When you are expecting your first child you want conditions to be as good as possible! Our basement one-room- flat, in Mornington Avenue, London didn’t quite make the ticket in comparison to what Sweden had to offer. Mona’s hometown of Sundsvall with caring future grandparents was there waiting for us.
I came back to Sweden roughly one year after I had left it. It was a completely new life we were talking about. Sundsvall was limited in almost all aspects but it did have some advantages.
The first one was the one concerning accommodation. A flat was fixed before I arrived. It had two rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. The new address was Bruksgatan 4C. It was a council flat and we paid rent for it. The houses were new. The area had this unpronounceable name of Skönsberg and it was at walking distance from the centre of town. But who in their right minds would do this stretch in the freezing and windy conditions of the Swedish autumn?
The second one was that I was provided with a course to learn Swedish. All foreigners were. The procedure was as such: you went to the labour exchange and said you needed a job, which was true. But this labour exchange ( Arbetsförmedling) did not seriously commit itself to getting you work according to your merits. What they could and did do was to offer you this SFI course. This stands for Swedish for foreigners. In those days it was considered a part of the employment system so I actually was meant to get paid while attending. It was also explained to me that I could continue after 9 weeks with a professional course on the same terms. I obviously enrolled even though I thought I could manage with my English abilities.
The third was that there was an IKEA warehouse where we could buy your Billy bookcases and as matter of fact everything else. The year was 1973.
There were now three things that IKEA couldn’t fix, the baby, the Swedish course and a job!
Those few weeks in July 1972 on the island of Alnö passed very fast. The house situated as it were on the southern part of the island was extremely quiet. A quietness only interrupted by the singing of birds and the passing of cars or mopeds on the road below.
We went on boat trips with captain and shipbuilder Olle Hillman, at the wheel. The small motor boat was called Mona. The excursions took us to several of the smaller islands that surrounded the larger volcanic but very flat island. This island lay practically in front of the city of Sundsvall. There were industries all around and crossing the bridge from Alnö you’d bump against a large sawmill with large amounts of wooden trunks waiting on their different stages to be cut and made into planks only to be shipped abroad from the nearby port.
When not cycling round the island on a tandem, we could visit what was the pride and joy of the commercial town. IKEA! This was my first ever visit to what has become a worldwide furniture and decoration giant. We obviously did the night scene and finally got a glimpse of the much proclaimed Marina disco. My memory from it was an encounter! Spanish waiter Ricardo de la Rosa, an artist married to a Swedish girl. He invited me when the sun was up to meet him at a place he was decorating. As it turned out Sundsvall’s first Pizza restaurant- “The Triestina” later renamed“The Vagabondo”.
One weekend I was driven to a cottage out in the mountains. The trip took some three hours and the cottage was built by Olle. The name of the place is Vemdalskalet and the mountain chain runs west almost separating Sweden from Norway. We saw the views, went for walks and Aime made waffles!
I soon discovered that the Hillmans were working people with their own religion. They did not drink alcohol but rather drank milk even with their meals; they cut their cheese with a special designed knife that I was expected to be able to operate. They ate their cooked potatoes with the peels on; hard pieces of bread accompanied the food. They did not smoke!
But they were loyal to the workers and cooperative movement! In front of the house there was a small shop selling food, the Konsum where Olle did volunteer work, Olle would not fill petrol anywhere else but at the cooperative OK. We shopped for everything at the large consumer owned OBS! Everything was insured at Folksam and if Aime wanted to learn English she would go to the ABF organization for her study circles. The party they voted for was the Swedish Social Democratic Party, and everyone was a member of the trade union. This was not theory; it was practice every day of the month, every month of the year. It was a powerful religion!