Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Childhood memories

This month I am taking part in a 30 day photo challenge. Each day has a theme and some have proved to be lots of fun but others are indeed a 'challenge'! On Friday the theme was 'childhood memory' and, as I noted when I posted my pictures, my life here in Copenhagen is so far removed from my childhood in Middlesbrough, I struggled to find any reminders of my early years.

In the end, I had to 'create' my memories - I bought figs to make a salad and was reminded of fig trees that grew in the garden of a summer house in Egypt where we stayed as children. The butterfly cakes that I baked for friends who came to lunch on Friday were me retracing my mother's footsteps when she had baked the same cakes for many a children's party or school cake sale. Food often does take us to places and stir up memories buried deep in our past. When I was young my father would make an Egyptian dish called 'ful' made from slow cooked beans and eaten with pita bread - the smell of the same dish when I found it in a London humus bar many years later transported me straight back to my childhood. Often though these are the memories that we seek out and the flashback can sometimes feel 'staged'. More striking are the memories that take us by surprise and catch us unaware - this is what happened to me last weekend.

On Saturday I went to a school loppemarked (a 'flea market') and as this is a great place to pick up children's books in English at bargain prices, I found myself rummaging through boxes of once loved story books. My heart stopped when I stumbled upon Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever (emphasis added!).
This is the storybook that I devoured as a child and although my children do have many Richard Scarry books on their shelves, nothing compares to this collection of stories, nursery rhymes, poems and pages and pages of pictures of the beloved animal characters of my childhood: the Cat family, lowly worm, the polite elephant and others.

In the middle of the school car park as I leafed through the pages of this beautiful story treasury, the world around me stopped and for a couple of minutes I was a little girl again lost in the world of those familiar words and drawings. I recognised each page and the fondness of these early reading memories has stayed with me for days. Some of the humour that had passed me by as a child made my grown up self chuckle, for example, the story of 'Couscous the Algerian detective'!!
This book is a mighty tome of 288 pages and includes much more than just stories and rhymes to  engage the young reader and feed their inquisitive minds. I hope I don't sound too old when I can't help but say that 'they don't make story books like this any more'. I don't know of another similar single volume for children where you can turn through pages and pages about colours, the alphabet, numbers, the flowers in the garden, the instruments of an orchestra, the seasons, airplanes, boats, trucks or where a child can learn about the different jobs that people do all day, about manners and being polite, about Rome, Paris and London (and a Castle in Denmark!!) and about animals and the parts of the body. Its like a paper edition of the world wide web for little people!
I'm thrilled to have this book back in my life again - it is exactly as I remembered it and not only do I keep finding my own childhood memories within its pages, I can now enjoy sharing them with my children and hopefully pass them on so they can make the memories theirs.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Danish life: Open all hours? Nej

One of the biggest adjustments we have made to our family life since arriving in Denmark is our shopping habits both generally and, more specifically, shopping at the weekends. Things here are expensive (this has been said before) and so we don't consume as much as we did in London but our old home city was also one with a 24/7 culture. It was an open all hours culture that was as natural as night following day. Growing up I remember the shops being closed on Sundays but then gradually the trading laws changed and within a couple of decades it wasn't unheard of to go supermarket shopping on the way home from the cinema on a Saturday night. Eventually, Sunday became like any other trading day so that at any time the streets were busy with shoppers.

Here in Copenhagen things are very different and the reduced shop opening hours which were at first slightly frustrating are now much appreciated for the organisation and increased family time that they have foisted upon us. There are three local shopping hour customs that we have had to learn: first, on Saturdays the shops are only open til around 1 pm (3pm at the latest). This means that there is a greater degree of planning that now goes into how Saturday mornings unfold.

Whereas in London we could pick up groceries or do errands late into the afternoon, we now have a lunchtime curfew on getting those jobs done. In the early days a state of panic would set in around noon on Saturday when, after a couple of hours of spontaneous unpacking, we would venture out into the world and find everyone else on their way home and the shops closing. As we've settled in we are adjusting and when the Saturday morning jobs are taken care of, its great to have the rest of the day to do fun things.

The second custom is in relation to Sunday shopping. On Sunday the shops are closed except for supermarkets, which are open on the first and last Sunday of the month. Again, this means a bit of weekend planning is involved and most of the time we try to do a weekend food shop on Saturday morning. There have been many a Sunday afternoon when I have breathed a sigh of relief as I've discovered that a vital ingredient for the evening meal is missing but then realised that its 'one of those Sundays when I can pop to the shop'!!

Finally, the shops are closed on public holidays and at this time of year there are lots of public holidays. This morning we set out for a beach picnic with friends and we planned to buy some of our supplies en route. Today is the first Sunday in June and so we shouldn't have been caught out - except that Thursday was Ascension Day and today is the corresponding public holiday! And so, even our best laid plans....

Aside from remembering these three rules of thumb in order to plan and organise, the reduced shop opening hours change the landscape of the neighbourhood at weekends. Back in the great metropolis that is London I would rarely see a high street that wasn't bustling with trade. It may be stating the obvious but with the shops closed there is less shopping to be done. Instead, at weekends you will find the Danes out in the parks and at the beaches, the playgrounds and the cycle lanes are full. The reality is that reduced shopping means more leisure time - not least for the people working in the retail business!

We've just had a four day weekend and our family outings included a trip to the Frilandsmuseet near Lyngby. These photos are all from this fascinating open air museum, one of the largest and oldest in the world, which has farms, mills and smallholdings dating from 1650 to 1940 and recreates daily life and working processes from old times.