The gentle roar (it’s too loud to be termed a hiss) of the air conditioning, filtered through the crisp, white cotton of the duvet cover, sounds like running water, rushing through a slightly echoey metal pipe to an unknown destination. There is also a rhythm to it, much like those ceiling fans in hot countries that revolve lazily but also move up and down in an uneven fashion, to create a breeze rather than just move the air around. The unevenness of the gentle pulsing thud sounds like the feet of a runner who trips up just moments from the finish line, but manages, despite losing all pattern and rhythm, to keep his balance and stagger, in a slightly drunken fashion, over the finish line. Lying here in the dark, I can even visualise his almost fall, over and over again, as the white noise of the air con is translated by my semi-conscious brain into patterns it is programmed to seek, even when they are not there. In fact the sound of rushing water is so convincing, I have to lift the duvet away from my ear, to reassure myself that the cabin is not filling with water while I lie tucked up complacently warm and cosy in my bed.
The wardrobes, three of them, single-doored and real wood, albeit with plastic doorhandles, creak reassuringly. Ships should creak. It’s a tradition or an old charter or something* and if it isn’t, it should be. We’ve all seen Hornblower or similar and we know what a ship should sound like at night. Ships should creak. It’s a reassuring sound that says, ‘the ocean may be moving under you, but we can flex and adapt and all will be well’. Well, even if a ship is made of steel and fibre-glass and more steel and plastic and more steel and glass, the wardrobes are still wooden and they creak just as they should, although perhaps more quietly than Nelson or Raleigh would recognise, but then they had whole boats of wood to listen to, I have only wardrobes.
Each of the wardrobes has a shelf inside at the top, just above head height, with a lifejacket on it. The doors when closed all display a small green glow in the dark sticker in the top left-hand corner of the door, so that, should you need a lifejacket in the dark, you can find your way to one. Although this ship has so many lifejackets on it, the ones in the wardrobes are really a last resort.
And all the time the ship moves: up, down, a judder of a motor here, a creak of a wardrobe there, and the hangers tap nervously against the wardrobe doors as if asking to be let out. Um, excuse me, can we come out now please? No, sorry, you’re fixed to the rail, my friends, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.**
All these sounds are constant and repetitive, and combine with the tick of my bedside clock to almost hypnotise me to sleep. Only the sporadic muffled thumps of my neighbours turning in or the footprints of the people in the art gallery above occasionally dropping a painting onto my ceiling as they turn around their stock serve to disturb me.
Tonight I have been lying awake trying to remember how Withnail and I ends. Anyone?
* First Robert Rankin reference of this cruise?