Sunday, 27 September 2009


My dear friend Dalia has been visiting and brought me tons of tulip bulbs. Guess what she took with her back to Sweden? Tulip bulbs. Dalia is a real tulipmaniac, she knows all the names and which are rare and which are especially pretty and which are cheaper here than in Sweden. I am a tulip amateur, I just look at pictures. Today I eventually had time to plant the bulbs, and the weather was wonderful, I can't believe it the end of September. (Yes, I can believe it, we live in England now). For someone not familiar with gardening: it takes a looooooong time to plant 120 tulip bulbs. Especially if you try to plan and match the colours and combine tulips with whatever else there is around. But it will be worth while, and I will think of Dalia when the tulips come. (And I will find out what they use here to protect tulips from deer).

Incidentally, when Dalia and I went to Anglesea Abbey, which was our top priority, they had Dahlia festival.

The last of the mohicans

The reason I had to go to Åbo is a doctoral defence. When I tell my British colleagues that in Scandinavia the PhD degree requires a public defence they are full of awe. (Or is it despise?) I have been through it in all capacities: defendent, opponent, examination board, audience. This time I am the moderator, aka kustos. It isn't a great burden, mainly declare the defence open, give the defendent and opponent signals to stand up or sit down in accondance with protocol, and see to it that they don't go on too long. Yet behind this minor role hides a major one: I have been the supervisor. And this time it may be my last supervisee in Finland.

My affiliation with Åbo Akademi University started way back in early '90s when I was repeatedly invited as a guest lecturer. Then I was made Adjunct Professor and supervised both Masters and Phds. For a year, I was a Distinguished Visiting Professor.

In Finland, PhD students have no guaranteed funding; they have to apply a bit here and there, and it can take years. Some of my students gave up and got a job, and I can't blame them. But a couple of years ago, the remaining few started getting finished. So this is the last defence in a batch of wonderful people, whom I shall miss. But it is a joy to see my supervisees grow up and become peers.


I have already stated that from England all destinations have suddenly come closer. All except eastward. It takes 35 minutes to fly from Stockholm to Åbo, the university city in Finland where I still have an academic affiliation. It took me almost a whole day to get there from Cambridge. True, I had three hours overlay in Helsinki, which felt ludicrous waiting for a 25-minute flight. But any other option, via Stockholm or Copenhagen, would have been the same. At least I don't know the Helsinki airport inside out. It is, however, more or less like any airport. After I have explored the shops and eateries, there is not much to do. Then it's just a matter of finding a place to sit and enjoy the thickest book I could find in DWSmith at Heathrow.

I was tempted to buy a Moomin calendar, resisted the temptation and now regret it. Fortunately, I have two hours overlay on the way back.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

International travel

Morag and I are going to a conference in Glasgow. A colleague kindly drives us to Stansted. EasyJet does not allow you to check in online if you have luggage, so we stand in line. Morag takes out her passport. "Morag, don't tell me you need a passport to fly to Scotland". "Of course you do!" "But it's a domestic flight! Wouldn't a driver's licence be enough?" "Oh no, never! It says 'passport' on the booking receipt".

I can travel all over Europe with my ID. but not to Scotland, which as far as I know is still a part of the United Kingdom. I try not to panic. If I call Staffan he can perhaps bring my passport just in time. I can take a later flight. But it just doesn't make sense. In such situations the rule is: don't ask. As we check in, Morag produces her passport, I produce my driver's licence. No protests. Morag inspects my licence with great interest. "It has your picture!" "Of course it has. Hasn't yours?" Obviously not. And I remember that in the UK it is a matter of dispute whether it is legal to make people have picture IDs.

I must never take anything for granted.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Where have all those days gone?

When I haven't blogged for a while it's either because nothing has happened or because too much has happened. I can't believe it has been two weeks! Where are they? What have I been doing? Get out my calendar. Anton came to visit and we had a wonderful time together, at least I had a wonderful time, he may think something else. When we went to Ely to climb the Octagon tower, we were the only ones, so we got a very special treatment and were shown some secret passages not normally included in the tour. It rained torrents when we were inside the tower and just cleared up for a moment when we got out on the roof. Then it started raining again as we left the Cathedral, so Anton was forcibly introduced to the noble art of genuine English afternoon tea, with scones and jam and cream and all. Even though he had coffee rathen than tea. We also went to London and saw "War Horse" which was stunning. We never had time to discuss it properly though, because Anton stayed on in London to meet his American friends, and then they came to Cambridge and stayed with us, which was wonderful too. I am so happy to see my children staying in touch with their old classmates and other old friends.

Then Anton left for Paris, and Staffan came home, and suddenly summer is over and the new term has started - not quite really, but there are meetings, meetings, meetings, zillions of emails, course readers, sample exams, last-minute changes. Two weeks ago I was telling myself and the world: back in the old country, classes have started, and I still have six weeks to go. Not any more. I am right in the middle of it and as busy as a year ago, but fortunately not as confused. I am looking forward to the new academic year. It speaks volumes.