Winters in Sweden are supposed to be cold; nothing strange there. But this winter it wasn’t really cold. I’m not familiar with what the data have to show in order to define a winter as being mild but I’m confident that if you have have only three or four frosts between November and February, no snow at all and birds that normally migrate to warmer climes are lined up on the fence at the end of the garden watching you debate whether you should bother waxing the cross-country skis or not, then it’s reasonable to describe the winter as ‘mild’. Additionally, almost continuously overcast skies, frequent drizzle and the shortest of dark, grey days had us very close to understanding why Sweden began limiting access to alcohol more than 150 years ago.
After suffering since November – metaphorically speaking of course, given necessary interruptions to share some glögg, attend Christmas lunches and participate at an occasional cocktail party [one of which included the joyous escapism of a concert by the host’s acapella sextet] – we felt a dire need for clear skies and bright sunshine. Somewhere ahead of us a trip to Dubai and Oman was waiting for a confirmed schedule so we decided on an expedient; we’d drive to UK, leave the car there while we went to the Middle East and on our return take a leisurely meander through Europe, stay with friends in Berlin en route and end up here in Sweden at Easter.
The Grand Plan – drifting through sunny Spring weather, sampling local comestibles, staying in enchanting guest houses that we would absolutely return to – was extremely attractive and we were discussing options long before we agreed dates and confirmed flights with people in Dubai.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the background a story was developing about an outbreak of something nasty in China, in a place in called Wuhan. Initially, the descriptions of the wet market and the already well-documented exploitation of wildlife concerned me more than the increasingly alarming human death toll but, having escaped Sweden’s continuing non-winter and with the prospect of sunshine at last, we departed Europe.
In short time the Grand Plan collapsed as the anticipated sedate drive transformed into a bleary-eyed overnight dash following a rapid exit from Dubai. Last week saw the start of a period of self-isolation that appears to be heading for September at least.
So I’m now locked down in southern Sweden, avoiding people, wearing gloves to the shops and making the best of virtual cocktail-hours on WhatsApp and Zoom. This is the story.