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How to escape from politics – a week on the Good Ship Brexit

June 24, 2019

My wife and I have just come back from a cruise through the Norwegian fjords. Cruises are not, I freely admit, very cool. But once in a while we find it quite fun to escape from our Surrey bubble and drop in on places that would require a fair bit of travel to reach independently. Plus it’s an opportunity to chat with people from Wigan, Southend and other obscure parts of the United Kingdom. The food’s pretty good and the people-watching even better.

And what more appropriate place to visit in these troubled times than Norway, serenely sitting on a cushion of oil, well beyond the grasping reach of the European Union? Well, sort of. The reality is that Norway is more connected with the EU than any of the Brexit ultras would find acceptable for my own country. Which is why the so-called Norway option hit the skids long ago.

I’m sad to say that we didn’t get to meet many Norwegians, apart from a recorded voice in the bus taking us past a couple of the country’s magnificent glaciers. Most of them, apart from the shopkeepers, were no doubt hiding from the marauding throng of tourists. But I suspect that if I were to ask one or two of those brave enough to venture out, they would be far too polite to say anything meaningful about Britain’s current political crisis, even though I also suspect that they think we’re complete idiots.

My fellow cruise passengers were not so reticent. I was unable to find anyone with a kind word to say about the EU. And once again (see my last post) I encountered someone who cited regulations governing the shape of bananas as one of the reasons to leave. This, of course, was one of Boris Johnson’s celebrated fibs concocted to amuse his readers while he was a “journalist” in Brussels.

You would have thought that a week in scenic Norway would have been a good opportunity to forget about the madness at home. Not so easy, since the trip was punctuated with news of the Tory leadership campaign. Each day ended with another head rolling into the basket of confounded aspiration:

Stavanger was a pleasant little town, though I’m sure Grantham’s equally nice at this time of the year. But I don’t suppose Margaret Thatcher’s home town has shops full of reindeer fur. As in other parts of Norway, a coffee costs over ten quid, and a two-course meal can’t be had for less than fifty. Back in the UK, clang – Raab goes west.

In Alesund, the weather was dull and cool, but we had a seriously exciting trip to the fish museum, where we discovered how the Norwegians made cod liver oil out of the unfortunate creatures that a hundred years ago would innocently leap in huge numbers into their nets. Alas, they don’t catch cod as long as a broomstick these days, thus sparing recent generations of children from the delights of a daily tablespoon of cod liver oil. Splat – Stewart hits the dust.

On to Olden. A small town that depends for its economy on farming and tourists like me. As we took an open-top bus ride through the fjords, the occasional ray of sunshine crept through the cloud. We discovered from the recorded voice (who sounded rather like Victor Borge, and with the same dry wit) that the town’s main benefactor was William H Singer, an American philanthropist, who ended up retiring there. A good choice, given that he was from Pennsylvania. No doubt he was much taken with the glaciers, which were probably ten miles longer in his day. Thud – Gove and Javid fall.

Bergen: Thump – Boris has a domestic with his girlfriend. How he would have preferred Bergen to Camberwell. Rain pissing down all day (which is the norm), a trip by funicular to the commanding heights above the city, where a group of yoga enthusiasts endured wind and horizontal rain as they contorted themselves on their mats. Boris probably would have joined them.

Of all the stop-offs, Olden was the most pleasant. As for the other destinations, attractions included glacier-yomping, kayaking or zip wire rides, none of which were likely to attract arthritic pensioners or the 30-stone leviathans who felt unable to walk up or down a single flight of stairs. The least mobile, I imagine, stayed on board and gorged themselves on lunch and afternoon tea.

On the ship itself, the inmates entertained themselves between meals with bingo competitions, dancing lessons and tribute acts. If I was a crew member, I’d probably take bets on which of the passengers, many of whom occupied two seats at the dinner table, would burst first, like Mr Creosote in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, following the legendary offer of “just one more wafer-thin mint”.

The other burning question was whether the ship would run out of costume jewellery, cheap gin and duty-free cigarettes before we glided back to Southampton fully loaded with the effluent from twenty thousand full English breakfasts and an equal number of three-course lunches and dinners. Or at least I hope we were full of the stuff, because if they dumped it in the North Sea it would likely kill all remaining life apart from those who live on oil rigs.

If I’ve given the impression that our fellow passengers were uniformly large and decrepit, forgive me. There were plenty of young people on board, not to mention a few babies. But even the young ones tended to be on the chubby side. And who am I to carp, given my distinct lack of resemblance to Michelangelo’s David? Help, however, was at hand for those whose physiques were less than perfect. Body sculpting, detox treatments, and puffy eye therapy were no doubt quite popular. Surprisingly, colonic irrigation, the treatment I should have thought would be in most demand given the relentless throughput of traffic through that organ, was not on the menu.

The cruise tradition that I least enjoy, harking back to when Britannia ruled the waves and passengers were segregated into the posh, the less posh and the definitely not posh, was the Black Tie dress code. For two nights men who spent most of the cruise looking like Rab C Nesbitt fastened themselves into tuxedos, wobbly chins hanging sadly over their bow ties. And women with no necks, for whom the normal attire was black leggings that cut savagely into their lower torsos, draped themselves with tents made of sequins and curtain materials to hide their ample upper bodies.

As back home the nation worked itself up into a state of febrile excitement over the heads rolling in the leadership election, I found myself worrying about the future for the old folks hobbling around the ship from meal to meal. Clearly they have the means to buy a week on a cruise ship, but how will they cope when our cash-strapped post-Brexit government starts slashing further at the social care budget? Some of them will not require too much care.  The smokers have a good chance of dying early; likewise the grossly obese and the heavy drinkers. But the rest, many of whom sat on deck for hours on end in comatose contemplation, looked as though they were in care already.

But would they vote for Boris? A nearby family agreed that he was a splendid chap, and would make a great prime minister. They were clearly looking forward to being able to buy bananas shaped like corkscrews from their local Tesco.

The highlight of the cruise came on the last day, as we sailed down the North Sea heading for the channel, where the scheming French lurked on the other side. The organisers arranged what resembled a Brexit Party rally, otherwise known as a patriotic singalong. Red-faced participants lay like seals around the central area, feebly waving union jacks as cheerleaders had us singing patriotic songs like “Land of Hope and Glory”. All it would have taken to trigger a wave of geriatric orgasms would have been the appearance of Nigel Farage, pint in hand. Or Boris, sporting a black eye, bursting out of a tee-shirt stained with red wine.

So back home, as the nation (or the 0.2 percent of it that has a say in the matter) prepares to crown our latter-day Winston Churchill in place of Theresa May’s Neville Chamberlain, I couldn’t help thinking that the vast majority of those who stumbled off the ship loaded with their duty-frees will be cheering away, even as the ship of state sinks slowly beneath the waves.

But no matter. We all had a jolly time on the Good Ship Brexit. And if over the next few months the rest of the population manages to be as pleasant and good-humoured as our fellow passengers, then maybe there’s hope for us all.


From → Politics, Travel, UK

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