This week bigger pics
Monday 24th June
Last Friday, I woke to discover I had been on the menu. I'd been bitten several times by mosquitoes, not a good start to the day. Meanwhile Hazel, sprawled out next to me like some naked sky diver in free fall, wasn't bitten once. Thus proving A, there’s little justice in the world, B, the research I'd read last year which said men's blood tastes better to a mosquito than a females is probably spot on and C, our plug-in mosquito killer is useless, that's unless you unplug the bloody thing, track down the mozzies and hit them with it. In fact I'm now convinced they perched on it during the night, between courses so to speak. It probably gives em bit of a buzz, reinvigorates them, bit like a smack head sniffing glue.
We left the camp site under a cloud, not a figurative one but an actual one, it was raining and headed east. I'm sorry to say the scenery wasn't up to much, we could have just as easily been driving up the M11 in Essex rather than the E20 across Denmark. The only distraction worthy of note was that while driving along a section of motorway under repair, (I warn you this is a little juvenile, Ed) large signs informed us we were in a 'fart control' area, but even that joke wore thin after the third or forth sign.
At the first bridge Storebealt, the toll was forty pounds. Not an insignificant amount. However the bridge is a marvel of engineering. It spans a sixteen mile gap between Denmark’s two largest islands. I've crossed many bridges but none have taken me eight miles out to sea before leading me back to land. Unfortunately the morning was quite misty so we couldn't see much, just a dark expanse of the Baltic and wind turbines in the murky distance. We thought it both, mildly unnerving and a reasonable charge.
However reason was replaced by lunacy at the second bridge Oresundsbron. This is shorter by a couple of miles but cost us a sphincter shrivelling £135!. The vehicle classifications on both bridges are totally different. On the first I was classed as a motor-home but on the second, and remember this is the same stretch of road, a commercial lorry because I was over nine meters. And on the second you're automatically measured as you pull up to the booths by lasers, so you can't argue the toss, you can't refuse and you certainly can't go back. You're stuffed.
The reason for the huge hike in charges is because this bridge is owned by both the Danes and the Swedes, so they both want their pound of flesh. I went on about it for a good few miles until Hazel had had enough and told me to put a sock in it, which I did..... I have..... well almost.
Gypsyville, safe say we'll not be staying.
My mood didn't improve any when we arrived at Jagersbo camping in Sweden. It was positively heaving. It resembled a gypsy encampment just before the bailiffs arrive, slightly chaotic. I was dubious, getting out the cab, they would even have room for us. The young lady behind the counter explained it was the summer solstice, a national holiday for the Swedes and that's why they were full. She seemed confident we would find a pitch but told me to make sure I left twelve feet between me and the next van. (Fire precaution. Ed). Walking around the site this was a piece of advice that had clearly fallen on deaf ears as people were shoe horned in anywhere. We found one, collected the van and drove to it.
Judging by the reaction of the Swedes I doubt they see many British because just about everyone watched us drive past. I felt like the queen and was sorely tempted to wave and smile..... regal style.
Tuesday 25th June
You'll know, if you read my ramblings regularly, I tend to trust my first impressions. Us humans seem to enjoy muddying the waters by over analysing situations and people rather than going by our instinctive gut feelings. And yet if events go pear shaped, people often admit later, they 'had a feeling' something would go wrong.
Now I fancy our gut feeling could actually be the mysterious sixth sense. Now stay with me here. I've mentioned this before and offered examples as evidence. But have you, for example, ever thought about someone, someone you’ve not heard from in a while, and they then ring you? Have you ever started a sentence at the same time as someone else and said the same thing? Or had a thought or idea identical to someone else around you. Have you witnessed an event which later, you knew, was going to happen? Have you taken a dislike to someone for no reason and been proven right? Have you ever sensed danger, or felt a sense of foreboding?. The list goes on. These can't all be written off as merely coincidences.
I think it's primeval. Nature had to provide us with the ability to assess situations, people and dangers before we could communicate with each other, if not, mankind would never have survived his own naiveté. He'd have been eaten by Sabre Tooth Tigers long ago. No, we have an ability but have simply forgotten how to use it. Interestingly this is perhaps what George Lucas was referring to when he coined the phrase in Star Wars, the force. Makes you think, right?. (Phew, It certainly do. Ed)
So why am I telling you this? (Er, to pad this out a bit?. Ed) As if. No, but to possibly make me sound less of an idiot when I say:
I started to get suspicious yesterday but couldn't put my finger on it. Couldn’t quite nail it down. There was something about, well, everyone on the site. This morning it came to me. They all look as if they hail from the same socio economic class. Nothing wrong with that. It's not a criticism, just an observation. On previous sites you are often aware of a broad spectrum of social classes and backgrounds, but not here. There’s a sameness about them all. They all seem to smoke for a start and drive Volvo’s, and not the ones you'd want to own. Not the ones parked in leafy suburbs but those huge things favoured by antique dealers because they can swallow up a Victorian wardrobe.
Hoor mid day Saturday.
This feeling wasn't helped when we cycled into the local Town of Hoor. We needn't have bothered. Saturday morning and it was deserted. A child’s play area was deathly silent. Hardly a soul stirred. There were a few shops, none open and all looking a little dated. The window manikins were the type you see in charity shop windows, all a bit 60's TV character. The town square was soulless and mildly depressing. It also had a municipal look, slightly utilitarian as though it had been designed by a Russian committee, for housing comrades.
I was just about to write the whole town off as drearyville when an event snapped me from my sense of the maudlin. I'd just used an ATM machine. As I turned around a tall, and very pretty young blonde walked past with her boyfriend. What was so noteworthy was that she appeared not to be wearing a skirt nor jeans, not actually anything below her waist. (True. Ed) She had on a jumper which only just, and I mean only just, covered her bottom. Being a bloke I looked, a photo was out the question, for the blog obviously. And at that moment the young man pulled up her jumper and flashed her black underwear. She turned and giggled. A youthful prank.
Now I don't know why she was so scantly clad, but personally, having just paid £175 in two bridge tolls to get here, I'm rather hoping it's a Swedish fashion.
Wednesday 26th June
There’s big. There’s mighty big and then there’s Sweden. How can I explain this........ Ah I know!. Have you ever tried on a pair of trousers only to discover they are one size too big? Yes?. Good, because if you have you'll know that just that one size larger than you'd normally wear seems so much bigger, and yet it may only be an inch or two different. Thus proving that even a small increase in size can actually make a vast difference. Or, put it another way. A while ago Hazel and I visited someone in their new caravan. We were both wowed by the spaciousness of the interior. And yet, it turned out to be only six inches wider than our old caravan. That took some believing. In our van you'd have had trouble swinging a cat, there you could have swung several. Fair to say, it was the first time Hazel had even been impressed by anything that measured six inches.
Last nights Sunset.
Well Sweden is like that. It may only be three times larger than the UK with a population smaller than London and Birmingham combined, but it feels positively gargantuan. We are camped by a lake, not the biggest, and yet it's practically the size of Norfolk.
Yesterday when we said good byes to Jagersbo camp-site and drove north to Odeshog we entered a pine forest which, with just one exception, didn't end till we got to our destination 190 miles later. That's one forest!. The same forest!. They may be a lot of nuts in Brazil and I know there’s a lot oranges in Spain but they pale into insignificance when compared to the number of trees in Sweden. For four hours we looked at nothing but trees as far as the view would allow. Little wonder Ikea started here.
Apart from wood they also suffer from an abundance of speed cameras. There was one at each end of every small village we drove through. It didn't even have to be a village, just a collection of houses sprinkled around a junction was enough reason to throw a couple up. Now this I found odd because, if you're anything like me, you'll find it hard to believe the Swedish speed. For a start they all look as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths and have that freshly laundered look, much like the Dutch. But more than that they all drive Volvo's. Volvo's are immensely reliable, practical and safe. Built like tanks. They have lights that stay on permanently whether you want them too or not. They are cars designed for serious road kill. It's not foxes and badgers motorist have to worry about here it's the moose. An animal devoid of any road sense and one that’s as daft as it is ugly. It's the reason all Volvo's have massive boots, not for antique dealers to transport Queen Anne dining tables in, but for a Swede to lug home a moose should he plough into one. The cars built to take the impact No, the Volvo is the thinking man’s car. Eco warriors drive em for god sake, they don't speed.
And of course the Swedes only drink pine cone juice. The police don't have to worry about drunk drivers because there aren’t any.
While in the Uk there are no end of places to buy your booze here, if you want anything stronger than a can of beer, you have to go to the government. I kid you not. Nowhere sells liqueur. It's very confusing walking around a supermarket which doesn’t have a drinks aisle I can tell you. In Hoor we couldn't find anywhere that sold anything stronger than a can of lager. Here if you want to drink yourself under the table you first need need to find one of the Government owned shops to buy your booze from and then, presumably, a table, but be quick as they all shut at five, just as thirsty worker knock off.
In Sweden the governments hands are firmly around the cork screw.
Thursday 27th June 2013
The price is right.
It started raining last night and hasn't stopped. It's forecast to rain for the next 18 hours. From my window I can see pools already forming on the meadow we are camped on. Bad news for us, but worse for you because I've nothing better to do than tell you about Sweden’s very different political system which, by the time I've finished, will either have you packing your suitcase and catching the next flight out, or glad you live wherever you do. You decide.
A glass of beer £12, a cup of coffee £5 and a brussel sprout £7. We were warned about the cost of living here, warnings which have not yet materialised. It's clear food prices are a little dearer and there’s a real reason for this which I'll explain in a mo. House prices we thought seemed on a par with the UK. If you fancy a Walton's lifestyle and want to live in a wood cabin you will find them surprisingly inexpensive. I can't confirm the price of booze yet because we've still not found a Government shop that sells it. Thankfully we brought our own supply.
Camp fees are about the same as anywhere else in Northern Europe. Like the Dutch and Danish they do tack on extras, like charging you for electricity and showering. Generally speaking sites in Southern Europe don't charge separately for these items. When we checked in here the young lady came up with a new extra. She asked us if we liked to use the pool. I was about to say yes when she then said it would be an extra £8 a day. I asked if it was safe to swim in the lake? Yes she said, but it's cold. Is your pool heated? I asked. Yes by the sun she replied, (That's a no then. Ed) and then waved her hand toward the heavens just in case Id' forgotten where the Sun was. I felt very tempted to point out that the lake would be heated in just the same manner but declined. We have not eaten out, which I understand is expensive, but that can be so anywhere. So the horror stories about prices have proven, so far unfounded.
The lake behind us. The water is amazingly clear
Now what we spend our money on is vitally important to us all right? especially in these times of ongoing austerity. The portion of our earnings we never get to see because the government helps itself to is also pretty important. The pressure in the UK is to continually downsize government, cut spending and in doing so shrink the economy; all in the hope they will need and spend less of our money, not that they will give any back. In Sweden it's quite the opposite.
Here they have one of the highest tax rates anywhere in the world. For the highest earners it's a pay cheque shrinking 57 %. VAT is 25% and food is also taxed at 12%, that's why it's dearer.
Now that piece of news isn't going to get anyone reaching for their suitcase any time soon but maybe what they do with all this tax revenue might. For a start they don't spend it on defence. This is because they have a history of neutrality, a concept that's never crossed any British politicians mind. They are a peaceable nation and I respect that. Amazingly they actually spend only half as much on defence as us Brits do on fags.
The Swedish have the internationally respected 'Nordic model'. What’s the 'Nordic model' I hear you ask? Well I had to look it up, I'm not that smart. It's a way of redistributing wealth through high taxes. Sweden remains one of the most egalitarian countries in terms of income distribution. And they achieve this by having an all encompassing welfare system. While the UK government is desperately trying to dismantle ours and hope we don't notice by convincing us anyone using it is a wastrel and or a scrounger, the Swedes are strong supporters of theirs. It's reported that even the political Right Wing here never talk of dismantling the welfare state, as Sweden’s voters would simply not stand for it.
It has one of the world’s lowest levels of poverty, longest life expectancy. Has an excellent education and health system, universal childcare. And everyone gets five weeks paid holiday a year. In Sweden, its reported, you work to live not the other way around.
This begs the question is Sweden some utopian socialist state. Unfortunately it's not. Sweden is a free market economy with very little public ownership.
Would I live here?..... Not a chance!. I'll tell you why tomorrow.
Friday 28th June 2013
64 thousand dollar question.
No, it saddens me to say I don't think I could live here. Don't get me wrong, Sweden has a lot going for it. For a country with a population of less then ten million Sweden does remarkably well. It's home to many household names. Ikea, (now Dutch) Electrolux, Volvo, Saab, Nokia, Ericsson, Scania, H&M and Abba, (Abba?. Ed) to name a few. It's also home to Tetra Pac the largest food packaging company in the world. No, Sweden is not some quiet commercial backwater.
Can't fault the park
It's also a very attractive country, of that there is no doubt. I'm eager to see something other than pine forest. It's citizens have space, and people who have space tend to be more chilled out than those who don't. They're not all being forced to live on top of each other..... Well, now, you see that's the start of my problems with Sweden. The country is big, the population few, so why they needed to build so many unattractive blocks of flats is a mystery. And I'm not talking about just in inner cities here, I've yet to see them, I'm talking about small, nondescript, out the way towns and villages.
I read an article some months ago written by an English chap who lives in Sweden. He said that what struck him about the Swedes was their reliance on the government and their expectancy that it will do everything for them. After a week here I'm just beginning to see what he might mean. It's as if the government is some kind of kindly uncle bestowing his generosity on his family. I've also read Bill Brysons account of the Swedish and he suggests they are all boring and I think I know what he might mean also .
Yesterday we cycled into Odeshog, the local town. It's a small rural town surrounded by farm land. It was, regretfully, as unattractive as it was uninteresting. No architecture you'd want to photograph, no town centre to speak off. Some good looking older homes on the periphery, but some of those needed repair and, of course, more low level blocks of flats. Just like the other town Hoor. It also had a slight municipal look. I half expected to see a communal wash house.
Shop's here, as in Hoor, went in for that Oxfam charity shop look. And while none where run down they did look as if they hadn't seen a customer in a while. Now it's a truism that you can take a towns, or a country's, financial temperature by simply looking at it's shops. From the exterior decoration, the amount of stock, the displays, the stock itself even the lighting, take it from me, if the town folk have money it's reflected in their local shops. Using that barometer then some thing’s adrift here. Perhaps there isn't the money to go around. And that’s the feeling I'm getting. The same feeling I got at the last camp site. People either don't have it or are not willing to spend it. For example, I've notice a disproportionate number of older cars about. Yesterday I saw a battered old Ford Sierra. The last one of those I saw was on an episode of The Sweeney. Without exception almost all the caravans on this site are like the ones in the photo.
Hardly this years models
Now its worth pointing out at this point, the 'Nordic model' of which I spoke yesterday was conceived by the socialist democratic party along with the trade unions and I think that explains an awful lot.
The Swedish are heavily taxed, and they seemingly don't mind because they know the government will give it back through the huge welfare state. Trouble is when you only have 6.2 million people earning a wage there's not a lot to spread around. And while I'm a lifelong supporter of a welfare system which provides free heath care, free schools, cheap homes and a social conscience that looks after those less fortunate than ourselves, I'm not so keen on Uncle making sure we all have the same amount of pocket money. If you're poor, financial equality sounds a cracking idea, but if you're not it sounds pants.
Which brings me to the 64 thousand dollar question. Why is it you can only buy booze from government run shops?.
Reason enough for me not to want to live here me thinks.