Candy Cane Crush!

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Buddy the Elf and the Candy Cane Forest

My childhood Christmas was essentially a traditional Danfest, from the tree adorned with Danish flag garlands and real candles which were lit on Christmas Eve, to the traditional boozy rice pudding dessert at the end of our meal which contained a whole almond. Whoever got the whole almond won a marzipan pig. Santa delivered our gifts on Christmas Eve – he would leave them on the doorstep in a black bag and ring the bell. For 3 years in a row, I was convinced Santa drove a motorbike as every time my sister and I opened the door, we would see a bike speeding down the road into the darkness. I never noticed that my mum was quite out of breath and was coming in through the back door as we were running to the front!

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My Danish Aunt Rigmor’s amazing Christmas Tree from last year complete with real candles and Danish flags.

For me and my sister, there were no stockings on Christmas Day. No, for us, Santa’s elves did the leg work on the long run up to the 24th. Throughout December, our advent calendar or Julekalender was a magical pocket hanging on the wall and every morning, the Nisse (Danish Elves) would leave us a small gift: a pencil, a ruler, a sweetie, a book, sometimes some knitted items that looked suspiciously like things my Grandma might make! Then, on Christmas Eve, the main event.

After my Mum died far too young, it became of the utmost importance to keep our Christmas traditions alive. There were a few incredibly painful years when it just seemed too much as teenagers to keep it going. It felt wrong that the very reason why we were doing all these things was not there. None of us felt like doing it much anyway. However, there was also something so therapeutic about getting the tree, digging out all the old decorations, cooking the food in the same pans and serving it in the same dishes that our mum had done for us.

So what about my 3 melting pot children? Well, they get the Danish Julekalender and, I must confess that there is a stocking in the mix too. Lucky kids, stupid mother! But hey, why not?

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My advent calendar visited by the Danish Elves over the years.

My youngest has this year developed a regular and lengthy correspondence with the elves. This is very heartwarming and sweet. It is however, rather time consuming. On the 1st of December, I was met in the morning with an indignant child who was quite frankly pissed off that she had not received a reply to her picture and extensive list of requests that she had left in her basket. The elves learned fast and the next morning there was a reply!

Then, what can only be described as candy canegate occurred. The elves delivered a very cute candy cane pencil, a lot like the ones you can buy in Tiger! It was well received. This got my daughter thinking. Last year, the elves had delivered real candy canes. She hated them obviously because they were minty but she knew of a candy cane in other flavours, strawberry to be precise. So yesterday afternoon another detailed letter was produced. Yet another list for Santa requesting such things as puppy surprise (retailing at £29.99), some mental interactive chimp doll (retailing at almost £100), a smart watch and ‘my own ipad’. You have got to be having a giraffe my girl. My oldest daughter and I laughed heartily and explained that Santa can’t bring you everything you ask for. Youngest child shed a few tears and exclaimed ‘why not? He’s Santa’.

Anyway, at the end of the note to the elves asking for high ticket items, was this sentence: ‘And please give me a real candy cane tomorrow morning.’

I tried to deflect this. Even my son (still a believer) had to point out that it was unlikely seeing as mummy only lets them have sweets on Saturday (technically yes, in reality this is almost never achieved). But my girl was adamant. Who were we to question her resolve? As if it is any of my business anyway.

So, into the magic basket went the letter.

And finally, everyone was in bed, and finally, I awoke from my usual position, slumped on the sofa from where I had intended to arise to do all the boring shitty stuff that needs to be done most evenings. It was 9.45. The elf had to wrap some presents and write another fucking letter. Sadly, not being magic, there was no candy cane. So, the elf wrote the required response, fully supporting mummy and her rule of no sweets until the weekend. The elf then added strawberry flavour candy cane to the now growing list of requests that the kids have – yo-yo, ruler, smelly pencils, etc.

The next morning, I awoke to a relatively happy child. After all, the stickers she got were pretty shit hot really and she does love stickers. The letter to her (that had been lovingly written in elvish swirly script) was glanced at, tossed aside. There was a bit of crying, but mainly because her brother laughed at her and she was irritated. And then, much to my horror, a new letter was wafted under my nose before being deposited in the basket for that night.

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Dear Elves please please please please give me on Saturday a strawberry candy cane please please love from Ivy

What is this monster I have created? Can I take much more of this? Perhaps the next Elf response will be in Danish. That might slow things down in terms of correspondence. Maybe the elves will explain that there is a postal strike or that Santa has a backlog of notes to respond to. Perhaps I should just suck it up and enjoy this moment which will surely pass as quickly as it has arrived, and hope that one day she will not hate me when I present her with all of her letters.

Suffice to say, she will not be disappointed on Saturday morning, thanks to the local ‘Elf’ shopping centre in Feltham which luckily sells strawberry flavoured candy canes.

You can’t buy hygge

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A perfect example of Hygge – a cool but cosy restaurant in a micro-brewery in Copenhagen.

I am from Danish stock. Admittedly, only half of me is Danish. But, it’s been a pretty massive influence on my life. When I am with my sister, this Danishness is heightened. Our shared memories and experiences are laced with Danish tradition, time spent in Denmark, speaking Danish and the innate understanding of this word ‘hygge’, this state of being that seems to be the buzz word right now. And I have to say that I am worried.

I am worried that hygge is being hijacked by the world of retail. For a start, until the recent craze, ‘hygge’ was not the version of the word I had used.  I have always said ‘hyggelig’ (pronounced hoogerlee). But, semantics aside, whatever you want to call it, by purchasing Scandinavian designer furniture, lighting candles, dimming lights and wearing fair-isle sweaters, you cannot achieve this state. Seriously, this is in fact the negation of hyggelig. Hyggelig is a state of mind. It is the feeling of love and connectivity with family and friends. It is the sense of being more than the sum of your parts. Yes, the candle light and the cosiness and the pleasing décor does all add to this. But this is entirely based on your own taste. Being hyggelig is about having shared experiences. Having a hyggelig time is about laughter and love and togetherness – obviously doing this in a pleasant environment where you feel comfortable and at home and welcome is imperative. But reader, be warned, this is not something you can buy in John Lewis.

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source: yahoo.com

When we were younger, on our summer holidays in Denmark, we would listen to our relatives talking about how hyggelig something was, and I remember we would roll our eyes and huff and puff a bit. I mean, when you are a kid, a hyggelig evening translates to sitting around in a boring house with people talking about stuff you have no interest in whatsoever, watching them drink coffee and eat pastries, sitting on classic Danish designed furniture in sympathetic surroundings, all laughing and chatting and generally being hyggelig.   This is not something that travels well into a child’s world.

But there were occasions as a child when I knew that I was having a hyggelig time and I would get that feeling of warmth and love and contentment.   For instance, when my Grandma would make a picnic and we would go with her and my Grandad on a trip to pick heather and stop on the way home to eat. My Grandma had a red picnic case that she would fill with beautifully created open sandwiches. She would bring a tablecloth, plates, knives, forks, salt and pepper and other condiments! There was a thermos of coffee and Danish pastries too. The picnic was a feast. We loved it and the only way to describe the experience would be – hyggelig.

Now, if you imagine the kind of picnic that I create for my family –slightly soggy ham/cheese roll, shop bought sausage rolls, crisps, maybe some pre-prepared fruit – a picnic rug if I remember. This is not one for the memory bank. There is no ceremony, no finesse, no pride taken in the simple and mundane process of turning the humble food stop into an ‘experience’. This to me is a large part of what a hyggelig moment entails.

Thinking about the process, creating a moment, taking pride in it and most importantly, sharing it. This is the path to hygge.

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A hyggelig evening round the table with my Danish family and my children playing Yatzy

I had a rare day yesterday when I met my sister and we spent 6 hours together. It could possibly go down as one of the best days of my life. Do you want to know what we did? We met in the café at John Lewis in Kingston upon Thames. We were alone, all 6 of our children now finally being in full time education. We drank a cup of coffee and we spoke uninterrupted about what we wanted to talk about. My sister has had to take a bit of time off her unbelievably stressful job, and she is going back very soon.  So we thought we would have one day off together luxuriating in the fact that we did not have to make a detour to the toy department, playground, toilet to change a nappy or be interrupted to the shouts of boredom and attention seeking. After our coffee we spent about 2 hours looking at curtains and curtain fabric and cushions. Nobody complained. We gossiped and laughed. We had a really long lunch. Then we went our separate ways, back to reality. I felt extremely sad knowing that we will probably not have another day like this for a while.

But, my overwhelming sense was that I love my sister more than I can express really, that this makes me very happy and that the ostensibly run of the mill day we had mooching around a shopping centre together, just being in one another’s company will be an enduring and happy memory. This, my friends, is the perfect example of HYGGE.

2 weeks ago I lived in a different country…

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I wrote something a few weeks ago about the EU. It was late, the time I usually get the urge to write. The next morning, I had second thoughts. I don’t want to be political. I don’t want to alienate people. I don’t want to make it personal. I decided against it.

But after what happened yesterday, I feel a bit different. I can honestly say that I feel sad, angry, scared, frustrated and downright impotent. I was always concerned that this country of ours might vote to leave the EU, but I always finished my thought with, ‘but that won’t ever happen’. When I woke up at 3am on Friday morning and heard Farage making his victory speech before the official results had even been announced I was too scared to go back to sleep. I cried on and off until the rest of the house woke up, and then I cried again, from shock mainly. And the sudden realisation that actually, yes, this is personal. Nigel said this was a victory for ordinary and decent people. Well, what does that make me then?

So, I’m not going to have a rant. I’m not an expert. I have already read numerous, brilliantly written articles expressing exactly how I feel and more about the nightmare that I woke up to yesterday. I know how I feel and how I will always feel. But I have decided that I would like to share what I wrote 2 weeks ago. Perhaps, luckily, hardly anyone reads this anyway. But I would like my feelings to be out there should anyone wish to see it…

 2 weeks ago:

I hesitate when I think about how to describe my national identity. I am British and I am white. But this is not enough of a statement for me.

Like many other people in the UK, my sister and I are the product of two people who cannot trace their name back through multiple generations. My Mum came to the UK from Denmark in the 60’s and got a job as an au pair. My Dad, a child of Jewish parents, whose own parents had arrived in London escaping persecution from Eastern Europe in the early 1900’s, was born and raised in Hackney in East London. He met my Mum and the rest, as they say is history. I am devastatingly proud of my Danish/East London/Jewish roots. It’s an interesting combination.

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Wonderful Copenhagen in Denmark
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Best city in the world (in my opinion!)

 

 

 

 

Essentially though, to everyday life, and in my role as ‘me’, this is irrelevant as I am just a British person who grew up in a North London suburb.

Now that I have children of my own, preserving some connection to my Danish/Jewish heritage is one of my goals in life. I am sadly aware that with each generation it will be diluted further and further. Their sense of belonging to a wider more far reaching community might be completely lost if we leave the EU.

When I think about what makes me, I have to come to the conclusion that it’s complicated. The main thing I think is that I am bloody grateful that I was born in Britain, and perhaps more specifically, in London, and that I am British. And the reason I think that is because I am the sum of many parts that are definitely not British. This nation comprised of so many other nations. This place that for whatever reasons has allowed people from other nations to settle here, shaping a society and a culture that is unlike any other. How lucky is that?

I don’t belong anywhere else. I love that I am a Londoner. But I have this invisible cord that ties me to other places, other cultures, other philosophies. And I can see how they make the country I live in such a potentially wonderful place.

The glow of pride I feel every time someone praises Danish design, or raves about a Danish crime drama is ridiculous! I am grateful for my crafty crochet/knitting gene, and for my pickled herring and snaps gene and for my love of cosy but minimalist interior design gene! Equally, I am proud of my Jewish heritage and its Eastern European influence on me, the fatalistic, unique sense of humour, the connection I feel to East London, love of pickles, chicken soup and chopped liver!

And more than any of that, the pride I feel when I tell people that I am from London surpasses all of those things. It all sounds very flouncy I know, but the diversity of it all is a precious precious thing.

Perhaps now, what is important to me is knowing that my children will be given the opportunity to perhaps forge their own unique dynasties comprising multiple cultures and experiences, or at least mix with and live alongside them. I hope they will anyway. Perhaps, if things change for us as Europeans, we will have to find a new place to settle where that kind of freedom and inclusiveness will still be available to them.

So, that was 2 weeks ago. What a difference an EU referendum makes. What about today, Saturday 25th June 2016? Suddenly Britain feels like a different, less diverse, less tolerant prospect.

I guess I would have to say that if you asked me right now how I would describe myself, I would say that I would like to stand up and be counted as a European first and foremost, and, from now on I am proud to call myself an immigrant citizen of London.

Finally I want to end with a quote from my incredibly sensitive and intelligent 9 year old son, who when asked about his thoughts on the UK leaving the EU said the following:

“A lot of people are living in the past. We are a tiny island in a massive world. We haven’t got an Empire any more; it’s not the same. We aren’t as powerful as we think we are.”

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