This week in bigger pics
Monday 1st July 2103
Sweden, the dark side.
We decamped and drove north, 160 miles to Stockholm, through even more forests or maybe the same forest, who knows?. We skilfully managed to find possibly the worse camp-site in Sweden. It's twenty miles to the west of the capital on the edge of a town called Sodertajle. -no I can't pronounce it either- The site is surrounded on three sides by a lake which looks, I'll think you’ll agree, very picturesque, the charm ends there.
So what makes it so dreadful? Well for a start it's little more than an extension of the car park which visitors use when getting access to the lake, but yet manages to be one of the pricer sites. It's not a field nor is it a meadow, not sure what you'd call it, scrub maybe. Before we camped we needed to clear away other campers dog shite. Honestly, I'd tazor dog owners who didn't pick up their dog mess. The camp-site shower block and toilets are open to the public and with so many of the public around security is more of a concern. And then bugger me sideways, no sooner had we arrived so did thirty school kids to play in the kiddies play area 200 meters away. It's astounding just how loud little girls can scream when they are having fun. Still, I'm not after sympathy. Safe to say we'll stay just long enough to sightsee Stockholm, shop and then head north into the wilderness.
That'll be the forest that will
We cycled into Sodertajle, -still can't say it- birthplace of one of the greatest tennis players the world has seen and a thoroughly chilled out Swede on the court, Bjorn Borg. It's also home to the massive international Scania truck company.
What we noticed today, as we mingled with the shoppers, was the large numbers of immigrants. It turns out that almost half of the towns sixty four thousand inhabitants come from either Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq or Turkey. The Towns second language, apparently, is Arabic. Unfortunately many of them are unskilled and there aren’t any unskilled jobs here, so I'm told. Apparently Sweden still has no immigration policy and the doors are permanently open. They pride themselves, like Britain, in being a tolerant, charitable and welcoming county to the World's less fortunate, at least that’s what their, and our, politicians say. I've serious doubts about that statement.
Historically immigration was never an issue. Numbers across Europe remained fairly static. In the 60's the UK actively encouraged people to emigrate to Britain because we needed them, but the world has moved on apace. Now millions have entered countries right across Europe either as refugees, migrant workers or immigrants. And, frankly, governments have been caught with their pants down. They ignored warnings, still do, and are now having to deal with the consequences arising from, what is actually a migration of humanity and not just a reshuffle of peoples. No country can accept a million plus people, over a short period of time, without planning for it. Planning which would have required a huge increase in spending on housing, education, heath care and public services, that hasn't happened. Governments have naïvely expected the numbers to be simply absorbed and Sweden is no exception.
The Price of idleness
As recently as three weeks ago there were six nights of violence and rioting in Stockholm’s poorer suburbs where the majority of immigrants live. Arguments about what caused the riots are going on. What caused hundreds of young men to run amok, torching cars, setting fire to a police station and a school? this is the question being asked by many shocked and peaceful Swedes. Many politicians deny the riots had anything to do with immigration and, rather oddly if you ask me, pointed to class divisions.
Right well here's a simple lesson for any government willing to listen: The root causes of riots are lack of jobs, poor living conditions, social inequality and injustice, that much history has taught us. Give everyone a job or the opportunity of work and you give them the means to provide for themselves, their families and the ability to make their own way in the world without handouts and charity. In doing so you give them self respect, hope and a future, what you don't get in return, is riots. Riots are a factor of Governmental mismanagement. ….End of
Now remind me, what was I saying about not wanting to living here?
Tuesday 2nd July 2013
Tourist's, we've only ourselves to blame.
We rode into Stockholm on the scooter. Zipping along the E4 into the city we did get some slightly bemused looks from drivers. After all, It's not everyday they see a British scooter whizzing around their capitol. In fact motorbikes and scooters are a little thin on the ground. I put this down to the long harsh winters. Take it from me, riding in the snow on two wheels can seriously adversely affect your sphincter control.
The few bikes you do see are almost all Harley’s. Oddly, we were over-taken by two hells angels with the curious chapter name of 'Tribe Judah' emblazoned on their denims. I think only two Hells Angels might be called a paragraph, not a chapter, I might be wrong thou.
Four em, soldiers. I think that's their entire army.
Once in the the city centre I parked easily. Taking the car into a city was a nightmare when it came to parking. And paying for parking was akin to being mugged. In Madrid I paid £15 for four hours parking. I wouldn't have minded quite so much had the car park not been totally empty at the time. No such problem with the bike however. I was free to shove it practically anywhere I liked which I did, and for nothing. Feeling a little smug, having just made a handsome cash saving, I then rather foolishly blew it on two jumbo hot dogs, with mustard. Doh!. What’s that saying about a fool and his money?
Generally, a country's capitol city is not representative of the country. For example: We'd all agree London isn't representative of England. In truth there's little you can tell about a country or it's people by visiting the heart of it's capitol. This is because tourism is an industry and the heart of any city is devoted to it. They have become commercial enterprises within themselves and everyone is out for their pound of tourist flesh. However, unless you're one of the people taking money from a tourist, few are glad to see you and who can blame them? For example it's well documented that Parisians hate tourists. We clog up the pavements by standing and gawking at statues and monuments they’ve long since stopped noticing. We fill their café’s, leisurely drinking coffee and arguing about art because, as far as I know, that's what you're expected to do in Paris and thereby making it impossible for them to sit and eat their frogs leg baguette. We insist on talking English to them, which they really hate. And worse of all, tourists bring out the pick pockets, beggars and scam artists and none more so than in Paris. And to top it off we stop them drinking Coke Cola. A Parisian would rather go thirsty than pay the exorbitant price charged by street vendors for a can of the stuff thanks to tourists. No! at the end of the day tourism destroys what the tourist has actually come to see, a cities individualism.
I thought with Stockholm being tucked away it would have escaped the worst of the tourist invasion, but no such luck, it was heaving and we only added to it.
Stockholm is built on a number of interconnecting islands and amazingly houses almost a half of the entire population of Sweden. It's an attractive city made even more so by the river Malaren which flows through and around the islands. When we arrived the Royal Swedish Yachting club was holding a spectacular regatta, slap bang in the middle of the city. This event drew large colourful crowds. It was very impressive. I did wonder how all this affluence dovetailed with the vision the Social Democratic Party and trade unions had when they formulated Sweden's political system. The Swedish government claims it's one of the most egalitarian countries, in terms of income distribution and financial equality, in the world. Possibly, but I have to say it struck me, as a casual observer, looking at the fine boats and sports cars parked up on the quay, they have a bloody long way to go before that becomes a reality any time soon.
Wednesday 3rd July
Guns and booze
We left yesterday and drove 250 miles further north to Sundsvall. On route we almost wet ourselves when we saw a Moose on the side of the road lazily chomping on grass, fair to say he seemed less excited to see us. I have to say it's one odd and dumb looking creature. You could be forgiven for thinking it had been designed by a committee using spare parts from other animals. It looks like a cross between a Elk, a Camel and a sofa. Apparently, so Hazel informs me, we can now officially buy a I’ve seen a moose sticker for the van. How she knows such drivel is beyond me.
Unfortunately we've swapped one less than perfect camp-site with another. This one I can only charitably described as a work in progress. They have the builders in erecting cabins. They’ve also constructed a new unisex shower block, as yet unfinished. The roof looks iffy, bare wires hang down from holes in the ceiling and the handsome tiled floor is constantly awash with water. The camp-site resembles a branch of Travis Perkins with building material stacked up everywhere. We booked in for a couple of days. I'm beginning to wonder if the last three camp-sites are not exceptions, but the rule in Sweden. I was expecting saunas and Ikea fashioned receptions, I've got leaky basins and huts.
A quick word on the unisex shower block. I walked in this morning just as young girl, about fifteen I guess, was pulling down her skirt. As I entered she turned, didn't scream (thankfully) but just smiled casually, said hello and rearranged her attire. They have such a relaxed attitude to anything we would get our knickers in a twist over. (No pun intended. Ed) None. I'm not sure I can retrain my British sensibility to accept it. I got all embarrassed, shuffled past her and then hid in a cubical till she'd gone.
The town of Sundsvall is a cracker and has gone a long way to restore my faith in Sweden. The difference here was startling compared to the two previous towns further south. So much so, it has me wondering is there a north south divide here, as in the UK only the opposite way around. It was lively, trendy, great shops and clearly affluent. And at last, after almost two weeks in Sweden, we found a government run off licence. We pawned all we had and brought a bottle of wine. We were watched over by two stoney faced, six foot, gun toting security guards. I'm guessing their job was to make sure we recycle our empties. I felt tempted to ask one of them would he help me stage a photo, whereby I'm running out the shop waving a whisky bottle frantically above my head and he's pretending to shoot me. But, so help me, he looked the type just to plug me for suggesting it.
These little fellas where all over the town. There, just to brighten it up.
There is one feature of the Swedish economy which I love. Within a few days I'd noticed I was constantly being given notes as change, no coins. After a week I had amassed just three coins. Eventually I asked someone why that was. Turns out that like Britain, Sweden kept their own money and didn’t adopt the Euro, they still have the Krona or Crown. The crown is worth about 10 pence and, strangely, it's the smallest coin they have, nothing else. They don’t waste their time with any smaller denominational coins. This does away with that ridiculous and maddening habit, so loved by the British retailer, of adding 99p to every bloody item. It might just be a British trait because even people at car boots do it. Here most prices are rounded to the nearest Crown. Items which are not are either rounded up or down at the till. Lidl, I've since discovered, always round down. This results in there being far fewer coins in circulation and more importantly my wallet is full of attractive large notes which makes me believe I’m a lot richer than I am. How wonderfully simple and convenient is that? (Answers on a postcard to: Phil King at Get a life mate. Ed)
Thursday 4th July
A rolling stone gathers no......?
We left this morning and drove north 180km through, surprise surprise, forest. The world will never run out of wood, trust me on that. However, after a while the terrain started to rise and fall, vast lakes appeared on all sides and the hitherto straight-as-an-arrow road now had a few bends in it, this is what I thought Sweden would be like. Driving we realised, whilst boring for the most part, Sweden's landscape is unique. Every so often we crested a hill and caught a glimpse of the pine forest disappearing into the horizon which reminded us just how vast and empty this country is. We rounded bends to find the road crossed dark deep lakes surrounded by the ever present and unyielding forest, it looked, in parts, impressive.
We arrived at the small city of Omea and First camping, our goal. I wish I could report it was equally impressive, it wasn't. Too big, too pricey, too full. We may well move Saturday and head for the border between Sweden and Finland.
Time 10.20 AM
I've found, not that I needed to, another reason why I couldn't live here -they really are mounting up- it's daylight! Too much of it in summer not enough in winter. Going to bed in broad daylight and waking up to the same is unnatural. Sunset tonight is eleven, and a mere three and a half hours later it rises. It's light twenty hours a day which makes me question the sanity of a law which insists you drive with dipped headlights, not sidelights, whenever you climb into your car regardless of how bright it is or how dense your sunglasses are.
Time 10.20 PM
Now sorry about this. Apropos of nothing at all, wigs and toupees come in many forms. I've often maintained that a good wig goes undetected. You’ve almost certainly met blokes wearing one, but you’ve not noticed it, it was that good. You only notice the bad ones. And it's that which give wigs and their wearers a bad name. I once had a boss who wore one. I'm convinced the term 'rug' was invented just to describe his. It crouched on his head in the same way a Bird Eating Spider might sit on a branch waiting for prey to flap by. It also moved out of sync with him. They was a tiny time delay between him moving his head and the rug responding accordingly. This gave, or implied, it had a life force of it's own, it didn't. ( you sure? Ed.). From a distance people thought he was wearing a hat or a rodent till they got closer. When he met people for the first time they'd shake his hand but become slightly transfixed on it, I could see that. He'd say to me later “They seemed a bit preoccupied Phil”. I was too in need of a job to tell him why.
Oddly the guy was loaded and could have afforded the best, but he wore a cheap Chinese, one size fits all jobby and in doing so looked a complete twat. Now because of men like him, toupee wearing has a stigma attached to it. So Paul, I know the truth hurts mate, but go buy a decent one you cheapskate!. There! I've been waiting sixteen years to tell him that.
Women on the other hand wear wigs and extensions all the time and no one bats an eye, but woe-betide any man that dares to put one on. Thanks to men like Paul we all snigger.
Which brings me onto my point. (At last! I was beginning to wonder. Ed) I want to say a big heads up to Mick Jagger and his other band members for bravely showing that the follicley challenged don't have to settle for a discreet little toupee. Oh no, they also come in mop head size.
Doubt me, then here's a picture, you decide.
Mick, the tounge thing... not good mate.
Friday 5th July
Beauty is only gene deep.
As our last day in Sweden approaches I find myself asking the question: was it worth paying the £135 bridge toll to get into Sweden? Sadly the answer is no! and any chance of a refund? That size of entrance fee only raises my expectations. I now want my money's worth and Sweden came up short. There’s nothing wrong with the country its just too... well ordinary. Little stands out. The rest of Europe is steeped in history, but here its just steeped in trees.
In doing research before coming here I came across a lady who listed ten reasons why she was glad she moved here. After a couple of weeks I can easily think of ten why I wouldn't.
We plan to move on tomorrow. There is some debate going on as to whether we should head for the Arctic Circle. When we get to Vojakkala, -that just trips of the tongue- it will be the furthest north we are going. However we will be within an hours travelling distance from the Arctic Circle. I fancy going on the scooter which might sound daft, but when the conversation starts to flag at a dinner party I can casually drop in: oh! did I ever tell you the time Hazel and I rode to the Arctic Circle on the scooter.
Now if you're a regular reader to my meanderings you'll know I often give a brief appraisal of the women in which ever country we are in. Yeah I know it's a tad sexist and it's not very PC, but I can't help being a bit of a 'geezer' and besides Hazel has commented on the men. For example: who could forget her summing up of Spanish beefcake and I quote: They are handsome, but they all seem to have small neat heads. I mean come on, that’s getting personal.
Well of course Sweden has a reputation for being home to many beautiful women. For example: the tall bird from Abba. TV's Wonder Woman who, like Superman, wore her knickers on the outside which, as a lad, impressed me no end. Then there’s most of Rod Stewart's wives and Michelle Pfeiffer, (She's not Swedish. Ed) true, but her grandmother was. It's said, by some, that Swedish women are in fact the best looking in the world. I'll not argue with that. In the couple of weeks I've been here I've seen some strikingly attractive women and very pretty girls. But, and there’s always a but, they do come in two quite distinct flavours.
Would you break the law if the police looked like this?....probabily.
There’s the classic Swedish look we all know. Ulrika Jonsson is a good example. Small features, slim, blonde and leggy, you see them daily here. And then there’s the other type. Which are well, anything but. You'd be forgiven for thinking they are two different races. Generally after a few centuries of mixing the gene pool you'll arrive at a generic look, but not here. There’s the blonde goddess gene pool and the Vicky Pollard pool. Clearly, for eons, attractive people have only even mated with each other thus perpetuating the classic Swedish 'look'. Meanwhile the ugly people, (Dreadful thing to say. Ed) I was going to say hideous, grotesque or just evil looking?, ugly was dumbing it down, but OK point taken. Meanwhile the people whose facial features and body shapes are less than perfect have had to settle for their own kind.
This observation throws light on a fact that’s been troubling me since I discovered it. That being: why do men wait, on average, till they are forty to get married here. And I reckon I've discovered why. It's because it takes them that long to come to terms with the fact they are going to have to settle for type two. This is made even harder when every day some blonde vision of loveliness in skimpy cut down denim shorts -appears to be the national costume- walks past.
The same can be said for blokes. There are some very handsome chaps here, clearly blessed with the same gene which produces tall, blue eyed, sometimes blonde, good looking people with amazing honey coloured sun tans in a country which is dark half the year.