A Whaling And A Brushing Of The Teeth

John Doran travels to the roof of the world but finds substituting life long vegetarianism for a diet of pure whale meat to be more problematic than he envisaged. Photographs by Gentleman Dan Dennison


The future is now. I am 14-years-old and one of two billion people watching Live Aid on the television thanks to satellites. Satellites in outer fucking space. Phil Collins is mid air on Concorde heading towards America faster than the speed of sound. The screen I’m watching is only four inches across and part of an upright turntable and cassette recorder hi fi combo. The technology that is allowing today to occur is blowing my fucking mind. Stu’s mum comes in the room carrying a tray of roast chicken legs. Adam Ant walk on stage. “Yes!”, says Stu. “Yes!”, I say. Nothing can ruin the supreme righteousness of this moment. The joy is short-lived as Ant’s band of pretenders launch into ‘Vive Le Rock’. “What?” I say but the time he does a scissor kick I know the 80s and my childhood are over. I look at the chicken with tears welling up in my eyes. By the end of the day I am a vegetarian. By the end of the week I am an angry alcoholic who no longer talks to his father. And by the end of the year I have a Jesus and Mary Chain album and winkle pickers.

Yeah thanks, Adam Ant.


The future is now. I am heading out of Bodø, the capital of the Nordland municipality of Norway, down a fjord and out to pristine teal coloured ocean by boat. I am heading to Traena, which is beyond any doubt, the greatest festival in the world. Like a busy crackhead on giro day must get to his dealer’s and Malcolm McDowell must find the giant blue ribbon in outer space in Star Trek Generations – even if it means killing Jim Kirk – I must get back to Traena, such is its magnetic pull. The three day festival takes place on a volcanic archipelago of 100 islands and small stony skerries that lie off the West Coast of Norway just inside the Arctic Circle. The normal population swells from 400 to 2,000 as people gather to frolic in the 24 hour sunshine under mountainous outcrops that look, from a distance, like the top of the Wu Tang Clan symbol sticking out of the ocean.

But what one previous visit to this northern paradise has taught me is that vegetarianism will not be tolerated at the top of the earth. This is a working fishing community in the middle of the sea and to visit it you can draw a parenthesis in your dietary requirements that starts and ends somewhere around Oslo. There are 130,000 whales around this bit of Norway all closely monitored. Whalers, all of them registered, are given a strictly adhered to number to hunt each year. They tend to be free range and have the run of the place until a gigantic harpoon that’s like a telegraph pole packed with explosives is fired directly into the centre of the humongous mammal’s noggin. It isn’t, admittedly, an aesthetically pleasing way to die and not one I’d choose, but then again luckily for me, I’m not a slab of tasty meat the size of Evel Kneivel’s motor home swimming slowly round the briny.

The whale’s lot has improved considerably in Western Europe over the years. We’re given a timely reminder of this when British Sea Power perform their beautiful and oceanic live soundtrack to Robert J Flaherty’s 1934 documentary Man Of Aran in the community’s wooden stave church. The film shows the struggle for survival of a small Irish community of shark hunters. To a much more incidental degree, it also shows the struggle for survival of a fucking giant basking shark which it takes the brawny Irishmen over two days to kill before they can render its liver to oil for their lamps. If only we could learn from the Norwegians. No deforestation for breeding whales, no keeping them tightly packed in battery sheds, no injecting them full of water and hormones to make them weigh more. No working class communities crippled by illness, fatigue, malnutrition, academic under achievement and obesity because of whale meat. While I’m here I’m only going to eat whale meat and other sustainable sea food. It’s the only humane thing to do. Eating whale meat is the closest thing to vegetarianism on offer to me.

After three days of eating nothing but whale meat however, I start fraying round the edges. It doesn’t matter how much I brush my teeth, all I can taste is whale. The toothpaste has become whale flavoured. At my most lucid I feel like the guy out of Grizzly Man but I also have flashes where I know I’m acting like William Hurt in Altered States. I crash British Sea Power’s motorboat into a ferry three times in two days. It is the same ferry, it is 200ft long and it is moored. On my last day I get blood crazed and start piling my plate high with random flesh. “What is this amazing cut of whale called?” I demand of the kitchen lady. “That is beef”, she tells me. I pick up a chicken leg and start chewing on it absent-mindedly, realising that I am undone. “I haven’t eaten chicken since Live Aid!” I shout. She smiles and starts backing away. “Why didn’t he just play Prince Charming?” I say to myself disconsolately and settle down to the longest meal of my life.

Traena brings the ruckus

Noble and Turner go in search of sea eagles

Al fresco whaleburger stall

Turner’s tiddler

Gaahl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon

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