London. It’s eight days since we landed at Heathrow. The day after we left Finland the temperature in my hometown dropped to minus 27. Cold enough to make your hair turn white with frost and your nostrils stick together when you inhale. London hovers around 7 plus. Drizzle-gray. Sunshine and showers. Mostly showers.
Today I walked past the big house and the deer at Clissold Park. The sun was out. Orange light in the puddles. Bright and early joggers rushing past. I stopped to say hello to the deer. Then I met up with Madicken and we spent the morning writing together in a café. All the other customers had brought their laptops too. Madicken spotted an actor sitting behind us. It’s very north London. I wrote some words and I was pretty happy with them. Then I came home and read about the publishing industry and suddenly everything felt impossible. I did my taxes. I downloaded Spotify again and created a radio station based on Sia. I’m clicking thumbs down on anything that isn’t Sia.
This month is one of small tasks. It’s too early for a big picture. There is one thing and then the next and maybe soon the year will start taking shape. I took me a week to shake the post-Christmas fog. I went home to Finland and didn’t turn on my phone for the first five days. A sweet, disconnected rebellion. Gerry and I went for long walks when it was light. The inlet near the house thawed and then froze over again. The ice was washed up by a storm and looked like panes of broken glass, crushed and squeezed together. I’ve never seen it like that before. I ate well and often. I spent some time in the sauna. My muscles unwound themselves. I relaxed and stopped thinking about work, the future, everything. It takes a while to resurface from that. So here I am, tensing up again, telling myself I should do more yoga, writing lists and trying to get a sense of where this year will take me.
Back from the summer house where the sun doesn’t set at midsummer. Where the mosquitoes are almost as big as butterflies. Where there is a drawer full of photographs and postcards from Liverpool and New York and California. Hundreds of frozen faces, the relatives and friends of relatives who emigrated two generations ago.
When my grandmother was young they used to pack down their whole house in the spring and move out to the summerhouse. I think they even moved the piano, but I might have made that up. When my dad was young my grandparents crammed their children, cats and dog into a small car in June and drove for three hours to get to there, stopping occasionally to allow the children to vomit from car sickness. They stayed at the summerhouse until autumn came and it was time to go back to work and school. During one of these summers they picked up a tame crow. Another summer my grandmother adopted two aggressive turkeys that nipped at the feet of those who went out for a nightly pee.
The place is heavy with memories and stories. Every summer the house calls us back and we retell some and add some more.
There is a rowan tree by the shore. An ant hill next to the car park and another one near the wood shed. There is a big pine against which my brother and I practiced throwing knives one summer when we couldn’t come up with anything else to do. If I close my eyes I can see the path running from the house to the shore, the one going behind the small red hut which is rotting away and needs a new roof. I can see the rose bushes, the blueberries, the trees and the paper mill on the other side of the bay. I know the place and it knows me. There are roots from the soles of my feet that go deep into the ground. At the summerhouse I’m part of something bigger. I’m part of a past and a story.
We went to the summerhouse for a week and now we’re back. I’m raging against London sounds and pollution. But I’m here, back home. Missing home.
Woooooo. I’m trying to re-connect with London life. I’m Swinging wildly between excitedly writing to-do-lists and wanting to get on the next plane back to Nordic wilderness. We’re back in London after ten quiet days at my family’s summer house half way up the Finnish coast. I’ve not checked my email. I’ve not brushed my hair. I’ve taken dips in the cold sea, I’ve eaten way too much Fazer chocolate and Finnish cheese and I’ve been bingeing on Anais Nin’s journals, which is something I’ve not indulged in since I was a moody seventeen-year-old.
My thoughts are floating around in my head. I feel relaxed and calm. This is a good way to start the autumn.
I need to come up with a writing and freelancing plan.
I need to cut my hair.
I need to enjoy the warm late summer days before autumn catches up with us here.
I need to go back to the forest, the lakes, my family before Christmas.
These are the most important things right now. I’m de-cluttering my to-do-lists.
Gerry and I are back in London. I’m tired after the flight. It’s my own fault for having too much fun in a cocktail bar perched over a mall in Helsinki with my brother and Gerry the night before we had to take the super early morning flight to London. Today I’ve managed to look at my emails. Tomorrow I’ll start planning.
The best thing about a new year is all the planning you can do at the start of it. January is a month filled with possibilities. Although most of this year is already planned out. Gerry and I decided what we’re going to do all the way back in November before the Christmas madness started. Now it’s all about filling in the dates and plans into a calendar. Which is pretty fun too.
I don’t have much else to say today because really I just want to curl up on the sofa in the studio and play fruit ninja. Although I’ll add that Finland was lovely and relaxing. We spent our days eating well, going for walks and sitting in the sauna. I got addicted to Candy Crush, realised this addiction might ruin my life and started playing Fruit Ninja instead. We also watched the whole first season of Under the Dome and cursed the fact that the next one is only out in the summer.
Gerry and I also took a trip out to Fäboda outside of my hometown. We tried to take some photos of the stars, failed, and decided to lark around and do some light painting instead. It was fun, but cold.
Soon I’m getting on a plane and flying off to Finland to spend some quality time with my family. I’m looking forward to seeing them, not doing much at all, reading books and playing video games. That’s what Christmas is all about.
December has gone by in a blur. It’s been full of markets, new people, new things and new places. Just the type of month I like really. These are some of the things I’ve learned over the last few weeks.
Selling is fun
I used to be really scared of selling. When I used to meet up with Gerry at a market and he asked me to watch the stall I used to find it almost impossible to walk up to people. Everytime I tried to talk to someone I scared them away. Like dogs they could smell my fear before I even got close to them.
I thought selling was somehow bad. Now I’ve realised it’s just the flip side of what I’ve been doing as a journalist. I get to talk to lots of people, but instead of asking them questions, I’m telling them about a product. And 99 percent of the time they’re happy to talk to me, which in turn makes me happy.
Everything is easier with coffee
Don’t think I need to add much to that one.
Sometimes it’s OK not knowing where you’re going
This is following on from a conversation I had with a friend this morning. The last few years have been the first in my adult life when I’ve not had much of a plan or a goal. I like planning. And when I say planning I mean having a roadmap for the coming ten years with all the exciting things I might be able to do and achieve. It’s not even a roadmap, it’s more of a tree-like structure with lots of branches and twigs and little birds chirping in the canopy. I make really complicated plans for my life.
This is how I’ve lived. And I’ve been pretty good at setting goals and reaching them. Now I’m not so sure of the target or the end goal anymore. Now I’m allowing myself to float a little bit, to be creative, to do different things I would never have imagined myself doing in the past (like selling stuff). And it’s been fun. There is a freedom to it. I’m allowing new and totally random things into my life. Everyone should be doing this (and when I say everyone, I of course mean control freaks like me).
Some Brits are really scared of foreigners
There has been so much talk about Bulgarians and Romanians streaming into the country in their millions next year, coming here to claim the “amazing” British benefits. This is all a lot of scaremongering silliness from certain right-wing media outlets and parties. And I find this to be a particularly annoying outlook. A lot of the people moving here, come to the UK to work and work hard, work in jobs that many Brits think they’re too good for. Some Brits need to take a good look at themselves and their own work ethic before they criticise people moving to a country where there are still jobs left.
And… on a happier note
Creating things and seeing people appreciate them is amazing
This also applies to seeing other people’s creations being appreciated.
The blog probably wont be updated that often over the coming two weeks. So stay well people and see you in January! Have a lovely, lovely holiday season and a happy Christmas!
I was staying in my brother’s lovely, but typical, Helsinki flat. The bathroom is small, the shower installed in a corner. At a glance you wouldn’t think there is anything special about it, unless you take the geeky LED shower-head that makes the whole thing slightly more disco-like into account. But let’s ignore the disco effect for now, because it doesn’t really mean much for this story. It doesn’t explain why I had to quickly leap out of the shower, swear a bit and then turn the temperature down to slightly below lukewarm. The water was just too hot. I’m clearly not used to good showers anymore. I caught myself thinking, “my god this shower is like hotel-awesome”. Then I realised all showers in Finland are like this and that I’ve moved to a country where it’s perfectly normal to spend around thirty minutes trying to get your hair wet and then the hot water runs out.
2. Crossing the street
In Finland people wait until the light turns green and then they cross the street. They do this even though they can see that the cars have a red light and have stopped. They don’t cross too early. They wait obediently for the green man. After almost five years in London this confuses me. “Look there are no cars” I want to say. “There is absolutely no reason to wait”. But something was holding me back from jaywalking in Helsinki. No one else was crossing the street dangerously.
3. The price of alcohol
So there I was at the airport on Sunday afternoon. Slightly jittery after a couple of intense days. And actually terrified because of all this talk of the big storm. I don’t like flying very much. The thought of flying into the early hours of the worst storm since 1987 didn’t exactly fill me with joy. I was starving and thought, maybe a glass of wine with my very late lunch will be exactly what I need.
By the time I got to the cafe I was ravenous, tried and nervous. I ordered. The woman behind the till asked me if I wanted a large glass of wine. I didn’t really think twice about this. These were exceptional times. I said yes and she said “thank you very much”. This confused me slightly. Why thank me? Then I saw the bill, 40 euros for a salad, a yoghurt, a bottle of water and a glass of wine. The wine was half of that bill. I drank it slowly, promising myself that if I survived the plane journey I would remember that alcohol is expensive in Finland and even more expensive in airports.
This is something I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up on before I moved to the UK where you apologise when someone else walks into you in the street. I like the fact that people are polite, apologise, open doors, say thank you and please and ask about how you are. Perhaps because I’ve grown used to it I now notice and become annoyed by rudeness.
The plane landed bumpily and we all survived. As we were waiting to exit the plane I noticed a young couple with a small baby. It took a while for the flow of people to start moving out of the plane. The family was a couple of rows ahead of me, trying to get out. The dad got out into the aisle first and the mum was waiting to follow, baby strapped onto her front. Then a young woman pushes past, cramming between them, without looking, caring or apologising. I don’t know about you, but in stressful situations like these people can really annoy you. This woman really annoyed me. I wanted to walk up to her and say – hey, did you notice that family you just forced yourself past, why didn’t you even apologise for separating them and invading their space. Perhaps because I was annoyed I noticed her as we made our way into the airport where she ran toward one of the toilets. I guess in some situations you’re not really aware of your surroundings, other things are more important (we’ve all been there).
A final note about the flight. We were strapped in with the seatbelt sign on for about 40 minutes before we landed. It was bumpy. The landing was a bit hairy. But at some point during those turbulent minutes I had a thought. Planes are amazing. They can cope with this storm. The pilots are coping with this storm. This is an amazing way to travel. Perhaps the best way to cure a fear of flying is to fly in really bad weather and realise it’s not actually that dangerous.
In between all the interviews and madness of last week’s book tour I was able to travel up to Jakobstad to see my parents and dig my boots into the soil at the summerhouse. My brother and I travelled up together and only really stayed for one day. That was all I had time for. The train takes about four hours each way, but going back home was very calming after a couple of exciting days, it was worth the long journey.
It was chilly and autumnal. The first snow had already fallen and disappeared.
The summerhouse was cold and shut for the winter.
Plenty of leaves to deal with in the spring, as the snow thaws.
A tiny rowan tree. According to some Norse pagan beliefs the first woman was created out of a rowan tree. It’s also said to have been used to make protective amulets. Going back to the summerhouse makes me think about these things.
So here I am. Back in Peter’s flat, studio make-up on and I’m almost ready to place a dram of Highland Park in front of me and go “aaaah”. What a day.
I woke up early this morning. Rehearsed my talk one last time and went off to Magma, a think-tank that had invited me to speak about my book in a restaurant.
The guests are arriving. The owner of this place, Cafe Esplanad, had lived in the UK in 1948 and had lots of great stories to tell. She was still working in the cafe, pouring water and making sure everyone was OK. Quite a cool lady.
I’d been slightly nervous about this because it’s been a while since I’ve actually stood up in front of people and talked. Here I was going to do it for fifteen minutes without any power points or anything else that could distract the people from… me. At least it was a topic I knew well, Britishness and immigration.
The nervousness lifted as soon as I met all the lovely people at Magma, who were really friendly and welcoming. The audience was really nice too. A lot of familiar faces from the past. People I’d interviewed, people I’d worked for, a professor from my university, people who were excited about the book.
After that I came back to my brother’s place. Brainstormed a book idea. Changed into something ladylike and travelled up to YLE. It was strange taking the tram from the exact same tram stop where I used to wait every morning six years ago in order to go to work.
I took the same route. Got off as soon as I could see the YLE tower (also known as the tower of Sauron) and walked to the place where I worked for about two years. I walked and thought about how things can change, how my life is so different now to what it was then and how strange it is that I’m going back to that confusing mess of buildings to be interviewed on a talk-show.
First I met up with some old friends, jumped into a radio show and talked a bit about the book.
The very sweet Eva Frantz who interviewed me for Radiohuset. I felt like I babbled a lot, but she just kept smiling.
Then I was off to get my make-up done for Bettina S. I sort of knew you had to wear lots of make-up because of the studio lights, but didn’t really know how much. I don’t think I’ve ever worn this much make-up before in my life.
I had a very nice make-up artist, Oona, who kindly agreed to pose for a photo.
I also had a dressing room with a star on the door. This was almost too awesome for words.
Again everyone was super friendly and sweet and made me feel really comfortable. The show will be aired on Monday so watch it if you can. Not just to see me of course, but to see the super-cute rapping granny who was on before me.
Everyone getting ready for the show.
I have to say it’s all been slightly overwhelming. Little did I know this would happen when I was typing away in the British Library two years ago. Suddenly I’m back in Finland, talking about my book to all of these different people, at all of these amazing and interesting places. It’s well nice (as my old flat-made used to say).
So I’ve landed in chilly and autumn-pretty Helsinki for a snappy book tour for Det finns inga britter. Tomorrow I’ll be doing a talk at a lunch-meeting for Fenno-Swedish think-tank Magma, in the evening I’m a guest in Bettina S, a Fenno-Swedish talk show, and on Friday I’m doing a Q&A at the Helsinki book fair.
I’m still not exactly sure all of this is really happening and am feeling inclined to pinch myself every two minutes to make sure I’m not sleeping (about as often as I check up on mine and Gerry’s Kickstarter campaign).
I’m tired from the flight, but buzzed, happy and excited about everything that’s going on. I’m hoping I’ll be able to sleep at least a little bit on my brother’s awesome blow up mattress (oh the glamour of being a travelling author).
It’s quite strange coming back to Helsinki now. Five years (or so) after I moved away. It doesn’t feel like home anymore. It doesn’t even feel that familiar, yet there are curious, little things that remind me of what it was like living here. The way the apartments smell is one of these things, sort of dry and dusty and old.
Life is a bit different to my normal everyday reality in London at the moment. It’s slightly hyped up, like someone’s turned on the warp speed. The adrenalin is pumping. I’m not used to this, but I think I’m enjoying it. The Kickstarter campaign is making me a nervous wreck, so please support us or share the project around if you like it. Thanks! x
In my native Finland there is a lengthy and sometimes vicious debate about language. And perhaps, to foreign eyes, confusingly it’s about learning a second language. Finland has two main languages, Finnish and Swedish. The majority of the population speaks Finnish, a minority (about five percent) speaks Swedish as their first language. I am one of them.
Growing up I hardly ever heard anyone speak Finnish, except for a few relatives of mine. When they spoke I found it confusing. I didn’t understand what they were saying. I found it difficult to communicate. The town where I grew up has an almost fifty-fifty split of Swedish and Finnish speakers, yet I never had to speak Finnish and no one ever spoke Finnish with me.
When I started school I, like all other school children in Finland, began learning the nation’s second language (The Finnish-speakers learn Swedish, the Swedish-speakers learn Finnish). The Finnish lessons were hard. It was in fact my worst subject and continued being my worst subject throughout school. For someone who cared about getting good grades it was tough. It seemed like no matter how hard I tried to wrap my head around this difficult language with its difficult grammar I just couldn’t. And that made me feel ashamed.
Not being able to express myself in Finnish made me clam up. Exposure to the language made me anxious. I was constantly afraid of saying something foolish or not being able to make myself understood, because I knew I should be better, I felt I was somehow a failure for not having learned the language of my country.
The blue marks the areas where Swedish is spoken in Finland. In the north is the Sami area.
As I got older things didn’t get any better. I moved to Helsinki and started working at the TV news. I got through days when I mostly spoke with the Finnish cameramen (and women) and only did interviews in Finnish. I tried so hard, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of sounding like an idiot every time I opened my mouth. Perhaps this was only in my head, perhaps it wasn’t. I found it frustrating not to be able to have an intelligent conversation.
Some of you might say that I should have tried harder, that I should have studied more. But I didn’t. I moved abroad instead.
Here I am caught in a rain storm during my first months in London.
English I know. English comes naturally. And when I first moved to London it was a huge relief to be able to have a conversation in a shop, to go to a doctor without struggling to make myself understood, to talk to random people in the street without the fear of making a fool out of myself or marking myself as a person belonging to that minority.
The longer I stay here the harder it becomes to move back. The more of the Finnish I knew I forget. I have a series of Harry Potter books in Finnish on my bookshelf. My aim is to pick them up one day and read them all. To learn and to remember. But I don’t.
I’ve heard many Finnish people feel the same shame when it comes to speaking Swedish. Perhaps this comes from being made to learn the language in school and to feel a failure if you can’t pick it up. I didn’t see the use of learning Finnish when I was nine, because I never had to speak it in real life. Many Finnish speakers don’t see the use of learning Swedish, period.
There is some animosity towards the Swedish speakers in Finland right now. I’ve mostly been following the debate from abroad. From what I’ve been able to pick up it’s a complicated and very sensitive issue. Some Finns resent having to learn Swedish in school. Some argue it’s a useless skill. A small minority see the Swedish speakers as a sort of oppressor, an upper-class who’ve beaten down on the poorer Finns throughout the centuries. They often ignore (or misunderstand) the fact that Finland was an equal part of Sweden for a very long time and that Finland as a concept and nation didn’t exist until the Finnish nationalist movement started becoming popular in the 1800s. (edit: however I don’t really know enough about the history to comment on the relationship between the two language groups when Finland was a part of Sweden.)
The Swedish speaking area where I grew up was rural and typically Nordic in its middle-classness. There weren’t many differences between the Finnish speaking population and the Swedish speaking population in terms of wealth or class. And there are few differences in the rest of Finland.
Swedish and Finnish have equal status, because Swedish is one of Finland’s national languages. Growing up I wasn’t aware of any tension between the language groups. Perhaps the problems have always been there, perhaps they’ve become worse as right-wing groups are on the rise throughout Europe. I never felt singled out or badly treated because I spoke Swedish (or bad Finnish) when I was living in Finland. Since I moved away I’ve heard several stories of people being shouted at on the trams in Helsinki for speaking Swedish. It hurts.
I found a home in London, where lots of people like me end up. This is a place that welcomes wanderers. It opens up its smelly, polluted bosom to people looking for a home and for somewhere to belong. Here I’ve found what I never found in Finland. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss home, or that I don’t long for it sometimes.
When I listen to the debate in Finland now I think that the country’s bi-linguality should be seen as a strength, not as something to squabble over like jealous siblings. It’s stupid to not see it as a strength. Learning Finnish and Swedish in school is a gift of belonging. Sometimes I regret not grasping that chance. But I learned English instead and eventually that brought me here.