Mike's Stockholm Diary

From the Colonel's Regiment

Table of contents

Wednesday, 29th May

Got an e-mail from Arnold at 10.30a.m (and 48 seconds). It went something like this:

  Boyz,

  I'm hoping to split relatively early today, so you can hopefully expect me around the 19.30 mark.
  I'll be driving, so can Moules lie down in the side of the road to save me a parking space until
  I get there?

  Thanks,

  Steve.

  -----------------------------------------------------------------------
  Steve Arnold,
  Institute for Atmospheric Science,
  School of the Environment, e: sra@env.leeds.ac.uk
  University of Leeds, w: http://www.env.leeds.ac.uk/~sra/
  Leeds, t: +44 (0)113 3431635
  LS2 9JT. mob/sms: +447811353745
  -----------------------------------------------------------------------

Actually, it went exactly like that, cos I've pasted it from my old e-mail. His signature at the bottom never failed to impress me. I was proud to know such an important person.

I was still at work at the time, having my usual great fun day of coding, but Steve's thoughtful e-mail made the day simply wizz by. At about 5.30p.m., I left work, cycled rapidly home and waited for David and Rupert to arrive. Quick phone call to Amal to assure myself that he was meeting us at Stansted the following morning.

Back at home, I got a phone call from David, whose first words were, "Well, the Stockholm experience has started, it's happening now!" I didn't feel it was, because I was still Home Alone (that reminds me of a story about McCauley Culkin, but we'll save that for another time), but I knew it was only a matter of time.

Shortly, Rupert and David arrived at Argyle Street, to much jubilation. Ten minutes later, Moules arrived home from work (surprising he made it there at all, to be honest) and there was much rejoicing. We sat down and waited for Steve. At about eight o'clock, we heard the sound of a vehicle shuddering and misfiring down Hope Street and we knew this could only be the Fox arriving. We were right. Steve had arrived, and it was time for the traditional pre-holiday meal (well, actually it was the first time, but never mind). This time it was going to take place at Chili's restaurant. Bushers came too, and got very freaked out by the constant pre-holiday gags. We ordered Nachos for starters and settled down to discuss the holiday ahead. Thoughts turned to Dave treking around Alghero. We all wondered how he would be getting on.

After a couple of hours of eating and Rupert trying to chat up the waitress, we headed home, knowing full well that we had an exciting four days ahead.

Thursday, 30th May

In the earliest start to a Colonel's break yet, I woke up at 4.20a.m. My body wasn't happy about this and it instructed me to go to sleep for another couple of hours, but I was determined not to let it beat me, so I got up and staggered to the shower. Down in the lounge, Rupert was in his usual position, sprawled in the dining table area, making it a little difficult for me to reach the bathroom. However, I did manage this, and I also did my best to rouse Steve, David and Rupert on the way through. We had to catch the quarter past five train, so we needed to move relatively sharply!

Our obvious worry was Moules—we weren't even sure whether he'd packed the night before, but it seemed that he had. Everyone made rapid progress through the shower (all singly).

Clearly we were too tired for the hilarity of the previous trip's gags, because everyone was somewhat subdued as we made our way to the station. We stood patiently on Cambridge station and waited for them to let us get onto our train. It was pretty darned cold. Chris was munching on some sort of snack that he'd grabbed from the house on the way out, but no-one complained about this.

On the train, we grabbed a couple of tables next to each other, with myself and Moules on one and David and Steve on the other. Rupert took the opportunity to lie down on a double seat behind and catch up on some well-earned rest. It took just over 25 minutes to get to Stansted airport and there were about three words said between us over the entire journey. Things did not look good for the trip ahead, but I was sure that the gags would start flying soon.

By the time we had made it up to the check-in area, the clock was ticking around towards six o'clock. Everyone was hoping we'd manage to cram in a breakfast in Garfunkel's before we had to get on the plane, but it wasn't looking too good.

Whilst we were waiting (there was some confusion as to which queue we should be in, but we eventually sorted this out) I took the liberty of phoning Amal. He was being driven to the airport by Ami and he was currently stuck in the Stansted airport traffic (due to quite sizeable roadworks). He arrived just as we were checking in, and we managed to rush him to the front so that he could go through with us. Moules was told that he had to put his bag through the excess baggage, as he had an umbrella and the straps on his bag were loose. Amal, Rupert, Steve and David departed to get cash whilst I went to follow Moules.

Despite the fact that Moules had left moments before me, he seemed to have disappeared entirely. I was getting a little perturbed, because there was no sign of him at excess baggage, and the others had disappeared too. I wandered around the airport twice and was just thinking of throwing in the towel and going back to Cambridge when I found a Bureau de Change that I'd previously failed to see. David was getting his cash and the others were waiting in line. No Moules, however.

It was fast approaching time to catch our flight, so we rushed through the masses of people queueing to go through to the departure lounge, and pulled a fast one by finding a really short queue. Moules had pulled an even faster one, as we saw him right at the front of this same queue. It seemed that he'd managed to beat all of us to it.

Our gate seemed to be in quite an obscure place—we had to take a transit on a bus and then walk across the tarmac to our plane. Apparently Stockholm Skavsta was not the world's most popular destination.

On board, David took a seat by the window and I slid in next to him, with Moules taking the seat to my left. In front, in no particular order, were Steve, Amal and Rupert. Steve nearly moved when he saw a girl that he quite fancied sitting next to.

Just after take off, the pilot announced the cruising altitude and flying time. I thanked him for the information in the traditional way. Moules got down to business and began a Jumbo Keyword, hoping to finish before landing.

Shortly into the flight, David and Steve began discussing the possibility of Eileen doing the safety announcements. Much murmuring and hand waving ensued, as we broke into hysteria at this thought. Rupert thought it was funny. Chris and Amal weren't so sure. As the plane landed, Moules abandoned his Jumbo Keyword still unable to locate the position of the letters "K" and "C" (with 24 letters already in place). We turned our attention to the window, as David sighted Moules' umbrella going down the conveyor belt.

We exited the plane and walked across the tarmac to the arrivals gate. We were delighted to be queueing with lots of Swedish people. As a tribute, David saw fit to give us a run down of everything Swedish. Amal got very embarrassed and proceeded to say "shut up, shut up!" at every available opportunity.

After passing through passport control, we stood around looking confused, only now realising that none of us spoke Swedish. Steve decided to undertake some delicate negotiations with a Swede in order to obtain bus tickets. He had decided that, since Geordie was similar to Swedish, if he spoke in his strongest Geordie accent then that would be okay. He did this, and the bus ticket lady replied in almost fluent English. A few minutes later, we had six bus tickets.

On board, I sat next to David. Steve and Amal sat in front, with Rupert and Moules sitting across the aisle. I got in a conversation with an English guy who wanted to borrow my guidebook. The bus ride took ages and included a lengthy stop at some sort of service station underneath a railway line. Very odd. A vagabond got off at this stop. About an hour and a half later, we got our first glimpse of Stockholm. On our way into the city, we were delighted to see an Ikea warehouse and a massive Nokia building. Once at the central station, we exited the bus and made for the underground. It was a hell of a long way and we walked past loads of shops and went down loads of escalators. There was a brief period of dicking around as Moules got very confused and began to look for a cash machine.

At the ticket barrier, we had a discussion about the possible purchase of the Stockholm travel card. Once we'd decided to make the purchase, Amal asked a person in the nearest ticket booth for the Stockholm card. She directed him to a shop. Just to make sure the first person wasn't lying, Amal asked another ticket person—he directed him to the same shop. Amal duly entered the shop and asked for six Stockholm travel cards. Whilst he was doing this I discovered a chocolate bar by the name of "Plopp". I made a mental note to purchase some later on during the holiday. We entered the subway and made for our line "the red line". The terminal station was Morby Centrum and David expressed his desire to go there. We were, however, only travelling three stops down, passing Ustermalmstorg and Stadion before alighting at Technika Hogskolen. Full of excitement, we left the subway and studied a map in an effort to locate our hotel. Chris and myself did the business—it was a short walk up the main street to the Arcadia, our residence for the next three days. Walking past a small student accommodation block (making a note to check that out later too), we walked up a little hill and discovered our hotel. Inside, Steve negotiated an adequate room price with the management. It seemed our rooms were ready. We helped ourselves to the free sweets (which turned out to be liquorice, more's the pity) and all entered the lift. It was quite cool, as it had glass all the way around it (except for the occasional bit of wood) and went up alongside the stairs. We pondered whether it would be possible to jump into the lift from the one of the floors whilst it was in motion (since it seemed possible to open the door whilst the lift was moving!). We made for one of our rooms (which was a bit small for Rupert's liking) and undertook the complicated task of the room draw. Ten minutes later, I ended up in that room with Steve and Rupert, whilst David, Amal and Moules were sharing a room across the corridor. Amal expressed some worries about snoring. We briefly unpacked then left to check out the delights of Stockholm. We descended to the subway again and passed a comic looking pizza place at the bottom of the stairs to the subway. We took the subway red line to Gamla Stan (the old town). Once there, we exited the subway again and walked across a busy road into Gamla Stan (the old town). We were greeted by masses of lovely little narrow streets that was reminiscent of the snickleways of York. However, that was not top priority—cannabalism was a worry for some of us and so we walked down a Shamblesesque street into a market square. I espied a sandwich shop and we went into it for foodage. There was some hesitation as nobody wished to be the first one to order in English and display our ignorance of the language. Eventually, Steve bit the bullet and ordered—nice one mate (just calling you mate, there). The sandwiches were strangely shaped and full of rabbit food alongside the traditional meat, but they tasted good. We complemented our food with the beverage of our choice and all sat in a little alcove and chatted. Once we'd finished, we suggested moving on. Once Chris had eaten his dessert, we suggested moving on again. We left the shop.

The old town proved to be a bit of a maze, but we made the decision to head downhill in search of water. Exiting the old town (Gamla Stan) we were confronted with a glorious view across the bay. We walked over to the waterfront, and posed for photos. We walked alongside the water for a while and Amal was somewhat delirious to discover that Rainbow Warrior was sat in the bay. He insisted I took a photo of him with it, which I did. We walked back to the old town, up several hills and through some Swedish piazzas in the direction of the Royal palace. On the way, we witnessed a group of young Ploppys walking around, being led by some sort of Mrs Ploppy. We got a couple of photos.

At the Royal palace, we sat down underneath some monolith, posed for another photo and then did some chilling. It was great. We noticed that some guards were marching around (we happened to have arrived during some changing of the guard thing). The guards couldn't march in time, which caused much hilarity, particularly from Rupert. The humour of the guards (and the massive cannons) had got to us so much that we couldn't stay much longer (the palace shop was also far too exciting). We walked down some stairs and made for the parliament building. Now that was an anticlimax. We decided not to go in, cos we had to pay, and we settled instead for an assortment of ice-creams from the local vendor. Steve took the plunge and attempted his Geordie/Swedish dialect. Seemed to work, cos he ended up with an ice-cream. Delighted by this, the rest of us followed suit and we made for the gardens at the front of parliament to chill. As we sat down, David noticed a Swedish family on the grass with an IKEA bag. It was too good to pass up and he made the most of his zoom lense to snatch a photo of them. Ice creams eaten, we did another quick Eileen impresssion and then returned to Gamla Stan (the old town). We crossed over a busy road and discovered what seemed to be a set of gallows, next to some old church. We walked uphill again (Amal quickly ran ahead to take a photo of us reenacting a Western in the old town) and we were rewarded with a view of another bay and a bunch of Ploppys entertaining a group of people drinking champagne at some sort of tent. We decided to join in, and made our way down the steps and over there. We were just about to partake of a beverage or two when a Norwegian girl stopped us and asked Rupert (in Norwegian) for directions. Rupert apologised and said that he didn't speak Swedish. The Norwegian girl apologised and said that she didn't either. Moules pointed out to everyone that there was a ship around somewhere that was actually a hotel. Delighted by this news, we returned to the underground and made for the Arcadia, to get changed for dinner. Back at Tekniska Hogskolan, we entered a grocery store and bought some drinks, some Plopp and some fake Plopp (Plopp by any other name). We returned to the hotel and sampled them all. Plopp turned out to be somewhat foul—we'd chosen the liqourice variety. Fake plopp, however, was pretty top notch.

I decided it was time to prepare for the evening, and went for a shower. Rupert and Steve joined me in returning to our room (but not for the shower). I was somewhat bemused to discover that there was no separate shower cubicle in the bathroom. It was simply on the floor of the bathroom and had a curtain. Strange. Whilst I was in the shower, I heard Steve laughing. When I'd finished my shower, I discovered why. It seemed that Senegal had beaten France in the opening fixture of the 2002 World Cup. I laughed too. In fact, that made the evening!

Amal came to our room and suggested we went into Gamla Stan for dinner, as he didn't think we'd been there yet. I suggested the old town instead, and we agreed that this was a good idea. I selected a traditional Swedish restaurant from the Lonely Planet and, once everyone was ready, we set off.

We found the restaurant with ease, but since we were all non-smokers, and Sweden seemed to have a strange policy regarding smoking in restaurants, we were directed to a little pokey room in the back of the place. We were the only ones there. The food appeared to be quite expensive, but I wasn't passing on the opportunity to have reindeer. David and I shared a portion whilst Moules and Steve did the same thing. Rupert and Amal had some weird vegetarian rubbish. Reindeer was good. For main course, David and I had Swedish meatballs and mashed potato. The conversation flowed freely and Moules told some very interesting stories. By the time we had finished, it was after ten o'clock. We left the restaurant and walked through the old town (Gamla Stan). As we began to walk, Amal declared, "Guys, I don't believe it, it's still light!" The rest of us explained to him how living in the North meant that you got really long days in summer and short ones in winter. He didn't understand.

We entered a square and Moules was delighted to see a ballroom dancing display going on. We dragged him away before he could participate and made for the food festival. We therefore walked North (where it would be even lighter at night) and David, Steve and I did an Eileen impression. Rupert got very embarrassed. We crossed over another busy road and followed the sounds of drum and bass to the food festival. The first stall we discovered had a massive sign over it which said "Quorn". Amal could hardly contain himself. The food festival was heaving and there was a massive stage in the middle with a band dressed as firemen. The whole experience was somewhat surreal. We bought drinks (leaving a deposit for the glasses) and chilled at the festival. Steve and I were flabbergasted by the vast number of line penetrations we witnessed. Steve nearly passed out at one point. As we were ready to leave, a young girl tried to pinch Moules' glass so she could claim the deposit. Moules was having none of it and told her where to shove it.

We left the food festival, with Steve and I still in shock. Somehow, Moules had got his hands on the guidebook and he led us to the nearest underground station. Surprise, surprise, it was closed. I suggested we went to Central station instead. That was open. On the way, we passed a weird light sculpture thing that was absolutely massive.

On the underground, David began to announce the stops, alternating a genuine stop with "smorgasbord"—"Ustermalmstorg, smorgasbord, stadion, smorgasbord, tekniska hogskolan...". He then proceeded to declare how funny it would be if a Swedish person was doing that on the London underground. He suggested that the London equivalent would be something like "Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, Covent Garden..." in a cockney accent. There was a brief suggestion of a visit to Morby Centrum, by David, but we were all too tired. We returned to the Arcadia and punched the sack in readiness for Day 2.

Friday, 31st May

I woke up. Rupert, on the funny roll out bed thing, woke up too. I guess Steve managed to drag himself out of bed as well, because half an hour or so later we'd all showered (separately) and we found ourselves down at breakfast. Amal was complaining about snoring in his room. David was complaining about Amal shouting about the snoring. Moules had had a good night's sleep. Seemed that our room was much less of a stressed environment.

For breakfast, we had smorgasbord. Everyone, except Rupert, was delighted by this idea. I piled cheese and ham and what appeared to be pate onto my plate, grabbed some bread and coffee and sat down. David and Steve joined me. We discovered that the pate was non-spreadable. An interesting discovery. Rupert soon joined us with one little sandwich. He declared that the whole idea of having sandwiches for breakfast was a strange one. Moules agreed, but going by the amount of food on his plate it seemed that he wasn't having too many problems adapting. Amal had selected lots of cheese and absolutely no ham or non-spreadable pate.

After breakfast, we headed out for the day. We took the underground to Central Station (remarking that we should try out the pizza place at Tekiska Hogskolan station for dinner that night) and walked back in the direction of the water front.

We came to another piazza, at which point we witnessed a car and a bike having an accident. Unfortunately for the cyclist (who was to blame) the owners of the car were policemen. I took a sneaky photo, and we all had a good laugh. We noticed that a load of massive photographs were being set up in this square on loads of boards. They depicted aerial views of famous landmarks around the world. In the centre, there was a huge map of the world, indicating where all of the photos came from. Moules excitedly pointed to Australia, saying that if we ever went there we should let him know because he would like to go back there (emphasising the fact that he'd already been).

Further around the square, we came to the waterfront again, and David and Steve began to engage in some banter, quoting from "the Office". They enacted the lines "There's someone been raped upstairs! You see, that's the point. Get their attention." At this point, a passer-by said, "That's not always easy". We all laughed. Chris pointed out that there were a lot of boats in the water. I pointed out that they weren't boats they were, in fact, hotels.

We crossed a bridge to a small island in the centre of the bay. We stopped to look at a map of the island on some board, and were delighted to discover that the map was accurate even to the extent that all of the trees on the island were drawn on it. We walked alongside the water, as was becoming customary, and paused at a rather picturesque jetty. Many photos were taken, including one of me running towards the water and Steve pretending to stop me. We walked further and discovered a bridge leading to another small island. There was a bunch of workmen with a JCB repairing the bridge. We crossed the bridge and climbed uphill, leaving the road and making for some mini fortification. David stabbed me with a dandelion clock. I happily returned the favour. At the top of the hill, we sat on a big rock and savoured the view. It was fantastic. I began to be in need of a toilet stop, which was a minor problem, cos there was nowhere in sight. We walked back to the other small island and decided to catch a ferry. There was some debate as to whether our Stockholm Cards were valid but Steve asked some big guy with a beard that appeared to be in charge of tickets on the ferry and it looked like it was okay. We climbed aboard and enjoyed a brief trip across the bay to a big island to the north. There was a large market thing on the waterfront, along with a band who bore a distinct similarity to the Worsels. Very unusual. We stopped for a can of coke and watched some people blundering around in little boats (or were they hotels?). One of them looked just like Bridget from Survivor. As we were sat there, she got stuck, and began to rock the boat too and fro'. The whole thing looked somewhat disturbing. A bloke tried to help her out, but she was pretty stuck and got more frantic. I said (in an impersonation of Michael from Alan Partridge), "Well, she's paid her money, she's gotta get something, so she's flipped it over and she's fu... and funnily enough, the rudder's caught first time, and she's just sailed away."

We began to walk again. We found a memorial of the Stockholm-Estonia ferry disaster and we stopped there for a while, before walking through a churchyard, across a busy road and into another large park. We discovered the entrance to the National history museum, but we passed on this one, and made for the entrance to the large open air museum called Skansen. We had a large debate as to whether to go in. Moules discovered we got a reduced entrance fee upon presentation of our Stockholm card, so that swung it and we went in. I made use of the toilet facilities, as did several of the others. The entrance was at the bottom of a massive hill, but we were too stingy to pay the extra for the cable car, so we walked. It was hard work, but we were rewarded when we reached the top. It turned out that Skansen was, in fact, some massive outdoor Swedish Ploppy museum with loads of olde Swedish houses you could go into. We spent the next hour or so going in and out of Swedish Ploppy houses. We found a Ploppy in one house that was some kind of printer's. In another, Steve had a conversation with a Mrs Ploppy about some big stove thing. Rupert spotted a rather attractive Ploppy girl in another house, but was too embarrassed to speak to her. We eventually came to a house that made Moules happy—a Ploppy baker's. I got in a round of pastries and we all sat down to indulge ourselves. Chris went to get some drinks and we spent some time chilling outside the glass makers. At this point, as if it seemed like an entirely natural thing, Amal bumped into some of his medic mates. Apparently there was a group of them in Stockholm for the weekend too. Typical Amal.

We walked across the park and entered the zoo area. It was feeding time for the animals, and we followed this big cart around that had people on it throwing hunks of meat at the lynxs, wolves, bears and foxes. There were also wolverines, which turned out to be pretty rubbish and boring. For some reason, the foxes had been put in an enclosure with the bears. We thought this was somewhat cruel. We all agreed that the lynxs were the coolest. A bit further around, we heard this disruption coming from a couple of people walking ahead of us. Steve said, "Is that some kind of retard?" We were unimpressed with this comment, because it turned out that it actually was a retard. Steve said, "I don't believe it, it actually IS a retard!"

Amal spotted a woman that he thought was Sophie Aldred, of Doctor Who fame. He was ecstatic, and tried to subtlely shout "Sophie" to see whether she reacted. We followed the feeding trail (and Sophie) and discovered this cool ferret enclosure. We stopped for a while at the seal enclosure, as the handlers began to chuck fish in for them. At some point, unbeknown to the rest of us, David and Rupert decided to dick off without telling us. I pointed out to Steve that I thought one particular seal should have taken two fish—one for him and one for his brother-in-law.

Moules and I left the group and walked the length of Skansen for a pot stop. Somewhat relieved, we returned to the zoo and met the others (including David and Rupert) at the reindeer enclosure. Somewhat unexcited by the reindeer, Amal led us (in pursuit of Sophie) to a small animal enclosure. There were lots of rather boring guinea pigs and somewhat cooler rabbits. This, however, could not excite us for too long and we decided it was time for more food. On the way towards the food place we walked past this little floor maze. David and I decided to solve it and we proceeded to run around it—thoroughly knackering ourselves in the process. Once this excitement was over, we found a big cafe place on the top of the cliff overlooking the entire bay area. The view was spectacular. David and I settled for a smorgasbord of cakes, but Moules was having none of it and he (and Steve) helped themselves to massive sandwiches. Amal and Rupert followed our lead and selected cakes. Steve went to the toilet and remarked on the strangely shaped urinals. I went to investigate and admitted that you could imagine Buck Rogers using one of those, in the 21st century.

Leaving the cafe, we walked past some cannons and some weird floor model of the solar system, in which an entire building was used to represent the Sun. We duly left Skansen down a lengthy escalator and past Sophie. Amal was sad to be leaving her. We had been away from the water for too long, so we made for it, passing a massive fairground which also overlooked the bay (most things do, apparently).

We waited for a good half hour for the ferry to turn up, then got on board and alighted back at the pictures and the map of the World. We had a short walk around them and then hurried back to our hotel (ignoring the opportunity to visit Morby Centrum again) to prepare for the evening meal.

The evening venue was a restaurant in the old town (Gamla Stan) on the main street. Waitress liason Steve had to transform into waiter liason, but he did the business and secured us a table. We sat down all together at a bar and waited for our table to be prepared. There was a rather cool jazz band playing in the background. Soon afterwards we had secured our table, and we sat down and ordered food. However, Rupert accidentally misordered and, whilst David was trying to make him feel better, somehow an argument broke out between the two of them. My efforts to patch things up fell on deaf ears, whilst Amal, Chris and Steve sat there pretty speechless. Chris did, however, find time later to declare that the "Mur, mur, mur, mur, mur" didn't help. The meal became a little stressful and we left the restaurant slightly earlier than we had intended, after finishing the main course (the food was good, incidentally). We walked back in the direction of the pictures in pairs—myself and Steve leading the way, Rupert and Chris about a hundred yards behind and Amal and David a hundred yards behind them. The pictures seemed to do the trick, as they provided calmness for all of us. Steve and I were way ahead examining the pictures when we heard commotion coming from somewhere near where David was sitting. It appeared that some Swedish drunk was advancing on a random stranger, uttering the words, "You! F*** you! You are a piece of f***ing shit!" David ran towards Steve and I in hysterics and we all cracked up for ages. The three of us then moved ahead of the rest and began to examine a rather impressive picture of a coral reef. I pointed something out, at which point a woman came up to us and said, "There is a sign in Swedish which says do not touch the pictures". I said, "It says it in English as well". She said, "Okay" and walked away. We were puzzled, because none of us had touched the picture. David pointed out that it said it in Urdu as well. This caused much hilarity.

The obvious next place to go was the food festival. We walked over to there and chilled for some time with drinks, listening to the band. Steve and I were again in shock at the line penetrations. After some time spent here chatting, we decided it was time to return home and we walked back to Central Station.

On our train, there were no seats, so we all stood. At Ustermalmstorg, the people occupying a four-person set of seats got off. I moved in to take one of the seats. Steve and David were about to join me, but were jostled out of the way by three blonde Swedish girls who had just boarded the train. They surrounded me on the seats, sending me into deep shock. For the remainder of the journey, Steve made comments such as "Mike, have you put the lottery on this week?" and the like. When we arrived at Tekniska Hogskolan, Steve said, "Mike, are you getting off with us, or are you going all the way with them?" I was embarrassed and trying not to laugh at the same time. The three girls then said, "Bye guys!" and waved at us as we exited the train. An interesting experience.

By the time we had returned to the Arcadia, I had recovered from my shock enough to join the others at the hotel bar. As we entered, a girl sat at one of the tables turned to Amal and said, "Excuse me, do you know what time it is?" Amal said, "We're guests of the hotel". She then said, "So, do you know what time it is?" Amal was just about to turn around and leave, at which point Rupert dived in and supplied her with the time. Nice one, Rupert.

We sat down and discussed the prospects for Day 3. We were planning a trip to one of the islands in the archipelago off the coast of Sweden. However, knowing how previous final day excursions had gone badly wrong, we felt a certain trepidation as we all returned to our hotel rooms to catch up on sleep.

Saturday, 1st June

Owing to the fact that we had a long day ahead of us, an early start was in order. We ate a rapid smorgasbord and headed out at around 8.00a.m., stopping at the grocery store on route to buy loads of supplies for our trip to the beach. This time, we took the underground to Slussen. We were about an hour early for the bus, so we left the underground station and had a walk around. There were some guys setting up a market. I sat down on a seat and got told off because it was, apparently, part of the stall. We had failed to buy any kind of drinks for our trip and since it was a hot day, we were a little perturbed about this. However, there were no obvious places to purchase them. We ended up sat in McDonald's enjoying a beverage and watching the Cameroon-Ireland game. Cameroon were leading, but Ireland fluked a goal just before we had to depart for the bus.

Back at the bus station, we were shocked to discover that a massive queue had developed in our absence. We were a little perturbed that we wouldn't get a seat. The bus turned up and we waited patiently for our turn. As we approached the front of the queue we began to grow in confidence as we felt we would get a seat. However, the rear door of the bus opened up at this point and stacks of people piled through that door, claiming the remaining seats. We had been well and truly become the victims of bus shafting and we had to stand most of the way to the docks. It was a good hour and a half's journey, and Amal began to feel rather sick. Fortunately we managed to secure him a seat after about an hour and he recovered a little.

At the docks, we discovered that the boat had already arrived. We rushed over to ensure we got a seat, but it turned out this was not a problem. We were one of the first ones on and we secured an area downstairs. As the ferry departed, we soon relocated upstairs (on deck). The weather was fantastic and views on the boat trip were nothing short of spectacular. We bought some very overpriced drinks from the bar on the ferry to consume during the day.

The boat stopped at a variety of islands before docking in Sandham which was to be our island paradise for the next 8 hours or so. We stopped in Sandham's only village to buy a football, then had a gorgeous half hour walk through the forest to a little secluded beach on the far side of the island. Moules and I donned our swimming trunks and decided to venture into the water. The water was freezing and I managed to go in up to my waist before packing in suffering from hyperthermia. Moules, however, was being something of a crazy, and he dived in and swam around for ages.

A bit later, we had a game of football. Myself and Rupert took on David and Moules. It finished as a somewhat controversial 3−3 draw. After a packed lunch, comprising all the cool stuff we'd bought at the grocery store (and not enough drink to satisfy our thirst!) Moules dived back into the water and swam out to a rock some distance out, whilst myself, David and Amal went to investigate the rocks. We chilled there for some time, and were shortly joined by Steve.

After a fantastically successful outing, we headed back to Sandham village, concerned that we'd be late for the ferry. Fortunately, we made it just in time and the journey back to land was uneventful. We duly joined the queue for the bus. This time, to avoid bus shafting, Moules and I got onto the bus through the middle door when it opened. Amal tried to follow suit, but was stopped by some Swedish woman who told him that that door was just for people with small children. The others therefore had to wait for everyone else and, whilst Moules and I relaxed in our seats having bus shafted the others, they had to stand. Fortunately, myself and Chris are generous souls and we allowed the others to sit for some of the journey. The journey back to Slussen was a long one, and Amal felt quite ill, but we eventually arrived back and hurried to the Arcadia to prepare ourselves for the evening meal and the revealing of destinations.

The venue was to a a traditional pizza place in the old town, also known as Gamla Stan. Unfortunately the place was a little smokey, which David didn't like.

As the evening wore on, the destinations were gradually revealed. Steve had selected Oslo. Rupert had chosen some army camp type place known as Skern Lodge. I had plumped for Amsterdam. Amal kept up his good form and suggested the Scottish Highlands. David unsurprisingly chose Copenhagen, whilst Moules pulled a good destination out of the bag and revealed Berlin.

In a change to the rules, the Little Lucky Leprechaun was also allowed a destination. This was a place agreed by all of us that we'd quite like to visit. After some discussion, Austria went into the hat.

After the pizza, the rehearsal draw took place. A few moments later, the Little Lucky Leprechaun was consoling himself with a Barthez, whilst Moules was celebrating with a Shearer.

However, that was small fry compared with what was to come. As coffees were delivered to the table, we prepared ourselves for the main draw.

Steve would eliminate first.

He chose:

AMSTERDAM

I had to do a Barthez.

It was then the turn of Rupert.

He eliminated

COPENHAGEN

David, Steve and I could have hit him.

It was my go. And I picked

OSLO

I could have hit myself. The draw was turning nasty. My favourite three destinations gone already.

Amal stepped up to the oche. He looked at the bit of paper, said, "Ironic!" and revealed

THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS

I could have cheered.

David's turn now. He selected one and revealed

SKERN LODGE

Thank goodness. Only Berlin and Austria left. I wasn't too bothered any more.

The turn of Moules and the Little Lucky Leprechaun (selected by David again).

Moules picked up his paper, opened it and revealed his very own

BERLIN

David then revealed (on behalf of the Little Lucky Leprechaun)

AUSTRIA

The Little Lucky Leprechaun celebrated with a Shearer.

Hence the destination of our fourth break would be Austria. We were very excited and everyone seemed fairly content.

Some time later, we left the restaurant and entered a small trinket shop, to buy the Colonel's break's new mascot, Eric the Viking. He cost about two pounds—a bargain.

We walked around the old town for one final time and then wandered back to our by now traditional evening hang out, the food festival. On route, we stopped at the pictures one final time.

After a couple of drinks at the food festival, we returned to the hotel. David's final suggestion of a trip to Morby Centrum was dismissed and, pretty knackered from a very long day, we all punched the sack.

Sunday, 2nd June

We woke up at the crack of dawn, packed and made our way downstairs for a rapid smorgasbord. Rupert again didn't eat very much.

We checked out and walked back to Tekniska Hosgkolan underground. Steve made the final suggestion that we have food at the pizza place. We made it to Central Station fairly efficiently, but then had a good half hour's wait for our bus. There was a set of airlock style doors through to the place where you get on the bus, and Moules and I managed a spectacular bus shafting on the others for the second time in as many days. We sat downstairs, grabbing the only two tables available on the bus.

The bus journey was a drag, since we were all pretty shattered, so once we arrived at the airport, we checked in and then grabbed some food in a dodgy looking canteen. We did our usual trick of scraping together the remaining bits of change we had and spent it on a smorgasbord of cakes and drinks.

The next four hours would prove to be something of a nightmare. England were playing Sweden in their opening match of the World Cup and we were anxious not to know the score. As the plane landed at Stansted, we exited the plane with our hands over our ears. At this point, Steve and I believed we heard that the pilot says the score is 1−1. David heard differently—he thought there have been more goals than this, but he didn't know who'd won.

The trip through baggage reclaim was nerve-racking, as we saw Swedish and English on the phone clearly attempting to find out the result. Bags claimed, we said a sad farewell to Amal and went to the station. To our horror, we discovered that the trains weren't running and we would be forced to take a replacement bus to Audley End, then a train to Cambridge. This proved to be even worse, as we were convinced we would find out the score. A bus and a train journey later, we began the walk back to Argyle Street. People began to give us funny looks, as we were trying to avoid listening to anyone's conversations. Two guys playing football in the street just around the corner from our house provided a stern test—Moules and I almost ran past them to avoid hearing the score. They made some comment about us on the way past.

Finally back at the house, we settled down to watch the match. At half time David commented that the BBC had hired a smorgasbord of England managers and players to do the half time analysis. The final score was 1−1. We were puzzled and had spent the last 20 minutes convinced that Sweden were going to score a second goal. The Stockholm experience had finally ended. We all agreed that it had been a good one. There was also one other thing about which we all agreed:

It's Austria next time!

Postscript:

Some days later, Moules discovered he had, in fact, left his umbrella on the bus on the way back from Stockholm. Having dragged the thing around for the whole holiday and never used it, and caused himself intense grief when checking the thing onto the plane, he went and lost it. Sadly ironic.