23.04.2012 - 27.04.2012
THEY couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery, that much was becoming apparent. Sailing was scheduled for 16:30, but it was 16:45 and the metal warehouse (more officially called the “the city cruise terminal” in a vain attempt to try and make it not sound like a metal warehouse) where I was still queuing along with roughly 200 others had just suffered a power failure plunging us all into near darkness.
Some passengers had no baggage, having found the hole in the side of an un-signposted second warehouse on dock where bags could be dropped off, some had just hand-lugagge whilst others had all of their paraphernalia with them. At the baggage x-ray machines, the larger cases were too big to fit through which caused delays; ditto the fact that they confiscated leatherman type tools from a couple of guests. In both cases this was despite protestations from guests that they had not be told they could/should check their bags in before, and were unable to take such tools on board. I, certainly, was unaware of either, although had checked my bag in after stumbling across the baggage drop by accident when wandering around waiting. But after looking at my Swiss army knife and opening just the philips screwdriver, security allowed it through because the blade was within allowed limits, despite not looking at said blade. It just seemed odd, and in typical fashion, at dinner that evening, people were readily given steak knives with blades much longer than those that were confiscated.
By the time I eventually boarded with only a couple of dozen behind me in the queue, I had been standing for almost 3 hours solid in 3 different queues, without any chance of refreshment or use of a toilet and no information at all: We didn't even know that the ship hadn't sailed, although all assumed it. None of the queues had involved anything resembling immigration or passport checks, which presumably mean't that all of the non-EU passengers were leaving without receiving a passport stamp with potential problems on future visits to be encountered. For me, that was not too bad – nobody was ever going to stamp me out of England anyway, I had water to drink, didn't need the toilet and I avoided the boredom by reading a 2 day old newspaper that I happened to have. But at least two-thirds of the passengers were old enough to be my parent or grandparent – i heard several complaints/requests from people needing the toilet, whilst many struggled to walk without aid yet had to stand for 2 or more hours. It all smacked off poor planning.
Once eventually on board, despite the fact that I had yet to even reach my cabin I was admonished within 20 seconds for not having read my newsletter, not having my life jacket with me and not being in the correct place for the safety demonstration which was scheduled at 16:30. I was starting to get one of those sinking feelings, although not in the Costa Concordia sense...
With cabin found, life jacket retrieved and the safety demonstration eventually over, I headed on deck to survey the scene. Mental images of Cunard's Queen Mary 2, the only Ocean Liner - as opposed to cruise ship - in regular passenger service in the world and whose deck I was now standing - are of iconic views, such as the ship sailing under the Sydney harbour bridge, departing Cape Town with Table mountain visible in all it's glory, or gliding past the State of Liberty on arrival in New York. The view at Southampton, however, is a little more prosaic: opposite a cargo dock and oil storage depot, docked next to a couple of car parks, and overlooking the not exactly scenic, if unmistakable large blue and yellow metal structure which is IKEA.
It had started more promisingly. The rain had held off enough that I had made it from home to the dock without getting soaked. I had stumbled across the baggage drop area when wandering back into town to buy a few supplies for trip. In shades of a previous possessed MP3 player (which i am sure has come up in previous posts more than once, but reference to which i can't find just now), I had somehow managed to turn off my Ipod just after it had flicked at random to a track of which I had never previously known of it's existence, let alone that it was on my ipod, but which was strangely apt: Pink Floyd's Southampton Dock.
I had expected that boarding would take time and involve queuing, so was not overly concerned by the fact the sailing time had been and gone. At worst, I figured that if the ship left without me, I would at be at the front of the queue when it returned! And besides, as I had only booked barely 3 days previously, I was expecting to be amongst the very last people boarding.
It had been a long few months and the inevitable discovery that I was not as young as I once was had come early in the new year. The second half of 2011 had been extremely tough and busy in many respects, whilst the candle had not so much been burning from both ends as blow-torched. Though I didn't realise it at the time, physically, mentally and emotionally I was ******, and when I tried to resume life and work after a short Christmas break my body decided that it somehow owed allegiance to Bob Crow and had promptly gone on strike.
All plans and a move to a new country for work immediately went on long-term hold. The first couple of months were pretty grim, and I was essentially incapable of anything. Happily numerous assorted tests and scans had confirmed nothing seriously wrong, at least in a physical sense, and once I had eventually stopped vomiting the concentrate was on other symptoms. Thus I was treated for a viral attack of the nervous system, chronic migraine and a virus of the nervous system allied with a probable combination of some or all of stress, exhaustion, depression and fatigue. My head was given time to make a slow re-boot – twice after the first time ended in the human equivalent of the blue windows screen of death - and I was ordered to accept a long slow convalescence and recovery.
After about 3 months, though still very much up-and-down I was definitely improving, and my daily cocktail of medicine had been reduced to a still ridiculous, but frankly more manageable 13 tablets a day. General opinion was that there was nothing else to be done for me except that I needed time to relax and hopefully slowly recover. At that point, my full calender of medical appointments in assorted establishments were replaced with simply occasional routine check-ups and tinkering of tablets.. I had started pondering where I could go to recover, ideally to be out in the country a bit, get some air and exercise but also somewhere I could easily collapse and hide in more worse moments. With no obvious alternative, I resigned myself to extending my period stuck at the family home in Berkshire: good in some respects especially when I was really struggling, but quite restricting and soul destroying now I was in recovery. And then somebody had said something: why do you need to convalesce there? Why not come here and stay instead? Here was not somewhere that had crossed my mind. Here was far away. And thus the unlikely idea had slowly formed, before being extinguished about a week previously on logistical grounds.
Then, on Monday morning I was suddenly phoned out of the blue and asked if I was still interested in a cabin. One had suddenly become available. There wasn't really time to think much and the timing was not ideal, but the price was good and though I knew it was potentially a really stupid thing to do, something strange came over me and I thought “what the heck, why not?”. Twenty minutes later I had said yes, supplied my details and handed over my credit card number. On Tuesday, the payment was confirmed and I received my cabin etc details. Wednesday I had some checks to confirm that medically, I should be fine to travel and was given their blessing. Unexpectedly, It was suddenly real; happening. And I had lots of things that needed to be done and not much time to do them in, and my head was starting to hurt in a different way.
All of which is a roundabout way of explaining why, less than 48 hours after that green light, I had travelled down to Southampton and was now stood on the deck of the Queen Mary 2 watching Ikea slowly fade into the distance, on the seasons first Westbound sailing to New York.