Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Seriously Sporty Swedes

Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson summed it up rather nicely.

“Sweden may not be a big country, but we are a big sporting nation”.

For a country with just nine million inhabitants, Gorän’s right on the money. Sweden consistently produces elite sportsmen and women in seemingly every sport ever invented (except cricket – although if someone managed to explain the rules to them I’m sure they’d be world champions at that too).

If you wonder why such a small country can churn out such big sporting stars then you really need look no further than Stockholm’s Arlanda airport.

Yesterday I was travelling back up to Umeå when I walked through the airport’s Sky City area to find it has been has been transformed into a Winter Olympic ‘village’ complete with huge screen TV, ski simulation machines, a digital rock climbing wall and dozens of other sports-related activities for people of all ages.

There’s even a fully-stocked bar for would-be athletes like myself in need of some rigorous après ski training.

The place was overflowing with Swedes glued to the screen, cheering on their alpine sporting heroes and clapping each other on the back. It’s all hugely impressive and clearly underlines why this country is such a competitive colossal – Swedes take sport seriously.

Tonight, when the Swedish men’s ice hockey team played the Olympic quarter finals they delayed the daily children’s programmes until the match had finished. Over on the other channel they stayed on air to watch Anja Pärson slalom her way to a much deserved Olympic gold – not hesitating to push the nightly news back half an hour.

Planes have crashed into skyscrapers, tidal waves have swept through Asia, cartoons have been published in Denmark and never once has the news been moved from its sacred 6pm slot. Until a big-hearted chunk of a girl from Tärnaby took gold in Turin that is.

It just goes to show what sport really means to Swedes. They’re good at it because they take it seriously. In my book they deserve every medal, every award and every title they get.

If you’re reading this Tony Blair, you might want to put some of your Olympic Committee chums on the next flight out to Stockholm. They may learn just learn a thing or two.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sick of English

Varecilla-Zoster. Have you ever heard of it?

Well in plain English it’s called Chickenpox, and my son Tom’s got it. He looks like a bottle of tomato ketchup has just exploded all over him and his little sister keeps running after him with a pen trying to join up all the dots.

While reading up on this virus I discovered the following bit of cheerful news on netdoctoruk – “if exposed to an infected family member, about 80% to 90% of those in a household who haven't had chickenpox will get it”.

Therefore the odds my daughter Elli will avoid catching this highly contagious form of the herpes virus are about as slim as the Algerian downhill skier Christelle Laura Douibi’s chances of a podium finish at this year’s Winter Olympics.

Incidently, have you ever wondered why Chickenpox got its name? Thankfully it has nothing to do with the H5N1 bird flu virus, but it also has nothing to do with chickens either. It is believed the name derived from the rather odd observation that the red spots look like chickpeas on the skin.

This is not something that immediately springs to my mind when I look at my son.

In fact they look far more like small water-filled boils. Which is why the Swedish term for Chicken Pox – Vattkoppor (watery boils) - is considerably more descriptively accurate.

Indeed Swedes don’t muck about when it comes to describing medical conditions. They tell it like it is, rather than us English, who prefer to give things rather more complicated and convoluted titles.

Take urinvägsinfektion (urinal ‘way’ infection) for example. We call that Cystitus, which is more reminiscent of a Roman Emperor than an excruciatingly painful bladder complaint.

What about the remarkably straight forward Swedish lunginflammation (lung inflammation), known in English as the impossible-to-spell pneumonia.

Can anyone guess what hjärnblödning (brain bleeding) describes? Why yes, it’s a stroke – an English word that makes this sometimes fatal medical condition sound almost rather pleasant.

It all goes to prove you feel much better if you’re sick in Swedish. At least you know what’s wrong with you.

Monday, February 13, 2006

20 Minutes Ago

Sometimes it does me good just to shut up and take a look around.

This was the view outside my house taken 20 minutes ago. It's minus 8 degrees, the sun is just breaking over the treetops and during the night there's been the most spectacular 'rimfrost' (less poetically known in English as a hoare frost).

Umeå - it will probably never host the Winter Olympics, but it can be breathtakingly beautiful sometimes.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

What the Puck? Part 2

Monday, January 6th

7.45pm: Looking out of the window it’s minus 6 degrees, snowing heavily, with a 24km/h wind lashing the tree tops. There’s fifteen minutes until I’m supposed to play my weekly outdoor game of hockey with enormous Swedish men. Surely they won’t play in this sort of weather?

7.50pm: The children are refusing to go to bed, so I grab my skates and walk up to the ice-rink to avoid having to read Harry Potter. I’m confident there’ll be no play tonight.

7.55pm: Arrive at the ice-rink to find seven guys frantically skating from side to side with snow shovels to clear the rink. In England we’d have called the National Guard out in weather conditions like this. The absolute last thing we’d have contemplated is playing ice-hockey in it.

8pm: Bollocks. Nothing to do but lace up and get out there. Game starts well when I attempt to tackle Johan (a local hairdresser confidently dressed in a Björklöven jersey and a pair of expensive looking sports glasses) but somehow miss and perform a triple salko (in the pike position) before crashing down on the ice. Not good hockey, but rather spectacular in its own way, even if I do say so myself.

9pm: Been playing an hour now and my eyebrows are frozen. I’ve got a strange taste in my mouth like I’m sucking a battery and I can no longer feel my toes. The snow’s so deep now that the puck travels under it, making following it somewhat difficult. We collectively decide to call it a night, although I secretly suspect the enormous Swedish men would have happily played on until the snow reached up over their knees.

9.15pm: Arrive back home. Discover that the heat from my profusely sweating head has melted the snow on my woollen hat and then been re-frozen several times. This means I’ve been playing ice-hockey for the last hour with what looks like a giant glass bowl on my head.

9.20pm: Sit down (very carefully) and defrost in front of the TV with a nice cup of tea and swear I’ll never play ice hockey again. Until next Monday that is.