By bus to Beaminster

Half running and the last person to catch the bus, narrowly avoiding being squeezed in the doors, I expect the driver to start with an irritated jerk. Not so. He asks me (jokingly) if I’m too young to have a free pensioners pass and I answer not too young but too foreign. He wants to know where and how long I’ve lived abroad, seemingly oblivious to marginal matters such as passengers. Then he asks about the social situation in Sweden. First I think he wants to know about what social life is like but no he’s interested in pensions and care and so on. I answer him as succinctly as I can and he seems satisfied. Then looks at me and says in a conversational tone, I suppose we’d better get going as if he wanted input from me before taking such a drastic step. And after I confirm his view of the world, off we go. I rather like people who forget about their role (it reminds me of me).

It feels liberating to be on a bus moving through the soft, green, Marshwood Vale through Melplash and on to Beaminster with the Dorset hills in the background. mild and damp and the wind is coming from the south-west.  Until now, I’ve now mostly stayed in my room and worked, sorting out loose ends after six weeks in India and fixing a few bits of translation. It’s refreshing to feel the world of work loosening its grip.

Beaminster is a pleasant small town although its population of just over 3.000 makes it more the size of a village. But it feels like a small town. Pevsner doesn’t have much to say about the secular buildings and I realise that I have to dig more in the archives in Dorchester and visit Beaminster again, preferably in the morning when the light is better..

The church tower is very fine and there is a monument I like with a man and woman discussing a book (where can one sign up for this variant of death…) The church is dedicated to St Mary like Bridport’s parish church. I’d like to know more about dedications and need to get a map of all the parishes in the relevant sees (Sherborne and Salisbury) to see what patterns there may be.

The bus back to Bridport is full of schoolchildren. A boy indicates a vacant seat beside him, which I gratefully take (do I look so lost when I’m just trying to make up my mind?). He then asks me how my day has been and I tell him it’s been OK. He seems a bit flummoxed when I ask him how his day has been. He mumbles an answer which I can’t hear and we proceed more or less peacefully to Bridport.

Gdynia, Poland

Gdynia, Poland

While I’d rather go on holiday with Voltaire than Mother Teresa, I’m generally pretty laid back about religion. It’s a rum do being human and we all have to make what we can of it in our own way. However,
Polish catholicism has pushed things a bit too far.
The danger sign the first time I was in Gdansk was the well-combed children eating their reward for good behaviour post-church ices. I was aware it was Sunday but was unprepared for all the museums being closed. This time the warning signs were more subtle. Soldiers cavorting in formation along the waterfront and far too many people dressed up as if
they were going to church.
After an interesting stroll around Gdynia and 20 minutes of gross misbehaviour by Google Maps, I find my bookshop, dreaming of a slim volume of pics explaining the buildings I’d looked at. But all was closed as it was Assumption Day (when Mary went to heaven, unclear to me (and a lot of others I suspect) whether she was supposed to have died or not
(dormition)) and Armed Forces Day. This made me long for Gustaf II Adolf to rise from the dead and sweep down to restore the Baltic coast to its previous protestantism (though preferably without junkers..). Most of my contacts with Polish culture and its people have been agreeable but their faiblesse for Catholicism is a weak point. Like a bone-deprived dog, I get a bit growly when deprived of a planned book.

In the park

Despite having moved to the other side of the city, I still have my doctor and dentist in Marieberg, where my office used to be, enabling me to pass a favourite oasis, Rålambshov park, west of Västerbron. Unlike the functionalist expanses east of the bridge (more like what we would call a recreation ground) with its boule bar (“grymt barhäng”) and skate ramp), the western park has fine old trees, a place for slow walking and contemplation. Some nibbled edges with a large fenced nursery playground (acceptable if it stays that way and is not replaced by a block of flats, which would, to quote the planners’ weasel words, give the park a clearer entrance (more like a clearer demise…)). But it’s still mostly intact and unspoilt by the lowest common denominator vandals eager for a park where “everybody will be welcome”.

Fine too is the old association with the press and the National Archive on the hill and satisfactory names like Rålambs park after Claes (or/and Åke?) Rålamb and Gjörwellsgatan after Carl Christopher Gjörwell (father and son of the same name). Carl Christopher Gjörwell senior, editor of the first Swedish literary magazine, Den svenska mercurius, went bankrupt in 1772 and lost control of his bookshop while Åke Rålamb, author of the encyclopaedia Adelig övning, leased the area in 1708 but was evicted ten years later for unpaid rent. Very satisfying with streets and parks named after the financially bankwrecked…far preferable to “Kronofogdevägen” (Bailiff Road) in Solhem.
Gjörwell senior is buried at Solna church. I must find out more about him and go and visit him some time.

After contemplation and the medical or dental (gritting my teeth at my dental firm’s change of name to Happident), the consolation of a visit to Café Fix at Fridhemsplan….not exactly a “grymt caféhang” but an enjoyable place for refreshment before leaving the wild country west of Birger jarlsgatan for home.

‟Stockholms gatunamn”, Stahre, Fågelström, Ferenius, Lundqvist 2nd ed 1992

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Welwyn Garden City

Built after the First World War, more or less from scratch, Welwyn Garden City is England’s second garden city. After the first city Letchworth’s slow start, the accepted vision was that the creation of garden suburbs rather than cities was the way to go. Welwyn Garden City owes its existence to a great extent to the drive of Ebenezer Howard, author of Garden Cities of Tomorrow (1902).

Arriving at the bus station, you soon come across Howard’s shopping centre and a Howard’s gate but other information about the city and its development was not easy to find. There did not seem to be a museum or information centre. The local Waterstones could offer me a more technical book by the architect, Louis de Soissons, a children’s colouring book and a slim volume about garden cities in general (which I bought) and various historical books with pics. At the local library, I found Stephen Ward’s “The Peaceful Path. Building garden cities” (2016) with very interesting information about the early development. But even this book did not tell me much about the social development of the city  (with the proviso that my skim was more intensively interrupted by glances at my watch towards the end).

I wonder who the people were who moved there, what was their social composition. How was the city run when first owned by a company and then a new town development corporation, what did land use and house ownership look like and how did the authorities maintain the architectural consistency of the town (mainly Neo-Georgian), did ideological currents make their presence felt to start with (William Morris, the Fabians). What issues have ruffled feathers  over the years? What is the incidence of crime and vandalism?

And perhaps the big question, why does this city built from scratch seem to work while many other newbuild areas have become dystopic and failed?

The city looks well maintained, the green avenues in the centre of the streets are calm and harmonious. There was hardly any graffiti, it seemed to have been cleaned even from obscure alleyways. Only at the edge of the centre by the library did I find a dingy pedestrian underpass with a hoodie in  residence like som guardian of the gates of hell outside the land of the lotus eaters.

I didn’t find the architecture exciting but the effect here is not unpleasant ( with added security bonus for me who spent several childhood years looking at a Neo-Georgian post office building outside my classroom window…). But I wouldn’t want to live here; the lack of hisorical associations would disturb me – I am a quirk-dependent person.

I would anyway like to know more about the city.










A day trip to Oxelösund

Gunilla is away and (unusually for me) I don’t make a rush for the exit. Instead, I went to Oxelösund, (it’s taken me 45 years to get around to it).

Like Kiruna, the town is there because of its industry. The centre has been moved to suit the steelworks’ needs, most of the buildings being from the 1950s and 1960s (presumably a lot of older buildings have been demolished although the town was never large and it’s not an historic town).

The centre feels glum. A few people drift across the square under a brave banner proclaiming “We are Oxelösund”. Business is slack for the duty beggar outside the department store and  I see no money change hands. Together with charity fatigue, Sweden’s rapid abandonment of cash is bad news for beggars.

Fleeing to the more cheerful library, I find Klas Östergren’s “Gangsters” has been purged from stock and is on offer for 5 kronor. The cover blurb has words of praise from an Expressen review by Horace Engdahl (written a good few years before Horace E was given the role of Demon King in the Academy Panto). Klas Östergren is not one of my favourite people just now but I’ve never read anything by him and think I probably ought to. I also pick up a guide to Bulgaria so that I can use my ten kronor coin without pushing my luck and wanting change as well.

Worth looking at in the centre is St Botvid’s church built on a hill to look like a navigation marker. The architect was Rolf Bergh (the same architect who was responsible for St Birgitta’s church in Nockeby). It’s worth a visit but I decide to conserve my energy for the walk to Old Oxelösund, which is doable but some way off. Gränges, the company that later developed the steel works, purchased almost the whole of the peninsula between the modern centre and the coast, just leaving a small enclave of older buildings down by the water.

Although few in number, the old buildings are fine, some exceptionally fine. Oxelösund is a natural harbour and there were pilots living  and working there. It’s still out of season though and the Archipelago Museum is closed as is the café, where a notice informs that, because of a burst pipe in the winter, they are not sure when they will open. My inner picture of sitting on a café verandah sipping coffee while looking at harbour bustle crumbles – no café, no coffee, no bustle.

Hardened by years in Sweden, I concentrate on enjoying sitting on a bench beside the water looking at the steel works. I learn a new Swedish word “båk” (beacon) which pleases me.

The sea is not far away but as usual in these parts, you can feel it but can’t actually see it as there are always a couple (if not ten) islands blocking the view.

Oxelösund is a bigger harbour than I expected. A ship is on its way in from Hull soon, returning there shortly afterwards. In a few days’ time, the Cyprus-registered Mynika, a bulk carrier (presumably coal), will arrive from Hay’s Point in Australia before sailing on to Luleå. I see that it’s now off the Canary Islands – it left Australia in March and must have gone around the Cape.

Retracing my steps is not as painful as I feared. At least I get a long rest at the bus stop waiting for Sörmlands trafik to rescue me while I mull over my reasons for wanting to visit Oxelösund.

We pass seventeenth century Stjärnholms slott on the way back to Nyköping. Owned originally by families of Dutch origin, Louis de Geer grew up there and was later involved in developing Swedish industry a bit further down the coast at Nävekvarn. Also worth a visit but it will have to wait until we can drive there.



St George’s day

23rd April, the feast of St George and England’s national day (since 1415, according to the Telegraph). There wasn’t much fuss about it when I lived in England in the days of yore. It was one of the few occasions when you saw the now widespread English flag, St George’s Cross, on church towers but it didn’t make much of a ripple otherwise in the national consciousness (even less than Sweden’s “artificial respiration” national day, 6 June).

Checking the etymology of the word “feast”, it apparently originates from the Latin “festus” (joyful); in the middle ages, an occasion when at least some of the population got plenty to eat. From this time “feast” has become heavily loaded with gastronomic associations. However, the original meaning is still there in the language (and present in “festivity, “festival”, and “festive occasion). “Feast day” could come in handy for a translator.

Always a friend of alternative dialogues, I shall wear a black armband today to symbolise my solidarity with the dragon, who has had a tough time in the media (superman St George and the rescued passive virginal type being only of interest to the driven hunter of patriarchal structures….).

Blake, Joseph Roth and my last English girlfriend

To my 25-year old eyes, Finchley Road was rather swish. I got to know the area through my last English girlfriend, who worked at the library at the nearby Tavistock Clinic. We used to meet there during what I suspect was neither lunch nor an hour, having no memories of restaurants but only of street scenes, the little short cut through the metal gate going up to the library, which is still there. And of standing close to the entrance to Swiss Cottage tube and of her giving me an inscribed copy of a collection of Blake’s poems, which I still have, its bright red now faded to a pale pink, pricking my conscience at not having read it, although always meaning to. I was grateful but puzzled as to why she gave me this gift although looking at the inscription the other day, the “December 1969” ought to have put me on track. I’m not sure that I like David Kendall version 1969 very much but I’m stuck with him.

Since then, I’ve passed through the area a few times and have memories of going to the cinema with a friend at Swiss Cottage.

But now a stay at an air bnb flat close by has changed all that.  The beginning wasn’t promising. I was dead tired after travelling to Paris the day before from Rouen, an early start in Paris, a flight to Bristol, wandering around Bristol Airport with a heavy case to find the administration block to retrieve my lost coat, and then to the city centre, by train to Paddington and taxi to Finchley Road.

I remember I had a letter to post and needed to get tape, I can’t quite remember why. It was getting close to closing time and the sub-Post Office staff were twitchy as I fumbled with my tape. And to Waitrose for provisions and back down Finchley Road, dragging myself forward in the cold, longing to lay down and sleep.

It seemed scruffier than I remembered it, even allowing for tiredness and winter gloom. I realised when I thought about it that one shouldn’t draw too many conclusions about the downfall of England from decrepit high streets but it perhaps tells us more about the concentration of the retail trade, the growing power of the chains, whose idea of a prime retail spot is not on a traffic-choked highway where parking is difficult. And the disappearance of many of the independent retailers leaves the traditional high street a patchwork of small shops, charity shops, estate agents etc. I’m not sure though that my thirst for knowledge extends to spending time hanging around in shopping malls to get a feel of the real England…..

Back in the flat, life felt much more cheerful. It was owned by a university lecturer specialising in Austria-Hungary and Central Europe, with the best collection of books on the Austro-Hungarian empire that I’ve ever seen (and a portrait of the last A-H emperor on the wall). I made the acquaintance of Joseph Roth, whom I’d never heard of before and read the Radetzky March on my return to Sweden. I bought it in German too which I shall try to tackle now I’ve finished the English translation.

The area to the east of the southern end of Finchley Road is pleasant. Once away from the traffic, it’s residential, extending to Primrose Hill in one direction and up to Hampstead in the other.

I didn’t get much time for wandering around this time but am glad to have the Austro-Hungarians and Roth around to keep Blake and my last English girlfriend company.




Think twice, it’s not alright

Sad scenes at the Swedish Academy where an institution of this dignity and value is brought to its knees by accusations of testerone-fuelled impropriety or worse, inter alia. This should, of course, be punished and condemned in the strongest terms if proven (as seems highly probable) but storming out after failing to secure a qualified majority for dismissal of a member seems the wrong reaction to me, unless one thinks that the institution is without value in other respects. Klas Östergren’s “I’m leaving the table, I’m out of the game” seems out of place in this should-be palace of the guardians of the Swedish language (can’t we let Swedish have a few niches to itself?).
I suppose we should be grateful that none of the other members replied “Don’t think twice, it’s all right”.

Herrick, Terence and Baudelaire (almost)

About to start work on a short piece on what happened to a couple of altar pieces in St Lars church in Linköping, I catch sight of a quote by Robert Herrick on a copy of “Notes and Queries for Somerset and Dorset”, which is lurking around on my desk waiting for a chance to divert me.

“Attempt the end, and never stand to doubt;

Nothing’s so hard but search will find it out”.

I rather like the quote but know nothing about Robert Herrick, who Wikipaedia tells me lived from 1591 to 1674. He is also responsible for

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying,

And this same flower that smiles today

Tomorrow will be dying”. A somewhat sombre version of “carpe diem”.

Herrick was inspired by the Roman poet Terence, the quote (from Heauton Timorumenos, iv. 2,8”, The self-tormenter) being: “Ni tam difficilest quin quaerendo investigari possiet” (Nothing is so difficult but that it may be found out by seeking”). Not so sure that this is true but it’s a noble sentiment.

This leads me on to reading about Terence, who I don’t know anything about either, but who seems interesting. I discover that Baudelaire has written a poem with the same title (Self-tormenter). With a supreme effort of will, I avoid being further led astray by Baudelaire.

I have to reach my workplace by crossing a broad river in full spate and almost always fail, being swept away wherever the torrent takes me.

It occurs to me that if I wrote down the diversions of a whole day, I would have more or less produced a variant of the travails of Ishiguro’s character Ryder in “The Unconsoled”……

And now back to St Lars’ altarpieces (after checking the password to my blog..).


In Rouen for just one day on my mother’s first trip abroad, we get into conversation with a friendly man, and, for some unfathomable reason, despite her evident reluctance, I accept an invitation to lunch at his home. Not unpleasant but it made a large hole in our short stay.  My preparations for the visit hadn’t been great either and my memories of Rouen were until now vague and unsatisfactory.

This time was much better (apart from the train trip from St Lazare where I had a reserved first-class seat but couldn’t get to it because of the crush of homebound humanity and lack of coach numbering so that I spent the journey standing with my arms extended crucifixion style to enable my fingertips to touch the wall and keep my balance, while admiring the passing flood plain of the Seine).

All better on arrival. I found the city with all its old half-timbered buildings charming even though I realised after a while that there were patterns in the appearance of the old buildings, indicating that much was post-war reconstruction. It was none the less well done and pleasing, the environment around the old charnel house (one of the few left in such extensive condition) fascinating rather than charming.

I’ve wanted to know more about Normandy for some time, stimulated by Flaubert and a countryside and coast reminiscent of the West Country (so reminiscent that a number of Norman locations were used when filming the 1979 film on Tess of the D’Urbervilles, modern Dorset being considered not sufficiently Dorset-like).

Not only the landscape but also its variant of French with a multitude of disguised Scandinavian place names and its history where not more than two hundred years separate Rollo the Viking from the administrative sophistication of the Domesday book and an imprint of Norman French on the law in England of which remnants still exist (“La reine le veult” being a standard parliamentary phrase when the sovereign approves a law).

It would be highly satisfactory to know more about the process through which the Scandinavian blended to become Norman French, or at least to be familiar with the state of research in this field.

Not a bad rabbit to chase…