Knitted Unicorn
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Motherhood Achievement Alert or Tales of Knitting a Unicorn!

So I’ve done it – I’ve reached the pinnacle of my motherhood career – I have achieved the ultimate, I can do no better  – and my daughter is only 7!  Where do I go from here ?Because on holiday, I …knitted…a …unicorn!!!

On the extraordinary journey that has been motherhood I have so far failed on all counts even from the point of conception, which was more challenging than it needed to be. Pregnancy was complicated.. birth too! Breastfeeding I eventually managed, but not without some struggles along the way, and mainly because I couldn’t be bothered sterilising things. Sleep scheduling – a total washout!  My baby hasn’t slept in 7 years! Didn’t even get past the starting gates. Weaning…or Annabel Karmel Hell as I like to call it – not possible when you have given birth to a koala who insists on being strapped to your chest, and  anyway, do babies really need a bayleaf and a peppercorn in the bechamel sauce for their fish pie! Give me strength!

Passing her into the hands of others for a substantial part of her day was the best thing I ever did! Nursery was also a nightmare in the beginning, screaming child left daily, but in the end she thrived, as she has done at school.  I, on the other hand, have struggled to keep on top of life – the things that you have to remember, the school uniform labelling, the days that they have sausage and mash on the menu and a packed lunch is required!  I haven’t kept up with her reading, and I haven’t felt like I’m really in control.

I’ve done better at birthday parties, but have learned the hard way to keep it simple and delegate where you can, but from her first birthday I decided I had to create a cakey masterpiece to mark the occasion, and I went 3D from the start!  Not being a baker, it was all about the icing, so we’ve had a duck, three little pigs (including house of straw) and a 3D Rapunzel including icing hair.  Frozen was an inevitable theme and then my favourites, The Singing Mermaid and Miss Moon, all featuring  icing figures resembling Bet Lynch after her most recent break up! But they prompted the odd ooh and aaah!

Fancy dress costumes have also been on my hit list of ‘things I must do as a mother’! I was determined not to resort to Tesco’s for nativities, and have created a donkey, a star and a camel from scratch, all to much stress, late nights and usually functional issues. But I’ve tried! The camel drove me to buy a sewing machine which I was then too panicked to work out how to thread, but a year later I did manage to thread it go create a cow girl waist coat for her very last nativity! That may not see the light of day for a while!

The irony of all this is that people think I can actually do this stuff!  They think I am a talented baker and seamstress, when the reality is I am a pretender – I have a go and and pray! My cakes are inedible for a start, and my costumes will only stand one wear before they disintegrate! Not that I didn’t do needlework at school – I did, like every other schoolgirl of the 70s, forced to master a pedal powered Singer, while the boys did more interesting things like woodwork! But it served me well when I wanted to shorten my school skirt, or create the ra-ra that my mother refused to buy me!

But knitting has long been on my horizon as something I wanted to re-acquaint myself with – I used to love knitting as a kid, and by all accounts it’s quite trendy to knit these days!  Yes, even youngsters do it! Plus  you can watch the telly at the same time! Last year I took some knitting needles on holiday and managed a teddy bear jumper for one of Ella’s pool mates! It was unskilled and very rough around the edges but it clothed a bear. I was pleased with my efforts.

This year, having grabbed a knitting magazine from Tesco’s on my final pre-holiday shop, I decided the time was right – I needed to create something proper and actually follow a knitting pattern….deciper those unguessable letters and work out how to cast on, knit back and front and all that jazz – I like a plan after all!  Thanks to YouTube I did it! And despite not having the appropriate equipment, ie. DP needles, which to the uninitiated I should point out are ‘double point’ knitting needles – ooh get me – I managed it!  A little resourcefulness on the part of the children saw them presenting me with 4 satay sticks and a pencil sharpener, and home made DP needles were born!

Of course, Ella was delighted with her mummy’s talents, which has always been the point, no matter how rough the results, but knitting really is very easy after all.  And best of all, she decided that she wanted her new best friend on holiday, Gracie, to receive the fruits of her mummy’s labours, which can only make me very proud. It also meant I had to knit Gracie’s little brother a fish pretty darned quick, but once you’ve got the unicorn basics, a fish is simple stuff!

 

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Mein Daddy

Smile and Wave Boys

I have written this blog post in my head a thousand times.  The first time was a year ago today when I realised it was my dad’s birthday, and that that meant that one week later, he would have been dead five years.   Five years…that seemed an awful long time when I had done so little to really remember him. And I couldn’t do it.  At that point, in a hotel bar with a gin in my hand, it hit me quite hard – maybe it was the environment – a place that I would inevitably always associate with him.  But the fact that he had been gone for 5 years made it feel like it was yesterday!  Where had that time gone?

Despite many years of ill health, his death came suddenly and very quickly when Ella was only 4 months old.  Everybody’s world is turned upside down…

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 The Magical Mysteries of Batter Week

There came a point last week, after many days of sensational Bake Off headlines, when I started to think…really now, there are more important things happening in the world. Let’s move on! How many column inches can we give a tv show, albeit the nation’s most beloved!

But this evening I was humbled. This evening I realised why this show has risen like the enriched dough of Bread Week, to the dizzy heights and price tag that it has. Because tonight I witnessed a minor miracle in the after school chaos that usually adorns this household.

Yesterday, my daughter, who had spent most of the summer holidays glued to Disney Channel (when I say most, I mean most of her TV time), watched 3 back to back episodes of Bake Off. All of her own volition, carefully selecting Batter Week, Biscuit Week and Bread Week in the order of her desire.

Now, whilst I had adopted a ‘this too shall pass’ attitude to the Disney Channel situation – one honed from the 6 month ‘eat nothing but spag bol’ phase, the 2 year ‘watch nothing but Peppa Pig’ phase, and the 3 week love affair with mini bags of Maltesers, that she sneaked at breakfast time, I was really hoping that at some point we might add a bit of variety and age appropriateness to our viewing.  But try as I might to find something engaging on CBBC, nothing would divert her from her Disney.

So relief was mine when this evening, she sat down, turned the television on, and went straight back to Batter Week!  Minutes later she appeared with my laptop in her hands, having Googled Bake Off pancakes. And there they were.  The lacy pancakes of the technical challenge. Recipe to be followed. Which she did – single handedly whilst I prepared separate dinners for her, her dad, the dog, the guinea pigs and the chickens!

Batter rested and tea eaten, we melted our butter and heated our pan. We made our practice pancakes. We made our non-practice pancakes. And we relaxed and enjoyed a moment that I will remember for a very long time.  Our enjoyment curtailed by an overheating induction hob, we made an appointment to resume for breakfast tomorrow morning! Because guess what, it is dead easy!!!!  And so much fun.

So there I think we have it. There we have the reason why the headlines, the price tags and the banter and debate should be tolerated, embraced and acknowledged. Because like it or not, popular TV can have a very important place in our lives. Ella has been totally transfixed by Bake Off, particularly Batter Week as an ardent Yorkshire Pudding fan, but more than that she took what she had learned from watching, and put it into remarkable practice. She is only 6 after all.

So thank you Paul, Mary, Sue, Mel, the BBC, the production company, Uncle Tom Cobley ‘n’ all, for creating such exceptional television magic. It remains to be seen whether Channel 4 have the same magic touch, and which of the main ingredients create the perfect mix. But I for one will be sneaking off and knocking up another batch of that lacy pancake batter – because let me tell you, addictive isn’t the word for creating and cooking lacy patterns out of flour, eggs and milk! Compulsory is the word! Give it a go! Therapy in a bowl! We’re doing Mickey Mouse next!

 

 

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The Sum of Small Parts

So, the last few days have been some of the most surprising of my life. First of all a surprising victory for the Brexit campaign, and secondly my own reaction to it…which I have to say I am deeply shocked and surprised by. I was surprised to find myself bursting into tears on a regular basis, and when somebody mentioned the feeling of grief to me yesterday, we all agreed that that is exactly what it felt like. Obviously I have very deep European connections, and I work for a very European organisation, but I know I am not alone.

Of course there has been a lot of emotional out-pouring on various social media, and most people are beginning to tire of it a little. I am trying to move on – onwards and onwards I keep saying. In my heart I hope and believe that we will learn from this. But what I am concerned about is the the fact that some of my nearest and dearest don’t understand why I feel like this – and that that may cause a gulf between us. I know we are all having those ‘which way did you vote’ conversations, uncomfortably at best…and I think we have to recognise the factors that made individuals take the decisions that they did, on both sides.

For me, I was totally ambivalent about the Referendum simply because I felt completely unqualified to make the decision that had befallen me. I didn’t understand the issues, the impact or the consequences involved, and I just didn’t believe that we would ever get close to an ‘out’ vote. It was only when somebody challenged me – he gave me ‘homework’, said he hadn’t decided which way to vote, but said that it was our moral duty to inform ourselves and make an informed choice that I started to get engaged. He also sited immigration as a reason he was thinking out, and used the prison population as an example. And that was where he hooked me in, because I worked in a prison for 2 and half years and I suddenly felt qualified to comment.

From that point on I started to ask questions of people I considered to be more intelligent, more knowledgable and more qualified to make the decision than I. I started to listen intently to anything that was on the radio – and there was lots – all coming at it from different angles, not just politicians doing what they did so badly, not just irresponsible headlines on tabloid and broadsheet press alike, but lots of debate from ordinary members of the public, businessmen, different communities, etc. I wanted a balanced view from all parts of the argument. The Jeremy Vine Show became my friend. I listened to Eddie Izzard make an impassioned plea for Remain, but I didn’t find it very convincing I have to say, much to my disappointment. I listened to others declare that we needed control, we needed sovereignty, and we needed democracy. And I didn’t really understand what they meant by that.  I read lots of blogs, trying to sort out the facts from the fiction. I got increasingly angry with the ‘official communication materials’ being shoved through my door which gave ‘factual statements’ which were not factual at all but were intended to motivate people to vote a particular way.

The truth is that not everyone took the time to become informed – they believed the soundbites, the headlines, the literature coming through their door. Because they probably never thought the consequences would be what they are either.  And I only really became truly engaged and motivated when the ultimate tragedy happened. A young and promising politician who had so much to give, was taken from us, at a time when she was needed the most. Boy can we see that now!!! I felt I owed it to her and people like her to vote with knowledge and with belief and with hope for my daughter’s future. And that’s what I did.

Now I also know I live in a bubble, and that I can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be long term unemployed or anything like that – those that know me however, know that my roots are humble, and any successes in life, is self-attained. And I also appreciate that lots of people were angry, wanted change, etc. But I have to say that most people that I have met who voted ‘out’ didn’t vote for those reasons either. As far as I can tell the ‘out’ campaign had so many ‘toys’ in their ‘toy box’ they managed to get something to resonate with anybody who was struggling to make a decision. And the ultimate irony was, that people bought it and believed that they could deliver. Which of course they can’t , because we now realise that they actually have no power. And that if we want those things to change, we need to do it a different way!

In my view, a lot of people (and I say a lot, not everybody obviously) got this confused with a general election, they thought that the argument was rich versus poor, left versus right, that immigration had to be stopped at whatever cost, even though Europeans make up only part of the immigration statistic, that we would be better off making our own decisions. All of these are worthwhile reasons to vote ‘out’ if you really believe them – all of them are worthy reasons for any vote if you really believe that that vote will right the wrongs that ail you, and I totally respect anyone and everyone for the decision that they made. But as somebody who left school with a few ‘O’-levels to her name, even having failed sociology, I for one felt ill equipped to make that decision – and I think that others felt the same. We have therefore made a huge decision for our nation based on ‘gut feelings’, fear, believing untruths that were unforgivably told to us, rolling a dice even, and now we can’t do anything about it. I think the ‘out’ vote was a sum of many parts -people grabbing something they could relate to – but when you’ve only got a choice of two, it’s hard to make a balanced decision right?!

I also think we have to stand by the referendum result and learn from it! Because I think we will. If this process has shown anything it is that people really do care, that they really do want change, and that there is a lot of passion out there to get it done. Out with the old and in with the new is what I say! And please educate the future generations better than you educated mine! Now somebody go and buy Angela Merkel a very large beer! And make sure it’s cold.

 

 

Running, Uncategorized

Yes You Can!

I start this with an apology to all of those people who are completely bored with people going on about running, who yawn and groan every time somebody posts their run or their time on whatever social media. But we all have to have our thing, and as  life enhancing things go, I’m afraid I cannot do anything but evangelise. At least it’s not puppies or lost dogs!

Because the message that I really want to get out there to all of those people who I have met over the years who have said to me ‘oh, I could never run’, is yes, you can!!  I too was one of those people, and now I wouldn’t want to be without a pair of trainers in my life.  And I am no spring chicken! At almost 48, I’d expected to be shuffling around in slippers, not Nikes, but that is the beauty of running. Anyone can!

Trust me, it’s not like I come from a  sporty background. I have a highly talented, sporty and athletic sister who likes to affectionately call me ‘un-co’ because I am so un-co-ordinated. I love her too believe me – and above all I am immensely proud of her. My sporting achievements at school were zero, literally. I was a regular in the consolation race, and I always came last in that – still do in the mum’s race on sports day. And I literally NEVER got picked for the school team. It’s not great for one’s confidence I have to say.

Listen, the truth is I only took up running because I met some bloke at a party. He dragged me out to Regents Park on a Nike organised park run and the rest is history. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t love it straight away, but I was kind of keen on him and he was very encouraging!  So, that was the start of it – me trying to bag a bloke at a party! Surprise surprise!

As it turned out he was a lovely fella who totally changed my life. He married someone else, of course, but what he did do was continually tell me ‘yes, you can’ as I plodded my way round Clapham Common. He held my hand all the way around my first ever 10K – the infamous Nike 10k in Richmond Park back in 2003.  And I literally loved every second of it. It hurt a bit but the atmosphere and euphoria of achieving something you never ever thought you could achieve was amazing..life changing..confidence giving…dream building!

Then over a gin or 10 with a work colleague, I took on the ultimate dare – to enter the London Marathon ballot! And wouldn’t you know it, she who wins nothing, got a golden ticket – bingo, full house, woohoo! I was gobsmacked and terrified. But I looked at the training plan – got my head around it – decided to take one step at a time.  Before I knew it I was running distances I could never have dreamed of. I’d ditched the tube in favour of running home! Bridget Jones on my iPod – I was literally in a movie!

I have said it often, and I will say it again, having just relived it with my husband, but the London Marathon was the best day of my life.  The ultimate in achieving that which you never ever dreamed in a million years you could achieve, one that you’ve watched on the telly year after year thinking, I could never do that. And then it’s you, rounding the Cutty Sark, drinking in the crowds on Tower Bridge, enduring the Isle of Dogs, dragging your screaming body up the Mall and over the line. And it truly is awesome.

But I will never do that again.  These days  I get enough of a buzz out of running shorter distances, with  good friends. And this weekend I had the ultimate pleasure of doing both at the inaugural 10k in my home village.  Run Wisborough was another highlight of my life. The run itself was awful, in searing temperatures, with no time to acclimatise. ‘Just get round’ replaced any other thoughts very quickly. But to run in your home village, a village of immense warmth and beauty, was a real thrill. Especially with my beloved running chums – the Buns on the Run, with my beautiful family cheering me on. Even Duncan (the dog), locked in the house, which was on the route – I could hear him barking as I ran past!

So to all of you thinking, I could never do that, I have to say ‘yes, you can’ because  it is literally all about one step at a time. It doesn’t have to hurt – it doesn’t have to be hard, and it can give you so much!  Here are my Top 5 Tips to giving it a go!

  1. When I say it doesn’t have to hurt – it doesn’t! When you get out of breath – walk – nobody wants a burning chest, and you will naturally make progress without getting one. Most 0-5K training plans start with a running and walking pattern which builds up your fitness and distance gradually and genuinely doesn’t hurt!
  2. Pick a goal, whether it’s a particular race or event or a distance you want to achieve, and download an app or a plan to follow. But don’t think you have to stick to a plan rigidly. You don’t. Just do what you can do. You will be totally amazed at the speed of the progress you make I promise you!
  3. Get some good gear – good shoes really!  Ones that you can love, preferably from a running shop that can advise you – and good socks even better (my Balega Hidden Comfort seldom leave my feet, even when I’m not running!!) Happy feet make happy runners! And who doesn’t love to shop.
  4. Run with friends! Yes, that is a new one on me. I only started doing that last June. I always ran alone, me and my iPod.  I was terrified people would be going too fast for me, or would want to talk when I had no breath, or would be better than me. But let me tell you, they are not. And it’s a wonderfully social thing to do.
  5. Don’t panic. There will be days when you feel dreadful. When you do think – I can’t do this. And then the next day you will feel on top of the world. There are many reasons for this. But one thing is for sure, this too will pass.

Here end-eth my sermon!  I thank-eth you for reading it! x

 

 

Running, Uncategorized

The Real Runkeeper

So this morning I headed out on what I had intended to be a lengthyish run.  I had 10km in my mind, and I knew that with the right head on my shoulders, I could probably manage that without too much trouble.  But the truth is, you never know just what is going to happen until you get out there.  You never know whether it’s going to feel good, or bad or indifferent.  Sometimes you need every tool in the toolkit just to get you to the end of the road, and other days you could fly forever.

Of course, these days we have some very sophisticated tools in that toolkit to help us out.  And this morning I took extra care to ensure that my phone was fully charged after last week’s minor disaster – battery died at 2km – no tunes and no encouraging words from Runkeeper for the remainder of a 7.5km run.  To my surprise it wasn’t as bad as I thought, but the more serious implication of such a technical failure, was that my beloved Runkeeper didn’t log what I know was a particularly good run!! And there’s nothing you can do about that! No pat not he back, no glorious moment for posterity!

Now I love Runkeeper. It was my first bit of running software, and much like your first bank account, although you know it’s probably not perfect, and there are better ones out there, you have an emotional attachment to it.  It knows your history inside out and you’ve been intimately acquainted though some real highs and lows in your life. When everybody else is bored out of their minds at you droning on about how much you love running, Runkeeper is whispering in your ear, ‘good job’, ‘well done’, and ‘that’s a new record’ even if that record is the fastest walk round the block in the last week – it can find good in everything.

One of the lovely features about Runkeeper is that you can take a photo to remind you of that run – be it with friends, on your own or just to remind you of a particularly uplifting view.  And alongside that it allows you to rate your run with a smiley face – with poor, okay and great as your three options.  But it occurred to me today as I was trying to work out which smiley face I would be clicking on at the end of my run, that the reality is that it is hard to categorise your runs within these parameters.  For me, I have to categorise them as follows:

  1. A Forever Run – the ones where you feel like you can literally run forever!  I can’t remember the last time I had one of these, and I am pretty sure it was before any form of technology came into our lives to whisper pace in to our ears, and make you run a little bit faster than you might normally be inclined to do. I think they tend to come either with youthful enthusiasm or massive amounts of experience, and I have neither.
  2. The Flyer – more common these days.  It’s when everything just goes right – ambition, distance, pace, weather and general state of health. Usually more likely to occur when you haven’t had half a bottle of wine the night before, and have prepared appropriately with porridge.
  3. The Social – running with friends, with no particular goals or ambitions in mind, at a gentle pace, having a good chat. I am lucky enough to have my beloved Buns on the Run who have made running so special.
  4. The Grinder – ambition and preparation have not quite matched.  You are determined to get out there and do as you’d intended, but today it really is mind over matter.
  5. The S*d This for a Game of Soldiers – it just all goes wrong.  You go into a blind panic.  I can’t run.  I never want to run again. It happens to us all and 9 times out of 10 we feel 100% better next time.

Of course, on Race Day, there is one further category and that is the ‘I think I am Going to Throw Up on the Finish Line’.  I haven’t done it yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

So there you have it.  I’m not sure what the developers of running software will think of these variations, but it gave me something to occupy my mind as I fluctuated between a Flyer and Grinder this morning!  Thanks to an awesome mix of running toons provided by my lovely Runkeeper, I would have to conclude that this morning on balance was all good.  With grateful thanks to Example, Robbie Williams, Duran Duran and the lovely Barry Manilow!  Not to mention Sing by Gary Barlow which had me shedding tears at km 5!

And finally, one word about my husband, because this week it is definitely not about me, it is about him.  This weekend he will be running the London Marathon.  It’s something he’s always wanted to do since I did it in 2005!  Can’t have the Missis having one up one you can you? But he’s 10 years older than I was, and has a family and a business to look after.  He is the most driven and determined person I know and his marathon training has been no different. He has definitely ‘ground out’ the tough stuff, he doesn’t love running like I do, but I have no doubt he will do brilliantly on Sunday and we will all be there to cheer him on.  He’s been ably and heart warmingly assisted by his wing men Gareth and Bill, who have been beside him every mile of the gruelling training regime, and he and I can’t thank them enough for such extraordinary friendship.  Let’s hope fate is kind to everyone running on Sunday! As a wise man said to me once, Marathon Running is 10% physical, and 90% Mental. It is definitely mental!  That is for sure!

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Mein Daddy

I have written this blog post in my head a thousand times.  The first time was a year ago today when I realised it was my dad’s birthday, and that that meant that one week later, he would have been dead five years.   Five years…that seemed an awful long time when I had done so little to really remember him. And I couldn’t do it.  At that point, in a hotel bar with a gin in my hand, it hit me quite hard – maybe it was the environment – a place that I would inevitably always associate with him.  But the fact that he had been gone for 5 years made it feel like it was yesterday!  Where had that time gone?

Despite many years of ill health, his death came suddenly and very quickly when Ella was only 4 months old.  Everybody’s world is turned upside down overnight. You get through it, you do what you need to do, and you carry on with your life, which at this point includes trying to learn how to keep a tiny baby alive.  But when somebody is gone, sometimes that is when you really get to know them.  I had spent so little time with him when he was alive, that I have found reflecting on him and discovering more about him and our family after his death, has made understand a lot more about him and where I come from.  So here it is. My tribute to him – Mein Daddy – who in his quiet, unorthodox and unassuming way taught me so much.

So the story goes, that it all began at the bottom of the kitchen stairs in the Dolphin and Anchor Hotel in Chichester.  My dad – a young German preferring the English hospitality industry to the German Navy, had had a drink or two – now there’s a surprise, and he fell from top to bottom into the arms of my dear mother.  Of course in true Hollywood style she nursed him back to health, and the rest, as they say, is history.  The path to the registry office wedding in Bad Nauheim, quiff and winkle pickered up, wasn’t uncomplicated – my mum tried to give him the slip, but his heart was set, and ultimately she succumbed to his good looks and heavily accented one liners and became Frau Cuntze!  It must have been love.

Shortly thereafter they returned to England to train as hoteliers and were running an ancient coaching inn in Cambridgeshire when I bounced into their lives.  Nic followed only 15 months later, and for whatever reason we found ourselves on our way back to Germany.  By my fifth birthday it had all gone wrong.  I know not why, I don’t want to know why – my mum has dropped snippets here and there and my dad always kept his counsel.  But ultimately, my sister and I returned to England with my mum – my dad stayed in Germany. How could he not.  He had built up, with my mum, a successful hotel business.  He had ambition, he thought he was on his way, and he was.  A second hotel followed a few years later, he worked damn hard and he lived a lovely life.

A second wife also followed.  They had a happy and successful 17 years together, and then it all started to go pear-shaped.  The business and the marriage.  If my dad had any faults it was probably to trust the wrong people. In what seemed like a matter of months it was all gone.  The next time I saw my dad, he was dressed in overalls, living in a one bedroomed apartment, in a small hotel in Bad Pyrmont, trying to get another business off the ground.  He still took absolute pride in everything he did – everything was clean and standards high, and he got up at 6 every morning to do the breakfasts, even if they only had one guest. But it never really happened.  By now he was in his 50s, his health had been poor for almost 25 years, and it was a big ask. So, he returned to the village of his birth, the village of so many of our childhood memories and ultimately, to all intents and purposes, the village of his death.  He moved into the family home – now owned by his brother, and retired gracefully from public life.

Throughout our childhood my sister and I spent no more than 3 weeks a year in Germany, usually at Easter dodging marzipan based products, bored and slightly uncomfortable with the whole arrangement.  My dad would come over when he could, business allowing, usually with a Mercedes boot full of Tuborg, but it really wasn’t a lot in the way of quality daddy/daughter time. His job meant that even while we were visiting him in Germany one to one time was usually limited to a Sunday visit to Gieselwerder to bask in my Oma’s incredible cuisine, or a hurried excursion to one of the local places of interest – the Edertal – one of the damns that got busted or the East German border and it’s escapee shooting fences!  Such fun!  Ironically the best day trip we ever had was to a place called Fort Fun!   I’ve never been so pleased to see a log flume.

Evenings were spent plonked on a bar stool in either the Schweizer Huettli or the Schloss Shaenke – the hotel bars at our disposal.  To be fair, my sister and I never had a problem with that!  Fanta on tap, brewery reps slipping us 10DM notes and patting us on the head affectionately, and endless fodder for our over active imaginations.  Our favourite game was to pretend that the waiters in the hotel were race horses – they all had nick names – Basil, Hair Bear, Bionic Carrot and Curly Tops to name a few – and we commentated on them Peter O’Sullivan stylee very much to our own amusement, if no-one else’s  Well it beat playing another game of Patience or watching the Great Escape for the 90th time on video!

None of this really made for a close relationship with our dad unsurprisingly, but he never ever made us feel anything other than adored. He always made it absolutely clear that he missed us terribly.  You were forbidden from leaving his presence without a kiss. He could never resist a stroke of your cheek. He would ask us endlessly when we were coming to see him.  He would phone us religiously every Sunday, even though in the early years I had refused to talk to him.  And  he always sent us a postcard from whichever trade show or Kur he was at – with absolutely no news, and the same signature he used forever, Dein Daddy.

As we got older and could share a beer or two, the barriers started to fall.  Honest alcohol induced conversations, most of which I can barely remember.  But always leaving me with a warm feeling that I had spent some quality time with my dad.  Sober I always found him hard work to be honest – always wanting to fill the silence, and there was lots of that.  But he was an affectionate and loving man, who loved a beer, to chuck your cheek and yell Yabbadabbadoo and above all just to be in our presence.

At 30 he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis – an awful disease from which he suffered for the rest of his life.  Ultimately that was what killed him – at only 70 from kidney failure, by which point he had also lost a leg.  But in those 40 years of ill health – I never heard him complain.  Yes, he was clearly in pain – and not terribly mobile – but I never heard a ‘why me’, an angry word, or a self pitying moan.  He bore his illness with more dignity than should even be possible.  And I think he would have given up earlier if he hadn’t clung on to the sporadic and short visits from myself and Nic.  Nic was of course devoted to him – she adored him, and she would have spent a lot more time with him had she been able, but we all have livings to earn, and to my shame, I went as little as my conscience allowed me.

His health really started to deteriorate in the early noughties.  We were summoned to Germany to say our good byes.  My mum very loyally came with us. But in a remarkable twist of fate, she also rather generously had a heart attack while we were there!!  She was very very lucky indeed to have survived that little incident, and amazingly they found themselves in neighbouring wards in the tiny cottage hospital in Lippoldsberg. Her mere presence was enough for my dad to rally and recover.  My mum convalesced there for a couple of months, and we were frequent and regular visitors, mainly thanks to my British Airways Airmiles.  So rather surprisingly we were given a second chance, and a miraculous one at that.  But his rally was short lived.  He was soon in and out of hospital again, and lived the last 5 years of his life in the same room, minus a leg, giving physios a hard time in a care home designed for much older people.  Poor bugger!

Of course, at this point, I was now very intent on starting my own family – a saga in itself which further reduced my visits, and it was with absolute delight that I finally boarded an Easyjet flight in February 2010 with my 3 month old gorgeous girl in arms, ready to show him off to her proud Opa.  Unfortunately, we were all also on our way to my Uncle’s funeral, but one of my strongest motivations in sticking out the ‘having a baby’ process was to make my dad a proud Opa before his time was up, and finally that day had come.

As I wheeled her in he looked a bit confused, but we wheeled him out and had a cup of coffee  in the cafe downstairs.  The photograph was taken!  Ella and Opa.  At last.  As it turned out, it would be the one and only.  We retired to our hotel, ready to collect him the next morning to take him to his brother’s funeral.  But when we got there the next day, the nurses said he wasn’t well – he had a fever and couldn’t go.  And that was that.  He died that night.  A sudden decline.  But surrounded by probably the 4 most important people in his life other than his own mother – me, my sister, my mum and Ella.  What more could he have wanted.  What more could we have wanted for him, except a few more years.

At this point my mum shows her true metal.  Negotiating her way through German bureaucracy, with her self taught and perfect German grinding its way out. She gets done what needs to be done.  We return a few months later, with a support crew, to pack up his flat.  Quite a process with a 6 month old baby attached to you, I can tell you. But we carefully sifted through the memories and the mysteries..uncovered the clues to him as a man, him as a father and much much more.  A folder with every single letter my sister and I had ever written to him carefully filed.  His notes from his hotel training in Cheltenham, carefully kept.  A box full of  used stamps cut out of envelopes for whatever purpose they were meant. His autograph book from the Schloss Hotel packed with celebrity photos and signatures. And a wealth of historical documents I’d probably rather know less about.

And then it’s all done.  A massive chapter closes.  We move on and reflect on the man we loved, the house in which he had been born, in which American soldiers had been billeted in the war, and around which the family had rowed when the damns had been busted.  And we try to remember everything for posterity.  And 6 years on, I can honestly say that the images are clearer than ever.  My Oma in her tiny Kueche knocking up an Erdbeerkucken, Waffeln or Rouladen.  The silent meals with my German speaking family, staring at us inquisitively, pittyingly, my Oma always with a tiny tear in her eye.  The generous and sustaining vegetable garden and amazing cherry trees which gave of their fruit in abundance, the long strip of garden leading down to the mighty and majestic River Weser and the Campingplatz which brought the not just sleepy but comatose village to life in the summer. Wonderful memories.  A story or two to go with each.  Stories that maybe one day I will tell.  Stories that Ella and Ben will certainly hear.

And this summer we will return.  With not one, but two grandchildren. We will visit family that we never knew before his death and who have come to mean so much.  Yes, you Charlotte.  And we will drink a beer in the Schwimbad, and raise a glass to the man that was Mein Daddy..Mein Daddy, Nic’s Daddy, and Ella and Ben’s Opa.  And we will make sure that they know exactly who he was.

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