This week in bigger pics

Monday 15th July Finland week 108

 

    Justice we once had. (Oh dear! sounds grim. Ed)

    We left Santa's summer home and headed 120 miles south to Vaasa, advertised as Finlands sunniest city. On route we passed: Santa Claus's Steel fabrication works. I'm guessing this is what he does when he's not climbing into children's bedrooms. Still, I expect sleighs don't manufacture themselves.

In an attempt to make you glad you don't live here, and to give me something to write about (He means moan, Ed) we diligently counted the speed cameras along our route. There were seventeen. That’s one every seven miles. Every change in speed limi,t and there were lots, had a camera to enforce it. Hazel rode shotgun and watched out for them because, as you know, driving involves a lot more than just constantly monitoring your speed. But come on, one every seven miles! that's taking the piss.

    I'm convinced, along with many others, speed cameras are about raising revenue rather than getting us to keep to limits. I say this because to actually get everyone to drive slower is dead simple and I'll prove it, but first......

    In the UK there are a growing number of speed cameras that have racked up over a million pounds in fines. Personally I think they should be wired like a fruit machine, once they reach a million, bells sound and lights flash letting the government know they’ve hit the jackpot again. The Government also coin it in from the driver retraining scheme and VAT on increased insurance premiums. And yet, laughably, a debate rages as to whether they work. Surely common sense dictates that if they worked as a deterrent, 1.4 million fines wouldn't have been issued last year. That's £240.000 at £60, a day in fines.  If only three were then I'd be the first to say they work brilliantly. Truth is motorists slow down when they approach one and those that don't get caught. Do they save lives? Well the jury is out on that. It depends on whose figures you choose to believe. We do know that since 1946 road fatalities have been steadily falling and will continue to fall. All we know for sure, and this according to several chief constables, is that speed cameras have alienated public and police.

Ok, so how does a Government get us to drive slower? Easy. First dump all Gatso guns, radar traps and speed cameras across the country. Bin the lot and get manufactures to produce cars restricted to 30 mph. Sounds mad? not at all. It makes jolly good sense and I'll have you convinced by the time you get to the bottom of this.

   

Phil trials the latest in, 'on suites' off road all terrain motorcyce and side-car. What a bute!

    For a start we'd all be a lot safer in our beds because the police could go back to chasing criminals, that’s assuming they can remember what one looks like, after all it's been a while. Driving would be immeasurably safer, (True. Ed). You could hurtle into stationary objects and walk away unscathed. (True but daft. Ed). Fewer accidents would mean massive savings to the economy, emergency services and the NHS, (very True. Ed). The savings on fuel imports alone would help solve the UK's balance of payment problems within a year. (Unlikely but interesting. Ed). Traffic pollution would be halved, (True. Ed). Motorists would save a bundle on fuel, maintenance, road tax, repairs and insurance premiums, (All True. Ed). They would suffer less road rage and stress. This because you'd not worry about the slow twat in front of you because you'd be one too, (True. Ed). Car engines could be redesigned to give maximum mpg at the expense of a top end speed, perhaps 200mpg, (If you say so. Ed). Dwindling world oil reserves would last twice as long, (True. Ed). And lastly the electric car would become a real serious option. (True. Ed). We could end our reliance on middle eastern oil and in turn make the world a safer place. I could go on, (We know. Ed). The only downside is it will take you a week to drive to your holiday destination, by which time you'd almost certainly have to drive straight home again, but I think you’ll agree, a small price to pay .

    On a personal note: on three occasions where I've gone screaming through a town like a whirling dervish at a gut wrenching 38 mph and sent mothers and children scuttling for cover, I was caught on film and fined. Now you may have not a shred of compassion for my plight. You may argue I deserved to be fined or worse have my car crushed, but if that’s your opinion let me drop the humour (Sorry there was humour, let me re-read it, Ed) cheek!, and remind you of a human right you once had:

    Had you been accused of any other infringement of law you would have been entitled to defend yourself in court. You could face your accusers, after all it's the foundation of British justice. You are innocent until proven guilty by a panel of your peers. You'd have your day in court as of a right.

Even a mugger gets to explain himself. He may be as guilty as a speeding motorist but he still gets that right, motorists don't. A burglar can point to his previous clean record in the hope of leniency, a motorist can't. The fact he or she has driven perhaps a quarter of a million miles in twenty years accounts for diddley squat. What's more if you have the temerity to take your case to court you are likely to receive harsher treatment as Magistrates feel you're wasting their time. You are guilty, so pay up and shut up. Us motorists get a shorthand version of justice because, quite frankly, we are easy targets.

    Blimey, none of that is what I'd sat down to write about today.....

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Tuesday 16th July, week 108

 

    Being British.

    Right, what was I going to say before I got my knickers in a twist about speed cameras?..... Ah! I know..... No hang-on. I left out one amazing fact. This is according to the Daily Telegraph. The Government's highest income from speeding and parking fines was between 97-99 when it collected £840 million. Point made. End of......!

Yours for £125k, slice of fantasy

    Right, OK, back to normal. Apart from the cameras the drive down to Vaasa on the Baltic was very pleasant. The country side opened up. The ever present pine forest receded behind colourful fields of crops which, in turn, enjoyed a sprinkling of attractive rustic wooden farm buildings. It was, in short, very scenic. It reminded Hazel and I of the American mid west. Very open. Very spacious. Guys in baseball caps and dungarees rode tractors and occasionally a large American Buick or similar sat in a driveway. I was, for the first time since entering Scandinavia, impressed with the scenery.

    Vaasa which, even though is made up entirely of low rise apartment buildings, is a nice little city. To be honest it's more of a town since it only has 65,000 inhabitants but, in a country of just over five million, scale is measured entirely differently here. For example when the media talks about a crowd forming, they really mean only six people turned up. If you get five people standing and chatting, that’s an unofficial gathering. Four people means you've stumbled across a wife swap party and three people in a lift means it's full. Two people at a counter means there’s a queue and one.... well one's just billy no mates, that’s the same the world over.

    Living here you’d have to get used to this. For example it's slightly disturbing to cycle into a city on a Sunday morning and find it deserted. I can’t help wondering if the inhabitants know something I don't, like a meteorite is hurtling towards earth so everyone’s at home banging the daylights out of each other. (keep it wholesome. Ed). Well we're all adults.

    In 1850 the whole place (Vaasa) burnt to the ground and nothing was left standing. It was ten years before someone had the bright idea they really ought to rebuild it. Because of this nothing is old, but then again very little is in Finland. If you're into history and all things archaic then don't bother with Finland. We did find a church that dated back to the 17th century in Tornio, but that’s it.

The oldest thing we found in Finland, that''s if you don't count the old biddy in reception.

    We visited an old preserved manor house once owned by an industrialist who made his fortune from wood, what else! It was interesting, but having been built in 1912 it hardly made it an ancient monument. There was actually a Grundig television set in the smoking lounge. The young tour guide kindly explained everything to us in English, once she had finished with Finnish. I so wanted to crack a joke about that....(So glad you didn't. Ed).

    I asked if she saw many British visitors, she replied saying she didn't. So I did that involuntary thing I do, and I hope I'm not alone in this, I become instantly more British. I start saying stuff like: how terribly terribly interesting and, I fancy they had a frightful time here in the winter. I turn into a version of Noel Coward. I become more than a tourist, I become an ambassador for all things British. I feel obligated to leave a good impression, and I want to. So I asked lots of questions. I wanted her to feel, as British, we are genuinely interested in her mildly interesting history. I didn't want to just shuffle around and poke things. Crickey is that really Waterford Crystal?. Gosh! so they played Cricket in the snow? how marvellous. So this is actually the light switch?.

    I suppose the down side of this could be that she'll walk away thinking all Brits are like me...

     Urmm,  sorry about that.

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Wednesday 17th July Finland - week 108

 

    It's all getting too much for us!

    Our camp site is on the outskirts of Vaasa on an island which has its own private sandy beech. Sounds wonderful? Well it might be had the city lived up to it's reputation of being the sunniest city in Finland, unfortunately it's been shrouded in cloud practically the whole time. And when the Sun doesn’t shine in Finland, your quickly reminded that your on the same line of latitude as Iceland.

    We cycled into Vaasa yesterday to do some touristy type stuff. The town was hosting a beach volley ball tournament which was in full swing in the town square. They had erected seating, filled the court with sand and had a PA system etc. It had a small but enthusiastic audience. It's not a sport that interests either of us so we moved on. We checked out a few shops before popping into a couple of the museums for some overdue culture. Modern art for Hazel, old cars for me!. We then picked something up for dinner. When we cycled back through the town the volley ball crowd had grown considerably and so had the noise! I rode over to see what the all the fuss was about. Turns out the four lanky dudes that were playing earlier had been replaced by four pretty young ladies. The girls leaped about energetically, pony tails a-bobbing and all while dressed in skimpy bikinis about the size of an atom. Once I'd elbowed my way to the front I thought, oh I dunno, I could probably get into this sport. I mean one has to admire the girls, urm........ athleticism?, right.

Opps! not a hugely lady like pose luv, up you get.

    We have decided to cut short our visit to Finland, make for Helsinki, a ferry and Estonia by early next week. One reason, and I'm not being mean here, but we're both finding the Finns a bit poker faced. Normally I can get a smile out of anyone when I give them a cheery 'good morning', but here it's like pulling teeth. My smile has been met with blank looks. Hazel's given up altogether and she'll say hello to anyone. Younger Finns are fine, it's the older ones my age that look surprised rather than welcoming. It may have something to do with the fact they’re all mildly depressed. This because, and I've now come to our second reason for leaving, it's so damned expensive here. It's certainly the dearest country we have visited in Europe. I could live with that, but only just, provided the country offered me something other countries can't, but it doesn't. There's little history, no quirky customs, no funny outfits, no odd habits, other than language there’s little here which sets Finland apart from it's neighbour Sweden. It's frankly, a little disappointing. They get few English tourists here and I'm beginning to see why.

    On the cost front this camp-site charges a whopping £43 a week just for an electrical hook up, others have charged simular. I've no idea what they think anyone could possible run inside such a small space to warrant such a charge. It's a motor-home! I run a kettle and a toaster not an sub-atomic particle generator for Christ’s sake. (A what?. Ed) It's all I could think of.

    In a sense it's counter productive because, paying that kind of money, I turn anything on I can eager to get my monies worth. I'm constantly looking at what I can put on, plug in or charge up. The toothbrushes have been on charge for so long they are positively glowing like miniature light sabres.

Food is also expensive, made worse by a 14% tax on all food. Which is plain wrong. Taxing food calls for mutiny or an uprising in my book. Meat prices are astronomical We have yet to find a shop that sells a whole chicken or Kyckling as they call them here. But if we did I'm not sure we could afford one. It's not just food. I went in search of a couple of small jubilee clips and was offered a pack of two for £5.50. Hazel broke a wine glass the other night. Buying two cheap replacements cost us £7. And on top of all this you can't even drown your sorrows in alcohol because you can't find a bloody shop that sells the stuff, you have to go hunt for it. We are now down to our last bottle of the wine we brought in Germany. There it cost £2.14, here it cost £6.80 and it doesn’t taste any better, in fact it just winds me up. See, even I'm feeling depressed now...

 

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 Thursday 18th July - Finland, week 108

 

    Flying visit.

    Here’s a thing. If someone tells you they've won an all expenses paid two week holiday in Nokia, Finland and they invite you to go along, do yourself a favour, don't go. Throw yourself under a bus, or at the very least, feign a heart attack. You’ll be doing yourself a favour and thanking me for the heads up. Think I'm being harsh? Well let me put it this way. In the official tourist: Welcome to Nokia brochure it cheerfully and proudly reminds you that Nokia is home to the famous 'Molok waste disposal system'. Now even I know that that kind of dull-as-dishwater information isn't going to make the brochure a page turner, nor would it whet my appetite for a visit, but that’s too late, we're here. I should warn you therefore the next few paragraphs are as exciting as Nokia gets, so now might be a good time to de-worm your cat.

In the absence of anything interesting thought you might like this action shot we took on route.

    We left Vaasa and headed 130 miles south east to Nokia. Yes there is a place called Nokia, and yes it has something to do with phones. The name Nokia, according to the aforementioned tourist guide, is taken from a now extinct sable cat called a Dark Marten. How you get from Dark Marten to Nokia, it doesn’t illuminate on. However this explanation strikes me as odd because the town is built on  the river Nokianvirta. Seems far more likely the name came from that, but I'm no town historian, what do I know?.

    At the turn of the century an industrialist started a paper mill and called the company Nokian. He then expanded his business to the manufacture of winter tyres. The company still manufactures tyres from a massive sprawling factory in the town. (Yawn. Ed). In the early 90's they got into communications and are now the second biggest mobile phone company in the world. How wonderfully impressive.

    The town of Nokia is new. I say new because until 1922 little existed here apart from the factory and it's factory built homes. For fifty years it blossomed as an industrial town and by 1977 it became an official town. Back then young families were encouraged to come here to work at the Nokia plant.

    Now you know I don’t normally go in for history lessons, it's a huge turn off, but it does help in explaining a peculiarity which I'll come to shortly.

    We made for the heart of the town, at least we would have had it possessed one. The main shopping street contained an  mix of twenty odd shops and was reminiscent of a 70's shopping precinct. This reference to the 60's and 70's is becoming a recurring theme to our experiences in Sweden and Finland. I'm beginning to wonder if the two countries employed the same dull committee to design their town centres.

     Nokia was soul-less, utilitarian, grey and instantly forgettable. Hazel struggled to find anything remotely photogenic. However, and this is the point of the history lesson, strolling around I slowly became aware Nokia was populated by old duffers. I don't mean that disrespectfully, I'm practically one myself but here we were the young kids on the block. I've never seen so many people being pushed around in wheelchairs or hobbling about with zimmer frames. I've since reasoned they must have all arrived in their early twenties when the town was booming and have since matured on-mass so to speak.

    I'm sure if you're a sober, aging, base ball cap wearing depressed Finn this is a swell place to live - but for me I'd have to take up alcoholism if I was forced to lived here.

      We are heading to Helsinki in the morning, where incidentally Nokia phones are made.

 

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 Friday 19th July 2013 Finland week108.

 

    No room at the inn.

    On the map, the Helsinki camp-site looks as if it is situated on the fringes of the city, it's not. It's bang in town surrounded by low rise flats, a car park and a beach. Oh dear! The only other camp-site is the other side of Helsinki twenty five miles away so we pulled in.

    I had to queue up at the reception. When I'd worked my way to the front I was told they were now full. There is, said the charming young lady, a field which has electricity, but that's all we can offer. "Well if it's good enough for a cow it'll do for me" I joke. "What?" she says?. "Urm... nothing" I say. I quickly accepted her offer. We drove through the crowded camp site to the field indicated on the map. Now when she said a field, I naively assumed she was referring to some green pastoral meadow, but no. It turned out to be the local authority asphalt football field, complete with goal posts, adjacent to the site. Still beggars can't be choosers so we pitched on the penalty line, who knows I may score.

    I suppose it would pay us, at least during this time of the year, to book ahead but I'm just not into that level of advanced planning. I thought like that when we started, but not now. I've only booked three camp sites while doing this and when we arrived at those I've discovered I needn't have bothered.

    Once settled in we walked to the shopping mall we had passed earlier to pick up some basics. Least I think that’s right, does wine count as a basic? Yeah I'm sure it does.

   Now, and not for the first time in Finland, I've been taken for an American. What happens is I've normally just paid for something and, as the young assistant hands me my change, I say: Thanks very much. In return I get: 'Have a nice day'. Now I want to correct them. Tell them I'm English and that is an American expression. Us British say: Tootle pip old chum. Needless to say Hazel gives me that, just you dare look, so I don't. But I would love to be there when she serves her next English customer and says, tootle pip old chum. Wonderful.

Come on how hard can this be.

    Now I've mentioned this before but it really is worth repeating, especially since it may save you a few bob one day. I searched for the cheapest ferry crossing from Helsinki to Tallinn in Estonia on the internet. I used one of those comparison web sites which promises to find you the cheapest fare. It came back with a selection. The cheapest being £250 which, for a 2.5 hour crossing, is robbery. I then searched for ferry companies in Helsinki and found one called Eckeroline. I checked their web site and they came back with £151. Comparison web sites rarely search all providers of services. They search only those that they have an agreement with.

    Eckeroline wants us to check in a hour before departure. Hazel rather cuttingly suggested that was because they wanted to make sure they had enough oars. - You'd think she'd know by now that I do all the jokes-.

    Just a small anecdote: We had an interesting chat with an Australia couple who are touring Europe in a rented motor home. He insisted we should stay in touch so I walked to his van so he could give me his email address. I admired the new German built motor-home he had hired. He told me it came with just 160 miles on the clock when he picked it up. They told him to look after it as they handed him the keys. It was about then I notice a circular five inch hole cut into the door. Christ! I said, what's happened here?. Ah! he says, in a cheerful Aussie accent, “funny that mate. I had to cut a blooming hole in the door”. “Why?” I ask. “Well darnedest thing, we shut's the door one day and the bloody thing refuses to open. So I had to cut a hole to get to the gubbins inside, but no worries mate I've fixed it”. He tells me this like a man seriously satisfied with his handy-work. Right I say, doubting that the rental company is going to be quite so chuffed.

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