Thursday, September 08, 2022

A little too much haste

I have too many windows in my house... 28 to be precise, not to mention the five main doors. I got it into my head, given we're in the middle of a drought, that it would be nice to freshen up the paintwork a little; they're wooden double-glazed units, you see, and I thought it would look better if they were all the same shade of grey/lilac. Off I went to Bauhaus a couple of weeks ago and bought a massive tub of special outdoor wood paint mixed to my colour specifications - the best quality, most expensive they had, mainly figuring it would be cheaper in the long run than me having to paint them annually, which was never likely to pan out. I also thought the whole project was quite doable, given it's a bungalow and none of the window frames is more than two to three metres up and I have no less than three different-sized ladders. 

I was down to having three windows and all the doors left on Tuesday morning. I was particularly pleased that I was yet to run out of paint and that there was definitely enough left. The only thing worrying me was the ominous forecast of rain, starting on Wednesday afternoon, for the first time in months. So, I got out extra early around 8:30am with my Danish audio book, my various brushes, and my glasses for the fiddly bits. 

The sun was quite strong and I could feel it starting to dry up the paint, so time was short. I dragged the ladder into the shade and ran up it, slapping on the paint as quickly as I could while still doing a decent job. I needed to go back down to move another metre to the left. That's roughly when I realised that over-sized crocs, ladders, and haste isn't the best combo... Pot of paint in hand, I somehow missed my footing, falling not just from the top of the ladder onto the patio, but spectacularly bypassing the patio right over the top of the garden wall and landing half way across the lawn in a flower bed, all the while watching in slow-mo as the grey paint rained down on me and the sun-scorched lawn. I was right, there definitely was enough left in the pot, because it managed to cover my clothes, hair, and about 3m2 of the lawn. Lying on the lawn, winded, I could hear my Danish novel in the distance. It was just getting to the exciting bit where the kidnapped journalist was trying to throw molotov cocktails at the serial murderer! I tried to sit up but the searing pain in my left ankle decided that wasn't the best idea. I lay there for a whole chapter looking at my phone on the windowsill, unable to reach it to ring Charlotte to come outside and pick me up or ring anyone else. 

Eventually I managed to crawl in shaking and dripping with paint and text Charlotte that I needed someone to make me lunch. Fortunately a colleague had asked Thomas to drop some crutches off at the hospital for him so I used them for the remainder of the day. But I could not use my foot AT ALL. By day two, still unable to do anything I was forced by the busybodies in my family into a trip to A&E, which is quite different here, but that's one for Contemplating Denmark. I seem to have torn some ligaments in my foot, sigh. And now that the pain of that is getting slightly more bearable on that side, it would appear I also hit my shoulder, arm, side, hip, and bum. I vaguely remember them connecting with the top of the garden wall somewhere mid-flight. Funny how I could only feel the foot for the first day. 

Anyway, as usual, I am being a totally unbearable patient. After two days stuck in a chair, I'm climbing the walls... unfortunately not literally. I cannot stand sitting. I have windows that need painting. I can't drive, so I can't go to Bauhaus to buy the now-necessary replacement paint. I need this to be over now! I can already tell that there is NO WAY I'm spending the advisory two weeks 'resting with my foot up'. I'll give it till the weekend, MAX! 



 

Omelettes, Muslim men, and death

 


This one is a bit more personal than my standard ones, but it gives me comfort and it makes me smile and is a memory I will cherish, so for what it is worth...


Let's go back to February 13. I'm visiting mum in hospital. She has less than two weeks left, though we didn't know that then. The catering staff come in with her evening meal: an omelette and mash, accompanied by some nuclear-fallout-coloured carrot and turnip cubes. Weird in itself. I’m not sure I’d put those together. They leave and mum, who’s been completely lucid and coherent throughout my hour-long visit till then, looks furtively from side to side and suddenly exclaims ‘Muslim men!’ I’m puzzled, given the guy who’s just delivered the food is almost a caricature of your bog-standard ethnic Scot of the gingerheid variety. ‘Muslim men know a thing or two about these matters!’ she elaborates, gesturing with her head towards her plate. I wonder if she’s trying to tell me she’d rather have a decent curry from the Village Curry house round the corner, than more hospital food.

‘About what?’ I ask, vaguely terrified of what she’s going to come out with!

‘Omelettes!’ is her rather unexpected reply. ‘I can see them out my window’ she explains. The photo above is of the view from her window that afternoon. ‘Can you see them down there?’ she asks. I can see nothing but rain and a rooftop carpark. She insists that I look all the way down the seven floors to the pavement below. She is insistent, so I play along. She needs me to see them – I don’t know if the brain tumours are causing her to see them or the high doses of morphine she’s taking for the brain tumours but I know there is no point in arguing, she needs me to confirm what she can see so I look down. ‘Oh, yeah,’ I say.

‘Do you know what they are doing down there, crouched on those little carpets?’ she asks. ‘Eh no?’ I reply, lost for words. They’re comparing their omelettes, swapping them, then passing them along the row so they are ordered perfectly, by size – from biggest to smallest, fluffiest to rubberiest. And once they are all in the right order, they bring them back inside and up here to us! Told you! Muslim men – they know exactly how to go about these things – clued up they are, well clever! They sure as hell know a thing or two, especially when it comes to omelettes!’

And then, as suddenly as the topic had been brought up, it disappeared again, and with a wink and a smile she sat happily in her bed, slightly in awe of and genuinely impressed by the prowess of the rows of Muslim men on their knees below her hospital room on that drizzly Glasgow winter Sunday.

I’ve no idea at all what inspired the story other than the rubber omelette handed to her by the catering staff. No notion why Muslim men were involved, but by agreeing to her story, she was so calm and happy that I could see them too. It’s truly fascinating how the human brain works. That afternoon, I had gone up to visit her alone, having flown in on the Friday night but Covid restrictions meant she was only allowed two visitors a day and Thomas had gone with Charlotte the day before. She’d been moaning constantly about the insipid hospital coffee that tasted of nothing, so I stopped on my way and bought her a caramel cappuccino to go from Costa. She was happy. Dying, and yet receiving a decent coffee seemed worth mentioning more than the news that she'd just been diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread to her spine, bones, liver, and brain just days before. 

I enjoyed my visit that day, in a bittersweet way because she was pain-free and at peace. I think age has helped my perspective. When my gran was dying of lung and brain cancer when I was 16, I found 'mad' stories of this type excruciatingly embarrassing but learning to lean into them and go with the flow was somehow calming. At 16, I remember desperately thinking, that I would prefer to die than come out with something mad and unreal. I wanted to leave this planet with my dignity intact, but at 54, I realised it no longer matters. My mum was happy that day. She appreciated that I could confirm her belief that Muslim men were to be admired for their skills in this department. I know mum loved a good curry so I guess she was probably just complimenting Muslim cuisine and it just came out a bit jumbled up. Nothing positive would have come from me contradicting this moment of confusion. Dying is also a part of living, it's just taken me this long to work that out.

And as an addendum to this story, it seems sweetly fitting that when we put mum's house up for sale after her death, the young family who moved in were 'the Islams'. It's nice to think of their two little girls growing up in the same house we did. I guess Muslim men know a bit about house hunting as well as about omelettes! And I expect there will be some excellent cooking coming out of her kitchen after many years of microwave meals from Aldi.


Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Windows or Mac?

I've been a bit remiss on the blogging front this last year. I guess between my boob problems and my mum dying suddenly things have just all been a bit too up in the air. But my other issue was more mundane - my computer. 

Over the last decade, I've bought three, if not four windows laptops, all of which have been hopeless. They start out fine but within six months are on a go-slow, taking up to half an hour to boot up. Thomas fixes them and the problem recurs within days. He's been telling me for a decade to get a MacBook - he's been using one for eight years, as has Marcel and neither have had any issues other than the battery. So, I finally gave in, figuring that even at Mac prices, one would cost less than four. It turned up last Monday night. I'm not used to Macs but I'm willing to learn a new set of workings as long as I have something that starts up nicely.

Tuesday morning, I tried Zoom for the first time while I sat chatting to my Danish language helper, Jens. He said the picture and audio coming from my end was much better than usual. Result!

Wednesday, I replied to a couple of emails and looked for a recipe to make plum tart. Again, I got in at lightning speed and all was well.

Thursday, I was busy with other things so didn't check it out.

Friday, I decided to upload all the photos I took when Derek and Amanda were here...

I opened it but it appeared to be out of charge. I plugged it in but no light appeared on the charger cable. We phoned Apple support. They went through a troubleshoot to no avail.

Yesterday, I drove it into town to the Apple specialist who has declared it dead as a dodo.

FFS! Even the Windows machines lasted more than three days! 

I guess I am sending it back now to be replaced but I'm now less than confident that I have found the laptop to take me through into the 2030s, after all.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Mad?

When I moved in with Thomas the first thing I noticed on his bookshelf was a book entitled 'God mad'. I thought that was a rather strange possession for a guy whose mum was a minister and whose dad was a theology professor. Whatever misgivings he had about his parents' religion, I thought this was a step further than expected. 

Of course, when I pulled it from the shelf and saw the cover, it became obvious that it was actually a cookbook, god being 'good' and mad being 'food'. I laughed at my own error.

Still the word mad amuses me today. There's a snackbar near here called 'Go' Mad' which makes my English native brain smile whenever I drive by and this car that passed me a few months ago also caused a mild chuckle. Childish I know, but still...




Saturday, June 11, 2022

A different kettle of fish

Since day one Nacho has been a fussy eater... in a good way. Nacho only eats dried cat biscuits. We offered him the expensive wet cat food samples the vet gave us on his first visit and he refused to try them. We tried salmon, prawns, cooked chicken, and raw mince and everything was sniffed and entirely rejected without the smallest crumb passing his lips. The only thing he seems to like that isn't cat biscuits is cheese. He doesn't even catch birds or mice because they aren't dry crunchy biscuits! I'm not sure he's fully read the manual on how to cat. We've long given up on trying to get him to taste anything other than dried biscuits.

So, last week Samosa came into our lives. Day one saw her refuse everything edible and even water. We ended up feeding her water on a teaspoon. We were worried, but shouldn't have been. Turns out it was nerves. Moving in with a new family apparently makes you a nervous wreck for precisely 18 hours, then you bite the bullet and decide you're willing to give wet cat food a go, followed by the biscuits, whiskas kitten milk, cheese, meat, fish, crisps, breakfast pancakes, and everything dropped on the floor including a strawberry. This is going to be a problem because we're used to leaving a snack on the coffee table knowing there's no chance Nacho will so much as smell it. Just imagine Léon's face last night when he left a plate of mash, IKEA meatballs, and meatball sauce on the desk in his room, only to come back from the loo and find a rather small girl sitting on the plate wolfing down more mash than he thought was humanly possible!



Meaningless questions with no answers

Yesterday, driving down to IKEA, Thomas and I were discussing how just 100 years ago the villages around where we live must have had every sort of shop imaginable, and therefore some people never really left the 10km radius around where they were born and yet today travel is so integrated in our psyche. I mentioned that my own grandmother never went further than Wolverhampton in her 68 years. She never went as far as where her granddaughter, and five of her great grandchildren live. She never even saw London. 

Growing up we were told stories of gran's stay in Wolverhampton, when her sister, Rita, was dying. The sweet story went that when my poor great aunt was diagnosed with cancer in her late 30s, my gran (her little sister) moved down to care for her and her 6 year old son, taking my 5 year old mum with her. Gran was 33 at the time. Mum started school in England, Gramps got a plumber job and gran cared for Rita. One day after six months, mum came home from school and nonchalantly greeted my very Glaswegian Gramps with 'ello love' in a very Brummie accent. Gramps promptly packed two cases and told gran no wean of his was growing up with a Brummie accent and took the train back to Glasgow telling her to follow home once the inevitable came to pass! Never again did my gran voyage further than Blackpool. 

I know they weren't the richest pair, but I am puzzled that they never went anywhere, they both worked after all and Gramps got a free house and van with his job. Gran told me at least once a month for the 16 years we overlapped that she had two dreams: to ride in a helicopter and to visit Switzerland. The Switzerland dream came up again and again. It suddenly struck me yesterday that I never once asked her 'Why Switzerland?' I mean: was it mountains? cows with big bells? cuckoo clocks? chocolate? I even went to Switzerland on a school trip two years before she died and brought her back a rather cheesy cuckoo clock and some chocolate but still she never told me why Switzerland and for some reason I never asked. I suddenly realised yesterday that the one person who might know is suddenly gone and now I'll never know. When death comes suddenly, you forget to ask the questions that don't really matter. 

Since February 26 there have only been two people left on this earth with the key to my childhood memories. I remember my mother-in-law saying that the day her mum died, her childhood was nowhere other than in her head, her only sibling having died before their mother, which is even worse I guess. Maybe when I'm gone, my kids will appreciate their army of siblings even more than they do now.

Here's a pic of my poor gran who never got to Switzerland.




Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Samosa Friday Buchanan-Widmann

At Easter we spent a night at Thomas's sister's house. That meant leaving Nacho in the house overnight alone. We weren't going to be there long enough to check him into his usual cat hotel, so left loads of food and water and toys, but still we felt guilty. Back when we got Nacho, we had had the option of taking his brother too. Amaia was really not sure about cats back then so we weren't sure two wouldn't be too much for a kid who was scared of animals. We should have known better. After a fortnight, Amaia had come round and regret was setting in. This overnight though made us realise how it would be easier going forward to leave him if he had a wee friend, or a sibling. The search began, scouring most of Denmark for kittens in need of rescuing or rehoming. We found a litter two hours away but they were too young to leave their mum so we've been getting updates for about six weeks now until last Saturday when we could finally bring her home.

We decided to name her Samosa - as it was another orangey-coloured triangular snack food like Nacho and she too had quite a lot of ginger in her. I have decided single-handedly that her middle name is Friday as she looks like the kind of cat who could only have been assembled last thing on a Friday - Orange legs, white feet, a half grey, half orange face, a long tail that doesn't fit with the rest, and better still it turns out she was born on a Friday! 

It's day three and they are already chasing each other in a non-agressive manner round the house and stealing each other's food, so things are looking positive. Hopefully there will be many updates on here going forward!













It's good to see things from another perspective

I considered not publishing this one. There are some things you don't talk about - like miscarriages, menopause, hysterectomies, and mastectomies but how would not publishing it help anyone in the same situation? I can tick all those boxes. So, for what it's worth, here goes...

I was never a particularly self-conscious person body-wise. Not that I had any sort of model figure as a young woman - I was a little too short, my boobs were always a bit too big but I was happy enough with the way I looked and thought nothing of baring all, be that on a dodgy beach in Greece or in a communal changing room. I remember having a rather animated conversation about an idea for a dictionary many years ago on the way out of a sauna on a business trip. Enthusiastically, my boss (an Italian woman) and I stood discussing our ideas, when I noticed people around us were giving us funny looks. I assumed it was because lexicography was not the most normal of topics, but I slowly realised it was probably because we were both completely naked in the middle of a large room, arms waving, and no one else was!

Obviously over the years I've had five babies, the biggest of which weighed in at 4.5kg, so things aren't quite how they were but again that was more a badge of honour than anything shameful, so I even managed to embrace that version of me and still wander about naked without too much thought.

However, I've been through my own personal war these past few years. My ovarian cancer scare of 2018 left me with a scar from my belly button to my pubic bone. Moreover, an infection I got post-op left me with a rougher edge to the top of that scar. I feared at the time that it might end up looking like 2 belly buttons, one under the other, but in the end, it wasn't quite that bad. I think it took me over a year to walk past my kids in my underwear after that one, and when I did, I'm not sure they even noticed I looked any different.

I had just about come to terms with that when I was hit with last year's boob bombshell. Some dodgy cells found in the milk ducts of my right boob meant all the breast tissue and the nipple had to be removed as a precaution. That left me with the option of one boob as an E cup and the other completely flat, or a more invasive reconstruction of the right to a size B, but a simultaneous reduction of the other to match. I'm not sure I was ready in my early 50s to become completely asexual-looking so opted for the more complex of the two operations, not so much because of how society wanted me to look, but because of how I could face myself. Surgical menopause in 2018, before my body was ready, had already done little for my sense of femininity or self-esteem, so I didn't need to lose my boob on top of the rest, especially before the first scar had even faded.

The upshot is that I look passable in clothes, which is good for my sense of self. No one needs to know what I have been through unless I want them to. But I wasn't ok on the underneath. I took to avoiding mirrors and locking the door to the bathroom. This was a far cry from a few years earlier when I routinely was joined in the bathroom when I was in the bath by some kid or another asking for homework help. I didn't want to see me and I didn't want anyone else to see me either, checkups with the consultant excepted, of course.

After about nine months, Amaia questioned why I was no longer as open as I used to be. At 12, she sees things differently to me I guess. I reminded her what I had been through, as I had kept them in the loop all along, but to my surprise she was completely unfazed. To her I am still me, so all I got was a shrug and a 'so what's the problem?' I told her it made me more self conscious than before and she asked why. I described how I look now - huge scars round half my body, nipples removed and again she said she didn't see why that would change my confidence levels. 'Sounds to me like you now have Barbie boobs!' she said nonchalantly, with a smile.

So, there you have it, two major operations down the line and apparently I now look like a Barbie doll! Well, maybe a wee bit less tall and slim, but still... Maybe it's time I opened up a bit and went back to being just me.

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Southern living

Well, that's me back from just under five days in Toulouse visiting my oldest daughter. The temperature was on a bit of a downturn, she apologised, on my arrival. An unseasonal low there is apparently between 27 and 29 degrees, instead of the 34 they had the week before my arrival and yesterday after I left. At 28 degrees, you walk the streets with the sun beating down on you face. You feel the warmth on your hair as you enjoy being bombarded by the perfume of jasmine mixed with honeysuckle and sage as you walk the suburban streets back to your house. The smells are so strong, you could probably find your way to Charlotte's gate even with your eyes closed. All you need to be happy is a bottle of cool water in your back pocket.

Having arrived at 6pm on Thursday and left for the airport again on Tuesday at 2pm, I realised I had clocked up no less than 80.8km, so nearly 20km a day. Other than slightly stiff legs, I had suffered no ill effects from all the walking and the sheer number of kilometres left little time for big meals or comfort eating.

I've been back less than 48 hours and here in Denmark it is a very unseasonal 12 degrees. The chill in my bones makes me want to hide under my duvet and whimper. I have probably managed 3km in the last two days. No smells have assaulted me, just a bitter north wind. I have given in and reverted to jeans, an aran sweater over my T-shirt, and a jacket... and I'm still bloody freezing. I am seriously considering a woolly hat. Anyone got any hot chocolate or even Glühwein to hand? 

I have no desire to go out for a walk, I want to sink into the couch and eat any kind of unhealthy crap I can lay my hands on, just to forget the miserable weather. The news tells me this is a blip and tomorrow will be back up in the twenties, but still, I seriously need to work out how to retire to the south if I am going to survive old age as anything other than a miserable, overweight blob.

And just to compare... Three days ago versus an hour ago😢




Tuesday, May 24, 2022

An interesting way to get to know your neighbours


I'm concluding that Danes are a shy people. I moved to Stillebæk in the autumn of 2019. Ok, there has been Covid, but that didn't happen till we'd been here six months and this is a tiny village. Until mid-last week I had met (and spoken to) seven of my neighbours (that is to say two couples and three single individuals). Then a bus happened to crash in our main street on Friday at 2pm. 

By 2pm most people were either home or working from home, the weather was stunning - full sun and mid-twenties. We were in the house when we heard some loud tooting and a screech of brakes. Out we wandered, all five of us, and saw a bus leaning at an incredibly precarious angle, which over the course of the afternoon only got worse and worse. How they managed to fall into a ditch on such a completely straight road was a puzzle. Several neighbours had the same idea. We hovered in little groups. An ambulance screeched up, followed by a police car, an emergency doctor, a second ambulance, two fire engines, a couple of tow trucks and then two vans from TV2 news. 

Over the course of the next hour we found out a coach of pensioners from Jutland were visiting the bison farm in Morud for lunch and the newly-qualified driver had managed to swerve into a ditch on the way home. No one was injured but everyone was trapped. Once we had that news, relief swept over the village and everyone sprang into action. Four or five residents took turns at diverting traffic away from the closed main road. Others turned up with cool drinks for the traffic wardens and the kids who were hanging around the TV vans waiting, unsuccessfully, for their five minutes of fame. Many neighbours we'd never met introduced themselves to us and other new inhabitants of the village. By the time we'd been directing traffic for four hours they were arranging a village party and offering everyone strawberry plants! It seems to take something to bring everyone out their shell, but once out, I imagine they'll stay out.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Finding me

I just finished Viola Davis's book Finding me. I actually listened to it as an audiobook while I was driving the other day. I'm not sure if hearing the memoir read by its author or just the sheer power of the book itself was what made it outstanding but I have not been moved this much by a book in a decade. I thoroughly recommend it to everyone. Its power is unequalled. I'm now going to buy a copy to keep, it's too important not to.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

What's going on, Scotland?

I need to go over to Scotland again to help with emptying mum's house. I am looking at 14-18 May. I thought to maximise my time, I'd hire a wee car rather than relying on public transport. So I stuck those dates into all the car hire places in Edinburgh airport with a view to picking up a wee Fiat 500 or similar and paying no more than about £120. I've done that time and again so was more than gobsmacked when the best they could offer me was £457 for four days for a 4 seater biscuit tin on wheels! I figured it might be something to do with the short notice, though that has made little impact on the price previously so out of curiosity I stuck in the dates 10-14 September in Edinburgh and the cheapest car they could offer then was £422, despite it being out of season and in the more distant future. I then assumed it might have something to do either with Brexit or with the global car issues caused by Covid - I know that second hand cars are dearer at the moment globally because of chip shortages, so I played about with different destinations for my May dates. These are my interesting findings:

If I want to hire a small car in Aberdeen airport 14-18 May, the smallest and cheapest on offer is £457 (Fiat 500)

If I want to hire a small car in Glasgow airport 14-18 May, the smallest and cheapest on offer is £435 (Fiat 500)

If I want to hire a small car in Glasgow town centre 14-18 May, the smallest and cheapest on offer is £622 (Ford Focus)

If I want to hire a small car in Manchester airport 14-18 May, the smallest and cheapest on offer is £112 (Fiat 500)

If I want to hire a small car in Stansted 14-18 May, the smallest and cheapest on offer is £91 (Fiat 500)

If I want to hire a small car in Copenhagen airport 14-18 May, the smallest and cheapest on offer is £166 (Ford Focus)

If I want to hire a small car in Madrid airport 14-18 May, the smallest and cheapest on offer is £65 ( (Fiat Panda)

If I want to hire a small car in Frankfurt airport 14-18 May, the smallest and cheapest on offer is £198 (Hyundai i20)

So I can see that not only is there a shortage of small cars for hire in Scotland but also a massive hike in prices that are not reflected elsewhere in the UK or in random big cities around Europe. So, what's going on and why exactly are Scotland and its tourists being shafted?

Thursday, April 28, 2022

More than just a car

We have (or rather, had) two cars: the smaller yellow one, that we bought and that Thomas uses for work, and the larger one, the lease car, that I used as my car and we used for all family and shopping outings, not to mention trips further afield. This means that I have spent a great deal of time in the larger one since we moved to Denmark... 43000km of time to be precise. A lot of that is playing the mum taxi. I drive each of the kids to music lessons, often close to home but sometimes further afield. I even blogged it at one point. Sometimes there isn't time to go home before pickup, so I go for a walk if the weather is nice, but often between October and March, I sit in the car waiting on whoever is being driven about. 

Sitting in a car for hours can be tedious. Also, with so many kids, finding time to stay in touch with everyone can be hard too. I killed both birds by bluetoothing a lot of my conversations onto the car speaker. At least 10% of my chats to Marcel and Charlotte happened in the red car, but given they are at work or uni till after 5 or even 6 pm most nights, the vast majority of my car chats were with mum. Mum liked to chat an hour or two over her afternoon coffee and that often corresponded with the kids' music lesson or other trips here. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I would drive round Funen chatting to mum. 

That means that Tuesdays and Thursdays are now eerily silent in my car. Suddenly I feel very alone, driving about, like a rather little woman in a rather big car. I tried music at first but I'm a bit of a sing-along type and Tuesdays and Thursdays don't feel like sing-along days, not yet anyway. After that I took out a subscription to a Danish audiobook site, trying again the two birds technique - increase my Danish vocabulary while convincing myself that the car isn't a big lonely place. 

But this week has now taken the issue to a new level. As I mentioned previously, we had to give back the lease car this week. So, over and above the inconvenience of sitting in the village with no means of leaving it thanks to the dearth of public transport, I sort of feel like I have given away my chats with mum, my memories and our special space. Weird. I guess it is a bit like as if you always met someone in the same café and suddenly that café shut down, only this is the international version.

While I look forward to getting a new car in the next few months, from a practical perspective, I expect even if I go for the same model again, I doubt it will feel quite right.



Storbæltsbroen



I like to moan about the fact that the Billund - Edinburgh route is often, though not always, mothballed over the early months of the year, usually after the Xmas rush but before the Easter one. It means that to go back to Scotland, I have to pay to travel the 90 minutes east to Copenhagen only to take less than fifteen minutes to fly right back over the top of my house. For obvious reasons, I was home a lot of times this winter. Though the reason for my trips was both stressful and upsetting, the view I got on one of the flights home seemed incongruously beautiful. I've rarely had such a clear view of Funen as I did in February and to see the whole 18km of the road and rail bridge to our island from the sky was quite something. It's hard to believe looking at it from 37000 feet that it takes around 15 minutes to drive over at full speed (110km/hr).

 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The car

When we moved to Denmark we decided to lease one car and buy the other - at home we had always bought cars cash, having saved up for them, so we didn't know if a loan or a lease would suit us best. It wasn't that we were super rich. With our own company, we simply didn't have the visibility or stability to take out loans, other than the mortgage, so we put aside money whenever things were going particularly well so we could buy cars when that became necessary.

So on Monday the lease on our main car was up and it had to be returned. Unlike in the UK, there is no option to buy your lease car here, you are simply forced to give it back and either take out a new lease on a newer car, or revert to buying something if you have the cash. 

I think we'll stick to buying in the future, as this system is rather inconvenient. Stillebæk isn't somewhere a couple can live with just one car. With just two buses a day (at 7.43 & 15.45), I can no longer do anything while Thomas is in the office. The kids will need to miss their music lessons which we've prepaid and which cost a great deal of money, I won't be able to simply pop over to Léon's school when he inevitably forgets his violin or similar and picking any of them up from school even if it is pouring with rain is now a no-go. Their schools are 3km, 4km and 10km away. As for shopping or working, I can't get anywhere from here so those are no longer possible either until Thomas arrives home after 4.30. I've been trying to get some work as a supply teacher but am now hoping that no one phones for me to cover them as I can't get to any schools from here at the moment. Having to turn work down would be terribly upsetting as I desperately want to integrate into Danish life properly.



So, top of the agenda is finding a replacement as soon as possible. Leasing is annoying because you have to give your car back on the day they want it, rather than waiting till a time that is actually convenient to you. Had we owned it we'd have been at liberty to give it back once we had found an alternative. So, we'll definitely buy next time, it just might take a little time to get the funds together to do so.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Different cultural encounters

When you move to a different country half way through your childhood, you become a different person to the one you would have become... No shit, Sherlock! Ok, so I'm stating the obvious, but this can be completely subtle and at other times it can be wholly obvious.

To give an example of the subtle ways you might change... In Scotland my kids went to a 'posh' school so not only was there a uniform, but it was the strictest of strict - everything was prescribed, right down to the shade of grey your socks were allowed to be. As kids they were told ad nauseam that it was a good thing because kids wouldn't be shamed for lacking the money for designer brands and it was safer as you could spot someone who didn't belong in the playground. They were told it was more practical to have an obvious outfit ready every morning. 

Now they live in a society where no one wears a uniform, but funnily enough there is no issue with designer brands, kids from other establishments infiltrating the playgrounds, and they can wear waterproof shoes and coats in the rain rather than the inadequate footwear and blazers they used to don. So, my kids haven't obviously changed in this regard, but were I to return them to their old school in August, after three years here, they would be more critical of the uniform rhetoric and less likely to swallow it wholesale, I expect. Never once on a snowy day has my child begged to go back to court shoes and a wool blazer, never once in the sunshine have they complained about being allowed to school in shorts and sandals. Never once have I had to rush to get specific clothes clean for the next day...

A less obvious example is the language and culture they are exposed to, and I don't mean Danish. When I lived back home, had I asked my kids what language do you think sounds nice, even if you don't understand it, they might have replied 'Spanish' or 'Italian' or something they were used to hearing but hadn't started learning yet. When I asked this question of Amaia the other week, I got an answer that I would never have got in Scotland. Of this I am 100% sure! She replied 'Greenlandic sounds cute - all those clicky hissy sounds are so sweet, not like Faroese, that just sounds like another version of all those other Scandinavian languages!' There is no way a Scottish child could pick Greenlandic out of a line-up (unless they have maybe been tuning in to Borgen Series 4, if that is out already in the UK), but here there are many Greenlandic people and kids including Uiloq in her class, who inspired this comment by speaking her own language in class one day to show her classmates how she sounds. And for anyone who wants to be able to pick it out a line-up going forward...

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Summertime


I woke up late and tired this morning - no wonder - someone stole an hour in the middle of the night... I'm not fully complaining - I loathe wintertime and wander about moping constantly and bemoaning the darkness. But why have we developed a system that steals an hour from us in the middle of the night, in the middle of the weekend?

I can fully get on board with gaining an hour in October during the night, during the weekend, but it suddenly struck me this morning just how much nicer with would be to switch to summertime at say 1pm on a Tuesday? What do you reckon? Who's with me?

Thursday, March 24, 2022

A granny's legacy

Most grannies in cartoons and popular children's literature wear a skirt, round glasses, and have their hair swept up in a grey bun. They like knitting and sewing, gardening and baking with the grandchildren. I'm not sure my mum was a likely candidate for 90% of this. 

She always wore trousers, her hair was a dark, and latterly salt and pepper afro, untameable and unbrushable. My mother didn't actually own a hairbrush, only an afro comb. This was something I found odd in my teens as the only other woman in the house with almost straight hair. If I couldn't track my brush down in a rush, there was no one else's to borrow. 

And although she knitted, mainly baby items and only when Amanda or I were pregnant, she loathed and sucked at sewing in equal measures. Had we not had enough money for clothes, making them ourselves would never have been an option. 

Gardening and even house plants were a bit of a no no too. I don't think there's a single flower in her garden, just bushes and trees and most of them donated by me. I actually cannot remember her ever baking anything in my life, and definitely not with us, her kids, or any of her grandchildren. I baked with her mother growing up, but never with my own. And it wasn't that she lacked a sweet tooth, there were copious amounts of cake and squares of millionaire's shortbread or similar in her house, they just always came in an ASDA or Aldi box.

She will be remembered for many things:

  • her colossal general knowledge, well other than geography... She spent endless hours watching quiz shows with the kids who were desperate to enter her as she always beat all the guests who actually appeared on them.
  • her surprising ability at Wii ski-jumping!
  • her jigsaw skills
  • her ability to match anything - wallpaper to furnishings, clothes to her car, her jewellery, towels - you name it, it matched
  • her surprisingly dirty mind when it came to Cards against Humanity - she always, always won that one
  • her sharp and cutting wit
  • her no-nonsense approach to grandparenting
and much more, but nothing culinary, or so I thought...

It is therefore strange that here on Funen, she is going to be remembered for her baking... her hot cross buns to be precise. I can safely say, hand on heart, my mother never ever made a hot cross bun in her life! So, how will she be remembered for that? It's all down to Léon... as these things often are! 


Last week in his English class, being the life and soul as always, he volunteered to bring in the British speciality of hot cross buns to educate his fellow classmates on UK culture. After a quick poll, that suggested 90% of his class hated raisins but loved chocolate, he decided to adapt the recipe, replacing one with the other. Having never made them himself, a quick google gave him a fail-safe recipe, thanks to BBC good food. He baked thirty and took them in the next day. So impressed was his teacher, that she took a photo of him dishing them out and asked him to translate and then write out the recipe... This then got back to management, who thought it would be a great story for the school's internet page, to advertise what a nice school it is. Léon, of course, thought sharing a BBC good food recipe, especially the week he'd missed Monday at school to attend his gran's funeral, was a bit impersonal so claimed this was his gran's family recipe. The school has now shared my mum's world famous hot cross bun recipe for anyone who wants to honour granny's memory by baking her buns. And given it isn't the BBC one, as the raisins have been swapped out for dark chocolate, and it is now written in Danish, no one can see the correlation! You couldn't make it up!

So, we now live on an island with 500 000 inhabitants who are now all potentially trying out my mum's hot cross bun recipe this Easter. If I had any religion in me, I'd like to think of her up there having a right old chuckle about the whole thing! It definitely isn't the legacy she'd have been counting on.

And for anyone who wants to try out her speciality (if you have google translate on hand anyway):



Monday, March 07, 2022

End of the blogging break? Another kick in the teeth.

I enthusiastically wrote on 11 January that I hoped my blogging this year might pick up a bit after the health hell that was 2021. I genuinely thought we might get a break this year - no health scares, no major operations, no Covid, no immigrating, no starting my life from scratch again, no redundancies, no divorces or any of the other joys we have been through over the last decade or two.



I should have known better.

Back on 19 January life was normal, till the morning mum rang us to say she couldn't seem to get out of bed. A day and a number of scans later, we got the news that what she thought was a chest infection was actually lung cancer, with an extra tumour pressing on her spine. I flew over alone the following day. 

A two week stay in hospital stabilised her but unfortunately found further tumours in her bones, liver, and brain and we were given a prognosis of 12 weeks. Derek and Amanda brought her home to their place and I flew the whole family over and Marcel and Milly came up from London. We spent a wonderful week all together as a family and I flew home again on the 21st with a ticket to return alone yesterday. 

But as you can see from the photos I've been uploading to Facebook and Instagram of Glasgow this week, that plan didn't quite work out either. I had to bring my trip forward to last Sunday as she died on Saturday Feb 26, only five weeks after diagnosis, four days before what would have been her 78th birthday, a birthday she shared with Amanda who was turning 50. 

Derek, Amanda, and I are dealing with the funeral, the house and all the paperwork and the funeral has now been arranged for next Friday at 3:45 at Maryhill crematorium. 

Marcel and Milly are coming up on Wednesday and Thomas will fly the rest of the grandchildren over on the early morning flight on Friday, fingers crossed there are no delays. 

So, it's been a shocker of a start to 2022, but if she had to go, I guess 5 weeks is the way she'd have wanted it, not months or years of treatment and suffering, like dad. 

I'm ok for now but I expect, it'll be a while before it all sinks in. In the meantime, please toast my wee mum with a glass of wine tonight with your dinner, if you get a chance. This is us together last October.

Ann Buchanan 2/3/44 - 26/2/22

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Kæpheste

It's been interesting watching each of my three youngest kids' Danish development since we moved here in 2019. Obviously, they could all speak Danish when we moved here, given Thomas had spoken to them only in Danish for the entirety of their lives but that was a very passive situation. They understood everything he said, understood the stories and later novels he diligently read them every night before bed, carrying on the tradition much longer than most kids' bedtime stories as it was the only way to make them bilingual, or so we thought before immigrating showed us there was another even more efficient way to make your child truly bilingual! Still they replied to him only in English as most bilingual kids do, preferring their dominant language, even though to the non-bilingual replying to Danish only in English might seem harder than carrying out every conversation in just one language! They had 100% understanding and could swap into Danish when they needed to, for example when their cousin, who was yet to start English, used to visit us in Scotland. But good as they were, their reading skills were minimal and they sounded like shrunken 40 year olds, knowing very few of the words their own generation would use, drawing entirely on Thomas's vocabulary, or stranger still their grandparents'. There were gaps in their knowledge compared to English, of course. They might have known some tools, spices, games or similar only in English as they had never encountered a setting where they had to use them in Danish. But all in all, for kids who had spent less than a total of 8 weeks in Denmark in their lives, they were bloody good - Daddy wasn't a linguistics graduate for nothing, every ounce of linguistic theory was used up on them.

We'd been here about six months when Léon started to sound like he came from deepest, darkest Nordfyn and maybe six more before the girls both developed an authentic, not so Funic accent, but it has only been in the last six months that I have noticed a reversal. I was running Amaia home from school one day and she was telling me about her Maths lesson, which seemed to have been geometry-related. Having only been schooled up to p4 in Scotland terms for acute or obtuse angles, isosceles triangles and similar were not something she had encountered yet before we left Scotland, so she stopped dead in her tracks, unable to explain her Maths to me in English, which we still speak together, having to swap into Danish to fully describe her Maths problem to me. She looked rather shocked that Danish had overtaken English in that subject field. She's also more confident explaining grammatical terms in Danish than English now but all in all, most non-specific vocabulary is still evenly balanced between the two languages, so she's happy explaining everything to me in English and her teacher in Danish.

That was until yesterday, when she really made me laugh. She's in the oldest year in her school and she is the oldest child in her class, so she feels mature and feels greatly superior to the younger kids who are all the way down to three. I think she almost considers herself staff, rather than pupil these days! The younger girls are all into horses as horses are a big pastime on Funen. Given that, many of the younger girls have taken to bringing hobby horses to school to ride around the playground on at break time. They are trying to outcompete each other on sequins, bows and other fancy accessories. Amaia, of course, thinks herself way too mature and sophisticated to even consider playing on hobby horse, at 12 going on 17. So she pranced out of school and wanted to tell me scathingly about all these silly little girls and their hobby horses... She started moaning about them being young and immature and nauseatingly girly, working up to telling me about their hobby horses, when she suddenly realised she had never encountered the word in English. So in the middle of her English sentence she used the term 'kæpheste', because she had no English word for them. I guessed immediately what she must have been referring to, despite never having heard the Danish term. After all, what other kind of horse would an 8 year old girl bring to school!? Suddenly she looked worried... 'You do know what I'm talking about mum, don't you?' she asked and before I could nod she elaborated 'You know, it's kinda a decapitated horse on a stick!' That had me in stitches - the thought of a playground full of girlie girls outcompeting each other with various fuchsia and lilac-coloured 'decapitated horses on sticks' conjured up all sorts of macabre images. 

It is sweet to think the kids are now so bilingual, there are also some spheres of vocabulary they only have in Danish now.


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

End of the blogging break?

For only the second time since I began this blog back in 2006, I seem to have blogged fewer than 100 days last year. I think, for the first half of the year, that was probably because I was concentrating on my more quirky Contemplating Denmark blog, where I managed 60 posts in just three months, but it too fell away by the summer. 

So, why have I fallen off the wagon? I'm not 100% sure. I have still been writing, but it has been more for me and for my kids (and their kids) to read hopefully one day in many years time, than for the world. 

I remember many moons ago, when dad was still alive, discussing what blogs were for. Dad and I loved the idea of rambling into the void, whether or not anyone was reading us. Mum, on the other hand, couldn't understand. She thought it was somewhat like publishing your personal diary. But I didn't agree. Blogs are for many things, but the deepest and most personal aspects of life never really make it onto here, so blogs are more of an anti-diary. So, maybe Covid dragging on and on-going health issues have led to a year of deeper thinking and therefore less publishing.



Last summer saw another health scare in my life, after 2018's 56-day+ ovarian cancer episode, I thought I had earned the right to a few years of peace on that front... silly me. In April, my annual mammogram showed some microscopic micro-calcium deposits along the insides of my milk ducts. That didn't sound scary to me, but apparently it can become worse than scary if left in situ so they whipped me in and removed all my milk ducts, and basically everything else on the right side, then reconstructed it. They then remodelled the other side to match and that led to many months of physio. I can now report Danish NHS food is 100 times better than Scottish NHS food😂

There have been several plusses: 

  • clothed, my boobs now look like they did in my 20s (though naked, I look like I have taken on a shark in shallow waters - no more skinny dipping for me, I suspect)
  • going from an E to a B means no more backache 
  • they signed my left-hand boob up to the mammogram programme that ends at age 80 because of my history 
  • (there's nothing left in the right-hand one that can go wrong apparently, which is possibly another plus?!)
  • talking to consultants and physios for six months has been great for my Danish - I might still struggle to explain what haircut I want in the local salon, but I can hold a full-on consultation on breast health and physiotherapy, in fact I could even give a lecture on the subject!
  • given I'd had the other scare 2 years earlier, they did a genetic check on my pathology from here comparing it to the report I had sent from Scotland to check that my three daughters (and niece) are not at any increased risk and that all came out fine
I think I'll refrain from illustrating this post with a pic! Bet you're relieved!

Once it was all done and dusted, I asked the consultant what she thought had caused the calcium to form. Her answer amused me somewhat:

You can never tell, she said, but it's a problem that often occurs when you:
  • have never been pregnant😂😂😂😂😂
  • have never breastfed😂😂😂😂😂
  • drink too much alcohol😂🍸🍷🥂
  • smoke😂😇
Given I score about -99% on all counts, being a non-smoking, (almost) non-drinking person who has birthed a football team and fed them for over a decade, she was left scratching her head, but at least I got a bit of a laugh!

Covid hitting the world two months after we moved to this house and then last summer's shenanigans have not been great for our integration here. I assumed by now I'd have at least a part-time job out of the house, rather than the lonely freelancing of the last few years, and I'd have a host of new friends. Instead we've been holed up for so long, I can barely remember what socialising is. Thomas is turning 50 in five weeks time and I sat down to draw up a guest list for a potential party... only to realise that we know almost no one within driving distance, especially on a Tuesday night! Ho hum. I guess I should get to work on his 60th instead, as we might be back to normal by then!

Anyway, the long and short of it is that I am hoping that in 2022 I will find myself a little more often in the blogging saddle. Fingers crossed.