The stories relate to incidents that have taken place both near and away from Sweden. Almost everyone has faced such situations, albeit colored by the comic or dramatic nature of the moment. You probably recognize yourself in many of the situations and claim that they're "typical", so to speak. You will also find some of the causeries to be entirely fictional.



The Hidden World

It was in the 70s or maybe in the 80s. I don’t remember very well. I was spending two weeks with my parents in our summer cottage in Kivik in the south of Sweden. I had eaten my mother's Scanian apple cake with vanilla sauce and played tennis with my father. He was strong and agile even in his 60s.
      The two-week sojourn was at its end. I was leaving for Helsingborg.
      "Take a piece of the apple cake with you," my mother had said, so I put a large piece of the cake in a plastic bag and stuffed it in my backpack.
      "And then take this too," she said, handing me a jar of homemade cookies.        "You will need the cookies," she said. Yes, I always was lean, and still am, though I eat all the high-calorie foods.
      Now I was on my way to Helsingborg in a rented Toyota that lay like chewing gum on the road. I took the road past Vitaby, crossed Ravlundavägen, and drove up a long hill, to a glade in the forest with a mile-wide view of Hanö Bay. In the southeast, you could see Bornholm as a dark blue spot and the silhouette of Ryssberget in the north.
      A stiff breeze from the southeast blew in the scent of salt and seaweed from the sea.
      Although I had driven for less than ten minutes, I felt the urge to sit down with a coffee and apple pie and enjoy the view and the scent of conifers in the background.
      The hands of my watch were approaching three o’clock and the shadows were beginning to lengthen. It was high summer. I had spent a midsummer fortnight at Kivik.
      I spread a blanket on the grass under a spruce, poured out a cup of coffee from the thermos, and took a bite of the apple pie.
      "Are you offering a cup?" a voice suddenly spoke up. The person had silently sneaked behind me, but the voice was familiar.
      It was Lena, standing there with her bike and a wide smile. She was an old friend from Kivik. We had been as close as siblings since childhood.
      “I took a healthy ride, a round-trip Eljaröd. And I found you here. What are you doing here? Are you on your way to or from Kivik? ” she asked.
      I poured her a cup of coffee and told her about my vacation at Kivik and how I had spent my time there. We began to reminisce about our childhood and could have continued in this way for the rest of the day, but she suddenly interrupted me. "Funny that you would stop right here," she said, looking at me expectantly.
      I mulled over her question and asked, "What do you mean? Is there anything special about this place?"
      "Yes, there is."
      "Come here and you will see," she added and entered the dense forest by a small path.
      "What’s on your mind? Are you going to seduce me?” I joked.
She giggled and said, "You know I should not."
      She was Beatrice-Aurora incarnate and I was the self in that song and wanted to chase after her.
      Entering the semi-obscurity of the forest was like stepping into the beginning of the opera about King Roger where the action begins in semi-obscurity and ends in brilliant sunlight.
      It was quiet there. A hallowed atmosphere. About twenty meters further inside the darkness, I could make out three huge meter-high anthills; hundreds of brown-black ants, large as termites, scurried back and forth along their miniature highways following the right-hand traffic rule.
      I stood, amazed at the bustling world of ants that I had never known.
      We observed the ants for a long time. The way they hurried around collecting conifer cones and small twigs to build on their already huge stacks. Here we were, two Gullivers who had entered their realm unannounced, but they did not care a whit. They worked tirelessly at their tasks. Who told them what their tasks were and by what means were they told?
      "How long have you known about this?" I whispered so as not to disturb the sanctity of the moment and the place.
      "Since last year when, just like you, I stopped to admire the view."
We walked out of the gloom into the sunshine. The wind had turned. Now it was blowing from the west.
      "I can’t believe it," I said. I was overwhelmed by the encounter with the hidden world.
      Lena looked out over the sea. "Yes, it's very, very strange," she said. "Maybe a zoologist could give us an explanation … the size of those ants. Such large ants are only found in Africa!” she said.
      "That won’t be so good," I thought.
"Soon we might have all of Europe's zoologists trampling all over this place," I said.
      "Exactly. That’s what I thought," said Lena and then added, "We could do good business as bog guides!"
      But then we agreed to keep the hidden world to ourselves. 

      Are they real, these giant ants? As a reader of this blog, you may be wondering.
      Yes, it's true. Of course, you may try to find the hidden world. But it will not be easy; the forest is quite large and several places fit the description I have given.
      But if you find it, I will congratulate you. You will probably agree with me that we should let those busy creatures live their lives to the fullest.
      Who knows? Their world may be happier than ours.

Copyright (C) 2021 Björn Johnsson

On the thumb from Sitges to Hamburg

It was in Sitges in the mid-60s where my backpacker friend and namesake Björn and my first trip to Spain came to an end. We had the symptoms of long travel companions—we started to get on each other’s nerves. For example, we pointed out minute details, saying, “Have you not removed that egg stain on the jacket yet?” or “Can you not speak pure Swedish? It’s not called aschöy!”

      We decided to take a timeout and go our separate ways for a while.
      I went up to my room at the guest house, picked up my stuff in the backpack, folded up my sleeping bag, got a sandwich and a cup of bubbly coffee at the guest house restaurant, and paid my bills. There were not many emotions involved in the breakup. It just felt natural to leave. It was time.
      “Goodbye, and good luck,” we said, patting each other’s shoulders. We had a well-founded friendship that could not be smoothed over.
      Björn and two other girls from Norrköping whom we had gotten to know in Sitges waved at me, except for a girl who had been mine during a not entirely successful holiday flirtation. Too bad. It was just not a good match, even though she was very good-looking. Björn and the other girl fit together better and would stay in the city’s whitewashed promenade with cozy bodegas for a little longer.
      It would have been convenient to take the train north through France towards Hamburg. But the thumb was now the only option. A few pesetas and a few dollars were all that was left in my thin wallet.
      It started well. A light blue Porsche cab stopped and the guy waved at me to jump in. “Looking for a ride?” he asked in an American accent.
      “Yes, thanks a lot.” I stowed the backpack in the small backseat and sat comfortably in the most expensive car I had ever ridden.
      The Porsche dashed as if it ran on rails, and we eagerly chewed our way up the Pyrenees. I do not remember the guy's name or what he did, all I can recall was that he was an American who lived in Spain now. It seemed he had Europe in a small box. He had been to all the western European countries, including Sweden, which he liked as it was very clean and tidy.
      And…, I quietly wondered to myself. Was that all he had to say about Sweden? That we were clean and tidy? Well, that was apparently all he had to say, but OK. I left it at that because I got a lift in one of the world’s most expensive cars.
      We had planned to stop and get a cup of coffee in Portbou before crossing the border into France, but we barely had the time to park until a cart with oranges had overturned and the juicy fruits had begun to roll down the street towards the border crossing at quite a fast pace with two screaming and waving orange growers running after their produces.
      We jumped out of the Porsche and ran out into the street. We managed to get hold of a couple of solid boards and rolled almost half of the oranges down a cellar. The remaining fruits were hopelessly lost in a race that ended in the Mediterranean Sea.
      “Gracias, gracias, señores!” cried the Spaniard orange growers, jumping high to rejoice. They wanted to give us kilos of oranges, but we politely refused and came to a compromise of half a kilo of oranges each.
       My ride in the Porsche ended at a dusty road outside Perpignan. The American was going to the left, and I was going to the right.
       “Thanks a million for a great ride,” I said, wishing I had something to give him. The next lift ride, I will bring some Dala horses and give them to those who help me, I thought.
      “Don’t mention it. It was my pleasure,” said the American and lightly stepped on the gas and disappeared in a cloud of dust.

It was a dry, dusty road, and the sun was almost at its zenith. I put on my sunglasses and cap and threw my thumb in the air again. I was sweaty and sat on a milk pallet by the roadside to catch my breath. After an hour of hitchhiking, a guy in a Renault, also a blue car, stopped and took pity on me.
      “Where are you going?” he asked.
      “To Sweden,” I answered dryly. I could not do more than that at that time.
      “Wow. That’s quite far away. I am only going to Colmar.”
      Colmar was a long way down the road, so I gratefully accepted the ride.
      But, first, he had to say goodbye to his loved ones, so we took a turn to his villa. An entire court of relatives and friends was waiting for him there. There was a lot of kissing and hugging as if he was going around the world. I stood a little away from the group and watched the surging of emotions.
      A woman, who I assumed was the driver’s mother, pointed at me curiously and caressed her own chin as if she was indicating that I had a beard. But the son smiled and waved away his mother’s worries, saying, “Swedish.” The mother nodded understandingly as if me being Swedish said everything about me as a person. I wasn’t bothered whether that was a compliment or not, as I was able to get a ride with her son.
      We rode in his tuned Renault, which was as close to a rally car as one could get. The roads gradually got better, and the car lay like chewing gum on the hot asphalt. Martin—that’s what I think his name was—loved driving. I did too, but I began to wonder if he really knew how fast he was driving. He did not seem interested in the speedometer.
      After a few hours, we passed Nimes and the landscape started to become increasingly getting mountainous. We approached Besancon at the foot of the Alps.
      Suddenly, he took a curve too fast, skidded, and stopped the car at the roadside, just a few meters away from a precipice that stretched vertically down a hundred meters.
      We sat in shock for a good while as it began to get dark over the mountains to the east. An owl hooted nearby as if it was greeting two lunatics who had just escaped death by a hair’s breadth. We were both shaken and sweaty.

“Well,” he started, “I took some pills to keep me awake…” OK, I understood. They were a prescription Pharmacia preparation that made one as “high” as an alpine peak.

      “Don’t worry about it.” I heard myself say, which seemed to calm us both.
      Then, we quietly and slowly drove to the nearest café that was located in a beautiful, architect-designed house. We ate the butter croissants and nice coffee that were served to us by a nice mademoiselle, and the shock of the incident at the cliff slowly released its grip on us.
      We parted in Colmar early in the morning. I thanked him for a refreshing ride, although I was again a bit annoyed that I did not have a Dala horse to offer.
      My eyelids began to feel heavy, and I felt that it was me who now needed one of Martin’s pills. It was really the wrong time of the day to go to bed. But if I were to, then where exactly? There were many hotels to choose from in Colmar. After asking for prices at different hotels with my dyslexic concoction of French, Spanish, and English, I found a small hotel on the outskirts of the city that I could afford.
      I went up to the room, threw myself on the bed straight away. The bed was so soft and fluffy that I immediately fell asleep.

It was the middle of the day when I woke up in something that resembled a city in a fairytale. Large, beautiful, half-timbered houses lined the streets, and the canal flowed through the city. There were flower arrangements everywhere adorning houses and bridges. If it had not been for the fact that I was almost broke, I would have gladly stayed here for a few more days.
       I got a lift several times that day and went back and forth across the riveer Rhine. It was dreamily beautiful. Once, when we went through a village, it was as if the French artist, Alfred Sisley, had used this mesmerizing place as his motif for the famous painting Poplars on a River Bank.
      I managed to hitchhike to Strasbourg late in the afternoon, and in the evening I got a lift from a greengrocer to a small village that was not far from Hamburg. He was a nice man with the same humor as me. It was delightful to converse with him, and I took it as an opportunity to freshen up my school German.
      “Warum gehen wenn Sie fahren können?” he asked me when he had picked me up. He was my dad’s age, and after we talked and had a lot of fun, he wondered if I would want to meet his daughter. “She's very pretty,” he said in English. He probably thought I was a suitable son-in-law. Maybe I missed the world cape, but I was too tired to lighten up.
      We said goodbye and patted and wished good luck to each other.
      Once again, sleep took over, and I laid down in a dry ditch by a sparsely trafficked road. It was quite soft and comfortable—drained ditches are recommended as a cheap, green alternative to a hostel.
      The next morning, I resumed my hitchhiking and finally arrived at the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof in the afternoon.
      I was utterly exhausted from hitchhiking and planned to take the train to cover the last bit to Mom and Dad’s summer cottage in Kivik where they were waiting with good food, room, and service.
      I asked my parents to telegraph me money. It took six hours for the money to get transferred, and after much waiting at Hauptbahnhof, I was able to get a full meal and a ticket to Malmö and on to Simrishamn and Kivik.

This was in the 60s with friendly people who had great trust in each other. Back then, it wasn’t any problem to hitchhike through Europe, as many did. I wonder how it would have worked in today’s Europe. We live in a completely different world now. Anyone who intends to hitchhike from Sitges to Hamburg in the 2000s should be equipped with nerves of steel… and an armored Porsche.

Copyright © 2020, 2021 Björn Johnsson

Butter cakes and tuned mopeds

In the 1950s, our family bought a cottage 50 meters from the Baltic Sea in Kivik in the south of Sweden for 14.500 SEK. Dad had managed to cut the price from 15,000 kr. That would be 280,000 kr in today's monetary value. The cottage today costs around three million. It was a real bargain and the house lives on in the family.

At that time, we as teenagers had to choose whether to be an Elvis or a Tommy Steele fan. I chose Tommy Steele, not because I liked him very much, but mostly because I didn't like Elvis.
      At the Blomman's café in Kivik, we played the music of our idols on a jukebox, costing between 10 and 25 öre—if I remember correctly—though on conversion that would have been found to be fraudulent. So I don't remember very well. To the music, we drank coffee, ate butter cakes and smoked Bill or John Silver cigarettes.
      Many of us chose the same songs time and again, including Paul Anka's Diana and Patti Page's Tennessee Waltz, whom we played for curse. I chose to play Tommy Steele's Water a couple of times, but I got so tired of his high-pitched voice that I stopped being one of his fans.
      Some of us teenagers were lucky enough to have mopeds, mostly those who had just basic schooling, had started to work and make money, could afford to buy mopeds. I had to be satisfied with a bicycle so far.
      One day when I was sitting in the café and listening to Paul Anka, I was offered by Kempe to try out his trimmed Puch moped. "The gas wire has come loose, but if you pull the wire with the right hand and control the handlebar with the left hand, it'll be fine," he said.
      I started the Puch, pulled the wire and at once felt the power of the engine. It was like riding a wild horse. I think I had never done it before then, just seen it on film. However, I managed to control it before it stepped up and wanted to beat around.
      I drove on the road in the direction of Vitemölla, where I crushed into a fence from where the path started. At that time, there was no road between Kivik and Vitemölla, but you had to travel on a path along the beach. But it didn't matter to the Puch, it flew unhindered—on and off the path, on the beach and back across the beach. I turned around at the kiosk in Vitemölla and flew back to Kempe, who was waiting at the café.
      "Well, what do you think?", he wondered and wanted my opinion about his Puch. I was happy, impressed and overwhelmed by his Puch, but wanted play tough.
      "Yes, not bad at all", I said nonchalantly, as if I had years of experience driving trimmed mopeds.
      He was satisfied with the answer, as if he'd expected nothing else. Maybe he bought my nonchalance and thought I was used to tuned mops. I was a little ashamed afterwards. Thankfully, there was no trimmed mopeds for me after that. Back then, I'd certainly would have been caught for speeding and unauthorised tuning.
      Many years later, for a few weeks, I borrowed a tuned Skoda Fabia and the released horsepower once again made me experience the joy of driving. I was reminded of butter cakes, juke boxes and Kempe's trimmed Puch, hoping that he eventually got the wire in order. 

Copyright (C) 2021 Björn Johnsson

Murphy's law in practise

This is a story that I have avoided writing for long because it is about a serious mistake I made – a mega goof-up while working in the darkroom. It is much more fun to make fun of others’ mistakes than your own.

It was my very first job as a journalist. Back then, I had to write about everything – from family matters to sporting events. I am talking about the sixties. The newspaper I was with, Mellersta Skåne, based in Hörby, was one of Sweden’s smallest daily papers.
      As I remember it, it was a day in the July of 1964. A more experienced journalist at the paper and I were asked to go to Båstad to report the Davis Cup match between Sweden and Germany.
      Båstad was, and still is, not only a tennis metropolis but also a fashion hub. Girls and women and boys and men there follow the latest vogue. They even bleach their teeth to make them dazzle.
      Sweden had reached the semifinals of the Davis Cup tournament and was to clash with Germany. The Swedish team comprised Jan-Erik Lundqvist and Ulf Schmidt, and the German team had Wilhelm Bungert and Kristian Kuhnke.
      For the most part, it was an even match that Sweden eventually won 3-2.
      Both the Swedes played well, but it was Lundqvist’s under-screened stop balls that tilted the game in Sweden’s favor.
      We took many pictures of the game and even managed to capture Lundqvist hitting one of his killer stop balls.
      “It will be a great picture,” claimed my colleague, whose name I do not quite remember. He had taken some really good photos with the new telephoto lens that he had got for the Davis Cup.
      After the game, we went back to the editorial in Hörby and finished up the report.
      I had to take care of the image processing. However, it was late, and I was alone there. I could not count on anyone’s help. At that point, I had barely learned to produce pictures, and I had to feel my way through the developing liquids in the red light inside the darkroom.
      Anyway, it had gone well – at least till that moment when I was to start to develop Lundqvist’s picture hitting a stop ball. Suddenly, something – I don't remember what exactly – made me fumble, and I spilled some of the developing liquid onto the floor.
      I shouted, swapped, and kicked large holes in the air, put out the red light, threw myself out of the developer’s pot, and sat out in the editorial.
      “I think I'll get fired for this,” I thought, with my hands around my head, “I'm gonna hide from all the people in Hörby and emigrate to Småland. “At that point, it felt like my career in journalism had fallen into a ditch, and it seemed that it would be impossible to retrieve it.
      The report was published in the newspaper the following day –  without the picture of Lundqvist, the hero of the match, hitting a stop ball.
      I was allowed to continue working with the newspaper despite the blunder. Nonetheless, for several days after “the article with the stop ball image missing” was published, I avoided being seen in Hörby.

The incident was about Murphy’s law playing out in reality: “If something has to go wrong, it will go wrong.”


                         A stop ball from Jan-Erik Lundqvist
                             The photo is from Wikipedia

On the run

          Artist: Vladimir Volegov

It was 1944, or maybe ’45. Hard to say. I was only two or three years old then. There was a blackout in Kristianstad in the south of Sweden. German bombers were flying over Sweden toward Finland. The Finns were being helped by the Germans in their war against Russia.
      Dad and I were standing by a window with the blinds drawn. High up in the black sky, the planes thundered past.
     “Are they going to bomb us?” I wondered aloud.
     “No” my father replied and laughed.

In the dark, Dad was a phantasm. He was the best of all fathers. There was no one like him. He could run very fast, keep the goal for his handball team, do the triple jump, play tennis, and compete in the decathlon. He was so good at the triple jump that he had qualified to participate in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Unfortunately, he suffered a fracture in his leg just before he could make his qualifying jumps, and there were no Olympics for him.
      His answer neither made me happy nor brought me relief. Either you were bombed, or you were not bombed. That’s that.
      When Mom and Dad were working or out on errands, they would leave me with Grandma and Grandpa who lived across the street in a green, long, narrow house with a large garden.
      I wanted to see if anything new had appeared in the garden among hedges, shrubs, and apple trees. I quickly ran one lap around the garden on gravel paths and lawns up to the fence that faced the street. Then I ran two or three more. “Ratatat, brrr, hmmm, full speed, smack, kaboom!”
        It's time to eat, Teddy, Grandma would shout from the stairs before I could begin my new lap.
      “Noooo, hmm!” I protested. Leaving the garden when you were up in circles was very stupid. But I had to obey Grandma, there was no other choice.
      “I am c-o-o-o-o-ming!” I answered reluctantly and ran up to Grandma, got a hug, dried my shoes on the doormat and went into the kitchen. Grandpa sat there sometimes, cutting cress that smelled sweet and good and reminded you of a party when you ate sandwiches sprinkled with small pieces of it. 

Grandpa, though he had a beer belly, was tall and stately. His voice was loud. He was a civil engineer and had worked at Svenska Maskinverken.
      In the old days, he ran his own business. He had invented an energy-efficient steam boiler, which he was selling to various companies.
      Sometimes, he took me along on his business trips in his Austin A30, registration number L82. Friends called the car "Lotta Two." L stood for Kristianstad County and 82 stated that it was the 82nd car registered in the county. "L-cars drive like idiots", was a saying and it lives on in the 2000s.
      But Grandpa always drove carefully and calmly. He was also a driving school inspector.
      “Does Teddy want to come along today?” Grandpa sometimes asked. The question was rhetorical. Of course, I wanted to go! It was the biggest adventure, even bigger than the garden.

Grandpa and I went around Skåne in the south of Sweden and sold energy-efficient steam boilers. I learned all the road signs we passed. I especially remember one that looked like a Christmas tree. It meant a densely populated society. During the trips, I also got to learn the difference between municipal society, small market town, and city. Grandpa showed me how to save gasoline —he would let go of the gas pedal on the slopes. This, of course, I already knew. But I let him tell me again to avoid making him angry by telling him that I knew it already.
      When he visited the companies, I had to sit in the car and wait. There were brown leather seats that smelled good, and I sat and waited proudly and patiently while he discussed his product with the company’s engineers.     
      Sometimes in front of the steering wheel I pressed my lips together and blew out the air brrrrrrrmmmmmm and drove around the country and the kingdom in my fantasy.

Eventually, our family moved to another apartment at the other end of Kristianstad and my visits to grandfather's garden became infrequent.
      One day my mother said that I was soon going to have a little brother. “What?” I wondered. “What does that mean? How did this happen?” The sudden announcement made me wonder.
      My new brother turned out to be a real tough guy. Already at the age of two, he could walk quite a good distance, which proved him to be very fit. I was very proud of him. The best thing about him—or worst if you looked at it from another angle—was that he trusted me blindly.
      Then one day, something happened that should not have happened. Longing for Grandpa's garden and tired of Mom's nagging, I slipped out with my little brother and began trudging along the road that I knew would take us to Grandpa's house.
      It was several kilometers to Grandpa’s house. Everything looked so big. To the left were some huge apartment buildings and to the right a field that never seemed to end. We walked and walked on the dusty, gravel sidewalk.
      I held my little brother tightly by his hand. I felt I was responsible for him. Now and then a car drove by but, surprisingly, no one seemed to take notice of us, a five-year-old and a two-year-old trudging along without adult company on the outskirts of Kristianstad. Maybe at that time, my self-confidence, which went beyond all reason, was noticed by the car drivers and they chose to drive on.
           Finally, we came to the viaduct, which was the sign that we were on the right path. My little brother had done very well so far. We carefully crossed the street and reached the foot of the viaduct. Slowly we walked along the narrow sidewalk, up the hill, and eventually reached its crest.

      Below us, in the train marshalling yard, small steam locomotives rushed back and forth and breathed billows of smoke out of their chimneys. So, we had to walk through clouds of smoke.
      This is where our excursion suddenly ended but in the best possible way.
Mom had telephoned Grandpa who hurried out with his Lotta Two. He soon saw us, packed us in his car without ceremony, and drove us to his house. We had a great afternoon with juice and buns in the loveliest of all gardens.

      Later, my mother said I had been stupid to have done what I had done. I, too, thought that it was something I should not have done, but I must say that my little brother and I had managed our expedition very well.

                    Copyright © 2020, 2021 Björn Johnsson

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