I AM a representative of the former British Empire and the current Commonwealth of Nations; I am the descendant of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and the son of an RAF pilot. I did
not graduate with First Class honours from Cambridge University and since then have not entered the Foreign Office’s prestigious diplomatic corps.
‘The Northern Plights’ documents my assessment of Sweden for the possibility of any future conquests which the British Government’s War Cabinet is
DISPATCH 5: Transport.
While this is not an undercover mission per se, the Foreign Office were
n’t keen for me to fully saturate myself into Swedish life and culture. This started back in the motherland; both The Netherlands Empire Scout and I were given makeovers for our respective duties. Of course I cannot fully reveal either of our identities, but you will see from the before and after photos how our appearances were altered in order to aid us to blend in.
Here we both are as we embarked on the training:
And then, relaxing with a game of tennis after the training and makeover was complete – you do not need to be a cultural anthropologist to figure out which of us is going where:
The difference is practically tangible; we were now both ready to be dropped, or rather privately-jetted, behind potential enemy lines. On previous assessments I have
n’t been met by an ambassador and taken to a helipad or at the very least a car with tinted windows. But, to my utmost horror, on this occasion I was directed to my TRANSPORT, a bike…A BIKE! “My dear fellow,” I expressed to my colleague, “bikes are for children and liberals, and by each passing minute I become less and less of both of those ilks, is this some kind of prank?”
It turns out that my first port of call (Malmö) is a bit ‘bike friendly’, in fact so ‘bike friendly’ that it makes my old university city of Cambridge look like a Formula One race track. Let’s put some perspective in here: Malmö is 130 square miles in area, but 69 square miles of that are water, subtract rural areas and you are left with an urban sprawl of 27.3 square miles – in which there are 250 miles of cycle paths. Run that by yourself again; if you stretched out all the bike paths in Malmö you could get 125 miles nearer Mars AND BACK or from the north of London to the south of Paris, now while I do not recommend anyone to visit such a fetid city like Paris that certainly is a barmy fact. More than 40 per cent of commuter journeys are made by bike. The cycle paths both run parallel to the roads and also criss-cross the parks and pedestrian cobbled roads. Special bike counters clock the bi-wheeled cog and chain movements of the day, there are cycle roundabouts, traffic lights and, on the rare occasion that a cycle path ventures near traffic, the cars part like the Red Sea under the command of Moses.
This being the case, why the devil does this happen:
The use of a bicycle might be considered civilised but I have not witnessed such ill-manners and misuse on a transport network since a sunny day in June seven years back when I asked a young Arabian looking gentleman on the London metro why his rucksack was ticking.
In England, we learn the rules of the road the hard way; if you drive the wrong way down a road then there is an increased chance that instead of driving a flower delivery van, you will be morphed INTO a bouquet of flowers and left by the side of the road. If, however, you cycle down the wrong way of a cycle path, the worst you will face is an aggressive tinkle of a bell or a pathetically gentle parp of a horn. Mistakes are not harshly enough punished and this leads to utter bedlam at cycle junctions, roundabouts and crossroads.
Accordingly, may I suggest any ex-pats following in my stealthy footprints replace the humble bell with a device a little more effective for dealing with any rogue Swedish cyclists:
I must get a wriggle on, Ferrero Rocher is doing a launch party for its new ‘herring’ range and I am a guest of honour.
ATTENTION BOTH FELLOW COUNTRYMEN & NATIVES: If you would like to receive my dispatches at precisely the same moment as the Foreign Office do
n’t, then tick the box requesting email notification of any missives on the right of this VERY page – please don’t forget to confirm the electronic mail you will be sent. It’ll be like Wikileaks, but not quite as savage….’Weakileaks’©