We’re never bored in Kiruna because there’s always something to wonder about and challenge one’s wits, something that requires skill to work out what’s really going on, like a difficult crossword. There’s hours of fun to be had even from an announcement from LKAB (the mining company) – what are they not saying? what are they leading up to say? which bit of town are they thinking of digging up next? how much money did they really make this year? That sort of thing.
Some of my favourite games, though, are more elaborate and have featured in other pieces written here. Like ‘Homes under the wrecking ball’ (a local version of ‘Homes under the Hammer’). In this game you walk around town and work out which buildings are about to be demolished. The interest in this game is that demolition tends to happen rather suddenly – one week you have no idea it’s coming, and then suddenly the building’s disappeared. So the game is to work it out a week or two before it happens. The other side (LKAB) plays the game by making the building look as lived in as possible even though the owners or tenants have moved out. This involves leaving brooms by the door, lights on inside, and the occasional personal item visible in a window. Sometimes the building will even look as if it is being repaired – scaffolding gives that impression – but what’s really going on is that some of the building material is being stripped off. Sometimes when you look it’s obvious, but other times you need to do a bit of a stake out to make the right call.
For a long time now there’s been another game, one which changes almost every week. It’s called, ‘Looking for the Lentils’. In this game you are given the name of an item you want to buy, or a service you need, and then you have to guess which of three places in Kiruna you might need to go to get it. The answer can change every week, as businesses and shops slowly move out of the old town into new premises, so you have to keep up to date with empty shop buildings (which can be a bit like the previous game). On the other hand you can just guess, because it will be only one of three – the old town, the new town, or the shopping area in between. For a while there was a popular offshoot game, when the local supermarket rearranged all its shelves every week for about six months, but this game seems to have fallen out of favour now that packets of tomatoes have been found on the same shelf for three months.
Since the UK left the EU there’s been another game to play – working out how many days you’re allowed to be here. This involves quite complicated mathematics because at any time you can’t have been in the country more than 90 days in the last 6 months. We’ve just about got the hang of this one now, though Sweden’s border police sometimes struggle with it. However, this winter we’ve also been playing another, related, game, ‘Visa Voodoo’. This game’s rules are set by Migrationsverket, the Swedish Migration Agency, but the clever thing about the game is they don’t tell you what the rules are. You also have to undertake a Quest, in which you are challenged by a very long journey and much difficulty finding your destination, and at the end of this Quest you have your photograph and fingerprints taken, and then you go home and wait. This bit of the game, the waiting, isn’t much fun I must admit, and I’ve been playing it now for a couple of months. To keep the game going you have to check online every day to see if they’ve made a decision. The aim of the game is to stay in the country longer than your allotted three months.
I was doing quite well with this game, I thought, since I’ve already extended my time here by two weeks, waiting for a decision to be made. But then the reason we wanted to stay is no longer true (because we haven’t sold the house so have no need of extra time to move out), so we decided it was time to go back to the UK.
But – not so fast. I thought this was the end of the game, but it turns out that ‘Visa Voodoo’ leads directly into another game, an elaborate ‘Escape Room’ where the goal is to exit the room. We weren’t expecting that, because the rules are a secret, remember. They never told us that if we overstayed the 90 days it’s legal to stay in the country while waiting for a decision, but – and here’s the clever bit – it’s not legal to leave it.
If you try and leave, it seems, you get a black mark in your passport, which is a problem wherever you go in the EU. So currently we are trapped in a our Swedish Esscape Room. What an exciting game this is, you just don’t know what will happen next.