Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Sylvian joululaulu - my favourite Finnish Christmas song

Since I introduced you to one of the most common Finnish characteristics, melancholy, below, I though I'd share with you my favourite Christmas song which never fails to make me weep (yes, weep, not cry).

This carol, called Sylvia's Christmas Song, is based on a poem by Finnish poet Zacharia Topelius and set to music by Karl Collan. The story is about a bird, native to Finland, who is forced to migrate to Sicily for the winter, remembering his beloved homeland. The song (in its Finnish translation from the original Swedish) has twice been voted the most beautiful Christmas song in Finland and has become the song that most accurately describes the home-sickness felt by many Finns for their Nordic homeland at Christmas time.

There is also a reference to the bird longing to be freed from its cage, a part of the poem which some say refers to Finland's longing to become freed from Russian rule. (The poem was published 1853, some 24 years before Finland became Independent) Whatever the intention, the poet Topelius certainly manages to convey home-sickness, patriotism and the wish for freedom. Just what everyone wants at Christmas time?

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Christmas preparations...

Michael Bubbles Christmas CD on; Daughter making mince pies, ginger bread biscuits and Finnish christmas star pastries; a full glass of some rather excellent M&S mulled wine on table in front of me...Christmas must be getting close.

Micheal Buble - isn't he just lovely?
As always, at this stage, Third Advent, I'm not at all ready - I have several presents to get, and the tree isn't purchased yet, in spite of a rather wrought attempt by daughter and me earlier today. (Long story, but basically we had a publicly conducted dispute about whether the chosen spruce would fit a base which I just know we have in storage somewhere - and whether we in fact should buy a new one for the stately sum of £20. We ended walking away from the quite openly bemused Christmas tree seller...we'll be going up to the larger store in Highgate again then this year, getting a pick of the leftover trees days before the big day. Oh well..)

But I'm beginning to feel Christmassy; the Finnish carol concert at Southwark Cathedral yesterday ensured that. Traditional as well a new Christmas songs were performed by Vuokko Hovatta, Zarkus Poussa, Jarmo Julkunen, Jani Pesola, David Gordon and the excellent Merenkurkut choir from Finnish Church in London. I was glad that we at Finn-Guild could support the church with sponsoring the concert via our travel bureau, Guild Travel. The Cathedral was full to bursting and many an Ex-pat eye teared up with the beautiful singing. (We Finns like to have good cry at Christmas....But any Finn will tell you this is 'good crying' - just another little thing you guys from different nations around the world find difficult to understand).

The Merenkurkut choir singing Finnish carols
But as I sit here, writing this blog, listening to Daughter singing along to Mr Bubbles, I feel incredibly thankful that, as well as being able to fit the Finnish traditions into our Christmas again this year, Daughter is going to do most of the cooking. She spent last Christmas being quite ill with a nasty bug, and couldn't really eat any of the many Finnish dishes she prepared for the first time then. Now she looks like a seasoned pro, adapting recipes, juggling several dishes...soon I won't be needed at all for the Finnish food preparations.

Perhaps this time next year I'll be a little more ready for Christmas? Fat chance...

Are you ready for Christmas?

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Happy Independence Day Finland!

Today Finland celebrates 97 years of independence, and although my home country is in the grip of a recession, I think we still have a lot to be grateful for, and need to celebrate an independence which during our short history has at times been difficult to maintain.

In his address to all Finns living abroad, President Niinistö also refers to the past difficulties:

Finnish independence has gone through a number of phases. The most difficult of these
occurred already some time ago. Independence has perhaps already begun to feel like
something we can take for granted. However, the events in Ukraine this year have
provided us with a disturbing reminder that, even today, we must work hard to preserve
peace and freedom. Together with other countries, Finland must contribute to calming the
situation. Trust must be built if peace is to become possible.

You you can read the whole of the President's address to Finns living abroad here.

I am already planning celebrations of the 100th Anniversary of Finnish Independence together with the other Finnish organisations (known as Finnbodies) in the UK, but in the meantime, I'm going to tune into Yle Arena, the Finnish Broadcasting Company's online service to check out the traditional Presidential Reception in Helsinki tonight. And of course I will also be lighting two blue and white candles bought especially for the day from a new Finnish online food retailer, Finndeli.

Hyvää itsenäisyyspäivää!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Running on coffee...

It was strong coffee for me this morning...

I hope you're all having a great Monday.

Last week I was struck down by a nasty bug, and was at home feeling sorry for myself, but now I'm a lot better and back at work, still feeling a bit tired, so running mainly on strong coffee (which my fellow Finns at the Finn-Guild office have on tap).

I do need to be on top form, because this is going to be a busy week, not least because on Saturday at Finn-Guild we'll be hosting some brave souls who are going to attend our Intensive Finnish Course in Camden. On Sunday (16th November) I'll be the Indie Authors Fair at the Chorleywood Litfest. More details about the Festival here.

Today I'm also over at the Alliance of Independent Authors Self-published Advice blog talking about writing and second careers. You can read my post here. Do leave a comment, whether you agree with me or not. I love a good discussion.

Have a great week, and wish me luck with the Litfest!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

I was immediately gripped by the narrator's voice in this novel. The tragedy of Maud's slow but inevitable descent into dementia is heart-breaking, as is the tale of her post-war youth, which keeps popping up in her scrambled mind.

Maud is most worried about her friend Elizabeth who is missing, but no-one, apart from Maud seems in the least be interested or worried about the disappearance. The question is, how can you find some-one if you keep forgetting the details? Maud tries to work around her forgetfulness by writing little notes for herself, and slowly she begins to get to the bottom of her friend's disappearance. At the same time she remembers another disappearance; one that happened some 70 years ago, when her beautiful sister, Sukey, went missing.

The story is sad, but also incredibly funny in places. Frequently we see the world, and people, afresh through Maud's eyes, while she tries to remember where she is, and who the people around her are. One scene where Maud discusses a young woman who we know is her granddaughter, Katy, with her daughter, Helen, is particularly funny:

'I've been meaning to tell you. That girl you've hired, she doesn't do any work. None. I've watched her.'
'Who are you talking about now? What girl?'
'The girl,' I say. 'She leaves plates by the sink and there are clothes all over the floor of her room.'
Helen grins and bites her lip. 'Pretty good description. Mum, that's Katy.'

As well as an excellent read - this novel is in the category of books that you just cannot put down - Elizabeth Is Missing gives a poignant insight into the mind of a person suffering from memory loss and dementia. It should be compulsory reading for everybody in our ageing society, so that we may gain a better understanding of this, now a far too common, affliction.

If you read one book this Christmas, make it Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey.

Emma Healey is a young author I shall look forward to reading again, and again, in the future.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey
£12.99 Hardback
£5.09 Kindle edition