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 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 on the right side. 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.