After 13 years of marriage, I feel lucky. I can look at my wife, Annabel, and our two children, and reflect that I have everything a man in his forties could wish for. Like all couples, we have disagreements. Normally, any rancour is lanced by a few days away à deux, in which we... well, I don’t need to tell you. However, for us, the magical Weekend Away – an event that is supposed to bring harmony – instead, in its planning, brings discord.
Why? It’s because we can never agree on where to go. Annabel, brought up in the tropics, requires regular doses of sunshine. It is mandatory for her that all travel should be in a southerly direction. Meanwhile I, with my Germanic blood, yearn to fly to lands which are cool in both senses of the word.
Things had got to such an impasse, that Annabel maintained that I needed some hearty deputy-Frau with whom I could explore the frozen wastes, while she lounged by a pool in Morocco with somebody who I trusted would look nothing like David Beckham. And then, finally, we had a breakthrough. What if we went to Sweden, but did it in a really classy and romantic way? Eyebrows went skyward.
Annabel and I are middle class and middle aged. That means we watch Nordic Noir, like The Killing, The Bridge, Wallander. For her, Scandinavia means murdered women and sinister men.
"Island life suited me: a morning spent swimming off a yacht, followed by a sauna in a floating cabin"
I persisted. I explained that Sweden was chic, stylish, romantic and fun. We could hang out somewhere townhousey in Stockholm, fly up to Lapland to stay in a hotel that was built in the trees, and then head back down to an island in the Stockholm Archipelago to spend a couple of nights in a luxurious tented camp.
The eyebrows went down. Annabel may like warmth, but this appealed to her sense of adventure. She nodded, uncertainly. Victory was mine. We were on our way.
And then, just a day before we were due to go, disaster struck. Slapped cheek syndrome. No, not mine for pushing the northern climes itinerary too hard – our nine-year-old daughter had come down with a nasty viral infection. It was severe enough to mean that it wasn’t fair to anyone to leave Granny in charge. What to do? Both of us not go and waste a whole trip? One of us stay home?
Annabel is nicer than I am, and so she decided that she would stay. The trip could be undertaken as a kind of recce for the perfect break. I would, in fact, be having a romantic holiday all by myself. And what a guilt-inducing reconnaissance it was.
As soon as I stepped into Ett Hem for an early evening drink, I knew that Annabel would have committed a Nordic Noir murder to have stayed in this central Stockholm townhouse. With its seemingly uncoordinated jumble of expensive furnishings and decoration, Ett Hem – which means ‘A Home’ – looked like how we think our home should look, but doesn’t. And because you can go just about anywhere – including the kitchen – Ett Hem doesn’t feel like a hotel at all.