A new story to tell – 2 November 2019

On Monday the Queen Victoria should be arriving in Southampton at about 6.30am. Peter and Lesley-Jane Nicholson will be disembarking after a cruise to the Western Mediterranean.

As they disembark, the Smith team will be arriving at the Mayflower terminal for Queen Victoria’s next cruise – to the Canaries.

Some of the shore team have been involved for some time

Linda – head housesitter – she takes over on Monday. Then she looks after the house and always leaves it cleaner and tidier than it is when she takes control.

Ian – Notary Public and accessible vehicle driver. He gets Jane to the port in our adapted Peugeot. Thinks he is Lewis Hamilton and always tries to get there first. But we love him.

Gary from Area Cars. He is always reliable and good fun. Regrettably I get paid nothing for advertising Area Cars. They always charge me full whack. If you want to get to Heathrow, or anywhere, Area Cars are the men to take you. We need them because the adapted Peugeot won’t take all of us and the luggage.

It’s always a busy time in the days leading up to a cruise. Other members of the shore team come in.

Jane St looks after Jane when I have to be out during the build up. She is a star. She goes through our diary and works out when she can be here. But she does have a fault. She refuses to fill our dishwasher as I like it to be done.

Carole G helps Jane to decide which clothes she wants to take and she comes again to pack them. She is an expert, but they always pack too much and I am always ignored when I tell them.

Chris J takes Jane out on shopping missions to find more and more clothes for Carole to pack. They always hide the credit card slips from me and inevitably, when items need to be returned, I’m the one who is blamed for not knowing where the slips are.

And Georgina and Miranda are regular supporters and lead Jane astray by taking her to National Trust estates and garden centres leaving me behind to mastermind the cruise schedule and the tours.

The person that makes cruising work for us arrives the day before departure. Kim Bigwood. This will be Kim’s 6th cruise with us. She is fantastic and without her we couldn’t contemplate joining Queen Victoria on Monday.


Shore Team

I was cut off last night before telling you of one of the most important members of the shore team – Sarah, Jane’s sister. She is one of the most travelled grannies I have ever met. She looks after grandchildren in London and Chester and also manages to spend plenty of time with Jane. When here, she is up and down the stairs selecting clothes for Jane to take. The stairs are a great way of keeping fit.


At sea

All went well on Monday despite Jane’s broken ankle. What broken ankle?

Last week Jane was being driven in her wheelchair. Her foot slipped off the footplate and caught up in one of the front wheels. She was in considerable pain but after some paracetamol the pain subsided and it appeared to me that she had just suffered bruising.

As the week went on the bruising appeared to be stable but the ankle had started to swell. I repeated my belief that there was nothing wrong and that in a few more days the bruising would go. What do I know.

Jane’s sister Sarah, a retired GP, came to help with the packing on Friday. She felt the ankle and said that she suspected a break and that Jane ought have an X-ray. So off they went to A&E at Winchester. Three hours later it was confirmed that two small bones in her ankle were broken. Luckily no heavy plaster but she was kitted out with one of those large grey boots that footballers wear. More about that later.


Still at sea

Captain Alan Hawkins is Master of Queen Victoria. He is one of the next generation of Captains and appears to be a very popular with his crew. At the Captain’s cocktail party on Wednesday evening he spoke very well to the assembled guests, who, unusually at such events, stopped talking amongst themselves, and listened to what he had to say. He was very amusing.

Cunard have clearly listened to criticism about the way in which these events were run in the past. Finding a drink used to be a nightmare, but now they are readily available and the scrum around the wine waiters no longer occurs. It’s all much more relaxed.

When we arrived at the party I (we) drifted towards two young ladies in uniform. Very attractive they were. One of them was in charge of the receptionists and the other was in HR. They kept us entertained until the Captain introduced his senior Officers.

A number of senior Cunard Captains have retired and as a result men who were Deputy Captains in the Cunard and P&O fleets are now getting their chance as Masters. One such former Deputy is Captain Simon Love. We met him back in 2014 on QV’s World Voyage and I predicted in my blog at that time that he would soon get a command. He is now one of the Masters of Queen Elizabeth and I have it on very good authority that his crew love working for him.


The Old Boot

Jane has coped really well over the last 3 days at sea despite the fact that her injured ankle generates many more spasms in both her legs than she normally experiences. She finds them really painful and they are clearly far worse than the cramp that old blokes like me suffer from occasionally. This is the boot that she wears to speed up the healing process

The sea was fairly rough on Tuesday and Wednesday through the Bay of Biscay although the crew said it had been much worse on the return to Southampton from the earlier Med cruise when the Nicholsons were aboard.

Today was our first port – Madeira. I know that many of you regularly visit the island and love it. We always enjoy it. Funchal was the first port on the maiden voyage of Queen Mary 2 – Jane’s first cruise all those years ago in 2004. On that occasion the port was packed with spectators for our arrival and the numbers grew through the day, so that by the time we departed every part of the waterfront was occupied by local people and holidaymakers wanting to see the ship that was, at that time, the largest passenger liner afloat.

Since that time Jane and I have cruised for 726 days. I only know that because at the beginning of this voyage Cunard gave us details of our voyages with them and the days spent aboard their ships. I calculate that in four days time when we sail from Lanzarote to Lisbon we will have been at sea on ships for exactly 2 years!

I had booked an adapted taxi for our day in Madeira. The driver David was waiting for us as we walked out of the terminal at 10.00. I knew that his English was good but did not know that he was a qualified guide. Jane and Kim wanted to enjoy one of the numerous botanical gardens on Madeira and David decided to take us to the Palheiro Gardens on the road to Camacha.

It was an inspired choice. Initially he took us into the private grounds of the Blandy family, who own the estate, and then into the area open to the pubic. Jane, Kim and David were soon identifying the trees and plants. All gardens in Madeira are inevitably on slopes but David led us down paths to the lower levels and while we had a coffee he climbed the hill to the carpark, retrieved the Mercedes and brought it down to collect us. Perfect.

The Blandy estate (I don’t think that the family are related to Richard ‘Blandy’ Bland, Stoneham’s touring pro, but no doubt he will let me know!) is immediately alongside the Palheiro Championship Golf Course and the cafe where we took coffee was right by the tee to the rather awkward 13th hole.

By a pond in the garden was a rock carved into the shape of a flower. The rock had been brought to Madeira from the Houses of Parliament!We then travelled west before returning to the ship. The weather was sunny and windy but perfect for us tourists. Tonight we will set sail for the Canaries where we will be for the next 3 days.


La Palma

Not to be muddled with Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, where we will be on Remembrance Sunday.

Many of you know and love the smaller Canary Islands. Liz and Tim Cracknell (my sister and her husband) frequently have holidays on La Gomera.

The Allens are regulars in Lanzarote.

Jane and I regularly spent Easter school holidays with Louise and Mike in the Canaries. The Costa Canaria Hotel in Tenerife was a favourite but we also enjoyed the Maspalomas Oasis on Gran Canaria. Later Jane and I had a number of golf holidays in Tenerife.

Interestingly, since I blogged about Madeira earlier this week, I have heard from my sister Liz who told me that the family of her son in law, Titus Sharpe (married to her youngest daughter, my niece Carrie) went to Madeira in the 18th century to help the Blandy’s to develop the Madeira wine company. Some of his relatives still live on the island.

I have also heard from Mags Hook, who tells me that she and Roger have had holidays with Nick and Yvonne Fiddian at the Palheiro hotel for the last 3 years and have met the Blandy family. She gave a glowing report of the hotel, the food and the staff.

As Cunard failed miserably to provide any tours in adapted vehicles in La Palma and failed to provide any contacts who might enable me to book such a vehicle independently, we walked to the quaint town. We had been there before but as we walked down the familiar streets it started to rain. We found a bar with excellent coffee and when the skies cleared we moved to the waterfront and found these wonderful houses.

By the time the ship was ready to leave La Palma. the weather had deteriorated. The wind was blowing hard and the sea was lumpy. It was a fairly rough night as we sailed towards Gran Canaria.


Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

Remembrance Sunday

The sun was shining as we arrived at 8.00am. We docked close to the massive Aida Stella.

Jane and I remember Gran Canaria well because we spent our honeymoon here all those years ago. We stayed in the Hotel Rocamar in Las Palmas. We thought it was a great place, but despite the fact that it overlooked a beautiful beach, at some point something must have gone wrong, because, when we located it 10 years ago, it had been turned into an apartment block.

This time we went ashore to explore. The waterfront area on the west side of the town has been improved dramatically. It is traffic free and a now has a magnificent promenade above the beach. This was the best sand art that we saw

There was plenty of activity on and in the water and all the locals were enjoying beers, Sunday lunches and sunbathing.

There is a problem with the internet on the ship at the moment. I have some photos to add but cannot download them at present.


Stuck In Lanzarote

We were due to leave at about 5.00pm. All were meant to be aboard at 4.30. The gang were ready to remove the gangway but it was clear that someone was missing. He (or was it a she) suddenly appeared round the corner of the port. On realising that he was late he quickened his pace.

Once he was aboard we presumed that we would leave. But no. Perhaps there were others who had not realised we were due to leave earlier than usual. 5.00 instead of 6.00pm.

After more delay the Captain announced that the wind was the problem. Everyone was on board. The gusts were so severe that attempts to leave the berth would make the procedure very dangerous.

No further announcements were made. When we went to bed we were still on the berth and when I awoke at 6.00am today we were still there. But at 7.00am it was light and less windy and soon we were on our way.

We have lost 14 hours so whether that means we will miss the visit to Lisbon where we were due to be tomorrow, Wednesday we do not know. We will no doubt be told the revised plan shortly.


Las Palmas (2) and Lanzarote (2)

I return to our day in Las Palmas (Sunday). I broke away because of the shenanigans in Lanzarote. These are photos of the honeymoon Hotel Rocamar. It has had a facelift and I guess the apartments in it are now privately owned. It has fine views over the beach.

We then wandered into an area packed with market stalls. Jane and Kim were in their element. I sauntered away and they vanished. It took me half an hour to find them!

Many of you will know Steve Moore. He was at Canford with me (he’s much younger though!). He was and is a major sportsman – rugby, squash and golf and no doubt others – and he and Bridget have produced 2 successful sportsman sons, one an Olympian. Steve saw the blog about Las Palmas and commented. What he has forgotten is that on one occasion, by chance, Jane and I bumped into him at Gatwick. He was on his way to Las Palmas with some of his divers and we were on our way to the south of Gran Canaria with our children for a holiday. We agreed to meet up for lunch the following week and we ate in the Hotel Rocamar!

I jumped ahead to tell you about getting stuck in Lanzarote on Monday night.

That Monday morning in Lanzarote the forecast was sunny with some clouds, but windy. We knew there would be an adapted shuttle to get us into town. I watched it as we had breakfast and could see that the round trip only took about 10 minutes, so if we missed it there would not be long to wait. The journey into Arrecife, the capital was easy. The driver was careful and the trip took about 5 minutes.

The walk into town took us round a lagoon and we then quickly discovered the shopping area. It wasn’t great and the whole town seemed grubby and unattractive. Perhaps it was the wind and the dust that gave the wrong impression.

Back at the meeting point after coffees and beer, irritation set in. Large shuttle buses came and went but the adapted vehicle failed to show. The only person at the meeting point who appeared to be involved in organising the shuttles couldn’t speak English. He could see that we were fed up. If the vehicle was sitting by the ship it would have taken one phone call and 5 minutes later it would be with us. The man told me the vehicle was broken. Not true. After waiting for 40 minutes the vehicle arrived. I established that the driver had been home for his lunch! Not good.

As my chums know, whenever something goes wrong at home or abroad, I email the CEO of the errant organisation and nearly always get an early response. In the case of Cunard, emailing the President produces zilch – not even an acknowledgement. But the Marketing Director, Angus Struther, always responds and often gives me a hour of his time at Carnival House to listen to my ideas for improvement of the Cunard cruise experience. I hope that someone at Cunard reads my blog, because there is no doubt that more effort has to be made in their treatment of those with mobility problems. A lack of tours and excursions I’m afraid is the norm.

Rant over until our next cruise.