11 August 2010

Posted by DMC on 11 August 2010 in Diary |

As we are nearing end of what has been an absolutely fascinating holiday I thought it appropriate to explain just how such a mixed bunch of people came to find themselves in one place in Sweden. It all started with William, Michael’s eldest son, who from a very small boy had always been fascinated by wildlife. At the age of 17 he found himself at a wildlife conference and met a number of people connected with conservation, photography etc. This personable young man  approached  a number of people there offering to work for nothing if they would take him on. It just happened that a Swede, called Lars Abe, hearing of such offers, advised the young William not to do that but instead suggested that he came back with him to Sweden where he, and his wife Nina, both of whom hadh quite a reputation in wildlife photography, would take him in hand and teach them as much as they knew. How could any young man resist such an offer? He went  and took the train to Lindesberg, some 52 km from a little village called  Loa.  William decided to hitchhike to Loa but no car would stop to pick up a young man in the dark.. He got about 15 km. towards the village when a car pulled up behind him which turned out to be a police car.  William explains that he was trying to get to Loa. Fortunately the police spoke English and offered to take him to a pub in a  town nearby where he was bound to meet some residents of Loa. Here, William  coyly asked the assembled drinkers if there was anyone there from Loa.  He was very fortunate in that Astrid, who the readers will remember I mentioned earlier, was there with a friend and offered to take him to the village. The next day he contacted Lars Abe.

That was in 1985 and he has been there, on and off, ever since. A short while later he met, and fell in love with  the lovely Lena, who I mentioned yesterday, and as a result Leo  was born.

That is the short version as told to me by William but I can do no better than to reproduce the eulogy given by William at Lasse’s funeral.  It is a truly wonderful story.


In memory of Lasse

It is seldom one can claim to have had the good fortune of meeting a person that has directly influenced and supported your life in ways that you yourself couldn’t possibly have imagined at the time. I have been doubly blessed because not only has this happened to me, but that person happened to be Lars Åby, known to all simply as, Lasse.

Even with the knowledge that Lasse didn’t have much time left on this earth, his passing came as an incredible shock for me. I simply don’t remember being so sad about anything. An enormous hole has suddenly appeared. And while I can’t fill that hole I would like to share with all of you some of the memories that I have of Lasse.

Jeff and I use to joke about Lasse being the “unofficial lord mayor” of Löa. Of course he was so much more than this. All you had to do was to cast an eye over our little village to see how many people’s lives he has influenced through the years. Indeed, he could have single-handedly opened a local immigration office he was that good at attracting people to Löa. But unlike our immigration offices, integration or making people feel welcome and at home, was his speciality. It is no secret, that if I hadn’t met Lasse I would never have come to Sweden and I probably would not have been a film-maker either!

We first met back in 1985, in Bristol, at a wildlife film symposium. It was the last night of what had been a week long event and I remember that evening scene as if it were yesterday. Indeed, it was like cinema, we had already said our goodbye’s and Lasse had just stepped into the hotel elevator, for he was travelling home early the next day. Standing there in the foyer, with my heart in my mouth, I managed to blurt out “if I work for free, can I come and get some film experience with you?” Lasse calmly turned round and faced me with that wonderful warm smile and that glint in the eye that we all know so well said, “you have my address, if you can find your way to Sweden, you will be very welcome”. The lift doors closed and Lasse was gone!

I remember just standing there in that hotel foyer facing those silver doors and feeling so incredibly happy. What I didn’t realise then, but do now, is that in effect I had just met my “guardian angel!”

Three weeks later I was in Sweden. The train had stopped 50km short of my destination, in Frövi, and didn’t go any further. It was a dark October night and without thinking I decided to hitch-hike!

Optimism, promptly abandoned me at that last street light, and perhaps after 5 kilometres, of what turned out to be a 15 kilometre trek, fear was my only companion. I remember thinking, “Shit! They have wolves and bears in this country!” Of course, no car was mad enough to pick up a man walking along a dark forest road. But in the end, the police did!

I always use to tease Lasse about what a “scrooge” he was with money. I use to feel embarrassed when he would gleefully pocket a receipt for the smallest deduction it might give him. He was definitely from that wise old school of  “look after the small amounts and the large amounts will take care of themselves” In reality, I have never met a more generous man than Lasse. I was so generously taken into his home (and Nina’s!) and given so much more than just lessons in film-making.

One very important moment for me happened early on when I had just had the most fantastic day with him. It was late and he said goodnight and as he turned away he added “tack för idag” (thank you for today). I remember being rooted on the spot by this. With all his generosity, why on earth was he thanking me?! This phrase, more than any other, is the one that I have always connected with Lasse.

His patience with me was of legendary proportions. My incessant questioning must have driven him up the walls at times. To make matters worse, I had never seriously taken a picture in my life. So he had to literally begin from the ground up. My first assignment was when he gave me a still camera and two rolls of film and sent me out to photograph an essay on trees. These were then developed and he went through each one discussing their merit. Quite simply, there was no merit, they were awful! But Lasse, patient as ever, would always explain things and then send me out to do it again. In that first period I probably “destroyed” 50 rolls of his film!

In his athletic days we use to drive up to Klacken every other night where he taught me to cross-country ski. Who would have thought he was so ferociously competitive? I remember flailing after him, dripping in sweat and thinking angrily, “how I wished his fat arse would fall over”. We were also secret watchers of crap-television. Late at night when the house was quiet we would sneak into the tv room to watch Dallas, Falcon Crest (and happily I have forgotten the third one). These were always viewed with bread straight out of the oven and dripping with melted butter. His arctic stories would fill books and obviously can’t fit here. But one, and as he describes it “his most stupid moment”, was the time when he exited an outdoor toilet on Svalbard carrying toilet paper in the right hand, 44 magnum in the left, only to be confronted by a polar bear! Lasse threatened the bear with the toilet paper and then, feeling so ridiculous, ran straight past the bewildered animal back into the hut!

My first film experience was editing Lasse’s “Narwhales & Eskimo” film. On that day, when we were to begin, I could hardly contain my excitement. Now I was going to watch film editing! But Lasse always had the ability to surprise you. With a wicked smile he promptly threw me in the deep end by announcing that I was going to edit the film. Excitement quickly turned to dread but Lasse, calm as always, sat down beside me, with coffee and snus to hand, and quietly said “lets begin”. I managed to complete that project  solely through his skill in directing me on what to do.

Many years later after I had finished the rough cut of our film “Vision Man” I called Lasse in to see the first version. As the last scene rolled off the table I received the biggest film-making compliment I will ever get. He said nothing. He just sat there and looked at the empty screen with the softest of smiles on his face. He was crying.

School was out.

I suppose trying to write how much Lasse meant to me and my family is from the outset a hopeless task. Most of you know how deeply this goes but when I think about it…well, it’s nearly hard to believe. That we are just one example, amongst many, many people is simply remarkable. But then, Lasse was a most remarkable man!

Outside my kitchen window I have planted a little oak tree in memory of Lasse. I find it completely appropriate because, for me, Lasse was “an oak amongst men”.

I like the idea of it living for a 1000 years but it probably won’t. No matter.

I picture it as this mighty tree in the future long after the memory of Lasse – and all of us – has faded away completely.

But what won’t have faded is that wonderful influence his life has played on countless people that will continue down through future generations in so many different ways.

Of course, they won’t even be aware of it – but we were!

Now that’s what I call a “guardian angel”.

Tack för idag! 

William Long

Tonight, the last day of the Irish and the German family’s holiday, it was decided to give a party..

A number of phone calls were made casually inviting William and Michael’s  many friends to drop in,  which many of them did, some with their instruments, mainly guitars.

The party turned out to be a wonderful affair. A bonfire was built in the drive with a small barbecue but despite the heavy rain from time to time we all managed to feed really well. The promised musical concert was somewhat dissipated by the weather. Delia gave us a short piano recital which we had to listen to from the adjacent guesthouse.. This was followed by some Swedish ballads, lustily played and sung, by Lars and Philip (Wiesslegren). We then had a beautiful Scottish ballad from Lasse (Larsson) -the local vet -  interspersed with beautiful songs from Leonard -the retired schoolteacher – playing his guitar and occasionally accompanied by Lillimor, who has a fine powerful voice. The three eldest Schneider children stayed up late and joyfully joined in the singing and waving, entirely impromptu.

Obviously. I cannot possibly mention every guest by name, apart from  the fact I probably couldn’t remember who they all were.  However, I must just mention that I had the great pleasure and privilege of meeting the famous Swedish Treasure, Nina Hedenieus, the internationally renowned filmmaker who was responsible,together with her equally famous popular partner, Lars Abe, who sadly died recently, for bringing with William to Lo. This was the crowning glory to what was, for me, a very memorable night.  Incidentally, I understand that the title Swedish Treasure is one confirmed, very rarely, on persons who have made a very special contribution to Swedish society and, I gather, carries with it modest stipend.   That shows you how very important Nina is considered to be

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