Friday, 30 April 2010

An Alternative History of Finland: Act Three

The third act of my Alternative History is thankfully on a far more light-hearted note than the grim tragedy of Act Two. It is set in 1876 at the headquarters of a paper manufacturer in South Western Finland. The works are sited on the banks of the river Nokianvirta. The nearest town is called Nokia. Fredrik Idestam, the founder and chairman, decided to name his company Nokia, after its location.

One day a keen young clerk, who coincidentally shares the same surname as the writer of these alternative histories, rushes into the chairman’s office to tell him of an exciting new invention he had just read about in the scientific journals. It seems a certain Alexander Graham Bell has invented what he calls a telephone. Young Karl suggests that the company diversifies from their current line of paper products into manufacturing telephones, which he believes will make the company’s fortune and name.

The chairman of Nokia wants to know more about this revolutionary product. Apparently the telephone would allow Mr Idestam to speak to the office from within the comfort of his own home. Mt Idestam is not impressed. Pen and paper are more than sufficient for that he concludes. In his considered opinion the telephone is just a passing fad. He confidently predicts that in the 21st century people will have long forgotten all about telephones. However the whole globe will know of Nokia and still be using its products because people will always have a need for toilet paper!

This story was inspired by my first ever visit to the motherland where I came across a reconstruction of an early 20th century small grocery store. To my amusement, one of the products on prominent display was a toilet roll proudly displaying the Nokia brand name; which only goes to prove that even the biggest global brands have to start at the bottom.

Nokiassa vuonna 1876

Fredrik Idestam on Nokian toimitusjohtaja. Karl Riikonen on vain toimihenkilö mutta hän on kaukokatseinen. Karl juoksee huoneeseen. Hän on kovin jännittynyt.

Karl: Herra Idestam. Olin kirjastossa lukemassa aikakausjulkaisua. Alexander Graham Bell keksi puhelimen. Hän patentoi ensimmäisen käytännössä toimivan puhelimen.

Fredrik: Mikä on puhelin?

Karl: Me kommunikoimme puhelime vaikka sinä olet kotona ja minä olen toimistossa. Firmalla on tilaisuus. Se voi tuottaa puhelimet.

Fredrik: Ei koskaan! Nokia tuottaa puuvanuketta. 2000-luvulla me kommunikoimme kynällä. Emme kommunikoi puhelimalla. Miten tahansa, 2000-luvulla, he edelleen jatkavat ostavat Nokian tuotteita. Miksi? Ihmiset tarvitsevat aina toilettipaperia. Mene pois Karl! Nyt!

An Alternative History of Finland: Act Two

Duke Erik, the lovelorn King of Sweden and subject of the First Act of my Alternative History, whose advances were scorned by Queen Elizabeth of England, was eventually toppled from the throne and replaced by his brother John. Like Eric, John had been Duke of Finland before becoming King of Sweden. Unlike Eric John had had a Finnish mistress. It was the story of a love affair between another monarch’s son and a young Finnish woman that inspired the second act of my Alternative Finnish History. Sadly this tragedy is all based on fact with little elaboration by me.  

Set in  Naples n 1717, Alexei, the exiled son of Tsar Peter the Great of Russia receives a letter from his father imploring him to return home. Peter has ruthlessly imposed massive reforms in Russia in an effort to bring it in line with continental Europe.  He will brook no opposition to his reforms, even from his closest family. Seen as the natural leader of the Opposition and in fear of his life, Alexei has fled Russia and will not be readily cajoled back. His father tries to persuade him that he sincerely wants reconciliation and will do anything to achieve that goal, even agreeing to his son marrying his Finnish mistress, Afrosinia. In my playlet, Afrosinia is astonished at the news and finds it scarcely credible that the Tsar would agree to such a match with a girl from peasant stock. But Alexei assures her that his father will honour his word and that they should pack immediately as they are returning to Moscow.

Far from keeping his word, Peter had his son arrested and imprisoned when he reached Russian soil. He was later tortured to death as a traitor. In my alternative universe, Peter honoured the solemn pledges he had given and allowed Alexei to marry his Finnish peasant bride. In turn their children inherited the Romanov throne, resulting in the Tsarist line intermingling Russian and Finnish blood. Again I have included my playlet below.

Napolissa vuonna 1717

Tsaari Pietari Suuri ajoi pois oman poikansa Aleksein.  Aleksei ja hänen suomalainen rakastaja Afrosinia asuvat Italiassa

Aleksei: Afrosinia? Afrosinia! Missä sinä olit?
Afrosinia: Minä olin ulkona kävelemässä. Syysaurinko paistoi kirkkaasti. Miksi?
Aleksei: Pääsen kotiin! Tulen Venäjälle!
Afrosinia: Mitä tämä tarkoittaa?
Aleksei: Tsaari kirjoitaa: Suodaan anteeksi täydellisesti. Sinä olet minun oma poikani ja kruununperiiani. Mene naimisiin Afrosinian kanssa!
Afrosinia: Mutta, minä olen vain suomalainen maalainen.
Aleksie: Kun Tsaari Pietari kuolee, sinä olet suomalainen tsaarittareni.
Aleksei: Tahdotko tulla kanssani?
Afrosinia: Totta kai. Minä olen raskaana.
Aleksei: Älä hermoile. Mennään Venäjälle! Mitä pikemmin, sen parempi.


Vuonna 1718

Pietari muutti kruununperimystä surmatessaan oman poikansa Aleksein, joka vastusti isänsä uudistuksia.

An alternative history of Finland:Act One

A few years ago I decided to write an alternative history of Finland as a subject matter for my Finnish studies. I wrote four playlets, each centred on an alternative history. I inveigled fellow students into reading the script aloud, a cunning ploy I later replicated when I presented a different project based on the 18th century literary satire by Xavier de Maistre, titled: ”Voyage autour de ma chambre "

The first Act of  my Alternative history of Finland begins in England in 1558. Elizabeth Tudor, having only recently succeeded to the English throne receives yet another marriage proposal from Eric, Duke of Finland. In two years time, he too will be monarch of his own respective Protestant nation, Sweden. Eric’s pursuit of Elizabeth started when she was still only the heir presumptive and subject to the capricious whims of her Catholic half-sister Mary, which veered from loathing to fear to eventual acceptance of their joint father’s, Henry VIII’s will and Elizabeth’s place in the succession.

My playlet has Elizabeth asking her lady-in-waiting, a woman coincidentally also called Caro R, all about the language, country and cuisine of the Finnish Duchy she might one day rule over, should she accept Duke Eric’s hand in marriage. (This also gave the real Caro R a chance to show off her vocabulary touching these areas). After her lady-in-waiting has satisfied the Queen’s curiosity, she asks Elizabeth if she will marry him, upon which Elizabeth retorts in derision: Don’t be silly! Have you seen his portrait?”

Since writing that playlet I have revised my opinion of Eric and decided that, were it not for the beard he would have been quite a comely young  man.  Sadly for him, his brief reign ended in ignominy. Within less than two decades he was deposed, imprisoned and possibly murdered, a fate in stark contrast to the glorious one awaiting “that bright Occidental Star, Queen Elizabeth of most happy memory” or so the dedication in the King James Bible styles her. The compliment is somewhat back-handed as they go on to describe her successor King James, who authorised that edition of the Bible, as being the sun in full strength to Elizabeth’s mere star.

In my alternative universe Elizabeth marries Eric on the condition that the Duchy of Finland reverts to the English crown on his death. He agrees and thus Finland becomes a part of the United Kingdom. In reality Elizabeth eventually tired of Eric’s protestations of love and in 1560 she finally wrote him a letter spelling out that she could never think of marrying him, even if she happened to meet him in person. Using the royal plural she ends her letter “we do not conceive in our heart to take a husband, but highly commend this single life, and hope that your Serene Highness will no longer spend time in waiting for us.” A sentiment I wholeheartedly endorse. Elizabeth had been wise not to marry Eric in more ways than one. In later life he gave way to the madness that had afflicted his father, his half-brother and his own son in turn. 

I have included my playlet in Finnish below. For those fluent in my mother’s tongue I apologise for the errors. In mitigation it was composed on an English keyboard which insisted on trying to correct my Finnish into proper English.

Hampton Courtissa vuonna 1558

Elisabet Tudorin (1558-1603, isä Henrik VIII ja äiti Anne Boleyn) aikana toteutettiin uskonpuhdistus ja siirryttiin anglikaaniseen kirkkoon, jonka oppi on pääasiassa protestanttinen. Caro R oli aatelisnainen ja hovinainen Tudorin palatsissa.

Caro R: Mitä asiaa? Tarvitsisitteko Te jotakin, teidän Ylhäisyytenne?
Elizabeth R: Lue tämä kirje.
Caro R: Erik, suomen herttua haluaisi olla teidän kosija. Hän haluaisi mennä naimisiin.
Elizabeth R: (Hän hymyilee)Totta kai! Minä olen Elisabet kruunata Englantiin, Walesiin, Irlantiin. Onko suomi vaikea kieli?
Caro R: Ei ole. Suomi on erilainen kieli.
Elizabeth R: Joko minä puhun englantia, ranskaa, latinaa, kreikkaa, italiaa ja vähän espanjaa.
Elizabeth R: Minkälainen maa Suomi on?
Caro R: Suomea nimitetään usein tuhansien järvien maaksi.
Elizabeth R: No mitäs muutakaan? Millainen ilmasto Suomessa on?
Caro R: Talvi on pitkä. Usein on kova pakkanen. Sataa lunta. Päivälläkin on pimeää. Minusta, talvi on Suomessa aika kaunis. Kesä on lyhyt.
Elizabeth R: Miltä suomalainen ruoka maistuu?
Caro R: Ensimmäkseen hyvältä. Se on liian suolaista ja rasvaista. Minä rakastan suomalaista leipää ja pullaa. Jossakin, minulla on resepti.
Elizabeth R: Oletkohan sinä innokas ruoanlaittaja?
Caro R: Silloin tällöin
Elizabeth R: Ovatkohan he katolisia?
Caro R: He eivät ole. He ovat protestanttisia. Menisitteko Te naimisiin?
Elizabeth R: Älä ole hassu! Katso Erikin muotokuvaa. Erik ei ole tarpeeksi komea!.

The Angel of Death, the Angel of Mercy, a tot of vodka and a packet of peanuts

Yesterday I went to the gym for the first time in almost a fortnight, now that my brief stint as an angel of mercy was at an end. Loaded down with shopping, my larder having been run down to such an extent I was almost out of ingredients to make fresh meals with, I took the bus home. I gave up my seat at the bus stop first to an old lady and then to an even more infirm old lady, reliant on a Zimmer frame. On the bus a pregnant woman was offered a seat by someone else. I often observe people, usually women, readily offering up their seats to others on public transport, giving the lie to the idea that it no longer happens. Whenever a man offers me his seat I accept with a smirk, convinced I have stirred his instincts as one of nature's gentlemen confronted with a genuine lady. By contrast, I am somewhat mortified when I am the recipient of such generosity at the hands of younger women. It makes me paranoid as to whether they think I am a wizened crone or pregnant; the latter the perennial affliction of apple-shaped women, cursed with long slender limbs, a generous embonpoint and a pronounced tum. Once on a train, when there could have been no doubt as to my radiant youth and my figure was mostly concealed behind the scrum of other passengers, a woman came across to offer me a seat. Puzzled, I asked her why. She had taken it into her head that I was blind simply because I was wearing dark glasses. Her heart was in the right place unlike mine, which a medical technician was unable to find when I last went to hospital for an ECT several years ago.
Two women, who I took to be around my age, were seated in front of me and allowed everyone within hearing distance, in other words the entire bus,  to be privy to their conversation. It seems one of the women was concerned about her much put upon mother, who apparently waited hand and foot on her younger daughter.
“It isn’t right at her age”, said the woman of her mother, before revealing that her parent was a mere nine years older than me. I rapidly revised downwards my view of the woman’s own age, until she began to boast about her drinking binges. Vodka it seems was her favourite tipple and nemesis as it had frequently led her to vomiting in public and occasional injury, when she had collapsed through sheer drunkenness. I smugly realised that her heavy drinking had made her look as old if not older than me. I rarely drink, not on religious or ethical grounds but because I have yet to find an alcoholic drink I actually like. The exception is creamy cocktails. But their prohibitive price means I limit even them to special occasions perhaps once a year. If a stranger were to open up one of the cupboards in my kitchen they would think I was a dipsomaniac given my extensive collection of wine, liqueurs, champagne, spirits and even porter. Porter, a heavy dark brown ale, is my secret ingredient to add colour and flavour to stews and mince.

In the 1950s pregnant women and nursing mothers in the UK were regularly offered Guinness, a sweeter version of Porter on the NHS. It was believed that the iron contained in the beer would help supplement their own. The contents of my other bottles regularly feature in my cooking. However, I do not serve alcohol at my table and expect guests to bring their own wine with them as I am not a connoisseur of wine, regarding them all as equally horrid. Woe betides the guest who brings wine and no other offering for the host though!
Henry VIII was known to be rather partial to a glass of wine or two. His vast extant wine cellar at Hampton Court is proof of that. Now the general public can see a replica of what one of his great wine fountains would have looked like. The replica, over thirteen feet in height, has been erected outside in Base Court at Hampton Court Palace. For the princely sum of £3.50, the public can choose between a glass of red or white wine. I shall decline. When they reproduce a thirteen feet tall Tudor chocolate fountain, I just might be interested.

Before cooking an evening meal, I decided to eat some peanuts. They can give me indigestion but as I like the taste so much I decided to take the risk. I ate one handful without any adverse consequences so helped myself to another. I suddenly began to feel chilly and shake violently.  I went to bed and lay under the covers. Try as I might I could neither stop the shaking nor warm myself up. I began to get stomach cramps. Only when my stomach and the peanuts had parted company forever did I begin to feel better.

Today I looked up my symptoms on the internet. I either had an unusually severe reaction to the peanuts, diverticulitis or metal poisoning. Looking up symptoms on the web is an intriguing but potentially flawed past time. I remember dutifully entering symptoms into a search engine on another occasion. The good news was that I had found a medical diagnosis for my symptoms. The bad news was that it was a condition known only to cows.