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Part 20 - 20.6.09

Juhannus

I'm sitting out on the patio and okay, it's not the warmest day of the year but it is the longest! Today is midsummer, which is a national holiday here in Finland. I make a point of telling you that, just in case you ever find yourself here. Now, because of me, you'll be prepared. It's one of those days when suddenly, without warning, all the shops shut. So yesterday evening, we popped down to the K-market to get milk and something for dinner, only to find it all closed. On inspection of the tiny sign on the door, we discovered that everything had closed at 1 o' clock in the afternoon, not to reopen until Sunday lunchtime. Thankfully, a neighbour told us that we could still get milk from the petrol station and (bless her) offered to lend us anything we needed from her cupboards.

A couple of years ago, we went to a Juhannus party in Selby, organised by the Finn-Guild there. It was a fantastic evening where we learned that midsummer is very important to the Finns. After the long, dark, cold winter, the short summer is highly celebrated and the holiday period begins with this day. In Finland, rather than having parties, most Finns go to their summer cottages by lakes or in the countryside and relax there, soaking up the midnight sun. For us... well we've just sold our summer cottage, so we're staying home. Some of our neighbours are also staying home, so we're all having a BBQ together this evening.

I can't say I share the Finns' enthusiasm for summer. So far, it has proved more bearable than the English summer but, let's face it, many things are the same. When, in mid-May I had seen no sign of nettles anywhere, I have to confess I thought I had arrived in paradise. That was until the day I spotted the first little blighters outside Halpahalli (a cheap shopping place) in Tuira. They were followed by others, though I haven't spotted any in the forest behind the house - praise God!!! They are fewer in number and much, MUCH smaller than their English relatives and the Finns do seem to have grasped the concept of W I D E paths through the forests, so I'm not too disappointed. I remember hearing something last summer about bees becoming endangered. Let me reassure you - no chance! I've found them! There's loads of them here. Thankfully, they aren't aggressive and tend to be more interested in the flowers than me. Which brings me onto my other pet-hate. I have to confess to smirking slightly as I read (on Facebook) various status updates about encounters with enormous wasps. Again, by mid-May, we hadn't seen any. Recently though, there have been quite a few around. I think they are queens coming out of hibernation but my paranoid side keeps scanning the houses for nests. We were chatting to a friend (who had also had some stripy visitors) and they tried to reassure us that if they were nesting in a house, at least we'd be able to get rid of them. I enquired about who we should contact regarding this - the council? rentakill? - to be told, "Oh no. You can do it yourself. Well, maybe not you... but Neil could." AAAGGGGHHHHH! No way! Well I've been sitting out for a while now and haven't seen one yet today. Maybe they decided they didn't like this neighbourhood afterall. Or maybe they saw my bat...

I bought the bat last weekend. It was only 5 euros. It's like a tennis racket, only smaller. It takes 2 AA batteries and these provide electricity for the wire net. When the mosquitoes come, you just swipe them and they fall to the ground, spin around a little and die! Ha! That'll teach 'em to suck our blood. No, they aren't so bad most of the time. Evenings can be bad around our house because the forest behind is on swamp land and there are certain areas to avoid. Mostly though, it's okay.

Let me finish with some good things about summer here. It's very green now and there are hundreds of beautiful wild flowers everywhere. There are many different species of birds. Most of them are very small and brightly coloured. They are really lovely to sit and watch. The only downside is that the dawn chorus begins at midnight and lasts ALL night, which is a bit irritating if you're trying to sleep, but they are extremely pretty. The market area has come to life and the atmosphere there is very pleasant. On warm days, there are people swimming from the many beaches along the river... and even in the sea (though the sea is still quite chilly). Life is totally chilled out. The Finns seem to have a definite aversion to doing anything remotely strenuous in the summer and I don't really see any good reason why we should either. The temptation to do absolutely nothing is overwhelming! So summer does have some good points. I still can't wait for the first snowfall though. :-)

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