“Stolta stad, gör mig glad…”
— Carl Michael Bellman
Bellman, as every Stockholmer knows, was a 17th century musical genius.
Court composer to the king by day, friend to pimps, prostitutes, purse snatchers and the generally downtrodden by night, Bellman wrote hundreds of songs — known as “epistler” — that reflected life in the Swedish capital as it really was.
One of my favourite Bellman lyrics goes something like this (at least it does in my translation):
“So you’re afraid in the grave to sink, well take my advice and have a drink; swallow one, two and three, here they come, drink with glee — and you’ll die happily.”
Sweden is on my mind a lot these days, for two reasons.
First, as you may have noticed, Russia’s Vlad the Impaler Putin (aka Putin Dickhead, according to the beer I prefer to quaff at our local craft purveyor, courtesy of an open source recipe provided by a Ukrainian brewery called Pravda — so it mist be true, right?), has invaded his neighbour. One of the cascading consequences of this boneheaded — or rather dickheaded — move is that Sweden, neutral for over 200 years, is poised, along with Finland, to join NATO — an unthinkable move not so long ago.
And secondly, speaking of “long ago,” I’ve just finished the first draft of a novel called Spike, set in the late Sixties and early Seventies. The book’s main character, young Spike Santee, finds himself wandering the not so mean streets of Stockholm halfway through this 500-page epic (remember, it’s a first draft — by the time a competent editor is done with it, Spike might resemble a Marvel comic more than a massive novel).
Writing it has forced me to relive my massively formative time in the country that has given us sur strömming, IKEA, Volvo, Olof Palme, and, of course, ABBA. The book ends during the first-ever UN conference on the human environment (the 27th instalment happened in Glasgow last November and, sadly, the same issues that weighed upon delegates in ’72 are still very much with us — and the planet).
I was, like Spike, a delegate to that conference. Ah, but unlike me, Spike ends up at the officially unofficial counter-conference, dubbed Woodstockholm by none other than Wavy Gravy (haven’t heard of him, oh callow youth? — then google away) and his merry team from Hog Farm (again, highly google-worthy).
Those were the days when the moon was in the seventh house, and Jupiter was busily aligning with Mars. And Spike, with Swedish stars in his eyes, discovered his true mission in life was… well, you’ll just have to read the book, won’t you.
Meanwhile, lycka till, Sverige — good luck, Sweden (and Finland). Here’s hoping you’re not the next Ukraine. I have to run — it’s time for a Putin Dickhead.