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I don't know about you (well, obviously I don't, I'm not even sure who you are) but Amazon and their associates have the happy ...

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Cruisin' - Part 3: Piped Aboard?

Continuing the story from Cruisin' Part 2 - Buffet the Waistline Slayer (I know, I know, I'm sorry)

Still on the subject of my recent cruise, there is just one more incident I should share with you that clearly demonstrates how preconceptions can colour your judgement.

When we first booked the cruise, we were a little miffed to be told that the offer price only allowed us to determine the minimum standard of the cabin, not the location.  Therefore, when the details of our booking finally arrived, we hurried to the deck plan to see where our fortnight would be spent.  We were somewhat surprised to find were on Deck 2.  To put this into perspective, if we had been one floor lower we would have been sharing the staff quarters.  In an effort to look on the bright side, I reasoned that the lower you were on the ship, the less movement you would experience in rough seas.  I accept that I can be quite irritating when I have these ‘Rebecca from Sunnybrook Farm’ moments.  My wife viewed the idea with deep suspicion and was convinced that a good storm would have us consorting with the marine life rather than enjoying a view of the Mediterranean.

In addition to our trepidation re the cabin, we were also less than confident about the dining arrangements.  We had clearly requested, right from the start, a table for two at the second sitting.  This was based on the fact that I am deeply anti-social and prefer to share my dining experience with as few people as possible.  In a perfect world, nobody would be there at all, including me.  When we checked our booking we discovered that we had been allocated the first sitting and, despite lengthy email correspondence between ourselves and the travel agent in which we were assured that the mistake had been corrected, the fact that the cruise line’s website showed otherwise gave us little confidence.  All of this background is important if you are to fully understand what follows.

Came the day, and we checked in at Southampton.  Sure enough, we discovered that our restaurant booking was for the first sitting and, apparently, nothing could be done about this until we boarded the ship and threw ourselves on the mercy of the Maitre D’.  Not a good start.  Then, arriving at our cabin, we opened the door only to be met with the sight below through our porthole.

You will understand that this immediately confirmed our worst suspicions about being located so far down in the ship’s pecking order.  Clearly, we had been assigned to the bilges.  Armed now with not one, but two legitimate complaints, we stomped up two floors and joined an orderly queue of aggrieved passengers at the Customer Relations desk.  A very helpful young man (they all are to me these days, young that is) listened sympathetically to our tale of woe but explained that we would need to speak to the Dining Room staff about our meal arrangements and also told us that the cruise was fully booked, so there was no opportunity to change our cabin to something less submarine.  He passed us on to another of his colleagues, who repeated the same information but made the observation, in a confident French accent, that “as there is so much to do on the ship, you will spend very little time in your cabin” which I thought rather made a nonsense of paying a supplement for an Outside Cabin.  However, I did notice that both of the crew members seemed somewhat perplexed by our description of the pipework visible from our cabin window.  Having placed us on a lengthy list of fellow deluded optimists who hoped to change cabins should some awful disaster occur that precluded the rest of the passengers from turning up, we set out to beard the Dining Room staff in their den.

Another lengthy queue greeted us at the Dining Room.  However, as the cruise line obviously had considerable experience of this situation, they had stationed on of their staff at one side of the queue to chat to the supplicants and see if any of their problems could be addressed without the need for the Maitre D’ and her complex computer screen.  To this end, he was calling people out from the queue in turn.  When our turn came, my wife went to talk to him, but two men behind us beat us to it and were already heading over.  As any Briton will know, jumping a queue is a heinous offence, up there in the lexicon of crimes with coughing in someone’s face and belching in front of the Queen (I don’t mean because it's her turn, you understand).  I’m sure that if capital punishment was ever brought back and the range of crimes that would attract such punishment were to be voted on by the general public (and wouldn’t the tabloids have a field day with that?), queue-jumping would be up there in the Top 10.  Anyway, my wife, who does not take such things lightly, and whose patience had already been stretched to the limit, announced loudly “Have I just become Scotch Mist?” at which the offending parties guiltily returned to their former places in the queue, but not without informing us that they had fought in WW2, and one had been injured in Korea.  I must admit that it was a surprise to learn that the previous unpleasantnesses, involving the Third Reich and the Red Menace, were primarily to allow us the freedom to jump queues.

As you may imagine, the devil-may-care holiday spirit was certainly not in evidence by the time we had compromised on a shared table in the second sitting, and we headed gloomily back to our pipe-festooned berth.  Opening the cabin door, we were astonished to find a clear view of Southampton harbour and the sight of a boat, adorned with pipe-work and evidently some sort of supply vessel, heading away from the ship.

We both collapsed laughing, realising that common sense should have told us that we could not possibly be looking out at the assortment of pipes that had greeted us.  We also appreciated, looking down at the sea below us, that the waves would have to reach tsunami proportions before our view became submarine in nature.  Apart from having to share a table for dinner, God was in his Heaven and all was right with the World – well, at least our little bit of it.

You can find a version of this story in the new compilation A Kick at the Pantry Door and more stories from The Slightly Odd World of Phil Whiteland in e-book format - Steady Past Your Granny's  and Crutches for Ducks