Tuesday, 28 September 2010

An Old Kit Bag

I have condensed and condensed my pile of Stuff (leaving out juggling balls, tarot cards, extra tea, books upon books upon books…) and am left with something that still weighs about 10kg too much. So what do I cut? Should I leave one of the jumpers, only to find it colder than I expected? Must I depart without my three little Norwegian bookits? How will I survive? Or should I throw caution to the wind, leave behind any toiletries and just buy them when I get there?

from flickr, by flint knits

Pack all your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile…

Aye. If only it were that easy.

In fact, my brother said a similar thing at dinner today while I was complaining about how stressful packing is: he said “Don’t worry about packing. All you need is a book about language and a pair of shoes to go walking about the countryside in.” I didn’t realise at the time how sweet and, yes, insightful it was of him.

So I’ve been thinking… perhaps ten sweaters is too many. And as for books… well, like I said before there’s always Librivox and Project Gutenberg. I expect I’ll be reading a lot of old literature in the coming year.

The only thing I’m really sad about is that I have to leave be hind all my carefully arranged books about Old High German Grammar and my Anglo-Saxon Reader, and all my Norse myths. But provided all goes to plan, I’ll be able to read them in the original Icelandic before too long!

Monday, 27 September 2010


Yup, still talking about birds I’ll hopefully encounter in Iceland.

Here are some of my favourites:

001Cute Watery Birds 
Clockwise from top-left:
Little Auk or Dovekie; Puffin; Ringed Plover; Red-Necked Phalarope

003Cool Birds
Clockwise from top-left:
Starling; Gannet; Short-Eared Owl; Greylag Goose; Raven; Shag

009 DUCKS! -- with big heads and funny colours
Down the left column: Eider, Teal, Pochard, Harlequin Duck
Down the right column: Tufted Duck; Shoveler; Mallard; Barrow’s Goldeneye

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Travels and Travails

I spent everyday of my mini-‘holiday’ travelling. It was nice but exhausting.


Bus to Reading, train to Paddington, tube to King’s Cross (spent breathlessly gaping at my watch while the Underground shuddered along ancient tunnels), train to Edinburgh (spent reading The Amber Spyglass, watching the countryside NOT CHANGE AT ALL until a little bit after York).

I arrived in Edinburgh to be greeted by my friend Sinead who's just started studying Medicine there. Walked around Ed a bit, buying garlic and chicken because she was cooking. We went to the cafe where J. K. wrote the first Harry Potter, and later had a shot of chocolate while discussing politics. I concluded (after little to no deliberation) that I definitely like Sinead. This was cemented when she whipped out a copy of Black Books, not only let me waffle about languages and myths but joined in, and then gave me a copy of a poetry book!harry potter

Clockwise from top left: Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station, The Elephant House cafe where Jo wrote, and Kings Cross Station


At 08:50 the alarm went off. Mine, that is. Sinead had slept through hers and leapt over me to make her 9:00 lecture. I then met my closest-in-age cousin Andrew. Good to see him after quite a few years! He bought me breakfast – haggis. :D Haggis, just to clear things up, is not disgusting but delicious. It tastes like meaty oats with bits. I realise that’s not selling it, but trust me, it’s wonderful.

Then, I got the train from Edinburgh to Inverness. Now that’s what I call a train journey. Stunning coastlines moved on to sweeping green valleys, which later narrowed and were towered over by barren, browning mountains. Wild pheasant and red deer glanced at the train from beside small woods and increasingly long lochs. I listened to ‘ViIllete’ by Charlotte Bronte, a favourite book of a friend.

[Interruption: At www.librivox.org you can find many free, amateur-recorded audiobooks. This is because these books are in the public domain (which have no copyright on them – the kind you find on Project Gutenberg) and so they’re free to download!]

I arrived in the afternoon, and was met by my aunt, Sheila. We had a quick shop around Inverness before getting home to walk the two wonderful black Labs, Sula and Rogue. Sula is very affectionate and loves attention and getting her belly rubbed, whereas Rogue is more excitable and has an endearing habit of spinning around in tight circles when she’s happy. This is especially funny when she tries to run at the same time, and ends up performing graceless pirouettes through mud.

I also saw my cousin, Catherine and uncle, Kenny.


A surprise was sprung upon me – Sheila and I got in the car and drove to(wards) Skye. It was very nice, don’t get me wrong… but after two days of sitting I rather wanted a day to chill and walk the dogs and all that. But oh well. Can’t say it’s not beautiful. First the wilderness of the Highlands and then the gentler sweep of the Inner Isles.


(L) Rogie Falls, where the dogs were walked. (R) View of Skye from the Mainland.

We spent the night on Skye with a woman called Annabelle, one of Sheila’s old friends, a mild and cheerful retired botanist who had been to Iceland. She fell almost instantly into my good books, for three reasons. First, she offered me cookies. Second, she had an old copy of my dearest ‘Teach Yourself Norwegian’. Third, she recommended to me a book by William Morris (an alumnus of my college and one of my favourite artists) which was a translation or retelling of Icelandic myth. The fact that this precise reference occurred only a short period later while I was squeaking about my Tolkien biography settled it. Annabelle = good.


Friday was spent in a similar manner to Thursday – driving from one side of Scotland to the other. This time we passed the Harry Potter viaduct and picked up a hitchhiker who was chatty and friendly. I miss hitchhiking but people down South really don’t do it.

We got home, and I spent an hour or so looking at bird books and writing out which birds I would see in Iceland. Names like Wigeon, Whimbrel, Slavonian Grebe, Gyrfalcon, Scaup, Gadwall, Pharalope and amused me to no end, but only the Grebe really lived up to its fantastically ugly name by looking considerably like David Bowie in the early years.


Slavonian Grebe (L) and Glenfinnan by the Harry Potter viaduct (R )

Nothing beats the puffin though.


That’s yesterday. I got on a plane. Then I got off. Then a traffic jam later, I was back here.

…And it seems I’ve been typing since then. Sorry it’s so long!

It could all be summed up in a little limerick.

There once was a girl with a wit
Who wanted time off to get fit
But she travelled each day
From Loch Ness to Mallaig
And returned home more tired than she left it!

P.S. No, the poems don’t seem to have stopped. I don’t know what to do.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Est-ce que c’est vraiment la poesie?

When I don’t know how to title these blogs, I write in French.
Tomorrow I’m getting on a train to Edinburgh. Well, two trains actually. And a brief period of transit by the Chthonic Railway. Then, after a day in Dùn Èideann, I shall speed northwards (O, most beautiful of words) and on to Inverness, where my aunt and uncle live with their dogs and occasionally present children.
I adore Scotland, and being there feels wonderful. I’m really looking forward to it.
2004-07-02-Holiday to Inverness 018
Having discovered today a new form of poetry, the Villanelle, I undertook it to write my own:

Mother Alba

From deepest loch to highest mountain crest
Where Roebuck still runs wild in wooded dell
In mother Alba will my soul find rest
My fealty is not fulsome, sworn in jest
This be the soil where I shall seek to dwell
From deepest loch to highest mountain crest
With Eagle’s teaching will I build my nest
I’faith, I can without a doubt foretell:
In mother Alba will my soul find rest
Upon a peak I proudly will attest:
O Fairland, Scotland, know I love thee well
From deepest loch to highest mountain crest
I send a thousand prayers to old Gods, lest
This bitter moment be the last Farewell
In mother Alba will my soul find rest
Yet even if I ache with laden breast
For ancient Scotia’s every slope and swell
From deepest loch to highest mountain crest
In mother Alba, will my soul find rest?
A much better one is Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas.


When I was running away today --
Away from the town where a prison of water is loved
Away, to the fields between a livery and a forest
I was sweating and aching calves, and the brambles yielded no sweet harvest
And in the trees under which I used to lie
There was a grave.
(Dead candles, and letters in plastic bags, and three small jars of earth.)
-- I approached the wolfram helmet
and watched it shudder away from my conscient thought
“I will be in Iceland soon."
I was powerful and kind
In Iceland I will also glisten and my calves will also burn and the barren land will yield no berries, sweet or other
But it is an island ghosted by exonerated winds of absolution, where struggles are not struggles
And if they are they go unresented
Instead they go by firmity and patience
Limitless halation will succeed a waterside doused in cast off salt
So, in my potent and sinew-bound spirit
Wisdom can flourish.


Yeah sorry I’ve been writing weird stuff like this for days. Don’t worry, I’m not even going to try to call it poetry.

Well, I hope I can get it out of my system before it becomes chronic.

Or maybe I’ll get better.

Listening to: ‘Voice in my Throat’ by Pearl & The Beard

Friday, 17 September 2010

Brief Update + Oxonian Dream

Brief is a good word.

I’m going to be brief.

I’m getting paid 10.000 kr a week (about £55), which I am SO thrilled about! It’s exactly the salary I was hoping for :) Now all I have to do is arrive. I’m thinking I might send Anna and her granddaughter a postcard of Reading… but Reading’s really rubbish, and all the postcards are of how ugly it is when really, there are SOME nice bits. So I think I’ll just go take a picture of it myself.

I got a postcard from Gin the other day. She’s 19, Italian, and just about to start studying French and Norwegian in Milan. When she gets a bit better I plan on jabbing her with random outbursts of Norwegian.

Really, it would make more sense to do that with Tone. Who is in Wales. Who I will meet soon. Happy! Jeg gleder meg til å se hun. Shit, I need to practise…

I spent the last few days in Abingdon, lazing around my Aunt’s house. On Sunday I went to Oxford with Kazuko, which was seriously awesome. I mean, I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been there, but we just got so much done in one day! Cornmarket, Carfax Tower, Christ Church Meadows, Dead Man’s Walk, Botanic Gardens, Magdalen, Cream Tea in the Grand Cafe, St Mary the Virgin, Radcliffe Camera, Exeter, Blackwell's, Boddles, Turf Tavern, and tourist-shopping on the Broad. Say WHAT?


The 1733 ‘New’ Building, where C S Lewis - author of, amongst other things, “The Chronicles of Narnia” and close friend of J R R Tolkien - had his rooms.


Kazuko and I with our drinks in the Botanic Garden.


I thought the bottles were so beautiful!


The stunning view from my college’s garden, onto my favourite building in Oxford – the Radcliffe Camera, an enormous reading-room for an enormous library!

DSCF3710 DSCF3755

Radcliffe Square with the Camera in the front and St Mary the Virgin in the background (L) and Kazuko tries a Pimms in the hidden Turf Tavern (R)

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Cake God

I am truly, as my friend Shawnee put it, a “cake god”. In the last week or so, I have let there be cake three times and let there be cookies once.

First was the banana cake which I just knocked out, bored, on a Wednesday afternoon.

This was followed by a dark-chocolate sponge drenched in buttery chocolate icing and with an icing sugar heart on top, made for a friend’s 19th birthday.

On Monday I made the dough for cookies with dark-choc-chip and mixed chopped nuts, which I baked in two batches, and stored in traditional cookie jars… at least, until my family gobbled them all up! I tried to photograph them but our kitchen is such an ugly hospital green that the picture looked sickly.

Finally, today. The moistest, tangiest, softest lemon cake the world has ever seen, drizzled with home-made lemon marmalade.

I’ve now got my eyes on the Mississippi Mud Pie and the savoury ham muffins.

OK, OK, I can’t claim all the glory. Some dues must be paid, and mine go to the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. Now, I’ve read the reviews on Amazon, which are mixed to say the least, but I swear by it. Don’t even believe those who say you have to stick to the recipes like glue. As long as you don’t deviate too much from the path of righteousness, it will make a god out of you too.


In other, more Iceland related news, I have booked my tickets! Or should that be, ticket. Singular. I’m fleeing on October the 5th at 21:15pm.

I’ve also done other boring stuff like e-mail Vodafone Iceland in order to sort out a SIM Card, finally figure out my residence permit and health insurance, and then there's money. Argh! I hate havign to sort out money stuff.

It’s still all going a bit slowly, which is a frustration for a number of reasons. I want to know what my money situation will be like there. I want to KNOW she can take me on as an au pair! I hope I'm not being pushy or an imposition because I really got on well with her and am genuinely looking forward to meeting her again and getting to know her grand-daughter, and just being in Iceland.

Argh. Bureaucracy. I hate e-mails and phone calls. I know if we could speak to each other face-to-face we’d sort it out in a matter of minutes! Distance truly is a barrier.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Fallin’ off the face of the earth…

On a not-Iceland related note, I’ve been feeling fernweh for the northern US and Canada recently, which means Autumn is coming... or should I say Fall? Fernweh is the strange cousin of Heimweh (homesickness) and it refers to the longing to be somewhere else, a combination of wanderlust and nostalgia.

I always get this wish that I lived in Gilmore Girls or Anne of Green Gables right about this time of year. Where I wish instead of the leaves turning grey and soggy, they became fiery golden and crisp underfoot. That there would be a dry, cool wind blowing through the streets, that wool jumpers were pulled over summer blouses, that the smell of baking would be in the air, that I would have a picket fence and a porch and a big country kitchen… You know, the typical New England image.

Don’t get me wrong, I don't ever really want to live in the US again but if I ever get a chance to study abroad or something, I will do. My college in Oxford (Exeter College) plays host to a group of exchange students from Williamstown, Massachusets every year so I would love to make a good friend whom I can visit there one September.

It’s pic-spam time!

(photos of New England in the Fall)

maine2 maine8maine1 maine9maine7 maine3 maine6 maine5

(Williamstown, Massachusetts)

maine10 maine11

(Williams College, Williamstown, MA)

maine13 maine14

Isn’t is beautiful? Just for kicks, let me show you my college-to-be…*

exeter1 exeter2 

*…you know, if I don’t magically find a place to study Scandinavian Studies somewhere.  But that’s starting to look pretty much impossible unless I decide to study in another country. And anyway, it’s not a bad back-up plan. It’s beautiful, flat (so I can cycle there easily) and has really good links to the airports near London, as well as being a great place to get trains from! And it’ll set me up great for the future yadda yadda yadda meaning I can pursue my Scandinavian dream in a more roundabout way.

ARE YOU HAPPY NOW, MOTHER? This is me seeing my cup half full!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Draw a new face and laugh

OK. Ten seconds ago I was grumpy, but I just watched a cat try to catch a butterfly and it ws so cute I can’t be grumpy now.

I was grumpy because the album of covers I have been trying for weeks to record is just not coming together! It’s because I have neither a microphone, nor an electro-acoustic guitar, nor any audio software other than Audacity. I hate that having money means your music CDs are of higher quality.

The songs I’m recording are the seven (or eight) songs which are the playlist of the SEEDS camp:

  • Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
  • Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama
  • Jason Mraz – I’m Yours
  • Á Móti Sól - Rangur Maður
  • KT Tunstall – Through the Dark
  • Green Day – Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
  • [The Babel Project (Me) – May]

So now I’ve just deleted everything I’ve done over the past weeks and am starting again. No more producing, or editing. I’m just pressing ‘record’ on my camera (which has a video setting) and playing the songs. Then I’m going to extract the audio from the video, cut it up into eight bits and shove it on a disc.

I’ve checked with my host (Anna) if I could rather be an au pair than that student ghing and she basically said fine so it’s all good for the time being :) I love how easy-going and kind she is. I’m really looking forward to seeing the people I met there again – James of course, but also the Annas, David, Arna and Big Magnus and their kids, and cute Little Magnus… and of course that’s not everyone! I’m really looking forward to meeting SJ, Anna’s granddaughter, for whom I will be the au pair.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

School’s out – not only for summer, but for EVER

When I was in Year 7 – that’s First Year if Harry Potter is your major source of information about the British education system – we had to decide whether we were aural, visual or kinetic learners. As in, is it easiest to learn if the teacher tells you or you recite it, if you read it in a book or write it down, or if you act it out or make a dance or something to remember it.

I can’t remember what I said then, but I now know I’m a visual learner. I’m that person who colour-codes every folder, who loves writing out lists prioritising tasks to be accomplished and tick them off as they are done, who crosses off days on the calendar and who puts loads of food colouring into the icing on their cakes.

My point is that because I approach life visually, it’s reached the point that I can’t really sort out how I’m feeling unless I write it down. It could be trying to figure out why I always argue with my father, contemplating my split national identity, trying to decide whether I like somebody or not, or in this case, a pro-con list.

No, not a pro-con Iceland list, but a Student v. Au-Pair list.

I've been talking with my hsot about the possibility of coming as a studen rather than an au-pair, principally because I wanted to learn Icelandic, so II was hoping for some sort of part-time language course. But when I got some more details, I realised the thing this organisation would offer isn't right for me.

You attend secondary school/high school 25 to 30 hours a week (i.e. full time, every weekday), for months and months. The school term started a month ago, and I’m a month too old for the programme. It actively discourages you travelling around Iceland independently and expects you to study what an Icelandic teenager would study… so, not Icelandic as a foreign language. It’s all wrong! That’s just the tip of the iceberg! If you know me, you know how much I hate[d] school and I will NOT do that again. No more maths, no more science, no more history, no more anything than language study. Also, I would only have three weeks off between now and mid-May, and I would have to do lots of orienteering with this AFS organisation, and I would have to PAY, and, and, and -

Really, I don’t want to do this. I want to be an au-pair. I want to be paid, have jobs, learn Icelandic (which I can do better I think by not going to this school!) and be able to travel to see friends and the rest of Iceland.

But before I decided that I had to write everything out in 100% detail or else it’d all be a muddle in my head.

Can you tell?

P.S. The good thing is it seems that I can go on this other volunteering thing with SEEDS near Christmas. Yay!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Phone Calls

Me: not a big fan of phone calls. Really not. I have no problem with e-mail, and instant messenger is fine (even if you can’t express sarcasm), but phone-calls? Nuh-uh. I don’t quite know why, but I just like to see the person I’m talking to. Be it my godmother or a bank manager, phone calls make me uncomfortable, nervous, irritable, anxious and tense.
There are three levels of phone call:
1) Close Family – these are the ones I’m alright with. My mother, my father, my brother and one aunt are in this category. These are the only people I don’t mind getting calls from, or having to call.
2) Less close family, friends, people I know personally – I hate this category. Whenever I know I have to call somebody, I am nervous for days. I push it away, avoid it. When I finally have to do it, I first drink some tea and eat something comforting. Then I grimace and attack the number pad. Conversations are brief, awkward and not enjoyable. I am so uncomfortable in these situations, even though I genuinely like these people and wouldn’t mind having whatever conversation it is (from “How was your summer?” to "You owe me money.”) in person, but just… eurgh. Keep it well away from me.
3) Business calls, calls to help lines, enquiries – this is alright, a bit better than 2. I know there is an official purpose and when it’s done it’s fine just to say “Thank you, goodbye”. No wishy washy “you hang up… no you hang up…” I don’t like making these calls, but I can make it through them alright. It still stresses me out though.
I made two type-3 phone calls today. First to the bank to make an appointment about when I can talk to them about moving to Iceland and secondly to the NHS to enquire about… well, moving to Iceland. But they directed me to the EHIC helpline, who directed me to the National Insurance helpline, who directed me to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs… which snubbed me, and hung up on me. Three times in a row. And their website has no other contact details. How am I supposed to ask them if I need to fill out the E101 form if there is nobody I can ask?
Argh. Bureaucracy.
I know I’ll have to suck it up and call more people.
But I don’t want to.

It’s all a game of Patience

Did you know that Patience – also known as Solitaire – is a game of Germanic or Scandinavian origin? Well, if you believe Wikipedia that is. Anyway, I certainly feel like I’m playing a game of patience.


I really want to see my friend in RVK and I really want to go back to Iceland so I hope things get moving in the next few days because I’m getting itchy...

It's only a few weeks left. Am I being too impatient?