Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A veteran's memories

I have just learned that my colleague and blog chum, the autodidact Philip Nel is replacing Jack Zipes as the editor of the Routledge series in children's literature. I am sorry that Jack is leaving, but I do understand him. I am happy Philip has been offered the job and taken it - hope he knows what he is doing. This is a big event in the international children's literature community, and it brings back memories since I was involved with the series from start, once upon a time, before the dawn of time. 

I had just finished a draft for a book in Swedish, the first big work after my PhD, summing up all my post-doc endeavours. I offered the ms to the series published by the Swedish Institute for Children's Books, because it was the obvious place to offer it to, and they had also published my thesis as a book. They do not publish on their own, but in collaboration with different Swedish publishers, but most children's lit scholarship appears in this series. So I sent the draft to the editor, and I also presented it at an open research seminar in my department. The seminar participants didn't say much, and neither did the editor, but from the notes on the draft I got back it was clear that my research was utter rubbish and wasn't even remotedly publishable. It was quite discouraging, especially since some bits of it had already been published as articles. I tried to offer the ms to some Swedish publishers without including it in the series, and they all said they couldn't, because it was only by being part of the series that a book had a chance to be adopted as a course textbook. (Which was nonsense; academic books are very seldom adopted as textbooks, and my proposed book was not meant to be a textbook).

Anyway, I saw an announcement in Children's Literature Association Quarterly that Jack Zipes was starting a series on children's literature at Garland. Jack Zipes was a Famous Scholar, and I was an anonymous postdoc from an obscure country, but I wrote to him immediately (you see, it was in Stone Age, when you actually wrote letters on paper and sent them in envelopes with stamps on) with my book proposal, and he got back saying that yes, he was interested. It so happened that I had a Fulbright grant at UMass, Amherst, and while I was there I was invited to give a talk at the Kerlan Collections, University of Minnesota, which was Jack Zipes's place. I wrote to him, on paper, etc, seeking an appointment, and he took me out for lunch. He said he liked my proposal, and how long did I think it would take me to finish the project. I explained that I was on a Fulbright with a tolerable amount of teaching and would start the next day, and I actually had a full draft in Swedish. I also mentioned that since English wasn't my native tongue I'd make sure I had a native reader before I submitted the draft. "Well, I am not going to edit your draft for you", said Jack cheerfully as ever. So we parted, and in due time my book appeared as the very first volume in the series. It is still quoted a lot, although I think I have written several better books since then.

A few years later I met Jack at a conference where he was a star, and I am always reluctant to display my familiarity with stars so I waved to Jack from a distance, but he came closer, saying: "It's a long time since you've contributed a book to my series". What do you say to this? I said: "I am working on picturebooks, will you be interested?" "I will, he said, I will take anything you have written". Now, you don't hear THAT every day; I had to refrain from covering Jack with kisses. So this is how the picturebook volume appeared in the series.

By which time, I had got involved with another publisher because they brought out the series for Children's Literature Association, and I was commissioned to do a book for them. Scarecrow was a good publisher to work with, and I published four books with them, three single-authored and one co-edited. But then something happened, perhaps they changed the acquisition editor; so when I sent in the next proposal they never got back, and suddenly I remembered that unforgettable: "I'll take anything you have written".(Meanwhile, Jack had taken a lot of stuff I had written for his fabulous encyclopedias). So I sent in a proposal with three finished chapters, and the book was out within a year.

There is nothing to boost your creativity like a publisher's contract. But an editor's enthusiasm cannot be overestimated. Thank you, Jack, for all your support - and I know I share my gratitude with many colleagues all over the world.

So Philip has a lot to live up to. But I hope he will be as supportive and generous toward younger colleagues as Jack has been toward me.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

One ordinary day

Yesterday was a bank holiday, and today I realised that summer is over because work-related emails have started arriving: meetings, inductions, requests to join committees and other exciting business. Note that we are still five weeks before classes start, but these reminders bring me back to earth from my ivory tower.

I stated in the beginning of this month that I had just about embarked on my so-called research period that unitiated people call summer holidays. Although I have done some of my own work, today is a very good example of what a very ordinary day during your holiday/research period may be like. I was fully determined to work on my own stuff this morning, and - what a blessing! - there was an interruption in our internet connection, meaning that I did start working on my own stuff and probably wrote a page or two before the connection was back, and then it all began. There was an urgent thing to do on that edited volume (on which I spent the whole day yesterday, bank holiday or not, and no more comment), and I was on the phone with my co-editor for half an hour, then fixed the bibliography, and by the time I made myself a cup of coffee I knew that my inspiration was gone.

That's the big problem - my big problem, but I know I share it with other people. I used to be able to work an hour here and an hour there, especially when the kids were small; I used to be able to work late. I cannot do it anymore, and if I am distracted mid-morning, the day is lost. So I didn't even try. Instead, I went first through my list of urgent things to do and then through my emails looking for - well, urgent things to do. One email was about a copy-edited text for an article, not due until mid-September, but just as well to get rid of it. That took the rest of the morning. It was quite pleasant because I wrote this article some time ago and still like it. In fact, like it very much. So much I wish I had written it, if you see what I mean.

The list of urgent matters reminded me of another deadline that I had completely forgotten because it was so far away once, but not anymore. This article was more or less finished, but as soon as I consulted the stylesheet I realised that it would take some hours to fix all the commas and fullstops. Frankly, it is ridiculous - although I would deny it if a student pointed it out to me - to have full bibliographic information when you can these days easily search the web for anything. And the three miliion different formats for references that journals use is elaborate power exercise. (And don't tell me you can use Endnotes; there isn't such a journal that couldn't invent a format Endnotes hasn't conceived of).

Anyway, that took care of most of my afternoon, and then I submitted it to the journal which these days is also a weird experience, with passwords and double-blind copies. I knew I had a password for this particular journal, but it took me several attempts before I gave up and used the "Forgot password" button. Then the system asked for this and that, and I was just hoping that there wouldn't be any internet interruption. Or maybe I hoped there would.

Meanwhile I replied to scores of emails, checked the schedule of the conference where I am giving a paper next week and checked that I actually had finished the paper - sometimes I think I have and discover I haven't which is awkward. While I was at it, I checked whether I had finsihed the slide show for another conference paper that I am giving later in September, and guess what? I haven't.

Five minutes ago I got an email asking me to review a paper submitted to a journal. I should have said no. But I can resist anything but temptation.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Book of the week: The Borrowers

Last week I went to see the new Japanese animation, Arrietty, based on an old favourite, Mary Norton's The Borrowers. I work from home these days, but I happened to be in the office for a moment so I took home my battered copy and re-read it. This is the cover of my edition:

I bought it in Russia, sometime in the late '70s, for a royal sum of 5 roubles. I am not ironic: it was 5% of my salary. Would you pay 5% of your salary for a used paperback? The reason I bought the book was twofold. I had read about it in Margery Fisher's Intent Upon Reading, the major source of information about British children's literature available in the Moscow Foreign Literature Library. I had also seen it at the exhibition of children's books organised by the British Council in 1975, the catalogue of which became the source of all information about British children's literature for many years coming. But actually - who needs a reason for buying a book! I had a special interest in The Borrowers because I was writing an article about fantasy which eventually, in my next life, became my PhD. Miniature people was among many aspects I considered. There is a very interesting Russian classic about miniature people, but the charm of The Borrowers is their subtle interaction with the world of human beans which is the plot engine, the comedy and the tragedy.

As usual when you re-read a book that you think you remember well, there are many details I had forgotten, and many details are different from the film. The standard interpretation is Arrietty's coming of age, and watching the movie with a 15-year-old I couldn't help wondering how much of that she recognised. As a parent with an empty nest, I recognise the parents' separation anxiety.

I also remembered the metafictional aspect, the story within a story, and the eternal question: did it really happen. Even when I read it first, long before I knew the word metafiction, I enjoyed this playfulness and mystery. The Russian midget story was nothing as sophisticated.

As I remembered, this book was about the impossible love, because the boy can never shrink to Arrietty's size and she cannot grow to his. There is a short story by Astrid Lindgren in which there is a magical word which allows the protagonist to shrink. It makes it all much easier. And although I have read the sequels, Arrietty's and the boy's farewell is irreversible. (Books like this shouldn't have sequels, but that's another matter).

What has always fascinated me about the borrowers was all the intricate ways they used the borrowed objects. And suddenly it filled with new significance. I am a borrower! That's exactly what I do when I make my dollhouses. In the book, there are both minute descriptions and illustrations. I must now put it on the shelf together with all my other dollhouse-maker books.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Lost and found

Wait a minute, I said to myself over a cappucchino and carrot cake after I had safely delivered my granddaughter to the other set of grandparents who would take her home to Stockholm. Wait a minute. I am in London. On my own. On a Saturday. Portobello Road!

And off I went to Portobello Road. It was crowded, as it always is, and I went in zigzags from shop to shop, from stall to stall. There was one with lots of dollhouse stuff, but stuff that I don't buy anymore because I can make much better myself. And then I found this fabulous little shop on the upper floor, where I happily parted with all my cash and where I could have stayed longer just looking at things. Eventually I left, heading north toward an underground station which turned out to be permanently closed, so I had to walk all the way back to Notting Hill Gate. By this time, it suddenly started raining, and every stall was offering umbrellas and ponchos, so I dived into my bag to get two pounds - and couldn't find my purse. Now, in such situations I know that I mustn't panic. It happens to me all the time that I cannot find my purse or my keys or my card in the depths of my bag, and I know that I just have to go through it carefully. Since it was pouring rain, I couldn't get out all my purchases and my London map and my cell phone and my Kindle and my car keys and put them on the pavement, and it was anyway much too crowded. When I finally stated that my purse was simply not there, I rather optimistically concluded that I had had my bag on my stomach all the time, so it was unlikely that the purse was stolen, but I must have dropped it in the shop. The thing was, I didn't remember which shop, and there are hundreds of them along Portobello Road. Since I didn't have money to buy an umbrella or poncho, I just walked on, soaked to the bone, looking into every shop and hoping to recognise the right one, which I finally did. Before I could open my mouth, the lady in the shop cried: "Relax, I have it". I sank on the floor. They got me a cup of tea and entertained me with stories of how they had lost and found their purses and how other people had been kind to them.

I was still wet through when I left the shop, so it didn't make much sense to buy a poncho. I marched to the station and came to King's Cross just in time for a quarter-past train. As I sat there, I couldn't help thinking of the could-have-been if it hadn't rained and I hadn't discovered the loss of my purse until maybe the day after tomorrow, and I felt that I had had a tremendously lucky day.

This is what I bought. If you don't know what a Dutch doll is, there is vast literature on the subject.

Friday, 19 August 2011

My road to children's literature

Me the copycat is once again responding to Philip Nel's blog post. I think his story is more typical than mine: someone discovering that children's literature is fun and successively making it the focus of study. In my case, I always wanted to study children's literature. When I was finishing middle school/junior high/whatever; when I was 15 I was seriously considering quitting my very prestigeous school and change to a library college because they taught children's literature. But they taught a lot of other things I wasn't interested in, so finally I didn't. Schools of librarianship were the only places you could do children's lit, but there was another path: translation, and that was the path I took. And then, by serendipity - as everything else - I met an editor from the only Russian professional journal in children's literature, which mostly targeted librarians, but at least I found myself in a community of devotees.

The rest is history, but I'll tell it very briefly. Since I could not do children's lit for a living, I did it in my spare time, writing essays, book reviews and stuff. So in this respect, I was an autodidact, like Philip. But later I took undergrad and masters in child lit in Stockholm, did my PhD in child lit, so I actually have formal qualifications for what I am doing now. In contrast, I have been obliged to publish on general literature (two single-authored books, several edited volumes, scores of articles) for promotion, and I have taught almost everything, except ancient and medieval literature: Dante, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Austin, Swedish Romantic poetry, Russian magical realism, Imre Kertesz, feminist theory, you name it. And supervised on almost anything one can think of.

Children's literature is my Rachel, everything else my Leah, and I have worked hard for both.

Wings of history

Twenty year ago today I was in Moscow to attend the Congress of Compatriots. I still don't know who invited me and why; I was a Swedish citizen by then, but I guess the Soviet Embassy kept an eye on us expats. The Congress was one of many events that marked the new openness after Gorbachov's ascent to power; a huge gathering of diaspora from all over the world. I wasn't particularly keen to go because I was, as usual, suspicious of anything to do with the official side of my former Motherland, but Staffan was eager, and he wasn't invited. So we went by car, loaded with wheelchairs, Bibles and soft toys because I was at the time involved with charity work in Moscow.

We were placed in the monstrous hotel Russia overlooking the Kremlin, and in the morning, twenty years ago, we went down to breakfast, and then we were meeting one of my contacts who would collect the wheelchairs. We overslept after the long travel the day before and hadn't listened to the news. In the gigantic restaurant, two ladies were talking agitated at the table next to us. We addressed them politely saying that we couldn't help hearing their conversation, so could they please explain what was going on. After half a sentence, we left our breakfast unfunished and rushed to our room. The radio was playing classical music, the TV was showing an old movie, and we knew it was really bad. We were in the middle of a coup d'etat.

My wheelchair contact did turn up, only to say that as a medical doctor he had to be on the barricades in case of casualties. There were tanks in the city centre. We called our friends; they were packing emergency bags and expecting arrests (when it was all over, lists oif people to be arrested were indeed found, and all our friends were on those). We went to a newspaper office where all major dailies, already prohibited by the new authorities, were producing a joint flyer Everywhere we saw people bringing food to people oin barricades.The Congress of Compatriots continued as planned.

If you hear anyone say that they knew from start that it would all end well - that's not true! Everyone was in panic because everyone had their own or their family's memories of the Great Terror of the 1930s. The Swedish Embassy encouraged all Swedish visitors to go home. Many did. We were trying to figure out how many friends' children we would be able to save, and how. The radio was playing classical music, and TV was running old comedies. We listened to world news on our short-wave.

Don't believe foreign correspondents and casual eye-witnesses that claim they were not scared. We all were. But we, the visitors, at least knew that in real emergency we would find shelter in our embassies. Our Russian friends had no protection.

It was on the afternoon of the third day that classical music was interrupted by news from an independent station. The coup was suppressed, Gorbachov was back in Moscow after three days of house arrest. Statues of former KGB generals were pulled down. The Communist Party headquarters was sealed off. The hated regime was overthrown, although we didn't know it yet.

I was there.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Me and my teenager

Yesterday morning when our cleaning lady came I asked her to wait with the vacuum cleaner because I had a teenager asleep in the guest room. Her reaction, when I explained the circumstances, was perplexing: "So you are taking her shopping?" I decided I'd better not dicuss the plans I had for my teenager. But apparently it was a typical reaction since later the same day I asked a colleague with a number of kids of relevant age what a fifteen-year-old might want to do in Cambridge and got the answer: "Sleep and shop".

What we did yesterday, my teenager and me, was visit King's Chapel with a lengthy discussion of fan vaults, Christian motifs in stain-glass windows and the symbolism of the red and the white roses; we studied the architecture of Tudor houses and the advantages and disadvantages of half-timber structures; we visited Clare Fellows' Garden, we went punting where I learned some new stories (all punters tell different stories and assure you that they are absolutely true), and generally had a pleasant and mutually enriching conversation. In the evening we went out for a fancy meal.

I am not at all surprised - although I realise now I should be - because I was like this myself once upon a time in Stone Age. I was curious about almost everything and appreciated being taken around on trips. Don't misunderstand me now: I was also a normal teenager with horrible moods, rude and unhappy, and the only reason I didn't enjoy shopping was that there wasn't much to shop for when I was growing up.

Our further plans include Ely Cathedral, Anglesey Abbey and Lode mill, the medieval town of Lavenham, Shakespeare in the gardens and a highbrow movie. We will go shopping too. We are in urgent need of Philip Pullman's most recent book. But she also gets up late and spends hours in the shower, so I am not worried about her.

I am very proud of my teenager.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The OMG stage

Yesterday I finally started writing a new book. I should have started about three months ago, but I only got my written contract last week, and although my editor assured me that it was absolutely certain, I am a bit superstitious. And... oh well, I just didn't get down to it. There were too many other things.

You would assume that for someone who has written a score of books embarking on a new project won't be a big deal. Yet the anxiety of a blank page is inevitable, for expert as well as beginner.

I have written most of my academic books on the basis of articles and conference papers. This is a lot of work, as everyone knows who has tried. Sometimes I think that it is much harder to turn an assortment of articles into a coherent book. But right now I wish I had something to give me a start. I am writing this book from scratch. I have my proposal and some general ideas, and I know well what I don't want this book to be like, but I really don't know how to begin. I wrote in the proposal that I anticipated that this book would be the most difficult project in my life, and it is true. It's one of those books that take a lifetime to be able to write. But it doesn't matter. Even if it were the easiest thing to write, I'll still be paralysed.

When a student tells me she is in this phase, I can give plenty of good advice. Like: start somewhere in the middle. Start with something you are most enthusiastic about. Or start with the most boring bit, to have it done as soon as possible. I always say that we all have different ways of writing, and there are no ready recipes. Usually I write an article or chapter in my head, then sit down and put it on paper quickly. I can easily write five thousand words in a day if I have it all ready in my mind. The thing with this new book is that I have too many ideas and no clear plan yet where they will go. It does look very neat in my proposal, and obviously whoever accepted the proposal thought it would work, but there is a loooong way from proposal to finished manuscript. Or even to first draft.

So here I am, as helpless as an undergrad writing her first thesis.

Yesterday, after having stared for a while at my proposal, I browsed through my whole archive looking for something to recycle. This is not very helpful, although you can always cut and paste a couple of paragraphs that will have to go after the first edit. Occasionally you find notes from a conference three years ago, which you took specifically for this project and then forgot. So it is not directly a waste of time, but not an efficient use of time. There is a name for it: procrastination.

Today I told myself to stop fooling around and start writing. I divided the proposal into ten separate files and jotted down some subheadings to create a structure. This is what I always tell my students: create a structure, and the rest will come. “Take care of the sounds, and the sense will take care of itself”. Well, it didn't. I got sidetracked and spent some hours on the Internet reading about celebrity children's books. Highly educative, but didn't not take me any further. So I decided that I need a timeline. Timelines are almost as alien to my way of writing as mindmaps. However, I promised in my proposal that there would be a timeline in my book, so I can just as well get it done. Start with the boring bit.

I like my timeline. It is very illuminating. I have never reflected upon the fact that Ulysses was published the same yeas as Just William.

I can keep adding to the timeline forever, but I won't. Tomorrow I will start writing. Somewhere in the middle. Something I am really enthusiastic about.

I know my students are reading this blog, so I envision you all saying: “Serves her right!”

Courses no one wants to take

A Swedish newspaper yesterday had a piece about courses at Stockholm University that nobody applied to. While there were 6,000 applicants to law and business management, there were 173 courses or programmes that didn't have a single application. While this is the bitter truth of academic life, I wonder how narrow a specialisation can go before it becomes ridiculous. It is a shame that nobody wants to study classic languages, but there are very few career opportunities with such a degree, and no one can afford these days to study a subject for fun. Here is a selection of indemanded courses:

Master programme in Religious studies
Master programme in comparative literature with focus on Ancient Greek
Postcolonial theory
Theatre history
Norwegian language and culture
Czech fiction and non-fiction
Culture and politics in Slavonic countries
Portuguese sociolinguistics
Arabic with focus on Islamic studies
International and comparative education
Psychology of sports
Swedish natural geography
Evolution of dinosaurs
Teaching English in secondary school

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Three years in diaspora

The day before yesterday, at breakfast, Staffan said he was going to buy champagne. We have long since stopped celebrating published articles, book contracts, unexpected royalties and other work-related events; I was sure it wasn't my or his birthday or our anniversary, so I was a question mark. "Use your brain", he said. I did. Nothing happened. "Three years since I came to Cambridge", he said. It means today it is three years since I came to Cambridge. I am not sure whether it is an occasion for celebration or reflection.

The natural thing now would be to look back at these three years, but I won't. I can just read through this blog from the very beginning. This is exactly why I started blogging. I won't think about everything I left behind, because it is pointless. Instead, I am thinking about what my life might have been if we hadn't moved to Cambridge. And I am not talking about the serendipity of that dinner conversation in Barcelona, but about my conscious choice. I believe that human beings have a free will. But I also believe, at least a bit, in that parallel world in which I made a different choice.

What we had decided before I got the job here in Cambridge was that I would quit my job in Stockholm. So I assume that I would have done so. My idea for a living was to write textbooks. I have two textbooks on the market and get nice royalties, so if I could write a couple of textbooks every year we'd manage. I would also do workshops and advertise myself worldwide as guest lecturer. I would spend much more time in Finland and teach and supervise there. I wouldn't want to be without students. I would - as I actually do - teach online courses. I would continue on the ALMA jury. I would review books and do all those odd jobs a freelance academic can do. I could even do some translation.

I would possibly go to conferences, but I probably wouldn't be invited to many conferences without an academic affiliation. Or maybe I would. I had a solid reputation three years ago already. But I would have less time for academic writing if I were to write for my bread.

I would probably see my grandchildren a bit more often, but I am not sure. They are all very busy.

It would be very upsetting to think about everything I would have missed.

Friday, 5 August 2011

What professors do in summer

One of the numerous myths about academic life that Philip Nel and myself have addressed in our respective blogs is those long lazy summers that university teachers enjoy every year. Let me tell you that here in Cambridge we don't have vacations, we have research periods. Although our job specifications say that we have 50% research time, the conspicuous existence of research periods implies that no one can do any research in term time, given the amount of teaching and admin we do. However, we are expected to produce research results as if we had 50% research time all year round, and vacation is something we don't need. We have those long lazy summers, remember?

I am technically halfway through my research period, and I haven't yet started on what I had planned to do. Of course, I have been to Brazil for ten days, of which only four were actually holiday. But until July 22 I was still fully engaged in various meetings, some of them quite stormy. Until July 18 I was officially supervising my masters students (and they made the most of it until the very last day!), and because one got extension I was effectively available for supervision until August 1. PhD supervisions are not affected by research periods or study leaves, and one of my students is upgrading in October, and another is contemplating her next step, and yet another writing up (to be fair, she has troubled me least). There are students asking for advice for their future careers, and students asking for advice on how to turn a thesis into a publication, and students who need recommendations, and students who just want to stay in touch. I could have turned on the out-of-office message on my email, but I can't. I am just not that kind of person.

There have been visiting scholars arriving and leaving; there have been student interviews; there was a summer school where I judged final projects. There has been a day-long professorial appointment interview. There have been various inquiries from media and a request to participate as an informant for a masters project.

On July 18, I picked up six masters theses that I have to grade by August 22. Don't know about colleagues, but it takes me at least a day, often more, to grade a thesis, especially since we have to write a 400-word formative feedback.

I have reviewed a paper submitted for a journal. It takes at least a day, especially if you write some feedback, which I do, because in a similar situation I'd like to have feedback rather than simply a rejection.

I have said no to writing a promotion blurb for a book, which was a matter of professional integrity, but also because it takes a couple of days to read a book in order to write a blurb.

I have written an abstract for an article I had earlier agreed to contribute and now wish I hadn't; and I have discussed an article project with a colleague, which I really want to write, but doubt whether I'll have time to do. Not this summer anyway.

Another colleague and I have received comments from a reader for our submitted edited volume. We needed to go through the comments and decide what to do with them and contact our contributors. We shared the work. It takes a day or two to go through a book chapter and write suggestions for contributors.

There are warnings for page proofs for two articles in the next few days.

I have revised one of the papers I did in Brazil for publication in Portuguese. You think it will take two hours, and it takes too days.

I am just finishing an article that I definitely shouldn't have promised to write, but that I enjoy writing. It has taken considerably longer than expected, not least because there were so many things coming in between. With luck, I will finish it this weekend.

Then I can start on the project that I was supposed to be working on all this long, lazy summer.

Things I don't do anymore

I frequently refect upon the fact that things that were indispensible once aren't any longer. I don't mean that few of us use typewriters because we have a better technology, but something that you used to do a lot and then stopped for some reason or other, although it is still easily available.

I used to cross-country ski - not that I particularly liked it, but that's what we did in my time in my country, perhaps because it was the cheapest and easiest winter sport.I haven't done it since I moved to Sweden. I also used to skate a lot, even when I was quite grown up; I had a good skating partner. I brought my skates to Sweden, and we went skating a couple of times when the kids were small, but it never became a must like it used to be.

Fishing was the most important summer pastime; I just couldn't imagine my life without fishing. Interestingly enough, Staffan was also a passionate fisher, but we both stopped since we got married. He claims that nothing can compare with his former wife's fishing waters (thus emphasising what a sacrifice he made for my sake). There is enough fishing space in the archipelago or in the inland lakes and rivers, but for some reason it never became a habit. Sergej used to bring home pike from local lakes, and we even cooked and ate them. But he soon found other pleasures.

I don't knit. Knitting was obsessive when I was young. For one thing, this was the only way to make an original piece of clothing, but it was also highly social: we would sit and knit and talk, or listen to music. We exchanged patterns and ideas. My daughters both knit a lot, but I quit when they were still small. I cannot really explain it because it is still nice to have an original piece of clothing, and it is still relaxing. Probably it's the social bit that is lacking.

I don't make clothes because nobody wants homemade clothes these days.

I don't play cards, or any other games. In my youth, we played cards, Scrabble and mahjong. For poker, a friend used to have a five-liter jar of pennies we used as chips. Our first Scrabble sets were made of school erasers cut in four bits with letters written in ink. Our first mahjong set was made from dominoes. Games were bridges between young and old, children and adults.

We played simple card games with our children, as well as Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit, but it felt much more playing for their sake. I never found good mahjong partners in Sweden.Staffan promtly refuses to play Scrabble or Mastermind with me - I wonder why?

Of course I do other things these days, although most of them solitary rather tahn social. Yet it is strange how all these things just fade away.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


In a comment to my recent blog post I was asked what a roombox was. I won't repeat my reply to that, but I'll show some pictures.
Antique shop

Lord Asriel's room

Bridal chamber



Victorian parlour