Part 14 - 25.4.09

I guess it was bound to happen at some time or other. Well it happened last Monday. We'd spent Sunday evening planning out the week and a busy week it was set to be! The UK car insurance was due to expire on Friday and that gave us the week to take it for its inspection, get any work done, get it registered and insured under the Finnish system. That, along with Finnish lessons on Monday and Tuesday afternoon, our English class on Wednesday, house group on Thursday and LIFT evening on Friday, all added up to quite a full week. So it was nine o'clock on Monday morning. Neil was still asleep in bed and I was in my dressing gown, enjoying a cup of freshly brewed coffee and a bowl of semolina for breakfast. Obviously, I was perusing the overnight activity on Facebook - well you have to, don't you? Then the phone rang! I didn't recognise the number so I answered in English and Finnish, "Hello...Hei...Nicki Berry..." like most Finns don't understand hello - duh! It was the secretary from the International School. In the three second pause between the hellos and her actually speaking, my brain had processed the three possible options... no, four. Number one - We're sorry but we can't offer you a job. Number two - We'd like to offer you a job. Number three - One of the boys has done something dreadful and we're expelling them. Number four - Andrew has just drowned at the swimming pool. I wasn't prepared for what she really wanted. The second grade teacher was sick and could I substitute (supply) for the rest of the week, beginning on Tuesday? I was so pleased! I immediately accepted and agreed to call in that morning and sort out the details. I woke Neil and we went into hyper-mode!

The obvious thing that we had to do after my 90 minute visit to school (well the sick teacher was there, so it made sense to get some details from her) was to get the car inspection and registration done. There's a garage not far from our house that does inspections (like an MOT) so we went there. We didn't quite get it at first. You go in and wait to be served like a normal garage but then they just can't do a normal British queue. We would just scan around and see who was there before us and keep a close eye on those who arrived after us, so they don't push in. Here all queues are by numbers and they have variations on the theme. Well at the garage, you get a number and go and wait in your car in the ridiculously large car park. There are five slightly intimidating looking doors with numbers above. Each time a number changes, somebody drives to the door which opens automatically and eats them!

When the giant door had eaten us, we arrived in a very clean and tidy garage area, with seating and various scary looking bits and pieces attached to the roof. We got out of the car and introduced ourselves (in Finnish) to the mechanic. He asked for our papers (V5, MOT, insurance, etc) and he began on the car. He seemed either excited or confused (or possibly both) by the fact that the steering wheel was in the wrong place and did an interesting Mr Bean style mime before getting on with the job. Everything seemed fine until he checked the headlight beam. Of course it was still angled up to the left - great in the UK but here it dazzles any oncoming motorists. The chap was very helpful and tried his best to adjust it for us but the more he realised it wasn't possible, the more he felt he needed to say...ALL in Finnish. I could detect steam coming from Neil's ears with the stress of so much incomprehensible language. I was trying to keep him calm and try to fathom at least some of what the man was trying to tell us. I kind of picked up that it needed to go to the dealer and little euro signs began to flash, migraine style before my eyes! We went to the office and he went through the registration details and printed off what looked like a new V5. Hope began to spring up until I spotted a word in capitals on the form. I had a sneaky look in the dictionary and the word translated as WRECK! The man also asked for our customs papers from when the car arrived in the country. The removal firm were supposed to do that but apparently they drove through the 'quite a lot to declare actually' lane at Helsinki Tulli (customs) and there was nobody there. The chap told us that we should sort the lights first and then go to Oulu Tulli and get legal.

I can't even begin to explain how all that took so long but the time is now three o'clock. Customs closes at quarter past four and Wetteri (the Honda dealer) at about six. When we looked into getting the winter heating kit fitted, Honda were way more expensive than local garages so we thought it had to be worth a visit to some of them to see if they could do it cheaply. After two different sets of blue overalls had stared into the light fitting for ten minutes each before emitting a stream of Finnish including the word WETTARI, we gave up and headed south to Wettari. On the way, it occured to us that we'd better go to customs first before they closed. The lady there informed us that we would be better to come back the next day, as there was quite a queue (one man with his little boy) and the process could take some time. Neil interpreted that as "Go away and come back tomorrow when we have police here to arrest you for smuggling your car into the country for eight weeks!" So off we went to Wettari. That was possibly the most unbelievable moment of the day. The headlights can't be adjusted. We need new ones at a total cost of around 900 euros!!! I think that was the moment when I realised that the co-incidence of getting a week's work on the same day could be taken as God's provision. Well, however you look at it, gratitude feels less depressing than panic.

Tuesday began an interesting 'culture shock' experience! I successfully caught the bus and arrived at the classroom door half an hour early. It was locked and there was no other teacher in the building yet. I eventually managed to get in ten minutes before the children and hurriedly tried to organise myself for the first lesson. I got the computer on but struggled a bit with the spelling of the password. Plus the whole thing was set up in Finnish - all the menus, everything! I now remember what it feels like to not know one end of the computer from the other - not something I am used to! The children arrived and made themselves at home. I was a bit baffled at the informality of the register. Teacher just jots down on a scrap of paper if a child is late or away. It was swimming week so I thought it would be a good idea to check that the kids had remembered their swimming kits. They looked at me as though I'd just arrived from Pluto when I asked and made various Bart Simpson style noises - er yeah! The bus to swimming had no seat belts and the kids again looked at me in a strange way when I suggested removing hats and gloves. One even ducked as I took mine off as though she expected something terrible to happen as a result of a person taking a hat off outdoors.

The swimming pool merits a whole page of its own but I'll try to be brief. I took the girls into a group changing room and was astounded at how quickly they were all ready. I was a little confused as to why they were all lined up naked holding towels and swimsuits. I didn't ask. We went into the shower room where the girls mingled quite happily amongst the array of seemingly hundreds of equally naked women. I have to confess to feeling rather uncomfortable! They left their towels in the natty little towel racks, had a full shower, washed out their costumes and put them on. We made our way to the correct pool (it's like the swimming pool equivalent to Showcase cinemas) and I made them stand on the poolside until the teacher came. They seemed a little uncertain as to why and the teacher looked even more bemused. Apparently they normally get in the pool and I'm supposed to be the lifeguard! They played for a while and then had a lesson. The lesson ended with more play and a few goes on the slide. Some days, the children were allowed to jump from the diving boards. They're only eight and nine, so most only managed to jump from 3m but a couple jumped from 5m. A certain Y6 from my previous school sprang to mind and I had to smile! I was just thinking that with fifteen minutes to go before the bus was due to leave, we should probably go and get dressed. The children then proceeded to have a sauna and another full shower and hairwash. According to the other teacher, this is normal. We were still on the bus on time.

Something must have happened because that was Tuesday and now it's Saturday. Where did the other days go? After spending a large proportion of each day standing in a shower room full of bodies, I'm now immune and I'm going swimming this afternoon with Neil and Andy. The whole 'no clothes' thing bothers Josh a bit so he's not going to join us. Oh yeah, Neil took the car back to Tulli on Tuesday and as he's currently eating Josh's pancakes, I guess he wasn't arrested. Wettari ordered new headlights on Monday but they didn't arrive so... well... your guess is as good as mine. The car still isn't registered but a nice man at the insurance office sorted us out with car insurance, personal accident insurance for the boys and travel insurance. Ah! More big bills. Fortunately the teacher who was sick needs another week off. Phew - another week's work!

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