The Cresta Run
I can assure you this is an absolutely true and not even slightly embellished account. I still have the scars to prove it. Though neither are they immediately visible nor are they generally displayed for public scrutiny.
As any British schoolboy with a flair for linguistics will tell you the Swedish word for ‘exit’, is utfart. Literally ut translates as 'out' and fart as 'speed'. Loosely fart means 'to go ahead' or 'go forth'. The inevitable schoolboy humour follows and this little account will be no exception.
As a travelling salesman I once journeyed the entire globe. One of my favourite destinations was Sweden. For so many reasons. It is a spectacularly beautiful country and the population are educated, highly cultured and sociable. I happened to be in Sweden during one particularly cold winter and for my sins was ensconced in the Esso Motor Hotel on the outskirts of the capital city, Stockholm. Now, the Esso Motor Hotel belies the sound of its name. It was, and probably remains so if still there, a very fine hotel with all of the accoutrements of any modern, quality, four star establishment.
My meeting on this particular morning was with Scania Trucks in Södertälje on the other side of the city. I was anxious to arrive on time and in good fettle. My day did not start well though. My enquiries at the reception desk as to the whereabouts of the pedestrian entrance to the underground car park had been met only with astonished looks of amazement that the English could be so thick.
“You to valk through the dining room and through the door marked ‘UTFART’." Came the sternly repeated reply. Swedes are generally rather nice people although the male of the species can sometimes appear a little reserved. I like to think of that as 'cultured'! My protestations that I had already attempted to follow this advice but could not find any door marked as he had described and that perhaps what he had said was meant to be an instruction rather than advice, did not elicit even a hint of a smile. Never mind, I thought. I’ll have another go. Nope. Nothing. I’d be blowed (no pun intended) if I could even find a door, let alone one that sported references to generally involuntary body functions.
By this time I was starting to become embarrassed at my wanderings up and down the dining room which was crowded with Swedes trying to enjoy their morning ‘Smorgasbord’. I resigned to make this my final attempt. I had already noticed the concrete vehicle ramp down to the underground car park which ran outside against the full length of the long glass wall of the dining room. "I’ll take that instead." I thought to myself.
It had been cold. Very cold in fact at about minus twenty five Celsius. Now thankfully, out of the shade at least, it was beginning to thaw, with the result that the country was festooned with the most spectacular icicles imaginable. I noticed some particularly large ones had formed on the edge of the roof which finished immediately above the bottom of the concrete ramp. The ramp itself was still covered in a fresh fall of snow from the previous night and strong winds had caused some of this to drift against the wall at the sharp 90 degree turn at the bottom end. Armed with brolly and briefcase, just before stepping onto the descent ramp, I glanced up once more to the scores of diners who by now had seen me so many times that morning we were all but related. A few smiled and gave that very Swedish sort of half nod which means "Hello. I know you. Have a nice day."
The freshly fallen snow on the ramp was fortunately sufficient to slightly reduce the velocity at which my imitation of a Cresta Run on the underlying ice commenced. At this point in my story I should perhaps mention that during Scandinavia's inevitably harsh winters all cars switch to a second set of wheels and which are fitted with tungsten spikes. For grip. Such conditions would present little problem for a Swedish car driver. My shoes were not so equipped. With brolly in one outstretched arm, opposite my briefcase in the other acting in unison in a similar sort of way to a high wire performer’s balancing pole. At least they kept me upright for long enough to observe the rapidly accelerating pink blur of faces through the dining room window. I recall thinking how they resembled faces in a carriage window as an accelerating train pulls out of a station. Until I hit the snow and ice bank at the bottom, when they abruptly stopped.
According to paramedics that attended the scene, I must have hit the large icicle in the centre with quite some force so as to be sufficient to dislodge it using only my forehead. This was just before embedding myself into the snow drift, mimicking the cartoon character that has just fallen off a cliff into soft sand. The soft, wet snow was actually a blessing though as this took some, but not quite all, of the shock out of my impacting the concrete wall against which it had drifted. Nonetheless I bounced back at exactly the same moment as the descending thirty odd gallons of icy water that had hitherto been dammed up on the roof by the large icicle. The icicle which, having somersaulted over my head, now sat, inverted, with its larger end firmly embedded in the soft snow and its upper end facing skywards, immediately behind me.
You'll probably be ahead of me at this point won't you?
The paramedics were also quick to point out how fortunate it was that my heavy coat kept at least some of the icy melt water from totally saturating me. It also mitigated the worst of the tear inducing effects that the other end of the icicle had upon my place where sunshine seldom reaches. I just wish they had waited until I’d regained consciousness before conducting an insitu examination in their efforts at finding the icicle's broken end and any damage it might have done. It can’t have been a pleasant experience either for the hundred or so Swedish diners whose breakfasts had been so rudely interrupted and to a man, and woman, who were now lined up, noses pressed hard up against the dining room window. I thought I’d never utfart again.