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I found this via Facebook and it’s just too amazing not to post.

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A couple of days ago Gerry and I started talking about how we met and we both got a bit contempletative. It could have been so different, we could have easily passed each other by that night when we were just two strangers at the same party. So many little things could have meant that we never met. And that’s what life is in the end, filled with chance. I’m happy we met that night, I’m happy I met someone like him, becuase it could so easily have been very different.

I moved to London when I was 24. I was single, starry eyed and a little bit selfish. Selfish in a way that’s good when you want to move places and not give a toss about what anyone else thinks about it, but not so good when you prefer a version of the people you have crushes on that mainly exists in your head. I was looking for love and I wasn’t looking for love. I was a bit lost, floating around and thinking a relationship would somehow ground me. So I had crushes on many different people and felt mightly confused all the time. Looking back I’m actually amazed things turned out so well, I must have been doing something right.

So with all these (err four) years of post-singledom-wisdom, what advice would I pass on to other starry eyed 20-year-olds arriving in big cities looking for love. Hmmm?

1. Ignore the bad ones (yes, really, just do it)

Stop returning calls if someone makes you feel bad (in any way). Spare yourself a lot of trouble by not listening to whining, not putting up with or falling for The Game-style tactics. Just chill out and remember that complicated people will always be complicated and there is no point in trying to save them. Unless you’re complicated yourself and feel like tragic love stories somehow enrich your life, then perhaps just enjoy it, because you’re a bit of a trouble-maker yourself (aren’t you?). If it gets too troublesome go and get some psychotherapy.

2. Go out and meet people, go on dates

There are plenty of people out there in big cities. Many of them are fun and interesting, but you will never know unless you actually meet them. Be brave. Go on dates. I recently interviewed someone who meets seven people per day five days a week (for business) and swears by it. It probably wont work so well for dating (although you don’t know until you try). The only way to meet people is to actually go out there and, ehm, meet people (yes, it is really that simple). Don’t worry so much, see it as a fun thing. Have fun (but not too much fun). Try not to worry about the fun afterward. It’s OK.

3. Be boring, slightly cynical and think practically

Yes this might not be what you emotional types (myself included) want to hear, but it might be worth thinking compatibility through before you get serious. Do you want the same things in life, do you have the same thoughts on money, on where you want to live, on starting a family. Are your families similar in any way, what’s the age difference between you, do you actually understand each other. Not deal-breakers, but things that might make life easier down the road.

4. Figure out what you want

Do you want a relationship? Why? With what sort of person? And mainly how do you see yourself in a relationship? Knowing what you want makes it easier to get it, or to figure out how to get it.

5. Listen to other people (but only to a certain extent)

Your family and friends know you. They can normally tell if a person is good for you or not by listening to you babbling on about them in that way you do just after you’ve met someone interesting. Although don’t pay too much attention to those around you if they’re slightly mad, chances are most of your friends in London will fall into this category.

6. Chill the fuck out and stop worrying so much

Enjoy being single. If you remember all of the above things it’s really quite a lot of fun. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. It will all happen in good time – or before you know it (and then you have to go all palm sweaty and wonder “am I really prepared for this?”).

*

Would this have helped me four years ago? Maybe, but by the time Gerry and I shared some vodka-based drinks on a staircase at a warehouse party in Hackney and started talking about life and travel and things I can’t remember anymore I had already started figuring out what it was I wanted. I wasn’t expecting anything to fall into place that night, I wasn’t looking, I was going off to Ethiopia on a press trip in a weeks time and thought I’d met one more interesting person in a city filled with interesting people. Then the press trip was cancelled and one date led to several more and suddenly our lives connected and I couldn’t really let go of him. In so many ways it was just chance. But there is also another way of looking at it, that all those small things actually moved us closer to each other (I hear the romantics going “awww” and the cynics going “bleeeeurgh”). But it’s nice to think that there is some sort of a meaning behind everything, even if it’s only the meaning we place on things. Chance can be a good friend too.

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bilar

The estate in Johannesburg where I stayed in 2007.

I’ve stayed in South Africa twice during the last six years. The months I lived there only allowed me to scratch the surface of a complicated and fascinating country. When I left after a couple of months in Johannesburg in 2007 I didn’t feel like I was done with the place. Something was pulling me back. In 2010 a friend kindly put me up in a new development in downtown Johannesburg and I stayed in the run down city centre for a month covering the preparations for the World Cup. I still feel fascinated by the country. I feel like I might not be done with it yet, it hasn’t left my system.

Perhaps that’s why the news story this morning about athlete Oscar Pistorius shooting and killing his girlfriend has been playing on my mind for most of the day. Firstly it’s a horrible news story. It’s a horrible domestic incident and one that is unfortunately all too common in South Africa where three women are killed by their partners every day. Most of these stories never make it into the international press, but this one did.

When I heard the first reports this morning it was still alleged that Pistorius had mistaken his girlfriend for an intruder and then shot her. The South African police has since claimed this was never the case. And I can’t really see how it would even have been possible. I’ve seen the sort of over-protected and hyper-secure estates that Pistorius was living in. Places that look like luxury prisons from the outside. High walls and countless security checks before you’re allowed inside. Gates around houses inside gated communities. Panic buttons and alarms in every rooms. Armed guards, angry dogs and so many other little things that are there to make you feel safe, but at the same time constantly remind you of the danger in the country.

Crime does happen on these estates, but it’s rare. And would Pistorius really have mistaken his tall blond girlfriend for an intruder? I don’t think so.

There are two stories here. One that the media here in the UK picked up on this morning – safety and paranoia in South Africa. So far the media has been more careful with the second story – domestic abuse in South Africa. No one wants to point the finger yet, Pistorius is still a hero even though ads with his face are coming down all over the world. It wont take long until we know what actually happened in that estate. But in some ways we already know enough. We know that his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was shot four times and that Pistorius will be charged with her murder.

I wont speculate too much about what went on that night and what sort of partner Pistorius might have been. But what I’ve wondered since I left South Africa and what I’m still wondering is what living with the constant fear of violence will do to someone and what it will do to a nation.

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My first room in London.

Excited and newly arrived in the city four years ago.

I’ve put together two little guides about London.

How to move to London – with everything (sort of) that you need to know if you want to move to the city.

&

My guide to London – all the places I love in the city.

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There is a debate raging within the community I’m from in Finland. Even though I’m a couple of time zones away, it’s been difficult not to be slightly shocked and confused by the whole thing. It started with a blog post (in Swedish) about Finland’s entry to the Eurovision song contest, a song called Marry Me, with lyrics like “Baby, I feel like a sinner, skipping dinner to be thinner / Where is my proposal?” and “I’m your slave and you’re my master / Oh baby, come on, take your shot”. In the post an old acquaintance of mine Linnea, dismantled the lyrics in what I thought was quite a funny way. And then all hell broke loose. People got angry with her for criticising the song, accused her of being a raging feminist and a broadcaster on Finnish State radio wondered if she was using cactuses as tampons because why else would she be so devoid of humour and not understand that the song is clearly ironic. Journalists who were friends with the Eurovision singer, Krista Siegfrieds, rallied around her and defended her against what they saw as an attack on her person. At the same time they ended up doing some of the attacking.

Sigh. A lot has already been said about the debate. But what strikes me now when it all seems to be calming down a little bit is how much is in the eyes and ears of the beholder. Everything is subjective. Many of the people who’ve been vocal in the debate are friends, former co-workers, acquaintances and friends of friends. The Fenno-Swedish community is pretty small after all and perhaps that’s why this debate has been so interesting and strange to follow.

I’ve seen people I know form completely different views about the original blog post and the Eurovision song, depending on what their original allegiances were. The blog post has been read in a hundred different ways. The original song has been interpreted in a hundred different ways. In the end there are no rights and wrongs when people are clearly debating different things, from their own subjective point of view (although that doesn’t excuse some of the more vicious entries in the debate). Perhaps this is just life. Perhaps this is what all debates are like. Everything is coloured by our own previous experiences. Whenever we write only we can truly know what we meant and everyone else will place their own judgement on it.

I’ve maybe a bit naively been of the opinion that if you put your thoughts across clearly enough people will understand you. Having followed this debate I realise that this isn’t the case. And in the end what matters is that you can stand by your opinions with a clear conscience, that you feel good about what you have written and that you can also try to hear and understand the opinions of other people.

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It’s fifty years since the poet and writer Sylvia Plath took her own life. Like most geeky teenagers with black nail polish and a love for indie music I was really into Plath when I was fifteen. I read the autobiographical The Bell Jar and I tried to understand her poems, even though my English wasn’t really good enough for stuff like Ariel back then.

What strikes me now is what a challenge life must have been for someone like Plath. Born in the 1930s, coping with depression and writing in a world that didn’t really want women to do much more than to cook and raise children. Jeanette Winterson hits the nail on the head in an article about Plath in The Guardian, writing;

The early 60s was a terrible time for women. Worse for clever ambitious women. Valium had been on the market for two years in 1963 and by this time was being advertised aggressively at healthy women who felt trapped and desperate and whose distress had to be medicated away.

Plath managed quite well after all. She moved to England from the States, she sold enough of her writing to make a living out of it. She studied at Cambridge. She met another poet, Ted Hughes (and supposedly bit him in the cheek during the night they met). They got married, had two children, but one cold London winter when she was thirty she took her own life.

A lot has been made of Hughes influence on Plath. The couple spent some time in his home village Heptonstall in Yorkshire and that’s also where Plath was buried, under the name Sylvia Hughes. When I went to Yorkshire to do interviews for my book I was told that the name Hughes is still being scratched away from the gravestone. Some of Plath’s fans still blame Hughes for her death. Tragically Hughes girlfriend after Plath also committed suicide. But in the end perhaps we’re placing too much emphasis on the way she died. It’s part of her allure. It was part of why I, as a mopey teenager, thought she was someone to idolise. Because of her I thought creative people had to be flawed, that the only way to create great art was to find inspiration in suffering.

I now realise how wrong I was. How the only way to become successful in your creativity is to be stable, to surround yourself with a happy routine where the ups and downs of creativity are easily weathered. The only way to become published is to be professional and to keep trying. There will always be depressed über-talents out there and maybe some of them will get lucky, maybe some of them will make it. But those who do tend to burn out quickly. Perhaps it’s Plath’s professionalism we should focus on instead. The fact that she continued to write through her depression, through having two kids, through the madness of live. It’s a shame an illness claimed her life, otherwise she might still be writing today.

Finally here is a recording of Plath reading Lady Lazarus, written not long before she died.

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Image via Guerilla Science.

When I moved to the UK I was slightly confused by the way everyone ended their emails and text messages. “See you later xx”, “Remember to empty the recycling x”, “Blablablabla xoxo”. What was up with this little x i wondered. After some quick googling I figured out that it didn’t stand for a grade of cognac and it wasn’t a spicy seafood sauce or a Telecoms company. Instead the xo means hugs and kisses (of course, I hear you say, everyone knows that).

Apparently…

The common custom of placing X’s on envelopes, notes and at the bottom of letters to mean kisses dates back to the Middle Ages, when a Christian cross was drawn on documents or letters to mean sincerity, faith, and honesty. A kiss was then placed upon the cross, by the signer as a display of their sworn oath. Since most of the common people could not read or write, the ‘X’ was placed on documents, and a kiss placed upon it as a show of their sincerity, writes Wikipedia.

It’s quite a cool story really and it’s quite lovely that the tradition has survived for so long. But as I figured all of this out a second problem presented itself. Should I start using this as well. Can I start using it or is it some kind of exclusive British/American thing? Will using the xo be like the text speak equivalent of a white dude in cornrows? After gingerly ending a few messages to friends with a tiny little x, I got more and more used to it. Today I find myself using two, even three x’s. It’s a slippery slope. Suddenly I’m throwing kisses around like I was born in the UK.

But now a Fenno-Swedish friend of mine has moved to London and I find myself wanting to sign off our texts and facebook correspondence with a little x. She’s lived here for a few months after all, I reason, she must be used to the x’s by now.

Like the ever present “how are-youing” the x’s have become a natural part of the way I communicate. Not placing them at the end of a message to a friend almost feels slightly rude. So I’ve started x-ing her too. Even though it’s something of an adopted cultural practise, it’s quite nice after all.

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I can’t resist re-posting a part of this great Brainpickings find. British novelist Amelia E. Barr’s 9 rules for success.

1. Men and women succeed because they take pains to succeed. Industry and patience are almost genius; and successful people are often more distinguished for resolution and perseverance than for unusual gifts. They make determination and unity of purpose supply the place of ability.

2. Success is the reward of those who “spurn delights and live laborious days.” We learn to do things by doing them. One of the great secrets of success is “pegging away.” No disappointment must discourage, and a run back must often be allowed, in order to take a longer leap forward.

3. No opposition must be taken to heart. Our enemies often help us more than our friends. Besides, a head-wind is better than no wind. Who ever got anywhere in a dead calm?

4. A fatal mistake is to imagine that success is some stroke of luck. This world is run with far too tight a rein for luck to interfere. Fortune sells her wares; she never gives them. In some form or other, we pay for her favors; or we go empty away.

5. We have been told, for centuries, to watch for opportunities, and to strike while the iron is hot. Very good; but I think better of Oliver Cromwell’s amendment — “make the iron hot by striking it.”

Read the rest at Brainpickings.

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Montgomery House

Wooo, I’m cracking through my to-do-list today. I’ve already booked flights back to Finland for my mum’s birthday and I’ve booked an interview in Manchester for a story about the rise of British manufacturing. Yes! It feels good to get stuff done after a a fun, but busy weekend. My brother and Gerry’s dad both stayed over at the same time. The noise levels in the house went up with about 50 000 decibel.

I’m very excited about going back to Manchester for the first time since 2006. I spent a year there (well, almost a year) in 2005/06, studying politics at Manchester Metropolitan University. Although mostly I was hanging out with friends and drinking lots of coffee. I met some great people and we bonded in a way you only can when you’re 21 and set free in a strange, new environment where there is nothing else to do than drink beer, have really deep conversations about life, dance and play uno late at night in a draughty shared kitchen in the student hall. It was a good year.

The photo above is from one of the student halls I stayed in in the city. This one was an old, cold Victorian house close to Moss Side (which is supposedly a very dangerous area). The house was originally a mental asylum, I was told, and apparently there were still dungeons somewhere in the dark basement below the house. I stayed there for a month in 2006 when I was doing an internship at the BBC. All my friends had left town and everyone living in the hall was younger than me and weirdly aggressive. I spent all of my free time exploring the parts of the city I hadn’t seen before. I also read a lot of books and spent many hours playing solitaire on my computer because the halls didn’t have any internet. I enjoyed it almost as much as I had enjoyed the previous year. The city was different, because I was there on my own. I’m looking forward to going back.

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Sometimes when I miss the sort of Finnish winters that mostly exist in my head and don’t actually exist in reality, it helps to look at pictures of Lapland.

 

Photos taken from the Only in Lapland Facebook page, which I know is advertising Lapland, but there are worse things to inadvertently give free PR to.

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