Thursday, 30 September 2010

The wonderful world of costly education

There's a funny thing about being a foreigner in Berlin. A lot of the places I go to, I get asked if I am "from the Embassy". It always strikes me as an odd coincidence as we are pretty much the only people in our building who aren't from an Embassy. I got asked yesterday when I went to see my new doctor, and I was asked at the kids' doctor, and also last week when we went to visit the school that Orla will go to next year.

I really liked it. As in, would quite happily have left the kids there and went off and had a nice child-free afternoon at the shops. Everything about it was lovely. Nice teachers, nice class sizes, interesting lessons, swimming lessons at the Olympic stadium, all the good stuff you could ever desire.

Hamish and Orla came with us, and Hamish slotted himself right in to the Reception Class while we were being shown around. We walked into the classroom just as the teacher was asking who he was as he sat down at a desk with the other children. He's pretty quick at fitting in. Thankfully, he told her his name and didn't just spit in her face (in a blowing raspberries manner in response to any question he is asked by someone in close proximity), which is a nice little phase he'shopefully near the end of.

Orla also had a great time and joined in with the outdoor play with the other children in the nursery class who will be in her class next year. She really liked the fact that everyone was speaking English and seemed much more relaxed. I loved seeing her so happy, and couldn't help but think "I would pay good money to see her this happy every day". And wouldn't you know it, that's exactly what they are looking for.

We went away with a couple of brochures, one of which highlighted some of the work that the students had done the previous year. Talk about WOW! By the time I had worked my way through to the senior school there had been Spanish lessons in Year 2, school trips abroad that looked better than most of the holidays I have ever been on, poems and essays written in foreign languages, creative writing that blew my socks off, and artwork that was just, well, pretty amazing. I would enrol myself if I could [afford to].

I returned a call to the admissions lady and requested an application form (for Orla, sadly not for me). It arrived complete with the annual fees and the registration fee. If I had been eating my cornflakes I would have choked. Luckily we get some 'assistance' in this area. The school is pretty far away from where we live but we'd been told that there is a bus service that offers a door-to-door service. I sent an email last night to enquire about this and any possible fee that might accompany it. I know we live in the city, not exactly city centre but close enough, and where this school is there are wild boar in the forest that is fenced off from the playground.

So I got my answer today. 10.50 Euro's a day!! That's like £50 a week! Holy crap! Is everything extortionate at private schools? Something tells me I am going to be cycling Orla to the school and back. Boy, am I going to be fit. I am looking forward to finding out that the school polo shirt is £300 and lunch is £50 a head, per day.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Fed up with Facebook

It was fun for a while, Facebook, wasn't it?

I really enjoyed looking at photos of people I haven't seen since school, university, previous workplaces, and their babies, and their weddings, and holidays. Of course I have always been one to reciprocate. I have plenty of albums of photos of my kids and places I've been and all that kind of stuff.

And I really have enjoyed being back in touch with people who I never would have otherwise, and now I have lots of little friendships re-ignited and all of that is brilliant and makes me happy. And of course it's really handy with us being away for two years. People can keep up with what we're up to and how the kids are changing and growing and it's an easy way to stay in contact.

But recently I started to get sick of the whole thing. I used to post links to my blog through Facebook but then I realised that there were probably quite a few people on there that I really didn't want knowing exactly what I was doing. Not for any terrible reason, just little things like one person who had previously been a good friend who when they moved house just wouldn't even give me their new address to send a card to. Needless to say, why would I want to share what is going on in my life with them. So they were the first person I deleted. (Though actually, going by my little visitor monitor, I think they are still reading the blog, and it's about high time they stuck to their guns and got lost).

Then other friends started doing 'friend culls' of people who they either had made friends with and then had nothing to do with, or people who "bring nothing to the party". You know, the ones who don't do anything on Facebook but lurk around looking at everyone elses stuff and usually haven't even bothered to put up a profile photo. When I stopped posting links to my blog one of these people got in touch with me and asked what was going on in my life as I had been a bit quiet recently. Literally a one line email. I'm surprised they didn't just ask for the web address.

Then I discovered that I could be a bit more experimental with the privacy settings, and I started to block some people's access to certain photo albums, links, and so on. Again, someone who has never put up a single photo emailed me asking if I had had a good holiday and where were the photos from it. Not that my photos are really anything of interest to most people.

And recently it's been friend requests. It's such a sensitive subject for people. If you don't accept their friend request then people take offence. That's fine if it's someone from school or whatever that you never see anyway, but it's a bit more difficult when it's Stevie's friends who we see sometimes when we go back to Scotland. Or your mother-in-law or your mother-in-law's best friend. It's not that I don't like these people, but I certainly don't want them seeing all the little funny things I might say about life with do I?

So it's just becoming a lot less fun and too much like a hassle. Or maybe I'm just tired and need to stop taking it so seriously and go to bed.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Just a small piece of fun please.

Mr Potato having a well-earned rest in the living room.

Crouch down so we can get more of the strangers in!

I'm starting to really embrace the idea of 'not having too much fun'. My friend Fiona and her husband and little girl are over from New Zealand having a European and Brazilian honeymoon. I've been really thrilled at them coming over, especially them stopping off in Berlin just to see us (and maybe a few sights as well). I had imagined us taking in the sights and going loads of places I hadn't yet been, but so far this week the kids have managed to scupper my plans. Kita is really taking it out of them. After a hard morning not understanding German, they are both pretty tired.

Orla who is struggling with the whole Kita thing anyway has been having the most horrific tantrums which start as soon as we leave the Kita building and build up a good deal of momentum during the day. She says she likes Kita, she just doesn't like everyone speaking German. Anyway, she's not much fun to take places when she is screaming like a banshee. Yesterday after Kita the kids managed to have consecutive naps so we ended up not meeting up with Fiona, Carlos & Keira as they roamed the city. Today, I thought would be a better day as everyone had a really good sleep last night.

We decided we would go to the Reichstag after I dropped the kids off at Kita. A great plan, as we had Keira with us in her buggy which allows you to skip the hour long queue (isn't that great?). Anyway, Fiona left Carlos to plan our journey across town. Sadly, Carlos's trip planning is only matched in brilliance to my own dreadful sense of direction. We left him to decide where we get off the U-Bahn. We ended up having a lovely extraordinarily long walk through not very interesting Berlin streets to get to the Reichstag. We made it as far as Brandenburg Gate before I had to leave as I had already noticed that I was going to be late getting back to pick up the kids. So we kind of saw nothing of any interest all morning. By the time we got to Brandenburg Gate there was no way I was leaving without actually seeing it and taking their photo in front of it along with 1000 other tourists. So that was that. A little fun and then I ran for the underground.

But not to worry, as I figured I could get the kids and meet up with them in the afternoon. We ended up going home so that Orla could get some lunch and just as we were heading out the door she announced that she thought she might just need a little nap. As Hamish was also pretty tired I gave in. One thing I can't manage is climbing up and down underground station stairs carrying two sleeping children and a pushchair. I phoned Fiona a couple of hours later and they were back at Brandenburg Gate. So I didn't miss that much at all!

Meanwhile, in other news...
Mr Potato (our friend from the potato festival) has become such a firm favourite in this house with Orla and Hamish that he is starting to look a little bedraggled. He also looks as though he is developing lesions on his back which surely can't be a good sign. Last night I found him cuddled up in bed with Orla quietly roasting on a very low heat. I'm starting to worry how they will react when Mr Potato has to go in the bin. It might be easier to have a little burial out in the garden.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Not suitable for those with heart problems

I had a thoroughly exciting day yesterday. It started off with some frantic bathroom cleaning (trying to get the place tidied up before our friends arrive tomorrow) and culminated in going to a potato festival. There were interviews across the tannoy system with tractor drivers; displays of woven baskets; a stand featuring some truly horrendous amateur artwork on canvas (for sale); and a throw the potato through the chipboard lion's cut out mouth game. Now that looked like fun, so we encouraged the kids to join in. They didn't notice the chipboard lion and instead just stood to the side of it and threw potatoes at the chain link fence beside the road. Admittedly they were whooping with pleasure, my young vandals.

Orla made a beautiful REAL Mr Potato Head, as can be seen above as it is now being proudly displayed in my kitchen. I think it was more a case of directing the lady with the hot glue gun as to what bits she wanted, or rather I hope it was. I was off discussing Nazi head offices and drinking my beer as fast as possible while Orla was doing this.

We went to the potato festival with someone from Stevie's work and his lovely German wife and little girl. I think they made the potato festival for me. It was the background info that they provided that kept me laughing for the 2 long cold hours we seemed to be there. Apparently they had parked the 'amusements' in the wrong places which meant that there were just 3 stands with things for children: one selling toffee apples and toffee grapes (4 on a skewer, in case you're wondering), one selling inflatable tigers, and one doing the potato men and face painting so vague that you'd get a prize if you could work out what any child was meant to be. Anyway, apparently these festivals are a relatively new thing for the East German's and it was agreed that it was positively better that there was not more for the kids, as anything else could easily have tipped things over the balance into that dangerous region called fun.

Monday, 13 September 2010

A love of hammering in nails is passed on.

Orla has decided she doesn't really like Kita. Well that's not strictly true: she says she likes it, she just doesn't like everybody speaking German and she's sick of it. She has not sickened of saying her new favourite word though "bloomin'". This morning when we got up she alerted me to the discovery of an old discarded banana squished up against the glass door with the words, "Bloomin' Hamish, and his bloomin' bananas!". Obviously I'll be having words with the Kita and blaming them for her coming home with phrases like that...

One thing she does like about Kita is one of the toys they have. It's called Haba Nagelspiel, and basically it's a cork board, flat wooden shapes with tiny little holes in the centre, a wooden hammer and a big tub of tiny sharpish nails. It's easy enough to work out; you make pictures with the shapes a bit like fuzzy felts, but you have the pleasure of hammering them into place! I love the Germans sometimes. I love the fact that they haven't gone like the British and are worrying that they'll get sued every minute of the day. They let the kids who have just turned 2 play with this and grab big handfuls of little easy-to-swallow nails. I guess there hasn't been a perforated bowel yet. Maybe they're not as daft as us lot.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Old and new

Today I went and sorted out the payments to the nursery at the Commerzbank all easy enough - except that I handed the sheet with all the information (written in German) to the native German speaker behind the counter and twice had to point out easy to read and pertinent bits of information to her. If I didn't know better, I'd think my German was quite good.

Then I went over to the book shop and got a couple of books and a couple of other things. Up at the cash desk I handed over my card to pay and as soon as the cashier inserted it into the machine twice - I KNEW! He did it a third and fourth time, and then I asked him if it wasn't working. Well of course it wasn't working because it wouldn't be right of the Commerzbank to give me a card that lasted for more than a month and a half!

Raging, I went to the next closest Commerzbank and managed to get in just as they were locking the doors. I told the man behind the desk that my card wasn't working and that it was the second time that this had happened, and that I was bored of being embarressed by this. The response from the man working in the Commerzbank that looks exactly like 'the Commerzbank' that I'd been to along the road, was that he could give me money, but that they were the 'new' Commerzbank, whereas the other one I'd been to was the 'old' Commerzbank, and the soonest he could help me with my card problem would be in a years time. I said I didn't need any cash and I would wait a year and come back.


Monday, 6 September 2010

boys in tights

Today was Orla and Hamish's first day at Kita. Mine too as we have a 4 week settling in period to contend with. First off we had to go up to Hamish's class and the kids pretty much got on with it. In fact when we got told we had to go down to Orla's class Hamish said he wanted to stay there and play so I asked if that was ok and despite their aghast faces they agreed to it. So Orla and I went downstairs and I let her get on with doing playdough, drawing and playing. Alles gut!

Last night I sat and translated all the pages of documentation they gave me before and discovered the schedule that they want me to follow is:

Wk 1. Come with your child and sit with them and make them feel secure.
Wk 2. Give your child some space, but still be there in the room for them.
Wk 3. Leave the room, but be outside the (glass) door where they can see you and still get to you if they need you.
Wk 4. You may leave the room (and line of sight of the child, and then leave the Kita for short periods of time.

So today with Hamish we pretty much covered all 4 steps with complete success and I would have done the same with Orla but they would probably have locked me in. Tomorrow I am going to ask if I can nip out to the shops (German withstanding) or at the very least take a book. I have the feeling though they're going to think me terribly cold and heartless. Stevie thinks I may have to resort to saying I need to go to the bank to pay the Kita fees.

On a side note saw an awful lot of boys wearing tights. Still can't quite get my head round that, but cometh the winter, cometh the big chunky Hamish legs in wooly tights no doubt!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

a chill wind

The Berlin we have come back to is a different place. The weather has changed. It's around 15c and though this morning is nice and sunny, the past few days have felt grey and cold. Almost as soon as we got back I was feeling chilly and thinking about the heating. We were told that the heating gets turned on in September - as in, for the whole building! Stevie seemed to recall he'd been told that it went on after we'd had 3 consecutive nights of X degrees C or less. The heating is turned on by one of the neighbours, who is an engineer and is the only person able to operate the antiquated system. After 2 days feeling chilly, I was starting to think of knocking on their door and asking when we might be able to have some heat, but our already bad reputation (we complained to our landlord that the appliances weren't working properly, and he told the neighbours, and now they don't speak to us) has prevented me from making such a bold step.

We'd been told that we need not worry much about heat in this place anyway as we have the Canadians below us, but alas, in the time that we've been away they've moved. I feel a little sad that they've gone, they have been a great help to us settling in, but given that their apartment has been rammed full of tradesmen refurbishing the place since they've gone, I am living in hope that the apartment actually belongs to the Canadian Embassy and they might send us some more nice Canadians to be friends with.

Anyway, day 3 of our return and suddenly we had heat. I couldn't have been happier. Stevie of course felt too hot and complained that the place felt like it was in the high 30's. But it turns out I have been feeling chilly for a reason and have come down with Stevie's terrible cold. Today I am having the luxury of lying in bed recuperating while he takes the kids to the aquarium. I've already read a book, 'After the Wall', a fantastic boook by Jana Hensel about being a child of the GDR, and I have managed to catch up with a few blogs.

Which leads me on to the photo. 'Is there a Plan B' has had a fantastic idea of recreating masterpieces. Her mention of Tracey Emin's bed got me thinking I should join in. Our bedroom as usual is a tip. Fortunately though, this is just a small segment of the room - I would be too ashamed to show the rest of it. Oh and I'd just like to say, I didn't choose the orange gingham curtains.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

holidays for the pale & interesting

And so we're back! We had a lovely holiday firstly going back to Scotland, then England, and then Spain. And now, we're shattered and could do with a holiday. The first thing I noticed when we got to Scotland was that it was such a relief to not have to translate everything. Oh the ease of being able to read signposts and posters saying "Want to earn £500 per week in your spare time?". And so I read, and read, and read everything from the backs of cereal packets to, whisper it very quietly... The Daily Record (god knows it comes far lower down the literary scale than cereal packets). We need never talk of this again.

The other big thing for me was that I hastily took myself off to a supermarket (not straight away you understand. I know I sounded desperate but I think I waited a day) and rather than going "Wow!" and crying tears of joy as I had expected I might (remember the crazy way I acted when Stevie went back to Derby?), I was just indifferent. It was just, well... normal. On my second visit to a supermarket where I went to just pick up a few things to send back to myself via Parcels Please (only £11.75 to send 30 kg to Europe!) I did manage to spend £100 in about 10 minutes. I was in a rush as I needed to drive back to Stevie's parents house so it was a bit like a mini trolley dash, and now I can hardly remember what I actually bought. I do remember though that I did manage to buy 'Nigella Express' which should give me a few quick recipes and get me out of the pork ditch that we've been stuck in.

The kids loved seeing all their cousins, and by the end of our 4 days in Scotland we realised that we really could have done with more time there. The weather was also pretty great which made Stevie happy, as normally he likes to have a good moan about the wind, rain, temperature difference that we normally find in Scotland.

We then had a day and a half in Derby staying with my friends, and the kids loved being back and playing with their friends. So much that they didn't want to leave and spent much of the time in Spain saying they wanted to go back. I really enjoyed seeing my friends, and I do thoroughly miss them, but I don't miss living in Derby at all. We drove past our house and I didn't feel in the slightest sad that I wasn't living there anymore, which I thought I would. Stevie on the other hand got angry about the fact that the tenants aren't weeding our newly block-paved driveway. I suspect they care about that as much as I did. I have resigned myself to expecting the house to be a mess when we finally return to it, and am at least pleased that we didn't rent it out with our furniture getting trashed as well.

We had a great time in Spain, and the kids loved being in the pool and at the beach every day. I managed to get a wee bit of a tan, which if you've seen how pale I am is quite remarkable. Stevie managed to get food poisoning on about the second day and never really recovered from it until they day we left.

Last night Orla couldn't get to sleep and I lay in bed with her and told her just to close her eyes and think of nice things. I asked her what she was thinking of and she said "Cake", and I said, "Well, ok, but why not think of all the nice things you did on holiday?" and went on to list them for her. A minute later I asked her what her favourite bit of the holiday had been, thinking it might be playing with her cousins, or going to Vincent's, or even swimming on her own with her rubber ring for the first time. Her response: "Eating crisps". Next year we are holidaying in Tesco.
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