Sunday, June 30, 2019

How our Danish schools do birthdays

Back at our Scottish school, I used to find birthdays a bit of a burden. I had five kids (granted I only ever had three at primary at the one time, so let's work on that premise...) Each of the kids had between 30 and 33 kids in their class so when Léon was in primary 7, the classes were made up of 33+33+30 kids minus my 3 own kids which gave me a calculation of 93 kids a year who could potentially have parties. In p1 and 2 the whole class was generally invited, by the later years we were probably down to one gender, so half the class. So I was averaging somewhere in the region of 45 parties a year. The standard outlay was between £10 and £20 per present. I tried to stay at the £10 end except for besties but could see that the average was closer to the other end. So attending other kids' parties cost a minimum of £450 a year, and was probably nearer to £600. With this outlay for others, ironically, I was left without enough to throw parties for my own kids as that would have set me back a minimum £200 a head too. They had at most two or three close friends home for dinner every other year and felt distinctly like second-class citizens.

On Amaia's very first day at Veflinge primary an invite was ominously waiting on her desk addressed simply 'New girl'. We opened it to find she'd been invited bowling with the girls in her class for someone's birthday today - a fairly standard party we would have at home too. Here we go again... or not as the case may be!

Having joined the class Facebook group this week, we messaged the group admin to find out what kind of gift of what value was expected so as not to make our kids seem even odder than they must already seem. The format was then explained to us. Each child in the class is assigned another child in the class - the one whose birthday is closest to their own. A month before their birthday, you ask that child for a wish list and choose something to a value of max £22 to give that child from the class as a whole. That is the only gift the child receives from the class, while the kids still get the nice bowling trip, chips and ice cream and cake at school on the day. This system makes it affordable for all and means every kid gets a present from the class to the same value. I often found back home that the kids with the most invited the most kids and got even more while those with the least had to forego parties and presents of their own. And another positive is that when you come home you don't have 30+ gifts to have to fit into your kid's bedroom and an overwhelmed child in a meltdown!

Maybe this way I'll even be able to afford to throw my kids a class party at last!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Things... #3 don't see on the school run in Newton Mearns.

A garden with a traditional windmill on the driveway up to their house!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Things... #2 don't see on the school run in Newton Mearns.

A wee 'gingerbread' cottage by a lake. (Appearances are deceptive - it may be in a village but it's 20 minutes from Odense city and 8 minutes from the main Danish east west and north south motorway!)

This one is even more interesting as it is for sale at the moment. See this link. Unlike in Scotland where we sell at 'offers over' a specific price, Danish houses around here seem to be listed at a fixed price and you are meant to bid under but close to it! This is a three bedroom with a living surface area 15% bigger than my mum's roughcast 70s house in Newton Mearns (which retails around £230K). It is on the market in a country where salaries are much higher than at home for a fixed price of about £88K! And my goodness, isn't is cute as hell?!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


In Scotland we had built up an amazing garden over the 12 years we were in that house. By that I don't mean amazing by the usual Newton Mearns standards... It wasn't the perfect and pristine garden of a show house with all the flowers in matching shades in neatly weeded beds... It was mad and wild and messy but almost everything in it was edible and there was way too much for one family to use. 

We had four different types of rhubarb and we only ever got through a quarter of it. We had strawberries all of June and early July, we had a whole late summer and autumn of raspberries, tay berries, brambles, white currants, red currants, black currants and wild strawberries. We had red love apples (last year we tried working our way through the table full of crates but didn't get close to finishing). There were two pear trees. We had so many crab apples I could have made jelly for all the local supermarkets, but contented myself with half a dozen jars and left the rest to the birds. We had one greengage, one cherry and one plum too. Like the strawberries, the kids did get through most of the blueberries we grew, though. More exotically we had two quince trees and, if you were feeling even more adventurous, a medlar!  

In the herb patch we had chives, rosemary, two types of oregano, two types of thyme, three types of sage, three types of mint (segregated for the sake of the other plants!), lovage, angelica, bay leaves and a cardoon! In the greenhouse I was knee-deep in grapes and figs but by early autumn the wasps had beaten me to them, as I was again overloaded with too many fruits. 

And those were just the plants that popped up every year with no help from us.

Round the side Thomas grew beans, peas, celery, onions, garlic, kale, lettuce and various squashes.
Interspersed with all the fruit were flowers. It was messy and wild like everything else in our lives, but it was functional, fun and yummy. The only problem was I had way more than my family and close neighbours could eat. Waitrose was selling three sticks of rhubarb for £2 and I had a spare 400 sticks rotting in my garden and no amount of jam making could keep up with it. 

Now I have been in Denmark for a couple of weeks, I've started noticing these little constructions at the bottom every fourth or fifth driveway in the town where Anna and Amaia have started school. These are barrows, a stall or even a wooden box on its side, usually with cute little Danish flags on the top. Inside are trays full of fresh strawberries, potatoes, cabbages or similar with prices hand-written on them. There is also a wee sealed money box and also a 'mobile pay' phone number. People are selling off all the surplus from their gardens! Not content with food, some even put out bunches of flowers, saplings, homemade jam or honey and similar.

Some have even taken it to a whole new level putting out their artwork or ceramics too. Here's one in the next village who paints stone chickens and hangs them on her fence for sale!

I could have made an absolute fortune in Scotland if I had been free to do something like this. It is just wonderful to think that any surplus I have in the future won't be left rotting on the trees and bushes. I'm definitely away to knock myself up a wee stall - I might even stick a Saltire on it alongside my wee Danish flag 😀

Things... #1 don't see on the school run in Newton Mearns.

I thought I'd do a wee photo from time to time of things that make me stop on the school run and simply go - woah!

The biggest poppy field I've seen outside of a Monet or Renoir painting!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Braving the liquorice

I've mentioned their liquorice fetish before, but I'm now surrounded by it.

On my first day back over here a couple of weeks ago, we arrived in the heat. We pulled into the first supermarket after we arrived - the Lidl in everyone's favourite (comic-value) town 'Middelfart'  (the kids have almost stopped chuckling about this now). We bought some caramel ice lollies to cool down and while we were looking in the freezers, I spied these:

My first reaction was to recoil in horror, but I noticed they were described as 'sweet' so figured they were probably not all that bad - I can just about stomach liquorice allsorts at home after all. For some reason (probably the pic which depicted something cream coloured in a black casing), I had it in my head that it was probably a vanilla ice cream like you find in a magnum with a mildly sweet liquorice covering... 

I decided today that I should try to fit in in my new surroundings. I think the only two things I vaguely dislike eating are horseradish sauce and wasabi, so I'm not someone who could be described as a fussy eater. I bit into it. The casing was strong and definitely not sweet liquorice. The inner ice was indeed cream coloured but was more zebra like. Salt liquorice fissures ran the full length of its innards. I tried a second bite. The warm bile-like taste was truly horrendous. Not one to give up, I tried a third bite. With each bite the taste was becoming significantly less palatable. I threw in the towel and rushed inside for something, anything, to take away the taste. I tried a fresh, juicy cherry tomato but the salt was still burning my throat. Thomas had made fresh seeded rolls for breakfast so I pulled off a chunk to see if, like with a strong chilli, bread would help - nope! I found a lump of fancy yellow watermelon in the fridge - still no luck. Finally, I opted for a black olive, a pickled chilli and a large lump of Pié d'Angloys all washed down with a strong coffee. I have almost managed to shake off the flavour though I expect it might be a recurring theme in all future nightmares.

It was truly the most offensive thing I have ever tasted, worse even than salt liquorice sweets. I'm not sure I'm going to fit in in Scandinavia. Have I actually managed to find the only thing that is harder to stomach than Brexit?! 😂

Thursday, June 13, 2019

A different take on lollipopping

This one is for my friend Stephanie!

Back at Kirkhill, we had the best lollipop lady. I won't go into the details because I already have here, but she was a real gem. Despite being cheery, caring, helpful and generally lovely, she had to put up with drivers driving at her aggressively, swearing, nastiness and all sorts of dangerous behaviour despite it supposedly being a 'nice' area and the fact that the kids she was trying to safely cross over often belonged to the shouty stressbuckets!

I've been doing the school run here for nearly a week now. As we aren't yet in catchment for where we intend to end up and therefore where the kids are already at school, I am not only passing their two schools but at least three others en route.

Denmark, or at least here on the island of Funen, has come up with a different model for lollipop people. Presumably it must work too, given they are using the system so I thought I'd note it down just because it is so different.

At each school I pass there are two kids - I'd say looking at them they range in age from about 11 to maybe 16. Each is dressed in neon yellow with a big yellow lollipop-shaped sign. They are at the crossing in front of each school, one on either side of the road on the pavement. They simply stand at the edge and when a child wants to cross they put up their lollipop. Not only are all the cars already driving really cautiously because the lollipop people are kids, but they instantly stop safely and in a friendly manner on the kids' signal because they don't see them as annoying targets but instead as helpful children who need protecting.

Wouldn't it be nice to treat our crossing patrol people like that at home?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Léon's first Danish lesson

Léon was always going to approach this in a cocky and positive manner. To be honest, I've been quite apprehensive that he might crash and burn at the end of the first day. Léon's spoken Danish is best of all the kids - he's been hearing it longest, he's had his phone and computer in Danish for some time, two years ago he spent a summer alone with the Danish grandparents so spoke Danish all the time and generally he has a confidence and an extrovert personality the others don't. Anna or Amaia are perhaps a bit better at reading or writing Danish as they're more diligent and less slapdash, but Léon can wing most things and languages are his thing. He's part of a WhatsApp group with the kids from his grandparents' Italian village and never having learnt that doesn't stop him thinking he's practically an Italian native speaker.

When he was given his starting date and timetable I noticed his first period in Danish school was going to be double Danish - gulp. I became more scared he'd find it a bit daunting and lose confidence... silly me😜

When I picked him up, I asked how his first class with 'Claus' had gone. I had no real idea of what they do in Danish classes, so assumed it might be similar to his English lessons at home. His first task was to research food waste on the Internet, come up with the issues and debate them through a PowerPoint presentation. How daunting would that be in a language which is spelt as oddly as English? Even I was nervous to hear how that had gone.

A dual positive to Léon's personality is his ability to laugh at himself, while not being overly embarrassed by his own failings...

Danish is a bastard of a language when it comes to the correlation between spelling and pronunciation. It is also full of silent letters you just don't know are there if you learn it orally. Danish for 'food waste' is 'madspild', of course with a silent 'd'. Léon, not knowing about the 'd' guessed it was probably spelt 'madspil' as it was pronounced so gave a riveting Powerpoint to an amused group of 13 year olds on the topic of 'food games'. This change of meaning caused by a silent letter would have had Anna running for the door in embarrassment, but Léon thought it only added to his street cred. They all now think he's a great laugh!

That morning he'd been introduced as the Scottish kid who moved to Denmark 9 days earlier. As they were leaving school, one kid ran up to him in the playground and exclaimed in Danish 'Fuck, mate, if you learnt Danish that well in just 9 days, you're gonna be the cleverest kid in the school!' I asked if Léon fessed up to having been spoken to in Danish since he was born... of course not, he winked!

Love that boy.😀

First school trip

As school is winding down towards the summer break, school trips are the thing this week.

On her first day Anna was told there are two (free) school trips this week - one today to learn kayaking in the sea half an hour away and another to an animal thing on Friday - a farming auction or similar - I'm not fully sure yet but will no doubt work it out once she's been.

First odd thing from a compare-with-home perspective - Anna had missed the consent and info handed out in previous weeks, so she came home with a hand-written note from the teacher with her personal mobile number on it asking us to call her. When Thomas rang, she told us that a bunch of parents had volunteered to drive all the kids to the coast and drop them there with the teacher and instructors to save hiring a bus. Anna was told to go with the mother of the girl she'd befriended on day one.

On arrival at the coast she had a 2 hour kayaking session in the shallow sea and when it came lunch time the teacher invited her class back to her place for afternoon cake and 'hygge' in her garden! The class's Maths teacher who is currently on maternity leave with a 2 month old son also turned up for coffee and to show off her baby to the class and they all hung about in the teacher's paddling pool eating before the parents went back to collect them and drop them back at school around 4pm!

This is all so very alien to us still but quite welcoming so far.

Danish school - day one

Since we had our tour of the two Danish schools last Thursday, we've had varying degrees of bravado and worry vis a vis going to school in a different language - some more predictable than others.

Monday was a bank holiday here - another of these weird religious days we work in Scotland, so Tuesday was chosen as D-day. As all three were starting at 8-10am, we tossed up for it (the schools are in neighbouring towns, 5km apart) and I definitely won - ie I got Léon, who thought it was going to be a breeze, rather than Anna who said she wasn't sure why she needed to attend Danish school at all and she would rather just pass on all friends going forward! Amaia was somewhere in the middle - surprisingly calm.

So here's the lowdown on the lower school...

All seemed ok on drop off and the girls went in without impersonating a scared cat at the vets, so that wasn't dire. Personally, I was particularly amused by the mural at this lower school (age 6-12) - a 3D naked man seems to be distributing owls to naked women on their knees (not sure for what purpose) - very Scandinavian - I'm not sure you'd find that on an Anglo-Saxon primary school entrance wall - it's a shame they don't have a uniform here because if they did the blazer badge could be a picture of a naked bloke in an aviary! That might be quite fun to design. 😁

There are also smaller murals on the playground wall - these are on the p1 bit - I just love this! Someone's arse on a toilet 😂!

The primary here in Veflinge only has about 100 kids so they gather in the mornings to sing songs as a welcome. They started with 'I like the flowers, I like the daffodils...' all up on a whiteboard so they could sing along, so that was fun. Amaia's teacher also seems to do that welcome thing we've all seen on the internet, which is quite sweet.

Differences we've noticed so far...

No uniform - of course, and they dump their shoes at the entrance and run about in socks everywhere indoors.

Classes are all under 20 kids which is a nice ratio of teachers to kids.

The kids call the teachers (and the headmaster) by their first name - Amaia's teachers are Henriette and Morten, Anna's is Birgitte. Morten is apparently the Maths teacher and wears a superman T-shirt with an M on it and calls himself SuperMorten!

They don't have designated playgrounds other than for the infants so the kids can choose between the football field at the back, the basketball court or the large garden filled with climbing things. They are also allowed to wander off into the small forest behind the school if they want at interval and lunch.

There are home economics kitchens for the primary pupils and shower rooms for the little ones too.

They are much more laid back when it comes to consent - two kids in Amaia's class were turning nine yesterday and they were simply handed pieces of birthday cake without consent forms in triplicate and the Spanish inquisition - that is a breath of fresh air, after many years of filling out the same form over and over!

They have come up with a cute way of dealing with birthdays - each child is meant to bring in a gift for the child whose birthday comes next so Amaia has been assigned a girl who is turning ten ten days after her next January.

At the end of the day, different ages get out at different times - Amaia's day finishes at 1-50, but as they would like the kids to get some exercise, you aren't to pick them up till half an hour after the bell so they can go on the jungle gym and run around the basketball court with their friends! Anna gets to stay half an hour longer but as they'll all eventually be walking home or coming by bus if we move to the neighbouring town, then it's no big deal.

I'll do Léon separately so this doesn't get too long😀

Friday, June 07, 2019

Flowery selfies

I took this photo back in Italy in 2017.

We'd found a stunning field of sunflowers by the roadside in Poppi in Tuscany.

Amaia remembers it well and asked today, now Charlotte has arrived, if they could redo it with poppies instead of sunflowers - let's compare the two!

(Got to laugh - here's the photo she took! You can't see the poppies!)

Danish school - part one

So this is how the 'little' three started the school session 2018-19. And on Tuesday, I'll update it to how they are finishing it. They are going to try out Danish school for three weeks just to see what it is like!

Yesterday we got word that the schools we had been hoping to get them into had a space for each of them, despite their not yet being in catchment. We went along for a meeting with the head teacher and a tour of the two schools.

The first thing that struck me and the kids, as Scottish people was that the head was dressed casually and introduced himself as 'Kim'. As we walked about in the school, the kids all seemed pretty similar to those in Kirkhill or Mearns Castle, though Léon's mouth fell open when two of the eight year olds in one of the classes rushed up to 'Kim' and gave him a great big hug. Léon turned to me and said he could never have imagined doing that to Mrs Donaldson back in his primary days! On entering what will be Amaia's class, a pretty young teacher introduced herself as Henrietta and asked Amaia her name. Interestingly, the class sizes are all under 20 kids too, so that'll be a help when the kids are trying to get up to scratch with their written Danish and may need to ask for extra help with the odd word 😊

Other differences we've noted so far were mini-shower rooms for kids as young as seven for after their PE lessons. I didn't see a shower at school till I turned 11! They also seem to have proper 30cm sharp knives in the home economics classrooms (like those we have given the kids to use since they were little). Back in Scotland Léon constantly complains about high school insisting the younger kids use implements bordering on butter knives, for 'health and safety' reasons!

Léon's ears pricked up when school trips to the likes of Berlin were mentioned. It'll be interesting to see how much they want for that as we've always considered the high school trips in Scotland beyond our means. The kids have only ever taken part in World Challenge trips which they have fund-raised themselves, but despite wonderful trips to France, Italy and the US being on offer every year, they always come in at about double what I would expect to pay... so watch this space.

Induction also seems to be done differently... Anna will be moving up to the middle school in the session beginning August 2020. Back home she was due to start Mearns Castle this summer and three induction days had been arranged for this week. Apparently at the new school she will go to the middle school every Thursday next year to get ready for the move.

As we were leaving, a child passed wearing a Denmark football top. Because of the risk sectarian nonsense back home, football tops were a no no even on dress as you please days. Now every day is going to be dress as you please, Amaia chanced her arm and asked if she could wear her Real Madrid strip to school. The head didn't even understand why that could be an issue! Amaia is a very happy bunny.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Camping holiday?

We went shopping today in Flensburg in Germany. The big hypermarket was selling four-man tents for the summer holidays, but not just any four-man tents - tents like I've never seen them before! Léon could definitely be talked into one of these!

I was thinking the kids could get this for the three of them and as Thomas and I are getting on a bit, we could invest in this so we could all go camping together 😂

Love to travel

I've been a traveller much longer than I have travelled...

From the first time I heard a foreign language, I knew I needed to escape the island where I was born and see other cultures, climates, people - over and over again. And although the travelling itself can get tiring the older you get and the more small people you have in tow, there are still few things I love more than the people-watching involved in international ports and airports.

When I left the UK on Sunday, I couldn't help but smile quietly when I found myself behind a bloke checking in on the Venice flight wearing a jacket covered in different dinosaurs and pizza slices! Where do you even buy something like that! (Excuse the near-bum shot, he bent over as I took it!) Isn't the world just a wonderful mix of individuality? I just love how different we all are!

Omg, I actually found it online. Lol.