Christmas in Sweden

It quickly became apparent in the summer that due to the January arrival of baby No.2 we would be spending Christmas in Sweden, which was perfect as it would give me a chance to write about the unique Swedish Christmas experience.

Now the first thing to note is that Swedes love Christmas. Winters here are long, cold and fairly miserable and I believe they use the Christmas holiday period as an opportunity to break up the monotony of a long, bleak winter by really getting into the spirit of things. For starters the city is festooned in all manner of decorations; indeed I’m sure you’d agree that nothing truly says Christmas like a family of giant fairy light elks rampaging through the city centre.  In fact, the whole city appears to have been lifted straight from a picture postcard version of Christmas from the open access skating rinks through to an assortment of Christmas markets, it all makes for a pretty unique atmosphere.

Another key signifier that Christmas has landed is the placement in windows throughout the country of advent stars and candles. The Swedish Christmas is all about ‘warmth and light’ and it’s no exaggeration to say that more windows feature stars than don’t. Apparently these Stars of Bethlehem first appeared at the end of the 1800’s and really do bring an extra level of warmth to the city, particularly as the day light hours are so short, generally running from around 9am to 3pm.

In terms of embracing local Swedish traditions, whilst most were optional for us Rosalyn had no choice but to take part in the true kick-off of the Swedish Christmas at her nursery: the festival of Lucia. You simply can’t have a Swedish Christmas without celebrating Santa Lucia first, involving as it does, children of all ages to dressing in white, bearing candles and singing traditional songs. Of more concern, historically the girl chosen to play Lucia would wear actual candles in her hair. More recently these are more likely to be battery operated, because let’s be honest, lit candles in hair is simply asking for trouble.

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The festival of Lucia. Just asking for trouble.

We decided to mark the arrival of my mum and dad who had agreed to spend Christmas with us by ticking off another Swedish tradition and go for a ‘Julbord’ – if you are familiar with the concept of a Smörgåsbord this is basically the Christmas version. To the uninitiated (like myself) it may appear to be a simply buffet but in actual fact it is a truly authentic Swedish experience. Essentially split into 7 courses, it typically starts with a variety of pickled herring and cured salmon, followed by bread, ham, liver pâté, red beet salad and cheese, through a whole variety of warm dishes (meatballs, sausages, pork ribs and cabbage) – not one for the vegetarians really – before slumping, bloated and exhausted into a host of deserts. Word of advice, if like me you foolishly want to complete every course, stick to the universal rule of all buffets and avoid the bread. It is not your friend – jumping in Rosalyn’s pram and being wheeled home has never looked so appealing.

It’s worth noting that like a lot of European countries, in Sweden they celebrate on Christmas Eve. Nothing especially strange there but in completing our checklist there was one final, rather random, tradition that needed to completed: watching cartoons. Yeap, every year on the 24th at 3 p.m. the 1958 Walt Disney Presents Christmas special, ‘From All of Us to All of You’ is aired. Running at exactly the same time since 1959, and without commercial interruption, it consists of Jiminy Cricket presenting about a dozen Disney cartoons from the 1930s – 1960s – which weirdly only a couple have anything to do with Christmas.

And half of Sweden watch it. Half.

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Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul – ‘Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas’

Of course some Christmas traditions are universal. Decorating the tree remains as tedious/enjoyable as it is in any country. As does leaving out food and drink for Father Christmas and eating far too much food. In the spirit of a traditional ‘Irish’ Christmas, my mum (I assume confusing Sweden with Outer Mongolia) played it safe and brought two suitcases full of Christmas Essentials on the off chance she couldn’t buy them in Sweden – food, deserts, condiments, crackers, table decorations, you name it. I mean heaven forbid you can’t lay your hands on a post Christmas dinner Cadbury’s chocolate orange!

This pathological commitment to making sure nothing was left out from the Christmas dinner, shared it should be noted by Alex, extended to the Christmas meal itself. I can only assume the rest of the apartment block had mentioned they might drop in because given we were only 4 adults there was a frankly ridiculous amount of food to get through – it took an extra 4 days of turkey and ham sandwich, bubble and squeak and Turkey Curry (half still in the freezer) to finally finish it all off.

Which leads to perhaps the most surprising fact about the Swedish Christmas’: supermarkets are open throughout the holiday period. Whilst a little miserable for the people working, it did at least allow me to pick up some extra Broccoli on Christmas day, the six varieties of veg we already had apparently not being enough. Mums and Christmas. Completely mental.

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Of course one obvious advantage of Christmas in Sweden is that you are pretty much guaranteed that, at some point, it will snow. And when it comes, it comes quickly. So quickly in fact that it did lead to one particularly hairy moment when I underestimated the combination of snow, ice, a cobble stone hill and 2 tonne car.

Basically, I lost control of my car going down the hill below. Thankfully at the time there were only parked cars on the right hand side and we skidded left or it would have not ended well. But it was fairly hairy for a moment as there is a main road at the bottom and by pure chance we came to stop just before it (when I say no control, I mean lap of the Gods). My dad, Brendadio, was in the car at the time and told me repeatedly to ‘turn into the skid, turn into the skid!’.

Well let me tell you dear reader, when a two tonne car is out of control, essentially turning itself into an oddly shaped battering ram, ‘turning into the skid’ is the very last thing on your mind. Besides which I was a bit busy at the time trying to remove the handbreak from its housing whilst simultaneously pushing my foot through the bottom of the car in an effort to bring things to a stop Fred Flintstone style.

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I may, or may not (your honour) have been going a tad too fast round the corner for the conditions. In my defence though there isn’t a huge call for driving through snow and ice back in the UK.

And before you knew it Christmas was over and we were faced with the classic dilemma of what to do with the tree. This being Sweden of course it was all taken care of with designated dump spots throughout the city. There is something poignant about these Christmas tree graveyards. First you drag them like a rotting carcasses through the streets before chucking them onto a pile of their fallen brethren who had brought so much pleasure and joy to their owners, only to end up as pulp… not that it stopped Brendadio having a good old chuckle about the whole thing of course.

In the interests of completion, New Years Eve had a slightly different vibe to normal, as I’m sure you can image given Alex was 9 months pregnant and we ended up watching the same fireworks taking place 5 minutes walk from our house on television. Times have indeed changed.

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Baby Watch

Picture of the week

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Yum, yum, it’s time for Jul Skum

Truck Stop Pub breakdown and record breaking snow fall

The week was not going well. Back in the UK for a visit on the first Sunday Rosalyn became sick. Properly sick. Throwing up over me in the middle of the night sick. Inevitably by Tuesday the bug had migrated to Alex before finishing its hat-trick by knocking me out on Wednesday. By Friday, having lost the entire week of holiday, we were finally starting to feel better. That’s when things got bad.

Driving down the M1 motorway for a family gathering just outside London – our car broke down. First the heating went, then the steering started to jam, rattling sounds from the engine block, lights dancing across the dashboard; it was rapidly descending into a fairly desperate situation and I needed to get off the motorway quick. Looking back I should have known something strange was afoot when magically a turn off appeared which I could have sworn hadn’t been there moments before. Literally wrestling the car off the motorway, I was able to drag it onto a slip road. Pitch black and with a symphony of bangs and clangs whizzing from the engine, it was clear time was against us and I had no idea how much further the car could go along the dark, barren road ahead.

And then we saw it. Off to our right, a cluster of bight florescent lights hidden behind a thick row of fern trees glistened like an illuminated oasis in black desert. Dragging the car through one final turn I was able to point it in the direction of the lights. Whatever lay ahead our course was set. Slowly the car shuddered forward, the lights growing brighter and brighter until finally we found ourselves in a clearing and saw our destination.

A Truck Stop Pub. Yes you read that right and let me be clear, I feel it’s important. A pub. On the motorway. For truck drivers.

Now there are so many things here to get one’s head around. Firstly, is it just me or does the idea of a pub for truck drivers just off the motorway not sound like a truly terrible idea? Secondly, what the hell is a truck stop pub doing in England? Perhaps it’s just me but I’d always assumed they were a Hollywood creation – somewhere to kick off your standard abduction movie. You know the one, a couple (perhaps with a small child – who can say?) are driving through the middle of nowhere in the bad lands of America. They stop at a truck stop pub for directions, she gets abducted, he’s frantically searching for her, the local sheriff is in on the whole thing, lots of people die… you get the idea. But on the M1 just outside Northampton? I think not.

Well it’s no exaggeration to say that this place could have been lifted off one of those film sets. Actually to call it just a pub is to do it a disservice as it was also a motel. Which obviously led me to the natural conclusion that was well as being the start of our own, very much real, abduction horror movie (in which we were the stars), it must also be a brothel and that we were basically going to die.

A cursory look inside whilst I phoned for roadside assistance – always best in these films to make sure people have your last known location, it helps with searching for the bodies – showed the inside to be mostly deserted aside from two groups of burley men huddled over a few pints. Pints which had now been placed on their tables whilst they stared directly at us. Retrospectively I appreciate that was probably as they were trying to figure out why a couple with a small baby had stopped off for a quick drink at their Truck stop pub, but at the time I just added it to the growing list of reasons why I was about to die.

We’d set off late so Rosalyn would sleep for most of the journey, however given she was now awake and assistance in the form of roadside breakdown and Alex’s Dad were over an hour away, we had no choice but to go inside. I decided that it made sense for me to go in first and check out the lay of the land – a CLASSIC movie mistake in this situation, splitting up the group.

But there was nothing else for it, we had to go inside. I did however have one ace in my hand. I was going to be able to draw on my one special skill – knowledge of films – and I’ve seen this particular movie hundreds of times. Best way to survive? Blend in. You see there is one common theme in these films, no killer, however ‘axe wieldy’ or ‘mental’ (for that is clearly what waited inside) ever killed one of their own. It’s always the lost tourist, the out of towner, the travelling salesman… if I can blend in, appear as one of them, I might just have a chance of getting through this.

Taking a deep breath I stepped out of the car and prepared for the performance of a lifetime. First I made my way to the front of the car and lifting up the bonnet proceeded to use the torch on my phone to look inside the engine. Tapping various parts, pulling at a wire here, rattling this and that, I made sure to make lots of exaggerated head shakes expressing my disbelief at the shoddy workmanship that had led to the breakdown, giving in my opinion, an excellent impression of being ‘one of the lads’. Now the fact you could write everything I know about car engines on a very small postage stamp (I might as well have been looking at the insides of an elephant) is neither here nor there, this was life and death and I was smashing it.

Satisfied I’d made a suitable impression I made my way cautiously toward the front door. This was the big one. I’d win or lose on the strength of my chat. The groups inside had returned to their pints, this was a good sign, clearly my demonstration of engine knowledge had put them at easy, I could almost hear the axes being put back in the duffle bags below the tables. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I need to sound the part as well. In my head I was running through my most ‘Mancunian of Mancunian’ accents and phrases – think Liam Gallagher crossed with Tony Wilson.

I made my way towards the bar, unbuttoning my Barbour coat on the way – damn, why hadn’t I left it in the car! Nothing says truck driving man of the people less than a bloody Barbour coat! – I might was well have painted ‘insert axe here’ on my forehead. It was also at that exact moment I realised I had made a grave error. In fact I’d just signed my own death warrant. For unbuttoning the jacket had revealed the t-shirt underneath.

You see I’d wanted to drive in a t-shirt that night for comfort and as all the ones I’d brought were dirty, had nicked one of my brother’s that he’d left at our parents, the choice of which was now coming back to haunt me. You see there are few things in the world that give away the fact a Truck Stop Pub isn’t perhaps your natural environment more than a ‘Sheffield University History Department fieldwork trip to Paris’ t-shirt. Very few things indeed.

Game over. Time to die.

I assume by now you’ve figured out that by the fact you are reading this I probably didn’t die that night. Well I have to say that the whole experience ended up teaching me a valuable lesson about not judging a book by its cover. Not only did the barmaid and locals not put an axe through my head, they were absolutely fantastic and couldn’t have helped more. And though it probably is a bit of a brothel, if you happen to find yourself at a loose end on the M1, go check it out, they’ve got Sky Sports, Tuesday is quiz night and it’s 2-4-1 on burgers on a Thursday – what’s not to love? Axe murdering optional of course, https://www.facebook.com/RedLionTruckStop/

Believe it or not things could have been worse. During our visit back to the UK, Stockholm experienced its worse snow fall since the 1800s. Around half a metre fell on the city overnight shutting down in the process the airport, motorways, bus and rail networks. Considering this in country set up to deal with snow, it was a hell of a lot of snow. Luckily by the time we got back they’d managed to clear most of the roads so we weren’t affected too much, but I’ve never seen anything like it.

Of course all this snow has a lot of practical implications for the city which frankly coming from a country where snow fall is at best a bit of a novelty you just don’t consider. Take these maniacs for example. Next time you are having a bad day at the office spare a thought for the people whose job it is to get up on the roof of apartment blocks and push snow off the edge.

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It’s also compulsory in Sweden to have winter tyres on your car which means twice a year you need to change them over. And if that sounds very much like a government sponsored money making scheme, remember most people here live in apartments meaning an entirely separate ‘tyre hotel’ industry has blossomed up at the same time. Interestingly the process did at least prove that some languages are universal, in this case the universal language of mechanics. When it came to paying the owner of the garage noticed I had some cash: “400Kr card, 300Kr cash” – Err, 300 please. Out of his back pocket comes his wallet. In goes the 300. Job done.

Of course with snow comes cold and it was during this period that I was got my first telling off from Rosalyn’s nursery. They take the weather very seriously over here and I’d not put her in her snow suit – for the record I didn’t send her off in shorts and t-shirt! I just made the mistake of sticking with the fleece, over-trouser, rain coat combination. Well when I picked her up I got told off which I didn’t care for very much, so the next day she went in dressed ready to climb Mount Everest in a suit my mum had bought in Canada that goes down to -30c. Have that Sweden! Poor kid though – you have to take it off her as soon as you get inside or you can start to see the sweat rolling down her forehead within a few seconds.

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The change in weather also seemed to trigger strange goings on in our apartment. Firstly this fold out chair appeared miraculous by the front door, and even stranger inside the lift. It wasn’t until I realised I couldn’t dress Rosalyn in her winter boiler gear in the flat without the risk of her passing out before we made it outside, that I realised they are actually there for practical purposes. In my case so that I can grab my wriggly daughter, sit down and force her to put on the coat she doesn’t want to wear. I assume other people use it for their snow boots and what have you.

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In a further example of the cold doing strange things in our flat, the nice old lady who lives a few floors above us put a note in the lift inviting people to come and check out the new flowers she’d bought and placed outside her door. I can’t begin to tell you how un-Swedish this is.

Finally, I recently celebrated my birthday. Alex went all out this year by booking an entire restaurant, which obviously had nothing to do whatsoever with how early we have to go out these days. Although a slightly different vibe form normal (for the past 13 years I’ve done a joint Birthday pub crawl with my good friend Shella) you can’t beat spending time with the family and frankly after your first kid is born, things like your own birthday don’t really matter that much anymore anyway.

Like daughter like father.

Baby Watch

Top left: Rosalyn first experience of snow could have gone better.

Pic of the week

pick-of-the-weekPeople laugh when I say meat is expensive in Sweden. Really? And how many meat counters do you know that have their own CCTV?

Track of the week

I don’t know what the track is (any Hip Hop fans out there who can help?) but Rosalyn was busting some serious moves to it. She is very street.

Top knot now what?

Have you ever finished something but had no idea why you started it in the first place?

I’ve never had long hair before. Well that’s not technically true, when I was 18 I grew a disastrous set of ‘curtains’ which I maintain were popular at the time but would probably be best described generously as comically bad (for those not family with this crime against hair, it basically involved growing one’s hair and then parting it down the middle). Thankfully only one photograph remains and much like Dorian Grey I keep that locked up in a purpose built vault in an undisclosed location. Not in an effort to retain the poisoned chalice of eternal youth you understand, but rather to remind myself that some fashion trends, if indeed that is what it was, are best left to spotty faced, mid-90s boybands.

I digress. Basically I now have very long hair but am struggling to remember why, an inherent problem of completing a task which takes the best part of 2 years and requires zero effort other than not going for a haircut… have that marathon runners/Everest climbers/English channel swimmers!

Despite the lack of specifics, I do know it was all part of a vague plan to fully integrate into Swedish culture where a beard, long hair and inevitable top knot are a rite of passage for the average male Swede and not quite the novelty/preserve of hipsters it is elsewhere in the World. But having now completed the task I’m not entirely sure what to do next.

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Well there is one, rather unexpected, next natural step. You see I didn’t entirely think through this ‘social experiment’ and have encountered an unforeseen challenge which in hindsight I should have realised would at some point present itself. In conclusion, my efforts to fully integrate by mirroring the appearance of the average male Swede and thus conduct what we call in my job some ethnographic research (i.e. undetected monitoring), has been too successful. There is no way round this, I simply now look too Swedish.

Nothing wrong with that dear reader, I’m a big fan of the Swedes, but it does create something of ongoing communication issues when you live, you know, in Sweden. Whereas when I first moved here conversations would inevitably open in English – which as  you know by now every Swede speaks fluently – instead now the locals just launch straight into Swedish (crazy I know!), which as regular readers will be aware I’ve disgracefully made zero efforts to learn. Cue constant embarrassment as I repeat the same line over and over again: ‘I’m sorry, I don’t speak Swedish’ – which is then always met with the same following wordless exchange:

Every Swede Ever: Raised eyebrow

Meaning: ‘Are you sure, because you look really Swedish’?

Me to Every Swede Ever: Avoiding eye contact and lowering head

Meaning: ‘I know. It’s a disgrace. Despite spending almost two years in your beautiful country I have made no efforts to learn even the basics of the language beyond being able to say hello and thank you. The hair, which has lead you to your conclusion that I am infact Swedish, was grown as part of a ‘social experiment’ for a blog I write about living in Sweden, and even then I’m not entirely sure why I did it. And yes at this exact moment in time I too would agree that my time might have been better spent learning the language seeing as, you know, I live here and all that.’

Which trust me, is a lot to communicate with a head lowering!

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Getting the ‘Swedish look’ has led to both favourable comparisons, see Kurt Russel in seminal horror The Thing … to the not so favourable, see Crispin Glover (aka George McFly from Back to the future) as he is now. Still it did at least provide endless hours of entertainment for our friends’ children during a recent family holiday to Gotland.

Few things in life are as capable of giving you a heart attack as quickly or as regularly as a child. They live for it. Indeed if you were an alien from another planet you may well come to the conclusion that the Governments of the world encourage their citizens to have children as a way of keeping the size of the adult population in check. I reckon that Rosalyn has already taken a good 6 months off the end of my life via her love of placing herself in consistent heart-stopping moments, the most common of which result directly from her new found ability to walk.

Ah yes walking, which most of us are fortunate enough to take for granted is, I’m assured, an extremely complex mechanical process requiring a combination of joints and muscles moving in perfect sync. Unfortunately to achieve this children have to pass through a never ending series of both near misses and flat out face plants. It is the greatest of all the, ‘I can’t wait till they can do that’ moments, which are instantly followed by, ‘what the hell was I thinking? She is literally going to kill herself. Just sit on the carpet for 5 minutes!’

What’s most surprising though is how quickly kids go from crawling, to standing, to couch surfing, to their first steps and eventually dancing to the TV.

 

Is it wrong that a one year old has better moves than her dad?

I get asked a lot what aside from writing this blog and more recently living the ‘latte papa’ lifestyle, I’ve actually been doing in Sweden since I moved over here. Well whilst I don’t want to go into too much detail – not in a I’d have to kill you type way rather because you’d find it excruciatingly dull – I’ve just come off a quite intense 10 month freelance project working out of the Swedish office of the London company I worked for before moving to Sweden.

Regular readers will note this coincided with a dramatic fall in the number of blog posts over the summer. Well the two things were indeed related but at the risk of going back on my promise not to bore you (‘oh don’t worry Fraser, you are brilliant at that already!’) I won’t go into much detail other than to say it was quite an intense time … and lets just leave it at that.

Anyway, working out of a Swedish office has given me the opportunity to make some interesting observations about working in Swedish compared to the UK. The first thing I’d probably say is that compared to some offices I’ve worked in, you tend to get treated more like an adult in Sweden – Have an errand you need to go run? No problem. Need to pick up the kids from nursery? Go for it. Make more sense for you to work from home this week? Cool. Generally there is an attitude of doing what works best for you to get the job done. Obviously that concept is nominally starting to be introduced in the UK, but it feels a long way behind Sweden in this regard.

The team in Sweden actually won a project with Haribo at the start of the summer, who to celebrate sent a ‘few boxes’ to the office. As a self-confessed sugar addict this this was somewhat of a mixed blessing as this random shot of my desk in January shows,

I’d even taken to eating with a fork to cut down consumption.

One further bonus of working was that occasionally Alex would pick me up from the office during the summer. Now because of where we live, the quickest way home means going via The Kings Palace. And when I say ‘via’ I mean literally driving up the road leading to the palace and past the front door… which is the equivalent of driving up The Mall and swinging past Buckingham Palace every night. The random Swedish experience continues.

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Baby Watch

They have these little trollies in the supermarket near our flat. What started out as quite cute has evolved into us no longer going to the supermarket as she obviously now only wants to push the trolley round which can add a good hour to the simple act of picking up a pint of milk and loaf of bread.

Pic of the Week

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Left on the road outside my office. Initially I found this rather concerning and had I been in the UK would have been checking the local news for stories of armed bank robberies in the local area. But then I remembered where I was and thought, ‘oh man someone’s going to regret losing their balaclava when the weather turns’. Sweden will do that to you.

Track of the Month

Haircut 100 – Love Plus One,

 

Tokyo comes to Stockholm, Rosalyn’s dad who doesn’t speak Swedish and student film stars

For Alex’s birthday this year I, ok let’s be honest Alex, felt we should enjoy some relaxation time with a night away just the two of us at a Japanese Spa on the outskirts of the city, http://yasuragi.se/en/ – don’t worry we didn’t leave our daughter Rosalyn in a greased up bathtub with a few snacks to keep her going, Grandparents were over.

Firstly a confession and I’m sure this will not come as a huge surprise to regular readers, I’ve never been to a spa. Why? Well it’s just never seemed like my kind of thing – a load of hippy-dippy nonsense about finding your inner (chicken) korma? What’s all that about? But Alex really wanted to go and as it was her birthday present I was more than willing to tag along.

Now to be fair things didn’t get off to a flying start. Once I’d finally stopped doing Jackie Chan/stupid meditation poses in the authentic Japanese robes (made in Taiwan) and just generally ‘dicking about’, I managed to fall off the back of my relaxation cushion during the induction session in front of 40 other guests, much to everyone’s amusement. It was also at this point that I found out that we’d need to prepare to go into the spa by cleansing our bodies in the traditional Japanese way – no problem, throw me some shower gel and point me towards the nearest shower – only traditional Japanese actually involves a tap, a stool, a bowl and a hand towel. Needless to say when the instructor told us to ‘now go’ – meaning ‘go wash’ – I was contemplating taking her advice literally, not least because Alex had signed us up for a ‘Tibetan bells meditation class’ later that day.

Well the bell class was to prove a turning point. It essentially consisted of an instructor relaxing us using bells and various phrases. Well dear reader, sceptical though I am, even in Swedish (the phrases rather than the bells – I suspect they are fairly standard) it worked brilliantly and I actually fell asleep on the floor! From that point on I decided to shed my male Anglo-Saxon scepticism and embrace the spa experience.

Of course even then it wasn’t all plain sailing. I was doing really well until I lay down on a broken automated lounger in the ‘silence room’. Up it would slowly go, reach the top, jam, and judder back down to the bottom, ‘chunk, chunk, chunk, chunk’…. And back up nice and slowly and… ‘chunk, chunk, chunk, chunk’… and up and ‘chunk, chunk, chunk, chunk’… well of course we both found this absolutely hilarious and had to be practically carried out of the place, very much not the done the thing.

To a certain group of children in Stockholm I am now simply known as Rosalyn’s dad who doesn’t speak Swedish. You have to love kids, they say it how they see it and the reason for this simplified description originates from the fact that Rosalyn has now started nursery – or ‘Dagis’ in Swedish.

As has been noted numerous times in this blog, Sweden is very serious about childcare. It’s standard practice to be given two years parental leave which can be split between both parents, hence why there is a culture of ‘latte papas’ (dads off work looking after their kids) along with really cheap access to childcare – the astronomical tax rates help with this of course.

I am currently a latte papa – honestly dear reader the lengths I go to so that I can immerse myself in Swedish culture and give you the complete view of things (it obviously had nothing to do with the fact I’m actually ‘between jobs’ – nothing at all.) The whole latte papa thing is really interesting actually, I was back in London recently and took Rosalyn to a soft play café with my sister in law and her kids. Of the 30 or so adults there, I was the only man. The only one. That simply wouldn’t happen in Sweden and actually this culture of parents taking joint responsibility for childcare, rather than it seemingly defaulting to the woman, seems to have created a much more progressive attitude towards women’s role in the workforce.

We’ve been fortune enough to have Rosalyn placed at a nursery 10 minutes’ walk from our flat – you choose where you want to go but there are no guarantees, especially if you don’t know you are meant to do it before they are born and not a few months before they start!

This being Sweden there is of course of well defined induction process which starts with a two hour play session with one kid followed by slowly extended hours of supervision until you finally leave them for the day. This proved particularly useful given Rosalyn is nearly a year younger than any of the other kids – another by-product of the excellent maternity cover mentioned above.

As always it was a tough, apprehensive start – mostly for me and Alex – not least because when she started she could barely walk and obviously wouldn’t understand a word anyone was saying to her – and yes I know that very quickly she will speak more Swedish than me having already picked up and started using ‘titta’ (look) and ‘heyda’ (good bye)… actually with the exception of ‘tack’ (thank you) she basically already does speak as much Swedish as I do!

Inevitably it was wasn’t long before she was up and running both literally and figuratively and had established a mini fan club – she very quickly started walking but because she apparently enjoys hanging around with older kids has also started running, which has proven to be the very definition of the old saying, ‘don’t run before you can walk’ and produced some epic wipe outs in the flat.

Her popularity I put down primarily to her hair – very distinctive over here as you can imagine and constantly commented upon – and also the fact that she has English parents. I do fear however that this constant attention has gone to her head and she’s been turned into a bit of an ego maniac (more on this shortly).

For me this popularity however has been a nightmare. My ‘Swedish social experiment’ – primarily growing a topknot – has backfired spectacularly with regards to Rosalyn’s nursery. It’s probably fair to say that at the moment I look the definition of someone from the Nordics (a crusty fisherman from the Nordics, but ‘from the Nordics’ nonetheless) and as such am constantly approached by children at the nursey speaking to me in Swedish – primarily about Rosalyn. My blank expression and apologetic replies in English to toddlers who barely speak their own language, has led to some very awkward standoffs for all concerned and according to two separate parents I am indeed commonly referred to round the sand pit and swings as, Rosalyn’s dad who doesn’t speak Swedish.

Only kids being kids, they must assume that I will eventually just know Swedish and as such keep talking to me – it’s so awkward dear reader, they just won’t give up! And for the first time since moving over here I’m genuinely ashamed of my lack of basic Swedish… not enough to do anything about it you understand, but ashamed nonetheless.

Day one. Don’t be fooled by the smile I’m not looking forward to this. Rosalyn still in ‘chair surfing’ mode.

Time for a Swedish nursery rhyme singalong, in this instance my  personal favourite, ‘En elefant balanserade’ (basically about elephants swinging on a spiders web – and yeap, nursery rhymes make no sense over here either. A crowd gathers for the ‘English girl’ (though technically she was born a mile from the nursery)

I’ve mentioned before that the island we live on in Stockholm, Sodermalm, is very much seen as the cool part of the city, consisting of a fairly unique assortment of both old and new Swedish architecture. This perhaps explains why in the summer it is also appears to be backdrop for every TV show, film, fashion shoot and news report made in the city. Honestly these a just few days’ worth of pictures of people filming/photographing things near our flat.

Clearly there is an excellent chance that if you happen to stumble across a Swedish drama or news story in the future keep your eyes peeled for my ugly mug in the background. Indeed last week, myself and Rosalyn were even asked if we’d be ok appearing on the swings in the background of a film some students were making in the park near our flat. Sadly, Rosalyn said they needed to speak to her agent and things kind of broke down when the words ‘for free’ were uttered… Think I’m joking? Well it appears Rosalyn’s new found celebrity at nursery has given her a taste for stardom and here we are having to drag her away from photobombing a fashion shoot…

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Finally for this week, something uniquely Swedish. I’ve mentioned in this blog before a very bizarre Swedish  practice of leaving things out on the street for people just to take. I’ve seen everything from a cheese grater, running shoes, a terrifying children’s doll through to hifi speakers. Well in the interests of embracing local customs and traditions, and because Rosalyn had destroyed the shade, we decided to leave a light stand out on the street to see what would happen. Well imagine my surprise two days later,

Baby Watch

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Pic of the Week

On the 22nd September there was a fairly serious fire at the Stockholm Royal Institute of Art, which is quite close to where we live. Normally the first you’d expect to hear about it would be on the news right? Well this being Sweden they do things a little different and I got a live text alert.

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Whilst I think this is a brilliant way to reach out to people quickly (I assume they used some form of geotagging) it does raise some questions about data protection and access to information having never actually given permission for my number to be used this way. Whilst I welcome it you do worry about where it all ends – ‘are you aware you’ve been to Muggen (d) 5 times this month Mr Hynes? Do you know how much money that is? Can we suggest you reconsider your life choices?’ Well I’m not having anyone tell me how many times I can get ripped off at Muggen (d) dear reader!

I understand Sweden is renowned for its freedom of information – you can publically access a lot of info on people – but this is as impressive as it is terrifying.

Track of the Month

Interesting fact, Swedish songstress Nenah Cherry has a flat in the apartment building by Rosalyn’s nursery. Must be where she gets her love for the limelight from,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWsRz3TJDEY

A big 1st Birthday surprise and legendary café sell out

Swedes are nothing if not punctual, a trait I’ve particularly noted as we move through our 2nd year in Stockholm and the same events come around at precisely the same time as the year before. For example, once again, just like last year, here I am nipping out to the bakery across the square in front of our flat one Sunday morning when I suddenly find myself caught up in the Women’s political party, F!’s, annual rally. I guarantee there are full time party members that have been to fewer rallies than I have … and yes just like last year I did get another pink balloon, though as Alex points out stumbling across two F! rallies and picking up a balloon does not a feminist make.

2015 on the left, 2016 on the right… or is it the other way round? Last years blog: https://fraserhynes4.com/2015/03/12/a-game-of-thrones-boxes-and-feminism/

Indeed sometimes the only way to mark the passing of time is Rosalyn’s growth as these frankly terrifying pictures taken exactly one year apart show.

All of which lead us nicely to Rosalyn’s 1st birthday. 1st birthdays are a bit weird aren’t they? For starters the kid doesn’t really know what’s going on, won’t remember anything and can’t even eat their own cake – no matter how beautifully handcrafted it was by their mum. Still she had an absolute ball and despite being completely spoilt by both sets of grandparents, naturally her favourite thing was tearing up the wrapping paper. What is funny is how the classic presents from our own childhood still stand up to modern scrutiny. I’m sure most people reading this either had, or have played with, the pull along car phone in the picture below. Now given the closest Rosalyn is going to come to a phone with a cord will be in a museum, it’s amazing how she still knew to pick up the receiver and put it to her ear.

As part of her birthday we took her to the annual … yeap, happens the same time every year …. ‘’ (cultural festival – http://kulturfestivalen.stockholm.se/) in Kungsträdgården (The Kings Garden) – honestly dear reader it’s amazing how good your Swedish is getting from just reading this blog!

The festival is a real mix with concerts, live performance, skate boarding competitions and features at its centre, a huge cardboard arch by the French artist Olivier Grossetête. Why a huge cardboard arch in front of the Kings Palace? God knows, but I’m sure there will be some deep metaphorical reason behind (there’s a cool video about it here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qLhuxIDP44 ).

More importantly however, the festival also had row upon row of tents full of activities for children. I was personally impressed by the ‘Rum for Kids’ tent – hey, if you need to calm your kids down, whatever it takes I say! And who doesn’t love a bit of medieval style children log beating? Oh, what fun! I guess those Viking traditions are tough to shake hey Sweden?

The children’s zone also featured some acrobatics. Swedish style acrobats. As is fairly standard for Sweden, the show inevitably started with a political statement. Why? Again, who knows, I really need to get on this whole language thing… Anyway, I think it was something about the education system or something – video 1 below if you can figure it out, I gave up after about 10 seconds. Thankfully this was quickly followed by some very impressive acrobatics (vid 2).

 

All of which leads nicely into some very big news.

pic-8‘Mama Mia’ indeed!

That’s right, we are having another kid! Having basically decided that life wasn’t quite complicated, tiring or stressful enough we thought, ‘oh here’s an idea, let’s add even more stress!’ Only joking, it’s incredibly exciting and mother and baby are both doing great. He’s due to make an appearance on the 18th Jan which means we’ll be spending Christmas in Stockholm – oh I feel a Christmas special blog coming on!

I also have to say that the Foreign Office – who Alex works for and the reason we are in Sweden in the first place – have been absolutely outstanding and incredibly supportive. We were a little concerned we’d be told to pack our bags back to London, but that’s not the case and we’ll be staying in Sweden even longer than expected – ‘yes, more blogs!’… I hear no one cry.

Most importantly, it also means that we might finally get to use some of the unnecessary ‘first time parents crap’ that we bought last year. The pinnacle of which being the infamous £80(!) ‘baby nest’ which Rosalyn slept in for a total of 17 minutes. As was noted at the time, a baby nest consisted of some foam with fabric wrapped round and a bit of draw string – in total if it cost £4 to make I’d have been amazed. To emphasise how ridiculously expensive and how many first time idiots there are out there like us, I was entirely unsurprised to see one in a 2nd hand shop being sold for £50… £50!

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Actually, it’s quite interesting the relationship Swedes have with second- hand stores. They are much more popular than in the UK, which is entirely understandable given the sheer volume and cost of specific items you need to buy for the winter, which of course the kid has grown out of a year later. I also think there is a cultural thing here at play in terms of not throwing out perfectly good clothes, we’ve certain picked up a few winter items for Rosalyn and the quality has been excellent. I think they just generally have a better and more sensible attitude about that type of thing.

Now I’m going to finish this blog on a bit of a downer I’m afraid. Regular readers will be familiar with a cafe that has featured in this blog since literally the first post and throughout: Muggen. Or as I like to call it Muggen (d) on account of how much they charge for everything! I’m not going to lie, I have a very well defined love/hate relationship with the place – I’ve spent more time there than anywhere else over here, so it was with some trepidation during the summer that I came across them refurbishing it.

Well dear reader, it has not gone well. They basically stripped out all the old fixtures and replaced them with a more modern aesthetic in a misguided and entirely unnecessary attempt to move from a cafe to more dining experience. Oh and they even raised the prices more from ‘Really? That’s expensive’ to ‘Are you joking?’. Well I was not happy dear reader and after a preview visit, decided to turn my back on the spiritual home of this blog. It was shambles. Terrible day time menu clearly designed to deter people from eating there during the day, a really ‘cold’ environment, far too clear – and worst of all, RESPONSIVE staff! You don’t go to Muggen(d) for responsive staff, you go there for the kind of service that can be best classified as ‘attempted but not that arsed’ – it’s all part of the appeal!

Well fear not because apparently I wasn’t alone and in the past few weeks things have started to return to normal, they’ve knocked through a wall, brought back the old menu, given up pursuing this night time food market nonsense and the staff have started to wear their default expression of indifference – just how I like it!

Baby Watch

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“Sorry Dad what? You used to call people on a phone you had to plug into the wall? Why didn’t you just Skype people?… What do you mean the internet wasn’t invented? How old are you?”

Pic of the Week

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1am. Middle of Summer. Swedish style. Ridiculous.

Track of the Month

Muggen (d), don’t go changing…

Gotland. Baltic in The Baltic

It’s not untypical for your average Swede to go on holiday for 4 weeks during the summer, with a large percentage taking advantage of summer homes, usually their own. One of the more popular destinations is Gotland, a large island south of Stockholm in the Baltic Sea. We were lucky enough to be invited out to Gotland for a long weekend over the summer by good friends of ours Emma & Per whose family have a traditional Swedish summer house out there.

Swedes are very enthusiastic about spending time in the outdoors, a lot of the festivals celebrated over here are about nature and agriculture, there is something in them that enjoys sheading the trappings of modern life and returning to a simpler, purer existence. I am of course generalising here and as a nation the Swedish people are probably amongst the most tech savvy in the world, but it is certainly the case that these lengthy breaks are about getting out of the city and returning to nature, all of which brings us back to Gotland.

After a short drive from Stockholm – and a much longer 3 hour ferry journey – you arrive at the main town of Visby. Driving out of the town a strange feeling of calm descends, during the summer the island is extremely well populated but you wouldn’t know it from the amount of traffic on the roads. It is strangely relaxing and eerily quiet. Purposely most summer homes are away from the main roads which carve up the island, set back amongst forestry and large fields which stretch over the island like a rich green blanket.

Our friends’ summer house is typical of the ‘classic’ Swedish style and has been in the family for over 50 years. By modern standards it is tiny and extremely basic in terms of modern fixture and fittings, which as a result make it utterly beguiling and completely routed in its environment.

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And what an environment it is. Gotland is what I imagine most people think all of Sweden looks like, the picture postcard version if you will.

Naturally a popular, and essential compulsory, thing to do on the island is swim in the sea because as you now know Swedes aren’t happy unless they’re doing at least some form of exercise every day. Yes that’s right, swimming in The Baltic. Now I had a couple of problems with this. Firstly, back in my home town of Manchester if something is described as ‘baltic’, it actually means it’s ‘bloody freezing’, as in “it’s baltic, I’m not going outside” and surely whoever first used the word in that way must have got it from somewhere, it wasn’t just plucked out of thin air, ‘Oh I think baltic would be a good word to mean bloody freezing’. No these things come from experience and it didn’t exactly alleviate your concerns when Per’s sister-in-law Jane who, incidentally, represented Scotland at swimming in her youth, brought out a THERMOMETER (!) to see if was too dangerous to get in or not!

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It was thus with a hefty dose of trepidation that I made my way down to the key side where all the kids were jumping into the sea. And by kids I mean Jane’s daughters Helena and Louisa who were to play a key role in eventually convincing me that:

  1. It wasn’t ‘that’ cold – though being kids of course you can’t trust their opinion on such things as they don’t really care as long as they are having a good time
  2. If I didn’t get in they would never let me forget it – which I was particularly impressed with as a bribery tactic from a couple of kids

So as always with the blog in mind and my commitment to reporting back to you dear reader on all the adventures available in Sweden I, excuse the pun, took the plunge. That first leap into the unknown was caught on camera and I’ll leave you to guess what’s going through my head at this exact moment…

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Thankfully the whole trip wasn’t purely about finding new and exciting ways to catch pneumonia, we also spent a day in Visby, which couldn’t be more Swedish if it had people walking round in traditional dress trying to sell you a tour round a remade Viking settlement… which it does of course, being a tourist hot spot and all.

Visby is perhaps most famous for its medieval fortifications or for the more informed traveller than me – ‘the street with roses’ – a street lined with, wait for it, roses. Randomly, it’s also home to Europe’s ‘best beach club’, not that they like to mention it – or indeed are on a beach, more like in a habour…. I’m being unfair. Visby is extremely picturesque and should definitely be on the to-do list of any extended visits to Sweden.

Meanwhile back in Stockholm we spent a lot of the summer doing our very best to fill Rosalyn’s head with as many different cultural experiences as possible, whilst also fulfilling my promise to you dear reader to experience as much as Sweden has to offer as possible. Whizzing through a few, not content with swimming in The Baltic and teaching new English swear words to a group of 5 and 7 year olds, we took Rosalyn to Stockholm’s outdoor swimming complex, Eriksdalsbadet.

Now I know what you are thinking, how can Stockholm, a city you’d more ready associate with snow and ice have an outdoor swimming pool? Well not only does it have a pool, the whole complex is enormous,

I promise it wasn’t as cold as it looks, we aren’t that cruel.

We also spent an afternoon at Stockholm Modern art museum, Moderna Museet – you see, you are even learning Swedish reading this blog! I’m not entirely sure what Rosalyn took from it all other than a new love of screaming in rooms that echo. My dad was equally unimpressed until he came across an old Lotus racing car – odd thing to have in a modern art museum, but as a motorhead it gave Brendadio something to drool over.  For me, as with all modern art museums,  there seems to be an even split between powerful, thought-provoking work and stuff that looks like it’s been pulled out of a skip that morning.  But whatever you think about modern art, it’s definitely worth  a visit, it’s a beautiful space in a beautiful setting,

We also treated Rosalyn, lucky girl, to a visit to the Fotografiska (photography museum – you are getting really good at this old Swedish language thing, give yourself a pat on the back!) … well once we got there that is! In fairly typical ‘dad’ style, Brendadio decided that he knew a short cut and chose to ignore the rows of giant arrows signposting the way to go… I think it only took half an hour for him to admit he’d gone the wrong way, which is probably a new ‘dad’ record?

We’ve actually been a few times as the café has one of the best views of the city going – that sounds really bad, it also has really great exhibitions honest! Rosalyn was particularly taken with the work of Nick Brandt who has taken photographs from one of his previous works (endangered animals in Africa) and overlaid them in locations ravage by mankind. It’s very powerful stuff, even for a 1year old! I should also mention we saw some great work from Bryan Adams (yes, THAT Bryan Adams) – honestly, apart from Alex, who knew he was a professional photographer?

Baby Watch

Pic of the Week

Starting her early, though we really should get her some kids books at some point.

Track of the Week

Yes THAT Bryan Adams,

Eurovision descends on Stockholm like a glitter ball Death Star

What is The Eurovision Song contest? Let me rephrase that. We all know what Eurovision is: a yearly competition to find Europe’s ‘best’ song. But what is it? Putting to one side for a moment the fact that Europe’s ‘premier’ song writing competition has recently added Australia (no really) to its roster of qualifying countries, it’s very difficult to actually define what the competition is about aside from being surprisingly hilarious.

It quickly becomes apparent when watching Eurovision that what it doesn’t actually feature is the best song writers/performers from every country in Europe. Well you hope not. What it does have is performances camper than a row of tents and consistently some of most laugh out loud moments of TV available anywhere in the world. Want to see something that will leave you genuinely speechless today? Check out Poland’s ‘performance’ from 2014 below. Aside from a gratuitous attempt to win votes that would leave even Donald Trump red faced, you’ll genuinely wonder how this was allowed to be broadcast during what is essentially a family entertainment show – not to mention a rather misguided attempt to reach Eurovision’s ‘core’ audience.

Thankfully, in most cases like the Poland entry, tongues are so firmly in cheeks from all involved that it’s a surprise most of the acts can actually sing their songs (I use ‘sing’ and ‘songs’ in the loosest possible sense of the word). Though conversely, and this too is what makes Eurovision so weirdly beguiling, is the fascinating undercurrent of political strategic voting. First time viewers would be shocked at the geopolitical manoeuvrings that are played out through the extraordinarily complex voting system. Seriously, for a show frothier than a treble cappuccino, it is oddly political, with an international incident almost breaking out after the anti-Russian protest song from the Ukraine won this year.

Political intrigue aside though, it is for the most part utterly hilarious and in May descended on Stockholm like a giant glitter ball Death Star.

For a country as seemingly reserved as Sweden, they absolutely adore Eurovision. I suspect it originates from when a little ensemble musical group you may have heard of called ‘ABBA’ won the competition back in 1974. A time when I can only assume writers of the calibre of Benny and Bjorn were doing a serious amount of ‘stimulants’ and thought it would be a laugh to throw something in.

Everyone seems to be at a house party or pilling into the bars and cafés which show it live. It is insanely popular. To put that into context, Alex’s friend Gillian had flown over with a few friends to attend the event but couldn’t get a ticket for the 16,000 seater arena which was broadcasting the final itself. No bother, they settled instead for the ‘overflow’ arena which held an additional 20,000 people!

In the build up to the event, seemingly every available lamppost in the main pedestrian streets was festooned with banners announcing its imminent arrival,

It was whilst wandering down one such street, Götgatan on our Island of Sodermalm (coincidently one of the most famous streets in Stockholm) that we came across a large crowd of people gathered outside the local music shop. A small stage had been erected on which a group of musicians were doing a very solid rendition of the Eagles, Take It Easy,

Well imagine our surprise when later that night this random band turned out to be Dutch entry ‘Douwe Bob’. Unfortunately, though perhaps unsurprisingly given it’s a classic of is genre, their own song didn’t quite match up to Eagle classic they’d performed earlier that day and they finished ‘mid-table’ – I cant say where exactly, as I said earlier the voting system is monumentally complex.

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However what I can say is that I now have a new found respect for the people who perform on Eurovision. For too long they have been ridiculed as chances, karaoke pub singers… actually who am I kidding, most them are still complete turd. However it does remain one of the funniest things on TV.

Anyway moving on. One thing you need to know about Swedes is they love staying fit. They are forever bloody running up things, jumping over things, lifting this, dropping that, stretching, reaching, straining … honestly, you’ll see more lycra in a day walking round Stockholm than a week watching the Tour De France.

But off all the fitness things they love, running is the one. Oh man, they are obsessed with running. In one year we’ve had one marathon, two half marathons and couple of 10K’s go past the road outside our flat.

The most interesting, in my min sinister, of these is The Stockholm Midnattsloppet (midnight run) http://midnattsloppet.com/en/stockholm/information-before-the-race/. It takes place, wait for it, during the night … though ironically, and somewhat of a missed opportunity you’d have thought, doesn’t start at midnight. Anyway, it’s completely bonkers and seems more like a piss up with some accidental running than a proper sporting event.

It also appears that the finish line might be a gateway to hell.

What Fraser? Hey, I’m as surprised as you and it’s certainly not something I was thinking about on the morning of the event when they were setting up which seemed pleasant enough. Indeed there was nothing in the local paper to suggest any devilish anarchy at play – though looking back perhaps those plumes of fire above the start line were a subtle warning of things to come?

Intrigued, and as is my duty to you dear reader, I decided to check it out.

It’s 11pm. I’m heading out of the flat and the first thing I hear is a quietly thumping baseline. As I turn the corner and head down the hill to the road on which the event is being run, I first notice the large group of people huddled round a rapidly erected DJ booth. The baseline grows loader, the crowd bigger. Believe me when I say this is going to be unlike any 10 K you’ve ever seen,

Don’t be fooled by the upbeat music in the following video, instead focus your attention on whatever, in all things Holy, that strange glow in the distance is that all the runners are literally racing towards…

I decided to go investigate for the good of this blog. That’s my commitment to you dear reader. Other bloggers would have headed for the hills, not me, onwards! As I draw closer the lights grow wilder, the noise more intense, am I witnessing the end of days? Is this a portal to another realm? Why is everyone smiling, do they not know the danger they are in? And still the people race towards the abyss.

I guess we’ll never know for sure, perhaps it was just a heavily illuminated finish line to fully exploit the fact the race is taking place at night… Or maybe it was portal into the underworld, Beelzebub choosing to use cheesy Euro pop to draw in unsuspecting heathens … Whatever it was, next year I’m going to find out for sure and do the run. I will be expecting others to join me on my quest for the truth.

My own view on fitness is that it’s fine if it serves a purpose and is enjoyable – I really struggle to see where the satisfaction comes in lifting, dropping, then lifting again an inanimate object over and over again. Seriously, what’s the point? To this end during the summer I illustrated this by walking to work – about as strenuous as it gets these days. I’m not just saying this because I’m fortunate enough to live here but Stockholm in the sunshine is hard to beat and as commutes go, pretty good.

Two other exciting things happening around this time were a family wedding in Rome and a 90th Birthday party.

To make the most of the trip to Italy, myself, Alex and Rosalyn headed over a few days early to the tiny fishing village of Sperlonga. Renowned as one of the best places to eat seafood in the entire region of Lazio, I enjoyed some of the finest ‘fishy food’ I’ve ever had. Alex, a non-seafood eater had a rather different culinary experience having to consistently order the one thing on any given menu that didn’t include some element of something that had recently been plucked from the sea.

Rome itself was spectacular. As a first time visitor and big fan of Roman history I would strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t been to book a flight immediately. At the risk of this blog turning into ‘what I did last summer’, some of the sites on view in that city defy belief and description: The Colosseum, Forum, Basilica, Vatican… I could go on but it seems like every road you turn down there’s another structure in front of you designed purely to take your breath away. It is simply spectacular and unimaginable to think what impact these buildings and monuments must have had on people at that time who for the most part were living in shacks. Taking aside views on religion and the like, The Vatican in particular – where not one single penny was held back in construction (standard Roman Catholic stuff) – must have blown people’s minds. And still does to be honest. Still, as spectacular as the surrounds were they were as nothing compared to the brilliance of the wedding of Laura and James – congratulations you two and thank you for having us as part of your special day, even if Rosalyn did provide running commentary to the last part of the service.

Shortly after Rome were back in the UK for Alex’s Grandad’s 90th. The man, the legend, Eddie Mcateer. For 90 he’s wearing incredible well, Eddie I salute you sir.

The great thing about these family get togethers is that Rosalyn gets to see her cousins Anna and Orlagh. Here are the three of them in matching doughnut dresses for no other reason than it’s very funny,

Baby Watch

Not that Rosalyn was ready to start interacting with other children more often at this point in our little Swedish advantage but here she is making friends with the Vacuum cleaner. Thankfully nursey was not far away, a story I’ll be covering off in a few weeks’ time.

Pic of the Week

You looking at my bottle son?

Track of the Month

Poland’s 2014 Eurovision song contest entry. I can’t believe I’m saying this about a family TV show broadcast early in the evening but if you are reading this in the office I suspect it isn’t suitable for work. Stick with it, but you have been warned.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqwnWIpqlIk

Bullfighting stag party, hypothermia and a red squirrel in a beer barrel

It’s not often you see something which truly defies explanation.

We did a lot of day trips during our holiday to Mallorca in April. Sometimes out to a beautiful landmark, a drive up into the hills or along the coast for lunch. However on this particular day we decided to drop into the local medieval town which happened to have a bull ring.

Now to be clear I am not a supporter of bull fighting. Whilst I can understand to some extent the heritage and cultural arguments, I just can’t help but feel it belongs to another time. Anyhow that aside and purely out of curiosity we decided to go in and have a look round.

Enjoying a refreshing cold drink in the outdoor seating area, shortly after our arrival a minibus pulled up from which out poured a Spanish stag party in various stages of inebriation. They quickly huddled round the groom, naturally dressed as a matador, and after plenty of cajoling bundled their way into the ring where they found the proprietor of the establishment preparing a ‘bull’ for the groom to fight.

Now this preparation involved him banging on a large metal door behind which the bull was apparently ready to appear at any moment. Suspiciously he wouldn’t allow the groom to look through the small hatch in the door to see his foe, instead using it to prod the apparently already giddy bull. All of which was serving to whip the assembled group into a fit of childlike excitement.

Of course clearly this was all for show. A big black locked metal gate? Banging on metal? Rattling locks and hinges? Clearly it’s all part of show, any moment now he’s going to open that door and out will come running his friends pushing a mechanical bull, or a suitably giddy goat. Cue much laughter, bit of fooling around, everyone goes for a beer.

The moment arrives.

The groom is positioned 10 meters in front of the door, pink and yellow cloak flapping in the wind as he passes it from hand to hand. His friends have placed themselves safely behind the wooden panels dotted around the ring.

The lock holding the door is slowly loosened.

The bolt judders in its casing.

It slides back, the giant metal door swings open and… AN ACTUAL BLOODY BULL comes bounding out, charges the groom, hits him square in the shins and sends him spinning vertically through the air!

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Did that guy really just get wiped out by an actually bull on his stag weekend? Did his mates really just put him in a ring with a bull when he clearly has no idea what he’s doing? Am I really seeing this? Is this actually happening? Now I wouldn’t believe it myself if I hadn’t got a video. And fair play, on that first run the bull absolutely wiped him out but he got back up and went in for seconds. However as this video shows that didn’t turn out especially well for him either,

No bulls were harmed in the making of this video, but the groom took an absolute pounding.

And I know what you’ll be thinking watching the video, ‘but that’s only a baby bull how bad can it be?’ Trust me that animal was big enough. What I especially like in the video is the he’s actually doing ok to start with. This doesn’t last long. And when his friends run in to help him as soon as the bull lifts its head they all run off in the opposite direction. And I know it’s bad but it absolutely cracked me up as you can hear.

Now like the best man, and apparently all his friends given how much fun the bull had smashing them round the ring, I too am no expert on bullfighting. However, I’m fairly sure I was able to quickly establish a fundamental flaw in his technique,

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On the subject of stag weekends, the month before I had also attended a stag doo, and though the chance of bullfighting was decidedly limited it didn’t mean we didn’t end up dicing with death.

Firstly though, a couple of signs that as you get older your approach to such events is prone to change,

No. 1 – You find out Ross ‘The Machine’ James stopped off on his way for a Costa Coffee and to ‘stretch his legs’. The same Machine who you once saw drink 20 pints of Guinness in one sitting and would have still trusted to drive you home safe

No. 2 – When someone you are sharing a cabin with asks what you are looking for and you reply, ‘my slippers, I’m sure I brought them with me’

No. 3 – You assess the merits of a boozer on its selection of real ales rather than its views on a man dressed in an ill-fitting Baywatch women’s swimsuit

The stag was for a very good old friend of mine Dan Fell and located in the middle of England, specifically in what I like to call ‘the countryside’. Regular readers will be aware that this is not my natural habitat, so in the spirit of integrating with the locals I thought it an excellent opportunity to dig out the flat cap I’ve been dying to wear all year, something I may have overdone given I even kept it on when we went white water rafting.

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Hang on Fraser? Hang on. Didn’t you say you were in the middle of England? What are you talking about white water rafting? This isn’t the Canadian Rockies you idiot, the middle of England is flatter than a snooker table.

Well I’m glad you ask dear reader because I need to tell you about this little white water rafting experience in case you are ever foolish enough to do the same thing. Despite no obvious ‘rapids’ – or indeed ‘ripples’ in the complete placid river Trent, what is lacks in high drama it more than makes up for in being cold.

It’s hard to express how cold that river is but put it this way our guide, Captain Mental (who was completely insane, more on him in a moment) made it very clear that what we mustn’t, under any circumstances, do was get wet too quickly. We’d be out for two hours and the water was so cold if we got wet too soon he couldn’t guarantee our safety (I kid you not!). So for clarity he was telling a 16 strong stag party split across two inflatable dinghies, on a river, not to get wet too quickly.

Well I think the first person was in the water within about 4 minutes, and the last about 10 minutes later. I can’t emphasis enough what a huge error in judgement this was. I live in Sweden and am acutely aware that there is cold and then there is how cold this river was. After 15 minutes we were shivering. After 30, people were changing colour. After 45, hallucinating as we descending into full blown hypothermia – which our bonkers captain took as a sign that what we really wanted to do was get back in the river and somehow in our delusional state got us to ‘flip’ the dingy – nobody can say for sure why.

An hour and half later I couldn’t feel anything – physically and emotionally – and didn’t even blink when Captain Mental started talking about pulling the boat over and eating a cow (and I’ve had subsequent conversations to confirm that this did indeed happen).

Finally back to dry land, I climbed into the back of the van in a seat next to Dan’s brother Rob and the two of us sat shaking in silence for the 30 minute car journey back to the pub where we had started our fateful voyage. It was outside said pub that a local old chap, in a flat cap, stood smoking a cigarette. As I shuffled past him, teeth chattering, hands shaking, he muttered the immortal words “What the hell did you get in that river for, it’s bloody freezing. Stupid city folk.”

That all said, an absolutely brilliant weekend followed by an equally excellent wedding. Massive congratulations and big love to Dan and Jo,

Pic 3

Back to our trip to Mallorca, into which, as usual, I managed to incorporate some misadventure.

A couple of months earlier I’d agreed to present at a conference in Amsterdam right in the middle of the trip. Why? Well it’s very simply really it was a massive ego job, the conversation with the event organisers essentially going like this,

“Fraser would you like to present to a load of industry people who have no choice but to listen to you for 40 minutes?”

“Yes”

“It’ll be right in the middle of your holiday.”

“Oh that won’t be a problem I’ve got loads of time.”

I should have known things weren’t going to go to plan when I was asked to provide a headshot. Completely unrelated, a few days before this a friend of mine at work, Richard, had been working on a document for a client and asked the design team to ‘create an illustration of the modern professional, someone friendly, not too serious, someone who encapsulates professional services’ – and in his words not mine – ‘look who they gave us…’

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I was extremely flattered by this as I obviously like to think there is a passing resemblance. Well imagine my surprise then when my actual headshot came back and I realised that in actual fact I resemble a red squirrel,

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The second problem was that when agreeing to take part my ego hadn’t bothered to check in with my practicality department. If it had it would have the realised that the project I was working on at the time would leave me with zero time to actually write the presentation – for those with an interest, ‘What B2B marketers learn from the world’s most powerful B2B brands’ – umm, snappy!

This lack of time led to hours and hours spent over Easter Weekend writing the damn thing, to the point where I literally had no idea where in Mallorca we were actually going till we got there. And then a further equal amount of time in the 1st week of the holiday writing a script!

Anyhow, I eventually got to the conference and realised it was happening at the Heineken Museum. Now I know there’s an easy gag here but wait till you find out that they’d only gone and turned an old beer barrel into a lectern,

Pic 7Pic 8

I’ll let you add your own caption for what these two are saying. In my mind they are obviously saying how excited they are about my introduction rather than say, ‘oh God what’s this nonsense now’?

Meanwhile once back in Mallorca we had a fantastic time with our very good friends Emma, Per and their son George (who’s a few months younger than Rosalyn). Now I’m not going to bore you with loads of ‘here’s what we did last summer’ nonsense – I’m sure you don’t care. I’ll merely say that in the following pics you can see,

  1. A beautiful vista of the island with Alex, Emma, George and Rosalyn. If you’ve not been, I’d strongly recommend it, it’s a stunning island
  2. The most expensive property in Spain… well off in the distance called ‘La Fortaleza’. Most of you will recognise it from the ‘The Night Manager’ – and I’m sorry ladies (and gents) but Tom wasn’t wondering around with his shirt off. Interestingly it was apparently bought by a British banker (who else?) for 40 Million Euro’s. Apparently though he’s not happy (bless him) as under Spanish law he has to open it to the public 4 times a year
  3. Checking out some art Miró style … in, well, Miro style

Finally before we finish I should say that also in April we had Rosalyn’s Christening – it was a busy couple of months. We did this jointly with my very good friend Shella, his wife Sophie and their daughter Isabelle. You can see here Rosalyn taking great interest in her Godfather Ed’s hair (as we all do),

Baby watch

Pick of the month

The awkward moment where your brother and brother-in-law find out in a nightclub in Balham at 2am that they got the same Christmas present.

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Track of the week

Now this a river worth checking out – Al Green, Take Me To The River,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pmn2KDiW-kE

February: Pram parks, fake real snow and a dangerous case of cake addiction

It’s February and I need to talk prams.

“Well this is going to be a fascinating addition to the blog cannon Fraser, just give me a minute while I go find absolutely anything else to do”.

Now please bear with me dear reader, the reason I want to talk about prams, specifically our pram, is that the experience of using it during the winter months will give you a keen insight into Swedish life which all the textbooks out there cannot.

First thing to say is that it will come as little surprise to anyone that prams take an absolute pounding over here in the winter months and despite buying the equivalent of a Range Rover, ours was no different. After a few weeks of pushing, dragging and wrangling it through miles of snow covered payments, the tires were pretty much flat – yes, our pram is so fancy it has inflatable tires.

What a pain right? Flat tires on a pram, complete disaster, impossible situation, so on and so forth (*I appreciate that when held up against world poverty and other such matters, these are hardly big issues but it works for the narrative of the blog). Well as it turns out inflating tires on a pram over here is not only easy, it’s actually very much the done thing as we quickly discovered that every public toilet, including the one in the square outside our flat, has a built-in ‘pram tire pump’ specifically for the job. You can’t make this stuff up – and actually don’t need to,

All of which goes to show just how child friendly Sweden is. But this commitment to a sustained ‘pram friendly experience’ don’t end there. How many of you have seen, or dreamt that they’d live long enough to see one of these?

Pram parking spaces. What a time to be alive.

What is it you ask? It’s only a blooming pram car park! That’s right, most of the main museums have these during the winter but unlike those round the world where you might have an area set aside somewhere round the back, this being Sweden you literally have your own parking bay right at the front. And exactly like their car equivalents, the exact same rules apply – God only help you if you park across someone else’s bay, its nappy bags at 12 paces!

Now in last week’s blog I talked at length about how cold it was in Sweden at the start of the year and therefore how much snow we had in January. Imagine for a minute then how much I was talking about that at the time? It was honestly my number one topic of conversation, if not infact my only topic of conversation. Regular readers may have also noted that on occasion I may… perhaps… occasionally… now and again… be prone to slight exaggerations.

It should therefore come as little surprise that the impression I may have given people back home was that we were essentially living through a second ice age on a stable diet of woolly mammoth and sabretooth tiger and that the simple act of going to the shops was akin to trekking across the arctic tundra in speedos.

I may, may, have slightly exaggerated the situation which might go some way towards explaining why our first visitors in February, my mum and dad, came dressed as ‘Nordic Wing Commander Brendadio’ and ‘Dee of Antartica’. Indeed my mum even went so far as to buy a special pair of boots that can be used in -25 degrees.

However my warnings were in the end well founded when shortly before their arrival we had such a heavy snow dump that it was piled up in the streets above their heads.

pic 6 a

I have a confession to make – the picture above is a lie. Here it is in full.

pic 6 b

I couldn’t believe it. After weeks of saying how much snow there was, how cold it was, how difficult it was to get round the city, by February everything had bloody melted and it wasn’t actually that cold – I should say this is in relative terms, for any future Winter visitors I wouldn’t suggest just packing a couple of Bermuda shorts and flip flops!

Luckily however having promised ‘loads of snow’ we were able to find a great big pile of the stuff outside the Kings Palace. However again I need to come clean and admit that it’s actually ‘fake real snow’ imported from the north (where funnily enough they have loads of the stuff!) The snow itself was being shoveled into place for the yearly Royal Sprint – a World Cup race on skis around the Royal Palace (http://royalpalacesprint.se/en/)

pic 7

However even without the snow though, one really good thing the council does throughout the winter is offer ‘free’ ice skating rinks throughout the city – well, free if you have your own ice skates, which the vast majority of residents do of course.

pic 8

February was also notable for me personally for one other reason, the development of a potentially life threatening addiction to Semla cakes. I have talked about Semlor before: a Swedish specialty, they are a sweet cardamom-spiced bun filled with a mix of milk and almond paste, topped with whipped cream.

Historically eaten only on Shrove Tuesday as the last festive food before Lent, today they are available every day from shortly after Christmas until Easter. On average a Swede will consume five a year. Here’s how many I had in one week,

At one point I’d even taken to bulk purchasing and pulling articles out of the newspaper to find the best places to buy them from. I have a problem. I need help.

Anyway, the reason for my concern with this overloading on a cream bun? Well on February 12, 1771, King Adolf Frederick of Sweden died of digestion problems following a large meal and after completing his fourteen helping of his favorite desert, The Semla.

It is literally a King Killer – and I ain’t no King!

Baby Watch

February included a day trip to the Stockholm aquarium – http://www.aquaria.se/. In the interests of full disclosure I have to say it’s not especially great for adults – I’ve been in bigger swimming pools. But Rosalyn did enjoy the brightly lit jelly fish tanks.

Also in February, baby weaning went from bad to absolutely dismal.

Pic of the Month

For the second week in a row I need to apologise to younger readers, though to be fair this image was available to people of all ages anyway so I’m technically not the one to blame. I’ve mentioned before that there are certain words in English which don’t carry the same ‘weight’ when Swedes drop them (regularly as it happens) into conversations as you can clearly see here in this advert on the Underground advertising a popular breakfast cereal…

Pic of the week

Track of the Month

Dean Martin – Let It Snow,

Meanwhile back in Sweden…

It’s been pointed out for some time now that I haven’t updated this blog for a while. Well it wasn’t until I checked earlier this week that I realised ‘a while’ had somehow turned into six months. Six months! Where has the time gone? And more to the point, what the hell has been going on?

In the interests of providing a comprehensive record of the unique experience that is living in Sweden, whilst at the same time not boring you to death dear reader, I’ve decide to quickly cover the last 6 months in bite-size weekly chunks until we get back up to speed. Starting with a very cold and surprisingly dangerous January…

Our extended Christmas break in the UK over it was time to head back to the (not so) warm embrace of Sweden. We had boarded the plane with a fairly healthy dose of trepidation after seeing a picture a friend of mine had posted of his office car park in Stockholm under the heading, ‘we’ve just been hit by a snow storm’.

Pic 1

Our sense of trepidation was heightened by the fact that we had acquired, and would have to transport, two more suitcases than we’d left with, which I blame squarely on a new condition commonly referred to as ‘grandchildoverindulgenitus’.

Pic 2

Arriving at Stockholm airport, our nerves already jingling about what lay beyond, we were instantly put at ease with the announcement that the temperature outside was actually nothing to worry about, sitting as it did at a positively tropical -12. Yes, that’s right, -12. We were reliably informed we shouldn’t complain because the week before it had got down to a toe curling -25. Yeap. Minus. Twenty. Five.

It’s worth noting at this point that I hate being cold – which does beg the question why I live in Sweden but let’s put that to one side for a now. I attribute my pathological hatred down to the fact I was born in a heatwave in Australia, which I believe seared an imprint of ‘heat’ onto my DNA creating a fairly rubbish set of ‘X-Man’ like abilities. Namely I’m able to find, in any given situation, an array of different ways to moan about the cold. A skill which came in very handy as the temperature for our first few weeks back very much hovered around ‘God that’s cold’ and ‘No really, that’s cold’, thus having the ability to come up with new ways of essentially saying the same thing came in very handy.

Pic 3

The digital thermometer in our flat on basically any day in January. Outside temp top, inside bottom. Fun fact, we have no control over the internal heating as it’s centrally regulated. So whilst this is lovely during the winter at the time of writing we are lightly cooking in shorts and t-shirts.

Of course the advantage of these temperatures, and yes even I admit there are some advantages, is that you are guaranteed snow. Lots of snow. Lots and lots of snow.

Of course they also bring a whole new list of exciting and interesting ways to die. The first of which I like to call ‘frozen drain death traps’.

Regular readers will be familiar with my ongoing ‘battle’ with the Stockholm city drainage system. Basically because there is so much snow fall every apartment block – a.k.a. the majority of buildings in central Stockholm – have external pipes running from the roof down to the pavement. At the bottom of which are drains cut from the pavement which run from the edge of the building out to road.

Now these drains are a minor annoyance most of the year, especially as they are spaced about 5 meters or so apart and thus require some expert buggy manoeuvring, https://fraserhynes4.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/family-ties-and-stockholm-drains/. But what do you think happens in the winter? That’s right, the water they spill out freezes, turning the once simple act of going to the shop for a pint of milk into a death defying scramble across sheets of black ice with only rock hard concrete to soften your landing… Every 5 meters…

The second ‘death trap’ is rather more complex. Frozen lakes.

This probably won’t come as a huge surprise but back in my home town of Manchester, North West England lakes don’t tend to freeze over. Actually we don’t have any lakes in Manchester but you get the point. Unsurprisingly the same cannot be said of Stockholm. And when I say lakes, I’m not talking about glorified duck ponds, I’m talking multiple football pitch sized bodies of water.

Take this one for example.

Now believe it or not people swim in that in the summer. Hard to believe right? More interestingly, in the pictures above you can see that a skating track has been cleared around the edge of the lake, which runs for about 15 km and must make for an interesting part of the daily commute to work! You can also see a small ice hockey pitch which has been cleared for kids. Getting out on a frozen lake is very much the done thing during the winter.

And of course it goes without saying that I had to walk out on to it – think of me as your very own Swedish guinea pig. Now I can’t tell you what an odd feeling that is if like me you’ve never done it before.

pic 13

I know it sounds, and let’s be honest is, ridiculous but it’s like you can ‘feel’ the water under your feet. There is also a strange ‘silence’ the further you go out which of course means every little sound you do hear is clearly the ice cracking and you are about to die a fairly horrible death. Irrational I know but after venturing 20 odd feet from the shoreline I had a very sudden urge to head back in. Very, very weird, though next year I do intend to go as far as skating on it – though why taking a blade shaped piece of metal to a frozen lake is a good idea I’ll never know!

Of course the upside of all this snow is that everything, no matter how dirty, grubby or ugly underneath, looks incredibly picturesque. However there is of course yet another downside to all of this (did I mention I like to moan about the cold?) and it’s to do with the pram. Inevitably the tires get clogged up with snow. Snow which has mixed with all the crap on the floor you can’t see. The same snow which melts in your flat leaving lovely new dirt patterns on the floor.

pic 14

The solution? Well I deeply ashamed and embarrassed to admit this, is a rubber ‘buggy’ mat.

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Why ashamed? Because that’s the exact same mat I ridiculed in a previous blog, about which I said and I quote,

‘What is one of the biggest fears associated with being a new parent? Germs. And where are germs found? In dirt. And which specific part of baby apparatus comes into the most contact with dirt? Pram wheels. And how does one combat this? Simple really, with a £20 (!) ‘Deluxe Floor Protection System’. Or, as you might know it better, a ‘Plastic Sheet’,

Matt pic

Exhibit A. The Deluxe Floor Protection System ©

Now you may be asking, why the anger Fraser? Surely you didn’t spend £20 on a bit of plastic you could buy for a fraction of the price? Of course not dear reader, I’m not an idiot!”

Well guess what? I am indeed an idiot.

Baby Watch

January was designated as launch date for two key development exercises, sleep and food training.

Sleep training… also known as putting her in her own cot… also known as ‘the worst’, was not something we were especially looking forward to. As a new parent with a personal track record of bad sleeping habits (as I’m constantly being reminded by my parents) you hear a lot about how awful it is to get a child to sleep for any length of time on their own and I have nothing but sympathy for anybody going through it at the moment.

We were dreading it and had waited till a Friday on the assumption we wouldn’t be getting any sleep for at least three nights – we even stuck motivational notes to the wall to keep us going! Well I’m relieved to report that due to a combination of luck and good fortune, it’s generally been ok (touch wood, cross fingers, hop on one leg). Inevitably there are the odd nights where you don’t think you’ll ever sleep again and find simple tasks like making a cup of tea akin to working on the latest NASA project, but thankfully she’s mostly enjoyed having her own space.

Food training on the hand went exactly as expected and has thankfully improved in the past 6 months (a bit).

Pic of the Month

It’s always been my intention that this blog be suitable for kids. Yes there might be the odd word here and there or the occasional ‘adult theme’ but generally I like to think it’s a fairly family friendly and I know that some people do read/show it to their kids.

So in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to warn you this week’s Pic of the Month is most certainly NOT children friendly. If you have children or are easily offended yourself, enjoy the weekend and I’ll see you next time. Otherwise read on.

Still here?

Ok, let me share with you some graffiti Swedish style. I spotted this on my way to work in January covering a poster in the entrance hall to my tube station. Not only do you have to wonder how they got it up there in the first place (if you’ll excuse the expression) but you also have to admire the ambition of the piece of street art.

How you feel about it and what it’s trying saying I’ll let you decide for yourself. For me it’s about the disposable nature of media in a society ravaged by decades of moral decay. Or it could just be a guy with a really big ‘opinion’ of himself.

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Track of the Month

Tom Jones & Cerys Matthews, Baby its cold outside

Till next time.

Fraser ‘bring me my thermals’ Hynes