by Harry Pope

bob monkhouse

bob monkhouse

It’s a great life, lecturing on cruise ships on a topic that is close to my heart – entertainment. I speak about the great British comics who are no longer with us, with the theme ‘They Made Us Laugh’. Some cruise lines go through an agency that provide them with the lecturers, as well as all entertainment staff, but P&O have a selection process whereby they book the acts direct for their ships.

Because I am now on their books, as a regular speaker I receive offers that may be reasonably short notice, as opposed to the usual six months warning of an offer contract. These cruises hold no pattern, no consistent way of anticipating what could be next. The three cruises I have already lectured on have all been different. The first was three talks in six days, flying to Gran Canaria, port days in Lanzarote and Lisbon, three days at sea, returning to Southampton. The second was flying to Valetta, Malta, meeting Oceana, staying on board for a week, two sea days with two talks each day, visiting Venice and three Croatian ports, which was a particular treat as we had never visited the area before.

valetta

valetta

On the Friday before Christmas I received a contract offer to join the Oceana again four weeks later, giving seven talks in 14 days. Naturally I replied in the affirmative, despite the fact that I only had four talks prepared, so over the Festive period I researched, wrote, and learned all about the lives of Bob Monkhouse, Les Dawson, and Max Bygraves, which also involved a slide show presentation of about 70 slides for each subject. These accompanied the original talks about Tommy Cooper, Norman Wisdom, Max Miller, and Ken Dodd.

The voyage was to depart and return to Southampton, the contract included parking details which involved a 20% discount for crew. I come under the classification of General Entertainment, so have a crew cabin on deck four, while appreciating full passenger status encompassing second sitting dining, all passenger facilities, but not being allowed to participate in the quizzes, or play anything in the casino. This was to stop any collusion with staff, because for some strange reason cruise head office staff thought that lecturers may try to cheat the system and win on roulette. They think of everything.

ken dodd

ken dodd

We drove to Southampton, left the car with valet parking, the luggage with the porters, and went to check-in. Because of our status, we had priority check-in, rather pleasant, within half an hour we on board. We are in our 70s, so hardly meet the image of crew members, so as we had to walk along crew only corridors to reach our cabin, sometimes over the next fortnight we were queried if we should be there, all very amicable, just producing our cabin card. The cabin steward was there, so because we had already voyaged on the Oceana, we asked him to lower the extra bunk.

The permanent bed is only a four foot wide one, very cosy for two pensioners, with two portholes. The lowered bunk was also four foot, so he produced an aluminium ladder with four rungs which was to be my way of going up those little metal stairs each night. I am only little, no idea how any six footer would cope, but I had to be careful with my bald head on the ceiling as I sat up reading my Kindle. The change of policy means that crew cabins are only serviced every other day, didn’t matter to us as we are quite tidy people anyway.

tommy cooper

tommy cooper

Leaving Southampton the next three days were to be at sea, so I had a talk on each one in the main theatre. P&O require their lecturers to have their own laptop with the power point presentation, I also had my own clicker to get to the next slide, all else is there with the technical staff. Reporting half an hour early, they set me up which included a face microphone. Leon the entertainment director turned up to introduce me, and then I was off. It is a great buzz, walking on stage, with a full 600 seat theatre and standing room at the back. After, some passengers commented to me that thy tried to get in but there were no spare seats. The next 45 minutes when I talked about Tommy Cooper went so fast for me, then it was all over.

As general entertainment you have no dining options. The main restaurant has two sittings, the other large one has freedom dining. Opening at 6pm, the queue starts at 5.15pm so people can have their preferred limited number table for two. We opted for a larger table, there were six of us, and we all really jelled well. We laughed a lot, we had exactly the same menu options as all other diners. One couple were the bridge instructors, the other ordinary passengers, albeit with a balcony.

oceana

oceana

One crew advantage is only 50% for all drinks, including bottles of wine, bottled water, and coffee. Oh yes, also cocktails, so we would indulge in a couple before dinner each evening. It is very easy to be sucked into the indulgent culture of unlimited acholic consumption, so we deliberately refrained until 7pm in a vague attempt at sobriety. Despite this blatant attempt at sensibility, we both managed to put on half a stone.

When we returned to Southampton, as crew we had to carry our cases off. This might not seem too bad, but as we had four suitcases, plus laptop bag, plus Pam’s handbag, a steep narrow gangway with limited access and steps precluding pulling luggage, just carrying, it was not a good experience. A long walk to the car park followed, involving frayed tempers and not a little irritability. It’s horrible getting older, conceding physical frailty.

There will be another article to follow, covering the cruise itself.

venice

venice