Touko’s letter to Hely, 19 September 1960
Helsinki, 19 September ‘60
How good to receive your letter as it prompted me to write one, too. I’ve been meaning to write to you for three weeks now.
Congratulations on your new car. I’m sure it’ll make your life easier. When you have time, you could all drop in on a Sunday. It’s only a couple of hours’ drive, after all, as we live about halfway between Turku and Helsinki. The traffic won’t be too bad, as you wouldn’t need to drive into town.
I have to say that the traffic in the centre of Helsinki is nothing compared to that in London. It’s a huge city compared to all other cities, even the big ones. There were so many people and cars in the streets that I could paraphrase the old ad: had you walked, you’d be there by now. What I found amazing in the traffic jam, which was moving at a snail’s pace, was how patient and polite people were. They don’t dash all over the place and get angry like the good people of Helsinki. They are polite and even smile at you, no matter how busy they are. But I guess they are used to it; big crowds are still a novelty in Finland. In general, people in England seem to be friendly and even-tempered, sometimes almost too much so. Showing a bit more emotion wouldn’t be a bad thing. They are a boring sort of people. They all love old – and even older – stuff, and they worship traditions more than anything else. I suppose it’s quite normal, but for a foreigner like me, it seems stuffy and uncomfortable to decorate your home in the Victorian style, such is generally accepted practice. Comfortable contemporary furniture wouldn’t fit in, they sit in fussy armchairs, and please don’t let too much sunlight in. The windows are high, as are the rooms, but they are clad in several skilfully wrapped layers of plush and lace curtains. Nothing is mended or painted or cleaned. I guess it would be hard work to dust all the lavish decorations that fill the rooms. Which means that I need to constantly wash my hands and brush my clothes on the sly.
As you can see, my tone is a bit bitter, and that’s because, for all their kindness, at least all the people I met there – and I met quite a few of them – were contemptuous of everything modern: no traditions, you see. This just prompted me to eagerly explain how we live in Finland, how modern, and therefore also practical and comfortable, everything is. It did nothing to change their views. It seems to me that they’re not interested in anything outside the Empire, yet they were rather interested in Finland, which they’d never heard of, so much so that they’ve all decided to come to Finland next summer. What am I going to do with them all? Yet I wouldn’t mind showing them around to prove that the remote backwater in the east has great culture and a standard of living that is higher than in the centre of the universe where they live, and how beautiful Finland can be.
Admittedly, the English countryside is hugely beautiful and lush. I could have spent more time there, but the weather was so hopelessly changeable that it was impossible to go out hiking. And I had a full programme in London. First I stayed with a rich family for a couple of weeks, arranged by my friend Pekka Salomaa (a theatre student, who’s mentioned in Tom’s letter from Vienna). They have two guest rooms for people like me; apparently they have someone staying almost all the time. They seemed to have loads of money: a luxury car, a Bentley, worth six million marks, etc. But as you can guess, it was all pretty formal and stiff. Not exactly very cosy. Dinner was the highlight of the day. You had to arrive punctually and be properly dressed. They didn’t say anything, but I could tell from the way they behaved. The food was excellent, I have to say. The Portuguese cook, whose English was even funnier than mine, really knew what she was doing. They took me out almost every night: to visit their friends, the theatre, the cinema or some special restaurant. I was a bit uncomfortable because they went to a lot of trouble to entertain me, but they did it willingly and it was terribly interesting, really. It wasn’t quite the usual summer holiday of sun, sea and sand. I spent the rest of the time with Pekka, which was definitely much more fun, if not quite as comfortable.
For me, one of the most interesting places in London was the British Museum. It’s enormous, and there’s a huge number of old Egyptian, Assyrian and Greek objects, including mummies, and of course all sort of other things from around the world. I could have spent days in there. But I wasn’t at all impressed by Madame Tussauds wax museum.
It was a nice trip, indeed, but it was nice to come back to my clean and bright home country. My overall impression is that England is not one of my favourite countries in Europe. I prefer Germany, for example. But even this holiday re-energised me. As I got to the office I found it funny to see the others so grumpy and nervous. I felt refreshed and cheerful and decided that I won’t turn into one of them, but I must have forgotten this resolution because I can see myself letting the fuss get under my skin, too. In fairness, we’ve already had numerous annoyingly messy jobs. Some of them make no sense. I was given a pay rise, which was a small comfort and allowed me to quit my job accompanying the gym classes, which gives me more free time. I don’t think I’ll regret it as I’ve enjoyed being at home, doing whatever I want to do.
It’s really peaceful here now that Nipa is on holiday. I’m not saying that he disturbs me in any way, but it’s great to have a little more space for myself in this small flat. He went to Paris a couple of weeks ago but I haven’t heard from him yet.
I’m enclosing some enlargements that we made. Their quality is a little unfinished but it’s wonderful to look at sunny images in the autumn. I love the way Känkkä’s swimming skills have improved: from doggy paddling two years ago to clown diving stunts this summer. I’m sure he’ll have mastered the art of swimming completely by next summer.
Please give my love to everyone! Touko
PS Kaija says hello. She says she’ll write soon. T.