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Parental advisory 
Tuesday, November 3, 2009, 08:53 PM
I have a problem that, until recently, I was unsure of who I knew well enough to share it with. To think I would end up sharing this problem on the Internet is terrifying.
I have two very young daughters, and they are learning words faster than I can manage. Our 3 year-old already has a bigger vocabulary than OK! Magazine. But there is one word that I cannot work out for them, despite the fact that they’re going to need it. They can name all of the body parts, from tummy buttons to toes, to ears and even eyebrows. But I am at a loss as to what to call the thing that is the female equivalent of a ‘willy’. My choice is limited – I could choose from ‘fanny’, ‘front bottom’ and apparently ‘min’ is also an option. But they all sound wrong, and I don’t think it’s because I’ve got any issues about acknowledging this part of the body with my kids.

If this were the extent of the issue, I don’t think it would be worth blogging about.

But the interesting thing is that I am married to someone from the continent. And my wife gets by fine, using the exact words required for these parts of the body. In Germany, the grown-ups use just the same words for the kids’ bits as they do for theirs. Just like the ears, eyebrows and elbows. In German, these words are ‘Penis’ and ‘Scheide’ – it seems that the Germans do not live in denial of the fact that the parents have equivalent body parts that have the same name. Crucially, these two German words are factual, straightforward descriptions that carry no sexual currency whatsoever. Irritatingly, despite our efforts to bring the kids up bilingually, I’ve taken to using the German word.

One of the Twitter accounts that I follow is the Viz Profanisaurus. Do not follow this if you have a grown-up sense of humour. The relevance of the Profanisaurus is that it contains a staggering number of rather rude euphemisms for sexual organs, some of which are quite funny. Take the ‘spam javelin’, for instance.
OK, I should have picked another one.

Needless to say, the Germans couldn’t match this level of hilarious euphemism, and it’s not just because we are much funnier that them; I think that here we’re getting close to the heart of the problem. In this country we sidestep the awkward conversations that give kids awareness of their private parts. As a consequence, when the childhood censorship is removed (and the willy becomes a cock/dick/pork sword/pink torpedo etc etc etc), there is a sense of release. A release with added giggles. It’s little wonder that the new-found grown-up identity for the thing causes excitement and fascination – after all, it was a bit taboo before. I’m going to take a leap here and suggest that it’s also a reason why societies on the continent seem to have to contend with a much smaller teenage pregnancy problem – the parents and kids talk about the subject matter with equality and even-handedness. They don’t censor the kids with harmless, childish-sounding euphemisms that will only last for a couple of years. There is less giggling, but on an important subject like this, it’s probably right. After all, there is plenty more to laugh at.
Starting with the Germans.


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Some images of Rugen 
Tuesday, October 27, 2009, 12:21 AM
It's not awash with photographic highlights, but here are some of the better ones anyway...
























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The Colossus of Prora 
Monday, October 26, 2009, 11:19 PM
I'd like to tell you about a place that I encountered on holiday on the island of Rugen in Germany. It's a place that, even if Hitler had never harmed a hair on anybody's head, would nonetheless qualify as evidence that the bloke was a complete and utter nutter.

The thing is, to go along with the massed rallies and general staged volk-love, Hitler wanted to reward the people with a grand gesture of nazi niceness. A place that you could come with your picture-perfect Aryan families and relax, unwinding from the stresses and strains of waging Blitzkrieg on foreign shores. Along with Dr Robert Ley, Hitler came up with plans for a hotel that could put up a large number of people at one time. Twenty thousand people, to be precise. The idea was, that if you operated on an efficient rota system, everyone in the country would get a look-in.

They chose a site of pristine beach in a place known as Prora on the Baltic Sea island of Rügen, Germany's largest island. These days, huge hotels tend to be tall, sky-scraping things, but back then, you couldn't build upwards, you had to build outwards. And so it was that work began on a hotel 4.5km long, making it the world's longest building structure. Being made along oppressively brutal concrete lines, it also made a concerted attempt to be the world's ugliest building.

To cut a 4.5km story short, work was almost finished when the war began, and then priorities changed, and the place was largely forgotten. It housed a few wounded soldiers, and some bombed-out families from Hamburg, but apart from this, it was a near-completed waste of time. The weeds began to grow, sand crept in, and local people started to pretend it wasn't there. As much as you can pretend a million tons of concrete isn't there, I suppose.

When the war was over and the Russians moved in (after all, this place is in the East of Germany), they said with predictable Nazi-hating enthusiasm "let's blow it up!". What they hadn't reckoned with was:
a) The Nazis made things very very solidly.
b) Blowing something up that is 4.5km long requires a mind-blowing quantity of TNT.

As you can see from the image below, they managed to damage one block, but then they threw up their hands in despair and just left it as it was.



These days, the vast majority of it stands intact, still in pretty good nick, defying someone to put its fascist-inspired spaces to good use. There are serious efforts afoot to convert it into a modern hotel, but this is still a very remote prospect.

More likely, it will sit there, as a monument to the colossal silliness of dictators, loons and fascists. To this end, it's doing a pretty good job, and that was my inspiration to write about it.

Learn more about Prora here.

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The Wurst is yet to come. 
Monday, July 27, 2009, 12:17 AM


I live in a practically German household.
To many, this must include a number of things, including bathtowel wars, remarkable teutonic toilet habits and frequent shouts of 'achtung Schweinhund' across the kitchen table. One would expect me to mention the war too, at least twice a day. I do my best.

In reality, this state of affairs has packed our kitchen full of remarkable food and drink that I would be much the sadder (and thinner) without. Apfelschorle, Jever Bier, Remoulade and frisch gebackene Brötchen are all things that would have been a meagre measure of compensation if the RAF hadn't withstood the affections of the Luftwaffe in 1940.

But the most remarkable footstuff of all, and the subject of this piece is the species porcus, member of the suidae family - to those who eat it, it is known as the common pig.

If you travel through Germany on an Autobahn, once you have been disabused of the myth that you can drive as fast as you want, wherever you want, you'll start looking out of the window, and noticing the fields full of sheep and cows. The reason that you don't see any pigs in the fields is because they have all been eaten.

The scale and ambition of pig usage in German cuisine is frankly awe-inspiring. That there are any pigs left standing after breakfast time is a miracle. Whilst the British chomp mournfully on their Cornflakes or Special K, the Germans will be polishing off any combination of bacon, ham, liver sausage, beer-sausage, 'Fleischsalat', salami or Mett. I won't say what the last one is, as I feel that the internet should be kept free of upsetting and offensive material. To what must be their unconfined delight, cows and chickens don't really get a look-in at the breakfast table.

The devastation resumes for lunch and dinner. Not only can the Germans call upon an unparalleled (and admittedly delicious) selection of sausages, but there is also the wonderful Schweinebraten to be savoured. I'm not even going to get into the 'Eisbein', as to do so would involve cardiac carnage. Pork is everywhere, meine Freunde.

I can't think of a nation that makes such profound and resourceful use of an animal, and I'm actually quite humbled by it. By comparison, the French don't do anything near as much with their coqs. Next time you go to Germany, you should try all of these things. Still, my plan is that we should share dietary balance around in Europe a little more. We balance out the German diet by relieving them of some of their pork, and meanwhile they can stock up on our... erm, Turkey Twizzlers.


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This ordinary world 
Sunday, July 19, 2009, 11:08 PM
If you love photography, just imagine how exciting it would be to be transplanted back 50 years with your camera. You'd photograph buildings being built, the classic cars, the traditional shops, the ordinary people going about their business. You'd do all this and charge triumphantly back to the present day with all of the evidence, and we'd all applaud this fascinating foray into real life as it was.

Yet in the present day we're routinely missing out on this opportunity: familiarity is breeding contempt. Only this evening I saw a couple of photography tutorials assisting learners in cropping out parked cars from the image of a windmill, and how to time the photo of narrowboats on a canal so that no one is seen walking past.

There is an arsenal of talented photographers out there with first-rate equipment, and if they read the same photo magazines as me, they will be sold the same false qualities of 'timelessness' and the 'abstract'. Just look at the images in these magazines, and you'll realise that, technical excellence aside, very few of them could be dated accurately in any of the last four decades.

As you park your car next to a Ford Mondeo outside your local Asda, you would be forgiven for thinking that you couldn't be further away from a worthwhile photo. Yet I believe that there is a significant job to do in documenting the world we live in, cashpoint machines, Phones4U and all. Skilled photographers are focusing almost all of their talents on the timeless, the natural, and could instead turn their technical and compositional skills to documenting our ordinary world.

These images will sit on your hard drive looking quite absurd for a while, yet with time, they will realise their true value, and an image of two salesreps eating a McDonalds could become a defining image in three decades' time.
The only drawback to all of this is that you may well be dead before you see my point.



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