Home' Waiheke Weekender : 6 September 2012 Contents 6 September 2012
2 Waiheke Weekender
For some obscure
had long been on
my 'to visit' bucket
list. It probably had
something to do with
the 1972 drama that
surrounded the World
between the weird
Bobby Fisher, and
the clinical, unsmil-
ing Russian, Boris Spaskey.
Suddenly chess was the sexiest sport on the
planet, fuelled by the unpredictable antics and
serious character faws of both players.
Chess, a most intellectual and demanding
discipline can, I suspect, at the top level, tip you
over the edge mentally.
Being at the height of the Cold War between
the world's superpowers, this was viewed as not
so much a contest (indeed a sport) but rather a
test of intellectual prowess between the famboy-
ance and free market capitalism of the United
States and the ferce rigidity and state seige
mentality of the USSR. Okay, so America after a
slow start won the race to the moon but did that
make them the smartest people on earth? The
hugely hyped series of encounters became great-
er than moving pieces around a board and more
about who really was the superpower. Both men
featured on the covers of international magazines
and the bemused isolated folk of Iceland's capi-
tal had never played host like this before to the
world's media. It was hyped as 'the match of
Later in 1986, then US President Ronald
Reagan would meet for a major summit confer-
ence in Reykjavik with Russian President,
Mikhail Gorbachev, as the Cold War began to
thaw, and soon Russia would embrace the ways
of the West.
Who would have thought this far fung North
Atlantic modest island with no fve-star hotels
could play host to the world's most powerful
Ice caps cover 11 percent of the country, more
than 50 percent is barren, only 6 percent consists
of lakes and rivers and less than 2 percent of the
land is cultivated. You'll look in vain for a tree
of any signifcance and sunshine hours are a bit
of a rarity.
Getting to Reykjavik was a miracle in itself.
With appalling timing we few into Heathrow 24
hours before a major strike had been called by
security and border personnel the day before the
London Olympics were due to start. Heathrow
is a nightmare at the best of times, surpassed
only by LA International as the worst, most inept
pathetic airport on the planet.
It seemed most of the world were coming to
London at the same time as us and I had visions
of spending days camped in queues.
However, to my great surprise and joy the
workers withdrew their promised industrial
action at the 11th hour and the skill, swiftness
and courtesy afforded us by Heathrow airport
staff was overwhelming and erased from memory
all previous bad experiences.
Through in a fash with lots of beaming smiles
and 'Welcome to London, enjoy the Games, Sir',
from a slew of volunteers who couldn't have
been more helpful. I didn't have the heart to tell
them we weren't here for The Games but merely
picking up a boat that was leaving the next day
from under London's Tower Bridge and heading
to some of the most bleak but captivating places
in the world.
Kirkwall in Orkney, with a Scandinavian heri-
tage that gives the islands that make up Shetland
and Orkney an ambience and experience unlike
any other region in Scotland. We enjoyed a
marvellous day with my wife's elderly aunt who,
along with her daughter, showed us 'the sights'.
The most memorable being The Italian Chapel,
which is two simple Nissan huts in the middle
of felds, with the inside all painted to look like
proper frescoes. Built by homesick Italian pris-
oners of war who were incarcerated in Orkney
and missed the churches of home, they used
whatever they could fnd to create this little piece
Lerwick in the Shetland Islands where my
wife had visited as a child for 'summer' holi-
days, may look a tad sleepy and lost somewhere
in the past but it's far from a forgotten backwa-
ter, thanks to the mixed blessing of 'oil money'.
There's gold in them thar seabeds but it's hard to
tell if there has been a signifcant beneft for the
These quaint old fshing towns of Orkney and
Shetland where the people are used to battling
the elements and learn to live with ferce winds,
desolate countryside and a simple life rich in a
history that fuses Scottish humour and versatility
with Scandinavian resolve.
Bizarrely, every foreboding place we visit in
the rugged North Atlantic is experiencing warm
temperatures, cloudless skies and hardly a breath
With the exception of Torshaven in the Faroe
Islands where the fog is so dense we creep into
port through a constant barrage of foghorns. This
was once a Viking stronghold and a Danish infu-
ence remains. Less than 50,000 people inhabit
seventeen of the eighteen islands but with 70,000
sheep they leave New Zealand collecting only a
bronze. The fog never lifts all day, apparently
quite a common occurrence in summer, which is
so short anyway.
And so to Iceland. Surprisingly there's not
much ice -- but then it is summer. Akureyri is
surrounded by mountains that remind me of
the upper reaches of Glenorchy just out of
Tom Cruise had just been here for three weeks
flming Oblivion. Poor Tom, the irony being that's
where his marriage went while he was working.
Our guide points out the private house he hired
on a mountain slope during flming. The locals
didn’t have too much sympathy for Tom. He had
too much unnecessary security that spooked the
neighbouring farmer's cattle and he didn't like
the local house furniture so had it put into storage
and few in a lot of American furniture instead –
for three weeks. No wonder Katie gave up.
Santa's house is here. We have grandchil-
dren so a visit and photos are essential. It's a bit
tacky, with way too much memorabilia and large
licorice allsorts on the roof. Santa's not here but
his suit is hanging on the line to dry. There are
busloads of tourists. Joyce buys gifts but only for
the grandchildren who still enjoy the mystery.
Santa is a relative newcomer to Iceland, he's
come as a result of tourism. Icelanders have a
monster called Gryla who comes and eats bad
children at Christmas...that sort of story is never
going to survive in today's world so Santa has
made a welcome and fnancially benefcial home
I arrive a sceptic but come away a confrmed
believer…defnitely the intellectual rigour to
have made a great chessman!
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