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Five ways to live like a Viking for the day in London

Posted at 3:15 pm, March 8, 2014 in Arts & Entertainment
Live like a Viking ©Rob Greig

To celebrate the British Museum’s ‘Vikings: Life and Legend’ exhibition, Eddy Frankel asks the show’s curator for tips on exploring London like a marauding warrior.

1. Live Like a Viking

British Museum curator Thomas Williams:
‘The stereotypical image of Vikings with unkempt hair and horned helmets is nonsense. They probably had beards, but we’ve found combs and razors, so they were into grooming. It’s true they were a terrible bunch. Viking raids kicked off during the ninth century, and London was burned to the ground at least twice.’

Our guy says:
What? No horns? No huge scruffy beards? Well, thanks for ruining everything, British Museum. Having put my hand up to spend the day living like one of the ancient hellraisers from Scandinavia, I want an authentic look – so I go wild at Walthamstow’s Viking Store. It sells all sorts of roleplay-themed clothing. And swords. Loads of swords. It’s perfect for liveaction reenactment, the only activity where you can get away with pretending you’re a warrior. Even if (especially if) you’re just an accountant. The store also runs martial arts classes with swords. Sound dangerous? Well, it is. Obviously. Dressed in my helmet and tunic, I head over to Greenwich, where Viking raiders set up camp in 1046. Standing in the cold morning air, I’m beginning to feel a real connection to Viking London. I feel Nordic and powerful, like I could totally watch ‘The Killing’ without subtitles. From the top of the hill, I imagine fleets of longboats sailing past, spilling hundreds of hairy plunderers on to our shores to steal our treasures and make off with our ladyfolk.

2. Travel like a Viking

The British Museum says:
‘Boats were the only logical way of getting around Scandinavia: Norway is all mountains, Sweden is all forests and Denmark is all islands, so Viking boatbuilding was incredibly advanced.’

Our guy says:
The British Museum’s show centres on a huge, ancient Viking ship called ‘Roskilde 6’ which has been brought over from Denmark and reconstructed in the main gallery. It’s not easy to replicate the experience of Viking sailing, but London’s many Dragon Boat teams come close. The shallow wakes and long prows of the Chinese vessels bear more than a passing resemblance to the traditional longboat, and rowing down the Thames on a freezing cold day with the Thames Dragons, I start to feel like a real Viking. I’m one step away from convincing the team to invade a neighbouring borough and do a bit of casual pillaging. Vikings loved to pillage. Big fans.

Viking Travelling ©Rob Greig

3. Party like a Viking

The British Museum says:
‘There are some surviving instruments, lutes and lyres, but we don’t know for sure what Viking music sounded like.’

Our guy says:
Speculative? A whole subgenre of heavy metal says otherwise, Mr Professorman. That’s right: Viking metal is a real, and very popular, genre. The biggest name on the scene is the Swedish group Amon Amarth, who have had stage sets built around full-size Viking ships. When I saw them at Kentish Town’s Forum, they were performing on some sort of ice-covered Viking village – literally very cool. Venues like Underworld are often filled with bearded Nordic metalheads singing (yelling, really) about Thor and Valhalla. We’ve created a playlist of Viking metal to get you started ,but if you’re after something calmer, Norwegian disco house maestro Todd Terje is playing at Oval Space on March 8th.

4. Eat like a Viking

The British Museum says:
‘By and large research shows Vikings ate a meat-heavy diet. There’s been some quite unsavoury analysis in York: experts are studying Viking poo to find out what they ate.’

Our guy says:
You don’t have to dig through ancient bogs to enjoy a taste of Viking cuisine. Scandinavian cooking is the crème de la crème of the international culinary scene, with Danish fine-dining establishment Noma repeatedly voted the best restaurant in the world. I’ve opted for the slightly cheaper option of the Nordic Bakery in Soho. As delicious as its legendary cinnamon rolls are, though, I feel no connection to Viking history here. This might be present-day Scandi food, but I want to feast on raw reindeer flesh and sip from goblets filled with the blood of my enemies! Where’s the brutality in pastry? There’s only one thing for it. Balls. Of meat…

Viking Shopping ©Rob Greig

5. Shop Like a Viking

The British Museum says:
‘The ship at the centre of our exhibition has travelled here overland, not by sea: the team of Scandinavian engineers found a way of essentially flatpacking it into a container. The whole frame breaks down piece by piece.’

Our guy says:
Let’s be honest: the Vikings’ real legacy is Ikea. Unpronounceable names, craftsmanship and tasty meat. As a global megabrand, Ikea has achieved the ultimate Viking goal – it’s invaded and conquered the whole freakin’ world, only using allen keys instead of axes. Walking through the huge warehouse of Ikea Wembley, I feel like I’m treading the halls of Valhalla. The advanced engineering of the Billy bookcase is certainly in the proud tradition of the Vikings and their brilliant ships. These days, however, things only turn violent if you get lost in those illustrated instructions.

‘Vikings: Life and Legend’ is at the British Museum, Mar 6 - Jun 22. 

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