Warm air

On the 25th Christmas celebrations were over and I was to join Honeybuns to see her Arctic relatives. When I left I noted that there was a lot of snow on my balcony, but temperatures had crept upwards and the snow threatened to melt.

X2000 #568 has arrived at Sundsvall CNote the snow on the tracks: No trains continue north from here.
My firstclass ticket got me a comfortable seat with power and Internet connection to play with as the grey train bored northwards. This ended in Sundsvall, only halfway to my destination, where I had to change to a coach.

The temperature was probably around 260 K, but the double-decker coach arrived soon enough that I didn't have to freeze. Quite a few people were continuing northwards, so we were late in departure from the station. As I had a fairly tight change in Umeå, I asked the bus conductor, when he came by selling snacks, whether we would make it in time for the 18:15 connection to Vindeln. He looked a bit non-plussed and responded that I was sure to make it to the 22:00 connection, which was the only one running that day. What!? He took my ticket and went off to double-check. He returned a while later, having confirmed on both telephone and web that since it was a red day, no 18:15 service was running, and me having been issued a ticket for it wouldn't help the matter, sorry.

I texted to this effect to Honeybuns and soon had a response back that she and her dear mother would pick me up in Umeå. I briefly considered protesting that I could manage on my own, but didn't really look forward to arriving in the middle of the night and gratefully accepted the offer.

The afternoon was already quite dark, so I couldn't see much of the surrounding landscape and read a book instead.

The young woman who'd silently sat next to me since Sundsvall got off in Nordmaling and was replaced by a very large youngster who all but crowded me out of my seat and regaled me with a non-stop monologue relating his dangerous, awesomely skilled and/or illegal stunts in all kinds of motor vehicles as well as the exact number of screws, metal plates and other surgical repairs he had in his body at the time. I was thus doubly relieved to finally arrive in Umeå and see Honeybuns and her mother inside the bus station.

We were soon in the car, still warm after the ride down, and travelled another hour through the darkness to arrive in Vindeln to be met by a long-awaited dinner. Then Honeybuns and I went out into the winter night for a walk. I equipped myself with extra socks, ski pants over my jeans and thumb gloves in addition to my bulky jacket and hat. We went out, trying to find a bit of darkness to see the stars from, but even here civilisation insisted on lighting up the environment to keep anyone from feeling afraid of the dark. Or perhaps, keeping everyone in fear of the dark. After an hour or so my cheeks were frost-bitten and I had icicles in my beard so we returned indoors.

Typical Lappland landscape
The next morning Honeybuns' father and brother turned up for the next stage, driving deep into Lappland. We drove through the light hours of the day through Christmas card landscapes and arrived in Sorsele at dusk and snowfall. We went out for an evening walk again, but even the quite moderate wind tore away the protective layer of warm air around our faces and let the cold bite at the exposed skin.

The screen of my mobile was unfamiliarly blank—my operator had no coverage here. Within a few days the battery was empty, the phone having cried itself hoarse. “Hallo? Anybody there? Hallo!? Can anybody hear me? Speak to me!”

When the wind abated it was quite pleasant to move around (still clothed in layers on layers) even though it still snowed and the temperature was still low.

Midwinter sunThere's the sun—don't blink or you might miss it.
Our last day the temperature had dropped overnight to 240 K. The car tyres deflated as the cooling air in them shrank, the pneumatic strut for the bonnet no longer supported its weight. The heating system soon warmed up the interior and having topped up the tyres we left coastwards, our little bubble of warm air speeding through the darkening landscape.

After a night in Vindeln I caught the morning coach to Umeå (having called the bus company and ascertained it did run). A gaggle of girls of the fjortis persuasion sat at the front, chattering away while I tried to read.

In Umeå I had a an hour's wait for my connection, which I spent munching on the plentiful food packet Honeybuns' mother had supplied me with. Apparently quite a few people were going to Sundsvall, a bus company employee went around asking those getting off at stops before Sundsvall to get on an extra bus from a different gate. I had removed my hat and gloves while indoors at the bus station and when my bus arrived I didn't bother putting them on, expecting to get on the bus quickly. This was not to be, the queue got on the bus only slowly, people buying tickets as they got on, fiddling with their luggage and in general being very slow about things. The luggage compartment turned out to have frozen, necessitating a bit of violence on behalf of the bus driver to get it open, so when I finally got on the bus I was very cold, yet the bus just stood for a while with the front door wide open.

Then, when we left, the heating did not work. The bus driver fiddled with knobs and buttons on the dash and eventually I could feel warm air slowly blowing from the overhead nozzles, but it stayed on top of the cold air below and never reached floor level and my feet, which remained frozen the entire trip. And not only they, a passenger came up to complain that the lavatory had frozen and would not flush. The bus driver stated he could not do anything about this and we'd just have to cross our legs and bear it. I think he was a bit stressed by all this, as he almost left a passenger behind in Härnösand and almost left with the luggage of a passenger who got off in Timrå, in both cases only stopped by the rest of us shouting at him.

Anyway, I forgave the driver when we arrived at Sundsvall central station well before my train would leave. Well enough in advance that they hadn't unlocked the doors yet, so I and the other passengers stood on the platform, nervously bouncing on our toes to keep warm, until we finally could get on the heated train, jack in to the Internet and roll southwards. I hopped off at Arlanda, in the tunnel station which is cold every time of the year, likewise now, and waited for Upptåget to take me the minutes-short hop to Upplands Väsby, where Honeybuns had flown ahead of me.

Then, everything was warm again.

The Mythos Lives

Mysteriously found in my mailbox: A Colder War.


Veckans ord: sambulans

Vid krig och katastrofer använder man fordon som kan frakta många skadade och sjuka på en gång: sambulanser.

Quest: A Long Ray's Journey into Light

There's nothing quite like ray tracing of glass spheres to scream out “Computer Graphics!” Unfortunately the YouTube version of this classic is rather fuzzy.

I did work on an Apollo one summer at Ericsson. I thoought it a bit weird at points, but it had a Logo implementation, so I played around with turtle graphics; a fairly natural way of doing graphics for me anyway as I at the time mostly worked on a pen plotter—graphics displays being very expensive and hard to come by.


…for the other ones

Whether you celebrate the return of the Sun to the Northern Hemisphere or not, peace and sublime moments of happiness to you all.


Because it's Christmas, or something

Found on Zooillogix, an elephant giving birth. Do not worry, it all ends well.

The right person in the right place

A square peg fits quite well in a round hole if the hole is large enough. I think this is true in the figurative sense as well.



The talented Emma Persson makes airplane models of wool.

A SAAB 37 Viggen made of wool


Veckans ord: enigt

En enJuhani Aho myntade uttrycket ”katajainen kansa” om finnarna. På svenska torde det bli ”ett enigt folk”.


Beyond the '80s

Fractals were all the rage when I was an undergrad, and I have the T-shirt to prove it, but they've not been front page news for a long time. Maybe they should be:

Mandelbrot set in 'Buddhabrot' rendering


Veckans ord: minutläggare

När jag i min ungdom läste Airfix-katalogen undrade jag mycket över de fartyg som tjänstgjort som minutläggare. Senare har jag insett att det är de som placerar distansminuterna så att andra skepp kan navigera efter dem.


Turning on the filter

Due to the recent spate of spam, I'm turning on the CAPTCHA filter for a while. Sorry for any inconvenience.


What-ho, pip pip and all that

MarmiteI found myself in the vicinity of The English Shop and decided to stock up on some supplies. The cashier greeted me in Swedish, but immediately switched to English when she espied the Spam and Marmite in my shopping basket. Now I just have to work on the accent…


Steaming about

B1136 at Stockholm Central station, surrounded by photographersThis morning Honeybuns and I got on a train pulled by good old B 1136, travelling towards Nynäshamn. The heavy weather pushed down the coal smoke and often made it hard to see the landscape, but I eagerly peered at the surroundings, that in spite of being close to Stockholm, were unfamiliar to me. (So, we'd gone there by car quite often when I was a kid to see relatives, but that hadn't really left any impression.)

The railway station in Nynäshamn is in the harbour, where the boats for Gotland leave. At the time there was a Polferries boat in, the Gotland boat only coming later in the evening. It seems like the tracks used to go all the way to the harbour, allowing cargo to be transferred between ship and rail, but these days only commuter trains and the occasional museum train comes here.

Christmas market in Nynäshamn harbour, S/S Blidösund in backgroundThere is a fairly large marina as well, catered to by tourist traps in little houses. These had been supplemented by stands for the Christmas market. We had lunch, which was decent, but rather expensive, confirming the tourist trap nature of the place. The market contained nothing remarkable, but I got myself a smoked trout and a jar of cloudberry glögg concentrate.

We made an excursion to the town centre, where there were also a couple of stands huddling in the drizzle—the children's merry-go-round did not feel at home in the winter weather. However, the local book store and haberdashery, respectively, yielded useful supplies.

Blommans Dixieland BandAs we returned to the harbour, the rain intensified, and we jumped on board S/S Blidösund. On board the ship was also a jazz orchestra and we ended up sitting right next to it. When we had left the harbour, we had a bit of rough sea until we returned into the shelter of islands and as soon as the deck was stable enough to stand on, the orchestra started to play. I can enjoy listening to trad jazz, but I have to admit all songs sound the same to me. I wonder if this is due to the orchestra actually improvising, and thus not really following any particular tune. Sort of a wall of sound, more than melody.

We had dinner on the boat. The two French ladies who were placed next to us, and who I tried to translate the menu for (well, what does “Blidösund hot dish” contain? We had to ask the waitress) took the opportunity to transfer to an empty table, leaving us to our « romantique dinneur ».

The ship trip took considerable longer than the train ride, but eventually we ended up at Skeppsbron and walked to the central station for the ordinary boring public transport home.


Misguided striving for perfection

When people say that something works “works like a machine” the implication is that this work is not only ceaseless but flawless. In particular this seems to appply to machine intelligence, intelligent robots and computers are, not only in fiction, assumed to have all information—and correct information only—available and then flawlessly proceed to the correct conclusion. Certainly often evil conclusions, but still the only possible conclusion.

Well, of course real software doesn't work that way. I have not worked with AI per se, but any interactive systems should be as “intelligent” as possible, where this in practice means that one studies users and figures out what they want done most of the time and then try to make the interface anticipate what the user wants in every given situation. In many cases this turns out not to be what the user wanted and bad user interfaces tend to do their anticipation in such a way as to annoy the user. Good user interfaces on the other hand are unobtrusive and smoothly let the user continue with whatever was actually intended, silently withdrawing whatever suggestion might have been proposed.

Machine translation has always been an important task for AI, and it seems the applications I have tried go for the ideal of the all-knowing computer. Thus if you submit a text for translation, you get the output all at once, unalterable, regardless of how bizarre it ends up. Shouldn't it be possible, in this day and age, to have an interactive translation application which presents alternative interpretations of the input and lets the user guide the translation? Certainly, even when I as a person translate text I end up having to make notes in the output, stating that a particular interpretation is dependent on a previous term having meant this and not that.


Veckans ord: partikel

« Sur une substance nouvelle radio-active, contenue dans la pechblende » skrev Marie och Pierre Curie tillsammans, det är en partikel.


No man is an island

The phone I got when I started my current employment has a recycled number, which apparently used to belong to a door salesman (not a door-to-door seller, but someone who sells doors) in the other end of the country. Not everybody in his extensive network had gotten the message that he no longer had this number, so I got calls and messages intended for him for quite some time.

This was an interesting phenomenon as only a certain subset of his acquaintances had failed to update their phonebooks and this subset of course shrank over time, as they called me and got informed. So, I would get sort of an attenuating sampling of his life as reflected in his messages, I could detect when his first daughter was born, when distant relatives remembered him for Christmas, and so on.

I haven't received such calls for a long time now, but suddenly this last week there have been several, apparently from people just tenuously related to him, but who still have been spurred into calling. I hope this is just a statistical fluke, rather than something serious having happened to him.


Political plots

Michael Shermer gave in the latest Scientific American a link to Yourmorals.org, a site with heaps of questionnaires intended to explore one's standing on morals.

My moral profile
This particular questionnaire builds on the idea that one can use five factors to explain people's political leanings. Apparently I don't quite match the typical (presumably US) “liberal”, which shouldn't be too surprising. Strange though, that my values decrease by exactly unity for each factor. I suspect the values may suffer from considerable quantization effects.

Another item of interest is that about six times as many “liberals” as “conservatives” have filled in the questionnaire, it suggests some major skewing in who finds out about surveys like this and/or who finds them interesting.


Summing up

So, we had a month of no shopping. How did it go?

Well, surprisingly well, actually. We have not starved. In fact, we've probably eaten better and healthier than usual, having had to cook proper meals for every dinner, rather than just grabbing something random from the shop on the way home. Still, I've lost about 4 kg—which I've meant to do for a long time anyway. This was a surprisingly easy way of achieving that. We've even entertained guests without problems.

We still have reasonable stores left and could probably go on for at least another week, but we'll do a shop rush anyway for sewing thread, model missiles, and other such items that hadn't been planned beforehand. Fresh fruit will also be nice.

Looking over my bank statement it seems I have saved a surprising amount of money. We will probably aim at better planned housekeeping for the future as well, but December will be a month of profligacy, we have outings planned for all weekends until Christmas.


OK, it's an ad

…but it's still a seriously weird example of what you can do with digital post-processing.



Zeno berättar om sin släkts Tacksägelsefirande och noterar att lille B ännu inte talar rent, till omgivningens munterhet. Jag påmindes då om den Enfödde Sonen, som länge inte kunde uttala ”r”. Han var också mycket förtjust i pommes frites, så på hamburgerrestaurangen meddelade han glatt och mycket ljudligt:


Veckans ord: hovleverantör

Gelatin tillverkas av diverse slaktavfall – hudar, ben, klövar o dyl. Man får förmoda att Törsleff har en hovleverantör.


Professor Balthazar home page

Since I was just writing about Eastern European animation of my childhood, of course I must present the history of Professor Balthazar.


In Soviet Russia, films watch you!

In my childhood, it was acceptable to show Eastern European films on television, and I tended to prefer Czech and Yugoslav animation to productions from, say, Hanna-Barbera. So, now The Only-Begotten Son and I found Russian Video from Russia, with over 500 video clips of Russian and Soviet origin. We spent the evening watching Aleksandr Nevskij, but with my low bandwidth and slow computer it wasn't the most enjoyable way of watching film. If others have wider broadband, let me know how good the videos at Viddler look.


Living fossil

Films that take place in a given past period usually very carefully play contemporary music, so as to establish the time, but in reality tunes are of course played not just in the year they were published, but long after. So, just seeing the title of “Just Walkin' in the Rain” made me hum it. Obviously it must have been frequently played in my childhood, long after it was written in 1952.


A new project

I've just found Cooking for Engineers. I will have to try out the recipes. I wonder if I can make good clam chowder with oat milk.


Veckans ord: konkurs

En vektor har i verkligheten alltid en viss mätosäkerhet, den bildar som en kon runt det verkliga värdet, så färdas man i rymden får man ta ut en konkurs.Roterande kon


Sorry, didn't work

Honeybuns and I recently watched Coraline. When we got to the extras on the DVD, we found out the film had been made with stop-motion puppetry, which the producer thought gave a unique feel to it. I'm sorry, we had unhesitatingly taken it to be computer generated imagery. Good film though.

Problem symptoms

I have found it a persistent urban legend that Swedes would be particularly prone to suicide. In order to demonstrate that this is not the case I looked up the relevant WHO statistics. As you can see, Sweden is not particularly high on the list, but we knew that. However, what did stick out as a sore thumb was that the People's Republic of China is the only country in the world (for which there are statistics) where women have a higher suicide rate than men.

Googling around confirmed that I am not the only one to have noticed this. Explanations seem centered on Chinese women's subservient position and low chances for poor people to improve their lot, and somehow I can't help but make the connection between this and the Google ads that turn up in the margin…


Not Hogwarts

A public school in Britain where teenagers with strange talents get trained in esoteric subjects, where there are ghosts in the gigantic buildings that don't always stay the same when you turn your back. But where there are also armies of robots, virtual reality simulators and where a good set of lockpicks gets you further than an Alohamora.

This is Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell.

Antimony Carver climbing the ladder to her bunk bed.


Word of the week: scientoloogie

When they come and ask you to do a personality test, it's time to load up a scientoloogie.


Finished model 2009-V

Wood Elf Lord in dragon saddle.
Wood Elf Lord, model from Games Workshop, scale approximately 1/60, donated by the Only-begotten Son. This is a dragon rider, therefore the strange sit. (Dragon forthcoming.) I'm actually mostly satisfied with this one, but next time I'll try to paint stars on the caparison.


Finished model 2009-III–IV

Wood Elf DryadWood Elf Dryad

Two Wood Elf Dryads, model from Games Workshop, scale approximately 1/60, donated by the Only-begotten Son. Cast as one piece, but contain an impressive amount of detail, good practice for trying to create wood tones. Not that I succeeded particularly well. I realise I need to use a magnifying glass for painting at this scale.


Finished model 2009-I–II

Goblin with ball and chain, standing on tip-toes.Goblin with ball and chain, standing on tip-toe.

Two Night Goblin Fanatics. Models from Games Workshop, scale approximately 1/60, donated by the Only-begotten Daughter. Those chains with the heavy balls, they're just made for breaking, I don't know how many times I've repaired them. On the other hand I'm quite proud of having been able to have the one stand, attached to the stand by just the toe. Works as long as you don't breathe too heavily in that direction.


You have already seen this…

…so watch it again, it just gets more beautiful for each time.

What I remember strongest from watching Cosmos is the extraordinarily beautiful photography, and now I am able to better appreciate the poetic strength of Sagan's text. I doubt we will ever reach the stars, but let this then be a memorial to us lucky people who lived in the time when we were, in fact, visiting other worlds.


Light coming on

Once upon a time I did the IQ test at tickle.com and got a reasonably good result. I then followed it up by doing the EQ test in which I bombed completely—I couldn't even understand the questions, or to be more precise, I couldn't understand how to answer the questions with the given alternatives. Typically a question would describe a person behaving in a certain manner, and the alternatives would require me to explain why. This was patently impossible from the given information, so I was forced to just select random responses.

I told Honeybuns about this and she explained to me that the point was to answer the questions in such a way as to interpret the behaviour of the posited person in as positive light as possible. The truth of the matter was irrelevant. Oh. No wonder engineers score badly on such tests, being trained to find out the truth rather than making up the most pleasing alternative.

I will now have to mull this over.


Veckans ord: elefantbete

Om man ska ut och meta sjöelefant måste man ha med sig elefantbete.


Environment news

The latest issue of Råd & Rön contains a number of evaluations of what is the environmentally most sound choices for various consumer products. Interesting news is that life cycle analysis indicates that cardboard packaging is way superior to either glass or metal. So crushed tomatoes in cardboard it will be in the future.

They also compare flying as compared to taking the train, but it seems the journalist wasn't even aware of the travel planner at DB, but complained mightily about how difficult it is to find tickets abroad. I've sent a letter to the editor, outlining my experiences with booking train tickets. (Basically, SJ International staff are Good.)

There is a discussion about whether ecological food is good from an environmental perspective—is it possible to feed the Earth's population on ecologically grown food? Not enough numbers to convince either way.



Not satisfied with Buy Nothing Day, Honeybuns and I thought we'd try to spend all of November without spending anything. This will of course be impossible—rent, insurance, electricity, etc have to be paid, but we will try to live as frugally as possible within external constraints. So yesterday we stocked up on beans, rice, lentils and other non-perishables and now we're off into November to see how far we get.


Veckans ord: rappartist

Långt innan Papa Dee uppträdde rappartister på varieté med sina piskor.


Family gathering

All us remaining siblings went over for our father's funeral. Even though booking our trips independently, we all ended up on the same Silja ferry—in my case after my usual struggle with their website, this time because it doesn't work well with Safari 3, so I ended up having to do a (more expensive) phone booking. Getting on the boat did not entail any security check (yet I was for complicated reasons carrying no less than two Swiss army knives in my pockets this time around).

We would bump into each other on the concourse at various times, but had different dinner arrangements and didn't think of, or feel like, agreeing on a meeting later.

Helsinki next morning was chilly and grey. Honeybuns, the Only-begotten Son and I joined forces with my sister's family and walked from the harbour to our hotel right in the middle of the city. We were too early to check in yet, but had lunch and then changed clothes in the luggage room.

We continued to the funeral chapel where we met my mother and the other guests, exchanging subdued greetings and careful embraces. The coffin was waiting for us. A chapel official set out the Finnish flag to honour the fallen veteran, the funeral bells tolled, the organ went through various preludial exercises and then converged on a psalm, unfamiliar to us come from Sweden. The words and the melody had an uneasy relationship, but the chapel's singer carried the tune for us.

The minister rose and spoke of the life everlasting and then, in terms I recognised as my mother's, spoke of the good past life of my father and exhorted us to carry these bright memories with us.

We filed up to place flowers on the coffin, our better-practiced Finnish relatives carefully following protocol, reading out loud the condoleance cards on their wreaths.

Accompanied by more organ music the coffin moved out, pulled by invisible mechanisms, and we were left alone in the chapel to collect ourselves.

Directions given by my mother, we all walked to the nearby restaurant where a late luncheon had been laid out for us. The waitress was very discreet and professional and could handle any dietary oddities at a moment's notice. I note that these days basically all Finnish restaurants clearly indicate what dishes are vegetarian, gluten free, and/or lactose free. Minimal effort, but much simplifying the lives of many; time to take up this custom (requirement?) in Sweden as well.

My mother asked me to read to the assembled relatives the condoleance letters that had arrived. I made it through with my voice still mostly unbroken.

The various relatives exchanged the latest news, my sister's twins were cooed over and I promised to next summer visit Ostrobothnia, where I haven't been for some years, but still count as my roots. Eventually everybody said their farewells and our little group walked back towards the hotel. On the way we visited the family grave where a half-brother of mine, dead in childhood, rested, and where my father's urn would eventually be interred. The plot had been chosen by him after the wars, but now it seems unlikely that anyone else will be buried there, none of the family having any relation to Helsinki anymore.

We returned to the hotel and rested awhile, readjusting our minds to the present. I changed back from dark suit and tie to my usual jeans and sweater and felt more at ease.

The next morning the three of us set out to have a look at the city. These days central Helsinki is seemingly composed entirely of shopping gallerias. We tried to have a look in the cathedral, but it was closed for service just then.

Akateeminen kirjakauppa upholds proud traditions and is still a book store with a wide selection of books and newspapers, as opposed to its Stockholm namesake, which is increasingly more streamlined and gutted in an attempt to retain profit margins in competition with web book stores. Not so here, and we could well have stayed there the rest of the day browsing the shelves, but I satisfied myself with procuring a book on the Finnish Air Force that I had been lacking.

Eventually we picked up our bags at the hotel and strolled down to the harbour. Stockholm met us with drizzle when we returned.


Veckans ord: ståndpunk

Sex och rock'n'roll hör ihop och sällan mindre än i ståndpunken.


Veckans ord: knasli

Somliga bestämmelser är helt uppåt väggarna, de har uppenbarligen beretts av myndighetens knasli.


Coolth failure

Visiting my mother I had occasion to watch tv and it so happened that TV6 was running Johnny Mnemonic and I decided to watch. Commercial television, why hasn't it been outlawed yet? Commercial breaks chopping up the plot and I'm pretty sure they actually lost bits of the film, making it even more jarring. Even allowing for that, I was rather disappointed and even more so when I saw that William Gibson himself had written the screenplay, so no corporate script wrangler could be blamed for the results.

The main fault lies in the lack of cool. A major theme in Gibson's cyberpunk works is being cool, and Japanese vatgrown ninjas are the coolest of them all. The Yakuza are maximally inscrutable Orientals with infinite patience. In the original short story there is only one Yakuza assassin and that's because he's so utterly deadly on his own no more are needed—grenade launchers and assault guns are too crude and inelegant to be even contemplated. And Molly (in the film replaced by Jane with uncool shakes for copyright reasons!) shows her übercool by whipping the assassin's ass.

And that the data that Johnny is carrying happens to be the cure to all the world's woes? Please…

I briefly considered the point in having a person carry around data in their head, but to be sure, in many cases moving physical media around is faster than wire transfer and for stolen data it makes sense to hide the data inside the person. But the nosebleed effect of stuffing data in your head? It's not like the memory chip grows bigger with the data, you know…

Then of course, technology marches on and having information being faxed in 2021 made me laugh almost as much as the exhortation “Turn on your VCRs!”. The 320 GiB Johnny crams into his head were still upgraded a thousandfold from the “several hundred megabytes” he carried in the original story. And the virtual reality scenes? Too incoherent, but then Gibson never had a really coherent explanation of cyberspace anyway.


Look out, little snail!

There's an old math exercise with a snail crawling up a flagpost, which I've always thought was strange, but here was a snail on its way up a lamp post, on the next one two more. I wonder what they were looking for.

A snail on a lamp post


Not going gently into that good night

A few days after my visit my father passed away, finally overcome by heart failure and pneumonia.

My father and I never had a good relationship. Perhaps our innate temperaments were not all that different, but if nothing else, the differences between growing up in post-Civil war small-town Finland and 1970s suburban Sweden, betwen surviving new wars and living a laid-back academic life, ensured that we had few, if any, things in common. Possibly I would even strive to increase those differences to mark distance.

With time I came to better understand my father's motivations and the ideals he tried to live up to, but by then I could no longer communicate this to him, as he had descended into dementia. Perhaps it was even necessary for my understanding that I no longer had to keep my protective shields up, that my formidable father was reduced to a frail old man who I no longer had to be angry at but could pity and comfort as best I could.

Now, I am at peace and so is he.


Veckans ord: grisgryn

Fläskfärs = grisgryn.


Unsafe Swedes

I had business in Helsinki and Honeybuns accompanied me. Due to them being slightly cheaper we went with Viking Line this time.

To our surprise we were subjected to a security control on boarding the boat. Other passengers were also surprised, but the officials Orwellianly insisted they had had security controls for a long time. Our bags and jackets were X-rayed. A placard listed a number of items that were not allowed on board, including “sharp objects” (as we weren't metal detected my Victorinox was undisturbed in its pocket), “food obviously to be prepared onboard” (but cold food must be OK) and any alcohol. Yes really, the biggest alcohol purveyor on the Baltic Sea does not allow you to bring any alcohol of your own on board. This was enforced using a sink with sharp spikes where we could see a number of beer cans emptying. What their previous owners had to say about the matter we did not find out.

We had a pleasant journey over and watched the sunset from the top deck. A later attempt to go out and watch the stars was thwarted by the access stairs being closed off. Presumably the company does not want any drunk people stumbling about in the dark. (Wherever they might come from, since the consumption of both shore-bought and taxfree shop-bought alcohol is forbidden—the guy chugging from the 24-pack of beer must have received it straight from the heavens.)

When reboarding the ship after our Helsinki visit there was nothing in the way of a security control. Must be because it is impossible to buy booze in Helsinki on a Saturday. (snort)

On the way back the wind picked up and we got bounced around a bit, but we sailed through and arrived in a calm but cold Stockholm about ten minutes ahead of schedule.

I'm the king of the world!


Veckans ord: intänkter

De som bara kan ta till sig tankar som är tillräckligt inskränkta för att passa deras fördomar har små intänkter.


Veckans ord: kastmärke

SpjutkastmätningSom spjutkastfunktionär bör man ha ett skarpt öga för att hitta den tävlandes kastmärke.


Sjung som en pirat!

Min katt har nio svansar,
nio svansar har min katt
och har den ej nio svansar
så är det ej min katt!


After years of writing scientific papers

Today I found myself writing “…increases the saliency of x.”, stared at it and realised it probably was not a well-suited expression for end-user documentation. I had to think for several minutes before coming up with “…makes x easier to see.”


Feng shui

My predecessor in my flat had his bed along the north wall of the bedroom and a huge wardrobe covering the opposite wall. I got rid of the wardrobe and placed the bed so that the morning sun would shine in my face. I hoped that I in the future might wake up to sunny summer mornings with my best girl by my side.

This is indeed what happened. Now mornings tend to be darker, but I still get to wake up with Honeybuns by my side and that is the best way I could imagine waking up.


Word of the week: diarrhy

When investigating Irritable Bowel Syndrome, it's a good idea to keep a diarrhy.


We hold these truths self-evident

No one should die because they cannot afford health care. No one should go broke because they get sick, and no one should be tied to a job because of a pre-existing condition.

If you agree, please post this to your blog.


Diamonds and chills

A less well-known not-quite-hit from my youth.


Veckans ord: skonummer

En skofetischist är ständigt på jakt efter ett skonummer.


Avoiding going native

Some years ago I listened to professor Hans Rosling talking on Sommar. He described how he figured out that the epidemic disease of konzo is caused by insufficiently processed cassava in the diet. Then, apparently to demonstrate the wisdom of indigenous populations, he mentioned that the local population know very well what causes konzo but poverty often requires balancing between not eating at all and eating potentially dangerous cassava. I was dumbstruck. Why couldn't the patients have mentioned that, as they were piling up in the hospital and the (presumably city-bred) medical staff were scratching their heads at the mysterious disease? Didn't the physicians think to ask, were the patients too intimidated by the experts to voice their own knowledge, or did they just not care, as long as they were taken care of?

I had a bit of the same feeling when I recently saw District 9. The aliens had been on Earth for almost 30 years, long enough for humans to have learnt their language, yet no-one in all that time had asked them why they were here. I first thought this was a major plot hole, but considering Rosling's experience, I wonder if it isn't rather an accurate and scathing assessment of human behaviour—we don't care about the motives of refugees that (literally!) descend upon us, we just do what we, for reasons completely our own, decide to be the appropriate thing to do.


CO2-minimal cooking

Last summer my friend Charger gave me a solar cooker. I was a bit intimidated by the package, but when I invited friends over for a summer cookout to celebrate my refurnished balcony, I decided I would finally break out the cooker and see how to construct the thing. It turned out to be quite simple—a single large piece of corrugated fibreboard covered with reflective foil on one side to be folded into a reflector and a largish, transparent plastic bag to wrap one's cooking vessel in order to keep air circulation from cooling it. I stirred in the ingredients for a veggie stew in my black castiron pot, wrapped it loosely in the bag and then set it in the sun for five hours. It didn't exactly become hot to the touch, but it certainly cooked the food, which was wolfed down by the guests, so it must have been good. (It contained cheese, so I couldn't eat it myself. I also consider it a good principle to let others taste my experimental cooking first.)

Castiron pot in solar cooker

We did use the new grill as well. While considerably less energy-efficient also less weather-dependent, even if we had sun all day.

Grill and plants on balcony

My balcony is probably too windy for optimal gardening, so the tomatoes and strawberries were still green, but the chilli was plundered on its one fruit to contribute to the stew.


Get drunk or get out!

So we had to postpone eating our sandwiches until we got ashore.


Back online

Worn power cable
My laptops have to work for their keep and tend to get rather banged up with time. Now, the little LED ring on the charger plug did not light up when I plugged it in. Weird, I thought and jiggled it. No reaction. So I looked at the transformer block and indeed the wire insulation looked rather worn there. A bad connection? I jiggled the cable. Hmm, it's rather warmish, it's…actually emitting smoke! I quickly unplugged the lot. So, worn-through insulation and a consequent short-circuit. Nothing doing, scrap the transformer. Then on to eBay to find a replacement (try to buy a brand new one for an end-of-lifed model from Apple Store, not a chance). I located one in Hongkong, and bought it there and then for a quite small sum. Unfortunately this meant the delivery took some time, but today it arrived. I'm a bit suspicious: while there is an Apple logo on the box, the plastic doesn't feel quite Applish and there is no LED ring on the plug, so possibly it is a pirated copy, but it seems to work and my laptop is up and humming again. For the moment, until the disk gives out or something else burns.


Veckans ord: transbort

Jag har en massa tunga saker som jag måste få väck, jag får beställa transbort.


Veckans ord: startegi

Jag har ofta svårt att komma igång med saker, jag behöver en bättre startegi.


Far out

Having travelled through the southern reaches of Stockholm proper, we now set out for the archipelago. Utö is about as far as you get with the regular boat service and is a nice place anyway, so we got on the 08:45 service from Strömkajen with M/S Saxaren. The sky was mostly overcast, but didn't rain. We marvelled at houses along the way—those clinging to the cliffsides in Skurusundet and those on little skerries further out. (I reflected that while we passed forested islands, wide straits, and glacier-worn cliffs, what attracted our eyes were the signs of other humans, their abodes and vessels.)

Eventually we arrived at Gruvbryggan on Utö. Lunch was overdue, so we walked up the hill to Utö Värdshus. We were a bit wary after our experiences the preceding day, but we were courteously received by the maître d' and escorted to what we realised was probably the table with the best view of the sea. An unflappable waitress, named Niki according to her name badge, took our orders and soon returned with some very good food. It deserved to be accompanied by dessert and it still worked out considerably cheaper than our Old Town misadventure. Forks up!

Chocolate truffle, raspberry, blackberry, and bilberry with chocolate sauce

Very satisfied, we crossed the gravel path to the mining museum to get a short glimpse of the history of the island. The now water-filled pits of the mine itself were just a few steps away. We wondered how they'd achieved the carefully planed-off walls with the primitive mining technology used in the mine.

From the mine, we followed a path through meadows and little red houses to arrive at the old windmill. The insides were impressively well-filled with graffiti from the last two centuries, all the way up to recent days as the carefully engraved dates indicated. On a clear day the view would have been stunning, but it was beautiful enough as it was.

View from the old mill on Utö

We descended from the mill hill to the shops by the harbour in order to buy some of the famous Utö loaf. Saxaren returned and we got back on board and we retraced our wake all the way back to Stockholm.

Then I had to fight to get all the loaves into Honeybuns' freezer.


Getting across

Honeybuns and I decided to ride Tvärbanan from end to end and do some sight-seeing on the way.

Interesting sites in Stockholm

Hanging gardens in GröndalWe started at the Alvik end . The way out to Gröndal is one of the roller-coaster bits of Tvärbanan, with fairly steep inclines; very exciting. Gröndal is a little small-town district hidden right outside the central city with little traffic, quaint 1950s-style shops and greenery everywhere. I had sorted mail for this area, doing work practice in 9th grade, but never actually been there. We stepped off and walked around until we found a cliff overlooking the Essingen islands and lay there for a while, listening to the not-so-distant sounds of the city. Then we descended to the the waterfront and followed the boardwalk to its end whence we returned to the tram stop.

Fancy houses in Hammarby SjöstadHaving passed the flat Årsta Field we did some more roller-coasting to get to terminal at Sickla Udde in Hammarby Sjöstad. The worst sterility of the area seems to have worn off, but this was apparently neither intentional nor desirable—the boardwalk had been deemed no longer fresh and appetizing enough, so carpenters were busily replacing everything with fresh wood. We are now waiting to see if they will start euthanising residents deemed not to be hip enough.

Old and new, Stockholm styleWe got to the ferry just in time and rode over to the Södermalm side, where a judicious turn at the right time landed us in the 18th Century houses in the Barnängen area . We admired the gardens of Barnängen Manor, chatted with a lascivious cat and some busy bumblebees and walked up towards Vitabergsparken. More greenery, amphitheatre and a bandstand. I'm always interested in churches, so we ascended to the top of the park and Sofia Church. It was built in a period which made it either too late or too early to be architecturally interesting. The sound of someone furiously typing up in the organ loft was a bit curious, but perhaps not very strange in this day and age. More 18th Century houses. What does it take to get a contract here?

Now we were rather hungry and started our descent: Renstiernas gata, Katarinavägen and over Slussen to the Old Town . In hunger-induced brain-deadness we made the mistake of choosing a restaurant on Västerlånggatan, ordinarily we know that there is nothing but tourist traps there. Michelangelo did not disappoint in this respect but in most others. While we waited for our food I studied the rave reviews they had prominently posted on the wall—they were from 1979, when the restaurant had recently opened, clearly not only the prices had changed since then. The food was served reasonably quickly and it was competently prepared, but no more. I certainly could have done something just as good myself and for the price I would have expected a considerably larger portion. No tip.

Then, just the ordinary underground home.


Folk music

Lately I've been listening a lot to Hootenanny Singers. In spite of the name their thing was singing sugary harmonies of Swedish standards. Their heyday would have been when I was very small, so I don't consciously remember having heard them, yet they are well familiar, so I must have heard others hum the songs they had on Svensktoppen for weeks and weeks at the time.

Now I found a very rare piece, the Russian song Катюша performed in Finnish by the Hootenanny Singers, and while they're doing their best they have an utterly cute Swedish accent. :-)


Veckans ord: bulldog

Kung Adolf Fredrik avled efter att ha förätit sig på semlor – han bulldog.


Ticking along

I suspect my fan burnout last year may have been triggered by too intense computation, so I've cut down on the production rate.

Good shop, bad shop

Last autumn someone knocked over my bike in the bike stand so that my front wheel ended up all twisted. I sighed and put the bike in storage over the winter. (I'm not heroic.) In April, as the new biking season beckoned, I decided I had to get the front wheel fixed. Orion, the always-been-there bikeshop nearby, had finally gone bankrupt. I located a bikeshop in Huddinge Centrum. It will have to remain nameless in this story, because I'm not sure if it has a name, it has no sign and everybody just refers to it as “that bikeshop in Huddinge Centrum”.
It looked good, lots of bikes inside and out and two guys of indeterminate age in grease-covered clothes fiddling with the bikes.
“Can you straightenout my wheel?”, quoth I.
“Hmm, I can try…”
“When will it be done?”
“In a week.”
I got a receipt with a number and everything. Next week I decided I'd call and see how it had gone. I only got their answering machine, which mentioned their “new opening hours now that autumn is here”… They had had posters with dire warnings about fines for unretrieved bikes and I was quite anxious that my wheel not incur extra expenses, so the day after I hurried to Huddinge.
“Hi, is my wheel done?”
“Uh, wheel?”
“Yes, I left a front wheel here a week ago, number so-and-so.”
“Oh right, you'll have to check with Fred, he's the wheel man, but he's out somewhere right now. I'm sure he'll be back in a jiffy.”
I waited several jiffies, but nothing seemed to happen, and I had to leave. Next day I called, still the answering machine, so I had to get myself to Huddinge again.
Now Fred was in.
“Hi, is my wheel done? Front wheel, number so-and-so.”
“Oh that one, no, nothing doing, all broken.”
“Oh. So can I order a new wheel then?”
“Yeah sure, come by tomorrow, we're expecting new wheels.”
Actually I couldn't make it for a couple of days, but turned up somewhat later.
“Hi, do you have a new wheel for me?”
“No, we're waiting for a delivery, it should be here by tomorrow, come back then.”
Actually I let a week go by, just to be safe.
“Hi, do you have a new wheel for me?”
“No, we aren't getting any new wheels, it's these Chinese factories you see, everything is done in China these days. They have run out of metal, and what with the recession, they're not shipping, nobody's getting anything, no wheels anywhere, but come back tomorrow, maybe we'll have something then.”
This was not the ride I had been hoping for…

Eventually I gave up and decided I'd have to call around to all bikeshops to see if any of them might have a wheel for me. This week I finally got around to it and started with shops near work. Stockholm cykel & sportservice:
“Hi, I'm looking for a 26" front wheel, do you have one by any chance?”
“Yes, of course.”
Oh. Of course work stacked up, so I had to take a very brisk walk to get there five minutes to closing time.
“Hi, I called about the 26" front wheel. Oh, and I'll need a tyre and tube as well.”
“…and rim tape. Sure, just a sec.” picks down everything without even searching
“What's rim tape?”
“You put it on the inside so the spokes don't puncture the tube, I'll show you.” demonstrates
“Oh, I get it.”
I pay, rather more than I had expected, but it's been a while since I bought bike accessories last. I go home, assemble the wheel and then attach it to the bike. Something is wrong, the brakes don't fit, and it looks weird. Argh! I mismeasured, it should have been a 28" wheel!
I lug the assembled wheel back the next morning and after work I walk to the bikeshop.
I am received with a look of recognition.
cough I mismeasured, I should have had a 28", is it possible to change?”
“Sure, no problem, those things happen. 28" you said, here we are. I only have one with a quicklock, can you handle it? I'll show you, like this.” demonstrates
I get an almost impossibly glossy wheel and all the rest. The shopkeeper makes to turn to the cash register, but then decides he won't bother about the price difference. I am for my part profusely grateful.
Home again. This wheel requires a bit of skill to assemble, but when I finally figure it out, it looks very good. I snap the quicklock and my bike is whole again!
I rush for my helmet and set out for a quick tour around the area. It feels so good and effortless. Always when I'm on the bike again after a long period without, I wonder how I managed.

Life can be so good sometimes!


It can't be said better

Man walks on fucking Moon!

I admit it. In spite of universal franchise, washing machines, the United Nations, free health care and all the other things that make people's lives better, I still think the most amazing achievement of the 20th Century is that humans managed to travel to another celestial body.



Our last day in Britain. The morning we would spend going through book stores on and off Charing Cross Street. As it is one of the first, we started with Motorbooks. We found it only due to me looking in the right direction at the right time—it has moved from S:t Martin's Court to Cecil Court, the next street over. In fact all the nice niche bookstores on S:t Martin's Court have moved or disappeared and the streetlet now consists of an unbroken length of pubs. One of the bookstores on Charing Cross Road proper had a lament in its window, explaining how rising costs forced bookstores out of business, and indeed, several of my old favourites had disappeared, replaced by shops for traditional Chinese medicine and the ilk. I was much saddened. Still, Motorbooks was in good shape, even though the fantastic basement stairwell covered with graffiti, stickers, and business cards from every air line, military aircraft unit and private plane owner that had ever passed Motorbooks, was gone. I bought some books I thought I'd manage to carry and looked longingly at some others, which I'll simply have to order later on.

Then we continued to Foyles. They were still in good shape and some more books were added to the collection. Then it was time to head back and pick up our bags. Pull the cart with our bags to Victoria, carry it down into the underground. Honeybuns is getting a bit jittery about our time schedule, I'm more like: “No worries, we should make it with minutes to spare.” She does not look calmed.
When we arrive at King's Cross the PA system blares: “This is an emergency, proceed to the exits immediately!” Oops, well, we were in a hurry anyway. The station pours out hundreds of people onto the street. We push ourselves towards the entrance to S:t Pancras, just as we see it being closed up as well. Is it more than just the underground station being closed? I accost one of the guards by the gate: “Pardon me, is the rail station closed as well?” “Yes, yes, don't you see, all the electricity is gone, nothing is running, everything is closed. Please move out of the way.” Clearly not all of the electricity is gone, as the escalators had been running and other signs of electrical activity are obvious, but of course you would have to have backup systems for those. Now what are we going to do? We'll miss our train and all connections, who should be approached to sort this out?
MillersPeople milling around.
After milling around a bit we sit on the steps outside the station and consider our plight. After a while it strikes me that there doesn't seem to be all that many other forlorn people milling around, maybe Londoners know what to do under these circumstances, but where do all the other tourists that should be on our train go?
Honeybuns peers curiously at some people that go up the steps, is there a pub up there, maybe we could at least have lunch? We lug our cart and ourselves up the steps and Blimey! there's another entrance to S:t Pancras and the station is obviously in full operation! We rush in, carry the cart down the stairs and come running into the Eurostar terminal as we hear: “Final call for the 14:34 to Brussels, proceed to checkin immediately!” I bang our tickets on the desk and we are checked in. We even have time to pick up some sandwiches and drink on the way to the train, which pulls away soon after we've sat down.
I love the active and curious mind of Honeybuns more than ever, as my breathing calms down. I also check some news sites with the web browser in my mobile, but there seems to be nothing about the emergency, maybe it's a fairly common occurence and nothing to write home about.
Our connection in Brussels is smooth and then we get to Cologne, where we have a couple of hours' wait. Time for dinner. We find a sushi bar, operated by some Vietnamese, and get some quite good sushi (yes, vegetarian too). They do however not accept credit cards. A Colognial sitting on the stool next to us offers to pay the difference for us, but Honeybuns runs away to a cash machine and gets some Euros.

Finally our train arrives and we pile into our sleeper. It is Czech too, but of a subtly different design than the one on the way down. We sleep the sleep of the exhausted, and enjoy breakfast next morning while travelling through Denmark. Again we have a layover in Copenhagen, which I spend writing a few postcards, and then we suddenly run into an old colleague of mine, who's also going back to Stockholm. No direct connection this time, we have get to Malmö first where we change to X2000. I make a point of travelling forwards and not reading on the way up. I avoid motion sickness this time.

Then, just a short tube-trip home. As I walk through the park on the way home, I see that the new playground has been opened and is full of children with their parents, playing in the early summer evening.


Here, fishy, fishy!

Charles Darwin in effigyRebbe Darwin in the foyer of the aquarium.
The next morning we walked down Vauxhall Bridge Road to the Sea Life London aquarium and got in as they opened for the day. So did also half a dozen school classes. Their main goal in life was apparently to be as loud as possible, and their teachers were dedicated to helping them in their efforts. The aquarium was marketed towards children, even though the darkened corridors and the calm of the fish tanks lent themselves to a more meditative experience than a hundred yelling pre-teens allowed. Fortunately they were in more of a hurry to get out of the learning experience than we were, so they eventually disappeared ahead of us. I've noticed before that modern museums often seem to encourage noise, both in exhibits and visitors. Presumably this has something to do with making science more attractive. I just don't get it.

Streaked gurnardIt was almost impossible to get good pictures of the fish, but here is a streaked gurnard. Note the tendril-like reformed pectoral fins, they are supposedly for probing for food on the bottom, but dammit, they actually walked along the bottom on those. I'd never heard of these, but they are apparently quite common fish.
We went slowly from tank to tank, gazing at marine creatures we'd never seen before. I reflected that it didn't seem as if they were interested in eating each other. Do they carefully select animals that aren't interested in each other or do they keep them constantly satiated with easily accessible non-struggling fish food, so that they aren't tempted to go for live food?

The shark tank was rather eerie, not only containing sharks and a big ray, but also some really big fish, all swimming around and around and around. We were reminded of the mental polar bear that used to be at Skansen, pacing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth in its pen. (It's been gone now for many years, I hope they shot it.) I wonder what the sharks thought of it all.

After surprisingly many hours we emerged, blinking in the brighter lights outdoors and then decided to walk along the South Bank. The used book market immediately trapped us and some urgently needed books were purchased. We counted bridges over the Thames and found a pub to have late lunch at, while peering at a cricket match on the telly. UK vs Australia, I gathered.

We got to Tate Modern, and looked at a bit of an exhibition. You need a very large museum to exhibit some modern art, e g when a piece consists of a Volkswagen bus and 24 sleds… However, we felt the need for more air and escaped out again fairly soon, continuing towards the Tower. We got there just in time for their closing. Bummer! We browsed the museum shop for a while and then went home, picked up food in a Sainsbury and ate in our room.


Plants, flowers, trees, epiphytes, and a bit of meat broth

The Grange Wellington served “Continental buffet” for breakfast. So with the “full English” at Gables Guesthouse, we went from a fat-and-protein based breakfast to a completely carbohydrate based.

Then the tube and a commuter train to Hampton Court for the expected next high point: the Royal Horticultural Society Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. There were plenty of other middle-aged middle-class couples on the train, most of them pulling little collapsible carts. When we arrived we found out that the first few days of the show were members-only, but out of the goodness of the receptionist's heart, we could have a couple of unbooked tickets. Quite expensive ones, at that.

Iron DragonFancy one for your garden?
Anyway, we were soon in, and about as soon as we got in, a drizzle started. It continued throughout the day, occasionally letting up in favour of serious showers. As we walked through the show, we found that it actually wasn't so much about exhibiting flowers as selling garden accessories. And what accessories! 1:1 scale gorillas in bronze, stylised giraffes, three-metre high sculptured dragons, garden fairies, gargoyles, module-assemblable mediæval ruins, fountains, gazebos, realistic giraffes, more giraffes, huge steel balls, nymphs in bronze, marble, and cast stone.

Concept GardenA concept garden. A friend commented: “Yeah, that's what I'd like my burial place to look like.”
There were also “concept gardens”, top-of-the-line garden designers coming up with the least likely design for you to have in your garden.

2009 is the 500th anniversary of the coronation of Henry VIII, which you aren't allowed to forget anywhere, so here there was a Tudor-themed scarecrow competition for school classes.

The Lifestyle tent had less immediately garden-related stuff for sale, paintings, indoor sculpture, clothes, sausages, organic apple cider, etc.

Carnivorous plantsCarnivorous plants are way cool, but did you know many species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss and plant theft? Only buy specimens that have been nursery-grown.
Finally we found a tent with actual plants. They were of course also for sale. Ducking for yet another shower we ended up in a tent where some unknown to us B list celebrity introduced a fashion show. It seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with gardening, so left to rest our legs over lunch in a food tent.

We found a tent exhibiting plants significant for British gardening history, not least ones that may have been, somewhere, on some occasion, possibly glimpsed by Henry VIII. This was actually quite good an exhibition and, incidentally, not at all as crowded as the other tents.

After having seen yet a few more stands hawking giraffe sculptures, we decided to leave and go see Hampton Court Palace instead. As luck would have it, a little lady was handing out leaflets as we were leaving and we accepted one. This turned out to be discount tickets to Hampton Court Palace, two for the price of one. What luck, ho!

MistletoeThis mistletoe is about as tall as I am, and there were several in the same tree.
On the way to the Palace entrance we found a tree with huge clumps of mistletoe, just above us. This brought us to a standstill for some time.

At Hampton Court Palace there were ongoing activities throughout the day: a reenactment of the wedding of Kateryn Parr and Henry VIII (him again!), including selecting a wedding gown, a stag party for Henry, the wedding dinner and so on. We decided to forego that and instead take in the palace at our own pace. We started by exploring the famous maze. It wasn't quite as large as I had imagined and at the time was invaded by an audio sculpture, which would make various sounds as people moved through the maze. It was actually just mostly annoying. Anyway, with my 1337 maze navig8r zkillz we found the centre of the maze no problemo and continued to walk around the rest of the garden. Or, to be precise, round the part closest to the palace—the garden is huge. Or gardens, there are several distinct parts of it.

The Great VineThe Great Vine is kept in this greenhouse. The field outside is where the roots are kept.
We never found the way into the Orangery but we found the world's largest (and oldest?) vine, planted in 1769 and still producing several hundred kilogrammes of grapes a year. The longest branches are something like 75 m, folded up several times inside the greenhouse.

Finally we entered the palace itself. There were several new exhibitions on Henry VIII (that man again!), they, like many other displays we'd seen recently, were much on how he really couldn't have acted otherwise than he did. Complete bollocks, one suspects. Anyway, there was much to look at and finally we found ourselves in the Tudor kitchens. They were furnished with mock food and one even contained a cauldron that distinctly smelled of meat broth. Veggie Honeybuns was much revolted.

Here too, the museum closed long before we were done, but we ambled back to the train, accompanied by lots of flower show visitors, their collapsible carts now unfolded and filled with seedlings, gardening tools and what not. Very few bronze giraffes, though.

We decide to have dinner in the Indian Diner just behind the hotel. Slightly on the posh side but excellent food and the staff saw fit to not only supply us with after-dinner mints, but also a long-stemmed rose to Honeybuns. Very sweet.


Goodbye, hello!

Leisurely packing of things in the morning, take our farewells of our host with promises to return one day and then catch the bus into town, pick up a Lincolnshire Echo and then wait for the train to Peterborough. A railway employee kindly and politely directs us to the right platform.

East Midlands Trains Class 153East Midlands Trains Class 153. Note that curiously the serial number on the side is 52319, but the number on the front 53319.

That special whine-growl of the diesel engine of the accelerating Sprinter, and we roll through the countryside. I do the cross-word puzzles—the Quick Clues is no problem, the Cryptic Clues is more of an effort, perhaps not more so than Geijerkorsordet in Dagens Nyheter, but it still nags at my language confidence.

We get delayed (a hallmark for this journey, it seems) and miss our connection in Peterborough, but it turns out trains to London run about every ten minutes, so we don't have to suffer the pouring rain for long. It feels very luxurious to just wave our Interrail tickets at the conductor.

Eventually we are at King's Cross again. I stand in an interminable queue to buy three-day travelcards for the London Underground, which for some reason can not be bought in the ticket machines, even though one-day travelcards can be. Ah, the Tube, the accumulated heat of more than a hundred years of trains and surely a milliard people. The Victoria Line, we find, has exactly two Accessible stations, none of which we will pass, so we have to carry our luggage down and up stairs. I check my map to locate the best way to continue from Victoria. We're soon by the quiet park of Vincent Square and I'm having déja vu feelings. We check in at the Grange Wellington Hotel but it's only when I visit the bathroom in the corridor that the memory clicks: This is the former Wellington Hall of King's College London, where I stayed a weekend twelve years ago. In the meantime the premises have gone from cheap to shabby. Still, they're reasonably adequate. (Googling around, I later find that King's College London started selling off their student housing in 2001, in an effort to improve their finances. This was not appreciated by the students..)

Having installed ourselves, we go out to introduce London to Honeybuns. Late lunch at an Italian diner, good food but snotty service. No tip.

Regent Street of course, where we hurry through the rain to Hamleys. We're both childishly interested in toys and spend a couple of hours going through the entire shop. They still have model kits, though set up in an interesting fashion: at one end of the floor they have the Revell kits, at the opposite end they have the Airfix kits, together with all other brands owned by Hornby, i e mostly model railway stuff. No Tamigawa kits anywhere. Hm.

We saunter down to Piccadilly Circus and meet up with an old friend of mine, find a cafe and bring each other up to date on our lives. Honeybuns patiently abides us talking shop.

My friend finally has to return to his family and we stroll past Trafalgar Square, where there is some kind of performance going on on the Fourth Plinth. We continue down to the Thames and take lots of touristy pictures of the Houses of Parliament and such. We return to our hotel room, which seems quite uninfested by cockroaches or any other kind of invertebrate life, and while the bed makes interesting squeaky noises it is more comfortable than it seems and we soon fall asleep.

Update. Of course Wikipedia has all answers. Class 153 units are originally two-car units, with a separate number for the individual car and the unit. Thus, the pictured unit is car 52319, but unit 153319.