Below the Surface

There is a new Danish crime thriller currently showing on BBC4.  It sounded very promising- made by the producers of Borgen and the Killing (both of which I loved, particularly Borgen for its superb acting, great storyline and stunning shots of Copenhagen including some interiors with lighting to die for (Danish design rocks).

Anyway back to the new Danish drama: Below the Surface is about a terrorist attack on the Copenhagen metro resulting in 15 members of the Danish public being held hostage and the whole underground system being shut down.  OK, that could happen, I guess, and I was gripped by the first 2 episodes which were fast moving and left you hanging on.  But episodes 3 and 4 just got too far fetched with mass shootings, implausible interactions between the terrorists and an uber ambitious  journalist/blogger and I gave up on it. Am hoping for something more on the lines of Borgen next time round….

Below the Surface is currently airing at 9pm on Saturdays on BBC4.

ABBA Super Troupers

As an antidote to Bergman, I made a trip to the Southbank Centre to see the pop up exhibition, ABBA Super Troupers.  And so I entered a world of nostalgia for the 1970s,  when ABBA mania hit Britain, following the bands now famous win of the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton.

The exhibition takes you on an hours musical journey through the history of ABBA from their coming together to their break up; it is full of Abba memorabilia, costumes and recreations of 70s interiors including the hotel room where the band stayed during Eurovision and the flat full of packing boxes, that appeared in the video ‘One of Us’. There are clips of interviews with band members and a recreation of Abba’s Stockholm recording studio with an opportunity to try your hand at karaoke. Our guide was great- brimming with an infectious enthusiasm, and overall it was all a bit of kitsch fun.  Definitely one for the die-hard ABBA fans.

Abba Super Troupers runs at the Southbank Centre until 29th April.

Fanny and Alexander, Old Vic

I was at the Old Vic last night to see the new stage production of Fanny and Alexander that opened last month.  Fanny and Alexander is probably Ingmar Bergman’s most well known and also most accessible film winning him the Academy Award for best foreign language film in 1984. I sometimes struggle with Bergman but I love Fanny and Alexander and the Christmas scene at the beginning is by far the most wonderful portrayal of a Swedish Christmas that I know (I watch it every Christmas).

I went to see the play with a slight sense of trepidation, not quite sure what British theatrical creatives would come up with in a stage adaptation.  But Stephen Beresford had   done a wonderful job with a clever balance of the funny and entertaining with the dark and cruel. The acting was in part excellent Penelope Wilton as Helena Ekdahl was a strong and humorous matriarch presiding over her complicated theatrical family and Kevin Doyle played the evil bishop with a chilling stillness.  I also enjoyed Michael Pennington’s performance as the endearing and kind ‘Uncle’ Isaak.

The production managed to feel sufficiently Swedish despite being acted in English; I was impressed with the singing of Sweden’s most well known drinking song, Helan går and the catchy Christmas song Nu är det Jul igen. Bergman’s film is a very hard act to follow but this play succeeded in capturing the powerful, funny and moving story of Fanny and Alexander to a degree that I, for one, was not expecting.  I talked to a member of the Old Vic’s staff after the performance and she mentioned that Pernilla Allwin, who played Fanny in the film, had been in to see the play and given it her firm seal of approval which I think says a lot.

Fanny and Alexander runs at the Old Vic until 14th April 2018.

Gott Nytt År!

Happy New Year!  It feels as though this week everyone is getting fully back to work/ school and into a proper routine again.  I spent Christmas in Stockholm and it felt like proper Scandinavian Christmas with lots of candles, Swedish Christmas food such as home cured gravad lax, a variety of herrings and rice porridge and a visit from the Jultomte on Christmas Eve, the main day of celebration in Scandinavia.

Julbord starter!

We did lots of fun Christmassy things with the kids such as a visit to Skansen, the big open air animal park with historical houses and dwellings from different parts of Sweden. Skansen always has a big Christmas market selling food, textiles, decorations etc and an outdoor dance floor where you can dance round the Christmas tree.  It’s a magical place.

A new discovery for me on this visit to Stockholm from a children’s point of view was Nordiska Museum which has recently opened a new room, the Children’s Playhouse, where you basically step back in time to 1895.  There is a grocery store to shop in, a mill, a little farmhouse, period clothes to dress up and so on.  My kids had lots of fun running around, exploring and playing make believe.

Nordiska Museum, Stockholm

Gingerbread house!

It’s the time of year for gingerbread baking- hugely popular in Scandinavia.  I have now done two rounds of pepparkakor baking with my daughter- we must have about 30 shapes including all the Moomin family!

Yesterday we made did a gingerbread house- well we cheated as I bought a flatpack from the very handy Danish shop, Tiger (also great for stocking fillers).  There is still lots of scope for creativity.  Here is the result of our efforts- later on we found a little tomte to make the journey up the path to his house…

Finnish Independence

Today Finland celebrate 100 years of independence; Finland was under Swedish governance for almost 700 years and then, following the Finnish War of 1809, was annexed to Russia as an autonomous Grand Duchy. The National Gallery in London are celebrating Finnish independence with a small exhibition, centred on one painting, Lake Keitele by Akseli Gallen-Kallela.  This morning I attended a talk by Anne Robbins, the exhibitions curator followed by a breakfast at the gallery hosted by Sotheby’s.

Gallen- Kallela, who worked in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is Finland’s great national painter.  Lake Keitele, an exquisite oil depicting a lake in central Finland, is, surprisingly for a painting by an artist little known in Britain, one of the most popular paintings in the National Gallery (postcards are a bestseller in the shop)!  The serene landscape with its silvery criss cross lines lying across the water, a phenomenon in the Northern hemisphere caused by currents and wind movements (or perhaps the wake of the boat of Finnish folkloric hero, Väinömöinen), is beautifully painted.  It has here been assembled with three other versions of the same subject together with related works which bring the painting and its historical and cultural context very much to life.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela was a technically gifted painter, who travelled a great deal, but always returned to his native Finland. Stepping into this jewel of an exhibition is the closest you will get in London to experiencing the exquisite light of the North and the sheer beauty of the Finnish landscape.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Lake Keitele, 1905, oil on canvas.

Strindberg at Aquavit

Headed to Aquavit last night, the recently opened, very on the pulse Scandinavian restaurant in St.James’s.  I was there for a private viewing of highlights from Scandinavian auction house, Bukowski’s spring sale.  The piece de resistance was a Strindberg storm at sea scene-  absolutely stunning and extremely atmospheric.  It was oil painted on zinc, Strindberg was a bit of an alchemist and experimented with all sorts of mediums.  The estimate was 10 to 12 million Swedish crowns (roughly a million pounds). The painting was the perfect size to fit in one of the catalogue bags they were giving away at the end of the evening; I thought about popping it in a bag…

The viewing was held in the ‘Stockholm room’ of Aquavit.  The wallpaper was Josef Frank and there was a Svenskt Tenn cabinet full of Scandinavian books and modern design vases.  I noticed lots more Svenskt Tenn downstairs in the main restaurant in addition to Georg Jensen silver and a huge textile by Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson (he who did the incredible ‘Weather Project’ installation at Tate Modern several years ago).  I will have to return to try the food (the original  Aquavit in New York has 2 Michelin stars).  The canapés were in any case delicious particularly the mini Toast Skagens. I’ll be back!

Aquavit restaurant, London

Josef Frank exhibition

Currently showing at the quirky and colourful Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, South London is an engaging exhibition of the textiles and watercolours of the Austrian architect and designer Josef Frank (1885-1967).

Josef Frank, who married a Swede and became a Swedish citizen in 1939, is something of an icon in Sweden.  His bold and colourful textile patterns produced for the Swedish design firm Svenskt Tenn have become modern design classics and can be spotted in numerous homes across Sweden and beyond.

The textiles are beautifully displayed at the Fashion and Textile Museum- hanging on their own rather than as part of an armchair or curtain, as one usually sees them, giving  the opportunity to truly see the designs of the prints themselves.  In marked contrast to the unstable and fearful times of the interwar period and the Second World War that Frank was experiencing, the prints are full of the joy of nature: colourful birds, butterflies and flowers are abundant, a paradise world is created.  A Jew, living in exile in Sweden, New York and then Sweden again, Frank chose to escape to nature, colour and visual beauty.

Gröna fåglar textile, Svenskt Tenn,

At the beginning of the exhibition, a drawing room is recreated, filled with Svenskt Tenn furniture, vases and fabrics including Frank cushions, curtain and carpet.  The space is small and full of contrasting colour and pattern yet it does not appear overwhelming; Scandinavian design at its best.

Upstairs is an exhibition of Frank’s watercolours, largely painted in the 1950s in the South of France.  They are perfectly pleasing but unlike his textile designs, are nothing remarkable.  Turn a corner and there is a William Morris armchair, whose work inspired and influenced Frank.  Admirer of Morris as I am, the armchair appeared rather dowdy and dated after the wonderful vibrancy of the Svenskt Tenn fabrics.

Josef Frank, Patterns-Furniture-Painting is at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 7th May 2017.

Donald Trump and Sweden

So what is Donald Trump on about now? At a Florida rally on Saturday night whilst discussing terrorism he said ‘you look at last night what happened in Sweden, ‘ apparently referring to a terrorist attack.  Yet the most serious event in Sweden’s news was a police car chasing a drunk driver through the streets of Stockholm….Some Swedes joked that Trump perhaps heard that a kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) got burnt.

The White House has now released a comment stating that Trump was not referring to one particular event but rather about general rising crime in Sweden.  Then why did he say ‘last night’?  Nevertheless, there is a serious point here. In 2015, Sweden  received more immigrants per capita than any other European picture and the country’s infrastructure is struggling to cope.  There are problems finding refugees accommodation, the welfare system is being stretched and there are problems of integration; resentment towards immigrants from native Swedes is sadly growing and crime is likely to rise.  The problems are not easy to resolve but need to be seriously addressed.  Trump may not have his facts right but he has drawn attention to a sad fact, Sweden is struggling to cope with immigration.



A beautiful day out on the Stockholm Archipelego today after a few rather chilly ones.  It has not been a great summer in Sweden and I have managed one ocean dip (with a wet suit); I usually have a daily swim when I am out here.  It’s a great time for picking chanterelle mushrooms though, thanks to the damp.  And the wild strawberries are utterly delicious and sweet.

The weather has allowed for a trip to Artipelag, the creation of Baby Björn inventor, Björn Jacobsson, and a short drive from Stockholm.  This impressive  and harmonious building built into the rocks, in a stunning setting amongst pinewoods with spectacular views of the sea, is a great cultural hub with design and art exhibitions, restaurants and entertainment.  The current exhibition ‘Land meets Water’ on nature photography is worth seeing if in the area, and the building is definitely worth a visit.