Monday 1 June 2015

Back to the real world via Iceland

Wednesday 27 May Departure day. By train to Manchester airport.Never want to go from London again. First class (must get out of that habit) on a crowded train of motley Icelandics backpacked lunatics and daft kids looking for the sun.Which isn't in Manchester

It's much the best airport and grown enormously since I first landed there back from honeymoon in 1959 with only three and six left. Just enough to pay for the airport bus.

Enormous queue for Icelandic air which is now the cheapest way to get to US via a short stop over in Reykjavik (which means dressing for winter It's now a shop till U drop airport ( provided U want Armani or Rotary or any other up market gear and not a bacon sandwich to stock up your stomach for an airline which now charges a Kroner a crumb)

Buy two books of enormous size which makes my carry on bag too heavy to carry on. Stagger the 4 miles to gate 31. (Inevitably the last) and get on last  to find every overhead locker pack with trunks and enormous rucksacks (probably designed to smuggle children on for free. To find I'm on an aisle seat next to two men on diuretics who keep signaling graphically that they want to go to the toilet. Which is free. The only thing that is. 

Oh to be an MP again. I'd forgotten the joys of economy.At least it brings you closer to the people. 

Arrived at Keflavik the airport that's always building but not building travelators, so the first 100 miles of every working holiday have to be done to get out of the airport. Met by Einar driving his mother's car which hasn't been on the road for a year. He takes us back via Keflavik, built for the Americans with accommodation much bigger than then Icelandic standard but now occupied by the University. He says it's a pop music town with the museum of rock and roll because the kids formed groups for the Americans.
Daft that the Americans pressured Britain to prolong the cod war because they feared for their base then they evacuated the base when the Cold War cooled.
Takes us to Ogmundur's house. Former minister of the interior until the left was thrown out to beg in the progressives and the Independent party as a conservative coalition They're now unpopular because their austerity policies but support is t returning to the left.The most active opposition is the Pirates ( is their manifesto arson rape and small doses of murder?) who've just been holding a mass demonstration outside Parliament like the ones that broke the Independent government. 
There we gather  with his brother Bjorn the publisher ( who wants a book on the cod wars) who entertained us in the last parliamentary visit. All lefties and very interested in why Labour lost (remind me ,why'd did we?) and the difficulties of the left. Mainly gloomy and I'm buggered.But sleep well despite the fact that it's light all night.

THURSDAY 28 May  Breakfast of Icelandic Goo.Delicious Then off with Einar shopping Mainly Linda though bought a book and some little paintings- they get smaller as they get more expensive-and a museum visit plus a delicious lunch of traditional fish dishes a restaurant Einar plugged in his book. It seems to have two menus.One for the natives (of whom there are a lot) and one of illegal foods for the Japanese who're allowed whale and cormorant.

After which drive down to the harbour to see the latest arrival: a mobile fish and chip shop,Union Jack flying for "British tradition Icelandic quality." Or was it the other way round. They graciously give us six chips for being British.

Then the long drive through miles of moonscape which turns out to be a volcanic eruption in settlement times,to the airport .Why the hell is it so far out of town? There Einar's car breaks down and finally refuses to start at all jamming the car park entry (which we were lucky to reach-I'd begun to visualise lugging the suitcases across the tundra- It  refuses to move so we push the  suitcases into departures in the course of which the rigorous security checks involving removal of shoes and belts cause my trousers to fall down. No one laughs. Brilliant day. Now off to Seattle wondering if Einar will have got his mothers car going before we return in a month's time.Perhaps he'll have to bring her out to repair it-she's only 93.

Great visit. Great country but it's all collapsing in on Rekyavik  which. It has over half the lives there as it sprawls The sons of the sagas have become  suburbanites living a Modern life of supermarkets,car ownership and brand shopping that the rest of us live in.Iceland is becoming like anywhere. Except that the sea's too cold to bathe in and the scenery's spectacular. How are they going to keep them down on the fa rm after they've seen Reykyavik.Indeed they can't get people to man the fishing boats and farmers can't keep a fishing. boat as a small sideline because the big owners now own them all.. Thirty per cent have degrees but I'll bet only thirty percent of them can do anything with it. Vaut le visite!,
Out by Icelandair which has the cleanest toilets in the world but infuriates by selling its food (big baguette 5 Euros steaming hot. Now over Canada. Miles and miles of fuck all as denis Thatcher once remarked.


Immigration looked bad at Seattle and got worse. Big lines along fenced in paths leading to great new innovation: machines to read our visas. When we finally reached one (while the immigration cops at their desks watched bored with nothing to do it accepted my passport at only the third pass but balked Linda's and just packed up. Puzzlement so eventually we were pulled over to a bored officer. Again he got mine but balked at Linda's so we were shepherded to a detention room to sit and watch officers looking at bigger screens muttering. By this time all our fellow passengers had gone. 
Shuttles into back room and hushed conversations from which Linda heard "been refused entry" It turned out that in 2004 she'd got an ester but too late to lose it so it had been revoked and another issued. In their bureaucratic terms that was a refusal but she didn't know that ( who would unless they're told) so on her latest application she' said she'd never been refused entry and had therefore officer might have coped but the machine couldn't and these guys couldn't either. It was a matter of discretion and these guys didn't have any.
They patiently explained the problem but couldn't decide what to do.Official America is very bureaucratic. But they wanted to go home. We couldn't be sent back so eventually they let us in to an empty baggage hall ( where ours were the only two cases left warning us that the same thing would happen again if we came back to US. No point in arguing. No point in loosing one's temper or pointing out how daft it was.No status to pull any longer. Just age and that did no good.

We struggled exhausted to the light rail.Thank God we didn't get a taxi. Seattle was hundreds of miles away. Taxi to hotel or rather mausoleum out for beer (Americans don't understand larger and lime) then bed buggered.

Friday  30 May Out for brekkie so then fish market where fish stalls have given way to flowers (fleury du mal at $2 a stem ) and no one's buying fish but hundreds are photographing them( a shame because most of their heads have been cut off so they're not at their loveliest) Locals stride purposefully. Visitors waddle-I lumber) while Linda looks vainly for a T Mobile shop in a tatty area where you only find flower and knickknack shops. Back to hotel to rest until we find enough energy for lunch and resuming the restless search for T Mobile. Can't ring them up to ask where they are until we find them to make our phones work. Beginning to find Seattle uncharming

Buggered. But not missing the Queen's speech just feeling happy not to be there running round in small speeches, attacking the Tories and railing at the follies.It all looks such a waste of time from here.Our daft electorate deserves all that's coming to it.

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