Blog Image

Letters from 68 degrees, Kiruna

Blog at 68 degrees

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

web page:

No thumbs up

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Thu, April 25, 2024 20:31:06

I’ve been to a few LKAB (the mining company) information meetings in my time. I know what to expect – a fairly slick, but very slow, presentation, lots of words projected on a screen, reassuring smiles, and ‘fika’ – a coffee and bun. In the early days of discussing the need to knock down the town and rebuild it somewhere else there were many such meetings. They were never very well attended, but a number of Kiruna residents would make the effort, possibly mainly for the ‘fika’.

Meetings followed a pattern. After a rather tedious presentation by a couple of LKAB staff, there would be questions. Someone would ask a detailed technical question that no-one would be able to answer properly, and then another person would ask a question no-one understood, because it was off the subject, or at such a tangent no-one knew how to respond. The meeting would get a bit confusing, the audience lose interest, and then it would be brought to a hasty close so that we could have ‘fika’.

So it was last night in Kiruna’s church. LKAB held a meeting on how they planned to move the church building. It followed the usual pattern, except that a vicar was involved, and there was no ‘fika’.

We learnt virtually nothing about technical or engineering aspects of moving the building, the thing we were interested in. Instead we got a vague description of the process that we’d already read about in their information leaflet, plus a lecture on the history of the church. After that there was the expected technical question or two from the floor, and the predictable ‘difficult customer’ or two – who expressed that they didn’t want the church moved at all (who does?) – and then the meeting ended. It didn’t feel like it had hit the right note.

People in Kiruna probably care more about the church building than any other. What they wanted last night, it seemed to me, was recognition that this was an emotional issue as much as a practical one. They wanted reassurance. Instead they got a project management style description of a process for moving a building, and they didn’t even get a coffee and a bun.

They were worried that something might go wrong in the move and the church might be damaged. Were LKAB’s project team up to the job? someone asked. The man from LKAB replied with a smile that this was the responsibility of Mammoet (the Dutch company who physically do the moving) and they had lots of experience – implying it was not a concern of LKAB’s, or ours.

The man from Mammoet should have been there – the one with the joystick on a tray hanging round his neck. We saw him move three buildings in town a couple of years ago. We watched him at close quarters, through a wire fence, as he carefully lowered a large two storey building down onto its new foundations, controlling every millimetre of movement. When it was safely down he lit a cigarette and gave us a thumbs up. He knew we wanted that reassurance.

A social life on the river

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Mon, April 15, 2024 21:31:57

It was a sunny Sunday, and the temperatures had been over zero for days, so we didn’t know quite what conditions to expect for skiing on the Kalix river. The snow would be soft, that’s for sure, and indeed as we lurched down to the river from the road we sometimes sunk up to the hip in snow. But once on the river where we could get our skis on everything was plain sailing. Smooth fast snow, perfect for gliding.

Now and again there were a few people out on the sides of the river. Cooking sausages, or just sitting in the sunshine.

A man on skis, warm enough to ski in just a lumberjack shirt, stopped to chat, and brought news of the fisherman’s hut, our destination, when we asked if there were people using it. There were, but he thought it might be possible for us to reach other places to sit.

Some intrepid skiers wanting a rest in the sun had ploughed their way with a lot of trouble through the deep snow to one side of the paths where they had made themselves a raised snow seat. We greeted them, impressed with the seat, remarking that life could be worse. They agreed it was indeed awful out here today.

As we always do when we come here, we passed the man who lives nearby who makes sure there is always firewood in the hut, puts food out for the birds, and keeps the snow pressed down so we can ski on it. He is a very kind, considerate local resident. He shouted hello from a nearby track and pressed on, dragging his dog behind him.

Further on we found the fisherman’s hut unoccupied, and better still, a wooden bench with no snow on it, right by the river, with snow around it forming a wind shelter. We were especially grateful for this, having watched a woman prepare it for us – a week ago. We’d been there then and met two women in the hut. At the time the wooden benches nearer the river were deeply covered in snow. We watched one of the women use a bit of driftwood to sweep the snow away. It was hard work – she only managed to get a bit off, and what was left was a soggy mess. ‘But’, she said, ‘that will be ok to use later’. Later, like, the next week, when we arrived wanting to sit in the sun. What a wonderful unselfish act that was. We appreciated it.

While sitting there we saw the people we’d greeted earlier on their snow seat, carrying their fishing rods. They skied on and out of sight.

Later a lone figure reappeared. It was the man, with his fishing rod, but now he was alone. I tried not to think he might have pushed his wife in the river, or buried her under the snow, but it was difficult because I’d just been reading a book of short stories in which there were a lot murders. We smiled at him, rather uneasily. He skied on.

We listened to the rippling water and ate our lunch.

When it was time to return we passed that man again, the one without his wife, sitting on the snow under a bare birch branch. He was talking on his phone. Reporting a murder, or arranging an alibi perhaps. So we just said hello again, and skied on.

I was looking for the whooper swans. They’d moved up river since we were here last. I left Rolf talking with the man with the lumberjack shirt, now settled on a bench by the bird feeders. I found the swans not far off – about five pairs. They appear in that particular stretch of water for just a few weeks every year, and it feels very reassuring to see them there again. There’s a timeless quality about their drifting around there, gathering for the next leg of their journey. I expect they have their own tales to tell, but all I heard was honking.

I returned to find Rolf still talking. He’d discovered that the man in the lumberjack shirt had used the computer program that he’d made for the mining company when he’d worked for them 25 years ago, long before we were living here. They had quite a few things to discuss. It was a rather surprising intersection of two people’s lives, uncovered one sunny day on the river.

Not wanting to go home yet we continued by car towards Nikkoluokta, heading for a place on the river where we knew there was a good view of the mountains. There was nowhere to park, so we intended just a pit stop. I got out briefly while Rolf turned the car round, and then the car got hard stuck in the soft snow. Oh the shame. We had a spade in the car so Rolf tried to free up the wheels.

Another car arrived and a man got out and started making helpful suggestions, and he and I and his partner were all pushing the car but still it wouldn’t budge. The man went to his car and brought out a spade neatly wrapped in plastic, before realising we already had one. We brought some gravel over to the wheels and tried pushing the car again. Eventually the car was released.

Obviously we were very grateful to the couple. They asked us where we lived and we said Kiruna, and then we asked them, and they said Stockholm. Now that was a surprise, Stockholmers not being known for their practicality or helpfulness. But they were both from Kiruna originally and were coming to stay in their family hut for a short while. (Aha, that explained the thoughtfully brought plastic covered spade, to move mushy springtime snow.)

On this one day on the Kalix river, we remarked in the car going home, we’d met several helpful, friendly people, and possibly, a murderer.

Let the tracks decide

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Thu, April 04, 2024 18:54:07

Cross country skiing without prepared ski tracks – let’s call it ‘wild skiing’. It means you can explore, you won’t have to keep getting out of the way for fast skiers behind, and you won’t have the feeling of going round in circles. We particularly enjoy lakes and rivers for this – when frozen over with a thick layer of snow on the top it is usually possible to ski on them, especially if a snow scooter has passed by that way.

On the down side there’s a lot of side-slip, there are many uneven snow areas to negotiate, and the going can be hard and slow. On the lake this week it all looked very promising, but it turned out there was a very thin layer of snow on top of ice, so a few strides of skiing was followed by some unexpected slipping and sliding, more like skating than skiing, which for an unconfident skier such as myself can be very challenging.

On occasions like this you remember there is something to be said for prepared ski tracks. You just slot yourself in and whoahey! you’re off! At speed, and always in a forward direction. One day last week we were surprised to find some prepared tracks on a section of the Kalix river where we usually ‘wild ski’.

We didn’t turn our nose up at them and insist on our own route – we willingly stepped into the tracks, abandoning any sense of being in control, letting them lead us where they would. It turned out that this was out in unknown territory, towards the middle of the river. We trusted that whoever had made the tracks knew what they were doing. We settled into a steady glide, wondering, but not worrying about where we were going.

Not unlike the mechanical trousers in The Wrong Trousers, prepared ski tracks really do take over – all decisions are theirs. This can be very relaxing.

Ride the High Country

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Thu, March 28, 2024 16:45:49

Iron ore has always been transferred by rail from Kiruna to Narvik on a track built with huge difficulty through the mountain area. It has been a point of contention between the company and the state department responsible for rail networks in Sweden that this track is still a single track, which severely limits how much iron ore can be delivered, and therefore how much can be mined, and how much profit the company can make. It would be a big undertaking to make it a double track, but this is what LKAB have been requesting for years.

This winter there was a major derailment on the line, primarily due to weather conditions. It took a couple of months to clear the derailment and repair the track and during this time no trains could travel on the line, no iron ore was delivered or sold, and no passenger trains through to Norway. When it was opened again last month, an agreement was made to allow LKAB to have sole use of the track to try and speed up its delivery of iron ore, so there are currently no through passenger trains operating on the line.

It is a surprise to some of us that such a priority exists – company profits before transport accessibility – but there it is. Now it’s Easter there will no doubt be fewer visitors in the area than usual. People may fly to Kiruna, but then, how to get to Abisko? They can take a very expensive taxi, or a fairly expensive bus (but only if they’ve already booked a ticket).

Let’s not call it a problem, let’s call it an opportunity. There must be other ways for a true adventurer to reach the mountains. Well walk or ski, yes, but you won’t get there by Easter if that’s your goal, it’s a long way. What you’ll need is a mindset trained by images of the wild west. Steam trains trundling through landscape, outlaws jumping on and off rickety old wagons, shoot outs on a wagon roof. Why not hitch a ride on one of the many iron ore trucks heading your way?

What you’ll need is some camouflage – the usual jungle kit can be adapted by sticking bits of grey on the green (apply at the local tourist office, if you can find it). You’ll need to sneak up on the wagons when they’re resting in a siding near the mine, or perhaps approach a little further along at Krokvik. Choosing your moment you can hoist your bag over the top, haul yourself up and climb in. It’ll be just like in the Westerns, and you’ll be hoping no-one plans to hold up the train on the way because you haven’t packed your revolver.

Fortunately iron ore is transported in the form of round pellets, so you can lie back in relative comfort on the trip. Getting off at the right stop might be difficult. If there are red lights along the way then it will be easy to leap off onto the track. Otherwise you’ll have to launch yourself up at a wooden beam as you pass through a tunnel, and hang on until all sixty wagons have passed beneath you. Then drop down discretely and be on your way. A trip to Abisko has never been this much fun.

Blinded by the light

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Fri, March 22, 2024 21:32:57

Since I’ve been back in Kiruna I’ve been feeling a little challenged by the street light shining right in my face when I am sat on the sofa. I’ve felt interrogated, unnecessarily highlighted. I don’t like Kiruna’s over the top street lighting but you have to learn to live with it so I thought maybe I was being over sensitive. But on closer inspection I saw that our street light had taken on a rather quirky look, angled up and out, as if looking for something.

Not looking for me, I reassured myself. It’s not the neighbours wanting a better look at our indoor activities. It must have been dislodged in the wind, or knocked by something. (But at that height? It was hard to imagine. Unless it was a crow preparing to build a nest in the nearby tree that didn’t like the light either.)

We reported it to Tekniska Verken that works for the local council managing street issues. We thought they would forward it to a community surveillance team, who would then realise that their plans to spy on people in our street needed to be dialled down a notch.

A couple of days later, a van – charmingly named Attentiv – arrived. The men inside were straining their necks to assess the nature of the problem by looking at the street light in their side mirrors. The angle was wrong – they had to get out and look. Realising the angle was still wrong, they drove off. Nothing happened so we had to just draw the blind down rather fiercely.

A week later there was another problem. Northern lights, and too much bright lighting all around us to see it. Then twenty minutes later all the street lights suddenly went off. Somebody flicked a switch, which was very nice of them I thought, though surprising given they aren’t usually sympathetic to the need to see aurora.

The next morning I was sitting on the sofa looking out the window when I noticed that our street light was now pointing straight down. During the night, or very early in the morning, someone had come to our street with a cherry picker machine, lifted themselves up to a height above the nearby building, straightened the arm of the light, lowered themselves back down, and driven off. All without a sound. It felt like magic, or maybe an unusually obliging town troll.

That night the light didn’t work at all. Yes, probably a troll.

Not here

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Thu, March 21, 2024 12:42:08

It’s not something to put on Instagram. It’s when you’re out in the landscape and you don’t see a single reindeer, or a moose. Or at home, looking out the window at the snow – not a single arctic hare. Very few birds too.

And yet, this is a good feeling – we here, and the animals and birds, not here. They’re hidden in the bare birch forest, feeding out on the bogland, nibbling away at what’s at their feet, in their own quiet hidden places.

Visitors will be disappointed. The tourist office will have to get out that moose costume to entertain them on the ‘Wildlife Tour’. Apologies will be made no doubt, for their misfortune.

But the misfortune is entirely theirs, because the animals and birds are where they should be, hidden from sight. We see them when food is scarce, and this winter it isn’t. The far north of Sweden has had less snow than usual so the depth is penetrable, and the timing of occasional snow thawing – which then refreezes creating very hard layers – has been good, so animals can still paw their way through to or reach out to their food, and birds can see what they can eat.

Not seeing something isn’t always considered a misfortune. Consider the brown bear for instance. We’ve seen the poo, but not the bear. Bears are widespread in this area, but never seen, and for this we are always thankful.

Red carpet road

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Mon, March 18, 2024 17:24:04

We were part way through Rachmaninov’s Prelude No 1. when it happened. A few heads in the audience turned to look around, to check they’d not imagined it. Renowned concert pianist Irma Gigani, from Georgia, found herself playing in Kiruna church to an underwhelmingly small audience, but I’m betting that’s the first time she’s felt the ground move during a performance.

I wasn’t surprised by the mini-quake. The church is on threatened ground, like so much of ‘old Kiruna’, and we’re used to a bit of jiggling and thundering now and again. But I am surprised that it now looks like LKAB (the mining company) really is going to move the church, as a whole, to a site in the new town. For the last few years each time it’s been mentioned I’ve thought that when it comes to it they’ll just say it’s all too difficult, and instead they’ll just dismantle and rebuild it.

Kiruna church, not built for easy manoeuvring

But now, seeing is believing, and we see the preparations for the move. It’s a very wide bulky building and won’t fit on the existing road structure, so they are building some new roads, just for the church to travel on, just on one day later in the year.

It’s mind boggling really. There’s damage from a climate emergency, nations are at war, there’s the cost of living crisis and local councils all short of money. But in the magic world of LKAB, Kiruna church will go to the ball.

Kiruna has already lost some iconic buildings because they were too much trouble to move so it was reasonable to assume they would stall at the first fence when it came to moving the church. Yes it was once voted Sweden’s favourite building, but that was a while ago now and very few Swedes have actually seen it. Yes it was paid for originally by LKAB, but so were lots of things that are falling into the pit. Yes it’s a church and destroying churches isn’t a good look. But we still thought they wouldn’t bother.

But bother they do – there is an astonishing amount of road construction work planned to move it, just at a time when most of Kiruna is being knocked down. The church’s red carpet road will be built around the town’s old, abandoned, main through road, which will have to be widened significantly to allow for the church’s wide beamage. That means rebuilding very wide overhanging bridges, removing street furniture, closing roundabouts, and physically constructing new road along a three kilometre distance. It seems nothing is too much trouble for the church’s fairy godmother, LKAB in this instance.

Just chillin’

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Sun, March 10, 2024 21:15:22

Considering Kiruna’s long hours of darkness in the winter it’s not surprising that when electric lighting became available in the early 1900s the town installed it as a public utility long before most towns in the country. Light was a valuable resource in winter so these days locals will pay a lot of money for a fashionable light source, and Kiruna’s streets are aggressively over-lit with glaring lighting.

So that’s light. Something else in short supply in Kiruna are warm beaches and water you can swim in. This might explain why the local council is currently committed to an overspend of hundreds of millions of kronor on a new swimming pool, featuring water chutes and a relaxavdelning (rest area) with saunas and sun loungers. We can have it all, they thought, now that the mining company is paying. They received compensation money for the old pool but by the time the project got started overall costs had increased. Over the last few years these costs have run more and more out of control.

It’s a bit mad because the current swimming pool is gloriously underused – I was there this morning for a full hour and was the only person in the pool. Maybe they think a relax area will change all that – but for what purpose? You can understand the council wanting something bigger and better than what they have already, but it does look like dreams and civic pride may have led them to invest in a scheme way beyond their resources. The overspend will now have them (and us) paying off large sums every year long into the future.

You can’t help but wonder if this was ever something that local people really needed or wanted.

Last week in a local street I came across major roadworks – there were broken hot water heating pipes there that leaked, creating a hot geyser effect at street level. We had the same problem (and subsequent pit) outside our house last summer. New pipes had been delivered to the scene in readiness, and the welders had been called in, but nothing much seemed to be happening – some technical issue with the pipes perhaps.

Anyhow, the welders didn’t have much to do. They looked relaxed, living in the moment. They were sitting on the side of the hole in the sunshine. One of them was lying with his eyes shut, fully stretched out, soaking up the sun and listening to the gentle hiss hiss of the hot water leak. He looked blissed out. He could have been on a sun lounger next to a pool anywhere in the Mediterranean, but he was in Kiruna’s latest relaxavdelning.

War-torn Kiruna

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Fri, March 08, 2024 12:09:22

Returning to Kiruna and going into what is now known as ‘the old town’ is like approaching a battle ground. You know the battle is ongoing, though there are frequent pauses between bouts of destruction. You don’t know what to expect, except more destruction.

I approached cautiously, seeing the fences at the end of the street. The Bishops Inn was still there, and open, but it was on the edge of the war zone. Behind and below it there were gaps in the skyline where buildings had been brought down. Fences snaked either side, leading down to temporarily halted bulldozers and piles of snow-covered earth, concrete and other building debris.

Empty buildings sighed with neglect. Heating pumps had fallen off walls and were left swaying in the wind. There were holes in the sides of concrete buildings. Cracks marked lines of damage up and down, side to side. Some buildings looked almost normal, facing their future execution with brave bright faces, in denial of their future demise. I have an emotional investment in this town, and to see it removed, erased from view, is like having your memory wiped in front of you. What it must be like for people who have lived here all their lives is hard to imagine.

In these surroundings it was no surprise to see a couple of Swedish army officers strolling down the street in their combat gear. Peering round a corner I saw a sign for a bunker – Sweden has had these since the 1930s – and you think you might suddenly have to dive in one of them for shelter not from a falling bomb or chemical warfare, but from a falling building. You won’t of course – the mining company’s demolition of the town is slow and steady, and way ahead of any imminent danger.

NATO’s current Nordic 24 exercise is a fictional movement of army and equipment, planes and vehicles, around the far north of Scandinavia and Finland. They won’t have to use their imagination to picture Kiruna as a besieged, threatened, war-torn town.

The Omen

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Thu, March 07, 2024 19:50:20

An orange brown wingspan flew towards us and settled on a branch just behind where we were sitting. We were by a part of the river Kalix which never freezes completely. The sun was surprisingly warm for March, and so we were sitting on a log with our boots lodged in snow, eating our lunch. All we could hear was the whistling and twittering of nearby birds and the sound of water tumbling over ice cold rocks. The whistling was the orange brown bird we’d seen – a Siberian Jay, a Perisoreus Infaustus, the ‘unlucky’ jay. Thought to be a bad omen, apparently, where they were less commonly seen, but in more northern areas they were always considered to bring good fortune. We took them to be good omen in our case anyway.

There was a group of these birds around a feeder which is kept stocked with nuts by a local man who is keen on birds. A number of jays flew around and behind us, flitting to and from the feeder, apparently undisturbed by our presence. Unlike the more southern jay, the Siberian Jay, we discovered, is a confident, friendly bird.

I read that they inhabit a wide area of the world but always keep to the far northern hemisphere. That makes the sighting of one a uniquely northern experience. That’s what you want, really – a feeling of where you are in the world, a distinctness.

Where we were is a wide, open, restful sort of landscape, sparsely inhabited or visited, with soft-looking undulating mountains just visible in the distance. It’s only a short twenty minute drive from Kiruna but it feels like another world. Your attention can be held by a tiny patch of leaf in the snow, or a pattern of ice crystals reflecting pale coloured dots across the snow’s surface. The heartbeat slows, your breathing calms.

After an hour or so of breathing, and watching the jays, we returned to the car and the road to Kiruna, restored to ourselves. After a while a dark speck appeared above and ahead of us, and loomed larger and larger in the sky. Then suddenly it seemed to rush at us, its wingspan grey and metallic, becoming the larger and more threatening shape of a military jet, flying very low and close. It turned sharply east ahead of us to descend onto a nearby, generally unused, military airfield, and had disappeared in less than a minute.

Could it have been the rarely seen Jas 39 Gripen, a Swedish jet currently taking part in NATO’s exercise, Nordic Response 24? Its behaviour was remarkably confident but maybe a little shy, given its fast disappearance. Although a very local, distinct experience, it created a rather different feeling to our sighting of the Siberian Jay. This was the day before Sweden formally became a member of NATO, so whether the sighting of the Jas 39 was a good or a bad omen remains to be seen.


Here at 68 degrees Posted on Mon, March 04, 2024 16:51:43

Sometimes I wish I could fly like a bird, rather than with Scandinavian Airways. All those questions to answer, hurdles to leap over, liquids to get rid of – it’s exhausting passing through airports.

I was especially nervous this week arriving at passport control after my experiences last year. I’d had a lot of trouble getting a visa, and ended up trapped in the country because I’d overstayed my EU allowance but hadn’t yet been granted the visa. The dates on my passport showed the overstay, but not the visa, so I was expecting trouble.

Coming off a UK flight in Sweden is always passport chaos and this time the queues were several and especially long. I joined the most likely one (‘welcome to Sweden’ remarked a nearby Swedish traveller, with a degree of irony impressive in a Swede). The queues snaked forward slowly. When it became clear there were four queues with no customers, because all the EU passengers had already sailed through them, a security guard waved us over to the ‘EU citizens only’ desks. We descended on them ravenously and joined the end of the short queues. Finally reaching the desk I was told rather sharply that, as the sign over it said, this desk was for EU citizens only, couldn’t I read? No point in protesting, so I moved to another queue, but none of us knew which of them we unwelcome Brexiteers were allowed to be in. Observing progress at each of the desks we realised our queue was also a no-goer. We leapt over to a third queue where a new sign (‘all you stupid people who chose to leave the EU, plus other non-EU citizens’) had encouragingly appeared.

I was beginning to sweat a bit, wondering how this conversation would go. When I got to the front it began as usual with ‘and what is the purpose of your visit?’, which in my situation is like asking what the purpose of my life is. Why am I here? I knew they were expecting the reply ‘business’, or ‘for a holiday’, none of which applied. After an initial hesitation, I replied ‘a holiday’, but a quizzical tone had crept in to my reply. ‘You don’t sound very sure,’ she said. This signalled trouble. It had been a long day, and I needed to get through this last hurdle. The main thing was, what was she going to make of all those odd dates in my passport?

I decide to give her some supplementary information. I play the Swedish husband card, saying he sometimes lives here. ‘Sometimes?’, she replies. I had sunk further into the quagmire that is Swedish migration policy. I look at her hopefully. She frowns. ‘Sometimes?’, she repeats, ‘- and do you speak Swedish?’

I reply – perhaps a little too keenly, and firmly – ‘yes, I do’. Mm, and I say that in Swedish, hoping to impress. She is not impressed, she is amused. Now she’s a bloodhound on a trail. ‘Aha’, she says, glaring at me from behind the glass barrier, and then, in very fast Swedish, ‘and what will you be doing while you are here?’ I tell her, in Swedish, that we will be in Kiruna, and that life is bloody awful for us since Brexit. She looks me in the eye and says she can well imagine it is, and the reason she is letting me into the country is because I speak such very good Swedish.

Now, call me old fashioned, but I don’t think that’s a very good reason to be allowed into a country. It feels to me that it could be completely random what rules are applied at the border, or for a visa application. Next week it might be whether you wear glasses or not, the following week whether you can explain how the Swedish stock exchange works, and the next whether you can prove your usefulness to the country in some specific way – like spinning a cloak from a thousand yards of gold thread before daybreak. Anyway, forget all that, I’m in.

Unfortunately it’s only a temporary respite, because even though I have my luggage checked through to Kiruna, and will now be on an internal flight, I have to go through security all over again, declare my liquids and technological achievements, and have my rucksack rifled through for sharp objects or bombs. I get through that too, but when spat out the other end I am languishing back in the territory of no drinking water on my person and one more flight to undergo.

When I see there are no drinking fountains in this part of the terminal, do I give up and buy an extremely expensive, small bottle of diet Coke? I do not. I go to the unisex toilets, where a mixer tap delivers hot water, undrinkable. I look below the sink and identify two stop valves, and test which is the cold and which the hot. I turn off the hot water. Now there is drinking water in the tap. But can I get a small plastic bottle underneath it? I cannot. But I have come prepared. I have about my person an additional small bottle, less than 6cms high, with which I can decant water from the low tap into my drinking bottle, which I then fill.

When I walked out of that toilet I felt like an extremely resourceful person, indeed a very useful person, if Sweden ever wanted to know. The kind of person they should let through their borders, even if I didn’t speak Swedish. In fact, I felt like a crow observed in an experiment, that had flown there and used a twig to open a food box. Which made me wonder – might there have been CCTV in that cubicle?

A reason to mow

Here at 68 degrees Posted on Thu, July 13, 2023 22:55:14

Wildflowers and grasses tend to shoot up all at the same time this far north, creating rather delicately weavings of colour across open areas in town. Every year at this time it’s a bit sad to watch them slaughtered so quickly, in the local council’s keeness for suburban neatness.

However, this summer the council has suggested that Kiruna residents leave some areas of growth around their houses untrimmed, ‘for the birds and the bees’, and said that they will be doing the same.

I should be pleased about this, since I’m not keen on lawns, but I learnt early on in my time in Kiruna that the cutting of grasses in town has a purpose. We’re surrounded by unchecked nature, and in the summer there are huge swarms of biting insects almost everywhere you go. It can be hard to find anywhere you can relax from the fight. The variety of biting insects that can be found is an entomologist’s dream – there was a recent report that they’ve just found 50 new species of insect here, though not necessarily all biters. Anyway, the main thing is, we’re not short of insects. Every new stage of the season brings out another kind of biter or stinger, and they can drive you crazy, dive-bombing your face and neck in a relentless search for blood. Town is the only refuge from attack. Reindeer learnt this long ago, which is why they huddle in the middle of roads where insects are less likely to be.

Kiruna’s ‘No Mow July’ idea means more areas of tall green growth everywhere in town. Believe me, this we do not need. Kiruna residents know this, and will ignore the advice. However, the council have the excuse not to cut edges of land on streets, awkward bits, and small bits of land in town, and that’s probably rather convenient.

Which brings me to the next item on their Facebook page – invasive plants. Specifically, the ‘Tromsö Loka,’ a version of the Giant Hogweed. It seems that, this year at least, they are very concerned about it. Once it begins to spread it’s a problem for three reasons: it’s rampant and prevents other types of growth; it will grow very large; and not least, if someone comes in contact with the sap by brushing against it in the sun, then serious skin damage can be the result.

The council’s stated concern came as rather a surprise to us. A couple of years ago when we reported a spread of ’loka’ in our street it was very difficult to get the council to take the issue seriously. Someone came along to look at the problem, and then delicately picked a few flowerheads, as if for a home flower arrangement, which did nothing to tackle the problem. But this year we are all urged to fight it, cut it, and bag it in a double plastic wrapper.

The ‘Tromsö loka’ is alive and well in our street, thanks to the lack of any agreed strategy to deal with it. It’s mainly spread by car tyres brushing against the flowers and then depositing the seeds at their next stop. Local business ‘Office’ at one end of our street seems to be cultivating them for export, enabling their growth on all four sides of its building. Further up the road there are many more ‘loka’ peeking out of cracks and growing on small strips of lands in front of houses. The post van is the unknowing ‘super spreader’.

We’ve tried telling the council again, explaining again how ‘loka’ are spread and the need to tackle all the plants that are in the street, removing them where possible at root level. Someone came to the street last week and collected a few flowerheads again, leaving the rest of each plant to flower again in a week or two. They also left most of the virulent plants that haven’t yet flowered.

So we’ve given up any hope of a strategy or plan to stop their spread. All that can be done, it seems, is to try and keep the plants subdued where they appear – that is, cut down growth of all kinds along land on the street on a regular basis. It’s a very good reason to mow.

Next »