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Thursday, 7 June 2012

Jyvaskyla: Day One of Now I dont know how long I have been in Finland: Day Two and Three of conference

I wake up slightly disoriented. I have been following cats all night and they are still out playing somewhere. I gave up four hours ago, fell asleep to some American reality how called "The Biggest Loser" and the talk is no-where near finished because after starting badly, it deteriorates rapidly between minute four and six before finally falling apart somewhere round minute 9. A new strategy is needed if I am to finish the talk, that is obvious, but quite what that strategy might be, I am in two minds. The first mind says "Go Back to the lake and jump in" and the second mind says "No, the lake is really cold". One of the cats comes back with an idea which the third mind (currently trying to decide what to wear) seizes on eagerly. Instead of staying in your room all day writing your talk, go to conference and watch a few talks. Once you have got an idea of the standard of talks, all you have to do is to aim to be no worse than the worst talk you see. It's a great idea, albeit somewhat un-collegiate, so I prepare for the short walk along the lake.

After a shower, I glance in the mirror and all three minds realise I need a shave. The beard is the salt and pepper of old, but not-quite-old-enough-to-be-distinguished, age. Unfortunately I havent yet bought any razors and I didnt bring any with me, so I decide it might look as if I am intense. Then there's the choice of shirt. Due to restrictions on baggage allowance on the airline I flew with I havent brought enough clothes, figuring I could wash them in the hotel, but I have worn all the decent clothes I brought and am now down to a choice of two shirts. Choice #1 is a skintight, long sleeved base layer designed to be worn under other outdoor wear that I brought in case of snow. You can stop laughing now, but when I packed this item, my reasoning was that this is Finland. In Scandanavia. Unfortunately, it is pure white as well. Or rather, it was pure white, but having seen a few seasons, its now a bit mangy with a yellowing around the collar and cuffs from sunblock, a few pulled seams and a large black mark on the left forearm from a fibre tip pen. Choice #2 is a vintage 1987 Liverpool football shirt with a number on the back and a Liverbird badge proudly sitting on the chest. Deciding which one is more appropriate for an academic conference is somewhat of a challenge. Next its the jeans, which have a bit of mud down the inside of the calves but are other wise ok. The hiking boots could do with a quick clean and are a lot muddier than the jeans, but the real problem with the boots is the laces which have finally dissolved after Sunday's hike and are now just frayed and tattered bits of string located sporadically among the eyelets of the upper part of the boot. I put my glasses on to examine myself in the mirror and remember that I cant find my posh glasses so am wearing the ones with the chipped lenses from a cycling accident  and bent frame from where I sat on them. I dont look perfect, but this is strictly a reconnaisance so I guess it doesnt matter. I put on the heavy winter jacket I have broughtin an attempt to reduce the effect of the football shirt and set off.

I shuffle (because of the laces) along the lake side mumbling my 'talk' to myself  amid a gaggle of athletic looking Finnish people who are roller skating, or rollerskiing in the bright sunshine but am grateful that they appear to be keeping a safety cordon around me, presumably so they dont crash into me. Pretty soon I get quite hot, so I hook the coat over one of the straps of my pack. I am nervous because of the talk, but I start to get really freaked out when I begin to feel a burning sensation down the back of first my left leg, then my right leg. The sensation starts just above the knee and gets more intense lower down the leg. At first I try to walk it off, but it just gets worse, so I try altering my gait and changing the shuffle to a little hopping/jogging motion but it keeps getting worse. Presumably for added safety, the Finns extend their safety cordon. I am also slightly late for the talks so I dont want to but reluctantly I stop and give the back of the leg an exploratory, tentative touch. My hand comes away wet and when I realise its not blood, I also realise that the back of my pack is very very wet as well. It appears, after further exploration that my massive 2.5litre  water bottle did not have its top secured correctly and has been leaking, slowly at first then more rapidly, down the back of the leg.

I arrive at conference looking like........well, its hard to say actually. Its also hard making my way to the room where the talks are because I am forced to shuffle sideways along the wall, like crab with a broken leg, in order to hide the massive water stain down the back of each leg. Earlier I said that I didnt believe in metaphor, but circumstances have proven me wrong,because I am not actually a crab, I am just like a crab which is problematic because a human-being being like a crab is a very unnatural looking thing. Incidentally, this volte face on metaphor is the only independent insight I gain from the whole conference.

It is a wet and miserable couple of hours. The speakers are all disappointingly good. I miss coffee because I have to stay in my seat as my jeans are still wet but I give in towards the end of the coffee break because I need to answer nature's call. So I sprint to the bathroom, kind of sideways, hopeful that this doesnt attract attention and sprint back, barging students out of the way, anxious to be back before anyone else returns from coffee and sits in my puddle. It is mine, after all.

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