Two weddings and some jet lag

At the start of April, I boldly exclaimed that I would be doing two writing challenges despite that month being one of the busiest of my life. I also promised I would blog a lot. Then I promptly disappeared off the face of the earth, which was rather rude of me but to be fair I HAVE been unusually busy.

Six weeks ago, you see, I married the love of my life. Then a few weeks after that we both flew from Sweden to Australia to watch my little sis marry the love of her life last weekend. Now we’re back in Sweden, struggling to fix our very confused body clocks, and trying to return to this so-called “normal life” people tell us about.

All of these things, naturally, need their own blog posts to be thoroughly covered. While in Australia we spent a weekend in Sydney and also spent some time exploring the beachside suburbia where I spent half my life before moving to this colder climate (there is actually a beach at the end of my street here in Sweden, but it has no waves and sometimes freezes over in Winter…meanwhile we went swimming in the Australian “winter” so you know…all perspective I guess?).

Our own wedding, in particular, needs at least one post. Not just for the photos, but because it was a momentous occasion – long time readers may recall that it was in fact due to blogging that my wife and I met at all, and we spent the first two years of our relationship on opposite sides of the planet before I moved to Sweden last year. So our wedding is the culmination of a lot of patience, persistence and determination, among other things. But it was also not your typical wedding…anyway, I’ll save that for next time.

Essentially this post was just a quick “I’m actually alive and this time I have a good excuse for not blogging” sort of thing. But I will get more posts up soon detailing our latest adventures, and then I may even return to writing about books and music and all that stuff.

Hope you are all well, fellow readers, writers and awesome people.

Here’s a sneak peek of the wedding:

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Ett år i Sverige (One year in Sweden)

Three hundred and sixty five days have passed us by since I landed in London worried and several hours late that eventful day (thanks to the extreme heat in Australia delaying take-off), suddenly changing my flight destination from Gothenburg (a couple of hours north of Halmstad) to Copenhagen in Denmark (which is a couple of hours south) to at least regain some lost time. Fifty two full weeks have gone since I held the love of my life in my arms and knew that it was finally over – after two years of dating with half the world between us (only seeing each other once each year), we would never have to be apart for a long period of time ever again. Twelve months have gone by since I said goodbye to my parents, sisters, future brothers-in-law, friends and colleagues, as well as the never-ending heat of the Australian summer sun and those glorious beaches.

It’s been a whole year since I moved to Sweden, and it’s been one of the strangest and most unpredictable years of my life. Approximately nothing went according to plan, but I guess that’s been the fun of it all. My Swedish language skills are still very basic. My job is unstable and I’m only just earning enough to survive. My integration into Swedish society has been a bumpy bureaucratic road on which we are still travelling, but it is slowly coming together. However, I have grown to love the people and the place, and I was lucky enough to go on an amazing road trip around Sweden in which I saw various sides of the country from the big cities to the endless forests and lakes of the north (for pictures and stories from that trip, start here). I’ve made some great friends, learned about some fascinating history and culture, and 2014 by far was one of the most memorable years of my life.

Immigrating has to be one of the weirdest and hardest things you can do, especially when moving to a country with a very different culture and language (had I moved from Australia to England, say, it would have been a lot easier. Mind you, I might move to England (Or Scotland) down the track anyway. But that’s much later). That feeling of nothing at all being familiar takes getting used to, but you also have to go through the process of distancing yourself from your old country to an extent because if you try to stay in both worlds mentally and emotionally you’ll just burn out. At the start of my time here I kept checking on Australian news and I tried to keep up with what all my friends were up to all the time. In the end, I stopped paying attention to the news (which I got in some ways through the few Aussies I have on my Twitter, and in other ways through friends who text me or my mother who likes to chat while playing Wordfeud games against me). I stopped going on Facebook so much, because where my blogging and Twitter is mostly connecting to people all around the world, my Facebook is almost entirely Australian – I have all but quit that site now. It’s not that I don’t care for a lot of those people – many of them have been in my life for over a decade – but I think as a human being we don’t have unlimited energy for others. I try to get news about lots of people from a smaller minority, I guess, and when I go back to visit Australia (likely in May for my sister’s wedding) I’ll get a chance to catch up with those people properly then. It’s something I have to accept – I can only do so much when I’m 18 000 kilometres away. Besides, as I draw dangerously near my thirties, a lot of my friends are heading off in their own directions anyway which makes me wonder how different it would have all have been if I stayed.

As I have slowly learned to let Australia go a little, it has given me more energy to embrace Sweden properly. I’ve stopped being frustrated by the overwhelming introversion of the populace and started to find it quite endearing. I’ll give you an example of what I mean here: in Australia, before I became a teacher, I worked many years in retail in a supermarket in a wide variety of positions, many of them lower levels of management. We used to make a big point there of encouraging the staff on the checkouts to talk to the customer – not just hello, but asking them how their day was, talking to them about something, anything really. If I was on the checkouts I used to try and see how many bad jokes I could tell on any one day, and silly things like that. Anyway, I digress. In Sweden, the people here are so shy they only say hello and then at the end tell you the price. What’s more, if they did strike a conversation, most Swedes would be horrified and wouldn’t even know what to do. The idea of talking to somebody you don’t know when you have no reason to is not something that crosses most Swedes’ minds. If you stand in line waiting for a bus, don’t be surprised if the next person stands a good metre or so away from you at least, just to ensure no conversations strike up and personal space is preserved. And in apartment blocks, it’s not unusual for tenants to glance out of their peep-holes into the stairwells before leaving, to avoid the terrifying event in which they should bump into and have to talk to their neighbours! It’s funny, because I have brought it up with a lot of people here and they all giggle and admit it is true before saying that they wish it wasn’t. But it is, and if you come from a more extroverted country like Australia or many parts of America it does take some getting used to, but it’s good to remember that they don’t mean any offense by it and there are certainly positive aspects to it all as well.

There are other things about the country I have grown to love. I actually like the wild differences in daylight hours – in Winter we only get about 7 hours of daylight, while in Summer we get more like 18 or 19 hours a day (and up in the Northern most parts it’s more extreme, with total sunlight in Summer and total darkness in Winter just about). But there is something nice about wandering around at night in Winter, especially when it’s snowed (something it hasn’t done too much of, sadly, but I have had a bit of snow to lose my balance on). Likewise, going out for dinner and then coming out to several hours of more light is pretty cool in Summer, and despite how much the sun is in the sky I don’t ever have to worry about experiencing the extreme heat that Australia has ever again – Swedish Summer is actually everything I like about summer: mildly warm long days. I also like the welfare system here overall – not that I am getting much out of it myself, but I feel like it is a much better system than many around the world. In fact, a lot of things in the country do work quite well. Internet is cheap and amazingly fast (5th best internet in the world, apparently, compared to Australia at number 44 in the rankings…awkies). Transport is expensive but very reliable and quite comfortable overall. The health system, from what I have seen, works well. I quite like the education system from what I understand about it and what I have experienced – even if it is far from perfect and many argue far from what it once was, there are a lot of good things happening in education here.

There are a few dislikes, of course. Alcohol is a pain to buy (all the bottle shops are run by a government controlled chain…so weird) and impossible to buy on Sundays without going to a pub, and drinking at a pub is insanely expensive. The food here is up and down – I have eaten a lot of great food but a lot of restaurants have very boring menus as well. Surprisingly, the most boring food menus I have discovered so far were in Stockholm – along the entire waterfront was a string of restaurants which all offered the same things that every typical Swedish place offers. On the whole, eating out here is a little bit more expensive than I’m used to back in Australia, although groceries probably cost a little less so eating at home is cheaper. Dangerously, chocolate is a lot cheaper here. And of course, my biggest dislike of all is the slippery ice – I make Bambi look graceful!

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The happy (silly) couple. I believe this was taken in England a few months ago, actually!

However, everything I have been through, everything I feel about the country, the ups and the downs – they are all worth it for one very big reason! I have spent a full year with the girl of my dreams, and today is also our three year anniversary! This year is going to bring even bigger things for us, some of which I will be sharing with you guys when they happen. But to say this might be the biggest year of my life is probably an understatement – I’ll leave it at that for now.

Now, if you’d excuse me, I have to go and cook a Saffron and Lemon Chicken dish for dinner (I’m completely out of my comfort zone cooking Persian food like this but I’m confident I can make this a heck of an anniversary dinner. And if all else fails there’s Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for dessert, so, you know…). Also, yes, we are taking pictures of it and I will be putting this one up on my recipe blog some time next week.

Year two of my Swedish life….bring it on!

Teaching myself Swedish – my toughest student is myself

As many of you know, I moved to Sweden earlier this year. As a lot of you also know, the last three years I spent in Australia I was a high school teacher, teaching English, History, and a little bit of Maths from time to time. But despite teaching probably over a thousand students, I don’t think I have ever faced one as challenging as myself.

The bureaucracy behind me migrating to Sweden from Australia as a British (and therefore European) Citizen is complicated – I am allowed to be here, but to get access to all parts of Swedish society I need the person number. In my unusual situation, the only real way to get this number is by having a job (there are other ways but they involve obtaining papers that would be too hard and take too long to get). But to get a job at most places I need to know Swedish, and to do any of the proper Swedish courses, I need the person number, and to get the…well you can see this goes round and round to no avail.

Here comes the part where I teach myself. I’ve spent a few months looking online at difference websites to help learn Swedish. There’s a lot of, well, very average ones, to be honest. I can’t afford anything I need to pay for, as I need my money to live on until I have a job. But then my girlfriend came across a playlist on Spotify (normally a music streaming service, if you’re not familiar – it’s the main way people listen to music here in Sweden) that featured various Swedish lessons. We listened to the first one together, on the pronunciations of vowels, found it was pretty useful, and have decided to use these alongside a couple of resources I have to try and teach myself the language as best as possible.

Swedish alphabet highlight vowelsThere are some drawbacks. The first one is that it seems some of these lessons are conducted by people from Stockholm. The capital city of Sweden has a quite unique accent that is very different from the Halland accent (where I’m currently living), or any of the Northern and Southern accents of the country really. As a result, the lessons could almost be teaching me things wrong because the accent disguises what I’m supposed to be hearing, especially when it comes to vowels. It’s not that the Stockholm accent is wrong, but it sounds different and only someone well versed in the Swedish language could see how the correct word is just accented, if I’m making any sense at all.

The vowels themselves are another issue. There’s nine of them, for a start. The five in English, plus y is a vowel, and also all three letters unique to Swedish are vowels –  å, ä and ö, pronounced roughly as orr, ehh and err (there’s a bit more to it than that though). But whether or not the pronunciation of the vowel is long or short completely changes the meaning of the vowel, and in the case of two of them the following consonant also can affect the word and pronunciation. So, in total, 9 vowels and 22 pronunciations of those vowels, each of which can and do dramatically change the word you are saying. For example, tack and tak could be pronounced similarly, but one of these words is thanks and one is ceiling. So the different sounding a is what varies the word in speech.

It’s one thing to know these rules, but another challenge entirely to follow them when talking in Swedish. Apparently I’m doing okay, though, despite my serious issues rolling my r’s which often distorts the entire word I’m trying to say. I also need to slow myself down – I like to talk a lot and fast, and right now I just can’t do that while learning Swedish. I also have to be patient – I can be very impatient when learning new things, but I must ensure I don’t become frustrated with this whole process as I need to keep it up.

I’m going to invest a lot of time over the next couple of months pushing myself through the language as fast as I can, to increase my chances of getting a job so I can finally sort everything out and get on with living in my new home. I suspect as I learn more there’ll be funny things for me to tell back here, and I will try and blog as much as possible (although I am going travelling around the country next month so I may go quiet for a week or two).

If you’ve ever gone through anything like this, whether moving to a new country with a new language or just learning a language for the fun of it, I’d love to hear from you and hear about your experiences! Or you can just laugh at me about mine. It’s all good.

All I have to do to burn 4000 calories each day is walk 10 kilometres!

Fitbit FlexApparently.

I recently was given one of these little Fitbit tracker things as a gift, and I’m quite fascinated by them. Basically, it’s a little computer chip inside a bracelet that you wear at all times, and this one I have, the Flex, measures your steps, kilometres travelled when walking, calories burned each day, and the amount you need to burn and eat based on how much weight you want to lose in a certain time. It even measures your sleeping habits – turns out I’m about as rubbish at sleeping as I thought.

The thing I like about this is that it does take things like weight into account with calorie burning, something that a lot of machines at the gym often don’t. So, due to the fact I’m considerably bigger than my girlfriend, naturally I burn calories a lot faster than her even if we do the same exercise. Lucky me, I guess.

My stats from yesterday - there are more than this, but these are the ones based on goals for each day.

My stats from yesterday – there are more than this, but these are the ones based on goals for each day.

What I didn’t realise, though, is how many calories I can burn quite easily. The starting goal is to walk 10 000 steps a day, which is roughly 8 kilometres (or 5 miles) – it measures steps and distance separately to counter for different step sizes. We’ve decided to aim for 10km per day instead because it’s really quite achievable for us, but by walking this much I am burning over 4000 calories in a single day. I can eat quite well all day and still keep my calorie intake below 2000, so hopefully the weight should fall off as long as I keep the food I’m putting in healthy.

I guess this all shows the way my mind works. Somehow, seeing the numbers like this appear on a screen (you connect the fitbit to a phone or tablet to see your stats each day) not only helps me to keep track of what I’m doing but also motivates me to keep at it. I’ve resisted junk food a lot more these past few days as a result, which is awesome in itself. And when I start losing weight and my calorie burning slows down a little (because I’m not as big), I can use it to stay focused to go all the way towards being healthy. And then, when I’m healthy, I’ll feel like I can throw myself into various parts of my life more fully! Hooray!

So, my question to my readers is, what motivates you to become or keep healthy? Have you used a device or app like this?

Well, that’s a bit Watsonian!

I’ve never imagined my last name as an adjective before, but that’s exactly what the Daily Prompt from the WordPress Daily Post has asked me to do today. I don’t often do these daily prompts but this one was too good not to do.

The prompt, which can be found here, says:

Some writers’ names have becomes adjectives: Kafkaesque, Marxist, Orwellian, sadistic. If your name (or nickname, or blog name) were to become an adjective, what would it mean?

Watson Family Crest

The Watson family crest

My last name is Watson, as both the title of this post and my username on here and every other social media I use may suggest. The thing is, there already is a famous Watson in literature – probably several actually – but I am referring to the famous assistant to Sherlock Holmes. This character is a little hard to define, however, as the interpretation of him by directors and, for that matter, readers, has varied greatly since the Holmes stories were first penned so long ago. Also, he’s had plenty of time to become an adjective and he hasn’t, so, you know, my turn.

If I were to base the meaning of Watsonian on the history of the name, the history is diverse and goes back a long time – well over a thousand years. The name, which stems ultimately from the name Walter, means apparently either “Powerful Warrior” or “Mighty Army” (most sources seem to point to one of these two), so maybe Watsonian could just mean powerful or strong as an adjective? But then the motto, “Mea Gloria Fides”, translates as “Fidelity is my Glory”, so maybe it could have something to do with that?

Of course, when we think of Orwellian or Kafkaesque we think of writing, and of certain elements of writing which are similar to those writers, such as political commentary through dystopian societies which Orwell was known for or the surrealism of Kafka. So really, I don’t know if my writing will ever be considered particularly strong or powerful, or adhering to some kind of fidelity (that isn’t even making sense). No no, when I think about it, my writing most of the time is a bit silly, sometimes I try to be thought provoking but normally I’m just silly, I’m pretty sure.

So, “Watsonian” as an adjective probably just means “silly”, or at best “vaguely funny”. And I’m alright with that.

What might your last name mean as a literary adjective?

Introducing My Second Blog – One for list-lovers

Since January 2012, I’ve been informing thousands of amazing readers all over the world of my ridiculous thoughts and feelings on a range of things, most notably books, music, comedy, and occasionally donkeys. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed doing this and I have no plans to stop it, so don’t worry this blog will continue as usual.

But I have felt a growing desire to start a second blog for some time. Something entirely different to my main blog here, something that would be more creative and more than likely quite silly. I remember growing up as a teenager that I used to read a lot of lists, not only in the form of books like 1001 Books/Movies/Albums to Read/See/Hear before you die, but also in the form of “20 things not to do in an elevator” and other silly ideas like that.

So I decided my second blog would focus on lists. Lists of silly and hopefully funny things that I’ll come up with, but occasionally something more interesting or serious too. But mostly I plan to write fun lists, and most importantly I’ll be writing all of them myself rather than just reposting stuff already out there on the internet.

The new blog is at alistophilehaven.wordpress.com mostly because my blog is called A Listophile’s Haven (I just dropped the apostrophe and s from the url). Right now it only has one list and the about page has been filled out, but I will be adding more lists over the next few days before slowing down to a couple of posts a week on there (as I have already committed myself to a minimum of three on here).

Go visit my new blog, let me know what you think of it, follow it, leave me comments and suggestions if you want, and please if you like it share it with others and spread the word. I’m quite excited to see what I can make of it, and I hope if nothing else I can put a smile on your faces or maybe even make you laugh!

A Listophile's Haven home page

Instagram and other adventures in social media

So, after years of refusing to join up (well not so much refusing as just not really even considering it), I’ve finally gone and made myself an Instagram account.

Was it the fact that I’m learning to live an entirely different lifestyle in a very different country to the one I grew up in? Perhaps. Is it a yearning desire to capture these moments as I make this enormous transition in my life? Maybe. Is it because I secretly yearn to be a great photographer. Absolutely not (I mean, if I suddenly gained awesome photography skills I’d be pretty happy about it, but I know I’m not good at it and I’m content to just take pictures of stuff I like regardless of my overwhelming lack of talent).

So I’m pretty useless on Instagram and probably need some help and advice. What are some good things to follow? How can I explore Instagram better? I really don’t know much about it and have only posted a couple of times and added a few people I know. I know when I first joined Twitter, I tweeted only a few times those first two years. In the last two or three years, however, I have tweeted some 6000 times and connected with hundreds of other people, so I did become addicted eventually. I’d like to be able to use Instagram properly sooner, I think.

Of course, now I am considering other forms of social media I could explore. I mean I have a Facebook, but I keep that a lot more personal and I mostly use it to stay in contact with my family and friends back in Australia (and some of my family in England, too), now that I’m living in Sweden. Otherwise I would have long since deleted that terrible thing. But I have been considering things like Tumblr, as well. Is it worth it? Are there other social media places worth checking out (yes, I already have Goodreads)?

Lastly, if you wanna add me on Instagram, I’m on there as theotherwatson (much like my username here on WordPress), and of course I am always looking for more people to connect with on Twitter too – I’m @abritishperson on there. And I forget what I’m on Goodreads as but you can find my page with the Goodreads widget on the side of my page.