A Forest


A test post from the mobile, even though I’m home from Sweden now.
The scene means perfection to me. An area without a name: ‘Just the forest.’ Tall trees, soft moss, boulders like trolls hiding in ferns.
No synthetic interruption. No cars, planes or pavement cyclists. No spitting, shoving or shouting. 
Just sun and clean air and ten types of mushroom to pick.
Aching arms and legs and back to stretch out later, utterly satisfied, looking up at the stars.
A tall rickety tower where the elk hunters hide with their rifles.
A tiny fairy tale frog to kiss and check in case of princes.
A terrifyingly warm heap of poo from a large wild boar, not far away.
Then back to a small wooden house to prepare them to eat: Karl Johan and chanterelles and all the other names I forget now I’m back in the noise and grime and air I don’t want to inhale.
A few hours and a while wide world away.


John Bauer: sparks my imagination every time

#bookadayuk is one of the better Twitter hashtag events. A different book with a different theme, chosen by readers each day throughout June. Such a lovely, simple idea from new HarperCollinsUK imprint The Borough Press.

Here’s the full list, just in case you haven’t seen it. I didn’t spot it until today: 3 June and have been kicking myself for missing the first two days. Despite thinking off myself as a free-thinking, anarchic type, I have such an inbuilt nervous regard of rule and regulations that I just can’t bring myself to put my Day 1, 1st June, on Twitter today. So hurrah for Weekly Blog Club and the chance to play catch-up.

There are some categories that have got me thinking already. In fact, I will have to treat this like an advent calendar and not peek ahead to later days, or I can easily spend the whole day thinking of books. But I think I’m allowed to list a few here to inspire any one who’s yet to join in:

12th: Pretend to have read it: there’s a few that can go into this category. It’s possible there might even be one or two from university days, when I was terrified at the jump from finding myself Good at English to not having read ANY of the shelves and libraries full of texts that the omniscient people in my Modern Literature seminar had got through.

19th: Still can’t stop talking about it: I suppose I’ll have to make a vow that not every single book will be Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. If I’d had his blue-covered Turtle Diaries to hand, that would have been my choice for today: One with a blue cover.

27th: Want to be one of the characters. Wow: where to start with that? Perhaps I’m wrong and I should spend much of today considering it. These are serious choices. Anyway: time to catch up with Days One and Two. These are somewhat similar.

1st: Favourite book from childhood. It’s ‘book’, not ‘novel’, so that makes a difference and it’s book singular. Yes, I am taking this very seriously. I said I am a respecter of rules. Favourite novel would probably be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I won’t go into detail now because I’m writing a blog post to celebrate its 50th anniversary for Words and Pictures, the online magazine of the British Isles region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

‘Books’ would probably have been the Jill pony series by Ruby Ferguson. There are no words to describe how I loved them. I longed with all my heart to be Jill, while trapped in a pony-free home without enough money for riding lessons and over-protective parents who wouldn’t have let me within a mile of a scary horse anyway.

I didn’t have many books when I was a kid and once I got to school, I read my way throughout the bookshelves fast. So teachers used to take me to the town library. Skirting past the staircase (because upstairs, in the museum,  the nightmare-inducing skeleton used to grin at you)  I picked the same book, time and time again: Myths of the Norsemen, by Roger  Lancelyn Green. The link goes to a blog post that details all the chapters.

Everything in it spoke to me. I knew the Greek myths too well and was bored by them. Anyway, what tedious Greek god could compare with Loki the trickster, beautiful Baldur and his heart-breaking brother Hodur? I tried to work out how to pronounce Yggdrasill, the World Tree, and upgraded my pony fetish to an eight-legged horse. There was always something new to find out and wonder over and imagine. It set my reading tastes for good. Beside my bed, there’s Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Joanne Harris’s Gospel of Loki, both for re-reading. Reading her library tale in the link, we could be the same person: her being a wildly-successful author aside …

Fast forward some 40 years to June 2: Best bargain. John Bauer‘s Sagovarld – Swedish Faerie and Folk Tales, picked up for a few crowns in a Stockholm secondhand shop. So much has changed. I’ve found a huge birth family in Sweden: seven brothers and sisters, just like a fairy tale. I’ve walked thought the forests and swum in the lakes I used to dream about.

This could also go in for June 8th: Own more than one copy. My original, battered Swedish version is somewhere in a book pile. The picture is of a second copy closer to hand: a present from Swedish family. I’ve got copies in English too. Yes, I like John Bauer. Another book of Norse legends, bought for my daughter, has a blue cover, taking me back full circle to today’s choice.

#bookadayuk – the best kind of distraction.

*amended 10 June as the hashtag was changed by the organiser







May the Fourth: 4 by 4

May the 4th is Star Wars Day. It’s my wedding anniversary, by happy coincidence: we chose it to make a long Bank Holiday for people coming from abroad.

It’s also our 4th anniversary and I like the number 4. I voted for it as the world’s favourite number – see no. 7 here (I think seven cheated to win.) So I though I’d find four groups of four things about our wedding, with the four photos above.

Four Musical Things:

The Swedish Wedding March. A nod to my background by birth, for going into the register office. We’ve heard all the jokes about strangling cats, thanks.

Nick Cave: Straight to You. There had to be St Nick, forced upon a captive audience. The setting limited our choice a bit. One other devotee was happy and she’d traveled from the States; several older guests who’d come from Kent and Herts had a little doze.

North Sea Radio Orchestra. For one reason only. First dance: shortest piece of music from a band we both love.

Arash: Boro Boro. Because you’ve got to have an Iranian-Swedish crowd-pleaser. And everyone gets to do hand-waving and make up their own words.

Four Decorative Things:

Life-sized plastic horse. You can see him behind the table if you zoom in. I’ve said it before, the London Canal Museum is the best place for a party. It’s got the horse AND one of the only ice wells you can look into.

Place names: Friend did the nice writing, paper cut into strips and stuck with a pin through a pink heart chocolate. Soppy but nice. With the replacement of a black jelly baby pinned through the heart for our much-loved Welsh Goth.

Confetti cones. Not to be quirky or wedding-magaziney but because I enjoyed using old wrapping paper and sheet music to make them. And our two bloke ushers looked amusing carrying them.

Orders of Service: Sister-in-law enlisted to help cut paper as above, stick on more paper with song and poem titles, stamp with special name and date stamp, thread with ribbon and shove a bit of rosemary through the ribbon. Took ages: looked lovely. Which brings me on to –

Four Things I Forgot:

Orders of Service. Left at home. My daughter tried to tell me as we got in the cab but I didn’t listen. Sigh.

Vases. Carrier bags with the little vases I’d found in charity shops over months, for flowers on the tables, left under the table with the above. The flowers looked just as good in bar glasses.

Marylebone Register Office waiting room: It is lovely. Actually, they forgot to tell me it existed so Best Friend and I went to Starbucks before and I had to tiptoe around on a ladies’ floor with rather more urine on it than is acceptable.

Sense of humour: Starbucks and the rain made me a bit hacked off for a while. Sorry, Mum and Amelia.

Four Brilliant Things:

Going through London on our own big red bus on the opening day of the Elephant Parade.

My nervous daughter reading poetry in front of loads of people.

Friends from all over and from all stages of our lives.

Family for the first and last time they’ve all been together. Four of my half siblings made it. My birth father. And all four of my and Steve’s parents.

A life not lived

Ove_Fundin_statue_Brixel_sculptor The statue of Ove Fundin, five-times World Championship speedway rider, was unveiled last August in his hometown of Tranås in Sweden. He is my father and I met him for the first time when I was 30.

One Weekly Blog Club optional theme this week was a ‘public statue in your locality’. I am not from Tranås: I was born in London at a Catholic children’s home and moved, at six weeks, to my adoptive parents’ home in Folkestone.

My biological father’s seven children lived in and around Tranås: a town of just over 14,000 people in the south-west of Sweden where his family had been prominent furriers.

I have four-half brothers and three half-sisters: one of my half-sisters is just two days older than me. It is a strange thought, being born so close together; her life has seemed one that I might have had. It was and is very different from my own: horses and school skiing lessons, a big country house and lots of siblings. It was also one with a largely absent father who went on to marry twice more, the loss of that country house, a mother who married again and a step-brother.

My father is described by his biographer as ‘an idol [whose] ruthless pursuit of success…often upset the British crowds.’ He is volatile and complex, generous and courageous; he has travelled all over the world and has marked his birthdays from the age of 70 by walking from France to Sweden, for example, or motor biking to Sweden from South Korea.

I know that my half-sister often had to take care of her younger siblings. Like our father, she has successfully fought cancer. She is tall and striking, learned to parachute and drive lorries, has five children and a former partner called Adolf (being English, that strikes me as one of the biggest differences between us.)

I am very short, have one child and parents who have just celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary, still living in the dolls house-sized semi where I went at six weeks. I had one adoptive brother, severely mentally ill from a young age.

My parents have never flown or driven a car: Dad did a moped course but was too nervous to give up his pushbike. Mum stayed at home while my half-sister’s mother still works as a journalist and author. It is all so very different. My parents’ life is family and church and walks around the cliff, no black tie dinners or winters in Australia.

I went to a town council-hosted lunch and dinner for the statue launch, heading off to sleep after a couple of glasses of wine in the evening. My half-sister and the others have a Scandanavian tolerance for a long rowdy night of spirits and socialising.

It has taken a long time to write this but it comes nowhere near conveying the sense of trying to convey the wonder of what makes each of us ourselves and unique. Time to stop trying.