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).