Sweden to the Extreme

17 July 2002

Life’s like that (shall we say a bit weird?) in that you really appreciate people and places most only when you leave them behind.  Shades of Satre, I suppose – you can never be free if you own something or love someone … bla – bla – bla. One airline meal, three more to go en route to Ornskoldsvik and I’m already well on the way to coming over all philosophical.  But it’s always like that when we take off and the mountain recedes through the hazy blue of the porthole.  Plan is to cram some sleep into my confined cage between supper (09h30) and touchdown in Heathrow (06h00), but current SAA overbooking system makes this hugely unlikely.  This might necessitate immediate bankrolling of Plan B:  Getting vrot on Bloody Mary’s and staring lankly at a pathetic late night movie. 

Always find it sad to leave Cathy behind, but much more this time with little Beth a mere 10 weeks old.  She knows nothing of the cut-and-thrust of an adult world where planes have to be caught and deadlines must be met, instead choosing to demand an immediate feed halfway to the airport, effectively halting proceedings with a well-timed squawk.  She won’t remember our first kiss goodbye, but I will, for the rest of my life.

18 July  2002

Whether you’re upstairs or downstairs in jumbo Economy Class, long night-time flights suck.  And sitting next to Billy Braindead does not help, especially if he insists on your assistance to complete the utterly inane You Magazine crossword.  I eventually pass out approximately 30 000 feet above the greenish hum of Central Africa, slipping in and out of fitful bouts of shuteye.  A 05:00am call drags me back into a state of consciousness barely able to deal with the rigours of breakfast and, before long, the gradual descent towards Heathrow is announced.  Stodgy bread, dreary newspaper headlines, pale faces and expensive airport coffee; who said something about British predictability?

A four hour wait for my flight to Stockholm to start boarding, so I trawl the duty-free area for the unexpected bargain which of course does not materialise …

I do however get my hands on a copy of “The Best of Outside,” an anthology showcasing twenty years of superb outdoor writing in this top quality magazine.  The boarding of my Air Scandinavia flight is mostly unextraordinary although I have to admit a definite resemblance between one of the air hostesses ex-Abba lead singer Agnetha Faltskog.  Have decided to do Stockholm on the way out, so the plan is to book a connecting flight to Ornskoldsvuik upon arrival at Arlanda Airport or, if this turns out to be too expensive, to rather take the train.

Either by luck or sheer charm (I would bet on the first), I manage to wangle a sports fare, saving a good R1 500 in the process and make it to Ornskoldsvuik by 05h00.  An hour later I am comfortably ensconced in a broom cupboard (they said a small room) at the Strand City Hotel (R220 including breakfast) and thus set off to explore the sights of this sleepy little harbour town.  By 11h00, with the sun still peeking ever so cheekily across the western horizon, I decide to throw in the towel.  The only remotely interesting discovery is a live concert by a guy with a huge moustache down at the harbour, with approximately ten elderly couples wheeling disconsolately around on the deck of a large barge in a close approximation of a good old Souff Effrican sokkiejol.  Second on the list of interesting discoveries is a restaurant serving the smorgasbord, a Swedish-style buffet.  Sadly however, I have been fooled by the cheeky tricks played by Arctic nights and by the time I decide to go and get a bite, the doors are firmly shut.  Literally nothing seems to be open in Ornskoldsvuik (Eagle’s Shield Bay) and I retire to the broom cupboard with my lower intestinal tract threatening mutiny.

19 July 2002

My second day in Sweden dawns muggy and overcast, but I tuck into a huge breakfast in order to make up for the previous evening’s loss.  Here I meet up with Ted, a young and surprisingly pleasant American backpacker, also on his first day along the Norrland Hoga Kusten, or High Coast.  I mention that I would like to find a place to hire a mountain bike, and upon hearing this, a Norwegian girl sitting at the next table pipes up and offers their bikes to me for the day.  They are apparently off on some family trip for the day and won’t be using the cycles and quite soon I am in the saddle pedalling out of the city centre (no mean feet, as I have to remember to keep right and constantly check for cycling signs).  But I soon hit the outskirts, grinding my way upwards through stands of pine and poplars and birch, en route to the Hornsjo Nature Reserve mentioned in my guide book.

And once you’re out of town, the true beauty of this region begins to shine through; meandering dirt tracks traversing the jade shadows of a rustling, swishing, whispering woodland filled with strange twitters, the occasional squawk, barrelling trail runners, leisurely dog walkers and the biggest fucking mosquitoes I have ever had to face in my life.  A good thing because it forces me to keep moving to avoid the insistent drone of dive bomb attacks, in the process working off some of the Lethargy of the intercontinental flight.  I circle the Lake in the nature reserve, shuddering along on my rigid frame (complete with child seat nogal), navigating the early stages of the 127 km High Coast Hiking trail.

From the reserve, turn left into a steep, tarmac climb up to the op of Varrsberget, where I indulged in an unpronounceable fish dish and a steaming bowl of boiled potatoes.  The downhill stretch blurred past in a highspeed flash as I plugged into the gravity, with the child seat rattling away at my rear and then the rain came down in great, grey sheets, showering the town clean as I watched from the stuffy protection of the hotel foyer.

20 July 2002

Wake up to mist veiling down from undulating hills dense with aspen, ash, silver birch and juniper.  Below the tree line, a pointillist explosion of flowering alpine plants burst from the undergrowth; mountain sorrel, purple saxifrage, trailing azalea, forget-me-knots, bearded bell flower, alpine aster, harebells, and bull’s eye daisies – as if someone had spattered the mountainside in a hundred splotches of paint.  Our base for the next 24 hours is Flogst, a camping ground come holiday resort with the typical pool and waterslide.  The locals, all sizes from splodgy and revolting to blonde, blue-eyed and truly detectable are out in full force despite the very average weather, but I suppose if your winter stretches to nigh on nine months, you would make use of anything approximating a summer’s day.

Equipment checks, skill test and safety briefings start from 09h00 and last for most of the day, with me grabbing the odd photo and getting to know some of the teams.  With names like Silva, Maybe X-din and Energizer in the mix, I use the opportunity to get under the skin of some of AR’s top exponents, gaining interesting insights into the difference in racing between the northern and southern hemisphere.

Around four pm, In sneak away during the quiet of late afternoon, taking a leisurely run into the mountains above the town of Kramfors.  After 3km, I turn off onto one of the winter ski routes, allowing myself to be engulfed within the jade embrace of a deep forest hushed with hidden movement.  Rustling leaves, whispering wingflaps, sighing branches track my every step and I’m sure if I looked around, the woods would have been alive with creatures.  Around a thousand corners and over a deep-pile carpet of moss and through a knee-deep bog I thump along the ski track until the dense vegetation thins and veils away to where upside down trees shimmer on the looking glass quiet surface of Lake Icktjarn, so placid that I have to stop and chuck a twig to see if I can induce a ripple on a surface seemingly frozen in time. As I watch, a beaver surfaces and arrows away in a V-shaped ripple.  Across the dark water, two of three fly-fisherman leisurely loop their weighted lines against the looming sky, trying to entice a rise out of an Arctic charr, grayling or delectable fresh water salmon.

I cherish the moment, knowing that this is the Sweden I want to remember when I think back on this trip in a few year’s time.

21 July 2002

Zap in for a quick muesli breakfast at around 06h30 just to charge up the system.  Quite a few of the teams are there as well, looking psyched and very ready to tumble.  Unlike some (or shall I say all?) our South African race directors, Mikael has scheduled the race start for a very civilised 09hoo, but it is obvious that the teams and competitors have been chomping at the bit since dawn at around 03h00.  Silva seems cooler than the proverbial cucumber and they surge away at the front of the field at the start.

A 1,5km run connects the competitors to the kayaking start; from here it is a reed bundu-bash to the edge of the water where the race starts to really heat up.

The Swedes have the organisation taped and I am able to record proceedings from my position high and dry on the media boat.  As we follow the race to the monolithic spar of the High Coast bridge, the understated splendour of the Swedish countryside unfolds around me; all shades of green from the neon grass to the smokey emerald of the pinespur wooden houses, styled in the age old Swedish mould, dot the rolling hills and quiet lakes, occasionally punctuated by church spires standing tall above quiet town.  

I adrenalize my morning by joining the competitors in the 1,7km swim, starting out from the far side to meet them in the middle with my waterproof camera.  The water is a lot more pleasant than winter in False Bay and it is an invigorating swim which yields some excellent water pictures, including close-ups of one of the members from Orientus going into near rigor mortis from cramps.

At CP9, I again get a chance to join the teams en route to a checkpoint placed on top of a rocky hill.  It is a steep slog along a gnarly trail, with a magnified ascent through a rocky crevasse with high, moss-covered walls. The competitors have to lug their bikes down this rocky chute, slipping and stumbling along the way, but somehow make it through without loss of life of limb.

The next MTB leg zooms off the tarmac to follow a riotous single-track route roiling with rocks and roots forcing the competitors to do a very technical ride down to and along the shoreline.  I lie in wait of the perfect shot, ensconced in the undergrowth and snacking on an abundance of anything from raspberries to lingon and blue berries.  Once my ambush has been sprung, I hightail it back to the truck and charge to the small harbour at Barstra to board 10pm and the sun hangs low above the horizon, burnishing the tranquil waters in tones of copper and gold.  We track along the edge of their wakes as these little craft set off into the ocean, passing between the main land and Hogebund? Island, until they eventually recede, like spots of primary colours against the horizon.  When I eventually crawl into bed at 01h00, the teams are well into their next leg trekking into the teeth of the trail-run form hell I did with Mikael 48 hours ago.  God, I certainly do not envy them fight now…

22 July 2002

Up at 3h30 (way into local daylight time) to tramp along a forest trail luminescent with soft northern hemisphere light.  Wraparound rays reflect in dappled shafts through the canyon, colouring the myriad leaves and bows and patches of bark in warm ambers and brilliant golds.  In the distance, the staggered white trunks of birch shine like brightly painted picket fences against a backdrop shimmering like a gossamer emerald curtain.  Chartreusse and bottlegreen, jade and olive, dull and bright, all roiled together in a verdant rush of ferns and undergrowth and moss and rustling summit sprigs laden heavily with leaves and buds.  Within the forest, pine needles and leaf matter blankets the trail, cushioning the sound of your footfall, turning this vale into a secret and tranquil escape from the rigours of a world that sometimes may seem manic.  High above the densely needled canopy of the pine trees, I can hear the high-pitched screech of Golden Eagles, and flocks of small grouse whirr from underfoot where the riotous undergrowth encroaches upon the hiking route.

Two hundred and eighty metres above the current sea level, you suddenly emerge from the trees upon klatterstenn feldts, or heaper fields of rounded boulders stretching for hundreds of metres.  These shingle or moraine fields constitute the earlier edge of an ocean which has receded approximately 1cm each year for centuries.

Towards the summit, the wood thins slightly to make way for more sparse alpine vegetation and stunted pines eking out a tenuous existence upon the ratakipi  bedrock.  And cleft centrally through the mountain is the slottdangrevans, a gargantuan gash ripping across the summit as if some all-powerful Viking God has taken up his broad sword and split the mountain in two.  Nearly 300m long, approximately 70m deep and in places as little as 10m across, the slottdangrevans rates as one of those mythical places on the planet where you are able to tap into the energy of the earth.  Walk along the western side of the crevasse and it will feel as if you have come to the end of one world to look across another; at your feet, rocky red cliffs plummet away to a verdant woodland dotted with sparkling lakes and islands crowned with ancient pines.  Misty mountain peaks strain skywards, while the land towards the west tumbles into the Gulf of Bothnia along innumerable bluffs and promontories.  With the sun already beaming high above the mountains at 04h30, the sea shimmers and moves like molten fields of lava refracting the rays in metallic hues of burnished copper and glittering steel and brilliant gold.  Standing here, you sense that right now you could be either the last or the first man on earth, and that either way it would not matter.

Soon however my peaceful mountain is infiltrated by the adventure racers who are missioning to complete the trekking leg as well as the days’ remaining sections. They trek through the crevasse looking like ants crawling over the rocks below and then fade away into spruce and ash and aspen leaving me once again with the quiet simplicity of the High Coast.

Tranquillity however goes out the window later that afternoon near Osterbrillo where competitors have to do a compulsory flying fox.  As the token representative of all that is southern hemisphere, I am granted an inaugural run along the 170m slide, zipping along above the tree tops and into the freshwater lake or maybe I should say “onto”, because I hit the water at such a speed that I span across the surface on my back like a skipping stone, slamming into the safety barrier and literally ramping onto the opposite bank.  A brilliant rush despite the water up my nose.  What follows is again completely new to me:  it is a whitewater ferata, or technical rope section, traversing a sheer overhang, passing through a raging torrent twice and then, just to put the fear of God into you, a harness traverse across a waterfall thundering through a narrow chute.  With spray exploding below their dangling feet, the competitors inch across the rope, some nonchalantly, others with blind terror shining in their eyes.

23 July 2002

Six hours sleep in the receding sixty and the cracks are beginning to show, but more in the management team than in the racers, I wuld say.  Even I am a little bit grumpy when I have to deal with a screaming alarm at 02h30 for what seems the hundredth morning in a row.

The four AM start is an amazing rush though, with the six teams on hand all focussed on one goal:  to race the next 1ookm as if the preceding 300km never happened.  Open Canadian-style canoes (one per team and their kit) are carried to the river and the teams blast off in a flurry of long handled, wooden paddler.  I race off with Stefan and some of the other media people to a spot where the river rears up in an angry series of rapids, probably around Grade 3 and wait for the action to come to us.  Within minutes you can see canoes round the bend like erratic water birds, wings flapping awkwardly, but the teams elect to carry their canoes around, plunging awkwardly back into the water a few 100m downriver.  The paddle morphs into a river swim and a steep slog along a col to the abseil point; but I decide to trek into another mosquito infested forest to wait and set up at the point where they will descend.  Good interlude follows with a Kiwi lad by the name of Vince, who brings me up to speed regarding rugby matters.  Problem is, however, that the race already at a murderous pace is still picking up and that we have to push to keep up with the racers.  In-line skating and MTB follows before what I feel might be THE endurance test of the day; the Cross-Canoe section.  One of a handful of race segments before the finish.  This discipline forces competitors to paddle or drag the Mohawk canoes, first through a shallow and boggy drainage ditch opening up into a marshy quagmire and then upstream along the course of a rocky creek.  Pushing hard, falling down, getting up, dragging the boat, crashing down again … the grim faces and fixed thousand yard stares says it all – this is no longer just a race it si a full on struggle of the human spirit bearing the brunt of face-to-face battle slugging it out with environment in a primal zone where rational thought short circuits and the primal urge to just survive the next few hours takes over.

And then, for maybe X-Dinitis the flush of vicotry, washing away all teh pain and fatigue and pressure and stress of waht ahs gone before.  A final 1.5km run, active off the harbour pier and a 150m swim to see them home.  Their victory in the HC400 comes with a prize of £3 000 and, after at this years Adrenaline Rush in Ireland, certainly makes them contenders on the international AR platform.  Team Sportia Craft weighs in with a solid performance as well, grabbing a 2nd place spot a mere 15 minutes behind he winners.  Silva botches the last quarter of the race, losing their cool and cocking up the navigation, but I am convinced they would have been top contenders were it not for the enforced dark zone.

24 July 2002

After a solid and unbroken sleep of nearly 10 hours, I actually feel human again.  A huge and healthy breakfast from the First Hter (where the High Coast people very kindly put me up) also contributing hugely to reviving me and fuelling me for a full day of travel.  Basically it is bus to Sundvalle, mainline train to Gavle and then train to a little place called Skinskatteborg that no-one seems to have ever heard of.

The bus and the first rail section runs parallel tot he east coast of the country and we bypass small fishing villages, bays stretching away into the Gulf of Bothnia and small farms surrounded by well-tended fields and fat cows.

In Gavle, there is a wait of nearly three hours and I take a walk into this pleasant-looking town to take some photos and just generally look around.  Lovely old buildings, pleasant parks and friendly people and, had I more time, probably well worth a longer visit.  After a walk through the centre, passing through a beautiful park and the town square, I continue on my rail journey en route to Skinskatteborg, and old iron mining village where Danish friends of mine have a summer house.  

I meet Bernard, a neighbour from SA who decided to work in Scandinavia for a few years, at the station from where we travel tot he summer house in Backa.  Owned by Alice, one of his collegues, it used to be one of the mine houses and is a beautiful old wooden building painted in the typical rusty oxide colours of rural Sweden.  Surrounded by a few small paddocks and innumerable lakes of varying sizes and tall aspens, birch, firs and pines, it is as tranquil a haven as one can wish for.  Just below the house, on the shores of the closest lake, is a sauna built by Leonard, a jovial Fin who also has a summer house here.  This is where we end up spending most of the evening alternating between sweating it out at 100˚C or plunging into the sang froid and freezing waters of the dark and silent lake.

25 July 2002

A superb sleep within the warm wooden embrace of the old house is followed by a leisurely walk to Riddarhytan, a small community a few kilometres away and the closest shop to Backa.  Bernard and I follow a route through the misty forest, picking mushrooms and berries on the way and watching as a deer bounds away form us through shimmering pools of shadow and light.  A profusion of mushrooms sprout along the dank forest floor and we pick cantorels and a Karl Johan fungi along the way, snacking on black-and raspberries during an impromptu forest breakfast.

Later that day we drive to Lindesberg, a peaceful little town further south, wandering along the cobbled streets and visiting the imposing old church dating back to the 14th century.  And we eat Norweigan goats milk cheese, dried salamis, knackebredt, dark slices of rye, Danish waffles … a never ending table of delights tempting you to indulge just one more time.  With Alice and Bernard planning a sushi meal for later that night, I decide to haul my wobbly stomach into the forest, jogging along an overgrown little track before diving into one of the silent lakes to stroke along through the reflections of a thousand waiting pine trees.  On the way back I come across a greveling (or badger) who plods out of the shadows to eye me suspiciously before loping away into the dusky light and shadow world.  More sauna and delectable selection of sushi follow before a plunge into uninterrupted sleep.

26 July 2002

Early morning tramp into a woodland saturated with sunlight and a moving palette of vibrant colours.  The soft pink globes of ripe raspberries, the neon chartreuse of carpets of moss, acid yellow faces of bullseye daisies, the velvet purple of bell-shaped alpine flowers whose names I do not know and the bright red, bleeding spots where wild strawberries dot the undergrowth combine in a profusion or symphony of colour played or conducted into a visuality of he and shade and tonality.  And in between the surging growth of bramble and moss and woodland trees, lurks a dilapidated history where towering stone walls, gargantuan wooden beams and great metal gears once gouged into the surface of the surrounding countryside.  Stone ruins and twisted metal structures and deep, dank chasms loom in the shadows, glimpses into a fantasy world where dwarfish tribes from the Lord of the Rings once ruled a land rich in iron and copper, tunnelling into the very bowels of the earth.  But slowly, inexorably, the forest seems to be reclaiming these temporary trace of human interference.

After a Lunch of Norwegian goats milk cheese, knackebredt and salami, Bernard and I walk to the lake near Riddarhytan, picking marsh and lingon berries along the way.  We swim from the rocky shore to a small island, jutting out of the dark bottlegreen water and topped with gnarled and stunted pines; halfway there I open my eyes underwater and watch as my pale arms bubble and scythe through the emerald murk, wondering about Lake monsters coursing the turbid bottom, coiled, waiting, watching.  And then you emerge into the luminescent light once again and thoughts of monsters recede into the primal recesses of your subconscious.

The rest of the afternoon is spent playing boules and kub, a complicated Swedish game with rules set somewhere between jukskei, bowls and chess.  Teams of two each have 10 batons that you use to knock down the pawns of the opposition and, once you have achieved this, you are allowed to go for the king. Once you have knocked down the pawns, you have to chuck them past the king though and knock these down first before attacking the rear line.  We also have a Swedish braai, an affair centered around elk meat hamburgers before traipsing tot he sauna for one last and hilarious oh-ho session with Leonard and his Finska family.  

27 July 2002

Travelling to Koping (pronounced Shurping) by bus en route to Stockholm, apparently one of the world’s most beautiful capital cities.  As usual, the arrival at a large central station borders chaos, with a selections of lost Europeans fervently clutching their glossy lonely Planet guidebooks while babbling on in atrocious attempts at speaking the odd Swedish phrase.

I book into a borderline hotel situated in Gamla Stan, or the old city section of Stockholm, from where I should be able to reach most of the many sights spread around the beautiful capital.  It is a hard slog, but I manage to stumble along through the cobbled alley ways, weighed down by my luggage and cameras.  But it is well worth the walk, and I pass through a truly medieval section of the city, with some of the buildings dating back to as far as the 14th?? century.  Once you cross over the canal and onto the island, you step into what is truly a bygone era:  towering church spires, fortress walls built from gigantic stone blocks, alleys less than tow metres wide (maybe two knights on horseback could ride abreast here once) and low doorways where even an old crone would be forced to duck her head when entering.  Small cafes, dingy pubs, tattoo parlours, clandestine sex shops and cosy coffee shops are secreted in every nook and cranny, making a walk through Gamla Stan feel like a journey of discovery.  I move into tourist mode in order to make the most of my 24 hours n Stockholm – ticking off churches, trekking around Skepsholmen, drinking coffee on  the AF Chapman, (a floating backpacker hostel) sifting through a crock of crap at the tourist shops, walking long the canals, visiting the museums and eventually collapsing into bed, utterly exhausted, at just before midnight.  

28 July 2002

First rule of survival on Rands in Sweden is to make the most of any hotel breakfast included in your cost of accommodation.  I do exactly that, gorging myself first on fruit, then on muesli and cereals, add in some cheeses and cold meats and finally on bacon and eggs.  Coffee goes without saying and, if you get the chance, construct a take away sarmy from as much ham, salami, emmenthal and pickles you are able to sneak to the table.

Mission this morning is to head in the direction of Djurgarden, an island housing the Stockholm zoo and Skanse, an open air museum dating back to 1891.  Depicting the treaditions, history and culture of Swedish communities over the centuries, Skanse opens a window onto the Scandinavian past and you need half a day to properly appreciate all it has to offer.  But my ferry leaves at 12hoo, so I do it at double-quick time, taking in the reindeer, Samiencampent, wooden church, traditional farmstead, brown bear, elk enclosure and buxom girls in traditional costume.  Then back onto the ferry, by train from Gamla Stan to Station Central, onto the Arlanda Express to the airport and finally by air on SAS to Heathrow.

Still no end to my personal public transport hell – board Paddington Express into London Inner City to connect to Kent along the country line to West Malling.  Meet Retief and Sue at station and catch up en route to Nettlestead – Dinner and a few bottles of wine do manage to reduce the stresses …

29 July 2002

Just shortly, as generally travel in the UK is about as exciting as a conversation with a cow.  Judgemental maybe, unfair possibly, but unavoidably true.  English food sucks (with the exception of Jamie Oliver’s avant garde cuisine, but this has not filtered through to chefs in the Wateringbury countryside).

Despite it being a stinking hot day, LizeMarie and I cycle through the hops and wheat fields of Nettlestead, Yalding and Maidstone.  Rehydration options vary between a pint of bitter at R42 or mineral water at R14 per small bottle (personally think the beer works out to better value).

The afternoon is wasted on connecting by rail via London’s muggy rush hour to Ian in Watford, but the night with him and Rene is very pleasant.  We eat at home and sink a few Stella’s before crashing into the shuteye zone.

30 July 2002

I hate big cities and I accept that this will probably make me a boring old git in the eyes of some people, so be it; they are welcome to the acid bite of carbon monoxide at the back of your throat, the sweaty armpit crush inside the underground, the pea souped panorama across the city skyline and the empty and guarded stares of fellow commuters clustered inside their cocoons on metro carriages.  Grime, grit, dirt, pollution, corners smelling of piss, shit service, crap coffee, never a sight of blue sky, a constant midsummer drizzle, overweight people bulging splodges of pale skin, the Thames all greasy and grimy sludging with the flotsam of millions of souls … not my cup of tea, as the English would say.

But there is also a flip side.  A vibrant night life spangled with some of the world’s top night clubs, theatres and, dare I say it, restaurants.  Search long enough and you will discover a few culinary rebels brave enough to take a few bold steps beyond Beef Wellington.  The humdrum dreariness of the stiff British upper lip also tends to inspire more than the odd visionary to revolt against a uniformity that is often a sense of national pride, with the result that the world of art, literature, fashion and design blazes in places with an unmatched incendiary zeal.  In this world of fire and ice (or should I say cold porridge and piping hot cups of tea) there seems to be a need to revolt, to step beyond the circuits of everyman, to burn brightly on what are perceived by many to be truly the world stage.

And then there is an undeniable history of an empire that was once a true world power.  I wandered in awe upon the Tower Bridge and inside the dungeons where the soft footfalls of the executioner still echo within the bowels of the Tower of London.  Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and the reassuring presence of Big Ben seemed to me like an anchor, a timeless mooring standing tall while the flotsam and jetsam of a modern day consumerist society whirls and eddies against its foundation.  Occasionally life shines forth like the proverbial candle in the wind:  Pakistani children stripping off to bathe and splash into the cooling embrace of the fountains on Trafalgar Square; stolen kisses between a couple so in love that they have become oblivious to the other twenty-odd commuters sharing their underground carriage, or the young and displaced Boerseun from Pretoria who gets tears n his eyes when he overhears my Afrikaans and ushers me onto his Thames ferry, refusing to take the money I proffer for payment.

31 July 2002

Meetings, bloody meetings.  A full day of battering my way through ream upon ream of bureaucratic red tape.  Limited success at the Telegraph and some of the magazines, but London is a bitch when you try to get down to business.

1 August 2002

Shopping.  And more of the same.  And then to Heathrow to fly home … finally.