I was under the impression, before we left England, that I would not be able to pick up broadband from Michael’s isolated Swedish farm, fortunately I was wrong and therefore am able to continue to do my daily blog entry..
We left home at 8.45 in Barry’s care and processed through Stansted airport to check in, and indeed, all the way to the aircraft Â extremely smoothly. The airport provided a wheelchair as we had decided we would try to Â alert Calero and there are year thank you are thank you very much and I’m very kind of you to ring hmanage at the farm with the gutter frame only and the manual UpEasy cushion which we managed to tape to it. The wheelchair seemed to open up every diplomatic channel — no queuing . Everyone was exceptionally kind and a disabled traveller seems to soften the hearts of the security people and the passport control etc I was then hoisted into the aircraft in a vast machine that could have taken a dozen wheelchairs. When we arrived in Sweden I was placed in a narrow chair and two mighty Â Swedes actually carried it down the aircraft steps. I’m not sure that our health and safety people here would have approved but, nevertheless it worked and had the advantage of being speedy..
We arrived at Vasteras airport,Â ostensibly Stockholm, Â but in fact 100 plus kilometres away -a bit like Stansted airport being described as Stansted, London whichÂ unkindly impinges on the international traveller as it is an hours train journey away.. We picked up a nice car and Â drove to Loa, which is about one half hours away from the airport, via Copperberg to pick up some provisions.
We have already set down some ground rules and started a process of routine involving meals, teeth cleaning and putting me to bed. I was able to find a classical radio station, and having brought my own clock radio, was are able to listen, Â from time to time, during the night, as I do at home, waking as I do almost every hour.. The one thing that Â had concerned me about this trip, was what would happen if I urgently needed a pee in the middle of the night, which would be unusual as I have managed almost every night at home to get through to 5 o’clock in the morning without disturbing Alice and I am determined not to disturb Mickâ€™s sleep either, if it can be possibly avoided.. So we agreed that if he woke up naturally, in the middle of the night, he would pop down and check on me. On this first night he came down at three o’clock, having woken up, to check out on my need to pee, after which I was able to survive through to 7.30 when Mick got up.
I have a very nice set up with my own room and desk on which I’ve set up my laptop and microphone. On it I found a plastic coated comment from George Bernard Shaw, which I felt summed up our whole relationship and our joint approach to life which I think is well worthwhile sharing with all of my readers and certainly worth reading on a regular basis.
â€œThis is the true joy in life: the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
George Bernard Shaw
As on other overseas trips together, Michael and I Â have already started to establish a routine of getting me up, showering and dressing me before breakfast, after which we spent the morning mainly doing our own thing.
In fact, today could be said to be the calm before the storm. Tomorrow, a German family, the Schneiderâ€™s, descend on us. The, Â father, Andy is a successful gynaecologist, who Michael has known since his early medical days in Melbourne. He arrives with his wife, Delia (a talented musician) and five children â€“ 10 years old Adrian,Â 9 year old Nils,, sisters Anika and Nora who areÂ 7 anÂ 5 respectively, finally there is little Laura, who is 2 Â½…. in fact, I recall meeting and Delia with Michael in Melbourne in 2007 when I think they only had 3 children.
At present Michael has not really workedÂ out how, where and on what, they will all sleep, although he seems quite determined that he’s going to end up on the floor, something which he gdoes, not infrequently, when he invites his many friends from various parts of the world to stay in whichever home he happens to be in at the time. From this you can Â gather that Michael is somewhat of an aesthete. I believe he would be just happy living in a cave, spurning the many creature comforts that most of us have come to expect, except in his case, he would require a voluminous library and a limitless supply of classical music.(and perhaps, whisky!). He reminds me of the opal mining cave dwellers, I saw, in the mid 50â€™s, in the Cooper Pedy, Â -1000 miles north of the Woomera rocketÂ range, truly in the ‘great bugger allâ€™ (as the Aussies describe it) in the centre of Australia. These cave dwellers were, on the whole a motley crew, whose past you did pry into assiduously if you valued by own Â physical well being. In short .a good mixture of assorted characters. Some, certainly were fugitives from the law, but the police seemed happy to leave them there where they would keep Â out of mischief. In addition, ,of course, there were genuine prospectors, amongst whom we counted ourselves., Many of these prospectors lived in underground caves, or dugouts, which they have created for themselves. Even 50 years ago. I could see the attraction in the little bunk bed Â surrounded on three sides with books;Â a goodly supply of tobacco (I smoked a pipe in those days)and a small kerosene run refrigerator to cool the beer. What more could you want in life.
Michael’s friend, Ruth, from Lindesberg, dropped in before lunch and we all went off to have soup at Annaâ€™s Cafe, in Loa. For some inexplicable reason it was closed so we returned and had a salad back at the farm, eating outside in brilliant sunshine. Michael then went off to Kopparberg (Copperberg) for a big shop up in preparation for the the hoards about to descend on us. Ruth kindly stayed behind to keep an eye on me and we spent the afternoon basking in the warm sunshine chatting and listening to music.
Then, after Michael had returned, as the sun was setting, we opened our evening bottle, not our usual champagne, but an excellent sparkling Cremant de Bourgogne Â to which I introduced MichaelÂ when he was last with us in England.
This makes a very passable substitute forÂ champagne and costs substantially less.. The wine is made from grapes harvested in the Bourgogne (Pinot Noir & Chardonnay), fermented in the champagnoiseÂ method . It is fairly described on the label, Â that.. the bubbles …. enhance its creamy and full-bodied style with a a hint of alrmonds and a long aftertaste. This was followed by a splendid roast lamb supper, eaten al.fresco, prepared by himself.
The evening was rounded off by the arrival of Lillimor and Leonard. Two people I met on my previous visits both of whom I have become very fond. LeonardÂ was a much loved schoolteacher in Loa until he retired and then took up his second love, that of carpentry,. he simply adores building things. Indeed, as we arrived from the airport, he was just finishing a fine ramp which Michael had very kindly commissioned, Â specifically to accommodate me at hisÂ farmhouse dwelling. Lillimor and Leonard were Â married at one stage and still live in the same house as great friends. Lillimor was the local bank manager until a second violent armed robbery forced her into retirement.
Loa is the only place in the world where I have been into a bank and had the manager emerge from her office to give me a big hug in the main hall. Imagine that happening in the UK! Lillimor isÂ a short round, cuddly kindly soul Â ‘with a heartÂ as big as her head. After Michael and Leonard had completed their business discussion about some building works, to my great joyÂ the inevitable guitar was produced and we were dutifully entertained with some deep and soulful Swedish songs and one or two jolly ones.. The end to a perfect day
Today did not start as well as yesterday finished.. I received an e-mail fromÂ Guy at Coventry University, informing me that the reviewing committee of Proctor and Gamble, disappointingly were not interested in marketing the health product, which I recently had patented, on the grounds that they had lately reviewed similar concepts. Â I must admit I was surprised, to learn this, as there does not appear to be anything similar available in the shops but maybe there are others already in the process of preparing their product to come to the market. We will see. In any event, Guy is now pursuing an appointment with Lloyds Pharmacy, who appear to be keen for new products.
Whilst sit updating this blog I can hear hammering from the Polish workmen who are building a ground level platform, or verandah,. on the side of the house, from which, when it’s finished. will get a magnificent view of the lake in front of farmhouse itself..
Swedish buildings ,certainly, in the village type communities, in this part of the world, are predominantly made from timber with external weather boarding, which almost invariably is stained with a dark browny red, water-based, preservative.. Michael has had this guest building, adjacent to the farmhouse, beautifully converted into a dwelling.
The timber walls have around a foot of insulation between the weather boarding and the plasterboardÂ internally.. The underfloors are similarly insulated and I believe there is something in the order of 1 m of insulation in the roof space. Compare this with the average of 4 inches in most UK homes.
Admittedly, it does get a lot colder here in the winter, in fact, as low as -30 â€“ 35C.. TheÂ floors and ceilings are made of lightly limed pine boarding ,supported on small pine beams. In common with other houses in Sweden this one has under floor heating (shades of the Roman hypocaust) provided Â by geo-thermal bore which penetrates, into the ground, to aÂ depth of around 150 m. This system also provides all the hot water required in the house. The heat of the earth is transferred through a heat exchanger and circulated throughout the house. This, with the double glazing the summer and winter temperatures remained fairly constant .
A quiet day for both of us accept that Michael worked like a slaveÂ preparing the grounds of the house itself to receive his guests whom, I am told, will arrive after I had gone to bed.
The Schneider family arrived late last night, after I had gone to bed. The little ones, like most other children over the world, were excited at being in a new, but familiar, place -they have been there on several previous occasions – and were up early. Each of them, in turn looking shyly around the door at the funny old man still in bed. However, with a smile and a few faltering words of German I will hope to win them over, one by one. Anyway, in any event, they all learn English at school and over breakfast tried out the odd word or two. I’m sure over the next few days we will all become friends. Andy, the father, explained briefly, to the children, what are my problems, and once their curiosity has been satisfied I’m sure they will treat me like anyone else.
I have a dilemma. It started last evening when I tried to ring â€˜my lovelyâ€™, as I have done every day, or at least tried every day, since we were married almost 48years ago. The entire area telephone system has now been out of order for the past three days and no one is Â able to explain why. The odd thing is that it has not affected the broadband. E-mails continue to come in daily and I’m also able, each day to update this blog. Yet, the weird thing is I cannot send any e-mails. How can that be, when I can send the update for this blog but not ordinary e-mails. It’s as if there is a blockage in the outbox but being away from home I do not have my ISPâ€™s contact details (Orange) to telephone them and ask how to resolve the problem. If any of my readers know what I can do before I get home I would be obliged to hear from them either by e-mail or by way of commenting on the blog item.
The children played happily around the farmyard in the morning and then we all drove to Williamâ€™s (Michael’s eldest) little house that Michael is Â toying with the idea of buying.) Frankly, I think he needs another house like a hole in the head butt his restless spirit means that he probably will end their Â start extending it and in converting what is there already. It has one thing going for it and that is Â a superb setting if perhaps a little isolated
I think Michael has visions of handing over the farm and adjacent buildings to the family and then living in this smaller house in his retirement, whenever that will be!
After lunch Â the Schneider family went berry picking, with a view to making some jam, but came back with empty bowls and full tummies having consumed all of what they picked. They did however bring back a large bag of dubious looking funghi, which after a careful study of the book of edible and poisonous mushrooms, it was decided prudent your not to eat This sensible decision was confirmd by Lasse Larsson, the local vet (Penny -Michael’s eldest daughterâ€™s – recently wedded husband) who ordered by in the early evening, not to drink, as he was on duty, for a chat.
The children then spent the rest of the afternoon playing in Unoâ€™s – the owner former;s – old hay loft, which, I suspect, still has the same straw as was there when the old boy died, some years ago. Andy he tells me that the children are planning to put on some sort of play. Why does this so remind me of my own grandchildren who always do some sort of nativity play for us at Christmas. We sat out in the afternoon sun and even had our supper out there but by 7.30 it was getting a little chilly..
We managed to stay in bed until a little after 7.00 today – later than usual — as the children were pretty exhausted from their journey and exertions the day before and, as a result, slept in. Shortly after breakfast they decamped for a swimming expedition, and lunch at Anna’s cafe, while Michael went off to see Leonard to discuss possible alterations to William’s little house. He left me, working at my desk, in the very capable hands of Vallerian, a PolishÂ builder working on the house outside. Does anyone know the Polish Word for HELP1?
It is the most glorious summers day, but cooler than it would be in England and with gentle but chilly breeze, nevertheless, if I can find a sheltered spot and I will spend some of the day sitting out in the sunshine. A quiet, peaceful day culminating with a delicious Norwegian salmon, en famille, prepared by Delia and Andy, after which I read some Chekov on my laptop,and Â contemplated a relatively early night.
But then the activity started. Lars (Larsson), a neighbour, who works for theÂ municipality as controller of recreational facilities,Â called in as he was out walking his dog. The whisky flowed and we sat outside, three of those still in shorts, until the dew began to fall and we were driven in. MoreÂ whisky, and just as I thought I could escape and go to bed the Irish, turned up, a little later than expected as they got lost on the drive here from the airport,, although they have been here many times before. However, it is not surprising as this place really is tucked away down a long winding lane. Anyway, having come all the way from Dublin that day they were a little weary. Simon, the father and son Eamonn, (who, incidentally shares a birthday with me — 58 years apart) with a friend, Nora. Nora was a Â friend ofÂ Simon’s wife, Mary who was a nurse who worked Â with Michael , in Benalla, Australia – Ned Kelly territory, over a number of years.Michael tells me that she was incredibly popular and caring nurse.
Ultimately, Simon and Mary returned with their children to Ireland where, sadly, she discovered she was dying Â from incurable cancer, Â but Mary did not survive very long .Eammon’s brother Cathal (Carl in English)Â stays in Michael flat in Melbourne, between his various trips around Australia..
Lars, the neighbour who dropped him last night told us that we were fortunate in being here during, what is fast becoming a famous opera festival in Kopparberg. They are currently performingÂ La Boheme and I’m very much hoping to go one evening. The performance is in an open sided ancient barn, which is said to have the best acoustics in Sweden, The cast is, I understand, Â largely amateur but the principal roles are played by first-class professionals.. It smacks of the early days of the now world-famous Glyndebourne Â in the UK, which had a similar humble beginnings. Although Sweden has something similar to the UK Arts Council, Lars told us that the grants are very limited and tend to be dealt with by the municipality and this particular group is having difficulty surviving. However, its reputation grows year by year and there are even afternoonsÂ when special trains run from Â Stockholm,Â stop for the opera and then transports the opera goers back to Stockholm serving Â a first-class three course meal on a journey.. It sounds like a good night out.
The number of people was swollen even more today with the arrival of Michael’s oldest son William, who was looking very sparky. He came with Astrid, Michaelâ€™s amanuensis, in Sweden. The Irish and Schneider families went off to explore the historic town of Nora and in their absence Ruth arrived to spend the afternoon quietly, with me listening to music on my iPod, in the sunshine, and Michael reading Martin Gilbertâ€™s massive tome on Churchill.
From snippets I have heard from various people I have been able piece together, what I can call, Uno’s story. Apparently. some 40 years ago, 60-year-old Caroline came to stay at the farm guesthouse with a friend of hers and the chemistry spontaneously sparked between her and the 20 year younger, Uno. Two more different people from different backgrounds, Â you could not imagine. Caroline, was a well travelled, sophisticated San Franciscon and a talented musician. Uno was a rugged, back woodsman type, local farmer, who had scarcely travelled beyond the nearest town ofÂ Kopparberg.. They fell madly in love with despite neither speaking the others language. In the early days of their courtship, in order to demonstrate her love for the young Uno, Caroline cast off all her clothes and plunged into the icy lake in front of his farm, erroneously believing that this was the sort of thing that all Swedes did (apparently we, inÂ the rest of Europe, have been grossly misled over the years about the Swedish propensity for nudity) Despite the language difficulties, Uno persevered and soon learned enough English to enable the relationship to blossom. Although they never married they remained lovers until Carolineâ€™s death in her 90s. Uno survived another six or seven years before falling from a defective loft ladder in his barn, Â the injuries from which he never recovered. A true love story. I’m sure that Puccini could have written an opera using this love story or one of the Swedish songwriters have embodied it in a ballad.
I wake up with an air of anticipation this morning Michael had managed, last evening to acquire the last five tickets for La Boheme, for this late afternoon performance. I have fond memories of this particular opera. Almost 60 years ago, I found myself playing one of the urchins in Act 2, at Sadler’s Wells, , when it was substituted for a performance of The Pearl Fishers which had to be cancelled, at the last minute, due to the Â indisposition of the tenor. Of course, my colleague and I were far too big to be to playing street urchins but, at such short notice, the director had no option. So two 6 foot high youths, in short pants and ragged shirts, were sent skipping onto the stage holding hands in the street scene. (See Treading the Boards at Sadler’s Wells, in the Anecdote section of the blog)
A quiet morning with all the families dispersed in different directions. Even Michael Â left for another measuring expedition with Leonard. Poor young Eammon, with his nose buried, as usual, in a book, was been left to guard over me, in case of emergencies.
We left around 3.00 to pick up Astridâ€™s mother’s wheelchair, which had been kindly loaned to us for use at the Theatre as it was thought it would be more convenientÂ Â than my gutter frame. So it proved. It was the right decision. Not only was the access reasonable for the wheelchair but Â I was given a position in the front row and therefore had a wonderful view of the stage. The theatre Â itself is an enormous high wooden Â barn that had previously been used as a sawmill. It has a capacity of 800 Â and was completely filled. As I mentioned previously, its Â acoustics have the reputation of being the best in Sweden and having heard this opera I can believe that this might Â be true. They have achieved this by a number of cleverly placed acoustic baffle Â boards, under roof level, using a similar technique to that which they used to resolve, a similar problem in the Albert Hall in England, which,when Â Â completed, proved to have very poor acoustics. A magnificent architectural feat, in memory of Queen Victoria’s beloved Â Albert, but a poor music hall. Here they solved the problem by the use a great number of large upside down mushroom shaped baffles which were lowered or raised, to varying levels, to achieve pretty good reception in all parts of the hall.
Incidentally, I got it wrong about the cast, they are all professionals Â who take the opera to other parts of the country and also give concerts etc, here and there, in order to make ends meet. Most of the orchestra were very young and play perfectly adequately . I thought the Rudolfo and Mimi were both superb although Delia, whose businesses is music, rated Mimi the best for various technical reasons. I loved the whole experience, Quite apart from the performance itself, was the location of the theatre, situated as it as in such a beautiful lakeside setting. Â the like of which you are unlikely to Â see anywhere else in the world. The enclosed cosiness of this Â large theatre combined with the soothing music often has a soporific effect causing me to Â nod off, momentarily, from time to time, however I’m glad to say, I did not disgrace my host in this manner. However, my own little weakness prompts me to recount a tale recounted Â to me by Nora. Apparently, she took a gentleman friend Robert to see this same opera in Cork opera house,, some years ago.
This friend was clearly not one jot interested in what was going on on, stage as he spent the Â the first half of the performance fiddling with his iPhone, texting Â or whatever, hidden from Nora, by his side. to Noraâ€™s great annoyance and embarrassment in case. the people behind were distracted by the brightness of the light from the iPhone. Fortunately this young man ran out of people to communicate with and by the time the second half began had fallen asleep, only waking to the thunderous applause as the curtain fell. He turned to Nora and asked “what happened”. Nora smiled sweetly, and replied “Mimi died”. Needless to say. Nora never made the mistake of inviting Robert to an opera again!.
As it was we had been fortunate enough to Â purchase the last five tickets for this performance. And so it was that five foreigners, one Irish one German, one Danish, one Australian and one British, travelling in a French car, set off leaving Simon and Andy with strict instruction to prepare a bumper feast for our return,. The girls did not display a great deal of confidence in the outcome suspecting, we might return and Â find these two would-be gourmet chefs Â comfortably ensconced in the chairs in the garden having consumed the best part of a bottle of whisky and waving vaguely towards the kitchen, Â mumbling Â something vague about supper being ready very shortly. Not a bit of it. We were greeted with the sight of a long table, in the garden, well out laid with the accoutrements necessary for a good meal – Â is my memory deceiving me but did I also see a small bunch of wild flowers on the table? . We were not disappointed. The boys had done us proud. Fortunately, Ruth had joined us for the theatre run and stayed for supper otherwise we would have been 13 around the table which would not have suited the superstitious.
The meal over, I was allowed my cigar and we spent the rest of the evening chatting and sipping some excellent whisky before being driven Â indoors by the evening chill and the beasties which were beginning to bite and irritate ..
Another day dawned and with aÂ prearrangement made the night before, the good doctor and Andy rose atÂ 5 a.m to go kayaking on the lake and were luckyÂ enough to share the experience with a beaver who, it appears was totally unperturbed by this strange yellow beast elsewhere on the late. After the thrill of the dawn experience, the adventurous kayakers returned to their beds. The Irish, on the other hand, at least Simon and Nora, emulating Unoâ€™s Caroline, took an early-morning plunge in the icy lake with, I suspect, more on their Unoâ€™s lover!
Later that morning, Michael, who had been in town to refuel the car, returnedÂ exultant having achieved what most of us take for granted in our ownÂ backyard.. However, in Sweden it is all done with credit cards at the pump with the instructions written in SwedishÂ Somehow, Michael got through this arduous process without too long a queue of cars behind hooting impatiently and as a result returned here triumphant,
Today, the morning was spent by the Irish family collecting a huge bowl of raspberries from Williamâ€™s garden in hisÂ main house (Kallhagen) and the German family messed about in boats on the lake.
I spent the morning doing my blog and catching up on e-mails etc. InÂ the afternoon we went off to look at the little house owned by William (Akroken) which Michael is hoping to purchase. He had some ideas about extending it and it needed to look in situ, so to speak.
In the late afternoon our numbers swelled to 18. William came with his son Leo, 13, and Leoâ€™s mother, Lena; by Kent, our nearest farmer neighbour and by Timi, a Finnish naval captain who was convalescing from a rather nasty operation. All seven nationalities sat down to a splendid meal, in the garden, rustledÂ upÂ from odds and ends but nevertheless very palatable.
Unfortunately, I had an accident with my laptop and managed to knock a cup of tea over the keyboard. As a resultÂ for a while the whole thing would not work at all. In desperation Michael cooked it in the oven, at a fairly low temperature, and this seemed to a have salutary effect on most of the functions except that one corner of the keyboard stillÂ refused to work and went into a noisy complaint whenever I pressed any of those particular keys. The biggest loss was my Dragon voice recognition. It kept telling me that what I was trying to access was incompatible or invalid, which of course is complete nonsense but nevertheless it meant that I would not be able to continue writing this blog whilst in Sweden, certainly not using that particular versionÂ
Today was the first really miserable weather that we have had since we arrived. It is not for the fir tee fringed lakeÂ in front of the farmhouse you could believes that you were in Ireland, or so the Irish family agreed.
However it did not deter either family from setting out for the various expeditions. The Irish to StockholmÂ to some museums and the Schneiderâ€™s to some play area nearby so the children could expend some of their seemingly limitless energy.
I had little to do during the day so, at one stage, looked at a video entitled Lost in Translation, slightly sad but delightful story which I would recommend to any reader. However, the point of referring to it was because of a comment made at the supper table. I was talking to William when we heard half a dozen people, on the other side of the table erupting in the laughter.. Curious to know why, we were surprised that they were rather coy about explaining the joke but, having decided that it would not offend me, told us that Delia Â had suggested to Michael that he would miss me when I had gone.. Michael, completely misunderstanding the context of the comment, laughed and said , â€œwho knows I might go first.â€Â . “No, noâ€, said the horrified Delia, â€œI meant when he goes back to Londonâ€. Certainly lost in translation between Swedish and Australian.!
Another, a quiet day, just me and Michael Â at home. He working on his extraordinary complex travel arrangements andÂ some outstanding legal medical reports and me battling with the crippled laptop. I tried every trick in the book and by dint of perseverance managed to recover a substantial element of the laptops performance. I even cleverly managed to find an earlier version of Dragon which I trained from scratch and managed these last few days of the holiday. The point being that contemporaneous reports are far more reliable and, indeed interesting, than recollection. This was a lesson I learned when sitting as an arbitrator.
I had an even more pressing reason Â today and that was because Michael had givenÂ me some water tablets to try to help with my swollen legs. Unfortunately the effect of this was to make me go to the loo almost hourly for most of the morning.
Unfortunately this day had a rather sad end.Â The Schneider is had received a telephone call from Andy’s mother informing them that their much loved little dog had died.Â The family was devastated.Â When they arrived home they went straight up to their rooms, without eating,Â from whence heartrending sobbing were heardÂ for some time.Â They all knew that the dog was terribly ill but had hoped that he would have survived until their return.Â Clearly this little terrier was an importantÂ part of all of their lives and his loss will be sorely felt for some time.Â I know only too well how they feel.Â When I loss my ownÂ black Labrador, Woody, it took me about six months before I could accept that I would never see him again.