The slip-slippery ice coating every pavement in Stockholm creates a genuine hazard. If this were the UK, the council’s Health & Safety jobsworths would be working dangerously long hours, setting up Take Extra Care signs to warn innocent citizens of the perils beyond the doorstep — and, of course, to offset any claim by a litigious local that his bruised behind was the sole and sacred responsibility of the nearest authority figure.
In Stockholm these signs are either entirely absent, or have been swallowed whole by the relentless ice. Maybe Swedes trample them unwittingly, and the signs stare mournfully upward from an frozen tomb.
Ice presents a challenge for the inexperienced foreigner. Expats must navigate the city with chameleon eyes swivelling in opposite directions, wary of a double danger: not only the slippery surface underfoot, but also the sprightly legion of sure-footed Swedes who gambol across the ice with little regard for their less able cousins.
Just yesterday, one sprinted past me on the footway near our apartment. She was a vision in a dream, walking on frozen water: feet floating, arms swinging, hair fluttering gamely beneath a bright-pink hat, long legs whirring in easy locomotion. She even hummed a few bars as she swept through the gap between me and the lamppost I was about to grasp for support.
I wonder what she thought of me as she passed? Perhaps she felt sympathy, a youngish man turned frail geriatric, in whose every step you see hear the future echoes of the melancholy phrase: “He’s had a fall”. Maybe she appreciated my Bambi On Ice audition.
Thankfully for the nervy expat, it is easy to spot the tormentor’s approach. The playful, ice-loving Swede will invariably be sporting items from a very singular branch of the fashion family tree: Activewear.
Not since my brief but colourful stint as a rower (two outings, three nights out) have I seen so many grown men in lycra. The present trend for 80s retro seems to have sprung from the tightly-girdled loins of the Activewear Alliance, as neon shapes, slickly ironic patterns and baggy-top/tight-bottom combos are the sign and signal of a confident ice-runner. They can recognise one another with vibrant speed, and no doubt at a great distance. Perhaps their retinas respond faster than ordinary humans’ to electric blues and acid greens. When they mate, what new colours are born?
I certainly cannot beat them, so last week I decided to join them. I found a pair of yak tracks — detachable shoe spikes — and carefully affixed them to my sturdiest boots. I tramped happily to work. But my colleagues laughed: yak tracks are for old men. This is the wrong kind of Activewear. I slipped off my spikes, and slid away.
Image: Van Vuuren Bros (YouTube)