Childhood stones

I hadn’t actually thought about it. Whereas I know my childhood can never become a British one, I have always felt I like Britain so much and find it so beautiful, that I didn’t stop to think about how you see a place differently if you grew up there.

There are two spots in Sweden where I always feel a strange tug of the heart and decide that it doesn’t get better than this. And neither of them were part of my childhood, but they look and feel just like places that were. One is the grass next to my Swedish letterbox, the way it looks when I go out to collect the newspaper early-ish on a sunny summer morning. The other is the thought of walking barefoot outside the ice cream kiosk near the beach.

The latter is almost as good as remembering the concrete floor in the grocer’s across the road from Favourite Aunt’s summer cottage in the 1950s and early 1960s. Yes, I know that’s weird, but I do wish I could go back there. Bare feet on a cool floor, and that special smell.

But then I read a magazine article about how you need the place you knew as a child, and how nowhere can replace it. They quoted the famous poem by Verner von Heidenstam about longing for the stones where he played as a child (only a bit more poetically) and I finally understood it.

Sweden also has a popular Greek author in its midst. Theodor Kallifatides moved to Sweden in his twenties, and started writing novels not long after. We sort of take him for granted. He was quoted as saying that for 30 years whenever he heard the word tree, he thought ‘olive tree.’ And then he found himself thinking ‘birch.’ (I think it was birch. Doesn’t matter, though. Some kind of foreign tree, if you are Greek.)

Much as I find Britain very wonderful, I am not sure I have reached my ‘birch’ moment yet. And walking barefoot isn’t terribly safe in most areas.

(I have to admit to being a bit fond of the smell in the ladies toilets of our favourite bar in St Andrews. It must be what they clean it with. The same product – or just the same smell – was something I encountered in the hotel in Henley where we stayed when I was ten. Very exotic, it was. And as I was a child then, I suppose it’s the closest I will get. Smells in toilets.

Let’s not get me started on the privy…)

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