Old Blog

So I had that new website and blog, over at Swimming to the Sun. The idea was to showcase my writing and do blog posts there. However, then a thing happened.

The thing was that I grew bored with it. I became more and more uncomfortable with a website whose only purpose was to yell: “Hey, look at me and my stuff!” So I stopped updating it. I tried to forget it existed. Then when the website rental ran out, I didn’t renew it. And now it’s gone. Gone! Like having all your ugly clothes eaten by moths.

Now the world won’t know which articles I have sold and to whom. Big loss, I’m sure you’ll agree. I have a very yappy presence on twitter, and I have this blog, in case I get the urge to go a-ranting. Which I probably will at some point.

So yeah, it’s back to basics. And I’d kind of pleased about that.

/ paddy

How to Use a Toilet

how-to-use-a-toilet.jpgWe live in a world of excessive information, where every single product, no matter how simple, has instructions (place this toothbrush in your mouth), warnings (do not place this toothbrush in your neighbour’s mouth) and a “help line” to call (Yes, hello, can you tell me something interesting about my toothbrush please?)

However there are two things, things we use every day of our lives, that come with absolutely no instructions whatsoever. I’m talking, of course, about toilets and toilet paper.

Where are the informational videos, the “how-to” books, the evening courses? Are we born knowing how to use triple-ply, or do we get secret training during gym class, or learn from the older boys or from farm animals?

Well now the ignorance will come to an end with this definitive guide to toilet use. So wipe down the plastic ring, pull your undies way past your knees, and let’s get defecating!

1) The reading material. Now when I feel a certain pressing need, the first thing I do is to find something to read. I will hop from foot to foot in agony while scanning the bookshelf for something light, simple and distracting. A great toilet writer, I find, is Bill Bryson. So let’s open up Mr. Bryson’s “Notes From A Small Country” and away we go!

2) Pick a toilet. At home this tends to be no problem but in public it can be troublesome. The public toilet checklist has a few points to consider:

  • Hook on the wall to keep bag or jacket faeces-free – check!
  • Less than one meter of space under the door – check!
  • A seat devoid of unidentified stains or piddle – check!
  • Distracting ambient noises to hide farting or grunting – check!

3) In a quiet toilet, you may be worried by your “splashing” or “plopping” noises. A good way to minimise “plop” is to tear off some paper and drop it in the bowl before your business begins. This creates a handy “silencer” and people passing by will wonder what you are up to in such exquisite silence.

4) Also a quiet toilet may be a little too quiet to allow you to apply the necessary pressure. Some good “masking” tips here are:

  • Stick fingers in ear and make “hmmmmm” noise
  • Turn on water as covering fire
  • Flush repeatedly and hope for noisy re-fill
  • Cough or clear throat in a very loud and obvious manner

5) So then, your flank is covered and your business is underway. Good for you! However, if there is a rapid build-up of solid matter in the bowl, you will get a sudden and powerful stink, not so good if you are at home or in the office! A good trick here is the supplementary flush—getting rid of the first batch, and its smell, as quickly as possible, and then settling down to enjoy the rest of the process. Nobody will care if you flush a few times, and the next person in will thank you.

6) Now the last of the brownies have emerged, and its time to think about the wiping. First, though, you will need to give a little shake, to dislodge any clingers. Then reach for the toilet paper and tear off as many sheets as you think you require.

hello_kitty_toilet.jpgNote: there are many schools of toilet-paper use. Some people go through a roll of the stuff per day, whereas others split the two-ply paper in two thinner sheets to stretch it out until the summer. I generally take 2 or 3 sheets at once, so lets deal with this method first.

Simply fold the sheets once or twice to make a larger, thicker sheet that covers the front of the hand. Then apply it to the area in question with a quick wipe, applying just a little pressure.

Those who prefer many sheets might take the “wraparound” method, which is simply to wrap the entire hand with paper, front and back. This is very wasteful, especially in these resource-troubled times, although you can redeem yourself by using both the back and the front of the hand before dropping the paper in.

There is also the “ball” method, which consists of ripping off as many squares as you can fit in your hand and crushing them into a fat, bulging ball. Not a very efficient way to wipe, and shame on you if you use it!

If you have a water source nearby, you can dab some water on the paper to improve the cleaning effect. But beware, not too much or you risk a push-through (see point 8)!

7) An interesting question emerges about the wiping process – should one wipe towards the front or towards the back? Ladies tend to avoid wiping forward as it can cause some unspecified disease, but I find that the forward wipe gives a good deal more effect. May I suggest that the men-folk wipe back a few times, and then finish off with a forward wipe, with a spot of water for that all-day fresh feeling!

8) Push-through can happen to the best of us, and nothing raises a shiver like a sudden finger poking where it should not poke. But breath deep, and do not panic, you can recover the situation! Finish the wiping process with a “wraparound” and keep the offending finger covered until you can get to a source of soap. Do not, under any circumstances, pick your nose at this point!

Apply a thick layer of soap to the finger and leave it sit for a minute, without any water. Then rub it in well with a paper towel and rinse. There may be a slight, lingering odour but as long as you avoid shaking hands for the next hour or so, nobody will be any the wiser.

9) It happens that you begin the process and then find that no paper is available. There are several things you can do in this situation, in ascending degree of disgustingness.

First check for paper towels in the vicinity; they are coarse and sandpaper-like but will do in a pinch. If there are none then check carefully through your bag and pockets for napkins or tissues. If this comes up blank, try a few sheets of paper from a notebook or paperback – old school, but does the job! If this fails, then you are in a bind! You can either choose to sit there until you air-dry (never guaranteed) or else choose an item of clothing you could do without and tear it into strips. I find that socks are a good option – soft, easy to tear and easily replaced!

10) Now it’s time to flush. This should be simple enough, but once in a while you will get a floater. This is the determined little chap who will just not go under, popping up over and over like Jaques Costeau. A floater cannot be flushed in the conventional way, and must be dealt with carefully. Remember: a floater in somebody else’s house can end a relationship as sure as a dick on the dinner table!

So here’s what to do: tear off a few sheets of paper and drop them carefully over the floater. Give them a minute to soak in, and then flush once more. The floater, with its extra ballast, should now go under without any further struggle.

If this fails you will have to dismantle the floater with the toilet brush and flush down the pieces. And if this fails, all you can do is drop in enough paper to hide the little guy, and hope the next customer does not notice.

11) Sometimes the flush will not work. This always happens at parties, especially when a queue is building and you have just had the chilli con carne. But panic not, you can always perform that most ancient and complex of rituals: the manual flush!

Simply take the biggest container you can find and fill it up with water – rubbish bins are recommended, but even a plastic bag will do. Now pour as much of the water as quickly as you can into the bowl, making a big “schlunk” noise. Now repeat until the little monsters have left the building! And, as a bonus, you can have a chuckle by telling the next person in line that the flush is out, and watch their face squirm in anguish.

12) Now we have left the area of actual toilet use and are entering the realm of etiquette. You will not want to make the next toilet guest uncomfortable, and nothing does this more effectively that skid-marks. You know what I’m talking about – those long underwater streaks that a skilled forensic scientist could use to work out the gas content of what you had for dinner.

In short: do not leave any skiddies! There should be no trace of your passing, so grab that toilet brush and give it the old one-two.

Toilet brushes can be troublesome. First there is that small pool of liquid that they sit in, otherwise known as “poo soup”. Then there is the fear that bits of fecal material will climb up the brush, across your arm and do a little dance on your tongue. Then there is the problem of “flick” when you extract the brush and its worrying, flexible prongs. But no matter – if you skid, you must brush!

I generally give the skid a good old scrubbing and then flush. Just before the flush is done, I extract the brush and swirl it in the flushing water, making it hopefully a bit cleaner, and then replace it for the next brave soldier.

If there is no brush, you are in trouble. A determined stream of pee can sometimes wear down a skid-mark, but if this fails you can make a temporary brush by wrapping a pen or other long object in a tight wad of toilet paper.

Only the bravest among us will actually put their hand in the water and scrub manually, but if you want your place in heaven then sometimes this must be done. Just remember to wash that hand well afterwards, ok?

13) And finally, everything is done and clean and sparkling, but don’t go just yet! There is still the problem of “linger”, that troubling scent in the air that tells the next person in that you have some bad intestinal disease.

So open the window, if there is one, and fan the air like a madman to circulate it out. If there is some air freshener, for God’s sake spray it now! Otherwise you will have to poke around in the bathroom cabinets for something scented that you can spray – deodorant, perfume, even hairspray. Failing this, you could try mouthwash, sprinkled around in a hearty manner or else toothpaste smeared liberally around the walls.

If there is absolutely nothing to be done, then you have to brave it out. Simply exit the bathroom, close the door theatrically, wave a hand in the air and grin insanely while you say “Listen friend, do not go in there!” And then you leg it as fast as you can to the other end of the party and put a bag on your head.

So there you have it, a lifetime of toilet tips condensed into one easy-to-use guide. Now get out there, eat something dark and spicy, and make us all proud!

/ paddy

Best-Before Hysteria

When I met my Swedish ex in Ireland, I noticed something odd about her. She always carefully checked the labels and dates on food in the shop. I thought it was just a cute quirk, as I had rarely given those little dates much thought myself. If food smelled good, it was good; if it smelled funny, or had blue fluffy stuff on it, then it was bad.

But when I moved to Sweden, I was in for a shock – the entire country did the same. Swarms of grown-ups would wander around the shops, peering at the best-before dates and doing feverish calculations in their heads before buying anything. If I came home with something that was due to go “out” in a few days, then I was in bad domestic trouble. And any produce, even frozen or unopened, that had passed this mystical date would be chucked out as if it were coated in arsenic.

Stories about best-before hysteria are numerous over here, and I will tell only two of them:

1) Once my ex threw out salt—salt!!—that had gone past its best-before date. Now salt has been used in every culture for centuries to preserve food – conclusion, salt does not go off. But this did not stop her from throwing it out and starting a fight with me about it.

2) A friend of a friend—let us call him Larry—was making a cup of tea before he went out on the town. He checked the date on the milk, saw there was one day left, and took some milk. He came home a few hours later and made some more tea. But now the milk had gone off, as it was the next day, and Larry refused to drink it – the exact same milk he had used six hours earlier. He poured it down the sink, terrified of diseases, only hours after having had his tongue in the mouth of 3 or 4 strange girls, carrying probably more bacteria than live in his entire apartment.

These stories are not the exception – they are the rule in this peculiar country. I was in a shop that sells English stuff in Stockholm (called, usefully enough, the English Shop) a few days ago and noticed they were giving away crisps. I asked why, and the lady working there told me they had “gone out” and, even when they were free, the Swedes would not touch them. Now, show me any other country in the world where people will not take free stuff because of a little date printed on the packet.

Let us look at the phrase “best before” – or “bäst före” in Swedish. It implies that the product is BEST before the given date. It will probably be quite fine AFTER the date also, but it is 100% guaranteed to be BEST before it. Hence the words BEST BEFORE. It is not the “use by” date or the “shit after” date or the “throw me out please” date or the “warning! Deadly poison!” date – it is the BEST BEFORE date. And much more important than this magical date is the way in which the article has been stored both by you and in the shop: the outside temperature; the decade in which your fridge was installed; and when you actually opened the box.

I have gone blue in the face arguing this with Swedes, and now go out of my way to eat “old” food just to piss them off and show them that I will not die. Week-old milk, moldy bread, soup from the nineties – bring it on, baby!

And finally, just for the Swedes, here is how you use your enormous brain and fantastically complicated senses, evolved over millions of years, to determine if something if “good”, instead of using a little magic printed number on a box. Let us take milk as an example:

  1. Shake it.
  2. Look at it.
  3. Smell it.
  4. Taste it.

With these basic steps, you can determine if the milk (and most other things) really is “bad” and thereby save yourself a possible heart attack from too much pointless worry. Try it, and feel alive for the very first time.

/ paddy (best before 2053)

Work Is Hell

I came to Sweden in 1997, and before that I never had a proper job. I worked here and there, in what Swedes refer to as “black jobs”, but did not pay tax if I could help it. Of course, back in the 90s, it seemed that the majority of young Irish people were unemployed and worked under the table at the weekend.

I came to Sweden, and slid into the IT world in 1999, completely by accident. I worked with a very odd individual – who I will not name – and was lucky to escape alive to a better job. Ah, 2000 – the IT era. Money thrown at every problem, expensive trips, enough pizza and beer to level a horse. It lastest for about 6 months, and then everything went to hell.

People were fired. Then more people were fired. The workforce went from over 50 to about 15. In the end the company “offered” us to drop our wages 20% as proof of our loyalty to the company (meaning the board and owners) or to be fired. Most of us choose to be fired, and fired we were.

I stayed on as under short-time contracts, getting, in 2004, 80% of my 2001 wages. Quite often, our wages were late, once by ten days. In December 2004 came the low point, where they mailed us on December 20 to say “hurrah, we got in some money, so we can pay your wages!”

So I applied to study, in an attempt to escape the collapsing mess, and was accepted. The company was going better at that stage, but I was so totally sick of the same old people, doing the same old stuff, and the same old arguements, that I was happy to take a year off.

Now I’m off, and happy to be away from them. They still call me with questions, and I sometimes pop by to work a little extra. In June I will return, although the plan is to not have to. I have another job on the way, where the souls are not so tired and worn, and I hope I get it.

Also, they will pay me a fat wad, which is never a minus…fingers crossed! (or, as they say in this odd little country, thumbs crossed.)

/ paddy