Seven weeks ago we returned to the UK for an extended Christmas visit.
We approached the journey back with a heady mix of excitement and deranged panic as it would be the first time we’d travelled anywhere with Rosalyn. And by anywhere, I mean anywhere. Not only had Rosalyn never left Stockholm, she’d barely left the island in Stockholm which we live on, Södermalm.
Her world up until that point had consisted of the 4 mile radius round our flat. In fact the only time she’d been in a motor car was the drive home from the hospital. You can perhaps therefore understand our trepidation at the prospect of 5 hours travel.
To say things didn’t get off to a great start would be an understatement. 10 minutes into the taxi ride to the airport, she started crying. Now given there was still 4 hours, 50 minutes to go, things initially did not look great. Thankfully it was short lived and she quickly fell asleep thereafter. Of course as usual this turned out to be the least of our problems which escalated quickly when the taxi driver started telling us about his children.
Now in the Nordics its common for children each winter to catch what is commonly known over here as ‘winter vomiting sickness’. The clue, dear reader, to the effects of the illness are in the title. Well just imagine how we felt in our already heightened sense of travel nervousness when he explained the reason for him having a car seat in the back of his taxi on that particular afternoon,
“Oh yea, all kids get it over here… both my children have had it already, it’s very common, nothing to worry about… well, unless it’s really serious and they stop eating… Yea, if that happens you must go to a hospital immediately… in fact, funnily enough, that’s why I’ve the car seat in the taxi, I just took a woman and her son to the hospital with a severe case…”
Who tells parents that? On a bloody motorway! I can’t tell you how Swedish that approach is, ‘listen pal, I’m not going to sugar coat this for you, these are the facts, deal with it’. Needless to say as soon as we arrived at the airport, out came the wet wipes and Rosalyn received a full ‘festival’ head and hands shower in the drop off bay. Luckily it was already cold so she had a full body suit on which you can now find as cinders in the bottom of a bin outside the entrance to Arlanda Airport.
Once inside the airport and fully ‘neutralised’, we made our way through to check-in. Rosalyn absolutely loved it. I used to work for a company that sells Airport advertising and do genuinely believe that they are unique environments. She honestly couldn’t get enough of the bright lights, open spaces and bright colours.
The next stroke of good fortune was that we got priority boarding. Nothing to do with us, but I think the combination of arriving at the gate earlier than anyone in the history of aviation, the look of fear in our eyes and sympathy of the air stewardess resulted in us being the first on the plane.
Now came the bit we’d been dreading. We’ve all being there, that one screaming kid who ruins the flight for everyone. The problem is that during taxing these days there isn’t a great deal you can do with a small child. New rules mean they have to be strapped into the same seat belt as one of the parents, facing forward. Rosalyn did not like this enhanced safety feature. She did not like it one little bit.
And I don’t care if you are Mother Terrassa, nobody likes a screaming baby on a plane. My fear was a typically British one that we would be universally hated, ‘just look at those terrible parents they can’t even keep their child happy on the run way! We’ve not even taken off yet!’ – oh the same.
But do you know what? It was fine in the end. We did our best and frankly I couldn’t have given a monkey’s what anyone else thought. What can you do? Being in a sealed metal tube with only two engines keeping you in the sky is weird enough for an adult, let alone a baby who’s closest comparison experience is me occasionally lifting her in the air! That all said, I wasn’t exactly complaining when once we got out on the run way and combination of white noise and rattling quickly had her off to sleep.
It’s a two hour flight from Stockholm to Manchester and baring one incident, was absolutely fine.
She mostly slept, ate or was distracted by the giant bag of toys we’d taken.
Alas though, I cannot say that it was all smooth sailing. Around an hour in we discovered that her nappy needed changing. Now being the very definition of a modern man, I of course took it upon myself to do the honours.
Dear reader, never again.
And to think it all started so well as I strode down the aisle, nappy bag over one shoulder, baby and muslin over the other, looking every bit ‘Dad of the year’.
Waiting outside the toilet, Rosalyn even engaged in a little bit of conversation with the passengers flying priority at the front of the plane – shy she is not and despite obviously been unable to form words, is very keen in communicating via churps and smiles with complete strangers. Everything was going great. I felt great. Rosalyn was being great. It was great.
That is until the moment the door swung open and a young man stepped out.
Now I don’t know if there is such a thing as airplane toilet etiquette, but surely on a two hour flight it is polite to leave any ‘excess luggage’ at the airport, rather than dropping it off on the plane. But no, this chap had decided to make his final ‘decent and drop off’ in the only cubical with a changing table. And even then, the stench that lingered suggested he probably needed to see a vet rather than a doctor. But what choice did I have? It was time to change, so I dove in.
As anyone who had flown short-haul will know, the toilets on these airplanes are about the same size as the laptop I’m writing this blog on. Next time you are in one, try fold out a changing table. They go from laptop size to smartphone. A changing table I might add OVER the toilet where the chap had just done a good impression of mucking out time on a farm. Add to this the bangs, noises, glowing lights and general rattling and it’s understandable that Rosalyn decided to choose this point to, in so many words, completely lose it.
It didn’t help anyone that the nappy had decided to only partially do its job properly and had what I like to call an ‘upward back explosion’. I therefore spent arguably the worst 10 minutes of my life, holding Rosalyn on the changing table with one hand, rummaging through the nappy bag on the floor with the other, looking for a dipper, change of clothes, whilst she went ‘vocally apocalyptic’ in a room barely big enough to turn around in.
Let’s just say I’ll be pretending to be asleep on the way back if she needs another change.
Bless her though, she’s been brilliant since and is wonderful 99% of the time. And you can hardly blame her under the circumstances.
The next few days were spent at my parents’ house in Manchester. Regular readers will know that I’m working technically working for my own company at the moment, F B Hynes LTD. Well this trip back saw the opening of three new offices. The first, a new North West England office in Manchester, had views surprisingly similar to one’s I spent a lot of time looking at during my GCSE and A-Level revision sessions.
From Manchester we hot footed it down to Abbots Langley (North London) for one of Alex’s annual family get togethers at the home of the incomparable Nigel and Greta, the infamous ‘Thanksgiving Party’. Each year the party has a theme, this time Mexico, and myself and Alex host a quiz based on that theme. We’ve done the quiz for 4 years now and whilst our first effort could loosely be summarised as perhaps the worst conceived quiz you could ever had the misfortune of being present at (the ill-fated five hour marathon of obscure history based questions known as Istanbul or bust) we have slowly improved to the point where you could argue they are now, well, mediocre. One thing we do take seriously though is the hosting,
However, all of that paled into insignificance when I was presented with my special Swedish themed early Christmas present. Regular readers will know that I’m in the process of growing a top knot as part of my immersion into Swedish culture – no, I’m not sure why either. Anyways a special treat (piss take?), all of the gentlemen at the thanksgiving party thought it would hilarious to parade through the house with fake one’s which they had purchase online the week before. This was either the funniest or most deeply unsettling thing I’ve ever seen.
The next morning it was back down to London for me and a few weeks working out of the newly opened London office of F B Hynes LTD (ok so technically I was working in Millward Brown’s London office, but it’s merely a matter of perspective). In the meantime Alex and Rosalyn headed to Centre Parks with the family where Rosalyn, like many of us who have been on such holidays in our youth, got her first taste of competitive sport – I’ll let you decide who got the best end of that deal.
At this point I have to say that having gone from the relative tranquillity of public transport in Stockholm to the bottled mayhem of the London daily commute, I’ve come to the conclusion that something seriously needs to be done about TFL. Its farcical. People literally come of the tube looking like they’ve just claimed Mount Everest – they’ve only done four stops on the Northern Line! Add to that the ridiculous volume of people, smells, claustrophobia and it’s a wonder anyone bothers. But then again, the other main thing I rediscovered is how incredible London is as a city. Yes, it has its many, many faults but it is an incredible place to live.
It also happens to be home to my old football team, Kings Old Boys. The two weeks I had in London were primarily spent in work and catching up with old friends, the highlight of which was probably getting the opportunity to pull on the old Kings football kit one last time (that and the 6 hour drinking session that followed).
My time in Sweden though has clearly changed me more than I realised as I was guilty of breaking two rules I have previously been only too keen to enforce. The first concerns the wearing of a ‘hairband’ in a sporting context. A good friend of mine Andrea used to wear a hairband whilst playing football and I can’t tell you how many times he got stick for it – and he’s Italian which made it technically almost acceptable, think how bad I looked! The second thing is that I’d brought over my white football boots from Sweden. Now whilst I explained that in Sweden you can’t actually buy standard black boots anymore, it didn’t wash. You see if you wear white football boots at amateur level you had better ensure one of the following is true,
- You are 12 years old and had them bought for you
- You are really, really good
As I fall into neither of those categories the ensuing verbal abuse was entirely justified.
To finish this instalment – I think we’d all agree it has gone on quite enough for one day – just before Christmas we had the 13th annual Birthday Pub Crawl (The BPC). Basically, for the past 13 years myself and old friend Shella who is a day younger than me, have hosted a joint birthday pub crawl in Manchester. Limited to only the oldest of ‘old men boozers’ and led as always by my dad ‘Brendadio’, it has become something of a yearly stalwart in the old calendar.
One of the highlights this year however came from a very unlikely source. At the last minute my brother Kyle decided that he could in fact make it. Having hot footed it up from London the night before, he went on to make the most schoolboy of schoolboy mistakes the night before, having decided to meet up with friends for ‘a few drinks’. Apparently he rolled in at 5am and the next morning was immobile. In an effort to rouse him for our 12pm start, my mum brought him a bacon sandwich which he told her to ‘leave on his desk’ – a fair reflection of his mental state at that point. Fair play though, he made it into town in time for the first pub, his only punishment to play ‘glass collector’ all night.
You’ve read enough, here’s some pics from the first few weeks back it the UK. Just some of the thousands…
Picture of week
Best birthday present ever.
I’m editing this back in Stockholm where it’s been down to -20 and has snowed for the last 4 days. I think it’s safe to say Winter has come. Section cancelled, though I suspect you haven’t heard the last on the subject.
Track of the week
By no measure even remotely the best Christmas song (which everyone knows is The Pogues anyway) but the one that seemed to get played all the bloody time back in the UK – Mud, ‘It’ll be lonely this Christmas’
Fraser ‘One handed nappy man’ Hynes