Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I'm not generally one for New Year's Resolutions. If there is something about your life you want to change or improve, why wait until the 31st of December? In my limited experience, most New Year's Resolutions end up in the same place as the empty champagne bottles: discarded.

Nonetheless, there may be some value in writing down a list of goals. The more I think about it, the goals are just another way of looking back on the previous year and saying "if I had the opportunity, this is what I would have done differently". And there might be something to writing down a lost of goals and posting it publicly. After all, there is nothing like the scrutiny of our friends and family to make us reconsider our life choices. In this theme I am borrowing fairly heavily from this guy, a writer I have been following for a little while now, and in particular this post. So in that spirit, here goes:


1) Qualify for the Boston Marathon
I don't actually plan on running the Boston Marathon, but I would like to make the cutoff. The last time I checked it was 3:10:00 for my age group. This represents a significant improvement on my first marathon time. Or to put it in other words, I would have qualified in Berlin if I was over 65.

2) Compete in an Olympic distance triathlon and not come last.
This one has potential. I've only ever done one triathlon, and I came dead last, but that was after some significant cramping, numerous green ant bites, and that bit near the end when I got lost. I think I could be reasonably competitive if I could just improve my swimming, which brings me to:

3) Spend some time in the pool.
I am reasonably fit (most of the time), but I really suck at swimming. This stems in part from a vague fear of drowning. Time to face that demon.


1) Get a profession.
This one is kind of easy on paper. Basically, I don't want to be cooking for a living this time next year. I have actually laid some ground work here, but there remain some largish hoops to jump through. I keep dancing around it, but I really need to finish my Masters degree.

2) Get published.
I sort-of, in-a-way achieved this earlier this year, but I think I need to do better. Something peer-reviewed would be nice, but I would settle for an op-ed piece.


1) Be a better partner.
Hanna is (at the risk of sounding corny) the centre of my little universe. We're taking a big step this year, what with getting married and all. I don't want to start taking this for granted.

2) Get a dog.
Easy. Life is better with a dog, but I guess the larger issue is that I need to be in a place where owning a dog is a realistic (and reasonable) idea.

That's about it. A mixture of easily quantifiable and harder to measure goals. It will be interesting to see how it all pans out.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

setbacks and delays

I'm sick. I hate being sick. I'm really bad at it - the constant denials, moaning/martyrdom, the crankiness - it all makes me a less-than-pleasant person to be around. And I hate that it gets in the way of the things I need to be doing. I can ill afford any delays at the moment, yet I have taken a sick day today (my first in years, and essentially taboo in my current line of work, and it appears that this sick day will stretch into a sick week - no-one wants some pig-fever infected malcontent coughing all over their burger). And what will I achieve with my few hours of freedom gained? Will I get anything done on my thesis? Organise any of the myriad things that need to be organised for a 15 000km move? Not likely. I will probably mope around the apartment and maybe deal with the Swedish public health system.

But really I am just blaming my recent lack of progress on the fortunate arrival of a pandemic. Truth be told, I've been less than effective of late. I was feeling pretty positive for a while there, but then everything seemed to grind to a halt. I went from looking at the next 6 months like it was just a series of items to check off a list to working 80 hours weeks in a job that doesn't encourage long term planning. Unfortunately that job is part of the process - I can't get to where I want to be without the cash that this job will provide.

So I guess I just need to suck it up and find a way of getting all of the bureaucratic nonsense taken care of despite the 80 hour weeks and the despotic ravings of a lunatic employer (in all fairness, he isn't a lunatic, only mildly despotic). It might be time to revert to lists, or one of those other seven habits of highly effective people.

Or I could re-watch every single episode of Mad Men.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I've hit a couple of milestones recently: I'm applying for dual citizenship. I ran a marathon. I am completing my Master's degree. I got engaged. I'm starting a PhD. It's been a big year and it's only October.

All these things got me thinking about adulthood. I'm 32 years old yet I still feel like a child. I've never owned a new car. I rent a house. I play video games when I can sneak them in. I routinely sleep in, and whenever I get the chance I spend the day naked, wandering around my apartment.

What does it mean to be an adult? All of the traditional rites of passage have lost their significance. I moved out of home. I moved back when I was 27. I got a degree. I got another one. I got a full-time office job. I had business cards. I quit and got a job picking fruit. I got another job and more business cards. I got a credit card and looked at mortgages. I quit (again) and got a job in a kitchen. I got into debt. I got out of debt. I bought a car. I sold it for $100 on my way out of the country.

I still feel like I'm playing. It's like I cross bridges only to light a match and toss it over my shoulder, feeling the warmth of the flames on my back.

That said, I think I am starting to make the right moves. To make the smart choices. And it feels good. The things ahead of me, the things that are in the way of what I want out of life, are starting to look less like obstacles and more like items to tick off a to-do list.

Now if only I could beat Felix at a game of chess.

Monday, September 14, 2009


A couple of weeks ago I celebrated my third anniversary in Sweden - significant in that I am now eligible for Swedish citizenship. The event itself prompted all of the usual self-evaluations: did I make the right decision coming here? what have I achieved? etc. and so on. This is not to suggest that I have been reconsidering the choice to live here. Quite the contrary. It is just that the date itself seemed significant, and I suppose I have a tendency towards self-indulgent navel-gazing.

Having spent three rather enjoyable years here, I feel fairly comfortable with the rhythms of daily life in Sweden. There is a trap in this kind of familiarity: the assumption that you understand things here, that you get it can be consuming, leading you to miss things. I think one of the greatest gifts of travel is a new eye. When you see a place for the first time you can pick out the details and unique features that are oblivious to the local. Of course the opposite also applies: tourists rarely experience life-in-a-place-as-a-local. The life of an ex-pat wanders between these two extremes, and I had a moment last night that reminded me of this.

I have spent much of my time here working in the hospitality industry, and during those (brief, but pleasant) occasions when I am not professionally involved in the preparation of food I have tried to experience as much Swedish and Scandinavian cuisine as possible. There is a rich food tradition here. The harsh climate means pickles and preserves abound, while the brief but amazing summers give us a bounty of fruits and berries. Sweden's early marauders brought back food techniques and ingredients that have been added to the melting pot with some unusual, but delicious results. I also have the good fortune to know a couple of people who are gifted at recreating this tradition. Jonas, my head chef, with his hunter's eye for wild meat, has exposed me to some culinary wonders (as well as teaching me how to swear in a thick Skåne accent). Nisse, my girlfriend's father, has shown me the depths of husmanskost (which is badly translated as 'simple home cooking' but what my mother would refer to with great relish as 'poor people's food') and introduced me to some of the highlights of Swedish food: julbord (literally Christmas table), Mårtensgås, (a festival in November featuring black soup and goose), among many others. He has also taught me the delights of freshly caught Mackerel and wild mushrooms.

As such, I feel confident in a Swedish kitchen and familiar with Swedish ingredients. I'm not suggesting that I've seen it all, but I have had a pretty good go at the food here: I've eaten surströmming and lived to tell the tale. So last night as I was browsing in the deli section of the local Coop with Hanna I came across rökt hamburgerkött (lit. smoked hamburger meat) and laughed it off as either a food crime or a mistranslation. Until Hanna matter-of-factly said to me "That's just what we call horse meat."

Friday, August 21, 2009

I'm moving back to Australia.

Which is not to imply that I don't want to live in Sweden anymore. I do. I plan on living here again at some stage. It's just that the right set of opportunities opened up in Brisbane, and it seems to fit our needs at the moment, so off we go.

In making this decision, which took some deciding, we were both aware that there would be some significant costs involved. After all, this is not the first time either of us has had to pull up stakes and move halfway around the globe. There are, of course, two options for this kind of move:

  • Sell everything that you own (usually at a loss), and head to the airport free of any material encumbrances beyond a backpack.
  • Pack all of your stuff and ship it.

On our way here, which was just over three years ago, we took the first option. It seemed to make sense, because we didn't really own anything that was worth keeping (for the most part). Selling my mountain bike at a considerable discount hurt the most - if I remember correctly it put me in such a bad mood that I behaved like a spoilt child for the rest of the day. Conversely, selling the car for the princely sum of $100 to a wreckers yard on our way to the airport felt liberating and vaguely bohemian.

In the meantime, we have replaced all of the various accoutrements of modern day life. One of the advantages of starting out fresh is that you don't end up with a mish mash of possessions, a conglomeration of dissimilar gifts, found objects and purchased bits and pieces. This time around, we had the advantage of living in a place where good design is considered a human right, a place where clever people wearing rimless glasses create beautiful furniture. I am also blessed with a girlfriend who has a discerning eye for that kind of thing. We had a lot of fun putting together our little apartment.

Consequently, we don't want to sell all this stuff that we invested so much time and effort in acquiring. But when I sat down to work out exactly how much it would cost, well, it turns out that sitting down was a good idea. Which is fair enough I suppose, considering the carbon footprint involved. I should probably plant a bunch of trees or something. But it still hurts. In fact, it hurts so much that I have just taken my old job back (in exactly what capacity I am yet to find out, but I can be sure that it will involve either throwing drunks out at 2am, or scrubbing pots/floors/grills). I really thought I had left the hospitality industry for good. While I have enjoyed my various hospitality jobs, they always felt like a means to an end, a way to pay for the other things in my life that I valued more, like travel or education.

So I feel like I have failed in a way. In leaving the industry, I thought I had finally reached a point in my life where I no longer had to take jobs that meant that I worked while others played, where I had to prioritise work over friends and family. Because I never really had the passion that hospitality requires, the passion that inspires people to work 80 hour weeks and invest most, if not all, of their waking energies into an often thankless job. I only had the desperation.

And now I am desperate again, but I hope it is not for too long this time.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


I have a terrible sense of smell. This is not entirely a bad thing, and for the most part it doesn't bother me. Like my slightly dodgy eyesight I discovered only a couple of years ago, it wasn't something I thought about very often. Occasionally, though, I would realise just how bad my sense of smell is. Just like those times when I'd be standing at a bus stop and be the last person to work out which bus was coming, my lack of olfactory finesse became obvious when people around would say things like "What's burning?", and "You're not seriously going to put that milk in your coffee, are you?" This can be something of a handicap if you are working with food, for example. I once worked with bartender whose palette was incredible, and I'm pretty sure the guy could smell ultraviolet light.

Generally though, I don't let it bother me. After all, there isn't much you can do about it: being annoyed about not being able to smell much is not the same as being frustrated about my level of fitness, or the fact that I am still barely speak Swedish after living here for nearly 3 years. No amount of nasal push-ups or scent exercises will help me.

In some ways, having a poor sense of smell can even be a good thing. I once shared a dorm room with a guy who was a walking biohazard – in the 4 months that I slept within kicking distance of this little snoring machine, I saw him shower three times, and I once caught him scrubbing the shit stains out of his pants – and I never once wished for a better sense of smell. So it's not all bad. I've been to some really nasty places and never had to vomit, and on those occasions when I have been obliged to clean up someone else's vomit (bartending is a glamorous job at 3am on a Sunday morning), I've not taken a whiff and felt the urge, so to speak.

There are times, however, when I get a glimpse of how evocative smells can be, and feel like I am missing out. Last night as I was climbing into bed I smelt that non-specific smell-of-the-one-you-love, the one that is hard to describe because it doesn't smell like anything at all. It is clearly one of those chemical things where a bunch of molecules latch on to a receptor and send an electric shock straight into the brainstem, hitting all those feel-good, comfort, security, just-got-home-after-weeks-away spots, turning on the endorphins and making it all better. I could manage a better sense of smell if it meant more of that.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

living vicariously

In some ways it's to be expected – to quote the song, "the weather outside is frightful" – so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that I am spending significant amounts of time without leaving the house. On top of the crappy weather, my class load has dropped to nil (so as to give me ample time to concentrate on writing my thesis), and I have made the oft-dreamt about (and much maligned) transition to a tele-commute, freelance job. Freelancing, it has to be said, takes some adjusting. It's not just the infrequent (and much smaller) paychecks. It's that I have to exercise some self-control, which I have discovered is something I am not very good at (and which partially explains the small and infrequent paychecks).

So instead of doing paid work or finishing my thesis, I have become addicted to the internet. Addicted in general and to a number of blogs in particular. I only worked this out the other day, when I was on the phone to my mother, and I struggled to find a suitable answer to the question "What's new?" There was very little that was "new", aside from the exciting developments between Brad O'Farrell and his cat, or the new recipe that I found over here.

It's a good thing that winter only lasts till spring, and I start frothing at the mouth if I'm not outside for most of my waking hours. It's also a good thing that I have a wireless internet connection, a laptop, and a relatively sheltered spot on my veranda where I can sit naked in the sun.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

a dilemma

It has been a little while since I stopped long enough to actually contribute to this thing, but I haven't stopped thinking about it. It sort of sits there, floating somewhere at the back of my head, occasionally popping up (usually when I should be concentrating on something else, but often enough in the shower for me to wish I had some sort of whiteboard in there). Most of the ideas I have are lost in the noise, which irritates me. I keep thinking I should keep a notebook with me, but I am just not that organized most of the time. There is a collection of notes scrawled on the back of envelopes scattered around my apartment - I must do some of my best thinking after opening the mail - to the point where I have fished old envelopes out of the recycle bin just to keep a supply on hand.

But right now I keep coming back to this idea of contribution. This whole Web 2.0 caper is based on the idea of unstructured and open contribution (for more on this I thoroughly recommend anything written by Lawrence Lessig or Clay Shirky). Which is fine, great really. I think the real potential of the web and this sort of communication in general is in allowing and encouraging people to express themselves and connect with each other - great ideas don't come out of nowhere, and really great ideas don't come out of one individual. Of course, I am well aware of the enormous amount of crap out there. The web is full of garbage, but really clever search algorithms help to sift this out, and that is why Google is going to take over the world. And besides, who am I to say that there is no inherent value in 4chan,, that annoying Boxxy girl or any of the other memes that clog up the interwebs?

So contribution is great. I love twitter, and while I might be a little late to the party, is my new toy. I started a tumblr site. I would like to think that this little rant is a small contribution. But the other day when I was describing some of these things to my girlfriend, she pointed out the fact that I am incredibly paranoid about privacy, identity theft and putting anything about myself online. So I am faced with a dilemma: post inane bullshit that has nothing to do with myself or what I think (which I kind of ruled out in my last post), or pony up, lose some of the paranoia (which may only be a smokescreen hiding my suspicion that I don't actually have anything interesting to say) and start writing.

Or I suppose I could post pictures of lolcats.