Dear diary – another sunny day?

Sometime during the year I lost sight of the schedule. After moving and taking time to draw breath we were sufficiently organised to find a way of moving around the diminishing towers of unpacked boxes and leave for a while; we were set for travelling. All it needed was a modicum of organisation in order that the few fixed points punctuating the calendar dovetailed neatly into any plans that developed. We had to be at the wedding of course – a grand weekend affair at an English country house could not be missed – and I had to vote in the Brexit referendum, which required some time in Cambridge even if I made a postal vote. There was a birthday gathering in Thailand and a short trip to Dubai. Those apart, it looked like there would be plenty of time to fit in some spontaneous peregrination.

It would take just a little planning and a few simple decisions. Simple, that is, until Sweden presented something that we hadn’t accounted for – a long, hot summer. It’s difficult to describe the effect of summer on a nation that lives half the year in dark, cold winter. As soon as the sun peers over the horizon Netflix and jam-making are discarded for al fresco dining in what are still single-digit temperatures; fallen leaves are swept from patios with gusto; excited chatter echoes over garden hedges and the air fills with the aroma of barbecue lighter. In the streets and supermarkets those long Scandinavian shorts appear – the ones with tie-strings, utility buckles and pockets on the knees – and on the beaches people huddle behind windswept dunes while their blond-haired children frolic in the bone-chilling water. But in 2016 it was different. Above average temperatures and long, sunny days made it feel just like the Med and you didn’t need a fleece blanket if you sat out in the evening.

The first cranes arrive over the garden in March and the sun is already shining.
The first cranes arrive over the garden in March and the sun is already shining.
Midnight at Mjörn lake near Gothenburg.
Midnight at Mjörn lake near Gothenburg.

Sweden’s summer can be a hard mistress but she does provide the perfect excuse for fleeing to warmer climes. But as the warm spell lengthened from days to weeks and then months there was little need and no justification in leaving. In fact, those arrangements that we had made were appearing more inconvenient as the year sweltered on and it became galling to leave the hammock. We swam in tepid water until early October and started a re-reading exercise as the summer’s supply of essential books was exhausted. It was too hot on some days to do more than lie in the shade with a cool drink.

I left the blogosphere inside with my tablet and just let the summer sweep me along whilst ensuring, in the interests of tradition, that the legacy of James Pimm was upheld and the fortunes of Tanqueray maintained. And as a measure of catching up, a few posts covering some aspects of my 2016 carbon footprint follow this.

A tree sparrow cooling off while I was doing the same
A tree sparrow cooling off while I was doing the same
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I am just going outside and may be some time…

…or a walk around the village…

After mild weather in Scandinavia that produced only a token dusting of snow I expected to find England balmy, full of birdsong and our woodland carpeted in snowdrops. And so it was for a few days before tentative forecasts of snow began to surface. Despite spring being in the air we were told to expect arctic conditions that would bring life as we know it to a frozen and ice-bound halt. I’m a sceptical sort of chap and take such warnings – the Met Office issued an Amber alert – in my stride but found myself glancing at the horizon to see if the distant spires of Cambridge were disappearing, Mordor-like, under dark clouds.

As the weather front approached us Heathrow Airport cancelled first a third and then half its flights; the BBC warned of icy conditions, road closures and probable accidents; concerned spokespeople wrung their hands in angst during hastily-arranged interviews as they implored us to pay extra attention to our elderly neighbours and the wireless advised us to stay tuned to our local station for weather updates. The tension mounted and the weather dominated the news – reporters ‘live’ at a silent Heathrow and various points around the country gazed upward into clear skies and down at deserted roads as they explained how serious it was going to be. When temperatures began to drop I wondered if I should I head over to our 24-hour Tesco store and stock up with essential provisions but worried that, if the snow hit, I might become trapped in a nightmare world of clueless staff, special offers and tasteless cheese. As Sky News reported that the snow had started falling in the north and was moving south we lit candles, turned up the heating and drew the curtains in what were probably futile gestures against the forces of nature.

It snowed during the night. At least 10cm lay on the ground and the biggest problem I faced was negotiating around the neighbour’s kids’ snowman on the way to pick up my croissants. Ben and Emily came in for hot chocolate later and, somehow, against the odds it seems, we all managed to survive without the aid of the emergency services.

‘Spring is sprung; the grass is ris…

I wonder where the birdies is? They say the birds are on the wing, but that is quite absurd. You only have to look to see the wings are on the bird.‘ Such a dumb ditty that was used by Mr Lawrence, who taught us French at school and which, regrettably, has stayed with me for longer than the conjugation he worked so hard to embed. Such is life; but it goes on and at this time of year teases us with an occasional warm and sunny day.  Never one to be patient, I’m off to find sunshine in the troubled Middle East and will be back in Dubai this week. Today oil prices have risen again, Libya is in turmoil and a note from friends in Bahrain this morning suggests that we are not hearing about all that’s going on out there. 2011 and we live in troubled times.

A Spring in your step or somewhere…

We’ve just walked around the village for an hour; it’s light later in the evening now, birds are singing, the air is warmer than it has been of late and Mission Control said she thought Spring in England was wonderful, that it made you feel so good. It’s true, of course – it does. That’s why we wanted to walk, because it was so pleasant; it made us feel so alive. But that started me wondering about the effect that the weather has on people and the psyche of different countries. Just this week we’ve received notes and a call from friends in Sweden and they were still down in the dumps about piles of snow on the ground and temperatures in single figures. In England we look forward to Spring with such joy; daffodils and Easter eggs; baby lambs and chocolate bunnies. In Sweden, they look forward to it with dogged relief; lighter mornings with no ice on the roads; going out without a down-filled anorak; no icicles on your nose-hair – you get the picture. We’re elated; they’re depressed and Swedes do tend to suffer their winters with an attitude of long-suffering forbearance.

Now look at those Oil Sheikhs, which I’ve done a lot of. In the Middle East it couldn’t be more different from Sweden but, more or less, you only have two seasons to deal with. In summer it’s just bloody awful, very hot and very humid. You have sand-storms. The sun is so bright that the world glares back at you angrily whereas in winter, it’s just a less-hot version of the same only with winds and some torrential rain. There are pleasant days of course but mostly you combat the climate rather than embrace it. And, not surprisingly, these guys have ended up with attitude, too. OK, it’s taken the form of religious navel-gazing and it’s affected the type of clothes they wear but, nonetheless, intolerable heat, humidity and dust outside would make anyone choose to sit inside and philosophise. It’s little wonder that they take something of a more introspective line in their dealings with other people. They don’t have much of a sense of humour either – try making a joke about their women.

I thought that perhaps the reason the Swedes are so serious and analytical of events and, well, life is because they spend this long period in perdition each year, looking out at dark, damp days, waiting for lighter, brighter mornings and the ice to melt. You can’t do much outside at all in winter as it’s dark and frozen so it gives them more time to sit around. Sure, they work at technical innovation, distil berries, make jam and analyse stuff but the point is they have to sit it out and have a lot of time on their hands. Idle hands and all that. Swedish TV isn’t that great either and, unless you’re under 25, making babies is out too. Bottom line is, they come out at the other end of winter with a lot of frustration to get out of their systems and summers in Sweden are not very long. Does anyone know any funny Swedish jokes?

I don’t detect this current of underlying frustration in the British and the Peoples of the more temperate and Mediterranean countries. The principal common denominator has just got to be the weather. Look at Norway and Finland, where drinking oneself into oblivion is an art-form. [I once spent a very long weekend in Tromsø and despite there being posters everywhere showing the range and variety of locally available fish – and there were a lot – every dish on every menu in every restaurant had lobster-tasting sauce all over it. What kind of message does that send out?] Speak to a Russian; scratch that – watch Russians in a shop or hotel and you can taste the lack of humility. Now think about those Russian winters – they’re worse than Sweden’s.

In England when winter is approaching and the weather starts to close in what do we look forward to? A log fire, warm beer in the snug of the local hostelry, good company, mulled wine, warming stews, hot water bottles, Horlicks. We embrace it, enjoin with it, go to the pub and we just love discussing it. Our trains stop running and roads become impassable; telephone services and electricity supplies collapse but it’s all OK because we are again all at war with a common enemy – the weather. We abuse it, admire it; we speak of it in awe or in hushed voices but we exorcise it. Maybe we blame the Government but we deal with it! That doesn’t make us better but it does, somehow, contribute towards a national psyche that doesn’t bore the rest of the world.

Ernest Hemingway felt like I do – The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself’.