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Helsinki versus Ipswich. Who will win?

We’ve been in Ipswich for a couple of months, and perhaps the most common question I’ve been asked is “what’s it like” followed in popularity by “Ipswich? Why?” So I thought I’d summarise some of the key points, in the form of a tennis match. Because this is England, and it’s summer. Or at least pretending to be. It's Helsinki to serve, and oh my, it's a scorcher.


Oh dear god. The Romans got to this island nearly 2000 years ago, and they had better plumbing than the people of Ipswich, and indeed the British Isles, have to put up with. It’s a disgrace, really. The other day, a pipe got loose in the bath, while I was in it, and water escaped from the proper channel. Did it run safely through a drain in the sealed bathroom floor? No, its path of least resistance was through the ceiling light in the kitchen. I offer this video as proof, because my Finnish friends may be incredulous.

And, oddly, while it’s apparently impossible to insulate a house properly over here, and so it’s staggeringly inefficient to heat them, it’s also impossible to get a really cold shower. Which avid readers of this blog will know are part of my normal conditioning. I use shower in the loosest possible sense. The tepid trickle you get here is quite inadequate when compared to the blasts of water I became accustomed to back in civilization Helsinki.

It gets worse. The water here tastes like what I imagine the nervous sweat in Boris Johnson’s shorts would taste like if he was forced to actually state something he truly believed in on a particularly hot day. It’s no doubt perfectly safe, but oh, the water in Helsinki.

Helsinki 15 luv.

Food and drink.The water being quite undrinkable, we are simply forced to purchase large quantities of wine and beer, and drink that instead. And oh, my poor Northern friends, while the prices aren’t quite as good as in Italy, they are about half what we paid in Alko. Especially as there are all sorts of special offers, and services that will supply you with good, low cost wine, delivered to your door for free. We get all sorts of things delivered: bacon of a quality almost unknown in the benighted North (American Pekoni? no, sorry, really not); vegetables direct from the farmer through Growing Places, brought to our door, a tenner for a big box. It’s really incredibly handy having chaps in a van bring our groceries. And still cheaper than walking to K market. So on the matter of food and drink, Ipswich has Helsinki beat hands down. No salmiakki, of course, but that's a blessing, not a curse (though Grace would not agree).


The Natives.

What with all this cheap alcohol, is it any wonder that the natives are so friendly? On our first day together in town, Grace (my eldest, age 9, and a Salmiakki-eating Finn at heart) asked “why is everyone talking to us?”. She was perplexed by the way everyone smiled, said good morning in the street though we’d never met, and at school after her first day, she was quite taken aback by the way that every girl in her class spoke to her at least once. In Finland, she said, they’d have left her alone. But she has made friends very quickly, and so have we.

I love my Finnish friends, and I hope they know it. And there are many Finns who are very gregarious, by Finnish standards at least. But making new friends here has been incredibly easy.

Ipswich leads, 30-15.


But then there’s the paperwork. While Finnish bureaucracy is complex, it is at least generally consistent, and, with your personal id number and some photo id you can do just about everything you need to do, from opening a bank account, to renting a house. Here? No, really not. It’s absolutely fucking ridiculous. Proof of address that works for the county council regarding school places for the children is not accepted by the bank as proof of address when opening an account. I could go on, but I’d get very cross and it would ruin my evening. It’s almost as if all the rules were made in the 15th century, and never really updated properly. Oh, no, that’s actually exactly what’s happened.



Speaking of people: they actually visit the UK. And we are only an hour from London. So far, in the last two months I have seen more of my international friends than I’ve seen in the last two years in Finland. By the end of this month, I’ll have seen three sets of Americans, one set of Canadians, and two sets of Finns (both of which are over here not just to see us, so count as “foreign friends visiting the UK anyway, and meeting up with us too”). That is a massive win.

with Sean Hayes at the Tower of London.

Ipswich leads, 40-30



Now for house prices. Dear god, this island has gone insane. Badly designed, badly insulated houses, with poky little rooms (because proper sized rooms are too expensive to heat even by English standards), with appalling plumbing (see above) and rubbish infrastructure (the bins, don’t get me started), cost twice what the closest equivalent would cost in Finland. It’s insane, and driven entirely by a mania for ‘getting up the property ladder’, that makes the house primarily an investment and only secondarily a home. It’s absurd, and quite revolting. Sure, some of them are draughty and cold because they are truly ancient and therefore very beautiful.

That's a trade I could be persuaded to make. But houses built in the last 80 years just cannot justify their crapness by any claim to a compensating beauty.



But around these terrible houses, there is so much going on! Theatre, concerts, you name it. Yes, I know that they have stuff like that in Finland, but to be honest most of it is either a) very expensive, b) crap, or c) in Finnish, which Michaela doesn’t understand well enough to enjoy a play in, and, truth be told, neither do I. Honestly, I hate to say it, but the cultural life here in the small town of Ipswich is at least as good, and cheaper, than we got in the capital of Finland. Plus we can and do go up to London for day trips to see things and people.

Advantage Ipswich


How anybody gets anything done on their phones here escapes me. I signed up to the ‘fastest data' in the UK with EE. I am willing to believe that somewhere in the British Isles, there is at least one spot where, when the stars align, and the moon is waxing, and you hold your phone just so, you might actually get a decent 4G connection, for ten whole seconds at a time. In my actual home in Ipswich, not a mile from the centre of town, I barely even get phone coverage, let alone mobile data. And they have the absolute gall to charge through the nose for it! I switched to Three, but that doesn't seem any better (though they do have decent calls to Finland rates, and I can use my phone there too without incurring extra charges. Who knows, in Finland I might actually get a signal). And get this: even when you can get a signal: data is limited! to like 1 or 2 gigs a month! In Finland you can't even buy a limited data plan- you just pay extra for the speed. Though in Finland, you do actually get the promised speeds, at least some of the time. And it costs about half of what we pay here for a reasonable plan, such as 4gb/month.

Mobile telephony came of age in Finland, and the UK is lagging about a decade behind. It's very sad, really.


And dammit, I’m running out of space, and it’s starting to rain. Looks like we’ll have to call it a draw so far, cover the court, open a bottle of wine, and schedule a rematch for later!

I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

13 Responses

  1. My Granddaughter is doing a 2 year LDS mission in Finland, speaking Finnish, and loving it. Something about oodles of daylight now compensating for the lack of light last winter. And I quote, “Even when we get lost we get home in the daylight!”

    Based on what you say, I bet the Utah Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) out red-tapes both Britain and Finland. Did you see Zootopia? The DMV in Zootopia truly reflects the state of the DMV in most of the USA.

      1. LDS Missionaries receive a couple of months of total submersion language training before arriving in country… but she was conversant within a few months of arriving. Now she is training her replacements. It is a miracle to me because I was in Japan for ten years and still can’t even ask for the restroom without Google translate.

  2. For everything that counts against Ipswich there are at least ten people who will come forward and helpfully suggest, “of course, what you want to do there is…” and supply you with an whole new archaic method with its own set of problems and benefits.

  3. Never lived in Finland but have visited enough to think that this is probably quite a fair assessment of the respective merits of both countries. We had over-flowing water dripping through the light sockets a few times when the kids were left unsupervised in the bath. Water + Electricity = danger? 🙂

  4. I think we should talk about this more when its winter and you forget that you live in England AND you try to wear only t-shirt and shorts indoors, ok?
    Don’t worry, you’re always welcome back to Finland.

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