Denmark: The Danish family connection that lives on

 

 

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This week I said goodbye to my grandfather, Donald Forrest. He was my father’s father and was just six months away from marking his centenary. He lived a very full and interesting life which included service in the British Royal Navy during World War II.

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Some of the medals awarded to my father, grandfather and great-grandfather

Grandpop was involved in the D-Day landing, supporting Allied troops on Gold Beach just before they went on to take the town of Arromanches in Normandy. It was during D-Day that my grandfather managed to escape serious injury after the boat he was sailing on was blown up by a mine. I feel rather proud of one of his missions that day, which was to take supplies of whisky and gin ashore for the troops!

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Members of the British Royal Legion at Grandpop’s Thanksgiving service in Kemerton

We were all very touched when members of the Royal British Legion and the Sea Cadets came to pay their respects to Grandpop this week, at Kemerton Church near Tewkesbury. The Last Post was a particularly poignant moment.

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My grandmother, Joan Forrest

But what I think was so special about Grandpop was his utter devotion to my grandmother, Joan. In her thirties, she was paralysed down one side of her body. To this day, no-one is quite sure why or how it happened. Granny lived until she was 89, and over that time, my grandfather was by her side every painful step of the way. I think it’s the most incredible story of love and devotion.

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My grandparents, Donald and Joan Forrest, in Denmark in 1953

Among those who also came to say goodbye this week was my grandparents’ niece, Christina, known as Krisi. She’s half Danish because her father (Granny’s brother, Bobby Lowein) married a Danish woman called Karin. In fact, while we were going through some old family photos we stumbled across a picture from the 1950s of my grandparents in Dyrehaven (The Deer Park) near Klampenborg in Denmark. It’s a just a couple of miles away from where my family now lives and it’s a place we regularly visit.

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My great uncle, Bobby Lowein, and Karin, on their engagement in Copenhagen

Sadly my great uncle and aunt’s marriage wasn’t to be, and after three children, including Krisi, it ended in divorce. Karin remarried, but in an avalanche on New Year’s Day in 1979 in Switzerland, she was killed. So too was her son, Nicholas Lowein (Krisi’s brother), Karin’s second husband, Michael de Pret Roose, and the Swiss guide and friend, Ernst Renner. It was a tragedy that completely shook the family and one which is still difficult to comprehend.

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Cousin Krisi Williams with her husband Richard in Copenhagen, 2016

34 years later (2013) and my husband and I find ourselves moving to Denmark. Krisi put us in touch with one of her mother’s sisters, Inga Peetz. Inga has been extremely kind to us. When she visited us in our apartment in Hellerup, she was convinced she’d been there before. She had – decades before, when her uncle owned the entire house!

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Inga with her other sister, Killer, in Denmark, 2013

Inga has also introduced us to members of her family, who I like to claim as distant relatives! Among those are her nieces, Camilla and Rikke, who now babysit for our children and have also become friends.

My biggest regret is that my grandparents were never able to visit us in Denmark and meet the wonderful Danes we have been so fortunate to know. But I like to think that both Granny and Grandpop are looking down on us smiling, delighted at the relationships we have forged with members of their own family.

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My father, Christopher Forrest, sailing in Denmark in the 1970s.

NB I’m very conscious of the fact that this family history would be much easier to write in Danish. Not because I am an expert, but because the Danes have more useful names for family. So my Grandfather Donald – my father’s father – is called Farfar. Isn’t that so much easier to understand? I could really do with a family tree to make it easier for you to see the connections. But I do hope you get the gist!

Denmark: Why are we shocked that a lion is dissected in public?

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Being interviewed on Danish TV

This morning I was a guest on Danish TV News, TV2, where I was asked to discuss why Britons are so shocked that a Danish zoo is dissecting a dead lion. My live studio interview ran alongside pictures of a previous dissection – leaving nothing to the imagination. You can watch it here, but please be warned that there is graphic content. (No broadcaster in the UK could ever use images like this before the 9pm watershed.)

The nine-month-old, along with two others, was culled back in February because Odense Zoo had too many of the animals. Today just one – a male – was taken out of the freezer and, as I write, is being cut up in front of huge crowds, including children.

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TV2 footage of the dead lion before the dissection began

Only last year, Copenhagen Zoo walked into a media frenzy when it decided to kill a healthy giraffe named Marius, dissect him in front of crowds and then feed him to the lions. So have these Danish zoos learnt nothing? Well yes because this time round, Odense Zoo decided not to publicise the cub’s death at the time, and not to give him a name.

But zoologists and most Danes in general are adamant that dissections are important – they say they are for educational purposes and not entertainment. They’ve done it before and they’ll do it again.

Which goes to show how culturally different Danes are to Brits (as well as Americans and other nationalities). There is no way on earth that a British zoo would or could do this in public. Let’s not kid ourselves – hundreds of ‘big’ animals in zoos across Europe are culled every year for many reasons, including having the wrong gene pool. And whatever we may think, it happens in the UK too – but in secret. Remember the storm that followed after it was revealed by the Daily Mail that Longleat Safari Park had put down six lions, including four cubs, because there were simply too many? I am, though, still shocked that killing ‘healthy’ zoo animals needs to happens at all – in the US they use contraception.

I certainly wouldn’t allow my five-year-old son to watch a dissection, even if he wanted to. That prompted the TV presenter to ask me if I was playing into the ‘Disneyfication’ of animals? Perhaps I am. But even though I know that children of all ages regularly visit abattoirs and watch animal dissections here in Denmark, it just doesn’t sit well with me. Does that make me, a meat-eater, a hypocrite? Probably.

I’m British: So why is it so damned hard to vote in UK elections?

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Ever since I turned 18, I have always voted in British elections.  This year, though, it’s proving much harder to cast my vote.

As I am currently living in Denmark I am classed as an Overseas Elector, along with millions of other British expats around the world. Back in January I decided to heed the advice from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and apply online to register. It was pretty straight forward.

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Letter from my local council in London

A few weeks later I received a letter from my borough council in London telling me that I had been successful. The electoral services department included a postal vote application – which is by far the easiest way in which to exercise my right. However, it came with this advice:

“Although ballot papers can be sent abroad by post, they are only posted out about a week to ten days before an election. You are strongly advised to appoint a proxy.”

A proxy? Someone I trust enough to put the ‘X’ next to the name/party to whom I’m giving my vote? Am I the only British citizen who finds this deeply uncomfortable? Where’s the ‘secret ballot’ in all this? Given the numerous investigations into postal election fraud in the UK, why is it considered ‘democratic’ to ask someone else to vote on my behalf?

I was hoping my parents would help me. But it turns out they’re out of the country on election day. So now I have to think of someone else who will exercise MY right on Thursday 7th May.

When I do convince someone to help, they then have the whole issue of how to cast MY vote. Either they do it in person in my South London constituency, or they can receive my ballot papers by post. If they choose the latter, there’s an application form he/she will have to fill in – one that I have to send them first, from Denmark.

The whole system seems crazy. With all this technology at our finger tips, why is it so damned hard to vote? Surely it’s time the Electoral Commission and the British political system in general moved into the 21st century.