Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Out With the Old – In With the Old

I used to sit on a very old swivel chair at my desk. One of the screws that held the backrest was constantly falling out, and I had to get the screwdriver out and fix it ever so often. Then the seat kept going south, lower and lower, so I had to lift my bottom up and pull the lever, hoping there would be enough push left in the cylinder to get the seat to a decent height. It was basically falling apart, so for my birthday last December I got this wonderful piece of engineering work, a modern office chair. I had had enough of my dad’s hand-me-down chair after many, many years of service. I convinced my relatives that it would be a good idea, because I would be sitting on the chair every time I spoke to them on the phone or wrote an email. So here we are, I am sitting on it now. Thanks again, it is absolutely great!

I have also been rooting around in bags and boxes in wardrobes and cupboards lately, looking for various items, and I found an absolute treasure. I found my own Pandora’s Box from the past, containing letters up to forty-five years old; letters from relatives, girlfriends and friends, and also fan mail from when I used to play in a group in my late teens. Wooow! The past came flooding over me and I got completely lost in there; letters I remembered vaguely, letters I had forgotten about and letters containing photographs that I had not seen for 40 – 45 years. You can easily imagine how that felt. My head started spinning and I felt totally inebriated. I have not had time yet to read through them, but I will. Mostly for the enjoyment of my relatives back in Sweden, I post two photographs that bring back very personal memories, the first one of my first summer romance, Catharina, in 1963 when I was still 15, and the other one of my first proper, long-term girlfriend, Ethel, when I was 17. How’s that for sharing? But I have to admit, I feel ever so slightly uneasy, remembering the emotions, looking at these two teenagers with respect rather than like a right old perv*rt! (NB the anti-search precaution.)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Blog Reading

I was just thinking how much I love Google Reader. It sits there on my screen as the first tab in Firefox. As soon as one of the blogs I have listed there, is updated, it notifies me. It saves me a lot of time, not having to trawl through my bookmarks to read new stuff. If I want to comment, I simply click on the little double arrow taking me to the new post where I also can see other comments directly underneath. Should I wish to check if I have had a reply comment to an earlier comment, the Home button takes me to the full blog. All very simple and user-friendly. Thank you, Google. BTW I know there are others, like Pageflakes, doing pretty much the same job.

Before I sign off, I have now made that call to Abbey to ask for the third time to send me internet-banking details. I was served by a not-so-customer-friendly, young man who did not have the courtesy to apologise for their bad service. He was definitely in the wrong job!

On a happier note, it is now Friday, so there will be chilled bubbly later. Hooraay!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Smile Box - Puts a Smile On My Face

I just thought I needed cheering up a little, so I had to try something I found on Carol's blog. It's called Smilebox, where you can have all sorts of fun with pictures and music. I just did the easy thing and used some photos from last Christmas, using the most basic of slide shows. I will have to investigate more thoroughly another time.

Click to play Amanda+Christmas+Day
Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox
Make a slideshow - it's easy!

ABBEY - Oh No, Not Again!

I have been on about this before, but some problems just don’t seem to go away. Abbey, my UK bank, introduced a new computer system last year, and you understand straight away where this is going, don’t you? If there is one foolproof way of effing something up, it surely has to be to start using a new system before it has been properly tested. I know their old system was hopelessly old, but it worked!

Not only do the programmers have to build a robust application, but the existing database has to be transferred safely, and then staff need training. I know all of that; a lot of experience, skill and effort need to go into this mammoth task. And who suffers if it doesn’t work? The customers do. I am one of those.

The first time I noticed something odd was when there was a discrepancy between the printed and the online statement. Secondly the overdraft on one account just disappeared; the new system had changed our address for that account and consequently sent statements to the wrong address. That in turn resulted in a “return-to-sender”; they thought something was afoot and withdrew the overdraft facility. The system did not pick up the difference in addresses for our six accounts. Huh?

Later in the autumn when I had to cancel bank cards and internet banking details due to a theft, the real “fun” started. The cards took forever to be delivered, twice they failed in their attempts to deliver the two separate, secret pieces of information so I can start internet banking again. To make things worse, in order to communicate my frustration, I always have to make a phone call to the UK, often being on hold for absolute ages!

The list is long. In December I rang to ask them to send me new internet banking details, to transfer money between accounts and also to pay a credit card bill, all of which resulted in the money being transferred, but the credit card bill not being paid and no internet banking details as yet. I realised it had gone wrong when I had the next credit card statement, and at the same time getting a partly wrongly-addressed letter saying there had been a problem. Houston or what?! A new phone call corrected a few of the mistakes, but I was advised to wait just a little longer for the internet banking details, since they might have been delayed due to the Christmas Holiday. Dodgy software, sloppy staff, bad management….? I don’t know. I only know that I have to make that phone call again and ask them to send the internet banking details for the third time. Wish me luck, I need it!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My Great Grandfather

Frans, my great grandfather, was the fifth of nine siblings. His father, who had established himself as a shopkeeper after having had a number of other jobs, insisted Frans become a blacksmith. But just look at his wedding photograph from ca 1878; it is quite obvious that he really wasn’t built for heavy, manual work. He looks like he would struggle to lift an ordinary hammer, let alone a sledgehammer. Talk about parental pressure on their children! But his father’s wish was law, so Frans started training as a blacksmith.

He later found employment with Kockums, the big shipyard in Malmö. One day he had an accident; filings or some little piece of metal damaged one of his eyes, resulting in loss of eyesight. In those days, over a hundred years ago, there was no such thing as insurance or social welfare, so he was left to find other employment himself.

Frans set up his own business, selling water and soft drinks from a hand-cart in the street. He was often outside office buildings where, just like today, many people were hurrying back and forth. One can only assume that he got to know some of his regular customers, and one day one of them said – “You’re wasting your time here, you shouldn’t be selling drinks in the street; you should come and work for us.”

Frans started working for this emigration agency. They must have spotted how good he was with customers, I guess. So, in modern speak, Frans, a young man with excellent entrepreneurial and customer relations skills, had just been headhunted!

His new job involved travelling by horse and cart to villages in the countryside, trying to persuade people to up their sticks and move to America. It must have been a lucrative business, because after some years Frans set up his own agency.

As far as I know, there were two main routes from Sweden to America. You either went by train to Gothenburg and boat from there to Hull, or by train to Malmö, boat to Copenhagen, train across Denmark, and boat from Esbjerg to Hull in England. From Hull the emigrants travelled by train across to Liverpool, where they had to wait for a suitable crossing to Ellis Island in New York. What an adventure it must have been just getting there! Of course, some did not make it. The journey was long and dangerous.

The good days for emigration agencies came slowly to an end, I believe, at the beginning of the 20th century. I know that, when times were hard, Frans helped his wife, Anna, to make ends meet making socks at home with a “sock-knitting-machine”. They had five surviving children; two died as infants in 1883. (Imagine my grandfather being born in January, adding to the two other children, then the three-year-old dies in April and the two-year-old dies in June, leaving Frans and Anna with only the one baby.) When my grandfather was about ten he had to be farmed out to his aunt, who had more space and food on the table. She spoiled him rotten until he got married at the age of 35. My grandmother must have had a tough time, trying to convert this bachelor into a husband, in particular since she was only 18 and had been his pupil!

After the emigration business Frans had yet again to come up with something, and he did. He got a contract with a metal tools factory, selling files to Russia, of all places. Somewhat ironic (!) considering it was filings that forced him out of the smithy in the first place.

So to conclude, forced to become a blacksmith, Frans started by building ships, then, after a short drinks break, he filled ships with emigrants and finally shipped metal files to Russia. And all the time, throughout his whole life, he spent as much time as possible building doll’s houses, which was his hobby and passion, because he had always wanted to become a carpenter.

Here he is, my great grandfather Frans, at an old age with his damaged eye that changed his life completely. If he’d become a carpenter, he might have got a wooden splinter in his eye instead, who knows? Health and Safety wasn’t top of the agenda a century ago.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Family Tree – Genealogy

Here is the reason I have not posted for a few days; something caught my attention.

My brother emailed me last week, or rather, it looked like I had emailed myself; you know when it says ‘Me’ as the sender. I suspected it was something dodgy, somebody trying to make me click on a link and download offensive rubbish on my PC. So what did I do? I googled the source and found it was a completely legitimate URL, a reputable company albeit at the beta stage. It turned out to be something quite interesting, a website where you can build your family tree online. It’s like an extended-family-Wikipedia. Somebody starts building it, invites other relatives to join in the fun and contribute to a growing tree with their knowledge about relatives. It’s got the potential to spread like a bush fire.

As it happens I have taken an interest in my ancestors in the last couple of years and done a lot of scanning from photo albums. I have immersed myself in it completely sometimes, asked my 85-year-old mother about names and relationships while she still is lucid. She is the last one of the oldest generation that I can turn to for reliable information, so time is of great importance. My interest got even stronger when my dad passed away and I started looking into his old belongings, photos, slides, letters, books etc. My mother had quite a lot from her side of the family as well, so it all mounted up. My idea is to share it with siblings and cousins once it is all sorted.

So this family tree website fits the picture perfectly. I had some information from my dad, which I believe he had had from his dad. Somebody, I don’t know who, had in the past done some genealogical research and presented it in the customary way like a tree, but also attached information in prose, seemingly from parish records, about the people in the tree. Then you can read between the lines and understand even more yourself sometimes. Absolutely fascinating! The furthest this research reached into the past was the late 17th century. It is a heck of a long time ago!

I will probably come back to this and post some of the interesting stuff and my thoughts about the people from whom I descend. Hopefully I can include pictures as well, although I have to confess I don’t have any photos from the 17th century. If you are interested in starting your own tree, go to .

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

How was Christmas?

Some of my readers might remember that I had a big birthday just before Christmas, so we set off as soon as we possibly could. As so many times before we stopped over in Bremen. I had booked a table in a very nice restaurant we had visited before, or at least I thought I had. When we arrived at L’Oliva it seemed to be very full, and low and behold, there was no booking in our name. But it was my 60th birthday! The staff were incredibly understanding and helpful, apologising many times. They asked if it would be OK to sit in the Hilton bar area, since they were joined by the hip so to speak, and they would serve us food from their kitchen. Yes, please.

We had a complimentary glass of Sekt to begin with, extremely good service and finally a complimentary, extra dessert as well, see below. So, if you are in Bremen and you fancy a high quality meal, I can strongly recommend L’Oliva in the town centre.

When we got to Sweden the following afternoon I celebrated with my family and was lucky enough to get, among other things, a Liverpool shirt with my name and two-digit birth year on the back. I don’t know when to wear it, but maybe the team will play better if I wear it while watching them play on the telly?

A superb meal was finished off with a beautiful, home-made cake. Thanks Mrs S!

Then the great anticipation set in. Little Amanda could not wait to get her Christmas hat on first thing in the morning.

As always on a Swedish Christmas table you will find not only the big ham, but also an assortment of “sill”, herring to you, in a variety of flavours. Yummy!

Then the big moment came when Father Christmas knocked on the door, asking if there were any "good" children. He did not bother with the other two or three generations, we are just expected to behave, or does he think we are all naughty?. Anyway, he was carrying his traditional sack with some of the pressies…

… but most of them were already displayed under and around the Christmas tree, making up a true mountain.

Everybody enjoyed the long day of eating, talking, watching TV and some more eating. Towards the end we all felt a bit like this floppy Santa hat.

But the following day Amanda had plenty of time to play with her new toys.

Her only problem was to fit them all in her big case on the plane back to Stockholm a couple of days later. She did manage, because here she is in her new, snuggly coat on her way to do some more shopping in the sales with mum and dad.

Now I have to cure my bad cold, which has prevented me from posting on this blog since we got back. I do not recommend meeting up with old friends for a day’s chat when one’s vocal cords are already affected. I sound like Joe Cocker!