was in Tromsø that I had my first real insight
into the offbeat phenomenon that characterised North
Norway. I had never before tried to visualise how
it would feel to be blessed by a never-setting sun
for weeks on end, only to be dragged into the deepest
gloom by a never-rising sun in the winter. Looking
around at the faces of passers-by, I could now understand
the comment by the Norwegian author Knut Hamsun in
his novel Pan, set in North Norway, that the people
were strange and of a different nature to any
he had met before.
wrote that one summers night was enough to change
a child into a mature adult. But as winter closed
in a secretive stillness came over the
people they brooded silently, their eyes
waited for winter. As this was summer I was
not able to witness this singular transformation,
but I learnt more about it from an impetuous young
farmer who accosted me while I was watching the football.
Hi, there! he shouted as he clambered
over a fence from his field and sat beside me. He
was determined to prove that he had plenty of summer
vigour, and the moment the footballers dispersed he
inveigled me into helping him stack the last of his
hay and then, my love, I’ll teach
you about our mysterious northern yearnings.
educational session in the hayloft was largely verbal,
punctuated by short, lively exercises of a practical
nature. My mentor told me his name was Peter
it’s usually shortened to Per
and he had lived in Tromsø all his life. You
see, we have to work all the hours there are in summer
and that’s when we do our loving, too,
he added with an affectionate squeeze. In the
winter darkness we get too tired. Some of us can’t
sleep, others of us sleep so long we don’t know
whether its morning or evening when we wake.
We get disoriented because our body clocks run amok.
I said: It sounds as though Hamlet must have
been to the Arctic, the way he spoke of time being
out of joint. Perhaps he wasn’t a Dane after