The weekend Before The Weekend Before Christmas

It has been an eventful sixty hours. Some activity was expected, some was unwanted. It started on Friday.

It was, of course, Saint Lucia Day in Sweden, and one of the days I least look forward to. Working in a preschool on this day has the tendency to stress and tire me out. The logistics of such a day, from receiving porridge for lunch (gröt is a dessert, catering firm, not a main meal) to shortened lunch breaks, hurried snacks, chaos as the children get ready to go to the sports hall where the Lucia songs are sung, stress to get there and get dressed in time, and discomfort in the aftermath of the performence at spending time with running children and many, many relatives of the children.

I survived, though, despite working overtime, and finally made my way home. Outside the front door I met Jo and Zelda, who were going to a birthday party. I offered to go instead of Jo. Although I did not wish to spend any more time with parents, I knew them better than Jo, and it meant that she could get back to see a friend who had crashed at ours after some minor problem at home. And then, just as Zelda was handed over, we met our neighbours coming out of the lift.

I asked them how they were, expecting a cursory “fine”, only to be told that it was not “fine”, and that their eldest duaghter was going to the hospital to have a tumour operated on. As I was being told this bomb of information, a group of women came through the front door and bypassed us to get into the lift. The news went in, but I found it difficult to find a respone. I was already tired from the day, slighty put out by the change of plans with Zelda, confused further by the sudden entrance of four ladies, and somewhat stunned by the words I was hearing. I managed to blurt out a “ring if there is anything we can do”, and we went our seperate ways.

After the two hour party, I came home to see our friend, who was extremely vocal about the Raspberry pie computers he had in his bag (it does look like an interesting project and something I may look into after Christmas).

The next day was filled with shopping, doing a kladdventskalender and then, in the evening, going to Gröna Lund to partake in the vegan julbord they have there. We went last year with some friends (Nina, Daniel, Alvar and Nika to be exact), enjoying the atmosphere of a very well put together event. It was similar food to last year, and I must say that it wasn’t that impressive. A lot of the food is processed stuff we can buy from our local vegan supermarket, Goodstore. It also took a long time for our food to come and the service was not all that good. That said, the food was only a small part of the whole evening, but none the less important. The children all had a wonderful time, being able to walk around outside. They spent a long time at one of the carnival games (throwing balls into bins), where they found out that the girl behind the attraction was also vegan. We went home late and Zelda did her usual thing of falling asleep a few seconds after asking if she could do so, on the tram home.

Sunday was slightly more relaxed, with the family helping Jo in her kladdventskalender quest. Afterwards we bought bagels from Bagel Street Café, came home so the girls could have a play date with Alvar and Nika, watched a Sunday night film and met the neighbours, who had just come back from the hospital. All went well, but the next few months are a waiting game to see what happens to the tumour.

I woke up this morning not feeling well. I had been feeling rough for a week or so, and the weekend is paying its toll.

Mission To Halden

This morning I was tired, more than I have been in a considerable time. This fatigue is not due to partying, for which I am glad, though it is due to a certain lack of sleep. Mostly, however, a journey to Norway is to blame.

Our friend Nina went to the vegetarian fare in Halden, to show her vegan shoes, and our family decided to follow, knowing from previous experience that it would be a sterling weekend. Normally on these occasions, Jo helps out behind the counter and I, along with Nina’s husband, Daniel, look after the children and generally have a good time. And so it was to be this time, too.

We set off after work at four o’clock on Friday afternoon; Our hired van was a new Mercedes Vito, spacious and rather pleasant; Our destination was Halden, a tourist town in the south west of Norway, just over the border from Sweden.

Our journey went well, with the exception of Freya gaining a companion in the form of a tick. How she noticed, I do not know, since the tick had found its home in her armpit, and had not long resided there. We soon put an end to its free ride by stopping at a roadside petrol station and borrowing a pair of tweezers. One tick free armpit later, we were once again bound to Norway, arriving at our hotel a little before midnight.

I did not sleep well. I don’t know how much the stuffiness and temperature of the room played a part, but I missed a few hours of sleep that would have given me the rest I wanted. Saying that, it did not affect me, and our early morning, fuelled by a hotel breakfast, began well. Nina and Jo took the van to the festival, whilst we walked the reasonably short distance through town and up, up, up to the fort where the event was to take place. The town itself is quite charming, especially viewed from the fortifications.

The fort was not what I had imagined it to be. It was much, much bigger and covered a huge area. The various views that were offered from the many vantage points were incredible, and kept us entertained for a good portion of the day, whilst Nina and Jo were busy selling there wares inside a badly lit dungeon cell. When I first saw the position they had, I was quite angry: outside, the weather was showing no signs of being near the end of summer, and the many food stalls surely benefited, whilst I thought only a minority of tourists were going inside. Despite my negativity, many of those were spending time looking and buying shoes.

The overall event as quite well put together. It was difficult to guage how many visitors to the fort were there solely because of the festival, and I am inclined to think that a positive thing. Veggie fares held indoors attract the already converted, whilst this one blended into a well visited tourist attraction. Regardless the event attendance, Nina’s sales were not far behind a veggie fare in Oslo last year. I cannot speak for Nina, but she must have considered the day a success.

We left the fare in the early evening. The children, as we adults, had a fantastic day out, even if it took twelve hours plus travelling time there and back. We are hoping that the organisers share our opinion of the day, and a trip to Halden is on the cards next year.

My Ukulele

My first encounter with a ukulele occurred over a year ago. My friend and work colleague, Jeremy, brought one to work after his wedding in Hawaii. Whilst he strummed away over the following months, I never thought much about trying it out myself, even though I appreciated his own child friendly compositions. In fact, I cannot remember when my own interest was aroused, only that I started playing properly three or four months ago on another, worse quality, ukulele that Jeremy had been given.

The more I played, the more I enjoyed the sound that a uke could produce. It also had the advantage of size, being much easier to play than a guitar in the presence of children, and being easier to transport. The additional benefit of a smaller fretboard and fewer strings to control also gave me the illusion of being more adept at playing a stringed instrument. I could knock out chords on a guitar, but had more trouble producing a decent sound, especially with some of the harder finger configurations.

About a month ago I started seriously considering buying my own ukulele. I was becoming good enough, enjoying it immensely, and tiring of the bad quality uke I was using at school. One of the tuner screws had threaded, meaning that the particular string in question would constantly go out of tune.

After some research, I found a model which was rated by other players, and fitted my budget of one thousand crowns. I deliberated a couple of weeks, whilst finding a shop in Stockholm that stated it stocked just the model I was after, a Lanikai LU21. I decided to take the plunge and visit the shop today, with the intention of purchasing one such uke, providing it played, sounded and felt right.

On arrival, I immediately found what I thought was the model I was after, and politely asked if I could try it. As soon as I held it, it felt right. I strummed out a few songs I had learnt, and the sound produced was sweet. I expected it, of course, but having been used to a uke that cost a quarter of the price of the Lanikai, it was none the less impressive.

Just to make sure, I tried a couple of other models, one of which was similar to the one I had just played, and also a Lanikai. When I started to play, it seemed familiar. On closer inspection, I noticed that this model I had in my hands was, in fact, the LU21, and was much closer in every aspect to my school uke than the previous uke I had just tested. It was then I realised what had happened.

There are different sizes of ukuleles. The one that Jeremy and I have at school is the smallest, called a soprano. The first uke I picked up in the shop was an LU21C, the “C” standing for “concert”, which is the next size up in the range. My lack of knowledge of ukuleles made me somewhat bewildered, not knowing the implications of finding a different size than had previously been intended. Whatever the implications may be, I knew that I had found what I was looking for, so I made my way coyly to the lady behind the counter to make a purchase.

It turned out that the display uke was the only one the shop had in stock, and I was offered it for eight hundred crowns, which I accepted without problem. I walked away a very happy customer, and look forward to a future as a casual ukulele player, thanks to Jeremy.

ESC in Malmö – Saturday

Saturday started off with an unexpected piece of news. As we were slowly getting ready for another day in town, Jo received a Facebook update that Hop Louie, a well known Swedish street artist, was having a vernissage in a gallery in Malmö. Today. In a gallery that was situated about 200 metres from our flat. We had our first mission of the day.

The gallery was quite small, and there were probably only about fifteen Hop Louie pieces. In another small room was an exhibition from a woman calling herself ItchySoul, whose art was both humourous and interesting. Jo and I stood there with our glasses of white wine, when Jo expressed an interest in buying one of Hop Louie’s pieces called Framåt. It did not take me long to persaude Jo that she could use some of the birthday money she had got from me to buy a pair of vegan shoes. So, within half an hour of entering the gallery, Jo was the proud owner of an original Hop Louie, which will be sent to us after June 1st, when the exhibition comes to a close.

It was an odd feeling. Jo has been into street art a couple of years, and has done her best to photograpgh as much as she can, sometimes placing herself in potential danger to get a good shot. From the start she has liked Hop Louie, and while it feels natural to support him, there is a part of me that feels uncomfortable standing in a gallery, drinking wine, and looking at a price list of, what is essentially, street art. A far cry from walking through a dark, icy, disused train tunnel in the hunt for new pieces. Still, I am glad that Jo made the decision to purchase the piece. Who knows, it may even be worth something in the future.

After our departure, we strolled up to and around Old Town, taking in the Eurovision atmosphere that was oozing from the main streets. Our next mission involved food, in the form of falafel. Since Malmö is known for its falafel, it would have been rude to have left without trying at least once. Luckily, we arrived at Meze de falafel, just before four o’clock. It did not occur to me that any restaurant would close in the middle of the afternoon, and looking at their website gives conflicting information about weekend opening times. Not that it mattered, as we ordered a falafel in Libabread each. The portion size was more than enough, and the price was a very decent thirty-five crowns per roll. The only thing that brought down the whole experience was accidently eating a small slice of lemon in the tabbuleh. Lemon rind, even in small quantities, is extremely sour, and not recommended.

After eating, we made our way back to the flat, to prepare for the main event. We chose to go to Folkets Park a few hours before the start of the final, in order to get a decent place. On our arrival, we saw that many others had had the same idea, though we found a spot just on the wrong side of the path that intersects the park. We did not count on the park, and the path, being packed full of people arriving later than we did. Some people even sat on the path, making it more and more difficult for the public to traverse the path, and resulting in our view of the screen being obscured.

For a while I became increasingly irritated at the general impoliteness of people vying for their own personal space in the park. It goes against the sense of Brittishness I have, especially when I saw people complaining who themselves had commited a social faux pas in my eyes. By the time the final had started, I was in a better mood, even though we had to stand to see anything. The evening ended pleasantly, the result expected: Denmark won. We had other countries as our favourites, but a Scandinavian victory means that we could possibly do a similar journey next year. Something we have vowed we will do.

ESC in Malmö – Friday

The main event for us is now over. Yesterday we attended the second semi final, the first and last time we would visit Malmö Arena, where the real festivities take place. So today was a welcome distraction, allowing us a whole day to chill, explore the city, and try out some of the restaurants we had on our list. Malmö caters well for vegans, and falafel seems to be the city’s speciality.

Our first port of call was Glassfabriken, a cafe run by left wing youths, where toasted sandwiches, veggieburgers and the like are on offer. As expected, we got good value for money, as well as plain, decently prepared grub. They will never win any prizes for their cuisine, the decor was not really inviting, and the music inside was not at all soothing, but it was an affordable way to get some tasty food in our tummies.

We made our way to Folkets Park, or were we led there in our hunt for street art? As it turned out, the park was both large and child friendly, more than normal parks are. There were many things for the kids to do (playground, paddling pool, a water structure in the form of a flower, terrarium and very small theme park with a couple of rides), with the essential pub placed near the hub of the park. We decided it would be here we would watch the final. A scene had been built for pre show entertainment, and a large screen erected next to it. It looked like there was enough of a grassy area to hold many hundreds of people, and since there were other places doing something similar for the final, we would have a calm and pleasant time here.

A quick drink and visit to the paddling pool later, we took ourselves to the nearby raw food place, Raw Food House. We were not overly hungry, but it gave us the chance to tick off one of our desired food experiences. And, of course, they served wine. We tried three different cheesecakes, all of which were excellent. We also polished off a bottle of white wine. Our overall impression off the establishment was positive, and the interior was fresh and simple, without crossing the line to hippiedom. It would have been nice to have tried one of the main dishes, but we were simply too full from our earlier meal.

After a time out at the flat, we made our way to another talked about vegan restaurant, Vegegården. A vegan Asian restaurant with self proclaimed well spiced foood, this place had received good reviews, and our expectations were high. Sadly, the food was neither exciting or well spiced. In fact, it is probably the blandest Asain food we have tasted, and their red curry could have easily been replicated with any shop bought red curry paste. The best part of the meal was the spring rolls, but those were merely average. A very disappointing offering, which is a shame, since it is not a satisfactory advert for vegan food.

We went home and got a bit drunk. That saved the evening a tad.