Thursday, 13 December 2012

We'll take it!

I could be wrong, but I think there's some irony there.

Myths about life as a returning expat:

No.1 You might not like being back but you will be ecstatic about being able to do everything in your own language.

Living abroad is excellent fun, until you have to deal with a problem in a language that is quite foreign to you. My first experience of this if we don't count having to ask in Kaisers if the mince contained any horsemeat, came as a dreaded phone call to Kabel Deutschland as our pin code wasn't working. Talk about a cold sweat. It still gives me nightmares.

Eventually after overcoming numerous problems in a combination of poor German and excellent mime, you can't help but think back to life in your home country and think "there would be no problem big or small that I couldn't solve! Phone calls would be a breeze! Returning faulty goods would be something I would actually do! Oh the exotic plethora of words I would spill onto council officials and call centre operators!".

And to a degree this is true. You have a problem; you know all the words you need to describe said problem; you understand the response, and bingo! Problem *should* in theory be solved.

But somewhere along the line I wonder if I thought the problems wouldn't be as frequent or as frustrating in my own land. And now, on our return I find they are. The house we have moved into is awash with problems. As I have already listed them in a 32 page inventory that took me hours to complete, I won't go into detail again here. But suffice to say, it does not feel like it has been easier. From front door keys that won't lock the door from the inside because they are either snapped or bent, to french windows that leak so badly that when it rains the carpet soaks right up to the bed which is a metre away from said windows. *sigh*. Oh and everywhere was filthy. So dirty in fact that we couldn't have the boxes unpacked. *double sigh*

I couldn't bath the kids for most of the week because the bath couldn't hold water as the plug had no seal and there was a big crack in the bath which we weren't sure was leaking or not. Nor could we stick them in the shower as it was veering from freezing to boiling and back and forward between the two. The boiler needless to say is so old that it makes it quite difficult to listen to each others moans as it sounds as if someone is repeatedly starting up an old tractor in the utility room.

But don't worry. The landlord says we are "difficult tenants". So that's that sorted then. Problem solved. Except that it's not and he isn't very keen to do anything and when I raced down to the letting agent the first morning after we moved in to ask if there was a 'cooling off' period or a way out of this contract I was told that no we are stuck here for a minimum of 6 months because we signed the contract. You don't even want to know how much rent we are paying for this place. And I can't tell you because I might start wailing and not be able to stop. Ok, let's move on.

No.2 You might not like being back but you will be ecstatic about being able to do everything in your own language.

What? Yes, it's the same as number 1, but shoosh! wheesht! I'm thoroughly fed up and I don't care. Do you remember I lost my phone on the u-bahn a few weeks before we moved? Probably not, but anyway I decided to wait until I was back in the UK to get a new one.

So then I started looking at which phone I liked the look of. Wrong, wrong, wrong, said Stevie. You need to work out what functionality you want and then decide how often you would be on the internet etc. Having never had the internet on my phone before it was nigh on impossible to guess how often I would use it in reality. But he had me doing spreadsheets comparing deals with data, text, and calls and phone cost across a selection of the major mobile phone providers. Then, he had me researching the deals offered by the companies that offer mobile phone contracts bundled with home phone and broadband and tv. I hadn't even chosen a phone at this point because beyond knowing I wanted one that looked nice, had the internet, possibly had sat nav and a half decent camera, I didn't know what else to really look for. So I narrowed it down to approximately 3 phones, but multiply that with innumerable phone contracts and you have at least a few evenings of thoroughly boring work. And that's not even factoring in the fact that I don't know what I am doing in Excel.

By the time I had finished I was pretty sure I could live without a phone if it mean avoiding having to do this kind of thing, and Stevie's popularity rating was reaching an all time low. But I did end up with a phone which was nice, though the relief from being done with the dreaded spreadsheet was only temporary as Stevie announced that we were going to get a Parkers Guide, fire up Excel again and let it tell us which car we should buy. Can I just say, many, many days later, we still are no closer to knowing what we are going to buy.

Now let me tell you what would have happened with the mobile phone in Germany. As indeed when we arrived in Berlin I needed to get a new mobile phone. All I knew at that point was that I wasn't going to get a contract as we weren't sure how difficult it would be to get out of it should we decide to leave before 2 years. So we went to Saturn, the only place we had seen that we knew would have them. We wandered around and had a quick look at them and then I said "That one looks ok, doesn't it?" and Stevie said "yes" and we bought it. None of the faffing about that you see above. Why? Because we didn't have the knowledge to know where to find deals and bundles, and we didn't have the language skills to ask about them. And that was the way we bought a lot of stuff in Berlin. If someone told us you could get tv through Kabel Deutschland then we went to Kabel Deutschland. When we needed a new washing machine we pretty much bought the one that we saw first and looked a decent enough price. And maybe it cost us a few more Euros but it was easier and didn't involve Ex-bloody-cel and dark thoughts of boyfriend hatred.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Goodbye to Berlin

Hello. It's been a while. We've been a bit busy. The movers came, packed a gazillion boxes, and then flung them out the window on a little lift. During all this Stevie and I set up office in the shower room and planned our attack on the crayon marks and flooring scuffs armed with baby wipes and Cif. 

Instead of painting the walls at considerable expense, we spent probably around 60 cents more on baby wipes and around 73 times more man hours scrubbing them clean. It was fun... sort of. At least my finger nails were bleachy clean. Then once the boxes were packed up we moved into a lovely hotel near the Ku'damm which we all thought was utterly excellent due to the single fact that we managed to pocket 17 very nice biros from a glass that they kindly replenished daily. By day we cleaned (and the kids continued to go to school) and by night, well, we pretty much dropped into bed and fell fast asleep stinking of bleach.

We did a bit of wandering around Berlin, caught the Christmas markets before the snow and the real festive feeling arrived, and visited the KaDeWe with the kids and saw their kind of Dumbledore Santa. I liked him for being so different, and also for sneaking me some chocolate from his pocket. Is it just me, or does that look like the beginnings of a "Santa? Yeah, whatever..." face on Orla? Ah, no, you're right, it's just her "God I'm sick of my mother taking photos" face. Phew!

And then, on the 4th of December, it was time to go. So that was a bit rubbish. Exciting, I'll give you that, but rubbish. The kids were over the moon to move into another hotel for a few days, us grown ups less so. And then! And then! after a few days we got to move into our new house! Boy were we ready for it! We were chomping at the bit. We dropped the kids off at their new school and raced to the letting agents to sign the papers and collect the keys. Woo-hoo!

Now, what could possibly go wrong.........................................................................???

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

I love the KaDeWe at Christmas

I love Berlin. I am going to miss it so very much when we leave. I also love the KaDeWe, Berlin's version of Harrods.

Christmas is something special at the KaDeWe. It's shiny, it's excessive, it's less 'less is more' and more 'more is more' with a whole bag of more thrown in on top.

Who doesn't need a mouse in a crown? Who doesn't want to be transported into another world? The KaDeWe can give you it all.

This year's theme is 'Alice in Wonderland'. Giant chairs, a giant teddy, a giant fireplace with giant Christmas stockings hanging from it.

You walk into a huge room lined with giant bookshelves which on it's own would be pretty outstanding. But with all it's beautiful things piled up and sparkling and shining and tempting, it's just gorgeous.

There aren't many things I wouldn't happily take home with me. I want bowls full of baubles decorated with fine glittery scrolls.

I want tables stacked high with golden cake stands and silver candelabras and one hundred snowglobes each one with Santa.

I'm pretty sure my new house would feel more homely were it filled with stars and flowers and golden dishes and incense.

I love this place. This is how Christmas should look. Marvellous.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Playing for time

What started out as a simple need to gather all the Playmobil bits from the four corners of the apartment has turned into the task of the century. Trying to sort them all into their correct groups and find all their accessories might actually break me. Especially when 'people' come home from school and I find myself growling "Don't you TOUCH a thing!!! I have spent 4 solid hours on this so far and I'm not even half way done!". There will be no "We just want to play with you", nor "Can I help?" allowed to turn my head and let them mess up my cowboys with my air hostesses. "It's MINE!" I yell. "I AM PLAYING NOW!"

Kids: Why can't they just go and clean the windows or scrub the balcony or something and leave me to the important stuff?

Monday, 19 November 2012

The Pergamon Museum

It's me, listening away to my audio guide and taking precisely nothing in.

This moving lark isn't as much fun as I thought it might be, or indeed as I remember from the last time. I'm worried that I'm getting old and this is why I am changing into this person who is struggling to sleep and feels a constant anxiety that's stopping me from being able to just relax and I'm hoping it's more to do with my current anxieties about my driving license renewal, which I can't seem to get out of my head. Either way, sometime soon this will all be over. The move is only 2 weeks away, and when it's done, it's done, and same goes for the driving license: it doesn't matter what I do now: it WILL be sorted out. I'm just not very good at waiting to hear, and am really extraordinarily pessimistic, when maybe I don't need to be.

We took a break from the horrors of last week's trip by visiting the Pergamon Museum on Friday. It's one of the places I've been meaning to visit the whole time I've lived in Berlin, and never have. In fact, when it comes to Museum Insel, in actual fact I haven't been anywhere. Museums with the kids never appealed when they were super young, and Stevie and I always thought we would have loads of opportunity to visit the many museums in Berlin during the winter months while the kids were either at Kita or school. But actually sitting down and going "Right! Let's do this!" is something that we just don't remember to do. 

But we did it. And I'm glad that we did, and now sad that I don't have enough time to go to the other major museums in Berlin. The Pergamon holds collections of artefacts from ancient Turkey and is perhaps best known for it's huge reconstructions of buildings and monuments from this area. Some are so big that the museum has only been able to rebuild them in part. Anyway, they are amazing. Utterly impressive.

I have to say though, I didn't take that much in from the (free) audio guide. I tried, but my mind wasn't on it. I was distracted by pattern and colour. So I can't really tell you much about the background of what I saw, but what I can say is that it was very inspiring and I particularly loved the Islamic art section of the museum. I can't say that I've seen much Islamic art before, but the richness of the detail and the colour combinations were beautiful. Rich reds, stark blacks, deep teals in the most intricate patterns imaginable left me wanting to get my paints out and use some of the shapes and colours in my own work.

No time for that though at the moment, but maybe sometime in the new year once I feel a little more settled. But should you find yourself in Berlin then I would highly recommend it if you fancy seeing something a little bit different. 

Friday, 16 November 2012

3 days of hellish relaxation

We're back! And we are glad of it. Talk about an awful trip! Let's see...

1. There wasn't a hire car waiting on us when we arrived, so we walked with all our bags for quite a bit to get to the Avis office, where we...
2. Discovered the Avis office was closed until the afternoon, so walked back to the airport.
3. Stevie realised bringing his laptop would have been a good idea, as he had no contact numbers for anyone who could sort out the hire car.
4. The next morning we manage to get the hire car booked to be delivered to the hotel while we are racing about getting eye contact lens checks and I have to go to the doctor to try and sort out my soon to expire driving license.
5. We return to the hotel and pick up the keys for the car in order to race to our first viewing. We discover they haven't put any child seats in the car. Argh!
6. Race round to a friends to borrow a too small car seat for Hamish so we can race round to Halfords to buy two booster seats.
7. First two viewings go well, except both kids are tired and decide they have seen enough houses. I am so tired that for some reason (presumably because the houses are unfurnished) think the electricity won't be on and view the rooms in the dark... Until the agent questions my odd behaviour.
8. Day 2 of house viewings. At least half of the viewings are cancelled either because they have already been snapped up or the owner has changed his mind about renting. We turn up anyway because having lost my phone on the u-bahn a week previously, all the cancellation messages are left on our answering machine... in Berlin.
9. We give up looking at houses and decide just to take house number 2. Then we find out that we don't have the right paperwork to enable us to rent a house in the UK. RR have taken care of the utility bills so our names aren't on them; we get our bank statements from a machine in the bank, so our address isn't on them. It looks very much like we can't get past the money laundering checks and might have to just go back to Berlin.
10. Until we remember that both our names are on our mortgage statement and so we race to Santander where you can't get in-branch help and must use a special phone to speak to someone in a call centre, who says they will fax what we need immediately to the branch. 2 hours later... eventually the fax arrives. We race back to the agents to try and secure the house.
11. The agent is pleased but says that they might have a problem getting references for us as our landlord is a German speaker living in Asia. Email! Google Translate! How hard does this have to be?
12. Day 3. S has to go to a meeting at work first thing in the morning. I make him late as I (because of the driving license thing) have to go and get blood taken at the hospital. We then have to race back to the hotel for breakfast and to pack up and check out before S gets back. S says "at least we can relax today". None of us are at all relaxed. We visit the kids new school which is in the middle of nowhere and not accessible by public transport which makes me very nervous about the possibility of my driving license renewal being rejected. Confirmation of the school hours 8:45 to 3:15 make the idea of S dropping and picking up the kids and holding down a full time job seem like a total nightmare and my stress levels about my driving license ramp up to such a level my head aches. S loves the school and feels more relaxed. I am quietly very not relaxed to the point of feeling sick.
13. We stop in a different town to buy stuff to make sandwiches in the car. S moans that what I have chosen will be very dry, so we also select an Italian dressing. S says maybe we should wait until we stop the car. We stop the car and the dressing has emulsified. S gets a little out for my lunch using his finger, but gives the bottle a good slap on the end for his. S unblocks the bottle.... All over the drivers seat of the hire car... Less than 1 hour before we have to hand it back for inspection.
14. The car stinks of vinegar and mustard and S decides to stop at a petrol station on the way to the airport to buy a Magic Tree to mask the smell with something more disgustingly strong. He emerges empty handed as he thinks £2.20 is not worth it! I ask him to weigh up £2.20 against the potential fine from Avis. He seems unable to decide which will be more, so I suggest I try spraying the seat with my deodorant. I spray and spray until I think I have achieved success. As I walk round to the boot of the car I notice it appears there is a cloud in the car. A very smelly cloud. We drive to the airport with the windows down, not feeling very relaxed at all.

We are glad to be back in Berlin.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

One flew over the cooker hood.

I was starting to feel like I was going a bit mental this morning. Overwhelmed, is probably a more accurate description, but at the time, looking around at all the mess, all the jobs needing doing, I felt like I was losing the plot. A kind of paralysis swept over me, and I just felt like there was no way I could do anything, so I asked Hamish if he fancied having a quick snooze with Mummy, and off we went. Some people say when confronted by a list of unpleasant activities you should start with the worst one and get it over with, but sometimes, when the list seems so horrendously long, you might be as well just having a wee nap.

Now, refreshed, I have phoned round all our doctors and dentists to ask if any of them would like any more money off us. I've made an appointment with my doctor to get full bloods done inthe hope that I can speed up my driving license renewal after we return to England. Then I decided that if I did some of the jobs needing doing in the kitchen that I'd feel a bit better. So I've cleared out a cupboard, binned some stuff, and after realising I'm out of bin bags, got stuck into cleaning the glass wall and the cooker hood.

I'm a terrible one for thinking the whole time "this'll be the last time I...". It's never anything poetic, just practical nonsense like "this will be the last time I buy kitchen roll in this country".  Ridiculous, but it makes me feel a bit sad. Anyway, I am vowing that this will be the last time I clean that cooker hood. It is the wobbliest thing, and I couldn't help but worry that knowing my luck, this would be the time that it would decide to crash down and smash the hob. I was tempted to leave the darn thing filthy as it was, but I suspect the evil letting agent will be going over the place looking for issues, and that would include getting on her broomstick to check the top of the cooker hood.

This afternoon Hamish and I will be going out to buy bin bags for the very last time in this country.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Bedless in Berlin.

The impending move is starting to feel very real now. Orla has now lost all her beds: the cot bed has gone to a friend (as she was no longer sleeping in it anyway), and the single bed which was on it's last legs has been taken apart by Stevie and secretly deposited in the big bin downstairs. Orla went into brief mourning for the bed until I showed her her next potential bed in the Ikea catalogue. In the meantime, until the move she'll be sleeping on the cot bed mattress on the floor. She likes this idea a lot, luckily for us, and thinks it sounds almost like camping. Patently, she never went camping like I did with my parents as a child, where the only mattress was a rubber ground sheet below your sleeping bag.

Hopefully though, by getting rid of a least one more bed we will be closer to the target of fitting everything back into the container we arrived with. Also this weekend I have sifted through all our dvd's, and thrown away precisely none, and gone back through all the books and toys, and found nothing else there I want to say bye to.

At the end of this week I have my leaving do, which I have to say I am really looking forward to. I imagine it might still be quite a sad occasion for me, but still, I am looking forward to catching up with so many of my friends in the one place.

The perfect time to shoot one's troublesome neighbours.

Man that car looks like it could do with a good going over with Cif and some baby wipes. While we continue our gargantuan task of clearing the inside of this house in time for the move, outside we have gun-toting criminals threatening baldy men for their briefcases.

They are filming an episode of 'Ein Starkes Team', a ZDF programme that nobody I know watches. My neighbours think it's Tatort, which would be a much more exciting event, but it's not. They just haven't bothered reading the notice posted downstairs in our lobby too carefully. The letter has had us warned for over a week to prepare our nerves for a morning of police action and not to worry too much if when leaving the building we are confronted by flashing police lights and there are guns going off left right and centre. My neighbours would probably be more alarmed by the sight of such an old Saab...

Friday, 2 November 2012

Diary of a move: I Cif'ed a girl and I liked it.

November already? "Brr... fizzle......pop!" That'll be the sound of me suddenly bursting into a frenzy of activity then. The move is now just 4 weeks away, and while I had thought that I might get away with swanning around in the last few weeks sight-seeing, cake-eating, photo-graphing, blah-de-blahing, and generally having a jolly good time, well, it seems I am deluded.

Did I forget everything that needed to be done before we moved here? Um, no. I think the last time I didn't really need to do very much. And this time round I was thinking it would be the same. Sell stuff, book flights, wait on removal men turning up. But I was forgetting that things are quite different when you don't own the house you are leaving. I was lucky in our old house because the house had been completely revamped just as we moved in, and condition-wise it was pretty excellent. And although I had to clean the place from top to bottom after the furniture left revealing my secret dusty-fluff shame, the kids were still at 'Practitioner' level in filth-making, and not at 'Expert'. 'Expert' level has only been achieved here.

So where to start?

Well, I am not sure whether there is such a thing as 'normal wear and tear' here. The rule seems to be in Germany that you should return the apartment to pristine perfection when you leave. After 2.5 years, well, let's say that it looks 'lived in'. Those of you who have been with me for the long haul may recall that the plane had barely landed on the runway before the kids embarked on a spate of destruction mostly aimed at walls and doorstops. As memory serves we had been in the temporary accommodation a day before I discovered that they had coloured in most of the walls in one of the rooms with all their Crayola crayons.

Orla has revived this particular pet hate of mine from time to time; once when she learned how to write her name (yet couldn't work out how I knew it was her!), and during particularly 'creative' phases when she's been unable to stop her little crayon holding hands from reaching toward the great white canvas of our walls. Most of these marks have remained on the walls because the memory of the hours of scrubbing I had to put in at the temporary accommodation was still too raw. (Or, I'm lazy). Other areas have chocolatey finger prints and so on.

Anyway, yesterday evening we had a visit from my most favourite relocation agent, Heidi. And given that it was Halloween she came with a message that chilled me to my very core. "You're going to have to paint the walls."

Even clipart me would have to stand on top of the wardrobe to paint over the hard-to-reach crayon marks near the ceiling.

Can you see the problem? I have never known walls like these. I love the height, the feeling of space, but my god, the prospect of either having to paint this whole apartment, or pay someone else to, is a frightening thought. So last night we cracked open the Cif and the baby wipes, which as you may also recall was the technique I used to amazing effect in the temporary accommodation. It works brilliantly, but it can take a long time. We worked on some of the worst bits last night and I think managed to achieve an excellent job, but it may take a good week or two to just work our way round the whole place cleaning from floor to child level.

In other exciting cleaning news, I purchased a new grout pen and silicon sealant yesterday. I managed to re-do the sealant around the shower and bath while the dinner cooked, and I simply cannot wait to get stuck in with my grout pen later today. Kill. Me. Now.

I'm delaying taking down all the pictures until next week when I have to skillfully fill the holes and make it look like they've never been there because otherwise I think I might burst from excitement.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

I love it here.

Germany is full of surprises. I love that. What do you make of this place? Maybe you've seen a few blog posts elsewhere about all the abandoned places in Berlin that people like to sneak into, crawl under the fencing, slip past the security, and explore and photograph before they get bought up by developers and turned into luxury apartments or spas for all the horrible people like us who are turning up and causing all the gentrification in this quite lovely tumbledown city.

I've visited this place 3 or 4 times in the past month, pretty much weekly to be honest. It's got a cool vibe: like the place just shut its gates at 5:30pm one night, security locked up, and no one remembered to come back. All the buildings are falling apart, the greenery is taking over, nature reclaiming what was previously there, swallowing the man made bit by bit. I've often looked at locations like this online and wished I was brave enough to visit one and go a bit mad with my camera. Top of my list would the old GDR amusement park (Spreepark) at Treptower Park. But I'm not that brave. Too scared of getting caught and dragged off by the polizei. I don't go to this place alone. Not a chance. It would defeat the purpose. I take Hamish.

We're going back on Monday. Because this is where we meet Dr Pistor. Hamish's hernia surgeon. That building in the first picture? That's where he works. It's where we go to see how Hamish is progressing post-surgery each week. Mad, isn't it? He's a really nice man, great manner, excellent surgeon, and he's one of the last people working on this hospital site. According to one of the nurses I spoke to it won't be long before even Dr Pistor is edged out by the undergrowth. Well, not the undergrowth, by the people who are going to tur the place into a spa apparently.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

The best advent calendars: 2012

Last year I wrote about all the advent calendar choice I discovered in Berlin. I was pretty impressed. We settled on two Playmobil advent calendars and I was pretty pleased with them to be honest. I managed to shop around and get them at a good price in Germany, and what would be a really good price in the UK :)

This year, I am slightly less impressed. Why? Because they look the same as last year!!!! I'm always disappointed when I get the feeling they've just rolled out all last years stock from the stock room but are still selling it at full price. Pah! I know that this isn't really the case but on the whole this years selection of advent calendars doesn't really look like it's differing from last years.

So here's the run down:

Playmobil (around EUR 12.99 - 14.99)

Playmobil this year have a choice of 6 advent calendars this year, which includes 2 new ones this year. All of them are available on the website for a great price between Euros 12.99 - 14.99, which is cheaper than you can usually find them in the shops, but there is a delivery charge to add. I'd quite like either of the new ones this year, or both to be honest. One is snappily called in English (thanks to Google translate, no doubt) 'Police Alert Treasure Robbers on the run'. With a title like that the only other thing you need to know is that the scene is set in a museum, and you get to lower the robber from the ceiling in a Mission Impossible kind of way!

The other new advent calendar from Playmobil is the Reiterhof, or horse stables. I like this one a lot. It's got a 3 horses, some people, and a little carriage you can attach to a horse and pull around. This one is potentially more for girls, but I reckon both boys and girls might like it.

The other Playmobil advent calendars are: Princess Castle; Knights Tournament (which I haven't ever seen in the shops, which Hamish likes the look of); Pirate Treasure Cave; and Forest Animals. Forest Animals is the only one this year which features Santa. There doesn't seem to be Santa's Post Office this year, though I imagine it will be available online somewhere.

Lego (around EUR 19.99 - 29.99)

Hamish has decided that he wants the Lego advent calendar this year. There are a few designs available Lego City Fire and Star Wars and this year there is also a Lego Friends advent calendar. The Star Wars one retails at a higher price than the others, and I do think these are all expensive in relation to what the potential contents might be. Mind you, you probably get the same amount of Lego in these advent calendars as you would in the Friends, City, or Star Wars sets on sale at the same prices. It's just that they are all just made from tiny pieces (for obvious reasons) that makes me feel slightly cheated.

Filly (approx EUR 22.00)
This is Orla's advent calendar of choice this year. She's taken a recent interest in all things 'Filly' and wants this advent calendar more than words could describe! Here's a sneaky peak that I found online:

Filly Advent Calendar - Tv-spot from AZT-Media on Vimeo.

Awesome stuff, huh? Take that girl's look of wonderment and multiply it by 10 and you'll get an approximation of Orla's face when she sees that jewellry.

Littlest Pet Shop (around EUR 15.99 - 22.00)

Along similar lines to the Filly advent calendar is The Littlest Pet Shop advent calendar which retails on Amazon UK for £21.49, and is available on for Euros 15.99 - MUCH CHEAPER! If you buy yours through Amazon you'll see that there are a few styles of advent calendar packaging to choose from, presumably these are from past years.

ZhuZhu Pets (from £10.98*)

I'm not sure how popular ZhuZhu Pets are fairing in popularity nowadays, but if you want an advent calendar a bit cheaper than the others, Amazon UK has the Zhu Zhu Pets one for £10.98 (previously £29.99). It has a board to lay out which is designed as a little house set, and each of the daily windows contains either a little plastic hamster or a piece of furniture. It looks quite sweet I think.

Polly Pocket (around EUR 11.99 - 17.99)

I had reckoned we would be buying a Polly Pocket advent calendar this year, but Orla's not quite as keen on Polly Pocket as I thought she might be. Which is a shame really because have the 2012 advent calendar on sale for Euros 11.99 and if I bought both my advent calendars from there I'd be eligble for free delivery! So what do you get? Well it looks to me like you get one doll (Polly) and every day you get an item of clothing or an accessory. I reckon most Polly Pocket fans would love this calendar, and you'd have a good collection of outfits for Polly by Christmas Eve. I wish I could gather a Christmas wardrobe in a similar fashion.

Barbie (EUR 18.39 - 29.99)

Oh dear Barbie, I'm not impressed. Orla is just getting to the stage of being 'into' Barbie in quite a big way, and I might have considered buying the barbie advent calendar had I not just seen a photo of the contents. One dress??? Seriously? That's crazy. Even with all the accessories, the only way I would think this was good value was if they had included one of their entry level basic Barbie's in the box. They're only a couple of Euros, surely it wouldn't have hurt. I've seen this on sale at 30 Euros which just seems ridiculously overpriced. It's not even a fancy Christmas 'gown'!

Haribo (around EUR 7.99)

I've not really had a look at the chocolate advent calendars this year. Instead for the non-chocolate lovers, here's an advent calendar that seems to be pretty popular on Amazon. Behind each door is a different Haribo sweet or (I think) a little toy. It gets pretty excellent reviews, and apparently "is an excellent gift". So there you go.

Die Drei??? (around EUR 14.99 - 19.99)

Now I have to say, I feel this year there's not an awful lot on offer for boys. I haven't seen a Hot Wheels advent calendar this year, and there doesn't seem to be an equal plethora of hideously expensive tiny plastic toy advent calendars for boys as there are for girls (read: Littlest Pet Shop, Filly, My Little Pony, Barbie, Polly Pocket....). Why not? Who knows. Maybe most boys want a Playmobil one or a Lego one and that's it. Nice German boys also like the Die Drei??? advet calendars which are a spin off from the Die Drei??? mystery books and radio series which is very popular here. Admittedly, I know utterly nothing about this but I do know that the advent calendar contains lots of clues which build up to allow you to solve a mystery. Sounds like a pretty cool idea.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Diary of a move: swirly carpets and leaded windows.

I am so bored now of the whole move thing. I am fed up of sorting through all our belongings, and trying to decide which of them could possibly be taking up 35 cubic tons of extra space. I think I've narrowed it down to either the stash of free eyeshadows and mascaras that I get free in some kind of free makeup bag every time I go back to the UK and stock up on No7 products in Boots or Orla's extensive felt tip pen collection. I haven't worn eyeshadow ever really, apart from a brief foray which involved a lot of orange eyeshadow and a misplaced belief that I looked good in it. But still I keep all these free eyeshadows because I convince myself that you never know, there might be a night where I want to wear it and somehow miraculously will be able to apply it first time to achieve perfect smoky eyes and not look like I've been the victim of a rather nasty mugging.

Anyway, I suspect the current source of my moving gloom is Rightmove. A week or so ago I vowed to myself that I absolutely was not going to look on it again until 1 week before our house-hunting trip back to Derbyshire. But Rightmove is the crack cocaine of my life; I keep saying just one more hit and then I'll stop, but I can't stop, and I know it, and it's making me mental. I started out, during the whole fiasco of not being able to get the kids into school, by saying I didn't care where we lived or what we lived in as long as I got the kids into a decent school. And at the time and maybe for a few weeks after we secured the school I stood by that. Then Stevie started saying that he felt we should really look at much bigger places because it would be a real shock for all of us moving from our big apartment into something tiny. And I agreed with him. Then I went a wee bit mad and started looking at places with pools and paddocks and stables for horses that I really would never, ever want to look after or clean out.

Then as more time went by I could hear the first rumblings of Stevie saying "actually it doesn't matter what size of place we live in: it's only temporary", and I knew I had been saved the hassle of having to clean an outdoor heated pool. Bugger.

Now I keep looking at the same measly 5 properties that all look like they would fit in our bedroom and are decorated in the style of 'old person non-chic' and I feel my heart sink. I'm spoiled. I know that. Nonetheless, I can't help but rank them in order of preference and choose an online favourite - which I can guarantee wouldn't be a real life favourite, and then I pretty much set my heart on it. And then someone goes and rents it before us, and before I know it, I am gutted at being beaten to some really hideous carpets, hiddy leaded windows, and the same 'Adams' fireplace that has been a horrid feature in quite a few of our Derby house moves in the past.

So now we are two and a half weeks from our house hunting trip, and after a quick little browse of Rightmove I am totally not going to look again until one week before the trip when I need to make appointments to view.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Diary of a move: when life gets in the way

I think we've all woken up in Barbie's shoes after 6 too many cocktails.

I can't help but think that sometimes in life things happen in order to teach you important lessons about not being too lazy and disorganised and not to leave all the sorting through and throwing out until the day before you move. I believe this because this kind of thing happens to me quite a lot, and my personality type is aligned to just ignore it and carry on merrily surfing the internet without a care in the world. La, la, la-la, la!

Given that Hamish is still getting over his hernia operation, and I am utterly beyond tired keeping tabs on his movements like a Stasi agent with strong suspicions that he's up to no good; I was comfortable with the fact that I was pretty much incapable of doing much else. The dishes have pretty much sat in the sink since Monday night, though I have become more experimental in trying out non-dishwasher safe things in the dishwasher (who knew that Calpol measuring spoons melt in relatively hot water!?), while I have been dealing with the pretty much constant chants of "Mama! Mama!" (Hamish has decided to go German post-operatively it seems). So you can imagine the delight in my voice as I exclaimed "Oh. You. Are. Kidding!" at 1am when I heard a different voice whimpering "Mama! Mama!" from a different room. And ta-da! Orla had  a temperature.

Orla keeps in generally good health. A fact that always surprises me when I realise she hasn't missed a day of school through illness since she started. I like to pat myself on the back thinking that my general shoddy levels of household cleanliness have contributed towards a sterling immune system. Anyway, talk about hard work: it's been crap. I had to take Hamish back to see the surgeon at his clinic in the middle of nowhere yesterday and thankfully Stevie stayed home to look after Orla while I took him. I was really pleased that the operation seems to have gone very well, and Hamish was especially pleased to have the dressing removed and to get the news that he could now have a bath (albeit a camomile tea bath).

I am trying to be more organised about this move, and am taking the opportunity whenever I have it to sort through a cupboard, or clean a bookshelf or whatever while I supervise Hamish to make sure he's not abseiling or whatever in whatever room he happens to be in. So I decided to clean the world's most awkward corner bath before Hamish bathed in it - best not to allow the sediment that lingers under the bath toys that never get removed because they're too awkward to get to, to get into the wound. Anyway, given I had Stevie to take over child supervision, I went for it, and cleaned the giant tiled shelf behind the bath. It's like a metre deep and I can count the number of times I have properly scrubbed it on one finger.

Armed with my Cif with Bleach I scrubbed and scrubbed until everything was sparkling. It brought tears to my eyes to see it so clean, though I suspect that was the fumes from the bleach. Then I rinsed and rinsed and rinsed some more, before running Hamish's bath and boiling up a nice 4 bag litre of tea to pop into it. This is the second prescribed batch of camomile tea baths in our house in the past two weeks - seems to be far more popular here than in the UK. I imagine it is very soothing and gentle on the skin; ideal for after an operation. It was not camomile though that Hamish smelt of as I lifted him out of the bath, but the rather pungent perfume of bleach. God, I felt sick at the thought of it. Mind you, at least the wound was clean.... (arrgghh!!!!)

So terrible a mother I felt, that I did my utmost to make up for it, cooking favourite meals, letting Hamish play a little bit later than normal before bed, etc. Guilt makes me awfully productive. It does nothing for my prioritisation skills however. So instead of getting the dishes done, I stayed up late sewing sleeping bags for Barbie to go camping with. I knew Orla really wanted them and given how rotten she was feeling, I knew she'd be over the moon to discover them in the morning. Today has been a marginal improvement on yesterday, though Orla's temperature keeps going up every time the medicine times out, but we're getting there.

I'm still shattered, but what this has taught me is that things like illness could really put a spanner in the works if it had happened closer to the move, so I need to be organised and get things done early. The removal team manager phoned yesterday and told us that we have 50% more stuff than what we came here with. In my opinion that's utter nonsense, but nonetheless, I am now going through stuff ruthlessly. Or rather I would be if  I wasn't sitting here messing about on the internet....

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Hamish recuperates

Hamish had his operation yesterday morning to fix his umbilical hernia, and it was more than a bit emotional for me. I didn't realise how helpless I'd feel watching him being put under the anaesthetic, and it was, well, horrible. For me at least. He was fine. Afterwards he was pretty fine too. He drank two cups of water and then we went home because they wouldn't let him drink any more.

Once home (and thankfully although I have sold the pram I haven't yet handed it over to it's new owner) we settled down to do some new Lego on my bed and he had a few sips of water. Turns out the nurses were right and these sips broke the camel's back. Vomit everywhere. Then because he disgusted himself by being sick, he vomited again and again until I magically said "It's ok! It's just water! Not sick!". And that was him.

So he is to be off school this week, and he'll be off the following week because that's half term, and then, we'll see. The list of things he's not allowed to do, and the list of things he has to be careful doing is very restrictive. It's going to be very hard.

It was hard enough yesterday when he was supposed to spend the day either lying in bed or on the sofa. It was in fact impossible. When he wasn't lying down and was up on his feet I was meant to be holding him just in case he keeled over from the after effects of the anaesthetic. Today he is a bit more mobile, but finding it hard to sit down or get down on the floor. I still can't let him out of my sight though as every time I do he either follows me, running (which is on the list of banned activities) or ends up doing something else which is also banned. This list includes: no jumping, no bouncing, no climbing, no swinging, sliding, or any other playground activities, no running, no cycling, no scooting, no trampolining, and no swimming. Add into that nothing which might cause a fall and you can see how a four week ban on all of these is going to be tiring to say the least. In normal life I can't turn my back without my two abseiling down the back of the sofa, or bouncing off the back of it and springboarding off the seat into the sea (the rug). If I head into the kitchen they'll be at my back scooting through to Orla's room to put on a 'show' on top of her bed. A show that involves a lot of serious high bouncing and splatting on to the floor below - all the better if you can impale yourself on some Playmobil as you land.

I am not looking forward to the next four weeks. I have the feeling that trailing around after Hamish making sure he doesn't land himself in hospital is going to be very tiring indeed. He on the other hand seems to be quite enjoying having me at his beck and call. *sigh*

Monday, 15 October 2012

repatriation: the simple guide.

I've just read a great post about repatriation. I think it pretty much sums up how I feel (or how I think I am going to feel). Either way, awesome. Read it.

In other news, I am utterly shattered and off to bed. Hamish had his hernia operation today and I'm watching him like a hawk to make sure he doesn't run, jump, bounce, climb, scoot, ride a bike, trampoline, swing, slide, swim, etc, etc. I struggled, and failed to even keep him on the sofa/in bed today. But we have to not do all those other things for 4 weeks! Killer!

Friday, 12 October 2012

Diary of a move: inventory

I've got a bit of a headache. The kind of headache brought on by days of counting and Googling. I've spent the past few days re-doing our household inventory, which was something that we had to do before the move to Berlin. Basically the way the move works is that you don't pack anything yourself, something which is very disconcerting as you still have full cupboards and your toiletries sitting out on shelves on the day you're moving, but you leave it all to the removal men to pack. Otherwise, apparently, if you've packed anything yourself it's not covered by the insurance.

So instead of merrily flinging things into boxes and binbags (our usual method of moving house) admittedly, usually on the last day, you have another job to do. The household inventory. Talk about a pain. List all the rooms in your house, then room by room list every item in it. Then for Google fans, you have to go through it all and find out how much it would cost to replace each item in your list brand new should it get broken or lost during the move.

That's what I've been doing. Yesterday the guy from the removal company came to have a look round and judge whether all our stuff would fit back into the same sized container that it came across in. The good news is, it does. I thought we were also going to be handing over the inventory and going through that. The bad news (for me) was, we didn't. he didn't need it. I feel like printing the damn thing out and eating it.

In other news, we are just about to book our flights & hotel for our house-hunting trip at the beginning of November! i'm quite excited about that, despite the fact that the very limited choice of houses in the area where we're hoping to rent are all pretty horrible. I'm living in hope that something that I like will appear just a couple of days before our trip at the right price and in a good location. Well, you never know.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Pumpkin Dinosaurs are in season.

Of course this move is not all exciting stuff like doing an inventory of every book I've hoarded over the past three decades. No. Indeed sometimes I feel the need to get away from the dust as I crawl around under beds and sideboards looking for the 37th fork, and the need to celebrate finding sausages that went missing in June rises up and we escape from this house into the fresh air, kicking up our heels like Dick van Dyke dancing in Mary Poppins. At the weekend we went to a place I can't talk highly enough about: the Spargel farm. Or Buschmann-Winkelmann Spargelhof in Klaistow to be precise.

We wanted to fit in another visit before we left Berlin, and I knew that it was pumpkin season so it seemed like perfect timing. Because they do this thing where they make stuff out of pumpkins, and I'm not talking about soup and pies. No, they make giant dinosaurs out of pumpkins. If that's not enough to excite the little folk in the backseat of the car, then well, of course you have everything else that the Spargel farm offers. My two particularly wanted to have a last bounce on the inflatable pillows, but sadly it was pretty rainy when we went so bouncing on soaking wet pillows with no spare socks was out.

Anyway, aside from the rather spectacular dinosaur display, I couldn't help but just laugh at the sheer number of pumpkins that were dotted around. They were literally everywhere. On roofs, on fachwerk, in piles in corners, adorning tables, in displays, lining pathways. Everywhere. I wouldn't want to inventory them, let's just put it that way.

If you like pumpkins then this is the place to come. Actually, I'm not such a massive fan of pumpkins myself, my enthusiasm for them if you had asked me a week ago would probably have extended as far as 'indifferent', but the sheer number and variety of them breeds a strange interest in me. I guess it's a bit like the button thing at Knopf Paul the other week; i'm a sucker for things en masse and stacked up stirred up with a little variety. But even if you aren't drawn to this sort of thing, the Spargelhof still has a ton of other things to offer. There's a Mais maze, or should I say a corn labyrinth at the moment, and as always there are weekend events with music and breakfasts and so on. The little stalls selling farm grown produce and smoked fish and honey and all sorts of other things seem always to be in attendance and well worth the money.

Inside the restaurant there is also a really nice little butchers/deli which sells a big range of sausages and meat including a whole section of 'Wild' sausages: Wild Bockwurst, Wild Bratwurst, Wild Blutwurst... but I don't know where they get that from... cough cough...

But I imagine it probably has a high pumpkin content....

For the love of asparagus - my post about this awesome place during Spargel season.

Buschmann-Winkelmann Spargelhof - the official website complete with tweeting bird sounds.

Monday, 8 October 2012

How will Santa know we have moved?

Good grief, is that October already? I feel like I've lost a few days because I dived into the big pile of Harlan Coben novels that I ordered off the Book People, and I've not been able to stop reading until they're all done. I'm on my last one. And Stevie has just broken me from my reading marathon with a phone call to say the removal team will be visiting later this week, and I need to have the apartment fully inventoried before they arrive. And by that I don't mean "Living room: curtains, light fixtures, wood flooring, phone/braodband/power sockets", oh no..... what it means is documenting all our belongings room by room complete with a value for them if we needed to replace them as new. Fun, fun, fun!

To give you an example of how horrific a task this is, I wrote about it here when we were preparing for the move out to Berlin. Let me just say, I have tried really hard not to buy *stuff* that might take us beyond the limits of the container that we must fit it all into, but I have not tried very hard at getting rid of things that we possibly don't need, and haven't needed for a very long time. Things like the highchair which admittedly has performed a really useful role as a coat rack should not be returning to the UK with us. There are other things which looking back at my old post probably should be got rid of. That hurricane lamp is still sitting stuffed with letters that I haven't looked at since before we came here...ugh.

Anyway, I am setting off now, armed with Excel, bin bags, and a strong cup of tea, and I am going to go through this apartment room by room, ruthlessly pricing and tidying, or chucking out or ebaying, and I will not stop until I get bored!

In other news, we finally told the kids that we are moving back to England. After the cheers of "Yay! We're going back to our old house!" subsided we were able to explain that in fact, no we would be going to a different house as we have to find a house near to a school that we can get them into, they were still very happy. Orla in fact couldn't be happier. She asked about her new school, but mostly wanted to know that she would be able to visit her cousins more. Hamish, had one concern, which was "How will Santa know we have moved?", to which I said that when we write to him we can pop in a change of address card, which seemed to satisfy Hamish.

We also told them that we are planning a trip back a few weeks before we move to find a house. I am thoroughly looking forward to this trip as there is nothing I enjoy more than looking round houses. The downside though is that according to Righmove there are very few houses that suit our requirements in the right areas. Hamish asked whether he can choose the house. I think he may struggle to find what he's after even more than I will as he says he wants either a blue house or a black one.

Links: Get ready for a rush of activity!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

I'm trying to lose a button.

In my quest to see EVERYTHING that I haven't yet seen in Berlin, I took a trip to Kreuzberg yesterday with my good friend in furry legwarmers (featured above) to visit Knopf Paul, which presuming you haven't heard of it, is a button shop. Not that I was in dire need of buttons, though by the time we left I kind of felt like I was, but I had heard of Knopf Paul about a year or so ago and really fancied seeing inside. I guess part of it's draw for me is the visual effect of seeing just thousands and thousands of buttons on the end of tubes stacked floor to ceiling, wall to wall, as soon as you enter.

The website doesn't do the place justice to be honest. This place is pretty amazing, and even if you aren't in need of a flash button to glam up a Primark coat (an excellent idea from my good friend of furry leg fame), I would highly recommend it as a place to stop by if you are in Berlin. If you were a collector of things as a kid as I was: stickers, erasers, marbles, etc, then this place will send a little thrill up your spine. It appears to have every button on the planet for sale. And the shop itself has a really nice olde worlde charm too. 

Mind you, I didn't feel entirely comfortable asking the (very busy) staff if I could go mad taking photos, so sadly I only took photos outside. These buttons are NOTHING compared to the wonderful selection they have inside. Seriously. Go there. Feed the hidden buttony desires you don't know you have. And once you've done that, you could feed your tummy too and head to Barcomi's for some lovely cake and coffee.

I also got the chance to take some more photographs of one of my favourite apartment blocks in Berlin. I love this building. Nothing about the architecture is particularly special, but I adore the way it has been painted. It's so bright and colourful I imagine that it would just add a bit of happiness to your day coming home to it. Plus, it would be dead easy to give people directions to your apartment. There are lots of brightly coloured apartment blocks in Berlin, but this is definitely one of the best. Isn't it lovely?

Knopf Paul: Zossener Strasse 10, 10961, Kreuzberg, Berlin
Barcomi's: Bergmann Strasse 21, 10961, Kreuzberg, Berlin

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