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.

1 comment:

  1. Blog was definitely the way to go. Loved the post - it was almost like I was there :-)
    Have a great trip.