Friday, 31 December 2010

the youth of today

Uch... enough of these New Year posts. Here's a thing: what's with all the 'young' folk and their mobile phones? (And, isn't it horrid when you realise you no longer belong in that category? Pass me something that'll reduce the 7 signs of ageing please...and the Pringles while you're at it)

Stevie and I jumped at the opportunity to go to the pictures (that'll be cinema for you non-Scottish folk) when we were back in Scotland. It was offered and we just went "Great. That'll do us. Not got a clue what's on but give us a starting time and we'll find something (that doesn't involve children acting (one of Stevie's pet hates))". So we got there and sat down and, ok, I haven't been to the cinema for a while, but it was aglow with the alert screens of about 100 mobile phones.

What's with the 20-somethings of today? Who are they talking to all the time? What do they have to say? Don't they ever run out of stuff to talk about given the fact that they're updating their pals on their every hair flick? It seems so excessive. We were on the bus as well and there were girls travelling together but each on their respective phones talking to other people. Wouldn't they be better being with the people they're on the phone to, rather than the people they're on the bus with?

My father-in-law has a new joke. He's a taxi driver in Glasgow and has started telling passengers he has a son in Berlin earning a fortune (uh, huh, where's my new lens for my camera then?); another son buying a £300,000 house; and a third son living at home who's a sex machine. The story goes that the passenger says "So tell me about the sex machine then".

So here's the thing. Son number 3 is living at home after the break up of his relationship which is the result of as my Father-in-law puts it 'too much of that texting'. Anyway, son no.3 is a popular guy. His phone never stops. If I had to live with him I'd be tempted after a week to put it on silent with a hammer such is the frequency of his text alert. Anyway, Frank apparently walked into the bathroom one day to find no.3 son in the shower talking on the house phone. Is it just me? Am I so out of touch? Or are you all so busy multi-tasking that you're making toast as well in there?

It's all about 2011

New Years Eve or Hogmanay as it's called in Scotland. It's Silvester over here and I've just checked Wikipedia to see if there are any odd traditions I need to be prepared for:

Since 1972, each New Year's Eve, several German television stations broadcast a short comedy play in English (recorded by West German television in 1963) entitled Dinner for One.[20] A line from the comedy sketch, "the same procedure as every year", has become a catch phrase in Germany.[21] Every year Berlin hosts one of the largest New Year's Eve celebrations in all of Europe which is attended by over a million people. The focal point is the Brandenburg Gate and the fireworks at midnight are centered on that location. Germans have a reputation for spending large amounts of money on firecrackers and fireworks, and so fireworks are to be seen all over the country on this night. When the clock strikes midnight on Silvester, Germans toast the New Year with a glass of Sekt (German sparkling wine) or champagne. 'Bleigie├čen' is another German New Year's Eve custom, which involves telling fortunes by the shapes made by molten lead dropped into cold water. Other luck bringing things are touching a chimney sweeper or have him rub some ash onto your forehead for good luck and health. Traditionally jelly filled doughnuts with and with out liquor fillings are eaten. An finally a tiny marzipan pig is consumed for more good luck.

Probably no odder than anything that's done in Scotland. Today we have fought the crowds in Edeka (where I met my fish counter friend who I haven't seen in ages) and Orla & I have been into town to look for boots. I think we left it a little too late as all the shops were closing when we got there. So we gave up and came home and made some cakes.

The fireworks have started already. There were some last night, but now they're starting off in earnest. We have heard that in some parts of the city you have people just letting off fireworks in the streets and they're flying all over the place. The Canadians downstairs are going to the Brandenburg Gate tonight with a million other people and were it not for the kids, we'd probably join them. Instead, Stevie is nursing a temperature and I'm considering nursing a packet of shortbread over a big cup of tea. I could watch that English language programme mentioned above, but if "the same procedure every year" is the funniest part, I think I'd be better off with the White Heather Club...

Incidentally, I have made a nice big list of new years resolutions/plans which you can have a nosey at here. There's also a link on the side bar entitled somewhere...somehow...

Happy New Year everyone xx

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Previously, in my life....

Christmas came, and we went to Scotland, opened presents, played with them for 24 hours, and then horrid mummy packed them away in 2 big 30kg boxes and sent them away badly packaged for the contents to be scattered casually across Europe. After the present opening, chocolate eating, boiler/radiator argument on Christmas Day we went down to the beach and played in the truely excellent swing park.

Then we went to Granny Margaret's and did a lot of present opening, crisp eating, dancing, and playing with cousins. And a fair whack of shopping.

And all the children were in their element, and mummy went to bed at 7:30 most nights and felt very happy about this even though she missed most of the good tv programmes and would really have liked to have seen Gavin & Stacey, and really should have studied her German.

And then we came home and Santa had been and we were all shattered, but we did it all over again. And now we are resting and food shopping and putting on washings, and getting ready for the new year. Shortbread? Check. Sparkling wine? Check. New Year's resolutions? Hmm...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Freezing inside & out

Oh dear Stevie, looks like you're only getting 3 old fishfingers this year seeing as you've been so horrid of late. Impatience never pays. Let that be a lesson to you young man.

Present hiding in this apartment is so hard. There are very few cupboards and those I have are constantly being explored by my two little helpers. I started getting myself organised for Christmas tonight and began the wrapping of the presents. Orla's are the red and white, Hamish's the blue and white. It looks like I'm going for an American theme, but really, it was just the case that the nicest paper I saw was in IKEA. I have really pretty German ribbons to tie them up, but I got bored so that'll be tomorrow nights task.

That, and putting together the Playmobil. (At least I can hide that in the now defunct washing machine)

P.S. This freezer has never been on, so I am not actually freezing the presents. I brought my freezer with me, and since the fridge above this frrezer is crap, I didn't see the point in trying it out.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Saturday-Shoplifter Stevie

So at the end of my last post I mentioned that I had thought I'd had my purse stolen and then I tried as I thought, unsuccessfully, to cancel my Commerzbank card, and got the neighbours upstairs involved in the cancelling before Stevie came up holding the purse that had been sitting on the sofa.

As things turned out I had quite a lot on my mind the next day what with people poking about with my eyes and then an afternoon split between entertaining the kids and mulling over the prospect of needles in my eye every 8 weeks. Apparently what I should have been doing is going down to the Commerzbank and checking whether I had actually managed to cancel my card. But I didn't. I reasoned that I either had done it, or I hadn't. If I hadn't then, great, next time I used my card all would be fine. If I had cancelleed it then my card wouldn't work and no doubt a new one and a new PIN would be making their way to me some time around Christmas. Or New Year, knowing the Commerzbank.

Am I too casual about things like this? We had cash and I wasn't in any immediate need to take money out. I didn't really give it much thought, and to be honest by Friday I'd forgotten about it. So by today, it was a near distant memory.

Until we went to IKEA. (Why is it that when you combine IKEA, me, and the Commerzbank things go hideously wrong?? Should I change my bank to get out of this horrid cycle?) We had gone sledging nearby and the kids were starving afterwards so as IKEA was handy we stopped off there for some meatballs and I managed to pick up a few storage boxes for the growing Playmobil collection which (note: I handily stacked so they were easier to carry). Oh and they had the kids basket of fabric vegetables back in so I got one of those, and then as we were passing I also thought I should get a new storage jar for my risotto rice. And then because Stevie was getting impatient to the point of not coping with IKEA on a Saturday and because the vegetables were for Orla, he went to the express checkout to pay with his card and I wandered over to the meatball freezer with the kids.

The first thing that really pissed off Stevie was getting accused of shoplifting. It's easy done when you only listen to the first half of your dear girlfriend's conversation regarding toy storage. "Should I get 2 of these? Would you be opposed to me buying another of these storage units in the New Year? Do you even care? Ok, I'm getting 3! Because I am definetly buying that when the car isn't full of sledges and crates of empty bottles.". So he scanned 1 crate twice, and then he got collared and the first I knew about it was him screaming across at me "What? 3??? You never told me you were getting 3? Moan, moan, moan". At this point I could tell that Stevie was getting to the point where he can easily be tipped over the edge of reasonableness into a foul mood not because he was now being classed as a shoplifter, but because the transaction was taking too long.

So I shouted back, "Just forget it then, just get 2. It really doesn't matter", you know as you do, because even though you really want something you'd rather just have an easy life. And then we got to payment. If I had known better I would have walked out of the shop with my children and run for the hills and never returned. But you see, I'd forgotten all about Wednesday night. But I remembered as quick as a flash when his card got rejected and he got directed over to a 'colleague'. Shoplifter and card stealer!

Well, what can I say? I forgot it was a joint account and that he might be affected. Curse the Commerzbank! Curse my successful telephone cancelling!

I am going to end up with a terrible guilt complex. Not only do I feel bad about cancelling Stevie's card, but when we got home I put on the washing machine (with a final big bag of Playmobil in it) and now the washing machine is broken. It isn't able to drain, and we can't find the blockage, and even though there is no substantiating evidence, I think we all know that there is a high probability that a pride of lions are more than likely the cause of our soaking wet floor. Has anyone got a dark hole I can crawl into before the downstairs neighbours come round to complain about the massive costly damp patch on their ceiling?

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Conceptual eating

Taking my mind off things, last night we went out for a final goodbye meal with our friends who left Berlin today to return to Derby. Stevie has been desperate to try out Vapiano which is a chain of restaurants across Europe selling pizza and pasta. There is one not far from where we live and every time I've passed it it has been really busy. As you walk down the street you can look in the window and see chefs making the pasta by hand, and that has made me quite keen to try it too.

So that's where we went as our friends hadn't been there either. When we arrived we noticed that most of the seating is at high tables with high stools. Not ideal really for a 2 and 3 year old (complete with sledge). But we were also pleased to note that the place was mobbed - that's got to be a good sign when eating out, right? We eventually found a table with seats at a height that would not cause spinal injuries if the kids were to fall from them and a lady at the front desk gave us 4 swipe cards and menus and nicely explained to us how ordering worked. The menu is split into price bands (totally pointless to be honest) and once you have decided what you want you queue up at any of 5 or 6 stations to place your order and watch it being made right before your eyes. Everything about it was just a bit gimmicky. I think you are meant to be impressed by the 'coolness' of standing in a queue to watch your food being prepared, but 1 minute in you can't help but think it's an awful lot like standing in a queue in McDonalds and that's not really that cool.

Once you get to the top of your queue you get to watch your very own meal getting prepared. Again this is fun for about 30 seconds. The sullen chef asks you to select which pasta type you want and then you get to watch him take it from a shelf and tip it out of a takeaway container into a wok-like thing. Once he's made your meal you hand him your little swipe card and he adds the cost on to it. I was queueing with my friend and Hamish and I got my food first along with the kids. I went back to the table and then the guys went up and ordered their pizzas. By the time my friend got back to the table with her meal I had finished mine. And 20 minutes later when the pizzas were ready she had finished hers. Call me old fashioned but I quite like eating together and being served by someone.

The food was ok though, there was just a bit too much concept going on.

Oh and then I thought I got my purse stolen. But it turned out I'd left it on the sofa at home. But not before I 'may' have cancelled my Commerzbank card and got confused by the German recorded message on the 'cancelling your card' phoneline and then went upstairs and disturbed my neighbours and got them to phone the Commerzbank to make sure it really was cancelled. Then we got disturbed by Stevie at the door, who it turned out had been sitting looking at my purse the whole time. But it was worth it because I got to check out the inside of their flat which I hadn't seen before. (Sparse, nice wood floors, extremely large abstract art on the walls, and a running machine in the corner - in case you're wondering)

Eye spy something beginning with Aaaaaahhhh!!

check out that pupil dilation!

I had my proper eye clinic appointment this morning. I was meant to go when I arrived here as I had seen my own opthalmic surgeon the day before we moved here and he suspected that I might need some additional laser surgery. It has taken me 6 months to actually see a doctor. At first I went to find a GP and I got that crazy woman doctor that loved clowns. She seemed to be reluctant to refer me to anyone and as I didn't know the system here very well I just didn't really do anything about it. Eventually on my second or third time seeing her she told me that I could just go to any clinic and get it done, saying there was even one on the corner.

At that point I realised that she probably didn't know what she was talking about as the 'clinic' on the corner turned out to be more or less an opticians who also carried out laser vision correction surgery - not the same thing at all. The thought of letting some Saturday boy loose on my eyes doesn't really appeal.

Then I changed doctor (GP) and at the same time found myself a diabetes consultant. I asked my diabetes consultant for a name/recommendation and she gave me a card for a woman who she said was understanding (for those with phobias) and would be qualified to do my laser surgery. I made an appointment with her and then looked up her website. Isn't the internet a wonderful thing? I found out that this doctor practised cosmetic eye surgery and acupuncture. Yes, quite. I do have massive bags under my eyes that need seeing to, but once again, not quite what I was really after.

Throughout all this I was having lots of appointments where I kept having problems with not having my passport with me, or my health insurance company wasn't being recognised as a proper health insurance company and of course the language barrier was a little troublesome. With my phobia I like to know exactly what is going to be happening to my eyes and I like to be able to ask to administer my own eye drops, and I generally like to explain that I am not mental, I just don't like people near my eyes and that I find it all quite difficult. So there was a bit of me that really wanted to delay the appointment until I could scream "Woah, what do you think you're doing to me???" in German.

So, I ended up going on the Toytown website and found a recommendation for a doctor at the eye clinic in the Red Cross hospital. So today was the day, and I managed to answer nearly all the questions in German despite being a nervous wreck. I assumed my German would go out the window when I felt so nervous, but I think I did ok. Luckily I recognised most of the equipment so I knew what tests were being done, and the words for 'vitrectomy' and 'retinopathy' seem practically identical.

The doctor when I eventually saw him spoke very good English (though when I made the appointment my number one concern was more that he was a specialist in the area that I needed him to be a specialist and not his language skills), and he had a really lovely manner and was very gentle around my eyes. The good news for me is that I got away today without needing to get anything done. The bad news is that I have a new problem at the back of my right eye where I have some liquid pooling that if it gets worse would require me to have a drug injected into my eye every 8 weeks. I go back in 3 months to see how the situation is, but as long as I take good care of my diabetes and watch my blood pressure then it should be no worse. I will be accepting donations of high strength valium and diazapam in the event that eye injections become necessary.

Thank god it's over for now. I am shattered with the stress of it all.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Christmas in its component parts

I have 3 sodding bags of Playmobil requiring my attention. Literally sodding. I decided I should start getting ready for Christmas whenever I have a chance in the evening as otherwise I'll run out of time. Amongst other things I have got the kids, I have managed to buy them a whole load of second hand Playmobil.

Hamish was desperate for the zoo and I was lucky enough to find it in the second hand shop round the corner from my language school, along with extra elephants and brand new in box pandas.

Orla was throwing desirous glances at the princesses sets, and I managed to get a small/medium set of that at a great price. And they both rather fancied the farm, and lo and behold the very next day after buying the zoo they had a box of farm bits and bobs with the largest herd of cattle imaginable. Well there're about 12, I'm sure you can imagine more, but you get the picture.

I also walked past another second hand shop in Charlottenburg one Sunday and spied what I thought might be a massive selection of zoo animals. So when Hamish was off Kita with the sick bug (but in recovery) I walked 3 miles there and 3 miles back, and all just for a family of polar bears and a camel.

My German teacher recommended washing it in the washing machine on a 30 degree wash, and that is what I have done. I have 3 bags which have zip closings and are washable and I stuffed them each full of Playmobil last night and washed them today.

The result is handbags full of Playmobil chaos. Everything has come apart. Down to all the little flowers coming off the princess garden foliage (I kind of expected that), but I also have a camel missing a leg and anything that can be broken down into smaller parts is in smaller parts. It took us ages to make up the zoo and we broke it back down into more manageable sizes for washing, but I can see I have many hours work ahead of me.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

25% - part two

*NEW!* Follow my blog with bloglovin

From this...

to this... (to well, not much tidier 6 months later really).

I have made my P E A C E with the whole food shopping thing. Ok, maybe not entirely, but I did find Rice Krispies today, so you've caught me in an upbeat mood. The whole supermarket/food shopping thing has been one of the hardest things to get to grips with. But I'm getting there. When I first arrived I was having to have conversations with the woman behind the meat counter along the lines of "...und das ist alles 'moo'?" because I was living in fear of buying horsemeat thanks to my dad, and I didn't know what beef was called, or what the difference between 'rinderfleisch' and 'hackfleisch' and 'rinderhackfleisch' was. You go out for a 'hack' on a horse, don't you? That's the kind of word that made me pretty wary. As it turns out, really, you're going out for a 'mince' on a horse. Make of that what you will.

Now though, I'm getting to grips with most of it. I still have difficulties with the fish. I was never very good at recognising fish in the first place, so seeing it with unrecognisable names and with it's head and skin and fins and malarky on, rather than in a neat skinned, de-boned fillet, vacuum packed on a Tesco shelf has me a little lost. I am also just a little fish-phobic. I really can't bring myself to touch a fish with it's skin on, and I honestly can't see the day when I would be willing to chop ones head off. So with the help of my lovely fish counter friend in Edeka, I have learned to ask for the salmon that I need and to have it skinned.

Despite all my moaning on and on about the state of the crisps market here and how very little has changed in the past 30 years, I have discovered that I actually like paprika crisps. I had some about a month ago, and I was actually quite surprised. For a moment I thought I must actually be turning into a German, and then I realised that if I'd only had them for the past 30 years, I would hate them with a passion.

Today I went to Real for the very first time. There's one out by Rolls-Royce. I'd heard talk about there being bigger supermarkets that are more along the lines of British supermarkets where you can buy lots of non-food items as well, but to date the only place I'd been was Kaufland and it's just a pale imitation of an Asda or something. Stevie has been to Real a couple of times in his lunchbreak and to be honest I can't believe he hasn't told me about it before now. They have loads of things that we could have been doing with, not least of all the Rice Krispies, which are a viable alternative for Hamish who is sick of Weetabix and has gone off Cheerios.

The kids fell asleep in the car on the way there and I went in on my own. Always a mistake in Stevie's eyes. Apparently I was in there for "120 minutes? Did you watch a movie or something??". To me it felt like 20, and I thought I was rushing. Still it gave Stevie a 2 hour window to nurse his tired hangover.

We were out last night for dinner with some friends who are leaving Berlin after nearly 4 years here. Stevie used to know the guy back in Derby and when he ran into him quite early on in the canteen over here he thought he was just over for the day. Shows how quickly time flies without you noticing. Anyway, we've seen a fair bit of them and we have really enjoyed their company, but we've known from the start that they were hoping to get back before Christmas. And so it has come. They have the relocation team coming on Monday to pick up their stuff, and they've got our old relocation service provider, Heidi, sorting out their paperwork, and they're leaving on Thursday.

I'm really going to miss them, and I'm also just a little envious of them. Our move is still fresh in my memory, and I enjoyed it and it was all quite exciting, and I can well imagine that they are feeling quite excited about going back. Perhaps not about the fact that they've both still got to sort out the jobs that they'll go back to, but this has been a long wait for them. I hope that we meet some more people just as nice as them while we're here, and I am already looking forward to being good friends again when we return to Derby.

Roll on the next 6 months!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

My green fingered son

My neighbours will be the people with green and blue stains around their mouths until the days they die.

I thought it would be a nice thing to do to make Christmas biscuits with the kids and give them as a little thankyou gift to our upstairs neighbour in thanks for the Dec. 6th gifts she gave the kids. Especially as I wanted to experiment with these pre-made biscuit mix things that I've seen loads of in the fridges of the supermarkets.

We had great fun this afternoon with cutters and the kids could quite happily have made biscuits all afternoon. Hamish's were a little more rustic in style compared to Orla's. Then we baked them, let them cool, and I unleashed the coloured writing icing.

By the time we got to the icing stage the kids had started stripping off. Orla managed to keep her t-shirt on, but Hamish prefers to decorate in the nude. It wasn't until right at the end i.e. the icing was all finished, that Hamish moved from decorating biscuits to colouring in his tummy. Then when I went to get him cleaned up it was nice to discover that in fact it was more like food colouring than just icing. If Kita ask I'm going to tell them it's vegetables that have stained his fingers and stomach. Excessive broccoli ingestion.

Monday, 6 December 2010

25% - part one

From here... here.


We have completed our first 6 months in Berlin. In some ways it seems to have flown by, where did the good weather suddenly go? Yet, in other ways, it seems so long ago that we lived in Derby. Looking back on the past 6 months, I think I would sum it up by saying that I really like it here, but I'm not exactly sure why. As my life is so much harder here.

Getting the negative out of the way: I HATE THE MEDICAL SYSTEM HERE!

I am 100% sure that they have great doctors here (and also 100% sure that they have some lousy ones too, like that weird clown-loving GP that I saw first), but I really would like to just see one GP, and not have to find my own specialists, and it is probably much better to have a paediatrician, but to be honest, I find it easier to just drag us all to the doctor together and get us all over-innoculated at once.

Oh that's right. Should you decide to move abroad with your children, I'd advise you to make sure that their red books are completely up to date with all their information and innoculations. I had just assumed they were, and even if they weren't I never really realised that it would really matter. Not that it does. Just that Orla has now just had an extra polio injection than the rest of the European population.

We've only just got a letter from Price Waterhouse advising us about forms we need to fill out that will make the whole health insurance annoyance easier. Instead of me having to take my passport, and nearly every other item of ID with me along with my private insurance card and my European Health Insurance Card every time I either need a repeat prescription or need to see a doctor; get them all photocopied (every single time!); see the doctor; get billed; go to the bank to pay the bill; give the bill to Stevie to claim back through the insurance company; then wrangle with the insurance company that it is something that is covered. This will all change (supposedly). We will be issued with new cards which the receptionist will swipe and hopefully that will be that. We'll wait and see. Call me cynical, but I can't quite believe I won't be showing them 3 cards, my passport, and all my ID, etc etc.

What do I like about being here? APART FROM THE CHOCOLATE...

Well, the chocolate is good, and I never knew how much love I could feel for Choko Liebniz. I know you can get them in the UK, but with so much (ahem..) choice in British supermarkets, I never gave them a second glance.

But what I really like about here is that there is so much to do. Hell, if I wasn't filling my days dropping off kids, picking up kids, learning German, seeing doctors, and arguing with the Commerzbank, I think I'd be having a great time. We generally fill our weekends with something new and different to do. At home I think we just got into a routine and we did go places with the kids a lot but it's less enticing when you have an hours drive in front of you to get to a zoo, compared with a 10 minute walk, or the closest aquarium is in Birmingham, and the closest dinosaur is in London. Here, it feels like we have everything on our doorstep, and that is the best thing about living in a capital city. In the summer it was great because we went out every evening when Stevie got home from work and we went places and saw things and ate out and generally had fun in some really nice weather.

I feel like we packed in quite a lot of sightseeing and activities over the summer and I still have a big list of things that I HAVE to do next summer. Our plans over the winter are to see the museums and galleries, though I am sure there must be some ban in place for taking toddlers.

Celebrating the 6th

On the 4th of Decmber it was our 6 month anniversary of life in Berlin. We have all celebrated this with a delightful sick bug that has had us running out of sheets (Hamish keeps being sick in the bed) and we've all felt utterly hideous for the past couple of days. Orla is much better and seems to have had it the mildest and I am finally getting over it today.

Anyway, today is the 6th of December, don't you know. As in the day that (not Santa) Nikolaus lets us know how good or naughty my children have been. Sadly I missed my 'discussion' with my upstairs neighbour on this topic: I'm hoping the sound of wretching coming from downstairs stopped her from ringing our bell. Nonetheless, I dragged myself to the door this morning out of pure nosiness, and to see whether we really were going to be stick recipients. But no! She had used the childrens boots and put these little felt Christmas bags in them.

The contents included: a Kinder chocolate Santa; Lindt chocolate squares (I think Nikolaus might have meant some of these for me); a bag of Christmassy biscuits; and a healthy little bag of raisins and nuts. You're disappointed aren't you? You thought we'd get sticks, didn't you?

I've just read a really good explanation of the 6th Dec Celebrations in 'The Local' (Germany's news in English)

Thursday, 2 December 2010

I'll keep you warm in December.

Cuddle in Hamish, it's going to be a cold winter

There are a lot of things to get used to in Germany for the avid consumer. God knows it's been tough for some of us to get our heads round the shops being closed on a Sunday - taking it one day at a time my friends. One day at a time.

Shopping is more my specialist subject than Stevie's, so why I listened to him saying that we should wait a while before buying the kids snow suits I simply cannot fathom. Oh, yeah, that was it: it was September.

So I left it till yesterday, last night to be precise to go and get them. I was a little anxious before we set off as a guy in my German class had said that he'd heard that once they sell out of things here, they don't instantly replenish the stock like they do in other shopping-friendly nations.

First stop was Karstadt Sports. We got Orla's snowflake outfit there as modelled in the photo above. But nothing in Hamish's size. Then we went to C&A (I'm sure one day it'll make a comeback in the UK, and you'll all go 'Yessica'-mad, and shed a little tear for the fact that you're now in the Yessica category. Best face it now. You are no longer welcome in 'Clockhouse'.). There was nothing there either in small gentlemans size.

After that we went to H&M - nothing, and then we started working our way along the length of the Ku'Damm. The thing about the Ku'Damm is you start off with H&M and Zara and then you get into your slightly more expensive Esprit and it's like, and then you end up like us in Timberland and The North Face. Neither of these had anything for children under 5, but if they had we would have bought whatever they had. We were in the dangerous mindset where desperation had set in, and we had realised that it did in fact seem to be true that stock replenishment is not really very popular. Even normally super-practical Stevie would have handed over a stack of money if there had just been something suitable to buy. I know this because I am now the proud owner of the most expensive gloves I have ever owned in my life.

While we were in The North Face I started to realise that our next stop was going to have to be Chanel or Louis Vuitton. The further you go along the Ku'Damm the more designer-y it gets. It was lucky that we ran out of time and the shops were shutting. I don't know if I could take Hamish to Kita if he was decked out like Posh Spice on a skiing holiday.

I ordered Hamish a more reasonably priced ski suit online when we got home. Sometimes I just don't know what I would do without the internet. E-commerce is a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Advent-ure Twins

-6 outside today. I have no idea how we will go out when it's -20 or worse. The kids are moaning how cold their faces are at this temperature. I can see us all wearing those terrible balaclavas that only have eyeholes and a mouthhole. Never thought I'd be working the ye olde terrorist/SAS look this year.

As you can see we got the Playmobil advent calendars out. I started off with just the Santa one, but Stevie pointed out there would be an awful lot of arguments about who opened the door.So we also have a nice horsey one too. If there's one thing I utterly love about this country it's Playmobil.

I am looking forward to seeing how these scenes pan out. Already we have a horse visiting Santa's office keeping the post box company.

I met my upstairs neighbour this morning on my way out. She was telling me she wanted to leave some old boots outside our door for the kids, and then started talking about books. I left feeling a bit confused, and later I asked my German teacher for more information. She told me that this is a celebration on the 6th December. The boots are left outside the door on the evening of the 5th and if you've been good then you get presents. According to Wikipedia if you've been naughty you get left a tree branch. My neighbour is coming down tomorrow afternoon to discuss this with me, presumably to remind me why it's sticks all round for us lot.

My two would be overjoyed to find they'd been left sticks. All the better to poke each others eyes out.

Monday, 29 November 2010

I wonder what I will win today?

The trouble with being one of those people that everyone hates cause they saunter into exams having done the absolute minimum of study and then coast through, not a re-sit in sight, is that eventually 20 years down the line, they fail a crappy, non-important German test and have so much anger with themselves that they would scream really, really loudly, if only they didn't think the neighbours would complain that it was outside the hours allotted to expressing inner pain.

My sister LOVED me as a child. I nearly said 'hated' but of course that's not true as I was/am quite a monumentally loveable person. But it can be quite hard to love someone who consistently says on the morning of the Easter egg decoration/ Christmas card design competition/ blah, blah, blah, competition at school, year in, year out "I wonder what my prize will be?". You kind of want them to fail. Miserably.

May todays dark, dark, event never recur.

(Of course I did fail my driving test first time, but I blame the bus that emergency stopped in front of me and took me by surprise)

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The snobbery of the Vorderhaus

Can you see my neighbour who is out on his balcony, wind, rain, snow, or shine making phone calls in his dressing gown?

What an icy blast of air I felt when I opened the door on to the balcony to take this photo this morning. Finally it feels like winter is here. We got a little snow yesterday and the day before, but it didn't really feel that cold. So today is the day I will finally go and get a winter coat and I guess Kita will probably already be composing a letter to me saying that the kids need those thick snowsuits, 2 sets, one for outdoors, one for in.

The purpose of my chilly (rare) visit on to the balcony was that I finally discovered the secret of the 'Vorderhaus (front house) snobbery'. Eons ago when we first moved into this apartment our old upstairs neighbour indicated that being in the Vorderhaus was far better than being in the side or rear houses - these are the ones you can see in the photo. I wasn't really sure why, and assumed that it was because she lived in the Vorderhaus and maybe didn't like some of the people in the other houses.

A little while ago I went a wander round the back of the other side of the building to see where the rear (hinterhaus) came out on to the street. It doesn't. It's literally a concrete wall. Obviously there would have been other buildings attached before they got destroyed in the war, but the process of redeveloping the building from the ruined shell has left it as a big blank wall. I'm not sure whether the bank would have gone up before this building was properly re-built, but nonetheless it has sandwiched -in the rest of the building.

I started reading Ian McEwan's 'The Innocent' a couple of days ago. It's about a British guy who goes to Berlin as part of a British-American surveillance team. In it he meets a woman who he visits in the Hinterhaus. Suddenly, it all became clear! He says...

'The apartments at the rear of the old Berlin blocks were traditionally the cheapest and most cramped. They had once housed the servants whose masters lived in the grander quarters at the front facing the road. Those at the rear had windows facing on to the courtyard, or across a narrow space to the next building.'

Now I wonder whether the apartments in the Vorderhaus were much bigger than what we're in now. The Canadians below us have around 380 square metres, which seems big enough to warrant servants. There's is over two floors but if you were to have one complete floor of the Vorderhaus then that would probably amount to the same. I can't really imagine that there would be servants in anything smaller, but I could be wrong. A cleaner would certainly be nice for this place, and maybe a cook, and well, life would be a little easier with a nanny I guess, and maybe even a butler or maid.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Fiona Reunited

I noticed an email from Friends Reunited today. Apparently my friends had been updating their information. I can't remember the last time I used Friends Reunited, it must be maybe 7 or 8 years ago, or maybe more. I never really got that into it to be honest. I liked the sudden rediscovery of people I had known at school and university, but I don't think I ever got in contact with anyone really. Didn't they used to charge you if you wanted to actually send an email to someone? For a while I think there was a membership fee, and for me, well, it wasn't worth the hassle or cost.

Anyway, I'm surprised it's still going. I always thought that it never really took off, certainly not like Facebook, but it was really the first sort-of social networking site that everybody kind of joined in the UK. Joined, and then didn't put any information or photos up about themselves. So the appeal of looking through lists of names wears off after a couple of minutes.

So I logged on to have a look at it. It's changed quite a bit in terms of the interface and there seems to be a lot more to it now - you can make friends, buzz people (I guess that's like poking them), and upload photos and the like. It's a lot more like Facebook now but still without any information.

But I enjoyed the list of people they had compiled that I 'might know'. That was fun. I scooted back and forward between Friends Reunited and Facebook typing in names and checking folk out. I might even have found a couple of people who I'd really like to be back in touch with. I tried my very best not to friend request everybody I recognised just so I could nosey at their photos; some people were kind enough to be a bit lax on their privacy, so that saved some bother! Anyway, I'm really glad I found it again. It'll probably be another 10 years before I look at it again. Or maybe Facebook will be the new Friends Reunited and we'll all be doing something else.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Suddenly I'm not feeling quite so 'chatty'

"We'd just like a word with you..."
A word? A word? I wonder if that means I only need to get down to my underwear???

Remember this? My last visit to the doctor, where I had been told I could go for a prescription, and then once I got there was told I couldn't and had to find another doctor and blah, blah, blah... rain... late for German,...etc, etc, and eventually came away with an appointment on (not the) 19th for a "chat with the doctor"?

So it was today. Not the 19th, and so I didn't miss anymore German I made the appointment for the afternoon, balancing up the missing of more German with the having to take the kids with me. I figured that with the kids with me, the appointment would be kept quite short as they make it plain that long appointments do not fit in with their lifestyle. And anyway, the appointment was for 4:45 so it would be post-nap (for Hamish) and hopefully they would not be tired and utterly horrible.

But then Stevie offered to come home early so I could go on my own. So I did, and just as well, as I didn't get home until 7pm so the kids would have lost the plot.

So anyway, the appointment was with the Frauenarzt - that's a gynaecologist/obstetrician and you have to go to one of them if you want contraception or a smear test, or well, a baby. So, I had been wondering what we might possibly have to talk about. Given that I thought I was going to have to take the kids with me I reckoned we could bypass the "Do you want any more kids?" question pretty swiftly, and probably without me having to speak too much German. But what else was there to 'chat' about. I assumed it was going to be something similar to what you get in the UK when you join a new doctors practice and you have to have that appointment where it's a bit like a meet & greet and basically they take a medical history, ask you if you need to see them about anything, and then thank you for coming.

Well, it was like that if you've ever been to one of those 'meet the doctor' appointments and had your chat with absolutely no clothes on. Now that was quite a surprise! The chat started pretty much as soon as I walked into her office and she said "Hello, pleased to meet you, would you like to go behind that screen and take off your clothes?". I thought I'd prepared myself by phoning my GP's office in England earlier today and asking when I'd last had a smear test. I even looked it up in my German dictionary in case I needed to mention that I didn't need one yet in German. That's how prepared I was. But I wasn't prepared to have to say this while actually getting a smear test. Apparently the Germans like to have them once a year even if you have never had any problems.

Then we continued our chat over on the examination bed where I was surprised to get both a breast examination and then an ultrasound to check my uterus, fallopian tubes, and to see if there were any tumours lurking. To add to my delight, unlike in the UK where if you have an ultrasound while pregnant, and you have the awkwardness of craning your neck round while trying to see the screen when really they don't want you to yet, here you get your own screen which hangs at the perfect angle from the ceiling for you to see the fibroids hanging off your uterus should you have any to see. Wouldn't that be nice?

I was then allowed to get my clothes back on, while she introduced the idea of getting Stevie a vasectomy for Christmas. I said it sounded like the perfect stocking filler, but I wasn't sure if Stevie would be too keen. He's never really fancied any of those Boots Gift Experiences, and this would probably have even less appeal for him than a hot air balloon ride.

Then she offered me an IUD for 400 Euros. In a toss-up between that and the lens for my camera that I've got sitting in my Amazon shopping basket, I think I'd prefer the lens to win. So that was that. A surprising evening that'll make me somewhat wary about chatting with Germans in the future.

Deutsch Heute fur die Leute

I have lost my German-learning mojo. It was there one minute and then all of a sudden it was gone. I blame Friday. We had a hellish night on Thursday with the kids - so bad in fact that I was too tired to remember what happened. It's still all a blur. Anyway, I dropped the kids off at Kita in a daze and decided to give German class a miss thinking I would go home and go straight back to bed. Of course I didn't actually do that. My immediate thought was that I had some child-free time so I'd be better off spending it wisely at the shops and getting new boots.

I wasn't too concerned about missing one session, especially at the end of the week. The teacher had been telling us that we would always start the new stuff at the beginning of the week.So it was an easy decision to make. So on Monday I went in, and I swear it was like a complete mystery. They'd done a whole new tense, and suddenly all my verbs were different too. I hated it. The pace is such that there's not really a lot of time to go over things. By the end of yesterday's 3 hour session I can honestly say I could no longer be bothered trying. I just couldn't get the hang of it at all. I intended doing a lot of catch-up study last night, but as per usual procrastinated on the internet until finally it was time for bed.

Today was marginally better, though I was still in a 'can't be bothered' mood. If I never saw another German book again or had to write my sentences in two different tenses again, I honestly think I'd be a little relieved. I hope this passes, and soon, cause I am booked on till April.

(Deutsch Heute was the name of the German book we used at school. I was crap at it then, and I'm getting worse now)....(or so it feels)

Monday, 22 November 2010

Conversations with a 2yr old heartbreaker

I love ju, Mummy! Ju make me happy!
Happy Mummy: Oh really darling? I love you too: you make me very happy!
Hamish: No, not you, JU! Juice! Juice makes me happy.
Unhappy Mummy: Great...really pleased an' all that... I'll just wait another year or so to hear you say 'I love you'.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

On your marks for the Christmas sales!

I am feeling ever-so festive! It's not just the rumours that this winter is going to be the coldest for 50 years, with temperatures of -30 being cited, it's the window displays (I so want this Christmas wreath, but it's bigger than our door, and the neighbours might think we were being a little flashy!), and all the little log cabins going up along Tauentzienstrasse that will host one of Berlin's many Christmas markets. There looks to be about 100 of them (log cabins that is), and I've been walking past them for a few days now wondering what irresistible things (hopefully wooden) I am going to buy. I went past again a day or two ago and got a sneaky glimpse of wooden toy soldiers and angels peeking out from under one marginally opened shutter, and that was enough to set my heart racing at what other possibilities might be on offer. I'm hoping there's lots of lovely traditional things, and not just sausage.

I've been trying to stave off buying all my Christmas presents in preparation for these Christmas markets, but I've found it quite hard. One year we hardly bought a thing until Christmas Eve and when we went into town we discovered that quite a few of the sales had started and we managed to get great savings on quite a lot of things. I remember it as being a very successful shopping trip, and not so busy as to make one want to throw oneself under a passing bus, but I might be kidding myself and there is a real possibility that I just bought everyones presents from the Disney Store where they had the most tremendous sale.

I am not really a big 'sales' shopper. I really hate the general crush after Christmas and I have no patience for having to wade through racks of disorganised, ransacked clothes looking for a bargain with a million other people elbowing me and being all shov-ey and pushy. Having said that though, I do like to go to the Next and Monsoon sales in Christmas and summer to stock up on clothes for the kids for the following year.

Last year I surpassed myself by getting up on Boxing Day and going to Next for 5am or whatever hellish hour it was and had convinced myself that I would be the only madman doing this. Patently the other 600 people already in the queue had thought the same thing. I was prepared though (and really quite sad come to think of it). I had gone in to the store late on Christmas Eve - though I would like to point out that really I was going to the M&S Food Store next door and thought I might as well just take a look and see what was what. Anyway, they had begun the task of re-racking the clothes up into their sale sections, so I had a good look to see what things I really wanted to buy for the kids and memorised their locations. So then on Boxing Day I managed to swoop in, albeit behind 600 others, and went straight to the sections where I knew there was things I wanted. This year I want to be the guy selling coffee to the cold, tired people waiting in the queue. Now that was strategic thinking!

This leads me up to the other source of my festive excitement. Tomorrow is the start of Amazon's Black Friday sale where they will have numerous items, though potentially limited quantities of stock that they will drop to loss-making prices. I've been compiling a shopping basket of things that maybe, hopefully, will be slashed in price tomorrow. At the moment, while I should be doing some German homework, I've been trying to decide on a new lens for my camera, and am hoping that I might get an amazing deal. I'll see you there at the crack of dawn tomorrow with all the other slightly mental shoppers. Sharpen your elbows!

Friday, 19 November 2010

12 year old tangerines discovered

For some reason this just won't rotate, so if you could just turn your head 90 degrees anti-clockwise that would be great. Thanks.

While doing a spot of tidying up last night, I decided to try and find somewhere to put all my old portfolios that have been piled up against one of our bedroom walls since the day we moved in here along with a stair gate that I can no longer remember why we brought - oh yeah, I saw a luxury duplex apartment on the internet that had slippery stairs of death and a mezzanine level above the kitchen that was just asking for toddlers to climb over and plunge to their death. I really, really wanted it, even though I knew that the miniscule stair gate extension was never going to breach the 8 foot-wide stair case, and even though I knew that the floor to 20 ft ceiling high windows would have us baking like mini souffles in the long hot Berlin summers. I'm not one to let these trifling matters stand in the way of a desirable home.

Anyway, Orla asked me what I was lugging around , so I decided to open one up and show her. I maybe look through my portfolios hmm...once every 4 or so years. So I showed her some of my old design work. I really enjoyed it as well. I found some old photos of my print group modelling some aprons we designed for a disabled dance group. I loved that project. Each of us was to design two aprons themed around the topic of the home. My room was the kitchen. I did a lovely fridge apron and a cooker one. I really enjoyed making them and I wish we had been able to get them back after the dance company finished with them.

I also found a printed textile design I did of tangerines which I am thinking of re-mounting and putting in a frame. I quite like it and momentarily at least I think I'd quite like to put it on the wall. Stevie says it 's not rocking his world and he would prefer something more pictorial. So, while we wait for him to sit down and do that I think I'll get my nails and hammer back out.

Monday, 15 November 2010

On the 40th day of Xmas my true love gave me anything I liked from the shopping section of the in-flight magazine.

Unwilling to pay 10 Euros for Living etc, so this is what it has boiled down to: shamelessly photographing web addresses of things I might buy as presents so that I can check them out later. A notepad and pen would probably have been less conspicuous, but I had neither. Even if I could have borrowed a pen I would have had to write on a nappy.

My Christmas panic set in yesterday when I found out it was only 40 days until Christmas. That's not even shopping days till Christmas! Well, maybe it is for you lucky people in the UK who have Sunday opening So that gives me just 34 days left to your 39. We went to the shops on Saturday, primarily I wanted to go and see whether the Christmas market they are setting up on Tauentzienstrasse was open and ready to take my order. Sadly it wasn't, but the overall impression I got from being there on Saturday afternoon was that everyone is now in full-on Christmas shopping mode; and if they're not, then I don't think I want to be there when they really get going. It was far too busy.

So really I have just 29 shopping days till Christmas. Given that I can't shop for the kids while they are with me, that leaves me with only the evenings. And then if I take out all the evenings when I can't go shopping because Stevie is at German class or football then I have just 13. Then if I take away the number of evenings when the weather will be horrid and I can't then be bothered going out that probably leaves me with about 7. That's worrying enough, but if I went back to the 13 evenings and told you how many of those I would be just too knackered to go out Christmas shopping on, well, then I reckon I probably will have none left and will be frantically buying the kids expensive tubes of Pringles and big bars of Toblerone from the Tax-Free gift 'haven' in Schonefeld airport while Stevie takes them to the toilet and I have a free 3 minutes.

So there you have it: I have just 3 shopping minutes until Christmas.

I wonder if Hamish has a Europe to the Rest of the World socket adaptor in his letter to Santa??

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Laterne Fest - it's a German thing for competitive mummies

Today is Laterne Fest, or Lantern Fest which celebrates St Martin's Day. All I know about St. Martin is that he has an art college in London. The basic gist of it is that children (or their mothers) make a lantern and it is lit by a wonderful little bulb on a stick that runs on batteries. You are meant to go on a lantern walk with all the children from the Kita and then there is singing round the bonfire and eating and drinking. Oodles of fun, and shedloads of pumpkin soup that I had to eat cause the kids thought it was "yuck".

I had 24 hours notice that Orla needed a lantern to take part. This is 4 years of Industrial Design condensed into cardboard and sparkly paper. Don't think I didn't notice the envious glances! Pff!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Tell me something I don't know

Would you like an ice-cream?
No thanks, I'd better not.
Why is that then?
Oh, I have constipation.
The doctor said I shouldn't eat ice-cream.
Would you be allowed some vegetables?
Oh yes, that should be fine.

This is one of many 'two-people-having-a-casual-lunch' dialogues I got to act out today in German class. I also threw myself into the role of #1 woman suffering from diarrhea who can't eat cake, but can manage chocolate.

These situations made me laugh, not just because I couldn't help wondering if this might be typical lunch time chit-chat between friends and colleagues, or even patron and waiter, but because I have noticed that my class has a tendency to play out these dialogues in real life with strangers who happen to come out with random opening lines from previous dialogues we have practised to death. I'm sure the idea is that we could improvise with many other words of our own choosing, but when you've got constipation lodged in your mind it can be very difficult to stray from the script into something more original and perhaps more accurate.

The first time it happened we (as a class) were crossing the road at the end of a tea break and an unsuspecting stranger just happened to feed us the opening line from the #two hitchhikers meet and enjoy a roadside cigarette routine. Imagine their surprise when we all announced that yes, we all had a light, and enquired where they were off to. Luckily, the Korean's are all mad smokers so we didn't look like a complete bunch of crazies, but it was close.

I myself on being asked questions I can truely say I completely understand from start to finish, have been known to answer with unwarranted levels of enthusiasm, over really quite dull questions. Others have reported similar experiences where they have been asked the right questions by waiters. The trouble is when these moments occur we feel completely elated that we are hearing something and understanding it and even have an answer ready, and can respond without stumbling over our grammar and taking 2 minutes to answer. It's a wonderful feeling!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Be thankful for the NHS

Another weekend of visitors over, another week of German class, and another grim visit to the doctor. German class is still quite enjoyable though I wish I could learn more words and sentences with more practical application in my day to day life. Last week we learned how to rent an apartment, talk about our square meterage, and discuss house rules. All fair enough, but we've all been through this process already without being able to speak German. It's just a bit 'shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted'.

On Friday I phoned my doctor's surgery speaking my very best German and told them I needed a prescription. I'd spoken to the doctor about it before and he had told me that he wasn't sure what it might be called over here, so I did him a favour and Googled it for him, before making the call on Friday. "No problem" they said. "Just come in and pick up your prescripton and make an appointment to have it administered". So I cycled there in the cold and rain this morning with my passport and every other piece of documentation that they would be likely to ask for.

Admittedly, it struck me as odd that you could just ask the receptionist for medication and they would just make you up a prescription with no questions asked, but sure enough I got there and they gave me the prescription. The paper literally brushed my fingertips before she whipped it back off me saying she maybe better just check with the doctor. Grr... She came back and tore it up in front of me and told me that they couldn't give me it and I'd need to go and see another doctor and get the prescription from them.

Already running wildly late for German class, I considered giving up but then realised I'd just have to go through this palava again another day and miss even more German. So off I went to find this other doctor. Did I mention it was raining ? Or that my bum was so wet from the saddle that I looked like I'd wet myself? Eventually found the doctor I needed, though strangely not the one they had recommended who should have been in the same building. Once again I showed my passport, insurance card, European Health card, etc, etc, filled out forms and got myself the prescription printed out. Then they told me I could come for my appointment on the 19th? Did I mention that I needed it this week? My vocabulary does not yet extend far enough to allow me to express feelings of panic, but obviously my facial expressions transcend language barriers. I now have a prescription and can take it with me tomorrow morning, and still have an appointment for the 19th - though for what I really have no clue.

I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to that appointment as I don't even know if this doctor will speak any English. Still, as my German is coming on leaps and bounds I will be able to ask her whether she keeps a sledge in her loft and tell her she is not allowed to mount an aerial on the roof. And if all else fails, I guess I can muster up a smile.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Orange in Berlin

"There are only really two seasons in Berlin. You get a long summer, and a really long winter. That's about it." - that's what the people said before we came. I don't think I've been anywhere more autumnal than this. The sky is dull and grey, but everywhere you look there are a zillion shades of orange on the ground. It's lovely! I forgot how much I love that colour.

(That's my roast dinner in the corner, but the colours fitted in so well I added it)

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

2 auld witches knocked at my door.

A pretty terrible photo of us but one of only a few where we are all together.

My favourite Brandenburg Gate photo.

Near Checkpoint Charlie

Having fun at the wall near Potsdamer Platz just after we went down the big winter snow slide in rubber rings.

So I never got started 'Herr Carotten'. I was the victim of an elaborate ruse. Stevie came home from work on Friday and started tidying and cleaning the flat just as I was getting a pounding headache that rendered me unable to help much. A coincidence? Normally, I'd say no, but I was so distracted by it I hardly even gave a second thought as to why Stevie might suddenly take it apon himself to clean the shower room.

After dinner he said he was going out to meet a friend who not a week previous had he been saying he thought was an idiot and someone he might try and drift away from. Not even this aroused my suspiscion, as as you may have already garnered, in Stevie-world very little makes sense.
So off he went and I got changed into my pyjamas intending to have an early night to nurse my headache, but instead ended up watching a documentary about Hitler's relatives. Stevie came back a good while later and then a minute later the door buzzer went. Stevie shouted "Are you not going to get that?" and I said "No". For some reason unless there's a possibility that's it's a postman at the door, I have found I have no interest in opening it. Especially not in my pyjamas. With no make-up on. At some time after 10pm.

And then the thought crossed my mind that it was Stevie's friend and that he'd followed him home. This was a reasonable thing to think at the time as Stevie came home calling the guy all sorts of names and it sounded like they might have had an argument. So I wandered up to the door to have a look through the spy hole, not thinking at the time that this person would have had to have gotten through 2 locked doors to get to our door, and again Stevie asked me to open it. So I did, and there were two people in rubber witches masks in my doorway. In the second before they took off the masks I had time to give an inward groan at the prospect of early Halloweener's with whom I would struggle to communicate the message 'I have no sweeties! Beat it!' without sounding aggressive. But then the masks came off, and I had one of those split-second stream of consciousness thoughts which went along the lines of 'I recognise them, but I can't think where in Berlin I know them from. Crap, I'm going to have to say hello in a minute and yet I can't think who the hell they are. Bookgroup? No. German school? No. Kita? No. Oh my god, it's my best friends from Derby!'. It was very odd getting my head round them being so out of context as I hadn't thought they would be coming over until late next year, if at all.

So after getting over the surprise and shock it was lovely. We had a great weekend doing all the touristy things, and shopping, and eating, and taking photos, and generally having just a great laugh. I would love if they could surprise me again this weekend. The time just flew by too quickly.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Herr Carotten - available in no good bookstores.

Christmas is coming and Santa has her work cut out for her. Orla has been talking about Christmas for months, probably because 'Dora's Christmas' is a major favourite in this house. So we have discussed what happens on Christmas Eve in great detail as a result. One thing I am grateful for is that in 'Dora's Christmas' there is "a present for Santa" - yippee! cause Santa wants a netbook!

Anyway, the list writing started early and has been edited to death since June. But through it all, one thing has never changed. Orla's number 1 request this year is 'a book about carrots'. Hamish's request for a "real goat" seems easy by comparison. I'm going to start work on 'Herr Carotten meets Julienne' tonight. I think the title needs some work but it's a start. I have a good idea of how he looks and Julienne is of course stick-thin. I just can't decide whether or not to add a baddie who ends up getting roasted near the end.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Welcome to Anywhere

If you post me back I'll see less of the place, right? Oh and can you send me by DHL? I want to get back in time for Emmerdale.

So you've got a few hang-ups about the war. And you've convinced yourself that Berlin is probably still a war-torn city lying in ruins. And it scores high on your list of 'Places I Wouldn't Visit In A Million Years'. So what do you do when friends and family move there and you'd really quite like to see them?

Fret not, dear readers, for Stevie has a solution.

Welcome to Anywhere Weekends ... where a holiday is a home from home.
  • Start off Friday evening with a badly home cooked meal courtesy of my good self.
  • Then it's off to the Irish Pub for some Guinness and maybe a few Baileys for the ladies.
  • Saturday brings a whirlwind of excitement with a visit to a tropical paradise all under a roof and hot all year round (~ sounds a bit like the pool at Center Parcs to me), then maybe a spot of shopping at H&M, eh... IKEA, and eh.... Starbucks.
  • Close your eyes on the way to dinner, enter the wary travellers safe haven, and savour the smell of your McDonalds. Hey, your on your holidays, why not go large?
  • Sunday brings a day of relaxation, enjoy your surroundings (in the flat) and stop moaning.
  • Round off your trip on Monday with a quick dash round the airport shops to stock up on Toblerone and Pringles, and before you know it you're back home.

And don't eat all my chocolate digestives while you're here.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

10ml Calpol + 5ml Nurofen, in the most delightful way!

Too ill to be bothered with anything

Too ill to eat

Too ill even to sleep

There's something going round, and Hamish has caught it. He's been too ill to go to nursery, which has meant no German school for me in the last 2 days. He's got a high temperature and a cough, and feels like he just needs his mummy.

Were it not for the temperature that I'm throwing the old faithful combo of Calpol and Baby Nurofen at, I would have my doubts that he was really that ill. It's a sort of man-flu thing. See pictures for details.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The book group. The lovely, lovely book group!

"Honestly, Bob, I think they'd probably thank us if we just put all these books in my briefcase and just took them. They're full of biscuit crumbs anyway."

So after mentioning it many months ago, last night was my first night at the Hugendubel book group. After missing it because Stevie was in Derby, then we were on holiday, then the group was on holiday; I was quite excited about going. Of course I was late. But it gave me the opportunity to check out the people in the group and see if I actually wanted to join prior to introducing myself. Given that they all looked normal enough, I just went for it.

The book for this month was Invisible by Paul Auster. It didn't really rock my world to be honest, but book group did! I LOVED IT! I have spotted at least two people who I think I could be friends with, and everybody else seems nice as well, so I came home on a high which was great.

I love Hugendubel anyway. It's a great book shop. They seem to actively encourage people not to buy the books by giving them places to sit in comfort with lights, drinks, and food. They have little comfy reading dens (see photo) for people who maybe just want to read a novel or two for free, and proper desks for those who maybe want to carry out in-depth research on modern German literature for free. And of course, if you just want to spill your coffee and drop cake crumbs into someone elses books then you can sit with any of the books in the cafe from first thing in the morning until bedtime (well, ok, the kids bedtime).
Roll on next month! Yippee!!!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Potty training comes to those who wait.

Back when it was round one and potty training was a lot less slippy.

If you have shares in Pampers now is the time to sell them, as Hamish... has decided... to potty train himself. Ta-da! All of a sudden on the weekend there he was, sat on the potty, and that was that. Second time around he decided he would try it from a standing position and even managed to perfect the male art of dribbling pee on the floor. I couldn't have been prouder!

First time round with Orla I read up on what I should do, not do, etc, and took advice from all and sundry. I even read...shh...Gina Ford's 'Potty train in 7 days' or whatever it is. And then ignored it. And if I happened to have one of those parenting magazines that I was addicted to for it's gripping mix of birth horror stories and nappy sack reviews, well if there was anything on the cover referring to how to 'Potty train your child without having to get involved', well I was right on it.

The best advice I got was to just wait. If you hang out with a group of mums whose children are the same age as yours there's always someone who potty trains quite early and then all you can think about is when your child will get to grips with it. Orla wasn't too bad, and to be honest I couldn't really complain about having to wash a million pairs of peed knickers as she doesn't drink much. Easy peasy!

I tried the 'chocolate button for every success' method, until I realised she wasn't motivated by chocolate. Success came when I worked out that what she wanted more than anything in the world was a magic wand and some fairy wings. So if she did a wee-wee in the potty she got the wand, and if she did one in her knickers I took it away. Was that really mean?

With Hamish I am wondering how I manage the whole potty training thing with him at nursery half days. I don't think they change nappies that much so I don't get the impression they'd be that keen on keeping up with his frequent toilet trips. He's going to need about 10 pairs of trousers just to get through a morning. Perhaps I will need to get some chocolate buttons imported and motivate the staff into helping him.

Friday, 8 October 2010

How to make friends & interrogate people.

My new friend: the fish counter lady in Edeka.

I've had some pretty torturous conversations with some Germans since I've been here. And I mean the kind of conversations that are such hard work mentally that you feel like you need a little sit down afterwards. These for me, tend to take place with people who speak not a single word of English which means I can't rely on slipping the odd English word into an otherwise difficult sentence and allowing my brain not to implode as it carries out a ruthless search for any word that might be a close approximation to the word that I am really wanting to use but don't actually know.

But since starting my course I now feel like the German that I do speak has been validated by someone and marked as correct so I have oodles more confidence in my questions and responses. Before, it felt I think like there was a possibility that I might just be guessing the words and spitting them out through my random word generating mouth.

At Kita yesterday, I was stopped and asked "Bist du die Mama aus Schottland?". Having just spent about 7 hours going over this enthralling question with my classmates, even I was surprised at just how enthusiastically I answered her. "Ja! Das bin ich!", I pretty much shouted. She would have thought it was like I had been waiting all my life for someone to ask me that. But such it seems is the way for those who FINALLY really KNOW that they are understanding things properly and being understood. It's such a pleasure that you want to use all your words at once. With literally anyone.

And so this takes us nicely back to the beginning: my new friend. Over the past few weeks, maybe months, I've had some really hellish conversations with the woman who works behind the fish counter in Edeka. I don't know what I really want to say, she doesn't know what I am trying to say, and usually it ends up with me acting out the components of the meal I am trying to make. She was the person I first spoke to about stock cubes (might want to make a cup of strong coffee right about now, my stock cube conversations are not exactly enthralling). The fact that this woman, it turned out, didn't speak English didn't put me off continuing with trying to explain what I was after - it's like once you've started you've got to keep going, you know? And then you start bringing in hand actions and miming.

Anyway, this woman always seemed to be my first port of call when I needed to ask someone whether parsley might really be called Peterslie, or if there is a reason why 8 out of 10 onions I buy are bad in the middle. I'm quite bad at not recognising people again who I don't really know, so I think each time I just assumed it was a different person until I realised I was trapped in another difficult questioning session with the same woman again.

So this woman has grown to know me and quite possibly dread me. She has taught me practically week in and week out how to ask her to take the skin off my salmon, and other little handy phrases. So, yesterday, I was chatting to Orla while we were picking up some pork, and I heard someone call "Oh hello!" in my direction. I looked to my right and here was the fish counter lady. She asked how I was getting on (as on a previous day I had told her I would be a marvel of fish-related chat in 5 weeks now that I had started my German course). She made the mistake of asking me what i had been learning, and all of a sudden she was the victim of a barrage of questions relating to her personal life. "Are you married? Do you have children? What age are you? Are you from Berlin? What's your address? Can you spell that? Slowly?"

I may have inadvertantly given the impression of being a none-too-subtle identity thief, or the new-in-town local nutjob, but she didn't seem to mind, and for me it was just lovely to get it all out to a real person, not a Spaniard playing the part of Herr Schmidt. The thing was though that I was so busy asking the questions and feeling all good about it that I didn't pay a blind bit of notice to her answers. At the end of it all she told me that she would like to learn a bit of English from me and I could learn some German from her. She seems nice, and looks about the same age as me. I dream of days where me and Fish Counter Lady are sitting having a latte discussing whether she enjoys playing tennis and going to the cinema with friends, or if she might prefer eating pizza and reading comics.

Stevie of course just thinks I am going mental and need a trip home.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

'One' would like to sob in class.

Day 2 of German school, and we're all starting to get to know each other. It was inevitable, given the amount of times we are required to ask each others' names, where we are from and how gut it really geht's.

We lost one of the Spaniard's and gained a Korean. After endlessly enquiring happily after each other, we moved on to asking each other what age we were. The plan was that the teacher would ask the first person and then they would ask the second and we would work our way round the class. Sadly, when we got to the Spanish woman in position 3 she broke down on being asked her age and sat and sobbed noisily for a good 5 minutes. The Italian and Frenchman on either side of her tried to comfort her while the teacher looked on bemused. But the rest of us knew the cause was the fact that her age contains a '6' which she can't pronounce. Instead of pretending she was 35 instead, she took herself off for an hour to compose herself.

Language class does strange things to people. Even I was required to do an impression of the Queen to explain in English how the word 'man' works in the sentence 'Wie schreibt man das?' (How does 'one' write that?). It wasn't pretty.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Lesson time x 2

So today was my first day at German school. That is, of course, me learning German. I went with starting from scratch. I may have mentioned that I have a Higher in German somewhere before on this blog, but as you might have gathered from other posts I am not that great at it. I can understand written German, follow most of what is being said in conversations, can spell in German (though where this talent comes from I have no idea), but to actually speak German, I am garbled at best. Often I just speak strange lists of words, sometimes the right ones, probably never really in the right order.

So back to basics. Already day one, I am wondering if I made a real error. ONE WHOLE HOUR on 'My name is...', 'I am called...'. Then numbers, then all the 'I am 13 years old' stuff, and to round off 'I come from Scotland'. Except everybody in the class more or less comes from Spain and speaks no English. I am thoroughly disappointed. I wanted to make lots of friends in the class, but unless I fast track my way through all the Dora the Explorer back catalogue, I am going to struggle. I don't know that counting their fingers, singing Merry Christmas in Spanish at them, shouting 'stop!' and 'let's go!' are enough to even base a Facebook friendship on, never mind sustain me through a coffee break.

And so, the only English speakers in the class are a 57 year old man from Paris who seems nice enough, and has a pleasingly very French name; a smug Korean guy who arrived only 3 days ago and here to study bio-chemistry; and an Israeli guy who copies my answers and hasn't got much to say. I am a little disappointed. I had dreams of busloads of Americans, Brits, and Canadians all round about my age and here as the accompanying spouse of someone 'from the Embassy'. There's a bit of me that wants to stay up all night, work my way through the beginners course book so that I can get into the next class up tomorrow. Sadly though, there's another bit of me that just can't be bothered and would rather sit here and read other people's blogs.

You always think 'Ah, if I went back to school and re-did all my subjects I would totally apply myself and come out with straight A's and about 6 more qualifications than I did'. The thing is, I think, that sometimes you might be a grown up version of yourself, but when faced with a rather dull German class you're still the kind of person who thinks 'I'd much rather be in Art right now'.

Anyway, meanwhile, back in the real world, I went and picked Orla and Hamish up from Kita and found Orla wearing the jeans again that I'd just washed and handed back to the Kita from last week when nobody understood Orla saying she needed the toilet. I was gutted thinking we were heading into a 'pee-your-pants-cause-you-hate-nursery-phase' until I couldn't find her wet leggings and knickers anywhere in the building. And then, it clicked. Last week nursery left a woolly hat in Hamish's locker as if to say 'Get your act together. This boy must be freezing!' and I knew the next step would be someone actually coming and telling me that it was 3 minutes past summertime and he should be wearing tights under his trousers. So, I had a wee peek under the jeans and sure enough, Orla was still wearing her own clothes underneath.

I can't quite get to grips with the German obsession with the cold. There have been some ovely days recently where it's been in the 20's (degrees C) and it's been quite possible to go out wearing a light top. But you will still find everyone wearing coats and see children with woolly tights and fleeces and hats and gloves. My friend who has lived here now for a couple of years and had a baby over here has fully embraced the German way of life in this regard. She says that she worries that she has not got her daughter wrapped up enough as strangers will stop you in the street and tell you that your child hasn't got enough on. Can you believe that?

Well, they can try with my pair, but it'll be another 4 weeks before I'll be able to understand them.
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