AYE AYE CAPTAIN by Malcolm D. Welshman
For a brief moment on board, I change from being a guest speaker to Captain of P&O Cruises ship, Oceana, as it sails round the Western Mediterranean. It's a formal evening so I'm in black tie and consider I look debonair as I stroll through the glittering atrium of the ship, stopping to enquire of a couple of elderly ladies sipping G and Ts whether they are enjoying their cruise. Both nod enthusiastically. One looks up and says, ‘You must be very proud of your ship.’ To which her companion, with a beaming smile, adds, ‘And you’ve such a lovely crew.’
There's a double take the following morning when they bump into me wearing jeans and tee shirt. But I make amends after lunch, escorting them slowly with their walking sticks to the far end of the ship and the Starlights Lounge where I'm giving my third talk about my experiences as a vet. Having ushered them into seats in the front row and commenced my talk, they promptly nod off.
Mealtimes as ever are fun. Freedom dining means meeting new people every time I enter the Ligurian Restaurant. The High Court judge travelling the world to advise on immigration. The postman based in Barnsley – a courteous, effete gentleman who has chatted up the lady next to me and then stands up when she is about to leave the table only for his trousers to fall down as he had unbuckled his belt during the meal. And the tall, sassy, blonde on board with her father, who buys six pairs of sling-backs in every port and who ditched her husband – though not her shoes – on her last cruise, flying back midway through it.
At one breakfast, I sit opposite a farmer and his wife. The talk inevitably turns to animals and what pets we each have. The moment arrives when the farmer pulls his phone out of his pocket.
‘Here’s pic of my pet,’ he says, handing the phone across to me.
I find myself staring at a head-shoulders-and-horns shot of a Jersey heifer. A pretty picture indeed. Handsome. And so, I say.
The farmer nods enthusiastically. ‘Certainly, better than the old cow sitting next to me.’
The look his wife gives him could have curdled a pint of that Jersey’s milk within seconds.
I decide to offer my services as a tour escort. On a boat trip across Lake Bracciano in Italy, an elderly passenger trips and falls on deck and cracks open his forehead. As he comes to, I whisper to him that if he is able to miaow then perhaps I can attend to his wounds. That quickly revives him.
Introducing myself to the Spanish guide taking us on a shore excursion round Alicante a few days later, I mention that incident, adding that, on escort duty for a walking tour of Bergen, I’d lost my group twice; while on a trip up Mount Vesuvius, a gentleman in my tour group gashed his thigh, blood pouring down his leg. I don’t appreciate all this has been said with the PA switched on. Everyone on the coach has been listening in. So when I turn to introduce myself as the escort for today’s trip, the passengers cower back in alarm at this harbinger of bad news in their midst.
I tend to prance around the stage while I give my presentations and in my last talk of the cruise, stepping backwards to the lectern, the ship gives a slight lurch. This sees me sailing past my laptop and disappearing behind the curtains, arms flailing.
Truly, I'm all at sea.
Now the Captain would have never done that!