Bits and pieces

Monday

First proper day for sunbathing. People are actually getting burnt and lounging in the pool and all the normal things you would expect on a cruise. Even I’ve got my legs out! A gentle breeze and a bit of cloud are keeping it deceptively lovely, but I’ve applied some sun cream, so hopefully I’ll be okay. There are some really lovely people on here. I’d probably enjoy them even more if I didn’t have a hangover and a UDI* at the back of my right calf. I’m on my third pint of diet coke, which is starting to clear my system out a bit, and I had a nice lunch, but I still feel the wrong side of dodgy. No headache or nausea but Advanced Fragile Around the Edges. Still, that’s what sunglasses are for!

Last night was karaoke in the nightclub. I sang California Dreaming, American Pie, Money for Nothing and That Don’t Impress Me Much, with varying degrees of accuracy/ success. Everyone joined in and at the end, the DJ sang Build Me Up Buttercup with Clem Curtis, lead singer of The Foundations (whose song it was). Sweet bloke, but he started pestering an Indian lady who clearly wasn’t interested. He’s a nice enough guy, but he seems to still have the sense of entitlement that goes with the really successful. Oh well, no one’s perfect, I suppose, and, boy, can he sing.

The nightclub is accessed down a curved corridor with a rather lovely little feature. Movement-activated lights. So you can do a sort of Billy Jean thing, except with overhead lights instead of paving slabs. It makes me giggle every time. It works better walking into the club than walking out, as the timing is a bit off that way round. Still, it makes going to the loo and coming back again surprisingly entertaining!

The sea is much calmer today and a bright royal blue in colour. The noon announcement said it was a Force 7, but I don’t believe a word of it. The water in the pool is staying where it should be, i.e. in the pool, and people are having to do their own work to get from end to end. The shiny metal sculpture in the shallow end that looks like a cross between a diving board and a wave is barely wobbling at all and no one on deck is falling or lurching or holding on at all. I don’t know where they get their wind Force figures from, but I think they’re looking at a different ship to the one I’m on.

There are quite a lot of non-flyers on this ship, of differing levels of militancy on the subject, i.e. those who are willing to give it a go/ make an exception and those who absolutely will not, except in case of dire medical emergency of themselves or a loved one, ever set foot near any form of flying apparatus. One lady even said she was unhappy on a hovercraft, because they were called ‘flights’. There are also those who don’t like heights, who presumably will not be coming up the wind turbine with me! But they’re a fit bunch, overall. The gym is heavily used and the pool almost always has someone in it, charging up and down doing their personal total of lengths before they feel entitled to a Walls Magnum or afternoon tea. I think the pace could best be described as Gentle But Determined. No one uses the Jacuzzi on its own – it seems to be reserved for use as a reward for having swum your required distance. You’re not here to enjoy yourself, you know. The pool water is lapping gently against the sides, making a noise not dissimilar to that you get in a boat moored upon a river, when the water gets trapped between the boat and the shore. It’s a very soothing sound and very relaxing. Only the triumphant yells of the table tennis competition down the far end breaks the quiet.

There is a lady sitting on the other side of the pool who is knitting something. At first we thought it was a string vest, but now it looks like a sort of spiral feather boa without the feathers. We have no idea what it is or what it is for, but it is keeping us entertained trying to guess! In the end, we watched her for several hours. When she finished it, we cheered and gave her a round of applause. She went bright pink and was clearly very embarrassed indeed! The final product was very pretty and I asked if she took commissions. She said not. I’m not sure when she’ll wear it though – tomorrow is a formal night, but it’s black and white and her boa thingy is blue! Still it’s lovely, whatever she does with it.

Tuesday

Phew, what a scorcher! I don’t think I’ll be sitting out in this too long, sun cream and hat or no. We’re really into the hot and heavy stuff now. There’s an occasional cloud and a shot of breeze across the deck, but for the most part, it’s just HOT now. The delightful band of nutters I sat with yesterday are not here today, which is a shame, but it’ll make chickening out and running for the shade less ignominious if they’re not here to laugh at me. On the back of deck 9, by the other pool, they are currently playing “Don’t fence me in” by way of muzak, which is an admirable sentiment for a cruise, until you remember that the lyrics are “Give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above”. A bit lacking in land in this part of the world, frankly. In fact, it is many days since we’ve seen anything of the kind and some people get quite antsy about it. It’s called cabin fever. No need to rub it in!

For days now, it’s just been sea, sea and more sea. This is a part of the world so devoid of anything to say about it, that the noon announcements tend to blather on about the mountains we are sailing over as we cross the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, some of the highest mountains on Earth. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is what happens when tectonic plates are torn apart, as opposed to Japan and New Zealand’s problems which are caused by plates coming together. The USA and Europe are moving apart by about an inch a year, if I recall, which suits me just fine. If only distancing ourselves economically and politically were always as easy. As the plates move apart, they cause a tear in the crust which allows volcanic stuff to shoot up through the sea floor and into the ocean, where it is promptly cooled into mountains and hills, just like ordinary volcanoes, but without ever reaching the surface. In a few million years, they’ll probably be added to and will breach the surface and a whole new set of islands will come into being, seriously giving the Canaries a run for their money, as regards prize locations.

Last night, I met some more new people, one of whom taught me something very important about the USA. Remember in the Eighties, when we got a bit narked with all their protectionism? Well, it never stopped. In fact, there is a law from 1920, called the Merchant Marine Act, which says that no US goods or passengers may travel from one US port to another other than on a US ship. All to protect the sanctity and business of US shipping lines. I was stunned when I heard it, but when I looked it up this morning, it’s true. It’s called cabotage, apparently, and forms part of what is known as Jones’s Law. Unfortunately, someone at P&O didn’t realise this – well, the law has only been in existence for 90 years, no rush – and has booked dozens of Americans onto cruises they can’t legally take. They won’t be best pleased, I imagine. It essentially means that US citizens cannot get on here at San Francisco and get off in LA. They have to get off in Vancouver, in Canada, and fly home. Only in America.

This may be why US travel agents have apparently never heard of P&O, despite being the World’s oldest cruise line. Princess? Yes. Carnival? Yes. P&O? No, not a clue. What’s that? If you can’t leave and arrive back in the States on a British ship, why would you sail on one?! If you use an American cruise line, you’ll have no problem. I have to say that this seems like protectionism gone somewhat too far, but no one else seems that bothered by it. I suppose if it’s been in place for 90 years, those in the know are used to it by now. I am intrigued, however, by the number of people, including P&O staff, clearly (!), who have never heard of it. I’ve been cruising for 12 years, and it’s the first I’ve heard of it, and I consider myself fairly well-informed. America for the Americans and everywhere else for everyone else. Again.

Black and white formal tonight and the last sea day tomorrow. Then the work starts. Antigua, St Maarten, St Lucia, Barbados, four ports in four days, with Barbados on Easter Sunday. I wonder how much of St Maarten will be closed for Good Friday?

Wednesday

Had another karaoke night last night. They are very popular and the singing standard is very high. Some new people turned up. Don’t know where they’ve been for a week, all very odd. Had a good time. Sang Hotel California, American Pie (the long version – about five verses!), I Will Survive with Hayley, Together in Electric Dreams in duet with Arwyn and did backing vocals with the DJ when Clem Curtis turned up to do Build me up Buttercup. Sheila and Dave came out to play last night for the first time. I think they had a good time. I volunteered John for Avenues and Alleyways and Take On Me, which he did in duet with Dave. He’s rather good!

Just when I thought I was sufficiently slowed down, laying on a sun lounger without feeling the need to do anything, we arrive in the Caribbean. Despite the fact that it is only about eighteen hours until the first flight takes off tomorrow morning from Antigua (helicopter over the Montserrat volcano, for the forgetful), they have yet to inform us what time our flights are. That’s the Caribbean lack of haste for you. It’s either morning or afternoon, apparently, although how that’s supposed to help, I’m a little unclear. Still, I suppose if we take our mobiles with us, we can always find each other if we have to. I just don’t know what time I need to be out of bed!

I now know that my excursion departs at 12.20, which is a surprisingly awkward time, if you think about it. It’s a two hour excursion, so you don’t get back til 2.30. Do you brunch early or take something with you, or try to hold out til you get back?! What if you’re delayed?! Tricky.

I have tried to avoid commenting on the news thus far, but the Arab Spring is now so prevalent and takes up so much of the television we receive, that it is unavoidable. Especially now that Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros have been killed in Misrata. Once cluster bombs started being mentioned, it seemed, to my cynical and rather jaded mind, anyway, that it was only a matter of time before a Westerner was hit and, only days later, I am proved sadly right. Ironically, on a day with less fighting than usual – Gadaffi’s forces have the decency to fire less when there are rescue ships collecting people, apparently – they got hit by mortar fire at the so-called front line. Why are we talking about a frontline at all? How does Gadaffi even begin to justify bombing his own people just because they disagree with him? We have to do more to help. If Nick Clegg started bombing St Neots, I would expect the international community to come to my aid, that’s for sure.

On the upside, news-wise, the Clementi suicide has now led to 15 (count them, 15!) criminal charges against his roommate. Good. Lock him up and throw away the key. Not just a hate crime, but tampering with evidence as well, combine to produce a pretty clear sense of his own guilt from where I’m sitting. We in the “West” call ourselves civilised and hold up our society as the kind others should be aiming for. We simply cannot allow a student to bully his roommate to death for being gay and let him get away with it.

I think I’ll end here. I apologise if this has seemed a bit “bitty”, but I’ve just been jotting down thoughts as they come to me. Time to upload and edit some photos, I think.

*Unidentified Drinking Injury

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