Friday, 14 December 2012

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen


That's the Danish word for thank you, but also an adjective for some of the complete rubbish sold in the Christmas markets in Copenhagen. We ticked off a first on the cities list this weekend and actually stopped there instead of by-passing it enroute to an industrial estate in Odense (see previous blog on pickled herrings). And what an amazing city it is. We went for the Christmas markets but, actually, we only found one (can't have been looking that hard) and, apart from a very popular Glogg cabin and a hut selling glass Danish flag tree decorations, it was selling really bad shoes which you could buy at home any day if you were suddenly overcome with such a desire. Having just got back from Manchester, it seems all the good Christmas markets are there. Who'd have thought it?

Tak did become a much used word this weekend because the Danes are SO nice. It's very rewarding to have your faith in human nature restored and at the same time drink your bodyweight in champagne and Barbera and not get charged for it. This is what happened when we arrived at the bistro we had booked for dinner on the first night (Adendum). A sign in Danish on the door said (presumably) "Closed - private function". The manager explained he'd been trying to call us for a couple of days. Yeah, right, we thought. He disappeared with the phone, came back, poured us two glasses of champagne, gave us a plate of salted almonds and 400 Krone and said he'd booked a taxi to take us to their sister restaurant where the owner would be waiting for us with more champagne. Happy Days. And so off we trotted to Bibendum where, indeed, there was more champagne, a very fine meal and we weren't charged for our wine either. Consequently we ended up going back to Adendum twice over the weekend. Who said customer service was dead?

Can't explain the dummies
Denmark has a relatively high suicide rate - presumably because the hours of darkness are long, winters are arctic and wine is bloody expensive. But even given that, we were surprised to see so many padlocks strung along the wires of a footbridge spanning the river. Like flowers by the roadside we assumed they had been placed there in memory of those who had fallen to their deaths into the river below but then two things struck us - there were literally thousands of them and the river was only about 6 ft below the bridge. Even the most determined would have been hard-pushed to even break a fingernail falling from there. On closer inspection it turned out that they were padlocks of luuuuuurve. I suppose there's not much else to do when it's dark and sub-zero and wine is so expensive.

"It's not the cough that carries you off,
it's the coffin they carry you off in"
attributed to my gran, c 1982
Ironically, if you are heading towards that bridge with the sole intention of hurling yourself into the icy waters below, you pass a shop window on the way which has a very fine coffin in it. I kid you not. Perhaps the Danes would rather choose their own than rely on their relatives to select an appropriate one - it's actually a very sensible thing to do. I can tell you now that I don't want pink lining in mine.

 I expect that coffin is very expensive, like everything else. It didn't have a price tag and if you have to ask you can't afford it. It costs £12 to get into Tivoli Gardens, the only option once you're inside being to spend even more money on bratwursts and glogg. Or on the world's most expensive roller coaster - £9 for a ride of terror that was so short I barely had time to open my mouth to scream.

As Danny Kaye sang in 1952, Copenhagen is indeed wonderful wonderful.


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Ludus Supra Praemium

The Game Before The Prize.

We had that school motto drummed into us for 7 years and I'm fairly sure that none of us really understood what it meant even when we left. If you google that Latin phrase, it takes you straight to the Wikipedia page of the prison of my formative years, Wolverhampton Girls' High School. In fact,  the only references Google seems to find  for that phrase are to WGHS so I do wonder whether it's a motto the school invented. It's been on my mind lately because, through the wonderful medium of Facebook, we discovered on Monday that our beloved Latin and French teacher died at the weekend and the news immediately got me thinking back to how awful we were to him. We gave him such a hard time and apparently he still spoke of us fondly. How bad do we feel now? 

Patrick Royston
Mr Royston - a true legend, source of much
hilarity and permitter of
surreptitious banana eating
WGHS  - god how I hated it. On the day my 11-plus results came through and my parents beamed with pride, I burst into tears and swore I wouldn't go to such a posh school. I don't know whether it's changed but it certainly wasn't posh. I seem to remember around 50% of the year above me leaving when they got pregnant at 15. That may be a slight exaggeration. The only posh thing about it was the head who sported a fine collection of peacock feather-patterned outfits and whose hands were scrubbed to within an inch of their lives. It was a vicious circle - the deputy head hauled my dad in to school when I was doing my 'A' Levels  to tell him I'd been skiving (when actually I hadn't but she swore blind it was me) which in turn made me skive. I turned into one of those middle aged men who get made redundant but can't face telling their wives and spend all day watching the ducks from a park bench. I'd pick up my lunchbox in the morning, drive to school, or in the general direction of it, drive around aimlessly for the day and then drive home. The only thing I used to turn up for were my A level Latin lessons. It's amazing I ever got any A levels. Though Dad was so disgusted with my grades when he drove me to collect them, that he stalked back to the car and drove the 15 miles home on his own, leaving me to get the bus.

Colditz or WGHS? But I'd still send any
daughter of mine there.
Ironically, it's a brilliant school and is always amongst the top few schools in the league tables but it was super-strict (though not as strict as my sister's where the head nun only allowed "salt & shake" crisps in lunchboxes so that she could confiscate the salt. There'd be a human rights case against that today.) Our skirts were regulation, we weren't allowed to stamp our feet during the school song, Latin was compulsory (though I do agree with that - look where it got me) and the lunches were disgusting. I'm dredging through my last remaining brain cells to see if there are any good things I remember about it - I guess gazing longingly and hormonally at the boys from St Peters CofE over the fence, chartering an entire train bound for York for our 75th anniversary, the visit from Lionel Blair where the press photo shows my hair looking like an almost exact replica of his and not having to worry that carving graffiti in the desks that were installed in 1911 was going to, in any way, damage them.

Our Latin & French teacher wasn't a beacon of normality within a prison of weirdness. Far from. But he was a very nice bloke. Very softly spoken, very shy and very kind and as, a consequence, bullied by us. He's the only teacher who ever let me eat a banana in class and on the day I left he handed me a huge leather-bound 100 year old Latin dictionary which he'd inscribed with something I still can't translate to this day. I went on to do Latin as part of my degree but I've always been spectacularly rubbish. Not due to his teaching though, I have to say. Clearly I was inspired by him. Either that or the knowledge that my final year at uni would consist of 3 hours a week and that was on a Monday. It does make you wonder why some people want to do medicine when they could do Latin.

This really is sort of an homage to a lovely man who taught a bunch of girls who are quite upset about his death 22 years after last seeing him. As someone posted  - "Kids - be nice to your teachers as its only when its too late do you really appreciate how fab they were". It's so true. Teenagers are possibly amongst the most evil creatures on the planet. I know, I've seen them getting the train home from Salisbury.

Anyway, there's a very fine rendition of the school song on You Tube. This was recorded in 2010 but still gives you an idea of how truly dreadful it was. Their voices are better than ours were and they don't stamp their feet.
Bizarrely, I have known the words off by heart for the last 29 years which is scary and the same amount of time as I have known the words to Billy Joel's Uptown Girl. 

I'd still send any daughter of mine there. Watch out Molly!

Monday, 3 December 2012

I'm gonna beat that rat, that's what I'm gonna do....

I think 4 bereavements in 18 months is enough for anyone. My Mum, my grandad, Paddington the ginger tom then Euston the silver tabby. Today I had to say goodbye to the rat in mi kitchen (utility room). The Rat Catcher Extraordinaire arrived this morning, unscrewed the skirting under the cupboard and we discovered our little furry rodent friend sleeping peacefully and permanently in his nest. My, he was big and it does explain why I thought there was a body being dragged above my office. But he looked so sweet and harmless dead that I actually felt quite sad. Still, he's now residing in a Waitrose carrier bag in the bin outside and we're 80 quid lighter.

"Just let me at 'im.....see how
mean and menacing I am"
So, I'm not sure if it was the presence of rodents in the cavities that prompted The Boy to exclaim in front of the children "perhaps it's about time we got another cat" or it might have been the beer and wine he'd had in the run up but the upshot is that next week we are rescuing a grey kitten. He's ex-feral, if there is such a state as ex-feral or would you say he's a reformed feral? The point is he was a farm kitten and so mousing should be in his blood. He should be able to smell a rat from 500 cat paces though at the moment, if our rodent was alive, I'd put money on him to win any cat v rat fight.

Talking of rats, I had a nice visit from British Transport Police on Thursday. She was lovely and had been sent to catch the rat who crashed into my car and drove off during the 4 minutes it took me to buy a train ticket. It's not the first time I've had to play detective - I was escorted down to Moss Side police station when I was a student to identify the big scary man who I had confronted hours before as he sauntered out of our living room nonchalantly stuffing our video player under his jacket (this was 1992 afterall and he was deliberately wearing a batwing leather jacket). I identified him sure enough - he was very distinctive. Then the police told me not to bother doing anything about it because the burglar knew where I lived. Very reassuring. So it was refreshing to see a police lady who was very proactive and praised my skills in memorising the number plate of the only car I saw in the car park. I'm pretty sure it was him -he was busy doing a handbrake turn suspiciously near my car which is a feat in itself in that carpark. Not sure how much more I can say in case it goes to court. I wouldn't invariably have been that bothered because I hate that car and the sooner it goes the way of the rat the better but a) we were going to sell it that week to get something altogther cooler than a Skoda and b) it wasn't our Saab my friend reversed into the previous week. This colossal dent would have completely obliterated hers and she would have been let off the hook so it's bad luck for her too. Sorry Judith.

So, next Monday I collect the cat. We are working our way around London railway stations. We've had Paddington and Euston and Fenchurch was going to be next but that's a girl's name apparently. Really?? So, it might be Waterloo. St Pancras sounds too much like an internal organ and Marylebone is too difficult for the kids to pronounce and could result in some interesting conversations. Any suggestions gratefully received.......

He can even have his own monogrammed hoody