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Guy frequently keeps this blog updated with thoughts, challenges, interviews and more!

Tag: Ipswich

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 a Luddite, it’s true. I resist the march of technological progress because I think that most new technologies aren't labour saving life enhancing devices at all. I was saying this back in the ‘80s when people were extolling the new ‘desktop publishing' thing. “What used to take two weeks can now be done in a single day!” they cried. “Great” I replied. “Do you get the rest of the fortnight off?”

No. What happens, every time, is that as capacity increases, expectations rise, and so you end up with an increase in productivity and more work being done for the same pay. Not fair, and not helpful, except to those who own the fruits of your labour.

But, and this is a very big BUT (I like big buts), there are areas where all this new-fangled gadgetry does actually help people. HEMA would barely exist without the internet, because it is such a niche interest that finding fellow enthusiasts was very hard before the web came along. And for those of us trying to make a living serving those enthusiasts, I think it would be impossible without things like print-on-demand technology, easy-to-use web building tools, and communications of all sorts. I have students in Chile who can send me videos of themselves doing my Longsword Syllabus Form for me to comment on and help them improve. Fantastic.

This is a screen capture not a video link because the video is set to “Unlisted”. Chaps, if it's ok to share it, let me know…

I've also come round to the idea that while the actual use of force (responding to pressure in the bind, that sort of thing) cannot really be taught over the net, there is a place for online courses to help self-study. Lots of people use my Syllabus Wiki in various ways to help them learn, but I am taking a great big step right now and am plunging into creating online courses. The first one is now live, and you can see it here.

I'm using the Teachable platform, because it seems to be the best in class for what I need it to do; unlike Udemy, for instance, I can directly control things like pricing, and tracking student progress.

Another major benefit of the internet is that I can reach vastly more people virtually than I ever could in person. And some of those people are excited by the work I’m doing and want to help. My School and I have benefitted enormously over the years from people volunteering their skills to help. Ilkka Hartikainen shooting the photos and laying out two of my books, for instance. Jari Juslin shooting the photos for the last three. And when I arrived in Ipswich, Curtis Fee (of The Barebones Company) showing up to help unload the lorry for another instance. And when I mentioned the projects I was working on, well, turns out he has a bunch of useful professional skills, which he has applied to making the online school interface vastly more beautiful than it was.
Isn’t this pretty?

It's an exciting time to be teaching swordsmanship, that's for sure. Right now my head is simply buzzing with ideas for other courses that I can create to teach online. Breathing. Meditation. Mechanics. Dagger. Longsword. Imagine if when students finally find a group they can join, or start one themselves, and they already have decent fundamentals in place. Wow.

Sixteen years ago, I was at a crossroads in my life, so I went and sat on top of a hill in the Scottish Highlands, and meditated for a sign. A voice in my head said “go to Helsinki and open a swordsmanship school.” So I did.

Now that school has become “The School”, and has sprouted branches in many countries. The Helsinki branch was always the “main branch”, because it was the first, and I live here. But as my readers know, I stopped teaching there regularly at the end of November last year, and am now moving to Ipswich.

I have left a couple of swords in the Salle, just in case, and a picture of the In Gladio Veritas logo that Titta Tolvanen made for me, as a reminder to the students that the principles of the school don't change, but should be the springboard for their creativity, not shackles to bind them in place.

For the first time ever, I’ve bought a one-way ticket out of Helsinki airport. I don’t know when I’m coming back. But I am confident that while the students here can manage just fine without me, I am not entirely without skills to offer and they will be wanting some instruction again soon.

The lorry arrived to collect our stuff this morning:

Not all by myself then 🙂 Thanks again, Auri and Rami!


Mikko Kari, moving professional.

(And I would highly recommend this company, should anyone think of following us over to the UK; Mikko Kari here is a lorry-loading artist.)

My reasons for moving are many and various; the most obvious and pressing one being my mother-in-law’s health. But the justification I’ve been using is that I do not want my school to suffer from the dread disease of founderitis. You know, that horrible condition where the founder of an enterprise can’t let go, and stifles the growth and creativity of his or her creation. A part of me, I will admit, was somewhat sorry that my students in Helsinki have thrived in my absence, but, since the very first day I started teaching here, I’ve been saying that my job was to make myself redundant. It seems that I have succeeded.

But leaving Finland is much harder than I thought it would be. This is mostly because I had the homesickness reflex and attachment to place burned out of me when I was a kid. When I moved here, leaving friends I loved behind in beautiful Edinburgh, I never once suffered a pang of missing them or it. Sure I’ve kept in touch, but that ache in the space where a person used to be just didn’t happen. I don’t miss people or places. Or rather, I didn’t.

Thanks to the boarding school recovery work I’ve been doing, I’ve relearned how to feel miserable when I leave a home behind me. Remember when I wrote about defence mechanisms rusting in place? Well it seems like this one has been thoroughly WD-40d and is now working all too bloody well. This may seem like a bad thing, and indeed it sucks goats to experience it, especially as I am so out of practice at dealing with it as an adult. But it’s actually a positive development, in terms of my long-term psychological health.

I am leaving behind many lovely and wonderful people, and many places that have sunk into my sense of home. For some reason I can’t explain, coming to Finland was like having lead boots removed, ones I hadn’t known I was wearing. That itch between my shoulders became the sprouting of wings. Suddenly I could do anything, be anything. The challenge now is to retain that feeling somewhere else. And in the meantime, Finland:

Kiitos kaikista, ja nakemiin!

I am right now in Ipswich looking at potential homes for my family. I travel a lot, and have the practicalities pretty much down to a fine art, but the night before this trip I was consumed by a deep and abiding sense of dread. I feel like this the night before just about every trip away from home, but this time it was way more severe than usual. I manifest the symptoms by compulsively hunting through my home looking for that one thing that mustn’t be left behind, deciding on something, reopening my bag and packing it in, then realising there’s just one more thing missing, and rehearsing all the things that could go wrong leaving me stranded forever in some ghastly airport (because airports are filled with people who have been stuck there forever, right?).

On this trip I packed my essential swords (should I do a “what’s in my bag” video?), my essential woodworking tools, and had my oldest and most valuable books taking up all my hand luggage. These will all be left in my lovely cousin’s house near Ipswich until we move in to a place here at the end of the month. It’s a psychologically important step in the direction of leaving Finland and actually living in the UK.

The swords, tools and books took up all my weight allowance, so I had none left for random bits and pieces. But the dread was driving me and my bags were bulging before I noticed it, so I stopped, and spent a moment or two sitting with the feeling to figure out what’s going on. I travel a lot, I know what I’m doing, I’m a competent adult with a working line of credit and a large support network of family and friends; barring accidents which could happen anywhere, nothing really bad will happen. There might be problems with the car hire company; the flights might be delayed or cancelled; it might be very difficult to get the kind of home we need… but these are all trivial problems, easily conquered with patience, cash, and a little help from my friends. So what, really, was I dreading so much?

Of course. It was exactly the feeling of the last night of the holidays before being sent off on a plane back to bloody school. And the thing I was looking for to pack and take with me was the one thing I couldn’t take with me. Home. No amount of warm socks (in case it’s cold) or swimsuits (in case it’s warm) or an extra pair of shoes (just because) can fill that hole, and so the bag is never fully packed. I’m never fully equipped. Once I realised this, I could stop fidgeting with more packing and go to bed.

Dammit, I’d thought I was further along than this.

What has most concerned me about this whole boarding school thing was that it was affecting my feelings and actions for years in ways which in retrospect were wholly obvious and predictable, before I even knew it was there. Figuring out what was going on was a relief, because then I could make a plan and execute it.  It had been a field of landmines in my psyche, waiting to go off. Which begs the question, what other landmines are there yet to explode? I’ve been seeking out triggers and setting off controlled explosions, and it does seem like the problem is mostly dealt with, but this sick dread (which evaporated as soon as I got on the plane, and I’ve been fine since I got here) is an echo of the past that is still reverberating.

If you're wondering what on earth I'm talking about, you must have missed my other posts on this boarding school business (lucky you!). You can see them here:

The Price of Privilege

Dealing with it

Progress report: Letters Home, Abandonment, and the Matron effect


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