Concrete memories

Every time I take the commuter train in Helsinki, I make sure to get a window seat on the left side of the train, so that about seven minutes into the journey, I can press my nose against the window and see if my old neighborhood still looks the same.

From the train, I can see the ten-year-old me’s entire world, minus the skating rink and my school. I can see our balcony, the playground, my daycare, my two buddies’ houses, the small candy store, the pub that the local soccer team’s players were rumored to hang out in, the houses that replaced our small forest, and just after the train passes them, another friend’s home.

The last time I checked, it did look about the same. Of course, upon a closer examination, it’s not the same.

I know that because I have lived in the same apartment first as a pre-teen and then in my late 20s. I know things changed while I was gone.

Thanks to my return there, that neighborhood is where I’ve lived for the longest time in total and until a few months ago, it was where I had lived the longest without interruption. Now, at eight years and three months, that honor goes to Sollentuna, Sweden.

Last shot.

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My new best friend

Sitting in a home office writing stuff can get lonely. No, let me rephrase that. Many people think that sitting in a home office writing stuff can get lonely and by many people I mean the rest of my family. They’ve been dropping a lot of hints about friendship lately, how nice it is to make friends, and how I should get out more.

Well, see, I don’t make friends. I buy them. And I only go for the best.

And who’s man’s best friend? Who? Whoooooo’s man’s best frieeeeend, come here, boy!

That’s right. A dog.

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You can go home again

Children have their first idols close. The first ones are their parents and siblings, and then when the venture outside of the house, the cool (bigger) kids at school and sports teams, and naturally, for hockey playing kids in Europe, the players on their hometown teams and then the national team and NHL stars, although things have changed somewhat in the 21st century, with the access to NHL games having gotten better. Even then, often children idols are NHLers that come from the same country as them.

No wonder then that Anders Engqvist, a big, lanky kid who lived five minutes from the rink in a northern Stockholm suburb found an idol who also was a big, lanky kid from a northern Stockholm suburb. Also a right-hand shot, who had also started his career elsewhere but ended up in Djurgarden, one of the oldest hockey clubs in Sweden.

That they’re both right-hand shots and centers also made the comparison between them almost too easy to draw when Engqvist was coming up the ranks. That’s how a local scout described him to Djurgarden and maybe that’s why he had turned down a contract offer from AIK, the other big club in Stockholm.

Of course, by the time Engqvist made his men’s league debut with Spanga in Division 2 in 2003, Sundin had been the Toronto Maple Leafs captain for six years, and had won three World Championship titles with Team Sweden.

Four years after having signed with Djurgarden – or seven years ago – Engqvist led the team in playoff scoring with 13 points in 16 games as they went all the way to the final. They lost to HV71 in six games but five of the six games were decided in overtime. After the season Engqvist followed in Sundin’s footsteps, and left for the NHL when he signed with the Montreal Canadiens.

Since then, he’s played for five different teams in the NHL, the AHL, and the KHL, but now he’s back.

Home.

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Gospel of Boston

His father and grandfather built houses, but rather than homes, Jonas Reinholdsson is turning his O’Learys into a sports bar empire.

“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.” That’s the opening line of the 1980s TV show Cheers, about a Boston bar, its staff and all the regulars. Cheers was the place where “everybody knows your name.”

And it was that kind of place Jonas Reinholdsson wanted to open when, as a 26- year-old looking for a fresh start, he bought a debt-laden Gothenburg restaurant for one Swedish krona.

Today, Reinholdsson’s single restaurant has grown into more than 130 franchises in 12 countries. Most are in the Nordics but as far as Reinholdsson is concerned, the journey has only just begun – he foresees 150 restaurants in the Nordics and 250 restaurants in total by 2019.

“I want to grow into one of the world’s biggest restaurant chains. We opened 21 new bars in 2016, we’ll do 25 this year, 35 more in 2018 and 50 in 2019,” he says. “If things go to plan, we’ll be opening one restaurant per week.”

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The Ambassador

Once upon a time, she had been a wunderkind. An overachiever, a go-getter. She had graduated from high school a year ahead of time, and then joined the foreign office as a 20-year-old, and in another time, she would have been on track to become the youngest foreign minister in her country’s history, and probably, the youngest prime minister, and possibly, the first female prime minister.

But not in the Seventies, maybe not even in the Eighties, although after Thatcher in the UK, there were some rumblings – in the circles that were in the know – about her becoming a cabinet member, but by then, she was too far into her diplomatic life overseas, and loved it too much to put in the effort to make it happen. She had her supporters, of course, but not enough of them at the very top.

Also, she had always been one of those people who saw the whole world, not just one country, as her domain, and when she at the age of 24 got her first foreign posting – an undersecretary in Asia – she saw it as a stepping stone to … something.

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Do the unna

There I was, leaning against a construction site wall, looking out to Sergels Torg, the heart of Stockholm’s downtown. That’s the location of the main subway station and the commuter station hub, with a tunnel connecting it to the main train station. It’s also the place for markets and on most days, demonstrations of all sizes and for all causes.

Right behind me on the wall, there was a gigantic H&M logo and in front of me, a stage where a band was playing Swedish pop. All around me, there were blue-and-yellow flags, and faces and wigs, also blue-and-yellow, as Stockholmians got ready to celebrate the nation’s beloved hockey team, Tre Kronor, the national team that had won the world championship the night before.

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Baby’s got blue eyes

For longer than I care to admit, I’ve known that “baby’s got blue eyes”. How blue? Well, like a “deep blue sea on a blue blue day”. I know this because somebody at Dad’s work had taped Elton John’s song ”Blue Eyes” on the same cassette tape as Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” and while I was a much bigger fan of Steve’s gang than Mr. John, sometimes I wasn’t quick enough to press “stop” and listened to Sir Elton’s ballad, too.

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Robin Hood lives

By the time I was driving down the M1 between Leeds and Nottingham, I was pretty comfortable driving on the left side of the road, and passing others on their right. That’s exactly what I was doing – driving on the farthest lane to the right – as we approached Nottingham, and I saw a brown sign by the side of the road.

It said, “Sherwood Forest”.

I looked at Wife (my co-pilot, to my left).

“What do you think? Shall we?” I asked her.

“I don’t know. You?”

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Oxford on my mind

When Wife and I decided to take the family circus on the road again, to the UK, we knew there were two cities we absolutely had to visit: Cardiff and Oxford. (London was a given so it was never even discussed, and we began our trip with a week-long stay there).

Cardiff, because Wife spent a semester there during her university days, and Oxford because that’s where I spent a few weeks in my teens, on a memorable language course. It was the first time I had traveled abroad on my own, and I’ve carried fond memories of the trip with me ever since.

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