One foggy winter morning I got up early and went to Alexandra Palace. I wanted to get there around about the time of sunrise, to make the most of the morning hours when the light, if the sun was to appear, is in many ways better. I hadn’t ever seen or been to the Alexandra Palace but I had been told that it is a large Victorian building on a hill with a view over London. However, it was so foggy that coming to the station Ally Pally was not visible (if it is meant to be) from the train window. The entrance to the park was like a Victorian scene of a path leading past a tree and a lamppost in a thick mist. As I walked on a golden Labrador ran past me. Then it ran back towards his owner, who had appeared from the haze. The man said something to the dog after which it ran off again. We exchanged ‘Good mornings’ by the lamppost which was still lit and he said something on the lines of his dog being a morning person while he definitely was not. I was amused and remembered a fellow Finnish woman (who is married to an English man) saying that there is a jolliness in the British men that is very precious.
I walked through and around the park surrounded by thick white cloud and came to Alexandra Palace by surprise. I made my way around it and looked for the pedestrian road that would lead me to the opening of the Parkland Walk. Apparently, it is easy to miss.
It may be that I haven’t grown up and left the follies of my childhood days behind in the manner one is expected to do. I read the Narnia books when I was younger and have ever since secretly wished that I would, by accident, find my way to another world by similar circumstances than Lucy Pevensie who went to hide in a cupboard whilst playing with her siblings and found herself in snowy Narnia. It is perhaps directly because of the lamppost in the middle of a Narnian forest, which marked the crossing between those two worlds, that I love old lampposts so much. I have even made a semi-serious photo series of them.
It was with this kind of childish excitement that I found the graffiti covered subway leading to Parkland Walk. Its route follows the course of a railway line which used to run from Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace between 1867 and 1954. After going through Highgate Wood (with more dogs running around and their sleepy owners strolling behind them), the route continues on a path surrounded by ancient looking trees and going under several bridges. At one point the route comes to the platforms of former Crouch End station. Being easily entertained I was enthralled and walked back and forth on the platforms, in my own world, like a little girl imagining she is a secret detective.
The path came to Finsbury Park, I felt, too soon. Although there are maps clearly marking the ‘You are here’ spots at every entrance, I managed to walk to all other directions except the one I wanted to go to. For all the exploring I do by myself, I am not good at directions and reading maps. This is not a cautionary tale but just to say that one shouldn’t let one’s defaults limit oneself too much. There always is a way, like there was a way out of Finsbury Park.
Perhaps my blood sugar had dropped and was nearing the low levels which tend to lead to an existential crisis because whichever road I turned to, I found myself back in front of the underground station. All of a sudden, I got a flashback from being in a Finnish class in my teens. I remembered looking at my essay which the teacher had marked all over with a red pen. Without mentioning me by name, she said in front of the whole class that in the Finnish language no one ‘finds themselves anywhere’. She explained that this phrase was a peculiarity of the English language and not proper Finnish.
I’m not a perfectionist by nature but because I grew up knowing that I would be punished if I didn’t reach perfection. Perfectionism is really quite dull: I had shivered, unnecessarily, having remembered that the straight translation of the phrase I had thought in English, of finding myself in front of the station, was not correct in Finnish. I saw the existential crisis thickening in my shadow and decided to change plans. I would not walk to Walthamstow but take the bus instead.
To me, words are worlds; they heal, they destroy and they reveal. I often feel trapped within myself and as strenuous as it is to try to bend or find my thoughts and experiences in the syntax of language, it is redemptive too. It is also a cause of wonder to consider what our languages tell of us: how they guide the way we see the world, what we inherit from previous eras, how they shape us. For example, as it is wrong to say in Finnish that ‘I found myself here and there’ one could wonder if this experience is foreign to Finns altogether. This is not so. There are ways to describe it but none of them convey the element of surprise as acutely as their English counterpart.
I thought about all this as I ate -or wolfed down - a very hearty meal of pie and mash at L. Manze in Walthamstow, arranged on a plate with the finesse that its abundance just about allowed, and the dreary existential crisis shrank to a manageable size.
I end this text with two quotes by G.K. Chesterton, a jolly Englishman:
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
“Adventures happen on dull days, and not on sunny ones. When the chord of monotony is stretched most tight, then it breaks with a sound like song.”
© Carita Silander