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.