I’m cheating a little today, as this needs to be written up for the Cork Midsummer Festival and I don’t have time to write it up, another ‘creative’ post and a post about Scotland as well as, you know, feed myself and do my job.
So, here is something that is going to be included in our pop-up cafe, ‘Home is Where the Art Is’. I’m not entirely sure how or where yet, but it will be included. I think.
‘After I finished high school, I went to live in Norway for a year on school exchange. The family I was hosted by lived in the far North-East of the country, right on the border of Russia and Finland, in a town called Vadsø.
Because the Australian school year finishes in December, I moved to Norway in January. I went from clear blue skies and 35 degree heat, a Christmas Day spent in the swimming pool and the devastating 2002 Canberra bushfires, to 4 feet of snow, no sunlight and minus degree temperatures.
One thing that became very important to me, that had never really mattered to me before, were socks. In Australia I had gotten about in bare feet, or socks that were riddled with holes. In Norway, I started wearing 2 or 3 pairs at a time, and suddenly my shoes didn’t fit anyore.
Socks were particularly important in the home. You didn’t wear your shoes inside the house, which I thought was only a Japanese tradition. Now that I think about it, I’m certain the reason is to prevent snow being tracked inside the house! Anyway, everyone had lovely, woolen knitted socks with a beautiful, distinctive snowflake patter and I had my thin, hole-y ones.
In February, I went with my host mother to visit her mother-in-law. Her mother-in-law lived right near the Russian border, amongst pine-tree forests and lakes and boulders. Her house was yellow and white and wooden. It was like being in a fairytale.
When we got to the house, we took our shoes off, like good Norwegians. We were made cups of warm, sugary tea and offered cinnamon buns and flat cinnamon and butter sweet bread. My host grandmother didn’t speak and English, so she and my host mother spoke Norwegian, whilst I sat there, in my threadbare socks, staring about the room and awkwardly smiling and nodding when my host mother translated comments into English for me.
At one point, my host grandmother looked down at my feet and became quite distressed. My host mother translated. ‘She’s worried about your socks.’ I smiled and nodded. ‘She says they have holes in them.’ I smiled and nodded again. ‘She says they’re not warm enough.’ I started to protest. ‘She wants to know if you have any others with you?’ I shake my head and smile and protest and say I’m fine, but she’s already getting up, with a determined look, shaking her head, gesturing at my socks and speaking Norwegian to my host mother. She leaves the room, and when she comes back she has a pair of cream & black knitted socks, just like the ones my host family wears, with the snowflakes all over them. She presents them to me and waves away my attempts to thank her in halting Norwegian. ‘Takk, takk, tusen takk’ (Thanks, thanks, a thousand thanks). She sits down and says something to my host mother. Very satisfied with herself, she watches me pull on the socks and offers more cake
The socks become my most treasured possession. I only ever wear them in the house, curled up on the sofa or in the bed. Even now, pulling them on, I feel warm, loved and looked after.’