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Trolls: the truth revealed

August 25, 2014
Alcatraz?

Two things have happened that I thought would not happen.

First, Mrs simonsometimessays and I have found ourselves aboard a cruise ship bound for and from Norway. This is one of those activities that I have sworn blind, for as long as I have been able to contemplate the question, that no power in heaven or on earth would persuade me to pursue. As a wise man once said: I would do anything for love (but I won’t do that). Without wishing to dwell on how such a volte face came about, I will mention only that it is the result of booking a holiday at short notice, and deciding it would be fun to visit Scandinavia (albeit in a superficial way).

The second unexpected thing is that we are actually enjoying it. It has not fulfilled my worst fears, which were as described below. In fact, I am almost at the point of saying I must go down to the sea again…  And as if by magic, Ireland’s setting of Masefield’s Sea Fever.

Back to the things I was worried about.

  • The food will be processed and awful. This matters. Oh, it really, really matters.
  • We won’t really see anything except the docks, the only reason for visiting which is that they can accommodate a ship of the size we are on.
  • I will hate dressing up for formal evenings.
  • (this is the biggie): We’re going to be stuck in a floating prison with people I will loathe.

The first three proved to be red herrings – or perhaps I should say slightly pink stockfish. As regards the people, we have so far met folk who can be categorised as follows:

  • Category 1 (The sss A-listers): a small number of people we like very much;
  • Category 2 (The Good Companions): several people we like a good deal;
  • Category 3 (The Bell Curvers): a lot of people who turn out to be human after all;
  • Category 4 (The Expendables): a number of people who are programmed for discontentment;
  • Category 5 (The Obnoxii): one or two who have surprised me with their pathological lack of social skills, or howling bigotry.

Category 5, as you might imagine, contains the people I was worried would form the majority of fellow passengers. Allow me to exemplify them for you. I won’t give you their names, because I saw no reason to find them out.

  • The man who believes that the correct way to interact with someone you’ve never met before is to blank them, grunt in begrudged monosyllables, stare at Mrs sss while she eats as if she were from another planet, and above all not to smile or return a greeting.
  • The lady – and I use the term in its loosest sense – who seemed to think it somehow remarkable that a shipful of British travellers to Norway should have to share a tourist attraction with visitors from another country – in this case Japan – justifying the comment “It’s like the Shanghai Express”. Yes, she did say that; and yes, she did say Shanghai.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised: but I do have to wonder how some people get to become so dismally ignorant, odiously bigoted and downright contemptible.

However, these Category 5 Prisoners are, mercifully, readily identified and easily avoided. It’s Category 4 that is most full of irritation.

These are the passengers who proudly inform you that this is their 15th, or 25th or 300th cruise (that’s not the irritating part) and then go on to tell you how much better other cruise ships are, or how much better this one used to be. Oh, per-leeze. Stop moaning. I keep coming back to Chas and Dave: There ain’t no pleasing you.

These are the folk for whom consideration is a yet-to-be-acquired grace, or reaches no higher than the average level of selfishness you get on a commuter train in London.

These are the ones I suspect of reading a certain newspaper – one which, if it enters my house will be instantly shredded for cat litter. I won’t name it, but if you’re reading this in the UK you should know exactly which ghastly daily I’m talking about; if any doubt remains, let me say that it isn’t the one with the bosoms.

There are some whom I am sure are not happy with a meal unless they have found a reason to send at least one course back.

These are the folk for whom gracious living has nothing to do with sophistication, gentility, civility and so on. No: it means dressing up posh while being the same objectionable, charmless so-and-sos they were before. Manners maketh the man, perhaps. But it takes more than a black tie to turn a troll into a gentleman. And speaking of trolls: here’s an appropriate Scandinavian link for you: In the Hall of the Mountain King.

Grieg knew a good tune when he wrote one, and so good was it that one of the giants of 70s pop repurposed the tune for use by his own band: I give you – or rather Mike Batt gives you – In the Hall of the Mountain Womble.

There is little choice in what we can do with our time ashore when travelling in this manner. Even the most seasoned cruisers, though they may argue the point, cannot avoid the fact that we will leave the ship at 9 or 10 in the morning and have to be back on board by 5. We can’t go out to dinner in a foreign city, which is one of the ways by which you know a place, I think. We can’t get very far from the ship, and that means that we can’t really stray from the tourist routes, nor escape the ubiquitous trolls.

Trolls for tourists in Norway – the loveable, ugly, grinning creatures that are everywhere available as soft toys, or adorn badges, T-shirts and baseball caps – are nothing like the frightening, baby-snatching, goat-eating monsters of folklore. Grandad and Dad at various times used to terrify me as a boy with the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, with a picture book in which the Big BGG was every bit as grotesque as the troll he defeated. If anybody had presented me with a cuddly troll I might never have recovered.

Much like leprechauns in Ireland* – who in their origins are not the genial, benign, gnomish folk whose rosy cheeks bespeak a little too much porter; no they were deceitful and mischievous, to be relied on at your peril. And we can prove this: here’s Val Doonican (who knew a thing or two about this sort of stuff) and The Jervey was a Leprechaun.

Well that’s enough nonsense for now. As I type this I am sitting near the front of the ship, looking out over a rather lovely, glittering sea. It isn’t completely calm: some light wind is wrinkling the surface of the water; but from inside it is difficult to be sure whether we’re actually moving. Some sort of exercise was taking place a few minutes ago, in which crew were mustered for a Man Overboard drill. I did uncharitably wonder if they might make the simulation even more real by testing the process on one of the Category 5-ers, but we may have to revert to plan B: the plank.

It’s hard to be too bothered, though. The sun is shining, like it always does on TV, and A-ha would be happy – I’m Looking for the Whales.

Even the deck furniture dresses for dinner

Even the deck furniture dresses for dinner

*Not the same Ireland referred to above, but pretty clever, eh?

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One Comment
  1. Ah the chill northern air hasn’t, it seems, served to decrease your blogging brilliance. 🙂

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