Thursday, 17 February 2011

Some Things Never Change, Others Do

The bar downstairs is comparable to Butlins while the one on the upper level moves along the holiday camp class scale towards Center Parcs. We've played a modest game of “Bird or Bloke?” and watched a woman propped between two younger girls (probably her daughters) slumping into a nearby chair. Regenerated by the music, she animatedly sings and her younger companions look mildly embarrassed before giving up and deciding to join in. After failing to win at Bingo and listening to a soulful blonde member of the on-board entertainment belting out popular hits, we leave the lower bar and battle with the door leading to the blustery outdoors.

Heading to the upper deck and back into the shelter of the second bar, we're met with rather civilized piano music tastefully covering a range of familiar easy-listening. Looking for the source of these inoffensive backing tunes, we're both delighted to see the man whose shirt we earlier admired sitting in front of the piano. The wonder of this black crushed velvet shirt is only heightened by its amazing length but its model's tendency to utilise all available buttons makes it all the more striking. Lounging back on low sofas in the aptly named Piano Bar amid faux-greenery is an entirely different world from the Sunset Show Bar with its disco floor and lit-up bar.

Returning to the “Show” bar for one final squiz, we're both tickled by the amount of teens on the dance floor. The table nearest to this mob has become the perverts' front row pew. Two rows of young boys are squashed together eyes fixed ahead, checking out the talent. The two girls that had earlier on seemed somewhat ashamed of their older companion are now queens of the floor, striking eye-catching moves that wouldn't be out of place in one of Louie Spence's impromptu interpretive dances.

Wrapping up our return to the whole ferry sleeping experience, we head back along the corridor towards our cabin, walking past the signs reminding passengers to keep the noise down in the sleeping area. Our cabin is somewhat nicer than the one I remember staying in some ten years earlier for a night cruise from Newcastle to Amsterdam – this time we are en-suite and there is a wall between cabins, rather than just a thin divider that almost reaches the ceiling. We can't spy on our neighbours but we can certainly hear someone repeatedly swearing through the paper thin walls.

After a restless night's sleep in a cabin with some kind of dysfunctional and somewhat random temperature control, we're woken at 6.15am by a helpful announcement telling us breakfast is being served. For the next hour and a half there seem to be deafening in-cabin announcements made approximately every five minutes, ranging from news about the shop to information for motorists and different departure times for each type of traveller. Getting any sleep seems to be futile but something I'm really not ready to give up on. I lie in bed determined not to be defeated unable to stop myself thinking about the corridor signs and that really P&O should learn to practice what they preach!

Boarding the link bus between Zeebrugge and Bruges, we're both amused to see a couple who'd been sitting next to us in the Sunset Show Bar the night before. He is easily recognisable but no longer wearing a tiny dress, huge heals and make-up mask, she looks like a different person. When we notice their lack of baggage, we are all the more amused, realising they are not staying in Bruges but returning to the boat later in the day to put on special evening “boat clothes” once again. They are not alone in this bizarre ritual - others in the bar the night before had also clearly especially glammed up too.

Returning to the boat two days later, we know what to expect and are all ready for bingo just after 9pm. Queuing to check-in, we stand behind a large group for some time before realising they are a school party being briefed by P&O staff and teachers. Skirting around them, I think back to the first time, I visited Belgium with my G.C.S.E. History class for a WW1 tour. I was always the last back to the coach, trying to soak in as much as possible and today little has changed – booking on to a WWI day trip, as an “adult” I am still almost running-over our allocated time for each stop, trying to read all the museum signs. However, these days I am less interested by in-cabin drinking.

Later on retiring to bed, I feel sorry for the school group – they won't get lucky tonight. Clearly from an all-boys school, on this stretch of our journey the lads stick out and there are no all-girl school groups in sight. Tonight the blonde seems out of tune and there are less dance-floor revellers. I can't resist a snigger the next morning when I notice a cabin full of empty spirit bottles being cleaned and can't help but wonder whether the boys spent most of the night innocently “sleeping”. I don't remember my school trip being quite so messy but do recall attempting to decanter extremely thick Advocaat onto a spoon. These days I generally wait for a glass, lemonade and cherry juice.

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