Extracts from the novel Puupää (‘Blockhead’, Teos, 2009)
In these ‘shavings’ hewn from the block in constructing the storyline of his new novel, Juha Hurme offers us four unique glimpses into the Finnish psyche
The rune singer of Nokia
Three years ago I purchased a used mobile phone when its predecessor took an overdose of sea water and went mute on a rowing trip in a broken-down loaner of a fibreglass boat in a gale-force nor’wester. This three-year-old phone has been a thoroughly satisfactory implement and indispensable contact link. The power button got stuck a year ago, but the gadget is still fully operational with the aid of a match stick or something similar. It is my belief and hope that it will continue to fulfil the role of telephone for seven more years, because I prefer not to own, let alone purchase, anything that withstands fewer than ten years of use.
Last week when I turned on my phone with a matchstick, I accidentally flipped on the menu. I’ve never popped in there before, because I know that there is nothing for me there. But now curiosity got the better of me. I found a section called Message Templates. It contained ten text message templates, which the company that designed the machine had programmed into the phone via subcontractors. Like this:
I’m at home. Please call
I’m at work. Please call
I’m in a meeting, call me later at
Meeting is cancelled.
I am late. I will be there at
See you at
See you in
Sorry, I can’t help you on this.
I will be arriving at
I’ve read a lot of satirical contemporary poetry that is worse than the Ten Commandments of this rune singer from Nokia. This ten-line message template poem draws a precise picture of the person for whom this telephonic crutch was designed.
He is a curt issuer of commands. He has a home, and he has a job, but he is never where you think he will be. This fact indicates rapid, unpredictable movement, perhaps even intentional feints.
Meetings are the central substance of his life. However, he can afford to arrive late to them. He also has the authority to cancel previously-scheduled conferences. He is a great man, but there is one above him: the clock. When the clock issues an order, even he runs. Or he speeds late at night in the fog on slushy roads, on the verge of falling asleep, indifferent to the safety of anyone else about on the roads.
This daily upstream battle with time has made him sweaty and coarse. The ninth line of the poem, the ninth message template, is telling: sorry, I can’t help you on this. Period.
I calmly exit the menu. Now I’ve been there too; I’ve seen it and explored it. I look at my phone with new eyes; I poke the power button more gently with the matchstick. This isn’t any old telephone.
I know now that this machine was designed for a monster, a non-human, an unbending taskmaster, a corporate climber consumed by haste. If the manufacturer has any complaints about this criticism, call me or send a text. Let me have it. I have the answer ready in my device, the legendary message template number nine, the message of messages for this age: sorry, I can’t help you on this.
My tit my milk my mother my nappies my teddy my lego my yard my friend my willy my game my dad my ball my clothes my braces my instrument my cd-roms my ice cream my joystick my homework my report card my pimples my grades my idols my dreams my enemies my race my faith my doubt my summer job my free time my nerves my prejudice my dog my pirouette my woody my period my condom my chlamydia my antibiotics my studies my fantasies my beer my realities my major my flat my exams my women my men my room my blues my car my problems my graduation my unemployment my career my skin my job my pay my benefits my orgasm my loan my vitamins my stress my feelings my score my health my duty my software my viruses my family my politics my husband my wife my dog my kids my fights my long johns my cottage my company flat my briefcase my monitor my interest rates my income my desk my boss my curve my pressure my appendix my insurance my prospects my elf hat my position my retirement my ass my relatives my golf my flex time my furlough my retraining my placement my visa my tonsils my credit information my firm my idea my liver my climax my fiftieth my picture my phone bill my affair my stress leave my separation my lawsuit my stepfamily my pain my cognac my blood pressure my diet my soul my nordic walking my nightmares my early retirement my depression my memory my pill box my banana my haemorrhoids my urinary incontinence my prayer my terror my cynicism my property my hate my jealousy my bitterness my resentment my estate my consumption my pyjamas my sheet my rattle my
An introductory course in Fennomania
The Finns are father Noah’s grandson’s progeny and the original inhabitants of the North, from whom the Swedes, Norwegians and Danes are descended.
Rostiophus was the first king of Finland. He was so intelligent that there was no riddle in the world for which he could not find a solution. His speciality was the prediction of future events, which proceeded in such a fashion that all of his predictions turned out to be correct after the fact. So Rostiophus ruled without any assistants; who would have been able to help him?
Fornjótr, the second king of Finland, continued along the path set out by Rostiophus, to such a degree that foreigners queued up to become his disciples. At that time people imagined that the harder you drank at a funeral, the greater the honour to the deceased. This is precisely how Fornjótr’s funeral was conducted.
The daughter of the third king, Snio, made the mistake of marrying the king of Sweden, who eventually abandoned his newlywed bride in Finland when he did a runner back to his homeland to fight a war. The daughter of Snio was vexed and hired the witch woman Huld to kill her good-for-nothing spouse. Huld sent a curse named the Tyra to do the job, and the king of Sweden was soon a goner.
The fourth king, Atus, concentrated on domestic politics. He crafted a law according to which, for reasons of national economy, only a portion of a deceased person’s property was to be buried with him. The dead were embittered by this and rose from their graves by night, causing instability in the kingdom.
The fifth king, Gris, sailed with his brother Amund to Stockholm and burned the king of Sweden to death in his manor. The Finns were greatly pleased by this act.
Amund continued on as the sixth king after Gris and ordered the adoption of uniform top-to-toe underwear across the land.
Joculus, the seventh king of Finland, concentrated entirely on the intricacies of trade with the East.
The eighth king of Finland was named Ukko [‘Old man’]. This king had a wife name Akka [‘Old woman’, ‘hag’], after whom all greatly revered women in Finland have been called from that time on.
The treacherous king of Sweden, Agni, slew Frost, the ninth king of Finland, and made off with his daughter Skjalv to make her his bride in Stockholm. The cunning Skjalv hung her own necklace around Agni’s deceitful neck, supposedly to please him, but when night came she hung the old man by the chain from a pine tree, freed her brother Loge from prison, slew Agni’s troops, set the fleet ablaze and sailed victorious to Finland with Loge. The adventuresome siblings found each other, got married, and the brother-husband Loge ruled Finland as its tenth king.
Danish pirates were raising hell along the coast at about this time. The eleventh king of Finland, Tengil, took it upon himself to right this injustice, sailed to Denmark and KO’d the famous boxing champion of the Danish army, Arngrim. After that he pillaged and burned the entire country.
Following the death of Tengil, the man chosen as the twelfth king, Motle, was from an entirely different planet. He spent his hours in silent contemplation in his chambers and distinguished himself by giving high-quality individual instruction to Gunilla, the daughter of the king of Norway. This private lecture series led to Gunilla’s pregnancy, and she gave birth to a man child, Sumble.
Some claim that we received the name ‘suomalaiset’ [Finns] from our thirteenth king, Sumble, but this may be rightly doubted. The name is derived from the scales, ‘suomu’, of fish. This theory is supported by the matchless bounty of the yearly fish harvest in Finland [Suomi].
Unfortunately, we do not know anything about Kuso, the fourteenth king of Finland, but he was surely a good and righteous autocrat.
The fifteenth and final king of Finland, Dumber, sired a son to whom he gave the name Bard. While still in his swaddling clothes Bard could interpret dreams flawlessly. With the aid of the astute Bard, Dumber also ascended to the throne of Iceland, where he was honoured as a god.
After the reign of Dumber the history of our country has been on the skids.
The sanctity of the grave
I will die, you will die, he will die, we will die, you all will die, they will die.
A friend told me that over the last ten years several virtual burial grounds have been planned, drained and opened for business on the Internet, places where the bereaved can buy the deceased a digital grave, with letters of condolences and all. There, flowers do not wilt, shoes do not get muddy, candles do not go out and vandals do not deface.
That most basic and certain assumption of our existence, that ‘from dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return’, has been shaken.
As our Iron Age cemeteries have been excavated, it has been noted that the essential objects of the life of the deceased were placed alongside him, even though broken in pieces. The object was broken to release its spirit so that the faithful object could also serve its master in the underworld.
This was a beautiful and understandable act in an age when objects were few and never haphazardly created; instead each truly had its own purpose and substance.
Now we each have a thousand gadgets and a million virtual shadows as our bane, as we chase the jackpot, the real pay-off.
Grant us, oh Old Woman, chief goddess, this wish: that this pile of junk and its manifold reflections will not hound us in death, but that we shall be allowed to rest at last in the grave.
Translated by Owen Witesman
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