The web page of the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford, now closed (as usual) for business: muses and misspills on books, jazz, poetry, stuff like false flags and smoke screen: was randomly decrepit and proven to be more than neo-bankrupt: it was so analogue it was anal and now deceased.
Stockholm is obsessed with grooming – tattoo parlours, hairdressers, beauticians – each salon marketed, it seems, by its seated ergonomic, its choice of chair. In fact chairs here, their variety and extravagance, are more prevalent in shop display than meatballs and woollen pullovers. This shouldn’t surprise me: the chair is a median point between standing vertical and lying horizontal, which might be the Nordic north in a nutshell. Its people are delightfully civil (which is midway between efficient and kind) and its buildings are beautifully compact (in between a skyscraper and a bungalow). Stockholm is a landscape lecture on three dimensional proportional representation, where coalition overwhelms conflict. The four hours I spent sidestepping Electrolux and Ericsson have taught me that consensus does seem to coincide with comfort. It is very comfortable here, and whilst I’m glad that in my past I had Lennon and McCartney as Punch and Judy mastheads – a creative polarity where Strawberry Fields embraced Penny Lane (the modal malaise that was Abba got awfully tedious when you had the Sex Pistols and the Police to listen to) – I can see that Britain’s first-past-the-post psychology has gone a bit melodramatic, even bipolar of late, all skew-whiff.
The central railway station in Stockholm is a lifestyle cathedral. But this is not a terminus, journeys do not simply start or end here; rather, appropriate to Swedish taste, it is a mid-point that connects journeys and intentions either side of it. It is overwhelmingly huge and urgent yet strives to be personal: each floor festooned with help desks and clear signage, each functional resting point decorated with quiet beauty. There is such attention to detail.
Like a modern-day Betjeman (though with longjohn and fleece), I viewed frozen clusters of urban hinterland through the window of my train, its 17-hour rhythmic journey took me the length of Sweden: I saw sharp lines focused on function, each lit by a halo of halogen. These are human footprints dropped in place like oppidan manna from heaven, assembled as snug as an IKEA wardrobe. Each town is a dot along the way that when joined together take me high above the Arctic Circle, where, on the other side of the IKEA wardrobe, every lantern is magical and dances in the sky. All is white and blue, all is living calm, here it is useful to imitate the footprint of a reindeer. This land is serene and beautiful, primordial and magnetic: all eyes and hearts turn north.
A note on cultural difference: whilst in Lapland, a Brazilian lady has asked me for definitions of mitten and glove (these terms had become familiar only in the wake of her UK visa). The exact technical detail defeated me, but I knew that she had got the point when she said that in her country there was similar nomenclature confusion between bikini and swimsuit.