Letter from Farnham

Letter dated 03 July 2021

July 02, 2021 Gary Cook Season 1 Episode 12
Letter from Farnham
Letter dated 03 July 2021
Show Notes Transcript

All about the Midsummer fun and games

Letter from Sweden by Gary (not Alistair) Cook 

Letter dated 3 July 2021 

Hej hej 

Well, I’m happy to say that I managed to survive midsummer. Midsummer: the traditional long weekend, given over to copious amounts of drinking songs, food, shots of snaps and sore heads as a result. 

Not that I had sore a head. Even though I spent Midsummer Eve across the road at my first social event since arriving here. My hosts, Camilla and Anders made sure I heard a lot of songs and downed a lot of snaps. And not the same snaps each time. It’s important to try the different flavours. Though, to be honest, the different flavours tend to disappear after a few hours. 

Midsummer was something I’d been looking forward to. It is, after all, possibly the biggest celebration of the year. 

And is it any wonder? After a long, cold winter of snow, ice and grey, a chance to get outside and dance around a Maypole under the blazing sun, has to be something to celebrate. With great enthusiasm. 

Every year, traditional costumes get dusted off, floral headbands are made and crown heads. And, according to very reliable sources, if you make the floral headband using seven different flowers and put it under your pillow, you will dream of your intended spouse. 

Tables are heaving with food. And, naturally, like all Swedish festivals, there’s plates of herring, meatballs, cheese, new potatoes, sour cream and chives. 

Another sure sign that Midsummer has arrived are strawberries. Lots and lots of strawberries. It seems like every corner has a stall selling them. According to the Swedes, Swedish strawberries are the best in the world. Fresh and sweet and perfect for the Midsummer Cake which is similar to a Victoria sponge only nicer. 

Back at the festivities, after a decent interval for drinking and eating, the dancing starts. The most important dance is about a little frog. This is a particularly odd dance with a song to go with it. It describes how funny the frog is because it has no ears and no tail. The dance moves describe this lack of appendages. The whole thing happens around the maypole. 

The lyrics are not particularly difficult. In English, the first verse goes: 

The little frogs, the little frogs are funny to observe. The little frogs, the little frogs are funny to observe. 

No ears, no ears, no tails have they.  No ears, no ears, no tails have they. 

The chorus is meant to be the sound of the little frogs. 

And it goes a little something like this: 

Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se. Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se. 

Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de. Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de 

Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack, 

kou ack ack ack ack kaa. 

Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack, 

kou ack ack ack ack kaa. 

The tune originated in Napoleonic France. It was a marching song called La Chanson de l’Oignon or The Song of the Onion. Changing onions to frogs, however, was something that originated in England. The lyrics echoed the English habit of calling the French people frogs. By the time the song reached Sweden, the marching had become dancing and the whole thing a celebration of joy and sunshine. How on earth it became the frog song and dance, widely performed by everyone in Sweden every midsummer is anyone’s guess. 

Another favourite Swedish song is “Räven Raskar Över Isen” (The Fox Hurries Across the Ice). But that’s a lot older having been around since the Middle Ages. And I don’t think there’s any actions that go with it. Which might be because all the ice has been and gone. Actually, there is one action. You have to have a shot of snaps afterwards. 

Then there’s the maypole itself. It’s a good idea not to think of the maypole as looking like a flagpole. No, the Midsommarstången, as it’s called here has a couple of extra round bits which make it appear more a fertility symbol than anything else. 

Of course, considering the current restrictions, there wasn’t the big public displays of song and dance that the Swedes normally engage in. I’d been wondering what I’d do which is when Camilla and Anders stepped up to the herring plate and delivered. 

It was Anders who had told me, months ago, that Sweden has a drinking problem. I didn’t believe him. But then Midsummer happened. Now I reckon Sweden’s drinking problems stem from the midsummer celebrations. They certainly consume a lot of snaps after singing a lot of songs. 

 

Hej dor, or, as they say a lot at Midsummer: Schol!