Today (this column was written on Thursday at 18.14 in the Asiana lounge at Seoul’s Gimpo airport) marks day six of a two-week world tour that’s so far touched down in Stockholm, Helsinki and Tokyo and will carry on to Tokyo again followed by Hong Kong, Singapore, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
I was hoping to avoid weighing in on the national catastrophe that’s become Heathrow, but a series of stolen items out of a checked bag sum up all that’s wrong with the place – it’s rotten. It’s not for nothing that the airport has long had the moniker “Thiefrow” and this little act of petty theft is a perfect example of why it’s not just BAA, the airport’s operator, or border control or British Airways that are to blame but the whole lot of them. BAA has been swift to point out the Home Office’s shortcomings with its impossibly long queues, as if its own security system and staff were anything to brag about. Likewise, BA has been quick to criticise others in the Heathrow travel chain when it seems likely it was one of its staff (or suppliers) who stole a jacket out of the top of my bag.
While I’m not a huge fan of the concept of an airport in the middle of the Thames estuary (too far for an early flight to Hamburg), I think the time has come to stop with the glue and plasters approach to managing Heathrow and start again. (I’ll save my blueprint for the future of London’s civil aviation for another column.)
Thankfully, the weather in Stockholm was considerably better than it’s been in London so the jacket wasn’t required and I dashed off to check out the new-ish retail development with the quite unfortunate name of Mood (not terribly exciting). The highlight of the trip so far came a few hours later when I checked into the newly opened Ett Hem hotel on the fringes of Östermalm. For a city that’s been waiting for someone to shake up the top end of the hotel sector, I can confidently report that proprietor Jeanette Mix has given the city a property it’s long deserved. With only 12 rooms spread throughout the solidly built villa, Ett Hem offers a new model that brings in the best elements of a smart country inn (cosiness, low room count and informality) combined with the intimacy and intelligent design of a well-loved ryokan. More than three years in the making, Ett Hem called on the design and social engineering skills of Ilse Crawford and team to ensure that the Vitsoe shelving system was perfectly stocked with just the right books, the vases were arranged with just the right leaves and blossoms and the bathrooms were intelligently fitted out with the appropriate linens, lighting, hardware, lotions and potions.
Dinner consisted of a delicious pork roast enjoyed around a kitchen table designed for conversation and spending hours sampling exquisite desserts, wine, coffee and more wine. Having dispensed with a formal restaurant, Mix is hoping guests will treat the hotel like a proper household and invite friends back for dinner or drinks and brief the chef about specific requests from local producers and suppliers.
The rest of the weekend was split between scoping out parts of the city rarely visited and opening the summerhouse for a season that will hopefully see it used a few more times before it’s put on the market. I felt vaguely conflicted about my decision to sell on Saturday evening but, by the time we’d finished tidying up the island on Sunday, I felt the house was happy that it was going to get the love it’s been looking for and I can focus on a new project a little closer to London and the cities where I spend the most time. (I’ll save this new house hunt for another column as well.)
This week started with me and my colleague Hugo hosting our radio show The Globalist live from Stockholm and then retreating to the hotel’s secluded courtyard for a glorious breakfast under a sunny sky with the perfect amount of chill in the air. Over excellent baked goods from Riddarbageriet (one of the best bakeries in Europe), we were joined by Swedish chanteuse Emilia de Poret, my colleague Markus, Mats, his friend Malin, and assorted guests who popped by to say hello or goodbye. When the taxi pulled up for our departure to the airport, I made a rather long mental note that this was a perfect way to kick off the week: seated at a comfortable table, tended to by well-dressed staff, surrounded by good friends and warmed by the Swedish sun.
Four hours later I was struggling to find a seat in the Finnair lounge at Helsinki airport while making my connection to Tokyo. Nine hours later I was on approach to Narita and excited about a week of work in Japan (with this current little side trip to Seoul included) and two days of relaxation in Tokyo before setting off for part two. In the car on the way into the city, I thought about how nice it would be if there was a local version of Ett Hem in every port. While tricky to pull off, perhaps Mix might be tempted.
More columns at www.ft.com/brule