It is 11am on the 11th January and I am sat with Florie and a cup of coffee in the Hotel in Southampton with a new notepad; starting my diary for this holiday, Oh damn! Isn’t that sods law, I just get settled and the taxi has just arrived to pick us up – pen down.
Pen up – We have now been transferred to the Port Terminal in Southampton Dock, a posh warehouse with an upstairs and a bar at the far side. It is 12.30pm, we have booked in and I’m supping a Stella watching the early passengers arrive, the tall the short and the ugly and that’s truer than you think. A few minutes ago I nearly tripped over a tiny lady possibly only three foot six tall and just as I sat down, another woman about six foot seven has just passed by with legs taller than the other woman, even if she got up on her tiptoes. There are people in yellow yachting jackets, red jackets and pyjama jackets all smiling, looking swish and being guarded and controlled, saving their best opening lines until they get to the dinner table with the other guests that they are to going bore the pants off for the rest of the voyage.
The terminal has a Thomas Cook book stand in the centre, full of complimentary magazines for us all to read; people are strolling across to picking up one or two copies. Some have an open copy in their laps looking over the top of it at their fellow travellers, sizing them up. When someone walks by who look as if they might talk to them, they duck behind their magazine, all except the golfers who brandish their copies of ‘Golf World’ with the picture of a brave young golfer on the cover, hoping to attract another like minded person so that they can bore the pants off each other about their handicap and their stroke.
There are members of the crew doing a grand job of trawling the passengers, hawking paid afternoon teas or spar treatments. I don’t mean to be unkind but looking round me, it looks like a few people had a very rough journey and could do with stopping off at the Spa on the way to their cabins.
Over the last few minutes I have noticed the noise levels have risen in here, I imagine due in some part to the efficient bar service and the amount of men downing lunchtime beers and the ladies their G-n-T’s. One lady has arrived in a black outfit, she is tall and elegant and looks very haughty, she must be in her mid 70’s with carefully applied makeup, designer glasses, large cheap chrome earrings and matching necklace down to her waist, but her hair lets her down badly.
One optimistic lady, hoping for a lot of sun, is walking dutifully behind her husband, she has her mop of grey hair pulled back into a flamboyant rough bun and a pair of sunglasses on top of her head, lovely bright clothes and high heeled shoes to complete the effect of a stylish Italian lost in the UK, this is only spoilt by the broad London accent with which she shouts at her poor husband as he makes a bee line for the bar. I make a mental note to dig out my sunglasses from the suitcase and do more with them in the future; maybe they could hold my new wig in place.
The crew have now taken to going round in groups of four and are standing menacingly around the weak and infirmed and barracking them until they sign up for the afternoon teas and Spa treatments packages, I think this must be a successful strategy as they seemed to have signed up 10 people in 15 minutes, as I write this, I can see a new team of four with fresh pads in their hands and they appear to be closing in on a poor weak lonely passenger near the door, and – YES, I can see a pen being handed over now. By-jove that was quick.
It’s now 2pm, the terminal is nearly full and the mood is turning ugly, I’ve seen some people who can’t find seats, forming vigilante groups, they are planning to steal seats from those other passengers with weak bladders, as it lets them down and have to go to the loo.
Oh, oh! Just a minute, yes I can see a fight breaking out in the corner; I can see other people standing up and going to see what’s happening. Some of the seat-less groups are egging them on to go and get a better view, I can now see a seat-less group moving in on some vacant seats, Oh, now the others are trying to get back in time, no, no they have lost them; now they are arguing.
One chap threw another’s case off a chair; another couple are arguing nearby, now his Wife is saying, “Albert, are you going to let him speak to me like that?” a hush descends onto the room and we are all looking at Albert; we can all read the indecision in his face. Ah – nature has saved the day; he has had to rush off to the loo with an apologetic “sorry” as he turned to go.
I can see six security staff moving towards the fight in the corner that has turned vicious; the security men are wielding truncheons at anyone who doesn’t move out of the way quickly enough. They appear to be quieting the situation by their presence alone, now I can see two of them frog marching one woman passenger away, with her arms bent up her back and wearing handcuffs spitting profanities at the brave officers.
I can see first aid personnel getting in on the act seeing to cuts and bruises; a cleaner has appeared to mop up the blood and restore normality, but this incident has caused tension in the warehouse sorry, terminal and a menacing atmosphere is beginning to descend on the whole assembly.
There is a mature couple sat near us, a pair of very big bookends, almost opposite Florie, this couple fill the whole of the terminals tubular aluminium seats they have squeezed themselves into, they have bits of their bodies squeezed through the sides. The man is sat as upright as he can, with his belly down almost level with his knees. His wife, who is of equal size, is trying to lean forward in order to get herself into a position to get out of her chair, with great difficulty. She is egging her husband on to help her but he can only move one arm back a little way to her arm and this help is ineffectual. She has moved her great weight forwards to balance herself, ready for the effort. Now, with her head down and grunting with effort she rocked forward and rose a little, but with flatulence thwarting her efforts, she fell back exasperated; the chair still firmly fixed to her more than ample rear,
The lady tries again, she rocks forward balancing on her feet, we can see she is endeavouring to straighten up hoping that the chair will spring from her summer frock covered body, (that material would make nice curtains) like a dog after a rabbit. But no, the chair shows a stubborn streak only matched by the resolution of her husband to stay in his chair no matter what. She turned with great difficulty towards her hapless husband and starts moaning at him, working herself into a right state.
She turns back and tries once more, head down rocking forward, the chairs feet leave the floor, she straightens her little fat legs as far as she can, her face is puce coloured now with the effort of standing up straight, the people around her are getting up and moving away sensing a catastrophe in the making, a look of determination or is it desperation showing on the lady’s purple face. Her husband reaches out with his left arm and grabs one of the chairs legs, which has now started waving dangerously close to his face and he pulls back on it. The lady sensing interference from her side begins waving her hand at him, resembling a seal waving one its flippers; she is still bent almost double and straining like a man on an egg diet in a solitary place.
I grabbed my bag and the hand of my Wife, ready to move out of the way in case things get more desperate, when suddenly we hear a strange squeaking sound and realise that the chair is losing its grip on the determined woman’s rear.
The whole row behind the lady have already got up and moved out of the way in anticipation of the uncertain flight of the chair when it leave this lady’s rear. The lady gives a last great grunt as she stands erect and the chair flies off her backside like a stone from a catapult, her foolhardy husband still holding one leg, gets the full force of the chair on the side of his head and drops it instantly, as he succumbs to unconsciousness; the row behind start to return to their seats breathing a sigh of relief that no one innocent was hurt, as the chair-less lady stands upright.
Then, everyone nearby looked on horrified as the lady, minus her chair, started to list to starboard hesitated for a second, I thought she might cause major damage if she fell on that side, then, slowly she listed to port and wavered there for a second, then starboard again and it was only at this point I realised she was moving forward and was waddling a fast as she could, eventually vanishing into the ladies toilet a minute or two later.
As the large ladies luminous orange and green outfit slips out of sight, the loudspeakers in the building burst into life, announcing that we will start boarding in the order which we arrived I looked down at my boarding ticket and saw 24 written on it and smugly started to gather our bits and pieces together in anticipation of our impending short walk to the ship. The loudspeakers continued, “Can we first ask all those GOLD card passengers to please make their way to the doorway first.” Instantly, three quarters of the people in the terminal stood as one and moved to the door in the corner blocking it solid, there must have been 500 of them, all smiling at each other whilst trying to push shove and generally force their way on board first because they are gold members. Happily we sat watching the spectacle in safety and then we got on board, half an hour later and set sail on time on our holiday of a lifetime.