the events of Friday afternoon in Norway were too shocking to write about at first. Yesterday was a difficult day. And while I have no reason to believe that my mother's younger brother and his Norwegian wife, who are retired and live in a village outside Oslo, and who I believe were planning a mini-break this weekend, were anywhere near the atrocities, it would be nice to know for sure. They have not answered their telephone or replied to emails, but if they are away from home that is not surprising. Similarly their son, my Norwegian cousin Stephen and his family. I am sure you are safe, but you will be more shocked than I am. An atrocity is harder to look at on the TV when it happens in a place you have been to and where people you know live and work. That's not good or bad, just how it is.
When I got home from work on Friday, having seen (on Twitter of course) that there had been a bomb in central Oslo and the first reports of the shooting on the island, naturally enough I was transfixed by the breaking news on Sky (which this time really was breaking news, unlike most of the headlines they describe as such). When a friend came round to collect something I was too distracted even to offer him a cup of tea (sorry Bill). On the way home from work, on the tram, I was looking at the breaking news on the iPad and wanting to shout at the teenagers flirting with each other and gaming on their phones, "Wake up! There are people who want to kill you!" But they wouldn't have understood. By the time I got home it still was not known for sure who was responsible, there were reports of rejoicing on jihadi websites and a supposed claim of responsibility by a jihadi group. al-Jazeera was talking of Kurdish Islamists, and so on. But pretty soon it emerged that what people had seen was a lone man in a police uniform. So then it was clear that this was nothing to do with jihadis or, probably, NATO. It took a while though, on Friday evening, for the Guardianista left idiots to stop talking about the Coalition, and how Norway must expect to be a target once it had aligned itself with - they didn't quite say - Bush'n'Blair.
What was agonising on Friday was knowing that something horrible was happening on that island, and that the police were not there. It took them forty minutes to get there, during which time more than 80 people were killed. I didn't even know one person could kill that many people. This morning a police spokesman said that they had had "transport problems" and "problems getting a boat". Huh? WTF? I know Norway is not used to terrorism, atrocities etc, but it is one of the most affluent and highly developed countries in the world. If you get reports of a killer on the loose you go there and you get him. Helicopter, snipers, whatever. Just do it. The Norwegian police are not routinely armed, which in my view is a good thing, but you don't hang about waiting for a gnarled caretaker to unlock the weapons room for you. You send in the military. Well, that is how it seems to me. And just a thought - Norway is one of the few countries in Europe which still has compulsory military service for young men, so almost all male Norwegians know how to use a gun. My cousin too, who did his a long time ago, and who was part of the king's personal guard, how cool is that.
This has changed Norway for ever. The last such atrocities on Norwegian soil took place during the Second World War (in which Norway's record was not glorious - Quisling was Norwegian) and most of those who were there at the time are dead. The fact that most of those killed n Friday were very young is heartbreaking. The fact that many of them would have been the political leaders of Norway's future forever creates a "what-if" in Norwegian politics and society. The fact that over 90 people were killed in a country with a population of less than five million means that each of those deaths strikes proportionately harder at society than it would have in a country with a large population.
I have been to Norway only once so far, in 2008, when I went to see my family. I fell at once for the beauty of the country and the charm of its people. It would have been nicer if going out to lunch in Oslo wasn't QUITE so expensive, but there - the country is rich. And I was there in summer - we sat in my uncle and aunt's garden in the sunshine and they fed us smoked cheese and forest fruits.
We stand with the people of Norway, yes. We shall pray for them in church this morning. But when the grief counsellors have gone away and the people go back to school and university and work, what then? How long does it take to heal? And what is to happen to Anders Breivik, the perpetrator? What will Norwegian justice do?