Thursday, April 27, 2017

Can it be pyjama day every day, please?

It's pyjama day at the primary today - I think they are trying to raise funds for some playground equipment, or something like that...

Talk about a stress-free start to the day! For the first time in over a decade I didn't spend ten minutes shouting at them to stop eating and chatting and start getting dressed now, I did need to ask where the hell their ties were, nor where they'd taken off their school shoes or jackets the day before and why they weren't hanging where they were meant to be, etc, etc. It was so much less stressful.

I'm away to research whether there is a school that uses PJs as a uniform, with a view to moving house.

(Of course, the downside is that Mr I'm-Cool-and-Self-conscious is refusing to walk home today as people might see him (apparently he will stand out as a freak in the crowd of over 650 kids all walking home in their pyjamas from the same starting point! Looks like I'm having to pick him up at 3 when I go for Anna anyway! LOL))

Nicaragua - it's all change with just a few weeks to go

Charlotte has slowly spent the last eighteen months trying to accumulate the money to go off on a World Challenge expedition. In 2014 Marcel flew out to India after the flooding destroyed much of the infrastructure in some of the more remote villages in the North and spent a couple of weeks restoring drainage and building water collection devices in tiny villages before enjoying a few days trekking the Himalayas tiger-watching and quickly stopping to see the Taj Mahal.


I think it was a life-changing experience for him as he's happily done volunteer work since his return, giving up his time for varied activities ranging from helping to redecorate the houses of people recovering from addictions, to working in charity shops and soup kitchens. I don't think he will ever see the world in the same way again after a woman, in the mountains of India, cried when they offered to leave behind the blankets they had been using to camp in her village, thanking them as if they had offered her a precious gift. That must be life changing at 16.

For Charlotte's year group rural Nicaragua has been chosen. Her remit; to rebuild a run-down part of a local school, while also teaching the kids some English. Her perk - volcano-boarding in the only place in the world where you can volcano-board down live volcanoes!

With about six weeks to go, she is just a few hundred short of her target so should hopefully be back in the black by the end of the summer, assuming she gets enough babysitting, gardening and car washing to do!

Since the beginning of the year she's been booked on six United flights transiting across the US: Glasgow-New York-Texas-Managua. I'm not sure if all the adverse United publicity has anything to do with things but we received an emergency update yesterday, claiming they had decided the time in Texas was too short to change flight so the entire trip has been re-routed, with all 46 tickets cancelled and re-booked, funnily enough avoiding United and Trumpton altogether. Looks like my wee girl is now getting to try out an 11 hour flight on a B777 from Amsterdam to Panama City. As she said herself - this is definitely more exotic, as she's less likely to find herself in Panama than NYC in the future, so she's quite excited. Of course, I've asked her to pick me up a chunk of mature Gouda, if she's stuck in Schiphol for an afternoon on the way home anyway - I think she thinks I'm kidding! So it's going to be Glasgow-Amsterdam-Panama city-Managua. And the other advantage is she's now getting back nearly 12 hours later so all the wee ones can go and collect her at the airport as they'll be on their school summer holiday already. Woo hoo.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Amaia's glasses

Marcel dropped by for a few hours last week. Well, more truthfully, Marcel and his flatmates turned up here at 1am one night last week as they'd been at a gig that finished after the last train back to Edinburgh, and stayed till breakfast. Given how little Marcel is home, he deliberately got up at 8 to say hi to the wee ones. Immediately on seeing Amaia in her new (week-old) specs, he shrieked 'Jesus, who's shrunk mum, that's just scary!' Not sure I see it...?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Multicultural life descending into a government rant

Thomas cut the grass for the first time last weekend. I cut the edges. As I stand in the kitchen looking out over my garden, everything looks so familiar. I've lived ten years in this house, the longest I have lived anywhere other than with my parents during my childhood. The spring flowers are in bloom everywhere... And yet I feel like a spectator looking at something I find hard to recognize. It looks like my garden, it feels and smells like my garden, like my garden always looks. Yes, there are more spring flowers because every year I plant another few bags full, but otherwise nothing has changed, and yet it feels as if everything has changed. I struggle to recognize the world around me. Someone has taken it and flipped it on its head. The unimaginable has become boring and mundane. Just when you think nothing can surprise you any more, things take a new dramatic turn... The lunatics have taken over the asylum, and I for one am no longer feeling bien dans ma peau.

That's how things are in families like mine - some phrases and idioms come to you more readily in another language than your own. We are mixed-up citizens of nowhere and citizens of everywhere. A multiprise will never be an adjustable spanner, clous de girofle took many years to become cloves for me and although I know contreplaqué when I see it, I'm never sure if the English is chipboard or plasterboard.

And the languages and dialects are multiple - I grew up speaking only English, but of course my parents and more strongly, my grandparents spoke mostly Scots so from as early as I can remember I've been filtering more than one set of vocabulary on input and changing it for output. Uni brought French and German, then Italian and Swedish. After that I learnt the German dialect from Saarland - my first mother-in-law did try to speak to me in Hochdeutsch but always forgot a sentence in and so Kartoffeln slowly became Krumpe (though I've never written it down so I'm not sure of the spelling), a Hose became a Buks and that list became much longer than my arm - Mein liever Mann! Next up came Danish, of course and simultaneously with that came some more Swedish, some Norwegian and of course Schwäbisch (although my father-in-law doesn't speak much of it in my presence, it is Thomas's native form of German so can't be avoided.) We've just finished watching all three series of Die Kirche bleibt im Dorf (highly recommendable but beware the title is the only bit you'll understand if you only do Hochdeutsch!)

We dabble with little bits of other things of course - we went through an Icelandic phase a few months ago where we tried to guess how many words we could get without the subtitles and we actually spend our Saturday nights playing other similar games. We often find some Icelandic word strikes us simultaneously as cute while watching a drama and we turn to each other and ooh and aah in a way that is possibly inappropriate to the gruesome victim of a crime that is being uncovered as we smile at the words. We analyse cases and tenses and word order as we listen to the unknown - of course Thomas has a hell of a head start having both linguistics and old Norse but I can hold my own trying to follow Icelandic all the same - I know which questions to ask and he knows the answers, which kind of makes us the perfect couple - perfect for each other anyway, as no one else would want to spend their Saturday nights watching Icelandic snowstorms while analysing the genitive form of personal names!

There has not been a day for the last 32 years where I have not heard more than one language at home. I know to many people that makes us freaks, but it is the very essence of who we are and that is why the current political situation feels like it has cut us adrift and left us floating in a limbo where we've lost our identity. If the 23rd of June felt like a vote to invalidate the lifestyle we have chosen, May's ever-increasing right-wing agenda feels like an annihilation of everything we hold dear.

We are multicultural, multilingual, we embrace diversity. It almost feels like May has a window into my soul and she's attacking everything that makes me who I am. Leaving aside the appalling treatment of EU citizens who have lived here decades, who are the parents of UK children; their being hung out to dry and treated with contempt on a daily basis (that is a whole blog posting in itself), the things that matter to me are making sure there is health care for all, a net for people who fall sick, care for the disabled, help when people lose their job (even after they have had their third kid!) We now have unqualified administrators quizzing women about rape here in the UK, ffs! When 90% of rapes are never prosecuted, how few people will be able to claim help for their child, and how many victimized women and children will simply be pushed into poverty? It feels like we're one step from third kids having to wear some sort of symbol denoting they are the result of rape just to get a free school lunch and that makes me feel sick to the stomach. She wants to drag us out of the single market leaving us free of any trade deals for up to a decade when the country is at breaking point through her party's austerity measures. People voted for this because they were desperate and they believed the lies - when their situation becomes worse rather than better, we'll have riots. Her recklessness terrifies me. She wants to roll back human rights and environmental protections, she wants to court Trump and every dodgy Saudi Arabian arms dealer. She wants to invest billions in WMDs when there are children and pensioners who can't afford food and heating. She wants to bomb Syria then refuse asylum even to unaccompanied minors. It beggars belief. God knows my house is full but I'd have them here under my roof if it could help them - they're simply people who, unlike me, have not won the postcode lottery of birth. The bottom line is that everything I believe in is diametrically opposed to what the current government is pushing and now she's called an election to increase(!) her number of seats as the people of England seem to think she's by far the best thing on offer. Look at that list. This is the best thing on offer!?

I am actually incapable of understanding how anyone could think like that. When you remove free health care, you are saying that there are circumstances when it is ok to refuse someone treatment on the grounds of their income. It becomes acceptable to say 'You don't have enough money so we are willing to let your child die of a curable illness.'  I cannot comprehend that. When you remove people's rights to claim tax credits for a third child, you are saying it is fine to have number three starve if you lose your job. They claim it is to deter poorer people having a third child but when I think back to my own situation, my household was earning over £100K (and had paid many, many years of tax) when we decided to have number three. Under those circumstances, a third child is a valid and fairly uncontroversial option. I was not to know that a year later I'd be separated from the father with an income cut of 80%. I would love to know where it is the Tories think you can take the kid back to when hard times hit? Their world is very simple, but the real world isn't as black and white. My list of questions is endless. I would like to ask why as the mother I can't claim tax benefits for my number three but my ex-husband can start a new family and claim for two more new kids? I'm allowed two but my ex-husband is allowed four - hmmm. I would like to ask why my second husband, who had no kids, can't claim anything for his first two kids because he is forced to take on the financial responsibility left behind by the father of my first two? Realistically the very bottom line is that no one should ever have a third child even on over £100K because these days circumstances can change. Someone can be made redundant, fall ill or die crossing the road - oh yeah I forgot she's cut widow(er)'s allowance too. This is the best option, really? I feel sick and disgusted.

I feel an ever-growing desire to run as far away from the UK as my legs will carry me and never ever return.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Teeth and toes: a question for the musicians

I am not very musical. I mean, I enjoy singing along to the kitchen ipod while I am doing the dishes as much as the next man, but my ability to read music and play an instrument is almost nil. I don't even have the excuse kids have today that they didn't learn anything; music reading and recorder playing were compulsory in my day from the age of 7 to the age of 13, so I had ample opportunity to learn to read music, I was just crap at it. Given a whole day I could sit with a piece of sheet music, reciting Every Good Boy Deserves Favour over and over and writing it down, or even count the spaces as FACE but as for reading it at the speed you were meant to - no chance and the difference between wee coloured-in notes and wee blank ones, not a scooby...

So it never ceases to amaze me that Léon has managed to learn to play the violin. For a while, I figured he was ok, because his teacher was ok, but over the last year I've noticed he seems to actually know more than he's meant to. He decided to play with a couple of girls from his class (who have been attending the same music lessons). One day he mentioned that while they could only play with sheet music, he could memorize tunes after playing them just twice so didn't need to bother taking his music with him. I was well-impressed. I did, after all, take five years to learn Silent Night on the recorder (and can only play the chorus). I then found out that while the others bought music they wanted to play, Léon simply asks you to sing him a tune and then he can play it back to you. Recently because the school didn't have the sheet music for Lion King, he was asked to write it out for them, as he had taught himself to play it from listening to the movie. Then the others in the school could join in too. He was extremely proud when the head singled him out for special praise for having written the score for the show. I know this simply sounds like a bragging post, but you know me, I don't do bragging...

So there I was sitting yesterday in the living room, when he confided in me. 'Mum, do you know how I can write the music for the shows when the others can't?' Of course I didn't! So he went on to explain. 'I practise the music all the time when I don't have my violin here' Well that blew my mind to start with! How can you practise a song till you get the notes right, without the instrument you are playing the notes on? He grinned and pointed to his teeth. (Curiouser and curiouser). 'See my two big front teeth? I imagine them to be the first two strings, then I skip a tooth because of the spacing on the violin and use the next two.' Use the next two? What the hell does that mean? 'I play my top teeth by touching them with my bottom ones. Because I know what the notes sound like I listen to them in my head till I get it right and then I can play a tune straight off, no errors'. WTAF??? I must have looked dubious because he continued 'When I don't have my socks on, I can play the carpet with my toes too! And when I am sitting at a table, I can strum the table with my fingers. Because I am right-handed, I do it with my right hand, so that means I could play the tune on my violin with either hand, although I'm meant to use the left one!' Well blow me away! He hears the notes in his head when plucking invisible strings on his teeth and toes!!! I am gobsmacked. So here's my question to the more musical amongst you (ie the professional musicians on Thomas's side of the family!): Is my kid a weirdo, or do all musical people play silent musical notes on their teeth or toes till they get it right? In other words - is he normal or should I be saving up for a therapist/strait-jacket already?!

Unfathomable nicknames

I had a vague memory from my childhood about a chat I had either with my mum or my dad about nicknames. They told me they had ruled out the name Andrew for any male child as they disliked the name Drew, although they didn't mind Andy. With that in mind, I wasn't 100% sure about calling Charlotte Charlotte when she was born. I liked Charlotte, and didn't mind any of the Lottie diminutives but my downstairs neighbour at the time (a bloke named Charles (Charlie to his mates)) had a young daughter who was about four years old, named Charlotte (Charlie to her mates), and I wasn't too fond of that sort of androgynous name, so it worried me our Charlotte could end up a Charlie too. Incidentally, Marcel used to refer to the neighbours as 'that pair of Charlies downstairs', which made me smile, given he was only two!

We eventually plumped for Charlotte, figuring we could steer the direction and hoping the Charlie downstairs would make it less likely we'd end up with two in the one close. Also, given we spoke French at home back then, the Lotte syllable was the most prominent in the pronunciation of her name. At first she was only Charlotte, then once she started crawling and wrecking Marcel's lego, she became 'Naughty Lottie' and eventually dad shortened that to 'Lots'.

Today, at home, in the family, she's Lots, and to her schoolfriends she's still only Charlotte. I have the odd friend from her toddler days who still refers to her as Lottie, but that's about it, or was about it, until the unforeseen happened.

Léon started calling Charlotte Chim! Chim? Chim? CHIM? Where the hell did that come from? It must have started three or four years ago. After hearing 'Chim will you....?' for the tenth time one afternoon, I shouted at him 'Where the hell did Chim come from?' His deadpan reply 'It's short for Chimmy Chamallow Lot'. Well, now I know! On further pressing, he explained Charlotte had bought  him a bag a marshmallows in Primark, that were named Chamallows, so he expanded that first to Chamallow Lots, then to Chimmy Chamallow Lots, then immediately reduced it because it was too big a mouthful, but somehow he ended up reducing it to part of the name that wasn't part of the marshmallow's name or Charlotte's own name. Confused? Me too!

When I had Charlotte, did it ever cross my mind her brother would shorted it to Chim? Nope (funnily enough)! No amount of forethought would have avoided that one, so I guess Charlotte will be Lots to five of us, and forever Chim to Léon.

When I had Amaia, there seemed, of course, only to be one obvious short form: Maia, and for the first couple of years that was how it went. She was called Amaia, or Maia by both friends and family.

How simple. How predictable... Spoke too soon.

At dinner one night maybe two or three years ago, I thought I heard Marcel mumble 'Mike, can you pass me the salt?' While still looking round the table for the visitor I had obviously not spotted in the large crowd that is my family, Amaia, without a second glance, picked up the salt and passed him it. I must have misheard... A few weeks later, I overheard Léon shout something upstairs that sounded remarkably like 'Do you want any noodles, Mike?' and again Amaia replied. This was getting weird. How do you get Mike from Amaia? Am I just thick, or what? So I asked. Yet again, the explanation was contrived - 'Well', Léon told me, 'when Amaia was wee, Marcel used to call her Maia. Sometimes he'd use silly voices to make her laugh so occasionally, he'd call her Mai-ers, which sounds like Myers, so he lengthened it to Mike Myers, and then shortened it to Mike, so we both call her Mike as well as Amaia!' 

OMG! Are there not already enough names to learn in this bloody family without renaming people after bags of marshmallows and famous actors? At least the Amaia one, I kind of understand, I still have no clue where the Chim came from, but quite frankly, I'm scared to ask for a deeper explanation as I'm sure it'll blow my mind completely.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


Various members of my family have down with a new ailment over the past two or three weeks - speckyitis. Sigh.

Given I've been wearing specs for reading since my early 40s and Thomas and Amaia have now joined the full-time wearers brigade, that only leaves Charlotte, Marcel and the hamster to go before we can apply for a whole pack of guide dogs!

Friday, April 07, 2017

Modern kiddie pastimes

With the immaculate timing of freelance, the two weeks of full-time work I'd been expecting last December turned up the first day my kids were off school for two weeks and one day for Easter... have I mentioned how much I love my job recently? So I have been trying to work 8-30->1 every morning and then 8-30 in the evening till around midnight, so they aren't completely left to their own devices.

On Wednesday, I asked them to find something to do while I was busy, and stupidly thought they'd read a book or watch a movie - how very last century of me. After two days of silence and camaraderie (I should have known they were up to something!) Léon presented me this morning with this! I presume that is what they 'found to do'!

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Oh no, not again :-(

It was not without some measure of relief, that I blogged back in 2013 that Amaia had passed her nursery eye test. 

At the time I had two small children with glasses. When Léon was fitted with his first glasses at four, I felt completely crushed when he walked out the shop onto Byres road and proclaimed 'Wow, is this what the world looks like!?' I felt so guilty that I hadn't realized he couldn't see. I felt, as his mum, I should have known something was wrong, but I had two perfectly sighted kids and Léon had shown no signs of his struggles, writing and drawing like his siblings before him. But a mum is supposed to be superwoman, right?

Not wanting to make the same mistake a second time, I begged the hospital on my visits with Léon and my GP at the time but was told that they wouldn't check Anna till her nursery screening, two weeks before her fourth birthday. When she was also found to have a different visual problem. Whereas Léon is very long sighted (+5.50 when he was four, down to +4.75 now) Anna's vision isn't bad (+1.25) but she's got fairly bad astigmatism making glasses an all-life thing for her too.

So when Amaia came along, I held my breath and was beyond relieved when she passed with flying colours. I was thrilled she wouldn't be plagued with optician visits, overjoyed that my baby could see the world around her, no longer stressed about having to have glasses fixed at short notice when a lense fell out in the playground or a leg got snapped off at softplay and also, I admit, happy, as a keen photographer, that her beautiful caramel eyes wouldn't be hidden behind some horribly reflective piece of glass that invariably ruins 30% of my photos.

A couple of weeks ago I realized that neither Charlotte, nor Amaia had had their eyes retested recently, so with no worries or issues, I booked Amaia a routine test (Lots claims she's too busy till after her Highers in May). I got Anna's usual optician in Barrhead. He made her read from the charts, then said he was concerned about her answers not being within the normal range. He went on to dilate her pupils and test her without having her read, then turned and told me he'd no idea how she'd managed to fluke a pass at nursery because she was definitely long-sighted, around +3.00. Nooooooo!

Amaia is completely unfazed and almost thrilled to get glasses like her siblings. I am not so thrilled. I feel annoyed that she somehow managed to hoodwink them at the previous test - had she come back with a fail or an ambiguous test at nursery, I would have taken her often to double check but she passed with flying colours and they told me at the time they had no concerns about her. I think I was too happy to accept the diagnosis I wanted to hear, and therefore failed her somehow. It upsets me to think she's not been seeing well at school and hasn't realized herself. And I swear if she comes out with a statement like Léon next Wednesday, when she gets her glasses, I might just cry. 

But for now we have to look on the positive side. They've found the problem and hopefully it is going to be sorted.

Friday, March 31, 2017

They certainly know how to make you laugh!

Anna and Amaia love to watch the programme Operation Ouch. It's an educational children's programme to teach the kids medicine, anatomy etc.

Yesterday I walked past the TV room and noticed Amaia was watching it while I was cooking, I stuck my head in and noticed the two doctors were discussing voices breaking, and after a few moments it became clear that particular episode was a puberty special. Given Léon is well into puberty and Anna is also showing several of the most obvious early signs, I thought it was a good opportunity to watch it with them so they could ask me anything they wanted. Obviously, Amaia was a bit too wee to get it but I figured it'd help her understand what was happening with the other two, at the very least. They analysed sweat, discussed acne, growth spurts, levels of grease in your skin, melatonin levels in teenagers, voices breaking, where all you get hair, as well as the more obvious. The girls watched interested in it all and asked a few questions about the differences between boys and girls etc.

Fast forward twenty four hours... I burst into the loo, to find Amaia sitting on it. While waiting for her to finish, I catch sight of myself in the mirror and I look a bit like a drowned rat (having been caught in several downpours today).
"Oh, I need to wash my hair, it's so greasy!" I say out loud, though not really to anyone other than myself.
Excitedly, Amaia points at me, and explains, trying hard to get everything exactly right "Greasy hair? Oh mummy, I know what it is! You are probably going through pube...puber...PUBERTY!"


Awwwh, cute!

Cutest conversations overheard: 
Charlotte: What's the capital of Scotland, Amaia?
Amaia: What's a capital?
Charlotte: It's like a big town that's sort of in charge.

Amaia: Glasgow?
Charotte: No, somewhere a wee bit smaller...
Amaia: Giffnock?!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The joys of having bilingual kids

I had a cute little conversation with my youngest today...

Amaia: Mummy, I've got a brilliant joke!
Me: Ok
Amaia: It's in Danish so I'll translate it for you just to make sure you get it all!
(My Danish is significantly better than hers to be honest but she has that native confidence that eludes me!)
Me: Ok, what is it?
Amaia (slapping her thigh and laughing): What kind of clothes can't you wear?
Me (Yes the answer is very obvious even to me): I don't know, Amaia, what kind of clothes can't you wear?
Amaia: Toys and Jam - hahahahaha!

(It loses a bit in the translation, don't you agree, Danish friends?!)


My boy, my flag, my parliament

You don't get to vote away my family's right to exist without a fight. I have nothing more to say today.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

PR - permanent residence

In the aftermath of June's vote, Thomas and I joined both an EU citizen forum and a legal advice page for people with EU passports. Of the 3.2 million EU citizens in the UK, it feels to me as if the vast majority have decided to scramble to obtain PR, despite the 85 page form, the ridiculous amount of paperwork requested (five years + of all P60s, salary slips, bank statements, housing proof, receipts for every trip abroad since you arrived in the UK, proof of private sickness cover, extras if you happen to be self-employed etc, etc) - the list seems endless and I have seen many people clocking up up to £60 in postage to forward this to the Home Office. It also costs money to apply and gathering together the necessary paperwork seemingly takes months. However, I felt almost from day one that this was not a route that attracted me. The reasons for that are many:

  • I'm bloody-minded and don't see why we should jump through hoops after nearly two decades legal residence.
  • I can see that many people will fall at completely arbitrary hurdles such as an ex-employer being unable or unwilling to re-issue payslips, or people not having the CSI that no one knew about in the first place, so it is unfair.
  • It only gives you the right to remain if you don't leave the country for more than six months, otherwise it is rescinded - six months is a completely reasonable amount of time to leave the country, especially if you work internationally or have relatives abroad.
  • It is governed by EU law so potentially worthless from Brexit day on.

I could see only one reason to obtain it and that was so Thomas could apply for dual nationality - the only way he could retain his right to come and go as he pleased. Dual nationality costs over £1200 but would allow us both to leave with the ability to return one day, if we so desired. If we leave tomorrow, six months from now Thomas will have lost all rights to PR (and therefore citizenship) despite being here since he was 30 and having UK national children.

But as time has gone by I have become much more conscious of the reason why, unlike most EU citizens' partners, I am not pushing for him to apply to be allowed to stay... I can see that it is in human nature to fight tooth and nail to keep the rights you already have, so life can go on as usual, uninterrupted. You want your status quo, but that's gone now. Subconsciously at first and now consciously I am very aware that even with PR, life is about to change dramatically. From tomorrow onwards, unless someone knocks some sense into May, or overthrows her, we will be moving towards being an isolated state on the periphery of Europe, attached to no trading blocks, with no EU funding and no joint projects in our universities. We will haemorrhage skilled EU doctors, lecturers and the likes. We'll lose the right to move, work and love elsewhere. Our already struggling economy will hit rock bottom while she struggles for a decade to even match the trading capacity we have already. The desperate people who voted for Brexit because they wanted their lives to improve will become an angry mob, when exactly the opposite happens. It was after all the poorest places, and those most dependent on EU trade that were hoodwinked into voting for Brexit - 67% of Welsh trade is with the EU in the parts of Wales that voted out! If Scotland cannot escape and remain at least within the single market, it will be hit with an even greater force than the south of the UK. England's NHS will need to be privatised so there will be no block grant to Scotland for ours. Despite the Scottish government pulling in the other direction, no funding will mean no choice and we too will lose our NHS, our free higher education and worse still, our Scottish government will ironically be blamed for our economic woes. As Sturgeon has been saying for months, this is about what kind of country we see ourselves living in going forward - an open, cooperative, internationalist one with a welfare state to care for our sick and elderly, or a closed, xenophobic, low tax, no welfare state economy. The country May describes in her Empire 2.0 fantasies is of no interest to me as a home. If Scotland's dragged along chained to that vision, Scotland is not a place where Thomas will need PR, because it is not a place where I will want to bring my kids up. I don't need Thomas to have PR because if we become a country where he needs it to remain, I am the one who will need to look at changing nationality.

It is a strange sensation to watch everything you have built in your adult life being taken away, without your having a say or any ability to change it. Some days I am angry, other days I am crushed to the point where I can hardly get out of bed, some days I relish the challenge of restarting again at 50 but today I simply feel strangely calm.

My children will be brought up in the EU, one way or another.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Colorized ketchup

I've had this on the wall in my hall since I took it back when Charlotte was 8.

Amaia has always wanted her own 'ketchup' photo so when biiiiig ketchup was on special in Makro last week, I took the opportunity to snap her. Hopefully she'll be pleased when she sees it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

West Linton

When I was Léon's age we went on our residential trip to West Linton and stayed in long wooden huts. I assumed the site had long since fallen into ruin - it has been 38 years after all but I googled it yesterday and found out, not only is it still an outdoor centre, albeit with a different name, it still looks exactly the same! I think I'll take a run over there some weekend with the kids to see what, if anything, I can remember!

Digital dependence

When I had my first child in the summer of 1997, I didn't own a mobile phone. I went back to work full-time after the 29 weeks you were allowed back then and unless I was at my office desk, there was no way for nursery to contact me. When I had Lots in January 2000, I went back again when she was 29 weeks. Having two kids to pick up and having a fairly old car, I decided to invest in a Motorola Timeport L7089 in case the car ever broke down. I actually left the phone in the glove compartment of the car at all times as it was my 'break-down emergency phone'! So again the nursery could have burned down while I was in a meeting and I wouldn't have found out till I turned up at six! There were no smart phones, there was no Whataspp, nothing.

Back in 2009, when Marcel's p7 class went for their residential week to Castle Toward, we waved them off and five days later went back for them. They were tired, dirty, exhilarated and full of news. We had no idea they'd arrived safely and no idea they'd survived the rafting - other, of course, than the lack of bulletin on the six o'clock news. When they went on school day trips, we heard nothing and saw no photos. In the summer before Marcel's last year at school, he disappeared off to India for 17 days. They flew through Dubai to New Delhi then took a twelve hour bus trip to the jungle at the foot of the Himalayas (where tigers roam freely!) I have to admit I didn't sleep as well as usual those 2.5 weeks but it did prepare me a little further for him moving out, living in another city and me going sometimes four or five days without hearing a word from him. Kids don't really use Facebook so I can't sit looking for activity there - I don't think he posts more than a status every couple of years. The main thing is slowly from day trips, to weekend trips, to week trips to months away, I was weaned off my natural helicoptering instinct.

It's easier with subsequent children. You have been through that trip before so worry a little less with each passing child. But I think schools are going in the wrong direction. Now with social media, I see parents struggling to get through a day trip to the Science Centre without confirmation of arrival and a few happy photos. Scout camp photos are sent to us on arrival. Just yesterday the school felt it necessary to email us they had arrived safely and again this morning to say they had slept well and were happy. Yes, it feels great to know that, but it doesn't prepare us for reality. The reality that one day very soon you'll drop your kid at student halls in some far away city, then drive home to no update on whether they found their way to campus, or whether they ate last night, maybe they got drunk and staggered home in the dark streets of a town they don't yet know, maybe they fell asleep on a couch belonging to a friend of a friend - you will have no idea. It's 4 am and you are lying awake - are they in bed or out clubbing? I don't think we're doing ourselves any favours by hovering above them longer because those emails aren't for the kids' benefit, they are for ours and if we can't let go, they can't grow.

It's getting through that first day when your seven year old is in Glasgow that one day helps you get through that year your kid is in Edinburgh ten years later. It would be good if we could try to forego the fixes, however lovely and reassuring they are, for our own sakes more than theirs. I guess the alternative (which I actually know some parents use) is to install tracking software on your child's phone but honestly there are some things I really don't need to know about my kids. If they want to spend a night with a girlfriend or boyfriend, do I really want to be tracking them? I had a friend who once took out his iphone and announced to me, pointing: look, my wife is currently getting petrol in the Ayr road and my son is in town at the cinema. Life's too short to spend staring at dots moving about on a map. If we parent well enough, we give them the skills to get on and then we can trust them to make the right decisions, tracker off!

(I do still reserve the right, however, not to sleep a wink while Charlotte is in Nicaragua for most of this June! They are making her climb a live volcano - aaaaaaaaaaargh!)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Brexit lecture - Glasgow university

So she is going to trigger Armageddon next Wednesday. I feel physically sick. Of course, this limbo isn't any better... Part of me wants the shit to start hitting the fan as hard as possible before it's too late for them to come to their senses, or so as to precipitate a collapse of that particular government. I know polls say the Tories would win again but some slightly more centrist Tories could at least be less mad than the current mob.

In retrospect, I was not as upset as I should have been on June 24. I was hurt and devastated of course because I wanted Remain to win but I wasn't suicidally depressed  because I thought that the only sensible option for the government, who after all had campaigned for Remain, was to opt for some sort of Norwegian solution retaining the single market and not curtailing my right to move around but losing their right to vote and veto. As a true European, the thought of an EU without England (and I'll call it that because I don't think it ever was the UK as a whole) vetoing everything like petulant kids felt almost attractive. I've always seen myself as European, then Scottish and not really British at all. It's only normal when you've spent the last 32 years living with an EU citizen and going home for holidays, never really setting foot south of the border. Europe is much more my home. Every time England threw a spoke in the wheel I thought in terms of what they were doing to us. I was on the EU side not the UK side, so a quiet, subdued UK appealed a tiny bit, at least long enough for them to come to their senses and resume full EU membership, a little humbled. Little did I know, a completely insane path would suddenly be followed forcing me to give serious consideration to changing my entire future.

Thomas and I attended this on Friday: It was very interesting. David McAllister (despite the misleading name) is a German (CDU) MEP (of Scottish descent, of course). He gave us an insight into what the EU and in particular Germany are expecting after next Wednesday. He was infinitely more prepared than our government (he even had two A4 ringbinders of notes with him!!!), and had looked into things in much greater detail. There was sadly, however, a naivety that the EU would be dealing with a sane group of MPs who would put the interests of their country at the heart of the upcoming negotiations and that worried me.

He underlined, for instance, that no one in their right mind would prioritize no deal over a bad deal because frankly, in the EU's eyes what we have at the moment is the best possible deal, anything on the table will be inferior but crashing out after 18 months on no deal would be way beyond the catastrophic implications of any bad deal that could be on offer. He was frank and told us that the 18 months (not two years as we keep being told) that our government will have to negotiate both our leaving terms and the setting up of a new deal fell so far short of the time needed for even negotiating the leaving (even with people who actually have a well constructed plan, set of goals and realistic ambitions), that there is a ZERO per cent chance of a new deal being in place by October 2018. All negotiating needs to finish then if everything is to be ratified before the 2019 EU elections. Their Canadian deal (which is much smaller in scope than what the UK is aiming for) took eight years, and nothing had to be disentangled before the new negotiations began. He said, realistically. we should be looking at negotiating a holding status within the single market for two, three or even more years, continuing to pay into the EU budget at a reduced rate but remaining inside the single market and the customs union if we do not want our economy to drop off a cliff and set us back twenty years. That seems infinitely sensible to me, and Thomas had proposed that back as early as last July (he has a lot of EU experience from his Danish political days so actually understands how it all works, having been down to Brussels on several occasions). I've always considered it better to base your knowledge of a subject on something other than the gutterpress's interpretation of it. But terrifyingly, I suspect that the people negotiating our kids' future will not be prepared to accept this sensible suggestion and instead will simply allow us to crash within the next two years.

There was a deep sadness at the fact that the EU had allowed the UK so many vetoes and opt-outs like a harassed parent trying to keep their child onside, only to have them believe the twisted truth of the tabloids and rebel anyway. He could not conceive of the UK not changing its mind and trying to get back in within a generation - especially given youth polling is up at 70% pro-EU. He feels desperately sorry for the kids here losing their open futures and potentially no longer being allowed to use the wonderful Erasmus scheme while watching their economy destroyed.

Ireland was an interesting topic. The EU will, of course, negotiate for Ireland. There will be no question of bilateral Irish/UK talks re the border as Ireland are part of the EU-27. He can see that we do not want to return to the pre-Good-Friday agreement days of a hard border. But given countries like Germany are entirely surrounded by Schengen members so have no control over their immediate land border, the EU must have hard borders to non-EU countries. In McAllister's eyes, he could see no solution other than to offer some sort of inside EU pseudo-status to Northern Ireland with a hard border between the island that is both Irelands and the island that contains Scotland, England and Wales. Call me a sceptic, but I suspect Theresa will veto this before they get to the end of the sentence suggesting it. I suspect peace in Ireland is lower down her list than a hard border to Britain (though if the EU pulls it off, I'll be first to look into moving to Belfast!)

He tried to remain on the fence re Scottish Independence, though emphasized greatly how warmly we have been thought of since last June. The 62% Remain in Scotland, he said, was higher than he would have expected in even some of the core EU states and between the lines he came across as in favour of us at least considering whether we wouldn't be better off inside the EU. We would finally have our own say on our future, sitting represented by our own people rather than distant Southern English ones who have little understanding of our fisheries and oil. The alternative would be to sit on the periphery, being exploited and ignored as England desperately tried to prop up its new status. He underlined how impressed the EU had been by Nicola Sturgeon, calling her the only visible UK politician after June 23. He ridiculed Boris and Gove's disappearing act while Nicola rushed to the EU to hold talks. He strongly criticized the tabloids for being affronted at Juncker's agreeing to meet with her, pointing out that no tabloids had blinked an eye when he, as former First Minister of Niedersachsen (one of the German regions), had often met with Juncker's predecessor Barosso when they were both in office. He told us to beware of double standards... He wished us luck with the decisions we have ahead while stating that although it is hard for a new country to join the EU, that is not the case for a country that is already a member - read into that what you will - personally, I can only see one country that might want to join that is already inside.

I also got the impression that everyone attending the lecture was Remain, if not also pro-Indy Remain as people shifted nervously and uncomfortably every time he expressed a regret that we had chosen that path but the EU would sadly respect it. It felt tangibly as if we might at any moment all scream in unison - we didn't - save us please - that is not who we are! I don't know if he's been to England and therefore had different experiences - it really is different up here. On a daily basis in the EU support groups on Facebook, EU citizens, full of anxiety, talk about the pressures of carrying on their lives where everyone is a Leave voter, confronting them in a hostile and racist tone. They feel scared to speak in public in case their accents set off a torrent of abuse. That never happens when Thomas speaks. We are eight months on and I have still never met an out Leave voter. There may be the odd closet one kicking about, I guess.

At the end there was a question section and Thomas asked the obvious 'If I lose my right to stay here at the same time as my wife loses her right to leave for the EU-27 with me, what does the EU foresee happening?' He said he saw no circumstances under which the spouses, partners or children of EU citizens living in the UK would not be granted leave to follow their partner to another EU member state. The right to family life could not be compromised in that way. I found it hard not to cry at this to be honest. Much as I don't want to leave as two of my kids will be at the uni stage when Brexit happens, I am prepared to do so if the government proceeds down the unforgiving path it has set out. I cannot bring up European kids in a closed-off, xenophobic, backward and inward looking country with a collapsing economy, if the option is on the table to leave for somewhere more open and tolerant. I owe it to my kids to take them somewhere with an economic future and if we can't create that here, I will have to make the hardest decision of my life. Had this happened five years ago, we could simply have moved as a family unit, doing it next year or two years from now will be gut wrenching but there will be no place for my family in Hard-Brexit Britain. I will simply have to hope the ones at uni come to join us as soon as they possibly can.

Ninety have fun in Lochgoilhead

Well we get to school at 8-45. The p7s aren't to go in till 9-10 so their luggage doesn't trip anyone up. At 9-07 we get out the car - Léon sticks on his rucksack...

'Where's your ski jacket?' I inquire, nonchalantly. 
'Oops! I've forgotten it. Never mind, I'm sure it'll be fine!
'Emmm - no it won't - Up north in March for a week without a jacket? Are you barking mad?'

I drive him back home, get jacket, get back to school for 9-20 at which point it is so torrential we can't get out the car! Fine? Huh!

And so he's gone off to grow a little (probably both physically and psychologically, if the rest of this year is anything to go by) and make memories to last a lifetime.

I love the idea of school trips. I don't remember much of primary school at all, not even all that much of p7 but I vividly remember a week spent in this draughty wooden hut in West Linton in the snow and freezing drizzle. I remember my dorm and dorm mates, what we got up to and where we went and yet it was 38 springs ago. I hope 38 years from now, Léon will be seeing his own child off on a trip like this, fondly remembering today in the same way as this little girl is remembering hers today.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Light relief

Prestwick trip

I've just had a rather surreal conversation with my youngest after turning her bedroom light out - you know the classic, age-old delaying tactic when you try to leave them to go to sleep!

Amaia: You know, mummy, we've been learning a lot at school about tinned peaches.
Me: Really? Why is that?
Amaia: Well, we're doing space as our topic at the moment. In fact, on our school trip last week to the Science Centre lots of the boys really talked about nothing else!
Me: And what exactly does that have to do with space?
Amaia: Everything!
Me (science must have changed since my day - I remember a dog being sent to space in the 60s - but I guess maybe they sent up tinned fruit to study its properties in a gravity-free zone or something...): Well, that's very interesting darling but I need you to go to bed now, you can tell me more about the fruit tomorrow.
Amaia: What fruit?
Me: The tinned peaches.
Amaia (gasping for air through hysterical laughter): I didn't say tinned peaches, I said Tim Peake!


Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Bear with me

Just a little irritation - a bugbear, if you will...

It seems to me that you are getting two types of media coverage in this country at the moment. The first is the ring-wing fascist tabloid type with their daily dose of 'Let's go back to the days of the Empire and chuck out all those nasty little Johnny Foreigners - cockroaches the lot of them' and then you get the sympathetic Guardian type with their 'They came here in good faith to make a better life for themselves and their families and have earned the right to stay'. Much as I, of course, prefer the latter, it too is very often misleading...

There are many reasons why people came here fifteen or twenty years ago - they were adventurous, they liked the countryside, they'd learnt English and wanted to get even better at it, Scotland looked like a better bet for a hill walking enthusiast than say Holland! More often than not, they simply fell in love during a gap year or study break and by definition one of the two then needs to move country but quite frankly your French doctor, your German university lecturer, your Dutch dentist, your Danish IT and linguistics consultant did not come here for a 'better life' - in fact many of them chose to sacrifice a better future, a better pension, a warmer climate, a higher salary or whatever to be with their soulmate, and they aren't battling for their rights so they aren't sent home to some squalid existence! They came here not as immigrants but as Europeans exercising their right to work freely across the EU. This is a photo of Thomas standing on the steps of the house where he grew up in Denmark. Is his Newton Mearns 60s-build really a 'better life'? Seriously?

The manse

What they are really upset about is the moving of the goalposts. When Thomas moved here it was with the knowledge that if one day his parents were sick or elderly he could take them in, if that looked like the best bet. But now that right has been cancelled. He moved here knowing that should a relative be diagnosed with cancer, he was fully at liberty to take a sabbatical and care for them - now there's a time-limit on that - if he stays away for six months, he automatically loses his right to return to the country where his children hold citizenship and are being educated. He moved knowing he was able to take jobs where he was sent abroad to lecture or similar - again that is now a no no. He can't even try out a new job abroad with a six month trial period with a view to moving away without losing his right to return. He married a UK citizen also knowing that I could follow him, should we decide to move abroad either for work or retirement. I am about to have my freedom of movement forcibly removed. He chose to move within the EU and not outwith it because of freedom of movement. Even if he is granted the right to stay, he loses the rights above and quite frankly, had the UK been outside the EU in 2001, he would not even have applied for a job here. What people like us want isn't the right to remain - it is the right to keep the rights that were in place when we decided that this was a viable place to have a family, buy a house and settle down. Nothing more, nothing less.

Monday, March 06, 2017

A sweet (if gullible) boy

Glasgow Botanics

Sometimes something unexpected inadvertently gives you insight into your parenting successes...

Charlotte is going to Nicaragua this summer on a World Challenge expedition. This is the same as Marcel did back in 2014, though for his trip, India was the chosen destination. Because it takes eighteen months for the kids to pay their way, they pay the trip in instalments. To make things easier I've always set up a direct debit from my own account and they pay me back each month when they have the right money.

Last week I paid £200 towards her trip. Léon's primary 7 residential trip is in two weeks so needs the outstanding (approx) £200 paid off this week. Charlotte was sitting on her computer trying to work out how to transfer £200 to my account when I had a brainwave: I could simply use her debit card to pay Léon's trip online and then we'd be quits! So she went upstairs and fetched her debit card just as Léon wandered into the living room. In she came and tossed her card to me. Léon asked what we were up to and before I could say a word Charlotte decided to have some fun.

Charlotte: I was just up getting my debit card to pay for your trip to Lochgoilhead.
Léon (somewhat surprised!): you're paying my trip????
Charlotte (completely straight-faced): Well, you didn't think mum was paying it did you? There are five of us for goodness sake, that would be over a thousand pounds!!!
Léon: True - I hadn't really thought about it before...
Charlotte: Mum paid for Marcel, then Marcel got a paper round so he could pay for mine and now I've been doing odd jobs and babysitting to pay for yours! 
Léon (wide-eyed): Awwwwh Chim! (his rather strange and incomprehensible nickname for Charlotte).
Charlotte: I'm actually getting a bargain cos you are going to Lochgoilhead and it costs about £40 less than when I went because we went to Castle Toward. Anyway - what are you going to do so you can pay for Anna's trip in two years?
Léon: Emmmm - I don't know... I will only be 13, maybe I could get a paper round or do gardening or something. Don't worry, I'll think of something. I wouldn't want to let Anna down!
Charlotte: So you're ok with paying Anna's?
Léon: Of course. If that's how we do things, I'll make sure I make enough.
Charlotte: You do realize I'm winding you, you doughball?!?!?!

Wee man - he has a good heart!

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Indyref2 - why?

If someone tries the old 'You've had your referendum' comment on you, I suggest this link might help you shoot it down.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Happy Anniversary to us!

Since I am being a right ranty besom up on my political soapbox most of the time at the moment, I thought I'd share a cute wee video before you all give up on me for good!

You can view the whole of my wedding, eight years ago today (Is it really only eight? It feels like much longer ago - maybe because we lived together so long before marrying, maybe because the kids all look so tiny in it, maybe because of the painful absence of both my beautiful dad and my dear friend Sheina who both look so alive and vibrant in this video, just three years before we lost them both, way too young...) but I thought instead I'd leave you with me making my vows to my best friend - not only because vows are important but because as you can see I was totally eclipsed by the cuteness of little three year old Léon! Never work with children or animals!

How Brexit is buggering up lives - episode #1

I thought, given I'm a member of quite a few EU national support/information groups, it might be interesting to those of you who aren't to see some concrete examples of how Brexit is causing utter and unexpected chaos in the lives of normal people. As I assume I will feel like sharing more than one example of this, I've numbered the above blog post as #1.

So today I am reading through my Facebook feed over coffee, easing myself into the morning as usual when I come across the following scenario. I will anonymize these as knowing the individuals involved is superfluous.

Today's lucky couple are an English man and his French wife in their late 60s. They met and married over 30 years ago. They lived in the UK from the age of 35 - 60 where they raised a family, him working full-time, her part-time to look after their kids. When they retired early, they moved to a little house in France where they have now been living for ten years on his small pension of £10K a year. Since Brexit, the pound has devalued to a point where they can no longer live on his pension in France because they have no money left after paying their mortgage, heating, taxes etc so they feel forced to sell up their dream retirement home and return to the UK because of the exchange rate. They had no intention of returning here so have no property here.

Now here's the shocker (as if the first part wasn't enough). On their return, the 25 years she spent in the UK doesn't count towards obtaining Permanent Residence (it's the same as in this case) as she left again for over six months resetting her 'life in the UK' clock to zero. Of course, given she did this in 2007, she wasn't to know that this would count against her. Once EU immigrants are treated as rest-of-the-world ones are now, her husband will need to reach a specific earning threshold to sponsor a spouse. At the moment that figure is £18600. Given her husband is now retired on just over half that, he doesn't earn enough to bring her in, so although she can perhaps come till Brexit happens, she won't have clocked up the five years necessary for obtaining Permanent Residency by 2019. Having UK citizen kids, grandchildren and an English husband don't count either (as we saw yesterday) so she'll not be allowed to return here permanently with her husband. So already their retirement is completely buggered by losing their home in France but now she realizes that when he returns, she potentially cannot, and, of course, she has no French pension, nowhere to live and her family is in England.

Until the government realizes that the time spent before the break, when people could not foresee this great a change, counts, lives will continue to be devastated. Is this how we really want to be treating married couples nearing their 70s?

Monday, February 27, 2017

You'll be ok, you're married to a UK citizen... (except you won't!)

This morning's Guardian story about a woman being deported to Singapore has left me incensed! I am looking at it, of course, in the context of Brexit. After Brexit, EU citizens revert to being normal immigrants, as far as I can tell, so as you can see from this it makes not one jot of difference if you are married to a UK citizen, nor if you are the mother or grandmother of UK citizens. Only two things matter - that your partner earns over £18600 and that after being granted permanent leave to remain in the UK (after five years meeting criteria one) you don't leave the UK for more than a six month stretch. Of course a majority of these EU citizens would never have chosen to settle here in the first place, had they known their rights could simply be removed decades down the line.

Anyone who moved here before the Tories came to power in 2010 will have had no notion that their status could change, so they moved here with the certainty that if their elderly parent should become ill, they could ask them to move in, or they could take leave of absence to go back to their place of origin to care for them. The main reason this woman seems to have lost her right to remain was because her elderly parents didn't die conveniently within the six month slot allotted to them by the Home Office. Had I been living in Denmark when my dad was diagnosed terminally ill, I would of course have liked to have come home to see him and care for him if necessary. But given he dared to take twenty months to die after being given a three month prognosis, had Denmark been using these rules, I could have been deported as an illegal immigrant.

Thomas moved here in 2002. It never occurred to him that if one day his parents needed him to fly over and care for them, he'd be obliged to leave them to die alone simply to adhere to insensitive immigration rules. That woman had been here 30 years - let that sink in, 30 years and the reason her partner is no longer earning the allotted amount is age and ill health. No one will want to come to the UK if they know that thirty years down the line, their partner losing their job or their parents falling ill can have you thrown out without a second glance. Yes, it will solve the immigrant problem that the Tories perceive exists, but this idea that rules can be change retrospectively and people can never feel safe is beyond inhumane.

So many EU citizens I know are highly qualified academics. They too are falling foul of the five year rule because academics often take a year out at a foreign uni to teach. These academics are now deciding that the UK is not a safe place to have a career because these arbitrary rules leave them and their families too vulnerable. They are choosing to apply to any of the other 27 countries where they can work without worrying about their immigration status. Do we really want our kids to go to mediocre universities because the brightest lights have fled these Draconian immigration loopholes? I certainly don't. I had some wonderful professors at uni who were EU nationals, as does Marcel. My own father-in-law was a German citizen when he started teaching at Aarhus uni (in Denmark), where he became the Dean.

If Brexit goes ahead and Scotland doesn't manage to find an escape route, should my family leave now in case one day I am not earning the required income because, for example, I've retired, and Thomas suddenly finds himself obliged to help a sick relative for one month too many?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Anyone for poo?

Sometimes it is the one-liners that get you. Looking at the world through seven year old eyes never ceases to amuse!

A post shared by Phyllis Buchanan (@phylbuc) on

Applying for PR

I doubt many of you will have even heard of PR (permanent residency in the UK) but if you have a close friend or family member that have led to your joining the Facebook groups: Forum for eu citizens (the3million) or UK citizenship eu nationals CEN, then you will probably have heard of nothing else since last July.

It used to be that no EU nationals applied for this piece of paper as they were allowed under EU law to work and live here indefinitely without it. It is a document aimed at migrants from places like the US or similar. Technically, until the UK leaves the EU it is still not required, and ironically, given it comes under EU law, it may not even be valid after Brexit. But the important fact is that you cannot apply for UK citizenship unless you already have Permanent Residency status, so many of the 3 million EU citizens who have been living here for decades are desperately clambering to get it and thereafter citizenship to stop the government being able to deport them in 2019 when the Brexit negotiations are due to be completed.

The process seems to be that you apply after being in the country for five years for Permanent Residency which seems to cost just under a hundred pounds, then you need to sit a language test (even if you have lived here for the whole of your life (which is the case for some EU passport holders, even if you have a degree in English from a non-UK uni, even if you work as an English translator or interpreter or you happen to lecture in say English Lit at Oxford - yes it is that absurd!) To put it in perspective, if you know me - Thomas is obliged to sit it! After knowing him fifteen years I can actually tell you every mistake he's made in English in my presence as they number fewer than the fingers on one hand. Even as a dictionary consultant who wrote his Masters thesis in English before moving here, Thomas is not exempt!

Of course, you get to pay for the privilege of sitting that too and finally you then have to take the Life in the UK test. Without beating about the bush, it is also a piece of nonsense... I am no more likely to be able to pass it than Thomas is as it is full of obscure historical facts and quotes from poems that may well be part of the ordinary English school curriculum but definitely are not part of the Scottish one! They ask questions about health and schooling and law - all of which are different up here, so if you are bright, you simply have to memorize a long list of meaningless facts to jump through a ridiculous hoop.

If you have been living here since the turn of the millennium, always working and sending your kids to the local school, you should probably be given a bye into the next round but that's been ruled out for two reasons as far as I can see - it would reduce the stress levels of the foreigner who has to sit it (and we can't be having them feel secure and comfortable in the place they used to consider as home - that just wouldn't do at all) and it would mean less money for the treasury, because these two obligatory but meaningless hoops cost the EU citizen another £150.

So already you are up at £250 before you can apply for citizenship which can set you back more than a thousand pounds itself. (In our family that is bad enough but in some families everyone, including the kids, is having to apply so we're talking £1000+ per person!) It's not a bad little money spinner for the government to suddenly require 3 million people take these tests, but I'm sure that's not why they aren't clarifying people's statuses...

Of course, back to PR - if you fill the (up-to-recently 85 page form, that wants details of every trip home to a wedding or stag weekend since the year dot, payslips and utility bills (God forbid they're in your wife's name) till you're drowning in them etc incorrectly), if you omit a p60 from 5 years ago, if you didn't take out CSI - that's private health insurance to you and I - during the week you were off on paternity leave seven years ago (and that no one knew was mandatory till they started applying for PR!) then your application is rejected, your qualifying five years reset to zero and your £70 not refunded. You are simply sent a rejection with no explanation. I have seen some applications rejected because they were sent in with a legally signed and certified photocopy of the bearer's passport giving the reason that they were unable to furnish them with the original as they needed to commute back and forth to say France on business or to visit a sick relative and couldn't be without their passport for four to six months. Thomas would certainly not feel comfortable handing his passport in indefinitely - it is only three years since his mum's stroke meant he'd to fly to Italy with less than two days warning. But nope - there are no excuses - all passports must be surrendered for as long as they want to look at them. The form itself is cumbersome, contradictory and woolly to say the least. The paperwork weighs up to 5kg in some cases. Only originals of everything - because let's  face it - who doesn't keep that ferry receipt from a shopping weekend in France twelve years ago in case some nutjobs vote you out the EU based on a bucket-load of lies a decade down the line AND the government implements some new rules retrospectively?

And that's for the lucky ones who actually might qualify. If you haven't worked five years, you can't even apply. Last week I read about a Frenchwoman who'd come 15 years ago, worked 4.5 years before going on maternity leave, her baby (a UK citizen born here with an English dad) was born disabled so she gave up work to be the carer of a disabled UK citizen. Not eligible - because the 4.5 years is all that counts! It makes you want to scream at the computer on a daily basis as each new member recounts their own nightmare scenario!

On a daily basis I am seeing people who've been here 20, even 30 years having their applications rejected on technicalities. They moan to their friends who assure them that everything will be just fine as long as your married to a UK citizen - well it won't. Having a UK partner, husband, wife or even UK citizen kids counts for nothing at all in this country thanks to May's delightful rules. You just have to read the non-EU rules this week to see what we're talking about. It does not matter at all what your spouse's earning potential is, if you are under-employed because of redundancy or similar - tough! This ruling prices 40% of the UK out of being able to marry a non-EU partner and let's face it - two years from now, all those EU spouses are potentially in exactly the same boat.

So Thomas and I looked into PR at first but we've both concluded individually and together that we see no reason to pander to their nonsense. He came here, exercising his EU citizen rights, not as a migrant, not as an immigrant but as an EU citizen working in an EU country. If that country decides to impose £1500+ bills on every EU citizen who has come here in good faith and settled many years ago, then let them seek us out, let them deal with three million 85-page application forms and 15 million kilos of paperwork. I think they are forgetting that the very people who made that move are the outward-looking, internationalists who cannot reasonably see a future in a closed, xenophobic, peripheral and pitiful state. Many people seem relieved at last when they've jumped through the last hoop and emptied their hard-earned pockets into the coffers of the treasury, but to be honest PR doesn't interest us because if this isolationist, hard-line Brexit becomes a reality and Scotland doesn't manage to find an escape route, then I can see no future for our kind of family here.

Neil Hilborn

I caught this on Facebook the other night. How can so much emotion be conveyed in less than three minutes? You laugh, you cry, you feel his pain, you get a glimpse into his mental health issues, you live his anxiety and at the end, the last two lines actually make you gasp as a coldness comes across your whole body. I dare you not to feel it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Press and journalism

Yesterday was 'One day without us' here in the UK... not that you would know it, given 95% of the UK press didn't cover it but if you speak other languages, you might have caught it on the news in France or Germany or elsewhere as the foreign press did get round to mentioning. Basically as many EU citizens as had the ability or choice stayed home from work yesterday and gathered outside the Houses of Parliament in London to protest their rights. Many also gathered in other town centres when London was too far. Now, it wasn't as if the BBC wasn't in the area as they did cover the anti-Trump protest which also took place in London yesterday, they just happened to underplay the EU protest.

It is interesting to watch the deflated atmosphere amongst the EU citizens involved in the protest today - noticeably on the Facebook forum 'the3million' - a site dedicated to supporting EU national in the UK during the fiasco that is Brexit. They thought that if they protested in their thousands, they couldn't be ignored. I was, of course, completely expecting that they would indeed be ignored.

As a supporter of Scottish Independence, I have become a hardened cynic to the ways of the press over the years. There are many reasons for why I am in favour of indy... Firstly, I had predicted as early as 2013 that the UK might drag us out of the EU, and for me in my international family, that isn't an option. But I also simply want to live in the socially-caring and inclusive, internationalist, non-xenophobic country Scotland aspires to be rather than the current UK which is turning its back on all those things I hold so dear. I want investment in the NHS and free education to nurture the brightest lights of the next generation rather than these basics being run down and privatized. But those are the reasons you hear at pro-Indy meetings - both political and non-political while the press try always to tar us as blood and soil right-wing xenophobes rather than civic nationalists. They claim we're anti-English, when half the Women for Indy group I belong to are English-born! They just want to move towards the Scandinavian model of society and away from the Imperialist one we are slipping towards. We'd love nothing more than the English who are dismayed at the current state of affairs moving up and joining us Scottish, English and Europeans who are fighting for a better future.

I have been to countless demos, marches and protests over the last five years that have failed to be mentioned in the mainstream press. I have stood outside the BBC building singing my heart out in crowds of 1000+ in peaceful protest only to have them deny we're there or at the very most credit us with being a small but violent crowd of a hundred evil Nat men - often when the crowd is mainly couples, kids, disabled people, pensioners, babies and none is carrying anything to identify them as a 'Nat'. (These are typical examples)

I'm not parroting Donald here in a claim that the press actually lies but one thing that has been abundantly clear here over the last few years is that while insignificant things are often reported for their sensation value, other larger things can go completely unreported as it doesn't suit their agenda and their view of the current state of affairs. Let's be truthful about it. The press and importantly the BBC created Brexit. By taking the conscious decision nearly a decade ago to give much more airtime/print space over to to Nigel and his Kipper friends, rather than say, the UK Green party who were just as big if not bigger when Nigel started his almost weekly appearances on Question Time, they scared the Tories into having a Referendum that no one would have mentioned otherwise. Now, by failing to question May's Hard Brexit line, they are again setting the agenda - and this time I exempt the Guardian as it is actually beginning to brave printing many awkward questions that everyone should be asking. See this, this and this in just the last two days.

I don't really understand the plan (if indeed there is one). They can wave their flags and read how great they are but the day the UK falls off a cliff, people will actually notice and start asking why the press and the BBC didn't do its job. When did journalism become more about ratings than about holding people to account? Where other than the Guardian (and the National up here) is anyone asking why we are proceeding without a plan to ruin our children's future? One day the children will ask us what we did to stop the madness and we'll need to have our answers ready!

Guessing the flavour

Brita and Peter came over from Italy for a visit, bringing with them a large bag of assorted Italian sweets. Rather than asking them or us every time they took one, they used their knowledge of other languages to guess what they were choosing each time. It worked fine with caffè, fragola, cappuccino,vaniglia and a few others, but I wish I'd had my phone on movie mode when Léon chose 'salvia e limone' (lemon sage) assuming it was simply a lemon boiled sweet - he was beyond appalled and stopped short at washing his mouth out with soap to recover! Lol.