I was talking to a Dixieland jazz player, in his sixties, in a bar in Gamla Stan. I told him how much I was enjoying hearing band jazz played live, rather than being confined to Beiderbecke records.
‘But you are from England?’
‘Yes, from the north, but I live in London.’
‘And you don’t hear this kind of jazz much?’
‘Not much, no.’
‘My idols are English. Most of all Humphrey Lyttelton. You never saw him? He is dead now since one year.’
‘I never saw him. Apparently even when I was first in London he was still playing sometimes at a pub called the Bull, in Barnes, on the outskirts, but I never got round to going.’
‘That is sad. You keep on to enjoy this kind of jazz for many more years, I hope.’
And he went for a cigarette.
‘I am a lone wolf, like you’, grinned J.
J was one of my favourite encounters. We got chatting as we switched long-distance buses in the dark at a busy crossroads. He had just turned 50, with a long ponytail and a heavy ski jacket. We sat down near the middle of the bus, and he presented me with a beer for the road.
‘I always buy the small ones. If you get the big ones then all the bubbles are gone by the time you’re half way through.’
He was a professional musician, home briefly to see the family and do some hunting.
‘My lifestyle keeps me young’, he said. ‘I’m always travelling. Always on the road. Russia, Brazil, Spain. I’ve been doing this for many years now.’ Some people might find such a life aged them more.
‘Next week I am playing at the big army camp near here. There are always a lot of British and American soldiers there. They come to train – for the cold. Once I played, you know, well-known songs, and a trumpeter came up and asked to play along. After a few songs everyone was chanting. I listened to what they were saying.’ He laughed, and sang the words in an exaggerated English accent. ‘You can shahve that fa-ckin trampet ap your orse…’
P was a cheery fellow. A hairdresser, with an unusually dark complexion for a Swede, offset by very bright blue eyes. He gave me a haircut a little like Jason Donovan had back in the day.
‘I always wanted to come to London. I think I will some time soon. Tell me, what are the girls like in London? Compared to here – compared to Stockholm.’
I told him.
‘Our girls in Stockholm are all beautiful, eh? But they don’t stay that way. Between 18 and 32, 33, they are amazing, but after that… it’s round their mouths that you see it. It starts to go…’ And he shook his cheeks savagely to express what words could not. He lapsed into silent snipping for a few moments, made a few enquiries about the rates of taxation in Great Britain, then returned to the question of women.
‘These girls in London’, he said. ‘Are they, you know, erm… sometimes my English sucks… not…’ he made a fist and grasped it inside the other, as if that might somehow express his meaning. ‘…not holding back.’
‘Easy, you mean?’
‘Yes, yes! Easy! Are English girls easy?’
‘Not generally. At least not many I’ve met. I’m sure you could find some though.’ He smiled the indulgent smile of a man who has never had any difficulty finding easy women.
‘In Stockholm they are not easy. I come from outside the city. It’s better there. The best place for girls is Bulgaria. There’s a place there where you can sit down and they give you a catalogue, and you can choose the girls from the catalogue, and it’s only a few dollars.’
‘I went to Morocco once’, said K. ‘She lowered her glasses and looked over the tops of the rims for emphasis. ‘NEVER again!’
‘Was it that bad?’
‘Ok, so there we are, two Norwegian girls, and we are wandering about, you know, in small shorts and vests, like we do when it’s hot. And I’m nearsighted, right, so I can’t see very far at all without my glasses. It’s all blurred. And I’m not wearing them because of the heat.’
K was a lady in her forties, dressed in a heavy blue cotton sweater with anchors on it and big boots. She was the same lady who believed Quentin Tarantino and Mel Gibson should be placed in insane asylums, and had the slightly lowered voice of a smoker.
‘So I hear noises and singing, and I look inside a door and see what I think is a big screen, with rows of people sitting on the floor in front of it. And I think it must be a cinema, so I just walk right on in before my friend can stop me.’
‘Shit. It was a mosque, wasn’t it?’
She smiled sheepishly and nodded.