Travis is at the rear of the
warehouse. His arm moves in a circle of motion as he rotates the arm of
the printing press. The printing press is new, bought from a car boot
sale at Akranes, although Travis was proud to tell us the press
actually came from the back of an old bus.
class="c53"> "The vendor was from
Dar-es-Salaam," he said. "He had all manner of things in there, some
definitely not for the faint-hearted."
class="c53"> When pressed he wouldn't
elaborate and stood elaborately from the table, his napkin falling from
his knees like a redundant parachute.
class="c53"> "These topics are best not
discussed in front of children."
class="c53"> "I'm only one child," said Spud.
class="c53"> Spud has settled into the
warehouse well. The interior walls are up now and he has his own
section. He refers to this as 'Spud's Realm' and will do so in the
third person; such as, "I'm just off to Spud's Realm for an hour or
class="c53"> He has decorated the walls with
pictures of his own design. Often these are long-nosed beasts with many
arms and eyes that burn with fire. He has a talent for art matched only
by his enthusiasm.
class="c53"> When we asked him to design the
advertising leaflets for the whale watching business he clapped his
hands and jumped two feet into the air. This quite started the penguin
and for several hours he hid himself in a storage locker and refused
point blank to come out.
class="c53"> However, my heart is warmed.
Europe may have been destroyed by an earthquake but I have a family
now; Torn, Travis, Spud and the penguin. I am happy.
That evening I rub the juice of
juniper berries into Travis's aching arm and then he prepares the
food; bl?berjas?pa, a kind of blueberry soup
and a cavernous herring salad. The herrings he leaves with all their
class="c53"> We take a table outside and light
candles as the sun goes down. The sea is flat and dark like a desert in
the depths of night. The outline of our plane is just visible, a
hulking tank upon the water. Above our heads the stars twinkle
class="c53"> After we have eaten Torn holds up
one of the newly printed leaflets, the green and violet paper
fluttering like a gentle shield in the evening breeze.
class="c53"> "For the business to succeed, we
need customers to come. That is Marx's first rule of the economic
class="c53"> Spud holds his hand high in the
air. "I could deliver them with papers," he says. "It would be easy as
pie. Easier. Pies can be hard to make. Especially sardine
class="c53"> "I was thinking of bigger fish
than that," says Torn. "Reykjavik is the place for these
class="c53"> Like a wish made the candle
suddenly goes out and I understand the leaflets should be my
responsibility. Travis flies the plane, Torn is the expert on whale
songs, Spud has his job as a paper boy.
class="c53"> "I will go," I say, "only you
will have to advise me how to get there."
class="c53"> Torn smiles and I know he is
class="c53"> "There is a bus that leaves at
first light," he says.
class="c53"> "Then I better pack," I
The leaflets take up more than
half the case. The other half I fill with my personal effects. At the
top I place my favourite t-shirt. This was bought at an Eurythmics
concert in 1984 and signed by two of their backing singers. It is green
in colour but yellowed slightly with age.
class="c53"> For a while I stand toying with
my willie warmer. I am not wearing it. This is due, in part, to the
class="c53"> "I don't think you'll be needing
that," says Torn. "I will keep it here with me, as a
class="c53"> "This earthquake," I say, "it
makes you think. So many dead, right out of the blue."
class="c53"> "Unexpected events are, by their
nature, unexpected. And they happen rarely. This is what gives them
their unexpected quality. You'll be ok."
class="c53"> I close the lid of the case. "I'm
looking forward to it. Bright lights. Big city."
class="c53"> In the morning it is dark when we
get up. Torn walks with me to the bus stop. As I turn to catch I final
glimpse of the warehouse I see the silhouette of the penguin in the
slightly ajar door. It is standing quite still, like a
class="c53"> "Goodbye penguin," I say. "See
class="c53"> If it has heard me it gives no
indication. Sometimes the penguin is more friendly than at
The bus driver is both mute and
a Sikh. He has the largest turban I have ever seen and set within its
folds is a pad of bus tickets. As I pay my fare he reaches up for the
pad, tears off one of the tickets, and silently passes this to
class="c53"> There is only one other
passenger, an old woman in a herringbone coat with enormous buttons
each shaped like a smiling mouth. Next to her on the seat are the
collected works of Dorothy L Sayers. The spine of each book is in a
different shade of green.
class="c53"> As I walk past her she puts a
finger in the book she is holding and smiles at me.
class="c53"> "The butler did it," she says.
"That is what I like about this author, it is always the
class="c53"> I take a seat at the back. I
watch the warehouses go by and then I close my eyes. I try to think who
I will distribute my leaflets to, and in turn, who will come to watch
class="c53"> After some moments I realise I
have little understanding of Reykjavik and what sort of people live
there. This is going to be an adventure, I am sure of it.
I awake to a different
landscape. On the horizon buildings loom, rising like flower stalks
from the ground. The old lady next to me wets a finger and turns a page
in her book. She catches sight of me looking.
class="c53"> "Now we're getting to the crux of
it," she says. "The butler is about to admit his crime."
class="c53"> "Is that Reykjavik?" I say,
class="c53"> "If you had been there before you
class="c53"> I shake my head. "I haven't, you
see." And then I add, "Well, only to the airport."
class="c53"> "A good place to arrive," says
the woman and she puts her a finger in her book. "I have heard that
since this debacle in Europe the magicians are willing to come out of
class="c53"> "Hiding?" I say.
class="c53"> "They predicted this, you know? A
great earthquake. The death of many. It was the disbelief that sent
them packing. You can only be disbelieved for so long before you start
putting things in a case."
class="c53"> I try to ask more questions but
the woman fields them all like a pro-am baseball player and with a
smirk she finishes her book. She adds it to the bottom of the pile and
takes another from the top.
class="c53"> I imagine her in a Charles
Dickens novel, teaching Tiny Tim his ABC and smacking him violently on
his bad leg every time he gets a letter wrong.
class="c53"> We stop once for a toilet break
and the driver and I stand amiably side by side weeing against the back
wheel. I try to ask him about the magicians and only too late remember
that he is a mute. I get the feeling that it is going to be one of
those days. Silently I wish Torn were with me. Then I put away myself
away and get back on the bus.
We arrive at nightfall. I
collect my case and like Rumplestiltskin on his first foray into
Algiers I place one foot in front of the other and head towards the
port. After weeks in the warehouse I want to be close to water. The
sound of it will be a comfort, a reminder of home.
class="c53"> After several minutes of dreary
buildings I come to a large flashing billboard. Picked out in light
bulbs in myriads of colour are the words, 'Faxafloi Bay'.
class="c53"> We are finally getting somewhere
I think, and then I wonder who this 'we' might be. After all, I am
alone. Just me and my false leg, walking with me in the same way Watson
always followed Holmes, sometimes nagging, sometimes a help, but always
class="c53"> The streets are beginning to
fill. Dogs with fur in ragged bunches sit on the lids of dustbins,
sniffing the air for the chance of a bone. Sailors in tight trousers
cusp lighter flames in the palm of their hands as they nod to light
cigarettes clamped to the edges of their mouths. And ladies of the
night ply for trade.
class="c53"> Neither the dogs nor the sailors
nor the ladies seem likely candidates for my leaflets and I am
wondering when I will find a hotel when I see a red sign, 'Hotel' it
says in red letters like the kisses of Hanoi call-girls.
Behind the reception is a tall
man in a lime green suit. He smiles as I enter and I see that he has
only two teeth. These are both on the same side.
class="c53"> "I'd like a room," I
class="c53"> The man places the thumb and
forefinger of each hand hard against his temple and bows his head in
class="c53"> "Let me guess," he says, "you are
a visitor to Reykjavik."
class="c53"> As I admit that he is right, he
smiles and tells me he is something of a clairvoyant. He then places a
box on the counter in front of him and tells me to dip in my
class="c53"> "This is the hotel of chance," he
says. "Your room is in the lap of the gods."
class="c53"> "Which god is that?" I ask,
class="c53"> "Choose and do not question,"
says the man. "This is what Nietzsche always said and he was a
class="c53"> Thinking that perhaps he is
half-right I dip my hand in the box and withdraw a key.
class="c53"> "Ah," says the man, catching
sight of the numbers on the fob I am holding, "1975, a good year. It
saw the end of the war in Vietnam."
class="c53"> "But is it a good room?" I
class="c53"> "Seek and ye shall
class="c53"> The man claps his hand three
times and a cupboard door opens and a bell boy appears.
class="c53"> "I was having a little rest,"
says the bellboy, perhaps catching sight of my surprised face. "He lets
me sleep when we are quiet."
class="c53"> That he was sleeping would
explain why he is wearing only a pair of orange underpants, that and
the blue circular fez common to bellboys the globe over.
class="c53"> "This way," he says, and we make
for the stairs, like an ambush about to be sprung by the Viet
The room is on the fifteenth
floor and by the time we get there my legs are tired, both my real one
and the false. At the tenth floor I considered asking the bellboy to
take my case. I decided not, not wanting to appear churlish.
class="c53"> I am pleasantly surprised by the
room. It has wooden floorboards and wooden walls. On each of the walls
is a painting of a duck. In one corner of the room is a bath on four
legs, in another corner is a bed.
class="c53"> The bellboy sniffs silently and
walks over to the bed. For a moment I think he is going to get in and
carry on his orgy of sleep but instead he turns down the top of the
class="c53"> "If there's nothing else," he
says and holds out his hand, palm upwards.
class="c53"> "There is one thing," I say. "I
wonder if you would know of anyone who would be interested in
class="c53"> The bellboy thinks for a moment,
running a finger lightly over the outline of his penis in his
underpants as he does so.
class="c53"> "Not sure," he says, finally. "We
have plenty of sightings of whales here already. In the morning you
will be able to see them from the window yourself. We have a good view
of the port."
class="c53"> Perhaps sensing my disappointment
the bellboy stops by the door on his way out.
class="c53"> "Ask Esau in the
class="c53"> "Esau?" I say.
class="c53"> "The man on reception. He's a
clever bugger. He'll come up with something."
class="c53"> Gratefully I drop a coin into the
bellboy's hand. He examines it closely and then slides it into the
waistband of his underpants. It makes a clinking sound as he does so
and too late I realise he had not been playing with his penis at all.
His underpants are obviously where he keeps his moneybox.
class="c53"> Surely I am a fool and as I fall
asleep I wonder if I am cut out for the job assigned to me.
In the morning I wake to find
the sun streaming through the windows. I attach my leg and head down
the stairs for breakfast.
class="c53"> From the buffet table I collect
two fried eggs, a sausage and a half of fried tomato, arrange them into
a face on my plate and head over to one of the empty tables.
class="c53"> As I cut into the smiling mouth
of the sausage the dialogue of a pair of loud Americans drifts over. It
is like the Atlantic has never existed and, if it has, they have chosen
to ignore it.
class="c53"> "Well bud," says one. He is
holding up a paper. "What about this one? Engineer. Must have
experiences of bridges."
class="c53"> "I don't know bud," says the
other. "Explosions is more my thing. I like blowing things up. The
moving of the Mississippi basin, that was some of my work."
class="c53"> "Stands to reason," says the
first one again, "before you can insert a bridge you got to blow some
shit up. Every bridge needs a hole."
class="c53"> "Mebbe you're right," says the
class="c53"> Sensing an off-chance I stand
from my table and sidle over. I pose my question about whale-watching
opportunities and the two men raise their eyes to me.
class="c53"> "I don't know about that," says
one. "All the sensible money is heading to Europe. Do you know how many
homes need rebuilding there?"
class="c53"> I admit that I don't and wait
patiently for an answer. Like the old Patagonia express atop Mt Fuji it
class="c53"> As the smaller of the two
Americans, in hat size at least, mops up the last of his egg juice, he
directs his gaze on me.
class="c53"> "Iceland may become an important
place. We are considering annexing it as a base of operations for
American investment in the reconstruction of Europe."
class="c53"> "It could become the new
Thailand," says the other one. "It's economy was founded on the
servicing of American GIs going to or from Vietnam. Opportunity and
disaster are often found hand in hand."
class="c53"> I walk back towards my table, my
heart like a loaded gun. I hadn't considered what was happening in
Europe as an opportunity. Perhaps it was and perhaps it was just
A strange jet-lag numbness fills
my head although I have not been on a plane. I finish my breakfast and
go out to the reception. Esau is there. He puts his fingers to his
forehead and bows in concentration.
class="c53"> "Don't tell me," he says. "You
have a question."
class="c53"> "I have these leaflets to
class="c53"> "And who would you like to
deliver them to?"
class="c53"> My time in Reykjavik has been
short and already I am worried by the Americans' words. Perhaps the
whole society will be concerned with events in Europe. After all, the
destruction of a continent is a big thing. Then I remember the words of
the woman on the bus.
class="c53"> "Magicians," I say.
class="c53"> "Step this way," says Esau and he
pulls a sheet of paper from under the counter. "You do know that the
existence of these magicians is purely mythical?"
class="c53"> "Of course," I say, although it
is news to me.
class="c53"> "My grandfather told me father
and my father told me. Whoever told my grandfather we don't know. It is
a secret. What I can tell you is that after Jorgenson's declaration
that magic was unlawful the magicians were said to go underground.
Here, take this."
class="c53"> "What is it?" I say.
class="c53"> "It is a map of the sewer system.
Follow the red line. That is all I know."
The sun hits me as I head out of
the hotel. It hangs in the sky like a mental patient destined to
transcribe the same circle of motion in the lunatic asylum.
class="c53"> Shops are opening in the street
and a line of old women, identical in hound's-tooth jackets and
hairgrips in the shape of silver fish, queue outside one with a sign
that simply says, 'Tungsten'. Intrigued, but resilient, I move
class="c53"> The map leads me down to Faxafloi
Bay. Here, white buildings surround the harbour, like sentries standing
guard. There is a caf? and a young waiter with hair pulled back in a
ponytail, and a white cloth hanging from his back pockets, sets out
tables one by one by one by one.
class="c53"> I check the map and walk five
paces east to a manhole cover. Timing my lifting of it to the waiter
disappearing back inside the caf? to retrieve another table I do lift
it and swiftly lower myself inside. With a clang it shuts over my
I have never been underground
before even though my father was a miner. For many years he wanted me
to follow in his footsteps and then the roof caved in. I touch a hand
to the ceiling above my head. It is damp but it feels firm and that is
class="c53"> The leaflets are in a bundle
under my arm, gripped together by a thick red elastic band. There are
249 of them. 250 were printed but Spud kept one for himself and pinned
it on the wall of his cubicle among his beasts. He said that one day he
would use it in his portfolio. He wanted to work for a travelling zoo,
drawing pictures of all the animals to bring in the crowds. Thoughts of
home comfort me.
class="c53"> I am in some kind of tunnel. It
is dark, but there is light at the end and I head towards this. 'Light
at the end of the tunnel' has an almost metaphorical resonance in my
head and I feel it is just the sort of thing I should head
class="c53"> As I walk I think and I think
that perhaps my plan has certain holes. It is unlikely that there will
be 249 magicians down here, enough to give out all my leaflets to, and
even if there are, would magicians be the kind of people who would want
to go on whale-watching trips?
class="c53"> Maybe I could sell them as magic
whales. Or perhaps magicians would want to use certain parts of whales
in their spells. As I child I had read Jules Verne's 'The Man from
Atlantis' and I distinctly remembered something about Macarthur the
Magician using the tooth of a whale to make the centre of the Earth
seem nearer than it actually was. Or I may have been mistaken. Time can
class="c53"> The light is getting brighter,
there is a smell of something in the air, and the lack of a breeze, and
a clanging like a bell in a church tower on the side of a mountain in
Greece. I take deep breath and step into the light.
I wasn't aware that I had been
going down but I must have been because the cavern I enter is storeys
high. It stretches upwards and ends in a fluted roof like that of a
cathedral. But that is not the most impressive thing. In the centre of
the cavern is a bronze coloured rocket. It is massive, much larger than
several whales, even the blue one I saw in the British museum as a
class="c53"> Hanging from ropes on each side
of the rocket are men. I can see they are busy at work,
class="c53"> "Can I help you?" says a
class="c53"> I turn around. There is a man
with a long beard.
class="c53"> "I was looking for the
magicians," I say.
class="c53"> The man narrows his eyes. "Have
you come about the mince?"
class="c53"> I shake my head and spin round
towards the rocket as a loud shout comes from it. One of the painters
has come loose from his rope and I watch as he drops towards the
ground. Just as I think his impact is inevitable the man next to me
twitches an eyebrow and the painter hovers in mid-air.
class="c53"> "So you are the magicians," I
class="c53"> The man grimaces. "Not exactly.
We've decided to give up all that nonsense. Go on to more practical
things. We've built a rocket, you know? What we thought was we'd go to
the moon. Set up a base of operations there and then set about helping
these people in Europe. We thought we could have a kind of halfway base
on the moon. Mini-hospital or something. What do you think?"
class="c53"> "Good idea," I say. "But what
exactly do you mean by 'halfway'?"
class="c53"> The man takes a pen out of one
pocket and a piece of paper out of the other. He draws one circle which
he labels 'Earth' and above this another circle which he labels 'moon'.
Then he draws one arrow from the Earth to the Moon and one arrow back
from the Moon to the Earth.
class="c53"> "You see?" he says. "Going via
the moon, Europe is about halfway from Iceland."
class="c53"> "Brilliant!" I say. "Do you have
any interest in whales?"
The magicians, or inventors, as
they have asked me to call them, insist that I stay to tea and I am
more than happy to agree, my breakfast having been more than somewhat
spoiled by a number of loud Americans. We sit around a large table at
the base of the rocket.
class="c53"> "The rocket can hold up to one
hundred people," says Dillon. He is the magician / inventor who first
accosted me. "If it proves a success we could build another
class="c53"> I take a piece of cheese off the
plate in the centre of the table and take a large bite.
class="c53"> "People up there think you're a
myth," I say.
class="c53"> "Oh, you don't want to believe
everything you hear," says Dillon. "We've been planning on coming out
from down here for a while. Only we were waiting for the right
opportunity. We didn't want to just pop back to the surface with
nothing to show. I mean, here we are, the magicians! So what? I think
this rocket is just the trick."
class="c53"> I gaze up at its metal side. I
see what Dillon means. It is quite a trick. Magic
always seemed such an unsolid thing, making things appear, disappear. I
could see where the magicians were coming from.
class="c53"> "One question," I say, taking
another bite of cheese, "how are you going to get the rocket above
ground?" I am thinking of the tunnel by which I entered the cavern. It
was only a bit taller than my head. Not nearly as tall as a rocket.
"Have you got a big door somewhere?"
class="c53"> Around the table is silence. One
of the inventors lets a fork drop from his hand. This time there is no
magic to cushion its fall.
The inventors invite me to spend
the night and I accept. At ten o'clock on the nose Dillon bangs a large
metal gong and we troop into the sleeping quarters. Each of the beds is
shaped like a different kind of fish and is covered with a vibrant pink
class="c53"> "Pink and fish are both conducive
to sleep," says Dillon.
class="c53"> "Is that magic?" I
class="c53"> Dillon casts his hands about him
as if he is about to catch one of the beds on a fishing-rod. "Actually,
psychology. A magician must be something of a Renaissance man. You will
share with Horatio, ok?"
Horatio is seventeen and our bed
is shaped like a trout. Before slipping beneath the covers I detach my
class="c53"> "Tell me," says Horatio, "does
class="c53"> "It's not a real leg," I say, and
I tap it three times, making a dull hollow sound. "Can I ask you a
question? Just how long have you been down here?"
class="c53"> Horatio pulls off his t-shirt.
His skin is white and smooth, except for his left breast where there is
a blue tattoo. It is of a rocket, the rocket in the other
class="c53"> "We don't call it down here," he
says. "This is our home and home is a matter of
class="c53"> I think of the warehouse and the
sea-plane which bobs on the ocean. I have never heard a truer word
spoken in truth, and I close my eyes and sleep and in the morning I
wake up and I have a plan.
"You will need two very large
trees," I say. I take a pair of cocktail sticks from off the breakfast
table and insert one into either side of the pancake I am holding.
"Then you must cut around the area above the rocket to make a circle
like this pancake. And behold, you have the big door I was talking
class="c53"> To demonstrate I hold each of the
cocktail sticks between my thumb and forefinger and swivel the pancake
with my index fingers. It turns neatly on the sticks.
class="c53"> "Marvellous," says Dillon. He
claps his hands.
class="c53"> "If you can build a rocket," I
say, "you can do this easily."
class="c53"> Dillon is nodding and I can see
already the possibility forming in his eyes.
class="c53"> "It's a brilliant idea. However
did you think of it?"
class="c53"> In my mind is an episode of the
Thunderbirds but I keep my lips firmly sealed. It is not that I want to
take undue credit, it is more that I don't want to sully their own
attempt at international rescue with intimations of cheap
class="c53"> "Tell me," says Dillon, "how can
we ever repay you?"
class="c53"> I have another idea and I sit
bolt upright. Now it is my turn to clap my hands.
The journey back to Keflavik and
the warehouse passes without incident. It is Spud who sees me first and
comes running and throws his arms around my knees.
class="c53"> "Let go," I say, "or I'll fall
over." And he goes running away, shouting over and over, "Thumbelina is
back. Thumbelina is back."
class="c53"> Of course Torn and Travis want to
know about the leaflets but I only say that all will be revealed
presently. The good thing about mysteries is that someone often holds
class="c53"> Travis cooks a welcome home meal
and we eat sitting outside at the table. As Travis comes out of the
warehouse holding a large platter Torn smacks his lips.
class='c55'>beinlausir fuglar," he says, "my favourite." And then
catching sight of my incomprehension he adds, "It means 'boneless
birds'. It's made from beef."
class="c53"> We drink
class='c54'>brenniv?n from large cups and at ten o'clock, the appointed
hour, I stand and point to the heavens.
class="c53"> "Behold, the stars," says Spud
and knocks back his own draft of brenniv?n.
class="c53"> "No there," I say and then quite
clearly we all see the rocket, its tail aflame.
class="c53"> "What exactly did you do in
Reykjavik?" says Torn and as he does so there is a massive explosion.
It comes from the direction of the rocket and as we watch a million
stars seem to shoot from its nose and then slowly they descend towards
the Earth. Meanwhile, the rocket continues its journey to the
class="c53"> "A firework?" says
class="c53"> "No," I say, "whale-watching
leaflets. The fall-out will be general all over Reykjavik." I sit down
and fold my arms. "As Lenin said, 'Advertising is the key'."
class="c53"> "Wonderful," says
class="c53"> "This will make the buggers
come," says Travis.
class="c53"> "Magic," says Spud and we all