Every time I tell Son and Daughter that they spend too much time staring at a screen, I get a guilty conscience because I can also see a photo of myself, aged about 3, standing 50cm from a bulky, black-and-white television set, staring it, completely mesmerized.
To be honest, even the first words I learned to read were words in a TV advertisement.
But that’s probably not a surprise, considering that when I was old enough to sit by myself, when my hard-working mother needed some me-time so she could concentrate on her studies, she tied me up in a chair with a scarf (so that I wouldn’t fall down) and put me in front of a TV. Especially when the Thunderbirds were on.
In short, I was raised on TV.
It’s not easy to keep ta bird’s eye view when you’re 15. If anything, it’s hard. Time doesn’t really matter, because, what’s another year – to quote the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest song I remember falling asleep to the night Johnny Logan won the whole thing – because so much can happen in a year. Ten years seems like an eternity and yet, you’re in such a hurry at the same time.
So, when I was fifteen, I found it hard to really see the consequences of my decisions, although, I have to say that had I sat down and thought about it, I probably would’ve understood it. I probably even did sit down and think about things, and thought I understood it, but didn’t.
Or, even if I did, I just didn’t get it. I didn’t feel it.
In my defense, life’s not a straight line and even if you do make good decisions at fifteen, you still have to make new decisions at twenty, and twenty-three, and fourty-two, and some of them may be polar opposites of the ones you made at fifteen.
When Liverpool won the Premier League championship a few weeks ago, the first thing I thought of was a Kevin Keegan interview I had taped up on my wall when I was 14. Dad had cut it out because he knew Keegan was my idol and because he liked the message the headline sent: “I always keep my promises”.
But that’s not all I keep.
Earlier this week, Wife, Son and I sat on warm concrete on the sidelines of a soccer field in Gothenburg and ate lunch as we waited for our favorite player’s, Daughter’s game to begin. Her team was on a West Coast tour, with five games in four days.
I loved it.
Not because I’m one of those crazy soccer (hockey) Dads because I don’t think I am but because going to the sports field or hockey rink is my idea of having fun.
I don’t know why I’m wired that way but it fascinates me.
It must have been something on the table that triggered the flashback. Or, it was a combination of a flashback, and the feeling of having forgot something, I’m sure you know it.
I had just carried a table out of our garage for our garage sale and was thinking whether it was too early to leave, but stayed there, my mind wandering. It must have been that dream stage that made my brain dig up old memories, or maybe it was the fact hat we had been cleaning up our basement and all that old stuff on the table made m go back in time.
Or maybe it was the combination of things.
Anyway, there I stood, minding my own business when I suddenly remembered a sofa.
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.