Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006:
Apoteket: Helsingborg's friendly neighbourhood busy-body pharmacy

What I think:

Here in Helsingborg, Sweden's annoyingly monopolised pharmacy, Apoteket, seem to favour the employment of people with a chronic case of Busy-Body Syndrome (B-BS). This is a condition that causes sufferers to cause others to suffer their constant bouts of advice-attacks when selling any kind of medicine, from simple pain relievers to prescription drugs.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, I went to buy some non-prescription Zantac dissolvable tablets for an ulcer I've had for years. It very rarely flares up, and it's never too drastic when it does, and I knew what I needed to treat it. It should have been a simple case of picking a package up from off the shelf, bringing it to the checkout, paying and leaving. But no.

The middle-aged lady (who's job it is to run items past a scanner so that it makes the appropriate "bleep" sound, ask for the amount of money that appears on a little screen, receive payment, and give the correct amount of change, if necessary), felt it was her duty to inform me that I should see a doctor if my symptoms persisted. I had a good look around at the wall behind her, but failed to find her Doctoral Certificate of Medicine hanging anywhere. You might think that she was just trying to be helpful, but I immediately recognised the symptoms of this poor B-BS case.

I'd seen and heard of the manifestations of B-BS on several occasions from most of the staff there before. For a while, my girlfriend had prescriptions for a certain type of medication, and each time she would go to have them filled, she would have to sit at the little booth where they give you the medication, and put up with long lectures about its effects and how it can be addictive. These were drugs especially prescribed to her by a registered physician with a bit more experience than someone whose job it is to hand out little plastic bottles.

And only yesterday, she went to get an iron supplement - a simple and common enough thing, by any accounts. As she couldn't find it on the shelf with the vitamins, she decided to ask one of the guys who was pacing around looking for people to annoy. She was promptly grilled on why she wanted them (erm, why would a woman normally want iron supplements?), was warned of the potential dangers if they were mis-used, and recommended something else. She agreed to also buy the suggested remedy, but asked again if she could please have the iron supplements.

This obvious B-BS victim went to the other shelf with her, picked up the box for her, opened it, and suggested that she read the bit of paper that comes with anything you can buy in tablet-form. Humouring him (poor soul), she dutifully scanned the notice, made the appropriate "Mm-hmm" sounds, and thanked him for his help. This whole time, he kept hold of the box, and she nearly had to pry it from his grasp.

He then told her to wait, and went behind the scenes (to where all the serious drugs are kept), came back with a little brochure, pointed out different passages for her to read (waiting patiently while she did so), and continued his sermon.

When he finally allowed her to leave with the lethal package, he advised her that she should see a doctor anyway, as these particular iron supplements were not very potent, and probably wouldn't do much for her.

B-BS is a worrying and troublesome disorder; it affects not only those who have it, but anyone and everyone who needs to go to Apoteket in Helsingborg. It's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.

Monday, March 20, 2006

For absolutley no reason whatsoever, here's a view of Helsingborg's City Hall,
taken on March 8th, 2006.
The weather's getting a bit nicer now, by the way.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sunday, March 19th, 2006:
Rumours and gossip in Helsingborg

What I think:

There seems to be an overwhelming need here to discuss other people's business. This, in itself, is obviously not a uniquely Swedish trait; harmless gossip is a perfectly natural, probably even healthy, aspect of most cultures. But here, there's sometimes a certain venomous maliciousness involved.

Exaggeration and speculation is often accepted and believed, and the line is crossed between enjoying harmless chatter and fabricating nasty rumours.

Many people are not happy with their own lives unless they're doing their bit to make those of other people more unpleasant, or at least make other people appear eccentric, undesirable, slightly weird, or just generally abnormal.

I know this to be absolutely true; all of this information comes from some very reliable sources.

While I do my very best - my utmost - to be eccentric, undesirable, slightly weird, and generally abnormal, nobody bothers to make up horrible stories about me. It's unfair treatment for a hard-working, tax-paying immigrant, and it's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Friday, March 17th, 2006:
Limerick from a US reader
for my St Patrick's Day in Helsingborg

What I think:

Although I'm very far removed from anything Irish, I love the spirit of St Patrick's Day. I love it even more now that a fellow blogger, Cathy, sent me this limerick:

Mark Base is one cool cat.
He lives in a Swedish flat.
His blog doesn't rhyme
And I do think it is time
The Swedish government did something about that.

Be sure to check out the blog that Cathy shares with a few others. I think that it's time the American government did something about it. That's what I think.

My friend Johnny's into the Irish spirit now, so I'm off. Might write more later.
May all your clovers have four leaves today, to be sure.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Wednesday, March 15th, 2006:
Culinary Quirks, Part Three:
Stabbing your burgers in Helsingborg

What I think:

Firstly, I must say how genuinely touched I've been from people commenting on my brief hiatus from Blogland. After only a few days, I'd received quite a few e-mails via my website, some hopeful nudges from people at work, the odd comment here and there on some of the forums I frequent, and one worried reader wondered on my last entry whether the Swedish government had finally done something about me.

My mixed emotions have ranged from wonder, to joy, to nausea (via drunkenness), though to hunger and mental fatigue, turned left at disappointment (at the corner of disenchantment), straight ahead to insomnia, and onto Desolation Boulevard (by the 70's band, Sweet). Then the bus broke down, and I woke up.

OK, nobody really said anything about the absence of the blog entries, except for the comment by KT in the previous entry. But my mother would have called as well (all the way from Montreal!), if I'd actually left a message on the machine when I called her.

In any case, to bring you all up to date, since last week, a good friend of mine has come over for a visit from England. Let's call him Neil. That's what I call him, so why shouldn't you? He's from the town of Kettering in Northamptonshire. He's thinking about moving to Helsingborg. I was wondering why this might be, but when I checked Kettering out, I could sort of imagine that Helsingborg might not be such a bad option.

So I met up with him at the Telegrafen "pub/restaurang" on Saturday, and he was with a mutual Swedish friend. We'll call him Benny; he likes that name. Then "Neil's" other friend shows up. Let's say his name's Roger. Roger sounds like a nice name. Let's preserve his anonymity and just say that his parents agreed with my opinion.

By the way, no person, living or dead, is depicted in my blog (unless you know them, in which case I may have some explaining to do).

When "Roger" arrived and sat down, he declared that he was hungry, and fancied a burger. He went to the bar and came back with a little plastic table-stand number saying "55". While I commended his choice, I joked that I could never eat more than a "40".

When the burger arrived, he attacked it with a knife and fork. It died mercilessly.

When you pick up a burger, you're allowing the juices to run downwards and (consequently) outwards. You have a good 'living' burger.

If you leave it on a plate, stab it, and let the juices saturate the bun underneath, you've lost it. It's not longer a burger; it's a piece of meat on mega-soggy bread. Education is needed. It's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A view of Helsingborg on March 8th, 2006.
We like it.

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006:
Helsingborg at 41 -
Part Two: Obligatory check-in

What I think:

It's 22:22 Swedish time (which means 10:22 p.m. elsewhere), and I'm somewhat tipsified. Shared a nice bottle of Bolly with my loved one (as well as some white wine, and coffee with Amaretto in it), and had a really cool evening, so I'm ready to call it a night. For now.

There will be some stuff happening tomorrow night, since I have a mate coming over from England, but for now I'd like to thank everyone for the best wishes, etc. I hope that those who have said that they'll start blogging will do so, and those who have already started will carry on.

Rock on.

Quick hello to my cousin Lorne whose birthday it is soon. He lives near Toronto. But it's not entirely his fault, poor bastard. He had to leave Montreal because he was wanted for various crimes against innocent (albeit obnoxious) French-Canadians. Bless him.

Wednesday, March 8th, 2006:
Helsingborg at 41 -
Part One of, erm, possibly just one (don't know yet)

What I think:

What do I think? Not much at this hour; I just woke up about half an hour ago, and saw some nice birthday e-mails, and sweet posts on the forum at The Local (Sweden's news in English), including some "Beast Witches" from a guy called Benzed. The Swedish government should do something about his spelling.

And before anyone else points out that it's also International Women's day, let me just say this: "Oh, really? Gee, I didn't have a clue. Thanks for enlightening me." There. Happy? Enough, already.

I may write more later if I'm actually able to see the letters on the keyboard, and if the mouse doesn't attempt to assassinate me. I will probably have a few drinks later, and I'd like to see the Swedish government just try to do something about it.

There. That's what I think.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tuesday, March 7th, 2006:
Dog poop disposal in Helsingborg

What I think:

Ever since I moved here, I've been impressed by the absence of dog turds on the pavements (US/CAN: sidewalks) or other public walkways in Helsingborg.

In general, people here tend to walk around armed with little black plastic bags, ready to grab any droppings that may plop out from their beloveds' tongueless ends. And in most places, there are bins to accommodate such laboriously-produced offerings. And most people will dutifully place the aromatic produce into these receptacles.

Don't get me wrong; one can still have an occasional laugh at a stilettoed nineteen year-old deeper-than-rouge-faced Friday-night girl, cursing at a rogue doggy-poop that has somehow placed itself beneath her daintily-shod and painstakingly-painted toes (with a most satisfying squish, I'm happy to add). Ahh, squishy-bliss.

But these momentous occasions are few and - alas - 'mush' too far between.

So, all in all, an impressively dog-poop-free environment. Or is it? Could there perhaps be a hidden poop-culture right here in Helsingborg? I'm here to tell you that there may well be.

One day last year, I noticed something on my walk to work (I notice lots of things on my walk to work, don't I? I'm starting to wish that I'd been this observant at school). There's a couple of little adjoining tunnels that go beneath a main road and Helsingborg's main railway line. On one side, between these tunnels, on a kind of up-sloping paved bank, I spotted a few small black plastic bags containing - something. I didn't bother to stop and investigate, because I suspected that they probably contained dog poo. I remember finding it vaguely amusing, but just shrugged, and carried on walking.

The next day, or perhaps a couple of days later, I happened to glance in that direction again, and noticed that these bags had multiplied considerably. This was getting weird.

I started thinking about it. Most places where people would normally walk dogs have nice bins for the disposal of dog poo bags. But this area does not.

It's considered terribly uncouth and rude to let your dog crap anywhere they like and just leave it there, so people will go through the motions of picking up their doggy-done-deeds and, realising that there are no bins in the immediate vicinity for instant disposal, and seeing a load of discarded bags similar to the ones they're holding, they'll simply chuck their personal canine contributions onto the pile. Sorted and forgotten.

Consequently, within the space of just a few days, I'm walking past a huge reeking heap of bagged dog turds to brighten up my journey to work. What a refreshing way to start the day.

I think it's good that the people of Helsingborg are considerate enough to refrain from leaving their pets' poops on the pavements, but there should be enough bins in populated areas in which these bundles of relief can be disposed of as hygienically as possible.

It's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.

Tuesday, March 7th, 2006:
Turning 41 in Helsingborg

What I think:

It's my birthday tomorrow. For some reason, I've got that song "Turning Japanese" in my head. But I'm singing:

"I think I'm turning 41,
I think I'm turning 41,
I really think so..."

It's time that the Swedish government sent me a birthday card. That's what I think.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A view from my balcony in Helsingborg on March 5th, 2006.
That's right, March-bloody-5th.

Sunday, March 5th, 2006:
Sorrow in Helsingborg:
an imported superstition

What I think:

Every country or culture has its own superstitions and Old Wives' Tales. In England, there's one about counting magpies to tell the future. One of the rhymes goes like this:

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret
Never to be told.

So, according to this, if you see a single magpie, you're going to experience sorrow on that day. Spotting two means that you'll have a good day. I'm not sure about spotting three: does it mean that you'll meet the girl of your dreams, or will someone you know give birth to a girl? And if I see four, will I become gay, or will there be a bouncing baby boy barging into this world via a friend or relative's birth canal?

Whatever. If I see any more than two magpies together, I generally take no notice. My problem is that here in Helsingborg, I far-too-frequently see just one. On my walk to work, at least a couple of times a week, I see a single magpie, sitting around looking smugly at me as I stumble past. Or sometimes hopping mockingly from side to side. Although I'm not very superstitious, I can't help but find this a bit unsettling.

But there is a way to counter this bad omen. Apparently, when you happen to see a single magpie, you're supposed to say either "Hello, Mr Magpie", or "Say hello to your brother". Although I feel a bit silly to admit it, I can't help saying one or the other of these things during my lone magpie encounters. But to avoid looking strange to anyone passing by, I often pull out my mobile, pretend that I'm talking to someone and say, "OK yah, well do say hello to your brother, yah? Yah, my people will talk to your people, and they'll do lunch, OK? Yah. Bye-ee!"

See, this not only removes any potential upcoming doom in my life, but also makes me look ever so posh at the same time. OK, perhaps my ear and nose piercings detract a bit from this overall impression, but at least people don't think I'm talking to a bird because I'm afraid of what its presence may mean, according to some archaic superstitious nonsense. Which makes me a bit posh, right?

The point I'm trying to make here is that there are too many single magpies hanging out in Helsingborg. It's so rare that I see two or three chilling out together here. In my view, this means that there is too much sorrow in Helsingborg, and it's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.

The news today (oh, boy)
From the world outside:

UK News: Teen On Murder Charge: A teenager is to appear in court accused of murdering schoolboy Joe Geeling, whose body was found dumped in a park on Thursday. The 11-year-old, who had cystic fibrosis, was discovered in an overgrown ditch in Whitehead Park, Bury, Greater Manchester. A post-mortem examination revealed that Joe died of multiple stab wounds. Tributes are to be paid by his local community at a series of special church services in Bury, including the family's local church, St Marie's. A police spokeswoman said the 14-year-old would appear in court in Greater Manchester on Monday.
From Sky News

US News: No nuclear aid for Pakistan as Bush departs: Pakistan won't receive U.S. help for its civilian nuclear power program as India did, President Bush said Saturday before departing Islamabad. "We discussed a civilian nuclear program, and I explained that Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories," Bush said at a news conference with President Pervez Musharraf. "So, as we proceed forward, our strategy will take in effect those well-known differences."
From CNN

Sweden: 34 injured in major pile up: A major pile-up on the E4 motorway between Arlanda and Upplands Väsby caused southbound traffic to come to a complete standstill on Saturday afternoon.According to witnesses, 30 to 40 cars could have been involved in the accident.
From The Local - Sweden's news in English

Canada: Third man pleads guilty in Canada-U.S. drug tunnel: A Surrey, B.C. man pleaded guilty in a Seattle courtroom Friday for his role in digging the first sophisticated drug-smuggling tunnel under the Canada-U.S. border.
Timothy Woo could face at least five years in prison and a maximum fine of $2 million for conspiracy to smuggle marijuana, the Associated Press has reported. Francis Devandra Raj and Jonathan Valenzuela, also from Surrey, had previously entered guilty pleas.

From CBC News

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A view of the front of my building in Helsingborg, Sweden
on Wednesday, March 1st, 2006.
I was kinda hoping that winter was just about finished.
No such luck.
A slightly psychedelic view of me in a forest in Helsingborg.
This photo was taken and manipulated by my girlfriend, Åse.
It's very artistic because I'm holding a twig. I picked it myself.
And a cigarette.
That means it's art.
That's what I think.