Review: A Woman in the Polar Night

9781782275640

This was a real book fluke for me. I was actually buying a couple of other books and needed one more to take up the multi-buy offer and was just drawn in by the cover. It probably took me less than 30 seconds to add to my pile and stroll off to the till.

From the inside cover …” She thinks it will be a relaxing trip, a chance to ‘read thick books in the remote quiet and, not least, sleep to my heart’s content’ but when Christiane arrives she is shocked to realise they are to live in a ramshackle hut on the shores of a lonely fjord, hundreds of miles from the nearest settlement”…

That was what it took, as a self-confessed lover of all things Nordic, I have yet to travel to Norway, let alone the Arctic region of Svalbard where this memoir is set.

Christiane Ritter, and artist and writer from Austria travelled to Spitsbergen to join her husband for a year in the wild in 1933. He had already been away for several years and she was only supposed to stay initially 6 months. They share a cabin with another hunter, who her husband often travels with or alone hunting for food, leaving her to fend for herself in the icy tundra. Her vivid descriptions of her surroundings, her emotions, the pressure the isolation and environment played on her mental health were visceral. I spent the whole book simultaneously wanting to visit and not visit Spitsbergen. I couldn’t help but admire this amazing woman, because to live like she did, off the land (eating seal blubber etc, hand to mouth some weeks) seemed unthinkable now, with all our mod cons and fleece lined technical clothing, let alone almost 90 years ago. I should point out that her husband seems like a bit of an idiot at times, it is noted that he took many utensils and tools from their home when he first went out but doesn’t know where they are, he might have left some in a hut 2 days travel away.

At the time of reading it became apparent to me that this was unlike most nature or travel memoirs I’ve read, in that its by a woman, especially for it’s time. Its easy to understand this book’s success which hasn’t been out of print in Germany.

If you want you can check out the book (and support this blog at the same time) by clicking through to my affiliate independent bookshop of choice – Blackwell’s  or of course by supporting your local bookshop.

There are some photos of the cabins (larger than I expected)and more information in this Independent article.

Bluedot festival day 3

The weather finally dried out enough to enjoy the day and we set out to see as much as possible for the last day, it definitely felt quieter in the main arena until at least mid afternoon.

We started out with a wander around the Science stuff again, I made a badge with the Manchester Museum which was fun – based on these positive plates that have been found at the museum (56,000 of them!) there’s some enlargements hanging in the photo above. Then we checked out what Extinction Rebellion were up to – printing on t-shirts was the answer (ok they were also having deep discussions but we didn’t hang around), we didn’t have any spares so headed to the Oatly tent and pledged to not drink normal milk for 3 days and got free t-shirts, however at this point we’d forgotten about the printing so just headed to see Abbie Ozard.

Extinction Rebellion tent
T-shirt and bag printing with Extinction rebellion
Abbie Ozard at Bluedot Festival 2019

We had no idea what to expect but like most of the bands we saw on the Nebula stage over the weekend, a pleasant surprise – she was part of the BBC sounds introducing stage, and played guitar laden dark lyrical indie pop songs, apart from her newest single which sounded way too upbeat and happy for my taste.

Bluedot arena wanderings – 99th Garrison doing photo-ops

Then after a lounge around and lunch in the main arena (this time not involving halloumi), we watched Talkboy – omg so good, infectious guitars and  can we just take a minute to appreciate the amazing vocal ranges? check out this video that actually doesn’t do them justice

Talkboy

Next up we caught the end of Binkbeats, reminded me of a much more upbeat and dance version of Nils Frahm – so many instruments all the bells and whistles, ok so all the bells and pipes and xylophones and maybe not whistles. I wish we’d got here earlier, or rather that he’d been given a later slot to appease me.

Binkbeats doing his thing

Last off we went to watch New Order, one song in and it starts raining but not too much, they played at least 3 Joy Division songs which was ok but without the deep vocals it doesn’t have quite the same effect. HOWEVER I actually enjoyed their set, well what I heard because we did dip back into Nebula for a while, although I forgot who for.

And the next morning, the sun shone and everything was all right in the world and we decided to do it all again next year.

(yes, we’ve booked our tickets already).

Bluedot day 2

More rain, it will be evening until we can be sure the worst had passed. We start the day with the Luminarium – if you’ve never been inside one they sort of look like a weird bouncy castle from the outside, inside there is a space created from the same sort of fabric as a bouncy castle but not bouncy, of various shapes and the light inside is created by transparent panels and the natural light. There’s also calming music playing which didn’t seem to be having an effect on the kids who kept getting told off for running- it’s a delicate space.

Next up was an activity that had been foiled the day before due to tech issues, the Makers space from Blackburn had a laser cutter onsite and by inputting your date of birth or other important date a solar map of that date was created and then laser etched into wood for a necklace – very cool, it even left a space for a bluedot to be inserted.

The weather has perked up a bit so we next as a bit of Henge in the main stage with their extraterrestrial line up, a fantastic band who claim to be from outer space and seem a bit silly but their songs are actually about the environment and the damage we are doing to the planet – educational and entertaining, we’ve seen a lot of henge merch today. We followed this up with Liines who were on as part of BBC introducing and sounded promising from their bio but didn’t wow me that much.

next up was more chilling by the main stage with the Easy Star Allstars performing Dub Side of the Moon ~ a reggae dub version of the Pink Floyd classic in case you hadn’t guessed.

We also saw part of Rob Newman’s comedy show which we’d already seen on tour but we had to leave early for a loo break – it was incredibly popular so no point trying to get back in for a seat.

Back to more music we saw a bit of Spill Gold and then the highly anticipated TVAM, it pronounced Tuh-vam or just TV- AM like the 80s breakfast show? Either way he was very impressive with cool visuals on an actual telly hooked up to a VHS which was then replicated on the big screen and the music was good, guitars and layers of sound – the pit photographers couldn’t get enough of his face, they literally spent several songs ensuring every angle of his visage was covered, even when the other guy who I assume is also in the band but does the keyboard electronic stuff got no look-in.

We finished the evening with Kraftwerk, we even got 3D glasses! But I’ll be honest it was a little underwhelming? The graphics were ok but other bands have smashed that out the park here at Jodrell Bank and if you’re like my husband who 3D glasses don’t work for, you just got slightly blurry versions of the same imagery.

Of course a few of the big tunes were played but not until much later such as Trans-europe Express and Autobahn but it wasn’t enough to hold us and back to the tent we went for the night.

Bluedot day 0 and Day 1

We arrived around 1:30 on the Thursday- an additional day to start the festival (a standard weekend ticket starts from Friday hence day 0), after a fairly uneventful 3hr drive, it was clear on arrival that more people were turning up earlier each year just by where we had to park. The queue to get in appeared massive but it turns out the WiFi has gone down which meant tickets couldn’t be scanned and wrist bands allocated. After a few minutes though a cheer went up from the front of the queue as everything went back online and after that we were in pretty quick. We took a punt this year and camped in …. rather than the catch all quiet/family camping area (trust me there is nothing quiet about a children’s camping area) this means being closer to everything and we though close to decent food vans. However the food choices of previous years for the campsite were not yet fully set up and I could only see one place open so I took a chance on their loaded fries. Cheese and bacon loaded fries with spring onions and chives, sounds pretty nice. Seriously the most disappointing food I’ve had in a while. So much salt it took almost a pint of water to eat half the portion. It was basically a cheese sauce with bacon bits sprinkled in. So so gross.

Thankfully I had more beer to wash away the taste. Later this evening we went and saw the Hallé orchestra performing a series of sci-fi film scores such as Star Wars, Star Trek, 2001 A Space Odyssey and ET etc

Friday

Friday we awoke to the potter patter of rain on our tent around 7am and it didn’t stop until around lunchtime. Typically we were ill equipped footwear wise having forgotten our walking boots which were still in the hallway at home. The downpour was so torrential that I got soaked in the 2 mins I spent outside re-pegging the tent so it didn’t drip inside. Despite the weather and subsequent quagmire the site became we still managed to get a good look around the science stalls although a few were suffering tech difficulties with lack of power etc.

One of the exhibits that stood out was about whales and included previous uses of whale ones such as scrimshaw and learning about the brush like material in their mouths that was used in corsetry. There was also a damning reminder of the pollution still happening in the form of a bottle top chain collected in just a 3 month period.

Later on that evening after more rain, I managed to get out and see Squid, who were described in their festival bio as:

 a blend of driving motorik rhythms, psychedelic pop and the more polished corners of late 70s post-punk

They didn’t disappoint and neither do their fans a group of whom turned up in squid costumes!

The lead singer and drummer reminded me of Ian Curtis (albeit the version from the film Control), the my started off very moody with driving drum beats.

After Squid there was a 20 minute gap before the final band I was planning on seeing so I stepped outside and caught a bit of Hot Chip’s set, seems I know more of their stuff than I realised.

Blanket were last up and until about 3 minutes before lift off I was the only person in the tent. They were pretty ok band and reminded me of For A Minor Reflection if they had vocals, (if you do t know who they are then you should look them up)however if just wasn’t enough to keep me from my bed and off I waded back through the mud to sleep.

Review: Knitlandia – A Knitter Sees the World

Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World

Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees the World by Clara Parkes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Full disclosure: I’m a crocheter not a knitter, and not as ‘into’ it as much as a lot of people, for example the people who will apparently queue for hours in hot sun to buy yarn at a fibre festival. However, I chose to read it during my knitting & crochet group’s summer retreat which is a very different to the retreats mentioned in the book, in that there are no professional demonstrations or lessons or meditation, just lots and lots of booze (we’re not called the Oxford Drunken Knitwits for nowt!), some occasional yarn craft and a hot tub with friends.

Summer Retreat, ODK style


So not being a knitting nerd, I still enjoyed this immensely, I think the travel aspect was well written and that’s what drew me in. I didn’t notice the ‘name dropping’ that this book has been criticised with having, because I don’t know the names? (I’d not even heard of Parkes before being recommended this book). In fact I only recognised one person because I’ve seen her patterns on Ravely, however I enjoyed learning more about that person and how they got to where they were in the ‘Knitting World’. The stories involving people I didn’t know, I still enjoyed – the fact that these stories are mini essays mean you can choose to just skip to the next one should you choose.

I felt that Parkes’ previous experience as a travel writer shines through in her lifelike descriptions of the places she visits and the people she meets. I can almost smell the barns of the festivals or feel the heat of the conference centres and hotels of various events – she really brings the places to life, which to appeal to a wider audience is no mean feat.





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Review: Blue Eyed Pop by Dr Gunni

Blue Eyed Pop: The History of Popular Music in Iceland

Blue Eyed Pop: The History of Popular Music in Iceland by Dr. Gunni

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Named after the Sugarcubes song of the same name, Blue Eyed Pop covers the start of ‘popular’ music in Iceland which evolved early 20th century, through to the books publishing year of 2013, it covers everything from how various instruments were introduced to the country, to the influence of the American airbase at Keflavik and the inimitable country balls that so many artists have cut their teeth over the years.
For me the pace really picked up covering the period of the late 70’s as this is when recognisable names start to come to the fore (artists that are still playing live, releasing records such as Bubbi Morthens).
Obviously there’s a lot about Björk in the book, given that she released her first album at the age of 11, and being arguably Iceland’s most successful artist, but it also gives plenty of weight to newer bands such as Sigur Rós and múm etc..
The book has a lot in the way of facts: how many records each artist/album sold, venue history, who was in what band when and some amazing photos to go with them! It really shows what I think is the uniqueness of Iceland’s music scene, that an artist can be involved in multiple bands/projects at a time which can appear strange in a world of Western pop music where there is usually some acrimonious split in a band caused by creative differences. I’ve witnessed this phenomena myself at Iceland Airwaves, seeing a performer 5+ times across the festival, in 3 or 4 different bands/line ups. Airwaves of course gets a fair mention, being the Glastonbury of Iceland, sans mud of course.
The only thing missing from this book is a 2018 update, the music scene and artists of Iceland finally getting the attention and success they deserve abroad.
My only niggle with the book is that particularly in the last 4-5 chapters there are several mistakes missed by the publisher/proof reader, but I think they could be overlooked for the sheer joy the book brings. In the back there is a list of useful websites for experiencing some of the artists mentioned, and it was good to see that Dr Gunni’s website is still holding the fort with these




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Day 4 of #Airwaves18

Day 20/100 – well it seems my challenge has failed somewhat. I could’ve sworn I posted my day 4 review but as this was empty I guess not and in case you couldn’t tell, post holiday fatigue set in and stayed in. I’ve had a super busy week at work and this weekend had family staying so no real time to blog and now all that excitement is catching up with me and I’m coming down with a cold. But, I’ll try and remember what I enjoyed most about the last day of airwaves.

Clue, it was a lot. We went a bit off-schedule with our planning. This year the festival reduced the off-venue program, whilst the press have said this was for financial reasons, we heard from some locals that apparently it was because the Icelanders themselves apparently don’t buy tickets anymore and just attend off-venue shows – not sure how true that is? I mean they’d still need to book time off work etc to attend shows, another ru mour we heard was that Icelandic bands playing on-venue were limited to one off-venue show, however that ended up not being true, but it certainly was like in the past where bands played multiple shows througout the festival, and it’s not like the off-venue replaces the full festival – most of it shuts down at 7pm. For us the off-venue compliments the offical shows, making it easier to see more people if you see someone at lunchtime friday, that might free up saturday evening to see 1 or 2 other shows for example.
Anyway, we started with an Airwaves favourite – Una Stef, performing at Lucky Records, which turned into a full on dance party, which audience synchonised moves!

Una Stef @ Lucky Records

Una Stef at Lucky Records

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Tap list at RVK Brewing

We made a detour to RVK Brewing, a micro brewery with tap room that was easily a highlight of the trip (much more than Brewdog Reykjavik which was oddly disappointing), the flight of beer was a lot cheaper and in much cuter glasses. They were also playing the new LP from Benny Crespo’s Gang which reminded me to pick up a copy on our way back past Lucky Records, where we also saw a snippet of Godchilla.

We then went for another Airwaves tradition and stopped off at Reykjavik Fish for a lovely fish supper, before heading back to our apartment to drop off our bags – here we were delighted to find the Northern Lights playing out!

Aurora over Reykjavik

Northern Lights over Reykjavik

With this giving us giddy levels of excitement, we then headed to Hurra, as it was a venue we’d not been to, we caught the end of Munster’s set which was alright. We then headed across the road to the Art Museum to see Emmsjé Gauti, an eminent Icelandic rapper performing in the Art Museum, the venue was large and not very crowded when we were there, which meant we could sneak right up to the front for the feel good show (even though we didn’t understand the lyrics). We then went back across the road for Vio, who we saw last year off-venue and were great – really energetic indie rock.

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Dr Spock at Gaukurinn

Promptly followed by Dr Spock who are not indie rock at all, but loud and crazy punk rock, handing out marigold gloves and singing whilst wearing an elephant mask, and omg the crowd loved it and so did we!

After this we headed to our final gig of the the evening, timings being what they were meant we had just missed the end of Ceasetone (thankfully I managed to see them earlier in the week), but not too late for Benny Crespo’s Gang. I had first heard of them a couple of Airwaves back, being a fan of LayLow – I had no idea at the time that she was in a band that were much more rocky than her laidback, soulful music. Another crowd pleaser of a band, this small intimate room at Bryggjan Brugghús was pleasantly full of people dancing and singing. A fantastic end to the festival for us.

(We may have already bought early bird tickets for next years’ festival).

Day 19/100 – Day 3 #Airwaves18

Day 3 was a slow starter, feeling slightly hungover and very tired we started the day with a traditional swim at Vesturbærslaug, if you can call lying around in a hot tub swimming! We were pleased to find that the HagaVagninn was back in business and enjoyed a post swim burger – served by none other than Emmsjé Gauti, a rapper who will be performing at airwaves on Saturday night.

After a wander around town via the hand knitting association of Iceland (I think wool is the one thing cheaper in Iceland than back home), we called into Skúli bar, a craft beer bar that has been commandeered as the official IA clubhouse. They’ve been having some official performances on there broadcast live on an American radio station – we arrived in time to hear the end of Reykjavikurdætur, after they’d finished we joined the queue to get in for Mugison and that did not disappoint. Anecdotes about some grim stage adventures had everyone laughing and of course he played an excellent set.

After this it was time to head to the OmNom chocolate factory – a place we’d visited for a tour on our last trip to Iceland. We’d been lucky enough to score tickets to a tea ceremony and performance by JFDR to celebrate the release of her EP (which I’d bought yesterday at 12 Tonar!) which is a collaboration with OmNom and comes in the form of a matcha chocolate bar. Not only was the performance incredibly beautiful and intimate, but we were fed some nice chocolate too and of course we got a goodie bag containing the afore mentioned EP!

Next up music wise we headed to Harpa which is playing a tiny role in the festival this year. Here we saw aYia with their dark synth music followed by Vök with their upbeat funky electro indie music.

Then we rushed over to Gamla Bio to prepare to queue for the upcoming HATARI, here our VIP wristbands were golden – as the queue snaked down the street and around the corner we got straight in. We headed upstairs to the VIP section where we could look over the balcony to an enormous crowd watching the Voidz who we didn’t enjoy. After that though the crowd thinned a bit and we got to the front for the energetic bondage laced HATARI with their unique brand of … cyber industrial I don’t know what to call it, but it was an excellent way to finish the day.

Day 18/100 – Day 2 #Airwaves18

Well today started early! Given that in past years off-venue usually starts around lunch time, we’d planned our music walking tour of Reykjavik by 12 Tonar in order to not miss any bands. It turns out we could’ve opted for a early afternoon slot instead of the 10:30 one we chose – however it turned out to be a good choice as for a start there were only 4 of us being taken around the city by Larus, co-owner of 12 Tonar.

I think I’ll leave the tour to its own dedicated post as it was so interesting, so be satisfied with a picture of the wall inside smekkleysa

So our first off-venue show ended up being at a very packed Slippbarrin catching the end of Axel Flovent, but the main reason was to catch Ceasetone. As is the way with the small off venue shows it was a pared back low key show but it still packed a punch and they played by favourite The Bright Side.

Later on for official shows I landed at Gamla Bio for Warmland who were great, followed by Stereohoney a U.K. band – both of these got the crowd really enjoying it despite it not being very busy at all!

On my way back I popped into Iðnó and caught the end of Snail Mail and the start of Tamino, not really my thing/tired.

Even more Airwaves picks part 2..

 

part two mostly because I’m doing an 100 day blog challenge and need an extra post and I’m tired – I know, cheating myself! but here goes, 6-10 of my ‘bands I haven’t seen before but really want to’

6. Blaskjár

 

7. Eivør

 

8. Febrúar

 

9. GlerAkur

 

10. Ingibjorg Turchi

 

So I hope you enjoy my picks, there are loads more  hope to see but currently on my way to Iceland!