Sunday, 21 September 2008


Things I noticed about Sweden:

- Language. The language appears to be related to sensible European languages so there are points of reference you can hang on to. Hurrah! For example: 'smak' appears to be taste. There are several things I recognise as being Polish, but this is probably because they come from German. By midday on the first day I managed to order a bus ticket, a cup of coffee and a Kanelbulle.

[Aside: by midday on my first day in Poland I had learnt how to point to stuff in petrol stations and how not to get beaten up by guerilla grannies on the number 8 tram.]

All this is of little consequence however since the average Swedish person speaks embarrassingly good English.

- Road safety. When you reach a zebra crossing, do not be afraid. Step out - however gingerly - and, as if by magic, cars will slow down and stop for you. It's freaky. I also noticed that Swedes do not seem to be afraid of traffic. They do not stand politely at the side of an empty road, waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green, in fear of sudden speeding vehicles squealing round the corner from out of nowhere. When the road is empty, they look both ways, take a rational decision, and step out onto the asphalt.

The first time I saw this happen, I had to suppress the urge to dive out in front of them:

- No! Don't do it!! Save yourselves!

And yet ... nothing happened...

- Bicycles. While the cars won't hurt you, two-wheeled vehicles are definitely a hazard. On my first day in town, I went for a long walk, looking for the city centre. I found a park, with pretty trees, benches, and both young and old on bicycles, coasting by in a picturesque manner.
There was a coffee shop on one corner of the pedestrian area. I decided to walk towards it.
Only.. halfway to the other side of the park, I found myself trapped on a tiny island at a miniature crossroads. Cyclists were whizzing towards me from all directions. How they avoided colliding with each other is a mystery to me. Reaching the other side of the path seemed an impossible mission. Panic set in and I backed further away until I was pressed right up against the tree at the centre of the traffic island.

It felt like a good twenty minutes before I got safely across to that coffee shop...

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

on the move again

I'm in Sweden. I am alone in the flat of a sociology student who has kindly offered to house me for the week. People are not so bad after all. There is a pale sun shining low through the window. It is peaceful. I do not speak a word of Swedish (apart from 'till', which means 'to' and is useful for buying bus tickets).

This is clearly a nation of very obliging people, since everyone says 'tak' all the time...

Friday, 12 September 2008

I have finally realised how much I hate Britain. This is a country full of aggressive, obnoxious, violent people, and I am slowly turning into one of them myself. Not a single day goes by now without my feeling trodden down and furious and wishing that I had a large heavy object with which to thrash the living daylights out of someone. I feel insignificant and powerless and I want to hurt people.

It never used to be like this. I never used to be like this.

What on earth is happening to us?

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Karma repair

I would like to use this post to apologise wholeheartedly to the woman I mistook for a man in the ladies lavatory of Caffe Nero this afternoon.

I regret that this escalated into a full-scale shouting match and I am awfully sorry about your recent throat surgery. Although I was rather alarmed when you shouted from inside the cubicle that you were 'shooting up' and that you were going to make me suck your 'big fat cock', my better judgement ought to have recognised this for sarcasm rather than verbal sexual assault. Indeed, I wish that I had looked more convinced when you bared your breast downstairs in the cafe to prove that you were not, in fact, of the masculine sex.

In terms of the genuinely transgendered population I generally hold a very open-minded view and I do intend to react more positively in future to muscular persons in pink dresses who assertively profess in bass tones to want me to apply oral suction to their nether regions. I hope that this incident will not be taken as a typical example of my attitude towards this minority group*.

I also apologise to your friend, the consumption of whose coffee was interrupted when she felt compelled to aid you in your quest to 'batter' me. I understand that lone 9 stone lightweights in coffee shops are a serious physical threat and must be quashed at all costs.

I am pleased that you work 'in the public eye': congratulations. Yes, you doubtless do earn a larger salary than I do and I am glad that you are able to draw some small comfort from this material superiority.

If you will permit me to impart a little knowledge in the area of rhetoric I would advise that the use of the phrase 'get out of my face' is actually only effective if a person is imposing on your personal space, and not the other way around.

Apart from anything else, I am sorry if I unwittingly touched on an area of pain or low self-esteem. A better person than I would have apologised straight away, ignored the aggression, and let things be.

Please be advised that I am not 'a little girl'. I am a big girl now, with access to lawyers. Let's not do this again.

*I also hope that my blog doesn't get blacklisted for mentioning corpulent male body parts... uh oh...

Monday, 8 September 2008

Gone to the dogs...

Monday. A frustrating day in small town Sevenoaks. Today there were no tiresome offers of freelance jobs to clutter my working day and so I was free to finish off Everything On My To-Do List.

aside: as we all know - and as Radio 4 informs us, repeatedly - Wednesday is Big Bang Day. Scientists at CERN in Switzerland will attempt to reconstruct the beginning of the universe, by making things collide that haven't felt the urge to collide (due to particulate headaches or Top Gear being on at bedtime) for millennia. There is an infinitesimal chance that this will cause the world to implode. At the same time, in another dark corner of Europe, a first-year Polish philology student with an exceptionally quiet social life and no taste for Wyborowa will be in the process of finishing off the final pages of the final book on the first semester reading list.
Do Not Panic! Contrary to popular belief, neither of these two events is liable to bring about the end of the universe...

First up on The List: book eye test (I'm learning to get these things done while in the land of the anglophone). I went into our old local family optician, who have taken care of my myopic Dad and I (and occasionally other, clearer-sighted family members) for years, and booked an appointment. I also bought eye drops, but the minute I got out my Scottish ten-pound note (with 'Sterling' written on it and everything), the woman behind the counter shook her head.

- Oh no. We can't take that.
Me: - Why not? It's from Clydesdale Bank. It's legal tender.
- No. We can't because the bank won't take them from us.

I handed her an English twenty pound note, and - I swear this has never happened to me in the UK before - she couldn't give me change.

- Which bank is it? I asked. 'I'll go over and check with them. Scottish notes are legal currency and they should accept them!'

I marched over the road to Lloyds Bank full of righteous indignation, ready to give the customer services lady a piece of my (admittedly less-than-rational) mind.

- That's strange. She said 'We definitely do take them. But the business itself has the right to refuse them, if they don't have the correct counterfeit detection equipment'
Now I was furious. Not only was I a suspected counterfeiter, but our local family optician had taken up lying to me to avoid taking my counterfeit money! It hurts, Mr Leslie Warren of 82 High Street, Sevenoaks, it really does...

I stormed back to the optician, threw my eye drops onto the counter and cancelled my appointment. Reluctantly, I decided to try Boots. It's so disheartening. Every NGO, every woolly leftie newspaper, every Nice Person tells you to buy organic and to support local businesses and yet these local firms are completely unable to open their minds to accept the rest of the world. We're talking about Scotland, for heaven's sake, not South Ossetia! (now there's a thought. Maybe Alex Salmond and Vladimir Putin are in the process of brokering some sort of liberation deal... 'who's pilfering North Sea oil now, Mrs T? mwah ha ha...' and Russia will officially recognise Scottish independence in time for Hogmanay).
How would these people cope if we were to enter the euro zone?

Incidentally, in Boots, the girl took my ten pound note, showed it to her colleague, put it under a magnifying glass, phoned the central finance department...
I only wish I were that skilled a counterfeiter. Bet it's easier to get into than interpreting.

I don't know why this all bothered me so much. Perhaps because I'm chronically bored at my parents' house with very little work and no disposable income (thanks Career Development Loan - where is this shiny redeveloped career I'm still struggling to pay for? Credit crunch?! Bloody copycats. Being in credit is sooooo nineteen ninety-nine...), and I want someone to shout at.
Perhaps because after living in a beautiful city like Kraków, where you can speak four languages in one day, watch any film, play or concert you like (Sevenoaks can't even keep a cinema open: identikit Giles and Annabelle don't have time after their fourteen-hour days glued to Reuters), and where people are aware that the rest of the world exists and is exciting, it's a little bit galling to be in a closed-up little town where people are suspicious of Scotland. Whatever the SNP might want, right now we're still in the same country! My family are part Scottish, several of us have degrees from Scottish universities, we visit relatives there All the Time and we shouldn't have to change money before going and after coming back simply because Sevenoaks is full of Daily Mail-reading xenophobes!

The second thing on the To-Do list was to pick up this month's Le Monde Diplomatique. See now in sophisticated countries like Germany, Poland - even France are doing better than us on this one - you can pick up international and foreign language newspapers in all town centres. (in Germany you can also get a wide selection in train stations- not just English and French either: I found Polish Newsweek in Saarbruecken Hauptbahnhof). It's not as if Le Monde Diplo is even specifically French: it's an international publication that happens to be written in French, like The Economist happens to be written in English.

I went into WHSmith and waited by the customer services desk. There was no bell, so after about fifteen minutes, I set off the alarm on the stock room door.

- Oh no, sorry. Was the reply. 'There were two independent newsagents that did them, but they've closed down now and it's only us left'.

I appreciate that I've been a pain in the ass all day. But if you lived in a backward country like England, you'd understand my frustration. Why don't we just build a big wall around the coastline and pretend there's no outside world. Could we let me out first please?

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Distraction technique

Just a quick dip into the world of politics to say: John McCain, you sly old thing. Whether you love or loathe Ms Palin (SP is to feminists what Marmite is to ...well... everyone), she's certainly done the trick. Where's the Clinton vs Obama debate now? Two weeks ago, who even bothered thinking about the Republican candidate?

Clever move, Mr McCain, very smart.

ps: anyone else reckon we should get to vote in the US presidential elections? Given that what the Americans do seems to have such an impact on the lives of the rest of us...