As a dog-owner, you are forced to go outside 4-5 times a day. Even in the deepest winter, you have to don hiking boots, fleecy jumper, thermal gloves, thick coat, woolly scarf and warm hat and venture out for a bracing walk in the battering wind.
Sometimes being outside is a very lonely experience. On the coldest, most-miserable days, there is hardly anybody else around. Just a few other sad dog-owners,an occasional lonesome jogger and a handful of hardy smokers huddled outside the local pub.
So, today, with the sun fixed brightly in the sky and the thermometer hovering around zero degrees, I head out with a smile on my face. It is a joy to be outside. I walk down my street, through the local square and down towards the lake. By the lake there’s a footpath. It’s always so lovely to stroll along there and admire the ice reflecting the sun and see the ducks bathing in the cracks and open areas. Stockholm really is a beautiful city. When the sun shines, the buildings radiate in orange and red.
Approaching the footpath, I notice what seems to be a queue. The kind of queue you see in a department store around Christmas time when kids line up to see Santa.
Strange, I think, has something happened?
I arrive at the end of the queue and realise that nothing has happened, it’s just the sheer volume of people that are lining up to go for a walk along the pathway. The queue is moving, but very slowly. Pensioners, young couples with push-chairs, dog-walkers, joggers, speed-walkers, cyclists,toddlers, groups of lads, it seems like everybody is out for a Sunday afternoon walk in the sunshine. Like a mass migration of lemmings, Stockholmers have left their homes and gone for a walk along the same stretch of footpath.
Me included. I go with the flow.
The walk is slow-going but eventually I make it to the other end. I feel pleased with myself that I have been so vigorous and out-doorsy. Then I scuttle across the street and plough home a different route to avoid having to press back through the crowd.
I’ve experienced this before in Stockholm, when I lived in a different part of town. At the first sign of sun, everybody goes out for a walk. Fully understandable, given the length and darkness of the winter.
In cultural theory, we talk a lot about how all cultures spring from a set of basic needs that we humans share. For instance, we all share the need for water, for food, for shelter. It’s just that we have solved how we meet these needs in different ways, depending on geography and circumstance. And it’s these differences that form the basis of culture.
In Stockholm, on a sunny Sunday in February, I guess we all share the same need. To breathe fresh air, to see light and to feel that maybe, just maybe, the winter is soon over.