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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