Sydney Queues

Queuing for Ice Crime
Queuing for Ice Crime

You know those stupid machines at the supermarket deli where you’re given a number and have to wait your turn, even if there’s only two or three other people waiting? Minutes go by (it seems like hours) while your eyes remained focussed on the display above as you wait for your number to be called.

My Swedish teacher, Marianne once joked she thought they HAD to be a Swedish invention. Of all the countries in the world, the Swedes seem the most inclined to form queues without thinking twice about it. Here in Australia, we’re also very vegalitarian, but we usually tend to get a little grumpy when it comes to queues, and of course we “don’t like queue jumpers” :)

My most famous memories of waiting in queues in Sweden were on a Saturday afternoon minutes before the closure of the state-run bottle shop, Systembolaget, and in a phone shop.

Systembolaget Södermalm
Systembolaget Södermalm

In the case of Systembolaget, I once blogged

In Sweden, there’s a government-owned monopoly bottle shop chain called Systembolaget, which operates with restricted hours. On weekdays, it’s normal trading hours; shorter hours on Saturday; and they’re closed Sunday. At night, bars also have limited trading hours with many closing at one, others at three.

And as much as I like to think of myself as a bit of a libertarian, I’m beginning to conclude these restrictions might actually be a good thing. By putting a limit on the hours in which you can purchase and consume alcohol, I think there’s more of a chance that people will go home to bed, as opposed to the all-night temptation offered in Sydney.

Although Systembolaget now operates like a supermarket chain, it wasn’t so long ago that you had to go in, make an order for what you wanted, and then wait for someone to bring your order out to you. There’s a few of these older style shops still around, apparently.

As for the phone shop, I also remember vividly waiting with Graeme in a queue in Stockholm. We were the only people in the queue, but we were still forced to go through the farce of waiting as they called out the numbers of people who were “before us” in the queue, but who had obviously already been dealt with. “77, 78, 79, 80″, the assistants called out the numbers, as if in a scene from Monty Python, looking around to see if any of the other people might have been hiding, until finally our number was called out.

Queuing for nightclubs in Sydney has for many years been a real joke. On NYE especially, nightclub bouncers make on with the pretence their club is full, and people are thus forced to wait in a lengthy queue down the street, when mostly they’re only half-empty. It’s all about making the nightclub look to the potential customer as somewhere they simply must enter since, after all, there’s a queue.

Surry Hills must be the only place outside the former Soviet Union where people queue for bread.
Surry Hills must be the only place outside the former Soviet Union where people queue for bread.

More recently, places like the Bourke Street Bakery (not far from where I live) has also become a regular space where people will queue. I kinda understand it there, as the shop is very small, but I still think it’s bizarre that people will queue for bread. I mean, it’s Sydney; not 1976 in Poland.

The latest crazy queue in Sydney is the ice cream queue. There’s an ice cream shop in Darlinghurst where there’s regularly a queue of 50 or 60 people waiting. “It’s fucking ice-cream”, a friend of mine observed last night, wondering why people would be prepared to wait 20 to 30 minutes in a queue.

The similarities between Sydney and Stockholm seem to be increasing every day…

The Bug

Taco Truck pop up restaurant in Stockholm
Taco Truck pop up restaurant in Stockholm

I received a “hi, how are you email” from a friend in Stockholm the other day.

Co-incidentally, I’ve been thinking about Stockholm a little bit lately. In fact, I’ve also been having a few dreams about Stockholm lately. In the latest, I was in Stockholm in the middle of summer and checking into an hotel. Almost as soon as I’d checked into the hotel, I received a phone call from someone back in Sydney telling me my apartment was on fire.

“I could read a lot into that dream”, my friend told me in a later email. She’s right, you know.

Every time I visit Stockholm another friend asks me the question, “Have you got it out of your system?”. My reply is usually, “No, not at all. In fact I think it’s getting worse”.

This “journey” of mine goes back many years, but only really solidified when I went travelling for several months in 2008. The combination of a healthy tax return and a feeling of being burnt-out resulted in a sudden and deliberate decision (perhaps) to run away from my life here and to discover some new adventures. It was one of those life-changing experiences. Since then, travel has become a much more important part of my life, I feel I have a better balance between life and work, and I’ve found myself on a life journey which has taken me back to Sweden a further three times (2010, 2011 and 2013).

I’m not sure if it’s Sweden or Stockholm in particular, though. I think Sweden’s great, but when I’m in Stockholm I feel really, really happy.

No doubt part of it has to do with being on holiday, and all of the joy that usually brings. On a deeper level, I suspect there’s also an underlying feeling that I’m not entirely happy with everything in my life.

Or maybe it’s just that Stockholm is a great place?

ABBA Magazine

A few months ago I was asked to write a couple of articles for the magazine of the International ABBA Fan Club. A copy of the magazine arrived in the mail this week, and so I thought I’d share them here both for general interest, and as an online archive.


“If you’re in the ABBA Museum and you’re standing near the Ring Ring exhibit, you should answer the phone, as it’s probably going to be Frida” we were told by Ingmarie Halling from the ABBA Museum, soon to open in Stockholm. “And if you see the piano suddenly playing, it’s gonna be Benny doing it remotely”, she added.

The telephone call from Frida (or indeed any member of ABBA, as “they all have the number”, we were told) was inspired by a John Lennon exhibition in New York. When Frida heard that Yoko Ono would sometimes call the telephone there and speak randomly to people visiting the exhibition, she replied instantly that she would love to do that also.

That, and the bit about Benny playing the piano remotely is interesting for two reasons. First, it’s an indication the new museum will have some wonderful attributes, thanks to new technology. Second, that’s it a sign all members of ABBA seem to be fully behind this. Even though Agnetha has said she probably won’t be around for the opening (due to confliciting publicity commitments in the UK), she has indicated she has donated a number of items to the museum.

Ingmarie mentioned how all four members of ABBA had been interviewed for the exhibition, and how she was constantly checking facts to make sure everything was just right. She told us, for example, the lengths she went to trying to find out the real story about the transformation of the famous white piano from its previous brown colouring which has featured in the “archipelago room” of “ABBA World”. “Oh I can’t remember. There were so many pianos”, Frida reportedly told her with a laugh. All four members of ABBA have recorded parts of the audio commentary to accompany the tour.

ABBA Quiz Winners
ABBA Quiz Winners at ABBA Fan Day

I have seen ABBAWorld in both Sydney and Melbourne, In Melbourne it was very much about the global story of ABBA (with a lot of Swedish language material); in Sydney it was very much about the story of ABBA in Australia. I didn’t get a real sense of how the exhibition will be curated editorially for its final iteration, but it was clear from the way in which Ingmarie spoke, the project continues to evolve.

You could imagine having spent several years of your life working on this project (and before that many years working with ABBA when they were an active group), Ingmarie would be a little bored with the project. However, she spoke with such passion that it was fairly evident that wasn’t the case. She spoke, for example, about exercising her own personal creativity in the design of some couches which will feature in the exhibition, and how she approached some young designers in Sweden to further develop that idea. “When you visit the exhibition you’ll able to sit and listen to ABBA on couches which look like a stack of vinyl”, she told us. Along the way, Ingmarie also mentioned she has been writing a book that will go with the museum. “It’s the one book about ABBA I might be willing to read”, Benny reportedly said to her.

For me, the appearance by Ingmarie was the most interesting and engaging part of the second (and main day) of the International ABBA Day I attended in Roosendaal. That, and the screening of a number of recent television appearances by ABBA members, notably one from Finnish TV where Bjorn and Benny were asked individually to describe the other. Bjorn has a good sense of humour, but never shows it much, according to Benny. They meet weekly, we were told, mostly to discuss business activities, such as licensing of the songs for movies, but not much outside of that.

Obviously the big “buzz” for this weekend was the forthcoming album release by Agnetha. The two tracks released so far were both sing-along dance-floor fillers, and it was interesting to hear short snippets of Agnetha talking about some of the tracks which will feature on the album. I spoke to a lot of people over the weekend who thought there was a chance we would get to hear the album in full. Unfortunately, we’ll all have to wait for a few more weeks.

For many years I’ve wanted to attend the International ABBA Day. Distance (coming from Australia) is a significant reason why I haven’t, even tough I know many Australians have made the trek previously. One of the main reasons I’ve wanted to attend is to meet some of the people I’ve known about for years and have corresponded with previously. Like many people, though, I’m a little shy. When I wrote this on a blog post to ABBA Village, the following day I had a lot of people come up to me, concerned, asking if I was okay. A couple of others told me they felt the same, and they were pleased I’d written about it. My advice is that if you are thinking about the day at some point in the future, and feel similarly shy in large groups, it’s important to make contact with people ahead of the event so you have some people you can feel comfortable with. I don’t mean that in any kind of mercenary way, it’s just a recognition that some people feel more comfortable in smaller groups than larger, and that if you have a smaller group within that larger group, you might find it a little easier.

Another great way to meet people was through involvement the quiz held on the first night put together by the wonderful Gary Collins. “We should have hung out with you”, I joked to the winner of the quiz. He was an English guy, I think his name was Tony, and he told me he was planning to visit Australia next year. I gave him my card and told him to contact me when he arrived. On the “main day” of the event, there was another quiz where the main prizes included an Agnetha promo signal and a notebook signed by all four members. The winner was a guy called Erik Liebstaedter who obviously knew the answer to the question which I think stumped many (including myself) about which released featured the first “reverse B” logo.

One thing I should mention is how fantastic the bar staff at the “After Party” venue were, as were the double-act who entertained us with some live performances of ABBA songs, including a Dutch language version of “Does Your Mother Know”. “They wrote it themselves, and it was in a Southern Dutch dialect”, Marco Dirven told me, as we walked back to our hotel.

At the end of the second night, a group of us got chatting with a young guy who had worked the night before but who was there the following night just to enjoy himself. “The ABBA Weekend”, he told us “is a great thing for Roosendaal, having so many people come from all parts of the world.” I mentioned to him my theory that, although it seems crazy on the surface to have this day in a small town in The Netherlands, it actually works. “If it was in Stockholm or London or Amsterdam, people would break up at the end of the night and go their separate ways, whereas here everyone sticks together”, I told him.


Attending the fan club preview of the ABBA Museum
Attending the fan club preview of the ABBA Museum

The idea for a permanent ABBA Museum in Stockholm had been around publicly since the end of 2006. The original idea was for the museum to inhabit the space now occupied by the city’s Fotografiska Museet [Photographic Museum]. When that did not prove to be economically viable, the organisers launched a number of short-term exhibitions in a number of countries, including two quite different exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney, which, of course, I visited.

In Melbourne, the exhibition was very much about the global story of ABBA (with a lot of Swedish language material, and extensive coverage of the post-ABBA solo careers) while in Sydney it was very much about the story of ABBA in Australia. In Stockholm, it is very much the global story once again, though probably not as comprehensively covered as it was in Melbourne. “Melbourne was like the box set, Sydney was like The Best Of ABBA, and Stockholm is like ABBA Gold,” I have said to a number of people.

Along with a couple of hundred others, I was lucky enough to attend a Fan Club preview of the museum ahead of the official opening. It was lovely to see other fans I had met previously, including a few people who, like me, had travelled from Australia. On arrival, we were warmly welcomed by the Chief Executive of ABBA The Museum, Mattias Hansson, and the curator, Ingmarie Halling.

As we made our way around the museum there were, naturally enough, a few bottlenecks as people stopped to take photographs and experienced everything in a chronological order. I am not one for crowds, so I made a quick skim of the early parts and resolved to return later when the crowds had thinned. In all, I must have spent two or three hours in the space, and even then felt like I had only touched the surface.

Of course, you see the costumes, the gold records, the photographs and so on. You also get to see some of the recreated spaces from the story of ABBA, including the offices of Polar Music and the famous island shack in the Stockholm Archipelago where Björn and Benny composed many of their songs. These are lovely spaces, indeed.

There are also some wonderful intimate touches in the new museum. A few weeks ago, speaking at the International ABBA Day (see other article), Ingmarie told us about her design ideas (such as the one for the resting place that looks like a pile of records) as well as the little red telephone that the members could ring. “You want to start a riot?” I asked a friend as we stood near the telephone during the Fan Club preview on Friday. “I have an old fashioned ring tone on my phone. You go over there, stand next to the phone, and when I play the ring tone you answer it,” I joked with him. Of course, we did not do that as it would have been cruel, but it gave us quite a laugh.

Much of the interactivity from the previous ABBAWORLD incarnations is there, too, including a sixty-second electronic ABBA Quiz (I got 12 out of 12 correct), and the ability to sing along with holographic images of ABBA and later download a video of your performance to name a few.

When you know so much about something before actually experiencing it, there is always the risk you will be disappointed. I was not. The museum has clearly been put together with care and an eye for detail. I liked it very much and would recommend it to anyone visiting Stockholm.

Due to the obsessive nature of fandom, ABBA fans can sometimes be very harsh and judgmental. As I walked around, I heard a few complaints about things which were ‘missing’ but, by large, I heard mostly praise from those attending. I overheard Ingmarie say with a smile to a colleague, “It seems to work.”

Rather than concentrate solely on ABBA, the museum has a longer-term focus on the success of Swedish music more generally. Apparently, that is something all members of the band were keen to see when agreeing to support (and invest money in) the initiative.

It will be interesting to see the museum expand over the next few years, as it takes on the broader remit as a celebration of Swedish music more generally. I also think it is great we now have a new ‘home’ for ABBA in Stockholm and can imagine it will become an important location for fans to celebrate major anniversaries, birthdays and so on. After a long time coming, good luck to the museum and all of those who have made it possible.


Agnetha: Abba and After (BBC Special)

Often when you read articles about today’s female pop stars, they’ll say they spent their childhoods standing in front of a mirror (with a hairbrush as a microphone) singing along to songs by ABBA. In the latest “ABBA Special” (Agnetha: ABBA and After), Agnetha Fältskog summons up some similar imagery, describing how, as a young girl living in a small town in Sweden during the 1960s, she would sit and lip-sync songs by Connie Francis. I knew she was a fan of the legendary American singer, but I’d never thought of her devotion in these terms before.

A few years later, and already composing her own songs, and performing with a local band, Agnetha was “discovered” and her career was given a boost by Little Gerhard who was described in the special as “Sweden’s answer to Elvis”. He’s still alive (and appears in the special) which surprised me, because I thought he was a much older man, and may not still be with us. To set the scene, the documentary features lots of great outdoor shots of Stockholm from the late 1960s, which I enjoyed very much.

The documentary then goes on to detail some of Agnetha’s early solo career, before very quickly transforming itself into the story of ABBA, as seen through the prism of Agnetha. The singer, Gary Barlow describes Agnetha’s voice as being “the sound of ABBA”, and Bjorn all but says they gave all of the good songs to Agnetha until Frida started to complain. Benny is more circumspect saying they sounded best when both women sang today. Nonetheless, the documentary re-inforces the view sometimes expressed that ABBA was Agnetha, and that Frida, Bjorn and Benny were merely there to support her career. There’s a joke in ABBA circles that ABBA stands for “Agnetha backed by Anni-Frid”. I can see the humour, but also feel a bit of pain because Anni-Frid (Frida) is actually my favourite member of the group.

Frida doesn’t appear in the documentary, though explanation is given as to why, since both Bjorn and Benny are there. In ABBA fan circles there’s been a discussion about this, with some people justifying the absence of Frida by saying it’s a documentary about Agnetha, and Frida’s presence would have taken away from the central focus on Agnetha. I don’t buy that argument for one obvious reason: the greatest amount of the documentary is focussed on ABBA, not Agnetha. After the earlier mentions of Agnetha’s solo career, it’s not until 46 minutes into the documentary (after discussing ABBA for most of the program) that it returns to Agnetha’s new solo album. In the remaining ten minutes or so they skip over the next twenty or thirty years of her life rather quickly.

Memorable quotes from the program include the narrator’s description of Australia as being “optimistic, beautiful and yet conservative” and Ingmarie Halling (from the ABBA Museum) who says (without any sense of irony), “the media made her into a Garbo, but Agnetha just wanted to be alone”. Also memorable is the uncomfortable shocked look on her face when Gary Barlow asks her if she would perform their duet together live on stage.

A lot of the documentary features lots of repeated, staged quotes and cliches. Oddly enough, Bjorn who usually the most guilty of that shows some honesty around the relationship breakup. Previously he’s been on the record saying he couldn’t understand why Agnetha wanted to stay at home with their children, at the same time they were being asked to travel for promotional visits. “Why not? We have a nanny” he said in one previous documentary. In this program he says he understands her point of view now, and that that brings you to the obvious conclusion about what was the right thing to do, though he doesn’t explicitly say as much.

As I watched the documentary yesterday afternoon I thought it was a nice program, though nothing special.

Äta sova dö

Äta sova dö (Eat, Sleep, Die)

There’s only one Swedish language film in this year’s Sydney Film Festival. Even then, it’s not entirely in Swedish, as parts of the film are also in Serbian and Montenegrin. On top of that, there are bits where the parts in Swedish are delivered with accents. My eyes were popping up and down between the subtitles and the screen, as the conversations would sometimes be a combination of all of these languages.

“Äta sova dö” (“Eat, Sleep, Die”) centres on the story of a young woman who was born in Bosnia, but whose family moved to Sweden when she was only a child. She lives with her father in a small town in Southern Sweden, presumably not far from Malmö and Göteborg, as both cities are referenced in the film. The film never explains what happened to her mother, though I assume it would have something to do with the conflicts which occurred in those areas of the former state of Yugoslavia.

Now living in Sweden, the young woman is working in a process line at a food factory, while the father often travels to Norway to do manual labour, the kind of work which has caused him significant physical injury. When the food factory is forced to lay off people, she faces a number of challenges, including whether or not she might have to leave her small town to find work in Malmö.

She shows great passion and personal self-respect as she faces the challenge of finding a new job with few skills, without a driver’s licence, and in a town where there are few employment options.

There’s not a lot that “happens” in this film. It’s very much a “slice of life” movie, where the emphasis is on the characters, their thoughts and feelings. Her relationship with her father is very touching. Also touching is the connection she has with other immigrants living in the town, who feel somewhat isolated from the rest of Swedish society. Tellingly there are moments when you see there’s a “hierarchy of immigrants” based around how well people do or don’t speak Swedish.

I saw the film with a colleague who grew up in Sweden (Swedish father, Australian mother) but who lives here now. As we left the cinema we both agreed it was a lovely film which we enjoyed very much. “The one thing I’ve learned from the film was that I’ve definitely realised I’m very much a Stockholm kind of guy. That countryside looked really bleak”, I told her. We both agreed it would have been a bit of a shock for people attending the film festival expecting a Swedish film to a little happier and a little more colourful. Nonetheless, it’s a lovely film worth seeing if you ever get the chance to.

Anni-Frid Lyngstad

Early Frida

Winter has arrived exactly on time in Sydney, with cold, wet and rainy conditions for much of the day. Although things cleared up later in the day, I still spent much of the day inside watching television, listening to radio, listening to music, and watching internet stuff. With that background, here’s one of my all time favourite Youtube clips, featuring Frida from ABBA’s first ever television appearance. In 1967, she was married, had two children, and sang on a small-scale in the town of Eskilstuna about 90 minutes from Stockholm. It’s a very sweet clip.