Swedish Girl In London

London Life: Bright Lights, Big City. Now what's on TV?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

On The Road Again

I really thought that this time would be different. It was a nice delusion while it lasted.

I’m talking about making travel arrangements, which for me always seems to end up in a mad-cap race against time to locate passports, or to convince the travel agency to courier the tickets straight to check-in, since I have forgot to pick them up as I should have, or to egg on some poor taxi-driver as we rush between the airport I thought I was departing from and the one from which I am actually doing that.

But this time! This time, I had somehow convinced myself, I would be the sort of traveller who keeps her passport in a posh leather-case and sashays around with a very small amount of matching luggage. I imagined this traveller (me) to smile graciously at the staff at baggage control and then settle down to enjoy a pre-ordered martini in first class.


It’s now Wednesday, and I just realised that I’m going to Brussels on Friday but have not yet bought my Eurostar ticket. I won’t have time to do it tomorrow Thursday, which leaves us – once again – the day of departure.

So if any of you good people are commuting on the Jubilee Line to Waterloo on Friday, and spot a small, belligerent-looking creature dragging around an overnight bag on its one functioning wheel, while swearing at old ladies and women with buggies – well, what are you waiting for?

Just help me up the stairs, will ya?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Life Goes On

Greenwich is pretty!

Guess what? Losing my wallet – and the Café Nero loyalty card that was in it – might have been the best thing that could happen to my morning routine, coffee-wise.

If we look at the bright side of delinquency, which of course we should, this has loosened the mental grip Corporation Caffeine had over me. I was starting to develop Stockholm Syndrome there for a while, loving the chains that bound me to their lattes.

As a matter of fact, the girl in my local Nero is a real sweetheart, but I’ll have to blank that fact out for argument’s sake.

Anyway, this week I’ve gone all experimental when it comes to coffee! Yay, it’s, like, wild! (No, I don’t get out much, actually. Why do you ask?)

I’ve been hanging out in the up-market George Delicatessen in Greenwich, for instance, which is all gleaming black marble and French patisserie. The waitress even brings your espresso to your table – yup, espresso, because this isn’t the sort of place where you can get away with your normal Swedish bucket of Java.

And they would probably never descend to anything as naff at loyalty cards.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Chasing Windmills

Isn’t the whole Dan Brown court case preposterous?

Statistics suggest that you have already heard of Dan Brown and his Graal hotchpotch “The da Vinci Code”. Apparently, its conspiracy theory plot is lifted from a historical book called “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” – and the writers of this tome are not happy bunnies.

Instead of lifting a celebratory goblet at being linked to the biggest money-spinner in publishing, they have taken Brown to court for plagiarism.

Doesn’t this seem like a bizarre move, quite apart from the fact that the da Vinci mania must have led to a sales boost for “Holy Blood”? I mean, can you really claim copy-right over academic findings? And is historical research meant to be undertaken to make money?

Nah, they must have got the wrong end of the stick. It is fiction that is protected by plagiarism laws, and by suing Brown, the writers admit that their book is shelved in the wrong section of the book store. The next court case is probably not far away, where the “Holy Blood” people are accused of falsely marketing fiction as fact.

Just look at the trouble James Frey got himself into by writing a searing “memoir” of his struggle with addiction and getting endorsement from Oprah Winfrey’s book club. It all turned out to be gobbledegook, apparently. I don’t know the particulars… maybe James turned out to be temperate light-weight who would only sniff the brandy cork after dinner? In that case, it would prove my theory that people lie to make themselves look bad, not good, and that schools shouldn’t be half as worried as they are about all those questionnaires with youngsters bragging about their drug habits and sex lives.

Everybody loves a rebel, after all.

Now I’m off to sue J.K. Rowling for plagiarising my everyday life. I mean, people constantly missing trains in London – coincidence? I think not.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Crying Over Spillt Latte

Now, people, if you were by any chance contemplating leaving your wallet lying on a table in a proper East End boozer for oh, about five hours, while you yourself are not on the premises - well, don't.

Strange as it may sound, but when you dispatch a workmate via a frantic phone call to run back and retrieve it, it will not be there anymore.

Swedish Girl: Being stupid, so you don't have to!

Do you know the worst thing about losing your wallet?

Having your credit cards in the hands of happy-slapping delinquents, did you say? Losing pictures of your first dog/first baby/favourite tractor/pet iguana?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. It is losing your Cafe Nero loyalty card when you are just one stamp away from a free latte.

That latte has been alluringly dangled in front of me and then cruelly snatched away. The happy-slapping delinquent is probably dipping into it right now, the wee monkey. Maybe he even got a free biscotti, what do I know?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

I'm Just Living For The Weekend

What is it about parties and the kitchen? I mean, have you ever gone to a party where everybody didn't congregate, sooner or later, around a table full of snacks debris in the kitchen?

Dancing awkwardly around the living room to the sounds of The Best80s Album... Ever! definitely has its own charm - don't get me wrong - but in the end, the pull of the refridgerator gets us all.

I think the only time I have been to a party and not wound up in the kitchen was when I couldn't actually find it. Pingu had taken me along to some impossibly big, impossibly cool converted warehouse in the bowels of London - all video installations and concrete floors, which frankly is a bit nineties, now isn't it?

But to each her own minimalism.

Yesterday's party was definitely more of the kitchen-congregating variety, and so much the better for it. I consumed:

One tub of guacamole
Five varieties of chips
Salty sticks - very 70s retro
Tiny chicken skewers

- all the while listening to an extremely slim and beautiful girl talking about how extremely fat and ugly she was.

"You're extremely slim and beautiful," I said, shoving the a fist of chips down my throat (I might be paraphrasing slightly).

Now it's time for a cooked breakfast. See you bloggers and blogettes later!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Now I Am Miserable

Do you remember how I was supposed to meet up with a French conversation exchange a while back?

Well, I did meet him, although I haven’t blogged about it. It was just too traumatic at the time. Now, finally, the wounds have healed, and I am ready to share.

The way conversation exchanges normally work: You put up an ad on some expat website, get loads of replies and then meet up with a couple of people for coffee and a nice chat in Serb. Or whatever language you want to practice.

It is all rather easy-going, so I was a bit taken aback when this particular Conversation Française turned up sporting a serious demeanour and five (5) books on French and Swedish grammar.

He immediately began coaching me in French irregular verbs, spurting out phrases like “split infinitive” and “past perfect subjunctive”, which are hardly even words to my ears – more like strange sounds emitted by highly intelligent extra-terrestrial life-forms.

(And I did languages at Uni. It’s a disgrace.)

A fresh shock was then administered by Conversation Francaise, who out of the blue proposed that I should also learn Arabic, his second language.

“It’s not difficult,” he said with what I fear was more optimism than a fair assessment of the situation.
“It sounds like a lovely idea,” I found myself answering (pourquoi? Politeness? Madness?).

An interminable period of time then elapsed, during which Conversation Française drilled me and I monitored, with wild desperation, the level of coffee in his cup.

Q: How can a person possibly drink so slowly?
A: It is perfectly possible when every sip is preceeded by unfathomably long grammatical excursion.

When, at last, it seemed that CF had drained his double venti, I decided to make a run for it.

“How nice to have met you… I must run… No, no, really, I couldn’t borrow your book… No, really.”

(Because if I did, I would have to meet you again to give it back to you, and frankly, I can’t see that happening.)

On the way home, it struck me: This man knows where my e-mail lives.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Once More, With Feeling

Is it just me, or does recording your voicemail bring out the paranoid diva in all of us?

First you require a couple of practice sessions. For instance, you remember somebody telling you once that you should speak from your stomach, and you make a feeble attempt in this direction. The result? Your voice takes on a slight Jabba The Hut quality. After two or three efforts, you give up.

If you are a foreigner, you then start tweaking your accent. In normal life, you have long since given up on trying to sound like a native and embraced your Scandinavian lilt. On the phone, however, you for some reason want to sound like Kirsty Wark.

Now come the actual recording sessions. If this is done in a busy office environment, with work mates cackling at you in the back ground, the process will be protracted.

“You sound like a Muppet,” someone might tell you gleefully.
“Why don’t you add rock on at the end,” someone else will suggest, alluding to an unfortunate episode in the past when you used this phrase (purely by mistake).
“Eff off,” you will mutter sulkily. This last comment will probably end up being the one that you (also by mistake) leave as your outgoing message

Good luck, people, and remember to speak after the beep.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

They Call It Retail Therapy

I was standing in the fitting room in Topshop by Charing Cross, with a 60 KWh current running through my hair after trying on a couple of highly synthetic party tops. A blue little wrap dress had completely out-foxed me by this stage. Was I supposed to tie that string around here and… no, that didn’t work… maybe it should go like this… but were you supposed to bare one breast like that in the fashion of an Amazonian archer?

I miss my sister a great deal most of the time, but never more than then. (That might not be strictly true, but go with me on this one, OK?)

Don’t get me wrong, now. I enjoy roaming like a lone wolf down the London high street, and I like it even better when I’ve got girlfriends around. Aurora, La Senorita and I have made many last-minute raids on H&M in Long Acre Street to complement our office outfits with something cheap & glittery before heading out on town – which I realise sounds very naff and Cosmo of us, but hey!

(My favourite defence against any criticism, by the way. I feel any accusation can be deflected by a bright “but hey!”. It’s got the right combination of resignation and cheer.)

Still, nothing beats shopping with my sister. She has seen me squeeze into golden flares in Poland (but still loves me) and helped me hide skirts in the scarf section of Zara in Brussels. She is the person who surgically removed me from a little silk dress in Strasbourg, and the only other living human being who not only understands, but actually says things like: “I want it if it makes me look like I do in that mirror, but not if it makes me look like I do in this mirror.”

She would have wrapped me up in that baffling Topshop dress in a jiffy, spun me around like a ballerina in a tin box and ordered me to buy it.

“I really miss my sister”, I thought as I stepped out of the fitting room to check my reflection at a distance, left breast modestly covered at last.

Beside me, a Bambi-eyed girl was pirouetting around in those city-shorts that make long-legged people look sexy and tomboyish, and the rest of us like we should sling an axe across our shoulder and set off for the mine, singing “hey ho, hey ho, it’s off to work we go”. You know, those ones.

She glanced at me, smiled and said: “That looks really good. You should buy that one.”

Suddenly everything seemed much brighter.

“Oh, do you really think so?”

Guys, you can keep the camaraderie of the football stands. We girls have the sisterhood of the fitting room.

Les Miserables? Nous?

I never really get the common complaint that people look miserable on the tube.

As far as I can tell, people don’t actually look that miserable. They don't weep, tear out their hair or chew off their own hands. They don't sing arias about death or manifest other traditional signs of misery.

They just aren’t smiling, that’s all.

But so what? I mean, do people sit beaming on other modes of transport? Do they grin inanely while flying? Have jolly sing-alongs to “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” during the school run?

Well, frankly, if the answer to the last question is yes, you must be a character off Cheaper By The Dozen.

So there! We commuters aren't miserable, we are just resting our facial muscles. Now bugger off.

Monday, February 27, 2006


Your average night-on-the-razz in London? It is a pretty hallucinatory trek through some parallel universe, sound-tracked by outlandish music and barely contained hostility. Now, I’m not talking about any old Magic Mushroom-ride through the city’s groove emporia. I am talking mini-cab, yeah?

Last week, it seemed like I was forever tumbling out of various tapas-bars and wannabe cocktail lounges, in what we will call an “effervescent mood”. (After all, it is my blog and I can call it what I like.)

The subsequent taxi journeys all took on an otherworldly dimension of their own.

They started off in wild optimism, as I gave the taxi-driver my address, although deep down I knew that he would never have heard of it, or indeed any of the landmarks within a five-mile radius of it.

Once the ball-park geographic location of choice had been established (East London), the driver would get a far-off look in his eye, like I had just suggested a barefoot pilgrimage to some distant shrine in the Burmese jungle, possibly involving navigation by star-light.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” hesitated Friday’s driver, who didn’t like reggae – he loved it.
“Ah, come on,” I goaded effervescently*. “It’s just around the corner!”

We then departed on a long journey. At first, there was a certain sense of complicity between Reggae Lover and myself. We were travellers, going we knew not where, we knew not how, and that made us a unit. But as the metre kept ticking and we got nowhere nearer our destination, cracks were beginning to show in our relationship.

To my credit, I wasn’t just sitting there. I helped Reggae Lover out by peering out of the window and making suggestions like “you could take off to the left here, if only the Thames weren’t there”.

At times, brief glimpses of the top of our building would sail up like a fata morgana, and I would joyfully shout out: “Just drive straight on now!” Reggae Lover greeted these moments with suspicion, and was proved right when different road-works pushed us off our course again.

When at last we, by some unexpected turn, arrived at my door, the embers of our friendship were not so much dying as lying on lit-de-parade. I made a joke about him never finding his way back, but we both knew that it was just for show.

“Drive straight on, my arse”, he muttered as I closed the door.
“I don’t like reggae - I hate it,” I muttered as I closed the door.

*Yes, I’m sticking to my guns on the effervescent issue.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bonjour Tristesse?

When you meet English-speakers, they are invariably very nice about your pidgin version of their language.

“Oh,” they say benevolently, “you Scandinavians always speak perfect English.”

Of course, the next thing you tell them is: “Thinks you, I has lives here for much years” in the accent of Swedish Chef off the Muppet Show, but they pretend not to notice and there is peace on earth.

The French don’t do anything of the sort. If you happen to slip in an incorrect subjunctive, they will tell you so in no uncertain terms. After all, France is the country where you have to take classes called Civilisation Française if you are a barbarian ERASMUS student.

(A balding little monsieur drilled us in the fine art of greeting people correctly and made us recite poems by heart like Sunday school children.)

On Sunday, I’m meeting up with a French conversation exchange to get back into le groove. I’m frightened already.