Archive for August, 2006

Arthur

I’ve just watched King Arthur and it reminded me of how fascinated I used to be with the legend.

It probably stems from watching John Boorman’s film Excalibur when I was quite young. Six or seven maybe.

I think it’s an amazing film. It’s kind of gloriously camp but to a young boy, the ideas it deals with are extremely inspiring – heroism, lust, kinship, kingship etc.

When you start digging around the subject, instead of becoming more real, Arthur somehow recedes even further into the mists of time.

The modern myth I grew up with is just a bastardisation of various interpretations, vague references from early Welsh histories.

Looking for the real Arthur, such as he exists, just reveals a cacophony of blind alleys, tantalising hints and, ultimately, frustration.

Arthur now is as we would like him to be. A heroic figure who will come again in our hour of need.

Which brings me onto a parallel.

The search for what Britain itself is.

I read a good book recently called The Last English King by Julian Rathbone.

This is set in the immediate aftermath of the Norman Conquest.

The descriptions of the Anglo-Saxon way of life are marvellous. They speak a curious kind of British with lots of Danish words thrown in for good measure.

All this changed with the Norman genocide. Britishness became something else entirely. The old ways, as Rathbone terms them, are trampled underfoot by the invaders.

None of this is particularly revelatory and I make no pretensions of modern relevance. But I am fascinated by the way in which we arrived at what we are.

There is still Danish in our language. I can hear it now I’m trying to learn it.

Words or inflections which somehow survived the Normans’ linguistic ravages.

Odd little echoes of another time but at least tangible.

But what of Arthur? Someone who may or may not have existed is one of the world’s most instantly recognisable historical figures.

Which reveals only that, given the chance, humans would always choose to rewrite their history.

Hygge

Today I had lunch in a beautiful riverside London pub.

The Thames undulating gently in front of me, some late August sun warm on my face.

Across the water I could see David Bowie’s plush apartment. River police boats cruised up and down at leisure, on show almost.

It was the first time I had gone out socially with my colleagues.

The conversation turned to the Bank Holiday Weekend – a big thing for us Brits. We get to let our hair down and have a hangover on Monday without our bosses knowing!

One girl said she would be working at her friend’s shop this Saturday and Sunday.

I asked what it was called and she said ‘Hygge’. And she pronounced it right as well.

I asked if her friend was Danish and she told me the story of the shop – a little outpost of Denmark in Islington by the sounds of things.

A minor coincidence but a significant one for me.

Hygge was a word I only learnt recently and I was instantly intrigued.

I’m still not completely sure what it is but, in a nutshell, it’s staying in and talking with friends or family, candles lit and an all-round tranquil ambience.

What words do we have to describe that feeling of togetherness, warmth, amicable conversation and camaraderie all in one?

We’d say cosy but it doesn’t do justice to the concept.

But, for all that, it was a ‘hygge’ lunch with new acquaintances in pleasant surroundings.

I’m missing Denmark but, today at least, England was a good substitute. 

At home with the Master Race

Once I was in a train station in Bulgaria and everything was going wrong.

The train my friend and I wanted was about four days late, there were no boards indicating arrivals or departures and what staff I could find just stared blankly at me when I asked, in English, when our train might be arriving.

After an hour or so of wandering round muttering to myself in an increasingly despairing fashion, I returned to my friend and roared: ‘Hitler had a point. STANDARDISATION.’

My friend, well used to my outbursts, just rolled his eyes and went back to his bong.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am no Nazi.

I am not espousing the political views of history’s most tyrannical psychopath but sometimes, when confronted by chronic inefficiency, I start to think it might be best if rigorous central planning was enforced.

Which is partly why I am so enamoured of the Danes and their public services.

Things work there.

Herded like meat onto a sweltering train carriage bound for London this morning – no seat, no air conditioning – I cursed the country of my birth for the first time.

People often ask me what the Danes are like and my descriptions are becoming more and more reverential.

At first I just said they were an intelligent, largely friendly people, not much different to us.

Now, though, they are Aryan supermen. Uniformly beautiful and supremely gifted at social and political administration.

It’s easy to bash the UK though and deep down I’m still a patriot but that is why it hurts so much to see our inefficiencies so glaringly exposed.

It’s a shame Britain’s days of imperial conquest are over. If I had my way we’d invade and claim the land as our own.

I can but dream.

They’re not from Denmark . . .

…and they’re not from Barcelona either but they’re definitely fantastic.

See this bunch of Swedish loons, I’m From Barcelona, in action here.

And read Pitchfork’s glowing review here.

And now go out and grow a moustache just like the chap’s in the video.

You know you want to.

Rainy Day

What is it about a rainy day that makes people so contemplative?

Days like today, with the rain beating down hard and fast and running in muddy rivulets through the cobbles on the road, are good for little else I guess.

The grey sky, opaque and vaguely threatening, seems to forestall all good intentions. All that’s left is the TV and this, the empty page.

In a perfect world I’d curl up on the sofa with a steaming hot cup of coffee and a kanelsnegl (Danish pastry!), switch on the box and find an old Woody Allen comedy to help while away a few hours. But it wouldn’t achieve much I guess.

Over the past few days I’ve felt something tugging at my conscience. Little more than a vague distraction but enough to make me question whether I’m making the most of my time.

I have a feeling I’ll look back on these months as some of the best in my life and I don’t want to feel that I’ve wasted them in a stupor of indolence.

Oh well. At any rate here I am, an Englishman in Copenhagen, not doing much of anything, but happy. And well.

Have a good weekend.

On your bike

A big part of my falling in love with this city has been down to my getting back on a bike for the first time since I was a teenage paperboy.

Copenhagen is maybe the most bike-friendly city in the world. It’s flat as a pancake and the cycle network is utterly comprehensive.

It’s the only way to travel. But it was not always thus.

bike.jpg When I first arrived I was completely bewildered by the seemingly arcane rules for the cycle-lanes.

There are many strange hand signals and an apparently random array of traffic lights – some of which are only for cyclists and often contradict what the car signals are saying. Or maybe I’m just dense. The latter, my girlfriend says.

A week or two of doing my best to figure out the system by observation alone and I realised that the only answer was just to go for it.

Which was when I found Death Trap.

He’s an awesome little speedster and he only cost me 650kr (£65) from an odd little bike shop where haggling was apparently forbidden. I offered 600kr and they laughed in my face and muttered some strange curses under their breath.

A minute or two later and a polite explanation from Anne that I had grossly insulted the exalted office of Copenhagen bike-trader and Death Trap was mine.

He’s the fastest bike in the city. Especially when I’m drunk. And that’s the other thing about Copenhagen. You can get literally everywhere on a bike.

Now that I’m reasonably au fait with the signals I feel like a seasoned pro. I tut when someone doesn’t indicate or when some scum tourist (Germans usually) ambles vacantly into the cycle lane. DUMNKOPF! I shout before cycling off on Death Trap.

No-one’s going to catch me, after all.

Happiness is . . .

. . . A holiday in Denmark or so say The Guardian anyway.

This report is well worth a read even for those of you who’ve been here a good while.

The main piece is a nice report on the writer’s cycling trip around the country but its the info at the end coupled with some hints from well-known Copenhageners which you might find interesting.