A quick bit of background: My mum had a stroke in 1991, when she was 57 years old, which has left her paralysed on the left side of her body and also heralded some personality changes, including pessimism, extreme sarcasm (she was pretty good at that before), a slight recklessness with finances, impatience, and the ability to talk the hind legs off a large herd of donkeys (those of you who know me will know that I can do a fair bit of talking myself, so if I’m mentioning it …). In 2000 my family moved in with her and we have shared a house ever since. She loves cruises – the ideal holiday if you are elderly and/or disabled in any way - and she and my brother have taken four trips with P&O. She has been trying to get me to go with her for years – I have refused. Then I gave and decided to give it a go, and from September 27th we took a twelve day Mediterranean cruise on the Ventura. This is the diary of our cruise, which I had planned to post day by day while we were away, but P&O wanted £35 for 90 minutes internet connection, so, eh, naw. Some days will, obviously, be more interesting than others – but, hey, I’m writing something, so that’ll do for me.
Day 1: The Journey and first night.
Ten hours from Glasgow to Southampton on the bus. Ten hours from Glasgow to Southampton on the bus with my mum, followed by twelve days cooped up in a cabin (sorry – ‘stateroom’) together. We leave at 4 am – Mum has had her jacket on and been perched on the edge of her chair since 9 am yesterday. Okay, I exaggerate, but since at least 2 am today. As we pull out of Buchanan Street bus station, this whole thing really seems like a bad idea.
We're just settled into our seats when Mum starts telling me all about previous cruises and how much I’m going to love this. Mum has been telling me about this for six weeks, ever since we booked. It’s going to be a long night/day/journey.
Our driver is Keith, a very nice man with a Lancashire accent. He also has a tips box, which means he gets even nicer and more helpful at various points throughout the journey. The ten hour journey. Did I mention that it’s ten hours? It’s ten hours. Ten hours of listening to stuff that I've heard before and being charged £24 for a biscuit at service stations. It'll be fine.
We finally get to the Mayflower dock at Southampton at around 2.30 pm and we can see our ship, The Ventura – a ship that takes about 3,500 passengers and over 1,000 crew. It’s quite big. Really quite big. I have no idea if I get sea sickness, but I have twelve days to find out. People have told me not to worry because big ships have stabilisers. Stabilisers make me think of a child learning to ride a bike. This is not a soothing image.
We get through boarding pretty quickly - because Mum’s in the wheelchair and we get priority (the priority queue is still very big – this is a clue as to what’s to come) - and head off to our stateroom, which looks remarkably like a cabin. Okay, actually it looks like a nice hotel room in a nice hotel. We have a lovely big balcony – our escape from each other (I’m sure this will work both ways). Our luggage hasn’t arrived yet, so we go for a wander around the ship.
The Ventura only has one promenade deck i.e. only one deck where you can walk right round the ship. This means that using the lifts is an odd and confusing experience as only some lifts, either aft or forward, go to certain floors. Getting lost becomes something of a habit, as does looking for what often seem like fabled lifts to mythical floors.
We miss the actual departure – eh, Mum may have talked through the announcement – and don’t realise we’re moving until we spot other passengers with champagne, waving at the docks.
Champagne downed, we go back to the cabin and I unpack the bags that have arrived safely. We try to sleep for an hour before dinner – I fail, Mum sleeps soundly… or rather, she sleeps noisily (another side effect of the stroke). I’d forgotten about that. Twelve days, eh?
We had booked ‘club dining’ which means you are assigned a table at a specific restaurant at a specific time each night. We’d asked to be seated at a table of eight (more people to talk to/at) and for second sitting, which is at 8.30 pm. We get to the table to find it empty. We’re bang on time, so not too concerned. Other tables around us start filling up, but still just the two of us at this table. I confess to a little bit of panic setting in at this point. Twelve days, just me and Mum at the dinner table every night? Oh.
Eventually two women sit down next to us – another mother and daughter. The mum in her 80s, daughter probably late 50s, early 60s. Conversation is a bit strained until we all down a glass or two of wine, then, as is to become a feature of the cruise, medical problems are discussed. The mum has diabetes and can’t really eat this late, so they warn us we probably won’t be seeing them again as they plan to change their dining times. Oh. Given that no one else has turned up at our table for eight, this is a worry. The daughter then tells us she is on her fourth holiday this year. She’s taking lots of holidays because she’s being put on the heart transplant list soon and then she won’t be able to go anywhere, so she’s having as much fun as she can while she can. I like her attitude.
We don’t see our dinner companions from the first night for the rest of the cruise. It really is a big ship.
Mum likes to go to the theatre at night. I knew I’d hate it, but Mum is, quite rightly, calling the shots, so off we go. It’s a young guy, Will Martin, from New Zealand playing piano and singing, very, very sincerely. The kind of thing Michael Ball does – singing rock/pop songs in a classical way, with absolutely no emotion, and slaughtering them. This is particularly excruciating during Nights In White Satin. I want to shoot myself/him – Mum wants to buy his CD, and extra CDs for everyone she knows. I distract her with a Bailey’s and ice and she forgets about the CDs. Lots of people should be thanking me.
Back at the cabin, there’s a newsletter waiting for us detailing all the activities that are available the following day: table tennis; introduction to Chinese medicine; art class; cookery demonstration; whist drive; Noddy’s welcome aboard party; Countdown. Okay, tomorrow we’re playing Countdown, apparently.
Time to sleep, having been awake for almost two days. Well, that’s the plan. Like I said, Mum is quite snorey, and I suffer from insomnia anyway, so the chances of me getting any sleep are low. The ship makes a constant noise, but you get so used to it - I found it quite comforting - you hardly notice it’s there. It sounds a bit like light rain hitting a window.
Mum wakes up at around 2 am. ‘Is that rain?’
‘No, Mum, it’s just the sound of the ship.’
I fall asleep, exhausted, sometime after 7 am. Probably too excited at the prospect of Countdown at 4.15 pm.