A Life on the Ocean Wave: Tricks of the Mind

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The Achille Lauro

Hello. My name is Emma and I go on cruises. Mostly, so far on P&O ships out of Southampton, but other perfectly good cruise companies are available. ;-) When I can, I con my parents into paying for my ticket.

When I travel, I blog. If you would like to read it all, it can be found at my PS. The Post have asked me to proffer some edited highlights of my ramblings, which I shall now inflict on you forthwith. Enjoy.

Tricks of the Mind

I was woken by a nightmare at 7.30am. I've had this nightmare before. I had it not long before we left London, in fact. Almost exactly a month ago, give or take. A brand new recurring nightmare, at my age. Marvellous. In it, I'm at my friend's house and it's on fire, and although people are dying in one room, I can't get anyone to take me seriously or evacuate the rest of the house. Even the emergency services won't answer the phone. It's very stressful, and I was woken up by the pounding of my heart. Not pleasant. Even the soothing sound of the wire coat hangers softly chiming against the wardrobe door isn't calming me. This indicates ship movement, by the way. It's only force 4 (ish) out there, but it's north-easterly and we're going south-east from the tip of India towards Sri Lanka, so it's hitting us side-on. Normally, the chime of the hangers is very soothing and comforting to me, but right now I'm actually scared to go back to sleep whilst that dream is still fresh in my mind. If anyone would like to analyse the dream for me, and explain to me just what my psyche is up to, I'd be very grateful, cos I would very much like to knock this one squarely on the head as soon as possible!

Funny thing, cruising. Humans are quite target-driven creatures. They aim for stuff and either succeed or fail. Other animals are more content to just be. Cruising, however, is, almost by definition, aimless. Yes, you go TO places, but they are not your destination. They're a passing point. And the day to day existence of eating, sunbathing, filling your time with nothings – internet, learning a language, learning a craft or a new game or sport, bridge, table tennis, cricket – none of it has a meaning or purpose. It's just filler. Filling the time between meals, theatre shows, parties. All of which is also filler, designed to distract you from the passing of time and distance, or the risk of piracy1.

You go to places so briefly, they barely notice your presence, you charge around in an air-conditioned coach for four hours or so, buy some tacky locally-made knick-knacks and ludicrously over-priced postcards, and then leave. It's a good taster of whether a place would appeal vis à vis a longer return visit (Key West, yes, Colombo, no, for example), but it's hardly in depth discovery of another culture or way or life. Everything on the ship is transient and everything is filler. It's all really about the journey. Travelling across the ocean. Nothing but water in every direction. The horizon is visible up to about 15 or 20 miles in every direction and there is nothing but sea and sky. Elemental stuff, if you can only drown out the noise of all the filler long enough to hear it. Even a stroll around the deck is disturbed, by the health nuts charging past, doing lap after lap after lap. They never turn their heads sideways. They never stop and admire the view. They never slow down and contemplate the enormity of what they're doing here, their minuteness in the face of the endless seas. Too busy charging past trying to burn off last night's trifle. You know what? If it bothers you that much, DON’T EAT THE TRIFLE!

And so the ship tips gently from side to side as each gust of wind lifts the waves, the wire coat hangers chime gently against the wardrobe doors, and the world turns. It's a very, very big world and we are a very, very small ship tootling across the surface. Not as small as the ships that the discoverers and explorers travelled in, but small enough in the grand scheme of things. We're a speck, even on our own maps and charts. And all most of the people on this speck are worrying about is getting a good sun-lounger and what to wear for dinner. Still, I suppose even that's more practical than panicking about an imaginary house burning down...

A Life on the Ocean Wave Archive


12.04.10 Front Page

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1We emerged from the Gulf of Aden unscathed, but apparently, the ship behind us in the convoy (which was slower and lower in the water than us) was shot at. So there you go.

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