Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Vikings are Coming!

As you may have gathered, our little cottage is in a pretty remote part of the French countryside. It’s not that it’s a long way from anywhere, the village is only 2kms away, but it is very well concealed down an unmarked, unpaved track and hidden behind a good many trees. This location has baffled Federal Express, DHL, the United Parcel Service and a number of local couriers over the years, and we have become used to going out on search and rescue missions to retrieve them. Global Positioning Units have been known to break down and sob when asked to guide the owner to our location. So you can gather that we’re hard to find.

Unfortunately, our mail man, Joseph, having lived in the village all his life, knows exactly where we are and so the bills arrive with depressing regularity.

Now for some time I have been working with a Swedish author on his book and, although we had agreed to meet at some point, nothing had been scheduled and, apart from having my address, I had sent him no instructions on how to reach me.

Imagine my surprise then to find a tall, bearded Scandinavian standing on my doorstep the other day. He’d found us, something that had defeated all the above mentioned delivery people! It was a pleasant surprise, I might add, and was enhanced by the fact that he had his charming wife with him.

The point of this little anecdote is that it illustrates the determination and the navigational abilities of a people who are descended from The Vikings.

You may recall, although probably not from personal experience I might add, that some thousand years ago these Norsemen would nip across the North Sea to England in their longships to do a bit of raping, pillaging and plundering before returning home. It was their equivalent of today’s overseas soccer matches, I suppose.

Their technique was to cruise along the coast line until they saw a likely church tower, when they would land, scoop up the offertory box and a some choice bits of silverware, rape some of the women and depart, presumably satisfied on all counts.

It got so bad that in the southwest corner of Wales, the inhabitants of St. Davids built their cathedral, not on high ground as convention dictated, but in a valley, discreetly hidden from offshore.

Eventually I think the womenfolk left behind got a little tired of their men going off to have fun and demanded that they produced a little more regular income to provide them back home with new helmets, furs and jewellery etc. Nothing much has changed over the years.

So the head of the Viking invaders (they were called “The Force” by the British) would come ashore and have a little tête à tête with his opposite number in the town. Delicately, he would propose that, if the townspeople would make a contribution to The Norseman’s Widows and Orphans Fund, he would restrict his men to the minimum of pillaging and plundering, allowing just enough rape to keep them quiet on the voyage back home. He suggested that they could refer to this cosy arrangement as “The Danegeld.”

Eventually, by these means, the Vikings bought up England.

But they are a restless people and one, Eirik the Red, sailed further west and came across a remarkably inhospitable looking land consisting of snow, ice and some high mountains. Anxious to make a name for himself, he decided to colonise this unprepossessing spot and, realising that a truthful description would not attract many, he named it Greenland. It was the first real estate fraud in history and set the precedent for realtors the world over.

And then later, disaster overtook humanity, for Eirik’s son, Leif, heading even further west, found America.

Even someone as patriotic as Mark Twain felt bound to comment that, “It was wonderful to have found America; it would have been more wonderful to have missed it.”

And, since then, as you can see, it’s been downhill all the way.

Nowadays the eyes of the world are fixed upon the Middle East but personally, I think we should be keeping at least one eye on the Scandinavians. They’ve been quiescent for a thousand years and must be just about ready to break out again.

So if, from your front room window, you should see a longship with a crowd of Vikings (they’re pretty easy to spot) coming down your street, lock up your daughters, hide your valuables and swallow the PIN number to your credit card. It can only be a matter of time.

P.S. For a slightly more academic look at the Viking invasions of Britain, my book, “Assaulting Britannia,” will be available shortly.


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