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.