Baby John!

Johnny

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 powerful religion

alnon

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!

båten

London-Alnö

CrossingLanding in Gothenburg meant stepping into a new country! Sweden! Regardless to say but worth repeating it was the follow up and direct consequence of blind and true love. It just wouldn’t hold, to be apart any longer.

After travelling on the train between the two most important cities of the country I can but recall how I just could not understand and take in that the heat I found there was so intense that transpiration was taking the best of me and that this feeling g was shared by my fellow travellers despite open windows in all compartments!

Mona was there at the Central Station eagerly waiting for our reunion! The painful wait was over and we could look forward to a few weeks sharing each other’s company! We took ourselves to the next means of transport- a VW light blue 1300 commonly known as” beetle”! Mona sat at the driver’s seat and even if I would have wanted to help drive, I couldn’t, as I did not know how!

Our long north bound journey started, taking us out of Stockholm and passing through a number of towns on the way! There were many miles in front of us and I learnt they were about 40 Swedish ones! A Swedish mile, Mona explained was quite simply 10 kms. It did not matter, we were together and the towns of Uppsala, Gävle, Söderhamn and Hudiksvall had to be driven through before arrival at the destiny of our trip- Mona’s Sundsvall and her home on the island of Alnö!

My eyes tried to take in as much as possible especially when it wasn’t endless forests that met them. The road signs showing danger of wild elks crossing the road was if anything exotic. So was also the fact that night never dawned properly on us…

We crossed the much awaited bridge taking us to Alnö. This one I had seen on postcards and looked familiar. When we arrived on the island it was late. We had to keep quiet as I was shown my quarters in the basement where I shared my sleeping hours with a bath tub and a boiler!

Next day we would meet the parent’s. First mother Aime and about half an hour past 4 o’clock the father that made his way upstairs to the kitchen where dinner awaited and firmly shook my hand with the words- OLLE!

Unique minerals

ALNOIT

When Mona and I started to be a couple it needed to be officialized. The family approval is universal and no exception in our case! I told my grandfather Joseph Ineichen, that I had met this girl from Sweden and she was my first girlfriend to be introduced in this manner! Serious staff, in other words… He wanted to know where she was from in Sweden so I remember telling him the odds were he had never heard about it. Sundsvall, a small town somewhere along the Baltic coast…

How wrong I was! Dad had heard about it as he had many times insured cargo to and fro…Mona and Dad got on very well and jokingly he called her “Moaner” and what are you moaning about?

My curiosity was growing. What was this Sundsvall like? I recall dreaming about it. Many wooden houses perched on hillsides…

Mona in turn came from an island that had its own rocks and some were even named after the island as Alnoit was. At the London Geological museum I remember once looking curiously at theses volcanic, rather unusual minerals!

My information about this land and what to expect grew as letters poured in from Sweden in 1972. We started to talk engagement and marriage and even children. The idea was clearly that of big changes in our lives! And we were right!

On the first letter from Sweden I was told that the trip had taken ages. After the boat there was a train, and it took 12 hours to go from Gothenburg to Sundsvall.

Life in Sweden started to take shape. Mona’s father Olle Hillman worked a whole day on his boat, they went off at weekends to the mountains and visits to graveyards were common in this new culture!