Tag Archives: Gjellerup

Stuff and memory

Stuff can remind us of things we would not otherwise remember. Photo: Lone 2013.

Stuff can remind us of things we would not otherwise remember. Photo: Lone 2013.

There is only so much you can fit into the luggage limit of airline carriers. When you are packing your bags for a year-long sabbatical in Denmark you have to make harsh choices. Luckily we’ve secured a furnished apartment just outside the lakes in Copenhagen. This does reduce the amount of stuff we need to bring or acquire.

For years we have been trying to get rid of stuff – to declutter our lives. Somehow stuff just seems to accumulate and fill every surface, like dust whirling up in the swoosh of movement or encouraged by south easterly winds – and settling in the corners and on the skirtingboards until it is disturbed again.

I find that I hang on to stuff because it has a meaning for me. It may be a present given to me by someone I love. It may be something someone was made especially for me. Or it may be something useful one of us bought. The best stuff is stuff that is designed well and used often. These are the objects that last and also bring lasting memories.

Farmor in the house in Solbakken. Photo: Lars 2014.

Farmor in the house in Solbakken. Photo: Lars 2014.

Each time I sit in one of the Børge Mogensen Spanish Chairs I am thankful that these beautiful chairs ended up in our house in Brisbane. My parents bought these chairs in the 1970s when we moved to Gjellerup. They sat in the tiled lounge room in the middle of the brand new house, together with the clunky, soft and deep modular couch. Like a casual prop in photos of my grandmother comfortably sitting at a family party. When we moved to the next house in Gjellerup on top of the hill, the chairs were incorporated into the combined kitchen and tv room – much more frequently used, but less elegant because they could not sit side by side in the space. Finally in my father’s last house in Herning they sat in the corner of the swimming pool room together with the buffalo leather couches, inviting one to perch a cup of coffee on the wide arm rests and pick up a book from the overflowing coffee table while listening to music blaring from the Bang&Olufsen sound system installed to fill the large room.

This corner has stuff to remember by. Photo: Lone 2014.

This corner has stuff to remember by. Photo: Lone 2014.

Now, in the early hours of the morning, the chairs let me catch the weak rays of morning sun before they gain power and blaze onto the solar panels on the roof. The chairs sit with the cedar coffee table that Mick created from the beams left-over when we built the house on the hill in Bunya in the early 2000s. Inspired by a large, rustic coffee table from my childhood home, it is a robust table that is both functional and beautiful. On the other side of the table is one of the green Natussi leather couches we bought, one at a time, as a present from my parents when our boys were born. Those couches have been tough enough for babies, toddlers and teenagers, finally giving in to the direct sunlight on the deck, causing the leather to crack.

Over the table hangs a PH lamp – the classic lamp that was a wedding present from my parents’ business partners. It was second hand then, surplus to requirements, when they decorated the ground floor flat of the home that also housed the publishing business and my family. On the table sits a small dish that Mick wove out of tie wire during his first year of the fine arts degree. It accumulates stuff: ear phones, coins, a card. On the wall hangs Mick’s Takemine guitar, so often picked up by our younger son to strum a few chords or pick a few Spanish notes. It hangs next to a painting by artist Joanna Underhill, ‘Cellular Intelligence’. Following a bout of cancer, she studied cancer cells during a residence at the Brain Institute. The result is a series of work that explores the structure of cells which provides inspiration for quite intricate imagery and colour.

I fondly remember the story behind this work when I look at the green and pink scratches on the first board. Photo: Lone 2014.

I fondly remember the story behind this work when I look at the green and pink scratches on the first board. Photo: Lone 2014.

On the other side hangs a piece my older son did in Year 12 Visual Art, ‘Waiting for skating’. Three skate boards form the canvas and three faces in various states of patience adorn them. Clearly, my son is not particularly patient. One day he screwed the wheels back on to one of the boards: he wanted to skate. When I realised, I promptly bought him a fresh board and the piece was restored to the wall. He promised to touch up the scratched board. However, in the intervening period I have grown quite fond of the authenticity of the green and pink paint that shines through and the edges that are worn down to the timber core of the board. Besides, it is a good story.

None of this stuff will fit in my suitcase. And this is part of the point. These objects are integral to the life world I have created in Brisbane with my family. This life is part of me, but only one part. With the chairs and the lamp – and many other objects – I have integrated my Danishness into my Australianness in physical manifestations. I have invented a self that combines my experiences, language and memories. One reason for going back is to refresh and reconnect with the Danish part. Together we will find new inspiration and create new memories for the next period of our lives, which integrates more of my Danish heritage.

My self is indivisible and when we are away, there will no doubt be things that I miss from this sunny part of the world. Stuff that I have grown used to.

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Dogs and death

Josie was part of the family - and the furniture. Photo: Lone 2014

Josie was part of the family – and the furniture. Photo: Lone 2014

Josie died this week.

Josie – or Josephine, after Napoleon Bonaparte’s lover – was our sweet yellow labrador who had been with us since 2003. She had become very lumpy, with a melon sized cyst on her neck, and very tired and spaced out most of the time. Half way through the first anaesthetic needle, she took her final, laboured breath.

I am not sentimental about pets – I love them and care about them, but when life has become unenjoyable for them, I see no reason to prolong it.

My first dog was Vaks – after Lady and the Tramp‘s little grey male puppy, Scamp in English. Vaks, a black cocker spaniel, lived with us on Chopinsvej in Herning in the early 70s. I was very young when Vaks and I played in the rumpus room. We found a feather doona with a hole in it – that hole fast grew and suddenly we were pioneers battling a white winter landscape. On a visit to my grandparents, I had to get something from our car. Vaks merrily followed me out, probably expecting we were leaving and not wanting to be left behind. He refused to get out of the car, so I closed the door and left him there. When it was time to leave, Vaks had literally chewed everything soft and bite-able inside the car. In our home he had also gnawed all of the door frames to about 30 centimetres up. So Vaks did not move with us when we moved to our next home on Solbakken in Gjellerup in 1972. I am not entirely sure what happened to that little black dog, but he was no longer part of my universe.

Buster was well loved, even if he terrorised owners of female dogs all over the neighbourhood. Photo: Lars, 1976.

Buster was well loved, even if he terrorised owners of female dogs all over the neighbourhood. Photo: Lars, 1976.

The next dog – Buster, after Buster Keaton – was really my brother’s. He started a campaign to get another puppy. I think my mother, the vet’s daughter, was secretly supporting his campaign – she loved animals. My father, the farmer’s son, had a more utilitarian view of the role of animals. Eventually he gave in. Buster was a small fox terrier, white and beautifully marked with black spots and small brown ones above his eyes. Buster had the run of the yard – and the neighbourhood, with the owner of a female bassett hound particularly complaining about Buster’s promiscuous behaviour. Buster never became fully house trained and usually left small surprises behind the oval Piet Hein Superellipse table with the six orange Arne Jacobsen Series 7 chairs in the upstairs living room that doubled as my father’s office. On Saturday mornings, Dad removed the smelly parcels so he could hold author meetings around that table. In the early 1980s we moved again to Klokkebakken in Gjellerup; Buster did not follow. My cousin, the computer programmer who worked in my father’s company, reluctantly took care of him. I am still not entirely sure what that entailed.

Our new house was massive. Big enough for two apartments – one for our family of six, and one for my parents’ two business partners and their two dogs, a newfoundlander and a chow chow – and the office of my parents’ growing business. The house had been built as a single family house by a wealthy business owner who insisted on living higher than the old Gjellerup church. This time my sister and I started a campaign for another dog. My father would find carefully designed posters on the mirror inside his wardrobe and notes under his doona or in his office drawer, and again my mother secretly supported the campaign. We promised to housetrain the puppy, to walk it daily and to feed it and look after it. Mum bought Donna, a golden retriever, from a breeder in Hammerum and we were ecstatic. Mum took Donna to puppy school and she became a very well-behaved dog. Occasionally, I did walk her, but generally Mum fed her and let her sleep near her feet in winter.

Donna with her son Kasper. Kasper was a most flexible dog, who had several homes - my family never bargained that ours would be one of them. Photo: Lone 1988.

Donna with her son Kasper. Kasper was a most flexible dog, who had several homes – my family never bargained that ours would be one of them. Photo: Lone 1988.

One summer, after I had moved away to go to university in Aalborg, Donna had six beautiful little puppies. Entirely unplanned, a yellow labrador belonging to my brother’s friend had rendezvoused Donna in the small forest behind the house. That summer I looked after the puppies while my parents, sister and brother went to Italy. I taught them how to run down the steep stairs to get to the enclosed garden near the swimming hall every morning, and carried them up to sleep in the bathroom every night. We found good homes to each of the puppies: family, friends and one went to my flatmate. She named him Kasper and loved him to bits. And so did I – he was a beautiful dog, easy to love.

We partied hard in that student house. One night Kasper got out through the door left open. It turned out he was a very clever dog: he took the bus from the main road out to one of the suburbs. On the bus he met a group of Norwegian young men on a drinking spree. They sang Norwegian drinking songs for him and the next morning took him to the pound. They offered to take Kasper home on the ferry to Norway if he remained unclaimed by the end of that Sunday. Meanwhile back in the sharehouse, my flatmate fretted and kept me awake all night. In the morning I called the pound, could describe Kasper accurately and we went out to get him on our bikes. Kasper became my dog, when my flatmate could not have him in her flat when she moved back to Copenhagen. So he came back to Gjellerup when I left for Australia to study. Eventually he was adopted by my brother’s girlfriend’s family. Kasper managed to walk into every heart that he met.

Three years later, in Australia, Mick and I stopped to look at a clutch of new-born staffordshire bull terrier cross puppies. Before long we named the little black staffy Bo – after Boudicca, the East Anglian warrior queen. The name was apt and she ruled us for 14 years – sweet, adoring and completely mad! She loved people, but was so rowdy that most were dead scared of her. She suffered terrible anxieties and needed stable routines and predictability. She was very awkward right up to her death. We had moved to acreage on Samford Range and had bought Josie. Each morning we took Bo and Josie on a five kilometres walk, up and down steep hills through the bush. Half way, Bo had a stroke. Unable to walk, Mick had to carry her all the way back to our house. The next morning we left her in her bed and when we came back from our walk, she had peacefully passed.

Josie had a fine teacher in Bo. They had probably been up to some mischief at this time - butter would not melt in their mouth. But Bo cannot hide her guilty anxiety. Photo: Mick, 2003.

Josie had a fine teacher in Bo. They had probably been up to some mischief at this time – butter would not melt in their mouth. But Bo cannot hide her guilty anxiety. Photo: Mick, 2003.

Pugsy's ambition for labrador-pug puppies was simply ignored by Josie. Perhaps it was just that there was food around? Photo: Mick 2007.

Pugsy’s ambition for labrador-pug puppies was simply ignored by Josie. Perhaps it was just that there was food around? Photo: Mick 2007.

Josie had learnt lots of bad habits from Bo and she had let Bo be the dominant dog – but she had always ruled the roost at dinner time. Food was the one thing Josie cared immensely about. That and being part of the action when the click of the washing machine door sounded. She would rush down the stairs and roll on the grass next to the washing line. Beyond that she was happy with lots of laziness and pats.

RIP sweet Josie, we miss you.

Under my skin

The church in Gjellerup, Herning Kommune, Denmark. Photo Ch1ptune at da.wikipedia, 2007.

The church in Gjellerup, Herning Kommune, Denmark. Photo Ch1ptune at da.wikipedia, 2007.

‘One can never leave home’ wrote Maya Angelou in Letter to my Daugther in 2008, because ‘one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and dragons of home under one’s skin, at the extreme corners of one’s eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe.’

I have been thinking a lot about home lately. As a child I had a stable home. We moved around a little at first, never straying far from that centre of my father’s universe that was Lundfod where he grew up. Once I started school we stayed in the same place until after I left home. My childhood was spent in the little village community of Gjellerup, smack in the centre of Jutland peninsula, as far away from the water as it is possible to get in the little island country of Denmark, where people are of the land and have both feet firmly planted on the ground. Once settled here, my parents got on with their business and we kids got on with being kids and growing up.

It was safe and it was summer, and I played with friends on the street until we were called in to go to bed, even if it still seemed like broad day light. Or it was winter with snow piled high outside and candle light on the well-decorated, freshly felled pine tree, cosy inside, and we played board games and card games with our parents. It was safe and we were never in doubt we were loved. It was a good place from which to go and conquer the world. And so I did, but that is another story.

My childhood home from 1972 to 1982

My childhood home from 1972 to 1982

This was home and I belonged to the place. My community was a very ancient village, the one with the oldest church in Denmark, from 1140. This community was tight knit and deeply religious, but growing fast in the secularised, liberated 1970s. Though we were newcomers, we were all able to find our community, our belonging, here in this rapidly expanding village as it merged to become a suburb of the larger town, Herning. I started at the new school as soon as it opened in january 1973, sang in the choir, joined the scouts, roamed the streets playing cowboys and indians, princesses and dragonslayers and racing our bikes down the gently sloping hills. Friends, whom I still hold dear and count among my very best friends, are friends from my childhood home (you know who you are).

No matter how much I go back and walk the streets I used to play in, look at the homes I used to live in or visit the school I went to, in that little village, I know that there is no going home. It is never the same as the memory of home I carry under my skin. Because I am not the person I was and I will never be that person again, never belong in that place as I did. Similarly, the people I associate with my belonging to that place are no longer there and are no longer the people they were. Experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe questions the notion of an essential self – the person you are can never be the person you were or the person you will be: Even physically, 98% of atoms in your body changes every year.

Nevertheless, when I go to Denmark and look at the landscape, the architecture and the people, hear the language and the songs and feel the place, I know that I belong. I am recognised, I fit in. I belong to this country, this people, this language, this history.

And I don’t. Having lived for 23 years in Australia, away from Denmark, my mother tongue is 23 years old and the society I knew then has moved on, through several crises and cultural shifts. Some of these shifts are significant and others more subtle. For any migrant, this is a significant experience and sometimes cause of sorrow. It reminds us perpetually of the flux of all things: ever-newer water flows and one cannot step in the same river twice (Heraculitus).

It may be true you never leave home, as Angelou asserts, but I have found the home under my skin has morphed and changed, as I run through its manifestations inside my head and adjust the shadows, dreams, fears and dragons to fit into the narrative of my life. One may never leave home, but home is never what it was.

And this is exactly why I need to go home to Denmark: so I can adjust the home under my skin, at the corner of my eye and in the gristle of my earlobe. Thanks Angelou, and rest in peace.