All Posts Filed in ‘Europe


Helsinki, Finland

Before I forget then I’ll write down my dream of last night:

I’m travelling with Tony Blair and we stop over in Iran to visit a school. Sitting in the classroom with Tony watching the kids lesson I ask if it would be alright if I take out my camera and take some photos. They say yes, of course, so I take some photos and no one seems too bothered. Then Tony asks me why don’t I shoot video rather than stills.

Meanwhile in the waking world I met some interesting Americans the other day, and a French guy, in the hostel and had a good political discussion about Bush of course, Iraq of course, China of course, tWoT of course, Al Quaeda of course — for much of it I just listened because I’ve had these conversations so many times before… Though interesting that the French guy sounded less anti-American than the Americans, not quite pro-American or pro-Iraq but drifting in that direction.

Then they asked me what I thought of Tony Blair. All I could think of was the Steve Bell cartoons:

I’m still in Helsinki because it’s a good place, and the hostel is nice, and has free wifi internet, though speaking to some Australians who’ve just come back from Tallinn, Estonia, and one of them said the whole country is hooked up to wifi, it’s in the constitution – though hooked up is probably the wrong word (or words) – and Tallinn will be cheaper than here so perhaps that’s the place to go for a while and try to do a bit of money making internet type work. I asked one of the workers at the hostel if they wanted an automated booking thing for their website, one that can take payments, but she said they prefer to do things on paper. It’s that kind of place, and Finland is a bit like that. They like to do things their own way.

Just got a new paying customer to the Turnpiece Gallery:

Dear Paul Legjoint, I would like to upgrade my gallery space to 50MB –
XX Katja XX

which’ll be another £1 (€1,50) a month! She has some good photos I think:

Photo Art Katja - Watercolours

Photo Art Katja - The situation on the ground

Photo Art Katja - Window shopping

This has been quite an advertizing type post, and now I’ve gone and put adverts to other things (I’m not sure what) up on the blog itself. If ads for nasty things like Coca Cola start appearing then maybe I’ll remove them.


Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki, Finland

Uspenski Cathedral, Helsinki

There’s a church on a hill by the port of Helsinki, a red brick building with gold balls sitting on the spires, making it look a bit Islamic but I think it’s a Russian orthodox church. I went in there today, just as a christening was starting. Tourists and people who’d just walked in were confined to an area by the door by ropes. There were prominent signs saying: “Silence Please! Divine service in progress” (in several languages) and images of cameras (still and video) and a mobile phone, all crossed out. Some people didn’t notice the signs or deliberately ignored them. Whenever someone took a photo a short, stern and very indignant woman would come over and wave her fist at the camera lens then point to the sign or hold it up in front of them.


Cafe Esplanad, Helsinki, Finland

In the Roger Otip story “Executioners from the future” (which was originally titled “Ignorance is no defense” but the former title was felt by the publishers to be more marketable in Yankeeland and more likely to lead to a movie deal) the judges and the bailiffs (who carry out the arrests) and the jury are all presented as being very short grey skinned individuals with large black eyes, like the popular image of aliens. Apparently Otip was hoping that Tom Cruise would play the lead prosecutor but Cruise turned down the role because it didn’t fit with Scientologist ideology, and perhaps also because he didn’t like the idea of playing a character who is 4 feet 7 inches tall, several inches shorter than Cruise himself. Perhaps what he really objected to was the following passage in Otip’s screenplay adaptation:

“The prosecutor draws himself up to his full height and looks the defendant squarely in the navel.”


Helsinki, Finland

Sitting in the MBar internet cafe, a tendy place with free wifi, which they call WLAN here. There’s WLAN in the hostel I’m staying in as well, Erottajanpuisto, which sounds like it might be erotic, but it isn’t. It is very good though. Old fashioned and small, but friendly and comfortable, and not full of school kids like the place I was staying in in Stockholm. It makes a big difference having a decent place to stay, though coming back from a visit to a bar late last night I couldn’t find it and wandered around the misty streets of Helsinki for about 40 minutes. Many places here look quite similar. There are old buildings, but a lot of modern buildings and a lot of advertizing signs. Earlier I’d made the mistake of locating where I was in relation to a large Pepsi sign on the side of a building. I think that’s where I went wrong last night. There may be more than one large Pepsi sign on the side of a buidling in Helsinki. And the trouble with the logos is that one Pepsi sign looks identical to another Pepsi sign.


Helsinki, Finland

It must have been about 3 o’clock (in one time zone or the other) when I found my way down to the 2nd deck, below the car deck, and managed to get into my top bunk in the dark, I think without waking anyone.

Someone’s alarm went off, then mine went off. I heard someone else getting up. I waited in bed until they’d gone. There was only enough room in the cabin for one person to not be in bed at a time. It was an interior cabin and no one had turned the light on so it was still dark and impossible to tell what it was like outside, but as soon as the next person who had just started getting up had gotten up and got out of the cabin I would go up on deck and find out.

It was misty and it was icy. An island with a small lighthouse on it appeared out of the mist and floated by, disappearing as suddenly as it had appeared. I went over to the other side of the ship to see another island passing, very close to us, then I went back to the first side and again there was an island just coming into view, but not very far away. There was something in the water around it. What looked at first like a lot of small islands but then as it went past I saw it was ice. Stained brown ice.

The ice got thicker as we approached Helsinki, but it was always broken and always dirty looking. A seagull occasionally landed on one of the larger blocks and drifted along with it. Now cranes and containers were going by. Beyond them were the buildings of Helsinki. The ship was turning and the ice was swirling. There were two patches of clear water where the ice was being pushed away by the ship’s engines as it edged into the dock.


On a boat crossing the Baltic Sea, from Stockholm to Helsinki

Travelling alone

One advantage of travelling is that when you’re travelling it is acceptable to be alone. When you arrive it can be difficult to find a restaurant to eat in or a bar to drink in where you don’t feel uncomfortable because you’re on your own. I was sitting in a bar in Bergen, tucked away in a corner, listening to the music and watching the people, when a large group sat down at the two tables next to mine. One of them spoke to me. Are you sitting here all alone? Come and join us. So I did. It wasn’t so bad, talking, but sometimes it can be. It can be an effort thinking of what to say. Many people I’ve watched, particularly elderly people, seem to sit with one another without talking. Perhaps because they have nothing left to say to one another, perhaps because they forgot to put batteries in their hearing aids, perhaps because they’re telepathic. No one goes up to them and says: You’re sitting in silence. That’s no good. Why do you come over and join us? Or maybe they do.

On the boat from Stockholm to Helsinki a singer in the bar fills the silence for anyone who is on their own or with someone to whom they have nothing left to say. He tries to get the audience to make requests. Some do, but mostly he doesn’t know or doesn’t want to do what they requested. That was earlier. Now the tables in front of him are empty and people in the rest of the bar are chatting to one another.

I move to the other bar on the ship, called the Atlantic Night Club and Casino. People sit in front of fruit machines smoking cigarettes – you’re allowed to smoke in the bars on this ship. There is a roulette table, and then beyond that a stage on which a man and a woman sing some kind of opera song and are joined by a load of ballroom dancers. Then a band comes on and does covers of things like Robbie Williams’ Angels. The guy in the other bar did that, even though no one requested it. This band aren’t taking requests. People just have to take what they’re given. And there are quite a few people in the audience here. A wide range of ages. Some are dancing, but even more seem to get up and dance when the band take their fifteen minute breaks.

At about half past one or half past two, depending on whether you’re on Swedish or Finnish time, the bar closes and within five minutes they’re kicking everyone out. I’d just bought a drink. I’m told I can take my drink up to the 13th deck where the disco is still open, so that’s what I do. There are some raucous Finns at the table next to the one I decide to sit down at. Sometimes it’s easy to tell Finns from Swedes.

How to make a Finn: Take one Swede, shove a load of fast food down their throat, stick a packet of cigarettes in their mouth and turn the volume up to eleven.

Maybe it’s because the Swedes are more middle class. A Swedish guy on the train coming down from Kiruna last week was saying you could drive around a Swedish neighbourhood and you wouldn’t be able to tell which house belonged to a road-sweeper, which to a banker, a doctor or a teacher. No one was really poor, and no one really rich (or virtually no one). But when you have a nice home to go to, with a widescreen TV, maybe you don’t tend to go out so much. And if you’re brought up in a tranquil environment you don’t tend to be as loud as someone brought up in a noisy environment. (I’ve never conducted research into this so I can’t say for sure whether it’s true or not, but it is the way things seem to be. In my own case, I was the noisiest thing in the environment I grew up in.) It may also be about the kind of work people do, and the hours they work. People who work long hours and don’t often have an evening out may be more likely to let themselves go when they do go out. For a lot of people this crossing from Sweden to Finland seems to be a chance to get drunk and to bring home cheap duty free alcohol and cigarettes. There are quite a few large groups of people, but also quite a few people on their own. and a few couples. All sorts really, so I wish I’d never started saying there a quite a few large groups of people…


On a ship crossing the Baltic Sea, from Stockholm to Helsinki

Today is Equinox Day, the on which wherever you are in the world, whether you’re in the arctic circle or on the equator, the day is as long as the night. Perhaps today should be made an international holiday in which the peoples of the world celebrate their equality in environmental brotherhood (and sisterhood).

I’m on the boat going from Stockholm to Helsinki. It’s just got dark outside. The Swedish time is 18:28. Finnish time is 19:28. Since I’m travelling East, towards the rising sun, my night will actually be shorter than my day was today and will be tomorrow, but not by much.

I’m sharing a cabin with 3 others. It’s the cheapest way to do this trip. It was a bit cramped in there earlier as I met two of them. I left when the last one arrived. One, in his thirties, is from St. Petersburg and is heading back there. The other, in his fifties or sixties, is a Finn living in Sweden. He didn’t understand St Petersburg when the Russian first said it. Not until the Russian said Leningrad. Ahh. I was there in 1974, he said, when it was really hard to get in there. I’d been saying how I’d had trouble getting a Russian visa. It;s all political, the Russian said. For me to come to Europe is difficult, though Sweden is not so bad, but for me to go to America is almost impossible. But even I had trouble getting in to America, I said, and my country is supposed to be best friends with Yankeeland.

When I checked in at the ferry terminal a while ago the woman behind the glass almost smiled and said I’ll let you have a cabin to yourself, so I was a bit surprised to find two other people in it when I got there. It is very cheap though. Only 260 SEk (£20) for an overnight crossing, but I think the boat makes its money on the stuff it sells. I’m going to have to eat in a minute and food is very expensive, plus there’s a casino on board, and a shopping mall. It’s like a floating city. I’m now in one of the bars drinking a pint of Bishops Finger.

It’s my birthday today. I’m 41. I think I spotted a new tuft of grey hair in the mirrored left just now.


Stockholm, Sweden

Which reminds me of the Roger Otip story “Executioners from the future”. Roger Otip is Ireland’s greatest science fiction author. He’s often called the father of Science O’Fiction. In “Executioners from the future” a group of survivors of an environmental holocaust travel back in time in order to put on trial a selection of those they deem responsible for their fate, and for the deaths of over five billion people plus the extinction of countless species of animals and plants. Rather than going for the leaders of nations or corporations they target a random selection of ordinary citizens, wanting to make the point that responsibility cannot be solely placed with a few rogue individuals.

The small grey-skinned prosecutors arrest a group of people and take them back to the future to stand trial. They are accused of genocide. The penalty, if found guilty, is death. Those abducted from the 20th Century are able to successfully plead ignorance but for those abducted during the final pre-holocaust century this defense doesn’t wash. The prosecution calls it willful ignorance. The information was there, they say. If you didn’t know what effect your extravagant carbon burning was having then you should have known. Willful ignorance is no defence.

Most defendants from the 20th Century are found not guilty and are returned to their time, on the whole with no memory of the trial, though some do retain memories of the abduction and a few report these to the media but aren’t taken seriously. As for those from the 21st Century, a few from less developed nations were found not guilty. Their carbon burning was not particularly excessive and their access to the media not as great as those from developed nations, who were found guilty by a unanimous verdict of the jury, which consisted of the entire adult population: 1,365,012 citizens.

One of the most damning pieces of evidence given by the prosecution was a calculation of how many deaths each was responsible for, based on the amount of carbon their were responsible for burning in the year prior to their arrest. But we came from cold countries, one of them pleaded. We thought global warming would just mean the climate would get a bit warmer and that would be it. It was never put to us the way you’ve just put it.

That got a round of applause from the other defendants, but this just turned the jury against them even more than they already were. It was as if they were applauding their own ignorance. What the defendants didn’t appreciate was the effect of the video evidence on the jury, video from their own time, showing ordinary people going about their ordinary lives, driving their cars, getting on aeroplanes, watching television, surfing the internet, but most of all talking to one another. It was the banality of what they said that was so shocking.

I’m not sure whether to tell you the end of the story or not. I know you won’t bother to read it, however good I tell you it is (and it’s a lot better than I’m making it sound here) so I might as well.

It was not a surprise when the death sentence came back for each guilty verdict, and it shouldn’t have been a surprise to the jury when three months after the executions 546,000 of them were swept away by a tsunami of temporal inconsistency. Those they had put to death were their own great great great … great great great grandparents.

It’s a little known fact that waves of temporal inconsistency take time to propagate through time, but their existence and their devastating effects were well known. LIke Gaia, the universe itself is a self-regulating system which can be thought of as alive, and it doesn’t take kindly to those who attempt to mess with its consistency.


Stockholm, Sweden

I went for a walk up to the Moderna Museet, the modern art museum in Stockholm. Crossing from one island to another I saw what looked like a couple of police officers in yellow fluorescent jackets on a boat. They appeared to be fishing for bodies, looking for someone who had commit suicide the night before. That was Saturday night. It was St. Patrick’s day so I went out to one of the local Irish pubs (actually two of them) for a pint of Guinness (two pints of Guinness – I went with the intention of having one but had two). There were many people about. Long queues outside the clubs. Most people appeared cheerful, but with the Swedes cheerfulness comes across as a front designed to hide their morbidity. Someone the other night told me this was a good time to be in Stockholm because spring was coming and the people were coming out of the winter hibernations and going out again. Last night people did come across as people who hadn’t been out for six months. It wasn’t a warm night, but many of them were barely dressed. (Sometimes when women bend over and I’m standing behind them I have to look away out of decency, but then I have to look back to see if I still need to be looking away.)

As I got closer I saw that the two policemen fishing for a drowned body had rods so they probably weren’t policemen. But I preferred the idea of them being police fishing for a drowned body rather than fishermen fishing for fish. It seemed natural that on a Sunday the police would be out looking for drowned suicides for whom the pressure of having to act cheerful became too much. There’s a lot of water in Stockholm, and it’s probably not very warm water so if you did end up in it you probably wouldn’t last long. Even without any material evidence or witnesses, the police would assume there must be bodies in there. The futility of existence is evidence enough, they would say.

In a DVD shop the other day in the supposedly cool part of Stockholm I wasn’t able to find any Ingmar Bergman films. Instead the shelves were full of comedies and American action movies. If they had had a Bergman film they probably would have disguised it as a comedy or action movie. Cries and Whispers: gentle family comedy about three sisters. The Seventh Seal: death defying knight and his squire are chased by a scythe wielding, chess playing serial killer.

I’m off to Finland on Wednesday. Talking to a drunken Fin in a cowboy hat I decided that the Fins are more balanced in an unhinged kind of way. The Fins, or this guy at least, I haven’t met any others yet, don’t disguise their morbidity. When the Swedes are like characters in Ingmar Bergman films I find them much easier to deal with than these young cheerful and friendly ones I’ve encountered, but they’re the only ones I’ve encountered so far. I haven’t met any Swedes who have spoken to me about death or the impossibility of a loving god. Perhaps this was the wrong time to come to Sweden. I should have come in mid-winter to see them as they really are. They’re only Abba and Ikea on the surface, Bergman and Strindberg underneath. Deep down they know reality is dark and existence is futile, but a bit of warm(ish) weather and a few beers and they manage to convince themselves it’s all okay, which of course it isn’t.

I’ve been reading James Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia. Gaia: the earth as a self-regulating living organism, one which we’re poisoning with our burning of carbon and if we don’t stop one of two things will happen: we will destroy Gaia and thereby destroy ourselves, or Gaia will destroy us first, just as our bodies destroy bacteria and viruses that threaten us.

There are a lot of tourists in Sweden. A lot of them are Swedish tourists. Sweden is getting warmer, so in the future there may be even more tourists. The trouble with the debate about global warming is often that’s as far as it goes. There is the idea that it will be a good thing for the cold countries. In the short term maybe it will, but for Gaia a cold planet is better than a hot one. Gaia prefers the ice ages to the warm periods like the one we’re in now. That’s because most life is in the sea and cold seas, with waters below 12 degrees, can support the marine algae which keeps the sea alive. Seas that are warmer than 12 degrees contain far less life, and no marine algae which is one of the major climate regulators of the earth. So as the earth warms there’s less marine algae so less cooling so the earth gets even warmer etc.. There are a lot of similar vicious circles. Arctic tundra melting will release into the atmosphere the huge deposits methane held under the ice, four times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Polar ice caps reflect a lot of the sun’s light and so keep the earth cool. As they melt that cooling will be less.