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


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!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

School supplies

I thought I'd take a photo of the local supermarket's 'back to school' aisle tonight to give you all a laugh. That is it in its entirety! No commercial hype here then...

On further inspection, however, I found something that would go down a treat at home and I have never seen there.

Reusable stretch covers for jotters. I know so many teachers and parents who'd love these back home!

Music reinstated

My kids did music back home. Léon is starting his 7th year old violin and was a member of East Ren youth orchestra and East Ren folk band. Anna was about to go into her 3rd year of guitar and Amaia had just finished year one of viola. They had group lessons that lasted half an hour a week. Léon had taken it for granted he would continue here as he has a real ear for music and loves everything about it. Both girls, despite having asked to play, seemed fairly indifferent to their lessons at home. They would have continued out of habit, but given the choice of starting somewhere new, they might just have likely opted out here. Thomas decided to let them try for a term before deciding so signed them up here on arrival. Here the lessons are individual, so it wouldn't be so much a chat to your music mates thing as a serious music thing.

Music lessons started back yesterday. Both girls looked fairly aghast when they were told they were to meet alone with a Danish music teacher and started tentatively trying to wriggle out - I'm not sure music is really for me. I can't go, I don't know the names of the notes in Danish etc etc

We dragged Anna in like a dog at the vets and went back after half an hour to a very changed opinion! She came out leaping and squealing with joy: Kristian is the coolest guy I ever met, Mum, he is a music teacher but he turned up in a string vest and shorts and a cap and has tattoos and piercings and this cool electric guitar and he says he'll teach me Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber and everything! I never want to give up music ever. I want to be a singer when I grow up!

Half an hour later Amaia, who had entered 'Agata's' room staring at her feet like a little mouse, bounced back to the car too: Agata is from Poland and she can speak Danish and English and German and she's going to teach me real songs unlike the boring stuff Rachel did at home. And she's so funny and sweet and helpful and she wants me to go with her on a music trip to Norway. When can I go mum, when? She's the best teacher I have ever had in anything!!!

Well that was a success! When it came Léon's turn to have Agata too, he had been signed up by the end of the hour to her lessons, her classical orchestra, her folk group, for a starring role in her musical, to a trip to Norway and to her talented musicians programme. And he spent the whole trip home wondering if he should become a music teacher when he grows up!

Well, I wasn't expecting that.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Home-owner once again

Looks like we've bought ourselves a wee house 😀 It comes with its own spare field (for the campers amongst you - though Thomas is muttering something about having always wanted his own vineyard!) and mature orchard and is 2km from the girls' school and 3km from Léon's.

Here's the schedule:
And a video:

At the moment it has a big garage (75m2) but given it also has a couple of barns in the back field we can use for things like bikes, tools, BBQs chest freezers and similar, we're going to stick three more rooms in there so were have plenty visitor space for all the family and friends we and our kids have invited over 😊

And it is all just in time - we found out when we were signing the paperwork that in Denmark you need to be resident for over five years to buy property unless you are an EU citizen - another perk we're losing - but I might just have got in there by the skin of my teeth.

I'll be boring you all with photos as soon as we get the keys. How about that turret though - I've always wanted my own turret!😂

Oh this is interesting: I knew it was originally a farmhouse that had been converted by the builder who currently owns it, but I didn't think I'd manage to find a photo of it in its original state on the Internet. How sweet... it was so tiny, with a thatched roof no less - awwwwh.

Back to school - where is all the stuff?

I'm sitting here listening to Virgin radio's breakfast show as I do every day after the school run... apparently according to this morning's 8am news the 'back to school' market in the UK represents the third biggest peak in shopping in the UK after Xmas and Black Friday with parents spending an estimated £1.2 billion on all the things kids need for going back to school.

That is very interesting from my position here in my mainland Europe 'brexile'! I was saying to Thomas last night that when I was getting the kids ready for going back to school today, I was amazed (and relieved) at how little it cost me compared to back home (I bought two bags at a tenner each). There is the obvious no uniform or PE kit so nothing to buy there but it struck me yesterday, I haven't actually seen anything much in the shops encouraging parents to bankrupt themselves... there are no more school bags, pencil cases, lunchboxes in the shops than there have been any other day since I first visited back in April. There is no more stationery than ever there is. I have seen a total of one 'Back to School' sign hanging in a shop (in Deichmann's in Odense Rosengårdcentret - basically the equivalent of Braehead - above the trainers(!), just like home, not!)

The hype and hysteria I associate with Back to School is just missing altogether. There isn't any great pressure to throw out last year's bag or pencil case and replace it with a new one, unless it is worn or broken. There are no queues round the block outside the hairdresser's! It all feels much less stressful as if sense rather than commercial pressure is driving the back to school period.

Back to school 2019

It's been the weirdest back-to-school period in all my 17 years of parenting... I keep wakening up in a cold sweat wondering when it'll come to me what I've forgotten, because, surely I must have forgotten something? Especially as it has cost me next to nothing! Seriously😲

Back in June I ordered two new school bags as Anna's and Amaia's were a bit past their best, Léon had recently got a sporty one so didn't need one. Unlike in previous years, no lunch boxes were ordered because they don't use those here. So, I have ordered no shirts, no trousers, no pinafores, no skirts, no ties, no jumpers or cardies, no long grey socks, and no long white ones. I have not had to drag them to Giffnock to buy hoodies with logos, sports tops, or PE kits. Blazers have neither been ordered in a larger size, nor dry-cleaned. No overpriced braiding to denote their school year or achievements has been added either. I have not walked the full length of Silverburn and Braehead with a sulking daughter in tow refusing every pair of black school shoes on sale. I have not been compelled to force my daughters into these shoes that are so hopeless against the Scottish climate. I have not cried in frustration when the only two styles of skirt acceptable at the high school are too loose or too long when tried on in shop after shop all over Glasgow and beyond. Nor have I had to fill my basket with drab Scottish-climate-grey clothing that adds to the further depressing monotones of a November morning. The tiny p1s here (who are 6 to 7, not 4 or 5) won't have to fight tiny shirt buttons over and over all term long. I've not had to order primary rain coats and winter coats that they'll refuse to wear on weekends, so are surplus to necessity. I won't even need to dread waiting for Léon to come out with his usual twice or three times a year favourite phrase 'I was playing football at lunch time and the sole came off my (black, Italian dress) shoes so, can we go buy another pair (10 miles away at a minimum cost or £35) preferably before tomorrow as I'm not allowed to wear anything else'... I'm sure didn't need that extra £100 a year for anything anyway. 😐

The Real Madrid strip Amaia has worn all summer will be her PE kit. Anna is more grown up so has chosen to wear her leggings and a t-shirt of her choice. They will wear their cheap jeans on the colder days with any t-shirt or hoodie they choose. When it is hot, they'll wear shorts, crop tops, vest tops. When it rains they'll put on a waterproof anorak, when it snows they can wear a hoodie, a woolly jumper or a snowsuit should it please them. I've even seen the smaller kids here turn up on wet days (of which there have been very few 😀) in outdoor onesies made of waterproof material. How sensible!

I remember teachers at home always saying they hated 'dress as you please' days because the kids couldn't concentrate in their own clothes... of course, that was because their own clothes were a novelty, which made the day exciting and different. There was also the stress and pressure of what to wear to be accepted, conform, not stand out or stand out the way you wanted to... but again these stresses just don't exist when it's an everyday event and all you know. It is every day and mundane and in the same way Charlotte doesn't stress every day about what to wear to uni, she simply sticks on her jeans and a top from New Look or similar, the kids have already started finding it normal to dress as they would on a weekend. After three weeks at school last term, they had already ascertained there was no peer pressure to wear specific brands or styles here, they all dressed completely boringly in shorts, jeans or leggings with a t-shirt or jumper.

Amaia is obsessed with llamas at the moment so wants to express her personality through t-shirts with llamas on, or Inca patterns. Anna likes short pretty-coloured t-shirts so that will be her theme this year. Léon will probably use his t-shirts sporting various geographical locations - he has a Honolulu, an Oslo, a California, a Vancouver etc. That says something about who he is. He has his bright purple Fiorentina football top too that he might wear when the fancy takes him and has asked for a Scotland football strip for his birthday so no one will ever be in any doubt as to where he's from. They are becoming individuals in the own way and that pleases me.

To be able to wear sandals on a hot day and not feel uncomfortable all day made them practically purr every morning in June. To wear waterproof jackets with hoods in the rain was a welcome change for Léon after two years in a very heavy when wet woolly blazer. I know technically their high school allowed winter jackets as long as they were removed at the front door and stored in lockers but because removing and storing was a hassle, almost no one could be bothered. I'd say less than 5% of the kids wore anything other than the blazer. So on the worst and wettest winter days, kids were seen climbing the hill in a hoody and blazer, soaked through and miserable looking, and presumably took a long time to dry off.

At school the girls will each be given a tablet to do their work on and Léon will receive a laptop as standard issue from his, so there will be no status wars there either - they are all on an equal footing here, no matter their background, which is lovely.

I know uniform is divisive - many love it, especially those who grew up with it. I don't think I ever questioned it till I taught in France. And I'm sure many will complain they just don't look smart like they did (pictured here last year) at home and yes, being in strict schools in East Ren, mine did look very smart, but although I adored their schools, both academically and for their warmth and nurturing atmosphere, I was never a great fan of the uniform, especially after the primary scrapped the poloshirts and sweatshirts in favour of old-fashioned shirts and ties seven years ago.

I always felt:

  • They didn't look comfortable and even complained they felt the shirts were choking them.
  • They weren't waterproof or adapted to the Scottish climate and often turned up home with shoes so full of rain they needed to be emptied out!
  • Blazers - wool or otherwise - in Scotland, need I say more?
  • They didn't look like children, more like little grey or black cloned business men.
  • Their shoes weren't conducive to running about like kids should.
  • Ties? Seriously? For either gender.
  • None of their personality could shine through... I could tell nothing about them and their friends, their likes or dislikes.
So today, for the first time since Marcel left nursery in 2002, my kids will start school fully as themselves. Let's see where this adventure takes them.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

How to make yourself a popular parent

Having Danish nephews and nieces at school over the last decade or more, I know that the two sets of school holidays almost always coincide exactly. They might have an extra day at one end of a week off, us at the beginning. Very occasionally October is off by a week and they always go back sooner in January but in general there's nothing shocking... until this summer. I noticed at the beginning of the holidays that because of the way the days fall this year in August, our schools back in Scotland have opted for 19/8, probably the latest back-to-school I've ever seen in 17 years, and Denmark had opted for 12/8, possibly the earliest ever. As the kids, for now, would still prefer to be returning to the schools they know and love back home, I thought this was going to be a hard sell, so had to start dropping my bomb as early as possible.

For six weeks, I've been drilling in the Danish date but passing as quickly as possible over the Scottish one, complete with fake coughing and distraction techniques where possible - oh look, a squirrel!

Last night I warned tonight would be an early night (School starts at 8-10am here). I even woke them up early so they'd be very tired tonight. Then I thought I had better log on to both schools' parents' intranet sites just to double-check the procedure - this is our first back to school here after all, so I didn't want the kids looking daft if I forgot something. There was a lovely message from each of the main class teachers welcoming them to the new term. Amaia's told her to bring school bag, pencil case, PE kit, food, water, her headphones for computer work and all the good humour she could muster... when classes resumed at 8-10am on Tuesday... Wait, Tuesday?! I checked the other two, it said the same date. So apparently when the webpage said they were on holiday till 12/8, it meant 'inclusive'. Oops! I was so close to dumping them all in different towns tomorrow at 8am then buggering off till between 2-10pm and 3-30pm! Shit! The positive is that the kids were so psyched up for tomorrow being D-day, they are now super excited by their one-day holiday extension, and haven't even noticed their mates back home have their feet up for an extra four days. 

Result! (albeit, accidental)

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Training for a change

At the age of eighteen I put on my first rucksack and it didn't come off again till I was 31! And even then it gave up on me rather than the other way round. With Marcel in a papoose on the front and my trusty friend on my back, I set out for Frankfurt main airport one winter's day and although Marcel and I ended up in London, the trusty friend ended up in Osaka of all places (it was better travelled than me!), and by the time it was repatriated, it was in several pieces - thanks British Airways!

I was young in the pre-Ryanair era. I wanted to see Europe but I was a student with no money so that meant two things - Interrail or Eurolines! I never went any further than Metz (via London, Amiens and Paris - 1000 miles) on Eurolines - 1000 miles was my knees' bus limit! Anything over 1000 miles was train material. And, of course, there was no Channel tunnel either so I spent many an overnight lying on the floor of the Ostend or Dieppe ferry fighting to retain my dinner despite the best efforts of the winter waves. My ferry to Dieppe once broke down within sight of the French coast but in such bad weather that they were forced to leave us spinning out of control for about four hours before the weather calmed down enough to tether us and drag us in. I think I was the only one that night who successfully kept down all their food. Many ferry hours had taught me that lying on the floor gave you the best chance of winning against sea sickness! By the time I reached Paris that night, my connection was long gone and another night was spent on a station bench alone - all 1m60 of me, lying on top of my rucksack to keep it safe, dodging flashers in the night!

Taking trains alone all over Europe as an 18 year old when you are my size taught me loads of life lessons. I learned how to protect myself from unwanted male attention. It isn't a lesson I particularly wanted to have to learn but it is a lesson that served me well in life. The first time I got on a train alone (the Glasgow to London at the age of 15) I woke up after dozing off to come face to face, or more correctly face to genitalia with an unwelcome morning alarm call. Seriously, you need to be sad to sit masturbating in a train carriage beside a child. By 18 I had learned not to choose a compartment alone, to board the train not an hour before departure when you could easily get a seat, but six or seven minutes before when there were still seats but also plenty of protective witnesses. That way you could choose who to sit beside rather than having them decide because you were on first. I learned to latch on to other women, or family groups. I learned on many train journeys to Italy that if you looked a wee bit wee and vulnerable and skinny, some huge mamma or nonna would take you under her wing and force-feed you from the bag of cold pizza, pasta and salad they always had in tow!

Apart from that, training through Europe taught me some useful strategies for coping with the unexpected. When a train didn't stop where you expected to change (I once ended up in Rome at 6am when the train sped through my change in Florence in the middle of the night), you had to come up with a new route, new tickets, you had to charm controllers into allowing you to use your original ticket where possible, you had to find a different point in your journey to eat, you had to jump out and find a call box to phone ahead if you were being picked up. Those life skills were all infinitely useful for adult life. You learned when to play the dumb foreigner, and when being fluent in their language worked better.

But more than that, you met interesting people, you watched the landscape change - I still vividly remember Lyon is the point in Europe where the ground turns from green to brown any time after June. I know Avignon is about the limit for natural olive plantations and I know there is nothing more majestic than the first time you train down Italy looking out at sunflower field after sunflower field.

You see places you'd never have seen. I went by train from Konstanz to Venice (via Switzerland, Milan and Verona) in my early 20s with my still great friend Gillian. Had we flown, we'd have had a lovely week together in Venice. As it was, we took the train, so when we passed through Lugano, we looked at each other, said - look at that beautiful place, jumped off the train and found a hostel and extended our trip by four whole days!

So last month when Charlotte had a 12 day gap between two au pairing jobs in Madrid, I was secretly pleased when she decided to get a cheap ticket to cross part of Europe by train, alone. Lots is a plane baby - she had family abroad so was on a plane by twelve weeks old, long before she ever saw the inside of a bus or train. She flew from Madrid to London, visited Marcel and Milly, then hopped on the Eurostar - another experience none of my kids has ever had. That is weird to me. I went on Eurostar the first week it opened, when they were still handing passengers sparkling wine to celebrate. I didn't have anywhere specific to go, I just fancied trying it as I'd done ferries and planes to death!

Charlotte went through England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany over the course of fourteen hours. She had to deal with a train arriving too late in Hannover for her connection. (Unlike me at that age, Charlotte is a Spanish speaker, not a German speaker so that added another layer of complexity). She then had to deal with missing the Hamburg-Flensburg direct train so having to work out Neumünster was a reasonable next stop to look for a train to Flensburg. She arrived at 10pm so learned how it felt as the train thinned out as darkness fell and she got to see all of Germany.

When I picked her up in Flensburg, to save her the final 90 minute train to Funen, she had grown up a little more.

As an addendum to this post which I wrote, other than the last few lines, a couple of weeks ago, but then got distracted... This sadly comes the day after the UK decided that going forward Interrail wasn't worth preserving for the youth of today, after nearly fifty years. I truly hate the insular, sad, angry little country the UK is becoming. It is as if they looked at my life and picked it apart. Interrailing isn't ok, marrying EU nationals isn't ok, living with them in the UK isn't ok, being a dual national kid makes you inferior, and god forbid you should bring your family up bilingually when monolingual is an option.

Home is no longer home. Home no longer exists.😢

-----STOP PRESS-----

I hear that almost as soon as I hit publish, the Interrail ban got reversed - didn't know I was so powerful, lol - good news for the kids though.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Bazar Fyn

We quickly discovered Bazar Fyn in Odense on arrival here the first time back in April. The vast majority of the people shopping in it seem to be of middle eastern descent, some speaking Danish but many speaking more exotic and exciting languages. It is a wonderful market; it's Denmark's biggest ethnic minority market and definitely the place to go for the freshest veg and best quality meat around.

They even have yellow watermelons!

There are so many different spice stalls, we'll need to order very little from eBay going forward (the only two missing staples I've noticed so far are Kashmiri chilli powder and chipotle flakes.) It has every type of biryani kit that my Pakistani friends back home have recommended to me and more and the most comprehensive nut stall I've ever seen.

There is a middle section full of restaurants with the most outrageously large portions of all things Persian, Turkish and more.

I had to laugh at their categorizing of me on my first visit. I bagged up some fresh chillis for making a curry at home and went to the counter. The little Turkish man on the till told me I couldn't have them! I asked why and he tried to explain in a mix of hand gestures and broken Danish that they were too strong for people like me! I explained back that I wasn't Danish, but Scottish and that in Scotland we happily eat loads of Scotch bonnets and birds-eyes. He looked almost paternally proud and then conceded that if I actually knew what I was letting myself in for he'd happily sell me my wee bag of chillis, he had just been worried I was some naive chilli amateur who could have been killed by the after-effects of eating this wee bag full 😂 I think we are going to become his best customers, going forward.

Tanking the economy

As far as I can see, the majority of people who voted for Brexit in England did so because they had reached breaking point on the back of years of austerity and they wanted their lives to get better (not logical in the slightest, I know, but they genuinely believed things had hit rock bottom and Brexit offered a new and better future.) The EU was a great scapegoat, but killing off the scapegoat rarely improves your situation. That is why, if Boris goes through with his version of Brexit, he better also be investing in the space program, as he's going to need a one-way ticket to Mars, when the angry hoards come after him when things get even worse.

Watching from abroad, you get a much clearer view of what's going on back home, and the most striking for us this week has been the transfer of our house sale funds from the UK. The house sale went through on 19/7, but it took until 25/7 for the cheque to clear and be available to move out of the UK. We authorised the transfer of the money exactly 24 hours after Boris came to power (trying to minimise any damage his loose-cannon talk might cause), we locked in an exchange rate (thank god), but by the following Tuesday it still hadn't showed up in our bank account here. Thomas rang the banking transfer company to ask what the hell was going on and we were told it was taking much longer than usual as 'people trying to remove cash from the UK at the end of last week had hit an unprecedented level'.

Fortunately for us the money turned up on Wednesday. Interestingly, we checked exchange rates and had we not locked in a rate the previous Thursday, we would have lost fully £5000 in the space of five days. That's not loose change - that's a second-hand car!

Going forward, paying for the Charlotte's room in Glasgow, hiring a car or letting the kids buy their clothes on trips home is going to be easier, but this is not good. Everything imported into the UK will get dearer (and let's face it, the UK imports everything, more or less). Holidays for the rest of my family will become prohibitive. Affording to buy in necessities such as medicine will become harder. The hostile environment has already put off the majority of healthcare workers and similar applying to come to the UK, the rest will be put off by the exchange rate. Working abroad is much less attractive if you can no longer afford to go home on a holiday.

I'm desperately worried for my country, at least in the short term. I cling to the hope that when they come to their senses, they will come there big time and things may turn round forever, but in the meantime, I have kids back home, and a mother and brother with a family, I have dear friends. Watching the madness unfold with the clarity of distance, in a country where things are just turning over normally, is almost harder than being in the midst of it all.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Garden benches for Nordic peoples

I'd have loved one of these back in Scotland. Lots of the public benches and picnic tables here in Funen have wee wind-breaker walls incorporated around them and then they are placed against the most common wind direction, so you can happily have an outdoor picnic without your hair blowing off even on less sunny days than we have been having recently. What a good idea.


I love these new murals they have put in in Copenhagen airport. They made me smile on arrival a couple of weeks ago.

Danish numbers in 'mixed marriages'

A trip to the local supermarket just made me smile...

I've been to the supermarket three times today (why don't Danes sell milk in decent-sized cartons?!) So this time, as Thomas was along too, I said I'd wait in the car. Sitting with all the windows open as the weather is nice, I observed a couple approaching the Danish car parked next to mine. He was carrying a three year old boy who was wriggling and kicking, she was carrying a one year old boy who was alternating between floppy and rigid in that annoying way babies do when they are on the wind-up. Between them they were also carrying shopping bags and obviously reaching the end of their collective tether. He was ranting at her in Danish, she was looking grumpy. She waited for him to shut up the said in a Slavic accent, in English, - I told you I can't understand Danish numbers! He ranted some more, again in Danish and the last words he said were fire og tredive. She snapped... English, Oliver, English - Just tell me in fucking English! He swore in Danish, looked stressed and harassed, stopped said fire og tredive to himself slowly while tracing his finger in the air, from right to left, then turned to her and sighed deeply... forty three, he said finally. See, that wasn't so hard, she said condescendingly as she keyed 43 into her phone.