…the Northern…

So did we see them you’re thinking…Well, yes we did. In all their astronomical wonder and delight. But enough of that. Let me tell you about this beautiful sculpture.SAM_1379.JPG I don’t know who she is or what her name could possibly be – in Finnish or English – as it was carved by an unknown (to me) artist on the ceiling of an igloo. Or Ice House. Or Deep Freezer. Or whatever you would like to call it. Yes, I had the option of leaving my very warm and cosy Nordic wooden bed and spending a night on an ice bed in an ice house surrounded by ice. Wow did I jump at that chance! NO OF COURSE I DIDN’T. I am a total wimp when it comes to the cold – I even went into the sauna wearing a jumper and some thermal tights just to be on the safe side. But isn’t she beautiful?

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Each room in the ice house had some sort of art carved into the walls depicting nature and appropriately, as this ice house was on the edge of the frozen Muonio lake, Ice Bedroom.jpgfish and all things watery. Yes that is a double bed there,  all set up for a good night’s sleep.  The ice table in the reception room was also Ice Table.JPGimpressive, although I can’t imagine supper staying very warm for very long. And talking of the lake, there are other dangers than the mere cold, as this sign indicates. I’m guessing it means – apart from Danger – 
Danger!.JPGDon’t try crossing the frozen waters because there might be a bit that isn’t as thick as you need it to be. I think this is one of the best signs I’ve seen for a long time. What you can’t see is that the leg just out of shot is broken and not in the snow at all. So come the thaw I guess it’ll just fall in the river and disappear downstream. We didn’t try walking across to Sweden and neither did we try the Ice Dip, which is as chilling as it sounds. Apparently you heat up in the sauna (with or without a jumper) and then plunge yourself into the frozen lake through this little hole. An activity for some of our hardier Northern European cousins I feel. 
Ice Plunge.jpg Some German gents we got chatting to were goading – sorry, that should say Encouraging – each other to strip off and take a dip. When Klaus got out his Go-Pro and put on his sunglasses we decided to leave them to it.
At midday, it was our turn to meet these wondrous beasts.Hello Cheeky!.jpg Born to Run, these amazing creatures can pelt along at about 30 miles an hour, almost howling in delight at the moon, even during daylight. Such beautiful animals. Having been rendered useless the day before at Wild Dog Pass, being surrounded by 24 barking, shouting, howling huskies almost brought me to my knees. Our guide, however, was lovely:
“You don’t like the dogs?” he asked me gently. It was all I could to shake my head ever-so-slightly, having lost the ability to speak, move and breathe. However, I eventually managed to sit on the sledge and then that was it – we were off. There was no holding them back – all they wanted to do was run and run and run. I would have got some action shots but needed both mittened hands just to hold on. Invigorating if nothing else. Feeling too wimpy to steer the sledge (I could see the icy corners being troublesome, not least because I was aware of the second pack of huskies behind us pulling another sledge and with images of me trashing the corner and ending up face down in the snow being sniffed up the arse by a ferocious husky I opted for being passenger only) I left the ‘driving’ to my best beloved. There were a few iffy moments but I didn’t like to comment on his technique as obviously I hadn’t done it myself. On returning back to HuskBase however, it transpired his balaclava had worked its way across one half of his face leaving him with only one eye to see from, but also his sunglasses had been knocked a-skew and had steamed up, so the limited vision he did have was in fact foggy to say the least. Or blind, as he put it. It’s amazing we a) got back to base, and b) alive. But hey – look at that tongue!! (All the better to lick you with….)Husky Tongue.jpg

In the third and final part in our quest for the northern lights, we shall be going on a Reindeer Safari. In the dark. At minus 30.Resting.jpg So until then…..

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In Search Of…

Minus 28 you say? Perfect day for a walk.
Minus 28.JPGAnd indeed, that is what the frost-hardy Finlanders do, so it would have been churlish not to join them. Not too long ago I took a flight from LHR to somewhere.. er.. colder.. not having seen any snow in the UK for a while.. there’s irony for you…to land in a wet and foggy Helsinki. From here we took another flight north…and then some…landing at Kittila,  http://www.kittila.fi/en/kittila-informationpage – which in case you didn’t know, is in Lapland. Yes that’s right. Having ‘enjoyed’ the visit of the beast from the east recently, as if that wasn’t enough took a flight to almost the north pole, just to get some, oh, y’know, more snow and cold like I have never experienced before. As you can see from the photo, I’m really not joking when I say -28!  That’s Muonio, Lapland for you – a place where the cold is actually jolly cold and 75% of the land is covered in pine trees. From the air the trees look like millions and millions of miniature brushes sticking out of icing sugar and as far as the eye can see. Very Gulliver’s Travels.

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As is the custom in this part of the world our hotel was floor to ceiling pine and as warm as toast. Mind you, with triple glazing that you couldn’t open unless you had a Special Key, it would be. Such is the clever Nordic design however, that these handy air vents keep the air moving. Fridge Door. Not.jpgLiterally a small door to the outside. Genius. We thought the little space would act as a brilliant fridge too until the morning when I retrieved frozen yoghurt , frozen lettuce and a slightly solid bottle of wine.  Idiot.
After breakfast, over our already multiple layers of clothes I had been saving for such an occasion, we donned our snow suits. Think Onesie made out of a50 tog quilt. Add a balaclava (to go over the one I was already wearing), pop on some snow-boots (weighing about 10 kilo each – nice lower leg work out there, making its way up to the inner-thigh region by about lunchtime)  and some mittens – no gloves allowed – mittens only as they keep your fingers warm. And no, you can’t do up a zip whilst wearing mittens. Remember that scene in the film The Day After Tomorrow when the helicopter pilot looks out of the hatch and promptly freezes to death?

Nuff said.
So, kitted up, we headed for the border. What, you say? What border? The Swedish border silly! We walked – or should I say dragged our onesied little bodies – along the 
Frozen MuonioFinland-side of the frozen Muonio river (that’s it in that photo there – not a field of snow) toward the border crossing. This was a walk we only completed once, and one way, due to the fact that as we passed by some log cabins that were hidden from view, two sabre-toothed hounds of hell came bounding through the snow to confront us, showing us their lovely collection of extremely large teeth and slightly deranged expressions. I could see where the legend of Little Red Riding Hood and her mate Wolfie had come from straight away. Weimmediately named this particular route Wild Dog Pass, or as I referred to it in my head Jesus Get Me Out Of Here I’m Going To Die Pass. You cannot, no matter how hard
Wild Dog Pass.jpgyou try, run through three metres of snow wearing a 50 tog quilt Onesie and snow boots. Really, you cannot. So taking deep breaths, with arms folded across our chests and staring forward only, we continued on our way ignoring the salivating hounds FinlandSweden.JPGat our heels and headed, literally, for the border.  Ten heart-stopping minutes later we did eventually arrive safely at the border of Finland and Sweden, hot, sweaty and slightly terrified. A swim seemed out of the question – for more than one reason – so we headed instead to the nearest village to meet the locals, appreciate the gorgeous Finland environment, and just immerse ourselves in the wonderful, wonderful culture. Oh yes, and find a beer.
Next time on How Not To Freeze To Death At Almost The North Pole:Ice Plunge.jpg

Fancy a dip? 
No, me neither.

Live Lit Leamington Returns!

ShortStops

The Anthology of Authors returns! Following our postponed event (March 1st) at The Stagey Fox Leamington, we are pleased to announce – YAY! – (that’s us being pleased) that we will be back to entertain you with shorts, poems, flashes, flishes and most likely flushes on THURSDAY 22nd MARCH at The Stagey Fox, Regent Street Leamington Spa. Free to enter, free to listen, free to applaud and do feel free to flatter. First sentence 7.15pm, closing paragraph 9pm. Come one, come all!

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New Writing Competition for Warwickshire

Here’s a little find! A free to enter with a fifty quid prize short story competition for those who live in Warwickshire and Coventry. You don’t see many of them about these days!!

ShortStops

The hour-long Stratford Words radio programme has announced a free-to-enter SHORT STORY COMPETITION for residents of Warwickshire and Coventry. The title of the comp is A Certain Age, but it’s up to you what that age is and how you interpret it. Closing date is Sunday 20th May, max 3000 words, free to enter, fifty quid prize, (FIFTY QUID!!), twenty and ten pound book tokens for the runner-ups, publication in The Love Hope & Peace Journal – and – you get to read your story live on air on July 1st, in lovely Stratford upon Avon, during the River Festival. Click the link above to download your entry form, so that you can fill it out and send it off along with your fabulous short story to those lovely people at Stratford Words on Welcombe Radio. Email only folks, we can’t do paper as we haven’t got a letter box.

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Lovin’ this Live Lit M’Larky!

A few days ago – may be it was weeks – you know what us writery types are like – I was very lucky to be involved in the fabulous Words of Love author event run by brilliant author Jenefer Heap. Her Words of.. events (Shakespeare, Winter, Change and most recently Love) have proven a great success, rolling out the talents of many Warwickshire-based writers and poets of all styles and varieties. As is often the way with creative types we started off in one pub and ended up in another. Not that same evening, you understand. We have moved to new premises and now Upstairs at Merchants Wine Bar, Swan Street, Warwick is our new home for such events. The MWB website describes itself as an  Fiery Fairy Dust.jpg
English Restaurant, Gin House, Whisky Den, Cocktail Emporium & generally fantastic place to get a cup of proper English Tea.
Anywhere that has the words Gin, Den and Emporium in the same sentence has to be worth a look. And as you can see, it even has a magical mirror lit from behind with fiery fairy dust. No really. That truly is fiery fairy dust.
If you’ve never been to an author event – call it stand-up if you will, although we like to think of it simply as story telling – do look about for one in your area and go along. And if you can’t find one – make one! It’s a great place to test new work, create new work, or read old work.
As our evening was a love-based cornucopia of hearts and flowers, I thought I’d write a soppy poem. Here it is. It is called
Elements
So hot, the air
stopped me from breathing
my heart
too
paused;
had that just happened?
I couldn’t tell
A rage of heat now burned me raw
and I welcomed the experience
No, no, too much
It was too much
I turned and faced the breeze
that breath of wind that carries memories
and desires half way around the world
and then on further
because there is no end
The wind just keeps on blowing
until
it arrives again
from where it had departed
There is no escape
And this, too, is good
I do not want
to escape
We danced
and flirted; you smiled, laughed nervously
and I, a child again, observed
Is this it? Is this what it’s meant
to feel like?
To be burned and cooled and burned again
so much so that I
become it?
I hope it is
That first flash of fire
dissipates
calms, moves over, lets a gentler state
arrive
Solid, strong, supportive
I am surprised
More so by myself – I did not intend
for this to happen
so fast
But it feels right
As if it should be
And now, that element of earth
feels firm
beneath my feet
Without it, there is nothing
We would fall away
and spin and spin and spin
for ever
We laugh and play
one day blown by the wind, our emotions
scattered
No boundaries for you and I
But then the burning heat returns
The door
made purposefully to slam
does so, loudly
First me, then you
then you again
then me
But never closing
There is always a crack
a slit where light can creep
and usually by dawn
the door is open wide
again
This whirlwind has lasted longer
than half my life
and more than half of yours as well
This hurricane of heat and flame
of solid earth and
breeze that turns so quickly
into a twisting violent tempest
is the esoteric force
enjoyed by some
the lucky ones
while others stand aside
No choice
That day the breeze
blew you
to my door
single,
alone and done with the world
was a good day
It brought fire and air and hot and cold
back into an empty pointless life
And now
in times of transience
when we cannot change events
when everything has been against us
we have navigated those waters
held on tightly to the sides
of our little boat
as we hurtled head-first
down-stream
to whatever awaited at the end
but always
somehow
dragged ourselves half drowned
onto the reassuring earth
again
fire wind water earth
we are these things.