One evening in January, in a bar in Marylebone, I got talking to a Norwegian businessman and his English girlfriend.
His name was Bjorn and, like all Scandinavians, he was a very tall, modest, quiet man. So it was only after a few drinks that he mentioned that his son — Bjorn Jr — was the reigning world Monopoly champion. He’d won the final in Las Vegas when he’d bankrupted his New Zealander rival, Geoff “Nimble Thimble” Christopher, with a $1600 rent demand on North Carolina Avenue.
They’re ruthless, these Norwegians. Remember the Vikings?
Two months later I got an email from Bjorn Senior: “Please come to Oslo as our guest for our 200th National Day in May”.
“Don’t mention the Vikings,” I thought last Friday, as we touched down in Oslo.
Unfortunately my attempt to upgrade to the Nobel prizewinner’s suite at the historic Grand Hotel on Karl Johan Gata failed. The receptionist didn’t appear to know that I’ve devoted my entire life to world peace.
The next morning I had breakfast in the hotel’s Grand Café — “the breakfast room of Ibsen and Munch”, Lennard, my very friendly veteran waiter told me. I looked around but didn’t see them. Maybe they’d had a late night.
He also told me that Norway’s $850 billion cash is the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund. Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia are second and third: the losers. I calculated on the back of a napkin that all five million Norwegians would make the Sunday Times Rich List.
It was the best 200th National Day parade I’ve ever been to. I watched the four hours of marching schoolchildren and brass bands from the balcony of the Nobel prizewinner’s suite. It seemed the entire population of Oslo was down below, all dressed in traditional folk costumes. I waved for four hours and they waved back.
As Mel Brooks said: “It’s good to be the King.”
Later, looking for a bit of Norwegian culture, I found myself in O’Leary’s bar with 500 crazy Norwegian Arsenal fans screaming: “Come on you Gooners!” in north London accents. Thomaz, my 6ft 6ins neighbour, wore a red bow tie, red traditional jacket and black pirate pantaloons. I noticed he had the Gooners’ cannon tattooed on his neck. He insisted on picking me up and whirling me round whenever we scored. So that was three whirls.
Bjorn was a great host and somehow he managed to beat me to the credit card draw whenever we went out to eat. I’d discovered when I sneaked a look at the bill that just one dinner in Oslo could wipe out the entire sovereign fund of a small country.
I did once manage momentarily to grab the bill, shouting “this bill is on me!” and placing it on top of my head before quickly handing it back to him. Well, I thought it was funny.