22 years ago this week, I took my first of 3 trips to Sweden to see my father. As a testosterone brimming teenager, this was about as effective as sending a chocoholic to Cadbury world, as I dribbled over one Swedish blonde after another. Stockholm is an interesting place. Being in Scandinavia (Translation: vastly overpriced on everything) it meant my first trip was taken in darkness almost all of the time. We'd get up in the dark, have breakfast and a shower in the dark, leave to go out for the day in the dark, and return home 2 hours later (after a refreshing hour of daylight) in the dark. My father, at the time, had a small apartment within walking distance of the city centre. The main problem was the walking would be done in -15c temperatures, and being a 14 year old, I wasn't keen on that. This meant waking up Hagar. Hagar was a red Volvo 240 with an attitude problem. It wouldn't start in the morning, preferring to groan, grumble and fall back to sleep. Much slapping and swearing and he'd stir into life. Now the other problem with Hagar was the fact that he was a Volvo. All the car parks in the city centre were indoors, and all were crammed to the gills with Volvo 240s. We struggled each and every time to find grumpy Hagar after we went out for shopping. Whilst there, my father took us to Gamla Stan (the Old Town), for a meal in a posh Italian Restaurant. I'd ordered my usual Lasagne, and whilst sat at the table, I noted the large pot of parmesan to sprinkle over my £25 dish. I like my parmesan on Lasagne, so I liberally started to sprinkle it all over my plate when my father asked "Why are you putting sugar on your lasagne?" The damage was done, and being a £25 dish, he made me eat it. This could be why I dislike sugar to this day.
We'd gone out there primarily to help my father move from the city centre to a delightful suburb called Solna, which looked like the typical eastern bloc town full to the brim with concrete blocks of apartments. He didn't have a lot to move, so he decided to take us out of town to buy some new furniture in a small flatpack furniture store called Ikea. We picked up 2 or 3 £10 wardrobes (incredibly cheap for Sweden) and then went for a coffee in the cafe, where my father acquired (*cough*) some nice new cutlery, plates, cups and saucers. The apartment seemed nice enough, with views of the bus station and the stadium. The problem, unbeknownst to us, was the landlady. She had access to the apartment all the time, and did. My father couldn't get out quick enough.
When we returned 3 months later, he'd left the Solna (spit*) apartment and moved into a small house in a place called Jarfalla. Whilst in Jarfalla, we had instilled plans to move to Sweden. We chose our bedrooms, we learnt about local schools, we were all for it. We even went out and got a pet cat. A delightful little chappy called Barney, named after the bear. He was cuddly, purry, and would play for hours running up and down the hall. Another memory of Jarfalla was a Sunday afternoon walk. It was bitterly cold, and we decided to visit a local castle called Skoklosten. Everyone else was dashing for the warmth of their cars as the sun set, but instead we headed into a forest for a walk. To this day I don't think I've ever been so cold, but what stood out was how quiet and tranquil it was as we stood on the edge of a frozen lake that day. Returning home to the quagmire that was my life with my mother was difficult.
Whilst the custody battle had ensued, we didn't get out there much. We must have returned a year or so later, again at Easter. My father now had a large house with garden and garage, miles from Stockholm in a place called Balsta (now interestingly, apparently where all the drug dealers live). The house was upside-down, with my bedroom downstairs and the lounge and kitchen upstairs. I'd make jokes that this was so that you could look out over the snow in the midwinter. Whilst there this time, we took a day trip that apparently the locals do at least once. The ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki, via Oland, was a well known day trip for teenagers. The lure of cheap beer was too much for them, and as the day progressed we watched the entire ship's compliment of passengers slowly sink into alcoholic oblivion. My father, meanwhile, must have left his senses behind. He could be found up on the main deck, sunbathing (!). We flew back to the UK a few days later.
I have never returned since. I'd like to, but for 2 things that bother me. 1) the price and 2) the people. Everything is going to be even more expensive then it was back then. I've been reliably told that you don't get much change from a tenner for a pint, and this would scare me. Secondly, everyone there seems to have removed their olde worlde culture, and replaced it with the lifestyles of the MTV generation. This, again, doesn't appeal to me. But the local population of sex kittens would soon make up for this. One day... *sigh*
*Solna (spit) became the family joke. Every time we saw anything mentioning the name, we'd say spit after.
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