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Wishful thinking took me to Iceland, home of the glowing grave and eternally bruised vegetable

Suzanne Moore travels to Iceland, where she finds poor coffee and depressed chefs in a long, dark night.
Icelandic dark. Photo: Halldor Kolbeins/AFP/Getty
 
Ah, Twixmas . . . those strange, formless days between Christmas and New Year, named after a chocolate bar.

Usually a time when I make a break for it. That’s how I ended up persuading the Professor to come to Iceland.

“Reykjavik! Pop stars go there,” I said.

The Professor agreed provided that two of her main passions were accommodated: good coffee and swimming.

“Yeah, loads of that!” I said.

“Why are you going at that time? It will be dark and cold,” said another friend of mine. Will Self, as it happens.

“What does he know about anything?” I thought. I promptly rang the Icelandic embassy and asked the staff to tell me it wouldn’t be dark and cold. I find there is no need for all that lengthy trudging that Will does when you can just do wishful thinking.

We arrived, in the dark; the only light was from the illuminated gravestones. This is the Icelandic way.

“I think it’s the time difference,” I said.

The Professor was unhappy: she’d been given instant coffee. The wind howled.

The famed nightlife was elusive. We sat in a bar with men who looked like Barbie’s Ken and drank extortionately priced lager.

Within a couple of days I could see little point in getting up at all. It could be 3am or 3pm. When you went outside it was freezing anyway. When you stayed in they gave you reindeer, tinned potatoes and dead lettuce. The Professor was agitated by my inertia.

I sensed her irritation when she stormed into a gay bar one night demanding a Diet Coke. They didn’t have one, and she barked, “Call yourself gay?”

Trying to lift our spirits, I booked a coach tour. We got up at 4am to look at geysers in the dark. The guides tried to get us off the coach to admire geothermically grown tomatoes.

“I don’t want to look at a fucking tomato,” screamed the Professor, swigging from a secreted stock of brandy.

Still, there was swimming to be had at the Blue Lagoon. The Professor dived in, swimming to a rock she had seen through the mist, and promptly threw herself on top of it. It turned out to be less of a rock and more of a man floating on his back.

At least one of the activities I’d promised her was available. We felt better.

But then we met the chef to the US ambassador.

“Do you know what it’s like to cook and never have fresh ingredients?” he asked.

We nodded.

“And when I order in vegetables, they’re bruised. Bruised! Can you imagine?”

We could.

“Damaged peppers. How am I expected to cope?”

The depressed chef made me realise my own sadness was just temporary. The blackness had truly entered him.

My long, dark night was in fact a minibreak of the soul. 

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 08 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Churchill Myth

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Let's face it: supporting Spurs is basically a form of charity

Now, for my biggest donation yet . . .

I gazed in awe at the new stadium, the future home of Spurs, wondering where my treasures will go. It is going to be one of the architectural wonders of the modern world (football stadia division), yet at the same time it seems ancient, archaic, a Roman ruin, very much like an amphitheatre I once saw in Croatia. It’s at the stage in a new construction when you can see all the bones and none of the flesh, with huge tiers soaring up into the sky. You can’t tell if it’s going or coming, a past perfect ruin or a perfect future model.

It has been so annoying at White Hart Lane this past year or so, having to walk round walkways and under awnings and dodge fences and hoardings, losing all sense of direction. Millions of pounds were being poured into what appeared to be a hole in the ground. The new stadium will replace part of one end of the present one, which was built in 1898. It has been hard not to be unaware of what’s going on, continually asking ourselves, as we take our seats: did the earth move for you?

Now, at long last, you can see what will be there, when it emerges from the scaffolding in another year. Awesome, of course. And, har, har, it will hold more people than Arsenal’s new home by 1,000 (61,000, as opposed to the puny Emirates, with only 60,000). At each home game, I am thinking about the future, wondering how my treasures will fare: will they be happy there?

No, I don’t mean Harry Kane, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker – local as well as national treasures. Not many Prem teams these days can boast quite as many English persons in their ranks. I mean my treasures, stuff wot I have been collecting these past 50 years.

About ten years ago, I went to a shareholders’ meeting at White Hart Lane when the embryonic plans for the new stadium were being announced. I stood up when questions were called for and asked the chairman, Daniel Levy, about having a museum in the new stadium. I told him that Man United had made £1m the previous year from their museum. Surely Spurs should make room for one in the brave new mega-stadium – to show off our long and proud history, delight the fans and all those interested in football history and make a few bob.

He mumbled something – fluent enough, as he did go to Cambridge – but gave nothing away, like the PM caught at Prime Minister’s Questions with an unexpected question.

But now it is going to happen. The people who are designing the museum are coming from Manchester to look at my treasures. They asked for a list but I said, “No chance.” I must have 2,000 items of Spurs memorabilia. I could be dead by the time I finish listing them. They’ll have to see them, in the flesh, and then they’ll be free to take away whatever they might consider worth having in the new museum.

I’m awfully kind that way, partly because I have always looked on supporting Spurs as a form of charity. You don’t expect any reward. Nor could you expect a great deal of pleasure, these past few decades, and certainly not the other day at Liverpool when they were shite. But you do want to help them, poor things.

I have been downsizing since my wife died, and since we sold our Loweswater house, and I’m now clearing out some of my treasures. I’ve donated a very rare Wordsworth book to Dove Cottage, five letters from Beatrix Potter to the Armitt Library in Ambleside, and handwritten Beatles lyrics to the British Library. If Beckham and I don’t get a knighthood in the next honours list, I will be spitting.

My Spurs stuff includes programmes going back to 1910, plus recent stuff like the Opus book, that monster publication, about the size of a black cab. Limited editions cost £8,000 a copy in 2007. I got mine free, as I did the introduction and loaned them photographs. I will be glad to get rid of it. It’s blocking the light in my room.

Perhaps, depending on what they want, and they might take nothing, I will ask for a small pourboire in return. Two free tickets in the new stadium. For life. Or longer . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times