The Welfare State

The welfare state is a strange thing.  It encourages a certain type of behaviour, especially in those who are brought up in it from an early age.  In the same way as Pavlov’s dog learnt to respond to a bell, knowing it was dinnertime, these children learn that the money comes in every month, without any sense of responsibility, any need to drive your life.  The house simply is, the TV with premium TV package works fine and the pic ‘n’ mix is plentiful.  What more is needed, why should I try?

Simultaneously, such people can proclaim loudly to others, those who were brought up to learn that a home, food and the occasional treat are earnt, whose self-sufficiency is a source of pride,  “You are obsessed with money!”.  Without ever realising who has the real money obsession and how rabid their obsession becomes if any of those governmental credits they receive doesn’t appear in the account with a satisfying cash register kerchinggg on time.

I can see exactly how it began.  Coming from a coal mining community, I really can.  All the miners sat around, “It’s a shame what happened to Dave, isn’t it?”, says one. “How about we all put tuppence a week into a fund just in case the same thing ever happens to us and we have a serious accident, leaving our wives and children in the street?”.  Thus, a seed was planted that seemed to grow into a noble oak.  Yet even as the oak grew, the rot set in.  How many days was it before the first person to utilise the service decided to take a few days off more than necessary after an injury?  No rush after all, no consequences.  Worse still, it probably didn’t take long before people started eyeing up the size of the fund, watching those extra tuppences flow in every week.  The Health Service is the prime example, it’s completely hijacked by big pharmaceutical companies now.  Why bother with common sense advice like exercise, good diet, fresh air, when you could just take a direct debit of drugs instead?  There’s no money to be made out of healthy people, is there?

Coming to Denmark in this way, I should quite literally have swallowed my pride and went with the flow.  Perhaps big pharma needs a new drug called Pridax we could take?  Instead I resisted, trying hard to support a non-working partner and all my children.  It was impossible and when my ability to carry the load was really tested, I mentally collapsed.  I was told by the in-house medical expert that “depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain that can be fixed with drugs”.  I believed it, even though years later my doubts have been proved right.  What was that about big pharma hijacking healthcare again?

Somewhere amongst it all, I began to work out the real reason for the depression.  One incident really sticks in my mind and if I look at the photos on Facebook even now, I see the sadness on my face.  At this event, I sat and endured a discussion at the dinner table on how those big earners who pay topskat should pay even more.  Topskat, for the uninitiated, is a Danish tax that kicks in when you have the audacity to earn over £50k a year and subjects the terrible capitalist in question to a tax of about 57%.  As I looked around, I realised that every single person at the table was a beneficiary of government largesse in one way or another.  Except for me.

To put it in Cluedo terms, we had :-

Colonel Mustard, the man in his 40s, who had never had a proper job since being diagnosed with some brain illness and now had the proud fortidspensionist (before time pensioner) stamp, meaning he’d never have to work ever again.  It never stopped him spending all day watching videos and playing computer games though.  You might have thought bright flashing lights would be bad in this case, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Professor Plum, who had been on the sick for years after getting a bad back at work.  Bad backs are a favourite, I hear, for their impossibility to diagnose.  This bad back did not prevent him raising livestock, building treehouses for the kids using timber he cut down himself, or slaughtering his own animals.

Mrs White, wife of Plum, who at one point, when welfare tried to cut her husbands welfare did a ruse of pretending to split up, so they could live in 2 houses and claim 2 sets of benefits.  She’s now worked out being a foster parent means £££.  It does.

Mrs Peacock, the professional student, who took loads of courses she never quite finished, or did finish and never used.  She once took a 3 month holiday in the UK, all funded by the taxpayers, of course.  She even got bullimia in her 30s, probably when welfare started asking too many questions – it resulted in being on the sick for quite a while and government funded stays at health farms for weeks at a time.  She is now passing on her immense knowledge in this area to a young woman, almost 19, who is currently on her second college course without successfully completing anything.

Miss Scarlett.  At that time a student, but this one also worked out that welfare comes in extra forms.  Find the right form and you can live off that until it’s exhausted, then when it is exhausted switch to the official Welfare state option favoured by those above.  Even now, Miss Scarlett is an expert on the kinds of benefits available at the press of a few computer keys – with names like boligstøtteuddanelsesbidrag and børnebidrag.

I really don’t know why they don’t just invent a new one, called Dovendanskerbidrag (lazy Dane contribution), where any Dane (they don’t give these benefits to foreigners, remember?) can just tick a box confirming their eligibility based on the key criteria of being Lazy and Danish.  Then this extra welfare payment will just appear every month.  Magically.  It would cut out a lot of red tape and some of these government departments could close instantly.

Now I see the big differences between us.  It took over 20 years to do so.  A Dad in Denmark can always be replaced and he often is.  He’s only a walking wallet anyway.  And walking wallets can easily be replaced by the biggest wallet of all – The Welfare state – even if behind it a variety of incompetent government employees are just pulling levers to still take it from him in the first place.  I don’t expect anyone on Dovendummedanskerbidrag to ever work that out though.

Compromising Values

I’ve just got back from holiday.  It wasn’t a big one and I didn’t travel far, however it still counts as a holiday.  The weather was good, it involved a flight but no passport was required.  The worry of leaving a house up for sale while taking a trip away really brought back the painful memories of an incident back in September / October 2002.

The incident in question was the first time I was consciously aware of my values being compromised.  Prior to that, things had happened which I had not considered major, but when added up fit perfectly with the recently learned view that my presence within my own home shrank further with every visit.

When I was young, my parents had a very thorough routine whenever we left the house for one of our caravan holidays in Northumberland.  There were lights to be set on timer, a stepped routine of doors to be locked and keys to be hidden.  This routine, I am sure, might have seemed over the top to some, but as a child you take it for granted that that’s what needs doing to protect your possessions.  Especially when those possessions took a lot of work and time to accumulate.  For a coal mining family of modest means, they surely had.  I took this routine on board when I moved out.  My house always had timer switches for lamps and certain windows had locks.  I never experienced any problems until that Saturday night in 2002.

Now I think back, I had gradually experienced a decline in my routine.  I was chastened occasionally for my thoroughness, criticised for my lack of trust in fellow man and hurried along, implored to get going – “You always take 20 minutes over this”.  That particular day I remember clearly as one in which I left the house in a cajoled state – “It’s only one night”.  For sure, I locked the main doors, but I did not check as thoroughly as I normally did and because the house was for sale, the net curtains I preferred had been removed.

When we got back the next day, the house back door was standing wide open.  It was incredible what had gone – my hifi, the TV, even my leather office Captains chair I had rewarded myself with a few years previously.  All had been wheeled out of the back door, without a single neighbour apparently noticing anything.  One theory was that they had brought a van and driven it straight to a car boot sale.  A true “house clearance”.

Now, I don’t say who is wrong or who is right, but the whole thing highlighted major differences.  To me, I had allowed myself to be violated.  My life was on show, my most personal possessions had been rifled through and things I had bought, cherished and used were gone, damaged or tainted forever.  I’ll never get my gold Saint Christopher, a present for a new baby in 1971, back, for example.  Worse still, deep down I realised I had let myself down – I had not checked or locked the kitchen window lock, which alone would’ve stopped the break in – or with any luck would at least have left the police with a good blood sample.  I had not set lamps on timers – the basic things which minimise the chances of a random break in.

I also felt I’d let my children down.  The experience was clearly a very traumatic one for my then two-year-old daughter.  She didn’t sleep well for weeks afterwards, waking up screaming sometimes.  They even took her money box full of small change.  Desperate.

Here, again if I was to think back, there were major differences between sentimentality and unsentimentality, between an upbringing of self-reliance and self-preservation versus one of state reliance and belief in the group.  Or as Danes would call it, the samfund.

The incident did not end there.  One year later I was called to Court in Hove to give evidence in the court case against the accused.  The police had found an exact DNA match on a discarded cigarette inside my house and since no-one smoked, it had to be the miscreant, did it not?  The police however, had successfully managed to lose the evidence.  It was an awful day, I heard later that it was a hung jury and he went free.  Anecdotal evidence from the police was that his own representative was convinced of his guilt, but had successfully defended him.

One indeed may hope that revenge is a dish best served cold.  Years later, I discovered via the medium of google that he had had a job with Brighton council and tried to claim compensation for unfair dismissal, but had failed.  The tale warranted a section in the Brighton Argus – perhaps they did it with the knowledge of other indiscretions?  A quick check of Linkedin (writing these things can be very cleansing), shows a man with a business and one connection.  A subsequent search on facebook shows a business with few followers and no posts since 2016.  I trust the universe is delivering – the business was registered to the very block of council flats he lived in back in 2002.

Balancing the Account

As accounts are settled and losses are realised, it becomes apparent that some accounts can never be made to balance.  Yes, bank statements again count the negatives and positives in financial terms, not that I needed them to tell me how much I’ve lost there.  Even the bank statements alone tell me that I would never even be able to buy that first house in Brighton that I owned outright again, even if I wanted to do – and believe me I do not.  The option would be nice though.

Other accounts are harder to judge.  Those involving people, for example.  From the very beginning, I had been told who was good and who was bad, and who was I to question that, even if my gut feeling was that certain characters I was meant to believe were good were not my sort?  Certain things are left to trust, or an intense effort of toleration at least.  Christmas dinner is a good example of this that most families can relate to.

Just maybe some of those accounts are balanced then, on closing terms of mutual dislike and a mutual hope of never again encountering each other.  However, there are others that can never be balanced, those involving my children or another major one that sticks in my mind, without mentioning names, let’s call them JPB.

For years I had been told that JPB was a terrible person.  Any chance encounter with him while out shopping was to be avoided by leaping into a shop to hide.  At first this was slightly amusing – it reminded me of my own childhood in Consett, where my father’s father (can’t really call him Granddad, can I?) was absent, yet strangely lived in the same town and was to always be avoided.  I understand why – when he finally did reappear he had his own motives.  Perhaps this coloured my judgement years later.  No matter, the story I had been told justified the action.  The split…his neglect…the resultant years on welfare.  Occasionally, he did try to make contact in the street, as did his mother, but the conversations were always forced, always short and always unfulfilled.  He would shuffle away sadly into the distance every time after, my children wondering who he was.

Apparently a letter written to him by his daughter years later had never been replied to.  What a terrible man, you may think.  However, given my own situation now, I sometimes wonder how I’d react if, in seven years time, one of my children sends me a letter out of the blue.  Will I trustingly make contact and open my heart once more, or will I remember 7 years earlier, when they took away the right to call me Dad ever again and consigned me to the skip?  Perhaps he thought that it was all about the money, or some desire to inflict vengeful torture?  From where I stand now, I don’t blame him.  In fact, when he died for some it was all about the money – certainly no-one seemed to see any problem in taking their share and using it on expensive holidays, or the latest tech gadgets.  The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

So at this point, I’ll say sorry JPB.  I never knew you and I never will, but something about the relationship your daughter had with you made her want it for her children too.  By the way, JPB I really appreciate still using those triangular kitchen pan stands you bought in the 1990s as a christmas present.  Apparently they were not a gift worth taking (see earlier post).

Maybe the lesson is to trust your instincts on people more and not listen to stories you are told.  Certainly, I’ve always trusted my sisters and mother in this regard.  They fall easily into conversations with complete strangers and can quickly work out who is friendly and trustworthy and who is not.  It’s amazing what you find out years later about what they really thought.  Useful information when it comes to the other important thing about balancing the books – closing the accounts that don’t matter, even if it means cutting losses.

Old Houses

I’ve always loved big old houses.  Houses with high ceilings, a multitude of rooms with varying purposes, a chandelier dangling from a ceiling rose.  Where the furniture is mahogany or dark oak, a clock ticks loudly and no matter what the noise levels outside, the moment you close the door there is absolute silence due to thick old solidly built walls.  Just like that, whatever is happening in the outside world is gone.  I really get the concept of an Englishman and his Castle.

For this, I lay squarely the blame upon my grandmother, who herself lived alone in a large one at Monkseaton that always seemed to me to be an old 1800s farmhouse with some Arts and Crafts Edwardian remodelling done, then ran her own business in another – a huge, imposing Victorian double-fronted nursing home in the centre of Newcastle.   My sister and I loved visiting that one, what could be more fun than sitting in the pantry with the staff, while one of us popped off into one of the other rooms to press the old servants bell, so the other could watch it ring on a board and know instantly which room we were in?  Very Downton Abbey.  I assume it all went in a skip, since my Dad told us the buyer stripped it all out and converted it into cheap bedsits.  Sad.

Therein lies my predilection for old houses over new.  I am aware that there are two camps when it comes to buying and living in a house – for some, modernity prevails and the newer the better both house and contents.  New does not always equal better quality though, not for me.  From the very beginning of my own house buying adventures, back in Brighton in 1994, I would even say to estate agents “nothing after 1939”, knowing this would exclude the era when bricks turned to breezeblocks, air-dried timber constructions became kiln-dried or worse, chipboard and ceilings shrank from 10 feet to 8 (or less).  I did quite well with that house, buying a 3 bedroom 1926 end of terrace.  Some asked at the time why I was bothering with such a big house on my own even then, but to me the extra rooms and space is a necessity.  Both psychologically and for the items I tend to accumulate.

After that, came an 1895 3-storey Victorian classic in Sittingbourne, Kent.  This one was definitely more in the mould of my dreams, even if it was done out in the style influences of 1980s TV.  Dallas ranch-style staircase instead of Victorian and weird arches linking rooms that should really have remained separate.  That separateness was restored, as were period fireplaces and mahogany floorboards.  I remember the first time I viewed this place and already there was a difference of opinion – I really liked it, my partner was not convinced at all.  It took a second viewing a month later, after seeing the other lesser offerings around to agree this was the best choice.  Sadly, I was never truly happy there – I lost my job in the city, so the planned commute never occurred and in the back of my mind the promise to leave the UK was ever large.  Still, living in a Victorian house with the Victorian park next door had a certain positive lifestyle element to it.  Two of my happiest memories of my oldest children (who despite being Danish passport holders were born in the UK) are here.  My eldest daughter with her independent “Do it self” attitude to the park climbing frame and my son, skidding around the corners on his scooter.  I still have that scooter in the loft, it’s one of the things I shall retain until the inevitable final house clearout.

Then onto Montana.  Actually, there isn’t much I can say here that hasn’t been said on the website about the house itself.  So why not just read it there?

If a house shows a soul or spirit, then Montana shows me.  For a start, every single one of those rooms was decorated by me.  It took a long time, but I think my Dad would be proud, even if I do not have the diverse range of DIY skills he had.  There’s also the things I had lost, but then rediscovered – family heirlooms of low financial value but of incalculable value, shunted into dark corners of the house, not to be seen again.  My sisters told me that when they visited, it was noticeable how my things inside the house were gradually less with each visit, but now it’s all me.  The phrase in with the old and out with the new has returned.  I eat my dinner from old English tableware, the same as I did back in Brighton in 1995 (I wish I’d kept my grandmothers old ones though).  I drink tea from old English teacups, brewed in an old English teapot.  The coffee machine is almost purely ornamental.  Oh and those awful continental square pillows have gone.  I sleep much better for it.

Interestingly, I have moved 3 times in my life and each time, bought a house twice the size of the previous one for less than I sold the previous one for.  I doubt I’ll achieve the same again and besides, the statistic is misleading (not everything that can be counted counts, remember?).  Montana has been the most expensive house.  Now everything is done and all the accounting takes place. It really has.

Square Peg in a Round Hole

If you have read my previous posts, you will have realised by now that I am a great believer in personal freedom and it started even before my school days – I just didn’t realise then.  I am grateful to my mother for supporting me in this – not only did I get to enjoy a free life outside the system until the inevitability of school came, I even avoided school dinners until I was 10.  Ah such a happy time it was hearing that bell ring and knowing I was one of 2 children in my class of 30 who could escape for an hour and have dinner (maybe you’d call it “lunch”, we never did) with my Mam and Dad at home before he left for work on the evening shift.

This belief in personal freedom extends into family life.  After all, who knows better what a child really needs more than their own parents?  Their allergies, their likes and dislikes, the secret ways of coaxing them into trying new foods or learning new activities – a parent who has been with them since they were born, or a health visitor, social worker or teacher, armed with a clipboard, a pen and a piece of paper with boxes needed to be ticked, criteria to be rated on a scale of 1-5, as if your child was nothing more than a lab rat?

On this basis, I was very pleased to have met someone who also believed that children thrived best with a parent present, rather than within the machinations of the state childcare offerings.  Personal choice should always win – if you want to work and utilise childcare, fine, up to you.  If you don’t, then also fine.

Governments however, have slanted the playing field, so to speak.  Nowadays, wages are eroded in real terms and living costs inflated, so that often both parents must work.  On top of that, childcare costs are taxpayer-subsided, meaning that it can be very cheap to decide to work.  To me, it may seem cheap, but then Not everything that counts, can be counted. Actually, Denmark has gone even further and decided that if you are a child carer, your own child cannot be one of the children you care for.  It’s interesting as to why they would introduce a law like that, but outside the remit of this post.

We managed quite well in the UK on one salary with this method.  I had a nice 3-bedroom house in Brighton and even successfully managed to pay off the mortgage by age 29 – not bad for a coal mining son who’d moved down south just 5 years before with nothing!  However, coming to Denmark was a real test.  I had understood from the beginning that I would have to be self-sufficient, but had also been promised that it was a fair and egalitarian country that would look after it’s own.

This also was a trap.  Perhaps unintentional naivety, but still a trap.  Not only were the same systems that had been jointly resisted in the UK suddenly good places for our children to attend, but any conversations I tried to raise about us both finding a job to pay for it and the other huge expenses were met with replies like “I can’t get a job because I don’t have qualifications” and “I can’t claim unemployment benefit because I own a house / have savings”.  The last one really upset me, as with better planning it could have been avoided – the house in Brighton and savings had originally been mine anyway, so the new house and savings could easily have been put in my name.  In effect I was now subsidising the state welfare system, while simultaneously having no income of my own.  Life was very uncertain.

Finally in May 2005, my IT skills found a match.  The  agent who found it for me though deserves his own page and hey guess what – he got it!  It soon became clear though that even a half-decent wage in Denmark is not enough for the family unit I had thought we both wanted.  Taxes were huge and on top of that, I could see a regular chunk was disappearing on childcare I could not see we even needed.  We still ran at a loss every single month, just on the standard household expenses.

In 2008, I was forced to leave and take a job in the UK, Bristol, just to replenish the lost savings.  It was while i was staying in a B&B at the beginning of this episode that a most strange meeting occurred, one that I did not think of much at the time, but now, 11 years later, feels very relevant.  The owners were emigrating to New Zealand and their parents came to look after the place for a while.  Both were in their 60s and retired.  Being from Yorkshire, we once had a long conversation where I told them about my situation.  I don’t remember the exact words, but the father related how they had lived in the Netherlands for 20 years and the children had been born and grew up there.  “Ah,” he said “you don’t realise it at the time, but they grow up to be foreigners – quite distant from us, seeing us as outsiders somehow”.  At the time I picked up the sadness of it in his voice and eyes, but I realise now he was saying something quite major – a warning even.  And it’s true, I have become a foreigner to my children.  They have been brought up in another system, speaking another language and have another passport.  Within that, those systems seem to instill a certain superiority of that group over others.  I have felt it myself many times.  They do not see me, my parents, my sisters, their own cousins as being quite on a par as members of the human race.

The worst part of it all is that for many years, it was not the welfare state or their fellow countrymen who supported them, gave them their lifestyle or helped them along.  It was me.  It still is.

If I Had a Hammer

Imagine this : You have to leave your home and you cannot take everything with you.  What would be the first things you’d think of and reach for?

I have some tools that travelled with me ever since my first house in Brighton, in 1995.  Some I bought myself, but the ones I enjoy using most are the ones my Dad gave me.   “Here,” he said, rummaging amongst his extensive tool collection in the well-stocked garage, ” are some tools to help you get started”, as I planned the journey from Consett back to Brighton in my Lada Samara, straight after buying my first house.  Amongst those were 2 hammers : One is a claw hammer with rubber handle, that I distinctly remember my Dad using a lot in the 70s while he single-handedly rebuilt our house.  That gets used constantly.  There’s even something reassuring about remembering him using it in the kitchen when I was really small and he accidentally whacked his thumb.  It has history etched into every mark on it.  The other is a metal mallet, which I’ve used a lot less – it’s great for whacking out big chunks of plaster and cement though.

It used to be 3.  The third one was a small panel pin hammer, with a dark wood handle that was obviously of considerable age.  Knowing my Dad it might even have coal mining history behind it.  I loved using this one, but it was sadly taken from me in December 2016.

Yes, I realise I sound terribly sentimental, but I think those hammers would be on the list.  If you saw my house, you’d know I am into old things, but what you cannot see is that many of those old things have a family history.  A quick walk in my mind through the house reminds me of the dark oak 1930s mantle clock sitting in my study, that used to tick loudly on the sideboard at my grandparents house.  The dark wood bookcase from my grandmothers, that has followed me from childhood or the silver tablespoons in the kitchen that my Nanna used to bake with.  She was a great baker, the egg and ham pies will always remain fresh in my mind.

Actually, you can see my house – it just went up for sale.  I can’t even read that About Me to the end without feeling a few tears.

For some though, sentimentality is obviously not part of the mentality.  When I split with my ex-partner, lists were made.  It’s to be expected.  When her crack removals team had been, I noticed I was left with everything old and everything new was gone.  Including the very huge, new and expensive sofa.  Not that I minded, that was the agreement and I even said just leave the stuff you don’t want and I will dispose of it for you.

What surprised me was (a) that my panel pin hammer was gone.  That wasn’t agreed.  I asked for it back but was rebuffed and (b) How much other stuff was left.

The clear out I had to undertake took ages, years even to be complete.  Psychologically my mind was not able to cope with finding what the children had left.  Christmas presents selected by me, unopened and hidden in the basement and loft – science kits, English books, board games…all just left to sadly rot.   Then finding what else had been left – Expensive boots from places like Clarks, clothes, dresses from Desigual – all seemingly underappreciated.  I was reminded once more of the slow drip..drip.drip..of my life savings and energy being expended, trying to fit like a square peg into the round hole of life here.

More surprising was how my attempt to return some of these items went.  I was so sure they were accidentally missed – who can afford to dump brand new Clarks boots, for example?  Or at least try to sell them to earn money back for their children?   I drove them up to the new address and nothing good came of it.  Even a book on Australia she had been given by a close friend of hers was not welcome.  It was strange how it had been dumped in the basement, resulting in some water damage.  I was mistakenly sure it was still wanted though.  How wrong I was.

Well, since that time I have acceded to the clear statement that “I don’t want any more rubbish” and I’ve realised I cannot be sentimental on behalf of the unsentimental, those who wish to live life in minimalist homes where everything is Scandi-white and everything – including family photo albums – is a commodity to be dumped in the basement or thrown away, no matter how much stored value it represents.

So, continuing the theme of asking the universe for things I don’t have, that I wish I had, or things that I did have but lost, I say hello universe, can I have my hammer back?  Sure, I bought a new one and yes, it only cost about £5, and yes, it probably performs it’s key function just as well.  It’s not my Dad’s hammer though, is it?

 

 

 

School

I always hated school and little in the progression into adulthood has convinced me of the value of children being herded into large classes, set to specific timetables from the age of 4 and then told to shut up, sit down and listen.  I’ll never forget my first school day at the age of 4.  I had forever been sure I never wanted to go to nursery, home was more than enough for me.  That first day my mother had to pretend we were just going up to drop my older sister off.  When the awful truth dawned, I screamed and screamed and ran away, but what can a four-year old do?  He must be dragged back in and brought to heel.  Apparently I calmed down and sat in the class quietly but my first question upon escape (hometime?), was – Do I have to go again tomorrow?  Yes you do son, for another fourteen years.  Best not mention college and university yet either, poor lad.

For sure, along the way there were good teachers and good kids as well as the bad, but even now I am convinced I learnt more from my time with Meccano, Riviton and Airfix than I ever did from school.  Actually, I must backtrack slightly.  I learnt that some proverbs are true – A bad apple really can spoil the whole barrel, that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and that empty vessels make the most noise.  I suppose the squeaky wheel gets the oil is also true and believe me, there were a lot of squeaky wheels at my school.  Thankfully nothing squeaks in those corridors any more, not even rats, as the awful place got demolished a few years ago.

Why am I bringing this up?  Well, because that’s the second part of the trap.  Knowing that I was so opposed to my own children starting school aged 4, I was easily swayed by the promise of them not starting until age 6.  The deadline was approaching for my eldest daughter in 2004, that soon she’d be starting in the UK and I really didn’t want that for her, the same pain I’d experienced.  I knew she was of a similar mentality.  One of my favourite phrases of hers was “Do it self”, whenever I tried to help her on the Park climbing frames and such self-reliance reminded me of myself.  In this way, Denmark was very appealing.

I shouldn’t have believed it.  Within 2 months of arriving in Denmark, still without any income for either parent, hemorrhaging money on expensive house improvements and having an empty unsold house in the UK, my daughter was signed up for Danish børnehave, despite my protests to the contrary.  I was told I was anti-social and that children needed someone to play with.  Not only was I suspicious of the system, but the cost even then was about £150 a month.  Despite being promised it was all about play and flexible, it was identical to English nursery or infant school – the same timetables, brainwashing and exposure to unpleasant children I remember too well myself.  She didn’t need it and I was the lone voice saying we couldn’t afford it and that I didn’t agree with it.  Too late.

I tidied up my paper folders the other day, some 14 years later, and found some of those bank statements.  They make horrific reading, even now they made me feel incredibly sad, knowing the story behind every minus transaction on my account.  Everything I had worked and saved for, disappearing drip..drip..drip, as if my wrists had been lacerated and I was lying on a bed, bleeding out slowly every month.  It seems like an appropriate metaphor that by 2010, all the blood really had drained out of me and I needed a blood transfusion, but that’s another story for another day.

If I Had a Photograph of You

I found a photograph the other day, while clearing out the basement.  It’d somehow got left and stuck between a load of other less important old photos.  With careful soaking and drying, then framing, I’ve ended up with this.

A father and son, pictured outside the son’s house – Park Road, Sittingbourne in Kent.  Complete with my Citroen Xantia in the background.  If pictures tell someone a thousand words, then this one tells me at least double.

Firstly any picture with me in it is a major rarity.  I’ve just never liked getting my photo taken.  Secondly, I see the fear in my eyes and the sadness in my Dad’s.  He’s just found out that his son is moving abroad and that those rare times he sees him are going to become even rarer.  So why am I feeling that fear?

Well, I’ve just heard that a house has come up for sale in Denmark.  A house that’s going to fulfill a promise I made way back in 1998-99.  As a result of this promise, I’m probably moving to a foreign country where I won’t have a job, won’t be able to speak the language and will somehow have to support a partner and two young children.  The stress is already building up.  How does that story progress and how does it end?  Well, I don’t yet know how it ends, but I do know now that it’s going to mean me going from owning a £250,000 house outright to reaching December 2016 living in Denmark, with no money in the bank and having a debt of the equivalent of £150,000.  Oh, and by the way, I’ll also have lost my 4 children too and be living alone.

To top it all off, my Dad died that same month, December 2016.  I went over at the beginning of December to spend that last week with him as he passed away, then again to stay over Christmas, attending the funeral and giving a eulogy on what he’d taught me.  Those values of hard work, self-reliance and thriftiness he taught me were clearly lost to my own children – mere velfærd seems more likely to be their mantra for future years, with the familial company they now keep.  I was told by their mother that they weren’t bothered by the death of their one true grandfather, that the eulogy I’d written meant nothing to them and that I was a bad dad for travelling back on Christmas day.  Apparently I should’ve sat and rotted away in the house in Denmark alone that day, waiting for the one hour visit of my son.  Actually, Christmas Day was a great day, even if I slept through a lot of it.  Remembering my Dad with close family back in my true home town.

So when I look at that photo again, I really can’t imagine what I had to be fearful of.

Thanks Dad, for appearing just when I needed you there to help me know I’m making the right decision.