I suspect my daughter is a reincarnated lama complete with the latent knowledge of a thousand lifetimes. Most 3 year olds are still fairly new to the game of language and focus on what is directly before their senses; not so with little Trippy.
On the flight back from Copenhagen, Denmark to Bristol in the UK she studied the laminated sheet she had found in the string pocket at the back of the seat in front of her. My wife told me that our daughter pointed at the picture of the plane on a blue background and asked, “Is this when we land in the sea?”
“And this is when we land on grass?”
A bit wrong there.
The cabin flight attendant starts the demonstration and little Trippy takes out the safety guidelines again. She is busy nodding her head as she cross-references what is written and what is explained.
“I can’t find my lifejacket!”
“That’s just for long flights, chicken.”
Trippy Junior is deflected from the logical mission of locating her lifejacket. There is no doubt, however, that she has grasped the nub of the matter as far as air flight safety goes.
For the reader perplexed by the lies we tell our child, I should point out that telling a child the truth just leads to more questions, and more mental activity than is suitable for a 3-year old. Lies – they are the best tonic for a gentle emergence from the darkness of ignorance to the weak light of the facts of life. There is plenty of time to discover that England is shit at football. Plenty of time to discover the enervating things that blight the joy of life such as work, alarm clocks, heart break and long winters.
Moreover, a lama will see the truth soon enough, despite our interference, and will hopefully judge our parental efforts with compassion.
We took our young daughter to visit her 93-year-old great grandmother in Denmark. I am half Danish on my mother’s side, and so my daughter is a quarter Danish. As much Danish as she is English in terms of blood. It seemed important to make the trip for this reason. It seemed foolish to postpone since her great grandmother is surely not going to be around for much longer, and on top of that the old lady’s eyesight is down to about 10%.
We travelled by EasyJet from Bristol to Copenhagen and then to Fredericia on the mainland. The train ticket in Denmark cost more than the airplane ticket to Denmark. That is one absurdity I can never get my head around. Low-cost carriers are better for the consumer but worse for the environment. It clearly shows short term economic gain trumps long term environmental health. Most people go along with it without a comment showing that either they are ignorant about the mechanics of global warming or they just don’t give a shit. I guess I am in the latter camp. I am resigned to the fact that the world is becoming a shittier and shittier place.
The train journey was uneventful, like the flat landscape. The long bridge and tunnel linking Copenhagen Island to the mainland was vaguely impressive. Why put your capital on an island anyway?
What did grab my attention was the cost of Copenhagen airport. A hotdog cost £5.70. A can of Carlsberg from WH Smiths cost £4.30. Nearly a tenner for a hotdog and beer. That is outrageous and made the £200 I changed at the airport seem totally inadequate like Max Clifford’s dick.
I don’t really think of myself as European. I can’t speak any language other than English. Europe is a place us Brits go on our holidays. Nowadays it seems Brits are protected from all European influences by that nasty thing called the all-inclusive holiday. Another way of big business stitching up the little man.
It’s not something I will ever do. My ideal is not a swimming pool, sunshine and a free buffet and bar. I want to see how things are different. I want to struggle getting by in a foreign country; getting on a train; ordering food; and interacting with the locals. The contact is everything. It is instructive.
And indeed, this trip has rewarded me with watching my daughter experience something new. It has also given me plenty of food for thought.
Back home the argument rages on about the UK’s participation in Europe. At the same time the Scots are about to vote whether they want to break away from England and Wales. On the international front surrogate war has just been fought in Brazil on the football pitch. National identity has come to the fore of politics.
The first thing that struck me about Denmark is how expensive everything is. It got me down until I realised that people must get paid a hell of a lot of money to afford to live in such a country.
The next thing that struck me was that the food is mostly bread, meat, cheese and potatoes. Do they not grow vegetables? They must be chronically constipated. That might account for the noticeably large amount of joggers I have spotted in my walks around town. And yet, the people are generally slimmer. The women are beautiful. My grandmother is not stunning anymore but at 93 she is remarkable for the fact that she has all her marbles. She can’t see too well, but she can think just fine. Her acerbic comments still manage to find their mark. My wife works in an old people’s home in the UK where the main affliction is loss of mental capacity. We are doing something seriously wrong in the UK to make so many young people overweight and so many old people bereft of memory.
By my second day in Denmark the general well-being, good manners and fine architecture of the place was beginning to get me riled. To my mind the UK suffered in comparison. We have the fields, hedgerows, ancient trees and fine buildings but something is lacking in the comparison.
My first conclusion is laden with negative political connotation. Denmark is blessed with a small population. We are jammed into a small island. We have a housing crisis that makes stupid Londoners feel rich and the rest of us poor. We seem overwhelmed by the number of people needing help from the state. From the number of people needing a job. The UK will never have enough homes or jobs for everyone. That is not the case in Denmark. I wish politicians in Britain would be honest about population and resources. We are about to turn the UK countryside into a fracking factory because we are rapidly running out of ideas, other than the idea we must do everything to help business – namely, allow cheap migrant labour and groundwater pollution. Very much like the USA.
The UK has lost its way. After the war most European countries decided on a set of fundamentals about who they were and what type of society they wanted to create. Denmark is one of those countries. And like most other Western and Southern European countries they have stuck to those principles. The politicians have only been allowed to make tweaks. The right reduce income tax and the left increase income tax and public sector jobs. Democracy has not produced any radical alterations. Naturally Eastern Europe was robbed of this by Russia.
We started to veer off the righteous path under Thatcher. She might have curbed the influence of the unions but the price was far too high. She initiated an ideology that has corroded our guiding values. This is the ideology of privatisation, of the elevation of the financial sector, of blaming minorities for the failings in the economy. Now in 2014 we have a coalition government who openly courts Russian oligarchs and asks Chinese companies to generate our power. We are a country that is losing its identity. We are no longer sure what is beyond the pale. Yesterday it was selling off utilities and the trains. Today it is selling off London and the Post Office. We simply don’t know what they will sell off tomorrow, and more importantly the media, public figures and intellectuals don’t know the limits either. The Queen who represents tradition has said nothing. She doesn’t see that what is at stake is more than the position of her family.
You ask any European and they have a clear idea about what their country is about. When ideologues and the IMF and European Bank have gone too far they know to get on the street and pull up the paving stones and throw them at the police. They cannot articulate the social contract, but they instinctively, intuitively feel transgressions.
In the UK people have tried to fight back but our polity has failed us. Maggie followed by Tony has been a disaster. Both were ideologues with no recognition of the limits. Seeking to write themselves in the history books they have sold off the country and caused irreparable damage. They have made a handful of people obscenely rich. Fuck America. They are not the example to follow. We might not feel European, but we have more in common with them. Nobody in the UK wants to see poverty like in the US, gun crime like the US, paranoia like in the US or the corrosion of civil liberties like in the US; but that is what is happening.
No fucking wonder Scotland are about to ditch us. Just like we ditched the basic tenets of our society and economy back in the 1980s.
It gets light at 3.30am and stays light until 11.30pm. That is freaky. Makes me feel it is always early. My internal drinking clock tells me there is still time to crack another beer. I have found small cans of black Faxe beer for 4 Kroner.
No litter. People ride bicycles with baby seats. It is flat. So flat. Less hippies but less suspicions of hippies. Those that I spot are clean and non-threatening. Not high, not begging, not loitering. Rather a colourful addition to the experience of Denmark.
If Viagra was a country it would be Denmark. Tall, blonde, statuesque, stunning; not to mention intelligent, well-educated and multi-lingual. The type of women with whom you would want to use live ammunition. No doubt awesome in the bedroom and more than capable of amassing vast sums of money through upper-middle class employment. Whereas I suspect lots of men would be put off by sexy, bold, smart and high-achieving women, I would relish the experience. In a parallel universe there is a version of me shacked up with a blonde goddess who goes to the office every morning and leaves me to tend my plants and ponder Indian ideas.
As we wondered around Copenhagen for a few hours before our return flight to Bristol my wife said something about not being impressed. I tried to guess what she was talking about but couldn’t drag my eyes away from the bonanza of long legs, big breasts, pretty faces and white hair on display. It’s like visiting an alien world where the population are sort of humanoid, just superior, more evolved. Indeed they were so evolved that some of the uber-honeys actually smiled at me despite my middle-aged, raggle-taggle appearance. That parallel universe was looking mighty inviting.
Description is over-rated in writing. To see what Denmark looks like watch the YouTube Video above. Instead I thought I would treat you to Denmark facts.
If the price of a good country is 49 Kroner for a hotdog, it is a price worth paying. It has to be remembered that the minimum wage in Denmark is £20 an hour. Compare that to the £6.31 I get in the UK. Also consider that health care is free, university education is free and care of the elderly is free and second to none. The Danes get a fair bit back for their high tax rates. They can see how they all benefit; how it is part of being Danish. They don’t seem to begrudge paying high taxes.
Compare that with the UK where everyone moans about tax and wastes of taxpayers’ money, especially by Islamic extremists / illegal immigrants. In the UK we use tax payers’ money to keep people who are working in rented accommodation. The rents are too high and rather than let market forces reduce rents and house prices we use public money to subsidise landlords. We moan about our taxes being wasted on the wastrel poor but a lot of it goes straight into the pockets of the rich. Remember the bank bail outs, anyone?
From our balcony in Fredericia I see a dozen flag poles of which four are permanently flying the narrow version of the Danish flag. I don’t think they are nationalists in the right wing sense of hating non-Danes. They are just proud to be Danish. They grasp what Denmark stands for and they are happy to pay their taxes and show their allegiance to the concept.
My grandmother gets social service visits every day, often 4 times a day. They clean her flat, they do her shopping. They give her physiotherapy, health check-ups and will take her for jollies around the city if she asks. It is all at great expense since professionals are paid large salaries in Denmark. Perhaps it is money well spent as mormor, as she is known to me, completely has her wits about her. Although frail with age, she can still get about with the help of a walking frame. She lives on her own not in a home. I have never seen so much dignity given to the old. And it is all free, on the Danish National Health System. Since everyone grows old there is good reason not to complain about this lavish treatment.
(What fills me with hope is that mormor smoked ciggies and cigars until a few years ago.)
I had a look at the price of houses in Fredericia. A small 3 bedroom house in town costs about £187,000. That seems cheap compared to the UK. To re-state, it shows how ridiculous house prices are in Britain.
My uncle and aunt are bankers. My aunt is retired and my uncle just works a few days a month. They alternate between living in Silkeborg and at the northernmost tip of the Jutland peninsula called Skagen. They live a rarefied life of stylish artefacts, restaurant meals and status symbols. They have a calm about them that is typical of Danes. I wouldn’t have thought much more about it until I realised that the well-off I know in the UK have this mental tick whereby their enjoyment of their money is tainted by the thought of how much they have to pay in tax. My rich Danish family don’t seem to be similarly afflicted despite having to no doubt hand over vast sums to the Danish Inland Revenue. Odd that.
The comparison between the UK and Denmark is made more striking when you consider both have oil and gas fields. Whereas, we don’t have enough natural resources, the Danes do. In Fredericia the heating for its 40,000 residents is provided by heat waste from factories. It is organised at a municipal level and it is cheap. Why can’t we do that in the UK? Oh yeah, because we sold off the utilities companies 20 years ago. Their mission is to make money not to provide cheap electricity, gas and water. Their shares are bought and sold and hedged and distilled through ‘financial packages’ to make a few needlessly rich. These rich folk don’t give a fuck about the UK since they do their best to avoid paying tax. The present government tells us how we have the most important financial sector in the world, but we fail to feel comforted by this. It doesn’t build a national identity, it instead divides. We don’t perceive the wealth to be shared, rather we imagine it to be taken away by foreigners and wealthy Brits. Even Gary Barlow doesn’t want to share his millions.
One section of the movie The Time Machine (1960) presented us with a prelapsarian vision of the future where people frolic in a garden, contented and harmonious. An ideal society somewhat like Denmark. In the movie, the central protagonist, the time traveller, is appalled to discover that this utopian society have left the library books to mildew and decay. The price of happiness seems to be a lack of intellectual and artistic endeavour. On the contrary, the youth in Denmark spend far less time than their British counterparts fiddling with their phones and mobile devices.
Denmark has contributed Niels Bohr, Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Anderson to world civilisation. The UK, in contrast, has been a heavy weight in terms of world culture. It seems unnecessary to make a list of writers, artists, scientists and musicians hailing from Britain. The trouble is that we rest too much on our laurels. Not only as a nation are we producing less geniuses, but we also live in a shitty society with shitty politicians. We are also getting uglier and fatter. As we degenerate we have an increasing sense of entitlement that is in inverse proportion to our human worth.
Later on in the flight, Trippy Junior found the inflight magazine. She flicked through the glossy pages of booze, perfume and fags until she found the toys. These pages she studied carefully.
“Daddy, are my arms longer than when I was 2-years old?”
“I need a new watch to fit my longer arms.”
“Can I have this Disney watch?” She held up the magazine and pointed at the watch in question. “Please, daddy.”
“That’s just for long flights.”
Disney is surely the biggest impediment to enlightenment. I will mention this to the envoy sent by the Tibetan government-in-exile when they find our humble riverside abode in cloudy Britain.