Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Peeing against the tourist attractions

There have been many, many occasions in the past where I have written about potty training Hamish. Over the past year I have started and then given up again because something's gotten in the way, or he's been happy to pee in the potty when he's either naked from the waist down or wearing little pants, but then totally forgets when he's wearing trousers. And more recently still I thought it was getting to the point of ridiculousness and just took him into Kita one day and told them he was potty training (I'd started him off again fully over the weekend before) and that he had a big bag of clothes with him. I saw the woman's face drop and when I went to pick him up he was back wearing nappies, so I realised I wasn't going to get an awful lot of support from them.

The trouble with Hamish is that he just loves to drink loads. Orla is the complete opposite and was an absolute breeze to potty train. But Hamish is a little bit like a garden sprinkler timed to release every 10 minutes. (And no, he's not diabetic, he just really likes drinking, peeing, and us having to spend a fortune on nappies).

So with Stevie having a little intermittent whinge about how many nappies our boy goes through, I've been waiting for a good time to bite the bullet, and just get it done. This seemed like the perfect week. The kids are on holiday from Kita and with a weekend either side I figured I could get it done.

Of course there have been a few accidents. Mostly when he is either really busy (playing with water in the bathroom sink - I think it was the running tap that set him off), or when we are seconds away from stepping out of the house and he knows that a full change of clothing from the waist down including socks and sandals will delay me just enough to make me not just my normal really late but unbelievably late.

But mostly it's gone well so far. The bit I am not so keen on though is that when they say they need to do it, they really need to do it there and then. Yesterday for example we had been at the park and managed to get to the front door of our building when he told me he needed the toilet. As we live on the 4th floor I knew he'd never make it up to the apartment on time, so I whipped down his trousers and as he was nearly shouting 'It's coming!' we kind of had no choice but to pee against one of the giant potted trees outside the building. I was just waiting for one of the neighbours to come out and catch us. It would reaffirm ALL their suspicions about our unsuitability to reside amongst them. Especially as my hands and bag were a little damp from the finest mist of piddle that sprayed back at us from the stupid pot plant.

I had been trying to do that thing where you limit your trips out of the house to minimise hassle, but big mouth Stevie went and mentioned to Orla that if she fancied going to see dinosaurs this week then she just needed to mention it to mummy. So this morning I was getting the full on barrage of dinosaur requests from the two of them. But I managed to talk them out of it (I just couldn't have faced taking Hamish on a train into Mitte and feeling a little trapped if he was desperate.)

So I managed to talk them into a trip to the aquarium. It's only a walk away so easy enough to handle if we needed a pee stop. And oh, how he enjoys peeing outdoors (apparently just like daddy, though I can't confirm that. I believe it's the fact that he gets to stand to pee). He pee'd against the demolisher's fences surrounding the Zoo Palast cinema that they're currently taking down; he pee'd IN A TOILET! at the aquarium (without complaining or refusing to do it because they had neither a special mini toilet or little toilet seat); he pee'd into the foliage in a shady part of the zoo while looking at the elephants; and against the wall of the otter enclosure; and finally between 2 cars outside a Chinese restaurant.

Despite all the al fresco peeing, which I would prefer happened indoors in an actual toilet, I think he's getting the hang of it. Tomorrow we may venture on a journey into Mitte and see the dinosaurs and then I might let him pee on the Brandenburg Gate, the Fernsehturm, the Reichstag, and maybe even the Frederick the Great statue in the middle of Unter den Linden. And now I'm off to wash my hands again...

Monday, 30 May 2011

I know you've seen them before, but...

I don't think you've seen them on a billboard!

As sad as it may seem I think seeing Orla and Hamish not only (a) on a giant billboard, but (b) not arguing, pushing, or crying and (c) without a dummy in either mouth, is one of the happiest moments of my whole May!

We knew some of the events for the 125th Anniversary of the Ku'Damm had already started and we'd missed them, but we decided to make our way down there yesterday afternoon and see if anything was happening. So we went to a vintage car display - is that what you'd call it? All the cars were parked at jaunty angles on the road, interspersed with Berliner Kindl stands and food stalls. It seems to really amuse Stevie that as soon as a bit of road or whatever is closed off for some reason, within 10 minutes there'll be a beer stand with 8 tables and 16 benches there ready for business.

The kids really enjoyed it. Hamish was in his element as there were lots of things with trailers, including a bus with a trailing bus behind it, and a fire engine with a big trailing fire engine thing. If I didn't have kids I would have had the time to patiently read the little German signs in the windscreens and tell you what these things were, but instead I drank the expensive beer all the time hoping it would help me drown out the incessant calls for ice cream, pretzels, sausages, sweeties, etc, etc. We even saw Herbie from the films. Hamish even climbed the front grill before I realised and plucked him off.

We had quite a nice afternoon just wandering around with me clicking away like a paparazzi as usual mumbling (to myself probably, cause Stevie wouldn't be interested) 'what a lovely curve that has', and 'ooh I love that font', and 'isn't that the most gorgeous grey you've seen (apart from me and my sister)?' I think it's a bit of a shame that the anniversary of the Ku'Damm isn't getting such a great write up. It seems to be that the English language news here think that it's desperately uncool and well the attitude is that the Ku'Damm may as well just be forgotten for what was once the Champs Elysees of Berlin is now just a sad, jaded run of the mill street with a plethora of international chain stores and a bunch of high-end designer boutiques.

I tend to think these things are written by people living in the east. Young, hip people who think the city barely functions beyond the east where life is cool, grafitti-covered, trendy, cutting edge, blah, blah, blah. And it is great on the east, but the west also has it's charms. Or maybe I just feel a lot of affection for the place now. But there always seems to be something happening here and I like that.

I spoke to my friend Claire who moved back to Derby at Christmas last night. They're glad to be back, but they do miss Berlin and the amount going on. She said that their friends are amazed by how much they did and saw while they were here, and that's the thing, it's not hard. I guess it's like this in most capital cities, and I do wonder if we as a family are even becoming complacent about it. The kids are now so used to seeing wild animals in the zoo I think it would be a shock if we didn't have lions and giraffes at the end of our road in Derby.

So anyway, yesterday we also went into the Mini photo booth and got the kids photo taken for the competition to win a Mini. There photo also appeared on the giant electronic billboard above C&A, and luckily I had enough time to get over there and take photos of it. Now I just need to win the off-road Clubman to expand my German adventures with the kids (and copious amounts of luggage).

Monday, 23 May 2011

On not facing the problem head on..

Monday morning 10am. Orla should be at Kita, but she's not. We've had a weekend of crying in the night, bad dreams, talk of bad girls, and requests to go to 'English school, not Kita'.

If she doesn't want to go, then I'm not going to make her. It's made me wonder what I would do if she was to get bullied at school. Obviously I can't just take her out and we'd have to tackle it some other way, but while I can just take her away from a bad situation, then I will. Especially, when she's still so young, it doesn't seem fair to force her to have to not only deal with the bullying, but deal with it in a foreign language.

I'm looking forward to some me & Orla time. It feels like we don't often get to spend that much time when it's just me and her. Especially with Hamish only liking his mummy and not really wanting to spend any time with his daddy.

Today we started things off by heading to the shops to get Orla a pack of printer paper to draw and paint her way through (and we may get a few sheets to actually use in the printer), some necklace elastic to make beads, and we had a look in the Lego shop to see if there was anything good for Hamish's birthday. There was. He would happily have everything in the shop.
And then we went to a cafe. Orla was particularly impressed by the proper little cup for her Kinder Cappuccino. It made her feel grown up, and today, that's just what she needed.

I'm wondering though whether I should just let her have a break from Kita for a few days and then maybe take her back. The teachers have said that they'll keep an eye on things and stop any further bullying, and I wonder if she needs to see that, and not just have me remove her thus just avoiding facing it. It's very hard to know what is best. Especially when my feeling is that at her age you just don't need to have to deal with this crap and feel worried for days about returning.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Find me some plumbing to crawl into.

God, I hate us. At this particular moment in time I think my level of dislike for myself and my little family is probably on a par with our landlord’s.

The plumber has just been. The same plumber who was meant to come about a month ago because I reported that we had no hot water in the shower room. But then when he phoned and said he was on his way, I checked the water again and all of a sudden we had hot water, and I thought I better not waste the landlords money by calling the guy out for nothing so I phoned up and cancelled him.

And then the next day we had no hot water again. Felt a bit of a fool then, but today took it a wee bit further. Given our recent falling out with the letting agent and the landlord, things have been a bit tense, so when they agreed to get the plumber back out to look at the hot water, I made sure I was available as soon as the guy could fit us in.

So he’s just been. I told him about the lack of hot water, and also mentioned that the water pressure was down and then yesterday the washing machine decided to start flashing error codes at me which I “gegoogled” (incidentally, that is one of my favourite German words – it’s the past tense of the verb ‘to Google (something)’. Great, isn’t it?). I found out that it meant that there wasn’t enough water getting into the machine.

So he looked, and he went “uh-hmm” and then he stepped into the shower cubicle and turned this big knob a bit.

Ta-crappy-da! All of a sudden we had oodles of roasty-toasty water flowing out of the tap, and I could hear the water-heating box clicking away (which it does as you turn the tap to get hotter) like there was never a problem. Clickety-clickety click. I felt like a total fool. I summed it up with a good “Ach Manno!”, and a bit of a “I bet that was those pesky kids”, and then I felt a little scared about what the landlord and the letting agent were going to say, and I may have let out a rather large groan.

Stevie had told me to watch out for the plumber and to make sure there were absolutely no drying clothes on the radiators causing havoc to the windows, just in case the plumber was a spy for the landlord and would report back on us. As all the wet washing was stuck in the error-flashing washing machine he didn’t have to worry. (plus I think he was being a little paranoid, and it’s put me off giving him any Stasi books to read).
Anyway, as much as I hate us and our general crappness when it comes to plumbing; I do love our plumber. He said (without me asking) that he would lie on the paperwork. He’s going to say that the pipes were ‘constipated’. I know he was saying ‘blockage’, but it’s the same word in German for constipation (=verstopfung). What a relief. And what a perfect tagline for a constipation remedy too.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Me & my crappy, heritage windows

Every room looks like this right now. The kids have been on a tired, destructive, mess-making, drawer-emptying rampage, and I am feeling angry!

And yes, that was Hamish you saw in the photo above lying sleeping in amongst all the mess

And to top it all off, I came back to my laptop to start this big moaning rant and found this. A banana stuck to the power cord. Is it bedtime yet?

Oh you should probably ignore me. I am having a bad few days. There are days when I utterly hate being a foreigner in a foreign land. More specifically, I suppose it's that I hate not being a fluent German speaker. In the past 3 days I have had a few things to deal with where it would really have been nice to be able to speak and understand fully what people are saying.

3 days ago we started having a bit of an argument with our landlord and his letting agent. This is the letting agent who started shouting at me because I wouldn't change my Disneyland trip to stay in for the painters because apparently these painters were only available on one day (in the whole year). I know, I know, it was terribly unreasonable of me, wasn't it? I am not sure I believed her reasoning, and if that was the case I would probably just get a different painter.

Since we returned and contacted the owner, he has been in touch and tried to imply that I am breaking the law, by impeding access to the painters (because I was on holiday, a holiday that I had previously told them I was going on so as to avoid these dates for our other plumbing problem). I am, according to Stevie, taking it all too personally, as I have decided I hate our landlord. He may be a diplomat, but he has all the moral conscience of, oh I don't know, a slug. I can't help but be annoyed by the fact that whatever goes wrong in this apartment he does whatever he can to blame me for it. Stevie of course is right: he says it just boils down to money. This is meant to be a relatively high-end apartment but the reality is that everything has either been done on the cheap or just not done at all.

We have opposing views on the windows that are either falling apart piece by piece, draughty, letting in water, dripping with condensation, freezing up on the inside over winter, allowing mould to grow on the walls surrounding the frames: he describes them as "heritage", I call them "crap". Anyway, it is apparently my neglect that has caused this to happen. According to the landlord, all Germans open their windows 5 times a day for 15 minutes to allow air to circulate. We had this discussion in December when it was -19c outside. I said it wasn't very practical with small children around who are inclined to want to throw themselves out the windows. I also find it hard to believe that this really needs to be done all the time. I have seen it of course, you always see apartments with open windows here no matter what the temperature is, but I am struggling to believe that we have far more advanced window technology in the UK that we don't have to do this.

And before you argue that in the UK most of us have double glazing and not 'heritage' windows (though, allow me to bitch, I know these windows have only been here since 1992 when the building was re-furbished), I even have mould growing on the walls surrounding one of the double glazed windows (though not both double glazed windows in that room). I was told that was my fault because I was drying a kids t-shirt on the radiator underneath and producing too much moisture. So my fault. But he didn't have an answer when I pointed out that if the moisture from a drying t-shirt was such a problem then why was it deemed reasonable (and not a problem) to have a shower-room in this bedroom and also the washing machine plumbing in this bedroom too. I guess the t-shirt just tipped the delicate balance.

Then we discovered that Orla is being bullied at Kita, and yesterday I went in to sort it out. As usual the Kita staff started off by telling me that I was wrong, but I stood firm, and told them that no, I was not wrong, and outlined what had been happening. Basically Orla has her best friend, Alicia, and there are two other girls who have started calling Orla names. For the past 2 weeks they have been telling her that she's not 4, she's only 1, and that she's small and therefore just a baby, and that sort of thing. It's been getting Orla down. But then they started telling her she had to stay away from Alicia because she was 'just a baby' and they have stopped her from playing with her. I asked her if there was anyone else she could play with, but because of these stupid mixed age group classes they have here, there's not. The girls only want to play with the girls, and the older girls don't want to play with the younger girls and so Orla is stuck with only having these 3 girls to play with. Let's just say, I found it really hard to describe all of this to her teacher in German, and then to argue that it was actually happening.

Today my Slovakian washing machine which I was trusting to at least get me through the next 2 years, came up with an error code and flashing lights. I tried phoning the UK helpline, then the UK head office then emailing Finland, then emailing Denmark, and I have got nowhere. So it seems I am going to have to bite the bullet and phone the German number and try and get this sorted. I can't begin to tell you how much I avoid making phone calls in German. I hate it. Well, actually I think the route I went on to get some help above tells you a little of what I am prepared to do in order to avoid German phone calls.

Ugh. I think I'd like to just go to my bed now. Even that banana stuck to my laptop is depressing me. Go on, tell me to cheer up and get on with it.

Monday, 16 May 2011

How to tell your husband you don't want a party

We went to a house-warming party on Saturday night. It was a little strange. I think the 'hostess' hadn't wanted to have a party. Things that gave it away:
  1. She was in a foul mood. To the point that when we got there and I was chatting with her I thought I must have really annoyed her the last time we met. But it wasn't just me. To her credit she managed to maintain her extreme sullen-ness for the entire party.
  2. Her opening welcome: "I hate this house".
  3. She gave us a house tour. We 'ooh-ed' and 'aah-ed' over the size, the cellar, the balconies, etc, etc, despite the fact that each room looked like a bomb had hit it. (Not that I am exactly winning prizes for my tidiness, but if I am throwing a party I probably wouldn't have my guests stepping over my dirty knickers, old opened mail, food, etc)
  4. It takes a lot for Orla to notice mess, but when we saw Orla after the tour she took my hand and said "Come with me, Mummy. Look: it's a tip!"
  5. She went to bed first. Even the six month old baby that was there stayed up longer.

Roll on the summer barbeque season.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Practising for school

Me practising for the 'first day of school' photo

The playground / playforest

We can all see through your tricks. You're forgetting we've been brought up on Derren Brown.

We went to an Open Day this morning at Orla's new school - the one she'll be attending in September. I had been worrying a little bit about how she would feel about going there, especially as Stevie has been asking me how I would feel if we stayed here longer. It's hard to make that decision at the moment because both kids have their ups and downs with it.

Every time we go on holiday Orla comes back complaining that she doesn't want to speak German anymore. And Hamish, well, he just likes a good moan anyway, and even though he says every day that he had a great day at Kita, he still likes to have a real good moan in the morning about having to go.

So, I have told Stevie that I couldn't make a decision about staying longer until Orla started school; because if she hated it, then I wouldn't want to stay longer. So it was nice to go again today and for both of them to love it. And it reminded me how much I love it and want to go back to school (there).

From the outside it doesn't look impressive at all, but it's just great the things they do with the kids, and the atmosphere and the people, and really, that's what it's all about, isn't it? Today there was lots for the kids to do: bead making, tomato planting, painting and drawing, music making, dancing, a clown that did tricks that all the smart kids spoiled. That bit I loved: "It's got a pocket in it! You've put the hankie in the pocket!!".

I even met someone who I want to force into being my friend. She's a teaching assistant whose husband works over here temporarily. They are due to return to the UK around the same time as us, so that was the first thing that I liked - something in common. But she also has a 4 year old daughter, and she looked an awful lot like a girl I was friends with in school who was really lovely, so I liked her even more for that. I spoke to her for ages, and afterwards when I told Stevie I liked her, he tried to encourage me to just go back over to her and ask her if she wanted to meet up sometime. But you know, I didn't want to look too keen. But next time I see her, I am going to pounce!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

work like you don't need the money

Would you like to have a look at my etchings? http://fionagraypaints.com

I've been ultra-busy this morning. No, not hanging out that washing that's been in the machine for days, and no, not picking up the 60,000 little teeny toys (when did we suddenly move into the realm of toys that can only be found by a magnifying glass or a bare foot in the dark?) Nope. I have finally stopped pretending I am still on maternity leave and have started getting my act together in regards to my future career and have been making steps towards promoting myself and the things that I do.

You may have seen some of my paintings on this blog, but why not go on over to my sparkly new blog fiona gray . paints if you want to have a little look at some more. I've been putting fiona gray . paints together over the past few weeks, and today I made my very own Facebook page. I'm in a bad mood though, because I went and lost the ability to promote the page to my Facebook friends, so I would love you all to just shift your cursor over to the left there and click on my 'like' button. It would be nice to have your support, and anyway, if you like me on here, you'll LOVE me on Facebook. But you don't need to declare your love just yet. How about we start off with liking and then we could maybe be friends and who knows maybe in a couple of years we could settle down, buy an apartment somewhere and get a dog.

I've done a few little commissions since having the kids, which was a real learning experience for me. I never realised just how much of my time is taken up by the kids. So they have given me a good insight into my eh, limitations, in regards time. (Why is it whenever I want to paint in the evening they won't go to bed?)

The next steps for me are getting an etsy shop set up and getting some prints done and maybe some cards, and hopefully doing a few more paintings to sell. Wish me luck!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Late last night I learned that:

  1. People like me should stay far, far away from the NHS Direct website. Apparently Berlin is not far away enough.

  2. Making the decision to surf around the NHS Direct website is not a good decision, if you are looking for something 'cheery' to take your mind off the fact that you've just seen someone shot through the jaw while watching Fargo before bed.

  3. When you are really tired it is quite possible to come away from such a website thinking you might actually be in danger of dying in the night from one of the 73 conditions you appear to have symptoms for.

  4. You should take care in choosing the book to read to take your mind off all the illnesses you might have. Books about people rotting behind the locked doors of council flats strangely enough don't help.

  5. I am better off watching Playhouse Disney all the time and only reading stories about Maisy.

Friday, 6 May 2011

All new Disney-fied me!

Orla & Hamish meet Winnie the Pooh

Orla with Pluto & Mickey

The Playhouse Disney Show

Stevie & his new girlfriend

I'm back again! I feel like I've been away all month more or less. This time round we were at Disneyland Paris, and it was rather good. The kids loved it, we loved it, though I think there might be something wrong with me that I just wasn't that impressed. You know what I mean? Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was a little "oh right, I kind of thought it would be a little more 'Wow!'", but I am putting it down to some kind of temporary mental illness.

We had to wait until we got to Disneyland to buy the tickets. I tried for months to buy them online and had no joy. But it worked to our advantage as Orla in a pram with a dummy in her mouth apparently looked under 3, so got in free. That's the kind of dishonesty my mother would disapprove of, but Stevie put it down to the fact that all the German kids are so much bigger than ours - even though we were in France....

Still, as they let us pay for just us teency adults, we decided to buy the 3 day ticket instead of the 2 day one and go on our last morning before we needed to be at the airport.

Hamish's favourite bit was climbing the railing where you queued for the Cars ride. Well worth paying all that money. Secretly though, I think he liked all the Toy Story stuff and meeting Winnie the Pooh.

Orla's favourite things were the carousel, meeting Snow White, and the Playhouse Disney show.

Stevie's favourite bit seemed to be making me steal enough from breakfast to make a free lunch and enjoying my guilt - "Fiona, it's a roll your stealing, not a Rolls-Royce"...grr.

My favourite bit (apart from the kids being so knackered in the evening that I got to finish my book) were all the photo opportunities. I do love taking photos! I also liked the Buzz Lightyear ride and the Cars ride. It was great fun.

But we're back now and it's time to get back into the swing of things here. I managed to get into an argument about half an hour before we left for the airport on Monday because our landlords agent (despite knowing that we were going away) had arranged for some painters to come round, and she wasn't happy when I said that it wasn't suitable and we'd have to arrange another date. I'm not sure why these particular painters could only do this one day when we were going to be away, but it made her start shouting at me in German. Really loudly, and really aggressively. She was especially angry that I wouldn't leave my keys with the neighbour who wouldn't even buzz us into the building when we locked ourselves out. She ended up hanging up on me because I just kept saying "No. It'll have to be another time." So that at least will give me something to do next week if I feel like I don't have enough anger being directed at me.

But still, a lovely holiday and nice happy kids!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

I predict a riot.

This was Kreuzberg at 'mid-busyiness'. Sadly you can't see as many of the Ray-ban riot mob as I'd hoped.

The Venn diagram of Kreuzburg {Ray-bans, Travellers, Piercings}. But I wonder how many would have been in that little middle section who fit in all three categories?

Isn't that a lovely baldy head? Nice and shiny.

Eh...burger or um... (is that Ray-Bans on her head?)

We went to Kreuzberg today to see the May Day celebrations. We'd been invited to a friends apartment where we could watch quite safely from the windows. I say 'safely' not because the rioting had started, but because there are so many smokers in Berlin and unfortunately Orla & Hamish are just at the right height to get lit cigarettes in their faces.

We got there shortly after 2pm and it was busy but not really busy. But by the time we left the streets were mobbed. There were loads of food stalls lining the street, and while I didn't recognise a lot of it, it certainly smelled amazing. There were barbeques too, and for the first time in my life I smelled a vegan sausage (well about 20 actually) grilling away, and thought 'mmm...that smells nice'.

There was music blasting out from everywhere. Everything from reggae to oh, I don't know what to call it, but you know when it's just like some guy screeching into a microphone and people are doing a lot of head banging, but really it just sounds total crap? Orla put her hands over her ears at that one so I take it she was of the same opinion as me. Anyway, it was really good to go and experience the atmosphere.

I had a moment though as we were walking through the crowd where I suddenly felt like one of the older people there. I turned to Stevie and commented that between the 4 of us we didn't even have as many piercings as any one individual in about a 20 ft radius of us. Quite correctly he pointed out that between us, we don't have any piercings, but well, you get my point.

I also noticed that this appears to be the year of the Ray-ban. They were everywhere. In fact if you had put a turnstile on Kottbusser Tor U-Bahn station and stopped anyone going on to the street who had piercings, Ray-Bans, or was dressed in a manner that suggested they had just got back from 2 years of travelling around Thailand & Vietnam, then we would have pretty much been on our own. I don't have anything against these looks, it just alarms me that I am now looking at groups of well, marginally younger people, and thinking 'you think you all look so individual and yet you all look the same!'. I don't like thinking that. I want to take that thought and lob a riotous beer bottle at it because it makes me feel old and as though tutting at the length of my daughter's skirt is only moments away. I assume I have maybe, 10 years if I am lucky before I hear myself uttering the words "You're not going out in that!". It's probably more like 8, but that seems hellishly close...so we'll make it 10.

Anyway, hopefully tomorrow I will be regaining my youth, for I am off on a special trip. And no, I'm not getting botox...
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