The Swedish Flag

This Friday there was an awful truck attack in Stockholm, where four people died. I wasn’t personally affected, even though it was just up the road from where I work, although I know several people who were scarily close to it. For the people who did lose somebody, it must be the worse thing in the world, and I can’t even grasp it.

A horrible situation, although on the day after I made damn sure to get into town and do the whole carry-on-as-normal thing. If life doesn’t go on, then we’ve lost.

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The view from my office after the attack

A few positive things came from the attack, though. One was the immediate and professional response from the police and emergency services, closing down the city and catching the guy a few hours later. The police were getting hugs and flowers from people all weekend, which was great to see in usually-reserved Stockholm.

Another was on social media, where the hashtag #openstockholm took off. People were offering accommodation and help and car rides and company to people stuck in town as a result of the attack and subsequent shutdown. It brought a tear to the eye, this random kindness on a massive level. Stockholmers, it turns out, have a great ability to react to crises, and will throw their doors wide open when needed.

Then people started putting Swedish flags on their Facebook profile pics, as one does after something like this. That’s when it got a bit strange for the Swedes.

flagHere’s the thing. Swedes are often embarrassed to fly their flag. They are generally damn proud of their country, but they don’t show it much. My Swedish workmates are much happier flying an Irish flag on St. Patrick’s day than flying a Swedish flag on any day, ever. It’s part of their “no boasting” mentality, but also because the far right have mostly claimed the Swedish flag, and the average person doesn’t want to be seen as a neo-nazi. You might see the blue and yellow on a bus on Sweden’s national day, or at a sporting event, or fluttering over a summer house, but that’s it.

It’s something that immigrants like myself find very odd. But after this attack, maybe it will change. I do love my adopted country and I hate to see them squirm and not show that love too. You’re awesome, Sweden, so go get your flag back. Remove it from the grubby hands of nationalists and “patriots” and fly it high and proud.

/ paddy

Sunshine and Sneezes

You can’t beat a good sneeze. Especially now that the pollen season is upon us, which sees me doing it quite a bit. However, when it comes to sneezing, I have a superpower.

I am cursed / blessed with a photic sneeze reflex. Which means that when I emerge from an interior space to a brightly sunlit exterior space, I will sneeze. Violently. Usually twice. It also means that if I feel the tingle of a sneeze that doesn’t quite want to arrive, I can shove my face into a lamp and bring the sneeze on. Very handy.

For years I thought this applied to everybody and was quite surprised when I found out  it didn’t. Some mere mortals, apparently, only get to sneeze when the sneeze is good and ready. There are theories about why the photic sneeze reflex works, to do with nerves in the brain and such. Even Aristotle noticed it, when he wasn’t busy incorrectly counting women’s teeth. But work it does, and when it comes to sneezing, I’m no slouch.

genes-for-achoo-syndrom-sun-sneezingI like my sneezing so much that I am amazed by the number of people who block their sneezes. They clamp their noses, sending the sneeze booming around the insides of their skull, in a way that sounds physically painful. I’ve always wondered – why on earth would anybody do that. Is it a fear of contaminating others? A terror of seeing snot and spittle? Or a religious conviction that sneezing is too much like sex? Fuck knows, but lots and lots of people do it, in my workplace as well as in the great wide world in general.

If anybody knows why people do this, please share it. Because I fully expect to one day be a witness to a head boinging off, or an eye popping out and dangling from its fleshy wire.

In Sweden, by the way, you say “Benny!” when someone in your vicinity sneezes. The proper response to that is to yell “Björn!” and then go put on spangly trousers.

/ paddy

Springtime For Sweden

The first signs of spring have come to Stockholm. There are snowdrops sprouting, there are drinkers sitting outside of Snaps in Medborgarplatsen, wrapped in blankets and grimly pretending to be having a good time. And there are people standing against sunlit walls in every corner of the city, with their eyes closed, basking in the rays like vertical seals.

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Here we see a few, snapped by myself yesterday. In this shot we have two proper baskers, two semi-baskers, and a tanned guy who knows exactly what I’m up to.

This behavior will continue on into April, until that first hot day when it is agreed that Stockholm may now shed its black coat and don its skimpy summer things, even though it’s really a bit too cold for that yet, but fuck it.

And for the sake of disclosure – yes, my coat is black. It’s just the rules, okay?

/ paddy

Jazz on the Train

I was on my way to work. It was a typical March morning in Stockholm, which meant the weather could be snow, or blazing sun, or icy gales, or all three at once.

On trains, I am peculiar, especially in the mornings. Things annoy me and they annoy me five times more than normal. These things include (but are not limited to):

People eating their messy breakfast on the train
People having loud conversations on the train
People shoving their massive luggage into other people’s way
People putting on makeup on the train
People with awfully leaky headphones

Of these, the headphone leakers are the worse. Yes, I’m sure your music is fun to listen to, but if you insist upon playing it so fucking LOUDLY then use good headphones and not those pieces of cheap shit they gave you when you bought your mobile telephone.

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But no. People will play the most appallingly annoying music at full tinny volume, in total disregard for those around them (meaning, of course, me).

So on this particular March day, I was noodling about on my phone, reading news, playing a game, the usual sort of thing, when a man got on the train and sat close to me, wearing headphones. And the air suddenly filled with jazz.

Not good jazz either. Shite jazz, with the same piece repeated over and over. I did my usual scowling but the man didn’t notice or care. Then I wasn’t sure it was him, so I scowled at some other likely leakers in my vicinity, and shook my head, and muttered to myself.

dogThe music kept on going, becoming more and more annoying. So finally, I moved. At which point I noticed that the music, oddly, was now coming from ahead of me, and not from behind.

And it clicked.The music was coming from my own mobile, from a game I had been playing. Luckily I was spared any embarrassment as pretty much everyone around me had headphones on and couldn’t hear a damn thing. The sweet and awful irony.

Note that I didn’t mention dogs on the train being a thing I dislike. I’m trying quite hard to like dogs and so far it seems to be working.

Until someone invents leaky dog headphones and I am forced to go postal.

/ paddy

Weird And Wrongish Tingles

I found this weird thing on the internet, and you know you’re in for a good time when a blog post starts off like that. So buckle up.

The weird thing in question is called ASMR. Please take a few minutes out of your day to imagine a few disturbing phrases that ASMR could be an acronym of. Done? You sickening pervert. So let’s clean our hands and move right along.

What ASMR actually stands for, we’ll get to later. But what ASMR means in practice is soft-spoken ladies on the internet whispering into a microphone and making all sorts of soft and cosy sounds, using their hands and lips and a variety of objects. Pops and scrapes and crinkles and lip-smacks and hair ruffles are the order of the day here.

Before we get any further, here’s an example:

That’s a head massage.There’s a huge number of other options out there, including lots of odd role-play stuff like going to the doctor or hairdresser or dentist (which we all find relaxing, right?) or watching someone wrap presents. Literally thousands of videos. Shockingly many.

At this point I’d normally have a good old giggle and point at the sad internet freaks who are into this kind of thing. But here is the problem – it totally works on me.

The soft popping and scraping and whispering sends my head into fireworks of tingles. It’s like when I get a haircut (an activity I enjoy way more than I let on to my hairdresser). I can’t really explain why it works, but it does. It sets my brain alight, leaving a calm and slightly numb feeling in my head, lasting for many minutes. Like mindfulness but without any of the boring effort.

Here’s another one. This is Maria, possibly the most popular ASMR video maker. Her top posting has over 17 million hits. This lady does this full time, and makes enough that she doesn’t have to work with anything else. This, people, is her actual job.

And there’s lots more out there. Search and you will be amazed. Or very, very troubled.

The big question is – is it sexual? Maybe, but only in the same way that getting a massage is sexual. The ASMR fan base seems to be equally male and female, and while there are plenty ASMR videos made by men, the majority are done by women. So is it some kind of weird maternal thing? Might be. But whatever, it works for me.

It’s not all whispering and head touching. Here’s Charlotte wrapping presents. She has a lot of videos that are mostly noises. Page turning. Writing. That class of thing.

But enough from me. Get out there and explore. Put a good pair of headphones on. And be prepared for some very odd looks from those in your immediate vicinity.

ASMR = Autonomous sensory meridian response. Or possibly Anal Sector Marzipan Roulette. Does it matter? Not a whole lot.

Extra material: The brilliant Jenny Nicholson does her own take on ASMR.

/ paddy

The Arse Tobacco Anecdote

I was in a pub a few weeks back, attending a concert, when I felt a pressing need.

I entered the toilet space, and read the notice on the inside of the door, which warned about the dodgy lock. Check it several times! it yelled. I checked it several times, gave it an extra tug, checked it again. All seemed in order.

I removed the clothing around my crotchal area and sat down for the commencement of my business. Said business was underway when I noticed that somebody had left a little container of snus on a shelf just within reach.

snus-2Note: Snus is Swedish mouth tobacco that people shove up under their upper lips, giving them stained teeth and, one supposes, good feelings. It is banned in the EU, except in Sweden, as they really REALLY wanted Sweden to join. So they got themselves a mouth tobacco exemption.

Anyway, there I was on the toilet, reaching for the snus that wasn’t my own. It was further than I thought so I had to raise my buttocks from the toilet to reach it. Grabbing the container, I idly opened it to check if anything was inside, hovering over the toilet seat as I did so. I had taken out a snus portion (basically a small teabag) and was sniffing at it curiously when the door suddenly opened.

The person who’d defeated the dodgy lock was a young woman. For a second she stared at the man who was leaning forward with a snus clamped between his fingers, looking for all the world like he was about to shove it up his arse.

The unfortunate lady gave a terrified squeal and bolted. After a portion of numb silence had passed, I scuttled forward, trousers around my legs, shutting the door with sweaty fingers.

When I left the bathroom and crept back to my friends, I spotted the lady in question across the room, holding onto a beer glass with a glassy expression. As if she’d looked upon the face of evil and knew that nothing, ever again, would be any good.

I hope she one day gets to tell her own anecdote. I suspect she might.

/ paddy