I enjoyed Sweden. I enjoyed Swedish, and Dick’s patient lessons in what I came to see as a jigsaw language. I mean that as a compliment. For example I learnt that sick was sjuk and house was hus, so hospital was sjukhus. A mental hospital thus became mentalsjukhus. Hmm, so Huvud was head…where could I go from there?
I tried it one miserable night after trying to get drunk on two beers. A blond giant bumped into me. "Dumhuvud," I snarled.
He looked down at me, puzzled and benign.
"Did you mean to say that?" he said
I looked up at his chest.
"No," I said. "I don’t think I did."
The key to all this stems from the Scandinavian Diaspora of the C9th and C10th when much of North East England was ruled by Viking warlords with exotic names like Ivar the boneless and Harold Bluetooth – (who devastated the North with his Wi Fi axe.)
The Swedish words for Beer is Öl. The umlaut over the O gives it an ‘erl’ sound, and then and now, a thousand years later, a northern pub will sell you a pint of ale, the word pronounced much as it is in Sweden today. Skalle and skull are pronounced much the same, and I still prefer blek to bleak.
The two weeks went quickly and I ate well, but drank little. On the one occasion I bought two bottles of beer from an off-license I felt like a pervert. I carried them gingerly in their brown paper bag. On the bus I nestled them close to me but still the damn things clinked. A Swedish face can be both bland and disapproving, a very neat trick.