Monday, 23 December 2013

The Union Jack

I was at home visiting my mother in Hampshire this weekend and noticed several people in her area had put up 15 foot flag poles with Union Jacks* on them.  To put it in geographic/social context: it's an affluent, middle class area: a massive suburban sprawl of massively overpriced late 60s bungalows that always returns a Tory MP with a huge majority.  It was Thatcher heartland, though since the "glory days" of the 80s I've noticed the area looking a lot more down at heel than it once did.

The sight of the flags (there were several in short distance of each other) evoked a feeling of mild repulsion in me.  "Mild repulsion" is quite a strong reaction.  Why?  Well, I'm afraid I just don't believe someone goes to the length and expense of putting up a 15 foot permanent flagpole in their garden unless they want to send out a very deliberate message.  It's not, in my opinion, and in this context, a neutral message.  It makes me think, rightly or wrongly that a xenophobe or racist lives in the house.

Union Jack Flying Outside Bungalow

What's Wrong with Our Flag?

Absolutely nothing, per se.  It's an attractive, eye-catching design.  Subjectively it's much more pleasant than say Albania's, which is quite rubbish.  The colours clash on that one.  The Union Jack looks great on British Airways tail-fins.  It looks lovely emblazoned on the Team GB Olympic uniform.  It looks even better on Tom Daley's trunks.  Yes, there's a mixed colonial past associated with it, which I understand evokes reactions, but not having experienced this time myself that aspect is pretty much absent for me.  It's more recent general associations for me are connected to "Cool Britannia".

But what matters is the context.  A Union Jack displayed on top of a building in Whitehall is what you expect and I've absolutely no issue with it.  During the Diamond Jubilee, I put up Union Jack bunting outside my home: I remember thinking that the village decked out like this was a fun, joyful display of celebration.   Likewise, a St George's flag flying on the church in the village is part of our landscape and tradition.  When you see a car bedecked in them with aggressive, chanting football fans inside the flag carries a different meaning.  It's not a simple case of I hate the flag: it's about the context and the intent of the display.

Jubilee Bunting. Yes, I was one of THOSE people

We are not a country, like say Switzerland, Denmark or Sweden, where national flags are to be seen routinely all over the country on private properties.   Because there are so many of them there you don't tend to make any sort of judgement about the people flying them.  It's part of the national culture.  Here they are a rarity.  I just cannot imagine any middle of the road person who realises the benefits that immigration brings with it hoisting a bloody great Union Jack up in their front garden.   That covers Labour supporters, Tory supporters and people of all social backgrounds.

I was born in this country, I am British, I am white, I am blond haired and blue eyed.  My father served 23 years in the army and fought in 3 armed conflicts.  My brother was in the army.  My grandfather served in the Boer War, First World War, and in the home guard during the Second World War.   Yet I found these flags outside people's houses mildly threatening and mildly aggressive.  They say to me "we don't want anyone who's not like us around here".   It makes me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.

That's my view.  I might be right about the flag fliers' motives or I might be wrong, but I know I'm not alone in it.  The National Front and the BNP have permanently sullied the flag of this country and it's a rare occasion (such as the Diamond Jubilee or on top of a government building) when it carries neutral associations.  Anyone growing up in the 70s remembers the chant "There ain't no black in the Union Jack".  It's the far right that has created this situation, not me.

UKIP Pile On

I therefore tweeted something this weekend along the lines of "when I see a Union Jack outside a house, I wonder if it's UKIP or BNP who lives there". 

Any regular user of Twitter knows that there's a body of UKIP fanatics who have a permanent search out against their beloved party, as well as any mention of Nigel Führage's name.   Within moments a conversation I was having with a friend was interrupted and I was hit with this charming invitation to his 1200 followers to send me abuse:


True to form, and confirming to me in large part everything I'd assumed about the type of people who do put these flag poles up in their gardens, I was called "scum", told that I was "everything that's wrong with this country", "obv. NOT British", that if I object to flying my own flag I should "go home"; and if I don't like it it, I knew "where the exit is" etc.

One guy said he flew the Union Jack to show his support for a "relative" serving his country.   Funny enough, my Father, (a Tory) who actually fought for this country and risked his life, didn't feel the need to shove a bloody great flag pole up in our front garden.  I'm actually sure would have found it unbearably crass.  Likewise, he was the last person to become a fascist about people wearing or not wearing poppies around Remembrance Sunday. 

Nevertheless, despite my army background, I was now a traitor who should leave the country for making a judgement about a Union Jack outside a bungalow.

Snobbish Judgements

Am I a snob for tweeting what I did?  I don't think there's any inherent link between someone's social background, and whether they want to display the British or English flag outside their house.  There are stacks of both working and middle-class people who would agree that nationalism has been a negative force in recent history.  This is about the negative connotations around national symbols that has been created by the far right.  It has absolutely nothing to do with class.  It has nothing to do with being part of a "metropolitan elite" or anything else.  It's about seeing a symbol and realising that context colours our reaction to it and makes us reach judgements. 

These people have a perfect right to display the Union Jack in their front garden: I also have a perfect right to feel uncomfortable and to reach negative judgements about them.  I'll continue to do so.





* I know that technically it's a Union Flag, not a Union Jack. But whatevs, it's what everyone calls it and knows it as.  It sounds tediously pretentious to call it anything other than the Union Jack in normal speech.  So there.



Adventure



It's been a super busy week for me here on the Lava Rock, pretty much all good stuff. For starters, I was on BBC World Service again last Tuesday. I was sitting in my kitchen nursing a rare cold brought home by my son from school and feeling a bit blue the way colds make you do, when an unlisted number called. I don't know who I thought it would be, but definitely not a producer from an international radio program! She introduced herself and asked if I'd be willing to go live on World Have Your Say in two hours' time, and I said yes.
The next two hours were spent getting my voice smoothed out  with tea and lozenges, and then the Skype call from them came in and we went live. You can hear the episode, which focused on women in politics, here (I'm introduced at about 10 minutes in.)

Secondly, my first shipment of my book 88 arrived last Thursday, and it's more beautiful than I dared to hope. I have to admit that I'm in love with how it came out. Whether readers will love the content isn't up to me, but I hope that most people will at least find something that inspires them inside. 

And then there's been the normal holiday meet and greet, with those who are leaving the city for the holidays being replaced with those coming home to celebrate with family and friends. Both of my children are with their fathers this Jól, one in London-town and the other in Akureyri, so it's just my parents and I for our traditional hamborgarahryggur (which I found translated as 'smoked pork rack' - not such a sexy name, but very delicious!) This will only be my second Christmas without my kids around, but they have their own siblings on their fathers' sides to spend the holidays with (my daughter has two little sisters, and my son has two little brothers!) so of course I'm way happier for them than I am sad for me. 

Finally for this post, I had promised on the Facebook fanpage to share photos of the bus ride that Óðinn (my son) and I went on last week. He wanted to take a random ride somewhere, so we walked down to Lækjargata and jumped on the first bus that came up, Line 13 into Seltjarnarnes and up past Kringlan. It was actually a very cool little adventure, and the bus driver was so sweet and helpful to eveyone. Ticket prices have gone up since I last rode (350 krónur for everyone) but he gave me a discount for Óðinn, which he really didn't have to do. I grabbed this cool shot along the ride. 

Oh, and tonight is Þorláksmessa, which I'll let this older post explain. We've had great weather these past few days which means that downtown filled up with suburbanites over the weekend, and I think the locals boutiques and stores must have done great business. We are, though, expecting a storm in this evening (an arm of the Canadian ice storm system?) which might mean that the tradition of coming into town for last minute shopping could be hindered a bit this year. 

P.s. Please be careful out there this holiday, and remember to hug the ones you're with! 



Saturday, 14 December 2013

Smooth Radio

When I was in Glasgow, I used to play Fly FM music online. Then, I discovered Smooth Radio which was a UK radio and I have been listening to it eversince. U get to choose which part of UK u want to listen to and I usually choose 'Central Scotland'. Smooth radio plays similar songs to Lite & Easy but there are less advertisements on Smooth radio. Get the app now!

Listening to Smooth radio brings back memories of Glasgow when the daily news, weather report or traffic report comes up :)

Friday, 13 December 2013

Menthol crystal for nose block/ sinus

Eversince returning from Glasgow, I have been suffering with a blocked nose due to allergy to temperature change. Nasal sprays worked for awhile but I did not want to continue taking it forever. The gp also said once I stop taking the spray, my mucus secretion will be higher.

This week I was down with a fever and a really bad, painful sore throat. It also does not help that the nose decides to be blocked too. So, sleeping at night can be a hassle because I have to breathe through my mouth, which makes my throat hurts more.

The gp recommended some allergy tablets and also menthol crystal for my blocked nose. They really look like crystals!

I was told to put a few pieces of me thol crystals into hot water in a cup and breathe from it. Being my first time, putting one or two tiny crystals didnt feel like it would work. So, I added five more! When I added the hot water and inhaled the steam, woosh it went straight up my nostrils. It felt like i was having a mint sweet. It was very minty and when the steam gets into the eyes it hurts.

Miraculously, my nose was completely cleared in ten seconds. It was like magic.

But the cleared nose didnt last long. As I fell asleep my nose blocked again:( 

Will try a lower concentration of menthol tonight with more inhalation to see if it works.


Thursday, 12 December 2013

Vibe



GUEST PHOTOGRAPHER: Keira Brown

I met Keira on the last night of Airwaves and we pretty much bonded right away. Music does that, it brings people together. She showed me this soulful photo and we agreed that it was a beauty. I asked her to write about the story behind the shot, and here's what she had to say:


Standing near the front of the stage at Airwaves whilst renowned and Mercury Music nominated producer Jon Hopkins was performing, I was intrigued about the crowd’s response to his set. Hopkins, from the UK, who has previously worked with friends of mine including Kenny Anderson, clearly has an international presence, which he is still actively building. 
I took a moment here to capture the audience during his set in Harpa, Reykjavik, as he had this large mob in his palm, convinced that his gig is worth holding out for until the very end. At no point of this gig does it feel that the listeners are disappointed, and that to me is what is highlighted with this shot. The sheer intensity on the facial features on the gentleman to the right of centre, along with the powerful arm punching the air accurately depicts a chaotic gig which will no doubt see Hopkins back in this city yet again.

Keira, a Scottish music and book reviewer with a well-read blog (Always Read the Small Print) and strong Twitter presence, is one of those wonderful people (like a lot of you, dear readers!) who fell in love with our island and who intends to return as soon as she can. Iceland awaits!

As far as Icelandic music goes, I also ran across this excellent news: the Icelandic Music App just reached third place on Spotify! For all of you who love stuff like Of Monsters and Men, Ásgeir, Múm, Björk and so much more (including metal, folk, pop, jazz, to name a few genres), with 22,000 tracks to choose from you'll definitely find tones to suit your taste. And though there's been some controversy  about the platform, in my humble opinion anything that helps spread great musical sounds around the world should be given more than a a fair chance.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Colonialism and Homophobia

Today we discovered that the Supreme Court of India recriminalised gay sex ("sodomy") - a ruling which will have a potentially devastating effect on gay men in this country of 1.3 billion people. 

The Indian statute that prohibits "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal" dates back to two years after the establishment of the Raj, namely 1860.  It is widely interpreted as referring to gay male sex.  My understanding is that lesbian sex continues to be ignored, as under Victorian British law - women are incapable of having "carnal intercourse" together.  The law has been criticised by Human Rights Watch to harass HIV activists, gay men and other LGBT groups.  It is in their view a "continuing threat to public health" as well as a violation of protections in India’s constitution for the rights to equality and to personal liberty.


The Indian Supreme Court

Before British colonisation there were differing, often far more ambivalent views towards homosexuality in India.  The obvious example of the Karma Sutra shows a very inclusive relationship towards all aspects of human sexuality.  This is a common theme in many countries around the world that became part of the Empire, specifically including Africa.  The outlawing of consensual same-sex male acts was an export of the British, along with their desire to Christianise indigenous populations.

I don't think the preceding paragraph is too controversial.  The question is then to what extent, if any, state sponsored homophobia today can be seen as a lasting legacy of British rule.  The Kaleidoscope Human Rights Foundation carried out a report in 2011 that identified some striking facts:
  • There is "state sponsored" homophobia in 40% of nations worldwide
  • Gay sex is illegal in 42 of the 53 Commonwealth nations (with India now included)
  • Non-Commonwealth states where gay sex is illegal make up just 24.5% of the total
  • So, as Kaleidoscope puts it "the Commonwealth has a big problem"
France legalised gay sex in 1791.  The Netherlands did so in 1811.  The experience of countries which were part of the French or Dutch empires is markedly different to those under British rule.  That is not to say that homophobia does not exist in those places - of course it does to some extent - or that it the British empire was the sole cause of it: consider, for example, Saudi Arabia.  But it is a fair, broad-brush generalisation to conclude that where the British were the imperial power, they brought with them legalised state sanctioned homophobia and this has clearly, by the numbers above, left a lasting legacy.

The brilliant historian and writer, Alex von Tunzelmann, put it extremely succinctly for me this morning - this is in her opinion an example of "internalised colonialism":


Earlier today Sunny Hundal picked up on a tweet of mine that quoted from the Guardian report of the Kaleidoscope report and commented that:



Note the "partly".  No one is saying that today's decision in 2013 is the exclusive fault of Britain today.  The judges were the ones who made their decision today - nobody else - and successive parliamentarians in India since 1947 who decided not to decriminalise gay sex are the ones who are responsible for the law still being on the books.  Sunny was, however, quite rightly pointing out that the British left behind a cultural legacy that continues.  The legacy of homophobia that was exported under the long period of Empire still shape attitudes and affects people.  I really don't see what is so contentious about that.

Louise Mensch apparently disagrees - along with various other right wingers who then joined in the fun.  I'm puzzled why this should evoke such a reaction - presumably it's somehow unpatriotic or offensive to suggest that Britain did some bad things and the effects of these linger on. 
Louise incidentally clearly missed the "partly" when she read Sunny's tweet. 



In response, I asked Louise whether she believed colonialism had left behind any positive enduring legacy anywhere.  Clearly it has: right wingers are normally ever so keen to point out the railways, education, infrastructure, church building and all that jolly stuff that Empire brought with it.   Yet Louise didn't answer.  I wonder why.  Perhaps it was because she knew she'd fall right into the trap of admitting that if it's possible and valid to praise previous governments for the legacy they've left behind, then one can also "blame" them.  It's two sides of the same coin.  Either Empire left some kind of mark that endures to a greater or lesser extent today, or it didn't.

It's fairly clear to me that decades, and sometimes hundreds of years, of Empire leaves a cultural legacy on a nation and on a people.  Some of this will be positive, some of it will be negative.  In the time since independence nations will make their own decisions and go their own way.  But to dismiss out of hand the finding that homosexuality is illegal in 42 of 53 Commonwealth states, and to fail to see any causation when it was Britain that introduced these laws is just a bit baffling to me.  

So to conclude, yes, Britain has moved on and I'm tremendously proud it has done so.  What it should be doing now is to speak positively to seek to influence its fellow member states in the Commonwealth to realise that what was considered acceptable in 1860 is not in 2013.  We - in part - created this mess.  I'd like to see us attempt to help clear it up, if that is at all possible.






 







 


Monday, 9 December 2013

88



This is my book ~.~ It's a love letter to my favorite island home, written over the course of 88 days in Reykjavik, Iceland, during one glorious and apocalyptic autumn season.

I've known for years that I would write it in 2012, starting on my birthday, but I didn't really understand how much it would mean to me. I'd like to share with you all, and give you the chance to purchase your own copy via the Blurb Online Bookstore.


Since I was 17 I've known that I have the same birthday as F. Scott Fitzgerald, and that we're both born in the Year of the Monkey, he in 1896, me in 1968. I knew that he died far too young of alcoholism, at age 44, and so decided that I'd try starting up where he left off and begin to write with dedication at that same age.

A few years ago I discovered something that frankly boggled me: F. Scott passed away on December 21st, 1940, at 44 years and 88 days old. It just so happened that I would turn 44 years and 88 days old on December 21st, 2012, the famous end day of the Mayan calendar. So a decision was made. I'd start writing on our birthday. And because he drank himself to death, I'd even try living a bit of his lifestyle while writing. So I had a plan from the start. But what I didn't account for were all the things that happened during those days, and how they were to influence how the story unfolded: life, death, sex... and love.

Buy yourself a copy and take the journey I took, experiencing the autumn season of a white girl living on a volcano who knew she was supposed to die.








Thursday, 5 December 2013

Pulse



It's been an intense week* for our big little island, and because I try to keep this space more news-free than not it's been a bit of a challenge to imagine what to write. Too peppy a tone, and it would be an insult to all those here who have been affected by loss these past few days (loss of loved ones, of jobs, of privacy), while getting too deep and dour would dampen what we most need right now: hope.


I also wasn't so sure about a photo, so I took a walk around the neighborhood in -10°C weather last night for inspiration. We're having our first real cold snap of the season and there's dry crunchy snow covering pretty much everything, making for a beautiful winter-in-Reykjavik ambiance that we actually rarely get these days. Still, I was mostly just cold and hoping to find something groovy to photograph before my fingers went numb. Then I remembered the tree.

Located at the junction of Laufásvegur and Skothúsvegur, this 100 year-old Sycamore is covered in thousands of fairy lights and is mildly famous, with its own Instagram hashtag (#islenska) and all. I was pleasantly surprised with what I got, and more excited about this image than the full-view photo, which I'll post on our Facebook page.

There's something intense and alive about the shot, like lifeblood pulsing through veins, or like a neural network. And I think that's what we need to focus on now: our network of family and friends. Caring for the loved ones still in our lives and saying a sweet prayer for the ones who are gone. And we need to remember the heartbeat of our society, and let compassion and love flow through us, and forgiveness. It's how we'll heal ourselves, our national soul and, ultimately, our land.

*If you'd like to know more about what's been going on here, as usual I'll direct you to read the great reporting at both Grapevine and Iceland Review.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Tom Daley and Dustin Lance Black

So the front page on the Sun is reporting that Tom's bf is the Hollywood screenwriter and director, Dustin Lance Black.  The rumours about the pair were already circulating back in October.  This very amusing and clever nudge-nudge piece reported it months ago.  Of course the first thing the Sun does is to emphasise that Dustin is 39 and Tom is 19.


All that tolerance and happiness for him couldn't last could it? Cue the homophobic subtext: gays are predatory cradle-snatchers who lead helpless young men "astray" etc. Never mind the fact that Tom is clearly an exceptionally intelligent, self-possessed guy who has dealt with the extreme media pressure he's been under since he was 14 in a phenomenal way.  Never mind that he's managed to put out an extraordinary 5 minute unscripted video about his feelings and sexuality with a level of maturity and eloquence that many of us never achieve.  No, he has to be some kind of victim in all this.

Whilst this picture was circulating (since identified in all likelihood as a fan) it was all "oooh, ahhh, aren't they cute?" / "aww look at them: pocket sizes gays" but that seems to be ending abruptly.  No, we can't deal with an age difference on top of his being gay.  Heaven forbid that our tolerance be stretched that far.  If the pair don't look like they could doe-eyed characters in a Disney cartoon, start the judgement.

Disney Gays: yeah, they're acceptable


Last night I pointed out that his grandparents, whilst broadly supportive, told the Daily Mail that they felt Tom was "too young for this kind of decision".  It's great they said they will always be there for him: wonderful in fact.  I asked, though, whether his announcing that he had a steady girlfriend that would have resulted in the same reaction that's he's too young for this "decision".   What decision, exactly, in any case?  Tom's said he still fancies girls.  The decision was to go public on his relationship, which he has every right to.  Straight people get engaged and married at 19, routinely.  You might think that too young, but would you as a family member announce it to the Daily Fail of all people?  To me, it just underlines the different standards that are still applied to young LGBT people.  Straight people can decide they're old enough for relationships, but there's still a view that you're doing something wrong if you're involved with the same sex, until you reach some undefined magical age.  Don't just blame it on the generational gap: my 80 year old Lutheran grandmother simply said "It's genetic, there's nothing wrong with that.  I read it in a magazine" when I came out. 

This exact same "it's not quite right" subtext is present in the discussion of his (alleged) boyfriend's age.  A 39 year old Hollywood male legend dating a 19 year old girl might get the odd comment, but really we can all reel off the dozens of heterosexual relationships that fit this mould and still get our approbation.  It's a handy way for people to let out their disapproval of the situation to comment on the age difference rather than to be overtly homophobic, I guess.  People are catching on slowly that the latter really isn't that on in 2013.

And be clear, if Dustin is Tom's boyfriend, he is going out with an absolute legend.  Here is an excerpt from his acceptance speech at the Oscars for his movie "Milk":


It's not just straights doing it.  I'm sure DLB will love to read the following tweet and the many other personally abusive ones you've put out this morning, given the media scrutiny he's under of this story breaking at the moment (whether it's true or not).


So, *LGBT solidarity to you* "Jane" of Queerights.

Worse, perhaps, than the blind ignorance about the age gap are the snarky gays who are attacking Dustin for not being "cute enough".  Oh GAYS.. are we really going to go there?  Not had enough judgement in your life that you need to ply it on to others?  Your verdict about his haircut, his age, his face really aren't that important.  What matters is that someone has come out and given an incredible role model to young LGBT kids around the world.  Whether the alleged boyfriend is cute or not matters to only one person.  And that's Tom.  What's more, for what it's worth, look at those pecs, you dozy twits :P

"Not cute enough": Gays, Everywhere

Tom is hugely in the public eye at the moment.  He must be acutely sensitive to negative comments.  Any relationship when you're 19 is hard work.  God, any relationship at any age is hard work, let's face it.  If Tom were going out with the "cute, ordinary boy" in the shopping centre, the difficulty for the pair of them to have any sort of a normal existence would be huge.  If he is with DLB as the reports suggest, he has someone who is used to media attention, the way the celebrity world works, and all of that pressure.  He is, by all accounts, an exceptional man.

If the story is true, I wish them both the very, very best.  Tom has done a remarkable thing.  He's a remarkable guy.  And he deserves remarkable happiness.  I hope whoever he is with will provide that and people will stop with the snarking.









Saturday, 30 November 2013

Honey, I cancelled Christmas!

Are we sitting comfortably, looking forward to the Yuletide season, Christmas songs perhaps about to be put on, minds turned towards buying presents and putting up trees?  Let me begin!

Back in the 90s I had a friend in Germany, Silke.  I went across to see her and her family for New Year, and asked if they'd had a good Christmas.  Much to my genuine dismay they told me they didn't bother with it.  Instead they just had friends and family round just afterwards every year for a "Reste-Essen".  This is where everyone brought all their left-over food, and they had a get together to use it up.  On Christmas they did absolutely nothing.  No tree, no presents, no cards.

KEINE WEIHNACHTEN?  But, but... the Germans own this thing.  Almost all those fabulous pagan things that make little baby Jesus' birthday so special come from Germany.  These include carrying on the ancient pre-Christian tradition of worshipping trees, and celebrating the shortest day by lighting candles; not to mention Advent calendars, Christmas markets, Stollen, Glühwein, Santa Claus (okay he's a Dutch thing, but close) etc, etc.  German Christmases are just so very special.  I just couldn't understand it, and frankly it made me ein bißchen traurig.

Oscar contemplates Christmas
More confusingly, they were demonstrably a really happy, fun family, not a bunch of miserable sods who would do this for effect.  Nor were they either anti-religious, or on the other hand, members of some Protestant sect who rejected this as a "Papish custom".  They were ordinary agnostic Germans.

So, let's be clear that this blog is entirely personal.  I'm not advocating that Christmas should be "banned", or to ruin anyone else's fun.  I've just got to the point where this year, I utterly understand where Silke's family were coming from.  I've cancelled Christmas.  Let me explain!

We Have A Choice

Last year I had probably the best, most perfect Christmas of my life to date.  My boyfriend Ste came down to my cottage in Suffolk for 4 weeks, we bought our first tree together, nearly removed multiple limbs as we attempted to get it in its holder, baked things together, went ice-skating at Somerset House, cuddled the dog in front of an open fire, he made an incredible veggie Christmas dinner for us, and we visited his family in Liverpool on Boxing Day.  Short of snow coming down on the 25th, it was all as perfect and idyllic as a Christmas could be.  I loved it.

Perfection: Christmas 2012

This year, Ste is in Beijing studying and will have lessons on Xmas Day.  I'm off working in Austria on Boxing Day, flying out first thing.  My Mutti will be with my brother and sister-in-law in Germany again for the holiday.  So if I did do Christmas, it would be short, and it would be with friends who have taken pity on sad bastard me and invited me over.  I'll be seeing Ste when the Chinese New Year holiday starts and we're off to Australia/ New Zealand together.  That's our huge winter treat this year, not spending Xmas together.

Further, as I was standing in Tesco the other day contemplating all of these particular personal circumstances, staring at the tacky plastic tree leaning over with the exposed cables below, and the wrapped empty cardboard boxes to add "atmosphere", listening to the tinny piped music on repeat, it suddenly occurred to me - I really don't have to do this thing this year.  Just because last year was so good, and despite the general pressure to conform, I do actually have a choice each and every year.

Dear readers: we HAVE a choice!

Little Baby Jesus

I'm not a Christian, and belong to the ever increasing number of more than 54,000,000 people in the UK who don't go to church regularly.  I've therefore certainly no religious reason to celebrate Christ's birth.  In any case, we all know there's zero evidence that Christ was born on 25 December.  There were apparently shepherds in the fields when he was born, which doesn't happen in December in the West Bank, for a start.  The Bible actually doesn't give any date or day for his birth.  He may have been born anywhere between 6BC and 4AD, at any time of year.  It was only a couple of hundred years later, at the earliest in 273AD, that 25 December was fixed upon.  This conveniently coincided with the winter solstice, and the major pagan festival of the "birth of the invincible sun god".

Classy: Baby Jesus as a Gummi Bear

I get why Christians want to mark a symbolic day when their saviour was born, but I certainly don't need to personally.   It's also clear to me that if you're a believing Christian, you should probably be putting five times the effort into celebrating Easter than Christmas - but hey, that's your call.  Finally on this point,  the central message of Christmas is "peace and goodwill to all mankind".  It kinda strikes me that everyone should be doing that every day anyway: we don't need some day especially set aside to be nice, and then behave like little shits every other day of the year.

The Victorian Christmas: a real raison d'être

Next, it struck me that Christmas back in say, the Victorian age, was a rest-day in a time when people worked 6 days a week, and public holidays were very rare.  It was a day when people who had very little indulged themselves with special treats that were completely out of their reach normally.  A goose for lunch, for example.  Even during my father's lifetime he got oranges at Christmas, which his family couldn't afford during the rest of the year.  I'm fortunate enough to be materially very privileged, and I'll readily admit it.  Like many people in this country, there's very little I would serve up on the dinner table that I couldn't afford at any other time of year if I really wanted it.  I have 2 full days off every weekend, all of our public holidays, and like every worker in the EU, I'm entitled to 4 weeks paid holiday every year.

The point is my very fortunate personal position means that this "Victorian" aspect of Christmases past being a day off work when your belly was properly filled isn't a factor for me.  This is a big, significant change over the past 60 years and it applies to many in this country.  I'd love to say this is the case for everyone, but of course in Conservative Austerity Britain that increasingly isn't the case.  Pictures like the one below are unfortunately a reminder in 2013 that plenty across the country are heading back to the time where having a decent meal is actually something remarkable.

So depressing that this in Britain in 2013

Commercial Excess

Now let's got on to the commercial excess.  There's been a big consumer back-lash against Christmas music and displays in stores in early September, but there's still no denying there is the most hideous display of conspicuous consumption and utter tat on sale out there.  Just as in every single supermarket across the country, in our local Tesco the shelves are currently groaning under the weight of all the chocolate, the mince pies, the booze.  The over-indulgence turns the inner-Puritan stomach in me, especially knowing that people are genuinely short of basic food stuffs in my own country.  How great to come out the other side of Christmas without having to diet all through January because I stuffed my gob to excess all of December?  The thought of all the food and drink that will be consumed (and wasted) across the UK next month makes me feel faintly queasy.

The real spirit of Christmas! Stuffing yourself till you're sick.

I've also genuinely no need of any presents, and really everyone who is close to me is in pretty much the same boat.  I find it completely depressing to have to waste money for the sake of it, rushing around looking for something that friends and family might potentially want, knowing they're doing exactly the same for me.  The crass materialism so turns me off.  I'd got to the stage where I'd rather have fewer "things" in my life than more.  I've expressly asked anyone who might get me anything this year not to please.  I won't be buying anything for anyone either.

Also what does all the cheap plastic made-in-China shite, and all the over-sized gift sets that are on display, remotely have to do with a traditional Christmas, or showing your loved ones that you actually care for them?  There must be the most grotesque emotional and financial pressure on families with kids, who start circling items in catalogues and making on-line wish lists in September.  I also have no idea how people afford it.  I know you don't have to go down this road with your kids, but when their friends get new X-Boxes, it must be pretty hard not to engage in the whole thing to some extent.  We've created a horrible situation as a society where kids expect so much and parents feel guilty if they can't or won't provide.

The Tyranny of Christmas Cards

Even before this year's decision, I long since stopped sending cards out.  Remember back at school where you bought a box set and handed out 40 of them, just so you'd get 40 back and think that made you popular?  It's a bit like saying you've got 28,000 followers on Twitter, but the only reason is that you're team-follow back and follow 28,000 yourself.  In the days before cheap phone calls abroad, free Skype calls, instant email and social media communication, a card was a lovely way of knowing that someone far away was thinking of you.  Nowadays when I get one, I look at it, think "ahhh" and it goes straight in the recycling bin.  Send me a tweet instead, please - it's far better for the environment and I'll really appreciate it just as much! 

I feel your pain, Ian!

Also, how EXPENSIVE is it nowadays to do this?  I always used to think it was a convenient excuse and they didn't really do it, but begin to understand why people say they're making a donation to charity with the cash.

Family and Friends

The final thing is to comment on the friends/family aspect.  It's a lovely, lovely thing to meet up with them, and if Christmas prompts you to do so, great.  But there is no need for this to be the occasion to do so.  Muslims, Hindus and Jews manage to see their families without Christmas being the impetus.  If anything the pressure to have a "perfect time" etc can lead to well-documented domestic stress and fractious family situations.

Compare American Thanksgiving: an occasion to take stock and be thankful for all the good things in one's life and celebrating that thankfulness openly.  Families and friends come together in an almost entirely commercial-free zone (let's ignore the Black Friday consumer orgy the following day) and are just "together".   That speaks to me so, so much more than the way Christmas in the UK has developed.

And what of those who have no family or friends that they can be with at Christmas?  All the images of how it should be must represent a real kick in the teeth for them and a reminder of their isolation.

Happy Yuletide!

So there we have it.  No tree for me this Christmas 2013.  No cards.  No booze.  No advent calendar. No stuffing myself with food.  No stressful battling with the crowds in Norwich shopping precinct.  No presents.  No excess.  How do I feel? Completely liberated from something that has frankly become hollow beyond belief. 

Again to be clear, I don't wish anyone else a bad time if it means something different to you: far from it.  I guess it's a bit like when I see the Diwali lights and see how special it is for many people - but this year I'm just not part of it.  That's not a negative thing: it's less "bah humbug" than "yay, humbug!" It's actually a positive decision for me.

[Let's be honest: like hell will he let me pull this trick again]

Will this continue?  I've no idea.  Ste will be back for Christmas 2014 and we've pencilled in being with his family in Liverpool, because he was away in China this year.  Those experiences will be far more special to me than a load of presents, 300 mince pies and 4 gallons of booze.  A non-commercially excessive, card free Christmas next year is therefore "on".

But for 2013, and whenever it all just gets too much in the future*, I realise I do have a choice, and it seems to be easier to make than I thought.  Maybe I'll do Christmas bi-annually, maybe the cancellation this year will be a one-off.  Maybe I'll never do it again, and Santa will never visit me again!  Who knows.

It's a little early, but on that note, Happy Christmas, boys and girls ;-)



* See caption to above photo. Who am I kidding.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Immigrants and Prejudice

My family are immigrants.  I think most people in this country share this.  My father's family came over from Holland in 1689.  My mother came much more recently: from Germany in 1963.  They're "okay" though - nice blond, Northern European types.

They're not the type of immigrants that people generally object to: never mind objectively what skill levels they have, these are the type of people who will quite obviously integrate, get educated, work and contribute.  Why? Well because they're nice, blond, Northern European types.  It just goes with the territory.  It's those dark skinned gypsies from Romania we need to worry about, or all those lazy Slavs filling up the benefits offices and claiming welfare.  They will never fit in or contribute.  If our family continues to follow German customs and speak German at home that's absolutely fine: we're not a threat, it's just part of our heritage!  But if an East European family doesn't fully "fit in" in this country, in every respect, it's time to point the finger and decry them.

Standard Mail image: E/ European Gypsies just have to be criminals
Never mind the facts.  Never mind every study showing that immigrants as a whole are net contributors in the form of taxes, less likely to claim benefits etc.  You can quote and quote the facts, but it seems some people will just never accept it.  And this, of course, is depressingly and deliberately exploited by politicians of all shades who try to get political support by pandering to this prejudice.

An Example from Twitter

Today on Twitter I experienced a really enlightening example of the above.  I chipped in to a conversation with a 22 year old guy who said that he "volunteered in a soup kitchen where the majority of the recipients are Eastern European on some form of benefit".  He then went on to say that "Foreign nationals do contribute especially those from Norway/Sweden etc. What's wrong with wanting them?"

He was portraying himself as reasoned, and reasonable - not an extremist in any way.  My simple, and I think perfectly apt response, to this was:
"Oh I've heard that philosophy before.  The "Nordic races" are superior to the Slavs. Let me just think where... Hmm"  
He said it was "idiotic drivel" for me to say this.  I don't see why: he was saying that only positive contributors to Britain should be allowed in, and had already divided this on racial origin grounds.  Norway/Sweden = good; East Europe = bad.  This is, I suppose, common-place enough, but what then happened was remarkable.  He quoted from an academic paper, three times, which he said showed those people who come from the "EU8" are much less likely to be in receipt of benefit than the EUA14. "Unfortunately the chances [of people being scroungers] are more likely" according to him.  The delightful thing here he was indeed quoting accurately from the report:



His problem was that he hadn't read what was meant by EUA8 and EUA14 countries.  EUA8 countries are the EU accession countries from Central and Eastern Europe that joined in 2004 i.e Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia etc.  EUA14 countries, by contrast, are the countries who were EU members prior to then.  Yep, that includes those lovely blond Nordic nations, Sweden and Denmark, along with the Netherlands, Germany and Austria.

So - you got it - he was quoting from a report that showed that migrants from Poland etc are less likely to claim welfare benefits in the UK than people from pre-2004 EU members, which happen to include Sweden. 

I'm sorry, but this utterly stinks.  It is a perfect example of how someone's prejudice sufficiently blinds them so that he or she interprets a report in exactly the opposite way to its reasoned conclusion.  This is done in order to reinforce what strikes me as a deeply prejudiced view, which he absolutely refused to accept he had.  He did, however, have the good grace to admit he was wrong when it was pointed out to him that he had massively got the wrong end of the stick. 

The "immigration debate" is polluted to the core with thinking like this, conscious and sub-conscious prejudice and misinformation.  It's so depressing and it needs to be countered a lot, lot louder than people are currently doing.









Voices



I'm going to wager that every one of you who has been here has stood in this spot, at the top of Skólavörðurstígur in front of Hallgrímskirkja, but not for the reason we were there this morning. Today about 300 students from Austurbæjarskóli and their parents gathered with flags and drums and fire-lit torches to march down to City Hall and demand that an important promise be kept. The city had allocated money and shown intent to turn an unused space on the school property into a community center for the kids in our neighborhood (which is basically a wide circle around the Big Church, from the town lake to the northern shore of the bay, and from Snorrabraut over towards the BSÍ bus terminal and Hjlómskálagarður park.)

Austó, as it's called, has a rich 83 year history, and was the first building in Reykjavik to be heated with then-new geothermal technology Here's an informative PDF in Icelandic with images (the school is on page 10) for those of you want to practice the language. (Wow, while looking for old photos of the school, I discovered this blog post by Roddy Fox, a geology prof at Rhodes U. in South Africa, doing research into his father's army time in Iceland during WWII. A short must-read, and once again, why I love maintaining this site!)

While the newer neighborhoods the capitol region often had community spaces incorporated into the overall design, and though culture center Hitt Húsið has been a great success for the 16-25 year olds, younger kids who live downtown don't really have anywhere safe and social to go after school. As stated on the main website for what they call Leisure Centers, these are crucial places for the children of immigrants to go and feel welcome and like they belong. Our Midtown neighborhood is (thankfully) very culturally diverse, and our kids deserve to have the city fulfil their pledge to create a proper one, and soon! (Update: our mayor Jón Gnarr and our city council chairman, Dagur Eggertsson - good looking men! - are going to make it happen! :) 

Re: building and development, today's front-page headline article is on the Icelandic Touring Association's  new idea to protect Icelandic nature via crowdfunding (like our local Karolina Fund) basically inviting businesses, individuals and of course tourists to invest in "nature passes" and thereby avoiding what's becoming a messy bureaucratic issue about how/whether Iceland should be charging for access to our most popular natural attractions. It's our responsibility to keep them pristine for all the generations to come (for example, Icelandic Eden Project, anyone?)


Cuteness

Keep calm and move your ass

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Homophobia and the B&B case

It's been another excellent day for LGBT rights in the United Kingdom.

The "Christian" (I'll explain the inverted commas in a moment) guest house owners who refused to allow a gay couple to stay, in clear contravention of the law, have lost their case in the Supreme Court.  They were funded by the homophobic Christian Institute in their lengthy struggle to have the right to discriminate against the gay couple, in case you wondering.  They lost in the County Court, they lost (unanimously) in the Court of Appeal, and now they've lost (unanimously) in the Supreme Court. You'd hope they've got the quite clear message by now.

One of the most heartening aspects of this case were the words of Baroness Hale, the Deputy President of the Supreme Court, and as such the most senior woman judge in the country.   She went way beyond simply rejecting the guest-house owners' spurious arguments, with this passage right at the end of her judgment:
"Sexual orientation is a core component of a person's identity which requires fulfilment through relationships with others of the same orientation... [Homosexuals] were long denied the possibility of fulfilling themselves through relationships with others.  This was an affront to their dignity as human beings which our law has now (some would say belatedly) recognised.  Homosexuals can enjoy the same freedom and the same relationships as any others.  But we should not underestimate the continuing legacy of those centuries of discrimination, persecution even, which is still going in many parts of the world."
These are beautiful words, coming as they do, from someone so very senior in the judiciary.  When I studied law (at the same Cambridge college as Baroness Hale, no less!) I remember sitting in a supervision in 1994 reading the words of the Law Lords in the recently handed down R v Brown case.  It followed a homophobic witch-hunt by the Police, and the overtones of the judgement were extremely unpleasant.  How times change, and so very rapidly.

The wonderful Baroness Hale of Richmond

The owners of the guest-house in this case have taken every opportunity to portray themselves as reasonable, simple Christian believers.  It is actually hard not to see them as are hard-nosed zealots, determined to take their alleged right to discriminate as far as they possibly can.  They have chosen to open a business and simply can't expect to get away in 2013 with the equivalent of hanging a "No Blacks, No Irish" sign on their door.  They do not even share the part of the building that was used as a commercial guesthouse with their private living quarters, nor is their any evidence they asked straight couples for proof of marriage: quite the contrary.

They will continue to portray themselves as a persecuted minority in the ilk of the early Christian martyrs.  There is a certain group, like them, who seem to revel in their status as long-suffering Joan of Arc types.  Being thrown to the lions in ancient Rome is nothing compared to what they suffer.  They were after all simply "following God's word" in discriminating against the gay couple.  After today's judgement they said they preferred to disobey the law of the land if it meant obeying "the law of God".  They forget that it's their interpretation of the law of God, and there are certain huge flaws in their argument as I've pointed out before with a quick look at Leviticus.

For any straight readers, imagine the personal offence and damage to your basic dignity at being told that cannot stay somewhere because of your relationship.  It happened to my friend Henrietta and her girlfriend in an expensive boutique hotel one Easter, before this legislation existed, which wasn't that long ago.  The aggressive hotel owner told her he "wouldn't have any of that going on under his roof" and literally threw their bags out of the reception.

Of course there are amusing elements to this case too.  I love the assumption that sharing a double bed means you're going to have sex (or will be tempted to).  It's positively Victorian: hands above the sheets, boys and girls!  How about the times I've shared a double-bed with sundry male and female friends, with my mother, and indeed with my dog, without feeling even the slightest need to shag my bed-fellow in the middle of the night.   Moreover, who needs a double-bed if you do actually fancy your bedroom mate?  Do these people have no imagination? :-)

Christian Homophobia

I still encounter homophobia on a regular basis on Twitter.  A common theme arises: by no means all Christians are homophobes, but almost all homophobes I come across seem to be Christians.

There's the zealot Catholic stalker of mine who talks not about gay people, but of people who "have SSA" (same-sex attraction) as if it were an affliction or a temporary disorder that can be "cured".  I didn't chose my sexual orientation, honey - you however chose your faith.. and your nasty, bigoted views.  Then there are the random men, often from America and Australia, who just hurl out violent homophobic abuse to strangers.  It's a very odd straight man who spends all his time thinking about gay sex and gay men.  You don't need to be Dr Freud to take a guess at what's going on here.

Who you trying to kid?!
As ever, the hollow vessels make the most noise, however, and it's important to remember that the bulk of Christians I interact with don't share this type of view point.  In fact several I know are embarrassed, at pains to disassociate themselves from these attitudes, and are genuinely some of the kindest people I know.  It's a constant task to remind yourself of them, but it would make me guilty of the same prejudice I deplore not to.  Aside from anything, they're a delight to talk to.

I therefore deliberately put the word "Christian" in inverted commas at the start of this blog post because my understanding is that the type of people who would shut people out, discriminate, judge and behave spitefully to others based on Jesus' teachings are about as far away from "salvation" as it gets.  It's just such a shame they have such enormously big gobs and make you forget about the good guys.

Going Forward

Gay men, in particular, were often accused in the past of being unable to forge lasting relationships and commitment.  Imagine the effects on their relationships if for a chunk of their life they were at risk of being arrested for having private, consensual sex in their own home.  Imagine what it would be like to live through Mrs Thatcher's government introducing the most spiteful piece of hate-legislation parliament has probably ever passed, with words in it like "pretend family relationships".  Imagine hearing as recently as 2012 from the most senior Catholic in Britain (who as it turned out sexually assaulted young male priests), and half the Tory party in Parliament, that your relationship was in no way worthy of being put on the same footing as heterosexual marriages.  Imagine not knowing for sure until 27 November 2013 whether you could go away for a break together and risk having a guest-house shut you and your partner out for being gay.

All of that has a massive knock-on effect.  Everyone wants their loving relationships affirmed and their love for one another honoured by friends, family and society at large.  When the law allows the discrimination it has done, it places an enormous strain on things.  The fact that so many LGBT people have worked through all this and led happy, fulfilling lives with contented relationships is a real testament to them.  As the legal and societal position continues to improve, so I believe will the lives and relationships of those in the LGBT community.  This a wonderful, wonderful thing.

So it's been another great day, just like the day Parliament finally passed the Same Sex Marriage Bill.  Thank you, Baroness Hale, and your learned colleagues.  You have no appreciation of the ripple effect your splendid words and sentiments may come to have. 

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Vision



GUEST PHOTOGRAPHER: Margrét Gústavsdóttir

Margrét posted this pic on Facebook last week and I fell for it right away. I asked her if I could use it, and if there was any story behind the moment. Here's what she wrote back to me last Monday:

I was driving home today and decided to take the 'scenic route'. Saw these amazing clouds and just had to stop. The picture is taken on an iPhone 5, out of the car window. 

I walk this way every day with my dog. One of the best things about living in this city is the nearness to nature. And one of the best things about living in Iceland is the spectacular sky, the lighting, the contrasts in colors and the constantly changing scene it brings to us humble observers from below. It's an ongoing ever-changing art show that never fails to amaze us.

I'm sure that all of you who've been here fully agree with Margrét, who has been a journalist and online media presence for over a decade. As a matter of fact, she was one of the first very well-known bloggers here in Iceland, back in the old days when the blogosphere was in its infancy and there were really no other social media outlets to speak of. She's always written with sass and style, and has taken on some pretty important issues in her time.

Today she owns, runs and writes for the gorgeous and super popular Pjattrofur (Pjatt.is) website, where she's brought together a group of very sleek and savvy women writers to cover current happenings in the world of fashion, fame, lifestyle and culture. With nearly 25,000 Facebook followers they're definitely doing something right!

Speaking of culture, I was contacted by the BBC World Service radio earlier this week (via the Iceland Eyes Twitter feed! : ) and was asked to join in on the Reykjavík episode of World Have Your Say. Of course I said YES! We did the live show on Friday evening in Harpa  which was thoroughly enjoyable, and pretty content-rich. The theme was "life after the financial crisis" and you can listen to it online here. I'm hoping that the dream that I talk about of Iceland becoming a model eco-sustainable society can, one day in the not-so-distant future, come true.


Friday, 22 November 2013

Expresso Lab Cafe @ Avenue K

Next to Urbean Cafe is Expresso Lab. It was my first time patronising that cafe. I actually left Urbean after my smoked salmon sandwich and as I passed expresson Lab, their tiramisu caught my eye. There was only one slice left and it looked like the Tiramisu from Alexis.

I gave it a go. RM12 per slice.

The verdict: Its still not up to Alexis standard. I do like that they put chocolate chips in between layers. 

The tiramisu from F by Buffalo Kitchens in  Telawi 3, Bangsar is better than Expresson Lab's.

Urbean Cafe @ Avenue K

The last time I was raving about the smoked salmon sandwich at Urbean Cafe in Avenue K. I just had some yesterday for the third time and it was still my favourite kind of meal. Their gourmet bread which is walnut bread topped with chives cream cheese makes it even more delicious.

My sister ordered Smoked Salmon linguini which was just as good. The pasta was cooked to perfection.

Another star for Urbean.

 Try their coffee too.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Witnessed a snatch theft outside Avenue K, Jln Ampang

I was at Wisma Central yesterday having a bite at 12am at the mamak when I heard a loud scream across the road. Opposite Wisma Central was Avenue K mall. The scream came from a lady in front of Starbucks. Her handbag was snatched by a motorcyclist. I saw the smile of the motorcyclist as he held onto the lady's handbag while speeding off.

Everything happened so fast. First when the scream was heard, we had to register where the scream came from.

By the time we knew where it was, the motorcyclist was already a distance away so we could not see its plate number. 

There were also a few other motorcyclist involved.

I started getting suspicious of every motorcyclist that stopped by the mamak, holding onto my purse tightly eventhough there was only RM10 inside.

I lost my appetite to eat.

The lady's scream was etch in my mind till now.

Starbucks located along the main road of Jalan Ampang is a call for extra security. Any bad guy can just easily walk in to rob the patrons and run off in mere minutes.

A word of advise, dont bother carrying a handbag anymore. It attracts the wrong type of people.

Date



So one evening, over thirteen years ago, I sat at this very table at Lækjarbrekka restaurant with a handsome young man. It was a date, but not the kind you'd imagine. As a matter of fact, everything about it was as fictional as reality tv, something my poor dinner partner had absolutely no clue about.

 I had jut recently come back to Iceland a year earlier, and because I'd been working in the film industry (I was Sandwich Girl!) I knew tons of people in the movies and tv field. One day got a phone call from one of them, an assistant director named Fahad Jabali (check out his creds on IMDB), who told me he needed someone who could pass as an attractive professional woman traveling on business in Reykjavík. It was for an investigative piece for the tv station Stöð 2 about prostitution in Iceland, appropriately titled Sex í Reykjavík [article in Icelandic.] I said I was game.

My job was to become a globe-trotting IT specialist and check in to one of the grandest hotels in the city at the time under a false name. Speaking of course no Icelandic, I was to then ask the hotel to find me a "date" for the evening as the company who'd brought me over had made a reservation at a nice restaurant and I didn't like eating alone. There were rumors floating around town that it was fairly easy to hire male prostitutes via hotels if you asked right...
...and could obviously pay the right price.

The concierge obviously had no clue what I was asking for when I checked in, but Fahad encouraged me to keep on pressing in case it was a false front. So I did, saying that every great hotel in the world that I'd been to had access to people who could dine with their solo guests. I suggested that  there was compensation to be had, and especially if the evening went "well." I puffed up a bit and pressed the poor young woman until she broke down and said she'd call her cousin to see if he was available for dinner. A few minutes later she called my room to tell me that he would meet me at the restaurant at 7pm that night.

Here's where it got interesting. I was wired with a mike and mini tape recorder and sent by taxi to Lækjarbrekka where I was seated at the window seat in the photo. After a few minutes' wait a good looking young man in his twenties was shown to my table and we began to chat. He was obviously nervous and even though I was too I wasn't allowed to show it. Thankfully he was easy to chat with, and the hardest part for me ended up being having to pretend I didn't understand a word of Icelandic, and to not accidentally pronounce words like skyr even remotely correctly. Over all we had a very fine meal.

As a matter of fact it went so well that things got tough for me. I was supposed to try to push him farther, to get him to agree to sleep with me for cash money. Did I mention that there was a camera guy across the street filming the whole thing out of his backpack-cam? By dessert, and with a few glasses of wine in us, I was finally gaining the courage to proposition him as a willing buyer of his personal wares. At long last I asked, "Would you be willing to come back to my hotel and sleep with me for...compensation? He looked blank at first, absorbing what I'd just asked, then looked right into my eyes and said what will go down in my history as one of the most charming, sincere and traumatic things I've ever heard. "Oh, well, yes I would like that very much...and you wouldn't have to pay me." My stomach did a flip.

Right then I felt a click against my hip as the mini cassette ran out. I excused myself and went to the ladies, where I turned the tape over, but decided at the last minute not to turn it back on. I went back to our table, took a deep breath, and told my handsome young friend that I had a confession to make. In Icelandic I asked him to stay as normal as possible while I told him what was really going on, because we were being filmed. He blanched, but nodded and let me talk. I told him the whole story. I confessed that he was such a genuinely sweet guy that I couldn't possibly keep stringing him along. He was honestly just the concierge's cousin, and that's it, and I was a fraud.

After one more drink we were smiling secret smiles together and truly having a wonderful time. As some point I'd turned the tape back on and we both slipped back into character to give the tv team some good, juicy stuff to maybe use. He actually asked me on a real date, but told him that I had a boyfriend, who happened to be waiting for me back at the hotel (there was never any possibility that any transaction would take place. I had a signal that I was to give the camera dude when/if I needed him to call me on my cell to give me some emergency excuse to stop the proceedings.) As we stood up from the table I gave him the goodbye my character would give after a failed proposition, but off camera we gave each other a big warm hug and kiss, and went our separate ways.

The show aired in March 2000, and got a lot of press at the time. That was the year that Reykjavik filled up with strippers and exotic dancers from around the world and there were nudie clubs on every other corner, it seemed. Since then they've been made illegal, and a recent push to close down the few remaining "champagne" clubs has made headlines. Here's an article by my friend Paul Fontaine on the situation. I wish I could find a copy of the show online even though my undercover gig didn't make it into the final cut, but no luck.

All in all, though I'm sure there's some kind of escort service up and running here in Reykjavik, I'm glad I ended up just having a very good dinner with a sweet, normal guy who I'll probably, though, never see again.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Dreams



Wandering around Laugavegur on Saturday was really enjoyable. A light, new snowfall still stuck on roofs and trees, glowing in the holiday lights that the city has just put up. Inside the Mál og Menning bookstore my friend Eva Einarsdóttir was signing copies of her new childrens book, Saga um Nótt (the title could easily be translated as 'The Story of Night' but it's actually based on a girl named Saga, and her journey into nighttime Dreamland.) The artwork is by Lóa Hjálmtýsdóttir  who many of you will recognize from The Reykjavik Grapevine. It's a lovely story, sure to become a kids-lit classic.

I worked at Mál og Menning (voted one of the best 12 bookstores in the world by Berlingske Tidinde) one holiday season a decade ago, and I noticed that something was missing in the tourist books section: the book that I would want to buy! Something smallish, colorful, interesting and inexpensive. A year later I started Iceland Eyes, and about four years after that I walked into a random publishers with my basic idea, which he liked. The book, Reykjavik, was published, but at that point the tourist books section had been moved in the bookstore, and my life got more than busy, and more than complicated, so I basically forgot about how Mál og Menning had inspired me.

Ten years along and the bookstore has moved the tourist books section back to where it was, and that book that I had imagined is right there on that shelf, exactly where I'd pictured it. The path my life took to get to there has been fantastic and crooked and unimaginable to the girl I was, straightening and dusting off the books at Christmas time all those years ago.

But that's how manifesting works: visualize, and hold the vision in your mind. Create a prototype to touch and experience, even if it's not perfect. Keep moving forward, tending your idea, but refrain from poking at it! As they say, the seed is taking root even if you can't see the sprout just yet. And then let the Universe work its wonders while you trust that life has an almost magical way of helping your dreams come true : )