Dan Kelsall


Communication Series #14:
‘Joseph Allinson Introduces a Story He Wrote in Finland’

For my last piece I’d like to change the tone a bit, and introduce a story which has got real emotional resonance for me. I’m a bit nervous because I’ve never read it in public before, so bear with me.

Some of you might know that back in 2002 I lived in Helsinki for a few months, and I wrote a lot while I was out there. I used to get accused of not taking writing seriously enough – an American expat I knew at the time, called James Babcock, actually told me that I was (and I quote) “incapable of sincerity”. Whenever I tried to produce something honest and meaningful it always just turned out kind of pretentious and empty.

Anyway, I’m working as a bellboy for a big Radisson hotel near the airport, carrying people’s bags around all day, and I’ve got nothing to occupy my mind, so I decide to keep a sort of diary of the people I meet, things I hear, you know. Obviously most of it’s uninspiring rubbish – most of the guests are just ordinary businessmen, with nothing very exciting to say.

After a couple of weeks of keeping this diary, I was just about ready to give it up as a lost cause, when one day this group of Norwegians came wandering into the hotel, and ended up giving me the basis for a piece of writing I could never have made up myself.

Every word of the story is true, which I think gives it a kind of emotional validity. When I read it to my mum last year, who’s usually my harshest critic, she said: “it’s certainly the most mature thing you’ve written – not as silly as some of your stuff. You’ve managed to overcome your own self-awareness and write something with real pathos.” So there you go. I wanted to read one more quote to you, which is from the poet Simon Armitage, who is a friend of my uncle. My uncle actually sent the story to him without telling me, and Armitage wrote back describing it as: “haunting and disturbing.” He also said: “the humour actually has a purpose – it gives the reader a sense of how life can display its best and worst traits at the same moment.” I’m very proud of that quote.

So this is the short story based on what I saw and heard at the hotel. It’s called ‘Pomegranate Odyssey’.