Saturday, 18 August 2007


It's been all go, I tell you, all go!

On returning from Iceland, Fisher and I barely had time to catch our breath before heading off to Northern Ireland for the wedding of Blarney and Spartan. However, our lovely friends had done all in their power to make the transition as smooth as possible. The dogs were utterly content with our abandonment. It's hard to believe they even noticed our absence. Both looked just a little bit plumper than before, suggesting many treats bestowed upon them, and it was brilliant to see them looking so chilled and happy. Koios and Protagoras had even done some shopping for us, so we could just rock up and enjoy being home rather than faffing at the supermarket. Bliss.

After a few days' rest, it was time to pack up the car and head to Stranraer to catch the ferry. Many, many moons ago I had announced to all and sundry that, if anyone had any funny ideas about making me sing at their wedding they could bloody well think again because I wasnae gaunnae. I'm not a performer. Well ... I'm not a performer for strangers, anyway. Getting up and singing in front of an audience truly terrifies me, to the extent of feeling terrible for weeks in advance. Yet despite this announcement, Blarney asked me not only to sing, but to play both piano and guitar and perform songs I had written!

My first reaction was to laugh. I'm not a song writer. I footle about putting basic chord combinations together on the guitar, which I've only been playing for 2 years and really, really don't do very well. I can write lyrics - sort of - but poetry is by no means my strong point, and especially not love poetry! But when Blarney insisted that it was truly, desperately what she and Spartan wanted, my inability to say no to people reared its ugly head and I agreed. To be honest, while the mere thought of getting up in front of a church full of people turned my insides to a gurgling, churning waterfall of terror, it was tempered by the singular honour Blarney and Spartan had shown me in asking, and how much I would enjoy being a part of their ceremony.

So there we have it. I wrote a few songs, Blarney and Spartan chose their two favourite (one I thought good, the other unbearable tripe - but Blarney adored the tripe, so c'est la vie. My best song, with adapted words by Pablo Neruda and the best tune I've ever written ... not that it's saying much ... was spurned) and we were good to go.

Travelling with the Cheese Board and boys was an excellent diversion to nerves. The ferry was speedy, the dogs immaculately behaved, and our B&B excellent. Phid and Wheeler were separated from the main party, as we were all in a large house down the road from the red brick B&B. It was good of them to volunteer. I thought Badger might want the privacy - and romance, once Janus turned up (she was busy doing bridesmaid duty) - of being away from us, but I guess not. Still, they were well within walking distance, so apart from sleeping they were with us all the time anyway. I like everyone to be together. It's not nearly so much fun if people split up.

I went straight to the church with Fisher for a rehearsal - which threw up a few unwanted concerns. The piano was by no means great, and echoed unpleasantly in the empty church which made the song Spartan had chosen (and the one I like more) rather untidy. I could see from everyone's reaction (Fisher, Blarney and Janus were all there) that they would rather I'd played both songs on the guitar - but as Spartan loves the piano, and had specifically requested it, I felt I should stand my ground. After all, he wasn't there to o.k any changes in plan, so I made a few alterations in the accompaniment (basically barely played anything but a few sparse chords) and managed to reassure Blarney that it wouldn't sound awful. From my choir days at school I was aware of how much the acoustics change once a church is full of people, but I wasn't certain enough to be reassured. Therefore rehearsal did nothing more than add considerably to my concerns, and I started to feel really very sick!

We went out for a drink and a bite to eat in Armagh, meeting up with everyone and having a good old chin wag. I wasn't really able to do any kind of justice to my soup, but I was glad of the distractions. Fisher and I were first to leave. I just wanted to get to my room, divert myself with a book, and try and calm myself down - which is what I did. When the others returned, the comforting sounds of them having a nightcap and a laugh helped to soothe my inner jumpiness, while immersing myself in The Great Gatsby was a blessing.

I didn't sleep well. I didn't dream of performance disasters, which is what I used to do at school, but I kept waking up with pounding heart and sick feeling. Fisher's loud swallowing and coughing didn't help either, and I ended up abandoning her for the single bed on the other side of the room.

The weather forecast for the next day had been appalling - so it was with real pleasure I noticed a relatively bright sky when I woke. I skipped breakfast and stayed in bed reading Gatsby, determined not to think about the coming performance. I was astonished when Fisher came and told me it was 11.15 and we were leaving in half an hour. I hadn't even got out of bed! Luckily, I don't need much time to get ready when I know what I'm wearing. I don't do things to my hair (no point - it just does what it wants to anyway), my outfit was a pretty simple trousers and jacket affair, and no amount of diligent make-up is going to improve my shonky looks - so after a shower and a cursorary bit of slap, I was ready.

Fisher and I were taking Pro and Koios to the church, and it proved to be a godsend! As I shakily steered us out of the drive, Pro grinned and said:

"It's like going to war!"

The absurdity of my nervousness has never struck so hard as with that simple statement. I thought about people actually going to war, sitting waiting to face an onslaught of bullets, and felt an immense wave of calm. No matter how badly I fucked up, I wasn't actually going to be bombarded with deadly missiles by the audience. Well, maybe Blarney, but nobody else. With that in mind, everything seemed a little more bearable.

We arrived ridiculously early, thanks to Blarney's terrible pre-match nerves which obviously wanted everyone in place half an hour before kick off. Spartan was there (obviously), grinning like a crazy man, and we bestowed hugs and kisses on him for good luck.

"How are you feeling?" he asked me, bless his cotton socks. I think he had enough on his plate without concerning himself with his wet fart friend. I opened my mouth to say "wonderful! Don't you worry about me" and found myself mumbling: "Bloody terrible!" instead. Perfect. Well done Seshat, you idiot!

"Like me then," Spartan laughed, all evidence to the contrary. He looked incredible. Very handsome in his kilt, and even more so because he simply never stopped smiling. It did the heart good to see.

I had to keep moving. Sitting still only makes things worse. I walked around the church about eight times, sat on a step out of sight and watched a gardener do appalling things to weeds, checked my guitar hadn't been stolen from the church overnight, tuned up, tuned up again, walked around the church another eight times. When the hour of deliverance drew near, I plonked down with Pro on my left and an empty pew on my right and looked anxiously at my watch. 5 minutes til kick off. 3 minutes. A minute. Where the hell was Blarney?

The vicar stepped forward. Had Blarney done a runner? I doubted it. I'd seen Janus outside looking lovely in a lilac dress, and she'd not mentioned anything about mysterious vanishings in the night, or any cars being hijacked and the drivers forced to go to Belfast International. I was pretty confident that if there was a hold-up, it wouldn't be on Blarney's part ... and I was right. Instead, poor Spartan's familiy had got themselves held up in road works and ended up being half an hour late. By this time I'd reached a sort of plateau of terror and was dealing with it in a tolerable manner, so I could actually spare a thought for someone other than me ... which was magnanimous, I thought. Spartan looked a little embarrassed, but mostly amused by the proceedings, so he was obviously coping.

At last everyone had arrived and were seated. The organ limped its way through a final appalling rendition of something unrecognisable, and then burst into Trumpet Voluntary (which he'd obviously been practicing because it almost sounded like Trumpet Voluntary an' all!) and we all stood to watch Blarney as she made her grand entrance.

Alas, it turned out that my carefully chosen pew gave me a bollocks view of the aisle and I could barely see her at all. A couple of flashes of white (and slightly orange from the Armagh tan!), a great, all encompassing grin, and she was past. I didn't see Spartan at all until they were both standing before the vicar, giggling at each other like galoots, and all set for sentencing.

It was really very lovely. Neither one of them stopped beaming the whole way through, and the ceremony itself was simple and touching. Blarney's oldest brother read a Celtic blessing which was very pretty, and the vows were audible - which is always nice. There were a couple of rousing hymns - and then they were set to sign the register. That was my cue! Feeling slightly unreal, I padded barefoot to the front (my shoes were too high to effectively pedal on the piano) and sat myself at the piano.

Holy shit on a stick, this is it! I remember thinking. Then I noticed the front pew was taken up by Spartan's lovely sister in law and the two flower girls, both of whom were eyeing me with unconcealed interest. I was pretty sure that, at the age of 4, neither of them would judge me too harshly if I made the occasional mistake - and with that in mind, I launched into my first song. This is it:

No Gypsy
I used to be a traveller, wandering free
Now half way round the world I’ll go
And all I want to see
And all I want to be
Is where you are

Why walk the narrow streets of Florence in the spring?
Why sail the Yellow River, cross the plains to Beijing?
There is no sense of beauty here, no wildness in the ride
When travelling the world alone, without you at my side?

It used to seem romantic, wandering free,
I saw myself a gypsy child, now that’s naïvity,
Because all I want to be
Is where you are.


There’s no romance in looking at the pyramids alone
There’s even less in loving someone through a telephone
A nomad’s life is nothing, it’s rootless and bare
So wake beneath a foreign sky with someone who can share
Your wonder

At my side ...

As the last note sounded I became very aware that Spartan and Blarney were standing in the aisle, the registry long signed, and that I'd been bloody right all along! One song would have been fine, time wise! Cursing Blarney for her musical greed, I was suddenly jolted by the fact the congregation burst into applause, which I hadn't been expecting but which went a long way to making me feel better! I picked up my guitar and found two pairs of eyes fixed on me as the flower girls waited for my next offering. It's all downhill from here, I thought grimly, as I prepared to sing the song I thought twee and trite - but instead of saying this, which would have been a little insensitive, I smiled at the first flower girl (Spartan's neice) and whispered:

"Are you going to help me sing?"

She only continued to gaze at me with round eyes, so I strummed a couple of unimpressive notes and started the next 'number.'

The Promise
Many years, my love, have I known you
But today our new life begins
Your land is now my country
Your kin is now my kin

I am yours and this will be my promise
Where you wander that’s where I belong
And should you fall or find youself too weary
I’ll raise you up and carry you along.

Oh my love, don’t ask me to leave you
Though we make war, that I cannot do
And should we lose the way before us
Together we can plot our course anew

Chorus (At this point I became aware of a little voice coming from the front pew, humming in a jolly monotone).

And should we sink deep into darkness
And should we rise above
This is all we need to remember
Oh what strength can be found in love

Chorus (At this point, the jolly monotone had become quite marked, and was definitely a slightly flat accompaniment. Spartain's neice had done exactly what I asked. She was helping me sing.)

The years that mark the steps of our journey
Have truly now begun
And through the storms and wildest of tempests
I promise you we’ll find our days of sun.

And with a final twang of the old guitar, both I and Spartan's neice came to a halt. There was more applause, which I graciously accepted on behalf of both of us, and it was all over! Spartan and Blarney were married! And I hadn't ruined it! It was some kind of miracle ... and I have a lot to thank those flower girls for.

The reception was held at a country house hotel some half an hour's drive away, and with the road works messing everything up we had to rely on some nifty cross-country navigation from Pro, whose only map was a crappy large-scale affair from our UK road atlas. He did very well, and the journey passed off without a single hitch. Champagne awaited us, and we chatted while the photographer spent an interminable time hijacking the proceedings and squirrelling the bride and groom off into the grounds for romantic shots. I felt rather sorry for them, thinking they might actually have preferred to drink champagne with the rest of us and have real photos of actual events, rather than shots of them pretending to canoodle on a bridge (or push each other off). Still, it was no skin off our nose! We got champers and Guinness for free, and if the happy couple were happy with the photos then fair enough. Personally, I wanted to kick the photographer in the scrotum on several occasions, not least when he told Pro to 'scootch down' because he clearly felt him to be too tall for a good photo. I was thiiiiiis close to shouting "why don't you lose some weight and shave that fucking beard off you chunky, straggle-faced cunt!" but I didn't think it would go down well. Scootch down indeed! Koios was puce with indignation, squeaking "he's beautiful the way he is!" which I think only made Pro cringe very slightly.

Supper was served afterwards, and we had the father of the bride's speech beforehand - which was very good. Jolly, funny, and suitably admiring of Blarney, as all good Father of the Bride speeched should be. Then came great truck-loads of very welcome food, wine and blether, until the next lot of speeches. First came Blarney, who bucked tradition (hurrah!) by delivering her own speech and, frankly, knocking the socks off everyone else! It was brilliantly funny, extremely witty and cruel on her siblings (in a good way) and had us rolling in the aisles. I never doubted for a second she'd raise the roof, and I wasn't to be disappointed. It was hard on Spar, having to follow her, but he managed splendidly. He, too, was funny and clever - which left only the poor best man to finish. He was always onto a losing ticket, having to go last - and after Spar and Blar, not to mention Pa, being so cracking, he'd have to have pulled a large bunny out of the hat to top the proceedings. But Spar and Blar seemed to enjoy his efforts, and he got some laughs, so all was well that ended well. (It's a brave man who quotes Bernard Shaw at a wedding: "It is a woman's business to get married as soon as possible, and a man's to keep unmarried as long as he can." Considering it was Spartan who wanted to get married and Blarney who held things up, this quote seemed altogether too laddish to ring true!)

After supper, some of us needed to take a few moments to digest and put our feet up. We congregated near the bar in a separate building and had a couple of glasses of wine. People came through to get drinks, so we had a lovely chat with Blar's father and some others while the ceilidh got into full swing. We planned on going across after we'd had some chillout-time - and when Blar herself came over to see where we were, we downed our drinks and headed over. Unfortunately, it turned out the ceilidh band only played for an hour, so we missed it! It was a real shame, but we more than made up for it on the disco dance floor. I even pulled a muscle dancing ... oh shame! ... to Bon Jovi. I pretended it was from the violent Irish jig I performed with Rob afterwards, but in actual fact I was dancing through the pain and making it worse.

2 taxis arrived for us at 1am, by which time I was utterly dropping with exhaustion owing to lack of sleep the night before, as well as being in considerable pain from my pulled muscle! We bade fond farewells to the bride'n'groom before piling into the cabs and setting off back to the B&B. After a nightcap, we headed bedwards, well content. The next day, Janus took great pains to tell us just how much we'd upset Blarney by not going to the ceilidh, but as Blarney herself said nothing about it and seemed completely happy with us at the end of the night, and the next day, I think the devastation was either short-lived or Janus making a mountain out of a molehill.

Sunday saw us kick about the B&B, playing some cards and chillin' before we headed off for the barbecue at Spar's grandmother's farm. Alas, our luck with the weather couldn't hold and it bucketed it down from start to finish. Luckily the barbecue was wisely under the cover of a barn, and we devoured great quantities of excellent meat - with a sprinkiling of salad to keep us virtuous. I'd expected to be called upon to play the guitar, but it never transpired so I enjoyed chatting and having a few bevvies. At the end of it all there were some wedding photos projected onto one of the barn walls, which proved a natural end to the festivities. We were still pretty tired, so decided to call it a day and head back to the B&B for some further drinking and watching of Match of the Day. Blarney was upset to see the end of the barbecue, but 4 hours was a pretty good party! When I mentioned to the others that I thought Blar was upset, Janus's barbed comment about her having seen her "more upset" (presumably harking back to her devastation over our ceilidh boycott of the night before) was sensibly ignored. I offered to stay longer, but Blarney wouldn't hear of it. She assured me it was quite all right, recognising we'd been there all afternoon and the party had naturally and contentedly come to an end with the photos - but she was sorry I'd not played the guitar. I wasn't, particularly! However, I did have some new verses to Wild Rover, so after we'd all sung them in rousing fashion, the day was definitely at an end. I suggested Spar and Blar come to the B&B with us if they were at a loose end, but they weren't, so they didn't!

The last night passed peacefully, and after bidding the B&B lady a fond farewell (our affection being rooted in her clear insanity - the strange stuffed children found hiding in corners being conclusive proof - and her excellence at cooking breakfast) we were off. Spar and Blar are now a Mr and Mrs, and we were all there to witness it. A great honour.

On the drive back home, we stopped at the Cream of Galloway ice cream farm (slooooooo), which proved somewhat reclusive. We took several wrong turns until finding our way, and Wheeler apparantly commented that it was obvious he was in a car full of women because they were in the middle of nowhere, miles from home, desperately seeking ice cream. He does like his men v women remarks, does Wheeler. I refrained from pointing out that, despite the female desperation, it was the men who really tucked into the ice cream and that perhaps it was a typically masculine trait to make teasing remarks about women when they're secretly even keener on the result than those making the plans, and that enjoyment of ice cream has absolutely nothing to do with your sex. Sexual clichés only puts egg on your face. Or, in Wheeler's case, a great deal of ice cream. (Come to think of it, I can't even remember whether he had any. I thought he went back for seconds, but that might have been Protagoras. Typical if my above remarks end up making me look like a berk).

Home again home again, after an epic drive, we dropped Arrow and Lu back home and then flopped gratefully into familiar sofas and gloried in being home at last! The only thing on the immediate horizon is a whisky tour with Brother and Gaura, which doesn't really count (tho I have to look into some places to stay!). Other than that, I've got a whole host of plans for the coming months. I want to learn to ride a motorbike, to rock climb, and to actually finish something, writing-wise. Skye will be a welcome break, although I have to make sure my calf muscle is fully healed, and there are the club championships to enjoy at tennis. I want to keep up the golf, get back to a full exercise routine, and lose a whole shitload of weight before Fisher and I aren't married next year. Oh yeah - and there's that to organise, too!

Blimmin' heck! The year's already chockablock!

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Iceland completed

There is far too much for me to write about. I can't really remember where Reykjavik stops and our trip north begins - but I think it's fair to say that the Settlement Museum was probably the last interesting thing to have happened in the city, save the arrival of Brother and Gaura which predictably led to an evening of drinking followed by a day best forgotten for hangover and tiredness. I really must stop getting drunk. I don't enjoy it at all any more.

A few days ago, the whole family relocated north to Lake Myvatn (translated to the most alluring name of 'midge lake') but while Sister and sons - along with the newly arrived Islander and Ma and Pa - were taking a little plane to Akureyri airport, Fisher and I had rented a 4x4. I say we'd rented it, but actually it was very kindly provided by Ma, who insisted on paying for everything despite our protestations. We were therefore able to leave a day early and drive all the way round the western ring road, from Reykjavik to Akureyri and thence on to the spot in the wilderness where Ma had rented rooms.

The drive was fabulous. We took our time, stopping several times on the way. We walked up a volcanic crater and peered inside, then gazed over the forbidding landscape from the top. We paused by the roadside at a plateau and took video footage of the incredible vista, as well as the sound of the wind whistling furiously past our numbed ears. We then took a detour to Sauðárkrokur, where a 20km dirt track leads you round the beautiful coastline to a hidden natural hot-pot. As we bumped and jolted along, we merrily followed a large coach, sharing gate-opening duties with them ... until our hearts sank as we realised it was full of 50 or so tourists, all heading to the same place. (Where we thought they were going to start with is anyone's guess, considering the only other destinations were farms, where bristling dogs barked wildly at gates and horses clustered about fences demanding to be fed). However, when we arrived, the whole area was so beautiful we decided to wait it out. We walked through a field, looking for a particular beach the guide book mentioned, which was supposed to glitter with quartz - but didn't find it. We did, however, nearly break our ankles on several occasions and therfore thought it best to walk back to the safety of the hot-pots. The tourists were still busy stripping off, in an altogether too uninhibited a manner for my comfort (especially the men, none of whom had anything to be proud of) so we wandered in the other direction. North of the hot pots lay a beautiful beach of pure black sand, where a man walked his dog. Where he'd come from, and where he disappeared to afterwards, remains a mystery to this day.

Eventually, after about an hour of pleasant wandering, we watched as all the tourists packed up and slowly made their way back onto their bus. Fisher and I then claimed the hot-pots for our very own selves ... and it was so utterly worth the wait! As we slipped into the first pool, which was a rather sweet little pot nature had built - it seemed - for two, I experiences a great wave of disappointment. The water, while warm, was nowhere near warm enough, and great clumps of muddy lichen were quickly stirred up by our feet. We soon abandoned it for the second, larger pot - and what a difference! The water was wonderfully toasty, even a little too hot in places, and I nearly burned my toes on the rocks beneath. We sighed in muscle-relaxing pleasure and watched the sun touch the mountains around the bay, surveying all the glories of our view while bathing our cares away.

We sat and chatted, swirled the glorious water for a while, and then decided we'd had our fill of hot water. The hour was late, so we decided we wouldn't make it to Akureyri that evening but would, instead, seek accommodation in nearby Sauðárkrokur. We had our eye on an expensive but highly recommended hotel called Hotel Tindastoll, whose claims to fame include being the oldest hotel in Iceland (dating back to - gasp! - 1884) and for housing Marlene Dietrich while she visited Iceland to entertain the troops. Considering she was as mad as a bag of snakes, I'm not sure that's much of an accolade, but there we go.

We were concerned that we wouldn't find any rooms at Tindastoll, but our luck was in. For a not extortionate sum, we were given a large twin room, with two double beds. It was all wood and rustic charm, and while the beds could have been a little more comfortable we were extremely happy with our lot. We even got a late supper at a nearby restaurant (pizza appears to be the national dish here) so didn't have to retire hungry.

Next day, we completed our journey with ease, discovering Akureyri was a mere hour and a half away after all, and arrived with plenty of time to spare before the family plane arrived. We whiled the time away in Akureyri museum, which was more interesting than anticipated (but not really interesting enough to relate) and then met everyone off the plane.

Next stop was the hotel Rauðarskrida that Ma had booked. We drove through the northern countryside in mist and rain, mourning the fact we could barely see anything of the views, and then arrived in a bare, rain and windswept valley of bleak beauty. The hotel was situated up a long, open drive, and tucked behind a slight rise to hide it from the road. It was nothing special to look at, being a rather traditionally bland modern set of buildings, but after a few misgivings and the disappointment of discovering Gemmill and Wrecker didn't have their own room, we settled in quite well. I found the whole situation wonderful - so remote and quiet, with enough privacy to forget other guests. Fisher, Sister, Islander, Ma, the wee boys and I all went for a good walk before supper, playing Pooh sticks in a little river and possibly causing irreperable damage to the natural environment by chucking large rocks at any stick that got stuck on the way. We searched for Trolls (found none, but plenty of evidence of their presence), and then returned to the main building to have supper and plan the coming days.

Our first day in the Myvatn area was truly wondrous. Fisher and I took Ma and Pa with us in our 4x4 to visit the astonishing amphitheatre of rock that is Asbyrgi. The massive rift of the North American and European plates has left cliffs of wrinkled rock naked in the landscape, towering above you as you look up in awe. Ma, Fisher and I walked beneath them through lush greenery, and found ourselves at the edge of a small lake. It was extraordinary, and, alas, photographs simply can't do it justice. In fact, I think that's going to prove to be a problem with all the photos I've taken of this trip - but at least they're firmly imprinted on my memory.

Next we drove through the hills towards Dettifoss - which the guidebook describes as "Europe's most powerful waterfall.' I wasn't really sure what that meant. After all, in theory it could be nothing but a single spurt of water pumped out at a billion miles an hour, which would hardly be much to look at.

I wasn't to be disappointed. While the waterfall itself is impressive in sheer bulk, it's actually the chasm formed by the waterfall and river that takes the breath away. We first stopped at a waterfall preceding Dettifoss (can't remember the name, but there are 3 all in a row, which makes the whole valley remarkable - Selfoss, Dettifoss, and the one I can't remember). Not having had any indication that it was worth looking at, we simply paused the car and jumped out for a quick glance ... only to discover a vast scar in the surface of the earth, into which water tumbled and danced in the distance. Ma was so thrilled by it all she grabbed my arms and danced me round in a circle, saying 'hee he heeeee!' ... or words to that effect. With that taster in mind, we could only be further awed by the sight of Dettifoss, where the silt-coloured water tumbles in a solid curtain and the massive canyon walls wend away from you for miles and miles. Breathtaking.

The journey home was long and tiring, but we were extremely happy. We had supper in nearby Husavik, which was actually quite jolly for once, and collapsed into bed to sleep like the dead.

The following day dawned, miracle of miracles, sunny and clear. Eager to take advantage of the weather, we planned a tour around Lake Myvatn, stopping at several points of interest along the way. We arranged to meet everyone else at 1pm for lunch, then set off in the same groups as the day before.

Our first stop was Goðafoss - a waterfall considered far prettier than Dettifoss, although not nearly as large or powerful. I wasn't nearly as struck by it as I was Dettifoss but it is, indeed, far prettier. The water is clear, the area around lush and green, and the river flows gently towards it with little black-sand beaches along the banks. Fisher had an ulterior motive for being there, having brought her geocache-found travel bug with her in order to help it with its mission to reach the north pole. We enlisted Gemmill's help in locating the geocache Fisher had put into her GPS, and soon Ma, Sister and Islander were joining the fun. I thought I'd found it, but it turned out to be someone's used bog-roll instead.


It was Islander who uncovered it, and Gemmill was allowed to choose something to take away from the cache. He chose a gold balloon - which gave Sister some serious misgivings. She wasn't too pleased with the idea of him having his mouth round something a hundred other sweaty children may have puffed at, or used to wipe their arses or something. Ma pooh-poohed her, and so did Islander, so she relented - which avoided a tantrum. Needless to say, the whole geocaching experience was a huge success, and I think we may have another convert in the form of Islander, who was thrilled to discover there were several near their home.

After Goðafoss, we decided to head straight for the volcano Krafla, which last erupted in 1984 and now has a massive power plant winding its tentacle-like pipes around the slopes, harnessing all the immense power of its heat. On top, the lava field still smokes in places and rocks give off great heat. We were a little put off by the wind whistling across the peak, cold as Scotland in autumn, and Sister wasn't prepared to put Gemmill and Wrecker through such a battering. Islander insisted Gemmill was quite up to it, so in the end she relented once more and took Wrecker and Pa to lunch instead while the rest of us (barring Brother and Gaura, who were off on their own jaunt) struggled our way up to the lava field.

It was worth the wind. The pinky rock harboured sulphurous pools of flourescent, milky water, while the crater we found resembled nothing so much as an old coal fire left to smoulder. There was no actual lava, to Brother's later disappointment, but the sense of unrest, the heat and the smoke gave an altogether too poingnant impression of the area's volatility. Gemmill was very good considering the filthy weather, giving no complaint and enjoying being swung over the gaps in the walkway. When he was told he was now inside a real volcano he refused to believe us (wisely, as we were stretching the truth - but only a little!) until Islander assured him it was true. Then his eyes grew round as saucers - and not a little fearful.

Back at the car, we zoomed down to join the rest of the family for a truly appalling lunch at a nearby hotel, and then on to our next adventure.

This turned out to be climbing the volcanic crater of black tephra - a Tuff Ring - formed some 2500 years ago. It was a stiff climb which I tackled by putting my head down and promising myself it would do instead of a run later. Still, it wasn't a patch on the Pentland Hills, so I reckon I let myself off quite lightly.

The view from the top was spectacular. The landscape went from undulating hills and mountain ranges, to the gleam of Lake Myvatn, to Krafla's classic volcano shape, to red rocky hills more like the surface of Mars than any place on earth. The view into the crater itself was a little less spectacular and far more human. The black crater itself was quite Mordor-esque, but the messages picked out in stones by petty tourists desirious of climbing all the way down into the crater in order to leave their mark were less awe-inspiring. Actually, they did provide a little added interest, but as most of them were of the bog-standard graffiti kind (including a 2 foot high FRANCE that got right up Gaura's nose) they didn't really lend our species any grace. I mean, if you're going to expend all that energy climbing into a crater and back out again, why would you just want to write AJ & CB? At least compose a bloody sonnet or something. The only British offering was, sadly, the name COLIN in rather puny letters - and whether it really was British or not, who can tell?

After drinking our fill of both view and graffiti, Fisher and I took Islander to see Dimmoborgir - a remarkable 'lava garden' where an old lake was covered with magma, and the escaping steam created stacks which, when the rest of the lava eroded away, are now left twisted in weird and wonderful formations. We stayed only ten minutes or so there, as the 25 minute walk proved seriously conservative, but it was quite eerie and strangely beautiful.

On a slightly comic aside, as we trotted down the carefully formed paths, I saw a little track leading off to the side with a small sign saying 'Caution - Dangerous Path.'

"Wait, wait!" I cried, loftily. "I must explore!"

As Islander and Fisher dutifully paused, I vanished down the dangerous path, calling :

"You know me! See a sign that say 'dangerous path' and the intrepid explorer in me ... erk!"

At which the intrepid explorer fell flat on her face and grazed her knee. And this wasn't even on the bit of path that was dangerous. It was over my own feet.

Anyway, on we went. Brother and Gaura had decided to visit Krafla and then go to Dettifoss. Islander also wanted to see Dettifoss, so after stopping and looking at the hot mud pools near Krafla, which belched sulphur to the extent I was quite nauseous but which were also rather fun - especially the vents that shrieked like boiling kettles - we set off for our last trip of the day.

This time, we approached the waterfall from the opposite direction - and what a different drive it was! Instead of rolling over the hills, through red earth and green scrub, we wound our way across a barren desert of grey rocks. Nothing living could be seen. Not a plant, not an insect, not a bird. On we went ... and on ... and on ... until I thought I'd fall asleep at the wheel, and all enthusiasm for a second peek at Dettifoss disappeared. When we arrived, the cold wind sent me scurrying back to the car to wait for Brother and Gaura to arrive with Ma and Pa. When they did, I went with them for a quick peek, then scampered happily back to the car. Fisher and I then took Ma and Pa back to the hotel, while Islander stayed and caught a lift with the others. By this time, Sister and sons were long since back at the hotel having children's supper. Alas, as we drove along we realised we were going to be hard pushed to arrive back in time to have supper at the hotel, so we ended up having another meal in Husavik. At least, brother, Gaura, Fisher, Islander and I did. I took Ma and Pa back to the hotel as they didn't mind eating the lamb stew on offer for latecomers, and Sister objected to being left all alone. It was a lot of driving so I was pretty tired by the end of the day - but no less happy with my lot.

That was our last day in Myvatn. The next day saw us all make our respective ways back to Reykjavik - but it started out badly, as it transpired that Gemmill had been ill in the night. Luckily, the plane didn't leave until 2pm, which gave them time to see if a long sleep would help. Fisher and I therefore set off on our epic trek through the Interior, which we'd been determined to do ever since we first learned we were heading to Iceland. We took Route F35, which has the advantage of not going through any unbridged rivers (you're not allowed to ford rivers in rental cars - in fact, you're not really meant to go through the Interior at all in a rental, but we thought 'screw it' and went anyway).

At first the road was easy. It wasn't fully tarmacked, but it was partially so, and good quality gravel for the rest. I was slightly disappointed, to be honest, but the scenery took my breath away in its bleakness. It was, alas, another rainy, misty day which obscured the panorama but did lend a sort of oppression to the atmosphere that seemed quite fitting. As we climbed the temperature dropped to sround 3 degrees. The wind howled about us, the rain spattered the windscreen and, every time we rolled down a window to take a photo, streamed horizontally in at us like tiny flung daggers. We passed a hydroelectric power station, most of which is built underground, and soon found ourselves travelling along the banks of its three lakes. They each seemed to glow with a faintly turquoise light, coloured by the distinctive silt of the area, and the effect of this against the lowering sky was almost alien.

I had been very worried that the Interior would look like the previous day's drive to Dettifoss, but I was quite wrong. While it was bleak and, in places, desert-like, the peaks of the surrounding hills together with the blue-edged glaciers we passed between, made it anything but dull to drive.

In the very centre, we stopped at a small 'oasis' where hot pots bubbled and spewed sulphurous fumes, and the only swimmable pool steamed invitingly ... but was, alas, full of unhappy campers.

It was, in fact, quite a remarkable sight. As we arrived there, a busload of German campers disgorged themselves from the cosy interior and just seemed to freeze on the spot. We watched them peer around through boggled eyes, taking in the scrub of grass upon which they had to erect their tents, the tiny hut in which they could find gritty coffee and rolls, and the creaking huts in which they could pee. In the distance, a young woman and man attempted to put up a tent which flapped in a thin horizontal line between them, proving quite uncontrollable.

I can't quite explain how cold it was. I mean, I know it gets colder in Scotland (although I don't think by much!) but the way the wind seemed to sear your exposed flesh was quite a novelty! By the time I'd taken a half-hearted trip around the steam vents and taken a photo of the crazy campers in the hot pool, I was bright red and quite ready for another 5 hours in the car! Fisher, too, was quite prepared to continue on our way.

We sat, stunned for a moment, and then I leaned forward to turn the key in the ignition. Then Fisher did something so quintessentially British, and so utterly all-redeeming, that we both couldn't help but giggle. With a small sigh, she reached into her bag and rustled a packet.

To which I responded:
"Oh, how lovely!"

Thus, with that small piece of Empire firmly resurrected, we found ourselves sufficiently revived. All was well.

The rest of the trip saw us bouncing over some very fun roads, and while Fisher's faith in my levels of responsibility were tested by each skid provoking a small 'wheeee!' from me, I think she was as entertained as I.

Our final stop was at Geysir, for one more peek at the famous water spouts, and then we found ourselves merging with the Reykjavik traffic, feeling rather like Lawrence of Arabia returning to London. Considering how lacking in troubles our trip had been, it seems rather pathetic that we felt so adventurous, but the experience of miles and miles of rugged, barren desert, even in a stout 4x4, really does affect the mind.

So here we are, back in Reykjavik, with just one night to go before home. I'm looking forward to seeing the pooches, but Fisher would rather stay here and have all our stuff sent for! She's really fallen in love with Iceland, and I may find myself forgoing my dreams of an Italian sabbatical for something rather less balmy and slightly more expensive!

Oh well. It could be worse.