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After sleeping solidly for almost 12 hours, I woke up ready to face the world. I didn’t feel a hundred percent – I had developed a bit of a sore throat and a tickly cough – but the extreme tiredness of yesterday had dissipated, and after a refreshing shower, I was ready; hungry for breakfast and geared up for my final classes.

Tracey suggested that I should perhaps take a covid test to be sure that it was nothing more than a protracted tiredness from the previous night. Initially, this was a suggestion that I rejected outright; after all, I’ve been used to getting these sort of minor ailments over all the years that I’ve been working on board ships (The ‘Marco Polo Lurgie’, anyone?). Various on-board air-conditioning systems have often seemed to result in me developing an annoying cough so, as far as I was concerned, there was nothing to worry about.

But then I changed my mind. To put it bluntly, Tracey worries about these things more than me. Not that I don’t have a social conscience, but I decided that a test would allay any fears; after all, I’ve tested negative throughout the daily crew testing regime (yesterday included), so cracking open one of our own lateral flow tests before heading down to sign-up couldn’t hurt. And I was one hundred percent certain it would come up negative.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the test came up with a positive result.

After two whole years of a global pandemic, when neither of us had contracted the virus or even come into direct contact with anyone who had had it, and a month’s long cruise, where every possible precaution had been taken, and daily testing had produced negative results right across the board, I couldn’t believe that it had finally got me at last.

Where it came from remains a mystery. My suspicion is that it may have come from that pesky lift in Lisbon, and the close proximity to the unmasked people in the queue. Covid can have a 2-3 day gestation period, though, so I may have picked it up earlier than that – The busy night in the Supper Club maybe. The truth is, we’ll almost certainly never know.

I rang the medical centre, who sent up a nurse to double-test me themselves – after all, there was always the slim possibility that we had a false positive on our hands. Alas, that test only confirmed the bad news. A call to Rolando in the cruise office was made so that he could meet the people in the Art and Craft Room and tell them that there would be no classes today.

It being the last day, we hoped that we could isolate in our own room. Unfortunately, despite the nurse pleading our case to the Health and Safety Department, this wasn’t to be. A whole section of the ship has been set aside for the purpose, which meant we had to pack our bags and transfer to a different cabin.

When the team arrived, donned in full hazmat suits to help us make the transfer, it felt like we were being sent to prison, or at least to a high security wing, where isolating passengers can be closely monitored and all meals are left on a table outside the cabin door. I fully expected to be tapping messages to adjacent rooms via old iron pipes or planning a tunnel escape, and as we walked down the corridor, images of Cersei Lannister doing the walk of shame in Game of Thrones crept into my mind. In truth, it wasn’t as bad as that at all, and me making groping zombie gestures to some of the crew who we passed garnered the good-humoured response that I’d hoped for.

It’s a shame it happened, but if it was inevitable, then today was probably the best time for it. Apart from the change of cabin (which is identical in every way except the artwork on the wall and the colour of the carpet, it just means we’ve had to spend the whole day in there. We have TV and Video on Demand, food just a phone call away, and a balcony should we feel like we want to sit out (although, as we approach the English Channel, it’s a bit nippy out there). Sadly, my students were deprived of their final class, and we were unable to say our fond farewells to our fellow guest artists and lecturers. On the plus side, we didn’t lose any ports; people testing positive earlier on in the trip were in isolation for five or more days. Poor Albert, the magician, started the cruise with 9 days in isolation because of getting a haircut in the spa. The hairdresser had tested positive, so he had to isolate for nine days, and he never even had it!

So, not the end to the trip that we’d hoped for, but a mere blip on an otherwise splendid voyage.

I’m booked on a trip across the Atlantic in December, to run painting workshops on the Viking Sea. Whether anything else pops up in the meantime remains to be seen. For now, my work here is done, and after a two year break, it finally feels like some sort of return to normality. With the Spirit of Adventure, Saga have taken cruisng to a whole new level of luxury and sophistication – hopefully, I’ll be working for them again very soon. Watch this spaceā€¦

Peter Woolley

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