Chapter 22 – The ghost ship, the cat lady and the dolls.
Windswept had arranged a five day songwriting trip for me in Norway, Denmark & Sweden, and this time Andy would be joining me as guitarist and co-writer. I was happy about that – not just because he’s my playmate and beau, but also because we work well together, he knows me musically and his presence can help steer things should they take a turn for the pop-tastic worse. We were all set to go, Emily had arranged our transport and accommodation, all we had to do was show up.
We were going to be working with three different songwriters on this trip, the first was Espen Lind: a Norwegian record producer, songwriter, singer, and multi-instrumentalist based in Oslo who is also one half of the production team Espionage. The second would be the production team Deadmono who are based in Stockholm – you’ll be hearing a lot more about them soon. Then lastly David Eriksen; a Norwegian producer and songwriter based in Denmark.
Andy and I roll up to our first nights accommodation in Oslo, Norway. Emily has been trying to reign in the budget, which is why Andy and I are now staring openmouthed, at the stationary ship before us. Andy looks at me doubtfully “A ship?” I throw a positive spin on it, “ah it looks cosy and romantic!” and cosy it is, but romantic it is not. We are led to a tiny cabin, that consists of a small porthole, and two narrow bunk beds. The boat creaks, and rocks gently from side to side – I can also feel my lunch lurching from side to side. I’m immediately convinced the ship is haunted, and I feel seasick. Andy looks concerned “Jode – you’re green, and we’ve only been aboard for 5 minutes!” It was going to be a long night.
It was with great relief that we disembarked that ship the next morning. The bunks were so narrow, so turning from one side to the other was impossible and every time we attempted to sit up we would smack our heads on the ceiling … I also couldn’t stop thinking about the terrifying ghost story The upper berth – suffice to say I had the bottom bunk, and I didn’t sleep a wink.
On our first full day of songwriting with Espen Linde we wrote, recorded and finished a lung-buster of a rock song … I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to book into our hotel and collapse. But first we had to travel to Stockholm in Sweden. I looked at our itinerary and only then did I notice that Emily had booked us into a Bed & Breakfast. Now as we all know, B&B’s in the UK function in a similar way to hotels: guest are shown to a clean, freshly laundered guest room, with basic facilities and en-suite (or shared bathroom). However, as we were about to discover, the B&B’s equivalent in Sweden often functions more like a homestay, which basically means you move into a persons house, and sample their way of life, living alongside them, like a family member.
Now I have nothing against homestays, and I agree with the statement that ‘a stranger is simply a friend you haven’t met yet’ (well, providing you like them of course, and providing they’re not a knob / murderer / rapist etc) HOWEVER, after the night we had just had, all we wanted was a quiet relaxing evening, in a nice, clean, comfortable room. We eventually arrive, and knock on the door of what looks like a really small house.
“This can’t be a B&B can it?” Andy asks, “It’s a tiny bungalow … where are all the rooms?” Andy assumes we’re at the wrong house, but Emily’s good at budgeting, so I suspect we’re not.
We hear heavy footsteps approach the door, and we stiffen. The door swings open and a tall, broad, stern looking figure looms over us … she’s wearing a dark green polo neck and chunky knit cardi (I do forget names, but I never forget knitwear.) She fills the entire doorway, and peers down over the rim of her horn-rimmed spectacles like a formidable Mrs Doubtfire, except her hair is not a coiffed blonde do, it is scraped back into a sever bun, and it is fading to grey. She clasps her butcher-sized fingers under her ample bosom and speaks in broken english “Aha! we have been expecting you!”
So Andy and I had just spent the night on a (haunted) ship with coffin-style bunks and we were now standing in the doorway of what we hoped would be a regular B&B, but it is not.
(To recap) We hear heavy footsteps approach the door, and we stiffen. The door swings open and a tall, broad, stern looking figure looms over us … she’s wearing a dark green polo neck and chunky knit cardigan (I do forget names, but I never forget knitwear.) She fills the entire doorway, and peers down over the rim of her horn-rimmed spectacles like a formidable Mrs Doubtfire, except her hair is not a coiffed blonde do, it is scraped back into a sever bun, and it is fading to grey. She clasps her butcher-sized fingers under her ample bosom and speaks in broken english “Aha! we have been expecting you!”
Andy and I exchange a look, Andy sneezes.
The cat lady directs us into the lounge, which is just a couple of steps away from the front door. I can’t remember her name (surprisingly) so lets call her Mildred. I realise Mildred probably isn’t a typical Swedish name … I could google ‘Swedish lady names’ but these blogs take me long enough to get out as it is, so let’s go with Mildred.
Mildred’s lounge is small, compact and full to the brim with stuff; ornaments, nick-naks, piles of books, baskets, magazines, balls of wool and …. cats. Andy sneezes. I’m a bit of a hoarder myself so I am quite impressed by Mildred’s hoarding skills. In the centre of the room is a large armchair which faces a large old-fashioned eighties-style television.
“I’ll show you to your room” Chirps Mildred loudly. In two more footsteps Mildred is standing at what appears to be our bedroom door, which is one arm length away from Mildred’s armchair. So every time we’d need to enter or leave the room, we would need to squeeze past Mildred, in her chair. I briefly daydream Mildred as a B&B bouncer armed with knitting needles for weapons. Back in the room I know Andy is staring at me but I avoid his gaze, there is nothing to be done. It’s the survival of the fittest now. We take tentative steps forward to avoid knocking anything over, and the three of us are now standing squashed together outside the bedroom door. Andy sneezes again. Mildred looks down at him sharply … “is there a problem”?
“No” sniffs Andy quickly. He looks around the room “do you have … a cat by any chance?” he asks.
“I have three cats. Why? you don’t like pussycats!??”
“No, no not at all I er … love cats (he doesn’t) and I’m jus … *sneezes* … allergic” (which is true).
Mildred looks at Andy with a mixture of shock and disgust, like he’s just spat a fur ball into her tea. Then she turns and continues the tour like nothing had happened.
“This is your room! well it’s actually my daughters room but she is away studying. My bedroom is next door and the bathroom is next to that. Breakfast is at 7.30am sharp!”
We shuffle into the room and Mildred closes the door behind us. We stand silently, taking in our surroundings. Teen posters line every inch of wall space, but what really takes my breath away – is the dolls. Big dolls, little dolls, freaky-looking dolls and stuffed dolls look down at us from every shelf. I appear to a have walked into my own personal nightmare, because I DO NOT LIKE dolls. As a child I loved monsters, clowns, and ugly looking creature were all fine but If someone gave me a plastic babydoll as a child (the ones which close their eyes when they’re horizontal) my lip would go and I’d cry. My great Aunt Mary once gave me a giant-sized plastic doll that was almost two feet tall. It was the same size as me, and I thought it had come to kill me. Thankfully my dad was equally freaked out – he took one look at it and said “Cor’ blimey Mary, sorry love, that’s not getting in our car!” Later, as a 16 year old babysitter I once quit a job because there was a similar-sized beast always sitting in the bathroom which meant I could never use the loo. And even now, as a fully grown 30-something adult, if I stay with a friend who’s kids has dolls, I take no shame in hiding them in a cupboard under the stairs before I go to bed. So you see, I don’t do dolls.
I freeze and hiss “Andy – the DOLLS!!!”
“it’s ok, it’s ok, don’t panic! Emily’s probably made a mistake, give her a call and see what’s happened, perhaps she can put us in a local hotel…” His eyes are streaming now. I stand by the window and call Emily, when she answers I explain the situation in hushed tones. “She’s scary Em, and there’s loads of cats and dolls, there’s DOLLS!”
Emily says it’s a bit late in the day to move elsewhere, she suggests we stay the night and see how we feel in the morning. I’m not convinced we’ll live through the night, but I reluctantly agree.
We need air so we head out for dinner. We also need to find some allergy tablets for Andy. We open the door and edge past Mildred who is sitting in her armchair, surrounded by her cats. The cats look at us with disdain and immediately make a bee-line for Andy (they always do) so we shuffle out as fast as we can.
We eventually find allergy tablets, and after some food, a few drinks and some smokes we decide that perhaps it’s not as bad as we think. We head back in a more positive frame of mind, but before we go to sleep I make Andy turn each and every doll around to face the wall. However, the night wasn’t over yet, and the worse was yet to come.