Scandi Travels – Part 2

  • Posted on: 15/03/2019

Captain Sven and the Joys of Baltic Air

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain Sven, once again, tall, handsome, bronzed and blond as ever. We are currently flying over some snowy bits and the temperature outside is very bracing. So I apologise for the draught. For those of you in premium class we hope you have been enjoying the complimentary sauna which is only available on Baltic Air. You will I hope have found Erik very efficient with the birch twigs. Those of you in the back will have enjoyed a little herring toastie  served by our Pippi Longstocking styled flight attendants and now have the opportunity to purchase a range of duty free products entirely made out of sustainable forest products. In a short while, when I see lots of silver birch trees and watery bits we will begin our descent into Arlanda Airport which is very close to Stockholm.

Meanwhile sit back and do have another drink as you won’t be able to afford one when we land. Especially, that is, if you have chosen to take the eye wateringly expensive fast train into the city.  I shall talk at you again, once we are on the ground, hopefully in one piece.  Thank you once again for choosing Baltic Air and one of our immersive, stereotypical travel experiences. Tag, as we say all the time in the Scandi Noir detective series.”

Wintry Scenes and Thoughts

Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox, Britain’s foremost theatrical knight, has been dozing as it is the only way to escape the incessant chatter of his key worker whose name he cannot remember.  It has some connection with wine, he knows that. Thankfully his fellow travellers the two cultural ladies “of the thrusting sort”, have blagged their way into the in-flight sauna experience by chatting up Erik, the senior flight attendant. Regrettably despite being physically on the same aircraft, spiritually he is  as they say “on a completely different  Boeing” from the ladies, who never the less make the most of their time by discussing bronzers with Erik, while he sprinkles water on the coals. Sebastian gazes out of the window and is entranced by the white landscape below.

He thinks of that leading Shakespearean writer William Shakespeare and how he really did not like winter, using it as a metaphor for sad times such as in Sonnet 97 with the first line “How like a winter hath my absence been…” Of course there is the line which Sebastian himself made famous in Richard III, when he says in Act 1 , Scene 1, “ Now is the winter of our discontent…”, which brought the house down at the Ayr Gaiety in the 1950s, well all 3 rows of the stalls anyway.

Sebastian wistfully also thinks about Shakespeare using winter to represent old age, and recalls the line from Henry VI Part III; Act 2 Scene 3, “I that did never weep, now melt with woe, that winter should cut off our spring time so.” He thinks briefly about his own mortality as Miss Soave, his key worker sprays his face with an expensive rehydrating fluid, which back in the day was called water with a slice of lemon. It will be added to next month’s account for the thespian at the Home for the Terminally Overdressed.

The seatbelt signs are switched on and the cabin crew prepare for landing. The aircraft cleverly painted on the outside to look like a Viking Longboat, begins it’s descent over miles of silver birch and a pale watery landscape.”  Sven has to concentrate as it is difficult to see over the carved dragon head on the nose cone.

Making an Entrance into Stockholm

The necessity for passengers to disembark and climb onto a bus for the terminal is met by cries of, “I’ll never travel with this lot again, can’t even afford a proper stance at the terminal, outrageous.”  A passenger from Paisley, still munching a sausage roll of the traditional kind, describes this as “puir dead devastating”, which of course most things from Paisley are. The cultural ladies Hilary Dee and Vivienne are worried about getting Sebastian down the steps of the aircraft in one piece and the key worker mutters about insurance.

Sebastian, however, who only has to see a SMEG fridgedoor open and he is on stage, rises to the occasion and the extra leg room seats have meant he is more mobile than usual. In the theatre he was famous for many things but chiefly his entrances, although his exit stage left “pursued by a bear “ in The Winter’s Tale, (a play which continues to be by Shakespearean dramatist William Shakespeare), is said to have been game changing when it came to drama teaching.

Now there is nothing a 1950s very theatrical person likes better than exiting an aircraft and entering a country by the traditional method, that is to say, through the fuselage door and by the steps. The steps at the front of the aircraft of course, one only uses the rear in extremis, or when on a Vintage BAC 1-11. 

Striking an Attitude in Stockholm

Sebastian waits until all the other passengers have disembarked and then steps out of the aircraft on to the first rung and strikes an attitude (made famous by David Garrick) of head, eyes and palms of the hand all held heaven wards as if overcome by his new surroundings. As luck would have it, news of his arrival has reached the members of the  Sveriges Nadigt Levande Samhalle, which translates as The Gracious Living Society of Sweden, established in 1959  by the King and Queen to mark the visit of Muriel and Jasper . Her Majesty, a sister of Louis Mountbatten declared the 1959 visit when Muriel adopted the “Sticky oot” Scandinavian chair leg, to be “ helt enkelt underbart”, or “simply marvellous.”

Like her brother, the Queen of Sweden used to be a Battenberg, which was a cake King George V did not care for so he changed the family name. This was quite a good move as the British were not very fond of their Royal family being connected with European confectionery products and trumped the whole thing by coming up with a truly patriotic dainty –  the Empire Biscuit. These days this motif of our glory days is often to be seen worn as a badge by hard Brexiteers, although female Brexiteers have been warned that wearing two on a fitted jacket might open the movement to ridicule.

Muriel and Jasper’s Visit is Remembered

The ladies of the SNLS (or Murielettes as they think of themselves) have gathered at the restaurant window of the terminal building, and wave to Sebastian with miniature Mackintosh squares as he disembarks. It is all reminiscent of the airport comings and goings of the Beatles, the Burtons or Marilyn Monroe in the 1960s. Sebastian revels in his welcome and drags out his descent for as long as possible, stopping to blow kisses and acknowledge his fans. It seems even longer than when he played Bottom playing Pyramus in Midsummer Night’s Dream, dragging out his death scene   The Culture Vultures feel upstaged and the key worker doesn’t notice as she is texting her friend Arcadia about a new nightclub in Watford they are planning to go to at the weekend. The ground staff convinced he must be Peter Haber’s (Beck, the detective to you) British cousin, show him into a car and drive him to the terminal while his companions squeeze aboard the bus.

Muriel and Jasper are Once Again on Trend

Inevitably there is confusion at Passport Control, as Sebastian awaits the arrival of Miss Sauternes with his passport. “British” shouts a border official?” “Well yes, Scottish if one wants to be pedantic” replies the celebrity. “Well the short fast moving queue is the one for you, no need to rush Sir, you still have a few days of membership left.”  Outside the lift to the train platform, the SNLS ladies have gathered to have Sebastian sign autographs.

A couple of bearded, chequered shirted, woolly hat wearing hipsters, representing ‘Crispbread and Micro Brewery Monthly’ ask for an interview. They are fascinated by stories of Muriel and Jasper and their interests in glass and hand printed textiles. They want to know what Aunt Muriel’s take would have been on falafel and rye bread and was Uncle Jasper’s monograph on the moss covered five bar rustic farm gate still in print. Sebastian plays to the gallery and the two cultural ladies look knowingly at one another their feelings that Muriel and Jasper epitomise the vintage vibe being confirmed with every scratch of lathe cut pencil on handmade paper.

A Modest Hotel near Strindberg’s House

The erstwhile curator and journalist have not been totally honest with Sebastian and are not staying in the Grand Hotel (how would that pass the Scrutiny Board), where Muriel met Garbo and Bergman. Instead they are staying in a pleasant three star hotel , in the residential district  around Tegnerlunden Park. He is, however, entranced by the light in every window of the apartments at night and the close proximity of the home of playwright August Strindberg. Sebastian once played the gloves and boots of the unseen count in Strindberg’s most famous play Miss Julie. He also directed the play which in an updated stripped back  1970’s version, was transposed from a Scandinavian kitchen on a country estate to a house in Bearsden with stripped pine kitchen  including reclaimed church pews and Laura Ashley ruched blinds with contrasting curtains , tie backs and ornamental Le Cruset.

At Home In an Up and Coming District

Like many artists Sebastian is taken with the concept of the North and the palette of light in Stockholm casts a spell on him; he is memorised by the patterns formed by the ice in the waters around the archipelago. Like his Uncle before him he is more than happy with the wholesome food of the country. While the elegance of the Ostermalm  and the story book houses on Gamla Stan appeal, Sebastian likes the more “authentic “ feel of the former working class Sodermalm district.

It is now becoming the most vibrant part of the city and has a more cutting edge element to it. Besides it provides the best view of Stockholm.  He quickly finds a bookshop which he knows would have appealed to Uncle Jasper and delights in the fact that the owner wraps every book in paper and twine before handing it to its buyer. There is something about paper and string and the smell of books.

The ABBA Museum – A Great Success

Much to his surprise and the delight of his companions Sebastian is most taken with the Abba Museum. Telling the story of what is arguably Sweden’s best export, the visitor is lead through the underground museum by a mixture of traditional museum set pieces and modern technology. The journey sheds light on the character relationships and the cultural impact of Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Anderson, Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad Their rise to fame is set against the Swedish Folk Scene of the 1960s and 70s and their individual stories and backgrounds.

The sets capture the flavour of the 1970s and the evening that Abba won Eurovision  with Waterloo is well told especially the opposition they faced from the traditional music scene. Sebastian was delighted to see film of his Aunt’s old friend Katie Boyle who for many years introduced the Eurovision Song Contest with her impeccable French and good manners. He engaged in many of the immersive activities, using the telephones from Ring Ring and bringing the instruments to life pictured in the reproduced studio via computer. What was clever about this was that is showed the non musician how layers of sound are built and how ABBA have a particularly dense sound. An invitation to audition as ABBA’s fifth member needed no prompting and the thespian used the stage and technology to full advantage.

At the same time he liked the more traditional object based presentations and was quite moved by the sight of the Eurovision Outfits and the stories of the costume makers. Never one to miss an opportunity to steal a scene Sebastian was more than visibly moved by the tales of the two couples’ divorces and wept openly at One of us is Crying and sobbed at The Winner takes it all. Once a crowd had gathered with tissues offered from every direction he broke down when he reached the kitchen set, through which a little girl could be seen leaving the house and going down the path to school and the sound track played Slipping through my Fingers.

The cultural companions couldn’t have been happier, things were going just as they planned, and their prey was almost hooked as he saw what could be done with cultural icons. “Do you realise Sir they have a hotel and restaurant as well? Just imagine a Muriel and Jasper themed museum, hotel, and fine dining experience. The public could damp dust and cook stovies with Mrs Travers.  Attend a hysterical society meeting with Uncle Jasper and follow the trail of their adventures in the world of espionage. Using avatars it would be possible to vote at the board meetings of the Home for Fallen Women, try on one of Lady Pentland-Firth’s corsets or actually shop at ‘Chez Nous’ for a nest of tables.

This could make the Museum of Scottish Things Scottish People are Interested In the museum of the year, every year. The possibilities for product placement are endless”, they purred. Not everyone was as enamoured with the experience. The key worker, who was recently “in charge of her own learning”, asked if this all took place in Victorian Times and anyway she was an Ed Sheeran fan.

Continuing to Court Sebastian with Tourism

Sebastian spent a fortune in the ABBA shop before being taken to see the Vasa, the 17th century ship, which sank soon after being launched and that his uncle had just missed seeing being raised from the sea bed in the early 1960s. It was an interesting sight; more than 90% intact. Although he did express his amazement that no one realised it was top heavy as this seemed rather obvious. He wondered if it was the reason why the Swedish people had adopted a more paired back ideal of design.

For several days the cultural ladies courted him and showed him the places that his aunt and uncle had been to including the National Museum, the department stores, the Royal Palace the cathedral and the Stadshuset, built in the 1920s. Just as when Muriel and Jasper were there they reached this landmark as darkenss was falling and the lights were coming on and the ice floated past on the water.

Meatballs Again

Soon it was time for suppa “I know lets have meatballs” said Sebastian with glee. Despite having had meat balls and mashed potatoes for four nights running , the ladies despite being on a low carb regime couldn’t object and anyway it was worth it. Sebastian had had a great time and  was in the palms of their hands and so they crowed was access to the funds he controlled in the Muriel and Jasper Wylie Trust.

However – You Cannot Outfox a Wylie Fox

As Sebastian tucked into his dessert he thought about the possibility of reviving Miss Julie at the Edinburgh Festival, he thought too about the ABBA Museum and what fun it was and how, if its principles were adapted to a Muriel and Jasper Museum it would certainly make the must see element of the new Scottish Museum of things Scottish People are interested in. Then he thought, well if it’s such a good idea why am I going to hand it over the memory of my Aunt and Uncle to those two chancers. I could after all do it myself.

Sir Sebastian

March 2019