Watching a Classic


I never actually thought it would happen so early in Zelda’s life, being eight years old. We had no plan, had not talked about it until a few days ago after we had watched a couple of Narnia films on TV. When we suggested it to our daughters, it was with a certain hope of agreement, though in my heart it felt too soon to pose the question “Shall we watch The Hobbit?” And now, less than a week later, we have all seen the trilogy.

Jo and I had only seen the first film at the cinema. It did not lessen our enjoyment in the slightest. I have to say, though, that I did not recall it being as violent as it was. I was a tad surprised that Zelda did not react to the fighting scenes, where a good number of decapitations occur over the three parts. I imagine that the lack of blood and gore helped make it seem more acceptable than it should.

The end brought about a few deaths of the dwarfs (not beheadings, thankfully). Zelda shed a few tears at the death of the dwarven king, Thorin. It was so long ago that I read the book that I had no real idea of the plot, with Thorins death being both sad and a shock. Sometimes it can be advantageous to have a bad memory.

I love The Hobbit. It is thanks to J R R Tolkein that the pen and paper game, Dungeons and Dragons came about, a game I played regularly through my school years (and some) with Chip and Matt. And it is thanks to Tolkein that the family will be soon sitting through another trilogy. Lord of the Rings awaits us, and I cannot wait.


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.