GREETINGS TO ACHILL FROM THE LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN

With the new year comes new hope, new ideas, new horizons but the old year lingers on - old friends, old haunts and old hopes. Sitting at my computer in the north of Sweden thinking these rather trite thoughts, not really looking forward to returning to all the work of a new university term my mind turns to Achill. In just over four weeks I will be there again, with students of my own and others from several countries in Europe. This will be the fourth time students from Umeň university have visited Achill as part of a European programme and each time they have found the experience magical in some way that is hard to explain.

A meeting of different cultures is one of the major themes of our Achill project and a meeting there certainly is. Cultural differences quickly manifest themselves when a group of nearly thirty people from different countries have to live and work closely together for a week. But something happens, the group becomes a unit, there are even the beginnings of love affairs and when we leave we want to come back. And this year we will be back with an even bigger group of international students working on a new type of project involving the creation of a web novel. We will "write" ourselves across Europe in stories that are linked to train journeys and interlinked to each other. We have tried to write our cultures into our stories and on Achill we will all come together in some sort of synthesis.

So back to Achill - at the beginning of February. I must remember to pack all my warm underwear - the things I keep to wear on Achill - and take an extra padded waistcoat and a hat that covers my ears and comes almost down to my eyes. Why should I need all this special clothing when I must be used to the cold living in the north of Sweden, just a few hundred kilometres from the Arctic Circle? Rain! There are many similarities between here and Achill. The weather is an important factor in both our lives. A force to be taken seriously. The wind and the rain of Achill are like the wind and the snow of Lappland. We have had a very wet autumn with no snow, grey skies and darkness. Outside the town the landscape reminded me of Achill, except that we have more trees and the Baltic Sea is a very tame relation to the Atlantic Ocean. But the rain was the same, wet and driving. We are not used to it. Around December we should have crisp snow, to lighten the dark and to give us a surface to ski and sledge on. Our clothes are made for cold - not wet; puddles are not as much fun as snow. Then on Christmas Day it snowed and it has been snowing ever since. But that's OK, we can still drive our cars, the buses run, the few trains we have are not delayed; this is what we are used to. This kind of weather is our kind of weather - just like the rain is Achill kind of weather. We are both happy when the sun comes out but we can survive if it stays behind the clouds. We both know you cannot fight the weather, you can only accept it and enjoy it. So once again we will enjoy February on Achill - perhaps there will be a gale this year.

There is something else that is similar between Achill and Umeň and that is the closeness to nature. The northern parts of this area have been called Europe's last wilderness. There is a feeling of freedom from people and cities. There is space. I know that Achill is not so uninhabited as much of northern Sweden but it has the same kind of feel to it. The landscape dominates, people are reduced to insignificance. The forces of nature are so much more apparent than forces of humanity. But then people work in a different way - think of the power of the Internet. That is a force both in northern Sweden and Achill that is working to achieve incredible change. It will not be like earlier changes, when new economic systems built cities and emptied Achill and northern Sweden of their populations, sending them to America to make their fortunes. It will be a change in people's minds, hopefully for the better. The students and leaders coming to Achill in February represent part of this change. Without the Internet we could never have run such a project, we could not have pooled our creativity in such a way. We are using the metaphor of the train, a symbol of the last great change, to carry us into the world of communication in cyberspace! But it's an interesting thought that the railway tracks stop short of the bridge to Achill , that no railway was ever built to the inland areas of northern Sweden (except to serve the ore mines in Kirunna) and that there is only one train a day to Stockholm but there are four or five planes. Perhaps we will have to rely on our internet train for our communications in the future! Perhaps we will meet you on it?

Pat Shrimpton

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