Brass Monkeys II



We arrived in Oslo in heavy fur coats, only to find it warmer than London. This is where we remember that the UK is further north than anyone realises or is prepared to acknowledge. We are by nature more Viking, German and Scandinavian that anything else.

Oslo was full of hipsters in shorts and girls in very short skirts. Everyone was sitting outside drinking coffee. There’s more than a touch of Edinburgh about the place. The twin museums of art (modern and classical) will have to wait until our return next week.

After being trapped on a broken-down train in Oslo we clambered onto a rescue train, nearly missing our flight to Tromso, but linked up from there to Longyearben. It’s incredibly, eyeball-dryingly, brain-freezingly cold, colder than anything I’ve ever experienced.


Longyearben is 77 degrees North There are a few scattered wooden houses, a supermarket  and a pub straight out of ‘Fortitude’ into which you’re not allowed to take rifles (it’s illegal to travel anywhere without a gun here because of the 3,000 polar bears roaming around).

The snow here is deceptive; rock hard and feather-soft, disguising drops, half in light, filled with hollows, tough to walk across without falling, so snowmobiles are the only way around. The streets have no names and there are few actual roads. Everything is the furthest north item to the North Pole, hence the town’s ATM:


There is a taxi but he operates on his own timetable, and you really don’t want to stand outside if you can avoid it. I’m hoping this will kick-start the creative juices for something new and non-Bryant & May-based.

Next up, caving inside the glacier, not one for the claustrophobic but a great way to see 4,000 year-old striations in the ice with fossils of leaves still inside. That’s young for a glacier, but Svalbard is still forming ice and growing, blossoming from a central root like a tree.


Traditional menus here include reindeer, bearded seal and whale. There’s also a Thai restaurant, as a small Thai population formed after whalers brought back brides from the Far East. Around 2,000 residents live here – although nobody is technically from Svalbard because they’re not supposed to be born here (we’re outside the Schengen zone so the idea is that the place is for everyone.

There is a school, though, and a new generation of children is growing up who have only known the area. Off to search for wildlife tomorrow.


6 comments on “Brass Monkeys II”

  1. Jan says:

    Chris are they supplying you with special keep you warm boots, socks, gloves, artic onesie and Sherlock type that?? I have been ski-ing a couple of time ups to Lapland and as normal ski wear just doesn’t do the trick they supplied specialist gear. I was quite looking forward to some exciting fashion forward pictures of this lovely outfit which is supplied in a choice of lurid lime green or orange. You’d have both looked a treat ….

  2. Chris Webb says:

    Glad to see you still have a thumb each.

    I know you are a fiction writer but foreign trains breaking down? We’re not willing to suspend disbelief that much.

    Hope they shaved the seal before serving it up. If you get a taste for exotic meats there is a stall in Borough Market that sells kangaroo, crocodile etc. Worth trying.

  3. Bill says:

    Why aren’t people supposed to be born in Svalbard? What happens to them if they are? Nothing severe, I hope.

  4. Roger says:

    Well, I hope you get some inspiration.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Sounds great so far. It sounds as if this is where the World Tree should be. Keep a watch out for one eyed men

  6. Jay Mackie says:

    Maybe literary inspiration could spring from something similar and updated to The Thing or the trolls from Norwegian mythology Chris. Not wishing to give you ideas for future works but they just sprang into my head thinking of your location. Btw LOVING Frightening at the moment …sterling job.
    I went to Bergen a few years ago and was surprised and unsurprised at the same time by the amount of strikingly attractive people everywhere. No surprise that the typically stunning blonde girls everywhere were pregnant. One of the most civilised sights I saw in Norway were the refuse collectors quite smartly dressed drinking espressos going about their business. Even the elderly were as attractive and elegant as the young and obesity just didn’t seem to exist. Enjoy!

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