Wednesday, July 31, 2013

We are not Worthy

Well, there's a surprise. It appears that the hedgehog has been chosen as the emblem of British wildlife in a poll held be a nature magazine. As the nation's premiete, probably only, hedgehog blogger I await calls from the national press asking for comment I am delighted, I shall say, and rather surprised. Hickory is an Algeria hedgehog, small and clean. The garden hedghog is big, smelly and ridden with fleas without and germs within. A pleasure to watch in the garden as they run from cover to cover crunching evrrything crunchy they can find (which includes those lovely butterflies, but you wouldn't want one in the house. Also, they are endemic across Europe, and are in no sense specifically British, but I'm not going to complain. We are not worthy of such recognition, I am sure, but it is received with humility and pride. This being the Guardian, there is a half-serious reference to instittional vertabrism, but the public perception does not lie. My hedhehog friends, we are big in Britain. We hace arrived. With apologies for format and spelling. Blogging by phone.

On Swedish Music

When you think of Swedish music, something else that people rarely do, you probably think of ABBA. We saw little to make us think anything has changed since then. In a park in Orëbro we came across a group of young people rehearsing for a performance they were about to give. They were clearly trying to sing some form of jazz, but it was jazz as imagined by someone who has had jazz explained to him at some point but has never actually heard any. They were also tone deaf. Another group in the same park (it was a large and lively park), were entertaining children with the theme from Pippi Långstrump and similar works. They had a big crowd and the children were enjoying it, so I assume there was something I was missing.

There is a relaxed feel to the music you hear around you. The feel of it suggests they are unused to strong melodies and dynamic, characterful rhythms. Even the Hare Krishna we saw in Stockholm were not chanting as they do in other places, but were producing a slow, mellifluent, almost tuneless sound like a group of hippies expressing the sound of water flowing over stones on a summer’s day. You could almost see long, light, printed dresses moving in the breeze.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On Swedish Food

When you think of Swedish food, if you ever do, I suppose you think of ‘smörgåsbord’. In practice, it seemed to consist of different types of smoked or cured fish, and muffins. Possibly a few more days would have allowed a wider experience of Swedish cuisine, but the number of restaurants and cafés offering food from around the world suggests that, as in England, the tradition food is either not very good or is insufficiently varied to gratify, on its own, the tastes of all those who might be looking for a place to eat.

At Uppsala we ate in a genuine Swedish restaurant, just below the Cathedral, on the river, outdoors on a terrace. The menu was largely different types of cured fish done in a variety of imaginative ways. There are very few fish which are improved by curing, salting or smoking. That may be the problem with Swedish food. There is no longer any need to cure it. They can eat it fresh every day if they wish, but then the identity of their food culture would be lost, and there is nothing to replace it. The place was crowded, very popular. Obviously one of the places to be at the weekend, but I wonder how many Saturdays in the year you can sit out on the river.

I mention muffins because another thing we were told about Swedish eating habits is that they stop what they are doing at any opportunity for a ‘fika’, which apparently just means a snack, but usually takes the form of coffee and cakes. The Swedes have a reputation as an efficient, hard-working people, and they have certainly built a wealthy society. They must get it all done between the coffee breaks.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Impressions of Swedish Churches

Scandinavia in general seems to have a distinctive style of ecclesiastical architecture. Partly because they are not us, and partly, mostly I think, because they didn't built much with stone until the late 19thC. The result is that many of the older churches which still stand are either made of wood or, if ma
de of stone, look as though they would be happier if they were made of wood. They tend to have very high, thin, metal spires, usually black,

which give them great vertical presence. Inside they seem to be similar to southern churches. The frescoes are fresher, there is more wood, but the ceilings and the columns look familiar and the design and distribution of high altars, side altars and choir stalls is, too.

We saw an old German church on the water near the railway station at Stockholm. It is said to be the oldest building in Stockholm, with a wrought iron latticed spire. A remarkable piece of work, and rather beautiful. You had to pay to see the inside and it didn't look worth it. The Cathedral was much more interesting, with a mahogany and silver reredos and skulls on the tombstones on the floor, and simple frescoes on some of the roof vaults. The pianist was practicing for a concert on a piano in front of the altar. The sound carried beautifully. We saw another Church with a lot of wood all around, simply but well-carved, and with many paintings of bucolic scenes and the lives of saints on the wood.
We walked down to the river and up to the Cathedral at Uppsala. The service was starting. As churches mostly are here, it was tall and thin, and in this case very large, the biggest in Scaninavia we were told. The spires are thin tall and black, the body is good brick, there are weell-executed frescoes on the walls of biblical scenes and sparing designs on the vaults of the ceiling. See the photos as usual. There is great variety of styles among the altars, tombs, gravestones and statues in the place. The high altar was curious, with a simple grey cross and no reredos,but a further space behind. Behind this part was a waxwork of a beggar, very lifelike. There were two organs, one a magnificent old set of pipes over the front door, and another more modern one to one side of the high altar.

100 yards away there was another church, this time a more Romanic type, simpler but also quite interesting in its way. Service was also going on, so I assume it was another denomination, as neither was full. It's a difficult question to ask, of course, 'Why don't you all worship the one God and love your neighbour together?' The answer probably contains the phrase 'spawn of Satan...'

The Church of St Nicholas in Orëbro has its own unusual frescoes and a reredos consisting mostly of a painted Calvary scene surrounded by sculpted apostles making up the rest. Also two organs, one grand and old, one smaller and newer and more accessible. And again a grand piano near the altar. They certainly like their keyboard music in this country.

And then there is the 'Frälsarkransen', which I saw in a number of places. It appears that an old bishop, called Martin Lönnebo, having given up playing pool because his cue arm wasn't as straight as it once was, decided to string his balls together and use them for devotion (I may have misunderstood part of the story). In any case, he created a Rosary in which the beads have the following symbolism:

Schematic Presentation of the Wreath of Christ
1. The bead of God 
2. The bead of Silence 
3. The I-bead 
4. The bead of Baptism 
5. The Desert bead 
6. The Carefree bead 
7. The bead of Love 
8. The bead of Secret 
9. The bead of Darkness 
10. The bead of Resurrection

I found this very interesting, and I offer it for what it's worth. It could be a very comforting thing to hold and to pass through your fingers and your mind at times when life is getting unnecessarily complex.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Of Sweden, Water and Elk

Work has continued to follow me around this week, but it seems to have stopped (I’ll say it very quietly), and I have time to do things, including blogging.

We are now in the country, by the lakes, but we spent ten days in England, in the old home town, and before that a few days in Sweden (for no particular reason, we just thought we’d go and see the place).

It’s a beautiful country, green and wet. When you live in the semi-desert of southern Spain that’s the first thing that strikes you about anywhere that has water. You breathe more deeply, your flesh seems to fill with life, you feel a freshness about everything, and as I hadn’t been there before and had no particular expectations, I could see it with fresh eyes as well.

Stockholm is built on somewhere between 1,000 and 30,000 islands, depending on who you ask. The casual visitor only sees a couple of dozen, but you are constantly reminded that it is city built on waterways. Everywhere you go is on sth-holm, and across sth-bron. In the tourist’s part of the city you are nearly always looking out over water, walking beside water, crossing over water, smelling water. You get the idea.

There are, of course, boats everywhere.

At the weekend, at the port at Kungsholm and along by Scheppsholm there was some kind of boating festival going on. It looked like a big one, with people from all over and major sponsors. There were many yachts being prepared for a race around the islands. There was talk of an inshore and an offshore race, and smaller, motorized craft were being prepared too. There was a Red Bull 'build a silly machine and throw yourself into the water' competition, which unfortunately didn't start until the next day, but everything was ready and some of the machines were already there. A bit odd they were, not surprisingly. There were outdoor bars and sponsors’ tents and announcers and the whole weekend looked like a lot of fun.

We saw the hat shop where Greta Garbo used to work, we walked up a steep hill and out over a narrow metal bridge about 150 feet up that didn’t seem to be standing on anything so we could see the whole of the old city below us across the water, set in its context against the waterways and the other nearby islands.

We went on an evening ‘safari’, a looking-at-the-wildlife safari, rather than an is-this-lunch-or-do-I-hang-it-on-the-wall safari. A girl with a minibus drove us around a nature reserve to the west of city, mostly around a lake and through woods, and stopped whenever we saw anything with the right number of legs. The first thing we saw was an elk with a young baby, about 70 yards from where we were standing. This, we were told, is very unusual, (she probably tells everyone that). We saw quite a few more elk, including another young one, some from about 40 yards. They have no predators and hunting is banned in the reserve so they don’t worry about anything much beyond the quality of the grass they are munching. At one point the mother and child walked up just behind a hut we were standing the other side of. We all tried to rush round the side and had to be restrained by the young lady who pointed out that an elk is a big thing to have on the other side of you from its baby.

We also came across a number of wild boar- which there are a lot of where I live, too, though you don’t see them often unless you go out at night or very early in the morning- roe deer, a dancing, nervous creature that never seems to like being where it is, and a couple of badgers. Although the area I grew up in is supposed to be full of them, I don’t think I have ever seen a badger before.

All of this as the sun went down over the lake.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A few predictions for the next decades

When the mind is not busy with professional obligations, it starts thinking about other things. Mine has not settled down yet to anything specific but it's floating around looking for things to attach itself too. These are some idle thoughts it has had about the future:

The whole concept of 'carcinogen' will be completely reconceived. The current understanding of how specific substances cause uncontrolled cell growth will turn out to be so completely misunderstood that we might as well have ignored everything said about the subject (cause, not treatment, which is understood rather better).

Abortion will go the way of slavery, which it resembles in many ways, in terms of the arguments used to defend it. This will not be because of anything new discovered about the neurophysiology of the foetus, but as a result of changes in orthodox  thinking. In other words, it will be 'liberals' who reject it.

The red Indians will turn out not to be the first humans in the Americas and there will be a social revolution  of some kind in the USA as people realize they owe them nothing that they don't owe to others. In S America it is harder to say, given the politics of the region.

There will be a revolution of some kind in professional sport. People will lose interest in the sports which are constantly being exposed as corrupt. This will affect the Olympics as well as politicians distance themselves from those sports that have become unpopular and stop funding them.

Speaking of politics, stability and prosperity will appear in unexpected areas of the world, and in some of the most stable countries the governments will take one too many liberties with the freedom and patience of their electorates. Specifically, the EU will collapse and some governments will not survive it.

And more immediately, England will win the Ashes.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Swans and Summer

It's been a bit quiet here lately. Firstly I was very busy, then I was on holiday. Now I am on the farm for the summer, with time to share my ramblings, musings, rantings and occasional incisive and aethetically interesting thoughts with this blog and any reader who happens by.
I have ideas. Oh, yes. I have ideas. There will be stuff here. I hope it will be worth reading.

I would write about the Test match we have just won, but my pulse has not slowed sufficiently to think clearly about the game. Meanwhile, I offer you a cygnet and its mother on the river in my old home town, whence I came a day or two ago. I always carry the camera, and sometimes I surprise myself.