Saturday, June 15, 2013

unfinished post from a couple of weeks ago


27 May 2013

I am writing to you from Chilli, a fast food restaurant that (non-intuitively for an Australian) is largely a kebabbery. I have requested falafel with a spicy sauce. This is my third day back in Helsinki and I continue to love it. It is not a passionate love, though certainly I can understand why people would have a passionate love for Helsinki. It is a comfortable, easy feeling. This is what all cities should be like.
There are five million Finns, and most of them speak Finnish, Swedish and English, as well as probably German and French (if you can speak Swedish, apparently German is not a huge stretch). The men on the train replacement coach from Oulu on Saturday – the driver and another employee – either couldn’t speak English, or chose not to. Such audacity seems rare. More often Finns speak beautiful English and unlike almost any other English speaker seem always to be apologizing for how bad it is (it isn’t, 9 times out of 10).
The Swedish speaking seems at first to be a little peculiar. There are only 5% of the Finnish population who form a ‘Swedish speaking minority’ (presumably, they also speak Finnish - ?). As Finland was under the control of Sweden for centuries, and since the late 19-teens has fiercely maintained a cultural and political independence, it does seem odd that the Finns would kowtow to their former masters, or at least, the decendents thereof. It has been explained to me that this 5% form an elite, which hardly explains the situation any better.
Finnish is a delightful language. It sounds and looks delightful. I am sure the Finns get heartily sick of being told their language is indecipherable. Of course that is Eurolinguocentrism: it just doesn’t act like other European languages. Which doesn’t mean it’s not one. This morning I typed a few paragraphs of Finnish into a word document and then fed that into Google Translate. Just the typing of it was a revelation. Though it didn’t make me understand it any more than I had before. I wasn’t expecting it to. I did notice some English words hiding in the Finnish words (eg the word ‘reform’ in ‘Asuntoreformiyhdistys’) though, which was curious. I got a sense of a massive amount of different word endings, which made all the words seem fluid and peculiar.

31/5

On a train Welwyn Garden City to Kings Cross – Thursday 30/5 was the most harrowing day of 2013 for me, which I suppose isn’t saying much as life is pretty cushy most of the time, but in this instance, it was a bit OTT driving through the various motorways of southern England looking for M405 not M404 (or something like that) and dodging the lorries in the rain… there are surely better ways to spend one’s time.
The reason for the mad dash was a treat I promised myself after all the amazing work I had done thus far OS: a day in Tetbury, a town which I first visited in 1974 and which I had fond memories of as it was the home of my Auntie Kit who died I’m not sure when, ten years ago? I hadn’t been in Tetbury since, I think, around 1991 and certainly there was no compelling reason to go there other than the compellingness of sentimentality and nostalgia and honouring the dead, things that I never really think of as affecting me very strongly but since I think about them a lot I suppose they do.
In fact in large part what I was really looking for – this might be a compelling impulse in humans – was a chance to renew my memory of the place, which clearly had a very strong impact on me as a child. Tetbury is an old town with one of those marvelous guildhallesque market buildings in the centre, a valuable rung on the ladder to modern democracy. Perhaps my memory of the town was intruding on my 48-year-old self’s capacity to orient myself to new surroundings, as I found it very difficult to find my way around. Where Kit lived was near the big church, St Marys (actually, I looked for her in the graveyard there, couldn’t find her) in two different houses between the 70s and the 90s – I think one was 9 The Green? And the other was Abbott’s Cottage, also on the Green. I got confused at first because, on driving into the town and discovering how impossible it was to drive around the streets and/or get a parking space, I was very confused on encountering a small road that looked a lot like The Green but, I eventually realized, wasn’t, though it did have a ‘Green’ and so on. But once I did orient myself, I was able to recall where all kinds of shops were that aren’t there any more, and so on, which was dead interesting to me, but would have absolutely no interest to you, or anyone else in the world but me, and maybe just maybe my brother and the oldest of my sisters, who also experienced Tetbury with me, and perhaps my cousins Jack and Noah who ditto. But even they, I suspect, wouldn’t give much of a care. The memories stirred up were childish foolishness, but at the very classy B&B I was staying at I did get to eat a Penguin (forever spoilt by The Royle Family I guess) and remembered that Kit’s friend Ruth would offer me Penguins when she and I made awkward visits to Ruth’s; and I also remember another marvelous chocolate biscuit, much more hearty, but I don’t remember what they were called, but it will come back to me. A bit like chocolate digestives but more like chocolate hockey pucks.
Kit was my grandmother Marion’s sister and I will never forget standing in the kitchen of 9 The Green and asking the two of them what their other sister, the deceased Dorothy, was ‘like’. Marion replied ‘she was a real bitch’, and Kit said nothing, just laughed. All the information we get about that family – the town planning city engineer father George, the American Christian Scientist mother Alice, the three daughters – was filtered through Marion, who clearly felt she was absolutely the odd one out, with Kit as her only ally though the two were quite different. It wouldn’t do to paraphrase Marion’s memoirs from my own poor memory but I do recall her saying that she realized God didn’t exist when, as a young girl (pre-teen, I think) she said out loud to no sentient being, ‘I hate my mother’ and, since He didn’t strike her down, she concluded he wasn’t there. Obviously this was doubly cathartic. I am not sure what the basis of the dislike was but I do know Marion left Britain in the late 1930s and did not return to visit until her parents were thoroughly dead. I do know that when the sisters went to London they would have tea in a classy department store and their mother would warn them about moving trapdoors or walls in the toilets of the store where girls would be nabbed and sold into the white slave trade.
Come to think of it, Kit told me another story that acts as an interesting counterpoint to the two above, about permeable walls and omniscient beings: she said that when she was a very young girl she was sent to a Dame School and that the Dame in question used to tell the children in the class that if they misbehaved when she was out of the room God would tell her and she would punish them. One day one of the boys peeked around a door and discovered that, when she was out of the room (at least some of the time) the Dame was actually spying on the class through a hole in the wall.
This did not make Kit an atheist however – she was a churchgoer to the end.
As I said, The Green ran alongside the churchyard of St Marys and Ruth’s house (I am pretty sure this is true, though I looked over the wall yesterday and there didn’t seem to be the same arrangement I recall) was behind the churchyard, much lower. Kit once told me that part of the wall once collapsed and old coffins fell through, but as with so many things now I reflect on this it might not be true. 

(I was reminded that I had written the above while cobbling together a short video from Tetbury, which I can't really recommend as a masterpiece of video art, but the juxtaposition with the images with a piece of music from Mia is a little diverting.) 

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