Friday, 18 September 2009

So who was Sven Karlsen?

I was seventeen at the time and I was playing first cornet in a brass band in my native Stoke-on-Trent. Every couple of years, the brass band did an exchange tour with a brass band in Norway from a town near Stavanger. They were the brass band that belonged to the farming equipment giants, Kverneland and it was our turn to go over there to play a series of concerts with their band.

I remember being very excited as apart from a school trip to Paris in 1979, this was only my second trip abroad and it was with a group of people I got on very well with and had fun playing music with them.

I do recall that I still had that god-awful curly perm at the time, which I thought looked cool.
The trip to Norway involved a long coach trip from Stoke to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a boat crossing from Newcastle to Stavanger and a coach ride from Stavanger to Keverneland.
The sea crossing was the worst bit as the water was very rough and everything I had eaten that day decided to pay me a visit over and over again. However, once I had got used to the choppy seas, I saw something that I will never forget. Whales. Yes, I saw whales swimming and water coming out of their blowholes, it was a fabulous sight.
The trip was surprisingly good once the sea sickness had gone and we were all excited but a tad tired by the time we arrived at the Keverneland plant to be picked up by our host families.
Me and my friend Tracy were to stay with the Karlsen family. The Dad didn’t speak English, but the Mum did and so did the children and they loved having us there and wanted to talk to us all the time.

There were three children, two girls and a boy. The boy was Sven. A chubby faced, curly-haired boy with blue eyes (one of them a lazy one!) and the most amazing smile you ever saw. I was smitten as soon as I clapped eyes on him!
Sven was the drummer of the Kverneland band and he was so sweet. He made us feel very welcome and when we weren’t in rehearsals, he was showing us around his town and teaching us Norwegian words in exchange for our English ones.

He taught me what the Norwegian word for “pea” was = echt and the word for “pop” = brut. We were walking around a department store and I pointed at things and he told me the Norwegian word for it. Cheekily I remember asking him what was the Norwegian word for “sex” and he said, with a very evil smile “the same!”

There was an attraction between us and although he was two years younger than me, in no time at all, we were holding hands and going off on long walks to the beach and sitting in the sand dunes watching the fish leaping out of the sea.
It was all so innocent and sweet. It was while we were sitting in the sand dunes that we shared our first kiss. My little crush on Sven was the talk of the brass band and some of my cornet playing boy chums were really taking the piss out of me because Sven was fifteen and I was getting the usual “cradle snatcher” remarks.

Meal times in the Karlsen household were always something to look forward to as you never knew what you were going to get and thankfully, it was all nice. None of the smoked reindeer that I was told about by some of the older boys in the band.
Sven’s Dad would have loved to have been in on some of the conversations and you could tell his frustration at not being able to understand what his kids and us were laughing and joking at but he laughed all the same because he was pleased to see his kids get so much out of the new house guests.

All of a sudden, a daddylonglegs came flying in through the window and Sven asked me what we called them in the UK?

“A daddylonglegs” I said.

They all laughed at that and laughed even more when Mr Karlsen tried to repeat it and it came out as “dooblieblombleb” so ever since 1980, daddylonglegs are now known as dooblie-blom-blebs in my eyes.

It was a really sad day when we had to say our goodbyes to the Karlsens. The week-long tour had gone well. We’d played some great music, had some wonderful excursions to the Fjords and were made to feel very welcome by our host families.

Saying goodbye to Sven was very sad. He gave me a flower and a notebook and a cap. His Mum and Dad could see that he was upset and gave us some time to ourselves to say our goodbyes. We hugged each other for ages and then had a lovely long kiss and then another hug and he said to me these words – written phonetically: “yoy oisker doy” which I found out meant “I love you”
I was late getting on the bus and everyone knew why and so when I eventually got on they all started whistling and singing “Ali’s in love, Ali’s in love!”

I did shed a tear or two when the bus drove off and all our host families were waving at us but I had a lovely time and nearly 30 years later, I still think of Sven and wondered what happened to him.

We kept in touch for about six months or so and both of us had left our respective bands by the time the Norwegians came over to us. I re-wrote the words to Flanders and Swann’s Hippo Song to fit in with my experience with Sven and for a while afterwards, I did it as a party piece at brass band rehearsals.

So Sven Karlsen may be the name of a fictitious Private Eye in a thriller I am not writing at the moment, but the real Sven was a sweet-faced little drummer boy who inspired me to cheer on Norway every year when the Eurovision Song Contest came around – just in case he was the one playing the drum!!!!