Ulla Birgitta Thelander was born in Luleå, in the north of Sweden, on February 10, 1930, to Sam and Anna Thelander. As Anna had previously given birth to twins who had lived only a few months, Ulla was very much loved and longed for. Over the next five years, Ulla’s two younger siblings Kjell and Anita were born.
Ulla grew up in Luleå, Norrbotten, and grew up a true northerner. She learned to ski before she could walk and her diet included reindeer stew, marrow bones, blood dumplings, sour herring and other northern delicacies. She also acquired her lifelong addiction to Swedish crispbread, an absolute must whatever part of the world she ended up in. After Ulla took her university entrance exam in 1948, she moved down to cold and windy Skåne (much colder than Norrbotten, according to Ulla), where she studied art history and literature at Lund University. Here, she apparently lived the life of Riley, and was interested in everything and anything – most of it unrelated to what she had come to the great University to study. Ulla became a rebel, a socialist and a partygoer. She met new and exciting friends who were artists, writers and poets, including Göran Printz-Påhlson, and the two immediately fell for each other. Soon they moved in together, something that wasn’t exactly comme il faut in the 1950s, and after a while Ulla got pregnant. To enable the child to be born within wedlock, Ulla and Göran got married in September 1954.
In March 1955, their daughter Unn was born. Fortunately, the new parents received help looking after the baby, which enabled them to continue studying, writing poetry, and partying. Already back then, Ulla and Göran displayed their generous nature. Their door was always open and there was always an extra place at their table. In 1957, Ulla got pregnant again, but over Christmas that year she came down with severe pneumonia, which led to her son Finn being born two months prematurely, in January 1958. As he was so small and frail, he was named after the giant Finn in order to challenge Fate. A statue of this ogre stands in the crypt of Lund Cathedral. When tiny, Finn had to spend many weeks in an incubator, so the new mum was sent home with a breastpump and thanks to her, dozens of newborns in the Lund maternity hospital were fed with many litres of her milk. A further proof of Ulla’s generosity.
Ulla and Göran then spent almost 40 years abroad. Their travels began in Autumn 1960, when Göran received an offer to teach literature and Nordic languages at Harvard. So in January 1961, the Printz-Påhlsons family flew across the Atlantic. Due to a severe snowstorm, they were redirected to Detroit, where they had to stay in a hotel and for the very first time ever cast eyes on a television screen. This was a memory for a lifetime, as just at that moment President John F Kennedy’s inauguration was being transmitted live. Brave New World? Before long, they found themselves in Cambridge Mass, where they met many lifelong friends.
Ulla continued to be actively involved in politics, especially in the American Civil Rights movement. She was also given a small dog, Lisa, who became her constant companion. And to Göran’s utter horror, she acquired another new interest, a love of the great outdoors. So, in the company of good friends the family drove around New England; camping, hiking and wasting their time on other such nonsense (according to Göran). Ulla came to love Massachusetts, and she always longed to return. However, after three years, Göran got another job offer, this time from the University of Berkeley, California.
That summer, before the California stint, the family returned to Sweden for a visit. And thanks to Ulla’s little brother Kjell, who was working for Volvo at the time, she was persuaded to buy a new Amazon (the latest Volvo model). And of course she decided to ship it to the United States. Most odd to import a Swedish car to the US – according to most folks probably. And as the new car didn’t arrive on time, Göran had to take a train to California to get installed. When the vehicle finally appeared in Boston, Ulla (with two small children and an even smaller dog) drove across the entire continent, pitching her tent in the most desolate places along the way. During the year Göran lectured in Berkeley, Ulla took the opportunity to drag the family along on camping trips from Yosemite up north to San Diego down south. In Berkeley, Ulla and Göran also became involved in "The Free Speech Movement" and Ulla began lugging the whole family along on protest marches and sit-ins at the university. At this time they became very interested in the new American folk music and met many folk artists of the day.
Among other things, Ulla took the family along to a concert in a local school auditorium to listen to Joan Baez. As the concert almost drew to an end, Joan called up a young guy from the audience. He had a guitar under his arm and performed one of his own songs with the chorus "The ants are my friends, and they’re blowing in the wind". Or rather, that was what Unn and Finn thought he sang. Instead, of course, it was the chorus to "Blowin ‘in the Wind" which in its entirety is "The Answer My Friend is Blowing in the Wind". A song that the family often sang during long road trips, even though the kids always belived it was a song about ants.
After a year in Berkeley, Göran received an offer from the University of Cambridge, England. "An offer he couldn’t refuse." And therefore in the Autumn of 1964, Ulla and Göran with two small children, a tiny dog and the same Volvo travelled back across the Atlantic. Once in Cambridge, the family settled down and Ulla tried desperately to fit in and behave like a "discreet" academic wife in the very conservative university town. However, this was not an easy task for her after having spent almost four years in the far more easygoing United States. Ulla got homesick for both Cambridge USA and the north of Sweden as she didn’t really feel that she belonged in the UK.
However while Göran worked at the University, Ulla began to earn a living dealing in antiques, freelancing as a translator, catering for fancy parties while also getting involved in the CND movement (The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament). And during Easter 1965, the whole family wandered on the first of many "Aldermaston Easter Marches" where they walked mile after mile, hour after hour, until they almost fainted from exhaustion (according to Göran and the kids). The struggle against all kinds of injustices is something that Ulla never let go of. She went on demonstrations (with the family in tow) against the war in Vietnam, protested against the military coups in Greece and Chile, and worked as a volunteer to help refugees from these countries. She also volunteered for a variety of local organizations. Among others “meals on wheels” for pensioners and collected furniture and other commodities for people in need. And when the protests at Greenham Common were launched, Ulla was, of course, there with her bolt cutters at the ready. At one point she even chained herself to the fence around Greenham. However, despite all these illegal acts, she never managed to get herself arrested. Something she found rather odd, not to mention annoying.
All of this took place at the same time as Ulla worked as Göran’s secretary, housekeeper, private chauffeur and general factotum. The Printz-Påhlsons had visitors staying at “The Grove” (that was what their huge rambling house was called) in Stapleford almost all of the time, from old friends and acquaintances, relatives, friends of friends and relatives of friends. The Grove was almost constantly filled to the brim with folks of all ages, sizes and nationalities. Every day food was prepared, laundry done and the huge cluttered house catered for parties, meetings and other activities — all thanks to Ulla. So in other words these years have left a multitude of extremely happy and warm memories. And if you listen very carefully you can almost hear music, laughter and, above all, Ulla’s unmistakable husky, deep voice ecchoing through the old house in the English countryside ...