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Meeting people – a Norwegian wedding reception in Burnley

September 2, 2011

I went to a wedding reception last Saturday, where the groom was from Burnley and the bride from Haugesund, Norway. It was held in Burnley Methodist Hall, filled with tables and chairs, dimly lit by candles (it goes dark in Burnley by 8.30pm, even in late August). It was a Norwegian wedding, and on each table was a huge basket of bread and an even bigger bowl of fresh shrimps, so large that you could have dived headlong into it and comfortably won a game of Olympic standard hide and seek. I was looking forward to getting stuck into the quivering crustaceous flesh.

The place filled up quickly as I got to work on the shrimps, emptying the flimsy shells faster than a fishwife. The cold bits of pink flesh slid down my throat with great regularity. Just before I disappeared completely behind a pile of husks, a hush fell over the room and in strode a large bearded man. He introduced himself as Toralf, a lubricous man with a hangdog expression, he took to the stage. He was the comedian. But he was from Norway so half the audience did not understand a word, but I was not concerned, as I was busy scoffing as many shrimps as possible. The pile of husks had now reached my chin – the comedian was going down well but not half as well as the shrimps. I have to say, freshly caught shrimp imported from Norway washed down with several pints of Moorhouse ale was a satisfying combination. By the time the comedian had left the stage, I was so full of shrimp you could have covered me in Thousand Island dressing, laid me on a bed of lettuce and used me as the opening course at a wedding reception…..

I struck upon a conversation with a bloke from Utsire, which I subsequently found out was a lump of rock in the North Sea. I don’t think I’d ever spoken to a Norwegian before. He said he had to go – then reappeared on stage as the band struck up, and the room was filled with whirling figures, their rosy cheeks shining, caught in the candlelight, eyes flashing and laughter rising above the music. Some Norwegian woman whisked me from my seat and whirled me around the dance floor for several minutes. She was Wenche (pronounced ‘Venker’), from Stavanger. I thought they had played in the UEFA Cup some years ago but Wenche didn’t know. End of conversation! Given that I dance about as well as a squirrel plays the piano, this was a selfless act on her part. My shrimp ‘n local ale fuelled attempts at shaking my booty in a lithe and groovy way went well, even if I say so myself.

Eventually the lights came on and the floor was awash with spilled drinks and shrimp husks. The air swam with laughter and back-slapping, Burnley boys doing vociferous and energetic impressions of Kirk Douglas Odin cries and blowing the horn – The Vikings, you know the film, and You only sing when your fishing, a well known football chant. Then supper arrived, Burnley’s finest fare, Holland’s meat & potato pies in huge, nay industrial quantities, piping hot gravy, lashings of chips and Lancashire caviar, mushy peas. The Norsk men could only stand in silent admiration as suddenly a quiet, orderly queue formed, wooden forks in hand from the locals, headed by the groom. We know when we’re onto a good thing.

It was a great night, a throwback away from i-this and i-that. I’m increasingly becoming a big proponent of slowing down, simplifying and doing less, and being less busy… less anxiety and less frantic being. Is this a mid-life crisis or just a recognition that the digital world is overriding my life? I found this simple approach to ‘back to basics’ in a battered old book in a charity shop, a bargain for 25p, it helped me, I hope it helps you.

  • Be more present, so life doesn’t rush past you without you noticing, and ‘being there’
  • Enjoy every activity you do more, so life is better all the time, savour it, taste the day.
  • Feel more relaxed, so every day is as good as a holiday.
  • Be ready to handle anything that comes your way, and have no fear, what’s really important?

Not bad for a few simple words, made me stop and think and put my i-pad down – and I’m no tree-hugger for sure!

Normally we have two different modes in life. There’s the busy of our everyday lives, and then there’s the relaxed mode, which happens when we have some unstructured time, a day at the beach, a family gathering, walking the dog, or doing stuff with the kids. I think we’re all ‘wired’ up these days, and if you reflect on this, we’re never in ‘off’ or relaxed mode, we simply have to be connected to some form of virtual-digital network. Relaxed mode is one where we perhaps think less and feel more. We just soak in the sun, the sounds, the sensations, the simplicity of enjoyment.

I tend to be in busy mode most of the week, and weekends if I’m honest, if we’re lucky we get a day a week or maybe only an hour or two of relaxed mode in a day. When the Internet or Blackberry or email sucks us in, we have less relaxed mode because this stuff keeps us in our minds, and we forget about the physical world around us. How can we change this? How can we bring the child-like relaxed, sensory mode back into our everyday lives, not just during breaks or in the bath or on holiday?

When we are in relaxed mode, we notice the sensations of the wind and sun, the sounds of water and laughter, the brilliant colors of nature, the smiles around us, the grass or sand between our toes. The sound of a Norwegian stand-up comic…We are feeling instead of thinking. The sensations of our bodies flow into our minds, and it makes us relaxed, happy. When you put your focus into physical sensations, you are entering relaxed mode instead of thinking mode. The wedding reception brought back to me the sounds of humanity, real life, not some dislocated dance around my electronic diary, although my dancing was dislocated!

I’m trying to turn busy-ness into being present, harriedness into enjoyment. And all of this came to me when I reflected on a simple social event, where being part of something makes you feel good inside, where you are connected with people – some strangers – such that it has a tangible feel of togetherness and bonding, reality and enjoyment about simply being there. Back to reality, not virtuality!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 6, 2011 6:38 am

    Hey Ian – I wonder if the book you found in the charity shop was “In Praise of SLOW” by Karl Honore? If it wasn’t, track down a copy. You may find it reinforces your understanding of all the ways we can cut the pace in life. I’ve read it. I liked it. But I’m finding it takes time to apply it! Still, I’m trying… slowly!

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