Thursday, 26 January 2012

On being 40

When I was 10, I thought I knew everything
When I was 20, I thought I could do everything
When I was 30, I looked for someone with whom to share everything

Now I am 40, I'm learning to seek out the truth in everything, the good in everyone and the sublime in every day.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Many hands make sunshine

I'm writing this after saying good bye to my sister following a wonderful weekend visit. There is no other way to put this: she is good for me. We have had a lovely 48 hours (not long enough :( ) together. I didn't get enough sleep as our conversations meandered into the small hours and the children were, as they are every weekend, full of energy and raring to go in the mornings...

I moved to Copenhagen nearly a year ago (our first anniversary is next week!!!) and in that time my sister has made four visits from London - say no more - she is my best friend and I miss her terribly. This was her first trip to the Danish capital when the sun wasn't shining. She came during the last winter with its sub-zero temperatures but she reminded me that the skies were blue and it was a crisp and fresh kind of cold. This trip was a weekend of grey skies, snow showers and damp.

And as we ventured out only to Panduro Hobby and Agnes Cupcakes at Torvehallerne yesterday to get supplies and for lunch at our local Laundramat today, we were indoors and drowning in a sea of Lego for most of the visit as my 4 year built and rebuilt fire engines, hospitals, police stations and helicopters...

For a break from the Lego we decided to paint a canvas and given the gloomy weather I thought we could create a bright sun using our handprints. We had lots of fun and now have a momento from the time we shared together. There is something very therapeutic about covering your hands in paint and more so when someone else paints your palm and it tickles. Much to my son's delight. The child in me was very reluctant to wash up when it was all over. And, notwithstanding the t-shirts that are soaking in a Vanish solution this evening, the burst of colour was uplifting.

Well, here's hoping our crafty efforts will encourage some clearer skies in the days to come.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Danish life: swapping Streetcar for Moveabout

As I have mentioned before, we are a biking family. We cycle everywhere and we don't own a car. This was not a conscious decision on our part when we moved to Copenhagen; we have never owned a car. Back in London, we cycled to work and I used to take my son on the back of my bike, when the weather permitted.

In the last year of our time in London we joined a car club. There were a couple of these new car sharing schemes beginning in the city and we were fortunate enough to live fairly centrally and by chance there were car club cars parked very close to us. When I went on maternity leave as my daughter was born, the car club became a great way for us to get around as we had no way of transporting a new born in or on a bike.

We were members of 'Streetcar', a scheme whereby one pays an annual fee and then you can book a car online and pay by the hour/day/weekend, depending on your needs. The hourly rates included insurance, congestion charges and petrol costs. In our neighbourhood there were a couple of BMWs and VW Golfs at our disposal and when we were organised we would book them for jaunts to friends who lived off the tube map, trips to IKEA and, when the move to Copenhagen loomed on the horizon, they were incredibly useful for transporting bags of donations to charity shops.

Since we've arrived in Denmark we have been on the look out for a car club to join. There are a couple available and they operate on the same principle as the ones in the UK - an annual fee and then hourly charges for car use. Unfortunately, the car club cars were not located close enough to our flat to make joining them convenient. When you have small children and you need to factor in the time it takes to cart car seats around, its easier just to use the cargo bike!!

That was until about a month ago when the car club called Moveabout upgraded its fleet. Around the corner from us are two charging points for electric cars owned by Moveabout and available to members. These cars were two seaters, again not so useful when we are a family of four. Recently, Citroen C-zero cars (four seaters) have been added and, yippee, our family is back in the car share business again.

We joined Moveabout this week and it is slightly different from other clubs in that there is no annual membership fee but instead a minimum charge per month. Insurance and other runnings costs are all included within the hourly rates, which are between 49 DKK and 99 DKK per hour. We booked a car for today and this morning I set off with car seats for our first electric car outing.

Of course, the first limitation of using a car club car rather than your own vehicle is the time limit and I found that, as in London, I was always watching the clock. Although I had learned from my earlier experience that on the first outing its best to be conservative in your travel plans and generous in the time slot booked. It takes time to get to know a new car and to fit car seats etc.

Booking an electric car comes with a further limitation - the distance you can travel before needing to recharge. When booking online I was curious to see that we were asked how far we planned to drive and then when I booked the car, I received an email from Moveabout telling us about the cars limitations - we could only go 60 km on a full charge. Fortunately, we were only planning a local trip. It was still slightly disconcerting seeing the gauge on the dashboard start to drop as we drove. Its not like running on low fuel in a petrol car - there are no electric charging points at gas stations!

Leaving aside the fact that it took me ages to figure out that the engine was on even though I couldn't hear it (there's no comforting sound of petrol ignition) and getting my head around the Danish instructions for starting and stopping the car and disabling the immobiliser, which had kicked in when we were trying to fit the car seats, it wasn't a bad first foray.

One of the things that I think will take a long time to get used to, however, is driving around in a vehicle that has IKEA and World Wildlife Fund markings on it. This attracted a lot of attention and made for very self conscious driving. Even when we parked the car in Klampenborg and went for a walk on the beach, I noticed people standing around it and having a closer look.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Goodbye Christmas trees, hello fireworks...

We returned from our Christmas break in the UK to find the Christmas trees of Copenhagen abandoned to the rubbish collectors...

And it was only the 28th December!! Something felt wrong about the sight of so many trees discarded and there was a part of me saddened by the discovery of this local custom. Back in the UK, trees are kept in the home until Twelfth Night (6 January), the day that marks the visit of the wise men to the stable in Bethlehem. When I was growing up, we went one step further and kept our tree decorated and lit for a further 24 hours as we celebrated the Egyptian Coptic christmas on January 7th. It was an affront to all my festive sensibilities to see the rejected pine in our back yard so soon.

There was another surprise when I saw that the pop-up christmas tree sellers that were dotted around our neighbourhood had been transformed into pop-up firework stalls. The signs were everywhere and people were lining up to buy all manner of explosives. I did try to buy fireworks back in November for Guy Fawkes night but I was told that in Denmark the sale of fireworks is only legal during December and so my search was fruitless. Over the last week, however, the city has turned into a hive of frenzied firework sales. Bike shops become firework shops, supermarkets set up firework stalls....they know no limits.

Everybody warned me that on New Year's Eve the sky would be lit up for hours but nothing prepared me for what I witnessed last night. We were lucky enough to be invited to two parties; one in Frederiksberg which started in the late afternoon and where we were not alone setting off an early evening pyrotechnic display - already there were gardens full of festive explosions. By the time we got to Hellerup at 8 pm for the second gathering, the pace was hotting up. While the roads were empty, we cycled along the bike lanes dodging the fireworks going off (literally) in our tracks. We wondered if we were being foolhardy as there was no-one else around save for kids and explosives!!

By the time midnight rolled around, we were in what I imagine a war zone might sound and look like. (Although, only a friendly war between neighbours vying for pyrotechnic supremacy!) The sky over the city was indeed on fire with the sound of cracking rockets and the continuing bursts of bright and colourful shooting stars. We chorussed our oohs and aahhs and chuckled into our glasses of fizz as some of the older boys called out 'beat that' to whoever might be listening(!).

When did it all stop? I have no idea. We wrapped our sleeping children into snowsuits, scarves and blankets and tucked them up in the bike. Cycled home through the streets of Copenhagen at about 2 am and still there were explosions around us. We pedalled through a carpet of empty firework batteries, the trail of debris from hours of celebrating...

I'm not sure whether it was 2011 going out or 2012 coming in but there were bangs aplenty. Happy New Year to all!!