Monday, May 30, 2011

Chapter Five - Spinning Around

Well, Eric wasn’t an axe murderer, or a murderer of any kind, unless it was his day off. He and his wife have a nice big house with a stereotypical American basement with recliners, a bar, a big TV and a pool table. So I’m able to regain my pride after the QM2 Table Tennis experience and reward Eric’s hospitality by stuffing him at pool. My glory is short-lived when the evil sod kicks me out into a storm! Well, actually he had to work a nightshift and leaving a stranger in the house with his pregnant wife would have been ridiculous. So it’s time for Hotel Roulette, which goes something like:
Sat Nav Search – Hotels
Pick a familiar brand within a few miles.
Follow instructions through increasing thunderstorm
Arrive in centre of city, meaning extortionate price for crappy motel and mad traffic in the morning.
Shed a quiet tear, or scream obscenities at the windscreen, spin the roulette wheel again.
Second time I modified the game by heading to the interstate first. This time I picked the Quality Inn and followed the instructions, only to discover there wasn’t a Quality Inn anymore! Arggh! However there was “America’s Best Value Inn”. Now clearly this must be a good place. I mean, you couldn’t just call your business “America’s Best Value” could you?
The receptionist was a member of the British Royal Family. She explained how she was 108th in line to the throne. She’d looked it up on the internet. I drove the hundred yards to Walmart and felt like a lazy American, but with showers like these a man could drown in a hundred yards!
Tuesday dawned a lot brighter and I headed back to New York. Not the city this time, but the Northern part of the state. How many people think of Niagara Falls as being in New York?
Arriving at the top of the Falls I felt a sense of disappointment. Yes they’re big, but not that big. However the Maid of the Mist tour is something special. I boarded a boat with a hundred people clad in blue plastic bags masquerading as ponchos. As we set off it felt comforting to be back on water, though odd to be so close to it after having a deck 7 floors up on the QM2. The atmosphere built as we sailed into the spray from the American Falls, and then onwards under the Horseshoe falls. The boat plunged deep into the horseshoe, with the power of the water crashing around us, the spray soaking us, and rainbows forming in all directions. This was more like it, and from there I appreciated the majesty of the Niagara Falls. Mind you it helped that the large Indian family next to me where cheering and shouting like crazy!
I walked round the Falls park, but nothing was as magnificent as being within the deluge. I briefly contemplated becoming a youtube megastar by yelling “watch this” and lobbing myself over the railing at the top, but then I wouldn’t be around to write the blog.
After the thunder of the falls it was really nice to drive along the serene coast of Lake Ontario, although what was even more serene was the Lake Ontario Parkway, a deserted dual carriageway. I drove the first 20 miles without seeing a car going my way! ..and this at 6pm on a Tuesday in New York state!
Unfortunately I couldn’t find a nice hotel on the lake, so ended up in Rochester. The receptionist didn’t reveal any royal connections, but she did have free cookies, and recommended the Italian restaurant across the street. Now people have poked fun at my choice of dining establishment on previous trips, but this night served to prove me right. The restaurant was very nice, the staff were polite and the food was excellent, but crikey it’s boring eating on your own in that kind of place. Give me a burger and chips, sports to watch and some nutcase at the bar any day!
I get up on Wednesday and I’m heading East! This doesn’t feel right, the idea is to get round the world heading West! But there’s six more states to visit in the North East, and I read somewhere that the Adirondack Mountains in Northern New York are beautiful.
Heading out of Rochester the sun is shining, I’m relaxed and cruising along the dual carriageway when I spot a black SUV at the side of the road behind the trees. Yes, there may be nobody in front of me, perfect visibility and a median to separate me from oncoming traffic, but in the Land of the Free the sign says 55. Officer Younglove fails to live up to his name and gives me a ticket. It probably won’t be the last, the money goes to the local cops so it’s in their interest to patrol stretches with ridiculous limits rather than by schools or playgrounds.
Still, the officer tells me that the Adirondacks are beautiful and that I’ll enjoy them. I refrain from pointing out that I’d enjoy them more if I got there sooner, with more money to spend!
When I do get there there’s nothing to see! It’s impossible to appreciate any sense of mountains as there’s trees everywhere. What I appreciate is the sheer number of lakes. At one point they run out of names, and just start numbering the lakes, until they get to ninth lake, when they decide it’s all getting silly and just resort to descriptions like “Long Lake”. I spurned the town of Old Forge and headed on to Blue Mountain Lake, simply because it sounded more exotic. A decision I regretted upon seeing the sign for Blue Mountain Lake Hamlet, and realising there was nothing there, as opposed to several hotels in Old Forge offering Pools and Spas! Oh well, I trundled on through forest and woodland, past lake after lake before spotting the Sandy Point Motel.
This time I’ve won at Hotel Roulette. It’s an incredibly quiet little place, with a screened back porch providing my own private, insect-free view across the lake. Bliss.
By the time I check out I’ve lost track of the outside world. It’s probably Wednesday. More lakes. They should call this place the Lake District. They re-used every other place name! I’m still heading East, so it’s Vermont next. I decide to get there via the bridge across Lake Champlain, only the bridge is out. It’s a 50 mile detour around the lake but they’ve provided an alternative so I’m given the unique treat of arriving in a state by car ferry. Other than this I can’t think of anything special about Vermont, it’s just on the way to New Hampshire. I stop in a restaurant but the staff are too busy to talk, so I reach for the last resort – the guidebook. Which has this to say:
Vermont – There’s nothing there.
So it’s into New Hampshire and the White Mountains. Trees spoil the view again so I stay at a place called “The Lodge” which has the winning combination of spa/pool and Laundry.
I’ve not had any random encounters for a couple of days, and I’m hungry so I head for breakfast at Flapjack’s. Turns out, the confused citizens of NH think pancakes are called flapjacks! However they make up for it by serving them with incredible Maple Syrup “pulled out of a tree 10 miles from here”
Next to me at the counter is John, who works for the National Weather Service in Boston. He invites me to come for a visit, but he’s not back in work until Wednesday, because it’s Memorial day weekend. I hope that doesn’t mean Bank Holiday-style traffic!
After brekkie I drive down the “famously scenic” Kancamagus Highway. Except it’s just more trees. Then up the incredibly steep Mount Washington Auto Road. (It really is incredibly steep – 25 dollars just to drive up and down!) The guy hands me a long document explaining how to drive up and down a hill, and a CD for the journey. At six and a half thousand feet the view is worth the cost. I finally get above the tree-line and there’s a great view across the White Mountains in all directions.
Somehow I make it down without overheating, destroying my brakes or plunging to my death (Have these guys even heard of the Alps?) and it’s time to head South. It’s Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend, but I still have the interstate to myself as I head back through Vermont, and into Massachusetts. I’m playing roulette again. It being Friday I decide to head for a bar and GPS tells me there’s a Hooters just off the I-91 in Springfield Massachusetts. By the time I get there I’m hungry, tired and desperate for the loo, but GPS is taking me into a dodgy neighbourhood, and when I reach “my destination” there’s nothing here but folks who look pretty hungry tired and desperate themselves. The cops are supervising a car being towed outside Mac D’s so I park next to them and nip in to use the loo. I’m so desperate I almost order a burger, but resist and get the hell out of Springfield.
Manchester, Connecticut actually does have a Hooters and I’m rewarded for persistence by a fun evening. First talking to Earl who makes airplane engines, and was lucky enough to move here when his company decided to move from Florida to Connecticut! Then I make friends with a lunatic.
I never did get his name but the loud guy next to me surprises me by announcing that he is Swiss. He’s a big fan of the Boston Bruins Ice Hockey team, who are as near as Manchester have to a local major league team so there’s a lot of interest in the bar in tonight’s playoff decider. However at 0-0 after 2 periods, which must be 90 minutes with so many ad breaks, I’m struggling and the Swiss is going mental. Still it’s worth it when the Bruins score and the place erupts. The Swiss nutter is alone in erupting when the Bruins score a suspiciously similar second goal, in slow motion, which confusingly doesn’t get added to the score. He then begins to chant USA, USA, USA followed oddly by CAN-A-DA, CAN-A-DA, CAN-A-DA, and I’m dis-owning him rapidly as the yanks get irritable. Helpfully the Bruins win and we can all be friends.
Full of food and empty of bladder I head off contentedly to another “America’s Best Value Even If We Do Say So Ourselves Inn” and attempt to confirm tomorrow’s random encounter with a woman I haven’t seen for eleven years…

Friday, May 27, 2011

Chapter Four - DA to PA via DC

5…4…3…2…1…and then… screaming!
But it was the sound of kids screaming with laughter. Dad had counted down to the end of the world but nothing had happened. Delaware still existed. The Holiday Inn still existed, and the pool and spa still existed. Which was good, because I was enjoying relaxing in the spa, and the guy and his kids were definitely enjoying the pool.
Still on a downer I decided to cheer myself up with beer and baseball, and maybe some good looking waitresses, with a trip to my favourite sports bar chain.
“Why on earth would you come to Delaware?” asks Gordo, who lives in Delaware. (Actually I can’t remember his name, but Gordo springs to mind, and you don’t know any different so let’s stick with that)
“er, well I’m going to every state, and it’s between the Jersey Coast and DC”
“Oh DC’s great, and when you’re looking at the monuments, remember that they have museums underneath. A lot of people don’t realise!”
Gordo doesn’t know that I don’t do museums. I probably should. I could be all cultured and stuff, but I don’t like standing about, and did I mention my short attention span? Anyway, Gordo explains that there really is nothing in Delaware, they don’t even have major league sports teams, so they support Philadelphia. So we cheer on the Phillies, until I get distracted by another TV, showing Rally Cross.
Sunday, and I cross Delaware and Maryland, check out DC and reach Pennsylvania. Craig texts accusing me of going through states quicker than underwear, but in my defence they’re very small (the states that is)
So Washington then. I knew the White House would be small so I wasn’t disappointed. It’s great to be able to walk between such a collection of world famous landmarks. The streets are designed so you can see the Capitol dome from blocks away, you’ve got the Washington Memorial, and then there’s the Franklin Memorial with it’s magnificent reflecting pool…
Except there isn’t.
There’s 400 yards of mud where they’re refurbishing the pool. Oh well, the memorial is good, and it’s nice to see so many people of different nationalities enjoying and respecting it quietly.
And then the rain falls…
One thing I’m finding in the North East states, when it rains it really rains. There’s no light rain or drizzle. However it’s usually a shower, so it’s worth waiting it out. If only there was something else to do at the Lincoln Memorial under shelter… well thank you Gordo!
The museum below is only a few displays, but it passes time until the shower stops. Then a bite to eat and I’ve done DC!
At least I thought I had. My sat nav takes me out through Georgetown campus and I see the other side of Washington. Narrow streets, interesting houses, colourful shops, a real contrast to the huge political buildings.
But I’m heading for the hills, so it’s out of the District of Colombia, or Washington “Doesn’t Count” since I’m still on 36 states. (32 previously, 4 this trip)
Number 37 in your programmes is Pennsylvania. I would have liked to stop in Maryland just to have stayed there, but I was in PA before I knew it, and could see an opportunity for a joke…
Arriving in the hotel in Gettysburg the assistant asked “What’s your address?”
 “Four score and seven years ago…”,
For dinner I went next door to the “Pike Restaurant”. I never did work out if that was a military or fish reference. The young maître d put me at a table then said:
“There’ll be a cute waitress out in a minute to take your order”
Yeah right, I thought.
Kelsey was young, blonde, pretty, and training to be a masseuse so she could work aboard a cruise ship, while learning French and German. I remembered to tip the maître d.
Monday: New car day!
Off to Harrisburg to collect my new wheels. What would it be? The fabled mazda 6 or another sodding Galant?
First problem, I assumed my GPS would know where Hertz was. It didn’t, but it knew where a Hertz used to be, and offered that hopefully. This didn’t help. When I found the place it was a large building renting farm equipment, with a few cars. No sign of any Mazdas, quite a lot of crap cars, but a Toyota Camry with SE stuck on it.
Woo and indeed Hoo!
Comfy electric seats, Lumbar adjustment and a socket to connect my ipod! I drove North into the mountains feeling happier again. This might not be such a daft idea after all!
Speaking of daft ideas, a guy I met on the ship had offered me the chance to stay over with him and his wife. Now this was a guy I’d played at table tennis (Eric, not Klaus for those paying attention) and talked to a couple of times, but hardly enough for him to know I wasn’t a lunatic. Well, not the dangerous sort of lunatic anyway. However I was in the neighbourhood, and he’d responded on Facebook so I figured we could at least have a drink.
Well I piloted my shiny new Camry (actually forget that, it’s quite old and scratched), my comfy old Camry through dense fog in the hills of Pennsylvania and into a small place called Shavertown. Eric answered his phone and agreed to meet at the Really Cooking Supper Club, (which my GPS called the Really Cooking Soccer Club!).
Would he really be a nice guy or was he an axe murderer? You’ll find out in the next blog. (Clue: if there aren’t any more blogs he was probably an axe murderer!)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Chapter Three - Jersey Shores

So there I was, sitting in a dingy bar, (as in dark, not an orange inflatable one) feeling knackered from a long day, with a grumpy barman and no baseball to watch. I searched the menu for something appealing but nothing grabbed me. I settled on the last item:
Hot Turkey or Club Sandwich
“I’ll have the Turkey Sandwich please”
“We don’t do Turkey Sandwiches”
“but it’s here on the menu…”
“No, that says you can have a club sandwich or you can have Hot Turkey”
Oh for crying out loud. So I get the Hot Turkey, (which is suspiciously served between two pieces of bread) but it doesn’t taste of anything. Indeed I’m beginning to feel a bit queasy, and being perched on a bar stool isn’t helping. I get a glass of water but it doesn’t help. I need to get more blood to my brain, I only know three ways to do that so I look around for a normal chair to get my head between my knees… there aren’t any. It’s lie down or fall down time.
Now I don’t like to make a scene, but I figure lying down is less dramatic than falling down so I pick an out-of-the-way spot in the corner and lie down. The blood can now get to my head and I instantly feel better. The barman has suddenly become Florence Nightingale and summons the “first aiders”. If you ever need medical assistance I recommend a coastal resort because those guys were there in a couple of minutes! On the other hand if you just needed a couple of minutes to lie down it’s not so good being ambushed by four people firing questions, who can’t understand an English accent.
“Why’s he on the floor?”
“What’s your address?”
“Have you eaten today?”
“He’s got an English accent”
“You’ve only had a Whopper meal for lunch? Nothing since?” (Only in America would that count as not eating!)
“He looks thin.” (That one cheered me up!)
“What’s your zip code?”
I’m trying to explain that I’ve spent the last ten days on an adrenaline high, that I’ve had a long day getting out of New York and driving down there in blinding fog, in an uncomfortable seat, carted heavy bags upstairs and this is the first point I’ve slowed down and…
“Have you changed glasses prescription recently?”
…ooh, there’s another reason! It’s no wonder I’m a bit queasy.
So the Seventh Cavalry return whence they came and I return to my butty. But the barman has returned to grumpiness:
“I’ll get you a box for that”
Oh, great, so I’ll just walk back down the road and eat it alone in my room shall I? Then I realise he hadn’t summoned help out of kindness, he was just afraid of a lawsuit. He couldn’t care less, as long as it didn’t happen on his property! Amusingly however, while he was off getting a box, his colleague warmed my bread based snack for me, and now it was tasting just fine!
Now the emotionally hardened amongst you may find this a surprise, but some readers put my wellbeing ahead of an exciting blog, so I hope I don’t spoil the suspense by saying that I’m writing this almost a week later, and I’ve had no problems since.
On the following morning I awoke to sunny skies. I was by the beach, there was a nice café next door for breakfast and I had a fast internet connection, so I decided to stay another night.
“I’m sorry, that room’s booked tonight”
“But you can have another room a few doors down with the same view and 2 queen beds”
Phew. So I transferred my stuff and moved my car to it’s new spot. I didn’t have to move it, but completing an entire day’s driving in reverse amused me.
I ran on the beach, spoke to my family and started to update friends. I realised that the only way to keep everyone up to date would be a blog, but the irony is that the more fun you’re having the less time you have to write about it. So I’d either be miles behind, or writing trivia about mpg! Well, the cruise was so much fun I wanted to write it down for my own memories. The rest? It is what it is.
Friday night was surprisingly good Karaoke and a bar chat with Martin, who runs a plumbing company.
Saturday morning was time for one last run on the beach, then I bid farewell to the Drifting Sands. I pootled South along the Jersey Coast, enjoying the scenery and bridges. I do like crossing a good bridge, and the yanks build them with a high arch so you get a great view, and a real sense of arrival in the next town.
I reached Atlantic City, which is like Vegas only less cultured. Anyone who’s been to Vegas and read that will probably understand why I then left Atlantic City. I should probably have stuck around and checked out the famous boardwalk but I wasn’t in the mood, not helped by my chariot.
As this will hopefully be a long trip I couldn’t justify another corvette so I’d plumped for a Mazda 6… or similar. Now if there’s two words guaranteed to put fear in the heart of a road tripper it’s “or similar”, and sure enough I got a Mitsubishi Galant. Which might not have been so bad, but the seats were woeful. Combined with the slight difference in posture driving on the wrong side of the road, I was uncomfortable all day.
In discomfort you can’t enjoy the simple pleasures of road-tripping, just rolling along with a good tune and a sense of freedom. Where every single thing you see is new to your eyes… and with this I began to question the whole adventure. The ship had been fun. Really great fun. I should be hanging out with people, having a laugh, not out here on my own. I should go home…
With a heavy heart I rolled into Delaware. Oh well, the world was going to end at 6pm

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chapter Two - New York, New Jersey

5 days ashore and I was still playing catch-up.  Thanks to the Comfort Suites in Gettysburg I couldn’t access the internet so had time to reflect on an odd week. From the high of arriving in NYC to the low of a bar-room floor on the Jersey shore. I’d begun to question the entire endeavour, and hadn’t yet uploaded the first chapter! Speaking of which, I was about to disembark…
If there’s one thing Cunard need to improve, and on my trip there really was only one thing, it’s the disembarkation process. You’re given an assigned time and place to await your colour code being called. Mine was pink 2 at 9.45. I arrived at my assigned spot in the theatre at 9.35 and began to wait. 10.00 passed but I wasn’t annoyed, there was no point rushing off since my hotel room was unlikely to be ready. By 10.15 I began to wonder. They were calling out Gold numbers, which should have been after Pink. Sure enough I’d missed my slot! Oh well, I wasn’t in a rush. But now I couldn’t disembark because the crew were running a drill…. Oh well…after a few minutes we were allowed off, only to discover the epic queue for immigration. …Oh for…This thing snaked back and forth across the room more than a dozen times, with each crossing about 50 yards. Worse still, we’d collected our luggage by then, so had to shuffle forward, dragging cases with every step. I got chatting with a friendly couple from Derbyshire which passed the time, but by 6 laps in I was growing weary of dropping my suit carrier and big coat. The official would yell at us for leaving even a small gap, then ask how we were. So I decided to play my Joker:
“Actually I’m feeling pretty dehydrated, can I get a drink of water round here”, I was assuming that I couldn’t.
“No, sorry sir”, official looks concerned, Paul does best to look queasy – not hard after 2 hours sleep!
Official glances round, then: “You’d best come through here sir.”
“Are these 2 with you?”
Well, now I’m torn. These 2 nice people have helped me pass a lot of time and we’ve come through that hell of a queue together, but these are US Customs officers, and you don’t want to mess with them. In that split second I look back and see the desperation in the eyes of my fellow queue-ees, like starving immigrants given a chance at a new life, and I have to try to take them with me,
“Yes they are”
 ..and with that we’re at the immigration desk!
My joy is short lived however, when I remember my previous encounters with US Immigration, and that I’m travelling alone, with no fixed plan, no job, and no ticket back to the UK. All of the possible questions and answers are whirling through my head as the lady checks my fingerprints and points the camera at me, then she looks up and startles me with “Have a nice day!”
I’m on American soil!
It was truly strange to walk out onto an American street without having been on a plane. Compounded by not having seen cars or traffic for a week. It also took quite some time to get out of the habit of looking at everyone and expecting to recognise them, as you do in the small community of the ship.
Spurning another epic queue for a taxi I risked being fleeced for a town car, but 25 dollars seemed worth it. I arrived at the grandly named Wellington Hotel to see a pile of bags and a lot of people milling around. This was going to be a major pain, it was 11.50 and check in wasn’t until 3pm.
“Your room is available now sir” said the receptionist, and I could have kissed her. Actually, she was very attractive so I’d have kissed her anyway given half a chance. Maybe I’d been on a boat too long!
So by noon I found myself in a crumby hotel room a block from Central Park!
In order to stay awake I then began the quintessential New York experiences: walked in Central Park, had a Hot Dog from a street vendor, saw the Chrysler building, the Rockafeller and the ESB, but failed to go up them because of the fog and rain, and got ripped off in Times Square. The one thing that blew me away though was Grand Central Station. How a train station can be so beautiful and have such a sense of “hush” about it I don’t know!
By the evening I was knackered and it was all I could manage to stagger round the corner to Hooters. Unfortunately the service was slow, the atmosphere was “shouty New Yorker” and there wasn’t even much to look at. I did have the first of many random bar conversations though, and learned that nobody in New York supports the Yankees, they’re the NY equivalent of Man U.
The next day started OK, but soon turned grim and grey again. I had a jolly run through the Park in the morning, and was amazed by how 3 dimensional it is, with the steep banks cutting you off from the noise of the traffic and the city. I had a great slice of cheesecake for lunch from a place called juniors (..or more likely Junior’s!), and I set off to walk down past Madison Square Gardens and through Chelsea. However the rain was turning torrential so I ended up bar hopping back to my hotel with mixed results. I did find a place called the West End Grill on 8th Ave which served the best steak I’ve ever had.
After a fantastic time on the QM2 I was struggling with the cut and thrust of NYC, and was planning to make a run-for-it in the morning. However the weather was looking better so I decided I’d stay one more night, even given the exorbitant hotel rates, and give myself and the city one more chance.
“We’re full.”
Right, so it’s 10am, I need to be out by 12, I’m starting an epic road trip and I don’t have a car. Renting a car from Manhattan for 6 weeks would be ridiculously expensive, getting a taxi out would be a faff, so I came up with a plan to rent for a few days, then rent again. As I’d been invited to meet up with Eric from table tennis, I planned the switch for Pennsylvania. So with 30 minutes to go, and whistles and sirens ringing in my ears from the union demonstation across the street, I had my escape plan.
Driving out of New York wasn’t so bad, nothing like as difficult as London, you just have to be prepared to be beeped at, and expect wild lane changes from yellow cabs. Sat Nav (GPS to the Yanks) should make things easy, but you have to make it work for you. I didn’t want the quick way out, I wanted the scenic way across the bridges. So with some effort I crossed the manhattan bridge, then the verrazano narrows bridge (over the top this time) and was in New Jersey, my 34th state.
Springsteen references abound as you head through Asbury Park and south toward Atlantic City, but I came to rest in Surf City on Long Beach Island, at a nice place on the beach called the Drifting Sands Motel. I took a room with a great view, carted my ridiculous amount of stuff up 3 flights of stairs, walked on the beach, then went to find some food in the local bar, where I ended up flat on my back on the floor.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Chapter One - Crossing the Ocean.

Ten days into the trip I realised it would take more than Facebook updates to summarise my experiences. I also want to document the journey for my own memories. This first entry is quite long, so sit comfortably.
It started with a tasteless burger...
Before dropping me off at the ship, Craig had the foresight to get me a good meal. Unfortunately TGI Fridays didn't provide one, but I got plenty of calories to keep me going, and the chocolate brownie was good. So we went to the port, got a couple of quick snaps of the ship, some bloke whisked my luggage away and I said an emotional goodbye to my best mate. Well, I shook his hand, but it was an emotional handshake.
Check-in was a doddle, no queing and in my room in 15 minutes! As I checked in there was a murmur from the staff and I turned to see a celebrity checking in at the next desk. It was the bloke from The Who! You know, erm, been on Top Gear...Roger Daltrey. Oh well, probably never see him again.
So the first "activity" on board is the lifeboat drill. This involved wandering down the corridor and stairs to the floor below to the assembly point. I was annoyed by that, since I had an "obstructed view" room with a lifeboat swinging right outside.
"If this thing's going down, I'm jumping in that boat and grabbing an oar!"
Anyway, I followed the drill but made a bee-line for the bar in the assembly area, despite it being closed. Spotting a rare young person I said a cheery hello to the 2 guys sitting by the bar. Little was I to know what I was getting myself into...
Neil and Aidan are from Stockport, and I was immediately glad to have a couple of no-nonsense Northerners to hang out with. They're good mates who like to holiday together and were intending on getting drunk, having fun, meeting girls and balancing it off with plenty of exercise in the daytime. These were my kind of guys. However, meeting girls wasn't looking likely as the passengers were the demographic you'd expect to find on a cruise ship! There were plenty of nice staff around, but they'd probably not be allowed to fraternise with the likes of us!
The first night was "casual", which on the QM2 means a shirt and jacket! So I dressed up, suppressed my appetite until 8.30 (gulp!) and wandered down to meet my tablemates for the next week.
First to arrive was David, an audiologist from New York State, who was not very talkative. This turned out to be because he'd just flown over from the US and come straight from the airport to the ship, a path many Americans take. Then there was Norma, a nice English lady university lecturer with a wicked sense of humour. Next to arrive was BOB SWEENEY who had hearing difficulties so shouted everything, and then a retired Indian surgeon named Paul who was a great laugh. Finally we were joined by a couple, Everette and Cyndi from Long Beach. (A place no Iron Maiden fan can hear mentioned without yelling Scream for me Long Beach!! - but I stifled this urge)
Everette turned out to be extremely knowledgable about ships and the Cunard line and was a great man to have with us, he's also friends with the Captain so got some special treatment - trips to the bridge, a night at the Captain's table etc. He's involved with the original Queen Mary, now a floating hotel in Long Beach, and becomes my first invite for a future get-together.  
As for dinner, well everyone knows I don't have any appreciation of fine dining, but the Britannia Restaurant was so good even I was blown away! Amazing decor, efficient and friendly staff, great company and exquisite food. Over the next week I had everything from steak to frog's legs and escargot, and it was all delicious.
After dinner I couldn't find the boys so I wandered round the entertainment. The show looked like I'd imagine a typical cruise show - fine if you like that kind of thing but too middle of the road for me. There was a movie showing in the cinema, a couple of decent bars, and a half decent band playing in the club. However, nearly everyone had gone to bed early, and the club was almost empty by midnight so I retired. It looked like being an OK week, nothing special....
Day 2
Started with a lecture. No I wasn't in trouble already, I went to listen to "Rocket Scientist" Richard Holdaway talk about space exploration. He was amusing and informative so I attended two more of his lectures on board, including how getting rid of all the cars on the planet would make sod all difference to the climate!
We also had lectures from Peter Bart, a movie producer and studio exec who played a vital role in getting The Godfather and Love Story made, and dropped more names than a clumsy sign writer.
There was also a maritime expert complete with white beard, but I reckon Aidan could have given him a run for his money!!
Buried in the programme was something about song writing with Chris Difford from Squeeze, but I don't fancy song writing and have never listened to much Squeeze, so wasn't tempted. Instead I went to the only floating Planetarium show in the world, and tried to enjoy a fantastic show while the people around me were lulled to sleep by the darkness and the gentle swaying of the boat.
Formal night, so on with the dickey bow and monkey suit. Dave turns up for dinner in an Army dress uniform and explains he can't be seen drinking in it. (Don't think we have that rule in the UK!)
After dinner the sea's getting choppy. It's force 5 outside and the ship is swaying a bit, especially when I find the bar on the 9th floor. My answer to sea sickness is to make your brain less sensitive to movement, and the barman has the cure by the glass! This place is more sophisticated than the bars down low, as the posh rooms are higher up - summed up by the staff saying: "you pay, you sway".
Neil and Aidan are in here and already merry. They're on the early dinner seating so get 2 hours more drinking time than me. (I was glad of this every morning!) A gorgeous girl is performing on the piano, I'm told she's Emma Jayne and that she's a name to remember. Roger Daltrey is up here having a drink, but looks a bit grumpy. Neil gets chatting to a girl who turns out to be Caroline, in charge of the entertainment on Cunard's ships. Finally there's some young good looking people around (and me!). I talk to Zoe who's in charge of the Daily Programme (with so much entertainment on board a clear timetable is vital!) and a couple of people who are shooting a DVD about Cunard. I then meet a gorgeous blonde who turns out to be from my neck of the woods, things are looking good:
Me: So you know Morecambe then?
Her: Yep, you know the Grand Hotel?
Me: The big one on the seafront? I walked past it a couple of weeks ago and it looks great now they've done it up.
Her: Well I'm getting married there in a few weeks.
Oh well, she turned out to be a good laugh and explained that she was with a RADA group who would be putting on performances over the week. Now I'm a cultural heathen, but if this place could make food so good a play might be OK. At worst I'd get to gaze at Helen for a while.
So the second night had been a success, we'd stopped noticing the swaying and I ended up sharing my room for a few hours with a couple of bottles of wine, some more nutters, but no actresses!
Day 3
During another packed day I decided to try the waltz lesson. The great thing about cruising is being able to try things without planning, expense or commitment. (Well, on my half - the likes of Zoe and Caroline work their backsides off) Unfortunately the dancefloor is packed, we try to find some space at the edge but it's like a multi-storey car park - you can't perform a reverse turn without hittting a bollard.
Caroline had mentioned there'd be a gig in the evening in the "Golden Lion", QM2's version of a British pub. She even had a good spot at the front. I sat down hoping we'd get a few more songs from EJ and that the rest of the group weren't rubbish, but I was blown away! There was a crazy blonde girl named Claire who filled the room with energy by shouting at us all to get involved, a great guitarist, Matt who turned out to be her husband and should have had more solos. Chris Sheehan, another guitarist and excellent singer/songwriter, and a wicked drummer, Simon. Chris Difford then got up and through in some Squeeze songs, and I wondered why I hadn't paid more attention to Squeeze in the past.
It turned out that the girl sat next to me, Kate, was another incredible performer and she was going to be playing with the group for some more performances!
Neil, Aidan and I hung out with the band in the nightclub until late, and had a great time. Simon in particular was keeping up the image for drummers everywhere. I met a German girl called Christine, who was adorable, and kept apologising for her english, which only made her cuter. Most of us find it hard enough to speak our own language when we've had a few!
Day 4
More Space stuff, then I decided to have a crack at the Table Tennis tournament. On a ship full of geriatrics this should be easy, right?
er, hang on, where did these young guys come from?
Oh well, I sign up and start chatting to Eric from Pennsylvania, whose a handsome man with a good looking, pregnant wife, and gets knocked out in the first round. I've drawn Klaus... a name that conjures up images of a retired Olympic Ping Pong champion who now enjoys taking cruises and humiliating people half his age and weight. I turn out to be not far wrong as he first whups me, then everyone else and wins the tournament. A fact Neil and Aidan find endlessly amusing, but hey, I scored 15 points and that's 15 more than either of them right?
Oh well, we've got a special treat in the afternoon as Chris Difford interviews Roger Daltrey. They have a nice informal chat and a few jokes, especially when some guy at the back tries to ask about CSI using "Whoooo arrree youuu" and sings it (He later gets brought up on stage to sing backing vocals!). Then there's the real treat: a live performance from Roger, with the guys from last night. Until that point I'd though of RD as just another singer, but when he lets rip with his voice 15 feet! The hairs on the back of my neck were standing so tall I could have given myself a combover!
Next up, Much Ado About Nothing from the RADA guys. Now I'd love to say that I was blown away and converted to the theatre but that wouldn't be true. However the actors put on a great performance and I enjoyed the play. Which is good going considering I have the attention span of..
Friday night we head down to the Chart Room (Posh bar above the pub). Another great gig, watching from six feet away. Eric Rupert is part of the onboard Jazz trio and has volunteered to play bass. He does an amazing job considering he had no rehearsal, there's no room on the low stage and he has to lean around the others to see what chords to play, while being bumped by waiters!
The band head off to the staff quarters to perform another blazing gig with Roger, but we're not allowed down there. Nope. No way. So we didn't get to see a talented crew member performing the guitar on pinball wizard, or RD belting out Behind Blue Eyes, because that would be wrong.
Day 5 - Saturday - FA cup final day
The entertainment took a lull today, but that allowed time to watch a boring cup final. We also had a short day, by not putting the clocks back. The QM2 is at sea for 7 days, and we need to gain 5 hours, so you get 25 hour days most of the way!
We manage to avoid Karaoke night, but we're hanging out with the band again so it's another late one in the night club. All kinds of Rock and Roll craziness follows! (Well, as crazy as you can get away with on the Queen Mary 2)
Apparently there were reports of people in the Jacuzzi on the back deck at 5am…
Day 6 - Sunday
Recovering from Saturday! Followed by watching the RADA performance of Canterbury tales which was really enjoyable. The six performers put out a huge amount of energy and relished the bawdy stories.
Straight next door for a "lecture" and gig from Chris D. Interesting to hear the story of Squeeze, and he's written some clever stuff.
Everett and Sindy had dinner with the Captain at the next table over, and we had a parade to celebrate the efforts of the chefs and back room staff.
Off for another gig, Neil, Aidan and I run into RD and co. in the lift on the way down. Aidan is winning more friends with his amazing ability to talk ceaselessly, without becoming boring!
The guys have done London songs and New York songs, so it's songs of the sea tonight. Another great performance but the pace has taken its toll and there's not many people out late. I still end up out past 4am, having a long chat to a guy who runs mercenary outfits, or something.
Another great thing about cruising is that everyone is happy to chat. I met all sorts of people, from pensioners who live to cruise to a young girl who works as a hairdresser and was on her first trip with her boyfriend who works in a chicken factory (...and yes, I had to say it, I didn't realise they made chickens in a factory!)
Day 7 - last sea day!
Final lecture from the Rocket Scientist, then some down-time to get some washing done and prepare for a night with not much sleep!
We then had the concert representing the culmination of the song writing course. Some brave people getting up on stage and knocking out performances ranging from the nervous, to the "is that guy a professional?" Pretty damn impressive for a week's work!
I staggered off for afternoon tea and then packed my bags so they could collect them for disembarkation.
Final dinner, and then yet another great gig to watch. Most people were spellbound by RD performing right in front of them but by this point I was more intrigued by the technical side of putting on a Who-like performance with no sound check and ceiling speakers. The QM2 production manager did a great job achieving a good sound whilst being urged by a Rock Star to crank it up!
It all got very amusing when RD turned round after a song to yell at 2 people to stop talking. Anyone else might have been upset but it was Aidan happily chatting with RD's best mate!
It was less amusing when he stopped mid song to have a go at Emma Jayne for singing backing vocals on Stand By Me. He then moved on to a different song, EJ was mortified and I felt sorry for her. Oh well, that's Rock Stars I guess.
We took some boozey pictures to remember the night by, then staggered to the club for the last time. The question was whether to stay up all the way through since the sights would start coming into view at 5am. We almost had a different issue to worry about when the power shut off, but the technical guys know what they're doing and we were away again within 10 minutes.
I decided I'd never survive New York if I stayed up, and retiring at 2am gave me the chance to say a big goodbye to all the new friends I'd made. It was a quite incredible week, and I hope to see them again sometime.
Day 8
Laaaaaaaaaaaand Ahoooooooyyyyyyyyy! what I would have shouted had I had more sleep all week. As it was, my alarm went off and I dashed onto my balcony in time to shout "Holy Crap there's the bridge coming overhead!"
Verrazano narrows bridge to the geographically gifted. So I grabbed my camera and ran up on to the top deck to find a storm blowing and Zoe the only surviving party animal (although she'd stayed up to do some work so I don't think that counts). I dashed back down, grabbed my big coat and enjoyed an hour on the very top deck, clinging on for life, trying to hold the camera straight, surrounded by people in thin clothes covered in bath robes, towels etc!
Kate and Simon turned up, but lasted 10 seconds in the biting wind and driving rain. We passed the statue of liberty and Manhattan loomed into view out of the fog. Not the entrance images they'd use for the brochure, but in it's own way more dramatic!
I went back downstairs and bid a fond farewell to the boys from Stockport.
...and there we were. Or rather, there I was. Some had predicted I'd be seasick and bored, I had hoped for a moderately interesting way of reaching the US. I could never dream I'd have so much fun on the way. For most it was a holiday, some a working trip, for me it was just the first leg of, well, who knows what. I sat waiting to disembark the Queen Mary 2 knowing one thing for sure. Whatever happens in the weeks and months ahead, the first week alone made this trip worthwhile.