From Jester To King LXXXI
By Simon Barget
I’d always wanted to go on a cruise but not this sort of cruise. I’d just started another job and right at the start they decided to send us all across the Atlantic. It was some sort of induction, a team-building thing, and initially I was thrilled. Understandably. That feeling of going past all the places you’d only known from maps, past the tiny islands of the Denmark archipelago, watching them from the deck and being able to see every last detail, how green they were, and you could see every last contour of the land, you could make out each object, even the post boxes and the stiles and each winding, delineating country lane, and I was so taken by the pastoral and quaint quality of these islands, so surprised that the notoriously rough Atlantic had managed to produce such jewelled serenity, and that when we sailed past them the sea was more like a sea by a coast than an ocean swell, there were no waves, and you could just see everything from the deck as if from a yacht by the shore of a lake. Yes it was at that point that I felt most buoyant, most content and fulfilled, because we’d only just begun, were making good progress but had so much more fun ahead of us. And then we docked at one of the ports and got off, and I remarked that it looked more like England than anything Danish, and though it was fascinating to explore it, to see somewhere you’d only seen in your mind’s eye, I got that sinking feeling you get when you realise that behind the charm and the novelty there’s always the real, and whilst we walked the town’s gritty streets I couldn’t help feeling the place was sparse and down-at-heel, devoid of pulse, there was just one pub and a hairdressers, and all the people seemed to be gathered in the street looking for a place to go and be, redolent of that small-town tedium of not having enough to do, and then I wondered about that trade-off between having a place of beauty and tranquillity and that sense of being cut-off, and I don’t know for sure but somehow the isolation seems to breed a population less couth and urbane and if you wanted refinement you had to live in a city. But the streets of this little town were really no different to those of, say, Scunthorpe or Shrewsbury, which made me wonder how Danish it was.
And this was when my happy disposition pretty much took a U-turn. I started to think about time and how long it’d been and how far we had to go, and then I realised that if we weren’t too far in, and judging that we were only past Denmark, we couldn’t have got that far. And it was only then I realised that we must have been going the wrong way! I mean what the hell were we going past Denmark for unless this was the Greenland Denmark which I didn’t think it was, and to cut a long story short, I ask one of the admin girls (of which there were many), all a bit lackadaisical and slow-witted, I ask them where we really are, and how long we’ve been going for because if it’s only about two hours in well then I can take a boat going homebound and make it back before bedtime. And my suspicions are confirmed, because although we’d only just passed Denmark we had been going for a full three-and-a-half hours this woman tells me, and I am livid, what have we been doing all this time if we haven’t got very far, and also why did no one tell me we’d been going for such a long time, and I figure that by the time I get on the other boat and get home I’ll have to be back in the US for work almost immediately so it looks like I’m going to have to grin and bear it and stay on the ship. Moreover if we’d only gone so far in three and a half hours, how much longer was it going to take to make it into the ocean proper let alone get there? And this poor woman had already pulled out a map at this stage, our route plotted in a half-inch line of black felt-tip, and we had started at the Newcastle on the west coast of Scotland, gone all the way down and round by the Hook of Holland up past Jutland, all the way round the Gulf of Bothnia, such a ridiculous meandering route, and it didn’t even dawn on me to ask why we were going the wrong way, because I was so pissed off we hadn’t got far at all and I was still half expecting her to show me a blip of our position about 5o miles from Cape Cod. And from then on things got even more tiresome, and I’d lost all interest and hope. For example the food. I had no idea what we were going to get and when. Added to the fact I wasn’t that hungry; I was just waiting waiting waiting. And there was no kitchen, no sign of food and no place to eat it and a lot of waiting around and a lot of the admin girls talking amongst themselves, still in their little office rooms, three behind a desk, some of them wearing those very thick-lensed glasses that signal real blindness, real short-sightedness, gormlessness, and whenever I went in to try and find out what was going on, they just barely responded as if it made no difference to them either way. Although there were some slightly more competent older women by the desks in the gangway, and though they seemed to have a timetable and have a slightly better grasp of what they were supposed to be doing, they brought out chicken soup for the first course with big lumps of chicken in it and I knew that this certainly wasn’t what they were supposed to have served us, meaning this was the very start of the fallout of something that had already gone badly wrong.