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englishman abroad, man stuff

Lush is not for boys

Mindful that it will soon be my Wife’s birthday, I did a bit of shopping the other day. The lady likes bubblebath and I was about to enter the general-purpose Rossmann when I remembered that there was another shop, Lush Cosmetics, just around the corner.

I made the fateful decision to enter Lush instead. Never have I ever been out of my depth so quickly.

Lush is not like Rossmann. Lush is like a descent into Hell.

Katabatic winds sighed ominously from the cloying maw of the shop’s entrance. Tempting. Enticing. Promising such wonders. “100% vegetarisch” sounded the siren call of the shop windows, “100% ohne Tierversuch”, “abandon all hope ye who enter here”

It was too late, Satan’s scent had snared me. I was drawn mesmerised into the bowels. I was looking for bubblebath. Shelves upon shelves of oddly shaped, brightly coloured baubles clamoured for my attention. “No…bubblebath… must get to bubblebath…” the scent was overpowering. The air uncomfortably warm.

“Take off your jacket” hissed the jelly bombs, “we’ll make it worth your while…”

“Never!” sweat formed on my brown and I pushed on. Despair. There couldn’t be bubblebath here, I was a fool. A fool who would die in Lush. Bubblebath was far too simplistic an indulgence. Lush would torture me with bath products beyond my ken. It would claim my soul and I would never leave.

An acolyte noticed my distress and cackled gleefully, springing from behind the knot wraps. She showed me the bath carrots. The horror. The horror. Carrots made of soap. She filled a sacrificial ewer with water and swirled the carrots around, revelling in my dismay. The water turned the orange of ungodly betrayal. I knew it was too late to turn and flee. She knew that I knew. She removed the carrot and, from jug to jug, she juggled the orange liquid, the water somehow turning a darker and more pustulent orange by the moment. Witchcraft. Foam seethed on the viscous orange ichor, every bubble a lost soul entreating for release.

“I… I was just looking for bubblebath,” I stammered in German, hardly daring to hope. “Schaumbäder?” she whispered menacingly, her Medusa-like stare freezing my heart with dread, “this way” she susurrated, leading me hypnotically deeper into the Minotaur’s lair.

Had she raised my hopes just to dash them again? I didn’t think I could bear it. She showed me to a table laden with coloured gewgaws. Pandora’s box had been upturned and laid out before me. “Here,” she said wickedly, handing me a fully functioning fidget-spinner bath bomb, “like this?”

I screamed. I retched. I tore out my hair. A fidget-spinner bath bomb. Such feats were unnatural. An abomination before God. A chimaera of Beelzebub himself. I clawed at my face, I wailed and gnashed my teeth. All faded to black.

I awoke later in a daze. I was at home. My clothes were heavily scented with a cloying musk. A brown paper bag clutched feverishly in my grasp. “You’ve been mangoed” writ large upon it. An oil bath. The lesser of many evils, yet still palpably obscene.

It was too late. I knew I was damned. I knew that I would return once more against my will.

I had been mangoed.

 

englishman abroad, history

DNA Test

Genealogy had never really interested me until recently. My mother has traced some of her side of the family into Wales, Devon and Ireland and my father-in-law has a proudly displayed family tree in the hallway. Still, he’s a farmer and there’s a palpable sense of history on the family farm, which has been passed down for generations. But what about me?

Like many people born in England, I just presumed that I was as English as the Anglo-Saxons and didn’t think any more about it. True, England was invaded thereafter by Vikings, Normans, Irish, Scots and several others, and the Anglo-Saxons were Germanic anyway (and preceded by the Romans) but whatever. I was English in England and that was that.

Last year I went through a lot of rigmarole in getting my daughter, Aurelia, a British passport in Brexit’s wake. I had to dive a couple of generations back to facilitate this, and call up the General Register Office and get all manner of old birth certificates. Including that of my Grandfather Steve.

It turns out that Grandad Steve, who I’ve never spoken to and has lived elsewhere as far as I can remember, wasn’t really called Steve. He had an absolutely nutty name that I won’t put on here. Just really bonkers and quite distinctive. Not typically “English”.

So I’ve decided to do some digging and see what comes up, so I’ve ordered one of those ‘test your DNA’ kits that so many genealogy sites are offering.  I’ve done some research and I know you have to take these things with a pinch of salt, there’s surely a margin of error etc. etc. Nonetheless, I’m curious as to what such a test might say.

It’s sitting on my dining room table right now and I’m going to send it off this week; there isn’t really an answer that I’m particularly hoping for or dreading.

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.