Sea Legs

If you have any doubts, just stop showering for a moment and watch the plastic curtain sway. It knows. The shower curtain can’t be fooled. It even knows the difference between port and starboard, one of those generally obscure distinctions. Nope, no question, you are all at sea.

I confess to limited interest in matters nautical. The Queen Mary 2 is big enough to convince you that you’re not afloat. Stabilizers control the lateral motion, much like an aircraft. As for the longitudinal, by the time the bow rises enough to matter, that action has dissipated along a quarter of a mile of steel. It’s much like the earth’s wobble, nothing to worry about.

Jane and I have been looking forward to this. Anticipating it, I have thought at times, excessively. For a person normally laden with responsibilities, it’s a time to forget time. Or more precisely, to live on ship’s time. Messrs. Cunard make up the time of day as you sail along. Clocks officially change every day at 12 noon. Making it instantly 1 PM and time for lunch if you’re British. And if you’re on this ship, you might as well be.


Making up your own time zones is emblematic of being pleasantly out of touch. You might as well turn off your mobile phone, reception being spotty a thousand miles from land. Yes, there is Wi-Fi of a sort. It’s the extremely expensive and extremely slow sort. Don’t bother, I say. Which adds to the pleasant sense of being cut off. Jane has no animals to feed or walk or groom. And, yes, she does exactly the same things for the husband…but somehow it’s simpler at sea. Life is reduced to a cabin. There’s no cooking. There’s not even a teakettle in the stateroom.

And there’s lots of water. Not a drop to drink, of course. And if the boards on Deck 7 are shrinking, it’s news to me. I am seeing a lot of those boards, fairly close up. It’s one of the places I walk. The Queen Mary 2 has many, being richly supplied with railings. And that’s the other thing. Perhaps because of its sheer bulk, this ship has never given me a seasick moment. Of course, this particular voyage is only beginning. There are six days left to test my theory of motion sickness.

Many people enjoy cruises. I wouldn’t know. My entire experience of voyages consists of one ship and one uninterrupted motion. New York-to-Southhampton calls itself a crossing, not a cruise. Depriving me of one essential experience…pulling into port and getting out to see what’s what. And for once, I have had that very experience, this very day. Because this particular crossing is not without complications, vis-à-vis Halifax, Nova Scotia.


We pulled into port this morning at 8 AM, Presumably to pick up and drop off passengers from Eastern Canada. So naturally, Jane and I pounded down the gangway and into the Maritime Provinces. Okay, so we didn’t get very far. In my brief experience with Nova Scotia, everyone wanted US dollars…a more savvy traveler would have checked the exchange rate…and no one wanted our passports, though our Cunard ID got inspected three times. What does that say about the modern world?

It says that Halifax has done an excellent touristification of its waterfront. So good in fact, that all I really wanted do was head back to my stateroom to read. There’s a lot around here, but it would really require a car and a slight commitment. And that’s the thing. A few days of shipboard living, and you abandon all commitments.

Not that you don’t acquire new ones. I am heartily committed to the Queen Mary 2 reading group. I find the current target book, ‘A man Called Ove,’ rather lacking in nuance and my brand of irony. On the other hand, read a Swedish novel, particularly in translation, and this may be what you get. As I say, I am committed. I will plow through the thing in eager anticipation of the book discussion. Reading, for me, offers the perfect excuse for conversation. And the best way to meet people, short of dinner.

As for dinner, well it’s a mixed bag. That bag is mixed by the maître d’ early in the voyage. After which, you’re kind of stuck. Well, not really, for you can get unstuck easily enough. But Jane seems happy enough at our table. And in truth, the Jewish couple from Philadelphia are fine. The small-government guy from New York…I didn’t know there were any…well, he is driving me slightly nuts. Still, even this is modest practice for the real world. The latter being in short supply amid all this service and luxury.

Twice I have run afoul of breakfast. Full English, as natives call it. Each day I swear I won’t have another Cumberland sausage. Full English recovery groups probably begin meeting later in the week. Heroin would be easier to resist. But they were meant to go together, these things. Poached or fried eggs. Baked beans, of course. Grilled tomato. Equally grilled mushrooms. And the first thing you know, you’re a good 500 cal over your daily allotment.


What’s a guy to do but walk it off on Deck 7? Where as the wise quadriplegic makes his ambulatory way, looking down, there’s lots of interesting wood. It must be teak, this stuff. What else could resist fierce elements, raging seas…and almost a decade of sun exposure? It’s not only beautiful, weathered wood, but joined in a fine, high-precision way. With dowels. That’s one of the things about being aboard this ship. Expensive materials and artisan labor are in evidence everywhere.

Which is why, honestly, I try not to destroy the place. Still, even gentle rocking is enough to throw the neurologically impaired slightly off. So there I was in the disabled toilet just off the lobby of one of the ship’s theaters…there are several…holding one of the many handrails and still musing over the morning’s lecture. While peeing, of course. One of those rhythmic swells…or sags…made me slightly shift my arm against the handrail. Forcing my elbow against the emergency telephone. The ship has emergency phones all over the place. And it makes particular sense that the disabled facility right by the lobby has one in easy reach. Unless your elbow knocks the thing off its hook. Sending the phone crashing to the ground, and even ripping it from its cord. Honestly, I didn’t mean to, I thought, as I exited. I didn’t tell anyone. And with cabin staff lurking everywhere, for once I didn’t worry about it either.

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