Regarding Resurrection – First 1000 words

*If you arrived here from my “5 by 5” vlog on YouTube, you’ll know all of this already, but, in the extraordinarily likely event that you arrived here by accident whilst looking for something infinitely more interesting… Below are the opening 1000 words (ish) of my first novel, “Regarding Resurrection”. I plan to share this book online, chapter by chapter, once I have a sufficiently large following to make it worthwhile.*

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Prologue

Walter climbed the last of the worn wooden steps and pleaded with the portly chap by the lever, one last time.

‘Nobody likes to be hanged, Mr Lewis. But it’s what we do here.’

This response was of no help to Walter whatsoever, and he shuffled over to the trapdoor.

The Hessian bag being placed over his head was itchy, and stank of sweat and bad breath, which may well have been his own. The biting freshness of toothpaste and the slippery caress of soap had long been absent from his life. The only caress he could look forward to these days was that of “Gums” Jensen; who had recently taken to “snuggling” Walter in the mornings, caring little for his objections.

‘That comfortable, Mr. Lewis?’

The voice came from outside the sweaty bag, as the rope was placed over Walter’s head and the knot tightened behind his right ear. It was an absurd question under the circumstances, but answering in the negative would only buy him a few seconds and Walter just wanted the whole thing over with now. He nodded his head slowly.

It was very quiet in this room. Never like the sort of executions you might see in a film about some eighteenth century folk hero, stepping bravely up to the gallows to the mournful cries of big-breasted women and admiring men. Walter was no hero. And the only person in here with large breasts was the guy in the apron who pulled the lever.

No-one would call at the last minute to stop the execution. No screams of “How will I ever live without you?” emanated from the crowd. There were only three people in the room besides Walter, and one of those was his executioner. The other two could just be heard in the corner, discussing their dissatisfaction with the vending machine in the lunch room.

Walter heard the creak of the large wooden lever that would release the trapdoor, and had just enough time to draw one last breath, before the floor fell away from him. He inhaled deeply – filling his nose with the aroma of stale sweat – and the rope tightened around his neck, marking the end of his short fall with an almost imperceptible, muffled snap. And then it was dark.

He awoke, as always, with his head in a barrel of cold, but very dirty, water before being pulled out by his hair. He looked at the hangman through blurry eyes, and rubbed the back of his neck.

That’s gonna hurt tonight.

The hangman made a tick on his clipboard, ‘Same time next week then, Mr Lewis?’

Walter really hated Fridays.

 

The walk back to General Population was a long one, but Walter didn’t mind. It was the only time he had to be alone with his thoughts, most of which involved escape. Today though, he walked even more slowly than usual.

Today had been his 1299th date with the hangman and, although not normally superstitious, it seemed to Walter that 1300 was a fairly unlucky number when it came to executions. What had been his crime after all? He was no angel, but he didn’t consider himself up there with murderers and rapists.

Right on cue, he heard the unmistakable sound of “Gums” Jensen, whistling “Dancing Queen”, on his way down the corridor to receive his own weekly punishment.

Walter began to hyperventilate; something he had done sporadically since his teens. It was an unpleasant, panicky sensation which he managed to come to terms with if it happened to strike whilst strolling in the park, thinking about the plummeting price of his shares. But, in an atmosphere where every breath filled your lungs with fire and your nasal passages with the stench of rotting flesh, it was never ideal to be taking more of them than you really needed to.

He ducked into one of the many rooms that lined the dark and rusty steel corridor, and leant against the sticky wall to steady his breathing. Almost immediately, he began to wish he had taken his chances with “Gums”.

An altogether more terrifying, and even more familiar, voice was approaching the door of the room in which Walter had foolishly chosen to hide. Without thinking, he flung open one of the rusty cupboards on the opposite side of the room and jumped inside; closing the door behind him.

Walter’s plans had gone like this his whole life, and seemed destined to do so for his whole death. During his senior year in high school, he had planned to get together with some of his friends and place a firecracker into one of the pans in the girls’ toilets; somehow detonating it at the moment when Alice Gardner, who had refused to sleep with him the previous week, entered and sat down. That he found himself in the faculty toilets, with absolutely no plan at all – and for that matter, no firecracker – was most likely the main reason for his being caught. The reason none of his friends had been caught was partly because everyone knew that this sort of feeble-minded prank was typical of Walter; but mostly because he had no school friends, largely on account of this very annoying habit.

Walter’s impulsive, ill-conceived ideas in school, and later in college, had not left a sufficiently deep impression on his mind or his bank account to dissuade him from doing exactly this sort of thing once he left school. He was determined to succeed in business, by whatever means necessary. He did have an eye for what would make money, but lacked the talent to pursue it. His only friend wisely refused to go along with any of these ideas, and Walter had ultimately looked to someone else for help.

It was exactly that someone, whose voice Walter had correctly identified before ducking into his cupboard full of…

Fluffy toys? Walter examined one that had been digging into his back. It was a weird thing to find in this of all places, but he was more concerned with the arrival of his former business partner.

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Kingdom Come: Deliverance – Ultimate Review (after 500+ Hours)

Yes, yes, yes… let’s not get bogged down with all that tedious “Where the f**k have you been for the last 9 months? We all thought you were dead!” business. Didn’t you see the number of hours I have spent in this game?

Okay, so a number of things have happened, but most of them involve husband and wife, both trying to run businesses from home, whilst passing a bored toddler back and forth between them.

Most recently though, in an effort to keep some content on YouTube when I have neither camera nor crew, I turned back to gaming videos, and started a new YT channel, devoted entirely to gaming, game reviews, game news etc. And, the game which launched this new venture, was Warhorse Studios debut title: Kingdom Come: Deliverance. It is this game that has lured me back to the pages of this long-neglected blog.

So, strap yourselves in because it’s going to be a long one. Remember the Elite: Dangerous preview? Yeah… that long.

Kingdom_Come_Deliverance

Kingdom Come: Deliverance (hereafter referred to as KCD, because life is too short to keep typing that), for those of you who might not know, is an open-world, medieval RPG that starts you on the bottom rung, in a way I don’t think I’ve experienced since learning to read and write my own name. Which comes to mind because one of the many skills you must spend in-game time learning in KCD is reading. Yup. Your character cannot read when the game begins.

HenrySleepBook

Warhorse have gone for a whole new level of realism in the medieval RPG genre, and what’s more real than a common blacksmith’s son, whom no-one outside his tiny village either knows or cares about? 300px-KingdomCome_HenryNo golden child, no beam of light overhead, no legendary Witcher, dragon hunter or forgotten young wizard-under-the-stairs… Henry of Skalitz is just an ordinary young boy who can barely even lift the sword his father has just finished making for a local nobleman, much less swing it, when the game begins. He would probably have lived out the rest of his, presumably fairly short, life in complete obscurity, in the same little village where he was born, if history hadn’t just ridden through it with 1000 of its angriest soldiers, and burned it to the ground.

I say history because this game is steeped in it. Its places are real places, many of its characters were real people (or in some cases, loosely based on real people), and many of the events you will live through as Henry of Skalitz, were taken right out of the pages of the Czech Republic’s long and brutal history. Silver Skalitz (Stříbrná Skalice), where the game begins, really was burned to the ground by the invading forces of King Sigismund of Hungary, on March 23rd, 1403 (a Wednesday… in case you were wondering). Unfortunately, that is the very day Warhorse Studios give you control of the luckless Henry, and his unremarkable frame.DY-EsTwW0AAa79K

 

Skalitz Burning

So, your village is burning, your parents and friends have been murdered and those same murderers are making their way up the hill towards you. Henry can’t read, knows nothing of warfare, can barely lift a sword or stay on a horse… which is precisely why the first real mission in this game is called “Run!”

RUN

If I’m being completely honest, Henry is so useless at this early stage, that it took me three attempts to even run away without getting killed.

GameOver

So, you can believe me when I tell you that even basic skills in this game really feel earned. Swords really feel… sort of… heavy, until you get the hang of them (after intensive training); arrows you fire will nosedive after a few feet at first… not that it matters because there is no aiming reticle for archery, so you’ll be lucky to hit a bunny with an arrow even if you get close enough to push them through its fluffy little face (Don’t believe me? Check out this video of me trying to hunt hares, on day 3 of my first playthrough).

Even Henry’s speech options are noticeably poorer at the beginning; lacking the finesse, in the early stages, to respond to tough questions with anything more witty than “Yeah? … well… you smell… so there!”   I’m hesitant to say “it feels like learning to walk”, for fear that Warhorse Studios will make you learn to do that in their next game. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if psychologists, 10 years from now, are prescribing medication for those of us console players who were emotionally scarred by KCD’s early lock-picking mechanic, and were never really the same again.

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One of the very early patches for this game, tweaked the console lock-pick problem juuust enough to keep you from losing your mind completely, but even the improved version squeezed you so hard against the fragile glass wall of sanity that you could hear it cracking, and your first, fevered instinct was to lick it better.

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Maybe that last part was just me, but the fact remains; if you weren’t a die-hard RPG fanatic, an OCD sufferer, or just so damned stubborn you were determined to get your £50 worth if it killed you and everyone else in your building, you might have given up at this point. FPS players probably tuned out the moment they found out that they wouldn’t get to kill anything for at least an hour. The pick-pocketing mechanic was confusing and difficult; sneaking without getting caught, virtually impossible in the early stages… the list goes on. Suffice it to say, KCD does NOT hold your hand. Many things you just have to figure out for yourself. I spent more time IN jail than out of it during the first few days, because no-one mentioned that I had to have a torch lit when walking around towns at night. I honestly didn’t realise that a skill-tree existed, for the first 3 days of play. But the elation I felt once I figured out there were perk points to spend on improving your skills, was almost like the day I passed my driving test.

What all of this staggering around in the dark does for you is to help you really become Henry; to identify with this lost and bewildered character, in a way I have never before experienced in a video-game. Your hunger levels rise slowly, and you have to figure out how to feed yourself without stealing (or at least without getting caught stealing). Your become tired, and your stamina and health levels begin to drop unless you can find somewhere to sleep (I was also thrown in jail for sleeping in the wrong place, fairly early on in the game). You even need to wash yourself and have your clothes laundered from time to time, so that people don’t turn their noses up at you in dialogue.

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As the game progresses, these things that seemed overwhelming at first, become second nature, like so many things in real life, and you feel like a real part of this living, breathing, beautiful world that Warhorse have created in such incredible detail. Occasionally, their attempts at natural behaviour in NPCs are inconsistent, and miss the mark by some way. In the video below, I was attacked with a sword for forgetting to return a holy relic, and only moments later the same guard put away his sword and said “God be with you.”, before answering all my questions about who lived in the house he was guarding.

But, these moments are as nothing when compared with the brilliance of some of the relationships that develop between characters in the game. I can’t mention most of them for fear of story-spoilers, but there is one which begins to develop early on in the game, between Henry and spoiled young nobleman, Sir Hans Capon.

HansCapon

When we first meet young Sir Hans, he is the archetypal young medieval lord; arrogant; spoiled; selfish; intolerant of anyone “beneath” him… You immediately dislike him, and are sure he is going to meet his end at the point of your sword. But KCD often swerves around tired video-game tropes at the last second, and veers off into the woodland of unpredictability; watching hedgehogs bounce off the windscreen and into your dust like the uncomfortable, spiky, curled-up clichés that they are…

Yes, I know… I took that metaphor waaay too far. The point is that this game does not always do what is expected, and it feels fresher for it. At an early point in the game, a situation which both you and young Sir Hans have been bullied into by the Lord of Rattay, sparks a chain of events that completely changes how Henry and Hans view one another, and theirs becomes the most natural friendship I think I’ve ever encountered in a video-game. So much so that I was a bit disappointed I couldn’t spend more time hanging out with him than I did. He’s just one of those guys who’s fun to hang out with, but doesn’t always seem to realise when a situation calls for a more grown-up response.

Other revelations are at hand later in this game, but if you pay attention to dialogue, achievement lists, and the behaviour of certain characters they may not always take you completely by surprise.

For all my raving about the wonders of this game, though, it is certainly not without its problems.

KCD, like so many sprawling open-world RPGs was plagued by bugs upon release, and odd problems persist, but nowhere more so than on consoles, and, if my limited research into the resolution for these problems is anything to go by, no console was more problematic than the Xbox One; the most asthmatic of the platforms mentioned, and, unfortunately, the only one available to me at the time of release.

This is not to say that the others didn’t suffer, but it seems to me that after all the patches came in, the Xbox One players were the ones most commonly complaining about persistent difficulties. Some of these were mild annoyances, like NPCs walking through objects, and each other; some were downright hilarious; like Henry suddenly shooting into the air whilst at an alchemy bench, whereupon he just keeps on going up and up, as though being abducted by Jesus. But the worst of them by far was the infamous “Halberd Bug”, shown briefly in the video below. Halberds were never implemented properly in this game, from the very start. I picked one up from a bandit early on in my first playthrough, because the menu showed it was worth 1000 Groshen, but once picked up, you can’t put it away, you can’t sell it, you can’t put it on your horse, and everywhere you go, people complain or just scream and run because you’re carrying a very large and completely useless pointy pole.

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The Halberd Bug I’m speaking of though, caused Halberds to randomly spawn in places where guards had been. But then they never de-spawned, and the game seemed to keep track of them at all times, causing an insanely glitchy/juddering play experience. And even after the latest patch (1.4.3 at time of writing *EDIT* Patch 1.5 has now been released, and fixes many of these issues), many of us were advised by Warhorse, that, if you got the problem before the patch release, then the only way to get rid of it was to go back to a save point before it started happening. Well… firstly… when the f**k was that? I didn’t go around counting Halberds in the dirt, in case of later difficulties! And, secondly… that’s not so easy when the problem arises 40+ hours into your YouTube walkthrough series, which already takes pretty much all of your free time, and YouTube are breathing down your neck to maintain a regular schedule.

What was most upsetting though, was that console players seemed to be marginalised in the whole patch debacle, and it seemed as though we were regarded as less important than PC players. I might be being slightly unfair to Warhorse here, because I know there are ridiculous certification problems and hoops that people like Microsoft make you jump through when releasing a patch for a game like this, but the amount of times we were told “It’s coming next week… we promise”, loong after the PC players had been patched and sent on their merry, sword-swinging way, got to be more than a little frustrating, even for more patient gamers.

On top of this, it really seems to me as though this game should never have been released on the Xbox One. And that’s quite an indictment, considering how much I have loved this game, and that the Xbox One is currently my only way to play and record video-games… so I would never have had the pleasure of Henry’s company, had it not been available to Xbox One players. But, it seems to me as though the old Xbox One was just not up the job. Even after all the patches and delays, and more patches… texture maps often seemed to load with all the haste of an overweight snail, crossing a field of broken glass, to keep a particularly painful dentist appointment, in the heart of song-thrush territory. KCD is a game offering a rich and diverse landscape, steeped in history, with truly believable characters, and sold on the back of its attention to realistic detail. So when you regularly encounter scenes like headless thugs and men with see-through torsos, demanding money whilst standing on an invisible drawbridge, in front of castle that looks like it was drawn on a cereal box in crayon… it really is not doing what it said on the tin.

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The textures catch up eventually, but you have to go through all the stages of loading… including the bit where their head appears, but looks like Odo from Deep Space Nine, and by the time they start to look like normal people, you’ve either moved on to the next shop or stabbed them in their invisible faces and taken all their textureless clothes.

Kingdom Come: Deliverance is the first game from developer, Warhorse Studios. They have some experienced players on their team but it is a brand new company, trying to do something genuinely fresh and new. We gamers appreciate that sort of thing, so there was a lot of goodwill and forgiveness, for mistakes that must be easy to make on your first lap around the block. God knows I wouldn’t want to try doing what they just did. And the fact that they came so close to providing a perfect, truly-immersive role-playing experience has given a lot of us real hope for the potential future of this new company. But delays; animations that would have looked dated in a 90s game, and bugs and glitches that would make even Bethesda blush, have used up almost their entire currency reserve, as far as goodwill is concerned, and RPG gamers expect them to do a lot better next time.

When all the talk of textureless trees and embarrassingly clunky animation is forgotten for a moment though… what Warhorse have produced here is a thing of real beauty.

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I’m in my 40s now, and I’ve been an avid gamer since the days of Jet Set Willy, Frogger, and Hungry Horace. But my love of movies is hard to beat, and only when I had completed Rockstar’s Red Dead: Redemption, in 2010, did I first say… “Wow! Immersive video games with music, story and character that good, really could, some day hammer the nails into the coffin-lid of the movie industry.”

Since then, I have seen other games come close, but none quite so close as Kingdom Come: Deliverance. For an RPG series to live long, it must be built on a solid foundation. It doesn’t matter if the doors are falling off the hinges, and the roof leaks. All those things can be fixed as long as it has a strong heart… and Kingdom Come: Deliverance has the heart of a Rhino! Warhorse have done a stellar job, in my opinion, concentrating on those things that go overlooked by too many RPG games in favour of flawless graphics, and a game-map the size of a small moon. I have been a writer, a reader, a movie-fan, and a gamer all my life. When people who know me well are asked what word sums up all my aspirations, they often say “Storyteller”. A really well told tale makes all life’s woes a little easier to deal with I think. I am a professional voiceover artist nowadays; reading for a living and indulging myself with stories in all forms when I have free time… So I’m pretty confident that I know a good storyteller when I see one, and Kingdom Come: Deliverance Director and Lead writer, Daniel Vávra is just such a person.

Four things tie you into a game, a movie, or a TV series, more than anything else. It’s a short list, but pixel-resolution and special-effects aren’t on it.
They are, in my opinion:

  1. Story. I don’t think I really need to elaborate on my reasons for that one. And, if you think I do, please go home and rethink your life.
  2. Performance. Not as important as numbers 1 and 4, but try to imagine the line “That’s no Moon, it’s a Space station!” delivered by Steven Segal instead of Sir Alec Guiness, and I think you’ll see the point.
  3. Music. I have often been mocked for suggesting this, but think of the most iconic movies of the past 50 years, and I bet you can hum some of the music from almost all of them. Worse still… try watching a Spielberg movie (or pretty much ANY movie for that matter) with all the music removed.
  4. Character. I taught a single class in college about how to write character, in which I paraphrased writer, Michael Legat, who said: “If you think character isn’t important to a story, consider the following headline: Tom, Construction Worker, 61 years old,  killed in drive-by shooting. So what? It’s tragic, and shouldn’t we do something about gun control and gang violence… etc. but ultimately you’ve probably forgotten about him by the end of breakfast. Poor Tom.
    Now, change the headline to Tom Hanks, Actor, 61 years old, killed in drive-by shooting. You’d be talking about that at work for weeks. Conspiracy theorists would crawl out of their dimly-lit bedrooms and ask their mums if they were allowed to go back on Twitter yet.

KCD hits all these points with precision. The story is fantastic and often takes you in a different direction than that you might have been expecting. The Voice-Acting, for the most part, is brilliant. There are a few hiccups here and there (Lady Stephanie of Talmberg is a prime example), but the principal players deliver well within the confines of their character. Take it from me, it’s no easy thing to step into a box and jump into a character, when there is often no-one else in the room to react to.

VOBooth

The Music… aaah, the music. A fantastic score by Jan Valta and Adam Sporka really adds that extra rise and fall to moments of importance. Almost made you forget that Hanush’s solid plate armour was bending like rubber as he talked, or that Captain Bernard’s face was missing as he ordered an attack.

But lastly… character. I spoke at length about Henry and Hans Capon earlier, but Henry really is the linchpin in all of this. Without him, the whole thing just falls apart. And Henry of Skalitz is the most interesting character I’ve ever played as, I think.

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And it precisely his ordinariness that makes him so likeable; so relatable. He is not heralded as the greatest archer or swordsman in the land. Nobody knows his name. His reputation does NOT precede him. He isn’t ruggedly handsome, or drop-dead gorgeous. He isn’t some jaded dragon-slayer or sorcerer coming out of retirement for one last mission. He doesn’t have rippling abs or biceps you’re afraid to get too close to, for fear they might explode in your face. And… he has a perfectly ordinary, midlands accent. A little odd to find in 15th century Bohemia, along with Yorkshiremen, Aussies, and Americans… all speaking English, of course, but not all that unusual for Tom McKay (the voice behind Henry), who comes from Solihull. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been put off a main character (*cough* Geralt of Rivia *cough*) because he opens his mouth and out comes the voice of batman. Please stop doing this, game developers!

I thoroughly enjoyed becoming Henry of Skalitz, and was genuinely sad when the game came to an end. But that end was a very Empire Strikes Back, Mass Effect 2 style ending, and Warhorse have left us in very little doubt that Henry’s story is far from over. I for one cannot wait to see what’s next from this young game studio, but wherever they take us next, let’s just hope it’s fully rendered.

You can see all my videos at my new Game-Dedicated YouTube channel Knight’s Arcade, here.

 

Fantasy League #1: 007 Villains (revisited)

~ I originally wrote this post in anticipation of the last 007 movie (number 24) back in 2014. So try to bear that in mind when reading it. If some dates and “recent” news items do not make any sense, that will be why.
Anyway… since Daniel Craig announced, definitively, to Stephen Colbert last night that he will be returning for one more movie, I thought it might be time to recycle it and see if I can get a few more bites on the vote at the end this time.
This blog will be reactivated soon, and I am planning at some point in the future to release my novel on here, chapter by chapter, before I start work on another one. In the meantime… enjoy this post, and please vote at the end.

I have often talked of movies in this blog. Indeed, at one point during 2011/2012 all my blog posts had to have titles taken from movie lines. And I must surely have made clear by now that my favourite genre is Science Fiction. I have very little time for spy movies in general. So it may surprise you (well… some of you at least) to know that the film franchise I am perhaps most knowledgeable about is 007. With Bond 24 (that’ll be 25 now) now confirmed, the rumour mill is in full swing, and there are several questions everyone usually wants the answer to when a new 007 adventure is on the horizon.

1. Who will play Bond? No mystery there, Daniel Craig has already confirmed he will once again wear the tuxedo.
2. What will be the title? A great deal more mystery here as the title at the moment is the less-than-evocative Bond #24 (erm… again… 25 this time). 
3. Who will be the Bond girl/girls? Once again, no idea.
4. Who will be the villain?

It’s this last question I want to talk about today. Who do you think would make a great villain? Why? Where’s your evidence? Do you think a particular person should definitely not be allowed to stroke the white pussy (sorry about that. I couldn’t resist)? So, I hereby declare the first Sleepless Knight Fantasy League… open! Today: Bond villains.

I have tried to add a mixture of people I’m not so sure about, in with people I would give my right arm to see playing Bond villains. When it comes to listing movies they have starred in, some of them are obvious choices; some are their best movies; some are their worst. Most of the time I have tried to pick at least one movie for each actor which demonstrates their ability, or inability to play bad guys. Ben Kingsley’s is an example of the latter. Lastly, each of the “Blofeld says” quotes are from one of their movies, with the eponymous Mr. Bond pasted in where I thought it appropriate. Consequently I have often tried to pick a quote from one of the movies listed on their card, but this is not always the case.

Off you go! Have fun. And if you can’t read the cards very well, my apologies, but just click on them to enlarge.

Ben Bond

Gary Bond

Ed Bond

Chiwetel Bond

Cate Bond

Michael G Bond

Sir Ian Bond

Frank Bond

Angelina Bond

Benedict Bond

Djimon Bond

Sam R Bond

Sam N Bond

Jude Bond

Charlize Bond

Cillian Bond

James F Bond

Paul Bond

Ken Bond

Michaell F Bond

Michelle Bond

Marion Bond

Bruce Bond

Derek Bond

Rachel Bond

John Bond

Carrie Anne Bond

*Fun Fact: I only discovered whilst checking IMDb for movie release dates for this post, that one of the characters I really hate, from the Mass Effect games series, was voiced by Carrie Anne Moss.

Forest Bond

Philip Bond

As has so often been the case during this past month or so of “experimenting” I enjoyed this far too much. I started coming up with all sorts of ideas on what to do next… The New Doctor fantasy league… Bond Movie Titles fantasy league… Star Trek villains… Superheroes… it just kept going. But, reluctantly, I must tell you that’s it for a few weeks, unless I suddenly think of something so important to say that it can’t wait.

Now it’s your turn to vote. Philip Seymour Hoffman has been left out of the vote below, mainly so that voters wouldn’t be influenced by the recent loss. But everyone else is present and correct. There is no time-limit on the vote, so I guess I’ll just take a look at it, and announce the results when the new Bond villain is officially announced.

Until I see you again (with more details of the proposed new blog site), Sleep tight,

Sleepless Knight

A New Dope

 

Well… where to begin?

I shall try not to move anything in here lest the resulting dust cloud cause a local storm scare or something.

I’ll go into more detail in a later post, about all that has happened in the past 18 months, but… long story short: I got really busy with lots and lots of other things after returning to England.

If there are any remaining readers of this blog who can remember its very early days, then I’m sure I don’t need to explain who The Swedish Flowerpot is. However, since most of my original readers ran away when I was foolish enough to untie the ropes and let them out for 5 minutes of fresh-air (rookie mistake!), I should just explain that The Swedish Flowerpot was a lady living in Newfoundland, who began writing her blog at roughly the same time as I did before moving back to her home country of Sweden. A mutual appreciation for one another’s  writing and sense of humour led to a “WordPress friendship”… then later a “facebook friendship”… then a “Skype friendship”… then a meeting in real life… then a romantic relationship (I’ll skip the quotation marks for that one)… then an engagement… then a move to Sweden… then a marriage… then a move back to England… and, now… an impending Sleepless-Flowerpot-Knight-Swede-WordPress baby!

Yup! I am writing this because the tiny little newborn product of this complicated and exciting romance is due to drop into our lives at any moment…

No… literally… any moment. That was not hyperbole. The child of Sleepless Knight and The Swedish Flowerpot is now six days overdue.

So that’s where we are. In limbo. The flat has been tidied and re-tidied; the garage has been cleaned out; the flat has been re-painted; the nursery (well… alcove really) has been set-up; all the shopping has been done. I daren’t take on another audio-book project at the moment because they usually have fairly tight deadlines, and there will be a screaming, newborn baby in this house any day now, which I think deserves at least a week of my undivided attention before I get back to work.

Just an hour ago, I was playing “The Imperial March” to the bump, in an attempt to imply that Lord Vader and/or The Emperor, were most displeased with her apparent lack of progress, but evidently she found my lack of faith neither disturbing nor amusing. So… I’m here talking to you people (or, more likely, myself).

wordpressbaby

I actually had the opportunity to return to this blog a few weeks ago, but I started making an image for my triumphant return and, as usual, got waaay too carried away making a whole “epic scene”. I then became unwilling to return properly until I had made the image as amazing as I hoped it could be. Wait until you see it… you’ll love it. Actually you probably won’t even notice, but if the adulation of others was my reason for doing things I think I would have stopped getting out bed the first time a teacher said to me “Stop that! It’s not big and it’s not clever!”

I mean Donald Trump is not big… and 25 seconds of listening to one of his speeches will certainly cure you of any notion that there is anything clever about him, but look where he is. And from nothing! Starting with nothing but a “small” loan from his father of $1,000,000!

Well… I promised myself this post would be about nothing but the baby so I will go now before I get sidetracked still further.

I have just finished recording a book for an author on Amazon, so I will put in a link to that once it goes on sale, but until then… get on with your lives as normal and await further instructions.

Mad World?

MadWorld

The EU referendum is less than a week away; fighting (again) at the European Cup matches in Paris; 49 people shot dead at a nightclub in Orlando, a week ago; Donald Trump knocking on the door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue… and 3 days ago Labour MP, Jo Cox, was killed outside a library in Birstall.

It’s tempting to think that the world is coming apart before our eyes. So, I have taken to these pages, for the first time in 18 months, in the hope of encouraging you to resist that temptation with every ounce of willpower you posses.

Yesterday, I noticed people posting and commenting on facebook statuses and memes, that the world is a dreadful place. In one instance I read that the world was “at least fifty percent terrible”. Now, it’s true that last one was in a poem of positive messages, but I still take issue with it.

Perhaps I should rephrase: There’s a tendency, at times like these, to believe that human beings are inherently bad. And, moreover, that violence is escalating; that the world is more dreadful than it has ever been.
My dear readers, this is simply not true. A look at any reliably sourced statistics on violence and war… hell, just a glance through a few history books, should be enough to convince you that this view of the world is nonsense.

Muslims are not all out to kill you… Gay people are not trying seduce your children/dog/mother/brother… Migrants are not about to take your jobs (if they have a monopoly on certain jobs, chances are they’re doing a job you would refuse to do, for pay you would refuse to get out of bed for, and consequently helping the local farmers you’re all trying to save, from having to pack it all in and work at Starbucks).

Now, it is certainly not my intention to devalue the losses we have seen in the news this week, nor to make light of genuine concerns about violence or government policy. I write because at times like these it is more important than ever to remember that, as useful an evolved mechanism as it can be in immediate life-threatening situations… spoon-fed by the media in exaggerated doses, fear is a recipe for bad decision-making.

Fear threatens to put Donald Trump in the White House. Fear threatens to break the UK away from Europe. Fear led Omar Mateen to gun down innocent patrons at an Orlando nightclub. And, fear played a large part in motivating Thomas Mair to shoot Jo Cox dead on Thursday afternoon.

I was going to go into the various reasons why I believe you should vote to stay IN the EU on Thursday, but I think common sense and a brief look through history should tell you all you need to know about that, so I’ll simply state something that has been said so many times before, and that I think anyone reading this is already aware of: The world is getting smaller every single day.

We will only make more progress by accepting that we are a global community. Breaking existing unions into smaller and smaller pieces is going in the wrong direction.

Fear, as I said before, has its uses; we would not be here without it, and sometimes it has been a helpful tool. But if you scare a man into thinking that the world might end, he is more likely to build a shelter and buy a gun to keep you out of it, than he is to try to stop it from happening.

We are not the only creatures on Earth to do damage to our environment, but we are the only ones capable of recognising that, and the only ones currently trying to reverse the damage. The English countryside is now dotted with wind turbines, almost wherever you care to look. More and more houses and office buildings have solar panels providing at least some of their power, and the number of hybrid and electric cars in showrooms increases year after year.

Violence is part of the lives of every species on Earth, but human violence has shown a steadily decreasing trend (with the exception of one or two very minor hiccups on the graph) for centuries, and humans have never been safer, or lived longer than they do at this point in history.

I am expecting another child in September, and that child is fortunate enough to have the kindest, warmest, brightest, most life-affirming woman that I have ever met, for a mother. I cannot hope to compete with that. But for my part, I will teach this child what I have tried to teach my others:

The world can be a dark and dreadful place. But closing your door and burying your head in your hands only ever makes it darker. There is hope and goodness in abundance, the world over. If you can’t find it, my guess is that you’re trying really, really hard not to.

A week ago, one man killed 49 people who were simply trying to enjoy a night out. On Thursday one man shot dead a kind-hearted young MP from West Yorkshire. In response to these dreadful incidents, the internet practically melted down as millions of people flocked to news websites, blogs and social-media sites to offer their sympathy, to share messages of love and hope, and to stand-up against bigotry and hatred.

The world is a better place than you give it credit for.

 

**If you really need convincing that humans aren’t so bad, I recommend giving this a read: “The Better Angels of Our Nature” by Steven Pinker

 

 

The Final Countdown – Zero

Well… that’s it. I’m leavin on a jet plane, and all that other Jonny Denver type stuff. As they say where I come from: “It’s all over bar the shoutin'” Of course, in this particular case, “the shoutin” involves packing my few remaining possessions; dragging 50kg of luggage (each) in 3 seperate cases (each), through the deep snow to the subway station; catching a train, then a bus, then a plane; being picked up from the airport, and living under someone else’s roof for the next week or so until my wife and I find somewhere to live. So if we’re gonna stick with the fighting analogies, I haven’t even spilled the other bloke’s drink yet. But it’s all over as far as the blog posts about my moving are concerned. I am writing this post on Monday the 26th, and it is scheduled for release at the exact minute we are due to land in the UK. Plane landing by sunrise So… once again, you must endure the anguish of my absence. At least for a little while. What will I be blogging about when I return? Your guess is as good as mine. Well… I suppose I could make a slightly more educated guess than you guys and say that it’s likely to be about my new house, and my new job (back to being self-employed now). I do have one or two things in the pipeline to keep you occupied until next we meet, and they have been a very long time coming. So, I will see you again soon. If you don’t believe me… take a look at this video. And the next time someone hears me say “Hmmm… I think I’ll kill myself off in this weeks video. I just want to try out this new effect!” STOP ME and say: “Jimbot… don’t do it. The storyteller in you is a perfectionist monster, and you know where this will lead.” Normally I sign off by saying goodbye, but on this occasion I will just say those 3 little words I have been desperately waiting to say for almost 3 years: I’m back baby!!

The Final Countdown – 1…

Well, my big move from Sweden back to England is almost upon us. There’s packing to be done. The apartment is littered with unfilled boxes, and a little procrastination seemed in order. So I made a cup of tea; told facebook I was procrastinating; told a few of my friends, and had a conversation in the kitchen about procrastination in general. It seems as though all that remains is to spend a little time with you people, and then I guess I’ll actually have to put things in bubblewrap. Incidentally, to make this all seem even more last minute than it actually is… I am actually writing this on Friday, though you will be reading it on Monday.

So… it’s nice of you to have stuck with me through all 10 of these. And, if you haven’t done… I’m sure you’re just as nice, just perhaps not as bored as the ones who have. By this time tomorrow I will have landed back in the United Kingdom. So I should give you one more example of something I will miss about Sweden, versus something I have missed about England.

As you may or may not know, I have never really been much of a people person. I’m not exactly anti-people, but I have never actively sought the company of other human-beings. I never got very good at interacting with them really. So many people over the years, having observed my awkwardness, would say:

“Just be yourself, and everything will be fine.”

After a few years I accepted that this might be a good plan and finally actually started not to try so hard… After observing this , those closest to me started saying things like…

“You do talk… a LOT! Perhaps just try not to give so much information.”

So, now I was confused, because that’s what I’m like when I’m “being myself”. So I tried not speaking, and people thought I was weird. It seems as though I was always struggling to find an in-between. And then… I met the lady who is now my wife. She remains the only person who has ever told me to be myself, and actually meant it. She knows I’m a procrastinator; she knows I sulk sometimes; she knows I talk waaay too much for a single human-being, and she doesn’t care. She knows I’m a perfectionist, and is well aware how often that goes hand-in-hand with procrastination, but she just laughs it off.

I guess what I’m doing here is being myself, and giving you far too much information about why I don’t seek out the company of others. However, when others find me, I’m usually very happy to have them in my life, just so long as they don’t expect a regular schedule of social interaction, or indeed interactions of any kind that take place before noon.

Why am I banging on about this? Well…

What I will miss #1: These People

Everyone

 

Some people drop into your life and drift out just as quickly. New family and friends usually come as part of a package deal when a new relationship comes along, and where my wife’s family and friends are concerned I have been fortunate. I love them all, and will miss all of them. Not that I won’t see them from time-to-time, but they certainly won’t be just around the corner any more.

But then… if you’re really lucky, you get a part of that package which was much more than you expected. For me, that is this person:

Tilda

She has been a friend to me in ways I could never have anticipated, and she means more to me than she knows. I might even go so far as to say… all I want to do is praise her. Sometimes she is a pain in the ass. We have our differences and I’m certain there have been many times when she would have liked to wring my neck like a chicken, if not for the fact that she would never do that to a chicken.

All of these people were unexpected benefits of being married to the lady I waited my entire life for, and I hope they know how deeply their absence will be felt.

Of course… as with all the other things on this countdown, there are compensations. In this case…

What I have missed #1: These People

UKpeople

There are one or two missing from here, simply because I have no photographs of them, but basically, the people in this photo are those around whom my life in England, to a greater or lesser extent, revolves. Some of them are a greater influence than others, but all are important to me.

Of course, none more so than these ones:

Me & Kiddies

…if you can ignore the elderly bloke in the middle. He’s only there to stop them from escaping.

My children are a couple of years older now, but this is still my favourite photograph of all of us.

But there is one missing. The boy who became a man… the man who became a King… the king who became… a GOD!

Richie

Whoa! Did I oversell that, or what? Alas… his plans to become ruler of the world have so far come to nought, but he did get married and become a father. And he remains one of the most important parts of my life. I’m looking forward to seeing him again. To that emotional, heart-rending moment when I knock on his door again, and he answers it with the words…

“Oh it’s you. Come in and try not to break anything.”

All of them (though I have seen them many times since moving here to Sweden) have been dearly missed, and all of them… more than the Springtime; more than 24 hour shopping, or the beautiful countryside… are the things pulling me back toward home.

I don’t seek out company, but sometimes it finds me and refuses to let go. Sometimes, in spite of myself, there are people who my world feels emptier without. Most of them are on this page. My beautiful wife of course, is going with me on this next adventure.

This next, will be my 28th address. When I was younger, I used to long to keep moving.  Every time I moved was a chance for new friends, and new adventures. The rootless life was something I craved, like so many other people in their teens, and their 20s. Nowadays though, I have much more of a solid idea of the people and places that I want around me, and – to borrow a phrase from Marvin the paranoid android – when people tell me that a whole new life awaits me, my response is likely to be…

“Not another one!”

The Final Countdown – 2…

I grow tired of saying this, so it will be the last time… Where is the rebel base?

I’m sorry. This is my last Sunday living in Sweden and when I get giddy I sometimes start speaking in Star Wars dialogue. I’m going to get it looked at as soon as get back to Tatooine on Tuesday.

What I’m actually getting tired of saying is: This is number 2 on a countdown from 10 of Things I will miss about Sweden vs Things I have missed about England. But, I must keep doing it for the benefit of readers just joining us.

What I will miss #2: The Water

20130706_155023

So that is a photo of the place where I got married. As a matter of fact, that is a photo of the exact spot where stood to get married. And I’m sure you neither need, nor especially want proof of that, but here it is anyway.

IMG_3600

We got married by the water, not only because it was beautiful, but because this spot is precisely 7 minutes walk from our apartment here in Sweden.

If you’ve ever looked at Sweden on a large enough atlas, you’ll notice it has more holes than the scripts of all 3 Star Wars prequels put together, and no matter how much of a Phantom Menace hater you are, I’d be surprised if you can find 97,000 of them. In which case Sweden has you beaten. In most parts of Sweden you are never far from the water, and while that might also be true of England, Sweden’s water spends a lot more of its time looking pretty in lakes than it does washing away the citizens of Cornish villages.

I live close by the shores of Mälaren. Sweden’s 3rd largest lake. And in summer there are very few things that beat sitting by the water with a barbecue, except perhaps mucking about in a tiny little sail-boat. And since I haven’t mucked about in a sail-boat since I was a teenager, I’ll have to make do with this…

20130510_205801Of course, every now and then some idiot blows past on a jet-ski, oblivious to anything but the James Bond music in his head, and making waves high enough to turn your warm, glowing barbecue pale into nothing more than a bucket of confused and recently woken ducklings. But, for the most part it is the picture of tranquillity. I have put it so high on this list because I honestly think it is one of the things I will miss the most, long term. Swedish lakes are incredibly beautiful, and standing at the seafront in Whitby, is simply never going to compare.

What I have missed #2: “…England’s green and pleasant land”

Nature___Mountains_District_Lake_District_043087_

Lake District – Cumbria, England

I’m not normally in the habit of quoting Blake. For the most part I think he was a zealous nutcase. But since he wrote one those poems which brings a tear to the eye of most English folk, which became a hymn… which brings a tear to the eye of most English folk… I suppose he deserves a mention. Don’t worry… there’s quite a bit of Shakespeare at the bottom.

Yes, even our Lake District has fewer lakes than pretty much any randomly picked 100 sq km of land in Sweden, but few places on Earth do green quite as well as England. Ironic for a tiny country, on a tiny island with a population of over 60 million.

I don’t really know how best to describe the way I know my homeland, because it differs greatly from the way other people around the world know it. “Where in London will you be living?” is a question I have often had from friends and colleagues. “Erm… Nowhere.”

Alright, it is a tiny island by comparison with so many other places around the world, and London is an absolutely enormous city both by population and area, so I can understand the assumption but bear in mind, when you next say to me “Ooh! I can come and visit you next week… I’m in London for the day!”, that as nice as that might be for you… we don’t live there, so you might have a long walk.

Whenever someone learns that you are from England, they immediately tell you what a wonderful place London is, and that is understandable (I have after all seen very little of Sweden besides Stockholm and brief visits to Malmö and Lund)… but that is not the England that I know.

Throughout my considerable spectrum of occupations in the British Isles, I have travelled to almost every corner; driven through hills and dales; over, across and along many of its lakes, rivers and canals, and there is much more to it than its famous metropolis. Everyone romanticises their homeland when they’re missing it, and lord knows England has more than her fair share of absolute hell-holes that you should try to pass through as quickly and quietly as you can (if possible with your eyes and nose covered). But my England… the one I know and love and miss, is much more than Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, and the London Eye. It is varied and beautiful, and my own writing is simply not up to the task of describing it. So, if you’ll excuse some of the more laughable lines in this brief lapse into homesickness, I will steal a few words from one England’s most famous sons…

This other Eden…

Peak District - Derbyshire

Peak District – Derbyshire

…demi paradise,

The Roaches - Staffordshire

The Roaches – Staffordshire

This fortress…

Cheddar Gorge - Somerset

Cheddar Gorge – Somerset

…built by Nature for herself,

Catbells - Lake District, Cumbria

Catbells – Lake District, Cumbria

Against infection and the hand of war,

Corfe Castle - Dorset

Corfe Castle – Dorset

This Happy breed of men…

Clifton Suspension Bridge - Bristol

Clifton Suspension Bridge – Bristol

…this little world…

Ribblehead Viaduct - North Yorkshire

Ribblehead Viaduct – North Yorkshire

This precious stone set in the silver sea…

St Michael's Mount - Cornwall

St Michael’s Mount – Cornwall

Which serves it in the office of a wall

Land's End - Cornwall

Land’s End – Cornwall

Or as a moat defensive to a house

Ladybower Reservoir - Derbyshire

Ladybower Reservoir – Derbyshire

This blessed plot…

Winnats Pass - Derbyshire

Winnats Pass – Derbyshire

this earth,

Owler Tor - Sheffield, Peak District

Owler Tor – Sheffield, Peak District

this realm…

Surprise View - Hathersage, Derbyshire

Surprise View – Hathersage, Derbyshire

this England

Lake District - Cumbria

Lake District – Cumbria

…sniff… See you tomorrow.

The Final Countdown – 3…

I should really be packing. I could totally do that. I went to fetch boxes today and everything. Turns out I’d much rather talk to faceless people on the internet, and put off packing for another day.

The irony of that just hit me. In other circumstances that sentence might have little relevance, but it was talking to faceless people on the internet (and in fact, on this very blog) that got me to Sweden in the first place. If you don’t understand this reference click here for the beginning of an explanation. I’m not going to call it a “quick” explanation, because there is no such thing where this subject is concerned, but if you’re a fan of romance you might like it. If you’re really sentimental and mushy you can go all the way back to the post that started this crazy snowball rolling back in 2011, by clicking HERE and read the posts and comments (the lady commenting as “theswedishflowerpot” is now my wife), but if you are middle-aged already I would advise against it; you only have so many years left.

Anyway, it is because all of those things happened that I ended up in Sweden, and now that I am moving (with theswedishflowerpot) back to England, I am doing this list of Things that I will miss vs Things I have missed.

Everyone caught up? Goood. Let’s crack on then.

What I will miss #3: The Swedish work ethic

SweWorkEth

Before we get off the wrong foot… I am not saying the Swedes are lazy; quite the opposite. They can manage to get the same amount of work done in half the time that it takes most Brits. And what do they do with the rest of their time? Whatever they want to!

I love the way the Swedes view work!

You see, although I have had many different jobs, I have rarely (until very recently) had a job that I enjoyed. Normally I have done whatever work I could get that enabled me to pay the bills. What I like about the Swedes is that most of them seem to have the same opinion of work that I do. And what I think of it is this:

Work isn’t life. It’s the thing you do in order to pay for life.

Maybe I worded that badly, but I’m going to elaborate whether you want me to or not, so don’t jump to any definitive conclusions just yet.

My ex-partner was one of the busiest people I ever met. But she busied herself doing things that need not have taken that long, because she stopped often to do other things that weren’t necessary. When she asked me to do the same things, I did them in a lot less time, not because I am a hard worker (I am precisely the opposite) but because I like my free-time. Consequently I often do not sit down (even for a drink) until the necessary work is done. That way, when it is done I can completely relax. This has driven most of my partners insane, because I often don’t eat until very, very late because I don’t like having to get up and do things after my dinner. It’s just the way I do stuff. My time is MY time.

Now that isn’t exactly the way the Swedes do things (everything stops for Fika here for example), but the concept of “as much free-time as possible” is definitely one that the Swedes have embraced.

To illustrate the point, I will paraphrase someone I met whilst working here in Stockholm.

The company I worked for in my capacity as a Tour Guide was owned and run by a Polish family. Now, for those of you who are unaware, the Polish work ethic is pretty much polar opposite (no pun intended) to the Swedish one. The Poles too like to get as much work done as possible in the shortest time possible. Where they differ drastically from the Swedes (and from me) is that, once all the work is done they don’t go home… they just go looking for more work. And they look hard.

I was assigned one day last year to work with my Boss’s niece. She was over from Poland, where she worked for another branch of the company. During a brief period of the day there was nothing for us to do. No guides had called with problems; tickets and vouchers had all been tallied; no buses were due to leave or return for at least the next hour; no-one from the cruise line had any problems or questions… She seemed very restless so I tried to make conversation.

“How do you like it here in Stockholm?” I said.

She shook her head… “I never like working in Sweden!”

“Oh?” I said, “Why’s that?”

“The Swedes don’t like to work” was her answer. “They spend so much time at home, or out with friends. I would go crazy!”

I naturally thought she was being sarcastic, but when pressed to elaborate, it turned out that she was genuinely puzzled that anyone would want to be anywhere but at work.

Weird, but unfortunately strongly connected with…

What I have missed #3: 24 Hour Shopping

818684_a3dab79f

Did you ever hear the expression “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please Sleepless Knight any of the time”?

No? Well, start using it because I’m thinking of having t-shirts made.

That’s right; if no-one at all worked long hours, there would be no 24 hour shopping at all.

What to do?

Robots? Once they take over TESCO, what’s to stop them taking over the world? Not us. We’ll be too busy sleeping or buying ice-cream in our slippers to do anything about it.

So, for the time being at least, somebody has to work these sorts of hours. And this is further evidence of the Swedish work ethic; because there are precious few stores in Sweden that open 24 hours a day. I live in the capital, and I’m not aware of any. But perhaps my Swedish friends can correct me on that point. At any rate my conscience is clear.  For one thing, I have done more than my fair share of working 12 hour shifts, both day and night, to shy away from enjoying the pleasures of 24 hour shopping. For another, I will probably be working through the night quite often even when working for myself because… that’s when I’m awake.

See I don’t call myself Sleepless Knight without good reason. I have struggled with sleep since I was a small boy, and have come to be all too familiar with the wee small hours. And, though the hours may be small my sudden need for Doritos is usually not.

And what of pregnant ladies, whose whims must be pandered to on pain of castration? What are we to do when they say “It’s 3am, and I need 2 bags of unshelled walnuts, 1 bottle of strawberry flavoured fabric softener and a large spoon! NOW!”? I say go get it for them but, at the risk of repeating myself (no laughing), I like going out in the wee small hours almost as much as I like my genitals where they are.

So, the question remains, how do we balance working fewer, more sociable hours, with the luxury of being able to shop through the night?

For now, it will remain one of those “first world problems” which facebook memes are constantly reminding us of…

Do I walk to the store in the rain, or risk getting water spots on my newly waxed Mercedes?

My diamond earrings are scratching the screen of my iPhone!

One pillow is too low… two pillows is too high!

I have to write 2 more of these blog posts because I started my “moving to a better life” countdown at 10 instead of 7!

No pleasing some people. See you tomorrow.

The Final Countdown – 4…

Welcome back. Did you enjoy the rest of your Thursday? Good. Because I predict that the rest of Friday will be almost exactly the same except for the spelling. And so it will go until the last miserable second of human existence.

Still… if you’re struggling to pass the minutes between now and your inevitable doom, you could do worse than to spend 10 of them with me.

Should I have worked in marketing, or what??

That intro made me seem rather bitter and twisted about things didn’t it? Well, I’m not. I just sometimes get carried away in the absurdity of language and… stuff. Shall we get on with our list of Things I will miss about Sweden vs Things I have missed about England?

What I will miss #4: Swedish Efficiency

SquirrelSnowman

Yeah. Sorry about the picture. It probably gives the impression that I am joking about Swedish efficiency, but I’m quite serious.

The Swedes know how to get shit done! It’s that simple really. In 1967 they decided to switch from driving on the left-hand side of the road to driving on the right-hand side… and they just did it. Actually, if it were possible to be arrested for oversimplification, that last sentence would have put me inside until apes had taken over the planet and buried the Statue of Liberty on a deserted beach where no-one could find it but Charlton Heston.

What? What do you mean “that’s not what happened”? I’ve seen the movie! How exactly did I miss the point?

Anyway… although I oversimplified things there a little bit, the switch from left to right was a very big step. New roads had to be built; old ones re-designed. And approximately 360,000 road signs were changed during the night. At 4.50am all the traffic in Sweden was stopped and moved over to the other side of the road. It started again on the right-hand side at 5.00am and has been there ever since. You can’t argue about the efficiency of a move like that, regardless of how much I exaggerate its simplicity.

You don’t really have to look back through history though, and quite frankly if you do, you’re likely to find more than a few examples of spectacular fuck-ups… so don’t! But, by comparison with most countries, the Swedes are extremely efficient folk, with no time for pissing around. Some countries are worse than others. I’ve recently heard it said that “Red Tape was invented in Italy”, but I’m just talking about Sweden vs England here, and can tell you in no uncertain terms who comes out on top in the efficiency stakes.

Take this blog post for example: It was written by an Englishman, and couldn’t be less efficient if it tried. It has taken well over 400 words so far, to say what most Swedes could have said in four – “England sucks! Sweden rules!” – and it even has a squirrel picture in it, because the stupid Englishman couldn’t think of a good image to demonstrate efficiency. But, I’m about as well known for word economy as squirrels are for chainsaw ice-sculptures, so let’s not dwell too much on that.

Swedish personal ID numbers are another example of what I’m talking about. Once you have one of these (which is similar to a Social Security number if you’re American, or a National Insurance number if you’re British) pretty much everything is taken care of automatically. There are no more forms to fill in; no tedious waiting for your information to be dug up by the system. You just give them your personal number and a great portion of your life-history just pops up on the screen. Some people will argue that this is a tremendous violation of privacy, and, having seen just how easy it is to get hold of information about people over here, I might tend to agree. But you can’t say it’s not efficient.

However, this particular example of brutal efficiency does have other drawbacks.

What I have missed #4: Flexiblity

SquirrelPiano

Perhaps these squirrel pictures work more with what I’m about to say than I first thought. See, if there were police for blog-posts, the Swedish ones would never have let me stick that image with this post because it doesn’t make sense. But we in the UK don’t much care about whether or not things make sense. If you don’t believe me, consider our ridiculous punctuation rules. See? People ask me how British children ever remember all the rules for punctuation. And the answer: We don’t. We just break them and expect people to work it out for themselves. My own ridiculously excessive use of the ellipsis (that’s this thing ) is enough to drive most punctuation Nazis insane, but do I care!?()*;:…?

That was a “no” in case you were wondering.

If you still don’t buy the whole Brits not caring about things that don’t make sense thing, consider Monty Python. I rest my case.

Alright… we’re not resting it quite yet. Allow me to elaborate a little on that subtitle:

While the whole thing with Swedish efficiency holds up for the most part, it does so because the Swedes have rules, and those rules are absolutely inviolate! In England, there is a little more flexibility.

Now, I’m not talking about big, important rules; the ones enforced by guys with police uniforms. I don’t think there’s much room for flexibility in murder for example. No. I’m talking about the little things.

The Swedish personal number which I mentioned above, for example. Everything moves like clockwork as long as you have a personal ID number. But, if you turn up for anything remotely official without one… no-one has the faintest idea what to do with you. There is no tedious bureaucracy to go through; they just don’t have any sort of system in place to deal with those who don’t have such a number.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there was no accurate Swedish translation of the phrase “Couldn’t you make an exception just this once?” because… NO. They can’t!

In England however, we don’t care where you’re from or how many official documents you have with you; everyone is treated with precisely the same level of incompetence and stupidity.

How does that translate into “making exceptions”? Well… where there are no rules, there can be no exceptions to them. Oh, sure… everyone you call at the insurance company/government agency/airport/bus station will tell you that there are rules. But if you don’t like those rules, just wait 10 minutes and call back. A different person at the same place will have a completely different idea of what the rules are. Do any of them actually know? I doubt it.

So you see, we need much more flexibility simply because we are so inefficient. I’m English, and I just wandered blindly through that blog-post until it seemed to end in roughly the right place. Did it make sense? I very much doubt it.

See you tomorrow.