But before this descends into a tedious financial dispute, in which Iceland is largely forgotten, it is worth briefly considering the history of Anglo-Icelandic relations over the past 70 years because in this context it is apparent that Iceland has played an absolute blinder.
The Smoking Gun
Iceland and the UK have never got on well. In 1918, after a long struggle, Iceland had become an independent sovereign state although still in union with Denmark. However, this triumph was to be short-lived for just 23 years later, in 1941, neutral Iceland was invaded by the British. This was not an opportunistic land grab but came about because the British feared Germany might invade Iceland herself, threatening British control of the North Atlantic. Nevertheless, it must have infuriated the newly independent state.
Britain and Iceland came to blows again in the Cod Wars, a fishing rights dispute between the two countries which dated back to the 19th century but began in earnest in 1958. The Second and Third Cod Wars took place in the 1970s – summed up admirably in this parody of the Brotherhood of Man classic, ‘Save Your Kisses For Me.’
Britain lost the Cod Wars but relations between the two countries have not improved. While not attempting a full-scale retaliatory invasion, Iceland has attempted stealthy cultural incursions. The first was spear-headed by Magnús Magnússon who hosted Mastermind between 1972 and 1997 – primarily, one suspects, to make the British look stupid. The second foray was musical: first came Björk and the Sugarcubes; more recently we have had Sigur Rós. As with Magnússon’s mental assault, Iceland’s musical offerings are characterised by being recondite and obscure – again, one suspects that they are designed to make the British feel intellectually inadequate.
Evidence of a furtive financial offensive emerged in 2008 when Iceland’s economy went into meltdown, costing British investors billions. The Icesave Dispute is far from over and Britain hit back hard by provocatively using anti-terrorism legislation against Iceland.
So, to recap, Britain and Iceland argued about fish in the 19th century. Britain then invaded Iceland during World War Two. The two countries argued about fish again between the ‘50s and the ‘70s before Iceland started bombarding the United Kingdom with abstruse intellectualism in the form of quiz shows and weird music while simultaneously tricking the British into investing their money in dodgy savings accounts.
Iceland’s latest weapon is the volcanic ash cloud which has already cost the British economy £1 billion – and may have even greater consequences.
This, of course, is a tactical masterstroke. The Icelanders would have the world believe that the eruption is a purely natural phenomenon. However, given the sorry state of Anglo-Icelandic relations, is it conceivable that the dormant Eyjafjallajökull volcano was deliberately and maliciously reawakened – perhaps by the placing of a mighty explosive charge when the wind conditions were favourable? And, of course, there is no possibility of investigating the crime scene when it is buried under millions of tonnes of hot lava.
However, there is a clue to the scurvy, nefarious nature of the Icelanders buried deep in their scatological history. Consider, for example, the Laxdœla Saga, written in c.1245. Here we read of the time when Kjartan Olafsson besieged the good people of Laugar:
In that time, it was the custom for the privy to be located quite a way from the house... Kjartan blocked all the doors and refused anyone exit and they had to relieve themselves inside for three days. [They] thought it to be a much worse dishonour, greater even than if Kjartan had killed one or two of them instead.
(Laxdœla Saga c.1245 CE)
any nation that could behave like this would think nothing of covering their
enemies with volcanic ash. Further evidence of Icelandic depravity is provided
by Dittmar Bleecken who published an eye-witness account of their sanitary
habits in 1565.
Neither is it lawful for any one to rise from the table to make water; but for this purpose the daughter of the house, or another maid or woman, attendeth always at the table, watchfull if any one beckon to them; to him that beckoneth shee gives the chamber-pot under the table with her owne hands; the rest in the meanwhile grunt like swine least any noise bee heard. The water being poured out, hee washeth the bason, and offereth his services to him that is willing; and he is accounteth uncivill who abhorreth this fashion.
(Dittmar Bleecken – Voyage to Iceland and Greenland 1565)
The connection between matters of excretion and volcanic eruption is well-known to the student of scatology. Charles James Fox, for example, had this to say in his instructive essay on the differing types of flatulence:
As to fart no. 5 – which I have emphatically denominated the sullen wind-bound fart, it is the most uncomfortable, unhealthy and troublesome of all farts whatever that have been yet discovered, as it comes slowly forth, with a painful sensation and sudden rumbling, like to pent-up air in a volcano, which sometimes produces earthquakes and horrible shakes of the earth from not having a free and open passage for the gas or phlogistic air to escape. Those who are unhappy as to issue such farts from their unwholesome premises are really patients; they cannot be well with such a plentitude of impure and foul air pent up in every cavity of their volcano.
(Charles James Fox – An Essay upon Wind 1787)
So, as the political and financial repercussions of the volcanic eruption echo around the world, just ask yourself this: is it not possible that it is simply the latest in a long line of cunning and dastardly attacks from a fearsome and somewhat unhygienic bunch of Norsemen?