I’ve just said goodbye to my sister who’s been visiting me in London. She lives and works in Luleå, Northern Sweden.
A Displaced Family
My only sibling and I have been displaced sisters ever since our father decided in the mid-seventies that he would take up a job offer from a Swedish telecoms company called LM Eriksson. They now make mobile handsets, but in those days they were manufacturing telephone exchange equipment and my dad was an electrical engineer, working for the local telephone company in Tampere, Finland. So off we all went to (us) the huge metropole that was Stockholm, where my parents’ marriage came to an abrupt end.
When they each went their own ways, my father returned to Finland and my sister and I, by this stage teenagers who spoke Swedish not only as natives but with a distinct Stockholm accent, stayed in Sweden with our mother.
This, apparently was our choice.
In their abject wisdom, my parents decided that the best way for us to determine our future was to sit us both on the sofa in our living room and ask us, in turn, to choose which parent we preferred. Parenting in the 1970s was something else, eh? Our dad took the rejection badly and we didn’t see him until a year and a bit later when our mum and dad decided to give their relationship another go and we were both whisked back from our beloved Stockholm to a small town in Finland called Turku. We cried on the ferry as we watched the beautiful outline of the Swedish capital disappear into the distance.
You may have guessed that as experiments go, trying to mend a marriage that broke down due to violence, this one was deemed to fail. Our parents finally divorced when we were living in Helsinki and I was 14 and my sister 16.
Leaving Finland Again
As soon as she was able, my sister moved back to Sweden. She never came back to Finland apart from occasional bouts of working in the Finnish Lapland and the Åland Islands.
And me? I hated living in Finland at first and never again felt truly at home in my native country. I even found speaking Finnish difficult for the first year so, reverting back to my Stockholmska by mistake on occasion. (Very embarrassing in the middle of a conversation). It wasn’t such a surprise that when I met and fell head over heels in love with an English naval officer at the British Embassy in 1980, I decided to move to the UK four years later. It was either that or Stockholm where, by that stage, both my mum and sister lived.
My Life in My Books
And yes, I have used much of my life story in my books.
Coffee and Vodka has some of my experiences when our family first moved to Stockholm, and The English Heart tells the story of how I met my Englishman.
Us, the displaced sisters, haven’t lived in the same city – or even country – since we were teenagers, but we have always kept in touch. Nowadays, it’s so much easier with internet calls and social media, but in the early days we’d skimp and save to afford the travel to see each other. When the children came along, we made sure they got to know each other as cousins, and we spent many summer holidays together.
Now the children have grown up, I miss having my sister around more and more. Over the past couple of years, we’ve grown even closer together (if that’s possible). Of course, now we have more time. Instead of having to sneak away together to have a quiet drink (leaving the children with either grandparents or spouses), we can spend the whole of our time together talking, laughing and enjoying food, drink, music and art.
It’s amazing how much we have in common, even if we have lived in different countries most of our lives, and even if we are famously polar opposites of each other. She loves the night, I am a morning person. I like new things, but find comfort in the familiar; my sister adores new places and experiences. We had a typical conversation this week when we were both suffering from a cold but still decided to go shopping on Oxford Street.
Me: ‘Let’s go to Yo! Sushi in Selfridges – I love their miso soup and it’ll make us feel better!’
Sister: ‘Ugh, I can’t stand that stuff!’
(She does love sushi and Yo!)
These days, however, our differences seem to just bring us together; and we find it funny when we discover another new thing that we either love or hate. (Branston Pickle; she loves it and I absolutely HATE the stuff).
I just wish that sometime in our future lives, where we live wouldn’t separate us. It’d be wonderful to be based, if not the same city, at least in the same country!
But such is the displaced life, it’s hard to be apart from family members.