Friday, April 09, 2021

Prince Charming

So the UK has gone into meltdown... not because of a 68% drop in annual exports, not because of 127 000 Covid deaths, not because the troubles have predictably (to everyone other than the Tories) reignited in Northern Ireland, but because a 99 year old bloke who's looked dead for a decade has died...

I'm sure on a personal level and for his close family, this is an upsetting turn of events, but why they country as a whole has collapsed on its knees escapes me. Personally, I figure we should leave them to grieve in private. The man was known for his many offensive comments, and I suspect he was well-enough educated that they weren't accidental, so I guess some might decide to admire his no-fucks-given attitude...

I never met the man myself, but as a family we still dine out to this day on the one encounter with him, so let's just leave it here in celebration of the man's life.

The following took place just over a decade ago during a royal walkabout in Portree on the beautiful Scottish Island of Skye... Mum and dad had gone for a week long holiday with their good friends Joyce and Steve. It turned out that the queen was due on the island at the same time so mum's friend decided it would be fun to go down and catch a glimpse of her. When they stepped out of their car for a walk, a very small crowd had gathered, so they approached for a chat with the bystanders. The queen made her way over to where Joyce was standing while mum and dad drew the short straw. Philip turned to mum's section of the crowd and enquired: Are you a local? Amongst the many nods, my mother replied : No, I'm a tourist from Glasgow. Thinking he was ever so funny, as always, he quipped: Why would anyone want to come to such a god forsaken place on holiday? But he wasn't expecting my mother's sharp wit or quick tongue: Well, we like it here, if you don't, feel free to go back to where you came from! 

High five to my mum! 

A close call?

I went to Eastwood High school from 1979-1985. I was distinctly lacking in musical talent so didn't spend much time in that department, though it was a compulsory subject for the first two years. We were made to learn recorder. There were two teachers I remember, one male and one female. Older pupils warned us from day one that the male teacher had a bit of a reputation and should be avoided but we were 11 years old so we didn't really know what was meant by that. Once or twice a year we had a music exam which consisted of choosing a recorder piece to play. This of course necessitated you being alone with one of the two teachers. As head of department, the male teacher chose who he was examining and who got the other teacher. I always got him. I remember my music exams because, despite being a small man, he was fierce and frightening. I was academically in the top classes at school but chose the easier music pieces, firstly because I was crap at music and secondly because I knew I would not be continuing with it so did not need a specific grade. On the occasion of my final music exam at the age of 13, I walked into what was known as the 'music cupboard' and the teacher locked the door behind me. I remember feeling distinctly uncomfortable about that and looking worried. He caught my eye and without my asking, told me he didn't want anyone walking in on us and interrupting my playing. That seemed logical to me at the time, despite other departments simply attaching signs to the doors marked 'Silence: exam'. Next he asked which of the four pieces I had chosen to play. They increased in difficulty from 1-4. I said piece 2. He immediately looked angry and through gritted teeth, he hissed at me that I could surely have done better than that given my academic credentials. He was close enough that I could smell his breath. I nervously played the piece (badly!), he gave me the minimal pass mark and then unlocked the door and ushered me out.

It was obvious that I would not be visiting the music department after that day. Today, as I read this, I wonder now if my lack of musical talent changed his mind that day, or if he genuinely locked the door behind every pupil?

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Where to blog?

As I have now started blogging differences between Scotland/the UK and Denmark on my dedicated blog 'Contemplating Denmark', I am wondering whether I should copy all posts from there to here, duplicating them so they get picked up by the usual audience, or whether a casual reminder occasionally, like this is enough. 樂 Thoughts on a postcard, please?

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Vissenbjerg bageri


Like most people these days, we generally pick up the likes of cakes at the bakery counter in the supermarket, or did until we heard that the stand-alone bakery 7km from our house Vissenbjerg bageri had just won 2nd best bakery in all of Denmark - not bad for being over 90 minutes from the capital. We have also since discovered they do extremely good bread too. Win win. I'm now following them on Facebook just so I don't miss a treat! I can't wait till visitors can actually come and see us here so we have an excuse to pay them even more visits!

Monday, March 22, 2021

Velkommen tilbage!

I drove past Anna and Léon's school at the weekend. It's the first time I've passed it since they were allowed back in last Monday. Although the year 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 (equivalent of p7-s4)  have been online-schooled till now, the year 0 though 4 (equivalent of p2-p6) have been back since Feb 8. To welcome the biggies back to their school on Monday, the younger kids from the village had designed and planted these at the school entrance. What a sweet thought...



Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Contemplating Denmark

I'm not sure why it has taken me 18 months to come up with this idea, but it suddenly occurred to me last week that rather than mixing my cultural observations on Denmark in with my normal blog, it would make for an interesting archive if I actually dedicated a separate blog to comparing life in Scotland and Denmark. To that effect, I thought I'd trawl trough my posts on Phylsblog since our move and move them over to the new site. Thereafter, I will try to keep my musings on the two very similar and yet very different countries to this site, so I end up with a real-time guide to becoming Danish. 😉

Over and above the comparisons, I'm sure you'll be treated to the odd anecdote about how we're all adapting to our new life and which particular embarrassing side streets this moving country business takes us down.

Let's see if that works!



 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

More winter photos

I think I have also managed to take the best shot of my house so far, though I'm not sure whether I prefer the first one, taken during a blizzard, or the second, in the spectacular sun the morning after!



Another frozen sea walk

Last Saturday we went for a second walk at the coast. Temperatures had been hitting -10 all week with a windchill of -19, but even I was amazed to see the sea was frozen, not just for a few metres but way out to Æbelø which is fully 4km off the north coast of Funen! The moving 'non-frozen' water only starts on this photo at the darkest blue line out at the island! It was astounding. I expect it will be a number of years before we have a winter this spectaclar again. 



And just to prove the sea was fully frozen, here's a video of Thomas on the surface. (We know 
the sea on this beach is shallow enough to walk out to Æbelø, so figured the walk would be safe enough!)

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

An immigrant life


Denmark is a country of contradictions. It is both a welcoming country and a rather exclusive one. Since I moved here in 2019, I have found the Danish people to be very kind and helpful, if so painfully shy at times that it really is difficult to make new friends, especially if you are the one with the linguistic disadvantage. They will all smile or nod to you but they want you to make the first move, as far as I can tell, so if you are a bit of an introvert and a bit worse at Danish than they are😂, it could take a lifetime to get somewhere... and that is of course without analysing how detrimental the timing of the current pandemic has been on our integration. 

Thomas had been away from Denmark for almost two decades. The financial crash, my less than reliable child maintenance payments and Thomas's parents' immigration to Italy after retirement meant that as a couple we made it to Denmark for less than four weeks in total in the decade before we moved here. So not only was I moving to the unknown, to a certain extent, he was too. 

Originally from rural Jutland with some study years in Aarhus and all his family now in Copenhagen, Funen has been an affordable but lonely option. We know almost no one on Funen island other than the odd friend I made on my Lærdansk Danish course, and they, of course are a godsend. And as soon as this pandemic is under control, I dearly hope we can meet up for a walk in Munkemose or a meal somewhere.

Danes can be incredibly generous people and I have met a volunteer through my college course, a 'frivillig' who has given up many hours of his time, with no expectation of anything in return, to help me with my spoken Danish. He rings me on Googlemeet without fail at least once a week. He helps me practise speaking. He helps me through the cultural maze of understanding Denmark, which again is something Thomas feels almost as lost with as me. Thomas is a Dane who isn't wholly a Dane. He was brought up in Denmark but half of his norms from childhood were German, much of the food, many of the traditions. He lived in a village, but as the minister's son, was always on the outside rather than the inside of the life led by the other kids at his school and of course, he left Denmark before ever having worked here properly so he's as foreign as me in that respect. But he has the disadvantage of sounding Danish, so everyone takes it completely for granted that he knows what is expected of him, when often he has no idea. So now we have Jens, who I can ask if I am not sure 'what a Dane would do!' Over and above the linguistic help, I genuinely feel he's become a friend I can ask for advice or even make laugh with the odd silly anecdote from my immigrant life. He recommends books I should read, programmes I should watch, places worth visiting in the vicinity and more. It's a bit odd that I've never actually met him, because of Corona we only know each other on screen! But that's Corona for you!

But I said it was also a rather exclusive place. And by that I don't mean classy and expensive, I mean that sadly you can be left a bit on the outside. A very obvious example of this is the tradition of Protestant religious confirmation. Don't get me wrong, Denmark isn't by any stretch of the imagination what I would consider a very religious country. In fact Léon and Anna have both attested to the fact that only one child in each of their classes claims to be religious, with the majority going as far as saying they do not believe in any form of God. So all in all that seems to correlate with their experience of Protestantism back home too. 

So what is the issue, you ask? The issue is that for want of an alternative the Danish confirmation has become their version of a Coming of Age ceremony. For an hour a week for the whole of year 7 (kids aged 13-14), the class goes off to the local minister for some religious instruction. And how can you convince kids that age to participate? At the end of the year they get a confirmation party, some lovely clothes to wear, a great meal and everyone who has watched the child grow up, not their own friends, but their extended family and their parents' friends turn up with a cash present for the child. Afterwards they feel that they are accepted into the adult world and they will be treated as a grown up. It's a win win - the kids get money and get to feel grown up and the church gets to perpetuate its existence. 

To all intents and purposes the Danish confirmation ceremony functions more like the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs we saw many of back home at Mearns Castle. Back home only truly religious Protestant teenagers get confirmed, and they do it for the religious experience and nothing else. Anna was brought up a Scot. She will always culturally be Scottish and as a Scottish child of no faith, she could not live with what she would feel to be the hypocrisy of taking part in confirmation into a religion that is not her own, especially for financial rather than spiritual gains. She can see that to the Danish children, it is a tradition that they expect to take part in, and she accepts their enjoyment in that but just as they are happy and comfortable with it, she finds it alien and against everything she has been brought up to expect. 

The problem is that they now get so much money from their confirmation party, there is no incentive not to perpetuate it. The schools even give their pupils a day off after the ceremony 'Blå Mandag' to hit the town to splash some of their new-found cash on clothes, food and similar. To give you an idea of the sums we are talking about, Léon joined his Danish class about an month after this ceremony had taken place in his year group (and the kids were already proclaiming in RE lessons that there was no God, I might add!), and while three of the girls had used some of their money to buy themselves a horse, most of the boys were looking at mopeds for theirs. On top of this they had the cash to go into town to the cinema, McDonalds or similar every week last year. Obviously Léon could not begin to keep up, so was doubly at a disadvantage on arrival here. He was not only the new kid and the foreign kid, he was also the kid who didn't have the financial means to participate in any of the social gatherings in his year group. And as a family who are still trying to live on one income in a two income country, we were in no position to help him out. Things had just started to look up when he managed to get himself a weekend job, only to find that route shut down by the pandemic. Restaurants don't need dishwashers when they are forced to become Take Away only during an extended lockdown.

So now it's Anna's class's turn. A few traditionalists have suggested we simply sign her up to participate like the others but it really isn't that simple. You wouldn't say that to a Muslim kid or a Hindu one, and quite frankly that is how unchristian Anna's upbringing has been till now. She says it would be hypocritical to have herself confirmed in a religion she doesn't belong to or believe in for the sake of some cash and a party. She would happily get herself confirmed if she found God, but not for any other reason. 

This is obviously an issue for immigrants of other faiths in Denmark too. Every week when the minister comes to teach her class, Anna sits out the lessons with a girl from Vietnam and a boy from Syria, as none of them can realistically be included in this tradition either. On a positive note, the three have become firm friends, but on a negative one, they are excluded as this is done in class time.

Obviously in large cities, where there are more immigrants, it is less of an issue. In cities the lessons are often outwith school hours and many kids then have the option to take part in a Humanist confirmation instead. And had we been here longer so Anna actually knew her way about a bit and felt more confident, and of course, had there been no pandemic, we might have gone down that road. But there are no Humanist options in our council area, so having her take extra time off school, especially when she's trying to catch up on five missed years of Danish, to travel further and alone during a pandemic so she can still be the odd man out, the foreign weirdo, is a bit much. 

And quite frankly, if it is mainly so she can keep up financially, that would not work. Ninety percent of the adults and family who know Anna are in Scotland, so would have no notion that they would be meant to attend a confirmation (religious or Humanist) party, let alone give cash. Scottish kids don't usually get confirmed and when they do, cash really isn't the obvious present. They'd be more likely to be sent a pretty psalm book or a golden crucifix! 

Thomas has been away 20 years and there's been a pandemic almost since we arrived here so he sadly hasn't managed to reconnect with the majority of his old friends. But even if he had, they have, for the most part, never even met me, let alone Anna, so inviting them to her confirmation would be a seriously odd first get-together after two decades, especially given almost none of them live within two hours drive of us. 

Anna has been more reserved than Léon since we got here, so the idea of her whole year group socialising next year post-Corona together and her not having the financial means to integrate is upsetting. It won't help her feel this is home, nor will it help her Danish skills. Quite frankly, it is the last thing she needs, but sadly it isn't some kind of party that will solve that given we know almost no one here we could invite anyway. And until there's a lull in this pandemic long enough for me to get a job, we won't be able to compensate her so she can participate in her class activities. 

So much as she is happy for her classmates and also her cousin, who are getting to take part in something they have looked forward to forever, this very alien ceremony just isn't for her and she feels much more of an affinity with the other foreign kids. I imagine many immigrant kids feel quite out of their depth when puberty coincides with your entire year group participating in a tradition that you are not part of. But you can't suddenly take on a new religion just because you've moved to a new country. I guess sometimes it is hard living somewhere where the culture is so alien to you.


Two school systems

I happened to upload a photo today of Amaia taking her sledge to school. Maybe I'm just getting too Danish to notice but of course, I was immediately reminded by a friend in Scotland of the fact that back home there would be no point because we cage kids in the classrooms in case they fall whenever the weather is bad.

I'd say, having experienced both, the biggest difference between the two school systems is the level of risk aversion. Here the kids are told to bring their ski suit and then sent out to play no matter the weather - in snow boots and a ski suit you can slide down a hill happily without the weather affecting you. Amaia's school has a forest behind it where the kids have tree houses with rope ladders. She get 'tech' at school and has so far brought home things like a baseball bat, a set of coat hooks etc that she's been allowed to make using tools - eg a saw, a file, a drill - they teach them to use them then supervise them using them. She's in the 5th year of the Danish primary system (called class 4 because they start school later here and there's a p0 (weirdly)). In home economics they use real knives to cut stuff - I remember my biggies ranting they were only allowed butter knives for cutting up to S2 in high school. They also expect them to cycle to school alone and from there to the local sports hall for various activities and they are also meant to navigate the bus system alone from the age of 7. Amaia takes the bus to school alone with her own bus card. And when they go on school trips to a new city, they allow 13 year olds in groups of 3 or 4 to go for an hour long walk alone (without following them on a google map using an Ipad) the way our high school do even in S4. Léon went on a trip to the Danish parliament last year and at lunch time was sent out with two friends to explore the capital city, alone and trusted. 

I know so many parents who would crap themselves back home but from what I can see, it simply leads to sensible capable young adults here. But I never really fitted into the Scottish helicopter mould anyway, so for me it is a big plus! And of course, given they don't do uniforms, kids can dress appropriately for all activities at all times.

And I would also say, I have not seen any more kids with casts on broken limbs here than at home, so maybe snow and ice is just a natural phenomenon!!

Back to school

Late last week we got notice from the Danish government that class 0 - class 4  (equivalent of p1-p6 in Scotland) would be allowed back to school on February 8. They haven't been in school since December 18. Amaia was ecstatic. It's odd because she's not really complained about lockdown or looked particularly put out by it. Unlike Léon who is really struggling with motivation and missing seeing his friends and generally looking like he's been in solitary confinement for over a year and Anna who is now constantly wandering around in pyjamas looking somewhat sloth-like, Amaia had seemingly been coping fine with online school. Unlike what I am hearing from back home, online schooling here actually is that - they log on at 8am and stay on with various teachers and all their classmates every day till just before 2pm. They have the same breaks as they usually do at real school, when they are encouraged to go outside to play. They occasionally have a free period or get sent out for PE but their day is well-structured and interactive. It definitely isn't a case of one lesson with a specific teacher then loads of homework being supervised by stressed parents. So it was only really when it was finally over, that Amaia came clean about how much she has been missing physically meeting up with friends.

So Sunday night she had clothes laid out, had washed her hair and made her lunch. After Thomas's birthday brekkie she was out the door like a shot for the school bus. Given the two biggies were still home I accompanied her to the bus stop. It isn't far but the roads are slippy and cold so I wandered up with her. She didn't even complain about the early start (the bus comes at 7:44) or the RealFeel temperature - I'm including photographic proof in case you don't fully believe me!


And she had so much fun yesterday, she's away in today with her sledge for break time!


I just can't wait till the other two join her, not only so I don't need to walk her to the bus in a Siberian wind but for the sake of their mental health too.

Frozen seas

I've lived the majority of my life less than an hour from the sea. The sea is my favourite place. Now I'm even closer - just under twenty minutes away. One thing I have never done before, however, is to go to the beach on a snowy day. I've never seen a snowy beach, nor have I seen a frozen sea. The driving conditions never really lent themselves to getting down to the coast on the snowiest of days in Scotland. 

After a week of snow, the roads had been cleared here but the temperature was still constantly below zero so I decided to venture up to Thomas's office by the sea and check it out. The drive up was 90% fine, 10% scary as hell, where drifting from the open fields had left the road indistinguishable from the fields themselves but we got there and it was wonderful.

I got to see snow on the beach.



I'd never realised before that the ice that forms at the extremities of the waves breaks off in thick, almost hexagonal chunks and leaves a pile on the beach, in much the same way as you usually find shells in piles on a beach.


Later on my walk I got to see the frozen sea, with the waves continuing under the ice sheets, causing the ice to undulate and creek.

Rounding the corner I met a completely frozen harbour, thick at the quayside and beautifully patterned where the open sea comes in to the harbour area. 




I got to take photos of piles of snow where last year I had taken the girls lying in the water to cool down.








And finally I walked round the enclosed bay to the west of Bogense marina where the water was shallow enough that the waves had frozen and the edge of the water had become an expanse of glistening ice crystals.


Amusingly enough, it is the first time I have been up there in winter and not seen any of the crazy pensioners who can usually be seen running from the quayside sauna to the little wooden bridge and jumping into the sea, but I expect that the reason for their absence was not in fact the frozen sea but more the current Corona restrictions!


The bottom line is that it was magical and I am so lucky to live so close to the sea!

Monday, February 01, 2021

There's been an incident

What is it with boys? Or my younger one at least? 

He's been stir-crazy for a month with this lockdown, so we suggested some fresh air in the form of a 2 metre distanced walk round Langesø with two school friends might be in order to calm his nerves. After all, we'd been round it twice last week and it is looking particularly beautiful in the crisp winter sunshine.



So, off he set to Morud on his bike. Two hours later the phone went. It was about twenty minutes before dusk, when the temperature was due to fall from a balmy 2 degrees to -3... He laughed nervously.

"Hi mum! You're not going anywhere by any chance are you?" 

As it happened, I was on my way out to buy ingredients for tonight's biryani. 

"I thought you had your bike with you?"

"Emmm, there's kinda been an incident...emm hahaha"

"What the hell did you do to your bike?"

"Oh, it's not my bike, it's fine, it's chained up outside Brugsen (Co-op)"

"So?"

"Well, I would just kinda like a lift home because, well I was testing to see how frozen the lake was, and it turns out it isn't as frozen as it looks so it's a bit cold to cycle home as I'm a bit wet... kinda up to the top of my legs and my shoes are full of ice!"

Oh, for crying out loud. Who stands on the edge of a frozen lake 5km from home at dusk just to test how frozen it is? Give me strength. He's now been given a talking to, some dry clothes and is planning to walk the 3 km tomorrow to retrieve his bike, stupid child!

Some kind of hawk thing

This little chap has taken to hanging about the neighbour's lake. Hopefully next time I seen him, I will have time to dig out my tripod and get an even clearer shot. Any idea what kind of bird of prey he is?




Wednesday, January 27, 2021

What a sight!


Hahaha - you see the funniest sights sometimes! Léon's 'furloughed' from his dishwasher job at the local restaurant at the moment because it is only doing takeaway. Desperate for some income, Thomas has given him some gardening jobs, but to keep out the climate (it's 2 degrees today), he's out digging, dressed up like some seriously dodgy bank robber, and that's without even mentioning the cute 'glasses on the outside' of the ski mask and headphones for music!

Thomas's haggis

 


Last year we brought haggis back from Scotland at New Year for our Burns supper, but between Covid banning us from travel and Brexit banning us from bringing any food into the EU, I'd assumed our annual haggis-fest was off and off for good... I should have realised who I was married to! Ready to content myself with a plate of neep mash (bought in the immigrant bazar!) on Monday, Thomas suddenly decided that making haggis from scratch was far from daunting. I was dubious, but having tasted the end product I have to say I'm impressed. It was slightly too salty compared to the shop ones and a little less greasy but had I been served it at a Burns supper in Scotland, I would have been in no doubt as to what I was eating. It definitely isn't the worst haggis I've ever had so I think with a tweak or two, we might just have found a way round Brexit... it's just another on a long list of things that we won't need to get from the UK going forward.

 

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Finally a plus


Charlotte is of course loving getting to be in Madrid for a year but it isn't how she would have chosen it to be. She wanted to travel round and see the whole of Spain because she only really knows Madrid, but has been forbidden to cross out of Madrid region since she got there at the beginning of September because of lockdown restrictions. She hasn't been able to meet the Spanish friends she has, nor has she had the opportunity to make new ones, outside her own household. All the festivals she wanted to attend have been cancelled, she was in Madrid at the turn of the year but the main square was closed to the public and yesterday's January 6 parade was off too. She doesn't even know what her pupils look like as they are all hidden behind masks. And any hope she might secretly have had of picking herself up a Spanish partner is definitely out the window if she'd have to try chatting them up with a two metre gap!!

But today she finally got one up on the last decade's assistants. It is snowing in Madrid centre for the first time since 2009 and she's skipping around like a six year old texting me in capital letters no less about how happy she is to get to see palm trees in the snow. And with -12 forecast overnight all weekend, she might get to take some more cool pics yet! 

Brexit propaganda

 


So this hideous little thing just dropped into my letterbox. Apparently getting this flimsy black piece of shit was worth billions in red tape and removing the rights of freedom of movement from a generation. This particular specimen is owned by one of my kids, so he has a spare passport up his sleeve in a more acceptable burgundy shade, which means his own freedoms have not been removed but that get out of jail card sadly isn't open to most of his contemporaries. Not that they care, but I don't think your average Brexiteer has any idea how appalling this document is to people like us. It's an interesting way of torturing people, almost reminiscent of Dante's Inferno - take the people who love most to travel, those who are the most open to other peoples, cultures and worlds and force them to show the one piece of paper that epitomises Brexit, every single time they manage to escape the insular madhouse for a breath of fresh air. You really need to be some sort of sadistic bastard to come up with that one.😠 I know it is only a passport, but I am struggling to articulate quite how offensive it is to me, because of what it represents. I'll be making sure that all my kids travel on their EU documents going forward so only I need to feel the shame. And as soon as 2025 comes round I'll jump through any hoop the Danish government sets before me to gain my own dual nationality and have my rightful EU citizenship restored.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Corona masks and snow


Denmark was one of the last countries to adopt masks. We didn't require them in shops, schools or elsewhere during our first, and by European terms, rather short lockdown between March and May. So my first time in a mask was probably on the Ryanair flight to Italy in late July. Anyone who tried a mask in Southern Europe at the height of summer knows they were rather hot and stuffy! 

Since autumn, they've been increasingly required here, first on public transport and now in shops too so I always have one in my pocket and I can tell you that that might always be the case going forward, at least in my winter coats, because they are really quite pleasant indeed when the snow is driving into your face on a winter walk!
 

Birthday tree

I remember growing up in Glasgow - my gran was quite a superstitious woman... aka mad as a brush. Many traumatic Hogmanays were spent on our knees scrubbing her kitchen floor with a 5cm square sponge because 'woe betide anyone who starts a new year with a dirty house!' And even suggesting leaving the Xmas tree up beyond the 12th night would have caused her to run for a bottle of Valium, I expect! 

I usually get our tree up around December 18 because Anna's birthday is December 19, and take it down on January 5 or 6. Anyone who knows my family can probably spot the obvious issue with that... the girls' birthdays are: Anna on December 19, Lots on January 4 and Amaia on January 11. The removal of the tree five days before her birthday every year often leads to mass protesting and a multitude of 'it's not fairs', but I've stuck to my guns, not out of superstition, but because my old dining room was small and Thomas always bought big trees so I was twitchy and claustrophobic by January 6 (or by 2 hours after he put it up, if you want the honest truth)! 

This year she's been extra pleady, presumably because Xmas wasn't like it should have been - no Charlotte, no Marcel, no Granny, no cousins, aunties or uncles. I may have the biggest tree I've ever had, but I also now have much bigger rooms and given we sawed this one down, it hasn't even started drying up or shedding needles yet. I was in two minds till yesterday, when our PM announced a new lockdown including no socialising and therefore online school on Amaia's birthday, so I'll be telling her tonight over dinner that as a special ONE-OFF treat, she can have the tree kept up till the day after her birthday this year! Hopefully she'll be happy with that!

Monday, January 04, 2021

21 today! (Aka the millennium baby turns 21)

Just to prove that things never turn out quite as you may have imagined them, and yet they work out fine for all that!


If you'd told me at this moment 21 years ago, as I sat in Glasgow on a snowy morning less than a mile from my beautiful west end flat, that on my then 14 hour old daughter's 21st birthday, I would be living in Denmark, with a husband who wasn't her father, with three more kids, that she would be quarantined in Madrid during a global pandemic eating sushi with a Spanish family who were amongst her closest friends, while her granny, aunt and uncle were in lockdown in Scotland and her then two year old brother would be holed up in Leeds with his English girlfriend and her mother... not to mention that her father would be living in a high rise in Shanghai with a woman she'd never met, who went by the name of Yuan Yuan, I'd probably have asked what you'd been smoking! And yet 21 years and 14 hours on, that is exactly where we are and none of us are any the worse for it, I guess. Yes, dans le meilleur des mondes possibles, I would be with her in Madrid eating the sushi rather than on Messenger watching her eat her breakfast, but I'm sure her day will be memorable all the same, and when we finally get to fly down, we'll do her 21st all over again.

So I wish baby number two the most unusual, unlikely and best 21st possible. Love you lots, Lots and hope to see you soon!

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Brexit

I wasn't sure whether I was going to blog about Brexit. But I figure that if I don't write about it this week, I am not sure I will be able to capture the essence of its impact on me at some future point down the line...

In the run up to Hogmanay, I wondered how I would be feeling about it all. I strangely imagined it wouldn't affect me, at least not significantly, because I escaped. I was one of the lucky ones. I have long accepted that this is my home and my future now and even if somehow Brexit had been cancelled, we still couldn't seriously consider uprooting the kids and interrupting their education again before they were done with school. I also believed that I'd somehow used up every last drip of Brexit mental energy I had over the last six or seven years, since the idea of a referendum on Europe was first mooted, so I honestly felt I had nothing left to give it. All in all, I thought I would feel sad for my friends, angry for the future denied to their kids, and my own niece and nephews but somehow distant and disconnected.

The effects of Brexit on my life will be so much less than they would have been had I remained at home. I still live in the EU, I even have a route back to an EU passport, albeit a cumbersome one. I need to meet some specific criteria. Firstly, the nine years' residence in Denmark have been commuted to six thanks to my fifteen years with Thomas. On top of that, I need to pass Europe's hardest language for citizenship exam: most countries require A2, or at most B1; Denmark is the only EU country requiring a minimum of B2 for citizenship, so with a pass mark of 02, my GPA of 10 last month has more than ticked that box😁. Some time over the next three or four years I also need to learn all sorts of utter nonsense to pass the citizenship exam. This is simply a a fun way most countries have of torturing foreigners who deign to attempt to integrate. I've tried the UK version which consists of nonsense questions that many UK citizens can't actually answer and the Danish one is the same. Having tried it with various Danish relatives, it is also nonsense, but it is something I will be able to learn rote form and eventually get the bit of paper. After that it is just a question of working a specific number of years and I will have completed the marathon back to where I was three days ago, before my EU citizenship, which I have had since I was five years old, is restored to me and I am once again the owner of an EU passport. So I have a path and I have assured my kids are all safe as they are all dual citizens.

In the run up to Thursday I still felt incredibly ill at ease with the whole thing. I still see no tangible benefit to their madness. I have been so disgusted by their antics over the last few months I am frankly embarrassed to show my UK passport at the border in case it somehow lumps me in with the mad crowd. We've heard the government threaten to starve the Irish into submission, we've had them threaten to and even pass a parliamentary bill to break an international treaty, we've had them pull the rug from under students who are expecting to be starting their Erasmus courses in less than four weeks with some make-it-up-as-you-go-along replacement that simply doesn't have the funding to get off the ground and certainly not in time for many whose courses depend on it. We've seen the government winging it with their Covid vaccine too - going against scientific advice on the four week interval between the two doses in favour of imagining that their new untested twelve week gap will probably, maybe, possibly be ok, if the government crosses its fingers enough and after all, if it isn't, they can always pay a crony or two to hide the results. They have become a laughing stock and at the same time they are no longer funny, but rather sad, mad and out of touch with reality. As Global Britain farcically runs from country to country trying to replicate some vaguely inferior version of a deal that the EU already has with each, it seems to be patting itself on the back at its success, while back home half the country is visibly screaming for help. They know the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Isolationism is their only goal as far as I can see and it makes me angry and sad in equal measures. From a personal point of view I am incredulous. The amount of red tape the UK is landing itself with is unimaginable. I married a Frenchman and then a Dane. Both times we discussed which country to live in in much the same way as a couple would if one was from Glasgow and the other Aberdeen. Should we try one and if it doesn't suit us, try the other? That model was blown out of the water two nights ago. I have a daughter who is currently studying in Madrid. If she meets the love of her life there, her choices are diminished, but they are still open, but if any other student in her class happens also to fall in love, things are going to be so much more complicated for them. Unlike Charlotte, they can't go to Spain to be with their new partner for more than three months, nor can they bring them home with them. So relationships like the ones that have filled up my life from 1985 to 2020 and counting will simply, for the most part, fizzle out before they can begin. Children like mine - multilingual, multicultural and open to the world - will become rarities in the UK as their parents will never have the opportunity to conceive them. And yet my family is amongst the luckiest - my kids can live, love, study and retire to any one of 27 countries. In fact, they can even include the UK, as they have that passport too, but a few changes will need to happen before they consider that.

I awoke on Hogmanay on the verge of tears. Tears of anger, of frustration, of futility. Minutes went by when I busied myself with something else to the point where I could almost forget what was happening and then it would crash over me again like a wave in a storm. I felt incredibly alone, in a strange way too as no one else in the house was going through what I was going through. As the minutes of the day ticked on towards the moment when I, and no one else in the room, would have their EU citizenship forcibly removed, I even felt almost angry at my nearest and dearest because they could not know what it felt like, and I hope to god they never get to find out. As we neared midnight, our time, I was almost glad about the current lockdown for the first time, as it meant I had nowhere to go, no party, no need to be sociable or cheery and there was no need to say 'Happy New Year' because at the instant when everyone here would normally be wishing each other happiness, I was far from happy. As everyone breathed a sigh to leave behind 2020 - the most horrendous year in a century - I wanted to cling to it with all my might because for someone whose entire life has been Europe, losing my citizenship was even worse than 2020. 

Two days on I am still angry, with nowhere to channel that anger but I expect my musings on Brexit are far from over. All I know is that I am safe and so are my kids - those who jumped with us and those back home with their get out of jail free card up their sleeve. I don't know what else I could have done and for now my greatest hope is that I live long enough to see sense return to the country I used to call home.