• Liked or unliked

    I wonder what the people who are not liked think?

    You might think you already know. You might say it’s easy to spot people who are not liked. Donald Trump? Hillary Clinton? Boris Johnson? Greta Thunberg?

    But of course, everybody we have ever heard of is liked by some group of people. That’s why we know them at all. They are doing it to be liked.

    You don’t have to like me

    Even when they say they’re not doing it to be liked, that they’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do, they’re still liked. Liked by the people who like to hear someone say they’re not doing it to be liked.

    Humans are social creatures in general. It’s our drive. But I wonder, what do the people who are not liked think? Those who go unseen. Those nobody notices.

    We’ll never know, of course. Because they’re not on social media. Or any platform of any kind. They’re unseen. Unliked.

    Talking of being liked, are you a smartphone addict?

  • Sweden’s alcohol security system

    Systembolaget with the grille down

    The most secure place in any Swedish city? The prison? No. A bank? No (there is no actual money in Swedish banks anymore – that’s another story). The town hall? No way. This is Sweden. All doors are open. Except, that is, the door of the Systembolaget.

    And it’s not just the door. The Systembolaget doesn’t just shut and lock its door. It puts a metal screen down behind it. And then lots more metal screens behind all the big glass windows. It’s a full lockdown. It is the most secure building in any Swedish town, anywhere.

    Security isn’t a dirty word

    Systembolaget is an important word in Swedish. It’s the name of the state monopoly alcohol supplier. No one but no one in the country can sell you take-out alcohol stronger than a 3.5% lager except Systembolaget. And when Systembolaget closes, it’s closed. Like Fort Knox.

    Swedes are born to it. As a result, they have all perfected a certain style of alcohol purchasing. They plan ahead, in bulk. Being Swedish, this comes fairly naturally. They’re good at planning ahead. It means that when you’re in the checkout line in Systembolaget, you’re surrounded by people with crates of the stuff.

    Even the drunks (yes, state control hasn’t worked) buy their 12% lager in bulk. With my two bottles of Pinot Grigio, I look ridiculous.

    Wine is the forbidden fruit

    And I’m so bad at remembering the strict opening hours that I always miss them. I drink almost exclusively 3.5% lager as a result. It’s a little tedious. Wine has become something of a wistful memory. If only I could plan ahead better, I might taste it again.

    I live in Skåne, the southern breadbasket of Sweden, where the orchards and a few vineyards are fertile and plentiful. Yet even here the state is watching. Visit any of the idyllic Skåne vineyards and you can sample the wine, maybe enjoy a meal with wine, but buy a bottle to take away with you? Oh, no, no, no…

    Only Systembolaget is legally allowed to sell you wine to take out, so having visited the vineyard, you would then need to head back to the city and find a Systembolaget in order, perhaps, to find the fine Swedish vintage you were after.

    They might need to fine-tune that one before Skåne becomes Europe’s answer to the Napa Valley.

    If you ever get hold of any alcohol in Sweden, you might want to wash it down with a Swedish hot dog

  • A dad in the playground

    Empty playground equipment
    Play by the rules (Photo by Ward Mercer)

    I spent the recent Father’s Day in a pub garden playing with my kid. A girl came up to me and enthusiastically tried to get me to join in her game. She grabbed hold of my hand and tried to lead me off round the playground. 

    Paedo paranoia alert

    I flinched. I pulled my hand away. I tried to stand at a nonchalant distance from her. Why? Fear that the parent might look up from their smartphone and see a strange man ‘interfering with my child’. 

    Two depressing realisations:

    • The reason this child was so eager for my attention was that I was the only adult showing any interest in playing with a kid. Whoever was their parent was too busy with their smartphone. 
    • Though I would have been quite happy to play with the child, my fear of engaging with someone else’s child sent the clear message to this kid that I didn’t want to play, just like every other adult. 

    Saudi-style isolationism

    It’s a strange social phenomenon when we can’t be bothered to play with our kids (we’d rather look at anything, anything on our phones), but at the same time don’t want anyone else outside their age bracket to play with them. 

    The result is bizarre playgrounds like the one I found myself in, where children play with each other. Then occasionally a dad (it’s usually a dad, making up for his absence throughout the week) appears in the ring and they all want to engage him. But he will be careful to only play with his own child, and no one else’s. 

    Children have entered a realm akin to women in Saudi Arabia, able to interact only with members of their own family. For their own protection, you understand. Ironic, since I’m sure the experts are always telling us most abusers are family members. 

    What I should have done

    Hindsight is bliss. Afterwards, someone suggested what I should have done. That is, ask the child who their parent was, introduce myself, and ask them if perhaps they’d like to pop the smartphone away and come play, too! 

    While we’re on the subject of what males should do, apparently Boys Don’t Like Flowers