Ah, Sweden, with its 21 sensible counties, letter A's with circles above them, and a King who looks exactly like the British actor Jim Broadbent.
I returned from Stockholm last night having attended my 59th wedding this year, my mate Rob having married his Swedish missus Karin. It was a beautiful wedding, my first religious one of recent times and my first non-Jewish one, held in a medieval church in Torsång.
We had spent the majority of the trip in neighbouring Falun (population: 50,000, a disconcerting amount of Fifties Buicks and Cadillacs, and two mass-murderers). Despite being roughly level with Anchorage in Alaska, more northerly than Moscow and on par with the Shetland Islands off the Scottish coast, it was fucking boiling, what with us being there during a rare Scandinavian heatwave.
The Swedish countryside reminded me of that corner of North America where the Amish live (who admittedly are Swiss); very flat and green, with big red barns and lots of trees. That's the best I can do, I'm afraid. So I'll also add lakes, lots and lots of lakes, and very polite people who all speak English. In fact, I'll quantify that. I had a 100% success rate in every Swede I spoke to; not a single one of them couldn't understand me, and we're talking restaurant staff, cabbies, the kids in McDonalds (I'd like to apologise in advance for going there), the girl who worked in a petrol station, random members of the public who spoke to me in Swedish only for me to say "Sorry?" whereupon they switched languages effortlessly, and the wedding guests who all spoke English as if Swedish was a private language they only spoke when we weren't around.
Which I guess it kinda is.
Once again I was left with that appalling sense of low self-esteem you get from realising you're monolingual when everyone else isn't. I only managed to learn 'Tack' (Thank you), and 'Fan', which defies definition; somewhere between 'Shit' and 'Dammit'.
We arrived in Falun on Thursday following a 2.5 hour train journey (I still don't know what Stockholm looks like, barring Arlanda airport - which is as London as Stanstead) and first encountered painful Swedish prices. Admittedly we were on a train, but three beers cost me £13.50/ 27.00 Dollars (US & Canadian)/ and 501 billion Zimbabwe dollars (and increasing - sad but true). My travelling companions and I made it to our hotel where another couple had arrived, and we all headed off for a bite to eat. It was there that I made some observations;
Sweden is no more blonde than anywhere else.
People who didn't quite look East Anglian/ Anglo Saxon seemed quite Nordic instead. Obviously.
They like tattoos.
Women still won't sleep with me.
The sky was still refreshingly blue as the clock nudged towards 11pm so we headed to the lake where Ali, the best man, phoned us repeatedly as he sat with Rob's side of the family. It was dark by the time we arrived, which meant the sky had gone navy and there seemed to be a perpetual sunset just over the horizon. This was about midnight. When we returned from the late night cafe an hour or two and a remortgage your house couple of beers later, the sun was beginning to rise, and from a point only slightly more easterly than where it had set. East and west were narrowing.
More people turned up on Friday - the day before the wedding - and the hotel was beginning to fill with northern English folk who sounded like Rob. I'd spotted a gym at this point and ran in to wail on my pecs and go for a swim. Regrettably, I'd only spent 5 minutes on a treadmill when I headed out for some reception area water and got spotted by Karin, the bride. It was regrettable because I smelt like a tramp in midsummer and was sweating profusely. I hugged her anyway which seemed to repel her, and said hello to her cute friend who then disappeared into the lifts - she was a guest in the hotel too and I was left with the impression that she may be single.
This was looking good. My ladyfriend Sabina was to be my wing woman that weekend, as I'd read in Wednesday's Londonlite about ladies you can hire for the princely sum of £38 p/hour to accompany sad, pathetic men (i.e. me) around bars so you don't look like all women hate you. They then approach women on your behalf and do the adult equivalent of "My mate fancies you" - except you've paid for them to be your mate.
At last, someone was fighting my corner.
After a swim and a sauna, I had to fight through a sea of people in reception I knew, or half knew, or had been on Rob's stag with and couldn't really talk to because I had just come out of a sauna and looked like I was sweating out my internal organs.
We went into town and bought booze. The Swedish can't buy anything higher than 3.5% alcohol in shops and supermarkets, and the good stuff was only available in state off-licences that close early so we'd gone there and bought enough for a small rave; Falcon beer, raspberry sambuca, red wine, and some local Swedish whiskey that only I seemed to like. We downed as much as we could like teenagers, and headed out to eat and pay about £5 for beer that is actually smaller than a pint.
I was in trouble by the time we were sat chainsmoking in an outdoor restaurant as I had lost all sense of caring and was throwing money at the bar as if I was John Paul Getty III. Sabina and I traversed the area to scope for women but we just looked obvious. I ran ahead like a panting dog while Sabina caught up and pointed directly into women's faces yelling "What about her?" which, trust me, doesn't work.
I was grateful to return to my room at the end of the evening. I managed to get up for breakfast (a selection of cheeses and as much non-kosher meat as I could fit on my plate) and was clearly still hammered. I then decided to go to bed til the afternoon.
I woke up at 2pm and got ready. I began sweating liberally in my beige suit, not helped by the fact that it fitted me like a pair of lycra cycling shorts on Jack Black, and got on a coach to the Church. I was in a Catch 22. I wanted to take my jacket off because it was so hot, but I couldn't because my shirt looked like I'd been swimming in it. So we sat in the church in a Scandinavian country that doesn't do air conditioning. Rob and Karin turned up together and walked down the aisle. I took a picture (Rob had obscured Karin completely and he was barely visible anyway). They approached the vicar who conducted the ceremony in two languages while I tried to avoid eye contact with Jesus who was nailed up on a nearby wall. Technically that was my fault.
Rob and Karin were married in minutes and they walked out of the church as Man and Wife. (I took another picture, this time of Rob's back.) Once outside, we boarded a boat which took us an hour up Lake Runn, along a stunning stretch of water bordered on all sides by lush Swedish countryside. I ruined a tranquil journey by chatting to Welsh Nick and mentioning the Holocaust, and although I wasn't able to have a chat with the beautiful bride at any point, I did manage to get her attention so I could hand her my empty beer bottle for her to put on a nearby table.
The reception was fantastic, although the English contingent seemed keen for more beer more frequently, and I chatted to Robban, and Petra with amazing blue eyes, and her boyfriend Johann - or Joaquim; I couldn't get the pronunciation right. I told him he looks like Adam Sandler which didn't go down particularly well, although he turned out to be charming. The menu contained little biographies of all the guests and Rob had written that I keep this blog. The others then asked for details and I panicked slightly, as it's full of every embarrassing thing I've ever done, the drugs I've taken, and the women I've repelled. They asked for a sample story and all I could think of was the time I went to New York and masturbated on a couch. I think I felt honour bound to say something, but I probably should've chosen something else.
Things got worse. I walked over to chat to the cute blonde friend of Karin's I'd met the day before. I couldn't quite think of anything to say and, for some unknown reason, decided to tell her that we'd soon be wearing our ties on our heads like Rambo, something I've never even done as it's idiotic but had decided to anyway. I began loosening my tie and wrenching it upwards when Sabina, my supposed wing woman, screamed out 'Fweng, NOO!.' I wasn't even drunk. I complained bitterly that I wasn't doing anything wrong and continued to pull my tie up to my head while Sabina continued yelling. It was only later that I realised I'd turned into a concussed Basil Fawlty about to do a Hitler impression in front of the Germans.
Unsurprisingly, the blonde walked off. All I had to do was put in a bit more work, not wear my tie on my head, and maybe something would happen. It did, about ten minutes later. Rob walked past and said 'Matt's in with the blonde.'
Matt is a friend of the groom, also single, also keen to pull, and blessed with the ability to not want to put a tie on his head. Matt clung to her like glue for the rest of the evening, and when I tried throwing some shapes on the dance floor and edging slowly in her direction, I realised I was too sweaty to try anything so I walked out into the cool night air to get bitten by mosquitoes instead.
My wing woman yelled at me later, real vitriolic abuse that I'm a complete twat, which compelled me to remind her that I probably don't need to hear that and besides, I know.
Matt and the blonde disappeared and that was that. By the time we got back to our hotel, I realised I'd lost my camera again. This would be the replacement camera I bought three weeks ago after I'd lost my first (brand new) one at Luke and Sabina's wedding. Words cannot possibly convey how utterly useless and pathetic I felt.
(I did get the camera back after calling the cab company - the driver returned to hand it back because the Swedish are ruthlessly decent and honest people. Getting it back does ruin the tragedy of this post somewhat, but it doesn't detract from the fact that for an hour after I realised I no longer had my camera, I wanted to stick my head into an oven.)
Nick and I were the last to go to bed. We locked ourselves in my room and chainsmoked, drinking all the booze we had remaining from the off-licence. In a matter of hours, I'd be on a train going back to the airport.
Cons: I can't get laid there. (See also: every other country on earth.) Beer and food is extortionate. Seems very quiet and uncrowded.
Pros: What seems, to me, like a really hot country. Thoroughly decent, friendly people. Rob married Karin there. No litter. Cats will miaow for you in English if you can't understand them.