Obligatory Snow Photos

To my childlike delight, Reykjavík is now covered with a blanket of snow.

Three guesses what this Icelandic word means.

I was annoyed that I didn't have my camera with me yesterday, because the Tjörn was properly frozen but there was no snow, and the sun was shining on it. It was beautiful, but you will have to take my word for it. This is what Reykjavík looked like today, though.

The one spot on the Tjörn that isn't frozen.

Today I picked up the seven-year-old early, because he's no longer signed up for the after school childcare thing, and his normal school day finishes around half past one. We went to the café in the Þjóðminjasafn (National Museum) for coffee/kókómjólk and cake, and he wrote his name in the snow outside. We were talking about Bernard's Watch and he said that if cows were being naughty, he would use the watch to milk them whilst time was frozen. That's one I've never heard before. Then we went to the playschool to get the four-year-old and we all played on the frozen Tjörn for a long time, mostly running about doing skids. Or, in the four-year-old's case, just flinging herself face down in the snow. Fun times.

Coming down onto the ice.
Throwing snowballs.
Came out pretty well, although I did fall over quite hard whilst jumping from the B to the I.

Feelings on going home for Christmas / New Year

Things I am looking forward to:

Seeing my family
Seeing my England-based friends
Seeing my parents' dog (just a puppy when I left)
Proper cheddar cheese and nice bacon
Good beer and cider
No ironing
Cycling round the moors and lanes
Walking in/on my favourite woods, hills, combes
Being (briefly) in Sheffield again
British television
Having all my books on hand
British birds and trees
English accents
Not being a foreigner 

Things I will miss:

My Reykjavík-based friends
My host family
Speaking Icelandic
The good Icelandic dictionary that I've comandeered
The bars and cafés
Being able to walk everywhere
Spot the tourist
Sub-zero temperatures, snow and ice
Mountains in the backdrop
Being able to remember my phone number
Eating cake on an absurdly regular basis
The possibility of hearing a Páll Óskar song on a night out


I am quite a sleepy person at the best of times, but my energy levels are ridiculous at the moment. I am pretty sure it is a daylight issue - I just can't seem to wake up properly until it is light outside, and then I still feel all drowsy from oversleeping. Next winter I think I might consider trying to put on a lot of weight and storing up nuts and berries in the autumn, so that I can just be a dorperson through the winter darkness. 

In other news, snow has arrived in Reykjavík. Not all that much, but a bit.

Semi-frozen Tjörn.
Snowy Fríkirkja.

Apparently next week is going to be cold, especially Wednesday, and there should be more snow to come. Here is the current forecast from vedur.is:

We'll probably be able to walk on the Tjörn pretty soon, then.

I went down to Austurvöllur today with some people to see them turn the Christmas tree lights on. Every year, for about sixty years I think, the people of Oslo have sent a tree to Reykjavík as a present. The lights were kind of rubbish, but there was a band doing Christmas carols, and Jón Gnarr did a speech about how we should be more concerned with goodwill and kindness than Christmas presents, and it was quite fun, although I nearly got frostbite in my toes. We went to the Laundromat Café afterwards for some cake and jólabjór, and the stinging stopped eventually.

Jón Sigurðsson and some fairy-lights in the trees.
Not particularly impressive, but I suppose they made an effort.

I was thrilled also to see Bicycle Guy getting into the seasonal spirit. If you live in Reykjavík long enough, you will start noticing the same people again and again. Bicycle Guy is one of my favourites. I think he's American, but I'm not sure. He has a ridiculous beard and always wears sunglasses, and this picture of a dead polar bear on his back. He always has his bicycle with him, although he never appears to ride it, just walks it up and down Laugavegur. Or, as here, sits on it at the corner of Austurvöllur. Looking good, Bicycle Guy!

From the back. Dead polar bear which has "got no peace from Icelandic people".
From the front. Unfortunately this is out of focus because I got a bit flustered and didn't take my time. You also sadly cannot see his beard for his bizarre face-warmer thing.

Animal News

Today it was in the newspaper that an owl got stuck in a cattle-grid, and also that an unusually fat fox had been shot in Borgarfjörður.

Other memorable stories from my time in Iceland so far:

Cat stuck up tree
Bird gets into university building
Owl sits on fence for the afternoon
Unusually small calf born

It's all happening here! I mean, there is real news as well, but sometimes some of the smaller stories feel a bit Framley-esque,* as if Morgunblaðið were a local newspaper. Which I suppose, considering the number of people it caters to, it kind of is.

P.S. None of these beat my old local newspaper, The Mercury, which once actually ran a story about a man who had grown a very large marrow.

* If you don't know what this means, you're probably not my brother. You should go here and improve your life.

Frozen Rain

It's forecast to possibly snow later in the week, on Thursday or Friday. Recently it's been really quite warm, but the temperature dropped yesterday to around 4°c, and it's going to keep falling apparently. Meanwhile, instead of snow, we've been having intermittent hailstorms. The kids and I were caught in one today as we came over the bridge over the Tjörn. The wind was really whipping it into my legs and it actually stung quite hard. It was unpleasant. Hail is only fun if you're inside.

If we get snow I'll be quite pleased, though. The Christmas lights are all up downtown and Laugavegur will look like a storybook in the snow. Even though it is too soon to start feeling Christmasy - maybe it would be best if the snow held off until December.

Reykjavík Tjörn: A Study in Grey. This is four o'clock in the afternoon, for Christ's sake. Do not visit Iceland in November.

Lord of the Rings is more culturally significant to me than John Lennon

Yoko Ono has this thing on Viðey (an island just off the shore from Reykjavík) called the Imagine Peace Tower. It's to do with John Lennon and they turn it on sometime in October, as far as I recall. It is basically a beacon of light that shines up into the sky. I assume it is supposed to make us "imagine peace", but really it just makes me think that the Witch-King of Angmar is leaving Minas Morgul.

Horse Stew

During lunch-time conversation today I mentioned that I'd never eaten horse. 

"Yes, you have," I was informed. Apparently they have been feeding me things like horse goulash without my knowledge. I think I assumed it was beef. So there we have it, now I have eaten horse, although I wasn't really paying attention to the experience.
Just to be clear, I have no real objection to eating horse-meat and wasn't upset by this revelation - just surprised. It's not a meat I would necessarily eat by choice, but I don't mind if it's what's for dinner. Our horse would probably eat us if he got the chance and he weren't vegetarian - he is not a good-tempered animal. We might eat him if he weren't so old. Maybe he'd do for some sort of broth.

Duke. Broth?

Shoot me

Sometimes I hate Sundays. Things I did today:

Got up at 11.
Had breakfast.
Had a shower.
Went out, walked up past the church, down onto Laugavegur.
Went to Mál og menning, bought a pen and some more writing paper.
Went to Kaffitár, bought a cup of coffee.
Sat, looked out at passers by and wrote a letter to my grandmother.
Went home, had lunch.
Read about sixty pages of The Fall by Albert Camus.
Dithered about with a bit of translation.
Had a cup of tea.
Listened to some Frank Turner songs on YouTube.
Tentatively drank a small amount of expired Baileys (seems to be all right).
Had dinner.
Started another letter. Did not finish it.
Wrote this.
Despaired of my boring life.

But whatever will I do next? I am torn between more Baileys and Camus or suicide. Maybe that will turn out to be the same, depending on whether the Baileys really is all right. They were going to throw it out, so I adopted it. It tastes all right. I suppose though that whether it's all right or not, I'm still drinking alone in my room out of the bottle, but really there's no other solution to this intolerable Sunday malaise.

P.S. Don't worry, parents, I am not actually suicidal. Or an alcoholic. Promise!

Jólin eru að koma?

Jólabjór (Christmas beer) has arrived in the bars and the vínbúð, and a lot of the places I go to drink are now decorated for Christmas. Even though we are less than halfway through November. But I am willing to forgive Iceland this, because it is at least starting later than it does in Britain (no jokes, I have seen Christmas adverts in August), and also because jólabjór is delicious. I think so far I have had the one from Tuborg (a Danish brewery) and the house jólabjór at Ölstofa Kormáks og Skjaldar (recommend!). As far as I can tell, they are just quite dark, reddish ales, and not especially Christmasy. Which seriously, Iceland, you should have good beer widely available on draught all year round. Also you should sell crisps in bars. Work on that. 

It will not surprise people to learn that I have a no-mince-pies-before-December policy, even though they are in the shops long before that. It is not appropriate to be eating Christmas food in November, and if you do it I am judging you. Usually what happens is my desire for mince pies rises to intolerable levels throughout November and then on the 1st December I eat an entire pack by myself and feel a bit sick and regretful. Once into December I make an effort to eat mince pies and drink mulled wine at every available opportunity and spend as much time as possible covered in crumbs, in a sugar-and-alcohol daze. 

Unfortunately, I don't think mince pies and mulled wine are a thing in Iceland, so I will probably have to wait until I go back to Britain (I'm currently thinking this will happen on the 14th or 15th December) for the traditional pie binge. Maybe I could make my own? But you probably can't buy the mince here either, and there is no way I'm making that myself. In case you are interested, other irrational Christmas prejudices I have are: no advent calendars with chocolate, only pictures, and no Christmas songs that aren't about Jesus. Especially no Slade. On a sidenote, I once had an advent calendar where a disproportionate number of windows had pictures of birds. Only there aren't that many Christmas-related birds, so as well as a turkey, a robin, a partridge and a goose, there were also ducks, sparrows, blue-tits and a swan. I loved it, but I didn't understand it.

However, I am not going to wait until December with jólabjór, because having a special beer at Christmas is not one of my seasonal traditions, so I don't feel so constrained. It's slightly more expensive than the standard horrible pale lagers, but so worth it. I'm probably not drinking anything else until I go back to Britain. Unless I try to mull some wine at some point, which I think I might. Jólabjór is also good news because my natural inclination to sit and get drunk in pubs is only going to intensify as it gets darker, colder and wetter. It is already getting light and dark upsettingly late / early respectively, although actually still pretty warm. I just looked it up, and sunset and sunrise yesterday were at 9.42 and 16.40, which is surely enough to make anyone want a drink. My friend Stacey has declared her intention to make it Drunk December, which must be a good idea because it alliterates. I look forward to joining in the first half with her.

Remembrance Day

I did my two minutes' silence at 11 o'clock this morning. As always, I ended up actually thinking about it for a lot longer than two minutes. I just thought I'd put a bit of my favourite piece of WWI literature up here, a little extract from In Parentheses by David Jones. This is from the final section, when they are attacking Biez Wood.

And the storm rises higher
and all who do their business in the valley
do it quickly
and up in the night-shades
where death is closer packed
in the tangled avenues
fair Balder falleth everywhere
and thunder-besom breakings
bright the wood
and a Golden Bough for
Johnny and Jack
and blasted oaks for Jerry
and shrapnel the swift Jupiter for each expectant tree;
after what hypostases uniting:
withered limbs for the chosen
for the fore-chosen.
Take care the black brush-fall
in the night-rides
where they deploy for the final objective.
Dark baulks sundered, bear down,
beat down, ahurtle through the fractured growings green,
pile high an heaped diversity.
Brast, break, bough-break the backs of them,
every bone of the white wounded who wait patiently -
looking toward that hope:
for the feet of the carriers long coming
bringing palanquins
to spread worshipful beds for heroes.

Fireworks Night after all

I think I managed to go to Reykjavík's only firework display on Saturday night! I went to a party with Andri, Bjarni and Ewelina, and one of the party-givers was half English. There were a few others from the UK there as well, so some people were familiar with Fireworks / Bonfire / Guy Fawkes' Night. I think it was someone visiting from Brighton who pushed for this to happen. 

Technically it is illegal to set off fireworks here before a certain date, unless you have some sort of special permission, but no police turned up. One man came outside and was kind of angry, but apart from that it was all right. There were even sparklers, although we had some trouble lighting them because of the rain. Being slightly drunk, delighted not to miss this cultural tradition, and just generally excitable when it comes to fireworks, I had a brilliant time.

Remember, Remember

Happy Guy Fawkes' Night to you all. I am jealous of those of you lucky enough to be going to an actual bonfire or firework display.

Some of my toffee apples came out better than others. It was pretty fun making them, though. I'd never done it before. Hence variable success. The consistency of the toffee was different on every apple, although I'm not sure how I managed that. The four-year-old "helped" by licking golden syrup off spoons and performing other invaluable tasks. Predictably though, when it came to eat them, she ate all the toffee and then mysteriously lost her appetite. The apple is really just something to eat toffee off, as every child at a Bonfire Night party knows.

So professional.


Due to me being a massive nerd with too many biology/zoology student friends (as if there could be such a thing), I received no fewer than three books about birds for my birthday. Unfortunately, two of them were the same. Both my parents and the Icelandic family I live with got me Íslenskur fuglavísir, which is like a field guide to Icelandic birds. It's a beautiful and informative book, but I don't need two copies. So today I finally got around to going down to Eymundsson and exchanging one of them. I managed to get three paperback novels for it!

I am upsettingly ill-read in Icelandic literature. Apart from the sagas and other medieval bits and bobs, quite a lot of Laxness, and a handful of Arnaldur Indriðason murder mysteries, I have only read six Icelandic novels. Unless you are an Icelander reading this, that is probably more than you, but it is pretty poor considering my ambitions. I wanted to get a collection of short stories by Gyrðir Elíasson after I watched a documentary about him on RÚV the other night, but I went to the smaller Eymundsson shop because it is closer, and the only book they had by him looked like poetry to me, which is generally the hardest literary form to understand.

So I got some Icelandic classics in an attempt to get a better feel for the Icelandic literary tradition. It will probably take me absolutely ages to read them, though. My eyes were most likely way bigger than my stomach, if you can apply that idiom to reading books. I chose Grámosinn glóir (The Grey Moss Glows, but has been published in English, translated by Bernard Scudder, as Justice Undone) by Thor Vilhjálmsson, who died this year, Bréf til Láru (A Letter to Lára) by Þórbegur Þórðarson and 79 af stöðinni (79 from the Station - I think) by Indriði G. Þorsteinsson (the father of Arnaldur Indriðason, incidentally).

I just started Bréf til Láru this evening and it is HARD. There are a lot of difficult words; it is kind of a struggle to puzzle out. Here is the second sentence, with the words I had to look up in bold. Some of them were not in the dictionary and I had to look up their components. 

"Gegnumsýrður af heilögum innblæstri sem blóðmörskeppur í blásteinslegi, titrandi af hamstola lyftingu, vaggandi af ómþýðum englaröddum, er til mín hljóma gegnum gengishrun og öreigaóp vorrar vesölu jarðar, tvíhendi ég pennastöngina þér til dýrðar, þér til eilífrar dýrðar og vegsömunar, andlegrar umturnunar, sáluhjálpar og syndakvittunar, hvar af þú ljómar og forklárast eins og sólbakaður saltfiskur frammi fyrir lambsins stól."

Maybe it's just a dramatic opening, and won't be like that all the way through. Might switch to 79 af stöðinni, which looks a lot easier and probably doesn't use words like blásteinslögur (as far as I can make out, this is a copper sulphate solution).

Late Autumn Festivities

So, Halloween. I went to a fantastic party on the Friday night at Friddi and Paulina's house and got quite drunk on red wine and then gin, which was maybe not the best idea in the world. Gin and I have a complicated relationship. I know that I did sing a certain amount of Britpop very loudly, whilst dancing (anyone who's seen me dance will know to replace this word with "jumping") enthusiastically around the living room. I'm pretty sure everyone was really impressed.

In general, I much prefer Guy Fawkes' Night, which has all the fun of eating toffee apples and burning things and none of the hassle of dressing up. The one time I put quite a lot of effort into dressing up for a party (although actually it wasn't Halloween), nobody knew what I was. I was a sans-culottes revolutionary from 1789, but apparently that was not obvious, even though I made a phrygian cap especially. Maybe I could find some middle ground between obscure historical figure and basically-just-my-normal-clothes-but-look-a-funny-hat, but I don't think it's really worth the bother. Guy Fawkes' is no bother, and also has a more interesting historical back-story. I am going to make toffee apples on the 5th November and remember in my heart the torture and execution of a failed seventeenth-century Catholic terrorist, even though there will obviously be no bonfire, guy or fireworks.

For this year's Halloween, sadly deprived of the Soviet officer's hat that is usually my standby, I dressed as a Frenchman. Not a specific historical Frenchman, just an ordinary stereotype. I wore basically my normal clothes, plus a red beret belonging to the four-year-old. Yes, I have a tiny, tiny head. I drew a moustache on my face, strung four onions round my neck, took my bottle of red wine and I was ready to Halloween, minimum hassle. The onions were a problem. I think they looked good, but they did make me smell of raw onion. Some people commented. But whatever, the main thing with them was that they were heavier than I anticipated. The string was kind of digging into me and after a few hours I had a proper red line across the back of my neck. I was reluctant to take them off, but eventually I had to, and Árni took them away and put them in the fridge, I think? Seemed like the best place for them at the time. I hope that by now they have been made into a delicious stew or something.

Reykjavík and beyond

Here are some pictures that I took recently. It is still fairly autumnal here, although I would say we're on the verge of winter. I tend to only take pictures when it's sunny, so the images on this blog give a misleading impression of Iceland. Most of the time, it is cloudy. Just like England. I'm not really sure if the high proportion of overcast days infuses Icelanders with a sense of wistful melancholy, but at least they don't have to worry about badgers.

In news of my life, apparently only one other person wanted to do Icelandic 5, so it was cancelled. Rubbish.

Hallgrímskirkja and Hljómskálagarðurinn seen from across the Tjörn.
Snowy mountains seen down Kárastígur.
Next to Drekinn (The Dragon), looking down Frakkastígur.
Snow-capped peaks.
Some boring gulls standing on the first thin film of ice on the Tjörn, yesterday morning.
Icelandic horses near Mosfellsbær.
A causeway to some island; we didn't know what it was called.
Good clouds.

Lunch / Face-Mask

I just tried to spoon-feed a baby for the first time in my life. It is a lot harder than it looks! I've seen the mother doing it, and she somehow manages to get nearly all of it in his mouth, and he looks sort of clean at the end. I kept forgetting to hold his arms, so he was always grabbing the spoon or inserting his fist into his mouth just after I put some food in. I used quite a lot of kitchen paper trying to stop him getting completely coated in his own lunch.

Mind you, I'm not sure I would want that stuff to go in my mouth, either. I was feeding him a sort of porridge, powdered oats stirred into warm water. I tried a bit and you would think it would taste of something, but it really doesn't.

In other baby-related news, I am delighted to report that I have managed to instill in him an appreciation for La Marseillaise. Whenever I sing it to him now he smiles and waves his arms about. It is a great song, so he obviously has taste.

For those of you who are interested and have time on your hands

I've been writing this for a long time. Seriously, I started it months ago, and I don't think I can make it much better, although it remains ridiculously long and unfocused. I tried to answer the question of how I became interested in Iceland, and I'm going to put it on its own page where it will be out of the way. It is probably quite boring if you're not me, but who knows, perhaps some of you will enjoy the insight into my brain/past.

This is your chance to empathise with my room-mate in first year that time when I got a bit drunk and would not shut up about Iceland. Except you can stop reading, whereas as I recall she sat there and nodded politely until I talked myself to sleep.


The year is officially far enough advanced that I am getting up in the dark again. I can sleep in the light, no problem, but I find it very difficult to get up when it's still pitch black outside my window. It feels like waking up in the middle of the night. All my body wants to do is go back to sleep. I do usually feel like that when my alarm goes off at 7 am, but the darkness makes it much worse. If only I had Bernard's watch!

I can't remember who pointed this out to me, didn't think of it myself, but the dark Icelandic winter means that when I go home for Christmas I will be heading to Britain for some winter sun. The absurdities of living at 66° north.


Recently I've been going through a bout of homesickness, although really it's more nostalgic timesickness. Living in a different country has a little bit to do with it, but I used to feel like this periodically in England as well. Although partly I miss being in a country where you will be offered a cup of tea within two minutes of stepping in the door, and you won't have to take your shoes off, and you can watch the BBC, what I really miss is being a student in Sheffield and living with my friends. I think as a person I am particularly given to wallowing in nostalgia. I get wistful about the littlest things. I want so hard to go round the boys' and have a cup of tea and watch Grand Designs, or to walk half-drunk down Crookes Valley Road on the way to Fuzz, or cycle to the old history department, or do a crossword in Interval, or buy some hangover fruit at Beanies. Sometimes I listen to emo music in secret (shhh, you look like an emu) because it reminds me of jumping around the Bleach room at Fuzz Club with all my favourite sweaty people and spilling snakebite on myself. Haven't had a snakebite in actually years. For those of you who don't know, the answer is half lager, half cider, with a tiny bit of ribena. It is not very nice, and it will stain. This feeling comes and goes, and it's silly really, because not very many people I know even live in Sheffield any more, and Fuzz Club finished in my third year. Time marches ever onwards and all that. And of course, it wasn't all fun and snakebite at the time; those are just the bits I enjoy dwelling on. 

I do genuinely miss my friends back in England quite hard. I don't really have many friends here in Reykjavík that I have that easy, comfortable sort of relationship with that comes from knowing someone for a long time. A friend where you always sort of know what they're going to say or how they'll behave, and you know their sense of humour and where it overlaps with yours, and with whom you have shared memories and jokes. You need people like that in your life, but it's not easy to find them. Most of my favourites are in London these days. London sucks everybody in. Sometimes I wish I lived there just so I would be near to them, but really London is not for me. It's too big, too busy, too much for my poor rural brain to handle. Reykjavík is nice in that way - it's got nearly all the things that a big city should have, without being an actual city. Which is one of the reasons I don't really want to leave, even though I sometimes feel homesick. I do feel at home here, and going back to Britain would not make me into an 18-year-old fresher again. Moving away would just give me a new set of things and people to miss. Besides, I know in a few years I'll be nostalgic about my time here with this family. Maybe even the ironing? No, definitely not that.


I was just brought breakfast in bed. A breakfast that contains egg, rice, tuna, smoked salmon and toast. This violates so many of my breakfast rules, and is also just sincerely bizarre. However, my rule of "if someone made you food, eat it" overrides my concerns about rice before midday, so I am eating this Frankenstein's monster of a plate of food. It's actually strangely nice, but I have no idea how it was conceived. I think it may just be all the leftovers out of the fridge cooked into some scrambled egg. Novel!

How to stop me singing show tunes

Me (starts singing the title song from Cabaret): What good is sitting alone in your room?

15-year-old: A lot of good, because then nobody would have to hear you singing that song.

Terrific retort. Almost as good as the time I told my brother he looked like an emo and he said, "You look like an emu." I couldn't think of a reply because I was laughing too much, but I am going to put this picture up on the internet. Which will have to do.

I have a much better singing voice than her. That's just a fact.

Clown Trousers

I was joking when I wrote it before, but today I did see a girl in Babalú wearing what appeared to be clown trousers. I tried to take a sneaky photo, and didn't do a great job. I am not the subtlest knife in the drawer.* But I think you can see the trousers OK.

This is also just a nice, if slightly out of focus, photo of Ahmad eating a biscuit.

How about that. Also visible in this photo are some people playing Scrabble with nine tiles on the rack. What?

Then we went for a walk round a drizzly, grey Reykjavík, ran into Friddi and Pálína briefly, bought some chocolate, laughed at some tights in a shop window that I laugh at every time I walk past. Standard Sunday afternoon. I am going to take a picture of those tights one day, because they are outstanding.

* Slightly nonsensical Pullman reference. I love those books with the fire of a thousand suns.

Learning Words

Aside from getting up embarrassingly late and watching a great deal of Black Books, today I have mostly been working on my Icelandic. The way I have been doing this is by reading through an Icelandic book, and making a point of looking up every word I don't know, and putting them all into a fun list that I can study. There are an awful lot of words that I don't know. I'm up to page 42 in the book, and the list is already 221 words long. So on average that would be 5 or so words per page. 

Some of these I sort of did know what they meant from their components (skyldurækinn - dutiful) or I could easily tell from the context (að gjóa - to glance), but either couldn't readily come up with an English translation for, or wouldn't have known if I saw them in isolation. Some of them are phrases made up of words that I do know individually, but which I don't understand in that combination (að standa einhvern að einhverju - to catch somebody at something). Some of them are words that I definitely did know, and when I looked them up I immediately remembered, but had forgotten because I don't use them or do this sort of thing often enough (að fórna - to sacrifice). 

I do usually start off reading Icelandic books like this, and then I get bored and just start ignoring words that I don't know unless they seem crucial to my understanding, because of course it is deeply frustrating to read so slowly. But I think it really is the best way of expanding vocabulary, especially if you see a word more than once. Here is a small selection of words that I didn't know yesterday, but do now.

atlot - caress
blys - torch, flare
að bogra - to stoop
að garga - to squawk
fagnandi - jubilant
furstadæmi - principality
kumbaldi - shack
kusk - fluff
mælaborð - dashboard
á reki - adrift
að ræskja sig - to clear one's throat
að samtvinna - to intertwine
snefill - trace
snitta - canapé
tág - wicker
að tifa - to tick (of a clock)
vandvirkni - meticulousness
vantrúaður - sceptical
þvingaður - strained, forced
að þysja - to bolt, to run away
æviskeið - lifespan

I am sure they will come in very useful, if only I can work wicker and fluff into more conversations.


Here are some pictures from when I was picking the seven and four-year-old up from school / playschool this afternoon.

Cafés of Reykjavík

I spend a lot of time hanging around in cafés. Sometimes with friends, sometimes with a book or some unwritten letters. I find that although you do have to pay a bit for it, sitting in a café is almost always more satisfying than sitting around in your own home. For one thing, you left the house! Hey, you're a busy person with places to be! Haha, I'm so lame, but I actually do find myself thinking this. But affirmation of the exciting nature of your own life is not the best bit about being in public. That would be the presence of the general public, and specifically watching them and making silent judgements about them. You might see an attractive member of the interesting sex, somebody with amusing hair or clothes, or hear someone speaking a foreign language that you can't guess what it is. Which you probably won't in your living room, unless you live with a fit Armenian who wears clown trousers.

I also work better when I think someone's watching me, which is why a café is a good place for letter-writing and, when I was a student, for taking notes and so forth. Even though the other people in the café really don't care whether you are doing that thing you're supposed to be doing, the desire to be seen to be working is strong enough to make me work. I do realise I sort of just endorsed George Orwell's vision of a dystopian future. But in my scenario, you can choose to go home and hide in your room watching YouTube videos for hours if you so wish. I also take a guilty pleasure in reading in public. I know you're not meant to read to show off, and this is honestly way down on the list of reasons that I read, but it is kind of gratifying to sit with the title nice and visible if you are reading something a bit intellectual. I mean, the other clientele almost certainly haven't noticed and would not be impressed by your French novel if they did. But you never know! Possibly someone will see what you are reading and comment on it, and you will have a long conversation and bond over your love of To the Lighthouse and be best friends forever. This has not happened to me yet.

The coffee is also generally better, and you don't have to make it yourself or wash up your mug afterwards. And you can get a nice biscuit with it. The only bad thing is that, outside of the UK in general and in Iceland especially, you will simply not be able to get a proper cup of tea. Which is a shame, because tea is not so caffeinated or strongly-flavoured and therefore better suited for mass-consumption over a long period. It is frowned upon to take your own Yorkshire teabag to a café and ask for a cup of boiling water. Don't do that.

So if you're ever in Reykjavík and looking to spend some time hanging around in a café (which you may well want to do, since it will probably be raining and you'll already have seen Hallgrímskirkja and the Ráðhús and that boaty statue by the sea), here are a few I have enjoyed.

Kaffitár: Really good coffee. Usually there is a choice of two and there are labels on the machines telling you where the beans are from. One time I had a coffee there that was labelled "cup of excellence". The cakes are good as well, and they sell world-music CDs with titles that make me laugh - my favourite is "Jewish Odyssey". Kaffitár is right where Laugavegur turns into Bankastræti, so if you sit up on the stools by the window there are fantastic people-watching opportunities. You will see all the yellow trousers and unicyclists from here, I guarantee. Once I saw a few members of Sigur Rós getting some coffee here, so you should know it is rock-star endorsed. When it rains a lot, there is a puddle just inside the door. They should probably fix that.

Kaffivagninn: This is way out by the harbour, so probably not all that suitable if you are wandering round 101. But I've been here a few times and the pancakes are really good. You won't see tourists here - it is a fishermen café. No jokes, it is full of men with beards and heavy-knit woollen jumpers discussing their catches.

Tíu dropar: Because it's on Laugavegur, this place can be quite good for people-watching, but only if you position yourself carefully. It is below street-level, so you can find yourself trying to judge people on their lower legs, which is not as much fun. Nice pancakes. I would probably go here for lunch rather than just to sit around reading, though. 

Hemmi og Valdi: Good sofas and a big window onto Laugavegur. But the coffee cups are kind of tiny and I'm not sure whether they have a refill policy? Most cafés in Reykjavík you get a cup, then help yourself from a caffetiere as many times as you can handle. If they do that here (genuinely don't remember) then I should go more often. It's a nice pub in the evenings as well, as long as they don't have the ubiquitous "local DJ" in.

Kofi Tómasar frænda: I like the music in here. Because I think it's usually just some staff member's iPod on shuffle, so you get some interesting juxtapositions. There is no attempt to find a mood and stick with it. Once I heard Jeff Buckley's version of Hallelujah directly followed by Mambo Number 5. This place doesn't do the refill thing. What they do is give you a thermos containing more coffee than you could drink and survive. Well, I think maybe I could physically finish one of them, but I wouldn't feel very well. My experience with the cakes in here is that they are about 60% icing. Which is nice, but also slightly damaging. If you want to make yourself a bit ill on caffeine and sugar, this is the place to come. I've made this café sound really off-putting - it's actually one of my favourites! You should go. The name is "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in Icelandic, and it's also a bar in the evenings. 

Eymundsson: This is a book shop on Austurstræti, but if it is mad sunny, there is a café on the top floor which you should go to. You can sit out on the roof, which is all sheltered from the wind, and try to get a tan. I had the best cup of tea that I've bought in Reykjavík here. Unfortunately, this is not saying much.

Babalú: I saved this one until last, because it is hands down my favourite. If you just want a quick coffee and a chat, any of the others would do just as well, but if you're looking to settle in for the afternoon this is the place to be. I love pretty much everything about it. It feels like the living room of someone who is quite a lot cooler and more interesting than you, but not in an intimidating way. They have board games. The mugs are eclectic, and proper size. You can't watch out the window (although you can look down on Skólavörðustígur from the balcony in good weather), but it doesn't really matter because there are always loads of hipsters and tourists to watch inside. I really like the biscuits as well. Yep, Babalú is a winner.

Learning to read with a seven-year-old child

One of the things that I do in my capacity as au-pair is listen to the seven-year-old read little books for his homework, correct him when he makes mistakes and chivvy him when he stops. This is sometimes quite fun, and sometimes quite tedious, depending on what he has to read and how annoyed he is at having to do this instead of being on the computer. Today's book made me laugh.

Most of the books he has to read are pretty stupid, although this school year is better than the last. When he was in Yr. 1, I swear they were nearly all about really boring birthday parties, or buying fruit. But this one is both quite mundane and also completely absurd. So this kid's dog goes missing, and it turns out some mentaller from the cheese shop chased it down the road and locked it up in a hut on the beach (?!), but then an old woman hears it barking and lets it out. And then on the last page, a magic staff is introduced. Seriously, this played no part in the rest of the book, but suddenly it's all in a weird font? The main text on this page reads: 

"Skúlína is proud and waves her walking stick. A magic walking stick! Then all the friends eat pasta in the living room round Óli's house."

Pasta. Of course. How else could this story end? In a way, this is more spacy than those magic key books we used to read in primary school. At least then the magic was introduced at the beginning and was actually relevant to the story. Although I still find it ridiculous that the main characters were called Biff and Chip.

Thanks, Iceland

So after having hardly seen a cloud in the sky for about a week, this is the weather forecast for the next five days, beginning on the day that my friend gets here. Not very cold, but still. Hopefully it won't come true. But it probably will.

P.S. The baby's first tooth is coming through. This means that he will start screaming more, right? I was entertaining him yesterday with my excellent renditions of Flower of Scotland, the Internationale and the theme song from Ring of Bright Water, but this probably won't work so well if he's actually in pain? I do hope that he grows up to be a communist who supports Scottish independence and loves otters, though.

Northern Lights

I saw the northern lights for the first time over the weekend, two evenings in a row whilst I was waiting at bus stops. I was still in the city, in as much as Reykjavík is a city, so they were not nearly as good as they would have been if I'd been out in the countryside somewhere, but c'est la vie. It was all green and like gently glittering powder shifting about in the sky. Pretty cool.

No pictures, because I didn't have my camera with me. Even if I had, I don't think it would have captured it properly anyway. Plus what I saw was not even a particularly fine example. I was suitably excited nonetheless.

Another thing I am excited about is that my friend Emily is coming over from England to visit on Thursday. I lived with Emily in Sheffield for three years, in the same room for one of them, and I'm really looking forward to seeing her again. I did see her briefly when I was in London for the afternoon en route to France, but not for very long, and before that it had (unbelievably) been about a year since we last met. Can't wait! There are lots of songs that remind me of Emily, but this is maybe top of the list. I am listening in anticipation.

Remember when it was warm and sunny?

Here are some pictures from Reykjavík Gay Pride, which was about a month ago. Back when it was still summer.

We were standing by the roundabout where Njarðargata intersects with Sóleyjargata.
Is this Jón Gnarr...
... or is this? Answers on the back of a postcard, please.
An acrobatic young man.
"Princesses are lesbians too"
Páll Óskar and men in Páll Óskar masks. Slightly unnerving.
Friddi and the Germans (from left to right: Maria, Julia, Janina, Friddi).
So many people.
 Crowds making their way past MR (the 15-year-old's school) and towards Lækjartorg.
Bjarni's visiting friend Alistair, Kalli, Ewelina and me under the gaybrella.
Bjarni and Kalli at our street party.
Then we moved to Austurvöllur. Björgvin under the gaybrella.
Party on Friddi's balcony. Kalli, Bjarni, Andri, Janina and Julia.
Andri and the beginnings of a beard he is growing in order to look more like a barbarian. Because he wants to be an extra in the second series of Game of Thrones, which they're going to film some of in Iceland. He is much more beardy now. No longer wearing balloons on his head, though.
I can't be bothered to write much about this day; it was so long ago, and I think the pictures give a pretty fair impression. I had a lovely time, though, and I miss it being hot and sunny enough to sit around outside drinking.