Aurora Cruise Part 1

Aurora cruise 2005: Part 1

Thursday 10 November 2005 (Day 5)

Here we are, somewhat to our own surprise, back on Aurora, this time on our way to the Caribbean in search of beaches and sunshine in November as a sort of inoculation against the approaching winter in London. We’re in the same cabin as last time, C149, with bath and balcony, as near as we can get to amidships to minimise pitching and tossing, close to the stairs and lifts. This time we specified that we didn’t want to be on the Captain’s table for evening dinner, remembering those late departures from the dining-room on the last cruise with no hope of a pair of seats in the Curzon theatre for the nightly entertainment. It looked a bit presumptuous – implying that unless we said otherwise we’d expect to be on the Captain’s table – but we decided that we’d risk that.

Otherwise it’s all very familiar and enjoyable.

We have a rather snobbish feeling that it’s a bit down-market compared with our Black Sea cruise on Aurora in 2003, perhaps because the Caribbean is a more down-market destination; conversation with random table-companions at breakfast and lunch rarely venture beyond talk of other cruise ships and other cruise destinations experienced over many previous years, or dissection of the previous night’s evening entertainment, laced with detailed comparisons, sometimes fairly queasy-making, between our respective medical conditions and operations. There’s a huge preponderance of folk from Yorkshire and Lancashire, for some reason, but hardly any Scots so far as we have been able to discover: we spotted only one dress kilt on the one formal night so far (five more to come – formal evenings, not Scots in the kilt). But there are generally good and interesting characters to talk to, mostly seasoned cruisers compared with us (we’re only on our fourth): several we have talked to do three or four cruises a year and have been at it for 10 or more years.

We hit some pretty windy weather soon after leaving Southampton on the 6th, including force 10 gales for the first two days and three nights, which according to the dining-room stewards reduced the number of passengers appearing for dinner by up to 40 per cent: we sympathised smugly with all those fellow-passengers lying on their beds in their cabins, praying for death. Actually although we were pitching a lot (and rolling a little less), we wouldn’t have known from the ship’s behaviour that we were driving through gale-force winds that strong: the stabilisers must have been working overtime. Our dinner table (us two Londoners, one Yorkshirewoman and three Liverpudlians) was completely unscathed, eating and drinking our way happily through the storms. As we approached the Azores the wind dropped a good deal and it was quite warm and calm when we went ashore for the afternoon in Ponta Delgada, an extremely unremarkable little spot:  the cruise’s resident comedian, Don Reid, said that evening that he had been told by a Portuguese-speaker that ‘Ponta Delgada’, translated into English, meant “Why the hell are we having to stop off at this godforsaken place?”. Reid is very funny indeed and a considerable asset to the cruise. Ponta Delgada wasn’t a complete write-off: we did eventually track down a supermarket where we bought some Scotch, gin and mineral water for the rest of the trip so that we can sometimes by-pass Aurora bar prices.

The resident (lady) classical pianist has so far done only one concert, on a rather stormy evening, with the piano keyboard bucking and heaving under her fingers, which can’t have made things any easier for her, although she played valiantly and robustly – a Schubert impromptu, a Chopin nocturne, the slow movement of the Pathetique (complete Beethoven sonatas promised for later), some Grieg and some de Falla, all very familiar and none the worse for that, although not challenging.  [More on her in Part II.]

Now we’re a day out from the Azores and the weather is hugely improved, with lots of warm sunshine and only a moderate swell. I had my first swim this morning in the open-air pool, admittedly in water heated to 28 degrees; it’s the first day that we have been allowed to use the pools, which have been closed hitherto for fear of swimmers being smashed into the side by the water crashing from side to side and back to front with the movement of the ship.

We’re due at Antigua on Monday, our first Caribbean stopover (followed by Tortola, Grenada, St Lucia and Barbados, then five days at sea, Madeira, and home). We’re hoping for lots of Caribbean sunshine and snorkelling.

The internet connection in the ship’s passenger internet centre, absurdly called ‘cyber@study’, is slow, dodgy and extremely expensive.  I send a round-robin e-mail message, typed up in advance on my own laptop off-line, begging everyone not to send us e-mails other than in emergencies until after 27 November when we are due back and can download them on our broadband connection at home in a fraction of a second and at a marginal cost of zero, compared with five minutes or more per message up here on the Sun Deck next to the Crow’s Nest (one of Aurora’s 11 bars) at a marginal cost of a couple of quid a time.

Friday 11 November (Day 6)

While we were in mobile phone contact in the Azores we were alerted by a text message from son O. in California to the welcome news of Blair’s heavy defeat in the House of Commons over his deplorable 90-days-without-charge proposal (the result immediately confirmed by CNN on the cabin television; BBC World, characteristically uninterested in British news, was broadcasting interviews with Americans about appointments to the Supreme Court). CNN also showed the interview with Blair immediately after the Commons vote in which he appeared genuinely baffled by the defeat of his proposal. “I really, really can’t understand why people can’t see the need to back up our police and the security people…”, and so on. I think for once he was telling the unvarnished truth: he genuinely can’t understand what’s the matter with this fresh attack on our rights and liberties. It’s a pity that the debate on the 90-day proposal was conducted on the government’s irrelevant ground of the length of time needed by the police and the security services to conduct a complex investigation of a suspected terrorist plot: the real issue is the asserted need to keep the suspect in prison without charge throughout the length of that investigation. If the grounds for suspecting someone of being a terrorist are so flimsy that they can’t even support a charge under any of the sweeping provisions of our numerous anti-terrorist laws, they can’t by definition be strong enough to justify depriving him of his liberty for three months without charging him. Intensive surveillance, constant summonses for questioning, undisguised interception of his telephone and internet communications and his mail, questioning of his friends and family, and repeated searches of his home and person, should surely be enough to prevent him going out and bombing a train, especially since the moment there’s enough evidence to warrant charging him, he can be arrested at once and put behind bars pending trial. Against that background, the ‘compromise’ adopted by the Commons of allowing detention without charge for up to 28 days itself seems irrelevant. If the guy is so dangerous, why can’t he be held for questioning for the existing maximum of 14 days, and then if necessary an application made to a magistrate for another 14 days, and so on if necessary ad infinitum, or at any rate until the magistrate’s patience and credulity run out?

Aurora, between the Azores and the Caribbean, Remembrance Day 2005.

[Part 2 is here.]

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