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
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.
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.