Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Back to Basics

I often ask myself why we bought a Swedish summerhouse.

Upon reflection we were asking for trouble. If you buy a place you never see for seven months of the year, pay hefty electricity bills to keep it (and the mice) warm during the winter months and spend most of the summer sweating and cursing while you’re painting/repairing/extending it, then maybe it is time you started questioning your own judgement.

But on the other hand our summerhouse is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been to on earth, because it gives my whole family a taste of ‘basic living’ – a feeling that we’ve somehow managed to wind back the clock 40 years to when everything seemed a little less stressful, the sky was a little bluer, the summers lasted a little longer and children had never heard of Playstations or Pokemon.

Before I go on perhaps I should offer up my definition of 'basic living', as in today’s fast-moving world 'basic living' for many might mean their kitchen doesn’t come complete with a microwave oven, they’re staring at plamsa when they really want LCD, or their four-wheel drive doesn’t come equipped with cup-holders.

When we bought our summerhouse just south of Umeå five years ago it had an outside toilet (which is stretching the truth slightly as it was really just a shed with a bucket in it), no running water in the winter (and water pumped up from a well during the summer that often emerged gurgling and spitting from the tap the same colour and consistency of chocolate milkshake) and no bath or shower to clean yourself in.

To my family, freshly arrived from the UK, having to boil water on the stove, wash ourselves and our children in the sea and take turns fending mosquitoes off each other’s bums while we took a leak in the woods was ‘basic’ living. And we loved every single minute of it.

Of course, things change, nothing ever stands still. Over time we plugged our house into the city’s water mains, installed a boiler for hot water on tap and built a shower room.

But we still have an outside toilet, which we have pledged to retain as a lasting symbol of those first few glorious years when everything seemed a little more inconvenient, and a little more fun because of it.

Rhubarb Rhubarb

I discovered today that I can't say rhubarb in Swedish. It's simply impossible.

Whenever I attempt to say it I sound like a Arab with a cleft palette. You try it.

I also struggle with skönt, but that's another story....

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Terror attacks in London.

Today I've nothing to say about Sweden, but I do have something to say about Britain.

A few hours ago four bombs exploded in central London. As I write 45 people are dead and over 1000 people are injured. This figure will undoubtedly rise over the coming hours.

My political and religious opinions don't belong on this blog - but I feel compelled to say this.

The British people will deal with this attack quietly and with great dignity. Their resolve to return to "business as usual" will be a credit to the nation and a clear signal to those who perpetrate these sorts of cowardly attacks on innocent people that they will never succeed in changing policies though violence.

The British nation's quiet strength is not a characteristic I often talk about. But it is a characteristic I admire in ways that today I simply cannot find words to express.

It's just one of the many reasons why I'm so extremely proud to be able to say I'm British.

My thoughts are with all those at home affected by this terrible attack.

Monday, July 04, 2005

High Pressure moving in from Next Door

I was lying on the beach this afternoon, turning the sort of fire-engine crackle-glazed shade of red that makes me look like a walking serving of chicken tikka masala, when my summerhouse neighbour, Eric, came up to me and kicked sand in my face.

Apparently he was a little aggrieved after reading my last post and rather insistent I write an apology on this blog correcting the impression I gave that summer weather in Norrland is about as reliable as a Swedish plumber with alzheimer's.

Well, as I live just twenty metres away from Eric, he’s bigger than me and he has one of the most impressively-stocked whisky cabinets in the whole of the northern hemisphere, sorry in this case doesn’t seem to be the hardest word.

The long-awaited heatwave did actually arrive, and for the past week I haven’t had to light the fire once as we’ve sweltered in Mediterranean temperatures.

Which has put me in something of a predicament, as right now I don’t have anything to moan about.

Ok, so there’s the ever-present problem of mosquitoes, swarms of which can quickly turn you into a human join-the-dots puzzle if you sit outside after 8pm. I’ve discovered the best way to avoid losing several pints of blood is to douse yourself with foul-smelling lotions, surround yourself with foul-smelling candles, or drink enough bottles of red wine that you simply don’t care if you get bitten.

And of course there’s the Baltic sea itself, which looks so deceptively inviting, until you actually wade out in it to discover it's as warm as liquid nitrogen and that you’ve suddenly lost all sense of feeling in your lower extremities.

But these are merely gripes, not complaints. This is turning into a summer to remember. With the newspapers proclaiming it will be 26 degrees tomorrow, it’s good to know that the only thing I’ll be lighting over the next few days will be the barbeque.