Down the Icelandic Procurement Pub with the £10 Beer …

Greetings from Iceland!

We didn’t have a summer holiday this year, with daughter getting married and all that, so we are now as you read this just preparing to fly home after a few days in Iceland (with daughter and husband).  It is not the place to go for a pub-based holiday though, it has to be said, with a small beer costing around £8 and the cheapest bottle of wine in a restaurant around £40. Amazing, beautiful and strange scenery though, as everyone says … so here I am in the fanciest restaurant we visited, with 500ml of a local Pale Ale on draft, a mere £9.75 ...

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The supply chain issues for Iceland are enormous as the country just doesn't produce many items we think of as basics. So there is virtually no timber, for instance, or steel production, or coal ... they have more volcanic lava than pretty much anywhere else in the world but that's not the most valuable raw material. Electricity is cheap though from thermo and hydro power sources, and the cold tap water is the best I've ever tasted! (The hot showers do smell of Sulphur in some places though, a bit weird).

Cod and other sea products are plentiful, lamb is local, tasty and pricy, the only fruit and vegetables worth growing seems to be high value stuff like strawberries, generally under glass,  and there are huge numbers of horses. Not quite sure what they do with them all, don't really want to ask.  So the country is highly reliant on imports, of course, one of the reasons why prices are so high. But the minimum wage is also set at a generous level, around £20K.

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You can drive literally for hours and see barely  a farm, let alone anything we would call a town or even a village. The scenery is as other-worldly and unique as all the guidebooks will tell you, from glaciers and waterfalls to volcanic craters and weird black beaches, then mile after mile of lava fields now covered with a strange pale green moss. Reykjavik, the capital, has a population around half that of Reading, Ipswich or Wolverhampton. But there is a lot more going on than in those places, with dozens of bands, trendy bars and restaurants, galleries and shows ... you have to give the people great credit for their resilience, creativity and drive.

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But you do wonder how this country of 300,000 people became such a hub for financial services before it all crashed in the 2008-9 depression. Didn't someone ask how it was that Icelandic banks were getting so huge, giving loans and accepting deposits globally - remember all the UK local authorities that had money at risk in Icelandic bank accounts?  It seems crazy now ...

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So, for our music this week, I thought Bjork, Sigur Ros or Of Monsters and Men (OMAM) were a bit obvious, so here is one of the big local Icelandic indigenous hits from earlier this year – yes, it’s Icelandic Reggae!  This is Amabadama with Gróðurhúsið.  Or it might be Gróðurhúsið with Amabadama?  No, AmabAdamA (as we should write it) is a reggae band formed in 2013, including versatile singer / actress / TV presenter Salka Sól Eyfeld.  (She’s got a genuinely beautiful voice – check out her cover version of Little Talks by OMAM here). Gosh, we're learning a lot this week, aren’t we!

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