There’s always pizza in Åhus

Absolut was a Swedish brand of alcohol. The company has been making vodka since 1879, when Lars Olsson Smith distilled it and started selling it outside Stockholm. The reason he did that was because inside Stockholm there was a monopoly which determined the price he had to charge: Outside, he could charge what he wanted. He even gave away free ferry rides to his distillery in order to entice customers.

The reason I’m talking Absolut is because the company seems to own a significant chunk of the town of Åhus. In fact, the water and the wheat with which Absolut is created, both come from Åhus and don’t have to travel very far.

Sadly, Absolut is no longer owned by Sweden. In 2008 the French group, Pernod Ricard bought it for a staggering €5.63 billion. Mind you, they still sell a lot of vodka each year. And these days it’s flavoured with all sorts of fruit and herbs.

We passed the many buildings of Absolut (collectively called Absolut Home) when we walked up the main street today. Obviously, this was after our final visit to the cafe so the girls could have some sort of meaty treat from their favourite Swedish woman.

Åhus has not always been dominated by a vodka distillery. In fact, it was actually dominated by the church back in the Middle Ages. I found a sign with an English translation of the history of Åhus which included a little artist’s impression.

It looks like it was a sleepy little fishing town back then and now it’s a sleepy little place full of vodka and pizza restaurants. In fact, you can never be too far from a pizzeria in Åhus. It almost felt like we’d accidentally fallen into a matter transmitter and emerged in Naples.

I’m not joking. There are a lot of pizzerias in Åhus.

My favourite things about Åhus, however, are both pieces of art rather than Italian food.

The first piece is an old bit of distilling equipment that has been placed outside Absolut Home but, rather than just leaving it to rust alone, some very clever artist has fashioned little people to inhabit it.

The piece of equipment stands about seven foot tall and the figures are slightly taller than a Barbie. I’ve put more photos on my Flickr account but here’s one.

And they are all drinking Absolut. I assume. It’s all very clever.

The other piece of art is in, what appears to be, an empty pool at one end of the main street. It is called Livscladje (The Joy of Life) and was erected in its current location in 1950. It was a gift from Kristina and Per Mårtensson to Åhus in 1949. The sculptor was Nils Möllerberg (1892-1954), a famous artist from Kristianstad.

It depicts a life-sized naked woman holding something over her head. It might be a sponge or a ball; no-one seems to know for sure. Though, on close examination, it actually looks like a giant coronavirus.

Having walked the length of the main street along one side we returned on the other then headed back to the house for lunch.

Following lunch (which managed to use up all the salad stuff we had left) we took the girls down to the beach for their last walk along the sands of the Baltic.

The weather was lovely: Sunshine, light wind, not cold. The beach was almost deserted except for a few, isolated walkers. One couple were strolling along, hand in hand, shoes off, obviously being very romantic…or so Mirinda said.

Tomorrow we leave for Stockholm so this was a rather bittersweet visit to the beach. We left our footsteps in the sand as a fond farewell.

The rather dramatic clouds in the photo above didn’t come close to Yngsjö but drifted off to Poland. Or Germany.

Today, this happened

Sometimes it feels like digital music has been around forever. But it hasn’t. In fact, today marks the 19th year since the iPod changed the way in which most of us listen to music. On 23 October 2001, Apple revealed to the world, their first generation digital music player. The first iPod sold on 10 November, 2001 and things just haven’t been the same since.

The iPod was preceded by iTunes which became the only way to load and use music on all Apple products. A user monopoly which continues to this day with all Apple stuff.

The original iPod allowed around 1,000 songs to be loaded and carried around. The catch-line ‘1,000 songs in your pocket’, worked brilliantly. I think there’s probably 19 year olds around today who only know CDs because their parents have them gathering dust somewhere in an attic.

By July 2017, the iPod was superfluous. The smartphone, since 2008, had replaced so many devices and the personal music device was definitely no longer required. How quickly technology decides what we do and don’t need.

Interestingly, when we emptied the flat a couple of weeks ago, I came across Mirinda’s iPod. It still works. Well, once I’d charged it, anyway. Of course, I had to find an appropriate charger, something that Apple excels in. Changing chargers, I mean.

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Destroy this mad brute

If you turn right out of the gate at the house where we’re staying, you head down to the river Helged. There’s a bridge across the river which was built from 1912 to 1915. It replaced an earlier, wooden bridge from 1865, which was needed because the river changed course in 1775, effectively cutting off Yngsjo from the main road.

Before the wooden bridge was built, people would cross the river by hand pulled ferry.

The directional change in the river effectively made Yngsto into a ghost town. A ghost town with a beautiful stretch of beach, to be sure, but a ghost town nonetheless.

Just before the bridge, there’s a small factory. Otto is the name on the main building. The same name on the plastic box we found in the freezer on our first night at the house. The plastic box contained a few big scoops of vanilla and raspberry ripple ice cream. Mirinda said it was very nice. After walking by the factory today, I suggested it hadn’t come very far either.

The walk down the road followed our trip into Ahus for lunch at our favourite cafe, Conditori Duvander. Today, rather than meatballs, the girls were treated to individual plates of roast chicken. They were also fussed over by a Swedish chap sitting next to us. In fact, when he saw the girls, he moved a table closer in order to pat them.

He said he loved dogs but had a cat. The cat belonged to his girlfriend. They also had small children but, he vowed, once the kids were a bit older, he was buying a dog. He’d grown up with dogs and missed having them around. We all agreed that dogs are much better company than cats.

He was one of those rare male humans that Emma likes. She was more than happy to allow him to pat and fuss over her. Freya was also patted but, as usual, was kept away by Emma.

Lunch was a delicious Caesar salad followed by Princess Cake (Mirinda) and a delicious piece of carrot cake (me). All very yummy and, hopefully we’ll get one last chance to visit tomorrow. Between meetings.

The rest of the day was spent working until dinner, after which I attended a Western Front Association webinar called The USA in the Great War.

I’d been a bit worried that it was going to be all about how brilliant the Americans were and how they won the war for the rest of the incompetent armies in the conflict, presented by some annoying American. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Major Gordon Corrigan OBE, was an excellent speaker. His lecture was informative, balanced and funny. He really knows his stuff and was a joy to listen to. That’s him on the mantelpiece, looking down on the Council of Four (l-r Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson).

The questions, too, were all well considered and asked. Mind you, one question, submitted by many viewers, was ‘Would the war have still been won without American involvement?’ Gordon answered it succinctly as his webinar ended. Yes, but it would have taken a lot longer, he claimed.

All in all, an excellent webinar (as usual) and a useful experiment in viewing British content in Sweden. I’m down to present the FATN next Thursday so it’s quite handy that it works.

Above is an American poster, inducing men to enlist in the army to fight the Germans. As Major Corrigan pointed out, the gorilla is actually a peaceful vegetarian and not a raging, fang ridden killer that steals women.

Speaking of the Great War…I finished the Epsom Post Office memorial today and will now start on the Epsom College Plaque.

And, finally, in passing…Following on from the vote in Parliament today, I find it very interesting that the UK government won’t feed starving children but is happy to destroy the economy to save the old from catching a virus. Anyone who voted for this awful government last December should be utterly ashamed. Unless they actually hate poor children, I guess.

Today, this happened

In 1928, Sir Thomas Beecham and the BBC teamed up and decided to create an orchestra. Tom left the project in 1929 and Adrian Boult took over. Adrian was the BBC Director of Music at the time. Then, 90 years ago today, the BBC Symphony Orchestra was ready to roll.

The BBC itself had only been in existence since November 1922 so this was an early milestone. Mind you, it wasn’t the first dedicated musical ensemble. In 1923, they had a dance band, a marching band, an octet and a light orchestra.

There was a bit of conflict between concert promoters who wouldn’t let the BBC use their venues for fear of the unfair competition so John Reith, being the clever clogs he was, asked the Royal Opera’s musical director, Percy Pitt to be the part-time, BBC musical adviser. Reith’s plan included using the Opera House for concerts.

Percy jumped in and, at first, expanded the octet into the Wireless Orchestra.

By 1925, Percy was working full time for the BBC, and he augmented the orchestra to create the Wireless Symphony Orchestra. Then, in 1929, the now famous BBC SO came into being.

These days, the BBC SO is a staple of classical music in Britain. Apart from its BBC functions, it is also the Associate Orchestra at the Barbican Theatre. Possibly it is best known for the opening and closing concerts of the Proms each year.

To quote music journalist Tom Service, “I’ve heard the BBC Symphony give concerts that I don’t think any other orchestra in the world could do as brilliantly … That supreme virtuosity in new music makes them unique among London’s big orchestras.” This is a far cry from this quote from a disgruntled member of the orchestra in 1979: “…[in] the BBC Symphony you can be a poor player, but if you’re on time and never moan at the conductor … you’ll have no trouble...”

But that was a long time ago. These days the BBC SO is world-class, and capable of attracting the biggest and best. Even physicist Brian Cox will guest star in December 2020.

They have an excellent website here.

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No washing on the Per Albin Line

During our walk along the beach at lunchtime, I stumbled upon, what I thought looked like, coastal defences set back and jutting out of the sand. As soon as we returned to the house, I set about finding out about them.

The Skånelinjen was built during the Second World War in order to protect Sweden from invasion. Attack from the Baltic Sea was clearly a threat. It is also called the Per Albin Line after the Prime Minister who was responsible for its construction.

Planning had started in 1938 but things started in earnest following Germany’s invasion of Denmark. Eventually there were 1000 fortifications placed at intervals of 300 to 400 metres along the coast. A massive undertaking.

Then, during the Cold War, anti-tank defences were added.

The whole thing wasn’t decommissioned until the 1990’s. The remains are wonderful relics but also stark reminders of war.

The beach was all bit stark today as well. Grey and gloomy though not as windy as yesterday. We walked between Mirinda’s work meetings.

The other big thing that happened today was the rubbish collection.

It has taken me a few days to work out the system but I think I have it pegged.

Each house has (at least) two big, black three-wheeled Otto-like bins. They are numbered 1 and 2. Each bin is divided into four sections and each section is for different types of rubbish. Here is one of them:

Clockwise from the top left, they are for food waste, other rubbish, paper and non-white glass.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see the garbage truck empty it because I’d love to know how that works. Perhaps I’ll have more luck in Stockholm. Suffice it to say, the Swedes take their recycling seriously.

Apart from the thrills of finding coastal defences and how to sort my rubbish, today was spent mostly working (Mirinda) and researching (me). Oh, and I made a rather successful frittata.

Today, this happened

500 years ago, today, Portuguese sailor, Fernão de Magalhães, discovered, what he called, the Strait of Magellan. His Anglicised name is Ferdinand Magellan, and he was, frankly, pretty bloody incredible.

His life reads like a Boy’s Own Annual packed full of adventure, life risking and heroics. There’s even a bit of betrayal.

While he was born in Portugal and served his country extremely well through sea battles far and wide, he was condemned for illegally dealing with the Moors. This was clearly an anti-Magellan plot because he didn’t do anything of the sort. Which is partly why he sailed under the Spanish flag when he made his successful attempt at globe circumnavigation.

Not that he, personally, made it all the way back. He was killed in the Philippines while trying to convert a bunch of natives on the island of Mactan to Christianity. I assume their own belief system had served them well enough in the past and therefore, some other mythology was not required.

Besides, I can only further assume that they didn’t speak Spanish and possibly misunderstood the request to fall to their knees and have someone draw an invisible cross on their foreheads.

Still, back to this momentous day.

Originally, when he found and navigated it, Magellan named it Estrecho de Todos los Santos which translates to Strait of All Saints, but it was renamed, by the Spanish King Charles V, to posthumously honour him.

There doesn’t appear to be any evidence that the natives of the Strait ever had a name for it although they had been there for thousands of years. This is possibly because after the Europeans found them, they killed most of them off with European diseases against which the natives had no resistance.

The Strait divides the southern end of South America and Tierra del Fuego, somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit but probably never will.

It’s not the easiest passage to sail through because of various narrowings and cross winds but was considered a lot better than Cape Horn. Until the Panama Canal opened, it was the main way through. In fact, Cape Horn was discovered almost 100 years after the Strait of Magellan. I guess that shows how good the Strait was that sailors didn’t feel the need to keep heading south.

Magellan’s life, in particular his discovery of the Strait, makes for an amazing read. For a rollicking adventure, I found Over the Edge of the World by Laurence Bergreen to truly fit the bill. Obviously, there’s many others…but I haven’t read them.

Of course, today was also The Battle of Trafalgar, but everyone knows that.

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The Swedish meatball effect

It seems that everyone in this family is enjoying Swedish food. While Mirinda and I are enjoying discovering new taste delights, this morning, the puppies proved that they are not immune. In fact, they prefer Swedish meatballs to me.

I’d left Mirinda in the Åhus café she went to yesterday while I experienced the Swedish equivalent of a bottle shop.

While you can buy alcohol in supermarkets, it is capped at 3.5%. For wine and spirits and anything above 3.5%, you head for the government owned and controlled, Systembolaget. These have very strict days and hours of business. Apparently, for working people, there is a rush on a Friday before 6pm in order to stock up for the weekend.

There was no rush for me. In fact, it was exactly like an Australian bottle shop. I bought a couple of Punk IPAs, a white and a red wine. I even managed to say goodbye in Swedish as I left the shop.

As I walked towards the café, I noticed, through the window, the girls pulling at their lead. Obviously they had seen me and were eager to smother me in love. Then, suddenly, they stopped. As I walked inside, I realised why. The woman who runs the café was on the floor hand feeding them meatballs.

To be completely accurate, she was hand feeding Freya meatballs otherwise Emma would have eaten them all. Clearly, it’s the only way the girls can be distracted from greeting me. I have now called this the Swedish Meatball Effect.

After drinking a lovely latte and talking Swedish to a woman who wanted to speak English, we headed down to the beach.

In contrast to yesterday, the day was very grey, windy and, frankly, chilly. The beach, however, was lovely.

We walked from the car park (and a Swedish version of Go Ape) to the end of the beach which turned out to have a lighthouse station and military land halting our progress. If the wooden fence and raised walkway weren’t enough, there was a sign (in Swedish, German and English) saying there was often live firing and beware. We turned round and returned to Max, thankfully unscathed. This is possibly due to our Hankley training.

But, returning to food, I have discovered two more delicious Scandinavian delights. One is Danish rödkål and the other vitlökssås. They work so well with a salad.

And, speaking of salad…the Swedish branch of Chez Gaz has gone all Scandi with the infamous lunch salad. It has been declared delicious and well satisfying.

Mirinda had a work call to make, so I spent most of the afternoon researching dead soldiers while she worked. This culminated in her chatting to Sarah for yonks. That, in turn, culminated in Mirinda telling Sarah where she was. That made her squeal with delight. Sarah squealed, I mean. Mirinda just smiled.

They also discussed the new CEO’s quote from White Rabbit, (sung by Jefferson Airplane and written by Grace Slick). Mirinda said you had to like someone who quoted Alice in Wonderland, no matter how obliquely.

The reason I know what they discussed is because I was at the other end of the dining table as they talked. Normally I am well out of earshot. Not in Sweden, though.

Finally, a short trip back to the beach and a photo Mirinda insisted on taking of me and the girls under a stunted conifer. I ended up with pockets full of sand. Note the girls’ wind blown ears. It was very windy.

Today, this happened

I do love a good saint story. They are right up there with fairytales: a moral tale chock-a-block full of good versus bad, sprinkled with fantasy and magic. On a day we celebrate the Feast Day of Magdalene of Nagasaki, let’s spare a thought for all those Catholics who believe in that sort of thing.

Magdalene was a Japanese Christian. She was born in Nagasaki in 1611 and was a bit of a jinx for the people she was closest to.

Her parents were martyred when she was just nine. Then, aged 13, she lost her spiritual advisors Francis of Jesus Terrero and Vincent of St Anthony Simeons also to martyrdom. Her next counsellors were Melchior of St Augustine and Martin of Saint Nicholas. They were then both put to death.

Giordano Ansaloni de San Esteban either hadn’t heard about her or had a death wish because he took her on next. Clearly showing a certain amount of pity, Magdalene decided to turn herself into the authorities.

I guess it was not the thing to be a Christian in Japan because they immediately subjected her to the Torture of the Pit for 13 days. For some reason, the anti-Christian authorities thought hanging someone over a pit full of offal would do something. It seems somewhat pointless to me, apart from being horrible for poor Magdalene of course.

There is the fact that the Japanese are not that big on the insides of most animals. Perhaps they were applying their own beliefs on her as a cleansing of her heresy. Or maybe they were just saying that she was just so much offal to them.

After 13 days, the pit full of offal was filled with water and Magdalene drowned. She was then cremated and her ashes set free upon the water of Nagasaki Bay. Though she didn’t care about that because she was pretty much dead from the offal. She was 22-23 years old.

She was beatified in 1981 – she must have been resting up for a long time before performing any miracles – and Pope John II made her a saint in 1987.

I haven’t been able to find out what she’s the patron saint of (possibly not butchers) but she’s one of the legendary Martyrs of Japan, a pretty hefty group of dead Christians.

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On a beach in Sweden

I think it’s very important to try local foods. Wherever we’ve been in the world, we make an effort to taste weird stuff. Because of this, today we had our first taste of the legendary, pickled herring.

I was in a supermarket in Ahus (which keeps looking like Anus on road signs), buying supplies for our first week. Naturally I was drawn to the big fridges full of small jars labelled Sill. I was quickly confused. There were lots of types. I tried looking up the types in Google Translate but my phone had no signal.

I debated which one to buy. After a bit of pointless deliberation, I settled on a jar of löksill from the strangely named ABBA company. Boy, did I hit gold. (Incidentally, when I told Denise about the herring, she reckoned it explained why ABBA was no longer releasing songs given they were too busy pickling herring.)

We had some with lunch and it was love at first bite. We will be eating more pickled herring.

Shopping was fun. The first hurdle was getting a shopping trolley.

The Swedes are famously cashless so I didn’t bother getting any. I approached the trolley park and guess what? They require a 5kr and 10kr coin to release them. This was a problem because I had to do a big shop.

My solution was simple. There was a pharmacy next to the supermarket and there was an ATM next to the pharmacy. I took a swadge of cash out and bought Mirinda a pair of tweezers in the pharmacy. This required a bit of miming of me plucking my eyebrows. Say whatever you like about my miming, but it worked. As the lovely, patient lady handed me my change, I asked if I could get coins for a trolley. She was happy to do this.

I returned to the trolley park and entered the supermarket.

I had to guess what a lot of things were but, basically, it was not a lot different to being in Waitrose. Just with foreign names. Apart from being astonished at the cost of lamb steaks (over £50 for two) it was all pretty similarly priced to the UK. I soon had a trolley full and collected Mirinda and the girls from a handy café (next to the ATM next to the pharmacy), loaded Max, and we returned to the house.

Apart from testing the local chemist, today was basically a rest day, spent mostly buying food, relaxing in the house and visiting the local beach.

Sweden is proud of its coast and, if the local beach is anything to go by, they are rightly so. Beautiful white sand, stretching away for miles in both direction. The steely grey Baltic Sea continually lapping at the shore.

The girls went crazy; running around like crazy things, having the time of their lives. After the last few days of change and stress, they were letting everything go, being more dog, giving vent to their freedom. It was wonderful to see. Hopefully, it will also tire them out a bit.

We were a bit worried it would be cold so Mirinda dressed appropriately.

It was not cold. It was wonderful.

Mirinda had a couple of online calls to make, so we headed back to the house where we, eventually, hunkered down for the night.

Today, this happened

In the October 19, 1858 issue of The Colonist, a New Zealand newspaper, it was reported that the Nelson Literary and Scientific Institution had announced their intention to procure larger premises. They were announcing a meeting of all members to consider the matter in early November.

The Colonist had been set up in 1857 by residents of the New Zealand town of Nelson to give a voice to someone other than the wealthy landowners. It was clearly doing something right because it lasted until 1920 when it was bought out by a rival paper.

The Nelson Institute, as it became known, had been set up in May 1841. It was set up to be a “…civic centre…consisting of a well-equipped library, a museum of history and ethnology and a philosophical society to promote intellectual development.

The original premises were originally a dress shop, used by Mrs Cooper. She is one of the women in the photograph below. Presumably the one standing on the step.

When the Institute took over, it had a collection of just 700 books, all donated. They were waiting on more to arrive from England. It didn’t take long for the successful Institute to need more room.

It moved firstly in 1861 as a result, no doubt, of the meeting of all members mentioned in The Colonist. The Institute remained here until 1906.

The only reason they left the above premises was because it burned down. This could have been a complete disaster but crowds of people raced over and managed to salvage a lot of the books and artefacts held at the Institute.

Undaunted, a new, purpose built, concrete building was erected.

And, it’s still there. There are regular lectures and the library is extensive. Discussion groups are encouraged. This seems to be in direct violation of one of the rules which prohibited conversing or reading aloud. I can’t say whether the other rules regarding lying down and spitting are adhered to but I think they probably are.

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Big fat lanes & glossy roads

Our stay in Marschacht was lovely. Very peaceful, especially after the very naughty pizza and ice cream we were ‘forced’ to have for dinner. The girls were very happy to not be put in a cage. Actually, they slept with us in a very big bed.

The bed, according to Mirinda, had a very squeaky, sloping side and a good, quiet level side. There’s no prize for guessing who had the nice side of the bed. The dogs were in the middle.

To be honest, the girls seem quite confused. This is good when it comes to walking them off lead. They lack the confidence to roam too far from us. Emma has always kept a close eye on us but at the moment this is almost permanent.

This proved very handy when we took them for a walk first thing.

Just behind the house, where we stayed, and across a bike path, there’s a high bank. On the other side of the bank flows the River Elbe. The morning was quite grey with a light rain but a walk was an excellent start to the day, regardless of the weather.

We then packed Max, settled the girls and headed for Rostock, where our ferry awaited.

I rather like the fact that Germans believe that a speed limit should only apply to what your car is capable of doing. I also like the big fat lanes (or ‘two lane comfort cruise’, as Kramer would call them) on some country roads.

Actually, the driving in Germany, once you get used to the bullets whizzing by you in the superfast lane, is very smooth. Mind you, I’m saying that from the point of view of a passenger. Mirinda may have a different opinion.

We only had one stop on the 2.5 hour drive to fill up with petrol and walk the dogs but then it was on to the ferry. The one that had pet friendly cabins. It also had special dog toilet facilities complete with sea views, wild winds and a massive cat litter tray.

Finding the ferry was a wonderful bit of luck. Originally we were going to drive through Denmark after a night in Germany. The only benefit to this was going to be driving across the bridge from the TV show The Bridge. But the problem was that Denmark had imposed some tighter pandemic rules over the last few weeks and we were worried we might be stopped.

I went into Waterstones and, Nicktor would be pleased about this, I bought a road atlas book of Europe. The reason was in case Linda misbehaved like she has regularly done in France. It’s always good to keep an eye on the overall journey by way of the old analog maps.

As I traced out the route we’d be taking I noticed a ferry route from Rostock to Trelleborg. Trelleborg is two hours from where we’d be staying for the first week in Sweden. I went online and discovered that it was not only a RORO ferry but also had dog friendly cabins. I booked one.

Mirinda then found us accommodation just over two hours from Rostock. While the ferry trip was five and a half hours, it meant saving Mirinda the same amount of driving. It was a no brainer. And, as it turned out, the ferry trip was smooth and having the cabin to lie down in was perfect. The girls definitely agreed with that.

On the way over, Mirinda asked a woman with a dog if she knew where the dogs were allowed to go on the ferry. The woman shrugged and said if it didn’t have a sign that said dogs were excluded, they were allowed. Given the famed Swedish attitude towards dogs, we decided this would be our credo from now on.

We arrived at Trelleborg at 19:15 in the pitch black. We joined the long queue of lorries and occasional cars and wound our way through the dock area before hitting the border control gate. This was the first time since Harwich that anyone had bothered with our passports.

Mirinda was worried. I was not. The girls were asleep.

The border police looked like extras from some Scandi-crime show. They were also polite and professional. The guy who looked at our passports was not qualified enough to vouch for an Australian passport (he was fine with me and the girls) so had to call over the one with the moustache who was clearly his boss. Mr Moustache waved us through, happy that Australia was on the list.

We drove through the gate and were in Sweden.

We took a moment to enjoy the fact that we had made it before heading into the inky blackness for our accommodation in Yngsjö. In fact, the night was so black that the road in front of us appeared to be a glossy, void rather than tarmac. It was quite odd.

In order to reach Yngsjö we had to get by Ystad first. We didn’t see Wallander but we did see an odd pair of cars with bright red triangles in their back windows. They were driving very slowly with an increasingly lengthening queue of cars behind them.

At a roundabout they took different exits, sped up and turned off their red triangles. It was as if a couple of pace cars had decided to slow down the pack for a bit before giving us the go ahead. All very peculiar and the only unexpected thing to happen on the drive.

We arrived at our accommodation at 21:30 and were sitting down to nibbles and a glass of special red wine I’d been saving for an occasion of this sort, by 10pm. We breathed sighs of relief. We had arrived and were very, very happy.

Today, this happened

On October 18, 1953, Vivian Maier pointed her camera at a shop window and took a self portrait. She looks very serious in the image, her face half in light and half in shadow. She was a street photographer who was unknown before her death in 2009.

Born in New York in 1926, she was the daughter of a French mother and an Austrian father. A lot of her life is a mystery. She spent time in France and the US and worked at menial jobs. She spent time in a sweatshop and also 40 years as a nanny. But, most important was her legacy of over 150,000 photographs of street life.

She even travelled around the world, taking photographs all over the place, recording various aspects of normal life.

She never married and had no children so, of course, ownership of her photographs went through various courts and made a lot of American lawyers very happy.

Her photographs are amazing and well worth looking for online. She was an extraordinary social scientist.

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Rita and the violent boys

The dulcet tones of the ships announcer dragged us out of our North Sea induced sleep. She was telling us that we had an hour and a half before we had to abandon the ferry. Being in the lap of luxury meant we had tea and coffee making facilities at hand. A cup of tea /coffee while watching the flickering lights of the Dutch coast was definitely a great way to begin the day.

The puppies were, obviously, overjoyed to see us. They had been alone in the kennels. Which was possibly a good thing.

We took them for a walk in the little kennel deck area where we chatted to Rita. She’s standing in for the manager at present but had to apprehend a couple of miscreants before they left the ferry. They were a pair of teenagers, she said, who had had a few too many to drink. While they liked each other at first, they quickly descended into some sort of alcoholic fisticuffs.

We left her to it (they hadn’t actually left their beds by the time we reached Max) and settled down in the car.

Leaving the ship was even easier than boarding. Well, if you ignore the guy towing the van. He had difficulty making the exit work. But this lasted for the length of time it took to drive twice around the block. Then we hit the open road.

And the day only got better.

We drove across The Netherlands, heading for Germany. This meant stopping at numerous motorway services in order to walk the dogs, exercise Mirinda’s back and generally stop driving.

Possibly the best part in the Netherlands was the fact that in the first services there was no mask wearing. Mirinda commented that it made an ugly shop beautiful. I rather enjoyed the fact that it had a Starbucks as well.

It was a bit confusing for Emma who was determined to bite off a piece of tree for Mirinda to throw for her. She decided on a particularly knobbly bit of branch attached to a log we were sitting on. It was never going to happen but it didn’t stop her trying.

Then, of course, there’s the unexpected things which litter my posts like so much glittery confetti.

I lost my phone. Briefly. It was in a German toilet and a lovely middle Eastern family found it. There was a lot of adrenaline squirting around my body. Albeit briefly. Losing my phone would have been a disaster.

Also, unexpected was the road suddenly disappearing. We’d driven over 200km on it when, suddenly, we had to follow a stream of confused drivers on some sort of weird diversion.

We finally managed (by luck more than good navigation) to get back on track and found our way to our accommodation in Germany.

It was a very tiring day, but we eventually made it to the lovely town of Marschacht, along the banks of the Elbe. Around 550 kilometres and through two countries. Actually, when we crossed from The Netherlands into Germany, we almost missed it. There was a jolly sign and Linda stopped telling us the speed limit – there isn’t one in Germany.

Of course, shortly after arriving at our flat, we had to turn around and go back out to buy pizza, ice cream and milk. While I was sitting in Max in the supermarket car park, this ferocious looking woman charged towards me. I thought I was for it. I then realised she was parked next to us in an identical mini to Max. It was at the same time she realised I wasn’t sitting in her car. Her face relaxed almost inot a smile. Very strange.

Tomorrow we head for Rostock for a ferry into Sweden.

Today, this happened

The Siege of Sevastopol started today in 1854. (Though, for some reason, the British called it the Siege of Sebastopol). It was during the Crimean War and lasted almost a year.

Britain, Francc, Egypt, Sardinia and the Ottomans, decided they would try and take the capital of the Crimea with 50,000 men. It didn’t prove as simple as they thought it was going to be. In fact, it ended up being one of the classic sieges of all time.

The allied Navies bombarded Sevastopol a total of six times while the advancing army fought battles, now famous, on their way to the capital. Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole were there to help fix up the wounded in order to send them back out to fight some more.

The main reason for attacking Sevastopol was because it was the home of the Black Sea Fleet of which the Tsar was rightly proud.

While it was an allied victory, the deaths tell a different story. On the side of the victors, 128,387 had been killed while the total Russian figures for dead, wounded and died of disease was 102,000.

Then, in 1941, the Germans, Italian and Romanians (Axis powers) had a go in a second Siege of Sevastopol. This time, though, things were a little different. For one thing, the Germans had the Luftwaffe.

After nine months of constant bombardment and bombing raids, the Russians surrendered and the Axis powers moved in. It was a decisive victory for the Axis powers, in which they lost 35,000 men in comparison to the besieged Russians who lost over ten times that.

Clearly, Sevastopol has suffered a lot over the years. Not a place for the casual tourist, particularly during conflicts, I’m thinking.

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Happy birthday, Panda

Well, we made it to the ferry. From Farnham to Harwich in Max with two confused puppies. It was a long drive and Mirinda managed it very well. I can only hope that Panda had as good a journey. I, personally, have no idea if Panda had a good journey but the sign hanging from an A12 overpass wished him a happy day.

Driving onto the ferry was incredibly easy. This may have been because there were very few passengers. Whatever the reason, it was very smooth.

Our room was ridiculously luxurious. It was called the Captain’s Suite and had a big double bed, a lounge area and free mini bar. Seemed like the ideal spot for a cruise. A pity we’d only be using it over-night to The Netherlands.

This was in direct contrast to the puppies who were left in a cold and lonely cage masquerading as a kennel. I can only assume they cried themselves to sleep.

It was the end of a long day. A day full of last minute preparations. I had to buy more dog food and pop a signature in at the lawyers. Mirinda just cleaned. And cleaned. And then cleaned a bit more.

Eventually, Katie and James turned up. They will be living in our house for the next three months. They were sad to see the puppies leave. We bade them farewell as they took possession of our house.

Max was packed and the puppies were perched on our luggage. We drove away.

Our adventure had begun.

Today, this happened

On October 16, 1905, Bengal was Partitioned. For the first time. The Partition largely separated the Muslims from the Hindu populations. It was created by the Viceroy to India. Today schools and shops were blockaded. The decision led to riots and was rescinded by King George in 1911.

There was the idea that it helped the administration and bureaucracy function efficiently but there was some who believed it was to keep the area divided in order to make them less likely to attack their oppressors. The latter seems far more likely.

Then, in 1947, Bengal was Partitioned for a second time. This time it stuck. This second split was followed by East Bengal becoming East Pakistan in 1955. Eventually in 1972, it became Bangladesh.

I can’t help thinking it was a lot of hassle just to create another international test cricket team.

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Due an adventure

Today was the real beginning of our Great Adventure. Tomorrow we leave for Europe. Holland first, then Germany and, finally, a ferry to Sweden. We discussed it, painstakingly, a while ago but the actual plans only came to a head today when the TNT van arrived to take our excess luggage for us.

There are four main reasons for this sudden departure.

  1. Our feelings regarding the pandemic are far more aligned with those of Sweden and not at all in agreement with the Tory Government or, in fact, the fearful Brits.
  2. We do not want to stop being EU citizens so are doing what most Brexit supporters tell Remainers which is “If you love the EU so much, go and live there!
  3. In an attempt to have a proper white Christmas.
  4. We’re due an adventure, having been somewhat root-bound for the past 20 years.

We haven’t really told anyone of our plans. This was in case our plans fell through at the last minute. But now we’ve started telling people and it feels quite a relief and makes the whole thing more real. Well, as far as I’m concerned, anyway.

Initially we’re going for three months and see how things pan out.

Today was all about readying the house for the house sitters we have coming. Tomorrow will be packing then we have a ferry to catch.

Today, this happened

On October 15, 1887, the first round (proper) of the 1887–88 Football Association Challenge Cup was played. It was the 17th time it had happened. 149 teams entered the competition though four of the teams never played a match.

Of the 76 matches to be played today, 12 games were declared ‘Match void’, three games were byes until the next round, four games were ‘walkovers’ and one team, Blackburn Park Road was disqualified.

The disqualification followed a protest by their opponents, Distillery who were, subsequently reinstated for the second round. Distillery went down to Witton 2-4 in the next round on 5 November.

The voided matches were following protests. Most of them were replayed. In fact, there were three separate replay rounds – this predates penalty shoot-outs. The 3rd Replay between Everton and Bolton Wanderers saw Everton disqualified for fielding an ineligible player.

The ‘walkovers’ indicate that one team didn’t show up so the one that did, won the game.

Possibly the highlight of the first round was Preston North End beating Hyde 26-0. This was, and remains, the highest score in an FA Cup match. It was, basically, a revenge win.

Preston wanted the game moved to midweek but Hyde refused. Preston fielded their strongest team and Hyde were taught a lesson. I find this a bit odd. Surely Preston would have fielded their strongest team anyway.

Though, thinking back to the Aldershot v Manchester United game I watched at the Rec, Man U was hardly the world beating Premier League team of the time. I think we recognised about four players.

Eventually, on March 24, 1888 the FA Cup final was won by West Bromwich Albion, beating Preston North End 2-1.

The 1887-1888 FA Cup competition was also famous for being the last time that teams could complain about things following a match.

This came about as a result of Crewe Alexander claiming that one crossbar at Druids and Northwich’s ground was two inches lower than the other and, therefore, below the height required by the rules.

The fourth round game had finished 2-2 but there was no replay. The referee disqualified Druids and Northwich.

The Football Association then decided that teams had to complain before the game started. Which makes a lot more sense.

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Leaving out the ’00 to 5:’

What a glorious morning to be walking into Farnham. The sky was blue (obviously last night’s red sky did that for the shepherds everywhere) and the sun was making the autumnal leaves glow. Even the joggers were smiling. Well, some were.

Shopping was pretty painless and, afterwards, I decided to pop into Starbucks, going against everything I’ve said previously. It’s because Jay was serving and I haven’t seen him since the beginning of Lockdown.

Interestingly, he remembered my drink but not the size.

Then, a lovely surprise. Sue and Charlotte were also there. We had a lovely chat while the new guy made my coffee. In fact, our chat was so lovely that a customer, unavoidably eavesdropping, said she was dead jealous.

I had to go into Waterstone’s so I sat on the tree ringed bench at the top of Lion and Lamb Yard for a bit. Actually, I looked at the opening times sign on the door and it appeared to say 9:30. I stood up to go to Smith’s instead but then, as I walked by one of the columns outside the shop, I realised the opening times were 9:00 to 5:30 but the angle I was looking from cut out the ’00 to 5:’. I sat back down given it was 08:55.

As I sat and looked down the Yard, it struck me how beautiful it looked. A photo was unavoidable.

The walk home was equally as lovely.

Most of the rest of the day was spent in the usual, humdrum, normal world housework and laundry. Though, I was rather pleased with the lunch I made.

I used Lily and Louis’s tomato chilli jam as a relish. It was very, very good.

I also went a bit mad and cleaned my office. A bit.

Today, this happened

On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. He was the first person to travel that fast.

After I read that, it occurred to me that it was a far cry from the Victorians who were concerned about what would happen if they went on a train that reached speeds in excess of 40mph. This concern was gradually eased when people started catching trains everywhere and, basically, enjoyed the fact that they could get somewhere quicker than a horse on a rutted road.

Mind you, this all exploded again when confronted by the instant insanity which could grip a Victorian train passenger mid-journey.

So called ‘Railway Madmen’ would be activated by the sound and motion of the trains. For the safety of other passengers, they had to be confined in solitary compartments. This makes me think it would be quite a good idea to claim to be a Railway Madman in order to get a comfortable ride.

The Victorian newspapers printed all sorts of mad stories about the Railway Madmen. One in particular had a chap in his compartment suddenly start brandishing a pistol while screaming and yelling at the passengers outside his glass windows.

Then, as the train came to a stop at the next station, he suddenly became calm and returned to reading his newspaper. As the train pulled away from the station, he once more went into a murderous rage. Perhaps the newspaper annoyed him. I don’t know.

A lot of ‘experts’ claimed these bouts of insanity were brought on by the sudden jarring action of the trains causing the brain to be unhinged and sloshed about. Oddly enough, it mostly affected men. Women and children were apparently unsusceptible to the evil locomotion.

There is a wonderful post on the Railway Madmen by Joseph Hayes. It’s well worth reading, proving that the Media has always been more than happy to ruin the world by instilling ridiculous fear in people. Something, I guess, which will never change.

Incidentally, Chuck is currently still alive and a very healthy 97 even though he has flown faster than the speed of sound, which is a good deal faster than any Victorian train.

Of course, we’ll never know whether Chuck went a bit insane in his cockpit given he was alone but, at least he didn’t injure any innocent fellow passengers.

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