Thursday, 4 February 2010

How I came to be in England - Part 36

The Englishman and I set the date for my move to England for 25th February 1984.

I'd take the train through Europe, and then cross the Channel over to Harwich. This way I could send all my worldly possessions separately to my new home country, rather than be limited to carrying it all in suitcases onto a flight.

I bought the train ticket at Helsinki railway station on a cold windy day. Afterwards I picked up two large cardboard boxes from Valintatalo, the cheap food and clothes store opposite my bus stop. I struggled onto the bus, and occupied two seats, getting disapproving looks from the other commuters. The last thing they needed was to abandon a seat to a cardboard box. I ignored the other passengers and looked out of the window. It was just past three but already dark. The little snow that had fallen after the New Year had quickly disappeared, leaving Helsinki dull and rainy.

As I watched more passengers board the bus at the next stop, I thought about the items I'd take with me to England. The two large coffee cups and saucers my Mother had left me when she moved to Stockholm, the pestle and mortar my Grandfather made during the war when he worked at the ammunition factory in Tampere. All my books including the heavy, thick ones for the exams I was going to take at the Finnish Embassy in London, and all my LP's. The Englishman and I had discussed on the phone whether I'd need to take the ones we both owned by Earth Wind & Fire, Haircut One Hundred, Billy Joel or The Police. The Englishman thought I'd be crazy to pack them, but I wasn't sure. These LP's were like my friends, they'd kept me sane at night when lonely and desperately missing my Englishman in my Father's little house in Espoo.

The next day I went to pick up the wedding invitations. The Englishman and I had spent a long time on the telephone drawing up a list of guests. He'd come up with only ten, including his parents, Godmother, sister and brother with their spouses, and the friends who he shared the house in Southsea with. He said the flights were so expensive many of his friends couldn't afford to make the trip to Helsinki. The same conversation with my Father was fruitless. 'Oh, you must decide, how am I supposed to know who wants to come to your wedding?'

Then, after he'd been sitting in front of the TV for half an hour, he shouted, 'Oh my Mother and my step sisters. I guess they'll want to come now that old bastard is dead.'

I sighed. He would always have to put some-one down. Even if my Father was referring to his step-father who'd refused to feed and cloth him when his own Mother re-married. I'd heard the story so many times: how the man had promised my Grandmother that her son would be educated and even get his own room in the new home he'd built for his new bride. And then after only one week he said he would throw the new wife out too if the boy stayed. I'd often wondered what my Father had done during that week after his Mother's wedding to receive such treatment. Or was the new husband just as evil as my Father said he was. I'd never met him; my Father was reunited with his Mother only after the evil step father had died.

The conversation about guests was more enjoyable with my Mother. We made a list of over thirty people, including Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, my friends from school and university. As usual when I spoke on the phone with my Mother I'd made sure my Father was out. I couldn't bear the nasty things he would say about her afterwards, when he'd heard who was at the other end of the line. I had a long talk with my Mother about the wording of the invitations too. The Englishman had given me the words, but I wasn't sure whether the Finnish text should reflect the official tone of, 'Mrs and Mrs so-and-so have the pleasure in inviting you to the wedding of their daughter and Sub-Lieutenant Englishman, RN.' There was nothing similar in Finnish that wouldn't sound pompous and old-fashioned. Eventually we settled on a simple wording, in slightly more formal Finnish.

The printers were in Lauttasaari, in a small industrial park at the far end of the island. As I passed the street where my old flat stood, I felt a little sad. Life with my old boyfriend, fiance, was dull but it was safe. I wondered as I saw a light in my old window, and a new set of dark curtains, whether I was making a grave mistake. What if England turned out to be a difficult country to live in? What if people were unfriendly - even discriminating - against foreigners like me? What if I didn't get a job and ended up being a Navy house-wife like Lucinda in Scotland? What if the Englishman turned out to be equally possessive and jealous as my former fiance?

The man with ink-stained fingers pulled out a copy of the invitations for me to see. He left two dirty fingermarks in a corner of the card, embossed with the heavy, beautiful gold lettering. I re-read the text and blushed. Was this really for me? If only my family lived up to the fine wording and look of the invitation. Especially the 'Mr and Mrs have the pleasure in inviting you to the wedding of their daughter' struck me as false. I wasn't even sure my parents would be able to physically sit in the same room, and here they were portrayed as the most wholesome of happy couples inviting family and friends to their daughter's wedding. I turned the card over and put it down on the counter.

'They're good,' I said to the man. He handed me a plastic bag filled with the fifty heavy cards I'd ordered. I handed the money over and he wrote out a receipt.

When my Father came home from work that evening, I showed him the invitations. I knew he'd be glad the number of guests wouldn't exceed 50, that was at least 25 less than the maximum he was expecting. He sat heavily in one of the plush comfy chairs and perched his reading glasses at an angle on the end of his nose.

'What's this?' he said holding the card and looking at me over his glasses.

I was standing next to him, but now sat down. For some reason my heart started to beat a little faster, 'The wedding invitations.'

He looked down at the at the single card I'd handed him. Frozen to a spot, saying nothing.

'It's in English as well as in Finnish, because...' I started. I wondered if he was offended by the bi-lingual text. 'We speak Finnish in Finland,' he'd often say when my Swedish-speaking friends came to visit the house.

'What's this?' he said, pointing his fine long finger at the sentence, 'Mrs and Mrs X have the pleasure in inviting...'

'It's the English text. I thought since half, or in fact it's much less than a half, but all the same, they don't understand Finnish, so I thought, being that it is...'

'Not that!' he said, loudly. 'It's me who's inviting these people, not your Mother.'

'Yes, I know that...' I was puzzled, what did he mean 'not your Mother'?

'It's me who's paying for it.' His pale blue eyes, over the wonky glasses, were on me. His lips turned downwards. His hand, holding the card was trembling.

'What?' A chill ran down my spine. Even before I heard him say it, I had a premonition about what he was going to say.

'I don't want that Bitch on the invitation.'

I said nothing. My throat felt dry, I felt faint.

'And I don't want her anywhere near the wedding.'

There was a long silence. I struggled to find any words. I felt tears well up in my eyes. 'You mean my own Mother can't come to my wedding?' I said with a trembling voice. I willed it to sound normal, or firm, but I had no breath left in me.

He said nothing for a while. Then there was a dry final comment, 'I'm paying for everything. Not your Mother. Me. And I don't want to see that Bitch there.'

I ran out of the room, clutching the plastic bag of invitations, tears running down my face. The hate I felt for my Father at that moment was even greater than the love I felt for the Englishman.

I thought I might kill him.


Wildernesschic said...

Funny my post today is about the same year !
You poor thing, divorce is such a hard thing for the children at any age.. I know as had similar problems with my husbands family when getting married. We opted for a quick Scottish wedding in the end and they all gatecrashed ! Once again a wonderful and descriptive post .. I can feel your anguish. xxx

North West London Girl said...

Isn't it just so awful how people, particularly our parents can just be so selfish and cruel at moments that should be full of joy for us.

We had two wedding parties to avoid all the nightmare possibilities with our very own families and it worked.

Have a lovely weekend xx

Anonymous said...

Now we are beginning to see why your Father is such a vivid and interesting character! Wrong on so many levels but so real. said...

broke my heart, this post did.
Can't wait to see what happens next. . .

Cheryl said...

Wow, your dad really is so much like mine. His childhood does explain a lot about his behavior, but still... horrible, horrible...hope you overcome his selfishness in the next installments.

mettebassett said...

Hi Helena, just a quick comment to say thank you for an amazing blog. It has been in my google reader for a long time now and the story about how you came to be in England is simply mesmerizing and beautifully written. As a fellow Scandinavian with ambitions to write in English it's encouraging to see how well it can be done, xx Mette

Helena Halme said...

I am so pleased you enjoy the story, I sometimes wonder how I managed to stay sane in those days.

Next part is out soon, I promise. xx

tedsmum said...

Isn't it funny how we assume that 'everyone else' comes from 'normal' families! So glad that you are just like the rest of us, and that you are still happily married after such an awful start.
tedsmum x