Category Archives: languages

Of Lanterns, Soup and Duck fat. In no particular order.

Three years ago, during our 5 months in Germany, we happened to be in Düsseldorf in the late afternoon of November 11th. What we saw that night scarred Fraser for life, and has since come up in ever so many dinnertime conversations.

Gangs of children – all warmly dressed in their beanies, winter coats and boots – roamed the streets of the town, carrying little paper lanterns on sticks. Every shop was entered, and staff were on hand to pass out cigarettes whisky sweets and little treats.

They didn’t even have to say anything – as soon as they entered the shops, someone came running and handed them stuff until they left. (Mental note: If in Germany in November, send Otto into a Jeweller’s shop with a paper lantern).

We got back to Wuppertal and it was the same story.

In Fraser’s world, November 11th went down as The Night Children Shake Down Shopkeepers. The lanterns were a concealed threat to come back and burn down the premises if the candy quality and quantity was not deemed adequate.

Fast forward to almost now, and we started to get notices from the school about the Lantern Walk at one of the local German churches. And about school art sessions (parents and siblings invited) to make lanterns – clearly this was a big thing.

Green lanterns, with arms and legs and eyes and ears and cute crooked smiles.

Kommt wir woll’n Laterne laufen, das ist unsere schönste Zeit;
kommt wir woll’n Laterne laufen, alle sind bereit..

The canny among you will be thinking, but it’s June not November – and you are right. But apparently a Lantern Walk would not be a Lantern Walk without bitterly cold weather (not to mention the rain) and early sunset so no-one keeps the Gangs of Children up late. Because you don’t want to keep children up past their bedtime when fire is involved.

So, on Friday night, I got together with two of the other mums to make the World’s Biggest Ever Pot of Pea & Ham soup. Our school recently bought a massive preserving pot that is also good for making soup, and we had captaincy of her maiden voyage.

What we did not have was a recipe for pea & ham soup.

But we were happy to make it up as we went along, and we think we did OK. Three hours of soup stirring and a couple of pizzas later, Otto and I headed home, leaving the pot’s hosts with at least a couple more hours to stir.

On Saturday, after a quick trip to IKEA for tea lights (that turned into … well … you know … Otto was having a great time in Smålund and I was just wandering peacefully), we picked up the Pot. After some debate, we sat it on the front seat and buckled it in for the drive to the church. With the lid firmly duct-taped on – because pea & ham soup is not a great smell at the best of times, and a car that smells of pea & ham soup might have had me praying for some budding lantern-wielding arsonists to come and torch it.

And then we heated, and stirred, and heated, and stirred.

And Otto went into the church where I think they sang some songs and talked about St Martin. And then the walk began.

And it was absolutely amazing. Because there were – I have no idea but I’d guess between 200 and 300 people. And each person – or each family – had a beautiful lantern that their child had made or that they had bought. It would have been beautiful in the daytime; at night it really was something magical. And we wended our way through the Fitzroy Gardens in the dark, following a guy dressed as Rory from Dr Who.

Lanterns in the park.

Kommt wir woll’n Laterne laufen, denn wir fürchten nicht die Nacht;
kommt wir woll’n Laterne laufen, das wär doch gelacht.

Apparently, the guy was actually dressed as St Martin. But all these Roman Centurions kind of look alike. One year they had a policewoman on a horse, with a long red cloak. Which would have been awesome. There were no police there this year so the priest and some of the adults stopped traffic instead. Because Gangs of Children with Lanterns (and priests) should always have right of way.

And eventually we got back to the church, which was amazingly busy. We sold soup, and there were Brezeln, and hot dogs, and Glühwein, and Kinderpunsch which is like Glühwein but for kids, and a bonfire (sadly lacking in marshmallows). And bread that was – I am not kidding – spread with LARD! Or Duck Fat, which is not quite lard but really there is not much difference. I bought a slice and shared it with 2 friends. Which means “I bought a slice and split it into three, and we all kind of took a little bite at once and then said OMG IT IS CRUNCHY WHY IS THIS SO? and discreetly discarded it.” Because cultural traditions are all very well, but not so much when they are spread with duck fat. In fact, I am going to go on record here and state that I would steer clear of any cultural tradition that involved duck fat in any way, shape or form.

And we stirred and we served. And the Bigster took money because she said she would collapse otherwise. And because her Mean Mother had insisted she come along for a bit of Cultural Involvement. And a dollar fell in the soup pot but we figured it would add extra flavour, and we kept stirring.

And it was a fabulous evening. And we put our heads together and wondered how we can get even half of those people to come to our German Christmas Market in November.

Maybe we should send the children round with their lanterns?


Posted by on June 4, 2012 in education, family, languages, school, travel



I will blog about this elsewhere in good time, but meanwhile I just have to comment …


What sort of a name for a place is that?

“Oh, I am just off to Moist Cheeks for the afternoon”

It sounds – it doesn’t even sound dirty. Just kind of creepy.

I tried replacing Moist with Damp, Sweaty … nope.  Didn’t help.

All the way there – all the way through the town, even – we giggled.


Language learning resources

The offerings from Linguality look amazing.

Too bad it costs nearly $300 for 6 books. Not something I will be doing in a hurry.


Posted by on January 29, 2009 in french, languages



Changed the settings on my work laptop to German. Well, to “switchable to German”.

This means that I can now type öÖäÄüÜß as well as êôûâî áéíóúàèìòù and the associated capital letters directly, without switching to Word and doing a copy and paste.

It also means that the z and y keys on my pc are reversed. Which is confusing. And many other special characters are not where I expect.

We shall see how long I survive this. And how long until my kids notice that I wrote on mz kezboard. I mean, on my keyboard.


Posted by on November 10, 2008 in languages


Wednesday 9th in more detail

First … a few people wanted more info about the games we played on Tuesday.  I am not sure how much more information is possible but here is the slightly longer version. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on October 10, 2008 in games, languages, travel


Despair for the human race

OK, so I am a spelling prescriptivist.

But when I get a spam fax that reads

Be efficient and sharp this year! – Put a Postage Meter on your desk and avoid the Post Office cues

I just want to cry.

Or, you know, run to mock it on the Internet.


Posted by on May 7, 2008 in languages, rant


Erudite children?

Words I do not expect to find in a child’s colouring book: flamboyant

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Posted by on March 15, 2008 in languages


en français

I had my first French class tonight.

Much goodness. For starters, even at my very slow walking speed (I blame short legs … nothing to do with laziness …) it’s a comfortable 20-25 minute walk from home. With time, it should be more like 20 minutes, especially if I do not stop for chocolate. I got a lift home with the friend who’s taking the class with me, but I will aim to walk it next week if the weather is good.

It’s a small group (7 of us) with the usual range of ability. To my delight (and surprise) I am closer to the top than to the bottom of the class. Having read over the textbook, I was ok with understanding written words and with saying them. The hardest part was hearing spoken French.

The highlight of the evening was learning to say J’aime faire du lèche vitrine – which translates, literally, as I like to lick shop windows. There is of course another meaning, but we will not worry about that so much even though it has the Power of Usage. The Power of Funny wins. My friend Ann suggested that this could be a useful phrase to know when the police arrest me. And Fraser said he will not kiss me again until I disinfect my tongue.

That may have been Too Much Information.

My textbook is pretty amazing too. It’s full of little jokes, interesting asides and a 3-way love triangle. Also, at the foot of each page next to the page number is the text of the number – so it says “28 vingt huit” instead of just “28”.

I did, however, manage to say that I like toys when I meant I like games. jeu = game. jouet = toy. jouer = to play.  Between that and the window licking, it could have been a very interesting evening.

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Posted by on February 5, 2008 in french, languages


Another geekdom

Way back, even before I was a boardgame geek, I was a languages geek.

I started learning German when I was 5, visited Germany on my own at 11 (I stayed with the family of my penfriend) and have been back several times since then. In the meantime, I took a year of French, 3 of Latin and 5 of Russian during high school, and I flirted with a couple of terms of Hungarian before I moved to Austria for a year to study. (Main outcome: I have a pronounced Austrian accent when I speak German).

Combine that with itchy, itchy feet (of the I-want-to-travel rather than the I-have-an-annoying-fungal-growth variety) and a stop at the discount bookshop on the way home earlier in the week, and the lure of a “French for travellers” CD was just too much for me.

I had to visit a client in the sticks yesterday – a 45 minute drive there and back – but my journey was enlivened by my new CD and cackles of laughter at the astonishing amount of fun I was having. When I picked my husband up for a lunch date, he didn’t know whether to laugh at me or have me committed.

Next stop? There’s an Italian CD in the same series. Or maybe I will find one that is a language course, rather than a talking phrase book.

Meanwhile, je suis fatiguée. Au revoir!


Posted by on March 29, 2007 in languages, travel