rattling the silver birch leaves: lounging on the beach: sun-bathing on secret rocks on islands with a picnic: draped over the sailing dinghy. steering the rudder by foot: fishing in the evenings with a bamboo pole and cork float: drinking Finnish beer by the barbecue.

For those who insist on doing instead of just being. the tourist offices will fill you in. I can‘t claim to be an authority on tourist attractions. because in all the twenty times I've been there. I have rarely budged from an area no bigger than five square miles. ()dd jaunts to Helsinki (Ilelsingfors to the 6’7? of the population who are Swedish-speaking) and Borga (l’orvoo to the 94“} of the population who have Finnish as their mother tongue) have been forced on me. but generally I can‘t he bothered.

Some local activities are addictive. [Elk-spotting is like haggis-watching. You know they‘re there somewhere. smirking behind leafy boughs. but it‘s nigh on impossible to catch sight ol'one. I've seen the hind leg. and brought back some spherical evidence oftheir existence (which my lather promptly donated to his ()ld (‘reekies (iolfC‘lub as the annual prize). ’I‘heir footsteps are neatly indented in szlndy or muddy paths (depending on the weather) and. predictably. everyone else has

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Sending your mother into the forest to pluck blueberries for pie is a good wheeze too. For there. with green moss and pine needles underfoot. and shafts ofsunlight splicing the dank gloom. live the Finnish mosquitoes. Humming an international tune. they're very partial to a bit of British. It‘s no use sending in a decoy either. because they‘ll have a chew at everyone. Evening strolls take on a new meaning: sprints. The ultimate torture is the silence after the buzz when you‘ve got one for a bedfellow

The sauna (pronounced ‘sowna‘) is ) a national institution that most Brits will have heard of. A giggle is the usual response. But it‘s a business the Finns take very seriously. Our regular is a wood-burner which you have to stoke up hours in advance. It used to be smoke-fired. The meat was hung from the rafters. a large fire was built and the place filled with smoke. Three days and much log-chopping and fire-poking later. and the fug had cleared. The room was warm and the humans could enter for a bit ofa fry. I can honestly say that neither I nor any ofmy family have ever indulged in the birch-twig whipping that Finns are reputed to go in for. Nor have we rolled naked in the snow. primarily because there‘s not much about in

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Southern Finland is fairly flat as a pancake. so I could say that cycling is a great way to get around. But for us. it‘s the only way. The nearest bus stop is five miles away. Posting cards involves a three-mile pedal. For excursions. we can row from island to island. A paddle to Helsinki might be a little ambitious though. for it‘s not much fun getting tangled with an oil-tanker.

Vaguer reminiscent of the promises ofClub Med brochures. young men will invariably pursue your rowing boat in their speedy motorized ones, coming in for a closer look. They just as invariably turn tail when they a) realise you‘re a chap with long blonde hair b) notice your mother/granny and c) take cognizance ofthe six-foot broad rower who‘s powering your vehicle. Such are the games ofyouth.

Another memorable experience on offer in rural Finland is the outside toilet. variously called (in polite society) dunny or thunderbox. Trying for a congenial atmosphere. some are two-seaters. Others have a drop below them not worth contemplating. The ones at village dances have a tendency in the opposite direction overflow.

Our meagre abode is watered by a well. Morning and afternoon chores involve taking two blue plastic buckets for a walk down to the end of the garden. There‘s an art to filling a backet from a well. but I‘ll leave you



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to find that out one day for yourselves.

As a rampant vegetarian. there‘s not much tucker for me in Finland. When it's not summer. the ground is either frozen or under three feet of snow. Consequently. the growth of vegetables is confined to a very short stretch oftime. Pickling is one solution but. as I hate vinegar. it‘s grass blades for me. But nothing beats new potatoes and dill. or cheese and black bread (potatis limpa is the best). I suspect their imported bananas and oranges are the most expensive in the world. The shop bus is the highlight of the week a gossip with the village‘s head-scarved grannies. icecreams and fresh supplies.

It‘s a tough life. Empty ofall-night discotheques. yobbos. fifty-storey hotels. ghetto-blasters. body-covered beaches. painted toenails and (i-strings. Finland might be hell for some for others. it‘s paradise. I don‘t mind if I‘ve put you off. There‘s not room for us all. And when you read this. I‘ll be tiptoeing through the forests after elks. kitted out in bat and mitts to stave off those over-friendly mosquitoes.

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58'l'he List 8— 21 July 1988