A Caronia Cruise, 13 – 31 May 2002

Cruise pictures

Tuesday 14 May – first day out from Southampton

The force 5 gale is stirring up quite impressive waves and the Cunard ship Caronia, despite her stabilisers, is pitching dramatically. One effect of this is that there’s plenty of room in the lounges, bars, ballroom and restaurants since a fair number of the fellow-passengers are confined to their cabins. Another is that the water emerging from the taps in the cabin’s bathroom is the colour of milky coffee, not providing much incentive to wash out a white shirt or white underwear (a trial run produces a chocolatey handkerchief). Brushing of teeth is postponed until we buy a bottle of still mineral water from one of the bars: UKP 2.50, more than the cost on board of a pint of bitter.

The “classical music” concert in the evening is a disappointment. A pretty young blonde girl plays the piano with some verve but then straps on an enormous piano-accordion and plays that for the rest of the recital. The soprano, young but with the imposing figure of an ageing diva, has a good voice but her theatrical gestures are made comic by her bulk. The Australian baritone has a powerful voice and bearing but sings so atrociously flat that he’s actively uncomfortable to listen to. The programme is entirely from light operetta: agreeable tunes, but no meat in the sandwich. According to the programme notes, the soprano has sung in Mozart and Richard Strauss (in Elektra, too!), so she is presumably capable of more demanding stuff than this.

Wednesday 15 May – cruising towards Gibraltar

Sea much calmer today — numerous passengers (not including us, I hasten to say) who spent yesterday enduring the agonies of sea-sickness in their cabins have now emerged, blinking in the sunlight like the prisoners in Fidelio, and are cautiously sampling a little very light food and iced water in the restaurants and cafés. Actually there isn’t much sunlight to blink in, so far, but at least the gales have subsided. The entertainment staff’s resident comedian appeared last night for his first performance of the voyage, prompting the two of us (but no-one else that we could see) to walk out in disgust. His routine made Bernard Manning seem a Guardian-reading pinko by comparison.

Yesterday’s computer lecture and training session paid off , not by revealing the secrets of mouse control and left-clicking so much as passing on the tip that to write a message off-line and then copy and paste it into the ship’s e-mail system for sending, one has to exit from Word before opening the e-mail system and swiping the credit card to go on line to send the message. Strange, that. However, the trainer, a rotund and enthusiastic American of uncertain age, was astonished by my demonstration of the possibility of cutting and pasting the list of addressees from the message window to the “To:” window of the message form, so the score was deuce.

In the evening we were treated to much the most professional performance of singing, dancing and light comedy that we have encountered afloat. In a preview of the cruise’s forthcoming attractions on the first night, we were promised the appearances of Maureen Lipman, Patricia Neal, Millicent Martin, Jerry Orbach, and the veteran American talk-show host Dick Cavett, along with other less familiar names which included Susan Powell (Miss America 1981, now apparently a singing star of cable TV) and a theatrical agent well known in theatrical circles, James Sharkey. This improbable list we took to refer to the repertoire of the ship’s resident impressionist, or a team of look-alikes. Not at all. There they all were in the flesh this evening: Maureen Lipman as fresh and funny and self-deprecating as a 21-year-old, Patricia Neal virtually wheel-chair-bound but gallantly carried up onto the stage to perform (from a score) “Ah yes, I remember it well” with Jerry Orbach, better-preserved and engagingly chivalrous in prompting Miss Neale. Millicent Martin earned a round of applause from a mainly elderly audience for her reference to starting her career with That Was the Week That Was, and sang a cabaret number whose words she forgot half-way through the song (she went over to the piano and refreshed her memory by peering at the score, surreptitiously smuggling a pair of spectacles onto her nose in order to do so, before delivering the last verse with much panache). Three younger singer-dancers performed numbers from old classical American musicals with great snap and flair. Dick Cavett was funny, and performed that conjuring trick where you cut a rope in half and it remains in one piece. Indeed, he performed it, not once, but four times, assisted by Millicent Martin. An unexpectedly memorable evening.

With the calmer weather and less stormy seas, the rust in the ship’s water tanks has resumed its proper place at the bottom and the water is coming out of the taps perfectly clear, thank goodness.

Thursday, 16 May Arriving at Gibraltar

We didn’t expect to be back here so soon after our first visit (on our first ever cruise) last year. Jane not feeling too good, with a persistent cough that makes her breathing difficult, but decided to come ashore anyway as there were some bits of shopping to be done (Scotch, sherry, mineral water, biscuits) and she didn’t trust me to get back on board before the ship sailed in the early evening if I went ashore alone. We happened to hit the twice-yearly Ceremony of the Keys, one of those daft and now meaningless rituals that the British like to invent and then preserve with reverence: red-uniformed soldiers, and brass band marching up and down and round and round, line of local dignitaries in chairs each side of the saluting platform where stood the Governor, in plumed helmet, sword and full colonial uniform, huge bunch of pantomime keys in his hand which he extended as if offering them to the band-master from time to time and then returned to a dangling position, arm straight along trouser seams.

When we got back to the ship Jane was really breathing with some difficulty and feeling distinctly unwell, but gasped a determined No when I said she should see the ship’s doctor. She didn’t want anything to eat for dinner and collapsed into bed, coughing and wheezing worryingly. During the night I pressed her to let me summon the doctor but she said it could wait until the morning.

Friday 17 May At sea

An e-mail of 20 May from Jane to the offspring, describing what had happened on the 17th and 18th:

Thank you very much for responding to our telephone call with your very welcome and reassuring e-mail. We didn’t mean to harass you but I was getting worried that no response to D’s messages meant that one of you had a problem. The thing is that I was really very ill on Friday [17 May], at risk of dying at some times. I should have let D call the doctor during the night but I was convinced that if only I could get to sleep it would pass off and I would be all right. Of course I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t breathe and it was taking more and more of my energy to keep me alive. I agreed that he should call the doctor at 7 a.m. and it was almost too late. The doctor saw me down in the ship’s hospital, and immediately called in the nurse: and then they both started frantically pumping in adrenalin, steroids, anti-histamines, while I was breathing in oxygen and ventolin. He kept asking why on earth we hadn’t called before. I said that I had assumed it would pass. ‘This won’t pass, it could kill you,’ he said. ‘But you won’t be letting that happen, will you?’, asked D. The doctor merely looked grim and muttered that he hoped not. Apparently my condition improved for the first hour and then began deteriorating again. They repeated all the drugs and of course I had the oxygen all the time. This time there was no response. After a while the doctor said that he had to tell me that he was increasingly concerned and that I was becoming critically ill. If it were an ordinary allergic shock reaction I should have been better by then. There must be another cause. I had an X-ray for a collapsed lung, blood tests for a heart attack and other causes which would have shown up in the blood, an ECG. All were negative which was fine except that I was still no better and he said that my lungs had closed down. I would have to go to intensive care in Barcelona when we arrived the next day. When I expressed surprise at intensive care he said that I would be in intensive care if I were on land at that point. It was all getting very depressing as you can imagine, but after seven and a half hours I suddenly showed signs of improvement. Soon after 3 p.m., having been working on me for all that time, they decided that I was well enough to go up to the cabin and try to get some rest. I had to see him again at 5 p.m. for him to think again about hospital in Barcelona. At 5 p.m. my breathing was a bit worse again so Barcelona still seemed possible for the next day. D promised to call him in the night if there were any signs of further problems, he left all the paraphernalia for drug drips in place in my arm and arranged to see me at 8.30 the next morning for a final decision. I didn’t sleep (too full of drugs, I think), did cough a lot, but did breathe. The next morning I had a nasty rash and was convinced that that would be the last straw and we would be ejected from the Caronia, but the doctor thought I was well enough to stay on board after all. I have to take it easy, take anti-histamines all the time and promise to get in touch at the slightest sign of trouble. He says that he cannot understand why I took so respond to all the treatment. He has never seen it happen like this before – and he does seem a very experienced, well qualified and good doctor. We were very impressed with him and I think that he and the nurse between them saved my life.

I feel more or less all right but I’m pretty tired and somewhat emotionally drained by another brush with death. It’s difficult to take it in. But at a time like this you become more than usually sentimental and worried about family! We cancelled the tour we had booked for today and just wandered round Messina this morning and D had a swim in the outdoor pool, a cup of tea and a cucumber sandwich after lunch this afternoon. Naples tomorrow and the next day. We’ll have the mobile switched on just in case!

Lots of love
20 May 02 11:17 BST (but can’t send at present as no connection to net)
Messina, Sicily

Saturday 18 May Barcelona

Jane much better but sensibly decided not to risk going ashore for a full day’s sight-seeing. Decided it was safe to leave her on board resting and reading, and went in to Barcelona to meet PH, old cyber-friend from the CompuServe UK Current Affairs Forum, LibDem and committed Hispanophile. Splendid conducted tour of Barca on foot and by taxi, though baffled by challenge presented by obvious need to try to photograph Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral, a wonderfully improbable building which must be one of few to exhibit incontrovertible signs of its architect’s insanity. No modern committee would dream of accepting such a plainly unhinged design. Marvellous! Bought more mineral water and adjourned to sea-front fish restaurant to find JH who had called from her mobile to say where she had found an outdoor table for the three of us. Delectable mixed fish grill, with no idea which particular creatures I was eating. Back to the ship to find Jane more rested, thank goodness.

Monday 20 May Messina, Sicily

To conserve J’s energies, we cancelled our excursion booking and took a gentle walk through the streets of this smallish Sicilian town, stopping for a lemon slush drink and a cappuccino at a pavement café and surfing the town’s bookshop for a map of Rome (unsuccessfully). Found the Trattoria di Mario on the waterfront as recommended by the ship’s cruise tour notes, but after returning on board for another cold drink, couldn’t be bothered to go ashore again and had a much better lunch in the ship’s dining-room. In the afternoon, swam in the icy water of the ship’s outdoor pool. Only one other valiant swimmer.

Tuesday 21 May Naples

Morning in Pompeii, first time for both of us. Much as expected from numerous photographs, articles and TV programmes except that the area covered was much more extensive than we had imagined. Everything very clearly and informatively laid out and presented, and adequate visitor facilities (e.g. loos, cold drinks). Much delighted giggling on the part of the American matrons at the famous wall-painting of Priapus, improbably endowed. One more must-see site on our list that we can now tick off as done, and absolutely no wish to go and see it again.

A multiple-addressee e-mail sent from the ship in Naples:

From: <caronia@cruisemail.com>

Peter & Jane,

Many thanks for last Saturday and your expert and amiable performance as Barcelona tour guide. Especially to Jane (your one) for finding such a desirable table on the waterfront for us all at such an agreeable and (presumably) typical fish restaurant. Delectable lunch. Barcelona is clearly a wonderful, memorable, quirky city and we’ll hope to be back one day, especially as Jane (my one) had, sadly, to miss it.

Apologies to all recipients for this omnibus edition. We would reply separately to your many kind messages but the ship’s bizarre software makes that almost impossible, in terms of both time and cost. Anyway thanks indeed for many kind words. Jane is much, much better, but still coughing hard and long, leaving her panting, all too often for comfort, and she now gets out of breath from very small exertions indeed, so there’s still something that needs attention and we’re hoping that the alarming episode of last week will stimulate the Brompton, already engaged in trying to identify her allergies and work out what anaesthetics and pain-killers she can safely use in future, into accelerating their programme of tests when we get back. Still, she managed the ascent of the long hill up to Pompei this morning without collapsing and then about 4 miles of walking over the uneven lava and marble rocks, and is still just about on her feet. And we did a fair amount of walking in Messina yesterday without problems. Tomorrow we’re doing the Amalfi-Sorrento scenic (meaning dangerous) drive in a coach driven, no doubt, by a demented Italian worried about his masculinity, so we’ll be spending much of the time with eyes wide shut.

The weather so far has been pretty well perfect: warm and sunny at every port of call without being uncomfortably hot. After Naples we have a day at Palermo and then a couple of days (Friday and Saturday) at Civitavecchia for Rome where we have gratefully accepted Dick and Penny’s kind offer of a bed for the night to save having to toil up and down between the port and the city, as well as enabling us to see more of them. So we should be in port somewhere within mobile telephone range and with the mobile switched on every day from now (Tuesday) until Saturday late afternoon.

Enough already… Love, greetings and salaams to all
Brian & Jane
Naples, 21 May 02

Wed. 22 May Naples: visits to Sorrento and Amalfi

This was a long and tiring excursion, the long coach slowly winding its way along what became an interminable coast road along the cliff tops, waiting for the oncoming traffic to get past before swinging the great vehicle round each tight hairpin bend, sometimes stuck in virtual gridlock as a car, truck or bus declined to give way and the rest of the traffic piled up behind. The bright side of this was that the coach could only move at walking pace for most of the way, which appreciably reduced the terror factor. The sheer drops at the edge of the road to the ocean below looked an awfully long way down.

Thursday 23 May Palermo, Sicily; visit to Palermo and Monreale

In the coach seat behind us the gaunt Londoner, after commenting unfavourably to his wife on the design and style of my sun-hat, complained with vigour at the number of churches and cathedrals we were visiting. “It’s not as if we were a Catholic country. Why can’t they give us time to visit the market? All these bloody churches…” But the Palatine Chapel of the Palazzo dei Normanni and the amazing cathedral of Monreale, a few kilometres outside Palermo, Santa Maria la Nuova, with their extraordinary blends of Byzantine Mosque with Gothic, Greek and Roman, were not to be missed. The mosaics alone are incredibly beautiful and the buildings themselves equally superb.

Had a quick lemon slush drink in a cafe on the main square of Monreale (served by a friendly black waiter from Gaborone, Botswana) before returning to the coach for a visit to the more orthodox and classical Palermo cathedral and then back to the ship in time for fish and chips.

Friday 24 May Civitavecchia for Rome

Shock, horror: it’s raining in Rome. After the best briefing yet by the guide on the coach, a splendid young Italian woman, daughter of diplomats, had lived in Sydney and New Zealand, knew what we needed to know about sight-seeing in Rome (use the loos in McDonalds, how to buy one-day travel tickets, the names of the stations at each end of the two subway lines), we got a taxi driven by a friendly Italian who had lived for some months in South Kensington to the leafy residential district of San Saba where Dick & Penny have their British Council Residence, a welcoming and airy apartment with a flowery veranda dominated by a stage-prop lemon tree loaded with outsized lemons. Penny had bus tickets, directions and guide books ready for us and we headed for the Spanish Steps and Keats’s House where an attractive, lively and articulate young Englishwoman (History of Art, Anglia University in but not of Cambridge) was lecturing some even younger Italian students on Keats, Shelley, Byron and their Roman connections.

In the evening we have dinner with Dick and Penny at their local trattoria. We eat and drink reasonably prudently and extremely well. Night in the guest room’s spacious double bed is a special luxury after the narrow single beds in our little cabin aboard Caronia.

Saturday 25 May: Rome, day two

A wonderfully warm and sunny day. A brisk walk with Dick to see the non-Catholic cemetery where Keats and Shelley are buried (a lovely tranquil spot) and then to buy a bottle of single malt and a box of vodka chocolates as a thank-you to the ship’s doctor and the nurse who got Jane’s lungs going again. A good lunch of prosciutto and melon with D&P and then they drive us to the Piazza del Populo where we sit at a pleasant café and enjoy an ice cream and a coffee until the guide arrives to marshal her flock, including us, onto the coach for the trip back to Civitavecchia and the ship.

Sunday 26 May At sea in the Mediterranean

At last, another day at sea, with no pressure to get ashore in time for the excursion coach’s departure, or to hurry back to the rendez-vous in order not to miss the coach back to the ship. Plenty of activities programmed on board, few that we feel any itch to take part in. Sunlit skies of deepest blue reflecting off the sea and burning the incautiously exposed and unoiled skin, especially in or around the outdoor pool on the Verandah Deck, where rows of steamer chairs and loungers support tonnes of ageing flesh in everything from seam-challenged bikinis to white towelling dressing-gowns from the cabins. Only the young singers and dancers of the ship’s entertainment teams have worth-while bodies to expose, and some of them verge on the anorexic.

The hard-working young dancers and singers of the resident “Morag Production Company” are constantly up-staged by the mysterious Theatre At Sea group, sponsored by the American Theatre Guild, all but two (Millicent Martin, Maureen Lipman) of them Americans of varying degrees of eminence, although they all introduce each other as super-stars, with proper Hollywood or Broadway hype. There’s much information both about the Caronia cruise and about the Theatre at Sea performers on their web site, http://www.theatreatsea.com/tas.html. Some indeed have familiar names: Dick Cavett, Gena Rowlands, Patricia Neale, Jerry Orbach (still gamely performing in the TV series Law and Order, but with an illustrious record as a musical comedy star). A slick and professional quartet of reasonably young performers—not hitherto known names to us—comprising Anna Bergman, Susan Powell, George Dvorsky and Lee Roy Reams, sing and kind-of-dance efficiently. We’ve never heard of James Sharkey, described as the world’s leading agent, who sings, wise-cracks and reminisces. A Dennis Buck plays the piano. Even those whose voices and agility aren’t what they evidently once were provide high quality and above all highly professional entertainment, night after night. We never discover who, if anyone, pays them. All but one behave off-stage like VIPs, rarely seen in the public rooms or on deck (except at the bingo sessions and the casino); the exception is Maureen Lipman, who, with her distinguished playwright husband Jack Rosenthal, mingles naturally and undemonstratively with the rest of us, often seen pacing vigorously round the promenade deck, chatting to fellow-passengers in the queue for the excursions office, swimming in the indoor pool, often singing softly to herself. Perhaps she gets her material by mixing with ordinary mortals. At any rate, her attractively self-deprecating and low-key behaviour earns her much the loudest and longest applause when the entire group come on, one by one, on the last night. Indeed, the strutting mutual hype of most of the American performers has prompted a good deal of unfavourable comment among the British two-thirds of the passengers.

Other entertainments and activities on offer include efficient and informative lectures on the ports to be visited and excursions available; admirably witty and well-informed lectures on different aspects of British theatre by a young English writer, Paul Webb (author of an amusing volume on Ivor Novello and of a musical about him, recently staged in the West End); lectures on rather broad cultural subjects by one Michael Nyman who takes conspicuous offence when I ask him (in a private moment as we find ourselves sunning ourselves next to one another on deck) whether he is the Michael Nyman who composed the music for the film The Piano—he isn’t; training in elementary computer skills by an elderly American married couple, exhibiting exemplary patience when subjected to prolonged appeals for help from bewildered American passengers who have evidently never seen a computer before; more lectures on what happened to Lord Lucan (answer: no-one knows), the crimes of Rosemary West, and other matters arcane or familiar; training in ball-room dancing, flower arrangements, massage, cookery, wine appreciation, arts and crafts, and just about every other known activity; and recent movies in the ship’s theatre, projected however from videos and thus producing an unacceptably coarse picture on the big screen. The dance floor in the ballroom is in constant use, backed by an excellent ship’s dance band. A jazz trio plays on the verandah deck by the outdoor pool every time we leave another port. There’s bingo in the afternoons and a casino in the evenings. In the indoor Spa on C deck there’s a decent-sized pool, a jacuzzi, a gym, and 57 varieties of (pretty expensive) massage. There are bars serving daily more exotic and imaginative cocktails. There’s a surprisingly well stocked library of both books and videos (and a VCR as well as television in every cabin). All in all, it’s a cut or three above Butlins while not being anything like as pretentious or intellectually demanding as Swan Hellenic seems to be.

Monday 27 May Cartagena, Spain

Our last Mediterranean port, and very attractive it is, in (once again) perfect sight-seeing weather. We admire the clean streets and squares, the picture-postcard views of narrow alleys, flights of steps and sunlit balconies, the ornate churches and cathedral, the impeccable and luxurious shop windows that would not be disgraced by comparison with Bond Street or St James’s Street. We skip the organised excursion, wandering around at leisure on our own and ending up with cappuccinos in the main street, watching the expensively dressed and prosperous-looking youth of Cartagena going about their business. The women are almost universally gorgeous. Black ski-pants or jeans, tightly hugging what is euphemistically called the hips, seem de rigueur. No wonder Italian men have this reputed penchant for pinching them.

Tuesday 28 May Cadiz, Spain

We have left the Mediterranean, slipping through the Straits of Gibraltar again early in the morning, and are tied up in the harbour of Cadiz by breakfast time on yet another sparkling, sunny day. Another morning of free-lance strolling through the old town, soaking up the Spanish atmosphere (and the cold lemon drinks at the usual sidewalk café in the square). It’s our last time ashore before we head out into the Atlantic for the Bay of Biscay, Southampton and home. We luxuriate in premature nostalgia as the ship noses out of the harbour and the jazz band on the deck by the pool plays us away. In London the midday temperature is 11 degrees and it’s raining.

E-mail sent on 28 May from Cadiz:

Caronia@cunardmail.com From Brian Barder Cabin 570 28.v.02

Cruise nearly over

Ten minutes ago we watched Caronia sail from Cadiz, our last port of call before we reach Southampton on Friday morning. This morning we were strolling (the only word for it) through the picturesque back alleys of Cadiz, photographing the delectable cathedral and the main square, having a leisurely coffee in a sidewalk café in the warm sun under a cloudless sky of almost unbelievable blue. Yesterday we had a similarly luxurious and agreeable day in Cartagena, which turned out to be much more picturesque and enjoyable than expected. Before that we enjoyed Dick and Penny’s warm hospitality for two days and a night in Rome, our first night in a big bed and on dry land for a fortnight or so: and on day one, our first sight of rain since leaving England, although day two was gloriously sunny, ideal for sightseeing. Before that there were fascinating visits to Messina and Palermo in Sicily, to Naples for Pompeii and the amazing Amalfi coastal drive, and a lovely day (for just me, alas) ashore in Barcelona tutored by Peter and (the other) Jane. The weather has been ideal for the whole cruise apart from that occasional rain one day in Rome, but apart from a dampish visit to Keats’s house that didn’t really faze us at all.

Evenings on board have been almost equally idyllic, with a marvellous hour last night of Maureen Lipman reminiscing and improvising until we laughed ourselves out of breath. Earlier we had an agreeable evening of Millicent Martin, bringing back memories of That Was The Week That Was (the faded American Broadway star who introduced her called it “This” Was The Week, etc., and was indignantly corrected from the audience). There’s a gang of American stars, past and (some) present, talented singers, dancers and raconteurs, who entertain us intermittently with performances and reminiscences, and the ship’s own group of mainly very young entertainers who perform gallantly but are inevitably outshone by the Yanks. (Actually most of the ship’s team are Yanks too.) We tried a film in the ship’s theatre the other night — The Shipping News, set in Newfoundland — with Judi Dench going rather irritably through the motions and Kevin Spacey seemingly performing in some sort of trance — and decided after 45 minutes of this that it was all too Canadian, slipped out and went to bed.

Jane is much better but still subject to occasional racking fits of coughing, sometimes in the wee small hours, which leave her panting and dazed, but (fingers crossed) they seem to be getting rarer. Some tests and assessments when we get home are clearly indicated. Meanwhile we have a ship’s medical centre bill of around UKP 1,300 to negotiate with our travel insurance company…

So I’m afraid we’re pretty well hooked on cruises. This has been a marvellous holiday, marred only by Jane’s serious illness following her allergic attack and by the mysteriously shrinking waistbands of my shorts and trousers as we eat our way manfully through substantial “English” breakfasts and four-course lunches and suppers (we have so far succeeded in eschewing the late night snacks served from 11 p.m. until midnight). I should also mention the English teas — small triangular sandwiches, vast cakes, hot scones with jam and cream, you know the kind of thing. Fellow-cruisers with experience of numerous other voyages and craft praise Caronia as among the most comfortable and efficient. We’d be happy to sail on her again. And if one’s going to have a bad allergic attack, there’s something to be said for having a competent and multi-skilled doctor and nurse with a well-equipped mini-hospital just a few yards away on the end of a telephone, compared with waiting for two hours for an ambulance and then another three in the Accident and Emergency jungle at St George’s, Tooting. We don’t begrudge a penny of the UKP 1,300, even if we wind up having to pay it ourselves.

We’ve been following the London weather with mounting gloom but have seen a BBC World weather forecast of an improvement starting on Friday, so our hopes are high for a sunny return.

Love to all, and special thanks to Dick and Penny for two smashing Roman days of good eating and drinking and nostalgia

Brian & Jane
28 May 02 16:06 (tea-time!) Continental European time

Wednesday 29 May At sea, Atlantic (off Portugal)

A real pleasure of the cruise is the company of our fellow-diners at our table in the Franconia dining-room: Jim and Pam from Denver, Colorado, Don and Jean from North Yorkshire. We had chosen to be seated at a table for six: just one other couple, at a table for four, being too risky; three other couples at a table for eight, too liable to split into simultaneous, and therefore to me inaudible, conversations. Our original third couple had been a Chilean couple, whose lady spoke no language but Spanish. Keeping her involved in the conversation was burdensome, especially for her husband but also for the rest of us, so we were as relieved as they were when they asked for their own table for two and Don and Jean took their places. Both are experienced cruise sailors and have invaluable advice for us, as novices, for future holidays. Jim is a professional photographer with his own Denver studio and eleven children (not by Pam). Pam is a seasoned traveller with a special interest in assorted religions and the middle east. Jim is active in the Lions and an ardent Republican; Don and Jean, leading lights in their local Conservative Party. Our socialist, pagan and Old Labour proclivities surface early in the cruise. So discussion of politics requires, and gets, sensitive handling: occasionally Jean or Pam intervenes to change the subject. But we all get along splendidly, whether despite or because of our wide differences; a function of each being genuinely interested in the others and their points of view. We’ll miss them all.

Friday 31 May: Southampton

Our two heavy suitcases and three assorted bags, left outside our cabin last night, have duly disappeared. We have elected to disembark with the last batch, at 9.30, leaving plenty of time for a last generous breakfast in the dining-room, and a last leisurely stroll along the decks to look at the familiar quays and the ships and boats plying to and fro in the Solent, glittering in the bright morning sunshine (itself a miracle: it has been raining solidly in southern England for the past week or more). Jim and Pam left at the crack of dawn in what proves later to have been a doomed effort to catch the daily flight to Denver from Gatwick: they are foiled by the British railway system and an enormous queue at the airport, plus, probably, over-booking by British Airways. We look out for Don and Jean, due to disembark shortly before us, but can’t see them to say goodbye. Once ashore in the big Cunard terminal, everything works smoothly: we find our luggage, a porter wheels it to the area where our car is waiting (itself a relief: we feared that after 18 days with the intruder alarm draining the battery, it wouldn’t start, so perhaps the car parking company did comply with our request to start the engine periodically) and we are soon out on the motorway heading for London and home.

Cruise pictures

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