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Yo, sorry if you are one of my 2 or 3 email subscribers. I accidentally just posted something that was un-proof-read and intended for another blog. Terribly embarrassing. For what it is worth, you can read the proper version of it over on my new blog. And maybe start following that blog if you want to intermittently hear about whatever mundane crap is pissing me off at that moment.

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Mobile phone operator Halebop, a budget subsidiary of TeliaSonera, is racist. Or at least xenophobic. Or at best a bunch of idiots.

Having been told by various phone companies when I first came to Sweden that I could expect to wait at least a year before anyone would offer me credit and thus a contract phone and its various benefits, it was with trepidation that just over 12 months on from my initial arrival I applied for a Halebop Rubbet phone package; a 24 month contract with an iPhone 5C priced very competitively. I was delighted to be approved at the first time of asking, and after waiting a couple of days for the Easter holiday postal backlog to clear out, received a little piece of paper in the post this morning advising me that my new phone was ready to collect at the local post office. With a spring in my step I finished my day at work as quickly as possible and took myself to ICA Sabbatsberg, where my package was waiting for me.

Unfortunately on my arrival at the post office desk I was told that I wouldn’t be able to use my British drivers license as proof of my identity to retrieve my parcel, and the only acceptable form of international identification would be a passport. Given that I have previously collected post using my driving license, and as recently as last week got a package out without even being asked so much as my name, let alone for some form of ID, I was pretty disappointed that the person manning the post office today was a stickler for the rules. ‘But one must respect that she is only doing her job,’ I reminded myself, and since it wasn’t such a chronic bother, I took myself home to collect my passport and returned to pick up my now long overdue new phone.

The round-trip to my current residence in Vällingby took a little over an hour (when I made mention of my ‘local’ post office earlier, it is in fact local to the address where I am still formally registered according to the Swedish government. I have actually lived with a friend in Vällingby for 6 months but never dared to admit it to anyone. Vällingby is pretty crap. Sorry Vällingby) but the time simply flew by as the excitement of picking up my fresh new telephone grew.

My current mobile is an iPhone 4. Undoubtedly a great piece of kit in its day but I only got it as a freebie as it had run its course for the previous owner and was in a pretty bad way; cracked screen etc. Before that I had owned a Samsung E1270, a capable caller and texter, but for £7 (€8.50/$11.75/77 kr) nothing to be too excited about when I first unwrapped its non-descript blue box. It is over 4 years since I last had the shiny-new-phone buzz associated with a freshly signed contract so that extra hour didn’t seem like such a big deal.

On my return to ICA I proudly presented my passport to the lady who had taken over at the post office counter, helpfully pointing out that it was a British passport, but that I knew that that was ok because her colleague had earlier told me that it was and I had listened to what she said and went and got my correct ID. I think she thought I was a child with autism. Fair enough.

After a fair bit of tapping at her computer keyboard, several confused facial contortions, some quiet tutting and under-the-breath muttering, she finally uttered those words that no customer ever wishes to hear but that are so awfully charming in the way that they disarm you that you sort of don’t mind when they are said: ‘I think I’ve fucked this up for you.’ (One of my favourite things about Sweden is that a member of staff can say this in a supermarket full of children and no one bats an eyelid. They love a good old fucking swear, the shitting Swedes)

Consulting a colleague and then an internal postal service helpline, the fucker-upper was able to establish that I was not going to be able to get my phone, because after three failed attempts to input my passport details on to the system, my package was frozen in the system for 24 hours and she would not be allowed to give it to me or anyone else, until tomorrow evening. At this point I started to get pretty annoyed, given that this woman’s incompetence at pressing the correct keys on her computer in the right order should cause me the inconvenience of being without a phone for the next 24 hours. She, clearly embarrassed and keen to avoid listening to my attempts to complain in inadequate Swedish, proceeded to dig deeper to see if there was any way to undo her doings and make things right for the increasingly upset and frustrated little boy in front of her.

Several seconds of further tapping away on the computer keyboard, plus another lengthy consultation with a different colleague resulted in the revelation that ‘I didn’t fuck it up!’ …but… ‘you will definitely not be able to get your phone within the next 24 hours.’ ..and… ‘you will possibly never get your phone if you don’t have a Swedish ID card.’

It turns out that Halebop have an agreement with the Swedish post office, that the only acceptable proof of identity for picking up your new phone is one issued by the Swedish government. When I think about all the things that I have been able to do since moving to Stockholm last year using nothing more than my British passport, and for the most part just my driver’s license, this becomes increasingly ludicrous.

Things I have done without the need to have a Swedish ID card:

  • Got a job with a Swedish company.
  • Opened an account at a Swedish bank.
  • Paid tax to the Swedish government.
  • Bought a flat with a Swedish mortgage.
  • Flown across the Swedish border several times.
  • Proven my identity to countless other different people and organisations for a variety of different reasons.

…and above all else…

  • Been approved and accepted as a customer of Halebop, a company that you would have thought would have wanted to just take my fucking money, but who apparently don’t want the custom of an immigrant who has taken the perfectly reasonable decision to skip paying 400 kr (£36/€44/$60) for an identity card that is not legally obligatory and apparently serves no purpose in any other walk of life.
  • Authorised Halebop to transfer my phone number away from my Telenor SIM card and on to the new SIM, an apparently irreversible process that means I don’t have use of my current mobile because it became inactive at 4am this morning in anticipation of my big move (as I write this, it is now ‘tomorrow’ by the way. I was so annoyed and exhausted by this shitty mess last night that I had to stop writing and go to bed).
  • Accessed Halebop’s woeful online customer service, a chat-based service that leaves you completely insanely angry because the agent manning the computer at the other end (a really sympathetic, good-humoured chap called Anton, the only good thing about this shitty tale. I told him to quit his job twice in the course of our online chat, not because he was bad at it but because he represented a proper skid mark of a company and he could be doing something better. He kindly ignored my sarcasm and anger and just did his job as best he could. Fair play, Anton) is not allowed to budge from the script, a script that tells him to say no to everything you request, a script that says there are no superiors to speak to, and no way to take this complaint further without posting a letter to an address in Borlänge. Given my previous history dealing with these people by post I am not exactly keen to head down that route, even though I’m sure it is the most efficient and quick way to retain my custom, worth several thousand Swedish Kronor to your company, and to sort out my problem in a timely manner *massive fucking sarcasm explosion*.

Yes, I am and have been allowed, well within Swedish law and my basic human rights, to do all these things, AND YET I AM NOT ALLOWED TO TAKE HOME WITH ME FROM THE POST OFFICE, A PACKAGE WITH MY NAME ON IT, A NAME THAT IS INDISPUTABLY MINE ACCORDING TO EVERYONE THAT I HAVE EVER HAD TO PROVE IT TO, EXCEPT HALEBOP, THE RACIST (or at least xenophobic, or at best a bunch of idiots) SWEDISH MOBILE PHONE NETWORK.

In fact I am very much alive. After a month or two of fighting Swedish bureaucracy, I have a job, I am on the population register and if I want to I can even do something nuts like open a bank account or buy a mobile phone. Unfortunately I am still decidedly poor and can’t afford to buy a subscription from an Internet provider because I won’t actually receive my first proper pay check until the end of June. In the meantime, hold tight because once I’ve got regular access to my wordpress account, this baby is going to fire up and be so worth reading you won’t know what to do with yourself between updates. Hang in there folks.

Ok people, first the bad news: my travel blog ran out. It was all going so well but then we had too much fun in Bangkok (amazing city, go if you can) to sit down and write anything. Now I’m back on the cold side of the world, I don’t have any money left for more holidays and I’m going to have to get a bloody job. Boring.

The good news is that the adventure never stops. Because I’m not going home exactly. I’m in Sweden. Which means I will be getting a job in Swedish. Which sounds pretty dangerous.

Actually my Swedish isn’t as bad as you might think. According to statistics I just made up, only 0.002% of the world’s population speak Swedish, while 100% of Swedish people speak English. Learning Swedish should therefore be at the bottom of everybody’s list of things to do, below ‘learn Zulu,’ ever so slightly above ‘learn Norwegian.’ But I’m a bit scatty with priorities so I’ve spent the last couple of years learning, at my own pace, this somewhat niche language.

With that initial hurdle at least a little bit out of the way, all I have to do is figure out the Swedish tax office, Swedish health insurance, the Swedish property market and precisely what the difference is between a coffee break and a fika. Then hopefully I will be considered employable by some fantastic and achingly cool company that are going to change the world and I will be able to tell all my friends that moving to Stockholm was the best thing that ever happened to me and they won’t make snide comments behind my back like when I moved to Brighton and then spent three years making lattes for arseholes and scraping together just about enough money to make my rent each month.

In two days time I will be sitting on a flight back to England after spending 6 months away from home, travelling around the world, across varying landscapes, through enormous cities and strikingly empty beaches, from freezing my arse off waiting for sunrise at The Grand Canyon to sweating my tits off watching the sun set over Bangkok. This is ludicrous.

Three years ago I was making frothy coffees for the weird and wonderful in Brighton, not really considering that life held much in the way of an exciting future for me, content to drift along enjoying hanging out with friends and living by the sea.

Then I met Lovisa and all of a sudden life was golden.

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Without resorting to a revolting, awkward and unnecessary public display of affection (she is right next to me, asleep. If I really wanted to I could wake her up and display my affection right now in the sanctity of our hotel room. Written down that comes across a bit perverted and innuendo-y. I assure you that ‘my affection’ is not a euphemism for anything), I’d just like to point out that it was my really brilliant girlfriend who told me that it could be fun to go and see the world, instead of working at Nando’s for the rest of my life, and because of her beautiful little mind I am the happiest person in the world right now.

And it might not seem like much when you consider that your girlfriend is rubbish compared to mine and I continue to draw attention to it, but at least you get to share in my happiness through my mediocre blog. Everyone’s a winner baby.

As a holidaying couple rather than a pair of travellers, we have spent almost all our time in each other’s company rather than taking the opportunity to get to know people we have met around the world. It’s not that we are an anti-social pair who prefer to spend all our time alone; at home we have quite independent social lives which we conduct very happily alongside our courtship. It just seems that everyone we have met is a know-it-all travel expert dickhead.

Generally speaking the backpacking community is full of heinous wankers, more concerned with finding other heinous wankers to hang out, get drunk and take acid on the beach with, than actually having proper experiences of the countries they have spent their parents money on coming to visit. They wear massive harem pants, carry their enormously over-laden rucksacks with them all the time but never actually use any of the camping or hiking equipment they spent their last student loan instalments on, get their hair dreaded, necks tattooed and noses pierced. I don’t know why they all want to look the same but they do. It would be much simpler for them to simply hang a sign round their neck that said “Ask me anything about anywhere because even though I haven’t been there you can bet I have an opinion on it because someone I know once read a Lonely Planet guide about it. By the way do you know how much LSD I did last night? I only do psychedelics now because alcohol is so passé and totally makes you a wanker. I can’t be a wanker because I travel so much you see so I must be open minded and anyway even though I don’t know why I’m wearing these fucking heavy, impractical, hotter-than-the-sun baggy trousers, the mushrooms in Thailand are incredible. Has anyone seen my shoes?”

Which made it such a bloody pleasure to meet Gertraud.

This is Gertraud (left)

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Gertraud is a 67 year old widow, she travels alone for three months every year, has never been moved to get a sanskrit tattoo and has been to more countries than Ban Ki-moon.

She was staying at the same guesthouse as us in Bira and after a couple of days of seeing her chatting non stop to other backpacking Europeans we assumed she was just a crazy old German lady who smoked too much and probably talked a load of old bollocks. When we tentatively joined her at her table for breakfast one morning we were delighted to be proved wrong.

She has been just about everywhere, for the love of travel and seeing the planet, not for the love of being part of a bead-wearing community of idiots. Yes, she’s had a “dirty weekend in Pattaya,” (her words) but she’s earned it.

If you want to know about women’s rights in Iran, ask Gertraud. She was there in the 70s when she says women were running the show in banks, politics and the rest. Same for Afghanistan before the rise of the Taliban; Gertraud was there. If you want to know anything about any of Indonesia’s 17,000+ islands, she has been to most of them and can recommend you a good place to stay. If you want to know what it’s like to share your hut in the Amazon with tarantulas and pythons ask her, she’s done it. If you want to know why Goa isn’t a nice place to go on holiday anymore she will tell you at length how when she first went it was the most unbelievably beautiful place on earth until backpackers and developers shit all over it. Asia, Africa, South America, Oceania, Europe, the Middle East; she’s been there, done that, bought the fake Burberry t-shirt and worn it with pride with her beautifully blow dried hair because she understands that taking care of a sensible haircut is much easier than taking care of dreadlocks when you’re on the road for several months you fucking faux rasta pillock.

Or if travelling isn’t your bag, ask her about something else, because Gertraud isn’t defined by her nomadic lifestyle like all the gap year Henrys and Poppys are so desperate to be.

Ask her about growing up immediately after the war in West Germany, having nothing and having to start an entire country again from scratch. Ask her about going to the opera in Munich in the summer. Ask her about her brother and his awful Club Med package holidays. Tell her about your trip to the USA because its the only place she’s never been to and because she actually likes to hear what the youth are up to these days, without having to respond with her own, slightly more crazy and enlightened anecdote about how when she went to *somewhere* it was before you went there and they had much better weed then.

If I can be even half as cool as Gertraud is when I’m nearing 70 I will be so pleased with myself that I will become unbearable and therefore automatically way uncooler than her. But I’m going to try and do it anyway.

New holiday, new blog, everybody throw their hands in the air, like they just don’t care, etcetera! This will be the only place to hear about all the fun and adventures that I am having all over the world. Except for Lovisa’s most likely far more eloquent albeit written in Swedish blog.

I’m on a plane right now, listening to the Beastie Boys and doing all sorts of getting excited about spending most of the next month in the Big Apple. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get any better than this. Except of course it probably will throughout the course of the next 6 months or so, because I’m circling the globe and not sitting at home with the heating on.

Virgin Atlantic baby.

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