Friday, 23 January 2009

Divided by a common language

It feels a bit strange to be once again in a country where Portuguese is spoken. A slightly different Portuguese than in Brazil. Everyday polite words pop up, and I rediscover my ability to read signs in the streets and short picturebooks. Otherwise, it is the same hopeless sense of not understanding what is going on. Especially when, alongside Portuguese, Spanish and Catalan is used, and they seem to understand each other. This must be what the Spanish and the Portuguese feel when they come to conferences in Scandinavia.

There are four of us aliens here, and while our talks are interpreted into a variety of languages, there is no translation into English. I am trying to figure out whether it makes sense to listen to French. A colleague who came to the conference direct from a Transatlantic flight is snoring next to me. I wish I had as good an excuse.

Coal to Newcastle and other adventures

Last week I went to Newcastle which happens to have one of the best centres for children´s literature in the UK. No further comment...

My understanding of geography is changing. During my previous visits I always felt that wherever you go in the UK it never takes more than two hours. Cambrigde to Newcastle is three and a half, with a least one change. On the way back, the train is delayed by a hour. When I try to phone Staffan the phone is dead. It turns out that it has been disconnected because our landlady unprintable, as Hemingway puts it. So we are now disconnected from the world (including internet), which is very convenient when I am to travel to Portugal. I finally persuade Staffan to change to a British sim-card in his old Swedish mobile phone so that we at least can reach each other.

How did we live before internet?

Thursday, 15 January 2009

New term

The new term has begun (goodness, I am not done with the previous yet!), and we've had introduction to a new course. I am doing a lecture on fairy tales this time, and to give the students a taste I read to them The Story of the Grandmother. It aways comes as a shock to people who think that children's literature is about nice kitties and bunnies and naughty boys.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009


Here is the happy family, at last united!

Feline thriller, continued

Today our dear cat is finally coming over. I see my beloved sons growing angel wings after all they have done. It took a dozen emails and some phone calls to ensure that all papers were correct (I gave up since the papers were in Stockholm). When they took the cat to the veterinary clinic for a treatment I don't want to describe in detail, it turned out that they should have brought the medicine. This morning, when they came to the airport three hours before the departure, as required, it turned out that the cage was too small. I just cannot believe it because I bought this cage when I was i Stockholm, and the next in size had room for an elephant. Well, new cage, thus new charge. At least, the cat is on the way, and we should hit the road soon. Last time we went to Heathrow was just last Friday, with Filip. We were stuck in traffic for an hour and a half. I don't want Miso to wait one minute more than absolutely necessary.

I suggest that we call Heathrow to enquire how quickly after the arrival we could collect our darling. Two to four hours, is the answer. I am glad we have called. Breathe deeply and take another cup of coffee. Put the box of fresh minced meat back into the fridge.

Messenger call from Anton: flight delayed. Check Heathrow arrivals - no information. Check Arlanda departures: new information at 13.15. Refresh page every ten miutes. Finally: Flight departed 14.10 (three hours late). I imagine Miso in the dark of the plane's belly, hungry, miserable, and still hours to go.

If I had moved to some other European country, I could have taken the cat on board with me as cabin luggage.

Saturday, 3 January 2009


Ever since we have moved to Cambridge, all our friends have been nagging at us about punting. Those who have been to Cambridge tell us how they went punting, and those who haven't tell us how they have heard about it. Staffan has promptly refused to go punting, saying, perhaps not without reason, that the punt would sink if he stepped onto it. Neither Anton nor Julia showed any interest in this local pastime when they visited. So all my hope was on the eleven-year-old Filip, and yesterday we finally did it. It was rather cold, not really punting season, but there were apparently enough dumb tourists to make it worthwhile for the punting company. The punter was actually a student, although not at Cambridge. I must admit that the view of the city is remarkably different from the river, and the blankets we got to keep us warm almost made it bearable.

On the road

As we are heading East toward Heathrow on M4, after a wonderful New Year celebration in Hereford, I get a flashback. We turn into a rest area. I recognize it. There is no way I could have been there before. Or..?

Three years ago a friend of mine and I went to London together. She had never been there before, so we did all the tourist things and one day went on a trip to Stonehenge, Salisbury and Bath. On the way back (which was M4, only I didn't know and didn't care at that time) the traffic was horrible. The tea we had had in Bath reminded of itself urgenly. I went up to the driver and asked to be let out for a moment; at the pace we were moving I could easily catch up with the bus. The driver said he wasn't allowed to. If I got hit he would be to blame. I tried in many ways to persuade him, including the threat of ruining the seat of his bus. He wouldn't listen, and I went back. Soon, however, the driver announced through the loudspeaker that there was a rest area coming in a mile and, although it had not been planned, on public demand we would make a stop. The whole bus, who had watched my negotiations, burst into applause.

Two days later, my friend and I were going on another day trip. When the bus driver saw me, he exclaimed in horror: "Not you again!"

Negative connotations

A school has decided not to call itself a school, because the word has negative connotations.

I am not surprised. From its very start, children's literature has mocked school. In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer it is depicted as the most horrendous place of torture; in one of Edith Nesbit's books, the children (quoted from memory) "hated school indiscriminately, which means that they hated all of it, from beginning to end". Pippi Longstocking makes school a laughing stock. In book after book, the characters hate school and teachers, play truant, cheat, misbehave, are bullied by classmates and teachers, learn nothing, and generally perceive school as a waste of time. No wonder the word has negative connotations.