It was with glowing-heart astonishment that I found myself in a small wooden cabin just outside Ljungbyhed, a town in Skåne County, Sweden.
This European week began for Claire and me when, jet-lagged and head-fuzzy and grumpy that our initial hire car booking was somehow lost, I spent ten befuddled minutes trying to jolt a 2020 model BMW into life (tip for readers: press the start button and brake simultaneously). It’s a technological distance from a HQ Holden. I felt like a baby-boomer with an X-box.
I hadn’t driven on the right for fifteen years and among my first challenges was the Øresund Bridge linking Copenhagen and Malmo. Setting the wipers a-flapping every time I indicated was compulsory for your Mr Magoo.
It was blustery on the elevated bridge and a dizzying way above the sea. I kept my eyes arrow-straight and tried to not imagine our Germanic sports wagon being blown into the Sound where we’d doubtless perish among some bemused flounder, turbot and halibut.
Ljungbyhed is home to around 2,000 folks. It has a cinema. It has a welcoming supermarket or Hemköp. It has two Italian restaurants: Oregano and one named after the famed Napoletano pizza pioneer, Adam. It has no pub or bar and the two Italian restaurants are unlicenced. It has no government-owned liquor outlet, the Systembolaget.
Beside our red cabin is a forest. In this is a lake and, moored on the near bank, are a couple of pontoons. Each has a wooden table, and some chairs. On the older one is a squat barbeque kettle. On the deck of both vessels is a single oar. The water is dark and, I imagine, dreadfully cold.
Claire and I decide to self-host (a most 2020 term) a happy hour. The wane sun is suspended high in the blue sky as we climb onto the far pontoon. We’re in coats and drape a rug across our laps. Looking like I’m about to rob a servo, or barrack for Port, I put on a black beanie. The beech trees are all bared and grey like ash, and awaiting the spring. Large, honking geese fly in and skid across the lake beside its island. These are called Sknegs, or Scania Geese.
With no wi-fi or signal our phones have become cameras (remember those?) and we ensnare some blissful moments. In Adelaide it’s about 2.00am, the Fringe has finished for the night and most are sleeping through a warm March evening. On our gently itinerant deck we chat of family and friends; shared high school days; the afternoon’s trek through Söderåsens national park; the languid autumn weeks ahead back home.
I have another olive and it’s delicious. Kalamata is king. Mediterranean joy in a Nordic setting. We have gin and tonic, too (like half the planet, I’m a recent convert) and this seems as London as the Hammersmith & City line.
There’s an endless twilight here but in half an hour we’ll hike back through the forest to our cabin. We’ll light the wood stove and open a duty-free Primitivo Cabernet Sauvignon from Puglia to enjoy with our pasta.
Scandinavian happy hour is terrific. You don’t even need a pub.