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April 16th 2010
Published: April 16th 2010
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20th June ‘09:

Remember Swedish Anna and Carl? Oh, never mind. All you need to know is that they have a summerhouse on the west coast of Sweden. They are in it, and I am passing. Today's events, then, take place at a delightful wooden getaway near Halmstad, meaning “straw town”. Like most of southern Sweden, Carl tells me, it used to be Danish.

It is midsummer weekend, a big holiday up here, and people are drinking - heavily. Carl is breathalysed by the police at an impromptu roadblock. It’s an inconvenience, but nothing for an upstanding Swede like him to worry about; not a thimbleful has passed his lips yet. But he has forgotten his driving licence. Oh, tut tut, here we go. Anna is just preparing to bribe the officer with a slice of salmon torte, when we are released from the roadside; it seems that there are bigger, drunker fish to fry over this festive period.

Celebrating our escape from the vice-like clutches of the law, a drop of champagne is on the programme. Inside the holiday cottage, an upended teaspoon is languishing in a bottle's neck. 'Keeps the bubbles in,' says Anna. Does it? But a teaspoon handle can’t be the tightest of hermetic seals, surely.

This is the sort of thing one ought to be taught in school physics classes; information like this is simply vital for everyday survival in real life. And, in chemistry, perhaps we could learn how to make champagne, instead of yawning through all that bally Brownian Motion or whatever it was called. I mean to say, having mastered reading and writing by the age of four, I’m wondering if I learnt ANYTHING at school.

Perhaps I learnt things and then promptly forgot them. Yes, that sounds more soothing, as though ten years wasn’t spent only playing trombones while Physical Education teachers wondered why I wasn't playing rugger on frozen playing fields. Now, if I were to oversee children’s tuition, the Davies curriculum wouldn’t centre so much on daft molecules you can’t even see, but on more weighty subjects like conversing with the opposite sex and retaining a decent Champagne’s bubbles.

Carl lights the barbecue as the sun continues to shine. There is even Earl Grey in the cupboard...and a croquet set. Aha, now we’re talking. As the hoops are planted, I knowledgeably talk of rackets, or bats or whackers, or whatever the term is. Now: the rules. It can't be right to aim at another ball, and then thwack it out the way, can it? It certainly ameliorates the sport, but surely this defeats any sportsmanship and prowess. Not that prowess is featuring a great deal - we wouldn't know a continuation stroke from a roqueted ball.

The game rapidly descends into a free-for-all, each of us spending time in the bushes. Carl exposes some very trendy underwear as a result, and Anna explains his choice of the “Bjorn” label. 'Calvin Klein are no good. They go up his bum,' she says. 'Gives him a wedgie.' Now, given that the rules are in dispute, and the lawn is uneven, we'll overlook my failing to make the first hoop. I amicably call it a draw.

'You can't come to Halmstad without going swimming,' Carl tells me. 'It's not that cold.' Hmm, I think you'll find it is, Carl; the wind is hardly slight, and kite-surfers are out. And we're up north, if you hadn't noticed. 'You didn't cramp yesterday, though, did you dear,' chirps Anna, reiterating my trepidation. She experiments with the silhouette photo technique, taking a picture straight into the sun, as we head into the briny depths.

The sea is thirteen degrees. My heart doesn't actually stop but, apart from diving off a pier in the Shetland Islands at a vulnerable age, this is the coldest and shortest swim I've ever had. When we get out, Carl hops about awkwardly with a towel, keeping his willy hidden from public view. He could almost be English, you know. But isn't the exercise rather academic? After water that cold, there won't be a great deal to see..


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