There’s usually no shortage of company for breakfast or lunch, and there’s always the optional madness of the random seating assignment at a shared table, but once or twice I’ve asked for a window seat and a table to myself.
I might catch up with some reading, but mostly I find my thoughts drifting and occasionally focus on the chair opposite and wonder who, in my ideal world, might fill it. This is infinitely harder than knowing who you’d like on the other side of the bed, because it’s assumed that the person opposite is your long-term partner and, at my age, one might say ‘for life’ which is a challenge both to the potential holder of the position, and to oneself.
I can’t do it.
I’ve combed through the various lists of people I keep filed in the dusty card index of my cerebellum and no obvious candidate from either current friends, past lovers, facebook, the dead, or even fantasy fucks makes it to the short list.
Hugh Jackman, at a pinch, but I’m sure we’d get bored of each other eventually. Deefa, my late cocker spaniel, runs him a close second.
I guess Deefa with his characteristics of constantly looking adoringly at you, and being willing to lick you almost anywhere is a better qualification for the other side of the bed than for the table where you’d like at least a bit of unstrained conversation beyond the one-sided ‘sit’ and ‘get down’.
So I look around the restaurant and see how other tables are faring. The couples (male and female mostly of course) divide into two types: those who maintain a low-voltage constant bickering, he trying to make conversation by discussing the itinerary for the day, she using it as a chance to deal the low blow of reprimand that ‘we’ve been through this already in the cabin’ and building up a store of resentment to use as a sexual fire-blanket for later, and those for whom silence is the safer option, each focusing fifteen degrees to port or starboard to avoid the other’s direct gaze over eggs and cold toast.
That’s no way to live. Most of them stay cemented for the practicalities of house, children and suburban respectability, but none seem to be actively enjoying each other’s company. Women form instant bonds at shared tables through their mutual eye-rolling at the perceived behaviour of their respective husbands. Why is it considered so normal to complain about your partner on first meeting another’s? If you don’t like him, divorce him, or chuck the sad bastard over the side – but I think there’s an element of reverse psychology in operation here, that (some) married women maintain a steady trickle of criticism of their husbands as a barrage to resist any questioning of their own role.
Even when ballroom dancing, surely one of the best ways for a couple to express their mutual affection and synchronicity, the men stare over the women’s heads and pilot them round the floor like they were steering a particularly recalcitrant shopping trolley round Asda.
Where are the intelligent, angular, lively alpha-couples you’d find on stage or screen? A sharp-witted Harvard professor and his publisher partner, such as you’d get in a Neil Simon comedy? A successful Cotswolds businessman and his Aga-fiddling wife from a Joanna Trollope novel? Not on this ship, over-run as it is with peevish lower-middle-class English readers of the Daily Mail, rounding the final bend in a lifetime’s marital toleration.
I wonder what happens when they retire to their cabins, he reaching for his Dick Francis and she for her P D James as they seek escape from reality into the pages of a thick novel from the ship’s Library. These people are mostly no older than me, so how did their sexuality die so much earlier?
So on balance, I wouldn’t thank you for many of the men on board, attached or single. And I’m becoming less and less convinced that there’s ‘someone’ for each of us.
I have a lot of friends, and I could fill the Albert Hall with acquaintances, but whilst I think I’m blessed to be so readily surrounded with amiable people, sometimes the emotional loneliness is painful.
And on warm nights when the full moon climbs ever higher in the inky sky over the Caribbean and the breeze and the scent of the sea sweeps over me, it’s all but unbearable that there’s no-one to share this.