Monday – Last Day at Sea

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It’s been a cold, grey day at sea (what we call in the North; ‘claggy’). At noon today, we were in the English Channel with Guernsey somewhere off to our starboard side. There hasn’t been much of a swell, but visibility was very poor, and most passengers stayed inside, in the warm. People still need to be entertained, though, and I was amazed to see about a dozen people out on deck playing some deck game, huddled into their raincoats and cagoules… there’s determination for you. Elsewhere, the lounges have been full of people reading their Kindles and, occasionally, books, and loads of bridge games have been in process in the Library. I was in there myself at one point, checking emails, and was amazed to see a bloke sit down opposite me with his laptop and dial up someone on Skype, and proceed to have a rather loud conversation with somebody back home about his house insurance, much to the disapproving looks of the other library users and bridge players. With the extortionate cost of the ship’s wi-fi, I can’t help thinking it would have been cheaper for him to ring home from his cabin telephone.


It’s our last day at sea, which means packing. I’ve been putting it off, though (it’ll only take me ten minutes), and taking a walk around the ship, looking for other things to occupy my mind in the long hours before our exhibition this afternoon. First, I attended a lecture (the first one I’ve been to on the whole cruise), which was on steam trains. I’m no enthusiast, and I think the lecturer covered just about every working steam train in the country, but I did start to take a bit of an interest when pictures appeared on the screen of lines that were familiar to me (North York Moors railway, passing through Goathland; Wensleydale Railway from Northallerton to Redmire, and hopefully one day as far as Hawes, and the High Peak Railway in Derbyshire. He covered the Snowdon Mountain Railway, too, which was interesting and nice to reminisce on).


Then there was the Dolphin Racing. If ever you need proof that the British are a little bit potty, you need look no further than this crazy event. We do like a flutter, though, don’t we? – it seems folks have taken it really seriously on this trip; the stakes have grown higher and higher, and today’s race attracted a record crowd. Wooden cut-out dolphins, each about four feet high, moving to the roll of a dice may not seem like much fun, but the energy and excitement in the Lido Lounge, for todays final race of the cruise, made Aintree seem like a school sports day by comparison. Dolphins have been ‘bought’ and ‘sold’ and dressed in their owner’s colours. There were a couple of late name-changes, too; Dolphin Number 4 was to be now known as ‘Don’t Sit On The Ship’s Side’, which was to prove an interesting tongue-twister for the caller and there was a cheer-off to vote for the best-dressed dolphin, all of whom looked quite resplendent in hats, scarves and flags (Dolphin Number 6 had been genetically altered to look like a shark, with a little monkey rider on its back). Bets were placed, the odds were announced (rank outsider, number 4, would pay out £6 for a £1 bet) and when the race finally started, the room went wild.


Dolphins move along a specially marked-out carpet; how far they move is determined by the roll of three dice. The dice-rolling and running commentary was by Ronnie, our Cruise Director, who did a magnificent job, both of keeping the race moving and whipping the assembled company into an absolute frenzy (he’d make a good auctioneer). The race was three lengths of the ‘pool’, and the positions kept changing, with dolphin number 1, ‘Miss Selaneous’ holding a significant lead for most of the way. The owner of Dolphin number 5, ‘Amazing Grace’, had even dressed up for the event, although sadly, his beast came in at a disappointing last place. It looked like Miss Selaneous would win by a mile, but the gap just kept getting smaller and smaller, until there were 4 dolphins racing neck and neck…. you could barely hear yourself think in the Lido Lounge, with the raucous cheering and yelling… and the winner was…. Dolphin Number 2, ‘Miss Trollop’, who won the grand total of £112! The owner, a little old lady, was over the moon; she’d been heard to say before the start of the race that ‘her dolphin never won’…… Hurrah for the Dolphin Racing!


Rather oddly, we’re still an hour behind UK time. I’m not alone in being surprised at not having been asked to put our clocks back yet, either last night or the night before, which is what normally happens; to leave it until the very last night, when we’ll be arriving in Dover in the morning, is certainly a first for me (at one point, I wondered if I’d missed it somehow and was an hour in front of everyone else on the ship, but a few simple enquiries dispelled that worrying thought).


I had a call from Ronnie at just before 2pm, to tell me that he’d been on to the carpenters and that they would be bringing the new screens they’d specially made for our exhibition up to the Braemar Room very shortly. I asked him how large they were, and he assured me they were large. I asked if he’d seen how huge the pile of paintings was that I’d collected, and would it be okay to use the walls if the screens weren’t big enough? Again, he assured me that they’d be big enough, and that, under no circumstances were pictures to be stuck to the walls….


Feeling a little anxious about it all, I picked up the pile of paintings and the Blu-Tack and headed towards the Braemar Room, just as Ronnie arrived there….


Then the screens arrived….


…I needn’t have worried. They were massive – easily 8ft by 4ft, and free-standing. They’d been custom-built by the ship’s carpenters, under Ronnie’s instructions – in fact, Ronnie was more worried about how they were going to store them afterwards. They did the job admirably; by 2:15pm, a half dozen students had turned up to help with the hanging. By 2:45pm, every painting was attached to the screens – actually, that’s all except about four which were stuck to the window.


At 3pm, our Grand Exhibition officially began. It was a good turnout, with lots of people admiring the work. Numbers tailed away slightly at about 3:45pm, but then there was a new surge, as people came out of the afternoon’s lecture. All-in-all, the work looked fantastic, and the feedback was encouraging. I stood looking over at the mingling crowd with pride; what a talented bunch they were…. it didn’t matter whether they’d been painting for years, or if this was the first time they’d picked up a brush – when you jumble them all up and hang them together randomly, they all look fantastic. I insisted that they not be hung in subject order; that would encourage people to start making comparisons – providing they were shuffled up enough, each painting would stand on its own merits… a great result!


And so, we come to the end of another cruise. With the exhibition having been and gone, my work is done here. The packing is done, and the luggage is ready to place outside the door tonight, where it’ll disappear sometime during the wee hours, and the next time I see it will be when I pick it up ashore in the cruise terminal building in Dover, in the morning.


It’s been a fantastic experience, with some new, and exciting, places visited for the first time. For me; Istanbul and Athens were the highlights, but there have been a few surprises along the way. The Black Watch is a beautiful ship, and the crew and passengers made both myself, and Tracey, feel very much at home.


For those of you who have been reading the blog (quite a large number, as it happens – I keep track of the statistics), I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey with me. Don’t forget to check out Tracey’s Blog (the link is to the left of this screen), if you want to see some photos from the trip, and read it all from a different perspective.


Until January, when we do it all again on The Marco Polo, it’s cheerio for now….


Peter Woolley

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