Night in an Igloo

I often notice that spending a night in an igloo is on quite a few people’s bucket lists…and I think it’s clear why this may be; after all it’s out of the ordinary, a one off experience, and at the very least there’s potential for fun (if not frostbite and/or hypothermia.) 

As children we see drawings, cartoons, and photographs of these strange and snowy lands…and the igloo is a constant if not integral feature of this setup – it fills young and old minds alike with wonder as to whether the inside is warm and toasty…despite being made completely of chunky slabs of ice.  I mean surely it is right, or how would people survive the bitter cold?!

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Well while I was in Finland I was lucky enough to get to spend a night in one…it was a now or never situation as soon the slightly hotter March temperatures would melt them to the ground. So of course it was a yes without much hesitation. I  had some slight reservations mind you, so I piled on all of the clothes I had just in case (glad I did), from socks, to long-johns…hats, scarves, gloves…jackets, body warmers – the lot! I ended up looking like a cross between the Michelin man and a greasy German sausage; the only skin showing being my pink chubby face  and my constantly snivelling wet dog-like nose…

I went in with a friend I worked with, and my older sister: and we began to note how the outside looked rather bizarre, like a goblin barbarian camp – not sure where that idea came from, but it just looked otherworldly, you know? A long way from the winding uniform streets of my hometown,  the clanging of old clock towers, and the hustle and bustle of the bus schedules. Here there were strange ice huts, looking completely different to the post-card type of igloos my imagination had always held on to…instead they were draped in the skins of dead animals, and held together with strange sharpened wood…I could have sworn I had witnessed something similar in one of The Lord of the Rings movies – but anyway, I digress…

I was first into the igloo and threw myself straight into the center – meaning I was going to be a lovely cosy hamburger pattie with two agitated (and rather jealous) human bread-buns on either side…I had to ignore that and think of the bigger picture though: there was now a much lower chance of me freezing to death that night – try not to judge please, sometimes in the arctic wilderness you have to be savage like that:

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The inside was just as bizarre as the outside and almost as cold; so I got straight into a sleeping bag still fully clothed like Joey on that episode of Friends – and then from my little cocoon surveyed the whole area…as my sister kicked me in the side and made every excuse under the sun as to why she should get to be in the middle as opposed to me. No sale. 

The place was adorned with even more animal skins, and there were a number of candles scattered sporadically around the outer ring – probably serving as both ways to warm as well as to add a little more quaint beauty to the otherwise sinister looking unlicensed fur store…I mean sure they were relatively comfy, but it made me feel slightly sadistic to be lying on Rudolph and all of his other now dead pals…

Anyway, I tried to forget about how some of Christmas had died just to keep my bum comfortable – and actually started to warm up a little…was still shivering though – so we passed around a bottle of the Finish spirit Minttu, hoping slurps of it’s 40% alcohol charm may work wonders and ease some the discomfort. It sort of did…we then fell asleep sometime after that whilst talking about the stars, the animal furs, and of course – the horrendous cold which was mostly all we could think about:

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I woke up the next morning warm and toasty though! Well all apart from that small opening I had for my face…which was now covered in frost on my eyelashes, and bogey icicles from my nose – but hey, at least the rest of me was okay – who needs a face anyway?  Not me!

But there was one monumental problem…I had to pee…desperately. And that would mean both going outside and leaving my lovely cosy cocoon, as well as potentially losing out on my commanding human hamburger position – this could not happen, no way…there was just too much on the line, the pee would have to wait. So I thought of other things…like…snow, ice, water…and…urgh…forget it…

As soon as I stepped out the -20°C temperatures hit me like a steam train and I knew that there was no getting back to my previous state – the other two were up now anyway, complaining about me leaving the door open (ooops) and the fact that they had to go to work in ten minutes…whereas I had managed to arrange a late start: “you sneaky bastard! How did you get that?! Totally not fair!” – this meant I could get my stuff together, brush off all of the animal hair (which was no small task!) and head back to the “Santa House”
as it was known, and get some solid sleep in a real bed…within, you know: four solid non-ice walls.

Sometimes it’s the little things in life. Like, not dying of hypothermia. Know what I mean? Still a fun experience and one I would recommend to anyone! But…just make sure you pack a bottle or two of that Minttu, it really does work wonders.

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Saunas, and Snowballs

I’m not such a confident guy, which may shock you to hear. Or perhaps not if you’ve watched any of my YouTube videos, considered how I may come off around normal people – and then put two and two together. If that means you, then well done – you cracked the DaJohnvi Code! Congratulations!

Apologies but there’s no formal prize as such – my budget is tight – but feel free to create your own certificate on Microsoft Paint, and then put it up on your fridge for everyone to see. I recommend using a nice font so people know it’s real and not just some bogus accolade made up on some rambling article in the darkest depths of the internet. They’re the worst, and I doubt anyone will want to see it in a job interview…I mean you never know…but in this case – yeah actually, we know.

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What am I even talking about?! Oh yeah…so confidence, yeah – it’s a little low but I’m getting better. However I must say I’m certainly nowhere near the narcissistic extrovert level I feel is necessary to  prosper in the world these days. I’m definitely not the type to jump out of a plane (unless it’s on fire and there’s a giant marshmallow at the bottom), or tease sharks with promises of cocktail sausages by running through their homes on a spontaneous skinny dipping spree, or…well, come to think of it I wouldn’t even mention it if the waiter gave me the wrong order at a restaurant. I’d just sit there and knuckle down like a prison lifer…shoveling the wretched artichoke and beetroot paella down my throat, pretending everything is fine and that the cheese smothered chicken with extra bacon didn’t sound good at all.

I’d probably even leave a tip and a nice review on their website.

So when I was in Finland a couple of years ago, it was in essence my own personal nightmare to hear of their tradition regarding saunas – which is basically to be completely nude, (or as I like to call it “making close-friends with gravity”) and then to flee out into the arctic expanse and throw your reddened steamy body into a pile of snow. You then run back to the sauna, and repeat, repeat, repeat until you either get bored or die of frostbite.

Some may call this stupidity, the actions of a madman, that only a raving lunatic would act in such a way…and yes I would be prone to agree. But I also think it takes a special brand of confidence to delve into such an act willy-nilly; and I also think it is rather self-evident that you need true metaphorical balls to put your actual balls in such obvious danger. And I’m afraid to note I don’t have those – the metaphorical ones I mean.

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“But it’s the culture…you should at least try it once, just to be polite!” Or at least that’s what everyone suddenly turns and says to you when you attempt to quietly back out of such a thing. Which leaves you with only two options sadly; to take part in the hideous event after all, or to strangle those who are kicking up such a fuss and hope no one will ever find you in your igloo safe-house bunker.

So EVENTUALLY I’m in the sauna, OBVIOUSLY. Looking at my feet as it’s the least threatening portion of nudity on display; breathing in and out – whilst wondering if its okay to be filling my lungs with the greasy sweat vapor of such a large group of strangers. I mean won’t it make my breath smell like an armpit? And another person’s armpit at that…surely that can’t be good…right? And wait, will I have to use deodorant as mouthwash from now on?! So many vital questions, and yet no one to ask…

But my important thoughts are interrupted when a rather dangly man stands up and gestures to me as if to say “it’s time”. He’s middle aged…forty something, rather short and with an admirable beer belly – I wouldn’t have known it by looking at him, but the man was a pro at the whole procedure. You see, the stairs were freezing in comparison to the dense heat of the sauna, but he wasted absolutely no time complaining and zipped up with lightning speed…meanwhile I followed after him, attempting to forget the flashes of bum hole hair I had just witnessed against my will.

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He jammed open the heavy door to the icy tundra…as a shiver ran all through my body – it wasn’t exactly surprising to experience how uncomfortable it was to be fully naked in the arctic circle, where it is regularly -50ish…but it did make me wonder even more why this cultural practice was even a thing at all. “5, 4…” he began without warning, whilst readying himself for his jump and encouraging me to do the same, “…3, 2…” I could see the eagerness in his eyes, but I could also feel the unwillingness of any part of myself to go through such extreme pain…“1, GOAAAAHHH!” 

He leaped, I didn’t. Instead I stood there glued to the spot, staring down at this balding starfish, and his wide gaping butt crack. His head turned to look for me, holding an expression tarnished by my betrayal. I put this to the back of my mind, and darted back down the stairs…slipping in my hurry and slamming my nude body rather clumsily across solid unforgiving concrete. Which yeah, served me right I suppose. 

And although I ended up with a bruised left buttock, and that fella didn’t ever really talk to me properly again after my Judas moment…as far as I know I can still have children at some point which I feel would have been under a lot of scrutiny had I went ahead with Operation Ice Testes-test. So you know what? I feel pretty confident I made the right decision, and that’s good enough for me.

But for what it’s worth, sorry Csaba! I’ll do it next time…promise!

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The Shining (Finland)

Finland – Lapland ~ 2013

You know in The Shining? When Jack Nicholson goes a little bit bonkers (to put it very gently), due to being cut off in the middle of nowhere? And you are left wondering whether the character was always a little bit crazy, or if the icy conditions turned him that way…well yeah, so I used to think that was an interesting story and great film (like the rest of the world!), but I didn’t rank it as a real life documentary study on mental health. That is…until I spent a few months in the wintry tundra of Finland last year…

Let me explain. You see this lodge really was in the middle of nowhere, with snow as far as the eye can see and only a few other buildings in the surrounding area. That means that employees were flown in to an airport in Sweden, and then drove to this log cabin to begin their toil…which was basically slaving away so that rich white people can enjoy a manufactured “get away from it all” experience. An obvious paradox, but that is not what this is about! Anyway, the food there was pretty uninspired, after all the kitchen staff had a limited stock of frozen items and were expected to whip up some kind of Parisian masterpiece three times a day, the guests always complained…I felt like telling them, “listen wrinkles! If you think YOURS is bad, then what slop do you think we get?!” But I refrained, over and over and over again…my fake smile becoming more and more strained as the days went on…

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But there was light at the end of the tunnel! I heard that a new head chef was coming, and that he had all of these awards, and used to run a five star restaurant, and could fly, and make chocolate come out of the taps…basically people said this guy would revolutionize things, and we might get something more wholesome than reheated crispy spaghetti from four days ago. I wasn’t going to hold my breath. But you know what? He did! As soon as this cheeky Scottish chappie came bouncing through the door the food was markedly better, it had…it had…TASTE! I am not sure what he was doing, but it was working! By the end of his first dinner time he had already won over our taste-buds and our hearts! But unfortunately…the good times didn’t last forever, it was only a couple of weeks in to his tenure that he started falling apart, first he would scream at the other staff like a Gordon Ramsey wannabe, but then he became more extreme and odd in his behavior…one time he argued with me about the vegetarian option (which was fish?!?!) in ear shot of a customer who had requested it “HUUU IZ IT? THE FAT LESBIAN OUT THERE? SHE’S NOH A VEGETARIAN NEE WAY!” and another time I did a stock check of my bar and noticed two bottles of wine had vanished…I put two and two together when he was an hour late for cooking breakfast the next morning! Then there are the sexist comments, the racist comments, the…okay. There are a lot I could list, but suffice to say that he regularly made the waitresses cry and effectively made a shitty situation even shittier for just about everyone.

He was a prick, basically, but I certainly wasn’t expecting him to turn full scale mad. But one day his walls of sanity came crumbling down before our very eyes…he was late for breakfast as per usual, which is a bit of an issue when, errr…guests at the hotel expect to be fed in the morning…anyway, he started F’n this and F’n that – nothing unusual, sure. But then he decided to tell ANYONE who came in the kitchen to “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FUCKING KITCHEN, IT’S MINE”…well this was a slight issue, as what this Gollum-esque character had neglected to realize, is that waiters and waitresses needed to come in to fetch the food out…of course very quickly there were complaints from just about everyone sitting in the restaurant, both about the fact that they were not getting any form of service, but also about the manically loaded and profanity driven language that was coming out of the kitchen! I’m sure I saw an older couple hiding under a table…and a lady kneeling saying some holy Mary’s. Eventually the big boss was called. You seriously don’t mess with this bitch…I don’t use this term loosely; trust me she was the dictionary definition. She once asked me for water with ice, and when I gave it to her she said “what is this? Don’t you know I want three ice cubes, not four?” Basically, this was set to be an ultimate encounter of the most thrilling kind! “Errr, Chef – excuzzz-“ “GETTT THE FUCK OUTTA MY KITCHEN!”

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Excited gasps from everyone. “What?! No, you don-“ “GETT THE FUCK OUT. THIS IS MINE. YOU STAY IN YOURS.” More excited gasps from everyone – possibly an “oooooh!” “I am the-“ “I RUN THIS, THIS IS MY AREEEEEEE-NAH!” And so it went on, until he stormed off in a red faced huff. Afterwards everyone looked very sheepish, and the guests still hadn’t been fed. So what happened? Well, the boss was forced to roll up her sleeves and whisk the eggs and fry the bacon herself! Of course the waiting staff had a fun morning, they shared “OOOOOHHMYGOD” glances at each other and whispered rumors when they had a spare second; it certainly broke the usual monotony of stacking sloppy plates, that’s for sure! But the story isn’t over my friends, not yet! Naturally this guy was fired immediately, I mean it was way overdue, but the bosses were forced to let a lot slide, as it is a pain to get a new chef all the way out to the Lapland wilds! Anyway, I guess this big kick off was the final straw, as they couldn’t not fire him. So as was routine in these situations he was asked to clear up his things and hop in the van with Kosta, who would drive him to Sweden where he would have to make his own flight arrangements…but, you see this wasn’t possible…he said he had literally no money, at all. So what did he do? Did he call someone to try and help him out? Did he apologise and attempt to win his job back somehow. Well, no. Obviously not. Instead, as they neared the small airport he took out his chef’s knife set, unrolled it, and held the largest blade to the driver’s neck… “I’M NOH FUCKIN’ GOIN ANYWHERRRR!”

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(Dramatic pause) “I’M NOHH GOIN TILL YA BOOK ME A FLIGH AN GIV ME ME MONEY!” Well…of course he had went insane. Blame it on the weather, blame it on the situation, or errr, blame it on his brain…but either way, this guy had well and truly lost his marbles. But the driver, in a stroke of agility and genius, simply waited for a window of opportunity during one of his garbled ramblings, and slid out of the door – slammed it shut – and locked it from the outside with his keys. Phew, done. Feeling betrayed and even more furious than before, the now imprisoned chef unleashed a second knife, and started to slash violently at the dashboard, the steering wheel, the windows, everything…”RARRRRRRRR, I”LL KILLLLLLL YAHHHHHHH!” All while the Bulgarian driver (who spoke very little English, never mind anything with a thick Scottish accent) watched on, and finally opted to phone the police.

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(He never did tell me what he said whilst on the phone to the authorities…I mean…where would you start?!) “Hi…yeah…I have a guy in my van here. Yeah – little worried, he is violently slashing and stabbing at my dashboard…a-ha…that’s right….okay, so now he is biting and wrestling with the air bag…errr…can you come quick? Please?” So anyway, there we have it people! The Shining is real. Jack Nicholson really should be more vocal about it…after all, it could happen to YOU!

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Frozen (Sweden)

Sweden – Karesuando ~ 2013

“Live a little” – what does that phrase conjure up in your mind? For me it used to be something I would attribute to getting out, and doing things, experiencing, you know…living. I thought it was usually coupled with things that are a little reckless, or less than mature – for example; perhaps you may think it is a bad idea to have another ten drinks when you have work the next day, “live a little!” your moronic friend will cry…and you do it. Or maybe someone suggests you go on holiday with them, but you really think it is best for you to make the rent payments you owe – “live a little!” says the friend with no money-worries, and therefore no understanding of what you are going through. AND YOU STILL DO IT.

Well sometimes you do, it feels good to throw caution to the wind sometimes – just to do something, even though you know it is stupid…perhaps it is the fact you are going against societal expectations? You are acting out of character for a split second – so for a moment you feel free, as if you are in complete control of your choices…then the next morning happens. Shit. All that responsibility starts flooding back…hello, old friend. 

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Anyway, this is a story of one of those times – those silly moments where you go against your better judgement, and just act irrationally for a change…it feels good! Then it feels terrible! Then…well, just have a read, then you’ll understand:

Continue reading “Frozen (Sweden)”

Amazons on Ice (Norway)

Norway ~ Tromsø – 2013

Despite bitterly cold temperatures that leave your extremities feeling like ice cubes, Norway regularly scores in the top two or three when it comes to “happiness” scores…not sure how they actually work those things out – I assume it is more technical than walking up to people with a clipboard and asking “ARE YOU HAPPY?! NO LIKE…ARE YOU QUITE HAPPY – OR LIKE REALLY, REALLY HAPPY?” Or maybe that is how they do it – answers on a postcard please. The thing is, happiness is of course subjective, so how can you possibly throw it on a scale? You see spending a day lying on a sofa ,dipping marshmallow into hot cocoa before shoving it in my face, all the while having someone massaging my feet – would make me the happiest man on earth (in my book), however you may get the same level of happiness from say…something completely the opposite…like…giving a homeless man chocolate coins and hiding around a corner to wait for his reaction, or hitting a pensioner with a French baguette – I mean, I personally would say you are deeply disturbed due to those desires, and need to seek psychiatric help…but my point is, our happiness comes from different places, so I am not sure I trust a scientific happiness algorithm.

Continue reading “Amazons on Ice (Norway)”