Uisce Beatha

I had last been to Helsinki on midsummer’s day—this time it was pretty close to the winter solstice. It was dark when I landed, it was dark when I left, and dark pretty much all the time I was there. The app said the UV index was low.

It was minus fourteen centigrade (about 7oF) when I got into town, but with the wind chill you could knock a few more degrees off that. Finland is very efficient, even slightly robotic—people go about their business with no fuss, and no one talks much.

In fact, nobody showed any measure of excitement about anything—until I mentioned the word sauna. At that point, previously phlegmatic Finns began jabbering about the merits of this and that spot, from the Kultuuri sauna to my final choice, Löyly.

Thar she blows! Not Moby Dick, but the Kultuuri sauna in Helsinki.

Finnish is as impenetrable as North Korea, but the locals clearly have a fetish for serial vowels. If they hooked up with the Welsh, who are devoted to consecutive consonants, their offspring might produce some fairly reasonable words. It would be great to drive into the local countryside and see a sign saying:

Welcome to


twinned with



Oh joy. Like driving into the small French town of Condom, or to use it’s full name, Condom-en-Armagnac. Speaking of which, although I am in possession of a box of whisky-flavored condoms, foolishly purchased in a Scottish pub, a condom in Armagnac is surely aimed (sorry) at a more refined partner? Ooh la la! But do resist the flambé option.

Believe it or not, the tourism blurb lists ‘fluvial activity’ as one of the attractions of Condom. Oh, and there’s a road called Bell End in the British Midlands. And…

I digress.

I headed for the sauna. The cab driver helpfully informed me that the building was right on the coast—on the website it’s billed as an urban oasis. One explained that bathing in sub-zero temperatures was entirely out of the question.

If you want to see a smiling Finn, go to the sauna. The place was a hive of activity—a pastiche of pale bodies steaming, talking, and of course drinking. Young and old couples, a girls’ night here and there, the lads out for a good time… It’s good clean fun, gender-friendly, and no birthday suits, thank heaven.

I investigated the perilous path to the bay—the blurb calls it a ‘stretch of beautiful Helsinki waterfront’, and tells you how nice it is ‘on a beautiful summer’s day’. No mention of what it’s like when it’s pitch black and fucking freezing, and you’re standing there with your bare feet in the snow, clad only in the latest Finnish swimwear fashion accessory—around you, ageing Helsinkians, clearly suffering from sub-zero Alzheimer’s, are queuing up for one-stop hypothermia.

It’s all about water here, in solid, liquid, or vapor form. The few times I walked longer stretches, I was struck by two thoughts. The first was how people survived in this country back in the days of the Vikings, under such bitter conditions—and how animals survive it today. The second was Russia. It may seem like a random thought, but if you consider similar weather in the Russian heartland, where the heating and amenities are probably closer to the Viking era, the West definitely has cause to worry.

I can definitely see how the Russian winter, with its biting cold and endless nights, destroyed the armies of Napoleon and Hitler. This isn’t a country you can conquer—it’s not even a country you’d want to conquer. Whether ice or snow, or flooded gorges, the water will get you.

All the while, across the other side of the world, Cape Town is drying up. Nothing now comes out of your faucet, and citizens have to ‘go to the well’, as it were, and queue at collection points for a quota of just under seven US gallons per day. Those twenty-five liters were announced on CNN this morning—it could be fake news, since the City of Cape Town website refers twice that volume.

Water of life—the flip-side

Whatever the story, it’s getting worse. Forget FBI memos, political posturing, and all the other trivial nonsense that storms our heads on a daily basis.

Celebrate the water of life, every minute of every day.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


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