So two weeks ago my mum and dad, Deirdre and ‘Brendadio’ as he is affectionately known amongst my friends, came out to visit. Unfortunately it wasn’t all smooth sailing as Brendadio got involved in a bitter dispute with the Swedish Armed Forces for reasons which still remain unclear.
I suppose it was inevitable really that Sweden should be placed on ‘high alert’ when news filtered through that he would be paying the country a visit, however I feel it was somewhat overkill for them to mobilise their entire military force in an effort to keep tabs on his movements.
Things first took an ominous turn on the first morning of their visit. Taking the passenger ferry across the archipelago, we looked out of the window to see moored up on the quayside one of Sweden’s submarines. Now as far as sending the message, ‘watch yourself Brendadio we’ve got our eye on you’ goes it’s a fairly decent start.
Now some of you are probably thinking, ‘pure coincidence Fraser, what are you on about’. Really? Then read on because later that day whilst wandering down a separate quayside (Stockholm is a collection of 10,000 islands, there are a lot of quaysides) what do we see? That’s right, a camouflaged warship.
I say what do WE see, when I ask Brendadio,
“Can you see that camouflaged warship over there?”
His response is both disturbing and also the quote of the weekend,
*As an aside Brendadio has a lot of form in this particular area, his second best quote of the weekend came when he was buying tickets for the Vasa Museum, “Bonjour… Gracias… err, Thanks” – Brendadio, International traveller extraordinaire!*
Anyway, it appeared there was a pattern developing. Just what had Brendadio done to evoke such an aggressive response from the normally rational, placid Swedish people? Perhaps the answer would present itself during our visit to the Royal Palace?
Well no sooner had we arrived than this lad starts patrolling what is essentially a building made out of tarpaulin. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that plastic sheeting is of great value in Sweden but you can’t tell me it’s a coincidence that suddenly the Kings Guard felt it was important to protect the integrity of a load of plastic sheeting just because Brendadio turns up!
Coincidence? Again, some of you will be thinking that it was perhaps simply time for the changing of the guard? But is it also a coincidence that as soon as Brendadio went to find out what was going on a load of his mates turned up? A literal show of force.
Anyway, thankfully he survived till the end of the weekend but the message was clear, ‘Sweden has its eye on you Brendadio, so you just watch yourself sunshine!’
Now one thing you could never level at the Hynes family is that we don’t like to have a good time. We are also all rather partial to the occasional tipple as the following collage of pictures from the weekend clearly demonstrate: ‘Arrival selfie’, ‘Brendadio in bottle shop’ and ‘In the boozer’,
But no level of experience or local knowledge of all things alcohol could have prepared us for what was to happen during our last meal on Sunday night at the rather excellent Pelikan restaurant http://www.pelikan.se/en/.
Originally opened in 1664, Pelikan is one of the oldest restaurants in Stockholm and specialises in traditional Swedish cuisine, or what Brendadio likes to call ‘peasant food’. Now don’t get me wrong, ‘peasant food’ is not used disparagingly in this context as the food was excellent. So good in fact we are taking our next visitors, Mark and Joyce there tonight. What we meant is that it is traditional, old school (as the kids might say) honest to goodness cooking and there is nothing wrong with that.
What did slightly throw us off though was that the meal came with a traditional Swedish Schnapps.
Now I am not one to turn down ‘exotic’ drinks, as you’ll see in my next post when I talk about a resent run in with a bottle of Mexican Tequila moonshine. But this stuff was something else. For starters it wasn’t a ‘shot’ but rather a 5th of a bottle. And whilst the bottle and class looked beautiful sat in the their bath of ice,
That just served to mask the fat that it was rocket fuel which tasted like liquid burnt toast. You couldn’t (even if you’d wanted to) have ‘downed it in one’, partly because I don’t know what the equivalent of 999 is in Sweden. But also because traditionally you are meant to ‘sip it’ throughout your meal. Which is good because it takes about 10 minutes to build up the courage to take another sip… 9 sips in the glass equates to an hour and a half = perfect dinner time. Still, when in Rome…
All in all a great weekend with the parentage and it was sad to see them off, not least because it had brought closer a day of reckoning. A day long dreaded. The day I would have to read the first chapter of the book I’m writing to the group of strangers. And that day came on the Tuesday…
“It made me feel sick”
As far as immediate responses to something you’ve written go, “it made me feel sick” isn’t perhaps what most people would regard as a positive one. But let me example.
The Tuesday after the parents visit I finally took the plunge and read to a room of complete strangers the first chapter of the book I’m writing. I say writing. I had the idea about 10 years ago, wrote a few chapters 3 years ago and haven’t touched it since. However, given I now find myself with a LOT of spare time I thought I’d give it another go, so signed up to the ‘Stockholm Writers Workshop’ at The English Book shop in Gamla Stan.
Six copies of the transcript neatly tucked in my man bag, upon arrival I was relieved to see the same familiar faces from the last session I attended… the exceptional 15 year old poet, his very cool bohemian mum, the course leader and her film making boyfriend. I was actually very glad by the relatively low turnout because it was without doubt one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life – and I’ve eaten a lot of chicken based meals prepared by my own hand.
The session basically works like this. You read what you’ve written and then have to sit in silence whilst the group gives feedback. You can’t respond to their comments, add detail or explanation until AFTER all of the comments have been made.
But that was nothing compared to the reading part. Putting something you’ve written out there in front of strangers to pass judgement on. Something which has come from your head? Honestly, it’s terrifying. So after a short round of time delaying chit chat (instigated by me of course) it was time to read. And off I went, trying to resist the urge to speed up and get it over with or pull a face at phrases and words that sounded ‘clunky’ when read out loud. All the while trying to use a different accent and ‘perform’ the different lines of dialogue (very embarrassing).
After what seemed like hours – probably 15 minutes – I finished and was met with…
Was that a good thing? A bad thing? Were they happy? Sad? Angry? Still awake?
Finally the cool bohemian mum spoke up,
“That made me feel sick.”
Thankfully she continued…
“…In a good way. It made me feel sick. In fact, I still feel a bit sick… you could really ‘see’ the body…”
This was followed with further ‘praise’,
“That was… err, intense… I liked the comic bits in there, it was a relief”
“It was very ‘grey’. Like Manchester is grey”
“I think the theme of addiction running through it works well”
Now you might be thinking that sounds negative, but actually was exactly the kind of response I was looking for… which I assume a lot of you will find a little disturbing so I’ll quickly move on… what was really useful was the analysis by the group leader who pulled it apart in more detail in terms of focus (revelations vs observations), structure (scene vs summary) and pacing.
If anyone is thinking of doing a bit of writing I’d highly recommend doing something like this session. It’s such a rewarding thing to do and a real confidence booster – I’ve already taken all the comments and reworked the chapter.
Now if you feel like reading what some Swedish critics are calling ‘very grey like Manchester’ and ‘intense’ (honestly, it’s not that bad) feel free to send me an email to my hotmail account – firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a copy of the chapter.
Till next time and a return to native lands,
Fraser ‘King of Manchester Grey’ Hynes
Coming on very nicely and has developed to a size now were we can start to see ‘movement’ in the belly area, which is both extraordinary and slightly unbelievable.
Picture of week
Childish? Yes. Funny? Yes. Brendadio’s idea? Yes.
Track of the week
In light of Brendadio’s run in with the Swedish Armed Forces, ‘Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Two Tribes’,