Tuesday, October 6, 2015

On the InterRail Way of Travel

The InterRail Pass was introduced in 1972 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Railway Union's (Union Internationale des Chemins de Fer). Youth under 21 years old were offered to travel for one month in 21 member countries at a very low cost, less than 30 British pounds or about 50 U.S. dollars.

  Watch a 2012 documentary celebrating the 40th anniversary of the InterRail Pass. 

About 5,000 young people bought the InterRail Pass in 1972, and it was so popular that it was repeated in 1973, when about 85,000 young travelers bought the card. Over the years, the InterRail Pass had expanded its reach to more and more countries, while the travel offers has become more varied and even includes First Class travel. Outside Europe the card is known as the Eurail Pass.

For most young people traveling with the InterRail Card/Pass in 1973 was very, very different from how you travel today. Most kids traveled without credit cards, cellphones, Internet, Web, Facebook, WiFi, guidebooks and with very little money. If you couldn't find a campground or a bed in a youth hostel, you had to sleep on a night train, on a beach, with a friend, on a railway station or wherever you found a place to rest your head. It was not always safe, but kids who had come of age in 1968 didn't worry much about safety. They were naive and willing to take risks. And most of them made it home alright.

Monday, October 5, 2015

InterRail '73 - Excerpt from a draft novel - Final Chapter

His father fried breaded fillets of flounder and served them with dill and potatoes that his mom had planted, nurtured and picked. They were small, sweet and needed no peeling. Johan had helped his mom set the table and he opened a bottle of red wine. She had taken the bus from Stockholm a couple of days before to celebrate his father’s birthday and help him close up for the season and drive back to Stockholm.

The dinner table stood in the living room, which used to be his father’s studio before he had a new one built so that the family could use the old one as a living room. It had three large panorama windows towards the Baltic Sea and one facing north. In 1959, his parents bought a tiny cottage from Sture Eriksson, a farmer on the east coast of northern Öland. It had two small rooms, a wood burning wrought iron stove, an outhouse toilet and an old fashioned water pump next to the well. The lot was triangular and located next to a small Pension. It had an unobstructed view of the grazing fields all the way down to the marshlands by the sea. If you walked up to the stone wall at the edge of the Pension’s property you could see the pier where his father had bought the fish early that morning from Sten, the fisherman, who was Sture’s oldest son.

Johan had spent every summer at the summer house since then, so it was a very familiar place. During the high season, there were usually a bunch of children staying with their parents at the pension, and they had lots of fun playing together. They would play catch or Indians and Cowboys, or just running around. Once Johan and his younger brother climbed up on the square roof of the pig sty at one end of the Pension’s property, but the roof was only resting on three sides, so before they knew it, the roof tilted into the pig sty, where there were two huge sows. They landed on all four in the deep black mud, and were scared to death, but quickly managed to escape.

He had so many memories from Öland.

Once he caught a frog and brought it into the bedroom where his father was taking a nap, but the frog jumped and landed on his dad’s pillow. He was not amused.

Another time, his dad suggested that they build a pirate ship, a real one, and started to sketch it out. Johan was the one who got most excited and it didn’t take long before he had started to dig a hole in the ground right in front of the living room. He felt it made most sense to start with the cargo space. The digging would go on for several summers, but never came to more than a big square hole that for years to come would remain an eyesore.

One rainy day, he and his two brothers complained more than usual that there was nothing to do. At some point his father had enough.

“We are going on an adventure!”

“But dad, it’s raining,” they cried out in unison.

“Don’t tell me that you can’t have an adventure because it’s raining? What kind of adventure would that be? Get ready!”

Half an hour later, his father and brothers walked across the property dressed in raincoats and rubber boots. They followed a small road that the farmers used to get to their pasture lands. When the road turned into a small forest, his father stopped, looked around, and told them to be real quiet.

“I think we have found good place to set up camp, and it’s right in there,” his father said and pointed into the woods. He then climbed over a stone fence and set off into the forest. Johan and his brothers were in a mild shock, but followed along. About a hundred feet in, his father started to cut down a two inch thick sapling with a small ax that he had brought with him. The rain picked up, but Johan and his brothers were by now caught up by the adventure and were busy building the base camp. Eventually they managed to fasten the 10- foot long sapling to two other trees and attach a green tarp that they stretched to the bottom of two other trees. His father spread out a second tarp under the first and invited them in.

They sat down in awe and listened to the rain tapping at the tarp, which was about all they could hear as there was no wind and the birds kept quiet.

“Are you hungry, boys,” his father asked as he took out sandwiches he had made, three Coca Cola, and a thermos flask with his coffee.

“Dad, why don’t we always have adventures like this?” Johan’s younger brother asked as he took a break from chewing.

“Well, to be a true adventure, you can’t do it too often,” his father answered.

Before long the rain had stopped and they packed up and walked home.


Now Johan was sitting at the dinner table talking to his parents about his European adventure. His father listened patiently as he always did, while his mother brought in coffee and a cake topped with whipped cream and self-picked strawberries. In the middle stood a single candle. They sang Happy Birthday and his mother gave his father a hug and a kiss before she sat down.


It was August, so the long days were not as long as they were in June, but it was only seven, so they took an evening walk along the same road where they had wandered off on that adventure many years ago. Johan remembered the many evening walks he used to take with his father, and sometimes with both his parents. He especially remembered one such walk when the sun was just about to set and the sky was still blue. His father had pointed to a cluster of trees half a mile away.

“What color is it?” he asked.

“Green,” Johan answered.

“Look again, what kind of green is it? How many green colors do you see?”

He looked again and realized that there were many kinds of green, many nuances, some of which were hardly green at all, but dark blue, brown or blackish green.

“If all you see is green or blue or yellow, then you are not really using your eyes. You need to be open to the impressions as they come your way,” his father said.

That was a lesson he had learned from the impressionists a quarter century ago when he was a young man and studied in Paris.


Johan was resting in a lounge chair outside his father’s studio, while his mother was busy tending to the little garden that she had created over the past few years. The sun was shining and it was warm, but he had a bad cold, a sore throat and a runny nose. He was trying to decide whether to go or not to go to Stockholm the day after tomorrow. As nice as it was here, he knew that he had to move on. His life was waiting and the world needed him.

The End.

InterRail '73 - Excerpt from a draft novel - Chapter Sixteen

He took out his Europe map and unfolded it on the wood floor in the summer house and traced his trip with a blue pen. He had gone from Kalmar to Copenhagen to Paris to Menton and all the way down to Rome, then north to Venice, south to Pescara, back to Rome via Carsoli, and north again to Genoa, across southern France to Bordeaux, La Rochelle and Île de Ré on the Atlantic coast, then to Paris where he jumped on a train to London only to continue on to Edinburgh and Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, south again to Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff, Oxford, and London before heading east to Dover where he took the ferry to Oostende in Belgium and then north to Amsterdam, Elsinor, Helsingborg, Alvesta, Kalmar and Öland.

He measured the distance with a ruler and added up the numbers: He had traveled 7,000 miles in thirty days. Not quite Around the World in Eighty Days, but he had definitively spent more time on trains than Phileas Fogg since the latter had spent most of his time on steam boats. Neither was he accompanied by a valet who folded his shirts and served him breakfast in the mornings and booked his tickets. He wasn’t rich like Mr. Fogg and there was no big prize to win, just an expiration date on his InterRail card.

Had he been searching for anything at all, or was he just one of those drifters the professor had talked about? Was it Terry he was looking for, or was she just a wound that he didn’t allow to heal? InterRail was the thing to do for his generation. To jump on a train, wherever it went. It was a romantic idea that captured the imagination of all those young people he had met during this trip. If anything, the trip had restored his self-confidence. He went all alone and he did it. And the girls he had met and flirted with made the hole Terry had left feel a lot smaller. When he was stuck in the army, he felt imprisoned and she was his only hope, the only one he could see, and then she betrayed him. Now he was free and he felt empowered. There was no need to hold back, to stand back. He could just walk up to a girl, even a beautiful girl and start talking.

Another thing that had struck him was how much alike people were. People in a supermarket in Inverness were not much different from those in Stockholm, Paris or London. Most people were nice and friendly, even the bums. He didn’t believe in God, but he believed in people.

As for what he was going to do next with his life, he had no idea and that didn’t bother him too much. He knew for sure that he wasn’t going to go into plastics. He wanted to do something that was important, to serve the people, to change the world. In the meantime, he was thinking of taking a job to make money, get new shots, renew his STF membership and go on another long journey.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

InterRail '73 - Excerpt from a draft novel - Chapter Fifteen

It was Monday, August 13th and his InterRail ticket would expire in a day. Johan and Göran were going to take the Copenhagen-Stockholm train. The first car was packed with travelers so they moved on to the next car where they ran into the two Norwegian girls they had met in Amsterdam. Johan and one Mette hit it off and talked all the way to Elsinor. She was interested in history and yoga and showed him some of the books she had bought in London. She told him to read Jens Björnboe’s Frihetens øyeblikk: Heiligenberg-manuskriptet (Moment of Freedom: The Heiligenberg Manuscript.) He felt like he felt when he met Sylvia on the train to Rome. It was this overwhelming sensation of wanting to hug her immediately and to give her everything he had to give.


It was his father’s birthday and it was half a year after his surgery. Johan remembered how pale his father looked when they visited him after the surgery, which had taken eleven hours. His father looked tired and still had a hole in his throat when they came in to the room. A nurse cleaned it now and then by sucking out phlegm with a machine. His father’s voice was labored and raspy and it must have scared him, because he sank down on the side of the hospital bed and took his father’s hand, which was cold and pale so that his liver spots were more noticeable. He felt like he was going to faint.

It had been a big operation and getting an artificial heart valve was a big and new deal. His father later told him that the valve was made out of steel, titanium and let him listen to the faint metallic ticking inside his heart. The large medical team at Karolinska Institutet was led by Viking Björk who had developed the artificial heart valve five years earlier together with the American engineer Donald Shiley. His father said that the doctors had given him a fifty percent chance of survival, which was not much, except that it was much better than if they did nothing. He never showed any anxiety before the surgery, but took it stoically. It was but one of many, many times when he had stared death in the face.


In Elsinor, the conductor said that the train would split and that the doors between the two sections would be locked. Mette had to grab her bags and rush over to the Oslo section of the train. They both thought the trains would go on the same boat, so all they said was: “Bye, see you soon!” But the trains took different ferries and they never saw each other again. In Helsingborg, he could see her train standing there right next to his. The train left and he felt really sad. All he knew was that she came from Tromsö. He looked at his European map and realized that Tromsö was way up along the Norwegian coast.

“Maybe I can hitchhike there sometime,” he consoled himself.


There he was on the train to Stockholm and his throat was getting worse. He thought he had strep throat or something like that. He changed train in Alvesta in southern Sweden and was lucky to catch the connecting train to Kalmar. He had decided to go to Öland to see his father and congratulate him on his birthday. He would turn 61 that day. Johan was a bit worried, because it had been one month since he left and it was just eight months since the operation.


The girl from Tromsö was so sweet, soft and nice. A bit heavy, but charming. And she had a lot of stuff in her heart. So much he knew. It would have been nice to feel safe with her.


He was looking forward to get letters from his new friends and write letters to them. He also wondered if he might have a letter from Terry waiting at the summer house.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

InterRail '73 - Excerpt from a draft novel - Chapter Fourteen

Johan and Göran, who he had met the day before, had left London for Amsterdam on Friday night. While waiting on the platform at Victoria Station for the train to Dover, they met two girls who knew Göran from Härnösand in northern Sweden. In Dover, they went to buy ferry tickets while he joined the enormous line in order to board the ferry and snatch seats for all of them. He managed to reserve four decent seats, but his friends never showed up. The line was so long that it was possible that they still were out there, but the boat was filling up fast. Finally the line shrunk and the crew prepared for departure. No sign of Härnösand anywhere. He asked an officer if there could be passengers still on the dock.

“No, everybody is onboard, but they may have taken the ferry that left half an hour ago,” he said.

There he was with four reserved seats and a bag full of stuff belonging to a girl that he didn’t even know the name of. Fortunately he found them at the dock in Oostende, where they exchanged addresses, said farewell and stepped onto separate trains. Göran and Johan were going to Amsterdam, while the girls took a direct train to Stockholm.


For all he had heard about Amsterdam, he was surprised at how many freaks there were in the city and how beautiful and pleasant its parks were. He walked and walked and walked and had his first meal at six in the evening. Outside the restaurant he could see, but barely hear, a man with a barrel organ. It was drowned out by hundreds of sparrows fussing terribly in a nearby tree. The man had glimmering eyes and a missing front tooth.


It was Sunday afternoon and Johan was sitting next to the National Monument at the Dam. He had just finished a lunch consisting of a large wiener schnitzel with French fries and vegetables. It was hot out and a soft breeze carried the sweet smell of hashish to where he was sitting. Tourists, some in suits and dresses and some in hippie shirts and skirts took pictures or just watched the mostly young crowd that was chilling around the monument.

Johan didn’t smoke anything, but he was getting intoxicated by an incredibly pretty blond from the United States. She was one of several beautiful young girls sitting around a 60-year old hippie who had a bandana wrapped around his head and whitish hair, a thick black beard and long necklaces hanging down in front of his paisley shirt. He played on a pair of small conga drums with his manicured hands that had painted nails, while constantly looking around as if to count and control his sheep, which included several beautiful young girls and a pair of eight year old twin boys. Johan observed the hippie family of sorts and took photos with his 200 mm lens when he heard a voice asking him where he was from. The question came from a man around 30 who had a friendly face, curly brown hair and round glasses with thin rims. He had an American accent, wore a corduroy blazer and bell bottom jeans.

“Sweden,” Johan answered. “I’m from Stockholm.”

“What are you doing here in Amsterdam?”

“I’m not staying here, just passing through on my way home. I’ve been travelling around Europe for a month now. Have you know about the InterRail card?”

“Yeah, somebody told me about that. I wish we had something like that in the U.S. I guess that you’re not here for the weed then. It looks like we are the only non-smokers here.”

“Yeah. Where in the States are you from?”

“D.C. I’m a professor at Georgetown. I’m here on a grant to study youth culture.”

“I wouldn’t call this youth culture. It’s a drug culture,” Johan said and made a face at all the hippies and drug users around them. “These people are passive. They smoke their hashish and don’t give a damn about the world. We have them in Sweden too. If they ever tried to do something, by now they have given up.”

“The drugs are part of it, but there is more to it than that,” the professor said. “Why do you think we have all these young people drifting around, not knowing what to do with themselves? It’s not the first time in history we’ve are seeing young people adrift, but it used to be after a big war or some other kind of devastation. Today it is middle class kids, young kids who grew up in safety and went to high school and college that can’t seem to find a way into society. Their parents are happily settled in some suburb, at least in the U.S., but their children don’t want to go into plastics, if you know what I mean.”

“Well, maybe they don’t know what to do because the society is fundamentally unfair. All they see is how owners of capital are exploiting the poor and waging imperialist wars all over the world. Why should they want to join that society? We want to change it, and you don’t do that by smoking pot,” Johan said.

“You’re right in that it’s not easy to find a place in a world like the one we are living in. It was probably easier before. If your parents were farmers, you got a couple of years in school if you were lucky and then you began to work next to your dad, or help your mom around the house if you were a girl. You went from childhood to adulthood like that,” he said snapping his fingers.

“It’s still the same system. It’s capitalism, even if the technological level has made it necessary to educate some workers more.”

“You could say that young people have become alienated and can’t see themselves filling a role in either production or society in general.”

“That’s true. Are you a Marxist?”

“Ha, ha. We are all Keynesians now, as Nixon said, but we are not all Marxists, at least not yet.”

“Keynes just tried to save capitalism. Keynesianism didn’t stop the Vietnam war.”

“On the contrary, it was in a way just what the doctor ordered, keeping people busy while feeding them at the same time. You don’t need to be a Marxist to see the logic in that, but I am not an economist or a political scientist. I’m a psychologist and I don’t want to say too much about stuff I don’t know enough about. But there are psychologists who are trying to understand society and social trends. Have you heard of Kenneth Keniston?

“No, never heard of him. What does he do?”

“He came up with this idea of a new stage in life, one that lies in between adolescence and adulthood. He calls it youth and thinks it can explain the enormous changes we’ve seen among young people in the United States and Europe. In the 1950s and early 1960s the experts thought that the young people had become really well integrated into society, except for minor outbursts and protests here and there, and a bunch of Beatniks. Then something happened in the 1960s and the result is what we are seeing today. It’s like a large part of the young generation dropped out of the system emotionally and psychologically.”

“Well, we had the Vietnam war, the Civil Rights movement, the race riots, police brutality, the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, the massacre in Mexico City right before the 1968 Olympics, the Greek military junta, which America supported. And the stagflation showed that the Keynesian model didn’t work anymore. I don’t think psychology can explain all that.”

“Maybe not, but I don’t think economic factors alone can’t explain that the youth rebellion had been simmering for over a decade. Keniston is sympathetic to the youth movement, but he is looking for an explanation to the fact that the young people who went to teach-ins and protested in the streets and on campuses were relatively wealthy by historic standards. Why did society fail to integrate them? He looks at real changes in society like the fact that more young people go to school for longer periods of time than ever before. In the old days, you would end up in a job after a few years in school, and you would marry and have children by the time you were 22, but now you have millions of young people who have left childhood, gone through puberty and have access to much more education and information than any generation before. But they feel lost and they reject the whole model for what life is supposed to be about. During the Second World War, young people had a cause, they fought against Hitler, and after the war, they fought against Stalin, but it wore off and the lines between good and evil blurred.”

“Today, it seems that the lines have cleared. The Vietnamese have taught us to see where the evil comes from,” Johan said.

“You could say that that is part of it, but it is also an effect of the young generation actually believing the Cold War propaganda about the freedom of choice that separated the free world from the Soviet bloc. I wonder sometimes if some of the youth problems originated in their absorption of something that was intended for external use.”

“So you are saying that people should not have assumed that the freedom was for them.”

“No, that’s not what I am saying. It’s more a matter of different dimensions of freedom. The Cold War was about freedom of the press, free elections and free markets. But in the sixties, the whole concept of freedom was stretched to include personal freedom, sex, clothing, hairstyles, drugs and rock and roll. And then we got the pill, which really got the sexual revolution going. Freedom exploded as a concept and society didn’t know what to do.”

“Maybe it was just bread and circus all over again? The wars kept going and 1968 faded out.”

“You could say that it faded out, at least the immediate threat of some kind of revolution, but society did change despite or maybe because of the cluelessness of the older generation. Few parents understood what was going on, and neither did teachers and politicians. Remember that all this happened at the same time as television became much more common and TV news brought the world into the living room. You could sit in your living room and watch Kennedy being shot, and you could see civil rights protesters beaten bloody by white racists in the South. And the war in Vietnam came into the living room on a daily basis. It would have been strange if we had not had a youth rebellion, if young people had not protested against society, against the war, against their parents’ lifestyles, which they felt was both boring and ignorant of what was going on in the world. It is also easy to underestimate the enormous social and economic changes in Europe and America during the first half of the 20th century. Millions of people were uprooted, and moved from rural areas to cities, and then to the new middle class suburbs, where most everybody was white, dressed the same, drove the same cars, had about the same types of jobs, dreams and watched the same TV shows. The kids did okay until they became teenagers. They borrowed dad’s car and made out in it, but over time it became clear that people didn’t really know what to do with their new freedoms and comfortable suburban life. What was the point? The adults were proud at having made it that far and they compared with their parents life and some remembered the depression, but the youth were itching to do something different and new.”

“Life has to mean something more than just watching TV.”

“Did you ever see Ozzie and Harriet?”

“Aussie what?”

“Ozzie and Harriet, the TV show.”

“No, never heard of it. We had Lucy Show, Dick van Dyke and Bonanza on TV when I was a kid.”

“Well, Ozzie and Harriet was a TV show with a typical American family, and their kids never joined any anti-war protests. People thought everything was fine and getting better every year until the Vietnam War went sour. Then came Kent State in May 1970. I’m sure you heard of that, when the National Guard killed four students. In my mind, that event alone was enough to kill the Ozzie and Harriet myth, because it was as if it was their kids that were shot on that neat lawn in Ohio.”

“And this is where it ends, with potheads at the Dam?”

“Well, for some it does end here, but then there are young people like yourself. I hope you get a chance to visit America one day. It’s hard to see it now, but it’s so much more than Nixon and what you see on TV. Remember those four students who were killed in the Kent State massacre. They were Americans too, and so were the nine that were wounded.”

“I totally agree. We’ve always said that when we protest the war, we are not anti-American, but anti-imperialist. It’s a sad irony that the United States, which had to fight against the British Imperialism for its independence, is waging a terrible war against Vietnam’s fight for their independence.”

“I’m hundred percent with you there. It is terrible and it is a moral failure, but you know what, I just remembered that I have a meeting soon. I’ve got to go, but It was great talking to you and I hope you come and see me if you come to D.C. some day! Bye!”

And he was gone, and once again Johan had forgotten to ask for the address. He didn’t even know the professor’s name. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

InterRail '73 - Excerpt from a draft novel - Chapter Thirteen

The sun was shining and he was laying in the grass in Hyde Park after a day in London. He was dirty and tired, but felt good overall. Three Italian girls were laying just a couple of yards from him and one of the girls flirted with him while taking cover from her friends. She was very pretty.

Earlier that day Johan had taken the tube to Elephant & Castle and walked about 500 street numbers to the southeast along the New Kent Road, which became the Old Kent Road after a while. The neighborhood was boring and nondescript. He was looking for a bookstore belonging to a Maoist group called the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist).

He did find a small bookstore, but there was something wrong about the display in the store window. It only had pictures of Mao. He rang the bell and a Japanese guy opened and asked him to come in. It was the same thing inside. Only Mao. No Marx, Engels, Lenin or Stalin, which one would have expected from a true Maoist bookstore. He asked the guy what they did politically and he answered that they held big rallies in central London. Some had as many as 300 people attending. Johan didn’t find that impressive in a city with 10 million inhabitants. 3,000 people would have been considered a small demonstration in Stockholm, which had less than a million inhabitants.

The only good thing about the visit was that he found out the address to the Bellman Bookshop, which was run by CPB (M-L) and had a fairly broad assortment of books and magazines. He chatted with the guy managing the store. He said that CPE (M-L), where the E stood for England and not Britain, was a CIA-sponsored sect. Johan bought a copy of The Worker, a couple of brochures and then took the tube to Oxford Circus. He continued by foot to Hyde Park where he began to flirt with the three girls.


He met Jean from Milano in Hyde Park and gave him the British Rail Pass. It so happened that he was about to set out on a trip around Great Britain, so he was very happy to get the pass. They spent the rest of the evening walking around London. At Piccadilly Circus they saw a group of Jesus People playing guitar and singing Christian pop songs, but they were teased by a handful of Italian men who took up Bandiera Rosso and the International while holding their fists in the air.


Sitting in the restaurant on the ferry to Oostende in Holland Johan wrote in his diary.

“Last night I was planning to sleep at Victoria Station. Helmut, the guy I met in Cardiff and a couple of other Germans were also planning to sleep there. Their idea was to hang around at the station until it was time to sleep. I took a long walk and returned past midnight. Helmut and the other Germans were gone. I walked around the station building looking for them, but they must have left. As I walked there I noticed that I was being followed by a black guy around 25. I stopped and turned around. He came up to me and asked politely if I was Danish. His said his name was Barry and that he was trying to help a Danish guy find his friend. We started to talk and he seemed nice. I told him that I was planning to sleep on a bench at the station, over by the lockers where my backpack was. Barry said that he had seen a couple of men from the Salvation Army and he suspected that they had brought my German friends to their shelter where you can sleep on the floor if you don’t have money for a hotel room. 
I was already feeling anxious about sleeping at the station. It sounded like a cool idea earlier in the evening, but now there were a lot of creepy characters roaming the building. Maybe Barry sensed that, because he said that I was welcome to stay overnight at his place. I said okay, but at the same time I wondered if I was jumping out of the ashes and into the fire. But he looked like a nice guy. I followed him to his car, a fairly new Japanese car. He lived in London’s south-east and that was not exactly close. His apartment was in a ten year old apartment complex next to a large lawn.

Barry served a small glass of whiskey and we chatted a bit before going to bed. 
He said that he worked as a clerk at an insurance company.  
‘Not exciting, but it’s a good job.'  
He seemed to live a happy and comfortable life, and his ideas corresponded pretty well with his way of living. He had little sympathy for London’s poor. 
‘They don’t need to be unemployed, but that’s the way they want it.’ 
It had been a long day for both of us and it didn’t take long before I was asleep on his couch.


When I was out walking in SoHo and Westminster St. James last night, I had all my stuff in the locker, except my sleeping bag, which I had tucked into my shoulder bag. I walked along The Mall, which runs through a park that leads up to the Buckingham Palace, in front of which the monument to Queen Victoria stands in the middle of a circle. I had walked along Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus and continued along Regent Street which became Waterloo Place before it reached The Mall. The small square was dark and practically empty.  
I walked fast hiding my Swiss army knife in my right hand.  
A man came running in my direction. I tightened my grip around the knife. He seemed intoxicated, crossed the street and stopped right in front of me. His shirt was out and his jacket was in a bad shape. He looked like he was fifty and started rambling.  
“Ye see, I gotta have a fix, ye see?”  
He pointed at his arm and asked me if I could help him with money for drugs. He seemed more miserable than desperate and didn’t seem violent. I pointed to my sleeping bag and told him that I was going to sleep at the train station as I didn’t have any money myself. He must have believed me because he kept running in search of his fix.


Barry made breakfast with tea, roasted bread and eggs early the next morning. Then he drove me to a bus stop where we said goodbye. He was off to his job and I waited for the bus back to the City. We already had exchanged addresses and I had promised to send a couple pictures once I was back home.”

Thursday, October 1, 2015

InterRail '73 - Excerpt from a draft novel - Chapter Twelve

He arrived at Cardiff’s Central Station at six in the morning together with a West German guy that he had met on the train. They spread out a newspaper on the station floor and tried to sleep, but were soon discovered and kicked out by a guard who told them that sleeping there was not permitted. It was raining on and off outside, so they went to a lousy cafe for a lousy breakfast. The other guests seemed to be sailors. The tea cost three pence.

They walked around in Cardiff for a couple of hours, saw Cardiff Castle, a medieval fortress in a beautiful park along the River Taff. His friend left after lunch to take a train to London. Johan went to an indoor public pool to take a shower. It felt great to be clean again. All he needed now was a pair of clean socks, a new t-shirt and a pair of new briefs. And his jeans definitively needed a good cleaning.

Cardiff was calm and comfortable, but there were not a lot of people around and those who were seemed busy. The streets got livelier around the time he returned to the station after a walk around Cardiff University’s campus. Maybe everybody had been to the Cardiff Searchlight Tattoo, which was a big festival that featured military parades and bands. He had seen the posters.


Wednesday was rough. He walked around for a couple of hours looking for a Bed & Breakfast, but all he saw was “No vacancy” signs. When he finally found a youth hostel, he discovered that his membership card for Sweden’s Tourist Association was gone. He searched his wallet, checked if the card was stuck in his passport, but it was nowhere to be found. He realized that it must still be in Menton where he had left it as deposit instead of his passport when he checked in at the camping. The manager at the youth hostel suggested that he buy a temporary membership for 2.66 pounds. Johan told him that he couldn’t afford that.

“Well, take a train to Liverpool, and then you can come back here tomorrow morning.”

He was tired, no he was exhausted to the point where he just wanted to collapse. To have to walk all the way back to the station and then try to find a train to sleep on. No, never!

“You can also take a bus to town and walk to the campground, but it’s three miles out.”

“No, that’s impossible. I really can’t do that.”

“Well, then you may have to cut your trip short.”

In the end he said okay to buy the membership, signed in and paid 57 np for the night, but the guy didn’t mention the membership fee again. The next morning he did the cleaning job he was assigned and left without saying anything. Maybe the guy forgot or maybe he was just nice and gave him a break.


Oxford. Four in the afternoon. His loneliness was eating him and he wrote in his diary:
“Oxford looks very nice and there are lots of people around. Everybody is heading somewhere, but I can’t figure out where. Eternal streams of people moving in every direction. There doesn’t seem to be a town center or a place where one can just sit down and chat. If you’re not in you’re out. Totally out. Or was that only sour grapes? Hatred of the world in a nutshell. That’s part of why people become bitter, but I am not bitter, just tired, sweaty and sad. The other part of me belongs to the world.” 


He had spent the morning and most of the afternoon walking around town and exploring the campus which was full of medieval-looking buildings, one of which was surrounded by 13 columns topped with sculptures of large heads that looked like Greek theater masks. The University campus was quaint with ponds and a small river with half a dozen swans and old academic-looking men fishing from a bridge, but it was at the same time as if it’s the real social life was going on hidden behind high walls and giant wooden doors.

As Johan left the well-manicured campus and headed into the modern part of town, he encountered two small groups of young people selling newspapers outside a department store. He stopped to take a picture of the group to the left, but was almost immediately approached by a stocky bald guy dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, a black leather jacket and an angry face.

“Hey there, why are you taking pictures? Are you a cop?”

“If I was a cop, I wouldn’t tell you, would I,” said Johan who was surprised by the guy’s suggestion.

“Alright, just checking. You can’t be too sure. The U.S. imperialists got their spies, you see, and they collude with our Labour Government, which is a pawn in the hand of the capitalists.”

“No surprise there.”

“What are you doing in Oxford? Are you a student?”

“No, I’m traveling on the InterRail pass and I wanted to see the university, but it’s pretty dead here.”

“The semester hasn’t started yet. That’s why it’s dead.”

“What’s your group about?”

“World revolution and direct action. We don’t want to wait for the system to fall by itself. You could say that we are the demolition team. Capitalism has got to go!”

“Okay,” Johan said, thinking that this must be some weird sect.

“The bourgeoisie is digging its own grave. Marx said that. The collapse of capitalism and the victory of the proletariat are inevitable, but Lenin showed that capitalism doesn’t go out by itself. You could say that it needs help to get through the door, and that’s where we come in. Direct action. They need a big kick in their fat arses!”

“But what about the people? Marx called for the workers of the world to unite, not for some small group of grave-diggers to do it for them!”

“No, no, the workers are so oppressed by the capitalist that they need the leadership of an avant-garde of Marxist-Leninist proletarian leaders armed with scientific socialism. Only they understand how the system works and what it takes to smash it!”

“It sounds to me like you don’t trust the people that much. In my mind, you can’t have true socialism unless you mobilize the people in a democratic way. You must win over the masses!”

“Oh, man, you are so naïve! It is definitively necessary to strike at the core of the system and you have to strike hard. That’s the only way forward,” he said.

The bald guy reminded Johan of some of the extreme leftists at home, people who would try to start fights with the police during protest marches. He walked over to the group to the right who sold a newspaper called Workers of the World.

“Don’t listen to that guy! He is a Stalinist, a hopeless case,” said a tall guy with curly black hair, round glasses and a wispy goatee that made him look a bit like Leon Trotsky.

“Not sure what he is, but I doubt that Marx would have wanted to have anything to do with him if he had been alive today.”

“Are you a socialist?”

“Of course, I’m fighting for a socialist Sweden!”

“There can be no socialist Sweden or any other country for that matter,” the guy snapped.

“Trotsky knew that the Russian Revolution could only be the first stage of a socialist world revolution. It can’t stop at the national border, which is a bourgeois concept. Have you read The Permanent Revolution?”

“No, but I know something about it and I know that the Russian people didn’t want to jump into another war after winning the civil war and fighting off all the foreign invaders,” he said.

“Well, if they had followed Trotsky’s path instead of Stalin’s reactionary opportunism, we might have had a socialist Europe now and Soviet Union would not have turned into a bureaucratic mess trapped in a transitional state between capitalism and socialism. To dream of socialism in one country is reactionary, objectively speaking. It reflects the narrow-minded interest of the petty-bourgeoisie, which always gives in to imperialist pressures. It’s an illusion held by leaders who no longer believe in the viability of a revolutionary perspective based on the international proletariat. It doesn’t surprise me that this tendency is so pronounced in a small, but imperialist country like yours, where the working class is still dominated by the Social Democratic bureaucracy. We have seen the same opportunist degeneration and right-wing tendencies in other countries as well,” he said.

The words kept flowing in a seemingly never-ending stream, and after half an hour Johan felt overwhelmed and walked off without looking back until he found a cafe where he could relax and lick his wounds after the double assault. He was upset, because the Trotskyist had made him feel inadequate and he wished that he had been more forceful, but he resigned himself with the thought that they were probably just upper-class students parading as socialists. With that he leaned back in his chair and looked out the window where he saw girls dressed in long flowing skirts and dresses that were wide at the bottom. Some of them were sexy, really sexy.

A nice looking girl about his age had been sitting two tables away from him until a few minutes ago. She looked friendly and they had exchanged looks, but he felt down and insecure after what so far had been a glum day. He couldn’t meet her eyes. A skinny man around 35 sat down on one of two chairs at her table so that he was sitting diagonally from her. Johan didn’t notice until she killed her cigarette and left. The man moved to another table and started to eat his hot dog and fries. He split his fries in halves before putting them in his mouth. His eyes looked tired, starved, and his lips were tense and slightly parted. Johan wondered if he was a pervert. At the table on his left was a man dressed in a business suit. He held his hands under the table in front of his groin. He experienced some kind of spasms, fidgeted and his head jerked this way and that. He kept his feet locked behind the chair’s legs.


Later Johan met two guys from Paris at the steps by the Martyr’s Memorial statue. One of them gave him a British Rail Pass that allowed him unlimited travel in Great Britain during August 19-26. He knew that he was not going to be around then, but he might find somebody who would, so he took the card.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

InterRail '73 - Excerpt from a draft novel - Chapter Eleven

He had sausage, chips and eggs at Tommy’s Restaurant in Manchester. It tasted good, the portion was generous and it only came to 25 np. Over dinner, he decided where to go next, Cardiff in Wales. He found a train that would leave 25 minutes past midnight.


It was hard to get a feel for Manchester based on the little he saw. It is an industrial city, but way past its glory if there ever was one. It looked like there were plenty of poverty to go around and he saw grown-ups begging and lots of homeless people, like in Scotland.


He saw the sign outside a restaurant in Manchester, not far from Town Hall.


It was a quarter past nine in the evening and he had been wandering the city for seven hours. He started around two when he saw a Guru Maharaj Ji poster near Manchester Piccadilly station. It said that there was going to be a meeting at seven thirty at Town Hall. Driven by curiosity he began to walk in the direction of where he thought it would be.

He walked on Market Street and saw two black men along with two prostitutes on the opposite sidewalk. They were excited, maybe drunk and laughed loudly. He watched them until he heard somebody talking on his left. It was an old man with a patch over his left eye who muttered something. At first he thought the man was talking to himself, but he looked at Johan and pointed at the girls and said that they were not English, but Irish. He said that many Irish, Scottish and Welch girls went with black men and that was not something he approved of.

Johan asked him for the way to the Town Hall. Then the man turned around so that he faced him.

“Follow me, I’ll show you. My name is Duncan,” he said.

He wore a ragged jacket over a dirty pullover, old grey pants, and worn-out shoes. He looked like he hadn’t had had a shave for quite a while. His long grey hair was unkempt and most of his upper teeth were gone, but at least he didn’t smell that bad.

As they walked, he complained bitterly that there were no pure British anymore and it was because of all the immigrants. Manchester was run by the Scots and the Irish, he said.

Besides immigrants he hated communism and he especially warned Johan for the university, which was too close for comfort.

“Only anarchists and communists. The students are stupid. Don’t understand that there must be authority. Manchester’s not a good city. It’s run by Labour. The people of Manchester are bad. See that man over there? He is spying on us! Everybody spies in Manchester.”

“Oh, I didn’t notice,” Johan said.

“You must be careful here in Manchester. There are terrible things going on here. Some nights I hardly dare to be outside. It’s dangerous. Watch out for trouble makers and hold on to your bags! These days, many people stay inside and it’s better that way.”

The Town Hall turned out to be the center of the city, no surprise there, but the place was almost empty when Johan and the old man arrived.

Duncan said that he had been to Sweden two years ago and that he liked it there.

“People don’t mix as much,” he said referring to Swedes and immigrants.

Johan found the man a sympathetic person despite his bitter and racist ideas. He tried to imagine how Duncan had become that way. He spoke French and German besides his native English, so he must have had some kind of education and probably worked in an office earlier in his life. He took Johan to an international restaurant, which was also a club for Esperanto speakers. Johan thought that was strange for a man who complained so much about foreigners. On the way there he stopped in front of an Armenian restaurant and pointed at the Russian wines on display in the window.

“They are communists! It’s a bad place,” he muttered shaking his head.

As they passed by the Town Hall building, he pointed at the Labour Party office.

“You see, it right next to Town Hall,” he said hinting at a conspiracy.

The Esperanto restaurant was closed, so they continued to Piccadilly Garden. Duncan kept pointing out and complaining about foreign restaurants, whether they were Italian, Chinese, Japanese or Indian.  Eventually they arrived at a restaurant called The Golden Egg. Johan asked Duncan if he wanted to join him for dinner, but he declined pointing to his shabby clothes. They shook hands and he pressed Johan’s hands firmly as to test his strength.

“You’ll make it! Maybe I’ll see you around here one day,” he said as he turned around and walked off into Manchester’s dark, wet and weary night.

“Bye Duncan, it was nice to meet you,” Johan called out after him.


He returned to the Town Hall so see if there were more people there now, but it was as dead as before. Maybe Duncan was right about people being afraid to go out at night? He walked back to The Golden Egg and had two cups of tea, two tea sandwiches and two pancakes with peach halves and whipped cream on top. All for 30 np. Everything was very good and the atmosphere was friendly.

Later he walked to Mother Mac’s Bar on No. 33 Back Piccadilly Street. He had seen the address on posters for a left-wing bookstore and he was curious, but the street was dark and there were several rough looking men hanging outside the bar. He walked back to the park where home- and hopeless old men and women sat on benches. On the side streets he could see plenty of men between thirty and sixty roaming around. Were they unemployed? Next to the bus terminal he saw an old man with a huge beard that made him look like Karl Marx trying to sleep while leaning on a fence near an intersection. He failed over and over, but kept trying. On a bench in the park, an old man lay sleeping in the rain with a newspaper over his head.


It was Wednesday, August 8. He had been travelling for almost four weeks and had less than one to go. He talked to a worker from Manchester on the train to Crewe. The man worked at Goodyear in Wolverhampton in the West Midlands. He looked and acted like an old man, but he could as well have been 45. He was worn out.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

InterRail '73 - Excerpt from a draft novel - Chapter Ten

He was tired and nauseous, sitting in the corridor on the train from Paris to London. Maybe he was getting sick. Well, he thought, in that case it was good to be on the way to England where healthcare was free. There was a smell in the corridor as if somebody had thrown up not too far from where he sat. Unfortunately, he had nowhere else to go. He was travelling with Björn, Gustav, Sanna and Ingrid, four Swedes he had met on the train station. They had fought hard to try to reserve a sitting compartment or at least a few single seats, but the train was jam packed and there were no reservations available.

Half an hour later, he and his friends found an empty luggage compartment, which they quickly occupied. Before long they were accompanied by a bunch of other InterRailers who spread out on the dirty floor. Those who had brought breakfast started to eat. Some shared their food with others if they had enough and were up to it. For a moment they thought themselves lucky to have found a secret spot on the train, but this illusion was crushed when a conductor discovered them and sent them back into the stinking corridor.

Once settled down again, Johan took out the book that he had bought in Paris and started to read.
“I could see men of all colors bouncing along in the boxcar. We stood up. We laid down. We piled around on each other. We used each other for pillows. I could smell the sour and bitter sweat soaking through my own khaki shirt and britches, and the work clothes, overalls and saggy, dirty suits of the other guys. My mouth was full of some kind of gray mineral dust that was about an inch deep all over the floor. We looked like a gang of lost corpses heading back to the boneyard.”  
Maybe his lot wasn’t that bad after all, at least not compared to the destitute okies Guthrie wrote about in Bound for Glory.


He washed his hair in the restroom on the car-and-train ferry that took them from Calais to Dover. He changed money so that he had 15 British pounds. Once in London, it didn’t take long for him to discover that all the youth hostels were fully occupied and that the hotels were too expensive for his budget. He and his Swedish friends ate at a cheap Chinese restaurant and spent the evening wandering about in the City despite the rain. They passed the Houses of Parliament, the Big Ben, crossed the Thames and then headed back towards Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. Johan saw lots of poor people, many who were down and out like those Jack London wrote about in his 1903 book The People of the Abyss, which was based on the author’s four months life as a pauper in London’s East End.

Johan was dead tired when they finally returned to Victoria Station and needed somewhere to sleep, but a hotel room was not to think of, so he jumped on a night train to Edinburgh, which offered a ride long enough. He slept on the floor in the corridor and that was alright.

The sun was shining when he woke up and he spent an hour talking to a lady from Israel about politics and war. He looked out the window on his right side and could follow the coastline with his eyes. At a distance he saw Edinburgh and its castle perched on the rock.


Johan and his friends Gustav and Björn walked down to the city’s harbor in search of an inexpensive place to have breakfast. After mile or so, they stepped into a tiny and dimly lit pub where the owner sat on a bar stool. He was dressed in a ripped shirt that was only halfway tucked in. It sure looked cheap enough, but the owner ignored them and kept talking to two regulars. Eventually he turned to the newcomers and asked them if they wanted tea.

“Breakfast,” Johan said.

“Just got toast ‘n eggs”

“Okay, that’s fine.”

The owner excused himself with that he was actually closed and only had come down to tidy up.

Two other customers came in and got their breakfasts. Then it was Johan’s and his friends’ turn. Another six or seven customers showed up plus four Indians who brought most of their food with them. For 30 np he had two roasted sandwiches with eggs and two cups of tasty tea. When they were about to leave, the owner convinced them to skip the harbor and visit the old castle instead.

“From up there you can see the whole city,” he said.

They followed his advice and visited the castle first. They picked up sandwiches on the way down and ate them in a park along the railroad tracks. The sun came out while they were sitting on a park bench and there was a nice breeze. Björn stretched out in the grass while Gustav and Johan went for a walk. They visited a small tourist shop, where Gustav checked out some checkered Scottish caps. A Scotsman dressed in a kilt informed Gustav that the hat he fancied was a ladies hat. Johan asked to see Shetlands wool pullovers and tried half a dozen. A tall and slender Spanish lady smiled at him and he flirted back, but didn’t say anything. He fell for two of the sweaters, one was light blue, while the other sweater was rusty brown. Unfortunately they didn’t have it in his size, so he bought the blue instead. It was very comfortable, but set him back 4.55 pounds. The Scotsman selling it was very nice and told them where they could eat cheaply.

Back at the park he paused to take a dozen photos of an old man in a ankle long grey trench coat and a flat cap. He had a dozen pigeons in his arms, one on his hat and many more gathered around his feet. It was as if he had created his own little space where he was needed and loved, albeit by pigeons.


Johan discovered Edinburgh’s Speakers Corner on the way to the Central Post Office where his friends were going to buy stamps. Johan didn’t need any so he hung around the Speakers Corner, looking, listening and taking pictures. There was a middle-aged born-again Christian, who demonstrably was a born speaker. He wore a dark trench coat and held a bible and a notebook in his left hand while gesticulating energetically with the other, trying to save the souls of his fellow men. Now and then he was interrupted by someone in the audience who asked questions and commented on something he had said. It was a mixed group with old men and women, long-haired youth, middle age men in suits, and a few less fortunate old men who had taken a break from picking up cigarette butts from the street.

The speaker next to him was a tall man around 30 with a powerful shock of shaggy red hair, a mustache and a long wide beard. He stood on a chair, holding a small open milk carton and a sign for the “Socialist Party of Great Britain” with his right hand while waving passionately with his left hand. On the ground in front of the chair lay copies of the Communist Manifesto and miscellaneous other socialist brochures. Another crowd gathered around a speaker who insisted that 95 percent of the people on Northern Ireland were Protestants.

Johan noticed that many of the speakers acted in a similar fashion. They gesticulated a lot and interacted with an audience that enjoyed firing off questions and ironic punts. The exceptions were a young girl with a round face and long curly brown hair and a young man who wore a machine-stitched sweater over a beige shirt. His oval face was framed by his long and straight black hair. He spoke on behalf of the Edinburgh Indo-China Solidarity Committee according to the neatly written cardboard sign he had in front of him. The girl wore large buttons for Guru Maharaj Ji on her sweater and spoke with great passion about the guru, who in her mind was a “perfect master of love” despite being only 15 years old.

New groups were constantly formed while others dissolved as the listeners got bored and moved on to the next speaker. Johan stayed for at least an hour and then met up with Björn and Gustav who had waited for him patiently.

Later that day they took a train to Aberdeen, further north in Scotland.  


They found the Aberdeen youth hostel they had heard about, but it was full and a hotel room would cost 1.5 to 2 pounds per person, so they took the bus to the Hazlehead campground west of town instead. However, it was also full and the manager had closed for the day. He was about to leave when they arrived, but he was a nice fellow and showed them a spot where they could put up their tents. The price would be 65 np per person, he told them. It was a cold and rainy night and Johan’s sleeping bag was not good enough for that kind of weather, so he froze. On the other hand, the manager just waved them away when they went to the office the next morning to pay.

“So far the Scots have been anything but cheap,” Johan told his friends.


It was six in the evening and they were travelling to Garve, a small town northwest of Inverness. Through the train window they could see sheep grazing on rolling hills that could hardly have been any more green. Once in Garve, they had 45 minutes before the last train for the night would take them back to Inverness. They walked towards the Black Water River, which feeds into Loch Garve a few miles south, stopped at a brook and talked to some kids around twelve who were fishing with casting rods while smoking cigarettes.

“Garve’s boring. There’s nothing to do,” one of them said. “Too quiet. Aberdeen’s better. Only a couple of hundred people in Garve and it rains all the time here in the Highlands.”

One of the boys said that he had a part time summer job in Ullapool, a small town by a fjord that cuts in from the Atlantic Sea. He worked as a delivery boy at a bakery and earned 50 pence a day, which he felt was a good pay.


Johan took a train from Inverness to Glasgow where he had had a couple of hours to walk around before catching the next train south. The city was very industrial, or rather, it had once been industrial. He saw groups of men hanging around stoops and street corners. He didn’t feel safe and didn’t stay longer than he had to.


He had talked to a Norwegian girl with a guitar on the train, but she was going to leave in Preston. He didn’t know where he was going to go next and as he sat there thinking about what to do he thought of leaving the train he too, but it was probably too late. And why should he bother the lady next to him by gathering his stuff when he probably wouldn’t make it anyhow? It would have been a little silly, but he stood up and calmly began to collect his stuff. He knew he wouldn’t make it, but he wanted to tempt fate. The woman stood up. He said goodbye to Gustav and Björn and walked towards the door. Bang! The exit door was shut. Well, that’s it, he thought, but he managed to open it and get off the train. He turned back towards the open window and asked his friends if he had left anything behind.

“No,” they said after taking a quick look.

“Bye, bye! Have a great trip,” he called out to them.

He walked towards the exit and met up with the Norwegian girl again. They went to the information booth together. She asked about trains to Liverpool and he about trains to Manchester. There were trains leaving at 11.27, 11.37, 12.17 and 13.17.


They split and he took a random walk in the city, checked out photography shops, clothing stores and restaurants. He took off from the main street and followed a cross street that lead to a modern multistory shopping center. Later he found himself at a place called The Precinct where he had roast beef with mashed potato and a glass of milk. The meal cost 39 np. He bought a bread for 7½ np and a yogurt for 5½ np. He kept walking past the entrance to the train station as he had another fifteen minutes to go, but it started to rain, so he turned back. The rain got heavier and he took cover by a wall that provided some protection as the rain fell on a slant.

An old lady laughed.

“Much rain here!”

They chatted. She was nice.

“Very dirty,” she said and pointed to the garbage on the pavement. “Ye know, England is gettin’ down. Where are you from?”

“Sweden… Stockholm.”

“Oh, I see! I’ve heard that it’s very beautiful in Sweden… and clean!”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“You speak very good English.”


He is on the train to Manchester and happy to travel on his own again. You don’t interact with the locals as much when you travel with friends or other InterRailers. 

Hubble Telescope Images