Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Grand Tour #25 – Finland. Fatal Headwind / Leena Lehtolainen

November 14, 2017

Scandi noir, if that’s what you want to call it. I’d have liked to read more popular fiction (let’s call it) on this Grand Tour, but no one wants to translate Lithuanian potboilers. You have to wait until Scandinavia before you can get your hands on the good stuff, and most of that turns out to be either Swedish or (useless for my purposes, Norway not being in the EU, curse its insularity) Norwegian. But there is thankfully one Finnish crime novelist whose novels are now being widely translated, and her name is Leena Lehtolainen.

I decided to dive into the middle of her Maria Kallio series, choosing the one with the plot summary that most appealed to me. This was the sixth book, Fatal Headwind (Tuulen puolella), first published in Finnish in 1998. A very readable English translation by Owen F. Witesman appeared last year. I was put off by the presence of a ginormous character list at the start, but my alarm turned out to be groundless, though the names of Kallio’s colleagues – Koivu, Puustjärvi, Puupponen, Taskinen, Kantelinen – did blur into one another.

Maria Kallio is a Lieutenant in the Espoo Police, just returned from maternity leave. She is married to Antti and has a baby daughter, Iida. A year ago, Harri, a former lover of Maria with whom she had lost touch, died in not very satisfactorily explained circumstances. Now, on the anniversary of his death, local businessman Juha Merivaara has died in a similar manner. Could the two deaths be linked; if so, how; and is there foul play afoot?

Suspicion falls on a small group of people, most of them Juha’s close family – his wife Anne, half-brother Mikke, animal rights activist son Jiri, daughter Riikka, her opera singer boyfriend Tapio. At some point each of them seems to have had a motive for disposing of Juha, but the involvement of Harri muddies the waters.

Although the book moves slowly and deliberately, I was drawn in, and came to appreciate the stately pace. Not that Maria isn’t busy in her work – she’s in constant demand, struggling to keep all of her many figurative balls in the air, and rarely gets a moment to see her daughter – but revelations about the Merivaaras come thin and slow, which allows you time to ponder the motivations of each suspect.

The murder mystery was all well and good, but I confess I felt more emotionally invested in the parallel plot involving Maria’s unpleasantly racist and sexist colleague Pertti Ström being suspended from work after attacking a wife-beater in custody. In spite of his nastiness, Maria finds herself sympathising with his predicament. At one point it appears Ström may have hatched a devious plan to get Maria herself sacked, which is precisely what would have happened in a novel written by someone more interested in plot and less in human psychology, but events take an unexpected turn that I won’t write about, other than to say that I was very moved.

The novel doesn’t show its age too badly, though mobile phone use is more infrequent than it would be in a book written today, and it only took one sentence like ‘I cursed the slow network connection’ for me to be back in the school library swearing at the computer for not downloading my pictures fast enough. However did we manage with dial-up connections? Unthinkable today. And Maria and her colleagues go to a Finland World Cup qualifier (the 1-1 draw with Hungary on 11 October 1997, I looked it up) where Jari Litmanen is the star. That took me back. Hyypiä, Paatelainen, Valakari and Jonatan Johansson also played. Mikael Forssell hadn’t yet broken through into the first team. I tolerated Owen F. Witesman’s American English translation up to the point where he wrote about the soccer match ending in a tie. Soccer’s just about all right; tie, never. My only objection, really.

If I were an habitual reader of crime, I could quite imagine becoming a Maria Kallio completist, and I suspect that for those wanting a new series this would be a very good one to get into, and this book a good place to start. Witesman seems to be working through the series with great speed, and on the basis of Fatal Headwind he’s doing an excellent job.

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I remember 4

September 18, 2016

I remember being scared of going on downward escalators when I was about nine or ten, and being ashamed of it as I knew I’d been able to go on them when I was younger.

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I remember light pink fluoride pills.

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I remember hearing Chopin’s Funeral March on the radio when I was ill and thinking how beautiful it sounded but wondering if it might just be delirium.

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I remember making a boiled egg for my father, perhaps because it was his birthday, and dropping it into the pan, under the impression that it would float, never having done it before, and the egg cracking on the bottom of the pan and the albumen emerging from beneath, and him being angry.

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I remember a Year 5 Music lesson where I became aware I couldn’t see the board because I didn’t have my glasses and hoping desperately that I wouldn’t be asked by Dr T to read anything out because it would have meant admitting I couldn’t see.

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I remember wrinkled fingertips.

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I remember my little tin of blue Humbrol enamel paint that I bought to paint a model perhaps but ended up just opening every so often, prising the lid off with the end of a teaspoon to see the magical blue inside.

humbrol

I remember visiting Hinkley Point and being given blue plastic earplugs which I kept for ages afterwards.

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I remember eating and enjoying tongue, without acknowledging to myself what it was.

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I remember assuming ‘several’ meant at least seven or so, and coming only slowly and stubbornly to the realisation that it might mean, say, three or four.

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I remember praying for God to kill me.

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I remember the big yellow metal train in Welshmill Park with the graffito on saying PENIS LOVERS MEET HERE FRIDAY 8PM, and wondering what went on at such meetings.

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I remember an awful assembly at St John’s in which I was part of a presentation on hair, explaining that people had straight hair because of flat follicles and curly hair because of round follicles, and not understanding why flat and why round, which I still don’t. And then saying of Charlotte M the line ‘Her perm won’t last long,’ not really knowing what a perm was or why anyone would want one, and dimly sensing, perhaps, the absurdity of parroting words I didn’t comprehend written by some teacher who had no idea what children were.

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I remember Mr P saying it was always worth having a go during oral exams even if you didn’t know the word, as a pupil of his had once had his Brummie-inflected ‘a bee’ taken as ‘abeille’ and accepted.

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I remember feigning that I’d expected Gianluca Vialli to be sacked as Chelsea manager, though I hadn’t and it upset me.

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I remember Maths Circus.

I remember 3 — back to school edition

September 6, 2015

I remember Miss D reading out a piece of work by Holly in which she wrote that she missed Hong Kong (or was it Singapore?) and didn’t like England, and I felt sorry for her, not because she was homesick but because I sensed she was mortified at having it broadcast to the whole class, being shy anyway and not having friends yet. What you submit to a teacher should constitute a secret contract. Miss D was an inspirational teacher, but she made some bad decisions. She did the same thing to me on two occasions.

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I remember Mr R putting Nikolai, the new Russian boy, next to me in Maths. I was a bit shy of him, partly on account of his being cute. We were working on playing cards and probability, and he asked me ‘What is club?’ and I did a drawing but it was a bad one because it’s difficult to draw a club even if you’re not nervous and I’m not convinced the message got through.

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I remember Harry faking an epileptic fit to play a practical joke on Mr S, the supply teacher, but it didn’t work because Mr S wasn’t very observant.

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I remember Ben asking Mr O in an English lesson how to spell ‘hisself’, as he wanted to use the word in a short story, and Mr O saying there was no such word, which struck me as very unhelpful because it could have been dialogue, and people do say ‘hisself’ even if it isn’t grammatical.

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I remember joking that Oliver Twist was an OK book but it didn’t have any of the songs in it, which made Neil laugh.

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I remember being pleased when Kat objected to something she perceived as homophobic in a story we were reading in English, even though it wasn’t really necessary. The rest of us who cared about it wouldn’t have been bold enough to speak out.

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I remember thinking my history teacher Miss L was beautiful.

I remember thinking she liked me more than the other pupils because the marks she gave me were disproportionate to the quality of my work and the effort I put into it, and anyway she just did.

I remember Miss L played the flute and was quite shy and had translucent skin and sometimes blushed.

I remember Miss L correcting me gently for my anachronistic use of the phrase ‘conscientious objector’.

I remember David, who was normally quite boisterous and disruptive, toning things down for Miss L, probably because he secretly liked her too.

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I remember Mr T telling Helen that she sounded like Kenneth Grahame, and I realised he meant Kenneth Williams and felt bad for him, though I was the only one in the class who’d have known.

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I remember Mark coming in one morning and telling me his cat had died the night before, and hanging around with him during break and lunchtime feeling sad together and not really speaking. I think a member of staff asked if we were OK and I explained. I wrote a piece of music in memory of Mark’s cat, though I never played it to him or even told him because it would have been embarrassing.

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I remember devising a signature based on Miss R’s, which is still essentially my signature now.

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I remember, when we were about twelve, Jamie euphemistically describing Luke to me as a ‘flower’, and me protesting because of my conviction that being effeminate did not equate to being gay, though Luke did turn out to be gay, and so did Jamie.

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I remember Mr W banging his fist on the table during a play rehearsal, knocking a cup of water into his bag, and Paul having such a laughing fit that he had to go to the toilet to recover for so long that I wondered if I should go looking for him.

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I remember taking a penalty in football and striking the ball very poorly but scoring because the goalkeeper was even worse than me.

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I remember a student Music teacher correcting my use of ‘symphony’s’ to ‘symphonies’ in a piece of written work about the Minuet and Trio from Schubert’s 5th. I approached her after the lesson to explain why she was wrong.

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I remember Tim being shocked at how late I went to bed and telling me the late nights would catch up with me, and thinking what a bore he was.

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I remember Rachel asking me, possibly earnestly, if I was on drugs, probably because I liked to go around with my eyes half closed and sometimes walked into things. I wasn’t on drugs, I was just tired.

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I remember feeling flattered when Max punched me repeatedly in the arm, and when Jake gave me this personalised message, because they amounted to tokens of friendship, albeit oblique ones.

Message, c. 1998

National anthems

February 1, 2011

Who in England feels genuinely represented by ‘God Save the Queen’? Not many of us, I dare say, considering how much moaning we do about how tedious it is and how it should be replaced by ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. As someone descended from the English, Scottish and Welsh and born in Scotland, I’ve never really felt it had to represent me, as I didn’t really know where I was from.

Being a mongrel nationality-wise meant I never knew which team to support in sporting events where the constituent parts of the UK represented themselves. My Auntie Sue gave me a Scottish rugby shirt when I was about eight or nine, which resolved that problem. What to do about football, though? By the time I got interested in it (about 1997) I came to realise that supporting Scotland was not going to be much fun. Or England, for that matter, with the glory long since departed. Wales? *tumbleweed* Anyway, how to decide which team would be mine in the 1998 World Cup?

In my early teens I decided to become a Chelsea fan for the flimsiest of reasons. The 1997 FA Cup Final was on the horizon, and the choice was Chelsea or Middlesbrough. What was my thinking?

  1. London better than Middlesbrough (I would have said then)
  2. Blue better than red (I maintain)
  3. Premier League better than Division 1, to which Boro had just been relegated (now even better, what with Division 1 being downgraded every few years)
  4. Zola better than Hignett (arguably)

But at this time music was the thing I knew most about, and it was as much on the basis of the FA Cup Final records the teams produced that Chelsea prevailed. Their song was celebratory and harmonically bold, it sounded like London, and it was by Suggs (what a man). Boro’s song was a cover version by Bob Mortimer of a Chris Rea song recorded (so far as I can tell) in a garden shed with a cheap Bontempi keyboard. Anyway, from the moment Di Matteo lashed in from 25 yards, I haven’t looked back. (Actually, I look back constantly, what with the obscene money Abramovich is throwing around. Only about £70m yesterday. It makes one long for the days of Eddie Newton and Andy Myers. Almost.)

So why not choose a national football team to support on the same basis? It would have been around this time that I borrowed from the library a CD of primarily European national anthems played by a military band. To my surprise, some of them turned out to be quite good, not the dreary dirges I was used to hearing before rugby matches. My favourite was Poland’s, the ‘Mazurek Dąbrowskiego’.

But Poland didn’t qualify for the 1998 World Cup (they had the misfortune of being drawn with England and Italy in qualifying), so I went for Norway. Not that their anthem is much more interesting than ours, but they had Tore Andre Flo and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer up front and I thought they might create a shock – rightly, as it happened. They beat Brazil in their final group match, but Italy knocked them out in the second round. Prior to the tournament I decided to compensate for their uninspiring anthem by writing an original verse of ‘Jerusalem’ referring explicitly to the Norwegian national team. It’s too embarrassing to replicate my version here, but suffice it to say that it was better than Blake’s.

I’ve been listening to national anthems again recently. Not masterpieces, most of them, but the extent to which they embody the character of the people they represent is interesting. Listen to the beautiful Israeli anthem and tell me it doesn’t sound like centuries of oppression (the text refers to this too). And don’t the French and German anthems sound exactly like the French and the Germans – or have our impressions of the people been coloured by the music? The US anthem sounds like the stereotype of the country – brash and ostentatious. Even Stravinsky’s arrangement has a touch of showbiz about it.

The thing is, I’ve come to realise that I like ‘God Save the Queen’. It’s not exciting, but it’s solid and built on firm foundations. The Winston Churchill of national anthems. ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Rule, Britannia!’? Far too jingoistic.

And happily, perhaps the clincher, the most English thing of all, is that despite all of the moaning we haven’t actually done anything about replacing it. It’s what makes it the right choice. My country expects me to be apathetic, and I can’t be bothered to dissent.