Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Annual report

At the end of each year I usually make for myself a mental, or sometimes even written, overview. Grandchildren born, travels undertaken, books and articles published, conferences, lectures, awards, new friends and other accomplishments. This year, everything is overshadowed by the Decisive Change. Imagine, a year ago I had no idea where I would be today. Even though a vague idea of a new job was somewhere at the back of my mind it was as far away as the North Pole. (I would like to go to the North Pole, but I don't think it is a realistic desire. I tend to get seasick).

Then everything happened very quickly, and I am still out of breath. I am still expecting to wake up one morning and discover that it has been a dream. And I cannot help contemplating what I am doing right now in the Alternative Reality in which I didn't stay away from a conference banquet in Barcelona.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Closed and open

Today we went to Peterborough to see its magnificent cathedral. It was closed. By contrast, the shopping mall was open.

A spooky city

My daughter and I take a walk in the city. It is dead. Everything is closed, not even a place to sit down and have a cup of coffee. The colleges do not allow visititors. The stalls in the Market place are abandoned. The buses do not run. Almost no cars and still less cyclists. No boats on the river. The streets are empty, save a handful of tourists who obviously don't celebrate Christmas.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Christmas is saved!

There is one thing about Christmas that is more sacred than food and presents. Take the ham from a Swede, and he will sigh and comply. Take his Christmas Disney from him, and he'll kill you. Over forty years running, a Disney medley has been shown on Swedish television on Christmas Eve, at 3pm. All family activities are arranged around this important moment. No child, however impatient, would dream of opening a present before Disney. This is the only cultural heritage all Swedish people, young and old, share. The quotes, the songs, the jokes.

So how shall I survive? (I must admit that we survived in California).

Thanks to my clever daughter I now have a link to YouTube. If you want to share the most Swedish of all Swedish traditions with me tomorrow, click here.

Monday, 22 December 2008

A horror story with a happy ending

It is "the day before the day before the day", as the Swedish saying goes, and it is the day to get a Christmas tree. Some people might say: what's the point of having a tree when you have no small children. But we have always had a tree, except maybe some years when we went to warmer latitudes for the holidays. So after we had loaded for Christmas dinner we crossed the road to the garden store, where Staffan some days ago had investigated local supplies of Christmas trees. But, what a chock! - not one single tree. "No sir, sorry sir, we're out of trees, no we are not expecting any more". Unbelieable. We checked the B&Q nearby. Not a tree. "Sorry sir..." I have never been so disappointed since my parents did not give me a dog when I was small. We had a couple of days ago seen a flower shop with a gimmick outside used for wrapping Christmas trees, and I also remembered the farm where we occasionally go for meat. However, I envisioned all the food we had just bought and that I had to cook, so I entrusted Staffan with the task of tackling the tree issue. I did suggest that he might ring before going there.

Off he went, leaving me with ham and red cabbage and beans. It takes a lot of time to cook a proper Swedish Christmas dinner, and somehow it takes just as long time to cook for three as for twenty. I forgot the time, but when it had gone two hours I wondered whether I should start worrying. I know Staffan well, and I know that he is stubborn, but in two hours you can almost go as far as Manchester. I didn't really feel a Christmas tree was worth the trip.

He called some time after, could not explain where he was, but asked me to check an address on his computer screen. Two hours later he came in triumphantly, and I must admit that it is one of the prettiest trees we've ever had.

Friday, 19 December 2008

We are best!

I have during the past weeks heard a lot about RAE. Busy as I am with all kinds of things and confused by endless acronyms, I haven't given this mystery much thought. The day before yesterday an email message announced that the RAE results would be released one minute past midnight. I am sorry to admit that I didn't care then either. Yesterday everybody at the Faculty was agitated, and there were rumours of abundant champagne at high places.

My dear husband who reads newspapers enlightened me when I came home. RAE spells our Research Assessment Exercise, and the results are that Cambridge is best in the UK. Although I haven't contributed anything to this game, I feel proud as if I have won it myself.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The holiest

I have always declared that I am a literature person, not a book person. And especially not a manuscript person. I have never understood the awe of looking at or even holding an original manuscript of a favourite book or a famous book or any book. A manuscript is just a bundle of paper.

I know this is a very immature way of thinking.

I once visited a famous children's literature archive, simply because they invited me to give a talk. I had out of politeness to show some interest and asked to see the file of an author I was just then working on. It was illuminating. But not my cup of tea.

It so happened that I today had a chance to see the original manuscript of Winnie-the-Pooh, which is the best book ever written. It is one of the treasures of the Wren Library of Trinity College, and my friends here, who know my passion for Pooh have repeatedly inquired how many times I have seen it yet. I would have gone to see it at some point, just to satisfy them. But it so happened. (OK, I'll brag: I was interviewed for BBC about Pooh in Russia. The rustle of old manuscript pages makes a tremendous effect in a radio programme).

I prepared to fake admiration, but when the custodian opened the case, I felt something very much like awe. Or was it curiosity? The manuscript does not open the way the printed version does, and it set it rolling. What other secrets does the manuscript hide? Piglet has a different name. Some bits are deleted, some additions scribbled in the margins. Does it matter? Can it change my understanding of the text? I am not particularly interested in authors' lives either. I don't tremble at the mere thought that the godlike Mr Milne once held this piece of paper. Yet there is something that touches my heart while the librarian slowly turns the pages. The magic of ink on yellowish ragged paper? The curlicues, the gaps between lines, large margins, indents. The text is no longer just a text, it becomes a work of art, a visual image, a material object. Like seeing an original painting rather than a postcard. I want to spend a long time studying each page, each paragraph, for purely aesthetical enjoyment.

I am afraid I will have to go back to the Wren library. Maybe more than once.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The portrait of the blogger as an old reader

If I write about one book every week, it will take me two years to cover the traditional "Hundred best books in the world". Is it worth while? I may try and see where it takes me.

Condition: no work-related books. This rules out all children's books, but on the other hand the definition is negotiable. There are critics who claim that there is no such thing as a children's book. They give a variety of reasons for the statement. Anyway, no work-related books. But are there any non-work-related books for a scholar of literature? Aren't we all damaged forever by our cynically analytical approach to printed word, and by extension, to all stories? I remember watching The Lion King on television with my kids, who, on hearing my comments on Hamlet and the Oedipus complex, told me to shut up and never watch another movie in their company (they have become more tolerant since then). So can I really read Moby Dick without noticing the figurative language, the symbols, the underlying ideology, the ambiguous point of view, the intertextual links... I'll stop here, before I get lost in terminology. Once again, can I read a book like I listen to music, without critical reflection? Can musicologists, or musicians, like my father, listen to music for pure delight? Can art critics enjoy a painting without contemplating composition and perspective? Does knowledge kill joy? If so, my profession is self-destructive. I really enjoyed Moby Dick more now thanI did forty years ago. But does it depend on my sophistication as a professional reader or my life experience? In any case, to write about the "Hundred best books in the world" I need to dissociate the professional from the individual. What a challenge!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Slow reading

I remember when I was young my mother and I were amazed by the amount of books my father used to read. He was completely omnivorous in reading, novels, poetry, biographies, travel books. For me and my mother reading was - still is for me - a substantial part of work. Reading for pleasure is therefore something reserved at best for holidays, provided that there aren't piles of books that must be read during the holidays, as the case is when you are a reviewer or on a book jury. Reading for work oftentimes implies reading fast, in many cases stating from the first page that the book is poorly written, boring and uninspiring, but still has to be read. Sometimes I see a book and know that I have read it, but have no memory of it. On the other hand, I have discovered that I have forgotten essential details in books I thought I remembered well, so I don't trust my memory and always re-read books before I write about them or teach them, even though I have read them ten times before.

Perhaps I am a snob, but I cannot read trash even when I am very tired. Not even when I am on a plane. Trash makes me irritated. (Trash is a matter of definition of course).

So what do I read when I read for pleasure? Looking back at the year that is almost over, I realize that I have re-read three masterpieces that all require slow reading. Books that you do not read for the plot, but for the pleasure of the language, the sound of words, the elegance of phrasing. Three books similar in that nothing happens in them. Three books that I read when I was young and of course didn't understand or appreciate then. The Magic Mountain. Don Quixote. Moby Dick. Yes, it took me a whole year to read three books, while parallel to them I swallowed dozens upon dozens of children's books for work, and also a good number of airplane books of good quality, to kill the time, and naturally a good deal of professional literature. Yet I think it is the first time I have consistently chosen, one after another, these calm, plotless books in which you savour words, almost reading aloud, lingering on paragraphs; I even looked up some words in a dictionary.

On closer consideration, I believe this slow reading is part of my new lifestyle that includes papermaking, pottery and dollhouses. I allow myself the luxury of reading the way I listen to music. You cannot speed up music without distorting it. We shouldn't speed up reading when we read for pleasure. Also, you can hear favorite music over and over again. You can finish Moby Dick and start again and enjoy it just as much. I did not know this simple fact when I was young.

As a professional literary critic I suddenly find it hard to articulate my response. I am right now grading students' papers including their "self-portrait as a reader". In the beginning of the term I found the topic a bit ridiculous. After weeks of supervision, I realize how difficult it is - if you do it critically. Can I, to my own satisfaction, write a self-portrait of myself as a reader in 2008? Have the three novels been formative for me? Was the time right for choosing them? What have I got out of them? Is it necessary to get something out of your reading?

Fortunately, there are so many books out there. I have already started on the next slow read, Remembrance of Things Past.


The reason for my recent trip to the old country was that a younger colleague whose work I have closely followed defended her doctoral thesis. Now for cultural clashes: I have been a co-supervisor for a doctoral student at Worcester, and when she had her viva recently I was not invited. Nothing wrong wih me; in the UK students defend themselves, confronted on their own with two examiners. A student here at Cambridge has already asked me desperately whether she really will have to go through viva alone, without me holding her hand. Well, that's the way it is.

But I like the Swedish - or Scandinavian - system better because a doctoral defence is a show, a well-deserved catharsis after years of hard work. It is public and entertaining and almost always followed by a feast. In a way, it is more the opponent's task than the respondent, the latter already having done her share. Having experienced both positions, I know that opponents are more nervous. The audience is always on the respondent's side.

I remember my oldest son getting both upset and angry at my defence. He thought the opponent was nasty toward me. (In fact, she was exceptionally nice).

At best, a defence is a professional dialogue of the kind that seldom occur otherwise. This was definitely the case in Stockholm. The opponent was critical in a positive way and a pleasure to listen to. The respondent was alert and confident.

Champagne was served in the library while the examination committee convened, and there was a marvelous celebration in the evening.

Several of my former and present students from Åbo in Finland had come over, which gave me a foretaste of the next weekend and a defence at Åbo Akademi. This famous university has still more festive ceremonies than Stockholm. I have several times hinted that I would like an honorary degree because beside your doctor's hat you get a sword. Wouldn't I look gorgeous with a sword?

For the defence itself the chairperson (kustos) and the opponent must have hats, which they don't put on - just as you don't put on hoods with your academic dress in Cambridge - but carry in your left hand. Every step is minutely prescribed, and every sentence has to be correct. Thus: not "on half of..." but "on behalf of", which is easy to mix up when you are nervous. As a kustos, I was if possible more nervous than the opponent and the respondent together. I also had a bad cold and sounded like a mute swan. But I am good at pretending, so I guess nobody noticed. But nobody could fail to notice my gown. Yes, I did wear my Cambridge gown and sat there in front of the audience, basically having no other function than sit there and look academic. Someone told me afterwards that I looked impressive when I signalled the opponent and the respondent to stand up or sit down, waving my sleeves like vampire's wings.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Catching up

I haven't written anything for almost two weeks. My normal attitude is that I only want to write here when I have something substantial to say, not just write for the sake of writing. Yet I have tons of things to tell. It's just that I haven't had access to internet. You would expect that visiting a civilized country such as Sweden would not imply electronic limitations. But this time I stayed with my daughter, and she took her laptop to work every day... Lame excuse. Try better.

Well, actually it feels weird to be in a place that isn't your place any more.

During many years I used to have the same nightmare. I am in Moscow, have been in Moscow several days, but haven't met any friends or relatives, they don't ring, and I cannot remember any phone number. This is how I felt last week in Stockholm.

To be fair, I had a horrendous cold and spent most of my time in bed. But I have contemplated the options. After I have met all the grandchildren, after I have met all the grandchildren several times, met some friends over lunch or midmorning coffee - what am I supposed to do in a big city that isn't my home any more? Go to a museum?

The reason I stayed in Stockhlm for a week was that I had an event on Friday, Dec 5, and then another in Finland, last Saturday. It seemed so natural to combine these and enjoy a whole week with friends and relatives. But friends and relatives work on weekdays and are too tired in the evenings. Bad planning.

Two friends came to visit me while I was in bed. It was also strange, receiving visits in somebody else's home. Making apologies for the absence of coffee and sugar. Julia says in her blog that I wasn't too disturbing, didn't make much noise, washed up the dishes and didn't move anything. (She doesn't say that I took care of her cats).

I had lunch with a friend. I did see one batch of grandchildren before I collapsed. I met Filip to buy him a Christmas gift that needed trying on. I took myself to the Children's Books Institute to have a look at a book that isn't available at Cambridge University Library, and amazingly, they didn't have it either. I know for sure I've held it in my hands, must have been in the US. It felt very peculiar to come to the Instutite more or less as a foreign guest. They were as usual extremely helpful.

I also went to my old working place, because a younger colleague had her doctoral defence (that was one of the two reasons I made the journey). Some people drowned me in questions, others pretended they didn't see me. Did I really look ghostlike? I browsed through the remaining books in my old office and decided that I needed some of them after all. I am sure I need many books that somebody has taken. Too bad.

Also - I seem to have supressed it altogether - I have signed the final papers and submitted the keys to the house. Somebody else will tend my garden in spring.

To be continued...

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


Yesterday I received intructions for assessment of student essays. This is the umpteenth system of grades I will have to learn. The first, in Russia, was quite easy, 1 to 5, with the reservation that 1, the lowest, was never used. In Sweden, they first used 1-5 in schools (if they used grades at all), but at the university it was Fail, Pass and Pass with distinction. Except that in teacher traning it was just Fail or Pass. Recenty, school grades have become Pass with exceptional distinction, Pass with distinction, Pass and Not Yet Pass (the latter apparently not to give the students a lifetime trauma with Fail).

A couple of years ago Swedish universities changed to the European system, which is A-F, with E, F and Fx denoting Fail, with some slight nuanses in the degree of failure. In Finland, where I have taught extensively, it used to be 1-3, with four quartergrades in between, that is, 1,0, 1,25, 1,5, 1,75 etc. But for master and doctoral grades, the old Latin grades were, and still are, used: Appobatur, Lubenter approbatur, Non sine laude approbatur, Cum laude approbatur, Magna cum laude approbatur, Eximia cum laude approbatur and Laudatur. I have never met anyone who got Laudatur.

In the US, the grades were A, A-, B+, B, B- and so on, except for final grades, where pluses and minuses were not allowed.

Here in Cambridge, they use A, B+ and B, but there are variations within each grade, so that A can be 70 or 72, B+ 66 or 64 - or something like that, I will still have to study it carefully, to get an A for my grading.

To my complete despair, Morag has mentioned in passing that this system is only used for master; for undergraduate essays, a different one will be applied.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Christmas shopping

As I have already said: women shop, men make purchases. Though you can hardly make purchases at Christmas time. With ten grandchildren you need the very last drop of your imagination. Every Christmas we say that only kids are getting presents this year, but of course I want to give something to their parents as well. And the parents are not cooperative when it comes to their kids' wish lists (or their own for that matter). This year I only got two wishes. One was easy, a very specific book, which is a pleasure to purchase, marching right toward the relevant shelf. The other was a toy mobile, preferably not a very noisy one, and that needed some shopping and even assistance. "Boy or girl?" the shop assistant asked. I said it didn't matter which I guess made him offended. The label on the box indicates "Parent-friendly features" which I hope means that you can switch off the sound.

That done, I look desperately around for some great gift ideas (that's what the shops advertize: "Great gift ideas"). Apart from Christmas gifts, I need two birthday gifts. Naturally, everybody expects something very original and English. But how am I to know what is original and English and isn't available in any department store in Stockholm? Tea mugs saying "Greetings from Cambridge"? That's always the last solution. There are lots of books and games, but they are wasted on small kids who cannot read English. The older kids can. Oh that boring Granny, always coming with her silly books... Another shop assistant gives me a compassionate look. "Haven't they written their wish lists?" and "You may try Cambridge Toy Shop". Another doll? Another teddy bear? By the way, Borders gave a large teddy bear for every £25 spent in the shop. I only came home with two. I bought some books for myself and a CD with carols sung by King's Choir (not a chance to hear them live!).

Baby and children's clothes are fun to buy, but they are also appreciated by parents more than kids. Oh that boring Granny with her silly sweaters. At least a piece of clothing always come useful. "Boys or girls? For boys, our most popular colours are..." I feel like a real shopper. Bother, how old are those kids? What size are they?

Well at home, I look at the pile and realize that I will need to leave most of my own clothes behind if I don't want to pay a fortune for excess luggage.

Mulled wine?

They say that a hostess must not enjoy her own party. Sorry to admit, but I almost always do. I enjoyed our glögg party yesterday. My saffron buns were apparently a success, since people even took some home for their absent partners and kids - I hope they didn't just pretend to be polite. I had to make another batch of glögg - someone said it was very much like mulled wine, but "we didn't hear that". Everybody brought something to share too, which was very nice. I had managed to fix a Swedish seven-armed candlestick in a window, a hard task since there are no window sills. We had our fake fire on, and many candles, and it was just as it should be on the first Advent weekend. At the very end a charming puppy was allowed to come in (he had been waiting in a car, poor thing) and showed a great interest in gingerbread.

I hope I have set up a tradition.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Lost Christmases

As I baked the gingerbread listening to Swedish Christmas songs I could not help crying. I always cry when I hear "Silent Night", but I felt especially lonely, because normally I bake gingerbread together with my children (or grandchildren as might be). This is quality time together. My daughter Julia is extremely artistic, so she would decorate the ginderbread with icing, and she always made a gingerbread house swearing in a most un-Christmasy manner when the walls wouldn't stick.

When I started the gingerbread this morning I realized that I had given Julia the gingerbread forms. Stars and hearts and piglets and moons and moose. I thought I would ever need them again. How silly! I hope Julia makes use of them.

But there was another thought that made me still more melancholy. I had already lost my Christmases once. Despite my name, I come from a Lutheran family, and in the Communist Russia we had a family secret: we celebrated Christmas. It was not an religious occasion, but an extended family gathering, with carols and the smell of candles and the taste of honey cakes and nuts. It was such a wonderful night - that no one of my classmates had - and I had always thought that I must keep the tradition for my children's sake. I did, with my oldest son.

Then we moved to Sweden and a different tradition, different songs (though "Silent Night" was still there, therefore I can never near it without tears, it brings back the memory of relatives long gone), different food, different wrapping paper (there wasn't any in Russia, it was just plain paper), different candles, different decorations, different meal times. Christmas was also official and commercial, and "Silent Night" was played in supermarkets. I was upset because we never had a large family gathering. No cousins, no hords of aunts. Occasionally, Staffan's mother would come to spend Christmas with us, but never his beloved uncle. He did not celebrate Christmas.

I kept some of my childhood customs, incorporating them into my new life. I wanted my children to feel the way I did when I was a child. Saffron buns and gingerbread and hyacinths (there were no hyacinths in Russia, not in winter). It was hard to make the kids sing, not until they were old enough to pamper me. They had enough of singing in school.

For many years, we used to flee from Christmas stress to a warmer climate. We moved Chrismas Eve two weeks ahead to gather all the children. It it so difficult to manage Christmas with several sets of stepparents and grandparents and eventually in-laws.

The two Christmases in California were funny. We sat on our sundeck in shorts and T-shirts.

By the time we came back, the first batch of kids had kids of their own, and their own Christmas traditions. Every now and then one of them would decide to grant us either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I tried to preserve my childhood traditions and give them to my grandchildren, so that many years from now they would say: "Do you remember Christmas at Granny's?" The two younger kids moved away from home, but faithfully came on Christmas Eve. At least for a while, on their way to another party.

"Old folks' Christmas" is a short story, I think there is an old silent movie too.

Now I have lost my Swedish Christmas as well. New traditions. They don't even celebrate Christmas Eve here! I have brought my candlesticks, my tree decorations and some other trifles. It feels weird to decorate the house just for ourselves.

I am happy to think that Julia is coming over soon.

Further experiment

It is not only saffron buns you must have for your glögg party, but gingerbread. I hoped to find gingerbread in a supermarket, but apparently English gingerbread is different from Swedish. As a poor translation of Pippi Longstocking says: "Pippi was baking pepparkakor - a kind of Swedish cookie". So I had to bake those too. Fortunately, I had brought spices from Sweden, but again: syrup, baking soda, flour... No baking pan, and unfriendly oven. But I only burned one set, and I fed it to the ducks in the river.

Sunday, 23 November 2008


...it is snowing.

Risky experiment

Next weekend we have invited friends for a genuine Swedish glögg. Glögg is, as I wrote in the invitation, hot spicy wine with raisins and almonds, imbibed at this time of year accompanied by gingerbread and saffron buns.

It is always hazardous to bake in a new country. You are not familiar with flour or yeast or their relationship with each other and with other ingredients. You are not familiar with the oven. But I took the challenge.

The first thing I discovered was that saffron came in shreds. Luckily, I do have a mortar. The dough didn't really behave the way it should, but there was nothing I could do about it. The culmination of my despair came when it turned out that there were no baking pans in the oven. Apparently, baking pans do not come automatically with ovens in England. Since I had the dough ready I had to think of something really clever and I did. I put baking paper direct on the grill. It worked fine. The buns taste slightly different, but at least I know now that I can do it.

My next deed will be to bake gingerbread.

Friday, 21 November 2008


We have now lived here so long that I've had another haircut.

Thursday, 20 November 2008


I have betrayed an old faithful friend. I feel horrible. But sometimes you just cannot avoid it. It wasn't even love at first sight, but a practical arrangement. The old friend was love at first sight, the best friend I've ever had. Now and then I will return to the old friend, who will wait patiently for me, and I know I will always be welcome and forgiven. But from now on I will spend more time with the new friend. Who I am not even sure is a friend. Who may eventually become a friend. Or merely a commodity. I am even so mean that I will take away tokens of my love from the old friend and give to the new friend. I feel awful. This is not a way to treat friends. But I have no choice.

I have bought a new bike for everyday use.

(Tokens of love are the lights and the bell).

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Never say never

I remember hearing about people selling their houses when the children had grown up. Selling their houses and moving to an apartment in the centre, close to - what? I have always wondered. How can you do it to your children, selling their childhood home. I would never, never do anything so horrible.

I just did.

Corn Exchange

Yesterday we went to a concert. It has been a very long time since I listened to live music. When I was young we used to go to concerts several times a week, symphony orchestras, chamber, vocal, piano. It was just as natural as reading books. There were certains musicians we always went to listen to, and certain composers, and periods, and instuments, and whenever there was a first performance of a new work we would go. When it was something impossible to get tickets for, my grandfather, who was Vice-Rector of Moscow Conservatoire, would give me a pass on condition that I wouldn't even come near the Rector's box. Instead, I would go up to the balcony and sit on the stairs, together with music students.

In Sweden, I missed live music but had no company to go with. I like to do things with someone, so that you can afterwards say: "Wasn't it gorgeous!" I went on my own for a while, but it was no fun, so I stopped. Somehow, I never managed to make a habit of taking the children to classic concerts, like my parents did with me.

But yesterday we went to Corn Exchange to listen to Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, playing three goodies: Weber's Oberon Ouverture, Beethoven's Triple Concert and Elgar's Enigma Variations. Balm for the soul. The building is fantastic. And I must admit, being a music snob, that Cambridge music-goers have my approval. I feel it in the air.

But Triple concert brough back memories. On December 30, 1970, I heard it in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, with three brilliant performers, Sviatoslav Richter, David Oistrakh and Mstislav Rostropovich.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Plain English

There is a society struggling for people's rights to understand their own language. Although I love long and unusual words, I am all for it. When we get letters from the City Council or the gas company, I must always read them twice or more, and I still never understand whether I owe them or they owe me. I wish all these people took mandatory courses in plain English.

Worse still are some colleagues who believe that if you can understand a scholarly text it isn't scholarly. Oftentimes I wonder whether those who write these convoluted texts understand them themselves. It is easy to use ready-made blocks of phrases and put them together, while if you ask the authors exactly what they mean they get confused. All scholarly work must at least be translatable into plain English.

My favourite dialogue from Winnie-the-Pooh:

“The atmospheric conditions have been very unfavourable lately,” said Owl.

“The what?”

“It has been raining,” explained Owl.

“Yes,” said Christopher Robin. “It has.”

“The flood-level has reached an unprecedented height.”

“The who?”

“There is a lot of water around,” explained Owl.


Tonight was the first time we managed to get a seat by the fire in our favourite pub, The Green Dragon. We have many times watched it, but all tables are usually occupied. Maybe we came half an hour earlier today. It is a real fire, with huge logs in it. Over the fireplace there is a framed notice: "No hogging the fire". I can understand this. All people are pyromaniacs. We just cannot see a fire without picking at it. It always seems that if you just move a little twig the fire will get much better. And it's fascinating to see the logs fall down.

At home, with our little fake gas fire, I must constantly remind myself not to throw paper and nutshells into the flames.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Comparing notes

Yesterday I had lunch with a professor who was appointed at the same time as I. After some smalltalk we agreed that Cambridge bikers were a dangerous species, especially the subspecies that do not use lights. Otherwise we were both satisfied with the biking arrangements.

We could also state that we felt privileged to have so little teaching and so much time for our own research: we had not been spoilt with such conditions at our previous working places. We liked the campus and found eating places pleasurable. Neither of us had been invited to join a college yet, and apparently it would take time. Neither of us had a date set for our inaugural lectures. We were still learning the rules and the jargon.

It feels good not to be the only one.

Monday, 10 November 2008

More feline issues

Soon our dear cat can join us here. High time to think about practical arrangements. I thought that I would fly over and bring her. It turns out that even if I am on the same plane I can neither take her as cabin luggage nor as checked-in luggage. She must go as cargo! So it makes no sense. Our noble son has agreed to take her to the airport. I investigate booking and discover that there are companies that collect pets in your home and deliver to your new home - door-to-door service. Sounds good to me. A long form to fill, much longer than my own health questionaire. The reply comes promptly. "Since you already have all documents you will not need our service". That's what I call service.

Friday, 7 November 2008

It's all Latin to me

An unusual decision has caused a heated discussion. Apart from being a sesquipedalian, I also love Latin phrases, but for everything there is a time and a season. And it is especially irritating when some people use Latin without knowing the exact meaning.

Friday again

People usually say that time goes too fast. Days and weeks and months and years just pass by and disappear. For me it has always been the other way round. Time is stretched; it is still only Wednesday, it is still only February. I think it has to do with what you do with your time. If you fill hours and days and months with interesting and important things time goes slowly. Yet it is Friday again, and we have been to the Green Dragon. On the other hand, so many things have happened since Monday, I've done so much, I've been to London, I've seen fireworks, I've run a successful (I hope) seminar, I've met my students, I've answered zillions of emails of which at least a dozen were exciting. So yes, Friday again, looking forward to a quiet weekend but looking back at a long and gratifying week.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The Gunpowder plot

It is the fifth of November. I know all about it from a children's book by Edith Nesbit, The House of Arden. All essential knowedge comes from children's books.

Everybody is talking to me about fireworks and bonfires. Local newspapers are full of information about fireworks and bonfires. (Among other things, there is information about protecting your pets). So we must go and see fireworks and bonfires. It is just a short walk along the river. Crowds of people. It reminds me of my childhood with mass celebrations on Red Square. But Red Square is a bit larger than Midsummer Common in Cambridge. It gets really scary when all these people, including bikers and prams, try to leave through a narrow gate. I get panic, and we sit down on a bench, waiting for the crowd to pass. There is a fun fair on the premises which takes away a bit of the magic of the fireworks. Now we have been part of the community once again. On the way home, we look into our favourite pub and state that we are not the only ones to have got this marvelous idea. Even Staffan admits that we'd better go home.

Infernal pleasures

Imagine Dante's Inferno retold for children. This is what I heard yesterday, performed brilliantly by the author, John Agard. It was a book launch at a pub in London, with fifty people crammed in a little room, with wine and food and many old friends and many new friends. I am usually sceptical about retellings of classics for children, but this is an exception. And the evening was clearly worth an hour's travel. It is quite remarkable to have London so close.

Monday, 3 November 2008

The phantom cyclist

There is a children's book called The Phantom Cyclist, although I don't remember anything about it. The cyclists who go around like mad in the dark here look exactly like that. Phantoms, with pale-blue flashing lights. Uncanny. Today I was one myself. It wasn't half as bad as I had expected. Actually, it was ok, but for the rain. Anyone who wears glasses knows how helpless you are in the rain, whether you bike or walk.

Sunday, 2 November 2008


Believe it or not, but we've had frost. This is not what I have left Sweden for, I said to myself scraping frost from the windshield. I could not find the scraper first, thought I had left it behind hoping that I would never need it again. The saddest thing is that my outside plants have almost all died. I am especially upset about those that had survived a week in a moving van, just to be killed by frost.


In our favourite local pub, The Green Dragon, one of the two huge fireplaces is full of books (the other has recently started having fire in it).The books are for sale for 50p. It is not specified which charity the profit goes to. There is also a shelf full of dictionaries. Really big, thick dictionaries, at least ten different ones. Above them, there is a neat framed sign: "These books are not for sale or to take away. They are for our crossword academics".

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Saturday excursion

Today we went to Norfolk, to the village of Blakeney. It is not in any way a famous sight (although mentioned briefly in Lonely Planet), but today there happened to be a display of a unique dollhouse, never displayed in public before. I was spellbound by it, although not as impressed as most of the viewers, since I could recognize quite a few items or say to myself: I have exactly one like this in my doll house, and I have made it myself. Very good for your self-assurance. Staffan was not as fascinated by the house as by the visitors, average age 95, and come alive from an old movie. The hog roast was excellent and the garden magnificent with a sea view and a little sad pony.

Friday, 31 October 2008


It is Halloween, and our friends have told us that the local kids will burn our house if they come trick-and-treating and don't get their treat. Staffan has consulted a lady in our Tesco and came home with two boxes of candy. He also bought a pumpkin! I had no idea that he knew what a pumpkin was. Usually when I ask him to buy something, like ruccola or squash, he claims he doesn't know what it is. I have never carved a pumpkin. In the old country, the custom has not really been established yet, and when we lived in California, our artistic daughter did the carving. I took a photo of her pumpkin as a model, and I think it turned out quite nice.

I hope some trick-and-treaters find their way to our house.

Thursday, 30 October 2008


When I taught in California, I was instructed not to fraternize with the students. Meaning, for instance, don't go out for a beer or even a cup of tea. I was used to going out for a beer or a cup of tea with my students in Sweden, so I thought it was strange. I am sure there were strong reasons behind.

I was therefore glad when Helen from our MPhil course emailed us teachers inviting us to celebrate her birthday with cakes and ginger ale right before the class.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Weird and wonderful

Yesteday I went to London, not to look at the queen, but to visit a friend. Well, I was invited to dinner to a colleague whom I had never met, but we people in children's literature are all friends. As I had not been to London since we moved, I decided to go in the morning and do something exciting.

I have been to London dozens of times, often together with someone who was there for the first time: our children, a friend from Russia, and most recent, a grandchild. There are some mandatory things for a first-timer, but several are worth to revisit. But when I am on my own I try to find something special. Occasionally I just find it without trying. To find out about what's on in London you go to Time Out. Which I did and found two things I immediately fell for. The first was an exhibition at the British Library, Weird and Wonderful Inventions . A tiny exhibition, not adverrized anywhere inside or ourside the library. My friend's husband at dinner, when I told about it, said he had spent that particular day at the British Library and never heard of it. Just the kind of event I love! How about bottle-lock, to keep the servant from tasting the master's wine? A page turner (literally)? Knot unpicker? Mostly from the 19th century.

It then felt natural to proceed to Dr Johnson's House for the exhibition on tea and coffee in his time. The house itself is marvelous, and there is a statue of Hodge the cat in the yard. The house hides in a narrow passage off Fleet Street that I would never have ventured into on my own, but I once went on an evening walk of London's secret places.

In between I went to Portobello Road Market which is always worthwhile.

When I still had some time before going to my friend's I went into the National Gallery and just sat there comfortably, watching people pass by.

Just the right way to spend a day in London, if you are tired of which, said Dr Johnson, you are tired of life.

Friday, 24 October 2008

As time goes by

Some years ago I went to Greenwich with a friend. I don't normally buy souvenirs just for the sake of buying a souvenir, but I often browse souvenir shops just in case. In this particular case, the shop was full of Cutty Sark in all possible materials, and of the usual kitchen towels and china plates. But suddenly both my friend and I stopped, bewitched by the same object. It was an hourglass with the label: Three quiet minutes for tea. We gave one to each other.

Every morning, especially when I am alone, I turn the hourglass as I drink coffee and let the minutes go by without rushing. I hope my friend does the same.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Home Alone 2

Staffan is in the Old Country again. Which means that I have to take out garbage bins, get the groceries when I eventually run out of them, press my orange juice myself, and so on. Worst of all: nobody meets me when I come home and asks how the day has been.

Debutant ball

Cinderella has been to her first ball, in her fancy dress. It was really wonderful. Preprandials in Combination Room and all. I met some of my grad students. I talked to colleagues. I met some new people. I learned a lot more about life in Cambridge. Then the clock struck ten. My robe did not turn into rags, but it was a clear signal to go home.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Car trouble

We are trying to register our car in the UK. You would imagine that within EU it should not be a problem. Yet where there is no problem somebody is always happy to create one. First we are told that we cannot drive with our car at all with the old plates. The person has obviously misunderstood it all believing that we have imported a new car from Sweden. Then it turns out that the car must pass a UK test. Fair enough. It has just passed a Swedish test, but it doesn't count. The car fails the UK test because the front windscreen has a little crack. Fair enough. We get a new windscreen. Quite a pricy operation. Now we are told that we need to change the front lights and the speedometer. I can understand the lights, since they are indeed asymmetrical, but I am sure I can convert kilometers to miles, even if I am not a professor of mathematics.

I guess the next step will be to change the steering wheel from left to right.

Monday, 20 October 2008

meeting halfway

My friend Jean lives in Heresford, and we want to meet. We need to meet professionally, but this will have to be another time. Keep things apart. After a long discussion of options we decide to meet halfway, which happens to be a little village of Bozeat in Northamptonshire. Not much of a village, frankly - Staffan and I tried to find a place to have a cup of coffee before we phoned Jean, but it proved futile. But in the next village, or town maybe, there is an authentic market place, and pubs where our boys can have a beer or two while Jean and I explore antique shops. Afterwards we take Rolo the dog for a walk in the fields. I cannot imagine a more genuine English weekend.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Language immersion fatigue

I remember from my two years in California that my major nightmare was going into the classroom and starting in the wrong language. It's the same here. Before my lecture, I repeated the opening phrase over and over again, just to get it right. When I am very tired I wonder why everybody around me persists in speaking a foreign language. I notice that I insert Swedish words occasionally, especially conjunctions. I talk Swenglish with Staffan. And when I talk to myself (no, not aloud!) I sometimes stop to think which language I am thinking in. There is just one significant indication that I am not completely native: I always count in Russian.

Friday, 17 October 2008


I have a supervisee who wants to write her dissertation on Kipling. I just cannot refrain from association: "Do you like Kipling?" "I don't know, I have never kipled".

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

On the road to learning

Today I had my first supervision session. Cambridge boasts of its unique system of supervision, but so far I haven't seen any difference from what I was doing in the old country. Maybe I have missed the point. Anyway, I met my supervisee (isn't it a marvelous word?), and we tried to sort out the difference between epistemology and theory. The exact definitions vary between universities, so the only way is to adjust. That goes for us both.

Monday, 13 October 2008


I talked to a friend on the phone the other day telling her how good I have become at not bringing work home any more. "What do you do then?" she wondered, workoholic as we all are. I haven't asked myself this question. I have just been proud of not bringing work home. What do I do when I come home from work? I don't have to cook because Staffan waits for me with dinner ready. I do help to clean the table. We talk. If the weather is fine we sit in the garden. We go outside and look at the boats on the river. Sometimes we listen to music. I go to the gym. I blog and read some other blogs and discussion forums. I do something with the doll house. I do nothing in particular. I am. For the first time in my life I simply am. Then I go to bed and read a non-work-related book.

Cruelty to animals

One of the most prominent exhibits at Levenham Guildhall, featured in all broschures, is a mummified cat. It was found inside a house wall. The inscription says it was dead before they put it in the wall. In olden days, people also put their firstborn babies in house walls for luck.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Timberframe and topiaries

We have joined the National Trust which gives you free entry to 300 castles, mansions and other ancient attractions. Independently, we decided to make an excursion today, and Staffan suggested Lavenham, where he had been alone while I was in the old country. Lavenham is a place you think only exists as a costume movie setting (They did actually make Barry Lyndon and a dozen other films there). I have seen timberframe houses before and even stayed in one in Cheshire several times. But Lavenham is a whole town of timberframe houses. And a museum with excellent explanations about how they were built. I wish I could add some timberframe parts to my doll house. Maybe I'll make a Tudor room box.

After lunch in a timberframe pub we feel that we could do another attraction and go for Melford Hall nearby. It's grand in itself, but an additional treat is the Beatrix Potter connection, "the other Potter" as she is now referred to in children's literature context. The garden features topiaries with a pond hidden inside. A sign alerts parents to keep an eye on their children so that they don't fall into the pond.

I think we have already got one third worth of our National Trust membership.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Dress code, part 2

The weather is glorious, and we take a bike tour. We decide to go to the centre along the river, which turns out to be rather stupid, since pretty much everybody in Cambridge is doing the same, biking or on foot, and it is incredibly crowded. At King's Parade you have to literally squeeze between people. The reason we go to King's Parade is the University store where they sell gowns. So here I am, in my biking clothes and sneakers, trying on a gown. A perfect illustration of my personality. But the young man in the shop is apparently used to all kinds of academic eccentrics.

After that we bike to Grantchester, over cow pastures, on still narrower and bumpy paths. The sunny side of biking in Cambridge is that there always is a pub at your destination.

Dress code

I have been invited to Formal Hall at another college. It is a great honour, and I am looking forward to it. The only problem is that at this particular college gowns are required at Formal Hall. I have no gown because we have no such tradition in Sweden, and anyway it has to be a Cambridge gown. It is all very complicated. There are regular gowns and Scarlet Day gowns that are more festive. However, I have neither. And I have no idea whether I am allowed to wear a gown at all.

I consult the Faculty secretary who forwards the issue to the Pro-Proctor for Ceremonials. The message is, "as a Professor here, you are entitled to an MA Status gown (without strings)".

I look up gowns on the University Shop website, and they have such a variety that I get dizzy. You can rent a gown, and you can buy one for a substantial, but not unsurmountable sum. I have many times, letting my imagination flow beyond all reason, pictured myself in a gown.

By the way, I have worn an academic gown once. When I had by inaugural lecture at the University of Worcester as an Honorary Professor, the person in charge told me that they couldn't find a robe from Stockholm University to rent for me. She was astonished when I told her there wasn't any such thing. They got one for me anyway, from Coventry as it turned out, and lo and behold! it was blue and yellow, the Swedish colours.

Appropriately robed

Friday, 10 October 2008


Last Monday I eventually phoned the hairdresser's that Morag had recommended. There had been so much to think about that I just wasn't up to it. At the same time, my hair had got unbearably long and unkempt. I got an appoinment with Andy today.

A hairdresser is a very important person in one's life. To change a hairdresser is almost like changing a partner. And the first time with a new hairdresser is like a blind date. Will I like him? Will he like me? Can I trust him? Will he understand what I want? Will he notice my little dissobedient whirl on the right? Will I want to see him again?

I enter the little hairdresser shop with a row of chairs, with a large window toward the street, like an aquarium. I am apprehensive. I look around trying to guess who of these young men would be Andy. Will I like him...?

I did. I am very pleased with my haircut.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Public transportation

It is much too cold this morning for biking, so I decide to try yet another option: the bus. Cambridge boasts about its wondeful bus system, and I have already studied the map. There is a bus stop right in front of our house, but I have never seen any bus. It runs twice an hour and only between half past nine and half past five on weekdays. Not much help. But two minutes walk from us is another bus stop, and it is promised that this bus runs every ten minutes. A young man at the stop comments as the bus approaches: "See, it's even on time!" which apparently means it is an exception rather than rule.

I have to change buses in the centre, but I am not quite sure where, so I ask a fellow passenger. One should never do this - people are always ashamed to say they don't know and say something stupid instead. So I go off far too early and have to walk on. Fortunately I am not in a hurry. Both buses go in intricate loops, and I get excellent sightseeing. It is very relaxing. Not too many people. New passengers get tickets from the bus driver, and it takes ages. But I am not in a hurry, and I am not stressed because I am not driving. I watch people around me. I am part of the crowd. The way home goes even faster and smoother.

If I get into the habit of taking the bus to work I will probably, to my children's triumph, buy an iPod.

Sunday, 5 October 2008


Yesterday we had our housewarming party. A farewell party in reverse. At least half as many people in a house a quarter the size. I hoped to the last moment that the weather would be nice, and we could be in the garden. Of couse it wasn't. More than that, it had suddenly got so cold that the bedsheets felt icy the night before, and I had to wear my thick Norwegian sweater in the morning. Staffan tried every possible button and tap to start the heating, but it didn't work at all. I managed to switch on the fake fireplace in the sitting area, looking forward with horror about another cold night. Staffan went over to our friendly niegbour, but she wasn't at home.

Now, when twenty people get gother in a very small space, it does get warm. Nevertheless, after a couple of drinks, and having listened to many compliments about our lovely home, I ventured to ask whether anyone knew about heaters. It sometimes helps to play a dumb foreigner. Two minutes later the relevant button was found (not at all in the place we had been looking for).

That's what I call housewarming!

Friday, 3 October 2008

The naming of buildings

I still receive emails from the old country, and a hot item there is the naming of new rooms added to the department during summer. When the department moved into the building some years ago we had a vote, and after a week the name that got most votes was adopted.

Here I have just heard that the Faculty has investigated the possibilities to name the New Faculty Building after some distinguished person in the field (just as the old building is called Mary Allen Building). It turns out that it will be possible provided that the person is dead. There are certainly enough distinguished dead educators. However, the process will take up to seven years.

Mary Allen Building, MAB for short, is where I have my office

Thursday, 2 October 2008


I don't know what happened to the fonts in the previous entry.

Essential issues

This morning I take the car because I have three meetings and know I will be dead meat by the end of the day. It takes about the same time as biking, what with road works and all, but I listen to Classic FM and enjoy the sights. The locals who complain about traffic have not been stuck on the ring road in Stockholm, not to mention German motorways. But I certainly do not feel morally impeccable.

The three meetings are of completely different kinds. At the first, I finally figure out that “paper” means course, while a paper is called thesis or dissertation. I realize that “Research and Investigation” is what we in the old country called “Theory and method”. I begin deciphering the mysterious acronyms and get some of my guessed confirmed.

The central issue at the Academic Staff Meeting is whether to abolish water containers in the corridors. They cost too much and the plastic mugs are not recyclable. The question gives rise to a much more lively discussion than the preceding scholarly reports.

The last meeting is relaxed, but to the point. We sit over a cu of tea in the Combination Room, and papers have now become essays and there are more acronyms, and my head is about to split. Iish I could turn it off for a while.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Decisions, decisions

In the morning, I have two options. I can take the car, which is convenient, and as Staffan is away, he won’t need it. I can bike, which is ecologically correct, good exercise and in every respect laudable. I make myself ready for biking and start toward the shed when I happen to look at the thermometer. It is nine degrees. It also starts drizzling. I go inside, take off the biking gear and open the front door. Now, unlike our cat, I don’t believe that the weather is radically different at the back and front door, but for some reason it feels warm and nice. I turn back and take the bike. It does drizzle a bit, but by the time I get to work the sun is out. The distance seems to shrink each time, and I even tackle the uphill bridge.

Next week is Travel to Work week. We are asked to record how we go to work and back. There is a prize of a bottle of champagne. I am determined to win.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Men make purchases

Staffan is the best husband in the world. Ever since I got a full-time job while he works from home, he has been doing most of the chores, waiting for me with a nice meal when I got home. He usually does the grocery shopping and laundry; and we share clearing the table somewhat equally. Hence, in almost two months, I haven’t yet been in a supermarket on my own. This morning, when Staffan called me from the old country, I told him I must go to Tesco, and he advised me that the local store was fully sufficient for the daily needs. What he doesn’t understand is that I want to explore the supermarket, just to learn my way around.

When I was a newcomer in Sweden, Staffan laughed at me because I couldn’t see the difference between COOP and more fancy shops. As compared to Russia, they were all the Land of Cocayne.

So I am definitely going to the large supermarket. I get a little suspicious when there are almost no cars in the parking lot, but there is a reason: it does not open until eleven on Sundays. Very stupid of them, they have just lost a customer. I go to another supermarket.

Staffan’s favourite saying is that men don’t shop, they make purchases. He likes getting groceries every day and never plans for more than one meal. Which means he walks promptly into the store, gets what he thinks he needs and gets out as soon as possible. If he discovers he has forgotten something he goes back. If I ask him to buy chicken peas or double cream he first refuses saying that he would get something wrong (I have never reproached him if he occasionally does). He has recently learned to recognize eggplant.

I browse through rows of cereals and preserves that we never eat; I find things I didn’t know I wanted and therefore wouldn’t be looking for; I state that skimmed milk is red and full milk blue, which is the opposite from Sweden. I plan for five breakfasts, five dinners and five lunch boxes (well at home I realize that I have three business lunches this coming week). In the first place, I get oriented. One day we will need pet food.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Home alone

Staffan is gone, and Anton is gone, and I am all on my own to do as I please. I am not as desperate about being on my own as I once used to be. Some years ago, when Staffan was away all winter escaping from the nasty Swedish climate to the south of France, I learned from a good friend to distinguish between loneliness and solitude. So rather than feeling abandoned and unhappy I try to enjoy the calmness and silence. I know it is an illusion, but what would we be without our illusions?

I keep to a few rules when I am on my own, such as making the bed, wearing decent clothes and having cooked meals. I allow myself to stay in bed until eight and prepare my breakfast in an aesthetically satisfactory manner. I clean the house, which I will from now on do on Saturdays, like everybody else, rather than sporadically to get away from the computer. I pay the current bills – this does not count as work, so I am not breaking any promises. Then I make some cream of chanterelle soup, from the dried chanterelles that Dalia gave me in Stockholm; she had picked and dried them herself. I sit outside in the sun with my bowl of soup. I should probably go to the gym or take a walk, and I should definitely go and get some groceries. A less initiated person would perhaps suggest reading a book, but for me reading is work. I simply want to sit down quietly doing nothing at all.

Cultural clash

A colleague wants to meet me to discuss future research projects. He is free for coffee on Monday or Wednesday and for tea on Monday or Tuesday. I guess, but I am not quite sure, that coffee means morning and tea means afternoon and that you can actually have tea for coffee and coffee for tea.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Catching up

I am now so hopelessly behind the events that I don’t know where to start. Obviously, I came home to Water Street, accompanied by my youngest son, which made waiting for the delayed flight a pleasurable experience. Prior to that, I had time to have lunch with my dear friend Dalia, which was just as I had told her before we left. She was so upset we were moving, but I told her: “You’ll see, we’ll meet more often than we do now”. And yes, just six week later, here we wander in the Old Town of Stockholm, browse through antique shops, have a meal in one place and coffee in another, and take the underground in the same direction.

Staffan picked Anton and me up at Stansted, and there we were at Water Street, as if I had never left it. We put in the famous folding bed in Staffan’s study – a bit crammed, but it worked. In the morning, I went to work and Staffan took Anton sightseeing. Then we got together for a late lunch, and for dinner we went to The Green Dragon, even though it wasn’t Friday.

On Wednesday, we had a business meeting with our research group, and I was officially declared Chair. So far, I feel a bit ambivalent about it. But I guess I will get used to it one day. After all, I have agreed to play the game.

Anton insisted on taking me to the cinema to see “Wall-e”. He always knows what kind of film I will enjoy, and it is always fascinating to discuss it afterwards. We walked back home along the river.

On Thursday, Staffan went to the old country. I took him to the railway station and went to work, where he called me fifteen minutes later to say that all trains to Stansted were cancelled. As if I didn’t have enough to worry about. He took a taxi. What I was worried about was my agreement with Anton to meet in town. Driving to the centre, finding a parking space (I get claustrophobic in multi-storey parking), finding Anton, deciding where to take him for lunch, finding my way back home. Well, I did it all, and we had a wonderful time together, nice and relaxed, and the weather was gorgeous.

And today Anton went home, and I went to listen to Morag’s lecture to get a sense of what it is all about – I will give my lecture for the same audience next week. And I have worked hard all day and will now enjoy the weekend like I have never done before, or so it feels. No, I have not taken the car through the narrow passage, and yes I have remembered to put out the garbage bins.

And by the way, I have received my first salary and my National Insurance Number.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Granny´s comeback

All of a sudden I find myself in yet another strange place. A place where the eight-year-old sits at table with inlines on and the two-year-old with rubber boots; where the four-year-old is convinced that it is allowed to have ice-cream for pudding because daddy says so, where you have to navigate between zillions of Lego pieces on the floor, and nobody ever wants to go to bed. The cat sleeps on my belly all night, and I wake up under a ceiling as tall as a cathedral. Everybody wants different sort of cereal for breakfast. Everybody is all over the place at once. The noise level is incredible. It is no more than six weeks since last, but it feels like ages.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Back in the old country

Just as I feel more or less settled I must go to a conference in the old country. The conference is in Southern Sweden, and it makes more sense to fly to Gothenburg. Which is weird: I am back, but not really back home. Taking the airport shuttle I note that the traffic goes on the wrong side of the road. Then, as I wait for my train at the station, and on the train, everybody for some reason speaks a foreign language. Fortunately, the conference is in English. But the subject is as Swedish as can be, the national icon, Astrid Lindgren.

The venue is a magnificent folly castle that looks quite genuine. The leaves are turning. At conference lunches and dinners typical Swedish food is served. At the banquet the entertainment is Swedish medieval ballads. Do my eyes really fill with tears? My Swedish colleagues address me in English because my badge says "University of Cambridge".

I am alone in a strange, exotic country with exotic food, cars driving on the wrong side and billboards in a foreign language. I am in a limbo. Water Street is something I have made up. But if so where do I belong? Gossip from my old working place does not concern me. Emails from my new working place do not feel relevant. It is Friday evening and I should be at The Green Dragon with my Guinness. Instead I am going out for another authentic Swedish meal.

I feel homesick. But what is home?

Tuesday, 16 September 2008


...we have just got a new grandchild.

Spelling bee

Each time I get a new computer I must teach it new words. The spelling program does not like the words I use, such as heterotopia, crossvocalisation or aetonormativity. It does not like the names of the authors I write about: Sendak, Nesbit, Ungerer. It definitely does not like Dumbledore and Malfoy. Fortunately, computers are fast learners.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Cows and Capriols

I am keeping the promise I gave to myself about not working on weekends. On Saturday, we bike first to my gym, by a road that Staffan has investigated. It goes through a common and at times right by some grazing cows. We pass a little 12th-century church, and there is a medieval fair going on, a miniature of a huge fair held here for centuries – we have read about it on guidebooks. Some ladies and one gentleman dance in medieval costumes. Suddenly I realize that this is just what I have been wishing my whole life: medieval dancing. There is a folder about the group, they are called Capriol Dancers, and yes, they have courses. Maybe next term, when things have settled a bit.

After gym we bike back and past our bridge, further down on the other side of the river. Curiously enough, there is a pub quite close by. We think we have deserved a beer.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Pursuing hobbies

For restoration of my doll house I need, among other things, lolly sticks. They are very practical for many purposes. I brought an ample supply from a hobby shop the old country, but I ran out of them when I decided to build herringbone floors for the living room. Someone on my electronic discussion group had made a wooden-strip floor (not herringbone parquet though), and I could not resist the challenge. It’s a minuscule job of course, like building a jigsaw puzzle of ten thousand pieces, but it is highly relaxing. And I am not in a hurry. I don’t have to meet a deadline for a fair; on the contrary, the point is to prolong the process as much as possible. A doll house can never be perfect and finished. A character in Tove Jansson’s Moomin books who has managed to collect all the stamps in the world is frustrated because he has become an owner rather than a collector, and it is not the same pleasure.

The yellow pages for Cambridge carry some arts and crafts shops, but nowhere did they have lolly sticks. I have tried online doll-house and craft-supplies stores too. I am positively sure that English miniature devotees use lolly sticks just as much as the Swedish; apparently I have turned to wrong shops. At long last I found a place called Hobby Stores in a nearby village. This was promising, and we went there. The window display was an immediate disappointment: plane and train model kits. They didn’t have lolly sticks, but they did have thin long strips in much softer wood, that turned out to be significantly easier to cut. I have now been to this shop three times and hope to get discounts soon.

The herringbone floor is ready. I must think of another long-term project. Decorate the house outward with handmade bricks perhaps.

The herringbone floor is not fitted in yet since it needs a coat of varnish.