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Letters from 68 degrees, Kiruna

Blog at 68 degrees

What's happening here at 68 degrees, a bed and breakfast in Kiruna.

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When you wait for a bus and then two arrive at the same time

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Mon, July 06, 2020 12:19:07

It’s a quiet sort of life, in a bed and breakfast that’s shut, during a pandemic. We don’t generally meet people, and our days are spent at home, or out in the landscape, alone.

Lots of time to think about things. Lots of time to worry about the drip drip. The roof has been leaking since the snow began to melt at the end of April, and when we stop worrying about our health and the state of the world then we worry about the leak.

A couple of months ago we were waiting for our man, someone who’d said he’d come and look at our leak. He came, although not when we expected – because we know, you always have to wait. He said he’d fixed it, but he hadn’t. In the following weeks neither he, nor any other company, returned our calls. We continued to hear drip drip.

Summer is sacred in Sweden, and from 29th June everyone is on holiday. It’s traditional, not being able to get anything done at this time. Summer closures happen everywhere, including libraries and swimming pools. Just at a time when people have time to use them, the staff take their vacation and close them down. So while up until now it’s been borderline OK to go to the swimming pool, now it’s summer opening times and people can only go there a few hours day, it’s packed out and way too risky to visit. Yes, in Sweden we’re all supposed to be keeping a physical distance – unless we don’t feel like it, for instance if we go to the swimming pool where apparently the usual advice doesn’t apply. I took one look at the crowds in the pool yesterday and came straight home.

But I digress; summer is when things close down and people won’t return your calls. Not much hope of getting our roof fixed then. We had the bucket catching the drips, and had to just hope the next month or so wouldn’t be wet. This morning there was an extra dripping spot on the ceiling, and the stress of it forced Rolf to call the first roof fixers again – the ones who’d failed at it before, and the ones who hadn’t returned his calls since. That’s how desperate he felt. But this time the man answered the phone.

We were so excited at the promise he’d be with us to have a look in half an hour that we forgot that Rolf had booked doctor’s telephone appointment at roughly the same time. He arrived just before the appointment, went up on to the roof, and before we knew it was back in his van and off again. We didn’t know whether he’d gone to collect the right materials to fix a hole, or what.

Then a few minutes later another white van turned up and two workmen appeared – had we sent them an email enquiry about our leak a few days ago?

A hasty phone call to the first roof fixer established that his plan was the same as before, to sell us a new roof ladder, which we weren’t convinced was a solution, so we said we’d be in touch and rushed out to the waiting workmen to invite them on to the roof. Rolf’s phone appointment began around this time, and ten minutes later the workmen knocked on the door to show me images of the suspected cause of the leak, said they’d go and get the materials and come back to fix it. And what’s more, they did.

It seems we’d achieved the impossible. In just one hour, during Sweden’s sacred holiday period, we’d got two lots of workmen to come out and look at our roof, one of them had been on the roof, driven away to pick up materials, and come back and fixed it, and Rolf had had a doctor’s appointment.

So much excitement and interaction in just one hour, after weeks inaction. I’ll need to lie down for a while to recover.

Here comes summer

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Sat, July 04, 2020 13:32:16

Summer in Kiruna is like no other. To start with, it comes later than you can imagine. When everywhere else has already become a bit tired of warm sunny days, Kiruna still has snow. Then when it comes, it bursts at you, the rivers overspilling their banks and the greenery growing as you watch it. Twenty four hours of daylight takes some getting used to, and the days have no boundaries. Anything goes.

The weather is unreliable, in terms of a summer. It can be hot, but it’s always changeable. The temperature dropped from 26 degrees to 3 degrees in one day this week. After a blaze of glory a more common summer drizzle is now feeding the greenery and insects. Birds arrived early in anticipation of the richness of growth that comes from constant daylight and now they get their reward. A Kiruna summer has a certain style, a different edge to further south in Sweden. For one thing, we’re not very big on midsummer. For one thing, at that time summer has barely arrived. The national 19th century revival of Swedish folk traditions at midsummer – maypoles and garlands, dancing and folksy regional costumes, and white wine drunk from fine cut glass – aren’t a big feature here. Instead we have more local traditions – like cruising round town in your classic American or vintage car.

I know it doesn’t sound very local, the American car, but Kiruna youth have made it their own. Over the winter months yards all over town conceal a few old cars under a blanket of snow which in the spring emerge, each one like an exotic butterfly from a chrysalis, their brightly coloured paintwork and chrome polished to gleaming before taking to the road. A car full of people is the ideal, and usually driven late in the day, which means all night here. It’s so much a tradition there’s even a local club for it – ‘The Midnight Sun Cruisers’. Going nowhere in particular, just taking the air, windows down, music playing, engine roaring. Up and down. That’s summer.

The view from a car window isn’t pretty. Kiruna is a bit of an ugly duckling at this time of year. Debris and building waste, well hidden over the winter months, is revealed in all its glory (given the few months every year without snow the incentive to tidy them up isn’t great). The local council makes a bit of an effort, cutting some grass and putting out a few flower pots, but it doesn’t really make up for the general feeling of town, which is basically ‘industrial wasteland with mountain views’. Most people don’t care or even notice. We are a colour-deprived people all winter, in a landscape of white and grey, so when the snow goes we are overjoyed by colour, our eye settling on this to the exclusion of all else.

The sound of summer – the roar of the classic car, music fading in the air that’s chasing its blaring exhaust – is also the louder and more persistent roar of ‘triangle’ cars crawling up the hill. A large red triangle means ‘child at the wheel’. Well, maybe not child, but 14 year old anyway. Unbelievably it’s allowed here, on the grounds that teenagers were always allowed to drive farm vehicles, so if they pimp their parents’ old cars – or even their new cars – to a different engine strength and display the triangle, they’re allowed to drive them anywhere. And they do – constantly, up and down. Again, mainly through the night, like the classic car cruising, going nowhere in particular, for no particular purpose.

That’s really the joy of a summer in Kiruna. No particular place to go.

The Tale of the Loka

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Fri, June 26, 2020 12:46:10

It all began in February, when the snowfall was enormous. Our neighbours decided to move their snow up to our end of the street, where, theoretically, there was a bit more space. This wasn’t so popular with us, since the turnround area was becoming unusable, forcing cars to reverse into our driveway.

So one day we asked a neighbour if he would kindly not dump snow there. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘I’ve been meaning to speak to you…’, and began to tell The Tale of the Loka.

There had been contractors here using Norwegian soil when they installed a new broadband cable system last year, and a plant had been introduced that way that was now spreading all along the street, a local kind of giant hogweed. He told us we had it in our garden and we needed to do something about it. It’s invasive, rampant, and dangerous to people.

It seemed a useful distraction from the snow dumping crime, and it almost worked. As we weren’t here last summer we wouldn’t have known about this. By the time we arrived back the garden was under a metre of snow. We took it with a pinch of salt.

And yet, as spring came, I found myself eyeing the ground rather nervously and searching on the internet for images of young hogweed. All those plants look the same when they first start to grow, small and green and leafy – who knows what they are? Not me.

My mood was up and down. One day I was convinced he was mistaken and we didn’t have any hogweed kind of plant at all. The next day I saw an army of them marching through the garden.

I intensified my online research, gathering facts and images. The enemy we were looking for was the Tromsöloka, a kind of loka (the family that includes the widespread cow parsley), very like giant hogweed. Originally from Iran, it’s a prized plant for the medicinal and culinary value of its seeds. Introduced to Norway in the early 19th century by – you guessed it – English horticulturalists, it’s particularly widespread in Tromsö, where it was a popular garden plant and a symbol for the town.

Since then its invasive quality and its ability to scar and blind people – if the sap is on the skin and allowed to interact with sunlight – is well known. It’s on the EU’s list of invasive species that should be controlled and ideally eradicated. Now I knew about it, it was on my list too. But first, I had to find it.

Did we, didn’t we? With protective gloves – not wanting to allow skin contact with the beast – I brought in leaf samples from all corners of the garden, finding only harmless loka of various kinds. No – we did not have the dreaded loka, hah!

Then coming back from an outing one day I turned to the street to where our postbox stands and saw a plant I’d never seen before. In fact, I would swear it hadn’t been there when we’d gone out, just three hours earlier. But approaching it I realised that the beast had been staring me in the face for a week, looking harmless and unexceptional among the grasses and buttercups.

A quick cross check on the internet confirmed it was the dreaded loka. I walked down the street and found the same plant outside, and sometimes inside, every single property. It is commonly spread by car tyres, and indeed that’s what it looked like. The plant was right by the position of the front wheel of the post van when it stops to deliver our mail, having skirted by the other places down the street where there are also plants.

If you see this plant, keep your distance

We had to remove that loka before it got any bigger, and definitely before it started producing its thousands of spreading seeds. Death to the loka!

We bought the spade. We put on the protective gear (why can’t you get a hazmat suit when you really need one?). We wished each other luck and began digging. Gosh those roots are big. It’s a giant kind of parsnip underneath, deep down. Eventually releasing it, we manoeuvred it very carefully into a plastic bag for delivery to the dump (burnable waste only). Then we removed all our exposed clothing for the wash, and cleaned the tools.

Next we had to tell the local council that our street had a big problem with a dangerous, invasive plant. We notified them and waited for their response. They eventually replied saying there was just one particular loka that was in the invasive category in Kiruna, and if it was on private land it was the landowner’s responsibility, not the council’s.

We replied that it was mostly on the street – their land – and sent a dozen pictures to support our claim. Then we waited again.

We’re still waiting. We can’t help but feel there are similarities here, between how the authorities deal with giant hogweed in Sweden, and how they deal with coronavirus. The do nothing option seems the one in favour.

Postscript: A week later someone from the local agency responsible came to our street and pulled up all the loka before they could spread their seeds. They’ll be back of course – those particular loka – he didn’t dig up the roots – but we were relieved to feel the support. Now all we have to do is get someone in the country to take responsibility for the virus too….

Where the buffalo roam

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Sun, June 14, 2020 21:56:52

Sanctuary – a place of safety, a place out of the reach of the law. I read there were several areas like this in cities until relatively recently. It was a right left over from religious institutions, and after they left the areas kept the right.

A sanctuary in present day Sweden is an odd idea. No-one should be beyond the reach of the law, after all. And yet there does seem to be a need for such a place in the current virus crisis. Actually I’ve found one, and it’s in the north of Sweden.

It’s not so near Kiruna, but a hop skip and a jump away, and a popular holiday destination. Boden, by the sea, is famous not for its beaches so much as for ‘Western Farm’, a re-creation of the Wild West. Here visitors can experience a typical ‘wild west’ settlement of wooden huts and saloon, from the period around 1879, all watched over by a Sheriff. There is entertainment, naturally, and you can even stay there overnight if you want. I’ve never been, but I hear there are the usual things there – animals, rodeo, horses, cowboys, big hats and guns (fake, hopefully).

What ‘Western Farm’ promises is a real wild west experience, and so that it can be safe for people to visit in these difficult times – in Sweden, where the virus is allowed to roam free, like buffalo on the prairies – ‘Western Farm’ has a Coronavirus Sheriff.

Yes sirree! You people get closer than the length of a bison and that Sheriff will be on your back before you can shout ‘howdee!’. The Sheriff tells you what you can and can’t do. You can’t sit close to people anywhere, but you can sit or stand apart. You can’t queue up at the saloon bar, but you can sit down at a table. You can’t run around uncontrollably in any old direction, but you can follow the signs. Offenders will get three days in jail, followed by a get out of jail free card, followed by eviction from the area. The Sheriff will have his eye on you and any loose talk about breaking the law and you’ll be in mighty big trouble.

What a relief, for those of struggling with the uncontrollable hordes at loose all over Sweden. It’s a sanctuary – a safe place from the virus. I’m going there for my holidays and might even hook up my horse and stay.

Whole lotta shakin’

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Tue, May 26, 2020 18:21:37

I know earthquakes are no laughing matter. I know because a few days ago I was woken at three in the morning by a huge roar that sounded like a lorry had driven into the bedroom, and the house shaking so badly that things fell on the floor. I thought it was all going to collapse on top of me and I admit I was scared. I didn’t get much sleep after that.

I was frightened even though I’m used to experiencing smaller quakes, that sometimes make the house shake for a couple of seconds. This was something much much bigger – as it turns out, it was 4.9 on the Richter scale, which makes it a ‘light’, but very nearly ‘moderate’, size quake.

Because of mining activity in Kiruna we’re used to hearing an explosion, and sometimes vibration, after one every night when the mine blasts the iron ore. In addition there are occasional small quakes, when part of the rock in the mine falls. The company apparently can’t say when these falls will happen, but they say they ‘expect’ them, so they’re called ‘expected seismic events’. They are more numerous nowadays, as every year the ground around Kiruna comes closer to collapse. A tremor can come at any time of the day, and some come with a bang as well as a shake, so they are always a bit of a shock, for a second.

But this week’s earthquake was presumably not ‘an expected seismic event’. The mine is still partly closed, almost a week later, and investigations continue. Apparently there was quite a lot of damage there, though thankfully no-one was hurt. We’ve also experienced a few more bangs and shudders in town over the last few days.

The reason the small quakes happen, LKAB explain, is that the iron ore sits in a chunk that is set at an angle to the ground, so as iron ore is removed from beneath there’s a ‘hanging wall’ left above it, and eventually parts of this wall fall. It’s a point of wonder, or even suspicion, that long ago the company’s office was built just the ‘right’ side of where the ore sits, even though at that point mining was above ground and little was known about the position of the ore underground.

Although earthquakes are no laughing matter, there is just the smallest shadow of a smirk on my face as I write this. It turns out that the epicentre of this sizeable, unexpected, earthquake was not under the ‘hanging’ wall but under the relatively stable ‘footwall’ – right beneath LKAB’s office.

Mine on the right, town on the left, collapsing ground in the middle.

Hard to see

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Fri, May 15, 2020 16:48:12

Arctic hares are white all over during winter. That makes them very hard to see on the piles of snow. They sit for long periods, and then leap, and by the time you realise something’s there, it’s gone. We have a regular hare in the garden. We’re used to one another so she’s calm when we’re around.

A few weeks ago she went for a slightly different look, her spring look. She added small chocolate slashes to the white on her back and sides, and then put on a soft brown face mask and thick dark markings on the tips of her long ears. She looked like a doll when her brown nut face turned enquiringly towards us. You’d think nothing could be more beautiful than pure white, but these markings make her look more sculpted, more delicate, and more interesting. She knows it, we think.

Around her the snow is melting in some places, but is thick in others. As layers of snow melt, collections of dirt and grit are revealed in stripes. Buried birch branches, dark brown and gnarled, can be seen poking up in the piles of snow. Small patches of wet yellow and brown appear on the ground, the old grass and growth merging with wet earth. The land around is mostly white, with chocolate coloured slashes, and occasional patches of medium brown. Just like our hare. She’s still very hard to see.

Bringing the sea to Kiruna

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Mon, May 11, 2020 19:33:08

Now Norway has closed its border we can’t reach the west coast, our nearest bit of sea. When we’re in England we live near the sea and a river estuary. This week I read online that we were invited to think about this particular bit of sea and reflect on what it means to us by writing it (the sea) a letter.

It seemed a crazy idea. Thinking of the sea was like thinking of everything that is the opposite of here now. The sea is soft, blue, wet, and moving – the landscape here white, frozen, and still. So I wrote the letter.

Dear Sea,

I miss you. Your blue grey shine, your swelling and swooping up back and forwards. I miss your coldness when I dip myself in and float on your fishy back. I can’t come to see you now – there are no flights, the borders are closed, we’re socially distant. I often think of you, and all your flowing freedom.

I have an idea though. Since I can’t reach you, perhaps you might consider coming to see me? It would be an adventure for sure. I’ve done a bit of research and come up with a plan. Let me know if this is something you might be up for.

First of all, head out of the estuary to the open sea, as you often do. You can turn right or left – it doesn’t matter. I think right would be best. Swim along the coast, heading out of Lyme Bay, and continue along the rocky coast, as far as you can go. Lands End! Hold your breath, it can get choppy, but make sure you catch the right current going north. Keep Ireland to your left as you head up to the Scottish coast.

Somewhere near there you’ll notice a distinct warmth from the west. You can join this, for a warm ride. It’s the Norwegian Atlantic current, and you can swim in a comfortable 10 degrees just above it. Allow it to sweep you out over the North Sea to the Norwegian coast. Then follow the coast northwards. You need to keep a steely resolve because you’ll be tempted by every passing fjord. Don’t give in to temptation! A trip up the fjord could delay you weeks. Keep swimming ahead, north up the coast until finally you’ll see the Lofoten islands spreading out west of you. To the east, a port, and it’s here you have to get off the current.

It’s important to follow the next instructions very closely, as it will be the trickiest part of your journey. Once you’ve got off the current, hang around outside the port. Feel the warm air rising from the sea. Think yourself light, light, airy. If you do this for long enough you’ll find you can float up into the sky, and join a whole throng of humid particles, in a soft white cloud. I think you’ll like this part!

The cloud will float off towards the land – just hang on. There are mountains ahead, high and magnificent, and you’ll float high over them – what a view! It’s really important to remember to hang on though. Plenty of particles will decide to get off here, but don’t!

If you’ve managed to hang on, the cloud will continue over the mountains, dropping some passengers on the way. It will feel cold, but this will help you hang on – you’ll freeze into position. The cloud will float eastwards, inland to Sweden. Eventually in the distance you’ll see a plume of smoke in the sky – the iron ore mine. Many will leave the cloud here, but hang on just a bit longer. Beyond there, past the church, look down – there’s a hill and a row of wooden houses. Mine is the yellow one! Jump as soon as you see it.

You’ll float down in a shower of white flakes, glimmering in the bright light of spring. I’ll be looking out my living room window, and will see you as you fall, settling along the hidden flower bed, and lying along the window sill. I’ll be so pleased to see you!

Let me know what you think.

your swimming friend


Feeling uncertain

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Sat, May 02, 2020 19:33:25

Things feel uncertain, the future unknown. It’s the right season for it, spring – here called ‘spring-winter’, or ‘spring’, or ‘spring-summer’, depending on – well, depending on all sorts of things.

Apart from us having three springs to choose from, spring can go as fast backwards as it does forwards. One day, hot sunshine and green plants poking up from under the snow, the next day, snow blizzards, temperature below freezing. This isn’t a stop-start problem with spring, it’s a stop-start-reverse-stop-start-reverse-stop-reverse-start problem.

We’re all confused by it. The body feels spring tiredness from the rush of light, but the brain registers a feeling of winter. You only have to look out the window – there are large piles of snow still to melt.

A few days ago we were having a picnic on the ice on the lake and warming our faces in the sun. We watched melting snow dripping into pools around us. When we looked more closely the snow looked like ice crystals – snow that had melted, then frozen, then melted, then frozen. Crunchy sort of snow. Then we saw something very surprising in the snow – a small insect. We don’t see insects over the winter, which is a very long period, so the eye fixes on something unusual like that. This insect had hatched out in the warm sunshine. Its life would be an hour long, at the most. It had felt the warmth of spring in the air, but once out of its cocoon it would quickly freeze to death in the snow. The uncertainty of spring can be fatal.

Personally, we’ve reached a time of year when we can’t accept the backward movement of spring. We just ignore those snowy cold days. We’re done with snow shovelling. If it snows we’ll wait for it to melt. All winter we’ve kept the car in the garage, protected from extreme temperatures, and we’ve needed to keep our steep driveway free of snow. But now we’ve brought the car up to the road so there’s no driveway to deal with. Just in case.

Spring; it can go forwards or backwards

We had a few blissful days of sunshine, and melting snow this week. That reminded us to check the law on when we have to change from winter to summer tyres. We found that it was the end of April, unless there was still snow on the roads. Now was definitely the time to do it. Rolf headed down to the garage.

While he was down there it began to snow, heavily. Ironic, I thought. But then, I chose to ignore it, see above. It continued to snow.

When Rolf returned to the house he looked glum. He’d changed one tyre and then the lifting machinery had broken. We now had a car with one summer tyre and three winter ones – highly illegal. He’d then tried to drive it back to the road, but the snow was slippery and the one summer tyre useless on snow so he couldn’t get up the driveway. It was the May public holiday and nothing open for three days. Our car was trapped.

It’s a car for uncertain times. Is it fit for winter, or summer? It’s a hybrid, a sort of special, lesser known, three-wheeled Carposaurus. Or a one-wheeled, almost extinct Carplerosis. Neither one thing nor the other.

Spring – it can go backwards or forwards. Our car, neither forwards nor backwards.

Sticky feet

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Tue, April 28, 2020 21:06:00

It’s a long way to a situation where enough people in our society have some kind of immunity to Covid-19. Apparently there is no guarantee there will ever be such immunity, but Sweden’s man of the moment, Anders Tegnell, epidemiologist in chief, otherwise known as ‘the monkey’, still believes that ‘herd immunity’ is the only way to go – get as many people infected as possible.

Although Sweden has introduced a few apparent restrictions in daily life, if you look at them more closely you may conclude their aim is something other than protection of individuals. Take restaurants for instance. Sweden’s life changing social restriction is that you can’t stand, eat or drink at a bar – you have to sit at a table. This is now the law. This means that people who once might have perched on a stool on their own, or at right angles to their companions now sit dead opposite one another instead. I leave you to judge which position would be most advantageous to an opportunistic virus.

We all know that a vaccine is the only convincing way to achieve community immunity, but we also know it’s a long way off. So why waste all this time trying to develop a vaccine, or waiting for someone else to develop one? There is a way we can achieve maximum infection and maximum ‘herd immunity’ much faster, and the tool for this is right here in the far north of Sweden.

I give you, the humble mosquito. OK I know that at the moment the mosquito doesn’t spread the virus. But it could. All we need to do is to breed some mosquitoes that can pick the virus up on their feet. Mosquitoes with spongy feet perhaps, or sticky feet. It sounds a lot easier to me than developing a vaccine.

Once you’ve bred this kind of mosquito we potentially have the fastest spreader of the virus in the world. Those of us who live in these northern areas know, no-one escapes the mosquito. They seek you here they seek you there they seek you everywhere. That will mean, 100% spread of infection – job done. They would be the Monkey’s Mozzie Army.

The detail of the process would be straightforward. First, take an already immune Finnish man. Famed in the northern world for their extreme hardiness, when it comes to biting insects, the Finns even have competitions to see who can acquire the most number of bites in a set period of time. So a Finnish man it is then.

Next, spread virus droplets liberally over his bare skin and leave him out in the forest. Mosquitoes from all around will come to feast on his blood, and in the process pick up those magic virus droplets. They will then take them to everyone else living in the nearby areas. And that’s it.

Of course this will need to be repeated all over the country, so there will be a big demand for immune Finnish men. That might be the flaw in the plan now I come to think of it, since Finland has managed to keep their virus spread very low and unlike Sweden they plan to keep it that way. Who else would like to volunteer for this worthy cause? Please send in your details.

Follow the herd

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Sun, April 26, 2020 13:20:49

Now I’ve found a good use for moose in these times, I got to thinking about reindeer. Of course, they always have a purpose and their world hasn’t been much affected by the crisis so far. But there are some companies that use their reindeer as part of their tourist business – for example, the meet-the-friendly-reindeer-farm, or sledding-with-reindeer-winter-wonderland activities. Like all tourist businesses they’ve lost their customers, so there are a few reindeer up here facing unemployment. I have the perfect solution.

First we have to remember and understand that Sweden’s goal in fighting Covid-19 is to reach some kind of mass, or ‘herd’, immunity, whereby there are enough people who have been infected that the virus stops spreading. We are far from this goal at present – we have to get many more people ill before we reach the required 60% – but the maestro of the moment, chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell (otherwise known as, ‘the monkey’) is keen for Sweden to get going with this. So he needs the population to co-operate; they must understand their role in achieving ‘herd’ immunity.

This is where the reindeer come in. They are, after all, first and foremost herd animals. They know a thing or two about being a herd, it’s their special subject. So – let’s bring people to the reindeer to learn how to be a herd. This will have two benefits – better ‘herd’ behaviour by the population, and a continuing tourist business in Kiruna.

So what might a ‘herd’ course include?

First, people would have to learn how to follow their leader, the primary principle of herd behaviour. In the case of reindeer that’s usually a female, but as this is not the case in our society we could adjust that.

Once they’d got the hang of following the lead reindeer around the corral, they’d then have to learn how to behave when threatened. The herd reacts as a whole to threats, and its usual response is to run very fast in circles in an anti-clockwise direction. This will be bewildering at first for the course members, but with practice they’ll get it. The result will be that they will be so dizzy and confused that they won’t be able to think, which is perfect.

Finally, they will need to learn not to think ahead, and not to imagine their own demise. A reindeer doesn’t know when it’s being led to the slaughter, which is why the herd can be managed. Course members will need to practice the art of living in the present so that they don’t start thinking where all this might lead.

As with ‘herd’ immunity, knowledge of herd behaviour can be spread through people, who, coming back from their week of living as a herd, can teach what they have learnt to their friends. There might be a few problems practising the anti-clockwise circling in an urban environment, but if this is scaled down to just a few people it should be possible to do this in someone’s living room. There could be ‘herd living’ study circles, in the honoured Swedish tradition, and the government could encourage people by awarding certificates to people once they’ve reached the required standard.

A moose for our times

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Fri, April 24, 2020 19:44:27

We’re getting used to looking out the window in town and seeing a moose. That is, we see neighbours the other side of the road and mentally we draw a moose between them, satisfying ourselves they are keeping the required distance. Some people’s idea of a moose is more calf than adult, and other times the moose must be standing on its back legs, but usually there’s a moose there.

On the other hand, driving out along the Kalix river road the other day there were few actual moose to see. There were few people for one thing, but also few animals. They must all have been taken into town, we thought, for the purposes of measuring out helping us keep safe distances.

Perhaps you could now collect one as you entered a supermarket, bringing it with you to keep people at bay. First collect a trolley from the Trolley Park, and then a moose from the Moose Stall, attaching it to your trolley with the red ribbon provided.

It’s no easy task to manoeuvre a trolley and a moose, but it’s worth practising until you have the knack. The trolley must go ahead of you down the aisle, and then, trailing behind you, your moose. As you lean in to pick the jar of gherkins off the shelf the moose swings its heavy neck to the side, discouraging the approach of a careless youth, who is neatly diverted to another aisle.

Moving to the till area you’ll need to pull your moose tightly in behind you and discourage it from eating till snacks, browsing the magazine racks or befriending other moose in the queue. After paying you can return your moose to the Moose Stall ready for the next customer, feeding it some crunchy birch bark and stroking its nose before you leave.

In town moose might now be wandering the streets, moving between feeding stations, creating a natural distance between people who have to avoid them. Sometimes they  lie down, creating interesting barriers on the pavement. Moose on buses and trains might be encouraged to lie down over a row of seats, ensuring passengers are kept apart.

Perhaps some jobs could now be done by a moose, enabling more people to work from home. Information at the tourist office for instance. No-one comes there now anyway and even if they did it would just be their next instagrammable moment.

Waiting for my man

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Wed, April 22, 2020 15:12:52

Late April in Kiruna, we’re not often here. Not around to watch the slow melt of metres of snow around the house, or see the fall of more snow, or then watch the melt of that snow, and so on. So repetitive, and all in that damn bright light. It’s called ‘spring tiredness’ in Sweden.

Feeling rather tired we were slumbering in the middle of the day, taking a break from reading news of the world crisis, or taking a rest from one of our many self-improvement projects (music theory, drawing skills, book production, bird watching, whatever). Then there was a shake of the house and a muffled bang.

At a time when our world feels increasingly uncertain, a sudden ‘expected seismic event’ from the mine – an earthquake basically – can make us shudder in our shoes. The house shakes and the air thunders. The sky is falling the sky is falling! Oh – no -it’s just another ‘expected seismic event’, no problem. We slumber on.

But then, a steady tick, or gentle groan, repeated at irregular intervals. Unnerving in view of seismic events and cracks appearing in the basement, so we survey the room to check everything is still at right angles. It is. But still, tick tick. So quiet, not an earthquake, hardly anything really. The ear strains to the source of the sound, which is behind the floor-to-ceiling wood burner. Tick tick. Yup, that’s a drip.

Upstairs a pool of water in the bedroom leads us to the source of the leak from the roof. Up there a whole winter’s worth of snow is melting, and the path of least resistance for some of it is apparently through two of our ceilings.

That leads us to the really bad news: this means trying to find someone in Kiruna to mend it. Our previous attempts to get specialist help usually follow this pattern: ring a few companies and they all say they can’t come until tomorrow; the next day no-one comes; the next day we ring again and they say they’ll send someone, but no-one comes; we ring again – they say they can’t do that kind of repair and we need to look somewhere else; the next day we do a crash course in electrics/plumbing/drainage and work out how to do it ourselves. But this time it’s the roof, and if this is following the usual pattern, we don’t want to go there.

So today here we were, patiently, hopefully, waiting for our man. The required credit card in our hand. He’s never early – he’s always late, one thing we have to learn is you always have to wait. Waiting for our man.

Rolf waits, I go out for a walk, and when I return miraculously there are two men on the roof of our (wooden) house, smoking cigarettes. (Just remember this image when you next read something in the press about how sensible and law-abiding Swedes are.)

Rolf had appeared out the house and seen an empty vehicle and no-one there, and not thinking they might already be on the roof had returned inside.

Turns out there’s – you’d never guess it – there’s a hole. Tomorrow, one of them says – tomorrow he’ll come and fix it. Well we’ll still be here, waiting for our man.

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