morning but again ten minutes before an event, then I am doomed. And the kids - they need to all pull together or we're never going to achieve half of what is on that to do list...

So when First Bus Glasgow (grrrr, spit) gave us less than a month's warning before removing the bus (No 4) that Charlotte (and Marcel before her) has used every day since starting high school to go to and from school, I was fuming. This week marked the start of my new life with no bus. I now have to get all the kids up earlier - just what you need coming into winter. The latest we can be outside is fully 25 minutes earlier than it was last week so lunches, clothes and bags now need to be prepared the night before - but of course, there is now less, not more, time for that as we have to go to bed earlier now, to get up earlier. This is no big deal but it is a change to the routine of the last nine years (plus). And I really felt like changing a routine that has worked well for years. In the afternoon I pick up the wee ones at three and now have more than 35 minutes wait on Charlotte coming out. That's just enough time to drive them home and turn back and go back to school. That works on days Thomas is working from home but not if no one is home. On those days we all have to sit in the car and listen to the kids niggle each other. They are too tired straight after school to take out their homework books. They are too fidgety to sit and wait so if it is dry they can run round in circles, I guess but if it is raining we are caged for half an hour. Then we finally get home about 3.55... one hour and ten minutes to do a trip that used to take me thirty minutes. That's forty lost minutes every afternoon.

I'm sure after a few weeks it will be our new norm and when I have a lot of work on, I'll no doubt be found behind the wheel, in the high school layby on my laptop. But I ask you? Wasn't my life complicated enough without screwing up all my schedules? It's just so tiring.

Ironically, Charlotte herself is the only one not affected - she now gets up five minutes later than before and gets home half an hour earlier. She no longer needs to battle the elements on the way to the bus stop, because there is no bus stop. She's probably been quietly petitioning First Bus for years to drop their service!

I am considering running a minibus twice daily given how many groups of soaking kids I've passed on the 45 minute (plus) walk of the old bus route. It'd probably pay off.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Amaia's shopping list

Amaia was on dinner tonight so came up with a list of what she needed to make our meal. I miss this phonetic spelling stage once they get further into school. It has a sweet charm to it. I should savour the last months of it while I can as I sadly won't be going there again, I guess.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Trying to become Marcel

I feel these days like we're just clinging on the last seconds of childhood with Léon.

First it was his distinct lack of interest in play parks last year. He's stopped playing with all the younger kids in the street who always used to come in for him, usually claiming he's busy with some household chore. Of course, he's also grown to almost my height in the last year and has moved up four shoe sizes since Easter.

Then he and some school friends made a 'band' because it is ok to hang out with girls and talk to them on Skype as long as you have the excuse that it is because you're all in the one band.

Last week Marcel dropped by for dinner. He asked Léon if he'd like a designer t-shirt he'd grown out of. It was a size S adult, so there I was ready to put it in the loft (in a bag marked boys' clothes ages 14) when he put it on and it fits fine - arg! Mind you, I now think he might need more than one, given he's been wearing it three days solid, as he's so pleased to be in something his cool big brother recommended! I doubt there will be any further use for t-shirts with cute dinosaurs or skeletons now he's discovered plain teenager ones.

But I think yesterday was the real eye opener. He asked to go to the hairdresser... alone! And came back looking like this. It's not a huge change but I can definitely see where he's trying to go.

It is very sweet to see who his role model obviously is!

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Never again

I probably didn't have my glasses on, and I like lilac so would have lifted this in my shopping rush based on its colour more than anything.

I can only assume it was possibly conceived as one of the tasks on The Apprentice or some similar show. You know, where they stick half a dozen enthusiastic but inexperienced people in a room and tell them to come up with a new fragrance, or a new shampoo, or the likes. Well, let me assure you, where lavender works well, rosemary most definitely doesn't! When you've just washed your hands, a overwhelming scent of rosemary is beyond appalling. You quickly develop a feeling greasiness, like you've been stuffing a leg of lamb for Sunday dinner. In fact, you smell like you need to wash your hands! You wouldn't use garlic or lovage in a hand soap, and I'm not sure rosemary isn't in the same category! As for using it to wash any other part of your body, I can't even imagine what experiences that could conjure up! The lipstick kiss on the bottle makes me shiver at the very thought!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016


I've done precious little work today and it's all the fault of those fucking Tories.

I don't remember the last time I swore in the first line of my blog. I doubt I ever have. But I have a husband who is pacing up and down, fuming and my husband doesn't fume.

Four days is all the Tory conference lasted but in those four days I have learnt that my husband has the privilege of being one of the government's famous bargaining chips, so they sure as hell are not going to reassure him he can stay despite being the father of British citizens and being half way through paying for a house here. Human shield mentality - I'm sure that's been used before in Kuwait... I have learnt that the 62% of Scotland who voted to remain in the EU and for that matter the 48% of the rest of the UK who did are not to be listened to. And despite no one even explaining what Brexit meant before the vote, she apparently now has a mandate not just to go all soft and Norwegian on us, but to go full-out isolationist with no trade deals in place for our kids' future. By the time the kids are my age, they might just have a few deals in place, so everything will be hunky dory. Companies are threatening to pull out of banking and the car industry left, right and centre but who gives a toss - we have Union Jacks and the Queen! Who needs to work with scientists, doctors or academics from all over the EU if instead we can send home the doctors who are currently saving even Tory lives in England but only till 2025, when they can fuck off back to BongoBongoland (I think that's Boris's term of endearment for where they come from.) Then they'll all be replaced by nice white English doctors who will be fined £220K should they happen to fall in love on their holidays in Tenerife and try staying there... but of course they won't be going on holiday any more because the pound has fallen about 30% already in just 3 months. Then this morning I learnt I'm to inform on my business partner for being a foreigner employed by a UK registered company that I happen to own - the fact that he set up that company, is co-director/owner and the fact that it brings money into the UK from all over Europe and the world counts for nothing. Well you know what, Theresa? He's my husband so you can fuck off. I will be clyping on no one. It's time for civil disobedience. I will not be dancing to your tune. Then I heard at tea time that she wants to run a nationalist party with the values of socialism and ordinary workers at its heart. Now where have I heard that one before??? Maybe we could call it the Nationalsozialistische ... Arbeiterpartei. Hmm, that has a nice ring to it... FFS! Hey, here's an idea - maybe I could cut out the middle man and start sewing a symbol of her choice on my husband's and my children's clothes in case any one happens to take them for fully British. We can't have that, not compared to us ethnically pure Brits!

It's reassuring at least to know the opposition are right on their backs and trying to sort it, or actually did they not bother debating Brexit at their conference? It's a shame that they don't seem to have the time to sit up and notice that the new PM is an escaped nutter.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

It's why I love him

I was always fascinated by language. Even before I was taught any French or German at school, I used to spend my weekends at my grandparents' house analysing his Scots (Did he just ask me to pit ma jaiket in the press? WTF is a press???) and her idiosyncratic idioms (Jesus wept and tore his waistcoat... or was she actually saying Jesus wept and Tories' waistcoat? - well it was the late 70s, so how was I to be sure if she was discussing Maggie Thatcher or damage to clothing?... I was never really sure Jesus had a waistcoat but I was also too shy to inquire, given my heathen upbringing... It did occur to me occasionally to actually ask my grandparents what exactly they were talking about, but he'd have told me to haud ma tongue and she'd have rolled her eyes and muttered something odd about my arse being in parsley, so instead of asking, I sat in my own wee bilingual Scots/English world trying to make some sense of it all. I religiously learned all my Gramps's odd words for everything, though of course, I never used them. I learned at a very young age that young ladies from Newton Mearns (in the 70s) weren't allowed to say dug or semmit.

So when I found my first husband, a native French and German speaker, I thought I'd hit the jackpot. I forgot that just because you grow up speaking other languages, you are not necessarily interested in languages. When he got a programming job in the dictionary company where I worked not long after we married, I was more than disappointed to realise he had no interest in the linguistic side of his job whatsoever. To him, language was simply a communication tool. And when the kids came along, he'd no idea how to make them bilingual, despite his own mother speaking to him in German when he was growing up. I was the one who read up on bilingualism and spoke to the kids in French to ensure they were fluent, albeit with my flaws and accent. Anyway, at least I got to speak French at home for the next thirteen years, so that made up for it for a while.

Then one day a real language nerd dropped out of the sky and into my world. Someone (I still don't know who, though I thank them from the bottom of my heart) decided the best person for me to share with after an office reshuffle was the great Dane (as we affectionately referred to him behind his back)! He was the kind of language nerd who lists 'Danish, English, German, Esperanto, Georgian, Russian, Czech, Basque, Swabian, German, Japanese, Italian, French, Dutch, Nynorsk, Swedish, Sanskrit, Spanish, Scottish Gaelic, Yiddish and Scots' under languages he speaks on his facebook page. Of course he hasn't broken Scots up into Doric, Orkney and the likes and he hasn't mentioned things he only knows a wee bit of such as Old Norse, Icelandic, Ancient Greek, Latin and Mandarin Chinese, etc. He never ceases to amaze me when he picks something up in an exotic supermarket and can actually read text printed in Hindi out loud... or at least that's what he claims he's doing... maybe he's just making it up to impress me! Hmmm, that never occurred to me before! He lives and breathes language. When we watch programmes like Trapped, he actually pauses it to explain genitive forms of peoples' names to me and we both giggle in excitement when we understand bits from other Scandinavian languages we know better. We close our eyes and see how much we can follow without the subtitles. Our winter Saturday nights are invariably spent watching something foreign together - I'm not sure we've ever watched a movie or series in English!

And now he's gone and bought all the translations of the Gruffalo for us to analyse together in bed at night. I can see the winter stretch out before us as we look at every nuance of the words for an owl, or the woods or even the boring old definite articles. I know that isn't probably most people's idea of fun in the bedroom... but maybe we just both found the right person at last, or perhaps just the only person that could put up with each of us. (And it isn't the only fun we have - we're not that old or sad yet!)

I guess I'm just in a rather pensive mood today as I am celebrating ten years and a day since I moved into his flat. Ten years ago today I woke up to the first day of a new life. Did I make the right decision back then? Yes, I made the perfect choice, for me, anyway!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


There's nothing quite as acerbic as a smaller sibling!

Anna bounced down wearing this T-shirt earlier. Amaia read it slowly, shook her head and stated: I'm not sure why you're wearing that because you don't, you wake up moany!

Friday, September 02, 2016

Black and White

Today Thomas and Amaia went out rollerblading together. Amaia is just learning so wanted me to take photos. Afterwards, as I was uploading them to my computer, she crawled up onto the bed to watch. I decided to edit one to black and white for fun. The original was fairly bland and colourless, I thought... But kids have a great way of putting you in your place:

'Oh that's nice, mummy! Are you just making it black and white because you're more used to that because that's how photos looked back in your day?'

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A well-needed break

I should probably get round to blogging my holiday (in instalments, for posterity) at some point before it is next summer, but I'm just drowning in work at the moment - both work work and running the family work, of course.

We went over to Denmark at the beginning of July. I had no real awareness of my mental state before I left for my holiday. I had been working hard trying to copy-edit a full book which was quite technical, I had been overwhelmed by the double life you have to lead in June when you are supposed to attend numerous school music and sporting events while working full-time, on top of dealing with your kids stressing about exams, teacher changes, new subjects and all the rest. In addition, there was the Brexit referendum, and I've already touched on how that was making me feel in my blog posts of that week. But I had not actually taken a minute to analyze me - there is no 'me-time' in a life with five kids and a job, not really.

So up we got at 5-30am one day at the beginning of July and off we went for a train, a bus and then a plane from Edinburgh airport - a boring old Easy Jet to Copenhagen. I spied it across the tarmac with no obvious feelings either way - I've been on way too many planes to get excited... We went through boarding and walked across to the stairs. I hadn't been away from home since July of 2014. I hadn't left Scotland once since the Summer of Independence. As I reached the top and stepped into the aircraft, in an almost lightning-bolt moment, I became acutely aware for the very first time just how stressed I had been since the Indyref back in September 2014, with the very fears that had led me to vote Yes back then being realized in the Brexit vote of this June. I had always assumed that if we didn't gain our independence in Europe back then, England would drag us out of Europe endangering my family's very right to exist, together in the same country. I had always assumed the newspapers' desire for survival would lead them to print whatever of Farage's fantasies it took to stay afloat in a dying market and I had been proven horrendously right. Here I was suddenly facing the real possibility that my husband would not be allowed it stay in Scotland, when at the same time I would no longer be allowed to move elsewhere. My worst nightmare had come true. In an instant, as my first foot landed inside the aircraft a feeling of overwhelming relief hit me - for the first time since 18-9-14, I was escaping the madness that is the UK. I was leaving behind the worries and stresses of the politics of home and quite frankly at that moment, I never ever wanted to return. I hadn't realized how much I needed to leave until I did. I felt a euphoric lightness of mind and spirit as the plane taxied down that runway taking me away from all that stresses me, for however short a time. And to be honest, I am still not sure how they managed to get me on to the return flight three weeks later.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Breast feeding

In the ten years I spent breastfeeding my five, I never once had to sit on a toilet but I spent a lot of time rehearsing in my head what I'd say if someone complained and getting ready to fight my corner, which thankfully I never needed to do (maybe I just looked too ready for a fight to be taken on), but if it's still happening to you - watch this.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

My kids know me well

I think my other half once referred to me as a bit of a militant atheist... I like to think of myself as a happy one, rather than a militant one, but I'm not going to quibble over an adjective! My kids know I don't do God, but I hardly go on about it incessantly...

So today we went swimming and from swimming I had to rush off to Asda for some curry ingredients and back home by six in time for Thomas to cook. After swimming the kids had a snack each but were still ranting about being starving and were less than pleased when I took the turn-off for the supermarket. I thought I could buy some time if I let each of them spend a 20p piece in the sweetie vending machine on the way in so gave Léon three 20ps and sent them off. When I came out Léon and Anna were sitting on a bench quietly waiting, sooking on a gobstopper each. Amaia though had never had one before so bounced proudly up to me and announced 'Léon bought me a sweetie, mummy. I think you'd like them, they're called God-stoppers!'


Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Renaissance art, anyone?

So we somehow got onto the subject of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the other day...

Amaia announced excitedly: Oh, I know what they are called!!
Charlotte: Yeah?
Amaia: Well there's Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo and em, em, em...
Charlotte: Come on, there's a pattern, you can do it...
Amaia (that lightbulb moment!): Oh yeah, I know, it's Stracciatella, isn't it?!!!!

Well, she knew it was something to do with Italy - I can understand confusing Michelangelo with stracciatella... almost.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Brexit - no, thank you

I should probably write something about Brexit but I haven't a clue where to start and it depends on my mood whether you get 1) an angry post full of four letter expletives at how the Westminster parliament is treating EU families who have settled here decades ago and built their lives around a given that they are prepared to take away, 2) a resigned mood where I wonder what the point of anything is and hide under my duvet sobbing, 3) a freedom-fighter one where I dig out all my old Yes Scotland stuff and this time fight to the death for my very survival, or even 4) an adventurous 'let's sell the house, pack up all the kids and disappear to mainland Europe while we still can' fuck-the-world one. I have been fluctuating daily between all these alternatives since I awoke to find the duped, the desperate and the racists had snatched my children's futures from them.

My kids are the result of a family tradition of international intermarrying. Both my husbands had parents of mixed European origin - Thomas is half Danish, half German, his predecessor was half French, half German and yet someone has decided for my kids that they won't be able to carry that tradition on. Wandering round Europe freely and falling in love is no longer allowed! And my heart breaks when I think of how small their world is becoming. I am angry as their international universities risk becoming parochial because of the whims of some ill-informed bigots in another country. I scream at the computer (I've stopped watching TV - it's not good for my mental health) when I hear people wanting to stop others from coming to work here, without ever realizing they are also stopping their own kids from being able to go there and work. I am one of those European kids (ok I was one of them in the 80s and 90s) - I have lived in France, and Germany and Italy. I have studied internationally, I have married internationally and it has enriched my life considerably.

Two years ago I fought passionately for Scotland to become independent for exactly this reason. I could see how narrow and insular the popular press was turning England and I shared that dream described so eloquently last week in the EU parliament by Alyn Smith: I wanted a Scotland that was internationalist, co-operative, ecological, fair, & European. I could see this referendum would be called at Farage's whim and I could see Out was a very real possibility. I wanted my children to grow up in a society where we care about the weakest in society, where we celebrate each other's differences and love what makes each other special. I could see that the separatist movement in Scotland was aiming for an inclusive state, within Europe based on our perception of the Scandinavian model. I'm married to a Scandy man so I could see the merits of a society where women can actually afford to work, childcare works and isn't a few hours in the middle of a working day, and kids are paid to go to university because an educated population benefits all. England's introduction of tuition fees and privatising of their NHS filled me with horror - it was going in all the wrong directions for me. I shared that left of centre ideal for Scotland the the SNP, the Greens and the Socialists amongst others were offering us and I still do. Imagining 62% of us could vote to stay in the EU and seeing us pulled out underlines what we've been saying all along. Last election we voted for a left-wing government, the Tories got just one MP from Scotland, but still we have a Tory government. Now we have voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, so if they drag us out then there is no point in ever voting here because 5 million people can never be heard over 60. We might as well stay home forever more on polling day. There is no point in politics in this union and therefore, there is no point for me in this union. So I guess I have my answer... I have no option but to go for solution three and if that fails number four will need to be put into action, somehow. Otherwise I won't have fought hard enough for the future my kids deserve.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Eight-year-old political analysis

So there I was lying in the bath minding my own business this morning when Anna burst in. Obviously Daddy being interviewed on Danish TV about Scottish politics this morning had got her to thinking!

Anna: See how David Cameron voted us out of Europe?
Me: No, Anna, Cameron voted Remain, that's why he's resigned. It was the rest of England that voted out.
Anna: Yeah, but Scotland voted to stay?
Me: Yes.
Anna: So if England leaves and Scotland stays that can only really happen if the two countries break up and Scotland gets independence.
Me: It looks like it.
Anna: So then Cameron will have been the cause of Scottish independence for having the referendum on Europe?
Me: Yes.
Anna: Ooooooops, lol!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Farage, Boris and now this bunch?

Marine le Pen shared on social media: « Victoire de la liberté ! Comme je le demande depuis des années, il faut maintenant le même référendum en France et dans les pays de l'UE. »

Geert Wilders tweeted: Hurrah for the British! Now it is our turn. Time for a Dutch referendum!

Matteo Salvini tweeted: Evviva il coraggio dei liberi cittadini!
Cuore, testa e orgoglio battono bugie, minacce e ricatti. GRAZIE UK, ora tocca a noi.

Norbert Hofer looked on excitedly:  UK VOTES TO LEAVE! Wir werden erst in den nächsten Tagen die volle Tragweite dieser Entscheidung erkennen.
Beatrix von Storch: All I want to say: THANK! YOU!! For and

Donald Trump tweeted: Getting ready to open the magnificent Turnberry in Scotland. What a great day, especially when added to the brave & brilliant vote.

Is this really who you want to get into bed with, England?

I am so out of here. Bring it on, Nicola.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Married to an immigrant

I've never thought of myself as being married to an immigrant. I don't think I have ever even thought about the word immigrant in his context but given the gutter press has been trying to tie that label around his neck for the best part of the last couple of years, I thought I would give my reaction to it. 

Thomas is a Dane. But even that is more complex than it seems on the surface as Thomas's dad is a German, or was a German who is now a naturalised Dane (who happens to live in Italy!), and his mum is an Italian-dwelling Dane. He was born in Denmark as a German citizen and became a Dane later in his childhood though he has been a native Dane all his life, until fourteen years ago when he decided to become a Scottish Dane or a Danish Scot. I don't think of him as an immigrant to the UK. Nor do I think of him as a Danish ex-pat. I think of him as a fellow European. He is simply a mix of European nationalities, just as my kids and our kids are.

In truth, I have in fact been married to an immigrant for the best part of the last 25 years, because my ex-husband was also a foreign EU citizen. So some of my kids are 25% French/25%German and 50% Scottish, their siblings are 25% Danish/25%German and 50% Scottish. Every day we sit down to eat as a family and a mix of languages goes round the dining table. When family visits more languages are added and that is the reality of our life. We shuffle backwards and forwards and round and round between European destinations that are simply an extension of family and an extension of home. Our family speaks in a mix of languages, uses a mix of currencies and lives in a variety of countries but we are one – a family. I still have nieces in France, I have in-laws in Italy, I have nieces and nephews in Denmark...etc etc

My earliest memories are of a fascination with the different and the exotic. I would listen to languages I didn't know or understand, I would look at the people arriving from far-off continents in wonder and imagine their life stories, desperate to befriend them. I started school at a time before there were many immigrants in the suburbs of Glasgow. When the first Pakistani child joined my class around the age of eight, I was drawn to him. I wanted to know all about his life, where he was from, what he ate – he represented a world waiting to be discovered and I was avid to learn.

We never went abroad when I was a child so I was thirteen before I left these shores. I can still remember thirteen year old me mounting the steps of the hovercraft on Ramsgate beach in the summer of 1981. I felt like an astronaut on a trip to the moon. As everyone else discussed their mundane holiday plans around me and shouted at their squabbling kids, I sat with tears in my eyes as I achieved the first step in my life's ambition. I was going to go to mainland Europe. We stopped at a very basic café in France and ordered plain lettuce with vinaigrette (by accident!) and as my parents and brother moaned about it, I sat analysing the presentation, the taste, the newness, the wonder of lettuce in vinaigrette! I'm not sure any of them ever fully understood my obsession with Europe and the world, maybe I was just always the oddball of the family, but I was a happy oddball.

As a student I moved to Italy, then France, then Germany. I was never going to be confined to Scotland. I always assumed even at a young age that I would probably retire to France.

Nor was I ever going to marry a Scottish boy and stay here. I was always going to fill my house with the exotic, the new, the colourful. Not to disappoint, I even did it twice! Even I didn't see that coming! I once overheard Marcel's mates discussing me. They were mid-teens and he was explaining my first husband had been French and my second Danish – 'Did your mum just, like, shag her way round Europe, then?' they laughed - you've got to love the bluntness of teenagers. No, I didn't but I had a love affair with Europe and I am still having it today.

And for that reason, tomorrow fills me with a depth of dread and despair that I cannot even put into words. All the hatred and lies printed on a daily basis about these immigrants, in an attempt to stoke hatred, to split 'them' and 'us' fills me with anger and at the same time crushes me to the point I can't open a newspaper any more. I know the EU needs to evolve and could do with a bit of tweaking from the inside but leave it? I never imagined in my wildest dreams, until about three or four years ago that that possibility would be raised in my lifetime, or in my kids'. To me there is no them or us, there is just all of us.

To me voting to leave would be denying my kids' right to exist – every one of them exists because people like Thomas and people like André were free to come here and work. Because I was free to go there and work.

Tomorrow they cannot vote to legitimize the lives they already lead. Tomorrow it doesn't matter that Thomas and I have spent seven years bringing money into the country through the international company we set up. It doesn't matter that his children are UK citizens, he can't vote for their future. And what information does he have about his or our life thereafter? None. Unless you are related to an EU citizen, it may have escaped your notice but there is no information about what happens after a brexit vote. There is nothing official, just silence. There are a lot of 'oh of course they can't throw you out', 'oh of course you'll still be allowed your healthcare, schooling, bank account, child benefit...' but there is no information at all and I suspect that is because good old Boris's actual plan is let's wait and see. Let's wait and see if the other EU countries start repatriating the UK immigrants, let's wait and see if they start making the UK immigrants take out hefty insurance policies for healthcare, let's see if they bar them from benefits, let's see if France decides to play tough to keep their internal politics and the possibility of Marine le Pen at bay by making an example of the UK and then let's decide. Do you fancy living in that limbo? Do you like the idea of settling down somewhere and starting a family and then having someone change the rules of the game 14 years down the line? Can you imagine that?

So I don't need to say what I'm voting tomorrow but I can say that the rug has been pulled from under my feet, the wind taken from my sails and I will never fully recover from this blow, whatever the outcome I waken up to on Friday. I will never feel fully safe again.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Eight years and two months later

Retaking (more or less) a photo after a passage of time can be very sweet. Here are Anna and Thomas, first in April 08, then in June 16...

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Steak and ducklings!

(Overheard after school today...)

Charlotte: What did you have for lunch today, Amaia? 
Amaia: Duckling
Charlotte: Duckling???
Amaia: Yeah, we got pieces of steak with ducklings on top!
Charlotte: Dumplings maybe? 
Amaia: Could be!

I thought for a moment the school lunch hall had gone all cordon bleu on us!

Scary stuff

I'll just leave this with you! Gulp!

(Have a look at the gallery on this page too)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Political indoctrination, maybe?

Sometimes, usually in fact, life with five kids is fairly harmonious... very occasionally though, little tiffs can occur... tonight was one of those nights. Léon and Anna got into a fight about who could throw a basketball further (as you do!) They were out on the street so I didn't hear it all but I heard Léon winding, and I heard Anna shrieking as if she was being tortured (which of course meant only her pride was being hurt, as that is much worse to Anna than anything else!) As they both stormed back into the garden Anna was shouting at Léon about cheating and other things, Léon was grinning calmly (something which winds Anna up much more than any anger or aggression would!) Anna shrieked and shrieked and cried and grumped as Léon waited patiently to get a word in and when she'd finally run out of steam, Léon floored me with the following calmly-spoken comment: Anna enough! Would you please talk to me like I'm your brother... you're standing there screaming at me like I'm... I dunno... David Cameron or something!

I, of course, reacted in the only way you can to such a classic line - I ran for a pen and post-it note!


About two years ago I bought a sprig of broom in a pot - it was literally one stalk and cost about £1-49. I planted it in front of my front door and did nothing special or encouraging. It likes it there, it really likes it! In fact for some reason it has developed a life of its own. It looks a bit like a 170cm tall blond afro half way up my path. You can't help but love it, it's so vigorous. And it smells great too!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Ten years

Apparently it is ten years ago today that I joined blogger. I have
more kids now, a different job, a different home and a different husband! I've lost people close to me and gained new friends. I've definitely acquired a few grey hairs and numerous wrinkles, but what wisdom?
I must read through my posts and see how those ten years have changed my life. 

Friday, May 20, 2016


I'm beginning to suspect my daughter has inherited her parents' love of school PE!

The conversation in the car went like this:
Amaia: See on Monday, mummy? Can you write a letter for me to take to school saying I don't need to do PE?
Me: Why is that? Have you hurt something?
Amaia: Well... I do have a rather itchy midgie bite on my ankle at the moment!
Aye, right!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Over breakfast in the garden

Anna: You know those wishing wells, mum, where you throw in money and make a wish?
Me: Yes - like the one we saw at Edinburgh zoo last month?
Anna: Yes! I always wish for our family's circumstances to improve - you know so we could go on a nice holiday or buy a new seven-seater so we could all go on day trips..., but it never seems to work.
Amaia (completely matter-of-fact): Naaah, they definitely don't work.. cos I always wish for you to be a bit less moany! 

*spits breakfast across the table* - sibling love - it gets you every time!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

"To have it all"

As I was getting dressed this morning I could hear my wee-est three discussing whether or not they 'had it all'. Having just returned from the kitchen, I had missed their definition of 'having it all' so I listened in from the next room to see what they meant.

Anna: Well, it's definitely not me or Amaia. We don't have it all.
Amaia: What about Charlotte. Oh no she's missing one.
Léon: Marcel then?
Anna: Hardly!
Amaia: It's Léon! Léon has it all. Oh no, he doesn't because of us two.

And so it went on... In then end I had to ask. It turns out that they believe the ultimate prize in life would have been to have both an older and a younger sibling of each gender! So Marcel is ruled out as they are all younger, Charlotte has no big sister, Léon is missing a little brother, as is Anna and Amaia is in the same boat as Marcel. So none of them 'has it all', after all.

It's a sweet measure of life's perfection, though!

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

May the fourth be with you!

So it's so-called Star Wars day, and even more than any other year Léon is fit to burst with excitement. He's refusing to do all homework and is wandering around humming the tune. Since the latest offering the girls are also getting in on the act, chatting excitedly about all things Star Wars... and although it is nice to hear such enthusiasm from these young and innocent souls, I find myself being short-tempered and snapping at them. But it's not Star Wars' fault. I want to snap at them to leave me in peace today, to think of my beautiful friend Sheina, who I still miss and whose birthday we'd have been celebrating had she not died four years ago at just 45. But the kids were just tiny then and they don't remember a lot about that time, so I'll stick on my smile, and watch Star Wars though my thoughts will be elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

I was worried there, for a moment

Conversation overheard between my wee girls: Anna: What's your dream job, Amaia? Amaia: emmm nun! (I panic that my atheistic tendencies aren't rubbing off and plan a full assault... when I hear the clarification.) Anna: You can't choose none, you have to choose something! Amaia: Ok then, I'll be a waitress! PHEW! wink emoticon

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


One day last weekend Anna came out with this and it got me to thinking: I wonder what it must be like to have only Scottish relatives... everyone in your house would speak the same language all the time... weeeeeird! 
 All of my children have heard a minimum of two languages every day of their lives, the first few years it was English and French, latterly English and Danish: and with a succession of visitors adding German, Italian, Norwegian, Georgian, and Polish amongst others to the dinner table (and that's without even mentioning Scots). TV, of course has added Swedish, Icelandic and Spanish to that as well. I'm not sure I remember the last time I watched anything in English on the TV. 
 I guess the main point is that they fully understand two languages each and also understand many bits of others. You can't sit at the table for years without picking it up. So they have a feel for what multilingual normality is. They are completely unfazed if they don't fully understand everything being said around them because they know there are so many different languages in play at any time. 
 It reminded me of an eye-opener years ago. I was sitting in my garden with a French friend and her kids. We were speaking French, our kids were speaking a mixture. A neighbour's child (a ten year old) who had been doing French at school asked to play so I invited her in. My friend shouted some instructions over to her kids and the neighbour looked really puzzled. "Why is she speaking like that?" she asked. I explained that she was French so although her kids were bilingual as they lived in Scotland, she spoke to them in French, even if they usually replied in English (a bog-standard bilingual child's way of communicating with their foreign parent). The child replied "But she's speaking it really fast!" I relayed that French is spoken much faster in reality than what they learn at school but still she couldn't understand how the kids all understood it without a second thought. Eventually she explained to me that although she had learned some French at school: Il fait beau, je vais bien, la pomme est rouge, etc, she hadn't understood that it was in fact a full language that people used to communicate! She had been brought up in such a monolingual atmosphere that she thought English was the only language people used to communicate and that the little phrases she'd learnt in French were of no more everyday use than memorised poems or mathematical formulae. She had never heard people actually communicating in another language. I think I was as gobsmacked by her lack of linguistic experience as she was by our nonchalant mixed communication. 
 I find people are often taken aback by the real way bilingual households communicate - that is to say, the foreign parent speaking their language and the kids who've grown up somewhere else replying in that language. Of course, when in the other country the kids can switch to that language but generally when you live bilingually, everyone speaks their strongest language at the table. I remember being bemused by this the first time I visited my first husband's parents (he was French with a German mother). She spoke only in German, he replied just as fast in French. Had I not been studying both, I'd have been completely lost. At first I figured they were weird and unique but as every one of my kids has since followed the same pattern, unprompted over the years, and Thomas too speaks to his German father mostly in Danish, I realized it is simply human nature. 
 I do fondly remember a night last year when I spent the evening with Thomas and Peter (his father). We were discussing Greek politics and the ideas of Yanis Varoufakis, quite vociferously, for a few hours and it was only when I was lying in bed later that night I found myself smiling at the realization that I had spoken only in English, Thomas only in Danish and Peter only in German that night and yet all of us had fully understood the conversation. I wish I'd recorded it to show just how much fun these kinds of households are!

Monday, April 25, 2016


I grew up with cats. First, there was the grumpy, chunky one with the odd name 'Snoopy' (we were kids!). Then there was the skinnier, more placid lapcat 'Muffin'  (named by a friend of the family who stepped into our squabble over what to call him, with the simple statement 'He's kinda muffin-coloured, isn't he?') So from 1981-1996 I was around cats a lot of the time. Although the cat stayed with my parents when I left home as a teenager, I was his holiday babysitter. I haven't had one of my own since, originally for the simple reason that with family abroad, I was away too many times a year to bother with the holiday cover, but latterly more because I've lived on a bus route since 2007. I figure with a double-decker passing every ten minutes, 19 hours a day, it'd have to be a very street-wise cat not to end up dead meat and I don't fancy having to scrape the kids' dearly-beloved off the road once a year. Hence the succession of (safely-caged) hamsters...

However, I always sort of figured I'd spend my old age, once the kids had flown the nest as some kind of crazy cat woman - perhaps a bit like Mrs McTats in one of the kids' favourite books.

As early as fifteen years ago, I started to notice Persian cats were starting to make me a wee bit wheezy, but normal moggies were fine... then a few weeks ago Charlotte and I visited a friend with a cat. Lots had told me she'd been having sneezing fits every time she was around her friend Hannah's cat, and sure enough, as soon as Siobhan's cat wandered in Charlotte's nose started to run. I was fine though and even let the cat sit on my knee for a few minutes. On the way home, however, I started to feel as if my airways were literally clogged with fur and I started to wheeze. By the time I got home I was in a much worse state than Lots and it took antihistamines and three blasts of an asthma inhaler to make me comfortable enough to get to bed and fully 24 hours to get back to normal. So I've monitored it since and it seems I have indeed developed an allergy to ordinary cats of the type I used to live with. My doctor has now advised me to try having coffee with my friend who owns a golden retriever as she suspects that fur is my trigger. 

Am I really going to have to end up a crazy old woman with a house full of these?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Children really make you laugh

Winter walk in Crookfur

Overheard on a car trip:
Léon: ...then I'll pretend to be a serial killer...
Anna: what? 
Léon: it's someone who steals your breakfast before killing people!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Big man, little girl

It's funny. When you have nearly 13 years between your kids, you wonder what, if any, relationship they'll have growing up. But one thing that has always been obvious between my oldest and youngest is the sheer pleasure they derive from each other. Marcel has a greater need to return to the nest more often than most teenagers who've left home, because he feels he too has some sort of parental responsibility for his youngest siblings. And Amaia is absolutely thrilled every time he walks through the door. She loves her Monday school news to be something about her ever-so-exotic brother who lives in Edinburgh. She drops him nonchalantly into conversation when classmates are often still sharing a room with their less-interesting siblings.

I'm not sure who looks more pleased here. Marcel because of Amaia's obvious pride in hanging off his arm, or Amaia for having such a big and exciting brother she can boast about to the other p1s.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sweet misunderstandings

One of the p1 teachers at Amaia's school left over the Easter break to take up a new job at the primary school on Millport. Amaia is quite upset about it but was trying to see the positives for the teacher herself last night. I had to smile when she explained 'Poor Mrs Cameron used to have to drive very far to work in our school but now she's going to Millport, she'll have so much more time with her own kids because she says she's going to be going to work every day on a fairy*!'

What a sweet image that conjures up!

* This misunderstanding may in part have arisen from the teacher's Australian accent!