I was fourteen, and it was my first time overseas. The trip was a big deal and my parents would never have allowed me to stay home. After all, how many kids got to go on a four-week all-expenses paid trip to Oxford courtesy of the Rotary Club? That’s supposed to be a rhetorical question but in case you’re curious, the answer is thirty. That’s how many kids were in my group that year, anyway. Kids from all over Canada, all between fourteen and sixteen, all of us there for a “cultural exchange”.
Oxford was a nice, old town. One of those towns that you’re happy to have been to but one that I would never have chosen as my destination myself. Under the Rotary rules, the extent of my free will was limited to ranking Germany, France, Spain, and the UK in my order of preference. Dad strongly recommended that I put France first because “a month in France will help with your French grades.”
Well, no such luck. Some Rotary governor somewhere put my name in the Oxford group, and that was fine with me.
“C’est la vie, Dad,” I said.
There was a lot of snow that year. So much so that it came halfway up my bedroom window, blocking the little sunlight that we had in Finland during the Christmas holidays.
I didn’t mind it, though.
To be honest, I barely noticed it because it was also the the year I got ZX Spectrum.
I spent the Christmas Eve night setting it up, connecting the tiny plastic box with the rubber keys to the 14-inch TV set on my desk, and to the tape recorder – the mass storage unit – next to it.
I only had one tape, and it was a collection of programs that came with the computer. To call it a computer makes me smile, because I think there’s more computing power in our fridge than in that Spectrum. The programs on the introduction tape were chosen to have something for everybody.
Barry “Big Deal” Davis sat down at his table and gestured to the young lady in the caravan that was also the food truck that he wanted a cup of coffee. Davis had hardly had time to get properly settled in the white plastic chair when the waitress came out with a paper mug and set it on the table in front of Davis.
He liked to tell people that he had once been kind of a big deal – hence the official nickname – but when asked to elaborate on the topic, he clammed up, and changed the subject. That, naturally, as was his intention, only made people to want to know more. It also made them believe the story.
And that’s why that nickname stuck, instead of one of the many other names people called him behind his back.
And of course: Fat Elvis.
Diagonally across the street from Helsinki’s first indoor hockey rink parking lot, there’s a low, one-storey yellow stone building with a red roof. In the winter, it’s visible from the street, but in the summer, it sits in the shadow of the birches, elms, and maples that line street in front of it.
Behind the small building, there are several bigger and slightly Gothing-looking buildings – designed by Magnus Schjerfbeck, brother of painter Helene Schjerfbeck – and originally built in 1910 as Helsinki’s first epidemic hospital but by the 1970s, they were home to a children’s hospital. Aurora, it was called.
What the one-storey building was built for meant for, I don’t know, but I do know that when I spent about a month in the children’s hospital, a measles epidemic broke out and to spare me, the doctors put me in quarantine.
I was five years old.
While it may seem that we, up here in the northern-most part of the northern hemisphere, spend most of our days between November and March in a haze in which every day is like the one before and that we only come alive when we finally see the sun again, with a little effort, you can see tiny miracles almost every day.
Today was one of those days.
For a couple of years now, regardless of sport, Daughter and I have played Ed Sheeran’s “Divide” album in the car on our way to one of her games. When we play it during the trip isn’t set in stone, but we do always play it, and we do always play it from the top, starting with “Eraser”.
And we talk about this and that, but most often we simply sing along all the way to the arena, and get our minds in the right frame of mind. Hers into playing her best game, and mine, getting ready to show those hotdogs who’s boss.
Does it work?
Of course it does. Those hotdogs don’t stand a chance.
As for Daughter, it’s a nice little routine that makes her feel like a player, and gets her in a game frame of mind.
Also, it’s nice.
I could hear them calling for me but I wasn’t ready to come out yet. I was deep underground, in a cave where I was sure an ancient Inca treasure was buried. Or, maybe it was a treasure chest left there by Blackbeard, an infamous pirate, like my friend Ari said.
Fine, I wasn’t technically underground, because the cave Ari and I had built was made out of snow and the pile of snow was most definitely above ground.
I guess it’s needless to say that there was no real Inca treasure, either, but I’ll just say it anyway so that there aren’t any misunderstandings: there was no Inca treasure. There was no pirates’ treasure, either. It was all in our our nine-year-old heads.
I’m writing this in a dark room, in candlelight. That’s the old joke, isn’t it? “Well, if the power went out, we’d have to watch TV in candlelight.”
Not that funny anymore.
Yes, I was giddy. I knew the radio would be on as soon as I started the car, and I couldn’t wait for Daughter to hear what was on.
Granted, it wasn’t radio per se, it was a podcast, but I knew my phone would connect to the car stereo first so I started the engine and pulled out of the parking spot, my right eye on Daughter so I could see the look on her face when she heard my voice.
It went from delight to disappointment to concealed disappointment to fake cheeriness to neutral to serious as she listened to me talk about my book.
“Well…?” I said.
“You know,” Daughter began, “you know how your voice always sounds a little off on a recording?”
“You mean mine or everyone’s?”
“Everyone’s. Mine, too”
“Yeah. Do you know why?”
“Well, good. Me, too.”
Most of us associate selfies with the advent of mobile phones. The truth is, they go a long way back.
Last May, Team Sweden (and the New York Rangers) superstar goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was sitting in a press box at the Globe Arena in Stockholm, watching his teammates play an exhibition game against Russia, when suddenly a group of small boys caught a glimpse of their idol.
The group got closer, slowly but surely, and then one of the boys mustered up enough courage to walk up to the box and talk to Lundqvist.
“Hi, Henke, what’s up? Why aren’t you playing? Where’s your brother?”
Lundqvist had almost gotten to the end of his reply when the boy went on.
“Can I take a picture?”
“Sure,” Lundqvist said.
The boy turned his back on his idol,
raised his arm and aimed his camera so that they were both in the frame, and snapped a photo. In front of him, a line was beginning to form, and they all did the same – greeted Lundqvist, turned their back on him and snapped a photo. The last boy in the line also wanted his little brother to get a photo and instead of taking a photo of his brother, he lifted him up so that he could take the photo of him and Lundqvist himself.
A selfie, that is.