Category Archives: Creative Writing

Lagom (in 1 minute)


Lagom is a popular Swedish phrase that takes ages to describe, even when you do it incorrectly.

I shall spare you the grammar lesson. Instead let’s rely on the irrepressible Pippi for an example:

Det är inte ille, jag har ju apa, häst och villa!

– Pippi Långstrump (Longstocking)


It’s not so bad, I have a monkey, a horse and a house!

That’s pretty much all Pippi needs, so everything is just fine: lagom.


P.S. Saved you 30 mins, you’re welcome.


For Swedes, unlike in the UK, Eurovision is not a complete joke

We have a 25-year-old childminder. She’s young and hip (unlike me since I still use the word ‘hip’). But when I asked what she was doing for her birthday, I was surprised by her answer: “Oh it’s super cool, my boyfriend got us tickets for Melodifestivalen!!“

Melodifestivalen is the Swedish qualifying competition for Eurovision. It takes place over multiple Saturday nights, is a fixture for families on primetime TV, and it culminates in a live final with an enormous studio audience (pictured above) in a tumult of excitement over who will be chosen as the Swedish entry.

If you’re from the UK, you might want to read that last paragraph again. Yes, I’m talking about the Eurovision qualifiers here…

The most famous aspect of Eurovision in the UK is the phrase ’nul points’ – meaning ‘no points’ – which refers to Jemini (2003). Her appearance was pointless in every sense. The British entry has only scored nul points once, but that doesn’t mean there has been a lot of success – the UK has finished outside the top ten for six years in a row.

This does not jive with the British sense of victorious entitlement. Finishing outside the top ten – or, indeed, outside the top one – triggers accusations of bloc voting among the ex-Soviets and rank disloyalty among the former colonies.

But having failed to beat them, the UK also refuses to join them. Instead we send decreasingly serious entrants to the competition. This year’s contenders, Joe & Jake, met on a second-rate TV talent show. Jake didn’t even make the live finals of the show.

This truly is a bad sign. Joe & Jake were described by The Telegraph as “two-fifths of an alternate universe One Direction. This may yet turn out to have been a terrible decision by the British public”. But, the paper continues, “it could so easily have been worse. They’re no Scooch, Daz Sampson or Jemini. And they’re much better than last year’s Electro Velvet.”

At least the UK is taking a year’s break from reanimating the corpses of aged popstars such as Bonnie Tyler* (2013, finished 19th) and Engelbert Humperdinck (2002, finished 25th).

Compare this with Sweden. The Melodifestivalen finale featured several of Sweden’s top popstars, artists with a real track record who have attempted over and over to win a coveted place in the main Eurovision event. It might be hard to beat this year’s Swedish entrant, Frans, who looks like an ugly Bieber but does sound a bit like him if you close your eyes for long enough.

The Eurovision final takes place tomorrow (16 May) here in Stockholm. Yesterday we went to one of the semi-finals. I hadn’t quite realised that this would be a contest between the smaller nations who need to qualify for the final. Sadly we missed Minus One from Cyprus and Jüri Pootsman from Estonia, but we were treated to Donny Montell from Lithuania and Ivan from Belarus, who was joined on stage by… himself, stark naked and singing to a wolf. It was absurd but also absurdly fun.

Two years ago, my wife and I went to an outrageous birthday party in Paris. A tall, striking, and bearded Parsien dressed as Conchita Wurst stopped the party and sang the 2014 winner’s song ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ with backing vocals from six fellow Frenchmen in spectacular drag. I can only hope that this year’s Eurovision winner lives up to that.


* I’m being a little disloyal here. Bonnie Tyler was actually amazing back in 1983: Total Eclipse Of The Heart (studio vocals only) / Bonus: Literal video description version

How One Tiny Text Tweak Helped Me Meet My Wife

After dating random friends of friends for a year, I decided to get serious.

How can I increase the chances of finding someone I really like?

Time to try internet dating. Guardian Soulmates.

Spent a couple of hours looking all sorts of profiles (girls and boys) to see how people used the site, and what stood out.

Found that 80% of guys wrote essentially the same thing:

I like going out with friends, but I also like staying in with a DVD and a bottle of wine. I like going to gigs and playing [sport]. I like going on holiday to exotic places. My friends tell me I have a good sense of humour. I enjoy [hobby] in my spare time.

Around that time I watched a Peep Show episode in which Mark is mocking bland dating profiles:

I enjoy breathing air and turning protein into muscle energy.

One thing that stood out in several profiles was when some humour showed through. So I decided to write a spoof of all the boring profiles by combining the generic spiel with the Peep Show joke:

I like going out with friends, but I also like staying in with a DVD and a bottle of wine. I like going to gigs and playing tennis. I like going on holiday to exotic places. My friends tell me I have a good sense of humour. I enjoy playing guitar in my spare time. I enjoy breathing air and turning protein into muscle energy.

Then – once my prospective ladyfriend had been seduced by my witty spoof first paragraph, I would hit them with the real sizzle – something more unique and interesting. I can’t recall the whole thing but at the time I was working in TV, so at least I had a cool first line:

I make up games and gameshows for a living, but…

A celebratory sip of beer, then put the profile live and wait to be covered in messages…

Still waiting one week later…

No messages.

I went back to the site and scrolled through the list of suggested matches. Hmm, hard to get to know them when there’s not much text in the search results…

Ah. I had hidden the unique, personal stuff behind a generic first paragraph. The search results view showed so little text that even my Peep Show joke was not visible. I counted characters and worked out that the text I appeared with in anyone’s search results would be:

I like going out with friends, but I also like staying in with a DVD and a bottle of wine. I like going to gigs and…


So I cut the whole first paragraph and started off with the games and gameshows instead. One small text tweak.

A few days later, I had met my wife-to-be.


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Two Rivers

One swift river rattled along as if on rails, smooth-sliding sails pushed gamely forward on towards the lonely vale. 

Another river, flitter-shiver, flip-flapped and slip-slapped ‘gainst solid rocks that blocked its path, twisting backwards down around its corridors of shale.

At the end of the vale, beyond the shale, they met.

At first they ran parallel – the one smooth-sliding and the other slip-slapping – with one ahead and other dragging, then one behind and briefly lagging. 

And then: The Drop. 

They stumbled, then teetered, then slowly tumbled – turning inside-out and outwards-over til they hit the pool and spooled together, a thousand swirls and strokes of blue that mashed and merged, quick jets of icy fire that mixed and melded white-water hot ’til one was other and other was everything and nothing except for one. 

Silence. A moment. A bird. 

And then: bubbles, a breath, a gasp… and now with a whoosh they emerge, out and upwards together, back up to the light and the wind and the bird, swooping low and brushing the top-water with the last of her little feathers. 

And on – no rest, no time for breaths. On now, stop never. 

And on together. One river flick-skips the stones along, the other catches them and moves them on. One river plucks a tree-leaf down and spins it gently, the other lifts it high and flips it down, right over, green to brown.

They seep together. They exchange drips. They lock hands and lace fingers and wind legs round and round, embracing now instead of racing.  

The two rivers wound together, tightly bound. Now both were much the same and yet, much both had changed. Since being unseparated, they smooth-slapped and slap-slid.

Can you tell them apart? I cannot. 

These rivers are us.

Which is which? I know not. And I care not. 

And sometimes I show not – but I care a lot, that we are bound and wound and shall ever be found together, two rivers, flipping and flapping and slipping and slapping and smoothing and sliding together. 

We still have far to go. But even once we do arrive – we’ll still be mixed together, forever, you and me – two rivers delivered, in love, to the sea.


Happy anniversary darling.

Photo: Beverley Nguyen.