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Why I love my backpack

Yes, you read that correctly. Weird, right? In the interest of full disclosure: It’s time for me to get over my fear of judgement and just do things. So, here’s a thing!

My love affair with my backpack began in Berlin in August 2017. For those of you who don’t know, I spent from the end of May to the end of August 2017 travelling the UK and Europe with my husband* Ben and 3-year-old daughter. We visited London, Tranent, Edinburgh, Paris, Florence, Pisa, Munich, Bratislava, Prellenkirchen, and Berlin. One day in July I was wandering around Munich after visiting the Deutches Museum when I happened across Globetrotter, a travel and outdoor equipment store . I ducked inside with the hope of finding a phrasebook for the upcoming Slovakian leg of our journey and stayed for over an hour looking at every conceivable travel- and outdoor-related item you could possibly imagine.

The store itself was 4 levels high (click for pic). The shiny thing that you can see on the basement level is the Wasseraktionsfläsche: a pool to try out their canoes and kayaks before buying. Also for sale on various levels of the store were tents, clothes, travel books (I couldn’t find an English-Slovak phrasebook, but I did find a German-Slovak equivalent – a fun way to test both my German and Slovak language skills at the same time!), crossbows, hunting knives, multi-tools, drink bottles, camping equipment, a cafe, a couple of bouldering walls… Looking at the photos on the Globetrotter website it looks like I somehow missed the cold- and rain-rooms for testing the all-weather gear, and the to-scale plane and train bathrooms. This place was incredible. However, I’m wandering a little far from the point I was trying to make.

While I was soaking up the sheer awesomeness of this place, I started casually browsing the backpack section. While the backpack I was using was still technically functional, I could see that the end was near – Smiggle schoolbags are not built for round-the-world travel.

I quickly fell in love with the Deuter range of day packs

Ooh, pretty!

Ooh, pretty!

but couldn’t justify the cost (this particular one was about 100 Euros). I left the store with my Deutsch-Slowakish phrasebook and a vow to return someday.

The Smiggle backpack lasted until Berlin when I just couldn’t deal with the broken zippers and straps any longer. I showed Ben the irreparable carcass and set off for the Berlin Globetrotter store. Conveniently located across from the Rathaus Steglitz U-Bahnhof it was easy enough to find, but once inside it didn’t seem quite as impressive as the Munich branch (to be fair, though, this was partly due to the fact that I had a headache). Still, they had a great range of backpacks and the staff were really good at ignoring me while I stuffed my laptop into bag after bag to find out whether it fit into the designated pouch.

It turned out that the pretty Deuter bag that I liked in Munich wasn’t a good fit, but I eventually managed to narrow down to two options based on size, price and pockets: a black Deuter daypack and a purple Osprey one. I was biased toward the Deuter bag as I’d heard a lot of positive reviews regarding the quality, and it was slightly cheaper than the Osprey pack. On the other hand, the Osprey bag was purple. (This is significant because  1. brighter is always better when accessory shopping, and 2. purple is my favourite colour.) In this case, the Osprey back was also more comfortable to wear so after a quick guilt-call to Ben (I’m about to spend, like, $150 on a backpack! STOP ME!!!) it was a no-brainer.

As soon as I finished paying for the backpack I packed everything into it, strutted back to the U-Bahn, then hugged it all the way home (the bag, not the U-Bahn). It felt like Christmas.

Decision made. Case closed.

Look at that. It’s so pretty!

On packing the backpack for the next leg of our journey – a flight to Austria then straight onto a train to Bratislava – I fell in love with it even more. My laptop fit comfortably into the padded pouch and documents sat flat against it in the adjacent zippered section. The front pocket was huge but had enough pockets to separate everything, and the compression straps meant that my unobtrusive everyday pack:

IMG_4438

could expand to fit an unbelievable amount of clothing, food, and in-flight activities.

Full. I recently used this to pack everything I needed for a 3-night stay in Cairns, including a towel and swimmers.

I recently used this to pack everything I needed (and a few things I didn’t) for a 3-night stay in Cairns.

The only down-side was that when weighed down with all of my carry-on gear (including a laptop, notebook, jacket and snacks to name a few), the netted straps were initially a bit uncomfortable on my (somewhat) bare shoulders, but it hasn’t been an issue since.  I later discovered that I also wasn’t a big fan of the corded zipper pulls (see below).

How they're supposed to look (bottom) vs. how they usually stay until inevitably pull them out and fix them.

How they’re supposed to look (bottom) vs. how they usually stay until they inevitably detach.

It’s not a big deal, but it stands out on an otherwise awesome backpack.

As of publication, I have owned this backpack for about 6 months and have used it almost daily. So far it’s showing no signs of wear – even the plastic key-clip is as springy as the day I bought it. For this reason, as well as its awesome colour, great design, and my memories of all our adventure together:

I love my backpack.

***

*NOTE: Ben and I have since separated. While I currently have intention of sharing how this came about, I can assure you that it had nothing to do with the backpack. I love it, but not like that!

We arrived in London around 6.20am local time, 20 minutes later than expected. The icy wind was a shock after the warm plane flight, but it was only a moment before we had our luggage and were winding our way towards the Immigration desks. Surprisingly, we were lined up in front of the same lady who was behind us back in Singapore. Despite claiming she was “not very sociable”, she recognised and chatted to 3 people in addition to us while we waited – one of whom apparently mistimed their sleeping tablet, falling asleep in the middle of dinner.

We got to enjoy the full immigrant experience, being carefully compared to our passport photos and quizzed about the details of our trip. Even Sarah was questioned:

Immigration officer: “And what’s your name?”

Sarah: “Little Witch.”

Me: (Don’t sound like you’re coaching her, don’t sound like you’re coaching her) “No, your real name!” (Dammit, I’m coaching her!)

Gotta love her imagination.

Once we were admitted into the country, we went about finding our way to our AirBNB flat in Camden Town. Although we probably could have worked out the ‘Tube’, we opted for a London cab due to what felt like our excessive amount of luggage. Never again.

Due to traffic, we ended up paying £100 (rounded down from £107 because the cabbie felt bad for us. To compare, the Tube would have cost under £20 and taken the same amount of time). On the upside, we can officially cross off ‘ride in a London cab’ from our bucket lists, if it ever made it on there. The driver even wore the same cap as the one in BBC Sherlock’s ‘A Study in Pink’ which was weird at first, but he was nice enough. Also weird (but apparently legal) was letting Sarah sit in the car without a child seat.

Once we arrived at our destination, we were greeted by our friendly host who showed us around the second-storey flat. It was small, but it was cheap for London and had 3 beds so we left our bags and headed out to do some grocery shopping.

The short walk to the shops was a little disappointing for me. I didn’t realise how much my idea of other countries had been shaped by movies and TV. There was rubbish everywhere – literally – both in and out of bags. Apparently London (or at least, that part of Camden Town) doesn’t do rubbish bins, so the bags were just left out on peoples’ doorsteps. Nice.

On our return to the apartment, we had some lunch and I started washing the clothes. The washing machine wasn’t plugged into the wall, which I thought was odd, but it was easy enough to plug it back in.

Well.

Taking a minute to sit down after my shower, I noticed a rather loud splashing sound coming from the kitchen. On exploring, I saw that the washing machine, located in the kitchen, had leaked into the kitchen cupboard and through to the floor. At this point, I called the owner (a different guy to the one who welcomed us) to inform him of the situation. Apparently, I was supposed to have been informed that the washing machine was out-of-order. Really out-of-order. As in, any liquid drawn into the machine would end up in the hallway downstairs, out-of-order. The guy was understandably unhappy, and had no qualms about telling me so. Repeatedly.

At this point, I feel like I should add that I am not trying to make out like I’m at all innocent. I plugged the machine in; I turned it on. However, I was not willing to shoulder all of the blame. While I could have spent more time considering why it had been unplugged in the first place (I just assumed a dodgy / lack of power point behind the machine), a simple communication from our hosts could have averted this whole crisis. And it was a crisis.

If you zoom in, you can see the water still leaking from the light fitting.

If you zoom in, you can see the water still leaking from the light fitting. The carpet is also a few shades darker than when we arrived.

As soon as we discovered the leak, Ben started looking for a new place to stay. A preliminary search on AirBNB came up empty, so we booked a hotel for the night (it was just after lunch at this point) to buy us more time to look. The Park Plaza London Waterloo was way over budget but available and – as it turned out – quite nice.

By this point we were feeling pretty shell-shocked. It felt like we had started our first family trip rather literally, stumbling from one obstacle to the next. Fortunately for us, my (super-awesome) cousin John and his fiancée had been living in London for a few months already, and were more than happy to help. (“Pro” tip: if you know anyone who lives or has lived in the place you are visiting, talk to them. They will make your lives 1000% easier). John dropped by the hotel with cashed-up Oyster cards, sight-seeing recommendations, a travel guide, and a local Three SIM card which he set up for us. He then took us out to dinner, showing us Big Ben along the way. Did I mention that he’s super awesome?

This much-appreciated assistance allowed Ben and I to take a breath and realise that we needed a little more time before taking our next step, so we extended our stay at the hotel for another night and passed out.

The next day we caught a double-decker bus to St James Park, next to Buckingham Palace. With the time it took for the bus to fight the London traffic it probably would have been quicker to walk, but it was exciting. We didn’t actually hit anything (or anyone), but it was close. The park itself was nice, if a bit crowded. We saw our first squirrel, our delight only drawing a few sidelong glances from other park visitors. After a little wandering we found ourselves close to the palace, so we decided to go take a look. While it wasn’t exactly on the ‘must-see’ list, we found ourselves excited (and for me, even proud) after we realised that the Queen was, technically, our queen too.

Sarah was rather impressed by the garden. Thinking that it belonged to the Queen of Hearts (from Alice in Wonderland) may have helped. We did correct her eventually.

Sarah was rather impressed by the garden. Thinking that it belonged to the Queen of Hearts (from Alice in Wonderland) may have helped. We did correct her eventually.

Despite the crowds, we managed to find an open spot by the fence and stare at the guards for a while. For some reason I thought that they were going to be still and quiet (too much TV, maybe?), but these guys were patrolling around pretty regularly, and even screamed at some idiot to “GET OFF THE FENCE!” a few times.

Not wanting to leave immediately, we wandered around to the left of the Palace, admiring the general ‘English-ness’ of the area: a horse-and-carriage clip-clopped by. Some weird-looking bees were chilling in the garden. Sarah took a great interest in the Queen’s role, particularly in regard to land ownership:

“Whose tree is that?”

“Well, it’s on the Palace grounds, so I guess it’s the Queen’s.”

“What about the grass there?”

“That’s on the grounds too, so it’s probably the Queen’s too.”

“What about the fence? Is that the Queen’s?”

“Uh, sure.”

“And the flowers?”

“Yup.”

and so forth.  One day I may confirm whether this is in fact true, but for now I don’t think it’s going to hurt for Sarah to believe that the Queen owns pretty much everything in Great Britain. We can’t let her grow up without at least one misconception.

After that, it was back to the hotel to find some longer-term accommodation. Upon our arrival at the hotel, we had given our soaking, half-washed clothes to housekeeping to sort out. £60! We needed a place with a washing machine, fast. AirBNB had treated us well after the Camden Town debacle, giving us a full refund plus a $200AUD credit for re-booking and even some suggestions of other places to stay, so we decided to give them another chance. After a painful 45 minutes of sifting through expensive or dodgy listings, I checked out Edinburgh, Scotland on a whim. It worked out cheaper to book a return train trip and stay in a pretty little cottage in Tranent, Scotland than to stay anywhere in the London area. To top it all off, it was an instant-book listing, so in 10 minutes we booked accommodation, paid for train tickets, and called the host to let her know we’d be there tomorrow afternoon. She took it really well, considering. Actually, she was rather wonderful – but more on that later.

The next morning we enjoyed our second very English breakfast, which was really tasty except the bacon was served (drowned) in melted butter which I found rather disgusting. There was a wide assortment of other food on offer though, so I wasn’t unhappy for long. Well-fortified for the day ahead, we set off on our northern adventure. We arrived at Kings Cross station a little early for our 10.20 train, which was lucky because we found a Paperchase store (they produce my favourite notebooks which I haven’t been able to source since Borders closed down circa. 2011) and an ACTUAL PLATFORM 9 3/4!! (Sort of.) There was also a Harry Potter shop, but by this point we were in a bit of a rush to find a real platform, so we vowed to check it out upon our return.

Below the black and white sign on the wall there is half of a trolley fixed to the wall where people could don a House scarf and have an 'on the way to Hogwarts' photo taken.

Below the black and white sign on the wall there is half of a trolley fixed to the wall where people could don a House scarf and have an ‘on the way to Hogwarts’ photo taken.

The train was quite impressive compared to what we were used to. It was clean and didn’t stink, the seats were comfy and we could have had free wifi had we booked through the right website. As it turned out, the wifi only cost about £5, so Ben logged in and got a few solid hours of work done. Sarah and I did some colouring, played I-Spy, and when she got too bored we pulled out the tablet and headphones and she played games while I stared out the window or jotted things in my notebook. The only thing I would have changed was when we visited the dining cart: by the time we went to buy something, all the hot food was sold out and the sandwiches left something to be desired. Still, the 4.5 hour trip passed quickly, and we soon arrived in Scotland, birthplace of our ancestors – or at least, some of them.

Man, what a week! (…and a bit). On Monday 5 June at 6.05pm, it finally happened – we left the country! Ben, Sarah and I have just finished the first week of our 10-and-a-bit week trip around the UK and Europe. It was only meant to be London and Europe, but due to our accommodation not working out we headed north to Tranent, Scotland for the week.

Anyway, let’s wind this back a bit to the beginning of the trip…

The Plan

After Ben sold his share of Bean Ninjas in December 2016, we decided to take the opportunity to see some of the UK and Europe (as we had planned in 2013, before I fell pregnant). Due to my uni commitments and Ben’s work schedule, the only time we could really depart was early June – 5 days after my final exam. Anyway, between December and now (yes, we’re still booking) we slowly came up with a plan:

  • London for a week or two, so we were in a not-too-different country to deal with the jet lag;
  • Paris for two nights – one day to see the Eiffel Tower (the highlight of Sarah’s trip) and a day either side for travel;
  • Florence for two weeks – Ben’s Italian experience, plus gelato;
  • Munich for 4 weeks, to see how much German I really know;
  • Bratislava for 1 week (I’m going to a Blind Guardian concert);
  • Berlin for 1 week, because we thought that Legoland Deutschland was there (it’s not); then
  • back to London for a couple of days before the flight home.

It’s quite an ambitious trip, particularly since both Sarah and I have never left the country before, but Ben was really keen to try and skip the Australian winter altogether this year so we thought we’d give it a go. We won’t quite miss all of winter, but it will be close.

The Lead-Up (or rather, The Crazy Time)

So, I mentioned that my final uni exam took place a mere 5 days before our flight. This was hard, but in theory possible. I only needed to achieve a 50% pass mark (including a minimum 50% mark for the final exam) in order to exit with an Advanced Diploma of Arts. Easy, right?

Well: in amongst studying the most challenging German unit so far (with a new teacher and a new textbook and much stress) we also had to pack all of our stuff into storage and move out of our rental place to share with family… one week before the exam. Plus, Sarah picked up a terrible cough that wouldn’t go away and kept waking her up at night. And, and, and…you get the picture. It was pretty crazy. Even so, we managed to see most of the family before we went, just because, well, you never know…

Anyway, all of this going on made the trip (for me) seem surreal. Right up until…

The First Leg: Sydney to Singapore

My flight anxiety didn’t actually hit me until we had dropped our bags and said goodbye to our lift to the airport (thanks Cheryl!). Sitting down at the Maccas while Sarah had a much-needed play on the equipment, I finally realised that we were actually going to get on a plane for 8 and then 13 hours OH MY GOD WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE!?!?!? Luckily, all of that disappeared once I sat down on the plane – I think it’s because the flight attendants are so calm and cool and surely they wouldn’t do this job if it was too dangerous, right? Plus, we only hear about the flights that don’t work, rather than the millions that do etc. etc. Or, it may be because by that point there’s nothing I can do to stop it so I’d rather die happy than fighting something I can no longer control. Maybe a little of both.

Anyway, thanks to Singapore Airlines’s super awesome in-flight entertainment system, the time passed pretty quickly. Sarah worked out the touch screen almost instantly, and enjoyed watching the first half-hour of Trolls on repeat for most of the journey. She also tried some of the games, but the controls were a bit tricky. Between that and her Nintendo DS (we came super-prepared) she napped for maybe an hour, but was otherwise happily distracted for the whole trip.

Changi Airport, Singapore

We arrived at Changi Airport around 12.10am local time (2.10am Sydney time – ouch!). By then we were all understandably pooped, but still managed to navigate our way to the other end of the airport for our 24-hour stopover in the airport hotel. That’s right – we got to sleep in beds before the next leg of our journey, and we didn’t even have to leave the airport.

Our room at the Aerotel Changi Airport. Not pictured: bathroom to the right.

Our room at the Aerotel Changi Airport. Not pictured: bathroom to the right.

After a decent rest (about 6-7 hours) and a shower, we set off to find some food. On the way, we stumbled across a neat little play area which was great for getting Sarah to burn off some energy. Unfortunately, she was still pretty tired, so she didn’t have much patience or understanding for the kids that weren’t speaking English: “Stop speaking German! Speak English!” (The poor other kid wasn’t speaking German, and had no idea what she was going on about.) After lunch and nap she was much better though, even finding a friend before we so cruelly dragged her away to have dinner.

Play area at Changi Airport.

Play area at Changi Airport.

Between all this eating, napping and playing we did manage to explore the airport a bit, and it was AMAZING! I was constantly surprised to remember that we were actually in an airport, as the carpet, shops, places to eat and things to do made it feel more like a really upmarket shopping centre. There were beautiful gardens, a butterfly house, fancy shops, and surely more that we just didn’t see. The acoustics were really good too – even with the planeloads of people coming and going it was pretty quiet. All in all, it’s convinced me to go and visit Singapore at some point.

Sorry for the blurry photo - I'll have to go back and take a better one sometime soon.

Sorry for the blurry photo – I’ll have to go back and take a better one sometime.

Around 10.30pm local time we headed over to our gate to wait for our 11.30pm flight. While we were there, Sarah found two little girls to play with – well, Sarah followed the littlest one around, and the other one followed Sarah, and they just wandered around like that for around 20 minutes before Sarah got distracted by the little play house. (Airports with play areas are the best!) Before long, we heard the boarding call and were all ready for the next leg of the journey:

Singapore to London

While we were still flying with Singapore Airlines, the in-flight entertainment system was a little different. Not a big deal, but Sarah had to work a little harder to get what she wanted without the touch-screen. This trip’s theme movie was Tangled, with the occasional Moana or Trolls thrown in. Once the lights were turned off, she managed to sleep for 6 hours straight – hooray! (I think that the new, rectangular travel pillow helped with that. The U-shaped one was U-seless.)

Ben managed to snooze on-and-off for about 4 hours, but I just couldn’t get comfortable so I watched Logan (kickass) and The Space Between Us (predictable but safe enough choice in case Sarah woke up or I did actually manage to fall asleep). Toward the middle of the flight I got a bit restless (What do you mean we still have 6 hours to go?!?) but again, it was pretty uneventful… at least until the last half hour.

As we approached London, we were advised that we’d have to fly in a holding pattern for a little while. Not long after this announcement, we heard a loud thump from the underside of the plane. It was probably the landing gear (as Ben tried to explain to me) but nevertheless I was tense for the remainder of the flight.

All things considered, it was a really good flight and I would definitely fly with Singapore Airlines again.

Ruth rubbed her eyes and looked up from her lesson plan. Once again, Eli was staring out the window. “Eli, have you finished your maths?”

Eli sighed. “I can’t, Mum. It’s just not working today”.

Zeke sniggered from across the desk. “Have a cry, Eli.” Despite being 2 years younger, he was years ahead of his brother in most of his school subjects.

“Shut up, Geek!” Eli kicked out under the table and was rewarded with a sharp cry.

“Boys, enough! What have I told you about fighting?” The boys glared at each other. Their mother sighed. “Ezekiel. I want you to write me a one page essay on dyscalculia explaining its effects on learning, and then offer Eli a full and detailed apology. You know he has no control over this, and needs our support to overcome it.”

“Can I use the computer?”

“No. Hand-written, A4 page. Eli: 100 lines. ‘I will not kick my brother’”.

“But…”

“No ‘but’s or I will have your father kick yours when he comes home. BOTH of you know better than this, I honestly don’t know what’s gotten into you two. All three of you, in fact. Where is your sister? She left for the bathroom 20 minutes ago. HANNAH!” Ruth looked out the window and caught a glimpse of colour through the casuarina trees. Once again, her youngest had run off into the bush surrounding their new house instead of returning to her desk. Ruth strode out onto the wraparound verandah. “Lord, give me strength,” she whispered. “Hannah! Come inside! You still have English and Reading to finish before playtime!”

Hannah turned towards her mother and wandered back toward the house. At five, she was the baby of the family and generally the least trouble. Her running off into the bush was a new development, one that left Ruth perplexed. “Sweetie, what were you doing out there? You know you’re not allowed out until you finish your work.”

“I was looking for the Wood Elf.”

“The what?” Ruth stopped brushing the needle-like leaves from her daughter’s leggings.

“The Wood Elf. I want to play with him.”

Ruth sighed. “OK sweetie. How about we go back inside and finish your schoolwork and then you can go and look for the Wood Elf afterwards.”

“OK Mummy.”

Ruth watched her daughter go back inside and sit at her desk. Princess Periwinkle, Hannah’s old imaginary friend, didn’t want to move to the new house because there was too much dirt, and no shops. A Wood Elf was much better suited to the bush.

The two boys were scribbling madly, racing to finish their disciplinary assignments.

Only two o’clock, thought Ruth, and sighed. I need a break.

She walked around to the front of the house and surveyed her new home. Tall eucalypts and stringy bark trees hid the world from the large house on three sides, interspersed with wattles, bottlebrushes and other assorted Australian flora. At the front of the house, the trees dipped slowly in some places, sharply in others, into a small ravine where a small trickle wound its way across the front of the property. Hard, rocky dirt protected the house from being overrun by trees and provided safe passage for vehicles up the long driveway to the large, 12-car garage. Leaves fluttered in the cool autumn breeze. It was such a nice change from suburbia. A little tough for the kids – four weeks and they were still unsettled – but better for them in the long run.

A shrill scream broke Ruth out of her reverie. She raced to the front door and through the hallway towards the source of the sound. Eli was on top of his brother, punching and screaming incoherently.

“Stop!” shouted Ruth. At 14, Eli was far too big for her to pick up and place in a corner. “Enough, I said!”

Eli turned to his mother, wild eyes brimming with tears. “He sa– “

“I don’t care WHAT he said, Eli. This kind of behaviour is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it. Your father will deal with you when he gets home.”

“BUT HE STARTED IT! IT’S NOT FAIR!” Eli turned back to Ezekiel, screaming, “I HATE YOU, YOU LITTLE SHIT!” and ran out the back door, slamming it on his way out.

Ruth sighed, and turned her attention to her other son. “Don’t think you’re off the hook for this. I know how you stir him up, and it takes a lot for him to get worked up like this. Your father will deal with you later as well. Now both of you go play. I need some quiet.”

Ruth watched her two younger children make their way out the door and out of sight. Of all the adjustments their new lifestyle required, allowing the children to run free without supervision was probably the easiest. The hardest was having the two younger children home-schooling until the next school term started. Six more weeks of this, thought Ruth as she cradled her head in her hands. Lord help me.

 

Thud.

Crash.

Thud-clack-thud-splash.

Rock after rock crashed heavily to the ground below Eli. He stood upon a large boulder protruding from the side of the slope, facing the trickling river below. The rock, dubbed Ayer’s Rock by the children, was Eli’s quiet place. Turning his back on the house and drama, he could spend hours hauling rocks over the edge. The heavy thud of a large rock embedding itself in the dirt below, or the splash of the smaller ones filling the creek, had an almost meditative quality.

A sudden crashing broke Eli out of his trance. He spun toward the sound. A small wallaby was bounding across the slope on the other side of the creek.

Bloody nature, thought Eli, heart pounding. Give me a heart attack, why don’t you? He watched the animal disappear into the bush, then turned his attention back to his immediate surroundings. The rocks were becoming quite scarce, now. Time to reload, he decided, and started along the trail to find more prosperous grounds. Minutes later he stopped atop another large boulder protruding from the mountain. He peered along the path, searching for some loose rocks. A movement on the ground below caught his eye.

“What’s that?” he muttered, straining to see below.

A tiny bundle of fur wobbled out from under the boulder.

Huh, thought Eli, it can’t be more than a couple of weeks old. “Stay there, kitty. I’ll be down in a sec.” Eli used rocks and trees to control his slide down the short slope. He searched for the kitten, which was making slow progress towards the creek.

“Hey there big fella, where you going?” Eli picked up the small kitten and gave it a pat. It meowed and struggled weakly.

“What, are you thirsty? Hang on.” Eli placed the kitten next to the creek. It lapped up some water and turned back toward the boulder.

“You wanna go back now? Let me help.” Eli gently scooped up the kitten and walked back to the boulder. Settled on two smaller rocks, it appeared to have a small cave underneath. A pitiful meow drifted out from the darkness.

“How many of you are there?” Eli placed the first kitten on the ground and reached into the cave. One at a time, he removed two more kittens and placed them by his side.

“Any more?” he whispered. He reached a little further into the cave, and found something furry. He stroked a small leg. “You’ll have to help me, you’re a little far back”. The kitten didn’t move. Eli grabbed the leg and pulled. The kitten slid easily along the dirt floor. “OK, little further…Aah!” Eli dropped the leg with a yell. The kitten was dead – and something had started eating it. Eli looked warily at the remaining kittens.

“I really hope that wasn’t you. Let’s go.” He wrapped his furry passengers in his jacket and followed the creek, looking for an easy ascent with his fragile load.

 

The pasta was ready, and the Bolognese sauce just needed to thicken. Ruth unwrapped the garlic bread and put it back into the oven to crisp.

Better call the kids. She walked out the front door and over to the rusty iron triangle hanging from the top of the verandah. It took a bit of getting used to when they first arrived, but now she found it invaluable. TING-A-LING-A-LING-A-LINGGGGG!!! The triangle announced to the children (and half the population of the Southern Hemisphere, she suspected) that dinner was nearly ready. Soon they would trickle in from their games to sit at the table, grubby and hopefully worn out from the afternoon’s adventures.

 

Zeke admired his new masterpiece. It had taken days to find the right branch, but with minimal tweaking he had managed to make a decent slingshot.

Just one more minute, he thought as the ringing of the dinner bell faded into nothing, I just need to test it. Standing in the back corner of the garage, he surveyed his surroundings. His eyes settled on a pile of boxes stacked half-way up the garage. He loaded a marble into the leather pocket, drew it back as far as he could and let go. It was too dark for Zeke to follow the exact path of the projectile, but he heard it ricochet off the roof somewhere in the middle of the garage. Oops! Maybe I should build a target ne…

“Ow, what the hell?”

Zeke froze.

“What was that?” demanded an angry voice.

Zeke chuckled. Looks like I found a target after all!

“I’m gonna kill you, Geek!”

“Aww, have a cry, Eli. It was an accident!”

“Uh-huh. Just like me breaking your nose will be an accident too.”

“Yeah? You’ll have to catch me first!”

Eli stepped out from behind a pile of boxes. “OK.”

Zeke loaded another marble into his slingshot as his brother charged towards him.

“Ow! Dammit!” Eli rubbed his arm where the second marble had connected. Seeing that the slingshot wasn’t going to stop his brother, Zeke started to run.

“Too slow, Geek!” Eli shoved his brother, sending him into the bicycle rack. Zeke grunted, picked up a helmet and threw it at his brother. Surprised, Eli stepped back and Zeke took his chance. Holding his slingshot, he punched Eli in the face and headed for the garage doors. Eli chased after him, blood streaming from his nose, and picked up a broom. He swung the wooden handle as hard as he could, catching Zeke in the side of his head.

 

Little Hannah was the first to arrive back at the house. “Hi Mummy.”

“Hi sweetie, did you have a good afternoon?”

“Yes. I played with the Wood Elf.”

“Really? What did you play?”

“We played Hide and Seek – I didn’t find him for ages. Then we made a cubby house. I cooked chips for dinner.”

“Ooh, sounds tasty.” Ruth froze. “Honey, who did your hair?” Hannah, who left the house earlier in the afternoon with dark hair flowing, was now sporting an interesting   hairstyle, with sticks and small flowers woven into what was presumably an attempt at a braid.

“Oh, that was the Wood Elf. My hair kept getting into my eyes, so he fixed it. Do you like it?”

Ruth’s blood ran cold. She and the rest of the family had assumed that the Wood Elf was a rural replacement for Princess Periwinkle, who hated nature and couldn’t follow Hannah to her new home.

Who is this Wood Elf? How old is he? Oh God, what else have I missed?

“Sure honey. Now, who is this Wood Elf? What is his name? How big is he? How did you meet him”

“Ummm… I don’t know his name. He is bigger than me but smaller than Zeke. I was just playing one day and he was watching me so I asked him if he wanted to play too.”

“Baby, I’m going to need you to stay away from the Wood Elf until Daddy and I can meet him.”

“But I don’t think he wants to meet you.”

“Did he say why?”

“No, he doesn’t talk.”

“Then how do you kn-”

An almighty scream interrupted the conversation.

“WHAT NOW?” shouted Ruth as she ran out into the gathering dusk.

 

Eli froze.

Shit, he thought shit shit shit “Are you alright, Zeke?”

“Fuck off.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt yo-”

“I said, fuck OFF!”

“Ezekiel James Francis Reid! Watch your language!” Ruth stormed into the garage, Hannah in tow. “What is going on here?”

“He shot me-”

“He hit me-”

“STOP!” Ruth took a deep breath. “Hannah, honey, can you please turn the lights on?”

Eli inspected his shoes as Hannah wandered over to the corner, climbed onto a milk crate and flicked a switch. Everyone winced as the fluorescent tubes flickered on and off before settling a harsh white over the garage and its contents.

 

Ruth glared at her sons, noting the bloody nose and bruised eye. The silence was deafening. She paused for a moment, mind reeling.

Where do I even-

“Meow.” Three startled heads turned towards the source of the noise.

“Stay where you are” commanded Ruth, and she strode over to an opened packing box. Looking inside, she saw three tiny kittens on a pile of woollen blankets. “Who did this?”

Zeke and Hannah looked at their siblings. Eli looked deliberately at the ground.

“Eli. Where did these come from?”

Eli’s eyes remained locked on a spot on the garage floor. “A cave” he muttered.

“And what are they doing here? Where is their mother?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, ‘you don’t know’.” demanded Ruth. “Kittens don’t just appear out of nowhere, and these are too small to be away from their mother. Were you thinking at all? What are you going to feed them?”

“I don’t KNOW, but at least I’ll feed them.” growled Eli. “One was already dead. I was THINKING that I might save them!”

Hannah let out a sob. Ruth knelt down pick up her daughter and glared at Eli, who stared back defiantly.  She started back towards the house with Hannah in her arms. “I need to check on dinner. Eli, bring the kittens. I will deal with you when your father gets home.”

The weary group trudged through the back door. “You know the drill. Wash your hands and set the table.” Ruth set Hannah gently down on her feet. “Go wash your hands sweetie, we’ll talk more after dinner.” Hannah sniffled and walked to the bathroom. Ruth turned her attention back to the kitchen. A tendril of smoke wafted out of the oven.

You’ve got to be kidding me. Ruth rushed over to turn off the oven and opened the door. Smoke billowed out of the oven, setting off the smoke detector. Ruth let out a frustrated growl.

“WHO PUTS THESE DAMN THINGS IN THE KITCHEN ANYWAY?” She dragged over the stool and pulled the battery out of the smoke detector. The kids stood in the hallway, watching.

“No garlic bread tonight, sorry kids. Just sit at the table.” Ruth picked up the spatula to stir the Bolognese sauce. A thick layer of burnt sauce, previously stuck to the bottom of the pan, was now mixed throughout the sauce.

“I give up. I GIVE UP!”  Ruth threw the spatula on the bench and joined her children at the table, head in hands.

 

The front door slammed shut.

“Honey, I’m home!” bellowed David as he strode through the hallway to the kitchen/dining room. “I’ve had the worst day – I should’ve just stayed home.” He saw the scene at the table and stopped. “What did I miss?!?”

***

I wrote this as part of a short story-writing unit last trimester. As people who know me may recognise some elements of the setting, I feel I should include an excerpt from my exegesis (mainly because I hated writing it, so it’s gonna be useful dammit!):

“The purpose of this piece was to explore the stress involved with raising children in an isolated environment. The setting is inspired by an 8-acre bush property that I lived in between the ages of 10 and 15. For a time, my stepmother was homeschooling seven children between the ages of 4 and 12 while my father, a firefighter, worked long hours in the city.” (As a mother myself now, I don’t know how she did it!)

“The interactions between the children were based on an amalgamation of my siblings, including myself, under pressure. Almost everyone in my workshop commented on how realistic it was, and how much it reminded them of children that they know or have known, so I feel that I have not crossed any ethical boundaries because the interactions that have been portrayed are universal.” (NOTE: this does not mean that we ran around bashing each other with brooms and shooting each other with slingshots – though we did try to build some – but we did have our differences from time to time, and it did get physical – particularly when I was involved.)

I feel I should also note that while we did have cats for a while, the kittens were incorporated into the story because earlier that day I’d read about how cats will eat their kittens if they don’t have enough food for them (or if they’re not ready for motherhood) – a fact I found equally disgusting and fascinating and thus had to share.

I hope that you enjoyed it. Feel free to leave feedback if you have any.

In light of my recent slackness and current brain malfunctions, I have decided to “reboot” with a blast from the past. I wrote this assignment – a 2000 word story about a journey – for a university class in 2013. My lack of travel, along with my frustration with the unit (“You can’t call it Storytelling and Genre Writing if we only study one genre!”), produced the aptly named story below. Enjoy.

The Most Boring Travel Story Ever

            Drivers speed their vehicles past the green bus shelter in a last-ditch effort to get to work on time. It’s 8.52 on a Tuesday morning, and after three buses stating ‘Not in Service’, the 894 Camden to Campbelltown bus finally stops opposite the Narellan Town Centre. After a brief exchange with the driver to pay the fare, I sit low in a blue vinyl seat on the left side of the bus. The sun, welcome after a gloomy week, shines warmly through the window. Outside, a biting cold wind whips the trees and long grass into a furious dance. The Narellan Business Exchange buildings seem unaffected by the harsh winds, though they may have suffered from the power loss the night before.

The bus bumps and jitters along Narellan Road, reputed in the area as one of the worst roads in Sydney. Although it is now after 9am, the ‘Narellan Road car park’ lives up to its name. The small businesses slowly give way to the rickety back fence of Currans Hill houses. One section of the fence has collapsed, perhaps a casualty of yesterday’s strong winds. As the bus crawls past, the trees still for a moment in respect for their brother twice fallen. The bus driver enjoys a brief respite from the stop-and-start traffic as we approach the bus lane at the intersection near the school, however it’s not long before he is forced to rejoin the general traffic. At this rate, I suspect that I won’t be catching the 9.21 train.

Past the school, the rubbish that litters the roadside is more evident, proudly displayed along a chain-link fence. A tree-covered hill offers a short reprieve from the warm sun. At the highway overpass, the view ahead looks bleak. Blinking red tail-lights from vehicles of all descriptions cover the road as far as the eye can see. Stifling a groan, I peer around at the other passengers. They appear unaffected by this revelation, perhaps regulars on the route. After the TAFE and university campuses, the bus makes good time as the traffic relents somewhat. At this rate, the bus may arrive just in time to see the train depart.

Finally arriving at the Campbelltown train station, the bus leaves me on a cold concrete footpath. Tall steel fences with spiked tips prevent direct entry to the platform without a pre-purchased ticket. I start the long climb up the stairs, glancing at the half-torn ads of closed businesses. At the top, the station’s asphalt floor appears to be held together by discarded chewing gum. A small newsagency sits hopefully waiting for customers. With Campbelltown’s CBD across the road, business seems unlikely – the majority of the rushed city workers are already slaving away at their jobs. I purchase a ticket and make my way to the empty platform 2, City via East Hills line. I find a blue wooden bench in a sliver of sunlight. Despite being shielded from the wind by the toilet block and station master’s building, the platform is icy without sunlight. Surveying the concrete jungle, I see that the other commuters are mainly of the older generation, with a spattering of others toting bloated suitcases. Although quite a few are standing, none make a move to share my seat. This is convenient, as even my crazy pregnant thermostat seems unable to keep me warm, and I find myself shuffling slowly along the seat to follow the meagre sunlight. With around 20 minutes to wait for the next train, I take a moment to remember the last time I took this exact journey, five years ago.

It was not long after my husband Ben and I got engaged, a belated gift for my 21st birthday. Ben had recently started working in a large accounting firm in the city, HLB Mann Judd, after a few years in a local accounting firm. Coupled with my early starts at Kirrawee, Ben’s late arrivals at home were taking their toll and we were both becoming quite miserable during the seemingly never-ending work weeks.

*    *    *

            2008: Earlier in the week the real estate had dictated an afternoon inspection at our rented townhouse, and as the lower income-earner with a comfortable collection of annual leave I had taken the day off to attend the inspection. Considering our recent lack of time together, I decide to catch public transport into the city to surprise Ben as he leaves work, then take him out to dinner. Although it is April, summer seems loathe to leave and the afternoon sun is unpleasantly warm. The townhouse is situated along the bus route, so it is easy enough to set out on time. Staring out the window with my headphones blaring, the trip to Campbelltown train station seems to take no time at all. I am surprised at how many people are waiting on the platform at this time of a weekday afternoon. Once on the train, the vinyl seat sticks to my legs, painfully tearing at skin as I occasionally wriggle around in anticipation. The cluey passengers are sitting on the right-hand side of the train, leaving the others to deal with the hot sun beating down through the window. Unable to look out my window, I set my gaze on the corner of a window on the other side of the train in the hopes that any accidental eye contact will be deterred by my black singlet top, ripped denim shorts and large headphones. In hindsight, it probably isn’t the best outfit to be wearing when potentially meeting my husband’s new workmates, but it’s comfortable.

*    *    *

            2013: At last, the 9.51am train screeches into the station. It’s nicer than the train of five years ago; the carriage is air-conditioned, the seats are fabric and at this time of the morning, mostly empty. The sun through the window seems pleasant rather than stifling after the chilly platform. I walk up the stairs and choose the single seat at the back of the carriage. The single seat in front is facing backwards, so I am able to set up my bag and clipboard to take notes. The notes are the purpose of re-taking this journey, a chance to include a little more detail and ensure accuracy for a university assignment. While I would have preferred to write about a more interesting journey, such as the family holiday to Queensland or even driving to University of New England or Charles Sturt University, finances and time constraints meant that those journeys were infeasible for this purpose. Besides, revisiting this particular journey provides its own mild entertainment as some of the other commuters surreptitiously glance in my direction, wondering whether they’re being studied.

The train departs from Campbelltown station, with the window offering a view of industrial estates and caryards. The next few stations – Leumeah, Minto, and Ingleburn – appear to follow a pattern: the train station is surrounded by shops on one side and industrial buildings on the other. Moving away from the graffiti- and gum-covered station, a spattering of aging track-side houses peters out into sports grounds, sparse bushland or grasslands, occasionally revealing even more residences in the distance. Macquarie Fields Station breaks away from the norm, offering a view of Macquarie Links Golf Course on the left-hand side of the train. The station looks well maintained, and the clean, white concrete almost gleams in the sunlight. Glenfield also looks to be a newer station, with the chewing gum seeming like more of an incidental occurrence than a necessity to hold the station together. After passing the private school and some houses, the train changes direction slightly and the sunlight glares through the window. One day, I will learn to factor the sun’s position into my choice of seating on the train.

The inhabitants of the carriage remain quiet with the exception of a young lady holding a phone conversation in French, and a trio of animated Asian ladies chatting in the middle of the train. The next few stations pass in a blur of bushland, earth works and suburbia. There doesn’t appear to be any fixed pattern to which stations have been (or are currently being) refurbished. Some platforms appear to be almost derelict, with no indication of repair work intended.

At Padstow station I lose the single seat that I was leaning on to a lady who smells strongly of perfume and a burnt finger bun. I begin to feel cramped in the limited space, and with my unborn daughter apparently also feeling the squeeze, I search for another seat. Fortunately, a few people leave the train at Wolli Creek, and I find a place to sit in comfort as the train speeds underground towards the airport stations. International, Domestic, Mascot and Green Square are stark and new. Green Square proudly displays an advertisement about the advantage of using the train network to get to the city quickly, which seems rather pointless as the only people who see it have already purchased their train tickets and clearly intend to use the train.

After a brief exposure to the sunlight at Central, the train is plunged back into darkness for more underground stations. Museum and St James are both older stations, apparently revelling in their history. Advertisements from bygone eras line the walls, which appear to have been decorated like a 1970s bathroom. Circular Quay offers a stunning view of the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, an impressively large cruise ship, and sunlight sparkling off the waves. Finally, the train pulls into Wynyard Station.

*    *    *

            2008: I step off the train and follow the crowd until I see a quiet place to stop, just outside the bathroom. I consult my Google maps printout before heading out onto York St. A cloud of cigarette smoke greets me just outside the station doors. In my hurry to escape I turn left instead of right, and end up at the wrong intersection. While I could probably still make my way to my destination without passing through the noxious cloud again, my sense of direction (or rather, lack thereof) dictates that I follow the map implicitly, so I steel myself for another assault. I make my way against the flow of bodies down the steep Margaret St, then right onto Kent St. Tall buildings tower over busy streets. I wander under an overpass and find myself outside 207 Kent St, Symantec House, home of HLB Mann Judd’s Sydney office. Entering the tall glass doors, I am surprised to find that I am currently situated on Level 6, not the ground floor. I make my way to a comfortable leather seat with a view of the lifts, and settle in to wait.

Not a patient person at the best of times, I try to divert my excited energy into picking out details in the foyer without arousing any suspicions from the office workers. A gleaming yacht sits beside the entry, its mast reaching for the high ceilings. Four lifts provide access to the High Rise section of the building, and another three for the Low Rise. The floor is a stylish mix of polished marble, polished floorboards and dark carpet, seemingly unaffected by the day’s use. Outside, a collection of fern-like shrubs restrict the view of the street.

My attention is brought back to the lifts as a steady flow of business suits make their way towards the exit. I scan the crowd for Ben, nearly bouncing off the seat in anticipation and receiving more than one strange look from passing workers. The steady flow is reduced to a trickle, and by 5.10pm I resort to direct contact to find out what is taking my fiancée so long to come out. I send him a picture message of the yacht with the caption ‘Guess where I am?’ My excitement instantly evaporates with Ben’s reply ‘Well, guess where I am!’ I call him to discover that he had also arranged a surprise for me. Knowing that I was at home, Ben had taken an early mark from work so that we could spend some time together, and was already on a train passing Kingsgrove station. I make my way slowly back to Wynyard Station, all but oblivious of the surrounding crowd. Ben waits for me at Riverwood, and we share a cynical laugh as we squeeze into the carriage with the other sardines travelling home after a long work week.

The End.

   Wow, you made it! Congratulations… and commiserations. Please feel free to offer feedback: the assignment was well-received, however I would still appreciate any comments or suggestions that spring to mind. I can’t go on pretending I’m a writer without actually writing anything, so this is where the evidence will be published, judged and (hopefully) learned from. Onward and upward!

German update 1

I finally got my certificate for the Goethe-Zertifikat A1: Start Deutsch 1, hooray! My marks were:

  •    Listening: 16.6/25
  •    Reading: 13.28/25
  •    Writing: 18.26/25
  •    Speaking: 24.9/25

giving a grand total of 73% (Ben got 78. Not that we were competing or anything.). The Goethe-Institut rates that as ‘Satisfactory’, but I’m pretty happy with it. Despite this, I have decided against applying for advanced standing for the first German unit at uni this semester. On the first day I realised that the unit is going to cover a lot more information than just How To Pass The A1 Test (which is pretty much what Ben and I did) and will be invaluable in setting me up for the rest of the units and beyond. Already I have a Pen Pal of sorts who I’m chatting with over Skype to practice our German. It’s a real challenge, particularly since we’ve been using a rather large vocabulary. Fortunately, I have a rather large dictionary.

German-English dictionary

It’s currently taking me 15 – 30 minutes to translate my Pen Pal’s response then compose my own in German. It’s taxing, but a lot of fun.

(NOTE: In a previous post, I was under the impression that we had to pass the written section to progress to the oral exam. Apparently we didn’t need to get a minimum of 50% in the written exam, we just had to get a high enough mark that it was still theoretically possible to reach the exam pass mark (60%) if we performed ‘perfectly’ in the oral section – quite logical, if I do say so myself.)

 

…and finally, a side note (because I don’t know what your expectations are, but I sure as hell haven’t been meeting mine).

This blog is about things that I would like to learn and do, and I have a lot of things that I would like to do. I would like to:

  • converse, read and write in German, Dutch and Icelandic
  • carve, turn and build items from wood
  • learn a martial art
  • complete a uni degree
  • write a book, and have it published
  • bind my own books
  • learn to play guitar
  • design and make jewellery
  • learn glassblowing
  • generally improve my mind and body

to name a few. And that’s all while being the best mother I can be. Oh, and spending time with my husband every now and then. It may not sound like much, but it’s time consuming. Ideally I’d like to publish a new post every week, but I won’t post unless there’s something worth writing about. Most of the time…

Tschüss!

 

Tools! I have tools!

I have tools! My very own tools! Sure, there’s a hammer and some screwdrivers in the garage but it’s hard to get excited about those any more. I’d probably better explain that statement. I got my first tool – a hammer –  in early high school. I’m not sure if it was actually mine – it might have been my brother’s – but I’d carry it around our 8 acres of bush looped through one of the belt-holes in my shorts. I also got an army belt for Christmas one year, so I ran around for days carrying a canteen of water, 2 multi-tools, and my Scout pouch with matches, a mirror, another small knife, a whistle and my woggle. I don’t know what I was preparing for, but I felt like Lara Croft, MacGyver and Inspector Gadget all rolled into one.

These days the tools stay at home. It appears that carrying knives and other potentially useful (albeit dangerous) implements is generally frowned upon. Anyway, on to the main event. Behold! My beautiful new Boxing Day Sale acquisitions:

 

Tools 2

 

A few months back I decided that I needed a hobby. Having a long-standing interest in wood, I organised to go along to a wood turning meeting at a local high school, but before I got there I happened across the Sydney Woodcarving Group‘s website and decided that I wanted to learn to carve first.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at the first meeting: I had called up, but I was basically turning up with no knowledge of woodworking and no real idea of what I wanted to make. Well, none I was ready to own up to anyway. Fortunately, everyone was quite helpful and I was sitting in front of a piece of off-cut wood with chisel in hand in no time. One lovely lady, Jan, even lent me half of her tools so that I could do some carving at home. I’m still not sure if she realises how very grateful I was (and still am) for her generosity, as it enabled me to dive head-first into my new hobby. For reasons I cannot disclose for around 6 months or so, I can’t upload a picture of my first work. I can, however, present my next work-in-progress:

Carving front

 

 

At this point I’m not sure if I’m actually going to finish this, or leave it and move on to something else. On the one hand, I feel like I’ve made too many mistakes. On the other hand, trying to fix them will probably be a good exercise. Either way my second project has taught me some valuable lessons, such as:

  • Which way the carbon paper goes
  • When you want to trace a picture, take the thickness of the lines into account
  • You really can’t just hold the wood with your hand to stop it from sliding around
  • Error-induced carving rage inevitably leads to more errors

All in all I think it will be a good one to keep, even if it ends up looking like crap.

In addition to my error-based learning, I’ve also learned a lot from some of the other group members, like:

  • How to determine the grain of the wood, and carve accordingly (OK, I’m still practising this one)
  • 4 billion ways to start carving a project – or more philosophically: there is no right way to carve a project, so just do what works for you

Once I get a few more projects under my belt I’ll write up a Wood Carving 101 post for those interested in giving it a try themselves. But for now: off to make mistakes!

 

 

Learnin’ German

‘Sprechen sie Deutsch?’

‘Ja, ein wenig…’

Today, Ben and I finally sat for our A1 Start Deutsch exam at the Goethe-Institut, Sydney. I say ‘finally’ because we first booked in to sit the exam back in July, but our daughter fell sick so we rescheduled for September… and then again for December. Due to a lack of study (OK, OK, we completely forgot), Ben and I were literally about to withdraw from the exam when we received a confirmation email from the Goethe-Institut. At that point we went into kamikaze mode: “We have 5 days, what could go wrong?” Well apparently, bub can fall sick, work can go into overdrive and general Christmas psychotic-ness  can get in the way of getting any study done. Wednesday rolled around and we had managed a whopping 2 hours of revision.

The exam had two parts: written and spoken. We were under the impression that we had to pass the written part of the exam before moving on to the spoken. This may not have been the case, but nevertheless we were quite convinced that we were going to fail. Badly.

Now, I could go through and describe each step of the exam, but suffice to say it was a little more difficult than we were anticipating. Real German is apparently spoken a lot quicker than Ben and I have been practising at home! I honestly don’t know how we managed to pass the exam, but we did it – hooray! The plan is to continue the study and complete a German language major at uni next year, so eventually I’ll be able to write my German updates in German. And then my Icelandic updates in Icelandic, and my Dutch updates in Dutch, and so forth…