With a car boot full of check-in luggage and far too much hand baggage for one mum and a mischievous, very excited 4 year old, we set off on our adventure. I was looking forward to our Mediterranean cruise no end but I was also a little anxious. How would H deal with the change?…being on a boat, sleeping in a different “big girl” bed, new food, new people…coping with just one whole suitcase full of toys?!!
As we boarded Britannia for the first time we walked slowly down the ramp and H was very excited. “I don’t think you want to go on this holiday do you? Or play in the pool or go to kids club?” I teased. She looked at me with a frown…and then threw her head back in an exaggerated laugh. “Don’t be sarcastic Mummy!”. A couple walking alongside us laughed and H laughed along, feeling very pleased with herself. She had asked me once what sarcastic meant and now had a new phrase to impress the adults. Clever clogs.
Truth is children continuously learn. New things, new experiences and as a result they usually flex and adapt to their surroundings quite seamlessly. As long as they know you are there somewhere not too far away they feel comforted and secure. And there were lots of children on the ship…over 400 in fact, so H easily fitted in and even had her own kids club where she could hang out and meet friends.
Not quite so easy to blend in was a single mum….with a small, chatty and very sociable little girl…once she gets warmed up of course. Until then it’s eyes down, looking at you through her fringe, wrapping herself round my legs if she can and pretending not to hear you. Move onto adult conversation and ignore her for a few moments and she jumps to life like a jack in the box. “I’m going to Splashers this evening. Mummy calls it the kids club but it’s not called that really. It’s Splashers. And it’s sea day so I think we will be watching Ariel tonight at movie time…and I think that…”. Shyness forgotten!
H liked the movie nights and chose to go along for a couple of evenings…leaving me to wander around the ship on my own. On the first evening it felt very strange. So many people passing me in corridors, stood next to me at the bar, holding the lift for me, some smiling or bidding me good evening…others just looking. I wondered whether they looked at me and wondered why I was there on my own. Wondering about wondering? Ironic really. But I don’t care…I like my own time, being able to amble freely and explore the ship. And I love people watching and doing my own wondering and writing it down in my blog. Because I can.
“ No that’s it thanks”
“Just a Mojito?” Looking over my shoulder, for clues on the table, an indent in the chair next to me…looking for a convex dent, shaped by the bottom of my invisible companion who must have just stolen away to the toilet or to throw some shapes on the dance floor. And he still looks at me with questioning eyes, head tilted slightly.I feel like yelling “Just a bloody Mojito. Just one!”. But I nod politely and force a smile.
Sometimes you would think it’s an illness being single. Just sometimes. And there are a lot of couples on a cruise. Or elderly companions…sisters…Pauline and Mo…love bingo and cocktails of the day. “£4.50 special price you know”. Friends….members of a club. Mother and daughter…spending the inheritance on memories together (the sister can “swing” for it!). Not many solo adult travellers under a certain age…and not one single mum plus little one to be seen.
There is an afternoon club you can visit to meet other solo travellers – I imagined a room full of pensioners speed dating or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on water. “I think you’re in the wrong place love” or worse still “come in and sit with Albert”! I gave it a miss.
But I’ll have my Mojito and I’ll enjoy it thanks. It’s the second night of our journey and I’m in the middle of a packed “Live Lounge”…and I’m writing this blog. Because I don’t have to talk to anyone or keep anyone company….because I can.
I perch on a high stool at a small round table, next to a couple, with my one Mojito. They look married…like they don’t like each other much. Mainly sitting in silence, telling the waiter what they want to drink, singing to themselves a few out of tune words, staring at the stage, barely looking at each other. She wants to dance. He wants to get drunk. She wants to dance with him. He’d rather be in the casino. They both look bored…and even worse they don’t even know it! In the morning they’ll tell the neighbouring couple at breakfast about the good night they had…great music, good atmosphere. It happened to them. Like they were watching it on tv.
But the rarer single mum ignites their interest…they glance at each other with corresponding eye brow raises, asking each other…without speaking, she squints at the screen over my shoulder…cos I’m writing this blog. Because I can.
I would walk five hundred miles…and I would walk…
A family of three enthusiastically throw their arms around, moving side to side in a skipping motion, over exaggerated mouth movements so we can see without doubt that they know the words…every one. And…
…rocking all over the world…
A couple of ladies join in, one sways her hips, the other her shoulders. They look like they have been forced to dance. They look like they need another drink! The dance floor ebbs and flows like the waves below our ship, the DJ asking for requests which results in a bizarre cacophony of tunes.
As I look around I see empty expressions. People sat together but turned towards the front like they are ready to start their school lesson. Staring at an empty stage…a silent drum kit glowing red, equipment stands for a keyboard and microphone…but no life. Just colours against a black backdrop curtain spotted with lights to look like stars. Everyone seemingly engrossed at this nothingness…looking past and through the ever changing dancers, mainly women with bare feet, on the parquet floor. They are waiting for something to happen, not daring to look away in case they miss it…briefly chatting when the waiter approaches, selecting their drinks then bodies shift…eyes back to the front. And I’m engrossed watching them…and I’m writing this blog. Because I can.
A man at a neighbouring table stands up, says nothing but holds up a hand, rolling a cigarette between his thumb and forefinger. She acknowledges him with an upward flick of her eyes and the slightest twitch of her forehead before diving back into her wine. He must enjoy smoking more than her company…he takes his time. At the bottom of the large wine glass tannin sediment starts to stick, as dry as her look…she purses her lips trying to contain her fury. She’s not moving. She rummages through her bag unable to find the charge card for another drink. She keeps looking with her hands, her head flicking side to side surveying the entrance…back to the stage…back to the entrance. She is stirring up the contents of her clutch bag like she is kneeding dough. She wants him to see her as soon as he approaches…dare not look away for more than a second. Bearing teeth through a damson rose Rimmel smile.
Then her face changes.
Like nights and day.
“Look who I ran into…” Acquaintances that weren’t to see her darker side. Lips curled back over the teeth, air kissing European style as a new couple joins them at the table. He’d still be in the shit later…but for now she’ll pretend. And she’d hate to know I’d spotted her…while I’m writing this blog. Because I can.
Then the inevitable happens. The jive couple. Be it a wedding, a party or a cruise ship disco – there is always a jive couple. She is tall and slim with a floaty dress, kicks off her heels and commands her space on the dance floor. Her partner is no Bruce Tonioli but has rhythm and a flick in his step, twisting and twirling her, pushing and pulling. They speed up with the tempo of the music and now the people look at them and not the empty stage. It creates a stir. The lady at my table nudges her husband gesturing towards the jive couple with her eyes, pursing her mouth and giving him the “look at him dancing” look. She’d love to be up there but the casino loving choice she made in a man means that she’ll only get to dance at the daily afternoon lessons in the ballroom…on her own…with the good looking young teacher.
As the music whips up the jive couple, other dancers move to the edge or leave the floor. People start clapping along to the music and suddenly the place starts to feel more alive. “Bruce” is sweating…a lot..his wife is lapping up the crowd. I even put down my iPad to watch the finale as he throws his tall partner backwards over his knee and arm…we all gasp as she looks to be heading for the parquet. But he balances precariously, quickly whipping her back into his arms…and we all join in the applause. The jive couple gets the party started and now others start to head for the dance floor as the band busily move around getting their equipment ready on the stage.
And it’s 10:45pm so I have to leave to pick up H from movie night. “Have you had a good evening” says the kids club leader as I sign H out. “Yes thanks” I say as H comes running over to throw herself around my legs and tell me all about what she has been doing. Movies, games and stories…whilst I was writing my blog. Because I can!