2017 Annual Review

Every Employee has one, so why not the year.

‘Tis the season to be jolly!

I thought this was a Christmas Newsletter but then I realised you can’t just moan about all the bad stuff that has happened to you in the year. That’s just not Christmas; so I won’t tell you that we had lost our amazing cat Blackie to illness; or that Sue has been ill since September; or that Sue doesn’t have a job to come back to in the UK, at least not yet. I can’t tell you that Claire got made redundant from her job 8 months into her mortgage because she didn’t want to relocate to Bulgaria for a vastly reduced salary (good girl.)  It is not just cheap labour coming over here that destroys jobs.  I can’t tell you that Adrian’s Dad can no longer walk further than to his car and that he needs a walker or a wheelchair to get about. I can’t tell you that Sue’s Mum can’t get about so well as she did and is on the steroid injections to keep her knees going (I’m sure the operation will come.) Or that Adrian has passed out in the doctors  waiting room a couple of times and been thrown out for being too ill to attend the doctors; and then he was thrown out of A&E because he “wasn’t going to die.” Yes that’s an actual quote.  Where do you go then?  If the doctors spent less time playing tennis with Adrian as the ball then maybe they might make some progress in helping him. But hey, we always focus too much on the negatives don’t we? There must be some positives in 2017. Let me search my diary…..

Eating is bad for you and not just at Christmas

Despite the lack of help from the doctors Adrian and Sue have discovered between them that it is what Adrian eats that causes the problems. Adrian has an “allergic” reaction to corn, eggs, all dairy, all fish, chilli, brazil nuts, acai berries (whatever they are) and yeast.  In addition wheat, gluten, and it seems other grains are a major culprit in causing the allergic reaction.  That rules out most processed foods.  So we are now vegan meat eaters.  Steak and salad is fine, but the vinegar in the dressing contains yeast. Eating out is a nightmare as everything is thickened. Steak and chips sounds great. Then the steak comes covered in butter and the chips are fried in oil that has fried batter. We had no idea eating could be a full time occupation; it is if you have to cook foods from scratch and you want them to taste good. So we (primarily Sue) are making some healthy, tasty, meals. That’s a positive outcome. You might think that having private medical insurance will help, but when the NHS GP have never heard of what is the matter and don’t know who to refer you to, well, you’re b******d (sorry, too much daily mail. I can n***r fill in the gaps to see what people are supposed to have said; it really a****s me.) So the positive outcome here is that Adrian is no longer competing with Homer Simpson in the ass-groove department as his chair gets more of a rest these days. See, I told you I was going to focus on the positives at Christmas.

Moving out or moving on

Sue’s job in Germany has run its course and she has returned to the UK. We just packed up her flat and brought everything home in the car; one trip, honestly. Every last inch was used up in the boot and we could literally fit nothing else in. We tried to get a slipper in, but it wouldn’t fit, just like the ugly sisters (well it was a Christmas Pantomime.) The back seats were packed to the top of the seats until the inevitable happened. We went shopping for all those things we would really miss, and people gave us presents. No problem. Books went under the carpet; we shrunk everything that was material in 4 giant vacuum bags.  We gave away any clothes that did not fit to a German charity and the German food was good so there was plenty to give.  Adrian had expected to make two trips but Sue was not well enough, so we did it in one. We know how to take enough of our stuff on holiday to live for 5 years.

Amazing unchristmas gift

Our landlord and landlady fed us on the last day as we packed the car. We could hardly believe what happened next.  He took us into the living room and announced that he wanted us to have a present to remember them by, and we were to choose anything of theirs to take with us. How can you refuse? But we didn’t want to deprive them of something they had personally chosen for themselves.  We both loved a wooden marquetry box, and it was the smallest thing there. We love it and it certainly speaks very strongly of our time in Germany and we will never forget the emotions attached to it as a gift.  They even recounted buying it for themselves in Damascus.  Our emotions were confused that someone would give that away but we concluded they must have valued our time there and it was an enormous gesture for which we are very grateful.

Friends and foes

One of the worse things about leaving Germany was leaving our friends behind. We spent the week visiting people, going for dinners, and packing. We made one last trip to Gutersloh and to the beautiful Weihnachtsmarkt at Wiedenbrucke. We went there because a plot had just been foiled to stop the terrorists attacking the market in Essen. We went to the Weihnachtsmarkt in Essen anyway though, but not when it was crowded. And we visited the largest indoor shopping centre in the Rhein-Rhur area a few times to do our shopping;  they foiled a plot to blow that up too a few months ago. I think it’s time to come home from Essen now. I hope we are safer back home.

Sue’s turn

A virus made Sue very poorly in September and that was made worse by job uncertainty. You want to be on top form and present when the jobs are being handed out back in the UK don’t you?  She missed saying goodbye to a few people at work as the Department slowly dwindled.

Back to school

Claire is on her fourth job of the year. Having taken redundancy after three years in her first job, she has ended up with a short term contract at the High School, where she meets her old teachers. The relationship is slightly different now though, as Claire is dealing with the money! And she hopes to move further towards her accountancy qualifications next year. We do too having rushed to get her study ready in her house first so she could study in it.

Dr Who

Craig finished his PhD and submitted it in September before our holiday in Corsica.  In November he had his viva voce, and will be a doctor in the New Year if he makes a few minor amendments. It was pretty much a certainty before it was submitted I think since the University offered him a job to teach others what he has done, but you never know. So Craig and Catherine are settled for a bit longer.

Taking advantage of the Germans

It’s also been holidays galore in 2017. As well as the trips to Germany to spend time together and go places, there have been three “foreign” holidays. We spent several weekends in Essen but we also took advantage of our German base to visit Sauerland, just two hours from Essen and in the mountains. It was different because for once, no-one replied to you in English. It tested our German. This is the real Germany. Essen is so international, and the common language is English. Even at E.on in Essen, the official language is English and for many jobs you must speak English. Sauerland is the German equivalent of the Scottish Highlands and people go skiing there in the winter. We stayed at Winterberg. There was no snow but plenty of rain. We wish we had gone there sooner.  Adrian remembers our German friend Bernhard taking him there in the 1970’s and 1980’s to a hot spa. There was nothing hot about Winterberg this time though. If you like speaking German, walking in the hills, and being in beautiful villages and scenery, then I’d recommend a visit. If you want people to speak English to you, you’d have to give it a miss. That part of Germany seems to kept to the Germans and the occasional foreign strays.

Majorca is nicer than we thought

In May we went to Majorca for the first time. We thoroughly enjoyed it apart from our room being over the non-stop noon until midnight entertainment and the early morning breakfast room. We can’t complain; it was very cheap. As usual Adrian ended up walking Sue into the ground when he was well. Sue ended up with Disney Rash on her legs, which is caused by too much walking in the heat. We saw drumming competitions in the mountains, feral cats (as usual), and had a great time finding food in restaurants for Adrian (it is so frustrating.) The good news is we discovered Tumbet (Google it, it’s delicious.) Adrian can eat it with no adverse reaction, unless it’s washed down with beer. It was nice to get around on the local busses so it didn’t matter where we stayed so much. Majorca is where the Germans go in their droves so we had no language problems! We seem to attract the Germans. We’d gladly return there.  From Alcudia we could see where we normally stay in Menorca! We could have made a day trip but decided to go to Menorca in September.  Adrian struggled because he had been told he could not have beer or wine. All he could drink was Gin. There’s a positive to most situations don’t you think. He tested Brandy too and that seemed OK; happy days. Except we returned to a very poorly Blackie cat which took the shine of our Majorca adventure.

The trip to Germany is so relaxing

We asked Terry to come to Essen one week but hadn’t heard from him. We drove home from Essen on the Friday, only for Terry to email on Sunday to say he would love to come. Well, you don’t want to be defeatist do you, so Sue flew back to Essen on Monday as planned, and Adrian drove back to meet her in Essen with Terry on Tuesday.  It’s only sitting for twelve hours after all isn’t it? It’s only 800 km; that’s 9 or 10 CD’s if you’re on your own, or 12 hours of constant chat. That didn’t seem to be a problem as we laughed at the German names, Wankum, Dumpten, Wachtendonk.  And Terry was happy with curry, chips and a beer on the ferry.  It was just like a night out at University, but in the scenic front window of a boat on the English Channel watching Russian warships passing by. It occurred to me that the world has changed since University days. We think nothing of an 800 km trip to Essen these days, and even say 800km instead of 500 miles. When Adrian went to work in Germany as a student it was quite an impressive adventure. Now Sue does it every week. Except this time it turned into quite an adventure with Terry. Adrian had made a big deal about how easy it was, “I’ll just drop in and pick you up as I pass your house on the A2 to Dover.  No, you don’t need to do any washing, we have a washing machine, come as you are. No you don’t need any Euro. We’ll just swap them out of our Euro bank account.  Yes, see you in the morning. Oh, have you got a passport? Well, that’s all you need.”

Adrian pulled onto Terry’s drive at 10:30 in the morning. We loaded a small bag in the boot and set off. By 9:30 in the evening we parked outside the flat after having lunch on the ferry. Simple, eh, when you’re used to it.

We did the usual German things, coffee and cakes, beer and bratwurst; but the typical German “bierkeller” Adrian promised had closed down. We compensated by blowing Terry’s and probably other people’s perceptions about German people when we took him to a friend’s BBQ; here he was treated to an international combination of Germans, Swedes, Hungarians, East Germans, Australians and English people all speaking English as the common language. Perhaps Britain’s greatest gift to the world, so people of all languages can talk to each other, don’t you think? Perhaps that’s the British curse too. The typical image of a German was blown apart when our friend Richard showed his video of earlier in the year when he was Carnival King for Koln, dressed in fancy hat and tights, drinking and singing. And the easy time Terry was promised came undone as the car broke down on the way home from Koln. We called the RAC the next day but had to stay another night and the RAC arranged taxis, and hire cars for us to travel home the next day. It was some adventure. A taxi took us to collect the hire car in Essen. After a four hour drive, the road was closed in Dunkerque and when we finally did manage to get to the car hire place it was closed too. Then the taxi to the Dunkerque Ferry told us they don’t accept foot passengers (the RAC didn’t know that!)  so we had to negotiate getting the taxi to take us to Calais. Then we waited hours for the Ferry when we usually time it so we just turn up, go to the toilet, get on board and sit down to dinner.  Apparently the car hire places close on Saturday at the ports so the nearest hire car was Gatwick; so we then had a taxi to Gatwick from Dover, dropping off Terry on the way. Then we picked up another hire car for the trip from Gatwick to Nottingham. We had left hand drive, right hand drive, petrol and diesel, automatic and manual all in one trip. This was the longest journey we ever made and by far the most complex. It’s a simple journey when all goes well, which is most of the time, but when something goes wrong, like a breakdown, a hurricane, or snow; well, then it can be a challenge. Fortunately that has been rare in 5 years. But we are thankful that between us we have some French and German, despite the many people who speak English abroad.

After a couple of days to recover and passing out in the doctors surgery just to prove he’s ill, Adrian flew back to Essen to recover the car, which was easily fixed when the German garage got around to looking at the car.  Anyone who thinks Germans are efficient, well, let’s say it’s not necessarily our experience. They have been exceedingly good at creating and observing bureaucracy and following rules. It is nice to come home and not have to carry our passport, and to be allowed to cross roads when the red man is on, without the risk of a fine.

30th Wedding Anniversary takeaway

In September it was our 30th Wedding Anniversary. We wanted to take the family on holiday but Craig had not finished his PhD by then. So we went to Menorca again and did some walking around the coast, not much, but it was a challenge. We fed the feral cats again and returned to see waiters we met years ago. Some of the waiters were quite concerned when Sue was ill for our anniversary and had to leave the restaurant before ordering. Adrian took her home and returned to collect his dinner as a takeaway.

Next year we’ll be millionaires

We always said this year was for our health, but we had anticipated returning to great health, not a continuous round of illness. But at least we now know Sue has a virus and Adrian has a reaction to many foods. That’s progress. Next year we will get fit.

Napoleon’s Revenge

In October we had a great adventure in Corsica. Claire thought Corsica looked fantastic and we thought taking Craig and Catherine to Napoleon’s birthplace might compensate in some way for the Woods family’s contribution to his downfall which we explained last year. Corsica is beautiful and the French were exceptionally friendly. It is rare for them to see British people and we needed to fly to France and then get an internal flight to Corsica. Given recent travelling calamities Sue was concerned about connecting flights. The flights went without a hitch but the luggage caused problems. That’s a story on its own. Like in Sauerland, the Corsican’s spoke school English, that is , effectively none at all. So we had to conduct all transactions in French. It was nice, but stressfull and challenging. You need a car and good French to make the most of Corsica.

Sue’s turn again

Sue was ill all the time in Corsica, before Corsica, and after Corsica. She is still ill, which we think was a virus caused by eating meringue, swimming in the sea or eating out, or something else.

Year of hope and glory

So it was a full year. Next year will be simpler, eh? Time pottering in the garden instead sitting in an airport and getting into dodgy train stations late at night.   Time in the Gym and eating out with friends in the UK, or dinner parties;  joining the tuneless choir; drumming; salsa dancing; and weekends away in the caravan. Oh, and yes, we will return to Germany to see all those places we didn’t manage to fit in, and visit some lovely friends. And maybe they will visit us too. Well, perhaps not quite such a simple year.

Home again, naturally

We hope to see many of you next year who we have not managed to see for some time, but you can always force our hand and come and see us first. For the first time in many years we can announce that we will be here. In all probability, we will be here;  unless we are gadding about to Germany or Spain. But I think perhaps Sue would like a rest from all that travelling.