Archive for the ‘Sweden’ Category


Friday, March 27th, 2009

I should have posted this earlier, but Fishing in Utopia has now made the shortlist for the Orwell Prize. Soon there will be copies to buy again, as the paperback is reprinted with a lovely cover and quotes.

I need to start work on the next one.

An unexpected honour

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Fishing in Utopia, already entered for the Oondatje Prize, has just to my astonishment been long-listed for the Orwell prize for political writing. Given that the other candidates include Patrick Cockburn, Ahmed Rashid, Phillipe Sands and Tony Judt I don’t think for a moment that I am going to win. But it would be lovely to make the shortlist, and in any case, even the longlist is a completely unexpected treat.

Who put up the money for The Pirate Bay

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere in the English language press that the man who put up the money for the Pirate Bay has a remarkably unsavoury past, straight out of Stieg Larsson. Carl Lundström inherited a fortune from crispbread, and has put some of it into extremist right-wing parties, with a strong anti-immigrant line. In 1985 he was questioned along with a group of skinheads who beat up some Latin Americans in the old town in Stockholm; in the early Nineties he was thrown out of New Democracy, a populist and xenophobic party, for being too right wing; this month it turns out that one of the men arrested for his part in an armed burglary and assault in a small town on the West Coast, part of a feud within a neo-nazist organisation, was the managing director of one of Lundström’s companies.

The thing I really like is that he was also involved with an attempted coup within the Taxpayers’ Federation, a pressure group, which wanted to get it explicitly to blame Sweden’s high taxes on the presence of immigrants. A couple of years ago, Svenska Dagbladet found that the Pirate Bay’s revenues have all been shipped to Switzerland via Israel, to save them from the taxman. Lundström apparently put up the money for 100 candidates from the Sweden Democrats (an anti-immigrant party regarded with horror by the mainstream) to stand for election to the Federation’s board.

(ht Gunnar)

Random resumption

Friday, February 6th, 2009

I know I have written nothing here for the last month. I don’t think that’s good. It started off as a consequence of Guardian blogging, where I felt that I had to turn everything that occurred to me into a daily Guardian blog; then there was a lot of other work in the last fortnight, when I have been making a radio programme and writing a longish magazine story, both on science subjects. But I need something light-hearted and longer than twitter to write silly notes in.

So here are some, mainly Scandinavian, observations, for the last week:

  • The suburbs of Gothenburg, where I used to live, have a horrible problem with the drug known in England as “GBH” and there as “gobbe”. Six people have died of overdoses in the last year; the ambulances won’t go out without police help because the overdosers go from coma to extreme violence without warning; a 14-year-old girl was gang-raped on the drug in Nödinge, where I used to live. No one was convicted because she couldn’t remember what exactly had happened. (from a copy of DN, read on the plane to Copenhagen)

  • The metro in Copenhagen is absolute bliss. Clean, quick, quiet and you can sit at the front and watch the brown concrete dragon intestine writhe slowly as you rush through it. Then, when it emerges, the rain obscures everything, since there are no winsdscreen wipers, and suddenly it is borne in on you what being driverless actually means.

  • The FT is full of thoughtful pieces suggesting that we are turning into an emerging market crisis: except of course that the UK is not so much emerging as disappearing

  • The only redeeming or even remotely human things in Heathrow terminal 3 are the Chez Gerard in the furthest corner from the entrance and the Borders where the assistant knew who Paul Auster’s wife was, when asked by another customer. Everything else is broken, smelly, or both.

  • London City airport would be a very nice place if planes actually took off and landed there but if it has been snowing they don’t.

  • My column in the Guardian about why public libraries should subscribe to jstor, pubmed, and so on, drew a number of really thoughtful letters, one of which says that UCL is being charged £6m a year for its electronic journal subscriptions.

  • Can it really be true that Richard Dawkins charges £4,000 a pop to talk to schools? I was told this with absolute confidence by an Oxford academic who, admittedly, dislikes him.

  • The first hardback printing of Fishing in Utopia is entirely sold out.

Funhouse mirror on the wall

Monday, September 29th, 2008

via Razib, I just stumbled on this global obesity chart. No prizes for guessing that the fattest people on earth are Americans, at 30% obese, and it’s reasonable that Britain, at 23% shoud be in third place. But—except that it’s next to Texas—there seems no reason for Mexicans to be fatter than the Brits, as they are.

Although I remember Sweden as a country with no fat people at all, and so they figure largely in my sight when I go there now, it is in fact 21 on the list, with 9.7%, less than half the British rate. On the other hand, a third of Swedish cats are overweight, according to today’s paper.

The two thinnest rich countries are Japan and South Korea, both with less than 4% obesity. Oliver Sacks, I know, cured his corpulence by eating nothing but sushi for lunch for years, if not decades.

NationMaster – Obesity (most recent) by country.

Spectator Review

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

An amusing review in this week’s Spectator, with one quote that’s going straight onto the paperback cover: “as perceptive as Bill Bryson—and, often, just as funny”

I will make a page of reviews tomorrow.

Tour dates

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

I will be performing on the radio tonight, when the Viking slavery programme that Louise and I made is featured on Radio Four’s Pick of the Week: this would be your chance to learn why every smart Ukrainian family would have had a British maid a thousand years ago; tomorrowe, I am in Edinburgh, at the book festival, performing with Daniel Kaldor at 8.30pm and before that, at 5.30 doing a reading for Amnesty though I can’t remember where either of those take place. Still, if they can tell me, they can probably tell curious punters too. So if you’re in Edinburgh tomorrow, welcome.

A visit to Ammarnäs

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

The most important thing I saw this trip was a lynx, galloping across the road in front of the car about 40 km from Ammarnäs. The back legs seemed longer than the front ones, which made it look almost ungainly, as well as stocky, but it moved with a wonderful fluidity.

The most important discovery was Air Berlin, which costs about 50% more than Ryanair and is an immeasurable improvement. There is legroom. You can book particular seats. When you reach the seat, it reclines. There is quiet. There are newspapers and magazines in several languages. No one tries to sell you overpriced tat from overloud loudspeakers. Flights leave from the parts of Stansted Airport that are not a fifteen minute walk from the terminal. The airports it serves are close to the cities of the same name. The baggage allowance is much more generous, and less rapaciously enforced. Fishing rods are carried free. The other price is that I had to change planes in Berlin, but I don’t mind. Tegel is a smallish, civilised airport.

On the other hand. Swedish railways, which used to be really quite efficient, were shockingly bad, though cheap and with nice restaurant cars. None of the trains I took were on time; my wife was three hours late coming down from Luleå to Stockholm, and I was nearly an hour late going from Östersund to Göteborg.

And that’s  enough reminiscence.

Back: fantastic reviews

Thursday, August 7th, 2008
I was watching the girls’ under 50kg arm-wrestling competition when my daughter texted me with the news of the Paxman review in the Guardian.
A beguiling account of one man’s absorption in and by a country. … He writes a terrific travelogue, capturing the grey light on the emptiness of the lakes, birch forests and bogs. The narrative is peppered with pithy observations and memorable characters.
Then, in fairly quick succession, there was Paul Binding in the Independent on Sunday,
marvellously seamless fusion of personal memoir and politico-cultural survey … This is a brilliant book, formidably intelligent in its control of complex material yet shining with humanity, and with the old Swedish belief that we all deserve a just, yet kind society.
Christina Patterson in the New Statesman:
Fishing in Utopia is a wonderful exploration of a social experiment that did not entirely succeed, and did not entirely fail, and of a country that can stifle with its worthiness but still enchant, and of a man who loved and lost and loved again. It is also a book about learning to write clearly and honestly and well. And a beautiful, poetic, wise lesson in how to do it.
And a review in the Daily Telegraph which I am not sure I have got right, so I won’t link to it. Anyway, all this is marvellous (and the New Statesman review has a bonus photo of the author with hair and beard.)

I will post another piece about my travels shortly, but, alas work gets in the way of blogging these days, too.

Gone Fishing

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

I’m off to the photograph in the header for three weeks and I don’t plan to post anything until August the 6th or 7th. Have a wonderful summer, all of you.