I knew that title would grab your attention!
I feel like I’ve been neglecting, of late, one of the things that I like doing best. Have you noticed that I’ve not scribbled a sentence on my blog pages for weeks? I feel really bad about being so negligent. I used to think that negligent was a word meaning a gent’s negligee. You know, a lass’s garment adjusted to fit a gentleman’s body, rather like a night time equivalent of the mankini. But I digress and I mustn’t because time is of the essence these days. I feel like I am letting my hordes of adoring readers down by not providing you with the regular updates of my travels that you have come to know and love. The trouble is I’ve been so busy. I just can’t cope. The pressure is too much for me and something has had to give and sadly that something has been the writing.
I’ve got a bit of a blog backlog at the moment. I haven’t finished writing about my trip to the Sicilian Volcanos back in September. I haven’t even started writing about an equally spectacular trip to dear old Leeds (incorporating Pontefract and Wetherby) in October to meet up with some wonderful old friends I hadn’t seen for decades and a couple of friends who I had never even met before. As well as all the emotional reunions, while I was there I took in football match in which Glory Glory Leeds United thrashed Birmingham City four nil. I also attended three live musical performances, they being a band called Tamikrest performing nomadic Saharan blues at the Opera North bit of the Grand Theatre, a band called The Strikes performing covers of ska and punk classics from the 1980s at the Duck & Drake pub, and a bloke called Simon Lindley doing a recital of classical music on his enormous organ in Leeds Town Hall. The situation is going to get even worse in the next few days as I’m off to Rome for one of my easyJet low budget special gallivantings and I expect you’ll be expecting to hear all about that little adventure too.
Oh and there’s loads of other stuff I haven’t done yet. There are so many travel journals and photographs to sort out that this is becoming a bit like work. In fact, if I was this far behind with work I’d probably get the sack. But if I got the sack then at least I’d have loads of spare time to sit at home doing bugger all except blogger it all.
Simon Lindley and his enormous organ . . . at Leeds Town Hall.
Speaking of my work, it has been extraordinarily demanding this year as there seems to be more and more callosity infested and fungally infected elderly people as each week passes. Doris, Gladys and Iris aren’t the sort of names that are given to new born members of the human race in these modern times but there seems to be more and more of them all the time. I reckon something’s afoot in this department as just about every day I find a new Doris, Gladys or Iris limping towards me with an expectant look on her face, even though she’s probably a bit too long in the fallopian tube to be expectant. Still, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, all this work pays for all these trips and every toenail snipped gets me a mile further away from Chippenham. So forty minutes with Doris is enough to get me to Melksham. Doris, if you’re reading this I’d just like to say, “I love you Doris!”
I’m off work this week which sort of means that I’m working harder than ever. Decorating is the name of the game and in every game there’s a winner and a loser which is sort of appropriate as I feel such a loser locked away in that back bedroom with a tatty bit of sandpaper in one hand and a refreshing glass of brush cleaning fluid in the other. But it’s a means to an end because as soon as my house is all smart and tarty it’s going on the market and my financial and leisure situations will each improve a thousand fold and the travelling floodgates will well and truly open.
So please bear with me. My plans for broadcasting details of my trips around the world to the world are just as ambitious as my plans to travel and I promise that every second that I am not away travelling, or out toenail cutting, or incarcerated at home with a few cans (of Dulux) will be spent tapping away at Terry’s Terrific Travel Typewriter. It’s a PC really but that would spoil the alliteration.
“My name is Luca” were the first words that our Sicilian guide said to me when I met him by the arrivals area at Catania airport. “Do you live on the second floor?” were the first words I spoke to him but he didn’t respond so I immediately assumed that either he wasn’t familiar with Suzanne Vega’s 1987 hit record, or he didn’t have a sense of humour or he had already gathered that I was a bit of a prat and well worth ignoring. He pointed me in the direction of two more members of our group who were waiting nearby and told me to go and talk to them. So I did. They introduced themselves as Bev and Michael in a way that didn’t immediately bring to mind the opening line of a song, so the conversation flowed much more freely than it had with Luca. Bev and Michael were botanists from Oxford so I knew straight away that we were going to get on like a greenhouse on fire.
The soundtrack to the first three minutes of my trip
to Sicily and the Aeolian Islands.
Shortly afterwards I met the other group members but all in quick succession so I forgot their names in less time than it had taken them to tell me what they were. It’s always difficult to get to grips with so many new faces and names in one go at the start of these trips but they do eventually sink in and by the end of the trip I always feel like I have known them for a week or two.
All of the people who had just jetted in from Britain were present and correct but Jo, who had arrived in Sicily with me exactly twenty four hours earlier, was missing. She had dropped me off outside the airport terminal to struggle with my bag and hers for the ten metre walk into the building while she went off for a little tootle around on her own to top up the petrol in the car we had hired before returning it to the Hertz office via several kilometres of the motorway whilst enjoying the cooling effect of the afternoon thunderstorm and the torrential rain. Such selfishness! Luca was cross and said that we would miss the 4.00 p.m. hydrofoil from Milazzo to the island of Lipari and as punishment we would have to sit in a bar at the hydrofoil terminal and drink beer until 5.00 p.m. At this point it dawned on me that I might have been right about his lack of knowledge of the muse of Ms Vega and about me being a prat, but I was quite wrong about him not having a sense of humour.
Jo turned up eventually and, having not heard everyone’s names in the first place, she didn’t need to waste time forgetting them.
There then followed a two hour coach trip along the coast during which travel weary travellers fell asleep and snored and dribbled with their heads pressed against the snoring and dribbling heads of people whose names they had forgotten. I thought that the hour in the bar at the hydrofoil terminal would provide the ideal opportunity for us to be woken up by a beer fuelled getting to know you session. Unfortunately we weren’t late after all so we hopped on the 4.00 p.m. craft, sat down in seats very similar to those on the coach and promptly went back to sleep.
The holiday did eventually turn out to be a very exciting one though so, until I post the next instalment, please try not to fall asleep or snore or dribble. I know that most of you, my dear readers, will be able to stay awake but I fear that you might not manage to avoid dribbling. And don't go looking over your shoulder . . . you know who you are!
What we missed by not missing the hydrofoil to Lipari.
Domenica morning in Italy just had to mean a visit to a church, not just for me but the entire Christian world for that matter, and to mark the occasion of me being in the country where all the Roman Catholic shenanigans kicked off, I thought I’d give a cathedral a whirl.
The previous day I had considered a Saturday evening trip to confession like I used to do with my Dad in the good old days before my cynicism overtook my Catholicism. However, the words “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It is forty seven years since my last confession.” probably wouldn’t have gone down all that well with the priest and the penance he would have doled out to me would have put a bit of a dampener on my holiday. I was only going to be in Italy for eight more days and I’m not sure I could have recited sufficient Hail Marys in that time to have had my dark soul absolved of sin, and I don’t think my aging knees could have coped with all that kneeling to pray even if I had tried.
So with a body and mind still awash with evil, I set off on an early morning walk to take in Ortiga’s deserted narrow streets before the tourists got there to clutter them up, and to admire the splendid view across the harbour full of luxury yachts, sardine fishermen’s boats, basking dolphins, shopping trolleys, floating Coca Cola cans and used condoms.
By the time I reached Piazza del Doumo the sun was out in all its glory and the old cathedral looked incredible from the outside, and from the inside it was just as good except there were people with loud shirts and loud American accents and people looking for monetary donations. I gave a two Euro coin to a lady with a collecting box and made a wish but despite this the loud people didn’t go away. I still don’t know what the Italian word for ‘refund’ is.
Apart from Guinness and bare knuckle fighting, there is nothing in the world that I like more than the inside of a beautiful old church and this one had the lot. It was beautiful beyond words. Even the candles of hope that you light for the sick and the needy and Leeds United were state of the art jobs, powered up not by lighting a wick with a spill but by flicking an electric switch. Old traditions never completely die so it was still necessary to put a penny in the tin to finance this facility, so two more Euro were gone from my pocket but it was but worth every cent! And what made this even better was the fact that you could flick more than one switch without anybody noticing, so you could get a lot more hope for your Euro than you were really entitled to. Is that wicked?
Having eased myself into a church frame of mind I thought it would be a good plan to leave the cathedral and go to have a look round somewhere that was possibly a little less ornate and a bit more of a hard core working place of worship. The Church of Santa Lucia at the far end of the piazza seemed like the perfect place. Smaller and less adorned with the spoils of the Catholic Church’s power over its people, it too was immaculately beautiful inside with particularly lovely floor tiles and a painted ceiling. It seemed that the best way to view these two features in equal measure was to lie on the floor face down and then roll over and over and over again, taking the time to blink or rest the eyes during the phase of rotation when the walls were directly facing me. The centrepiece of this magnificent building, however, was an original painting by Caravaggio of Seppellimento di Santa Lucia (the Death of Saint Lucy). Unfortunately, photography was forbidden in the church but with time on my hands I took the opportunity to sketch it for you dear reader (see below).
Seppellimento di Santa Lucia - Caravaggio (1608).
Before leaving the church I bought a postcard of Caravaggio’s Death of Saint Lucy and a fridge magnet, also of Caravaggio’s Death of Saint Lucy. So with my first postcard and fridge magnet tucked away in my happy wanderer’s knapsack and the sun shining with all its Sicilian might, I felt that my holiday was well and truly underway.
The next stop on my walkabout was another old church just twenty metres away and one that was even less churchy than the Church of Saint Lucy. This place was no longer a place of worship at all and had been restored and converted into an art gallery known affectionately as Galleria Civica d'Arte Contemporanea Montevergini. Today it housed an exhibition of the work of Perrin a Siracusa. I stuck my head in and had a look round, not just because it was free but because some of the artist’s pieces looked like they could be used on the covers of Siouxsie and the Banshees albums, I had the place to myself and, despite its change of use, it was still a fabulous old ecclesiastical building.
Soon it was time for me to abandon the church aspect of my Sunday morning promenade. I had been surprised but not disappointed that Mass was not being said in any of them. I’ve got nothing against the saying of Mass for those who want it but had there been religious ceremony going on I wouldn’t have been allowed into these places, or if I had been allowed in I wouldn’t have felt comfortable there. Perhaps the absence of formal worship meant that after two thousand years of Papacy, Sicily was coming round to my way of thinking. I’m sorry if my way of thinking doesn’t correspond with yours, dear reader. It is only my way of thinking. I hope you can respect that, as I respect yours.
Other things that surprised me during my ramble round the island included the fact that all of the buskers used a cheap and tacky looking trophy for collecting donations from passers-by. They were all about fifty centimetres high (the trophies, not the buskers) and looked like the sort of thing you might be awarded with for winning a pool tournament in a pub in Wigan. This was enough to make me want to go home and learn to speak Italian so that I could return and investigate why they didn’t just use an old hat or a cup like buskers do in the rest of the world.
Wigan & District Pool & Accordion Playing Champion 1976.
Equally as surprising, but not as easy to stare at, was the man on the little wooden swimming platform by the sea who was wearing a pair of very tight Union Jack patterned Speedos as he narcissistically paraded up and down whilst talking on his mobile phone and adjusting his salami and two olives. I would show you the paparazzi-esque photograph that I took of him but I’m afraid I sold it to the Sunday Mirror to support their story about budgie smuggling being rife amongst members of the British National Party.
Influenced by my incredibly beautiful surroundings, for the whole of the day I had the song Santa Lucia rattling around in my head. Enrico Caruso sings it even better than I do myself.
Much to my surprise the route seemed to be lined largely by derelict industrial sites as we drove along rough roads from the airport at Catania, through torrential rain to the ancient city of Siracusa. Burnt out ice cream vans, ragged remains of Luigi Riva shirts, battered violin cases and rusty old Spaghetti Hoops tins, all reminders of better times, littered the way until we reached our destination 70 km further down the Mediterranean coast.
On a rock overlooking the sea, the town of Ortiga at the centre of Siracusa was where we had planned to park up for our first night on Italian soil. This amazing place that had been founded by the Greeks in 600 BC, and invaded by just about everybody down the centuries, had today been invaded by me and my Australian travelling companion, Jo. It was so utterly lovely that I was surprised that they allowed the likes of Jo and me to stay there . . . especially Jo!
Having found the magnificently old Hotel Posta (not Pasta) in Via Trieste, with a history dating back to before 1900 (that’s seven o’clock to you and me), encamped amongst the plush furnishings of our five bed attic room, admired the art that adorned the walls and found the rusty old fridge rattling in the corner, we had an expensive can of cheap German beer to toast our hosts and the forthcoming adventure. Immediately Jo, who was ill, was out for the count and I was out wandering the miles and miles of stylishly unkempt narrow and windy streets and alleys of medieval Ortiga, the island that forms the spiritual and physical heart of the city.
The place had everything you would expect of an old Sicilian city. The jewel of the architecture was the Doumo (Cathedral), built on the site of a Greek Temple to Athena. I stood for a while in the Piazza del Doumo and admired my surroundings as the orange rays of the setting sun illuminated the white stone from which the basilica was built. Around me Sicilians and tourists went calmly about their business. Here was a truly special place that seemed to have preserved its serenity despite its popularity with the modern day invaders.
Lots of old churches, a fortified sea wall, an old harbour and a fortress built on a rock in the sea at the island’s southern tip made this a fairy-tale place to visit as I roamed alone through quiet streets inhabited only by hungry, scabby cats and children playing football, and along busy streets fringed with restaurants and fridge magnet shops inhabited only by a coach party from Wakefield.
In the evening the streets and restaurants became much more busy, to the extent that Marsupial Jo and I were turned away from the first two or three that we tried because we hadn’t reserved a table. I had travelled all the way from the Wiltshire Wilderness and they couldn’t even give me a seat and a bacon butty . . . how shameful. Mind you, had they made the journey in the opposite direction to the Wiltshire Wilderness they would have no doubt had even less luck and probably even made the front page headline in the Daily Mail with something like, “They come over here . . . pinching our bottoms …”
We ended up in a gorgeous little restaurant up a narrow street far, far away from the crowds, apart from the crowd that had got there before us and already taken most of the tables for dinner. Rather than turn us away, the lovely lady proprietor arranged for us to share a large table with two young Sicilian couples. Oh how romantic! We exchanged smiles and greetings as we also shared the sauce from their spaghetti as it whiplashed its way across the pristine white Italian lace tablecloth to my pristine white English flabby arm. Of course I licked it off to save their blushes. It could have done with just a hint more marjoram though.
During the course of our meal, dining companions and restaurant staff all expressed to us their embarrassment at having such a limited knowledge of the English language. I didn’t know enough words of the Italian language to express my embarrassment at having absolutely no knowledge at all of the Italian language. Luckily, Jo was able to act as translator and save the giorno. She wasn’t fluent but she knew the Italian word for every conceivable type of seafood on an Italian menu. So a jolly evening of mixing with the locals was enjoyed using only the medium of fish.
It was lovely to be in Ortiga but I wished that I had gone there a day earlier. Near to our hotel was a street called Via XX Settembre. I would have loved to have seen what went on there the day before our arrival. And I would have loved to have known what they would have called that street had the City of Rome not been captured from Papal control on 20th September 1870 during the Second Italian War of Independence. And I would have loved to have known what the lovely lady proprietor in the restaurant was called.
Wouldn't you just die without Francesco Crispi?
My night at the Jury’s Inn Hotel near Heathrow Airport wasn’t really what I’d class as part of a lovely sunny holiday experience but it was a night away from home in a bed that wasn’t my own so I thought it probably deserved a mention in the old Terrific Travel Tales malarkey.
The whole area that surrounded this soulless concrete block of a hotel compromised of busy roads, warehouses, wasteland and many more soulless concrete blocks of hotels about a mile apart from each other. However, it served its purpose by providing me with somewhere to lay my weary head for the night before an early morning flight.
So, with nothing to do outside of the hotel except inhaling carbon monoxide fumes and running the risk of getting mugged, I endured self-imposed confinement to my room. As there was nothing worth watching on the telly and as I had refused to pay the tenner it would have cost me had I agreed to hook up to the Jury’s Inn Wi-Fi service, I relied upon the kettle as the only electrical gadget available that I could gain amusement from. I sat for half an hour drinking my own body weight in almost impossible to open sachets of instant coffee as I watched plane after plane after plane approach in leisurely succession and evenly spaced apart like a slow motion Red Arrows formation flying team, and land on a runway about twenty metres from my window. So close were they that I could just about hear the sound of the captain of each aircraft welcoming his passengers to London and asking them not to turn on their mobile phones until they were in the terminal building and the sound of his passengers turning on their mobile phones.
The real highlight of my evening in our capital city was the bus ride from the National Express coach station at Heathrow’s Terminal 1 to the hotel. Having carried out extensive research into every aspect of my trip to explore the Volcanoes of Sicily, I had expected to pay £4.50 for the fifteen minutes of luxury travel aboard a number 285 eventually bound for Kingston (in Surrey sadly, not Jamaica). I also felt confident that my grasp of foreign tongues, although basic, was sufficient for me to be able to deal with any eventuality whilst roving away from home. However, it turned out that due to a quite precipitous language barrier, my public transport experience cost me absolutely nothing.
Bearing a five pound note and a cheery smile, as I boarded the bus I asked the driver for a ticket to a stop somewhere in the vicinity of my hotel. The driver, it seemed, didn’t understand a word of English and also, it seemed, didn’t really need to as all the other people who got on with me and after me just scanned their London Transport Lobster Cards and their financial transactions were completed without uttering a sound. You won’t believe this but even the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ didn’t seem to be necessary on London buses. I tried to force my fiver onto the poor little monolingual Asian chap at the helm but he wouldn’t have it. I even tried to tuck it into one of the folds of his turban but he was having none of that either and gestured for me to go and sit down at the back of the bus and shut my fat English gob.
My fare had been waived on the grounds of language difficulties in my own country. When I travel abroad I am always amazed that almost everyone in every country is able to speak at least a little English. Tonight, right there slap bang in the middle of the English speaking world, was a man who spoke no English at all. How had he managed that? What did he do when he wanted to put a note out for the milkman or tell cold callers on the phone to sod off because he had never had Payment Protection Insurance? I considered suggesting to him that he take a holiday in Buenos Aires or Ashgabat and possibly pick up a few English phrases from the locals during his stay. I also considered the possibility that, with my lack of knowledge of Latin American Spanish or Turkmen, I could get a job as a bus driver in Buenos Aires or Ashgabat through the same employment agency as my driver tonight had done.
What was most important though was that I had left home. No matter how often I go away, no matter how long or short the journey, and no matter how long I’m away for, I get just as excited every time. My previous experience of Italy was negligible and my previous experience of active volcanoes was non-existent so this was going to be a special trip. Tonight the blood ran through my veins faster than the waters of the Himalayan rivers that feed the Ganges. Having bathed in the Ganges and having seen the vein throbbing in the middle of my stressed out forehead, the driver of the 285 bus was able to make the comparison and confirm this.
Dhruv the driver of the 285 to Hatton Cross.
Flushed with pride from the plaudits I received for my earlier work ‘We Are Seacroft!’ I thought I’d have a crack at another one. So this is a little something that I knocked up in my tea breaks this week. I quite enjoyed doing this so until someone tells me it’s crap I’m going to keep writing them.
It’s such a bloody awful shame
There aren’t more people like Elaine.
Pulling pints was what she did
When I was just a spotty kid
To quench my thirst and numb my brain.
I’m sure she must have known we’d been
Not much older than sixteen.
She’d let us in and sell us beer,
But deep inside we’d always fear
That proof of age had to be seen.
Her beady eye and Yorkshire charm
Meant there was always peace and calm.
A place so safe to go and drink
On Saturday night and not have to think
Of life outside the Cricketers’ Arms.
As long as we never did owt bad
Like cuss or fight to drive her mad
She’d let us sit and drink and smoke.
But we shut our gobs whenever she spoke
As if for the night she’d become our dad.
The kids today must find it hard
As from the pubs they’re always barred.
Instead for fun they find the need
To drink cheap cider and smoke their weed
In shop doorways or a cold graveyard.
Some rob and steal to buy cocaine.
But politicians just don’t have the brains
To see that youngsters’ mindless crime
Could be prevented half the time
If they’d only give us more Elaines.
Terry Mullan, September 2013
The Cricketers' Arms in Seacroft, Leeds in the good old days.
Note the absence of hoodlums, urchins and glue sniffers.
This week I’ve mostly been … honing.
Here’s a little something I honed while I was having my tea tonight. I wrote it a long time ago but thought it deserved a dusting off as a conversation I had had with friends on a website brought up the subject of what people we knew had contributed towards the war effort.
Dear old Betty was one of my customers but is sadly no longer with us. I read her this poem once and she was delighted, just as I was delighted to have known her.
Betty Lewis Eyes
A teapot on a tray she brings.
Digestive in each saucer.
Horrific tales of war to tell
But only if she’s forced to.
She’s angelic, prim and ninety
And no one’s ever heard her
Speak a single word of malice
But in her eyes there’s murder.
She’s always lived in Odd Down,
Feeding kids and darning socks,
But in August 1940
She worked in Plymouth docks.
To be a nurse, or cook, or clerk
She never could succumb.
The tool of dear old Betty’s trade
Was an anti-aircraft gun.
Cat gently pushed from comfy chair,
She pours the tea and sighs.
Her face lights up as she recalls
Blasting Fokkers from the skies.
Years have flown so quickly by.
Her kids have grown and fled.
Little to do but dust the flat
And recount the German dead.
Bombers came across the sea
To kill and terrorise.
Shot down by a deadly war machine
With Betty Lewis eyes.
Terry Mullan, October 2005
A Fokker G1 . . . the sort of thing that Betty would
think about whilst dipping a digestive into her cuppa.
My working life got off to a bad start and it was all the fault of Mick Jones (the footballer, not the front man in The Clash). Not many people have got the sack on the very first day of their very first job without actually even doing any work but I came very close and my feeble attempt to retain my employed status amounted to the utterance of five golden words, they being ‘United’s glorious scenes at Wembley.’
On Saturday 6th May 1972 I had entered into a verbal agreement with the manager of the R.S. McColl newsagent’s and tobacconist’s shop in the fashionable Seacroft Town Centre shopping arcade that I would accompany his outgoing Round No 3 paper boy on his route around Leeds’ famous Whinmoor Estate prior to taking over the round in my own right the following Monday. The maze of cul-de-sacs, tower blocks and subways awash with packs of rabid dogs, packs of rabid kids and rival paper boys intent upon leading astray any rookie deliverer of Evening Posts was too much for a young lad to attempt for a first time without the experience and guidance of a fifteen year old who had been doing the job all his working life (i.e. since Easter).
As reward for my labour on that warm spring afternoon I was to be paid the princely sum of ten and a half pence. You may scoff but that was a lot of money in those days. In fact it was enough to buy drugs with a street value of ten and a half pence or three bottles of fizzy Cresta pop, but I just said ‘No!’ to the Cresta due to the damage that it could have done to my brain. Oh alright then, I admit I did have just one or two to take the sting out of walking through the subway that went under the Ring Road to my place of work.
East Leeds legal highs, circa 1972.
I wasn’t too worried about making a success of the job as I already knew that it wasn’t the best way to earn money. My predecessor had told me on the way home from school a couple of days earlier that he was leaving to become a paper boy at local rivals, Forbuoy’s, who paid seven and a half pence a week more than the sixty two and a half pence per week that had been the juicy carrot that had seduced me into putting my foot on the first rung of the employment ladder. Little did I know then that this would be the first of many crap jobs that I would have to endure during my decades of scratching around to earn a crust and that I would eventually make a career of making career changes. In my life the word ‘career’ has been more of a verb than a noun but I am now pleased to say that I am happy in my role as a Foot Health Practitioner, travelling the highways and byways of Wiltshire, Bath and North East Somerset to earn a shilling in return for hacking the nasty bits off pedal extremities . . . for the time being!
McColl’s did seem to me to be a good place to start on the road to financial security because its founder had been a Scottish international footballer in the 1890s who had started making toffee in the scullery of his humble abode to supplement the meagre earnings of a top class professional. I suspect that this is why Scotland is no longer a major force on the world football scene – all its potential star players are busy making toffee. Had the Scots in the Leeds team back then, namely Billy Bremner, Eddie Gray, Peter Lorimer and David Harvey, all stuck to the toffee instead of becoming the footballing legends that they did, taking United to the F.A. Cup final as well as other breathtaking levels of success, then perhaps my sticky situation with an irate newsagent would have been avoided.
Looking back, I suppose I should have mentioned to Mr McColl’s representative on Earth (or Brian, as he preferred to be known on account of that being his real name) that Leeds would be on telly that particular Saturday afternoon. Perhaps I was a bit naive but I had rather assumed that a man who made a living out of selling newspapers and who lived in a city of more than a million people who all supported their local team (to do anything else was unheard of in those days) would be aware that Leeds United were playing in the F.A. Cup Final at the Empire Stadium, Wembley. Furthermore, in the days when the only match in a season to be broadcast live on television was the cup final I took it for granted that anybody with a pulse would know about it and watch it. Later in life I got to know Brian better and it unfolded that his passion lay in speedway and shooting (not at the same time, I would add, though that would probably be much more fun than either of the two sports taken separately) so I adopted a sympathetic approach to an employer who missed out on one of the greatest sporting occasions of all time. Fearful of repetition, whenever I have gone for a job interview since then, I have asked the members of the interview panel who their favourite football teams are, what they were doing on the day Leeds won the cup and if they’ve ever shot a speedway rider.
Ten minutes before the kick off my Dad pointed out to me that I would probably need to miss the second half as the population of a nearby council estate sweated on the arrival of its evening papers and a copy of Jackie (with a free David Cassidy novelty plastic comb) at 42 Sherburn Court. Calmly I finished singing Abide With Me, adjusted my cardboard ‘Come on United’ collapsible hat that I had ironically got free in the previous night’s Evening Post, momentarily contemplated the situation and retorted that everyone would be far too busy watching the match to be bothered about reading a scabby old newspaper. Monday night’s issue, with its photographs of United’s glorious scenes at Wembley would be much more important. I even suggested that it might be worthwhile having a day off school, thus enabling me to ensure that I would not be late to make the final link between supplier and customer in the cut and thrust world of journalism on this most magnificent of Evening Post reading days, so you can’t say that I wasn’t committed to my job.
From the second that the game kicked off I was on the edge of my seat and my mind was consumed entirely by what was going on on the Wembley pitch. My plan had been for United to be three up by half time so that the result was a foregone conclusion and that I could listen to the second half and the post-match celebrations on my Binatone transistor radio as I pushed printed details of the City of Leeds’ other events of the day (though I couldn’t imagine that there’d be any) through the letterboxes of the houses in Sledmere Green and Stanks Drive. So it caused me a great deal of inconvenience when the men in the famous all white strip were still only drawing nil-nil at the interval.
At about ten past four the forehead of striker Allan Clarke (the footballer, not the front man in The Hollies) arrowed the ball past goalkeeper Geoff Barnett’s desperate dive and into the Arsenal net. Our living room erupted in to brouhaha of celebration. Anyone who says there ain’t no party like an S Club party would have eaten their words at the sight of the uproar that followed Sniffer’s goal.
Well, in actual fact, I ran round the room shouting like an eejit and my Dad said, “Oh good, are you going to go and start that paper round now?”
One-nil is never enough though, is it? I couldn’t walk out on the team with such a slender lead so for the first time ever in my working life I said to myself, “Oh, sod it!” and just carried on watching the game.
It was an interesting encounter for a number of reasons but unless you’re a Leeds fan you’d never remember it for its entertaining football. I’ve seen DVDs of it a few times since then and, safe in the knowledge that the right team won, it’s been a struggle to concentrate on it for the full ninety minutes. However, at the time, for me it was the most exciting sporting event since dirty Chelsea had beaten Leeds in the 1970 F.A. Cup Final. Arsenal were the previous year’s double winners. If we could snatch the F.A. Cup away from them then Leeds would more than likely repeat their feat. It was the one hundredth anniversary of the first F.A. Cup Final in which Royal Engineers (later to be re-named Arsenal) lost one-nil (an omen) to Wanderers at Kennington Oval. Neither side had their first choice goalkeeper available as Geoff Barnett stood in for Bob Wilson (who had been an excellent Scotland goalkeeper but relatively poor at making toffee) in the Gunners’ goal and David Harvey (who was later to become the Scotland goalkeeper) stood in for Leeds’ Gary Sprake (who had been the Welsh International goalkeeper and should have tried earning a living from making toffee – he had a head start over the rest as he was born with butter fingers).
As the game went on the excitement intensified. After taking the lead, United opened up with some fine attacking moves with Clarke, who had rattled the crossbar with a first half header, a constant menace and Bremner and Johnny Giles controlling the midfield, as ever. Meanwhile a bundle of Evening Posts lay sadly dormant and unread on the floor next to a box of Curley Wurlies in the back room of an East Leeds paper shop.
Arsenal were restricted to a handful of chances – Paul Reaney kicked an Alan Ball shot off the line as Mrs Atkinson at 23 Farndale View started to wonder what time Kojak would be on the television that night. David Harvey pulled off an amazing twisting save to keep out a deflected Frank McLintock shot as Mr Hopkins of 78 Farnham Way started to think about where he could pick up a used Ford Anglia for under a ton. And in the seventy fifth minute Charlie George’s shot hit the crossbar just as little ten year old Janine Wilkinson started to root about for something to line the floor of her rabbit hutch. But these were isolated incidents in a game mastered by Leeds and, just down the road from the impatient readers; a fledgling paper boy was poised to spring into action to resolve any Late Night Final deficiency problems.
At ten to five the referee looked at his watch, blew the final’s final whistle and Leeds had won the cup. My Dad tried to push me out of the door to go and start work on the paper round. He often tried to push me out of the door, long before I had passed the recruitment interview at R.S. McColl’s. Mind you, I was a spotty fourteen year old at the time so I can see where he was coming from now. Spotty fourteen year old boys aren’t the sort of thing you want in your lounge. They clash with the curtains.
Leeds United players celebrating with the F.A.Cup
and almost getting me the sack.
You wouldn’t have got me to take my eyes off the TV screen at that point for all the tea Fine Fare because United’s glorious scenes at Wembley were tinged with sadness. In the eighty eighth minute, crossing the ball in from the right for what almost produced a second Leeds goal, Mick Jones dislocated an elbow and was still receiving treatment when the rest of the Leeds team climbed the steps to the Royal Box (the specially allocated Wembley seats, not the cricketing accessory) to receive their winners’ medals from the Queen. Big Norman Hunter made a return journey after collecting the bandaged Jones and led him up the steps in a touching scene as Wembley was awash in a sea of white, old gold and blue. Unfortunately the touching scene prolonged the BBC's coverage of the event and the paper deliveries across a waiting Whinmoor were put off even longer.
But how could anybody walk away from such top notch viewing to go and do a job of work? I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who put their career to one side for an hour to watch a grinning Billy Bremner lift the cup and Mick Jones struggle up to get his medal. I’ll wager that Apollo space missions were put on hold so that astronauts could catch a glimpse of Don Revie hugging his captain, that the Berlin Wall was unmanned for a while so that East German guards could give a couple of rousing choruses of ‘ee-aye-addio, we won the cup!’ and paperboys across Manchester let their paper delivery bags lie idle as they looked on in awe.
Then it was all over. We had done it at last and I could enter the recovery stage of my nervous breakdown. The solitary television cameraman toddled off home for his tea and coverage went back to the studio for analysis of the goal until Grandstand too came to an end so I watched the BBC news to see the goal again. Then the Generation Game came on our screen so I was off the sofa like a shot – the invited experts in the studio on that particular Saturday were teaching the ‘anything for a laugh’ contestants how to slaughter a goat as a sacrifice to the God of the Corn in a dark and distant corner of an as yet unexplored territory in the Third World - I can’t remember exactly where but the word ‘Swindon’ rings a bell!
This was sufficient to get me out of the house and round to see Brian who wasn’t very happy with me. The outgoing paper boy had done the delivery alone (and obviously missed most of the match – sad loser or what?) but I wasn’t sacked because I gave such a detailed account of the event I had just witnessed, the joy and the tears, the pain and the glory, but more significantly my dismissal would have meant that Brian would have had to carry the bag of papers round the estate himself for the following week and until a new recruit was press ganged. I’m pleased I thought to use the term ‘press ganged’ here as there were so many similarities between working conditions as an R.S. McColl paperboy and an eighteenth century sailor in Lord Nelson’s Royal Navy; most notably the remuneration package.
However, my absence from work on that day did mean that I would be thrown in at the deep end alone when I went to spread the word of the Yorkshire Post Newspaper Group on the following Monday. But I did survive the ordeal and you’ll be pleased to know that my employment continued for seven wonderful months until the chill dark nights of a north country winter hit me hard and the more temperate surroundings and financial rewards associated with a Saturday job in Dodson Bros’ illustrious frozen food emporium lured me away in the same way as a talented young footballer at an average Premiership club might be attracted to Manchester United. No wonder it’s so hard to get a paper delivered these days – the cash strapped newsagents just can’t compete with the wealthy big boy employers of small boys (and girls) like Tesco. However, for the remainder of my short but reasonably happy career in journalism, whenever I was late for work I just let those magical words ‘United’s glorious scenes at Wembley’ slip from my tongue and Brian’s scowl would crumble like a brain cell immersed in Cresta pop.
This here website’s supposed to be a travel blog but sometimes I like to write about other stuff too. So here I am travelling back in time to write about a momentous milestone in the formation of my character. If you can’t be bothered reading this one don’t worry, others will be along in the not too distant future.
By the time my parents finally agreed to buy a record player I had already amassed a collection of twenty-six singles and four LPs. I had suggested many times that our family life might be enriched if we had such a contraption to use as an occasional alternative to watching the telly. Perhaps we could have a bit of a sing-song now and again or even a bop when the Advocaat came out of the sideboard at Christmas. My mate Garry’s family had a record player and they all seemed very happy. My family didn’t have a record player and I felt like a second class citizen. No one could argue with that but my pleas were ignored nonetheless.
My father had once said, “What do you want a record player for? Even if you had one you’ve no records to play on it.” I lodged my six hundred and seventy-fifth request for the Dansette four-speed deluxe model with vinyl finish later that evening. This time I meant business!
A state of the art dream machine had been growling, “Come and get me!” from the shop window of a small electrical retailers every morning for a year as I passed it on my way to school. The release of T.Rex’s classic Twentieth Century Boy made life for the turntableless teenager even more unbearable and from the moment the lady in Woolworth’s handed me my seven inch disc, fitting snugly into a seven and a quarter inch carrier bag, I knew that my campaign to gain phonographic equipment just had to intensify. Personally, deprived of the ability to listen to my own choice of music and share and discuss it with my friends, I didn’t feel as though I was part of the twentieth century myself. Buying a record gave me such a thrill but each time I did it I had to go and sit in my bedroom alone, caressing every last square inch of my treasured purchase and only imagining what it would be like to put it on a turntable, turn it up loud and dance around in my socks.
So what did I need to do to get my normally generous but slightly technophobic old dad to part with the £19.99 that would make me so blissfully happy? Buying more records to create a guilt complex in him appeared to be the most obvious solution. I could visualise the day when the shelf above my bed would be creaking and buckling under the weight of my heroes’ work and that my dad would either take the hint or simply worry about me being crushed to death in the night by an avalanche of unused Bowie albums. I’m sure he would have felt terrible if his only son had been lost in this way, but not quite so terrible if the records in question had at least been listened to.
I could have saved up the money and bought a record player myself but I was put off by the fact that, for the price of such a gadget, I could buy ten LPs or forty forty-fives. This seemed a waste of money and besides, I didn’t feel as though it was my responsibility. Fifteen year-olds traditionally spent their money on records along with football stickers and the sweets required to maintain a full show of acne. Record players fell into the electrical necessities department along with washing machines, fridges and vacuum cleaners. Buying them certainly wasn’t something that should have burdened the shoulders of someone already faced with the responsibility of passing ‘O’ Levels, having to attend every Leeds United home game and catching the attention of the girl who worked in Bonnie & Dot’s baker’s shop and who talked about The Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls and who wore black nail varnish which was all far from common in the Seacroft district of Leeds in the early 1970s.
My sister too had expressed an interest (in a record player, that is, not in the New York Dolls) and we briefly discussed the possibility of a joint venture. However, some of the conditions that she laid down were completely unworkable. Not only did she want my record player to spend half of its life in her room, she also wanted to subject it to such atrocious filth as the Bay City Rollers, Donny Osmond and David Cassidy. We are back on speaking terms these days, but only just!
During the 1990s, in the part of Leeds in which I had lived as a youth, ram raiding became a popular pastime. Many a penniless soul was suddenly able to acquire unaffordable material goods that he or she had yearned for simply by reversing a Ford Transit van through a shop window, leaping out of the back doors with a bag marked ‘Loot’ over their shoulder and helping themselves. Why hadn’t I thought of this myself twenty years earlier? I suppose it was partly to do with the fact that I couldn’t drive and if I had had to fork out for lessons I might as well have spent the money on the object of my desires in the first place. Also, I knew Mr Burrell, the proprietor of the electrical shop in which the source of my future happiness lay, and he seemed to be a really nice man. He didn’t deserve to have his window broken and his fine display of pop-up toasters, kettles and Carmen heated hair curlers cast into disarray. He obviously wasn’t so nice that he would just give me the wretched thing though!
No matter what route to musical heaven I considered, the one via my ould fella’s wallet always seemed to be the easiest. An exercise codenamed ‘Operation Become My Father’s Favourite Child’ was launched and I suffered for weeks enduring such unpleasant tasks as washing the car, nipping to the off licence in the pouring rain for a packet of Senior Service, taking the dog for it’s early morning walk, not moaning while he and my mum watched The Waltons on telly and curtailing all acts of violence against my sister. I even started to do my homework at the dining room table instead of in my own room so that he was aware that I was studying hard like a good little boy. In actual fact, my studies probably suffered as I couldn’t concentrate with the noise of the television drifting through from our through lounge. The sugar coated “Night Mary-Ellen” rigmarole at the end of each episode of The Waltons rendered drawing a cross section of a glacial U-shaped valley nigh on impossible and on many occasions I stopped to consider the feasibility of trading in the cursed goggle box for a more useful and entertaining electrical appliance.
Further purchases were made from the city’s many record shops and were left in strategic places around the house to remind him of my desperate plight.
Eventually he cracked!
I brought home a copy of Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits and my mum exclaimed, “Ooh, I like them!” Her words were music to my ears and instantly I recognised that I had an ally. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? I did run the risk of having to listen to music of an alien genre, as I would have had had I pursued any collaboration with my sister, but my mother had the financial back up that made her allegiance and her fondness for the Carpenters acceptable. She told my dad that we needed something to play all my records on. She didn’t ask. She told him. Mission accomplished, I thought to myself.
The purchase wasn’t made immediately. We had to shop around for the best model at the best price and then wait for my dad’s pay day, and a day when my mum and dad were both free to go shopping, and a day when the wind was blowing in the right direction, and a day when all sorts of crucial stellar alignments would take place, and what seemed like a hundred other lame excuses to put off the inevitable. I think my dad had hoped that simply agreeing to my proposal was enough to shut me up and that if he dragged his feet long enough I would have finished school, studied electronics at a major university and built myself a top notch sound reproduction system, thus saving him the combined trouble of having to put his hand in his pocket and having to listen to music he didn’t like. Frustrated, I left Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits on the floor in our lounge, propped up against the television set and my mum did the rest.
The purchase was made at Curry’s on the Headrow in Leeds. It was £1 cheaper there than it was in our local electrical shop. Despite my euphoric state as a first time record player owner, I daren’t look Mr Burrell in the eye again after that. I’m sure he knew about my high fidelity infidelity. I still wake up in the night in a febrile sweat, tormented by the knowledge that gargantuan Curry’s shops still adorn our shopping centres and retail parks but Mr Burrell’s friendly family business is no more.
But for all the agony I go through now in consequence of the decline of independent retailers I can look back and remember that there was no greater joy than when I played a record for the first time in my bedroom on that momentous Saturday afternoon in 1973. Luckily Leeds United were playing away that day and I had heard from a reliable source that the girl in Bonnie & Dot’s bread shop was off sick, so I had no distractions. Elton John’s Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting was the first disc to drop from the stack of six that I loaded into this symbol of mid twentieth century technological wizardry and my dream had come true. The only person happier than me was my dad because he could now watch The Waltons in peace.
Ours was much like this but in blue.
Oh how I wish I'd taken a photograph of this treasured possession.
The following piece of poetry is about the part of Leeds in which I grew up.
Séamus Heaney, who is said to have been the best Irish poet since William Butler Yeats, died today at the age of 74 and it was he who once said, “Write whatever you like.” So this is what I do. I write whatever I like and the things I write are written as I would say them.
I can’t imagine there are all that many people outside of Seacroft who would want to read about this place but I wrote these words anyway, because I wanted to put down on paper my feelings towards it and because I think Séamus would approve.
Thanks for the tip our Séamus.
We Are Seacroft!
With my folks, I lived on top
Of the North East Gas Board showrooms shop
In a row of flats called Parkway Mews
From which we had outstanding views
Of the back of Ladbrokes’, the Pathfinder pub
And the brand new East Leeds Labour Club.
Our house wasn’t in so much of a street
As a labyrinth built from cold concrete.
Not posh like how it should have been.
They’d even gone and got the Queen
To come up on a 16 bus
And unveil a shiny plaque for us.
Such a shame the shopping centre
Didn’t turn out how it was meant to.
Lovely shops and a brass band stand
Was what the men in suits had planned.
But the whole world turned its back and scoffed
As the heart was ripped from our Seacroft.
In the busy indoor market hall
There was nowt I liked except the stall
Where I could spend my weekly wage
On ex juke box records from a golden age
By Bowie, Bolan and by Slade
Within half an hour of getting paid.
And then the stall where they sold bread
Was another place I’d go to shed
A bit more of my hard earned cash
On a sausage roll and just a flash
Of a smile from the girl who used to thrill
My teenage heart as she rang her till.
Sometimes we’d go to the Derrisford caff
For a bottle of Coke and a bit of a laugh.
We’d waste so many afternoons
In the mother of all the greasy spoons.
Talking rubbish. Talking soft.
Of a romantic world beyond Seacroft.
The blokes would come home pissed and late
From the Cricketer’s Arms and the Monkswood Gate.
At least the ones who had a job
And could put aside a couple of bob
For Friday’s Tetley’s and their homeward stop
To buy their kids some chips and pop.
At the Universal Bingo Hall
Pat and Sheila had a ball.
‘It’s the weekend. Let’s go wild
With a packet of fags and a glass of mild.’
Win the jackpot? No such luck.
And they’d still have to scrub and clean and cook.
Nan and Grandad loved it there.
Lush green gardens. Fresh clean air.
Such hard times when they thought back
To their pokey terrace amongst the smokey stacks.
With home grown veg and a pigeon loft
Life was good in this new Seacroft.
A huge big Tesco fills the space
Where a caretaker would shout and chase
Us off for doing bugger all
Or sometimes kicking our football,
Or sometimes sitting on the steps
To the shoppers’ car park’s murky depths.
It may have seemed to other folks
Seacroft was fit for only jokes
Of drugged up youths and crumbling homes
And icy wastes where stray dogs roamed.
But the folks I knew, I’m proud to boast,
Were good as gold and warm as toast.
It broke my heart. You could hear my sighs
From South Parkway to Kentmere Rise.
The Centre’s shops and flats were gone
But its soul and spirit linger on.
We should stand and sing with our arms aloft
‘We’re not just Leeds. We are Seacroft!’
Terry Mullan, March 2013
Sometimes we’d go to the Derrisford caff
for a bottle of Coke and a bit of a laugh.
A big special Seacroft thank you to ManxPhil for the use of this photograph. I'll buy you a bottle of Coke one day Phil.
I began my afternoon out in København by visiting young Rose me lass at her salubrious lakeside residence at nine o’clock in the morning. Apart from a hint of a hangover she seemed to be all fine and dandy and I was confident that she had weathered the storm of her temporary not wanting to be in Sweden crisis. I always find it very hard saying goodbye to my lovely kids, especially when the parting takes place such a long way from home, but I could tell that even if she wasn’t completely settled the seeds had been sown for her to enjoy the next four months in a lovely and interesting place. Her old Maastricht sparkle was back!
So, feeling a bit choked up, I gave her a big hug (being careful not to crush her breakfast time knäckebröd), said goodbye and left. I had such a strange feeling inside of me as I drove through the city centre and out towards the southbound E04 motorway. Perhaps I had had too much raw herring for my own breakfast but it was more like I didn’t want to leave lovely Jönköping, despite the fact that I had done and seen just about everything that there was to do and see there.
The 350 km drive to København was uneventful and with no one to talk to and only awful music on the car radio I was bored. It was incredible that a country that lies third in the world, behind only America and Britain in terms of popular music output should rely so heavily on crud like Eye of the Tiger and Una Paloma Blanca to keep its deejays busy. I would have given all the knäckebröd in Skanör med Falsterbo for a half decent CD to listen to in that little car. When I stopped at a service station for a cuppa and a wee I had a look in the shop to see if they sold CDs but all they really had was Eye of the Tiger and Una Paloma Blanca. In my head I tried to re-write the lyrics to these songs to describe the wretched man who compiled the playlist for the country’s national radio station but I failed because I couldn’t think of a word that rhymed with ‘blanca’.
Crossing the Öresund Bridge (or Øresund, as they would say in Denmark) once again brightened things up a bit. It seemed much more interesting than it had been on the journey into Sweden five days earlier because on the way back to Denmark I could see from 2 km to 3 km away the point where the bridge ended and the tunnel began, but not all that clearly so it appeared that the traffic was just driving off the end of the bridge and into the sea. It’s hard to describe this bridge / tunnel combination in words. The best I can do is to say that it’s a bit like the Mousetrap board game but with an expensive toll barrier instead of a bath tub and a seesaw.
Having been even more cautious than ever in allowing plenty of time for my long journey to the airport, I found myself in Denmark’s capital with enough time on my hands to have a bit of a stroll around. So I drove into the city centre, parked the car in the first parking space that I saw and then set off on foot to just bump accidentally into some interesting places without the aid of a map or a guidebook or stars to steer by. I had a coffee in an ancient looking café by the Esplanade before embarking upon yet another aimless ramble to take in some spectacular fountains and a quayside lined with old ships and boats.
‘Frigate,’ an old man said to me outside the Maritime Museum. ‘Go and shove it up your Øresund!’ I replied.
I found a statue and fountain encrusted circus in front of the Royal Palace where I watched the changing of the guard. This was more interesting than when I had seen it in England because in København they don’t do it behind big iron railings like they do at Buckingham Palace. Instead it takes place on the cobbled road where the public can get very close to the Quality Street-esque soldiers and take their photographs and steal their wallets.
Quality Street anybody?
From there I went to Frederik's Kirke, a magnificent eighteenth century Lutheran church boasting the largest dome in Scandinavia. It was circular on the outside, so not surprisingly circular on the inside too, and with that impressive dome it looked like a huge ornate biscuit barrel or tea caddy.
Round about 4.00 p.m. it was time to say goodbye to wonderful, wonderful København. The three hours that I had spent there really had been wonderful and sufficient to convince me that I should revisit and have a proper look around some time in the future. So I added it to my mental list of future mental holiday plans . . . along with all the others. Did you know I have never been to Great Yarmouth?
Sadly, not only was my afternoon in København at an end but so was my trip to Northern Europe. As ever at the end of a trip, I got into the car to go the airport and I sighed the heaviest of sighs. No matter how often I go away this bit never gets any easier.
I spent money in four different currencies today. I bought a cuppa with Swedish kronor at the service station on the motorway near Helsingborg. I spent Danish kroner to pay to cross the bridge and whilst tootling around as a tourist. I used a five euro note to buy myself a drink at the airport. And I used British pounds to buy some Class A drugs to take away the pain of being back in England.
Rather than fannying around in ten different car parks like I had done on the previous day, I made my first task of this day the purchasing of an all-day ticket for the Science Park car park in the the heart of the University of Jönköping campus. Then I used up the first hour of my allotted parking time wondering why I hadn’t thought to do that yesterday and why there were no swings in the Science Park.
Our Rose, who had travelled in from her lakeside residence on a No. 17 bus, met me at the library and said she was free until 2.00 p.m. when she would have to meet up with her ‘Fadder’ and her Student Union group for a wander round the town with a beat box turned up to eleven in tow and from which thundered a string of Dubstep’s finest recordings. By the magic medium of text messaging her 2.00 p.m. slot was extended to 3.00 p.m. so Rose had even more time on her hands and we didn’t know what to do to fill the it so we walked from the city centre almost the full length of the lakeside walk along the lakeside path to her lakeside residence, and then back again. The weather was beautiful, the views of the lake were beautiful and the summer houses, gardens, plants, birds and automatic robotic lawnmower devices were beautiful, but I could sense that something wasn’t quite right.
A spot of lunch in the sunshine by the harbour killed a bit more time but not quite enough so we drove back to Rose’s because we didn’t know what else to do while we were waiting for the Student Union Fadder woman to let her know exactly where they were to meet at 3.00 p.m. Poor old Rose at this point expressed her feelings of something less than total happiness. Settling in and making new friends was turning out to be a bit more tricky than it had been in Maastricht two years earlier and her room wasn’t as nice and it was miles from anywhere and a dozen or so other minor problems all snowballed up together to form an Arctic Circle sized one. A bit of reassurance and talk of a trip to the Government run alcohol shop in the town eased the situation a little but I still felt uneasy about her uneasiness as we drove back to Jönköping at 2.55 p.m.
She and I both knew that the group meet up in the afternoon would be crap but we both also knew that things would be worse if she didn’t go along and join in. It did sound like a load of old ridiculously silly type things to me though. The Fadders (or Fathers) who ran the show were just students who had the bottle to drag a machine full of really awful music (and I mean even worse than Simply Red, if you can imagine such a thing without your head exploding) and a squad of new students round the streets, having allocated themselves ridiculous names and painted their faces before setting off. Rose’s group turned out to be the ‘Gangsters’ but she refused to pay fifty quid for the customary brightly coloured workmen’s overalls which would have looked well daft on these people even if they had worn them properly but they tied the sleeves round their waists and wore them as trousers with the risk of their arses being exposed to all the world and the good people of Jönköping. And from what I could make out, they only wear these outrageous outfits during ‘Kick Off Week’ at the start of each academic year. At times like this I’m glad I’m an old fart and not a trendy young student.
The Fladders and Mudders of the University of Jönköping.
After I had dropped Rose off in the car I stood and watched her from a distance to make sure she was alright. This reminded me of watching her (and all my other children, and the attractive young P.E. teacher) from beyond the school gates during the early days of her reception year to make sure she wasn’t standing all alone and tearful in the corner of the playground. Today I could see that she was smiling and she had a blue Student Union group headband on and I could have sworn I saw her mouth the words ‘Government run alcohol shop’, so I knew she was happy and I could make my escape.
Feeling slightly down in the dumplings, I wandered alone for miles and miles around the bits of the city that I had already seen several times. My afternoon took a bit of filling but I didn’t want to go too far away in search of something new and more interesting in case I got a text message from Rose to say that proceedings had proceeded to deteriorate or were at an end and my presence was required. But, although Jönköping was a lovely place, there wasn’t all that much to it so I ended up exploring some of the less fashionable streets where, as Paul Simon would have said, the ragged people go. I also followed the path along the eastern shore of Lake Vättern and the Netto shop where I chanced upon a magnificent range of low cost pan scouring pads but sadly I had no room in my bag to take them back to England with me which added to my melancholy mood.
I did a bit of stalking too. Not deliberately, of course. I had been warned about that! But as we were leaving Rose’s accommodation earlier in the day I saw her next door neighbour who was apparently called Erin and another girl so I said, “Hello.” An hour later I saw them again in the University campus and I said, “Hello” again. Erin looked a bit startled and confused. She had never seen me with Rose so I felt the need to explain the situation. Poor Erin didn’t look convinced or reassured that I wasn’t a loony. The other girl looked like she was in a trance. It’s amazing how people deal with shock and fear in such different ways. Did you know that the fixtures and fittings in the cells in Swedish police stations are all bought from Ikea?
As the afternoon wore on I returned to two of my favourite cafés for coffees. At Johan’s the Viking ladies from the first day still weren’t there but this time neither was the broken handle on the toilet door. In the space of three days its status as a toilet door securing implement had deteriorated from a bit dodgy to ripped completely off. The facility was deemed out of bounds so I had to go to the toilet at another café over the road in the hope that the staff there didn’t notice me sneaking in and out without buying anything. I was tempted to ask if I could buy their toilet door handle and take it back with me to Johan’s but not all Swedes have a sense of humour and, despite the Ikea furniture, Swedish police station cells aren’t all that comfortable.
The other café that I visited again was the Pique Nique, which was quite possibly the brightest, most cheerful and welcoming place I have ever had the pleasure of drinking a cup of coffee in. What I also liked about it was that one of the two ladies that ran the joint was the spitting image of Nina Persson, the front woman in the band The Cardigans . . . the best band in the world in my opinion and the first band on the moon as they would claim themselves. For a moment I thought I had found the Nina that I had come to Sweden in search of. However, having already met her and spoken to her once before in Birmingham, I realised that this lady couldn’t possibly be her because she was at least a metre taller than the real Nina.
I don’t want to sound weird about my fondness for Ms Persson but it was a bit weird walking around Jönköping in the knowledge that it was her home town. So it was quite possible that she had at some point drunk from the same coffee cup as me in the Pique Nique café, that she had bought an all-day pay and display car park ticket at the same ticket machine in the University’s Science Park car park as me and that she had had the same trouble as me with the toilet door handle in Johan’s café.
So it wasn’t all that unusual when one of the Cardigans’ hits kept getting stuck in my head during my stay there. I bet you can’t resist singing along a bit yourselves, my dear readers.
So I cried, and I begged for you to
Love me, love me,
Say that you love me.
Fool me, fool me,
Go on and fool me.
Love me, love me,
I know that you need me.
I don’t care about anything but you.
But she lives in New York now so I didn’t bump into her as I had hoped and if she thinks I’m going over there to go looking for her she can go and bloody well whistle!
Eventually the time came round for me to go and meet up with Rose again and what a difference a litre cardboard carton of cheap Australian rosé wine had made. Her favoured brand had been called ‘Rosie’, funnily enough. The afternoon and evening had been quite productive for her in terms of networking with international students who liked a drop so our panic was suddenly over. I had spent much of the day stressing over how hard it would be if she was still upset when the time came for me to go home and leave her behind in Sweden and she had spent much of the day not really knowing or caring what was going on the world. What a terrible waste of stress!
After my final Jönköping coffee with my daughter, back once again at the Pique Nique café (I really had had more than enough coffee by then and was gagging for a real drink), I took her back once again to her lakeside residence and left her there tucking into more wine with the Indian contingent of the residence’s residents and who seemed like a right good laugh and who were cooking Indian food that smelt absolutely gorgeous and much nicer than the knäckebröd and raw fish that I knew that my next meal would comprise of.
Rose seemed happy but I wasn’t. My age old complaint of feeling utterly miserable at the thought of going back to England had hit me hard today. It is bad enough going home at the best of times but when you’re leaving your lovely daughter behind it’s even harder. I didn’t want to go without her for three reasons. I would worry that she was alright whilst living so far away from home, I was envious of her and the experience of living in Sweden for four months, I knew that I would miss her badly and I still hadn’t seen a moose.
I went back to my hotel for the last time. Tonight, strangely, it was packed to the rafters with Swedish heating engineers who were attending a week long training course there.
I lay on my bed and listened to the fine music of the Cardigans, the Wannadies and the Concretes who were all excellent bands and all from Sweden, as I drank a bottle of cool Eriksberg beer from the bar (my final Swedish luxury), finished off the remains of my litre of rough Aussie wine and drooled over my Rough Guide to Sweden book to make the embryonic plans for a future, more extensive visit to this wonderful land.
Rose had given me a spare wristband to get me free entry into the Akademien night club in town but I was worried that I would bump into Erin and her mate again and scare them again so I had an early night instead. In my comfy Ikea bed I laid back, I thought of England and I sighed heavily.
My electronic tagging device.
So, enough of the holiday making and enjoying ourselves for the time being for us and down it was to the serious business of why we were in Sweden. Today was a school day, literally, as our young Rose took her first real steps into her newest world at the University of Jönköping. This meant getting up early, which also meant me having to ask the breakfast boss at my hotel if I could have my breakfast a bit earlier than the official 8.00 a.m. start time. ‘No problem’ he said. Nothing ever seemed to be a problem for anybody in Sweden.
Rose had her first meeting / lecture / knees up at 9.00 a.m. so I dropped her off near to her faculty building and then proceeded to demonstrate the loss of all my faculties as I fannied about for half an hour with a malfunctioning car park pay and display ticket machine. This was particularly annoying as the word ‘malfunction’ isn’t one that is often required in everyday conversation in Sweden. Trust me to find the only machine in the land to be on the blink. Had the machine been in England I would have shouted at it but in this case I just discretely whispered ‘I think you need some help’ and went away to another car park where the ticketing arrangements were less of an ordeal.
By then it was time to park my bum in Malmborg’s café for morning coffee and to write a bit in my journal. As the small cup was pushed across the counter towards me I considered that 25 kronor was a bit steep for such a meagre helping of caffeine that would do little to wake me up, but the fact that the lovely café lady came over to my table later with her jug in her hand (ooh err!) to top me up a couple of times for nowt made me warm to Sweden even more than I had already done, which was a lot. I loved that laid back, no need to worry because you get what you need eventually approach to life.
About an hour later I met briefly with my daughter who gave me a quick update on her feet finding progress, accepted a replenishment of funds and dashed back to her academic sphere leaving me to wander the streets alone for the remainder of the morning. If the truth is to be known, however, there is nothing that I enjoy more than to wander through the streets of an overseas city alone with not a plan nor a map nor a clue of where I am going. I was in utter paradise!
My route took me into the stunning, white and red stone cathedral where my only companion was a young man who I guessed had some learning difficulties but who wanted me to join him in a bit of a sing song. This was a bit tricky as I didn’t know the words, or the tune that was playing or even the language so I sort of hummed a bit and made words up as I went along just to keep him happy for a while. None of this was all that surprising really as I have the same sort of problem singing English hymns in English churches. My singing partner seemed disappointed when I left. I wasn’t sure if this was because I was leaving him alone or because I had been so crap at singing.
Sofiakyrkan . . . Jönköping's magnificent
white and red stone cathedral.
Further Mullan meanders took me round by the small harbour where the small lake feeds through a short canal into the mighty Vättern before strolling into the Tourist Information Centre where I became the first tourist ever, the lady said, to have asked whereabouts in the city the Tax Office was located. During the course of the morning I also found the bus ticket sales office and the Government run alcohol shop, all of which I knew my lovely girl child would need to visit if the early days of her time at university there were going to pass smoothly. At the top of my list of achievements however, was finding a city centre branch of Netto right next to the bus stop that Rose would probably be using to travel from and to her dwelling place. Not many dads would do that now, would they?
Glowing with success, I returned to Johan’s café, the place where the voluptuous Vikings had helped me escape from the broken toilet on our first day there. The Vikings had gone but the lock on the door still jammed so I threw caution to the wind and used the facility anyway as such places were essential in a world where I was drinking so much coffee. I would have loved to have been drinking more beer as I was, after all, on holiday but the requirement to drive the car and to keep a clear head for thinking daughter related stuff put me off almost as much as the price did. A bottle of beer in Sweden cost more than what I spent on alcohol in the entire two week duration of a lads’ holiday to Lloret de Mar in 1984.
Outside of lovely Johan’s and just across the street I had my photograph taken with Magnus Ladulas. Well it was with his statue to be totally truthful. I hadn’t a clue who he was or who he had been but as his name sounded like he could have been a character from Oliver Postgate’s children’s animated television series Noggin the Nog that I had loved as a child, I just couldn’t resist. Later research revealed that yer man Magnus had been a thirteenth century King of Sweden and had been married to a young lady called Helvig of Holstein which sounded like a cracking name for a missus and made me reconsider my negative approach to remarriage. I don’t know, Helvig of Holstein Mullan has a bit of a ring to it, don’t you think? I bet you’d have trouble finding a Helvig of Holstein key ring or a ‘Helvig of Holstein’s Room’ door plaque though.
The King and I.
On the subject of statues, I am pleased to be able to write that, like in most towns and cities outside of England, there were many in Jönköping and the same applied with fountains. There was a very impressive three tier one of these outside of the Town Hall, though I enjoyed equally the simple but unusual aquatic structure in the square near the library which depicted scenes of atrocities committed against the good citizens of Jönköping in times gone by. So I went back there for a second look and to take more photographs of this little beauty which Rose and I had previously christened ‘The Rape Fountain’. From that point it was deemed to be the city’s equivalent of the statue of Johannes Minkelers in Maastricht which everyone now refers to us as ‘The Fire Statue’ because of such epithet being bestowed upon it by us. For anybody who hasn’t read earlier chapters of my blog (and I can’t believe that there is anybody in the world who could have been so remiss), Minkelers was the man who discovered that gas extracted from oil or coal could be used for illumination purposes and consequently the townsfolk of Maastricht, where he was born, have erected a statue of him with a permanently lit real life gas torch in his hand. A great man who must be admired as without him, the 1944 film Fanny By Gaslight would have had to be re-titled Fanny In The Dark.
And now for your edification and amusement, I have four astonishing things to tell you about Sweden:
(1) It seems to me that when you buy a cup of coffee in most small cafés you are entitled to constant free topping up. In two cafés that I visited (Pique Nique and Malmborg’s) nice ladies came round to replenish my cup without me having to even ask. In Johan’s it looked to me as though once you had paid for your coffee you could return to the filter machine and help yourself to more if you fancied it. I wasn’t completely sure about this so I didn’t risk it in case I was wrong and I upset Sweden, especially as this had been the place where I had caused a bit of a stir with the broken lavvy door knob.
(2) The vast majority of drivers are unbelievably careful and courteous. They stop for you if they think you want to cross the road, even if there isn’t a zebra crossing. If there is a zebra crossing they stop about ten or fifteen metres back from it so that you’re not panicked into thinking they’re going to knock you over if you don’t rush across. There have even been incidents of polite drivers getting out of their cars and dragging pedestrians across roads that they had no intention of crossing at all. Also, just driving about the place, I found that they gave way at junctions and they always left loads of space between the cars when following me. In Jönköping I witnessed only two instances of people driving too fast and impatiently in built up areas. They were on separate days but both involved the same white BMW, so I would imagine that in both cases it was the same driver demonstrating the characteristics of one who engages in the act of self-defilement.
(3) Swedes greet you with a smile on their face and the words ‘hej hej’ (cheerily pronounced hey hey). In the absence of a travel journal of her own in which to record her theory, Rose asked me if I thought that the 1960s American pop band The Monkees might have been Swedish.
(4) In the field of punctuation, Swedish people use a colon where we would use an apostrophe. Now don:t you thing that:s peculiar? It does mean however, that you could use a semi-colon when writing about something that somebody only half owns. This made me wonder too if, when Swedes have the bacteria flushed out of their back bottoms are they having apostrophic irrigation?
Reunited with my daughter in the early evening we dined at one of the harbour-side restaurants, paying more attention to what the great assortment of wild birds around us were eating than what we were actually eating ourselves. I had never before seen as many wild birds in urban environments as I did during this trip. I suppose it was because of the nearby lake, the proximity of vast tracts of forest and people like us chucking them bits of knäckebröd. I can’t really remember what I had to eat myself. Perhaps it was an assortment of wild birds.
Later we had early evening drinks and more wild birds on the lawn back at the Tokeryds Herrgård Hotel where I had been staying. When I say drinks I mean a can each of the watery 2.3° ABV Maristads beer that I bought four cans of for 28 kronor (£2.80 ish) on the day we arrived. Despite it being typically the best available in a Swedish supermarket, this purchase had been a big mistake as cheap lager type beer needs to be chilled drastically and it could have done with a spoonful of Bisto or something in it to perk it up and give it a bit of body. Neither of these facilities were available in my hotel room! Despite this slight imperfection in our travel plans we spent a most pleasant half hour in which I chatted more than all of the rest of the time put together that I had spent in solitude in this, the Marie Céleste of hotels. Our entertainment was provided by an automatic robotic lawn mower device that pottered around in the garden all on its own.
Back at Rose’s lodgings our relaxed frame of mind was shattered like a cold frame that an automatic robotic lawn mower device might have crashed into in the absence of human interference to guide it. The reason for the deterioration in the level of calmness was that Rose was trying to top up the credit on her pay as you go mobile phone on which the ‘9’ button didn’t work whilst trying to follow the automated operator lady’s instructions in Swedish. It was a good job Rose didn’t know any swear words in Swedish and it was a good job too that automated operator ladies on mobile phones don’t have feelings.
We parted round about sundown and I returned to the solace of my large and creaky old hotel in the country and tried to erase from my mind its similarities with the hotel in the film The Shining. A one litre cardboard carton of traditional Swedish cheap Australian wine from the town’s one and only Government controlled alcohol shop helped a little. Two thirds of the way through the wine I did hear another voice. It said, ‘Little pigs. Little pigs. Let me come in!’ as a woodman’s axe smashed through the timber of my room door.
Kangarouge . . . the traditional Swedish cheap Australian
wine that makes the little pigs come out.
The day being Sunday, we decided that it should be a rest day from installing third born children in Scandinavian universities and instead we would be tourists, so we did that most touristy of tourist things and we went to Ikea. Actually we were trying to follow the road signs for Stockholm to get onto the road that would take us to the rural, unspoilt Östergötland region of Sweden and we just ended up at Ikea by accident. To make matters worse we ended up in the wrong Ikea by accident. We found ourselves in some sort of satellite flat-pack furniture collection centre sort of Ikea to start with but we were sent down the road to the normal Ikea by the Ikea lady that worked there. She looked a bit sad as she gave us directions to the other place, probably because her own Ikea wasn’t very well patronised and she was a bit lonely. I made a mental note to write to the Chief Executive of Ikea, asking him to name a table lamp after the poor woman to cheer her up. In the real Ikea we bought student bed covers and student chocolate and everyone was happy there, especially us, and then we were on our way as proper tourists again.
Our Rose outside the chocolate shop in Jönköping.
The motorway drive up the eastern shore of Lake Vättern was nothing short of gorgeous but because we were on a big busy road we couldn’t stop for a photo opportunity or a paddle in the waters. So we turned off onto a much smaller road near Gränna. We didn’t get out of the car here either because Gränna is famous for being the place where red and white striped candy canes were invented and we were both following calorie controlled diets, especially after our Ikea chocolate incident earlier on. In fact, we had even been tempted to eat the bed covers as they looked so nice. Gränna was also famous for its pear production (in the spring the hills around it have been described as a ‘confetti of pear blossom’), and for being the birthplace of Salomon Auguste Andrée, the gung-ho balloonist who led a doomed attempt to reach the North Pole in 1897.
As I drove through the town I spent a few moments in silence to reflect upon the life of poor Mr Andrée. I had to admire his determination to explore and thank my lucky stars that I lived in an age where easyJet made travelling a little less dangerous. Though doomed as his voyage may have been, he didn’t have to endure some squeaky voiced, make up encrusted, fat arsed slapper from Basingstoke telling him that she hoped he would enjoy his flight to Gatwick.
Just beyond Gränna we stopped to visit a car boot sale in a garage because we felt safe there as it was unlikely that they would sell candy canes or Ikea chocolate but they did happen to sell 1980s style coffee mugs (Rose bought one and broke one) and 1970s style postcards which I just couldn’t resist. The proprietor who looked like he had just stepped off a Viking longship and straight into his gardening clothes spoke no English which was probably a good thing because had he been able to do so he seemed like the kind of bloke who would tell us to sod off back to England. We did manage to work out from his spiel that he was reluctant to give us our 5 kronor change (about 50p) on the grounds that he was a bad tempered old git that had made his way through life with only plums and plum wine for nourishment. He would have been even more reluctant had he known that we had broken one of his mugs. Normally I would have offered to pay for any breakages but I didn’t think his crappy mug was worth 5 kronor and I doubted if he would ever find another out of date faded postcard customer as enthusiastic about his tatty wares as I was, so I should have got a bit of a discount for buying five of them but didn’t. Also I didn’t think I should pay for the damage as it wasn’t me who broke the mug. It was our Rose.
A typical postcard designed to entice tourists to Gränna .
High on the hill above Gränna was Brahehus, the ruined castle of Per Brahe, one of Sweden’s first counts, who encouraged the growing of pears in the region in the seventeenth century. Before he could do this, of course, his mother had encouraged the growing of Pers in the region in the seventeenth century. So I wondered why they hadn’t called him Pears Brahe and had he been a good enough bloke to be referred to as ‘a nice Pers’ and was Brahe the Swedish word for bra?
Our next stop was at Rökstenen which, when we first saw it from a distance, we thought was a motorway service station type thing without the motorway but it turned out to be the site of one of the most famous rune stones in the world, featuring the longest known runic inscription in stone. According to my trusty guide book, dating back to the ninth century it is considered the first piece of written Swedish and thus it marks the beginning of the history of Swedish literature. So without it there would never have been such a thing as an Ikea catalogue. The church there, miles from anywhere so not surprisingly lacking in Sunday morning worshippers, was most impressive and the same applied to the adjacent gift shop which had a fine selection of fridge magnets and rune flavoured Cornettos.
Tiny hamlets with huge churches and neat old houses built from timber set amongst lush fields and forests lined the road from Rökstenen for most of the rest of our journey until late into the afternoon. Oh so pretty!
Borghamn was little more than a jetty alongside which a few boats were moored, some underused but nevertheless open holiday hostels, a sign warning people using the lake to watch out for military exercises going on and a very fat man staring at a sailing dinghy and belching every two minutes. Here I took my shoes and socks off and dipped my toes in the cool, cool waters of the lake. I sat there in total serenity (but for the belching) for five minutes with my feet in the vast Lake Vättern in Sweden and thought back to my swim in the vast Lake Balaton in Hungary earlier in the year. How I love a good lake. Where would my next lake be? Then it rained very heavily so I dashed back to the car with my wet feet to keep dry and we drove on in the hope that it would stop or run out of water or we would find a nice roadside café.
It would have been handy if it had stopped raining five minutes before we arrived in Vadstena instead of five minutes afterwards because we got a bit damp and windswept whilst searching for a café to shelter in. Excellent signage led us perfectly to the Pilgrims’ Café in the grounds of a large and beautiful fourteenth century abbey but it was closed. Why would this be on a Sunday afternoon in August in a pretty little town by a lake? Religion isn’t exactly my cup of tea, especially when the Pilgrims’ Café was closed and there were no cups of tea to be had, but somehow I was pleased that it was making a stand against tourism and it had won on its Sabbath day.
Vadstena really was a lovely place with its moated castle, its twisty turny cobbled streets, its irregular shaped houses and its lakeside park awash with wild birds and bathed in warm sunshine too. This really was the holiday travel stuff of my dreams in a place where I doubt if anybody I know had ever even heard of, let alone been. The threat of more rain eventually forced us under the canopy of a street café for a cuppa but it didn’t rain so, still feeling threatened, we went into the Co-op supermarket next door for a Plopp.
Going for a Plopp in Vadstena.
After many more northerly miles we ate our evening meal outside another café in another street and under another canopy. We both had a more than generous helping of flounder stuffed with seafood so we became humans stuffed with flounder stuffed with seafood. I thought that perhaps this was the furthest north in the world that I had ever eaten my tea but didn’t want to bang on about it as I had once had a Vesta prawn risotto in a youth hostel in Orkney which may have been just a touch more northerly. But I could certainly say that it was the furthest north I had ever eaten flounder, this having been the only occasion on which I had ever eaten flounder.
In the absence of a travel journal of her own, Rose asked me to mention here that we saw a massive flock of what were probably swans flying over the road in the distance as we made our way back to Jönköping. If Rose had been keeping a travel journal of her own on this trip I’m sure she would have called it Desperately Seeking a Moose because as we drove back along the lakeside motorway she spent every second of the journey scouring the fields and forests that flanked it for a real live moose and telling me all about the horrible things she would do to me if I saw a moose first and she wasn’t with me at the time.
The sun was setting over Lake Vättern as we approached Jönköping. It was beautiful. We saw a couple of hares running about in the grounds of Rose’s student accommodation residence block as we approached it. They were beautiful. Sweden was such a beautiful place in so many ways. The bit we had seen today had been very beautiful but the vast expanses of Sweden that lay further north were, according to my trusty guide book, breathtakingly spectacular. I knew I had to return one day.
The castle in Vadstena.
Once we had located and landed at the Cyklamen Student House the level of my anxiety, more as a parent than as a traveller, moved down a notch or two from quite to a bit. Here my daughter had a basic and almost clean and comfortable room. All the facilities she might need were nearby including a huge telly, a rank of toilets, acres of open grassland on which she could graze her moose if ever she found any, and an Asian boy boiling vegetables in a pan. The vegetables made us think of food and toilet paper so we dashed off to the nearby Netto shop to ensure that Rose had sufficient porridge, knäckebröd and loo roll to get her through her first few days as an international student in Sweden.
Laden down with a car boot full of fibrous supplies, we headed back into the big (well, small) city for a bit of much needed down time. Our tasks for the day had been completed so we had hours free to return to the Student Accommodation Office to stock up on free bottles of water and apples (my, what a wild life these students live) and to use the free toilet which contained clear operating instructions for the uninitiated. From what I could make out, standing on the toilet seat to squat for a poo seemed to be frowned upon in Sweden so I stood on the wash basin to squat for a poo.
In the absence of a travel journal of her own, Rose asked me to mention here that quite near the Student Accommodation Office we saw a very small dog and she remarked that something so small wouldn’t take any looking after. I wasn’t so sure about this as just short of twenty three years ago Rose herself had been even smaller than the small dog but now here I was in Sweden looking after her. So we’re still not getting a dog . . . not even to keep in Sweden.
We wandered the streets in the warm afternoon sunshine to admire the neatness and cleanliness of Rose’s most recent acquisition in her collection of adopted European cities. Many of the shops were closed because it was Saturday afternoon, but not all of them and there was also a fine selection of cafés, bars, restaurants and kebab vans open for business. We weren’t tempted by their wares though. We were saving ourselves for our knäckebröd and ål.
Most of the buildings were very modern but there were quite a few old fashioned ones too, some of which had the look of Hansel & Gretel’s cottage where they were incarcerated in the woods by the wicked witch owner / occupier. Some of the very old ones looked as though they were constructed from that sort of tough plastic-coated alloy that English mobile homes are made from but were actually constructed from horizontal pieces of timber, slightly smaller than railway sleepers, with narrower vertical strips of wood attached, I would imagine, for decorative effect. Am I making them sound like a Triang-Hornby train set? If so, I know what you mean but they weren’t like that at all. These quaint little houses, shops and churches were well painted in a variety of pastel colours and, to make the place seem even more bright and cheerful, scattered around there were small trees and tubs of flowering plants and little grassed areas with no dog poo or even a sign to say that dog poo had to be cleared up so it had obviously never been a problem amongst these clean living folk. Sunny Sweden at its sunniest!
In the absence of a travel journal of her own, Rose asked me to mention here that she could have done with a cup of tea so we wandered into a lovely, sun filled café called Johan’s for afternoon refreshment and a lesson from the counter assistant in her native tongue. She told me that ‘och’ is the word for ‘and’ so now I could say ‘please and thank you’ which is ‘tack och tack’.
It was a shame the café’s resident linguistics teacher didn’t go a bit further with her lesson as I didn’t understand the Swedish words handwritten on a piece of paper stuck to the outside of the toilet door. I was certain that ‘Trasigt Handtag’ meant ‘Please remember to wash your hands’ or ‘no peeping through the keyhole’ but in actual fact it meant ‘broken handle’. The small room that housed the lavatorial facilities was immaculate and I was happy during the few minutes I spent there but the level of my happiness plummeted drastically when I discovered that the door was stuck and I couldn’t get out. Fortunately, four large Viking-esque ladies sitting at the table just near the lavvy were able to pull the door from the other side and release me from my confinement. I love it when I make people laugh but usually the cause of the laughter is something I have said and not a Laurel & Hardy type slapstick moment with a toilet door. Ten minutes later, as Rose and I left the café, I noticed that they were still grinning. People in Jönköping would no doubt have been talking about me for the remainder of the day.
We strolled from here, over the canal and into the very modern shopping street, past a branch of McDonald’s boasting dishes such as Filet o’Elk and Big Mackerel on their menu, past the fountain that had a sculpted bronze façade depicting Jönköping street scenes down the ages including a poor lady being raped by a soldier and a little boy with no clothes on being prodded about the bum by a man with a spear, and then over the big bridge from which we had utterly splendid views of the city centre waterfront and all completely free of discarded Cornetto wrappers and shopping trolleys.
In the absence of a travel journal of her own, Rose asked me to mention here that near to the aforementioned infringement of basic human rights fountain she visited a building which was just one vast opulent public toilet which was free of charge and in which the locks on the doors didn’t jam. I didn’t need to go to the loo at this juncture but I hung around outside in case some Viking-esque ladies turned up for a laugh.
Late in the afternoon we decided that we each needed to retire to our respective resting places. Rose needed a couple of hours to unpack all her worldly goods and I needed well over a minute to do the same with mine. I had brought a suitcase with me from home but it contained half of Rose’s possessions so I left it with her for her to unpack. How strange it was though that the first time ever on my travels abroad the check-in lady at Bristol Airport hadn’t asked me if I had packed my bag myself. She must have sensed that I might suffer embarrassment at having to explain why my luggage was stuffed with items from the world of a twenty two year old female student. So I was travelling ‘schooner rigged’ as they used to say in my merchant navy days when someone joined a ship with not much in their kitbag. All that my backpack contained today was a cork screw, a spare pair of socks, a handy implement for removing stones from the hoof of a moose and a big pot of Abba poison just in case I bumped into Benny.
Rose and I had had a blindingly successful day so there were many items that we could cross off our student installation to-do list. The day had gone better than even the tube of breakfast time caviar had suggested so at my rural dwelling place, the Tokeryds Herrgård Hotel, tucked in snugly between the middle of nowhere and Lake Vättern but surrounded by lush forests and cornfields, I decided it was time to have a real beer and none of your poncy light stuff as approved by the Swedish Government. It amazes me how Swedes can put up with the harshest of winters and survive the horror of Abba music but their politicians worry that if they have a glass of anything stronger than Lambrini they are going to self-combust or invade Russia or decide they don’t like Volvos or Abba. So I paid 60 kronor (about £6) for a nice cold, ice cold bottle of Maristads Export and at 5.3%, or however you describe the alcohol content of beer, it was worth every crown or krona or SEK or whatever you call the money in Sweden.
Thought for the day: In Sweden, is money laundering considered to be a SEKs crime?
Back to down town Jönkers it was for us in the evening where we spent a good hour looking for a restaurant that wasn’t either of the Thai or Tapas persuasion. Not that either Rose or I have anything against our chums from Thailand or Spain and the tasty morsels of those lands but as we were in Sweden we had got our hearts a bit set on a bit of the local cuisine. There is no such thing, apparently, as moose flavoured mousse but a dollop of ål would have been nice. Ål, according to the Rough Guide people, is eel smoked and served with creamed potatoes and scrambled egg which sounded delicious to me. On the other hand, ålg is elk and on another hand Ali G is a git of a comedian who is supposed to be funny but isn’t and is supposed to come from Staines but doesn’t and to be quite honest I have known eels and elks that have been more entertaining than him.
There were two cannibals eating Ali G for their tea and one said to the other, “Does this taste a bit funny to you?” to which the other replied, “No not really. It tastes like elk.” But honestly, with so many words beginning in a similar way we were worried that we would order the wrong dish and suffer disappointment.
In the astonishing absence of eels and elks from nearby and a profusion of noodles and nibbles from far distant lands, we ended up in a quintessentially Swedish restaurant called Harry’s, though TGI Fredag’s would have been a more suitable name. Here I had laxfile (salmon) and Rose had oxfile (ox). Neither of us fancied the pea dough. It was all very tasty and we could not complain but it certainly wasn’t something we’d never had before, it certainly wasn’t traditional Swedish fare and it certainly didn’t contain even a trace of ål.
Rose and her Oxfile.
In the absence of a travel journal of her own, Rose asked me to mention here that there was a massive Toblerone in the corner of the restaurant. It wasn’t a real one though. It was a promotional model of one.
Ten minutes later, in the absence of a travel journal of her own, Rose asked me to mention here that there was another massive Toblerone in another corner of the restaurant. It wasn’t a real one though. It was a promotional model of one.
Bagpipes Corner was our choice of traditional Swedish bar to retire to for after dinner coffees. Here it seemed to be a Swedish tradition to bedeck the walls with Scottish flags and little dolls of kilted soldiers which they probably bought from Reading Services on the M4 because it has always struck me that there are more there for sale than in any shop in Edinburgh or Troon. You could have almost called it a Scottish theme pub but there was no one playing The Road to Dundee on a comb and tissue paper in an attempt to raise the money to buy a train ticket back to Glasgow from kind donations thrown into a tartan bonnet on the ground by passers-by, which let the place down a bit.
At the end of the day Rose went back to the Cyklamen Student House and talked to Erin from China (or was it her China from Erin) who had moved into the room next door to her. I went back to Tokeryds Herrgård in the wilderness and talked to myself. As this deserted 1920s style former manor house resembled the hotel in the film The Shining I probably could have found some gruesome manifestations of the tormented non-dead to chat to but as the bar was closed and I was feeling only just non-dead myself I didn’t think there was much point. Saturday night is party night, except at the Tokeryds Herrgård Hotel near Jönköping where it is departed night.
I knew that today was going to go well as soon as I discovered that I could have small tube of caviar with my breakfast. I cannot recall a single occasion in history where a disaster followed a breakfast that included a small tube of caviar. I can’t deny there being a link between a jar of taramasalata and the outbreak of the Crimean War but that was more of a snack for elevenses than a fishy breakfast treat. Any väg (road), the potentially stressful day turned out to be far better than expected and so did the breakfast which also included an astonishing range of knäckebröd (crisp bread) and sill (herring) in that oh so luxurious, non-English buffet breakfast way. The only thing that spoilt my repast was wondering if they used real knacker in the knäckebröd or were they some sort of mock knacker.
The rest of the morning comprised mainly of 300km of northward bound motorway driving in the heavy Scandinavian rain with little to occupy my mind other than trying to guess how many mooses (or misse, or one moose and all its mates, or mousses) might be living in the thick coniferous forests that edged the road on both sides for most of our route. I also took time to ponder over where all the other motorists might be as the E04 motorway (the road to Hålaveden) was quite deserted. After 100km of mooselessness on a lonely road I concluded that, as it was Saturday morning, the absentee motorists were probably all at home assembling Swedish style flat pack furniture with their trusty Allen keys, taking advantage of their country’s liberal approach to sex, squirting small tubes of caviar at each other or all three at the same time. I only hoped that the poor moose population hadn’t had to get involved in all of this.
Did you notice in my previous sentence the clever way I got round not knowing the plural word for moose?
We broke our journey only once at a Road Star service station near Norrahammar, a town named after part of a statement made by a frustrated Geordie DIY expert when he found one of his tools was missing. Unfortunately the whole of Theznorrahammarinthahoose wouldn’t fit on a road sign so they’d had to shorten it. However, this didn’t put us off calling in for a cup of tea. We were careful not to ask for a cup of char here as we had already learnt that in Sweden a char is a fish a bit like a salmon and had we made this mistake things might have got a bit messy, especially as we didn’t know the Swedish word for dead. The biscuit in the saucer would have gone soggy for starters. We also took the opportunity to gather our thoughts and to put together a Jönköping Student Accommodation Services plan of attack while we waited for the heavy rain to clear and, quite remarkably, it did.
In the absence of a travel journal of her own, Rose asked me to mention here that in the Road Star cafeteria there was a knäckebröd pick ‘n’ mix stand and the teacups were all an attractively odd shape.
Finding the University of Jönköping turned out to be as easy as taking knäckebröd from a Swedish baby. A great sense of achievement warmed the steel plate in my head as I reflected upon a journey we had made from a small town in the West of England to a small city in the South of Sweden and arrived there just ten minutes early for our appointment. From my experience of visiting universities with my many children I knew that we would be given some sort of freebie on our arrival. In Maastricht we had been given delicious coffee and vlaai (a local tart), in Preston we had been given a cup of tea (by a local tart) and a packet of shortbread biscuits, in Aberdeen we had been given a nip of Aberlour twelve year old malt, in Stoke on Trent we had been give a fridge magnet (which really hurt my fillings) so on our latest venture I had expected something along the lines of char, sill, knäckebröd or a tube of squirty fish eggs. I suppose a bottle of water and an apple was better than nowt and a second bottle of water and another apple sneaked away while no one was watching was loads better than nowt. A slight disappointment though bearing in mind that we had made a journey of round about 1,500km to get there. That’s one thousand times the distance covered by Algeria's Taoufik Makhloufi to win his gold medal at the 2012 Olympics and I bet he got something better than a Cox’s Orange Pippin.
There soon followed another minor disappointment and a problem that was totally out of our hands as the next 5km of our trip weren’t as straightforward as the bulk of our trek had been. Our student accommodation organiser lady was very good at handing out keys and smiling and saying ‘Welcome to Sweden’ and ‘do have an apple’ but crap at map reading and using a biro. She drew a very large smudgy and incomplete circle on our Jönköping street plan to highlight an unnamed road miles from anywhere but not far from where Rose’s accommodation block might be. Our only real landmarks to keep an eye out for en route were a Netto shop and the sixth largest lake in Europe. We had no problem finding either of these. It was the bit in between that we struggled with.
After half an hour of driving up and down every road in Kortebo we eventually found Ebba Ramsay’s väg (poor Ebba!) along which was located the Cyklamen Student House where my lovely third born child would be residing on the western shore of Lake Vattern for the next four months. Mission accomplished-ish!
Desperately seeking Ebba Ramsay’s väg.
Lund, though a beautiful old university town, was really only our transit camp to house us up temporarily on our arrival in this strange land before continuing the long trek to the tundra wastelands further north and to let us have a shower and a bite to eat and perhaps a celebratory arrival in Sweden type glass of beer.
Once refreshed, we dined luxuriously on traditional Swedish Thai food and had a look round the Coop supermarket to convince our Rose that her hard earned krona would be sufficient to supply her with victuals and toiletries to keep her in the comfort to which she is accustomed. I surmised that if she was prepared to eat and bathe in pickled herrings for the whole of her stay then her financial worries would be unfounded.
I’m ashamed to say that after our not all that Scandinavian meal we went into a traditional English pub called the John Bull. Well, all we wanted was a cuppa and we didn’t realise it was so English until after we had placed our order. The high standard of cleanliness and the lack of pissed people staring into their beer and shouting, ‘Are you looking at me?’ did make me wonder if it really had any English characteristics at all. There was a band playing there too who belted out the songs of traditional Swedish artistes like the Beatles, Neil Young and the Eagles. They were called The Nowhere Men. I bet you can’t guess which Beatles’ song they sang.
The streets of Lund were all very neatly laid out, spotlessly clean and practically void of any human activity, rather like a cemetery. The cemetery of Lund was very neatly laid out, spotlessly clean and practically void of any human activity, rather like the streets of Lund.
The streets of Lund seemed to have been taken over by hooded rooks which were rather sinister in appearance just like big, fat and scruffy magpies. I supposed that, due to the geographic proximity of Scandinavia to Newcastle upon Tyne, these would-be magpies might have some sort of genetic link to Geordies. They looked quite miserable too, as if waiting for the inevitability of their football team’s relegation.
We tried to guess where all the people had gone from the abandoned streets. It was obvious from the number of graves that thousands of them were in the cemetery, but surely not all of them. Eventually, as we approached our hotel, we spotted the biggest psychiatric clinic in the world ever. They must have all been in there. But why? Where they mad? Had there been anywhere in Sweden where you could buy a drink stronger than a half of Shandy Bass they might have all been in there doing rehab but there wasn’t. In fact people had been caught by Customs & Excise officers as they tried to smuggle Shandy Bass into the country in the dead of night. Perhaps they were all just struggling to come to terms with the shame brought about by their countrymen imposing the music of Abba on the innocent ears of poor, unsuspecting people all around the world.
Back at the fashionable Genghis Khan Hotel (Djingis Khan in Swedish … and he had gone out djing at a wedding) we marvelled over the fact that the fire extinguishers were called Skum and were painted red and white. I already knew that English football was very popular in Sweden but to have their fire fighting appliances sponsored by Manchester United was taking things a bit too far, I thought.
The red and white Skum in the corridor
of our hotel in otherwise lovely Lund.
I also thought how nice it was to have arrived in another land. So far its lovely old wooden houses, its big churches, windy streets, fit and healthy looking people, profusion of yogurt and knäckebröd and expensive beer had met our expectations. Happy we’d arrived but still with five more days to go for me and four more months to go for young Rose.
The Öresund Bridge is actually half bridge half tunnel and the journey along it is quite an experience. The reason they built it this way was to avoid interfering with air traffic from the nearby Copenhagen Airport, to provide a clear channel for ships in all weathers, and to prevent ice floes from blocking the strait. I think I am safe in saying that the tunnel bit on the Danish side is the longest tunnel I have ever driven through, the bridge bit on the Swedish side is the longest bridge I have ever driven over and the 500 kronor toll (about £50) is the most expensive I have ever had to pay. It was worth every krona though, as it significantly reduced the time and distance we had to travel and it was such a spectacular specimen of modern engineering. Apart from the bridge itself, there’s not much to see as you cross. From the bridge you can see the narrow stretch of sea that is Öresund and from the tunnel you can see the walls of the tunnel.
Half Bridge Half Tunnel.
On the northern shore of Öresund our first experience of Sweden was a giant Ikea shop which seemed to dominate the horizon for most of our motorway journey to the outskirts of Malmo. Much as I detest huge shops, I was pleased to see this fine example of Swedishness. People in the twenty first century seem to have a desperate need for huge shops in order to survive, which irritates me, but at least this shop was an iconic representation of the country we were about to visit. Had it been a Tesco or a Walmart or a Poundland I would have demanded a meeting with the British Ambassador in Stockholm and a packet of economy Cornish pasties.
The main reason for my journey to Sweden was to accompany my youngest daughter to her latest seat of learning in Jönköping (pronounced ‘Yurn Shurping’). Having completed the first two years of her degree course in Maastricht in the Netherlands and eaten more pannenkoeken than you could throw a clog at, there came about the need for her to spend the first semester of her final year at a ‘foreign’ university. Sweden, having already hosted this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, amazingly also won the right to host our Rose for four months.
There were, of course, other reasons for travelling to Sweden, the most notable being my desire to rekindle my friendship with Nina Persson, the front woman in the band The Cardigans. I thought it only polite to make the effort to visit her in her own country as she had already visited me at home. Well, to be totally honest it wasn’t quite at home but in a club in Birmingham where I spoke to her briefly in the bar after her wonderful performance with the band A Camp, her semi-solo project at the time.
I was a tad crestfallen that Nina wasn’t there to greet me as our car rolled off the bridge but consoled myself with the thought that, as her hometown was Jönköping, she would be waiting for me there with the kettle on and a huge plate of raw herrings and freshly knäckered knäckebröd to gorge upon.
Yer woman the blonde bird from Abba hails from Jönköping too so I was a bit worried about bumping into her with her horrendously naff music and her 1975 Rear of the Year award. Incidentally, I was interested to discover whilst doing a bit of research that in 1989 and 1990 the Rear of the Year title wasn’t awarded to anybody. I suspect that this was something to do with the war in the Balkans.
Thankfully Agnetha Fältskog wasn’t there at the Swedish frontier post to welcome us and thankfully neither too was Fat Tomas Brolin, Britt Ekland, Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt (he was busy having his arm felt), Sven-Göran Eriksson, Ulrika Jonsson or Jennifer Aniston. Jennifer Aniston isn’t Swedish by the way, I just can’t stand her.
Apart from going to the plush lavatories in the arrivals hall, collecting our hired car, sniffing but resisting the alluring aroma of the sizzling hot spicy Danish sausages on sale in the baggage reclaim area of all places and driving the one kilometre to the tunnel / bridge that would take us to Sweden, we didn’t really do much in København.
I had expected to experience wall to wall bacon, Carlsberg, butter, pastries, Brigitte Nielsen, and defensive wall to wall members of the Schmeichel family but none of these were forthcoming so I had a wee and a look at the map and off we jolly well shot like a moose up a drainpipe.
Members of the Schmeichel family welcoming us to Denmark.
The festival had been utterly brilliant but now it was all over. It had been as good as an overseas holiday but unfortunately that meant that on the last day of the event I got that same heavy don’t-want-to-go-home sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Reluctantly but with no other option available, we packed up and went home to anti-climax land early. But as we drove away I promised myself that I would return in the future, which is something I don’t usually do when travelling home from an overseas trip.
So thank you WOMAD for the bestest of times and thank you Tanzania, the Isle of Man, Mali, Nigeria, Croatia, Malawi, Brazil, Portugal, Chile, Spain, Australia, Réunion, Zimbabwe, Tunisia and Scotland for sending along your magnificent singers and musicians to entertain me in such a wonderful way and making the weekend one that I will always remember. And thank you too to my great friend Angela for being the wise woman of festivals and without whose years of pestering I would probably have never gone to a weekend outdoor music festival at all and without whom the weekend wouldn’t have been such a laugh.
My WOMAD pink dangly thing.