Monthly Archives: June 2009

Hedgehog update

I was out in the garden this morning collecting some vegetables for Sunday lunch and there on my peas was an enormous brown slug.

Now that I have a family of hedgehogs living in my garden, I know exactly what to do with slugs. I wrapped it up in a leaf (they’re too slimy and nasty to hold in your bare hand!) and carried it over to the hedgehog nest. Mum was just on her way out for a forage… but I could see the little ones watching me from under the dried leaves.

They’re getting quite big already and their spines are already turning brown.

One of them even popped out briefly to sniff at the gift I’d brought, before scurrying back to the nest.

I meanwhile went back to my garden to finish picking lunch. Peas, courgettes and kohlrabi today!

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Hedgehogs in the garden!

This afternoon as I was coming out of my office, I heard a rustling in the ivy next to the door. I decided to investigate… and I found a mother hedgehog with three little babies, hiding in a nest of dead leaves next to the pig-sty.

It wasn’t easy to photograph them, as they were too well hidden under foliage.

I did get a nice clip of Mum in search of slugs though! And any creature which eats slugs is very welcome in my garden.

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When I heard you were coming I phoned the British Army

I spent a lovely evening in Münster yesterday as a guest of the Deutsch-Britische Gesellschaft. They had kindly asked me to be their guest speaker for the evening and also do a reading from my book Planet Germany.

Beforehand I was treated to a tour of the fabulous city of Münster and a lovely meal.

Over dinner I asked who would actually be coming to the reading. My host said: “I circulated it round the Deutsch-Britische Gesellschaft, and the University, and some of the local Grammar schools English departments.. and I called the British Army.”

Luckily when we got to the venue, it wasn’t actually being guarded by tanks and armed soldiers.

Afterwards I was also invited to join some of the attendees in a trip to a traditional local pub.  A great end to a lovely day!



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My scary heating system

While I’m on the subject of German housing and how wonderfully modern and efficient it is, I should point out that probably the only exception to this in the whole of Germany is the house where I live.

All other German homes seem to be functional, sensibly laid out and generally built with an eye to the practical.

Not mine. Take our creepy heating system, for example. It was there before we moved in… in fact if the estate agent had advertised some of its quirks honestly, the house would probably still be up for sale. For a start it’s noisy. Not in a normal central heating system sort of way. More like a box full of wailing banshees trying to club their way out of Hell with metal hammers sort of way. Luckily it is situated a long way from where we sleep… so our dreams are not disturbed by the sounds of Hades on acid.

Let me show you a picture of the diabolical heating system in question.

Anything strike you as odd?

Look again. A few stray wires… the cobwebs (I know, I know…housework was never my thing)… no that’s not what I meant.

The odd thing about our heating system is it’s mounted on the outside of the house. You know…outdoors… the big place which gets really really cold in Winter. So when you turn up the boiler, you’re trying to heat the entirety of Germany before a trickle of warmth deigns to make its way into your radiators.

Well I’ve got news for you, boiler. This Summer’s plan is to get you replaced. Junked. Stuck out on the Sperrmüll. We’re going to get a shiny new quiet boiler and we’re going to have it inside the house.

So there.

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Delighted to be demolished!

Just up the road from our house a great big billboard has been erected announcing that a set of new homes will be built on a development site.

But the thing that caught my eye was the sign hanging on the house which is already standing on the plot. A house, I might add, that in typical German fashion is well maintained, recently painted, double glazed and in possession of a sound roof.  On this sign is a cartoon house with a wrecking ball smashing into the side of it.  The house is smiling… no even positively beaming with excitement, as demolition starts. Just in case there’s any doubt, next to the picture in cheery wavy writing, it says: “Ich werde abgerissen!”  – literally: “I’m being knocked down!

Only in Germany could there be such excitement about knocking down a perfectly sound, if slightly jaded property and building afresh. Germans love building new houses… and generally dislike buying older properties. If they do end up with a “second hand” house… they don’t just renovate it (renovieren). No, they will have it sanitized (sanieren). This pretty much means stripping it down to the bare walls and wires and starting again. Any period features will be ripped out, nothing will be left in its original state.

What a contrast to the Brits who rummage through salvage yards to look for authentic period fireplaces, single glazed sash windows, reclaimed bricks and original guttering. The British like their homes to stay forever in an imagined timewarp – based mainly I think on pictures from “Period Living” magazine. Of course the fact that neither the Victorians nor the Georgians had Aga range cookers, fridge freezers, televisions or computers is conveniently overlooked. Our “period” kitchens couldn’t be further from the reality of historical housekeeping.

Maybe the Germans do have the right idea… rather than trying to create an idyll from an imperfect property, perhaps it would just be easier to start over.

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