Saturday, 31 March 2012

Good Day Sunshine.....

We have beautiful full sunshine today. The temp was about minus 6 when I arose at 08:00 this morning. But the snowfall yesterday proved much more troubling than I expected. We've had a good few inches of fresh snow, though much of it is going again fast now, as temps have reached the seasonal high of about plus five. The prediction from the weather site online we use for today was this:


In truth, I don't think it went as low as minus eleven overnight, though at 02:15, when Rocky returned home after about 17 hours out on the razzle, it was reading minus seven.

J is off to London tomorrow for a few days. She has a train to catch at Sundsvall, a three hour drive South, at 08:00. The worry is that without winter tyres on the car, and low overnight temps, the roads will just freeze, making the journey nigh impossible in our car, as she must leave about 05:00. Our German neighbour, Roger, has offered to give her lift down - he has a 4X4 Ford Explorer on all-weather tyres which will easily cope with the conditions. Looks like we'll have to take him up on the offer, as there is more snow forecast for later today and again early tomorrow morning!

The difference in conditions are evident in these random pix taken yesterday afternoon and early this morning:

The Bagarstuga, again snow-covered and tricky to reach!:

The Track to the house, previously clear:

The morning view, looking South, from the porch:

Morning view, over Hakan's field:

One of the local Woodpeckers, a year-round resident, Great Spotted, has finally discovered the nut-feeders and fat-balls again:

And this morning, Håkan decided it was time to collect some timber from the forest, so dug out his big wood transporter thingy - a Volvo, of course:

And here is the scene yesterday, as the snow blew in in increasingly greater amounts and larger flakes:

These little farmhouses, mostly painted red, are typical of Sweden. They are known as 'Torps'. This one is Håkan's:

Torps figure greatly in urban Swede's dreams and perceptions of the rural idyll. They are often passed down through the family and retained as holiday homes: over fifty per cent of the population owns a second home in Sweden - generally a Torp. They are pretty but very cramped and small inside, which must have made them relatively easy to heat in winter, I guess. A decidedly important factor up here, I can assure you.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Spring Snow.....

Today it's about plus three degrees.........with snow again falling, albeit not threateningly. There is also a cold, stiff Westerly wind to add to the chill factor and drive the snow along. Charlie and Rocky went out about 09:00 and have not been seen since, save for an episode when J saw the pair of them playing on a tree in the garden. Even rattling a can of food failed to bring them over to the house, so intent were they on their game of rough and tree-tumble. I've called and checked the usual haunts, including one of Håkan's little used barns to no avail. The barn did, however, provide an interesting diversion, piled with the usual farmery detritus and junk that just might, possibly, remotely prove useful at some unspecified time in the future:

General junk:

A huge, old hot water tank, barrel-construction from wood and metal bands:

An old Caleche/Trappy thing:

And another, slightly grander, Caleche/Trap:

Last night Rocky thought it was time he investigated a few cupboards. What is it with cats and inaccessible, cramped spaces/places?:

Each day seems to bring new species of migratory birdlife to the village, preparing for the summer break. A couple of Starlings arrived about a week ago. These always nest in our neighbour, Kjell's place, just below the eaves of his house. A few days ago they were followed by a pair of Gulsparvs(yellow sparrows)/Yellowhammers and today a solitary female Chaffinch turned up. We have both heard, but not yet seen, the Trana - Common Cranes nearby. They make an incredible racket, unmistakeable - once heard, never forgotten, I'd say. I expect to see Lapwings, Golden Plover and Curlews fairly soon, though the Storlom/Black Throated Divers won't be here until the ice has gone from the lake surfaces. A few years back we had a pair of Slavonian Grebes on one of the nearby lakes.

I was saddened to learn of the death of the great North Carolinian Banjo player, Earl Scruggs, yesterday. He was the man behind a style of playing that is now virtually sybomonous with the instrument and probably best known for the theme music to the old, sixties TV programme 'The Beverly Hillbillies' and the chase sequences in the film, 'Bonnie & Clyde'. He was a mountain of a man in musical terms. Immensely important to banjo playing worldwide. We had the good fortune to see him play live many times in the USA at music festivals in his old home state. He will be sadly missed by many, I'm sure. Not least, by the great NC guitarist, Doc Watson, an old friend of Earl's, whom we met at his home in Deep Gap, NC, a few years ago:

Wednesday, 28 March 2012


The weather continues mild here, with some rain yesterday that has melted much more of the snow. Today, in sunlight, we reached the giddy heights of about fifteen degrees. It's not even freezing again overnight, so the melt continues. The track up to the house is now virtually clear:

And the Bagarstuga/cabin is also now easily accessible:

Charlie has taken to leading Rocky astray: he takes him (willingly) out across the snow to visit old barns and other outbuildings in the fields surrounding us; he then returns alone, having managed to give Rocky the slip. Rocky, unhappy when faced with damp, thawing snow, retreats into deep cover and I generally have to plod through the cold mush to find him and bring him back home. Today, however, he went in and out a few times on his own and found his way back alone each time. Thank God!

Here's a sequence of the little booger (Charlie) leading Rocky off, presumably in an attempt to get rid of him, we both fear and feel. It's the way he seems to always return alone, invariably leaving Rocky in some snow-covered place on his tod, that makes us suspicious of his motives. And, generally, when I retrieve junior, he wails at me pitifully and purrs wildly when I grab him. I'm getting weary of trudging through the snow after him and getting me feet wet in the process (I left me special Swedish, insulated Wellies in Spain - where I'll never, ever have a need for them!):

Come on then, let's get going.....:

Oh, Hell....should I, or what? You know I don't like this snow!:

Are you coming, or not....?:

I'm coming.....:

Oi, Charlie, wait for me.....:

We collect our milk, unpasturised and healthily creamy, direct from our neighbour's milk parlour every couple of days, or as needed. The cost to us is about a quid for two litres - great value, rare for Sweden! :

The main barn before milking:

J drawing fresh milk from the chiller tank:

J filling the bottle:

The other night when we went over for milk, we found Håkan busy loading a steer calf into another guy's trailer. It put up a fine struggle, I'm glad to say, given its likely approaching demise:

We went into our local main town, Sollefteå, yesterday to stock up on shopping, provisions etc. It's the first real chance we've had since returning and we like to fill the freezer and hold plenty of basic stuff in the house. As we entered the town, we crossed the main river in the area, one that gives the region one of its monikers, Ångermanland. It is beginning to flow in parts, with a few ice-flows visible on its surface. A rare thing for March. Usually, we'd have snow and ice until late April or even May. Everyone's predicting an early Spring (Vår, in Svenska):

There's been lots of those weird Swedish letters with little circles over them (Å/å) in this post: they don't have a specific name for these, apparently and surprisingly. They change the sound of the 'a' from ah/long a to a long o, 'aw' sound. And heaven help you if you get it wrong. Swedes don't do lateral thought, I'm afraid!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Spring Is In The Air.....

Well, we managed to catch the Aurora a few nights ago; nothing great or spectacular really but still extraordinary. It's a bit odd after over a year away. The green and brilliant colours generally associated with the dancers comes not from a natural naked-eye view but from the camera lens. I've no idea why this is so. (Maybe some of the Lewis photo peeps have some idea?) In reality, they're generally a rather milky white-to-pale greenish amorphous cloud that moves very fast, constantly changing shape and pattern, swirling one way and another, making us rub our eyes in disbelief.

I tried to photograph it but our small digi-camera is not up to the job which needs a long exposure, tripod etc. Maybe another time with a better camera.

Rocky has taken to following Charlie out into the snow and up trees and under outbuildings in search of who knows what......mice, lemmings, voles etc., etc. Soon, no doubt, he'll be after the smaller birds too. These have returned to the feeders: it's amazing just how quickly they pick up on a free meal and mob the things!

Today, we have about ten degrees - plus temps - and yesterday it was about the same. The gauge on the outside of the kitchen window is actually registering 15 degrees, but there is a strong, gusty wind, so the temp is more likely to be around the ten mark, I'd say. The snow is fast melting and what was ice when we arrived is already slushy mush underfoot. As we don't have winter tyres, with studs etc, on the car, we are keeping our trips out to a minimum. No bad thing economically! And environmentally.

This is the path to the house that J cleared on our arrival on Saturday when the snow was knee-high plus:

And this is the road outside, which was pretty hairy on arrival:

Charlie has cottoned-on to where he is again very fast. Each morning he's at the door with Jack and races out into the snow for a few hours before returning for a quick snack before heading out again. The same routine he had when here before. He is a Swedish cat, after all, so must feel at home. He certainly seems very content once more. Jack has settled into his normal routine, in his preferred spot:

Our neighbour Hakan spent much of yesterday pressure washing a ground drain he'd made a few years ago. When the melt is under way it simply freezes overnight leaving him with a frozen drain and a huge pond in front of his workshop come day again. This, in turn, freezes again overnight, creating a real hazard. After much huffing and puffing with his Kerchery-thingy he seems to have achieved a degree of success.

We had a very lazy afternoon and evening yesterday, watching telly: not something we often do. But we have some of the Swedish Wallander series on DVD, so watched those; it's amazing just how much of the lingo we now understand, though hearing it being spoken again by neighbours etc., no doubt helps.

To date we've only seen Great and Blue Tits at the feeders, plus a few opportunistic Sparrows, but this morning a pair of Bullfinches are evident too. Rocky is out, hiding under our old workshop and refusing to surface. Not even the rattle of fork on food tin is making him return right now. He looked a bit spooked when I went over and found him cowering in a corner of the workshop itself, but slipped past me and back below the building. No doubt, he'll appear when hunger grips him again; which in his case is generally pretty regularly. His normal position mid-afternoon since arriving here is this:

It seems that Spring is coming early this year, though there is a possibility of some more snow this weekend apparently. And it can still be pretty nippy out at times.

One of our neighbouring fields, ice and snow catching the sun:

J dragged her Sparka (kick sled) out of hibernation, they're great for getting around on ice but at the rate the snow's melting it looks doubtful that it'll get much use this year:

And in the sitting room, our books are taking over - soon (NOW!!) we'll need more bookshelving:

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Frozen North.....

Well, we're back 'home' in Sweden. Some pix today of J and the animals in the garden!

Rocky's first nose out of the house, puzzled by the snow-cover, perhaps:

Rocky's first venture out into the snowy wastes with Charlie goading him on:

Jack snuffling through the snow:

Charlie off hunting:

J relaxing with a book on the porch:

J shovelling snow on our arrival, carving a path to the door of the house:

Been weeks since I've been on here but we've been stuck in the UK (Kent) with virtually no internet access. In addition, Charlie was freaked out by traffic noise (trains/railway at bottom of friend's garden) and Rocky refused to go outside for six weeks! Now, however, we are back in Sweden, where the temps are mostly above freezing during the hours of daylight - and sunny and pleasant, to boot - but dip below zero overnight: last night registered minus ten. Not too bad, all in all.

J had a bombshell in January when, having resigned from her job, she was expecting her pension to come through in accordance with the written projections provided by the NHS pensions authority. This was due at the beginning of January and was based on her taking early retirement (6 months ahead of normal). Instead, towards the end of the month, with money dwindling fast and no pension payment received, she phoned them to be told that she was ineligible for early retirement due to a rule change in 2000.

As a result, we had to up sticks from Spain and return to the UK to try to sort out the mess! An incredible fiasco with nobody - employer or NHS - prepared to either apologise or accept responsibility for the incorrect advice/info provided. So, after much head-scratching, we decided to come back to Sweden. We are trying to rent out our Spanish place as a summer holiday let. So far, this looks promising and may provide much needed income to top-up our meagre resources when J finally gets her pension entitlement in July!!

I managed to get Rocky a Pet Passport in Spain, so he came with us. I don't think he enjoyed the journey, though! We drove from Andalucia to Santander where we caught a ferry back to Portsmouth. After a night with an old friend in Sussex, we drove to another friend's place in Kent, where we stayed for about six weeks or so.

On Thursday last, we crossed from Dover to Dunkerque by ferry followed by a long drive, spread over two days, with hotel stops overnight, through France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and, finally, Sweden. A 1500 mile drive.

The journey in poor quality pix:

A public bath in central Dunkerque:

Dunkerque Harbour/Marina, Central town:


Hotel car park, Germany:

Road bridge Germany/Ferman Bucht:


Helsingfors harbour, Denmark:

Helsingborg Harbour, Sweden:

Northern Sweden, near Sundsvall, the snow begins!:

Helsingfors Castle, Denmark:

A German Autobahn sign. What more need be said?!:

In truth, 'tis good to be back. Although some things about Sweden drive us nuts, it's a beautiful, wild and challenging place to live. We're hoping to catch the Aurora this week as the conditions are favourable. So, wish us luck.....