Worshipping the North Sea God

In his book Cycling Back to Happiness, English journalist Bernie Friend covers 6,000 kilometres of northern Europe on a bicycle. In his last stop in Germany, he strikes up an unlikely friendship.

Worshipping the North Sea God

I couldn’t believe this was happening and was still pinching myself walking through the door. Just how could this girl take the massive risk of inviting two complete strangers, who she could barely communicate with, back to her home? The risks were so high. We could have been a tag-team of wrong-uns, with less than honourable intentions, plotting to force ourselves on our new found host, with or without her consent.

As Christina emptied the entire contents of her fridge on to a coffee table, I just couldn’t get my head around how trusting she was. This was a whole new mindset to me. I’d never met anybody quite like her before. At home these actions would be dismissed as naïve. It would have been ‘her fault’ if something had gone wrong. But out here, in another alien town by the sea, it was a miracle of human kindness. She really couldn’t do enough for us. Me and Rhys just stared at each other in amazement as she started singing to herself, merrily slapping butter on bread and filling sandwiches, before sloshing about beakers full of fizzy orange pop.

Convinced we were fully fed and watered, Christina leapt across the room to examine a small CD collection. Her favourite bands were all German, the Beat Steaks and Weft, who sounded like American guitar rock wannabes, were given a whirl. Another group was Diesterne, doppelgangers with Inspiral Carpets bobbed fringes who ripped off everything from early Pink Floyd to The Animals’ version of House of the Rising Sun. Pretty much just howling over the original riffs.

We’d already erected tents among the mini canyons of Camp Mole Hill, slap bang next to the sea wall, making the alternative of topping-and-tailing on a sofa bed next to Rhys’ mature odour eaters a luxurious proposal. But our hostess with the mostess had that base covered too, returning to the living room with a bowl of scented oils and massaging Rhys’ smelly, hard-skinned soles. Unashamed groans of multiple pleasure followed as Christina prodded, pushed and rubbed with her fingers and hands. I think Rhys was getting into it too.

I couldn’t believe this. I was going to wake up in a minute, rolling over in my sleeping bag to scrum a hard clump of earth poking through the tent floor. But this was reality. An angel had flown down to care for our every whim. Christina wanted to be our slave for the night, which was a little bit embarrassing because I didn’t want to take the piss, but she was relishing every moment. What she couldn’t spit out in English, Christina attempted to explain through laughter, theatrical arm waving and facial expressions, always lit by that beautiful big smile. She was just happy to have us for company and plug the gap of what I guessed must have been a sometimes lonely existence.

Christina was only 25 and her parents lived in town, but all her school chums had ditched Büsum in search of high paid jobs under the bright lights. Our guardian was left behind and didn’t seem to have been anywhere else, content to serve up ice cream, listen to crap bands and eat salami in her ivory tower. Her nan lived in France and she had an aunt in Mexico, but didn’t like boats or planes. The furthest Christina had spread her wings was the grubby Danish port of Esbjerg, which was only a couple of hundred kilometres away. But she hated abandoning Büsum and its sunshine, which she punctuated with a circling of her hands and a sad down-turned lip. So to recap, Christina didn’t like travelling or leaving home. No wonder the three of us stumbled across each other. This strange little girl could have been a long lost sister.

‘Why did you go to the beach after work?’ I asked.

‘To offer pray to the spirits of the sea. This I do on all night times. It is very important to me.’

‘So you say prayers to the North Sea God. That must make you the North Sea Wife.

‘Yes, I like. I am your North Sea Wife for tonight. I look after you.

You are my new friends.’

The most special thing about this touching chance encounter was a complete lack of sexual agenda. Neither of us were planning to crack on with Christina. It was a forging of instant friendships and mutual benefits, which made me feel all warm and girly inside, as well as restoring some faith in the humanity of an increasingly unfriendly world. But, as always, there was a sting in the tail. And this time it came with a lingering ouch!

Christina shoved a yellow leaflet in my hand. A picture of a well groomed, dark haired young man and a crucifix sat above a wad of German print. Not getting it at first, I thought this confirmed my hunch that Christina was part of some fanatical bible-bashing circle. Only religious nutters would pity a couple of scallywags such as Mr Chisam and myself by scooping us off the street. And then I twigged. Oh no! It was a funeral notice and a picture of Christina’s boyfriend Nathaneal. She told me he died three years ago from a ‘broken’ heart. He was only 23 and they were very much in love when what must have been an undetected major organ defect turned into a fatal attack. It obviously still hurt Christina, but that infectious smile never wavered as she struggled to find the right words to explain.

‘Now you see why I make pray,’ said Christina, pushing the flats of her hands together. ‘To speak to Nathaneal, for protection from the sea spirits and for beautiful Büsum sunshine. Our meeting was not chance. The North Sea God brought you to me so I could look after you and have company. I will now pray they protect you on your journey. Come see.’

Christina grabbed my hand and led me to the bathroom. Flabbergasted eyes nearly popped out of my head on stalks. The back wall of the room was a shrine to the ‘North Sea God’, who was a woman, which will please that irritating mike for a mouth bore of a lesbian in the Scissor Sisters.

Blue netting cradling shells and starfish draped from one corner of the room to the other, like a flowing cape hanging from the shapely shoulders of the painted wooden figurine nailed to its centre. She was a Goddess in every sense of the word, a stunning olive skinned brunette with deep red pouting lips and a set of heavenly curving breasts. Blue seaweed clung around the exposed bosom, above a tight velvet skirt and large pink shrimp buckle covering up her lady bits. Feelings of puberty left long undisturbed began to stir. It was like the first time I realised it was Betty I wanted to Bedrock more than Wilma from the Flintstones given half achance.

I know, I know. Once you get more worldly wise you realise Fred’s red head is more of a filthy dirt bag and you don’t give sweet and innocent Betty a second glance. How I ever made the schoolboy error of overlooking Wilma’s slutty torn dress still haunts me now.

Snapping out of my fetish for wooden women and cartoon characters it was time to get closely acquainted with Rhys’ newly perfumed toes and ankles. Sinking deeper into a fluffy cushion, hypnotised by the dreamy whispers of Jim Morrison’s stereo poetry, the opium scented vapour of joss sticks forced my heavy eyelids towards surrender.

The North Sea Wife blew out the candles, flickering on stands around the room, and in a hushed voice as soft as silk wished ‘sweetest dreams’ upon us. I didn’t even make a count of ten.

‘Cycling Back to Happiness’ (ISBN 9781906206710) is published by Pen Press and is available to buy and order in all book stores across Europe. For the rest of the world visit or contact [email protected]