Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Have yourself a militant little Christmas

Given all the eating and drinking, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that I LOVE Christmas. I love it so much I’ve been known to buy decorations in June (I do have a strict rule that festivities can not begin until December, but I was on holiday and there was a Christmas shop – I couldn’t help it).
Everyone has their own idea of what Christmas must contain or ‘it’s just not Christmas’ and my passion is such that I have a slight tendency towards the Christmas Commandant (note the reference a ‘strict rule’ above. There are more.) I have very clear ideas on what is and is not Christmassy.
Colours, for instance. Red, green, silver and gold (and white – especially of the snowy variety) – yes. Blue, pink and pastels of any description – NO. And as for matchy-matchy blue or pink (or purple) Christmas trees - HELL NO. This year we accidentally bought coloured lights for our tree (clear lights look much nicer, I’m sure you’ll agree. If not I have ways of making you agree…) While I could make my peace with the red and green ones, they are, after all, permissible Christmas colours, the blue ones had to go. And by go, I mean get duct taped up, one by one, until their non-Christmassy glow was obliterated. What? It’s perfectly normal. *ahem*
But it’s not just about the colours and the gluttony, it’s also about the presents. Not just the receiving (I like diamonds and ponies, in case you were wondering…) I am a big big fan of the giving. I get very excited about giving people presents, especially when I think it’s something they’ll really like. There’s a reason this is my favourite Christmas ad ever:

All together now: ahhhhhhhh… Now that we’re feeling all warm and fuzzy, let’s turn our thoughts back to food (you didn’t think I was going to leave it at one brief mention of gluttony, did you?) This is perhaps the area in which most people (myself included) get the most militant. For some it’s mince pies, for others it’s trifle. I’m not bothered about either (‘what?!’ I hear your inner radical Christmas elf gasp ‘no mince pies?!’) But my Christmas must (MUST!) include my Nana’s stuffing. It is, without doubt, the best stuffing recipe in the world (it contains potatoesand I defy you to say any different.
Christmas traditions are many and varied it’s always entertaining to see the clash of customs when families come together. As the youngest in the family, I got to look on as my older sibling’s partners were introduced to our family Christmas. Their varied reactions to my mother’s annual Christmas wobbler were always fun to watch (the pressure of catering and general emotional high doe of the season tended to culminate in an episode of some sort, usually involving one or all of; a sudden outburst, a tea-towel flung dramatically to the floor, a slammed door, tears). I particularly remember the looks of horror when new boyfriends or girlfriends were told we didn’t open our presents until everyone was fully dressed and had been to mass (mass - and yet my father never appreciates our singing ‘Happy Birthday dear Jesus, Happy Birthday tooo yooouuuuu…’ It’s disrespectful apparently). The belated presents tradition was nothing but cruel if you ask me, and I was in full support of the mutiny led by my eldest sister’s husband the year we stormed the living room in our pyjamas and let rip under the tree.
This year we’ll be taking it one further and opening our presents on Christmas Eve, because that’s how they do it here in Sweden. Yes, we get to share a whole new set of Swedish traditions with our friends which essentially means TWO Christmases. Excited does not even begin to describe it.
See? Lovely Christmassy colours. Much better.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

28 days later...

I can happily report Sweden is not overrun by Zombies / a rage virus. 2 ‘grown-ups’ (debatable: see photo*) and 2 cats left Edinburgh for the land of Volvos, Abba and Ikea 28 days ago, much like my Viking ancestors in reverse, but in a small truck rather than a long boat (much 10/4-10/4 rubber duckie fun was had by all). Since then, there has been much to surprise, delight and disgust me.
*These make me giggle. Every time.
Having been warned that the Swedish peoples tend to be shy / standoffish (this was by Swedes, so it’s not racism…) I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how friendly and helpful everyone has been, from the smiley ladies at the tax office to the nice people who helped me push my friend’s trusty old Volvo (which is as old as me, if not older) away from the petrol pumps in the rain, when it wouldn’t start (I’d managed to flood the engine. Clever me.)
I have, of course, also provided many moments of entertainment, and simple confusion, for the natives in my attempts to get my head around their mother tongue. When a couple of friends got engaged I told them I was so ‘upphetsad’ (excited) for them. You can imagine their amusement (and slight fear) at the fact that upphetsad tends to mean excited in the aroused sense.
When I told our bin man I’d lived in Edinburgh for 70 years, rather than 17, he was kind enough to point out I didn’t look old enough to have lived there that long, despite the fact that I had just got out of bed and ran out of the house like a demented leprechaun to catch the bin collection. The lady who offered to help me in a shop to be told: ‘No thanks, I’m dainty’ just looked confused. Given my distinct lack of daintiness, I’d say she was very confused.
Speaking of shops brings me on to something I like a whole lot about Sweden. No queues. You take a numbered ticket when you go anywhere you might need counter service and wait until your number is called. This means you can browse, sit, or even leave and come back if your timing’s good, rather than stand in a queue like a fool. Logic. I like it.
Another thrilling observation I’ve made is that of the Swedish dustpan and brush. OK thrilling may be pushing it a bit, but it’s the little things… And, in this case, the long handles. Simple, effective, logical. I ask myself: Why are people in other countries still bending over? 
Why do we bend and scrape?
I considered calling this ‘Confessions of a Swedophile’, but thought people might get the wrong idea. Also, there are some things over here that I am not a fan of. And some that are just plain wrong. I give you... salted liquorice. WHY? Why take something revolting and make it even more so? Also: Emmerdale and Holby City. Yes, you read correctly. Of all the British TV on offer, they import Emmerdale and Holby City. All I can think is that there’s a bargain bin in the TV show shop (or wherever it is these TV executive types buy their programming) and they were in it.
If you were hoping for me to wax lyrical about the beautiful Swedish countryside, gorgeous buildings and fascinating history I think you know by now, if you’ve made it this far, that you’ll be waiting. If you really want to see how beautiful it is watch this. We’re getting down to the nitty gritty. I did mention disgust earlier and, let’s face it, this is what you’ve been waiting for. The toilet.
Beautiful Sweden. But that's not what this is about.
Yes they have toilets, and yes, they look pretty similar to most toilets in the western hemisphere (aside from Italy – no holes in the ground here thankfully), but when you live in the countryside, as we do, there are other aspects to consider, like shit tanks. Not every home is linked up to the main sewerage system, so when you flush your ablutions (as my Nana called them) are not taken to the ocean, like Nemo, they’re taken to a big smelly tank under your garden (where you will certainly not find Nemo). And, more logic, these tanks need to be emptied every so often.
Now it’s not that we didn’t check the tank, it’s more that we neglected to check it for a few days, and the day it unexpectedly reached capacity happened to coincide with a class 2 storm. Excellent. A shit-storm it was not, but it did mean having to use the outside toilet which, when the wind is howling in the pitch-black night, is atmospheric to say the least. That said, given outside toilets don’t flush, there are times when the phrase ‘I can’t see shit’ is a positive.
As God is my witness, I will never take a flushing toilet for granted again.

Friday, 27 September 2013

So long Scotland

I've lived in Edinburgh for 17 years. 17! That's nearly half my life. So in honour of my gypsy roots (apparently...) it's time to move on. There's a lot I'll miss about Auld Reekie, but not the smell. I jest – it doesn’t smell anymore, unless you're downwind of Leith. I jest again! Leith isn’t even in Edinburgh... (Sorry. Local joke for local people.)
Unsurprisingly there are various pubs I'll think of longingly from time to time and restaurants I'll salivate at the memory of, what with food and drink being top of my priority list. You could say this is down to greed, I prefer to think of it as a keen survival instinct.
I remember, back in the mists of time, before I moved to Edinburgh, numerous people telling me how beautiful it was, which struck me as very odd. Having mainly Irish towns as a reference point, I had never really seen any scope for an urban area to be 'beautiful'. This was a word reserved for the countryside. But on arrival I discovered than Edinburgh was indeed very beautiful. The striking view of the castle and Royal Mile towering over Princes St Gardens was described ever so eloquently by my brother; "F*$kin' hell! ...d'y'ever just stop and go: 'F*$kin' hell!'?"  An English degree was not wasted on that boy.
'F*$kin hell'
Now the festival is very much a double-edged sword. Aside from the obvious comedy and culture type stuff, it's fantastic for people-watching, late night revelry (drinking) and general atmosphere, but it also brings with it hordes of overconfident drama students and general knobheads, flyers (so many flyers...), queues (I don’t do queues) and price hikes (don’t think we don’t notice, you robbing bastard taxi drivers).
Drama... hmmmmm.
Where's Superman supposed to get changed?
Although they are in increased abundance during the festival, tourists are never in short supply, and neither is their stupidity. Classic questions include, but are not exclusive to:
  • 'Do they put the castle up every year especially for the Tattoo?'
  • 'Where's the castle?' (when asked stranding on Princes St / in Princes St Gardens which, as mentioned, the castle towers over.)
  • 'What time does the one o'clock gun go off?'
No gift shop is safe from touristica stupiticus
My personal favourite, though, is a conversation I overheard between an American couple by the Scott Monument:
Her: 'Gee that's high.'
Him: 'Yeah, but they gotta have an elevator in there.'
Yes, lifts were all the rage in the 1800s.
Which floor sir?
            Another bunch I won't miss are the yas. Every year a fresh batch of Ruperts, Tarquins and Penelopes descend on Edinburgh, or more specifically the University of Edinburgh, ready to spend as much of Mummy and Daddy's money as possible. If you manage to catch one when the braying and guffawing isn’t giving them away (YA! *snort snort*), their 'eccentric' (poor = crazy, rich = eccentric) attire will help you identify, and avoid, them. Think pearls, deerstalkers, pyjamas, blazers and brogues. All at the same time. And that's just the boys.
            On the other side of the social spectrum, and sadly never wearing very much at all, are the NEDs. Particularly virulent in the green spaces of Edinburgh when the sun makes a rare appearance are the skinny pasty torsos of the city's Non-Educated Delinquents, their t-shirts stylishly tucked into their tracksuit bottoms. The bawbags.
            Which brings me to another thing I’ll miss about Edinburgh, and Scotland in general. The expressions. Aside from the aforementioned ‘bawbag’, there’s fannybaws; a lovely term of gentle mockery, often used with great affection, and a great example of a ridiculous joined-up word formed well. It’s no surprise that the Scottish do profanity well, and you know I'm a fan of the sweary word, but it’s really their talent for getting their point across that I love. To have a blether with someone, for instance, describes the ebbs and flows of conversation so much better than a ‘chat’. My all-time favourite, though, is ‘nippy sweetie’, also know as ‘an irritable, sharp-tongued person’, also know as me trying to get anywhere in Edinburgh during the festival.
            When all’s said and done though, ‘haste ye back’ will always bring a little tear to my eye and a tonne of happy memories to my mind.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

This blog will be calling at Peeved Park, Disgustington and Vexville

Public transport. I am not a fan. The main reasons being the involvement of the public and the false promise of transportation.
Funnily enough sharing a small, stuffy space with the great unwashed, and paying well over the odds for the pleasure, is not my idea of a good time. Aside from the sorry lack of hygiene demonstrated by so many in modern society, they're a right miserable bunch to have to look at. Except, of course, on the tube, where you DO NOT look at anyone. Yes, their arse may be on fire, but you will be assumed to be insane/dangerous if you try to help. I also learned when I was younger that it's not a great idea to wander through tube stations wondering, in a loud voice, with an Irish accent, where the bloody bins are. People get tetchy.
The involvement of the public and their smelly, grumpy ways would, perhaps, be slightly more bearable if said transport did what it was supposed to do and at least carried you from A to B anywhere in the region of the allotted time. Sadly the only things for which buses and trains in the UK can be relied upon are tardiness and/or breakdowns (are we sure Broken Britain refers to moral collapse?) Recent examples (of which there are many) include hundreds of passengers being stranded on a train for nearly 6 hours and several days of rail disruption when cables were stolen and replaced. And then stolen again. Seriously.
Buck up your ideas dude
Even when things are running relatively smoothly, there are the constant announcements. This train will be calling at… The next stop is... over, and over, and over, and over. Until of course, said train stops in the middle of nowhere and you'd quite like to know what the hell is going on. Then, you get nothing. Except perhaps an eventual surly 'apology' for the delay due to leaves / snow / puddles / feathers / subatomic particles / fairies on the tracks, or the tracks just generally not feeling up to it and needing a little lie down. It could be worse though. You could be on a bus amongst the aggressive pensioners, the gaggles of shrieking/'singing' teenage girls (x factor has a LOT to answer for) and the generally unhinged.
If you go down to the bus today, you're sure of a big surprise
Residing in Edinburgh, I can’t possibly avoid mention of the dirty T word... *whispers through gritted teeth* the trams. I could go on about the exorbitant expense, the incompetent management, the disruption, or the fact that they are entirely unnecessary, but other dictators have been there and done that , and a new complaints choir are even airing their grievances in song. If only I could sing.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Mind your language

I love words, even some of the ridiculous joined-up ones, and language (not just the bad stuff). Sadly, despite my admiration for linguistics, I'm ridiculously bad at languages. I'm attempting to learn Swedish at the moment and it's a slow process. Very slow indeed. When I say 'at the moment' I mean on and off for the past two years, which is, co-incidentally, about the age range of my Swedish conversation. 'Titta på pojken! Pojken har en röd boll.'  Which roughly (very roughly) translates as; 'Look at the boy! The boy has a red ball.' You can see how I'd be the toast of the Swedish social scene with fascinating conversation points like this.
I thank my lucky stars I'm not trying to learn English as a second language though. Putting aside the nonsensical grammar rules, how on earth would you get to grips with all the slang? Not to mention the aforementioned ridiculous joined-up words. That said, it seems Germany fancies some of these English gems for their own, recently adding 'shitstorm' to their dictionary. Bravo Deutschland. Bravo.
We should follow their lead and grab some more foreign morsels for ourselves. I vote for the Dutch word for unbelievable: ongelooflijk (un-guh-lof-i-lick). Not official onomatopoeia, but it feels like it, and I like it.
Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
There are some expressions that just don’t translate and should be shared in their mother tongue for full effect, complete with all the gestures. Italian curses are obviously a good example. Dio cane literally translates as 'god dog'. See? It loses all its gusto in English. Some translate brilliantly though, and when traditional potty-mouth is becoming a bit repetitive, it's nice to have a few exotic expressions in your arsenal to keep people on their toes. Try 'may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits' next time you're having an argument. It makes a nice change from 'no YOU feck off!'
Having met a Dutch man with a Cork accent (which was bizarre to say the least) and a few Italians with a fine Ayrshire brogue, courtesy of my friend and their teacher, I wonder what kind of Swedish accent I'll end up with. Popular consensus seems to have me talking like the Swedish chef from the Muppets, but at the moment I'm told I'm quite posh (there's a first for everything). ApparentIy I tend towards the equivalent of 'How delightful to make your acquaintance', 'I hail from Ireland' and 'I do hope this finds you well'.
'hurdy gurdy gurdy'
I'm sure I won’t stay posh for long, we all know it's not my natural state after all. I'm just waiting for my first major faux-pas, and something tells me I'm not going to have to wait very long. All I can hope for is an understanding 'victim'. My better half once asked some older German ladies in a pharmacy for a creamy breast. Luckily, just as they were about to start throwing things, they realised, thanks to some desperate miming on his part, that he had meant to ask for a toothbrush and they dissolved into puddles of laughter. Let's hope they got a work discount on Tena Lady.
Speaking of growing older, it has just struck me that I must be maturing. A whole post about languages and I haven't mentioned being a cunning linguist once.
Until now. Damn it! So close.