Wednesday, September 01, 2021

An allergic reaction

When Léon was a small child, he had a bit of an allergy to blue food colouring. It always manifested itself as skin irritation, rather than breathing issues, thank goodness, but still, he was sent home from school on several occasions when staff refused to believe it was an allergy rather than a contagious disease.

We thought it had gone. He's had various blue sweets and similar over the past few years with no side effects. 

At the weekend we went to a family confirmation party in Copenhagen. They were serving blue fizzy juice to the teenagers. Léon had two over the course of a couple of hours. He was sitting on the opposite side of the hall to us with the other adolescents so we hadn't noticed till, when listening to one of the speeches from that corner of the room, Charlotte spied him from a distance. What a state he was in! His normally blemish-free skinned looked like he'd been roasted in front of an open fire.

Back in the day I would never have left home without an antihistamine in my bag but it's been so many years since this happened, I had no supplies. I double checked it was only his skin and he had no tightening in his throat or similar. What could we do? I suggested, for want of a better idea, that he should maybe drink some water in an attempt to dilute the effects or flush out his system. He disappeared into the kitchen area and returned with a glass of juice. I went for elderflower juice instead of water, is that ok? Of course, I said, positively encouraging him to down copious amounts as quickly as possible. Six elderflower juices later he looked more relaxed and laid back and was no longer scratching. I wandered through to the kitchen to get myself a juice too. Standing on the table where both Léon and I had served ourselves elderflower earlier in the evening was a large juice dispenser but it no longer contained elderflower, but rather mojito! I rushed to Léon and asked him if I could taste his elderflower juice. He handed it to me and I immediately noticed some tell-tale leaves floating on top. The silly wee bugger had only gone and downed six mojitos in the space of ten minutes, for purely medicinal reasons, while also mentioning how good his aunt was at making elderflower juice!

To cap it all, when I related the story to his aunt, she delved into her handbag and handed me an antihistamine! But I guess it had the desired effect, given he didn't seem in the least bothered by the irritation in his face afterwards and he was more than pleased that he'd managed to acquire six mojitos entirely innocently!

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The difference ABBA made to my life.

I don't think I saw the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton in 1974. Obviously I've seen the footage countless times since then, but on the actual night, at the tender age of six I was already long tucked up in bed before ABBA were declared the winners and their Scandinavian isolation came to an end catapulting them onto the international stage.

Fast forward a year to the spring of 1975. I had just turned seven and I remember my mum was ironing. Whether she was listening to the radio or ABBA the album, I don't know but I heard the song I do, I do, I do, I do, I do come out of the speaker and it was a life-changing moment, literally... I thought it was to most beautiful and romantic song I had ever heard and once we had the record, I used to play it while having my teddy bears marry each other. I admit I was a nauseatingly sweet child at times!

For the remainder of the 70s I lapped up their every offering, joined the fan club and subscribed to the magazine. Through the magazine, I got myself dozens of like-minded pen pals from as far apart as Iceland and Malaysia who in turn fostered my love of language, travel and the exotic. By the time I started high school in '79, I was trying to write to my ABBA pen pals in their own languages - first French then later German. I'd noticed another girl in my s1 class with ABBA badges on her blazer so Elaine and I became firm high school pals. By a year later, kids were starting to insinuate that ABBA were passé and punk was the way to go. Most jumped on that band wagon, but Elaine and I stuck to our ABBA badges despite the derision. 

When ABBA stopped recording in 1982, I had nothing new to listen to. I followed their solo careers, while also importing all their original late 60s Swedish material. I knew no Swedish so sat and diligently transcribed all the old songs in Mickey Mouse phonetics so I could sing along in Swedish. I could sing whole albums, despite not understanding what I was singing about. At the age of 22, I was offered a choice between extra Middle High German as one of my Honours modules in German or learning the Swedish language... There was no contest and I found myself in a small group of semi-closet ABBA fans, learning finally what I had been singing about a decade earlier.

With the Mamma Mia revival in the 90s, all notion of them being passé flew out the window and I even bumped into several of the punk proponents from my schooldays in the foyer at the Odeon in Glasgow!

Many years later, with my marriage on the rocks, I had fallen in love with my best friend after hours and hours of heart to hearts. I had small kids, I was a complicated package, so I decided not to enlighten him about my feelings. After a year of keeping my secret, we were at the work's New Year party when he asked me to dance. I refused, saying I was pretty shit at dancing, he insisted and dragged me onto the floor, we danced for 30 seconds to some Robbie Williams track before it came to an end. I turned to walk off the dance floor and had taken two steps when I heard the famous piano intro; our fate was sealed. I turned back and we danced to Dancing Queen and by a year later we were a couple looking for our forever home. ABBA had once again changed my life and that of my kids and kids to be, quite drastically!

Today I live in Scandinavia. My passive Swedish is definitely now at a level that would have helped me significantly back in the day, though my Danish is now much better. I was sitting on the computer this morning writing some applications for freelance work when who should pop up on Messenger, but one of my old uni Swedish class pals, Marc. What he sent me blew me away. It was simply the letters OMG and this link. Seeing the logo again after all this time, the backwards B, that this 13 year old used to wear around her neck always, the typeface, the sleek image brought it all back in an instant. I'm thrilled, I'm excited, and at the same time I'm devastated my dad and my friend Sheina aren't here to wait with me in anticipation. 

Bring it on!

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Saturday, August 21, 2021

More Brexit delights

Charlotte finished her year in Madrid at the end of June and stayed on for a month to work as a private tutor. Having been confined to Madrid region because of Covid for the entirety of her stay, she wanted to see some of Spain once they relaxed the restrictions. To do so she decided to back-pack round the hostels of Spain alone for all of August (such a calm experience for me as her mum - sigh). 

Anyway, as always it's highlighting how shafted our kids are in comparison to the others still in the EU. Today for example, she decided to visit Real Alcázar, a wonderful palace in Seville. She had met some other students backpacking, so met up with a Dutch girl to go in. The Dutch girl was charged 6€ entrance. Charlotte, despite holding a French passport however, was charged 13.50€ entrance, as her student matriculation card was for a university outside the EU - Glasgow University. 

I so hope this generation rises up and revolts against all this crap in the coming years, rather than just putting up with being shit on from above.


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

More Brexit delights from this week

Léon's kilt pin fell off his kilt when he wore it to school on the last day. He only noticed it recently so asked me to order him a new one, something cheap, in case he was to lose it again... Jumped onto eBay, something I do much more seldom since Brexit as it is now cheaper for me to use web shops in the EU. A kilt pin isn't something you find in great numbers outside the Celtic corner of Europe however, so I ordered a quick £4.10 pin from somewhere in Scotland.

After much longer than the usual wait, instead of finding the pin in my letterbox, I had a letter from the postal service. The letter informed me that as of July 1st, goods coming from third countries now needed the correct duties to have been imposed on them at the other end. As the seller had simply sent it to me without doing this, not only would the duty of 8kr (92p) be added but also the post office's minimum handling charge of 160kr (£18.35). This brought my £4.10 pin up to £22.45. Needless to say, when I noticed the paragraph stating that if I didn't pay the duty and fine, the item would be returned to the sender, I opted to lose £4.10 rather than pay the charges. So all the little eBay sellers and web shops based in the UK just lost 300 million customers, because those of us domiciled in the EU27 certainly won't be buying anything from over there more than once.

Of course, this extends not only to purchases but also gifts, so the family back home can no longer send us anything personal for birthdays or Xmas, rather they need to order it for delivery from an EU-based web shop.

So they have also lost the ability to sell within the UK to families hoping to send the item out of the UK. How exactly is being outside this trading block benefitting the UK economy?😕

Friday, August 13, 2021

Ignacio Fernando Buchanan-Widmann

Back on May 16, we turned on Facebook and saw a strange status uploaded by our friend Simon over in Aarhus. His male (as he thought) cat had just had two kittens in his cupboard! In the uploaded photo, I could see they looked very like the second cat my parents had had when I was growing up, so commented that, and he offered us a kitten. Given Amaia is really not an animal person (like Charlotte), we have never had a pet other than the well-caged hamsters. I knew Léon and Anna would kill for a pet and Marcel was also a great animal lover so the five have almost always been at each others' throats on that front. 

    (Nacho at 3 weeks)

A few weeks later we were over at Simon's for the night. The kittens were only three weeks old so not particularly scary, even for Amaia, so when they hit 12 weeks and needed a new home Amaia actually asked to get one. My parents' old cat had been named Muffin as he was Muffin-coloured, so after going through all foods the kids could think of that were that colour, they opted to call him Nacho - as he looks a bit like a plate of Nachos and cheese.

Charlotte is still in Spain and was on holiday with the family she used to au pair for. Having mentioned the kitten to them, they pointed out that the Spanish name Nacho is the diminutive of Ignacio. So going all-out Spanish, the girls have now decided he's a Spanish cat whose veterinary registration should read Ignacio Fernando Buchanan-Widmann, though he will obviously be called Nacho at home! I imagine he will be the only kitten at Morud Vet's named Ignacio Fernando!

To be honest, I couldn't really be bothered with a pet but acquiesced as the kids loved the idea. I just felt I'd brought up enough kids over the years, wiped enough bums and had run out of steam. But the wee bugger is slowly managing to wriggle his way in. Walking up my front at 7am and gently waking me with a touch of one paw is making him hard to ignore and hard not to care about. He's very gentle and sweet. I've never heard such a purry cat, he's funny and I'm sure he's going to be a much-loved family member.

(Nacho at 12 weeks)

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Brexit, when you least expect it

There's a big tourist attraction over here called Randers Regnskov. It's a bit like the Eden project in Cornwall with the addition of actual wildlife... (maybe Cornwall has that too these days but it didn't last time we were there in 2010). So as you walk through the South American or Asian green house for example, you come across little monkeys and huge bugs and snakes all mingling with the plants. Exotic birds swoop overhead and beautiful blue butterflies land on your arm. Since I was last there in 2008, they have added an outdoor section with extra animals - panthers, tapirs, hyenas and the likes. We followed signs see the lynx, but there was no lynx to be seen. One of the guides was standing by the enclosure. An elderly man asked if there was no lynx and the reply was 'Actually there is, there's one male one but he doesn't come out much at the moment, he's a bit lonely and depressed as he has no mate. A female lynx was meant to have joined him at the beginning of the year but has been held up by paperwork at a zoo in England because of Brexit'. Even on a day out with the kids, it seems there's no escaping it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

No mollycoddling here

As I mentioned last week, Léon is finishing the equivalent of s4 here, which means leaving middle school and starting Gymnasium (a three-year senior high school where he will study from 16-19). From back home, I fully remember how school trips were policed. Teacher friends are often expected to follow older pupils' movements using iPad tracking or similar, and younger ones were never let out of their sight. Here, however, they are more into empowering and trusting kids by this age. Today is a good example of that. The plan had been for the whole of Léon's year to go to Berlin for a week to celebrate this transition, but Covid of course put the kibosh on that. Trying to find a nice way to celebrate, they compromised on a day trip to Copenhagen (190km away) leaving by bus this morning at 7am, returning at 10pm with a number of exciting stops in the capital plus some alone time to discover it by themselves. Then tomorrow they have a day of water sports planned around 25km from home. For the first trip they were given the instructions 'Be at school by 7am, because that is when the bus is leaving... if you miss it, find your own way to Copenhagen (a bus and train) and ring us when you get there and we'll meet you. The bus home is leaving at 8:30. Again, if you miss it, find your own way back to school, you're big enough. And for the second trip - the instructions are simple - it's only 25km away so find a bus, or cycle and meet us there are 10am! I can't imagine a Scottish school telling 15 and 16 year olds this, and meaning it, but what the kids get out of it is a sense of responsibility for themselves and an ability to get themselves out of a jam. These are both traits they'll find useful as they leave childhood behind. And better still, Léon has actually texted me from the bus so I know he found his way back to it on time. Result!

Friday, June 18, 2021

End of middle school

Today is Léon's last day at Havrehedskole in Morud. The way the education system works here in Nordfyns kommune is that you go from 1-3 to a nursery, then from 3-6 to an upper nursery, then from 6-13 to the primary school in Veflinge, thereafter from 13-16 to the middle school in Morud and from there you go on to 3 years of Gymnasium (grammar school) or a more vocational or technical education depending on your area of interest/ability. Léon decided to apply to the regional grammar school and will find out today whether he did well enough on his grade point average to meet the conditional entry offer they sent him back in spring. So today is sort of like the last day of s4 in Scotland but in a system where s5, s6 and a non-existant-over-there s7 are in a different college-like setting. I think back to the very formal graduations at home and am amused by the very different but equally memorable way they are marking this end-of-an-era event here today. Many of the kids have been together for 15 years, Léon only joined in 2019. 

So today they have asked his year to come in in fancy dress bringing as many sweets as they can carry. The whole year meets up together for a banquet breakfast which they eat together for most of the morning. After that they visit the lower years in the school in Morud where they throw sweets at the kids and show off their costumes. Thereafter, they ride on their bikes to the feeder primary they came from in the cluster and shower those kids with sweets too, and again the feeder nursery is included. So every kid in the district is getting to celebrate their leaving. They then have the afternoon off so they've all decided to go down to Odense and spend the afternoon in the city before returning in time for a barbeque and drinks session from 6pm to 4am complete with boombox. 

Léon decided early on he'd go as Braveheart as he is always the centre of attention around town when he drags out his kilt. This time he's gone further buying face paint and a Mel Gibson mullet wig! A friend is lending him a sword and shield but he's picking that up on his way to school. So at 7:30 this morning, this was the sight that left for the school bus. I thought he was going to cause a crash as I could see everyone who drove past was looking sideways rather than ahead! Of course, the fact that his last day now coincides with the Scotland-England Euro 2020 match now means he's doubly pleased to be dressed in this fashion and I suspect his trip to the city probably includes going past the Irish/Scottish pub in the centre! I'm dying to see the photos as I know his mate is going as the Pope; they'll make quite a pair!

Anna is bracing herself for being the talk of the school as she hasn't been in the same school since Léon last turned up like this and although Amaia is claiming to be embarrassed by him, she did message me from school asking for photos to show her friends for when they turn up there, so I think she's secretly proud!

I have to say, the wig is maybe a wee step too far though!😂

Friday, June 11, 2021

Surprisingly well done

Two years ago today my kids entered the Danish education system with a decent knowledge of passive Danish and the ability more or less to hold a conversation with their grandparents. They had spent one summer holiday in Denmark in the lives. They were bad at reading it and worse and writing it... Yesterday Léon got back the results of his school leavers' exam (roughly equivalent to Nat 5 in Scotland). That Léon got the highest mark in his class in written Danish is beyond amazing. So proud 🙂 (The wee bugger also spent the whole day baiting the native Danish speakers in his class in the most tongue-in-cheek fashion - figuring it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! hahahaha)

Watermelons? I don't think so...

I had to laugh yesterday when we were shopping for dinner in Rema 1000 (a Danish Aldi-like supermarket). The sheer look of indignation in Amaia's face, even with her mask on, at the size of the melons they were claiming were watermelons was priceless! 

Amaia has been going to Tuscany every other summer for the whole of her life (as her grandparents retired there). And to her mind, this is an average watermelon. Picking these Danish ones, in her eyes, was tantamount to infanticide!

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

If you don't hear from me...

Our old house didn't have any decent window ledges, this one does, and loads of them. And Thomas still hasn't got himself a proper greenhouse so he's taken over my entire house. Given the season seems to be a couple of weeks behind a normal year into the bargain, I now have tomatoes blocking my dining room door to the garden, chillis in the kitchen and down in the turret, tomatoes galore at the bedroom window and finally cucumbers behind my headboard. The leaves are blocking the view and the little fruits are coming on leaps and bounds but it is the tendrils that are beginning to worry me most. First they decided to attach themselves to my bed, so they're going nowhere fast, and now they are creeping over towards us at night and I'm half expecting to waken up to Thomas lying strangled next to me one morning!

An old Saab

You know how, when you've loved someone, you never really lose them, not completely? For a moment in time, even just a split second, they are still alive and so close you can almost touch them.

Recently I was walking across a road in Kerteminde. When I stopped to look left and right, just as Tufty had taught me, what did I see at the next junction but a 1953 Saab, polished so shiny it could have be on its maiden trip, straight from the showroom. Taking my phone excitedly from my pocket, I turned to Thomas, and got as far as 'I can't wait...' before reality hit. I was going to complete my sentence with 'to show dad this picture'. Dad was a big Saab fanatic. For that fraction of a second, I almost forgot we lost him nine years ago today. It's been a lifetime, it's been a moment and yes, sometimes I almost forget I can't still show him a photo. 

I remember in the very early days saying to Thomas that I missed talking to him. Wise beyond her years Anna, who was 4 at the time, looked incredulous and said 'Just because he's not here, doesn't mean you need to stop talking to him. I still talk to him'. I always remember that as it seemed so profound from such a small child. So, I went ahead and took the pic anyway to show him, or tell him about, somehow... 

Thursday, May 06, 2021


While the restaurants were closed here because of the pandemic, one restaurant in the main square in Odense came up with the cutest idea which became a bit of a tourist attraction in the long run! They sat panda couples at their tables, enjoying the hospitality until such times as the real guests could return. I don't think I ever passed it at a time when someone wasn't photographing them, so they definitely get 10/10 for their marketing strategy too!


Monday, May 03, 2021

Education in Corona times

As an explanation of the following post, here is a brief outline of the Danish school system my three youngest are going through: Here in Nordfyn region, they go to nursery from the age of one, then kindergarten from three. After they turn six, they start in the village primary where they then continue for seven years till they are between 12 & 13. From 13 to 16 they move to a middle school in the next town for three years. At the end of those three years they apply to the three-year high school of their choice - this can be a grammar school, a business or technical school or even a vocational high school where you study to be a joiner, a carpenter, a healthcare assistant, a hairdresser or whatever floats your boat. They are given a conditional offer for entrance to these upper high schools and that offer is related to how they do in their middle school leaving exams which is set my the Danish ministry for Education, which is roughly equivalent to the Scottish Nat5 or the English GCSE. When we moved here Léon entered this system in the second year of the three year middle school course.

Last year's national exams were cancelled in Denmark, as they were in many countries because the kids were online-schooled from early March to mid-May, and the exams were due to take place early May. This year pupils were off January through March and now it's time for Léon to sit his leaving exams. On the one hand, sitting them would be a bit unfair as these kids are less prepared than previous years,  but on the other, if things get back to normal, going forward he'd then be expected to sit the proper uni entrance exams (studentereksamen) without ever having sat a proper ministry exam in his life. So the Danish government has come up with a compromise. Léon's year will sit half the normal exams at the end of this term to give the prospective grammar schools (gymnasiums) that they are all moving on to after the summer some kind of idea of what they are capable of, and as a fall-back their continuous assessment results from the last two terms will be used, should the underperform drastically compared to expectations. With that pressure lifted, Léon had his first Danish exam today - Danish essay writing (the written Danish Nat5 equivalent takes two days with a further oral paper in June!) Mr Laid-back has just bounced in the door grinning like a Cheshire cat, telling me it couldn't have gone any better! He got a topic he wanted to write about and one he had lots to say about. 

I swear nothing fazes that boy. He's missed all of year 7, 2 months of year 8 and 3 months of year 9. We dragged him out of the education system he knew at the end of s2 and asked him to learn to spell and read a language he only knows orally and mainly passively and sit grammar high school entrance exams in it less than two years later, and that in turn was blighted by a global pandemic and school lockdown and he actually claims to 'enjoy' the exams just weeks after going back to school! No matter what he gets, we already know his continuous assessment grade average is higher than his conditional offer at the local grammar school so fingers crossed next year will see him move up there and maybe get a whole year of in-person learning!

Sunday, May 02, 2021


We've all bought one in ASDA or the likes - a little 10cm tall basil plant that you get in a pot and after you've used a few leaves it is meant to grow back. I don't know if my family just eats too much basil or what but they never work for us and we end up with one spindly stem with a few pitiful leaves at the top. We've tried growing them from seed too, with no greater success. We've even tried various ways of propagating them from each other, which also seems to take longer than forever... One day back in winter Thomas and I were out at Vissenberg bageri (our local prize-winning bakery), for a change we dropped into the Coop in that town instead of any of our more local ones and they were selling slightly bigger basils than we were used to. Given they were going for 20kr (the equivalent of about £2.30), we thought we'd give one a go. What a difference! It grows back quicker than we can eat it and we have now been living off it for more than 3 months without making an obvious dent in it! Size really does matter after all. Result!

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!