Sunday, April 29, 2007

Plots and Monopoly Spots

So I took the plunge and got an allotment. Very exciting. Actually, everyone I've talked to about having an allotment seems kind of excited about the idea too. It must be trendy. I went down there yesterday to do a bit of weeding. It's accurate to say a bit, I probably cleared one square meter out of the around fifty I have. But it's a start at least. It was funny, walking down there with my garden fork. It was like I was an angry villager, looking for a mob to join. I wonder what all the parents and children going to the Cookham Schools Prom (part of the Cookham Festival) thought of it. Probably most of them know that there are a group of allotment plots near Cookham Rise school. At least I hope they know and didn't just think I was trying to add colour to the village by walking around in my purple-flowered rubber boots and pitchfork...

In other news, Hasbro is coming out with a new "Here & Now" UK Monopoly edition. People can vote on what places get to be spots on the board. There's a chance for even little places to get onto the board as wildcards. So go here and vote for Cookham!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What's in a name?

What's in a name? That which we call my last name would be just as difficult for the English to spell. Which is particularly funny, because it's a very common Scottish surname. Yes, there are many variations of it, and yes, it's not spelled the way it sounds. But honestly, I've had more misspellings of my name here, on this tiny island where the origin of the name is a mere 1000km away, than I ever did in Germany where the name is not well known. I guess it's because in Germany I would spell it out using the German phonetic alphabet so there could be no mistaking how it was spelled. It took me ages to get used to it, as it's totally different from the "Alpha Bravo Charlie" of the English-speaking system. The Germans use German first names (for the most part) instead, so it starts off as "Anton Berta Caesar". So for example, old Tony would say "Berta Ludwig Anton Ida Richard" to spell his last name. Or I live in Caesar Otto Otto Kaufmann Heinrich Anton Martha. When I first heard it, someone would be spelling something to me on the phone and rattling off these words at a million miles a second and I would think they wanted me to write these words, not realising they were using them to spell something. The Germans use this spelling alphabet far more than any English speakers do. It's quite useful, once you finally get used to it. For one, my name was never misspelled after I learnt the system. Maybe I should try the same with the English. Canadians never had trouble with the name either by the way; it's a far more common surname where I came from in Canada than it is around these southern regions of England.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I'm Famous!

Well, perhaps not famous, but I received two bits of recognition for my blog today. One, on the Cookham discussion forum, someone said mentioned my blog and said that I'm "obviously quite a bright spark". Thank you, that's very kind of you to say. I sometimes feel more like the burnt ember, but glad to know I come across more as a bright spark.

Two happened in person. The Cookham parish phoned me up regarding my enquiry as to an allotment, telling me to come down and pick up a map to the allotments and then go and pick one out. I headed straight out, eager to see what awaited me. I got the map and went over to the allotments. There was a woman working on one of the plots, so I said hello and started talking to her about the plots and asking lots of questions. She was very helpful in recommending which plot to choose, as there were a few different ones available. I started to tell the saga of who I was (Canadian, married to an Australian, used to live in Germany, blah blah blah) and she turned to me and asked, "Wait, are you the blogger?" I was tickled to meet someone from Cookham who actually reads my blog. It really made my day. So an especial hello to C and thanks for being so helpful and friendly this morning at the allotments. I think she is looking forward to seeing my posts about the allotment. I'm pretty sure the first few will be mainly moaning about how sore my body is from turning the soil, but I'll try and keep it to a minimum.

Soon I'll be recognised everywhere I go and I'll have to start wearing sunglasses to escape the paparazzi. Well maybe not but as I said, the recognition was nice.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Remembrance of times past

I just was suddenly transplanted back to Germany whilst watching TV. One of the video channels is doing a 90s classic video hour. This alone is enough to bring back memories of Munich, as I lived there for nearly the entire decade, and certainly did my share of dancing to pop music then. It's amazing how a piece of music or a smell can remind you so strongly of another place and time. But what really brought back Germany to me is that they showed an M People video that was filmed in Berlin (Don't Look Any Further if you really want to know). It was out in 1993, the first year I went to Germany. And one specific little shot that transported me back to that year. They had a very short picture of the Ampelmännchen.

Ampel is the German word for traffic light. And Mann is German for man. If you put -chen at the end of a word, it makes it a small version. Like in English when you put a -y sound on something, eg. doggy, kitty. So Ampelmännchen means "little traffic light man", which is exactly what it is. It's the figures on the pedestrian light at an intersection which show you when to walk or to wait. West Germany has the boring normal one, which is just a skinny stick figure, sort of like what they use to illustrate the Olympic sports. But East Germany has/had a much much cooler set of figures:

Aren't they great? Full of character with that stout body and hat. I really like the green one, walking off with purpose and with his hat set at a jaunty angle, ready to face the world. Not to slight the red one, he manages to show that you should wait without making you feel that you are being preached to. And who wouldn't want to wait, to stride across the street with the green man, pretending you are wearing a hat that is set at a jaunty angle?

I first saw them in February 1994, when I went on a week tour of eastern Germany; visiting Leipzig, Halle, Dresden and Berlin. Seeing them again on TV, especially after hearing music from the time period as well, brought that moment in time and place back to me. It was a very Proustian moment.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Photo Updates

Just a couple of photos from our grand day out at the Thame Spring Show. Next time I think I'll have to take my camera, as G didn't get many pictures. He claims it's because he didn't have his "big lens" with him, but I'm not so sure. I think he just didn't find the animals as interesting as others did. I know at least one person who would have liked some close-ups of the hamsters in their castle.

Lena and Gramma watching the fun dog race. Well, Gramma was watching it, Lena was watching the grass grow.

One of the scurry drivers, waiting her turn. The counterweight passenger sits on the little seat behind her.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Fun things to do with small children

This post has nothing to do with our move to England. But it's funny. There is a bit of harsh language, so you might want to take older adults out of the room.

After the fun of recording Lena when she was angry, I know what I have to look forward to.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Springing into Action

I have to give the English credit - they do a good Spring. The end of Fall that I experienced wasn't anything spectacular and Winter was a wimpy affair. But Spring is here and it's very very nice. There are flowers everywhere, the sun is shining, the air feels soft, I even saw lambs gamboling in the fields yesterday. It really is nice around here. It's so nice, I'm even considering spending more time in the great outdoors by renting an allotment. An allotment is a patch of ground that you rent from the local council to use as a garden. Most people grow vegetables, although there are some flowers amongst the mixtures too. I phoned up the Cookham parish council and rent for a "5 pole plot" will cost me the great sum of 5 pounds per year. I think I can afford that; even if I only get one line of carrots out of the thing, it won't be much of a waste of money. What's a 5 pole plot you ask? So did I. It's apparently an ancient measuring system that has been kept around to refer to allotment sizes. Must be from the same person who came up with the idea of measuring your weight in rocks. A short Internet search leads me to believe it's roughly 10 by 10 metres, so plenty big for plenty of back-breaking labour if I have to turn the soil. I'm keen in theory, but I'm not certain if my keenness will continue in practice, but as I said, at 5 pounds a go, it wouldn't be the end of the world if slugs ate all the lettuce, would it?

In other news, we went to Thame Country Show yesterday. It was interesting, very much a country thing to do. Lots of demonstrations of hunting with spaniels, with falcons, with spaniels and falcons together and even hunting with ferrets. We missed the ferret hunting demo, so I'm afraid I can't tell you how to do it. But the falcon display was pretty cool. The falcon came shooting in from a great height like a rocket, she was very impressive. There was a rabbit judging contest and the winners were out on display in a tent. Who knew there were so many different types of rabbits? Hamsters too! There was a chance for people to show off their own dogs' skills, which was quite amusing. The one event we saw was a retrieving contest. The owner held the dog (a black Lab) while the organiser put 3 balls around the course. He showed the dog where all 3 balls were as he did it and then when they were down, the dog and owner went out to get them. The owner could help by encouraging the dog to the direction of where the ball was, or by showing the dog the tunnel to get into the fenced off part where the ball was. Of course, being just an average dog, it did a pretty average job at retrieving. Meaning it remembered where the last ball was put, but not the first 2; so it took a fair amount of animation from her owner to get all three balls. There was also scurry driving, which was something I hadn't seen before either. Two little ponies pull a cart with a driver and rider through a set course as fast as possible. The driver obviously steers and the rider is there for leverage to help make tight turns. It's pretty fast and exciting, well worth a watch if you get a chance. There were also lots of stands selling all sorts of things, food products to binoculars to straw baskets to folding chairs. Everything you need for life in the country. I enjoyed the show quite a bit and it made for a nice day out. There is another big Thame show in the Fall, with lots of judging of prize-winning cattle, potatoes, cakes and that sort of thing. Not quite the same idea as this show, but I might keep in mind for us for later anyways. As C'lonials, we should take these opportunities to get to know the Brits and their ways and their award winning strawberry jams.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

100th Post

This is my 100th post on this blog. In honour of this special occasion, I present 3 Lena videos. All filmed on the same day.

This first video was just as we got up.

Being the cruel mother that I am, (it's not only step-mothers you know), I filmed my child crying. She wasn't seriously upset, and it's cute. Well, me and my twisted sense of things thinks it's cute.

But she soon cheered up and started singing and dancing on cue.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Review: The Hinds Head in Bray

We visited The Hinds Head for lunch a while ago. We went fairly late, around 1:30pm. They are open for lunch until 2:30 though, so it wasn't a problem. As it wasn't very busy, we sat in the bar section rather than the restaurant. Although the restaurant has only been open since 2004 in its current form, the building is well over 500 years old. It has the look of an old pub about it, with all the timbered ceilings and wood panelling, though of course it's in better shape than its 500 years would lead you to think. Heston Blumenthal owns The Hinds Head. He's a pretty famous chef here in the U.K. and runs a 3 star Michelin restaurant which is basically next door, The Fat Duck. I think they even share a kitchen or stores or something with The Hinds Head. As another bit of interesting trivia, Prince Philip had his stag night at The Hinds Head in 1947, before marrying (then) Princess Elizabeth.

I had Lancashire Hotpot and my companion (isn't that how all restaurant reviewers refer to the person they eat dinner with? My "companion". A nice neutral term which leaves you to wonder what sort of relationship they have. Wife-husband? Business partner? Homosexual affair?) had Skate Wing with Capers, Lemon and Parsley. The bartender warned me that the hotpot had an oyster in it when I ordered it. I was a bit bemused by this, as having never eaten a Lancashire Hotpot, I wouldn't have known whether this was usual or not. I told the bartender as much after the meal, and he let me into a bit of the history of the Hotpot, saying that oysters used to be a regular ingredient in it, since they were cheap for people to use. The Hinds Head tries to keep the food as traditional as the pub is, hence the oysters I guess.

As I said, I'd never eaten Lancashire Hotpot before, but it was pretty good. The oyster in it did seem a bit odd, but it was okay. My companion's skate wing was excellent though, I'll probably order that next time if it's still on the menu. I don't know if it changes, but I would hope there's a bit of seasonal variety to it.

So my rating:
Ambiance: 2 I like the old Tudor look of the pub. As I didn't see the restaurant bit, I don't know what it's like, but the pub part was good, even if near empty. Not smoky, a big fireplace (not lit, but obviously working) and timbered walls and ceilings. Although it fits with the atmosphere, the slightly wonky table that tilted slighty on two legs took away a bit.
Service: 3 The bartenders and the personnel who brought the food were all very friendly, but in a laid-back, non-interfering manner. I thought the bartender knowing the history of the traditional food was a great thing, not seen in nearly enough restaurant staff.
Food: 2.5 Our mains were excellent, but I didn't think much of their Triple Cooked Chips. They seemed pretty ordinary to me.

So a strong rating of 7.5 out of 9 for The Hind's Head. We will be back again.

The Hinds Head website:

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Beergardening in Munich

Some pictures from our biergarten visit back in March. Not everyone's picture is here, but stay tuned, they should be up on our website gallery soon enough.

Kathie cuddling the kid.
Katie cuddling the kid.
Katrina cuddling the kid. (do you see a trend here?)

Phil and myself. It was Phil's brilliant idea to go to have a slackers' beer garden visit. Thanks Phil! It was chilly, but fun.

Nicola giving us tips on how one truly disciplines children.

Maybe this is more like it...
I would like you to note two things in this photo. One, all the Hashers are looking rather spiffy, which is not a usual state for them. Two, note all the beer glasses, (Maß) which is a normal state for Hashers.