The Ersatz Elevator to Stockholm’s Snowy Skyline

as awkStockholm’s skyline from Södermalm is something special that ensnares your senses with the same sort of soft-spoken estranged quirkiness you’ve seen in similar European cities or in the smaller surrounding suburbs encircling them. You know the kind of suburbs I mean. The ones where you end up celebrating the New Year because your long-distance girlfriend’s friends live in city-skirting cottages. The ones where you’re quickly forced to accept that the WiFi just isn’t gonna work so you connect to Baileys instead. The ones where people mostly don’t speak English and you finally file that three-day Duolingo streak you achieved in 2013 under ‘non-functional’.

Also filed under ‘non-functional’ is the Katarina Elevator, the second thing to catch your eyes when you’re treading November puddles across the bridge into Södermalm — the first is an impromptu paste-up anti-Trump exhibition tied to the hashtag #PensForFreedom. When you’ve had a sensible chuckle at The Donald redrawn as various memes and fascist figures, you hop on the free roaming data your phone plan has blessed you with, Google ‘bridge elevator soda mall’, and tap ‘did you mean: bridge elevator södermalm’. You read that the local hard hats closed the lift in 2010 because it had rusted into a death trap. Sounds fun, you think.

Donald Trump #PensForFreedom

Though the lift itself is closed, the span of bridge between its peak and the heights of Södermalm is still open and littered with throngs of tourists as awkwardly monolingual as yourself, so you summit the substitute lift-shaft: a string of wooden steps zig-zagging from the lowly lock up to where the lookout kisses the cliff. Walking out into the elements, you instantly start to visualize all the photos you’re gonna take, and the double-tap-baiting hashtags to go with them. There are lengths of metal wiring above the hip-height barriers, so you grip your iPhone extra tight and slip it between the safety cables.

Katarina Elevator Södermalm

Why is there a large Coca Cola sign fastened to the façade of that building? It doesn’t look like a factory. If it is a factory, well, damn, cute factory. There’s a huge Heineken sign a few buildings over, too. It makes you want to go buy a pint, until you remember Stockholm booze prices. Either way, you’re gonna do some cool shit with the red and green of the signs when you edit these photos in Lightroom and VSCO later. Snap, snap, snap. Oh, and there’s the Stomatol sign you read about on Atlas Obscura. It’s the oldest animated sign in Sweden. It still lights up at night in the same way it has since 1909. It’s a tube of toothpaste.

Katarina Elevator Södermalm Coca Cola

You’ve never been this excited by an animated illuminated tube of toothpaste.

Katarina Elevator Södermalm Stomatol

Yellow and orange have always been your favorite colors. You’ve convinced yourself it’s because they’re attention-grabbing shades which make people stop and look at your photos on Instagram, but deep down inside you know it’s because a few of your crushes have had the slightly manic pixie dream girl tendency to wear bright colors. Now it’s time to crush on some buildings, because the Stockholm city skyline you see from the bridge is a beautiful blend of fall hues. Why the endless layers of yellow and orange architecture? You’d Google it but your phone has died because the battery got too cold.

There’s something bothering you about a few of your cityscape photos, and you realize it’s a construction site in the corner. A jagged hole at the center of a crossroad bordered by a clashing blue tarp. You look out, and notice for the first time that the cityscape is dotted by a whole web of these pockmarks. It’s like taking a selfie and gradually counting all the spots on your face. People regurgitate the cliché that living life through a camera or a screen stops you from seeing the beauty in the world, but if anything, it just helps you see the shitty stuff faster.

The dot-to-dot of building works reminds you of Berlin. That time your other long-distance girlfriend said the German capital’s like one big eternal construction project. That’s a cute and endearing observation, you think. It’s a shame you only saw Berlin from one of those open-top double-decker tour buses. Why did you do that? You’re better than that.

You made up for it, though, by completely eschewing public transport in Sweden. You and your travel companions walked everywhere. Heck, you didn’t even ride the funicular to the top of the open-air museum-zoo hybrid Skansen, and funiculars align perfectly with your love of ageing quirky technologies, Tom Scott videos, and not climbing hills. You even skip the metro when the snow settles and turns the ground into an icy deathtrap on your final day in Stockholm. You throw on your warm clothes, right? Nope. Somehow, you’ve become known as the guy who always wears shorts, and you can’t just break a two-year streak because global warming isn’t doing its job properly.

Stockholm Shorts

Your friends fly back to the US. Two days later, Trump gets elected. No amount of warm clothes can help with that coldness.

You’ve still got seven hours in Stockholm by yourself before you board the Arlanda Express and head to the airport, and you’ve made plans to meet up with another friend in Sweden. She’s Latvian, and you’ve only met her once, at a garden party back home in Portsmouth. You’re pretty sure you got really drunk and miscommunicated an opinion about national stereotypes in a way that insulted her, but she still wants to see you, so that’s nice. You flick your access card into the old suitcase the hostel have fashioned into a deposit box and walk out into the snow, and for the first time in two years, you feel like it isn’t working out between you and your shorts.

It quickly becomes apparent that your thinly-soled Dunlop canvases have no grip, and your feet threaten to quit their job and let gravity fill the vacancy. You start walking slowly and carefully, but realize this probably makes you look cold. Cold? You can’t be seen to be some weak human with feelings and senses. You’re a hardened shorts veteran. So you speed up, even though this triples your chances of slipping up and breaking an arm. You’re aware this is stupid, because the European Health Card in your wallet expired in 2014. But the Nando’s loyalty card in front of it is still valid, so there’s a silver lining.

You’ve got your go-to response to “aren’t you cold wearing shorts in this weather?” locked and loaded on your lips: “nah, it’s a warm summer’s day every day in my life.” You’ve been saying it ever since it made a guy smile while you waited for a train in Amsterdam one time. Nobody asks, though. They laugh from afar instead, sometimes at you, sometimes with you. One guy mutters something that sounds like “idiot” under his breath, but he was probably saying something in Swedish, like the Swedish word for “idiot.” Another guy says he’s from Bulgaria and follows you down the street asking for money. He doesn’t even acknowledge your shorts.

Drottninggatan Riksgatan Stockholm

Drottninggatan, Riksgatan, and Västerlånggatan slip into one another, and you unsteadily slalom between tourists stopped in their tracks by Gamla Stan’s glowing maze of souvenir shops. “Consumer whores,” you mutter under your breath, making a mental note of a Dala horse you simply must come back and buy later. Soon, you shuffle into Slussen, Södermalm several slippery steps away. Your eyes flicker between the Katarina Elevator and the architectural lasagne behind you in Gamla Stan. There’re still two hours before you’re due to meet your Latvian friend, so you clumsily clamber uphill like a kid going the wrong way up a slide.

The Coca Cola (‘Drink’ is spelled ‘Drick’, you realize), Heineken, and Stomatol signs, the endless layers of orange and yellow, skyrocketing spires of verdigris patinas, the caverns of construction cryogenically comatose, and the railway bridge threading through. It’s all capped in a thin film of frost and snow, and the part of your brain which cries at Love Actually every Christmas sheds a little tear at the sight of the once-fiery fall-colored façades doused to a blend of beiges by the icy whites and chilling blues of this overnight refrigerator of a city.

Katarina Elevator Södermalm

You’re what people who ask “is your email address all one word?” call a ‘millennial’, so you abide by your natural instinct of instantly Instagramming the view, forcing yourself to tap out a caption despite the fact that your frozen fingers are refusing to move with the same stubbornness as you insisting on avoiding long pants.

After quickly dismissing the idea that the Stomatol sign might make a rad tattoo, you turn to walk off the Katarina Elevator bridge, venture into Södermalm, and hunt down the coffeeshop your friend has picked out. Your final lone thought is that ‘Stomatol’ and ‘Södermalm’ might very well sound similar, but you daren’t tell anyone in case that sneaky umlaut screws everything up.

Over matcha lattes and sweet teas, you and your friend open up new worlds to one another. You drown her in social media advice that’ll help with the launch of a humanitarian podcast she’s working on, and she unlocks an interest in fine dining you didn’t know you had parked in your brain’s overflow garage. Her interest in artistic cuisine is partially sparked by her boyfriend working as a chef at Buckingham Palace. Your interest in social media is partially sparked by that one time a picture of you sitting on the kitchen floor clutching a toaster to your chest went moderately viral.

You fly home, slip on some jeans, nod with satisfaction at the 83 Likes you got on the snow-capped cityscape photo, sit down to watch Chef’s Table, and wonder why you didn’t ask your Latvian friend whether her boyfriend ever petted the Queen’s corgis.

‘Wish That You Were Here’ by Florence + The Machine for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Just over a week until Ransom Riggs’ Tales of the Peculiar lands on the shelves, and just over a month until the movie adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children hits the big screen — the hype is real in peculiardom. Riggs just threw more fuel on the fire by tweeting out a new Florence + The Machine song written for the film!

It’s quite the epic track: a powerful soundscape graced by Florence’s heavenly vocals and driven forward by exciting strings and exhilarating drums. Pure bliss.

Wish That You Were Here fits with the feel of the story in sound and lyrics, with heavy doses of adventurous spirit, longing, and hope.

I’m looking forward to seeing where it’s used in the film!

Review: ‘Let’s Talk About Love’ by Claire Kann

Note: I read the unedited edition of Let’s Talk About Love for free on Swoon Reads during a prior-to-publication preview period. This in no way affects my review, and I won’t be commenting on things like spelling, grammar, and the general way it’s written.

I only realised I was ace in November 2015, when my friend Lauren introduced me to the community, so I’m fairly new to the concept of asexuality. But then, so is the world. That’s why the asexual community has long been crying out for literature featuring ace characters — the mainstream representation just isn’t there yet. Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann is the first book I’ve read featuring an asexual lead.

A black, female, asexual lead — chalk up points for intersectionality!

As a book about asexuality

Let’s Talk About Love is fantastic in this respect. It explores all the important aspects of asexuality: split-attraction (the difference between various types of attraction, including romantic, sexual, aesthetic, sensual), arousal vs. attraction, the ace spectrum (e.g. sex-averse and sex-repulsed through to graysexuality), and many other topics. Kann weaves these ideas into her narrative brilliantly.

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How to get an indie singer to tweet a photo of an avocado

We’ve all been there, but until now, there’s never been a tutorial on how to do it. Follow the steps in the video below, and you too can successfully get an indie band singer to tweet a picture an avocado.

I travelled to London near the close of 2015 to see my friend Marie. We first met in my hometown of Portsmouth a few months earlier, but we’d known one another on Twitter for many years. She’s a Denmark-obsessed Russian studying in the UK.

Just before the London visit, I’d started vlogging, after years of my friends bugging me to do it! I managed to churn out five videos, documenting a week in Amsterdam, but then fell off the wagon when a relentless riptide of projects flooded in at work.

I’d only just started writing and editing the second Amsterdam vlog when I visited Marie, so I was still on a high from finally publishing the first one. Capturing a coherent story was something I was still new to, but Marie offered up the perfect vlogging fodder.

Over Starbucks, she told me a half-hour long story of how she’d become friendly with an indie band. In the midst of the story, she started showing me screenshots of tweets from the lead singer, eventually landing on one from four years ago in which he said he wanted someone in London to bring him an avocado for lunch.

Boom. There was the story. I didn’t know at the time that I was going to present it, tongue in cheek, as some sort of tutorial video, but I knew I wanted to film the little journey!

And so we set about finding an avocado, making our way to the lead singer’s home (Marie knows as much about him as I do about Owl City), popping the avocado in the singer’s mailbox, and waiting four days for him to get back from a tour to discover the prize. Into which we’d carved “Hello,” of course, just to make it personal. And yes, he did tweet a photo of the delicious nutritious gift (above), and seemed immensely grateful. Everyone wins.

It took me six months to finally edit and upload this bloody avocado vlog. That’s better than the original three-year gap between a vlog in France, I suppose — I had an entire two-year relationship during that time! Now, let’s see if I can manage a weekly upload…

9 Reasons to watch Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

On the penultimate day of my most recent trip to Amsterdam, my friend Lauren — a minimalist herself (the minimalism tag on her secondary Tumblr is a wonderful place) — took me and our friend Tom to indie theatre Kriterion to see Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.

Before the screening, I’d done one or two minimalist things, like donating loads of my clothes and possessions to the charity store. Nothing too serious. I just figured minimalism was a bit of a cult fad. Big misconception.

Once the documentary had finished and the Q&A session with Dutch minimalism bloggers began, I knew the minimalist lifestyle was something I wanted to pursue, and now I’m working to minimise everything around me. It feels great!

The minimalist lifestyle could help so many people live happier lives, and Minimalism is a brilliantly succinct starting point. Here are nine reasons to watch it:

1) It’s not just about minimalism.

Sure, the main focus of the documentary is minimalism, explaining the concept and exploring what it means to adopt the lifestyle. But the narrative also cuts away to take a meaningful, scrutinizing look at the global culture — or, dare I say, crisis — of consumerism, the waste it produces, and the adverse effects it has on us as humans. Like all good documentaries, Minimalism looks at the bigger picture.

Continue reading “9 Reasons to watch Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things”

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child script book

Does this review contain spoilers? All references to story and plot are vague, with the only specifics already widely-known through the book’s synopsis. I mention a few characters’ personas very briefly. Most will consider this review entirely spoiler-free.

Story conjured by J.K. Rowling, play written by Jack Thorne, play directed by John Tiffany

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child‘s job is to continue perhaps the most widely-loved story in modern literature. Philosopher’s Stone through Deathly Hallows form the bildungsroman of Harry Potter, one of the most famous wizards of all time. Cursed Child explores how that fame affects Harry’s son Albus, as Harry settles into his civil servant role at the Ministry of Magic and, with his wife Ginny Weasley, sends Albus off to Hogwarts.

It’s delivered universally in a script format as the only access point to the story for millions of fans who can’t make it to the West End play from which the book was weaned. As excitement and expectations for the eighth Harry Potter volume reaches fever pitch, there’s danger of disappointment. Cursed Child carries quite the legacy, and the story has already proved divisive. Many consider it canon. Many pan it as fanfiction.

I enjoyed the plot up until the last, say, 30 pages, which felt lacking to me. Writer and playwright Jack Thorne nails essential Harry Potter themes and dynamics. Namely, the fight waged by love, inclusion, light, and empathy against the unrelenting forces of hatred, authoritarianism, darkness, and death. A few tangents of the plot felt thin, only serving as catalysts for other events in the book, but with no depth of their own.

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Review: Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

The whole world seems to be talking about mental health problems. Half the world seems to be fighting them. Only a fraction of the world seems to have an accurate, current, firm understanding of them. That’s why I don’t just give five stars to Matt Haig’s perfectly concise Reasons To Stay Alive — I deem it recommended reading for everyone, be they sufferers or friends of sufferers.

Reasons To Stay Alive isn’t groundbreaking for what it says about battles with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues — it doesn’t miraculously answer questions psychologists have struggled with for decades, nor does it need to. What’s needed is a raft to help the rest of us stay afloat while neuroscientists fight the good fight of cracking our mind’s code. Reasons To Stay Alive can be that raft, or at least one of its beams.

Haig breaks each dim star of depression’s burning constellation into digestible chapters of varying structure, all rooted in a refreshingly brave, honest, and straightforward telling of his own war with mental health. One minute you’re engrossed in the most intense panic-stricken walk to the corner shop you’ll ever read, and the next you’re filled with relatable glee by a list of things Haig seeks solace in during his darkest of troughs and brightest of peaks.

To me, Reasons To Stay Alive is as undepressing as a book about depression can get. Tread lightly if you feel reading about the reality of being trapped inside your mind may trigger something adverse, of course. For me, though, Haig’s simple factual writing filled me with hope. And you know what? It’s bloody funny too.

I’m happy to say that my darkest days are behind me, and I feel freer each hour, despite the occasional flare-up every few weeks. June just gone was a bit of a trial, but otherwise, I’m doing fine. I’ve even become known as the token optimist in many of my friend circles. I’ve been compared to Chris Traeger from Parks & Rec:

But no matter how happy you are, or how sad you are, there are always questions. Why do I want to die? My mind feels heavy — is it actually growing with the weight of all these thoughts hurricaning around up there? Am I the only one who feels like this? Why do people throw ‘depression’ around as a generalised adjective for feeling a bit down? Why does nobody seem to care about my anxiety? Where did all my friends go? Why have I ended up all alone with nobody to turn to? How do I explain to people that though I seem endlessly happy, I still sit awake at 2:00am wanting to end it? And, of course: “I don’t understand depression — how do I help my depressed friend?” Haig offers answers and dispels misconceptions in a succinct way that’s accessible, and even enjoyable, for all.

5 Star

Lines I Loved:

The fact that this book exists is proof that depression lies. Depression makes you think things that are wrong.

Medication is an incredibly attractive concept. It underlines the idea we have hammered into us by the hundred-thousand TV ads we have seen that everything can be fixed by consuming things. It fosters a just-shut-up-and-take-the-pill approach, and creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ divide, where everyone can relax and feel safely neutered in a society which demands we be normal even as it drives us insane.

The price for being intelligent enough to be the first species to be fully aware of the cosmos might just be a capacity to feel a whole universe’s worth of darkness.

Act like a man, I told myself. Though I had never really been good at that.

There are seven billion versions of normal on this planet.

One cliché about bookish people is that they are lonely, but for me books were my way out of being lonely. If you are the type of person who thinks too much about stuff then there is nothing lonelier in the world than being surrounded by a load of people on a different wavelength.

While we know it can happen to anyone, we can never be told too many times that it can actually happen to anyone.

And my absolute favourite excerpt from Reasons To Stay Alive:

The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy.