Saturday, 17 January 2009

Gale force winds

Despite being less than 24 hours old, this blog already has a small following. There's even a comment on the first despatch - in French! Wow.

I had an email from Debbie in Kentucky who used to work at Dover Harbour Board. She said "Do say how you rate the services at the Cruise Terminal." I shall, Debbie.

There is an amazing account online somewhere, reviewing this operation. Just before Christmas, on a cruise to Festive Markets in the Baltic, our very ship was delayed coming in to dock by storms. The crowd waiting to embark on the next junket was told at short notice they would have to find somewhere to sleep as they'd now be sailing the next day. Not easy, to find 1000 hotel beds in Dover. Some did OK, went to Folkestone. Some must have driven home. But some elderly types who no doubt remember Churchill decided to bed down at the terminal. There were 16 or 17 of them and the terminal staff eventually agreed to open up a different building for them where a security guard could be posted. However, I think it was not heated but nonetheless they stayed there, sleeping on the floor and those waiting-chairs, all night. So you see - going on a cruise can lead to all sorts of unexpected and wild adventures, even before you've left England. You have to be intrepid. And that includes navigating the social attitude to the whole idea.

My sister-in-law Gillie rang last night to say goodbye and to check on a few details.

"Wild sea-horses" she said "could not persuade me to go on a cruise." Actually, she said it twice, correcting me because I quoted it back to her without saying 'sea'.

And at my reading group last night (discussing 'Timbuktu' by Paul Auster), some of the gang will be going skiing and I thought they looked at me with a kind of pity - either because they know something I don't, or they wonder why I'm going at all. I see now I should have quizzed them about all this. Anthea was warm about it; she is booked to go on a musical cruise later this year on the same ship. Lizzie, who is not after all coming with us because her passport application got horribly tangled up, was too distressed to talk about it. She kept throwing back her head and breathing in a long, deep, mournful, aggrieved inward-dashing sigh.

I lay in bed last night listening to the shipping forecast. I suppose all over the world there are people who lie listening to that lilting litany of shipping areas for no good reason, imagining the great winds circling and swinging in direction over the waters, where the mountainous surfaces of the deep are shouldered into huge unrelenting deathtraps waiting for the fisherfolk or cargo carriers. And thinking of the Inshore Coastal Waters, where there may be people in small boats, just within sight of the land, but still worrying about the reliability of the horizon. My favourite account of the conditions is 'smoke'. Of course my purpose last night was more urgent. I wanted advance notice of the weather for our route - because I shall be in it. Despite the fact that the airs have been light for days, barely touching the cheek, I have to tell you there is a great storm coming across the Atlantic. I kid you not, it is going to hit Gale Force 8 and 9 all over the place and even Storm Force 10 in a couple of areas. If this wind were experienced onland, trees would be uprooted. And we are steaming right into it.

Outside as I write this in the early morning light, I can hear seagulls, no doubt driven inland by the dreadful conditions at sea. I can see small bits of fine rain falling, perhaps the outer edges of a hurricane. The sky is low, grey, rushing past... well, not really, but it is shifting along. Gulp.

I have to bathe and start to pack now. I have a list of chores and errands to do before we go, but can check off one of them: which is to write this episode. Next time you hear from me, it should be from on board the Amoral, sorry I mean the Balmoral. Built in 1988, 34,242 tons, former names Norwegian Crown and Crown Odyssey. Norwegian officers, 400 crew.

Debbie who used to work for the Harbour Board also said this: "I went on two Caribbean cruises courtesy of my folks, with Holland America. Loved it! Like theatre, you get more out of it if you suspend disbelief for the duration. Do take formal dress - you'll feel out of place at the Captain's Dinner elsewise. And it's a chance to get some wear out of that sequined jacket.... As for the other costume suggestions, it seemed to me that we boomers (is that too American?) were the ones who felt awkward about it. Those older and younger just had a good time".

So I shall do what she says and pack a party dress and stop being awkward. I will also pack some crystallised ginger as that apparently assuages sea-sickness. The sequinned jacket went to the charity shop last week.

By the way, my emails are proving impossible to access via the web, so please don't send me any messages.

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