12 March 2021
For me, Thursday 11 November 2010 was a very memorable one. Apart from it being Remembrance Day, it was also when I had a heart attack. It came right out of the blue as the saying goes and with no warning that I was aware of. One minute I was walking away from my car in a multi-storey car park in Leicester and the next thing that I remember was waking up thirty-six hours later as I was being wheeled from Leicester Royal Infirmary’s A & E to a ward in the hospital. I had been found on the floor of the car park, I do not know by whom, but I am very grateful to them, whoever they were. I was also really thankful that the hospital was literally just around the corner from the car park. To begin with I was thought to be having just an epileptic fit as I always carry a medical card with my NHS number on. But tests showed an elevated item in my blood which only occurs with a heart attack and this was confirmed after further scans. I was given tablets to take, but I was already on medication for epilepsy so a few more were no problem to me. I still recall the look on that hospital doctor’s face when I asked him for how long I’d need to be taking these extra tablets and his smile as he replied “always”. He then went on to explain what these extra tablets were. In the meantime though, to the people who knew me it seemed like I had just disappeared, my car wasn’t in its usual place and I wasn’t answering my phone. A lady friend of mine was phoning everyone she could think of to find me, she just knew there was something wrong when I didn’t answer my phone as I usually did and she eventually persuaded the local police to check the hospitals to find me, which they kindly agreed to. My car was also located. So it was that a while later I was sitting up in a hospital bed when a policewoman appeared, asking me questions! I was able to assure her that nothing untoward had occurred and I’d be happy for my friend to be told where I was. She arrived a short while later and I was happy to see her. Much later it crossed my mind that other folk in that hospital ward must have wondered who I was, with the police visiting me there! I was monitored for a while but I had no problems with the extra medication and was able to return home quite a few days later. My mother was told at first that I’d only had an epileptic fit, which did not worry her too much as that was a known condition with me. It was only later that we told her the rest! She was, after all, eighty-nine at the time. For a while doctors kept a very close eye on me with regular tests and thankfully regular scans showed no degeneration of my heart. But a regular check is still made.
When I was told by a consultant that no further visits to see them were needed unless I had any problems, I decided to give myself a present. At that time I wasn’t all that far away from my sixtieth birthday so I looked at a few options. I saw an advertisement for a big event on at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, this being The Cruise Show. Realising I could look around at what was on offer, I went along and liked what I saw. To this day I don’t know what made me try it but I booked myself onto a four-day ‘taster’ cruise by P&O on the cruise ship Arcadia. The itinerary was simple, to go from Southampton, over to Dunkirk, then along to Le Havre and return to Southampton. So, a few months later I went. I have said how I really love travelling by train, so I used that mode of transport to get me to where I would be departing. I went from Leicester to Birmingham, with one change of train there taking me direct to Southampton. In that way I bypassed London. I stayed overnight in a hotel and the following morning used a local taxi to get to the nearby docks. As soon as I arrived, my suitcase was whisked away and I was booked in. I was given a boarding card showing my name, travel dates, the ship’s name and something called a Muster Station. I was escorted to my cabin, my suitcase was waiting for me and a bit later a steward appeared. My suitcase was unpacked for me and I studied the layout of the ship. I wasn’t used to this treatment at all, it was lovely! I soon learned the reason for the ‘muster station’. In a similar way when on board an aeroplane, prior to the journey all safety procedures are gone through. So, in the event of it being necessary to leave the ship in any kind of emergency, we were all shown how to put on lifejackets, with individual assistance given as required. We were also told what signal would be heard from the ship’s siren. Then I strolled around, getting to know where things were. It really was just like a floating high-class hotel. It was lovely and spacious, fully carpeted, I was impressed. Once we were all on board and everything set, we departed. I stood on one of the open decks before going in for a lovely evening meal. This was in the main restaurant, where every passenger was guided in to a specific table and a full waiter service was provided. Even though we were only on a short cruise, one or two nights had an evening dress code, with ladies in their best dresses and the gentlemen in dark suits and bow ties. This would be adhered to more on longer, regular cruises. There were several different restaurants on board, with one laid out like a cafeteria, where we helped ourselves, but staff were on hand to assist as much or as little as individuals wished. Other speciality restaurants were to be found, with a full waiter service, but an extra charge was made for using those. A mix of shops were on board too, with expensive items for sale like clothes and jewellery. There were bars, cafes, a library, even a games room. I found the computer room! The most impressive part was the theatre, with different live shows every night. It really was a floating hotel and more besides. However, I found on the first night that the weather in the English Channel was not good. Not good at all. In fact the captain had to forego docking at Dunkirk because, as he put it, ‘we might get in, but the weather is so bad we might not get out for a day or two’. This meant that we were simply trundling up and down the English Channel in a force nine gale for a day and a night. Not everyone enjoyed it, but I did. My maternal grandfather had been at sea for much of his life, both in the Royal and the Merchant navy, so it has been thought that perhaps I have some sea salt in my veins! Going up or coming down the Channel the prevailing wind was either directly for or against us. This meant that whenever Arcadia turned during the night it was side-on to the wind and we rocked just a little. I found out later that some passengers were disturbed by this, but for me the easy rocking motion sent me back to sleep! We called in to Le Havre, the weather was now much better and I used the shuttle bus provided to get into town. I had a look around, treated myself to lunch, then returned using the shuttle bus (we were given set-down and pickup points as well as times) back to Arcadia. We were advised not to be late. I did not want to be left behind! We were then returned to Southampton, I stayed in a hotel overnight and travelled back to Leicester by train the following day, using the same route as before.
All in all I had found life on board that cruise ship to be relaxing as well as enjoyable. As a result, as a treat, I booked myself on a world cruise lasting one hundred days, which was starting in early 2013. It meant that I would be celebrating my sixtieth birthday in Honolulu. Perhaps the hardest part was telling my dear Mum that I would be away for so long and why, because she and I were used to chatting regularly, usually once a week. So I sent her a copy of my itinerary and I learned later that she got to tell all the other inmates in the Care Home she was in exactly where I was each day. It gave them all something to talk about together and look forward to. Whilst on this hundred day holiday I kept a daily diary and it is my plan to write more about this lovely time in a series of future blog posts. Many days were spent at sea, so there may not be too much to write about at such times but I met some lovely people, I was very well looked after and I saw places that I never ever dreamed I would. I wanted to do this whilst my health allowed me to and I wanted to be able, if I could, to have memories to cherish. I hope I can share some of these with you in my future writings, as well as a few of the photos I took along the way! I also hope that you will enjoy reading about this adventure. With that in mind, you can see below a map of the route that we took, starting from Southampton to a few places in South America, round to Chile and across to Australia. Then it was down to New Zealand, then up to Hawaii, on to the west coast of the U.S.A., through the Panama Canal, returning to Southampton with stops at various and very varied places along the way. A coloured dot on the map represents each day, with blue ones at sea and green where we made landfall. For me it was a truly wonderful, one chance experience to see and enjoy so much of our really beautiful Earth.
This week, on the subject of cruising…
A magician worked on a cruise ship, performing the same tricks each week for the new passengers. The captain’s pet parrot came to all the shows and figured out how the tricks worked. It began to shout out during the shows, things like “It’s up his sleeve”, spoiling the illusions. The magician was rather annoyed but couldn’t do anything as the parrot belonged to the captain. Then one night, the ship sank and the magician found himself stranded on a desert island, along with the parrot. They stared at each other for days, neither uttering a word. Eventually the parrot couldn’t hold itself back any longer.
“Okay, I give up”, it said. “What did you do with the ship?”