Saturday, 4 October 2014

Ship Ahoy!

The last three years have been very challenging for my octogenarian parents.  Having managed to overcome a number of personal problems, they decided to book  a seventeen-day cruise around the Med.
          ‘I hope we’ve done the right thing,’ Mother Bryant said nervously, as we sat around her kitchen table drinking tea.
          ‘Of course you have,’ I assured, ‘it’s about time you and Dad had a holiday.  What better way to relax than on a lovely cruise ship!’
          ‘They’re awfully big,’ my mother gripped her tea cup anxiously. ‘It’s a wonder they stay afloat.’
          I knew what she meant.  I’d said more or less the same thing upon boarding a jumbo jet last August.  ‘How the hell is this going to get up into the air?’
          Anyway, I digress.  ‘I’m sure everything will be fine, and anyway, you’ll have Janice there to reassure you.’
          Janice is my sister.  She and her husband unexpectedly found themselves going on the cruise too when an elderly relative – who had actually booked the trip for himself and his retired wife – could no longer attend on account of the wife finding out about her husband’s mistress. Consequently the wronged wife told her husband to shove the ship where the sun didn’t shine.  Don’t ever think pensioners have dull and boring lives.  There’s a seething mass of hormones going on underneath the pacemakers and blue rinses.
          Two days prior to the cruise, my mother still hadn’t packed.  One day prior to the cruise, she declared she had nothing to wear.  Father Bryant was slightly hysterical by this point.  He’d already packed his modest thirty-year-old suitcase with shorts, t-shirts, and a tux for the evening.
          ‘What are you playing at?’ he demanded of my mother.
          An original war baby, my mother’s motto remains Never Throw Anything Away.  Consequently, her wardrobes are stuffed to bursting with clothes.  And what doesn’t squash into the wardrobe is boxed up in the attic, the garage, and possibly even my father’s potting shed.  I walked into her bedroom to find an explosion of garments everywhere and my mother looking rather vague and suggesting that perhaps she might not go on the cruise after all.
          ‘None of these clothes fit you, Mum,’ I said picking up the outfit she wore to my wedding.  Back then she was 5’2” and a hundred-and-forty-pounds. These days she hovers around the 4’ 9” mark and weighs no more than a feather.
          So a very last-minute trip took place to Bluewater shopping mall for clothes from John Lewis’s Petite range.  Once back home, Mother Bryant sank into her orthopaedic armchair.
          ‘I’m too exhausted to pack,’ she gasped.
          So Father Bryant did it for her, muttering many oaths along the way.
          The following morning, bright and early, I drove them to Southampton Docks where the MS Azura awaited.
          ‘Wow,’ was all I could say.
          It was a whopper of a ship.  One-hundred-and-fifteen thousand tonnes of metal stood majestically awaiting its three-thousand passengers.
          ‘There are an awful lot of old people getting on,’ said my mother looking horrified.  Sometimes she forgets she’s eighty-one.  ‘I hope none of them die.’  Actually, three of them did, but we won’t go there.
          ‘Have a lovely time,’ I cried, ‘and take lots of photographs.’  They didn’t.  Father Bryant had forgotten the charger to his first generation digital camera, and my mother hadn’t been able to source any Kodak film for her own camera.
          ‘Look after them,’ I murmured to my sister, who was looking more apprehensive by the minute.
          And in no time at all, they were off!  Well, it wasn’t like the Grand National you understand.  More a slow sort of drifting away, with everybody waving, Union Jacks fluttering, and the ship’s horn making everybody jump out of their skins and possibly contributing to one of the geriatric fatalities.
          Anyway, my parents arrived back in England on Wednesday earlier this week.  Mother Bryant came home slightly paler than when she’d left.  It transpired she’d spent every day in her room reading my very first novel.  I gave her the book four years ago and she never read it on account of ‘bad language and sex scenes’.  Seemingly, she now can’t get enough of it.
          ‘Why didn’t you read on the balcony and catch a few rays, Mum?’ I asked.
          ‘I didn’t want the sea breeze ruffling my hair-do.’
          ‘Did you go for a swim in the pool?’
          ‘No, I didn’t want to wet my hair-do.’
          ‘I can’t believe you didn’t get off the ship and check out all those lovely countries.’
          ‘I didn’t want the harsh sun drying out my hair-do.  And anyway, I can’t walk properly.’
          ‘But the ship has umpteen wheelchairs – you could have borrowed one!’
          ‘A WHEELCHAIR?’ roared Mother Bryant, two spots of colour staining her floury cheeks.  ‘They’re for OLD people!’
          Right.  I turned to my Father.  ‘Well at least you have a smashing tan, Dad.’
          It transpired this was mainly due to his disastrous excursion into Cadiz. Leaving Mother Bryant in her cabin, he set off, explored, and even stopped for a spot of lunch.  He then lost track of time, began to feel unwell in the intense heat, staggered about, couldn’t get back to the ship, got picked up by two policeman who thought he was having a heart attack, and ended up having a ride in a Black Maria with the bee-baw blaring.  He caught the ship by a gnat’s whisker when two burly stewards put out an emergency gangway just for him and physically lifted my father back on board. 
          ‘Well, that’s certainly a very different sort of holiday you’ve all had,’ I said giving my sister a meaningful look.
          Janice looked at me with wide eyes.  ‘It’s been…challenging,’ she replied.
          Still.  All’s well that ends well.  Which reminds me.  Passengers aboard a cruise ship were having a fab party when a beautiful young girl fell overboard. Immediately there was an eighty-year-old man in the water who rescued her. A handful of crew pulled them both out of the treacherous waters. The captain was both grateful and astonished at the old man’s bravery. That night a luxurious banquet was given in honour of the elderly hero. He was called forward to receive an award and asked to say a few words. He said, ‘Firstly, I’d like to know who pushed me…’

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