Monthly Archives: September 2014

International Relocation

Back in 2009, I was fairly confident that I wanted to move to Norway. I had visited, and accidentally fallen in love with, the country. I came home full of excitement…and precisely nothing happened. Life got in the way, and I was disappointed with my own complete inability to organise myself.

In retrospect, I was a broken person. At the time I was simply putting one foot in front of the other, and I was not capable of thinking any further into the future than finishing work that evening. As much as it was something I wanted, it felt very distant. It was something to dream about. The space it occupied in my head was the same space where I stored my ideas about what I would do with my lottery winnings, and how much money I would have left after I had paid off all of my friends’ mortgages.

Five years later, and things feel very different. It’s no longer just a dream, it is a reality that actually exists, and I just need to do the right things and then I can be a part of it. Granted, I am still at the stage of working out what those ‘right things’ are in the first place, but it genuinely feels like it is happening.

Before I went out to Oslo, I had been looking around for language classes, and there was nothing remotely near to where I lived. I pouted and looked at what online courses were available. However, being out there again really impressed on me the importance of language in being a functioning part of society. I got home, and promptly booked myself onto a language course in London. Yes, it’s an hours’ train ride into the capital, but it’s something I need to do, and I am prepared to do whatever I have to do in order to make it happen.

The course starts next Tuesday and I am both excited and nervous. I HATE being bad at things that I want to be good at. I experience a real gut-deep rejection. Think of a red-zone 4 year old child, howling in the middle of a supermarket; “I don’t WANNA!” and you’re getting close to what’s happening inside me. This time I am just going to feel the fear, and do it anyway. I’ll be shit to start off with. So what? Suck it up Princess, the only person judging you is yourself. It is that important to me that I am just going to push through it, humiliating myself whenever necessary to get it right.

There will no doubt be 101 forms I need to fill in, boxes I need to tick, and assessments I need to complete. However, there are two other key points that I have focused on. They are money, and getting a job. The two things are intrinsically  linked, because they each facilitate and dictate the other, but they are two separate concerns in their own right. I’ll start with money.

The first thing I need to know is what exactly it is going to cost me to be in Norway, and from there I can work backwards to how I go about getting that money. Now, while I appreciate that Oslo is the most expensive place in Norway in terms of rent, I think that it’s going to present my best opportunity for getting a job. It would also be very easy to live there.

I have spoken to friends, used some community forums, and read up some blogs and websites who focus on moving to Oslo. From everything I have been able to work out and the advice I have been given, it is very much in line with London prices. I have worked out best- and worst-case scenarios in terms of rent. I have then factored in scaled-up ideas of utility bills. Before I even think about food and beer (which is clearly a massive priority), I have calculated that living there could potentially cost me pretty much all of what I am currently earning in the UK a month, for rent and utility bills alone. Yes, that’s being dramatic, but it could be realistic and so I am keeping it in mind.

What I would want to do is move out there with sufficient money for at least three months, to give me time to get my feet underneath me without having to worry. I read on one particular website that in terms of a rental deposit, most places ask for 3 months’ rent up front, as opposed to the usual 1 month that you get in the UK. So deposit, plus three months rent and utilities, plus food, and beer, and surprises; I want to have £10,000 in my back pocket before I move. It might be overkill, and might last me longer than 3 months, but I want to give myself every chance to succeed so I’m going to run with it. Still…crikey. Gives me a greater incentive to work harder for bonuses at work.

The telling thing is that I don’t feel intimidated by that. I will just find a way to make it happen.

I am going to divert slightly to talk about my house. I own a good-sized 3 bedroom house in reasonable order, and I have no intentions of selling it. There’s a couple of reasons for that;

  1. It’s in a fairly shitty area, so the amount of profit in selling it is vastly outweighed by it’s rental potential
  2. It’s a safety net – if everything goes tits up, I am a notice period away from coming back to the UK.
  3. I can store all of the possessions that I don’t want to take with me in the roof.

Due to it’s size and set up, I could rent my house for quite a lot of money per month. What I have decided to do however, is rent it to a friend for a reduced amount. I won’t make as much money, but I will trust that the person who is living there isn’t going to fill it with dogs and vagrants, and if anything goes wrong from either perspective we can have an open dialogue about it. I have already had one person around to look at it, and while nothing is decided, it is definitely the way I am going to go.

So, I will get a small monthly income from the rental of my house. It takes a slight edge off of the pressure of the other key point under consideration – WORK.

In terms of work, I have absolutely no idea what I am going to do. I need to find a compelling reason why any Norwegian firm would employ me over someone who can actually speak the language. The difficulty I am faced with is that while I know how capable I am, and how quickly I learn, that does not really present itself well on a C.V. From what I understand, in Norway there is quite a heavy focus on education and qualifications… and the qualifications that I have are all linked to Sports Physiotherapy, which is not something I have any interest in doing these days. In the UK, I am fairly confident that I could talk myself into any job that I really wanted, but I cannot rely on that in a place where I know I will not have the same command of language and confidence that I do here.

What would be ideal would be a company that was looking for someone to provide English language customer service/support; if there are two things I am good at, it’s fixing problems, and talking. Getting paid for writing would be absolutely amazing, but that is a serious pie-in-the-sky idea. At best, writing will join house rent as a supplementary income.

Everything is even more inter-linked than I thought; I am going to need to seriously improve my language skills to get a job, and I am going to need a job to get money, and I am going to need money to live in Norway, and I am going to need to live in Norway to seriously improve my language skills…

The difference between now and 5 years ago, like I said earlier, is that as big as it is, none of this feels intimidating. It is simply what I need to do to make the things that I want in my life a reality.

Unless anyone has £100,000 that they don’t want…?

…no…?

Fair enough, back to Plan A!

Joy

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Sheer, unadulterated, joy.

…I has it.

My sister and my mother clubbed together to get me a tank driving experience for my birthday, and it was one of the most fun things I have done in a long time. It turns out that I am unexpectedly quite good at it, which always pleases me.

It was all through a company called Armourgeddon in Leicestershire in the UK. Not ideal for the claustrophobic, but I would thoroughly recommend it as a Thing To Do.

…apparently, they offer Tank Paintball as well, and I cannot see a single thing wrong with that as an idea.

Trying To Stay Below The Radar

Today, I have come back from a corporate training course, with a horrible suspicion that word might get out that I actually know what I am doing.

I am – believe it or not – far more competent than I let on. There is a very good reason why I keep that quiet; once anyone with any level of authority within a company gets wind that you are capable of more, you immediately come under pressure to deliver more and to WANT more.

Back in 2007, I was in a bit of dark place emotionally, on top of which I had been made redundant and I was desperate for a job that just didn’t expect very much from me. I started out working for a company called Recruit as a temp in a warehouse, shifting faulty lawnmowers and power tools which had been returned to the stores they had been bought from, and subsequently collected by our drivers to be sent back to the respective manufacturers. I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was no real reason to engage my brain, but there was sorting, and checking off lists, and organising, and tidying. The major downside was that they may as well have paid me in bottle caps for all of the impact that it made on my monthly bills.

Anyway, during the time I was there, the following became apparent;

1) I was able to recognise what a computer was,
2) I knew how to switch it on,
3) I had some interesting ideas about how it might be useful.

I suggested, and had implemented, some changes which sped up my ability to do my job, and help out some other people into the bargain. Eventually the backlog that I had been employed to clear was finished, and I was moved onto something else. When that was also cleared, they asked me to split my time so that I did what needed doing in the warehouse, and then spent the rest of my time helping out in the office.

The girl who did the main administration role in said office eventually found a better job, and I ended out applying for – and getting – her position. Within a couple of weeks of doing so, I had redesigned and improved the processes, so much so that I was able to do the same job in half the time. With the spare hours I had freed up, I started picking up on parts of the job of the manager who was responsible for looking after the drivers, their routes, their accommodation and fixing their kit when it went wrong.

As it happened, he then went off on long term sickness, and so I ended out doing his job, in addition to my own job, and eventually I was doing all of that so efficiently that I still had hours in the day to sit around and scratch my arse.

…all of this for the same wages I was initially employed on.

All told, I worked for them for three years before I finally decided that actually I was worth a little bit more, and wanted to be somewhere which offered me greater security, and while money is really not a priority for me, better wages were never going to go amiss. I vowed never to get caught up in over-working again.

In the job I am currently doing, I have been quietly competent for the last couple of years, with the odd flash of helpfulness escaping. Unfortunately, the events of this week may well have forced me to raise my head above the parapet.

This week, I was put into a half-Nelson and frogmarched onto a 4-day residential training course that I really did not want to go on, for a series of reasons that all ended out being utterly correct.

You know that scene in Aliens, where the colonial marines find the woman, still alive, cocooned inside the wall of the nest under the primary cooling tower, and she pleads with them to kill her before the inevitable happens…?

Yeah. That.

The course was split as follows;

  • 40% Stuff I Already Know
  • 55% Stuff I Never Need To Know
  • 5% Stuff I Could Have Been Taught In A Fraction Of The Time, At A Fraction Of The Cost

We were expected to work really hard, for excessively long hours, and to do so with with interest and engagement.

What happened to the days when it OK to just do your job and go home? When it was a pretty much a legal requirement to dislike working? When exactly did you start having to approach everything that you are only doing because you are being paid to do, with enthusiasm? You’re not allowed to just turn up and do what you are earning a wage for now; you must have a Development Plan. You are not allowed to be cynical or unambitious. They are not Protected Characteristics, see? It’s not like being gay, or believing in a god of some kind.

About 18 months ago, in the company I currently work for, we had a Sales conference which was designed to bring the entire business area together. It was held in a big conference centre in Birmingham, and even the very idea of the place made me uncomfortable. Towards the end of what had been a barely tolerable day, we were surprised by the sudden, and frankly overly boisterous, entrance of a Maori dude – who performed a Haka. He then told us the history of what it meant, the deep cultural significance, taught us the words, then the moves, and then got us to stand in two rows facing each other and perform.

Now, don’t get me wrong, some of the Rugby types threw themselves into it with a passion born from probably wanting to have the opportunity to do this for years. Everyone else just looked utterly lame, exchanging embarrassed but impotent grins, giggling nervously and flapping about like badly controlled marionette dolls.

I quietly retreated to the back of the room so as not to make a fuss and cause bad feeling, but I was horrified for a number of reasons;

1) Someone decided to commercialise the Haka in the first place
2) Someone decided it would be a good idea to book it as a corporate activity
3) Someone was getting paid a lot of money for points 1 & 2
4) My colleagues were just going along with this, largely out of fear of being singled out as The One Who Didn’t Play Ball.

Since when did we become afraid of just being people?

The more time I spend in a corporate environment, the more it becomes apparent that it simply DOES NOT COMPUTE that you wouldn’t immediately want to throw yourself 100% into any and every activity that someone who has been paid to do so has decided is a good idea.

I have no poker face. I have no guile. If I am not having a good time, I have little to no ability to hide it. While I won’t tend to complain about it, if you push me or challenge me, I do not hold myself responsible for the immediate and venomous response you will get.

This week, I have impressed myself with my ability to keep going despite thinking that I would rather to eat my own liver. It was largely because I had a team relying on me to pull my weight, and if there is one thing I won’t do it is let people down. The woman delivering the training course was really good, although it took me a few days to overcome the natural suspicion I have for anyone in that kind of role. I don’t think I had her fooled for a minute, although I think I carried it off amongst my peers. Perhaps I am growing as a person…

We had an American boss a little while ago called Dennis who had a policy on Calling Bullshit. If you saw something that struck you as bullshit, he actively encouraged you to point it out. It kept the place real and honest and true. He left to take a position at a different company, probably two years ago now, and while it may be a complete coincidence, I am in no way surprised that since then, people have been leaving the department like rats off of a sinking ship.

Where’s the honesty? Why is everyone afraid to say when they think something is a bad idea? Or that they are not enjoying it? Just because a person or a team or a Think Tank has put in a lot of time, or been paid a lot of money, or been brainstorming to come up with something, it doesn’t mean it is correct. Or even any good in some cases. Blue Sky Thinking. Solutionising. Leveraging. Words and phrases that make me want to vomit.

And so here is where I have a problem. People are going to start looking at me, and I really don’t want to be looked at. Perhaps I could say I have a mental health condition. Some form of Tourettes perhaps? I wonder what the Equality & Diversity policy has to say about that…

Going home – 1st September 2014 (Day 5/5)

It’s that time again. The last few grinding hours before I finally go home. The time when I drink as much beer as I can pour down my neck in order to stave off the sense of impending doom, and the guttural rejection of going back to the UK.

Monday morning, and the weather was bright and sunny. The skies were clear and blue, the air was crisp and cold, but the sun reached through it to lay a warm and gentle hand on my upturned face and closed eyelids.

Enough of the poetry, it was time to clear up the shit-tip of a hotel room. I threw out the leftover Krispbreads, 4 day old un-refridgerated spreadable cheese, blended chicken & mayonnaise filling, and a ridiculous number of coffee cups. Honestly, sometimes I look at the detritus from my existence and wonder how I am still alive.

Checking out of the hotel was not what could be described as a complex process; drop the key card in a glass jar and fuck off. Winner. I like it when things are that simple.

When I had jumped off of the flybussen on the way in to Oslo, I had quite accidentally gotten off at the closest stop to my hotel, so despite my ticket being from the actual bussterminalen (a stop further along the line) I thought I would take a chance and try getting on the bus at the same place I got off; Prof. Aschehougs plass. It was a short, bright and lovely walk from the hotel down to the bus stop, and my timing was impeccable – the bus pulled up just as I was crossing the road.

The driver looked at the ticket and waved me on board without question. I settled myself in, and as soon as I stopped moving or having something to think about, the crushing reality of going home set in. I spent the 40 minute journey to Gardermoen airport sighing wistfully, doing mental comparisons between what I could see outside the window and what I knew I was going home to.

Incidentally, have I shown you the front of my new notepad yet? I don’t think I have…

I love this.

I love this.

Security was just as fast and straightforward as it was through Gatwick… if a little bit uncomfortable. There was a guy in a wheelchair directly in front of me, and the staff were being helpful and friendly as his friend/carer was helping to prepare him to go through scanning. Where it got awkward as an observer was when they started detaching false limbs…

On the way through the airport, I had noticed some of the staff zipping past on scooters with what looked like big baskets on the front. I was thoroughly impressed, since I cannot imagine anyone in the UK getting that past a Health & Safety assessment.

I headed straight for the bar once I had established where my gate was; going home always requires at least one pint before I get on the plane.

What more could a girl want?

What more could a girl want?

It’s always interesting to do beer price comparisons, and on this occasion I paid 104NOK for 60cl, which calculates back to approximately £9.48 a pint. By no means the most expensive beer I have bought in Scandinavia, but neither was it the nicest. Also, it speaks volumes that I no longer wince when I work out the prices…

I’d like to take a moment, brothers and sisters, to talk to you about Wifi. Norwegian airlines have free wifi on their planes (or at least some of them), the flybussen has free wifi, as does Gardermoen airport. It pleases me to see how much better they understand the important things here.

Essentially, yes.

Essentially, this.

It was just before 11am and I had settled myself in for a round of people watching, and thinking about how the rest of the day was going to pan out. I was fairly confident that I was going to drink enough beer to keep me content, while enjoying the process of getting from one country to another…

However, after I landed back in Gatwick, I needed to take a 2 hour train back to Bedford, followed by a 1 hour bus journey back to Northampton. Factoring in time standing around waiting for public transport, I expected to arrive back in the town centre around 6pm. I strongly suspected that once I got there, I would be so demoralised that I would end out going to the pub for a few before being able to consider heading home.

Thinking about it, my one complaint about traveling to Norway is that no carrier flies from Luton Airport anymore. Luton Airport is a couple of junctions down the M1 motorway, and takes roughly 40 minutes from my front door to drive. The first time I travelled på Norge in 2009, Ryanair operated a flight from Luton to Oslo Torp [‘Oslo Torp’, also known as ‘Not Really Oslo At All’] but these days the options are pretty much limited to one of the three main London airports.

The net result of that is either 1) a dismally long, circuitous trip there and back on public transport, 2) asking someone else to take 3-4 hours out of their day to drop me off and then the same again to pick me up, or 3) driving directly and paying extra to park at the airport. I am sure there must be an easier or quicker way, but I am yet to find it.

The time came to get on the plane and it was somewhat chaotic to say the least. It was packed full of people with lots of luggage, lots of children, and absolutely zero fucks to give. I did make an observation which I may pass on to the airline; people might have a greater sense of urgency if the cabin crew changed “Could we please ask customers, once they have found their seats, to please stand out of the aisle in order to allow other passengers to pass” to “Sit. The Fuck. DOWN.”

It always strikes me that the people on planes headed to the UK are more obnoxious, less interested in co-operating  with the staff, and much much louder. I am assuming that’s because the percentage of British people is higher, and they are probably just as pleased as I am about going home.

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The only way to travel

The flight landed in Gatwick without incident, and I scuttled through the terminal and down to the train platforms as quickly as I could. I managed to get there just before the next train out to Bedford, and by 3pm I was heading home. The view out of my window was precisely as inviting as I had been expecting it to be.

...England's green and pleasant land...

England’s green and pleasant land.

The award for my favourite passenger of the trip so far goes to the incredibly well-spoken but utterly fraught woman in her mid-40’s, who was despairingly trying to negotiate better behaviour from her disdainful 9 year old daughter, whom she insisted on referring to as ‘darling’. I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to strangle more, but in the end I decided it was definitely the mother.

Please, dahhhhling…”

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We arrived in Bedford with me successfully avoiding assaulting anyone, almost solely thanks to this Buzzfeed article;

44 Medieval Beasts That Cannot Even Handle It Right Now

The bus was 20 minutes late, but that is nothing to be surprised about. I was grateful that there weren’t many people on it, but I did end out spending the last 10 minutes of the journey on High Alert.

There was an old man in a strange hat who was repeatedly leaning across the aisle to talk to a young girl who was traveling on her own, and had spent most of the trip dozing. Every time he got close to her, she physically shied away from him, and she did not look happy at all. I sat coiled, ready to pounce at the slightest indication he was about to do anything untoward. He ended out getting off the bus a couple of stops before her, and I was able to relax again. He had probably only just been being friendly, and wanting to pass the time chatting with a pretty girl, but I know too much about the dark side of life to not be cautious as a default response.

I ended out getting back to Northampton for 6:30PM, and as expected a wave of dejection washed over me. Pub time, suspend reality for a little while longer. There are two main pubs I choose to spend time in while I am in town, the King Billy and the Racehorse. Since the Billy was closest, I wandered down there.

What’s become apparent over the years is that while the Billy is great if you’re out with people or if there is a band on, it’s a bit of an odd place to be if you’re on your own, and its also bloody uncomfortable – especially if you’ve been traveling all day. I had a pint and decided to head up the Racehorse, where there was a cushioned corner that pretty much has my name nailed above it.

The Racehorse changed ownership a while ago – possibly getting on for a year even – and it is clearly steered by very different hands these days. Most significantly, it doesn’t smell like piss and manky dogs any more, which is a thing to be very pleased about. However, on a slight downside (for me at least) it’s not as alternative as it used to be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a nice place to go, as long as you are prepared to be hassled by a variety of strange old men. It’s just…different…these days.

As I was sat there, the new flat screen TV was playing some ‘retro’ music channel. It started off as being ironically funny, but got progressively more painful as time passed; Right Said Fred, Charles & Eddie, Boyz II Men, and ending out with Emmylou Harris, Glenn Campbell and Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson. I had no idea what the actual fuck was going on, but no-one else seemed concerned and the chances of anyone changing the channel any time soon were getting more and more remote.

Just when I was starting to think that I was going to have to abandon the Racehorse too, I remembered that I had my tablet with me. Whenever I feel frustrated with life, or angry, or just low, there has always been one thing and one thing alone that will boost me out of a bad place; the Prodigy.

Some people like to feel soothed when they are upset, comforted, reassured, looked after. That doesn’t work for me. I need to feel energised, snarling, primal, battered by obnoxious basslines. The Prodigy have a mystical power over me, and can fix me when nothing else can.

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Happiness.

Leeroy bouncing around the stage like a happy deckchair. Maxim howling, with a kilt and a gauntlet. Keith KILLING IT, wearing what looks like it might have been his Nan’s sofa in a previous life. Liam decked out in Fresian-cow-print trousers doing, well, everything else quite frankly. The tension and irritation of the day just bled out of me – I owe a good deal of my sanity over the last 22 years to this band.

Now that I am home, I have choices to make. While I fill my daily life with things that make me happy, as soon as I consider my existence in a larger context or a longer time period, I am dissatisfied with where I am. Northampton has long since gone past being a place I enjoyed living in; the things that made it good have been eroded away over time. The places I loved simply do not exist anymore. My friendship circle has moved on, grown up, left. Also, I am a different person these days and need different things out of my world. There are other places on the planet that are not only achingly beautiful, but that make me feel an inner peace that I have never experienced anywhere else.

My choices are quite straightforward, and I instinctively know the answer before I have even asked myself the question; do I wait and see how things evolve, because I am safe, and comfortable both physically and financially at the moment…or do I drive as hard as I can towards the thing I actually want, despite the discomforts it may bring?

It’s a no brainer really. I am too old to be doing the things I don’t want to do, and I am also no longer the kind of person who is prepared to just put up with things because that’s easier.

Watch this space, because shit is about to get REAL.

10 Things That I Have Learned From Gaming

I am not the most accomplished – or even competent – gamer, but despite this I have dedicated a disproportionate amount of my life to it. In return, it has taught me a lot of things, both in terms of actual skills and also life lessons. Here are some of them.

  • I learned how to type really quickly.

This is a quite specific result of a) my time playing MMORPG’s, and b) talking too much. Here’s the scenario;

You are in the middle of some quite dangerous territory. You probably shouldn’t even be there at all, but you have set yourself a personal goal that you are going to get to the other side of this place – even if it takes the rest of the evening. You pick a path, and nervously start navigating your way through a veritable minefield of mobs, all of which will chew you a new orifice at the slightest provocation. Unfortunately, you have badly misjudged your aggro radius, and not only do you attract the attention of everything in visible range, but they are making a ruckus and calling all of their friends. You are in trouble. There are so many things around you that you can only target individuals by hitting the tab key and hoping. You are pulling out all of the stops; the attacks you have never tried before because they never seemed useful, dubious healing potions, even the “Look There’s A Badger With A Spoon!” macro you made for a laugh a while back. You are just barely managing to surf ahead of the wave, and in half a breath you will either be in the clear, or you will be crushed under a wall of water.

Then someone says something funny in chat.

You can’t NOT respond, but precious milliseconds mark the difference between the most satisfying victory in the entire game so far, and a horrible run back to find your body, plus starting the whole fight again into the bargain, from a worse position. So what do you do?

The answer is that you type REALLY bloody fast. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar, you just fire a load of letters into the ether and hope they achieve some cohesion by the time they land.

Eventually, you end out getting really good at it, and people at work are impressed, without ever knowing the true reason behind it.

  • The English language can be degraded to a phenomenal degree, and still be perfectly understandable.

When you are in an environment where a lot of people a) are in the middle of combat, b) don’t have English as a first language or c) are just plain lazy, the written communication gets messy to say the least. What becomes apparent, however, is that it really doesn’t matter.

Everyone learns to read past spelling mistakes (which are often as not all the correct letters, just in the wrong order). What eventually happens with the most common errors is that they become adopted as the norm; a good example in my particular guild was when “teh” became the accepted version of “the”, and ended out being deliberately used more often than not. Another thing that found legs from gaming is abbreviating common phrases like “wtf?”, “lol” and “ffs”. I remember joking many years ago about the first time I actually said WTF out loud, but lo and behold it has in fact manifested in popular culture.

  • Nordic people are a special kind of crazy

I have met some eccentric people in the UK, mostly those upper-class enough to have been somewhat disassociated from reality for most of their lives. I have also met people who were different in a way that suggested there was something a little unhinged inside them, and that they would probably benefit from some time with a specialist. However, online gaming has given me access into a world where crazy people just ARE. That world is most of Northern Europe.

Now, I am aware that I am generalising, and that this probably qualifies as positive racism, but based on the percentages of people that I have met who have been as mad as the proverbial box of frogs, here are my Nutter Rankings;

  1. Iceland
  2. Sweden
  3. Finland
  4. Denmark
  5. Ireland
  6. Norway
  7. Scotland
  8. England

The geographical area covered, as I have learned through doing some recent research into English history, correlates almost precisely to the historical lands of the Angles, the Saxons and the Vikings. I am fairly certain that it’s something in the DNA…either that or the tendency towards heavy alcohol consumption, one of the two.

  • One of these things is not like the others…

If something doesn’t look right – it’s not. If there is a difference in texture, there’s something concealed behind it. If a mob is a different size or colour to the rest, it’s more important than the others. If there is one thing lying on the floor, that’s your next weapon. Visual clues are really the only way for designers to point you in the right direction and you very quickly learn to compare and contrast the environment with a Terminator-like efficiency.

  • Gaming turns you into a kleptomaniac.

Everything that has been deliberately placed within a game could be useful, probably in ways you don’t yet appreciate, so if you can pick it up, you do. It’s easy enough to get rid of it later, but there is nothing quite as soul-destroying as fighting your way through 20 minutes of harder-than-expected gameplay, backing yourself into a dead end, only to find that if you’d just picked up that stethoscope 4 save points ago, you wouldn’t be here right now.

  • You quickly lose all sense of decency

If the game will allow you to, you will perform a body cavity search on a dead old lady, on the off-chance it will yield something useful. Nothing is out of bounds. Yes, you will start out with the obvious cash registers, kitchen cupboards and half-opened safes – but you will end out snuffling your way through rubbish bins, used diapers, medical waste, the pockets of the urine-stained trousers of an unconscious homeless dude…anything and everything that the game mechanics will permit.

  • You learn to abandon common sense

Often, I am an awful shot in-game. I always assumed that I just was really bad, and that I should stop denying it. You can give me a gun with a super high-powered scope, and ammo that shatters into a hundred pieces when it reaches the target, I would still be lucky to hit what I am aiming for. However, I suddenly switch to having a 100% strike rate if you give me a crowbar.

What I had been getting wrong for so long was that I was fighting against the will of the designers. Where my instinctive response would be to take the safe option of staying as far away as possible and taking pot shots, in game I am actively steered towards running screaming into the middle of a load of armed guards and battering the crap out of them.

Learning to work counter-intuitively based on the environmental responses in-game was something that I struggled with for a long time. However, it’s taught me to think differently, and has actively improved my problem solving abilities. Now, I find it far easier to try something once, and if it doesn’t work, throw a marmot at it instead.

  • You can learn everything you need to know about a player by what they choose to name their character

Deciding to party with ‘Nooblolz’ is basically accepting that you are going to spend the next two hours stuck with a gibbering high school idiot, who probably has some attention deficit disorder, and will get you killed more times than he will offer any reasonable support. Scrappy Doo, in essence.

‘Hunterdk’ will be a focussed young Scandinavian who has had a sense of humour bypass. He will be far more interested in the loot than in making friends; not a lot of fun, but will turn up on time and pull his weight.

‘Leslienielsen’ will be older, funnier, and more chilled out. Thoroughly entertaining company, but probably drunk or stoned a lot of the time, with a somewhat laissez-faire attitude towards timekeeping.

‘Gartaghthebrave’ takes the game a little too seriously, and probably struggles to make friends in the real world. He will bend over backwards to help you, but all hell will break loose if you kill any sacred animals while he is around.

‘Hairyballsack’ will be the most competent player in the party, and outrageously funny, but will not give a moments thought to just dumping the whole group in the middle of a boss fight, if it’s not up to his standards. He will upset people on a regular basis, and is the gaming equivalent of the good looking kid that never needed to develop a personality.

  • Real-life panic doesn’t hold a candle to in-game panic

…the maniacal jabbering of a splicer somewhere just out of sight…
…the sudden appearance of a small girl child on the other side of the door that you have no choice but the walk through…
…desperately spinning the mousewheel, trying to find a weapon that has any ammo left…
…the sound of a Rogue dropping into stealth mode behind you…

The only thing that reality has to offer that comes in any way close to these moments is the shock of your awakening brain realising that it’s not sure whether it’s Friday or Saturday.

  • If you play any game for long enough, it will start to bend your reality

Many years ago, I went on a camping holiday with a group of friends, up in the Lake District in the North of England. We were in a three-car convoy, and I was driving with my at-the-time boyfriend, bringing up the rear in the same tiny little Fiat that I still have now. There came a point where we were quite close to our destination, and had veered quite significantly off the beaten track. We had to follow a track up over a hill that had a 1:3 gradient, and I do not mind admitting that I was in a fair state of concern. I did not know where I was, my car was not big enough or powerful enough to follow the others at any speed, and they quickly disappeared out of view. I took my right hand off of the steering wheel, and reached up towards the windscreen. I paused, and put my hand back on the steering wheel. My boyfriend turned to me and said,

“…did you just reach up to click the map key?!”

That is precisely what I had done. I was lost and worried and had played World of Warcraft for so long that my instinctive response was to pull up the map and see where I was.

This is not an isolated incident. I was in Norway a couple of weeks ago, sat around a beautiful body of water outside of Oslo, where fish were coming up to the surface and causing circular ripples. My instinct was to hit the Fishing key shortcut before someone else could turn up and steal the fishing node.

Also, a couple of months ago, I was watching a cop show on Netflix, and in the interview room there was one wall that was covered in some kind of soundproofing material. My first thought was that I could shoot a Portal onto it.

I am not sure whether to be proud or ashamed of these things.

Vikings and Nazis in Oslo – 31st August 2014 (Day 4/5)

Sunday commenced with a conversation about Norse mythology and a decision to go and see some Viking ships. We took the number 30 bus from Nationaltheatret towards Bygdøy, jumping off at Vikingskipene.

There is located a museum, Vikingskipshuset, that contains three Viking burial ships that were uncovered from different burial mounds between 1867 and 1903. There is the Oseberg ship, the Gokstad ship and the Tune ship. The three ships were built between 820AD and 900AD, and standing in their presence was awe-inspiring. They were all initially built as sea-faring vessels, which were later decommisioned and drawn out of the water to serve as burial ships for the important folks whose remains were placed inside, along with a number of different things that they would need to see them through in the afterlife.

My photos are complete gash, so you’d be better off Googling the ships quite frankly.

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These ships SAILED. They actually sailed the seas around Norway, and quite possibly abroad. My brain took off and ran with that. Did one of these ships carry Viking warriors across the North Sea to the shores of England?

The hulls of the ships were shallow and broad, with graceful sweeping curves that drew my eye across them, and immediately had me imagining the prows slicing their way through turbulent waters. The bulk of the ships was imposing and majestic, and utterly beautiful. The detail and the intricacy imparted the sense that these weren’t just functional vehicles for transporting people and goods from one place to another. These ships were statements. Each boat gave me the feeling that it was designed and built by craftsmen with love in their hearts for what they were creating.

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The museum had little staircases built into the corners of each room that allowed you to look at the ships from an elevated position.

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This ship is the best part of 1200 years old

They had cases at one end of the museum that contained the remains of the people who had been found in the boats, and a list of all of the things that had been buried with them. One case contained the bones of two tiny women who were discovered in the Oseberg ship, and the other case was for the warrior who was buried in the Gokstad ship. He was somewhere between 181-183cm (that’s between 5’11” and 6′,  to those of us who count properly). His legs had been hacked and cut in his final battle, and the sheer amount of horses and dogs and spare boats and shields buried with him were testament to his regard. The two women were buried with similar riches, and my brain was completely caught up with filling in the gaps about who these three people were, what they looked like, what roles they played in the world around them…

In another section of the museum there were loads of glass cases which contained the things that had been found inside the ships alongside the people. There were scraps of silk cloth, tools, weapons, game pieces, sledges, a wagon, and lots of carved animal heads. I think it’s fair to say that I was besotted.

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The detail and the craftsmanship that went into each and every piece was astonishing. Granted, when it came to the animal heads, I am not sure that the person carving them had actually seen the creature that was being represented, but that’s beside the point.

I left the Vikingskipshuset with a head full of wonder, and a heart full of wanting to run around being a Viking. That was very soon to be brought crashing down around me.

Since we were already there, we also visited Holocaustsenteret, The Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Norway. It was brutal, and mindblowing. It was an exhibition about the Nazi party in Norway, the persecution of Norwegian Jews and other minorities, and the gradual proliferation of exclusion and hatred. I had no idea before I went in there the part that Norway played in the holocaust, but I most certainly will never forget about it.

While you might not think it to look at me, and while I choose to ignore it a lot of the time, I have quite a decent amount of empathy, and I feel things that really have nothing to do with me very deeply. This exhibition was incredibly grueling for me and it will stay with me for a very long time. The writing and information was 99% in Norwegian, and while I can read basic sentences and get the jist of what is being talked about, I mostly couldn’t understand the text. That is something I am quite grateful for, because I was only just holding it together over the pictures.

The whole of the way around the exhibition, my heart felt too big for my chest, and grief and frustration were clawing at my throat. I kept finding myself standing there, staring into the sepia tinted eyes of men and women who knew their fate, and could do nothing about it. Men and women who had been judged as less than human, by men with no fucking authority beyond that which they claimed.

Propaganda is an astonishing tool. It was unbelievable looking at the hate-filled, arse-backwards leaflets and pictures that were drip-fed into the population to sow the seeds of disgust, mistrust and superiority. You think that the police in the States are bad for racial profiling? Not even close. There were written guidelines, pictures and measurements for people’s facial features, to establish which were the ‘correct’ characteristics. It was exactly the same way the American Kennel Club issued guidelines about different breeds of dog in a book I had as a child. They had charts indicating the threat levels posed by different groups of people, and how much damage these people could inflict on decent society.

It was genuinely chilling. There were texts and studies and papers outlining the calm and reasoned arguments for why Jews were evil. Madness and mania masqueraded as science and fact. It was truly dark, and it was so frustrating being there and knowing that people honestly believed this shit. Some people kept saying a thing until they had said it so often that it came to be accepted amongst others as the truth. Many people died, many people committed atrocious acts, and all in the name of something that was never real. A fabrication. A lie. IT WAS NEVER REAL.

What finally broke me was the room with the names, and the dates of birth and death of all of the Norwegian Jews who were killed.

Do you want to know the thing that struck me the most about the whole thing? Although all these events happened in the past, they aren’t History. This propagation of hatred and dehumanisation and victimisation and humiliation and murder is still happening now, every day.

I left what I now know to be the old home of Norwegian collaborator and Nazi-leader, Vidkun Quisling, feeling raw, wrung out, frustrated and impotent.

 

I would highly recommend that anyone who can, go.

An increasing language issue in Oslo – 30th August 2014 (Day 3/5)

You would think that since I had a limited amount of time in Oslo that I would be up and at ’em early, in order to maximise the experience.

Yeaahhh…not so much. I got up around lunch time, and found a drinks machine in reception which dispensed what could generously be described as coffee. It tasted…RED. Like it had been brewed and left in the pot too long, slightly sour, perhaps a little bit burned, and nowhere close to strong enough for me. However, I am not uppity or picky about most things, and I of course drank lots of it because caffeine.

Organised chaos

Organised chaos

I had the little desk in my room set up as a home-from-home work station, and I was struck again by my ability to turn any space into a tidy person’s nightmare. I am well aware how untidy I am capable of being, but the speed with which it can happen is really quite something.

After catching up on emails and doing a bit of writing, I headed back into the centre of Oslo. There was a large group of people gathered in front of a stage that had appeared in Eidsvolls Plass.

What do we want?! Better language skills, for a start.

“What do we want?!” “A Babel fish, actually.”

It became painfully obvious how badly I need to improve my Norwegian, because while I stood at the back, enjoying the spectacle and the passion that the speaker was projecting, I became uncomfortably aware that I might well have just wandered into a right wing rally and would have no fucking idea until they started burning effigies [later investigation proved that this gathering was in fact the complete opposite].

The event was called Frihet 14, and while a sketchy 3G signal meant I couldn’t do my usual Google translate trick, I made the assumption that it meant something like Freedom, based on some quotes and posters I had seen the day before. While I had assured myself that I wasn’t unintentionally lending my support to some awful cause, I was still getting nothing out of it, so I took myself off to go and get some pictures of the city itself.

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It’s the simple things in life that I like

The following photos are pretty much taken while turning in a circle. Perhaps a small exaggeration, but you get the point about the immediacy of the awesome architecture.

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Stortinget – Norwegian Parliament building

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Olav Thon Building

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Grand Hotel

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Best Western Karl John Hotell

I took a slightly different route through the city centre that afternoon, and almost immediately ended out down by the sea again.

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Questionable fading on the panoramic shot again. Need. Better. Camera.

Looking out across the expanse of water, I’d have given anything to be able to fly, to be able to go straight up in the air and get a better view.

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Right up on this hill is an old fortress, Akershus Festning. It looked awesome from the outside, and apparently there is a medieval castle in there as well. I really wanted to go in and have a look.

…but I didn’t. While I have balls of steel in most situations and places, I have a terrible fear of getting things wrong, and I am frequently plagued by self-doubt if I am not sure what the rules are. I stood looking at this fortress, couldn’t really work out which way was supposed to be the way in, didn’t want to ask, so I just carried on walking. Yes, yes, I know. Away with you and your logic.

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..an’ a ting.

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This place was MASSIVE.

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Even the seemingly nondescript buildings are imposing.

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There definitely needs to be more red, and more faces, on buildings.

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I think I would like to live here.

The Palace

The Palace

As the afternoon crept on, it started raining, so I made a the most obvious choice in the circumstances; I went to the pub. They had the football on a big screen, Everton v Chelsea, and with a pint on the table in front of me and a game that I wasn’t invested in the result of, all was right with the world. Incidentally, Chelsea won 6-3, and it was a cracking game.

Later on in the evening, I went to a bar called Dr Jekyll’s Pub. It was nice, but seemed primarily dedicated to serving whiskey. This meant that I was stood at the bar for 5 minutes behind one guy who was trying a load of different blends in a less-than-hurried fashion, and when I eventually got to the bar, I felt slightly self conscious just ordering “Two Stella’s please.”

I learned that Hen nights, and large gatherings of women in pubs in general, are the same the world over; loud, pitched perfectly to make my head vibrate, and like being assaulted by the perfume counter in Boots.

I also learned that I was wrong about an observation I made on my previous visit to Norway – you CAN buy beer after 8pm, but only Lettøl – light beer, normally around 2%…which is my way of saying that I left the pub and bought some light beer.

While I had been sat watching the football earlier, I had been considering my day. Foremost in my mind was the fucking great insect bite on my left shin that I had picked up while gadding about in the forest the day before. It was a constant tug on my awareness, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I caved and scratched it, and would end out with a welt the size of my fist. Alongside that immediate physical concern was the increasingly obvious language barrier.

It’s not a barrier to existing in Norway; everyone had been perfectly happy to speak to me in English. I had actually engaged one of the barmaids in conversation about it a few days previously, after I overheard her talking to another British customer. I asked her if it annoyed her that we ignorant oiks turn up and expect her to speak to us in our own language. She explained that it is so common here to have tourists who don’t speak Norwegian, and everyone is taught English from a really young age, that it is perfectly normal and doesn’t bother them at all.

That is really not the case in a lot of European countries, where unless you either have a go in the native tongue, or are immediately apologetic and grovelling about not being able to speak it, you are treated with quite often very open disdain (…yes, I am looking at you, France).

Where I have found that it IS a problem is with being a functioning part of the world around me. Don’t get me wrong, at home I choose to exist in an isolated bubble a lot of the time, and would be perfectly happy to live in my little cave-like house, not physically speaking to anyone for months on end.  However, this situation is different, because I don’t have a choice in the matter. I can’t understand the conversation going on around me enough to be able to ignore it (it’s only really when the ability to do so is taken away that I realise how much of the world I actively decide not to pay attention to).

Also factoring in my natural reticence to get involved in something if I can’t figure out what’s going on, not being able to read simple instructions puts me at a major disadvantage.

While I still enjoy just sitting around listening to people speaking Norwegian, I really have got to step my game up. I will definitely be booking myself in for lessons as soon as I get home. It will probably involve a bit of travel since there’s nowhere local to me that does it; there are many weird and wonderful adult learning courses available in Northampton, but Norwegian is not one of them;

WTF Northampton

Still not entirely convinced how and why these made the cut…