Magazine article The Spectator

Northern Stars

Magazine article The Spectator

Northern Stars

Article excerpt

Of all the BBC television programmes shown on Norwegian TV, I wouldn't mind betting that Ground Force goes down like a lead balloon. I mean, take all the backlots you get to sec during the two-hour train journey from Oslo Gardermoen to Kongsberg. There's nothing more ambitious than a couple of scrawny roses in any of them. They are all neatly mown, I grant you, but it would take more than Charlie Dimmock to produce Norwegian green fingers. Maybe it's because the natural countryside is so spectacular. Who needs herbaceous borders and decking when you've got beautiful rolling countryside with mountains clad in huge pine forests dominating your vista?

Taking in these sights as the train winds up the valley of the picturesque River Lagen is an unexpected bonus on a trip to find out why Norway is currently touted as the hotspot in world jazz. 'You'll find out why if you go to the Kongsberg jazz festival,' I was told. So it's on to the stoppen train with some 20-odd stoppens between Oslo and Kongsberg. And while a British train timetable presents a set of theoretical possibilities, in Norway they are cast-iron certainties. So you get surreal entries like Dent: 1526 and, sure enough, the train arrives at 1523 and actually leaves at 1526. No village is too small to be given the dignity of punctuality. Yet there's a strange paradox. For a society so neat and ordered (the crime rate is nil outside Oslo), how come there's so much graffiti? Kilroy has well and truly been here - even a BMW distributor, for all its TV closed-circuitry, had been done over.

Eventually, the Tannoy announces Kongsberg and here, in the crisp, clear air, where it's still light at 2.30 in the morning, they are holding their 40th annual jazz festival. A street has been cordoned off, an impressive stage has been erected together with enough seating, it seems, for the town's entire population of 25,000. Banners announcing the festival are everywhere, but it's the spectacular waterfall which splits the town in half that catches the eye. Later on I learn that years ago a local jazz administrator had an argument with his wife when crossing the bridge, and, so legend goes, threw her into the swirling torrent 70 feet below. But women are women in Norway, so she swam to the bank and promptly filed for divorce. …

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