Berlin again

Berlin2014-9

We had a lovely time in Berlin despite the challenges of shepherding (me) and carrying (Michael) a three year old around Berlin in the absence of a stroller. Felix was a big fan of the pizza.

Berlin2014-13

And the dinosaurs and other curiosities at the Natural History Museum.

Berlin2014-2

Berlin2014-5

Berlin2014-6

We visited the real fish again too. Felix perched in Michael’s arms is certainly a recurring image.

Berlin2014-trains-1

There are plenty of playgrounds and play-cafes in Berlin, including this play-cafe which provided dilapidated tricycles for small children.

Berlin2014-bike-1

But the biggest hit of all was the Technology Museum, specifically, the trains.

Berlin2014-trains-4

When we finally reached a steam engine you could actually climb inside, Felix ‘drove’ it furiously for more than half an hour.

Berlin2014-trains-6

Berlin2014-trains-11

Berlin2014-trains-7

Chuff chuff chuff….

Berlin2014-trains2-1

Fishies!

DSC_0682

We’ve escaped to Berlin for an excellent change of scenery, some amazing playgrounds, and vast amounts of delicious food. More on that later. Today the weather slipped a little from the days of blazing sunshine, so we decided to take Felix to the AquaDom. Felix was predictably in heaven. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him quite so excited. ‘Mummy, daddy, LOOK, fishies!!! Swimming round and round! Big eyes! Big mouth! Big tail!’ He also wanted to make sure that the fish weren’t going to eat the starfish, but we assured him they were all friends. It was so much fun that we decided to make use of our all-day passes and went back in the afternoon.

DSC_0761

DSC_0738

DSC_0728

DSC_0700

One of the highlights was a little aquarium tunnel near the end just for children to run through. The face says it all.

DSC_0743

Wildlife park

DSC_0121-1

These are photos from a (very cold) afternoon at a wildlife park in Germany over Easter, which I’ve been meaning to put up for a while.

DSC_0104-1

We saw rabbits, pigs, penguins and raccoons but Felix was most excited about the little train. He was desperate to get on it but didn’t enjoy it as much as he thought he would as it was a bit noisy.

DSC_0130

Waffles certainly cheered everyone up. Then I even got to meet some old friends.

DSC_0138-1

Ducks!

Well, close. I took these photos two weeks ago. Last week we went down to the harbour again, and I told Felix we’d look at the ducks. But there were no ducks, and no swans, and no seagulls. It didn’t stop him pointing repeatedly at the water, saying ‘du! du!’ On the way back through the park, though, we saw pigeons, which also count as ducks in Felix’s book, so it was ok after all. And tomorrow is Wednesday again, hurrah.

In praise of doors

Suddenly there was a ring at the door. Sophie’s Mummy said, “I wonder who that can be. It can’t be the milkman, because he came this morning. And it can’t be the boy from the grocer because this isn’t the day he comes. And it can’t be Daddy because he’s got his key. We’d better open the door and see.”

The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Judith Kerr

There is a delightful picture book I remember from my childhood called The Tiger Who Came to Tea. When I read it with one of the children at the kindergarten, she exclaimed ‘tiger!’ Felix, however, is much more interested in the front door through which the tiger enters. So much so, that as soon as he sees the book he cries ‘door!’, then impatiently waits till we get to the page of the tiger coming through the door, then loses interest.

I think he might be onto something.

People are often surprised and amused that one of Felix’s first and favourite words was ‘door’. He says the word with such deliberateness and such enthusiasm, he stretches it out, and he points: ‘door’.

But doors are wonderful. Quite apart from the thrill Felix gets being able to manipulate an object so much taller than him, and the magic of opening and closing it, doors are the gateways to everywhere. The whole world lies outside the door. As soon as Felix learnt to crawl he went straight to the doors and opened and shut them over and over, much to my dismay (as I tried to prevent him from squashing his fingers). Now he likes to walk through them and peer back into the room he has left.

Modern day doors are fairly bland, but in the past people used to take them much more seriously. We saw these doors in Hann. Münden.

And these doors in Salt Lake City.

In our house we have heavy old creaky doors which are quite lovely. I don’t love them quite as much as the previous owner of our house, however, who decided to take down the kitchen door and hang it ‘decoratively’ on the lounge-room wall. I think a door should function, first and foremost, as a door, and I’m glad our door has been restored to its original position.

If you are that way inclined, it is difficult to avoid the temptation to use doors as symbols. The bible is full of them. Churches are full of them. There are special doors that only certain people are allowed through, and doors that are only opened during certain ceremonies. And there is the tantalizing idea of doors to other worlds, for example the door of the wardrobe in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, a seemingly innocuous door through which adventure awaits.

So I think doors beat tigers hands down. You just never know what, or who, awaits you beyond them. As Sophe’s Mummy says, ‘we’d better open the door, and see’.

Bumblebee


From the photos on this blog you’d be forgiven for thinking that May in Norway is sunshiny and beautiful. It’s a nice illusion.

When the sun does shine, however, you soak it up. Michael spent a fair amount of time in the garden a couple of weeks back chasing bees.

The angelic bees stick to the treetops but in the undergrowth the monsters lurk.

Easter in Kassel

An abundance of chocolate aside, it’s all about the decorations.

This display was in one of the shopping centres. Felix enjoyed walking along holding on to the little fence, swiping other small children out of the way.

He liked the purple cows.

Michael liked the watch-makers.

I liked the fuzzy goats.

Moni has been looking forward to showing Felix the rabbits for weeks, but I think she liked his snuggles best of all.

Happy New Year!

I have been looking back at the snow-filled posts of last December, and this year is so different for us! (Apparently the winter in Norway is much milder this year anyway, so we haven’t actually missed out on much snow after all.)

2011 has been busy and brilliant as predicted. We have traveled to some amazing places, met some excellent people and weathered some sleepless nights,

but the most wondrous thing has been seeing our little guy grow up before our very eyes.

We are enjoying our two months in the sun before we go back to Norway to resume everyday life. I imagine that will be an adventure in itself with an almost one year old on board. To all my regular readers – thanks so much for stopping by and sharing the journey – I really appreciate having you around. We wish you all the very best for 2012!

Ducklings!

There is other stuff I need to write about, like Felix turning 10 months old and growing cleverer and funnier by the day, and the wonderful trip we had with my parents to Kangaroo Island last weekend, but I’m too tired right now and I cannot resist the ducklings. In fact I can never resist ducklings. We saw them this morning at the duck pond, along with another group of five stripy yellow and brown ones. When I first saw them I was confused because it feels like the wrong time of year for ducklings. After more than eight years, I think I’ve internalized northern hemisphere seasons…

Settling in

We made it! The journey was long and tiring but Felix took it in his stride. He slept on my lap. Now he is adjusting to the time-zone, all the attention from my family who adore him, and all the new sights and sounds, especially the raucous birds. It is just so different here.

We encountered these guys on our morning walk.

Felix really will need a few more days to get used to the noisy cockatoos. But he’s getting lots of cuddles, and lots of milk.

My parents are just so excited to see us, and have even prepared a special play corner for Felix. It’s going down well so far.

Another County Fair

Did I mention I am loving Montana? On our way back from the Glacier National Park we are stopping for a few nights in Hamilton, just south of Missoula. It’s a lively farming town with a sweet main street and an awesome microbrewery (we can recommend not only the beer but the black bean burger and the veggie burrito). Our visit happens to coincide with their annual fair, so Michael had a ball of a time snapping up the action.

The animals were beautiful. I felt a little sorry for the shiny fat pigs being auctioned off by their young owners, but it was hard not to get into the spirit of things.

In the Beef pavilion I stopped to read a poster which told the story of the breech birth of a calf – after it stuck its feet out they tried to pull its legs, then they tried chains, and eventually some sort of ‘cow wrench’ did the trick. A teenage boy asked if we had cows too. ‘No,’ I said, ‘but we have a baby’. He didn’t immediately make the connection.

The produce halls and the young people’s exhibits were also entertaining.

I enjoyed strolling past all the side-shows and the rides, reminiscing about my childhood.

My old favourite the Zipper was there in action but I wasn’t tempted. I must be getting old. Michael went back in the evening to see the rodeo and take photos of the shiny lights.

North

We drove a long way north, almost to the Canadian border, to the Glacier National Park.

The mountains, flowers and lakes were stunning

and there were little critters at every turn

(and bigger critters too).

There were seriously big creatures, bears, but we didn’t see any. I didn’t mind. But it made everything just a little bit spooky, knowing there were bears around. There were signs everywhere advising caution, and saying people had been killed in this park. I felt alright in the big open areas, but we did a couple of short walks along some remote lakes off the main tourist trail. The forest was so dense that a bear could have been three feet away and you might not have known it. Apparently a grizzly bear can kill a moose with a single swipe. And I had very precious cargo.

The whole place felt very wild. Like a whole world with its own laws and inhabitants getting on with things. We were only visitors. The deer eyed us calmly.

The squirrel scampered away with its nut.

At Logan pass, the rangers had a telescope out for visitors to look through. I observed the exact same conversation several times (and participated in it once). ‘Is there a bear?’ ‘No, there are Bighorn sheep on the mountain over there.’ ‘Oh’. With the naked eye you could barely pick out the white dots of the sheep’s tails. Disappointed, but unable to resist a telescope, we looked anyway. ‘Oh! Oh wow!’ Because the Bighorn sheep were stunning, sitting completely still, munching sagely – five of them, like statues, like ancient gods.

Boise butterflies

I had intended to go to the Basque museum today (there is apparently a lot of Basque culture here in Idaho), but due to a glitch in my map-reading (not unprecedented), we ended up at the zoo instead. A very good thing as it turns out because the zoo is absolutely gorgeous, especially the butterfly house.

Just the most beautiful place. I wasn’t quite coordinated enough to snap a picture of a butterfly sitting on Felix’s hat, but he seemed to enjoy all the flowers and fluttering things.

It’s all happening at the zoo

Idaho Falls has a lovely small and shady zoo, perfect for sunny mornings. We liked the giant tortoise the best. (This photo is courtesy of my Dad and his telephoto lens.)

We visited with my parents two weeks ago, and Felix and I went back last week. Felix led the way (until he ate the map).

We felt a bit sad for the big animals in the small enclosures, but they seemed happy enough, and the zoo was filled with baby animals, so they must be doing something right. (Michael speculates that the animals get so bored over the winter that all they can do is breed.) There was a baby zebra, a (nearly grown-up) baby snow leopard, various baby mini monkeys, a baby camel with crazy hair, and two beautiful wild cat kittens. They traipsed after their mother hassling for a feed, and when she gave in and flopped down, licking their heads while they ate, I felt quite a connection with her. It was hard to get good photos, but Michael got some nice shots of the lions.

There’s even an Australian enclosure. When I went back this week I watched a black swan chase two emus around, which was a sight I’ve never seen before.

This guy was more Felix’s size.

Bluegrass

I feel I was a bit harsh on poor old Idaho Falls in the last post. We’ve been here a month now, and wandering around the Downtown/Greenbelt areas today, I felt myself becoming fond of the place. I stumbled across a bluegrass festival on the river. It was awesome.

Sitting on the lawn listening to the music reminded me of the happiest weekends of my adolescence – our annual pilgrimage to the Port Fairy Folk Festival. (The Port Fairy Folk Festival was like an alternative universe – the smell of incense, the gypsy clothing, the heavenly music. I used to dream of running away with my penny-whistle to join a folk band, and I would spend days choosing the dangly beaded earrings I would buy each year.) Felix liked it too.

Well, ok, he was smiling at me there. But he didn’t mind hanging out on the grass and listening to music for an hour or so.

We also did a long walk along the river and saw ducklings,

the Mormon temple,

and the last vestiges of spring. The day was cloudy but warm, and only a little windy. I am getting used to the wind, anyway.

Another cow

Michael: why did you choose the photo of the little cow when I sent you a much better photo of a big cow.

Mel: I like the little cows.

Michael: But the other photo is better.

Mel: Why did you send me a photo you didn’t want me to use?

Michael: I knew you would like it. But I though you would recognise that the other one is better.

Settling in

We went for a drive today and came across a herd of cows and some real-life cowboys.

There were a lot of very small, very sweet calves,

and atmospheric clouds.

In other news, on top of adjusting to the new time-zone, Felix is recovering from his first ever cold. It’s not very nice for him, but not as terrible as I feared it would be. He just needs a bit more reassurance than usual, and has been very snuffly today. I haven’t slept for more than two hours straight for several days, but am holding up ok. Here he is getting into the spirit of things.

Our other darlings

Michael took these gorgeous photos of our beautiful cats last night.

I remember when they were kittens, thinking how nice it would be when they were grown up cats and could just hang out on the deck with us. And it’s very nice indeed, especially when you add a baby or two, some friends and some Sunday afternoon scones and tea.

Mermos caught a bird on the weekend, though. I guess it was only a matter of time. Thankfully he didn’t try to bring it into the house. Here they are checking our their next catches:

Ps. If you live in Halden you don’t fancy adopting them for six months from the middle of May, do you? We will be away and they are such lovely, lovely animals… Also by then they’ll probably have shed their winter coats. Right now there is fur on everything.

Sibling rivalry

Today I was holding Felix and Mermos (our black cat) decided it was time for a cuddle. He purred and nudged Felix with his head until I put Felix on my shoulder. Mermos promptly curled up on my lap. I passed Felix to Michael. Mermos enjoyed pride of place for a while but then decided he needed to sit on Michael. When Michael passed Felix back to me, however, Mermos followed immediately.

Visitors

Yesterday I slept in, but Michael was up early enough to witness these loveliest of visitors.

I’m pretty sure they come past every day, but they are so quiet that if you don’t look out the window at the right moment you miss them.

There’s also an enormous hare I’ve seen bouncing around, leaving hare-prints in the snow, but I don’t have a picture of him.

A day in the life

Scratch scratch scratch. Mooowwww!

Open back door for kitten 1.

Kitten 1 pokes his nose out and sniffs. -15, ouch. Sits there looking.

Close door.

Scratch scratch scratch!

Open door again.

Still -15. Kitten 1 decides to sleep on the couch instead. Gets bored quickly as has been sleeping for the greater portion of the past two days.

Scratch scratch scratch!

Open hallway door for kitten 1 to go in hall. Brief pause.

Scratch scratch scratch!

Open hallway door for kitten 1 to come back into lounge. Kitten 2 goes into hallway. Brief pause.

Scratch scratch scratch!

Let kitten 2 back into lounge.

Scratch scratch scratch, Mooooowwww!

They sit forlornly and look at back door.

The cats

Ok so I just made this my header, but that will change at some point and I wanted a record of this! I’ve been wanting to get a shot of them in the bright autumn leaves beside our driveway for ages. (Ok so Michael took the picture but I lured them in there…) It’s really hard to get photos of Mermos in focus – he’s so silky and dark and velvety that the camera has nothing to latch onto. This one is pretty good though:

If you ever take a picture when he has his mouth open he looks like a terrifying killer, but in reality he is emitting a pitiful squeak:

Mermos is a very emotional, very vocal cat. When he comes running in from outside he mews his little head off until you pick him up or he buries himself in your lap, making puddings and purring blissfully. For a long time he liked me best. We sometimes let them in to snuggle with us for half an hour or so before we go to sleep. If Michael was in bed and I was getting ready, he would pace disconsolately on the bed until I got into it, at which point he would leap on top of me and burrow into my neck. Thankfully he is starting to share his affections a little, because this was a bit mean. He sometimes gets into a funny mood and climbs right on top of the kitchen cupboards to watch the world from a safe distance, and to snooze in peace.  He is utterly obsessed with human food. He will even eat spinach. And your toast is never safe – he is getting faster and faster at swiping it out of your hand.

Whitby is the more even tempered of the two – he never makes quite as much fuss. He is happy to sleep beside you rather than practically inside you. He’s getting more and more snuggly, though, too. They both love to sleep on top of my bump. I think the little one will be very accustomed to the sound and the feel of cats purring! Whitby is more interested in going outside than Mermos, but he always comes back in when we call. It’s funny – they like to play in different places – Whitby is always out the back of the house, while Mermos is always out the front. Whitby loves the green chair.

And he loves Mermos. We adore them.

Visitors

A couple of months ago, we watched a deer float through our garden. It was weightless, quiet, made of grace. A few minutes later, we drove out to the main road, saw that some cars had stopped, and saw the deer lying on the ground. They are so fast, it must have happened just moments after we had seen it. We were so sad for the deer. For its quietness, its speed, its delicate feet. For its private pathways, which had woven through our own. We tried to tell ourselves: there will be other deer.

One evening, about three weeks ago, Michael called out to me – ‘Mel, get out here now.’ I raced out in my socks into the grey mist, and there they were: three of them, tiny, like shadows of air, treading silently away from us. I nearly cried.

And this evening they were back. The three of them, with their mother. Munching our overgrown lawn.

Mutton Bustin’

We went to our first ever rodeo last night. The bucking horses were cool. The ‘fast horses and pretty ladies’, as they put it, were nice too.

The bucking bulls were terrifying, but sadly Michael’s camera had run out of batteries by then, and mine wasn’t up for the job. But the most hilarious events were those involving children. The rodeo opened with a group of 8-12 year olds chasing two calves with money pinned to their flanks.

The calves eventually got tired of the whole affair and started chasing the children.

The main event, however, was the ‘mutton bustin’. The series of photos below shows how it compares with adult events.


Kitties!!!

We just got back from a fab weekend in Berlin. More on that later. Meanwhile, here are the creatures who are tearing about and leaping and mewing and pouncing and bouncing and purring and sleeping and stretching and generally taking over the place.

Names, anyone?

We don’t have them yet (as we will be away this weekend), but I went to visit them this evening. Exhausted from playing, they slept and slept.

I am so looking forward to having them around. I love their little purrs and squeaks as they stretch in their sleep. Their quick paws and their warm, warm fur. And I reckon two little black cats in our little white house will be a very good thing indeed.

So we went to look at some kittens

Michael’s colleague who lives a couple of streets away has two kittens to give away. As soon as I heard this, I pestered him to arrange a visit. ‘We need to think about this,’ he said. ‘Before we go, we need to decide whether it’s sensible for us to get a kitten.’ ‘Let’s just go,’ I said. ‘We can think about it later.’

Heh. So of course we now badly want the kittens, but we are going on holiday for four weeks just five weeks after we would get them. Not sensible at all. And there will be other kittens, so even if we decide that we desperately need them (which indeed we do) we don’t desperately need them now. But kittens have faces and bodies and souls that say love me. And the only question now is whether it should be the sweet-faced black creature who curled in a basket and then did a madly impressive high-speed chase of a ball, or the scruffy, clumsy, friendly white-socked one, with a lopsided splodge on his nose. Or both.

(For what it’s worth, we’re leaning towards blacky. But of course that isn’t the only question.)

Neighbours

Here is a brand new pine cone on the tree in our garden. At least that’s what I think it is. I’ve never seen one before. I tried to get a photo of the old wooden ones too, but couldn’t coax the little camera into focussing twice…

Last weekend one of our neighbours wandered over as we were planting seeds in pots. Between our terrible Norwegian and her terrible English, we managed to work out that she is 75, she grew up in our house, and her mother lived here till she died. Her children knew our house as ‘the grandmother house’. Her father planted the big tree.

She told us what sort of tree is was and Michael understood because it’s also called that in German, but it didn’t mean anything to me. It’s a Siberian something-or-other.

I think she told us that the fruit trees in our garden are yellow plums.

She warned us that deer would try to eat our flowers and our herbs. She said they especially like roses. You cannot plant roses here. But she said she has lots of flowers in her garden every year, not yet but soon.

I told her that I come from Australia and I work in a kindergarten.

I realized yet again that my handy stack of Norwegian sentences: ‘Would you like some more?’; ‘Are you finished?’; ‘Come here!’; ‘Don’t do that!’; ‘Mummy’s coming soon’; ‘Can I change your nappy?’; ‘Have you done a poo?’; are not really adequate for social encounters with people older than two years old. I so wanted to talk to her that I lapsed into my dodgy German, which didn’t help anyone.

So. Once the teaching is finished, the Norwegian books are coming out. Really they are.

Tonight another neighbour came to visit but she didn’t stay and chat.

The beauty of mist

A patch of it weirdly fills with light.

It blurs horizons.

It thickens in the creases of the fields.

People have said: this weather is depressing. I haven’t noticed. The grey is quiet and enclosing. One day it will lift, but for now we don’t need to see very far. Two weeks ago, on the early morning train, when the snow still held the monochrome world, the bare trees in the misty fields stood out against the white in different shades of grey, like a design on expensive wrapping paper. Today the grey holds traces of green and straw and brown. I stare out the window and slowly wake up. It is just after seven. And I see, in a field, a grey wolf. It stands completely still, like a concentration of the mist itself.

And a mouse in the snow

Many things happened yesterday. My aunt died, my cousin’s daughter was born, and another cousin got engaged (all on my Dad’s side). I read some of this news on facebook, and some in an email. I feel a very long way away.

But also not. I feel very connected to my family, and to life and to death.

Yesterday, driving to work, I saw a row of frosted birch trees standing in an field of snow. The sun (a welcome stranger in these parts) shone fiercely, directly behind them, illuminating the layers and ribbons of mist caught in their hair.

And tonight, from my new window over the roof tops, I watched the moment evening became night. It was a long moment. The sun does not set here as it sets in Australia – blink and you’ll miss it. It lingers. But I’m not talking about sunset, I’m talking about a long time after. And also I don’t mean ‘fades’. You know, ‘day fades into night’. Because here it doesn’t, not on clear days. Slowly, slowly, long after the sun has set, the blue gets deeper and deeper, sifting its way through a thousand shades, until suddenly the whole sky is a deep iridescent purple. Glowing, I say. And in the middle of it, the first star.

Lakes

I cycled to the lake this evening and the water was very still. The pine trees, gilded by the late sun, mirrored themselves perfectly. Then a fish jumped and flopped and splashed and the ripples circled out, a perfect bulls eye, eventually hitting the bank and folding in on themselves. It reminded me of this poem, by a 19th/early 20th century Australian poet who lived and wrote poems near the country town where I grew up. He was a farm labourer and largely uneducated. This poem is a bit awkward in places but I like it anyway.

The Crane is my neighbour

John Shaw Neilson

The bird is my neighbour, a whimsical fellow and dim;
There is in the lake a nobility falling on him.

The bird is a noble, he turns to the sky for a theme,
And the ripples are thoughts coming out to the edge of a dream.

The bird is both ancient and excellent, sober and wise,
But he never could spend all the love that is sent for his eyes.

He bleats no instruction, he is not an arrogant drummer;
His gown is simplicity – blue as the smoke of the summer.

How patient he is as he puts out his wings for the blue!
His eyes are as old as the twilight, and calm as the dew.

The bird is my neighbour, he leaves not a claim for a sigh,
He moves as the guest of the sunlight – he roams in the sky.

The bird is a noble, he turns to the sky for a theme,
And the ripples are thoughts coming out to the edge of a dream.

Claire Souter made a painting inspired by it.

I also thought of this poem, which I wrote about ten years ago and remember word for word. (Not surprising really as it is a silly little thing.) I wrote it about a lake not far from Penola, with which Neilson had some connection, and I was thinking about him and his lake and his ripples at the time.

I am the lake’s reflection
said the curved moon
leaping like a silver fish
in blue, late afternoon.

For me, there is still something magical and improbable about lakes. Perhaps as I come from such a dry country, where things marked as lakes on maps are often just sand flats or salt flats waiting for rain. ‘Lake’. There is something marvelous about it – the image, the word. The thought of all that still water beneath the stones and the trees.

Koalas and other friends

Not that koalas are particularly friendly, snoozing all the day on their gumtree perches, then growling and marauding all night. But they look pretty friendly. They make you smile. I went for a walk with some old friends yesterday and we saw four koalas, a kangaroo and an echidna.

It has been very wonderful seeing my old friends again. These are the friends I made in my late teens and early twenties, when we were discovering what the world was, for us, and who we were within it. We made big discoveries and serious mistakes; we saw each other several times a week and spoke on the phone late at night and loved each other intensely. We tried things out. We changed our minds. We went to the desert to count the stars and to the mountains to climb the grey rocks and taste the mist that wound between the trees. We walked on the beach in the rain. We carried each other. We disappointed each other. We changed. There was something intoxicating in our togetherness. It was not at all clear where we stopped and our friends began, where the boundaries of self lay. This was wonderful and dangerous. We could not keep it up.

When I left for England, nearly six years ago, I was leaving this.

Other times I have come back have felt somewhat strange. Part of me assumed that going to Europe was like entering a fairytale –  another world and another temporality – and that back home everything would remain exactly as I left it. This isn’t the case. People go on with their lives. They find partners and have babies and buy houses and write books. One of my dearest friends nearly died – he had a stroke and a brain tumor – and I wasn’t there.

This time has been different. We will never go back to the way it was ten years ago, and we don’t need to. But what remains of that time is a kind of effortless connection, an ease of being known, not just in the present moment but through time. Not that we need to plumb the depths and rehearse old memories, but the fact that they are there, beneath the surface, gives a different quality to the present.

I have little over a week to go. There are people I haven’t seen yet, whom I want to see. I need to ring them up and fill up the rest of my half-filled diary, eight more days. But I am hesitating. I suspect that if I curl up very small and very still, like the koala in the tree, time will stop moving, the days won’t disappear. But they always do.

Cold

We got back on Monday night. It was freezing. I have never been in a house so cold. The sheets were crisp with cold, even our clothes in their drawers. The floor was slippery. The toilet seat burned. We put the heater on in our bedroom and shut the door, and snuggled in with extra duvets, fleeces, thick socks and make-shift hot water bottles.

There we are, fluffing our feathers.

It was so cold that our refrigerator and freezer had decided there was no point staying on. Which meant it was warmer inside the freezer than out of it, and all our food had defrosted. I kept the fire going all day Tuesday and once it warmed up a bit it kicked into gear again. Also the pipes under our shower are broken.

It’s been regularly -10 for the past couple of weeks. Tomorrow, for the first time in ages, the forecast inches up to a comparatively toasty +5. It is with great reluctance that I turn my attention towards my phd for one final push. I walked to the harbour this afternoon, but the sun slid behind the islands all too swiftly.

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.