3.45pm – Barry and Mary pull into the ferry port car park with little speed. Barry stops the car and promptly searches in the boot for Mary’s comfy shoes. Mary re-organises things from the comfort of her front seat and with a copy of Heat magazine to keep her company. Barry takes instruction knowing that comment was futile.
4.06pm – Jake searches his rucksack pockets for his passport and ticket. Dave and Will have a laugh and wind him up. Jake panics but eventually finds them stuffed into his spare trainer for safe keeping.
5.30pm – A steady procession of Harleys, Yamahas, BMW and Kawasaki motorbikes stream through customs and descend into the bowels of the ship.
6.15pm – Kim and Chris watch from the upper decks, flicking their cigarette ash overboard and in to the waters below. The last cars are boarding the ship, couples old and young, families large and small, people heavy with luggage and travellers travelling light scurry the corridors looking for cabins eventually struggling to insert the card key correctly into the door.
7.24pm – Safety announcements are broadcast around the ship as people explore and navigate the decks, bars, restaurants and shops. Heavy blasts of a test horn strain the ears. Clouds of Channel and Lancome penetrate the foyer of the perfume aisle and counter. Queues form to read the menu outside the posher of the two restaurants. Smart middle-age folk ready with their reading specs politely wait their turn to scan and comment on the elegantly described dishes.
Mick and his mates get the first round in at the main bar and cabaret lounge. Bingo starts at 8pm. The Grainger family choose the pasta dish, self-service salad and fresh fruit for dessert. Diners unpack their cold meats, bread rolls and yogurt in corners of the dining lounge and watch out of the Ship’s impressive windows as it sails into the sunset. Dorothy and John collapse on the bunk in fits of laughter as they explore the confines of their windowless, moulded cabin. Dorothy discovers the second bunk tucked away and folded into the ceiling. For one minute John thought they’d both have to fit in 2’.6”.
8.12pm – Gary collars Jim near the lifts on deck 7 and tells him that there’s a blonde bird on after the Bingo doing a Lady Ga Ga tribute act. She looked fit but nothing like Lady Ga Ga. Jason runs after Sarah around the tables and up and down the cabaret lounge steps. Jason gets a sharp reminder from his Dad to calm down or go to bed. Jason slows down until out of sight then picks up pace as he spots Sarah sticking her tongue out at him from the safety of the upper level stairwell.
Robert stops at the information desk on deck 6 to ask for a sea sickness tablet as he feels like throwing up. Danny and Javier go for a sleep as they’d drunk far too much in the bar at lunch time and just needed to crash for a while.
9.00pm – Two staff cleaners in dark blue Fred Perry type t-shirts and black trousers chat as they carry their mop buckets in gloved hands. There’s been a spate of vomiting near the self-service and urgent cleansing was required. Sick bag dispensers were being replenished. Waiters clear over-full trays from tables and wipe crumbs away.
The posh restaurant fills up with smartly dressed couples, professional class families and a small group of friends deciding to ‘Push the Boat Out’ for Becky’s 40th Birthday trip. Bryan and Craig toast each other with a rather special Merlot to celebrate their ‘honeymoon’ after a wonderful Civil Partnership ceremony with friends and family in Hackney. A dark-haired waitress uncorks a bottle of Champagne for the table near the double glass doors.
10.29pm – Two boiler-suited men walk through the main bar, one in green, the other white. The ships’s logo blazoned on their backs. Jackie completes her online blog, her net book neatly arranged alongside her camera, iPhone and Kindle. Bill taps away on his tablet whilst Pete and Lindsay chuckle away to Hangover 2 through combined twin head-phones. Sue has her last cigarette for the night outside on the deck 9. She chats freely with other smokers about how they feel like pariahs having to stand outside and besides “it’s bloody freezing half of the time”.
11.40pm – Tony and Gail argue. Tony accuses Gail of giving the French waiter too much eye contact. Gail walks out of the bar and heads back for cabin 6573. Jean Paul mixes a cocktail in the piano bar as Frankie Walker plays popular favourites from the films on the white baby grand. Kath claps alone, most of the time, at the end of each tune.
Anne looks in the bathroom mirror and sighs wistfully whilst thinking that neon strip lighting doesn’t actually help. Pat takes her pills and tries to get comfy on her bunk. Bed-time reading is a bit of Bill Forsythe. Sue has another last cigarette of the night on deck 9 and quite likes the chap with the biker’s trousers and black t-shirt.
12.17am – Joan and Patrick sit huddled together outside in the midnight air. The sea was smooth, the moon bright and the stars very bright. Patrick talked of his plans for the re-build of the barn into a dream home for Joan. Joan worried about the money. Two older ladies strolled past, walking off a rather lovely meal before bed. Barry studied his map in the foyer near the information desk.
1.19am – Paula asks for God’s sake for Malcolm to stop snoring, it was enough to wake the dead and they’d have to face their cabin neighbours in the morning. She questioned what they would think if they saw them at breakfast? April wandered aimlessly around the corridors on deck 5 looking for cabin 7881. Keith, Nigel and Fin discussed politics, religion and bikes in the bar as staff cleared tables and stacked baskets for the dishwasher. The Captain retired for the night leaving the ship in the capable hands of his chief officer.
Sue stares at the smoke detector above her bunk and wonders just how much smoke it would take to trigger it.
2.09am – Men and women in blue t-shirts and black trousers hoover the highly pattered carpets and wipe down rows of chairs and tables. Black bin bags of rubbish are trailed behind as the public areas are once again ordered and clean. Leanne can’t sleep and makes sure the rest of the girls know it. Someone ran down the corridor past Betty’s cabin. Betty thought it would be that red-haired girl from down the way with the hippy looking mother. Ben searched round for a suitable padded seat to crash on as he couldn’t sleep in the reclining seat area as there were too many people whispering, farting or snoring.
3.00am – Passing tankers sound their horns and shine their lights. A car alarm is going off on deck 4 and Judy takes a last look at her blessed lab Bobby who’s in the kennels on deck 10. His fellow residents greet her with howls and barks. As the barking quietens, the hum of the engines can be heard as the hustle and bustle of ship life settles, snoozes and sleeps.
The moon is full.
4.00am – Peter checks his alarm clock for the fifth time in 30 minutes and eventually gives up trying to get to sleep. The kitchens slowly re-awaken. Service staff swill the upper decks. A lone bird rests awhile on the rails.
5.00am -Pedro has an early shower and packs his overnight case ready for disembarkation. Only 14 hours to go, “still best to be prepared”.
6.31am – Gabrielle comes out of the cabin bathroom after showering, applies her minimal make-up and gets changed into her smart black and white waitress outfit. Edith is still fast asleep after a late shift in the cabaret lounge bar. Dean on deck 9 is feeling nauseous for the fourth time.
7.45am – Fiona and Richard are shown to their table by Paul. Fiona doesn’t like the table she’s been shown to and asks if she can sit in the next dining bay. Paul obliges and shows them to their table. Fiona doesn’t want to sit with her back to the front of the ship and swaps seats with Richard. After cereals, coffee, scrambled eggs, mushrooms and tomato, a croissant and a slice of that smelly French cheese, Fiona slips a couple of bread-rolls, small pots of jam and a banana into her bag. Richard thinks Paul saw her do it. On deck 9 Ellie gets a brilliant shot of the sun rising.
8.02am – Mandy breast-feeds baby Jake on the not so comfy seats near the information desk on deck 6. Husband Johnny has gone to find a pack of wet-wipes and Mandy’s jacket. Alison and Perry check on Billy in the kennels, Billy yaps and yaps setting off the other 9 dogs. Miss Hardcastle takes Gypsy for a walk and comfort break. Johnny returns with the wet-wipes but couldn’t find Mandy’s jacket. Mandy says it doesn’t matter as she’ll probably go back to the cabin anyway.
9.00am – Ellie gets another fabulous shot of a porpoise, she was lucky according to Pablo. Pablo is off again for a run around the decks. He needs to do another 6 circuits before rehydrating. Gabrielle tells Maria that the passengers on this trip are messy and so rude at times. Maria tells Gabrielle that she is looking forward to leave so she can see her little girl and husband. Kyle sprays perfume on his mother again. His mother tells Kyle if he does that one more time he is not getting a bag of Dime bars as promised. Kyle goes off to get a large bag of Dime bars.
10.53am – Tony reads yesterday’s newspaper and attempts the crossword. He asks Fergal what’s another word for magnificent? Phillipe loads the dishwasher in the main kitchen. The noise of plates, serving dishes, squeaky trolleys and happy chefs makes the radio inaudible. Kathryn clears up messy trays and tells Phillipe about a conversation she overheard whilst in the lounge area earlier. Phillipe laughs and wonders why anyone would do such a thing?
11.11am – Freddie tries his smart phone again but still can’t get a signal. He listens to Mumford and Sons on his headphones. Danny makes the most of his 1 hour of internet access, he checks mail, updates his Facebook page, tweets about Brent being sick cause he was pissed, posts a picture, shares a cute photo of a kitten and a machine gun, checks a pair of trainers on Ebay and does something on Farmville. Linda reads Katie Price’s biography. TG has a coffee and writes in his journal. Geraldine sits in her cabin reading Yours magazine. Sharon and Wayne talk things over outside in the sunshine.
Martin grabs his first pint of the day in the bar, sorted.
12.44pm – The engines change their pace and the background noise softens. There is a strange mixture of smells outside as the ships funnel sends out feint grey smoke that mingles with frying garlic fumes from the kitchen. The sun is bright but it’s cold out. One side of the ship is too windy for Jacqueline and Pascual who decide to go indoors for a snack before packing.
In the lounge, a solitary round of applause follows the decision by Marta to take little Katie to bed for an hour as she is tired and grumpy. Marta turns and tells the people at the next table that they were so rude and that children cry, it’s what thy do.
1.23pm – Bob and the kids are sent out of the cabin whilst Rebecca gets things together and sorts out the bags. Harriet and Helen choose their disembarkation outfits, dress to impress being Helen’s new mantra. She told Harriet that if she came back from this holiday without pulling a fit Spanish bloke then she’d seriously consider becoming a lesbian. Pedro leaves his cabin, propping the door open so the cleaners know it’s empty. He goes to the stairwell near the car deck and waits with his luggage. Only two hours to go “still, best be early”.
2.45pm – The Captain announces that they are due for arrival in 45 minutes time. Passengers are kindly requested not to go down to the car decks until an announcement is made. Cleaning services request that passengers vacate their cabins. The stairwells to the car decks fill with eager bulging tourists and bulging bags. The lift on deck 6 opens for the third time as Manolo keeps on pressing the wrong button. Dog owners are requested to take their pets to their car deck where they will be met by a crew member and be given access to their cars. The stairwells ripple with anticipation.
3.30pm – David, Gail, Ginny, Sue, Desmond and Zahid squeeze between cars to get to their people carrier. Reg stands guard next to his new Volvo C60 making sure no little gob shite scratches his bodywork. If they looked where they were going instead of staring constantly at a screen then half the world’s problems would be solved, apparently. Rick starts his engine and gets shouted at by a chorus of seasoned ferry passengers. Barry continues the search for Mary’s comfy shoes whilst Mary continues to direct and berate with the help of a Wurther’s Original and a copy of Heat magazine. Doors open, cars move, adventures continue.