Monday, July 7, 2014


I'm a language teacher, so I've been following my older son's language learning process avidly. (He's twenty months. I was recently asked by a 15-year-old why people refer to small children's age in months - I guess it's because every month brings a huge jump forward in terms of ability, so you have to be accurate when you're boasting at the playground, or whatever.) Watching a child learn language is really interesting and all the more so if more than one language is being learned. With enormous efficiency, children learn the words that are most valuable and important to them: for example, young John has learned that 'Please' ('Peas', actually, but we're happy with that) gets results, but 'thank you' is an irrelevant chore that only features after he's got what he wants. Pleases are abundant, thank yous are sparse. But we persevere.

He has an extensive vocabulary and often shocks us with what he knows. "Silly Mama," he said to his truck the other day, "silly Mama." I don't think he believes the truck gave birth to him, but he was obviously practising his new vocabulary for a more opportune moment. He knows how to ask for most of the things he likes to eat, in both languages, so if "Cake, peas!" fails, "Kuuuuuchen!" might work its magic. One of the most useful and used words in his repertoire is 'stuck', which reflects shockingly badly on our parenting skills as it's used a LOT. He tends to get stuck quite a bit (toddlers don't really know how big they are) and he has a lot of toys that are remarkably clumsy. Tom, for example.

This is Tom. He's a helicopter pilot on one of his favourite television shows, Fireman Sam (no, he doesn't watch television. What kind of bad parents do you think we are? He watches it on my iPad. Haha. Yes, I know, but you try to change a newborn's dirty nappy while your toddler attempts to climb up your IKEA bookshelf - he needs to be anchored somewhere safe for ten minutes and Sam kindly does the job.) In any case, Tom and his helicopter are his most beloved toys; sadly, Tom is a bit of an eejit and tends to get stuck on a daily basis.

For a start, he has difficulty with the concept of doors:

He seems to nosedive into the laundry basket a lot. Very disturbing - my smalls might be in there.  

He requires a lot of tissues:

But, on the plus side, has proven to be a very capable babysitter. He hasn't become stuck here yet, and we dread the thought that he might.

Friday, July 4, 2014



Happy 4th July, American readers! And belated Happy Canada Day, Canadian readers! Your official leaders had the good sense to place national holidays in the middle of summer, unlike the Germans (3rd October) or the Irish (17th March - I mean, come on. What are the chances of a dry day in Ireland, much less a dry day in March?)

Over here, we're in the midst of the World Cup, the football World Cup - or soccer, as people call it in places where football involves men in very tight trousers and Dynasty-style shoulder pads. This evening, Germany qualified for the quarter finals and a spontaneous street party erupted outside my house. The noise of cheery revellers aside, I'm very glad to see it: Germany has an uneasy relationship with displays of national pride. Their history makes it difficult for many Germans to discern an appropriate amount of patriotism: overt displays of love for the Vaterland often make people embarrassed or uneasy. Like a person who can only show emotion after a couple of drinks, tearful flag-waving often only comes after a victory in one of the big football championships.

And it's taken very seriously over here. Aside from the fact that people have flags hanging from their houses - which is probably utterly unremarkable to a lot of American readers, but extraordinarily rare here -

- news channels  report daily on the players' constitutions. Yesterday, we were breathlessly informed that seven of the players - yes, seven - were suffering from colds. Goodness! The big media groups are given a daily update on the team's schedules, thus we all know that they start training at nine and have a break after lunch for Kaffee und Kuchen. Yes, they might be training in tropical Brazil. but that's no reason not to stop for Schwarzw√§lderkirschtorte and Donauwelle at 3.30 in the afternoon. 

Were that not exciting enough, an octopus called Regina was appointed the official World Cup oracle.  I don't know what qualified this particular octopus to forecast match outcomes - I wasn't aware of octopuses' footballing talent in general, though having eight tentacles does suggest a certain advantage - but the sight of her flailing around her aquarium warrants a good 20-minute report on many TV channels and a terrible number of newspaper columns. (She predicted a draw for the Germany/USA match, by the way, which might have attributed to the rise of a new fortune-telling star, a pig - as yet unnamed - which is apparently having good luck picking out the winners. We wait and hope.)
 Worst of all, however, are the bandwagon fans, of whom I am the leader. You know who we are - you might even be one yourself. I know nothing about football, neither the tight-trousered nor the baggy-shorted variety. I never watch a football match from one end of the year to another, except when there's some big tournament, like the European Championships or the World Cup - and luckily they only come every four years, because 90 minutes of football at a time is exhausting. All the more so, because I have to support Germany, my adopted home, and Ireland, my real home. Being a supporter of the Irish team is just pure heartbreak: we seldom qualify, we're better known for our ability to sing than to play football. Our fans are universally loved, but our football team seldom qualifies. But when the Germans play, I mutate into the kind of smart-alecking back-seat football player (mashing idioms there, for the laugh) that must make anyone who knows anything about football rolls their eyes.

And I have this from my mother, who - on the rare occasions when Ireland do play - turns into a raging fury: "Come on! COME ON! What the heck are you doing? PASS THE BALL! PASS THE BALL! For the love of God, that was a foul! Is the referee blind?" (alarmingly, in real life, there's a lot of bad language, too. From my mother. Good job it's only every four years.) She knows as much about football as I do, we could fill the back of a postage stamp with our combined knowledge. 

All of which I will proudly demonstrate when shouting at the television next .. um  ... weekend, when Germany plays ... eh, another team. Oh, okay, I promise I'll know a bit more by then. In the next few days, though, I'll make important-sounding noises about the team's form and how well their opponents ... eh, ... France, yes, of course, France - played.