Anne van Kesteren


Linköping was a little whiter and colder this time. I felt whiter and colder too. As I downed my second draft Samuel Adams I told A it was almost time for one last drink. Not unusual, we had planned for one drink in total that night. We had just seen The King’s Speech in a nearby theater and afterwards we both felt like drinking a beer. The movie ended unexpectedly early, I thought. At home they typically start an hour later, so when exiting the theater it being half past ten surprised me. In any event, it left A and I with some time to kill.

We both appreciate good beer and given that Linköping back then only had two bars with decent offerings and since we had been at De Klomp the night before, The Bishop Arms it was. The Bishop Arms is a Swedish chain of bars with an above average offering in quality beer. It also has some kind of viking feel to it, but then a lot of things in Scandinavia do, apart from the people, but I digress.

As always during the weekend, the place was overflowing with people of the non-viking kind. We even had to wait in line for a few minutes. I initially thought those standing there were chilling — relaxing in the cold and having a smoke — but the bouncer indicated rather friendly it was in fact a line. We discussed what beers I would get and once inside I disappeared into the restroom. I recall appreciating the room dedicated to the urinal, although the smell left a lot to be desired. Once back A was no longer at the same spot and after looking around and failing to find him I decided to go order. I reckoned he would either be on the phone, in the restroom, or maybe, just maybe, chilling outside. Much to my surprise he had found a place to sit.

May you ever find yourself Sweden or Norway, prepare yourself for the price of alcohol. It is best if you view the money as a joke. Scandinavia is expensive, but alcohol prices are all out of proportion. Best to think about it later. For democratic countries with alcohol loving citizens they seem to know themselves. Keep prices high as means of self control. It does mean you can end up paying more for your imported India Pale Ale (mine was imported into Sweden from Norway… Nögne Ø is awesome) than your tasty lamb burger.

That night I ended up paying hundred thirty Swedish kroner (fifteen euro) for our first — and what I thought to be last — two drinks. Not too bad, the aforementioned IPA was two hundred. The only people who were close to my age group that night were behind the bar. I had the feeling I was noticed more quickly therefore and inadvertently went before several other people who were also waiting to order. After I signed — the way to pay in Sweden is by plastic — a smile was exchanged and I went looking for A.

A was walking with crutches back then and when I saw him sitting with several other people at a large table, I imagined he had given them a sad panda face to acquire us some seats. The other people were quite odd. Two of them were all over each other while the third person just sat there. Leaning against the heightened bench staring straight into the bar while sipping his beer. Draft Samuel Adams, just like me. For the half an hour we sat together I do not think he made a single utterance. Maybe they had been at it for a while or maybe he just grew tired of his friends hitting it off and wanted to go home. He left some of his beer and per usual I considered drinking it. A passing thought really, I rarely actually do it.

After they left one of the waitresses came by to add another seat to the table only we were left sitting at. Now it could seat sixteen people. I thanked her for making more space for our great group of friends. She did not get it.

There was nothing particularly special about that evening. A and I had been through it many times before. Find a bar, preferably one with decent beer. Then order two and talk away. Sometimes with a stranger. In Uummannaq there was a drunk guy imitating driving a DAF Truck. Complete with sound effects it made for an entertaining evening. Although the older woman who wanted me to impregnate her was somewhat scary. In Ushuaia we gathered intel on the best hiking parts of Tierra del Fuego. Here in Sweden we talked about work and our trips to Greenland and Argentina. There was never anything forced about it. Nothing to prove, occasionally tired, but always relaxed and open to what might be next. So when four women asked if they could join us — about when I was about to order that one last drink — we did not decline.

They checked again and told us they were willing to sit on the other side of the table as well. We looked at each other and nodded at them. All was good. Not planned and this way we were not going to get home within thirty minutes, but neither of us cared enough. The day had gone plenty well so we could afford a little risk. Settle our curiosity. They were probably about ten years older than us and somewhat drunk from what they said was a girls-night-out. As A and I were sitting at the head of the table, two came to sit next to A, and two next to me. The one closest to me — Eva — and furthest — Ebba — were sisters, sitting diagonally opposite to each other, and not looking alike at all. Eva had rather short blond hair and her sister had something akin of an afro. Next to A sat Helena, and Eva told me that next to her would sit their spiritual leader, who was occupied chatting to one of her two boyfriends. She relayed they had been drinking quite a bit of wine, but that now it was time for beer. Evidently they never heard of the Dutch proverb that recommends against that practice. Then again, in England they say “Beer after wine, and you’ll feel fine, wine after beer and you’ll feel queer.” Personally I prefer just beer and occasionally a pure single malt whisky. (And even rarer, port wine. God that can be good.)

Because I do not speak Swedish the usual foreigner — "What are you doing here?" — questions were asked and answered. We were from there, they from around here. A lived around here, I there. Then the spiritual leader came to our table. This should be interesting, I thought. “Where is your other boyfriend?” Fuck, nice way to say hello. She smiled. “Elsewhere.” I then congratulated her on having two boyfriends; seemed more fitting than an apology. “What do you do?” In response A acted as if he was typing. I uttered that we make the web great. She looked nonplussed. “The internet!” I said, a little loud. Horrified, she started telling us about the future.

Now myself I do not have much with the future. I have always found it hard to plan more than a few days ahead and I avoid doing it whenever I can. I like to fill my days out as they go, not as my calendar says. She knew about it though. In the immediate future, she told us, the next two to three years, all computers would be decapitated. The world would be transformed and all would be well. People would have to start living more primitive lives again. Not everyone would survive. Those with jobs like A and I would be among the first to die, we were lost without the digital, but overall humanity would be better off. Help! Eva confided to me she had a horribly administrative job involving a computer and that she also believed in the inevitable decapitation. I found it hard to resonate. If you do not like something, stop doing it. Future revolutions involving decapitated computers that are going to make your life more interesting is just a tad too magical for me. Clearly more beer was needed.

Eva had no boyfriend. She was rather shy and apparently extremely picky. No other than Brad Pitt was good enough for her. Her sister pointed to her own head. Meaning to say Eva was a little crazy. Eva and I went through the usual subjects. “Daft Punk!” “Huh?” “I wish I had traveled more.” “You still can!” We had fun and every now and then A and I exchanged a few words while Swedish scattered around us.

My own theory on being crazy is that everyone is crazy. Some are just better at hiding it than others. The people I do not get along with at all are those that have put in place some kind of fake persona to hide who they really are. With them it is never clear who I’m talking to or why. You get the feeling you will not even leave an inkling of an impression and you’re just wasting your time reciprocating their faked smiles and listening to their stories. Though often nothing much comes out of their mouth at all. I think I do not (at least not directly) want to know who people really are, so I tend to prefer those that admit to a few quirks initially and more over time. I am not put off though with brutal honesty or people expressing their innermost feelings. It just happens less. So maybe I would prefer that more, but I have consoled myself with the reality. Speaking of which, I should not expect from someone else what I rarely practice myself.

To me, people with quirks provide a high entertainment value. Maybe it is unfair to measure people their quirks in such a way, but I have come to realize joy is an important part of life and you cannot get it by just watching Arrested Development, although that definitely helps.

I wish I had never brought it up: LSD. The girl talking to A went nuts. I had to promise there and then never to ever take it. Feeling too honest for a white lie, I politely declined, and chaos persevered. Upset, sad, and with enough alcohol to qualify as drunk — even in Sweden — she finally elaborated. In not too much detail Helena explained she once had a friend who had a family and everything and got himself killed on the train tracks while high on acid. Just threw it at us, there in the night, among the used-to-be-vikings. Calming her down seemed impossible though eventually we succeeded. Not soon after we left. Strolled around on the street, dropped them off at another bar, and went back to the apartment to get some sleep. And just before we said our final goodbyes I fixed the phone of the spiritual leader. When I told her I could easily kill it off right know, she politely declined, though not in any way admitting an err in her ways.

Assuming I could get a taxi everywhere way early on a Sunday I had planned nothing. The lady working the night shift at the Radisson on the square nearby proved immensely helpful. She helped me get a taxi to the airport. Not only that, she called the airport and made them wait. There was one flight departing that morning, mine. “Slept well?” Glad the airport staff had not lost their sense of humor I fulfilled my duties at the airport without causing trouble and twenty minutes later I was up in the air.