On Sunday I flew to Finland. Helsinki? No I went of my own accord. It was never a good joke in it’s original form and obviously my rendition is no better.
At long last Terminal Three at Heathrow seems to have been tarted up and there was room to swing a cat. Sadly, there were no swinging cats there, just we motley collection of tourists and jaded business travellers.
I am being too cynical. In fact Heathrow is better since the renovation though I still protest every public space in England being transformed into an over priced shopping mall. The “luxury brands” swarm like bloated maggots around departure lounges though why any marketing wallah should think that having the name of Harrods suspended over a shop selling tatt to the masses would do their brand image any good I don’t know.
I’ve heard stories of luxury brands, such as Louis Bloody Vuitton, destroying their merchandise rather than let unsold items appear on the market at knock down prices and I had imagined that this was driven by a determination to artificially maintain exclusivity. But these days the luxury brands appear to be targeting both the toffs and the chavs and I suspect that in a few years time they will have completely destroyed their brand name. In fact I heard that Burberry have hit this exact problem and are now trying to claw there way back to exclusivity. If they’re not careful it will be Robinson’s Barley Water all over again.
I used to drink RB and had bought it fairly regularly over the years. However, a while back I noticed that they had not only changed the bottle to some misshapen plastic abomination but had also brought in a lot of other concoctions which they are flogging under their brand name. I mistakenly picked up a bottle of some rubbish which proved to be undrinkable. I continued to by the stuff for a while but the plastic bottle somehow makes the stuff irksome and it spends it’s days at the back of the shelf with all the supposed goodness gradually settling out until I notice just how foul looking it has become and throw it out.
I stayed at the Sokoto Presidentti in Helsinki which was satisfactory. The bathrooms have an almost medial appearance with their over engineered shower apparatus but the Spanish restaurant delivers a very good pepper steak and crème brulee.
In the evening I stood outside the hotel, my view of the Natural History Museum obscured by an unending procession of tour buses disgorging Japanese tourists. I’d read somewhere that Berliners are up in arms at the number of tourists who clutter up their beautiful city and I sympathise.
Despite the concentration of tour buses at the hotel, Helsinki seems not to suffer the scourge of mass tourism. Wandering the streets in the evening I found them almost deserted. Even at Helsinki Cathedral there were just a few local people sitting on the steps enjoying the evening.
Hypocritically I travel quite frequently and my impression of the UK is that it appears fundamentally different from continental Europe. Northern Europe has a certain uniformity engendered by common street signs for “Centrum”, yellow trams and tall warehouses. Possibly multiple forcible attempts at unifications by megalomaniac dictators resulting in massive loss of life also have something to do with it – Northern Europe has a more communal feel to it.
One evening I visited the Sokos Helsinki restaurant overlooking the railway station for a delicious steak sandwich. From the balcony it is possible to look out over Helsinki station and the trams, one of which appeared to be a travelling bar – What an excellent idea!
Many people in Helsinki ride bicycles but seem not as obsessed with having the right gear as the cyclists in England. The young men seem to be heavy metal enthusiasts and wear jeans, studs and beards. One motorcyclist sported two enormous cow horns on his crash helmet. All a bit Viking which is odd as I am told that their language is unrelated to Scandinavian languages and instead shares it’s history with Hungarian.
About 11pm, when it was still broad daylight, I discovered a video and sweet shop. Numerous videos and numerous types of sweet all in tall jars including the a suspicious brand named Tyrkish Peba. Which I love but which, I suspect, was originally invented as some kind of chemical warfare agent as it is composed partly of Ammonium chloride.
Returning to the hotel I found it overrun by youths who continued to race around the corridors until the early hours creating a sort of carpeted, indoor version of the Bronx.
On the flight home I got talking to a girl who was publishing a book to be named “No Fear” on the changing face of business leadership brought about by globalisation and technology. An interesting discussion though difficult, given the incessant announcement over the tannoy. In an effort to cover themselves and sell us more stuff, corporations bombard us with advertisements and inane safety warnings. We get this on aircraft, on the London Underground and in those imbecilic, and legally questionable, online “agreements”. Corporations will claim that they need to communicate with their customers but this is a very one sided form of communication. I don’t care about the ground speed, the height or their selection of duty free items. I especially don’t care to hear it in multiple languages one after the other at full volume from a loudspeaker positioned 12 inches from my left ear. I sometimes feel like taking a megaphone onto an aircraft and retaliating. I recall a friend who tried this in the back of a taxi once and got thrown out at Trafalgar Square….but that’s another story.