The Days Out That Didn’t Happen

Research claims that the optimal amount of holiday time is eight days. Just over a week away  is the perfect time frame to improve your mood and recharge you for work again. Defying science I recently found myself with twelve free days. Dividing my time between Stockholm and Manchester, I intended to develop my interests in art and design, returning to my colleagues as a matured individual. Unfortunately, this did not go according to plan because of a conspiracy to close all museums and galleries when I wanted to visit. The twelve days past and I only managed to browse one museum. However, I can still dream and write up a list of my desired days out, pretending I occupied each venue.

Färgfabriken

Established in its current incarnation in 1995 Färgfabriken is a gallery dedicated to art, architecture and urban planning. The word ‘fabrik’ translates from Swedish as factory, a fitting title that reflects the building’s original industrial purpose when built in 1889. Located in Liljehomen it would have been a perfect afternoon’s exploration. Usually, I take the airport bus straight to the area before heading to ICA for supplies. Not only is the location convenient for myself but the focus on art reflects my interests. On the other hand, architecture and urban planning are fresh realms for my imagination. I usually prefer to explore design through objects as opposed to buildings, so the opportunity to develop an interest in a new medium is intriguing. Alas, the gallery is currently closed for rehanging. Exhibitions don’t reopen until the end of January but the cafe is running still. It’s disappointing that i haven’t seen something so close to where I normally reside. However, the delay peaks my interest further and Färgfabriken is a must visit next year.

Centre for Contemporary Chinese Art

The CFCCA can be found in Manchester’s Northern quarter and promised to be the beginning to my Monday trawl of the city’s galleries. My plan was to peruse the CFCCA, grab some lunch with my friend and finish the day browsing the University’s collection. However, a more thorough search of CFCCA website would have revealed that the gallery isn’t open on Mondays. This left a hole in the morning’s plans and the Christmas market lured us in with mulled wine. Time passed and the University’s gallery had the dropped for the Manchester gallery, bowling and of course more wine.

It’s disappointing to have attempted to visit the CFCCA on a day when it wasn’t accessible. Their collection was alluring due to complexity of modern Chinese culture. I was hoping to examine expressions that detailed existence from such an influential country. With the largest population the breadth of creation must surely be far reaching. Similarly, the experiences of Native Chinese artists compared with those living abroad or children of immigrants provides even richer layers and opportunities for artistic expression.

Despite the set back the day wasn’t lost. Manchester gallery is never disappointing and I enjoyed introducing my friend to Pre-Raphaelite painting. It’s a good feeling to repeat a gallery and reacquaint yourself with your favourite paintings. The gallery appears to have taken Giacometti Alberto’s portrait of  his mother out of circulation. It’s a piece I’m particularly fond of and slightly saddened to see it gone. Thankfully there are still copies online. The following one in courtesy of Manchester gallery’s website.

Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Östasiatiska)

Stockholm’s Östasiatiska  was my second opportunity to absorb Asian culture. I can’t explain why I’m heavily attracted to East Asian art but I know it always has me enthralled. Examining simple tea sets and art prints as well as clothing and sculpture   always enjoyable. With a free day I decided that Östasiatiska would be a perfect ending to this month’s Stockholm visit. The museum offers an exploration of Korean, Japanese and Chinese arts. These range from traditional Korean furniture and tea ceremony sets to a sculpture gallery. After absorbing all the artifacts there’s a cafe that even sells flower tea. If there was a tick list for an ideal afternoon then Östasiatiska potentially gets full marks.

Unlike the galleries this museum was open during my visit. My issue was trying to locate the building. It’s situated in Skeppsholmen along with several other museums worth wandering. In truth, I have been to the island several times but this time I got off at the wrong tube station and became lost. With evening drawing in and evening plans looming I decided the destination was a lost cause. I found myself in the national library again. Ideally, I would have preferred to traverse new knowledge but the library is a beautiful , circular building worth revisiting. Just like galleries and museums, libraries always provide a moment of calm and culture against the calamity of the city outside.

 

 

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Doing Battle with the ‘D’ Key

I’ve had my laptop for about five years. It was a gift for when I went to university. The machine has survived my clumsy care surprisingly well. I’ve smashed the screen once, split tea, water and pizza on it as well. The right hand corner is now murky from a coco cola attack. Despite the neglect the device functions well and doesn’t want to retire to the dustbin just yet. I’m uncertain if this computer or the last McDonalds burger meal in Iceland will last longer. However, although the technology is than the Greek economy it does have a single flaw: The D key is jammed.

The problem started about a year ago, after I last spilled a drink onto it. In an effort at recovery I removed as many detachable parts as possible. During this attempt something became lodged in the keyboard and that has become impossible to shift. Typing now induces the same pain as beginner guitar lessons. I’m waiting on the day my fingers adjust to the required shape and pressure of the letter. This evolution appears to be taking the usual time it takes species to adapt. By the time my digits have accustom themselves to the new environment global warming will have destroyed most of the habitable planet.

There are a few things I’ve tried in order to rectify the issue. Firstly, I endeavored to copy and paste every d I used. This technique inhibited the flow of writing too much. The time taken to reach down the keyboard and click paste felt longer than the extra pressure required. Next, I pretended that the key didn’t exist. I typed as usual, skipping the letter and ignoring the its place in the English language. At the end of the paragraph I went back and auto-corrected every misspelled word. This is harder to accomplish than it would appear. You have to teach yourself how to spell fundamental words incorrectly. I wouldn’t recommend this method because at best it is vexing and at worse you may regress to toddler level spelling.

The solution to the problem is to either dislodge the key and remove the blockage or completely replace the keyboard. I have a replacement already. In fact, I’ve had a new set of keys for nearly twelve months. Unfortunately, I don’t trust myself with a delicate procedure after the accidents I’ve already inflicted on the machine. The alternative is to let somebody else do the operation but that requires sacrificing my favourite piece of technology for a few hours. Instead, I’ll keep the tricky key, take extra care and be grateful for something as mundane as the letter D.

 

Completing Duolingo and Beyond

If you’re familiar with some of my previous posts then you’ll be aware that I have been trying to learn Swedish for nearly eighteen months. I started after I fell in love with the country and started visiting every three or four weeks. After my first trip, I decided that my visits could only be improved by learning the language. With less than twelve million speakers Swedish isn’t the world’s most influential tongue. The lack of prevalence made my self teaching tricky, especially when there were so few sources to learn from. I settled upon Duolingo and have been plowing my way through their beginners course ever since.

Yesterday, I finally finished all the lessons the app provides. I was presented with an owl trophy and a mark that claimed I am now 57% fluent. I was very proud with my dedication to self improvement. Only attaining my degree has given me a similar level of pride. I searched the app for more tasks, expecting more advanced exercises to take my 57% fluency score up to 100. There were no more activities. All that remained was repeating the same tasks I have worked through over the last year. Just like every other skill repetition is an integral aspect of learning. I intend to repeat the course until I can recall every word with ease.

Duolingo has provided a solid foundation in my Swedish education but there is still a lot to build on. The question I am faced with is how to do further my development. I have tried searching for other apps but they only seem to teach the fundamentals of the language. I am going to search for more online courses, purchase children’s books and translate them with my Swedish dictionary, as well as consume more subtitled television programmes and radio broadcasts. I hope these efforts will further boost my abilities. However, I would prefer some form of structured lesson plan. A course along the lines of Duolingo that is aimed at the intermediate learner. If you have any advice regarding this then it is most welcome.

 

Happy Ending

Occasionally, I have an insatiable craving for orange flavour chocolate. Last Friday night,  as the sun began to sleep, I went tracking the citrus tasting confectionery. Two minutes into my trek I realised I had forgotten my headphones. The journey to the supermarket is nearly thirty minuets- far too long to wander without music. I had no choice but to double back.

Eager to make up the lost time I stampeded through the streets, left my gate wide open and slipped. Regaining my balance I looked down to see what had tripped me. A small, green frog was stretched across the flags. Bending down I accessed the injuries I inflicted on the amphibian. It’s eyes still blinked, chest heaved with future croaks, but one leg stretched out at an acute angle. The limb had been crushed in my haste. It pulsed with pain as if the attack relocated its heart.

Without the ability to jump I knew the frog wouldn’t survive long. I went inside to retrieve my headphones and a cardboard box. The frog was going to be taken to a calm corner of the garden to live out its last days in peace. When I returned the creature had gone. I searched in the garden light for the wounded animal and found it squatting several meters away. I laughed as it jumped, both legs simultaneously propelling it forward and symmetrically supporting it on landing.

With a few more leaps the frog was taken away by the grass and darkness. The little fellow lived on. I smiled all the way to the supermarket. When I returned I left a square of chocolate for the survivor and made sure to watch my step on my way inside.

WordPress Anniversary

Today I logged onto WordPress ready to write a post about the development of the Pokemon game franchise. I’m anxiously anticipating the November release of Ultra Sun/ Ultra Moon and intended to honour the games’ development throughout the series. However, a notification has altered my plans. The alarm bell icon informed me that I have been writing this blog for just over one year.

Originally, I began blogging to demonstrate my writing abilities to employers. My first posts were reviews of theater productions my friends organised. After after a few months I realised, that despite their work being great, there wasn’t enough material to maintain a weekly update. This forced me to change direction. I had to stop observing what others were doing and focus on things that interested me.

Since my switch to an internal focus I’ve been allowed to explore a lot more topics and reach a much broader audience. Now, I comment on and review my favourite video games and books; political issues that engage and disappoint me;  as well as my travels and other developments that challenge my horizons. The change has only been positive. New subjects strengthen my writing skills by encouraging me to adapt my style. I can hear how my sentences sound less like a piano plummeting down the stairs. Overall, I’ve been allowed to grow within a supportive website of creators.

When I started the blog was a means to acquiring a better job. Even if I find my dream employment I couldn’t give up WordPress. There’s a feeling of accomplishment with every post. No matter how bad your week has been if you can type out a few paragraphs then you have achieved. The only struggle I would change would be my D key. It has been stuck for about six months and using the letter feels like I’m shattering phalanges. For our next anniversary, I shall treat us to a bottle of Champagne, a weekend in southern France and a fully functioning keyboard.

Duolingo Milestones

When started my blog, nearly a year ago, one of the first posts I wrote expressed my difficulties learning Swedish. After many months of toiling my way through the Duolingo lessons I recently hit a fifty percent fluency grade. There’s still a long way to go. I need to fully internalise the lessons; practice with strangers more frequently; and dedicate more time to my second language. Naturally,  my development will flourish with the more I learn but I’d like to highlight some of my favourite aspects of Duolingo so far.

Firstly, you can learn at your own speed. The amount of time you want to dedicate towards your language is set by you. There’s five levels to choose from, which require you to achieve a set amount of daily experience in order to reach your desired goal. Experience is earned through completing lessons and the better you score the more experience you’re rewarded. Initially, I set myself on the second highest tier (serious) but after a while I felt more motivated and increased my aim to INSANE. I pursued this difficulty for about three months until I faced some personal problems and began to feel my ambition dwindle. Everyday the app bleeped a reminder to acheive my daily goal. After a while the cute owl mascot felt less of a coach and more of a reminder of my failings. I probably shouldn’t have had such an emotional response to a bird cartoon in gym clothes. I should have just knocked my difficulty setting down to something more manageable and start climbing the mountain again.

Another benefit to Duolingo is how the lessons are structured. I recall German, French, Russian, Polish, Welsh and Chinese lessons from school. They all started with learning the alphabet, basic numbers and explaining how many siblings you have. Duolingo on the other hand throws you straight into conversation, giving you vocabulary and slowly building the phrases of previous lessons into fleshed out sentences. Grammar is no longer my German teacher scratching on her ancient chalk board and screeching when the computer set on fire. Instead, it becomes second nature and the rules are immediately applicable to new scenarios. I find this particularly useful because I visit Sweden every fourth weekend. From school I learned how to describe all the subjects an educational establishment can impart, now I can actually ask for the bathroom in a restaurant.

One of the best things about Duolingo’s approach to teaching is that it keeps the lessons interesting. Admittedly, not every aspect of Verbs4 is a thrill but they do sneak in choice phrases that keep you engaged, such as:

“Det finns en man med en kniv bakom gardinen!”

There is a man with a knife behind the curtain!

or the Weather Girls classic song

“Det Regnar Män”- It’s Raining Men

As a result of my efforts with Duolingo learning Swedish is no longer as intimidating as it was a year ago. I have become more eager to both strange Swedes and find myself translating the information on packets of crisps. It’s a development I hope to maintain in my aim for native fluency.

 

 

 

Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge

At the start of 2017 I set myself a challenge, through Goodreads, to read a total of forty books. Nine months into the year I have completed the task. I should have probably set the target a little higher but I wanted a goal that would encourage consistent reading as well as open my horizons to fresh authors and ideas. The following list is what I have read since January. Some of these texts were incredibly short (such as the Penguin black classics and books of poetry) which may be why I finished the challenge so early. Other books, like the denser Philosophical texts and anthologies, took weeks to finish. On balance I think my reading list contains a little something for everyone. Hopefully you find a title for you, one of your favourites or are able to leave me a suggestion or two.

Fiction

Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro (3/5)

The Remains of the Day by Kazou Ishiguro (5/5)

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (3/5)

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (4/5)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (5/5)

Madam Bovary by Gustav Flaubert (3/5)

Anasi Boys by Neil Gaiman (4/5)

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (3/5)

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (5.5/5)

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (4/5)

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster (4/5)

A Cup of Rage by Raduan Nassar (3/5)

The Stranger by Albert Camus (4/5)

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr (5/5)

Maurice by E.M Forster (4/5)

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (3/5)

The Plague by Albert Camus (4/5)

Candide by Voltaire (5/5)

The History Boys by Alan Bennett (5/5)

Demian by Hermann Hesse (4/5)

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (5/5)

Poetry

I Knew the Bride by Hugo Williams (4/5)

The Poetic Edda by Anonymous (4/5)

The Complete Poetry by Maya Angelou (5/5)

Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara (3/5)

Complete Poems by Karen Boye (4/5)

Making Cocoa for Kinsley Amis by Wendy Cope (5/5)

Selected Poems and Letters by Arthur Rimbaud (3/5)

Nonfiction

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang (4/5)

Aphorisms on Love and Hate by Friedrich Nietzsche (4/5)

A Modest Proposal by Johnathan Swift (4/5)

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (2/5)

The Republic by Plato (5/5)

Only Dull People are Brilliant at Breakfast by Oscar Wilde (5/5)

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Noam Chomsky (4/5)

Five Dialogues by Plato (4/5)

Beyond the Pleasure Principle by Sigmund Freud (3/5)

The Symposium by Plato (4/5)

The Culture Industry by Theodor W. Ardono (3/5)

Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (4/5)