This has been a strange week. (What week isn’t?) Anyway…
I finally finished The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward, edited by K.J. Findlay, Amphora Press, 2018. “The frank and entertaining diary of a Teignmouth (England) fish merchant who became a hero in Iceland. His account of the harsh conditions, rugged landscape, local characters and customs gives us fascinating insights into an extraordinary way of life .” (From the back cover)
I read a review of the book in the TLS (Times Literary Supplement) and actually ordered it for my cousin as a late Christmas present. Now it is very very late. I was just going to skim it and send it along to her. Instead, I read - and enjoyed - the whole thing. What the blurb about the contents doesn’t tell you is that Pike Ward was a very good writer. His descriptions of the Aurora Borealis are dazzling, but anyone can be inspired by that colour show. He also describes the rare sun in the dark time of year, fierce storms (blizzards on the land, on an Icelandic pony, maelstroms on the sea, on a ship), and incredibly bad food. He passes his 50th birthday in the course of this journal; his stamina is astonishing, as is his tolerance of and ability to digest some very strange Icelandic food.. He travels to all the fishing bases and conducts his business with integrity, honesty and demanding standards that earned hims the respect and friendship of his associates. He loved Iceland. He called the home he built in Teignmouth Valhalla, and mounted Viking gargoyles on the roof line. He collected Icelandic artefacts and left them - around 400 objects - to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter when he died in 1937 at the age of 80. His death was reported in the Icelandic newspapers. Aegir magazine recalled that “he had taught Icelanders new ways to prepare fish, helping them to increase the value of their produce and bringing huge benefits to the country.” (From the Epilogue in the book.)
The editor, K.J. Findlay, worked for two years on Ward’s diaries, augmented with amazing photographs (early 20th century, remember). It’s a good book. My cousin will love it.