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.
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