Sweet Molly Malone's: The very real Irish-themed pub at 1C Kaisaniemenkatu, Helsinki. Setting for Anni's and Mikko's fictional conversation about New Zealand's most undiplomatic politician, Gerry Brownlee.
THE BRIGHT SPRING SUNSHINE flooded down Kaisaniemenkatu, throwing Anni’s shadow before her and transforming the dark-green exterior of Molly Malone’s into an emerald jewel among all the dark-brown brick of the surrounding buildings. Irish-themed pubs had enjoyed a brief craze in Helsinki, as they had all over the world. Molly’s was one of the few that had survived.
Mikko, Anni’s boyfriend, lifted his half-empty pint of Guinness by way of greeting as she sat herself down at one of the little tables set outside the pub’s front door.
“Terve Anni!”, said the young engineering student, “I’ve ordered you a white wine, is that okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s good, Mikko, as long as it’s not from New Zealand!”
Mikko laughed. “No, no, I made sure the bottle had a Russian label!”
Anni frowned. “Whoever would have thought Finns might one day prefer something Russian over something from ‘clean, green’, New Zealand?”
“Yes, well, the Winter War was seventy years ago”, Mikko replied. “New Zealand’s insults are barely a week old.”
“Whatever did we do to deserve them? That’s what I can’t understand. New Zealand’s on the other side of the world. What on earth did we do to offend them?”
Mikko took another sip of his Guinness. “We didn’t do anything, Anni. It was all political, apparently.”
“Yes. It seems that the New Zealand social-democratic party – they call themselves ‘Labour’ over there – has elected itself a new leader; a fellow named Shearer.”
Anni giggled. “Shearer? As in sheep-shearer? How appropriate!”
“Quite” said Mikko, acknowledging his girlfriend’s witticism. “And it seems this Shearer fellow is a big admirer of Finland: praised us to the skies in his first big speech.”
“Really? So why all the insults?”
“Shhh, I’m getting to that. But first, guess who Shearer singled out for special praise?”
“You have to be joking? Aho? The Kannuksen Kennedy? My Dad hated Aho. Reckoned he was a really arrogant bastard – always going on about making the ‘tough decisions’, except the people on the receiving end never seemed to include his wealthy mates. No surprise that he ended up working for Nokia.”
“Yep, that’s the guy. I can’t help thinking that this Shearer fellow must have been told a whole lot of nonsense about Aho. I mean he was elected just before the Soviet Union imploded and the economy tanked. About the only thing he’s remembered for is taking us into the European Union – which anyone who was Prime Minister at the time would have done. Apart from that he was just another Centre Party chancer in an expensive suit.”
“And wasn’t he voted out at the very next election?”
“He sure was.”
“And didn’t he lose to Tarja Halonen in the 2000 presidential elections?”
“He sure did, which is ironic, given the New Zealand government minister’s accusation that we Finns are all sexists.”
“Of course!” snorted Anni. “Because everyone knows that electing a woman president and a woman prime-minister are sure signs of a country that hates women! So who is this minister who threw all the dirt at us?”
“Big man, name of Gerry Brownlee. I googled him. Turns out he’s an ex-woodwork teacher from Christchurch – you remember, the city that had the big earthquake?”
“Well he’s a minister in the National Party government of John Key.”
“National Party? Like Kokoomus?”
“Yes, very similar to our own liberal-conservatives – but, perhaps, not quite so sophisticated, eh?”
“You can say that again!” Anni laughed. “If this Brownlee fellow is the best they can do, they should probably let their sheep run for parliament!”
“Could hardly do worse!”
“Perhaps he took one of those Bunji jumps – and the rubber band broke?”
“He is a b-i-g man.”
“Landed on his head!”
“Thickest part of his body!”
“No harm done then!”
The laughter of two young Finns eventually subsided. They sipped their drinks, basked in the thin spring sunshine of a Helsinki morning, and talked about more important things.
This short story was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Otago Daily Times, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 30 March 2012.