Bjork og Snorri Porfinnson og Tales from Topographic Oceans

I’m going to see if I can write this letter about Iceland without mentioning Bjork. Fcuk. Failed already.


If all bus trips were as compelling as Sunday’s journey from Iceland’s international airport to Reykjavik then I’d like buses much, much more. Normally I like buses as much as I like, well, buses. It was an eccentric twilight and difficult to see where sky began and earth stopped. An other-worldly light leaked between the two, and combined with the snow and treeless lava fields to make me think of the moons of Jupiter or a post-apocalyptic film. If a Ray-Banned Arnie had raced past our bus on a black motorcycle I would not have been surprised.


After checking in we rushed outside to frolic in the tumbling snowfall. It was familiar with pizza houses and supermarkets, but also distinctly Icelandic with street-signs like Braeoraborgarstigar and Tyrggvagata and the charismatic impression that this city and country were unique.


Next morning we eat a hearty hotel breakfast whilst peering out at the dark streets. Despite it being late winter the sun rises only at 9:30am. Exploring the city we drift down to the harbour through the fluffy stuff and slush, and admire the mountains lurching furiously out of the icy ocean. The devilish wind makes us say ‘fcuk’ many, many times.


We amble to Hallgrímskirkja which surveys the city from a hill. This church symbolises Iceland: white, jagged and uplifting. Its steeple stretches 73 metres towards the leaden heavens whilst inside is fascinating in its austerity. Barren walls, no stained glass, limited religious iconography. An organist pumps his mighty keyboard and the church is bursting with sound. But not the sombre stuff of German and Austrian cathedrals. The swirling, psychedelic melodies bring to mind 70’s band Yes and their album Tales from Topographic Oceans which, of course, is wholly appropriate.


Next we trawl Reykjavik for the Phallological Museum and its sperm whale, arctic fox and bull exhibits. Apparently, the late bull’s appendage had been salted, dried and lovingly fashioned into a walking stick. This we had to see! Tragically, however the museum is gone and, eyes weighty with tears, we dragged our feet towards a café and sought solace, as people have since time immemorial, in burgers and fries and cola-type refreshments.


Iceland arouses not only a young bull’s member, but men made ecstatic by matters volcanic. The Golden Circle tour took us on a blizzardy route past an implosion crater, Gullfoss waterfall and Pingvellir where the North American and European Tectonic plates are diverging. How many can claim to have slipped on the ice and then their rectum, right atop the chasm where by the good earth itself is being wrenched asunder? My left cheek was in America and my right cheek, Europe. For days my bum was tender proof of this primeval terrain’s violence.


At 66 degrees North, Iceland clings to the Arctic Circle in the mid-Atlantic but the warm Gulf Stream makes it surprisingly balmy. During our stay it lingered at freezing whilst the locals boast that in 2004 Reykjavik shut down when it sizzled at a record 24.8 Celsius! Roughly the size of England, Iceland is bigger than commonly imagined but with a mere 295,000: a population similar to Coventry.


Whilst more tourists visit each year, in 2004 barely 340,000 nipped by the birthplace of Bjork. Fcuk. Failed again. Ale was only legalised in 1989 and March 1 is celebrated as Beer Day. However with barley milkshakes rented at $AU20 a pint one learns to relish each.


Geysers. Not Norf London lads but Iceland’s eco-attraction; steamy, farty gas fountains. Skating across glassy paths among boiling puddles as the horizontal rain and hail gently bruised our faces, I contemplated my likely injuries. Slip on the dicey ice and break limbs, or slip on the dicey ice and skid face-first into a searing geyser or bubbling mud vat from which I’d no doubt be retrieved by two rangers called Erik who’d then respectfully surrender the messy sack of my parboiled chubbiness to my wife for dour identification. Still it was worth it. I am confident that very few Australians own amateur video of geysers grumpily erupting, fifteen glorious feet into the frozen sky.


Back in the dry of our hotel the TV mercifully thawed us with the Jetsons. Not so long ago there was only the national Icelandic broadcaster and it followed but two peculiar rules. No TV whatsoever on Thursdays and no TV during the nightless month of July. Now, I’d vote for that, wherever I live. A national broadcaster acting like your mum! On a summer’s afternoon she wades into the lounge room, snatches the cricket off the box and then shoos you out of the house for your own good.


The Blue Lagoon is an outdoor geothermal spa and for three hours on our last morning we luxuriated in its calming waters- improving our wellness. Wellness. Surely one of the silliest contemporary words. It was great but odd to have a cosy, submerged body whilst one’s ears were turning blue in a blizzard! Running across the snow from spa to sauna is among the coldest three seconds of my life.


An ancient Viking tradition – feasting on rotten shark meat, escaped our festive plates on this, the romantic island in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and we eventually jetted into the lunar dark. Our Icelandic Air flight is delayed because of the snow and then because Great Britain’s entire air traffic computer network crashed. How many of you have flown on a plane called Snorri Porfinnson?


What poetry! What imagery! I’m sure that this would meet with approval from Bjork.


Fcuk. Failed yet again.


About Mickey Randall

Late afternoon beer, Exile on Main St playing. Sport like cricket, most types of football, golf, squash, horse racing. Travel, with Vancouver my favourite city, but there’s nowhere I’ve not happily been. Except Luton. Reading. Writing about family, sport, music, the stuff that amuses me. Conversation. Wit. Irony. McLaren Vale cabernet sauvignon, Barossa shiraz, Coopers Sparkling Ale. Jazz and especially Miles Davis. Lots and lots of music. I live in Adelaide with my wife Kerry-ann and our boys Alex and Max.


  1. Anthony W Collins says:

    As coincidence would have it the Gentlemen Boys’ Book Club (of Townsgrad) is meeting this evening where we are to discuss Hannah Kent’s novel “Burial Rites”, which is set in 19th century Iceland. The GBBC will be meeting at the home of a Hawthorne tragic … and at least two Collingwood tragicers will be in attendance. Thankfully we will neither eating Icelandic Fare nor listening to the alleged music of said Icelander.

    Reasonably good book …very well written.

    See you can do it!

  2. I’ve read that Iceland is the best country for casual sex and getting roaring drunk on a regular basis. Can you confirm? Fcuk.

  3. Anthony- thanks for the comment and the reading tip. Hope the GBBC went well this evening. Acknowledging that Bjork has some worthy music in her catalogue, I prefer Sigur Rós who are atmospherically original. Curiously, on many tracks they sing in Hopelandic, an unintelligible language, not that I’d know. Apparently, Icelandic was connecting with too many folks! I read that in one of the first big international concerts to be held there, Metallica played to about 1 in 7 of the population.

    I recall seeing Anthony Bourdain eat rotten shark when in Iceland, and given that he loves everything he looks at, I found it instructional that he was repulsed by it.

    Peter- I’ll get back to you after my next visit. I do recollect that cod was affordable. But not much else.

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Great read as always,Mickey but with my knees,Iceland is now well and truly not on my bucket list

  5. Thanks Malcolm. Don’t rule out going to Reykjavik . If your knees become sore, it won’t be difficult to track down some ice.

  6. Luke Reynolds says:

    Nice work with your cheeks in seperate continents! Look forward to you visiting the point where South Australia, NSW & Queensland meet, and reading about how you’ve manouvered yourself Mickey!
    My old man and Uncle once invested in a foal, which I came up with the name ‘Reykjavik Rose’. Sadly it never ran.

  7. Years ago there was a one-hit wonder played on Triple J called Bobby Fisher by an artist called Lazy Susan featuring this-

    Reykjavik, no-one ever says Reykjavik in a song
    Reykjavik, no-one ever says Reykjavik in a song.

    Reykjavik Rose- I’m guessing a filly. She would’ve been a good sprinter. I’d have backed her.

    Thanks Luke.

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