Forget the Footnotes

Big wood pile

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I have a big wood pile in my backyard. Swedes measure their manliness with the help of the size of their wood pile and mine is huge. Usually it’s an enormous collection of firewood that men in the Swedish countryside keep for the winter. A well dried and neatly stacked pile is the best protection against the bitter winter winds. A Swedish man may chew tobacco, he may never change his underwear, he never talks except to curse — but yes, his pile of wood keeps his family warm through the winter.

wood pile

OK. My pile here in London is a bit different. It’s the wood I bought a year ago for my friend across the street, the conceptual artist who is a carpenter in the day-time, who had promised to come over and build us a conservatory. Despite continuously pestering him, he could never be bothered to actually get the job started. Now the pile is a piece of conceptual art. Everyone who sees it thinks ‘Man, that’s a big wood pile! I wonder why they have that big wood pile in their backyard?’ But as far as I’m concerned, it’s a monument to my Swedishness. A small piece of my manliness in the middle of the enormous, emasculating, metropolis.

We used to have PhD students over for dinner right at the beginning of the Michaelmas term. First we served them vodka, then we fed them fermented herring, then we took them into the backyard for the annual axe-throwing competition. In my part of Sweden they make double-sided axes which are great to use for throwing. We had a sawn-off tree stump as a target and gave points for the ones who hit closest to the centre. Of course everyone got too drunk and started falling about. The axe-throwing got, so to speak, out of hand. Once the police flew by in their helicoptre and we waved our axes at them and cursed. ‘This used to be Viking land you know! Before you Normans arrived!’


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