Thursday, October 25, 2007

Blogging? Facebook?

Well, it's been a long time since my last blog entry the reasons for which are twofold - too much work to do and a lack of interest.

When blooging was new to me I was writing an entry a week, roughly. But the novelty of the new wore off quite quickly.Then about two months ago I discovered Facebook and after having had my own Facebook page for about two weeks I removed it.

Partly because I didn't like the ever increasing feeling of "big brother is watching", I mean, lets be honest, governments both good and bad, democratic and totalitarian around the world must be in ecstasy over the voluntary registering of so much personal information and political, religious and sexual views now openly and freely available to them from millions of people in countries as far apart geographically and politically as the US, the UK, India, Russia, Malaysia and so on.

But I deleted my Facebook account mostly because Facebook is a completely and utterly pointless phenomenon. And the laughable amount of causes and groups and their members who actually believe they might be making a difference or that even one politician might take a blind bit of notice of them reminds me of the blue eyed naivety of an upper secondary school common room!

However, I shouldn't be surprised by that because Facebook was created initially by and for American high school kids and that level of thinkling and maturity is clearly visible and pervades most of the causes and groups.

As I become more and more disillusioned with cyber-reporting and cyber-media of all types I find myself more and more going to newsagents and buying UK newspapers, rather than reading them on the net as I used to.

The internet, which back in the mid-90s promised to be a super-cyber-highway promising almost virtual reality experiences, has proved itself to be nothing more than a huge market place interspersed with triviality and groupings of people with nothing better to do than fanny around on Facebook, Friends reunited, Lunarstorm and countless other cyber environments.

Now, where did I put my copy of The Guardian Weekly...?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Gullibility clearly knows no bounds

Here are the links to four sites that sell what can only be described as "things that shouldn't be for sale or that noboby in their right mind would buy". In other words, sites selling the impossible or selling things that don't belong to them or that don't actually belong to anyone.

But clearly that view is not held by the majority as these products seem to sell very well.
And I must congratulate the people who came up with the ideas to sell what I thought, up to about five years ago, couldn't be sold.

Because it was about five years ago when I first heard of the business idea to sell the right to name a star for a loved one i.e. one of those sparkly things out in space. And having bought that right it would be your star forevermore for the reasonable price of about 20 quid, what a romantic present! (see link two)

Hang on I thought. Surely no one is that gullible that they're going to pay 20 notes to get a framed certificate saying they've named a star for their loved one, and that it's now offically their star...surely no one is going to fall for this snake oil con? Well I was wrong, there are plenty of people who have "bought" the "right" to name stars.


Then on Sunday night while lying in bed listening to the London based radio channel Talksport, I heard an interview with the young American man who recently came up with the idea to sell minutes in time (see link one). He was asked how much "time" he has sold so far and his reply was "Well, so far we've sold over 100,000 minutes at a dollar a piece" Ka-ching! How to make money selling the impossible due to the vanity and gullibility of certain people, well in this case over 100,000 people...so far!!!!


And now we come to snake oil operation number three the "bottled atmosphere" con (see link three). Basically you buy the "atmosphere capture kit" for a fiver (which is just an empty bottle) and you fill it with whatever sample of air you want, for example, open it at your wedding, or child's Christening and capture the atmosphere there..... okaaay! Surely no one... WRONG! ...people are buying it!

Then one that's actually been around for quite a while, bottled oxygen, (see link four) mostly it would seem being bought by sports stars and supermodels, if their advertising is to be believed, who just can't make it through the day without a hit of pure oxygen.... at 12 quid a pop!

Gullible? Not me! Although I did once buy a Ford Scorpio... hhmm...once bitten, twice shy.

Well, what's next I wonder?

Name my child auctions
Sort through my household rubbish for a dollar
Use my garden and pool for a pound an hour.....actually....nah!


Link one:

http://www.taketime.com/


Link two:

http://www.starlistings.co.uk/

Link three:

http://www.bottledatmosphere.co.uk/index.asp?ID=1

Link four:

http://www.wow-gifts.co.uk/oxygen.html

Friday, February 16, 2007

Politeness - nature, culture or etiquette?

I'm starting to wonder if being polite and helpful to strangers and acquaintances (i.e. not family, workmates or friends) is something that is no longer permitted in our society gone gaga on political correctness and equality for women. Or if it doesn't cross cultural boundaries well or even if human nature varies from society to society.

Last week, coming out of a cornershop onto the very icy street I held the shop door open for an old lady with a walking stick, because I could see she was having trouble keeping upright on the ice and that she was coming into the shop.

Now some Swedes are famous for not being able to say a straightforward thank you. And some are also famous for being unable to say a straightforward, you're welcome, when someone thanks them. Instead they say thank you in terms that praise your good nature, while saying it is too good. And they say, you're welcome, by putting down the service they've just offered or by turning down your thank you.

Well anway, being a non-Swede I was just about to say you're welcome to the expected "thank you" I was sure was on its way, when the old lady looked at me and said "you're far too polite" not offensively but not too kindly either. I mean a simple thank you would have sufficed you old bag!

Then a couple of days later, having dropped my youngest son off at nursery school, I had just come out of the building and was walking away when I saw one of the nursery teachers coming across the ice, carrying, with both hands, the heavy breakfast porridge kettle. Well naturally I walked back the 5 yards and opened the door, but before I even got the door fully open she says
"I can do it myself" Well of course I open the door for her anyway. Again a simple thank you would have sufficed missus!

Am I in a country where politeness is now considered rude because of some strange interpretation of political correctness and female equality? Or is it true that Swedes simply have trouble saying "thank you"? Or do human nature, politeness and etiquette differ so greatly from country to country?

On more than one occasion different Swedes have said to me that the population of Sweden still have the mentality and rough manners of argricultural workers and farmers, because Sweden was still very much an agrarian society right up to the 1970s. The only difference now being that these "farmers" are middle class, live in urban settings and have office jobs.

Now I don't know if that's true or even if I agree with it, but I'm starting to wonder after 10 years of mumbled semi-rude "Thank yous" and non-existent "Your welcomes"

Well like the Irish saying goes "You can take the boy out of the sod, but you can't take the sod
out of the boy" In other words rural manners and customs stay with rural people, regardless of location or job.
I'm sure there's an equivalent saying for urban people, but I've yet to hear it.

And woe betide the next person who's rude to me while I'm helping them!

Thank you

James, civil servant, city dweller

Thursday, February 1, 2007

When is a village not a village?

The question of "What is a village?" only started to rattle around in my head when, in 2000, we moved from our "town" flat in our medium sized town in Sweden to a detached house (what Swedes call a "villa". But which in effect bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to white stuccoed haciendas on the Costa del Sol).

Anyway our "villa" (visions of retired East London gangsters lounging by the pool sipping Singapore Slings) is located in what Londoners would call an outer borough. However unlike a London borough or suburb there is very little here, there is no autonomy of any kind, because it is simply an outerlying district of the town. And unlike a dormitory town it isn't even commuting distance into town it is only a five minute drive; because while adjacent to the town it is clearly separated from it by greenery and motorways.

What we've got here is the primary school for several surrounding suburbs, the only shop, and the church and its attached parish centre also for several surrounding suburbs. And a "villlage green" with childrens playgrounds where the church hold regular events and picnics during the summer - everyone is welcome.

So although in Swedish we are called a town district I say that we live in a village, a bit outside town.

BUT, when I look at other outerlying "town districts" I notice that most of them don't have any shops, don't have churches, don't have schools, they are simply dormitory suburbs.

In fact, our area is the only outer district adjacent to the town that has its own school, church and shop. And that is why I say we are the nearest village to our town because we have those public services.

What I would call the true villages a bit further out are more like small urban towns.

Now, what Swedes call villages are simply rural dormitory communities miles from any real towns or in my opinion "real villages", like where I live, and they usually have no public services at all.

Well, this is what Wikipedia says about English villages (although I've removed some aspects specific only to England i.e. Saxons) and I'll write "TRUE" after each element that is true for where we live and "FALSE" after each element that is false. I'll then do the same again for those rural communites in Sweden that are actually called "something or other Village". And so we'll see which are closest in Sweden to English villages, outerlying -in the green belt - town districts like mine, or the rural dormitory communities that Swedes actually call and name as villages.

Where I live first:

"The village is a compact settlement of houses, smaller in size than a town, (TRUE) and generally based on agriculture. (FALSE) In England the main historical distinction between a hamlet and a village is that the latter will have a church, (TRUE) and will therefore usually have been the worship centre of a parish (TRUE) The stereotypical village used to have a "big house" (FALSE) a pub (FALSE) and shops (TRUE) as well as a blacksmith (FALSE). However, many of these facilities are now gone and many villages are dormitories for commuters (FALSE) The population of such a settlement could range from a few hundred people to around five thousand (TRUE) A village was distinguished from a town in that:
A village should not have a regular agricultural market (TRUE), although today such markets are uncommon even in settlements which clearly are towns.
A village does not have a town hall nor a mayor. (TRUE)
There should also be a clear green belt or open fields surrounding its parish borders (TRUE)
The village should not be under the administrative control of an adjacent town or city (FALSE)

Ok that was 8 x TRUE and 6 x FALSE

Now for what Swedes today actually name as villages:

"The village is a compact settlement of houses, smaller in size than a town, (TRUE) and generally based on agriculture. (FALSE) In England the main historical distinction between a hamlet and a village is that the latter will have a church, (FALSE) and will therefore usually have been the worship centre of a parish (FALSE) The stereotypical village used to have a "big house" (FALSE) a pub (FALSE) and shops (FALSE) as well as a blacksmith (FALSE). However, many of these facilities are now gone and many villages are dormitories for commuters (TRUE) The population of such a settlement could range from a few hundred people to around five thousand (FALSE -most Swedish "villages" have only a handful of houses and maybe 50 to 100 residents) A village was distinguished from a town in that:A village should not have a regular agricultural market (TRUE), although today such markets are uncommon even in settlements which clearly are towns. A village does not have a town hall nor a mayor. (TRUE) There should also be a clear green belt or open fields surrounding its parish borders (TRUE) The village should not be under the administrative control of an adjacent town or city (FALSE).

Ok, for exactly the same aspects that was 5 x TRUE and 9 x FALSE

My outerlying town district: 8 TRUE 6 FALSE
Swedish named village: 5 TRUE 9 FALSE

That is only in comparison to English villages of course, but that is what I know and what I can compare to. And supports my view that when translating the Swedish word for a rural community it shouldn't be translated to "village" as it sends the wrong signal to English readers, and anyway isn't a village when viewed from the English idea of what a village is.

Q: So when is a village not a village?
A: When it's located rurally in Sweden.

Have a good weekend,

James, village dweller just outside town.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"England is Wales, Ireland and Scotland isn't it?"

Again on Monday, for only about the gazillionth time since moving to Sweden, I had to explain to a handful of Swedes the various entities that make up the British Isles and Ireland. And explain that England is only one quarter of the UK. And that none of the other 3 quarters include the Republic of Ireland.

I know it shouldn't, because I should be well-used to it by me, but it still irritates and shocks me every time a Swede refers to the UK as England. Most Swedes actually do this. And of course they're not helped in rectifying their mistake by film and TV programme subtitle writers who persist in translating, Britain,UK, and Great Britain to "England", and British to "engelsk" (lower case in Swedish for languages, nationalities, days of the week and the
months....yeah, weird isn't it!)

Anyway on Monday, when asked (in Swedish of course) "Have you got English citizenship? I gave the one and only possible answer, "There is no such thing as English citizenship, because there is no such state as England" Which was followed by "Huh?" (that was also in Swedish).

I explained, "The state is called The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Great Britain being the geographical name of the island that is England, Scotland and Wales. The British Isles contains two nationalities - British and Irish. I have both citizenships, but only a valid Irish passport. The British one expired about 1o years ago ."

On Monday I didn't go into the complex details about the Isle of Man and the two Channel Islands states but I will now.

All three are separate states, with their own Parliaments and governments and are not part of the EU or the UK. They are self-governing British Crown dependencies. The only matters they may not affect or issue statements on are foreign policy, defence and nationality laws.

However, resdients of the Isle of Man receive full UK passports which inlcude an extra entry detailing their Manx nationality. Whereas residents of the 2 Channel Islands states - The Bailiwick of Guernsey and The Bailiwick of Jersey receive British Islands passports, which have the following on the front cover: "British Islands, Bailiwick of Jersey" or "British Islands, Bailiwick of Guernsey" So slightly different in that they do not have full UK citizenship like a Manx national does.

I then had to explain that Ireland has been a separate state since the end of 1921.
And that while Wales is a country politically and culturally, legally and judicially it has not been a separate country since the middle of the 1500s, when it was annexed to England by the Laws of Wales Act of 1535, under Henry VIII, who as a Tudor of course was partly Welsh himself.

Since then, Wales has been a principality of England and all laws apply to the legal unit of England & Wales. Scotland however, is still a separate country, even though it went into the union with England in 1707.

Then of course that old chestnut the question of Northern Ireland came up, which made me ask "How long have you got?" No, I didn't really ask that, but it isn't something you can answer in five minutes so I gave them the dry basic political answer.

"In 1801 the Kingdom of Ireland went into a union with the Kingdom of Britain, which was after 600 years of on-again, off-again English rule anyway. Then in 1920 the Government of Ireland Act divided the island into Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, based on religious and ethnic grounds. At the end of 1921 the British Government and the Irish Parliament signed the Treaty making Ireland a separate state. And so since then Northern Ireland has been part of the UK."


Now this next part is me writing now and has nothing to do with what was being discussed on Monday evening. And would have had no place anyway in a simple conversation about the political boundaries and entities of the British Isles.

From its creation in 1921 and up to 1972 Northern Ireland "enjoyed" Unionist self-government, but after about 3 years of The Troubles that the Unionist Protestant authorities in Northern Ireland were unwilling to take action against to protect the Catholics that were being killed and burned out by Protestants, the British Government imposed direct rule from Westminster. And sent in British troops initially to protect Catholics by putting a stop to the sectarian killings and house burnings being committed by Protestants.

These actions were carried out not only by civilians but also by the protestant police force (the RUC) and the part-time territorial army unit of the region, the UDR. They weren't taking direct open action of course, but some of them assisted loyalist organisations with weapons and information and stood by and watched other protestants burning houses and assaulting Catholics without taking the obvious police action to stop it.

Many members of the RUC and UDR of the 1970s were of course later shown to have been members of Orange Lodges (masonic) and some were even members or had close ties to loyalist paramilitary organisations.

Of course, these loyalist atrocities meant that another organisation started taking action again to protect Catholics, the IRA. Which having been in effect quite inactive up to 1970 split into the Officials and Provisionals. The "Provos" stepped up operations while accusing the Officials of embracing parliamentary politics and running down military operations.

And the rest up to the mid-90s and the Good Friday Agreement is sad, bloody, tragic, awful history.

So as far as names go, Ireland is Ireland and England is England, nothing more, nothing less.

In the Shadows of Greatness

Spare a thought occasionally for all those English towns that have to live in the shadow of great cities, for example: Slough, Watford, Dudley, Birkenhead, Stockport, Gateshead, South Shields.
It can't be much fun having to explain where you're from geographically by using the big shitty beside you to direct visitors and tourists.

Of course the proud small town dweller will give directions like this: "Where's Watford? Well, it's in Southwest Hertfordshire between the M1 and the M25 about 20 minutes drive south down the M1 from Luton"

Whereas pragmatic small town dwellers, resigned to their fate living in the shadows of greatness, will answer, "Where's Watford? Well it's in Northwest London just north of Rickmansworth"

Knowing also that they don't need to name counties and motorway numbers because everyone can find London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle in a road atlas!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A bag of fish & pommes frites please mon ami

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6261885.stm?ls

"On 10 September 1956 French Prime Minister Guy Mollet arrived in London for talks with his British counterpart, Anthony Eden"


Did you read about this yesterday, about the plans that were afoot to unite Britain and France?

Well apparently a "union" was considered in the 1950s, according to secret papers recently unearthed. During the Suez crisis France was really worried, for several reasons but partly because Egypt was funding separatists in Algeria, and because of the troubles in Israel. So the French PM suggested the union with Britain so that they as one state could present a strong unified force in the face of Russia, the US and the two main Middle Eastersn protagonists of the day, Egypt and Israel.

Anyway, it seems that Britain were not totally alien to the idea and France was ready to join the Commonwealth and accept a Queen as head of state. Mon Dieu!

This is of course also very much linked to the later military arm of the WEA (Western European Union) that France and Germany were after for decades during the Cold War and Middle Eastern problems of the 50s, 60s & 70s.

Anyway it never happened and in the end as we know France got in bed with West Germany when they formed the EEC.

What interests me more about this story is of course, as I'm sure you've guessed, the socio-cultural ramifications and possible humorous consequences of such a union.

Brits speaking awful French and the French still refusing to utter a word of L'anglais!
Garlic butter on your fish & pommes frites.
Berets & brollies in the city.
"Coffee & sympathy" just doesn't sound right does it?
Taking the metro or autobus to work...huh?
Buskers only playing accordions, presumably sur la pont de La Thames.

And of course Britain would have exported masses of tea bags and British cars to France to run alongside the equally crappy French cars. At least they had some things in common!

Sacre bleu!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Charlie in your pocket!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6250189.stm

Well, it seems that the people of Ireland really like Charlie... and I dont mean Haughey.
Apparently, according to a BBC article today (see link). Scientific researchers at Dublin's City University found traces of cocaine on 100% of the bank notes in the batch they examined.
Some notes had such high levels that the researchers believe that those notes were used for actually snorting coke!
Others with lower levels would have been contaminated in cash tills and wallets.

Apparently cocaine particles stick to the cotton that is contained within the notes, with the higher notes containing greater traces. Well of course, it's far better to snort charlie through a 50 than through a tenner... I mean if you've got it, flaunt it!

Well, I knew drug use was a major problem in Ireland but this really is a surprise.

So today's "I spy" game is to see how many people you can spot in the street, at home, at work, in the pub sniffing Irish bank notes!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Mozzer on a string!

Well, well, well. The BBC has confrimed today that Morrissey could represent the UK in this years Eurovision contest http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/6248109.stm

Well I love Moz! Saw him 3 times in 2006. Twice in my home town in fact. And on the bootleg of the Swedish Radio recording of his second night on my manor you can clearly hear me shouting out "Life is a Pigsty!" just before they start it. Fame at last!


Anyway back to Eurovision... Eurovision 2006 was a great success because finally the voting public showed that Euromuzzak ethno-pop-pap isn't what's wanted. But hard rock and real music in general is!!! Lordi. Lordi !

I'd love to see Moz do it, I think he'd win hands down with a proper rocky song!
And I can imagine that he feels it would put him into that small group of famous British artists that are such an institution, such a huge part of English culture that doing Eurovision isn't considered naff, and it is a small group: Cliff Richard, Lulu, The Shadows, Matt Monroe.
And now Moz.

Let's face it, Moz does play on the '50s & '60s crooner image quite a lot, in his suit & quiff, so Matt Monroe isn't too far off imagewise!
Mozzer, Mozzer, Mozzer!

(Note: Katrina thought that she & her waves were huge, they aren't. So they were naff! To do Eurovision you have to be well etsablished and already a huge success beyond changing musical fashions (Matt Monroe, Cliff Richard etc.) or an absolute beginner. Failing and fading '80s pop bands are naff when they do Eurovision. Sorry Kat, but as much as I loved you at the Mean Fiddler shaking your lovely stuff back in the early 80s, braless in your white vest, on Eurovision you were embarrassing, even though you won!)

Now after such a long entry on this subject dahlings don't start thinking that I'm some kind of Eurovision queen!

Cheers and Le Royaume-Uni: douze point!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The verb to be

Present simple:

I am
you are
he/she/it is
we are
you are
they are

Present simple negatives; negative contractions;& negative interrogative forms:

I am not - I'm not / amn't I? OR am I not? OR the widely used yet very grammatically suspect aren't I?
you are not - you're not - you aren't / aren't you? OR are you not?
he/she/it is not - he's not - he isn't / isn't he? OR is he not?
we are not - we're not - we aren't / aren't we? OR are we not?
you are not - see 2nd pers. sing.
they are not - they're not - they aren't /aren't they? OR are they not?

You see "amn't I" is correct!

And I base that not only on the written word of grammar that can be seen in all verb tables, but on the fact that it is standard amongst most Irish speakers and amongst many of Irish descent; myself included. My parents used it and I grew up using it.

And also on the fact that when I went to school in Chelsea, London my English teacher used it, and often got asked by non-Irish Catholic pupils in the classroom, "Isn't that wrong miss?" whereby she would point out that amn't I is a perfectly accepted form and is in fact more grammatically correct than aren't I.

Food for thought!

The price of chips

Having practiced on two blogs I created last year I now "think" I'm ready to run a proper blog with real daily or perhaps weekly - if I'm realistic - input. Well, that's the theory. How it goes in practice remains to be seen.

Why have a blog at all? After several years of sending informative, angry or corrective letters to Swedish newspapers on a whole range of subjects, from how the British police work to what language Yoshua Ben Yusef spoke, I now feel I want a forum on which I can post my views about Sweden and Swedish society from the perspective of a migrant, especially with regard to how Swedes and the Swedish state view the outside world. And to post my views about the UK and Ireland from the perspective of an exile.

One major area of interest has always been languages, linguistics, etymology and socio-culturally related subjects. Hence my job - translator/proofreader/interpreter/English teacher, and the fact that I'm bilingual.

Of particular interest within that field is how English differs not only between Irish English speakers and British English speakers but also between the language of the "English" in the UK and those of Irish descent in the UK . Additionally how the various forms of spoken English are received and perceived by Swedes.

An older blog I had was called "Amn't I is correct!" And I was going to use that title for this one but in the end didn't want to limit myself subject-wise. So "An Irish-Lononder in Sweden" it is.

Another area of interest is the sometimes frighteningly huge and sometimes almost indescernible socio-cultural differences between myself and the Swedes around me and between British/Irish life and Swedish life.

Huge things like the fact that in Sweden everyone through necessity has, or has access to, a car. And in fact many families in Sweden have at least two cars. Now when I lived in London, you didn't really need a car and so accordingly most poeple didn't have cars.
The necessity in Sweden is caused by public transport being so bad or rather so limited due to the relatively small populaiton combined with the size of the country and the great distances that many people commute.

One of the small differences, indescernible to Swedes, that still bugs me is that people here always answer the phone with their name and/or phone number, as if they are obliged to provide the person calling THEM with personal details. Now for obvious security reasons in London you never did that.

Anyway, my blog is going to cover everthing from why amn't I is correct and aren't I is wrong to theology, real ale, and the price of chips!

Cheers!