Father Christmas came to visit our house in 1994 – but he didn’t get a very warm welcome from me.
Christmas 1994, the first in our house, and the first with two little Finnish stepdaughters who still viewed their new foreign stepfather with more than a little suspicion. What better way to break the ice than buy myself a red gown and some cotton wool and dress up as Santa? Pity my wife didn’t tell me she had ordered a similarly attired visitor who rang the door bell before I had time to change into my festive kit. The little girls were happy, but I am annually reminded that, if looks could have killed, the Father Christmas who delivered the presents in our lounge that day wouldn’t be delivering presents anywhere else ever again. Thanks, Santa, for stealing my thunder.
Nothing else this time, just a taste of Christmas in Finland:
Above: Christmas in Helsinki, quickly.
Have a good one, everyone.
December 6 is Independence Day in Finland and this time around it marks a century of independence, snatched from Russia in 1917 while that country was distracted with the small matter of a revolution. Usually the occasion is marked with a sedate and rather tedious queue of dignitaries at the President’s Palace in Helsinki and the lighting of candles in windows. I’m hoping that this time things might get a little wilder, in view of the significance of the event.
It dawned on me today that I have been living in Finland for more than a third of its independent existence, having arrived laden down with luggage, a wide-eyed and innocent 26-year-old, on the Viking Line ship from Stockholm in late August 1982.
Fitting, then, that I’m writing this on the Viking Line ship from Tallinn, not quite so wide-eyed or innocent. Narrow-eyed, in fact, after a trip through the Baltics that included one or two samples of various national beverages.
Like all expats, and in spite of having lived here for my entire adult life (which didn’t really start until about 1990 and which some might say has still to get going) I moan about Finland. I moan about the price of beer. I moan about how Finns, in spite of the price of beer and other drinks, go out of their way to get legless. I moan about the endless roadworks and construction sites, about how nobody says ‘thanks’ when I hold the door open for them. I moan about the length of the winter and how the guys with the snow ploughs pile up the snow in front of my gate. Probably unfair these days, since the guys with the ploughs are quite likely to be Estonian. About how the neighbours pile on the peer pressure by cutting their hedges immaculately while I let mine grow ragged. Nothing to do with the fact that they are Finnish, of course, and more to do with the fact that I am lazy.
Since I have also spent a large part of my professional life singing Finland’s praises in books and articles and radio interviews, I feel entitled to have a go at it sometimes. Of course, if this Brexit nonsense goes through I might have to think about being a Finn myself before too long. In which case, I suppose I’ll have to review my moaning strategy.
But this week Finns are rightly taking the opportunity to celebrate all the good things about their country, and I have to own up to the fact that Finland has been pretty good to me when all is said and done. It lets me speak English most of the time for one thing. So I’m adding my voice to the chorus of congratulatory celebrations.
This is a country that still has a fantastic health service which has come to the rescue of myself, my family and my friends on many occasions, at little cost, for example. It seems like a much more confident and outward-looking country than it was when I first came here. Not always as perfect as it would like to think, in spite of all those world surveys that say it’s best at everything. But pretty good when you compare it to various other countries. And anyway, any country that really was perfect would have to be pretty boring.
So happy birthday, Finland, and thanks for all the opportunities you’ve put my way. And talking of opportunities, before the next century is up, just try to get the hang of the difference between opportunity and possibility.
Onneksi olkoon, Suomi, ja kippis!
Who knew it? October 4 is World Animals’ Day! Time to feel the beast in you.
The official World Animal Day website states its aim as “To raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the globe. Building the celebration of World Animals’ Day unites the animal welfare movement, mobilising it into a global force to make the world a better place for all animals. It’s celebrated in different ways in every country, irrespective of nationality, religion, faith or political ideology. Through increased awareness and education we can create a world where animals are always recognised as sentient beings and full regard is always paid to their welfare.”
It seems like an event worth marking in photo form, so here are six photos from some of the unforgettable close encounters I’ve had with various wildlife in recent years. I’m not a wildlife photographer as such – I probably don’t have the required patience – but I have still been lucky enough to photograph animals in many special locations.
More observant readers will notice that there are in fact seven images here, not six. Sorry about that. It might happen again.
These images are the tip of my photographic iceberg, much of it stored on my website at www.timbirdphotography.com. Watch out for my Instagrams at @tim_bird_photo, Tweets at https://twitter.com/BirdTimothy and Facebook stuff at https://www.facebook.com/timbirdtravelphoto/
Thanks for dropping in. Please share and do visit again!
There are still places available on all three of my summer photo workshops on Suomenlinna, Helsinki’s fabulous Baltic sea fortress, the top highlight of Finland’s capital. Workshops are on July 8, July 29 and August 19.
Contact me by email at email@example.com !
Spend a summer day exploring the limitless visual attractions of Suomenlinna, discovering new views and comparing notes with fellow photo enthusiasts of this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage-listed destination. I’ll be your English-language workshop tutor, not least as photographer and author of “Suomenlinna – Islands of Light” (Docendo 2017), a celebration in photographs and encounters with some of the islands’ most colourful residents.
The emphasis will be on creativity and ways of seeing rather than technical issues, so this is not a “how to use your camera” course, although we’ll discuss and compare techniques where appropriate. Enthusiasm is more important than your knowledge of photography!
Choose a date that suits you best from three separate workshops:
- July 8 from 10 to 17
- July 29 from 10 to 17
- August 19 from 10 to 17
Workshop fee of €165 includes:
- Tutoring, assignments and experienced advice in a compact group (maximum 8-10 per group, 7.5 hours)
- With the group, use of a secure and cosy meeting room with all facilities in one of Suomenlinna’s historic buildings
- Coffee/tea and fresh Finnish pulla
- Buffet lunch at Suomenlinna’s Chapman restaurant
- A signed copy of my book “Suomenlinna – Islands of Light” (Helsinki retail price €35-39)
- Entry to the museum at Suomenlinna Centre to view my exhibition “Islands of Light”
Fee does not include:
- City ferry transport to and from the island (9.20 a.m. departure from Helsinki Market Square)
- Meals and refreshments not included above
- a camera (preferably a digital DSLR, although point-and-shooters are also welcome, with a formatted memory card)
- enthusiasm, open eyes and a sense of adventure!
- Suitable clothing for the weather (wind and waterproof clothes, protection from sun, good shoes)
- Suomenlinna’s streets are often cobbled and other surfaces are rocky and uneven, so do bear this in mind
How to guarantee your place at the workshop
- be quick and confirm your place by replying to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Please include your name, phone number, e-mail address, special diets and information about your experience of and aspirations for your photography
It’s Christmas Day 2016 and I’m in a generous gift-giving mood, so for my review blog for the year I’m giving you not six, not seven, but EIGHT pictures. Well, that includes the header above, taken one November morning as the sun’s rays spread across the third highest mountain in the world, Kanchenjunga, from the West Bengal hill station of Darjeeling.
It’s been another exciting year with some amazing assignments and adventures. Here are a few highlights – well, seven to be exact:
So where next? Lapland again, a voyage on a working icebreaker in the Baltic, and another India adventure are planned so far, but new years always bring new surprises. Watch this space…! And best wishes to all ‘visitors’ for a happy and peaceful Christmas.
An occasionally regular photo blog showing six latest additions to my photo archives. Visit www.timbirdphotography.com for more.
Midsummer – or the summer solstice if we’re going to be strict about it – is a big event in the Nordic region, where the long days and short, magical light nights are our reward for the rigors of winter. Juhannus, as it’s known in Finland, is a festival of rural traditions, with bonfires, saunas, midnight swims and fishing. I like to take late night bike rides along the River Vantaa close to my Helsinki home. This year the nights of the holiday weekend featured atmospheric fog on either side of the river.
Here are six images from the night before the longest day:
Technical note for photo nerds: these images were made using my Fujifilm XT1 and the latest addition to my fast expanding lens family, a Fujinon f2.8 16-55mm zoom. This was a good test for the new lens and I’m happy with the results.
If you’ve enjoyed dropping by for this brief photographic distraction, please keep your eye out for future blogs. Feel free to share, tweet, and shout from the rooftops.
Click here to find me on Facebook.
Click here to find me on Twitter.
Click here to find me on Instagram.