Thursday 17 December
We’re due on board the Ventura at Southampton early afternoon, only a couple of hours’ drive away, so we should be in for a relaxed morning – plenty of time to pack, chuck away the milk and drop off the keys. Really looking forward to it.
Ah, Mrs. Blog says she’d like the kitchen floor washed before we go, for the benefit of any burglars presumably. And the bathroom, and shower. Still, plenty of time.
Blogdaughter texts me: she expects to arrive at the house from London mid-afternoon. What time are we due to go? As she’s supposed to be coming with us and leaving the house at 1 pm, this makes me nervous. Glad we’ve clarified that.
The post is delivered (for those in America: “the mail”). There are no fewer than four Christmas cards from people that we thought had dropped off our list: normally I keep a stock of cards for “rapid response” in such circumstances, though the first class stamp tends to give the game away. This year, tough. We need to get going.
Blogdaughter arrives home at noon complaining that she’s had to rush. Needs to “pop into town” for last minute shopping. Returns from shops at 12.55 and asks if there’s time for me to make her some toast – “as she had to miss breakfast because of all the rush.” I decline but there’s something of an atmosphere. This is not helped when we eventually set off at 1.30 and blogdaughter is buried on the back seat under far too many cases. The lack of a weight limit like you get on the plane is a mixed blessing…
We arrive at Southampton with just 30 minutes to go before we set sail and join the rearguard of the queuing passengers. I am obliged to bring a suit for “formal evenings” on board and it’s easier if I wear it, rather than carry it, for embarkation. I’m not sure that it goes particularly well with the set of flashing Christmas antlers which, for sensible packing reasons, I am also wearing. In advance I had been wary of the cruise line marketing which had branded our trip “family friendly”. On the contrary, Mrs. Blog and I appear, after blogdaughter, to be the youngest on board – and by some way the most sylphlike. We plan to rectify this during the cruise (all meals have already been paid for, which means you just have to go for it.)
Mrs. Blog, more than anxious about the possibility of being sans internet for a few days, takes a last desperate look at her iPad’s BBC News app before we board and announces the sacking, “by mutual consent”, of Jose Mourinho as manager of Chelsea (a moderately successful Russian football team based somewhere in west London.) A piece in today’s Guardian describes him as an “irredeemable prick”. A little more generous than I would have been, but one can but applaud the sentiment.
We eventually file on board the Ventura which is to be our hotel, play pen, entertainment centre and care home for the next two weeks.
It was worth paying the extra for an outside cabin…
No sooner have we found our cabin, which P&O have helpfully placed on a different deck and the opposite side of the ship from blogdaughter’s, than we are summoned to our “muster station” in the ship’s theatre to try on our life jackets and be told that we should – at the sound of the ship’s alarm in all emergency circumstances – head down to the muster station, no fewer than five decks below our own, to receive further instructions. Now, I’m not one to question authority, but I remember what happened to young Leonardo Dicaprio on the Titanic and the idea of heading towards the bowels of the ship as it gives its best impression of the Poseidon Adventure seems to me just a tad counter-intuitive. Especially having spent a good half hour shuffling here in the first place behind an extremely elderly and severely overweight clientele equipped with walking frames.
Friday 18 December
Breakfast, for which we share a table with some people that we don’t know – so that’s already different from being at home. We agree tentatively – with complete strangers (and we’re all British so this doesn’t come easy) – that we’re now at sea and are almost certainly heading south towards the Canaries where it may well be warmer than at home. But nobody wants to put their neck on the line just yet as it’s the first day. We are due three days at sea before we next see land and we need to be wary of coming across to our fellow passengers as know-alls.
Something chimes. It’s the ship’s Entertainment Manager sounding like Gladys Pugh from Hi-de-Hi! She informs us that at 10 a.m. they’ll be opening the first window on the ship’s advent calendar and we’re all invited. I carefully weigh this up as an option and decide, on balance, that I’ll go back to my cabin and read about supporter ownership schemes in football.
Blogfamily finds that it can locate its members around the ship by means of text messages bounced at considerable expense off the nearest satellite. This does not however always work with blogdaughter who is unable to determine which side, end or deck of the ship she is on at any one time. For over a thousand miles we assumed that she’d jumped ship.
There are films showing in the ship’s theatre and we go to see the 2015 version of Far from the Madding Crowd with Carey Mulligan and Michael Sheen. For most of the audience the Terence Stamp/Julie Christie/Alan Bates film of 1967 is quite recent enough, as they continue to point out in unacceptably loud whispers for the next 120 minutes or so.
We decide to try the nightly general knowledge quiz and are invited to join up with an elderly couple (a category in which, on this cruise, I’m reluctant to place Mrs. Blog and myself) and a lady travelling on her own to form a “six”. We finish second, which is nice. We discover that our solo traveller is on her 27th cruise in the last four years and will be taking this identical cruise – on the same ship – just four days after it returns to Southampton. We later realise that this is just beginners’ stuff – many passengers have notched up sixty, seventy or more. There is clearly a culture here of which we know little.
With winds building to force 8 we are starting to walk with a strange gait. Mrs. Blog takes the precaution of taking a handful of seasickness tablets: I fear we may not see her for a few days.
Saturday 19 December
Most passengers make it to breakfast. We compare notes. Overall we are inclined to agree that, by and large, the sea is now rougher than it was in the Solent. Or Southampton dock. Someone says the words “Bay of Biscay” and we all nod. We relate tales of our heroic, or nausea rich, crossings of said Bay, though the geographer in me suggests that the positioning of the Bay in some of these narrations is variable and appears to apply to many locations around the Atlantic, and further afield.
I am faced with a choice of diversions today, from The Latest in Wrinkle Remedies to Arthritis and Back Pain and Facial Rejuvenation. I think I’ll file these away with the invitation to Adult Karaoke. Eat More to Weigh Less sounds like a possibility, especially if I leave half way through…
Because of the state of the sea it is announced that tonight’s show, Blame it on the Boogie, is cancelled as the dancers prefer to remain upright to give their best.
Instead we see a film that might otherwise have escaped our attention at home, A Royal Night Out, a “fact based account” of the night of VE Day in 1945 and apparently the last time that QE 2 and Princess Margaret were allowed out to meet “normal people” – or, in this case, the odd equerry. A couple behind us maintain a running commentary on the film throughout. I suspect they don’t get out much at home and think this is Gogglebox. If you happen to have missed this film so far, do try to keep it that way.
At 10.30 pm we turn up for the quiz again and our teammates from last night join us. We compare notes and agree that there has been a lot of swell today. Our solo “27 cruise” veteran tells us, “Stormy? I was nearly thrown across the bed last night. And that hasn’t happened for a while.” We come second again, to the same team that beat us last night. One of our team claims she heard that the winners are “professionals” and says they shouldn’t be allowed to compete. I’m not sure what that means but we now start referring to them as the brainboxes. I notice that our teammate tends to cover herself after each answer is announced by adding “I thought that was probably it.”
Sunday 20 December
We share a table for breakfast again. We agree, by a majority, that the sun is in fact now shining and that this is an improvement. Also, we believe that the sea is flatter today. We all indicate that our own cabin is in that part of the ship most vulnerable to the swell – being higher/lower/forward/aft or midships.
Mrs. B, having for the first few days joined in with the public rite of breakfast, will henceforth remain in her cabin at breakfast time and “come to” gently with the aid of her own much travelled cafetiere. This means I am now obliged to eat for two. I am also charged with taking back to the cabin for her a croissant, muffin or pastry. Surprisingly, I manage to feel furtive when doing this on our holidays at hotels around the world, despite having already paid several thousand pounds for the privilege.
After the chimes Gladys Pugh announces that at 10 a.m. there will be an opportunity to learn about Colonic Irrigation in the Lower Atrium, though I’m not sure whether this is an anatomical reference. The gym classes sound tempting but, after careful consideration, I settle for a good read in our cabin.
Tonight I’m delighted to find that someone other than me does an almighty “Shush” at the four people sat behind us who seem to be shouting their conversation at full volume and drowning out the classical guitarist whom we’d all come to listen to.
The evening gets even better when our regular team of six manages to beat the brainboxes and win the quiz and the bottle of wine that comes with it. This despite the unfortunate tendency of Mrs. B, when excited, to whisper her contributions rather louder than her normal speaking voice and thus share them unhelpfully with our competitors.
Monday 21 December
From the bed Mrs. Blog spots a lamppost moving past the cabin window at dawn and we find that we have arrived in Arrecife, the main town of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.
Gladys invites us to go along and Guess the Weight of the Heaviest Passenger. Or it may have been Cake. We have not booked any of the organised excursions on this holiday in the belief that we will be able to see what we wish to see, and at lower cost, by walking, taking a tourist “hop on, hop off” bus, public transport or taxi. Admittedly this puts the responsibility on us for getting back on board in time for the evening departure, but this seems a small price to pay.
Mrs. B, ever fearful of temperature variations of anything over one degree, bids me carry in my small day sack several full changes of clothing for her, a brolly and spare shoes. You can never be too careful.
We take a taxi from the harbour to the quaint former capital of Teguise. The skies open and we take cover in a café where, Mrs. B having passed on the “free” breakfast on board, she now requires a substantial brunch. This does not sit well with me. I say this: one eats, not when one needs to but when it’s there, especially when you’ve paid for it.
Most of what there may once have been to see in Teguise appears to be closed. However, we do find an art exhibition in a former nunnery devoted to the potato as “a characteristic symbol of traditional agriculture”. Unfortunately, as we try to enter the building we are turned away by staff who have chosen today to rearrange the display. We are encouraged by the information centre staff to visit a new museum devoted to the timple which turns out to be a musical instrument traditionally associated with the island. We file this thought away for future quiz reference but head for the exit.
A typical street scene in Teguise, complete with timpler. Timplist?
We wait well over an hour for the town’s only taxi to take us back to Arrecife and are relieved that we hadn’t done the Teguise trip later in the day when the implications of missing the boat (literally) might have exercised us. As it happens we spend a pleasant time in Arrecife, eating our first tapas of the holiday and mooching amiably around the town in the warm sunshine.
Back on board and we come second to the brainboxes in the quiz.
Tuesday 22 December
We sail through the night as seems to be the routine and arrive at Las Palmas in Gran Canaria at dawn. Gladys announces that there will be a session this morning on Fluid Retention and Swollen Ankles. We decide to give this a miss and go ashore.
We take the tourist bus through the town and get off near the cathedral and the Christopher Columbus house (the Casa de Colon, and it’s not what you think.) We find great tapas and, hoorah, free wi-fi. Mrs. B is in her element. We hop back on the bus and then get lost trying to reach the ship. Harbours don’t really lend themselves to round walks and we managed to reach the end of a breakwater, staring longingly across a wide stretch of what can only be described as sea between us and the Ventura.
We make it back to the ship in time and notice that passengers travelling in steerage class have been pressganged into raising the ship’s anchor so we can get away in good time. They’ll need to think about that next time they contemplate booking the “supersaver” option.
During the evening we hear a call through the PA system for the medical rescue team to attend on deck C, and later a priest. One can only assume that, with an average passenger age falling at least in the 70s, the ship’s caterers make allowance for a degree of natural wastage during every trip. Later we learn that a couple has been evicted from the ship at Las Palmas after the male had seen fit to stick a knife into his partner in a spot of “domestic”: it’s a shame that P&O don’t seem to offer any workshops on this cruise in “managing TV remote disputes.”
I’m struggling with the social etiquette of our quiz team. It’s disconcerting to find that we seem to score fewer points than the combined sum of our knowledge would suggest:
Question master: In which decade did Goldie, the golden eagle, escape from London Zoo?
Me: That was in the Sixties. I remember it well.
Teammate: No. More like the 80s or 90s. I’m too young to have remembered it if it had been the 60s.
Me: It was the 60s.
Teammate: No, definitely not.
Me: It was the 60s.
Teammate: I don’t mind settling for the 70 as a compromise.
Me: But it was the 60s.
Teammate: Here we go. Look, I’m putting it down as the 70s, that’s fair isn’t it?
Question master: Well, we have all the answers in and all of the tables have it correct apart from one. It was of course the 60s.
Teammate: We don’t seem to be having any luck tonight do we?
Wednesday 23 December
We arrive in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. While the meals on the Ventura have generally been excellent, this morning’s kedgeree just isn’t up to scratch. More like a very wet fish curry. Never mind, I make up for it with a full English afterwards.
We pass on this morning’s Relieving Back Pain and Improving Posture workshop and disembark.
We take a local bus to La Laguna, do a bit of sightseeing and find some more tapas for lunch. The smart modern tram back to Santa Cruz is a bonus.
Back on the Ventura I take in a Tina Turner tribute act in one of the bars. She’s very good but it’s probably a mistake to ask the audience to wave their hands in the air as this will involve putting their knitting down. We drop in on the theatre which is showcasing “songs from the latest musicals”: this, we notice, covers Oklahoma and Anything Goes.
We come second in the quiz.
Thursday 24 December
I’m tempted by this morning’s Body Sculpting, Celullite and Colon treatment in the spa but, at £83, not that tempted.
Funchal, Madeira. We walk along the front and take the cable car up to Largo da Monte, with spectacular views in all directions, a fine place at the top for morning coffee and splendid public gardens. Rather than taking the same way down we queue for Funchal’s unique toboggan ride. This, a survival from Victorian times, involves two men dressed like Venetian gondoliers scooting and steering a kind of oversized wicker basket on runners containing between one and three passengers for over a mile down roads made increasingly glassy over the years.
It’s hairy, believe me, and I don’t recall seeing anything about insurance and liability. But bl**dy exciting. I wonder whether the men, some of whom have apparently been tobogganing for several decades, develop one particularly muscled thigh and focus on being a right or left sided gondolier. Or, if they were to take the opportunity of free movement of labour in the EU, how would they define their professional attributes in terms of transferable skills. What commensurate jobs would they be asked to take? (Sorry, this is what happens to my “mind” if it’s not properly occupied.)
We like Funchal, and Madeira. A lot. Christmas is clearly big here. We are told by a couple with whom we share our cable car that the previous night, December 23, was one almighty all night street party in Funchal. Mrs. Blog and I like the sound of that – up to 9 pm anyway, which is plenty late enough in my book. The city is adorned with climbing Santas, Christmas markets and children’s grottoes. We fit in yet another tourist bus ride before making our way back to the ship.
Being Christmas Eve we are treated to a reading of “The Night Before Christmas” through the PA system in every public space on the ship and in every cabin. It is announced that Santa has been spotted approaching the Ventura and …..
…to be continued