Stories - Issue #1
Paul Wu and his family left the UK in January 2019, moving from a suburban south London home to a farm on Sweden's largest island.
I have never seen asparagus grow: these little phalluses bursting from the ground - olive green with tints of purple. My wife, Jessica, has given me instructions to harvest the two asparagus patches we have in our garden. "Clear and cut back everything," she said. I kneel down, armed with a blunt kitchen knife and a metal colander, and cut one spear after another. Jessica comes along to check my work. "Don't cut the ones which are so short. These small ones need to be left to grow. Have you even read up about how to grow asparagus?" She stoops down and breaks off the ripe asparagus spears quickly - at least 10 times as efficiently as my attempts. We live on a farm on Gotland, Sweden. It's a long, long way from my south London upbringing and my urbanista comfort zone. How the heck did I get here?
Nineteen years earlier, a snowstorm blows across Sweden's capital city, Stockholm. My first son is born at the end of 1999 in a flurry of urgent, concerned activity, his umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck. An eternity later, and as I hold his warm body against my chest I have a cliché of an epiphany: I want to be worthy of this vulnerable little bundle of trust and dependency I want my son to be proud of me and I want to be proud of myself. I examine my values, my goals and ambitions. It's not an overnight transformation, but slowly I look into what it means to be ecologically and environmentally aware – the impact of our lifestyles on the planet. Even back then things were not looking that great for planet Earth with climate change, loss of species, pollution and the insatiable hunger for more and more stuff all galloping across the sky. But what could I do? What impact could I have on a world teetering on the edge of calamity? I had no drive towards activism beyond wanting to live by my values – to somehow prove that it could be possible to live idealistically. Having grown up in an immigrant household that wanted to move as far away from any manual labour as possible and having pursued careers as a professional dancer, a journalist, and then as a television producer, I had no practical skills, no skills at all that would be transferable to a self-sustainable eco-lifestyle.
Paul and Jessica working their farm.
Crossing Borders. From London to Gotland.