Eurovision In Austria

Our four day stay in Vienna did not start off well. We had arrived on the Thursday afternoon and found our rented flat easily enough, but access to our abode was through a courtyard protected by a shuttered roll up door. Of course, the key got stuck in the keyhole. No amount of turning and twisting freed the key or gave us access to the courtyard. To cut a long story short, we eventually got into the flat and reclaimed the stuck key, thanks to a friendly neighbour, contact with the flat owner, and the arrival of someone to disassemble the lock barrel.

Debbie, an English friend from Luxembourg residing in Berlin (phew) joined us, and so our evening preparations for the second semifinal began. We had secured tickets for the five of us (eight actually, because of a stupid four ticket per household purchasing restriction, but we managed to sell the extra at the last minute), which luckily enough meant that we would see Sweden’s song being performed. And we did, though from the back of the stadium, which gave Zelda enough room to lie down when she became tired. Of course, it was a fantastic show, with Sweden going through to the final.

We did not have tickets for the final. Similar to two years previously in Malmö, we had gone to Vienna for the weekend despite only being in the audience for one of the semifinals. We wanted to explore the city as tourists, take in the Eurovision atmosphere and see the final at an outdoor screening somewhere. As it turned out, Vienna offered much, particularly in the form of vegan food and graffiti.

The run up to Saturday’s final caused us a certain amount of anxiety and apprehension. Not only had the forecast for the evening adamantly proclaimed a downpour through the entire event, but we had also failed to come up with a reliable plan for such weather. The indoor places that were screening the final were already booked; standing outside for many hours, unable to sit and with the risk of Zelda falling asleep before the end result, seemed an unpleasant proposal. Worst of all, and unexpectedly, the flat we were renting had no television.

On Saturday, we made our way into town to eat lunch and check out the main outdoor showing area next to Rathaus, the City Hall. The rain came and went (mostly came), something which benefited Zelda and Freya, who both received wellington boots to replace the inadequate footwear they had taken with them. When we arrived at Rathaus, we were pleasantly surprised to see few people meandering around with umbrellas and ponchos. Jo cunningly went to check out the entrance to one of the two undercover stadiums that flanked the main stage and screen; a few minutes later we were standing in a very short queue to one of the stadiums with just ten minutes waiting time until they let us in. Although it was still five hours until the show was to begin, we had secured the best seats from which to view the final, protected from the rain. All thanks to Jo.

The final was, needless to say, fantastic. Everyone was in a good mood the entire night. It was expected that Sweden, Italy or Russia would win, which became obvious as the voting proceeded. And then, sometime probably after midnight and with a number of countries still to cast their votes, the result was decided: Sweden had enough points to take home the victory. The family, along with Debbie, rejoiced. It was a magical moment amongst the tens of thousands in the audience, who were much drier than anticipated, due to forecast being wildly inaccurate.

Vienna was an interesting place. We were unsure of its appeal until when we found the city centre on the last day. Unfortunately, we did not have the time for exploration, but we had explored many other parts of the city. Our overall impression was a good one, especially when it came to food. Within five hundred metres of our flat we had a vegan supermarket, vegan ice cream shop and a fast food place that offered decent vegan meals, such as burgers, hot dogs, wraps and nuggets. The waiter we spoke to guessed that 80% of their sales came from the vegan menu, which was interesting considering, for example, that seven vegan burgers competed with seventeen meat burgers.

Outside of our neighbourhood, we experienced a vegan sushi restaurant (with mango, daikon and beetroot being among the ingredients used in a colourful, varied, though somewhat bland menu). It would have been rude of us not to have eaten at Vienna’s self proclaimed best falafel and hummus restaurant, and it did not disappoint. With the ability to buy alcohol at the same time, it certainly deserved a visit.

It was difficult to come back to reality. Stockholm, with all its qualities, is far removed from the bubble that is Eurovision. This year was even more special because of the controversy of bearded drag queen, Conchita, who had won the year before. But return we had to, and the fact that Sweden is to host next year’s final is still coursing through my veins.

Surviving The First Year Of School

Zelda, you are approaching the last few weeks before summer holidays. The first year in a new learning environment is coming to an end. You have survived the transition from the security and relative calmness of nursery school to the intimidating world of primary school. But it was not easy.

The first few months were turbulent, to say the least. Your teacher had come to preschool a few months before school start to meet and chat with you. Shortly before your first day, we found out that you had been placed into another group. This decision disappointed us a bit, as we had heard good things about the originally planned teacher.

The person you were to have instead lasted a week or so, before becoming ill and eventually leaving her job. On the very first day, she was obviously flustered by the lack of information she had been given. Her attitude won her no friends, being quite rude. Mum had foolishly enquired about lunch for you, to which she arrogantly replied she knew about the vegan diet, being vegetarian herself (as it turned out, she did not).

The hunt for a new teacher seemed to last an eternity, and the stand in was someone who co-owned the company. She had been a teacher herself, I presume, but she was unable to bring order to your class. This was undoubtedly what you found most distressing, having so many new children around you and so much noise and chaos. You cried at night, you woke up with stomach ache, and cried on your way to school. Mum and I took it in turns to attend school with you, and we both agreed that the lack of respect and discipline were unacceptable. I even stepped in on a number of occasions, reproaching some of the children (boys) for their behaviour, to no avail.

That period, before the arrival of a new teacher, was terrible for us all. To feel your fear, and to sit outside the classroom whilst you cried for our presence was an exceptionally difficult situation to go through. Our hearts ached as the hope of your accustoming to the disorder faded. And yet, with the arrival of your current teacher, Karin, your fear of school diminished. It is no exaggeration to say that you now love school, something which you, yourself, often say. Those terrible early days seem almost unbelievable, though gladly behind us. So, Zelda, continue to love life, and look forward to the next year in school. And thank you, Karin.

Mental Health

My teenage years, or at least some of them, were marked with an underlying fear. The world was reaching the end of the Cold War, though the Eastern Bloc and NATO both had nuclear arsenals that would lead to mutually assured destruction (MAD), should war break out. Living under the bomb, I felt that a nuclear war was possible. While the reality may have been less drastic, my memories of those years were tainted with a worry that a war was actually probable, and a sense of fear came over me whenever I heard an aeroplane pass over.

Thankfully those years are behind us. Sadly, a newfound dread has taken its place, one that has come with middle age. Yes, my inevitable death has been playing on my mind for a number of months now, causing a rather annoying amount of anxiety.

Death is a part of life, and my existence on this earth is finite. When I focus on the hard fact that when I am gone it will be forever, I can feel panic bubbling within me, and for a split second my loss of me becomes intolerable and incomprehensible. My ego has an incredibly difficult time assimilating and accepting this. This is compounded by having children, of course, and I cannot bear the thought that they will be without me.

My current job has come with a long period of stress. Not surprisingly, this stress is not helping my death anxiety, if that is what it is. So the last few months of stomach pains has convinced me that I have some terminal disease (not a good feeling, if it needs to be said), and each muscle spasm or cramp in my upper body is indicative of heart problems.

I have made small changes to my life to counter the stress related nonsense: healthier eating, less drinking and the occasional promenade or run all help. Things are definitely better than they were last year, and I shall continue to create opportunities for further improvement. I just do not want to die whilst there is so much to be had from life (thanks, ego).

Posted in Jon

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Finally, the end of winter is approaching (thirty three days and counting). Snow patches still cover the ground, and the threat of further snow will hang in the air until April, though the sun’s warmth is being felt on my skin, and its power can already penetrate icy pavements and playgrounds. More significantly, and to the delight of many, the days are much longer.

During the months around Christmas, darkness pervaded the day, and daylight was scant. The only perceptible difference between going to and coming home from work was the direction taken. It was dark and depressing. Both Jo and I went into a state of hibernation. Not long after taking the children to bed, we would go to our bedroom, watch an episode of some series we were wading through, and fall asleep ourselves. It was rare to be awake after 10.30, even at the weekends in my case. On the upside, this meant getting seven to nine hours of sleep, which meant very few days of waking up still tired, but with so few hours awake, there was a definite feeling of work, eat, sleep, repeat.

Now, though, light is chiseling away the gloom both externally and internally. This has not yet meant a change in our sleeping routines, only a change in atitude to the mornings. I feel much happier leaving home with Freya and Zela at 7 in the morning, without the aid of street lamps to assist my walk to the train station.

The legnthening of daylight has not yet affected the afternoons in a similar way. But the best is yet to come.

Vegan Liver Pâté: Better Than It Sounds

Christmas is now almost at its end, with just two more days of my holiday left. Most of it has been spent with Jo’s mum in the north of Sweden, doing as little as possible and trying to relax. Thankfully we were in a perfect place to take it easy. Few distractions and a few days of minus twenty degrees saw to it that I spent many an hour either film watching, playing the ukulele or reading.

There is a downside to this luxurious living. In fact, there are a few. Like having no internet connection and a lousy, painstakingly slow 3G connection. Or having to wash dishes in the bathtub. Or having the nearest shop be fifteen kilometres away. Inconveniences that, had we stayed there for a longer period, would have become major points of irritation. As it was, they were bearable problems.

Of the presents that were received or given, my favourite ones are the cookbooks: three in total. I got A Vegan Taste of East Africa and Chloe’s Kitchen, both of which I had asked for. The East Africa cookbook does not look so inspiring, with many recipes using the same five or six ingredients. I am, however, hopeful that some good can come of it. Just because the ingredients are simple does not necessarily mean the recipes will be bland. Chloe’s Kitchen is more appealing from the start, offering slightly more complex recipes, like jalapeño cornbread poppers with whipped maple butter or eggplant timbales. All of which brings me to the actual point of this entry.

Jo tried a recipe for vegan liver pâté whilst we were there. A recipe that she had found on who, in its turn, had found it from a cookbook dating back to the beginning of the forties, where wartime rationing led to some inventive usage of available goods. While the list of ingredients does not sound inspiring, the end result was fantastic: a mild tasting pâté set off by the pungent yeast (we used 50g, but for the next attempt I think we will use 25-30g, for no other reason than to compare).

5dl oat milk
75g melted margarine
2dl rolled oats
1dl breadcrumbs
1dl fresh parsley
1dl chopped onion
30-50g fresh yeast
1tbsp soya sauce
¼-½ vegetable bouillon cube
½-1tsp dried marjoram
2ml ground cloves
salt (possibly)

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and let it stand for a few minutes to allow the yeast to activate. Mix with a hand mixer to a smooth consistency. Pour the mixture into an oiled bread pan. Bake for one hour at 175 degrees.

Both Jo and I love the taste, whilst the girls may need a little more convincing (less yeast, maybe?). Hopefully in the near future we can do away with the pricy Tartex spreads that the girls like so much.