There is a point in everyone’s life when you discover your youth has passed you by and the inevitability of being in the later stages of your life is not merely a glow on the distant horizon, but has actually dawned. To some, it is the need for a hip operation, for others, it is the less painful but nevertheless irritating increase in nocturnal trips to the bathroom. In my case, the acceptance of reality was when I joined my parents on a Saga cruise, to then find that I was entitled, by my age, to go in my own right and not only be allowed to board by being listed as their “carer” on the passenger manifest.
To those unfamiliar with Saga, it is a travel company specialising in trips for the more mature traveller. As well as standard holidays, it also operates a number of cruise ships. These are not the Poseidon sized behemoth, that patrol the sea lanes like floating cities. They are smaller, more relaxed affairs and are definitely, most definitely, not for families with young children. The have a minimum age. My father loves Saga cruises.
My parents have been on Saga cruises for a number of years. Everything except their hand luggage is collected on the doorstep of their home and next appears in their cabin. This means, they only need to carry what they need for the journey to the ship. My parents do not have the same views on what constitutes hand luggage. On one occasion, when boarding the ship, my father passed his bag to my mother which nearly caused her to vanish from the gangway into the waters below as the weight of it tipped her sideways. On reaching the cabin, she explored the contents of a bag only needed for a two-hour car journey.
Its contents included:
- A pair of wooden shoe trees
- Large binoculars, the type U-Boat commanders used during WW1
- Two large hardback books
- Coat hangers
- Most or the contents of his bathroom cabinet.
My mother now vets my father’s hand luggage before they depart.
My father also likes the cabin containing, as it does, a fully stocked cocktail cabinet which is replenished as soon as it is depleted. In my father’s case, this means constantly. My mother believes it would be simpler for them to set up a bed for him behind one of the bars.
My presence on this occasion was a thank you gift from my parents. I had never been on a cruise before, and, to be honest, I had never seen the appeal. Ours was a mini cruise starting in Southampton before heading to the Channel Islands then onto Northern France to visit the sites of the Normandy landings.
We began with the obligatory safety drill. Leaving our respective cabins, my parents and I arrived on deck, complete with life jackets, to join a couple of hundred octogenarians similarly equipped. In general, the group put on their safety equipment with the skill and speed of a North Sea oil rigger, despite the fact you could have built a life raft from the walking sticks discarded as they put on their fluorescent protection. I say in general, I cannot say all. There was everyone else, and there was my father.
The inevitable parental row had begun in the cabin when my father refused to believe that the alarm had gone off and that my mother was “imagining it”. These are alarms with a decibel level that make your ears bleed. They are designed for the hard of hearing. They have flashing lights just to emphasise themselves. Eventually, and following him finishing his gin and tonic, he was persuaded and they left the cabin. After my mother had briefly returned to the cabin to pick up my father’s life jacket, they arrived on deck.
Watching my father put on a life jacket is like watching a viral You Tube video. It is compelling viewing, but not in a good way. Having managed to actually get a leg in it, which was surprising given it was a jacket, my mother stepped in to assist. Instantly, he was correctly protected. A woman nearby commented approvingly to her husband about how lovingly my mother had assisted him. Fortunately, the women had only seen the event; she had not heard the commentary. As she tied the last knot of my father’s jacket, my mother looked into my father’s eyes and said “now, if this was a real emergency, you now know exactly what you will do… drown”.
Saga has the ship board entertainment designed for its clientele. The evening shows, tea dances, bridge clubs and bingo are therefore extremely popular. The singers tend towards the classic medleys. These are songs where you can both hear and understand the lyrics. You can also, as my mother and I found to our surprise, change them. This previously unknown talent of my father’s was, as we subsequently discovered, practiced by him during his time in the RAF. His version of at least one classic was, presumably, written in the mess hall of, and last performed at, RAF Cardington in the 1950’s. His alternative lyrics contain suggestions of a graphic sexual freedom I had not realised existed in the fifties. He remembered every word of his version. He sang every word of his version, at least of the first three verses. He sang loudly, he used hand gestures to emphasise. The tables around us will never hear that song on Radio 2 in the same way again. They will remember the alternative version. It is impossible to unlearn the alternative version. It even rhymed better than the original.
The Channel weather meant that the ship could not dock at Guernsey and the excursion to the island was going to have to be by tender. We decided that this recreation of D day, possibly with some of the people, who were actually at the original, was not for us. The other excursions passed off smoothly, helped by Saga being very precise about what was suitable for the strong limbed and what the frailer should choose to embark upon. The visit to the Calvados distillery (my mother skipped that one), ended in the shop where my father discovered, to his delight, all the things you could make with Calvados and proceeded to acquire them. Calvados of different vintages, together with Calvados jams, Calvados butter, and I think even Calvados soap, ended up in the shopping bag. We clinked our way back to the coach, my father beaming. A thought occurred to me. “Dad, you know how much we have spent on this.” He nodded. “But dad, we don’t even like Calvados”.
I will, god willing, go on Saga with them again, if nothing else, it is nice being one of the “young ones” again.