Sunday, 22 April 2007

Bag lady

I understand there’s been quite a fuss in England over the new reusable ‘designer’ canvas bags now on sale at Sainsburys. For those who don’t know, Sainsburys is now selling a canvas shopper which carries the slogan ‘I am not a plastic bag’. It’s available at the till for a fiver. Originally the bag was conceived as a result of a collaboration between the social change group ‘We are what we do’ and designer Anya Hindmarch as a way to encourage people to re-use bags rather than always accepting plastic carrier bags for their shopping. (Read the headlines and see the bag.)

It is reckoned that the average person in the UK throws away 167 plastic bags each year. I expect that my record was worse than that. The weekly supermarket shop would have used up a fair few bags on its own. Then there would be weekend shopping for clothes, jewellery, toiletries, stationery…Although I kept the bags and re-used them for bin liners, how much better would it have been for me to not have them in the first place? So, I am definitely not one to preach. However, since coming to Germany my habits have changed. I always carry a couple of lightweight cotton grocery bags in my handbag so that I can use them for shopping. Why has my attitude changed?

• It saves money: supermarkets in Germany charge for each plastic bag used
• To fit in: everyone brings their own bags and it’s frowned upon not to
• It feels good: now I have got into the habit of bringing my own bags with me, I do feel like I am helping to make a small difference in some way

canvas bagYou know what? The other day I was so bored (waiting for the baby who has as yet not asked to be born – something which it will probably tell me itself when it turns 13) that I decided to use up some scraps of fabric and I whipped up my own ‘designer’ bag.

Here it is, very prettily modelled by my husband. (He has a responsible day job, you know.)

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Bang! And the dirt is gone!

In the wee hours of the morning I was laying awake. I was troubled by a question. Nothing trivial like: ‘How am I going to cope with the pain of labour?’ or ‘What is it like being a mother?’ Oh no. The big question which was keeping me awake was: ‘Can I buy Cillit Bang in Germany?’

In common with most heavily pregnant women my thoughts have turned to domestic chores. Grand style. Today I have already cleaned the bathroom, done the laundry and gone to the grocery store (TWICE) to stock up on cleaning products and tinned produce. I even made some cookie dough: half to bake now and half to freeze for an EMERGENCY! It’s not even midday. I am currently contemplating whether the stair carpet needs a clean this afternoon…

Last week my sister went through the same thing. She did some last minute planting of her allotment. She actually did clean her stairs. One day she washed the floor 5 times. So it appears that my current behaviour is in the realms of ‘normal’. Which is good, because I am not often perceived as normal.

There's a happy ending to this entry. You’ll be pleased to hear that when in the grocery store, the first time, I spied a very large bottle of Cillit Bang. Hurrah for this great product and hurrah for it being in Germany. I’m so pleased that I'm saying now that I'm available for the advert if they ever get rid of Barry Scott and his coin…

Sunday, 15 April 2007

I'm an auntie! Will I soon be a mummy?

I am an auntie for the second time! My sister Gillian had her baby yesterday. A son, born 11 days late, but happy and healthy. Congratulations to Gillian and her partner Vince!

The sad thing about being in Germany at this point is that I won’t be able to see my sister and her new family for some time – and she won’t be able to visit mine. Neither of us will be able to travel for several months. Firstly, we’ll be too overwhelmed with trying to adapt to our new lifestyles and getting into a routine that travelling on a plane/ferry/train across a continent would be an unimaginable challenge. Well, I can sort of imagine it and what I picture in my head isn't pretty. Think of all the hard work you'd need to put in to keep the baby fed, changed, clean and entertained en route…and that's on top of the fact that we adults get tired and grumpy when we've been travelling for long periods.

Next, the babies need their own passports. I’ve looked into this and found out that it could take me at least 6 weeks to sort out all the birth registration and passport documents the baby would need. Our baby will need a biometric passport. I have two gripes about this. Firstly, infant biometric passports are more expensive than the old style passports - around 80 pounds when applying from overseas - and will only last for 5 years. Secondly, I am not sure how worthwhile it is to give babies biometric passports. Biometric passports will include 'facial recognition mapping', stored on a chip within the passport. Now as I will be applying for a passport for our baby ASAP, she’ll be a mere newborn in the photo. It'll take some skill to capture a photo which passes the UK Passport Services' strict requirements. Apparently she will need to have her head up, but as this is impossible for a newborn it seems to me that we could use one of two techniques:

a. Someone will have to hold up her head but the supporting 'puppeteer's' arm will need to be erased with the power of PhotoShop
b. We could put a ruler up her romper suit and behind her neck before taking the photo
(I suspect we could get into trouble for option b.)

Anyway, imagine the quality of the facial data you'd get from a picture taken with either technique. Imagine again, how different the baby will look on each successive birthay...

But, rant aside, I am very happy as I now have a nephew and I hope soon to have a daughter...

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Easter goodness

I’ve had a very lovely Easter break in Cologne. Of course, being a religious festival, in this religious country, shops were shut for the whole weekend, forcing Simon and I to spend the time slightly differently to how we would have done in England. The biggest culture shock: no DIY shop visits or shopping for clothes…

On Good Friday we went to one of the largest parks here and enjoyed lunch by a lake followed by a visit to a ‘pets’ corner’ (a reconnaissance mission for when we have an actual child to bring…). There are some really tame deer in the park, which you can feed. Check out the surely-award-winning-standard nature documentary that we put together for your amusement. I think you'll really learn something...

Okay, perhaps all you got from the video was a little bit of conversational German. But still, that's something isn't it?

We were lucky enough to be invited to a great dinner party on Sunday. (The first time I’d ever done something so constructive on Easter, if my memory serves me well. We’re more than likely to be out for a pub lunch on that holiest of days.) It was an amusing dinner party, not least because we had to bring our own meat and potatoes: the hostess realised too late that her supplies had gone off and she couldn’t buy any because the shops were shut. The nationalities in attendance: Lithuanian, American/Polish, German, Belgian and English! What a movable feast of guests and all with really interesting stories to tell.

On the Monday we went to the big modern art gallery in the centre of town, to check out a photography exhibition. We rounded off the event with a nice lunch in the gallery café.

Mandarin duckIt was a fantastic weekend and I do think we spent it more creatively than we would have done in England. Plus, we really wanted to make the most of the time off for I am due to give birth in just three days… (Note: my sister was due to give birth last week, but she is now late, so it's possible we could end up giving birth extremely close to each other!)

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Far-seeing apparatus

Far-seeing apparatus* is the literal translation of the word Germans use for TV. It is an almost reverential term – and that is apt as that is how I am feeling about TV today.

Let me explain…

I have now been in Germany four months. And in that time I have not had access to UK TV. This is because we have had such a long list of things to do in order to move in that TV had to be downgraded to a luxury, not an essential. (If you imagine starting your whole life again, that is what we have been doing: unpacking, working out how to do our groceries, finding healthcare practitioners, making up flat pack furniture, buying a car, getting insurance for cars, household and people, making new friends, etc, etc…)

In the four months without TV these are the effects I have felt:

• I have been more likely to go out in the evenings and do stuff.
• I have not properly switched off my brain so have been a bit ‘tense’ (Sorry husband dearest.)
• As a couple, my husband and I have not relaxed together – we have got into the habit of one person roaming hither and thither on the internet and the other person reading a book – usually in different rooms.
• My knowledge of British cultural affairs has come solely from the internet and a weekly expat newspaper subscription – as well as my Dad, who has at times chosen to make up stories to see if his gullible daughter would fall for them. Which she did.
• I have mostly missed being able to watch the BBC Breakfast news while eating my cornflakes and putting on my make up. It would have amazed my younger self if you had told her that she would miss news broadcasts.
• Well documented amongst my friends, I have also missed Eastenders terribly. Some of them would also question my sanity at this point.

It has been an interesting experiment, but luckily now all that is behind me. For recently we spent a Saturday buying the satellite dish and all the kit (no mean feat in a German shop). Yesterday we had a couple of satellite installers round to do the scary / scientific bit where they have to climb on the roof of our four storey block and angle the dish correctly. After two hours of fiddling they managed to get it all to work and now we have access to most of the Freeview channels. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the afternoon indulging in the kind of afternoon telly that I wouldn’t normally even watch at home. Flog it, Countdown, Jeremy Kyle... Oh yes, I lapped it all up. Then later I hurried back from my yoga class to indulge in a lovely half hour of the ‘Enders. With my far-seeing apparatus I can see all the way back to Blighty...and even to the Queen Vic in Walford. Bliss.