Thursday, 14 June 2018

I'm a Rambling Man

Living in a world of weird coincidences. That's what Jung called synchronicity and Gaiman calls magic.

A couple of tales from my travels. Both from flying back from the US to the UK via a layover in Iceland.

Iceland Air

One of the things I like to do on a transatlantic flight is make friends with the flight attendants, in lieu of sleep. They're usually bored and not many people treat them like humans, so it's a good chance to make a friend you'll never see again.

All of the Iceland Air employees, all 4000 of then including 1500 flight attendants, are Icelandic. It's not a requirement, just the way it is. The whole country is only 300 000 people or so, not much more than the population of Northampton depending on how you count. I asked Selma if she was from Rekjyavik, and then suggested it was a dumb question. If you're from Iceland you're probably from Rekjyavik right? I wasn't far off, about two thirds of the country live there.

Her husband is a programmer, and something like half the country's energy output is now being consumed in the mining of bitcoin. So I told Selma tales of cryptocurrencies, and how it is a scam but they might persist anyway and of how someone had the bright idea to put a programming language into the transactions and called it Ethereum. I can't imagine that turning out to be anything other than a hilarious and disastrous mistake.

She told me a little of her people and the Nordic history of Iceland.

I also told her tales of my people, Roman invasions and the Celts and the legends of Boudica. No-one it seems, outside of the UK anyway, has heard of our glorious and tragic tribal Queen. Not that she likely existed, but I'm a story teller and what a story, what a legend. Don't you just want it to be true? If you're going to write fake news, as the Roman classicists did, then write a legend and everyone will tell your story for you.

The Finnish


Rekjyavik airport exiles smokers and vapers to an unadvertised and dingy hole. But at least they provide somewhere and we still seem to manage to find this corner and congregate in cheery resilience around our addiction.

There I met an interesting Finn called some approximation of Jopper. After he told me his profession I told him I had little preconception of what a dockworker looked like, but if I had to imagine one I'd imagine him. Except with a good streak of Goth biker thrown in. We bonded over a love of vaping and the sigil of Mjölnir we both wore round our necks. His was far more ornate, an engagement ring he called it. So we swapped life stories.

He'd worked as a labourer on the Helsinki docks for more than a decade. A job normally requiring the fire of youth to do, and most people only did it for a handful of years before moving on. He is a socialist and union official, president of a free thinkers society in Helsinki and running for parliament.

He told me of social democracy in Finland and also of the fierce drinking culture. There are only three ways to lose your job on the docks; stealing, smuggling or drinking. If you lose your job from drinking it's better to tell people you've been in prison instead because to lose a job on the docks from drinking everyone knows exactly how bad your drink problem has to be.

I told him of going mad and selling bricks for ten years and teaching myself to program and that it was through open source and the Python community that I'd made a career. He knew all about Open Source as Finland is the home to Linus Torvalds and the homeland of Linux. I told him that as a socialist who voted green, my take on socialism is that it's not something you believe in but something you do, how I try to live my life. I said I was a hippy, hard to believe though it may seem. He replied that likewise no-one would ever guess he was a biker.

In these two greybeards the fire still burns.

Jopper told me of drinking wine after a sauna in the perpetual daylight evenings of Finland and of the rise of the far right and the problems of violence associated with alcoholism.

As we parted ways, and as a staunch atheist, he gave me a traditional blessing from God. Or perhaps from gods. Hard to tell as I don't speak Finnish.


"Deep in the throes of madness my parents came and found me, goodness knows how, whilst I was homeless in Cambridge. They bought me pizza. My mother tells me that I firmly maintained that I was fine and it was the rest of the world that was mad. I'm still convinced I was only half wrong."

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