Monthly Archives: September 2014

Oslo is made of Win – 29th August 2014 (Day 2/5)

I woke up on Friday morning in Oslo, and felt very pleased about it. Granted, any time I wake up a) on a weekday when I don’t have to work or b) anywhere that isn’t home, I am pretty happy regardless, but that is beside the point.

It was another glorious day, weather wise. Back at home, it was grey, and windy, and wet and I was unutterably smug about waking up to this;

Just look at it.

Just look at it.

As a rule, I tend to avoid sunshine wherever possible, with the net result being that I have the same approximate skin tone as the creepy cave-dwellers in The Descent.

A fairly accurate representation of me, before the application of makeup and copious amounts of coffee.

A fairly accurate representation of me, before the application of makeup and copious amounts of coffee.

Contrary to what many may believe, I don’t avoid the sun because I am a massive goth, but simply because I am really sensitive to increases in temperature. My internal radiator is permanently jammed onto the highest setting; I live in shorts pretty much year-round, I hate wearing coats and shunned shoes and socks as a child, and even relatively light activity on my part makes me sweat. While people in the office complain about how cold it is and wrap themselves up in blankets, I have a fan on and stare longingly at the window, trying to use my Jedi powers to open it without anyone noticing.

Every time I have been to Norway – and quite possibly one of the reasons why I like it so much – it has been bright and sunny, but it’s either been Winter and knee-deep in snow, or Summer with a cool breeze, keeping the temperature down within a tolerable range. It’s really nice to be able to go out in the sunshine and not melt.

Morten suggested taking a mini BBQ tray into the woods with a couple of beers and cooking up some food. What a perfectly splendid idea! In fact, it’s something I definitely need to more often. I am sure that there has to be a nice bit of woodland somewhere around Northampton that isn’t full of chavs, doggers, shopping trollies or burned out cars…

First things first, food shopping. I am always fascinated by going shopping in different countries and seeing how things are done differently. Simple things like 330ml cans of beer will entertain and amuse me for an inordinate amount of time. Also, what is the deal with all the sausages, Norway? Don’t get me wrong, the resulting ‘meat’ and ‘sausage’ jokes are totally worth it, but that’s seriously a lot of wieners. Snigger.

With food and fire-making implements purchased, we made our way to Eiksmarka T-bane station and headed off into the woods. I love trees and forests, even fake forests like the ones in World of Warcraft. Bugs and wildlife are fun too…which in this instance included the high number of crazy-arse dogs running around off leash. I was secretly hoping for a moose, but given the circumstances I was happy to settle for an overexcited spaniel. I don’t scare easily, but at one point on the way back later on, a dog burst out of the undergrowth on the bank just off my shoulder, and I fairly near shat myself. My brain was of course trying to tell me that it was Gmork from the Neverending Story.

Terrifying.

Terrifying.

Anyway, eventually we climbed up a slope and onto a concrete walkway along one side of one the most beautiful places I have been in a long time. I have retraced the journey on Google maps and this place is marked up as Østernvann, though what it is actually called I cannot be sure.

Fuck me, that place was stunning. It was so gorgeous that I lost the ability to speak at points. I curse my poxy camera-phone…and the fact that in my complete ineptness, I forgot my actual camera. Noob. Anyway, crappy quality aside, check this out place out.

Seriously. Just sit and look at this for a bit.

Seriously. Just sit and look at this for a bit.

Although I am utterly frustrated at how badly these pictures came out, I am going to share them anyway because I think you will still get the point.

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The trees around the edge of the water were growing on top of the rocks, with the roots spidering away around them. SWEET.

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Dodgy fading on the panoramic picture, but still amazing.

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The sun playing across the top of the trees as the clouds swept by was beautiful. Salcey Forest, you need to sort your shit out.

I could have stayed there forever. The only way that it could have been more perfect is if there had been a few extra beers, and if the ricocheting sounds of heavy gun fire were absent. Yes, I said gunfire. Although, even that added something to the experience. You could track the sound echoing in a loop around the surrounding hills and it gave you a real sense of the space you were in.

We were beset by ducks pretty much as soon as we sat down, being all cute and hungry. I didn’t quite manage to get one to eat out of my hand, although there was a point where I thought she was just about to…until one of the sausages popped and hissed on the barbeque tray and scared the crap out of her.

Incoming.

Incoming wildfowl; actually a little bit sinister.

We ate the sausages wrapped up in lomper, which is a round flat bread made of potatoes and it is really tasty. Add on top of that the fact that the ketchup bottle kept making farty noises, and I was in heaven.

I cannot remember how long we were sat there for, but it wasn’t long enough. Any and all reservations I had had the previous day about Oslo being a contender for where I would like to live were knocked right out of the park by this one place alone.

As we walked back into town later, I was struck by two somewhat linked observations; the freshly turned soil in the fields was a different colour to back home… and the horseshit on the paths was a different colour too. It’s important to note environmental differences…leave me alone…

Also, I noticed this thought-provoking piece of graffiti.

Singular.

Singular.

Later that evening, I went to one other place that solidified the idea that Oslo was a desirable place to be. The actual over-arching reason for coming – besides scoping the city – was to see a gig; Catharsis were playing a venue called Blitz. The band had split up many years before, and you could feel the buzz of excitement from all the people who were finally getting the chance to see a group of musicians who they never thought they would ever get to see (or see again for those lucky enough to caught them in the past). Here’s a link to the whole of the Passion album, which I think formed the large part of their set that night;

Catharsis were great; the energy and the passion (for want of a better word) that fizzed out of – in particular – Brian D. the frontman was electric and infectious, and the response from the audience was explosive. For such a small venue, the pit and sheer number of crowd surfers was impressive.

That wasn’t what truly got me though. It was the venue. As soon as we walked in the front door and up the stairs, my heart did a little skip in my chest. The walls were painted black and covered in posters and stickers. The volume and variety of facial hair on display was breathtaking. There was a little stage in the front room and a bigger one in the back. There was graffiti on the ceiling, and the toilets looked like an absolute last resort. It was dark, and dirty, and HOME.

Back in the 90’s, I used to work in a club called Macbeths. It was a weird shaped little place on the end of a row of shops, at the conjunction of two streets in the centre of Northampton. It was obviously many things before I got there, but it was Macbeths first and foremost to me.

Lil bit of history

Lil’ bit of history

It became known as the Cookie Club, the Black Sheep and latterly the Black Cat Jazz Bar. It used to be dark and smelly and LOUD. I loved it. Of course, it closed, along with the Soundhaus and pretty much everywhere else I used to enjoy going to in Northampton. There is still a venue called the Roadmender, but that had a makeover many years ago that stripped the soul out of the place. I even miss the fact the purple ceilings were so low, when people started sweating and breathing heavily, the moist air would hit the roof, condense, and drip back down on your head. Blitz took me straight back to those days and it made me feel so happy. It made me nostalgic for the days when Northampton was a place that I actually enjoyed living in.

I didn’t get any photos of the inside, partly because I was too busy enjoying myself and partly because there was a fuck off great sign saying “No photos”. I am not entirely sure what was going on that wasn’t above board, so I will add the disclaimer that this was definitely not a beer that was either bought, or drunk, in the venue.

Hur hur. Slots.

Hur hur. Slots.

We finished off the evening by going to the bar where TrollfesT shot the video for Trinkentroll, except now it’s called Maksitaksi. It’s not as dark, but it’s dead comfy and they were playing a lot of wubby bass tracks (which is another fondness of mine). Even better, it was pretty much falling distance away from the Smarthotel.

There was not a Single Thing Wrong with the whole day.

Oslo 28th August 2014 (Day 1/5)

Allow me to paint a picture for you.

It’s 3:37am. It is dark, and it is raining. Not proper rain, of course; just that horrid grey drizzle, the kind that sits innocently in a layer on top of your clothes for ten minutes…before reaching critical mass and soaking in, drenching you more thoroughly than if you had run around in a proper storm. I am stood in the garish purple glow of the lights outside the Premier Inn, Gatwick A23. I am wearing – as usual – camouflage combat shorts and skate trainers, and for the first time since March, I am actually feeling like I may have misjudged my wardrobe.

I was waiting for a taxi, which was getting progressively later. I was due to fly out to Oslo that morning at 5:55am, and while my logical self had looked at the timescales and was doing its best to reassure me that everything was going to be fine, my risk-assessing self was remembering the horrendous queue to get through security on the way to Copenhagen, and the fuck up with the boarding passes on the way to Montpelier. The background whine of anxiousness was getting louder and louder.

After a disproportionately polite telephone call to remind the taxi company that I was waiting, a car arrived and whisked me off to the South terminal. The driver complimented me on travelling light, which instantly soothed my ruffled feathers, since it’s a bit of a point of pride with me; if it doesn’t fit in one rucksack, it’s not going.

I trotted through the terminal to security…where there was one person in front of me. Despite the fact that I forgot to take the liquids out of my backpack (because, you know, I don’t travel enough to remember…) meaning that the security staff had to go through my bag – very nicely, and almost apologetically – I was through in 4 minutes.

So much for worrying about not getting through in time. Fuck you, risk-assessing brain.

I took a slow amble around the departure lounge, and fuck was it hot in there. I’m not sure if they try to deliberately encourage germs to breed or what, but it was quite unpleasant. Most of the shops weren’t open at that stage, but there was a Costa Coffee and there was the bar, with the warm shiny lights and sports news. I decided that I wasn’t going to have a beer, which would have been traditional, and was very pleased with myself. Granted, it was only 4:10am, and that’s probably a little bit early, even for me.

Making Sensible Choices

Making Sensible Choices

I spent the next hour sat with my massive coffee, charging my phone, and quietly judging people. A mid-30’s couple with a pushchair sat down by one of the departure boards. She was very pale and tired looking, with her blond hair pulled back into an “It’s-4am-who-gives-a-fuck” ponytail. She was staring vacantly into the pushchair, looking largely incapable of thought, let alone conversation. He on the other hand looked positively relaxed. He was wearing a neatly pressed pair of bootcut jeans, with pointy slip-on brown shoes, a snappy polo shirt with a pair of wrap-around sunglasses hanging backwards off of his neck, and a hat that he had clearly stolen from the Man from Del Monte. He slid his arse forward as far as he could on the seat, sprawling his legs out far enough to be a trip hazard, casually leaning back with his hands clasped behind his head, taking a nap while his partner sat motionless, staring at the baby.

I bet he’s a prick.

Ooh, on a side note, in the hotel room last night, I had discovered a Gideon’s bible. I didn’t realise they still did that these days, but I casually tossed a challenge out to my friends via the medium of Facebook.

Gauntlet thrown.

Gauntlet thrown.

The response was fairly overwhelming, with some excellent ideas, but in my sleep- and coffee-deprived state, I settled on writing a new Foreword and Disclaimer.

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I feel like I could have done better, but never mind. I will be more prepared next time.

Anyway, departure gate 51 was called and I headed off on a completely uneventful mooch. Flight boarding and takeoff was absolutely by the numbers, with the only unpleasantness being the woman sat on the other side of the aisle. She was really small and quite old, with exceptionally short hair. She looked like a Squirrel Monkey in sandals, and she was cheerfully picking at the skin on her feet throughout the safety demonstration.

Speaking of safety, apparently there are no calm and orderly departures from Norwegian airline planes…

RUN AWAY

RUN AWAY

No fuss, no trauma, no turbulence, no screaming children, and even the old lady stopped picking herself. It was all to the good, because my brain – being its usual assclown self – had woken me up at 0:50am and there was no way I could have coped with any level of stress whatsoever.

Scumbag Brain

Scumbag Brain

We touched down in Oslo Gardermoen in absolutely glorious sunshine. It was warm and bright, with a cool breeze, the sky was a crystal clear azure blue, and the drizzly misery of that morning was rapidly burned away. I bounced through the airport, grinning my tits off… and did in fact laugh loudly as an escalator slowly swept me down past a massive poster which appeared to show a load of statues in a veritable orgy of oral pleasure. I am perfectly prepared to accept that it might just be my mind interpreting it that way, of course.

I had pre-booked tickets for a bus to and from Oslo bus station, and I stood around the place where the timetable had suggested the bus would be going from. There was a large group of staff from one Finnish company all gathered around in the same place, although they weren’t waiting for the same bus I was. After the best part of 20 minutes had passed, risk-assessment brain was clearing its throat and saying “…are you sure you know what you’re doing?”.

Of course, the bus turned up on the dot of when it was due, the ticket I had downloaded onto my phone was absolutely fine, the bus was relatively empty and comfortable, and also had free Wi-Fi.

It was never going to go wrong, idiot.

It was never going to go wrong, idiot.

Fuck you, risk-assessment brain. I really need to learn to trust my own judgement more. Unless I’m very drunk. Then I shouldn’t do that at all.

I was struck by how much the outskirts of Oslo – where there was a load of construction work taking place on what looked like it might be some funky new office complex – looked really like the outskirts of Bergen. There is obviously a very specific style of building that is popular at the moment, all clever and full of shapes.

My ticket was supposed to be to the bussterminalen. I pressed the stop button (which didn’t light up, but I didn’t want to press it again, because I am a fool) and picked up my bag, shuffling to the edge of my seat in anticipation of the bus stopping. Which it didn’t. The bus driver slowed to a crawl, ready to stop, as I was poised to get up. Both the driver and I were waiting for SOMEONE to commit to an action. In any case, he drove straight past, and I ended out getting off at the next stop like that was what I meant all along. As it happened, it was way closer to my hotel, so I am taking that as a Win.

I was staying at the Smarthotel on St Olav’s Gate. I took a walk up to see if there was any chance I could check in early. There wasn’t. I guess I should have paid more attention to the “Want to check-in early?” option when booking…

Anyway, I went off to go and familiarise myself with the local geography. Oslo centre is remarkably easy to navigate, and once you know a few street names, it’s almost impossible to get lost. I sat for a little while in the sunshine by the fountain in Eidsvolls Plass, feeling utterly at peace with the world.

I am given to understand it was still raining at home. BAHAHAHAHAH.

I am given to understand it was still raining at home. BAHAHAHAHAH.

Utterly at peace, but for one statue, which was challenging my British sensibilities to their utter limits. The statue was of a satyr. With his knob out. Not just OUT, but also really happy to see everyone. There were streams and streams of tourists taking photos and posing with it, but I was way too busy politely ignoring it. I have therefore resorting to stealing someone else’s picture.

I… well, ahh… ahem… I still don’t know exactly what I am supposed to think about this. What is the correct response? Am I supposed to be aroused, intimidated, amused, admiring? I am too British to deal with this, damnit.

Something else that really struck me was the sheer volume of people begging for money. There were genuinely loads of them, you couldn’t walk 25m in any direction without seeing someone begging or trying to entertain for cash. They fell into two very distinct groups; 1) guys dressed as clowns and 2) the wives of Papa Lazarou.

Tired to sell me a magazine in the centre of Oslo

Tried to sell me a magazine in the centre of Oslo

The first time a guy walked past me going “Beep beep!” I was delighted. I thought that I had finally found a place were people were free to wander around and be clowns if they wanted. I figured out what was going on as soon as I laughed…and he immediately homed in on me like a magpie after Shiny Things. I gave him a £2 coin. Good luck with that, son.

I wandered through the town and down to the waterfront and the Opera house. You could actually SMELL the sea, and it’s funny how you realise that you missed something like that once you have it again.

The ACTUAL Sea.

The ACTUAL Sea.

Oslo itself reminded me a lot of Copenhagen in terms of the architecture, and little details like the pedestrian crossings, but it was really very different in the atmosphere and the way it felt. Copenhagen gives off the impression that is has been designed, like some kind of model village. Oslo has a much more organic feel to it, like it has grown up around the people and evolved into the space, much more like the slightly cramped and alive feeling you get from London.

Except Olso is clean.

In Biology lessons, we would occasionally use a piece of equipment called a quadrat. The idea was that you take it outside, lob it around, and wherever it lands you count all the insects, plants and animals you find inside as a measure of bio-diversity.

Never did I think that THIS would be the thing that I took out of Biology A Levels...

Never did I think that THIS would be the thing that I took out of Biology A Levels…

If you chucked a quadrat around in a town in the UK, inside it you would expect to find;

1 brown and greasy McDonalds bag
4 cigarette ends
1 crisp packet
24 pieces chewing gum, crushed
1 discarded lottery scratch card
12 pieces of broken glass
1 shattered soul

In Oslo – nothing. I genuinely looked, and all I could find were some cigarette ends, and that was seriously only a few, and all around benches where people would naturally be sitting. I even looked up at one point and the fucking PIGEONS were taking a bath.

Not even joking, this little dude is drying out after taking a bath in the fountain.

Not even joking, this little dude is drying out after taking a bath in the fountain.

There was a bit of military parade, with uniforms, horses and a marching band. I simply cannot hear a band like that without expecting them to break into the music used on the Monty Python TV series. I am fairly sure that marks me as one of a slowly dying group. Nevertheless, I was delighted that they had obviously chosen to honour my arrival with such a magnificent spectacle.

Floating hippies. Of course.

Floating hippies. Of course.

During my wanderings around the town, I spotted a pub called The Scotsman. Well, it would be rude not to!

Brings back terrifying reminders of my wedding day.

Brings back terrifying reminders of my wedding day.

I actually really liked it in The Scotsman. It was nice, and dark, and the beer was good. There were a couple of kilts up on the wall, and I am sorry to say I think I recognised the tartan. It might even be the McDonald tartan, but I don’t want to investigate that any closer. This pub really reminded me of a local pub in Northampton called the Racehorse…or at least how the Racehorse used to be many years ago, before it smelled overwhelmingly of piss.

The menu made me smile. Bangers and…potato salad? We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto.

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To be fair, it all looked pretty tasty.

While I was sat there, I saw two different kinds of uniformed personnel ride past the front door on horses. It was a bit surreal actually. I am sure it’s more common in London, but in Northampton you only ever really see horses when they are being ridden down country roads – literally and figuratively – shitting themselves as cars have to pass them on tiny bends, which make you question the riders’ 1) judgement, and 2) will to live.

I was due to meet up with a friend in the evening, but I successfully managed to squeeze in another pint before going and checking in to the hotel. I did have an interesting conversation with one of the barstaff about language before I left, which made me challenge my own perceptions a little bit, but I will go into that in more detail at another point.

My room at the Smarthotel was small but perfectly formed. I, of course, utterly filled it with crap at the first opportunity. I had a bed, a desk, a shower, toilet and TV. It was clean and comfortable and cheap, plus the hotel was really conveniently located close to shops and public transport, and I would highly recommend it to anyone planning on going to Oslo.

I magically transform every environment I am in into a shit-tip

I magically transform every environment I am in into a shit-tip

All things considered, it had been an odd little day. Not least of which was probably due to having been awake for about 7 hours longer than normal. Ignoring that though, Oslo quite unexpectedly didn’t feel all that very different from home. Yes, of course there were differences in the details; the weather was brighter, the city was cleaner, the buildings were EPIC, and the beggars were just skating on the sinister-comedy side of reality. Also, I will genuinely never get used to cars actually stopping at pedestrian crossings. Freaks me the hell out, just wandering into the road and trusting that no-one is going to take your legs out.

It was easy to navigate, comfortable, and familiar. Part of my agenda for the trip to Oslo was to see if it was a place that I could live, and I could certainly easily do that. However, I hadn’t fallen in love with it in the same way that I had Bergen. I suppose that is obvious thinking about it, since Bergen is a) so very different to anything you can experience in the UK, and b) utterly, chest-squeezingly, fucking beautiful. I wasn’t going to jump to any conclusions though; I had another four days to spend in the city and see how I got on with it.

Anyway, later that evening, I had my first experience of the T-Bane, which is the Oslo metro system. It smelled just like the London Underground and I LOVED it. The hot, greasy, mechanical, recycled air smell… it’s just…phwoarr… excuse me for a few minutes…

Hur hur.... foreskin...

Hur hur…. foreskin…