PREVIOUS CHAPTER: SIX: Austria and Israel
After the euphoria of a safe return and Christmas at home, winter in Manchester began to drag. I might have found a conventional job locally, but didn’t try, wanting to do something more original and creative with my life. I had applied for a dream job and had a reasonable chance of getting it, so I felt. Basically a volunteer post, with miserable pay and limitless work hours, it would still be exciting, demanding lots of travel to spread the message of voluntary youth service around the world. And, a major bonus: the secretariat was based at UNESCO in Paris. In the years following World War II, a number of European workcamp agencies had formed a committee to coordinate their programmes, exchange young volunteers, run leadership training projects and organise a conference every two years. Now extended, with over seventy member organisations in India, Africa, Europe and the Americas, the Coordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service (CCIVS) needed two new staff to run the secretariat. Wages: US$120 a month. I had applied and knew I had the support of Quaker Workcamps in London.
As January turned into February and February dragged on into March with no news from France, I grew ever more despondent. Now aged 24, fed up with home, fed up with my parents, I longed to get on with life. I also got a small taste of how depressing unemployment must be for those who cannot find a job after years of trying.
At last I signed up and paid in advance for ten sessions of guitar lessons at the Manchester School of Music and then, of course, the Quaker Workcamps wrote to say that the job was mine, and could I get over to Paris as soon as possible?
Arrived 11th April 1961. Young, with an exciting new job based at a prestigious United Nations agency. April in Paris – a dream come true! Parts of this dream were indeed wonderful. The romantic Seine with its bridges, bouquinistes along the quays and splendid buildings on either bank, the Quartier Latin, threaded by intriguing narrow streets alive with students. Exhilarating Paris, with its parks, boulevards, gardens, small cafés filled with chic women and, yes, chestnuts in blossom. One slight disappointment was to learn that the fine UNESCO building at Place Fontenoy did not house our little office. Instead, we had the ground floor of a nondescript block in a very ordinary street, two miles away at 6, rue Franklin, near the Passy Metro station.
More seriously, I found France itself in turmoil as the appalling war that had blighted Algeria for years had now turned into a right wing rebellion. In Algeria, people were being killed by the hundreds every day by right wing colonists, and this killing had spread to Paris itself. Bombs of plastique (presumably Semtex or some earlier explosive) exploded nightly, and it was said that one could hear the screams of people being tortured at Police headquarters on the Ile de la Cité. Certainly, the bodies of North African men were quite often retrieved from the river. The crisis came to a head with the debate over Algerian independence, which the French government proposed and the colonists fiercely opposed. On the night of the 24th April 1961 (I noted in my diary) President de Gaulle addressed the country by radio, proposing to arm citizens to protect the airports against a possible coup d’état. In the midst of all this conflict only two groups seemed to me to keep their humanity and common sense, the Communist party and the Quakers. I went to several Quaker meetings during this period and came to respect them even further than I had done on volunteer projects in Sweden and England.
My first two days in the office of the Coordinating Committee, I spent with Larry Johnston, a taciturn volunteer about to return home to the USA, and then I was largely on my own. I went from filing cabinet to cabinet, reading up the minutes of earlier committee meetings, trying to understand the finances, trying to grasp our future work commitments. Apparently, we were expected to set up a world conference of work camp organisers every two years, prepare for Executive Committee meetings every three months, publish each spring a vast list of all work camps due to be run that summer, run training courses for work camp leaders in different continents, edit a quarterly newsletter, “Workcamps Across the World”, promote understanding and cooperation between associations in East and West Europe, speak up for voluntary service principles within the United Nations and further UN values within the volunteer sector.
I say “we”, because a new American was due to join me in the early autumn, a chap by the name of Arthur Gillette. He had already worked at the CCIVS as a conscientious objector doing his alternative to military service in the U.S.A. and I eagerly awaited his arrival. In the meanwhile, I was to hold the fort, with help from a short-term assistant and a few irregular volunteers. Luckily, I had much advice from two members of the Coordinating Committee who themselves worked in Paris-based voluntary service organisations, Jean-Michel Bazinet and Roger Briottet. Both were men of great integrity, inspired by the principles of equality and participative democracy that underlie the volunteer spirit.
Though exhausting – we were often too busy to think of eating and often carried on till after midnight – my job certainly opened up new vistas. However, a girl passing though Paris that hot summer was to change my life even more dramatically.
After some months my counterpart arrived – Arthur – with his John F. Kennedy good looks and a huge personal commitment to volunteering. We hit it off immediately, sharing the same sense of humour, the same enthusiasm, the same readiness to give the CCIVS the best we could. Undaunted by the many tasks ahead and the limited money to do them with, and in view of our minimal pay, we gave ourselves fancy job titles. For three years, 1961-63, Arthur was General Secretary and I, Executive Secretary of the CCIVS. However, this lifestyle did not suit his wife, Kitty – a bookish, young woman, also from the USA – who fairly soon left Arthur to spend the rest of her life in London.
Arthur and his second wife, Nicole, a few years later
So what was this lifestyle? ‘Creative chaos’ best describes the state of our office. We had a constant coming and going of volunteer helpers and visitors, a dozen projects running at any one time, the duplicator spewing out tens of thousands of workcamp lists – to the strains of Bartok, Bach or Blues – amorous courtships and violent arguments went on between the filing cabinets. If you liked this (and not everyone did) you gladly worked all hours of the day and night. Time did not matter; this was not a job but a life. And we could act and act fast, in contrast to the ponderous bureaucracy of UNESCO that gave us official shelter. A new idea at eleven could be thrashed out by two, on stencil by three and in the post to our seventy-five members by five-thirty. Whatever else slowed down the CCIVS in those days – the lack of funds, poor communications with member groups in Africa and Asia, arguments about a rapprochement between East and West Europe – we at the secretariat were enormously productive.
What do I mean, ‘on stencil’? Each spring, we turned out 3,000 copies of our work camps listing, thirty pages thick, on an ancient ink duplicator. This was long before the time of photocopying and much more laborious. First, each individual page needed typing onto a floppy wax-covered stencil rather bigger than an A4 sheet of paper. A small error could be corrected by painting it over with liquid wax on a tiny brush, letting it dry and then re-typing; but a bigger mistake meant tossing away the stencil and starting all over again.
Each finished stencil was then draped round the inky cylinder of our duplicating machine and clamped tight. Next, we loaded a couple of hundred sheets of duplicating paper and pressed the ‘On’ button. Ideally, black text then appeared on each sheet, with the paper remaining blank beneath any un-typed parts of the stencil. In practice, stencils ripped, ink got everywhere, paper jammed or the duplicator span round like a mad thing, snatching each sheets and spitting it out with bewildering speed. We were well into our second year before we spotted that the old-timer was meant to run 110 Volt electricity, while power at 6, rue Franklin was the modern 230 Volts.
Once all 45,000 sheets had been printed and 3,000 copies of pages 1 & 2 were stacked on a desk top, we piled 3,000 copies of pages 3 & 4 next to them, and so on. With one desk top full, we started on the next until we had fifteen piles each of 3,000 sheets. Then began the weary job of walking round the stacks, collecting one sheet from each until we had a complete document. Next, we had to staple it, slide it into an envelope, seal this and write an address on it. Finally, put on a stamp of the correct value according to its destination. 3,000 times. (If you find it tedious to read this description – just imagine how it felt to do the job itself.) But we helped to pass the hours by singing along to American hill-billy music or the chansons of French guitarist Georges Brassens – whose lyrics combined ironic social commentary with delightful tunes. I saw him once, live, at a theatre in Paris and lamented that the U.K. had no one to match his particular talents.
During this time, we wrote 2,000 personal letters and travelled over 30,000 miles to various conferences and meetings – mostly by train. We ran a World Conference deep in the jungle of central Cameroon, two Continental Training Projects, a seminar at the World Youth Festival in Helsinki and prepared fifteen committee meetings for the CCIVS itself.
As a world coordinating centre for the workcamp movement, our office came as a disappointment to some. They expected smooth professionals in smart suits, diplomatic gravity, certain privileges and comforts, and they found none of it. Our Coordinating Committee and its staff worked in the volunteer tradition, with all the strengths and weaknesses that implied. Our approach reflected the values of work-camping itself, along lines that were non-national, amateur rather than professional, frugal, egalitarian and democratic.
Several years were to pass before we were to try to formulate these and other ideas in a Universal Charter. At the 16th World Conference of Work-Camp Organisers in Geneva (1968) we debated, amended and approved a World Volunteer Charter setting out a code of practice. It included the following:
‘In their daily work, their attitudes and relations, they [the volunteers] support the principle of equality and the right of every person to dignity and respect… This same spirit is also to be expected of the administrative staff in a volunteer organisation.’
In the summer of 1961, I planned to quit my lodgings in an apartment on the rue du Cherche Midi (an ominous street name for Parisians, for in that street had stood le Cherche Midi, a dreaded German prison during the Nazi occupation only 16 years earlier). My room was miniscule, triangular and up a great number of steps. The rent – if not excessive – was fairly high, and the landlord a non-too friendly White Russian emigrant. I had to find somewhere better to live. One afternoon, wandering down the Quai de Bercy – an industrial area in eastern Paris – I found it: the hull of what had been a beautiful 40 foot wooden yacht. She had no mast, true, and her deck sprouted grass and other weeds, but I fell in love with her on the instant.
Enquiries led me to the owner and we agreed a price of 3,000 francs for the vessel – four months of my CCIVS pay, quite an outlay. However, I was expecting royalties from the publishers, Methuen, for Sailing in a Sieve, and my grandma, “Nan” in Manchester lent me the capital, so within a week I had become the proud owner of Geneviève, the sweetest boat on the Seine.
Not that it was all plain sailing. For a start, the vendor had no ship’s papers to give me title to ownership of the boat. Fortunately, a friend at the British Consulate in Paris typed a letter on official notepaper, in obscure English legalese. In simple terms, it said no more than that I, Glyn Roberts, affirmed that the boat, Geneviève (certain particulars were given here), was my property. He affixed a large blob of red sealing wax to his work, stamped it and added an undecipherable signature. Though almost meaningless, that bit of paper was later to serve me well.
The next snag was la brigade fluviale, the dreaded River Police. Apparently, they inspected vessels moored within Paris and if these fell below a certain standard, the police would order them to be towed downstream to la cimtière des bateaux, where they were left to rot. And of course Geneviève turned out to be one of the damned. Although she had somehow sneaked back upstream to Quai de Bercy to avoid the graveyard, there was no question of simply taking her into central Paris as la fluviale would soon recognise her. The only way to moor her close to Rue Franklin was to change her outward appearance.
Guy Davies (Weet Ing inventor) helps with work on Geneviève
So began three of months of hard work, decking over the large cockpit, painting the upper parts, adding a British ensign, and acquiring a 30 foot mast. This last was simply the straightest, most slender tree trunk I could find in a timber yard somewhere to the west of Paris. Once we had lashed it to the roof of a borrowed Citroēn 2CV, some nine feet of mast still stuck out in front and another nine feet behind. We tied gaudy cloths to either end and, like a knight entering a jousting contest, moved off into the evening rush-hour. It so happened that the Arc de Triomphe lay on our direct route back to the Quai de Bercy, and even we hesitated at the prospect of cutting right across the Place de l’Etoile, with its swirling traffic six lanes deep. But we had little option, so dived right in – and I shall never forget the appalled look on the face of the first gendarme as we swerved past him into the fray. His blew loud on his whistle, but it was too late, we were in the thick of it and moments later our Citroēn had edged its way 180° anti-clockwise round the Place de l’Etoile and out onto the Champs Elysées.
With Geneviève looking ‘ship shape and Bristol shanky’ (Arthur’s nautical term, not mine), we arranged for a barge, l’Aurore, to tow Geneviève downstream to her new home in the very heart of Paris, at Place de la Concorde, right across from the Assemblée Nationale. Our pick up was due for 6 a.m. one morning, so Arthur and I went aboard the night before with provisions for the trip, including a couple of bottles of wine. Around 2 a.m., the bottles emptied and the crew rather merry, we decided that it would be folly to wait for l’Aurore. We could fashion oars from two long poles lying on the quayside and paddle our boat gently down the stream. With help from the current, Geneviève could be nicely tied up at Place de la Concorde well before day-break, with la fluviale still fast asleep in their beds.
In our befuddled state, we pushed off towards midstream, with the current suddenly picking us up and sweeping us, broadside on, towards the pillars of the first bridge. We paddled hard, aiming for an arch, but found the heavy boat did not respond well to paddling by two inebriates. We made it, just, and so became increasingly confident that we could slip downstream in the darkness to enjoy breakfast tied up at our new berth. But even at three in the morning, Paris is a city of lights, and with the Algerian troubles, French police were extra vigilant. As we drifted towards the Ile Saint Louis, fully visible to all, police cars with flashing blue lights drove down onto both quais. Then searchlights picked us up, whistles blew and a loudspeaker ordered us to moor up immediately at the quayside.
By now, quite sober, and after some frenzied paddling, we crunched into a high stone wall, made fast to two iron mooring rings, and looked up into the muzzles of a couple of snub-nosed mitraillettes (sub-machine guns). Also into the muzzles of several ugly riot police and their officer, who barked, “Qu’est ce que vouz foutez là-bas, vous deux, à cette heure-ci? Ah, les cons! Merde, alors! Savez pas que c’est interdit naviguer la nuit? Vos papiers!” This roughly translates as, “Boating on the river at this time of night, my fine fellows? Goodness gracious, this will never do. Kindly pass me your ship’s papers”.
In response, and in the worst French I could summon, I babbled, ‘Excusez-nous, monsieur le argent de police. Nous sommes des britanniques qui vennaient de la Mediterrannée à la Cowes en Angleterre. Notre moteur est cassé malheureusement. Òu est le Place du Concorde?’
By good fortune, we had moored at a point on the quai with no ladder, and far too low down for any papers to be passed up, or for police to come aboard. Foiled, they ordered us to remain there until the River Police inspected us in the morning. Arthur and I passed a nervous few hours, and when la fluviale did come alongside I gave them the letter concocted at the British Consulate. They studied it narrowly, but whatever English they had, it was no match for my friend’s legalistic nonsense. Finally, to our relief, they passed it back with nods of approval. Then, very decently, they offered to take a look at our broken motor. This put us in a fix because our ship’s engine was not exactly broken; rather, it was out of a rusting lorry, had never been installed, and lay at that moment on deck under a shabby raincoat. We replied, now in better French, that we had tools and materials and that a barge was contracted to tow us down to Place de la Concorde. This was technically true, because, even as we spoke, l’Aurore itself sped by, having found no sign of us back at the Quai de Bercy.
Some days later, another barge did tow us downstream. At an agreed signal it cast us off and we paddled in to the bank, making fast just below the Pont de la Concorde at one of the most select spots in all Paris. And here, Geneviève was to be my home for the next two and a half years. Besides the sheer beauty of the setting, it had the advantage of being an easy walk both to the UNESCO building and – along leafy quais – to rue Franklin and the office. Unsurprisingly, Arthur also moved into a boat, across the river and a few hundred yards downstream, and found it equally convenient and therapeutic.
A modern photo, but this is the exact spot, just below the bridge
Work at the CCIVS could be tough, but one consolation, one distraction, was to be on board, floating peacefully on the Seine. After the tension of conference or committee meeting, after nightmare train journeys across half Europe, stumbling out of the Gare du Nord at 5a.m., sick with fatigue – the beauty of those early mornings on the river. Upstream: Notre Dame, framed in the arc of a graceful bridge; the water drifting by, still pale and misty; chestnuts along the banks caught in the first sunlight, a few leaves already turning red. And, almost above us the Tour Eiffel, a soaring pattern of steel, its feet set solid in Parisian gardens, its pinnacle suspended in pale blue space… it was breath-taking. A cup of coffee on the foredeck, an almost-physical drinking in of the view, the serenity – and one was ready to do battle again for the cause of international voluntary service.
Late in June, we had a call at the CCIVS from the American Quakers’ work camps office in Paris. Half a dozen international volunteers were going to a church concert near St. Sulpice that evening: did I want to join them? We met up at the Vaneau Metro station and the group included a girl from Sweden, a girl so stunning that inside the church I was galled to find us placed furthest apart in the pews, with the others between. The concert dragged on for hours. Even Bach’s exquisite Double Violin concerto, usually a favourite, lost its allure. Finally, the end and I suggested we go for a coffee, but no, they had to rush. ‘Well, I live very close,’ I said, ‘and have a beautiful ripe mango, courtesy of Air India. Come up just for five minutes.’ They did and stayed till midnight, which gave me time to chat to Sigyn in Swedish (playing a strong card there!) and offered to show her round the UNESCO building a day or two later.
[Hear Glyn discuss the mango moment and the first time he met Sigyn, by clicking here]
We walked around UNESCO admiring sculptures by Henry Moore and Nigel Calder and a colourful ceramic wall by Juan Miro. Inside, we were less impressed by Picasso’s huge mural, but we talked and laughed and chose two steaks tartare in the staff canteen, neither of us knowing that we had ordered raw meat. That just led to more laughs and a growing ‘something’ between us. Then she had to go, but as we shook hands I thought she held mine just that tiny fraction longer than is customary.
In my diary for June 26th I wrote, ‘Another day of delightful events, of which the most important was eating lunch at UNESCO with Sigyn Erligh – a very pretty and charming young lady. Didn’t get back to the office till 3.45 p.m. … Just now, all I can think of is Sigyn. I shall go out [to her work camp] and see her again, as soon as possible. She really is very, very lovely’.
An early photo of Sigyn
One of my jobs at CCIVS was to evaluate work camps, which naturally meant a visit, and late Friday evening I took the train for Illiers and the village of Charbonnières, with its old château that Sigyn was helping to renovate. At Illiers, it was already gone eleven but I strode off, guitar in hand, to march the 28km along country lanes with wheat fields pale in the moonlight on either side. Some hours later, I saw that at that pace I would reach the château far too early, so I bedded down in a pile of straw by the roadside and slept for a few hours.
By five-thirty, the sun already warm on my cheek and larks singing high above, I was off again and reached the château just as the volunteers were gathering in the kitchen for bowls of café au lait and crusty bread. And there she was, the radiant Swedish girl, quite astonished to see me. After breakfast, she still had half an hour before work, so I suggested we walk in the grounds. This went fine except that our return brought us back into an ornamental garden enclosed by a wrought iron railings. To return the way we had come would have taken far too long, so I proposed climbing the railings. Sigyn baulked at the idea, but I insisted she could do it if I helped her up. Gamely, she made a try, but her dress caught in the ironwork, she came down with a thud on the other side and lay still. Somehow, I was over the fence just as she was coming to, but her arm was already swelling and turning blue.
The doctor at Authon du Perche plastered her arm, put it in a sling and announced, ‘No physical work for three weeks’: just the duration of Sigyn’s workcamp. I felt bad at ruining her holiday project, but offered to put her up in the heart of Paris. Did she like boats? If so, I had an old one at Place de la Concorde. We could explore the city together. Once again, wonderful Sigyn agreed and stayed on in Paris for several weeks, by when we knew each other much better. We were both deeply in love and when she left for Goteborg, I wrote in my diary, ‘Sa rusade vi ivāg till Gare du Nord och jag kyssade henne adjö. Hon ār en alldeles speciell flicka och det finns inget hårt i henne. Hon ār rādd för att vi inte skall trāffas mer, men det lovar jag ār inte så. Hon ār vārde for mycket.’
We were soon writing letters to each other two or three times a week.
THE ÄRLIG FAMILY BACKGROUND
As few as 120 people in Sweden have the surname, Ärlig, which dates back to the sixteenth century and is known as a soldatnamn (soldier name). Five hundred years ago, many men in the Swedish army shared common surnames, such Andersson, Jansson and Svensson. Unsurprisingly, this led to confusion in the ranks. During the period 1500-1800, the military authorities urged and sometimes ordered their recruits to adopt new names. These soldatnamn were drawn typically from nature (Dahlgren – “valley-branch”; Ström – “river”; Bergkvist – “hill-twig”, etc.), from weapons (Hammarskjöld – “hammer shield”; Svārd -“sword”) or from qualities (Tapper – “brave”; Frisk – “healthy”; and Ärlig – “honest”).
Most of Sigyn’s family has its origins in rural Sweden, just west of Lake Vāttern, a region of low, forested hills, heath and farmland. Her grandfather, Karl August Ärlig (1866-1942), kept a very small farm near Tidaholm (once famous as the world’s No 1 producer of matches). He earned a few extra Swedish Crowns each month as the local glazier, but despite this he and his wife lived close to the bread line.
Karl August’s wife died when their son, Karl Erik (born in 1909), was twelve he began full-time work as a stable boy. He grew up to be every part a rural Swede of his time – a smallholder and forester, tall, blond, blue-eyed, hard-working and rather taciturn.
Sigyn’s mother’s forebears were also Swedish farmers, but one line originated in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of today’s Belgium. (From the 17th century onwards, many Walloons emigrated, bringing to Sweden valuable skills in ironworking.) Sigyn’s mother, Dagny (born in 1908; surname Stenberg – “Stone-hill”), was dark haired and small, which may well reflect genes from her Belgian ancestors. Indeed, she was so small that her cooking stove and sink were set especially low down in the kitchen – so low that visitors could find it back-breaking to help with the washing up.
The early 1930s was a period of mass unemployment and poverty in Sweden, which had not yet become a Welfare State. Karl-Erik and Dagny married in 1932 and could afford to buy only a small wooden farmhouse, Ekornabacke, deep in the fir forest, with six kilometres of steep, rough track down to reach Daretorp – itself little more than a hamlet – on the main road. They had just 300 Swedish Crowns with which to equip their lonely home.
Karl-Erik and Dagny had six children, in this order: Eivor (born 1933), Sigyn (born 4th November, 1935), Gerhard (1938), Ing-Marie (1939), Birger (1944), and Harry (1946). The first three children were delivered by a midwife on the kitchen sofa at Ekornabacke, as was normal for working people in rural areas. Hospital deliveries in the area only began in the late 1930s. As little girls, Eivor and Sigyn played in the fields, the woods and in the back garden, where they kept a tea set of small pewter plates, jugs, cups and saucers hidden inside a stone wall. Eivor recalls that Sigyn was the more confident and enterprising of the two, whereas Eivor herself tended to hold back.
Eivor (l) and Sigyn (r) at Ekornabacke
There were several similarities between Ekornabacke and Weet Ing. Neither had electricity, gas, telephone or car; their outside toilet stood fifty metres away from the farmhouse; their water came from a well; and people normally walked everywhere, except during the bitter Swedish winters when skis and sledges came into use. Knowing that we had shared such hardships – though at the time, as children, we accepted them as perfectly normal – helped Sigyn and me to appreciate each other from the very start.
Dagny and Karl-Erik Ärlig in later years
A year or two later, when more brothers and sisters came along – now born in hospital – the Ärlig family moved into a slightly bigger, better farm. Bidarehem was only a kilometre from the main road and had electricity, but the toilet (an earth closet, as at Weet Ing) was still several yards from the house. The children could easily walk, cycle or sledge to primary school, but they also had to help out at different times of year with the cows, planting and weeding carrots, potatoes and other vegetables, and also planting many hundreds of fir saplings on rough empty land. Karl Erik followed the progress of every single sapling, checking its healthy development over thirty years, until it was fully grown and ready to be felled.
Summer saw hay-making and the harvesting of potatoes and other vegetables. The Ärlig children went deep into the woods to gather different types of berry, among them: raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, whortleberries, cloudberries and – the favourite – wild strawberries (smulltron), the locations of which were kept a family secret. Autumn found them picking mushrooms, the most delectable being Chanterelles, a delicate yellow fungus growing in the damp undergrowth of heather and moss.
A regular summer job was the sawing, splitting and stacking of wood, both for cooking and warmth. Sweden experienced such bitter winters in the late 1930s that water regularly froze overnight in the Ärligs’ kitchen bucket, and Karl Erik had to get up in the early hours each morning to relight the wood-burning stove.
One feature of Bidarehem that Weet Ing lacked, fortunately, was the many vipers that laid their eggs in heaps of cow manure in the fields and in the manure stack behind the barn. As spring turned into summer, young snakes would hatch in the warm mixture of straw and dung. Since they were common, the children took them for granted, and probably these vipers were no more dangerous than the road traffic that we take for granted today.
Dagny and Karl-Erik brought up their sons and daughters quite strictly and inculcated decent values that have characterised the family ever since. The Ärlig lives up to their name – honest and forthright.
As the years went by, Eivor, Gerhard and Ing-Marie married and, for periods, went into farming or forestry. Harry worked in timber processing and Birger became involved in innovative light industrial projects. All had lovely children, in looks and nature, and a wholesome family life has been most important to them. Sigyn, though, wanted to get away from farming and rural life generally. Early on, she set her heart on teaching and at twenty gained her qualifications at a training college in Jönköping. Although they loved her, some of her siblings felt that she had somehow become privileged and had avoided her commitment to the farm and the local community. And it is true, she did find the atmosphere of farming limited in outlook, especially when an intellectual highlight of the week could be to drink coffee at a neighbouring farm, and there discuss nothing more significant than the “seven different sorts of cake and biscuit passed round”.
A condition of gaining her diploma was that Sigyn had to spend a year teaching in an unpopular part of Sweden. She found herself posted to Överkalix, a small town in Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle and close to the Finnish border. Despite the nervousness of facing a school class for the first time, and having to play the piano for morning hymns (when she had never even learned the instrument) and despite the extreme cold of a Lapland winter, she loved the experience. When her year was up, she moved back to a school near Jönköping, but found the place parochial and too similar in attitudes to her home district only a few kilometres away. She then found a post in Gothenburg – Sweden’s second city – in the relatively poor industrial area of Hisingen. Here, she met teachers with a wider world outlook who introduced her to many new ideas – one of which was to join the Swedish voluntary work camp organisation, Internationella Arbetslag (I.A.L.). She did so and in the summer of 1961 I.A.L. asked her to go to Paris for a three-week work project – repairing an old château in the village of Charbonnières.
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