Big in Iceland

I was big in Iceland for about the fabled 15 minutes . I even got to meet the President and visit the Hofdihaus – famous as where Reagan and Gorbachev met for the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) which created the period of Detente / Glasnost / Peristroika . A period that we have  enjoyed and even counted on , up to the events of recent months when the world order has become less settled than it has been for decades .



For someone of my generation the Cold War was epitomised by the Berlin Wall. It is incredible to realise that the Wall has now been down for as long as it was up , and the period of openness and optimism that followed its fall can now no longer be taken as a ‘given’ in our lives

Maybe it’s the current turbulence in the world that reminded me of my trip to Iceland when I saw today some mesmerising pictures of a space in which I would like to live :a home in Iceland of which there are some pictures at the foot of this post .

It  was September 2000 when I was invited to Reykavik to talk about Striking the Balance – a Work/Life Balance Project with I was involved .

There was a huge crowd at Keflavik Airport when I arrived . It wasn’t for me .

The Icelandic team returning from the Sydney Olympics was on the same flight .


Hildur whisked my 2 fellow guests and me straight from the Arrivals Hall to the Blue Lagoon . Within minutes of arrival I was languishing in the thermal waters daubing myself , as one does apparently , with the sludge found in the pool which allegedly has magnificent health giving properties.


There is nothing like being relatively undressed in front of people you only met a few minutes ago to create a sense of camaraderie . Then it was on to the hotel and a nervous night before my presentation .

It was a big audience the next morning . I shook hands with the President and then the moment had arrived .

I began by saying I was delighted to be there and thrilled by the crowd on my arrival  -tinged by disappointment when I realised it wasn’t for me .

Puzzled smiles at this point . Then the fact I had stumbled open . I was particularly pleased to be visiting the country which had been the 5th most successful at the Sydney Olympics . Benign puzzled smiles now . I was clearly deluded . Everyone knew the medal table and that doesn’t lie .

Then the revelation . Iceland has a population of under 400,000 and they had won a Bronze Medal in the Pole Vault . So proportionately they were the 5th most successful nation in the 2000 Olympics .

They were on my side from that point . Striking the Balance was a groundbreaking project  – we had come up with the name before the term Work Life Balance had even travelled from California to the UK – so I definitely had something worthwhile to share but it was the Olympic Statistic that won them over .

A marvellous tour of the island followed the next day which I felt I had earned . The sights of the Golden Circle will stand long in the memory .

I thought my hosts were a little overenthusiastic when the geyser erupted . For goodness sake it was Iceland – they had geysers – what’s the big deal?

It turned out the geyser in question (a particularly big one ) had been dormant throughout their lifetimes and had only reawakened a few days before . So it was the first time they had seen it.

I also learned an Icelandic joke .

What do you say to an Icelander who is lost in the forest ?

Get up off your knees .

Of course trees don’t grow above waist high in Iceland generally .

A spectacular country to visit and a fascinating people . I will have to go back . I won’t be expecting a big reception though .

And here’s the “Outside the Box”  house that prompted this reminiscence .




brucemcd View All →

Sharing ideas and experiences drawn from 30 years as a Public Service Leader . Firm believer in the value of Public Service and the importance of vision , strategy , communication and engagement in making a positive difference to people’s lives .Hopefully helping make sense of what often seems a complicated world .

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