To the Land of Ice

3am. On the road, on the motorway, wondering where the light that’s too early for dawn is coming from. Impossible to tell if the clouds are illuminated from below, above or within. The pale ochre eye of Sauron over Swansea. A wash of barely luminous cloud giving way to Blackness above the tunnel of road lighting, clear up close, but snaking to a ribbon of ghostly haze ahead, around the Newport junctions that might have leaked, along with smear of dock and industry to the lowering slabs of sky. A wide flat curve swinging strings of coastal sodium and blue-white led across the horizon below the unblinking red eyes of the second Severn bridge crossing’s piers.

9am. It should be aeroplanes they call ‘the tube’. Slotted in, we cigar the sky, held up by wings that don’t seem joined on enough; that made, before we took off, weird mechanical noises like most vehicles no longer do, scaring a little bit more those fellow passengers who do fear. Occasionally it bumps and jolts. I can’t see out. I can’t feel the forward momentum. Head lolling, eyes closed, I could be on rutted road or unriveted rail but for the rushing off-white noise in the middle of my head, just below the music in my earphones: a minimalist drone by Star Transit – Not quite.

9:50 Landing. Smooth-ish wheels, but wind-swung tail yaws the tube around the landing/gear’s axis. We stop with a clinking of seat-belt clasps. A chill squeezes through the bodies squirming to leave. It grabs my right hip, edging off the seat. Welcome to Iceland, it grins.

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10:50 The bus rolls languidly along a road that would be car-strewn and closed back home. The sun is a distant acquaintance of the clouds. It’s morning, the sun hasn’t even risen yet, but it feels as though it’s already been and gone, leaving faint footprints of light that gloam on the wind-dust snow settled on rills over the dunes – or is it moraine and till? I’ll look it up – that hunch against the flat-ironed sea.

A guy next to a van hits the ground repeatedly with some kind of pole. I’ve no idea what he’s doing, and this is not the kind of landscape or climate to invite idle conjecture. Whatever it is, it’s important and nothing to do with me. Every human activity and artefact here looks as though it exists only as the product of intense and earnest planning and effort. Go to hot countries and everything, from gleaming mall to squalid shack to twisting vine and palmm grove looks as though it was, or could have been, just slung together anyhow and it would work, kind of. And if not, it could just crumble or overgrow, and no matter. Here, even the vergeside LED advertising board, which will be the brightest thing I see all day, looks as though it was sternly muscled into place at risk of frostbite and fracture. We will live here like ordinary folk, it says. You came here for geysers and glaciers? Well good for you: get on the bus. Our work is done. We’ll be in Starbucks. In our shirt sleeves, because we can.

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