Monday, 1 February 2016


This was our latest Scandi Noir murder mystery box set. Except it ended up quite a different kettle of (fermented) fish. At first it seemed like a straightforward whodunnit with added snow and thermals, but then it turned into a haunting nightmare of feral children, disembowelment and prehistoric wasps. It didn't hold back in the packing of its punches or the releasing of its blood.

I was attracted by the high calibre cast, but it seemed the director wasn't afraid to kill even the most famous of them off at the drop of a woolly glove. Or woolly mammoth. Christopher Eccleston didn't even last the first episode. Stanley Tucci and Michael Gambon stayed longer, but fell well before the saga's end. Sofie Grabol, sounding rather awkward in English, did live to see another day, but her ice hotel had been shelved, her marriage wrecked and her community left in tatters. Richard Dormer was similarly whole physically - but mentally in bits.

The remote Arctic Circle community was chock-a-block with multi-national weirdos. There were a lot of "issues", and people running away from past demeanours. It's quite surprising that Fortitude had such a low crime rate before the TV crew rocked up, given the large amount of guns knocking about this group of fuck-ups. The folk of Svalbard occupied themselves with hunting, feeding each other, and swinging. According to Stanley Tucci, a home where the latter is welcome is signified by wind chimes tinkling outside. I didn't know that. The previous owners of our house left a big wind chime "swinging" in our back yard, you see, so this revelation made me rather worried. Thankfully it seems the other residents of York are as ignorant of the wind chime's double meaning as me.

Wind chime swinging

The scenery in Fortitude was stunning, especially when the polar bears turned up. But the performances were often stilted (not by the polar bears) and the plot slow burning. But despite the sedentary pace, some facts about certain characters weren't spelled out clearly enough. Because of all the swinging, I couldn't always get to grips with who was shagging whom before it became critically relevant. And everyone starts to look the same when muffled to the nines.

This polar bear lives in Doncaster

The DVD extras revealed that the series was actually filmed in Iceland rather than Norway. The crew went to a place where they thought they would have guaranteed snow (the clue perhaps in the name) but they ended up having to import snow from London, where they'd all just come from.

I spent a crazy few days in Iceland in July 2000, although in comparison to the shenanigans in Fortitude, "crazy" is probably too strong a word. It felt crazy at the time though. I was with a Danish friend who was - in short - a lot more free-spirited than me. I definitely cramped her style for a few days. She wanted to hitchhike; I insisted on taking the bus. She wanted to wild camp on swamps, I wanted a toilet that wasn't a hole in the turf. (I'm sorry, I just don't do well without plumbing.) She was on a student budget, hence the need to live in a tent. Although I was hardly rolling in money myself. Iceland is very expensive. It would be nice to go back with a bit more cash in my pocket. I have no idea when that will be. (Although the country has since gone bankrupt so maybe my pounds would go further now.) We ate porridge oats, raisins and water for breakfast and steamed dried fish and lentils for tea. On the last day we treated ourselves to lunch in a cafe in Reykjavik and for dinner - having been granted use of the kitchen in the youth hostel next to the campsite - we cooked lamb steaks, washed down with a bottle of cava we'd splashed out on in a state liquor store. It would have been red wine until we remembered - in the days before the screw-top bottle became ubiquitous - that we didn't have a corkscrew.

Under canvas, I craved a night in a house like this

The weather was nearly as wild as my friend's ambition - for even in the height of summer, the wind was searing and the rain relentless. Thankfully I had invested in new waterproofs, and they came into their own. I'd foolishly taken a torch along - no need for that in Iceland in July as it didn't get dark. I remember reading Harry Potter in my sleeping bag until nearly midnight.

Waterproofs and hat still necessary in a rare moment of sun
if only to camouflage yourself against the lighthouse

We spent a couple of days in and around Reykjavik. We bathed in the Blue Lagoon amongst the lunar landscape of lava fields and industrial effluent of Keflavik. I took myself on the "Golden Circle" coach tour to see the waterfall at Gulfoss and the geysers at Geysir, which couldn't have looked any less golden in the deluge.

Blue Lagoon


We then headed up to Stykissholmur for three nights. I loved it there - a small fishing community of brightly coloured houses and a space-age church, where the air was the purest I have ever known. There is so little pollution in Iceland - there aren't many cars, and no fossil fuels are burned as they get all their power from geothermal activity. This means that the aforementioned plumbing can smell rather sulphurous. But it feels good.


Space-age church

We went hiking at Grundarfjordur, which had a spectacular needle-point mountain, a babbling brook and no trees. My friend insisted that our luggage would be safe simply left dumped in a petrol station forecourt. Living in crime-ridden London at the time I had my doubts, but she was right. It was Fortitude as it should have been. With or without the swinging.


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