2010-03-08 Brass monkey weather in Sweden

Global chilling

Sweden has had one of the most prolonged, intense winters, with more snow and deep-freeze temperatures than anyone I have met here can remember. It started before Christmas and now, on 8 March, we are still in its grip, though todayís temperature has been hovering just above zero.

When I arrived at Stockholm Arlanda airport two weeks ago, it was more than 55 degrees colder than it had been in Bangkok, when my plane took off the night before. It was stunningly cold (about minus 17 that morning, though I am told it had been minus 30 the previous night).

I was in a state of psychological and physical shock and retreat for a couple of days before my house warmed up and I got used to putting on multiple layers of clothing for just sitting in the house, and then even more for the shortest expedition outside. I had arrived with woolly hat and scarf, jumper and coat, but I very quickly had to dig into my store of long woollen underwear, thick socks (the kind I used to use on winter mountain walks), fleecy jackets and padded over-trousers. Wow! It was cold!

We had minus 24 one night, and between minus 10 and 15 has been more or less normal with a few exceptions during the day. When I arrived, there was already a half metre of snow, and thereís since been another 20cms or so. Under a bright Swedish winter sun and blue skies, it all looks quite magical (a comprehensive blanket of white as far as the eye can see in the countryside), but it does make even ordinary everyday living quite an effort.

Developments at home

Before I set off for chilly Sweden, big things were happening at the farm, particularly on the plot of land in the valley with the big fish pool that we dug. 150 lorry-loads of top soil were delivered and spread; then I went off with the contractor doing the rounds of forest, flower and rock suppliers: we bought a few dozen semi-mature trees, including a large oil palm, about ten or twelve years old; a truckful of enormous rocks (some about a metre wide or tall); lots of flowers and shrubs. The working team put in an irrigation system for the whole area, connected to our hilltop storage tanks. A bamboo house and brick toilet were completed (for Mr Sam to stay in and carry out his security duties on that side of the farm); a small gazebo, a very small jetty and a formal gateway with fence were planned and underway when I left. Itís all terribly exciting and I canít wait to get back and see how itís all going.

Back in Sweden

Here, Iíve had an intensely busy time, working eight to ten hours most days. Iím preparing a new edition of a book on crisis management I wrote in 2003; Iím preparing for my annual weekís teaching of pharmacy students at Rangsit University two days after I return on 18 March; Iíve had a number of articles and essays to edit and comment on; UMC has provided me with a number of new assignments and projects which have also kept me busy. Almost no time for holiday at all.

Iíve been reading a spectacularly interesting book called ëThe Master and his Emissary: The divided brain and the making of the western worldí by Iain McGilchrist. Itís about the revelations of neuroscience, psychiatry and philosophy about the nature of the brain; about the origins of language; the meaning of truth; the nature of perception, and how the deeply different characteristics of the two hemispheres of the brain create the world we experience, and determine the priorities of culture, politics and everything else. Itís an intellectual and scholarly tour de force, written with marvellous lucidity and lightness of touch.

Iím also reading Alexander McCall Smithís ëCorduroy Mansions,í first published as a daily novel on www.telepgraph.co.uk. It has all the characteristics of his brilliant fiction (The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency and all) ñ wisdom, humour, wit and tension all found in the most ordinary, everyday relationships and happenings, with some extraordinary and memorable characters too.

Iíve been slack over uploading photos in the last couple of months ñ my apologies! Iím determined to try and rectify that before I leave here. Iím off to the UK for a weekend with my brother and family (and maybe my new great-nephew!), a couple of days in London for dentist and dinner with Roy (and the purchase of essential supplies of bitter marmalade before I get back to the marmalade wasteland of Thailand).

12 March looks as though it might be a very uncomfortable day in Bangkok: the red shirts are gathering to protest about the Supreme Courtís ruling in relation to former PM Thaksinís billions of assets. I think emergency security legislation will be in force for a longish period. The country is deeply divided politically, but the most alarming aspect is the fomenting of unrest by some parties: itís impossible to tell where it will end. A fragile democracy is again under threat.