Queen Victoria

It is more than 12 months since my last blog. I limped off Queen Elizabeth in early October 2015 fearing that I would need a new right knee.

55 years ago, as a result of too much Rugby and Fives, I tore a right knee cartilage. It was removed at Lord Mayor Treloars Hospital in Alton. No one, at the time, explained how the knee would work thereafter, but work it did, and I continued playing rugby and squash well into my thirties, and then tennis into my mid sixties and I am still playing golf.

But by 2015 the game was up! Pushing Jane around the streets of Barcelona and other European cities became a very painful experience.

Back at home,  I tried some Apostherapy, in the hope that surgery could be avoided, but it quickly became clear that it would have to be the knife.

Nick Fiddian, now retired but the top knee surgeon in Poole for years, directed me towards William Tice in Southampton. Within a week I was in the Spire and the proud owner of a Depuy Attune system right knee fitted by Mr Tice.

A complicated bit of kit sitting in my knee!

There had to be a fair bit of reorganisation at home with a full time live in carer for 3 weeks and then carers twice a day for some months. Now we have a morning carer for an hour each day, Lucy Austin, who is wonderful. But Lucy has a young family, and we have been lucky to find Kim Bigwood, a recently retired nurse, to help with Jane’s care during our upcoming voyage to the Caribbean.

Soon after my return from three days in the Spire, Jane was rushed into Southampton General where she remained for 18 days, 3 of which were spent in the High Dependancy Unit. She needed intestinal surgery. It was a horrid time for her and it took her a long time to get over it.

To get a wheelchair friendly stateroom, I had to book this trip as soon as it was announced 12 months ago. We have the same cabin we had for the 4 month World Voyage back in 2014, so that’s great.

There are plenty of sea days coming up, and some great ports – La Coruna, Antigua, St Lucia, Barbados, Guadeloupe, St Maarten and finally Ponta Delgarda in the Azores on the way home.

I am also pleased to say that Cunard are offering many more tours ashore on this voyage than usual for guests who are reliant on wheelchairs. I had a meeting with Angus Struthers in January at Carnival House and he listened carefully to what I had to say (about the lack of such tours!)

Linda Croucher will again be house sitting while we are away. She is a star.

We leave Southampton on Queen Victoria on Tuesday 15 November. I will be blogging once we are on our way.

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Stewart and Elizabeth Wilson

Stewart will be known to many of you. He is the man who collects stamps from around the world featuring Cunard ships. Not only does he acquire them but he assembles them beautifully in albums alongside narrative describing the particular event commemorated by the relevant stamp.

I forget how many albums there are – more than 20 I think, and Stewart has donated many of them to Cunard. In each library on the three Queens there are two of Stewart’s albums displayed in glass cabinets, the librarians instructed to turn the pages each day.

Jane and I first met Stewart and Elizabeth when the four of us (with others) were invited by Captain Paul Wright to dine with him at the Captain’s table on the maiden voyage of Queen Victoria. A very glamorous lady with an American accent was sitting between Stewart and me and eventually I plucked up the courage to ask her how she knew the Captain. He is my husband she replied – and she was!

I have to say that Stewart keeps immaculate records of cruises and events. I have no doubt that if my recollection is inaccurate he will tell me.

Stewart rang me tonight to wish us well on our next trip. He and Elizabeth have just returned from a holiday in Venice, a gift from their family to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. The last time he had been to Venice was when he led a party of pupils on a school cruise starting in Venice in 1965. Elizabeth had never been there.

Stewart was, before retiring, Rector of Banchory Academy – a great school.

We have sailed with the Wilsons on many occasions over the years, the last time being the Baltic voyage last year on Queen Elizabeth which returned to Southampton via Kirkwall in the Orkneys and Liverpool where the three Queens met to celebrate the 175 year anniversary of Cunard.

What I forgot to tell Stewart was that next year we have a cruise on Queen Elizabeth booked in the Med in September involving a visit to Venice. There was a major panic here recently when we received a Keep the Date free card from niece Katie and Sam notifying us of their intended marriage near Lucca, Italy on 16 September 2017. Did it clash with the wedding? Yes, the wedding was right in the middle, so that meant a cancellation of the voyage.

Or did it? When I looked at the itinerary I found that Queen Elizabeth was in Messina, Sicily on Thursday 14 September and after two other ports was in Venice on Monday 18 September.

A rapid tour round the internet and a visit to a travel counsellor means we will leave the ship in Messina and take a taxi to Catania airport. Then a flight to Pisa via Rome, collect a rental car and drive to the wedding venue just north of Lucca. Four nights at the wedding venue, taking in all the celebrations and on Monday morning we will drive to Venice and board the ship again. Perfect!

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En route to La Coruna

Queen Victoria set sail on Tuesday 15 November 2016 on time at 5.30 pm and we were soon passing Cowes and on our way into the English Channel.

I had completed the packing on Monday with time to spare. I had no choice because on Monday evening I had a black tie dinner in Ampfield and was being collected at 7.00 pm and I knew that I would not be home until late. So it proved, but I was up early on Tuesday to run through the checklists and finalise the labelling.

The journey to the Ocean Terminal and the boarding process were swift. Apart that is from security. Every time I went through the machine there was a buzz. Take off your belt I was told. No good. Take off your shoes. No good. He was particularly officious but it was his job and I kept quiet and did what I was told. He clearly thought I looked suspicious. Me? Angelic me! Get back on the other side and wait he said. I had nothing in my pockets, so what could it be?

Come through again he said for the 5th time, at which point my brain clicked into gear. I was tired. It's the knee – the metal knee! I went through again and still it buzzed. I told jobsworth about the surgery. He looked at me doubtfully. I pulled up my trouser to show him the 5 inch scar vertically down my right knee. OK he said and that was it. (I must remember to take a copy of William Tice's letter to my GP next time I travel).

Strangely, later, at lunchtime, a lady said that she had seen a German passenger at security, who had become very agitated and was shouting after being asked to remove his belt and shoes. He had taken his trousers off and was starting to lower his underpants before they stopped him. He must have met up with the same official.

Tim and Jean Whitehead, on QV's last cruise, had found a suitable table for us in the Britannia Restaurant, after sending photos for me of relevant tables in the area we wanted to be. A table for 8 and it appears to be a lovely group that we have joined.

Kim, Janes companion/carer, has quickly found her way round the ship and we are developing our care plan as we go.

Tonight is Captain Peter Philpott's welcome party. He was Captain of QV for the first leg of the World Voyage in 2014 when we hit a massive gale and had to miss our visit to the Azores on our way to Fort Lauderdale.

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La Coruna

We tied up on the berth at 8.00 am on Thursday. It was chilly and misty but the Deputy Captain reported that sunshine was expected later. That proved to be the case.

La Coruna is in Galicia, in the northwest of Spain. The port appears to be popular with cruise lines now. We have been here 3 times in the last two years. It is a good stop off port for ships wanting to take a more southerly route to the US or the Caribbean and also good for an early stop on a Mediterranean cruise. The berth is in the city and it’s an easy walk.

La Coruna is only 40 miles north of Santiago de Compostela and the shrine of St James the Apostle. Pilgrims still flock to the tomb and many of our fellow travellers did so today.

We left La Coruna at 5.15 pm GMT on Thursday. We arrive in the dock in Antigua, our next port of call, on the morning of Friday 25 November at 9.00 am local time. There is an excellent PRIZE for anyone who can calculate the average speed that QV will need to achieve to get there on time. I look forward to receiving your responses.

This is the Palacio Municipal in a magnificent square with Jane and Kim.

 

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The great ocean

The first of seven days at sea has proved to be very relaxing. Nick Brewer thinks I have too much time on my hands. That may be true because Kim, Jane's companion/carer, is proving to be a gem. She has adapted to life at sea very rapidly and is great company.

There has been a fairly heavy swell throughout the day, as a result of storms to the north, but the movement of ship has not been too dramatic. But having said that, the Entertainments Director has just announced that the musical show due to be performed tonight, is being postponed because of the conditions.

One of our dining companions, John, last night told of the Cunard tour he took yesterday to the Pazo De Oca gardens and a local vineyard. Towards the end of the day at the vineyard John decided to buy some bottles of the local white wine and as he stood in the queue to pay he saw the minibus driving away.

There should have been 12 of them in the bus, but the guide had miscounted. It flashed through Johns mind that the ship would leave without him, and that he would be flying to Antigua to catch up with the ship! In time the bus returned, after one of the guests realised that John was not there.

At the table for dinner, John a widower, evens up the numbers and there are two other couples, Roger and Pat and Peter and Lucinda. It seems to be a very relaxed, easygoing group.

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Speakers at sea

Cunard roll out a number of speakers to keep us entertained during long spells at sea. Some them are described as “Celebrity Speakers”. People like Terry Waite, Martin Bell, Kate Adie, Digby Jones, the late David Frost, John McCarthy, Murray Walker and people of that ilk.

On this part of the voyage a man was introduced as the Celebrity Speaker, although his name rang no bells with me. It was said that he had a football background. Many of you are football fans, so perhaps you can identify him? Email me with your guesses. Generous prize for the first correct answer.

We have settled into the sea day routine and the weather has improved dramatically.

Today the sun has shone all day and temperatures have been in the mid twenties. Bearing in mind that the average age of the passengers must be in the region of 75, the sight of half dressed bodies laid out round the pools is not pretty.

Our dining companions are great fun. Peter is a retired university Prof. His wife Lucinda also worked at the same University and they now carry out research together. They live in Buxton. Roger and Pat come from Mansfield. Roger is retired from what was originally Metalbox and becomes Captain of his golf club on 1 January. John is a great raconteur after a career in plastics. Dinner is always great and a highlight of the day.

I have had problems with the ships internet which is slow. It makes it very difficult to move photos from one device to another – I will use the camera more.

We have moved on to Tuesday. Another beautiful day and lunch alfresco with the Caribbean band entertaining us.

Mike says there is a photo of him in Dubai’s Barasti bar with Richard Bland, Ian Young and the Stoneham crew during or after the Saints recent match with Liverpool. If you have it, please email me a copy.

The draw and clean sheet against Liverpool clearly gave Blandy a lift because he finished his final round one under in Dubai’s DP World tour championship. It was the culmination of a magnificent season in which his winnings have been massive and have moved him to 102 in the World. Watching him in the final group on a number of occasions this season has made us all very proud of him.

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Mid Atlantic

Mid Atlantic was not good for the internet and my blogs have been incomplete for which I apologise. Parts were published but parts were not.

We are now approaching Antigua and so I hope for more success with blogging. We arrive at Heritage Quay, St Johns early tomorrow.. We are meeting Colin and Marlene Sanders, who have a home in Antigua, and Derek and Jenny Holloway who are staying with the Sanders at the moment. What Colin has in store for us we do not know! I imagine a tour of the island and possibly lunch somewhere and perhaps a beer. We shall see and I will report later.

The last three days on the ship have been really hot. Kim reported seeing hoards of Brits out with their towels bagging sun beds soon after daybreak today. And there are some very red bodies about the place. Some just lie there all day, moving only to get a plateful of food and a pint.

Our table at dinner.

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Antigua

What a great day in Antigua. Prince Harry was here a couple of days ago, but on hearing that we were arriving today, he shot off to St Kitts. We hope to catch up with him shortly.

Marlene Sanders had organised the day for us, and she arrived with Jenny Holloway exactly as arranged. We met at Sunseakers, a clothing store at Heritage Quay.  We then poured Jane into the car and set off for the south coast and Shirley Heights and Nelsons Dockyard at English Harbour. Marlene knows the island well having had homes there for more than 30 years and she made an excellent tour guide.

This is one of the views from Shirley Heights. Spectacular.


Then it was down to Nelson’s Dockyard. Colin and Derek had apparently been left at home to carry out some chores, but we found them in a bar in the Dockyard. Inevitably we joined them for our first Rum Punch of the holiday.



A bit of background. In the 18/19 centuries, Antigua was the principal Eastern Caribbean Naval base for the British. Nelson, Rodney, Hood and Jarvis all made the dockyard at English Harbour their headquarters. Construction of the dockyard where it is now began in 1725 and when Nelson was appointed in 1784 it was fully equipped. Later it fell into disrepair, but it has been restored beautifully and English Harbour is now a base for modern yachts and motor cruisers.



After a conducted tour of the dockyard with Colin addressing us on the history, we crossed to the old gunpowder magazine, now converted to a restaurant aptly named Boom. We had a wonderful lunch looking out over the harbour, washed down with some excellent wines.



The Sanders and the Holloways were in excellent form! Colin then drove us back to the ship to round off a brilliant first visit by us to Antigua.
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St. Lucia

Jane and I were last in St Lucia in 1981. I had found a deal at the Halcyon Beach Club, just north of Castries – 3 weeks for the price of 2 and children free. We only had Louise at that time, and we all had a fantastic holiday. Great food and drink and unlimited waterskiing and sailing. The  hotel is now owned by the Sandals group and is known as Sandals Halcyon.

Queen Victoria arrived in Castries on time and was berthed and secured by 7.00am. She was followed in by P&O’ s Britannia and then by Fred Olsen’s Balmoral.

Cunard have arranged a number of wheelchair friendly tours for this voyage and we took advantage of their tour of the north west coast which left the ship at 8.30am. Bruno was the driver and Mitch was the guide. Here’s Mitch – a very bright young man with an amazing vocabulary.

The plan was to drive south from Castries to Anse La Raye, a small fishing village. It was not much of a place. Most of the men were sitting in the Main Street doing very little. Possibly that was because it was a Saturday, possibly not. Most of the fishing boats on the beach were in poor condition and the nets were strewn about and in disarray.

Inevitably the women were  working. On a street parallel to the one where the men were lolling about, the women had stalls selling the usual tourist ‘tat’. Sadly they didn’t appear to be having much success in selling to the numerous small tourist wagons that arrived while we were there.

Next we turned north again and stopped for refreshments (compulsory rum punches) looking down on Marigot Bay. A beautiful bay regularly used in Hollywood movie scenes.

As we continued north, the traffic ground almost to a halt. Mitch was keen to get us to the final destination – Pigeon Island – and we made it, but it took 30 minutes longer than it should. We circled the National Park. It had been a lookout station when the French and English fought over St Lucia.

Sitting out in Rodney Bay at anchor were 2 cruise ships – a Thomson vessel, which I had seen earlier in the day on the horizon as it passed Castries, and the 4 masted Wind Star

We then set off on the journey south, but again met a traffic jam. Clearly the tour people at the ship were getting concerned because Mitch kept getting calls. When we did get back some 45 minutes late, it became clear why there was some anxiety. Three people in wheelchairs were waiting with their companions for another tour in the same vehicle! What a shame for them. Their trip would have been dramatically shortened.

As we drove through Castries, it was buzzing.

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Apologies

For reasons I do not understand yet, this blog is not publishing the whole of each of my submissions. Nor is it publishing the photos within the text, but is grouping them all together at the start. Sorry.

One of the problems that is with us on the ship is that frequently the satellite connection is weak and it takes ages (at vast expense!) to download a submission. I will consult with my blogging guru, Sam Scrutton, and hope to get back on an even keel (!) shortly.

First, it's Guadeloupe for the day.

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