A coastguard interrogation, a Bronze Age murder, and an anti-monument

“Let’s find a nice sheltered anchorage and chill out for a couple of days”, says the First Mate over breakfast. “The weather forecast for the next week is for high pressure with lots of sunshine and weak southerly winds, so it should be relaxing.”

“Good idea”, I says. “I’ll see if I can find somewhere in the online Harbour Guide out in the archipelago that is protected from southerly winds.”

“Storön looks nice”, says the First Mate, looking over my shoulder. “Why don’t we try that one?”

We leave Vaxholm and sail northwards back where we came the day before with Joanne and Peter. We eventually reach the tree-covered island of Storön, where there is a small bay on the northern side. With only one other boat there, there is plenty of room for us. We drop anchor, make lunch, and relax in the sunshine.

Anchored in Storön.

“Have you seen those huge cruise ships going past out in the fairway?”, says the First Mate. “They are obviously coming from Stockholm, but I wonder where they are heading for?”

“It looks like we are at a bit of a junction”, I say, consulting the charts. “The ones that turn northwards seem to be heading for Finland. The ones that go straight on might be heading for Gotland or even further south.”

“They certainly create quite a bit of swell”, she says, as we see a wave travelling towards us. “Even though they must be a good half-a mile away.”

Ruby Tuesday rocks violently as the wash reaches us. A few seconds later it reaches the shore and tosses the other small boat up and down mercilessly. The owners leap up from their sunbathing towels and run to protect it from being dashed on the rocks. Luckily it subsides quickly and calm is restored.

Cruise ship on the fairway.

In the morning I take the dinghy and row ashore. I tie up to one of the rocks and follow a small path into the forest. I had half thought that it might lead to the other side of the island, but before long it peters out. I sit on a lichen-covered rock and relax, absorbing my surroundings. It is quiet, hardly a sound. I close my eyes and listen. Deeper down there are other sounds – a slight breeze, the rustle of leaves, the crack of a pine-cone in the heat, the trickle of water over rocks. I try to imagine the trees themselves breathing in and out, providing oxygen for the rest of us to use. I smell the mustiness of the mulch of the forest floor, teeming with bacterial and fungal life. An ant runs over my foot, taking a short cut to her destination, disturbing my reverie. I contemplate flicking her off, but decide against it. In a few seconds she is gone, back into the dry leaves underfoot. On the fallen tree in front of me, two black beetles scurry into holes in the rotten wood. Overhead a bird calls, but then there is quiet again. It could be the dawn of time. Life was here before humans came. Life will continue after they have gone.

Lichen patterns on rock.
Forest tranquillity.

My peace is disturbed by the throb of a motorboat engine. Reluctantly, I stand up and retrace my steps through the forest. Day-trippers have arrived in the bay and are tying up to the rocks. I untie the dinghy and row back to the boat. Such forest interludes are restorative.

The days pass in a bliss of reading, writing and relaxing. The three R’s?

“I think that we should start making our way to Stockholm”, I say one evening. “We can have a few days in the city centre seeing things that we haven’t seen before, then head into Lake Mälaren to where there is a potential winter storage marina. We can see if it is suitable for us.”

“Good idea”, says the First Mate. “We could then spend a bit of time exploring Lake Mälaren itself. It is supposed to be very beautiful.”

We weigh anchor the next morning, join the fairway again, and sail towards Stockholm. The wind is still from the south, but at 14 knots there is enough now to make some progress. We sail on a comfortable beam reach for several miles.

“Why are you slowing down here?”, asks the First Mate, as we pass an island.

“I’m not doing it on purpose”, I say. “The wind has dropped right off behind this island. The topography interferes and makes it very difficult to predict which direction the wind will come from. But I am sure it will pick up again soon.”

Sure enough, the wind picks up after a short period of drifting in the current, but this time from the opposite direction, having circled around the island. We trim the sails and carry on. Eventually we see the building cranes on the skyline of central Stockholm. We furl the mainsail and let the genoa take us slowly into the centre of Stockholm.

Approaching Stockholm city centre.

Suddenly, a Coastguard vessel appears and passes us. Spotting our flag, it circles around and comes up behind us, only a few metres separating the two boats. Two officers ask us where we are from.

“Scotland”, we say, pointing to our flag.

“And the boat?”, they ask.

“She’s registered in the United Kingdom”, we say. “But is classified as European goods.”

“Where are you staying?”

“We are planning to stay in Vasahamnen for a few days”, we answer.

Seemingly satisfied, they pull back and then pass us, heading for the city centre. We see them later in Vasahamnen. We half-expect them to visit us to examine our documents, but they show no further interest in us.

The Coastguard interrogate us.

“Imagine being able to sail right to the centre of Stockholm in our boat”, says the First Mate that evening as we sip our glasses of wine in the cockpit. “Look, the Vasa Museum is just over there. Do you remember visiting it after our cycle ride with Joanne and Peter that time? At least we don’t need to see it now.”

We had done a week-long cycle trip with Joanne and Peter five years ago, starting and ending in Stockholm. The last day we had spent exploring some of the sights of the city.

The Vasa warship (photo taken in 2017).

In the morning, we unload the bikes and ride into town for lunch. It is the last day of the Stockholm Culture Festival, and music is being played wherever we go. We decide to have lunch at an outdoor café in the Kungsträdgården and listen to an impromptu group of musicians playing traditional Swedish folk music.

“They really love what they are doing, don’t they?”, says the First Mate. “Look at their faces. The whole atmosphere is great.”

Music-makers in Kungsträdgården.

After lunch, we cycle over the Strömbron bridge to the southern cliffs overlooking the Saltsjön, the body of water stretching from the archipelago to the city centre that we had come in on the day before.

“Look, there’s our marina, just beyond the funfair”, I say. “If you look hard enough, you can see Ruby Tuesday. And that’s where the Coastguard intercepted us down there.”

Looking over the Saltsjön towards Vasahamnen.

We cycle back the way we came.

“Oh, look”, says the First Mate on the way back. “There’s the OceanBus. I read about it in the guidebook. It takes tourists both on the land and on the water. You can see the sights of the city from both perspectives.”

The OceanBus waiting to depart.

We follow it and watch it drive into the water at the Djurgårdsbrunnsviken near the British Embassy.

“Cool”, says the First Mate. “But no need for us to do it. We have our own means of water transport.”

Seeing Stockholm from the water..


The man paddles his boat slowly amongst the reeds growing in the shallow water at the shoreline of the Great Lake. Ducks beat a retreat from this sudden disturbance to their quiet world. He lies his paddle athwart the gunwales of his boat for a moment and rubs his jaw, trying to relieve the aching pain of several months now, but it makes little difference. He grimaces, and picks up the paddle once more, using it to propel his boat around the reeds until the flat rocky landing area comes into view. It has been two weeks now since he left the familiarity of his home in the rich farming lands of Skåne to the south, and travelled north to sell some of his leather goods at the market in Köping. Already he is missing the succulent meat and creamy milk that his kinsmen produce.

He had made the journey several times now, and knew the way. There were stories of pirates on the Great Lake who would stop at nothing to rob and kill unwary travellers, but they were more to the east where the lake joined the sea. In any case, he had never met or seen any on his previous trips.

The craftsman beaches his small boat, takes the bag with his meagre belongings in it – his leather goods that he hopes to sell, his trusty flint skin scraper, his bronze awl, his cane, and his sandstone tool sharpener – and steps ashore. He pushes the boat into the reeds at the side of the rocks so that it can’t be seen. It will be safe there until he returns in a few days’ time.

There is a rustle from the trees beyond the flat rock. The craftsman turns quickly, fear in his eyes. Two roughly dressed men in animal skins and carrying bronze axes appear and clamber over the grassy bank. Pirates! He looks around, but there is no escape. Taking his shield and drawing his sword, he faces them. The men circle him, one on each side, and shout to him to drop his sword.

The craftsman says nothing. They come closer, the rancid smell of their skins searing his nostrils. One makes a rush, brandishing his axe above his head. The craftsman raises his shield to parry the attack. The stroke is deflected, but still cuts a glancing blow through the shield and into his arm. As the axeman struggles to regain his balance, the craftsman thrusts with his sword, piercing the skins and penetrating the chest of his assailant. As he tries to pull his sword out of the pirate’s body, he senses the approach of his companion, and turns. It is too late. The second pirate swings his axe from above – for a brief moment the craftsman is aware of acute pain on one side of his face, his vision clouds red momentarily, then there is nothing ….

The victor rifles though the craftsman’s bag, removes the leatherware goods for himself, and throws the bag into the lake. He then stoops to pick up the bodies one by one and drops them into the water.

Ursäkta mig, har du något emot att jag tar ett foto av mannens huvud?”, a voice says next to me. Excuse me, do you mind if I take a photo of the man’s head?”

Reconstruction of the head of the Bronze Age Man from Granhammar.

I am standing in front of the reconstructed head of the Bronze Age Man from Granhammar, one of the exhibits in the Prehistories section of the Swedish History Museum, trying to imagine the circumstances of his death around 825 BC. I am alone – the First Mate had decided to go to the Museum of Modern Art on Skepperholmen instead – so I had lost myself in a fascinating exposition of Swedish history from prehistoric to modern times. I had sympathised with the Woman of Barum, who had died in 7000 BC sitting upright in her grave; I had wondered at the relationship between the Man and Child of Skateholm from 5000-6000 years ago; and I had admired the Man and Woman of Gårdlösa in their Roman-inspired clothes. And now the Man from Granhammar. All real lives from the past.

The Woman of Barum, died c. 7000 BC

I move through to the Gotland Massacre room. I had never heard of this massacre before, but I learn that back in 1361, King Valdemar IV of Denmark decided that he wanted to add the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea to his Danish Empire. He sent his army to invade the island, but the farmers there weren’t keen on being ruled by the Danish. They put up a fierce resistance by luring the Danes to a marshy area, but the latter won that battle decisively. The Gotlanders retreated to the island’s capital, Visby, where they put up a spirited last stand, but unfortunately, again were soundly beaten.

The marshlands preserved the bodies of many of the soldiers who fought in the battle, along with their equipment.

Gotlander killed in the Gotland massacre by the Danish Army, 1361 AD.

In the basement of the museum, blasted out of the rock, I find the Gold Room, which holds 3000 gold objects from Sweden’s past. Symbols of power and wealth, most were found in large hordes buried by their owners in times of danger and never returned to. The earliest date as far back as 1500 BC, but the majority were made during Sweden’s Gold Age from 400-550 AD.

Gold bracelets and hair spirals.

These gold collars were made in the 5th century AD. No-one quite know what they were for, but possibly they were used to adorn wooden images of gods, or were worn by important political or religious leaders.

Gold collar made in the 5th century AD.

Reflecting its success as a Baltic trading centre, a large number of these objects were found on Gotland, treasure troves accumulated over several centuries and buried for safekeeping at the time of the Gotland Massacre.

Gold goblet and plate.

It’s time to go. I still haven’t seen the Vikings exhibition, but I’ll have to leave it for another day.

“How did you get on?”, I ask the First Mate when we meet up again.

“Well, I took the ferry across to Skepperholmen”, she says. “The Museum of Modern Art is not far from the ferry landing. The first thing you see are the huge sculptures produced by the Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar based on Picasso’s cardboard mockups, which in turn are based on the original painting Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe by the French painter Edouard Manet. Picasso, however, had both the men and the woman naked rather than just the woman, apparently to symbolise the shedding of their bourgeois conventions.”

Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe according to Picasso/Nesjar.

“I am not surprised”, I say. “The Scandinavians are pretty relaxed about nudity.”

“Inside there was an exhibition by Jeppe Hein, a Danish artist based in Berlin”, the First Mate continues. “Its purpose was to help you explore ‘Who are you really?’ in unconventional ways. It didn’t really do anything for me, but I liked the step-in water fountain he created just at the entrance. If you chose the right moment, you could step into the fountain and stay dry.”

Hein’s Fountain.

“There was lots of interesting contemporary art from Swedish and international artists, such as Sirgrid Hjertén, Salvador Dali, Paul Klee, Robert Rauschenberg and Henrik Kinski. I also enjoyed the sculptures, such as the colourful Fantastic Paradise from Niki de Saint Phalle & Jean Tinguely, and the ‘anti-monument’ by Björn Lövin called Lenin Monument April 13th, 1917, in which he uses a block of granite with an X painted onto it to represent Lenin’s visit to Stockholm without commemorating Lenin himself. The aim apparently was to challenge the power structures that determine who and what is commemorated. I found that quite an interesting concept at least, even if it does look rather drab.”

Anti-monument: Lövin’s Lenin Monument April 13th, 1917.

“I can see why it is called an anti-monument, at least”, I say.

“But what about yourself?”, she asks. “How was the History Museum?”

I tell her of my adventures there.

“What I found interesting was that at the end of the Prehistories section, there were a series of questions challenging our worldviews”, I say. “Questions like were their concept of families the same then as now, how large was their world compared to ours now, and who controlled their world then compared to now? You take it for granted that people then thought in much the same way as we do now, but it really made me wonder how true that is. Did you know, for example, that the concept of a nuclear family only dates from 1940s America?”

“No, I didn’t”, says the First Mate. “But thinking about it, our ancestors did tend to live in extended families, so I am not really surprised.”

“Then at the end, they made the point that history itself is a human construction, often with a political agenda in mind”, I continue. “Histories can change over time. One example is a bronze and iron helmet from 550-800 AD that was found in Uppland In the 19th century – it was taken as evidence of tall noble knights of the mythical kingdom of Svea that was supposed to be the forerunner of modern Sweden.”

Iron and bronze helmet used to construct the Svean kingdom myth.

“It makes you wonder what histories you are being told now that will be scoffed at as propaganda in a hundred years’ time or so”, chips in Spencer from the bimini. “Is anything really true, or is it all just a human construct?”

Redundant fortresses, dreaming spiders, and a quick dip

We set sail from Nynäshamn the next morning, still following Valdemar’s Way. The wind is from the southeast, and after we round the top end of Bedarön island, we have a close reach which gives us a good speed before we need to turn northwards again. Just as we do, the wind drops, and with it now almost directly behind us, we sail with the genoa only. Progress is sedate, to say the least, but it allows us to relax and enjoy the scenery.

On Valdemar’s fairway again.

We aim for a small island called Store Senholmen where there is a blue SXK buoy marked that we can tie up to. We eventually reach the small bay where the buoy is supposed to be, but there is no sign of it. We decide to anchor there anyway as it is sheltered from the southeast wind. Then, believe it or not, just as we drop the anchor the wind changes around to the north. Our spot suddenly becomes exposed.

“Why don’t we go around to the south side of the island?”, says the First Mate. “It might be more sheltered on that side”.

We motor around and find another small bay. A few expensive-looking houses line the shore. We drop the anchor into about 5 metres of water, and reverse Ruby Tuesday to make sure that it is set. The anchor bites into the seabed. We are safe for the evening.

Anchored for the evening.

From our anchorage, we see a fortress of some kind perched in a rocky promontory overlooking the main archipelago fairway.

“That must have a great view”, says Joanne. “I wonder what it is? It looks like some kind of castle.”

Dalarö Skans fortress.

Our Archipelago Guide tells us that it is the Dalarö Skans fortress originally built in 1623 to guard the southern approaches to Stockholm against any invaders coming along the fairway. It was rebuilt in 1656 and was further strengthened in 1698. Despite all this, it was never used in anger and was bypassed by the Russian forces during their pillages of 1719. The last commander of the fortress is supposed to have been buried on a neighbouring island.

“Perhaps that island with all the dead trees on it is where he was buried?”, says Peter.

Island of dead trees.

“I wonder why the Russians pillaged Sweden at that time?”, says the First Mate. “They seem to have a habit for doing that sort of thing.”

“I have no idea”, I answer. “I’ll look it up when I get a moment.”

We cook dinner, and sit in the cockpit watching the sun go down over Dalarö Skans. The conversation turns to politics.

“British politics seems to be in a bit of a state these days”, says Peter. “We used to admire Britain, but the government now seems to be the laughing stock of the world.”

“Yes, and the annoying thing is that the majority of people don’t want them”, I say. “The present government was elected with only 44% of the popular vote. More people didn’t want them than did. And yet they still end up with an 80-seat majority. Not to mention the current election for the next Prime Minister. It’s only the 160,000 or so paid-up members of the Tory party who are able to vote for the last two candidates, and yet their policies can have a major impact on us all. It doesn’t seem very democratic, does it? Some people call it an elected dictatorship.”

“But what other system could you have?”, asks Joanne.

“Perhaps what we need is more participatory democracy”, I say, only slightly tongue-in-cheek. “Surely in this information age we are in, we can come up with more imaginative ways of governing ourselves? I used to wonder if it would be possible to involve people more by having it so that when people turn their computers on in the morning up comes a list of issues that need to be voted on. Then while their coffee is on the go, people could just go through them and vote how they want on each one. The results would all then be collated by a central computer and votes counted. Everyone would be involved in making decisions and we could do away with all this party politics where MPs are ‘whipped’ to vote the way their leader wants rather than according to their consciences. All we would need is some sort of impartial body that would determine what sort of issues should be voted on each day.”

“It would never work”, says Peter. “People just wouldn’t have the time to get to know all the background to each issue. I know I wouldn’t. I am quite prepared to vote someone in for a set period of time to do all the legwork in making decisions and then judge them for it at the end. If they have done a good job, I’ll vote for them again. If not, then I won’t.”

“Perhaps people need to make more time to spend on such things if they want to live in a democracy, though”, says the First Mate. “After all, it affects their lives, so surely they would want to have a direct say in what is decided?”

“If they don’t have time, people needn’t vote for everything every day”, I continue, warming to the theme. “They could just vote for the things that they know something about and directly affect them. But at least they would have the choice. No one would be forced to vote, but if they didn’t then they couldn’t complain if the decision is not what they would have wanted.”

A motor boat approaches us at top speed. We brace ourselves to be rocked by the massive wake it leaves behind, but the driver slows down before he reaches us and cruises past us slowly. As soon as he is past us, he resumes his original speed again.

“At least he was considerate to us”, says the First Mate. “Most of them couldn’t care less and zoom past us, leaving us to rock violently from side to side. Things can fall and break.”

No consideration!

“But it would be almost impossible to take into account the many different values that millions of people have”, says Peter, continuing the previous conversation.

“I am not so sure”, I say. “We did an exercise at my last place of work. It started off by getting everyone to write down what they thought the values of the organisation should be. All the answers were then grouped by facilitators into broad themes. These then went back to everyone for comment and modification if necessary. After a few iterations of this, they came up with something that everyone was happy with, despite all their diverse backgrounds and points of view. In the end there were about six or seven values. I would imagine that it might be similar for a country.”

“I agree”, says Joanne. “Most people, regardless of their cultural background, all want similar things – security, respect, fairness, prosperity, that sort of thing.”

“And all that could be done by a computer easily”, I say. “I am sure that there is software around already which can extract meaning from free text and categorise it into broad themes. In fact, taking it to its logical conclusion, we could let computers run the country completely. Would it really be such a bad thing? They could be programmed to achieve the greatest happiness for all. That, after all, was the basis of Utilitarianism in the 18th century.”

“The big challenge would be translating those broad values into actual policies, though”, says Peter. “That’s where people differ in their views of how to do it.”

“I know that there will be things to resolve”, I agree. “But we do need to think out of the box to address the problems of the current system.”

We anchor the next night in a beautiful little bay called Lerviken on the island of Skärpo, just off the main fairway. We are the only ones in it, but in the neighbouring inlet, there is another yacht anchored. It looks deserted.

Lerviken on the island of Skärpo.

“There seems to be someone on it”, says Peter, looking through the binoculars. “I can see a leg at least. A very pretty one too.”

“You men!”, says Joanne.

“Perhaps there’s been a murder, and they have cut up the body”, I say. “Or do you think they are filming the next episode of The Killing? There will probably be cameras or a film crew if you look hard enough.”

“I think that was Danish”, says the First Mate. “But they could be filming an episode in Sweden, I suppose. I wonder if we will see Sofie Gråbøl? Maybe we should go and anchor over there so that we can be in the background.”

The mystery is solved when the body that is attached to the leg sits up. It’s a woman in her 30s. We hastily hide the binoculars and pretend that we are polishing the boat. There’s no sign of Sofie Gråbøl or the camera crew.

In the evening after the others have gone to bed, I look up my trusty History of Europe book to find out more about Swedish history in the 17th and 18th centuries. It tells me that after the 30 Years’ War ended and the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648, Sweden became a European great power, controlling territory all around the Baltic. Several other countries in the region weren’t particularly happy about this, so they formed an alliance, led by Russia under Peter the Great, which led to the Great Northern War from 1700-1723. Things didn’t go too well for the Swedes and they lost their Baltic provinces, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. In the ensuing peace negotiations, Sweden wanted its Baltic provinces back, but Peter the Great lost patience with all the arguing and decided to teach the Swedes a lesson. He had galleys made that could be rowed as well as sailed, and which could therefore negotiate the narrow rocky passages between the archipelago islands. The Swedish Navy wasn’t equipped for this type of warfare and had to leave the islands to their fate. Not restricted to the fairway any more, the Russians just bypassed the fortresses at Dalarö and Vaxholm and laid waste to the islands, burning towns and villages to the ground. Only churches were left intact. The islanders fled to mainland Sweden, with 20,000 people made homeless. It was only when the Russians tried to attack Stockholm that the Swedes managed to chase them off. Nevertheless, Swedish power was weakened, and Russia became the new dominant Baltic power. The Swedes decided they had had enough of all-powerful kings that waged disastrous wars, and moved to a parliamentary system to usher in the so-called ‘Age of Liberty’.

“It’s interesting how events of 300 years ago still have ripples nowadays”, says Spencer reading from behind my shoulder. “The Swedes now have had a respectable tradition of democracy and good governance, whereas the Russians have stuck with their autocratic system, which has essentially remained to this day apart from a brief dalliance with democracy in the 1990s. It must have a huge effect on the way they view the world. You are seeing the outcome of that mindset in Ukraine now. Now if you don’t mind, I would like to go to sleep and dream. Spiders do that, you know.”

Dreaming spiders?

“Ah yes”, I say. “I read that article in the paper this morning too. Scientists have discovered that spiders have rapid eye movements and limb twitching while they are sleeping, just like humans do. Well, happy dreams!”

I don’t sleep too well that night. For some reason, images of sticky webs, tasty flies, and buzzing wasps keep running through my mind.

“You were doing lots of twitching last night”, says the First Mate in the morning. “What on earth were you dreaming about?”

“You don’t want to know”, I say.

There is a splash. Peter and Joanne have decided to have a swim off the back of the boat before breakfast.

“It’s l-l-lovely”, says Joanne, as she bounces in and out in the space of a few seconds. “But a bit cold.”

This prompts me to try and have a look at the keel after our disagreement with the rock back in Harstena. I put on my wetsuit and grab the mask and snorkel, and climb in gingerly. I swim under the boat, but the water is cloudy and I can’t see very much. Nevertheless, it looks OK, except for a possible mark on the bottom of the keel where the antifouling has disappeared. Probably the point of impact, I think.

In I go!

We weigh anchor and re-join Valdemar’s Way heading west along the north coast of Vindö, making for Vaxholm. This time the wind is from the east, but again there isn’t much of it. We drift along at two to three knots, feeling elated when a stray puff of wind takes us to four knots for a few minutes before disappearing again. We don’t mind, as we have now settled into a languid mood where time hardly matters. We lunch on the boat, taking turns to eat our buttered sandwiches at the helm while keeping a watchful eye on other boats, islands and nasty rocks.

We take the fork that leads us north of Västerholmen to avoid the large cruise ships, through the narrow gap between Store Delh and Lille Delh, and re-join the main fairway again south of Värholma. As we get closer to Stockholm, the boat traffic increases exponentially, and soon we are surrounded by motorboats, ferries and other yachts on all sides, their wash making us pitch and rock wildly from side to side.

“They should have a speed limit in here”, says the First Mate, as a particularly fast motor launch roars past us. “There’s just no thought for slower boats like ourselves.”

Wave machine.

Once through the narrow gap between Hästholmen and Resarö, we spy Vaxholm Castle, and beyond that, Vaxholm itself.

Vaxholm castle was built at around the same time as the one we had seen earlier in Dalarö, and was one of three that King Gustav Vasa had built to protect Stockholm. It was rebuilt in the mid-1800s, but due to advances in military technology, was obsolete by the time it was finished. Today it is a museum and conference centre.

Vaxholm Castle.

The First Mate has phoned ahead to reserve an alongside berth at the marina to make it easy to unload the suitcases. It is the weekend, and the marina is a froth of activity as everyone in Stockholm, his wife and dog jostle for places. Ferries steam past, their wash rolling under the piles of the outer pier and making Ruby Tuesday buck wildly like a bronco.

Vaxholm harbour.

The town is a charming eclectic mix of old wooden houses and newer modern ones. It is an island, but is connected to the mainland by a number of bridges.

House in Vaxholm.
Old and new.
Kings Gambit?

It is also the kicking off point for ferries to various archipelago islands, notably neighbouring Rindö.

Passengers boarding a ferry for the islands.

It’s time to say farewell to Joanne and Peter. They are heading for the airport to catch a flight to Dublin, the next stage of their journey. It has been great to see them, and catch up with news about family and friends. But all good things come to an end.

Final farewells.

“It feels a bit flat without them, doesn’t it?”, says the First Mate, as we wave goodbye. “It was nice having them around.”

Köping with shopping, a foodless banquet, and stone gates to the archipelago

“There’s some sort of fishy smell”, I say in the morning. “I thought that it might be coming from the harbour, but it’s stronger inside. Did you buy some fish yesterday?”

“Yes, I’ve smelt it too”, says the First Mate. “And no, I haven’t bought fish for a while. Hopefully it will disappear before our visitors come.”

We are in Nyköping, where we have arranged to meet my sister Joanne, and my brother-in-law Peter, in a couple of days’ time, and who are sailing with us for a week. We have been sailing with them on several occasions in Greece and New Zealand before, so they are not strangers to it.

We spend the day before they arrive cleaning and tidying the boat. The fishy smell stubbornly refuses to disappear, nor is it obvious where it comes from.

“I give up”, says the First Mate. “Let’s have a break and go and explore the town.”

“Good idea”, I agree.

We cycle into town and find a little café to have lunch.

Lunch in Nyköping.

“It says that Nyköping is a small town of about 32,000 people, and translates roughly as Newmarket”, reads the First Mate in the tourist information leaflet. “Ny means New, and köping is an old Swedish word for market place. It’s pronounced ‘sher-ping’ and is also the origin of several place names in Britain – Chipping Norton, Chipping Barnet, Chipping Campden, and so on. They are all market towns.”

“Interesting”, I say. “I didn’t know that before. I wonder if the word ‘shopping’ came from it too? People would go shopping in markets in the old days.”

It’s a possibility. Wikipedia tells me that ‘shopping’ derives from the Old French word eschoppe, which in turn comes from an Old Germanic word skupp for a lean-to shelter. The modern Swedish word köpa (pronounced sher-pa) means ‘to buy’, so I would be surprised if there is not a connection somehow. I resolve to follow it up when I get time.

We reach the Market Square, where there are a number of market stalls. As you would expect.

Market in Nyköping market square.

In one corner stands a church and the other, the town hall.

Nyköping town hall.

“I wonder what that is over there?”, says the First Mate, pointing to a red-painted structure on a rocky promontory. “It looks like it is a church, but I don’t think it is.”

Nyköping clock tower.

As we walk up the narrow path to it, little windows on the side open automatically, and bells begin to toll. I look at my watch – it’s just on one o’clock.

“It’s got to be the clock tower”, I say.

We eventually come to the castle beside the river that runs through the town. Entry is free. We climb the tower to the first floor and lose ourselves for an hour or so in Swedish history.

Nyköping castle.

The castle was originally built as a fortress in the late 1100s, and became the most powerful in Sweden for some time. The story goes that in the 14th century, the then king Birger and his brothers, Eric and Valdemar, had been feuding for years. Then the king hatched a cunning plan. More cunning than a cunning thing. He invited his two brothers to Nyköping Castle for Christmas dinner, pretending that it was time for making up. But halfway through the dinner, Birger had his two brothers seized and thrown into the dungeons. He then threw the key into the moat. Of course, without food and water, the two brothers soon died, and their bodies were found several years later. The whole event became known as the ‘Nyköping banquet’. Amazingly, in the 19th century, a local lad was fishing in the moat and brought up an old key, which may well have been the key of the dungeons.

Key found in Nyköping castle moat. For the dungeons?

“Mean thing to do to your brothers, wasn’t it?”, says the First Mate.

The castle was destroyed in the Swedish-Danish wars, but was rebuilt by our old friend Gustav Vasa whom we had met first in Kalmar. His son Charles turned it into a Renaissance palace, and to offset the costs of all this, built a laboratory for his alchemists to work on producing gold. History doesn’t record whether this was successful or not.

Gustav Vasa.

“It says that the restoration of the castle started in the early 20th century”, reads the First Mate from the little guide brochure. “What we see now is only about 100 years old.”

We make our way back to the boat.

“I think I have located the fish smell”, says the First Mate in the morning. “One of the herring fillet jars under the floor has leaked. We will have to clean it up before they arrive.”

Joanne & Peter arrive at lunch time. They have just completed a cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats in Britain, and have flown from Inverness to Stockholm. From there, they have caught the train down to Nyköping.

It’s great to see them. The First Mate prepares lunch, and includes some prawn salad to disguise the fishy smell. As we eat, we hear all about their impressive achievement. They were part of a group of twelve, and completed it in 23 days.

Hearing about the great cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

“Trust us to choose the time that Britain has a heat-wave to do it”, says Joanne. “But actually, it wasn’t too bad. When you are cycling, there is always a bit of a breeze to keep you cool. And anyway, the hottest part seemed to be in London. Western England and Scotland were cooler.”

We decide to set sail after lunch without delay. One of the islands, Broken, was recommended by our advisor Martin as very nice, so we aim for there. It’s only seven miles from Nyköping, and it’s a nice easy sail to get everyone used to it again.

We motor out of Nyköping along the narrow buoyed channel in the middle of the shallow estuary lined by reeds and forest.

Following the buoyed channel out of Nyköping.

Eventually we reach the Baltic Sea and turn north-eastwards. Cormorants packed onto an island watch us warily as we pass.

Cormorant island.

“This is beautiful”, says Joanne. “There’s something about Sweden I really like. So green, lots of water, the smell of pine trees and fish.”

The First Mate looks at me. I try to make my laugh sound like a cough.

We reach Broken a couple of hours later and enter the small bay to the south of the island. The island is owned by a sailing club, but they welcome visiting yachts. There appears to be no sign of life. We spot a small pontoon poking out from behind a promontory and motor towards it. Further around we are surprised to see that there are heaps of boats tied up and lots of people. The harbourmaster comes out in a RIB to greet us.

“Welcome to Broken”, he says with a friendly smile. “It’s deep enough on either side of the pontoon for you to tie up. You can either moor stern-to or bow-to. We have electricity on the island, but no fresh water. Toilets are over there, sauna and showers are over the hill. The showers are seawater. And before you ask, Broken is just a name, and doesn’t mean anything!”

The last sentence is spoken with some degree of world-weariness.

“Welcome to Broken. Bliss.”

We choose stern-to mooring, as we are all practised in that from our sailing experiences in Greece. In any case, we haven’t really sorted out a stern anchor yet for tying up bow-to.

We anchor stern-to on Broken island.

We walk along the boardwalk to the facilities. Club members are playing a game to build the highest tower from wooden blocks.

“We hope you enjoy it here”, they say. “We’ve built everything ourselves. This is just practice.”

Tower building.

“Did you see that they have an incinerating toilet here?”, says the First Mate, returning from the washing block. “You do your business, press a button, it disappears, there is a faint burning smell, and that’s it. All very high tech for a small island.”

“They have mains electricity but no fresh water, so I suppose it makes sense”, I say. “Something like Leibig’s Law of the Minimum, I suppose. I guess you just have to make sure you don’t press the button accidentally as you sit down.”

The incinerating toilet.

We cook dinner and sit in the cockpit watching the sun go down.

Sunset over Broken island.

“You know”, says Peter. “I’ve been wondering why nobody does any research on population control to solve the world’s problems. We were in Kenya a few years ago, and we were talking to two conservationists. They were telling us that the population of Kenya has increased from 8 million in the 1960s to more than 50 million nowadays. So many of Kenya’s problems are related to overpopulation, so why don’t they try and do something about it?”

“Of course, population growth is a problem”, I say. “And people are working on it. But the subject of population control is fraught with political and moral problems, mainly because it was associated in the past with controlling specific sectors of a population, usually the poor, non-white sectors. It is now considered to be a bit amoral if rich white people come along and tell people in developing countries that they shouldn’t have too many children.”

“But you could say it’s also immoral to work on things such as health care, water supply and more food production to keep them alive”, says Peter. “It’s just building up problems for the future. More people, more hunger, greater environmental damage.”

Too many people?

“One has to think about why people have so many children in developing countries“, says the First Mate. “It’s only then you might be able to do something about it. One of the reasons is it’s a kind of insurance policy for their old age. The more children you have, the more you will be looked after when you get old and can’t work anymore. We are lucky to have a social security system and pensions in the West. It would be very risky not to have any children when you get old in Kenya.”

“Having small families is only a recent thing in the West as well”, I say. “Fifty to 100 years ago in Europe, they also had big families. Lots of people died young.”

“I read somewhere that the best way to reduce birth rates is to educate women”, says Joanne.

“And empower them”, says the First Mate.

“You could also argue that as every Western baby born will have ten times the environmental impact of an African baby, then they are the ones that should controlled”, I say. “Or that because it is spending the wealth they will accumulate in the lifetime that causes the environmental damage, then their wealth should be distributed more evenly. You can see that it is fraught with moral issues.”

“An interesting discussion you had tonight”, says Spencer to me after everyone else has gone to bed. “He does have a point, you know. Population growth is the big problem. You know, some of my close cousins eat their young if they are getting to stressed with no food. That helps to keep our numbers down when necessary. Perhaps you humans should try it!”

“A bit drastic”, I say. “Anyway, I read somewhere that at this stage not much will stop the human population trajectory from peaking at 10-12 billion then declining. If we had wanted to slow it, we should have done it years ago.”

Spencer airs his views on population growth.

The next few days are a dreamy meander through the island idyll of the Stockholm Archipelago. The days are sunny and warm, the winds are gentle and mainly from the south and west, perfect for our voyage north. We use the main fairway for the longer hops but leave it often to find delightfully remote and sometimes secluded anchorages for the night. Evenings are spent cooking and chatting about family, friends, and the problems of the world.

Cooking, eating, drinking, talking …

We stop off at Stendörran, where there is an archipelago museum. There is an SXK buoy there, but we find it occupied, so we anchor in a little bay opposite the entrance to the museum. We unload the dinghy, and again, I get the job of rowing everyone across in two stages.

Archipelago Museum at Stendörran.

We learn that the fairway that we are following was actually described in the Navigato Danica, a handbook for sailors commissioned by the Danish king Valdemar II back in 1231. The narrow channel between Aspnäset and the island of Krampö where the museum is situated was named Stendörran as it looks like stone gates guarding the entrance to the Stockholm archipelago from the Baltic Sea. I try to imagine the skill of the sailors then trying to navigate the twists and turns of the narrow pass through the stone gates without charts or GPS.

Other displays tell us that the Baltic is fragile, with few species and simple ecosystems, all under threat from the myriad of human activities around its shores. Its narrow inlets and their sills restrict water flushing in and out of it, so that it takes nearly 30 years for all its water to be replaced. The biggest problems are eutrophication from excess nutrients in water, the spread of chemicals from industry and agriculture, and overuse of its resources. All these are intensified by the impact of climate change.

Under threat.

“At least they are aware of it”, I say to the First Mate as we leave. “And are trying to do something about it.”

We eventually arrive in Nynäshamn and tie up alongside to the outer pier serving as a breakwater to the harbour marina. It’s not the best of berths as there is an occasional swell from the wash of passing ferries, but we decide to stay. We plug into shore power, fill the water tanks, and restock with provisions after several days of self-sufficiency in the islands.

Nynäshamn is not particularly inspiring in its own right, serving mainly as a port for ferries to Gotland and Poland. Occasional cruise ships call in if they are too big to enter Stockholm proper.

In the morning, we walk up past the red church perched on a rocky promontory overlooking the harbour and find ourselves in the main square.

Nynäshamn church.

“At least there is a Co-op”, says the First Mate. “You wait here while I just buy a few things.”

I stand in the shade of a tree and read the newspaper on my phone. It takes me a minute or two to realise that I am actually in some sort of queue waiting expectantly for something to open. Then I notice that it is the Systembolaget, the government-owned outlet for alcohol. It’s only 10 o’clock in the morning, and already the queue is substantial. I look at my watch and pretend that I have a bus to catch and walk briskly to the nearby bus-stop. No one seems to notice. The door of the Systembolaget opens on the dot of 10, and there is a surge forward. Living in Nynäshamn must create a desire for alcohol early in the day, I think.

Waiting for the alcohol shop to open.

In the afternoon, we have a visit from Lisa and Rainer. Lisa is the First Mate’s niece, Rainer is her husband. They live in Germany, but are travelling through Sweden on their holidays. They have just attended a heavy-metal music festival north of Stockholm and are on their way home. On the off-chance that we might be in the area, they had contacted the First Mate and had arranged a time and place to meet. Lisa is a doctor and currently working in a hospice, while Rainer is a forester, responsible for managing large areas of forest in Hessen.

First Mate, Rainer & Lisa.

“We’re in the process of building our own house”, they tell us. “We looked around for existing houses that had everything that we wanted, but couldn’t find one that fitted the bill. So we decided to design and build our own. But I have to say that it is quite stressful. We thought that the architects would know what should go into a house and where, but they don’t seem to. They keep asking us where we want the smallest details.”

“The Ukrainian War has made everything so expensive now”, says Rainer as we walk back to their car to say goodbye. “I really hope that the Ukrainians win. Russian imperialism can’t be allowed to triumph in this day and age. War over borders is the politics of the last century. Trade should link all countries together. Any differences should be sorted out around a table.”

The Merkel doctrine. War in Western countries was supposed to be obsolete, not least because of the cost involved – not only in terms of destruction but also loss of trade and subsequent trust. We are currently seeing the flaws in that particular doctrine. The optimist in me wants to agree with him, but the pessimist in me feels that human nature is such that there will always be wars over land and other scarce resources.

A visit from friends, industrial architecture, and a new society

“Did you see that they have put the Union Jack out this morning?”, says the First Mate over breakfast. “It’s there because of us. Apparently every morning they fly the national flags of the boats which have stayed overnight. It’s a nice touch. Look, there’s a Lithuanian one over there. At first I thought it was a Colombian one. They look quite similar.”

In fact, I had noticed the Union Jack flying from the row of flagpoles on the pontoons on my way to the shower block. Seeing it in this part of the world is a rare thing now that the United Kingdom has cut itself off from the rest of Europe.

A rare sight in this part of the world.

We are in Arkösund, a small village on the edge of the Swedish archipelago. There isn’t a lot to it – just a harbour area, a hotel, a sailing club, a supermarket, a restaurant, and several craft stalls. It is mainly a holiday resort, but with the school holidays nearly over, it is fairly quiet. It is also used as a crew change location by visiting yachts.

The impressive Sailing Club building overlooking Arkösund harbour.

After nearly a week anchoring in the remote islands of the archipelago and relying on the solar panels and occasional running of the engine to supply power, we are happy to be able to recharge our batteries and electronic devices, and refill our tanks with water.

On top of that we are meeting friends Steve and Mitzi there. We had met them on La Gomera in the Canaries two years previously, and had discovered a common interest in walking. Since then, we had kept in touch with each other, and when we heard that they were planning to holiday this year in Norway with their camper-van and we were to be in Sweden sailing, we both decided to meet up for a few days.

They arrive in the early evening. Over dinner, we plan our route. One of the places that Martin, our Swedish neighbour in Borgholm, had recommended that we must visit was Harstena, an island around 17 NM to the south of Arkösund. We had actually passed it on the way up, but had not had time to visit it.

The island of Harstena.

We set off the next morning. It is a warm sunny day and the wind is from the north, directly behind us, but there is precious little of it. We use the genoa only, and sail along at the majestic rate of 2 knots. It’s lucky we have all day to get there. But it gives us a chance over a leisurely lunch to catch up with each other since we last met.

“Yes, we are still eco-warriors”, says Steve in response to my question. “But we are not so involved in the Extinction Rebellion now as we were then.”

They had both been involved in transporting provisions to the Extinction Rebellion protesters demonstrating against climate change inaction back in 2000. In fact, they had even been accosted by the police at one stage for aiding and abetting civil disturbances.

“It was preposterous”, says Mitzi. “All we were doing was taking food to the protesters. Nothing illegal about that.”

“So am I right in assuming that Priti Patel is not one of your favourite politicians then?”, I ask.

There is a prolonged coughing bout as Steve tries to dislodge a piece of cumin cheese from his throat.

“I take it that was a ‘no’, then?”, I say, as Mitzi thumps him on the back.

In the interests of communal boat harmony, I make a mental note not to mention the name of the British Home Secretary again.

We arrive at the main harbour in Harstena. Unfortunately, all the berths at the quay are full. The map shows that it is possible to anchor in an area just opposite the quay, but our anchor won’t set because of weed. After several attempts we give up, and decide to try Flisfjärden inlet further up the coast. Apparently it is good anchoring there, and it about one kilometre’s walk back to the Harstena village.

Full up at Harstena harbour.

We motor up. Suddenly, there is a loud bang and Ruby Tuesday comes to an abrupt stop. Immediately I know that we have hit a rock with the keel. I reverse quickly back into deeper water to assess the situation. We check in the bilge. Nothing seems amiss – there is no water coming in and the keel bolts are intact. Hopefully it was a glancing blow. I check the chart – there is no rock marked, but we have just touched the edge of the blue area on the chart, the ‘risky zone’. Shaken, we motor into the inlet. I make a mental note to check underneath at the next opportunity.

The Flisfjärden inlet is busy, but there is space. We find a spot to anchor far enough away from the other boats so that we won’t touch them if we swing around. The First Mate drops the anchor, and I reverse to set it. It seems to hold well. I set the anchor alarm just to be sure.

In the evening, we sit in the cockpit and sip our glasses of wine. The conversation turns to world events. High on the list is the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“It’s amazing how things can have unintended consequences”, says Steve. “Look at the EU sanctions on Russian oil and gas. The shortage globally has pushed up the prices, so that even though countries are buying less gas from Putin, his revenues are the same or even more so that he can go on funding his war machine.”

“Yes”, I say. “I kind of expected that the demand for renewable energies would increase and that share prices of those would also increase. But that hasn’t really happened. The huge profits made by the oil companies have meant that they are paying high dividends to investors, which has meant that money is flowing in that direction rather than towards green investments.”

“An example of how the market can actually work against what is best for society”, says Mitzi. “But surely in the long-term, the world needs more renewable energy, so that investments in that will pay off?”

“One would hope so”, says Steve. “But we need to reduce society’s demand for oil and gas before that will happen. What the war in Ukraine has done has been to reduce supply. It needs to be accompanied by change in people’s attitudes to using fossil fuels. It’s only then it won’t be worth investing in. Society really needs to change fundamentally.”

“But what do you see it changing to?”, I ask. “We humans have tried all sorts of systems – monarchies, communism, fascism, democracy, neo-liberalism, populism – they have all shown to be deficient in certain aspects. What’s left to try? What sort of society do we want?”

“Well, for a start, it has to be more equal and fairer, consume less energy and resources, and allow everyone to develop to their potential and have a voice”, he says. “But I have to admit that I don’t really know what sort of system will give that. I’ll leave it to the philosophers to work that out.”

Solving the world’s problems.

The next morning, we untie the rubber dinghy and row ashore. As the dinghy is small, we need to do it in two batches. Steve tries to work out the best way to do it if the fox and the chicken can’t be together, nor the chicken and the bag of corn. In the end, I promise to eat no one on the way over, and get the job of the farmer doing the rowing. We manage to get everyone to the shore intact with no bite marks.

Getting everyone ashore.

The path through the woods is delightful, the sunshine filtering through the foliage and creating dappled patterns on the undergrowth.

A pleasant forest walk.

We eventually reach the small village and the harbour where we attempted to find a berth the day before. There is a small shop selling ice creams and smoked fish, and further down overlooking the harbour, a restaurant. And a set of toilets for those in need. A sign points the way to a bakery some distance away. We start walking in that direction.

The restaurant and harbour area at Harstena.

Hej, var försiktig. Taket är ömtåligt”, shouts a man in the garden of one of the houses, as I step off the road to take a photo.

“So sorry”, I reply. “I don’t speak Swedish.”

“I said ‘be careful. The roof there is fragile’”, he says, in flawless English.

Without realising it, I am standing on the turfed roof of some sort of underground storeroom. I step off gingerly, trying not to fall through.

Mind where you step!

We continue on through the village. Every house is painted in the same shade of red.

Red, red and more red.

“I read somewhere that the reason all the houses in Sweden are red is that they discovered in the 18th century that waste material from iron ore was very good as a wood preserver and didn’t fade in the sun”, says Steve. “Apparently it also allows the wood to breathe and release moisture easily. The only problem is that as it is a form of iron oxide, it only comes in red. They call it Falu Red.”

We pass a small museum showing what it was like in one of the traditional houses.

Traditional fisherman’s cottage, Harstena.

Eventually we reach the bakery and decide to have coffee and cakes.

Enjoying cakes at Harstena bakery.

“Wow”, says the First Mate. “Those cakes were good. I don’t really feel like any lunch now.”

We amble back to the boat. On the way, we come to a couple staring intently at something on the path.

“It’s a copper snake”, says the man. “I think they might be poisonous.”

I try to take a photo, but the snake slithers off into the grass.

“If you use your imagination, you can see it”, says the First Mate.

‘Copper’ snake, if you look hard enough.

The next day, we sail back to Arkösund. Miraculously, the wind is from the southeast, and we make good speed on a broad reach.

“We’ve really enjoyed it”, say Steve and Mitzi, as we say our goodbyes. “And we would do it again. But we have decided that sailing in a boat of our own is not for us. We’ll stick with our camper van.”

“Maybe we will see you next year in Estonia?”, says the First Mate.

Steve and Mitzi on their way to Norway.

The next day we sail for Oxelösund. The wind is a south-easterly directly behind us to start with, and we sail with the genoa only, but we eventually turn north east, haul out the mainsail, and have a nice beam reach almost all the way into Oxelösund.

We are greeted by giant cranes, silos and cargo ships unloading.

Approaching Oxelösund.

“It doesn’t look very inviting”, says the First Mate. “It’s all a bit industrial. Look, there’s our marina just on the left.”

“This just the dock area”, I say optimistically. “Docks always look like that. I am sure that the actual town will be better.”

It’s not really. After lunch, we take the toy train into the city centre to explore. It drops us at a vast concreted square dominated by an ICA supermarket. An abstract stainless steel sculpture takes pride of place in the centre. Around it lounge a number of people looking as if they are in some other dimension. At their feet and on the wooden seats are a pile of beer cans.

Oxelösund city centre.

“Can you tell us where the city centre is?”, the First Mate asks a passer-by.

She looks at us pityingly.

“This is it”, she replies.

“Look over there”, I say. “I can see a church spire. Perhaps that is more the city centre? It is in other cities, at least.”

We walk through the carpark behind the supermarket to the church positioned on a rocky outcrop. Even the church looks starkly functional, its open tower rising to an apex where the bells hang.

Oxelösund church.

At least I won’t have to worry about parallax with this photo, I think. No-one will notice the difference. Even the doors are solid copper. But somehow the church seems to capture the essence of the place. Oxelösund is a no-frills, strictly functional industrial city, whose only purpose is to make things. Even the God it worships doesn’t care much for frivolous architecture of the soaring neo-Gothic sort that we saw in Västervik. But I find myself grudgingly admiring the stark elemental beauty of the place.

Doors to Oxelösund church.

“I think we had better get back”, says the First Mate. “The toy train will be leaving soon. We don’t want to miss it.”

The toy train that takes us to and from the marina.

In the afternoon, we decide to motor to a pretty little anchorage on the north side of Hasselö-Bergö island not far from Oxelösund. There are two Swedish Cruising Club (SXK) buoys there which we are entitled to use by virtue of our membership of the UK-based Cruising Association. We moor with the ‘Heik’s Hook’, which snares the buoy perfectly, and sit back for the afternoon to enjoy the sun.

Tied up to the SKX buoy.

“This is beautiful”, says the First Mate, reaching for her Sudoku book. “It’s so quiet and peaceful, and we have it all to ourselves.”

Just us and nature.

I think back to the discussion that I had with Steve. The need for society to change and how to achieve it reminds me of a book I read over the winter “Radical Transformation: Oligarchy, Collapse, and the Crisis of Civilisation” by Kevin MacKay. His main argument is that centralised power, what he calls the ‘oligarchy’, is the root problem of dysfunction and collapse. This rich elite use their wealth and power to manipulate democracies to protect their own interests, which are often against the interests of ordinary people, or, for that matter, the planet. Societies with too much centralised power and high inequality are therefore more prone to collapse. But how do we achieve a ‘democratic, eco-socialist’ state, a sane, humane, sustainable world, as he says is the desirable end-point? Is the whole current system rotten to the core, needing a revolution to reorganise it? Or are there bits of it that are good that should be preserved such as  universal healthcare, schools, and libraries, and other bits that are bad and need replacing with something better?

“I think you need a good revolution”, says Spencer from the bimini. “It’s always worked in the past. The French Revolution, the American Revolution, the Russian Revolution, they all shook up society and brought about big changes. It’s high time you had another one. Very cathartic.”

“Hey, be careful what you say”, I respond. “You might get arrested for inciting social unrest. In any case, MacKay thinks it is unlikely there will be a violent revolution in western society as the current power structures are accepted as legitimate by much of population. They may complain about elements of it, or gripe about specific politicians, but overall they accept the basic structure of the system as it is. Therefore, no-one will be prepared to risk their lives to revolt.”

“Obviously written before the attempted coup on January 6th in Washington”, Spencer counters. “People involved in that were rioting to bring about change for the better, as they saw it.”

“True”, I say. “MacKay does say that people will rebel when they feel that their moral norms are being eroded. But I don’t think he remotely thought that this would go as far as trying to overturn the results of a legitimate election. And in the US of all places.”

“Well, you may not be as far off a full-blooded revolution as you think, particularly if the former President is re-elected”, he says. “But rather than trying to achieve a more progressive society, it seems to be moving in the opposite direction to a more repressive one.”

“It’s a distinct possibility”, I agree. “And it seems to be what a lot of people want.”

“I think that it’s time for a coffee”, says the First Mate, looking up from her Sudoku. “I can see that you are lost in thought again. By the way, have you told everyone that your sister and brother-in-law are joining us next week? The blog might be delayed.”

“No, I haven’t yet”, I respond. “Thanks for reminding me.”