englishman abroad, work

I’ve only got one pair of hands

Last December we bought a house. It was originally built in 1949 and there’s a fair bit of renovation to do as you might expect with such an old place. So far, all of the electrics have been stripped out and replaced, two of the outbuildings (a large aviary and a small god-knows-what) have been knocked down and smashed up and then taken away by my very enthusiastic father in law and his gigantic hydraulic truck. The wallpaper is being stripped off and pasted up anew in record time and a new bathroom is being fitted upstairs, this latter part required a couple of new walls and digging up the driveway to find the mains sewer (old house!). These have been our weekends and several of my afternoons per week: DIY and liaison with handymen. The mornings are my usual work with the MariLANG project and my teaching duties at Jade. These teaching duties are about to double because my class has doubled in size since last semester. Things are going to pay off after all this work is done.

Earlier this week I was once again in the UK as part of the MariLANG project, this time for our 5th transnational partner meeting which went really well! This time we were in Kenilworth, a place I’d never been before. It has a palpable aura of sleepy little town in Warwickshire, because that’s pretty much exactly what it is. Jennie, a very hard working colleague from Greece, made a short video of the meeting which I’ll post here:

Anyway, all of this zipping about, DIY, teaching and general business has meant I’ve neglected this blog for far too long. Here’s hoping I can grow another pair of hands.

englishman abroad, the German way

Feeling at home

I haven’t spent any proper time in England, where I was born, for years.

However, on Sunday I got back from a week’s training at Southampton Solent University. It was a lot of fun, and I got to meet with lots of interesting international people and contribute to the ongoing development of the Marilang project.

I spent a week in England and discovered that I no longer feel at home there. On the simplest of levels, things are different: the money looks different, the prices have gone up, Brexit is on the news all the time these days. But my feeling of unease is more profound: I’ve become a bit German. I waited at the traffic lights instead of jaywalking, I put my cigarette ends in the bin instead of just dumping them, I even spoke German with my colleagues when I wanted to be frank.

When I first came to Germany I thought I was an outsider working my way inside. It wasn’t until I went to Southampton that I realised another truth: I was an insider here, and I’ve worked my way outside.

Bittersweet as this feeling is, it’s for the best; Britain hasn’t been doing too well recently. Germany, on the other hand, has been kind to me: a wife and child, our own house, interesting projects and maybe, one day, citizenship.

englishman abroad, parenting

The difference between boys and girls

I’m six years old and the click-clack of scissors makes short work of my wavy hair. I’m concentrating hard on holding my head down like the lady told me to, and I’m watching the accumulation of brown curls in the lap of my apron. I understand little of what my mother or the hairdressers are saying, but there is laughter and smiling. I’m a good boy, they say, I held my head still and straight.

At school I’ll play with my friends Ash and William and Martin, we’ll pretend fight and play POGS and trade Thunderbirds. Girls are different somehow, they don’t even like football and they talk all the time. Just talk and talk and talk. They’re boring and sometimes they point and whisper and laugh.

And so it was for the longest time until, unexpectedly, girls became interesting. They still talked and pointed and whispered and laughed, but they suddenly looked different.

They now had something we wanted so we chased them and they ran.

Eventually we learned that it’s better to talk to girls, that kiss-chase isn’t always the best way. I still understood little of what they’re saying, but there was laughter and smiling.

I watched the grey and black hair accumulating in the lap of my apron today. I thought how strange it all is that I have a little girl of my own, and I can understand everything she’s talking about. I thought how odd it all was that she wasn’t at all boring and how I join in with her whispering and laughter.

Most of all, I thought about how glad I was that she plays with boys as well as girls.

englishman abroad, freelancing, parenting

Keeping last year’s resolutions

It’s January 1st, 2017 and I’m looking at my Dad-belly in the mirror.

“This year will be different,” I tell myself

“This year I’m going to go jogging every couple of days and heave weights and eat right”

… and heave them I temporarily did! I didn’t go jogging though, and when the weather got cold I considered it a good excuse to stop lifting weights. And cycling. And even pretending to eat right.

But the best thing about 2017 was that my real resolutions, the ones that have borne fruit, weren’t an arbitrary, date-based invention; they were a series of small, incremental ones I made throughout the year.

  1. An important client of mine stiffed me on a bill back in February 2017. It wasn’t much, just a few euros. But the principle of it really irked me and I asked them for the difference – no sale.

“Ok,” I told myself, “this is going to be the most expensive money they’ve ever saved”

  1. I got ill in the middle of 2017 and had to take some days off work. I previously wrote about how terrible zero-hours contracts are in the UK; freelancing positions with German language schools aren’t much better: No sick pay. No insurance. Some contracts actually have you pay for lessons you miss (even when ill). After being pressured into attending work late at night with the flu, I told myself:

“I need to get a job that treats me right”

  1. Watching my daughter, Aurelia, grow up is my pride and privilege. She’s really turning into a little lady these days. Well, part lady and part tomboy: she’s riding bikes, zooming about on her scooter, sword-fighting with sticks and climbing trees. Yet we still live in a modest apartment with no garden and just a small balcony in a horribly expensive town. She wants to play football, she wants to run free,

“She deserves better than this”

These are the resolutions that mattered. These are the resolutions that got done. I didn’t just pull them out of the air because it was January first, Present Year; I meant them.

It’s January 1st, 2018 and I’ve got my new job at a university working as a researcher on a project. It has holiday pay, sick pay and proper insurance. I’ve also got two lucrative side projects which don’t stiff me on the bill!

It’s January 1st, 2018 and we’ve recently bought a house with a huge garden in a peaceful village. Aurelia is going to love it when we move in later this year.

It’s January 1st, 2018 and I’m still looking at my Dad-belly in the mirror.

“This year will be different,” I tell myself.

englishman abroad, the German way

Things you didn’t know about German New Year’s Eve

Today is New Year’s Eve, and in the English-speaking world the Americans have their ball drop in Time Square, the Australians are launching 14 tonnes of fireworks in Melbourne alone, and Britain? Britain has Alan Carr… oh well.

But what’s going on here in Germany?

  1. German’s don’t have New Year’s Eve

Rather, they have Silvester. Saint Silvester was actually an old pope who was made a saint and gives his name to this day. You could go to church to mark the feast of Saint Sylvester if you’re so inclined, but most people just get drunk in the evening like the rest of the world.

  1. Playing with toxic material is encouraged

Every country has their quaint little traditions, don’t they? Bleigießen (lead pouring) is the German tradition of divining the future and risking lead poisoning. Small lead ingots are available for purchase from all good retailers along with a steel spoon. You heat up the ingot on the spoon until it melts, pour it into water and interpret the shape of the molten metal to determine your fortune in the coming year. On the plus side, molten lead is fun for kids! On the downside, molten lead is toxic and fun for kids!

I will, of course, be doing it tonight with family and friends. We’ll be testing a real lead version as well as a newer, safer wax version.

  1. The same procedure as every year

Apart from the church and the pagan divination, what else is a staple of German New Year’s Eve? If you answered, “I don’t know, something else suitably eclectic and mismatched?” you’d be right!

In Germany, they’ve been watching a piece of British comedy called ‘Dinner for One’ since the 60s. Dinner for One is entirely in English with English actors Freddie Frinton and May Warden (ask your grandma, she might know). In which Butler James becomes increasingly inebriated in his attempts to placate a demented old bag who’s invited her long-dead friends to dinner.

It’s actually pretty funny, but practically unknown in the UK. Here it is: