Hull to Rotterdam, Jan 5th 2014
I am standing at the stern of an enormous ferry staring out into the watery darkness to the distant lights of the Humber bridge, a fat lady’s necklace strung across the throat of the estuary. The “sun deck” is the highest public tier on our vessel and a clench of vertigo grips me as I peer straight down the side of the ship to the strip of brown water between us and the quayside. Disconsolate stragglers smoke cigarettes wreathed in self-disgust. The open-air bar is empty; a solitary server eyes me with lethargic disinterest as a flickering TV, recessed into the wall beside him, shows the dying minutes of an Arsenal FA cup win. The polished decking is slick with a layer of rain and I cautiously skate back into the warm bowels of the boat, my arms extended forward like Frankenstein’s creature or a feeble retiree.
My cabin has a David Lynch vibe with two strange bedside lamps either side of the sill at the small square window, whose fake wooden frame weirdly resembles the aperture into which coffins slide at crematoriums. I cup my hands around my temples and stick my nose to the glass but can discern nothing but gloom. A ceiling speaker sparks to life and emergency procedures are relayed. It’s utterly surreal to hear public announcements in such a small private space and 1984 comes to mind. I feel the list and the lurch as the huge thing swims free of its moorings. The room shudders warmly with the deep bass of the engines lending the room a womb-like feel. I am to be delivered at Rotterdam in the morning en route to Cologne. First I must negotiate dinner at sea.
My cohort joins me at the appointed grub dispensary on deck 9 and we are led through our labyrinthine meal options by a well-drilled Spaniard. We fail to grasp the complexities of the price structure but mutely proffer our twenty pound notes and find ourselves being led to a table. A horseshoe shaped buffet offers an alarming array of congealed food from a hodgepodge of culinary traditions thematically linked by a heavy reliance on artificial food colouring. Each of the three of us take radically different approaches to our individual menus all with the same lack of success. I plump for a smorgasbord of weirdness from the salad bar followed by some flattened grilled poultry augmented with pilau rice. It essentially tastes of decay and despair but none of it quite prepares me for the cesspit of tragic effluent that passes for live entertainment in the “Showtime Lounge”. A trio of mis-matched automatons plough their way through an endless setlist of faintly familiar pop songs backed by programmed bass and drums so lifeless they might have been generated by a fucked Gameboy. They struggle to muster any kind of applause at all from the pig-ignorant, pissed-up punters but my sympathy is severely limited by their radical listlessness. What they are doing is hard to fathom but it’s essentially music with all the things that make music good taken out. They are a foul distillation of all that’s vile. The sound of a dying tubercular octogenarian coughing her lungs out through some godforsaken night in a Victorian hospital ward would have more musicality. They are sheer murder and we can endure no more so elect for an early night on the calm, cold North Sea.
In my quarters I punch up some Beethoven on my phone and the tinny whisper of the strings ensuing from its minute speaker cleanses the air like rain through smog. I am delivered from hell halfway between Hull and Holland.