Home Sweet, Oh.26 Nov 2015
It’s been over 2.5 years since I moved to Finland and I’ve only made it back to the UK twice in that time. Both visits have been in the last few months, and neither was for more than a couple of days. I’ve not missed much - apart from friends, family, chocolate, bacon, curry and my old fat furry cat - or really given much thought to not living there. It’s not going anywhere, after all.
When I first got to Finland it was like an extended holiday. Everything was a bit new and shiny, and even the most mundane things - like food shopping - seemed like a bit of an adventure. Not having a proper grasp on the language has a lot to do with that. Deciphering the content of what it is you’re buying for lunch turns into an extended game of Russian Roulette when you’re a bit of a picky eater. But it’s fun, in it’s own way, as you feel like you’re always learning. Experiencing new things. Enjoying a different way of life and culture. That’s never dull, it’s why I like travel in the first place.
Those feelings of adventure do start to subside after a while, but even now, sat on a train from Helsinki to Tampere, I look out of the window at the forests covered in snow and it’s a picture that’s exotic. Little towns and villages scroll past, painted wooden houses dotted about in-between the trees, lakes slowly covering themselves in ice. It’s a beautiful country in many ways, that changes drastically through the seasons. The summers are long and warm, but winter has to be my favourite bit. Unlike the UK - even at the coldest points - there’s often a cold blue sky overhead that gives an otherworldly glow to things. The kinda colours you don’t get to see back home all that often.
What I didn’t expect when moving here was how I’d feel when I did eventually go back to the UK. I was used to seeing things change in Southampton, I’d lived ‘abroad’ in Scotland for 7 years, rarely getting back to my home town. When I did get back it never felt like I’d ‘left’, I’d see familiar faces at the pubs, go to the same shops and walk the same roads that I’d lived on for so long. Home was still home, no matter where I went.
A couple of weeks ago I had a couple of days back in the south to go visit my publisher. Same old greyness on landing at Heathrow. Same old boring queues at the car hire firm. Same old traffic on the M25, but with the added weirdness of having to remember which way you go around a roundabout, and checking which direction the oncoming traffic was actually heading in before taking a turn. Little pauses for things that used to be on auto-pilot. I didn’t even properly clock it during the the first day, things were so busy, apart from the fact that I didn’t have to repeat myself or use my phone voice to ask a question. Full-on-Mockney was working fine, thank you very much. But the second day, after having a hilariously shit shower and starting my walk through the small town where my publisher is based, it really started to come at me in waves; I’m on holiday in the UK. I don’t quite belong here anymore.
There’s a Greggs, fucking hell, not seen one of those in ages. Oh, yeah, Boots. Maybe I should pop into the Newsagent and grab some magazines. Oh, weird, there’re not selling many games mags anymore. Shit me! Proper bacon sarnies! On the shelf at the corner shop! Mmmm, smells from the bakery. Revels! Crunchie bars! I’ll grab a Viz while I’m at it. And a redbull. “Do I look tired?” The geeza at the till spoke to me? Shit. Bants. Wasn’t expecting that. Er. “Just thought you could do with some wings to go with your smile, mate!” 2/10. It’ll do, was under pressure. It’s quite dirty here, considering. Houses seem a lot older than I remember. Jesus this train station is falling apart, how old is it? 100 years? Look at the rust! Fuck me, no seats on the train to London, have to stand the entire way like a fucking animal. Blimey, Kings Cross is a bit shiny. I wonder where platform 9 & 3/4 is. Ugh, fuck, PEOPLE. Busy. I’ve not seen this many people in ages. Walk to the left, not the right, stop bumping into people. Fuck waiting for the lights, cross when you can! Mmm, proper coffee shops. PUBS! A proper fucking PUB! Ah, go on, a Stella then, been a while me ol’ chum. And the whiskey is cheap, maybe a little chaser before bed. Holy shit, that dude’s got all his stuff under a ramp. Sleeping rough. Oh fuck, there’re four of them under there. Should I say something to them?
The triggering of, well, ‘forgotten’ feelings of familiarity is strange. Comfort and discomfort, wrapped up into one. I belong, except I don’t. Not a constant thing, but something poking you in the back of your mind. A little more thought required than normal. Except not.
I felt good knowing I was going home - wow, Finland’s home now - but the minute I landed I was back in an exotic land. Picking at the words I understood from adverts, trying to pronounce my own street name in a way the taxi driver would understand. Laughing inside at being stuck between two worlds. That quickly faded and I settled back into my routine, happy to get hugs and kisses from my GF. Back to work at my little desk. Back to my old shop to work out if this new thing on the shelf was actually edible.
And then, just this weekend, on the train back to Helsinki, I had what could only be described as a run in with a racist. Trying to clear a seat she clocked that I was speaking English and went increasingly mental. It ended up with her shouting at me, shouting at my GF, and ranting in a mix of Finnish and English. I have no idea what the fuck was going on in her head, but it got to the point of calling me a barbarian, shrieking that I’d touched her newspaper and threatening random shit. And the weird thing that struck me was the mix of fear and anger in her eyes. I got really fucking angry, tbh. This isn’t the Finland I know. This isn’t a Finnish reaction. What the fuck have I done? I’m here because I love this place and the people here, not to take shit off you for being different, you wrinkly old cunt.
I wonder if this going to happen again?
Maybe home’s not home. But then, my old home isn’t either.
It’s not the first time I’ve taken shit for being English (obv.), or nearly got into a fight for where I live (heh, Scotland), but this was something a bit different. Something I didn’t want to be around. And yeah, people deal with this shit all the time, and yeah, I’m disgusted by it even when I’m not on the end of it. But it makes you think. It’s fucked up.
I’ve no plans to go back to the UK, but clearly I’ve a bit more to do before Finland’s truly home.