Thursday, March 28, 2019


Kids really crease you up at times. Amaia's topic at school at the moment seems to be something to do with nature and living things so she's developed a sudden interest in worms - to the extent that she filled a lunchbox with earth and worms and took them to school today! I made the mistake of asking why she found worms so fascinating:

"Well, worms are just amazing - did you know that is you cut a worm in half, it doesn't die, you just end up with two worms instead of one! Technically, if you were a worm you could actually marry yourself! You could have a wee ceremony and the person in charge would have to say something like 'Do you bottom, take you head to be your husband?' And then each half of the worm could say 'I do!' 😂"

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Sailing away from the darkness

When we announced on our blogs a few weeks ago that we had decided to abandon the sinking ship, The National newspaper contacted us both and asked us each to write a piece on our imminent escape. Those articles in turn, were picked up on by the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten and they too asked us for an editorial.

The article will be published tomorrow and is behind a paywall, but I'll upload it once the paper newspaper comes out and Thomas takes a picture of it or scans it in, but in the meantime, I had to share the cutest thing with you...
(Update: here it is)

They asked me for a photo of us and the kids who are leaving with us to use to illustrate the article, so I sent them my Facebook profile picture, assuming they'd use that, but instead, they had their caricature guy draw this! Isn't it the sweetest thing you ever saw? They got Amaia's hair length wrong as it isn't visible on the photo, but other than that we're definitely all recognisable, right down (or up) to Léon's ears! 😂

A tiny glimpse of her foreignness

If you never see my kids at home, or with their dad, or grandparents, you could be forgiven for not realising they aren't your average Scottish weans. They've always lived here, there isn't even a hint of foreignness in their accents, and rarely in their turn of phrase. It's only if you hear them with their dad, that you realise they actually spend half of their time at home in another language...

But every so often something gives it away, whether that is referring to December 24 as Xmas, or having friends round to beat up piñatas for no apparent reason on the Sunday before Pancake day, or whatever. Today was one of those days. We're trying to eat our way through the kitchen so we're having strange dinner combos at the moment. Tonight we found Ikea meatball sauce but no meatballs, so Léon improvised with a links sausage and a square sausage each. I suspect most nine year old Scottish kids would know what that was called, so I had to laugh when Amaia came out with the throw-away line - 'I definitely prefer square sausages to cylinder sausages!' I don't tend to cook sausages, so she's probably only ever heard them discussed in Danish before, but today Daddy's not home, so she had to find a name for them in English.

Henceforth, I will always refer to them as cylinder sausages. 😁

Monday, March 25, 2019

Half birthday restored

In our family we celebrate 'half birthdays'... It's not my side that came up with it but Thomas's - I presume it dates back to their childhood. Both Thomas and his sister have winter birthdays (February and January, respectively), and given their parents used to take them off to their Italian summer house every year, the kids sneakily came up with the idea that if they had half birthdays, they'd have a great excuse to beg two Italian gelateria trips during their summer break.

Given five of the seven of us also have winter birthdays between December 19 and February 8, it didn't take too much arm twisting to continue this tradition into the next generation. Marcel was born on July 27, so his half birthday has never been much of a highlight to be honest, but his real birthday often involves ice cream, foreign climes and beaches so that's ok.

Léon is as European as a child can be. Genetically he's Scottish, a tiny bit English, and he's also a quarter French and German. He has been brought up since birth by a Dane, so is culturally Danish. He's top of his French class, he's a fluent Danish speaker, he can even get by in Italian and is about to start German and Spanish. His favourite place in the world is Italy, where he spends up to six weeks at a time, roaming the Italian mountains with his band of little Italian friends: Aurora, Viola and Alessia. He has aunts and uncles in Denmark and France, a sister who spends the most part of her free time in Spain. Léon started watching subtitled movies at about eight and spends his Saturday nights steeped in Icelandic thrillers, Spanish series and similar. He's even picked up a lot of Swedish from watching 'the Bridge', and often speaks to me in Swedish on the school run just for fun, driving both Anna and Amaia mad... But there's a problem: Léon was born on September 29. About 18 months ago the horror struck him in all its glory. Fucking Theresa May hadn't just triggered article 50, devastating the whole family, she'd triggered it to run out on March 29 - Léon's half birthday!!!

As we've been approaching the date, few families have been as affected by the whole thing, as ours. We've decided to emigrate because of it, so you don't get much steeper than that, but on top of that, celebrating in any shape or form on Brexit day would have been anathema to us.

Léon's face, last week when the EU stepped in and saved the day (even if only by two weeks) was truly something to behold. Looks like Friday's ice cream might just be back on after all!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Brexit - this week.

What the UK press says will happen:

  • Tonight - May's vote will be defeated, mainly because remainers want a softer deal 
  • Tomorrow - No Deal will be voted down
  • Thursday - they will vote to ask for an extension to negotiate a whole new deal
  • Friday - the EU will ask how many days, weeks or years they'd like and start the new negotiations
  • Every group, from ERG to Remain think they will be able to get exactly what they want.
What the foreign press says will happen:

  • Tonight - May's vote will be defeated, mainly because remainers want a softer deal
  • Tomorrow - No Deal will be voted down
  • Thursday - they will vote to ask for an extension to negotiate a whole new deal
  • Friday - the EU will roll their eyes, say the UK has put no new ideas on the table and say their very max is a six week extension till the EU elections but they'd prefer no extension at all
  • Remainers will wonder why they didn't vote for May's deal and then spend the transition period negotiating a softer Brexit. ERG will jump with joy as No Deal kicks in.

Friday, March 08, 2019

No-deal Brexit and language degree courses

We seem to have been going round and round on the same merry-go-round now for nearly a year. No-deal Brexit will mean troops on the streets, food shortages, the selling off of the NHS, pet passports being defunct, rationing, chlorinated chickens, Erasmus withdrawn, job losses, planes grounded, driving licences no longer being valid in the EU, medicine rationing, loss of citizens' rights, EHICs down the toilet and roaming charges back, currency collapse and price hikes... Almost every article mentions a subset of these, so I thought I'd look at an angle no one has yet mentioned, because it is potentially pertinent to my family.

When Charlotte signed up to study Economics and Spanish at Glasgow university in May of 2018, her course starting in September of the same year, she based that decision on the 2017-18 Glasgow University prospectus that described her five year course, with the third year spent in Spain as a language assistant. This isn't the same as an Erasmus scheme, where you study abroad at a university. I know this scheme well, having taken part in it myself in 1987-88, when I was the assistante d'anglais at Lycée Jean Lurçat in Bruyères, France. (How many times I had to correct them when they referred to me as the assistante anglaise!) Here's a photo of my flatmate (the German assistant) at our school from '88!

I asked her when she signed up what would happen to the compulsory year abroad after Brexit and she looked blank. 'I'm sure it'll all be fine' was her standard response for months. Now the lunatics are discussing a 'no deal' scenario, she's upgraded that reply to 'I guess if they don't sort it out, they'll need to cancel it for everyone'.

In Charlotte's case this would be really annoying given she is a French national so actually would still have the right to work abroad, but as she pointed out, if only five kids out of 1000 have dual nationality, they are just going to blanket-cancel it rather than sort it out for those who are still eligible.

I can see several major issues with this. A long term issue I can see is this: Kids up to and including the academic year 2018-19 will have taken part in this scheme. Presumably a year or two into Brexit, the government will have negotiated a reciprocal agreement again meaning this can resume, so there will be a group of language students, starting with the 2017 intake and spanning two to three years who will have missed out on this. As an employer, wouldn't you give those graduates a wide berth, if they are the only ones with lesser degrees and no real language experience? So not only will they miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime, they will also be seen as lesser graduates when they leave uni.

Secondly, and more urgently, not for Charlotte but for the 2017 intake... These kids are due to leave the UK for posts all over Europe this September. They will already have applied to schools in Spain, France, Germany etc and will be receiving their postings around Easter. If the UK goes 'no deal' at the end of this month and all of these places are revoked every uni offering modern languages in the UK is going to be faced with a year of students returning to class in September that they have not budgeted for. They'll need class space, they'll need tutors and lecturers, they'll need to book university accommodation for the 2019-20 session that they had not expected to need. Student accommodation tends to get booked around now, at the latest, so many of these kids are going to find their placement cancelled, they'll not have a room for next year and none will be available. They won't have filled out their forms for loans or tuition fees as they aren't expecting to return for that academic session. It's going to cause complete administrative chaos in universities across the country as well as panic and heartache in the kids themselves.

Is there anything left 'un-fucked-up' by this government?

Thursday, March 07, 2019

A momentous decision

I'm wondering if there's much point in me blogging this given my other half already has, but I guess only having our communal friends knowing what's going on might result in a few strange looks a week/month or two down the line.
For anyone who knows me on Facebook, it'll come as no surprise to you that I am not the biggest fan of Brexit - unless of course you've missed my four ranty posts a day for the last two years.

When the UK voted Leave back in June of 2016, I wasn't as horrified, in retrospect, as I should have been. That isn't because I was lukewarm to EU membership, but more because I'm so European, I think of the EU as 'us' and the UK as 'them', so my initial assumption was - the UK will hang about the periphery, sulking for a few years while 'we' get on with business without 'them' sticking their oar in in their usual petty and annoying fashion all the time.

Given I had assumed Norway was the worst possible route a sane government could opt for, I didn't think it would have much of a negative impact on my life or family... Then came May's red-line speech declaring that we'd voted to leave the Customs Union and the Single Market and ditch free movement and a host of other crap, I for one didn't see on the ballot paper - maybe we got the abridged version up here in Scotland?

Within hours she'd scathingly branded me, my family, and most of our friends as 'citizens of nowhere', rather than as we tend to celebrate 'citizens of Europe'; citizens with family and friends everywhere. For thirty years I had celebrated our diversity, our mixed culture and the many languages we use at the dining table every day in life. I loved that all my kids could fluently speak two languages and had two passports each. But suddenly the person in charge of the country where I lived, a narrow and insular excuse for a person, was telling me the way I had lived my life since I'd met my first foreign boyfriend at sweet 16, was illegitimate and no longer tolerable. My type of family was to be stamped out going forward. Would a day come when instead of proudly teaching their classmates a few words of their other mother tongue, they'd have to hide their foreignness? Would they have to drop their foreign surname from their CV later in life to get an interview?

Alarmed doesn't come close to how I began to feel in the autumn of 2016. And still, I had fully underestimated the madness that would follow. Early on, we started to discuss our own red lines, Thomas and I. If freedom of movement was to go, then families like ours would also probably have to go, in our eyes. We figured the latest it would become obvious, what the government was actually working towards was December 2017, so that would give us fifteen months to come up with a workable plan. I'd lie awake in bed for hours every night analysing what the likelihoods were. December 2017 came and went, with our kids clued up enough to be asking all the right questions about what the UK was aiming for, but strangely though they knew the ins and outs, the government didn't seem to. Senior politicians embarrassed us by trying to negotiate with EU countries separately, not grasping the fundamentals of how the EU even works, after 40 years membership! They were completely blasé about any effect this could have on peace in Northern Ireland and downright outrageous in their complete disregard of the Scottish 62% (and rising ever since) pro-EU vote.

Every deadline was missed and EU families like ours waited and waited for clarity, pawns in their grotesque game. I got to the point where I had to turn the news off as it was making me feel physically sick.

By Christmas of 2018, I had been through my own rather huge trauma; a cancer scare. When finally I got the all clear, the only woman on my ward who did, I knew we had to take back our future. Not having to go through the chemo everyone else was faced with meant that other than trying to recover, I could move on. I had spent too many sleepless night worrying about whether we could stay together as a family, about the state the UK economy, the NHS and the Higher education system would be in by the time my three youngest hit adulthood.

I could see Brexit was going to be dire for my company. Thomas works as an IT and linguistics consultant, so his work would dry up quickly in a recession - why pay to make people redundant when you can simply drop the consultants who have no employment rights? My work had been a bit precarious as I'd been off sick (though unpaid) so I was clawing my way back up that hill. All my foreign work had been gained on the basis of my running an EU-based consultancy. By March 29, I would no longer be running an EU-based one, but rather one floating on the edge of the EU with no obvious guidelines to follow. That would make it close to impossible for our company to win any EU contracts we bid on going forward. And of course, given the falling value of the pound, the EU work I did was the most lucrative of all. We estimated at least half of our business would dry up because of Brexit and that wasn't the kind of hit we could take.

Out of the blue, Thomas saw a job ad for a senior IT linguistics post in Denmark - the equivalent of heading up the IT section of the Académie française, but in Denmark. We agreed it was a lifeboat worth applying for, just to have on standby in case the government was insane enough to let the country crash and burn. Of course, when he applied we assumed it would remain a parachute, tightly packed under our seat because no sane Prime Minister would take a country to the edge of the abyss just to stop her party falling apart...

So there we were with 28 days to go and an ultimatum - sign up for the Danish lifeboat or risk staying in the UK, where Thomas's rights to healthcare, his continued right to have a mortgage here, or his right to remain, should he lose his job had not been guaranteed by a government so openly hostile to foreigners that they were deporting Windrush grandparents who no longer remembered coming to the UK as toddlers. Had we been a fully EU couple, like many of Charlotte's uni lecturers, we could have waited to see how bad things got and then decided to leave after Brexit, but I am the sticking point... six members of my family can leave after Brexit, but I become landlocked in the UK once my freedom of movement is removed, be that at 11pm in 22 days time, or after transition in December 2020, should they sign some last minute version of May's catastrophic deal next week.

It's isn't what we would have chosen to do. Thomas moved to Scotland, learnt Scots and feels Scottish. We never expected to feel so insecure in our home that we'd feel our only option was to flee the country, but that is what we have decided to do.

I have good days where I am almost excited at the prospect of living on mainland Europe, (well on an island tethered to the mainland by a bridge at least) and being able to drive all sorts of cool places for the weekend. And I have other days where I shake and cry and hide under the duvet as it is all too big to contemplate. I'm old, too old to start my life again from scratch. Removal costs are so high we are having to give away most of what we own and start again, without so much as a bed or a couch. We're going to have to sell our cars and house and transfer the money abroad, potentially as sterling crashes to a point where we can't make enough to buy a home there. We're having to magically find £7000 from nowhere to cover forcing Charlotte into University halls for a year - we can't exactly put that on her shoulders when she didn't choose this fate. When I think how long it will be before we break even I'm terrified and that's before the sadness hits of dragging the three wee ones out of schools we know and love, away from their dear friends. Marcel and Charlotte both came top of their high school year at one of the top three state schools in Scotland, and the wee ones have that same potential. Is it fair to plunge the wee ones into a system they don't know, in a language, that of course they speak, but not to the same standard as they speak English? Hopefully they'll learn to fly.

But if the economists are right, we're taking them away from a recession that will overshadow the remainder of their childhood, to a country everyone always says is one of the happiest of all. The work life balance will be better, the houses cheaper, the higher education free... It's been a hard choice to make, but I feel our hands are tied, so Denmark, it'll have to be. And when you decide to do something, there is no point in feeling sorry for yourself or dragging your feet. I'm going to find a way to do this well and make the best of a situation I didn't choose. I'm going to come home as many weekends as possible to help Charlotte, mum and my brother cope with this change and I'm going to hope as many of our friends and our kids' friends feel like a visit over the next few years as possible - maybe just to visit us or maybe because we'll be close to the original and definitive Legoland. Some of you might decide to come so you can have a meal that doesn't contain chlorinated chicken and rat poo or just to feel European again... I genuinely mean you are welcome - or will be once we have somewhere to stay. I've lived abroad before so I know it isn't always the most obvious candidates who drop by for a visit - but what I do know is that it is always fun when they do!

With still no clarity of Remain/May's Deal/No deal and now only three weeks to go, all I know is I'm moving to Funen either some time in the next two weeks or some time before the kids finish this school year. It's shocking to still have no clarity when you're this close to the precipice.

But to a certain extent, it feels good to regain control of my future after 984 days with the clowns in charge of the circus.