Category Archives: Life

Athina

You're in my Head

Athens, you were kind of cool when all is said and done…

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There’s a lot of places I’d like to visit and a lot of places I’d really, really like to visit, Athens falls into the former category and wouldn’t be my first choice for a 15-year anniversary trip. However, seeing as the capital of Greece was a forerunner on Etina’s (Athina) bucket list, it became an obvious choice for the trip.

I’m very glad I went, as Athens is one of those cities that creeps up on you unawares, which may sound strange when you think that the Acropolis dominates the view from every angle (we even had a view from the hotel), but it’s a little more complex than that. Yes, you have the Acropolis and Zeus’ temple, and Ancient Agora, etc. but you have a city which, although doesn’t wow you with the rest of its architecture…

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Athina

Athens, you were kind of cool when all is said and done…

img_20161208_140353

There’s a lot of places I’d like to visit and a lot of places I’d really, really like to visit, Athens falls into the former category and wouldn’t be my first choice for a 15-year anniversary trip. However, seeing as the capital of Greece was a forerunner on Etina’s (Athina) bucket list, it became an obvious choice for the trip.

I’m very glad I went, as Athens is one of those cities that creeps up on you unawares, which may sound strange when you think that the Acropolis dominates the view from every angle (we even had a view from the hotel), but it’s a little more complex than that. Yes, you have the Acropolis and Zeus’ temple, and Ancient Agora, etc. but you have a city which, although doesn’t wow you with the rest of its architecture, charms you before you know it.

My first thought was, ‘this is a bit grim isn’t it’, kind of dirty, dusty, hazy and not unlike several other cities low down on my to-visit list. Soon after though the character of the city starts creeping through, permeating the haze and the dust and the grime, and transforming the city into a whole other beast, colour and style, history and culture all to the fore and it’s then you start getting a feel of where you are.

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Standing in the shadow of giants on Acropolis hill (most significantly, the Parthenon) gives a sense of just how insignificant we all are but also how destructive we are and how wilfully we destroy things that others have taken years to build. Mentioned quite often on the information plaques and on videos in the museum was the great thief, Lord Elgin, who took advantage of making off with several statues and works of art from the area, refusing to return them when the Greeks requested their history back. These artefacts can now be found in the British Museum and are yet another reminder of just how much we Brits have to apologise for…

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The people are, on the whole, cheery and friendly but our main interaction, in truth, was within the tourist industry and bars, shops, restaurants. Coffee was incredibly expensive and at times was as pricey as Sweden (no mean feat), food was great (lamb dishes and various cheeses, were my highlights), and both of us fell for the Christmas biccies: Kourambiedes, heavenly biscuits filled with almonds and coated with a sprinkling of icing sugar…delish!

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The more we walked around Athens (we pretty much only walked, save the obligatory open top bus tour), the more we realised the spider web network of streets linked each other far more than we could even fathom, it was like one minute we were at the other end of the Acropolis (our mainstay landmark), and all of a sudden we were directly under it ordering a coffee. Streets were filled with numerous bars and restaurants until turning a corner into a dark street (without even streetlights) before then turning again and hitting a plethora of bars. And it kept happening, all over the place, the ultimate pot pourri of street life. The design of the bars and the cafés were the same, with no two alike (except for the chains, which included the dirge of the local scene, Starbucks).

Ermou was my absolute favourite street, due to just how manic and all over the place it was (especially in the Monastraki and Ancient Agora areas). There were people everywhere, jostling for parking spaces (Greek parking is a must-see), running up and down the streets, shouting to and at each other, blocking each other in before having a chat about the weather. There were second-hand shops all over the street, selling junk (and finds) of all kinds. I was walking in a daze, carried on on some kind of manic euphoria, my cosy Western European (lately more Northern European) eyes unable to send all the messages to my brain quick enough. I was entrenched between an adrenaline rush of epic proportions and needing to go and have a quiet moment to digest it all – I forced the adrenaline rush to take over and decided to digest it all later on (I didn’t regret it).

Food and drink prices, on the whole (coffee excepted), were reasonable and not up to the extortionate prices which were claimed by many Trip Advisor reviewers on their stay. Sure, it was expensive if you are expecting Eastern European prices (as Slovakia it is not), but travelling around in the EU zone, prices are generally not as different as they used to be.

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This was not the only negative with Trip Advisor unfortunately as I was constantly reading reviews which claimed views such as “Rude staff, expensive and not that good”, whilst also giving the restaurant in question a four-out-of-five-star grade, making it very hard to know what people liked. The lowest grade for one of the cafés we visited was 3.5 and the highest, 5. It seems like all of the places in Athens are recommended.

The places we went to were varied, like their designs, but were mostly managed by polite staff, the orders usually came in a reasonable time and we were only subject to the ‘extras charge’ once, as most places either asked us if we wanted extras, or gave us complementary bread and olives.

We ran (slowly), we walked, we explored (most of the areas) and we savoured the expensive coffee and the OK Greek beer (the highlight was finding some Belgium beer in one of the restaurants) and had a cracking time. Thankfully we were rewarded for the risk of not keeping with tradition and visiting Italy, as we had for our first anniversary (Rome, Florence), and tenth (Bergamo, Verona, Venice and Milan). We didn’t travel on our fifth anniversary, as Maddoc was only eight months old.

The question now, I suppose, is what do we do for the 20th anniversary trip? Keep an eye out!

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Album of the Year for 2014

Swans: To Be Kind (2014) – Muse/Young God

Well, to say that 2014 has not been a good year for music would be a complete understatement, as my listening has dropped to embarrassing proportions, in part due to my time at work, but also because of my playing several of my older albums and playlists.

However, one album has really stood out and, on repeated listens, dared to suggest its superiority over the other releases of the year. I was pretty shocked that this is actually Swans’ third album and have decided to check out earlier releases, early in the new year.

I love the noise, the intensity, the fact that an experimental album can also sound so cohesive, and at two hours long, that is some achievement.

Give it a listen, in fact give it more than one, as it demands attention and if you don’t give it what it deserves, you’ll be sorry (and listening to The War on Drugs, or Cloud Nothings).

What was your album of the year?


Varför gick Mishra med i Sverigedemokraterna?

Scary comparison between Muslims joining Sverigedemokraterna and women speaking against feminism.

KICKANWICKSELL

Idag skriver Mrutyuanjai Mishra i Sydsvenskan om varför han lämnar Sverigedemokraterna och slutar som skribent på sajten Avpixlat. Han beskriver hur han i Danmark inledde sin bekantskap med “främlingsfientliga partier”, men att han nu känner att han “varit naiv och begått ett fruktansvärt misstag”.

“Jag gick med i Tryckfrihetssällskapet för att jag ville kämpa
för yttrandefrihet, men idag känner jag att jag har blivit utnyttjad.
Min invandrarbakgrund har använts för att rättfärdiga hat
och rasism och för att försvara trångsynt nationalism.”

Mishra hävdar att hur han gick med i partiet för att det sade sig värna om yttrandefrihet och mänskliga rättigheter, men att han nu insett att vikten att verka för tolerans snarare än intolerans är för viktigt för att han ska kunna bortse från det Sverigedemokraterna står för.

“Jag trodde att Sverigedemokraterna ville arbeta för integration,
men nu förstår jag att det handlar om assimilation – att människor

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42 or the meaning of life: Part One

My first stark image of the day would have to be the nuthatch I spotted whilst cycling to work, after having dropped off my boy at school.

‘Fall Colors Nuthatch’ by Lara Ellis

In what way is a nuthatch symbolic? Well, we have to go way back, back around 32 years in fact to Mark as a mere ten year old, fascinated by animals and, with his grandmother’s guidance, learning about the animal world through books and forays into the local area.

The guidance was not so much hands-on as spiritual, based on the fact that my grandmother was bed-ridden at this time, a result of being diagnosed with TB when she was just three years old. At that time, the solution was that the patient should get as much bed rest as possible, a total contradicton to today’s advice. My grandmother was ill her entire life, using a walking stick in my early years, a wheelchair from my being about five or six and becoming confined to bed, with frequent stays in the hospital, as I turned ten, finally dying at 49, when I was only twelve years old.

However, she remains a massive influence in my life, governing certain decisions I make today and responsible for many of my life values (for good or ill).

On a grey day in Burnley, at ten years old, I asked my mother if I could buy a print, which depicted a nuthatch on a tree. It cost £5.00 and my mother thought I could spend my money on something more reasonable for a boy my age, like Lego, for example.

But I was determined and not suprisingly when I returned home with my prize (bought with my own spending money, I might add), my grandmother naturally loved it. It went up on my wall the same day and remained with me for many years before going the same way as much of my stuff when I was foolish enough to store several boxes in our damp, dark cellar, whilst I travelled around the world.

So the nuthatch was a symbol on this day, my meaning of life day, when it reminded me of my grandmother and all that she gave me, still gives me and how I can never truly thank her for it all.


Walking and Listening

Today I’m having one of those days, mainly due to the fact that I had a very restless night last night. I am aware of having at least two nightmares, both of which involved me not looking out for my children and both of which had me reacting angrily to myself after the event.

I put it down to the fact that I am subconsciously dwelling on this ‘life’ question, although I’m not entirely sure why I am dwelling on it or to what end. I have always had an interest in the topic but never really thought about it as much as I’m doing at the moment.

I blame Douglas Adams in part. This, due to the fact that I am re-reading his ‘Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ “trilogy”, as a consequence of turning 42 next month and the relationship to that number and the meaning of life, the universe and everything.

I also blame Wax Tailor and Archive for their wonderful albums ‘Dusty Rainbow from the Dark’ and ‘With Us Until You’re Dead’, which have both focused on the meaning of life and our roles in the great scheme of things in different ways.

Dusty Rainbow from the Dark

I had three lessons today and was a little apprehensive before all of them, not for any other reason than my lack of sleep last night, certainly not anything to do with lesson planning or the groups themselves, just that something felt “off”, out of place, displaced, disjointed.

Lack of sleep can do that.

Last night I continued my walking and listening sessions with a trip to one of biggest supermarkets in town, not the most scenic route but a productive one. The walk there was much easier, due to the fact that I had a rucksack filled with about 30 kilos of shopping on the way back (maybe not 30 but quite a bit).

My music choice was a bit of a mix: some EL-P, some Lecrae, some Wax Tailor (see above) before finishing of with Museum. A nice mix and a nice walk.

Today should be floorball (innebandy) but I just don’t feel like it, my energy levels are so low. Sometimes you just have to accept the fact that it’s not the right day/time.

I think tonight I just want to spend time with the kids before trying to get myself an early night.


What he hears in the dark

Twice today I managed to force myself on my new(ish) health program – the magic of walking. I suppose it is power walking of a sort, as I get my running gear on, pick an album to pop on the MP3 player (just now my mobile phone) and set off, walking as fast as a can for as long as I feel like (around an hour).

Tonight was a walk around one of our areas of scenic beauty in Norrköping, Strömmen (translated directly it’s the stream but it’s a bit bigger than that) in the dark. I realised, once I’d left the lit area, that I was getting a little nervous. It reminded me the stark contrast to when I walked through the park home in Burnley in my early teens, totally oblivious to the real dangers in the area (preferring to worry about witches and the like). In years since I have read about abuse, murder, rape and the like in the stretch between Burnley’s town centre and my family home.

And I’m back on the life is short, life is fleeting, what’s it all mean pondering. I mean, when I started planning my ‘meaning of life’ party this year (as I turn 42), I wasn’t aware just how much of a mid-life crisis I’d put myself through. I suppose at least that means that I’ll live to 84 now instead of 70 (seeing as I had a mid-life crisis party 2005.)

But the walking feels more my thing at the moment, being as the music really inspires me and I also realised today I can walk pretty rapid when I feel like it (especially when it’s dark…).

The album of choice today was Archive and With Us Until You’re Dead and it’s already a classic – I leave you with the first single from the album: Violently


Audrey and her grandmother would have gotten on

Today was one of those days that I thought a little about unfairness.

Basically, I spend a lot of time reminding myself that even though I don’t really believe that everything happens for a reason (I used to) or that after a really terrible thing comes a good thing (I used to), I do believe that you have to get on and make the best of what you have. Call it the stiff British upper lip, if you will, I tend to sway on the side of the overwhelming realisations that life is so fleeting and so fragile that if you don’t get on with it you’re a bit of a fool.

Anyway, today was a day where I felt an ache that my mother never met any of my three children but especially Audrey.

We were in town doing some errands and I asked her if she wanted to come for a coffee break with her daddy. A double cappuccino and a chocolate biscotti for me and a glass of water and a coconut ball for Audrey and we were set. As we sat and chatted I became aware of just how much a people watcher Audrey is before her comments started about how nice that girl’s plaits were and how much she liked that woman’s jumper and how that other woman looked like her auntie Vivianne.

And the more I sat and listened, the more I realised that had my mother been sat there with her, they would have both been in their element, comparing the people coming in, discussing hairstyles and clothing and so on.

Fairness is relative, but today I felt unjustly served.


Father’s Day or A Tale of Two Worlds

Up until 2006, Father’s Day had absolutely no significance to me, as I had no children of my own and I’d never met my father. My mother married my stepfather in 1989 but we pretty much never saw eye-to-eye from day one and so there was no real endeavour on my part to celebrate the day for his benefit. I’m sure I was asked to buy a pair of socks for him by my mother a couple of times, and I’m sure I did a couple of times too. Doing something for your mother on Father’s Day doesn’t really count though does it?

And then came 2006 and Maddoc was born, giving Father’s Day a whole new meaning.

In Sweden, Father’s Day is the second Sunday in November, but I stated from the beginning that I wanted to be celebrated on the English day. This is for two reasons: the first was that I’m English, and it feels like the proper day to celebrate, especially seeing as it wasn’t celebrated in my family before and also due to the fact that my Birthday is 13th November (calendars out people), meaning I would have to have my two special days around the same time (possibly even the same day). That will not do.

An ironic twist today is that my son, Maddoc, has been invited to a Birthday party on my special day. Ironic in that most Birthday parties he attends are on a Saturday and also because the father of the Birthday boy is also English. Maybe he prefers celebrating the Swedish day…

So here I am with Audrey, my daughter, who has repeatedly stated she wants to do her own thing, rather than go out and do things with Daddy. That is fine, she’s only three after all and has not understood the concept of the day. She is merely taking advantage of a rare moment home without her brother, where she can play with the Lego and not be told she’s doing it all wrong…;-)

It’s days like this I’m reminded of the immense responsibility of being a parent, especially a father, in terms of the fact that I never had a father myself and because this is the last Father’s Day I am the father of two. Having never met my own father, I was informed last year that he’d actually died, putting pay to that ever happening. Was I regretful that I’d never tracked him down, that we’d never discussed why he left, why he wasn’t prepared to take the responsibility he helped create? No. I struggle to feel any strong emotions, due to the fact that I never met him, that I only ever saw one photograph of him, that I only heard about him from others.

Blood is thicker than water, is an expression that has never meant anything to me. I believe that family members deserve more chances when they have wronged you but only to a certain extent. Maybe the expression does hold then, just that it is not a given. I have relatives that have said the most hurtful things to me and later acted as though nothing was said. I am a Scorpio and we do hold grudges. I have tried to be more forgiving of others (and myself) over recent years but changing the spots takes time, a whole lot of willpower and the desire.

So today is a day I celebrate the fact that I am a father, that I continue to be an active father to my children, to help them in their lives, as much as I can, as much as they need. It’s a day to reflect on what I have done for them so far, what I’ve done well and where I can improve. I’m helping them through life but they are also helping me, they are making me a better person and for that I am truly grateful.

The son to the father? That’s a role another can play, a role that was denied to me, a role beyond my grasp. We cannot be everything to everyone. Father is a role I’ll happily play. Be. Enjoy.

Maddoc and I decided today that he will call me ‘Dad’. Audrey will continue to call me ‘Daddy’. Until the end of July they are the only ones that can call me this. This is one of the reasons why I don’t want them to call me Mark. That is a name for others, not them, it’s not because it’s a sign of respect, some old conservative view, it’s that it’s their priviledge.

Happy Father’s Day to those fathers celebrating today.


Midsummer?

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And now I’m feeling all disjointed like something out of a Katherine Kerr novel or a Doctor Who episode, as I’m here wanting to further extol the virtues of a software program that I haven’t actually praised yet. Well I have, just that the post itself took a lot more work than originally thought and so…

Oh yes, Midsummer, that’s why you’re here, yes…

Well you know, today was the first Midsummer I’ve been involved in as an official Swede (papers came through in November and the council celebrated it early June) and you’d think I might have gotten the hang of the whole thing, you know it’s only the second most popular Swedish holiday after Christmas (and if you speak to some Swedes, they even rate it higher).

So gone are the days of painting my father-in-law’s house, clearing off to another country and the like. Now is time for real celebrations, you know I have my children to think of, my own Swedishness – these things have gotten a whole lot more serious!

(Not helped here by the fact the wife, who has been here considerably longer than I, is away in Madrid for five days, starting yesterday.)

Started the day then with a late breakfast of cheese and bread (70% of Swedes start their day this way) and so all going well so far before sitting down with the kids to give them their first ever viewing of Ice Age (Sweden was part of the ice age you know…). I know I should maybe have gone for Pippi but…

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So semi-failure ignored, I made sure to get the laundry out the machine (argh, laundry at Midsummer – no wonder the room was free, it’s like going down to wash at Christmas you numpty…) and got the kids ready for the Midsummer dance around the maypole at the in-laws’ (major Swede points coming up here!).

Upon arrival at the maypole, the kids express an interest in getting on the swings and playing in the den house within sight of the jumping, singing, clapping Swedes, leaving me taking photos of English/Assyrian children on swings, rather than the obligatory round the maypole shot…

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(real Swedes showing us how it’s done)

Never mind, off we go back to the allotment to get stuck into some sill and potatoes pasta and mushroom omelette…oh god the point drop, the point drop.

What was that father-in-law, you want me to help you put up the small marquee tent you’ve bought for the allotment? Why ever not, I can’t think of a better day to do that.

And so readying for home, under the protests of the youngest, happy as she is at the allotment, we leave her there and the heir and I return home, where tucking into bread and jam (think we might be giving up here) we settle down to watch Ice Age 2 (I think we have given up now).

The boy, sated and excited about big fish and sabre-tooth tigers, journeys to bed and I settle down to a bout of Talking Heads (why couldn’t I have gone for Stina Nordenstam?) and plan to watch either Sucker Punch or a couple of episodes of Band of Brothers later on.

I’m not Swedified yet am I?

So honourary Swedes and real Swedes and Swede wannabees, what have you been up to today?