Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

I've been on two cruises before: one was fun, the other misery. The misery one was a late August cruise from Dover to Iceland via Shetland, Orkney and Faroe. The weather was unseasonably chilly, the North Sea rough. The ship pitched and rolled through fog for days on end. At Shetland we went ashore and looked at rails of knitwear in shops. Ditto Iceland. At Faroe we went ashore and watched two women knitting in a hut. At Orkney we visited a prehistoric circle of standing stones that were remarkably jagged as standing stones go. The average age of the passengers was 79 and the restaurants smelt faintly of a poorly run nursing home. The ship was old; the passengers devoted to it and clubbish. Some had booked their cabins before asking where the ship was going. I met an elderly lady for whom it was her 35th trip on the ship. She was certain of the number but vague about everything else.

I encountered a kind of class snobbery on this ship that I found unusually brutal. As you walked in to the restaurant for yet another black-tie dinner, it hit you in the face like ammonia. Sitting down at a table of strangers, I was asked what I did for a living before the introductions, and once even before my backside had made contact with the velour chair cushion. After that I was given the impression that my company was in some way unacceptable. The accent, I supposed. The only cheering thing was the ship's pianist, a heroically jovial man whose claim to fame was that he was tickling the ivories in the Millennium Hotel lounge the day Alexander Litvinenko's healthy pot of green tea for one was doctored with polonium. He confided that although his piano playing has been glowingly received ever since, he has been arrested numerous times for flashing.

The fun one was a cruise of the Caribbean with 3,000 Americans who were on the Atkins diet. We were weighed in on embarkation and there was a cash prize for the person who lost the most weight by the voyage end. In spite of the ten to 15 meals a day, I lost three quarters of a pound, and the eventual winner shed six. One man died minutes after we'd cast off and was kept in the fridge until we returned to Florida. By rights he ought to have been weighed at the end too, some said, as he was surely in with a chance of winning the prize. …

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