Thursday, 6 May 2010


So, it’s Election Day in Britain. Brits are sweating over a hot ballot paper. And, it's not a straight-forward choice. One of this morning’s cartoons depicts a bloke in a polling booth staring at the ceiling while an official remarks, ‘You do know we close at 10pm?’ Such are the delights of the democratic process. 

On the other hand, if you are reading this in the morning, we may well know the name of our new Prime Minister. Naturally, we in Britian enjoy the blessings of democracy, as does Norway nowadays. However, it’s still been quite a fight, although thankfully, it didn’t reach actual fisty-cuffs. It's such a relief that nobody has to become a Viking warrior in order to rule a country these days. That’s what used to happen here, way back. Leaders had to be proper Vikings. But little did one proper Viking ruler realise that by falling in love he'd end up unifying a whole nation. 

Many centuries ago, Norway was divided into several small realms over which various Viking Chiefs wielded their not inconsiderable power by sheer brute force and showing their great big Viking teeth. One of these chiefs was known as King Harald Fairhair, on account of his abundant blonde locks, of which he was apparently enormously proud. However, his vanity rather got in the way when he fell in love with an extraordinarily beautiful young maiden from Bergen named Gyda. Harald was instantly smitten, and sent a message to the lovely Gyda requesting her fair hand in marriage. He assumed young Gyda would be thrilled at the prospect of getting hitched to such a handsome, abundantly-tressed, blonde chief. Foolish boy...didn’t he realise life is never like it is in the films?

‘Pah,’ cried Gyda. ‘Who does he think he is? Honestly, blondes think they have it all. Seriously, I sometimes think they are a different species. If he thinks I’m going to marry some jumped-up squirt with such a poxy wee kingdom his size just ‘cause he’s got blonde hair, he’s got another think coming.’ She sharpened up the tone of her reply a little further by adding she wouldn’t even contemplate marrying anyone unless they were the Sovereign of a whole nation.

Nothing like setting your sites high, I guess, but it’s just as well we’re not all that fussy. See, I told you ages ago that Norwegian women are strong.

Hearing this, Harald made a vow. Being him, and being a man, it involved his hair. He vowed never to wash or comb his hair again until he had conquered the whole of Norway.

He embarked on a campaign that lasted a full six years. He piled through all the realms conquering each one with startling efficiency, and ended up having a frightful time at the Battle at Hafrsfjord in the year 872. That was the last battle. Needless to say he won... ‘job done’. Norway was unified, Harald became the first King of Norway, and the fickey young Gyda had to submit. I am pleased to relate, he combed his hair, went for a cut and blow-dry, they married, had five children, and enjoyed a long and happy marriage until he died at the age of 83. Obviously Gyda ‘wore the trousers’ but what is it they say about a successful man?

It’s an odd fact, but some Norwegians don’t consider the area around Stavanger as ‘proper’ Norway...too flat, too warm, too southern, not enough snow, funny accent, whatever. This attitude is of course out-dated by 1,138 years. Things have moved on, Norway is one nation, and the site of that unification was right here  outside Stavanger. The Three Swords Monument at Hafrsfjord marks the spot. Each sword stands for a different part of the country, South, East and West. I asked a local what happened to North but he waved his hand dismissively and remarked, ‘oh don’t be so idiotic....nobody was interested in the north back then.’

Well, as election day draws to a close and as I await a night of fevered TV viewing to find out who our new PM might be, I hope you can appreciate being able to comb your hair without having to go to all the bother of unifying a nation.

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