~ Posted by Charles Nevin, February 19th 2013

Considerable mockery from the outside world has attended a Norwegian television programme showing a fire burning in a fireplace for 12 hours, beginning in Friday night prime time. Paint and spin drying were popular comparisons; other shows happily recollected included the complete seven-hour train journey from Oslo to Bergen, and the six days of live feed from a ship sailing up the fjords, watched, allegedly, by almost the entire nation. 

These things can, of course, be exaggerated, or slanted. There was more to the fire show than just a flickering blaze: it was accompanied by music and poetry, discussions on the best firewood and fire-building methods, and suggestions about things to do in front of the fire. And, occasionally, obviously, someone put some more wood on it. That train journey, too, is often voted and quoted as one of the most spectacularly beautiful in the world; and the magnificence of the fjords is a fine given.  

You should also be aware (and here I am at an advantage, having possessed a Norwegian mother-in-law) of the local and highly droll sense of humour, which so relishes a good joke as to happily share it for as many hours as necessary. Norway's hard-earned reputation in the Eurovision Song Contest is another example of this subtle approach to humour: last summer I met an elderly and outwardly most serious Norwegian academic who was using their 2009 winner as his ring tone.  

Those, too, who mock, or merely elevate an eyebrow, should consider that Norway is invariably top or thereabouts in the numerous surveys measuring national happiness. Or that while the rest of the developed world spent most of the early 2000s in the casino at the back of the Last Chance Saloon, Norway stayed at home, prudently housekeeping and carefully husbanding the oil revenues that have given it the world's largest sovereign-wealth fund. 

As it happens, I have a theory to explain this, involving those fearful Viking years of intensely exported plunder, pillage and worse to most of the known world and beyond. It's my belief that this concentrated passage of hectic conquering got it all out of the national system, leaving a highly civilised and peaceable people whose happiness is more easily satisfied than ours; happy, indeed, to stare at the fire, content to survive in a harsh world. 

Should you wish to have a go yourselves, I could recommend any of the many available reality, cookery or property programmes. The internet has also long been a source of such soothing delights: the first webcam watched a coffee percolator in a Cambridge lab, and was most popular. But for true aspirants to Norwegian levels of calm, I would recommend the pitch drop experiment at Queensland University, Australia, where a jar of pitch has dripped eight times in 83 years. But there could be a drip this year, which might be too exciting.

Charles Nevin is a freelance writer who spent 25 years on Fleet Street. His recent posts for the editor's blog include When God's on your Side and That's Enough Sing, Sing, Sing.

Picture NRK