Category Archives: Black Watch

Monday – Last Day at Sea

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….


Sunday – The Bay of Biscay

Today is the 207th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, apparently – Happy Trafalgar Day! The Captain’s daily ‘Believe it or Not’ is: Ants can pull about 30 times their own weight and lift 50 times their own weight, and; in the republic of Albania, a shake of the head means ‘yes’, and nodding your head means ‘no’.


We’re into the Bay of Biscay and heading towards good ol’ Blighty. The swell has died down, and the going has been quite smooth; the sun has shone, but it’s been very windy out on deck, and quite cool, so I’ve spent most of my free time in the cabin, working again.


This afternoon  was the last of the watercolour workshops, on Negative Painting. It’s a challenging exercise, but everyone seemed to enjoy it, and the pile of paintings for tomorrow’s exhibition has grown quite large. I checked with the entertainments office this morning what time the exhibition will be, and was told that it’s going to be 3pm until 5pm outside the Library, on Deck 7 (the location chosen, and insisted on, by Head Office, and confirmed in an email to the Entertainments Office). They even gave me three packs, and a huge dollop, of Blu-tack…. everything is now set…..


…or at least I thought it was….


Having spent all afternoon telling my students where the art exhibition will be tomorrow, and what time it will be (and asking them to tell everyone they know about it, mostly because I can’t envisage many people being in the vicinity of the Library at that time in an afternoon), the craft tutor’s husband pointed out to me this evening that the Daily Blurb is advertising the exhibition as being in the Braemar Lounge. Now, as it turns out, this isn’t a bad thing – The Braemar Lounge is more likely to attract passing interest – it would just have been nice to have been told about it. I cornered Jackie this evening and asked her to confirm the change; she said that Ronnie, the Cruise Director, had decided he wanted it to take place in the Braemar Lounge, and that he is going to have some specially-made boards brought up for the purpose. I pointed out that we have a huge number of paintings, and that they’ll probably all end up being blu-tacked to the walls anyway…. this, I can’t wait to see….


Tonight was a Formal night, so the dinner suit and dickie-bow got one last airing before being packed away until the next time – ‘Formal’ is not my natural way of being. Showtime was ‘The Crew Show’, when crew members from all around the ship, and its various departments, put their hidden talents on display. I’ve seen quite a number of crew shows now, and can’t help but feel that once you’ve seen one, you’ve sort of seen them all; this was no less enjoyable, though. There were the traditional Philippino dances, in traditional costume, a handful of singers and, of course,  the men from engineering doing their own version of ‘In The Navy’. It all culminated in a rousing anthemic Finale from the entire ensemble – these shows are always hugely popular with the passengers, and tonight was no exception. 


So; only one more day left at sea, and a grand art exhibition to round it all off…. nearly home!

Saturday – Rocking and Rolling

The sea isn’t particularly rough (there are no white horses), but there has been quite a hefty swell for most of the day as we’ve headed due North, with the coastline of Portugal visible over to our starboard side. The Black Watch has rocked and rolled quite considerably; the sick bags have been out, lining the stairwells, and I suspect many people simply stayed in bed, where they’re less likely to fall over. It’s all very apt, really, because the dress code theme for this evening is ‘Rock & Roll’.


There have been several dolphin sightings during the course of the day; about twenty were spotted this morning, apparently, following the wake of the ship, and this afternoon, about a dozen were spotted out of the windows, right at the end of the watercolour class. I briefly saw about half a dozen of them along the edges of our bow wave, appearing and disappearing a couple of times before diving under the ship. One lady was quite annoyed that she didn’t see them, yet again; she’d even paid for the dolphin-spotting tour when we were in Gibraltar and still hadn’t seen a single dolphin…. I think I’d want my money back!


I’ve had them painting skies today; the penultimate session of the cruise. With only one more workshop to go before our grand exhibition, on Monday, I’ve asked people to start submitting their work, remembering to put their cabin numbers on the reverse; there’s quite a pile already…. I only hope we’ll have enough blu-tack.


Today’s ‘Believe it or not’s, from the Captain was: The first bullet-proof vest and windscreen wiper blades were invented by a woman (he didn’t say whether they were both invented by the same woman), and; cold weather makes finger nails grow faster….


We’ve gone into heading-home mode; passengers were invited to register today for a talent show due to take place tomorrow afternoon (tomorrow evening will be the Crew Show), and this morning’s highlight in the Lido Lounge was a demonstration of how to make unique and fascinating craft items from crisp packets (seriously). This afternoon was the Grand Tea Dance, along with Grand Tea and Cakes…. we’re gearing up for our Grand Exhibition….


Everything’s just…. grand!


Since the start of the cruise, we’ve had a ‘New Seeker’ on board. Marty Kristian, one of the original members of The New Seekers has been giving lectures about his time with the band and Rock n’ Roll stories and anecdotes from that era. Unfortunately, due to running my classes, I’ve not been able to listen in on any. However; this evening, after dinner, and before the Black Watch Show Company performed their high-energy tribute to Elvis, the Cruise Director interviewed Marty in a sort of Parkinson-esque show. It was an interesting watch, which finished with him singing a couple of songs with his guitar.


I didn’t see many winkle-pickers, although there were a few pairs of jeans on show, in acknowledgment of it being Rock n’ Roll night. There’s a Rock n’ Roll disco on tonight, but I don’t think they could handle my Rock n’ Roll Daddy-dancing!

Friday – Gibraltar

Today, we arrived at Gibralltar. It was an early arrival (7am), but I didn’t emerge until gone 9am. It was cold and raining, and a little bit like being back home, if it wasn’t for the fact that when you looked out to look at the awful weather, there was the Rock of Gibraltar rising up majestically behind the town.


The weather was so horrible, I had to muster all the enthusiasm I could to get my stuff together and venture outside. I had briefly been on deck, only to retreat back inside as quickly as I could; I’d missed breakfast by getting up late, and we were only here until 4:30pm, so it was now or never.


For the first time in weeks, I opted for socks and trainers instead of sandals, and I also put on a warm fleece and my lightweight cagoule. Once past the main cruise terminal buildings (sadly, no free wi-fi), it’s a long, straight road into the town. It isn’t far; only 15 or 20 minutes or so, but with the rain pouring down, and many sporting umbrellas, it was all quite unpleasant.


As I walked, though, the rain finally started to ease off a bit, so it looked like things were probably looking up after all. Gibraltar is a British Crown colony, so, once in the town centre, it really did feel like home. Despite a heavy Spanish influence, and the fact that cars drive on the wrong side of the road, there were pubs here, and cafes offering all-day breakfast and good old British fish and chips. There’s a large Morrisons here, and familiar shops such as BHS, Marks and Spencer, Next and Peacocks. It’s not an unattractive town, and I’m sure for any passengers who wanted to indulge in one last shopping spree, it has much to tempt those itching to spend their last few euros. Actually, Gibraltar takes English Pounds, but we were advised to make sure and ask for your change in the same currency, and not be lumbered with Gibraltar Pounds, which are not legal tender back in the UK.


Anyway; I wasn’t here to spend my money (no change there then); I had my eye on that rock. The Rock of Gibraltar is composed of Jurassic limestone more than 200 million years old, and at its highest point rises to 300 metres above sea-level in an area measuring less than three and a half square miles. My first objective was to navigate my way through the side streets of the town, and up long flights of steps, reminiscent of Lisbon, to the Moorish Castle, which overlooks the bay. Up close, it isn’t really much to look at, but the views across the bay, and towards mainland Spain are awesome. By now, the rain had stopped completely, and I was starting to enjoy myself. The road continued to rise, and as I continued walking, I noticed a kiosk which said ‘Tickets’ across the door. Assuming it was just for entry to the Moorish Castle, I started to walk past it, as the road continued to rise, which was where I wanted to go. As I passed, though, a man in a uniform emerged and asked me if I wished to purchase a ticket. I explained that I didn’t want to go inside the castle, and that I just wanted to follow the road up the hill. What I hadn’t realised was that this was the entrance to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. The man showed me the scale of charges, which varied according to what attractions I might want to avail myself of. Hello, thought I; here we go…. they were going to fleece me for just going for a walk…. Walker’s rate?….. 50p. Cool!!!! I was relieved, and happy to turn over a 50 pence piece to enable me to carry on walking. There are several visitor attractions dotted across the reserve, including Great Siege Tunnels, from the Great Siege of 1779-83, St. Michael’s Cave and a Military Heritage Centre – an all-in-one ticket, including entrance to all of these, would have cost me £10. I had only one objective, though…… to see the apes!


Referring to the map that my 50p had bought me, I followed one of the roads that criss-cross the side of the rock, heading in the general direction of the Apes Den. Along the way, I was able to look round a ‘City Under Siege’ exhibition, and a couple of ancient Lime Kilns. At all times, the views across the bay were stunning, and I stopped often to film video and take photographs.


Finally, I reached the Apes Den. This is where the famous Barbary Apes of Gibraltar live and roam freely; the only place in Europe. Actually, they are tailless monkeys, properly known as Barbary macaques, and beautiful creatures they are too. As I approached the area where they are most concentrated, I could see them, sat on walls and jumping about in the undergrowth. Signs are dotted everywhere asking visitors not to feed them, and reminding them that they are wild animals and are advised to show caution when in their company (they’re prone to rippping your head off and making off with your bags, apparently).


The first one I saw was sat on a low wall quite noncholantly digging into a bag of crisps and taking the occasional sup from a can of coke. Then there were the babies; tiny little bundles of energy that looked like they’d only just learnt to walk; clinging to their mothers, then bouncing off to do humourous little-monkey-things. Others were just sat relaxing, or engaged in the art of picking fleas off each other, which seemed more like more of a social-bonding exercise than a practical one. It was quiet today; I hadn’t met a single other person on my travels, and I had the apes to myself for several minutes, before any coaches appeared. When one did pull up alongside, and passengers disembarked, the apes would suddenly become extremely interested in their visitors, and got quite animated; a couple of them would dutifully pose while people took photos of each other standing beside them. The humans would whoop and holler in delight at seeing the monkeys and their antics; one kept climbing onto the bus and clinging to the windows. Then when the coaches went, the apes slipped back to their somnambulent state…. curious.


My way back down to the town was via an old, rough track, parts of which would have been a road at one time, but were now in a state of serious disrepair, and had suffered from rock falls and erosion. It was steep in places, but a path nonetheless. Curiously; it brought me down into what’s known as the Upper Town, without any signs of a ticket kiosk – worth remembering for when we come back this way again…. I could have saved meself 50p!


After lunch, I spent most of the afternoon working in the cabin. My trainers were still sopping wet from the rain this morning, and I didn’t really fancy a repeat walk into town just to see if I could find free wi-fi – a leisurely afternoon seemed more appropriate.


At 4:30pm, it was all-aboard for the last time. Ice cream was being served on the back deck, along with the ice-carving demonstration, postponed from yesterday. At 5pm, the captain fired up the engines, and we said farewell to our last port of call.


We now have three sea days, taking us back through the Bay of Biscay towards our final destination… Dover.


Thursday – At Sea – More Cocktails

Today, we are at sea, heading towards our final port of call, Gibraltar, where we’re due to arrive early tomorrow morning.


This morning they advertised ‘Can’t Cook Won’t Cook’ out on the poolside deck at 10:30am, to be followed immediately by an ice carving demonstration. It’s an event I’ve seen done on pretty much all the cruises I’ve worked on; the head chef takes two novices, usually the resident comedian and one other entertainer, through the process of cooking up a dish, with additional contributions and hilarious running commentary from the Cruise Director. The deck was damp from  rain earlier, and despite being warm enough, the sky was, and has been throughout the day, rather overcast (what we call in the North: ‘Claggy’). At 10:30, when I went upstairs to watch the entertainment, they were still trying to get everything set up. Unfortunately, the main problem was electrics; they’d set up three electric hobs – one for the chef and two for the novices; who today was Andy Rudge, the comedian, and Leo, the show singer – they could only get one to work properly, while one would only work intermittently, and the third wouldn’t work at all. The Stage crew were working frantically, swapping leads and plugs around to try and get the show underway, but things never quite got sorted out right; even the microphones weren’t playing the game. They got started eventually, but it didn’t really work quite right. The chef had to manage without a hob, and just talk the other two through making a beef stroganoff…. It was okay, but I’m thinking this is probably the last time they’ll try it out on deck. The ice carving has been put back until tomorrow.


At noon, the captain gave his daily update from the bridge; telling us how far we’d travelled from Palma, how far we have to go to Gibraltar, air temperature, sea temperature, sea depth and a weather forcast for the rest of the day. As has become traditional on this cruise, he finished with a couple of his ‘Believe It Or Not’s…. Believe it or not; The largest milk producing country in the world is india, and ‘Believe it or Not’; a lion can mate more than 50 times in one day… fascinating.


Hurrah for cocktail parties!! Today. I received an invitation/request to attend a cocktail party in the library, at 5:45pm (after my workshop), for guests who were in the suites. Fantastic! Free booze! I had an enjoyable hour and a half, not really mingling as much as I think I’m expected to do, but enjoying the free wine and canapes and hob-nobbing with the Bridge tutors and the Future Cruise Manager who had organised it all. Slightly pickled on four glasses of red wine, I left not caring a jot that I would now have to eat in the Glentanar Restaurant…. as it turned out, as I approached the restaurant at just gone 8:30pm (after a bit of a power nap), Neil, the concert pianist, was getting a cup of tea at the tea station. I asked him if he’d already eaten, and he told me, yes he had; he’d eaten in the Garden Cafe because there were loads of free spaces if you spoke to the man in charge… I ended up enjoying the Spanish Supper in the Cafe, with Glen, the musician from the Lido Lounge… so it turned out to be not such a bad evening after all…