____The book on Sweden was published in London and New York in the Blue Guide series some time ago and is now unfortunately out of print. But with its emphasis on history and culture, its many guided walks through towns and cities and content that will not be found in any similar publication, very much of the material is still valid and will be revived in some form, revised and updated where necessary.
Eating barbed wire
The Swedes must be almost alone in eating what I regard as something akin to barbed wire. And claim to like it; wait with ill-concealed impatience for the starter's gun to begin the barbed-wire season in August, with barbed-wire decorated lanterns and even bibs to be tucked round the neck or into collar before commencing the primitive ritual.
Just listen to Strindberg in near-ecstatic mood lining up the vital accessories: “...two cheese sandwiches are placed in readiness beside the plate, beer and snaps are poured out.” (The Swedish word is snaps and not schnapps.) Well what did you expect? Orange juice? Milk? No barbed wire was ever attacked by human fangs primed on liquid straight from fruit or cow.
They don't call it barbed wire, of course, but be not fooled by the term “crayfish”. The crusty little freshwater crustacean caught, or more often these days imported into this country, is all barb and no bite.
Nothing can convince me it alone can cause such fever. There's something in the psyche craving satisfaction. Look at that gleam in Strindberg’s eye: “Seizing the little crayfish knife, you go to the attack.” I don't think I would have liked to have been around when he was on the job.
“First an incision round the head — then putting your mouth to the hole thus made you suck!” The man had lips of leather, I tell you. “Loosening the thorax from its base... you put your teeth into the carcass...” What carcass? It's all a delusion, I say. And why no word of wiping away the blood? Mind you, the wounds will soon be sterilised. “After three crayfish another snaps...”
But don’t take my word for it. Go ahead and try for yourself.
Sweden in the Second World War abridged
Many countries declared themselves neutral in 1939. Only five managed to remain so, with Sweden the only Scandinavian nation among them. But it's actions were controversial.
When the Soviet Union invaded Finland in November 1939, however, Sweden declared itself ‘non-combatant’ rather than ‘neutral’. Nevertheless thousands of volunteers, including pilots flying Swedish planes, fought on the Finnish side. Arms were supplied as well as financial support, but a request to let Allied forces cross northern Sweden into Finland caused great concern.
Sweden was exporting iron ore to Germany and the fear was that if allowed in, the Allies might take over the mines or put them out of action. Instead, the Government tried to mediate between Helsinki and Moscow, and the ‘Winter War’ as it became known, soon ended. Later, when Finland took up arms on the side of the Germans, there was not the same eagerness to offer support, although thousands of Finnish children were brought to Sweden.
The greatest controversy surrounds concessions made to Germany after Denmark and Norway were occupied in April 1940. Firstly, the Norwegian king, Crown Prince and members of the government were refused refuge on the grounds that it would infringe the country's neutrality.
Then, from the summer of 1940, trains carrying German troops on leave were able to travel through Sweden from Norway. Icebreakers helped German troop ships travelling through the Baltic. As opposed to the earlier request from the Allies, a German division was allowed to pass through northern Sweden to Finland. German so-called ‘courier’ planes flew overhead. And large quantities of iron ore continued to be exported until the autumn of 1944 (while the Allies got ball bearings).
Those who defend these actions maintain there was little choice. The Prime Minister, Per Albin Hansson, may have assured the country in late August 1939 that it was well prepared for what might come, but it was in no position to defend itself until, perhaps, very much later. It also needed German imports of products such as coal.
Later, when the tide had turned against Germany, concessions were made to the Allies. British and American planes on bombing raids often flew over southern Sweden. Airmen who survived emergency landings were interned, but usually returned to Britain after a time. Officially, they were to take no further part in the conflict, but who was to check on that?
Towards the end of the war, Sweden secretly trained and equipped special Danish and Norwegian police forces and two Swedes, Folke Bernadotte of the Red Cross, and Raoul Wallenberg, a diplomat in Budapest, saved many thousands from the Nazi concentration camps and the regime in Hungary.
But both men were to meet tragic fates. Wallenberg was arrested by the Russians in January 1945, sent to Moscow and never heard from again despite persistent rumours that he was in prison and alive long afterwards. Bernadotte was murdered by the Stern Gang in 1948 in Palestine, where he was the UN mediator.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever stopped to think about it, but we enter the world in a totally undemocratic manner. Nobody gives us the right to vote for who our parents are to be. Thus, and I want to emphasize this, through no fault of his own, Andy was landed with me as his Dad.
Having said that, let me make one thing perfectly clear: on the whole, by and large, and to his very great credit, he has borne it remarkably bravely.
I say ‘on the whole’, ‘by and large’ because after all, like the rest of us he is only human and there was the odd occasion in his earlier years when he was tempted to take matters into his own hands. Or feet.
But I ask you to take into account that like so many children these days, Andy had to contend with two languages: English, spoken at home, and Swedish, spoken at school and by almost everyone else he came into contact with. However, he did have one or two school lessons a week with a native speaker of English. Such ‘home language tuition’ as it was called, was for children with at least one parent who spoke a tongue other than Swedish, and included something about the history and culture of the land where such parents came from.
I well remember Andy coming home one day and telling me about a lesson he’d had with his home-language teacher, a pleasant, mild-mannered young British lady, in which he had learnt about the Tower of London. As you know, the Tower was where many a prisoner was thrown in days gone by, probably to be tortured before being sent to a very sticky end. I had forgotten all about this when early the following Sunday morning while still in bed, eyes closed and barely conscious, a large, heavy, irregularly shaped object crashed down on me from what I would say must have been a considerable height. It was Andy. Sitting astride my chest he then made a very serious announcement: “You are going to be executed!” he said.
Well, as you can tell, I survived, largely intact, minus only a substantial part of one of my front teeth. It could have been worse. Much worse. But don’t think for a moment that, at least in retrospect, I attached any blame to my beloved young offspring. On the contrary, I saw quite clearly what was to become increasingly evident as he grew older, that he was quick and eager to learn — those things that interested him, that is. And what is more, to apply the knowledge he had acquired. It didn’t remain pure theory.
Nevertheless, I did have a quiet word with the pleasant, mild-mannered, young British lady and asked her if it might just be possible — perhaps — for her to find aspects of British history and culture that didn’t put the lives of innocent people at risk. Difficult though it might be.
This ability of Andy’s to be quick to learn, reached a peak when computers entered our lives. But it is here that he revealed another most commendable quality, tolerance, because it was immediately and glaringly evident that his Dad belonged to the school of computer-users who sweated over manuals and still got everything frustratingly wrong. He, of course, ignored the manuals and worked wonders. Oh I am aware of his conviction that I must have been the one who inspired that revised version of the well-known computer processor manufacturer’s logo to read: ‘Intel inside — idiot outside’. It was doubtless a great embarrassment to him, but he just grinned and bore it. Well, he bore it at any rate.
I can also tell you that the cause of his embarrassment didn’t disappear with time. Who else has a Dad who could obliterate his auto.exec.bat file, without which the computer behaved like a chicken that has lost its head, not knowing which way to turn, haphazardly jumbling letters and symbols and disobeying every command? I achieved that considerable feat without even trying. Naturally, I couldn’t hear his groans or sighs, or see the expression on his face when he read the SOS I faxed to him, as by then he was six thousand miles away, a paid professional in Silicon Valley.
But did he publicly disown me? Did he privately tell me to adopt a child somewhere else and get off his back? Not at all. He may have gritted his teeth, he may have asked himself what terrible sins he had committed to deserve such a terrible fate, I can’t be sure, but for half-an-hour he instructed me on the phone how to reconstruct the file, pressing this key and that, giving for me entirely unexpected results, until all was as it should be once more. It must have been like playing chess without seeing the board.
And so it has continued. An innocent victim in at any rate the paternal part of the parental stakes, he has shown courage and forbearance above and beyond the call of duty. So I had not the slightest doubt he would come riding to the rescue once more when a virus wormed its wicked way into my computer and infected hundreds of files. He didn’t know about it straight away because of the nine-hour time difference, but found out first thing the next morning. Not perhaps the best way to start the day, but I had every confidence in him.
All suggestions that he deliberately planted the infection to put me out of action, I treat with the contempt they deserve. No, he is a knight in shining armour, so if perchance you have a glass handy and there happens to be something in it, I ask you to raise it and join with me in drinking a toast to Andy, my son.
“Awesome!” the girl at the cash desk said when I handed over the exact amount of my purchase. I smiled back at her. “See ya later!” she added as I turn to depart.
I didn’t see her later, nor was I ever likely to. Some expressions seem to have lost all meaning, or taken on vague new ones. The younger generation in particular are influenced by Americanisms of course, but most Kiwi-isms are either distinctly home-grown, many of Maori origin, or shared with big brother across the Tasman Sea.
To learn the local lingo you should know that your mail is delivered by a ‘postie’, the food you eat in the morning is you ‘brekkie’ (many cafés serve it all day), a person driving a lorry is a ‘truckie’, a dock worker a ‘wharfie’ and a person with a hobby that keeps him in a little hut in the garden for long periods a ‘sheddie’, while the boat enthusiast is a ‘boatie’ or perhaps a 'yachtie'.
The land your house stands on is a ‘section’, and if it’s a little weekend or summer place by the beach it’s a ‘bach’ (from bachelor). The field where livestock are herded together is a ‘paddock’. Hikers are ‘trampers’. If you are not well you are ‘crook’. And if people are departing, for example to get their OE (‘Overseas Experience’), you can ‘farewell’ them.
Among Maori expressions that are never translated are ‘kia ora’, and ‘haere mai’ (welcome), ‘pakeha’ (a person of European descent), ‘iwi’ (tribe), ‘hapu’ (sub-tribe), ‘marae’ (tribal/sub-tribal meeting place) and ‘mana’ (influence, power, prestige). ‘Waka-jumping’ describes an MP who leaves his party while Parliament is still in session, a ‘waka’ being a Maori canoe. The term was coined after Maori MPs left the New Zealand First Party.
A ‘bogan’ is a bore, or old fuddy-duddy, a ‘monsoon bucket’ a container full of water dropped on a bush fire from the air (more common in Australia), ‘pingers’ is money and if someone is described as ‘munted’ he’s probably drunk, or down and out.
Awesome! Don’t you think?
Maybe not. Anyway — see ya later!
Bart Bart is a boy who causes a stir. For the opening sections click here. The novel starts with his father's words:
Thor was in a right tizzy that night, hurling his hammer for all he was worth from one corner of the heavens to another. Lightning forked, flashed and floodlit the sky, while the thunder rumbled and rolled, then roared, now far, now near, constantly returning.
A grander spectacle could not have been imagined to herald any entrance. But speak to me not of portents, omens, harbingers or signs. I didn't believe in them then and I don't believe in them now.
The fact remains, however, that like the very universe itself, Bart came in with a bang.
Manny And Margaret This is a tale of two young people who, against their parents' wishes and without their knowledge, are both in Paris at a time when police stations are being attacked by Algerian nationalists, plastic bombs are planted by extremists determined to make Algeria remain French, while four French generals in Algeria are threatening to land airborne forces in the capital city, where some public buildings are guarded by tanks.
Fact And Fiction A collection of shorter pieces, some previously published, some not.