Archive for February, 2013

Some Notes on Sweden

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Isn’t this just the best thing ever!

Semla cake and coffee – heaven

Power lines with snow attached at 400 kg per cubic metre!

Bike rack at Umea Station

Swedish Precision

We know the Swedes make the best adjustable spanners in the world. This precision can also be found in everyday life. English Charlotte had put out the wheelie bin at the end of the road as the Dustmen were due in the morning. Sadly this task was very poorly performed by Swedish standards. When Svarte saw the jaunty angle of the bin he stopped the car and went about rectifying the dire situation. The bin needed to be 600 mm out from the kerb, any more and the postman would not be able to turn his van around, any less and the Bin Men will not collect it. The hinge on the lid must be at a tangent to the main house and the lid must open up with the hinge nearest the house. Charlotte’s sloppy jaunty angle simply would not do. That’s why we buy Swedish made Bahco spanners.
 Swedish and the Cold Weather

Here the Swedes really excel. Just a quick glimpse at their doors will give a good indication of life in a Swedish house. The doors are thick, strong and, of course, precise. I’m not sure what the Swedish word for “draught” is but it wouldn’t surprise me if it didn’t exist. On arrival at a Swedish home it is customary to remove nearly all your clothing. This lets cold cold clothing air out and dry off in the proper area allocated to it. Wandering around in thermals is perfectly acceptable. If you come from England you will be amazed by the fact that the entire house is at a perfect temperature. There is no need to draw the curtains and move away from the draught coming under the French Windows. There are no draughts at all, anywhere!
Next to the entry door you may find a useful gizmo to warm up your boots. It is basically a fan heater with four flexible ducts which you shove down your boots so they are warm and dry when you next use them. There will probably be a big area with proper racks for coats and boots plus skis, sticks, gloves, hats etc rather than the tiddly couple of hooks allocated for such duties in many English homes.
Roof insulation is pretty important. Any hot air should be vented away from the underside of the roof as this can cause the snow to melt from underneath. The melt water will get to the gutter and then freeze. If repeated, the gutter will fill with ice and then the water will be able to flow back into the house. Some old listed houses may suffer from this trait and it is a lot of work clearing ice from a roof.
Svarte was telling me about one bad year (1988 I think) when they had a bad winter with snow, then rain, then freezing and thawing, etc. Snow normally weighs 400 kg per cubic metre but during that year it weighed about 800 kg per cubic metre. By the time they realised what was happening it was too late to save many roofs in Umea which subsequently collapsed under the weight.
Other little tips I learnt regarding keeping warm were:
1) The Ski Doos have a little heater to heat your thumb whilst operating the throttle.
2) Some Ski Doos have heated seats.
3) Birch bark is the best thing to get a fire going so it is stripped off logs before they are tossed onto the fire
4) Don’t shower in the morning as it will take essential oils away from your skin which will suffer in very cold temperatures
5) Cars are plugged into the mains at night to keep the engine warm

Some No No’s

God help you if you are responsible for allowing the lingonberry jam to run out – especially if the main meal was going to be Palt (? Dumplings with a little sausage meat inside). The horror of the discovery of an empty jar caused a slight quivering of the lower lip before turning pale with shock. Thank goodness there were more berries in the larder and with the addition of some sugar and a tiny drop of water a new brew was soon underway. Very nice it is too. I’m not sure what the British equivalent would be, maybe a bacon sandwich with no HP sauce?
Don’t forget the accurate wheelie bin placement
Swedish Food

Well, we did eventually have the Swedish meatballs which I was looking forward too. Made by Charlotte under close supervision by Svarte. I suspect the recipe is secret but I heard the word “caper” being whispered. Excellent they were too. There is of course much more to Swedish food than the meatballs. Here are some of the delights we tried in our short weeks stay:
1) Semla cakes. Wow, these were seriously good buns with cream and almond paste. Normally eaten on Shrove Tuesday.
2) Moose meat. We had a lot of this courtesy of Svarte’s rifle. It’s was great in stew and served cold.
3) Bread knives are made of shaped wood.
4) Smoked Reindeer meat. Perfection but quite hard to get hold of.
5) Kanelbulle. More yummy cakes
6) Kaviar. I didn’t go for this as there is something about food that comes out of tubes which worries me. However this pink fish egg paste was available to spread on our toast if you dared.
7) Punch. This is a powerful rather sweet dessert liquor which was very tasty and morish. Dangerous stuff.

The North South Divide

It’s not quite the same as the British North South divide because the Southerners and the Northerners both have a slight distaste for the people from Stockholm. It is more a “Country People” versus “Town People” type thing. Apparently there is an accent which gives it away. My friend, Anders, who lives in Stockholm but was brought up in the South, says he will tend to use his Southern accent more when he is touring in the country to avoid being pigeon holed as someone from Stockholm.
Swedish Forestry

There are a lot of trees in Sweden! From what I understand, and I could be wrong, most of the forest areas are privately owned and looked after in manageable chunks. Half of these private forests prefer to sell their wood through co-operative groups which ensure a regular fair price for the timber. The co-operative also own their own saw mills. Others will sell their timber direct to private mills. The forests are managed to produce good straight tall trees. Most bent trees and those which are growing too close to a stronger tree are felled. This small diameter timber is used mainly for firewood. In the Umea region it will take around fifty years for the trees to reach maturity. It is a proud moment for the forester to be able to fell trees that they can remember planting. Forestry is a long term occupation and the foresters like to know there will be a stable future to ensure that their high investment will be worthwhile over such long periods.


It’s the big ski race day!

Monday, February 18th, 2013

My Broken Arm after the Swelling had gone down

17th February 2013

As usual before a race I tend to detect little pains in my body and I noticed a nagging little ache in my knee. I rubbed in a bit of Ibruprufen gel and packed a few pills in case it played up. Last night we were shown by Svarte how to race wax our skis. This involved stripping the old wax off with a paraffin like liquid and sanding the grip area with some 80 grit sandpaper. The glide wax was applied hot in blobs then smoothed with a hot iron and once hardened most was scraped off again. A final addition of liquid speed gel was applied to make the skis super slippery. The temperature was predicted to be minus 10 and rising to minus 4 so a very sticky grip wax was applied to the grip area and heated with the iron. Then two more layers of cooler temperature wax were applied and cold smoothed and finally a liquid grip wax was added. This took a good few hours. Waxing is neither an art or a science according to Svarte but a religion!

Our taxi arrived to take us to the start. Embarrassingly the “English”  contingent were announced to all. We signed in, got our bibs, grabbed a coffee and headed up the hill to the start line. Charlotte was in for a chance but statistically Grit and I didn’t really stand a chance of finishing in day light and that probably meant we would get timed out (hence we were the only ones carrying rucksacks with sandwiches, water, belay jackets and torches!).

The start banner was raised and off we went. Cleverly we started at the back and I was the last over the start line. Soon the main fleet of skiers were leaving us behind and it wasn’t long before they were out of sight – and that included Charlotte. We plodded on and were thrilled to see number 116 around the next bend. The early part of the race was quite hilly. I felt that I had mastered some of the techniques (in a naff amateur way) including the diagonal stride and double poling. Even the double pole kick was doing ok and I have always loved going uphill. My problem has always been going downhill with cross country skis. I feel pretty much at the mercy of the tracks. It wasn’t great news when we reached the prow of a hill that looked like it was going to be very fast indeed. I suppose most of the racer would love it but not me. So off I pushed and accelerated to a speed well in excess of my skill level and eventually the inevitable happened and I crashed. Sadly it wasn’t a nice soft crash but a rock hard one and I realised I had done something not good to my arm. It really hurt and I thought that just 4km in I would have to pull out. However I found that if I left my right arm dangling I could make some progress with just my left pole. So Grit and I carried on even slower than usual. At 10km we got to the first drink station and hobbled on. The countryside was truly beautiful and with fine weather it made a great day out.

Then an amazing thing happened. We saw 116 in the distance and started to catch up. Finally we overtook our first racer! Very late we arrived at the second drinks station at about 18km. They were keen that we stopped but after some persuasion we managed to get clearance to continue. Now here is a funny thing. You would have thought it was not possible to get lost on a cross country ski marathon because you simply follow the tracks. Grit called out “Do you recognise this?”. As it happened I didn’t I didn’t so we continued. Then I saw the unmistakeable sign of my old ski tracks – going straight into the soft snow at a sharp corner. We were doing a loop! There wasn’t much option but to continue. Now my arm was seriously hurting and without my second pole I would occasionally fall causing a shriek on pain. We plodded on into the evening and eventually the organisers ski doo arrived behind us clearing the track. It was harder now because the beautiful tracks had been destroyed with ski doos out on their Sunday runs. The organiser seemed happy to slowly hang on behind as we picked off the miles. With about three kilometres to go to our third drink station I fell right onto my arm again and the pain was pretty bad. I decided to call it a day. We had made a good go of it ad you can’t do better than your best. The kind ski doo driver got us into his trailer and we sadly made the last few kilometres under power.

Now, we thought we were arriving at the third drinks station at 28km and I was surprised the see Charlotte there. I asked her how she got there and indignantly replied “by skis!”. We had arrived at the finish but seemed to have missed the 10km loop around Olle’s track but added our own loop.

We had a grand reception by the kind and very patient organisers but I soon realised my hand and shoulder were badly swollen. Svarte kindly drove us to the hospital were the x-rays showed I had fractured my humorous. Now I am dosed up with pain killers, my arm in a sling on my way to Stockholm, having said our sad farewells to Charlotte and Svarte who had been our amazing hosts for the week.

The Ski Club of Great Britain is not going to like this!

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

The Amazing Hut

Excellent Safety Precautions on this Ice Clad Roof!

16th February 2013 Umea Sweden

Our Ski Marathon is tomorrow and I’m exhausted! Charlotte booked us onto the local Umea Ski Marathon using her very best new found Swedish language skills. It seemed to go pretty well until the Swedish gentleman asked her what club we belong to, explaining that we had to be members of a club to enter. Charlotte said we are from England and the quick reply was “Ah, Ski Club England!. Charlotte decided this was probably the best we could do with her current language skills. Soon the “England” became “Great Britain” and the Local Marathon organisers were by now thrilled to have three competitors come all the way from Britain to represent their nation.
Sadly the Ski Club of Britain isn’t going to be too chuffed when they realise that they are being represented by two bungling beginners and Charlotte (who at least has mastered the style of Cross Country Skiing). Furthermore we are not even members. So I would like to get my apology in now for dragging an esteemed organisation into the gutter.
Talking of gutters, that is why I am a bit knackered as I offered to help Svarte clearing snow from the roof. It was good fun but thank goodness the local health and safety team were not around. Svarte seems to be able to stand on an icy 45 degree roof in his boots with no problem but I found it pretty hard. The work was a “bit shoulders and lower back” and probably not what the doctor ordered prior to the big race day.
After clearing the roof we went curling for a couple of hours and now I see bottles of red wine being placed on the dinner table which may well be too tempting.
To show my total confidence in the big race I will be taking a head torch and belay jacket!
Better get downstairs for some carbs!

Cutty Sark Sadolin Ultra Varnish Failure

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

Cutty Sark Strake Varnish Failure and Water Ingress Under Stanchion Base


Cutty Sark Deck Trim Varnish Failure


Cutty Sark Deckhouse Door Varnish Failure

9th February 2013 Greenwich

I was shocked at the poor condition of the varnish on the newly restored Cutty Sark. These pictures are now about a month old (January 2013) but I have noticed the varnish has got even worse since. The ship only opened in the summer and there is varnish failure on almost every surface. Even some vertical surfaces are failing and they generally last a long time. It does seem such a shame that there was an opportunity to do a really thorough job on bare timber and that somehow this simple task has been messed up. Now the whole lot will need stripping off and re-doing at great cost. It will need doing pretty quickly too before more staining and water gets in. It was an apparent lack of maintenance which seemed to cause the Gipsy Moth to rot away in her Greenwich berth. I never saw anyone painting or varnishing the yacht. I can’t understand how every yachtsman knows that boats need annual maintenance and yet these “National Treasures” are left to suffer until they need radical and unneccessarily expensive work. Already water is getting under the varnish and causing black staining around some stanchion posts. Varnishing is not rocket science, it just needs doing in a tried and tested way. Why play around with new varnishes on an old ship when they clearly don’t work.

I found this on the Sadolin website and would be interested hear any comments:

“Craftsmen involved in the meticulous conservation of one the world’s most famous ships, Cutty Sark, are using the Sadolin Ultra Highly Translucent Woodstain system to decorate and protect her teak deckhouses, spectacular wheel, ornate pin rails, decorative panelling and many other wooden fixtures and fittings on deck.

Cutty Sark is an iconic reminder of a bygone age of sail and a symbol of Britain’s long and successful maritime heritage. Built in 1869, she is a shining example of Victorian ingenuity, engineering and craftsmanship, and one of London’s most popular attractions. In November 2006, however, the visitor signs were taken down and The Cutty Sark Conservation Project began: a massive undertaking by The Cutty Sark Trust to give the ship its biggest overhaul in fifty years and to ensure she has a secure and sustainable future.

Heery International Ltd, a division of Balfour Beatty Management and the principle contractor responsible for delivering the conservation project for The Cutty Sark Trust, specified Sadolin Ultra for the decoration and protection of woodwork above deck. Construction Manager Kevin Elson explains how the decision was made: “Ultra offered the very high degree of translucency that we were looking for,” said Kevin, “and the system has been formulated to provide exterior joinery with up to seven years decoration and protection before maintenance is required. Unlike yacht varnish it offers flexibility and a high degree of UV protection. And when the time eventually comes to maintain the finish, there’s no need to strip back to bare timber, you can simply clean the surface and apply a maintenance coat to revive the appearance and protective benefits.”

Maldon Painting Company Ltd is responsible for coating the exterior timber fittings. Director Geoff Smith had not used Sadolin Ultra before but is now a firm fan. He explains how it was applied to the deckhouses: “We stripped all the old varnish right back and sanded all the teak back to a perfectly smooth surface, before applying a coat of Ultra Basecoat. We then filled in any pinholes and cracks with Sadolin Exterior Woodfiller and went on to apply two coats of the lightest shade of Ultra. Once the deckhouse is refitted on the ship we’ll apply one last coat of Ultra to offer the maximum level of protection.”

Geoff’s decorating work is just one of a huge list of projects which have to be completed by an army of craftspeople, engineers and conservation experts before Cutty Sark is ready to welcome visitors once more in 2010, by which time the ship will be a much improved visitor attraction. Geoff said; “It’s a once in a life time opportunity to work on Cutty Sark and it’s a job I am really enjoying. It’s always good to be given the opportunity to carry out a project to a full specification using the best products and being able to take the time you need to deliver a really high quality finish.”

I wonder if they will use Sadolin Ultra again? It hardly seems to live up to the statement “up to seven years before maintenance is needed” promise. It didn’t survive seven months since the opening. Maybe there is a reason why it didn’t work. Perhaps it was applied a long time prior to the opening?  It would be good to know what went so wrong. I’m sure the painting company would have done their best, was the product faulty or poorly specified? Is there a decent maintenance regime in place? Whatever the reason, it is a real shame that a National Treasure which has had £50 million pounds lavished on it is in such a disgraceful state so soon after opening.

Cross Country Ski Marathon

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

9th February Greenwich

Charlotte is now well ensconced in North Sweden with Svarte. When she asked Grit and I “How do you fancy a ski marathon?” of course we jumped at the opportunity. It was a few minutes later when I began to think, hang on I can’t do this cross country skiing malarky so maybe a marathon is a little bit ambitous. I mentioned it to my friend Hannah (who is off skiing in Canada all winter!) and she suggested we tried Roller Skiing in Hyde Park – . So we did. I have actually been Cross Country skiing once before. That was with Charlotte while she was competing in the Swiss Engingen (that doesn’t look right) Marathon. I must admit I didn’t find it very easy and it was really really hard work.

I couldn’t remember any of the technique so I hoped the Roller Skiing lesson would refesh me. Grit hadn’t tried it at all so she was starting from fresh. More importantly I was hoping that after a two hour session there would be some pain somewhere and we could train to improve our fitness in that area. There are two types of Cross Country Skiing – Classic and Skating. Luckily the Swedish Marathon, that we had now been entered for, is all Classic. Classic is, apparently, quicker to learn the basics although it takes a lifetime to perfect. Skating technique is harder to learn the basics but takes less time to perfect. We arrived at the van in Hyde Park having pre-booked a Saturday morning session. They have a very organised van and instructors on hand. It was a little bit odd because we had three different teachers in one two hour session and I think, as beginners, it would have been best to stick with one instructor. Nevertheless, they went through everything, firstly without rollerskis then, tentively, with them. The Classic Rollerskis have ratchets in the wheels to simulate the sticky wax on the real skis. There is no real need to force the centre of the ski down to get grip but the instructors were very insistant that we transfered our weight from one leg to the other. After half an hour we were tetering about on the devices. I never felt very balanced and, with tarmac all around, a fall would hurt a bit. As it happened we did not fall at all.

After the session sadly there was no pain! So we were still unable to predict what was going to hurt first on the real thing. Our suspicions were our stomach muscles because of all the double poling. We booked another session with the same company but this time a full day at Eton Dorney. Eton Dorney is a rowing lake owned by Eton College and used for the Olympic Rowing. As the Thames has been in continuous flood for so long the lake is currently being used by all the local rowing clubs unable to use the river. The place was packed. We were trying to Rollerski while the coaches were cycling along with their loud hailers. There were some heated remarks! This time we had just one instructor called “oh Boff what a rubbish memory I have” and she was excellent. Full of enthusiasm and patience with some nice teaching techniques. I’m still rubbish but it was no fault of her! This time, although still no pain, it became clear that at lot of core muscles were being used as double poling seemed to be the way to get around at speed along the flat.

Our friend Siggi from Isafjordur in Iceland was visiting London so we met up for a drink at The Grapes overlooking the Thames. Siggi runs Borea Adventures, a company specialising in yachting and skiing holidays (combined too!), so I asked him what will hurt first in a marathon and he said “lower back” without a second thought.

Our plane leaves from London City Airport to Stockholm on Monday morning so I had my last British Military Fitness session this morning. It was good, no aches and pains and I felt quite perky. We have been running 11-13 miles each Sunday and will do one last long run tomorrow. Tomorrow we will meet up with Maxime from Russia – more of that later.

We are looking forward to seeing Charlotte and Svarte and even tentitivly looking forward to the Ski Marathon.