Now I am approaching my dotage, all my friends seem to have abandoned their traditional holidays for the cruise ship. No longer are they to be found lying on the beaches of the Mediterranean, or drinking rough red wine in their gites or camping in the south of France with their children. Their kids have gone to University and their bodies are all going south, so showing those same bodies on Greek beaches is no longer an option. They are no longer fine figures of men or women. Disneyland can no longer be justified and climbing in Yosemite has become impossible.
Now they all go on cruises, where the food is all free and the service all silver. No longer do they need to change the fuses by torchlight in an old French fuse box. The hitch-hiking of their youth has been replaced by a floating 5-star hotel with stabilizers.
So has the time now come for me to pack my sea chest and wear elasticated waists? Do I need to dig out my wedding suit and see if it still fits? Does the Captain’s table wait for me? And what does my bank have to say about it?
What is the appeal of the cruise ship for us all? Suddenly, we find ourselves with some spare cash. Our children are all off getting debts of their own and for most so-called Seniors the mortgage has been paid. It has to be our patriotic duty to spend money. The economy needs us.
Cruise ships are top-notch hotels with top notch food and top notch entertainments by actors and dancers fresh out of college and in need of that Equity card that experience on the ships will give them. To go on a cruise means much-needed support for the hospitality and entertainment industries. Indeed, if we still built ships in Glasgow or Liverpool the same could be said for the shipbuilding industry. But we don’t.
I do get this cruising thing, though. It’s the bit tacked on to the end of life when you can, for a fortnight or so, have what you want and play at being the Lord and Lady. For two weeks she can hold a long cigarette holder and wear pearls, and he can sport a monocle and wear a tuxedo. It is possible to visit far-flung and exotic cities with the minimal trouble so necessary at this age. It is almost as though you can sit in your deck chair while great cities are wheeled in front of you. Lots of them, in case you missed them when you were young. Or were too drunk to notice.
Today, Rome; tomorrow, Athens. Next day, Alexandria. The civilisations sweep by and are ticked off the list.
It is a noble thing to do, as the final destination begins to loom on the western horizon.
When I started to look more closely at what was available and was comparing one Panama hat with another, I noticed there were ships that offered “experiences”. Experiences seem to be a new idea. We’ve never had them before, it would seem. This is a whole new thing.
These seem to be what I might be after, as an old man, but not a very old man, and as a disabled man who still believes he is more than his disability. And to add a certain urgency to the search, my wife will soon be hitting one of those birthdays that I will be expected to mark with something special. A box of chocolates and a bunch of flowers will just not do.
The time seems ripe for a nautical experience.
And they are there if you look for them.
For those of us with salty childhood dreams, fired by old sea dogs like Francis Chichester, or Alan Villiers, or Joshua Slocum, there is the Royal Clipper, a five mast square-rigged sailing ship, based on the German Preussen, built in 1902. It is the largest tall ship in the world, and in the summer it cruises the Mediterranean, then crosses the Atlantic to cruise the Caribbean in the winter. I fancied the Atlantic crossing from Lisbon to Barbados, but my wheelchair let me down here. Dammit
would be an experience.
What else do I fancy?
The Norwegian shipping company Hurtigrutenoffer some variations on the Norwegian fjords theme. They run daily mail ships from Bergen in the south right up to Vardo in the far north, calling in at dozens of villages and towns on the way. This is not a cruise, but a working ship. It carries the mail to isolated villages and farms, it takes local passengers from one fjord to another.
They have ice-strengthened expedition ships which go to Svalbord or Greenland, or you can sail through the North-West Passage from Greenland to Alaska in the wake of Franklin and Amundsen.
These are experiences, too, but I don’t really like being cold. However, the chance to see polar bears in the wild before they become extinct, or the Northern Lights, or just the darkness of a non-polluted night sky is enticing.
Which kind of holiday shall I choose, now my hair is grey and critically endangered? I did the globe-trotting in my twenties, which seems about right. I camped and built sand castles in my thirties, which also seems right. In my forties and fifties I discovered the deep satisfaction that came from going to the same Greek village every year. Now it is time for some experiences, before it’s too late, before I hit the metaphorical iceberg.