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


The Local’s Swedish film of the month: Jönssonligan

Film writer Peter Larkin reviews Swedish classic 'Varning för Jönssonligan'.

The Local's Swedish film of the month: Jönssonligan
Gösta Ekman as Sickan in one of the other Jönssonligan films, 'Jönssonligan gets Gold Fever' (1984). Photo: SF

Legendary Swedish actor Gösta Ekman passed away earlier this year. One of his best known roles was as criminal mastermind Charles Ingvar 'Sickan' Jönsson.

Nine Jönssonligan films have been made between 1981 and 2015. Ekman starred as Sickan in the first four films. The films are based on an original Danish film series (The Olsen-Gang).

The first Swedish film was 'Varning för Jönssonligan' (1981, international title: 'Beware of the Johnson Gang').

Ragnar Grippe's light and thoughtful piano theme sets the audience up for what is an enjoyable film very much of its time. 

Sickan and his chums Rocky (Nils Brandt) and Ragnar (Ulf Brunnberg) plan revenge on villainous businessman Wall-Enberg (Per Grunden). It's innocent and fun, and no doubt very nostalgic for many Swedes looking back at the Stockholm society of the 1980s.

Ekman's brilliant comic timing is displayed in many scenes, such as his failed escape attempts from crime scenes. Brunnberg's lean figure stands in between the madness while he comments and cringes at certain moments. Brandt's physical strength is put to hilarious use as he blocks a villain from exiting a shed door.

Brandt, Brunnberg and Ekman together make a fantastic team as they scheme very elaborate plans to crack safes masterminded by Sickan. Ekman has great fun in the role.

Peter Larkin is an Irish film writer currently based in Sweden. Read his blog here.