Thursday, 30 April 2009

A penny's worth

I love flying. It makes me think. I can't stop marvelling at the miracles of technology that I see all around me. A flying machine is roaring 30000 feet above the ground, and it's taking me in its bosom above the clouds, over the mountains and seas at 500 miles an hour. I keep smiling a silly smile and silently giggling in amazement. I look around me, trying to read in someone else's face similar signs of an inner epiphany. Am I the only one?

Sandelfjord Torp
Maybe I'm weird, or maybe I'm still a child inside. I can't help it. I keep marvelling and wondering. I think of all the manpower, the knowledge and ability and effort and resources necessary to keep this steel bird flying. I think of all the engineers and technicians and their teachers and of the pilots and their instructors. I think of the fuel and the oil, of the middle eastern country it most likely comes from and of the rigs and tankers and pipelines and the occupying armies.

But I think back before the aircraft was even built, of the miners and machines that extracted the aluminium and iron and copper and titanium. I think of the traders and stock brokers who bought it and sold it and made it move around the world. I think of the rubber from Brazil and oil from Malaysia and cotton from the US that became the tyres and window frames and seat covers. I think of the kilometres of wiring snaking through its skin and I think of the thousands of kilometres those materials travelled, to be processed and then travel again to be reprocessed somewhere else. I think of the foundries and factories and warehouses, of all the farmers and truck drivers and grunts and foremen and factory workers.
landing in BremenEngland, obviously
But I think back before it was even in production, of the research and design teams that worked on each individual component. I think of the hundreds of companies involved, big and small, of their executives and secretaries and administrators and investors and receptionists and cleaners. I think of the market analysts and product design specialists who decided what the characteristics of that model of aircraft should be. I think of the state of technology at the time, what improvements were available that could make the final aircraft faster and cheaper to build, more secure and lighter, easier to fly and repair.

And I think of the cycle of industrial production, and I think of that cycle several thousands of iterations back, through the days of propellers and then through many, many wars, hot and cold, worldly and otherwise, and how without them technology would have never advanced at the pace it did. I think of politicians and businessmen and investment bankers and military strategists and international organizations and territory and resources. I think of how the use of planes for reconnaissance missions and for bombing troops and cities and shooting down other pilots put the focus on improving aircraft technology. I think of radar and radio and jet engines and pressurized compartments and computers and composite materials and navigation systems.
the English countrysidelittle boxes on the hillside
I think of all the pilots who were shot down and all the men and women and children who died in bombing raids. I think of all that had to be bombed, razed, burnt, of all the death and destruction. I also think of all the talent and genius and creativity and energy and chest-filling euphoria of those who made it all possible, one little step at a time, a small improvement here, suddenly a whole new idea there. And I think of the sweat and effort of those who worked hard to make it a reality, and of those who are still doing so right now.

over the fjords
And then I zap back to the now, and I see how it is all interconnected, and how every piece of the puzzle was necessary to get me where I am now, in this situation. Every invention, every breakthrough, every invasion, every takeover, every merger, every bead of sweat and droplet of blood and drop of oil were essential in allowing me to fly now in comfort and safety over thousands of kilometres. The whole world has come together with one aim: to give me the power to fly for the Ryanair price of £0.01, one penny sterling.

My eyes are sparkling. I can't help it.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Oslo, No way

For a country so preposterously sloshing in oil, the capital of No'way is strikingly unremarkable. I don't mean it's bad. There's nothing wrong with it. There's nothing much right either.

swarms of Seagulls attacking Oslo

The first impression I got is that the most expensive city in Europe features a surprising number of junkies, beggars and tramps rummaging in rubbish bins. They've recently outlawed prostitution, ruining the business for the hordes of Nigerian hookers formerly active in the city, so I've narrowly missed seeing these as well.

From the last paragraph you might get the impression that Oslo is a bit of a lawless city. And you would be right. There are no policemen to be seen anywhere, save for the accidental lonely couple on horseback, minding their own business and filling the streets with manure. Laws are conspicuously not enforced, and for someone coming from Airstrip One, CCTV is shockingly yet blissfully absent. I guess it's basically just like any other normal city. London must've nibbled at my brains somehow.

Visitors and locals alike all agree on one thing about Oslo: public transport sucks. Not just because it's criminally expensive. Trains work when the planets get aligned in the right order. There is no public transport at night to speak of. There are some night buses that will take you to the suburbs, for the Guinness-world-record-breaking price of 100 NOK one way (a whopping £10 at the current exchange rate).

Trafikanten is the Oslo equivalent to Transport For London. The main office is situated just outside Oslo Sentralstasjon. Check out this picture.

See all those people hanging around, bottom-right, on top of the stairs? As you get out of the train station you'll have to walk past them. At this point any number of jolly fellows will approach you and greet you with one word: "hash?", "speed?" or "cocaine?", marking their stock in trade. In a situation of exquisite surrealism, the traficantes (drug dealers) of Oslo are all clustered around a Cyclopean column covered in red neon that shouts "Trafikanten".

With English and a few words of German in your linguistic toolbox, deciphering written Norse is fairly easy. On the other hand, when spoken it sounds like the bastard offspring of Finnish and Hindi. I constantly made life impossible for any Local who would be so polite to answer my questions. Like a hyperactive kid lost in an exposition of exotic interestingness, I kept poking my finger at random words and cooing "Whassat mean?". Tons of fun for me. I wish I could say the same for the poor victims of my geekiness.

The one inescapably unique thing in and about Oslo is Vigeland Park. The more I think about it, the less I can understand how it could ever be built, and the happier I am that it was. Naked statues everywhere? Naked boys and girls together? A huge phallic monument of intertwined naked bodies? Go build that in Spain in the 1940s, see what happens.

run awaayyyythe phallic centrepiece

Central Oslo aside, people in Norway don't live. They camp. They don't have houses. They have bungalows. They all live in the forest, surrounded by the sounds of chirping birds and the smell of wood fire. I kept humming to myself that tune that goes "Little boxes, on the hillside" while beholding the ultimate suburban utopia.

Norway is of course not representative of all of Scandinavia, and Oslo is hardly representative of Norway as a whole. And yet, I did manage to get a fleeting glimpse of Scandinavianness, and two aspects of it have impressed me strongly: the houses and the people.

I'm on my knees in love with Scandinavian houses. I've finally found houses that are just the way houses are supposed to be. Or the way they teach you they're supposed to be when you're a kid. When you learn how to draw a house, you don't paint an appartment building in red brick exposed, nor a crumbling brown-bricked Victorian façade. You draw a roof and big square windows and a door and you paint it in screaming bright colours and add a green garden and smoke coming out of the chimney and maybe a tree or two. That's your basic Norwegian house.

terminal cutenessI want a house like that one

Not only do I love them on the outside. The inside inescapably strikes you as a photo springing out of an IKEA catalogue. Don't tell the owners that (I did); IKEA is just as much despised for its cheapness as it is popular for its low prices. And it's not just the way they look. They just feel right. Having electric heating under your floor just feels right. Having a whole wall of your living room open to daylight just feels right. (Having your toilet always by your front door, this I do not quite grasp.) The lighting is great; the furniture is comfortable, practical and design-conscious; everything feels the right size and shape and position. I reckon Feng Shui is practiced most in the top end of Europe.

From my limited exposure to people in pubs, the impression they made on me was one of proverbial loud, boisterous, back-slapping, good-natured Vikingness. Manly slaps on the back and brotherly handshakes keep coming as glasses keep clinking to the chorus of "Skål!". After a few half-litres they tend to mix and match, always open to meeting new people to invade, pillage and rape, with a slap on the back and a belly-booming laugh. They are quite jolly-spirited, not easily offended (I've tried), and generally quite a fun bunch. Thumbs up.

I'd love to sprinkle this post with some nice panoramas of Oslo, but it has proven impossible. It's just not a pretty city. The best views of Oslo are from the top of the Opera House, because from there you can't see the Opera House.

Oslo from the Opera HouseOslo from the Opera House
the Town Hall seen from the ferrythe... uhm... Opera House

So what about the experience? All in all, I've had a blast. Yet had I visited backpacking on my own, I wouldn't have had a tenth of the fun. Isn't it good to have friends. To friends! Skål!

ye olde Norse churcheShoplifters will be beaten, stabbed and stomped. Survivors will be prosecuted.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

A Canterbury Tale

Earlier today, while pondering over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, I chanced upon a mediaeval candybar wrapper, on which I discovered a scribbled fragment of Middle English poetry. I'm terribly excited. I think I've found Chaucer's missing 23rd Canterbury Tale. I've sent it out to experts in the field. In waiting for the fame and glory that must surely come with such a discovery, I've translated it for you into present-day English. Enjoy.

Here begynneth the Visittynge Studdentes tale

Once on a time, as old tales tell to us,
There was a happy student on Erasmus.

When sweet February with its weather mild
The snows of January left behind,
So happened that upon a sunny day
He saw a Facebook advert that said "Hey!
One pound will take you really far away."
He quickly clicked and found to his dismay
There were too many options to choose from
And he could not decide on where to go.

"Oh well", he thought, "I might well decide
That I to Canterbury town will ride,
To pay a visit to old friends; and new,
to have a pilgrimage like there've been few."

And so he packed his bags and onwards went,
And on the road found many an accident,
Till late in the morning and sleep-deprived
To Canterbury town his bus arrived.

And he went out the whole town to explore.
"Hey, I recall being here before!",
Every now and then he stopped to exclaim.
For it is true that with touristic aim,
Barely one and a half years agone,
Those very cobblestones he had stepped on.

Up to the University he climbed
(Up a hill with a slope truly inclined)
Where a friend he met -there was much rejoicing-
And crashed at the student halls, well poising.

They covered in their visit the whole grounds
Marking the campus, forests and happy sounds
And the many merry hopping bunnies
(And as a private joke he thought "Yummy!").

Then they gatecrashed a mirthful party
Where they found merriment and company
To last for the full night or even more,
But watchmen came and stopped it well before.

The next day to the Cathedral he went
As had been his first touristic intent.
He found it worthy of admiration
(Especially liked the decoration).

Later in the day, alone he found himself;
Companyless and deserted by friends
After musing a bit he did decide:
He gatecrashed another party that night!

Friends plenty at the party he then made
And from time to time someone would just say
"It's so odd I've never seen you before!"
He would stand, beer in hand, drinking more,
And then reply, grinning from ear to ear,
"That's 'cause I'm a Visiting Student here!"

And this is just the start of his story,
For he did go back to Canterbury.
Yet the remainder is a different tale
And won't be told but after much, much ale.

been there!Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral

Thursday, 2 April 2009

In memoriam

Classes are no more. They have ceased to be. They've gloriously expired and gone to meet their maker. The 2nd term finished on the 27th of March.

Four remaining Creative Writing workshops in May and 2 essays to hand in is all that keeps me a Goldsmiths student still.

One part of my stay here is over. Another one is just starting. My accommodation is secured at least until the 20th of June, yet in all probability July will see me here still. Three months left at least, and many, many possibilities.

I look out with a newborn's eyes into a glittering future heavy with potential. Study? Work? Travel? 'Tis for time to tell. In the meantime, I hum a requiem for the lost classes while drinking in memoriam.