• What’s your storm name?

    (Photo by Gatis Vilaks)

    Mine’s Storm Caleb. That’s if the rule is Storm followed by the name of your first pet. Otherwise it’s Storm Eileen. That’s if the rule is Storm followed by the name of your maternal grandmother. But enough of this frivolity…

    I live in windy city. Malmö, on the southern tip of Sweden, is so windy it ought to have Chicago’s nickname, but has clearly been windy for so long, no one really bothers to mention it anymore. 

    With Storm Ciara coming through, followed apparently by Storm Dennis this weekend, it’s taking ‘windy’ to the next level. 

    Let’s be Swedish about this

    Obviously, as new Swedish residents, we chose to avoid car-shame and head straight out to buy secondhand bicycles. Let’s take back the planet, one revolution of the pedal at a time!

    We have moved into an apartment on the very westerly tip of a peninsula sticking out into the Oresund Strait, a tip of land that locals pointed out wasn’t there 10 years ago. It’s meant to be sea, and the wind thinks so, too. 

    Time for some turbo

    So of course, we did what every new arrival does in February after their first Swedish winter. We said screw riding into a force 8 gale and bought an electric-powered cargo bike to carry our son to preschool, like any self-respecting Swede. 

    This is – remember – one of the world’s great bike cities. It’s right up there with Copenhagen, only you’ve never heard of it. Cycle highways galore, loads of cute traffic lights for bikes, the works… But in the winter?

    No. In the winter, Swedes lock themselves inside their very well-insulated apartments. That’s unless they go into their underground car park to take their Volvo SUV for a spin. Hey, wait, Volvo SUV? But Greta said…

    So there I was…

    Working my key into the automatic garage door operator after a grueling cargo bike mission across town with my son, only for the door to rise on a pair of Volvo SUV headlamps. I back up the ramp in ungainly fashion. 

    The Volvo purrs up the ramp and two middle-aged Swedes view me from their car seats, expressionless. What are they thinking? Look at that curious man on that contraption! In this weather! Hahahahaha

    I don’t think Swedes name storms. Storm Ciara just belted through, but I think Sweden probably just called it ‘a storm’.

    What else have I learnt about here? Hot Dogs, with added Swedishness

  • Britain isn’t what it used to be

    Terraced streets in small-town England
    Where have all the children gone?

    A few weeks ago, something extraordinary began happening on my street — a standard issue redbrick Victorian terraced street in a provincial English town. Children started playing among the crowded parked cars. Where there had been only silence interrupted by the occasional revved engine, suddenly there were children’s voices. But they weren’t speaking English.

    The fruits of immigration

    The lament is a common one — not only among my more elderly English neighbours, but across the country. I’ve heard that the street isn’t what it used to be, presumably meaning that the people have changed, since the bricks and mortar certainly haven’t. I’ve also heard the dreamy reminiscence of when children used to be able to play in the street.

    Not anymore. Fear — of traffic, of strangers, of the generalised paedophilic threat — has emptied the street of most kids. But here were a whole host of kids — from late teenage right down to little nippers not much older than my son — riding every wheeled contraption they could find in and out of the parked cars. It was like the 1940s come back to life and put through a prism.

    “Listen to the cosmic laughter in the wind” Robert Newman, circa 1990s

    There is a beautiful irony to the fact that a street in this staunchly Brexit region has had a little slice of yesterday’s Britain resuscitated for it courtesy of its new immigrant arrivals. I don’t suppose it’ll stop the grumbles, but it can’t help make you smile. My son — still just too toddler to join in — thinks it’s the most exciting street entertainment he’s ever seen. Better than telly.