A hurricane in the North Sea?

Esbjerg PedestrianArea

Esbjerg PedestrianArea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We hadn’t been told where we were going. The best man told us where to turn up and to pack for a few days away. Eventually, our coach, packed with rogues and vagabonds, turned up at a port. The terminal was chaotic. The departure boards told us our destination, Esbjerg. “Where the hell’s Esbjerg” asked Bob the Fish.

Eventually we boarded, an hour late, and made our way to the bar. Although the vessel was a glorified ferry, the operators had cruise ship aspirations and there was a full entertainment programme. The compere was a dead ringer for Dale Winton, just a little more camp. He took a shine to us and kept coming over to our table. Someone suggested he fancied Bob the Fish, although I doubt anyone believed that.

The crossing was rough and our drinks slid around on the ringed table. Although much of it slopped over the sides, we consumed enough to ensure a good night’s sleep in our tiny cabins. When we awoke, the ship  had docked and we made our way into town. We had a look around, but found ourselves inexorably drawn to Esbjerg’s only Irish bar, Hairy Mary’s.

The following morning, there was a compulsory sightseeing trip whilst they cleaned the ship. Our party split into those who were hung over enough to insist on staying on board  (including the groom to be) and those who went sightseeing (including myself and the best man). The tour guide introduced himself and the itinerary. It didn’t sound exciting.

“What do you think of my English?” he asked. The coach replied with a chorus of “very good” and “yes”. He explained that Danish children study English from the age of 5, but don’t start learning German until they reach 11. “You might think this is strange, as the only country we border is Germany. This is because we hate the Germans!”

He pointed out Esbjerg’s tallest building (which had burned down) and 3 enormous statues. He asked us if we liked them. Again, a chorus of “very nice” and “yes” from the coach. “We hate them” he said. “They were a gift from the German government.” He took us to a fish museum (which was more interesting than it sounds). Bob the Fish was in his element.

We eventually found ourselves in a quaint Danish village, when I received a phone call. It was the groom-to-be. He told me that the ship would not sail in the morning as planned so they were going to jump on a train over to Copenhagen and fly home. I passed him over to the best man and they had a blazing row.

When returned to Esbjerg, a storm had really taken hold. It was difficult to stand. It was even more difficult after a night in Hairy Mary’s. Making our way back to the ship involved leaning into the wind at a 45 degree angle. At one point, I turned my back to the wind and was astonished to see the road we’d just traversed submerged in water. The cars from the adjacent car park floated into the sea.

Panic reigned inside the terminal building. An angry mob had assembled at the enquiries desk. A German man at the front screamed at the lady behind the counter “You told me my car would be safe!”, every syllable punctuated by his fist slamming on the desk. Somehow, we managed to blag a flight home in the morning  for which we swore not to tell a soul and made our way onto the ship.

We told Dale Winton our story. He told the ship. A TV crew came on board to film the passengers. They interviewed us and Bob the Fish announced our free flights home on Danish TV. As we left to catch our flight, Dale Winton handed the best man a tape. He’d recorded our interview for us. He joked that recorded over his favourite porno. The best man looked very nervous heading through customs.

Being terrified for fun – I don’t get it

An example of a roller coaster, one of the sta...

An example of a roller coaster, one of the staples of modern amusement parks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is one branch of technology that baffles me. In amusement parks across the world, ever more advanced machinery is being rolled out together with complex, computerised control systems. This machinery is designed with the express purpose of terrifying the users. People flock to these meccas of terror in their thousands to experience the flood of endorphins that accompany being scared out of their collective wits.

The amusement park industry is worth about $25Bn a year, so there is a big incentive to develop new rides to gain market share. Because the rides are so complex, they cost a fortune to develop. Universal StudiosJurassic Park ride is reputed to have cost twice as much to develop as the movie it’s named after. It took 6 years to design and build, cost $100m and it remains the most expensive ride ever developed.

These machines are truly colossal feats of engineering. The tallest are over 125m tall. The longest is nearly 2.5km long and speeds approaching 100mph are not unusual. The idea behind amusement parks is not new. There is an amusement park in Klampenborg in Denmark that has been around for over 400 years.

I once found myself walking through the Pleasure Beach amusement park in Blackpool. I was with some companions and we were chatting away. We must have been lost in whatever the topic of conversation was, because somehow, we ended up at the top of a set of stairs about to board “The Big One“. As roller coasters go, the Big One is fairly tame by world standards. It stands a mere 65m tall and runs for just under 1.7km.

I’d never been on a roller coaster before, so I thought what the hell. I’ll give it a go. We sat in the seats and pulled the safety bar down. A countdown began and then we began our slow ascent up to the apex of the roller coaster. The ascent took an awfully long time and staring out the side, I noticed with some alarm how high up we were and how little steel seemed to be holding us there.

English: Part of the Big Dipper with Infusion ...

English: Part of the Big Dipper with Infusion behind it and the Pepsi Max Big One dwarfing both of them in the background (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Slowly, we crawled to the point of no return. When we reached the peak, we almost seemed to hover, staring down into what seemed like an abyss in front of us. Suddenly, we plunged. The acceleration was terrifying, but worse was yet to come. When we hit the bottom, the full force of gravity reminded us who was boss and my head was flung forward, alarmingly close to the safety bar.

About halfway round the ride, there was a technical failure of some sort which meant we came to an abrupt halt. We hung at a terrifying angle, staring at the ground some distance below us. Eventually, the ride was restarted, but we had lost nearly all our forward momentum and the centrifugal force necessary to keep us in our seats just wasn’t there. I was convinced I was going to fall out.

Eventually we made it to the finish and I couldn’t wait to get out. My companion, however, had other ideas and he was sat in my way. He told me to relax and that we would get another go because of the glitch. As if on cue, a voice came over the microphone “Sorry about that folks – would you like another go?”. Somehow my feeble cry of “No!” was drowned out by all the other yeses and we had to do the whole thing again.

I have never been so terrified. I literally had to prise my fingers off the safety bar and I had jelly legs for about an hour afterwards. Never again!