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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year; Cruising

Maw, Paw and No Weans (Thank Goodness)
Judith Moore

Of all the travelling I have done with my husband, January's Caribbean cruise must rank as one of the more bizarre experiences, bringing out the worst in me; a desire to be critical of my fellow men and women and an overmastering urge to record this criticism on paper.

Why did I chose to take a cruise when I am obviously so temperamentally unsuited to this type of communal life? It was a deliberate decision based on a huge reluctance to repeat any of the previous terrifying, upsetting, exhausting, debilitating, morally unsettling adventures I had undergone in the need to satisfy my husband's urge to see all of the world before he died, an event fortunately, in spite of his belief in his imminent demise, still in the future.

A cruise, we thought, might offer an effortless way to visit some still unseen places and would test out a new way of travel that would bear us comfortably into our dotage. It would not involve any of our previous contretemps, no near fatal illnesses in Delhi, no crazed elephant attacks in Kenya, no drunken drivers crashing Mercedes trucks over the side of bridges and abandoning us in the middle of Masai and bandit country, no four days solid sea-sickness in the Magellan Straights, no more plane flights with flat tyres and the luggage jettisoned to cut down the weight, no more rats running across the restaurant floor, no more baby black mambas coming up the basin waste pipe, no more poisonous spiders attacking my daughter, no more diahorrhea in a pail, no more cooking meals for 24 on an open fire and no more nearly coming to blows with American women pointing their cameras into the faces of elderly natives and giggling as if the people they saw were some insensible Disneyland cut outs. No more spending the night in a Masai hut with a mad Swedish missionary who wouldn't stop praying for deliverance as we waited for dawn and the return of the warriors; no more inadvertent holidaying in a brothel, no more driving in luxury from Rajah's palace to Rajah's palace through a land where women as old as my grandmother carried baskets of stones on their heads to mend the roads on which I travelled.

So, all was set for the new unadventurous adventure, for restful and tranquil lazy days visiting some of the islands of the Caribbean we had not yet seen, physically and mentally untaxing, a precursor of travelling as it should be done by those with our degree of age and decrepitude. I should say that generally, all our travelling was reasonably economical, in so far as perpetual motion can be economical, and this cruise was to be no different. We knew we were definitely not at the luxury end of the market.

It wasn't the best of all possible starts. The train to London arrived late, delayed for the arrest of drunken football supporters. The Piccadilly tube to Heathrow was cancelled because someone had just jumped in front of a train. On the plane a man being forcibly deported was screaming that there was a bomb on board. It really is amazing how quickly the urge to travel can leave you. All I wanted was to go home. Our first sight of the ship, however, was impressive; white against an azure sky, clean, imposing, she seemed to promise sunny days and evenings of elegance; a holiday suited to my advanced years and unadventurous nature. I was joining the cruising classes; the sip-a-martini, shaken not stirred, dinner-jacketed, cool sophisticates of the world travel scene.

So why did I find it so bizarre? Why did it drive me expose the nasty side of my nature by putting pen to paper in a way which would have had me keel hauled if anyone on board had read it? I think it was the first sight of my fellow voyagers.

Our travelling companions had beer bellies, facial hair, tattoos and gold medallions and that was just the women. Someone told me cruising had gone down market but I hadn't realised quite how far down. Not that it wasn't great that they could afford to come away and have fun: don't get me wrong, I didn't begrudge any of them their entertainment, I was just a little taken aback by how different most of the passengers were from those I had pictured. Mass market cruising has a low centre of gravity, that's for sure.

Cropped butch hairstyles, massive bosoms with crepey cleavages, shoulder tattoos, spare tyres, all packed in a sausage skin of skimpy tops, with bra straps showing beneath dangling gold earrings; the women were more terrifying than the men and, goodness knows, they were bad enough – bald heads, skinheads and pigtails, sleeveless tee shirts, massive guts, droopy shorts over tattooed calves, pint glasses clutched in ham fists, and an obvious need for male bras. Not so much the mobsters on holiday as the mobsters' enforcers.

I have to admit here, that I am over 13 stones myself but I am generally a bit coy about it, wearing loose shirts and slacks and trying not to put people off their dinner with too sweaty a show of sagging and hairy wobble. However, one benefit of visiting the pool deck spread with what can only be described as extraordinary specimens of the almost naked ape, was that suddenly, even at 13 stones, I felt positively slim.

Roasted red, tattooed purple, dressed, or undressed, in green, blue, orange and lurex, the expanse of flesh rippled in the sunlight, cigarette smoke draped. Colourful they might have been, but the clientèle looked like one enormous heart attack waiting to happen, a living tableau of comic seaside post card life, baseball caps on backwards in place of knotted handkerchiefs.

Don't think for a moment, though, that there wasn't an element concerned with health. In the library a group was having a serious discussion about constipation and passing the gym, I saw all the slim people I hadn't known existed, peddling away like mad on the torture machines. Back at the pool deck, a demonstration of tooth whitening was going on, only £175, and with a guaranteed difference between before and after. All you could possibly want on offer, from massage to botox, and dear at the price.

I hadn't realised before what a hotbed of hard sell seethes round you daily on a cruise ship.
Three blow dries and a free pedicure for only £240, opportunities to purchase emeralds, daily news sheets promoting the gem merchants, with the 30 day meaningless guarantee, £25 for the use of the safe in your cabin, book three special dinners, get the fourth free, excursions costing twice what you would pay to arrange yourself, photos, videos, diamonds, funny hats, book your next cruise now; you name it, they are selling it, and didn't they let us know it.

There was no lack of intellectual excitement. Twice a day there was a general knowledge quiz at the pool. Blasting out of the speakers came challenging questions in a broad northern accent, 'Is a mallard a kind of deer or a kind of dook?' 'What unusual thing happened at the 1946 Coop final?' The prize was a plastic ship's ballpoint and rivalry was high. I suggested an answer to a nearby group.

''That's naw fair, her shudny have been takin' part, she's naw in yer team!' I beat a rapid retreat from this scholarly dispute and hid myself, my poisoned pen and my secret scribbles in my cabin.

In the theatre, glitzy shows and songs from the musicals were belted out with minimum subtlety and maximum amplification. Bingo, Pirates of the Caribbean parties, and endless food filled the day and the evening with noise and indigestion. Don't think, either, when everyone else was at a show or in the bars, that we could have a peaceful seat on deck under the stars. Pop music still hammered out at full volume from the empty bandstand. Sitting almost alone at night looking for quiet, it still took us four phone calls and a personal trip to Guest Relations to get the music turned down. Mind you, they did have other things on their minds, as the lavatories suffered the same frequent constipation as the group in the library and if your drainage happened to be directly above a heavy producer, the resultant blockage seemed to spread upwards by the same geometric progression as Bernard Madoff's Fonzi, and the lines of looless punters with nowhere to invest their output clogged the complaints queue.

I love fresh air but it was hard to find. Huge numbers of people smoked. The bars smelled of smoke. The library smelled of smoke. The open deck smelled of smoke. Add to this the smell of exhaust from the funnels and the general faint aroma of diesel, mix it all with oily essence of sun lotion, the smell of canned air and the aroma of hot grease and fried food from the sun deck grill and the result was queasy making indeed.

There were unexpected language problems. The accents or dialects, mostly North of England with the odd scattering of very broad Glaswegian, were unintelligible. It reminded me a little of chambermaiding in Devon as a student. I had understood nothing anyone said there either, but people were friendly, so I used to smile and say "Yes" to be agreeable. I ended up in so many difficult situations through accepting propositions I had not understood (including, apparently, an invitation to go away for the weekend with a one eyed man old enough to be my grandfather) that I had to change to saying "No" to everything.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the voyage.

Leaving the ship in each port of call, it was necessary to run the gauntlet of the man sized plastic parrot and the cruise photographers. I actually heard passengers saying that it was so hard to choose which photograph was best that they would just have to buy them all. Parrots, rather than Pirates, of the Caribbean. We stepped smartly past them, shielding our faces from the cameras, like some shy criminals at the Old Bailey. What is wrong with us that the thought of being photographed with a giant plastic parrot makes us cringe? Do we lack some gene connected with relaxation? All right, I know; we are just intellectual snobs.

Sometimes I wonder what others must think of the British abroad. The outfits on the trips ashore were astonishing. At the risk of sounding like Trinny and Susannah, I can't feel that a pink and white striped tee shirt and a minuscule pair of pink shorts, worn with grey woolly socks and black high heeled shoes was quite the thing for an eighty five year old on a city walking tour. No ship would be complete without its mystery. Ours was The Mystery of the Meandering Merde, or in the vernacular, the Problem of the Promenading Pooh. On deck four in the starboard corridor lurked a revolting smell, but we never knew when we would walk into it. It floated erratically from end to end of the corridor, sometimes outside one cabin, sometimes another, the scent travelling on its own secret Caribbean voyage, lurking in wait for passengers returning from dinner. Oh for Hercule Poirot to solve the mystery.

I have to confess, in spite of good food, a comfortable cabin and a willing and obliging crew, after eleven days we left the ship in Grenada. We escaped unharmed, almost unphotographed, without a pirate hat, Columbian emeralds or our teeth whitened, and I live to write, and travel, another day.

Judith Moore June 2009
judithjmooreat hotmail.com

Research to Find A Publisher
I am aware that I have set myself a difficult challenge. The list of outlets unwilling to publish this type of writing is immensely long: it includes all publications which take advertising revenue from Cruise Lines, all publications aimed at social groups B and C and all publications which are politically correct.
It is not satirical writing, which eliminates most of the publications which are willing to offend; not is it writing so humorous that the wit overcomes the nastiness.

So much of what I was observing was happening around me as I wrote that I had some difficulty with whether to write in the present or the past tense. The introductory section was written later and this allowed me to set the cruise clearly in the past and also allowed me to indicate something of my past history and experience of travel, which made the piece more relevant for the recipient I hoped my research would discover.

It is one thing to write a piece specifically for a certain publication, in which case the style and subject would be pre-determined, and quite another thing to find a publisher for a piece which was written about a certain subject, in a certain way, because that was what the writer needed to express at the time. This was the case here; my challenge was to find a publication which would allow me to submit the piece in the tone in which it had been written. Ideally, I was by looking for travel publications which pride themselves on 'telling it like it is'; I also considered magazines which place themselves at the sophisticated end of the market – where you give clever little dinner parties – a publishing equivalent of the dinner party dialogues satirised on the Rory Bremner show. A magazine for the chattering classes. Does such a thing exist? I checked Cosmoplitan (the last word in daring sophisication when I was in my twenties) and found it reduced to a sort of sad Hello with sex that was supposed to be daring. I looked at Vogue but it was limited strictly to beauty and fashion, House and Garden, Country Life, similarly limited.

Finally, through Google 'on-line travel magazines', I found the web-site www.world-newspapers.com/travel I examined the contents and policies of the listed on-line travel magazines.

Some were too spiritual, like 'Brave New Traveller', some too linked to the travel industry, like 'Beyond', some too limited to foreign cultures, some to more basic means of travel. The most relevant was Hackwiters (www.hackwriters.com). They accepted contributions of up to 2000 words, well written, on travel, social and political commentary. I read one of their already published articles 'Fear of Flying – Bucket Shop Blues' by John M. Edwards which was written in very much the tone of my article. While Hackwriters reject sexism, racism and 'any other isms' I trust they will consider that my article comes under both the travel and the social commentary umbrella. Linked with a university creative writing group, submissions are by Word attachment and the next acceptance date is 29th May,
so even the timing seemed appropriate.

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