Here are some pictures from when I was picking the seven and four-year-old up from school / playschool this afternoon.

Cafés of Reykjavík

I spend a lot of time hanging around in cafés. Sometimes with friends, sometimes with a book or some unwritten letters. I find that although you do have to pay a bit for it, sitting in a café is almost always more satisfying than sitting around in your own home. For one thing, you left the house! Hey, you're a busy person with places to be! Haha, I'm so lame, but I actually do find myself thinking this. But affirmation of the exciting nature of your own life is not the best bit about being in public. That would be the presence of the general public, and specifically watching them and making silent judgements about them. You might see an attractive member of the interesting sex, somebody with amusing hair or clothes, or hear someone speaking a foreign language that you can't guess what it is. Which you probably won't in your living room, unless you live with a fit Armenian who wears clown trousers.

I also work better when I think someone's watching me, which is why a café is a good place for letter-writing and, when I was a student, for taking notes and so forth. Even though the other people in the café really don't care whether you are doing that thing you're supposed to be doing, the desire to be seen to be working is strong enough to make me work. I do realise I sort of just endorsed George Orwell's vision of a dystopian future. But in my scenario, you can choose to go home and hide in your room watching YouTube videos for hours if you so wish. I also take a guilty pleasure in reading in public. I know you're not meant to read to show off, and this is honestly way down on the list of reasons that I read, but it is kind of gratifying to sit with the title nice and visible if you are reading something a bit intellectual. I mean, the other clientele almost certainly haven't noticed and would not be impressed by your French novel if they did. But you never know! Possibly someone will see what you are reading and comment on it, and you will have a long conversation and bond over your love of To the Lighthouse and be best friends forever. This has not happened to me yet.

The coffee is also generally better, and you don't have to make it yourself or wash up your mug afterwards. And you can get a nice biscuit with it. The only bad thing is that, outside of the UK in general and in Iceland especially, you will simply not be able to get a proper cup of tea. Which is a shame, because tea is not so caffeinated or strongly-flavoured and therefore better suited for mass-consumption over a long period. It is frowned upon to take your own Yorkshire teabag to a café and ask for a cup of boiling water. Don't do that.

So if you're ever in Reykjavík and looking to spend some time hanging around in a café (which you may well want to do, since it will probably be raining and you'll already have seen Hallgrímskirkja and the Ráðhús and that boaty statue by the sea), here are a few I have enjoyed.

Kaffitár: Really good coffee. Usually there is a choice of two and there are labels on the machines telling you where the beans are from. One time I had a coffee there that was labelled "cup of excellence". The cakes are good as well, and they sell world-music CDs with titles that make me laugh - my favourite is "Jewish Odyssey". Kaffitár is right where Laugavegur turns into Bankastræti, so if you sit up on the stools by the window there are fantastic people-watching opportunities. You will see all the yellow trousers and unicyclists from here, I guarantee. Once I saw a few members of Sigur Rós getting some coffee here, so you should know it is rock-star endorsed. When it rains a lot, there is a puddle just inside the door. They should probably fix that.

Kaffivagninn: This is way out by the harbour, so probably not all that suitable if you are wandering round 101. But I've been here a few times and the pancakes are really good. You won't see tourists here - it is a fishermen café. No jokes, it is full of men with beards and heavy-knit woollen jumpers discussing their catches.

Tíu dropar: Because it's on Laugavegur, this place can be quite good for people-watching, but only if you position yourself carefully. It is below street-level, so you can find yourself trying to judge people on their lower legs, which is not as much fun. Nice pancakes. I would probably go here for lunch rather than just to sit around reading, though. 

Hemmi og Valdi: Good sofas and a big window onto Laugavegur. But the coffee cups are kind of tiny and I'm not sure whether they have a refill policy? Most cafés in Reykjavík you get a cup, then help yourself from a caffetiere as many times as you can handle. If they do that here (genuinely don't remember) then I should go more often. It's a nice pub in the evenings as well, as long as they don't have the ubiquitous "local DJ" in.

Kofi Tómasar frænda: I like the music in here. Because I think it's usually just some staff member's iPod on shuffle, so you get some interesting juxtapositions. There is no attempt to find a mood and stick with it. Once I heard Jeff Buckley's version of Hallelujah directly followed by Mambo Number 5. This place doesn't do the refill thing. What they do is give you a thermos containing more coffee than you could drink and survive. Well, I think maybe I could physically finish one of them, but I wouldn't feel very well. My experience with the cakes in here is that they are about 60% icing. Which is nice, but also slightly damaging. If you want to make yourself a bit ill on caffeine and sugar, this is the place to come. I've made this café sound really off-putting - it's actually one of my favourites! You should go. The name is "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in Icelandic, and it's also a bar in the evenings. 

Eymundsson: This is a book shop on Austurstræti, but if it is mad sunny, there is a café on the top floor which you should go to. You can sit out on the roof, which is all sheltered from the wind, and try to get a tan. I had the best cup of tea that I've bought in Reykjavík here. Unfortunately, this is not saying much.

Babalú: I saved this one until last, because it is hands down my favourite. If you just want a quick coffee and a chat, any of the others would do just as well, but if you're looking to settle in for the afternoon this is the place to be. I love pretty much everything about it. It feels like the living room of someone who is quite a lot cooler and more interesting than you, but not in an intimidating way. They have board games. The mugs are eclectic, and proper size. You can't watch out the window (although you can look down on Skólavörðustígur from the balcony in good weather), but it doesn't really matter because there are always loads of hipsters and tourists to watch inside. I really like the biscuits as well. Yep, Babalú is a winner.

Learning to read with a seven-year-old child

One of the things that I do in my capacity as au-pair is listen to the seven-year-old read little books for his homework, correct him when he makes mistakes and chivvy him when he stops. This is sometimes quite fun, and sometimes quite tedious, depending on what he has to read and how annoyed he is at having to do this instead of being on the computer. Today's book made me laugh.

Most of the books he has to read are pretty stupid, although this school year is better than the last. When he was in Yr. 1, I swear they were nearly all about really boring birthday parties, or buying fruit. But this one is both quite mundane and also completely absurd. So this kid's dog goes missing, and it turns out some mentaller from the cheese shop chased it down the road and locked it up in a hut on the beach (?!), but then an old woman hears it barking and lets it out. And then on the last page, a magic staff is introduced. Seriously, this played no part in the rest of the book, but suddenly it's all in a weird font? The main text on this page reads: 

"Skúlína is proud and waves her walking stick. A magic walking stick! Then all the friends eat pasta in the living room round Óli's house."

Pasta. Of course. How else could this story end? In a way, this is more spacy than those magic key books we used to read in primary school. At least then the magic was introduced at the beginning and was actually relevant to the story. Although I still find it ridiculous that the main characters were called Biff and Chip.

Thanks, Iceland

So after having hardly seen a cloud in the sky for about a week, this is the weather forecast for the next five days, beginning on the day that my friend gets here. Not very cold, but still. Hopefully it won't come true. But it probably will.

P.S. The baby's first tooth is coming through. This means that he will start screaming more, right? I was entertaining him yesterday with my excellent renditions of Flower of Scotland, the Internationale and the theme song from Ring of Bright Water, but this probably won't work so well if he's actually in pain? I do hope that he grows up to be a communist who supports Scottish independence and loves otters, though.

Northern Lights

I saw the northern lights for the first time over the weekend, two evenings in a row whilst I was waiting at bus stops. I was still in the city, in as much as Reykjavík is a city, so they were not nearly as good as they would have been if I'd been out in the countryside somewhere, but c'est la vie. It was all green and like gently glittering powder shifting about in the sky. Pretty cool.

No pictures, because I didn't have my camera with me. Even if I had, I don't think it would have captured it properly anyway. Plus what I saw was not even a particularly fine example. I was suitably excited nonetheless.

Another thing I am excited about is that my friend Emily is coming over from England to visit on Thursday. I lived with Emily in Sheffield for three years, in the same room for one of them, and I'm really looking forward to seeing her again. I did see her briefly when I was in London for the afternoon en route to France, but not for very long, and before that it had (unbelievably) been about a year since we last met. Can't wait! There are lots of songs that remind me of Emily, but this is maybe top of the list. I am listening in anticipation.

Remember when it was warm and sunny?

Here are some pictures from Reykjavík Gay Pride, which was about a month ago. Back when it was still summer.

We were standing by the roundabout where Njarðargata intersects with Sóleyjargata.
Is this Jón Gnarr...
... or is this? Answers on the back of a postcard, please.
An acrobatic young man.
"Princesses are lesbians too"
Páll Óskar and men in Páll Óskar masks. Slightly unnerving.
Friddi and the Germans (from left to right: Maria, Julia, Janina, Friddi).
So many people.
 Crowds making their way past MR (the 15-year-old's school) and towards Lækjartorg.
Bjarni's visiting friend Alistair, Kalli, Ewelina and me under the gaybrella.
Bjarni and Kalli at our street party.
Then we moved to Austurvöllur. Björgvin under the gaybrella.
Party on Friddi's balcony. Kalli, Bjarni, Andri, Janina and Julia.
Andri and the beginnings of a beard he is growing in order to look more like a barbarian. Because he wants to be an extra in the second series of Game of Thrones, which they're going to film some of in Iceland. He is much more beardy now. No longer wearing balloons on his head, though.
I can't be bothered to write much about this day; it was so long ago, and I think the pictures give a pretty fair impression. I had a lovely time, though, and I miss it being hot and sunny enough to sit around outside drinking.

Winter is coming

It's got cold all of a sudden. Cold and windy. It was OK to go out without a coat on the weekend, almost without a jumper, but it's about 4° right now, although supposed to warm up later in the day. I went out last night to meet Stacey, because it was her birthday, and even in my new coat I was shivering walking home. Probably because I am too skinny and need to eat more, it actually doesn't take much to make me shiver and chatter my teeth - something which seems to either amuse or irritate people - but seriously, we all agreed it was proper cold. The kids were made to wear hats to school today. I'm going to start carrying gloves again.

Oh, and I got my haircut. Failed the first time I went because they had double-booked my appointment and I'd accidentally given them the wrong phone number, so turned up anyway. But I went yesterday and my fringe is no longer growing into my eyes, which is a relief.


Those fried, crispy onions that you put with your pylsa are like crack. Today I gave in and bought a bag of them from Bónus, which I am now eating with a spoon. So guilty. As long as I don't eat the entire 200 g in one day, it's OK, right?

They would actually make great bar snacks. Something Iceland has a distressing dearth of.

A snapshot of my exciting life

What is happening in my life? Well, I'm getting a haircut today. My third in Iceland so far. The other two have quite upset me, so I'm nervous about that.

Nothing else particular planned for this week, except a party on Friday. What did I do on the weekend?

The eleven-year-old and the three-year-old have become twelve and four. There was a birthday party on Saturday. In my experience, Icelandic childrens' birthday parties are all very similar (although I suppose maybe just because I've only been to ones for children within the same extended family). Have you ever seen 101 Reykjavík? Do you remember the Christmas party scene? Yeah, sort of like that. There is always lots of cake, though. The one on Saturday was particularly good. One thing that upsets me about these events is that most people just put everything on the same plate together at the same time. Nachos and tuna salad and salami and chocolate cake and ice-cream all a little bit touching each other. I don't know how they can stand this. I had a plate of savoury food, went and washed my plate, and then had pudding. Like a normal person. Then I made my escape and went to the graveyard, because it is a nice place with lots of trees and flowers, and I like looking at dead people's names. I lay down for a bit under a redcurrant bush (not on someone's grave) and had an accidental nap, which is sometimes the best kind of nap. But when you wake up in a graveyard it's a bit alarming. In the evening I went to the cinema with the 15-year-old and it was almost cold enough for my new coat by the time we came out. Not long now, surely.

On Sunday we had sunshine and it was really hot, so Ahmad and I went to the pool. But not until after he'd made me walk around Kringlan looking at coats for ages and then didn't even buy one. I am like a small child if you force me into a clothes shopping experience - I tend to get whiny and impatient. I had warned him about this, and hopefully he has learned his lesson. At least it wasn't shoes. Then after 'swimming' (read: sitting in the hot-pot discussing our personal lives), we headed back into town and listened to the God channel on the radio whilst we drove down Laugavegur (someone called Sue telling about how she used to stab her husband whilst he was passed out from drink, but then she found Jesus and everything was gravy), and got ice-cream to eat on Austurvöllur. And we visited our friend Paulina, who just got a new job at a new restaurant on Austurstræti, called Happ. I got some free juice and I would recommend. Not least because you walk in and are immediately confronted with a large picture of my hero Jörundur hundadagakonungur! And there's also a blown-up copy of his crazy declaration of independence.

P.S. The baby got a name just before I went away to France! If I know you personally, I am sure I will let you know what it is in a letter or using my voice. I have probably already done so.

P.P.S. Simon is still missing in action, presumed taken by children and left somewhere improbable. I just keep telling myself he must be in the house somewhere.

My parents visit Iceland

OK, this was absolutely ages ago, but still. It is quite probable that some of you have not seen my parents or their photos in the interim between their visit and the present day. Actually, I know some of you haven't even met my parents, so yeah. This is worth posting then, even though it was too long ago for me to write about it in a very entertaining way. There's a moral in that.

First we spent a day in Reykjavík, and I showed them all the things (Hallgrímskirkja, Kolaportið, Tjörnin, etc, etc) and walked them round most of 101. From January up until then was the longest I've gone in my life without seeing my parents, I just realised. Hmmm. Unlike when my brother was here, the weather was fantastic. We got ice-creams and everything, as I recall. 

The next day we went to the Vestmannaeyjar (or the Westman Islands, as you may have seen written). Although we actually only went to one of the islands, the biggest one: Heimaey (Home Island). It is surprisingly populous, with over 4000 people. It was a 20 minute flight in a tiny, tiny plane from Reykjavík, which was fun, and then we were there overnight. We spent most of our time there walking around and questing for puffins. My friend has since told me that there's a brilliant trampoline/slide thing at the swimming pool, so I'm annoyed we didn't go, but never mind. The island is really beautiful, and there were lots of great birds (mostly redshanks) and some boring ones (fulmars = whatever). Another thing about it is that about a third of the island wasn't there until 1973 (volcano), which is quite interesting. They are in the process of excavating some of the houses which were buried by the lava. You can go and see them and there is a sign which says, "Pompeii of the North". Sorry, Vestmannaeyjar, but it is bollocks compared to the Pompeii of the South. I think you're setting people up for disappointment with that moniker.

My parents walking up the volcano. Gravelly.
View of the town from the volcano.
Back down by the coast.
Flowers and sunshine! At this point it is still July, remember.
It was really steep to get up here.

Then we flew back to Reykjavík and picked up a hire car, and began our drive round the south coast and up to Egilsstaðir. On the way we stayed at various places and I don't remember all their names. I should be a journalist or something, right? On one day we were forced to take the mountain pass, because a bridge near Vík had been destroyed by the river Múlakvísl, and we came down towards Kirkjubæjarklaustur through Landmannalaugar, which is stunning. I didn't take pictures, although my mother did. You should ask her if you can see them. We forded a lot of little rivers in our hire car, which was pretty fun.

One place we did stop, but didn't stay overnight, is Djúpivogur, which I liked very much. I found my new favourite bird: the red-necked phalarope, or óðinshani. Those things are better than puffins.

Photo from Wikipedia - my bird photography skills are not up to this standard. What you don't see in this picture is that red-necked phalaropes are about the size of a sparrow. Also, that white bit above their eye makes them look permanently sort of disdainful / a bit angry.
Just by Djúpivogur. We went for a walk.

When we got round into the East Fjords proper, we mostly did all the things that I did with Ahmad and Stacey the last time I was there. I took them to see the place with all the puffins, and the weather was much better than the last time. I also took them to the pool in Egilsstaðir, and the weather was much worse. So it pays to visit places twice, I think.

The good news is that I managed to eat two new animals: puffin and reindeer. The puffin was very heavily smoked - it could have been anything, really. I prefer razorbill. I love that I can write that. But I'm told it wasn't the season for fresh puffin, so maybe an unfair judgement. The reindeer we had in an N1 in Egilsstaðir. Predictably, it was similar to venison / beef. I'm a fan. Also, two people asked me if I was Icelandic because of my language skills.

Reasons why you should not have a strong emotional attachment to a playmobil man called Simon

1. It's kind of weird.

2. You will get very upset when he goes missing. 

3. It's actually more than kind of weird, especially at your age.

This is my advice to others; it's too late for me. I was just thinking in the midst of my emotional meltdown upon realising he wasn't where I thought he was, it's been ten years since I got Simon. I hope he turns up soon.

Oh my god, I've got a photograph of him. What is actually wrong with me?