Swedish Girl In London

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

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Right Stuff

Believe it or not, but I have never trained to be an austronaut, so I don’t know what stringent tests they put you through to judge your psychological mettle. Maybe you have to calculate the square root of 7656, as you hang upside down in a hangar while a NASA guy blow-dries your face – what do I know?

Or maybe, if they are smart, they make you cook in front of an audience. If you can deal with that, you can surely deal with bits of your spaceshuttle falling off mid-orbit and other nuisances.

I can’t even make a bowl of cornflakes if people are watching me, but I seemed to forget this fact when Pingu was over for dinner yesterday.

“Just sit down and have a cup of tea while I’m cooking,” I said benevolently.
“Are you sure?”
”Of course, sweetie! Only, you can’t have tea because I realize that we have run out. What about a friendly-bacteria Yakult instead?”
“Oh. Thanks.”

It only took me five minutes to go all wild-eyed, manically rushing about the kitchen waving an oven-mitt at some in promptu fire and claiming that “everything was under control” in a strangely shrill voice.

“What are you making?” Pingu enquired politely.
“Tortilla Espanola. Now we just have to turn the pan over… bugger! Oh, nevermind, we can scrape it off the stove. Everything is under control!”
“Sure you don’t want some help?” Pingu asked.
“No, no, you sit yourself down now.”
“Oh. All right.”
“Another Yakult?”

[Oh well. I never wanted to go into space anyway.]

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Rule Britannia!

Gordon Brown, the UK’s brooding Chancellor of the Exchequer and PM-in-waiting, is calling for Remembrance Day to be turned into British Day.

After all, the French has had their 14th of July parades of village mayors and fire brigades for donkeys now, not to speak of 4th of July, when Americans have picnics on red chequered tablecloths and protect the world from extra-terrestrials.

No wonder that the UK wants to get in on the National Day bonanza.

However, as a Swede, I know how awkward these things can get. We have a National Day in Sweden too, believe it or not, but nobody seems to be really sure what to do with it. Once, a bunch of young, misguidedly posh friends of mine tried to mark the occasion with a picnic on the Swedish flag, but this was quickly ended by the school janitor. Apparently munching herring and potato crisps on the emblem of the nation is a form of lese-majeste.

So – as I am very fond of the UK – I have decided to come to the country’s aid with an inspiring list of Five Things To Do On British Day:

1 Walk about, Britishly, without your coat. This is a very important part of British Day, and the reason why it has been placed in rainy November instead of July. You are British. You are not a whimpy frog or Yank.

2. Cast a befuddled glance into the garden of your enthusiastic, foreign neighbours, who have raised the Union Jack above the garage. Remark that this does not seem like a particularly British Thing To Do.

3. But benevolently accept that it takes all sorts to make an Empire go round.

4. Go for a chicken tikka masala and a Carlsberg down the Taj Mahal Restaurant.

5. Tolerate strange lists from clueless foreigners on Things To Do On British Day.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Pluck That

It's just one of those things, I suppose.

One minute you are in the pub, quietly nursing a Swedish-Party induced hangover with the Sunday papers and football blaring out from the TV screens. Then, the next you are called upon to be indignated in the name of all womankind.

The turning point: The new Observer supplement "Woman". Now, this sort of section of the paper always make me suspicious. It seems to be full of articles about autistic babies and potted plants and other things that I, as a woman, apparently should take an interest in.

Not that it's the poor editors' fault if they miss the mark. After all, what could possibly be so generic that it interest all women?

This question seemed to have troubled the team behind "Woman" as well. In the end, they settled for - wait for it - depilation. A picture of a furry leg perched over a stiletto, with the Sun-esque head-line Plucking Hell adverted me to this fact.

"Oh please," I said angrily to Doc. "Why on Earth should I want to read an article about depilation? It's like reading about brushing your teeth."
"Huh," Doc contributed.
"And it's January!" I pointed out (I mean, this is not really depilation high season. I bet quite a few of even my most fragrant sisters are going a bit chewbacca underneath their skinny jeans at the moment.)
"Heh", Doc said, still looking at the screen.
"Well, pluck that," I said and folded the paper with a lot of miffed rustling. "I'm going shopping."

This caught Doc's attention.

"You want to go shopping on a Sunday in January? When you've got a hangover?"
"Sure. If something makes me look half OK now, it will make me look stunning when I'm feeling better."

Friday, January 13, 2006

Wake Up And Smell The Coffee

Starbucks must be top bean among London coffee shops – at least if you go by the sheer number of outlets the Venti One has rolled out over the capital. On Fleet Street alone, where I used to live, the green logo appears at one-minute intervals all the way to St Paul’s. If you were an eager Reclaim The Streets little rioter, you would have had to lug around an awful lot of bricks.

That’s not to say other Bucks-style chains are not also vying for our caffeine-stained fivers. First you’ve got Nero, which prides itself on being more European and sophisticated than the extra-candy-shot-and-whipped-cream Disneyism of Starbucks – well, at least you can smoke and the coffees are not quite as large as a McDonalds soda. Then there’s the cheery Costa, and my favourite, the French-looking Apostrophe (possibly about as French as my aunt Ulla, but they have pink balloons, people!), and of course Eat, Pret, Brio...

Now a new contender has entered the arena, apparently. Yup, London’s publicans have a bean to grind. It seems that this incessant latte-sipping is taking our business away from the brass-gleaming counters, and the pubs are hitting back with dirt-cheap coffee. A cuppa for a 50p coin, folks! (Which is incidentally also the size of the hole burnt through my stomach by the last cup of coffee I bought in a pub, but that’s another story.)

Nero’s response? “In a pub, you won’t get Italian coffee made by a barista with three years training”, an earnest spokewoman says (I quote from memory). Hang on – three years? So the sweet teenager in my local Nero must have started foaming milk at the tender age of fourteen? Surely that can’t be right.

On another note, I suppose it’s a bit worrying that pubs have to do this at all. If increased general coffee-drinking is eating into their profits, does that mean that pre-Starbucks, people went in for a morning pint?

Did I Mention Barcelona?

Although conferences are usually about as colourful as a bottle of complimentary Evian mineral water, I am getting all excited about going to the one in Barcelona. Somehow, I imagine that gritty glamour of Las Ramblas will lend a shine even to the air-conditioned, name-tagged No Man’s Land that is corporate networking.

Besides, I’m there as a reporter this time, and we all know that those have a Superman-given right to be cute-but-gutsy Lois Lane types, instead of having to approach flocks of suits, business card clasped in sweaty little palm and an uncertain smile sliding all over the place.

Not that I have anything against suits. Doc is a typical suit, for instance, and looks rather dapper with it, too. But I can’t for the life of me feel like one of them. It’s the bellowing laughter that trips me up – my meek larynxes are unable to produce the right Santa Claus-ish hoo hoo – and if you can’t bellow laugh, you won’t last long among the suits. My giggles would immediately mark me out as a beta member of the flock.

To be perfectly honest, assuming a cute-but-gutsy Lois Lane persona might also be a bit beyond me, but in the end, who cares?

I mean, did you not hear where I’m going? Barcelona!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Thinking Outside The Inbox

Stumbling into the office this morning with a cough that sounded like a sergeant major drilling cadets inside an oil barrel, I was met by two very different e-mails:

1. The Scary E-mail
"It's time you went to the dentist", a close family member informed me. (Oh, all right then, it was my mother, if you have to know.) She knows a bit of tough love is needed when it comes to me & the person wielding the drill.

I never used to be scared of the dentist. I associated it with fluffy things like bookmarks of angels resting on clouds. But then I got my first cavity.

"We should probably drill a little bit", my dentist told me, a hitherto mild-mannered lady and dispenser of said bookmarks.
"Oh, all right," I trilled in my innocence.
"It's only a small cavity, so I suppose you'll be fine withouth anaesthetics?" (Observe the leading question.)
"Will it hurt?" I asked stupidly.
"Oh no," she said, forgetting to add "not if you compare it to natural childbirth or forceful conversion to Christianity in Medieval Spain".
"Go on, then."

About 30 seconds later, I was re-thinking this position. "Play dead" was obviously a popular survival technique in extreme situations (coming across a grizzly bear or similar). Maybe I should adopt it? After all, if I had passed away, I wouldn't need dental care anymore and she would stop drilling.

Next time I go, I'll demand to be injected with heroin between my toes before I even get into the chair.

2. The Exciting E-mail
"The reporter going to the Barcelona conference is Swedish Girl," an e-mail from my editor informed me.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Who Is Piglet?

Ghostly whispers of days gone by have come back to haunt me, immortalised in some belligerent scribblings in a note-pad I just found.

The thing is, I lost my voice for a whole week back in April, and had to communicate with the world (i.e. Doc) via pen & paper. It feels very old-school in a world of text-messaging, doesn’t it? You’d expect me to get out my quill and compose some sonnets, wouldn’t you?

Or maybe not.

Anyway, it was a bit disconcerting to come face to face with my own conversation like that. I seem to be a grumpy little creature.

What about this tirade, for instance: “I’ve been organising, ironing, hoovering, cooking, unpacking basically all day – and all you can do is badmouth Piglet!”

First of all, this doesn’t sound like me at all.

Cooking? Yes, I can picture that, at a push, if you use the term quite broadly and include tapping your foot while waiting for the micro-wave to go pling. Organising? You mean chuckling over print-outs of ancient e-mails for five hours and then squeeze everything else into an IKEA box? Sure.

But hoovering? Or even more preposterously – ironing?

Most importantly, though – who on Earth is Piglet and why did Doc badmouth him?

Monday, January 09, 2006

To Party Is To Die A Little

Doc has come up with a new idea for the house-warming: A Swedish theme.

This weekend, he even dragged me around those depressing shops where they sell party paraphernalia like whistles, banners, fake breasts and balloons (back in my Amish days, the last two would be interchangeable, but times move on, I suppose). Call me crazy, but this makes me think more of a community dance down the bingo hall instead of Venetian carnival debauchery.

The point of the exercise: To find a blonde Agnetha-from-ABBA wig for me, to disguise the fact that I’m a non-blonde Swede.

“Why can’t I be Frida?” I asked. “She was a brunette.”
“Frida wasn’t as nice as Agnetha,” Doc said and plonked a static-inducing silvery-blond thing over my eyes.
“It looks awful,” I concluded after a quick investigation in the mirror. “There is a reason why I wasn’t born blonde, and it’s because it makes me look like I passed away three days ago.”
But Doc wasn't listening. “Did I tell you about the first time I saw Agnetha on TV when I was six?” he asked dreamily.
“Besides, this wig doesn’t even look real.”
“Of course it doesn’t look real,” Doc said impatiently “What did you expect? That some poor street urchin would have sold her golden locks to pay for Christmas dinner for her family?”

Then Doc went on to buy a wig called Candy for himself (also blonde with a fringe, though only shoulder-length).

“I’m going to be Björn Borg,” he said contentedly.
“And wear disturbingly tight little shorts?” I asked.
“And sweatbands!”

I know what’s coming next. Doc will make me go to IKEA.

To party really is to die a little.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Hommous Souks

I’m sorry to continue my real-estate obsession (what is all that about?), but today it’s precisely a year since we moved into our flat. During these 365 days, I have…

1) ... located the nearest chocolate machine, which is ironically enough placed in the downstairs gym. Only after enduring a walk of shame in front of taut, tanned, hawk-eyed gym instructors are you allowed your Kit Kat break. I fear Ben is disappointed with me.

2)... done something worrying to the marble floor in the bathroom. It now looks more Trainspotting than Savoy. Oh well, you can’t really expect a plebeian like myself to know what to do with marble floors.

3)... had at least four near-death experiences involving red wine and the white suede dining chairs. Again: plebeian me + white unwashable surfaces = disaster vibes of Titanic proportions.

In other words, it’s time to have a house-warming party.

“Why did we not have one before?” I asked Doc.
“Because whenever we have parties you go nuts and make hommous and want to buy little china bowls to put the hommous in,” Doc explained reasonably.
“That was only once,” I said, “and besides, people liked the hommous.”
“They liked it at four o’clock at night on New Years’ Eve. You could have served them elk dung and they would have liked it.”

This (his own hilarious joke) triggered some train of association in Doc’s mind, leading to a comparison between hommous and elk dung, which I will spare you.

Anyway, the party will go ahead this time, although there seems to be some discrepancy between my ideas for it and Doc’s. Two large boxes of beer have appeared on the balcony and a large Scottish flag is draped over the computer, for example – probably to keep the tone as far away from hommous in little china bowls as possible.

“Maybe we could have little fairy-lights everywhere and put lots of cushions on the floor and make it into a souk,” I suggested yesterday, pretending not to notice this outburst of Caledonian pride.

“You're obsessed with souks and weird finger food,” Doc said. “People want beer. That’s what’s going to make them happy.”
“Of course they can have beer,” I said. “People drink beer in souks.”
“No, they don’t. They drink tea.”
“We can have a water-pipe.”
“Oh God.”

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Life In The Undergrowth

I seem to have sunk into the day-glo world of DVD box-sets. Expecting your quirky jokes to end with a boiinngg! sound effect must be a sign of watching too much Scrubs, for instance.

But that’s the insidiousness of TV. We are all slaves to mother HBO (or auntie BBC), aren’t we?


After all, who could blame you for wanting a Central Perk life, instead of your average London network of friends who all have to traverse great distances on public transport to meet up in a crowded pub, where they won’t even find a seat – never mind a sofa – and have to stand elbowing each other by the glass collection area?


Or maybe you’d rather West Wing it, although that means that you are not allowed to talk to people unless you are busily walking down a corridor. This can be a bit tricky in the average workspace. I don’t think it would take me more than four seconds to walk over to the water cooler, passing the photo-copier and the Reuters wire at mid-point. That definitely would not give me enough time to regale my interlocutor at great speed with intricate facts about the state of the world, rounding it all off with an urbane quip.


Lord Of The Rings Syndrome also offers some logistical problems. Telling people that you are desperately searching for a ring can make guys eye you with suspicion.


In the end, I think I will have to go with the Patron Saint of BBC-ness, David Attenborough. All they ever do in his series is eat, sleep, mate. It sounds like a restful, uncomplicated lifestyle that should guide me through the scary 4D world out there.