From London to Oslo's suburbia

After many years living in London I shifted my base to Oslo a while back, and ended up living in the middle of Oslo's suburbia, at Manglerud – a nice family friendly place close to a bird reservoir and a forest. Now, with only ten minutes on the tube to get downtown, it's still fairly central, and even in London I always stayed in leafy neighbourhoods like Muswell Hill and Hadley Wood (which isn't strictly London). However: even while living in Hadley Wood (which is Hertfordshire, some 500 meters outside London's borders) everything was just around the corner and everything was available, at least 'til 11pm.

Here in Oslo's suburbia everything close early, much too early if you work the kinda days I occasionally do, and worse still: on bank holidays shops are either not open at all, or close before I even get out of bed. This weekend being Whit, I looked around for signs of reduced opening hours when I passed by the shopping mall midday yesterday but couldn't find any. So I concluded that it was safe to go ahead with my very Norwegian exercise; a long walk to Skullerudhytta (almost through the forest) before I did my shopping.

When I reached my destination, which also serves as a cafeteria, it was closed (summertime), and when I then got back to the shopping mall that was closed as well - despite my inability to find any notice about reduced opening hours. So, seeing that I've got a big work assignment to crack from home this weekend, it's going to be a very inexpensive weekend indeed. Better just rummage through my freezer and cupboards and see what I can cook up: hmm... tomato beans, pasta, tuna, peanut butter, frozen spinach, crisp bread... I'm sure going to have some interesting dinners this weekend...

Life's small and big wonders

This is my third post about my friend H's car crash, but it's a story with an unbelievably happy ending: Despite a totally wrecked car, windows broken, roof torn off, she came away with only a scratch and, even more surprisingly, when the contents of the car arrived at our doorstep yesterday we were amazed to find that not only were her electronic equipment like laptop and camera unharmed, even the bottle of wine survived the crash with the mountain wall. The only thing missing is Casanova the cat, who escaped right after the accident.

Is it possible to be so lucky? It really makes you appreciate the great and small wonders of life. I learned of the car crash while I was at the airport, about to take off for Liverpool, and was travelling and working all week while trying to keep up with H's health and be supportive to her and her family. At the end of that week I felt like a wreck, but throughout it I found comfort in life's many small wonders like feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin, strolling in the park, watching amazing birdlife (such as this endearing family of swans) and the company of good friends. Amazing how such small things can make such a huge difference in times of upheaval.

Isle of the dead

Sefton Park, Liverpool

I took this picture in Sefton Park, Liverpool, as the scenery reminded me eerily of Arnold Böcklin's painting "The Island of the Dead" (1880) which I've always had a special relationship to after it was pointed out to me by someone who thought it would be exactly the kind of painting I would like. It's something dark and disturbing about Böcklin's painting, but it is also beautiful and it touches something in me I haven't quite found the words to identify. Why this focus on dark sentiments? Well, I captured this scenery from Sefton Park the day after my flatmate H had told me of her car crash and close encounter with death (see my previous blog post).

"The Island of the Dead" by Arnold Böcklin

A Close Encounter (and the tyranny of arbitrary health care)

A close friend just drove into a mountain wall. The car was totally wrecked while she miraculously survived with only a small cut in her arm and the shock of a near death experience.

For now, this strong independent woman, at a time when she is weaker and more dependent than she would ever have cared to be, is left in the care, or should I say at the mercy, of the ARBITRARY Norwegian public health service. An ARBITRARY health service where life and death is a matter of which doctor is on guard, which staff on duty and which hospital department you are fortunate or unfortunate enough to be assigned to.

As a trained journalist I don't make such claims lightly. I've seen enough evidence to know that this is indeed the unfortunate state of public Norwegian health care: I've heard enough hospital staff talk about it with despair, frustration and even a degree of resigned cynicism - all of them reluctant to go on the record for fear of losing their jobs. I also know that upright Norwegian health professionals regularly get into trouble for raising concern over the quality and consistency of the system they work in.

Of course, bringing in my profession begs the question, am I biased? Yes, I am VERY biased. Aged 17 I was admitted to a Norwegian hospital after a serious car accident which nearly killed me and suffered a catalogue of maltreatments and condenscending behaviour no one should have to suffer in a situation where they are dependent on professional help.

Not being person prone to suffer injustice lightly, I voiced my experiences in the local media with the result that I was inundated with calls from people who had suffered similar experiences, including a couple who claimed to have lost their kid to hospital maltreatment. In the 12 years since I have heard and seen similar stories again and again and will readily admit that I fear for any friend or relative put into Norwegian hospitals with serious ailments. 12 years on Norwegian public health care is still ruled by the tyranny of arbitrariness, or suffering from "insufficient quality assurance" as the political jargon goes.

So my friend now hospitalised after her car crash risks experiencing the same lack of manners; wards that are understaffed and overworked and health professionals making fundamental misjudgements for lack of time, proper routines or sheer negligence and incompetence as I did 12 years ago: making you feel as the imbecile, disempowered charge of a hospital for the retarded in the former Soviet Union. Or she might meet some really nice people who try to do their best despite the system they are confined to work in. The problem is that either outcome is likely.

Am I the only person who thinks this is unacceptable? Well I hope not. I'm pretty sure I'm not. Then why, 12 years on is this still the case? Isn't anything better possible? I actually know that it is. I had this amazing experience when I was forced to operate my knees at Hampstead Royal Free in London two years back. Now I'm not saying that NHS is beyond reproach, it might be just as arbitrary a system as the Norwegian one, but still: even though it was not as modern as many Norwegian hospitals, and they were clearly understaffed: all the staff introduced themselves and explained how they were going to treat me, and why, and made me feel safe, well-informed and well taken care of . Such small things, but so important when they have your life and health in their hands. After all, your life is the most valuable thing you have.

And the future is...

Anne-Marie Ugland. Mark that name. Last week she signed a contract, likely to lead to her first series of popular novels, with one of Norway's biggest publishers. Ever since we went to senior high school together she's nurtured and worked towards this ambition: Doggardly. Disciplinedly. Passionately – always upholding the virtue of the good story. At this point I could reminiscence about the good old times and the elaborate plans we made for the future, but the future is upon us: well-deserved Anne-Marie. Congratulations!

Antisocial Networking the new networking hype according to Wired. Initially intended as a pun on online social networks, the founder of anti-social networking site Snubster found that "shared hates can be an equally effective bonding tool". I can't say I'm too surprised, seeing how a number of today's popular movements seem deprived of any positive values and united in hate only...

Other antisocial networking sites include Isolatr and Introverster. The latter one sounds pretty cool to me, but next time one of my introvert moods comes over me, and I feel like retreating to the nearest isolated mountaintop, I think I'll settle for switching off my internet connection...

Dangerous Mondays

Last Monday I only got a black screen and an error message when I turned on my laptop. Stuck without a PC for weeks I could see myself missing all my deadlines, loosing all future contracts, my livelihood, friends in faraway places... well, I steadied myself and called the computer support line. They of course said it had to be a software problem, which would not be covered by my warranty, but were kind enough to direct me to the appropriate computer hospital. I struggled and blundered my way there through biting cold and snow, and spent a nervous hour in the waiting room to at least see if they could recover my files (and bankrupt me in the process). Luckily, it was the hard disk that was ill after all, which saved me from bankruptcy, but I still lost most of last week to prolonged visits to computer hospital and reinstalling everything on my brand new hard disk. So if I've been less than communicative lately, this is why... There's something about me and Mondays: two weeks ago I got on the wrong train to Brussels Airport and missed my flight; one week ago my computer crashed; today I have decided to just catch up on my reading and enjoy the sunny winter day from my veranda.    

90-year bash

”Do you remember the time when we danced on the tables in that place in the Reeperbahn in Germany?” my aunt H’s best friend E asked my aunt H at the 90-year-birthday-bash we threw for her.

“Yes…” my aunt H smiled, and, as they were about to delve further into that memory, E’s 60-year-old son, his chin a few inches closer to his chest, mutters appalled: “You did… did not flutter your skirts …did you?”

“Well, we did not use trousers in those days, my dear,” his mother smiles, her eyes wandering, seemingly lost in the memories of days gone by: memories of the weeks and days that led up to the outbreak of the Second World War, before Europe lost its innocence.

At some point my aunt H gets up and gives an eloquent speech, thanking us all for shining a light on her life: a speech that is nothing less than a momentous achievement for someone who, after numerous examinations and re-examinations was diagnosed with Alzheimer years ago – yet only once does she repeat herself.
They said it took so long to arrive at her diagnosis because she was so eloquent, so verbose, so strong-willed, so independent, so intelligent. Or maybe I made that up, but she was and is, and they did find a woman of such eloquence hard to ‘catch’.

After her speech we thanked her of course, for raising my father, her nephew, and for being a mentor and beacon of inspiration to us all. For always urging us to realise our dreams and talents. For being her generous, warm, knowledgeable, adventerous and inspiring self.


The legacy she will leave behind is beyond words to describe, but here’s a poem that catches her spirit:


Champagne, she said, pink champagne

for my funeral!

Candles in the candlesticks, cream gâteau

and two violins.

Hectic roses in her cheeks just by the thought

of all the guests.

But first she ordered red shoes

for her 90-year-birthday

                                       (Unofficial translation of “Fremtid” by Norwegian poet Aase-Marie Nesse)

These days, when I see my aunt H, she will try to explore what has befallen her. She tells me of going for a walk in the forest and then coming up to this gate, after which she can remember nothing before she ‘wakes up’ in this place where she is now, a place she has come to understand is an old people’s home. “Kristine,” she asks me: “what do you think the world will think of me now – that Mrs H has gone mad?” I will try to assure her that they won’t, that what people who know her will remember is the H who inspired and enthused them. That at her age it is allowed to be forgetful, even natural, and that no one would ever think her mad for it. But I never know if I succeed, if the memory will stick beyond the next five minutes. At the end of our meetings, however, she will always say how grateful she is that I came to see her and I will reply in full honesty that it is always wonderful to see her. Because whatever predicament has befallen her, it has not managed to quench that beautiful spirit of hers.

Hjördis celebrating 90 with her best friend Elsa