Thursday, 27 August 2009

Quoits Anyone ?

The centre of any passenger ship society has to be the dinner table.

Over the years, the starched formality of crisp white "bum-freezered" officer uniforms has softened to a formal informality.

It has now been downgraded from Formality Level 10 to a 6.

If this was an American ship, I'm sure that it would be portrayed in colours as security levels are in the U.S.A

It could be downgraded from a red to a more subtle, orange.

The thing with "passy" ships is that you are marooned on a table with strangers for the entire voyage.

It really is a test of social survival.

Considering that dinner lasts for anything up to 2 hours, as courses come and go, thats a big chunk of anyones life.

On the first night out from the U.K, you get the initial surprise.

You either arrive at your allocated table in the dining room to find a solitary, empty chair, surrounded by a circle of expectant faces or, if you get in first, you choose your seat and have the faces arrive around you.

As I was eating with the passengers, my table was a complete surprise. The chair next to me, was removed by the waiter.

A middle aged lady and her husband arrived. She was wheelchair bound and unable to speak or cut her own food up.

They were accompanied by another couple from a different part of the U.K, who all meet up once a year to cruise together. They originally met on another ship and now maintain the tradition.

The lady in a wheelchair has a machine to help her communicate. She types in what she wants to say and the machine speaks the sentence for her. Unfortunately, nobody can hear her over the din of inane smalltalk, the clattering of knives and forks and the sound of dentures chomping.

"Looks can be deceiving".

I'm ashamed to say that I'm fallible and often forget to obey that well-worn idiom.

Another one is "to err is human".

As I write this, we have been at sea for 5 days and I've discovered a very special lady and her devoted husband.

Stricken by a severe stroke, a perfectly able and intelligent woman is now constrained by her own body of short circuits.

I've heard it said that people only see the wheelchair and not the person in it. How very true.

Their seemingly normal looking companions have proven to be initially pleasant, but internally flawed. Increasingly so, as the voyage deepens.

Some ten hours of dinner talk later, the seething bed of psychological baggage is starting to rise from the depths of the beautiful couple. Obsessions about looks, money, status, all rise to the top.

The wit and bravery of the lady without a voice and her down to earth and hard working husband totally eclipse the beauties, like shining beacons on a sea of white linen.

Her humour which is shown on her LCD display for my eyes only, is rapier-like and keeps me calm and composed, in the social battlefield of lunge and riposte.

Ah well, its early days. 


Monday, 24 August 2009

Bangers in Chlorine Sauce

At sea again !

The photograph below shows the Jubilee Sailing Trust ship Tenacious at anchor off the Isle of Wight. She flys the signal flags RY which requests other vessels to minimise their wake.

Not surprising considering that the ship is equipped to carry a number of wheelchair users.  

I'm on another passenger ship, bound for Turkey.

Only this time, they made the serious mistake of letting me loose on 1800 fare-paying Brits.

That's like letting a fox loose in a chicken coop. Only chaos can ensue.

As we steam eastwards, 24 miles off the Algerian coast, the Brits play as only the Brits can.

It's still school holidays, so the normal geriatric complement of passengers and walking wounded is generously sprinkled with younger people and families.

Midlands and Black Country accents seem to be the most prevalent. 

I don't know if that's because they are numerically superior or just the most noticeable.

Looking down on the outdoor pool, out on the sun deck, the water is sloshing from end to end as the ships pitches into the easterly force 5.

Any stationary swimmer is moved two feet one way and then, two feet the other, just by the surface effect on the mass of water.

I've always wondered; are swimmers still swimmers when they stand stationary in the pool ?

Isn't floater a more accurate description ?

Probably, this is where the verb "to bathe" comes from.

Notices request that people shower before entering the pool.

In countries like Germany and Scandinavia, this is a way of life.

In the UK, Brits take no notice and just get in, after sweating it out in the noonday sun and liberally anointing themselves in factor 30.

A coconut oil slick adorns the surface of the pool.

The passengers stand, frying and sizzling, like bangers in a 30ft chlorine-filled frying pan, as the Mediterranean sun barbecues them golden brown.

Their ship-induced sloshing movement reminds me of the movement of the empty coke can, assorted bladderwrack seaweed and ripped Tesco's carrier bag that you always seem to see bobbing around the corner of any tidal harbour, the length and breadth of the U.K.  

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Blogs - A Plague of Frogs

Blogs have been very topical recently, with quite a few boaters starting them.

I don't know whether its something to do with the disappointing weather or whether its the latest internet phenomenon, as Facebook and Twitter have been.

Some people do it as a form of therapy, some do it to be entertaining and lets be honest, some do it to make money from the Google adverts, which then offsets their boating costs.

I have always made a point of openly listing other boaters blogs on my blogroll, over there to the bottom left of this, but I refuse to promote those that have the dreaded Google ads.

I was approached by one well known blogger, asking why I had neglected to include theirs, when there were so many others included. I had to respectfully point out and explain my dislike of Google ads, which was taken well, as it happens.

Have you ever noticed how the G.adverts adapt to the subject being discussed ??

If you write about solar power, adverts will appear, advertising solar panels, etc - spooky.

I've just found a new blog in the ether, in the shape of NB Gemma Joy.

For some reason, John, her owner, has elected to do it in the form of a website.

The only problem with this is that the automated feeds and readers which can be used to alert you to a new post on the blog, don't recognise the format.

In many respects, thats why its better to use Google Blogspot or Wordpress.

I've added Gemma Joy to my blogroll, but it just sits lifeless and unloved at the bottom, together with Wiccan Warrior.

Food for thought if you are considering starting one !!!

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Silly Waiter

We were invited to a wedding at Down Hall in West Essex.

I'm sure the name itself means nothing to you, but if I say it's the place where the terminally ill Jade Goody got married a few months ago, you may recall hearing about it before.

Whatever your views on Jade Goody and I have my own, Down Hall is a beautiful country house set in a 10 acre estate near Hatfield Heath.

Many people belittle Essex and it is the butt of many jokes. However, Essex is a very large county, stretching from the Thames up to Felixstowe on the east coast. Many think of Essex as the stereotypical Essex boy and girl, Darren and Trace, with the estuarial accent, Ford car with furry dice and who do their shopping at Lakeside, near the Dartford tunnel.

I always remember working with a "Trace" some years ago, who when asked where she was going on holiday, replied "I'm going Cancun".

Essex has many faces. It is not just the flat, featureless, industrial landscape that you see near the Thames. The border with Hertfordshire is very hilly and North Essex has farmland, market towns, open country and local accents quite similar to the Suffolk accent.

Down Hall is a very pretty venue and although not far from Stansted Airport, is surrounded by picture postcard villages, parish cricket teams and pretty pubs and churches (the two always go hand in hand).

The wedding was a lavish affair.

Every feature and move had been planned to perfection. More like a military manoeuvre than a wedding. The knack with weddings is to make them look relaxed, carefree and flowing, whilst underneath the surface, there is a metronome dictating every move.

The marriage itself was a registry office "do" in one of the beautiful drawing rooms, which had been licensed for the ceremony.

After the civil service, guests funnelled out on to the lawn for drinks.

As we passed through the hall, there was a crash and commotion. One of the waiters had dropped a tray of drinks and was being helped, hobbling, by two of the ushers, out into the garden.

The waiter, who was a "Bobby Ball" lookalike was obviously in pain and was making a great deal of noise. When he got out on to the regal, covered porchway, the ushers released him and he went over again, down the steps.

Was he drunk on duty or just a mental patient who had escaped ?

The Master of Ceremonies (MC), resplendent in his red jacket, tried to collate people for the photographs in the grounds. The silly waiter re-appeared and started running up and down like a human sheepdog, shuffling and berating people. He picked on the pretty tattooed blonde girl, making comments about her dark roots and Essex girls, he picked on the old man with the lamb-chop whiskers and Meerschaum pipe, confusing the smell of Kentucky Gold tobacco with Kentucky Fried Chicken. The MC was clearly irritated with the shouting and interfering of this irritating little waiter. As the photographer started organising his subjects in to order - tall people at the back, children at the front !   the silly waiter suggested that it might be better if the ugly people stayed at the back, shouting the mantra of "if you can't see the camera, you won't be in the photo - might be a good thing for some of you".

The guests' faces started to relax. What started out as a rogue waiter about to ruin the brides special day, became a prank set-up, designed to amuse the guests.

The silly waiter went on to appear between each course of the meal, blackened and charred after cooking the main course, covered in cream after preparing the dessert, dragging pre-arranged targets up to carry out silly Men in Black and dance routines, much to the delight of the bridge and groom, who got their revenge on those friends who took advantage at their respective stag and hen nights.

Mark Howard was the silly waiter. In reality, a professional actor who has worked for many famous people, as well as receiving accolades from the great, late Jeremy Beadle, who employed him for his daughters wedding.

The question is, would you dare to let the Silly Waiter do his stuff at your daughters wedding ?

It certainly needs a degree of trust, but the Silly Waiter pulled it off superbly and the guests were suitably warmed-up when it came to the dancing in the evening. I've never seen so many people on a dancefloor at a wedding !!!