I'm sure you all thought that I had been abducted by aliens or something equally bizarre, but in fact I was working my socks off finishing my latest John Rawlings novel, Death at the Wedding Feast, which will be published later this year. My agent loves it and so does my editor, and hopefully it will see the light of day by the end of August. So watch out for advance publicity on this site.
As soon as I had finished work on the book I went on holiday, quite literally, leaving myself one day to turn round in. I went in search of the Northern Lights with the gallant Mark Dunton, star of the National Archives at Kew and general suave man-about-town. I booked the whole thing on-line but hadn't realised properly how terribly expensive Norway is. Someone had advised me to take some drink with me and so, like a good girl guide, I put a bottle of vodka - well wrapped - in my suitcase which came in very handy. Anyway we flew to Oslo at a civilised time of day and arrived in good order and took the airport bus to our hotel. This turned out to be very nice and rather exclusive. The dinner was delicious but was not included in the deal - and it cost a great amount. But to hell with money. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
Next day found us up at the crack of dawn, and heading for Oslo station to catch the 8.10 am train to Trondheim. This was an absolutely spectacular journey, taking us past some of the most beautiful and snow-covered scenery imaginable. Arrived in Trondheim in the late afternoon and took a stroll round town but the next morning saw us board the Norwegian vessel 'Midnight Sun' for our trip to the Arctic Circle.
Was it cold? everybody asks me. And the answer is that it was not as cold as Battle can be, because there was no wind. It was a dry, crisp cold and one that I rather liked. But that's me. I just love all the seasons and particularly to see the change in them.
We sailed towards the Arctic Circle and when we crossed it there was a terrific ceremony. Father Neptune appeared in all his crowned and bearded glory and proceeded to tip ice cubes down the backs of the people on board. They were then rewarded with a warm and welcoming drink. The ice slowly melted leaving one with a chilly but quite pleasant sensation. Actually it was such a great tradition that I enjoyed it all in a masochistic kind of way.
Though the sky was clear we never saw even the flicker of a Northern Light but nonetheless were rewarded with the most gorgeous scenery. Everything was blue - the sky, the sea, even the lovely landscape. It was like sailing through a dream world and we did all this while lazing in a hot jacuzzi. There were two of them on the top deck and I sat in my purple bathing suit and watched the world go gently by.
In the evening we dined with a very pleasant English couple called Andrew and Andrea and thoroughly enjoyed their company. They lived in Wales and naturally I got talking about my ancestry and probably bored them to tears, though I must admit they gave no sign of it,
Eventually we left the ship at Tromso and headed off to the greatest adventure of them all. We were taken by bus to the Wildlife Centre - but let me add that by this time the whole of Norway was hit by a blizzard the like of which l had never seen. Snow flakes as big as saucers were making visibility almost impossible. I think if we had been in England the visit would have been cancelled because of Health and Safety. On arrival we were made to change into rather sporty skiing suits which I liked. Then, lulled into a sense of false security, we were taken to a Sami hut and given a nice warm meal of reindeer stew. Incidentally the Sami are the Laplanders who follow the reindeer herds throughout the year. Feeling happy and comfortable we were led out through the worsening snow to where a great many dogs were howling. "Unfortunately," said our Sami guide, who was a lovely chap named Christian, "we are a driver short."
Up spoke Mark, bright-eyed and willing. "I'll give it a go," he said.
So there began my journey from hell. I was put in a small sled and wrapped in reindeer skins that were completely useless at keeping out the cold. Behind me stood Mark, in front of me were five dogs, though all I could see of them through the blinding snow were their behinds. "Mush," said someone - and we were off.
The trouble with Mark is - nice fellow that he is - that he panics big time. With him screeching like a banshee behind me, the dogs going hell-for-leather in front, the snow blinding me, I was not at all surprised when he hit a tree, wrestling madly with the three brake system and all of them not responding. The sled flew through the air with me in it and I landed face down in the snow. Fortunately I was rescued by the team behind and we proceeded on our perilous journey, whizzing past trees and bushes and just praying that nothing further happened to bury me in the snow once more.
I can honestly tell you that I have never been more frightened in my life and never been more pleased than to see the lights of the Sami hut glowing in the distance.
We flew back to Oslo the next day and that evening had a nice filling Chinese meal to make us feel better. We changed hotels once more, booking into the Great Western, which was absolutely fine and spent the last day being very dedicated, going to both the National Gallery and the Munch exhibition. Unfortunately we did not see The Scream as that particular floor in the Gallery was closed for cleaning, but we had a great look round the very exciting Munch Museet, complete with chatting to the guards who told us all about the daring daylight theft when two men, armed with guns, stole The Scream and The Madonna. They were later found - The Madonna with a hole in it and The Scream with beer spilled all over the canvas. However they are now thankfully restored and one cannot see any damage at all.
And that - with a few illustrations - about ends my holiday story. We never did see the Northern Lights but we had enough adventures to last a lifetime - or at least till I go away again. Click on any photograph to see a larger version - or click the arrows on the large photos to follow the whole sequence.
The first picture shows the view from the train window on the way to Tromso. The second is me on board ship, hanging on to my hat. The third is of Mark looking an all-round good chap. The fourth is of King Neptune adminstering ice cubes at the Arctic Circle. The fifth demonstrates what I mean about a blue world. The sixth is of our charming dining companions, Andrea and Andy. The seventh will give you some idea of the size of the snow flakes, the eighth is of me confident in skiing gear, and the other is of me at the end of the ride of hell. Note the snow blob on my nose. And finally, equilibrium restored, outside the Munch Museet in Oslo.
Thanks for reading this everybody. Next time I'll be telling you of my adventures at Celia Imrie's party.