songs I cannot listen to since living abroad.

Below is a short, but not exclusive, list of songs which take me back to some wonderfully bizarre moments in my time abroad. They’re mostly songs that if you heard them on a normal day, there’s absolutely nothing significant about them, but they now hold a mysteriously terrible spell over me and give me some pretty freaky flashbacks.

A Little Party Never Killed Nobody – Fergie
This was the song which one of the contestants of the Russian “Miss University” talent show did her dance piece to. It consisted of a fab 20’s flapper outfit and her appearing and disappearing on different sides of the stage, at the back of the room and suddenly back on the stage again, all impossibly quickly. Turned out she had a twin sister who she’d roped in to pull off this teleporting stunt. Not sure if cheating or the best idea ever.
Riptide – Vance Joy
The opening of this song haunts me and makes me want to cry when I hear it. One of my intensely annoying flatmates in Russia had a ukulele (which did not help his case as #1 annoying flatmate) on which he played only the first three chords of this song. Repeatedly. All of the time. Daily. Nothing else.
Animals – Martin Garrix
My German flatmate loved electronic, dancey, technoey, generally relentless music like this and I was in Germany at the time this came out. Terrible.
Hey Brother – Avicii
First of all Avicii. This music is the worst of all music kinds, and this was also the fault of my German flatmate and her insane best friend who had dance routines for all songs like this.
Summertime Sadness – Lana Del Rey
Another of my flatmates in Russia (one of the non-annoying ones) had a slight meltdown and played this song on repeat in a kind of trance sat in front of his laptop.
Jellicle Cats from the musical Cats
Or just generally any song from Cats. We were given an intimate taster performance of the upcoming university musical production, and we were in the very front row of a very small theatre because we were special guest judges of a poetry competition (it’s not worth me even trying to explain).
Bat Out of Hell – Meatloaf
In Russia my roommate and I had a crisis a few months in and started frantically listening to Meatloaf all of the time.
Bitch Better Have My Money – AMG
German 10 year olds sang this to me repeatedly. I can only assume they’re delighted with Rihanna.
Two songs, however, which have that incredible power of making me feel like I’m back in the exact moment where I first heard them and make me happier than I have ever felt are:
Михей – Сука Любовь (literally “Bitch Love”)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AccbNbqN2RQ (please at least just watch the video)
Иван Купала – Кострома

And tonight Matthew, I’m going to be…

During my time in Krasnodar, Russia, I met a fair few Russians. Inevitable, I understand, but you would be surprised at the ease, and relief, with which it’s possible to live in a country and stalwartly avoid any and all contact with natives, a practice for which we so wickedly scorn our own “foreigners”. Perspective.

The south is a strange place, and I remain unable to comprehensively describe it. Think Western European beach promenades and wide pedestrianised high streets meets Eastern European pickling obsession, a chaotic detachment from modern civilization and organisation yet a rigorous institutionalism, smothered in Imperial Russian tradition, filled with Soviet architecture, paraded around by Cossacks and obsessed with Japanese food. That about covers it.

The Russians are equally as irregular. The teens are desperately “Westernised” yet deeply, albeit sometimes entirely subconsciously, entrenched in pre-Soviet social roles and stereotypes. The parents are world-minded and embrace the increasing diversity of daily life yet are intimidated by the vast opportunity and global, fluid nature of their children’s future.

Age appears to remain a great determiner of world outlook. The young assistants would roll their eyes at the overbearing, overprotective matriarch of the Foreign Languages department, who shuddered at the thought of us venturing further than our accommodation block unaccompanied. The tremendous, overwhelming excitement of a first-year class trip to London was dampened by teachers’ rules, what they did last year and plans to route march the main tourist spots with 2 hours sharp free time.

Some of the friends we made were distinguishable as Russian only by accent. My language partner and I turned up to our coffee dates in (unplanned) matching outfits, had the same pair of Raybans, laughed at the same jokes, loved the same artists and recited quotes from our favourite TV shows. We went to house parties which knocked my British experiences out of the park. We got drunk together, went on nighttime walks, climbed abandoned high-rise buildings, danced, sang and ran away from the police together.

And yet there still remained a reservation. An inability to entirely free themselves of tradition and how things “should” be. My 20 something year old, entirely fluent in English, degree holding, confident and charismatic friend had never been abroad or in fact left the town she was born and grew up in. She had never had a boyfriend, and was horrified by the notion of kissing a boy she liked in fear of being a slut.

My dissertation while in Russia debated the role of 21st century Russian women. In almost all of the interviews I conducted almost all of the young women were vehemently success and career driven, independent to the verge of rebellion and horrified by any suggestion of gender-based inferiority, yet never faltered from the belief that having a husband and children was the ultimate goal, and that supporting and caring for this family unit was just an inevitable female duty.

Over coffee with two friends of mine I asked about Putin’s anti-homosexual legislation, and while one shrugged, unfazed and, frankly, uninterested in the debate, the other sniggered, shook head, and scoffed.

On Crimea, a taxi driver frantically quizzed us about what the UK, the West, and America thought about the annexation. His endeavours to recount hundreds of years worth of history and politics in a ten minute ride demonstrated an acute national awareness, a sensitivity to growing international hostility against Russia, and above all a desperation to right wrongs made by the Big Man, little man at a time. Another friend of mine was confused by the confusion. “It used to be ours. They voted to come back, so they did.”

The danger here is fighting the urge to slam our fists down on the big red THIS IS OFFENSIVE button which impedes so many British minds’ rationality today. You will find views like these in any society, and Britain is in no way a model example, extremely far from it, but Russia just seems to encapsulate all of these paradoxes in a frustratingly misunderstood melting pot. You might say the beauty of these contradictions is the simplicity with which they are sometimes viewed. While us free and in-de-pen-dent and e-qual and li-ber-at-ed Westeners might tear our hair out over the many absurdities and imbalances which might span one single Russian mind, those minds are often content, cooperative and entirely uncluttered by the distortion of political correctness to which the Western world sometimes so blindly clings.

coaches and coasts

A couple of things about Krasnodar which has made our time here so great is both the weather and its location. It’s been in the 20’s for a long time now, and is now starting to sit more around the 30 degree mark, which is obviously brilliant and good weather makes everything instantly x10 better, but is less good when you share a bedroom in a sweaty hostel/generally have to function on a day to day basis (I’ve never had to actually LIVE in a place this hot before…) but on the whole good weather = v good.

Krasnodar is down in the very south of Russia and is the capital of the Kuban Region/Krasnodar Krai, about 2-3 hours away by car/death bus from the Black Sea. The south is where Russians come for their holidays, so most towns down here are developed as resorts and popular attractions, which means there’s loads of great places to visit, as well as a tonne of countryside which is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

Sochi – quite a large city, which is, unsurprisingly, in pretty good shape and really well developed, it feels like a holiday beach resort with it’s long promenades along the sea – but pebble beaches 😦 – restaurants and shops, tacky merchandise stalls etc. Here we visited all the Olympic sites, the main park which is massive and cool to see in person having seen it so much on TV, then further up into the still snow topped mountains to see the many more developments and the ski resort. Just as we felt like we were starting to see a side of Russia not quite so eccentric as it had seemed so far with functioning transport, a bustling little town centre and just a generally calmer atmosphere, along came a man carrying a lemur on a stick which he made jump on you then forced you to pay for a picture with said involuntary lemur. We also went to Stalin’s summer villa, which was  unexpected and also bright green, but an experience nonetheless…

Gelendzhik – This town is my favourite of all we have visited, and was our first trip to the beach relatively early on in our stay here. In comparison to Krasnodar (not to be mean to our любимый Kras) it seemed like absolute luxury. Again with long promenades along the bay, sand(!) beaches, and beautiful views, AND we got to stay in a hotel which is a branch of our uni here which (again in comparison to our Krasnodar accommodation) was amazing; carpets, mini fridge, bathroom with toilet, shower and sink in ONE room… all relatively normal things, but having lived where we have for so long, stuff like a toothbrush holder is unfortunately quite exciting.

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Gelendzhik

Anapa – yet another beach resort, this time much smaller. We were able to stay in a hotel of one of our friend’s Mom’s which was 10 minutes from the beach. Here we did little but sunbathe, swim, eat and drink, which was more than fine by us. Southern Russia loves what they call “Caucasian” food, and by this they mean the countries in and around the Caucasus – Georgia, Azerbaijan, and stretching to Turkey, so there’s a lot of that meat kebab, grilled veg and aubergine goodness to be found there of which we took full advantage. Only down side of this trip, however, was some chicken made into a sausage (fondly named by us as the chausage) which was just a generally terrible experience.

*Also featured men throwing small (this time fully dressed) animals at you.

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Anapa

Goriachi Klyuch Горячий Ключ – literally “hot key”. This is a natural spring in the mountains (the beginnings of the Caucasus) about an hour and a half from us. This was our very first trip anywhere (to the horror/amazement of the Russians that we are capable of going anywhere outside the uni gates unattended) and we managed (with only a little bit of missing the bus / don’t actually know where to get the bus from / where is the bus / we don’t actually have any bus tickets trauma) to get there pretty easily. It was great to get out into the countryside for a little while, to taste the natural spring water (which was actually foul, but Russians were filling JARS full for its ‘healing’ properties) and have a bit of a climb in some hills.

Guamskoe Ushelie ГуамскоеУщелье – the most beautiful place I have ever been. We went with some Russians on a trek through the woods (by woods I mean slightly life threatening, bare cliff faces, steep drops the entire way down a never ending hill face leading to a speedy river, a string here and there for ‘support’ and generally no real path to follow), and then a really (really… really) long walk along a river and an abandoned railway line, up in the hills again, with waterfalls and natural springs popping up here and there, stopping for breaks and food on rocks over the water, forever walking into even more stunning views and nature the further we walked. We must have been going for about 4 hours, and we finally reached the top (where there was an extremely secluded village) and, miraculously, our little mini bus found us in the middle of nowhere and even picked up some random women along the way and took them to the bottom.

After surviving the “walk” in the “woods” and managing to not fall off the face of the earth, the bus trip back to the bottom seemed to cover the hill we had zig-zagged nice and gradually up over several hours of tiny incline decided to plummet that distance in a 200m straight line. But what’s a day in Russia without the refreshing exhilaration of almost dying twice?

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Guamskoe

The travelling to all of these places is extremely cheap (sometimes about £6 for a 4 hour journey), regularly chaotic/hilarious and really makes our foreignness stand out as we faff with tickets and get on and off the wrong buses, but is increasingly unpleasant as it gets hotter and hotter. The buses vary in size and age, one had a huge flatscreen TV showing a programme which consisted purely of clips of planes, cars and trains crashing, buildings falling down and natural disasters devastating areas, none have seatbelts, some drive coaches like a rally cross, and almost all of them pick up randomers along the way and appear to drop them in the middle of ACTUAL nowhere (I’m talking dusty roads with nothing but a rogue cow or stray bab hanging around) and have innovative and practical solutions for facilitating said randomers on their journey.

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an extra seat

Shakespeare and шарики

Now in the middle of our time here, we’ve already spent two months in Krasnodar and only have two to go. So far it has been an unforgettable experience – uni, the city, all the people we’ve met, the travelling we’ve done and everything inbetween.

At uni we seem to have the knack for entirely missing/failing to notice/failing to be informed about major events happening around us. We get told about the massive culture and arts festival week on the day it begins, we don’t get invited to English club (just to emphasise here that we are the only English people this side of Moscow), we get told about extra-curricular activities we’re signed up to the day before (that one was our fault because they did actually tell us, we were just the worst at Russian so were clueless that we had agreed weeks before) and get told that we need the original copies of our migration documents if we dare to leave Krasnodar hours before boarding flights.

One event, however, that our teacher did make a particular effort to remind us of was Shakespeare’s birthday (of course). Next thing we know she’s giving us chocolates and we’re being route marched to an exhibition of his books and some of his sonnets being sung by Russians in music videos (?) and suddenly there’s photos of us on the university website looking about as confused by the whole situation as I feel you might be.

Another photo incident which I feel like I have to share because it’s weighing on my conscience is the Russian photo shoot in which I did partake. Now, people who know Russians, who have been to Russia, or generally have access to the internet will know that a fundamental ritual of Russian girls’ daily life is taking photos. Of themselves. Of each other. Everywhere. All the time. Always. I got a vague invitation to go to the park (nature themed backdrop – a staple of the Russian photo shoot, I should’ve seen the signs) to “take photos” which I agreed to, but wasn’t really exactly sure what of or why. Even as we got to the park (it was a lovely park, there was at this point still chance that we were going to be taking photos of said park) I still wasn’t sure, but then it all became very clear. Out comes a proper camera, like a big, fancy, real one, and it begins. At first I managed to keep out of it as I let my Russian friend take it away, but it wasn’t long before I was part of the fun. I’d rather not go into the details of what followed, I’ll just say wistful gazing, staged candid scenes, a dandelion – you get the idea.

On a similar note, we went to the annual “Miss University” competition (I flatter myself). An amazing show full of dancing, feathers, singing, readings, “comedy” sketches, Eurovision-style presenters in between each act, a panel of judges (one flown in from Moscow – perhaps a little excessive), last year’s winner, free balloons and just so much more, for it all to be rounded off with a suspiciously diplomatic “you’re all winners here” style closing presentation ceremony and just an extra sash and a crown for the winner. Anti-climax.

At the moment we have a two week holiday, the weather is amazing, there’s hardly anyone in our flat in halls (I spent the first night sleeping alone in our room in 8 weeks) and we just generally get some extra time to travel and/or do a fat load of nothing for a little while. There have been two parades this week, one of the Kossaks (which we missed because we arrived late, but did arrive in time to see the resultant hoards of kossaks just roaming the streets at random) and one for the first of May which seemed to just be a parade celebrating every single human being who lives in Krasnodar and Russia and also the world. It was the longest parade I’ve ever seen, with an unbelievable amount of people in it representing basically anything that can be found in Krasnodar, from the university to the banks to the Russian equivalent of Netto, to children, to people on bikes, to old people, to girls playing drums in white pvc stiletto boots and all with an extremely impressive amount of balloons.  Next week is the 9th May parade which is a big old deal in Russia as they celebrate the victory of the second world war with a public holiday. The main street through the centre of the city is shut off and made pedestrian, and there’s a LOT of celebrations, so next weekend is definitely set to be a good one, and probably full of more balloons.

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balloons

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Kossaks roaming the streets at random

Poetry and Pole Dancing

So this week we discovered a dance school. On a roll after our recent gym conquest, we found its website and after perusing the classes, (стриптиз, strip tease, джазфанк, jazz funk, ладистайл, “lady style”(!)), and much more, we decided, obviously, to give pole dancing a go. We went to watch a class on Thursday evening, and spent 40 minutes sitting terrified in the corner of a mirrored room, seeing all sorts of angles of all sorts of things our eyes can never unsee. The pole dancing itself wasn’t a problem; the girls in the class were at such a high level and extremely impressive, but the stretching and the bending and the mirrors and the see through hot pants… not so much. By the end of the lessons we were in awe of these girls who had made it look so easy, and were desperate to do it ourselves.

We looked it all up and asked all about it and got all ready and walked on over to find the dance school shut. Empty. Nada. This was until one other woman (who had been a particular pro on Thursday) arrived, made a phone call and the school miraculously opened at her demand, and looked less than pleased to realise that the class would in fact just be us incompetent stragglers and her. This was great for us, minimising the mortifying embarrassment of having to do it in front of people, awful for her, having to watch us be mortifyingly embarrassing in front of her.

It was the best. Thing. Ever. It’s so difficult and requires a LOT more strength than people who are good at it let on, but we spent the hour learning the basics and generally being in hysterics and it was fab. It’s a bit disappointing to not feel like an instant goddess swinging and bending all over the place within 5 minutes of starting, but I’m confident that with about 45 years of practice I might be able to hold myself up for longer than 3 seconds.

Sandwiched between our two pole dancing extravaganzas was International Poetry day. Russia loves its literature and is the kind of place where people know poems of the Russian greats off by heart (Pushkin, again) so we went along, not really sure what to expect, and were pleasantly surprised. We took our seats at the back of the room and watched an hour of sometimes amateur dramatic, sometimes eyes closedy, sometimes sung, sometimes half words forgotten, but always really beautiful Russian poetry recitals. Despite having studied it for so many years, I still find the sound of Russians’ Russian (if that makes sense) incredible, and I really understand why they are so crazy for their poetry when you hear them read aloud. It’s will be almost impossible for my Russian to sound that authentic with any amount of practice, but hearing Russians read their poetry is, for me anyway, an enormous incentive to try if ever there was one.

Медведь

So after a couple of weeks here, and spending a lot of time going between our accommodation and uni (5 minutes away from each other on campus) and to the wide selection of sushi restaurants and bars on our street (5 minutes away from the campus, 5 minutes OUTSIDE(!) the campus) we decided to start to get involved in something outside(!!!!) of the uni.

Our first port of call was finding a gym. We’d been told there was one on campus (in the accommodation block next door to ours – still not venturing too far) but had also been told we had to undergo some indistinct ‘medical checks’ (which included a trip to the gynaecologist if you wanted to use the pool) in order to join… On trying to find the gym, we went into the basement of the halls next to us as instructed and found a carpeted room with some kettle bells and a man at a desk who started shouting things at us. Instead of standing and enquiring and maybe even trying to listen to what he was saying we just turned around in a bumbling English panic and left, and thus ended our short lived gym dream. Turns out that wasn’t actually the uni’s gym, which is in fact on entirely the other side of the campus, so not really sure what we found in that underground room, but we didn’t venture there either.

Instead we followed the advice of one of our delegated Russian friends to join a gym about 15 minutes away called «Медведь», “Bear”. We are yet to take a trip there without getting told off for wearing the wrong shoes*, getting asked how to use equipment, generally being talked to by strangers or figuring out how to turn the radiators off in the 22° room in the 30° town.

*there are disposable bags you’re meant to put on your shoes when you arrive, to then walk through to the changing rooms to change into new shoes to use in the gym, the idea being that then you don’t tread outside shoes and dirt all over the machines. Sensible idea.  However we are stupid and don’t understand Russian or indeed have any common sense at all and so almost without fail get an annoyed employee coming up to us to tell us off and generally despair at our incompetence and make us want to cry with embarrassment and hide in the changing rooms.

We signed up for a month.

ДОБРО ПОЖАЛОВАТЬ

The time has come. After having dreaded/been morbidly excited for/ generally denying the existence of Russia, I am now here. And it’s not even that bad.

After what felt like a lifetime of travelling, the first leg of the flying being with BA was luxury travel as we had hot meals and so much free wine and films and blankets and headphones (still such a novelty) which was then followed up in Moscow by an angry Russian check-in lady (we were all over the luggage allowance by an average of 10 kg), a bread roll, slice of cheese and ‘ham’ (not complaining about VIM-air, but Is that even an airline?) We were chaperoned to Krasnodar by a nice Russian lady and had an awks few hours not being able to communicate/letting her appease angry check-in lady (we didn’t have to pay anything for our extra bazillion in weight thanks to her negotiating) and were picked up in the middle of the night and went straight to the uni accommodation where we’d be staying.

The first impression was of our halls was a bit grim, we’re all sharing bedrooms which was quite a change for all of us to begin with, and on arrival they were very bare, very striplighty, hospitally, prisony, smelly beddingy, bugs in the kitcheny, hand held showery…. BUT in the daylight and with the blankets, bed sheets, pillows and lamps we bought, they are now positively homely. There are still bugs and the shower is still handheld (the shower pipe also has a knife jammed behind it….?), but that’s fine, and I’m so grateful to be with other people I know here, the company is definitely appreciated and keeps us all going. We do have a curfew… which means we have to be back by 11pm or aren’t allowed back in until 6am, which is less than ideal, but we’ve so far pushed to 11.05 and 5.30 so far, so are seeing some progress there…………..

We have lessons every day for 4 hours, solely in Russian, about Russian, which is hard going but definitely worth it! Our teacher, Irena, has a large chance of being the nicest woman on the planet, who after having called us her dears for four hours, always ends by thanking us for our work, our friendship and our love. The uni building is right next door to our accommodation, and is pretty grey. The floors are SO slippy (which I understand is a strange thing to note of all things about a university) and all the doors (massive and metal and numerous) open outwards, so getting to our classroom is a bit of an obstacle course of trying to not fall over or get knocked out by a metal face plant. Both our halls and the uni have guards, all of whom are sinfully miserable and barely even flick their eyes onto your passes, but if ever you think ok maybe this time I’ll sneak in you get halted by a loud “GIRL”.

Russians address girls just by saying “girl”, which seems strange to us but just sounds totally normal here. One of the most terrifying things to hear is a shout of “girl” which you then realise is directed at you, cus it means that someone is going to speak to you, and there is an almost guaranteed chance that you aren’t gonna understand it. I might need to stamp out my habit of just immediately saying “yes” to everything and anything, understood or not, directed at me, which I think is some kind of fight of flight reflex I seem to have acquired, but I quite like the not knowing what I might have just agreed to. So far my yessing has lead to good things such as a spontaneous plate of lasagne appearing in front of me after I’ve already eaten the meal the kind Russian woman has cooked me, so I think for now I’ll keep going.

Krasnodar itself is lovely. The main transport is trams, then trolleybuses, then “marshrutka”’s which are essentially tiny mini vans which zoom around and pull up what seems like kind of anywhere and look less than trustworthy, but I’m still yet to try one of those. It’s definitely really different, in a kind of random holes in the pavement, crumbly buildings, going to the supermarket and finding a bit of the ceiling has collapsed and water has now fallen from said hole all over the uncovered frozen prawns kind of way, but I really really love it.

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the pavement was doing so well until here

‘Culture shock’ is very much the term for the first week here, but now nothing is surprising. The people and the way of life here is so different to Britain, but in no way to be criticised for. They’re definitely a sterner people than we’re used to, but also in some ways much more open, even philosophical and after some long stares or “do-you-understand-me?”’s there are so many people thrilled to meet some English and who are just so enthused/like why why whyyyy to find out we’re learning Russian. Everyone bloody loves Pushkin, but they really don’t drink as much as everyone thinks.

Tschüssiiiii Dland!!!

After Christmas my Dad came to visit, and in the space of two days we did a mini tour around the areas I hadn’t been to yet, visiting Hanover (which was -10 when he arrived..) Hameln (where the Pied Piper is from!) eating loads, drinking loads, and enjoying the snow! It snowed on my last weekend in Germany, and quite a lot. I looooove snow so I was so glad I got some before I left, but unfortunately life goes on as usual for the Germans when it snows, so there were no surprise days off for me.

In my final week came another social outing with the teachers, but this time it was just with the English staff and a lot less awkward. Having sat for an evening with a bunch of Germans, chatted away in German and been able to join in with the stories and traumas about the children at school I felt really happy to feel so settled where I was and with my job as well as really sad to leave just as I’d finally mastered everything. The last week at school was another reminder of how much of a good time I’ve had at the school, as I was given presents and cards and baked cakes and sung to and mob hugged by gangs of 11 year olds (complete with tears of despair at my leaving…). Although I’m almost certain (I am definitely certain) that I don’t want to be a teacher, I have no complaints about having worked as one and absolutely loved it.

Overall Germany was such an amazing time. These blogs have only been the tiniest bits of what was one of the best experiences I’ve had! I was so lucky to be where I was, to find my accommodation and wonnnnnderful flatmate Sandy and to go and do and see everything I did in the short 5 months there. By the end it really felt like home, and I hardly noticed I was abroad at all. I would now say I can speak German, and wouldn’t hesitate in any situation to start chatting away and that was my main aim for my time there, which has turned out to be something that just kind of came along by itself!

Weihnachten

I haven’t posted for ages, so thought I’d fill in the gap between before Christmas and the end of my time in Germany. I crammed a lot into my time there in total, and now am so so sad it’s all over )))): but am certain I’ll return to Germany many more times yet.

Before Christmas I went to Amsterdam which only took 4 hours on the train from Bielefeld and which was full of the usual Amsterdam fun times as well as a little Christmas market (nothing in comparison to Germany’s) and a houseboat for a hotel (our room literally being a box with a porthole and bunkbeds). On the Christmas market note, I have to say this was one of the mega highlights of my time in Germany. They are EVERYWHERE and full of the best things ever; mulled wine, fried potato things, Wurst in all shapes and sizes, crepes, gingerbread, chocolate covered things, big meat things, more mulled wine, Christmas decorations, more mulled wine etc. They are literally the best places on earth and they made for the best run up to flying home for Christmas I could have had. At one point I was visiting Bielefeld’s almost daily, (I lived 5 minutes’ walk away) visited about 5 different cities’ markets (including 5 in one – Cologne) and it’s probs safe to say that by the end I had exhausted them for one year, and came home with a suitcase full more with market merchandise than actual clothes/my own belongings. Totes worth it.

Before I flew back for Christmas, I had the pleasure of partaking in the staff Christmas party… bowling. It had been a bit of a struggle to initially ascertain whether I was in fact involved in this event (story of my life generally at the school) or whether there was going to be the horrendous moment of me arriving and having to pretend that it was actually just a coincidence that I had planned to come solo bowling on that very evening too. After repeatedly failing to receive the group email (I tell myself I misspelt my email address) and generally doing open and close fish mouth hovering at the side of all conversations to do with the bloody bowling night, one of the new teachers took mercy on me and offered the life ring of an outright invitation, at which point I realised I’d now actually have to go and socialize with the teachers outside of school… awks. But go I did and it was so much fun. After huddling round a mini van parked behind some big museum drinking mulled wine from flasks for a bit (where I accidentally had the non-alcoholic one – why?! gross), we were all split into teams and went to the bowling alley. I learnt 3 things from this evening: Germans love to hi-5. I personally find the hi-5 one of the most painfully awkward possible gestures in the entire world, but when a 50 year old German has just got a strike and is speeding along the row of (already outstretched and waiting) hands you have little choice but to offer yours too. Two of the teachers at my school are a couple, or they swapped the celebratory hi-5 for a snog, which is unlikely. I can’t bowl. I did better on the round where we bowled with our wrong hands, and I still lost.

Then it was home for 3 weeks for a beauuuutiul Christmas and Birthday and New Year at home which was, as always, the best 🙂

pipes

This week has been “Project Week” at school, which is where, surprisingly, each class does a project… for the week. I was with the year 5 class all week because they were going to do an English rendition of The Pied Piper to be performed on Saturday at the end of the week’s work at their equivalent of an ‘open day’, where all the projects that have been done are displayed/performed and prospective children come to look around and the parents can come and see what they’ve all been doing.

It’s been so much fun and this class are so so sooo sweet they break my heart so I was really happy to be put with them. It’s been full of learning lines, colouring in the backdrop and props with wax crayons (during which 3 girls serenaded me with their favourite songs to check if I’d heard them, tried (unsucessfully) to make me sing my favourite song, interrogated me (again) about boyfriend, whether I have whatsapp, where I live, whether they can come with me to England for Christmas etc, making costumes and rehearsing it about 63 times every hour.

On the big performance day, the Pied Piper himself didn’t actually turn up – a bit inconvenient for our play of ‘The Pied Piper’ – but we had an understudy on hand who valiantly stepped in to carry the torch/pipe/recorder for class 5.1 . It all went perfectly; they all remembered all their lines, and the only thing that went wrong was that the cardboard pond fell over in the middle.

Last week my loooooovely momma also came to visit, which was the best. She brought me chocolate and Christmas decorations and in return we ate loads of pizza and drank loads of wine and ate loads of cake, which would make a good visit to Wolverhampton in my book let alone abroad.

Other good things:

I can now recite a ca. 7 minute stage production of the Pied Piper (with or without comedy German accent on request) and will probably be able to for the rest of my life.

I now remember how wax crayons are they best/worst things in the world.

Sandy’s birthday party was brilliant. We raided the 1€ shop the week before to buy all the essentials; cups, ribbons, multicoloured hangy uppy across the walls paper things, builders hats, toy cranes.. (the theme was ‘building site’ obviously) our alternative party food of choice this time I like to think rivals that of the soup incident at the last party. We had a copious amount of Grandma-made meatballs… THIS is now a definite must for all parties ever.

Christmas in Germany is the best and I love glitter. The Christmas market in Bielefeld is about 10 mins walk from my front door and is sooo pretty, and I intend to drink all the mulled wine and eat all the chips and crepes physically possible in the next 3 weeks. (normally I wouldn’t class a Ferris Wheel as a ‘ride’, but that one in the centre of the market spins so fast every time I watch it I’m on edge a child is going to fly out of a carriage and land in a vat of egg nog or impaled on a church spire.)

German kids use English swear words a lot. To them they have no real meaning cause they’re just English words aka not real words, but it’s strange to hear a 10 year old shouting things 10 year olds don’t normally shout when they lose their bus pass… It’s also quite awkward when they constantly sing ‘Bitch betta have my money’, just that line… x 1 million. They do the same in written work and I’m never really sure what to do. I try and correct it and be like……. don’t write that, but it’s difficult to make them understand why when the teacher has already marked it and said it’s all fine…!? eg. when I tried to point out to an 11 year old (doing a nice exercise on the present progressive in English) he might want an alternative to “the tiger is ‘shitting’ in the sand” (at first I thought he’d misspelt ‘sitting’. He hadn’t.) and another year 6 writing about ‘My Holiday’ who said: “the weather was shit.” A*.