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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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Commons Confidential: What happened at Tom Watson's birthday party?

Finances, fair and foul – and why Keir Starmer is doing the time warp.

Keir Starmer’s comrades mutter that a London seat is an albatross around the neck of the ambitious shadow Brexit secretary. He has a decent political CV: he was named after Labour’s first MP, Keir Hardie; he has a working-class background; he was the legal champion of the McLibel Two; he had a stint as director of public prosecutions. The knighthood is trickier, which is presumably why he rarely uses the title.

The consensus is that Labour will seek a leader from the north or the Midlands when Islington’s Jeremy Corbyn jumps or is pushed under a bus. Starmer, a highly rated frontbencher, is phlegmatic as he navigates the treacherous Brexit waters. “I keep hoping we wake up and it’s January 2016,” he told a Westminster gathering, “and we can have another run. Don’t we all?” Perhaps not everybody. Labour Remoaners grumble that Corbyn and particularly John McDonnell sound increasingly Brexitastic.

To Tom Watson’s 50th birthday bash at the Rivoli Ballroom in south London, an intact 1950s barrel-vaulted hall generous with the velvet. Ed Balls choreographed the “Gangnam Style” moves, and the Brockley venue hadn’t welcomed so many politicos since Tony Blair’s final Clause IV rally 22 years ago. Corbyn was uninvited, as the boogying deputy leader put the “party” back into the Labour Party. The thirsty guests slurped the free bar, repaying Watson for 30 years of failing to buy a drink.

One of Westminster’s dining rooms was booked for a “Decent Chaps Lunch” by Labour’s Warley warrior, John Spellar. In another room, the Tory peer David Willetts hosted a Christmas reception on behalf of the National Centre for Universities and Business. In mid-January. That’s either very tardy or very, very early.

The Labour Party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, is a financial maestro, having cleared the £25m debt that the party inherited from the Blair-Brown era. Now I hear that he has squirrelled away a £6m war chest as insurance against Theresa May gambling on an early election. Wisely, the party isn’t relying on Momentum’s fractious footsloggers.

The word in Strangers’ Bar is that the Welsh MP Stephen Kinnock held his own £200-a-head fundraiser in London. Either the financial future of the Aberavon Labour Party is assured, or he fancies a tilt at the top job.

Dry January helped me recall a Labour frontbencher explaining why he never goes into the Commons chamber after a skinful: “I was sitting alongside a colleague clearly refreshed by a liquid lunch. He intervened and made a perfectly sensible point without slurring. Unfortunately, he stood up 20 minutes later and repeated the same point, word for word.”

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era