Last heard of busking his way from England to Santiago de Compostela (in a column for this travel section and a follow-up book, `Pilgrim Snail'), Ben Nimmo turns his attention to Scandinavia. Fascinated by the blood- soaked trails and travels of Svein Forkbeard, Britain's least known and shortest reigning king, Nimmo decided to retrace Forkbeard's journey to England, backwards, in a leaky boat called `Peregrino'. The resulting book, `In Forkbeard's Wake', is a voyage around Scandinavia that delves into Viking past while drolly dissecting Volvo present.
Haugesund is not the crown jewel of Norway's coastline. Concrete may be the material of which architects' dreams are made - which says something about architects - but it should never be allowed in a country famous for rain, snow and long winter nights. The name Haugesund means "sound of the grave-mound" (how do grave-mounds sound? Sepulchral, presumably) and nothing the architects have done to the waterfront has animated it. It does, however, have the distinct advantage of providing an expansive and well-drained open space conveniently near the city centre, ideal for all kinds of public events. (I should be writing brochures.) By six o'clock that afternoon, the first of the festival, most of western Norway had turned up to celebrate. I stood on the town bridge to watch the party, and it was like looking down on a Cuban fiesta. The long, broad quay was jammed with brightly dressed revellers, many in towering velvet jester's hats. This was no village fete, all sobriety and soggy bunting. Beercans glinted, plastic beer-mugs sloshed, children ran around garrotting each other with the strings of helium balloons, fishmongers shouted their wares, and as the bars flung their windows wide the squeaks and doodles of warming- up musicians turned to a full-throated "When the saints ...".
I like Norwegians, so I'm allowed to laugh at them. I like jazz musicians, so I can laugh at them too. The combination of the two was almost bound to offer some amusement. The key to jazz behaviour is showing off. The key to Norwegian drinking etiquette is a certain boisterous heartiness, a red-faced slap-on-the-back mentality which hasn't changed much since the Stone Age; then as now, Norwegians had a lot to put up with in terms of climate and environment and the best way to do it was to be drunk and noisy. Thus when jazz performers meet Norwegian audiences it is a clash of the Titans. The players are trying to show off to listeners whose main trait is showing off, and since there's not much else to do in Haugesund, the listeners are absolutely everybody in town. …