The Mardi Gras Goat

I have always been clumsy. I have always had the innate ability to walk into what appears to an empty room and bump my toe on the smallest and only object on the floor. I’m like a magnet for obstacles. Sometimes I don’t even need an object. I’ve been known to trip over things that don’t actually exist.

This whole clumsy thing has escalated since the medically mysterious nerve nonsense in my legs. Now, because I have difficulty lifting my feet, I have taken clumsy to a whole new level. You could say, I have elevated clumsy to an art form reminiscent of Jackson Pollack.

Today, for instance, I had two clumsy episodes that really annoyed me.

In the bathroom I have a Toilet Book. This is to fill the essential reading time that crops up throughout the day. At the moment I’m reading the excellent Anxious People by Swedish author Fredrik Bachman.

The volume is one of those outsized ones. It is bigger than a paperback. Because of the size, I have to have it propped up in the narrow wall cupboard next to the loo. Just enough of the book hangs over the edge of the little shelf it sits on for me to knock it with my elbow when I’m forced to steady myself. Normally this isn’t a problem but, today, my elbow knocked the book into the toilet.

Fortunately, the house has a hairdryer. I managed to dry the volume out before it grew too swollen with liquid. I’m quite used to acting fast in these sorts of emergency situations.

Then, later in the day, I was filling a container with hazelnuts. Not satisfied with them being in the container, my left hand decided to knock it flying, sending hundreds of hazelnuts bouncing and scattering across the kitchen floor.

Fortunately, the day held enough pleasure to help me get over the pain of my clumsiness.

For one thing I found another discarded bicycle…

…and, for another, I had a delightful Zoom call with Andrew, my Starbucks chauffeur friend. We spent a delightful half hour chatting about the benefits of Sweden and how the baristas at Starbucks are coping with the newest restrictions in Farnham.

He told me how he wanted to be a professional eulogist in his spare time. The idea would be that he’d step in and give eulogies at funerals if the nearest and/or dearest, couldn’t manage it. I suggested that, as well as cheering up the congregation, he could also drive the vicar to the chapel.

We agreed he had a bright future ahead of him.

Almost as bright as the Christmas Goat on the roundabout at Trollbäcken Centrum. When it was first put there, long before Christmas, it was plain and wooden, more reminiscent of a saw-horse than a Christmas Goat. Then, at some point, and mysteriously, it was painted lurid green and had a whole bunch of Hawaiian leis draped around its neck.

My apologies for the photograph. The roundabout is some distance away from the bus stop and my hands were trembling with the cold while, at the same time, trying to hold my phone steady enough to take the zoomed shot. Even so, it’s clear that the Christmas Goat is quite shocked at its appearance. Or maybe its feet are just very, very cold.

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What’s up with WhatsApp?

According to Jean Jacques Rousseau, a landscape park is the source of the good and attracts the best character traits of man which are selflessness, honesty and true wisdom. He advocated the creation of them in the 18th century. Starting in England, the landscape garden spread to the continent via France where the wide-ranging vistas replaced the symmetry of French garden design.

It would seem that Rousseau’s philosophical thoughts on gardening would have little relevance in Sweden however, the park at Tyresö Slott was designed in the English style and, I think, Rouseau would have approved.

It’s hard to believe when the park is covered in snow but, apparently, there are many species of rare orchids spread throughout the grounds. These include the Adam and Eve orchid (Aplectrum hyemale) which is normally found in the US.

I’m no expert in orchids – actually I know nothing about orchids at all – but I have to say that the Adam and Eve orchid is possibly the dullest orchid in creation. I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t notice one in front of me.

Perhaps the above paragraph puts paid to Rousseau’s contention that the landscape park brings true wisdom while proving that it can bring truthfulness.

While talking about wisdom, today marked a turning point in my relationship with WhatsApp. I now have no relationship with WhatsApp. Today saw me communicating with people I usually WhatsApp and telling them they should switch to Signal. Denise and Dawn did. And Nicktor was ahead of the curve for the first time ever. No-one else switched.

But enough about the landscape of social media on my devices and on to more pleasing landscapes. For instance, I have no idea what Rousseau would have said but the landscape outside our house this morning wasn’t so much philosophically pleasing as aesthetically so. The light on the clouds was a delight.

We didn’t have any snow overnight so it was an easy task getting off to the island café in Max. The last few mornings, I’ve spent a good half an hour stripping him of his icy cloak. But not today. Though there is more snow forecast through the week, so my job is intact.

Best news though, is today saw the return of Evelyn to the café. Not that anything had happened to her. Her shifts had just changed.

She had a lovely Christmas and New Year, spent mostly in her family summer house. She sold me an equally lovely cardamom bun for a Sunday fika treat.

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A splendid view of the loo

Tonight, being a Saturday, we ate out. Given the news of my shared heroism in the week, we decided it would be a celebration meal. Because of this, I had pizza and beer. Normally I’d have finished with ice cream but, because we were at Toscanini’s, I had to have tiramisu because, firstly it’s the only dessert made in-house and, secondly, because it’s bloody brilliant.

Dinner was definitely my highlight of the day. Of course, Mirinda took the girls to the forest for almost two hours so that was probably her highlight.

While she was away I took the opportunity to dust the lounge and vac up the detritus. It’s the only room that attracts dust. This is clearly because of the fire, which we’ve been using since the temperature dipped below zero and the snow encased the house.

The snow also encases Emma’s feet.

This is very much similar to what the poodles used to suffer on the rare snowfall days in Farnham. Though, to be fair, when Carmen and Day-z were covered in snowballs, they had trouble walking. Emma isn’t quite as bad and Freya’s hair is so fine she gets hardly any on her feet.

Given it was my choice of restaurant, I wanted to go to Spis and Vin, but they are now only open Monday to Fridays. This seems to be the case with lots of restaurants around here. They don’t do weekends. Which I find very odd.

We’ve found that, in most countries, the weekend is the peak dining out period. In fact, most countries we’ve visited have Monday’s off. Both tourist sites and restaurants.

Anyway, Toscanini’s is open on a Saturday so, I guess the whole week day thing is excellent for them. And us, given I wanted pizza.

Our meal was lovely and the waiter recognised us. He apologised that our usual table was taken and showed us to another one against the window with a view of the Tyresö Centrum overpass and bus station.

It’s the same view from the table we normally sit at, just a few metres down. Actually, the only downside to this new table is that it is opposite the toilets. When I suggested we had a fine view of the loo, the waiter swiftly drew the curtains and grinned broadly. He also said there was a private dining area through the other curtain.

A little later, a very old group arrived to take a table across the room from us. One of them, a tottery old man who appeared to have given away his last legs and was on someone else’s, decided to open the toilet blocking curtain nice and wide. There seemed neither rhyme nor reason for him to do this but do it, he did.

If he was looking for the loo, he didn’t find it because he then returned to his seat unrelieved. If he just wanted to irritate us, he was very successful.

Also successful was dinner, which was wonderfully completed with a glass of limoncello.

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A teetotal version of a vegetarian sausage

Wikipedia turned 20 today. I read an article that claimed that the majority of articles on Wikipedia are more accurate than, say, the Encyclopaedia Britannica. However, the article went on to say that a lot of Wikipedia is either untrue and/or unreliable.

Possibly the greatest and the worst thing about Wikipedia as a source of information is the ability to change it. This is something that a lot of commentators maintain is what’s wrong with it. Of course, a print edition of a big international encyclopaedia has only one chance to be accurate.

I guess it just shows that the world still needs information scientists (librarians) to disseminate vital information for people who are, possibly, not so well equipped to figure out fact from falsehood, newspeak from actual journalism.

So, happy 20th birthday Wikipedia and, like Marion, the trusty and reliable librarian, long may you exist.

Moving right along…

I thought this picnic set looked nice and comfy with big fluffy cushions ready to receive aching butts and tired elbows. Obviously, no-one else thought so.

Regarding the weather, one of the things that Mirinda has embraced, wholeheartedly, here in Sweden is the Winter Palaver. Keeping calm while taking the requisite ten minutes to leave the house as she dons various layers and pulls the snow boots on, has become an essential part of every departure. I see it as being one of those things I see through Japanese eyes.

It is part of the Essential Slowness of our lives these days. The importance of the trip as well as the destination. The appreciation in all experiences rather than the irritation and impatience of the preamble.

As part of all this, we even have a Palaver Chair which sits in the airlock between the warmth of the house and the chill of the outside world. It’s ideal for putting on boots and connecting the girls to their lead.

The airlock was very handy today given the temperature was -10° and the snow fell in the patches between sun and blue sky. The wind made it feel quite a bit colder, something we felt slapping our cheeks as we went for our evening constitutional.

The blue sky was something I experienced from afar as it put in an appearance mostly as I sat in the spare room recording the Talking Newspaper with Robert and Mike P. As I told them, the snow lay round about and the sun made it sparkle. Farnham was cold, grey and miserable so they may have been a bit jealous.

Because of the recording, I didn’t go shopping until afterwards. This is something I’ll probably not repeat. A lot of people shop after 2pm at the Ica in Trollbäken on a Friday. It was not as pleasant as it can be in the mornings. I decided that I’ll shop on a Thursday when I have a recording of a Friday. Annoying in reference to the schedule but essential in reference to any kind of shopping pleasure.

Late on, as Mirinda talked on various forms of electronic communication, I took the girls out the back. Emma chased a stick while Freya went exploring. It was very cold. Emma didn’t seem to mind but, every time she stopped walking, Freya started shivering.

She is also sometimes hard to see. In particular in the half light of twilight, between the trees, she just vanishes. It must be very difficult if your dog is actually white rather than champagne coloured.

At the end of the day, John sent a photograph through the Weasel WhatsApp group. It caused him a lot of distress and garnered all manner of shocked responses from other dedicated purists.

When asked where the alcohol went, Tom reckoned it was extracted for use in hand sanitiser. I thought it was a teetotal version of a vegetarian sausage. Whatever, it can’t be good for you.

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Snowy joy

We had a lovely lot of snow last night. I know a lot of people don’t like snow, but I’m definitely not one of them. I love it. I think it makes the world look so much nicer. And, of course, I do rather like the cold.

As can be seen in the above photo, Max is covered in snow and ice. The other evening, on our constitutional, we watched a couple of women trying to gain access to a car in a similar situation. They were unsuccessful as the ice and snow had frozen everything shut up tight.

Seeing the issues the two women were having, I have decided my new job each morning is to free Max from his icy cloak. That’s why I bought the scraper yesterday.

I also had a wall of snow to clear away from directly behind the car. When the snow plough goes by, the snow gets piled up on the edge of the footpath. I took the shovel to it and had the wall flattened in no time at all.

Having the shovel in hand, I figured it made sense to clear the footpaths to the house as well. In fact, I was quite industrious.

Mirinda, in the meanwhilst, was wandering the local streets, walking and talking while the girls had fun in the snow. She returned, all aglow with the -7° crispness and snowy joy.

I have a Talking Newspaper recording tomorrow so half of today was spent preparing the clippings and running script. I managed to find a few stories that didn’t mention the virus. It wasn’t easy.

Late on, I took the girls outside and, as the snow fell, I threw a frozen stick for Emma to chase and return. I also collected some fire wood to, hopefully, dry out.

Mirinda had her first Town Hall of the year at 5pm and, afterwards, we went for a walk around the streets. While we didn’t see any discarded Christmas trees (from yesterday) we spotted a few houses that had removed their lights. Or, rather, turned them off.

I think the lights will all come down this weekend. Mirinda hopes not but we shall see.

It felt like quite a productive day. And, to top it off beautifully, I made a delicious frittata for dinner.

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Toss the Tree Out the Window Day

At 03:45 this morning, Emma licked my fingers in a clear signal that she wanted to go out to the loo. Freya followed us downstairs and, having first checked the time in the kitchen, I took them outside to ablute. We then went back to bed as if nothing had happened.

At around 07:00 I woke again and made my way downstairs. The house was strangely quiet. As I passed the microwave (my source of time in the first time of waking) the little screen was black. I then realised that the heater was off. It didn’t take long to work out that the electricity had ceased operations.

I shut myself away in the lounge (which the under floor heating had already heated) and wrote to Camilla informing her that we were in danger of hyperthermia and who knows what given I couldn’t have a coffee. I wondered whether I should have bought an emergency camp stove.

An hour later, when I woke Mirinda and told her the sad and distressing news that she wouldn’t be having a cup of tea this morning, I thought to check the fuse box. The main fuse had been tripped. I flicked the switch and, like a miracle from the gods, everything came back on.

I realise that Occam’s Razor dictates that I should have checked the power board first, but my defence is a lack of coffee.

My day improved after that little episode with a trip into Tyresö Centrum for vital supplies.

Given the new Swedish decision to start limiting numbers of customers in shops depending on square metre-age of floor space, every shop had a sign outside with a hand written number boldly proclaiming the magic number.

This was obvious for the mobile phone shop that could only allow 3. At least you can work that one out. Ica was 128 and that would be impossible to judge. There was no-one counting people in and out of the large shops. In fact, apart from the little signs, shopping was no different to normal.

I managed to buy a window scraper for Max. Given the weather conditions at the moment, this was very important. I also bought two pairs of the shoe spike things, something I’ve used often to remain upright on the icy paths of Farnham Park.

Speaking of the weather…we had a bit more snow in the night which meant an upsurge in snow removal machinery. I tried to get a photo of a snow plough while I waited for my bus back, but it was a blur to action. They really do race from one snow hazard to another.

On the way back, I was reminded that it was St Knut’s Day. It’s the day that the Swedes take down the Christmas Tree. Once denuded of decorations, a strange little dance is performed around the now naked tree. It is then tossed out the window (or off the balcony).

In fact, in most quarters it is still called Toss the Tree Out the Window day.

Actually, it doesn’t happen so often these days, but I did see a sad little pile of around five forlorn trees piled outside an apartment block on the way home.

Back at home, I unpacked, showed Mirinda the goodies I’d bought before we left for Norrby’s for fish soup. The garden looked lovely, covered in snow, though you could see where the dogs had left yellow snow where you wouldn’t normally notice. And, of course, once one dog has peed every other dog that passes has to add to the overall scent puddle. This makes it difficult to assure the owners that your dog didn’t do it.

We sat by the window, enjoying the fact that we were inside, all toasty, while the temperature outside was below zero.

The drop in temperature was the reason why Camilla and Anders came to visit tonight. They wanted to install two insert windows in the kitchen. Or, double glazing for people who prefer to retain their beautiful original windows.

We had a jolly chat which ranged from Russian drinking habits to microscopic bugs for which we all provide home, food and transport. Professor Anders really seems to know everything about Sweden and, it would appear, other things as well. He is definitely our go-to guy when it comes to burning questions.

Interestingly, while Anders informed, Camilla installed.

It was all very jolly though it did mean a late dinner given they didn’t leave until gone eight o’clock. Still, I’d planned sausages and mash (cauli) which only took half an hour.

Which, of course, only leaves me with this week’s glorious sausage.

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My so-called life (story)

It seems that when you order something through it might get delivered to your house. It is also a possibility it will be delivered to the nearest post office. Experience has taught me that if the item is supplied from Sweden, it will go straight to your house. If, like the upright mouse I purchased a few days ago, it comes from, say, Germany, then it goes to the post office, and you have to go and pick it up.

And so, once again, I found myself heading for Sågen.

It was the perfect day to go outside. After snow overnight, the sun came out, the clouds rolled away, and everything was beautiful.

Mirinda went for a two hour walk in the forest and came home saying it was the most beautiful walk she’d ever been on. Her cheeks were rosy and her smile very broad.

My plan had not been to go to Sågen. I was being interviewed by Ann for the up-coming monthly FATN Magazine so, after exercise and a shower, I settled back on the bed upstairs and, basically, had a lovely chat with Ann…Charles lurking somewhere in the background. Ann threatened to feature me a while ago, but we’ve only just caught up. According to Charles, there’s enough material for two magazine editions.

Then, after our chat and Mirinda’s return, I headed down to the bus stop.

There was a lot of snow removal action around the place. A big gritter, a couple of snow ploughs, householders with shovels. It was all happening and just goes to show how used to the situation they are here.

At Sågen I was confronted with a big grader on the footpath (that’s how they keep the footpaths useful) and then a big frozen lake outside the Hemköp.

Because I didn’t have my skates with me, the mini lake meant a bit of a detour to the post office. This did give me the opportunity of snapping a picture of a small statue.

The piece is called Ungdom (Youth) (1973) and was made by Axel Wallenberg (1898-1996). Axel started off studying accountancy but then, sensibly if you ask me, switched to art. His sculptures are all over Sweden, from north to south. He also made a load of medals, metal railings and other decorative pieces. He won awards for his works and was regularly exhibited. He was very well regarded. And rightly so.

However, I felt a bit sorry for the naked youths. They looked a bit chilly. Though, I rather liked their snow hats.

Given I’m an old hand at picking up parcels from Post Nord, I was in and out in ten minutes and back home in under and hour. All sorted and now Mirinda has a weird, upright mouse to help in her wrist issue.

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The rudeness of strangers

Before we came to Sweden, we’d read how Swedes tend to be a bit standoffish when it comes to strangers. How they are very family oriented to the exclusion of all else. Since being here, on the whole, we have found the Swedes we’ve met and the ones we pass on the local streets, to be friendly and happy to chat.

Mirinda regularly returns from walks to tell me how many locals she’s chatted with along the way. She tends to recognise the dogs more than the people but that doesn’t stop the humans talking to her. They seem to have a bit of a fascination with why we’re here and for Max. In fact, most people she meets and chats to know us by Max.

Then, of course, there’s Camilla and Anders and The Perfect Swedish Family who are all, very friendly. It is different, however, when it comes to going shopping.

One of the things that is quite difficult to get used to is how fellow bus passengers have no regard for anyone but themselves. In fact, when I’ve gestured for people with strollers to get on the bus before me, as well as a flicker of gratitude, their faces also show surprise.

Seemingly able-bodied young men charge onto the bus ahead of old men with walking sticks, school kids take the best seats for the disabled, ignoring the needs of others.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a criticism, it’s merely an observation. I have experienced the height of cultural rudeness in various countries around the world. I find it fascinating more than anything else. Is it a lack of empathy? I don’t know.

Also fascinating is the fact that we have had very little sun since October. Which is one reason why I’ve included the photograph below. As you can see, there is the vaguest slash of blue sky. Sadly, that was it for the entire day as the wind and rains came for most of it, making for possibly our most miserable Swedish day.

Not that I was miserable. I went shopping first thing then waited for the Polish dryer chaps to arrive with a tumble dryer that actually works.

They were rumoured to turn up at 6pm, but it was sometime closer to 7pm when Anders announced their arrival, and they all started installing another, reconditioned machine. I was cooking dinner and left them to it. We were dining early because Mirinda had booked onto a talk from Chawton House.

I had discovered that pork tenderloin was readily available in Ica and decided to try the Mușchiuleț Sibian from my Romanian recipe book. It’s not always easy to get the proper cut of pork from UK supermarkets but there’s a lot of it in pork crazy Sweden.

And it was very good. Almost as good as the freezing time I spent with the girls outside to give Emma a bit of a run around and Freya a bit of a shiver.

Freya really does prefer the warmth of the inside.

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We can be heroes!

A few editions of the Talking Newspaper ago, I read a piece from the local Surrey MP, Jeremy Hunt. He was looking for nominations from Herald readers. These nominations were for persons or groups who had been ‘Covid Heroes’ throughout the miserable months of 2020. The Community Awards were in conjunction with the Herald. And, unbelievably perhaps, we won.

FATN managed to continue recording the newspaper throughout the year owing in great part to Charles, quickly followed by Tim. Then, Clive and I read in a test edition before more readers were drafted in. And, finally, other FATN volunteers rang around our listeners, letting them know what was available and how to access it.

Lockdown(s) must be particularly difficult for the visually impaired (and, obviously, other people with disabilities) and if we managed to bring a little companionship (and news) to our listeners, then how could I be anything but pleased?

So, chuffed and glowing with the news, I joined Mirinda for our weekly trip to the island. Which looked particularly beautiful with the snow that remained.

And then we had a load more snow as we left. We drove home into flying snow flakes, smattering against the windscreen. It was all very wintry. And a delight.

But, back in the Café Notholmen, Mirinda decided to try a second semla bun. Having read that normally the semla bun has marzipan in the middle rather than nut butter, she figured it was worth a second try.

You can see the semla buns in the display cabinet above. The creamy ones with the little bun caps.

According to Mirinda, it was a lot better than the one from Norrbys, but still wasn’t close to the perfection of saffron, cinnamon or cardamom buns. She’ll happily have one a year when semla time comes round but that’s it. I had a coconut tower which was a lot better than semla, in my mind anyway.

Having spent a wonderful hour (or so) in the café, we circumnavigated the slott before climbing back into Max for the drive home and a bit of Swedish mysigt.

Finally, as the fire crackled away and the doughnut house glowed with warmth, I made, what I think, was the best bacon wrapped chicken breast I have ever made. And I’ve made a few.

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Español, Sweden style

I read something very annoying today. Facebook has announced that if WhatsApp users refuse to accept their new data harvesting policy in early February then they will have their accounts deleted. This includes having your phone number stored and ads streaming at you constantly.

I spent an hour or so looking at alternatives. Eventually, having read a lot of information, we downloaded and have started field testing Signal (‘we’ being Mirinda and me). So far, it’s looking very good, and it’s not giving our information away to anyone who will pay.

Now, the hard part will be to convince everyone we communicate with to make the switch. Like Facebook and Messenger, we shall be deleting WhatsApp from our devices.

But, things became better…

During the day, we took a lovely wander along the duck walk trail. We were not alone. There were scores of other family groups doing the same thing. Apart from one family group (grandad and two little kids) who were gleefully sliding down a small embankment on sleds. It was all very jolly.

And, although the sky was not blue and the sun was hidden behind the clouds, the reflection at our lake was lovely.

Sadly, it didn’t snow but that did mean it was an easy decision to go out for dinner.

As I’ve mentioned before, we have been searching for tapas close to us. Mirinda found a possible contender in Huddinge, half an hour away. It’s called Julius and boasts a menu that changes monthly.

We took a punt and booked for our habitual linner spot.

Actually, our linner spot has become a bit fashionable these days with the serving of alcohol stopping at 8pm every night. It means more people are eating earlier. Except for the teetotallers, I suppose.

The drive was long but the trip was well worth it.

The food was fantastic. Tapas with a Swedish slant. We had the whole tapas menu, eight dishes between us. Perfect. Delicious. Fantastic.

First came the meat dishes. Venison, elk, bear, a carnivore’s paradise.

And then came the fish. Char, prawns, and the most delicious tuna I think I’ve ever tasted. An explosion of delight for the tongue.

All in all, an amazing meal, thoroughly enjoyed. We’ll definitely be returning, particularly given they change the menu monthly.

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