The Joensuu conference was a great success. There was a strong Finnish turnout, including the mayors of Joensuu and of the Northern Karelia region, two ministers and an MEP, Ms Riikka Manner. But there were also a large number of forestry representatives from other parts of the European Union and also from other organisations, including the FAO. The discussions were learned and not for the first time I found myself wishing that I could follow such issues on a more permanent basis. My speech, for what it’s worth, is below. Whilst I was reading up for it I discovered that Finland is one of the few countries in the world whose surface area is still expanding. You live and learn! Continue reading
I got up early this morning and was taken on a privileged guided tour of the Metla House, the Joensuu base of the Finnish Forest Research Institute. The tour was kindly given to me by the Institute’s Director, Jari Parviainen. The House, completed in 2004, was the first large wooden, timber-framed, three-storey office building in Finland. Over the past five years the House has become an important reference point for timber construction and has received over 25,000 visitors, many of them architects. The building is an eloquent aesthetic statement of the fact that you can build big with wood – and when you build with wood, you also trap carbon and create a nice working environment.
This morning I spoke at a conference organised by the Committee’s Section on Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment on the theme of ‘Facing the Challenge – change in forests and the forestry sector.’ The conference is taking place in Joensuu, the capital of Northern Karelia, and sometimes known as the forest capital of Europe. This spot is the easternmost point of continental Europe. (Mother Russia is very close.) This morning we heard from the city mayor and the regional mayor and two ministers, followed by a number of experts and stakeholders. Speaker after speaker pointed to the advantages of wood and forestry. Forests provide renewable raw materials, they protect biodiversity, they are carbon sinks, they create employment and they provide enjoyment and leisure. Yet the EU’s forestry industry faces all sorts of challenges – not the least of them being to convince people that forestry is a vital industry. I’ll do a separate post on the conference’s content, but I could not help but think that we would do well also to address the cultural and educational aspects of the forestry sector. If you think of our poetry and literature, of our fables and children’s tales, it is clear that the forest is an integral part of our cultural identity. Leaving aside Finland (a special case), the problem in most EU member states is that an urbanised majority know all about forests but nothing about forestry. Most European forests had long sinced being wilderness and almost all of them were managed, yet we have forgotten that forests are not just an optional aesthetic but an economic and environmental necessity.
This evening I flew from Brussels to Helsinki and from there to Joensuu, in eastern Finland. The flight to Joensuu was one of the most enchanting I have ever been on. The turboprop plane flew most of the way just at the top of a cloud layer. This made things a bit bumpy, but it also gave the impression of sailing on a cloud lake, with an occasional fluffy bit splashing up. There was also a meteorological/optical phenomenon whereby I could see a small silhouette of the plane scurrying along on the cloud alongside us, surrounded by a rainbow halo. No need for magic mushrooms on that flight!
Today, I have a guest. Fellow writer Jeannette Cook has graciously allowed me to reproduce here the exercise she read out at the writers’ group yesterday evening. Marvellous stuff!
Recipe for today
1 large coffee
2 children (woken up, teeth brushed, hair combed, faces washed, breakfasted, suitably dressed for the weather, with backpacks)
1 trip to supermarket
20 minutes of yoga
10 minutes of frustrated searching for item of your choice: keys, agenda, mobile phone, clean shirt blouse
5 hours of day job
10-15 minutes of worry when one or other of children does not phone you on their way home from school
1 round-trip commute
1 phone call to cello teacher
1 phone call to change hour of horseriding lessons
1 hour catching up on email
1 dinner to make
1 cake to make
1 overdue dentist appointment to schedule, but ignore that for now
30 minutes x 2 of instrument practice
60 minutes x 2 of homework
4 wet towels
Or wine, if it is after 7
Either very good book or very bad television
Mix together till your arms fall off.
We were invited to lunch by near and dear Italian friends. A treat was in store; the husband had made his own pesto. We nibbled on the aperitivi and chatted about this and that. Their daughter appeared. The water for the pasta was boiling. In a scene repeated millions of times a day throughout Italy, the husband asked ‘Buto la pasta?’ (Shall I start cooking the pasta?) ‘Si!’ we all cried, and off he went to the kitchen. A few seconds later he re-appeared, holding two half-empty boxes and with a thunder-struck look on his face. ‘There is no pasta!’ he cried. ‘Impossible!’ said his wife. The two searched high and low but it was true; they had run out of pasta. So unthinkable was this that neither had thought it a possibility! They improvised, by the way, and the pesto was delicious.
I promised N° 2 sprog that I would read every single book by Marcus Sidgwick if he did and I have to say that this is no great hardship. I have recently finished The Dark Flight Down and The Dark Horse and found both to be impressive pieces of work not least because, as I wrote in a previous post, Sidgwick creates convincing imaginary worlds and peoples them skilfully. I have also recently finished The Foreshadowing. Unlike the others, this story is set in the all-too-real world of the First World War but Sidgwick injects a touch of the paranormal and applies a trademark twist in the tail. All good stuff.
N° 2 sprog is a Jackie Chan fan, so this evening we watched The Forbidden Kingdom, a recent present. The film is great fun. Chan plays an immortal scholar, Lu Yan, whose elixir of life is wine. He drinks copious amounts of his elixir and is constantly drunk but, paradoxically, is surprisingly alert and agile. Notwithstanding his supposed immortality, he falls victim to a poisoned arrow. Only copious quantities of his elixir can save him. ‘We shall send a walking monk to fetch some,’ says the high priest of the temple where the dying Yan is lying. ‘Can you not send a running monk?’ gasps Yan. Great stuff. The film also stars two beautiful Chinese actresses, Liu Yifei and Li Bingbing. Watch this space.
One of the reasons that I have been busy is that one of my writing group friends, Lucy, was dying – she passed away precisely one week ago – and like all of her friends I tried to visit her in hospital as much as possible. She leaves a considerable legacy: not least two wonderful daughters and an extraordinary autobiographical manuscript about her bitter-sweet life as a Tomboy in the Australian outback. Another member of our group has now taken the ms in hand to make sure that, in due course, it gets published. Lucy had a very hard life. Indeed, you could say that her life was one long succession of misfortunes. But she was the toughest of tough cookies and through it all she never lost her sunny disposition. Over the summer I finally got around to reading a book she had warmly recommended to me: A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini. It is a wonderful book – possibly better than The Kite Runner– at once depressing and a testament to the fortitude of the human spirit and, above all, women in the face of adversity. Lucy was so determined that I should read it that she loaned me her copy. One passage, just one passage, was marked in the book and I can’t help but feel that Lucy wanted me to come across it. Whether she did or she didn’t, it sums her up perfectly, for Lucy was indeed: ‘A woman who will be like a rock in a riverbed, enduring without complaint, her grace not sullied but shaped by the turbulence that washes over her.’
I know what you have been thinking; he has lost it! He can’t keep it up. He has gone the way of all amateur bloggers. He has shuffled off this virtual coil. But here I am, oh faithful reader (and because I have neglected you for so long there probably is only one faithful reader left). I shall atone for my sins – promise – by posting, in the usual way, a series of backdated articles. It’s just been a very busy time – in more senses than one.