The big event of the morning was to be a meeting with a potential employer for a tidy spot of freelance work. As a symbol of blossoming optimism I had shunned my winter clothing in favour of dapper springwear: shirt and jacket, and not a goosedown coat or a rubber-soled boot in sight.
As I left the flat to try and find the car, parked some streets away, it started snowing. I’m a big fan of snow. The more the merrier. A winter without snow is like a sandwich without mayonnaise. Send it back.
But you don’t want mayonnaise with your coffee, and I don’t want snow in Stockholm in mid-April when I’m smartly dressed and can’t find the car.
“Vilket jävla land!” I cursed. What a country.
So there I was, damply on my way to this meeting, when the phone rang.
“Hej! This is Anna, your physio – where are you?”
“On my way to a meeting – why?” I replied.
“Because your appointment with me began 15 minutes ago,” she said brightly.
“No, no,” I said firmly. “That’s tomorrow. 8am on Wednesday. Onsdag.”
I don’t know why I added ‘onsdag‘ at the end there. Maybe to show that the misunderstanding couldn’t possibly have been my fault since I knew the Swedish for Wednesday.
“No, it was today,” said Anna, the highly recommended back expert, for whose precious time I had been waiting over a month.
“I don’t work on Wednesdays.”
Thanks to a combination of Easter holidays, parental leave and popularity, it would be three or four weeks until the next free appointment.
“Vilket JÄVLA land!”
But there was worse to come. Oh yes.
I had seen the meeting as the final fluttering of the eyelids before I and the Corporate Giant fell into each other’s arms.
Instead, it reminded me more of two dogs sniffing each other’s bottoms in a park. Me, the eagerly yapping dachshund; C.G., the aloof German Shepherd drifting off to something more interesting.
They had to talk to colleagues. They had to see what other departments were doing. It was best not to rush into these things. And we probably wouldn’t be able to agree on anything before – wait for it – the summer holiday.
So afterwards, back out in the snow, far from having a signed contract, I was left with nothing but an unpleasant smell in my nostrils.
“Vilket JÄVLA LAND!”
Driving home, my head was buzzing as I obsessed over the details of the meeting. Had I misinterpreted what they said? Should I get back to them with more suggestions? Were they brushing me off or could it really take that long?
I went to turn right, off a side road onto a momentarily traffic-free main road with two lanes in both directions. Just as I pulled away, there was a clunk from the engine and seizure in my brain.
Call it panic, call it senility – but instead of turning into the right lane of traffic, I shot across the road onto the left side. You know, how we do it in England.
So there I was, driving the wrong way down a beast of a main road. Ahead of me, two lanes of traffic were looming perilously and I just had time to heave the car up onto the grass verge before the trucks and cars and buses zoomed by, hooting and flashing at me as if I was, well, on the wrong side of the road.
“VILKET JÄVLA LAND!”
Hazard lights on, I got out of the car. Crouched down in front of it, partly so I would look as though I was examining the engine, partly so I could rock back and forth in misery. I didn’t have the faintest idea how the hell I was going to get out of this particular pickle.
Then the traffic stopped. I turned slowly to my left. A white car. No – a white and blue car.
P. O. L. I. S.
“Ah, hello,” I said in my plummiest English accent. “Do you speak English?”
The policeman nodded, but he didn’t look happy about it.
“Jolly good. Well, I’ve got a bit of a problem. You see, there was this clunk in the engine and, you know, what with one thing and another – ”
“You thought you were driving in England,” said the copper, unsmiling.
“I suppose that’s one way of putting it,” I spouted. “Now, how am I going to get out of this? Any chance you could stop the traffic while I swing the old motor around?”
“Sure. Be quick.”
My Swedish class that evening gave me the perfect opportunity to ventilate to sympathetic ears.
“Hur är läget?”, asked Arri, who comes from Somalia. How’s it going?
In general I’m of the view that you don’t complain about minor daily inconveniences to a bloke who’s had half his family slaughtered in a bloody civil war. Not only is it impolite, but you’re also unlikely to get much sympathy. But this time I was willing to make an exception.
So off I went, one unbroken torrent of broken Swedish – the weather, the physio, the meeting, the wrong side of the road – ending with my new mantra.
“Vilket jävla land!”
“Ah, skit händer,” said Arri. Shit happens. (A literal translation which apparently doesn’t really work in Swedish. Still, I knew what he meant.)
“It’s not Sweden’s fault,” he said.
And he was right. The day’s travails were either my own fault or could have happened anywhere. Does a mountaineer blame the mountain he cannot conquer? Does a lion tamer blame the lion who won’t stop roaring?
The philosophy is a good one, I think. But I’ll still blame Sweden. That, after all, is one of the luxuries of living abroad.