I consider myself quite knowledgeable for my years, and over the past decade or so—it is probably even longer than that—there is a question which has puzzled me immensely, and no matter how much I ponder it, or in which way I attempt to see it, I simply cannot seem to figure it out: Why is being female the greatest of shames?

For my own part I have never wished to be anything else than female, and fact is that even if I were given one million dollars for being genetically altered to become male, I would pass the opportunity up, for I have never desired to be anything else than what I am. The reason for this is that I have always been female, I was made one; ever since the moment of conception, when I came into being for the first time, my twenty-third chromosomes have been homologous. Why this is a fate worth regretting a lifetime, I shall never understand.

Once upon a time—and in some places still—women were sacred creatures because they were the ones who gave birth to new life; they were the ones who illustrated the purpose of all human existence, both biologically as well as symbolically: the smiling sun upon the heavens is a goddess in many religions and Westerners still refer to their world as “Mother Earth”. For millennia the fertile female form has been celebrated, and its essence has been captured by skilled artists of ages past, some of their creations spared from the teeth of time for us to see.

Venus de Milo

Venus de Milo

But those figurines—whose beauty is easily appreciated—stem from ages now long lost. As man left his hunter-gatherer days to cultivate the land his life changed forever, the greatest change of them all however yet to come. But eventually, it did arrive, and the man of today is now the resident of an increasingly post-industrial world, a world in which being female is the greatest of shames.

All ages have their Venuses. The hunter-gatherers had their figurines, such as the Venus of Willendorf, whose true purpose still is disputed—was she a depiction of a goddess, a charm of fertility, or was she simply a piece of art celebrating the beauty of the feminine? The agriculturalists had the true Venuses—the ones who gave their name to the morning star—and the Venus de Milo is still admired by millions every year. The industrialists too have ideal female beauties, but they are no longer celebrated in the same way.

No, the Venuses of industrialisation are raised to feel ashamed over having been cursed already at conception, they are taught that having homologous twenty-third chromosomes is being of lesser worth; the woman of today knows that she is inferior to any man. At least, this is the sole explanation I have come up with in regards to the question I mentioned before: Why is being female the greatest of shames?

In the industrial world the ideal woman is the one who pursues a career; for some reason she has ceased to value herself and instead elevated men to the skies. A modern woman shall not be content until she is identical to a man, and I am terribly sorry for being the one who brings her the news; but this, her ultimate goal, shall never be. She will never grow a beard and speak with a low tone of voice by natural means, for she is a woman—she should take pride in that!

Why Should They Do It?

Why Should They Do It?

Were women an obsolete a part of humanity they would all have been male, but considering how I am no man, there must be a reason for why there are women and why there are men. Fact is that they have different roles to fill, both equally important, despite not being the same. To say such a thing, as I just said, is however forbidden—and very strangely so. Again, I say, this can stem from no reason other than women refusing to acknowledge that they are equal to men.

The world is not fair, if it was, there would be neither males nor females, they would all be the same; both would be equipped with ovaries as well as testes—but such an egalitarian society I highly doubt I will ever see! To make up for this unfair a truth, nature is however most compassionate and makes sure that a foetus during gestation is exposed to hormones that eventually shall make it content with its lot. At least, this has worked in the case of me—I am a delighted female, I desire nothing more, but as far as the rest of humanity is concerned, I simply do not know.

Somewhere, deep inside, even the most female-despising of women must realise that she is seeking revenge for her fate in the wrong way, however so convinced of her own inferiority that she disregards from this and presses on in the pursuit of a goal she believes herself desiring to attain. And, when confronted with something that makes her uncomfortable, she charges and goes to attack instead of pondering its contents. To all such women I have one thing to say: An empty cart makes much noise, a full cart less so.

However, even broken clocks are right twice a day, and the situation of women has indeed improved. No longer need any woman die from complications in childbirth, and she is allowed to vote and to make her voice heard. No longer is a woman kept from making a career, she is allowed to seek the intellectual challenges which all human beings crave. This, I cannot critique—I have no reason to. What I do critique is that women believe themselves being of lesser worth. They are not, why do they even believe so?

There is no need for me to state facts—no-one will listen—but I tell you this—and you may consider it and draw your own conclusions—but ever since women started to doubt their value the world has started to shake. When the people who mattered most to the future of man have abandoned the most glorious of tasks, the consequences can be nothing but severe. All it takes is an open mind and a pair of eyes—look around!—is this world of ours a society that thrives? Something has gone wrong in this most modern age of man, and it is only because some people doubt themselves. I hate to point the finger—so I shall not do so—for those who are responsible know deep within who they are.

The celebrated modern woman is no longer a feminine beauty, she is an aspiring male. How has this come to be? What is it that makes women believe that they are worthless do they not live the life of a man? Shall the world ever come to acknowledge the simple fact that life is not fair, but that one’s lot still is better than none? It is with the greatest of regrets that I say that this I do not know; I know many things but the answer to these questions are still shrouded in mystery to me. One day, however, I intend to change this; one day, I shall know and make sure to tell you, for I believe that being female is just as fine a fate as being male.

Be proud of who you are, do not attempt to change! Take pride in being yourself, for people who know their worth and value have nothing to prove.

Finally, I shall say that man is a creature who learns from his own mistakes; a fact which delights me as the more educated man becomes the more ignorant shall he realise himself to be. And when his ignorance has been realised, there will no longer be any need for the goddesses to be ashamed.

When Sweet Turns Bitter

January 10, 2009

Too commonly it has been said that time is what heals even the most vicious of wounds and this truth has by now become a comforting cliché; the reassurance that all miseries eventually shall come to pass the hope which inspires people to look forward and not remain static in a painful present. The validity of this notion I can verify in regards to both the experiences of myself and others, though I find it important to stress that all pains worth the mention are bound to in some way have left scars.

“The course of life never turns out as expected,” my mother has told me ever since the youngest years of my infancy in an attempt to make certain that her daughter, Miss Josephine, never is to travel farther than she can see down the road. Though I have despised those words since the fist time I heard them, I am certain that my mother’s mention of them served a purpose; reminding me of never submitting to the extravagancies conjured by a youthful mind yet untamed by the wisdom brought on by experience.

The wisest of men are those who have realised that there are no certainties in life; that nothing may ever be taken for granted. To do so is to disregard from doubt and to submit to the convincing allures of folly; to become one of the fools who doth think that they are wise. It is a fallacy which most fear, but which most commit never the less. To my own disappointment, I have realised that neither I am excused for having carried out such an act as my most recent experiences have cemented this new knowledge in my mind.

For the past year there is a certain word which has brought much felicity to my days, a word which I have carefully introduced into every conversation where it rightfully could be mentioned. The word carried great importance to me and I would not lie to you if I say that I indeed were very much in love with speaking the word. To me it was a word of great symbolism and importance; it brought substance into a life so devoid of meaning and possibility for improvement that indolence took the place of motivation in a character once praised for its ambition.

For the past week this word of verbal sweetness—this word of my affections—has grown sour and it now leaves a bitter stain upon my tongue as I attempt to recover from the pains caused by a unforeseen blow to my view of self. To doubt doubt and to be convinced of convictions has proved poison to what was once so very dear to me. The word itself has not been altered—so it can in no way be blamed—but my perception of its sound—once so clear and bright!—has changed and it will never again be spoken by me with the smile of delight.

“How can such deep affections so suddenly be replaced with contempt and disregard?” I hear you ask, and indeed your curiosity shall be satisfied, for I have not authored this incoherent collection of words with the intent to keep you, my dear reader, in the dark. You shall see that the answer to your question—so rightfully asked—is to be found during study of the person affectionate; the object of love seldom to be blamed for a lover’s change of heart.

Cambridge has a noble ring to its name; it speaks of ambition and tradition to my ears; two sentiments which I value and celebrate, and I would have considered it an honour to be chosen to be part of its long history, but such a future was never to be mine. I no longer mention Cambridge when I speak, it has been confined to become a subject of my own reproach; the sweet word has turned bitter and harsh for it is no longer a symbol of opportunity, but one of personal failure and futures to never be known.

Soon I have for two decades been alive and am I fortunate a fifth of my life has already passed me by. One would consider the prime of my youth long gone, but its folly seems reluctant to bide me adieu; we have accompanied each other for too many years to ever be completely apart; were I not foolish in my convictions I would not be who I am; the question being whether a wiser me would be to prefer? Is doubt in conviction what I need to revive?

In retrospect even the most ambiguous of enigmas wear their answers on their sleeves; readily seen as well as read—why did I not consider to look while they were in my view? Alas! That is the way in which folly is defined; as blindness affecting one’s perception of the most obvious; folly being the symptom of complication, of shrouding and concealing what was left out in the open for everyone to see! This realisation is soon to be followed by revitalised reproach: Why was consideration never considered? Why did conviction appear so compelling, so very convincing? Why—oh, why?—was the unclouded clarity of certainty concealed to me?

Had I doubted more—and not been so very convinced—success might very well have been mine. Had I been less convinced—and had I been a person in doubt—my future might have been another! Had I not been as overly confident in myself as I were I would have doubted my abilities, knowledge and talents more. Had I doubted myself I would have questioned what I knew and been motivated to heal the flaws which most apparently were present in my person. Had I doubted and healed myself of conviction’s ignorance my premature honour and pride would perhaps then have been rightfully mine?

Indeed, I committed the fallacy which humanity seems unable to abandon; the inability to realise its own limits. Man is not an omnipotent creature; he does not have the ability to predict the future; all his attempts to do so will eventually be proven wrong. My mistake—I beg you to learn from mine and man’s mistakes—was that I reaped my harvest before my fields had been ploughed. I were so certain of my success that I celebrated it before celebrations were due and failure was all that I left for myself to find.

Perhaps my mother was right when she mused to me that life never takes the course which one expects or wishes it to follow, no matter how much I despised those her words. Had I been more attentive perhaps my fate would have been another; had I convinced my mind to contain a fair amount of doubt I might not have attempted to fly on wings premature. Though I am a fifth of a century old I have barely lived at all and experience cannot easily be considered mine. It is through my folly that I grow to become more than the sum of my parts, it is through the blows of disappointment that I learn the lessons of life.

For, indeed, my dear mother was right: life is fickle and its course is never set in stone. The faintest whisper is enough to steer it off course as life is nothing but a ship sailing in the dark. Wisdom of the past is the only light which serves as a guide, but in a world of unlimited possibilities one is at times all too easily lured to follow the sparkle of fool’s gold.

No longer may Cambridge be the intellectual port where I head, but however knowing that my folly and I are alone to blame I have been given an opportunity to learn from my mistakes—I have been given yet another valuable lesson by life—and I may be more of a person now than I were before sweet turned bitter in my mouth. This pain will no doubt leave a scar, but the initial sting has now faded and it will soon only throb during the darkest hours of my days.

I may never fully forgive myself for having allowed the opportunity of a lifetime to pass me by, but I have learnt that the wisest course of action is to be a fool and doubt one’s wisdom; as even the wisest also are fools.

Cambridge Recollections

December 24, 2008

On Monday December 15th 2008 I attended an interview at the University of Cambridge. This entry was written only hours upon my return, however not posted until now for reasons stemming from my poor conception of time—it is Christmas Eve already?

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The Sunday skies were clouded over, and though the temperature was too cold for me to appreciate, a light, misty rain fell. I was pacing around the house, worrying about everything and nothing, however Cambridge and the trip there in particular. I had packed my suitcase the day before, and though the items I had laid out—having deemed necessary to bring—did not appear to be unreasonable in number, they filled the suitcase to the brim. I have only travelled once before in my life, and fact is that despite me then being away for a week, I brought a lesser variety of items; it was mostly clothes. What I could come to need in Cambridge, I did not know; it was a completely new experience for me.

Eventually came the hour when I had to leave for the airport, and I left without much recollection of what I had actually done during the morning. Not that such a recollection is required, but it shows just how preoccupied my mind was at that time. To reach the airport from where I live takes about half an hour to forty minutes by car, and to me, that time just flew by. The volume of the radio was set quite high to make up for my silence, as I travelled with my father; all because my mind was blank, being filled with too many thoughts to recall even a single one. Indeed I experienced one of the greatest kinds of excitement, the anticipatory, humbling kind. Little me, frail and awkward Miss Josephine was on her way out into the world!

Such a mindset once more overcame me as I was seated in the airplane at Stockholm Arlanda, awaiting takeoff. I had zigzagged in-between people as excited as myself, but people with destinations different from mine. Indeed, I felt special at that moment, being the only one taking the afternoon flight to London Heathrow with the intent of continuing on to Cambridge. As I sat in the fairly, but not overly, comfortable economy seat of the S.A.S. airplane, I was struck by a wave of admiration over how fascinating life can be. What had started as a way to escape late last year’s intellectual distress had now become a real adventure! Words had been written and re-written, digital documents had been requested and returned, decisions and dates had been noted; all leading up to this. The flight came to symbolise this; that this was it.

It was already dark when the plane took off from Arlanda, and it was equally dark as it landed at Heathrow. The only difference I noted was that the Swedish airport was far more secluded than its English counterpart, all of this however only suggested by the orange glow of streetlights flashing closer and closer by as the plane’s altitude decreased. Upon landing I knew that I was in another country—one I had never been to before—and yet, it looked familiar. In the dark I imagine all airports look very much the same through the small windows of an airplane. Had I not spent two and a half hours suspended in the deep darkness which surrounded the plane’s lit interior I could easily have believed that I had only travelled from one part to another of the same airport; that minor were the differences.

Stockholm Arlanda Airports flight control tower at dusk. (I took this picture in may this year, having returned from a one-day visit to Drammen, Norway.

Stockholm Arlanda Airport's flight control tower at dusk. (I took this picture in may this year, having returned from a one-day visit to Drammen, Norway.

It was first when I boarded the Heathrow Express that I realised that there were differences. The loud, and yet surprisingly inaudible, mumbling of the masses at the airport had been replaced by a calmer atmosphere, one which allowed the conversations of my fellow travellers to be heard. Everyone spoke English, and the majority did so with a British accent. I found it greatly fascinating, how one can travel for a short while and find oneself in a different country. Though the airports looked the same, and both have express train-lines attached to them, the conversations overheard by me sounded different. In line with the honeymoon-phase of foreign travel I adored this audible change.

At Paddington station I changed from the Heathrow Express to the London Underground. As a Swede, it is no surprise that I have been told only one side of the story; that the Swedish system of public transportation is among the best in the world. I know too little to challenge such a notion, but I quickly came to the conclusion that the British system is not far behind.

I travelled with the London Underground from Paddington to King’s Cross where I changed for a train to Cambridge after having had a very small bit of fish and chips to eat.

It took just over an hour to reach Cambridge, and the journey was uninspiring as nothing was visible through the train’s windows but darkness, darkness however occasionally broken by the headlights of a car in the distance. Eventually Cambridge Station was reached, and as it was my first time in Cambridge—which also accounted for my father—a cab took us to the hotel, which turned out to be located little over half a kilometre (if even that) from the station. It was already quite late at the time, so taking a small tour around Cambridge was decided against, as I consider first tours of a city are better done in daylight, no matter how clouded over the skies may be.

Despite all I had experienced I went to bed—early for being me, but late for most reasonable people—upon arriving at the hotel. I could however, unsurprisingly, not sleep and I had several, instead of just one or two, reasons for being unable to fall asleep: the hotel room was too cold, and the bed was too hard; I was anxious, nervous and excited; a small bird insisted on chirping just outside the window, and a streetlight managed to shine me in the face despite the blinds being drawn. As dawn broke I fell asleep for an hour or two—I am not certain at what time the darkness grew lighter—but I nevertheless rose around eight o’clock.

I did not have much for breakfast, I was all too nervous to eat, but I never the less managed to convince myself to eat Scottish low-fat mandarin-flavoured yoghurt, a small serving of blackcurrant jam, cereal, and finish the meal with a cup of Earl Grey tea—my favourite kind of tea. It was after all an important day I had before me, and it was important to remain alert, no matter how little I wished to eat at the time. As I ate I considered how terribly unhealthy the foods were that stood before me, and how unhealthy my diet had been over the past couple of days, as well as how normal it had been. There is no doubt in my mind that one of the greatest dangers to the welfare of the human species is the food, but few listen to such notions. I have concluded that there may be two reasons for why that is, that either people do not wish to listen to a truly inconvenient truth, or that people cannot understand the arguments supporting the notion. Or, perhaps, it is a little bit of both. But, back on topic!

Following breakfast I headed to Emmanuel College an hour before I had to register there, in order to fill in my mental map of the area, which until then had remained completely blank. The hotel was located within walking distance of the college, and it took me no more than five minutes to get there on foot. Signs had been posted on the college grounds to guide nervous, prospective students through what at first appeared to be a large maze. Thanks to the signs I very soon reached the registration desk, and though I was there forty minutes before I was supposed to, I was able to register. Having registered, it was all a matter of waiting until the Thinking Skills Assessment-test was to begin.

Emmanuel College at sunset.

Emmanuel College at sunset.

A current undergraduate eventually arrived and brought about 20 nervous and equally excited prospective students, including me, to a computer room where the T.S.A.-test was to be taken on-line. As I sat down in front of a computer with log-in information in my hand, I did not feel very nervous. Thought I found this surprising, it was not unexpected, as I according to the sample T.S.A.-test, which I had taken a few times before, consistently scored higher than the average applicant to Cambridge. As the test began I felt a surge of nervousness, but it was gone as soon as I had answered the first few questions; I felt that I was doing all right. As the test ended I felt confident that I had scored within my expectations.—At least, that is what I hope!

After the test had ended I had one hour and a half to spend before I had to return to the registration desk to pick up the unseen reading. As my father had spent the last hour and a half exploring the city he now knew the streets adjacent to the college quite well, and we went to a coffee shop located by the Market Place where we had a little bit to eat. I say little, as we ordered ham-and-cheese sandwiches as we did not believe them to be as strange as turkey-and-cranberry sandwiches and the like, but we soon changed our minds upon finding both mustard and cheddar cheese in-between the bread halves. The ham was edible, however, which I appreciated (and especially so as I am a meat-eater!).

After having finished eating we continued to explore the city, and as I came across a wall of postcards in a small street close to the marketplace, I purchased the prettiest one, as well as a postage stamp. Thereafter, I wished to take a few pictures of Cambridge, but as I pulled the camera from my suitcase, I realised that it did not have any batteries, which was quite disappointing. My father, however, being very kind, offered to buy a few while I had the first interview, and so we returned to the college after having walked through the mall—whose name I have already forgotten.

The Christmas decorations at the mall were unlike the decorations so commonly seen in Sweden, a fact which both fascinated and amused me (as I am very easily amused!).

The Christmas decorations at the mall were unlike the decorations so commonly seen in Sweden, a fact which both fascinated and amused me (as I am very easily amused!).

While I waited for my name to be called, and for being given the unseen reading, I sat down with the postcard I had purchased, and started writing: “Dear Josephine...”Indeed, I am quite aware that I am not the sanest person to grace this world, but it is something I am proud over as I have never desired to be considered “normal”. Thus, I always send myself postcards when I am someplace from where I would like to receive one; I see them as souvenirs, of sorts, and they are perfect to add to my ever-thickening Moleskine notebooks in which I note many—if not most—of my conjured notions and strangely analytical observations.

Then—at long last!—my name was called and I was given a few papers; the unseen reading session was about to begin. Before I could start reading, however, I was taken to a quiet reading-room where a few other prospective students were seated. The text was not at all what I had expected it to be, but I never the less filled the margins with notes and observations; I always have so many, many things to say! Some twenty minutes thereafter an undergraduate student in a red coat entered the room and called my name, and I followed, being led to the first interview. While walking there, I took the chance to speak some English with the student guiding me across the maze-like college grounds, as it admittedly is quite rusty (I have not spoken English since early May, I believe). She told me I was doing quite well, but perhaps it was only to boost my confidence before the interview.

After we had entered a building constructed from red bricks—whatever difference that now makes—I only had to wait for a minute, if it was even that long, before one of the interviewing professors called my name and I entered the room. Thirty seconds thereafter I started to make a fool out of myself by at first getting my hair caught in my scarf as I was to place it and my coat on a chair in the room, and then going on with greeting the two professors—by then already seated—with a “Good morning” though it was already half past two in the afternoon. After those two mishaps I at least managed to avoid being awkward, and instead went on to being slow-witted and of limited mental capacities and intellect, which is not at all uncommon in the case of Miss Josephine, a.k.a. myself. One could quite truthfully say that I am a slow-thinking deep-thinker!

Originally, I had believed the interviews to be fairly simple—a true piece of cake—a conclusion I had drawn after having watched a few “mock-interviews” posted on Cambridge University’s website. I soon came to the insight that I had been wrong, the interview was nothing like I had imagined, and I very soon ceased focusing on the interviewers and their questions, and instead listened to a small voice which whispered in my ear: “You fail, Miss Josephine. You fail.” After the interview had come to an all too abrupt end—I would not have minded if it had lasted for ten minutes longer, for one more question to be asked so I could prove how intelligent and creative I actually am—I felt defeated. I have never been very good at reading the minds of people by simply looking at their faces, but I was quite convinced that the professors saw it as a relief once I exited the room. Indeed, I did very poorly.

I was picked up by the undergraduate student in the red coat, and taken back to the Common Room. On the way back the undergraduate student wondered how the interview had gone, and I told her that I believed I had done poorly. This, she told me, did not have to imply anything, as she claimed the professors interviewing her last year practically had to give her the answers, just as I felt that they had to give me the answers. I felt a little bit reassured by this, and I am very grateful to her for being so kind. Her name, I am afraid I did not catch. Once more, I had an hour and a half to spend before returning to the college, and I met up with my father. He had purchased a few batteries for me, and this lifted my spirits a little as it meant I could take a few pictures of Cambridge before it became too dark.

King’s College by King’s Parade was fun to take pictures of!

King’s College by King’s Parade was fun to take pictures of!

Those who know me also know that I have no sense of direction—whatsoever—but having studied a map of Cambridge, I think I walked down Sidney Street from Emmanuel College, past Christ’s College and then following Market Street past the Market Place. Outside Great St. Mary’s I took a picture of three red phone booths, because I am all too easily entertained by simple things. I then followed Market Street to the Senate House and followed King’s Parade towards King’s College, taking a picture of each of the buildings as I have never seen anything quite like them ever before. I then followed a path through King’s College’s yards, walking past Clare College and crossing two bridges over River Cam. I then followed a path beside Queen’s Road—picking up some genuine, reddish-brown Cambridge mud under my shoes—before starting to head back to Emmanuel College by following Silver Street, Pembroke Street and Corn Exchange Street before again walking through the mall where my father and I stopped for tea and a piece of chocolate cake at Starbuck’s before returning to Emmanuel.

Overlooking River Cam, having crossed King’s College’s grounds. The buildings belong to Clare College.

Overlooking River Cam, having crossed King’s College’s grounds. The buildings belong to Clare College.

I did not have to wait long in the Common Room until my name was called and an undergraduate student—without a red coat—followed me to the building where the second interview was to be held. I had to wait outside the room for a couple of minutes, trying to tell myself to calm down and that this interview in no way was more dangerous than the first—a reassurance which did not calm me at all. I was called into the room, and actually managed to not greet the two professors with a foolish “Good morning”. I found this to be a good start, as a “Good afternoon” was much better suited considering the darkening skies outside the window in the small room. After the interview was over, I felt that it had gone better than the first—or, at least, the professors did not roll their eyes at me, only sighing a little when I asked them to repeat the questions for the bazillionth time.

As soon as the second interview was over, and I felt a little bit as an intellectual mistake, I returned to the Common Room to meet up with my father. We then had to leave in a hurry in order to catch the train, and as the station was a fifteen minute walk away, we decided to take the bus there. It was a good idea, but unfortunately the bus was slowed down by the congested streets, which I suspect were more jammed than usual as there had been a traffic accident farther down the road. We made the station a minute too late, the train leaving the station as we stepped onto the platform, and had to wait a few minutes for the next one, which was much slower than the one we had hoped to catch.

Having ridden the train from Cambridge to King’s Cross, we then rode the London Underground to Paddington where we managed to catch the Heathrow Express a minute before it left station, meaning that we had caught up with time despite having had to take the later, slower train from Cambridge. Soon we were at the airport with two hours until the plane was scheduled to take off, and we therefore had time to have a bit to eat as no meal would be served on the plane. I had strawberry yoghurt, which I did not notice had been seasoned with “mixed seeds” (poppy, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame). Seeds and yoghurt—especially strawberry yoghurt—has to be one of the worst combinations ever, and it tasted accordingly. Having finished the little meal we toured the airport’s selection of shops which we exited without any purchases, except a book. I had read the first eight chapters of Dawkins’ “The Selfish Gene” on the plane to England, but I did not feel like finishing the book on the return trip, already having read it twice. And so I instead found Austen’s “Mansfield Park” to be much more appealing, and especially so for the mere £5.99 it cost me, as I am used to the Penguin Classics being much more expensive.

London Heathrow Airport—or at least part of it!

London Heathrow Airport—or at least part of it!

The plane took off a few minutes before it was scheduled to, and it was a quite uneventful flight despite some turbulence. The turbulence was mild, and I was silly enough to enjoy it as it made the flight a bit more exciting, as spending even an hour—little less two hours and a half—in an airplane is terribly boring—especially for restless me. As the plane landed I felt quite at ease, the stressor for the past month now having been left in the past, many miles away. I did not feel delighted—which I thought I would—but I did not hold myself in severe contempt either, which actually is quite a success as far as I am concerned. For once I was able to find content in the fact that I had done my best, and though not many hours had passed—only eight, and remember, I have no conception of time!—I was able to look back at the interviews and feel proud of myself. I had been there, I had answered the professors’ questions, and it was unlikely that I failed completely, no matter what I tried to convince myself of when exiting the interview room.

Heading home by car on streets glazed by a pouring rain, coloured golden by the streetlights’ orange glow, I gazed into the darkness surrounding the lit lane and hoped that the four professors of Cambridge had realised that I have potential I know myself having as being offered a place to study at the University of Cambridge is the opportunity of a lifetime, and one which I know I will make the most of, am I only given the chance. Though I may not become one of the famous people whom the university prides itself with having educated—one never knows, however!—but I will surely become something great and admirable. Of this, I have no doubt.

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Quite intriguingly, I have also noticed that I during my stay in the United Kingdom seem to have picked up bit of a British accent, which I of course find highly amusing. My native tongue being Swedish I have never had much of an accent to speak of, but the little accent I had was American. I have long claimed that I am a cultural chameleon, being able to adapt quickly to any environment I find myself in—of course this is a great exaggeration!—but my new accent only seems to support this. Once more, I feel compelled to mention it, I am very amused!

Gold is Not All Trains

October 13, 2008

Unlike most days, today was one of lessons to be learnt: that the truth of old proverbs still to this day remains unchallenged. The expressions may be rewritten to include modern events, without the meaning being altered.

As my lectures ended some ten minutes ahead of schedule, I walked slowly off campus in direction of the train station. I am used to running as my train departs only minutes after the lectures are supposed to end. Today was hence less stressful and I intended to make the most of it.

When I was 250 metres from the train station I could see a train approaching; the blue a stark contrast to the yellowing trees. I glanced at my watch and realised that it was full time, the train arriving was the train I was supposed to catch, thinking that my slow pace was too slow – which would not be too surprising. I was about to miss the only train in half an hour!

I panicked. And I ran.

Because the train station is located 10 metres above street level, with a gravelled slope leading to the tracks, running to not miss the train is something one only does when determined to not wait half and hour for the next rain to arrive. (Especially so when rain is in the air and cold breezes are blowing.) The slope in question is most unforgiving to run up for, as the deep layers of gravel make one fall back two steps for each step one takes to move forward.

Eventually, I made it. The conductor was kind enough to wait a few seconds for me, which I was most grateful for. As soon as I had entered the train I sat down on the nearest unoccupied seat and collapsed into a pile of exhaustion, much to the amusement of the other passengers.

Outside the autumn landscape passed by my view.

And then my station passed by.

I glanced at my watch again, and the remembered that the watch in question always is set ten minutes ahead of time, so I won’t miss the train. It worked, I didn’t miss the train. I just caught the wrong one.

The next station was miles from my area, and I could do little but to wait for a train to take me back.While I stood there in the autumn cold and watched the yellowing trees, two thoughts travelled through my mind. First, I thought, that a world around a blue star would be most depressing as its plants would be yellow, at least according to an article I read in Scientific American Magazine on the topic of astrobiology. The second thought which ocurred to me was that the old proverb still is true to this modern day.

Gold is not all which shines.
(And I beg you for your forgiveness when it comes to my lame translation.)

In a more modern context, coupled with my recent experiences, the proverb should go like this:

Not all trains which arrive at the same time as one will take one to one’s desired destination.

Science in the Morning

October 5, 2008

I cannot say that the past month and a half has been among my most productive, but it is a fact I am used to realising around this time of year. When the days grow shorter and the year slowly approaches its end, I simply do not feel like creating, be it either pictures of writings. My muses leave me on each cloudy day, but I cannot blame them; I wish I could do the same.

Most of this morning I have spent lost in the world of a book. Had it been a novel, I assume I would have been excused, but it was no novel, no fictional work of written art. Had it been university course literature I would have been worthy of an accolade for my motivation to succeed, but neither was it that kind of book. No, as usual, I was lost to the realm of science; a field wholly unrelated to my current studies, a field taunting me with all the achievements it requires before one is deemed worthy of entering its lines.

Outside the winds are howling, determined to scar an aging land more than what is called for. The trees may be on fire, there is no doubt, but neither rain nor wind can extinguish them. These blazing fires will cease when their time has come, and then the wind will strip the last colourful leaves of the dark tress’ branches. Not before.

The rain which falls is cold and heavy, and the farther the distance from where I gaze the softer it appears to be. Across the immediate lands within my view the rain has formed a soft mist, a whisper of summer’s rain. It veils the landscapes while they await the arrival of winter, a month and a half from now, give or take.

Sheltered from the outdoors’ cold I sat, my foot moving like the tail of a delighted dog. Surely, I had much better—more productive—tasks to tend to, but for the moment I was content with paying them not a single thought. Neither the weather nor the season matters to me whenever scientific writings are near. In a season of no sunshine, in a season of rain and howling winds, science is my sunshine, much like it should be the inspiration of the whole world.

Channel Surfers on the Hunt

September 25, 2008

Channel Surfers on the Hunt
My Proposed Explanation for Why Men Channel Surf More Than Women

The human being has always been an explorer, eager to find out what lies beyond distant plains and far-away mountains. A human’s finest trait is their curiosity and it was what encouraged them, many millennia ago, to spread across the globe. The descendants of these first explorers have carried on their legacy; the world has been charted, and the universe is now greater than a starry sky. Each day new discoveries are made and the future holds countless more.

Before man settled down and allowed his perfectionist nature to flourish through the construction of square buildings and never-ending stretches of tarmac, he roamed the vast expanses of a now lost world, as his nature was—and still is—evolved to do. Back during the dawn of the age of man those men with a hunter’s instincts were those most successful and who went on to father the most children. As our forefathers, their innate nature is also ours.

Though most modern men are not hunters, their bodies and psyches have nevertheless evolved to perfectly carry out a hunter’s tasks. To many it is at first glance an alien concept, but contrary to what many women wish to believe, a man with a remote control in his hand is only true to his hunter past.

One question which remains for evolutionary psychologists to answer is the one which asks why men “hog the remote control and typically channel surf more than women”, to quote Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa’s book Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters. It is an intriguing observation that men and remote controls have such a faithful relationship, and I wish to propose a possible explanation of why this is so.

There is no denying that early men were hunters, and this coupled with man’s curious nature, makes him predisposed to explore. In the ancestral environment—the one in which man evolved—there was no such thing as televisions, or even remote controls. As suggested by the Savannah Principle a man’s (or woman’s) brain can thus not understand that watching TV does not equal exploring, their minds simply cannot grasp that the scenes before their eyes are nothing more but the projections of a back-lit screen. Because a real landscape and one depicted by a TV are the same, as far as a human’s “stone-age” brain can understand, a man derives the same satisfaction from a real adventure as one he saw on TV.

Throughout history man has been an explorer. Though he hardly can be attributed the honour of being the first discoverer of the Americas, Christopher Columbus was no woman. In the human being’s evolutionary past women were the gatherers, the ones who stayed close to home. The most precious of tasks was instead theirs to carry out, that of raising the young, the little creatures that are the point of all human life. Any woman disregarding from the wellbeing of her children, any woman who preferred to roam distant lands in search for prey, was unlikely to leave any genetic legacy behind. The women who cared for their children—and allowed the men to hunt—were those whose genes were the most successful. We are all descended from the men who explored and the women who stayed at home.

I have claimed that men are explorers and women are not, but is that really so? Studies have shown that young men are xenophobic and unlikely to travel abroad, much unlike their female counterparts who desire little else. This was a point raised by a friend, and a point which also appears in Miller and Kanazawa’s book.  What must be kept in mind, when this concern is considered, is that it is not the young single men who slouch in front of a TV. Indeed, those who most commonly are blamed of channel surfing in excess are the men whose fingers are the home of a wedding band.

Young men are believed to be xenophobic because their status, their appeal to women, is closely associated with the culture into which they have been born. Young women, on the other hand, have been gifted with a universal appeal; their beauty and youth will be recognised wherever they go. In traditional societies it is the young women who leave their home for another and the men who remain in the group. This is the most efficient way of avoiding inbreeding and a strategy which has evolved to serve that cause. What is interesting, however, is that once a man has married he is more likely to travel abroad. This explains why the remote control becomes one of his associates and why channel surfing gains such appeal. As young women desire to travel abroad, and find a match with genes vastly different from her own, I believe she derives greater satisfaction from watching TV than does her young male counterpart. Once a woman is married, and has children to care for, channel surfing loses its appeal. The goal of her life has been attained, and nothing is more important than honing that.

Even if the status of a man’s symbols—cars, suits, money etc.—depends upon the cultures of his society, this changes once he marries as a woman’s reassurance of his quality as a mate very well may attract the attention of other women. So, once a man has married he is free to seek mates of a different set of genes in locations far away from where he was born. This, in addition to his hunter past, makes it no surprise that a married man and his TV are good friends. Perhaps they even are best friends as the electronic device allows him to meet more women through the blink of an eye than any other contact in his social network will ever be able to do. For, remember, there were no TVs back in ages past, and any woman a man beholds must thus be real and an opportunity for him to further secure his reproductive success.

Though it brings no relief to the woman whose husband’s mistress is the TV, the men cannot be blamed as it is all part of their hunter past and their genes’ desire to live on for one generation more. As with many aspects of modern life, exploring once filled an important purpose, one which now has become a liability as no difference is made by men (or women) between a real plain and one lit from behind. But as the human brain and its mind evolved in an environment where televisions were scarce, no-one can hardly be blamed for succumbing to the sweet allure of a screen with countless adventures playing before its one eye. In the end, what it all comes down to is the survival of the successful and selfish genes.

However, for this hypothesis of mine—of men’s hunter past and the desire of their genes being the reason for why the TV at times is their best friend—to be true, a man’s nature must also be predisposed to derive satisfaction from other, related tasks. This was a valid point raised by someone who knows their area well, and until it can be shown that men are more curios than women, with a greater desire to explore and experience a change of scenery, as well as a wife being a universal symbol of status, my layman explanation is little more sophisticated than what is the above.

August is drawing near its end and September is preading its cloaks across the lands. A scent of autumn rain and falling leaves is heavy in the air, the mist thick between the stem of far away trees in the early morning. The eight month has always been considered as one of summer, but this year begs to differ.

Though the summer skies have been clouded over and grey has taken the place of blazing blue, its end is one of abundance. The treasuries of nature are well-stocked; the rubies of the apple trees are shimmering in between matte leaves, the amethyst plums are blushing with a faint haze, and the fruit-bearing bushes have all adorned themselves with the most elaborate riches they could aquire. The garnet of the mountain ashes are the first of fall’s colours to appear, the deep forests mines where the gold of chanterelles is to be retrieved. – It is almost as if nature is silently apologising for the summer sun’s persistant absence.

Aquarel Plums

Aquarel Plums

For the first time the many fruit trees of the garden show their true potential, and I am determined to allow little to go to waste. With many future delicacies in mind I have spent a couple of hours in the garden, picking the sweet plums kindly offered to me by branches struggling not to break below the weight of their riches.

A Quartet of Sweet Plums

When a soft rain started to fall, I retreated inside, already having collected more than enough. Two large bowls were filled to the brim with juicy fruits, gathered only from the lowest branches which were the easiest to reach. Their quantity amounted to near 3 kilograms (7.5 pounds) and though it was tempting to save them in their untreated state, I knew it never would be possible as the even the finest of silever tarnishes with time.

Therefore I decided to turn them into the kind of preserve my family became very fond of the last time – many years ago – nature was as generous to us. As the recipe is breathtakingly simple and the resulting jam is most pleasing to one’s senses, I have decided to share it with all who may be interested.

Gifts Supplied by a Generous Garden

Gifts Supplied by a Generous Garden

The Recipe:

This preserve is delicious either frozen or hot, and especially so together with vanilla ice-cream. It may, however, be used together with all dishes whose flavour is enhanced by jam’s sweet savour; such as with pancakes, on toast, on and in pie, and in muffins – only to mention a few examples where this versatile jam may be put to good use.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes to 1 hour.
Cooking Time: 2 hours
Ingredients: 3 kg (7.5 pounds) plums (~500 cherry-sized plums) and 2 kg (5 pounds) ordinary, white sugar.

Preparations:

  • If you have picked the plums yourself, you may wish to pick-over clean them: remove leaves, stems and damaged parts, as well as washing them with clean water.
  • If you have purchased the plums, be sure to wash them with clean water to remove potentially present pesticides, pollutants and pathogens.
  • Make sure to count the plums, as it will make your job removing the stones much easier later on.
  • Add the plums to a large saucepan (not aluminium) and make sure the rim is not reached as it means the jam is to boil over – and that will be insanely sticky.
  • Add the sugar.
  • Add just a little bit of water (one cup will be too much) in a circling motion above the pan to make sure it is well-distributed.
  • Allow the pan to stand for 10-15 minutes to make sure the water (both from the plums and added) settles at the bottom.
Sweet Plums and Sugar

Sweet Plums and Sugar

Cooking:

  • Heat the plum and sugar-mixture on medium heat while ocassionally stirring thoroughout the whole process to keep the heat evenly distibuted, while making sure that it does not boil over.
The Heat Works Wonders

The Heat Works Wonders

  • Once the plums and sugar have been turned into something resembling jam you will notice that a foam is collecting on the surface. Remove it as it contains wax from the plums’ skin and pollutants. (You may need to repeat this a few times before the surface is completely clean.)
The soon-to-be jam is boiling, the plums are cooking, and foam is collecting on the surface.

The soon-to-be jam is boiling, the plums are cooking, and foam is collecting on the surface.

  • When the foam has been completely removed, it is the start of the fun part!- collecting the stones. This is when you appreciate having taken the time to count the plums before cooking them. Allow the jam to simmer while you collect the stones as it will help the jam to attain the right consistency once cool (the longer it boils the thicker will it be). But be sure not to burn yourself as it is very hot even when simmering.
Stone-Riddled Jam

Stone-Riddled Jam

  • Once the last stone has been collected and you have sighed in relief having found it, you may lower the heat and boil a few jars to sterilise them.
  • While the jars are boiling, taste the jam with a clean spoon! Sometimes it may be a little bit sour depending on the sweetness of the plums. If it needs more sugar, add some and then up the heat a little more and stir until the sugar has diffused into the jam. And if the jam is very viscous you may want to allow it to boil for a few more minutes, allowing the excess water to evaporate.
  • Once the jars have boiled for a few minutes, remove them carefully from the water – while not burning yourself – then pour the jam into them and seal immediatly afterwards. (If you have the opportunity to seal them with wax it is preferable, but it will work well without it.)
  • When the jars have cooled down you may put them into the freezer if you are not immediately going to use the jam. The preserve will remain just as delicious, in addition to staying that way for longer.
  • Enjoy!
Blushing Plum-Jam Enjoyed on Toast with Tea and Fruit

Blushing Plum-Jam Enjoyed on Toast with Tea and Fruit