Tuesday, 30 December 2008
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
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
I hope I have set up a tradition.
Saturday, 29 November 2008
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.
Sunday, 23 November 2008
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
Thursday, 20 November 2008
I have bought a new bike for everyday use.
(Tokens of love are the lights and the bell).
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
I just did.
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
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.
“It has been raining,” explained Owl.
“Yes,” said Christopher Robin. “It has.”
“The flood-level has reached an unprecedented height.”
“There is a lot of water around,” explained Owl.
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
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
Friday, 7 November 2008
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
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.
Monday, 3 November 2008
Sunday, 2 November 2008
Saturday, 1 November 2008
Friday, 31 October 2008
I hope some trick-and-treaters find their way to our house.
Thursday, 30 October 2008
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
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
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
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
I guess the next step will be to change the steering wheel from left to right.
Monday, 20 October 2008
Saturday, 18 October 2008
Friday, 17 October 2008
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Monday, 13 October 2008
Sunday, 12 October 2008
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
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.
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.
Friday, 10 October 2008
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
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
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
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
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
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
When I was a newcomer in
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
Saturday, 27 September 2008
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
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
Friday, 26 September 2008
I am now so hopelessly behind the events that I don’t know where to start. Obviously, I came home to
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
Saturday, 20 September 2008
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
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
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
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
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.