Thursday, May 04, 2006

Getting Started

This blog serves two main purposes, Firstly it's place I come to rant, rave and moan about living in Sweden - a sort of a mental sauna where I can let off steam.

Secondly, it's to remind myself that Sweden actually has a lot of wonderful qualities, infectiously friendly people, great food (if you like herrings) and stunning natural scenery. OK, so it snows for five months of the year and gets so cold your skin actually freezes, but then you can't have everything can you?

So if you're a Swede (or like me married to one), then please don't take anything I write too seriously.

If you do take offence remember that I live in Norrland, so the chances of finding me are extremely remote.

I always love to get your feedback, so remember to send in your comments!

Friday, April 28, 2006

A law unto Myself

Excerpt taken from The Local - a Swedish 'English Language' newspaper.

Sweden's largest Muslim organisation has demanded that Sweden introduce separate laws for Muslims, according to Swedish television.

Sweden's equality minister Jens Orback called the proposals "completely unacceptable".

The Swedish Muslim Association, which represents around 70,000 Muslims in Sweden, has sent a letter to all Sweden's main political parties suggesting a number of reforms, SVT's Rapport programme reported.

The proposals include allowing imams into state (public) schools to give Muslim children separate lessons in Islam and their parents' native languages. The letter also said that boys and girls should have separate swimming lessons and that divorces between Muslims should be approved by an imam.

The letter provoked an instant, and damning, response from integration and equality minister Jens Orback."We will not have separate laws in Sweden. In Sweden, we are all equal before the law. In Sweden, we have fought for a long time to achieve gender-neutral laws, and to propose that certain groups should not be treated like others is completely unacceptable."

Orback said he had spoken to representatives of the Swedish Muslim Council, and they did not support the association's position."We have freedom of speech, we have the right to opinions and we have the right to make proposals - but if a law is going to be changed, it must be the same for everyone."

Asked whether the proposal plays into the hands of racists, Orback said that it did.

Actually I think Mr Orback is being a bit difficult, don't you?

For several years I too have been giving serious thought to writing a letter to the Swedish government calling for a few new laws to be passed to make my expat life here in Sweden a little bit more like home.

In it I’ve outlined my plans for a new law that makes it possible for all English people to drink in pubs any day of the week for just £2.50 a pint (I've obviously suggested the abolition of the Swedish Kronor and the introduction of British currency to achieve this), as well as another law that ensures SKY Sports is installed free of charge in the homes of all Englishmen (and spouses) so we can watch Premiership football at the weekends.

In addition I've called for the traffic to be switched back to the left-hand side of the road and for all the Swedish pizza restaurants to be immediately replaced with Indian ones.

I’ve also demanded the following:

  • All School children up to the age of 16 must wear school uniform and call their teachers Sir or Miss.
  • St George’s Day (the national day of England) should be made a public Bank holiday in Sweden.
  • Father Christmas should be forced to hand out presents on Christmas Day and not Christmas Eve, as is currently the tradition in Sweden.
  • Any attempt to put fermenting herrings into a tin should result in immediate arrest and long-term imprisonment.
  • Moms (VAT) should be lowered in line with the UK from 25% to 17.5% - but just for the English.

I’m very hopeful for a positive response from those nice people in the Swedish Government. After all, it only seems reasonable now that I live here, don’t you think?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Dreaming of Spring

I think I knew something was different before I even opened my eyes this morning.

Pulling myself wearily out of bed I shuffled over to the window, pulled the blinds and gazed outside. Warm rays of early morning sunlight forced me to screw up my eyes and warmed my face – in that instant I knew Spring had finally arrived.

I love April. As unpredictable as a pregnant wife, it signals the end of the winter and the start of longer, warmer days ahead.

April is nature’s way of wiping the slate clean, giving you the chance to forget all about the cold and the snow and start again. For me it’s the first real month of the year – a time for optimism, a time to make plans and dream dreams.

Like a bear from a cave, you can finally emerge from your house after the long, dark winter months and reclaim the great outdoors. There’s nothing like a crisp spring morning to rejuvenate the soul, taking long walks through the fields, frozen dew softly crackling under your feet as day by day the watery April sun rises ever higher over the horizon.

Or being caught out in an April shower, getting soaked to the bone while dodging for shelter in shop doorways. But you don't get angry - rather just invigorated.

I love April for the daisies – the true April flower – which stubbornly push their way through the green grass and spatter the lawns and fields with Easter colour as birds sit in the thickening hedgerows singing courtship songs to each other.

In just a few days we’ll be able to hear the first call of the cuckoo, followed by Swallow day on April 15th, when the chimney swallows make their spectacular return from their winter retreat.

In April everything just seems a little easier – a little more alive. People have a spring in their step and smiles on their faces. You can’t help feeling somehow reborn, as if swept up in nature’s enthusiasm to show what it can really do.

As I looked out of the window this morning I knew something was different. The light in my eyes was stronger now – almost blinding.

“Wake up Daddy”, said Tom, as he pointed the torch right into my face.

Pulling myself wearily out of bed I shuffled over to the window, pulled the blinds and gazed outside.

“Bollocks” I thought to myself. “I forgot. I live in Norrland”.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Explosive Fish Grounded

I read with delight on the BBC news website that several major airlines have now banned surströmming from being allowed on board and classified it alongside dangerous weapons like shoe bombs and firearms.

Couldn't agree more. Fish left to rot in a can for over six months is without a doubt a potentially explosive substance - particularly after it's been eaten.

By banning it British Airways and Air France (who for once are in complete agreement on something) are doing a great service to the rest of Europe by stopping the export of this disgusting delicacy.

Of course the chairman of the Swedish Rotten Herring Society doesn't quite see it that way.

According to the Beeb, he thinks the airlines should ban explosive bottles of champagne and smelly French cheese ahead of his beloved Baltic herrings.

In response I think the airlines should ban him from ever getting onboard one of their planes again. Gathering by the amount of surstömming he eats throughout the year he's probably both smelly and explosive enough to be considered a real danger to fellow flyers.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Not quite there

When you live abroad, or anywhere that isn't home, there are sometime days when you just feel out of place - as though you're here, but not quite there.

Today is one of those days for me.

So this evening I've written some song lyrics about it. Here are the first four verses, but I'm still working on a chorus.

Not quite there

Here I am to stay, yet many miles away
Are people that care
Same trees, same stars, same sky
Yet still I don’t know why
even though I’m here
I’m not quite there

There’s people all around, mouths move but there’s no sound
I don’t understand
Why everything tastes so wrong,
and that I don’t belong
even though I’m here,
I’m not quite there

I try and get things right, brave face, put up a fight
But it feels so unfair
It’s a little part of me,
I don’t let others see,
Even though I’m here,
I’m not quite there

When I’m all alone, my thoughts drift off back home
It’s as though I was there
But this is my life now,
I’ll make it work somehow
Even though I’m here,
It doesn’t really matter where,

I’m not quite there……..

(ps: next post will be funnier)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

As Rolf Harris Would Say........

Can you guess what it is yet............?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

It’s Official – France Makes You Fat

Mon Dieu. I’ve become fat.

Of course I blame the French. Not content with banning our beef, ‘re-locating’ all their illegal immigrants across the channel tunnel and bleeding the EU dry so they can pay their farmers to sit on their fat subsidised arses they’ve somehow made it impossible for me to button up my jeans.

By way of explanation I should mention that I’ve just returned from a week’s holiday visiting family in the tiny village of Fonroque some 20 kilometres south of Bergerac. Stepping on the bathroom scales this morning I saw to my absolute horror the needle nudging the 80 KG mark for the very first time in my life.

That’s twelve and a half stone in real money.

I put it down to the rain. We had the misfortune to arrive at the start of the wettest March in the Bergerac region in living memory.

To escape the miserable weather we retreated into bars and restaurants, where we spent hours gorging ourselves on French food, from foie gras, delicately smoked ham, roasted quails, oysters from the Bay of Arcachon to rough country pates and saucisson-sec.

And then, sacre bleu, there was the cheese.

If there’s animal walking on God’s earth that produces milk, the French can turn it into cheese. And we ate it. All of it. Every last delicious bit of it.

Of course, the French custom of eating a white baguette with every single meal didn’t exactly help my rapidly expanding waistline either.

And have I mentioned the wine? Each day we started off around 12 noon with a chilled bottle or three of sweet Bergerac Rose (to refine our palate after the five glasses of Grimbergen Belgium beer we’d been drinking since 10.30am). We then progressed to uncomplicated reds (often the very drinkable local ‘table’ wine that you can buy by the litre if you bring your own empty plastic bottle for just 1.90 Euro) before popping the cork of a red with a bolder tannic structure to ensure we felt suitable shitty the next morning.

Six days of total culinary abuse that would make a Roman emperor proud have resulted in happy memories and two additional kilos of fat.

So now I’ve embarked on a one-month detox regime, surviving on a strict diet of water and low GI foods, avoiding pasta, rice, bread, butter and practically everything else I like. I’ve also been to the gym every day this week. Next week I’m even planning on going inside it.

Before you know it I’ll look like a condom full of walnuts. Until then, my mind keeps drifting back to those long, smoky evenings leaning against the bar of Le Pub, drinking wine and playing darts with rich French farmers………

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Seriously Sporty Swedes

Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson summed it up rather nicely.

“Sweden may not be a big country, but we are a big sporting nation”.

For a country with just nine million inhabitants, Gorän’s right on the money. Sweden consistently produces elite sportsmen and women in seemingly every sport ever invented (except cricket – although if someone managed to explain the rules to them I’m sure they’d be world champions at that too).

If you wonder why such a small country can churn out such big sporting stars then you really need look no further than Stockholm’s Arlanda airport.

Yesterday I was travelling back up to Umeå when I walked through the airport’s Sky City area to find it has been has been transformed into a Winter Olympic ‘village’ complete with huge screen TV, ski simulation machines, a digital rock climbing wall and dozens of other sports-related activities for people of all ages.

There’s even a fully-stocked bar for would-be athletes like myself in need of some rigorous après ski training.

The place was overflowing with Swedes glued to the screen, cheering on their alpine sporting heroes and clapping each other on the back. It’s all hugely impressive and clearly underlines why this country is such a competitive colossal – Swedes take sport seriously.

Tonight, when the Swedish men’s ice hockey team played the Olympic quarter finals they delayed the daily children’s programmes until the match had finished. Over on the other channel they stayed on air to watch Anja Pärson slalom her way to a much deserved Olympic gold – not hesitating to push the nightly news back half an hour.

Planes have crashed into skyscrapers, tidal waves have swept through Asia, cartoons have been published in Denmark and never once has the news been moved from its sacred 6pm slot. Until a big-hearted chunk of a girl from Tärnaby took gold in Turin that is.

It just goes to show what sport really means to Swedes. They’re good at it because they take it seriously. In my book they deserve every medal, every award and every title they get.

If you’re reading this Tony Blair, you might want to put some of your Olympic Committee chums on the next flight out to Stockholm. They may learn just learn a thing or two.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sick of English

Varecilla-Zoster. Have you ever heard of it?

Well in plain English it’s called Chickenpox, and my son Tom’s got it. He looks like a bottle of tomato ketchup has just exploded all over him and his little sister keeps running after him with a pen trying to join up all the dots.

While reading up on this virus I discovered the following bit of cheerful news on netdoctoruk – “if exposed to an infected family member, about 80% to 90% of those in a household who haven't had chickenpox will get it”.

Therefore the odds my daughter Elli will avoid catching this highly contagious form of the herpes virus are about as slim as the Algerian downhill skier Christelle Laura Douibi’s chances of a podium finish at this year’s Winter Olympics.

Incidently, have you ever wondered why Chickenpox got its name? Thankfully it has nothing to do with the H5N1 bird flu virus, but it also has nothing to do with chickens either. It is believed the name derived from the rather odd observation that the red spots look like chickpeas on the skin.

This is not something that immediately springs to my mind when I look at my son.

In fact they look far more like small water-filled boils. Which is why the Swedish term for Chicken Pox – Vattkoppor (watery boils) - is considerably more descriptively accurate.

Indeed Swedes don’t muck about when it comes to describing medical conditions. They tell it like it is, rather than us English, who prefer to give things rather more complicated and convoluted titles.

Take urinvägsinfektion (urinal ‘way’ infection) for example. We call that Cystitus, which is more reminiscent of a Roman Emperor than an excruciatingly painful bladder complaint.

What about the remarkably straight forward Swedish lunginflammation (lung inflammation), known in English as the impossible-to-spell pneumonia.

Can anyone guess what hjärnblödning (brain bleeding) describes? Why yes, it’s a stroke – an English word that makes this sometimes fatal medical condition sound almost rather pleasant.

It all goes to prove you feel much better if you’re sick in Swedish. At least you know what’s wrong with you.

Monday, February 13, 2006

20 Minutes Ago

Sometimes it does me good just to shut up and take a look around.

This was the view outside my house taken 20 minutes ago. It's minus 8 degrees, the sun is just breaking over the treetops and during the night there's been the most spectacular 'rimfrost' (less poetically known in English as a hoare frost).

Umeå - it will probably never host the Winter Olympics, but it can be breathtakingly beautiful sometimes.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

What the Puck? Part 2

Monday, January 6th

7.45pm: Looking out of the window it’s minus 6 degrees, snowing heavily, with a 24km/h wind lashing the tree tops. There’s fifteen minutes until I’m supposed to play my weekly outdoor game of hockey with enormous Swedish men. Surely they won’t play in this sort of weather?

7.50pm: The children are refusing to go to bed, so I grab my skates and walk up to the ice-rink to avoid having to read Harry Potter. I’m confident there’ll be no play tonight.

7.55pm: Arrive at the ice-rink to find seven guys frantically skating from side to side with snow shovels to clear the rink. In England we’d have called the National Guard out in weather conditions like this. The absolute last thing we’d have contemplated is playing ice-hockey in it.

8pm: Bollocks. Nothing to do but lace up and get out there. Game starts well when I attempt to tackle Johan (a local hairdresser confidently dressed in a Björklöven jersey and a pair of expensive looking sports glasses) but somehow miss and perform a triple salko (in the pike position) before crashing down on the ice. Not good hockey, but rather spectacular in its own way, even if I do say so myself.

9pm: Been playing an hour now and my eyebrows are frozen. I’ve got a strange taste in my mouth like I’m sucking a battery and I can no longer feel my toes. The snow’s so deep now that the puck travels under it, making following it somewhat difficult. We collectively decide to call it a night, although I secretly suspect the enormous Swedish men would have happily played on until the snow reached up over their knees.

9.15pm: Arrive back home. Discover that the heat from my profusely sweating head has melted the snow on my woollen hat and then been re-frozen several times. This means I’ve been playing ice-hockey for the last hour with what looks like a giant glass bowl on my head.

9.20pm: Sit down (very carefully) and defrost in front of the TV with a nice cup of tea and swear I’ll never play ice hockey again. Until next Monday that is.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What the Puck? Part 1

I scored last night.

No, not that sort of goal-mouth action. After all, I’m married with two kids. And it was a Monday.

I mean to say that last night I played my first ever game of ice hockey, and, against considerable odds, managed to fire three pucks into the back of the net! Ok, so one of them was into my own net, but hey, it’s still a goal in my book.

When a group of dads from Dagis (nursery) recently suggested getting together for a regular Monday night ice hockey game, I thought why not. After all, there must be three or four outdoor ice rinks within a 500m radius of my house. Seemed a pity to waste them.

First order of the day was to buy some equipment, so I visited the city’s second-hand sports store and splashed out a couple of hundred kronor on some Jofa hockey skates, a rather fetching Jofa helmet (from 1974) and a Koho Profeel hockey club. Is it just me, or are all ice hockey equipment manufacturers named after characters in the Star Wars films?

After that, I did what I always do when I’m unsure about any subject – I Googled ice hockey. Now you may think learning to skate by internet is about as useful as a lonely one-legged man applying for a distance course in ballroom dancing - but you’d be wrong.

I discovered a wealth of really helpful information out there.

For example, if you want to skate backwards, you should “practise sculling with both feet to sculling with one at a time. This may lead more naturally to the Hockey wide-track "C-cut" backward stride, where you roll/slide the foot back instead of picking it up, but that's more for quick manoeuvring, not speed/distance skating”.

Uh-huh. Alrighty then.

And what about this well-intentioned piece of advice….

Because of your momentum, falling down on ice isn’t always painful, as your forward motion will mean you often land at an angle and glide to a halt.”

After last night I can categorically state this is a load of bollocks. Falling down on ice is always painful. Ice is frozen water. Frozen solid that it. It’s the reason we don’t make beds out of ice, or that gymnasts don’t perform their floor routines on the stuff.

Next post: in Part 2 I take to the ice with six really large Swedish guys who hurl themselves at me with great speed on very thin, sharp bits of metal.

Friday, January 27, 2006

A Bloke's Guide to Surviving Children

When those lovely people at asked me (of all people) to start up a new blog aimed at British fathers bringing up children abroad, I initially thought they must be suffering from some form of collective post-natal stress disorder.

If you've ever had the energy to read through some of my archived articles you'll know that I don't hold with the conventional views of fatherhood as preached according to the gospel of Vi Föräldrar, but rather more agree with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, who once famously said:

"To be a successful father there's one absolute rule: when you have a kid, don't look at it for the first two years".

But the more I started thinking about it, the more the concept of a blog for Dads appealed to me.

Because you see men think very differently from women when it comes children.

We try not to show it of course, throwing ourselves obediently and enthusiastically into everything from naughty zones to baby massage classes.

However, it's only when blokes get together, far away from the ears and eyes of their wives and partners, that the real truth comes out and we all start reminiscing about the good old days when they used to put children up chimneys to earn a bit of money.

So I’ve created a blog for all you Dads (and would-be Dads) to come and shoot the breeze, exchange ideas and stories about fatherhood and most of all, have a bit of a laugh.

It's going to be a place where Dads can express themselves openly and honestly, and maybe find some comfort in discovering that they’re not the only man on the planet who, no matter how hard he tries, can never ever dress his child to the complete satisfaction of his wife or partner.

Dads can find it here. Mothers should stay away and look here!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Day in the UK

I'm back home in England and so thought I'd share with you what I plan to do today.

Saturday, January 14th, 2006

9am: Turn on the telly and watch all three Sky Sports channels while drinking unlimited amounts of tea. Follow this up with a full English breakfast consisting of two cumberland sausages, two rashers of bacons, two eggs and a slice of toast. Oh, and a glass of orange juice as this makes it all healthy.

10.30am: Go straight to Coop and buy any six pack of beer (get two free) that's over 3.5% abv. Because I can.

10.35am: Go to the Coach and Horse pub in Whitstable High Street. There I'll meet a guy called Jeff sitting at the bar and we'll have a conversation that goes exactly like this:

Jeff: (in a chirpy cheerful voice) Hullo Darren! Haven't seen you for ages!

Me: That's because I've lived in Sweden for the past five years Jeff.

Jeff: Well bugger me sideways. Still, the weather must be quite cold up there I should think.

Me: You're quite right Jeff. It's bloody cold, and will stay that way until May.

Jeff: Ruddy hell. Rather you than me old boy. Still, I suppose the fact that there must be lots of blonde-haired, blue-eyed Swedish girls with big tits running around asking you for sex all the time more than makes up for a bit of cold weather, what!

Me: Actually Jeff, that's something of a stereotypical myth. The reality is that not all Swedish women are blonde and big busted, and very few of them have ever asked me for sex. In fact, even if they were to ask me I'd turn them down immediately, as I'm very happily married to my beautiful wife who occassionally reads this blog.

Jeff: This What?

Me: Nothing Jeff. Would you like some pork scratchings?

3pm: Go back home and watch Match of the Day with an extremely cheap wine box.

7.30pm: Pop into the East Kent pub on Whitstable High Street for a quick pint.

11.30pm: Stagger out of the East Kent after several quick pints and head to the Donar Grill Kebab shop for a sweaty lamb handbag.

11.45pm: Drop into the 24 hour Tesco supermarket on the way home to buy another six-pack of beer over 3.5%. Because I can.

12.15am: Lie on sofa and wash down a couple of elephant-strength paracetemol with three pints of water.

12.17am: Turn on the telly and start watching re-runs of the A-team on the Bravo channel. Fall asleep with my head at an alarming angle.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

6 Things you Never Knew About Sweden

Every January the Swedish Statistiska centralbyrån (SCB) publishes a wonderful book crammed with facts and figures about the Sweden country and its people.

If you can endure ploughing through the 800 pages of charts, spreadheets and lists you'll discover some illuminating facts about this amazing country that you probably never knew.

Below are 6 Swedish stats for you to use to amaze your friends with, get that all important promotion at work or use to finally win a game of Trivial Pursuit.

Warning: I've made two of these facts up. Can you guess which ones? Answers in a couple of days.....

1. The average Swedish marriage lasts 10.4 years. This means I should be filing my divorce papers some time in November this year.

2. The average life expectancy for a Swedish man is 77.79 years, and 82,26 years for a women. This clearly illustrates my long-held belief that women always get the last bloody word in.

3. There are 17,472 registered plumbers in Sweden. Not one of them was able to help me fix my bathroom on time.

4. The hottest day in Sweden ever was recorded in Målilla in Småland, which roasted in 38 degrees, while Vuoggatjålme in Lappland shivered in -52 degrees. This also confirms my long-held belief that you should never live in a place you can't pronounce.

5. 1.8 million Swedes went fishing in 2004. This is a funny enough fact without me attempting to try and add to it.

6. The top 15 most popular family names in Sweden end with son. Like Johansson, Erikson, and so on.