Astrid – Chapter 4
A burst of warm Aussie sunshine
‘This is the man I’m going to marry!’ – Astrid Hansen (August 2001)
When Astrid was eighteen, she passed her school-leaving exams with excellent grades. In the autumn, she moved to Copenhagen to study English and Business Administration. She fell in love with the city, exploring its cobbled streets on an ancient bicycle, meeting friends in cafés, picnicking in Amager Strandpark and swimming naked in the clear, clean water of the harbour. She and Lottie shared a sunny attic flat in Nørrebro.
Walking down Jægersborggade one Saturday morning in May, her first year of university drawing to a close, she encountered a young busker huddling in a doorway, trying to shelter his guitar and amp from the Copenhagen drizzle. She took pity on his evident misery, invited him to share her umbrella and discovered that he hailed from Melbourne.
The next evening she went with two girlfriends to watch him play at a local café. Before the evening was out, they had exchanged phone numbers and a first kiss.
After her Danish boyfriends, primly passive-aggressive in their attempts to be worldly and laid-back, this easy-going, fun-loving surfer boy with a big grin and a rapidly fading tan was a burst of warm Aussie sunshine.
He for his part was entranced by the seafaring Nordic maiden with the blonde tresses, the cool, grey-eyed gaze and the cute mixture of Aussie and Danish inflections in her speech.
When Tom returned home after six months, they stayed in touch. For the first time Astrid felt the powerful draw of her homeland.
As soon as summer semester finished, and with it her second year of university, she hugged her aunt and uncle goodbye and boarded a cheap, circuitous flight to Melbourne.
Tom was working days in a pie factory and gigging evenings and weekends as rhythm guitarist with a 60s cover band. It was, of course, the middle of the Victorian winter.
He took two weeks’ leave from work to drive down to Port Fairy with Astrid; then a week’s sick leave; then handed in his notice when his employer insisted that he return to work. The band found another guitarist.
Tom and Astrid remained holed up in the Port Fairy cottage for five of her eight weeks in Australia. After that she took him up to Noosa to meet her grandparents, announcing: ‘This is Granny Iz, this is Poppy Pat – and this is Tom, the man I’m going to marry.’
Not until she returned to Copenhagen for the first semester of her final undergraduate year did she discover that she was carrying their child.
Tom wanted to board the first available flight to Europe but Astrid’s cool head prevailed. They agreed that he would stay in Australia, earning whatever money he could, until March. Then he would fly over to support Astrid during the final month of her pregnancy and look after the baby while she took her final exams.
That is exactly what Tom did. When Lachlan was born, his young father sobbed openly in the delivery room. The nurse wondered why he was so distraught.
The charming but rather silly young man blossomed as a father, growing in maturity by the day. He was utterly besotted with the little scrap of life that they had created together. He settled into the role of devoted full-time dad, changing nappies, waking up without complaint any time of the night, crooning songs in English and something that he alleged was Danish to their tiny son.
Astrid was almost jealous: of Lachie or of Tom? She wasn’t sure which.
After Astrid had completed her exams, they made plans to return to Australia. Tom would get a ‘proper job’ in the field he was qualified for: insurance. The music would be put on hold for the time being. Astrid would take over childcare for a few months while casting around for a job in human resources.
In the event, it was two years before Astrid got more than temping jobs and a little freelance translation work. Once her career was launched, she rose rapidly, more than making up for the rocky start. By the age of 28 she was HR manager in a software company, bringing in a good enough salary to allow Tom to pursue his music.
Tom tried his hand as a singer-songwriter with a bluesy surf vibe in the model of Ash Grunwald and the Teskey Brothers. He met with little success on the pub and festival circuit. Deciding after two frustrating years that his calling was not as a performer but as a music producer and studio manager, he set up a small recording studio in Fitzroy North with a sound engineer business partner. They did quite well for a while, with their main clientele in corporate podcasting and in the video game industry, rather than music.
Tom as a young man had an openness about his feelings that charmed Astrid. He was a big, square-shouldered fellow who was man enough to cry like a little boy over a sad song. What young woman could resist?
Unfortunately, as he grew older, the blustery ebullience turned to domineering loquacity, the sensitivity to a querulous whine when he didn’t get his way. As we age we become our true selves, perhaps, Astrid thought. Or do we simply make less effort to be amenable, so that the true self, which was always lurking, shines through?
Next week in Astrid:
Astrid finally tackles that difficult conversation with Tom …