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!

Baby Cecelia at 6 months old

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Cecelia at 6 months old

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Cece showing off her pilates moves

Today, my daughter is 6 months old. How did that happen? Where has the time gone? Well it certainly hasn’t been wasted, but apologies that it hasn’t been spent blogging! I have missed this therapy of writing and sharing my thoughts (mostly about life in Copenhagen) with you all. So I thought I’d give you a quick update on how beautiful Cecelia, who was born on 9th May in Denmark, is doing.

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Enjoying a moment with smiley Cece

As you can see from the photos she is thriving. She’s a wonderful companion and full of smiles and laughter.

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Charlie and Cece chillaxing!

Her brother, Charlie, who was a little reticent about having a sister, is pretty smitten. And that fact that she finds almost everything he does hilarious, certainly helps.

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Cece swimming at 6 weeks

Cece’s life has been busy. Thanks to my swimming teacher, she had her first lesson when she was just six weeks old. As you can see she was pretty relaxed about it.

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Great-grandpa George (aged 101) with Charlie, Cece and me

She’s not only met both sets of grandparents, but also her 101-year-old great-grandfather and 95-year-old great-grandmother. Very touching moments.

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Cece with Nick (her father), Annabel (her grandmother) and Rene (her great-grandmother)

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Cece with her Granny Celia (my mum)

She’s already appeared in print, in an article that I wrote for Your Danish Life Magazine and on Instagram, thanks to a post from the he English-language book shop in Hellerup, Books and Co.

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Things are getting very busy for us as a family. Next month we will sadly be leaving wonderful Copenhagen and heading off to Berlin. It’s another adventure for us all but a lot of change. Here’s hoping the next six months of Cecelia’s life are as amazing as the first.

Baby Cecelia is born in Denmark

 

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Charlie and Cecelia. Photo: Fun Love Photography

Five weeks ago, our beautiful daughter, Cecelia, was born at Herlev Hospital, outside Copenhagen. Her arrival has been long awaited and we are delighted that our Danish adventure has also brought a new life into the world.

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Charlie meets Cecelia for the first time

She is six years younger than her brother, Charlie. He has been wonderful – despite wanting a brother! It’s lovely watching them together – already she responds to his voice and presence.

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Photo: Fun Love Photography

My experience of giving birth here in Denmark couldn’t be more different from back in London. This time I had a c-section, after a ‘traumatic’ natural birth at St George’s Hospital, Tooting, in 2010. I won’t go into the detail but suffice to say the whole experience was stressful and involved me going back into hospital six weeks later to have an operation under general anaesthetic, followed by countless procedures.

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Cecelia at 8 days old

This time round, there was no hesitation about me having a cesarean. It meant we knew the delivery date and were able to have family out here to look after our son. Once in hospital, my husband and I had our own room in the Patient Hotel, next door to our own bathroom and close to the canteen. We quickly realised that Nick had to stay with me because there simply aren’t enough staff to deal with patients who need help moving and walking. This may be a highly taxed country, but like elsewhere, resources are tight. Anyway, I was very grateful that he was with me throughout.

The delivery itself was extremely professional and very quick. The Danish staff all spoke perfect English and couldn’t have been more pleasant. I was particularly pleased that one of the doctors was called Cecelia. Despite the horrendous pain I suffered following the c-section, it was very straight forward.

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Photo: Fun Love Photography

Like her brother, we quickly realised that Cecelia was tongue tied (which is very painful for breast feeding mothers). Unfortunately doctors at Herlev refuse to perform the simple procedure to snip the frenum that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth. So when she was just 18 hours old, my husband bravely left hospital with her, drove to a clinic in another town where they performed the procedure. It was not an ideal situation.

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Cecelia in hospital

Our baby then lost weight and developed jaundice, both of which are very common in newborns. But the staff were worried and we were moved from our room, upstairs into what can only be described as a broom cupboard. We had no window or running water and had to walk through another family’s room to get to ours. My poor husband had to sleep on a padded bench and wasn’t allowed to leave me alone. It was a difficult 48 hours. But thankfully, five days after giving birth, we were finally allowed home.

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On the beach at Kronborg Castle in Helsingør

Danish friends say the second half of our hospital experience is more common in Denmark than you might think. But overall, I found giving birth here much better than in South West London. We’ve also been extremely lucky to have a wonderful health visitor, Kirsten, from Gentofte kommune (our local council) who is always ready to help or offer advice via phone or text. Staff at our local doctors’ surgery have also been supportive.

So now our family of three has become a family of four, and things are noisier in our house (especially at night!). But boy, do we all love our little girl!

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Photo: Fun Love Photography

With thanks to Heather Davidson-Meyn at Fun Love Photography for the great photos.

 

Copenhagen: The Pregnant Mermaid

 

If all goes to plan, two weeks today I will be having a baby here in Denmark. It’s our second child and, to put it mildly, has been a long time coming.

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I think the Bump enjoyed it.

 

Over the past eight months, I have kept up my swimming – averaging between one and two kilometres a week. As the bump has grown, this is the one sport I have felt able to do that hasn’t put too much strain on my body.

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Feeling weightless

 

 

Today, thanks to my Monday swimming group led by an inspirational woman called Sue, I became a mermaid. OK, so I’m not exactly Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid, but a Pregnant Mermaid, yes.  The weightlessness of swimming under water with a tail is just magical. Obviously I didn’t try all the moves the other mermaids were perfecting but I gave it a damn good try!

So with just 14 days to go until delivery day, I intend to keep up the swimming. And I hope I will be able to return to the water as soon as I’m allowed. I took my son swimming from just a few weeks old and I hope I can do the same again.

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Charlie the Waterbaby!

** With thanks to Sarah-Jane Elsey and Elisabeth Godin for the photos and video taken today.**

Denmark: Not so happy now

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A few thoughts after being interviewed by RTE (Irish radio, which you can listen to here) about Denmark’s decision to confiscate jewellery and cash worth more than 10,000 Danish Kroner (£1,000) from refugees. Today the Migrant Bill passed through Danish Parliament, despite international opposition. It also means that asylum seekers have to wait three years before they can ask to be reunited with family members.

The Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, has described it as the “most misunderstood bill in Denmark’s history.”  The argument goes that if unemployed Danes aren’t allowed assets before they seek benefits, why should anyone else. Interestingly, it wasn’t just those on the right who voted yes – even many centre-left Social Democrats agree this is a fair policy. And with 70% of Danes putting immigration as a top concern, there is widespread public support towards efforts to curb immigration.

Outsiders seem shocked that ‘welcoming, liberal’ Denmark can be so tough. But the reality is, they don’t care what others think. Danes say they need to protect their borders and their small country of 5.6 million people. But it’s a far cry from the ‘Happiest Country in the World’ name tag that Denmark has enjoyed for so many years.

Danish Referendum: Why the UK should be watching

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I originally wrote this opinion piece for the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, which they translated into Danish (you can read the Danish version here.)

‘More EU? No Thanks!’ shout the posters at me as I walk along the street. As a Briton, I’m quite used to this kind of anti-EU rhetoric. But this isn’t London – it’s Copenhagen.

While the battle over Thursday’s referendum intensifies, few outside Denmark will have any idea it’s even happening. After all, does anyone really care if Danes opt in or stay out of the EU’s Justice and Home Affairs rules? Even a large proportion of Danes themselves seem unsure what the referendum is really about, with around a quarter yet to decide whether they’ll vote yes or no.

But there’s one European country that should be watching this with interest and that’s the United Kingdom. Within the next two years, the UK will hold its own referendum. This won’t simply be about European policing or legal matters. The question British citizens will be asked could affect the whole stability of the European Union; do voters want to remain a part of the EU or do they want to leave altogether? No wonder Prime Minister, David Cameron, is keen to prove he’s doing all he can to secure a better deal for the UK. But, as Danish Statsminister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen is discovering, it isn’t easy.

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Yes and No posters

 

Back in 2013, the government at Westminster opted out of 130 EU criminal justice and law enforcement policies. It was an attempt by Mr Cameron to repatriate powers back from Brussels in order to appease the Eurosceptic wing of his own Conservative party and the UK Independence Party. But after 18 months of fractious argument, ministers finally secured parliamentary approval to opt back into 35 measures. These were considered essential for national security and included the controversial European Arrest Warrant.

That decision has been used by Mr Rasmussen as good reason why Denmark should follow a similar path. Opt in to the Justice and Home Affairs rules, including Europol, and Danes will have more control over policing and the country’s safety, he says. With terrorism on the rise, that has to be in the nation’s best interests, claims the ‘Yes’ campaign.

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The Danish People’s Party (DF) NO campaign

But just like his British counterpart, Mr Rasmussen is facing a tough time from Eurosceptics. Dansk Folkeparti (DF) is doing a pretty good job at turning the whole debate into one about sovereignty and national identity. Vote ‘yes’ in this referendum, claims DF, and you will be opening the door to European asylum and immigration policies next. Rasmussen may have ruled this out, but given the current refugee crisis, DF is successfully using this argument as a weapon of fear. And anyway, the party claims, whatever the other side argues, of course we can stick with the current parallel agreements so there’s no need for ‘more EU’.

No-one, though, can forget that Denmark has voted ‘Nej’ before – in the referendum on joining the euro. Eurosceptics across the continent will be delighted if voters in this small nation do so again, none more so than those in the UK. They may be very different votes, but if the Danes can do it twice, what’s to stop the Brits from doing it just once? So we watch, and wait.

Bond Premiere: Spectre comes to Copenhagen

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Stars on stage before ‘Spectre’ began

Last night my husband and I were lucky enough to be at the Nordic premiere for the latest James Bond film, ‘Spectre’ which was held in Copenhagen. We were guests of the British Embassy, who put on a drinks reception at the Imperial Hotel, right next to the cinema.

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My husband and I pretending we own an Aston Martin, complete with 007 number plate!

Before we even entered the hotel lobby, we were able to grab a photo next to an Aston Martin, complete with 007 number plate.

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The British Ambassador, Vivien Life

Once inside we mingled with the great and the good including actors and politicians, while the British Ambassador, Vivien Life, reminded us Bond fans just how Great Britain is (we already know!). It was fun to finally meet the US Ambassador, Rufus Gifford, who’s yet again taking Denmark by storm with his latest TV show.

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Nick with the US Ambassador, Rufus Gifford

A short walk round the block and we were inside the cinema, watching as Scandinavian stars hit the red carpet (actually it was blue). I confess that I didn’t recognise many.

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Bond Girl, Lea Seydoux

 

But we all knew when the latest Bond Girl arrived, Lea Seydoux, who thankfully places a strong and intelligent woman. She was with the Danish actor Jesper Christensen who takes up his role as Mr White in the film. And there was plenty of drink and entertainment.

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Pretending we are stars!

It was, though, the movie that we’d all come to see and after the audience was introduced to the stars on stage, we sat back and watched. Right from the start the film is gripping with stunning cinematography. I’m still not sure whether it’s better than ‘Skyfall’, but if you like action-packed Bond films, you can’t miss ‘Spectre’. It was a night I won’t forget.