Day 1

So far so good, with the first leg of the trip getting under way without much of a hitch!

I could just be being a little optimistic, but this might not be as trying as I expected! The night at home and the seven hours in the car on the way to Souhampton were really not too much trouble at all. Granted I had to repeat everything every five or ten minutes, and listen to the same conversation over and over again, Mum telling me what a good driver I was every time I overtook someone. This was usually shortly before proceeding to tell me to ‘fuck off’ about something else (her Tourettes is coming along nicely!) and then telling me how much she loved me in the next breath. She only had one real paddy at Luton services when she decided that she would rather be at home and was heading back. When asked how she intended to get there her quick retort was ‘I don’t know but I’ll do it on my back if I have to’. I chose not to conjure up that image.

The funny thing now is that on some occasions, Mum is the one who is reminding Dad of the short term stuff and not the other way round as it has been for so long. He struggles more with the day to day stuff and every now and again it’s Mum who has to remind him. Although as soon as we reached Southampton, Dad knew exactly where we were going, and guided us straight to the hotel on the quayside, and then to the oldest pub in Southampton for dinner.

I can see one of the Azura’s sister ships moored up at the dock from my bedroom window as I write this. We set sail this afternoon, and I have to say I’m starting to feel mildly excited about the whole thing.

Not entirely sure how easy it is going to be to post once aboard, as communications are limited (or expensive). But will keep plugging away!!


Reality Check

So far my way of preparing for this trip has been to take the ‘ostrich strategy’ approach, treat it all like one big adventure, write about it, take pictures of it, and use humour as a coping mechanism. It’s the way we were brought up, to laugh in the face of adversity, and make sure that any tears we shed were the ones that celebrated the good times (preferably aided by a glass or two of something containing alcohol). When Skipper (spot the nautical reference) the family dog died, we floated him out on a haze of Bucks Fizz, as Dad decided that he was a dog worthy of a more ‘sophisticated’ tipple than the cider and black we were prone to drinking in those days. Five days after mum knocked herself into a coma and onto a life support machine, when we still didn’t know whether we were going to have to make the God-awful, on/off button decision, we all went out as a family, (Dad, three sisters and respective husbands of the time) to let off steam. Such was the raucousness of our table the owner came over to enquire exactly what we were celebrating. It’s stuff like that that has got us through.

But life has a way of coming up and knocking the wind out of your sails when you least expect it, and sometimes the tears can’t be joyful. A phone call from Dad today (the fifth in two days), all of a sudden brought into very sharp focus the reality of what is going on. It also brought home what little sis, the one who lives close by, is having to deal with on a daily basis (but ten-fold). It’s not that I didn’t already know how things are, but distance makes it easier to keep things parked in a little corner of the mind to be dealt with when necessary. But today, after explaining (again) the basic logistics of the travel arrangements to a man who, for all his life has kept everything together so effortlesly, it hit me square between the eyes, it bit me on the bottom, it blindsided me.

A flashing moment of ‘fuck, Dad, your head really has gone, I’m not ready for this, and I don’t mean the cruise, I mean, I’m really not ready for this other huge thing that is no longer looming on the horizon but right here with us, right now, the big ‘A’. I am so not ready for this, there are still so many times I want to sit on the kitchen back step with a glass of the awful wine you insist on buying and recite Kipling’s ‘If’ with you. I am so, so not ready for this. There are still so many more times I want to sit in the Small Crafts Club, or the Cricket Club* and reminisce with you and your friends, (fishermen or otherwise). Will somebody please come and make your head better because really, I am so, so, really, really, not ready for this!!’

A fleeting Kleenex moment followed, before I pulled myself up straight, (tears in the office has never been a look I’ve been particularly fond of – but thank you Susana for coming to the rescue). The floodgates opened again when I got home as the stark realization of what’s up ahead really, really started to bite.

* I must point out that Dad hates cricket, but it’s the closest bar to the house for a night time stroll. He is nothing if not practical!

Preconceived ideas.. part one.. I think there may be more

OK .. it has to be said that I’m going on this trip with a lot of preconceived ideas… all of which I am quite prepared to have smashed to pieces once I get on the ship. These preconceived ideas are not completely without foundation. Over the thirteen years I have lived in Madrid I have met up with Mum & Dad on various occasions when they have docked in Spain and Portugal. I’ve picked them up from the quayside as the masses queued up, seemingly endlessly (it takes a while for 3000 people to get off a ship in more or less single file), to then board buses to take them to the English Bars on the sea front. I’m not saying anything, but you know when a cruise ship is in town in Alicante just by the flora and fauna of Brits that populate the bars ‘en primera linea del mar’, they don’t blend in well with the Madrileños who have their second homes there.

I did spend a couple of hours idly assessing the on-board amenities (and trying not to have anxiety attacks at the same time). I went into the FAQ to find out the possibilities of jogging around the deck.. partly out of curiosity to see how many kilometres a full circuit would be and partly to see whether I will be able to run round fast enough to reach escape velocity and fly away from the confines of matching bar stools, programmed entertainment and glitzy spas for a while (90 f*****g quid for a facial!!.- I’m coming from poor Spainland and only have my 50 quid early booking voucher to redeem in the whole trip.. and I have to pay for my wine!!).

I really don’t buy into this ‘everything designed to make your stay the perfect experience’ thing .. as I really don’t like being told what ‘perfect’ is.. I’m sure my idea will not coincide with the other 2999 passengers, but ho hum.  It seems that jogging round the deck is actively discouraged as there is a wonderfully conditioned gym to do my physical jerks in, and it is suggested that perhaps the deck might be a little too narrow for jogging round, (these guys clearly haven’t run around the streets of your average Spanish pueblo)!!  But what if I want to suck up some sea air whilst exercising? I personally don’t want to be sweating in a hermetically sealed box looking out to sea when there is a possibility of a seagull shitting on my head as I clock up my kilometers.  Weird I know, but hey.. I’ve got a shower in my billy no mates bunker.

I’m sure it will be a weird sensation to be standing on the balcony and watching quayside gradually get smaller and smaller, just as I have stood and watched from the quayside as mum and dad turn slowly into little dots on many occasions. I’ve never quite got my head round just how big these ships are, and how small we look when up alongside them.  And I’m sure my worries about claustrophobia will be unfounded.. so long as I can find my quiet corner.

Ports of Call

So the logistics of this trip are as follows…

1. Friday – Catch plane from Madrid, Spain (home for me) to Liverpool
2. Drive hire car from Liverpool to other side of country – two and a half hours away
3. Sleep at home (as in Mum & Dad home, where I grew up home)
4. Saturday – Drive with parents for six hours (dementia in stereo) to Southampton, (little sis insists that it’s only five and a half cos her in laws just did it in that time, but, like half an hour is going to make a difference to my mental state at the end of it)
5. Dump hire car and sleep at hotel in Southampton making sure Dad doesn’t wander off to the boat show and making sure he remembers he’s there to go on a cruise..
6. Sunday – Board P&O Alzheimer .. sorry.. Azura, get my ‘all the food you can eat , but the wine is extra, and, by the way, hang your imagination up at the door’ pass
7. Spend three days at sea before docking at first port of call in, ahem… Spain

well … we dock in Gibraltar, which technically isn’t really Spain, but we won’t get into that debate right now… you get the picture…

Next port of call is Cartagena (so that really is Spain.. ), then we head off for Italy, (Rome and Florence), France (Cannes), before heading for home making the last stop in Barcelona on the way.

All these nice ports of call aside, I’m still getting my head round the three days at sea thing.. (and I have to do it twice, on the way there and on the way back) Hell, I’ve done 26 hours on an Andesmar bus, rolling through the wilds of Patagonia with only my navel to contemplate, and a cockroach to pull faces at (I thought he was waving at me with his antenna things… I put it down to too much Malbec). I enjoyed every last second of those 26 hours, but this three days at sea thing is filling me with utter horror.. (I’m exaggerating of course.. for dramatic effect). I kinda like my navel sessions, so long as I can look out of a window and have the sensation that physically I’m getting somewhere, difficult on a big ship as nothing really seems to ‘whizz’ by. And on a bus (or plane for that matter, even though that too lacks the ‘whizz by’ factor), there are only two or three people at any given time who have the option to talk to me .. if they so choose. The thing is that on a plane or bus it is perfectly acceptable to let your head roll around and dribble a little bit to discourage people from speaking to you… on a boat with 3000 passengers and half as many crew, I’m not too sure I’m going to be able to carry that look off! Well certainly not for more than a couple of hours, when it could perhaps be put down to a little too much wine and overdoing it on the Karaoke.

So my autistic moments may well have to be relegated to my bunker below decks, no windows for poor singletons, (there will be more on that at a later date when I have fully been able to appreciate my fate..)

Or of course I could just do what I normally do.. find a corner in a bar, put on my best ‘do not disturb’ face (which unnervingly seems to get interpreted more often than not as ‘come here and tell me everything’).. and just get on with it!!