Saturday, 30 April 2011

Mum's Gone to Copenhagen - Part Three - Bodyworlds

On city breaks there never seems enough time to travel into the suburbs. However on this trip we decided to miss seeing some of the main sights in order to visit Gunther van Hagens' Bodyworlds exhibition. We never got round to seeing this exhibition when it was in London and as it is only exhibiting in Phoenix, Chicago (go see, Expat Mum), Taipei, Cologne and Copenhagen at the moment, we couldn't miss this chance.

It did involve a very short train journey. We prodded at a ticket machine in Norreport Station to no avail so had to squeeze into a chaotic ticket office instead. I was berating everyone under my breath for not queueing before I realised it was like the Sainsbury's deli counter and we needed to take a ticket. It wasn't long before a clean, swift S-train took us to Svanemollen Station and a short walk, via the helpful hedge-trimming linguists (see Part One) to the Experimentarium, which sounds rather menacing but in fact is the old Tuborg bottling factory turned into a Eureka/Science Museum type of place with lots of children going daft.

The exhibition was awesome, in the true sense of the word. Using a plastination process which expertly preserves dead bodies, van Hagens has exposed all the nerves and muscles in order to educate the visitor in anatomy and physiology. The exhibits are all the more enriching because he has manipulated them to show how the parts of the body interact with each other, for example when playing sports. Dougie was naturally very impressed and wished he had been able to see the intricate anatomical detail when he had been a medical student. For the rest of us, although there could have been a temptation to giggle, with reproductive organs on show as the bodies twanged electric guitars, played tennis, football and swam, in the main it was just too inspirational to be puerile....though the Admiral did have a rather splendid telescope.

All of the bodies in the exhibition had been donated for scientific research and I thought how marvellous it must be to think you could live on, posed ways that shouts life and vitality. I did wonder at the couple who are posed in flagrante for all eternity in the 'reverse cowgirl' position and hoped they were well aquainted with each other before their untimely deaths. This particular exhibit was shown behind a beaded curtain with the words "warning: the sex act is performed here" which naturally increased the traffic in this direction hugely.

If this comes to your city (Berlin and Basel soon) then I recommend you try and see it. Children above a certain age will certainly benefit, though having had a wild lever-pulling, button-pushing time in the rest of the building in Copenhagen, one 11 year old boy had written in the visitors' book for Bodyworlds "there wasn't enough to do". Sigh.


Thursday, 28 April 2011

Mum's Gone to Copenhagen - Part Two - Danes just wanna have fun.

Nyhavn - harbour in Copenhagen
After the odd sleeping arrangements of the previous night (see last post ) we were grateful to be back together again for breakfast. The number of families with small children in the dining room gave us some indication of why our request for connecting rooms seemed to have been forgotten. Thankfully after a gorgeous buffet of Danish pastries, Danish bacon and probably Danish smoothies we were pleased to discover Rory's new room, nearly opposite ours, had been prepared. It was bigger than the previous one and although it wasn't connected to ours, I could see that they had done their best to put things right.

Emma, my new blogging buddy in Denmark, had suggested a cycle tour as probably the most fun way to explore the city. She obviously doesn't know my family that well so, after I'd explained that I couldn't see cycling on proper roads equating to fun with my lot, we opted for her second suggestion of a canal tour. Well done that woman. This was a fantastic way to see all the best bits of the city and not get stroppy with each other once the tiredness set in. We were able to hop on and off at certain points to see the following:

Copenhagen's new Opera House. The impressive Skuespilhuset theatre, on the opposite bank, echoed the architecture of this magnificent building.

The Little Mermaid (Den Lille Havfrue). She had just returned from a jaunt to China where she had been in an exhibition for a few months. I think I'd have been rather disappointed if we'd come to visit her in Copenhagen, only for her to have been replaced by a video screen. The guide told us she had heard from a Chinese man that the queue to see the statue in Shanghai was over 8 hours long. I can see why he decided to hop on a plane for Denmark instead.

After we'd climbed the 400 steps to the top of Our Saviour's Church (no mean feat in itself) we took a peek inside as I'd been told I could see a huge organ on two elephants. Indeed, I could.

We returned to Nyhavn where the sun had beckoned all the workers to the pavement bars and cafes for their lunch. This is where we observed hygge, the Danish expression which explains their attitude and lifestyle. Meaning 'cosiness' it conveys the laid-back attitude, their love of life and yet their acceptance of rules, order and a realisation that the sun might not be out for long! Everyone had their face turned upwards to catch the rays yet many cafes had throws or blankets neatly folded over the backs of the chairs - some colour co-ordinated with the tablecloths.

A walk down Stroget, the main shopping street, followed, starting with Upper Stroget and the stylish boutiques of Gucci and Louis Vuitton, and ending in Lower Stroget with Macdonalds and Foot Locker. Isn't that the same all over! Away from this main street, the boulevards were wide, spacious and very attractive: the buildings a similar height with a symmetry to the shape and number of windows. Nothing looked out of place and even the modern architecture didn't upset the balance.

A couple of bouncers guarding Tivoli?
Evening is probably the best time to visit one of Europe's oldest amusement parks, Tivoli Gardens. It's rather small but very pretty and sparkly, enjoyed by all ages. The boys had done their homework on where to eat and had plumped for a steakhouse, Hereford Beefstouw. It wasn't cheap but in our opinion the steaks were thick, juicy and tasted fabulous. We were seated at stripped wooden tables and given a little ticket and a pencil. A quick look at the menu before ticking which steak, how we wanted it cooked and whether we wanted potatoes or chips. Pop your initials and table number on the card then hand it to the waiter. I loved that. My steak arrived and I was so excited that I forgot I wasn't "RB" and happily accepted Rory's plate. Dougie shook his head and, unable to hold the cast iron plates, swapped the steaks over with two forks, setting fire to his arm hair on the candle in the process. 

We weren't up to going on the rides after that, which was just as well as Dougie and I have an innate hatred/fear of most of them and Rory would happily go on them but apparently not with us as we're embarrassing. We spent some time just absorbing the happy atmosphere before I wandered off to a stage where an orchestra was playing pop classics. The boys weren't keen so I left them to sulk on a bench. As Riverdance was being played I ambled back to the menfolk and, as they came into view, I treated them to a little Irish jig. They fell about laughing which I thought a touch harsh until Dougie explained that two seconds earlier he had warned Rory, "I bet you anything your mother will come back doing a Michael Flately".

As Day Two came to a close, we happened on this video screen showing previews of films for the festival. Not sure this one would be top of my list:


Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Mum's Gone to Copenhagen - Part One - Cock up in Camelot

Bedroom, Hotel Kong Arthur, Copenhagen

I had good vibes about Denmark from the outset. Their language for starters. A country which has the word Hej (pronounced Hi) for hello, Hej Hej (Hi Hi) for goodbye and the word Tak for both please and thank you, has got my vote. The words are so sweet and happy-sounding they induce a smile on the listener in an instant.

The currency proved more problematic. I've started to get the hang of Euros but the Danish Krone currency conversion flummoxed me to begin with, until I plumped for the rather unscientific 'take off the last number and add a little bit' strategy. Dougie keeps tight hold of the foreign currency anyway as he thinks I treat it like Monopoly money. A fair observation.

A short 90 minute flight and with good visibility I was able to point out Copenhagen to Rory as we came in to land. The magnificent ├śresund bridge between Denmark and Sweden could be seen shooting across the sea and plunging into the depths as it became a tunnel.  It was at that point I realised the city I was oohing and aahing at was Malmo, Sweden, not Denmark's capital after all. My Geography degree showing its value yet again.

We took the unusual step of eschewing a taxi from the airport when we arrived in Copenhagen. Over the years we seem to have paid over the google-recommended fares whenever we arrive in a city. With metered taxis you would presume we couldn't be ripped off in European cities but it would seem the driver takes us the scenic route to our hotel every time. In hindsight I suspect the Danish taxi drivers may have been more honest, such is their attitude about laws in general (heaven forbid you should cross the road on a Red Man).

We knew we had to take the Metro just a few stops and that we needed the yellow M2 line. Plans went awry when we unknowingly walked past the ticket office and ended up on the platform to face a machine instead. In what was to become a rocky relationship with the ticket machines for the remainder of the week, we stared at the screen and I jabbed at it a lot. Thankfully help came in the form of a Peter Schmeichel looky-likey who ambled over and guided us smoothly through the operation, speaking English with the consummate ease of a man comfortable in flipping languages like a linguistic pancake.

This ability of the Danes to speak English so extraordinarily well shamed us the whole holiday. The best example came two days later when we were lost, having chosen the wrong fork in the road after leaving Hellerup station on the hunt for the Experimentarium. We walked down a suburban street and spotted an old couple trimming their hedge. I said 'undskyld' ('excuse me' in Danish ) then ruined the attempt by asking if they spoke English. The chap beamed at me, tucked his shears under his arm, and said, with utter charm, "Yes, of course. We speak French and German and Dutch too. Would you like us to speak in any of those languages?". No, English will do just fine. Dougie reckoned if we'd asked him to speak Scottish he'd have managed that effortlessly too.

Back to the story. We rattled our wheelie-bags over the cobbles on the short walk to Hotel Kong Arthur and, on arrival at reception, I waved my email confirmation of one suite with interconnecting standard room for Rory. The receptionist was extremely friendly but told us that Rory's room wasn't connected to ours. In fact I'm not even sure it was on the same floor. Cue immediate indignation. They were aware their reservation assistant had put a note to the effect of ensuring our rooms were connected but had no excuse as to why they had ignored it. After some very civilised argy-bargy and, aware it was after 6pm and the hotel was full, I suggested they offer us the closest room possible for our teen and then rectify matters in the morning. The room diagonally opposite ours would be available tomorrow. For tonight our boy would be at the far end of a long, rambling corridor: not ideal but he's a big lad and he seemed unconcerned.

The rest of the evening was rather fraught with much schlepping down the corridor to pass chargers, adapters and whatnot which we had hoped to share. Immersing ourselves into the Danish culture, we turned up at La Rocca, the Italian restaurant next door, and enjoyed pizza, pasta and a very large gin, not knowing whether to say thanks, tak or grazie but soaking up the bonhomie nonetheless.

Rory was settled in his room for the night, MTV and iPod Touch as room-mates, and we started to relax in our very chocolate-mint coloured room.

Midnight. Phone rang. Rory wasn't feeling very well and couldn't sleep. One for the doctor, I thought, pushing Dougie out of the bed and turning over into the squashy pillow. Dougie rang me a few minutes later to say Rory was okay but he reckoned being so far away on his own wasn't ideal so he would stay with him. So I spent the first night in our romantic suite on my own, until 6am when Dougie came tumbling back to bed. Apparently Rory was fine now, but was sick of his dad snoring so had told him to bugger off. That's gratitude!


Sunday, 17 April 2011

Anyone for pickled penis?

I had to smile over my morning cuppa today when I turned to the back page of the News Review of the Sunday Times. Iceland's Phallological Museum, which we visited in 2007, has, at long last, secured a human exhibit for its impressive collection.

Local man, Pall Arason, aged 95, had donated his precious member to friend and curator of the museum Sigurdur Hjartarson. Pall died in January so his penis will now take pride of place in the museum. Up until this year the only human specimens were the foreskin from a 40 year old Icelander and the testicles from a 55 year old Icelander: that must have taken some balls.

The visit to the museum in Husavik was one of the highlights of our trip to Iceland. You can read about it here. Rory was still young enough not to be too embarrassed, Dougie felt emasculated by the impressive size of the bolt-upright whale selection and I pointed and giggled a lot.

We read at the time that a few generous chaps had already bequeathed their members but had not yet died so there was a bit of a race on to see whose willy would win the day. 95 year old Pall was the natural front-runner, although I was secretly hoping "Elmo" the treasured todger of American Stan Underwood, would beat him by a head. Stan had already provided the museum with a cast of his penis and had suggested his wife would look after it for a while after he died, before it was donated to the museum. Stan was in his fifties, however, so Elmo was always likely to be attached for a little longer than his Icelandic competitor.

I feel a little sorry for Stan that he didn't win the coveted first prize but there's no shame in coming second: in fact it's something most penises would be proud of.........isn't that right, Elmo?


Friday, 15 April 2011

My Perfect Cousin

John and Rory April 2011

One little boy is 15 weeks old and one big boy is 15 years old but they are both adorable to me.

You may remember my nephew John was born on Christmas Day, named after my Dad who unfortunately died a few weeks after his namesake came into the world.

We paid a visit to Newcastle last weekend to see how Mum was getting on. She's doing just fine, missing my dad terribly of course but loving her new grandson who she sees a lot as my brother and his partner, Helen, live very close by.

I was quite taken with the little fella myself but was only allowed to bring the big boy home with me when we returned to Lincolnshire on Sunday. Shame, but I think his parents may have noticed!


Tuesday, 12 April 2011

My mum singing Habanera from Carmen, 1959

On last week's gallery I talked about how proud I was of my mum and mentioned that she had sung an aria from Carmen on the first night of Tyne Tees Television in January 1959. Some of you asked to see the video so I managed to get a recording onto my camera and have uploaded it. If you watch the video you will hear a fabulous, strong voice and see a young, vibrant, beautiful woman aged 25. I get tingles every time I watch it.

My mum, who sang as Eileen Brennan, has written the following for you, describing the events of that memorable day:

" Resurrecting the video of Tyne Tees opening night live show, The Big Show, has brought back many amazing memories for me and I am delighted to share them with you.

Tyne Tees Television, a regional commercial station for the North East of England, began broadcasting in January 1959, from a converted warehouse in Newcastle near to the River Tyne.

A live show for the opening night was planned months before when famous impresarios George and Alfred Black, who produced shows in London and Blackpool, held local auditions. I was chosen to perform the Habanera from Carmen: I think I was the only Geordie to appear. Other famous faces on the show were Bill Travers, Virginia McKenna and Bill Maynard plus countless performers and comedians who were famous names in the 1950s.

The atmosphere backstage was exciting yet rather stressful for the producers at times. I found the rehearsals fascinating, getting the chance to sing with a big orchestra when I was more familiar with a piano accompaniment. I remember there was a big fuss concerning hair and make-up: they had a great deal of trouble trying to get my hair to set, constantly washing and re-setting the curls until someone noticed they had been using hand cream instead of setting lotion.

I thoroughly enjoyed my song, supported by the wonderful Malcolm Goddard Dancers. I wasn't at all nervous though I remember developing a massive headache after the performance.

We had rehearsed a grand finale with all the performers walking down to take their bows but this was a live show, it over-ran and the curtain came down rather too promptly before the show had finished.

I saw this video for the first time in 1989, 30 years after the show was aired, when someone from Tyne Tees gave me a copy. I shed a few tears looking back at myself as a young woman of 25 but I was immensely proud and felt very fortunate that I had a memento of one very special night.

I hope you enjoy watching it"



Monday, 11 April 2011

You'd have to be mad to nominate me...

MAD Blog Awards 2011

As a parent blogger I'm aware that it's time for nominations for The Mads, the awards for the best in mum and dad blogs. I wouldn't ordinarily put my head above the parapet and wave at everyone, for fear of being shot down in flames. However I noticed today that someone  has very generously nominated me for one of the awards (MAD Blogger of the Year) so it seemed churlish, and possibly rude, to not take the opportunity to say thank you and ensure that person's nomination has not been wasted.

There are a number of categories for the awards and some fabulous prizes to be won. Obviously my blog doesn't fit into all of the categories but if you think I'm a candidate for any of those below, then feel free to vote at

The other categories are:

  • Best MAD Blog for Family Fun, sponsored by Arla
  • Best MAD Blog for Family Life, sponsored by Little Dish
  • Best MADs Craft Blog, sponsored by ELC
  • Best MAD Baby Blog, sponsored by Plum Baby
  • Best MAD Family Food Blog, sponsored by Morrisons
  • Most Innovative MADs Blogger, sponsored by eBuzzing
  • Most Inspirational MAD Blogger, sponsored by Mothercare
  • Best New MAD Blog, sponsored by Born Free
  • Best MAD Blog Photography, sponsored by Photobox
  • Best Pre-School Fun MAD Blog, sponsored by MEGABloks
  • Best MAD Business Blog, sponsored by Talk Talk
  • Best Pregnancy Blog, sponsored by Bounty

Anyone can vote, whether you write a blog yourself or not. The blogs with the most nominations in each category will be shortlisted for the finals. I have yet to nominate my favourites and I notice on the list so far that some of the bloggers I most admire haven't yet been nominated so I'll be putting that right very shortly. There are some great bloggers out there, so choose wisely and help to get them the recognition they deserve.


Friday, 8 April 2011

Olympic sports we might be able to win

Do you remember a few weeks ago I wrote about vibrators in the mini-bar? Of course you do as it was a rude post, which always flashes on the 'I think I'll click on this one' blog-reading radar.

While we were all discussing the merits of sex toys in amongst the miniatures and over-priced KitKats, one blogger, Madame Smokin Gun who writes at  Scene of the Crime picked up on the fact that I'd been looking at London hotels because we'd been thinking of going to some of the Olympic events next year.

If you've never come across Madame's blog I urge you to go and visit her. Give her some love and tell her I sent you. She's completely bonkers but her posts are full of refreshing randomness that you just can't help but smile/laugh/worry for her sanity.

Anyway, I will quote Madame Smokin Gun's comment on my post in reference to the fact that beach volleyball is to be held at Horse Guards Parade:

Horseguards Parade? Is that one of the sporting 'guest spots' for next year? If they hold any events in my beloved Saaarf Lahndaan they could include Car Stripping, Speed Fight (staggered points system for initiation difficulty level ie looking at pint/girlfriend/self etc), Sideways Ponytail Whipping, Kebab Lobbing...... up in Nawf Lund'n they could do Instant Shoe Identification Shot, Parking Space Wrestling, Couscous Moulding Towerstack, Bad Smell Under One's Nose Endurance.........

Divisive? Me?

Just thought of another Nawf Lund'n event: How Quick Can You Produce 2 Pollution-Sensitive Children Move To Brighton And Set Up A Business Selling Driftwood Mobiles.....
Any more good ol' British regional events we should introduce to the sporting world?

How could I not pick up on this and open the floor to all you readers! My own suggestions were the 'Slow Tractor Pursuit' around my own neck of the woods and possibly a 'White Stiletto 100m Stagger' in my home town of Newcastle.

Suggestions please.....


Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Gallery - Mother Love - Tiny Dancer

Look at me, posing in the garden like a true pro, mouth clamped shut to avoid exposing missing teeth. Beside me, my fabulous mum, Eileen.

Mum had always wanted to have ballet lessons but with five other girls in her family, her parents couldn't afford lessons so her dream never became a reality. Maybe this was for the best as she found her talent lay in singing instead and had a successful career as a mezzo soprano.

She was delighted when I asked to learn ballet and eagerly booked me into a local school. However I didn't prove to be much good and she recalls how, in my first exam, I had no idea what the steps were so was forever stopping to tilt my head so I could watch the examiner's feet which were subconsciously going through the moves as she sat  behind a table. I gave up soon after.

Mum supported me in my next choice which was to learn Highland Dancing. I was good at this. So good that I became the North of England Beginner's champion in 1974. Get me. I was faultless at the Fling and stupendous at the Sword Dance. I remember countless weekends my family would take me to competitions around the North East. It must have been utter purgatory for them having to listen to hours and hours of the same bagpipe tunes wailing in a school hall, watching a succession of little girls thudding the same steps on a rickety stage.

I put down my swords when I was 13: my kilt became too short and as it was an expensive piece of kit, requiring a fitting up in Edinburgh, I decided to call it a day. I drifted into singing and acting at school instead and have continued the am-dram stuff over the years.

Mum has been very proud of all my achievements: like most mums, she has experienced as much joy watching me perform as if she were on the stage herself. What she probably doesn't know is that the love and pride she has always had watching me is matched by my love and pride in her. When I look back at old videos of her singing - a fabulous rendition of Carmen's Habanera on the opening night of Tyne Tees Television, complete with dancers swishing around her - I see a beautiful, talented woman and I think, wow, that's my mum.

The theme for this week's Gallery is 'Mother Love'. See Tara's page for more entries.


Monday, 4 April 2011

Childhood Memories of Denmark

It dawned on me yesterday that it's not long before our trip to Copenhagen. Writing a list as we speak, although the first thing I've scribbled down is 'Write a list'. Have money to sort out (it's a while since we've ordered any currency other than euros), miniature bottles of toiletries to hunt out and I must try and decide where we plan to go during our short trip. Thankfully Emma who writes at A Scandinavian Sojourn has been a godsend. Emma is an English mum living in Copenhagen at the moment and she has already emailed me with loads of useful information about places to go. I keep reading her blog to try and immerse myself in the Danish way of life. Her latest post regarding the traditional Danish chimney sweep who arrived at her door, complete with top hat, won't help me organise my city break but it certainly raised a smile. Go and have a look at him!

I've been to Denmark twice before. The first time, in 1977, my parents took my brother and me on a short trip to Copenhagen; it was a group holiday via the local newspaper. The Newcastle Evening Chronicle and The Journal often organised trips and Mum was very adept in getting in quick as the holidays were always pretty good value and a fantastic way for us to try out new places.

I was 12 when we flew to Copenhagen and my memories of the trip are patchy. I remember it was early Spring but it was bitterly cold. I suspect I whinged a lot as we trudged round. But I do recall my brother and I becoming friendly with some other kids on the trip. My brother was 15 at the time and one of the other boys in the group, also 15 or 16, had managed to buy a pack of rude playing cards from a local shop. The lads were quite amazed at the pornographic material available in the little newsagent and I was equally amazed at the photos on each of the cards. We kids played cards in the hotel lobby at night. It was quite hard to concentrate on Go Fish when there was a woman accommodating a donkey on the three of clubs.

While I was gaining an education, the adults organised their own entertainment in the dining room. One of the group could play the piano so my mum got up to sing, closely followed by one chap whose party piece was to hit his head and thigh with a metal tray as an accompaniment to him singing Mule Train. There was also a gynaecologist in the group who did a bit of stand-up (comedy, in case you're wondering). It was a fun night.

The highlight of our holiday?

My second trip to Denmark occurred in 1982 after I'd finished my A levels. My friend Colette and I decided to book a short trip to Esbjerg, taking the ferry from Newcastle. In hindsight it wasn't the best choice for a wild weekend away without our parents. We had a tiny cabin in the bowels of the ship, Colette was sea-sick for most of the journey and when we got to Esbjerg we had about four hours to wander about before getting back on the ferry to come home. Club 18-30 it wasn't.