Monday, 21 February 2011

It's Being A Long, Cold, Lonely Winter

Woke late this morning, almost 10:00 am. Charlie had already been at me while still dark. Jack, on the other hand, was snuffling contentedly in his basket in the corner of the bedroom. Only -10 when I surfaced but......Arggghhh.....more sodding snow!  Will it never end, I ask myself? The answer is probably not for another month or so. April might see an improvement in the falling stakes. though it will still be lying around for some time to come. It is undeniably pretty however.

I was in town a few days ago, to Junsele, about 10 Kms off - Fun City, I call it, cos there's virtually bugger all there. When I mentioned this to a neighbour, Håkan, he just looked puzzled, perplexed and incomprehending. They don't do irony hereabouts.

Håkan is a dairy farmer and a positive wizard with things mechanical; he does almost everything around the farm and enjoys nothing more than to get his hands dirty in the greasy, oily innards of some piece of vintage agricultural machinery. Here is an example of his canny use and genuine love of vintage machines. His 1963 (I think) Volvo truck, one of the oldest remaining in Sweden (according to its chassis number when given to Volvo for obtaining spares parts), being used in summer:



A few years ago the local fishing association, Långvattnet FVO, decided to replace some of the pontoons that are sited around most of the lakes.

I was roped in to help with this task. The locals soon had my measure and kept me restricted to dismantling the old, ruined ones -  precision use of crowbars and hammers rather than saws, drills  and measuring devices   - where I could cause little damage or upset to the general plan. Once the new pontoons were ready, however, they had to be taken to their lakeside homes, and once there floated across to their final resting places. Håkan is the guy on the floating platform/pontoon in this piccy. You can almost feel his sense of fun at being towed across the deep lake by another couple of locals, Erik and Matts.



It's Erik who is doing all the heavy work here, rowing hard while Matts holds on to the pontoon itself. No great concerns for 'elf & safety here - not a life-jacket in sight!

All in all, the time spent with the gang was fairly amusing and enjoyable. At one point, over a snack break for Fika - a Swedish national institution, normally comprising coffee, cakes and biscuits, and 30 minutes of nothing much - with the Swedish flowing around me - and frequently over my head, I heard Erik mention that he'd heard the first Cuckoo of the year on the previous day. I chimed in, confirming that I, too, had heard it going bonkers in the forest nearby. This caused some real surprise among the lads and I was immediately asked if I understood what they were all saying and could I now prata Svenska (speak Swedish). I caused great amusement by replying in Sweedle that I wanted to speak 'Skåne språk',  a rarified form of dialect from the far South of the country, around the Malmo/Ystad -  Inspector Wallender - area.  I was never invited back to help with the fishing club seasonal preperations again. So I must have got something right!

But that was in early summer, when the snow had gone. For now, we are still snowed-in and the area is more like this:


This is a fairly common morning sight on one of the lakes behind the house, as the sun rises. It's kind of eerie the way the mist creeps across the surface of the frozen lake. And here's another pic of one of the smaller local rivers, The Röån (pronounced Rayon) which is en-route to Fun City. I luckily had a camera with me in the car when I caught this view, which we used for personalised emailed Xmas cards a few years ago:


Fun City itself is set on the banks of a huge and spectacular river, the Ångerman (Ångermanälven) which right now looks a bit like this, only colder. Brrrrrrr:


You can just make out the church spire atop the distant hill. The town has most things needed for daily life but no Systemet - the State-run liquor store. A sad omission, to say the least. A desperately needed addition, to my mind. The nearest outlet is about 40 Kms and a 1.5 hour return trip away.

Booze sales are strictly controlled here. And highly taxed!  If a friend drops by on a Sunday, you can forget the idea of nipping out to grab a bottle of wine. No chance. The Systemet - wherever you might be - will be closed. It has odd hours, a limited choice and high prices - when open. Some even do their best to hide the hooch from questing and thirsty customers. Recently it has adopted a totally incomprehensible and daft wine classification system on its shelves, making it difficult to find stuff!

My own personal favourite is in a small bustling town about an hours drive away. Strömsund has glass-fronted cases where you can see the odd bottle of beer, spirit and wine, but to get your hands on any of it you must first take a number from one of those inane dispensing machines (like supermarket counters), find a catalogue from which to get the number of the product you crave, generally queue for ages and hope they have your desired drink in stock.  If they don't...bad luck, start again!  Totally mad and unneccessarily  restrictive behaviour. Makes me laugh, if in a good humour......or makes me fume, and rant at them about the stupidity of their behaviour, when less than sanguine!

It is particularly galling when you consider that Sweden is an EU member state but keeps a strangle-hold monopoly on this outlet and continually requests and gets(!) special exemption from the EU to maintain its monopolistic practises.

I once wrote a complaint to the Systemet about the system. They replied in the usual smug, self-satisfied way of the Swedish state machine that it was widely admired worldwide and had a secondary duty to protect public health. Ans so there!, basically. That was their general view. No interest whatever in improving or changing.  I then inquired of another part of the state machine (for health) why it was that Sweden was still the only country in the EU to permit the sale of 'snus' (snuff). This query met with a complete silence. Swedes don't like criticism or awkward questions. They're a bit like Ostriches when faced with something they'd rather keep or sweep under the state carpet!

The extraordinary and dreadful monopolistic behaviour of Swedish business and the State is a major irritant, I find. It's largely kept under wraps by the Swedes themselves and only becomes apparent if you actually live in the country. At which point it drives you nuts! At least this blog  gives me a relief valve and allows me to rant about it from time to time!

With that rant over, I'll only add that it's still snowing, heavier than ever, and I must venture out to the woodshed (Arrgghh! There's something in the woodshed - hopefully only wood!) and bring up a load to keep the stove and heating going. Otherwise it will be a bit nippy later on! So on that note, having missed him this morning on the Brekkie run, I'd best get Mister Fox's late afternoon tea prepared - a lovely dish of leftover pillau rice, bread-crust, dried and tinned cat food.  I'll leave you with a couple of typical Swedish winter sunsets, taken from the garden:
                                                                                    

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