Thursday 24 December
I don’t sleep too well and am awoken just after 7 for the second time by small children in the neighbouring cabin clanging about on their balcony. I know it’s Christmas, and small children are excitable but this is Deck 12 not the playroom and I call the Purser’s office who promptly send someone to remonstrate with the parents.
It’s been quiet since.
We moor in half-Dutch half-French territory of St. Maarten at the northern end of the Windward Islands at about 8 and from my side of the ship it’s a picture postcard of blue skies, fluffy white cloud, a green mountain and a turquoise sea. From the other, it looks like a car-park as there are five cruise ships in town for the day.
I’m posting this in a sweet upstairs internet cafe above the predictable tourist shops in Phillipsburg the capital of the Dutch side of the island, and where the overhead fans, rickety furniture and kindly gossiping local staff feel much more genuinely Carib than anything I've experienced so far.
I do my best to look around the town, but it’s all jewellery shops and tourist tat and the nearby beach is narrow and crowded, plus it’s not sunny. I consider taking a cab to Sunset Beach where the airport runway is so close to the sand you can almost reach up from your sunbed to touch the Boeings as they land, but www.flightstats.com tells me the only ‘interesting’ arrival is a Corsair A330 due in less than an hour, and the taxi drivers say it could take 45 minutes or more in traffic, so I give up and head back to the ship just as it starts to rain.
Because it’s too late for proper lunch, I venture into the hideous ‘King’s Court’ self-service restaurant. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t expect to pay thousands of dollars for a cruise and then queue up with a tray for cafeteria meals like a motorway service area – but a surprising number of people do. Among them are Jody and Mr. Jody (someone has reminded me his name is Brian) who I don’t recognise because (a) she’s been in the rain and her formerly-straightened hair is a nest of ratty corkscrews and (b) she’s wearing what looks like a brown baby doll nightdress over sagging swimwear. We chat whilst passing along the servery and I am so unnerved by their proximity that I put tomato soup on my vegetables instead of gravy. They move off, but with what I can only think is a pang of guilt she returns to ask if I would like to sit with them.
I’d rather read my biography of Julie Walters, and say so.
Julie keeps me amused most of the afternoon, then it’s time to glam up for dinner. I go to the Christmas Carols in the grand lobby and join in the community singing which is feeble but greatly enlivened by seeing so many carefully coiffed and dressed dowagers caught out by the fake snow machine. I predict a lot of claims for dry cleaning bills in the morning.
Pre-dinner drinks are lively, our gay social group has swollen to almost thirty and the banter sharpens as we get to know each other. Dinner itself is a bit flat by comparison, no-one’s really had a good time ashore, but after confirming our arrangements for the Big Gay Breakfast tomorrow with Yolanta the lovely Polish deputy Maitre ‘D, David and I have a nightcap in the Chart Room where he flirts pretty hard with the head barman who’s pleasant but unresponsive. And straight, so something of a wasted effort.