Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Denmark's great for the teeth

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Nowhere to shop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

Conkers 2

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

Tiled closes

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

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

Crazy (if impressive) road design

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

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

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

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

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

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

Llama girl

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

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

The wee chancer did try to venture the following:

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


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


Monday, October 07, 2019

Flag's up

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


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

Friday, October 04, 2019

Last year

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Danish houses

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

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

Here are two examples:


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