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.

Denmark says ‘Nej’ to more EU

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The front page of Danish tabloid, Ekstra Bladet

The Danes have done it before and now they’ve done it again. Just when Brussels was counting on Denmark to vote ‘yes’ in an EU referendum, the country has said ‘no’. Or as one tabloid headline put it rather delicately this morning: “Løkke fik f***-fingeren”, which loosely translates as Denmark gave their prime minister the finger.

So what was at stake here? Well a cross-party group of politicians, lead by Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, was hoping to persuade Danes to opt-in to EU Justice and Home Affairs rules. These included becoming an official member of the European police service, Europol, the law enforcement body that tackles crime and terrorism. (As you can read here in my previous blog, the UK signed up to some of these rules last December.)

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Leader of the Danish People’s Party (DF) Kristian Thulesen Dahl

But the no campaign, led by the Eurosceptic Danish People’s Party (DF), turned the referendum into one about trust. Who do you really believe here – the parties wanting to give away more powers to Brussels, or those of us who want to keep our sovereignty in Denmark? To Brits, it sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it? Add to the mix, the refugee crisis plus mass confusion about what Danes were really being asked to vote about, and you get this result – 53.1% ‘Nej’ and 46.9% ‘Ja’.

So what happens now? Well to be honest, no-one seems quite sure. Fast forward a couple of years and if David Cameron loses the EU referendum in the UK he’ll surely resign. But that doesn’t seem to be the precedent here in Denmark. Lars Løkke Rasmussen may only preside over a right-of-centre minority government, but he had support on both the left and right.

And what about Denmark’s membership of Europol? The Danish People’s Party had always argued that the country could negotiate a separate agreement to stay in, but no-one is sure whether that will be possible. Prime Minister, Rasmussen, is due to meet EU ministers next week to try to strike a deal. So it looks like more talking and compromise lies ahead.

Ahead of the Brexit referendum, David Cameron and co must be feeling a little hotter under the collar today. Already the British Eurosceptic UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, has told Danish media “hopefully our British counterparts will suffer the same fate”.  Afterall if the Danes can do it, what’s to stop the Brits from being next?

Danish TV Drama 1864 coming soon to the BBC

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Selfie with Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen

Last year I was lucky enough to go to the Danish premiere of ‘1864’ a new historical drama that was about to air in Denmark. When I say ‘premiere’ this was as far removed from a red carpet event as you can get. Think low key and relaxed – so relaxed that the film broke down several times as we watched episodes 1 and 2. Anyway, this coming weekend it airs in the UK on BBC 4.

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Some of the cast. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Scanpix

‘1864’ is based around the nineteenth century Schleswig-Holstein war that re-wrote Danish history. It resulted in the loss of 5,000 Danish lives and more than a third of the country’s territory.  But don’t think this is just a boring old history lesson – it’s a powerful, human drama.

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Lars Mikkelsen with two young male stars

This series has some of Denmark’s biggest stars of TV and film. I did rather embarrass myself by asking Sidse Babette Knudsen, who played Prime Minister, Birgitte Nyborg, in Borgen, for a selfie. But hey, you only live once. Then there’s Lars Mikkelsen from the Killing and House of Cards, Søren Malling from both The Killing and Borgen plus many more.

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Sidse Babett Knudsen with two young female stars

You can read much more about ‘1864’ in the articles I wrote for the Danish news site ‘The Local’ including an interview with my hero Sidse. But suffice to say that despite being the most expensive Danish drama ever made, it didn’t prove very popular here in Denmark. Let’s hope the Brits like it a little more.

http://www.thelocal.dk/20141002/denmarks-new-tv-drama-will-entertain-and-educate

http://www.thelocal.dk/20141012/tv-drama-1864-fights-to-win-over-the-danes

UPDATE: I was on BBC Radio Four’s ‘Front Row’ on Wednesday evening discussing 1864. You can listen to the show here and I am five minutes from the end.

Copenhagen unites after terror attacks

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Thousands attend Copenhagen memorial

I’ve just returned from a very moving public memorial to those killed and injured in the terror attacks in Copenhagen at the weekend. Thousands of people gathered in Østerbro near the Krudttonden cafe, where the first shooting took place, to hear speeches and music. Despite the crowds this was typically Danish – calm, respectful, united.

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Flowers laid near the seen of the first shooting

Among the speakers was Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt. She spoke mostly in Danish but also offered her thanks in both English and French to those supporting Denmark in its time of need. “We feel we are not alone,” she said to big cheers. Also on stage was the French ambassador to Denmark, François Zimeray, who was caught up in the first attack. He talked about this being a ‘before and after’ life event and thanked the Danish police, acknowledging that without them “I wouldn’t be standing here”.

And everywhere I looked you couldn’t fail to see the increased police presence. Of course, that’s what you’d expect in a city that’s been under attack. But having lived in Copenhagen for almost two years, it’s not what I’m used to. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have seen a police officer, yet alone one armed. In this capital, everything seems safe: young children cycle alone to school; parents leave sleeping babies in prams outside restaurants; children still play on the streets.

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Some of the crowd

There is a danger that this freedom and openness will now be lost. The country has a lot to deal with, not least the very public debate it’s been having for some time about immigration and integration. Tonight I felt hope that Denmark will do all it can to stay united. But with an election later this year, I just hope that won’t be exploited.

Why Denmark’s health service needs treatment

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A leaflet explaining the emergency phone line

At the beginning of the year, Greater Copenhagen brought in a new health rule.  It decided that patients needing emergency care shouldn’t just turn up at hospital.  Instead they should call a helpline number – 1813 – where trained staff would access the problem over the phone and decide whether or not the patient needed to go to accident and emergency.  If they felt the person did they would book him/her an appointment at either the local hospital or the one with the shortest waiting time.

The system hasn’t proved popular.  Danish news has been full of stories about people waiting in endless phone queues to speak to a health professional.  Others have described being turned away from hospital because they didn’t call the helpline first.  Then in March a woman suffering with chest pains called the hotline and was advised by the on-call doctor to take two painkillers and go back to bed.  An hour later she was dead.

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Information in English about the emergency phone line

On the fist day of my four-year-old son’s summer holiday, he managed to fall out of a tree house.  He was in severe pain and his arm looked very red and blotchy.  My husband called the 1813 number and a nurse called me back so that I could describe his symptoms.  By then Charlie was calmer and the nurse assured me I did not need to take him to hospital because his arm wasn’t broken.  How did she know when she hadn’t seen him?  She told me that because he could move his fingers it couldn’t be broken.  So we followed her advice and found ice from the freezer and gave him some calpol.

The next morning he seemed happier but was still in obvious pain.  A friend of mine who was a GP back in Ireland said she’d take a look at him.  She told me that she thought he had a fracture and that I needed to get him x-rayed.  Half an hour later and I was still waiting to speak to a nurse on the 1813 helpline to book an appointment.  When I finally did get through she told me she couldn’t guarantee he’d be x-rayed but I could go along to hospital and wait.

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Charlie following surgery

We were finally seen – almost 24 hours after the accident.  The doctor, who was both friendly and attentive, agreed to have him x-rayed and guess what, his arm had two fractures – one big, one small.  He was put in a plaster cast up to his shoulder by two more doctors who again couldn’t have been nicer.  But the cast was fairly soft and when my husband took Charlie back for a check-up six days later an x-ray showed the bone had set incorrectly.  Charlie needed a full operation under general anaesthetic to re-break the bone, insert two metal pins and then spend another five weeks in plaster.

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Charlie with his nurse after his first op

Thankfully the op went well and the staff at Hvidovre Hospital couldn’t have been more professional, friendly and caring towards Charlie – they even gave him a teddy bear.  This week he underwent his second op to have both the pins and plaster cast removed.  Again the staff were fabulous and so too were the facilities.

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Charlie after his second op with another great nurse

But that doesn’t change the fact that the Danish health care system got it wrong.  In the UK the health hotline has also been criticised.  But members of the public can still turn up at A and E at any time of the day or night to see a doctor – even if the wait can be long.

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The metal pins inserted into Charlie’s arm

There’s no denying that once in the Danish hospital system it was impressive – clean, lots of attentive staff, state-of-the-art equipment.  Sadly, despite the enormous tax Danes pay, accessing those services isn’t easy.  I hope politicians and bureaucrats see sense and sort it out sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

A Year in Copenhagen

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I can’t really believe it’s been twelve months since we left London for Copenhagen. But in June last year we started our new Danish life. On the whole it’s been a fantastic adventure and I personally feel it’s been one of the best decisions we’ve made as a family. That’s not to say things have all been perfect – they certainly haven’t. But here are some of the highlights:

Family living

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Monocle magazine has yet again voted Copenhagen as the world’s most liveable city in 2014. You can read a previous blog here about why life in Denmark is not perfect, but on the whole it is a very easy city. The working hours are generally shorter than in the UK. That means we can actually see Charlie in the evenings, which wasn’t the case in London. The child care system doesn’t break us financially, which is the way it was going in the UK. Sadly for us the Danish education system didn’t work out (see my previous blog here). But Copenhagen City Council still pays for half of Charlie’s international pre-school fees which is pretty generous (one of the reasons why tax is so high here). Transport is also good, including cycling (see later). And living less than a 10 minute walk from the beach is just great.

Making new friends

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I miss my family and friends but I have met some wonderful people here in Copenhagen from all over the world. Some of them have befriended me through my swimming class, some through Charlie’s kindergartens and others via friends.

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Inga and her granddaughter Emma with Charlie and me

We’ve also been lucky enough to meet a distant relative, Inga Peetz, who has been so kind to us – even offering us her home to live in when we first arrived. I’ve also been pretty pro-active at befriending people in the various playgrounds dotted around this city. When you move abroad you have to be brave and talk to people – I’m quite good at talking!

Learning how to ride a bike again

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Copenhagen is a cycling city and I can’t tell you how great it is being able to bike safely – whether it’s taking Charlie to pre-school or cycling to work or swimming lessons. I blogged last August about learning to ride a bike again which you can read here. You’ll be pleased to hear I’ve got a little faster.

Triathlon training
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Which leads me on to exercise. What’s happened to me? I’ve never been one for being particularly active, but not only have I started cycling, I’ve also found myself running.

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With our medals – Charlie photo bombing the photo!

And having rekindled my love of swimming, this month I completed my first mini-triathlon (read all about it here!) My next aim is to take part in a 2 km swim around Copenhagen, along with my ex-pat swimming group, starting from ‘Borgen’, the Danish Parliament.

Learning to freelance

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Reporting from Eurovision for Al Jazeera English

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Working at Saxo TV with former ITN employees Angus Walker and Owen Thomas

Until I moved here, I’d worked for ITV News for fourteen years. Some of that was in regional news and the final few years were for national ITN, based in the House of Commons in Westminster. It was obviously a big deal walking away from a prestigious job. But since August I have been a freelance reporter for Al Jazeera English TV; I’ve been reporting for the business channel Saxo TV (with some former ITN employees – small world!); written articles including one for a UK magazine on Danish politics in which I found myself interviewing PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt; interviewed the Oscar-winning director Susanne Bier; and to top it all I’ve found myself editing the newsletter for LINK, a women’s expat group based here.

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Interviewing Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt

Learning Danish

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A quiet drink after passing our Danish exam

From my previous blogs, you’ll see that I’ve struggled with learning Danish. I’m no pro but I was so pleased to pass my Module One exam. And at least I can ask for bread in Danish, even if the reply is always in English.
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So would I recommend this adventure to anyone else?  The first few months were tough but one year on, the answer is undoubtedly yes.