Archive for July 2nd, 2007

The Ferryman

These days I’m procrastinating because there are Things I Have To Organise, and I don’t want to. Just as in May when I had to build up courage to go to London and pick up my car and take her to Norway, I now have to talk myself into booking a garage space here in Vienna, decide on dates to book the ferry from Oslo to Kiel and the train from Hamburg to Vienna (that’s a train+car thing which allows me a solid break from driving). And then we’re on our own. Two Brits temporarily living in Austria with an old MG.

I have to get my brain into gear and learn all about the local rules about bringing an old car to Austria, and that stuff is all in German. Could help expand my vocabulary – maybe I could one day become an expert on Austrian car import rules? Would that make good dinner conversation?

Now all I have to do is decide. And book. Well, it is perhaps not quite that easy. I tried to go on-line and check prices for the ferry trip, but I have only been able to get a quote for the trip from Gothenburgh to Kiel, and though that is probably a lot cheaper I don’t fancy the drive there first though it’s only about 4 hours from Ski, and though I have driven a lot longer than that it would only give us 13 hours on the boat for me to relax and I want the full 19 hours doing the Oslo-Kiel route. Not because I’m all that fond of ferry trips, but because Kevin has never done one of those extensive ferry trips and I love travelling with Kevin, especially when I don’t have to drive but can just enjoy his company. He’s funny! And gives good hugs.

When I was a kid my parents used to take my sister and me on trips to Denmark to visit family. It totally brought out the irritating screecher in me and I would spend most of the trip being highly strung and over-excited about all the excitement of the boat, and much too excited to get any real sleep and would end up really grumpy in the morning which was never my favourite part. Having to get up was never in general my favourite part. But if I didn’t get that on-board breakfast I would throw a complete fit. My mum could just not win this one.

I loved these ferry trips until my grandfather died. My mum was already in Odense, and dad, Hanne and I took the ferry to Copenhagen. It was winter, and the crossing was a bumpy one. Both dad and Hanne were seasick. I was worried about reacting inappropriately at the funeral as I was a teenager and had read about people who laughed or similar at funerals and thought I might be one of those, an Inappropriate Giggler. But I didn’t. I cried. I cried buckets. My granddad was worth every tear. I’m still reminded of him and my grandmother whenever I smell cigar smoke. They used to sit together of an evening and smoke, and then grandma would air out the rooms, turn off all the lights and go to bed. Regardless of anyone else being in the room, including granddad.

The last ferry trip I took together with my parents was from Denmark to Sweden after the last visit we made to see grandma. It was very odd, that whole visit. Only ten years before that I had dramatically improved my Danish in order to speak with her and it introduced a period of getting to know my amazing grandmother better, with a couple of lessons in cigar smoking thrown in. She was a social smoker and had stopped after granddad died, but took it upon herself to impart upon my unworthy being that exclusive art for the sake of my social well being.

But that last time we went to see her she was no longer as lucid as before and had invented an alternative reality to help fill in the gaps in the one she couldn’t quite come to terms with. She was no longer able to associate the young woman she had in front of her with the image of the ‘Little One’, a title bestowed on the youngest member of each generation. She invented a second marriage for my mother, gave my father the dubious role of being that second husband and kept asking me about my little sister – or was that a little brother? she asked politely, keeping up appearances at all cost. In my insecurity at how to handle this I clung to my trusty medium format Bronica and took a series of portraits of her while mum conversed about freshly invented family members. 12 frames. Most of them showing a lovely elderly lady unable to make contact with the members of the living world. Then suddenly, as I was down to that last, 12th, frame she tilted her head up, looked sharply straight into the lens with her good eye, and clunk! I had one frame with an image of my grandmother just as I remembered her.
Driving home from Odense I took it upon myself to drive most of the way, for no other reason than that I actually really like driving. By the time we got off the ferry in Sweden I was good and tired and eventually had to ask dad to take over the wheel. I promptly fell asleep, and just as promptly woke up from a sudden jolt and spray of water across my face. Shocked into wakefulness I saw that the entire windscreen was milky white and that my father, still driving, was staring at the road ahead through a hole at the bottom. ‘What was that??’ I squeaked. ‘That was a moose.’ was his matter-of-fact reply as he continued to drive towards the border. ‘?!” I said eloquently. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said ‘I’ll just drive straight to the SAAB garage where they’ll fix the car.’ It was midnight. We were 3 hours from Norway.

Of course, when the police arrived we were subjected to the indignities of their jokes about Norwegians going moose-hunting in Sweden outside the hunting season, then they took off to find the moose to check on its state after the impact. I heard the shot that put an end to its suffering.

There were no ferry trips in quite a long time after that, not until I bought my second motorbike and decided that I wanted to take it to Norway to show my parents instead of just waiting for them to come see me. I was tough back then. I rode Molly (another ‘she’) to Newcastle, took the ferry overnight to Kristiansand and went to my sister’s house instead of mum and dad’s. I had not told my mum anything about this silly plan as it would have deprived her, the Eternal Worrier, of sleep for good. I was the first biker to arrive at the ferry terminal in Newcastle where I was directed to a separate lane all to myself. There I put the bike on its centre-stand, perched on top of it and took out my embroidery. Embroidery. Until then, the car-drivers had kept a healthy distance to the evil-looking, if small, black-clad biker. Now, within seconds, I found myself surrounded by talkative men who wanted to talk bikes. I know nothing about bikes. I just ride them. What is it with men? And I shall never forgive them for their total lack of imagination in approaching a female biker: ‘So, luv, wotsit laik ‘avn a big engin’ laik dat throbbin’ between your legs, eh…?’ (insert sleazy grin) You’ll never know.

My last ferry trip was in May when taking Cleo over. That was a delightful trip, though strangely I once more found myself shunned by other drivers, and this time there was no embroidery to cushion the impact of my dark and broody looks. But I was eventually approached by a tall slim man who over dinner told me all about his failed marriage to a Russian woman.

This time we are travelling together, Kevin and I. I won’t have to suffer the company of strange [sic] men and hear stories about wives who don’t understand (yeah, sure). I will have Kevin for company, bouncing around like a bunny on speed demonstrating his sheer joy at travelling The Civilised Way.


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