Thursday, June 15, 2023

Quick update

Quick update on yesterday's blog post

Charlotte finally found out yesterday that she was one of the lucky few who would be told her final grade before the day as she’d scored enough on the 75% that’s already been marked to get a First class degree! I can’t begin to imagine how she managed it through all that but she is one of the most determined people I’ve ever met, so I’m just bowled over. I can’t wait to see what she does next. For now she’s gone to see friends in Madrid, then later in the summer she won a scholarship to go on an all inclusive extended Catalan course being held in Majorca, then she’s going straight back to spend another year in Madrid teaching while she considers her options for the future, so watch this space!

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Charlotte's unforgettable uni years

It's been a wild ride. The five years of Charlotte's university life have been, shall we say, an unorthodox mix of trials and tribulations that feel more like a roller coaster designed by Salvador DalĂ­ than the blissful journey of self-discovery and academic enlightenment I'd optimistically envisioned back when she left Mearns Castle in 2018. 

Year 1: Bombs, Pre-cancer and losing her family:
The inaugural year kicked off with a bang - almost literally. A bomb scare served as a less than warm welcome to university life with the whole campus being evacuated within days of her start. Sitting home in Newton Mearns and receiving texts telling me that police had ringed campus because of a bomb threat but not to worry because she was 'just fine' was not quite how I'd envisioned Charlotte's welcome by my alma mater! 
And just when we thought things couldn't get any more dramatic, I had my own little scare. A seemingly innocent visit to the doctor turned into a two-month ovarian cancer scare leading to a full hysterectomy and not one, but three, hospital stays for infections over Christmas. Fortunately everything had been caught in time so the damage was mainly psychological rather than life threatening. 
You'd think we had faced enough excitement for one year, but no, Thomas got a job interview in Denmark while I was under the knife in hospital. We'd been considering leaving the UK since it became clear how EU citizens would be treated after Brexit. The kids, all dual nationals, were fine but I was on the cusp of losing my freedom of movement, so it was then or never. He got the job, quite unexpectedly given he'd been in the UK for nearly two decades and they needed a Danish expert. With extremely heavy hearts, we decided to sell the house the kids had grown up in, pull them out of their good East Ren schools and emigrate. So, Thomas left in March and the rest of Charlotte's first year was spent helping a recuperating mum (who'd been told not to lift anything heavier than a kettle for the next three months) pack a lifetime up in boxes while looking for student accommodation for the following year. Where we found the reserves for that at the time, I don't know.

Year 2: Strikes and a mystery pandemic:
Just as we were trying to adjust to our new normal, Charlotte's lecturers decided to go on strike for the whole of her last term, which wasn't great for her academically, though we could fully empathise with their motivation. But that was merely a prelude to the pandemic opera that was about to ensue. The last week of her last term, which was cancelled because of strikes was further cancelled by Covid lockdown! Charlotte found herself suddenly deserted in her halls as the Covid lockdown sent international students fleeing the country, but although she was in international halls, Denmark had closed its borders to Covid three weeks before the UK went into lockdown, leaving her unable to get home to us until mid-June. And because the first lockdown was so strict, before the concept of bubbles was invented in the UK, she couldn't even move in with her very lonely granny or her aunt and uncle whose flat she could ironically see from her halls window!

Year 3: Spanish Lockdown, Xmas Alone, and what a 21st!
Charlotte's third year saw her bravely navigating a year abroad amidst the ongoing pandemic. I had always assumed I'd fly down with her and help her find a room, but we were a few months into a pandemic and Madrid had been hit worse than most cities, only people with work contracts were allowed in. For a while it wasn't obvious she would even get to go abroad, the year before had been sent home in March instead of at the beginning of July, so I took her to Copenhagen airport with her big case and her masks and waved her off alone. However, the virus soon locked her within the Madrid region though the schools never closed so her year was more successful than we had imagined when she set off. She caught Covid for the first time around Xmas before the vaccine was available, which actually turned out to be a positive! It meant she couldn't leave Spain over Xmas and return home. Many of her flatmates who did leave Spain for a week at Xmas weren't allowed back in until Easter because of the pandemic. It also meant she had a less exciting than expected 21st a week after Xmas with no family and no flatmates. Fortunately for us she has au paired for the same family in Madrid since she was 18 and they made her a cake and bought her some cosy socks as a gift so she wasn't completely forgotten, but that'll definitely be a 21st to tell her kids about one day!
She caught a second bout of Covid within six months and weathered it again fine. I had my own health problems that summer, but as Charlotte was locked in, I played them down at the time, so as not to worry her unnecessarily, so she didn't get to hear about my DCIS scare and mastectomy till she got home two months after it, when I was very much on the mend, physically at least.
They finally lifted travel restrictions four weeks before she was due to leave Spain, so I knew I wouldn't be seeing her any time soon. The now completely mature and self-sufficient Charlotte decided to spend the first six weeks after her job ended back-packing around Spain alone, seeing all the places she had expected to see over the year she lived there and she came home eventually around the beginning of September having seen none of her family in over a year!

Year 4: More Strikes, Granny, and French Frenzy 
The hits kept coming in Year 4. More strikes, dropped courses, and a limited choice of exam questions made studying a Herculean task. In the midst of all this, we lost her Granny, diagnosed with a terminal illness and gone within five weeks. By then Charlotte had moved in with her aunt and uncle as student accommodation is seriously hard to come by in Glasgow, especially if you want to be there less than 51 weeks, and she was only meant to be there 20 September - 15 March, with a month in Denmark over Xmas. Meanwhile mum also moved in with them as she needed to be cared for and then all 5 of us from the Danish side of the family and Marcel and Milly from London also moved in there so she would have her whole family around her on her final journey. Poor Amanda had nine extra bodies in a four bedroom flat! There were a loooooot of airbeds! This probably wasn't the easiest time for Charlotte's studies either.
To add to the turmoil, as part of her degree, Charlotte had to find a job in France, arrange everything, and move just days after the funeral. Shockingly, her internship-paying job soon turned into a full-blown teaching role when the teacher she had been employed to assist in the small private school in Toulouse turned out to be 8 months pregnant and going on maternity leave within days of her arrival. Essentially, she was thrown into the deep end paddling furiously on less than minimum wage. Though four months full-time teaching experience in a private school will be ok for her CV, I imagine, and Toulouse was lovely; I sneaked down for a wee week alone with my biggest girl in May, just to check the granny straw hadn't finally broken the camel's back, and of course it hadn't.

Year 5 Just when you thought nothing else could go wrong, year five said "Hold my beer!
Strikes decided to make an unwelcome encore, this time for three days a week. If your classes were Monday or Friday, you got taught, if your classes were mid-week, you didn't. Some students threw in the towel. Lots, forever resourceful, opted to camp out on the floor of the Monday class she wasn't enrolled in, so she could get the info anyway. Having befriended a good number of Spanish and Catalan guys, she spent her weekends hill-walking and partying in Spanish and Catalan to help with her language-learning but the uni had one last surprise for them... Their finals were to be hit by a marking boycott, leaving two of Charlotte's final exams unmarked in time for graduation. Yesterday was the final deadline for degree classification and she now has the results of 180 of the 240 credits her final degree classification will be based on. Many of her fellow students are also missing grades. The uni has decided to 'grade' all ungraded final work (in Charlotte's case all her Catalan papers and all her written Spanish language papers) at D3, the lowest pass grade available, to see if the final total comes to a pass mark, thus allowing them to graduate. This decision was made so they do not need to lower anyone's grade afterwards, only raise them, but is so far from what she is likely to actually have, it is quite underwhelming. When the boycott is over, these papers will be re-marked and the degree classification adjusted accordingly. Yes, in real terms, this isn't going to affect her actual life or future employment, but what a dampener on graduation day to not know what you are going to get. This should be a time for celebrating with your classmates, supporting those who haven't done as well as they had hoped, and none of that will be happening if their grades come in over summer once they are all in far-flung places. Graduation, the culmination of years of hard work and camaraderie, will now have a surreal tinge. As she dons her purple robes and receives her still-blank certificate, she will be celebrating a success tinged with the bitterness of yet another university experience tainted.

So there you have it. Five years that have been far from the standard, run-of-the-mill university experience. Despite the insanity, the strikes, the scares, and the virus, Charlotte weathered it all with a determination and grit that leaves me in awe. She's graduating now - with stories to tell and strength beyond her years. And even though her transcript may be peppered temporarily with a few unjust D3s, she's earned an A1 in resilience and fortitude in the University of Life.

On top of Ben Nevis with her Spanish and Catalan boys

Saturday, June 10, 2023


Thomas got himself a Norwegian (the airline) credit card a few years back, mainly because it gives you 1% cash back and free air miles. After a number of years of shopping, he finally amassed enough air miles to take both himself and me away for a weekend to Oslo. We've never left the kids home alone before, so it was quite a nail-biter. Three kids with an empty, a cat, two tiny kittens and us a whole flight away, but hey ho, you have to cut the strings at some point and it isn't exactly like we have anyone nearby who can babysit, so we bit the bullet and went for it! And what a weekend it was! 

The first thing that struck me about Oslo was its sound. The city seems to have fully embraced the electric vehicle revolution, making its streets oddly quiet for a bustling metropolis. More than half the cars and all the public transport and taxis in the capital were electric. The absence of noisy combustion engines gives Oslo an air of serene futurism – like stepping into a tranquil, otherworldly dream where cities whisper rather than shout. All around us seemed to be nothing more than an eerie whoosh. I had to learn to cross the road all over again, no longer able to gauge the speed of an approaching car by its engine noise.

But, the surprises didn't stop there. As a proud Scot, I have a penchant for potato scones. I really miss them since moving here, though occasionally make my own, but they are always on the menu whenever I am over visiting Derek and his family. So imagine my joy when I spotted what I thought were these delightful treats in a local supermarket. I immediately took a pack home and opened it. There were no cooking instructions and I could see they had some sort of filling, so I bit in expecting maybe cream cheese or similar only to find they had strangely been filled with sweet buttercream! A surprising twist, though, and I kind of think it grew on me after the initial shock! Potato scones meet cake... why not? And for a country that is known to be expensive, I was more than surprised at how cheap and omnipresent their sushi was. I guess they have a thriving fishing industry over there!

The language was fun too. The news was on on the train into town from the airport with subtitles and I could understand every single word. It just looked likely badly spelled Danish to me, though I suspect they think of it more as Danish being badly spelled Norwegian! I could easily read a novel in it anyway, so that's a nice bonus, suddenly realising I passively know one more language than I thought I did!

Oslo has also mastered how to get tourists onto its public transport network. The downloadable app is easy, can be used for buses and trams alike with every ticket valid an hour and every new ticket you buy being discounted more each time. It's a far cry from trying to use the bus or tram in Odense as a foreigner when you are left scratching your head as to how to navigate the system and you can't even ask the tram driver who is barricaded into a glass box!

Oslo is the furthest north I have ever been and its bright nights are even brighter than here or my native Glasgow, with the sun refusing to set entirely, bathing the city in an ethereal twilight long after 10 PM. It was as if the city existed in a state of eternal sunset, a spectacle that left me appreciative of our wonderful world. 

One of my biggest surprises hit me on touchdown in Oslo. Despite the current heatwave, huge piles of snow greeted me on the runway at Oslo airport. Yes, you read that right – mountains of snow in a heatwave! I can only imagine Oslo must be truly baltic in the winter months as there was more snow on that runway than I have seen all the years I have lived in Denmark!

Above the cityscape I glimpsed another hint at their true climate, I could clearly see a ski jump – a surreal contrast against the summer skies, a testament to Oslo's love for winter sports. It made me think of mum, a woman who never saw or tried on skis in her life, yet managed to beat the kids at Wii ski jumping every time we visited after we moved to Denmark. The kids had so much fun ski jumping with their granny, I'd have loved to have sent her a photo of a real ski jump!


Haggis and Sushi

Every time in the last two years that I've tried remounting the blogging horse, life has thrown me from the saddle. From mastectomies to dying mothers and cats, I feel like it's all been a bit too much at times! I don't really have any intention of getting fully back on top as I want to reserve some time to longer writing projects but it is time I either write the odd article, or throw in the towel altogether, and I guess but I can't really opt for the second option or it leaves me no outlet for potential ranting or wonder at the ways of life.

Life is currently a little chaotic thanks to the addition of a pair of crazy kittens to our life. After Nacho was killed back in March, poor Samosa took to pacing around depressed, only showing any excitement whenever the other ginger Tom in our village passed the window. It was heartbreaking to see quite how excited she got whenever she thought she'd spied him from the window; god only knows what was going through her mind if she thought Nacho was still outside but we were no longer allowing him to come into the house. I guess we should probably have shown her Nacho after we found him back on that horrible wet winter's day so she could have tried to understand, but at the time I was too distraught to think of how difficult she would find the sudden disappearance of her best buddy.

So, we initially decided to get her a new wee brother as a playmate. By sheer chance, we happened upon a Burmese cat breeder who had a little problem on her hands... She was a vet who bred Burmese cats in her spare time. Her mummy cat had accidentally escaped, unknown to her and when her babies popped out, it turned out that they were only half Burmese and therefore not sellable as pedigrees. She needed a solution and we needed a kitten. Kittens can't legally be given away in Denmark till they are older than 12 weeks, so having found him at six weeks, we decided to visit him until he was old enough to leave his mum. That didn't go quite to plan, however, as when we went to meet him when he was eight weeks old, it turned out he had one beautiful, gentle sister who had no loving home to go to... and somehow our quest for a playmate turned into a duo who are now running rings around her. She loves them both and is definitely a little more cheery than she had been of late, though I know she still misses her Nacho.

The kittens, like Nach both have really loud purrs which is a nice reminder of how things used to be. I still find it hard to contemplate that my boy is gone but their antics ease the pain a little. He will always be my special boy. I feel I somehow let him down by not realising he was going near the dangerous road. Had I known I'd have tried to protect him, but what ifs and if onlys won't bring him back, so I need to move forward with the new norm, that is my sweet threesome: Samosa, Haggis, Sushi. I'm sure my Nacho Cheese would have loved them both.

Here's baby Sushi                                                             And this is baby Haggis

And doesn't Samosa look content and relieved?