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Stockholm Syndrome: Messages from the past

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10:45 CET+01:00
It's easy living abroad these days. With a scorching internet connection, a mobile phone and a dextrous thumb, staying in touch with friends and family around the world is as easy as popping next door for a cup of tea with your friendly neighbour.

Or, at least, it should be.

With all the forms of communication available, none quite fits my need for staying in touch. Messenger is too intrusive. I've been put off emails by receiving so many group missives from travelling friends over the years. And as for SMS, well, it's hard to get a year's activities into 160 characters.

But it means that I am losing touch with some very near and dear people to whom I could bash off an email before I write the next paragraph of this article.

But an extraordinary discovery this week as I was renovating the Syndrome residence has reminded me that there is one method of communication suitable for my needs: a good, old-fashioned letter.

We live in an apartment in an old part of Stockholm and it was about time that the place had a thorough make-over.

The experience has broadened my knowledge of handy words such as screwdriver, filler (the far more satisfactory spackel) and putty (kitt, pronounced 'shit').

It has alerted me to the fact that floor staff in large DIY outlets are just as uninterested and ignorant about repairs and plumbing and decorating in Sweden as they are in the UK.

(That in its turn suggested that perhaps there is a universal law stating that the useful knowledge of the assistants in DIY stores is inversely proportional to the floor area of the store.)

It also acquainted me with Örjan the electrician. Örjan is rewiring the whole place and has spent much of this week yanking cables off the wall in silence. Our ceiling is high, so I have been on standby to scoot up a ladder to give him a hand.

He seems to know what he's doing and he works fast and I would be happy to recommend him to anyone who needs an electrician - but for one thing. Örjan just doesn't stop farting.

Up a ladder, bending over screwing a plug socket into the wall, drinking his morning coffee, fart, fart, fart. It's most disturbing, and with all the gas and sparks around him, I'm surprised he didn't kill himself a long time ago.

Anyway, I'm not one to question a tradesman's entrance, so I've been keeping out of the way by renovating whichever room Örjan is not poisoning.

On Monday I happened to be pulling out the old wooden interior of a walk-in cupboard. Blocks of wood had been fixed higgledy-piggledy into the cupboard with old iron nails that date the construction at around a hundred years ago.

As I was yanking out the lower planks, I spotted some paper tightly folded up and tucked away in the corner behind the bottom one.

In fact, it was two dusty yellowed envelopes. The first contained a few thin pages of shorthand, two letters dated 1948 and 1949. Exciting, to a point, but my Swedish shorthand is a little patchy.

The second, however, was the real find. Inside were two typed letters, dated 1933. They are short and simple but they tell a story, of apparently unrequited love around midsummer of that year.

They were written by a man, Gunnar, who lived in Sandviken, near Gävle, to a woman, Stina, who must have lived in our flat.

Gunnar and Stina - who both had partners of their own - met on 18th June 1933 for just a few hours before Gunnar returned home. A passionate and slightly jealous letter followed that encounter, which had already thrown Gunnar into confusion. His new-found love was mixed with feelings of annoyance that Stina had not shown up at the appointed time.

But she had not gone completely cold on her new suitor. Three days later the pair met in secret in Rättvik, on the shores of Lake Siljan, in Dalarna. It seems that Stina's family had property - perhaps a summer house - in the area.

Then they returned to their lives - Stina may have been a nurse, while Gunnar's occupation is unclear - and the question of what to tell 'Axel' and 'Anna'. After that, who knows what happened.

Maybe they never met again. Maybe Stina left Axel and Gunnar left Anna and they ended up with each other.

Either way, this week, which probably stayed with them for many years afterwards, comes alive in these letters, 73 years after they were written.

Will we be able to say that about our emails and text messages in 2079, I wonder? Perhaps they will remain, on ancient, primitive hard drives gathering dust in attics. But whether we will be able to open them up and read them is a different matter - and it certainly won't match the thrill of opening a yellowed envelope.

READ LETTER 1: 19TH JUNE 1933 »

READ LETTER 2: 26TH JUNE 1933 »

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