The House That Never Was

Gather round, children, to hear the tale of the house that never was.

Picture a Swedish summer house, a gorgeous little thing with two floors, built in the 1820s. It has no running water or indoor plumbing, like many Swedish summer houses. The owner bought it because it was located beside a parachute jumping course, and they did parachute jumping. So they used the house very occasionally to sleep in after jumping out of a plane. There was a well, which wasn’t working, a very basic outdoor toilet and no rubbish collection. But that didn’t bother them, as they performed all their bodily functions and collected water from the parachute club.

20190707_182852(0)I’d heard about this house through the person who stayed there occasionally as a caretaker, cutting the grass and such. I visited her and kind of fell in love with the place. Quaint didn’t begin to describe it. There was also a nice little shed, a half-built chicken coop, an earth cellar (collapsed) and ten thousand square meters of prime land. Also, a wood next door. Lovely.

There was also a man living in a box in the yard, but we’ll get back to him later.

The caretaker told me the owner was sort of interested in selling. In fact, she’d occasionally show up with people to view the house, totally unannounced. She’d also freak out occasionally over nothing. The owner, it seemed, was a bit special, with quotes around the special.

Anyway, I told the caretaker I was interested in buying it. She told the owner, who gave a price of 700,000 Swedish crowns (go look it up yourself). A good price, especially for the amount of land. So, as one should do, I booked a surveyor to go through the house and invited the owner along on the same day, so we could all meet. The surveyor surveyed, the owner shook my hand and laughed and nodded and only mentioned parachuting about eighteen times.

A week later, the surveyor sent me his report. The house was old so there was plenty wrong with it. Roof tiles incorrectly attached. Holes in the facade. Some rot in the wood. Also no water, and since the non-functioning well hadn’t been used for years, it might not even be drinkable. Water is quite important for most carbon-based lifeforms, so that was a concern. Also, their toilet solution was illegal, consisting of an outside loo where you shat more or less directly on the ground, violating environmental regulations. But, besides all that, still a pretty decent price.

There was also the man living in a box in the yard, but we’ll get back to him later.

I pondered the report. I would need to do many repairs, but the major issues were the water, the toilet and the roof tiles. So I adjusted down the offered price, put a bit back on for the furniture in the house, which I knew they didn’t really want, and offered 685. A good price. Or so I thought.

20190707_160702The owner didn’t think so, and flipped out, fuming that I was trying to change what she considered a fair price. That, however, is not how a fair price works. Both people need to agree that the price is fair, and I wanted a symbolic reduction, just to feel I was getting a deal, and to cover the costs of the vital jobs that had to be done – toilet, water, roof over head.

And then there was the man living in a box in the yard, who we’ll get to now.

The man was a parachute jumper, who stayed some weekends in a container they’d put on the property and wired up to the house’s electrical system. Badly. Possibly illegally. He paid enough rent to cover the house’s bills, and the owner had informed me that he couldn’t be thrown out, even if the house were sold, until the parachuting season was over (because we all know when the parachuting season starts and ends). She didn’t see this as weird at all.

Anyway, when she’d calmed down after my scandalous attempt to cut two percent from the price, she called me. This is a woman who likes to talk on the phone. I am not a woman who likes to talk on the phone (or, for that matter, a woman) and prefer everything in text, so that people who are good at talking don’t manipulate me. So I listened as she tried to manipulate me.

The lack of water apparently wasn’t a problem, as she’d been there for years and had never needed it. So that didn’t deserve any reduction. The toilet wasn’t a problem either as yes she knew it was an illegal solution, but she didn’t think the regulations were fair or even relevant, so that did not require any reduction. The roof tiles weren’t a problem as the man who’d installed them told her so, and the professional and independent (and expensive) surveyor I’d paid was therefore wrong.

The man who lived in the box in the yard wasn’t a problem either, as he was lovely, and he’d only need to be there until the end of the season, regardless of whether the house was sold and when, and could not be thrown out. He was even, it was argued, an asset.

DSC_0048Then came her deal. Instead of paying the 700, as was her original price, or the 685 I’d suggested, she offered that I buy the house for 650 thousand officially and pay her 50 thousand in cash. This would mean she had, officially, made no profit on the house, and would therefore pay no tax on the sale. And it would mean that I would pay more tax when I sold it in the future. Ten thousand crowns more.

She also wanted me to pay half of her fees connected to the sale, while I would pay all of my own fees. Which meant her “deal” actually made the price of the house go UP from 700 to 715. Win-win, was how she put it. Or, as I put it afterward, win-get-shafted-up-the-arse.

I explained my attempt to improve the price as a thing that we do in Ireland. Every price, I said, gets argued over, it’s just how we are. She informed me that she’d been to Ireland years ago, and I was wrong about that too, it wasn’t at all how we did things in Ireland.

It took me a few hours after vaguely agreeing to her terms (I’m not good at taking discussions on the phone, see above) to grasp the extent to which she was trying to fuck me over. I realised, as much as I wanted the house, that I was not willing to get screwed for it, especially by a person whose idea of a good deal is one where she gets 100% of what she wants and the other person gets sweet fuck all. I texted her to say thank you but no. She sent a furious reply, which I didn’t read.

I’m still looking for a nice little summer house, but now I think I’ll go through a realtor. At least I know in which way they will try to screw me. If you have one (a house, not a realtor) let me know.

But at least I learned something: Don’t trust a parachutist, they’ll always let you down.

/ paddy

Not Keeping It Down

Every winter in Sweden people cower in terror as the vinterkräksjuka (calicivirus) sweeps across the land like a plague of angry ducks (or whatever image appeals to you). I’ve watched people for years as they scatter in terror, washing hands frantically, avoiding workplaces, avoiding breathing, to avoid picking it up. And I’ve wondered – bloody wimps, what’s wrong with them? Shure it’s only a bit of puking.

Thing is, I’m immune to the vinterkräksjuka. Or at least I thought I was.

Enter early Friday morning, when the contents of my stomach emerged from my mouth, going the wrong direction, and kept on doing that for a day. I lay on my couch, staring up and pitifully groaning, too ill to sleep or read or Netflick (that is the verb, I’m calling it). All I could do was dribble enough water into myself so that I could puke it all up again.

not-knorrAfter a while, all I looked forward to was the vomiting itself, and the associated twenty minutes of feeling kind of okay that followed, before I descended into the valley again.

At one point, I really felt I needed to puke, but couldn’t face the old fingers down the throat. So I thought about bread. Just thought about it. And the floodgates dutifully opened wide.

Finally, a day later, it stopped. And some time after that, I felt I might try some food. Which I did – Knorr’s dried vegetable soup. It was like eating salty rainbows rolled in communion wafers. Marvellous.

Now, somewhat later, I am ready for the world again, wiser and a bit thinner. But I guess I learned my lesson – if you want to vomit, just think of bread. Mmm.

Interesting fact 1: People in Sweden pronounce the silent K in Knorr. It’s adorable.

Interesting fact 2: Pronouncing vinterkräksjuka is one of the required steps in becoming a Swedish citizen, along with inserting snus one-handed, forcing yourself to like dill, and incorrectly pouring a pint of Guinness. So get on it, would-be Swedes!

Interesting fact 3: Yes, I known it’s not Knorr, I can see it on the box, can’t I, but I needed that for Interesting fact 1 so just get off my back, will ya?

/ paddy

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.

2017-04-07 17.07.59
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.

2017-03-25 12.51.58

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

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, a slightly deformed face 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, out of boredom. 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

Orange Ladies And Beardy Boys

I came back to work last week and two things were immediately apparent.

First, all the orange ladies on the subway. This is a yearly phenomenon – the Swedes returning from their summer-houses, showing off their newly scorched skin. You notice it most on older ladies. Their skin is practically orange, wrinkled and leathery and disturbing. Some of them are so lined they look like fucking Yoda, but, you know, more orange.

While I understand that the Swedes grab whatever sun is going, I fail to see why they would want to damage their skin like this. They lounge around in the parks and beaches, in blazing sunshine and without sunblock, and then wonder why they get skin cancer. Deeply wrinkled, sun-blasted skin isn’t attractive, or healthy, and doesn’t even show status, as summer houses are seen almost as a human right over here.

So why do they do it? Beats me. But if you want to see one, now is the time.

Then there’s the beards. I’m now in the minority at work regarding facial hair. Most men in my office are bearded. It especially noticeable among men in the 25 to 32 age range. Two thirds of them now have beards. It’s like a bloody seventies folk concert.

This thing with huge beards on younger men has taken off to a ridiculous degree in Sweden. It was very noticeable when I went to Herräng dance camp for a week, and saw young men from lots of countries. They were all much less beardy than the young Swedes. It brought home again what a terribly conformist place Sweden can be.

Why is it like this? Because beards on young men is trendy, and Swedes go for trends in the same way that sharks go for icebergs made of spam. They claim to cherish their individuality, which they then express by striving to look exactly the same.

Not the same as each other, mind you. Just the same as whatever subculture they’ve decided they belong to. Be it punks, hipsters, slackers, whatever. You can be unique here as long as you are unique in a very clearly defined way.

Now I’m a big fan of facial hair, but this is all just a bit sad. If you like beards, then have one, regardless of what the rest of the world is doing. Just stop shaving, and presto.

I give it a couple of years. Once the football players start shaving, young Swedish men will shed their facial hair. Beards, after all, can be removed. But I can’t say the same for the swarms of young women with colorful and messy tattoos sleeves on their arms and shoulders. They might have a tad more trouble getting over this particular trend. And let’s see how those things look when they’re pushing 60.

As for the idiots with the discs in their earlobes … well, let’s not even go there.

/ paddy

Beware of Race

As one wanders the streets of Stockholm this week one is reminded over and over again to watch out for foreigners. Not just any foreigners, but those of a different skin colour. Non-white Swedes too. All people of other races in fact.

Pause for effect. Reveal punchline. Introduce photo.

Well actually that’s not how it is (surprise). The snow and ice are melting on the roofs of Stockholm and for some reason there are no systems in place up there to take care of it. So that means that great slabs of snow and ice and T-Rex tooth sized icicles are plummeting to Earth with great velocity. And if you get caught under one, well, nice knowing you.

So in order to avoid taking responsibility and actually removing said snow and ice from the roofs, the building owners are putting up signs like the one here. The text “Risk för ras”, you see, means both “look out for falling or collapsing stuff” and also, at a stretch, “risk for race”. Which, you know, is vaguely amusing. And slightly scary given that the far-right Swedish Democrats are now in the government for the first time ever.

What is not amusing is the fact that we all have to walk on the street to be sure of avoiding brain-smashing blocks of ice from above. And that we get gravel in our boots. Plus the frozen dog shit of the winter is making its annual re-appearance. And the fact that it will all freeze over again in a few days and continue to tease us with a spring that never comes.

I, however, am looking forward to buying a new hat. And that’s all the cheer I need.

/ paddy

A Short Guide to Swedish Politics

Politics is only interesting when it’s happening somewhere else, like in Africa, or in a Fantasy novel. But when there is a general election raging, it’s just the most atrocious bore imaginable.

There is a general election brewing in Sweden now and you can’t walk through town for ten seconds without some intense idiot in an over-large t-shirt shoving leaflets at you. So this is probably a good time for a quick primer on Swedish Politics for all you foreigners, or for you Swedes who haven’t been paying attention.

There are two blocks in the running for this election, plus a scatter of smaller parties. The “Alliance” block, currently ruling, consists of the four governing parties – The Moderates, Centre Party, People’s Party and Christian Democrats. The “Empire” block – sorry, the “Red-Green” block – consists of the Left Party (socialists), the Social Democrats and the Greens. Damn, it would be fucking sweet if they WERE called the “Empire” and the “Alliance”. Why didn’t anybody think of that earlier?

The Moderate’s leader, and Sweden’s PM, is Fredrik Reinfeldt, a man who looks like a giant baby. Other politicians of note include the woman vying for his title, leader of the Social Democrats Mona Sahlin, a woman with a speaking voice so boring it could curdle milk and whose deepest, darkest secret is paying for candy on her government credit card.

The Greens, meanwhile, claim that they don’t have “leaders” and insist on rolling out two “spokespeople”, one male and one female, any time they appear on TV. The political correctness of that just makes me shiver and is one reason why, although I’d like to, I just can’t vote for the Greens. The other reason is that they are unrealistic new-age wimps in many issues. However, it must be admitted, their spokesperson Maria Wetterstrand is HOT.

Then we have the hated Christian Democrats. Hated by me, at least. These bozos have the nerve to call themselves “democrats” even though they clearly accept the infallibility and universal dominance of an all-powerful dictator who can never be voted out, will never die, and can do whatever the fucking fuck he feels like with no consequences. In what possible way can these people call themselves “democrats”? Loonies more like.

And they, like all the other parties, have the nerve to refuse to be in the same room as the far-right Swedish Democrats, even though their stance on “values” is actually very similar.

Shit, this is all giving me a headache. I hope it’s over soon. Can’t we just do a game-show where the politicos get put on some island and have to eat slugs and crawl through mud and get voted out until we pick the one who runs the country?

Yeah, let’s do it! Politician Island. Right now.

/ paddy

The Swedish Democrats

There is a big fuss in Sweden at the moment about the Swedish Democrats. These are a far-right party, peopled and supported mostly by thick people from the country. Well, they are. All the other parties are now in a tizzy about the fact that they might win seats in the parliament and they are falling over each other to say how they will not, on any account, work with them.

Sigh. Let me just point something out here. This is a democracy, and central to a democracy is allowing people the right to speak even when you don’t agree with them. ESPECIALLY when you don’t agree with them. Tell this to the upper middle-class leftish louts who regularly turn up when far-right parties speak in public and shout them down. You know what would have a bigger effect, you daft shouty dread-locked irritants? To let them speak. To allow us to see their logic and make up out own minds. I don’t want the information I get to be filtered by bigots (and the far left are clearly bigoted in their own way). I want to make my own mind up.

As an example I think another party, the Christian Democrats, should be removed from politics since their ranks are awash with homophobes and deluded people. But I understand that they won’t, because many people like to vote for them, so fair enough. Any political party with the support of people should have the same rights as any other political party, as long as what they say isn’t illegal. So get fucking used to it. Again, democracy, remember?

So if you want idiots to show that they are idiots, you let them talk and you ask them questions. Here is a perfect example of that. A far-right dude from the country (previously, and clearly currently, a neo-Nazi) is interviewed and it turns out that he can’t put two words together without saying “umm” or swallowing his own snot.

Brilliant! And here, to prolong your chuckle, is an excellent tune by the very same guy. This dude is great. He’s a complete brick-head who fears for Christmas eve and Midsummer at the hands of marauding foreigners. And he is also a perfect example of why idiots whould be allowed to speak as much as possible. For entertainment, if nothing else.

Personally I am very much in favour of immigration (duh) but I expect those who immigrate to accept the laws and traditions of the country that accepts them. Isolation, religious law, religious clothing, circumcision – all this bollox should cease. Nothing makes me as happy as seeing middle-eastern women in secular clothing, or happy immigrant families on their way to Skansen. Nothing makes me as angry as seeing women wearing full-body burqas and walking four steps behind their fat men because of some ancient tradition of oppression. Cultural rights my fat arse; civil rights come always first.

What’s the point of leaving a nasty country where you are oppressed in one way and coming to another country where you are oppressed in another? Screw that shit. Sweden needs to break the power of traditonal religious cultures inside its own borders. It should not be afraid to put its foot down and say “Welcome, but please observe the rules”. Go to your Mosque (or your Church), by all means, but that bearded gobshite who runs the place shall NOT have any say in how your life goes.

I am quite openly a culturalist. I do believe that my culture, with its emphasis on openness, fairness, and secularism, is clearly better than many other cultures. And what’s wrong with saying that? Plus anybody can join my culture, regardless of race, sex and colour. Come one, come all, but let the force of law dictate what is right and acceptable, and not some random magic book and a room-full of secretive bearded men.

I mean, look at me, previously a rabid Catholic potato-eater, and now after only 13 years in Sweden I eat pickled fish and pasta, I take my shoes off when I enter a house, and just a few days days ago I bought an IKEA throw-cover for my bed.

Who says miracles can’t happen?

/ paddy

Quite Okay Midsummer

Ah, the day before midsummer. Tomorrow there will be food and drink and countryside (and fish in a jar, yum) but today I am in the office, slacking off to the max. I feel I should point out that this day is pretty much a national day of slacking off in Sweden. If there were a saint for today, it would no doubt be Saint Slack. Bless him.

But my relaxed state is mostly due to the fact that I will be starting a new job in August. So right now I find myself in that most cherished of positions – completely unfireable. I can basically do whatever I want because what can they do, fire me? Heh heh.

My new job is here, making skill games for the entertainment of the internet community. This new job pleases me greatly and is the first job I have actively went after and bagged. Hurrah for me.

Before them I have a nice summer to look forward to, and a long trip to Australia with H11. So things are going very very well, and today there is nothing to complain about. I even watched some football and liked it.

Nothing at all to complain about? Shit, now I’m all freaked out. So off you go, have a happy midsummer and may all your fish be pickled ones.

/ paddy

Swenglish Megafail

Yesterday the world was exposed to the awesome power of Swenglish.

Swenglish is what happens when Swedish people decide that they can translate phrases and concepts directly into English without the hassle of getting hold of, for example, a professional translator.

Unfortunately the Swede in question was the Chairman of BP, Carl-Henric Svanberg. And the phrase he decided to translate on the fly was “den lilla människan” which means basically “the average person”.

However, as the world knows, it came out as “small people” which means something quite different in English. This phrase is okay to use in Swedish since, as we know, there are no classes in Swedish society, and nobody is better than anybody else. But in English… well, you get it. Not a smart thing to say, especially when you are spilling twenty thousand plus barrels of oil per day into the ocean of these aforementioned small people.

Seriously, who decided that this gobshite would face the American press with his shaky English? The Americans, as we know, are not the best people for understanding European accents (especially bad ones). And their tolerance for BP is already wearing very thin, as it should.

Why do so many Swedes, I wonder, assume that their own English is top-notch and refuse to get it checked or translated by a professional? Swedes have very good English, true, but the majority assume that their English is quite a bit better than it actually is. And this leads not only to badly worded English advertisements in many of Sweden’s newspapers, but also to multi-billion dollar screw-ups like this one.

Still, the avalanche of “small people” related humour all over the web has been brilliant. And it’s always nice to see a big man broken down and turned into a laughing-stock. Especially this cunt and his fucking company, may they be dismantled, spat upon and ground into dust.

And, with that thought, my dear readers, have a good weekend.

/ paddy (probably smaller than most people)