Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Happiness Index

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has published a fascinating study of happiness across nations. Their website is an interactive and instructive way to spend a few minutes (or more, in my case).

There's no surprise that Scandinavian countries rank highly, but Australia and the USA are right up there, too.

Both left-leaning and right-leaning organizations use the data to support their points of view, of course. The fun thing about the OECD website is that one can input the things that are most personally important, and make comparisons from there. It's definitely worth a look!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas!

We went to Crested Butte for a few days of skiing over the holidays. We had a great time. Merry Christmas everybody!!!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Electricity analysis

I posted earlier this year about electricity use over the past 3 years. This chart is a bit different.

Here, I'm comparing the temperatures against the energy usage. There are lots of websites with historical weather data. I used the mean low temp for each two month period. Clicking on the chart makes it full-size.

It's no shocker to say that, the colder it gets, the more electricity gets used.

Yellow arrows indicate times we stayed at the house; this explains the ginormous spike at Christmas 2010. In fact, that spike is quite instructive. If and when we spend more time at the house in the spring and fall, we'll be paying a pretty penny (or öre) to keep the radiators on. We'll have to find a better way to warm the house... but that's a subject for discussing later!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

This is my kind of house!

Dwell magazine (those shameless purveyors of modern house porn) have a slideshow online of a house I just love.

It's a steel cantilevered prefab structure, bolted onto a rock in the wilds of Washington state. The story of its construction is quite interesting, too.

Our little place in Aspö shares a bit of its DNA, I think, with its perch on a rock, and its cantilever over the woods below. I'm not sure the Värmdö planning authorities would have approved it, though!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Happy Lucia Day!

This is my fifth Lucia on the blog. In trying to find something new about Lucia for me to post here, I found a hot new local restaurant of the same name. I'll have to try that out. But I digress.

I did manage to find something new on the web that describes the history of Lucia and her traditions pretty well. 

Sooz has been baking Christmas cookies up a storm, I will see if I can get her to make some Lussekatter, too!

Sunday, December 9, 2012


I mentioned snowy Stockholm in my previous post. Well, there's been a lot of snow lately. Olle sent me a message, saying there was 40cm (16 inches) of snow in his back garden. I assume Aspö has the same, although the weather in the archipelago can be different. But the Stavsnäs and Sandhamn webcams give me a fairly close view, and there's a lot of snow there, too!

I found one more webcam that has been taking up a lot of my time: a nearly-live video of Stureplan. It's fun to watch the commuters and Christmas shoppers bustling about.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Island trivia

I've posted before about the brilliant @Sweden twitter account, in which a different citizen takes control of the country's official twitter feed for a week. There's been quite an array of different people tweeting about their varied lives and experiences.

This past week's curator has been an oceanographer, and he's posted a number of interesting facts and photos about sea life in the Baltic. I found this tidbit particularly interesting:

  • Sweden has almost 220,000 islands. Approximately 98,000 are in the ocean, the rest in rivers and lakes
  • Only 1085 of these islands are inhabited (as of 2008). This corresponds to only 0.5% of all Swedish islands
  • All together, islands make up only 2.6% of Sweden's total area (although their cultural importance is far greater!)
Although it's balmy here in Texas, and snowy in Sweden, I'd still rather be there today!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Eurovision Update

The Guardian is reporting (in their usual snarky tone of voice) that a number of countries will likely decline to participate in next year's contest. Poland, Portugal, Cyprus, and Greece are all said to be pulling out for financial reasons. None of them are historical powerhouses in the contest, however, so not a big loss there.

The winning country has to hold the next year's contest. The cost for doing so can be enormous. It's long been rumored that Ireland deliberately tanked their 1995 entry because the cost of hosting three consecutive wins in 1992-94 nearly bankrupt the state broadcaster, RTÉ. (They put forth their usual effort in 1996 and of course, won again!)

That said, the contest in Malmö doesn't seem to be suffering. The first tranche of tickets sold out in 20 minutes last week. Even better news is that the Melodifestival starts two months from today!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A report from Olle

Olle sent me a few iPhone pics. He checked the temperature in the bathroom and it was a perfect 7.2°C. Here's how the house looked this weekend. A couple more snaps (including a November flower) are on Annika's photoset.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


It's the Thanksgiving holiday here in the USA. This is the sixth Thanksgiving that has passed since I've started this blog. I didn't mention the holiday at all in 2007, although I found it fun to look at that month's posts.

2008 was noteworthy as it coincided with Ollie's back surgery. Each of our subsequent Thanksgivings has had extra meaning for me, as it's now also an anniversary of his continued health!

Here's today's family portrait, with the fantastic addition of Sooz's dad, who flew down to Texas to be with us on the holiday.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


News reports this morning are pretty negative about the fate of SAS. Like many established airlines around the world, SAS is struggling to reconcile its state-owned legacy to the realities of a low-cost world of aviation.

I have good friends at SAS, and we have flown them many times over the past 20 years. I wish them the best for their restructuring plans.

UPDATE: Although it went down to the wire (in fact past the wire, thanks to pesky Danish flight attendants), the 8 unions involved did all finally agree to sweeping changes. The Financial Times has a good summary of events- and how things might have been different in America.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A toilet theme park

I posted a bit more than 5 years ago about a toilet-awareness organization in in South Korea which built a toilet-shaped house.

Sadly, Sim Jae-duck, the builder of the house and the founder of the WTA, has passed away in the interim. However, his house has become a Restroom Cultural Park, with toilets from around the world available for visitors.

Not sure if there's a Cinderella there. There should be!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tick Vaccinations

I've posted many times in the past about that scourge of island life, the tick, or more specifically, the diseases the little bastards carry.

Borrelia, or it's more well-known North American cousin, Lyme disease, is the most common illness. In fact, both Sooz and I have been tested positive for exposure to Lyme, which doesn't mean we have symptoms.

There is a more serious disease however: tick-borne encephalitis, or TBE. Once it's contracted, there is no cure. And it is not a disease that one wants to risk having! I have enough problems with my brain, thank you very much. No need for anything extra to deal with there.

We got our TBE shots when we were in the UK, so we're covered. However, a booster is recommended within 5 years, which would be next year for us. When Sooz visited London ahead of our visit last month, she went to our old NHS doctor and got a booster shot. They were very nice, and didn't charge her the non-resident's fee. (Like I've said before, I love the NHS).

However, going to our village in England to see my old doctor isn't an option for a working stiff like me, so I looked into getting the shot here. After a lot of research, I found that wasn't possible. The reason is simple: there is no TBE in the United States. The vaccine can't even be ordered here as an option, as it isn't licensed for American usage.

My plan B was to get the jab in Sweden, but I thought I'd try something else first. I contacted my company doctor with my dilemma. He took the challenge in good humor, and quickly found a good solution: the vaccine is available in Canada. He directed me to a travel clinic near the Montréal airport, and sure enough, I can stop in and get the vaccine there with no fuss.

As luck would have it, I need to visit Montréal for business in the coming weeks, so I'll plan an hour to stop by and get my booster shot.

The things we global residents have to go through....!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Internet service update

I received an update from Nilla, our representative of the broadband club on Nämdö. There was a lot of Swedish to get through, but this is what I understand so far:
  • The cost to wire the Nämdö archipelago for 600 residents is about 48 million kronor- or about 80,000kr ($12,000) per household.
  • The Swedish government has said that all households will have access for roughly the same price, 20-25,000kr.
  • This gap will be met by funds paid by the government (with matching funds from the EU), but the demand for this money is very high. The 2012 funds were exhausted some time ago.
  • A new, more formal broadband association will be formed by the end of this year. A stake of 2,000kr is being proposed for membership in this association.
  • This group will take up negotiations to get started with the first phase of the work next year.
There's more detail, but that's the gist of it. We probably will have to deal with our little wireless connection for one more summer!!!

Friday, November 2, 2012

A 12 square-meter apartment

I read about a tiny little house built by students in Lund, a big University town in far southern Sweden. It's quite a cute little place!

The article I've linked to has a number of pictures and some background on this interesting little experiment.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Neighborly help

Sooz and I are in pretty regular touch with Olle and Annika through the magic of iPhone apps. We play Word Feud on the iPhone, sometimes in Swedish and sometimes in English.

When I play in Swedish there is a lot of guessing involved. But sometimes I get lucky and score a good word! When I play Olle or Annika in English, however, they're both very good. I have to work hard to keep up my linguistic pride.

WhatsApp is another useful way for us to stay in touch. Annika uses it to send me her beautiful photos, which I post on the blog.

This picture isn't one of the pretty ones but I am very happy to see it in any case. I asked Olle to check on my heating setup in the bathroom. As you may recall, I keep all the freezable items in there with a radiator set on 8°C. I'm always worried that I set everything correctly, and I feel a lot better now that Olle has confirmed that the temperature is just right. (Too cold, and I get potential damage to the goods and plumbing; too warm and I spend a fortune in electricity and attract critters to the warmth).

It's great to have neighbors who can look across at my house on occasion, it really eases my mind!!

Saturday, October 27, 2012


I took a look at the blog's readership stats, and it's clear that Cinderella is the most popular subject here by a huge margin. In fact, toilets in general are the biggest source of new readers.

Given the new-found focus, I thought I'd recap our recent trials and tribulations with our own Cinderella toilet.

The cooling fan is set to turn on as soon as the lid is lifted. The fan is very important, given the heat generated by the combustion process. Without proper cooling and ventilation, it could be quite dangerous. That's one of the advantages of the Cinderella over other incinerating models; its sensor and fail-safe system is quite sophisticated.

Sooz found that the fan didn't come on when we turned it on, and a quick review of the manual indicated a fan failure. A call to Johan, the Cinderella expert I first met 5 years ago, confirmed it. Johan arranged for a new fan to be sent out along with instructions (in Swedish) and a little repair kit.

There was a bit of confusion in which the fan was sent to Stavsnäs instead of direct to us, but Sooz retrieved it and I was able to indeed replace the fan simply.

I was a bit miffed that the fan failed. After all, our Cinderella doesn't get continuous usage, and I keep the bathroom warm when we are away so it isn't subject to below-freezing temperatures. Then again I suppose not using it on a regular basis might be bad, too.

Johan softened the blow by not charging me for the fan, even though the warranty is only two years. He's a good guy (and so is everyone else I met in the company), plus he knows I am an influential blogger on the subject of incinerating toilets!

All's well that ends well, and our Cinderella is safely shut down until next year.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Settling back

I find it hard to come back to 'regular life' after a week on Aspö. Especially now that we're living in Texas, our little house seems so far away. Easter is the earliest time we realistically would come back, so we're talking six months at least. That makes the house feel even further away, both geographically and on the calendar.

I do have a few interesting subjects to write about in these intervening months, not least our paint experiment. There are a number of cultural subjects to address, as well. So the writing pace may slow through the winter, but it won't stop, don't worry!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Back in Texas

Sorry for the lack of posts. A combination of being busy, being lazy, and an annoyingly poor internet connection combined to keep me off the blog. But all is well. Lots to write about in the coming weeks.

At least I've been updating the photo album!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lazy afternoons

It was cool this morning, but not as cold as Stockholm; Marcia said she saw frost when she got up!

It's still a bit too wet to paint or wire the extra deck lights but I plan to do that tomorrow as Thursday and Friday will be dry.

The Cinderella is working fine, in fact both Sooz and I think it is quieter now. Perhaps there have been improvements in fan technology over the past 4 years...?

I'm catching up on email and Sooz is working on a jigsaw puzzle. It's quiet and peaceful. Bliss.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Good news! The Cinderella is back in service. The fan arrived today (although Sooz had to make a quick round trip to Stavsnäs to pick it up).

The instructions were clear and the whole job was as straightforward as I had hoped. It took less than an hour and there were no parts left over.

The best news was the sound of the whirring fan as soon we hooked it up! Success!

I'm off to the main dock to help Janne with moving some wood. Then we'll all have spaghetti for dinner.

The rain is supposed to stop tomorrow so everything is looking up.

Monday, October 8, 2012

We're here... but with a snag

The good news is that the drive, shopping, and boat trip all went perfectly. The house seems to be in tip-top shape. All is well except for one detail.

The Cinderella isn't working.

It powers on but the fan does not start up and is therefore inert. The blinking light code indicates a fan fault.

I called Johan bright and early and he also thinks it's the fan. He is going to mail a new one out to us today and we should receive it on Aspö tomorrow morning. He also emailed replacement instructions and it seems pretty easy to change.

The Cinderella came away from the wall pretty easily and I took the back off. Everything looks to be straightforward. Now I just have to hope the replacement fan arrives in the post tomorrow. Sooz does not want a second day without a toilet, and I can't say I blame her!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A busy weekend!

We've been quite busy these past 48 hours. Yesterday was shopping (clothes for the girls and linseed oil for me), then last night was a fantastic dinner at a trendy spot in Stureplan for Camille's birthday. In fact the place was so trendy, we saw Eric Saade (Sweden's Eurovision representative last year), there on a date! Not to worry, I didn't go up to him, although everyone dared me to.

This evening, Tim's American football team has their championship match, and we'll all be there to cheer. Then it's a short night as we're up early for an 0800 boat.

Photos have started on new Flickr set. More added soon!

UPDATE: Tim's team lost, sadly. They fell behind early, but made a damned good game of it in the second half.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Almost there

I'm writing from the BA lounge in Heathrow, hoping to meet up with my lovely wife in a little while. Our flight is in two hours. It's a good thing I had extra time because the vigilant folks at Heathrow security spent quite a buit of time looking at my carryon bag filled with light fixtures and wire. They were very professional about it, though.

My mother sent me a link from the Minneapolis paper; the King and Queen of Sweden are in my hometown, while I am in theirs!! What are the odds of that?

We'll be taking the 0800 Monday boat from Stavsnas. This weekend will be jam-packed with lots of social activities, which I'll report on later.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Preparing our Departure

Only time for a quick post, things have been pretty busy here in Texas!

Sooz just left for London a couple of hours ago, and the plan is for us to meet up in London this Friday afternoon for our trip to Stockholm. We have an action-packed weekend with Rutger and Marcia (more details on that to come). We're off to Aspö very early Monday morning, just a short week from today.

To say I'm looking forward to it is an understatement.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Apple Maps

There are some reports complaining about the accuracy of the map application on the new iPhone. I haven't seen any problems myself, in fact, I am a happy user, because it appears that Apple is using much newer information in Scandinavia.
How do I know that? Well, I took a look at Aspö on my iPad and was pleasantly surprised to see our house!

I've made a collection of four screenshots zooming into the black roofs of our little cabin and the even teenier guest house beside it. 

How cool.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Design House Stockholm

Dwell has a blog entry about the 20th anniversary of Design House Stockholm. We just missed the store's opening when we lived there, but we have visited their shops in Sweden and the UK many times since.

I would be happy to own nearly everything I've ever seen in one of their stores! I see they have an outlet in Minneapolis now. Maybe I'll stop by next time I'm up in my home town.

(The same is true of the Nordiska Galleriet, for that matter. I have visited them many times over the years, lusting over one beautiful object after another!)

Monday, September 17, 2012

A few quick updates

  • Annika has sent a few photos over the past weeks, and I always update them on her photoset. The latest one was of a stormy boat ride yesterday!
  • The Local has an interesting article about the Systembolaget testing home delivery. It's not the archipelago yet, but one can live in hope...!
  • Lastly, Sooz and I have settled in October 6-13 for our final trip of the year. It's taken a lot of juggling to find a week that works, but we're all set now. Further details forthcoming of course!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cable lights

I posted previously about my cable light installation and that I erred on my choice of the light fixtures. We experimented last trip with a few low-cost fixtures and bulbs to figure out what might work best. Sooz liked a narrow beam focused on the sink and work tops. The problem is that the simple fixtures I bought weren't very adjustable.

A bit of research found me these, the 'Orion' by Prima lighting. A very responsive assistant at Brilliant Lighting helped me choose the right combo for my already-installed cables.

These look to be the business; they're very adjustable both in direction and angle, and they're nice and sturdy. When we're out to the house in October, I think the extra light will come in very handy during the early evenings!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Painting once again

The paint we have purchased is from Ottoson in Skåne, experts in linseed oil painting. They have a YouTube channel with lots of English-language videos about using their product, which is pretty impressive, since most of their production is in Sweden, with only a little bit in northern Europe.

I looked at all of their videos and this one seems to be exactly what I was thinking of for our house:

I contacted the company for a bit of advice and, through an email conversation, they agreed that the 50% paint/40% oil/10% balsam turpentine is the way to go. It should cover in one coat, dry quickly, and be able to be applied in temperatures as low as 5°C. 

Although I have the paint already, we will have to shop for the oil and turpentine when we're in Sweden, before we head out to the house in October. More on that next trip soon.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Broadband Internet

I've been corresponding with the people on Aspö and Nämdö about the progress of our broadband internet project. Since my last update in April, we have made our application, and I am officially part of it.

We will know more after a meeting this fall, but it appears our island neighborhood is one of six that is being discussed for wiring. The key question is when, and we'll know more after that meeting. Realistically, it will be 2 or 3 years I think.

The cost still looks like 20,000kr delivered to the house. Frankly, I'm up for that; 100mps broadband is very appealing, especially out in my favourite place!!!

Sooz, on the other hand, is not so keen. She's plenty happy with our little wifi hotspot today, which, to be fair, although a little slow and fiddly, is plenty good enough for email, Facebooking and iPhone games. She also believes, quite rightly, that the wireless technology should improve, making our current solution better in the coming years.

My biggest fear is not being part of the initial broadband club, and then having a much more expensive installation in the future. I also think Grant would be more likely to visit if I had super-fast internet access. It also may be easier for me to spend time away if I have a strong connection back to the office.  (How's that for rationalization!)

Either way, there's no need to decide just yet. We'll wait for more news later this year.

UPDATE: Apparently Sweden wins at the internet!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

4 Shades of Grey

Sooz and I started looking into linseed oil paint and we found a number of things that we liked. It's a uniquely Swedish product, and has been used on homes for perhaps a thousand years. Linoljefärg is a "natural" paint; it essentially is made up of only the oil with added natural pigments. It also sticks well to most any surface, and should be opaque enough to cover our spots.

One drawback is the fact that its cleanup is a lot messier, (and perhaps dangerous) being oil-based, rather than the wash-and-go acrylic we've been using. But that seems like a small price to pay.

We found a company that carries a large range of linseed oil paint from Skåne. Two things we like about this company (bedsides Emil, their employee) is the wide range of colours available, and that we could buy small sample pots (at 60kr each) for us to do our own experimenting.

Sooz and I decided on four shades to try out: Silvergrå, Mellangrå, Varmgrå, and Mörkgrå. For our English-speaking readers, the colours are, excitingly, silver-grey, medium-grey, warm grey, and dark grey.

I ordered a set of four samples, which are now safely at Rutger's house. Next time we're there, probably in mid-October, we will paint a few test patches to see how the paint holds up in the months we're away. If all goes well, we could call Krister back for a painting job a year from now!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A new kitchen gadget

Sooz bought one of these today for our boxed wine usage. I think it goes against the "island simple" aesthetic somewhat. But I also love my gadgets, and anything that keeps my Wildboar's Rock nice and chilled is OK with me!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Painting Part 2

I found an article pretty quickly from a Swedish building site about using järnvitriol to treat houses to give that nice silver-grey color we like. The key quote was in the Q & A below, which translates as:
Q: Can you paint over a facade treated with järnvitriol?
A: Yes, slamfärg or solvent-based paints work.
This article, plus Olle's research, gave me a bit more hope about successfully being able to paint our house after all.

The real kicker came a few days later, when we met up with old friends Lotta and Jan-Erik, who coincidentally enough, live a few islands over, and are good friends with Annika and Olle.

Jan-Erik is a man of much experience and many friends in the archipelago, and he gave me the name of a friend who is the MD of a paint company who might be able to give me advice. When I got back to Texas, I sent an email with a few photos attached, asking for advice. Within 24 hours, I received the following reply:
1. It is always best to keep using the same product that was used from the beginning or in your case do nothing and accept the look of the faces. 
2. It could be possible to paint the faces with a linseed oil based paint. Then you would have to repaint the southern face every 10-15 years. We don’t have any experiences of painting on sprayed surfaces
[I told him we used a sprayer to apply the järnvitriol] so we can’t guarantee the result. But you could test this on your southern face.
One of the things that gave us pause about slamfärg was that it was a bit transparent, so covering our spots might be a problem, especially if we went for a lighter shade. It also can be a bit chalky, and requiring more frequent touch-ups.

But linseed oil paint? That's worth looking into. And we will, in part 3!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Swedish Pizza

A staple of Swedish urban or semi-urban life is the local pizzeria. I've had plenty of pizza at the local joints in Järfälla, St. Eriksplan, and even our own local restaurant in Södra Ängby back when we lived in Stockholm over 20 years ago. I'd bet there's one within 10 minutes of most of the population, and they all have a range of named pizzas with odd combinations of toppings.

The name of our local was Lilla Riviera. I took a look online, and sure enough, it's still in business and appears to be thriving! Scrolling down through the menu shows 29 different pizzas available.

One evening there has entered into our family's history. For some reason, I ordered a pizza with an egg. The pizza arrived with the most-barely-cooked egg you could imagine. The whites weren't even white; instead the pizza was covered in runny albumen.

To be honest, I came close to gagging at the time. Even writing this today makes it queasy. To this day, I can't stand the sight of a runny egg, much to the amusement of Sooz and Grant.

The reason I'm reminiscing about Swedish pizzas is because of a great article on the subject in the Huffington Post (of all places). It is an instructive and entertaining read, if a bit hipster-bombastic for my tastes. The key passage for me is:
Anything that seemed exotic or exclusive would end up as a culinary titillation: something that seemed like a good idea to eat at the time.

Since a pizzeria is/was an easy and inexpensive restaurant to start up - great profit margin, not much need for culinary know-how - Swedish pizza was well on its way to becoming the abject culinary absurdity it is today.

I do love everything about Swedish pizza, the general weirdness, the exotica narrative, the ceremonial naming of the pies, the economics of necessity.
My local pizza joint sticks with pepperoni, extra cheese, and perhaps jalapeños as options. I simply can't find a pineapple, banana and curry pizza anywhere in Texas. But I can at Lilla Riviera. It's a number 19.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Painting Part 1

I've posted many times, as recently as a month ago, about the discoloration on the front of our house, and our desire to treat it. We thought for a while that it was fungus or mold of some sort, althought without an expert chemical analysis it was hard to tell for sure. Rutger and I put a chemical treatment on the house almost two years ago, and the spots have not changed appreciably since.

We thought about painting, and had spoken to one of the archipelago's painters, Krister, about using the traditional slamfärg on the spotty front exposure, in a color that matched the nice silvering along the rest of our house.

However, after some investigating, Krister felt it wouldn't be a good idea to paint over our the järnvitriol we put on the house three years ago. So we were back to square one: it probably isn't mold or fungus (or it it was, it was inert now), and it didn't seem we could paint over it, so we would have to just let it be for the time being.

We headed to the house this summer, resigned to just ignore the discolorations and get on with it. However, like a thoughtful neighbor (and a great builder and handyman), Olle told me he did some investigating about painting over jarnvitriol. He felt it was quite possible to do, so Sooz and I started thinking and googling on the subject once again.

We found a number of interesting things, which we'll save for further posts, as this one is getting a little long!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Photos from Annika

This first one is entitled "evening pleasure"; setting out the fishing nets.

This one's the result from the following morning. A fresh breakfast of perch!

I will have to ask Annika how she made those cool photo montages...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

PS on the Stockholm Marathon

I was amazed to learn how many of my fellow Aspö residents followed my race on the internet. (Not to mention Tony, who actually found me somehow!)

My favorite bit of trivia about that miserable day was this: it was actually colder in Stockholm on the day of the race than it was on Christmas Eve. Amazing.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Catching up

After a week back at work, and with the 105° Texas heat, it hardly feels like I went to Sweden at all!

Nevertheless, we did indeed enjoy a lovely holiday, and true to form, we're already planning our next escape visit to Aspö.

Over the coming days, there will be more details on our that trip, along with discussions on the following topics:
  • cable lights in the kitchen
  • extra deck lights outside
  • furniture for the little house
  • painting the exterior (once again) whatever other topics crop up! Stay tuned, dear readers.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday morning in London

Sooz and I are in Heathrow, about to head back to Texas. To recap: the weather on Friday cleared up, and we had a nice fika at Annika and Olle's, complete with a surprise visit from old friends from our time working there 20 years ago!

We also hiked up to the tallest part of the island, which was totally new to us, and had a great view to boot. Along the way, we picked blueberries and raspberries off the bushes like candy. It was really neat.

Then we brought our leftover food to Ann and Dave's, and we combined it all into a 'funny supper'. I also helped Dave deplete his Scotch supplies.

Saturday was of course beautiful, and it was hard to leave. When we got to Slussen, we met up with Margaret again, along with her son Callan and his girlfriend Shagha...and also the Pride Parade, which provided many opportunities for people-watching!

We got into London just in time to watch Team GB win 3 gold medals within an hour in the track & field.

Lots more photos up within a day or two. Now to cross the Atlantic!

UPDATE: Now back in hot Texas. Lots of new photos are up now.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Friday morning catch-up

There's been lots of activity, let's see the highlights....
  • I did indeed tarpaper the shed roof, using the heavy high-quality stuff that Janne bought for me. I managed to cover the whole roof with just three pieces, as opposed to the seven I used for the first layer. That roof is good for a dozen years, at least.
  • We finished up the little house and I have to say it looks spectacular. Sooz wants to buy a lamp and a few bits and bobs but we are very pleased with the way it turned out. Now all we need are guests!!
  • I also finished up the cable light installation by drilling two holes in the trim, so the cables seem to appear by magic. I'm very happy with the way it looks. I will get a couple of extra fixtures for our next trip out, and we'll have a very cool light setup there. (Can you tell I am obsessed with lights???)
  • We went to Nämdö yesterday with the Harveys for Dave's birthday lunch, which was great fun.
  • The big event of the evening, however, was a very clear moose sighting. The best part is that I caught it on video!!!
It's a bit drizzly this morning, but that's OK, we can just chill and perhaps watch a bit of Olympic action. Team handball is very popular on SVT!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Catching up

The weather has been cooperating nicely, and we've been having a great time. Dinner with Ann & Dave & Robbie & Mary was great fun, although it was cut a little short with a lightning and thunder display. The next day, Sooz joined the island's morning exercise class, and I set to work on the deck lights.

I'm happy to report that I completed these successfully with no major drama, other then the 9 ticks Sooz had to pluck off me after all my time crawling under the house. They look great, if I say so myself. Olle and Annika joined us for dinner and we sat into the dusk looking for moose, although we did get a glimpse of a deer, and even a cute little yellow-striped finch. Photos of all (except the finch and the ticks) are posted.

Today's another beautiful day, Sooz is recovering nicely from her aerobics, and I think I might put the tarpaper on the shed. Or I might take a nap. We'll have to see....

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sleepy Sunday morning

...because of a late Saturday night! Yesterday was Aspö Day, down at the midsommar meadow. The students in the sailing school finished and the students held a graduation race. In the evening, a few hardy souls returned for a bit of dancing, and the party moved over to Olle and Annika's house into the wee hours. Photos of the evening are available.

The weather's been great so far. Tonight Ann & Dave are over for dinner; we're looking forward to a nice evening grilling on the deck.

Friday, July 27, 2012

I'm here!

I experienced a marvel of intermodal transportation yesterday. Plane to plane to bus to train to bus to taxi boat with nary a hitch or literally a wasted minute. Heathrow was well-staffed and efficient, everything was on time, and I was with my sweetie on the deck at about 5:30 on a perfectly clear evening.

It's sunny today, so I'll get to work and start posting a few photos later!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sooz's Photos

...she has been enjoying the cool weather, watching Swedish costume dramas on TV, and generally hanging out.  I received a few photos, with which I have started a Summer 2012 photoset.

I'll be leaving to join her in 48 hours and I can't wait!!!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A dispatch from Sooz

She slept in until 11 and had a nice, quiet day. The mosquitos are bad, it's nice and cool (especially in contrast to Texas), and the berries are out in full force: She sent me this photo of the harvest from her evening walk.
We normally aren't at the house in late July, so it looks like the fresh fruit will be a bonus for our morning filmjölk!

Friday, July 20, 2012

A new welcome into Stockholm

Sooz should be landing into Arlanda just about now. But she won't be welcomed by ABBA into the country this time, I'm sorry to say. Agnetha, Benny, Björn, and Anni-Frid have been replaced by this year's Eurovision winner, Loreen.

How could this be, you might ask?? Has Sweden thrown away its cultural heritage in favor of a fad? Outrage!!

The truth is more complex. Benny Andersson has been strongly opposed to the planned reconstruction of Slussen, the area just south of Gamla Stan. From my perspective, I can understand why the area needs to be reconstructed. That's where we catch our bus to Stavsnäs, and it is not the prettiest or most efficient part of the city, to put it mildly. I also ran through part of the traffic interchange (twice!) during my recent marathon, and, afforded the opportunity to see the area when on foot, the condition of the concrete did not look good to my untrained eye.

There's a great deal of controversy about redeveloping the area, with Benny as a strong opponent of Norman Foster's plans. From what I can tell, there are two main objections. First, is the disruption caused by nearly 7 years of work in an already congested space. Second is the historical aspect. Ugly or not, Slussen was an engineering marvel 80 years ago and it is a big part of modern Stockholm.

Now what does this all have to do with ABBA's welcome at Arlanda? Well, Benny said that he'd withdraw his permission for the photo to be used should the redevelopment be approved.

In a narrow vote, project was approved, so the photo comes down and Loreen goes up in its place. I hope there will be room for both artists again soon. More practically, I hope our journeys to Aspö won't be too disrupted in the coming years!

UPDATE: Sooz texted me that she arrived safely, and a bit early, into Arlanda. She met Erik, and old friend from 20 years ago, who was a youngster when we knew him, and is now a pilot for Cathay Pacific! They're taking the train into town now and I'll provide any updates she sends me.

UPDATE 2: She did her grocery shopping at the Coop in Slussen and caught the earlier bus to Stavsnäs, so she could catch the earlier Waxholms boat. While she was en route, I got messages from Ann and Margaret to send her up to Ann and Dave's for dinner. I video-chatted with her a few minutes ago (about 16:30 Central time) and she had a great evening. Everything worked out perfect, although she was darned tired!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I've a posted lot in the in the past about the black splotchyness on the front of our house.

This has proven to be a fairly intractable problem. At first, I thought it was mold. Rutger and I applied a mold solution a while ago but that didn't seem to make a difference. There hasn't been any change over the past year and a half as far as my photographs can tell.

It doesn't seem to be a problem with the jarn vitrol, either; the other two exposures, and the small house all look just the way we had hoped. It has to be something with the interaction of sun and wind and rain on the exposed front of the house.

Our plan from last fall was to ask Christer, the archipelago's paint expert, to paint the front exposure in a color that matched the rest of the house. He visited, and we even picked out the paint type and color.

However, Christer investigated and became worried about painting over the jarn vitrol. Rutger and I also spoke to some painting specialists and they both told us the same thing; that painting over the darned jarn was not going to be successful. Our two options were to wait a few more seasons to let the wood weather it away, or to sand-blast to remove the wood's top layer.

Needless to say, we're going to wait. The condition of our house's wood is fine, and we can watch the spots to see if they grow, which would indicate mold again.

The main reason we chose the natural silvering of the jarn vitrol was that we wanted our house to fit into the landscape. We perched our house on top of a rock: we're not big on cutting down trees or landscaping. Sooz and I like the idea of our house turning grey and fitting in. We've got a bit more fitting in than we bargained for, but that's something we're going to live with.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cable Lights

I installed cable lights over the kitchen counters when I was last at the house. My plan was to provide more focused lighting for the stove, sink, and workspaces, but to do it in the least obstructive way possible. I hit upon the idea of cable lights and I had a 50-50 experience with them.

The good news is that the kit installed very easily and looks just as thin and simple as I had hoped. It also works perfectly. The bad news is that I chose poorly on the lamps themselves. I needed to have a spotlight fixture, and instead the lamps I bought have glass shades and send light all over, with very little of it to the countertops themselves.

It looks like I can rectify my mistake fairly early, however. First I need new light fixtures that can hold spotlight bulbs. These are pretty cheap, so I bought a few different kinds, from providers in the US and UK.

Next are the bulbs themselves. I found these bulbs come in many types, with beams of various angles. They normally cast a beam of around 40 degrees, but they can be had with an angle as narrow as 12°.

I found a website that allows calculation of the size of a light's coverage area, given the bulb's angle and distance. Fortunately, since these bulbs work on 12 volts, I can buy an assortment here in the US pretty cheaply, too. On my next trip to Aspö, I'll be carrying three light fixtures and 5 different bulbs. I will report back on the success of my lighting experiments!!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Travel Logistics

This appears to be a pretty common subject over the past years on my blog! I count a dozen entries about the logistics of living on Aspö.

Our original plan was to leave Texas a week from today, get into Stockholm around 2PM Friday the 20th, and head to Stavsnäs for the 6PM taxi boat. That gives us about three hours to get from Arlanda airport to Slussen, shop for fresh food (remember we left a lot behind in the freezer), and then catch the 5:15PM bus. (Marcia and Rutger are away, which is a drawback of the July date we've moved to. Not only will we miss them, we can't use their home as a base camp!)

You'll note I said 'original plan'. The pressures of my work will make it impossible for me to join Sooz as planned. I'm now shooting to leave on July 25, which gets me into Stockholm mid-afternoon on Thursday the 26th.

This puts stress on Sooz as I'm usually the pack mule on these trips. She's going to travel extra-light on the plane so she can carry as many groceries herself as possible.

To complicate things, since I'm arriving on a Thursday the next week, there won't be a late boat available. I'll need to get our own taxi boat to get to Aspö that evening.

We plan to make that an advantage, however. Sooz will go to Gustavsberg on the noon Waxholms boat on that Thursday. That gives her a few hours to hang around and shop, and I'll meet her at our favorite ICA straight from the airport to take on my pack mule duties. I also think Ann and Dave will be joining Sooz, so the boat will have a bunch of people and groceries on it, not just little ol' me!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Deck Lights

I posted previously about a deck light kit that I thought was pretty cool. For my last trip, I bought two of the bulbs, and the special drill bit needed so I could do a test fitting.

We liked the way they looked, so I measured out a pattern on the deck. I have 22 lights to play with (the kit of 20 plus my two extras) and they would fit perfectly at 180cm (6 feet) apart.

I'm also able to put a light on the edge of every other stair leading up to the house. I've circled on this picture the little masking tape dots I made when I was measuring the deck.

The kit is very easy to understand, and it comes with a neat little remote control. We have power under the house for the transformer, so the installation should be very straightforward. The hardest part will be to drill the 22 holes in the right place, but I get to measure that carefully before I start.

That should be a fun project on a summer's day, and it should be very attractive on a summer's evening.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Shed Droop

I've blogged extensively about my search for, and subsequent building of, a little garden shed. I'm very happy with it now, except for one nagging issue, which is, I think it is sagging a bit.

The front door has come out of true and a few boards have shifted a fraction, showing the unstained gaps beneath. The funny thing, though, is that when I use a bubble level on it, it seems to be true. But when I look at it, it seems the shed has settled in its back-left corner, although my measurements aren't proving that. Also, both Rutger and Sooz think it looks OK and that my eyesight is playing tricks on me. (They could be right; my eyesight is terrible, even in good circumstances!)

I did manage to improve things on my last visit by doing a bit of adjustment to the hinges. I also bought a bit of hardware at Lowe's to put a cable tension on the door. (A digression: there is a lot of shed building information out on the internet!)

I still think my shed needs to be jacked up a bit in the back, though, no matter what my instruments tell me. Fortunately, there'll be a lot of eyes to take a look at it when I'm there next. I'm sure the collective wisdom of Margaret, Janne, Ann, Dave, Olle and Annika will tell me if I have a problem or not!!!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Bristlecone Pine Forest

This one's not Aspö- related but I had to share. Last weekend, Sooz surprised me with a trip to the Inyo National Forest, in the White Mountains of Eastern California. We went there to hike up to see the Great Basin Bristlecone pine trees, the oldest living things on earth.

Ever since I was a third grader, when I first read about these ancient trees growing in a remote place, I always kept a visit as a dream trip in the back of my mind. For my birthday this year, Sooz made all the arrangements and we went to see them. It was an amazing experience.

Pictures don't do these amazing trees justice, but I did try, and I have a small photoset on Flickr for anyone interested.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Eurovision Final 2013

I received an email from the soon to be completed Friends Arena in Stockholm. I'm not entirely clear how they got my address, but I'm glad they did. They were asking me to register my interest in attending the Eurovision final next year at their new arena!

Of course, I registered, or, more accurately, Sooz did, as her Swedish is a lot better than mine. It appears that our friends at the Friends are trying to do put some pressure on the selection process for the rights to host the show.

As Margaret told me, the Globen is booked for the 2013 World Hockey Championships in May, taking the most natural venue out of the running. The daily Eurovision news website (yes there is such a thing), reports that both Gothenburg and Malmö have booked their stadia and hotel space, just in case. Both cities have held the competition before, but their venues are fairly small, about a third the capacity of the new Friends Arena.

I do hope it's held in Stockholm. It will be a lot easier to try to attend. I can't imagine how much fun it would be to see it live- in Sweden! I'll keep my fingers crossed.

UPDATE: It's going to be in Malmö! Bummer.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Flickr Photos

I've been publishing all of my house building and living photos on Apple's Mobile Me. However, that service is shutting off today, so I've moved everything to Flickr.

The links on the blog are still fine; I've essentially just duplicated the webgalleries. In the future, I might be able to collect topics more intelligently for new visitors. For example, I combined the daily galleries of our two weeks of house-building into one collection.

Flicker is built into iPhoto now so it should be just as easy for me to keep updating from my Mac and iPad. We'll give that a test during our next visit.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sweden's Twitter account

I'm ashamed to say that I've come late to the fascinating social media experiment run by officials in Sweden. The country's official twitter account, @Sweden, is being handed over to its citizens to say whatever they want. The New York Times has a good review of the project.

There is a selection process to find people comfortable with twitter who can write in English, but there's no filtering or censorship. The account is handed to different people each week, and I am finding it fun and enlightening. I highly recommend following the account!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Midsommar 2012

Today's the big midsummer holiday in Sweden. Although the weather looks pretty dodgy, with rain showers and temperatures only 13°C/55°F, there will still be the traditional pole-raising and celebrations at the island's meadow. We've been on Aspö the past three midsummers to celebrate the holiday- and my birthday, of course!

We've changed our travel plans this year to go to Aspö later in the summer, to escape the Texas heat for one reason, and to link up with Ann and Dave for another.

Making this change is, I think, the right idea, but I will miss the big holiday celebrations with my friends and neighbors, though.

I've also found an excellent little video from which gives a perfect précis of the Swedish Midsummer holiday. I could swear that part of it was filmed on Aspö!

UPDATE: Annika sent a few photos, which are on her photoset. She said it was rainy before and after Midsommar day, but it was sunny for the festivities! Hooray!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cross-Laminated Wood

The New York Times published an article about a new technique for building with wood, the cross-laminated timber panel.

I can understand why this might not quicken the reader's pulse, but the interesting thing about using these types of engineered wood is that it allows the building of a wooden skyscraper. Imagine that- a 9 story building made completely out of wood! Now that's cool.

Our house is made out of glue-laminated wood, and its beams are very strong. Some of its timbers are over 13 meters (40 feet) long. It wouldn't be possible to build a house like ours with ordinary wood.

But the beams in our house are laminated only in layers, so their strength is in one direction. Cross-laminated timber is strong in multiple dimensions. It is also, amazingly enough, more fire resistant than steel. It may also be a great way to use billions of trees that have died in North America due to a beetle infestation.

I know we won't see any multi-story buildings in the archipelago; but it is fun to see the technology used to build our little house scaled up to make huge buildings.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

England v Sweden, I'm not comparing my two favourite international cities, but instead previewing the next match in the Euro 2012 football tournament. The two teams play tomorrow, and I'm hoping for a well-played draw, and for both to advance to the next round. (How's that for diplomacy??)

This is the first tournament I've experienced outside of the UK, and it is a bit strange to be so far removed from all of the emotion of the England national team.

However, I'm finding lots of fellow travellers at work; expats are revealing themselves with scarves and posters dotting the workplace. For example, I had a good chat about the day's Germany-Holland match on my way out of the office last night, which was nice.

UPDATE: England won 3-2 in a thriller. All they need now is a draw against Ukraine to progress to the next stage. Sweden, sadly, no longer have a chance to progress out of their group after two losses.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Star trails from space

I published my own star trail photo last September, and I'm itching to have another go later this year.

In the meantime, a far, far, cooler set of such photos is on Flickr here. I highly recommend taking a look.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Settling back in Texas

People suffer from jet lag when flying transatlantically, I think I'm suffering from temp lag. From being absolutely frozen on Saturday evening in Stockholm, we deplaned in Dallas into an evening 50 degrees warmer. Sheesh.

Ollie was thrilled to see us, and he forgave us for missing his 9th birthday. Now it's just a matter of unpacking- and preparing for our next trip, only a bit more than 6 weeks from now!

I will have a few things to post about; painting, cable lights, deck lights, furnishing the little house, logistics once again. For now, though, I plan to rest my tired legs.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Marathon is finished

I'm back at Marcia & Rutger's after a pretty darned miserable day. It was 5°C/41°F at the start of the race, with a 23mph (37 km/h) wind, and rain with a teeny bit of sleet to boot. Just horrible.

I finished in 4:11. I was hoping to be just under 4 hours; in fact I finished the first half in 1:57:30, but the cold got to me and I slowed down a great deal in the second half.

My favorite part around the 30km mark was when I saw Tony! He and Ann-Catrin were following me online, and Tony ran out to find me, and he did. I ran over and gave him a big hug. That was a special moment.

Here's me just after the finish; I look a lot better than I felt. In fact, I was shivering so hard 10 minutes later, Grant had to help me into a dry jacket.

But I am proud of running pretty fast at my age and in such tough conditions. I was 4th out of 11 Americans in the 50+ age group, and 563rd out of 1842 oldsters who finished. Overall, I was in 6982nd place, out of 14687 finishers, so I made the top half at least!

Now I plan to run it again in 2020, when I'm 60. We'll see...

Friday, June 1, 2012

Back in Stockholm!

I'm writing this on Friday evening from the cozy kitchen of Marcia and Rutger's house. We left Aspö, picked up my race packet at the stadium, and made our way through the Friday afternoon traffic to the cozy kitchen without much fuss. However, the weather turned sour today just as forecast, low 40's and rainy, pretty damned miserable. The worst part is that tomorrow's race gets more of the same. I've gone from roasting hot pre-dawn training runs in Texas, to a frigid race in Sweden!

I didn't pack for such cold weather, although I did have the foresight to add my running jacket to my carry-on, so I have that at least. And I found in my closet on Aspö an old long-sleeved t-shirt from a race in Manasquan, New Jersey, in 1996, which will be pressed into service.

We're going to relax tonight; tomorrow's race isn't until noon, which is a civilized time. Sooz and Grant are making pasta primavera for my carbo-loading.

There are a number of blog-worthy topics about our past week at our little house, but those can keep for me to parcel out over the next few weeks. For now, I'm focusing on my 42 kilometers tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Getting chilly on Wednesday

When the sun is behind clouds, it is pretty cool indeed, the low 50's (Fahrenheit; single digits in Centigrade). I've been trying to lay off my handyman routine, trying to rest up before the big race in just a couple of days. It is hard, though; the are lots of small projects I'd like to do (let alone the big ones!)

Sooz has been busy painting the little house. I've been cutting moldings for the floor and ceiling. But I need to stop running up and down ladders and scrambling over the rocks...just relax and give the legs a rest. We have a few episodes of the UK version of the Apprentice to catch up on. All three of us like to watch that show!

It will be interesting to see if I can actually spend a whole day on Aspö without putting on my work trousers...! In the meantime, there are lots of photos on the web gallery.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Monday, May 28, 2012

Hello from Aspö

We got in last night with a barely-manageable load of stuff which managed to get up to the house. The marathon next week should be a dawdle compared to the uphill slog we underwent.

Today, Grant and I worked on stairs, and Sooz painted the little house. Photos of both of our endeavours are available here.

Tonight, it's Sardinian gin & tonics and then the Dancing With the Stars finale, courtesy of the internet....!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

We're here!

...all together with Marcia and Rutger. Eurovision starts at 9 tonight. I'm sure my excitement will overpower my jetlag. Updates during the show...

Update: Loreen is the winner! And I will be there in the Globen next year to see it in person, I swear!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Eurovision 2012!

I have been so busy at work lately I haven't had time to hardly think about Eurovision this year, let alone blog about it. But whether I pay attention of not, we're less than 48 hours away from the big day!

CNN has a great article about the phenemenon of Eurovision from a US perspective. And the Guardian comes through with a superb précis of the first semi-final.

I don't believe I'll have time to blog again before the big event but I will keep up here during the show itself on Saturday. I can't wait!

Monday, May 21, 2012

A day in the (good) life.....

It's a first for me: home alone on Aspö. Lots of time for contemplating my navel and....putzing. Which I am very good at, I might add.

But I have actually done something constructive: I painted (finished painting the 2nd half of) the guest house/little house/Love Shack on the inside, a brilliant white-white. I am thinking I need to paint the window frames a different color,just for fun. Maybe a nice light turquoise?

Then I cleared brush and set things up so that Grant may do a nice fire when he's here next week.

I just came in from a walkabout since it's a clear and warm day and ran into Tony and a very nice lady named Birgitta. We puzzled over a broken tree and how to possibly retrieve the broken part: it's wedged in at the very top, about 50-60 feet up. Hmm. Nothing decided on that one. Stay tuned for developments.

Now as I sit here, I am watching the tiniest of ticks stroll across my hand. Hmm. How can we remotely protect ourselves in the face of such a minute enemy? Sigh.

But no time for worrying about that. I need to concentrate on getting a glimpse of "my" moose and hope to hear the nightingale again tonight....

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sooz is on Aspö!

Just a quick post but Sooz and her friend Sharyn made it Tuesday and all is well. There was some confusion about the hot water but that was fixed. Now Marcia and Rutger have joined the girls for the weekend.

Sooz is sending a few photos from her iPhone; a new gallery is available here. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday, May 30, 1999

I'm just about to head out this morning on my big 20-mile training run. I'm not leaving before dawn to beat the heat; rather I have to be back by 9:00 to watch the season's final match in the English Premiership: Manchester City vs Queen's Park Rangers.

As sport sometimes does, this match sets up a brutal binary: win, for glory and an end to 44 years of humiliation and suffering; lose, for yet another tragicomically heartbreaking failure, and, even worse, to hand triumph to our great rivals.

I ran 20 miles on that May Sunday in the previous millennium, through the Windsor Great Park. When I got back, a friend took me to my first City match, at Wembley stadium. In almost inconceivably dramatic fashion, we managed to win and scrabble out of the potential oblivion of the old Second Division. In a few hours, the same friend and I will watch the match on TV here in Texas; we live just a few miles apart. Funny how life works out.

I have a few videos I always keep on my iPhone just in case I need cheering up. This is the one, from that day, that I've watched the most over the years:


Let's hope, that a few hours from now, I'll have a new happy video to put on my iPhone. 

UPDATE: My run went very well, 20.5 miles in a bit over 3 hours, and I'm feeling pretty good, if I say so myself. And as for the football, well let's just say that after a dramatic repeat of that match in 1999, I have a new happy video: 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

RIP Carroll Shelby

Carroll Shelby passed away last night. He was 89 years old, and had spent the last 21 of those years on a transplanted heart. Mr. Shelby was a tough old bird from East Texas, and he did a hell of a lot in his 89 years.

The New York Times and ESPN both have eloquent obituaries of this influential sports car racer and designer. But I have a more personal story to tell.

As readers of this blog may know, I have one of Mr. Shelby’s cars, a 1968 GT500KR convertible that I’ve owned since 1978.  I had the opportunity to meet him a few times at car shows over the years.

When I worked in London, a friend called to tell me Mr. Shelby was flying into Heathrow and could I meet him and assist his arrival into the UK?

And of course I did. We had a nice chat working our way through immigrations and retrieving his bag. He probably didn’t remember me, but he faked it very convincingly. As I helped him into his ride, a 1967 Shelby (the only one I ever saw in the UK), he gave me a few tickets to the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which he was attending. “Come see me,” he said, “and we’ll have lunch.”

I told Sooz and Grant of my encounter and we made plans to go to Goodwood and to have lunch with Mr. Shelby. Grant, who was 7½ at the time, was especially excited as he was going to get to meet one of my heroes. He was at that age when the Guinness Book of World records fascinated him; he loved the biggest and the best of everything. (It was also an age where my heroes were still his heroes, but I digress.)

In the world of Shelby, the biggest and best was the Daytona Coupe, a special aerodynamically-bodied Cobra that was fantastically successful, beautiful, and rare. Only 6 were made, and at the time, the whereabouts of one of the cars was unknown. Grant was captivated by the idea of the missing Daytona. He was going to ask Mr. Shelby where it was.

We got to Goodwood and immediately I feared our plans for lunch were a fantasy. The place was heaving; hundreds of world-class cars of all types were everywhere. It was hard to move in the crowded paddock. I realized it was going to be hard to get a glimpse of Shelby, let alone have lunch. It was as if I planned to see Elvis at the Sands and have him catch my eye from the stage.

However, I had a son I didn’t want to disappoint, so I gathered up my courage and pushed my way close and gave Mr. Shelby a wave I hoped didn’t look too desperate.

Miracle of miracles, Mr. Shelby did indeed see us. He worked his way over, brought us into the VIP area and said it was perfect timing for lunch. I have to admit I was amazed. He commandeered an official car and we drove to a local pub. At every point, Mr. Shelby was mobbed by well-wishers and autograph seekers. He handled them all with a down-home charm, but he never let us forget we were part of his circle. It was like traveling with a real rock star.

We had a lovely lunch. Mr. Shelby was generous with his time, he paid special attention to Grant, who was a little star-struck, and it was a charming time.

As lunch was winding up, Grant hadn’t asked about the Daytona Coupe yet, so I said, “Mr. Shelby, Grant has a question he would like to ask you.” So he said, “Ask away, Grant”, and in a really small voice, he asked if he knew where the missing Daytona was.

I thought he would have had trouble hearing the question; I barely heard Grant’s shy voice. But sure enough, he had, and he leaned over close to Grant and said in a perfect conspiratorial whisper, “Why yes, Grant, I do know where that car is. A crazy lady owns it. She keeps in the garage of her house in California. But don’t worry, I’ll get it back one day.” And he added with a wink, “but don’t tell anybody!”

One of the things Carroll Shelby was great at was telling tall tales. The thing that made him different from most men was that his tall tales were all more or less true. But this time, I thought that he had told Grant a tall tale to impress him, quite successfully, I might add.

Here’s a photo from that lunch. Grant doesn’t remember much from being 7, but he sure remembers that day.

The best part comes about a year later. I read that a mentally disturbed woman in California had passed away. She was the daughter of Phil Spector’s bodyguard. And in her suburban garage, she had kept, for the past 30 years, the missing Daytona Coupe.

Just like Mr. Shelby had told Grant a year before. Stage whisper or not, he had told my son the straight truth. What a guy.

RIP, Carroll Shelby. They don’t make ‘em like you anymore, and the world is a poorer place for it.