Did you know that [counter] people have been having a skeg at my little autonomous region?

  

Ål

17/08/2013

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.

 

Broken handle!!

Broken handle!!

 

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.

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.

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