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TIPPINGPOINT

Ghoulish greetings from the ghost train

If you thought the sight of ear hair first thing in the morning was frightening, just wait till you see the guy in the dinner jacket on the ghost train at Gröna Lund. Kathleen Harman lived to tell the tale.

Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, ‘Do something that scares you every day’. For the more sensitive amongst us, this is simple – a quick glance at a dozing spouse’s tufts of ear hair gets it out the way first thing in the morning, but for those of us made of sterner stuff, we need to work at getting our thrills.

Trying to live life through Eleanor’s mantra is a bit tricky though during the summer months in Stockholm. There just aren’t that many near death experiences to be had at the best of times but with most of the city closed for the summer, you are more likely to drop dead through ennui than anything altogether more exciting. Trust me, the city is deserted.

The only home-grown people left in Stockholm are the poor old ‘care in the community’ cases who have been left to fend for themselves for the month ahead and they just trail around this temporary ghost town in a sort of genteel bewilderment. But at least the crazies tend to be smiling, albeit slightly maniacally, and are uncharacteristically chatty, again mainly with themselves, but all this friendliness makes a nice change I must say.

Every so often a small gaggle of tourists, again wearing faces of genteel bewilderment, wander through Kungsträdgården, Stockholm’s main piazza. They too are wondering where everyone is and you can see that they have that nagging thought in their heads that perhaps they had forgotten to do something, something fairly important like take heed of a nuclear attack warning or threat of plague.

Unable to comprehend either the language or the cultural nuances, the sight of an ice cream kiosk closed for the summer is probably enough to make them feel that a near death or possibly a real death experience is about to be visited upon them.

But Eleanor’s words are indeed wise ones – you can never really feel alive unless you are dicing with danger, if not actual death and so to bring you the option of a little frisson of fear, may I recommend a little trip to Gröna Lund, the city’s glorified fun fair/amusement park.

Now fun fairs are, I know, quite possibly the biggest oxymoron in the English dictionary for just about anyone who isn’t in the throes of that most unfortunate stage of adolescence where every corpuscle seems to be sprouting or oozing some form of deep unpleasantness.

In fact, I have a theory that it is this fug of teenage hormones, combined with the fumes of fast food transfats, which creates a very special fun fair microclimate. This means that whenever you visit a fun fair, and Gröna Lund is no exception, you can be guaranteed that the heavens will open and the wind will whip up from nowhere, blowing ketchup smeared detritus all over your exposed legs and entangling giant tumbleweed sized balls of candy floss into your new holiday hair extensions.

But it isn’t all those contraptions that swing spotty, squealing teenagers up and down and left to right that gets the heart palpitating. Been there, done that, got the designer T shirt. No, the attraction that really would have our Eleanor reaching for the valium is the Spökhus (Haunted House). I know what you are thinking – a few pop up cardboard coffins, the odd threadbare bed sheet attached to some bits of fishing wire, a few papier-mâché vampire bats on coat hangers.

But no, it’s much, much scarier and the reason it’s much, much scarier is that when you enter the house, there doesn’t seem to be anything at all except the darkness, and then you begin to realize that you are not entirely alone, and then you feel a hot breath against your neck and then you turn around to find a real live man in a dinner jacket with appalling dental work lurking behind you. It’s like reliving some truly hideous London social engagement. Trust me, if I had been wearing pearls, I would have been clutching them as I recoiled in horror.

I have since heard that the Spökhus did once have a bit of a saucy rather than spooky reputation. Rumour has it that women of a certain age would frequent this particular attraction for a bit of anonymous slap and tickle with the ever so obliging ghouls on duty. I am led to believe that this is no longer the case, but I can’t be certain, not without further research obviously. It’s going to be scary for all concerned.

Gröna Lund, Lilla Allmänna Gränd 9, 115 21 Stockholm

Tel: 08-587 501 00

E-mail: [email protected]

www.gronalund.com

Gröna Lund’s Spökhus:

Goosed goose bumps 10/10

Kathleen Harman

MUSEUMS

Keeping the kids happy in a Nordic winter

Struggling to keep the kids entertained and keep yourself from pouring the first gin at 3pm? Kathleen Harman has some top tips.

Tipping Point

Never mind the fact that the nights are drawing in – in early December in Stockholm there are days, I swear, when it never actually gets light. It’s like being in one of those sensory deprivation flotation tanks things when it is impossible to know what time of day it is.

It is so much worse than the summer, when, although it is always light, you seem think that it is earlier than it actually is. I find the time from mid afternoon to 6pm seems to go on forever, as my eyes dart like a metronome between the kitchen clock and the gin bottle on top of the fridge. I have a very strict, self imposed rule about no alcohol before 6pm, simply because if I were to start drinking once the sun had sunk below the yard arm in this far northern hemisphere, I’d be paralytic for most of my waking hours.

So, if the afternoons are as much fun as wading through treacle for you too, I thought I’d give a few suggestions as to how to wile away all that interminable time before Happy Hour. These are really aimed for those with smallish children, but if you are a childfree, job-free adult who for some inexplicable reason chooses not to lie on a beach in Goa or Phuket, then I’m sure you can join in too, as long as there’s no hair pulling or queue barging.

First on the list is the Spårvägsmuseet – The SL Public Transport Museum – perhaps not the most mouth watering of concepts but trust me, I have a season ticket to this and it is worth every single öre.

The great thing about this place is that there is so much that you are allowed to fiddle with and climb on and not get told off about at all. It is probably most children’s favourite museum, despite not being fronted by some scary looking girl with red pig tails and grunge hosiery, and at 30 SEK per adult and children under seven going free, it is most definitely the most cost effective. Oh yes, and it’s open on Mondays when just about everything else is closed, and so for that alone I want to hug the Transport Museum‘s manager.

A particular favourite is the front cab section of a real underground train to play in, complete with with a plethora of knobs and switches to squabble over with one’s siblings or spouse. If that weren’t excitement enough, there is an old fashioned bus that you can pretend to drive while a 1950s showreel simulates driving through the centre of Stockholm ..a bit sick-making really if you have to endure it for too long, which is nearly always the case when small children come into contact with large steering wheels, but it‘s better than looking at a static gin bottle and an almost static clock.

If you are feeling flush and fancy forking out 10 SEK on a ticket, you can get yourself a ride on a tiny little railway that takes you all of about fifty metres around the exhibition hall. It doesn’t look much but given the slightly pained looks of those in the queue , it is clearly a journey of almost bladder bursting magnificence, to children and model train enthusiasts alike.

There is a café of sorts which really only consists of some coffee urns, juice drinks and packets of cookies but you are welcome to sit there with a packed lunch. A couple of Brio train sets and some pens and paper are just beside the café which means the offspring can amuse themselves for the duration of an entire flick through of Vogue. Public transport, I love it.

Another excellent place to go is the Sjöhistoriska Museet (National Maritime Museum), not really because of its permanent exhibitions, but because it has a great indoor play area. Located in the basement area is a mini archipelago Island, complete with a couple of play houses, a light house, a sloop and a ferry that everyone under the age of eight can play in and on. No need for shivering in a floodlit playground while watching in horror as your children stick their tongues to the lamp posts or have toilet accidents in their snow suits.

The Tintin exhibition is also on until early March at the Sjöhistoriska Museet and is nothing short of superb. Through the use of real and fictional marine and telecommunications equipment, including a fantastic lifesize model of Tintin’s shark submarine, the exhibition shows the real life influences that moulded Hergé‘s stories. With giant graphics, huge porthole doors and great lighting effects, it is an absolute must.

The permanent exhibition includes cases of beautiful models of ships and submarines which may or may not capture the imaginations of small children. But there is one area which definitely will and that is a video installation showing the Swedish Coastguard, or it might be the Navy…I am too girlie to know the difference…at work, that plays on a continuous loop. There seems to be a lot of high speed boat and helicopter chases and rugged men coming alongside equally manly seamen. Everyone seems happy to sit there with their mouths open watching that particular exhibit over and over again.

The National Maritime Museum also has a great café and little shop for picking up all your piratical requisites. It‘s just a pity that I can‘t purchase one of those hunky sailors from the video because they do look as if they‘d be very good at making gin and tonics.

Kathleen Harman