Now, as a bit of a homage to Gunther who lives in England, and Sarah who’s dating someone who lives in England, I’m going to share with you the story of my language course to England.
The year was 2000 and I was 15 years old. It was a time when Iceland was nice and quiet, planes flew in and out of Europe all the time, and my friend Minna and I, realizing that this wasn’t going to be the case forever, decide we wanted to take advantage of the situation while it lasted. That’s when we decided to go on a language course to England. Our parents were of course going to pay for the party and we were going to have the best summer ever. Our parents, who were still happily unaware of this, surprisingly didn’t jump for joy when we told them about our plans. I thought I was pretty grown up at the age of 15, but apparently my parents didn’t agree. After much pleading and begging and even some nagging, both my parents and Minna’s parents finally agreed to fork up the money.
We had decided on a language course and riding camp combined, because back then I could actually ride a horse without having a heart attack and falling off. We chose Isle of Wight, a beautiful little island south of England proper as our destination. My 15th birthday came, and a beautiful summer morning in June, Minna and I stepped on a plane with 12 other young Finns who were ready for adventure.
Isle of Wight
Our first stop was Paris. The one in France. We shopped, went to Disneyland, climbed the Eiffel Tower, visited Notre Dame and rode the metro. I think the logic behind taking us to Paris first was to make us as tired as humanly possible so we wouldn’t get into trouble during the language course part of the trip. It was a good plan, but they completely underestimated the energy of teenagers. After a rather embarrassing incident with a little too much singing in a metro, our trip continued by bus from Paris to Calais – a journey that took about a million hours if I remember correctly. In Calais we found ourselves on the first ferry to Dover, and after a surprisingly short ride, the white cliffs of Dover came into view in the mist of the dawning day. From Dover it was a long ride to Portsmouth, from where yet another ferry took us to the Isle of Wight.
Isle of Wight is warmer than the rest of England, and there were even some palm trees lining the streets. I don’t know what it’s like now, but ten years ago it was a peaceful island with a few small towns. In one of the bigger towns, Ryde, our host mommy came to collect us. Rowena was a 40-something American woman who had lived on Isle of Wight for 10 years. She had two daughters, no husband and a cute middle unit in a rowhouse.
Rowena was also crazy, but more about the crazy later. Back to when we got to England. Rowena came to pick up me and Minna in her tiny European car. Minna got into the backseat and I got into the passenger seat. Except there was a steering wheel on the passenger side, so I got out again and got into the other passenger seat. Who would have thought getting into a car could be so difficult?
If you look closely, you'll notice something that's horribly wrong with this picture.
In fact, Minna and I soon realized that nothing was easy in England. Whenever I crossed a street, I tried to remember that instead of looking left-right-left like normal people do, I’d have to look right-left-right, like insane British people do. By the end of our one-month stay, I’d had several close calls when I thought I looked right, but had in fact looked to my other right. I think that one month in England might have been the cause for all my left-right confusion in later years. And at one point a lady who almost ran me over stopped her car, got out, called me a stupid cow and drove off again. British people are polite like that.
Now, about the crazy I was talking about earlier. Rowena was completely certifiably batshit crazy. She seemed normal at first, aside from the driving on the wrong side of the road thing, of course. But then she opened her mouth to talk and all that came out was gibberish about how evil meat is and how the soybean is the food of the gods and how the healing power of the pyramid helps her save money on razorblade costs.
Yes, she was a vegetarian freak who believed in the power of the pyramid. If you, dear reader, happen to be a vegetarian freak and believe in the power of the pyramid, I am horribly sorry but you should probably stop reading now. Also, you’re an idiot. My entire 15-year old life I had only eaten things that had once had a name. Often I even mixed my protein to make sure several animals had died for my dinner. For that entire summer I had to live on nothing but soybean sausage, soybean pizza, soybean hamburger and soybean everything else you could possibly think of. I have never hated food as much as I did that summer. A year later Muschu got to go on a language course to Bournemouth and her host family cooked only French fries and meat the entire time. Life can be so unfair.
When I wasn’t gagging from the smell of soybean, I was busy avoiding the pyramids. Big and small pyramids adorned the entire house. They were made in copper piping and had magical healing powers. Food would stay fresh forever if kept inside a pyramid. Used razorblades would magically become sharp again if kept in a pyramid. All fresh bread was kept in a pyramid. All fresh fruit was kept in a pyramid. Razors in another pyramid and dirty underwear in yet another one. Rowena even took us into her bedroom where her bed stood inside a giant copper pyramid. She had given birth to her kids inside that pyramid. Then she made us hold a mobile phone to our stomach and proved that it was sucking the life out of us. At that point Minna and I excused ourselves and went to get our crucifixes.
The pyramids looked a lot like this, only more menacing.
What no one had told us was that a language course, even during the summer holiday, will contain school work. While English turned out to be a pretty useful language to know, I can’t say I enjoyed the 4 hours we spent in school every day. What I did enjoy was the hours spent riding horses afterwards. I jumped fences, trotted round and round in circles, and galloped across fields that went on for miles. I’ve never experienced freedom quite like that, the wind in my face, the horse working furiously to run faster and faster. I’ve been on plenty of airplanes, but that’s the closest I’ve ever come to flying. It was magical.
During our stay we also did some underage drinking, took a tour of the island and danced all night long. Sadly, all good things have to come to an end. After a short detour in London for some shopping and a visit at Madame Tussaud’s, we were back in Finland and the entire trip seemed more like a dream than a memory. But one day I’ll go back to the Isle of Wight, and this time I’m eating meat. *