…and all I ask is a tall ship, and a state of the art navigation system to sail her by…
I like boats. Boats are a brilliant invention. Be it a coracle or a frigate, a schooner or a yacht, boats are just so fabulously useful.
There’s a boat in the news currently. You might have seen the pictures. I say boat, but I think you’d probably call this a liner. The biggest cruise ship that’s ever been afloat.
It’s called the Harmony of the Seas, which is a cumbersome enough name, and the stats about this behemoth are really something. I won’t list them (see Boat Fancier Quarterly for all that stuff) but suffice to say this is a ship you’d be hard pushed to miss – it weighs just over 225,000 tonnes.
And of course, being new, this is a boat that’s being talked about – as journalists, lured aboard for the usual PR purposes, wax lyrical or otherwise about its assets.
But as usual the real meat isn’t the journalism itself, but the comments such pieces attract. And the realisation, as I dab off the bingo card of predictable viewpoints and lazy Titanic references, of just how strongly we seem to feel about other people’s holidays.
Well, actually, I probably already knew this. That was why Holidays From Hell (in which the Diddlysquats from Epping were pitted against the Windsor-based Forbes-Dingle-Flibberts) was such a successful television series. And that’s largely because our class prejudices endure so well. Cut a stick of Blackpool rock and we all know (or like to think we do) exactly what kind of person is going to be running right through it.
But what never ceases to amaze me is the degree of spleen some people feel inspired to vent as a consequence. Why? What’s that all about?
Ecological concerns, obviously. The ‘Harmony’ of the Seas (really? Did you not think to run that by someone?) turns out to be an extremely thirsty vessel. So I do have some sympathy for the person who commented that, since the ship’s so big (1400-seater theatre, ice rink, spa, hospital, Jamie’s Italian) that you barely even realise you’re at sea, then why not locate it to, say, Bognor?
But beyond that it’s derision and spite, pure and simple. Because perhaps more than any other kind of holiday, cruising attracts a veritable tsunami of opprobrium. As a vacation choice, it is a victim of its own success.
First up it was hated because rich people did it, and what rich people do is just SO very annoying. Only, in this case, rich AND OLD, which was worse. All those bath chairs and heart attacks, and going ‘what ho!’ to the captain. And all that with a nasty whiff of Brash American.
But they regrouped, as forward-thinking multi-nationals are wont to do. And gave us an alternative concept in cruising. The concept being Center Parcs on sea. None of that top-table snobbery. No ten meals a day stress. No crew-versus-guests rounds of deck quoits.
Just round the clock sport-n-family-friendly fun. And a food court. And shops. And no standing on ceremony. (Because everyone knows only children who’ve been to Stowe, say, or Eton, know how to stand on ceremony anyway.)
So nowadays, since everyone is catered for, what’s not to like? Sorry, did I say like? I meant hate.
Rich people, old people (as already mentioned), young people, commoners, people who like their holidays ‘chavvie’ and ‘plastic’ (someone – a brave soul – said, yes, thanks, she did), people who would be doing us all a favour if they were ‘sent out to sea and sunk’, people with the cultural imagination of gnats, thick people, poor people (I believe the latter can apply to work there, for a berth in the bowels and an array of sub-human rights), morons, those after a ‘correction facility for those who want to smoke and eat fat’ (eh?), half-wits who choose to vacation on a ‘ floating metal council estate’, those ‘rich people who want to visit poor countries, without the inconvenience of actually having to meet any poor people’, ‘big-headed, over-dressed, pompous loud mouths’ (lots of those, of course – turn left for stereotype), the kind of ‘useless people’ who another correspondent suggests would be perfectly suited to being sent off to sea in their thousands with only eighteen lifeboats – toodle-oo! Oh, and my personal favourite – ‘lab mice with money’.
Nice. But, you know what? If it wasn’t for the seasickness (I’m a martyr to my seasickness) reading all those comments has actually inspired me to WANT to take a cruise.
Because the people who write that kind of stuff definitely won’t be there.
First published in The Western Mail Weekend Magazine, May 28th 2016