Tuesday, August 27, 2013

P-P-P Pick up a Penguin!

I feel like a Penguin. Not the chocolate sort, although I do like them and haven’t had one in a very long time. I feel like I imagine a penguin would feel if they found themselves in the Arctic Circle. Looks the same as the Antarctic, but there are no penguins there. They’d be very much isolated and alone. I feel like a lost penguin!

I didn’t know until I moved to Sweden that there are no penguins in the north and there are no polar bears in the south. All those nature programmes I watched wondering why polar bears went hungry with massive colonies of penguins to snack on, and now I know. They are opposite ends of the world. Polar bears and Penguins are literally poles apart. I find this utterly fascinating. Why, in whatever ice ages that have occurred, did polar bears not journey south? They can after all, travel 100’s of miles. Why didn’t penguins waddle north? What would happen if they ever met? A polar bear and a penguin? Maybe they would be the very best of friends. Maybe it would be a tragic end for the poor penguin. Maybe the Polar bear would yearn for more penguins having had the luxury of one.

When I arrived in Sweden it looked familiar. Geographically it looks similar to North Carolina. The University city of Uppsala is distinctly European and familiar. The weather in the summer can be very British. Unlike living in the USA, I can get most British foodstuff and get a cup of English breakfast tea in most cafes here in Sweden. Almost everyone speaks good English. I’m only a couple of hours from ‘home’ and virtually in the same time zone. And yet, I feel like a lost Penguin. I felt that moving continents was like a penguin going north. Displaced! On route to Sweden, in England, I purchased a small plastic penguin. I always have it with me. Like I need a reminder of my displacement!

The house we live in, in Sweden was initially fully furnished, until our container ship arrived from America. Bizarrely, hanging on the wall in the house was a large print of a colour pencil drawing of two penguins surrounded by snow. I wasn’t sure if it was symbolic. Should it make me feel at home or remind me that I’m not? When our furniture finally arrived after nine weeks, the house was cleared to make way for our things. I kept the penguin print.

Recently we went to Orsa Bjornpark (ranked No. 1 of 1 attraction in Orsa, Sweden, on Tripadvisor!). We had to journey north, a good 3 or so hour drive away. The bear park boasts the world’s biggest Polar bear facility! I would have thought that was Canada! Strangely, given how bloody cold it gets in the winter and that northern Sweden is in the Arctic Circle, there are no native Polar bears in Sweden. The nearest they get is a 1000 miles from Stockholm, in Norway. I wonder why they don’t stroll across to Swedish Lapland. There were two Polar bears at the bear park. Like me, they were a long way from home. They might have been in the right hemisphere but may as well have been on a different planet.

In the last two weeks my life has been put in a blender and whizzed up. It’s left a gooey grim mess.  I am faced with my 5th major move in four years. It no longer feels like an intrepid adventure. Even though I will going home, I feel like a penguin in the wrong hemisphere. Lost! There is a delightful story about a job picking up penguins when they fall over. The story goes that during the Falkland’s war the Penguins would watch planes and helicopters fly overhead and topple over. Someone picked them up. This story is probably untrue but I like the idea of a penguin picker-upper. 
I feel like a toppled over penguin and I don’t have a penguin picker-upper.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An Elegy! In the Summer!

I’m continually told Sweden is a wonderful place …in the Summer!

Today is Valborgsmässoafton in Sweden; The celebration of Spring. We are going to a traditional celebration tonight, where a huge bonfire is lit to frighten away demons of darkness and gloom and welcome the lengthening days. We have been invited to a celebratory release of the cows next week from their winter imprisonment! I wondered where the massive piles of manure came from as I hadn’t seen a single cow! It will be a moo-ving experience (thank you Karen). If I was a Student at Uppsala University I would wear a white velvet cap today and sing traditional Swedish songs. (I think that’s why my application to attend the university failed. I didn’t tick the ‘can sing traditional Swedish songs’ and ‘look good in a white velvet cap’ boxes)
The approach of Summer is a massive deal here. Mostly, I suspect, because winter is so long and depressing. I thought I’d try and capture the joy of the winter’s end and the celebration pending Summer.

In the Summer!

There’s no vast white expanse of snö and ice to light the endless darkness of polar winter
In the Summer

No need for arctic approved thermals and being labelled up to the hilt in Northface gear (because Canada goose is too expensive)
In the (it hits 20ºC if you’re lucky) Summer

No sour faced and bewildered vodka soaked locals, unwilling to make eye contact
In the (let’s all put our party hats on) Summer

No irritatingly hyper fit extreme cross country skiers in bright yellow, way-too-tight, 70’s ski gear
In the (what do we do now?) summer

No need for nature’s Aurora Borealis light show to illuminate the night (allegedly in these parts)
In the (24 hours of daylight preventing any sleep) Summer

No need to fathom the confusing winter tyre laws that make winter tyres compulsory but banned from certain roads
In the (still speed cameras everywhere and watch out for wandering Mooses) Summer

Your first Swedish word of necessity, to clean the car of the sticky black tar like residue from the roads, isn’t Avtettning
In the (now what’s the Swedish for ‘I don’t speak Swedish’?) summer

No need to stock up the potato store to bunker down for the season
In the (it’s still potatoes for dinner because meat is so ridiculously expensive) summer

No need open the local swimming pool when there’s a beautiful barely defrosted lake to swim in
In the (mosquito infested, midge plagued) Summer

Gone are the ‘Closed for winter’ signs at all the little seaside souvenir shops
In the (we still sell lots of seriously overpriced shit and shut at random times) summer

There’s a decent restaurant that’s open just 20 miles away
In the (cant get a table because of all the tourists) Summer

Summer lasts a whole week in Sweden!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Swedish Shampagne Shitfest!

* Warning! I say ‘shit’ a lot in this blog!

They say life is not about the destination but the journey. Sometimes the destination can be a poignant end to a journey someone… or something has been on.
I have to confess I knew very little about Sweden before I moved here. After 3 months of living here I haven’t really added to my bank of knowledge. Like everyone else, I was familiar with Abba, fermented herring (not so familiar) and Ryvita! I wasn’t disappointed! Pictures of Abba greet you at the airport along with other famous Swedes, whose names escape me. There are whole aisles of knäckebröd in the supermarkets. As for fish… that’s a blog dying (and stinking) to be written!
There was one other thing I knew about Sweden. Orrefors make beautiful glassware. Every Christmas for 6 years we were the recipients of 2 champagne flutes (the ‘Nobel’ design by Gunnar Cyrén) from Hubby’s Swedish boss. Being a plain girl with simple tastes, initially I considered them glitzy and gaudy but loved them anyway. When I looked to buy wine glasses to match and found out how much they cost, they suddenly seemed very elegant and understated and I loved them even more! They were very posh and very beautiful. I say ‘were’. Every journey takes its toll.
My champagne flutes have been on a bit of a journey with me from Sweden to England and on to America and now back to Sweden. As they have been repatriated to their home land I’m looking forward to making new friends, sharing a glass or two of champagne and sharing the harrowing story of the champagne flutes to a Swedish audience.
I’m never quite sure with after dinner stories whether to keep them as short anecdotes or stretch them out with detail into full stories. To tell my newly acquired Swedish friends, impressed with my Swedish champagne flutes (which are so posh, the local very posh hotel has a set in a locked cabinet as a display) the anecdote; ‘these very champagne flutes were once filled with shit in America’, might not amuse given their Swedish origin. It might also cause unnecessary alarm and concern that I might not have washed them properly afterwards. Besides, it’s an exaggeration! It wasn’t solid shit, more a murky brown shit fused water!
I guess I will have to tell the long version.
I never name and shame so I will have to stick to that principle here. Anyway, I blame myself. I thought my shitty visitor was only pretending to have the shits because he was a boring shit who didn’t want to go out and do Jack shit. We did go out but, as with a couple of other nights, had to come back early because someone had tumpkin ache! I'd been in bed ten minutes when I was woken to be told water was running down the kitchen walls. Someone had blocked the guest toilet… with shit…. And the shitty water was seeping through the walls down stairs into the kitchen… Into the kitchen cupboards to be precise. To be totally exact, it was filling up £900 worth of champagne flutes and it wasn’t with Moet! I was ‘lucky’ in that the wall cavity and plaster acted as a shit sieve so solid bits didn’t get through. It was more a defused eau d’ shit water.
White the shitty water filled 5 wall cupboards, 5 draws and 5 floor cupboards, the shitter went to sleep. Worse still, he suggested my 7 year old son had blocked the toilet; A toilet my son never uses (at the far side of the house – it was a big house – it was Texas!!!) with more shit than his total body weight! My son, capable of many shitty horrors, was not responsible for this one!
It was late. The shit flow was halted. I went to bed, while the vintage in the champagne glasses ‘breathed’ and matured like fine wine! By morning I had developed a cleaning OCD. It was less ‘once more into the Breach’, more ‘where’s the fucking Bleach!’  Armed with gallons of beach and rubber gloves I began operation clean up. Every vessel was filled with water with more than a hint of shit. I had to throw all my PG tips teabags away which was tragic enough, but I will never forget my elegant, tall Swedish champagne flutes, every one of them, filled with turgid brown water.
I was completely in the zone! Barking orders! Everyone was shit scared. Including me! Literally! Hard not to be with that many pooh particles about! I have been hospitalised with Campylobacteriosis which is caught via ‘fecal-oral, ingestion of contaminated food or water’ i.e. eating shit! I never want it again! I used spray disinfectant, proven to kill 99% of shitty things dead! I used so much I couldn’t breathe and began heaving. The last thing I needed was a sickfest to go with the shitfest. I did, for a fleeting moment wonder if it had all been a ploy to get me to do some housework!
All this time the ‘alleged’ shitter slept on! He emerged, with impeccable timing, when the last shitty item had been bleached.
Shitty Arse!
I wondered if the spray disinfectant would work on him.

Thinking about it realistically, there are two problems with telling the shitty champagne story to dinner guests. Swedes might not like the total lack of respect, indeed, the downright cruelty bestowed on Sweden’s finest glassware. Also, they might not want to finish their glass of champagne.
Ooooh! Every cloud! Alcohol is really expensive here. If I only half fill their glasses, they sure as shit wont want a refill!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pretty Kitty

They say ignorance is bliss. That’s all well and good if you remain in blissful ignorance. Sometimes having your ignorance exposed can be enlightening or painful, or both! 

I don’t like to write about anything personal for fear of ridicule, embarrassment or the likelihood of being sectioned. Some topics are a bit below the belt but luckily this happened to a friend, well below the belt! I’ll write in the first person though because it’s easier than writing about a friend and their friends, it gets confusing and I have a no naming, and in this case, shaming, policy.

Usually, in a colder climate you only have to worry about your bikini line on your fortnightly foreign holiday or for special occasions and rare visits from gentlemen callers but when you’ve got a swimming pool in your back garden you have to keep things more trimmed… Otherwise it frightens the children… and neighbours… and hummingbirds try to nest in the overspill.

I simply had not realized until a girls’ night out in the UK that a mere trim was so 1980 and these days a full Brazilian was the order of the day. Initially I just thought the company that night was a bit risqué so I asked other friends. One friend stared in horror and disbelief when I shared the shock that the women I had been out with the night before all had shaven havens. I was relieved until it dawned on me that the horror was directed at me. I’ll never forget the derisory ‘You still have hair? There?’ She later emailed to tell me she had ‘totally’ (not just in passing, but totally!) thought of me when Cameron Diaz on the Graham Norton Show had described her friends 70’s style bush that floated like seaweed in the bath. I had thought the sway of ‘seaweed’ relaxing but I clearly needed to get with the times. Peer pressure succeeded where my husband’s begging had failed for years! 
Upon my return to Texas I decided to investigate the Brazilian! I looked it up on the internet and once I removed the moderate filters I got a mass of fanny images that have scarred me for life! Having always kept my own under generous cover and having never watched a porn movie I had no idea they were that ugly! I can understand men trimming to make it look bigger but that’s the exact reason women shouldn’t! Who wants to see all that gubbins? (That’s a rhetorical question!). Perhaps dehairing isn’t enough of a makeover. Maybe adding a bit of bling and sparkle by vajazzling improves the over all appearance. 
Not wanting to be ridiculed I decided to bite the bullet (not the little gold one from Ann Summers) and take the plunge, as it were! There are a few options for those, like me (remember its not me really, I’ve been bald for years!) who have never more than trimmed: You can wax, shave or use hair removing cream. I guess you could pluck or epilate if you were into self flagellation. 

A good friend got me a leaflet for The Pretty Kitty, a waxing venue which boasted ‘The Brazilian is our specialty’. They said they ‘remove it all, front back and everything inbetween’. I wasn’t sure I was ready for such a drastic transformation but I was encouraged by the promise that ‘we never double dip our sticks’. No girl wants that! It said the pain was ‘tolerable’ and ‘freshly waxed skin may be tender for a couple of days’ and ‘skin may break out in tiny bumps’. I didn’t want to look bald and diseased but it was when they started talking about ingrowing hair that I really went off the idea! I had an ingrowing hair on my little finger once, all septic and sore! I did not want to add that prospect to the red tender lumpy welt the wax might leave behind! Waxing is not for the feint hearted and I was feeling decidedly feint! 

Having trimmed, if not totally strimmed for years, I thought shaving might be ok but doing the back and everything inbetween with a razor seemed rather risky. Perhaps a combination of razor and hair removing cream for those difficult to reach bits is the way forward. 

The funniest thing I have ever read is the Veet for men Hair removal cream reviews on Amazon. They are eye wateringly funny. I assumed the reason hair removal cream caused such eye watering pain on men was because, being men, they didn’t read the instructions. I read the instructions. I timed 6 minutes precisely. I only put it on the parts I couldn’t reach easily, or see, and I only put a tiny bit on! Lighting farts and removing bottom hair with the blow back would burn less than hair removal cream! One reviewer said, upon application of the removal cream, ‘At first there was a gentle warmth which in a matter of seconds was replaced by an intense burning and a feeling I can only describe as like being given a barbed wire wedgie by two people intent on hitting the ceiling with my head’. The reviews are spot on, when you put a spot on! Thank heavens I had Sudocrem (used for nappy rash and minor burns) to put on to ease the pain! The reviews did say however, the end results were completely hairless. My experience wasn’t so successful. It looked like Steptoe’s chin…. Gurning! 

What my friends didn’t tell me was it becomes a full time job to keep it all in check. Regrowth is a nightmare. Sunday night bath time became a vital part of husbandry! The first time not blocking the plug hole with all the debris was a real challenge. At a certain length the stubble is spiky and itchy and I happen to think, in public places, a few stray hairs sticking out of your bikini is better than raking the constant regrowth itch! 

Still, the end result of deforestation was appreciated and I was no longer a social outcast! 

Moving to Sweden* presents new dilemmas. It is freezing! There is no pool. No skimpy bikinis. Do I need to bother with the upkeep? My hubby allows his habitual stubble to grow into a beard when he’s disaffected. Maybe I should do the same! Should I let the lady garden grow wild and free again? Unless I let it grow to my feet, where it can poke out of my thermal long johns, a sprouting pant moustache is no longer a problem. Also there is no bath. Getting yourself into a position to shave the harder to reach areas in a shower is much harder than in a bath and I aint never using hair removal cream there again! There are no humming birds threatening to make a nest! Oh… and did I mention, it’s cold? I’m sure the extra hair will help keep me warm! However, there is one important element that I need to remember, we have a sauna…Not sure if the neighbours call in for a social sauna. I’ve heard the Swedes are quite liberal. It might be embarrassing if I go into the sauna and someone thinks a small critter is hiding under my towel! Unless the Swedes are European in a German sort of way, I might have to continue something I wish I had never started! 

*what are the chances of having a friend with a hairy Mary that lived in Texas and has now moved to Sweden! What a coincidence! 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Farewell to Arms... and other things!

I wrote this before I left Houston last month:

Things I’ll  miss when I leave Texas

I will miss Texas! Texas is a crazy place. My first impression of Texas was big, hot and scary! I have grown to love this place. I love that it behaves like and believes it’s a Republic. I wish I could wave St George’s flag with the same courage and patriotism.  I love (and fear) their absurd attitude to guns and Conservatives (with a massive capital C) and religion! I don’t agree with any of it but I admire their passion!

I will miss road kill! I have seen some incredible animals up close even if they were, regrettably, dead. Possums, skunks, deer, armadillos…. All weird and wonderful

Hummingbirds! One of my favourite things last summer was watching the hummingbirds, tiny, like fat bumblebees! Sweden is too cold for hummingbirds. That makes me feel very sad!

I shall actually miss the critters! It is easy to say I will miss the weather but there is a lot of nastiness that goes with hot humid weather so to show how much I’ll miss the weather I have to embrace all that goes with it! I will miss the sound of the kamikaze dune bugs that plop into the pool and splat against the windows at night and the clever little frogs that stick to the windows waiting for them.

Having a tan! I love having a tan! I may have grown a muffin top in America but even rolls of fat look better tanned! I am going from the sublime to the ridiculous! From 23°C in January, getting sunburned in sunny Sugar land to -23°C in Sweden, where there is no sun, for 6 months! …Maybe blue is the new brown!

The dang time difference. I will miss it! While I might feel lonely at wine o’ clock because everyone back home is asleep when I want to chat, glass of wine in hand, I have loved the drunken calls I have received in the middle of the day….
I haven’t appreciated the early morning ones though when people have forgotten the time difference!

I will miss having a pool! I really do appreciate how lucky I’ve been to live in a house with its own 9ft deep swimming pool in the back garden. I grew up on a shitty council estate and we had to share our bath water on a Sunday! I know how far I’ve come! You can take the girl out of Kings Norton!

I shall miss my ex-pat friends. I know someone who wrote a book (actually wrote a book and got it published FFS!) and I remember him saying something about wearing the same rock T-shirt gave you affinity with the other wearers. This might work at rock concerts but it doesn’t automatically work in America with Brits. Some Brits are americanised in the way that when Americans say ‘have a nice day’ they wouldn’t give you the time of day if you were having a shitty one. Some Brits speak to you initially because you have a British accent but then, just like the American wives of Azalea Lane, want to see if your saucepans are the right brand before they would ever dream of inviting you to dinner and even then, just like Americans, the evening would be over by 9pm. Some expats are a little like magpies… making themselves cosy in whatever nest has the shiniest things! Way too transient! My initial experiences of expats made me wary, and lonely!
In Sugar Land I had the good fortune to meet an amazing bunch (everything collective in America is a ‘bunch’) of expat ladies who have been all over the world and recognize that the short and transient nature of your stay somewhere makes it more important to embrace each other completely. They would do anything for me and for each other. I have laughed and cried with them, learned new skills (yes! I did make quilts!) and had such good fun. The best of times. Thank you! I am going to miss them dearly!

My blog! I have so enjoyed writing about my weird and wonderful experiences in America. The more depressed, angry or horrified I became, the funnier the blogs! I've been happy for months and the result has been bloggers block! My American blog will be something for me to look back on in years to come and marvel that it did really happen, to me, and it wasn't just some very peculiar dream!

I’m sat looking out across a frozen lake in sub zero temperatures, missing all of those things so much more than I ever thought I would. I couldn't be further away from Texas!  On the plus side I can see that weird and wonderful might be the order of the day again  here in Sweden, along with horror and depression! After finally finding a home in Texas, I am certainly once more a stranger in a strange land! I feel a blog coming on!