The place where I belong

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.

Staying on a narrowboat in Bristol

Last week Gerry and I packed our small car full of art and drove to Bristol. He was exhibiting at The Other Art Fair. I tagged along, excited because art fairs can be a lot of fun and because we were going to stay on a narrowboat.

houseboat1

It’s always been a dream of mine to live on a narrowboat. It’s one of those impossible, impractical dreams. In my mind it would mean a bohemian and free sort of life. Camp fires, black cats and people playing the guitar. Never settling, going from one canal to the next, surviving alongside nature, making my own soap and foraging for nettles and blackberries. I think about the freedom of off-the-grid life and the money that could be saved. You can buy a narrowboat for around £40,000 and then you have a home. There are mooring fees, but there would be no big mortgage and no rent.

houseboat2

I’ve done my research. Real life living on a narrowboat also means cold winter nights. Pumping out the toilet. Making sure you never run out of water and electricity. Struggling to get an address. Paying expensive mooring fees. And then there is the fear, but more about that later.

houseboat4

houseboat5

Our little narrowboat in Bristol was lovely. It ticked all those bohemian boxes. A guitar on the wall, books crammed into every nook and cranny, a half empty bottle of rum on top of the fridge. A gentle rocking made it easy to fall asleep. I felt cradled by the water. I didn’t mind the occasional smelly waft from the composting toilet. I have after all spent many holidays at my family’s rural summerhouse in Finland where, for a long time, the only loo was a composting toilet in the garden.

houseboat3

The second night on the boat was different. At around four in the morning I woke up and realised someone was walking on top of the boat. Heavy, slow and deliberate footsteps. Not jumping, drunken footsteps, no cheering and laughing from mates on the shore. I was wide awake and nervy. I have watched too many scary movies in my youth. I can be quite neurotic at the best of times. The only thing I could think about was the thin glass door with its flimsy lock. The fact that there were only a few boats around ours and not many other people nearby. What if a serial killer/a robber/a mad person broke into the boat? What would I do?

I spent the rest of the night trying to figure out the best way to fight off an intruder. In the end I decided that screaming really loudly and setting off the incredibly noisy gas alarm might do the trick. I also decided that if I owned a narrowboat I would buy one of those realistic plastic guns that shoot small plastic bullets. Boatlife seems a lot less romantic now.

bristol2

Back from Japan

I’m back in the studio, back from Tokyo and Japan and fourteen days of intense travelling. I’m reading papers online, drinking coffee and trying to ward off the tiredness and jetlag still hiding somewhere in the background. Over the coming weeks I’ll be doing a lot of reporting on the UK general election, some from London, some from elsewhere. When I close my eyes I see a moving landscape, as if I’m looking out of a train window.

I can’t believe we’re back from Japan. That we’ve actually done the trip, it’s over, the memories will turn solid, opinions and anecdotes will start taking shape. I had hoped that I’d be able to keep a journal when we were away, but I couldn’t, there was too much input and too many new experiences to make sense of it all when we were there.

akihabara

Tokyo was a place of blinking lights, massive expressways and loudspeakers shouting at you from every corner. It was techno, man-made, unnatural and jam-packed full of people. It was also a city of quiet neighbourhoods with power lines in a tangle above your head, everyone talking in whispers and children cycling quietly down the narrow streets.

umbrella

Sometimes it felt deceptively like London, there were the same brands, a familiar mass-transport system, people moving and living the way city people do. But underneath the surface there was something else. I felt like I was hitting a glass wall, I could observe, but I was never able to immerse myself in the culture. I don’t speak the language, but I also struggled to read situations and people.

I came away with a head full of questions. On the plane back I read Shutting out the Sun, a book by journalist Michel Zielenziger. It looks at the hikikomori phenomenon – young men and women shutting themselves in their bedrooms for years, isolating themselves from the world. It’s an interesting book, but it’s very critical of Japanese society.

It will take me some time to make sense of the trip and to sort through the hundreds of photographs we took. I’ll write a bit more soon, but first I need to catch up on some sleep.

hakone1

Hello Scotland, goodbye Scotland

We’re in Scotland, in Gerry’s granny’s house. Gerry’s sleeping next to me. We’re both exhausted. These last few days have passed in a manic flurry. I can’t believe it’s only a couple of days since we arrived here. We drove up from the south, stayed a night at Gerry’s granny’s place, travelled up to Inverness at five in the morning the next day, did interviews the whole day, travelled even further north and stayed in a haunted castle. The day after we headed back south, stayed with friends in Glasgow. And today we’re back here, tomorrow we go back south again.

It’s been a whirlwind tour with too little sleep and a lot of travelling. But then again that’s what a good freelance trip is all about. I like cramming as much as possible into a few days, living and breathing a story. I feel like I have a lot of good interviews and good background material. But I don’t want to jinx it by thinking I’ve done well, because I know everything comes together when I sit down to edit and write.

I like it up here. I’ve remembered why I like Scotland so much. The Highlands fill me with a sense of awe. It hits me in the gut every time I go up there. The colours are more vivid somehow. The sky is a clear blue that I’ve not seen anywhere else. There are bleak, snow-capped hills, dark forests and the light and cloudscape seems to change on an hourly basis. It’s like no where else and it’s gorgeous.

Next time I hope we can stay longer. Next time I want to allow things to sink in before we leave.

A post in which I pretty much just list what I’ve done recently

Gerry and I spotted these cuties on the way to work today

Yesterday I travelled to the sea, but didn’t see much of it. Instead I was soaked by drizzly rain, the battery on my phone ran out (as it seems to do if I as much as look at the instagram icon on the screen). For some strange reason I’d dressed for Finnish November and wasn’t prepared for a mild, grey afternoon at the seaside. I also got lost. But it was a pretty nice day.

I went to Folkestone to do a story about cultural regeneration and met some really nice people. Then I came home. Then I went to a music event in the evening.

This morning I slept in. Felt a bit bad about it. Then told myself I’d been working all of the weekend and needed a short brake. On Saturday I did all my taxes (the floor in the guest room is still a mess of paper). On Sunday I helped Gerry out at a market, did a radio story and then I did something else I’m sure, but I can’t remember anymore.

I think time is speeding up, rushing toward Christmas. It’s exciting and terrifying, kind of like before the big slope at the end of a roller-coaster (not that I’ve been on one since I was 10).

And also today the Kickstarter was funded! It’s been an emotional process. Not exactly stress-free. But we finally made it. If you ever need advice about a Kickstarter campaign, I will have plenty of stuff to tell you. It’s not as easy as it looks.