And ride with us young bonnie lass -
with the angels of the night.
Crack wind clatter – flash rein bite on an out-size
Rough-shod winging sky blue flight on a cold wind
And join with us please – Valkyrie maidens cry
above the cold wind to Valhalla
Jethro Tull 1975
The Vikings – legendary stuff. Marauders, war-mongers, pillagers. Raids on Britain
began at the end of the eighth century AD. Favourite targets were the largely undefended
monastic sites, including Lindisfarne. The monks, the guardians and documenters of
our early history, were not entirely happy and so it comes as little surprise that
the Vikings received a largely unfavourable press. Of course in these enlightened
times the historical view of the Vikings has evolved somewhat from that developed
by those eighth century chroniclers to show the Vikings as sophisticated, technologically
advanced peoples, proficient sailors, ship and town builders who just happened to
indulge in raping, pillaging and beating up monks as a sideline.
Whilst it was the Vikings from Norway, and principally Denmark which were to cause
the most distress to Anglo-Saxon England with their policy of conquest and colonization,
the Vikings from present-day Sweden usually went east and south-east preferring trade
to conquest. The leader of the last great Swedish Viking expedition of 1036-1041
was the splendidly titled Ingvar the Far-Travelled though given the expedition’s
eventual failure it is a triumph of positive spin and marketing that Ingvar has not
been consigned to history as the Largely-Useless.
Though the exploits of the Danish and Norwegian Vikings are now very much in the
past it is ironic to note that the Swedish policy of trade has led to a far more
peaceful and all-encompassing conquest. Just 946 years after the demise of Ingvar
the Far-Travelled, the Swedish invasion of the British Isles began in earnest in
1987 courtesy of Ikea the Poorly-Assembled. More of the land has fallen under Scandinavian
influence since they stopped building longships and instead put the wood in cardboard
boxes that fit snugly into the boot of the family car.
If only they had just sent the wood over in AD793, neatly stacked with some nicely
illuminated manuscript instructions; the monks would have set to with a will assembling
the invasion force on the living room floor and all the bloodshed might have been
avoided... apart from the odd nasty splinter.
The fearless Viking warrior; those slain gloriously in battle; or perhaps the store
manager who has boosted sales by 15% will make that final journey across the plains
of Asgard to take their place at Odin’s side in Valhalla. Those of less heroic demise
find themselves travelling through the realm of Niflheim to journey’s end in Hel
presided over by its eponymous goddess. A journey whose beginning is signposted from
a slip road just off the A406, somewhere near Brent Park in London. Each downward
footstep to the Underworld marked out in the mist by the unearthly glow of a large
yellow arrow. Not for us the triumphal accompaniment of Valkyrie maidens nor even
the bloodied Garmr, watchdog of Hel but instead the glint of sickly-pale sunlight
catching on the gently spinning wheel of a discarded and upturned shopping trolley
and the crackle beneath our feet of a million non-degradable plastic bags...
Once again we are a tribal, pagan people – worshipping now at the false idol of consumerism,
offering both our wallets and our blood as sacrifice. So eager were the acolytes
to enter the Ikea store in Edmonton on opening night that knives were drawn. One
can only imagine the frenzy of the crowd, spurred on by the war cry of the sales
department: “While stocks last”. And then the ensuing horror when realisation dawns
“Oh my God, it's suede: it'll stain” as desperately they sponge the freshly-spilled
blood from the soft furnishings.
Why do you think the drive for Sunday opening became so irresistible? Consumerism
is our new religion and sometimes when you take a look at where the old one has led
us it seems it might not be any worse an alternative. We've got violence, we've got
prejudice, we've got the restriction of creative free thought. All the traditional
elements are there! Ikea can do our thinking for us. Just how stupid; how lacking
in imagination, style and taste do you have to be to buy your art from Ikea?! “Ooh
Love, look at that picture of three pebbles! That'd go beautiful with our laminate
floor, that would...” Jesus – it's a miracle these people can tell their homes apart
as they file out of the car park and head back towards their flatpack identikit lives.
So on with the Sunday best and off to the retail park. The Bible has long since been
replaced, with the style magazines, catalogues and sunday supplements presenting
a far more plausible and manageable journey to inner happiness and peace. The devoted
bow their heads before an altar of white goods; while the trinkets and trappings
of our surburban ideal implore from every page: “Buy Me. Wear Me. Drive Me. Own Me.
And move a step nearer your god.”
Religion is the opium of the people, as someone once said, and never has an addiction
been so wholeheartedly condoned as we settle down in front of the TV for another
edition of Changing House Rooms Makeover. And it becomes all the more telling when
taken in context: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature” - well you don't
have to spend too long in Bluewater to hear one of those; “the heart of a heartless
world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation.” With so little to believe
in – least of all themselves – all their purchases are invested with the power of
attributing worth and comfort to their lives. “It is the opium of the people” And
let's face it, they've gotta be hooked on something as they walk the shopping centres
of the land, what other explanation can there be: Dead eyes staring – not seeing
the “human” or the humane. Colour blind to all but the large red bargain stickers:
All sounds a bit ominous doesn't it? Religion, in any of its forms is a dangerous
business; from the beguiling promises of our Shopping Mall deities to the explosive
fanatacism of Muslim extremists the cause is the same: Unable to muster a true responsibility
for and acceptance of their own lives a vacuum has been left.... a vacuum that is
filled and exploited by the opportunists that preach to us whether it be from the
pulpit, minbar or our tv screens. But we can't just give up...it's now we've got
to start fighting...I've got a plan...
We're gonna build a whole new world for ourselves. Shake off that consumer obsession.
/ Get away from the religious dogma.We're gonna ban religion; legalise opium. / At
last the Christians and the Muslims can be on the same side. Set aside their petty
squabbles about whose god is best and unite against their common enemy: Common Sense.
/ We can learn to think for ourselves and everything – start again from scratch.
I'm not saying that this will solve things overnight... of course it won't. It'll
be a hard fight. There'll be blood shed. But at least with the legalisation of opium
we might get some decent poetry out of it. Exploits worthy of remembrance in verse.
Something to rival those great Norse legends. After all, although we seem to be remarkably
well off for foolishly idealistic, sink estate wannabe martyrs, the Valkyries haven't
exactly been inundated with the heroic...
Midnight lonely whisper cries,
“We're getting a little short on heroes lately.”
Sword snap fright white pale goodbyes in the
desolation of Valhalla.
And join with us please – Vallkyrie maidens ride
empty-handed on the cold wind to Valhalla.