Friday, 28 August 2009


This time of year, as long back as I can remember, we've had a family crayfish party. It is almost as sacred as Christmas in Sweden. I have pictures of my father, younger than I am now, holding two huge crayfish, and baby Julia beside him. Photos of our crayfish parties have followed the expansion of our family; high chairs disappeared and reappeared when the grandchildren came; more tables had to be added; the amount of crayfish grew every year as did the number of beer bottles after our sons reached the drinking age. Not everybody could come every year, and we missed two years altogether when we lived in California. But this is the first time there will be a crayfish party, and I am not there. It feels as if I am absent from my own birthday party. (Honestly, I did consider flying over for just one day). I hear reports from the old country about preparations - this year Anton is hosting it. It seems that everybody is coming...

On the other hand, I have always wanted to give my children solid family traditions to take further whenI am no longer around.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A collector's joys

I have never been a real collector. I collected poststamps when I was a child. I collected something as trivial as animals and plants, but I didn't like it when adults gave me pretty sets of stamps from a bookstore. The whole point of collecting was to seek, find, get hold of. Not own. (Tove Jansson has a wonderful passage on this). What I really regret is that I didn't listen to my mother who, when I was seven or so, suggested that I should collect musicians' autographs. Given the musical circles I grew up in, it would have been a formidable collection. Probably worth a fortune by now.

I collect Alice in Wonderland in different translations and with different illustrations (donations welcome). But I don't collect sytematically, and I would never pay fancy prices for a rare edition.

Maybe I am just not a natural collector.

For a while, I collected coffee grinders. I had perhaps two dozen. But there aren't that many varieties of coffee grinders, so I was soon satisfied - but also dissatisfied by owning, not collecting. Besides, you cannot do much with coffee grinders except put them on a shelf to gather dust. So when I gave away all coffee grinders I decided to collect something one could actually use.

I collect a very special Swedish china from the famous Rörstrand china factory. The set called Gröna Anna, Green Anna, was first produced in 1898, and some of the old pieces are still in circulation. You can tell by the stamps. The set was also produced between 1966 and 2002, but in a slightly different design.

I started by buying a set of plates in a thrift shop, but all the rest I get from eBay. For quite a long time I studied the market, to see what was available and what the reasonable prices were. Sometimes you get incredible bargains in eBay. And it's amazing how much you learn just by discovering the names and uses of various china pieces. Do you know what a cabaret is? Don't look it up on the web, it's not there. But a good old dictionary will tell you.

By now I have a full set of everyday pieces: plates, soup plates, side plates, tea cups, coffee cups, mugs, egg cups, a milk jug, a cream jug, a sugar bowl, dishes, bowls. But I also have quite a few of the older things, and here the collector's instinct comes in. For some reason, certain pieces are very rare. Like the said cabaret - I've only seen it once in two years, and there is a limit to how much I am prepared to pay. But how exciting! Another piece that I've only seen twice is an extremely sweet hexagonal jug. Now, after two years, I finally got one. I paid slightly more than I had intended, because I knew they were so rare. The problem is, Swedish eBay normally doesn't ship overseas, so I use Julia's address, much to her irritation. This time the seller called to say she'd discovered some cracks in the jug and would ship it free if I still wanted it. Then she called again to say that she'd discovered more defects and would give it away if I just paid the postage. So now I have this very old, very rare, very cracked and pretty jug for almost nothing. That's the true collectors delight. My next coveted object is a saladier.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Alone and lonely

Some years ago a friend explained to me the difference between loneliness and solitude. It occurred to me then that the two other languages I use for mental activity, Russian and Swedish, do not make the distinction. Talk about how language affects mentality.

I have never enjoyed being alone, but I have eventually learned to appreciate solitude. Staffan has gone to the old country, and I am going to make the most of it. Small things I just never get around to, not because he is against them, but simply because there are so many other things.

But first of all I must mow the lawn. This was Staffan's farewell message to me. And here is the first benefit of solitude: I can mow the lawn exactly as I wish. So I do it in neat boustophedon. (If you don't know what boustrophedon is, look it up, so that you at least will have learned something totally useless from my blog. I learned it at school, and it has obviously stuck, but it isn't a word that gives you scores at a cocktail party).

Then I tidy up the greenhouse. I probably won't have time for the greenhouse until spring, but this is the luxury of solitude: do something completely unnecessary. Then I realise that I have missed lunch by three hours. I am not sure whether it is a benefit or a disadvantage of solitude.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Kitchen concerns

When we bought the house in the Old Country - goodness, twenty-seven years ago! - there was one thing we were definitely dissatisfied with and determined to improve: kitchen. It was shabby, which you can improve by painting the fronts, but it was also small, which we intended to improve by building on. Well, in order not to sound as if I were complaining, we had other priorities. But at one point, six years ago, I just could not stand it any more. The improvement included pulling down walls, closets and a whole staircase well. While this was being done, I found a kitchen designer who did not laugh at the sketch of my bizarre kitchen, with all those angles and a pillar to hold up the roof. She did a marvelous job, using every single little nook, filling my kitchen with details I didn't know I wanted and persuading me to get an induction hob that Staffan soon fell in love with.

Incidentally, Staffan went away to southern France for the whole duration of reconstruction.

I am not looking back to this lost kitchen. I did enjoy it for five years. But I am not waiting another twenty years. Not even ten or five years. I will be one of those crazy people who get a new kitchen twice within six years.

I've had a session with a kitchen designer who was impressed by my profound knowledge of modern kitchens. I won his deep respect when he realised that I knew how to take care of solid wood worktops. I won his infinite admiration when I chose the appliances.

When we were finished and he printed out the draft, I realised that I was recreating the kitchen from the old country. I am not sure it's wise, but so it will be.

Today, a surveyor came to check whether my measurements were correct. The Swedish designer never doubted it. But I glad they did. Shame to have missed a few inches to discover that a cabinet doesn't fit in. They also checked the electricity and plumbing. There were many new words I didn't even try to understand. The man was incredibly patient.

So, with some luck, I will have a new kitchen by Christmas. I am sure Staffan will enjoy a lengthy holiday in France.

Old dream to be restored

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Digging for treasure

I guess eerybody knows this parable about the father who leaves his son a garden saying that somewhere in the garden there is a hidden treasure. The son digs up the garden, finds no treasure, but tends the garden, gets wealthy on the products and finally realises what his father had in mind.

I think a lot about this story as I exterminate a useless, quite unaesthetic shrubbery to give room for raspberry plants.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

What did you learn in school today?

I have realised that I have missed a very important date. On the 10th of August it was exactly a year since I came to Cambridge. Time for some reflections. How has it been? What have I learned?

Now I think I can admit - to myself and to everybody: it hasn't been easy. The understatement of the year. The first months were agony. I knew there was no way back, and it was all my own fault, and some days I was so desperate that... that what? Just desperate. And while Staffan was happily exploring the pubs and the supermarkets, I was learning a new language, the new language of this new place, the ways and habits, the dos and donts, walking on the edge all the time. Many thanks to all the wonderful people who supported me, perhaps even unknowingly. Many thanks to Staffan, without whom... what? Many thanks to people back in the old country who, I think, believed in me. I couldn't let them down, could I?

Things got better soon. I started feeling more confident at work, learned the jargon and the abbreviations, made more friends, found my way to the dining hall. I think that moving into this house was a turning point. Maybe it just coincided with everything else that started getting better.

Looking back, I wonder why I was so unhappy. Or maybe I wasn't unhappy, just anxious and apprehensive. Maybe it was normal. Some people kept telling me it was normal. It doesn't feel better because you know it is normal.

Today I can without reservation say that I am absolutely happy. Is it normal?

"Rena känslosås" - sorry, I cannot find an adequate translation into English.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Nostalgic trip

In 1981, the International Research Society for Children's Literature (IRSCL) had its biennial conference in Moscow. I was employed as an interpreter, and I was the only one among the interpreters that was interested in children's literature. The others saw no difference between literature, finance or chemistry. At that conference, I met all the big stars in world child lit research, but they were all - like stars - distant and inaccessible. Yet two years later, in 1983, I participated in the next conference, in Bordeaux, as a full-fledged member. Another ten years, and I was the President.

I have just returned from the IRSCL conference in Frankfurt. For various reasons, I hadn't been to these conferences for ten years, and it was 40 years since the organisation was founded, so everybody was there. People from the many, many periods of my professional life. People I met in Moscow when I was jack-of-all-trades. People I met in Bordeaux when I was a little intimidated student who gave her worthless paper at the very last session of the very last day. People with whom I served on the Board and shared many a cherished memory. People whom I'd encouraged to join the organisation and attend the conferences. People I have visited as a guest lecturer, and people who came to visit me. People whom I had met regularly for the past twenty-five years. People I hadn't met for twenty-five years.

They have all become slightly older. I guess I have also become slightly older.

The conference organisers had, among many other instructions, told us not to kiss or hug because of swine flu. Nobody cared. It was one big hug all over. Introducing people to each other. Being introduced. My usual fear that people don't remember me. At one point I saw the Scholar, the Keynote Speaker, in the crowd. There were so many people and so many parallel sessions that you could easily miss people you really wanted to meet. I was sure the Scholar didn't remember me, so I decided to approach her when the current speech was over, saying: "You may not remember me but we met at..." As soon as the speech was over, she threw herself in my arms: "I am SO GLAD to see you".