January 2018

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Well, now we have all that nonsense behind us, we can get on with 2018. A new year with new opportunities! Anybody any idea what the hell it might hold for us?

Me neither.

We all moaned about 2016 because all our heroes died and then 2017 just seemed like one endless storm of runny shit so, if the trend persists, we probably need to invest in some wet-wipes and source ourselves a ready supply of anti-depressants.

The banner photo above was taken in Reykjavik in 2014. I was casually looking through my Flickr account and suddenly came across all the photos I took. It struck me how wonderfully positive, friendly and healthy the place was. I was reluctant to go at first (couldn’t see how I would achieve a sun-tan or how my disco shorts would fit in with the holiday) but I absolutely loved it. I have only good memories from there and even managed to get up close and intimate with a model that had been on the cover of Vogue and also been in Game of Thrones.

Asdsc01659_32792045951_o I say, the place is amazing, with some truly wonderful things to see. The Sun Voyager, sculpted by Jón Gunnar Árnason, is made of solid steel and stares proudly out at the cold Atlantic. There is a grace and beauty and delicacy about this structure that is hard to explain. I’ve touched it and it’s hard and cold (as you would expect!). For me, it epitomises the country and the people. Because, if one thing is for certain, you don’t bugger Icelanders about. On October 24th 1975 an estimated ninety percent of Icelandic women refused to work, cook or clean in protest of low pay and low value in society. Rather than call it a strike it was referred to as ‘a day off.’ Iceland today is one of the fairest societies on the planet. It didn’t work straight away but it has now been ranked as the number one country for gender equality for the past seven years.

Don’t be fooled by these two photos though. It is far from grey and colourless. As I dsc01724_32792268021_odiscovered while wandering around looking for a beer. High up towards the famous Hallgrímskirkja church is a bar dedicated to my favourite film of all time: The Big Lebowski. An amazing place with a bowling lane on the wall, Time mirrors in the toilets, a huge screen playing the film in a constant loop and a bar serving white Russians. Incredibly friendly, too. We were made to feel completely welcome and I was recommended a beer by a young guy working behind the bar. I asked him how the brew was pronounced and he laughed and told me that I wouldn’t be able to say it. I asked to be indulged and he was right, my mouth and throat and tongue just couldn’t do it.

And, speaking of beer, although we enjoy going to new places around the world and discovering new cultures and foods, we aren’t exactly wealthy, so we often have to feed ourselves and have a drink in wherever we’re staying. It’s no bad thing; we like each other’s company. However, Reykjavik proved slightly problematic. We found supermarkets and bought bread and cheese and salad but we couldn’t find any beer or wine. It was bizarre. I thought I’d struck gold in one place only to discover it was alcohol-free. It was a puzzle. We needed help. We found a beautiful log cabin in the centre where you could book outdoor activities: climbing, skiing, canoeing and the like. There were two large, healthy, bearded men in their thirties standing behind a counter surrounded by pictures of people doing things that looked dangerous.

I approached the two guys while trying to imagine what they were thinking: who is this slightly over-weight, middle-aged man and what would he want from here? I approached slowly and asked if it would be okay to ask a stupid question. They laughed and assured me it would be fine. I plucked up some courage. ‘Where can I buy beer from?’ They thought it was hilarious. But their hilarity was nothing compared to the answer – from the government alcohol shop. Yes, they have one shop, controlled by the government, where you have to buy beer, wines and spirits. They told us exactly where it was and off we went. I have never felt so aware of my alcoholic tendencies than I was entering that government off-licence.

dsc01757_32073904714_oI said it was a place of beauty. What could illustrate that more than the sculpture at the airport? It’s known as the Jet Nest and was designed by Magnús Tómasson. Although you can’t see it in the picture, the stones sit in a floodlit pond. And the thing that is breaking out of the egg is actually the tip of a jet’s wing. I think it is inspirational and incredibly beautiful. It reminds me of the Sun Voyager with its clean lines and its ability to create a personal narrative for anyone who cares to spend time looking and thinking. It’s sort of obvious what it is (like the ship) but is ultimately open to any interpretation put upon it.

And now, about that model that I was talking about. First of all, it was a male model. Nevertheless, I did still get up close and personal. He was also only just over a metre tall so not the largest model you’ve ever come across. Taller than Warwick Davis mind you! dsc01706_32915909725_oHe is a supremely impressive specimen and handsome as they come. He took care of me in temperatures I barely want to think about and carried me across miles of Icelandic moors. He didn’t complain once and even suffered my incompetence at climbing up and onto him like a crippled chimp. Here is a picture of Sedill (Sethikl) and me together in Reykjanesfólkvangur Park. I tried telling him how I’d played Macduff, Touchstone, Feste and Thomas Mendip over the years but he was clearly disinterested. I will never be on the cover of Vogue and I will never be in Game of Thrones. However, if I find myself back in Iceland then I will definitely look up my old friend Sedill.

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