englishman abroad, stories

The bunny ranch…

This is the story of how we all accidentally went to a brothel.

Aurelia is the proud owner of two Zwergkaninchen (dwarf rabbits) called Angel, a boy, and Thunder, a girl. They’re very well looked after, with everything a bunny could want: a nice rabbit run, an underground den, a shelter made out of an old copper drinking trough, a wickerwork tunnel and lots of food. Aurelia wants the best for her bunnies; when we fly off to the UK this Christmas, we’re going to have them looked after by a nice enough place. A bunny sitter, if you will.

My wife and I Googled around and found a couple of places online, one in Oldenburg for a fair price and another in Delmenhorst for a bit less. We asked if we could have a look at the place beforehand, the lady said yes. On Sunday we went to the pet sitter in Delmenhorst.

First thoughts:

  1. This is an industrial area, a business park. Could it really be here?
  2. Haha oh wow. That place next to the printer’s looks like a strip club.
  3. Why are we stopping?

The strip-club-looking place was number 7 on the street. The address we had was number 7. It was the same street. I started to think that the online advertisement was a joke, that some troll had sent us here for a laugh. We decided to have a look around anyway. Just in case.

My noticeably pregnant wife, my six-year-old daughter and I got out of the car.

Second thoughts:

  1. There are an awful lot of doorbells on this strip club. “Candy, Jesse, Katja…”
  2. This isn’t just a strip club, is it?
  3. There’s a gate around the side that says “private property”

“Love?” I said, “I think we should leave. Now.”

“no, we’ll look. It said around here”

My courageous wife knocks on the gate, to an eruption of aggressive barking, and asks if this is where the bunnies are looked after.

The lady who opens the gate is thin, with long, red, fake talons for nails.

“Yes,” she pleasantly replies.

Third thought:

  1. WTF

The lady, Candy, gives us a tour of the various rabbit hutches available behind this house of ill repute, and I start to think that maybe, just maybe, this happens to be a legitimate pet-sitter with an awful location. Maybe the bordello was built afterwards?

Google has all the answers: “No, and here are some other pictures of ‘Candy’, just FYI”.

Final thoughts:

  1. I should have trusted my gut.
  2. Is this a brothel that diversified into pet sitting, or a pet sitter that diversified into whoring?
  3. Business must suck, either way.

We said that we’d be in touch later. We won’t. I don’t want Thunder to come home with long, red, fake talons.

englishman abroad, parenting, the German way

Einschulung

Saturday was the day of my daughter Aurelia’s Einschulung. Einschulung is sometimes translated as ‘first day of school’, and I suppose that, technically, it often is. It’s not really that though. As I said, it happened on a Saturday and therefore isn’t a ‘proper’ school day. Besides, Aurelia has already had ‘trial hours’ (Schnupperstunden) at this school – she’s been there before. Another translation of this word is ‘enrolment’, which is also totally off. Aurelia was already on the ‘rolls’ of this school; she has been registered to attend it since about the time we moved to this town. What the Einschulung actually is, is a sort of ‘into-school’ rite of passage. Here’s what happened…

On that Saturday morning, after breakfast, Aurelia got her first proper look at the Schultüte which had been hidden away for weeks. A Schultüte is part of this German rite of passage. It resembles a brightly coloured and garishly decorated giant ice-cream cone; it’s also a bit like a Christmas stocking in that it is packed with goodies and not to be opened before the appointed time.

That appointed time is always after school, so off to school we all went: Oma, Opa, Mama and Papa. I carried Aurelia’s Schultüte, and Aurelia carried her gigantic, red and purple school bag. All German kids seem to have dementedly oversized school bags, called Schulranzen, which make them look less like first-year schoolkids than they do NASA astronauts. Off we went to school, bobbing along like an Ice-cream-themed Pride Parade for Questionable Cosmonauts.

On arrival at the school, it became apparent that I was the only one who had given this School-based theme-parkery a second thought: every single other child had a brightly coloured Schultüte and Schulranzen as well. The new space cadets first-years sat right at the front of the assembly hall and then it all kicked off. The headteacher introduced all the teachers, each year of the school performed a play or song or dance to welcome the new children, culminating with them being called onto the stage to stand with their respective mentor child and be taken off to their first, half-hour “class”. No parents were allowed of course, but I suspect that it was a little induction and introduction from their teacher. Back at home, Aurelia got to open her Schultüte at last: sweets, school stuff and her first ever alarm clock (pink, of course).

Tomorrow I’ll take her to her first ‘real’ full day of school; 8 am to 1 pm. I’m probably looking forward to it just as much as she is.

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.