Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Foreign Thoughts From Abroad

As I stare out of my summerhouse window at the cold rain lashing the birch trees, I crunch up another piece of old newspaper and contemplate lighting a fire.

While stacking the logs I allow my mind to drift away in search of somewhere warmer, and find myself walking barefoot through squeaking white sand, made so hot by the midday sun that I almost have to break into a run to reach the breaking waves of the Atlantic.

I can feel the fine spray on my face and taste the salty water. I smell hot pine and can hear the cones cracking in the heat in the trees high above.

I notice a restaurant by the shoreline, tables covered in crisp white paper weighed down by pebbles, already prepared for the long lunchtime ahead. People begin gathering there, drinking chilled glasses of Rose wine, taking their time, jabbing cracked green olives with wooden toothpicks, deep in passionate conversation, waving their arms wildly as though juggling invisible balls.

I see children searching for oyster shells on the beach, and stray dogs looking for scraps of food. I see the bar where I know Bernard will be sitting, a cigarette that never seems to go out screwed tightly into the corner of his mouth, shrugging, eyes rolling to the sky, a glass of chilled pastis firmly in his hand. And where I know I can buy a dusty bottle of decent Saint-Emilion for the price of a cinema ticket.

As I look around me I feel the sun’s warmth work its way through me, making me feel lighter, more alive. And I allow myself to smile, knowing that tomorrow and the days after that the sand will still be warm.

Warm. Oh that’s right. I read in the paper that a heat wave is on its way to Norrland tomorrow.

I strike a match and toss it into the fireplace.

Monday, June 27, 2005

An open letter to Bolibompa

Dear Bolibompa,

My name is Darren. I’m 36 years-old and I live in Umeå in Sweden. When I grow up I want to be a plumber, as someone told me there’s a shortage of them in Norrland.

Now I appreciate I may be a little older than most of the people you receive letters from, but I felt I had to write and tell you what a wonderful job you’re doing of entertaining my two children, Tom (5) and Elli (3).

Since I started my pappaledighet almost two weeks ago, your programme has become the highlight of my day – an hour’s oasis of calm in an otherwise hectic day of pinching, name-calling, offensive bodily excretions (various) and tantrums, And that’s just the wife – the children have been a bit of a handful too, I can tell you!

Anyway, the calming effect your programme has on my children is nothing short of remarkable. I often catch myself staring at my watch at breakfast time, calculating the hours, minutes and seconds until 6.30pm when your cheery Bolibompa theme tune signals the start of my daily hour-long time-out.

The only problem is that I’ve discovered an hour really isn’t long enough. I barely have time to go to the toilet, make a cuppa and read the sports section of Expressen before the theme turn signals the end of the show and my children launch themselves at me asking if I can build some impossible architectural structure out of three pieces of Lego, some garden wire and a toilet roll.

So I’d like to make the following suggestion. Why not make Bolibompa a little longer, say five hours a day? Now I know this means that you’ll all have to work that bit harder, but I’m quite willing to increase my licence fee by a few kronor a month to compensate for the inconvenience.

I’ve spoken with lots of other mums and dads in my area and they all agree it’s a great idea.

Please give this suggestion some serious thought, along with ditching the bear from Björnes magasin, as the concept of a man-sized pantomime bear is particularly outdated in this computerised age and quite frankly gives both my children and me the creeps.

Have a fab summer!

Explanation: Bolibompa is a daily childrens programme broadcast on SVT1. If you've got young children and live in Sweden, it's probably the only time in the day you'll be able to behave like an adult - if you've got any energy left that is. I truly believe all the people involved in bringing Bolibompa into our homes every evening should have public holidays named after each and every last one of them.

I'm an idiot

First I whine about you lot not posting any comments, and then I somehow manage to change the blog's settings so that only registered users can post comments.

Well, normal service has now been resumed, so anyone can now say anything.

I've also managed to get an internet connection into the summerhouse, so I'll be back blogging on a daily basis from tomorrow.

Until then.....

Friday, June 24, 2005

Midsommar madness

Tonight I'm going to put seven different sorts of sill under my pillow and dream of the herring I'm going to marry.

Glad midsommar everyone


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Pluck Off!

This morning I was unintentionally yet cruelly reminded I am getting older.

I was sitting at the hairdressers getting trimmed by a very attractive young girl. As she was applying the final touches to my French crop (a style she assured me is all the rage and would make my face look thinner) she asked if she could trim my eyebrows, as they had grown somewhat wild.

Very thoughtful of you, I said, but I like my eyebrows just the way they are, thank you very much.

By then the damage to my street cred had already been done. She may as well have given me a pensioner's discount and offered to help me out through the door and over the road.

Next time I go to the hairdressers, she'll probably want to plait some excessively protruding nasal hair, or layer the hair growing out of my ears.

If she does I'll have to politefully tell her to pluck off.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Plutonium needed - Serious Cash Buyer

If I've been a bit quiet recently, it's because I've discovered the concept of personal time implodes when you are pappaledigt - to the extent that you even have to leave the toilet door open in case one of your children manages to inflict life-threatening injuries on themselves/each other while you're sitting on the throne.

I've also just discovered that we've got ants back in our summerhouse. Not the annoying-but-basically-harmless sort of ants that eat the sugar if you leave it out, but hästmyra, the sort of ants that eat your house if you leave it out.

These little bastards are ants on steroids. Described as the termites of the north, they don’t actually eat wood like termites do, but chew it away to make their nests in it. For me, the proud owner of a timbered Västerbottens house, the difference is academic. If I don’t get rid of them, my house will fall down.

So I rang Anticimix – the Swedish equivalent of Rent-a-Kill. A bloke wearing a baseball cap and a fist-sized puck of snus (loose tobacco) under his top lip duly turned up and tutted when I pointed to the source of the scratching sound which indicated a hästmyra nest behind our living-room wall.

He proceeded to drill two tiny holes into the wall, into one of which he sprayed a can of Radar. This is a general all-purpose bug spray commonly used in Sweden. The only problem with it is that it doesn’t actually kill anything, but rather gives the ants something of a mild headache.

So I asked snus-guy if he’d got anything a little bit stronger in the back of his van, winking in a “if-you-know-what-I-mean” type of way.

Snus-guy robotically informed me that he couldn’t use anything stronger as it had to comply with Sweden’s stringent environmental regulations.

In other words he’s an exterminator incapable of killing anything.

I really wanted snus-guy to walk down my summerhouse path in a full radiation suit with a ‘smoking’ dry ice metal tube in each hand containing enough plutonium to eradicate the ant population of the village I live in for the next three hundred years.

And if that meant the fish in our river grew legs or our two children started glowing in the dark I’d live with it. At least I'd be free of those bloody ants.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

DIY - Do Itch Yourself

I had to write this snippet to justify the headline.

As you may know, I'm currently renovating my bathroom, with very little help from any Swedish tradesmen as they are either
a) impossible to get hold of
b) impossible to meet with at an agreed time on an agreed day
c) impossibly expensive
d) just bloody impossible.

This has meant I've had to get my hands dirty and do it myself. Not normally a problem, except for one very uncomfortable exception - Gullfiber.

Used in Sweden to insulate walls, floors and ceilings, Gullfiber comprises a billion miniscule shards of glass compressed into sheets of yellow candyfloss.

Whoever invented this stuff obviously had a sick sense of humour, as it’s practically impossible to work with without breaking into a rash.

To avoid skin contact you need to dress up like Dustin Hoffman in a scene from Outbreak. The problem is that the insulating effect of the Gullfiber increases the room temperature in which you’re working by several hundred degrees, resulting in a very high probability of LTD (Leaking To Death).

Anyway, I've been rolling around in the stuff for the past three days - coincidentally while Umeå has enjoyed something of a heat wave - and have now discovered itches in places only an experienced doctor with an electron microscope and a very vivid imagination would be able to find.

Must stop typing now. Got to scratch an itch……

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Foam-at-the-mouth English Father Gets Two Months

Tomorrow is a momentous day for me - for the first time in my life I'm going to go pappaledigt.

For those of you unfamiliar with this term, it means I'll be starting two whole months of paternity leave.

The prospect of doing this scares the shit out of me.

Now don't get me wrong. I love my five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter with a passion. However, spending eight weeks constantly in their company will undoubtedly test my personal boundaries of patience, sanity and sobriety (I'm off to the System Bolaget to stock up on supplies later today).

You see, I don't know if it's a boy/girl thing, a throwback to my English roots (when men, with no questions asked, drank in pubs and women looked after the children) or whether it's just me, but I can only take so much of my wonderful children before I turn into an emotional, foam-at-the-mouth wreck.

Their boundless energy often wears me down to the point I find myself mouthing a silent prayer on Friday evening for Monday morning to roll around so that those 'God-how-I-love-them-for-what-they-do-and-can-never-speak-highly-enough-of-them' fröknar at dagis (nursery) can take them off my hands again.

So the next two months is going to be interesting. Without work to worry about, I'm hoping the time I share with them will redefine my perspectives as a pappa, and ultimately make me a better one.*

Wish me luck. And pass the scotch. I think I'm going to need it.

* I included this sentence just in case the wife/other mothers read this article . Secretly I think I'll be on medication by midsommar.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Make waves - or a little ripple

It's now been just over a month since I launched this blog. Since then I've written thousands of words, spent far too much time hunched over the keyboard and have managed to unintentionally insult, and be intentionally insulted by, dozens of Swedes.

All in all, something of a success then.

But upon reflection perhaps not. You see I've also learnt that writing a blog is a bit like throwing a stone down a deep well - the only way you know you've hit water is when you hear the splash.

Imagine therefore that this blog is a well and your comment is a stone. The only way I ever know you're around is if I hear the splash.

But that’s the problem. There’s hardly been a trickle, a plop or a drip.

Now I’m not in the blogging business for global fame (and I’m certainly not in it for the money, as my 89 cents Adsense income ruthlessly testifies) but it would just be more fun if Lagom Life got a little more ‘interactive’, a touch more two-way.

So come on people, start throwing stones. Make some waves – or at least a little ripple!

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A New Job? Just the Ticket.

When, as a child, people asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, I bet very few of you responded "I want to be a traffic warden".

It must be one of the most reviled jobs in the entire world, right up there with an autopsy lab cleaning attendant, anal wart researcher (Highly Contagious and Life-Threatening Diseases Department), a taxman or, heaven forbid, Lill Babs’ make-up artist.

So it came as a bit of a surprise flicking through regional newspaper Västerbottens Kuriren (VK) yesterday to discover that when Umeå's council-run parking company Upab (isn't that a place in Africa?) advertised for two new traffic wardens, an incredible 440 people applied.

The paper (which devoted a double-page spread to this hot news item) went on to report that many of the applicants had distinguished academic backgrounds, which I am sure would come in extremely useful in an exchange with an irate mother of five who is late picking up her children from dagis and has just been issued a 500 SEK parking ticket.

Mother: “I am so sorry I’m a bit late, there was hell of a queue at the Vårdcentralen and my post-natal check-up took a little longer than expected. I'm in a real rush to pick-up my kids. It won’t happen again”.

Traffic warden: "I'm sorry to hear that madam, but I've started writing the ticket and there's no way I can reverse the ticket issuing procedure now".

Mother: "Oh but surely you can do something. Five hundred kronor buys a lot of nappies you know. I really need the money as my husband ran out on me for some Charlotte Perrelli look-a-like and I'm struggling to bring up five small boys on my own".

Traffic Warden: "I empathise with your predicament madam, I really do, but to quote the words of Carl Jung “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent".

Mother: “I beg your pardon?”

Traffic Warden: “Or perhaps the words of Juvenal, who lived between 55-127 AD are more appropriate in this context. “Refrain from doing ill; for one all powerful reason, lest our children should copy our misdeeds; we are all too prone to imitate whatever is base and depraved”.

Mother: "Oh just fuck off and die"

Traffic Warden: “I studied classical literature you know”.

Mother: “Screw you”.

Anyway, the two lucky souls who landed the jobs were Marie Nyman and Niclas Nordgren, who both seem jolly nice, wholesome and enthusiastic, and whom I will be trying to avoid like the plague for the rest of my life in Umeå

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

7 Things I Love about living in Umeå

***This is a work in progress***

1. While driving home just a few moments ago I saw of group of four 8-10-year-old boys playing around in a field picking flowers. Back in England I was more accustomed to seeing groups of young boys setting fire to sofas. Children stay innocent a little longer and discover matches a little later in Umeå. A good reason to love the place I think.

2. The modern roundabout was invented in Great Britain back in the mid-1920s. Since then the whole of Europe has broken out in a rash of them. By 1997 France reportedly had some 15,000 roundabouts, and as you can bet your sweet pippy there's some sort of EU Roundabout Subsidy, I'm sure that figure has tripled by now. So what's my point? Well, according to Ulf Olofsson from Umeå's Samhällsbyggnadskontoret the first roundabout in Umeå wasn't built until 1991, over 70 years after the rest of Europe started going round the bend. * Roundabouts? Non Merci. Another fine reason to love Umeå.

3. This is a picture looking out to sea near Umeå in winter. Here's the same view just two months later. Real seasons - another reason to love Umeå.

4. Do you suffer from Steering Wheel Stress? Then take at look at this picture. This is the E4, Umeå's busiest road - during rush hour. I've lived here five years and never been in a traffic jam. Not once. If you've ever felt like Michael Douglas or Mr Incredible (or even both) then you should consider moving here. You'd love Umeå!

5. It's coming
6. The fact that Lisa Miskovsky spends a lot of time in Umeå
7. Because she only lives 20 minutes from my front door!

Lisa, if you're reading this, I just want you to know I admire you enormously for your incredible musical talent and insightful song lyrics.

You're also a bit of a stunner.

So remember, if you ever want to drop in for a coffee, I'm just around the corner (half a mile from here).

* Umeås first roundabout is on the E4 at the junction with Road 364. I'll go and get my anorak then...

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Sweden's National Day

Yesterday was Sweden's National Day - the first time it's ever been marked with a public holiday.

The problem is that although a majority of Swedes liked the thought of having an extra day off work, very few got into the flag-waving, nationalistic spirit the government had hoped for.

It seems most Swedes are simply uncomfortable with such open displays of national pride. If you get too patriotic in public, people look at you strangely, as though you’ve just slapped a baby.

Peter Aronsson, who is professor for cultural inheritance and history usage at the University of Linköping, told local newspaper Östögta Correspondenten that the only thing that would make Swedes gather around a day to celebrate the nation is a war or other national drama.

A rather extreme way of making people wave flags, don't you think?

I asked some Swedish friends of mine why this should be and what’s holding the country back from collectively letting its hair down.

Interestingly a few of them said celebrating a national day is considered insensitive to the feelings of the country’s immigrant population. People like, well, like me I suppose.

Well if it makes any difference Sweden, in my opinion it’s about time you loosened up a little and made some noise!

Parade the King and Queen through the streets of Stockholm, broadcast a three-hour Allsång på Skansen special, drink litres of disgusting Falcon National Day Pilsner. Do whatever it takes to celebrate Sweden and being Swedish and do it with pride.

Our family did its bit by tucking into a traditional smorgasbord of freshly cooked ham, gravlax, meatballs, sill, home-baked tunnbröd and Västerbottens Ost.

We also payed homage to the mother country by singing (I hummed) a rousing rendition of Du Gamla, Du Fria.

* whisper* But to make sure we didn't cause offence we sang very quietly so that none of the neighbours would hear.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Climbing Kebnekaise - an update

The date has been set.....I’ll be striking out for the summit of Sweden's highest mountain on Friday, August 19th - and I won't be alone.

I'll be accompanied by a good Swedish friend of mine, Johan, who I will be relying on to negotiate with the Sami people should we wander off course, and a crazy English mate of mine called Ollie who read my blog and immediately booked a return flight to Kiruna before ringing me up to inform me he was coming.

He's never climbed a mountain before either, so I won't be relying on him for anything.

The fact I won't be climbing Kebnekaise alone has come as a great relief for my wife and mother. Now at least if I perish at altitude, there'll be someone to bring my bits down again.

Here's the outline itinerary:

Thursday, August 18th - Drive seven hours from Umeå to Kiruna avoiding as many reindeer as possible. Kiruna was once the biggest city in the world so I shouldn't be able to miss it. Go out into Kiruna for some pre-mountain drinks.

Friday, August 19th - Spend the morning regretting the decision to go out for some pre-mountain drinks. Drive to Nikkaluokta, described by the tourist board as an old Sami settlement, but by everyone whose ever been there as a huge car park. This would be handy, as we'll be leaving the car here to begin the 19.5km trek to Kebnekaise Fjällstation, which is the starting point for most climbing routes.

Spend the night sleeping out under canvas with the stars and 15,000,000 mosquitoes for company.

Saturday, August 19th - Today's the day! Starting early, we'll be taking the west route up the mountain, which is some 25 km long, and normally takes around 7 hours to reach the summit. If all goes according to plan we should reach the summit at Sydtoppen early afternoon - some time before the end of August.

Weather permitting we'll camp on the mountain somewhere.

Sunday, August 20th - Climb down the mountain to base camp. Walk 19.5 km back to the car, when Ollie will inform us he left the keys up at Sydtoppen.

Monday, August 21st - Ollie will fly back to the UK and Johan and I will drive back to Umeå, tired but inwardly proud of our achievement.

To read why I'm climbing this mountain in the first place, click here

To date I've raised £333.33 ($608 or 4,500 SEK) towards Breast Cancer Care. If you can spare a pound, buck or kronor, please click here.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Stockholm's Perfect Top 10 Pubs

Due to some technical difficulties I'm a couple of days late posting the list of my personal top ten pubs in Stockholm.

In fact, when last orders were called on my C-drive a couple of days ago I lost most of my notes on the pubs I had visited, so I've relied on Meowza, a fellow pint guzzler, to fill in the gaps.

So without further delay. here they are- my top 10 pubs in Stockholm. If you like great beer and good food (I'd like to add at a reasonable price - but I'd be lying) then you can't go wrong with any of these places.

In no particular order....

Mackinlay's Inn This place isn't great, and it is way overpriced, the only thing that saves it from obscurity is the selection of beers that you won't find elsewhere in town.
Akkurat From the outside it looks like a car park, and inside the atmosphere can be kind of boring. That's probably because everyone's too busy concentrating on what they're drinking, as this is THE beer pub in Sweden with the greatest selection of bottled and draft beer anywhere. If you like beer, you must visit Akkurat.
Black and Brown Inn Not the most exciting place, but they serve hot dogs for 10kr a piece until closing time, so that makes them a winner in my book
Oliver Twist Usually impossible to find a place to stand on the weekend, let alone sit down, OT has some of the best beers in Stockholm and the best cared for lines. They also vary their selection often, so there's plenty of reasons to keep coming back.
Bishops Arms (Bellmansgatan) Location-wise this place is perfect, it's in a quiet corner of Söder up on Bellmansgatan The beers are ok, but if you like whisky this is where to go. I think they still do live music on Sundays, and have outdoor seating. However, if you are lucky you'll get the small table by the extremely fake fireplace.
Soldaten Svejk Despite what people tell you, this place is not "The Czech Soldier", the name is from the Jaroslav Hasek book, "The Good Soldier Schweik", which is sort of a Catch-22 based in WWI. I think you have to be at the door when they open to get a seat, but it's worth it for the Czech beers, which are delicious.
Tudor Arms They could have pulled this pub down in England, bought it over on a boat and put it back up in the middle of Östermalm. Makes me feel homesick just walking through the door. Good beers, good staff, small, and awesome food.
Wirström's Wirströms lacks nothing except floor space. Located in the picturesque Gamla Stan, it's got bags of charm and character. Optimally you want to sit upstairs, but if that doesn't happen you'll end up in the maze of small nooks in the basement.
Bull and Bear located near Stureplan, this pub simply serves great beer. I've never had a bad pint in here, and the staff are as professional as they come. Food's a bit average, but the selection of beer (and whisky) more than compensates. Get there early though, as this long and narrow pub gets more crowded than the London underground after 10pm.
Man in the Moon A bugger to find in the backwaters of town, but once you see the range of beers on offer you'll probably agree the walk will have been worth it. A huge island bar dominates the place, but you can always escape to a quiet corner for a bite to eat. Last time I had dinner here the food was excellent - and very reasonably priced!

Not content with just 10 pubs, here's a couple more should you manage to get through all of the above:

Bagpiper's Inn - Here's a tip for you. Never, I repeat never, look up a scotsman's kilt.
The Dubliner Live music every night. They advertise for you to 'Come on over and be a wild Rover. Oh, alright then.

So enjoy, and remember to ring your bank manager before setting out into the city for a drink, because you'll be buying one of the most expensive hangovers in the world!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Doesn't compute...

I thought I was being prudent and internet savvy by downloading the latest virus definitions from Norton.

I obediently agreed to reboot my computer to complete installation of the new updates, and that's when my blogging world came crashing down.

The computer rebooted alright, and then rebooted, and rebooted and rebooted......

So I did what I always do when something goes wrong with my computer. I kicked it. This apparently didn't work, so I took it round to a mate who "knows about these things".

And that's where it is now, in computer rehab, getting its C-drive reformatted, a new operating system installed, its CPU optimised and new little green men inserted.

Unfortunately it means I'll be a couple of days late posting my list of my favourite top 10 Stockholm pubs, but please bear with me.

Oh, and by the way, if anyone mentions the word back-up to me one more time I'll short-circuit their motherboard.