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Published: October 30th 2009
21st February '09:
A scorcher! Today is forecast to reach the dizzying heights of zero degrees Celsius - hardly sunbathing weather, yet naked men are out and about. I’ll come back to them..
While Karl erects a coffee table barely higher than an ant, Anna serves home-made bread in an upturned, knotted handkerchief. They pad around their flat in fluffy dressing-gowns, speaking lovely, undulating Swedish. As they boil eggs, I spend a short time watching my laundry from the loo. Unusual in the UK, but Swedish flats commonly house washing machines in the bathroom.
Oh, I feel that childish sense of wondrousness: while snow falls on the street far below, I stand at the sink, frowning at a joystick instead of a tap. Breakfast is a further enigma. This continental concept of cold cheese and bread has never sat well with me, but cheese and marmalade together? Anna nods encouragingly. Fish roe in a tube is liberally applied to my hard-boiled egg - a popular combination on a Christmas dinner table in Sweden. The egg spoon is plastic, which admittedly guards against tarnishing and that metallic after-taste, but it isn't weighty enough to break into the damn shell
to start with.
Narnia awaits outside, a land of fairytale. Ill-prepared in jeans, we drive out to Kalltorpssjon, a lake frozen to a depth of forty centimetres. Swedes skate on this deep lake, wearing salopettes and pushing prams, or towing placid, dummy-sucking toddlers in an array of sledges. Managing a couple of 1200m laps without breaking any limbs, I brush away the light dusting of snow with an ice-skate, revealing blackness below. Only a foot or so of ice separates me from fathoms - leagues, even - of freezing water.
It all seems safe enough, but most people have mini ice-picks around their necks, to claw their way back onto the ice in the event of falling through. Nearby, there’s a sauna in a hut at the lake edge, from which pink users emerge. Steaming humans walk to the large hole cut in the ice, entered via swimming-pool steps. Some men - only men, unfortunately - remove their towels for the rapid plunge into the lake, exiting with appreciably diminished members..
Karl fell over last night. Almost sober, he slipped on an icy pedestrian crossing, hurting his back. And his pride. The deepest wound
was being helped up by elderly ladies, fussing over this young man in his thirties. While Anna and I skidded off to Stampen Jazz Club, Karl was no doubt being invited to a coffee morning, or bingo, with his new-found friends.
This Jazz Club in the old part of Stockholm, Gamla Stan, turns out to be a pick-up joint for the paralytic aged. A crusty sea dog flexed his tattooed biceps at all and sundry, but the woman he wanted was too drunk to focus. She danced to some stomping musicians, circling unsteadily until collapsing, and being ejected from the premises. Anna and I remained upright.
Each time I poked my head upstairs to see the other live band, a pony-tailed, ageing Lothario would sidle up and ask Anna to dance. 'Could we manage this one?' he asked, each time my back was turned. Upstairs, a bespectacled duffer tried to toast my glass, presumably just for being with a young blonde, which resulted in Anna’s elbow knocking white wine all over his glasses. It was like being reprimanded by a science teacher at school where a twitching of the lips becomes an insubordinate snigger. The teacher - or
a short-sighted elder, in this case - increases your detention lengths, but the snigger becomes a chortle. You just can't help it.
At 2am the metro system is still running every few minutes. 'It goes all night on Fridays and Saturdays,' says Anna, who must be up late at weekends.
Today, fussing over a mildly-bruised Karl, we're off for a splendid, time-consuming brunch in the park. Outside, a hot-dog stand is stationed…on the ocean. This, even to an international man of mystery, is exciting. Sated by far too much coffee and waffles, my boyish enthusiasm for walking on frozen sea is accommodated. Karl throws snowballs as I marvel that we are actually walking on the sea. Indeed, some are even bicycling on it.
Despite years in the touring industry, I’ve never understood how, after a good night’s sleep, other drivers can get into bed after lunch and sleep a further three or four hours. I’m envious. Knowing I’d lie restless, I visit the Vasamuseum, one of the foremost attractions in the world. The Vasa, a ship built in 1628 from a thousand oak trees, managed just 1300m on her maiden voyage before listing and sinking within Stockholm
Brunch with Anna and Karl...
...watching pedestrians and cyclists on the surface of the ocean
harbour. In 1961, while the Berliners were being encircled with that ridiculous wall, the Vasa was lifted from the depths. It overshadows The Mary Rose, I can tell you.
'Heyhey', which means hello, and goodbye, it seems..
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