Wide-eyed and smeared with purple juice, Max gazed out over the endless blue sea of bilberries covering the forest floor and digested the news that all these, his "favourite berries in the whole world", were his for the picking. When you're three years old and have spent most of your short life in London, the idea of gathering your food in a (troll and Gruffalo-infested) forest rather than off a supermarket shelf is a huge novelty. And for me, grazing on tiny, sweet wild strawberries and bilberries and picking golden chanterelles to fry for supper is still pretty much as good as it gets.
This was how my sister and I spent our childhood summers at my grandfather's house on Ingaro, one of the larger of Stockholm's 24,000 or so outlying islands. We would swim in the (usually icy) Baltic sea; row to the neighbouring island for (various) adventures; picnic on the jetty; ride bikes; play "kick the can" with numerous cousins; stay up late on endless light summer nights; and, yes, do lots of berry-picking. Pretty idyllic stuff, you'll agree (unless your idea of fun is more Mickey Mouse than Moomins), which was why I wanted Max to be able to escape city life for a few weeks every year and live the Swedish summer dream.
It was looking unlikely for a while when my grandfather died and left his house to my uncle. But after several aborted attempts, my mother found her own smultronstallet (literally, "a place where wild strawberries grow"), a heavenly hideaway right on the water, just under an hour from Stockholm.
For weeks, I had imagined Max, blond and bronzed, running free, at one with "The Nature" (as the Swedes call it). So I was gutted when, soon after arriving for our first summer, he discovered that there was no TV and declared that he wanted to return to London to watch CBeebies. "No, no, no, forget CBeebies, forget Balamory," I pleaded. "There are loads more fun things to do here, I promise. We're going to have proper adventures, just like Pippi Longstocking." He looked at me doubtfully.
I started his indoctrination by introducing him to the foods of my childhood, hoping subconsciously that I would not only relive my memories but be able to transfer them, along with my love of Sweden, through the smells and flavours of pear ice-lollies called piggelins, hot dogs, cinnamon buns, meatballs and chewy raspberry jelly sweets. Well, the Piggelins in particular were a big hit, but it didn't exactly make for a healthy diet and he still just wasn't "getting" it.
Perhaps I was trying too hard. The days passed. Most days we stayed close to home, exploring the surrounding forests and swimming. Well, I say swimming - there was a lot of bravado from Max about "going swimming" in "Dada's swimming pool" (the sea), which in fact meant loitering on the steps of the jetty thinking of various reasons why he shouldn't swim "just right now". My mother took great joy in telling everyone this was just what I had done when I was small.
Which didn't really fit in with the image I'd created of myself as a daredevil Nordic swimming queen, diving fearlessly off jetties and braving the man-eating pike of the brackish Baltic. Strangely, the fact that rain frequently plays a role in the Swedish summer seemed also to have been erased from my strawberry-tinted memories. But it didn't matter. When it was sunny, we explored outdoors and when the rain came down, we discovered the hidden corners of the wonky wooden house, played cooking on the old iron stove, wrestled with Ikea flatpacks (a toddler "helping" really doesn't make it any easier) and, on one particularly cold, rainy day, made a trip into the city to visit Junibacken, a wonderful interactive museum/playhouse dedicated to the works of Astrid Lindgren, to meet the "real" Pippi Longstocking.
By now, mentions of London and CBeebies were few and far between and Max had certainly gone native in one respect - most days were spent running around as stark, pasty-bottom naked as the day he was born (a state met with great approval by my aunts: "Ah yes, yust the way it should be," they beamed). Getting him back into clothes for any kind of outing was a struggle, rendered pointless when they were whipped off again as soon as he got the chance. A trick he continues to perform, to more mixed reactions, back home.
The highlights of the holiday? For me? Spotting a female elk in a field as we returned home at dusk one evening, its great nose silhouetted against the mist. A ferry trip across to Alo island, to eat smoked fish and seafood and pickled herring (Max's verdict: "'scusting") at Batshaket, an idyllic restaurant and smokehouse in an old boathouse. And for Max? "Piggelins!" Well, it may take a few summers for his appreciation of summers in the Stockholm islands to extend beyond pear ice-creams, but it's a start.
To rent your own "wild strawberry place" in the Stockholm archipelago, contact 00 46 8 542 48100 and see dess.se. Ferries are run by Waxholmsbolaget (00 46 8 679 5830; waxholmsbolaget.se). Swedish tourist board (0207-108 6168; visitsweden.com).Reuse content