Overnight snowfall

This morning, I was upstairs going through my normal exercise routine when I stood up to do some leg stretches. I leant forward against the window sill. It was the first time I’d really looked outside. There had been some snow.

And the snow continued through the day. Light but persistent. And the temperature never rose above zero so the snow remained.

Before sunset, we went for a walk around the neighbourhood, passing gardens with giggling children sliding down shallow slopes next to carrot nosed snow figures. It was about as idyllic as one could get.

Okay, I realise there’s lots of people who hate the snow but, aside from the obvious problems, everything looks beautiful. And the kids just love it.

In a strange twist of coincidence, the dryer at Farnham died. I ordered a new one to arrive on Saturday. Then, as if in some sort of mass dryer suicide pact, the new one here stopped turning. I feel like it’s a Dryer-mageddon!

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen…I managed to make the cod and chorizo parcels tonight. And, according to Mirinda, it tasted better than before. I agreed.

I think it was the quality of the fish and the very tasty chorizo sausage.

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Remote hugging

There was a light fall of snow this morning. Rather than blanketing everything, it was more like a fitted sheet. A sheet which not only served to make the world look clean and white but also made walking down to the bus stop a bit of a slip hazard. I know, I slipped over in the car park and had a wet butt for a while.

I noticed that the weather (it stayed below zero all day) didn’t deter the determined Swedes. I walked by many groups, just walking around the streets, taking in the air and generally enjoying the outdoors.

While I waited for the bus, I noticed two couples meeting in the car park. They were obviously meeting for a collective walk. They had all the gear, the men wearing black, the women in red jackets.

I heard faint shouts of welcome as they approached each other. Then the two women hugged themselves, shaking from side to side, stopping about two metres from each other. They were clearly giving each other a Plague hug. The men bumped elbows. The four of them then set off for their walk.

I went to Tyresö Centrum today for the shopping. The place was unusually quiet. I was somewhat surprised until I reached the System (for necessary aquavit and beer). Then I realised why the place was quiet. The shop was dark, the door was barred, it was closed. My mouth gaped, I sank down onto a handy bench.

Today is Epiphany, the 13th day since Christmas and, here in Sweden, a public holiday. And, on a public holiday in Sweden, you cannot buy alcohol. So, the System is shut up tight. Of course, I hadn’t realised and so the fridge remained dry.

The other thing that happens on Epiphany is the appearance of another type of bun – so many things in Sweden are celebrated with different types of bun. This one is the semla bun.

We had to try one. It is, after all, very important to fit in with the traditions of one’s adopted country. The two above were from Norrby’s.

The bottom and little top are of the usual bun mix, the cream is lightly sweetened and in the middle is a blob of something that resembled a particularly rich peanut butter. After eating mine, I had an epiphany of my own. The semla bun is the first Swedish bun I haven’t liked. It was far too rich for my delicate palate.

(I have since discovered that the filling is generally almond paste. The one we had at Norrby’s had peanuts in it and did not taste like any almond paste I’ve ever made.)

At first, Mirinda suggested that it was good the semla was only available once a year but, later, when we decided we didn’t need dinner, she said having had one once, we need never have one again. I would have drunk to that but the System had been closed.

Bloody Epiphany!

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I discovered lots of nails

Today marked our 80th day in Sweden. This is the longest we’ve been anywhere except for Australia and England. Though, if you add up all the separate days we’ve spent in France over the years, it adds up to 217. So we have a fair bit to go.

It didn’t snow today, regardless of the Mirinda Phone Forecast. Mind you, the temperature didn’t manage to get above zero so there was still a light dusting in most places. Not in the immediate vicinity of the house though. It must be a tiny heat island.

Not that I experienced a lot of outside today. I spent most of the day test driving the new dryer (see yesterday) and generally cleaning the house.

One thing that has amazed me is the wood burner in the house. It’s tricky to light and even trickier to empty. Today, though, I managed to get right into it, one gloved hand scraping the bottom. There, I discovered, a lot of nails.

I can only imagine someone burned wood with nails in it. I can’t see why anyone would put nails in a fire. Though, the fire has quite a narrow opening, so the wood with the nails must have been quite small.

The nails had to go because, as I removed the old ashes (there was a lot) the nails dropped down into the cleaning slot at the bottom, stopping the ash drawer from closing.

All very mysterious but now, thankfully, they have all gone. And the fire should light and heat a lot more efficiently. Job done.

I did manage to go outside for a bit. Emma insisted I take her out the back and throw a stick for her.

She didn’t want to stop, but, after almost an hour, I had to because I was getting chilly. Freya, of course, joined us outside, but she, like me, started feeling the cold and jumped onto my lap and buried herself in my fleece for warmth.

Not that she started there. Freya is very inquisitive. She spent quite a while watching a guy next door and his truck. The guy had reversed the truck onto the road and sat, engine running, doing nothing. She decided to sit and watch until he did something. She sat for a while. Eventually, he turned the engine off.

Mirinda, of course, managed to get out and about. She took the girls for an early walk then went up to the café to work. In the afternoon she took them for another walk while making work phone calls.

In wrist news, Mirinda’s is still very sore. I’m going to research getting a separate keyboard for her Mac to see if that helps.

I have only just realised that laptops have keyboards that lay flat. Back in the desktop computer days, keyboards had little legs at the back which meant you typed at an angle. When typing, wrists should be in a neutral position which is not achieved when the keyboard is flat. I think I need to get a keyboard slope.

Being her right hand, makes normal, every day tasks, quite a trial. Hopefully things will improve soon.

A bright spot of the day was having an intermittent but jolly WhatsApp chat with Nicktor. It was almost like he was here.

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Express dryer delivery

It snowed today and the temperature was below zero. This means it sticks around. Mind you, there wasn’t a lot of snow. Just flurries and little flakes on the breeze. Still, the world looked lovely if somewhat chilly.

According to Mirinda’s phone, we may have snow all week. According to my phone, we won’t. We shall see.

I went out in it twice today. Being Monday means shopping at Trollbäckens centrum so I set off with my trolley, caught a bus then wandered around Hem Kop for essentials. Shopping thrice a week suits me so much better than a big shop every Sunday. I can easily choose food for two or three days. It’s even easier when we eat out for one of them.

And, in the interests of sausage equality, following the chipolatas last week, tonight we had sausages of a different size. They looked a bit frankfurter but tasted more bratwurst.

When I returned home, I decided I needed to head out again. Mirinda has been saying her right wrist and arm are aching. The arm is possibly a trapped nerve but the wrist sounds a bit RSI-ish. This is possibly from throwing a rank moose head for Emma.

Not a real moose head, I hasten to add. It came off a soft throw toy we bought her. She loves searching for it then returning it to Mirinda to be thrown again. And again. The repetition may have triggered some sort of strain in her wrist.

Anyway, I figured a wrist strap would help manage it and figured the best place to find one would be Tyresö Centrum. And, I was right. Okay, not at the chemist where I thought there would be one but at the sports store.

Hopefully it’ll help. Something else that should help is the bottle of Swedish gin I bought her. If nothing else, the bottle is very sleek and sexy. Very minimalist.

The rest of the day was spent doing housework. Except for when Camilla came over with a couple of Polish chaps. They were here to replace the clothes dryer.

On Saturday, the old dryer died. On Sunday, Mirinda texted Camilla. On Sunday evening, Anders came over to discuss it. This afternoon, at around 4:30, a new one arrived.

That is ridiculously efficient and remarkably generous. I don’t know where in the UK you could get that sort of service. Well, unless you went and bought one off the shelf and installed it yourself, I guess.

Anyway, before we knew it, we had a new dryer. And, coincidentally, it’s the same as the one we had at Yngsjö. Which is handy because there’s no instructions. Now, I just need to remember a few Swedish laundry words…

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Neolithic fishing spot

There’s a small hill in Tyresö Slott. I don’t know if it was formed naturally or part of the English Park design. Mirinda calls it The Knowle. This morning we discovered that it already had a name. It’s called Flora’s Hill.

The trees around the edge of the hill are linden trees. In the past they were pruned every year. I can only assume that this means they are no longer pruned every year. As you peer between the trees, you are presented with a sense of space as the Park spreads out below you. Flora’s Hill gives a view down to Notholmen Island.

The little pedestal used to have an urn on it. I don’t know what happened to it. Maybe they take it in during the winter months.

The café was very busy today. I figured it was because today was the last Sunday of the Christmas break and families were making the most of it. The weather had been reasonable so that probably helped. Mind you, here in Sweden, the weather doesn’t seem to affect anyone adversely. As people say “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.

This was particularly apparent when we returned to Max. The car park was almost full, with people arriving for a jolly walk around the park. Then the sleety snow started falling, whipped about by a quite cutting wind. It made no difference to anyone in the car park. Or the people we saw walking along the roads. Or the thousands of cars parked along the road to Vissvass who were clearly out for a forest romp.

Incidentally, Vissvass was once a small settlement in the Middle Ages. It was a fishing spot in the Neolithic period. These days, there is a boat shed and a sizeable marina. In the winter it’s largely empty, but I reckon it must be teeming with sailor types in summer.

We’d discovered Vissvass at the end of a long drive before heading home. We also discovered that a blue sign with a white M on it indicates a passing place on a narrow road.

Speaking of the hardy Swedes, I noticed this family huddled around the B&B on Notholmen. I don’t think they were staying there, just having brunch like us.

This is despite the fact that the café is cosy and warm inside. The Swedish people must have a pretty powerful immune system. They are also very, very hardy.

We had a visit from Anders late in the day. The dryer in the house had carked it, and he came over to check it out. He, basically, said the last rites over it before telling us all about the neighbourhood. And the changes in the weather.

He remembers, as a young man, driving down to the forest, putting on his skies and cross country’ing through the trees under sparkling winter starlight. The snow would be very deep, the night bright with the whiteness. It all sounded wonderful.

He also told us about a house just along the road which a man left to his two sons. The brothers had a quite serious falling out. They built a wall in the middle of the house and divided the plot in two. The boundary line of the plot now goes straight through the house.

You’d think if you disliked someone that much, you’d move rather than put up a wall. But then, there’d be no story.

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Perfectly splendid

I went shopping in mini-blizzards today. I was hauling my trolley down to the bus stop when it started, covering me in snow while the wind whipped around me. As I sat, wet and dripping on the bus, the blizzard stopped. Then, on the way home from the bus stop, it started again, reducing visibility (a bit) and getting me all wet again.

Of course, I didn’t mind. My wind-proof, water-proof raincoat works very well as far as my t-shirts are concerned and wearing thin tracksuit pants under my jeans kept my legs warm and dry. Apart from my clothing, it wasn’t that cold. Just wet.

As the above photo shows, it wasn’t cold enough for the snow to settle. Though the wind chill was…well, pretty chilly. And the temperature dropped to below zero when we went out to dinner. Which meant some slower than normal driving by Mirinda in order to avoid the ice.

Tonight, we decided to go to Toscanini’s again. I wanted to go to Spiv and Vin, but they are closed until next week. Mirinda found a supposed tapas place, but we decided to save that for later. And, as it turned out, our meals at Toscanini’s were excellent.

Interestingly, our waitress had an intriguing tattoo on her neck. As I described it to Mirinda who didn’t have her glasses on, it resembled flood depth markings.

Not an actual photo of her neck

She found out we were Australian and asked if we were from Sydney. She told us she was going to Sydney next November and was excited. Hopefully, Australia will be open by then. Though it might be virus ravaged by then.

The meal was, as the waitress said, “Perfectly splendid!” in her flawless English. In particular my tiramisu was divine. Moist and not too sweet, exactly as tiramisu should be. It went down especially well with a glass of Limoncello.

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A memory of chipolatas

When I look back on the first day of 2021, I’m sure I’ll want to know what I did to welcome in the new year. I’m sure the expectation of a glorious day spent indulging in all sorts of pleasurable activities will be uppermost in my mind. I’m sure the day would have been full of joy.

Well, I’m sorry to disappoint myself. For the first day of 2021, I ploughed my way through a mountain of laundry which continued to grow after Mirinda returned from a two hour, mud ridden walk in the forest.

I guess there is a joy in the decimation of a pile of dirty clothes and the arrangement of clean ones but, like a lot of household things, the pile is never long invisible. By the end of the day, it begins to grow again.

The above makes it sound like I didn’t leave the house. I almost didn’t.

I thought Mirinda would be a bit exhausted after her watery traipse along the waterfall tracks of the forest. So, I was a bit surprised when she suggested we take our usual constitutional before dinner.

It felt good to get out, even if it was only around the block.

Back at home, of course, I then made dinner – a pork steak bake thing with some crunchy kale. Tasty but not a patch on the chipolatas that Joseph gave us on Wednesday and which we had last night. A dozen of them.

Very gamey and, I think, full of wild boar. They were delicious. I like to think he hunted, killed, prepared, minced and stuffed the sausage skins himself. I know he made them, but I’m not sure if he shot the actual pig.

The memory of the chipolatas conjures up the memory of the meal we had at The Hairy Pig on Wednesday. It was rather remiss of me not to include details of my main meal. So, of course, I’ll do so now.

I had the Hairy Pig Board which included, wild boar sausage in a brioche bun with truffle mayo dressing, wild boar meatballs and peppercorn sauce, and a reindeer taco. And this is what it looked like:

Bloody brilliant.

But, enough writing about the delights of last Wednesday and back to the laundry. It just never ends.

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Fearless when it comes to fireworks

I heard on the radio this morning that officials in Sydney had decided that the annual fireworks would be scaled down from twelve to seven minutes. There were also lots of restrictions in place for groups or people around the harbour or just entering the Sydney CBD. What I don’t understand is how five minutes could make any difference to a virus.

Meanwhile, here on the outskirts of Stockholm, the fireworks started at around 6pm and finished at midnight. We had an almost continuous run of bangs and wallops and sparkling crackles. I’ve never experienced the like.

Poor Emma was very upset. She didn’t like any of it. She refused to join Mirinda upstairs and, instead, watched me clean the kitchen after dinner. When I went to bed, she joined us but was restless.

When midnight came around, it was like all of Odin’s hordes had been released from Valhalla to visit hell on earth. And our little house was in the centre of it all. It was an interesting exclamation mark to the day.

Finally, Emma settled down, and we could all sleep. Freya slept through it all. She might be small, but she’s fearless when it comes to fireworks.

The day had been lovely. Having shopped at Tyresö Centrum, I joined the family as we all climbed into Max and headed for the port town of Nynäshamns. It’s a town where the ugly buildings of the 20th century outnumber any attractive earlier architecture. Here’s two of the pretty ones.

In saying the above, the town did have a lot of pluses. It’s on the Baltic which means there’s a lot of ship activity in the harbour – boats to Gotland and Gdańsk and room for squillions of pleasure craft. A sizeable Espresso House which was warm, comfortable and welcoming to the girls. As well as us.

This was in direct contrast to the big, beacon of a church where dogs are far from welcome. In fact, the big, looming pink building is marked by only one sign. It states, emphatically, that dogs are not welcome.

Actually, that is not strictly true. There is another sign. A big chi ro above the back door which, as we all know, indicates that a Greek scholar has marked the church as particularly relevant.

Not that it was open to us either. Though it was supposed to be. I guess god was off celebrating new year’s early. Possibly conjuring up something even more horrific for humanity during 2021, given how much fun he had this year.

We walked around the high street, noticing how busy the System was. This was identical to the action in the System at Tyresö earlier where swarms of customers were stocking up in order to welcome in the new year…or bid farewell to the horror of 2020.

Back at the car, we headed down to the sea at Lövhagen, where, in the last rays of the sun, we tried to make out the edge of Gotland.

Actually, you can’t see Gotland from here. It’s three hours south by ferry. And it’s a ferry we want to take. One day.

Back at home we had a wonderful surprise waiting for us in our letter box. The timing couldn’t have been better.

At this point, they can take as long as they like.

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History of democracy in eight windows

I wonder what the odds are of going into a restaurant on Gamla Stan and, on talking to the owner, discovering that he not only knows Farnham well but grew up in Haslemere and Alton? Of finding out that he knows Chawton very well and went rabbit shooting with his father at Hankley when he was but a lad? Because that’s what happened to us today.

The girls having finished their seasons, we asked if The Perfect Swedish Family could take them today, so we could head into Stockholm. Sara and Tommy were more than happy to take them, so we planned to spend the day on Gamla Stan.

I’d been looking for a tapas restaurant where we could possibly have linner but then discovered the amazing Hairy Pig. We decided this was the place for us. But that was a long way off.

We set off on the first of our four buses today, changing from the 840 to the 801 at Hellasgården, which then dropped us at Slussen. Naturally, feeling like a local, Mirinda complained about the state of Slussen as we headed for the bridge that led to the much more preferable old town.

Of course, our first stop was a wonderful café where the pistachio cannolis were amazing. Obviously I had to have one. They didn’t serve Swedish buns but had quite a few cannoli. And I’m a sucker for cannoli.

The café was excellent but had a rather odd toilet arrangement. The woman behind the counter seemed to control the door of the toilet with some sort of remote locking device. This meant that anyone wanting to use the loo had to ask her to unlock it first. This was awkward enough but was made much more so by her frequent disappearances.

This meant that people were visiting the toilet then holding the door open for their companions. I watched the toilet door ballet from my seat and made sure I was ready at the door when my turn came around.

Another odd thing about the café was that everyone was speaking English. All with different accents but English just the same. We assumed it was because the café was the first place we found when entering Gamla Stan from Slussen so figured we were surrounded by tourists who had done the same thing.

The square just outside the café was where we saw the greatest concentration of masks. Outside. I guess the virus prefers the outside because people were taking them off when they went inside. Well, apart from the big guy who I almost ran into coming out of the toilet. He stood there in a big black mask holding onto the door. I thought he was going to rob me but, in fact, he just thought I was diseased.

When he returned to his seat, he took the mask off because the virus doesn’t attack people sitting down.

Refreshed and fortified, we headed into Gamla Stan, along the high street, lined either side with non-tacky souvenir shops, pizzerias and the most amazing science fiction/fantasy bookshop on the planet.

Alex told us later that there’s another branch in Gothenburg and a third in Malmö. She and Tommy raved about it, and rightly so. Fortunately, I was wearing my Walking Dead t-shirt today so was instantly accepted into the shopping community. Their website is here.

We also popped into a wonderful little shop full of carvings and small figurines which captured Mirinda’s attention. The shop also sold tea towels with patterns based on the wallpaper of a Swedish UNESCO site.

Something else that captured Mirinda’s attention was an antiques shop which had quite a few miniatures for her to inspect, dissect and enquire about before buying one. She told me the story of the miniature selection later and how the one she instantly felt attracted to was the most expensive but the one she bought, because it had a more attractive history was among the cheapest. This is quite a rare occurence.

Finally, we entered Stockholm cathedral or Storkyrkan, one of the oldest buildings in the city and one of the few things open at the moment.

The cathedral is an amazing place. Big, bright, open and not oppressive at all unlike so many others we’ve visited. The altar, for a start, rather than being garishly golden is in silver and ebony and a joy to stand before. In fact, the whole place felt warm and welcoming. Even the vicar/priest/minister (I don’t know what they’re called in the Church of Sweden) smiled and said hej, hej when I walked by, ignoring the big sign that demanded SILENCE.

The cathedral (it was just a church before 1942) was, it is thought, ordered by the founder of Stockholm, Birger Jarl. It was built on the highest point of what was then called Stadsholmen. The first written mention of it dates from 1279 and the oldest bricks still extant are from around 1300. The exterior of the church was rebuilt in the 18th century to match the pure ugliness of the Baroque palace next door. Not that you can see a lot of the exterior because it’s covered in scaffold at the moment.

The interior, however, is far from ugly. It is filled with beauty and warmth.

Apart from the amazing statue of St George and the Dragon, the ridiculously ornate royal pews and the somewhat OTT grave of Jesper Mattson Cruus of Edeby and his family, there was also the delightful story of Lasse Skytte.

His effigy has no nose. His wife, lying next to him does have a nose. The story goes something like this:

He started off taking over a mayorship from his father (I’m amazed that you were able to inherit civil appointments in the 16th century) before coming to Stockholm and becoming a lawyer then helping the king with some policy documents. For this he was knighted and became extremely wealthy and influential.

Fast forward to his death and the reading of his will.

Lasse was a generous philanthropist when it came to the poor of Stockholm. He left everything to them, leaving his rather disappointed relatives, bugger all. They tried to have the will overturned but old Lasse hadn’t been knighted for nothing; he was one hell of a lawyer. The will was ironclad and unbreakable.

The final retaliation was for the annoyed family members to take the nose off his effigy. The reason for this rather odd act was because they believed that the soul left the body through the nose, and they felt that this symbolic act would keep his soul on earth rather than in heaven. I guess it’s a good job the soul doesn’t leave the body through the anus. Not that Lasse would smell anything.

The cathedral was amazing, and I’m not just saying that because it was the only open site. To be fair, it would be difficult to compare things. Mind you, the display of the history of Swedish democracy in the windows of the Riksdag was pretty amazing. Reading it in the drizzly rain wasn’t as much fun as it could have been but, still, it was all most informative.

Having wandered around a lot, we decided to head down to The Hairy Pig and our chance meeting with Joseph, the man who shared our English roots. And what a brilliant chance meeting it was. The Hairy Pig is a fantastic restaurant. Unless you’re a vegan. There’s no way a vegan would enjoy the place.

Having told us he didn’t speak Swedish and introducing us to the boars he’d killed (their heads are on the walls, looking at each other) he delivered us the best meal we’ve had in Sweden so far. As one would expect, there was plenty of wild pig, venison and that sort of thing. There was also white chocolate soup for dessert which, Joseph told us, women almost always ordered. Mirinda was no exception to this. She said it was lush. I can’t say because she refused to give me any.

On leaving, Joseph gave us his phone number and the last bag of wild boar chipolatas from the freezer. We will definitely be returning to The Hairy Pig.

Full of pig and gripping our sausages, we wandered slowly back to Slussen and our two buses home.

The girls had had a great time with The Perfect Swedish Family which included going for three walks. Is it any wonder their tails start vigorously wagging whenever we pull up outside the house.

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It was very bleak today. No sun, all clouds and a bit of drizzly rain. I was stuck inside most of the day doing laundry and washing the dogs. They are going to see The Perfect Swedish Family tomorrow so Mirinda thought they should smell a little less ‘doggy’. In the meanwhilst, Mirinda took herself up to her favourite café for a coffee while working on her next journal article.

We went for a walk around the streets when she returned which served to prove how gloomy it all was. I’d been inside and hadn’t really noticed.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the walk. Mirinda has taken the girls on this walk before, but it was my first time. We saw quite a few ‘interesting’ houses, including, what I think, is the ugliest house in Stockholm. Maybe Sweden.

It perches on a massive rock, seemingly defying gravity on thin uprights. The walls are unattractive bare timber. There are plenty of windows; possibly the only saving grace. The house, over all, screams out ostentation from on high, something we’ve not really seen in our neighbourhood.

The ugliest house is not yet completed, but I think it can only get better because it’s bloody awful at the moment.

Not awful is the Gingerbread House. It’s across the road from us and along a bit. It’s not really much to look at during the day but, at night, with the Christmas lights outlining the panels and roofline, it looks exactly like a life-size gingerbread house.

Still, as cute as it is, it does have a bit of a quirk. There has been a sequence of giant flags hanging down by the front door. To give an idea of the size, the flags are as long as the ground floor of the house is tall. They hang down, making some sort of statement.

Since I noticed the flags, they have been the flags of Israel, Norway and The Marshall Islands. They seem to hang around (pun intended) for a few days then be replaced. Who knows what will be next. I’ll be on the watch for the next one.

Speaking of watching…each year a lot of Swedes watch Donald Duck and His Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas (Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul ). It has been broadcast every year since 1959 and lots of families sit down and watch it on Christmas Eve. In fact, this year, it was estimated to be almost half the entire population of Sweden. I have to say, it beats watching the Queen’s Christmas message every year.

It also makes it the most watched TV show in Sweden since modern records began. Given the number of ducks around here, I’m not surprised.

A B&B down by the lake, on the Duck Walk
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