Just outside many houses and apartment blocks throughout Estonia you might see triangular metal frames, fixed to the ground next to the trash bins or under a tree.  Rusty but sturdy, they resemble children’s swings but without the seat, and seem to be a bit of throwback to an earlier time when people had perhaps more time for diligent household chores – they are in fact frames for hanging rugs and carpets on, to facilitate cleaning them by a good old strenuous beating!

The first time I did this was not without a degree of nervousness.  Carpet beating is a noisy activity and I was suddenly conscious of my tentative strokes thudding loudly across the yard and echoing stridently from the other apartment blocks.  This was Estonia after all, whose inhabitants value their peace and silence – and here was this Englishman, thrashing inexpertly at a very heavy and ornate rug, suddenly feeling extremely self-conscious at making such a din!   It is no accident that Estonians sometimes refer to modern dance and techno as “carpet beating music”, and not in a positive light I suspect.

I stopped for a rest – this is surprisingly hard work! – and while speculating that the vacuum cleaner could do this job just as well and a lot more easily, realised several things.   Firstly, nobody was complaining.  Someone must have done this stuff before; I was certainly not the first and the old frame was here for just such a reason, situated rather pleasantly under a beautiful birch tree that was just beginning to turn gold as autumn approached.  There were no angry looks, or even any curious ones.

Secondly, it really was a lovely morning and the sun was warm and golden on my arms and face.  I could see the clouds of dust billowing copiously from the suspended carpet, dancing in the sunlight, seemingly never-ending no matter how many times I beat the thing.  If it had been cloudy weather, I might never have seen any dust and finished the job a lot sooner but not so effectively.  I started to doubt whether the vacuum cleaner would even be as effective as I was….   our machine was not the best and in fact really sucked.   In any event I was now enjoying the exercise and the feeling of movement, moving to a new area only when the sunlight no longer revealed anymore dancing dust.

Thirdly – thump thump thump……   I was thinking about techno rhythms being described as “carpet beating” when I noticed that the closer to the rail I hit the carpet, the higher in pitch the resulting impact… it was much deeper when I struck lower down.

High up I had a “Pa Pa Pa” sound.  Further down there was a deeper “Poom Poom”, and on the very edge I played a deep wobbly “POOM!” In effect I had a carpet drum, a sort of dull gong made of cloth and fibre.    Maybe it would be a good idea to reward any listeners and watchers – although my fears had been groundless and the neighbours had not appeared to listen, appraise or grumble – with some more than usually melodic and rhythmic approaches to outdoor dust removal.   Once a drummer, maybe always!

Top to bottom:  “Pa pa pa poom Boom BOOM!”  “Pa pa pa poom poom BOOM BOOM POOM!”

“Pa pa pa pa boom boom bediddly POOM PASH!”  – although you need two hands for this one.   The answering echo is very rewarding however, almost achieving a kind of Steve Reich-like phase shift.

It is sadly too wet for carpet beating now that autumn is fully here, although the heating has gently started up at last, almost imperceptibly shifting the indoor air to a no-longer-cold state.   Maybe I will have to buy a small drum instead.


When I moved to Tartu in June, it was simply not an issue but I had been warned about Estonia’s generally colder climate in comparison with the UK, and I was optimistic when I saw the sturdy radiators and metre thick walls of the apartment.   I may have yet to learn otherwise but I have a fondness for winter light and the low daubs of sunshine that cast long and detailed shadows and an early walk in crisp, cold air has always been a pleasure for me, and so I look forward to my first Nordic winter…

The early days of September proved to be already rather cold, however, and indoors it quickly became very chilly.  I looked round for the central heating controls – and discovered that there weren’t any.  “You may be part of the city-wide heating grid,” my partner told me.  “Basically, there is some sort of central system with underground pipes and pumps supplying hot water to many buildings, and it might be about now that they turn it on”.

A call to the system’s managers revealed that this was not the case for our apartment.  The building we were in had its own system after all and was not part of the city grid.  My colleague at school began telling me how snug and warm he was – the city-wide system was already operating nicely for him and he surely looked healthy and cosy!  Becoming almost desperate to be warm again, I realised we needed to talk to the guy we rented the apartment from, maybe he would kindly show some sympathy to this shivering expat from a country where winter is simply a case of it getting dark a little bit earlier, and switch on the boiler.

In the meantime, I utilised my thick quilted jacket and thermal leggings while watching movies and eating plenty of warm soup, as the temperature slowly dropped even further.  I realised at this point that the insulation in the walls was of such superlatively high quality that the cold and increasingly damp air had no chance of escaping to the outside.

My “landlord” was helpful but didn’t really have any information.  He had never lived here himself, and didn’t know how to start the heating, but there was a woman, somewhere, who was part of the resident’s association for the building who might be able to do it.   Anyway, it would start at some point, maybe when the outside and inside temperatures were in equilibrium.  The inside temperature would have to go up for that to happen.

After a few more days I bravely ventured outside to check for any mail and noticed the air was unexpectedly warm – maybe ten or eleven degrees… this took some time to register because it was the last thing I was expecting to happen, like the feeling of liberation one gets when the traffic starts to move again on the M25 near London, for example.   But the paradox became a solution… if I opened all the windows, things warmed up nicely in here!  It took some time, for the insulation was doing its job beautifully.  I have sometimes heard it said that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong choice of clothing – and my quilted jacket and thermals are close at hand, but in this bonus Indian Summer of 13 degrees, the answer does seem to be – if you want to stay warm in Estonia during the autumn, open the windows!