Hail to the land of volcanic rubble and burnt spots

I mean ice and fire, obviously. To wit, Iceland.

I’m not in Iceland now. I’m in Australia, settling back into my daily routine of gazing forlornly at all the things that need work they’re not going to get – for various reasons – and going to bed early with Netflix and (currently) a re-read of Dune.

Iceland is where you, my beloved son, belong. It’s true that in the season of darkness you’d probably have locked yourself in with your computer, as was your wont, and worried about stuff. But…the men look just like you, with their fine-boned Viking faces and their beautiful skin and their bigness. You’d have liked the chilly summers – 16% in its better moods – and the sweeping volcanic mountains and the glaciers and the stark, ominous beaches with their ice-grey waves and black sand. You’d have appreciated the orderliness – no rug-sellers and personal space-invaders here. You’d have liked the serenity of it. In your next life, my darling one, may you be an Icelander.

Not that I saw the glaciers, mind you. I only had three days. The first I spent in Reykjavik, a friendly ghost town with corrugated steel houses in tasteful shades of pale blue and red and orderly, empty roads. There IS a centre but it feels more like a village than a city; a square, a couple of streets, one painted with rainbow stripes to signal Iceland’s sympathy with the alphabet community. The second day I took one of those big bus tours much favoured by middle aged Americans – in fact the people sitting next to me were retired Exxon-Mobil employees, reaping their reward for the quiet rape of obscure African countries. We went to Thingvellir (written in Icelandic script as ‘Pingvellir’) where ancient Icelanders met to sort out their issues and chat up girls. It was pleasantly anarchistic. If you were convicted of murder, for instance, by the Althing, they wouldn’t execute you – they’d just tell the relatives of your victim, well mate, he’s yours now, do as you see fit. Christianity got Iceland in 1000AD and by the 1500s they were drowning single mothers in sacks and beheading people. The photo below of the rock with a flag on it is where the Lawmaker used to sit, intoning (from memory) all the relevant laws and regulations. Luckily for him the EU hadn’t been invented yet (I’ve just been reading their impenetrable regulations on travel arrangements for kittens).

On my last day I went to the Saga Museum, hoping to hear some recorded bard with a voice of honeyed silver intone bits from Naal’s Saga (which my brother read to me when I was ten or so) or maybe Egil’s Saga, even…but it was just a bunch of dioramas of Vikings doing Viking things, like kill each other and sharpen their axes. I did, however, learn of the existence of Snorri Sturluson, 11th century politician, poet and historian extraordinaire – it’s to him that we owe a lot of what we know about Norse mythology. Sadly he was assassinated on the orders of the King of Norway. Apologise, you bastards!

I should also mention – leaving Iceland for a moment – that I’ve changed my opinion about the Irish. I used to think they were basically lizard people with a certain oily charm (based on an unhappy year in Dublin). But having spent a week or so driving about Eire – a country littered with romantic ruins and hedges and blessed with a natural environment so cowed by its human inhabitants it’s now little more than a slightly overgrown golf course – with my sister and daughter, I realise the error of my ways. The Irish are chatty, witty, friendly, quirky, and largely unintelligible. They still have really terrible supermarkets though, and I don’t really like Yeats.

And that’s it – no more travel blogging until next time. Which, since my daughter is studying in Budapest, might be sooner rather than later.


  1. Thanks for sharing. Your explanation of “Thing” reminded me that I regularly drive through a place called Thingwall, on The Wirral, here in the UK. They have an info plate explaining the meeting place roots.

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