In Part Four of Brian’s Karaoke World Tour and we’re off to Sweden. And Finland. Well, it’s actually in the middle of the two on the overnight Stockholm to Turku ferry (this was part of my ‘Ferry’ chapter for my book Planes, Trains & Elephants). I was leading a group of Hong Kong Chinese on a Russia/Scandinavia tour for tour company Top Deck and my passengers were very, very excited because there was an all-you-can-eat buffet followed by karaoke. I both love and loathe buffets. I love them because you have so much food to choose from, and I loathe them because you have so much food to choose from. I feel I should try everything, and end up heaping my plate with 14 different dishes. And I can tell you with some authority that Thai red curry chicken, spaghetti marinara and sausage rolls don’t taste that flash all mixed in together.
My passengers were already in their seats when I arrived. They were all eyeing off the piles of food just waiting for me to give them the go-ahead. What happened after that was sheer madness. I have to admit that I’ve been known to stack up the odd prawn or two at a buffet, but my passengers would have even out-stacked Santa Claus. They made me look like Weight-watcher of the Year. One fellow had created a feat of engineering that rivalled the Great Wall of China. He’d somehow managed to pile at least 50 prawns on to one plate. On second thoughts, maybe it looked more like the Eiffel Tower. The massive display of smoked salmon was gone in seconds. Other diners looked on in horror. I wouldn’t be surprised if it became forever known, and often talked about, as the Great Salmon Riot.
I think the passengers got ‘All you can eat’ confused with ‘Can you eat all?’. Dessert was another free-for-all. Even the normally sensible piled their plates high with leaning towers of cheesecake, apple Danish and chocolate mousse. And the not-so-sensible ones? Well, I thought I mixed odd food combinations together at a buffet. One guy had smoked eel on his Black Forest chocolate cake.
My group had been looking forward to the ship’s karaoke bar for the past few days. So much so in fact, that they’d been practicing—to the dismay of our neighbours in the campsite in Stockholm. I left the food frenzy to get a good table at the karaoke bar just as one of my passengers returned to the table with his fifth serve of cheesecake. The bar was quiet. There were only a few beautiful Scandinavian types propped up at the bar. No one was singing yet. I moved several tables together so my group all could sit together. An hour and a half later I was still sitting at the now-very-large table by myself. Not one single passenger had turned up. They couldn’t possibly still be at the buffet—they’d already eaten every prawn on the ship. They must have got lost. I’d better find them, I thought. Besides that, I was getting tired of saying, ‘Sorry, these 22 seats are taken.’
I found them in the enormous duty-free store. They were spending the equivalent of a small country’s GDP on perfume and stuffed toys. ‘Yes,’ they told me, ‘we are coming to karaoke soon.’ Three came. The rest collapsed in their rooms under the weight of prawns, cheesecake and perfume fumes. I sang first then my three remaining passengers got up together to sing. They did an extraordinarily accurate impression of a dying cat. By the time they had finished singing then promptly left they had cleared half the bar and I had 22 seats all to myself again.
Next time on Brian’s Karaoke World Tour: England