Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Nacho Cheese

It's taken six weeks for me to be able to even write the words. Six weeks ago today someone ran my Nacho over and left him dead by the side of the road. All day I shouted and looked for him, knowing in my heart something was wrong. He hated the rain, you see, and was never out in the dark but that day he went out around 9am and when the heavy rain started an hour later, I called him, but he didn't come running down my field, a streak of cream fur against the grass as he always did. 

By midday he was still a no-show and as the rain got heavier, I put on wellies and a coat and tried all his usual haunts, mainly in the fields and the woodlands behind my house. I didn't try out front because he never went out front. He never ventured near the road as it scared him and there was so much nature in the other direction.

By dinner time as darkness was falling, I was beside myself. I stayed up all night with the door open and a plate of his favourite biscuits, just in case he'd been locked in somewhere but he never showed. It was a long cold night on my sofa. It was a long, cold, wet and dark night outside. I couldn't imagine my baby out in the winter rain. At 8am I knew something bad was going on. I dressed and got in the car, thinking I'd go straight from my house towards the next village, but at the last second without knowing why, I turned right onto the road through our village. I knew he was a homebody so once I had gone around four houses, they are spaced out, I figured he must just have got locked in somewhere because he would never have gone any further than that, especially not in that direction. I decided to go as far as the inn where Léon works as that is the easiest place to turn the car. And there I saw something; opposite the last house before the inn, lying on the grass verge on the other side of the road was a ginger cat. 

I pulled to a halt and could see he was dead, stiff but unblemished. He was wet so looked ginger, not cream and for a few moments, I almost convinced myself that it wasn't him but a different missing orange cat. The first thing I was drawn to were his toe beans; they were so pale. Nacho's were always a deep pink, whereas Samosa's are pale, I felt hope for a second before I realised that cold and lack of circulation would take their toll. I willed someone else to be dead instead but I turned this wee man over and he had his one black whisker on his left just like my Nacho, next I checked his head and he had an ear tattoo just like my boy, he even had his extra fang. Nacho had five fangs instead of four, having retained a baby tooth on the right-hand side. My world shattered. There I was with his basket, some treats as I knew he would be hungry after his night's adventure and I suddenly I knew he would never be having treats again.

I laid him gently in the car, in the towel I had brought as I thought he might be wet and cold when I found him.

We'd been having a problems with a cat from the next village over the winter. She's a lovely cat around humans but is very territorial and had decided this side of the road was her territory too. Nach, Mos and Smilla, the tortie next door, didn't agree and she was often seen chasing our cats. 

I wonder if she chased him across the road as he just never went that way. He was way too timid to choose the road side when we own 9000m2 of grassland and forest that he happily spent his whole life in. Only something like that could have spooked him out of his routine.

I have been over that morning in my head so many times, asking myself why I didn't tell Thomas to keep them in as the weather didn't look like it was going to be great. I blame myself, I should have known to keep him home, somehow I should have known. I couldn't sleep for weeks as every time I closed my eyes, he was there again, on the verge, cold and wet. My poor darling boy who hated to be wet, who was never out in the cold and the dark before. My beautiful boy who wasn't yet two. Now he lies under an apple tree he loved to climb. It catches my eye whenever I go out with the bin and sometimes I think how beautiful it is to have him near, other times I cry because he is out in the rain or the cold, which he really didn't like.

The night before he died I took a few photos of him on my phone: one, a live photo, loops. He barely moves so all you can see is his breathing. I would watch it over and again, just to see my boy breathing. I had no idea he had less than 24 hours to live. 

He had the loudest purr of any cat I have ever met, now my house feels a little too quiet. 

Samosa had turned one that week and had never been catless for a single night in her life, having moved from her mum and siblings to being Nacho's shadow, following him about, tormenting him, washing him, loving him. She seems so sad and quiet now. She often stares out the window at the neighbour's cat or chickens, looking curious, but not full of anticipation. Then it happened, this morning. There's another cat in the next village, not the one who was causing the problems, but a pale ginger one who looks similar to Nacho, other than his smaller, greener eyes. He rarely comes up here, but when he does the kids call him 'Fake Nacho' as they are so alike. It was him I thought I had found that morning back in March as he is slightly darker and with wet fur, you look darker. This morning Fake Nach was sitting on our lawn and Mos saw him. Her tail started swishing, she ran up and down the window ledge, standing on her hind legs, miaowing and clawing to get out. She saw her brother who she used to sleep and eat with and who suddenly disappeared and she wanted him back. She was so excited it broke my heart in a million pieces. As she ran up and down watching him, I stood with the tears running down my cheeks. How can I explain to her he isn't coming back when she so obviously wants him to? Her reaction was so different to seeing any other animal in our garden.

To help her and to help us, we decided to get her a wee buddy. He would never be Nacho Cheese, but he will be someone else she can wash and play with and snuggle up to. When we recently visited a family whose cat had had kittens, their daughter talked us into taking two instead of one, the little runt of the litter had no home to go to and our hearts melted. For a five-year-old, she'll make a great saleswoman one day! So tomorrow, Mos finally gets her new playmates after six weeks alone. I hope she will come to love them the way she loved her big brother who we all miss every day. 

Monday, March 13, 2023

You miss the most unexpected things

Denmark is weirdly flat, not quite the Netherlands flat but flat enough that there are points where I have stood on this island (Funen) maybe 10km inland and watched as a thunderstorm sweeps in from the sea with no barriers in its way. The highest point in Denmark is 171m! I am sure I have had piles of garden rubbish back home that could more or less have rivalled that!

As a Scottish person who has been up the odd Munro, I thought I would pine most for the hills and the mountains of home, and I do sometimes. I miss those spongey-looking mountains you get in Scotland where there isn't a tree in sight, just the odd white crumb, that on closer inspection turns out to be a sheep on the hillside. Obviously Alpine mountains look much more spectacular and I marvel at them every time I fly over them to visit my in-laws in Tuscany, but they aren't my home countryside.

Interestingly though, I am beginning to realise that there is something I miss just as much, if not more than the hills from home, but that I hadn't pre-empted: waterfalls. When a country is flat or flattish, there are almost no waterfalls. I was brought up in Newton Mearns so the nearest park, where I went all the time as a child and then with my own kids had this beautiful waterfall. Nearby Linn park also had a beautiful waterfall, unsurprisingly given linn means waterfall! Almost every park I knew in the vicinity of Glasgow had a waterfall, almost every walk I ever went on in nature involved a waterfall.

I loved to photograph waterfalls and to watch them, but even more than that I loved to stand and listen to the power of the water, to marvel at its endlessness, and that is something I took for granted.

When mum was still alive, I used to hire a car when I went to Scotland so could visit all my old haunts and friends but now I tend to stay with my brother in Glasgow in a paid parking zone, I can't. I guess I'm going to have to find myself a public transport waterfall trail for future visits, just to give me my annual dose!

Saturday, February 25, 2023


When we got the cats, we discussed whether to give them English names, given we are an English-speaking family, Scottish names, given we are a Scottish family, or Danish names given the cats are technically Danish and will likely spend their entire lives here. The advantage of Danish names would be simpler vet visits and catsitter stays. First of all we googled the top 15 cat names per gender in Denmark and got these: 

Søde kattenavne til hankatte                        Gode kattenavne til hunkatte

  1. Charlie                                                            1. Nala
  2. Winston                                                           2. Fie
  3. Simba                                                              3. Luna
  4. Abyssi                                                              4. Lunka
  5. Sham                                                               5. Fia
  6. Lio                                                                   6. Fortuna
  7. Ra                                                                    7. Desdemona
  8. Calle                                                                8. Maui
  9. Balder                                                              9. Wiwi
  10. Balou                                                             10. Lani 
  11. Bandit                                                            11. Nayla
  12. Evian                                                              12. Mis
  13. Eddie                                                              13. Nanna
  14. Ditlev                                                             14. Åse
  15. Djengis                                                           15. Sussi
The kids rolled their eyes and vetoed the Danish lists. So they started suggesting names from back home. Thomas ruled half of them out as unpronounceable. Eventually they compromised on food items that were (at least potentially) known in both places. So we ended up with Nacho Cheese. 

Nine months later when we got Samosa, we decided to go through other snacks/foods. The girls had Salsa, Chilli, Dorito, Mango etc on the list but couldn't agree. Léon happened to wander in at that moment and point out that Samosas, like Nachos were an orange, triangular snack food and, given she was also partly ginger, it stuck.

I half expected it would get shortened to Sam or Sammy within weeks, but you never know with these things and within days she was being shortened to Mosmos. Amusingly, that in turn gets shortened to Mos, which she seems to like best. And that in itself takes us back to an interesting compromise: Mos is Danish for Mash, as in mashed potatoes, so maybe she ended up with a Danish food name after all!

Friday, February 17, 2023

Store bededag

Anyone who has been living in Denmark since the last general election (1/11/22) knows all about 'Store bededag' or 'Great prayer day'. The new three party coalition centrist government spent a month in negotiations before visiting the Queen and offering to form a government, then out of the palace they trotted and announced their brainwave - if we scrap this one bank holiday, we'll make enough money to fund the entire Danish defence budget, half the health service and god knows all what else. I think they thought Danes, with their great faith in the state, would just nod and happily agree to working an extra 7 hours a year for the good of the land. It is a very secular country after all so I doubt more than half a dozen pensioners actually spend great prayer day praying. But they seem to have miscalculated; Denmark is incandescent with rage with people's protests and sieges of parliament on a daily basis. (Here is an article in English to explain the ins and outs).

Unions think they should have negotiated it, workers want a say, the church isn't happy etc etc. Though, to a man, Danes swear it is entirely about workers' rights, I suspect the crux of it is also partly buns! You see, when Denmark, back in the 1600s, scrapped all the minor religious bank holidays in favour of one great prayer day which falls on the fourth Friday after Easter, everyone other than ministers presumably had to spend the day at prayer. Everywhere is like a ghost town on Store bededag, nothing is open. It's like Christmas day with knobs on! Local bakeries weren't even allowed to open, so they invented these very yummy warm cardamom buns that could be eaten for 24 hours, so everyone could buy them before the bakery shut on the Thursday night. They are quite delicious especially toasted with melted butter on top. Here's a recipe, (but it is in Danish). So, once a year everyone visits a proper bakery and buys dozens of these delights, and the bakeries presumably take in half their annual income in 24 hours! I, for one, am more worried about the loss of this tradition, than I am about the kids being in school an extra day a year!

Anyway we happened to be discussing it over dinner when Léon came out with a rather sweet confession!
You remember when we first moved to Denmark, mum? Well, our school took us all to the outdoor swimming pool to celebrate Store bededag the first two years and because I have never been in a church and know nothing about prayer days, I thought everyone was saying Store badedag (Great bathing day) but just pronouncing it weirdly, maybe in some local dialectSo, I thought we'd moved to the best country in the world! One where the government gave everyone a day off a year so they could go to the pool together and have a lovely time socialising!

What a sweet idea! 

Wednesday, February 15, 2023


Danes are great at English. By the time most Danes reach end of Scottish primary school age, they can understand a thousand times more than their Scottish peers have learned in French (or whatever other foreign language their primary concentrates on). They can discuss most topics and understand most accents. By the second last year of high school they are reading Shakespeare in the original! Most Scottish kids in their second last year at high school struggle with Shakespeare even though it is technically in their native language! If anyone considered introducing Shakespeare translated into French or Spanish in a Scottish Higher class, it would be a non-starter! In addition to this all Danes do a minimum of two foreign languages over and above Danish, which would probably not go down too well back home either. So, in principle, I take my hat off to Danes and the level of English they tend to acquire.

The other week Anna (who is in the equivalent of s4 in Scottish terms, (Year 9 in Denmark); she's 15) came home chuckling. 'Guess what my homework is?' she laughed. 'I've to speak to my parents only in English for the whole of the next week!' Can you imagine a teacher back home having the confidence to assume firstly that a child of 15 had enough French to use only that for a week, and secondly that their parents also knew enough to keep it up!? Here it is taken as a given. 

Despite speaking only Danish at school, my kids are in standard state schools, not international schools, they still speak English at home and to each other. They moved here nearly four years ago when they were aged between 9 and 13 but claim 'at home Danish just doesn't feel right,' and yet they all pass as Danish natives outside the house. What is more Thomas always spoke to them only in Danish, even when we lived in Glasgow! I doubt now that it will ever change but only time will tell. So, Anna found her homework far from taxing!

Their above-average level of English comes with a downside however... They are so proficient, they believe their English has reached native in standard, and that's the problem, it invariably hasn't. Somehow the Danish education system instils a huge amount of confidence in its citizens, and they rarely stop to question their own ability. The English textbooks used in Danish schools for the under 16s are as far as I can see written exclusively by Danes and they sure as hell don't think they need a native English speaker to copy-edit them. 

Danes learn British English at school but sit glued to Netflix and watch American media content 24/7, the young (males in particular) game online in English-dominant group chats from their early teens upwards. Léon always says you can tell if a Dane is a gamer or not without discussing computer games; if they speak English with a Danish accent, they don't game, if they speak with an American accent, they almost always turn out to be gamers. This also means that unlike in Scottish schools where 90% of a given Modern Languages class is likely to be female (once they pass the point of compulsory French/Spanish/German), in Denmark young men are often better, at least at the spoken part of English, than their female classmates, who, on the whole game less. 

The result of this mix of English input from a young age is textbooks spelled in British English but which use US terminology, for the most part. Amaia actually had an (approved) English textbook a couple of years ago where one of the exercises stated 'Turn to the person sitting beside you and ask them what colour of pants they are wearing'! I fully get that you can easily ask your neighbor what color their pants are, but you most definitely should not ask your neighbour what colour their pants are, not in a school setting anyway! Danish speakers of English often happily mix different variants of English and jump about in register, using both formal and spoken English within a sentence, and don't even get me started on their use of English swearwords, that's a post in itself, if not a thesis! 

They don't seem to learn about English style either so in a business setting often write long-winded technical texts repeating the same words again and again in what would be considered bad style by a native. When copy-editing English written by a Dane, although there are sometimes no concrete mistakes I often have to break one of their sentences into three or even four before it begins to sound English. When inventing stories for school textbooks, they make cultural errors such as naming the characters badly. I know this sounds a strange, and maybe pedantic point, but they often set a story in a contemporary classroom, the kids all on their iPads, working away, but the kids in this 2023 setting are described as being 12 years old but named Deborah, Helen, Jacqueline, Carol, Gary, and Steven. I had five kids and they had shit tons of classmates, but those names were much more likely to belong to their parents than the kids themselves. I'm half expecting one day to come across a baby Phyllis in one of the kids' text books 😂

As an English expert with over 30 years experience in language publishing, I find it depressing that I can find mistakes or awkward turns of phrase in almost every web page, ad, textbook or talk given in English here, but at the same time really struggle to get anyone to understand the need for a native speaker to proofread anything. I have rarely had as little luck freelancing as I do here. I do get work but not nearly enough! And after a couple of years, I am now seriously considering throwing in the towel altogether and looking for something completely different, despite seeing on a daily basis how useful I could actually be to my adopted country. I once applied for a job writing tourist brochures in English for the island I live on and was rejected with a lovely letter (which sounded rather strange and stilted!) explaining that although I could probably do it faster, I had less local knowledge of Funen, so they had gone for a native Dane instead! This was far from being a one-off!

My kids, all English native speakers who speak English at home and have been educated in the UK are corrected at school by teachers who are somehow confident they know better, (they don't!) I remember Amaia using the word 'Santa hat' in a story she wrote for her English class here: The kids all wore Santa hats on their last day at school in December... Her essay was returned to her with Santa hat underlined and she was told to change it to gnome cap, (she didn't!) Every English 'mistake' they have ever had corrected in Danish school was not a mistake and they have stuck to their guns! But I do find it fascinating. If I was teaching French in Scotland, or Danish for that matter and a native pupil of that language handed in a dialogue they had written, I would ask them to explain their writing to me, I would not assume I am right and the native is wrong!

This whole rant was inspired by Amaia's current homework. Amaia is the equivalent of s1 in Scotland, (Year 6 in Denmark; she's 13). The class is working on short sketches to perform in English for the school. The book the sketches are taken from is entirely in English, written exclusively by Danes and is quite frankly horrendous! In the six pages we're working on, I have counted at least six mistakes. I'm so inspired I am considering writing a book of dialogues for schools and sending it to publishers here, though I know before I even open my laptop to start on it, that it would be viewed with suspicion as it would use turns of phrase the Danes themselves were not familiar with, and the contemporary kids would be called weird and wonderful names such as Olivia, Katie, Adam and Aaron, so it would inevitably be rejected in favour of a reprint of Amaia's appalling little textbook! Strangely, Danes trust Danes much more than they would trust the likes of me to write a school textbook! The errors in this sketch book range from mild:

We will never see our son any more instead of: We will never see our son again
to awkward:
Darling, our son is playing with that devilish device again! Said by a father whose son is playing computer games
to downright Danish:
I'm leaving to go to school now mum, hi! instead of: I'm off to school now, bye!
(The Danish word for Hi is Hej, the Danish word for Bye is also Hej (think Ciao in Italian)).

I have lived many places abroad: France, Germany, Italy and Denmark, and nowhere else do they confidently use foreign speakers of English to write all their English content. Everywhere else I have lived, I could easily find school pupils, students, or even business people to tutor in English. My daughter is always tutoring a minimum of three or four Spanish kids at any given time, they are positively clamouring for native input to improve themselves, but not in Denmark. Back when I lived in Newton Mearns, although my kids were all at one of the top 5 Scottish state schools where the standard of teaching was excellent and the facilities top notch, they were almost the exception in their class as they were the only ones who didn't have a private tutor after school! I have never met a Danish parent who uses tutors in ANY subject, such is their faith, at least here on Funen, in their state education. 

I guess if things continue in this direction, Danglish risks becoming a separate variant of English as they are developing their own way of speaking it, in a bubble and passing it down from generation to generation. It'll be fascinating to watch, though I am already prepared for a great deal of eyeball rolling!