Monday, 24 September 2012

Sticky Fingers and the Invisibility Cloak of Nightlife

Considering that it is such a large city – the second biggest in Sweden, population of over half a million – Gothenburg’s nightlife scene can, at best, be summed up as ‘confusing’.  Kenneth described it as ‘the city that sleeps’ and how right he was.  During the day, it bustles; it’s vibrant and alive and infectious.  The sheer beauty of Gothenburg’s inhabitants and their mostly impeccable style inspires you to join in – to take fika, to wander the avenue, to hold a crayfish party.  Whatever they’re doing, I want a piece of it, I want to be a piece of it.  In the daylight hours, that is. 

Then darkness falls.  You alight from the tram at central station, thinking that the key word of ‘central’ may be indicative of something lively.  But as you step down from the rickety tin can in which you have travelled, the streets seem suddenly empty.  You gaze around, seeking out telltale bright lights and distant music but it’s silent and dim, except for seemingly ever present arrows pointing towards a 24 hour McDonald’s.  You get back on the tram, thinking that maybe Brunnsparken is the place you need, but where several hours earlier you were pushing through crowds of people to cross the bridge to Nordstan, now there’s a clear path, all for you.  It leads to a 24 hour McDonald’s.

This fruitless search can continue for many hours, clambering on and off an endless amount of trams, thinking that it must be the next stop, then the next, then the next.  The search is as infinite, and as hopeless, as walking towards the end of the rainbow to find the pot of gold.  It just never comes.  After a while of this half-drunk stumbling around the city, everybody begins to lag a little, and the night seems to go any number of three ways:

1)      No matter which path the aimless adventure has taken, it always seems to lead to Queen’s.  Queen’s is a bar, but only in the most basic definition of the term.  Its first downfall is how ludicrously expensive it is, considering that it is, essentially, just a quite grotty pub.  It is here where Suzanne famously paid 89kr for one single vodka and lemonade.  That equates to about £9 in Britain.  £9 for 25 measly millilitres of alcohol? God help us all.  It is also startlingly bright in there.  I’m not sure who told the owners that stark strip lighting was a good feature of a bar but they were most mistaken.  If nothing else, it means your sobriety and disappointment has no hiding place.  At worst, you’re completely unable to escape the fact that the irritating Swedish man you seem to be talking to has the most unfathomably miniscule head you’ve ever seen.

2)     If, in a happy twist of fate, you didn’t end up at Queen’s, or you did but after one drink there remember how diabolic it is, the next step seems to be resorting to asking a local for directions to a club.  I say resorting because the people around whom you can ask are most definitely not the chic locals who paced these streets the preceding afternoon.  However, times are desperate, and off somebody trots with their best Swedish accent, returning with a hesitant tour guide.  This method has led me to both a terrifying death metal club and a jazz club.  I have to admit that the jazz club did end up being quite good fun, but I suppose it was only in a making the best of things kind of way.  I apparently ran laps of the dance floor (which says everything about how few people were in there), whilst Kenneth rotated his fists and shouted ‘woo woo’.  We all had a jolly good laugh at the strange girl who appeared to be tagging along with us, and I had a solitary laugh at the very large girl dancing alone in the corner.

3)     Perhaps after Queen’s spirits were so damp that no dance moves could be summoned, or perhaps the evening had turned into a wild goose chase of non-existent bars, but sometimes the only option is to call it a bad job and go home.  This usually isn’t quite as dismal as it sounds, as it seems to either involve food (although I have to admit that too regularly ‘food’ means drunk ryvita, which is just not satisfying at all) or, on one occasion which I mentioned a few weeks ago, you end up dancing around somebody’s room with a refilled glass of wine, a wooden spoon and most of the lights dimmed at long last.  Phew.

At least, that was the way nights went, until we discovered the very ominously named Sticky Fingers.  I suppose now is the time to admit that on our first proper visit to here, I was perhaps ever so slightly too drunk and therefore remember little to none of the night, although I heard astoundingly good reviews from everybody else.  Last Saturday, we made a return trip, and I was on my best behaviour, pre-drinking 2% alcohol cider and being very restrained on the tequila front.  The result of this slight self-moderation was that I had a great night, racing around the dance floor and taking incriminating pictures of everybody else.  (There’s nothing like another’s misfortune to make you get over your own embarrassment, aye.)

I’m not sure that Sticky Fingers is actually a particularly astounding venue – with a name like that, how can it be? – or if it’s simply a welcome change to the endless hunter gathering that characterised our first few nights out.  Either way, I have a feeling that this Saturday night routine of renting the TV room then racing to Sticky Fingers to get in free before ten may be here to stay.  As long as I get to dress up and drink some wine and dance horrendously, I don’t mind one bit; if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, I guess.  And there’s not a McDonald’s sign in sight.  Hallelujah.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

'As Big As Your Head'

On the whole, this week has mostly been characterised by how completely uncharacteristic of me it has been.  For one, I have attended all of my classes at university, which is an enormous step up from the 10% attendance rate I was probably averaging in Plymouth, and I’ve even done all the prep work for them.  (Although, ironically, at points when I have been procrastinating, I have been doing so by reading Sense and Sensibility, after somehow struggling through an essay about sensibility without reading it last year.)  Most importantly though, and it makes me feel slightly ill to admit this, I think I might have even enjoyed them.  In our general university introduction sessions, we were warned that there was no spoon feeding here, and it’s certainly true.  It was a slight shock to the system initially but for the first time since my disastrous dalliance with A Level Maths, I’m not sitting in class thinking that I probably could have done this in primary school, and it turns out that’s a good feeling.  Who knew?  I also had my first Master’s class in Speculative Fiction which was even more difficult, but again, I seemed to enjoy it even more.  My only issue is that all the other students are, unsurprisingly, big sci fi fans and as somebody who has never even watched Star Wars, I have absolutely no frame of reference for what they’re talking about most of the time.  I never thought the day would come when it required a weekend watching sci fi movies to bring me up to speed for a class.

Along this same module student vein, I have also not been out since last Friday – eight days guys, eight whole fricking days – and on Thursday I even chose my night class instead of the Erasmus kick off party.  The fact that it apparently ended up being a bit of a flop and nobody went is a moot point, I chose literary theory before I knew any of that.  Last year, I regularly managed to talk myself out of 9am classes in case they interrupted a night out, so this is particularly out of character.  Also, after a whole week of 7am starts  (something that hasn’t happened since I was sixteen, excluding the two months of fifty hour working weeks this spring) I remembered what a joyous experience the Saturday morning lie in is.  It’s almost worth all this effort just to recapture the sense of weekend magic.  And I stand by that point even though this morning’s lie in ended at 9.20am so that I could go for a group gym session at 10am.  Yes, you heard right: I went to the gym at 10am on a Saturday morning, and I spent every single second there thinking about my ridiculously exciting paisley jeans that are a bit of a squeeze to do up right now.

The main reason for this sudden tightness in the clothing department is probably something to do with my participation in the consumption of a ridiculously large cinnamon bun this afternoon.  The specific sizing of it is, as I’ve told anybody who’ll listen since I discovered them on Thursday, ‘as big as your head’.   We found this obesity drug in Haga, a cute little street of cafes and antique shops and, for some reason, Moomin memorabilia, that I may or may not have mentioned before.  We did go some way to rectifying the sugar feast by walking up a ‘mountain’ (ahem… small, albeit steep, hill) to a tower/castle type thing.  It was nice with some amazing views of Gothenburg but it was also a bit of a suicide mission given the gale force winds that followed us up there.  We didn’t make it up the tower either as some kind of event was occurring, or at least I assume there was, otherwise people were just very inappropriately dressed for a walk up a hill on a windy day.

In my last post I mentioned the Kindle and the Language Assistant volunteering, and then never got around to saying anything more about them, so here we go.  I’ll start with the Kindle and get the bad news out of the way.  I have been completely anti-ebook, anti-Kindle, anti-Kobo since they were first introduced a few years ago.  I have been very vocal about my objections and have sworn not to get one, ever, point blank, period.  Then I came to Sweden.  Sigh.  Most Amazon sellers won’t ship here, the international bookshops are ludicrously overpriced and I had a strong feeling that I couldn’t get away with just buying one book from each module’s reading list this term (and even if I could, this strange new academic motivation seems to tell me that I don’t want to get away with it).  The only option seemed to be a Kindle, aka the tool of the devil, the death of literature.  The day it arrived, I sat staring at it for a long time before opening the box.  When I opened it, I was decidedly underwhelmed.  To be honest, I don’t have much to say on the matter (which makes this whole paragraph a bit redundant, sorry); it’s okay, it’s adequate, it does the job, but it’s not a book and I can’t get excited about it like I can a book and I won’t ever choose its sleek case over a tatty old paperback.   And that’s that.

I have many more positive things to say about the volunteering however.  ABF Vux caters mostly to teaching English to native Swedes and both English and Swedish to asylum seekers.  I’ll admit that I was a bit wary about participating, as it’s just not my sort of thing.  At all.  However, I was completely wrong.  It was straight forward and interesting and I really enjoyed the session.  If nothing else, you get a lunch voucher after each class and a certificate at the end of term, however I have a feeling you’ll get a lot more out of it than that, although I’m aware how hideously cheesy that sounds.  It was fun though, let’s leave it at that, and I also have yet another group of people to add to the ‘people who laugh at my British accent’ list.  Between you and me, this list is getting pretty long.

Tonight, I am going out for the first time in eight days (I’m not sure if I mentioned it or not, but I haven’t been out for eight days… eight days) with the people who laugh at my accent more than anybody else.  We had high hopes of making sangria then remembered that Sweden is a ridiculous country and you can’t buy alcohol after 3pm on a Saturday, so we’re just having to make do with plain ol’ wine instead.  Nonetheless, I am exciting to finally wear something other than a jumper and to unleash some ludicrous dancing.  No doubt you’ll hear from me tomorrow, dying in bed and having undone all the good work of the past week.  Peaks and troughs.

(I’ve noticed that seem to sound pretty anti-Sweden in these posts, which couldn’t be further from the truth, it’s just sometimes a bit difficult to be enthusiastic about a country that makes you pay £4 for tampons, that doesn’t let you watch 4OD and where you have to decide on pre-drinks at lunchtime.)

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Death By Technology

It is barely lunchtime, but today so far I have been to see a lady about volunteering as a Language Assistant, which I begin tomorrow, and have received the parcel containing my Kindle.  The Kindle and I have been staring at one another for about an hour now, and I am still unable to quite believe that I sold my soul and bought one; it feels like the hangover of reading.  Anyway, I will write about both of these things in more detail tomorrow, but for now here is some evidence that I'm not just holed up in my Northamptonshire bedroom, making up stories about life in far away Scandinavian city.  (Due to my prehistoric camera now being completely broken, none of these pictures are mine.)

Sunday, 9 September 2012

One Out Of Three Ain't Bad.

To anybody I even vaguely know, it should come as no surprise if I tell you that right now, as we speak (/I type) I am procrastinating.  Even less of a surprise, the thing from which I am procrastinating is academic and comes in the form of a book.  I’m not sure why I am quite so incapable of reading prescribed course materials, as at all other times I am a self-confessed, unashamed and obsessively opinionated bookworm.  However, put the title on a reading list and hand it to me in a classroom and you’d think I was illiterate.  Having already tidied my room, scrubbed my kitchen cupboards and washed my hair today, and being without iPlayer etc for the foreseeable future (damn you Sweden, damn you), I am left with little distraction except to warble away on here for a while.  Lucky you, aye.

In the past week (maybe I should just write Sundays off and call them blogging days, as that seems to be the way that this is going) one thing has changed, somewhat significantly, and that is that I am now officially enrolled in some classes at G√∂teborgs Universitet.  Perhaps also significant, and definitely hypocritical, after two weeks of moaning to anybody with ears about how god damn impossible it was to subscribe to any classes, I managed to miss my first two.  Oops.  The first was a very ambitious 10am Speculative Fiction (i.e. Sci Fi.  Uh huh.) class after a night out.  True to the general story of my life, I got drunk and slept through it (and, as Oscar asked me to clarify, yes I do mean overslept, not slept with the entire group, just in case you were wondering).  After this hiccup, I dragged myself to McDonald’s for a hangover cure and stumbled to my 1pm class.  After a bit of trouble locating the room, I arrived and sat there for a while thinking they were just engaging in pre-class chatter in Swedish.  However, when notes began to appear on the board in Swedish I established that no, this was the actual seminar in full swing and, more to the point, it was not the one I was meant to be in.  After a pretty awkward explanation on my part, I shuffled red-faced from the room, too late to find my actual class.  And another one bites the dust.

I did eventually make a class though, at 6pm that evening (which, in case you were wondering, is absolutely, definitely, completely, 100% too late for a class to start).  It was also unfortunate that the required reading for this was Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes.  I can tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, that reading a book of poetry written by a man to his dead wife is not ever going to help a miserable hangover day.  I think I would have really enjoyed the collection too, had it not been for the circumstances, so I shall attempt a rereading at another point, preferably when I’m located in my bed, wearing my cat t shirt, with a gallon of tea and a vast supply of biscuits for company.  The class went fairly well but as it was a night class, the other people were all mature students, which made it a bit different.  Another negative was that when it finished at 8pm, a severe downpour had begun, and I was wearing sandals and a summer dress, which meant that the long tram journey home in the dark was even less enjoyable than it might have been otherwise. However, the rest of the reading list looks interesting and I am strangely excited to begin my proper classes with other people my age, equipped with a raincoat and not suffering from what my dad likes to refer to as ‘the wages of sin’ (i.e. a hangover).

After returning home on Thursday evening to the welcoming arms of my duvet, and recovering with a Skype from Beth, enough pasta to feed the whole of China and ogling over Ed Westick in a re-watch of Chalet Girls, things looked up.  On Friday evening I reluctantly opened another bottle of wine and had a strangely fun evening of classic 90s music, singing into washing up brushes and developing a dangerous new dance that from here on in I shall simply name ‘The Rug Slide’.  Yesterday, we visited the Botanic Gardens and despite feeling that this was perhaps a daytrip better suited to my grandma, discovered they were actually very nice.  I especially enjoyed the table and chair with flowers planted into the seat and top and a cactus for a lightbulb.  When I have my own house, with its high ceilinged library and secret garden, I shall kindly let my dad (who by this point is of course going to have retired and be on hand to be my personal gardener at all times) attempt to recreate this for me.  Lucky him.

Lastly, a quick note on the Swedish postal system.  As mentioned in my previous post, within just minutes of arriving at Kviberg, I somehow managed to break my laptop charger.  Luckily, somebody let me borrow their computer to order a replacement.  I arrived home one day last week to discover what I assumed was a missed post slip in my mail box.  I groaned outwardly, imagining that a UK style postal goose chase was to follow.  In fact, despite the fact that I didn’t understand a single word on the slip except a vaguely recognisable shop name, I had hopped on a tram, signed for and received my package and got a tram home again within the space of about twenty minutes.  This is particularly reassuring as in the next week or so I’m hoping to receive a parcel from home including a Kindle (Yes I caved, although that’s a story for another day.  Don’t judge me; I’m not proud of myself.) and my jewellery, which I am feeling naked without, and some boots from ASOS because I imagine my feet are going to be getting cold quite soon.  So yes, just another simple system that Britain has somehow managed to overcomplicate and completely cock up.  Well done England, well done.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

An Evening With The Mayor

It was Sunday afternoon, around 2pm, and after spending twenty minutes wrestling with four keys, three doors and a touch-sensor-key-pad-lock-thing (the technical term, of course) I was finally able to open my new front door.  I did so without a moment’s hesitation and, if I remember correctly, a little dance of excitement followed.  Anybody who knows me will know that dancing is not something that comes naturally, so I think that says everything.  It was clean and beautiful and big.  I hopped about, flinging open doors and discovering walk in wardrobes, en suites, sofas, heated window benches. 

As there was nobody around, I eagerly scrambled around in my suitcase for my laptop in order to share my excitement with, failing all else, the world.  I was so enthusiastic in this endeavour that as I pulled my charger from the case, I somehow managed to snap one of the plug pins off in the process.  Had it been a cartoon sketch, there would have been a loud ‘duh’ sound shortly followed by a light bulb image appearing as I frantically attempted some dodgy electrical work involving the broken charger and an adaptor.  Perhaps needless to say, this did not work, and I was left with a broken adaptor too.  Wonderful.

Things have, however, looked up from there.  That evening, I met four girls living in my building and we ate pizza.  That in itself was an experience as when Suzanne asked for pizza and chips, she received this:

The next day was, no word of a lie, about on par with all my Christmasses coming at once as I got to fulfil a lifelong dream and go to Ikea in its homeland.  There isn’t really much to tell of this experience of this except: it was great.  Great.  And I stole all of the little pencils, which is standard procedure.  Later that evening, we went to visit somebody in another block of halls, which ended slightly terrifyingly.  We knew that the trams ran all night but had not yet discovered at this point that they stop before you reach our accommodation.  As everybody got off the tram, we sat looking dazed for a while before a Swedish woman pointed to the bus which apparently took up the journey from there.  We boarded this bus and had gone a few stops before it occurred to us that the bus obviously was not following the tram track and therefore would not go to the same stop.  A bit more panic followed before we decided to just get off the bus and walk back.  We had gone a little way on the bus by this point though and as we began walking the deserted streets on the outskirts of Gothenburg, it struck us that we had no idea where to go or how long it would take.  It was 1am at this point and we had to be up again at 7.30am; a long night looked to be ahead of us.

We had been going for a little while when we looked to the right and noticed that we were walking alongside a graveyard.  Being the erratic and ridiculous girls that we are, at this discovery we immediately began a full speed sprint, arms flailing and screaming.  In fact, this was the best thing that could have happened as an approaching bus thought that we were running for it and stopped to let us on.  Hallelujah.  When we finally got back, I rushed into my room and double locked the door, continuing along the path of illogical fear.

Other events of the past week have included a welcome reception with the mayor, during which we took full advantage of the free wine and drank her out of house and home, an accidental visit to a death metal club, a tram stop called Elisedal, a very hungover bus tour, being shunned for wearing shorts and lots of Fika (coffee and cinnamon buns, basically).  Hervee, a Belgian friend who lives in my flat, also introduced me to the utter joy that is a tequila slammer with orange and cinnamon in place of salt and lime, which is something I thoroughly recommend. 

Despite having only been here a week, it’s safe to say that Gothenburg feels like home already.  From my very earliest memories, I’ve been saying to anybody who will listen that I want to live everywhere, absolutely everywhere, and for the first time I’ve moved away and am living in a very certain somewhere.  As I prize myself from my bed each morning and stagger to the kettle (and by kettle, I am really referring to a small saucepan of water on the hob), it all feels so normal that it’s hard to believe that I’ve finally done it and left and that this morning cup of tea is happening somewhere non-English speaking and non-Tetley drinking.  But it is, and thank God for that.