Adrian Sturrock: For obvious reasons, I’m publishing this article on a Sunday.

There is a place called Hell in Norway. And every winter it freezes over. It’s a small village of only 1,589 people, which leads me to believe that all those threats I received at Sunday School as a child were mostly exaggeration, and that you have to do something pretty fucking extreme to be sent to Hell. To learn this in later life, I’m filled with both relief and the feeling that I’d been played all those years ago.

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As one might expect, Hell has a retirement home (read ‘has’, not ‘is’), as well as a petrol station, a grocery store, and a fast food stand for passing truckers. There really isn’t a lot to do here! Most significant, however, is that Hell’s railway station is not an end-of-line stop. A sign on its outbuilding reads, ‘Gods-expedition’, an archaic spelling of the Norwegian, ‘goods handling’.

As temperatures can be as low as -25 degrees in winter, one might be forgiven for assuming that sitting in the waiting room of Hell’s station would amount to purgatory, but, as everybody knows, Purgatory is in the United States. Maine, to be precise. (According to TripHobo, there is ‘little to do in Purgatory. It is a small place which is generally used as a rest stop before moving on to better things.’ Pretty much text book then!)

Unsurprisingly – and as I’d already secretly suspected – they play the Blues in Hell. The ‘Hell Blues Festival’ started in 1992 before being changed to the ‘Hell Music Festival’ in 2006, in an attempt to attract a more eclectic crowd. The result of this, only one year later, was bankruptcy. (Not even Goths go to Hell, it seems.) The following year, ‘Blues in Hell’ was re-instated and success returned as Hell reconnected with its true demographic. Last year, British singer/songwriter Jo Harman headlined here. (Having been born in Luton, Hell must have been an almost ‘back-to-the-womb’ experience for her.)

Those who know me understand that I’m not a fan of Blues music. In fact, I place it alongside war crimes and Morris Dancing in my list of ‘Under-No-Circumstances’. However, at a squeeze, I’d still place Blues above the questionable genre of Church Hymns, which leaves me in somewhat of a dilemma regarding my preferred afterlife destination. (Have you noticed how AC/DC fans can instinctively sing along to the entire back catalogue, while church-goers who attend their event every single week still need the hymn books? There is definitely a point to be made here.)

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One of the benefits of living in the 21st Century is that one no longer has to rely on biblical supposition when it comes to the realities of Hell – not now that Hell has its own listing on Trip Advisor. A simple click of the computer mouse will tell you that Hell “wasn’t as hot as I thought it would be” and that “the train station […] is only serviced if you flag the train down.” This latter point, I feel, throws up its own existential questions.

The problem with Hell, of course, is fundamentally an ethical one: that its existence for the punishment of souls is inconsistent with a just, moral, and omnibenevolent God. On the other hand, according to lifeinnorway.com, “despite its proximity to the E6 motorway and an international airport, the village itself is remarkably peaceful. Typical Scandinavian wooden houses, well-kept gardens, lots of cyclists, kids playing in the streets: not what I expected at all!” As some schools of theological thought define Hell as specific to the individual (rather like Orwell’s Room 101), perhaps this particular town is set aside for those whose idea of torture is a recurring suburbia.

If this is not your Hell, however, don’t forget that there’s another one in Michigan, USA, another in California, another in Montana, and further Hells in Slovenia and Grand Cayman. They’ve even installed one on the moon, a lunar crater named after Maximillian Hell. Just like the song, Hell really is all around. (I am, of course, paraphrasing.)

I looked to see if Hell, Norway © has been internationally twinned with any other towns but, as yet, there haven’t been any takers despite the fact that the town can boast the honour of having produced the 1990 winner of both Miss Norway and Miss Universe (though I’m not sure how ‘The Beauty Queen from Hell’ reads on the world stage).

Hell doesn’t have a lake of fire but it does have a river and, until 1995, there was a highway to Hell, but it now goes around the village instead. And for those of you who have ever laid awake wondering, Hell is actually 14 metres above sea level. Now, that’s something the Apostles neglected to mention. 

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Adrian Sturrock: ‘We’re dreaming of a Skype Christmas.’

     ‘You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said.’

     ‘That’s a strange way to start a conversation,’ I say.                    

     My wife tuts loudly and leaves the room.

     I’ve just done a twelve-hour shift. At the moment, I’m mostly thinking about murdering all of my colleagues, setting fire to the building, and disappearing to Bolivia to become a drugs lord. Failing that, can I afford to drop a few days and go part time?

     Some moments later, Nat re-enters the living room with a large glass of wine which she carefully places into my hand as she kneels in front of me and whispers, ‘I’m told that this magic potion enables the drinker to not give a single buggery about the world of work. Quick, drink it.’

     It takes a second glass for the magic to really kick in but, when it does, the result is absolute. ‘You’re right,’ I say, ‘I’m cured. I really don’t give a shit.’

     ‘Good. Now, can I please have your attention, just for a few moments? We need to talk about Christmas.’

     ‘Today, I learned that the Japanese for hedgehog translates as ‘needle mouse’, I say.

     ‘… What?’

     ‘Isn’t that great? I like a name that fully describes the object … like the Welsh word for microwave: ‘poppity ping’. Genius.’

     ‘I suppose the person who named the pullover totally nailed it for you, too?’

     ‘Exactly. It is what it does. Why would anybody call it a jumper? That’s just dishonest.’

     ‘… Is this your second or third wine?’ Nat takes the glass gently from my hand and places it at arm’s length behind her. ‘So, Christmas. What?’

     ‘Can we go somewhere sunny? I’m not a big fan of the UK in December; it’s merely tinsel and muddy puddles. And I’ve seen Love Actually too many times.’

     ‘We’ll need to see family too,’ she says. What are your thoughts on the best way to do this?

     ‘Skype,’ I suggest.

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As a child, Christmas just happens around you, while one is perfectly distracted by presents and shiny lights. I’ve attempted to drag this simplicity into adult life but more often than not the grown-up world doesn’t favour straightforwardness. To put this into more scientific terms, I’m told, nature likes to fill a vacuum. Where one might endeavour to remove a problem, therefore, nature will conspire to create new difficulties to take its place.

     At this time of year, nature’s usual weapon of choice is heavy use of the ‘F’ word: Family. Or more precisely, family politics.

     ‘Where did we spend Christmas last year?’ I ask

     ‘Last year, it was here,’ Nat reminds me. ‘The year before was in Somerset, with my parents.’

     ‘Then, logically, I guess this year will be at my mum’s, in Wales,’ I say. (I told you I like to keep things simple.)

     ‘Ah, thing is,’ Nat begins, ‘Rhys says he can’t get time off work, as he’s the newest member of staff. And I don’t want him spending Christmas alone.’ Rhys is Nat’s son; my step-son. ‘Any chance your mum could come to us?’

     And this is where grown-up life plots to make what should be a simple family get-together a social maze of dead ends. ‘The problem with that,’ I say, ‘is that she won’t leave the rest of the family. And we don’t have the space to invite them all.’

     So, there we have it: political stalemate. By the time the wine is all gone, Nat and I have taken this discussion around in circles more than once, with the apparent consensus being that, to please the majority, we are forced to spite ourselves – unlike Theresa May’s current Brexit plan, which aims to spite everybody, whilst pleasing nobody.

     The final decision seems … well … final: Christmas means Christmas. Apparently. Nat is to stay here, to ensure Rhys is not without company, and I am to spend this time in Wales, in order to represent us amongst the Welsh contingent.

     This feels neither a strong nor particularly stable decision, but it’s all that we have, unless we can re-negotiate our position and/or take the choice back to the people.

     One thing we don’t have to compromise on, however, is our decision to meet up – just the two of us – to see the New Year in, in Europe – thus stretching this current Brexit analogy to breaking point.  ‘I like the sunshine too,’ says Nat.

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In the meantime, the best that Nat and I can dream of is a Skype Christmas, complete with festive pullovers (not jumpers!), and the usual barrage of Christmas TV repeats where, no matter how you spin it, Two Ronnies do not make a right.

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