Saturday, November 30, 2019

Room with a view

Sitting here having breakfast looking out over my next-door neighbour's lake when it suddenly struck me how odd that sounds. Imagine actually owning a lake...

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Undertakers and national driving differences

I've always driven abroad - already in 1987-88 I shared a car with my German flatmate and again in Germany the following year, so I have never really paid much attention to national differences when it came to driving habits (other than which side of the road I was meant to be driving on or which side of the car I was meant to be sitting in!)... Obviously driving in Germany was always a wee bit different, given they have speed-limitless roads, so I quickly learned to pay much more attention in my mirrors to the speed something was coming up the outside lane for overtaking purposes, but other than that I never really analysed it...

Now I'm mainly driving in Denmark, but have nipped back to Scotland two or three times for a week. I have now noticed one colossal difference between the two sets of drivers and that is undertaking on motorways. Unless traffic is more or less at a standstill, usually because of roadworks, because the roads are definitely less busy here, no one ever undertakes you here. Although I would obviously not recommend it, you could, to all intents and purposes, move from the middle lane of a motorway into the slow lane without looking. So, back in Glasgow last weekend I tested my theory that Scots were much more a breed of undertakers than Danes - my god - even between Crookfur and Glasgow centre (a less than 10km stretch) I lost count of the number of cars that shot up my left hand side (no I wasn't going under the speed limit like an annoying snail) - they were simply being chancers who could not be bothered popping out two lanes and back two. So, all in all driving in Scotland is harder and more stressful than here - you certainly need to be more alert.

It's actually interesting to look at national differences. I have many years of experience of driving in France, Italy, Germany and a bit in Spain, Switzerland and Luxembourg, but had very little experience of Scandinavia till this year. I've always found France and Italy similar to home so they have never fazed me. Nothing much stood out in Spain, Switzerland or Luxembourg either. The main German difference is that outer motorway lane when the speed limit goes altogether and the Audis and BMWs shoot past at 150kmph+ - you just stay out of that unless you've hired something much more powerful than I tend to be able to afford to own!

Over the October week, I took my car to the Netherlands for the first time. I've only ever used public transport there before. It is altogether different. It is such a small country but with a huge amount of traffic on the motorways, and once you get into the cities, bikes and trams are thrown into the mix. The roundabouts really should be taught to foreigners before they attempt them. I think more Dutch would be run over by the annual tourists if it wasn't for the sheer number of bikes that pass you like an impenetrable wall. I think I'd call it a high-concentration drive. The distances between cars is less than half what we're used to in Scotland, they drive at 130kmph (81mph) even when it is highly congested, jumping in and out smoothly in a hair-raising fashion. It almost looks like they are knitting some elaborate pattern with their cars in a fast and well-choreographed manner. It definitely isn't somewhere I would like to drive if I was overly tired or had less driving experience.

Finally, as I've mentioned before, living somewhere where there are very few potholes is nice. I feel like I can pay attention to driving rather than scanning the road surface, but the thing I miss most from home is cat's eyes. Living beyond where the Glasgow lampposts light the motorway, these wonderful little reflectors made driving clear and easy. Here, I often drive to Copenhagen, Billund or the German border at night in the dark and their absence is painful. In driving rain and mist it is significantly harder to see the boundary between lanes. They really don't know what they are missing. It is as different as driving a country lane in the dark and driving down an airport runway. Come on, Europe, order in some cat's eyes, please!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Amsterdam flower market

I'm going to have a wee rant - more at myself for being gullible and stupid, in fact, than at the crooks and deceivers, really.

Two autumns ago, I was at a linguistics and lexicography conference in Leiden, in the Netherlands. Noticing it finished at midday, I booked my return flight for about 10pm, so I could have a day wandering around Amsterdam. I found myself, like many tourists, in the flower bulb market, given it was that season. Laden with blue tulips, I headed home, planted them and waited for spring. Spring came and my garden filled with boring, bog-standard red tulips. As the first few opened I was puzzled and then I suddenly realised, with a wry little smile... I had been well and truly hoodwinked. I assumed the business model was: buy in the cheapest, most boring bulbs, package them up as something exotic and expensive, palm it off on the foreign tourists, who won't realise they've been sold a pig in a poke till many months later and many miles away. Part angry, part in awe of their balls, I laughed it off and carried on. Red tulips are better than no tulips, after all.

Last month I was in Amsterdam, and of course it was tulip planting season again. Ok, I thought, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was just an honest error... This time, I bought only one packet of the blue bulbs, and from a different vendor. I have planted them in a specific spot in the garden, away from all the others, so I know where to look in the spring. I won't fully be holding my breath however. To test my theory sooner, they were selling amaryllis bulbs too. Blue or red, they were the same price, so at least I was only being done on description, rather than price, this time! I picked one up. Here is its tag:

And as we run down to Xmas it has been getting taller by the day. Today, it looks like this:

Any bets whether it is going to be red or blue when it opens? 😡

So, in warning, I am likely to conclude in March or April, that Amsterdam flower market is there for the sole purpose of doing the tourists, don't let them get you!

Update: Bastards😕

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Sausage girls

Over the weekend I went to Scotland for two days to see Charlotte, Marcel and mum. I asked the kids if they wanted me to bring anything back and Amaia came out with square sausage, while Anna requested (very specifically) Asda cocktail sausages - I mean - seriously? Firstly, you couldn't pay me enough to eat a cocktail sausage, and square I can take or leave... They're fine as part of my annual fry-up, but truthfully I wouldn't miss them if I never encountered one again. I'm sure their meatiness must be in their German genes!

Anyway, I made this for dinner tonight and Amaia got rather creative with it!😂

You can take the girl out of Scotland, but you'll never take Scotland out of the girl.😂

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Winter illuminations

At first, just after the clocks changed, I thought Danes were all a wee bit over-eager with Xmas. Almost immediately people started filling their gardens with strings of fairy lights wrapped around bushes and up their flag poles. Brightly-lit shapes appeared too - stars, triangles and similar, but there were no Santas, reindeer or snowmen. Their houses on the inside, however, were the same as ever. My next door neighbour, who owns a Xmas tree plantation at the end of our field, had only just started cutting and bagging the bigger ones, and they are still lying awaiting collection or distribution.

There was no obvious Xmas decorating going on on that front. Curious! Danes, on the whole, use real Xmas trees and their houses are warmer and better insulated than Scottish ones, so the real tree doesn't go up till a week to ten days before Xmas (which is Dec 24 here), otherwise it would dry out. Then I realised, it was some sort of informal Scandinavian 'festival of lights' they use from the onset of winter to alleviate the darkness of the short Nordic days. I guess that might be why we have three sockets on the outer walls of our house - so it would be rude to not join in, wouldn't it? So, Thomas has been tasked with hunting down a fairy-light covering for the flag pole while I'm away this weekend 😁

Monday, November 11, 2019

Votes for the under 10s

Conversation with Amaia:

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

Me: Really, why? You're only 9! 

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

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

Friday, November 08, 2019

Checking it out at ground level

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 04, 2019

Strange alphabet

Cute conversation with Amaia:

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

Sure. Can you remember what it's called?

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


Friday, November 01, 2019

Nowhere people

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

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

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

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


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

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