London Calling

Welcome to my London blog! I'm Arja and in this blog I will share some of my experiences of London this May. I have a priviledge to participate in the English language course for Finnish journalists in London and this blog is about learning to write in English. Please feel free to correct my writing at any time. I hope I can convey some of the atmosphere and insights through this medium to those who are interested.

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Post-London life

Back at home after an intensive fortnight in London. Mind filled with impressions, happy memories, grammar and vocabulary, not to mention all the new friends I made during the visit.

A short list of the best things I did/had/experienced in London:

Weather: well, let’s just say, it could have been even worse. It only rained in the beginning and in the end. All weekends were beautiful and we could enjoy our trips to Bath, Stonehenge, Wimbledon, Notting Hill etc. in beautiful weather. When it rained, we had school. So no complaints, although I admit enjoying the Finnish sunshine and warm summer days even more now, after a fortnight of cold winds and low temperatures.

Politeness: no need to say, people are nice and polite in Britain, even in London, where the pace of life is faster than elsewhere. I like the way people treat each other. On Friday night four of us popped into a karaoke bar in the neighbourhood. We we’re warmly welcomed although we did not sing as well as the others 🙂 But we did begin with Abba’s Waterloo…

Newspapers: There are more newspapers that are politically oriented in Britain than in Finland, but I enjoyed reading both right-wing and left-wing papers. I didn’t buy the Sunday Times but read both The Daily Telegraph (right-wing) and The Guardian (slightly left-wing) and appreciated the level of journalism in both of them. We even made a visit to the Daily Telegraph, which was an enlightning experiece. (In the photo the cartoonist of the Daily Telegraph drawing for next day’s paper. Photo (c) Sonja Baer.

At media classes we were introduced to the world of British newspapers by our teacher George Andersson. After an afternoon of studying the headlines playing with words it was a lot easier to understand the vocabulary and meaning of those, sometimes, cryptic headlines. I also enjoyed reading newspaper reviews of fiction and art exhibitions.

Food: student meals were better than expected.

Other cities: We took part in the excursion to Bath and Stonehenge. I would have liked to spend more time in Bath, a city that has Roman roots and baths, but has also interesting architecture from Georgian period. Stonehenge was ok. Oxford I did miss, but there’s a good reason to go back and get there next time.

Musicals: Billy Elliot is worth seeing, can recommend it warmly. We also got free tickets to the Phantom of the Opera, which I had seen earlier. Luckily we saw the Phantom first. After Billy Elliot’s magnificent show it would have been a disappointment to see Phantom.

Theatre: Despite our many efforts to get reasonably priced tickets to the sold-out play The Audience, starring Helen Mirren, we couldn’t afford tickets worth £200 each, so we had to give up. Other interesting theatre events would have been available, starring e.g. Judy Dench, but in the end we didn’t have enough days to get them.

Museums: Instead we managed to see the much appraised David Bowie Exhibition at V&A. Instead, although our school was located behind the British Museum, I didn’t have time or energy to go there.

Traffic: It was a miracle that we survived without an accident. And just as we had learned to look left, instead of right, before crossing the street, it was time to come home and get used to the so-called normal traffic. As we now had a chance to travel in London for free, we often took the advantage of wondering around the city by bus and tube quite a lot. Some days after classes we just jumped in a bus that we knew nothing about; neither its goal nor the place of departure. We never got lost and always made it to somewhere we could have a cup of coffee or see around a bit. This is something you cannot do if you only stay for a weekend.

Boroughs: As they say, every borough (neighbourhood) is a town in itself differing from other towns of London. Every part of London was unique, different in its own way. I liked them all.

Language: I did learn many new things: new vocabulary and grammar among other things although I was an advanced learner in the beginning of the course as well as in the end. Happy with the teaching methods and classmates. I have always hated pair discussions and group work but it seems, that if the teacher is competent enough, those can be much fun as well. I had a priviledge to study in a group where both teachers and students were excellent communicators and listeners and interested in learning. I learned to disagree politely and use collocations that improve the oral expression a lot.

Books: are much cheaper in Britain where there is no VAT on books and because of some other things as well. In Finland translations cost (although I’m not complaining, since I really appreciate the translations into Finnish) as well as because the print runs here do not amount to as many copies as in the English-speaking world. I decided to start reading books in English again since I managed to read The Great Gatsby in one day. Bought only three books from Foyles and Blackwell, which is a miracle since I’m a heavy user of literature, but they are books I will read as soon as possible, on summer vacation at the latest. I bought Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and The Woman Upstairs by American author Claire Messud. The last one had excellent reviews last week in all newspapers so I thought I’d better get it now.

Miscellaneous: I will always miss London and the good time we had among our group of 12 experienced journalists. I had forgotten how fun it is to travel with others. I’ve travelled alone a lot and sometimes with a friend, but often friends do not share same interests. In London I was lucky enough to find a good companion with whom we shared same interests and were eager to see as much as possible during the stay. Sometimes there were three of us and sometimes more, and we had a lot of fun exploring the city. (Editor’s note: In fact, the City refers only to the historical centre of London, where business is done even today.)

Below some photos in random order.

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Blogging in the Tavistock Square Park

Could life become more perfect? To be honest, I don’t know. At the moment I’m sitting on a park bench in Tavistock Square Garden near the student accommodation and taking advantage of the free wi-fi in the park. It’s 8.30 PM, and although this week began in a slow motion, it’s going to be a wonderful week ahead, I’m pretty sure about that.

The weather now is so mild and gentle that I would just like to stay here all night long: there’s no wind, no rain, no hurry, just hundreds of different shades of green everywhere. The statue of Mahatma Gandhi stands next to me, and, as usual, I’m becoming more focused and productive when the night falls.

This morning, when entering school, we watched new students arrive looking just as confused as we must have looked a week ago. Now, instead, we knew the drill, got to the so-called Square (cafė) at St. Giles and tried to wake ourselves up with a hot cup of coffee. Everybody seemed a little bit tired but then the bell rang and we got to our routines again after a nice and warm weekend.

In the afternoon we got introduced to the language and phrases used in interviews in English. George, our teacher in language of journalism, is a well-experienced gentleman with good sense of humour. The textbook and the printed material he gave to us last week will be useful in many ways for some of us in the future. You never know when you might have to do an interview in English and use formal expressions instead of informal ones.

After classes we were still wondering what to do on our spare time since we had not planned anything special for tonight. After a moment of thought we decided to jump into the bus 91 to Trafalgar Square with Sonja, a fellow student of mine. I had just noticed that there would be paintings by Lucien Freud on display at the National Portrait Gallery until the end of May so we decided to take a quick look at them before the museum closed. We found out that at the moment there were only two paintings by Freud on display. It turned out, however, that there was something even more interesting to see, namely relatively recent portraits of both contemporary British artists and the royal family.

The portraits of both Princess Diana and Prince of Wales had been placed side by side opposite the portrait of the Queen; in another room hang the recent and much debated portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge. I quite liked the artist’s way of presenting her, although we wondered why on earth paint her older than she is now since there are obviously going to be more portraits of her painted in the future; the artist could have captured her youth now when she is still young.

In other rooms we admired portraits of for example actors Stephen Fry, Dame Judy Dench as well as Dame Maggie Smith, and many more. The National Portrait Gallery is a must for me, as I personally find nothing as intriguing as portraits of people, whether in written or painted form. People, and the way they present themselves (autobiographies) or by the way someone else presents them (biographies), never cease to interest me.

Before returning to the school for prepaid dinner (only to find out that all food had been served and eaten before we arrived!) we took a brief look at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and the restaurant in its crypt. The place was packed, and we would have stayed there for a meal if we didn’t have the prepaid meal waiting for us at school (which then proved not to be the case). The restaurant had been awarded a prize for its atmosphere and quality food supplied by local producers.

Instead, we ended up having the worst meal by now at a shabby restaurant in Bloomsbury. My colleague had the worst pasta ever, and that was not all. The waitress didn’t even bother to listen to my colleague when she tried to talk to the her. She just walked away with our plates in her hand while my friend was still talking to her! Until now we have had only good, delicious meals both at the school’s cafeteria and in restaurants elsewhere in London. The worst thing about this restaurant was not even the food but the totally indifferent attitude towards both the food and the customers paying. Why bother run a restaurant if you don’t care about anything?

To end with something positive I would like to refer to the beginning of this post. Is there anything better than when on your way home from work you can have a cup of coffee in the park where you are allowed to sit in peace and read or write without being disturbed by anyone? There may be some things nicer, but this night I was reminded of something my friend said to me today when we talked about finding moments of importance and joy in everyday life. It is true that basically most of our time is spent on routines and there never seems to be enough time to do the things you enjoy most. Instead of just postponing a date, a swim, a movie night, or whatever you like, but don’t seem to find time for, do it today! Take an ex temporė bus ride to a new neighbourhood, invite a friend for a coffee or just walk home from another bus stop than you usually do.

I plan to do it this summer and not just get everything for granted. That’s just what I like most about travelling: although it is a bit of a clichė, it is so true: after a trip to a foreign country or having done something out of your comfort zone your daily tasks and responsibilities seem easier to accept; you might even enjoy returning to your routines at the end.

Let’s all do those things this summer that we most enjoy!

Goodnight everybody!

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Pilgrimage to Wimbledon

Summer is finally arriving in London as well. In Finland the temperature soared to over +26 °C yesterday. Not so here, but the weather has been warmer and sunnier this w-e, especially today. More rain is predicted to fall tomorrow though.

It’s been a good and entertaining w-e. The highlight was the visit to AELTC’s premises and Wimbledon ATP tournament site. I’ve been where Roger Federer and the other great players have been. As you can see in the photos, I enjoyed my time in the spotlight in the press room. 🙂

Back to basics tomorrow, i.e. studies of the English language continue.

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No bath in Bath

It’s been a week now since we arrived in London. During this time I’ve witnessed two great football figures’ retirement (Sir Alex Ferguson and soon-to-be-Sir David Beckham, garden gnomes appearing in the 100th Anniversary of Chelsea Flower Show and many other things as well. I’ve read more about football than ever and reading all kinds of newspapers discovering new words and expressions witnessing the change of English language. I even got to see the appraised David Bowie exhibition, which was really worth seeing.

I’ve had great moments in double-deckers chosen randomly, seen new areas of London, met new colleagues and friends, visited places like The Daily Telegraph, had many cups of good coffee and none of the famous English tea. The journey continues today with a visit to Wimbledon; kind of a pilgrimage to me since I’m a true Wimbledon and tennis enthusiast.

The title of this post refers to my excursion to the city of Bath yesterday. What a nice city it is! Unfortunately we had too little time to really discover it but I would like to go there again one day. We also saw the Stonehenge on our way to Bath. Impressing, yet tourist-crowded. It may be that I’m not going to have enough time to visit Oxford, though.

Still can’t load any photos here, sorry. I’ll load them later, I promise! Have a nice w-e!

My first English lesson

I grew up in a small industrial city in the Eastern part of Finland. When I started school in 1975 I was 7 years old. At the 70s your first lessons on a foreign language at school started when on the 3rd grade, ie. as a 9-year-old student.

(The language you chose at that time was English, almost without exception; now in 2013, in theory, you can choose other languages as well, although the poor financial situation of the communal school system have led to the situation where the selection of languages that can be chosen is narrowed again, – which is a great pity I think, since we have such an excellent history of language education in Finland.)

I have always enjoyed learning foreign languages. Knowledge of them have brought me so much joy and comprehension of different cultures in the course of my life that I would never give any of those lessons away.

At school we were told to pick up an English language name, and from then on I was Jane when in the English lesson, not Arja. It was a good way to adopt a new identity and pronunciation. One of the first songs I learned in English was London Bridge is falling down. Well, it still hasn’t. But fun did we have. I also started writing in English with some children abroad of my own age. It made me put my skills in practice. The letters were hand-written and sent by normal post of course; no internet at that time. I still have occasional contact with Jenny, my dear pen friend from Wales. From her I learned how to begin my letters with the word Dear and end my letters with the phrase Best wishes. I learned many other things as well. Some day we will meet in person, Jenny!

Since then I have learned a lot: among other things how little I do know. And even if I do know, I tend to forget, for instance, how important it is to use the little word please every time you ask for something. We Finns lack the politeness of speech in some way since we are so goal-oriented. So the journey of learning has never ended but is still going on. This blog is part of it as well.

The first language course on the Finnish television started in 1974. It was black and white and called Hello, Hello, Hello: two native speakers acting as policemen Stan and Dud looking for the cat. The dialogue was pretty simple:

Dud: Stan! Where’s the cat?
Stan: The cat is in the moon!

At least my fellow citizens living in Finland can have a nostalgic moment watching this clip in the Living Archives of YLE (The Finnish Broadcasting Company) from that show. (I hope it is available also abroad but I’m not sure, for the copyright reasons, if that is possible. Didn’t find the information, sorry!) Enjoy it, if you can.

Next time I will be writing to you from London. Until then, so long! And please, stay tuned for the next blog entry! (See, I used the word please…)

Arja

Photography, part II

ImageIt seems days are just flying away and I am trying to catch them while they fly. Remember to breath every now and then…

I still have many errands to run and some unexpected things to be done before I take off to London but I hope that the weather there will be more of the summer than of the spring/winter. Will I need a winter coat (hope not) or do I manage with summer clothes? My aim is to travel light but we’ll see how I manage with that. (Btw. The late Finnish author and illustrator Tove Jansson has a short story collection called Travelling light, original title in Swedish: Lätt bagage.

Yesterday I went jogging (had my second running session this spring and it was… well, a bit exhausting would be an understatement), but to my delight the first wood anemones (lat. anemone nemorosa) had appeared in the forest near the local airport (see the photo above).

The National Mothers’ Day will be celebrated on the 12th of May in Finland and little self-picked bouquets of wood anemones will most likely be given to the mummies by their little girls and boys in the morning when mummies are woken up with a song and breakfast brought to bed.

A little bit longer until I actually get to London but in the meanwhile, enjoy some extraordinary photos of old Finnish people photographed with dignity and yet with a blink in the eye. Check out this site!

Finnish photography and tennis… in London

It’s been a while since my latest blog entry. The language course is approaching and today I had a nice telephone interview and oral test for the course. I found myself speaking fluently, thanks to the interviewer who had a beautiful accent which I seemed to adopt immediately as well as I could – partly uncounciously.

There is something going on in London that I wish to tell you about, namely an exhibition of the Finnish pioneer in fashion photographing, Claire Aho, at the London Photographers’ Gallery. I want to encourage you, who are in London now, to visit it. I myself wonder about the possibility to visit David Bowie exhibition at the Victoria & Albert, but sadly I heard that tickets can only be pre-ordered and they seem to be sold out a long time ago. Well, you can’t have it all.

Today, after work, I went with some tennis enthusiast friends to a sports bar in Helsinki to watch a great Finn, tennis player Jarkko Nieminen, to play against Novak Djokovic (ATP-ranking 1) in Monte-Carlo ATP Masters tournament. Well, the world No. 1 won, but I give all the credit to Jarkko who fought a good fight.

This match reminded me of another match a few years ago at the Centre Court of Wimbledon. Jarkko’s opponent then was a Scot, Andy Murray. Since that match Murray has entered into the top three tennis players of the world and has reached two Grand Slam titles and the Olympic gold medal. It is always great when someone, who fights to get to the top, finally makes it and gets his dreams fulfilled. My life-long dream, instead, has been to visit Wimbledon at the end of June during the Grand Slam and watch the men’s or women’s final at the Centre Court and eat strawberries during the break.

Well, since I won’t be in London at the time of the tournament I’m planning a day trip to All England Lawn Tennis Club’s Museum at Wimbledon should I have a few spare hours during my stay.

As to weather it’s been raining here in Helsinki a lot now, but on the other hand it means that the snow is finally melting away. Hopefully the weather in London will be a lot warmer in May and I get to see daffodils and other flowers in the parks. The spring in Finland is taking  v-e-ry  slow steps this year… It’s only two months till Midsummer, the high point of the Finnish summer – and it’s still freezing cold.

Don’t forget to visit the Claire Aho exhibition and get to know her pioneering works at the London Photographers’ Gallery.

Here is the link to the exhibition:

http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/claire-aho-studio-works-3

– Arja

Maundy Thursday in Helsinki 2013

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There are still some snow in Helsinki but soon the sun will melt it away. After my last skiing day this winter I went to listen to the J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion in St. John’s Cathedral in Helsinki. The world famous barytone, Jorma Hynninen sang the role of Jesus in this masterwork for the last time as he is retiring from active singing career. Magnificent day off for me. Enjoy the last bits of winter and have a Happy Easter everybody.

The Spring is here

I’m sure that you in London are expecting the Spring finally bursting in as much as we here in Finland. Some days ago I read in a Finnish newspaper that an Englishman had sent an angry letter to the Finnish Embassy in London accusing us Finns for the harsh winter. Hmmm. The staff of the Embassy is planning to send a nice greeting from Finland to this active British citizen. However, I think we Finns cannot be accused for this climate phenomenon as attempting it might seem. We might have done something wrong but climate changes are not only in our control.

We will switch our clocks next weekend to the summer time so I think it was about time that some ice broke on the seashore of Helsinki today, Tuesday, 26th March 2013. This link below shows how there were a hockey game going on on the sea two days ago and how today the ice is gone. It’s still pretty cold here during the nights but above 0 °C in daytime.

Be patient, spring is nearly here – and there!

http://www.hs.fi/kaupunki/Teräsjää+vaihtui+avovedeksi+Helsingin+edustalla/a1364267115442

To choose a Museum in London

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Last time I was in London I visited the Tate Modern, The National Gallery and The National Portrait Gallery. Since I love portraits – both written and painted/photographed – the last one of the three I’ll probably visit once again in May. However, I thought I also might visit the Victoria & Albert Museum, not necessarily because I’d be so interested in porcelaine and china, but because I happened to read A.S. Byatt’s The children’s book last year. It was wonderful fiction about the British Arts and Crafts movement and the artists of that time – and about the sad ending of that golden age with the first world war. Last time I actually stayed next to the Victoria & Albert Museum but didn’t even consider visiting it! Both V&A Museum and the Natural History Museum were too much at that time. I watched the skating rink in the garden of the latter and just passed by for other engagements and bookshops. In any case, that’s why I love literature: it makes you want things you never thought you would. It opens up the worlds you never knew before.

Besides the V&A Museum I might visit the British Museum, at least some interesting exhibitions there, like this one:

http://blog.britishmuseum.org/2013/03/12/london-a-world-city-in-20-objects-i-love-minatures-by-rashid-rana/

I have been to the British Museum once – in the early 90’s, but now I’m more into something more intimate and less ancient. The above link interests me though. I’m sure the British Museum has something interesting to offer even if I only have some spare time; besides it’s in the neighbourhood anyway.

The Saatchi Gallery was mentioned by my colleague today, and perhaps, dont’t know yet, I might go there too. More likely, I’m going to be so busy with studying and moving from one place to another, that I might just visit some smaller museums or galleries ex temporé, without planning it beforehand.

There are some writer homes that interest me (like Keats House) not to mention Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. I guess, in the end, I’ll just follow my intuition and pop in to some place that comes to my way. Better keep my eyes open.

Still two months till London… Counting days. Take care until the next time.