Monday, 19 April 2010

What did we do to upset Iceland?

What is it with Iceland? It has a total population which anywhere else would just about make a reasonable city. It’s located in the North Atlantic so far from anywhere else that I can only imagine the original settlers turned up because they got lost on their way to somewhere more desirable.

Did you ever hear the Arlo Guthrie sketch about the last guy in the world? This is a guy with so little happening in his life that he doesn’t even have a road to lie down in for a truck to run him over. All that guy has to do is go out and bum a dime and phone the FBI and say ‘Hey, FBI?’; they say ‘Yeah’; he says ‘Chairman Mao and Uncle Ho are coming to dinner tonight’ (OK, I know that the sketch is a bit dated now), and then hang up. And within seconds the FBI will have files on that guy, tape rolling on that guy, thousands of agents finding things out about that guy, because there are things to find out about him: I mean, he’s the last guy, so how did he find someone to bum a dime off? There’s plenty of people who aren’t the last guy who can’t bum a dime; he comes along and he bums a dime. And if he was the last guy and he had to bum a dime to phone the FBI, how was he going to serve dinner to all those people?

As Guthrie points out, his country is the only one in the world, not that could find out that kind of thing, but that would take the time to find stuff out about that guy. Anyone else would say ‘hey, he’s the last guy, screw him.’ But not in the United States, where there is no prejudice, there is no discrimination – they’ll get anyone.

Now I feel a bit that way about Iceland. ‘Hey, that’s Iceland. That’s the last place. Screw them.’ But down the decades, I’ve found I can’t.

Back in the 1970s, it was the Cod Wars. How we thrilled. Nightly pictures on the TV news of plucky little British sailors in their warships battling it out with vicious Icelandic fisherman in their sinister trawlers. Exciting times. OK, in the end we backed down, but it was still the stuff of which epics are spun, with all that is best in the heroism and glory that makes Britain.

Then they went quiet for a bit until a couple of years ago, when they started falling apart financially. ‘They don’t have any money?’ I wanted to say, ‘Hey, they’re the last guys, screw them.’ Unfortunately, it turns out that a lot of the money they didn’t have any more came from our pockets – 300,000 British depositors saw their savings evaporate, nearly one for every single Icelander. That’s without taking account of the £900 million of investments from British municipal authorities and police forces that they seem to have lost.

Now they’ve been spewing volcanic ash into the atmosphere for the last couple of days and forcing us to cancel most of our flights.

What on earth are they up to? Are they upset that we’re not paying them enough attention? Is it something we said?

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