Saturday, 12 January 2008

It's Not Easy Being an Infidel

Norwegian Dream: 50,000 tons of licensed premises
That rant in my last posting reminded me of how religion can really land you in trouble. A few years back, my friend Mohammed asked me to join him on a corporate booze cruise. Now if you're unfamiliar with the concept of such things, it works like this.

An event company books a bloody great big cruise liner. It then sells space on the ship to companies who want to put their proposition in front of important people. These places cost around £10,000 a go. The event company then invites captains of industry for a four day cruise, all expenses paid, entertainment and alcohol abuse thrown in. The captains of industry merely have to consent to a 15 minute interview with the people who've paid for the jolly.

Food and fine wine play a large part in this, especially the latter. In fact fine may be the wrong adjective. Copious might be more apt.

Mohammed, as his name suggests, is Muslim, and therefore forbidden to purchase alcohol. I, on the other hand, am some undefined form of agnostic. It's perfectly reasonable therefore to regard my soul as doomed anyway. So I was asked along to fulfil the role of disposable infidel.

Dinner each evening was a black tie affair, accompanied by several bottles of a certain age. It was my job to do the corporate entertaining. Now I am to heavy drinking what Paul Schofield is to Up Pompeii. The small hours each night saw me strolling calmly back to the cabin to which Mohammed retired at a sober ten o'clock. Most nights I was OK as long as no one trod on my hands.

Then comes the Saturday night gala party. Oh no. By 10 o'clock, Mo's outline is already becoming unfocused. He stands and politely takes his leave. I stand and politely knock sherry trifle into my neighbour's lap. "Oi! Garcon! Encore de bleedin' vino ici, pronto! Comprende?"

At 04.30, having impressed everyone with my witty urbanities, profound social insight and stale knock-knock jokes, I make for the cabin. Note to ship designers: bad move to make all the corridors look the same. And if people don't lock their doors I can't be blamed for getting into bed with them. Finally finding the one containing the right sleeping Asian I stumble into bed. Unconsciousness rises to meet me.

It's strange that, whatever time - and whatever state - I go to sleep, I wake at 6.30. Today the creak as my eyelids open is deafening. There seems to be a dead toad in my mouth. I stagger to the shower praying for an ultimate fate that's swift, painless and - ideally - someone else's.

The hot water turns into a wadaiko band on my skull and I put my hands up to lessen the pain. Hang on, hair shouldn't be sharp should it? I appear to have grown stalagmites. I'm going to have to risk opening my eyes all the way.

Oh shit. I've turned brown.

Streaks of hardened bilirubinous material cover 70% of my body. Just how drunk was I last night? Is it possible to be so drunk that you... no, the concept's unthinkable. I complete the most thorough shower of my life with thoughts racing. Somewhere in there it occurs to me that the bed must be in a similar state.

Oh shit.

Back in the cabin, Mo sleeps on, snoring righteously in his neatly turned-down bed. My own is less well-presented. Only the pillow is visible, but there are brown stains visible even on that. This isn't looking good. With predictable trepidation I gingerly pull back the sheet.

Oooooh shit. I replace the sheet

What to do? If I can hide it from Mo then that's one embarrassment avoided, but what will the cabin staff think of me? I'm stuck on this ship for another two days yet for God's sake!

Oh-kay. Take it one step at a time. If I can strip the bed and get the sheets into the bath, then all I have to explain is why they're wet. It's not a complete solution, but it's a start. I start to pull off the bedclothes.

And find the chocolate wrapper.

One side effect of last night's anaesthetic is that I forgot that the cabin staff come in each evening to turn back the top sheet and place a huge chocolate truffle on your pillow. Despite a hangover bigger than a darts player's shirt front I love the cleaning people and want their children. In a ship regularly filled with drunks like me, this must be familiar territory for them. I put the wrapper on the pillow where it can't be missed and add some money as a tip along, with a note saying "sorry for the mess".

When Mo wakes he's amused, unhungover and unsympathetic; he makes maximum noise as we head for breakfast. Over the next couple of days I meet the cabin staff in the corridors, and get the distinct feeling that they don't like me very much.

Predictably, the occurrence becomes one of Mohammed's favourite anecdotes and last week he told it to yet another of his business acquaintances who might otherwise have become one of my clients. I mentioned that I seemed to have become unpopular in the remaining days on board the Norwegian Dream.

"Didn't I tell you?" he grinned, "As we left the cabin I took the chocolate wrapper."

The Road to Hell is Paved With Bad Inventions

Well then, that's the festive season over and done with. You'll notice, of course, that I call it the festive season, not Christmas. This is so that I don't offend anyone.

Well bollocks to that, because everyone should be offended by man's second worst, and most divisive invention: political correctness. The only thing that Orwell got wrong was the year.

The signs were there though, even back in the eighties. My wife banned me from school parents' evenings for getting into a fight with a teacher who wouldn't let me say "blackboard". In answer to his accusation of racism I asked him why he considered black to be bad, and it all went downhill from there.

But our twenty-first century world is threatened by an unholy alliance between political correctness and man's worst invention: religion. God must indeed have infinite patience to tolerate the atrocities we perpetrate in His name. We used to have Crusades and Jihads, now we have institutionalised fear and suspicion.

So our Christmas cards now say "Season's Greetings" in case we offend Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Jedi Knights or other groups who really aren't that upset that Britain contains the occasional Christian.

Last Festive Season I walked into the studio on Festive Season Eve to find everyone wearing Santa hats. Everyone including Javed, a devout Muslim, who'd sent Christmas cards to everyone else in the company. To Javed, Christmas was an important festival commemorating the birth of a great holy man. To the so-called Christians around him it was a good excuse for a piss-up. Whose sensibilities are we protecting here?

We've already proscribed our national flag, and by doing so created a rallying symbol for extremist white twats. Every victory for political correctness strengthens their armoury and brings the Thought Police closer to power.

Yet Another Update

OK, you win, I'll post another update. But then it's definitely time to get this blog back on track.

Tom had a further operation to seat the left side of the cerebellum more naturally in its compartment. This had an immediate effect and we've seen a slow but steady improvement since the op. Unless he gets tired, he'll now do the hand squeeze thing whenever we ask, and he's also added nose and eyebrow wiggles, thumbs-up and smile attempts to his repertoire.

The biggest step came on Wednesday when Eva asked Tom to wrinkle his nose, the resulting grimace made us laugh, and Tom responded with something that looked very like a smile.

Slow, slow progress, but it's all in the right direction.