Monday, November 11, 2019

Votes for the under 10s

Conversation with Amaia:

Amaia: I think I should be allowed to vote in the general election! 

Me: Really, why? You're only 9! 

Amaia: Well, because of stupid adults voting for stupid Boris and his nasty friends, I now live in Denmark, so I think I know a bit more than most people what happens when you vote for the wrong people!

Well, you sure can't argue with that logic 😐

Friday, November 08, 2019

Checking it out at ground level

A few months ago on one of my many flights into Denmark, I came in to Billund over Blåvand.


I thought its shape, and obviously very long beach needed further investigation and given it is only 80 minutes drive we took a wander over last week to investigate. It is definitely going to be on our summer 2020 list of places to visit as it is really pretty up close.

   

Weird

I've been here for many many months now and a strange thing happened to me yesterday...

I had to use money! (Amaia had to take a 100Kr note to school for something). It is odd to be somewhere more than six months and not actually even know what the currency looks like. Apparently it looks like this - very fancy and pretty! Cash is so hard to come by, I actually had to google where the nearest ATM was (fully 5km away!)



One of the things I liked about the UK in comparison with many places I've lived is how little we use cash (I hate handbags and purses with a passion so it suits me well to live somewhere where having only a fiver on me at any given time usually sufficed) but Denmark takes it to a whole new level - even small kids use plastic here - Amaia (9) already has a Visa Debit card, they needed to be 11 in Scotland for those. In shops everything is contactless, like at home but for everything else, everyone uses mobile pay here. You owe money to a friend or want to donate to the school class kitty for something or other, you simply dial in the number - even if it's only 50p. It's great for splitting the cost of a meal out with some mates (or will be at least once I've met some!). That's what everyone uses at car boot sales and roadside stalls too - in rural areas most people have a wee stall at the end of their driveway to sell their surplus potatoes, eggs or apples and it's simply a table with a phone number on it. Some of the more rustic or smaller shops, like the local antique shop here, don't even have a till, they just take mobile pay.

I had to laugh a couple of months ago when Léon and Amaia's string orchestra was performing in a church and they passed round the church's collection plate for donations to the music school afterwards - it was simply a silver tray with a phone number stuck on it!😂 I know I'm not a church-goer but I always imagined a collection plate might actually have some coins or notes on it!

I guess it has its downsides - I expect it would be harder (or at least weirder) to pay someone cash in hand for some gardening or similar and if the country is ever invaded, running some kind of underground resistance might not be all that simple! But, for the handbag haters amongst us, it certainly hits the spot.


Monday, November 04, 2019

Strange alphabet


Cute conversation with Amaia:

I really like the new light you got me for my room, mum. Can we get a second one next time we're in Ikea, for the other side of my room?

Sure. Can you remember what it's called?

Yeah, I've still got the box. It's called a... a..., emmm, I don't know how you pronounce it. It's written in Swedish. It is spelt S, J, surprised face, P, E, N, N, A!

😂😂😂

Friday, November 01, 2019

Nowhere people

A couple of weeks ago I asked Thomas if Danes did Halloween. Remember, he hasn't lived here since 2001, and his answer was a definite no...

After a shopping trip to Odense last Saturday, I had a sneaking suspicion things had moved on in his home country since he last called it home.  Here are Anna and Amaia in the big supermarket, Bilka!


I guess Thomas has become one of those weird stateless people who are neither fully at home here nor in Scotland, and we will soon follow him down that path, of course.

I'm still not sure he was fully convinced, until the neighbour's lit pumpkin turned up on Monday night, followed by another two by the roadside the following day. Yesterday, Léon was invited to a mate's house for afternoon coffee, but he didn't show up home till three hours later, fully made-up with everything short of false eyelashes. He was less sure about the large bag of 50% liquorice sweeties he was clutching when I picked him up, but as I drove through the next village almost every house had pumpkin-lit paths and driveways. We, of course, gave in and stuck a neep at the end of our driveway, as well as one of those alien pumpkin things, which resulted in small children ringing our doorbell and threatening us with 'slik eller ballade' - (sweeties or trouble - I wonder what that could possibly mean!)

                               


Léon did make me laugh... He fully admitted to being a chancer - having gone into the local Co-op, figuring nowhere he knew had more sweets than a corner shop, and trying trick or treat on the check-out operator, who laughed, congratulated him for having balls but told him, sadly her hands were tied! I guess you get nowhere in life, if you don't try! 

It is nice to see him having fun though, back home he hasn't been out guising for a couple of years as it was no longer the cool thing to do - here, cool seems to matter a wee bit less than having fun.


Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Denmark's great for the teeth

Since nursery, birthdays have followed a specific pattern: your child goes off to a softplay, a party hall or their friend's house, they dance or play for a couple of hours and return with a party bag - a few sweets, a balloon, some bubbles, a little gift or similar. Here in Denmark, health and safety hasn't gone in to overdrive yet so on the kids' birthdays they actually (shock, horror) take a cake in to the class and share it with their friends at school and then give the party bags out in class, rather than at the party.

Back in Scotland, the kids used to bring their bag home and take it off to their room. Léon would devour his in seconds, Anna would squirrel hers away and you'd find numerous sweetie bags around her room for months. Amaia was somewhere in the middle. At the side of our new kitchen is a little table - big enough for a family of three or four to have breakfast, but we rarely use it as the dining room is close by and there are more of us. Often I find piles of party bags abandoned on it after school. They lie unopened and untouched for weeks before making their way across to the bin. As far as I can see, they look the same as party bags in Scotland, but there is one difference, I am told... the dreaded Danish obsession with liquorice. All the kids know that the chances are high that at least a couple of the sweets are made of that strong, salty liquorice that Scandies love, but they will be in the bag, lurking, disguised as normal sweets and the risk of accidentally biting into one, is so great that they have all given up even attempting to bite into any sweets at all this side of the north sea - it's been amazing for their teeth.😂

On a similar note, I was in Aldi last weekend and came across this - I can't wait to show them it, just to see the look of horror on their faces!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Nowhere to shop

I know I am generally a little ray of sunshine in a grey world, trying always to see the positives whenever possible😂. I almost managed to believe that myself there for a minute. Ok, so I used to blog-rant a lot, but since moving abroad, because moving and starting afresh at my age is extremely hard, I have been trying to keep my spirits up by looking out for all things positive and ways of doing things we in Scotland could potentially learn from. But nothing is of course ever completely rosy and one thing I keep coming back to in my head is shopping. So it is time to get it off my chest...

I should probably have ranted this one last night when I came home from my shopping trip to give you the full force but it took all my effort to scrape my depressed self off the floor after shopping for my evening meal, so I had to wait till I calmed down or cheered up or whatever you want to call it... 😏

So, what's the problem? In a nutshell, Danish supermarkets are shit, no in fact, they are utter shit. I had almost managed to convince myself they were just bad but after a week in the Netherlands, I'm sorry to say they are diabolical, or even Diabolical with a capital D. And, this isn't just me saying so - even the Danish press agrees.

I am 15km from Denmark's 3rd biggest city, so this isn't a rural issue. In Newton Mearns I was also about this distance from the city centre. Between me and Odense there is actually no shortage of supermarkets. So, let's concentrate on a ten minute radius to contain my venom to a manageable size.

Within ten minutes drive of my house, off the top of my head I can think of three Dagli'Brugsen (that's your typical wee Coop like the one opposite my old house, to you and me - only with about 30% of the Scottish product range and overpriced). There is one SuperBrugsen (a triple-sized overpriced version of the usual Coops). There are two Aldis - we have Aldi Nord in Denmark not Aldi Süd as in the UK, Sourthern Germany or Italy (as I'm used to) - it is small, stale, hit and miss on the product front but at least has a better bakery than the Aldi Süd ones (see, I really am still trying positivity!) - again it is half the size of the Newton Mearns one. We have two Nettos - they are basically just about the same as the Aldis in Scotland for size, price and product type, but again the range is only about 50% of our Aldi in Newton Mearns. Then there is Rema 1000, which is more or less the same as Netto and Aldi - again there are two of those within a ten minute range. There is one Fakta. Fakta reminds me a bit of Shoppers' Paradise in the 80s - looks like it is about to go out of business and the sooner someone puts it out its misery the better. If I never set foot inside another Fakta as long as I live, I will be far from devastated. 😁Finally, we have two Menys - they are like wonderful high-class Norwegian delis... the closest thing from home would be Waitrose both for quality and pricing, but yes, they are lovely.

So let's count that up... I have 13 supermarkets within a 6km radius of my house. But, other than Meny, they are all the bloody same - they are all small Coop meets Home Bargains food aisle. There is no medium-sized ASDA/Sainsburys/Tesco equivalent. When my kid comes in from school and says they need wellies tomorrow for a trip, I can't begin to guess which, if any of the 13 will have them. You can't get basic non-food items that I'm used to picking up at ASDA and take for granted like a pack of pants or a woolly hat on a cold morning or a pair of kiddie trainers because someone has lost one at school. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether their current special is or isn't stationery, so if a kid needs a pencil or rubber for the next day, you have no idea where you might pick it up. Last night Léon was on cooking - he asked me to pick up burgers and mushrooms - even that was hard - I had to try three shops before I even found the simplest mushrooms. Aaaarg - seriously?

We do have one wonderful Bilka in Odense which has all these things (it's like a bigger version of Silverburn Tesco, so not for the faint-hearted or anyone over 70!), but it is in South East Odense (35 minutes from here) and I'm in North West Odense, of course! It is the only decent supermarket on the whole of Funen, where you know that whatever you want you can get on the spot - that's really is pretty poor for a population of 500 000 people.

Last week I was in Lidl in Alkmaar (there are three in Alkmaar alone). Even that felt like luxury after a few months here. The product range was so much better - loads of different types of mushrooms, chillis, you name it. And I could barely see one end from the other.


The bottom line is, I hate shopping. I've always hated shopping - whether that is for food, gifts, clothing, stationery, you name it - I want to rush in, pick it up and leave. I want to get it over with. I don't want, like last night, to have to visit three shops that were more or less the same because I need something as exotic as plain, ordinary mushies or some black pepper. It's the 21st century, ffs! I feel like I am back in the late 70s, grrrrr. 

This isn't some sort of Scotland is better rant, I'm quite an international shopper - Scotland is better than Denmark on the everyday shop front, but so is the Netherlands, and Germany and France and Italy, to name but a few places where I often find myself in a supermarket. I'm beginning to think Danes are actually all so well off because they can't find anything to spend their decent salaries on - they've all crawled into a depressed hole for want of a choice of a chestnut mushroom or a scotch bonnet!

Come on Danes - you earn enough to buy nice things, so could someone stock them? Please! And you really don't need 13 indistinguishable shops all stocking the same crap within a stone's throw of each other!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Conkers 2

For anyone who saw my conker post  two weeks ago... Looks like I spoke way too soon!


Tiled closes

One of the things I love most about Glasgow, from all my years living in the west end, is the tiled closes in the tenements. A quick google image search of Glasgow close tiles throws up these delights.

So, it was with great delight last week, that on a wander round the slightly more residential parts of inner Amsterdam, that I realised they too have a huge wally tile tradition. Here are just some of those I saw.😀
 





Crazy (if impressive) road design

We had been planning to go to Scotland for the October week to catch up with family and friends, but Ryanair decided on a last minute price hike (they had of course sussed Scotland and Denmark had the same school holiday). Funnily enough £2000 for a set of flights that usually come in at less than £500, was a non-starter, but it left us with £500 to spend on petrol and an airbnb. We looked at a less than 8 hour drive radius from our house and then checked where we could meet Lots for the weekend so we still got the family catch-up and were left mainly with Amsterdam and Berlin. Flight times meant Amsterdam was the better option so we set off immediately they got home from school a week ago on Friday. Thomas was going to be working from home some of the week, but it still gave us all some scope for a real holiday, the first week away not visiting family since 2010! How excited were we?!

Traffic conditions when we left meant it should have taken just over seven hours. We set out at just after 3pm. It had been a lovely clear blue-sky morning but as we packed the car what looked like the tail end of a hurricane came in. We should have known when it took 3 and a half hours to reach the German border (which usually comes in at 80 minutes) that we weren't in for the best day. Anyway, this is the route google chose for us...


I drove the first chunk as Thomas was working from his laptop. Modern technology is amazing, isn't it?! When his work day was over, he took over and we continued to swap every couple of hours. After dark we reached this chunk, with me at the wheel.



Now, I had never been to the Netherlands before in a car, I'd previously only flown into Amsterdam and my Dutch geography isn't the best so I was unaware of the afsluitdijk! As I drove over it, my right wheels were half-covered by water and I thought to myself - jeezo, this is quite a storm. The car was pulling to one side and the wipers couldn't deal with the spray (and a new seven-seater Citroën isn't exactly the scabbiest or lightest of vehicles!) Visibility was so dire I had to slow down to about 90 instead of the limit on that stretch of 130km/ph. Anyway, we survived and finally got to our destination in Alkmaar after 10 hours at 1am. Charlotte had given up on being picked up at Schiphol and found her own way to Alkmaar by train and bus and even found the spare airbnb key in a plant pot in the garden and let herself in!

On my way home a week later, I drove the afsluitdijk in the daylight! Bloody hell! What are those crazy Dutch people on? Turns out I had driven over a 40km chunk of road built in the middle of the sea in a bloody hurricane and managed to not die! Now that explains exactly how it felt! Howling winds from one side, waves going over the top of me... takes windswept to a whole new level. So glad I didn't know what it looked like when I drove it in the storm. Lol. Here's a photo from the return trip...



And a video of how it feels weather-wise even on a nice, bright and dry day!





Llama girl

I'm just back from a week in the Netherlands so there will be a few wee stories popping up here over the course of the next wee while.

Amaia is still obsessed with llamas, though I have no idea why, given she doesn't really like any animals in general - she'll cross the road to avoid a dog on a lead! Walking down the street in Amsterdam last week, we happened upon this! Look at that happy face...



The wee chancer did try to venture the following:

"Do you think we could buy one of these to stand outside my bedroom door for at home, mum?" 
But given outside her bedroom door is the middle of my dining room 😂, it was a bit of a non-starter!

Brexit

Just a thought... The government is willing to go for no deal (or the shit deal they came up with at the 11th hour) because they have found it almost impossible to negotiate what to do with the Irish border, and that's despite being at the table for more than three years now. Brexit day marks the STARTING point of negotiations for everything from trade, tariffs, immigration policies, research and medical cooperation, workers' rights... with 195 countries because their current deals are based on being an EU state. The list is infinite. Does anyone think they'll ever be able to 'just get it done' or is parliament going to spend all its energy for the rest of all our lifetimes on Brexit? There are so many more important things in this world at the moment that any government should be doing than trying to negotiate themselves a worse trade deal than the one they currently have.

Exasperated!

Monday, October 07, 2019

Flag's up


Léon put up the house flag to welcome the family for dinner yesterday. It looks quite pretty, colorized.😁

Conkers


The quest began in 1998 because that is the autumn Marcel learned to walk. And it continued for 20 years... At first we lived in a West End flat in Glasgow, so Marcel and I made our way up to the Botanic gardens every year and searched on the grass around every chestnut tree. I'm not sure we got the timing right, having waited till the trees were completely yellow, so we came home with two or three at most. By the time Charlotte was a toddler, we'd tracked down the tree in the far corner of the Botanics on the Great Western road side. We managed to fill at least one pocket with that one, several years in a row. When we first moved to the southside, we simply commuted back in autumn but eventually we did try tracking down trees in Rouken Glen but were lucky if we ever got more than one conker per child per year. They were like gold dust - whether it was the squirrels or the school children passing through, conkers were simply thin on the ground. Finally, when Amaia was about five I had an epiphany. Where are there trees, but not many passing kids? Graveyards, not just graveyards but the furthest most secluded corner of the Necropolis to be exact! I've never admitted this, for fear of it getting out, that there was a tree in there that actually had conkers by the handful. The first year we actually managed to fill my camera bag and the kids managed to play conkers and make little conker animals, Danish-style! Bliss. 
I know the kids are getting kind of big now but Amaia still has a conker year or two in her, so thought I would need to start my scouting early in this unknown new place... until we moved into our new house and looked out the window, that is. What did I see? What do I actually own? This! Oh my lord - there is an abundance. If I'm still here when I'm a granny, I'm going to be the most popular granny in the world! I was certainly a fairly popular auntie yesterday to my six year old niece who lives in a fourth floor flat in Copenhagen! She went home with a supermarket bag full. I expect Thomas's sister might even be able to sell them to other parents in Valby, she collected that many! And Amaia collected a few too - the other 98% are still out there on the tree!

Friday, October 04, 2019

Last year

On September 26 last year, at a routine gynaecological scan, a doctor found two tumours growing on my ovaries. Each was over 10cm across. She told me, given my age, that the chances of me having ovarian cancer were very high and that the chances of it not having spread, given the size of the tumours, were tiny. My world spun off in an instant to a parallel universe.

I waited two weeks for a CT scan to confirm the size of the tumours and whether I was riddled with cancer. That was 336 sleepless hours with my greatest demons sitting on the end of my bed watching over me. I then waited all of October and two weeks of November for emergency surgery. The surgery went well but I developed several infections and by the time I finally received a non-cancerous diagnosis fully two months of utter hell had passed. I can tell you, at the age of 50, with young children, waiting on your phone to ring then mustering the courage to pick it up when you know the person on the other end is phoning to tell you if you are dying or if you might get to spend the rest of your kids' childhoods on this planet takes some balls, even if I say so myself. As your insides fall out, you try to answer nonchalantly as if it's the most normal phone call in the world. Leanne, the nurse who rings you up, is doing an incredible job. I had to go through that call once, she has to make that call every day over and over. Whatever they are paying her it isn't enough. A more kind, caring and wonderful person is hard to imagine. Of course, having spent nearly three weeks in hospital, I had befriended the other women on the ward who were on the same journey as me, except they weren't... Leanne had different news for them when she rang that day. I was the lucky one who won the lottery, the only lucky one, but it left mental scars that will never heal and life will always be a bit more fragile now.

So why mention this now, other than it being the anniversary? It suddenly struck me this morning that this will be some other woman's reality now, today. The NHS has fewer nurses now than a year ago - EU nurses coming to the UK have dropped by 90% in a year. It has fewer consultants - one of Glasgow's top oncologist gynaecological surgeons, who operated on the forty-year-old mother in the next bed to me and who was diagnosed at stage 3 that morning, has left. There are more vacancies and medicine shortages are potentially 27 days away. Mentally, I barely survived what I went through last autumn. Going through surgery waiting for a cancer diagnosis while this government is playing power games with CT isotopes and chemo drugs would have broken me altogether. It is unforgivable. I am safely now under another health system, but there are women in Scotland who got my diagnosis last week and they are about to embark on a roller coaster ride no one should ever have to go on.

That anyone can vote for the current government scares me witless.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Danish houses

There are many house types in Denmark. Bogense is full of pretty quaint things in lots of pastel colours.

Driving through the suburbs of Odense the other day, Léon was having a gammon about how ugly roughcast is back home and asking why Scotland doesn't fill its suburbs with red brick as Denmark does. Where we were driving that day, there were two types of these red houses that stood out as bog standards...

Here are two examples:

                 

He was in the middle of asking something about them, when he came out with 'Do you mean the kind with the middle parting or one of those ones with a fringe, mum?' I had to laugh at his way of referring to them. I had never really thought of them as looking like hairdos, but I can see what he means by it. It's always interesting to see something through someone else's eyes. 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Tow bars


My daddy taught me to drive when I was 17. He gave me pieces of advice I've tended to stick by, like if you see brake lights go on ahead, brake gently then check why. He gave me other pieces of advice that I ignored from the outset, like never use a car wash, it could damage your car - sorry I'm too wee to reach the roof of a people carrier and too lazy to wash a big car in the freezing winters in Scotland! Another piece of advice I remember from the 80s was never buy a used car with a tow bar. That one, he explained was because a used car with a tow bar had more than likely belonged to a caravan enthusiast so the engine/clutch/gearbox could have had more than its fair share of wear and tear. It wasn't a hard piece of advice to follow as used cars with tow bars are about as common as used cars with automatic gear boxes in Scotland. When we arrived in Denmark, however, we noticed more than 50% of used cars seemed to have tow bars, even Smart cars and wee biscuit tins like the Citroën C1 have tiny tow bars. Curious... We found a good deal on a (as the kids refer to it) bogey-coloured Cactus, but it had one of those offensive appendages... What should we do? Almost all cars this size have them.

Then I started to notice why! Here's the window of our equivalent of B&Q. From Ikea, to the equivalent of B&Q and even the 24hour Tesco, to every larger petrol station, you can rent a trailer free of charge to take your stuff home! You give them a deposit, you take home your goods and then you bring your trailer back for the deposit! No delivery charges, no hassle, as long as you have a tow bar! Isn't that a smart idea?

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

More cheap trips

   


So, Three and Five are off today to Norway taking the ferry, returning on Sunday night via Sweden and Saga's famous bridge to play a viola/violin concert tour with their new band (though Léon was more intent on packing his football stuff as he'd heard rumours of them being allowed to play football in their free time against some Norwegian kids). This is the £98 foreign school trip I mentioned a month or so ago. I am a little alarmed at how unfazed my nine year old seemed to be to skip off into the bus without looking back! I know she had her big brother along and is still wee enough she felt it necessary to pack her stuffed llama to sleep with, but still - couldn't she at least look vaguely upset to leave me?



And, last night I was at school for a meeting about the end of Veflinge primary school trip. Anna had just completed her primary schooling in Scotland and had thoroughly enjoyed her week in Lochgoilhead last May. The opportunity to experience it again, only this time on Bornholm island was one of the ways we managed to sweeten the pill of the different school system, which meant she wasn't moving up to Léon's school till next summer. 

And talking of pill-sweetening... we paid £240 for the Scottish end of primary trip and we were informed last night that the Danish one costs 400DKK (£47). The actual programme is almost identical, other than the fact that the Danish one involves a longer bus trip and a ferry, as it is on Bornholm, a Danish island situated between Sweden and Poland. As if that in itself wasn't good enough, they also added that the PTA would be covering the 400DKK. I thought at first, given I am still new to living fully in Danish, that they were saying they were keeping the cost down to 400DKK by having the PTA subsidise the rest but, nope - the only cost to parents is the pocket money you choose to send them with! That in a country with average salaries of £35K, rather than Scotland's £25.5K.... Hmmm.

The more I live here the more frustrated I get by the Scottish model. It is so much easier to look at countries who speak the same language to gain a model for how things could be done, when in fact, there are so many small countries within a couple of hours flight, where we could learn a lot, if we just took time to breach the language barrier.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Impromptu fun day

Awwwh - this is sweet. It turned up on my phone on Monday. The school had checked the weather forecast for the week and decided that because we're still basking in some decent summer weather, instead of a normal Weds, they have booked out the local outdoor swimming pool and told all the kids both from Anna and Amaia's school and from Léon's school just to come with their swimming stuff, a picnic and sun tan lotion and have a pool day today - all day! Nice way to ease yourself into the new term. Happy kids.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Nickname

Léon has got himself a nickname now - 'Scotty' - not the most original but easier to shout apparently on the football field if they want him to pass to them. The only thing that is amusing me though is 'o' sounds a bit more 'u'- (as in bus) like in Danish and 'tt' sounds more like a double d... so when his mates call him, his nickname sounds to me like 'Scuddy', which as a Scottish person, makes me laugh quite a lot.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Danish school stories - a difference

Here's an interesting observation from my eldest (schoolchild)...

Most of what I have blogged so far about Danish school seems very positive. Here's one that has positives and negatives. From the beginning of Danish school around the age of six, the kids (where we are anyway - I obviously can't vouch for any other parts of the country) are issued with tablets (with keyboards) to do all their school work on. At twelve, this is swapped for a laptop. 90% of their written work is done on screen, much as it is in the adult world. Léon is finding the knock-on effect interesting.

Yesterday, they were brainstorming something in groups and one child was in charge of writing it up on a flipchart. Léon said watching the speed at which the kids write by hand was excruciating. A kid named Frederik had been nominated for a task and as the chart operator slowly printed the name F-r-e-d-e-r-i-k on the paper, Léon wondered if he was actually going to reach the 'k' before the weekend! Léon had been taking some notes in his standard (cursive) handwriting and the kids were both in awe at the speed he writes and completely incapable of reading any of the words he had written down! Both Anna and Amaia have also said the writing in their classes looks like it belongs to much younger children and Amaia says her classmates are completely gobsmacked by her (also cursive) writing skills.

Now, of course, as adults they will only ever write for themselves so this is fine but maybe (if the UK actually sorts out its Brexit mess) UK unis should write somewhere in large letters that kids will struggle to sit the exams if they can't write by hand at a decent speed, because I suspect it wouldn't even occur to Danes that they would be expected to hand-write uni exams in the 21st century!

Strathaven balloon festival

Every year for the last decade I have gone to this... sometimes I have sneaked out alone, other times I have managed to drag the whole family, though for some reason they are less excited by these majestic beasts than me. Anyway, today is the 20th anniversary and unless there is an imminent flight leaving from Bogense to Strathaven, I might be missing this big one. 😢 So, for those of you not in Brexile, please get yourselves along, weather permitting, and send me pics?!?!?


Here's a facebook link.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Watching the car crash

I'm not sure I can find the words to explain how I feel watching the UK at the moment, from the safety of my Danish Brexile... That, despite writing dictionaries for a living since the age of 23... not good.

I thought David Cameron was a reckless idiot, an impetuous, self-important man, who gambled with everyone's future unaware he could lose and then ran for cover when the shit hit the fan. Theresa was tortuous to watch. She juggled and can-kicked, agreed with everyone and no one in an attempt to tread water till the end of time, but my god the last few weeks are beyond belief. We truly had seen nothing yet. With the kids safely back at school and out of earshot, I now find it impossible not to curse and swear my way through the morning news, facebook and twitter. This morning was particularly beautiful so I sat at the outside table for my morning coffee. Birds tweeted, the leaves rustled in the sea breeze. Only the sound of a lone Scottish female shouting 'Just fuck off right now!' or occasionally 'Wanker!' disturbed the idyll.

The amount of grief, terror and devastation most of you who do not inhabit the 3 million facebook group have missed out on this week is indescribable. Monday I woke up to this many cries for help and real deep fear, but also some resignation and determined anger.

This mystical settled status that EU citizens are now required to have and that you originally needed to have by 2021, has been brought forward to eight weeks from now. Only 30% of EU citizens have managed to get it so far, many, especially older ones don't even know they become illegal aliens in their home of 50 plus years (overnight) without it. They haven't applied as they haven't even heard of it. Some can't apply - they stayed home to look after a disabled child, or they let their EU passport lapse as they are too old or frail to travel to their country of origin, they lived in old folks' homes and didn't intend to go anywhere. You can only apply with a valid biometric passport from your country of origin and if you are one of the weirdos who has chosen an Apple phone rather than an Android (don't suppose there are many of those😖), the app hasn't been made available yet so you need to travel in person to one of the physical places you can apply.

I went on the government page just now and put in the postcode KW14 7QU (Thurso), just for fun then asked where the nearest place I, as an 85 year old pensioner from, say France, would need to go for a physical appointment - the government page happily told me, without a hint of irony, that my nearest appointment available was at Edinburgh city chambers - that's five hours and thirty minutes drive away, if the traffic is light. Would you want this to be your granny?

People fear they won't be allowed to use the NHS, despite only working here and their taxes funding the NHS. They are scared if they take their child to casualty they won't be treated once they hear the parent's accent, despite the fact that their child was born in that hospital and has known no other.

People talk about feeling frightened if they speak too loudly in the street in case their accent makes them a target for verbal or even physical abuse. They now tell their kids not to speak their native language outside their homes. My kids are all bilingual and yet they came top in English too. Being able to speak a second language doesn't make you worse at your own, it actually helps.

Little things like being made to queue in a different passport queue from their partner or kids is hurting them deeply. It says they are no longer tolerated and the way they have lived their life till now is to be looked down upon, discouraged and terminated as a model, going forward.

Families are cancelling their Christmas trip home to visit loved ones because they are scared they might not be able to convince the border guards on the return trip that they are eligible to live in their own homes. I was fourteen years into a mortgage when I felt I needed to give up my home to be sure of my future. That was never something I thought I would have to do, simply because of my choice of legal immigrant.

And returning to this settled status... The government is not issuing those who have successfully jumped through their hoops with a form or a card or any other piece of paper. You get an email saying you have been granted settled status that explicitly says it isn't really proof that you have it and no further documents are issued. How insane is that? I was given a medical card as soon as I arrived here in Denmark and a certificate granting me permanent residence, that I can pull out as soon as I'm asked to prove I am eligible for a mortgage. So I can easily prove I am a legal alien, but the UK has introduced a compulsory status with no proof!

So, going forward, you go along to the bank because you want to renew your mortgage fixed rate, you go try to rent a flat, you go to a job interview, you ask for a GP appointment - these people have no guidelines other than to check you have settled status, but when you show them an email on your phone, and they ask for proof, all you can say is that is all you have. They, of course, then decide they are better erring on the side of caution - after all they can be prosecuted for employing, renting to etc an illegal alien. Suddenly the life you've always known, perhaps the only life you've had since you were born in the UK, is up in smoke. You can't 'go back to where you came from' because you've always been here, or it's been twenty years, your partner and kids can't speak the language, you own a house, a car and all the rest. All your friends and family are here not there. Nowhere is home suddenly.

And meanwhile the currency is plummeting so you can't go visit your elderly relatives, even if you are brave enough to attempt the border crossing, because renting a car at home is suddenly too dear, and buying food is too dear. You can't sell up and flee if you reach the end of your tether because every day you wait, the value of what you can escape with decreases. If you stay, you are accepting food and medicine rationing and a government that is anti-you and gives you no vote or say. Feeling forced out of your home was something, we in Europe, thought belonged to another era.

For three years these people, I know because I used to be one, have woken up with an iguana-sized lump in their dry throat, they've immediately reached for the phone to see whether today is going to be one of the days where they are a nobody, which is the better of the two options, or if today they are going to be used as a scapegoat, a punchbag and the object of the sick right wing's hatred. They live Brexit and breathe it every second of every day. It haunts their dreams and it's sitting beside them on the pillow when they waken up. They feel heavy, tied down, as if they have no control over what is happening to their life. And yet, the vast majority of people are completely oblivious to their plight. Even their closest friends, colleagues and workmates think they will probably be fine, after all it was only the foreigners they didn't know that the UK really wanted to throw out. They wonder how long it will be till they hear chants of send her back in the UK?

So Boris is touring Europe with his demands but no plans and is desperately pulling diplomats out of meetings as his only plan now seems to be that he needs to quickly cut as many ties as possible before he's ousted. The more he severs, the harder it is to reattach ourselves. He has no plan other than to wreck. It's like he wants to sell his house for wads of cash, his partner doesn't so he's set it on fire to keep her from staying, forgetting it might also affect the resale price somewhat.

It feels like we EU families are the Tories' play things - they pick us up and shake us every time they need a snappy headline, then drop us for months - we hear nothing and wait on tenterhooks till someone else pulls on our strings... until one day many of us break free of the strings. By their very nature, those EU nationals who are in the UK are there because they had the balls to try something new, to think outside the box, to pull up all their roots and start anew. By our nature, those of us who partner them also do not feel the need to conform. We are willing to split our lives between two places, two languages and two cultures. For the most part we are the resourceful ones who will, when push comes to shove, pick up our skirts, step over the mess and leave. What has already been lost will never be replaced, and we will continue to haemorrhage intelligent, resourceful people as long as they can find a way out.

As a Brit abroad, I feel embarrassed and humiliated by what is happening at home, as well as terrified for the futures of my family and friends. Will sense ever prevail or am I destined to spend my time from this autumn onwards making up food parcels?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Danish school stories of the day #2

Léon has a concert tour of Norway coming up so is having to go straight from school to violin practice. Yesterday was his first day of practice so he took his fiddle with him to school.

At break the kids gathered round and asked what he had in his case. He showed them his violin. They asked for a tune so he played Katyusha, this was the point in his account where his eyes began to gleam...

Mum, within two minutes I had at least 15 girls around me hugging me and telling me how wonderful I was then afterwards, my mate comes up and whispers in Danish - Fuuuuck, mate, I would have learnt violin too if I had known it would turn me into a babe magnet!

He then thanked me profusely for years violin lessons and playing the taxi to Williamwood music school. Lol.

Danish school stories of the day #1

I expect this might be a repeating topic for the foreseeable future.😁

First, I picked up Amaia who came out harrumphing.
Me: How was your day, sweetie?
Amaia: It was ok. But I had RME. (RE in people my age's speak)
Me: Oh was that not fun?
Amaia: It's not that - it's just because I'm still a wee bit shy in Danish, sometimes the people at school think I don't say things cos I don't understand what they are saying but it isn't cos I don't get it - like today - they were discussing christenings and the Christian church, so the teacher goes - put your hand up if you got christened and the minister made a cross on your forehead, so all the kids other than the Muslims and people like that put up their hand and I sat with my arms folded - so some boy shouts 'Amaia, put up your hand!' so I go 'no' and he goes 'Maia, you don't understand, you're meant to put your hand up now' and I turn to him and go I do understand and I don't go to church, my family is atheist and I ask the teacher to explain atheism to the class - she looks a bit worried but says that my family don't believe there's a god, even though they are allowed to. So there! Thinking I didn't understand... harrumph!

Love my girl - adapting to a newish culture isn't going to change her😂

Friday, August 16, 2019

The ever-growing Brexit swamp

Had we still been living in the UK a week ago, our already broken sleep of the last three years would have of course been sent into overdrive by the Tory's decision that Thomas, despite having legally moved to the UK around 20 years ago, despite owning his own home, having British citizen children and owning a UK based company, would have been in the position of having to pay for his NHS treatment from November 1. Late 40s isn't a time in life you want to start looking for expensive health cover, but he would have been deemed ineligible for treatment, despite healthcare being paid for by the tax he pays in the UK and always has done.

Fortunately for the EU citizens based in Scotland rather than the rest of the UK, the Scottish NHS is devolved and separate so the the Scottish government stepped in immediately saying that they would not be implementing the same charging model - phew... So EU citizens living in England would be forced to take out expensive insurance packages and those in Scotland would be spared that indignity.

However, nothing is ever that simple where Brexit is concerned. That got us to thinking of the sheer size of the Brexit quagmire that these knee-jerk, half-baked Tory policies are creating. You see Thomas worked as a dictionary consultant for HarperCollins in Glasgow - no issues, and Scots language dictionaries in Edinburgh - no problem and Oxford university press - wait a minute... So would Thomas have no longer been able to attend Oxford meetings as he couldn't access healthcare in England when he was on a business trip? He could take out holiday insurance I guess but where are the companies offering health insurance for Scottish residents travelling in England? Oh, yeah they don't exist. And what about visiting our son who lives in London? Would that be ruled out too? Answers on a postcard? Anyone?

Thursday, August 15, 2019

School trips

Well, here's a difference between the school back home and here! Léon has been invited to a music school trip - residential, a whole week (so similar to the one he did in 2017 to Lendrick Muir at just under £300). The only difference is this one is abroad - near Oslo, Norway... and the cost is..... are you ready for this? Cos I just about fainted when I saw it, in fact I was so gobsmacked I ran it through a currency converter to make sure I was right - it costs!!!!! Fanfare: £98.52p Fuck! (Oh and Amaia has the option to go along if she fancies!)

English as a foreign language.

The kids have both English and German as 'foreign' languages here, as well as Danish as the native language, of course. Anna brought home her English text book yesterday. A little red-haired girl in tartan trousers standing on a sheep, Eilean Donan castle? I'm intrigued... So I opened it up... We are going to have fun with this!😂





When I mentioned this on Facebook earlier, I was asked why this mattered... It struck me, as a Scottish person, as a really nice change to the usual way of learning English abroad.

As a Scottish person you get so fed up being called English all the time when you're abroad. That might have been difficult to understand in the past but surely now it is quite obvious that being equated with the insular Brexit mob when you were living (as I was till three weeks ago) in an area that voted 74%+ in favour of continued EU membership, it isn't hard to see you want to be seen as separate? As a student I was often asked things like which A levels I had - I was Scottish so hadn't any, I was no more likely to have an A level than a German Abitur!  I remember meeting friends in Konstanz when I studied there and coming home to letters addressed to Phyllis Buchanan, Glasgow, Scotland, England. Let's face it, even most English people don't know Scotland is different - as an example Charlotte is working as an au pair in Madrid at the moment. She met a uni student last week from Manchester (fully 2 hours from Scotland) who didn't know Scotland had a different education system, different exams, different uni entrance application process and longer degrees).

So to see that Scotland is going to be the focus of what Anna's class is learning makes a lovely change. And it is going to be fun to see how we are seen. Who knows - if their English is up to it, I can maybe even go in and give them a wee talk about the real 'Fionas' out there!

I can tell the 'fun facts' are going to be good!