Obviously there is only one place this blog can start this week and it’s with a focus on Swedish success. For those of you not aware, and how could you not be, last Saturday Sweden’s entry in the Eurovision song contest swept to victory against an array of competitors. Competitors which included Australia, which to the best of my knowledge isn’t technically part of Europe but that’s Eurovision for you, pushing new boundaries.
And how did it achieve success? Well by mainly having a song slightly less dreadful then everybody else’s, a lot of fancy ‘interactive’ graphics (seriously check out the video online, the graphics very much trump the song) and a good looking chap in tight leather pants. I would like to point out at this stage that I am a big fan of Eurovision and everything it stands for but right there is a blueprint to success the UK could well do with paying attention to. Anyway, my point is it’s coming to Sweden next year and trust me it is a BIG deal over here – that winning song went through an X-Factor style selection process and there are numerous parties and gatherings round the country when it’s on. So if anyone wants to go and can get tickets, do let us know, you’d make Alex’s year if you could wing one her way.
So we had our first child visitors last week with the arrival of Alfie (7) and Oscar (5). Oscar is Alex’s Godson and before you call social services their parents Adam and Emma were with them as well,
So how would I summarise my relationship with the two boys? Let me see…
I jest dear reader, I jest. It was quite interesting having a couple of kids over because we got to see yet another side of Stockholm. Namely what the provisions are like for small visitors and I have to say that once again the city performs extremely well. In addition to the main museums all being child friendly, the city is chocker block with parks, play grounds and ‘open access’ football pitches, not to mention the various surrounding islands which cater for children and where they can run around to their hearts content.
A highlight of their visit though was a visit to the island of Birka, http://www.visitstockholm.com/en/See–do/Attractions/birka/. Birka is one of Sweden’s first real ‘Viking’ towns and essentially a pre-curser to what is now Stockholm. Accessible via a spectacular two hour ferry journey from the centre of Stockholm, the island has been immaculately preserved and in 1993 was put on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
Like most of the islands dotted around Stockholm it is visually stunning but as our tour guide explained (pictured here showing some Viking child rearing skills) most interestingly it has the highest number of Viking burial sites anywhere in the world and is a veritable treasure trove of historical artefacts.
Being a bit of a history geek, some interesting facts for you,
- There is no such thing as ‘a Viking’. Being a Viking referred to the job you did, it wasn’t an ethnic group, just like ‘farmers’ or ‘carpenters’ aren’t a race of people. Now admittedly as far as the Viking job description went it certainly drifted in ‘questionable grey areas’ and would struggle with modern HR departments, but these were different times dear reader were they not.
- Despite a mountain’s worth of excavations and discoveries, they are yet to find one single helmet with horns sticking out of the side. Not one. However, as helmets with horns sticking out the side look cool, they have emerged in popular culture but are absolute codswallop (they did find a gold crown with a small image of a helmet with horns but that is literally the only reference anywhere in the world).
- You know in films where you see a boat filled with wood, gold, animal skins and the body of a fallen great warrior being pushed out to sea before a lone archer atop a cliff sets it on fire with a single arrow, whilst on the shoreline assembled warriors clash their shields and chant ancient songs for their fallen comrade? Yea, that’s also absolute bollocks apparently. People were burnt in boats with their belongings but it happened on dry land, hence the burial mounds. That’s all Hollywood nonsense.
Burial mounds on Birka. Admittedly a little imagination is required.
Perhaps the best bit though is the reconstructed town. Basically they have built a few houses which would have stood at the time when Birka was at its peak (around the 9th century). Standing amongst those ancient homes, a lost time of foreign lands, my abiding thought was, ‘man, life must have been boring back then’,
“So Björn, what did you get up to today?”
“Well you know Fraser, chopped some wood, built a fire, stared out over the lake.”
“Busy day then.”
“Plans for tomorrow?”
“Well I was planning to chop some more wood first thing, obviously. Then I was thinking of maybe building another fire… But as a test, I thought I’d stare out over that other lake over there in the afternoon.”
“Wow, steady on Björn. If you do that tomorrow what will you do on Wednesday?”
I am being slightly churlish here and I am sure living back then was extremely fulfilling without the avalanche and weight of modern communications and technology we live under today. But seriously? No internet? No phone? No dishwasher?…. Kill me now.
Which does bring me on nicely to a modern irritation. The parking ticket. As you may have gathered we’ve had our first Swedish parking ticket. Nothing strange there, we’ve all had them. But I bet you didn’t know that in Sweden it’s illegal to park your car within 10 meters of a crossroad. Any crossroad. Now I did a bit of law at Uni and know that ignorance is no kind of legal defence, but come on Sweden, give me a break!
The fine? £100. Ok fair enough, bit steep given I was 4 meters out but whatever. Guess what though? If I’d parked the car ‘legally’ but NOT put a parking ticket in the window the fine would have only been £60… So I’d have been 40 quid better off if I’d just parked it randomly without a ticket. As I noted a few weeks ago, in many ways Sweden is very different to the UK… But in many others ways they are very similar.
Anyway, moving on.
Tuesday last week we went to our first antenatal class. Well actually, our first antenatal lecture. A group of around 30 of us were given a fantastic 3 hour lecture by a midwife on the processes involved just before, during and straight after the birth. It was incredibly useful and addressed a lot of questions – and how cool is this, for two nights after the birth, the father, mother and child are put up in an ‘on-site hospital hotel’ with round the clock support and advice – well that incredible tax money has to go somewhere right?. It also helped the lecture was done in powerpoint, who doesn’t love a bit of powerpoint?
Unfortunately however things didn’t go well for everybody. This being Sweden of course, the midwife was pulling no punches in her explanation of the ‘birthing process’. No pictures, but let’s just say she didn’t leave too much to the imagination and was particularly keen to use props which included a set of hip bones and a large baby doll – you get the idea.
Anyway, sat on our row were an American couple and during one particularly detailed section, the man suddenly got up and headed out of the emergency exit at the back of the room, followed shortly by his partner. A few minutes later the woman comes back in and sat down.
Midwife: “Is everything ok?”
Now there are lots of ways to answer that question. She could have said, ‘yea he got an urgent call’, ‘he’s having a cigarette’, ‘he’s doing some press-ups’… pretty much anything really than what she actually said,
“Yea, he’s just throwing up.”
Muffled laughter ensues of course followed by spinning heads and an awkward silence as he creeps back in. And to top it off, for the next two and half hours, every time the midwife has something she thinks might trigger him again, she starts her sentence with, “ok, this bit might be a little tough for you”… It must have happened 10, 15 times, the shame! *And no it wasn’t me!*
So I will finish this week with a story of chocolate flavoured glory. Two months ago myself and Alex went to a quiz night at the Tudor Arms (English pub, Stockholm – http://www.tudorarms.com/) with some of Alex’s very cool work colleagues. We both love a good quiz and whilst unfortunately we finished 3rd, I was ‘fortunate’ enough to win the lucky dip and be presented with a box of ‘soft cakes’. Now if anyone is looking for a packet of ‘knock-off Jaffa Cakes’ when they come over, these are the bad boys to seek out. Anyhow, after the quiz I vowed to turn said box into a team mascot and below you can see what I have learnt from over 15 years experience working with talented, creative people, i.e. not a great deal… and yes, I’m conscious that Viking is wearing a helmet with horns.
Well on Monday we went back to try and claim glory but once again didn’t quite make it, finishing 2nd. However, all was not in vain as once again we walked away with a box of sweets, this time ‘Chocolate Bananas’ – no I hadn’t heard of them either, but I will be integrating this into our team mascot which I’m sure you all can’t wait to see!
Bump is doing great but still retaining a preference to ‘breakdance’ just before we go to bed. Alex is at the stage of seeing the midwife regularly and I’m working my way through various books and websites. We’d both like to say a special thank you to our friends and family who have sent advice and recommendations, you know who you are.
Picture of week
“Does that thing still work? No? Shame.”
Track of the week
If you love it, here it is again.
If you missed it, this is what ‘everyone’ in Europe is talking about.
If you missed it on purpose, sorry.
Måns Zelmerlöw – Heroes
Fraser ‘nil points’ Hynes