Saturday, 28 February 2015

A Day Late And A Dollar Short #4

The decision to get a ticket for the next Airwaves didn’t take long. As soon as I had purchased it they announced that Sigur Rós would be headlining the 2012 festival. Their show would take place in the handball stadium up near the swimming pools.

It would be the only show not in the heart of downtown Reykjavík and it would be huge by Airwaves standards with a capacity of 5,500. Funnily enough it is within walking distance of where I would normally stay at the Cabin but this year I would be moving to a more central location to make those late night walks home a little less arduous.

As the festival neared, the schedule was released and I soon picked the highlights out to see what I would be doing each night. Having been burned out by the end of Friday night at the last festival I decided that where possible I would keep it to one band and one venue per night this time around. Wednesday would be Sykur who I missed last time because of the rain and simply staying too far away from the gig; Thursday would be old favourites Dikta and newcomers Noise at Harpa and Café Amsterdam respectively; Friday would be Endless Dark at Gaukurinn; Saturday would be the Samúel Jón Samúelsson Big Band who I also missed last time due to lethargy and the Sunday would be Sigur Rós.

The Off-Venue gigs would give me a chance to see some more bands and incorporate another couple of venues into the schedule including Hresso and a new hotel called the Reykjavík Marina which is down by the dry-dock for the fishing boats.

My shopping for this trip would be a nice pair of Icelandic leather gloves, some books including the new Yrsa Sigurðadóttir novel, DVDs, t-shirts, underwear and hopefully a name book which contains all the names that you are allowed to use to name your children in Iceland. It is amended every year by the Names Commission as people apply for new names to be added to the list.

It seems that every second trip to Iceland I am met with a travel disaster of some description that inevitably involves Terminal One at Heathrow. My flight to Heathrow was with British Airways even though it had originally been booked with BMI, and was on the last day that BMI would operate out of Belfast City Airport. The inbound aircraft from London was considerably delayed and by the time it got to Belfast and was cleaned and refuelled I ended up arriving in London an hour after my flight to Reykjavík had left rather than three hours before it was due to go. What started out as a supposedly short delay was lengthened by not having a slot to depart from and then not having a stand to disembark with when we finally got there.

The hour was late and I had a pressing need to find somewhere to stay for the night and to rebook my ticket, not to mention letting the Hotel Leifur Eiríksson know that I would be a day late. At this point I didn’t even know how late I would be so I left ringing them to be the last thing to cross off my list. I found that the hotels around the airport were rather full because of the Bank Holiday and the cheapest I could find was the Comfort Hotel (including transfer was £200). It was a great hotel though and I got the 12 pound upgrade for 24 hours Wi-Fi and a late check out the next day which let me lie around until 4pm).

Once I had checked in it was too late to get anything to eat except a sandwich but I had a bath in the room so I was saved. I rebooked my flight for the next day and was done with it. The only seats left were Saga Class and cost me £750 but the cheaper flight the day after would have been offset by the extra night at the hotel. I had always wanted to fly Icelandic First Class anyway!

A Day Late and a Dollar Short:

It would be late by the time I finally arrived at my destination next to the church but ultimately worth the effort, and the additional cost. This I was sure of. I had left Belfast with about five hundred pounds with nothing to do so the debacle had only actually cost me about five hundred. Not as bad as it could have been I suppose. When I did finally arrive at the Hotel Leifur Eiríksson, it was a great feeling to be back in the arms of the one I love. Brennivín in hand and with my eyelids slowly dropping I could no longer deny my love for the girl of dreams, her name is Reykjavík and I belong to her.

The next few days I spent unwinding from my tortuous trip. Once Wednesday came around I was ready for the bands all over again. I saw Skúli Mennski play again in Munnharpan while having dinner and awaiting the Sykur gig.

Sykur didn’t play a single song that I knew from the CD of theirs that I have and still managed to completely blow my mind. Agnes, the girl who fronts the band is one of the most exciting and energetic front-women I’ve ever seen. Every song had a beat or a keyboard sound in it that reminded me of some tune from the eighties but I could never quite put my finger on exactly which one it was.

On to Thursday; I went to Nordic House to see Dikta play an acoustic set along with a real piano and mandolin.

Later that night at Cafe Amsterdam The Foreign Resort was the first of the imports I would see, both Danish. Again there was a real eighties theme, this one owing more to the likes of Killing Joke and The Cure.

There were drum loops and heavy bass lines behind some very rocking guitars that sounded like Joy Division in a good mood or The Cure in a bad one. They were moody, rocky and very danceable in places. The last track in particular, Orange Glow was particularly reminiscent of New Order on some of their more rocky moments on Low Life. Definitely the highlight of the night, although local outfit Noise who came on after them were very good too. The lead singer had the whole Kurt Cobain thing down and that shit still sounds cool twenty years on.

Friday was back at Gamli Gaukurinn with another Danish import and local boys Endless Dark. This time around the Danes were Thee Attacks and they were all about rocking it old-school. Their album is called Dirty Sheets and has a chick dangling a microphone between her legs on the cover. That image alone should tell you what they’re all about. Leather jackets, big drums, hot chicks and lots and lots of guitars. The lead singer definitely got the award for most crazy front man of the festival, they were fucking great.

Saturday was much mellower, musically that is. Not the weather though. I only saw the one band and they were on first at Harpa in Silfurberg were I had seen Sykur do their thing three nights earlier. Samúel Jón Samúelsson and his Big Band were another bunch that I missed the year before but this time, like Sykur, they were not to slip through my fingers. They would be hard pressed to slip through anyone’s fingers, there were seventeen of them on stage. A drummer, percussionist, electric bass player, keyboardist and the rest were brass. Trumpets and saxophones of all sizes and tones with Samúel himself conducting the whole mess like a genius.

They had put years of work into the way that they sounded and the way that they looked. They sound was like Miles Davis meets the Gypsy Kings, part jazz, part mariachi and with a dash of funk just to make you want to shake it all over the place. And then there were the clothes; colourful, loose fitting and covered in sombrero designs and looking for the most part like a catalogue for Mexican pyjamas.

The weather on Saturday morning and afternoon left many buildings without roofs and brought every mountain rescue team from within about a two hour drive into the city centre. They had to close Laugavegur for hours while a huge crane was used to physically pin a loose piece of roofing onto the top of the building that it was threatening to fall from.

By Sunday it was hard to believe that another festival had come to a close. There was only one show left and I had no idea of what to expect. I had bought the ticket because I had sensed that to not go see Sigur Rós in Reykjavík would have been criminally insane. Once in town I had become curious to find out what this band was all about. In the end though I decided to starve myself off all information and let the show be my baptism.

It proved to be a great idea. When the show started I was completely unprepared for what I was about to experience. The immense soundscapes ranging from the picturesque to the most furiously powerful blew my mind. Their music and the accompanying visuals could only be compared to nature. I think that many bands have tried to achieve the great art that this band has produced but unlike Sigur Rós they have all failed. I will never look at music quite the same way again. 

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.

                                  Friedrich Nietzsche


Friday, 20 February 2015

The Thin Red Line

There's only one thing a man can do - find something that's his and make an island for himself.

James Jones

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

*Another awesome review of 'The Mistake'*

Make No Mistake about it... The Mistake is a great read.

“A small pair of blood-splattered feet were the first things Snorri Petursson saw as he swung the beam of his flickering torch across the snow-covered lava fields…When he ran the light further up the legs across the torn black tights and black skirt he could see that the young woman they belonged to was no longer alive. Her eyes were wide open but staring lifelessly ahead at nothing, covered with a thin layer of blood that criss-crossed her cornea like a fishing net. Her startled appearance gave her a look of being taken completely by surprise. By the state of her head that was exactly what happened,” –The Mistake by Grant Nicol

The Mistake, by Grant Nicol, is an atmospheric trip into Icelandic noir that leaves the reader’s fingers blistering as you fly thorough the pages of this well-plotted offering. The plot is lean, dialogue real, the words seem to have been painted onto the page by a master artist and the characters jump off the page.

The plot is a well-known one. Girl is killed and the police find a suspect at the scene of the crime. The suspect denies his guilt and the police rush to find evidence to convict. Basic fare…right? Not in the hands of Nicol. He has added enough to this plot to bring it to life in a fresh manner and leave the reader unsure of what new twists will be coming next. I found that the cold, dark Icelandic setting helped add to the atmosphere that was being painted throughout the novel. It helped create a dark, dreary vibe that served the experience of reading the book well.

The police receive a call that a young woman’s body has been mutilated and the body has been left outside of a local building. The suspect they find near the body has no forensic evidence on him to tie him to the crime, but claims to have no memory of the 15 minutes preceding him seeing the body. The suspect has a lengthy past that explains this blind spot in his memory and the threads to the story are sewn together where nothing seems contrived.

The story has all the golden nuggets needed to have a dark, dreary tale (in the most positive way). Nicol has crafted a tale that has a vengeful father looking for answers and willing to find revenge in anyway he can, a cop who is desperate for answers and will look high and low for them, call-girls and pimps, and he has an eye for putting them together in a book that was enjoyable and a great introduction to this author.

This is the third offering I have read from the up-and-coming Number Thirteen Press, and I am pleased to say it is the third book I have enjoyed! I am hoping this trend continues and I hope they are considering publishing more than 1 book per month…but I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, as I am really enjoying what we are getting from them every month!

Originally posted at:

Monday, 16 February 2015

Review of Guns of Brixton by Paul D. Brazill

‘Even before he’d switched on the lock-up’s strip light, Big Jim Lawson knew that he was bollock deep in the shit.’

It’s a great way to start a story and it just keeps getting better. Split into six parts that are all named after songs by The Clash (Safe European Homes, Guns of Brixton, Police & Thieves, Bankrobber, The Last Gang in Town and Somebody Got Murdered), Guns of Brixton takes you on an old-fashioned rollicking, bollocks-loaded ride through the gutters, strip clubs and greasy spoons of dirty old London town.

As you follow the exploits of Big Jim Lawson and his chums you will be titillated, disgusted and enthralled in almost equal proportions. Rest assured there will not be a dull moment. The characters are gritty and impossible to forget and the story is paced so there is always something holding your attention solidly to the page. Some parts are extremely funny. Some of the guys in the book are so crazy they’d almost have to be real. The shotguns, corpses, rhyming slang and top secret contents of one very sought after briefcase will keep you fixated from the first line to the final revelation. Great stuff. Highly recommended.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Ten Songs by Grant Nicol

Did you ever think that there would be ten songs that would be more important to you and what you’re doing right now than any others? Back then, right now and forever after…


The ten most influential songs of my life. I have tried to do this without the plethora of British rock bands that I always seem to spout at people when they ask me what sort of music I listen to. Doing this list without The Cure, The Cult, The Smiths or Joy Division forced me to look at the bands and songs that influenced my tastes in somewhat more formative years and the moments of live magic that have stayed with me ever since rather than simply repeating the names of my favourite songs from my record collection. It has been a memorable experience recreating the moments that shaped my musical past and present.


1. Add It Up – Violent Femmes

There was a time in my life, about a year in fact, when you couldn’t go to a party anywhere in Auckland without hearing the Violent Femmes first album in its entirety at least ten times over the course of any given evening. It became an anthem for every misconstrued, ill-thought of and awkward teenager there ever was. ‘Add It Up’ is a song about the difficulties of getting laid as a teenager aimed squarely at a demographic who think about nothing else. In New Zealand Gordon Gano, Brian Ritchie and Victor DeLorenzo quickly became part of musical folklore and their concert in Auckland touring the mighty follow up album, ‘Hallowed Ground’ was extraordinary. Their eponymous first album went gold on our tiny islands faster than anywhere else in the world. Gordon’s haunting and yet menacing vocals still resonate today and it’s hard to imagine how bands such as the awesome Placebo could have ever existed without this one coming first.


2. This Must Be The Place – Talking Heads

‘Speaking In Tongues’ was another album that was a revelation to my teenage ears. As was all of Talking Head’s early albums. ‘Fear Of Music’ and ‘Remain In Light’ have to be mentioned here as well. They opened my eyes and ears to the way that music could be looked upon as a performance art-form as opposed to simply a recorded medium. This culminated in their 1984 movie, ‘Stop Making Sense’ which was more like going to see a concert than a movie at the cinema with people dancing in the aisles and singing along to all the songs. Talking Heads become the uber-hip benchmark for all other cool bands of the late 70’s and early 80s. David Byrne and his collaborations with Brian Eno were also heavily influential especially their ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ album which I had the dubious honour of listening to just as a dose of psilocybin was kicking in one night. ‘The Jezebel Spirit’ was indeed an interesting choice to start that night off with.


3. A New England – Billy Bragg

This was the first real love affair I had with a musician’s work. I saw Billy Bragg five times over the course of a year and a half in Auckland. His brutal honesty and heart-broken lyrics hit a chord like no other performer at that time. Such simple and yet beautiful songs performed with just a guitar slung around his neck and his heart worn on both sleeves were a breath of fresh air in a time of synth-pop and New Romantic over-indulgences. His plaintiff love songs sung in his unmistakeable accent were unlike anything else we had heard in NZ before. His live concerts were raw and real with his cover of The Clash’s ‘Garageland’ in particular bringing back the best days of British punk. His songs rang out from the stage like poetry put to music. Sonnets with an electric guitar commenting on everyday life through the eyes of a realist trying so very hard not to become a cynic.


4. Jennifer’s Veil – The Birthday Party  

This song was the beginning of the end for me. Or the beginning of the beginning, or the end of the beginning of the end. Something like that. I’ll never know for sure. What it definitely was, was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the music, novels and screenplays of Nick Cave. My friends and I conspired to get this song to the top of Auckland student radio station BFM’s Alternative Top Ten chart and keep it there. And we did. For almost two whole months. The Mutiny EP was the first thing I listened to that scared me. It affected me in the same way that Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’ did and the way the ‘The Exorcist’ did as well. It was proof that scary could be fun. It’s beautiful (albeit in a pretty weird fucking way) and it’s horrible too. It’s the musical equivalent of disease-ridden wounds and trench warfare nightmares that you could never fully recover from even if you did survive. Nick has gone on to write some of the most beautiful love songs ever written and some of the most disturbing images ever transmitted from one human being to another. And I love him for them both. For beauty and disgust go hand in hand in this world. That is an inescapable truth.


5. Celebrated Summer – Husker Du  

These guys were the greatest band in the world. The first sensitive and emotionally relevant punk band. The Clash had certainly been emotive but these guys wrote love songs. And meant them. It heralded the beginning of something completely new in punk and ‘New Day Rising’, ‘Flip Your Wig’, ‘Candy Apple Grey’ and ‘Warehouse: Songs And Stories’ were all staggering albums. If you were to look at the American rocks bands of the last thirty years there wouldn’t be too many of any quality who wouldn’t cite these guys as a significant influence. They were the first punk band to be signed to a major label and considering that they probably never allowed themselves to hit their potential the indent they left on music was truly unforgettable. Nirvana and The Foo Fighters in particular owe enormous debts to the trailblazing exploits of Husker Du. Bob Mould, Grant Hart and Greg Norton gave their all so that others could follow in their footsteps.


6. The Mission Soundtrack – Ennio Morricone  

Okay, so this isn’t exactly a song but I couldn’t pick one track off this soundtrack that would have told the whole story. One night in the late 80s a group of friends and I headed to a disused WW2 bunker under an old gun emplacement dressed as outcasts from a Zodiac Mindwarp video. We spent the evening in there covered head to toe in leather, bandannas and the glowing liquid contents of a dozen Cyalume sticks sprayed liberally over every surface in the place, including ourselves. We were of course all completely off our heads on acid at the time. There could be no other explanation for such behaviour. The space we created looked like the universe seen inside out and upside down from the brain of a giant insect supernova and all the time we were listening to Ennio Morricone’s masterpiece. It was the most religious and spiritual experience of my life and if God does actually exist he was definitely checking us out that night. For we were on a par with him. Morricone’s music transports you to another time and place of your choosing. It is what cathedrals would sound like if they could make their own music without our help. It is a recording from above delivered to us through the ears, fingers and imagination of an Italian master. God bless him.


7. Man of Golden Words – Mother Love Bone  

The song I want to be buried to. Andy Wood’s painful soul-aching lyrics on this track from one of the greatest rock albums ever made can break your heart into a thousand pieces. And if you spend too much time thinking about how he was to die shortly after recording it they probably will. The sorrow within the songs on this album as it swells towards its end is immeasurable. Listening to it one night (with the aid of LSD admittedly) I realised that what on the outside appears to be a great American psychedelic rock album is actually the journal of a truly beautiful man sliding away from us into the arms of heroin. It starts off as a celebration of life and spirituality with the joyous ‘This Is Shangrila’ but slowly becomes darker and darker still until you find yourself at ‘Man Of Golden Words’ and ‘Crown Of Thorns’.

“Wanna show you something like the joy inside my heart, seems I've been living in the temple of the dog.”

‘Temple Of The Dog’ would become the tribute album made in his memory shortly after his death by his flatmate Chris Cornell and the guys who would go on to become Pearl Jam. Along with the death of Jeffrey Lee Pierce this was one of the greatest untimely losses ever to American rock.


8. The Ship Song – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Now I know that technically I shouldn’t be using the same artist here twice but this seems so far removed from his earlier days with The Birthday Party that I thought I might get away with it. ‘The Ship Song’ was the song I wanted to get married to back in the days when I thought I might actually wind up getting married. They’re long gone but this is still one of the most sweepingly beautiful love songs ever written (along with ‘Are You The One That I’ve Been Waiting For’ and ‘Straight To You’) by a man who understands poetry as a way to woo any woman’s soul like no one else on this planet. No one still alive anyway. If this doesn’t make you want to fall in love your heart has long ceased to work properly. I have been fortunate enough to have seen Nick live twice. Once with The Bad Seeds and once solo with nothing more than a piano to aid him and frankly that’s all he needs. All his songs begin on a keyboard and songs such as ‘The Ship Song’ don’t need anything else.


9. My Iron Lung – Radiohead

One of the greatest live experiences of my life. I saw Radiohead play in Sydney when they were at the peak of their powers touring ‘OK Computer’. At that point in their career they only had three albums to pick their set-list from which is what made the show so good. Because those albums were three of the finest rocks albums ever. ‘Pablo Honey’, ‘The Bends’ and ‘OK Computer’ are all completely different and that has always been part of what makes Radiohead so unique. Never wanting to stand still they have continually pushed the boundaries of what they have done. Thom Yorke’s towering vocals and Jonny Greenwood’s awesome prowess as a guitar player and multi-instrumentalist made them a true force to be reckoned with. These guys were quite simply magical in their heyday.


10. Popplagið – Sigur Rós

The moment when the wave broke for me (to steal a phrase from the late great Hunter S. Thompson). A massive turning point in my life. Reduced to a gibbering speechless idiot after first seeing these guys live in Reykjavík I was forced to admit to myself that there was no other place on earth I wanted to live apart from Iceland. A move that has proved to be the best thing I’ve ever done with myself. They are still the most incredible live act I have ever seen and with six years in my twenties as a guitar technician for a number of rock bands I have seen hundreds of live shows. I have now seen Sigur Rós three times. I travelled to Denmark to see them at the Roskilde Festival and have also seen them in Dublin. They are beyond any doubt one of the ‘must see before you die’ bands in the world. The sensory overload that they inflict upon you at their concerts has reduced a number of people to tears. I had a girl standing in front of me at Roskilde who wept for about three songs. Not because there was anything wrong with her but because she was simply overwhelmed by what was going on in front of her. Their songs are from another planet. They don’t sing about anything. They open you up and let whatever is in there come out. Most of the time it is joy. In the shape of tears. Popplagið is the last song they play at all there shows because after it has finished there is simply nowhere left to go. They have taken you as far as you can go and it is simply time for them to let you go and get back to reality. You will probably find that your reality has changed a little bit after seeing them in the flesh.
I did.


Monday, 9 February 2015

A Day Late and a Dollar Short #3

So I guess you could say that my third trip was always going to be a matter of when as opposed to ‘if’ I was to return. I decided to give the summer period a miss in 2011 mainly because my passport would be away with the Home Office as I finalised my British citizenship. By the time it had arrived back and I had finally (after six and a half years) achieved British Citizen status I was well and truly ready for the trip back to the place that was slowly beginning to really feel like home. It would also allow me to stay longer as the accommodation rates drop dramatically later on in the year. As the Airwaves Festival falls in October over five nights I decided that this would be a good time to go. A pass for the five nights cost 13,500 ISK which is a pretty sweet deal and would be a great way to get to know more of the town’s venues.

Having had an uncomfortable experience going through Heathrow last time around I decided to try a different approach. I booked with Iceland Express who had attempted to set up a direct route from Belfast in 2011 but wound up putting it off for a year. This time I would transfer through Gatwick and see how that went. Going in October allowed me to book eleven nights at the Hotel Cabin for £252. This would give me the five nights of the festival and plenty of time to do whatever else I wanted to get up to. Visiting Harpa would be on the agenda which I would do as part of the festival as would a day doing the South Shore Adventure with Reykjavík Excursions. Shopping would also be necessary for some new cold weather gear. There would also be a lot of photo taking and a little writing to be done this time around.

Finally the weather has turned up as I have always expected it might. The first night in town was peaceful enough but the following morning I woke up to an outdoor sound that reminded me of the road works back in Belfast that had been going on up and down the Lisburn Road for a week before I left. It was the wind. Wales were winning against the Irish in the World Cup Quarter Finals and France were just about to beat England, with or without the wind.

The Iceland Airwaves festival proved to be a revelation, I had no idea that such a small place could have so many great bands. Vicky, Skúli Mennski, Cliff Clavin, Endless Dark, the talented Valgeir Sigurðsson, the enormously likeable Dikta and the fucking incredible Norwegian outfit Honningbarna.

October in Iceland; the ground is nearly always wet and the girls are impossibly beautiful. If the wind’s not knocking you off your feet then they most certainly will. Speaking of beautiful sights, one night walking home the Northern Lights gave a brief, green display over the harbour. It truly is a magical place.

After the wind had died down the two days leading up to the festival were beautiful weather-wise and I decided to take full advantage of them. The Monday I did the South Shore Adventure which took us to Skógur, past Eyjafjallajökull all the way down to Vík and the incredible black sand beach nearby with its basalt columns and other-worldly surf. On the way back we visited Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, both stunning waterfalls and we also walked up to the base of a nearby glacier. On the way down we passed through Selfoss and Hella and on the way back the guide pointed out the final resting place of Bobby Fischer my favourite, crazy chess grandmaster.

The Tuesday I went horse riding at Íshestar Riding Tours near Hafnarfjörður. The day was another stunning afternoon and I can now fully appreciate the attraction that people have towards horses. The connection between horse and rider is a truly beautiful thing. My horse was called Hoppiloss. The trail took us through the lava fields weaving in between people’s little summerhouses. One of the guides was one of the most stunningly pretty women I’ve ever met. This trip would be the one when I would fully appreciate the intense appeal of Icelandic women.

Before the festival kicked off I checked out Bíó Paradís and saw ‘Carlos: The Movie’. The theatre reminded me of Charlie Gray’s from the 1980s in Auckland. The first festival moment was seeing ‘Everything, Everywhere, All The Time’ which was a great insight into some local artists and introduced me to the work of Valgeir Sigurðsson who composed one of the pieces that I would see performed at Harpa the following night. The Wednesday night I waited patiently (too patiently as it would turn out) for the wind and the rain to die down before heading down to NASA to see Sykur. By the time I’d arrived there was a huge queue around Austurvöllur Square waiting to get in and I gave up and went to Harpa instead. As I was getting there the crowd from Björk’s first gig was getting out and this would be the night that I discovered Dikta who are still quite possibly my favourite Icelandic act (still).

The next night was in the concert chamber at Harpa which was even more incredible than the photos had led me to believe. The place is spectacular to look at, sounded great and had a really intimate feel to it despite being so big. All of a sudden the Ulster Hall in Belfast looked really sad.

Out the back of Harpa in the exhibition space I discovered a series of documentaries on Nick Cave and the making of three of his albums which had recently been re-mastered being played around the clock for anyone to watch. Interviews with band members, producers and friends about the making of The First Born Is Dead, Tender Prey and The Boatman’s Call were an incredibly unexpected treat about a truly inspirational man.

The Friday I decided to go see Dikta again at Hemmi og Valdi’s, a tiny Café on Laugavegur before heading down to Gaukur á Stöng nice and early to settle in for a night of rock ‘n roll. The bands started with the incredibly sexy Vicky and then continued with the weird and wonderful Cliff Clavin. Then came the almighty Honningbarna and the night was finished off by Endless Dark.

I managed to get all my location photos done for my first novel while I was there and can now see all the places where the story takes place which is a great help. I went back to Bíó Paradís one last time to see ‘Midnight in Paris’ which completely rekindled my passion for Woody Allen. The overwhelming feeling as I left once again was that I already missed the place and despite the terrible weather I wanted to live there. Badly.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A Day Late and a Dollar Short #2

My second visit, I had decided, was to be a winter one. Christmas 2010, in fact, just a year and a half after my first visit. It was in fact to be the longest break in between trips to Iceland but at the time I wasn’t to know this. I had originally loved the place so much in the summer that I thought a real test of my adoration would be to go back when it was cold. The 2010 winter in the UK had already been unseasonably cold and with temperatures of -10 back home in Belfast just before I left Iceland would have to be pretty cold to put me off the place. I hadn’t really admitted it to myself at this point but I was already thinking about moving there permanently. This was to be a test of how much I loved the place.

One day’s snowfall at Heathrow had brought the world’s busiest international hub to a complete standstill and my concern at never making it Reykjavík was huge. Eventually Heathrow crawled back to life like a stinking drunk coming around just before last orders and on the 23rd I flew south to London before heading on my way back to the far north.

Being forced to wait for four hours standing in a freezing cold tent outside where the taxis normally drop you off made me feel sorry for cows. The UK’s biggest and best had received a couple of inches of snow and hit 3rd world conditions.

I tried pickled herrings and smoked lamb on the flight to Keflavík, quite a revelation. Best food I’d had flying I think, their Christmas platter really hit the spot. It was never going to be as cold as Britain in Iceland and I wasn’t fazed once by the weather there during my stay. Cold yes, but unreasonably so, no. It snowed rather heavily on Christmas Day but the rest of the time it was warmer than Belfast which is a bit of a joke at Northern Ireland’s expense

The hotel I was booked into over the five nights of my stay was actually closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so I was moved to a five star monster of a hotel just around the corner free of charge. The Grand Hotel Reykjavík was a complete delight and one of the best Xmas treats I’ve ever had.

I am frequently reminded in life of something I once heard a DJ say on air in Sydney. It’s not how you fuck up, it’s how you recover. The situation at Heathrow and the subsequent shambles in Northern Ireland over the water supply when I returned would make me think of these words over and over again.

I found a couple of Arnaldur Indriðason’s novels that I’d been unable to track down in the UK and discovered that there’s a bunch of his stuff that hadn’t been translated yet. I got some cool shirts from Dogma, a cheap jersey from Dressman and spent quite a bit of time looking for restaurants that were open. This proved to be a bit of work on the 24th and 25th but also led to me finding some great places to eat. The variety of food here is brilliant, from Nepalese Curry Houses to Slovakian Burgers and the lobster tails at Café Paris; anything you might want. The busiest place in town is still the best hotdog stand in the world where you could get two dogs with everything for 560 krónur. That’s a great lunch deal.

They reckon that about 30% of the population has a university degree. (That’s because tertiary education here is so cheap it may as well be free.) Figures that the rest of the world would struggle to ever match. Educating your population or giving them the opportunity to become educated can only ever be a good idea which hopefully will lead to many more. Universities in the UK can now charge up to £9,000 a year per student. Funnily enough hardly anyone can afford to go to university. Those that do wind up with huge student loans. The universities are full of rich kids from overseas and when British people do get degrees half of them will want to leave to find a job.

They also say they say that Iceland has more good looking women per capita than anywhere else in the world. Between the fact that they’ve had three Miss World winners in the last 27 years and only have the population of Cardiff and the women that I’ve seen in my two brief visits I would struggle to argue with that statement. Nor would I want to try.

Small populations seem to care about stuff more too. A guy in the shop where I got my jumper asked about the trapped miners in Greymouth. Not something you’d expect people on the other side of the planet to know was going on let alone give two hoot about.

He also said that from what he’d seen in movies that New Zealand looked a bit like Iceland. Like the rest of the world he had seen The Lord of the Rings movies. An astute observation that I’ve often contemplated myself but always felt a bit odd talking to people about. Just in case they thought I was talking rubbish. Anyone who’s been to both countries though couldn’t help but notice the similarities. There are of course many differences too. Both countries lie on geographical fault lines. Iceland’s is much bigger than ours. Both countries have geothermal activity but it presents itself in slightly different ways.

New Zealand has hot springs, geysers and bubbling mud. Iceland has the famous Geyser area where the name came from. The way Iceland harness their huge amount of geothermal power is the main difference. They have thousands of geothermal bores that keep everything in the country warm. Greenhouses where they grow all their vegetables. Hot water pumped into homes and businesses for radiators. A vast array of heated pools around the country. They even keep the footpaths in the middle of Reykjavík free of snow and ice with pipes of hot water under the pavements.

The black sands of the southern shores of Iceland could almost be New Zealand along with the organ pipe rock formations. The mountains and glaciers in Iceland have their counterparts in the South Island albeit on a much reduced scale. A lot of the dramatic scenery from the Lord of the Rings movies could have been shot on the other side of the world too.

My two nights at the biggest hotel in the whole country were very nice as was walking home in the snow on Christmas Day. My favourite memory of this stay though was on the evening of the 23rd on Laugavegur the main shopping street. Groups of people singing carols on the street which was car free for the night and others setting up stalls to stand there in the cold and give away free hot chocolate to anyone passing by.

The best of the lot though was a motorcycle gang; the Sober Riders MC, with their soup kitchen giving away soup to anyone at all. Some wanted it to keep warm that night, some probably really needed it this year more than most. That’s what Christmas in Reykjavík looked like to me. People looking out for each other, you don’t get that in too many places anymore. “Have a jolly, holly Christmas”.