This is an efficient and matter-of-fact book. On the first page we find out that the world is about to end. In six days, in fact. This fact becomes common knowledge when it’s announced on the news.

What would you do if you heard this kind of thing on the news? Not as a rumour but as a certainty, with the scientists only disagreeing on whether we have 4 days left or 6. Nothing matters, because you have no future.

In the book, some people riot, some go off to spend their last week in the Bahamas. Some realise that they’ve wasted their lives, other continue quietly with theirs. Detective Inspector Watkins, the protagonist of the book, decides to spend the last 6 days solving a murder case that he is assigned to on the same day the news breaks. The rest of the story is a straightforward detective story, against a background of the world winding down.

The idea of end of the world is conveyed in such calm, matter-of-fact tone that it becomes serious rather than shocking. Very Englishly calm and understated. A slim little book but it really made an impression on me. So much of our lives hinges on there being a future, on survival – if not our own survival then at least that of our children, our friends, or at least of the human race. And even if the human race went extinct then we’d know that the trees and spiders and nettles around us would still be there. Even if we ourselves die, we leave some mark. But everything ending? What would that feel like?

It’s not just an idea book but also a well-written one. Tight prose, no unnecessary words (although not as terse as “The Road”), good flow and good dialogue.

For some reason the book hasn’t gotten much attention. Seems to be a small unknown publisher, maybe that’s the reason? I found a single review on Amazon (2 sentences!) and one on SF Site. In any case it deserves a wider readership.

Amazon UK, Amazon US

Toddlers love attention. We all do, generally, except that most adults only want the right kind of attention, while children

…will usually aim for the best level of attention they can get, and if the best is not on offer they will descend through the grades until they find one that gives them what they want

as Dr. Christopher Green puts it in his “Toddler Taming”.

Recently I’ve had that demonstrated very clearly for me. The other day I was talking to someone and trying to keep Ingrid quiet for those few minutes that I needed for that conversation. That was not appreciated. She tried talking to me for a while, I wouldn’t respond with more than a “hmmm”. Finally she took my sunglasses, said “emme kuri” (“mummy angry”) and then threw the sunglasses on the floor, peering at me all the time. She knows very well that throwing things is a sure way to make me angry!

Mummy gets angry, Ingrid gets sad. When she’s upset, it’s just that and nothing more… but sometimes she is really sad and unhappy and tells me “Ingrid ledsen”, looking at me with big sad eyes and a quivering mouth. I’m not glad that she is unhappy but I am very glad that she understands this herself and can tell me!

Sadness and anger are the two emotions she has words for. Positive emotions have generally been expressed through smiles, laughter and “thank you”. But I guess we should give her some more positive words, too!

While we lived in London, I’ve tried to go to Estonia once every year. It’s naturally become a summer trip, since that’s when most people have vacation, and that’s when the weather is best. This year the timing of the trip was pretty much decided by Ingrid’s nursery start. Eric started working August 1st, and Ingrid didn’t get a nursery place until August 21st, so my vacation had to fill the gap in between.

I usually visit those of my family who live in Estonia, plus a few childhood friends, and do some sightseeing and shopping. All that was still part of the trip, but one important aspect has been added, and will remain a priority in the future: getting some Estonian practice for Ingrid.

Part of the plan was to buy a lot of children’s books in Estonian. Partly because of this plan to fill my bag with lots of heavy books I decided to go by ferry rather than by plane, which I’ve normally done. (There was also the fact that flying is such a hassle nowadays, plus I had the pushchair to consider. I could probably take it on a plane, but not be sure what state it would be in when I get it back.) The ferry trip was a big success. They had a nice play room, with a ball pit, a small slide, toys, crayons, and most importantly, other children. Ingrid was perfectly happy to spend most of the evening there, and most of the morning as well. She also liked the ferry itself: the long carpeted corridors were great for running, and there were lots of lifts and staircases and windows. And the sea was interesting, too: we had a window in our cabin, and she would sit there and look at the sea, and point out the smaller boats we passed.

Initially I thought we would spend a lot of time in my father’s summer cottage. But (a) the weather was bad, and (b) it turned out that Ingrid did not like the countryside. She would not go more than 10 steps from my side, and was happiest when we went indoors and read a book. The only outdoor activities she accepted were playing in the sandbox (with me by her side), playing ball with me, or eating strawberries in the forest. When it was late afternoon and time to take the car back to town, she suddenly perked up and ran to the car, even though she isn’t fond of car seats at all! Too much greenery? Too wide open? Too few people? Whatever it was, it meant that we spent more days in Tartu than I would have done myself. I guess 18 months of London life have made a city child out of her.

It appears that long-time city living has affected me as well. I seem to have become sensitive to mosquito bites. Mosquitoes are part of a normal Estonian summer: every child and every adult is familiar with the itchy red spots that their bites cause. But whereas the mosquito bites I remember from my childhood were half an inch across, mine now grew and grew until each one was a palm-sized swelling, red and painful like a bad bruise.

Our days in Tartu (and later in Tallinn) were not that dissimilar from our days in Stockholm. We spent a lot of time on playgrounds, and made occasional trips to child-friendly attractions, such as the toy museum (which has a great play room) and the animal park in Elistvere, and a swimming pool in Tallinn. Unlike in Stockholm, Ingrid had other children for company: three of my childhood friends have children of roughly the same age, and Ingrid had a great time with them. Looking at them they didn’t seem to be playing together. Sometimes they followed each other (if one went to the swing, the other one followed), sometimes they played side by side, and other times they just happened to play in the same room. But somehow it still made a great difference. Just moments after leaving them, Ingrid would already say “varsti tagasi” (“soon back” – meaning she wanted to meet them again soon).

The book-buying aspect of the trip went well, too. I came home with almost 20 children’s books of various kinds. A few are for slightly older children and won’t see much use this year. Some are already in use. Others I’m saving for later so she can get a new book every few weeks. Among them were a few of my first books: small cardboard books with simple texts in block letters. One of them is the first book I remember reading myself, on my own.

Sorry for the silence. Our modem died in a thunderstorm last Thursday and we have been Internetless since then. A new modem will hopefully arrive in the post soon.

Language development continues apace. Two-word combinations are now old hat, and combinations of three words and more happen every day. In fact they are so common that I’ve stopped noticing them. She also learns new words at such a speed that my astonishment has worn out and I am simply accepting this miracle as an ordinary thing.

We’ve just spent two weeks in Estonia, and she figured out very quickly that Estonian is the thing that works with those people. By the end of the two weeks she was using very few Swedish words when talking to us. But for some words she took care to point out that pappa says something else. She might say muna about the egg on her plate, and then look at me and say pappa ägg. Bilingualism is obviously not going to cause any difficulties for her.

Some of the words she learned very early on remain in their early state – she still says “Ije” for “Ingrid” for example. Otherwise her pronounciation is now good enough that even strangers can understand some of what she says. As long as she picks the right language, that is.

I love all this talking. It’s so nice that she can tell me what she wants, point out things that she sees or hears or wonders about, or just express her thoughts. The best thing about it is the insight I get into what is going on inside that head, what she understands, what she is interested in, what she thinks she is doing. A window into her mind. Today, for example, she has been commenting a lot on noises she hears, such as airplanes, passing cars that she cannot see, PA announcements and so on. Had she not been speaking, I would probably not have noticed it, because it’s not something she can point at.

Puddle!

Her talking has also made it clear to me just how much she understands: concepts like soon vs. later, things happening quickly vs. taking a long time, “first we do this, then we do that”, etc. I’ve also realised how much she remembers, and thinks about things we have seen or done or read during the day. When we run out of milk during breakfast, and I tell her that we’ll buy more in the afternoon, she confirms this at lunch, and then mentions it again when we go out in the afternoon. At bedtime she may repeat the ending of a particularly memorable book we read in the morning, or remind me that I promised we would buy her a pair of rubber boots soon.

Ingrid is still very fond of books, and now it’s definitely stories she wants. Preferably stories with pictures on every page, and no more than a few sentences per page, so we don’t have to look at the same page for too long. Rhymes are also good. She has never yet turned down an offer to read a book. And while previously she would often begin the day by telling me “uuut!” (go out), now she is more likely to tell me “läsa bok!” as soon as we get up.

On a whim, while we were stuck waiting somewhere and she was bored, I started pointing out letters to her, and how they make up words. She loved the game! Then she would pick up a newspaper or some advertising material with big letters on it, and point at them and say “I, E, O, E” as if reading, to show me that she wanted to play that game again. We bought an ABC book and it’s a great favourite.

We’ve also counted things a lot. She has a firm grasp on the concepts of one and two, and often tells me, for example, that she is putting two berries in her mouth at the same time. But beyond that I’m not sure. I know that she knows that number words come in a certain order, and she knows how they are used, but her own counting often goes üks, kaks, viis, kuus, kümme, meaning “one, two, five, six, ten”. And it’s always those specific ones, plus sometimes kaheksa (“eight”) in the right place, too. She always, always skips three and four. I suspect it’s because she cannot say the L sound (the words are kolm and neli in Estonian) so she doesn’t like to even try to say those words.

Lifting, not pushing the wheelbarrow…

On the physical side, I’ve noticed improved dexterity. She can now eat quite well with a fork, and can build towers out of Duplo blocks. Long and slim towers, preferably of the smallest 2×2 pieces… But she still prefers large things and big movement. Climbing frames are great, especially those that are really meant for older children, so that she really has to stretch to reach. Otherwise it’s too easy, I guess. Kicking a ball, balancing on things, hanging from things… The best toys are the large ones, and the best use for them is to carry and lift them. We bought her a chair, and while she does sometimes sit on it, she mostly carries it from one room to another.

Dolls are begginning to become more interesting. Dolls get to eat cheese, and wear her bibs, and sleep in our bed, sit on our chairs. (One of them apparently needed a nappy, too, but unfortunately the mismatch in size was just too big.) She even let me brush her teeth without struggling when she got to brush a doll’s teeth at the same time. Dolls and toy animals all like kisses, too: give her two stuffed animals and they will soon be rubbing their noses together while she says “puss!”.

I’m going to Estonia for 2 weeks. Posting will be light.

Enjoy the remainder of your summer (or winter, if you’re on the other side of the Earth).

The front of the house faces the street, but the opposite side (with the veranda) also feels like the front, because that’s where we spend most of our time. The garden side is the sunny side, the green side, the living and playing side. (The third side feels mostly like a passage between the two front sides, and the fourth side I rarely think about.)

My favourite place in the garden is at the steps leading down from the veranda. The steps are often comfortably sun-warmed, and there are plants on every side of me. I have a good overview of that half of the garden from there. It’s a good place for reading, snacking, or doing slow tasks like peeling lots of potatoes. I also like just sitting on the steps, looking out over the garden and whoever may be there (Ingrid, Eric, birds, or the neighbour’s cat). Surveying my kingdom.

Eric and Ingrid also like sitting there.

Sweden is expensive. People used to tell me that this was the case, but until I moved I didn’t believe it could be worse than London. But it is. And don’t forget that salaries here are nowhere near London levels.

Eating out is the worst. Every time I eat lunch outside the home I am surprised by the prices. You won’t find even the simplest lunch for under 65 SEK, and it goes up to 80 if you want a hot lunch. A small bottle of juice: 20–25. A piece of cake (cakes are the worst!) often goes for 35.

For comparison: 1 USD = 6 SEK, 1 EUR = 9.5 SEK, 1 GBP = 12 SEK.