Tuesday, 15 January 2008


This summer it will be 21 years since I first visited Denmark, aged 8. My parents had been lent a house in the middle of a forest by Danish friends, otherwise we could never have afforded it. We went on the DFDS ferry from Harwich to Esbjerg, then drove all the way across Jylland and Fyn to a small town in Sjælland called Mørkøv.

I can't remember all that much about the first trip. I remember the excitement of the ferries (even then I was boat-obsessed). I know that we went to København by train, which ought to have been memorable (I hadn't been on many trains then), but I only know that because I can remember the model railway in the station. I remember walking through an archway, and winning some money from Dad because I correctly guessed that we were going to see the "royal palace" (I didn't feel equal to pronouncing "Amalienborg". I know that we went to see the Little Mermaid, but I can't remember seeing her.

Sad, but inevitable. Only a few months later I would have my eyes tested, and get my first pair of glasses as everyone suddenly realised just how short-sighted I was. But until I was 8 I walked in a very foggy world.

We went back next summer, and spent days on a beautiful beach. You walked through sand dunes covered in wild roses to get to it, and the water was the clearest I have ever seen. We built the best sandcastle ever on a sand bank a long way out, wading through the shallows. On one of these trips I stayed up until midnight for the first time ever, at Midsummer. Dad said that it was light enough to read a newspaper, but I didn't know that this was strange.

For years Denmark was a lost paradise for the whole family. I read every book by Danish authors I could find, watched every Danish film (I got a somewhat undeserved reputation for extreme sophistication at University thanks to this). During my brief Interail excursion as a student I got to Denmark twice (I chose my route so as to have the maximum distance to travel between cities each night, so that I could sleep on trains), and went back to København on a cold grey Palm Sunday, which is when I first noticed the cigar-smoking ladies I mentioned yesterday. I also noticed that instead of the palm crosses people would have been carrying in England, there were willow branches with catkins on them.

The last time I went to Denmark was six years ago this summer, on my honeymoon. We stayed at a hotel very near the Rådhuset. "Nice and central", I said, "and don't worry about it not having air conditioning, we won't need it". There was a heatwave, so we had to keep the windows wide open all night. Which is when we discovered that the fire station was just opposite us, and fire engines rushed noisily out all through the night. I am not all that good at choosing hotels. This was shortly before I took up knitting again, so I didn't look at anything to do with knitting. I did embroider, though, so I went to the Eva Rosenstand shop on Strøget to find that they were closing down that summer. I bought several cross stitch kits there. I also bought a kit for a cushion cover with a design of gooseberries by Gerda Bengtsson in a shop that from the location I think must have been 'Sommerfuglen'. I remember noticing that it sold knitting wool too, and ignoring that. I didn't knit.

Six years later, and shamefully I haven't even started any of the embroidery kits I bought that summer, whereas I have knitted I don't know how many items. Even more shamefully, I still don't know any more Danish than "tak". One day, not too far away, I'll be back, I know.

PS. I hope the Danish place-names are correctly spelled. Chris showed me where to find the special characters on the keyboard, so I have tried to give Danish spellings for those I know.


Anonymous said...

What do you mean, shallows? I fell in a hole and nearly drowned.
Well, that's how it felt at the time, anyway.

Vivienne said...

They were shallows. You were 4.

jeanfromcornwall said...

They were shallows with Holes in.

knititch said...

oh maybe we can have a knit along in front of the mermaid and a shopping spree. actually i am asked where the mermaid is every time i go to langelinie which is ever so often. she is very small and hidden away. and not really much of a sculpture art wise. it all comes down to symbolism.