What do I like about Norway? Peer Gynt, stave churches, Vikings, fjords, trolls, mist, mountains, log cabins and beer, always beer. You can’t beat Northern Europe for great beer and I make a point of quaffing it by the gallon in Germany especially. Doctor Johnson famously stated that a man is only really happy when he is drunk. Or was it dead?
In Germany, not only every region has its own distinctive brew, such as Dortmunder Pils in Dortmund (naturally) but there are fabulous seasonal beers as well , such as Maibock in May. In Norway I go for Bokkol, which is a strong and dark type of lager with a rather complex flavour. It comes originally from Germany, where it’s called bockbier. At Christmas in Norway you can drink Juleol which is a dark malt, with each brewery producing its own version. Sweeter Bayer is available all year round.
I made my first trip to Norway with my high school in about 1974. I remember it for the misty fjords and wonderful giant carvings of trolls all over the place, the deep snow on station platforms and the constant cold. I remember throwing up in the middle of the night on the North Sea ferry from Tynemouth. Instead of using the loo I did it in the sink and when my mate Peter French (hello if you’re still there) was the first to stagger to the bathroom in the morning he was better than an alarm clock at waking the rest of us up.
I remember most of all, however, a moment of sweet revenge, the first of many in my long, colourful and vindictive career. A pompous lout called Michael Armstrong (hello twat – he’s probably an overweight, complacent middle-manager now) brought with him on the trip an expensive SLR. These were prehistoric times, remember, just after the retreat of the great glaciers and before the first cities appeared. We were roving bands of Neanderthals dressed in the skins of sabre-toothed tigers, carrying only primitive spears, flint daggers and SLR film cameras.
On our final morning at the youth hostel – up a mountain near Bergen – I was the last to leave our shared room. As I finished, I noticed dick-head’s camera still on his bedside table. He’d forgotten it. On the coach into town I said casually, ‘Where’s your camera, then?’ After the predictable exclamations of surprise he asked me to give it to him and I had the exquisite pleasure of telling him that I’d left it exactly where it was because I’d been forbidden to even think about touching it.’
There are moments in life that you never forget. In my case, the less heartbreaking ones are usually small triumphs: riding my first two-wheeled bike, making my first cat’s whisker radio, reading my first grown-up book (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea) and shafting some of the little bastards I used to go to school with. I feared and loathed them in equal measure.
It all seemed to be of such monumental importance at the time and now it is simply, as Dracula memorably puts it, ‘a tale that is told’. One feels like weeping at the transience, banality and in the end sadness of it all.