Going Postal – A 21st Century Odyssey

Going Postal – A 21st Century Odyssey

Those of you who might have checked this page in the last two months would have noticed that everything dead quiet for the last two months or so.

It is nigh time that I offer an explanation for another break in the delivery of content.

The short explanation would be that I was bereft of my computer as well as most of my notes, research and photos, due to a lot of stupidity (partially on my side), incompetence and bad communication, involving a trip to Norway, a computer repair company and the wonders of the modern postal system. This seemingly mundane elements came together into an unfortunate series of events, leading to an odyssey of nigh epic proportions.

In the name of your amusement, I shall now attempt to retell this convoluted tale of frustrations, gnashing teeth, nasty surprises, as well as some of the other, more pleasant, things which kept me busy in the mean time.

Thus may the curtain be raised, the characters come forth and let the rant story begin.


Prologue: Last Days in Leinster

The story begins during my summer, where the seed of the problem was planted whilst I was in the middle of the rush to finish writing my MSc thesis – the last chapter of my year long stay in Ireland.

In the heat of battle with the final deadline, vertical lines consisting of most garish colours occasionally started appearing on the screen. Since the issue could be resolved closing and restarting the laptop, and I could not spare a day without my computer, I decided to deal with the issue at less pressing time and date.

After having finished my thesis just in time for the deadline, I spent a few days celebrating and then moved on. The issue of the computer had to be resolved in a different land.

Chapter I: Moving to Sweden

After an intense year in college it was again time for a change of pace and environment.

So I got on a plane to Copenhagen to visit some friends and colleagues, including Haneen of KinoImages and the crew at Roskilde Viking Ship Museum. Trip would also not have been complete without spending a day lurking around the National Museum and the Design Museum. Both offer some interesting exhibitions and are definitely worth a visit.

After that it was time to board a direct train to Stockholm, where I spent a night to stroll around the city and visit the Swedish Historical Museum.

The latter is now doing some very modern exhibitions atypical of most big national museums. Instead of showcases full of mute artefacts it presents stories about individual persons or finds, while managing to be both intriguing and thought provoking.

viking woodworking tools viking ship museum roskilde
The highlight of my trip to Denmark was spending a whole day at boatyard of the Viking Ship Museum, talking to boatbuilders and documenting the various tool replicas used.
swedish historical museum prehistoric bus terminal
The storytelling aspects of the Swedish History Museum manifests itself in the form of a prehistoric collection disguised as a bus terminal. Thought provoking, yet not too gimmicky.

All through this my computer provided a mostly functioning companion, allowing me to do the odd bit of writing and research when time permitted. Now it was time to board a train to the forrests and hills around Kopparberg in the region of Bergslagen – a place steeped in mining and metalworking traditions.

I found myself together with my friends, at a small secluded farm called Kvarnfall, which also houses the smithy of Götz Ironworks. Here I was to spend the autumn and winter working at the forge, helping out around the farm, reading, thinking and writing.

No big surprises on that front for there is much work to be done.

My friends bought the long abandoned farm a year earlier, and there was much work left with renovating parts of the house, the stables, setting up fences for the animals, harvesting beans and potatoes, slaughtering animals which will not make it through the winter, tidying up, organizing the forge and workshop, and of course making things.

All of it is good honest work and a great learning experience, for on all fronts there were many things which I never had a chance to try before. What a welcome break from university life and an opportunity which I am most grateful for.

At some point I even wrote a story summarising my year in Dublin. But the computer issues were slowly getting worse and Kopparberg being a small out of the way town, it seemed that computer repairs would not be that easy to come by. Later it turned out that I was wrong, but for now I was invited to do a presentation at the Norwegian Forum for Experimental Archaeology (NFEA) and was about to spend a week in one of Norway’s larger cities. I thought that this would be a perfect chance to bring the laptop in for a quick check-up and getting it fixed.

If only I had known what madness I was letting myself into…

Chapter II: Trouble in Trondheim

Trondheim Warehouses on Nidelven

I came to Trondheim to visit some dear friends, give a modest contribution to NFEA by helping cast a medieval bronze bell, and to turn in my laptop for a bit of fixing.

Although the seminar was a great gathering of like minds, the road already got thorny on the way to our bronze bell. The communications with the archaeological institute who was meant to run the whole project suddenly went quiet in the weeks coming up to the event. Therefore we could not determine in time who was meant to do what, what we need to prepare, or even what exactly we are planning to do.

When we finally properly tackled the task at hand, time was already a bit too short to prepare the mould and furnace, and then finally cast the bell. We found ourselves in one of those popular documentary film scenarios where some crisis has to be resolved in the last moment. The solution was to focus on demonstrating the method of how a medieval lost-wax bell mould would have been made, and the dilemmas of trying to reconstruct ancient methods based on excavations.

Not quite as spectacular as pouring a couple kilos of molten bronze into a clay mould, but also safer for the passers-by, easier on the time and budget, while still of interest to myself and the other participants. Hopefully everybody involved learned the importance of good communication.

medieval bronze bell casting
Your’s faithfully making a model lost wax mould for the enjoyment of the general public. (Photo: Hands on History)

At the same time I handed the computer in to a local repair company on Monday morning. In the rush to get everything done while wondering what to do about the bronze bell, I did not do something that I should have done a long time ago. I did not back up all of my research and blogging related stuff on the external drive. Stupid, right?

Well… I was just taking it in for a quick fix. It should be fine…

…and so it seemed at first when I the repair service called me the same day to tell me that laptop is fixed and ready for pickup. It turns out that it was just a pinched cable, so I fork over the 500 NOK to the good man and head back to work on the bell-casting project.

But as soon as I come back and try to turn on the computer, it suddenly does not charge, does not turn on. No lights, just darkness and silence. A gaping void where my optimism suddenly disappeared.

Thus the troubles began.

I rushed to bring back the wretched piece of machinery on the same day and was assured that somebody will take a look at it first thing in the morning and call me. This was the beginning of my experience with some very weird communication and customer service.

From then on every time they told me that they will check something and call me on the same day, I had call them on the next day enquire as to what is going on. So I was jumping out in between the seminar lectures to try to reach the repair company, hoping that somebody picks up the phone.

But I kept my patience and professional politeness, figuring that bickering will not make the situation much better.

In the mean time the computer started turning on again, but the screen issues were back. I was told that it could be either the screen itself or the cable leading to it which needed to be changed and since they did not have the parts in stock, it could not be fixed before the week is over and I have to go back.

But that is OK. Stay positive. At least we are on the right track. I now know more about the problem and can work on fixing it back in Sweden. They will reassemble the computer and I will pick it up at the end of the seminar.

So on Saturday afternoon, when the day of public demonstrations at the seminar was closing, me and one of the organisers jumped into the car and sped off to pick up the computer on the other end of town.

But what do we find?

A notice that the place is unexpectedly closed due to sickness.

Well… Thank you for not calling and warning me, although you knew perfectly well that I am leaving after the week is over. Since my train back leaves on Monday early in the morning, the computer will just have to be brought back via the mercy of the postal system.

I was baffled and my mind was filled with some colourful language. I needed a walk in the September sunshine and a drink.

But this was not the last surprise to fall upon me…

Intermezzo: One Man’s Adventures on the Railway

The cherry on top to all of the hurdles of the week was delivered by my grand train journey back to Kopparberg.

I had it all planned out and tickets bought in advance. First a train 6-7 hours on the train to Oslo, a short stroll and lunch in the capital, then a train to Hallsberg where I finally catch one of the last regional trains to Kopparnergg. Sounds straightforward enough…

What could possibly go wrong?

Well…

It turns out that the Swedish Railway Company is not what is used to be.

It all started out fine. I boarded the Trondheim – Oslo train in the early Monday morning. We rolled away and gradually some spectacular Norwegian landscape slid past. I had a notebook to scribble down drafts of future posts, Wi-Fi to chat a bit on my smartphone and free coffee to make things even cosier. All in all not too bad for ‘budget’ ticket.

We even arrived in Oslo with an acceptable amount of delay.

I got myself a sandwich and sat down on a bench, looking out into the harbour. Since there was not much time left until the next train, I decided to take a stroll around the general area. I finally did the touristy thing of climbing up the slopes of the Oslo Opera House, where I could gaze out into the fjord and on one side, and a forest of construction cranes, concrete and rebar on the other.

Why did constant rush to build into the harbour. How much more of the urban landscape shall be replaced by sterile skyscrapers? How many more office complexes and overpriced flats does this place actually need?

oslo skyline
The Oslo Skyline.

In any case, it was time to stop contemplating life’s mysteries and board a Swedish express train connecting Oslo and Stockholm. This is where the real fun began.

I get on the train, find my seat, take out a book and start reading while I wait for that characteristic jolt of a train setting into motion.

I check my watch to realise that we should have left the station 10 minutes ago. Weird.

Soon the announcement comes from the speakers, telling us that we are being delayed due to ‘difficulties with the power supply on the track to Sweden.’ We are instructed to wait for the issue to be resolved.

15 minutes later the train finally rolled into motion.

We did not make it before the voice came on again, informing us that the technical issue has not been resolved yet. From now on, a part of the journey will be made by bus. This does not sound good.

As promised, we got off at the next station and got on a bus to the border town of Charlottenberg, Sweden. Here I saw the somewhat bizarre scene of another express train rolling in and being emptied off all passengers so that we might hop on.

We gave each other questioning looks as we met in tunnels connecting the tracks. They looked tired. Just as I must have appeared to them in turn.

At this point were almost two hours late.

Was I not meant to change trains at some point? Was that not one of the last trains for the day? Will I be spending the night at train station in the middle of nowhere, waiting for the first train in the morning?

I was slowly developing a certain irrational suspicion that the universe was trying to send me some kind of message about this whole trip.

Luckily, at least some of my doubts were dispelled when the conductor told me that they are looking for ways of getting everybody to their final destination.

In practice this meant that they had to get a cab for everybody who missed the last train of the day. Therefore we were spending another 15 minutes at each stop while the train staff made sure that the transport actually arrives.

At this point everybody was worn out and the delays just kept piling up. I shall probably never know how much Swedish Rails spent that night on cab fare. Or when, and in what state, the last of the passengers finally reached Stockholm.

In the end I ended up sitting in a taxi, speeding through the night down the empty roads from Örebro to Kopparberg. I spent the time trying to convince taxi driver to deliver me to a small village outside the town instead. A peculiar version of English interbred with broken Norwegian and Swedish was developed in the process. Somehow I succeeded.

I found myself in the middle of the night, standing at the entrance to a forest which hides a tiny house. After a starlit stroll I could finally lay down in that sanctuary which provided an end to the whole ordeal.

The next morning I was just happy to be back in the woods.

Do not get me wrong. I truly enjoyed the seminar and talking to all the other participants. Seeing the other members of Trondheim Vikinglag, exchanging thoughts with my colleagues at Hands on History, EXARC, The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Stiklestad Nasjonale Kultursenter and Midgard Historisk Senter. Hands on History can really be commended on doing a great job of organising a conference.

But now I was content to be away from the cities, cars and trains. Looking forward to occupying myself with some craft and manual labour.

And the laptop?

It is just a bloody computer. I can do without it for a week or so. Any urgent email I can handle on my smartphone. I can write on a piece of paper, and it is not as if I do not have plenty of other things to do at Kvarnfall. In any case it it will be posted first thing this week and I will have it back in a couple of days.

Right?

It turned out that my patience would soon be exposed to some destructive testing.

Chapter III: The Waiting Game

Back at Kvarnfall, there was much work to be done.

The house needed to be prepared for winter, which meant that it was time to rebuild the entrance hall from the ground up.

I was handed a broad axe and given an introduction to the Swedish log building tradition. From now on I spent most of the time wrestling stout beams, cutting notches and assembling it all into something that will stand for years to come.

log construction
I suppose that is what Lego for adults looks like.

While trying to get to grips with the woodwork, my mind also kept wandering towards the issue of the missing computer.

Me and the seminar organisers somehow managed to remind the repair company that I already paid for their service, explain the situation and convince them that they could correct their mistake by posting the computer to Sweden. We somehow came to an agreement and I was promised that the computer will be in my hands in a 5-6 days.

Maybe there is still hope of customer service.

While I was waiting for the package to arrive, there was much more to prepare, since we were getting very close to the beginning of the intensive 10-day blacksmithing course held by Kvarnfall Farm and Götz Ironworks.

For a start, we had to finish setting up the new workshop.

This meant dragging everything out, pouring a concrete floor, bringing more tools from the old workshop, dragging 3 anvils into place, somehow suspending a huge set of bellows above our heads, setting up an additional hearth and putting some manners on the grinding room while we were at it.

As is the tradition with such jobs, we were working on it right until the participants started arriving, but we got it done.

We also had to brew a batch of delicious beer.

After all we would need something to quench our thirst during all the forging. So I found myself standing outside, feeding a fire and stirring a pot of mash under the light of the full moon.

The beer too was just settling when the course started.

The course itself was enjoyable but intense experience, where the 3 participants from Denmark, Norway and the US ended up being involved in everything from forging nails, to assembling complex damascus blades, gathering bog ore and refining bloomery iron in a Viking forge. When not forging, much of the time was spent talking about interesting museum artefacts and how they might have been made. Fun times.

Mari even made some nice pictures of the event.

During all of this, I kept checking the mailbox, and that notice that I should pick up a package just did not want to materialize in it. For some reason, I was also never given a tracking number, so there was no way to check where it might be. Something was starting to smell a bit fishy, so it was time to give my friends in Norway another call.

Once I managed to reach the repair company, they assured me that they will look into the issue and send me the tracking number by tomorrow morning the latest.

I am starting to get agitated.

On the next day, it was past lunchtime and still no word.

Alright. Time to stop playing the cheery patient fella and become very direct.

Once I finally reach the repairmen, I am told that somebody managed to misspell the address and the package got returned. They will have to send it again.

Seriously? Is this some kind of joke?

In end the whole conversation got a bit uncivilized, but the package got sent out and a tracking number was forwarded to me.

This is when it really started to appear as if I became the subject of some kind of experiment – set out to investigate just hard it can be to post a package in the 21st century. Post it between two neighbouring, highly developed countries, which are meant to be in good relations.

In days and weeks that followed, the weather got colder, the walls of the house grew, and the first snows told us that we should really get a move on with all the projects around the house.

I found myself having the experience of cutting and drilling frozen beams, sometimes scraping off the ice of them so that they would fit better.

Somehow we managed to get the stables sorted out, move in the animals and put a ceiling over the entrance hall before the end of November.

Woodworking in winter wonderland. There is a first time for everything.

All through this, tracking the movements of the package provided a stream of episodes in a gruesome logistic saga.

At first the package made its way to Oslo, where it got misplaced stuck in the black hole that is the Norwegian Customs Service for about a week.

Once that got resolved, the Swedes also had to have something to say about it.

It all seemed fine when the courier company called us to clarify the customs situation and verify the final address.

But nothing happens for days. No package. No notice in the postbox.

Then one evening, the tracking proclaims that the package was stuck in customs and is being returned to the sender.

It cannot be.

My friends have now started advising me that I maybe should not be making any sharp and pointy things.

After an unnecessarily stressful morning of making calls, bouncing between customer support lines and contemplating the nature of the universe, things were moving in the right direction again.

Was it just a glitch in the system? Anything is possible at this point.

A couple of days later, on the 16th of November, the package finally arrived in Kopparberg. The ordeal was over.

It took the computer 2 months to get back to me after I first handed it in. The last month of this was definitely spent in the postal system, mostly laying around in customs. On the way, pretty much everything that can go wrong, went wrong. Murphy’s Laws still stand.

If somebody told me that all these things can happen one after the other, I could hardly believe them.

But they did.

In the mean time the sunny days of Autumn passed, bringing us Winter with its frost and snow.

At the same time at Kvarnfall we:

  • Built 3.5 X 3.3 m entrance room from the foundation up.
  • Harvested and stored the crops
  • Brewed and drank 120 litters of beer.
  • Reorganised the workshops
  • Held a 10-day intensive blacksmithing course.
  • Moved over a flock of sheep and a pair of pigs
  • Renovated the stables so that the animals can survive the winter

The best part of the story was of course that the computer still was not working…

log house construction
Got it done just in time.

Conclusion: Patience is Not a Virtue

What have I learned from this grand journey of there and back again?

First of all, being patient and polite about a problem does not help to solve the issue. The squeaky wheel still gets the grease. It would seem that in this part of the world, everybody avoids taking responsibility for issues, or resolving them, is not top priority. When there is a problem responsible party will have a tendency to simply ignore it in the hopes that it either resolves itself, or gets forgotten.

Therefore if you want something to get done, then you have to be an annoying bastard. You have to be a difficult, otherwise you will be ignored. It does not sound nice, it does not feel nice to do it, but sometimes it is actually the only way.

Computer repair shops use a different perception of time and space than the rest of us. Maybe they count the days differently. For example, if they tell you that later on the same day, you might need to check up on them in a day or two. When they say that they need a day or two, you should count yourself lucky if you can get a word out of them a week later.

Sweden might have better roads, but worse trains than Norway. Adjust your travelling plans accordingly.

As much as I am an analog person, I am very much a part of the digital age. Even when I sometimes dislike all these electronic gadgets, I still depend on them a lot. Many things become very difficult when they are gone, including running this webpage.

Epilogue

In the end I found a small repair service and electronics refurbishing place in a nearby town, where they took a look at it. Turns out that the motherboard is slowly going the way of the dodo. After a week I got back fixed, with the note that there is no knowing when it breaks down again and I should just start looking into getting a replacement.

Why did I think that fixing it on my trip would be somehow quicker or easier?

Now that I am back to having a mostly functioning computer, with all of its precious data, the delivery of articles may finally resume at a more regular pace. Unless something goes awfully wahoony shaped again.

In the end, it is probably a good idea to start saving up for a new computer, if I want to keep doing research and running this blogging venture.


Since you have made it to the end of this post, then you obviously must enjoy reading my articles.

So let me give you a little reminder and offer.

Running a page like this, full of free content, requires of me an investment of my free time, as well as money for hosting and equipment. So if you want to contribute towards lessening the impact of any technical difficulties, as well as the further development of this page, then I will not beg you for donations.

There will be none of that ‘if only every reader gave 1€’ or ‘you are willing to spend 4€ on a cup of coffee but not to support an artist’. Let us not get too melancholy here.

Instead I would remind you that I am not only a scribbler and experimental archaeologist, but also an artisan. Thus you can choose support this venture by ordering some of my work.

Some of my previous work may be seen in the Galleries, as well as on Facebook.

Should you have read my little guide on how to get started in living history, then you know that this is the time to think about what you will need for the next season and start ordering things from makers

Therefore…

Straight up and simple, devoid of any beating about the bush. You contact me with your wishes/ideas and with some luck you become the owner of a fine handcrafted item, offer support to a page you like, as well give a small maker some work. Hopefully, everybody profits in the end.

Also, Sharing is always appreciated and like hearing you opinions as well. If you like this content, tell others, comment bellow, and share it on social media.

Until Next Time!

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