You may also wish to check out BLOG 54 for Cruising to Christmas Part 1. Or not.
Evening of Thursday 24 December, Christmas Eve
So there we are in the ship’s restaurant, anxiously awaiting news of Santa. When the announcement eventually comes through from the bridge that he has landed safely on the poop deck (it’s called poop deck, so just get over it), a heartfelt round of applause rings around the room. It is an emotional moment. (You have to be here to appreciate this fully.)
In this evening’s quiz we drop to third place. I put it down in my own case to over-excitement, with the big day being now just hours away.
Friday 25 December, Christmas Day
At sea, between Madeira and Lisbon. Little evidence of a “white” one and, thankfully, no sign of icebergs. You should never take these things for granted.
Champagne for breakfast, on the balcony of our cabin. I recall little after that.
Clever Santa has succeeded in smuggling a few presents on board to our cabin. With reluctance I have left behind in Sussex the present from my brother, a three foot vacuum packed salmon with smoked Craster kippers on the side. Blogdaughter is taking no chances and has brought along her own “Santa Stop Here!” sign from home. Mrs. Blog and I both receive – from each other — a copy of Ben Fogle’s new book, Labrador, clearly intended to prompt the other in respect of searching out a replacement for our much loved Molly. So, if you’re short of a copy…
I have spared Mrs. B from the gift that I have bestowed on one or two friends this year, a coffee table book of photographs of Soviet Bus Stops.
For dinner we have booked a table in the ship’s premium restaurant in order to ensure something of an occasion. The meal is excellent, and the smartest dressed that I can ever remember being on Christmas Day.
Blogdaughter and “author”: note the firm grip on the wine glass
Nothing gets in the way of the nightly quiz. We manage to come second, mainly by dint of still being conscious, which may not be the case with all of our competitors.
Saturday 26 December, Boxing Day
We are warned that the average cruise passenger should expect to put on between 7 and 14 pounds during the trip. I forego the classes on Secrets to a Flatter Stomach and Burn Fat Fast but decide to reduce the size of the spoonful of sugar that goes into my coffee, at least in each second cup.
The ship newsletter reminds us that we will be asked to complete a feedback form at the end of the cruise. Under “suggestions” I shall point out that they are wasting their time and space in providing stairs – we have yet to see anyone else use anything other than the lift, though some might have benefited from the exercise.
We are in Lisbon today. If this comes up in the quiz tonight, I shall maintain that this lies in Portugal, though I suspect I may have to compromise with my team member (see Cruising part 1) and settle for calling it Spain.
I have been here before for a conference, years ago. The city centre is very attractive but seems to have become somewhat grubbier over the years – unless it’s just that I spend more time these days checking where my feet are going. As usual I am carrying several changes of outfit for Mrs. Blog in the event of sudden and extreme climate change.
(I follow my normal practice here of requesting assistance from Mrs. B in sourcing appropriate illustrations for the blog. I suggest to her that, “for comic effect”, we would benefit from a photograph of a Victorian lady disembarking from a liner, supported by teams of servants bearing enormous trunks, chests and suitcases. Her use of the words “ladies” and “large chests” in the search engine takes us to some interesting, though unsuitable, websites.)
It proves to be bitterly cold upstairs on the open top tourist bus but, being a man, and despite being totally inappropriately dressed (we were off the coast of Africa when I last left the ship), I am not prepared to follow Mrs. Blog and Blogdaughter in seeking refuge downstairs.
There is no quiz tonight. The various question masters are all busy being Buttons or Ugly Sisters in the rehearsals for tomorrow’s panto. Which, happily, means we are undefeated this evening.
Sunday 27 December
We attend a talk in the ship’s theatre on Alan Turing, the codebreaker. I am finding it increasingly difficult queuing behind fellow passengers who remain motionless for minutes at a time as they try to recall where they last saw their husband/wife, food tray or teeth. Were they like this before they came on board? Have they in fact remained on board from some previous cruise, unable to find the exit?
The talk on Turing is excellent. There is a couple behind me seeking clarification on one or two things, like the meaning of “gay”, and “computer”.
The panto is also a great success. It offers me the opportunity to adopt a response of ironic amusement to the on-stage merriment while in fact loving it and wishing that all theatre could be this enjoyable. It’s hard to tell whether the little ones at the front or the more mature members of the audience are picking up most on the bawdy humour. It is a relief to be sat in the upper stalls and thus relatively safe from being addressed directly by Fairy Godmother or any of the cross-dressing cast members.
The quiz is back on this evening. Because of the two night gap since the last one, the previous winners are not docked the usual point to handicap them. One of our team loudly disputes this. I am embarrassed. We shouldn’t be taking it this seriously. Unless we win, of course. We don’t.
Monday 28 December
It is vital, I inform the family, that we take in as much of the entertainment as possible today as it has all been paid for and this will be our last opportunity.
We watch, and hugely enjoy, the Ventura Vocalists performing in the atrium. (It’s like that big staircase thing you’ve seen in ocean bottom images of the Titanic, though with more bling. And fewer fish, obviously.)
These are passengers who have assembled during the cruise to practise and perform an assortment of carols and popular songs — as well as “These are a Few of my Favourite Things”. We recognise some of the choir and they put on an excellent show. I’ve not watched any of Gareth Malone’s efforts on TV when he apparently creates a workmanlike choir from ordinary raw materials, but, if this is what it’s like, I’m all for it.
We see the new Tom Hanks/Mark Rylance film Bridge of Spies which is on our “to do” list anyway, so that’s saving money. And we also go to the last night entertainment in the theatre, a somewhat raunchy “straight to cruise” rock musical. All in all this is almost too much excitement in one day.
But the best is still to come. We have clearly saved something for the last quiz night and prove to be runaway winners of the bottle of sauvignon blanc. Happily, our correct answers are nicely spread across the team. Our “frequent cruiser” (27 in four years, and counting) knows that the Nepalese flag is the only national one that isn’t either square or rectangular; our elderly couple remember the Christian names of the Andrews Sisters; Blogdaughter surprises neither of her parents by cleaning up on any alcohol related questions; Mrs. Blog knows the medical term for blackheads and I can now die happy, having dredged up the name Katniss Everdeen from some dark recess. We want the night to go on forever.
Unrelated, though topical, footnote
We are just a few days into the new year and I have already broken a number of my resolutions, which were worded as follows:
- “I will in future refer to Downton Abbey as “drama” and not “panto”
- “In the interests of politeness, and despite all evidence to the contrary, I am prepared to accept that the Daily Mail is actually a real newspaper and that, contrary to what I may have said previously, it is in fact suitable for use as cat litter.”
- “Although my support for Liverpool FC is passionate, I will acknowledge that referees and their assistants are in every instant operating with 100% accuracy in their decision making.”