Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am from Sweden, and I turn 70 in October. Björn means “bear” in Swedish. It’s a common name where I am from.
How long have you been selling Big Issue North for?
I started selling Big Issue North sometime in the autumn last year. I don’t sell every day, but sell when I am in the country and am available to do it. I am over here a lot because my grandson is here in Leeds and I come over to look after him.
Tell us about your family.
My daughter moved here many years ago for studying and met her husband here. They met playing World of Warcraft together. I got divorced over ten years ago and ended up kind of homeless for seven years, although I was able to live with my son. But I was very close to my ex-wife. She wasn’t so well, and the family persuaded her to take early retirement at 61 and move to England to take care of her grandson and see him grow up. But she died a year ago. This is why I now come over and take care of my grandson, because she is not around. Whenever my daughter needs me, such as during the school holidays, I come and help look after him. She pays the flight ticket over and I pay the train travel either side.
And why do you sell the magazine?
Everyone knows about Big Issue North, even in Sweden. We have street papers of our own over there. My pension is very, very low, so selling the magazine helps me to earn a bit extra. Also, when I am over here, I’m not always needed to look after my grandson, if he is in school, for example, so I had to find something else to do. And I wanted to keep on training my English. I’m kind of a social guy and this is a nice way to get out and meet people.
Why is your pension so low?
My pension is low because in Sweden how much you get depends on how much you worked and how much you earned. I missed some work because I had to take early retirement. The alcohol had taken over and I was in very bad shape. This was when I was in my forties. I don’t really know why I was an alcoholic. I think it started because I wasn’t able to relax properly, but really I have no idea. My parents didn’t drink much at all.
And do you drink now?
I haven’t had a drink for 18 years now. I remember after a week of drinking, waking up and not even knowing what day it was and I thought: “This is it!” And I gave up. But I am thankful for every day that I have now and for every day that I am alive. There was a time when I thought I might not even turn 50.
You’re on Instagram, aren’t you?
Yes, I thought I would start an Instagram account. I enjoy it, but it’s not easy to get followers. People can follow me @bear_nelsson.