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. 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!!
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
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:
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
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:
…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!
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!”
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
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.
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…
Of 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”
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…
…built by Nature for herself,
Against infection and the hand of war,
This Happy breed of men…
…this little world…
This precious stone set in the silver sea…
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house
This blessed plot…
…sniff… See you tomorrow.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
What time do you call this? I’ve been waiting here for hours!
Nah! I’ve actually been eating and sleeping, because I’m selfish that way.
As I’m sure most of you know by now, I am moving from Sweden back to England in 5 days time, and this countdown measures Things I will miss against Things I have missed… but I have to keep mentioning it, for the sake of those just joining us. Stop laughing at the back… it happens! I get new readers from time to time!
Let’s do this thing… as those nice young men and women in the talking pictures sometimes say.
What I will miss #5: Lactose-free products
Okay, there are lactose-free products in England… in much the same way that there are Cheetahs in sub-Saharan Africa; they are there, but they don’t exactly leap out of the brush and go…
“Hi there! My name is Raoul. My hobbies are chewing gazelle, and running at speeds in excess of 70mph. Would you like to take a picture?”
When I left the United Kingdom, only one supermarket was guaranteed to offer lactose free products in their dairy aisle. I won’t mention the name of it (I’m sure UK readers will see instantly which one it is), but to give my non-uk readers an idea of how much thought this huge supermarket chain gives to such produce, I have highlighted the lactose-free selection in red on the photograph below…
Yes… quite. And try keep in mind that this is the supermarket that does offer lactose-free.
Now, I know there are going to be folks out there who say I’m being unfair. But before they get too worked up and start writing angry lists:
- I’m talking about lactose-free dairy, not soya.
- As I already stated: I know you can find it, but it isn’t nearly as simple as it is here in Sweden.
I discovered I was lactose intolerant entirely by accident. It’s a long boring story, which I won’t go into too much detail about here, but if I’m being perfectly honest I didn’t lend much weight to “intolerances” as a serious thing until I started feeling much, much better, and after a few days of trying to figure out why, I realised that I had eaten absolutely no dairy for over 2 months.
Now I realise that we in the United Kingdom are much more lactose tolerant than most countries. And you would be well within your rights to suggest that as a reason why lactose-free produce is not more widespread. But you know who has an even higher tolerance for lactose than the UK? That’s right… SWEDEN! And their shelves are full of the stuff.
It’s not only in Swedish supermarkets that this is true either. Almost any coffee-shop or restaurant you visit has the option of lactose-free milk in your drink. There is information on the supermarket cheese shelves about how to tell if a cheese is likely to be high or low in lactose.
As long as I’m trying to be completely fair… Sweden does consume more milk produce per person than any other country on the planet with the exception of Finland, so that might account for the widely available information on the stuff. And bear in mind also, that this is the same country that produces fake Moose Warning signs, to accommodate the Germans (who apparently love them), and in order to stop them stealing the real signs from the side of the road.
But still… get a grip, UK!!
Anyway, there are compensations. What follows is one example.
Things I have missed #5: Online Shopping
7 words: *THIS ITEM CANNOT BE DELIVERED TO SWEDEN*
Poor Sweden. Poor, poor Sweden.
I’m talking here about the really big online shopping places; the Amazons and the eBays. The places where you could find the body of Amelia Earhart so long as you were willing to pay for postage & packing.
I used to think that living in the UK was a bit of a pain when it came to online shopping. I would order a new tool or a particularly hard-to-find wood or metal (I used to build things… a lot!), and discover that it couldn’t be delivered to England, or that it would cost one intact immortal soul for the privilege of doing so. And then… I moved to Sweden.
How on Earth can the country that gave us IKEA and SKYPE have such a hard time with online shopping? Are they being punished? Why is the world so unwilling to send things here?
Sweden does have it’s own repository of hard-to-find things. It’s called Blocket. I have had occasion to use it several times in the past 3 years, and I have only once managed to find what I was looking for. It’s useless by comparison with the giants above, and I just feel sorry for the Swedes.
Now, most Swedes would tell you that if you can’t find it in Sweden you probably don’t need it. But I think that’s true of pretty much anywhere you live, except outer-space. Of course we don’t need online shopping at all. Just like the world didn’t need ABBA, IKEA, Skype, or… dynamite, but I think many people have been happy to have them.
I don’t need the things that I purchase online, but most of the things I have purchased over the years from the warmth and comfort of my own home, have been tremendously helpful in one way or another. Particularly when it comes to filmmaking.
I’m going now, but I’ll be back tomorrow.
Welcome, welcome, one and all… Come in; fix yourself a drink; grab a t-shirt from the selection by the door; pull up a bean-bag; take a muffin from the counter-top.
Okay, we have none of those things. But we do have a list of things I will miss about Sweden when I away from it in 6 days time, measured against things I have missed about England! 🙂
Wait… where are you going? Surely you didn’t just come here for…
To hell with them! Let’s get on with it shall we?
What I will miss #6: Working as a Stockholm Tour Guide
Just to be clear: I am not in this photograph. Many of my guide colleagues are, however, and it is them I will miss as much as the job itself.
Yes… we are those people sitting at the front of a bus, or a boat, or walking you through the streets, or losing our voices as we attempt to be heard above the crowds in a busy museum; listing endless dates and telling stories about the history and happenings of Stockholm, and, more generally, Sweden.
We have hearts and lives… If you prick us, do we not bleed? And if you wrong us, shall we not REVENGE!!??
Yes. We Tour Guides are all about the revenge… Especially the Italians. In fact I may have earned a messy and untimely death just for mentioning that. But it is difficult to stay angry for very long, when you work as a Tour Guide in this beautiful city:
Of course, some of us manage it. Particularly on days when you have an all too familiar conversation such as this one:
“What is that enormous building?”
“That’s the Nordic Museum… as I mentioned on the bus.”
“What was it originally?”
“The Nordic Museum… as I mentioned on the bus.”
“No, I mean what was it built for?”
“The Nordic Museum… as I…”
“No, you don’t understand. Who lived there when it was built?”
“Nobody. It has always been a museum. It was built for that purpose… as I mentioned on the…”
… and so on.
Alright… to give a little credit to the guests, it’s an understandable confusion when the building in question looks like this:
But that doesn’t make it any less irritating when you are having this conversation for the 3rd time in as many days. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to trust your Guide. Likewise, when we tell you to be back at the bus by a certain time, it is not because we are anally retentive weirdos who measure our lives by the amount of seconds we waste in futile pursuits such as eating… It is because 1000ft long Cruise-Liners, weighing over 100,000 tons, and carrying more than 2,500 passengers, cannot usually afford to wait while the charming couple in cabin 6211 buy fridge magnets with Vikings on them.
The job, like any other, comes with headaches you can’t really understand unless you’ve been there, but for the most part, you can’t ask for many better jobs than showing people around beautiful cities and museums for a living.
I will miss the sights, sounds and smells of The Vasa Museum in particular. Not a lot prepares a guest for the sight of an intact 17th century warship, greeting them as they walk through the doors of a pretty ordinary looking modern building. I will miss those gasps of awe that really made the job worthwhile, and the thanks you get from those guests who have really appreciated their trip and the job you have done.
More than that though, I will miss the people in that first photograph. I have worked in more than 20 different jobs, spanning a dozen different industries, and it hasn’t been very often that I could honestly say I really liked those that I worked with. I will miss them all, and pleasant conversations with them in the warmth of a Stockholm summer.
But, I’m going home, so we need one of these…
What I am looking forward to #6: Working as a Voice-Over Artist
Now, the eagle-eyed will have noticed that I changed the title of this second section slightly, from “What I have missed” to “What I am looking forward to”, because this one is a bit of a cheat. You see, although I now work in voice-overs, I have never worked in England as such. This is something I have only ever done here in Sweden. However, since that is what I am going to be doing once I return, I figured it balanced quite well with the Tour Guide job I am leaving behind.
I have wondered about being a voice-over artist since reading Stephen King’s Rose Madder back in the mid-nineties, and several of my tour guests suggested I might consider it as an occupation. Still, my first job doing this sort of work was pretty much of a fluke, as I was called by an Argentine/Norwegian director and asked to be the narrator for a documentary. And that might have been the end of it, had it not been for another fluke, in which I discovered a job thanks to my good friend, Hector (who is in the guide photo at the top of the page).
I went in to read for an audition, and started work as an audio-book narrator a few weeks later. Since then I have recorded several books (a few audio samples of which can be found here), and had a competing audio-book company try to recruit me. So I started thinking “Huh! Maybe I do have what it takes to do this sort of work after all”, and have spent the last few months researching possible opportunities, and gathering together the necessary equipment (though I should stress that my own iso-booth is not nearly as shiny as the one in the photo).
So you just never know where life will take you if you let it. It brought me here, to a wonderful wife; a great job, and then another great job. Now it’s taking me back to England, and what I hope will be a career.
But that’s in 6 days time. Lots more writing between now and then. Hopefully the rest will be more interesting to read, and a little less flat than this one seems to have been now that I read back through it. I guess we’ll see tomorrow.
Welcome back. 7 days to go. Shall we continue?
So if you’re just joining us, I am writing a list of things I will miss about Sweden (which I am about to leave behind). But, in order to be fair to England (which I am about to return to), I am also adding a “thing I have missed about England” to each one. Now, just 7 days remain.
Today… public transport.
What I will miss #7: The Stockholm Subway
It’s important to note that I am not ordinarily a fan of public transport.
The attempts of governments worldwide to get us out of our cars and onto public transport have variously failed because few people are willing to give up the warmth, comfort, convenience and privacy of a little island on wheels which almost always takes you directly from door to door, in order to share the confinement of a large steel tube with herds of angry, impatient commuters whose wishes, needs and emergencies are so obviously far less important than yours.
It’s crowded. The air (if it can be so called) is often unpleasant mixtures of urine, stale cigarette smoke, body odour, the coughs and sneezes of the guy next to you who is unwilling or unable to cover his mouth while he sputters out the most recent strain of flu, and the kind of perfume/aftershave that only sells by the litre and is usually applied in similar quantities.
But we don’t all have cars. Some of us don’t even have homes of course… but that’s a different discussion. Those who ordinarily drive have times in their lives when it simply is not practical, financially or otherwise, to own and/or drive a car. And, here in Sweden, it has never really made any sense for me to drive. For one thing I simply couldn’t afford it. For another, I live in a city whose public transport network is extraordinarily efficient. Now, as I usually explained to my tourists (see tomorrow’s post), I am English… so it’s fair to say that I am probably quite easily impressed by the efficiency of public transport in other countries, but be honest; how many of you can say that your subway stations look like this…
The Stockholm Subway System has 100 stations covering almost 66 miles. More than 90 of those stations have been decorated in various ways by more than 150 different artists. Some are fairly subtle, such as my own local subway station at Vårberg, on the red line:
Some, such as the one (below) where I have been working recently, in the north of Stockholm, are innocent enough in the daytime, but when you finish work late at night and find them deserted… they take on an entirely different character.
Harmless enough for those not especially nervous about deserted subway stations. Not so much for those who watched An American Werewolf In London when they were children.
Particularly when the walls are decorated with creepy faces such as these.
Still… since I grew up around the Yorkshire Moors I suppose it makes more sense for me to be scared by this sort of thing…
…than it does to be scared of this…
Anyway… as usual I have wandered so far from the point that I have fallen, bruised and scratched by thorns, into a deep ravine and awoken to find myself in a fire-lit hut, painted with a foul-smelling paste and waited-upon by strange little creatures whose rudimentary sign language leads me to believe that they think I am a god.
Back on Earth meanwhile… I was explaining that the Stockholm subway system is an interesting place, and I shall miss travelling on it. And I shall particularly miss my favourite station at Kungsträdgården:
No ordinary station this one. It is full of plants, sculptures and relics from the old city; including a working 400 year-old fountain. I was first there with my wife on my second ever visit to Sweden and have loved it ever since. Here she is at this subway station, looking like a tiny little Alice (she’s 5′ 9″), on our second date:
I have loved this subway station… and her… ever since.
However fascinating the artwork at such stations might be though, riding on public transport still sucks harder than Ben Affleck in a wind-tunnel, trying to empty a swimming pool with a drinking straw while acting out scenes from his latest movie about selling vacuum-cleaners on a rapidly de-pressurising aircraft.
And that’s why…
What I have missed #7: Driving a Car
Alright… so it’s fair to say that the above image misrepresents my personal driving experiences in much the same way that “acting” misrepresents whatever it is that Ben Affleck does when he gets on screen. I have driven a Porsche 911… once… about 25 feet… and I was in a company car-park at the time. But I do think the image represents what driving can feel like. And to those friends and colleagues of mine who are about to say “Hah hah! But driving in England can’t possibly be like that!” I say…
And one of these…
And that’s just a small selection from around the Peak District, close to where I will be living. I didn’t even include other beautiful parts of the UK.
Driving comes with a little more danger than does public transport; whatever the cause of the accident when travelling by train, you can be fairly confident, as you lie in your hospital bed/coffin that it was almost certainly not your fault. But the next time you find yourself sitting on the train, searching for an answer to one of the following:
“What time is it… *sneeze*?”
“What are you looking at?”
“What is your problem, mate?”
“What are those bats doing on my tin-foil hat?”
Consider the peace and tranquillity of that tin death-trap we call the auto-mobile.
That is all for today. More tomorrow.
And so, we continue… there are 9 days remaining until I return permanently to the land of my birth, and I am listing 10 things I will miss about Sweden (more specifically Stockholm), against 10 things I have missed about England.
It’s very short and sweet today, since I am actually in Skåne, and bringing you this through the miracle of “setting a timer”.
What I will miss #9: Flamin’ Hot Cheez Cruncherz
See… the reason this particular post will be short and sweet is that there isn’t much that even I can find to say about junk-food. It is what it is. And wot cheez cruncherz is, is Deelishusss!
I have often sat crunching away on these whilst watching some god-awful tripe at 4am. Making every attempt not to wake my wife through the flawlessly logical process of “crunching more slowly”. Easy innit. By the way, if you’re wondering why talking about junk-food has made me go all “teenager” wiv ma spellin… keep on wondering. I’m wondering the same thing.
So what junk food is sold in England that can possibly content with the immovable might of Cheeeeez Cruncherrrrrz!!!???
I give you: Chilli Heatwave Doritos
I’m not going to waste your time explaining why Chilli Heatwave Doritos would kick the asses of Cheez Cruncherz up one side of England and down the other. I’ll leave that to historians. I’ll just say: See you tomorrow.
-Everything must go-
After a long and difficult decision process, James & Amki decided that living apart was too hard. James had tried finding work in Stockholm from England, but turning up for interviews was problematic at best, so… in August 2012, he explained the situation to his children, then sold almost everything he owned, in order to have money while he looked for work, rolled his suitcases down Steep Hill for the last time, and moved to his 27th address; in Stockholm.
James visits his children in England as often as money allows, and the couple plan to move there once Amki has finished her degree at university.
Despite having been led to believe that such a move would be fairly straight-forward for an EU citizen, Amki and James have had a long-running battle with the Swedish tax and migration services.
On their way to this point they have had to bluff their way into work, deal with many unexpected expenses on top of the everyday ones; battle glandular fever, kidney stones, exploding computers and a broken wrist. They have had help all the way from friends and family who have given them places to stay during their visits to England, helped them travel to hospital, plan surprises, replace broken computers, and, of course, helped them to plan and carry out a successful wedding day (fingers crossed)
As with every other newly married couple, James and Amki hope to have a very long journey ahead of them. And, like every other journey, it is sure to be fraught with fatigue, frustration and difficulty, both expected and unexpected. But, a journey is always best when shared with someone you love, and the places you visit are always that much more magical when seen through the eyes of another. Particularly one who still views ordinary things with wonder and excitement. Anyone who expects to get through life without hardship, clearly hasn’t been paying attention, but surviving a difficult journey together makes you that much better prepared for those which lie ahead, and arriving at a place which seemed so completely impossible when you started out, makes a special thing that much more difficult to let go of when things inevitably become tough, or begin to seem ordinary.
These two travellers have known the pain of living hundreds of miles apart, and if they can keep their heads together and remember those times, when the road seems too dark or difficult to be worth the effort… who knows what they will see.