My first text for September 2013 will take up some of my experiences as a newly arrived immigrant to the city of Sundsvall in central Sweden. For most people well placed in the north of the northern hemisphere. I am hoping at the same time that this month will see my 10 000 viewing on this blog.
Arriving in Sundsvall was a chock for me. I settled in a flat that was fixed by Mona and her parents in the area of Skönsberg. Soon after that I became a father. I cut down on smoking as a consequence of the baby and the cold weather. I had no work and even though I was looking I could not really see what I would be doing. I was new page in a new book. Not only for me but apparently for the whole society that I was now trying to be a part of. If the word depression was used then, I believe I had, at least, a spell of itin that year of 1974.
I did land a few jobs here and there. One of these jobs influenced the rest of my life so I will briefly explain how it happened that I finished up teaching kids in a regular school.
Åsa Ahlberg was Mona’s best childhood friend. They had kept up their friendship into adult age and Åsa was with Mona in London when we first met. Åsa’s father was a school master on the island of Alnö where the girls had grown up. It was also to this school of Vibacke that they went to up to the age of 16. Ali Ahlberg, was Åsa’s father. He had to find replacement teachers for his two language teachers that had recently, themselves become parents. One was Märta Starringer and the other Bertil Olsson. Both of these teachers taught languages. More specifically they taught English and French. Because I had considerable knowledge of the languages in question though absolutely none of teaching I accepted the challenge. I took on the teenage kids that saw this 22 year old, with hardly any Swedish as an interesting novelty in their school day.
Even though I had not dealt with teenage kids before I found that I had enough experience in my social luggage to cope with this new situation and did step in for what eventually became my profession.
According to my instructions I was supposed to look out of a small window to see when the horses were approaching the finishing line. After measuring the intensity of the light and calculating the speed of the horses I should press a button and keep it pressed until all horses had crossed the line.
After that I needed to speedily develop the film so it could be shown to the race dignitaries so they could confirm and announce the order of arrival of the horses. This was very important especially on tight decisions where just a nose could decide the correct outcome. Needless to say it was a very responsible job as hundreds if not thousands of people had been on the betting side of things.
How could I have finished up on top of that tower with very little knowledge of the Swedish language and absolutely no knowledge on the trotting sport? What they were screaming from down below I have no idea up to this day!
This is the story. When John was born Mona became friends with another mother on the ward. Her husband Kenth Forsberg had a photo shop called Foto Mer. It was very near our flat in Skönsberg.
Kenth was not very fond of this job at the Bergsåker Trav, trotting race course. It took too much of his time and he asked me if I wanted to do it. I obviously accepted as I would any job that was offered to me, most particularly in those days. I did this a number of times but recall some errors on my first day. On one of the races the horses came out extremely long. I can anyhow and for the record inform my dear readers that this was my first job in Sundsvall, probably in the beginning of 1974.
When I arrived in Sundsvall in 1973 it is safe to say that I didn’t know anyone. It is also true that nobody knew me! I felt when walking down the main street Storgatan that people looked at me and wondered who this new stranger was.
Mona’s relatives knew nothing of me. As we had got married in Stockholm one year previously it was felt that a christening would make some amends. The new family consisted very much of my mother in law’s relatives. Aime had then five older brothers still alive. They all had names ending in the letter E. The one that hadn’t was Allan and he was dead. Another peculiarity was that they all had only one child, except for Allan who had two.
Obviously the choice for the christening fell on Alnö. This is the island where all the family related to. Mona’s grandparents had worked in the sawmills like so many other men of that Sundsvall’s generation. Here everybody was at home Cedervalls and Hillmans.
The church of Alnö was built very near the medieval one. From it, the christening font was moved, and this would be used for the service that was to be directed by the old priest Mr. Bertil Wågström.
There was the small matter of getting Godparents for the occasion. The choice was simple. Best friends Åsa and Quim. I asked Quim, not very hopeful that he would say yes, considering travelling distances involved. He said yes and the date was set to the 16th December and the toddler would be given the name John Olof.
This event in the church was followed by coffee and cake and if nothing else gave everyone the possibility to get a glimpse of this new import somewhere from the south with the unpronounceable name. How would it go?
I registered myself as a resident in the parish of Skön on the 1 November 1973. After applying for residence and if accepted I would be given the 4 magical numbers that open most doors in Sweden. These numbers complete your personal number. Without the 10 digit personal numbers you practically do not exist. I needed four to add to my 520329.
My permit came on the 23rd December almost as a Christmas present. Now I could apply to the Swedish course. I immediately did that. This does not mean that I did not look for employment meanwhile.
Mona and I went to the ABF. This is a labour movement run school for adults on the national level. At one time it was very important to further educate in the model of study circles. The leader of these circles more or less was one in the democratic group but got some pay. We were interviewed by a Mrs Marie Viking. We spoke English with her and she was in charge of language courses. After the interview Mona was asked if she would like to take on a course.
I went to the labour exchange and eventually met the lady who was in charge of the foreigners. We filled the forms and expected a quick answer so I could start off with the Swedish lessons. I met a Portuguese architect working on the plans for the new hospital. Mr Reis offered to accompany me to the employment agency. Once there he presented himself and said something like- I am architect Reis, when can my friend start the course, as he has waited for a long time for an answer?
The lady behind the desk asked for my personal number and disappeared for a while. When she came back she said.
-He can start on Monday!
The Swedish course I enrolled for was a bit away from town in the Ljustadalen area. It reminded of an industrial work place. There I did my 9 intensive weeks of Swedish in 1974.Besides learning the language we also got some information and guidance to prepare ourselves for work. I had grown a beard as a way to cope with the winter as I did not at the time wear anything on my head! Question of principle! Hejdå!
I ended my latest text by describing what I saw were my main issues for the next few months. Would my plans develop after my thoughts, on those cold and windy days in Sundsvall, as the year of 1973 drew to a close?
I was going to become a father. It was an exciting thought but at the same time scary. Were we as parents prepared for such a responsibility? I think Mona saw it this way: We had some back up in the shape of her parents Olle and Aime Hillman. They welcomed a grandchild and could help us with the logistical bits.
In our flat in Skönsberg we had what we needed to await the arrival of our first child. If it was a boy the family tradition should be followed. From my great-grandfather and down the name for the first born was João. Now this was tricky because it was a difficult name both to spell and to pronounce for anyone outside a Portuguese speaking country. We settled for the nearest and most international alternative. If it was a male he would be called John. He would have British nationality so an English name would be appropriate.
The parents waited! Maxwell the cat waited! But nothing happened when we were expecting it to happen. The baby just wasn’t in the mood to come out! Eventually they decided to start labour. After a second attempt the Sundsvall’s hospital prepared to help deliver the baby. It was a long drawn process occurring just two floors underneath where I sit on my working days. I was of course present. I had not participated on the labour courses provided. I hairy blond baby did eventually come out. It was a boy and he had a name.
The mixed feelings as I made my way home to our flat walking with my ears and legs frozen by the bitter wind along the Heffners Road were those of an immense pride and at the same time concern for the future of this little human being. The date was the 30th November.
The year of 1973 was almost all spent in London! It was an eventful period. Looking at the pictures it is clear that Mona came back in the summer now evidently pregnant! At this time she would have taken Maxwell, the cat, to Sweden. During this visit a rare family gathering can be seen outside my grandparents’ house in Croydon. The reader can enjoy the two pictures on display and sort out who the photographers were.
Sometime around this time I had started a new job. Someone said a person speaking Portuguese was needed at the Banco do Brasil near St. Paul’s Cathedral. I was interviewed and offered the job by the Brazilian manager. In reality I was working for the Portuguese bank BPA- Banco Portugues do Atlantico. My job was to send remittances (money) from Portuguese immigrants back to Portugal. At this time immigrant remittances were an important part of the Portuguese economy . Some of the clients came from far away as Wales with their money in cash. Every morning I awaited a fax message stating the actual exchange rate. Someone in charge for this office once came and gave me some instructions. I kept this job right up to my final return to Sweden so when I did arrive there it was as a bank clerk.
The king of Sweden Gustav VI died on the 15th September in Helsingborg so the chap I was serving drinks to, a few months earlier at the Tramp Club in Jermyn Street was now the Swedish king under the name of Carl XVI Gustav. He was crowned on the very same day of his grandfather’s death, exactly 40 years ago, yesterday.
My life chapter on 16, Mornington Avenue does have something to tell. It was the winter, opening 1973. We rented a one room flat for £13 a week where a kitten was acquired and a TV set was our main companion, besides ourselves… Was there a grand plan? I worked for a meager £16 a week as I hoped to get life organized.
Cliff Richards sang on TV one night. It was the British entry for that year’s Eurovision festival. The song was “Power to all our friends”…and for some reason I associate that song with Mona becoming with child. The song was first performed on the BBC on the 10th of January, then on Top of the Pops on the 8th of March. The Eurovision festival proper, was held in Luxembourg on the 7th April, pretty much the date chosen for Mona to go back to Sweden and visit her parents. Already then, we had high suspicions of her being pregnant!
I stayed with Maxwell. He would get out through the window and once he did just this and I ran out to get him. When I came back I discovered that the frying pan was almost on fire. I chose to throw it out of the window, the pan, that is…
Our exchange of letters confirmed that Mona was pregnant and that we were going to become parents. What to do? No panic, Mona had abandoned student life in Stockholm but was coming back to her parents with a grandchild!
Things were leading in one direction only…and that was moving back to Sweden.
Passport stamps do not lie! Because of them we know that the newlywed couple Mona and João, did not stay long in Stockholm in that cold and windy autumn of 1972. Something made Mona decide she wanted to quit University and digs at 5,Forskarbacken. She suggested we should go back to England. I did not feel that our situation was worth defending, so I agreed.
London was, after all, our hometown, together… According to the stamp, we left on the 2nd December on what I recall was a charter flight with hotel. The hotel was somewhere in the Elephant and Castle area. We got about looking for a room or flat as soon as we arrived. Eventually we moved in to Mornington Avenue. It was a small basement room, furnished and clean. There were some green bushes and grass outside the window. We were quite comfortable and even grandfather Dadda glasses and Pat came to visit.
We both went about looking for employment and we had contact with Rodolfo and Luisa just down the road.
Twenty year olds could get work those days. I registered at an employment agency and was sent to different places like a big publicity company and a council office where boring work had to be done! A new life was evolving where an old one had just been left behind!
To me it was all pretty straight forward. We had got married; I had my job at the Sheraton and in order to keep it, I needed to show them a permit. If memory does not fail me we went to the police station that same day, the 17th November 1972. There we were told that it was necessary to present ourselves for an interview. Swedish authorities were instructed to make sure that no marriages of convenience with the purpose of staying in the country were accepted. I learnt later that Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme had in 1949 married to help a Czechoslovakian girl escape dictatorship in her country. It wasn’t our case, but still…
We were summoned for an interview on upcoming Tuesday the 21th November. We were asked separately a number of questions, some of more intimate character. When did we meet, how, where and had we slept with each other.
My interview was held in English and I wasn’t a bit nervous, but instead rather amused at the whole procedure. For Mona it was different. She was rather upset that her country acted suspiciously and I think she took it rather personally. Eventually the whole thing was over, we were reunited and they chatted something that I didn’t understand. Suddenly I found us out in the street, facing the cold and dark Stockholm afternoon. I was not only curious but decided to claim my right. Where was the stamp I needed? We went back in again and after some more talk I was given a stamp on my passport. It’s validity was for four days when the decision was supposed to come from the authority in charge! That did me fine! I had my stamp, so I was happy! I had also for the first time encountered Swedish bureaucracy.
The whole thing seemed almost surreal. Here I was in Stockholm living with Mona. We were engaged since that trip to Spain in the summer. There, I believe in Seville, we had bought our engagement rings. We had talked about getting married, but it was never a big issue.
Life in Stockholm was beginning to function in that autumn of 1972…at least for me. People struck me as unfriendly almost rude but Mona explained, in a matter of fact way, that they were Stockholmers! We had our room near the University; I had my job at the Sheraton. The condition put by the hotel for keeping me on was that my papers were in order! But they weren’t.
We had to get married to get my stamp on the passport. A date was set. The seventeenth of November. We were to go to the Stockholm City Hall- Rådhuset -at a given time, bring our rings and a couple of witnesses and a paper from the UK that showed I was free to marry. A certificate of no impediment!
It was a cold day, like November days in Stockholm are. It darkened early. Not the best month to get married…But we did get married that day, even if the only thing to prove it is this certificate of marriage. There are no photos of the event as witnesses, Åsa Ahlberg and Anders Hult, simply had forgotten the camera!
Well never mind…now to the police station. But that is another story.