As chance would have it we were in Sweden at the time of the quarter final game (still are, in fact). Fortunately in a house swap so we had the place to ourselves and I only had to remember not to cheer so loudly the neighbours would notice. All in the past now, of course. After the game Sally turned to me and said “So who do you most want us to avoid in the semis then?” Pausing only to recollect myself from the shock of hearing her express even the slightest interest in and knowledge of the beautiful game I answered “Croatia”. But that’s enough of football for now. Though I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Swedes, both their football team who played a clean and positive game in these cynical times and the population at large who continued to be friendly and helpful to two bewildered English tourists even after their defeat.

Having whisked ourselves off to Sweden a couple of days after we landed in England all I’ve seen of the mother country so far has been Margate. Ah, Margate! Famous for all the wrong things, from Mods and Rockers rioting on the sands all the way through the decades to UKIP. Though there is the Turner Gallery. And that’s what’s fascinating about Margate, the contradictions and contrasts. Dreamland and the Turner. The delightful Old Town and the run-down neighbourhoods immediately adjacent to it. Cheerful shop assistants and bank clerks for whom nothing is too much trouble and drunks carrying on domestic disputes on the streets. The High Street sums the place up, as High Streets should I suppose. One third empty shops (the usual suspects have all upped sticks and moved to Westwood Cross out of town), one third posh, arty boutiques, one third vape shops. Going up or coming down in the world? The jury’s out on Margate but at least some people are trying to make a go of the place. Good luck to them. In passing I wonder how it is that more people seem to vape than ever smoked tobacco.

Off to Copenhagen tomorrow. Another house swap. Not owning anywhere in England and being way too poor to live in hotels we fund our visits from Sri Lanka through house exchanges, a record eighteen of them on this marathon six month trip. We’re keen on the exchange economy. Not just swapping homes but giving volunteers board and lodging in return for their labour at Jungle Tide; lending and borrowing direct from friends and family cutting out the bankers, that kind of thing. We’ve been house-swappers for six or seven years now with lots of very positive experiences and making new friends, and only a few isolated (and not serious) negatives. And it’s fun to nose around other people’s places with permission and in their absence, checking out their reading habits and music and film collections (most are oldies like us who still have shelves of books, CDs and DVDs). And their kitchens. Do they have the right kind of potato peeler (Lancashire since you ask, though I’m an adopted Yorkshireman), a proper cheese grater, a decent collection of knives for all purposes? Are the wine glasses pathetically small or stupidly big, or just right? Do they have very scary electrical equipment or stuff I feel I can use without a training course? Are all the surfaces I’m likely to spill stuff on washable? Have they explained the local recycling arrangements? It’s hard to credit how these can differ from one locality to another even in the same country and we do hate waste. I recall with pain the first time I encountered an induction hob; as a challenge it compared closely to my first attempts at using a mouse or internet banking. TV remotes can also be a bit of a number to master. And when we don’t have a car, fathoming the regulations governing local public transport is another big problem. But after a week I’ve usually mastered all of the above and more. Then it’s time to move on to the next place with its own unique and new set of missions that must be accomplished.

After Copenhagen it’s Amsterdam then finally to our old stamping grounds of West Yorkshire from where I plan to send out the next instalment.


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