The Bass of an Ancient King


Bill Black, the bass and the King

In 1995 the surviving three Beatles recorded “Real Love“, a song that Lennon had written and recorded in 1979. They used his vocal takes on the new recording and sang harmony with him. McCartney played a vintage double bass once owned by Bill Black who played the bass in Elvis’s original mid-1950s trio.

This choice of instrument is what archaeologists call symbolic re-use. It’s when runestones are found built into the walls of later churches. Or when Napoleon’s imperial coronation outfit referenced designs from the tomb of Childeric I. People reach back in time to take part of the essence of great ancestors.

“Real Love” is a pretty decent Beatles song, certainly not one of their weakest outings.


Runestone in a Park Hermitage


The Vadstena Abbey runestone, Ög 179. Photo by Thuresson 2005, Wikimedia Commons.

I found a pretty sweet piece of monument re-use. English landscape parks of the 18th and 19th centuries were designed a bit like theme parks, where visitors were intended to walk around encountering intriguing surprises here and there. A Chinese pagoda. Some topiary. A fake ruin. An hermit’s hut where on special occasions a false-bearded sage would impart his wisdom to the park-owner’s guests.

In Scandinavia these parks often included pan-Nordic national romantic features, like the Norwegian chalet in the Søndermarken park at Frederiksborg outside Copenhagen that my wife and I visited this summer. And what could be more Nordic and romantic than a runestone? In 2013 I blogged about the Sälna runestone that was broken apart, taken to the park of Skånelaholm manor and given a rather odd new inscription in 1820. Now I’ve found another example of the same behaviour, possibly dating from the same year.

Olof Regnstrand was an energetic man with many business ideas, one of the most long-lived ones being that he and his family ran the hospital kitchens at the former Vadstena Abbey as a concession for several decades. In about 1820 he redesigned part of the former monks’ garden and orchard as a semi-public pleasure park where the bourgeoisie of the little town could be entertained on summer evenings, with a dance hall, a gazebo and other attractions.

Among the other attractions was an hermit’s cave, built roughly of undressed limestone and located next to the gazebo at the abbey church’s south-east corner. Both structures used for their back wall part of what we now know was a 13th century brick building that had in the time of the monastery been the monks’ World Gate, the place where they met with secular visitors. And for the hermitage’s door post, Regnstrand chose a runestone! It had previously stood at the lakeshore nearby, lost its lower half and become eroded by the water and ice. But though the hermitage and the gazebo are long gone, the stone still stands roughly where Regnstrand planted it, and three boreholes show where the hinges of the hermitage were once fastened. It is the oldest piece of Vadstena’s history that can be seen by visitors, originally raised in memory of one Eskil who died in the early 11th century.

I found this lovely historical nugget in Julia Sigurdson and Sune Zachrisson’s fine 2012 book Aplagårdar och klosterliljor (pp. 158-159). For solid information about English park hermitages (but little about the hermits themselves), see Gordon Campbell 2013, The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome .

September Pieces Of My Mind #2


Palace of the Bjälbo Kings, Vadstena, 1260s.

  • My chain franchise of weed shops is going to be named Jazz Tobacconist.
  • I spotted a guy I went to school with the other day. Thought to myself “Dude looks silly with that bald top and fringe”. It took until yesterday before I realised that I also have a bald top and fringe.
  • Early autumn, aspen leaves glowing gold at sunrise.
  • Came up with an analogy. Digging out culture layers from a ruin to study the walls is like finding Ötzi and putting him on an anthill because you want to study his skeleton.
  • Oh ye who go about saying unto each: “Hello sailor”: Dost thou know the magnitude of thy sin before the gods?
  • Feeling a little better about the election results now that it looks like the Social Democrat Prime Minister will be able to stay in office. And now that I’ve learned that we gained a few percentile points in my housing area where I did so much canvassing.
  • A memory. There was this slightly odd and often unintentionally entertaining dude on the BBS forums I used to call in the late 80s. He once had a total rage meltdown because he found it so annoying to have to put a semicolon at the end of every line of Pascal code.
  • Movie: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). Everyday guy in heavily stylised cartoonish world can’t decide which unrealistically attractive girl to doink and gets into lots of Hong Kong action fights. Grade: OK.
  • Roy Zimmerman has a new album out! Good tunes with incisively funny satirical lyrics, largely about 45.
  • A UK university advertises an MSc programme in Current Archaeology with a big photo of a person using a total station / EDM surveying instrument. The photographer has held the camera tilted one or two degrees to the left. This is painfully obvious because a total station has a spirit level at the base and has to be almost exactly vertical to work. It is very far from vertical on the page.
  • Jrette shows me a pic of her friend’s dad who has shaved his beard in a joking style for a fancy dress party. In my style, actually. Hrmpf!
  • During St. Bridget’s years in Rome, Queen Joan I of Naples gave her a Turkish slave girl as a present. This woman later entered Vadstena convent and lived there as a nun under the name Katarina Magnussadotter until she died in 1414.
  • Mad Duke Magnus, brother of three Swedish 16th century kings, rests under a monument of respectable size near the site of the most prestigious altar in Vadstena Abbey. Despite abducting and raping a number of the last few nuns during the convent’s waning years.

Honeysuckle, such a sweet smell


Majelden-Tannefors, Linköping


Sunday Mushrooms


I’ve been remiss in reporting on our mushroom hauls in recent years. The last report is from four years ago and two weeks earlier in the season. But 2018 has been very different weather-wise than was 2014. The average July temperature in central Stockholm was 20.7 C in 2014. In 2018 it was 22.5 C, the highest seen since measurements began. So it’s no wonder that nature is looking a little odd.

On Sunday’s foray into the woods between the Halvörestorp road junction and Gungviken, we didn’t see many mushrooms except lots of rufous milkcap, pepparriska, Lactarius rufus. You need to be a Finn to eat that. We did get four other kinds though, only one of which we found at my last report: the ubiquitous velvet bolete, sandsopp. The most common one we knew to pick today was a large, bright red brittlegill, storkremla, Russula paludosa, which has never featured in my reports before.

Here’s what we got:

  • Brittlegill, Storkremla, Russula paludosa
  • Velvet bolete, Sandsopp, Suillus variegatus
  • Fårticka, Albatrellus ovinus
  • Birch bolete, Björksopp, Leccinum scabrum

Guest Entry: Typhoon Mangkhut in Hong Kong

With the permission of Aard regular and Hong Kong resident John Massey, here’s a compilation of his reporting on the impact of Typhoon Mangkhut on Hong Kong over the past day. John lives in Sha Tin in the New Territories, on the Shing Mun River. The times given are local to HK.

Friday 14 September 22:39. Well, that’s quite impressive – there’s currently one unnamed Tropical Disturbance in the Indian Ocean, one Super Typhoon (which everyone except the Filipinos is calling Mangkhut, but which the Filipinos are calling Ompong) about to cross northern Luzon and enter the South China Sea heading towards US!!!, and four Hurricanes in the Atlantic, one of which (Florence) has barrelled into North Carolina, one (Isaac) is heading for South America, and the other two (Helene and Joyce) seem to be trying make up their minds where to go (typical).

Sunday 16 September 12:04. River wall next to our place has just been overtopped, by a lot.

Sunday 16 September 12:33. Mangkhut is currently the closest it will get to HK, so hopefully things might now progressively start to ease off a bit, slowly. They need to. But with the shift in wind direction as it passes, the water levels will get even higher, so the flooding will get even worse.

I suspect the basement car park (where my car and bicycle are) is now inundated, but I can’t get down there to find out, because the lifts have been grounded, so there’s no way to get down to the car park without walking down the fire escape, going outside, and walking down another fire escape, and going outside is really not a good idea at the moment.

Sunday 16 September 14:17. The typhoon has moved enough so that the wind direction has shifted, so now we are more protected and not getting the very strong wind gusts we were getting. So it’s a lot less scary now.

Plus the water has stopped over-topping the river wall, at least for now. The amusing thing about that, if there is a funny side to it, is that now there is no way for the water to flow back into the river, because it is being held in by the wall, so the flood water is just sitting there, until the work crews can get here tomorrow or whenever and open the gates in the wall to let the water drain back into the river.

Sunday 16 September 14:30. Windows have stood up OK. My study window got hit very hard a couple of times by flying debris, but didn’t break. The much larger windows in the living room haven’t been hit by anything so far, luckily. But they have UV resistant plastic film on them, which helps resist breaking if they are hit by flying objects, and reduces resonance in the wind, which helps to resist breaking from wind pressure/oscillation. Typhoon winds are buffeting, rapid oscillation in wind pressure, so you can get those kinds of resonance effects in larger window panes. The recommendation is to put a big X of adhesive tape on the windows, which I was thinking about doing yesterday until my wife reminded me we already have the plastic film on them. Duh, yeah, I forgot about that. Even so, the living room windows were oscillating alarmingly in the strongest gusts we were getting earlier, but they didn’t go.

So, so far so good. Shouldn’t talk too soon, though, this thing is not over by a long way yet. I need to get down to the car park some time to see if it’s flooded and how the car and bike have fared. I might go down there soon, now that I think it’s OK-ish to go outside for a brief sprint to the fire escape down to the car park.

There are some people with kids sitting in the fire escape in the building, so I’m guessing their windows maybe didn’t do so well, and they have nowhere else to shelter.

Sunday 16 September 14:36. Yep, the Observatory report that the storm surge in Tolo Harbour, which is just down-river from us, reached 4.5m, but it has started dropping, which matches what I see.

Now we just need someone to come and take the plug out of the plug hole in the bath tub. They won’t be doing it today, they have more important things to attend to.

Sunday 16 September 14:58. I’m wrong – I went down to check – the people sitting in the fire escape talking to kids are the female security guard and a couple of the cleaning ladies, talking to some of the kids who live here to pass the time, because there is nothing else they can do at the moment. I guess it’s possible the building entry lobby is flooded with rainwater, which would help to explain why the lifts are out of action.

Sunday 16 September 15:26. There’s a lot of damage around different areas of HK. This being 2018, people are posting videos online, many of which are pretty dramatic. Lots of flooding, lots of smashed windows, lots of scaffolding down, big cranes leaning at scary angles, a couple of partial old building collapses. Several people have been injured, but no reports of fatalities yet. The emergency services are out in force and busy, so injured people are getting treated pretty promptly.

I have to say I think HK has dodged a bullet with this one. It has not been a direct hit, the centre of the storm is skirting about 100km to the south. But it is a very powerful storm, with a very large circulation, so we have still had the worst conditions I have ever seen here, including during the direct hit by Super Typhoon Hope in 1979, so it has been very bad, and it’s not over yet. On the other hand, preparedness has been very good – everyone saw this one coming and knew it would be bad, and most people seem to have behaved sensibly, which is not always the case.

But if it had deviated only slightly on its track and had made a direct hit on HK, it would have been a whole lot worse. If it had threaded the gap between the Philippines and Taiwan, instead of crossing the northern tip of Luzon, which caused it to weaken slightly as it crossed land, it would have been worse. Bad luck for Filipinos, with 21 dead reported there so far and counting, but a bit of luck for HK.

We dodged a bullet with Hato last year when it missed HK by 20km and wrecked Macau, we seem to have dodged a bullet with Mangkhut this year – we can’t keep hoping for the best and relying on luck.

I have now lost patience completely with climate change deniers and do-nothing politicians.

Sunday 16 September 17:48. Finally girded up my loins and went downstairs to go out and check on the car park.

Entry lift lobby is fine – one family has taken up residence there, so I presume they have a problem with their flat, but they seem cheerful enough. Maybe they just like it down there. Lifts are out, but I can’t see why – maybe they just shut them down because the building was swaying too much.

Going outside was a challenge – wind gusts are still so strong I could barely stand against them, plus I was wading through 75mm of water ponding on the podium from relentless heavy rain, so strong wind gusts plus slippery underfoot, not a good combination. Whatever, I made it. All that gym training pays off, ya knows.

Only minor bits of flooding in the car park. Car is fine – plastered with wind-blown leaves is all, and they’ll all wash off in the rain as soon as I exit the car park. So I can drive Daughter to the train station to go to work tomorrow – not having her slogging on foot all that way through torrential rain with falling tree branches and bits of buildings, etc., and her chance of catching a taxi will be zero, so Dad’s free taxi service will be operating. I am assuming all storm signals will have been cancelled by tomorrow, but that remains to be seen (but if I had to bet money, I’d bet they will be).

All schools will stay closed tomorrow to give time to assess damage, clean up and make sure the buildings and grounds are all safe before letting the kids go back, which is a very sensible decision. I have to applaud that.

It would actually be a sensible decision to keep everything closed tomorrow, so everyone can stay home while they clean up the whole place and make sure everything is safe, the roads are all clear of fallen trees and public transport is all operating OK, but I predict they won’t do that – the business lobby would scream their heads off about lost revenue; they always do. I’m keeping notes on them – come the revolution, they’ll all be going up against the wall.

Thousands of trees are down, including a lot around our place, big mature trees. Pretty sad. Some have just snapped off at the trunk, others have been shredded, and others have been torn out by the roots.

Mangkhut will cross the coast of Guangdong pretty soon – currently hammering poor old Macau, but should cross the coast by about 7.00 pm, so it will start to lose intensity fairly fast once it does that. So, effectively, it’s pretty well all over for HK, except for a massive clean-up job.

Until the next one.

Sunday 16 September 19:20. Severe flooding reported in Macau, so it’s a repeat of what they got from Typhoon Hato last year, poor devils.

Water levels are dropping all around HK, but some low lying flood-prone areas still have bad flooding. People from those areas were evacuated yesterday before the storm hit, and accommodated in temporary shelters. No fun at all – sleeping on the floor of some Town Hall, getting awful mass-cooked food from some temporary kitchen, and then when they finally get to go home, it’s to a home wrecked by flood water which they have to try to clean up and make habitable again. Water ruins everything, and the whole place stays unbearably damp for months. Everything goes mouldy – walls, floor coverings, everything.

September Pieces Of My Mind #1


I am optimising game night with this lovely tea cosy from

  • Jrette just drove off to school for the first time on her new moped. We have raised her strong and independent.
  • Talked to a Conservative voter yesterday who came to Sweden from South-East Europe 40 years ago. He was worried about whether people from the Middle East and Africa can really be integrated into Swedish society. His own countrymen, he said, are obviously no problem since they are Europeans.
  • Movie: Death of Stalin. He dies and confusion breaks out. Grade: OK. This is in no way a ”triumphantly, hilariously brilliant satire” as one Fb contact claimed.
  • Maurice Sendak plays the ocarina on the Troggs’ “Wild Thing”.
  • I had to zap my old pay card, so now I can finally tell everyone that it had the ultimate three-digit security code for a Vendel Period scholar: 536.
  • I have optimised the German language. Instead of Beurteilung, let’s all say Böpp.
  • Went to the lake and had a nice afternoon swim. Last of the season?
  • The past three years have taught me a lot about people and made me even less shy of them than I was before. I drove a lot of volunteer refugee taxi in ’15-’16, and I’ve been canvassing for votes a lot in ’17-’18. I’m comfortable with talking to strangers in the street or in their doorways about politics. Two of the main things I’ve learned is that most folks are really nice, and that appearances (in terms of ethnic costume and class indicators) are enormously deceptive.
  • Co-worker describes a fist fight between two lycra-clad middle-class Tour de France wannabee cyclists on the bike path next to his kids’ school this morning.
  • It was ragged and naïve, it was Heaven
  • 21st century tech etiquette advice for Boomers: when you receive a text message you DO NOT respond with a phone call unless under extreme duress. Thank you.
  • Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” is heavily influenced by Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious”.
  • It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.
  • Have you heard of wrecking rooms? Where you pay to smash stuff up? The most popular item is the printer. I’m not surprised.
  • I’ve had a really grating ringtone on my phone to make sure that I react to it on the rare occasions that somebody calls me. But now I’m a bit frazzled from vote canvassing, and people call me a lot about the election. So I had to change the ringtone to something friendlier. It was making me lose my temper immediately prior to picking up on every phone call.
  • Government minister takes part in canvassing event. Interior Security agent looks strangely familiar. Turns out to be old school pal that I used to play ninjas with.
  • Polish scholar writes me about a journal paper of mine. That appeared 22 years ago. My first academic publication is 26 years old now. My first general publication is 29.
  • Movie: Hidden Figures. Black female number crunchers earn grudging respect at early 1960s NASA. Grade: Good!
  • Talked to a voter who thought that when you have progressive taxation rates, richer people should get better services. /-:
  • I just started editorial work on my last issue of Fornvännen.
  • I’m starting a movement to remove all of AD 79 Pompeii in order to study the town in the 2nd century BC, which I will argue is more interesting.
  • Wonder how much power is wasted every day through people leaving their iPads on.
  • Met a Somali metal head with a Hammerfall tee shirt.
  • Been ringing door bells for the election all day. In 7-floor tenements. Legs starting to complain.
  • PG Tips tea was originally named “Pre-Gestee” to indicate that you would have better digestion if you drank a cup before eating.

Remarks on the Swedish Election Results of 2018

For some background see my entry from 4 September.

Parliament. The main result is that despite re-shuffling of the figures within the Left+Green and Right blocs, neither has gained a decisive upper hand. It looks like the Left+Green bloc has beat the Right bloc by only a few tenths of a percentile unit. It will be exceptionally difficult to negotiate a secure ruling coalition. No present party failed the 4% cutoff, and no new one got past it. Hate & Fear got 17.6% of the parliamentary vote, which is a bit more than in the last election but less than what the polls had us worrying about.

Stockholm county council. The Right kept their slight lead over the Left+Greens.

Nacka municipality. Again, reshuffling: the Right kept their solid lead over the Left+Greens with an unchanged seat count, but the Conservatives lost 5 out of 24 seats (on a 61-seat council) to the Centrists and Christian Democrats. No big deal for the Conservatives, I should think. Us Social Democrats kept our 11 seats, which is a considerably better result than what we saw in Parliament.

One of my main personal goals of the election season was to help push up voter turnout in my multicultural tenement housing area. We failed. In 2014, 67% of Fisksätra’s voters went to the ballot urn. In 2018, only 63% did. I’m pretty sure though that participation would have been even worse without the work we put in.

All in all, the canvassing work we’ve done over the past months gained us nothing in comparison to the 2014 election result. But it helped us hold on to most of what we had. To me personally, the most encouraging result in all this was that my kid voted for my party and ticked the box next to my name. Also, it looks like a family member of mine might just get a seat on the municipal council for another party…

I commented on the 2010 elections too.

Well-spent Summer

I’ll remember 2018 as my year of five jobs with the hottest summer I’ve seen. Here’s some of the best summer activities I devoted this frighteningly awesome season to.

  • Swimming
  • Water skiing
  • Sailing
  • Kayaking & canoeing
  • Mountain hiking
  • Geocaching
  • Topless cycling to work
  • Nocturnal cycling
  • Sight-seeing in Malmö and Copenhagen
  • Eating syllabub and raspberries off the bush
  • Sleeping outdoors
  • Dining outdoors
  • Listening to outdoor live music
  • Riding a steam boat and a steam train
  • A gaming con and a scifi con

What were your best summer activities, Dear Reader?

Five Days to the Swedish Elections

For much of this year, and from May as a paid occupation, I’ve been working for the Social Democrats towards the elections on Sunday. Swedish politics has many parties which were until recently grouped into the Left+Green bloc against the Right bloc. Each bloc had roughly half of the vote. To explain this to an American, we basically had 50% Bernie+Nader voters and 50% Democrat voters – and the Democrats were our right wing. Mainstream Republican politics have no place in Sweden.

Things changed with the growth of the Hate & Fear Party, who are xenophobic right-wing populists: the Tea Party in US terms. They got 13% of the parliamentary vote in 2014 and will probably get 20% on Sunday. These voters have moved to Hate & Fear from both of the previous blocs in roughly equal proportions. So now polls are 40% Left+Green, 40% Right, 20% Fear & Hate.

Here’s a snapshot of how I see our Social Democrat chances.

Local government: Nacka kommun. For reasons of social demography, we have never governed this affluent suburban area since its current borders were drawn in 1971. I’m optimistic about us gaining several seats here, but I would be pleasantly surprised if the Left+Green bloc actually gained the municipal council majority.

County government: Stockholm landsting (mainly organises hospitals, old-folks’ homes and public transport). The current Right bloc majority here is slim. I’m pretty confident that we will gain the upper hand.

Parliament and national government: riksdagen & regeringen. This is going to be messy. Parliament currently consists of eight parties. The cutoff to get in is 4% of the vote. (If a party gets 3.9%, then those votes are not taken into consideration.) Three parties are barely over the limit in the polls. The leading party in the polls, us Social Democrats, has only about 25%. We have been able to govern Sweden for four years together with the Greens only because the Right bloc has refused to collaborate with Hate & Fear. The rule is that the Prime Minister after Sunday is whoever doesn’t meet with enough parliamentary opposition to stop her.

As I understand things from current polls, our best chance is to form a Centrist coalition that excludes parties on the outer ends of the Left-Right axis, breaking up both of the earlier blocs. A possible alternative is that the Right bloc sticks together and makes the deal with Hate & Fear that they have refused in the past four years. A lot of Right bloc voters would be deeply ashamed of such a move.

It wouldn’t give Hate & Fear a seat at the government table, but they would definitely receive something. This has already (infamously) happened in a few local assemblies, and there Hate & Fear have proved an unreliable ally. In Gävle, for instance, Hate & Fear helped topple the Left+Green leadership but then refused to support the Right bloc’s municipal budget. Also, not only is Hate & Fear erratic as a party, but individual party representatives are also uniquely prone to flaking out on their responsibilities or quitting the party entirely. The latter usually happens because they don’t like the party line of avoiding Nazi salutes and Islamophobic comments in public.

So the situation is volatile, and it’s a really interesting parliamentary election. Meanwhile, me and my party friends are busy canvassing. Sunday will tell.