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…
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,
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.
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,