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?!

Thursday, March 30, 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?!)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


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

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?

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

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.