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Felix: The training wheels came off on Boxing Day. He did so great!

Antonia: Canned tuna for breakfast on Christmas day.

And that wraps up a portrait of my children (nearly) every week in 2015.

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November Lights

November weariness hit a couple of weeks early for me this year, and by the time November started I felt that although I was tired and had a lot to do at least I was picking up speed and the end was in sight. It was such a relief to get to the end of teaching a week ago. I love teaching, but the last few weeks felt harried and scrappy, not helped by kids who kept getting sick when Michael was away.

Only one week and a couple of days left till I leave for Australia. I have my fingers crossed that the little ones stay healthy – it’s just been one thing after another. I was looking forward to a quiet week at work finalising some writing projects, sketching out some new ones and putting my exams together, but it’s Wedensday and I’ve only managed one half day so far (fevers and vomiting all round, although I’ve stayed well, touch wood). There has been a range of domestic disasters too. Our dryer broke, and then I broke it more, trying to fix it. Our toaster gave up the ghost spectacularly, flooding the kitchen with smoke and making our house smell like a campfire for a week. A tray in our fridge snapped in half, I don’t know when.

Still. There’s washing drying on the clothes horse. Another load on. We had our tyres changed over to winter tyres today, in the nick of time. The house right now is fairly tidy, the way it only ever is at 10 at night. And I thought I would sneak a little time to write, just for me. And it makes me happy.

Felix and I made a pepperkakehus (gingerbread house) on the weekend. The pepperkaker pieces came in a box, and it was so. much. fun. I’ve always wanted to do one! I did the icing and Felix arranged the sweets. Antonia watched from her high chair. I’m doing Christmas things a little early with them because it’s nice to do them here, in our own house, in a Norwegian winter. The little house looks awesome. I put the christmas tree Felix insisted on buying last year next to it, and decorated all of it with some little snowflake lights. Photo soon.

This evening we made gingerbread shapes (the dough comes in a box, how clever is that) and started decorating them. The boy shares my love of sweet and sparkly things. Antonia even insisted on joining in and managed to stick some sweets onto a gingerbread man. Felix chose the shapes we made very deliberately. Four gingerbread people, to be our family. Some trees. Some bells. No horses. But I like the horse! I said. ‘Ok, but you have to eat it.’ And he thought the angel was a transformer. After his bath, Felix chose a tree to eat. ‘Isn’t it pretty!’ he said. ‘I’m going to save the transformer for tomorrow. I’m getting into transformers.’

When I picked Felix up from the barnehage this afternoon, it was dark and misty. Often the children go back inside at this point, but his class was still out. I could barely see a thing. ‘Felix!’ I called. ‘Over there’, said his carer. A boy on a tricycle wearing a beloved brand new bright blue and dark blue snow suit with little zips careered towards me through the mist. ‘Just one more round!’ he said, and pedalled off furiously to do a lap of the barnehage. I stood in the cloudy dark, holding Antonia, getting cold. ‘Felix!’ I called again. Surely he would be back by now. And then I looked up and he came round the corner triumphantly, riding quite fast, backwards! Like one of his favourite characters from the movie Cars. ‘Wow, Felix, backwards driving!‘ I couldn’t see his face through the mist but I knew his grin would be as big as mine.

Grandma and Granddad’s house

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I’ve been really enjoying hanging out with the kids at my grandparents’ house. Mum says it’s strange to watch her grandson riding a bike along the same verandah she rode along as a child. It’s the same for me. So many childhood memories in this house and garden. And there I am, not a child any more but one of the mothers.

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How many babies have been cuddled on this lawn?

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How many barefoot races?

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How many children have helped with Christmas baking?

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Cup of tea?

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One of Felix’s favourite activities is to ‘make’ us a cup of tea – he puts the teabag in the cup and tells us when to add the milk. So it’s not surprising that this tea set from my Mum was one of his favourite presents.

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It didn’t actually come with a teapot so Mum improvised with a little one she found in the cupboard. The lid kept falling off and we were worried it would break so we hid it away and told Felix it was sleeping. Not to be dissuaded, he spent most of the day looking around hopefully, saying ‘lid sleeping?’ Yesterday we relented and gave it back, and today he was playing happily with it when he decided that probably the lid would be tired by now so he ran off to put it to bed.

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2010: The Honeymoon Christmas

To celebrate the five year anniversary of my blog, for five days I am reposting one of my favourite posts from each year.

If 2009 was big, 2010 was bigger, although it passed in such a blur. As I summarized here, in 2010: I made the saddest and most careful decision of my life, we moved into our very own house, I taught at the University in Oslo, I got pregnant again, our cats entered the story, and to top it all off, out of the blue, we got married.

But my favourite post has got to be this one.
                                                                                                                

2010: The honeymoon Christmas

For once we didn’t go anywhere. This was our seventh Christmas together, but our first Christmas alone together. Our first Christmas in our very own house with our very own tree. Our first Christmas with our very entertaining cats. Our first Christmas married. Our first Christmas in Norway. My very first white Christmas.

On Christmas Eve we tidied up a bit then settled down for presents about 4pm (Michael having ascertained in advance that we would do German presents rather than Australian ones so he wouldn’t have to wait till tomorrow). The kittens were most excited with their toy mice, Michael loved his huge warm grey dressing-gown, I put my early Christmas present of an ipod touch to good use providing some quality Christmas music, and we emptied the Christmas stockings of an over-abundance of Swedish chocolate I had purchased to make up for already having eaten the Australian chocolate Mum had sent me. (We still have some German Christmas goodies left cos Michael’s Mum sent over four boxes of them!) We then called Michael’s folks, had a yummy dinner of roast carrots, parsnips, garlic, red onions, falafels and brussell sprouts, and capped off the evening by watching ‘Let the Right One In’ – brutal and poetic and heart-warming all at once.

The 25th continued in much the same way – our favourite food, a crackling fire, novels on the sofa, a walk in the snow, skype calls to family, and Michael practicing taking photos of lights. Some new friends, a Japanese family, came over for dinner, and their little daughter proved what a good kindergarten teacher I’ve been for the last few months by giving us spirited renditions of ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’.

I thought some more about how much I like that Norwegian advent poem – how joy and hope are there, but longing too. The last verse goes:

We light four candles this evening,
and let them burn down,
for longing, joy, hope and peace,
but most of all
for peace on this small earth
where people live.

My Nanna said that Christmas wasn’t the same this year without Irene, my Dad’s twin sister who died earlier this year. And I must admit, looking at several of my friends’ Christmas photos on facebook of their six month old babies, I felt a little twinge for our lost little one whom we will never meet. But then I felt an even bigger twinge from the very present little one kicking and wriggling inside me, and I smiled. We should meet him very soon. But I like that poem very much because those who are absent can be with us too, they are not shut out.

I love Christmas. I love Christmas in Australia with my family and the sunshine, and I love Christmas in Germany with Michael’s family and the perfectly wonderful German Christmas markets. But this year, this quiet, happy, snow-filled Christmas was exactly what we needed, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Christmas take two

The next day we did it all again with the other side of the family at my Grandma’s house.

Little Miss Mala stole the day, walking laps of the gardens with various adults in tow.

Everyone was happy to have another generation around.

The desserts were pretty good too.

Felix got thoroughly spoiled – at one point the three of us were sat together on the sofa, pretty much buried under an avalanche of presents.

Here Felix is looking about as exhausted as I was by that point,

but it was a wonderful, wonderful day.

Christmas take one

Felix opens his first present,

a box of wooden vegetables from my Mum.

We gave him a xylophone and a gorgeous board-book, Mog and Me. We ate waffles for breakfast, then Dad’s extended family arrived, and the afternoon passed in a blur of excitement.

Felix checked out some more second cousins.

But the most original present of the day was courtesy of my brother and his girlfriend, who gave Felix a ‘mini-Jon’ outfit.

He totally rocked it.

The honeymoon Christmas

For once we didn’t go anywhere. This was our seventh Christmas together, but our first Christmas alone together. Our first Christmas in our very own house with our very own tree. Our first Christmas with our very entertaining cats. Our first Christmas married. Our first Christmas in Norway. My very first white Christmas.

On Christmas Eve we tidied up a bit then settled down for presents about 4pm (Michael having ascertained in advance that we would do German presents rather than Australian ones so he wouldn’t have to wait till tomorrow). The kittens were most excited with their toy mice, Michael loved his huge warm grey dressing-gown, I put my early Christmas present of an ipod touch to good use providing some quality Christmas music, and we emptied the Christmas stockings of an over-abundance of Swedish chocolate I had purchased to make up for already having eaten the Australian chocolate Mum had sent me. (We still have some German Christmas goodies left cos Michael’s Mum sent over four boxes of them!) We then called Michael’s folks, had a yummy dinner of roast carrots, parsnips, garlic, red onions, falafels and brussell sprouts, and capped off the evening by watching ‘Let the Right One In’ – brutal and poetic and heart-warming all at once.

The 25th continued in much the same way – our favourite food, a crackling fire, novels on the sofa, a walk in the snow, skype calls to family, and Michael practicing taking photos of lights. Some new friends, a Japanese family, came over for dinner, and their little daughter proved what a good kindergarten teacher I’ve been for the last few months by giving us spirited renditions of ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’.

I thought some more about how much I like that Norwegian advent poem – how joy and hope are there, but longing too. The last verse goes:

We light four candles this evening,
and let them burn down,
for longing, joy, hope and peace,
but most of all
for peace on this small earth
where people live.

 

My Nanna said that Christmas wasn’t the same this year without Irene, my Dad’s twin sister who died earlier this year. And I must admit, looking at several of my friends’ Christmas photos on facebook of their six month old babies, I felt a little twinge for our lost little one whom we will never meet. But then I felt an even bigger twinge from the very present little one kicking and wriggling inside me, and I smiled. We should meet him very soon. But I like that poem very much because those who are absent can be with us too, they are not shut out.

I love Christmas. I love Christmas in Australia with my family and the sunshine, and I love Christmas in Germany with Michael’s family and the perfectly wonderful German Christmas markets. But this year, this quiet, happy, snow-filled Christmas was exactly what we needed, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Christmas lights

Ok so this is just a gratuitous shot of the kittens snoozing in our lounge room. I really want to write about light. Light is very important around here at this darkest time of year. All the houses have little white electric candles in their windows, which shine out calmly to the snow-filled streets.

On December 13th we celebrated Lucia. I think it’s even bigger in Sweden. The children at the kindergarten dressed up in white smocks and carried electric candles and walked in a procession singing songs about saint Lucia. It was strangely moving.

And every Monday at the kindergarten, we lit an advent candle. A day late, but it didn’t matter. Advent candles are pretty new to me, as the church I grew up in wasn’t big on that sort of symbolism. I had of course come across them, but only in passing. So I wasn’t sure if the particular meanings attached to the different candles were universal or peculiar to Norway.

I looked it up, and found this site, which explains it all beautifully. In Norway, the advent candles symbolize, in this order: joy, hope, longing and peace. It feels right to have the longing in there too. This particular configuration of meanings comes from a poem by the Norwegian poet Inger Hagerup. They recite one verse for each of the four Sundays before Christmas. It is a beautiful poem. It’s worth looking at the Norwegian version on the first site I linked to, but an English translation would go something like:

So we light one candle this evening.
We light it for joy.
It stands and shines for itself
And for us who are here now.
So we light one candle this evening,
We light it for joy.

Winter light

We had our work Christmas party last night, which was seriously fun. They’d booked out a huge restaurant and there was champagne and a buffet and dessert and coffee and dancing and games… And a cash bonus inside our Christmas cards which made us all smile! There was a band who sang lots of songs about sunshine and summer. I stayed with my friend who lives in Fredrikstad, and we wandered around its astonishingly beautiful fortified town today. I must remember to visit more often, it’s only half an hour away. So. All good. Now I have only three days left, before I start heading towards a summer all of my own. I am counting down the hours…

December II

The weather has been uninspiring, as have the extensive hours of darkness. At least it’s nearly the winter solstice and the sun will slowly start inching its way back towards us. Even better, I get to jump ship for a month and experience the summer solstice instead. Really looking forward to a holiday. Everyone in the kindergarten is exhausted. Also, Michael has been away for work forever and ever and it’s getting extremely boring around here.

Enough whinging. Probably just the December blues. I wrote a poem yesterday, which made me happy. And I just spoke to Michael for an hour on skype, which made me even happier.

Last weekend we had a Christmas market at the kindergarten! We sold things the kids have made, and put on a little concert. There was mulled wine, coffee, pepperkaker (gingerbread made with heaps of cardamom), and lots and lots of cake.

As usual, I wasn’t wearing enough clothes, and my feet slowly turned to blocks of ice. Need to get me some fur lined boots.

After the concert, the Julenisse led a dance around our outdoor Christmas tree. Before I joined in, everyone swirling around the tree reminded me of some kind of pagan ritual. I half expected a human sacrifice. Then I thought – what the hell, when have I ever danced around a Christmas tree before? And I joined in.

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On Christmas eve, there was a Christmas fairy.

And cakes at four.

Stollen and Lebkuchen. M’s brother decorated the table and I was mighty impressed.

M’s brother and his girlfriend gave me a silly hat and angel wings to keep up tradition. And an episode of Ausburger Puppenkiste, to help my German and to make me laugh. (These string-puppet stories are just lovely.)

Actually I did rather well with presents, including the white shirt and green jumper pictured above, and the absolutely gorgeous jumper knitted by my Mum that you can see below. M’s brother gave him some shirts and ties to supplement the one decent shirt and tie that he owns.

M and I were responsible for dinner. We learned a valuable catering lesson – if you’re going to do a starter course, don’t make it all you can eat! (Especially if you have eaten cake just a few hours before.) After two different kinds of cheese, and dried apricots and olives and dolmades and french bread we hardly had room for the roast carrots and parsnips and figs and sundried tomatoes and halloumi and salmon and couscous, and afterwards we could barely move. But we were still smiling.

Happy Christmas to all, especially to my lovely far away family. xxx

Babbies and bairns we’ll always be

Me babbies, me bairns!‘ The immortal opening lines of the York pantomime. I thought I’d better say a few words about it before the moment passes. We went to York especially for the pantomime, before coming to Germany. We love it. It’s been going for more than thirty years. The same panto-dame has had the lead role for thirty years, and the panto-baddy has been in it for twenty-one. It’s just super. We watched it every year while we lived in York, and now still try to get to it. Frivolous songs and dances and silly story-lines and cross-dressing and amazing costumes and local references… Hard to explain really, if you’ve never been to one. This time it was Dick Turpin (famous highway man who was hanged in York – though of course the panto changed the story somewhat). In the past I’ve seen Sleeping Beauty and Sinbad the Sailor and I can’t remember what else. Lovely. This was my fifth panto, and Michael’s seventh. I’m hoping for many more!

Kassel Christmas Market

After one Glühwein we were walking in circles, which seems to be the German term for ‘a little bit wobbly’. I still have the gingerbread heart M bought me four years ago. I loved the little Christmas train, pulled by reindeer, going round and round the enormous Christmas tree. And it all smells so good! Roast nuts, popcorn, waffles… In the last photo, behind the stall selling apple fritters, you can see the top of Christmas tree and the giant Christmas pyramid. Brilliant.

Chimneys and words and packages

Here’s another view of the Bingley chimneys. And the semi-frozen canal. The ducks promenade around here much as they do in Halden. The thesis chugs along. I reckon I’ll get it finished in early February, or possibly late January. I got my chapter one (extension of intro) nearly written. I felt like I was juggling so many balls so beautifully, and then I tripped and dropped them all, and couldn’t fathom the energy to pick them all up again. But it is nearly nearly there. I have sent it to my supervisors and will meet with them both individually this week – one tomorrow, and one on Thursday.

Over the past couple of days I’ve been getting back to the first chapter I wrote – the one that’s always caused me the most trouble. I still feel like I’m somewhat awkwardly hanging my argument on my textual analysis, rather than boldly using my textual analysis to advance my argument. The problem with this poet is that he says one thing and then he says the opposite – it’s really hard to pin him down. Anyway, pinning poetry down isn’t my ultimate aim, is it?

My technique this weekend has just been to write the paragraphs that need to be written, without wasting too much time about whether they fit on page eight or page twenty-eight. It’s been working, this close attention to detail, but I’m beginning to feel like printing it out and coming up for air. Tomorrow.

Vic has been a great encouragement. She keeps reminding me that I love this stuff, really.

And it is nearly Christmas which I am very very pleased about. Michael’s coming over to the UK on Wednesday, and we’ll have a few days here before heading across to Germany on Sunday. Good good good. (He’s had some horrible adventures in Norway this week – the valient snuggle-car does NOT like the cold. It got frozen, snowed under, and refused to get going in the Oslo airport carpark, but it’s ok now. I think in winter we’ll keep it to the temperate south from now on.) And oh – Mum and Grandma – all your parcels/cards have arrived in Germany safe and sound! Thank you thank you thank you! Apparently the postman was very excited to be delivering parcels from Australia.

Ladies’ Christmas Party

Last night I was inaugurated into the Halden Ladies’ Club. (It’s associated with M’s work, but not exclusively.) They are an international bunch – Belgian, Japanese, Thai, Danish, Greek, Russian, English, Norwegian, Italian, and I’ve probably missed a couple. They are doctors, nurses, researchers, IT specialists, mothers (usually combined with one of the above). They live here. They like it.

We had a seriously amazing dinner – sushi, tzaziki, greek salad, shrimp curry, Swedish potatoes, Thai noodle salad, Roman gnocchi, tofu spring roll thingies (completely amazing and unlike anything I have ever tasted), pink layered Russian salad, cheesecake, chocolate pie, hazelnut cake, cloudberry cream, and other delicacies.

My contribution was a chocolate version of my grandma’s sponge roll. I just added two dessert spoons of cocoa to the sponge mixture, and, er, one hundred grams of melted 70% cocoa-solid chocolate to the cream. And some raspberries. M told me I’d give all the ladies heart attacks. And he rudely suggested that its gooey brown tubular appearance reminded him of something less than savory.

It was intense. I think next time I will only add chocolate to half of the cream, and have a mix of chocolate and plain cream… And maybe a few more raspberries. Still, it went down well.

We played some silly games, and I won a shiny spaghetti scooper. There was a kris-krindle and I got a red breadbasket with teddybears on it. One of the games involved getting a piece of card with an animal name on it. You had to make the sound that animal makes, and find the other person in the room who was being the same animal. With everyone coming from different countries, it was impossible. I said ‘quack’, and got mistaken for a frog. I said ‘oink’, and no one knew what I was. My fellow pig was not very helpfully saying ‘boo boo’. It was hilarious.

Anyway, it was soooooo nice to meet some new people, and laugh, and talk, and eat too much. By the end of the night, I decided that a lady wasn’t such a bad thing to be, after all.

December in Halden

Is quite lovely really. It’s pitch dark by four, and pretty dark by half past three, so I try to venture outside while the sun shines and the ground sparkles. I solved the final structural problems with my introductory chapter today, but my brain is too tired right now to fill in all the gaps. Tomorrow morning will do. Am frustrated with how long this is taking, but if I compare it to my usual progress it’s coming together quite quickly I suppose. Anyway, I’ve turned a corner with it. (Must only think about one bit at a time, if I think too hard about everything that still needs to be done I freeze up completely.)

It’s funny, structuring. For me, it’s never something I can fully come up with in advance, or impose with too harsh a hand. These days I usually have an idea of a structure, but it often morphs into something slightly different. Finishing the chapter requires a combination of hard slog and quiet contemplation. If I am rushed it feels like I’m trying to force pieces of a puzzle together that don’t fit. But if I rest for a day, and come back to it slowly, not hating it, reading it carefully instead of wishing it looked different, the pieces slide into place almost without effort.

Snowing!

On the first day of December! No photos yet, but if it makes the ground all pretty I will be out there this afternoon. Right now I am happy with the fat flakes of whiteness tumbling down outside. I think it bodes well for serious thesis writing.

I put up our Christmas pyramid last night. It was a present for me from Michael’s Mum two years ago (it’s German). This is the first time I’ve actually been at home close enough to Christmas to use it. I love these things. Warm air from the candles turns the windmill, which in turn makes all the little figures inside the pyramid go round and round. Wise men, shepherds, angels. (And don’t forget the donkey and the sheep and the lambs.) I love how this one looks so Persian, with the arches and mini gold domes.

The other Christmas creatures are: the blue Swedish horse I bought with my Grandparents in Stockholm a few years back, because it reminded me of the red Swedish horse that sat on their bookshelf all through my childhood; a Russian icon of St George that I bought also with my Grandparents (on the same trip) in St Petersburg; and the Russian dolls I bought with my cousin Hannah in Prague, nearly five years ago now. I was sorely tempted to buy a gingerbread house kit from the co-op on the corner (only 25 kroner!). I resisted, as we’re only here another week and then away for a month, and I wouldn’t want to invite a bunch of mice over for a party while we’re gone.

Christmas lights

They lit the Christmas lights in Leeds last week. There was a party on the street. On every corner you could buy plastic lazer lights or sparkly butterflies. The lights are great. There are giant champaign bottles, and glasses filled with fizzy gold. I overheard some people complaining that this was too early for Christmas. No, no, no! Christmas means so much more up here where it is dark and cold. We know winter’s not going away for six whole months (sad but true) but the sparkly lights say – we don’t care! We will dance and shine and glitter anyway.

The German Christmas market opened today. On the way the way back from the library tonight, I was drawn like a moth to a flame. I managed to resist the gluwein and just stayed long enough to purchase some horribly overpriced domino stones. Ah, domino stones. I must have been grinning like an idiot, because the man who sold them to me said: ‘You are smiling!’ And I was. And I am.

Summer blogging

I took a picture of the weather outside, but it made it look more depressing than it actually is, so I thought I’d spare us both. Suffice to say, you can’t see the tops of the hills for the mist, the river is a rapid flowing murky brown, and the trees are brown and bare. Very pretty they are in the evening, though, when the lights of the small town shine through their hair. And it’s cozy in here. The fire warmed up the flat so well yesterday that we haven’t even had to light it yet today. The cold that knocked me out over the weekend is slowly fading. The lovie is faring a little worse, and keeps telling me that he’s about to die, but I think he’ll be okay. We sleep for at least twelve hours a night at the moment. And here’s what we left behind.

Me flying at the Bluff. It felt pretty cool to zoom around this South Australian landmark. Well, it’s a landmark of my childhood, anyway, from countless weekends in Victor Harbour. I’m not about to land on the rock – I’m actually going up.

See? That’s me in the background. And now can I tell the story of how the wind got too strong and I nearly didn’t land safely? (Some people I know are already sick of hearing it.) It was scary. I was almost dragged across the road. But at least I know for sure now – when the wind gets too strong for you, come down. Don’t stay up an extra five minutes cos it’s fun. Just don’t. Anyway…

Happy flying bugs.

We don’t fly these, but they’re pretty.

My favourite Christmas photo – me and Auntie Annie, the feast in the background.

Sydney sunshine. And the paragliders out surfing the wind at Tunkalilla. I bet they’re out there still.

Virtual Hikes and other Exciting Adventures

I had decided to console myself for my valiant decision to go to the library instead of hiking in the dales by posting a virtual hike – photos of my favourite walk ever. But the website which housed the photos has disappeared! Only one remains, pictured above. That day, the hills were frosted, icicles glistened on the gates and the puddles were as hard and bright as glass. And if it’s that pretty at the bottom of the hills, just think what it looked like from the top! A different shade of crystallized grass or rock or slope or sky everywhere you looked. One of those days when the landscape is music that you walk through.

No matter. Dedicated student that I am, I went to the library. At lunch time, as the cafe at uni was closed, I wandered into town and stumbled upon a German Christmas market. Not quite the same as being in Germany, but almost. I indulged in garlic mushrooms and fried potatoes and Glühwein (mulled wine), and bought some ridiculously overpriced domino stones. They were worth it. (These small cubes of soft gingerbread, fruit jelly and marzipan covered in dark chocolate are seriously wonderful. I’ve already eaten all the ones I brought back from Berlin.) I always thought the German word for mulled wine was a bit weird, sounding, as it does, like glue-wine, but actually the ‘glüh’ means ‘glow’. So it’s glowing wine. Which is exactly what it does, in your cold hands and in your belly. I then floated back to uni in a mulled wine haze for another two hours of photocopying and traipsing up and down stairs, accidentally causing an avalanche of over-stacked books-for-reshelving. All in a day’s work.