In Praise of the Amateurish

Last week I went with a friend to our local library, for a Book Café. It´s a very unpretentious function, tea or coffee in plastic mugs, and one of those flat, long-shaped buns the Swedish call vetelängd.

Two librarians, of two different generations, present reading suggestions to a small congregation of middle-aged and elderly ladies and a couple of culturally afflicted men. One of the ladies was positive to everything, even the fairly large pile of dystopian novels the young guy presented. The older guy was more into local history, as am I, and I did come away with some interesting reading suggestions.

What bugged me a little bit was how they talked too much about the content of the books. It reminded me of when my mother-in-law has read a book that has made an impression on her, she can go on and on for hours, retelling the entire story in detail, as if it´s something that happened to a dear friend of hers. Of course, that is what good literature will do to you, but if not careful, you can spoil a potential reading experience for others. Reading excerpts from the last page of a book is perhaps not the thing to do.

Also, it is a bit surprising that they don´t have a woman librarian there, considering the majority of the librarians are women. But, my impression is that an overwhelming majority of booknerds are very introverted, and perhaps it´s hard to even get anyone to want to do it. Even though we of the audience are so very nice and encouraging.

I will continue to go, awkward as the execution of this Book Café-concept might be. This is probably a surprising statement coming from someone who bloggs about books (mainly), but I am not usually a fan of book talk. I avoid book programs on television, rarely watch interviews and talks given by authors. I prefer to read the books. With a few exceptions. Some writers can really talk and make another kind of art from that, but it´s rare. And I rarely read other book blogs, except for Robby Virus´ Blogging the Canon, which is so unpretentious I can´t help but love him. I´m sure there are plenty out there, if I would just bother looking for them.

Yeah, I suppose I liked the Book Café just because it was kind of faulty and amateurish and didn´t attempt to be anything else. Amateurs are perhaps a bit shaky in the execution, but they have heart to make up for it. A plenty.


I made this!

I  made a band for my Fortis watch, and the closest I could come to James Bond was something that looks more like it came from a peasant costume. I used a folded bias band, layered it with the striped band and improvised a closure mechanism with what I had in my sewing stash.

I am actually rather pleased with it. A press stud would have been better than a hook and eye, but it´s ok.

And then I made this. I have probably never had a wrist ornament this fashionable.

But seriously, what´s with this trend for wearing clunky, beady bracelets with handsome watches? I can´t help but thinking how that watch will be so beat up from all those beads´n´stuff, I doubt I will ever actually wear it this way. It looks nice, though.


Food for Thought

You haven´t failed until you have given up.


From My First Photo Album

I new what was good from an early age.*
Grandpa was a football player, a legendary (in a regional kind of way) goalkeeper.

Reading is the Mother of all superpowers.

Some people love you for no apparent reason.

I used to lie on the sofa and have my reading material on the floor.

Some people fit in, others stand out.

Best friends often look alike.

Yeah, writing.

Being an older sister has probably defined my character more than anything.

I have a very big head brain.

All I see in this picture are the shoes. Loved them.

I have forgotten much. Some details remain, like the shape and smell of that handbag.
* My parents were not negligent in any way. They filled the beer bottles with squash. I wanted to do everything my dad did.
** Some games turn into habits.


Stars and Stripes

Are you aware that the annual Orionids meteor shower is visible in the night sky these coming days (nights)? I had never heard of them, but apparently they are debris from Halley´s comet, a swarm of meteorites of which some fall into the Earth´s atmosphere every year around October. The look like they are coming from Orion, which is what has given them their name.

I took a pause this morning to stand and stare at Orion. Nothing much happened. I might have seen a tiny meteorite, but it may also have been a street light reflecting in an eyelash as I blinked. Perhaps it´s easier to see in the country, where the light pollution is less. They don´t exactly shower down on Earth, either. On a good year, there can be 50-70 meteors in an hour. I don´t think it was very good this morning. However, when I randomly turned my eye towards Cassiopeia, I definitely saw a meteorite. But it probably wasn´t ever part of Halley´s comet.

See those two tiny dots in the sky? Jupiter and Venus. Bringers of jolliness and love, right?
I like to know what´s going on in the sky, being a night worker. My source of excellence in these matters is Skyview Café, where I can see exactly what is going on in my sky, at any particular moment. Over the years, I have learned the names of the major constellations, the brightest stars, and what planets I can see. At the moment Jupiter is in Taurus, and Venus comes up brightly in the east in the morning hours. I have this amazing photo from March, when Venus and Jupiter were really close in the sky, and I managed to capture it from my balcony. I tried to zoom in, but without a steady tripod, that´s a vain project.

Lapland is not really an ideal place to watch the stars. In summer, we see absolutely nothing but the sun. In winter, we see plenty, but it´s too freezing cold to stand it for long. The aurora borealis, the northern lights, are pretty cool, and there have been years with plenty of that going on. The most amazing aurora I ever saw was one All Saint´s night (roughly Halloween), when we went to the church yard to light candles on the graves, which is a Swedish tradition. The aurora was so strong that you couldn´t see the stars, but all the candles on the ground made it look like the stars had come down to rest on the ground for a bit, sit on the graves while the aurora was showing off. There were all the aurora colours, white, green, pink, purple. And some people can hear it. I get the sensation of an almost crackling sound. I don´t know if that´s for real or if it´s just something my mind is making up.

I have never managed to take a photo of the aurora, but there are plenty of photographers who have.

And, while I´m on the subject of astronomy, look at what I just bought. It´s a Fortis watch, a tiny, very handsome ladies watch. However, Fortis also make watches for the Russian cosmonauts. Which is approximately 90% of the reason why I bought it. I haven´t decided on a band for it, I´m trying different things. I am toying with the idea of crafting a miniature, striped Nato-band, like the one James Bond wears with his Rolex. We´ll see.


Sunshine In A Jar

It´s been a wonderful weekend. After weeks and weeks of rain and frankly DEPRESSING weather, we have had two gorgeous days, with blue skies and bright sunshine. Saturday we took a walk by the river, and thanks to my husband unexpectedly pulling a plastic bag from his pocket (I have, over the years, come to expect him to carry nothing at all of use, so that was very surprising), I came home with enough rowanberries to make jam of it, from a recipe from my oracle-on-Swedish-cuisine-cookbook, "Vår kokbok" (=our cookbook). 

I have wanted to do this for a while, and this fall, the rowan trees have been so amazingly abundant with fruit. From what I have read, the bird that most favour rowanberries is the fieldfare, but by this time of year, the fieldfares have all gone south. And I have only seen one guy out picking the berries, so most of it just falls to the ground.

I remember picking them when I was little. My mom made jelly at least one year, and I remember they must be picked after the first frost, just like the sloeberries. Picking berries, both wild berries like lingonberries, blueberries and wild raspberries, and cultivated berries like strawberries and blackcurrants, was a big part of my childhood summers. And when we visited my grandparents we would pick cherries. They had amazing cherry trees of several kinds, and apples and plums, too. We would eat home-made preserves and drinks made from fruit syrup, what the English call squash, all winter.

I love the look of rowanberrys. When you pick them apart from the clusters, they look like tiny miniature apples. I prepared 1½ liters, boiled them and added sugar, exactly the same way I make lingonberry jam. Rowanberrys are usually turned into jelly, which is then served with meat, preferably game of different kinds. Making jam is so much easier, though, and it makes more sense to me to not throw the berries away. Fiber, you know. And the finished product tastes as good as it looks. I got about a liter of jam.

Really, I should do this every year. Looks great, doesn´t it!


A Bit of Wisdom

Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.” 

Ray Bradbury

I´m reading less and writing more, which is why I´m blogging more book-unrelated stuff. This may be a good thing, I don´t know. It´s harder, but I have my friend Ray to encourage me!


From My Photo Album: Coventry Cathedral

I have promised you a post about our visit to Coventry in 2010, and finally, I have come around to it. I can say, having looked through my photos, that they are not on par with the memories I have from there, particularly the fabulous cathedral. It was the reason we went there, actually. I had just finished helping my mother-in-law with her memoirs, and part of it was about a trip she had made to England with her sisters, in the 70´s. She had vivid memories of a visit to the cathedral but couldn´t remember the name of it, just that it was near Shakespeare´s Stratford. It wasn´t hard to find, and I became rather eager to visit it myself.

We traveled to Coventry by train, and only a few steps out of the train station, this is what we found: an IKEA store. A big blue lego of a thing in the middle of this (to us) exotic English town. It was not my proudest moment as a Swede, I can tell you that. Still, I tried to convince my husband, who at that point had never (incredible, what?) entered an IKEA in his 48-year-old life, that it would be cool to loose his IKEA-virginity in a place like Coventry. He refused. No Swedish meatballs for us on this trip, haha!

Looking at a map of the town, you do get an idea of the structure of the medieval Coventry. This is in the heart of England, the Midlands, near Birmingham, and Coventry had a major automobile industry by the early 20th Century. It was the one English town that got hit hardest by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz. The Germans even invented a whole new method of destruction for this particular town, that they called "Coventrate". I suppose I shouldn´t call it a town, it´s the 9th largest city in England, but it feels more lika a town, I think.

Spon Street is the one little bit of street that still has some medieval buildings on it. We found a pub here, in a house dating from the 16th Century, where we had lunch and tried something called "faggots", which was a soft kind of meatball made of, well, a bit of everything, I think. I know there was liver in there. Can´t say it went down a success, most of it was left on the plate.

Usually, we are very fond of English cooking. I think the world is unfairly prejudiced against it, thinking it´s nothing but entrails, over-cooked vegetables, white beans on toast, and greasy chips. Yorkshire pudding with Sunday steak is great, and a classic Afternoon Tea is a great substitute for lunch and dinner if you had a late breakfast (a hearty one, a full English fry-up, perhaps?). I am also very partial to Cornish Pasties, Steak and Ale Pie, mushy peas, and I could go on and on, really. Vinegar-flavoured crips did take me about 30 years to warm up to, but I enjoy them now. With ale, of course.

Anyway, most of Coventry is modern and industrial looking. It still feels accessible and human-friendly in a way I didn´t feel that Birmingham was when I spent a few days there in 2009.

(Birmingham was interesting: I arrived by bus, passed through the city center on foot trying to reach my B&B, which on the map seemed perfectly within easy walking distance. Could not get out. Seriously. Birmingham is not the most easily navigated city for pedestrians having just arrived, I can tell you that! After having walked in circles for two hours, I was saved by a cabbie who drove me to my destination. It took me two whole days to decode Birmingham.)

I wonder if the most famous historical person in Coventry might not be lady Godiva, who lived in the 11th Century. I´m sure you have heard the legend, in one form or another, about the lady who rides naked through the city, after her husband has promised to lessen the heavy tax burden on the population if she dares to do it. Out of respect for her, everyone stayed indoors while she passed, except one fellow, a tailor by name of Tom. To punish him, God made him blind, and from him we have the expression "peeping Tom" for voyeurs.

 And here, a selection of pictures from the famous cathedral:

The old bombed out cathedral is now a sort of forecourt to the new, modern building. There are a number of artworks displayed there, mostly on the topic of peace.

Me as a tourist. Will never wear beige again. What was I thinking?

The modern cathedral was designed by Scottish modernist/brutalist(!) architect Basil Spence, who was knighted for his work. It has a very different feel to any other ecclesiastical building I have ever been in, but it feels really, really holy. It´s all concrete, brass, stone, and glass. It was difficult to take sharp photos in there, since the light was not great, but you can see a little bit of the etched angels dancing on the glass wall there.

This cross is part of the mythology of the Blitz, made from the rubble of the old cathedral.

The quality of the artwork is really stunning. This is a detail of a floor.

Our reflection in the angel glass wall.
St Michael defeating the Devil.

A few days later we met up with a friend (an Englishman) in Oxford, and he asked what we had done so far on our vacation. "Milton Keynes and Coventry", we said. His response was an honest "Why?". Not all Englishmen value their more modern treasures. And I suppose most tourists are after the kind of picturesque old-time England you see on "Midsumer Murders", "Downton Abbey", any Jane Austen-drama, and television like that. Well, we enjoy that too, but there´s a lot more to Britain! Much, much more to discover.


Watch My Wrist!

The other week I suddenly decided that I needed/wanted a new watch. For years, I have worn a couple of ugly digital Casios almost everywhere, and the prize in my collection (not that I thought of it as a collection) was a Citizen titanium/gold watch that my husband bought me in Helsinki sometime in the 90´s, and it is very nice, but over the years I have started using more silver jewellery and, well, it just doesn´t look right anymore.

I started looking through the shops, but - I don´t know - why is everything so ugly? I decided there had to be a book at the local library that could enlighten me, since most style gurus say very little about watches, and I found these two, by Martin Häussermann and Michael Balfour. It´s "1001 Wristwatches: From 1925 to the Present" and "Cult Watches: The World's Enduring Classics". Or at least I think it´s those same books. They seem to have been published in slightly different versions over the years. 

Whatever. Pretty picture-books about expensive watches that I never could or would buy, but an informative overview of what the styles have been over the years. Very little on how a mechanical watch works, though. And I found myself becoming rather interested in that.

My next step was to buy a pretty watch suited for an evening gown. (Last year I wore a chunky black Vibralite to a ball, if you can believe it.) I found what I was looking for on ebay, a very pretty American Elgin cocktail watch, which set me back about 50 euros.

The Alfa.
While I was waiting for the Elgin to arrive, I found an old (70´s?) Alfa ladies watch in my local Red Cross thrift store. "Have you tried the watches?" I asked the girl behind the counter. "Do they all work?" She said they all stood still, all needed batteries. "What are you talking about? This is a mechanical watch. It needs to be wound." She looked at me like I was a total alien. I felt very old at that moment. But the watch works perfectly, cost me 4 euros and sits happily on my arm.

The Elgin.
Not as pretty as the Elgin, though. This is a really, really pretty watch. A total gem. Has two rhinestones on it, too. The watchmaker who helped me shorten the band (I have tiiiny wrists) says it´s likely to be from the 60´s. He also said he thinks mechanical watches are the Dog´s bollocks. (No, he didn´t literally say that, but it´s what he meant. I just wanted to write that.) Environmentally sound, he said, no batteries needed. And beautiful. I imagine he thought more about the movements than the handsome cases.

And by now I had cut my teeth on watch collecting. Turns out, you can get a very good ladies watch for very little money, since very few ladies collect. Well, unless you´re looking for gold and diamonds, but then you are moving into the territory of jewellery rather than watches, I think. And a man´s watch is not a bad thing either. Look at this:

Yeah! It´s a Soviet watch! Says "Leningrad" on the stainless steel band, all the rest is in Cyrillics. Cost me 18 euros, including postage. I have had to learn how to clean them, some of these old watches (that have basically no collector´s value) look like they have been dug up from one of Phil Harding´s trenches. "That´s skin residue", my husband said. I didn´t particularly want to know.

I have also become very good at shortening watchbands, with the help of a screwdriver, pliers and a hammer. And you know, they almost all work perfectly well. I suppose everyone did what I did, got a digital watch in the late 70´s, moved on to quartz watches and just forgot about those old mechanical ones. My first watch was a red one, and now I think it would be lovely to have it still, but I have no idea where it went. 

The Record Geneve de Luxe.
Well, I now have eleven new old watches, which is officially a collection. I´m considering learning how to gut and clean one eventually, and I do feel this could become a bit of a hobby for me.

This last one I want to show you is a Record Geneve de Luxe, I think it´s brass, it´s sooo charming, and I bought it in a package with two others for 9 euro, including postage. The others are a very ugly German 70´s Eppo Komtur that I still kind of like (the way you like an ugly puppy), and a Tevo that races 15 minutes in 12 hours, so that´s not so useful. That one is first in line for a cleaning, when I work up the guts to do it.

I feel like I have saved a bunch of orphans. There´s a Pygmalion element to finding, polishing and wearing what someone else has discarded. I love it.