‘That’s why they get this boat,’ said the ship’s barman. ‘So they can behave like arseholes.’
The Viking Line XPRS nudged out of Helsinki – a market town founded in 1550, currently celebrating its 200th year as capital – bound for Tallinn, Estonia. Outside the windows lay rocky, low-lying islets; inside lay karaoke.
‘I don’t even hear it anymore,’ he continued, as the ballyhoo grew louder. An Eastie Beastie, dressed in ripped stonewashed jeans – groovily fastened with a white fabric belt, no less – had taken the microphone. ‘But you’re right, it is terrible.’
He handed me a pint. I reeled when he wanted actually paying; surely alcohol ought to be offered as some sort of recompense for the din? Sitting on a sofa, pondering how social inhibition, pride and moderation have failed to reach this part of the world, I sipped frugally – partly because of the price.
A menagerie of middle-aged Finns sat slavering around the bar, bound by a love of hard spirits and misplaced esprit de corps, each awaiting his or her diabolical turn at the microphone. Luckily, I didn’t have long to wait for another corking melody. The next fellow was already stumbling up to the stage, entangling himself beautifully in the PA cable.
‘I did it my way,’ he crooned, out of tune and smashed off his tits. He canted backwards at a dangerous angle, squinted at the screen and put everything into a ripsnorting finale, blissfully unaware of either intonation or the concept of decorum.
Now, ignore the fact for one moment that whoever invented karaoke ought to have their skull cracked like a brazil nut; what is it about Finnish guys and drinking?
Last night, I popped my head into Storyville Jazz Club to catch Nat Newborn’s Tribute to the Rat Pack. (It’s worth clicking the Storyville hyperlink; there’s a picture of a Norwegian giant that caught me off-guard and stuck her tongue down my throat last time I was in.) And the second I’d sat down amid this demi-monde of idlers, I was grinned at by a young man with halibut-like eyes and a ponytail. Late twenties, I should say.
Still, Tallinn was jolly nice, thanks for asking. All sixteenth-century walls, erotic massages, and medievally dressed wenches serving hot wine and sugared almonds. Oh, and Skype was invented there, too..