Sunday, December 31, 2006

Meeting the Neighbours

One of the couples who live on our street had a little get-together last night for everyone who lives on the street. It was a good chance to meet some of the people who are our neighbours, although we had met some already, partly by chance on the street, partly due to the note we had sent out before. We took along Lena, having bought her a party dress the day before for her big debut. She was the belle of the ball as they say, very well behaved, which of course made her endearing to everyone. Don't think they would have ooh'ed and ah'ed the same way if she had been screaming her head off.

Everyone is very friendly and it's nice to know the people around you. Nearly all have said something to the effect of feeling free to drop by for a cup of tea or if we need any help, to be sure to let them know. It was also good to have the chance to start to possibly make friends, as unlike living in a "foreign" country (England is a foreign country for us, but not in the larger scope of the word), there's no quick way to meet other expats by going to a local bar or to some sort of English-speaking event.
Of course we will meet people here, but it's something I've known for a long time - people who grew up in one place don't have to go out of their way to meet new people. It's not that you are against meeting new people, but you already have a large circle of friends from growing up in the place and most are likely to be around for a long time. Whereas, when you are an expat in a foreign country, you don't have that built-up social network, so you are always open to meeting new people, because if all your other friends are also expats, they could move away any day. Living away from your home forces you to be more sociable than you might otherwise be.

Back to the neighbours; they are apparently quite a gregarious lot, and are already talking about a barbeque for the summer and/or a street party later in the year. Everyone also enjoyed being able to drink up and not have to worry about catching a taxi, haha! I look forward to more events with them all.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Advice for Wexham Park birth clinic

If you came here via a link looking for information on Wexham Park and giving birth there, click here: Giving birth at Wexham Park for all my posts about it.

Lena was born in the birth centre at Wexham Park hospital. A lot of people have come across my blog by doing a search on Wexham and birth, so I thought I would offer a few tips and advice based on what we experienced.

They were very accommodating to whatever I needed when we went in. They even suggested I take a bath and ran it for me. Later, it was no problem to take another when I felt like it.

It wasn't busy in the actual birthing centre. One woman came in and gave birth while I was there, but other than that, I was the only woman in there over a period of 18 hours or so. Don't worry about room at the inn, if you know what I mean. The post-natal ward was full however, but I couldn't say if that is normal or not.

There aren't beds there, but when it was 3 in the morning and we were both trying to sleep, with me on the beanbag, they did bring in a thick foam mattress for G. He wasn't stuck lying on the floor or in a chair.

The midwives were very good about providing water, tea and biscuits. I would recommend bringing in your own sugar supplies though, because you will probably want them. I brought müsli bars, which I wouldn't do again. I think something easier to chew when you are tired or busy in a contraction is better. Think more like chocolate or digestive cookies.

Drink lots of water and keep going to the toilet to let it out.

The fans in the rooms are a godsend. I used G as my slave, getting him to turn it on and off at my whim. Sometimes you are really really hot, sometimes you don't like the breeze.

After the birth, there was no rush to get up and out of the birthing room. Take your time and enjoy those first few moments. Anything they want to do will go on around you, you don't have to move.

Don't be afraid to be assertive with what you want. I know that's not usually a British trait, "mustn't grumble" often being the idea. But you and your baby are the focus here, so use the opportunity. If you want more water, get someone to get you some. If there is a certain medical procedure that you don't want done (in my case, breaking my waters artificially), unless it's really necessary for the health of you or your baby, don't be afraid to say you don't want it. They might try and convince you otherwise, but the choice is yours. If you are overwhelmed, don't be afraid to ask for support, be it mental or physical.

Last point - we decided to pay the extra money for a private room in the Astor suite. There were a couple reasons for this. One, the post-natal ward of the birthing centre was pretty full, so it would have been us and 5 other mothers with newborns, which isn't really how we wanted to spend the first few hours with our child. No offense to any of those lovely ladies. Two, I had been having contractions since Wednesday morning and by the time Lena came on Saturday morning, I was exhausted. It was fabulous to be able to get some sleep in a room alone with her. There was way more room for all our stuff too. Three, it's not like you give birth everyday. It's a lot of money (145 or 175 pounds per night, including meals) but it's not like we are going to be staying there once a week or anything. It was worth the splurge for us, but others might decide to save it for something else. To each their own.

I hope some of these points might help someone else with their birth. Good luck to you and happy delivery!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Shopping service

After our unsuccessful attempt to go shopping on Boxing Day, we tried again on the 27th with a good deal more success. We went to Tescos one of the major supermarket chains in the UK. It was another 24 hour one, but not the one from Boxing Day. I find the definition of "open 24 hours" a bit amusing. They are open 24 hours a day, as long as you want to go shopping from 8am Monday to 10pm Saturday. They are open Saturday and Sunday, but not nights. To me, open 24 hours would mean 7 days a week. I'm glad that I found this out before trying some late Saturday evening. Still they are open longer than most places.

Anyways, I was quite impressed with it, right from the approach. The parking lot doesn't just have disabled parking, but it has parent and tot parking. This is so that parents with small children don't have to slog across the entire lot with groceries and child(ren); they can park close to the entrance exit. I had seen this before, but this Tescos had more than just a token one or two spaces, there were several there. And the best thing, they have an extra meter or so of space between each spot, so you have room to manoeuvre a shopping cart or a stroller beside the car. Also enough room to actually open the door and pull out the baby and car seat without having to resort to yoga-like contortions.

We didn't park there because it was full, but just past it. Next nice thing was - the aisles of parking have a space between them to walk down. So instead of being nose to nose with the next row of cars, there are posts to keep them spaced and a big roomy walking area between. Also much nicer than trying to dodge reversing cars, puddles and so on.

Once we got to the front of the shop, we had a choice of about 5 different types of shopping trolleys. They had the ones shaped like cars for toddlers to ride around in while mom and dad put the groceries in the top section. They had regular trolleys, plus shallower versions of the same for those who don't fill a huge one when buying a week's worth of groceries. Save your back, not having to bend down so low for a few items. Then they had the trolleys with the built-in baby seats. We were considering transferring Lena from her car seat to one of these when we shown another type of trolley by one of the employees. It had a big tray on top, where you could rest the car seat, plus a seat belt to keep it securely in place. I wish I could find a picture to show you what I mean but the Internet seems to be empty of trolley spotters taking pictures of the different types.

I know it might seem silly to be so pleased about a parking space and a shopping trolley, but having spent many years living in a country where I'd be sometimes lucky to find a basket to use to shop with and every trolley demanded a deposit before it could be taken anywhere, it was a nice change.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Braving Boxing Day

We are about to head out for the first time since coming home two days ago. A bit crazy to head to the shops on Boxing Day, when everyone and their dog will be out, trying to get the best after-Christmas deals. But when there are things the baby needs, a more convenient time doesn't really come into play. And we have to do it sooner or later. I'll let you know how it goes when we return.

[several hours later]

Well, that was pretty easy. Simply because the places we wanted to go to weren't open! I guess every retailer in Britain is open, but not the grocery stores. Even the 24-hour Tescos closed just before we got there. Huh.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Lovely Lena

As you might have guessed from the lack of updates, we were pretty busy the last few days. Lena was born on Christmas Eve eve in the morning. I'll save you all the gory details and just tell you the important bits:

Weight: 4.080kg. For the heathens, 9 pounds, 0 ounces.
Length: 51.5cm, or 20.3 inches.
Name: Lena J. (we say it LAY-na) Unlike her mother, she's taking G's last name.
Date and Time: December 23, 2006,
at 8:24am GST.

And a few pictures to keep everyone, including the proud parents, happy:

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Nearly ready

Our home-grown clone still isn't quite ready to present to the world, but the signs are there that things are moving. I won't go into more detail of the signs, other than the head is more engaged and I'm getting lots of practice (Braxton-Hicks) contractions. If you are in a pool, I'd bet on a date between now and Christmas. No guarantees for loss of income if I'm wrong though.

Monday, December 18, 2006


I've updated about half the posts in my blog with labels so far. The older posts still don't have labels, so you'll have to do more work to find them. If you see an obvious topic that I haven't included in my labels, leave a comment or drop me a line. The label list is at the bottom of every page including this one, so just scroll down and see if you can find what you are looking for.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Greeting people

We went out for a walk this afternoon onto the moor. No ankle mishaps this time, but lots of people and dogs out as it was lovely weather. A slight bit chilly, but other than when the breeze caught you or you noticed the lack of leaves on the trees, you would never know it's only a week until Christmas and nearly the shortest day of the year. I'm glad we got to get out and enjoy the sunshine.

I wish there was an easy greeting to give people here like there is in Bavaria. In Bavaria when we'd be out walking, you simply say "Grüß Gott" [groosz got] to everyone who crosses your path. It is a shortened version of the longer (and never used) greeting "Grüße dich Gott", which directly translated means "Greetings to God". This is a bit of a mistranslation, as the grüßen (greeting) verb here has the older meaning of blessing, rather than greeting. So it actually means "God bless you". Even non-Bavarians will make a joke of the direct translation though, answering "Yes, when I see him" or "Hopefully not too soon". But normally when you are out and about on a walk, if you say "Grüß Gott" to any group of people you come across, they will automatically answer back with a "Grüß Gott", especially anyone slightly older. Younger people might give more of a "Servus" or "Hallo" to each other. You can say it when you go into a small shop to greet everyone there or when you walk into the waiting room at the doctor's office as well. I loved getting this automatic interaction with people, it's seriously drummed in as the polite thing to say. It doesn't mean you are going to start having conversation with everyone there, it is simply cheery and nice; you aren't ignoring the fact that there are other people out there with you.

The British are friendly, they will smile or nod when you cross paths with them, but there isn't such a formal easy-to-use greeting. I say "Afternoon" when appropriate, but it just doesn't quite have the same feeling to it. "Hello" isn't quite right either, it sounds like you are about to engage them in conversation. Of course, the people sometimes aren't quite ready to be greeted either, so they don't have a quick reply ready, leaving them to just say "hello" back or give you a nod. "Good day", although appropriate at all times, sounds awfully formal, something you only here in 18/19th century period dramas with a "Good day sir!" to dismiss someone. I guess in time I'll probably get used to not greeting people, but I'd rather have something to say.

Oh, and for anyone who thinks that "Grüß Gott" is way to religious to say, remember that "goodbye" comes from the expression "God be with ye". It's just words for most nowadays.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Last Days

Yesterday was the last meeting of our NCT (National Childbirth Trust) antenatal class. Everyone was interested to see if we would make it or not, as I ours is the first baby due and they had the due date. There's another woman due on Tuesday, so we were joking, wondering who will have theirs first.

The class was good, running for several weeks every Thursday night. It was for both the mothers and fathers-to-be, which I think is good too. If you don't have a partner, okay, then perhaps a mothers-only group makes sense, but if you are in a relationship, why wouldn't you want your partner to know what's going to happen during the birth and what will happen in the first few weeks after? They are going to be there too, after all. Even if all the responsibility is left to the mother (for shame!), it's not like you can exactly ignore a newborn in the house, is it? Well, maybe some can. The point is moot, as all the fathers in our group seemed pretty supportive.

I'm afraid I'm not really in the mood to write much more here, but as some of you might take a lack of posts to mean a baby is arriving, I thought I should post a little something to let you know that isn't the case.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Britain - A semi-civilized country

I have a little joke I like to tease my friends with. I tell them that Canada is the only civilized country in the world. There are only 3 qualifications for it, but Canada is still the only country.
  1. They speak English.
  2. They drive on the right side of the road.
  3. They use the Metric system.
Now this always gets people into a tizzy, but it's only a joke.

To a certain extent.

I will overlook all you island-dwellers driving on the left. You are on an island and there's no one else to confuse with this. Plus the fact that there's no really good reason for that to be counted other than right is a synonym of correct. So that let's the Australians off the hook. But when it comes to using metric, there is no excuse. Especially when Britain is half-way there already. Why can't you just go all the way? Anything you buy in the grocery store is measured in metric. The temperatures are given in Celsius. But you use the heathen Imperial measurements of miles and gallons when it comes to driving. Yes, heathen! It's evil, it's silly, it's ancient and makes no sense. I know my parents still occasionally use it, despite having conversion forced upon them in the 70s. But they at least do know and understand and normally use metric.

Even worse is when it comes to measuring a person's weight. They use rocks. Sorry "stone". At least as casual measurements. I think they might just be civilized enough to use kilograms for official things. But stone! What, do we live in the time of Fred Flinstone and the only thing we can weigh people with are rocks? Before pregnancy, I weighed around 11.5 stone. G weighs around 14.5 stone. To anyone outside of Britain, we could be really close or really far in weight, there's no way to tell. I heard on the radio that Nicole Ritchie was arrested and told police that she weighed 6 stone. My first thought was "I bet she didn't tell police how many rocks she weighed". My second thought was "Is that a lot for what she's supposed to weigh or only a little?" I had no idea, I had to sit and do some mental math to figure it out. Which was before breakfast and not my favourite time to start the brain in high gear. The whole stone thing drives me around the bend.

I thank the powers that be that at least the Brits managed to decimalize the currency before I arrived.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

No News is News

Eagle-eyed readers will know that today is my due date. Babies however, are not like German trains, coming exactly to schedule. In fact, apparently only 3-5% of mothers actually deliver on their due date. In Henci Goer's book, The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth, she says that a 1990 study of a group of healthy, white, first-time mothers showed that on average their pregnancies lasted 8 days longer than their given due date. Unfortunately, I can't find the statistics to back this up, though most antecdotal evidence seems to point at the fact that most first babies are later than the due date. Why they give you this date in the first place then, I don't know. I guess just so you have something exact to tell people when they ask when it's due, rather than just saying "sometime between the beginning and end of December".

I'm not impatient at all, I wasn't expecting things to happen today anyways. By the weekend I might having a bit more let's-get-this-show-on-the-road feeling. We'll see. So in the meantime, no need to call or email anxiously.

P.S. I've updated to Blogger Beta, which puts subject labels on the posts, so you can more easily search through my posts for similar topics. It's not retroactive though, if I want to label any previous posts, I'll have to edit it. So if you are looking for something specific, don't think it's no longer there if it doesn't link with a label.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Hashing in England

We went to the Berkshire Hash Sunday run yesterday. They are one of the Hashes located close to us, and this past run happened to be one of the runs that actually is very near us. Lots of the others are on the other side of Reading, which isn't too far, but certainly farther than the 15 minutes it took us to get there yesterday. What made it especially pleasant was there were several Hashers we knew from our trip to Prague and Cesky Raj in summer 2005. They were all pleased to see us, if surprised. Even more surprised when we said we weren't just over for a visit but had moved to the area. Of course, I managed to get several more good surprised looks on faces when I told people I was due in 2 days. Haha, it was worth going just to see that! G had a good run with them, where as I just walked to the first checkpoint and then had a bit of a bummel around the area until they came back. No way was I up to walking around 6 miles over hill and dale.

Everyone was very nice, so hopefully we'll get out to Hash with them again soon.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wexham Park Birth Centre

If you came here via a link looking for information on Wexham Park and giving birth there, click here: Giving birth at Wexham Park for all my posts about it.

We've decided to have the birth at Wexham Park Birth Centre. There are several reasons for this. One, when we saw it on the tour a week or so ago, it definitely had a nicer atmosphere than the labour ward downstairs. Nothing wrong with the labour ward, but you definitely know you are in a hospital when you are there. The birth centre in comparison was much more relaxed. Dimmer lights, nobody rushing around, no strange machines that go ping*. We were there last week, unfortunately late for the 36-week chat (both for the chat and for 36 weeks) but everyone had lots of time to answer all our questions, absolutely no sense of rushing. There was a woman giving birth in one of the rooms, but you couldn't hear anything. So no scary noises to stress you out. Two, I had considered going to Heatherwood, but we never made it for the tour. Plus, my paperwork was sent there on November 9th and as of December 1st, it still wasn't ready. Not really a good sign. The person in charge of the paperwork had been off sick for 2 weeks, but isn't there anyone else who can do it in the meantime? I tried to contact them again this week, but wasn't able to reach anyone. So, due to this delay, not being able to do a tour of the place and also it being a fair bit farther from us than Wexham is, we decided against Heatherwood. Three, the birth centre at Wexham is low-key and midwife-led, so birth interventions should be at a minimum. However, in case anything should go wrong (knock on wood against that), they are part of the bigger hospital, with obstetricians, pediatricians and all the necessary equipment in case something does go wrong. So with it being both low-tech but with a technical back-up, it made the most sense to us.

We went to Wexham yesterday for an antenatal visit. Poor girl, we were with her for about 90 minutes because she had to fill in all the paperwork again. But she was really friendly and bubbly, giving us even more reassurance that we'd made the right decision to have the birth there. Anyways, everything is still A-okay and progressing normally. We'll see when the big show actually starts, don't hold your collective breath yet.

* - The machine that goes "ping" is part of a Monty Python sketch entitled "The Miracle of Birth". It's from the movie "The Meaning of Life". It is quite ironically funny in how the birth becomes such a technical thing that the mother and baby are really a side issue to the whole process. You can read the sketch here, or if you have Flash, watch the video below. (don't mind the Portugese? subtitles)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Last Red Kite post, promise

I'm only posting this because I think it's quite a coincidence. Right after my post yesterday, a flyer came through the mail advertising a new book that's being sold. It's an updated version of "Birds in a Village", which was originally written by W.H. Hudson. It's called "Birds in a Village, a Century On" by Brian Clews. And what do we see on the flyer? A picture of a red kite! I see today that it's being advertised on the Cookham website too, so I hope they took a fee for that, and not just did it for free to have something to report about Cookham. So with my post on Monday and yesterday, that puts me ahead of the curve, topical posts before it's known by all. I haven't actually seen the book, so I can't make any comment on the content. If you want to send me a copy Brian, get in touch and I'll review it here for you.

Later today, a post about what's happening on the baby front.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Red Kite photo

Here's a photo of a red kite. It's not really as good as I would like, as the tail looks somewhat different to how it's pictured here. However, it's a copyright-free image, so until I get a photo of one of the local ones myself, or someone let me use one of their photos instead, it will have to do. It at least gives you an idea of what I've spotted in the skies above me.

EDIT: Here's a couple more photos, used with the kind permission of Ian McGuire, an Owl Conservationist and Wildlife Photographer. His website, especially if you are into owls, is

Monday, December 04, 2006

Train and Bird Spotting

I'm hoping that bird spotting isn't considered quite so geeky as trainspotting by the general population, as I out my experience in this next post.

Trainspotting, in case you don't know it, isn't just a film starring Ewan McGregor, nor a book by Irvine Welsh, upon which the film was based. It's a hobby for people who like trains. They like them enough to go and hang out at stations and along train lines, to write down the different train numbers and engines, to take pictures and keep track of which trains travel which routes. Most people who aren't into it think it's a bit strange.
Obviously, hanging around outside, waiting for a train to go by, can be a chilly way to spend an afternoon in certain seasons. So a sensible trainspotter would wear a heavy jacket, often an anorak/parka. From this, the word "anorak" in Britain has become a slang term to refer to a person who has a geeky and precise knowledge of something off the wall. I heard it used just yesterday on a re-run of Top Gear, when a man in the audience regonised a car as a Ferrari just from the sound of the motor. Jeremy Clarkson (the show's host) called him Britain's biggest anorak.

But I haven't been trainspotting, I've been bird spotting. Several times in the last week or so I've noticed some sort of bird of prey hovering above the neighbourhood. There were actually two of them most of the time. They are quite distinctive and I think I may have figured out what they are: Red Kites, aka Milvus milvus. They have a very distinctive V-shaped tail and big white patches on the underside of their wings. I could of course be wrong, but having looked at a few pictures, I think I'm right. I'll add a picture here in a while.
What makes this a bit exciting is that red kites were fairly rare until recently. You had to go to Wales if you wanted to see them in Britain. Due to a successful reintroduction program, they seem to be on the comeback.

I'm both amused and pleased with myself for actually having gone to the trouble of figuring out what the bird was. It might be a slippery slope down towards anorak territory, but not quite yet.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sunday musings

I got my hair cut and coloured at a local place in Cookham. I have to say, it's a really really gorgeous colour, I haven't had such a nice job done in a few years. I'm not so sure about the cut itself, I'll maybe give it about a week to sort itself out before I give my final verdict. It's nice and short, but he styled it in a sort of 1950s Beatles style.

It's a bit longer than the Fab Four wore theirs, but the bangs (or fringe, for the British and Aussie readers) and style are the same. I think he went with something a bit conservative since it was my first time. As I said, I'll wait a week to decide completely about it, see how it responds to my (lack of) care.

One other thing I wanted to mention this morning is how dark it is around here. There are hardly any streetlights in Cookham. Now I don't want a blaze of strobe lights or anything, but it would be nice if there were enough lights to be able to walk down the street and actually see the sidewalk you are walking on. This isn't limited to Cookham, it's the same in other small towns and villages too. The main street might have lights, but as soon as you go off of that, they are few and far between. In our half mile (860 meter) walk to the local store, until we hit the main street, which is the last 100 meters/yards, there is all of 2 street lights. I'm not scared or anything walking through the area, I just wish I could see the ground to prevent me from yet again twisting my ankle. (See here and here for other twists)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Cookham Recon - The Butcher, Bakers and Kangaroo Song Maker

In my bid to learn more about Cookham and area, I did some investigative work this morning.

First, I went to the Cookham Country Market. It's a local market that happens every Friday from 8:30-10:30am at Pinder Hall, one of Cookham's meeting halls that is located conveniently close to me. The local market is part of a larger co-operative that helps to organise local markets across "England, Wales and the Channel Islands". It does make me wonder about Scotland. Are there not enough people there who are interested? Do they have their own co-op? Do they like doing it without a co-op? Enquiring minds want to know.

Back to the market. It wasn't very big, there were about 8 tables set up. They were selling cakes, cupcakes, minces pies and Christmas cakes for bakery items. There was some yummy fudge made with goat's milk and a stand with jams, jellies, marmalades and chutneys. Along with this, there was a stand with fresh eggs, a stand with very reasonably-priced jewellry (I feel like Bridget Jones's mother saying that) and a couple of stands selling cards. I didn't take a good look at the cards, as I wasn't interested - I was after food - but I think they were seasonal Christmas cards mainly. I bought a cake, some mince pies and some chutney, which totalled around 6.40. Pretty good prices, if you ask me. So if you are in Cookham and have time to head down on Friday mornings and want a few treats, I would recommend it. I've already tried the cake and it's delicious.

On the way back I stopped off at Maceys. Keith Macey is a local butcher who offers organic and free range meat products in his butcher's shop. He's normally open Friday through Sunday. Nice work if you can get it! Probably more goes on than just that, I'm guessing. Anyways, he's a nice fellow and we had a little chat as he is often over in Bavaria as one of his marinade/spice suppliers is near Nuremberg. I bought some minty lamb kebabs, so can report back to you later today or tomorrow as to how they were.

Lastly, I was reading the Cookham website and saw that Rolf Harris was at the opening of the new Indian restaurant near us on Monday. I don't know if he's a Cookhamite (thanks to Anonymous for telling me the correct term for a Cookham local) or from somewhere nearby. Who is Rolf Harris? Shame on you for not knowing! He's an Australian icon and you probably know his work, even if you don't know his name. He wrote and sang the classic "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport", which I am certain that 90% of you have heard. My Hashing friends will also recognise a rather lewd version we sing occasionally at Hash (but that I won't repeat here). He also sang one of my and my dad's favourite Christmas songs - "Six White Boomers". What fun it was as a kid to jump around the kitchen like I was a kangaroo pulling Santa's sleigh. Anyways, I hope Mr. Harris had a nice meal at Little India; we hope to make it there soon ourselves.