A Life on the Ocean Wave: Farewell to Oz

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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.

Farewell to Oz

Geraldton. Our last stop in Australia before the home stretch. Never heard of it? No, neither had we. This was P&O UK's maiden visit, which is always nice, because they make that little bit more of a fuss over us! There was a welcome tent on the quayside, a free shuttle bus service and free refreshments at the hotel next to the shuttle bus stop in town. All very nice. Trouble is, that was about it.

Don't get me wrong, Geraldton is a pleasant little town, but it has very little of interest. It's a beaches and watersports mecca, which is all very well and good if you're into lying on beaches or giving yourself saltwater enemas behind speeding boats, but if you're not that sort of person, you may struggle here. There were tours out into the countryside – ;which is apparently breathtaking with gorges and national parks and stuff – ;and the possibility of a passing visit to Hutt River Principality (a group of farms that declared independence when new Australian wheat quotas threatened to bankrupt them). They have their own stamps and money and are, for Australian tax purposes, non-doms. No, really! They had to declare war on the Commonwealth of Australia to get it, but they ended hostilities after four days, so no harm done. I would have loved to have gone there. This kind of thinking fascinates me. But it was too far out of town for my parents to be interested.

You see, the trouble is, we always worry so much about getting back to the ship in time when we go ashore independently. It's quite debilitating. When you're on a P&O tour, if you're delayed, they'll wait. They have to – it's their fault! If you go ashore independently and you're late? TOUGH. Swim for it. Cos they won't wait. We've actually been on board when we left without one couple. They had to hire a boat to chase the ship and reboard it at sea. Don't fancy that, thank you very much. So we tend to hug the town when we're independent. Better safe than sorry.

There are some old buildings in a nearby town called Greenough (and when I say old, I mean built by the first white pioneers, not old old!) and there is a big museum with a replica longboat. There's a long and rather astonishing story about that. A ship called the Batavia sank and some people came ashore whilst others went across to Indonesia for help in the longboat (this part of Oz is nearer Singapore than it is to Sydney!). When they got back, the man in charge had killed 125 people and raped all the women. There was a skirmish. He lost. Happy ending. In fact, it was a Dutch East India Company ship and employee in question, which meant we weren't all that surprised to find a Dutch film crew filming in the main shopping street. They're making a documentary series about the sailors that landed here – 135 disappeared and are still unaccounted for – ;and the belief is that they "went native " and joined the aborigines, changing the local aboriginal culture in the process. It all sounds quite fascinating, particularly as they were the first white Europeans to set foot on Australian soil. This was LONG before Cook and Co.

In fact, lots of stuff has happened near here. HMAS Sydney II sank near here after a confrontation with a German ship in 1941. All 645 souls were lost. There is a beautiful memorial on the hill overlooking the town, which is a metal domed canopy made of flying birds. Beautiful. What the Germans were doing down here, I have no idea. The British tested their first nuclear device nearby and when Skylab crashed to Earth, it was near here. Donald Campbell got one of his water speed records nearby as well. For an isolated mining town, it's had a lot of visitors!

They have some interesting thinking here, too. When a boat was recently seized in a criminal investigation, they stripped it of all the noxious chemical bits and then sank it to form an artificial reef for the marine flora and fauna. I LIKE that kind of thinking. That's cool.

But really, that's it. There's a McDonalds (with wifi) and a Woolworths (which over here means a supermarket specialising in fresh fruit and veg, oddly enough!). There are a lot of "bargain" shops – ;you know, pound shops and the like – but as there is only one main shopping street, I guess they all need to be quite diverse! I managed to buy four formal dresses (three in one store!), but no postcards, no t-shirts, no souvenir-type stuff. They're really not geared for tourists. They have tried, bless'em, but they've got a way to go yet.

I'm not being mean, really I'm not. They map they give you when you arrive has 10 points marked on it, which THEY think are their points of interest. They are:

  1. a cycleway
  2. a water park
  3. the cinema
  4. the Catholic Cathedral
  5. the Regional Art Gallery
  6. the Western Australia Museum with the replica boat I mentioned
  7. the old hospital, built in 1887, which is now the visitor centre. This adjoins the old jail, which is numbered separately.
  8. then there's the HMAS Sydney II Memorial I told you about, and there's a theatre. That's IT.

Now, take out the cycleway, water park (which was some showers and fountains on the beach) and the cinema and theatre, as we're never in town long enough for films or shows. That leaves very little, I assure you!

Like I said, there was some stuff out of town, like a lighthouse pre-fabricated in the UK in 1878 and shipped over here, but you can't go in it. They expect you to go all the way to the other end of town and out onto a rocky bluff just to read the plaque outside it and take a picture. Call me overly negative or lazy if you must but, no. That's a lot of effort for very little reward. Particularly when it's 90-odd in the shade.

The beaches looked amazing, though – ;one looked like about fifteen straight miles of creamy-white sand -and there are watersports and beach sports aplenty, such as sand-yachting, waterskiing, diving, you name it, so if that's your thing, this is the place to be. Definitely. But wear yourself out – ;I saw no hint whatsoever of a nightlife! Other than a LOT of babies...

Nice place, though. Very pleasant little town. Highly recommended. But don't eat at the Freemasons Hotel or the attached Gilroy's Irish Bar. The food is patchy and the service is intermittent at best. My steak burger was lovely but no one else I spoke to enjoyed their meal. One bloke waited over an hour because they gave his lobster to another table and they didn't even apologise! And Dad's pizza was made with lumps of feta cheese on top instead of melted cheese, which he did not enjoy! So, no, don't eat there. I'm told the Tides restaurant is nice. Try there instead!

Sea Day

The sea coming away from Oz has been cornflower/cobalt blue all day. If I painted it that colour, someone would say "That doesn't look very realistic ". Just neat ultramarine onto the page should cover it. Quite startling in colour. The sea has been quite flat, so that it looks like that crinkly material people make ethnic-style tunic shirts and skirts from that you can't iron. You know the stuff I mean. Cornflower blue crinkly material. Like a 150 square mile crumpled tablecloth, stretching as far as the eye can see in any direction. When the sun glinted down (it was VERY strong), it made the sea seem greyer – ;like there was a thin layer of dust on top. Very odd.

Went to see The Invention of Lying after dinner. Ricky Gervais being, essentially, Ricky Gervais. Nice concept though and it's very interesting to see how he faces the trial and error of what happens when he lies to people who have no concept of lying. Very enjoyable, in fact. Probably best to call it a "gentle " comedy. There were laugh out loud moments, but not many. Mostly wry smiles and the occasional giggle. Interesting ideas of how a society would develop and think if it had never had the concept of religion. Quite fascinating and thought-provoking.

Talking of thought-provoking, we have a brain expert on board – a fellow passenger – and due to popular demand, he has begun hosting a series of discussions on the brain and the mind. Again, fascinating to see how people think, how people see things. Often, quite a lot of it comes down to semantics, as people just use the words they know, whether or not they're the words that are relevant. I'm not explaining this very well, but bear with me, this is tricky stuff! For example, we were talking about how it is now believed that forming a memory causes the growth of new physical pathways and one man asked a question about the loss of memory, but without specifying whether he meant the loss of physical structure or memories. It can be quite frustrating to be derailed like that, and so frequently!

It is apparently a train of thought that we don't lose the memories, we just lose ACCESS to them. Rather like a computer file path. You delete the "address ", the filepath that leads to that piece of information or memory, but the information is still there at that location, so it's not entirely impossible to retrieve it, if you try hard enough. Contrarily, however, when something is "on the tip of your tongue ", the more you try to remember, the harder it gets. But if you let it go and think about other things, it will surface an hour or so later. This leads to the idea that a circuit can be switched off for whatever reason and by whatever means and can/will switch on again later. This is all cutting-edge stuff, which is why it seems a bit vague! Fascinating stuff, though. Absolutely fascinating.

There is also a belief that it is simply a lack of sufficient energy to make the synapse leaps that causes some memory loss. Think Errol Flynn on a chandelier. If he doesn't get up enough momentum, he's not going to swing all the way across to the other side to jump on the bad guy. He's going to swing back again instead, because he doesn't have enough energy propelling him to get all the way across. This may be why we sleep. Our batteries simply run out of juice and we have to shut down and recharge because we don't have enough power to keep our brains running any longer, to keep the charges from leaping across the gaps between synapses. Which may explain why, no matter how hard you fight it, you will eventually fall asleep. No matter what.

One particularly intriguing point was that the computer analogy came up so often. It's useful from a hardware/software point of view, and when discussing connections and electrical pathways, but it caused problems when we were discussing memory capacity, because some people thought that a picture would take up more memory space than a word, simply because computer files for pictures are so much larger. Granted a memory includes a word, some video footage, still photos, touch, taste, sound, smell and so on, but does that really take up more'space'? It was hard to explain that human brains are not binary and that every piece of information doesn't have to be broken down into the same format for storage. That's the trouble with analogies – they're not always analogous!

Final note

Some of you will be/have been expecting postcards. I have bought them. I have even written some of them. But it's a work in progress, so don't hold your breath! I will try and get some in the post next time we get to a port, but I'm not making any promises!

Right, time to get dressed and deliver a Mother's Day card... Barbecue lunch on deck today, followed by Spanish. Future tense, apparently! Eek!

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