Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow.....

Having had (suffered??) fairly low temps for much of yesterday, at about 19:00 we had full sun and plus four degrees. Charlie was determined to get out for some evening foraging. Rocky was keen on joining him but I detained him as I doubt he'd have the sense to return at dusk (20:00) as temps begin to drop significantly, whereas Charlie does. At 08:00 this morning we were running at minus five but it had dipped to minus 14 in the wee, small hours. There is more snow forecast for later today, though it looks unlikely to be serious. Which is just as well, as I must drive a few hundred Kms to collect J from Sundsvall rail station this evening.

Listening to PM on Radio 4 online yesterday evening, I smiled on hearing that severe (yellow) warnings had been issued in parts of Scotland because up to 10 cms of snow was forecast.  Here, that would elicit no concern, let alone the issue of a weather warning.  It would certainly get no radio coverage!  Last winter, which was one of the severest for about a century, the media was full of stories about hardship and weather problems. Indeed, three people froze to death in the middle of the country, down towards Stockholm and Uppsala, where it's generally viewed by those up here as being mild and wimpish. All three died virtually within sight of their homes/destinations. One, particularly poignant I thought, was of a young guy walking home after a night out. He tried a short-cut across a small field to his home but got bogged down in the snow and didn't make it. His body was found about 300 metres from home. With thick insulation and double or triple glazing in most homes, his cries for help would probably have gone unheard.

We could easily understand how this could have happened: a few years ago we had been walking in the forest and decided to cut cross-country from a neighbour's holiday cottage/stuga to the nearby railway line where we could then walk along to a track that leads back to the village centre. In virtually no time, we found ourselves struggling through snow waist-deep, where every step required enormous effort to lift a whole leg out of the snow and plonk it down ahead - where it promptly sank, and then drag the other out and so on. By the time we reached the track, I was genuinely exhausted, cold and wet. The fact that I was wearing jeans at the time, didn't help. But the point of how dangerous it can be was made and taken on board by us both!  We'd previously also got lost in the forest in summer, following tracks over great distances, losing our way and actually walking in a huge circle, where we largely by chance found our way back to our starting point outside the village!:

Easter is almost upon us and the shops are full of bunnies, eggs and the firm Swedish holiday standard, 'Helg Skinka':  this is pronounced Helly  Whinka, as I'm sure you guessed!  It is much loved by Swedes  who consume tons of the stuff every public holiday be it Xmas, Easter, Midsummer, National Day (June 6th). Whenever a public holiday rears its head, Swedes answer the call and rush out to buy their Helg Skinka: It's simply a lump of boiled Ham, to you and I. Quite why they have such a predilection for this stuff in such quantities is beyond us, and certainly leaves our German neighbours mystified! Still, it's almost harmless, unless you have the misfortune to be one of the pigs inadvertently boiled alive at the abatoirs to produce it.  There have been reports of this happening both here in Sweden and in Finland, where an abatoir run by a Svenska company was found to be engaged in this cruel practice a few years ago.

Easter, or Påsk in Swedish, also brings out the great Semlor, a huge, creamy/marzipany confection that is virtually a meal in itself. I'm really quite partial to the odd one of these:

We had noticed a strange small red light in the distance, only visible from our first-floor bedroom, and wondered what it might be. It wasn't there when we were last here. Yesterday, I had a proper look and found it to be atop a wind-turbine that has been sited on a small hilltop in deep forest. There seems to be but one of them, thankfully. I know all the arguments in favour of this kind of renewable, environmentally friendly power production, but frankly they are usually no more than commercial monstrosities that are now frequently being erected in areas of great beauty, as blots on the landscape, with little true benefit - certainly seldom any benefit to locals.  It's worth bearing in mind that Sweden has countless hydro plants for power production. In fact, most of the best rivers in the country were dammed years ago - generally without thought for the environment or wildlife. Salmon are unable to access many upper reaches as no ladders were built into the dam designs! 

Here in Sweden, there is a cultural concept known as 'Lagom': Swedes pride themselves on this idea. Basically it sort of means all is for the best, everyone acts in the best interests for society in general. It's really an insidious method of State control, in my view, and has been exploited by governments for many years. At its most basic it means that Swedes don't complain about much. They put up with things. Often to a staggering degree. Businesses get away with almost anything, treat customers with ill-concealed contempt, overcharge for everything, ignore complaints or criticism and generally behave appallingly.

 As a former lawyer, I'm astonished at their attitude. As an example: a short time ago, we wanted internet and internet telephony services. There are very few providers in Sweden. The company we approached, and whom we had dealt with for internet access for some years, simply refused to provide telephony on the grounds, and I quote, 'you are not Swedish.'  Extraordinary behaviour.  When we complained to the discrimination Ombudsman's office, they upheld the company view and said they could see nothing discriminatory in this. I remain amazed and a tad angry. I just can't believe it would happen, and have never encountered it anywhere else in Europe. It certainly wouldn't occur in the UK, where political correctness has, admittedly, gone way OTT.

Anyway, that's enough of a rant but I hope it illustrates just how surprising and paradoxical life in Sweden and the Swedes themselves can be. 'Tis not the image they like to project. That's for sure!

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