'We're love refugees too - but not the usual kind'
Published: 22 Feb 2013 12:23 GMT+01:00
Updated: 22 Feb 2013 12:23 GMT+01:00
After his son started a family in a small village in central Sweden, Scotsman Tom Smith ditched his dreams of retirement in France and instead followed his family to Nannberga, where he teaches Swedes the intricacies of making stained glass.
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If you search online for information about Nannberga, you’d be lucky to find much.
The tiny Swedish village, located just 12 kilometres south-west of Arboga in the centre of Sweden, doesn't even get a mention on Wikipedia.
But for Tom Smith, a 61-year-old Scotsman who once had elaborate retirement plans featuring food, wine, and a farmhouse in France, Nannberga became a sudden and unexpected reality in 2006.
"I found out that I had heart problems when I was working as a teacher in the UK and had to retire at 54," the pensioner tells The Local.
"You can’t very well drop dead in front of the children, can you?" he adds with a laugh.
His wife retired soon after, and with their son starting his own life with a Swedish wife and daughters in Nannberga, the retirees made an instant decision to jump ship and join their growing family in Sweden.
"I guess you could say we’re love refugees too, but not the usual kind," he explains.
Now, the Scotsman spends his time teaching Swedes how to make stained-glass windows, something he took to himself in the UK "like a duck to water".
Better still, he has almost cornered the market in Sweden, he says, partly because the art form is virtually non-existent around the country.
Smith paints a fine picture of Nannberga itself, describing it as more of a community than a village, where the inhabitants of the "20 or 30 houses" are talkative and welcoming.
While many of the houses there are holiday homes, the 61-year-old says that a growing number of people are throwing in the white towel on their city lives and making the move to Nannberga full-time.
"And we are only 15 minutes' walk from the fourth biggest lake in the country, Hjälmaren," the artist adds.
"Perfect if you feel like a walk."
Better still for Smith, thanks to the layout of the village, he thinks he got a taste of France in the end anyway.
"There's a big, wide avenue leading through the village with trees on either side that gives a bit of a French feel to it," he says.
"It feels like it could be France after all."
And big city adventure is only a stone's throw away for the residents of Nannberga, with the bustling medieval town of Arboga and its 10,000-strong population just a short drive away.
"Heading there is like stepping back in time, into a village; most people know everyone else. It’s a friendly kind of place. You can’t go into a shop without people knowing who you are."
But for now, Smith is keen to get on with his stained-glass lessons.
"Some of my students have been coming for two years; I think they enjoy the social side of it just as much," he says.
"Halfway through the course we have a British cup of tea and a biscuit that my wife bakes."
And with the courses held in English, Smith claims the Swedes can learn even more than just the art of creating stained-glass panels.
"I say they have to pay for the courses but the English is free," he chuckles.
As for life in a small Swedish village, the 61-year-old couldn't be happier with Nannberga.
"It’s great here, the people are lovely. They try to help me learn Swedish, but always switch to English if I don’t understand," he tells The Local.
"I've been told so much about Swedes keeping to themselves, but we've found the opposite - people have been very friendly towards us. People go out of their way to come and talk to us."
So does that mean France is off the cards, then?
"Well, I have only good things to say about Nannberga. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else."