My new world of work requires me to wear shoes. Shoes! And makeup. I need to wash my face and put on clothes before I start typing every day. Hair? That’s still a bit deranged but there’s only so much preening I can handle.
There are no more early morning strolls along the coast, boiling the kettle for that third cup of coffee, putting on the washing machine, checking emails, Facebook, Twitter, a couple of news websites and WordPress before typing my first sentence. Then stopping mid way to have another quick peek at Twitter. My walking boots, fleeces and down jackets are currently… resting. Read more
My mission this week involved driving 150 miles through some of Scotland’s most glorious scenery to interview salmon farmers on the far west coast. I’ve been deprived of snow all winter in my frost-free, east-coast cottage, removed from mountains and the spectacular raw wildness of the west. I jumped at the chance.
I saw snow alright, on the tortured hills of Glencoe, the mighty Buachaille Etive Mor guarding the entrance to the notorious narrow pass. Late afternoon sun broke through the snow clouds to create lighting effects that accentuated the drama – if that’s possible in such a place. I followed labouring lorries loaded with straw bales bound for livestock farmers on the islands. And I stopped to get close to ducks looking longingly for food.
And the work? A ride on a boat; questions about how salmon farmers handle protected predators like seals (scare them, deter them or shoot them). And finally a sea loch-side hotel and a sleep within hearing distance of the tide.
Chain links zig-zagged up, across and over the top of the rough cliff face, pristine steel glinting and signing the way. I tugged hard: the bolts didn’t budge. So no excuse.
“Suitable for children aged 9 and over,” the internet had reassured. But the sign low down on the path was less gung-ho: “Beware of being trapped by the incoming tide; of being struck by falling rocks and stones; and of falling from steep rock on hazardous coastal terrain.”
And this was just the short recce ahead of the full-scale birthday adventure planned for later in the month. So many thrills still in store. Eeeek.
… and hitch an effortless ride on the swings.
You’re never too old for a play park or climbing trees. Right?
The temperature in Sweden’s forests is sub zero, it’s slippery underfoot and thin ice is setting in swirling patterns on the lakes. There’s no scorching Meseta sun or cafe con leche around every corner and the paths are quiet and empty. Spain is thousands of miles away, yet the companionship of camino family and recalled memories of that pilgrimage to Santiago feels close.
Where next, yellow arrows?
A crown of candles on a white-gowned girl brightens Sweden’s darkest days of winter and celebrates the early Christian martyr, Santa Lucia.
It’s not difficult to understand that during a long Scandinavian winter, the notion of light overcoming darkness and the promise of returning sunlight has been welcomed for hundreds of years, and most likely in pagan times too.
Everyone in Sweden recognises 13 December as Santa Lucia day and listens to a Lucia and her attendants sing the customary song which describes how the Saint triumphed over the darkness and found light. Boys in white gowns carry little lanterns and wear tall paper cones on their heads and sometimes men dressed as chimney sweeps follow the procession, brushing away the darkness.
Lucia traditionally wears ‘light in her hair’, which is usually translated these days into a wreath of electric candles, but in one performance I watched a girl walking carefully while balancing the precarious ring of melting wax. Friends who have had the honour of being a Lucia describe the nightmare of removing melted wax from their long blonde hair for hours after their performance.
Other Lucia traditions include starting the day with rice porridge – sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon – and eating saffron buns and gingerbread. It’s a happy day, a great warm-up to Christmas, and I’m still humming the Lucia song two days later.
I’m living inside a candlelit Christmas fairytale on the outskirts of Stockholm, listening to carols, sipping mulled wine and absorbing the scents of cinnamon and cloves. If this is Christmas Hysteria (my friend Helen’s description of her “condition”), I’m happy to be infected!