Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

There is something repulsive about the sea, especially when seen from the altitude of the upper decks of a monstrous floating pleasure palace where all intimacy with it, including the sound and the smell, is lost. On the inaugural Spectator Mediterranean cruise I paid attention to the sea but rarely, and usually when speed walking along one of the upper decks in a dinner jacket and bow tie, and late for something, and wondering where the hell I was supposed to be going. Then my stare would stray over the guard rail to the barren wastes of glacial blue flecked with white stretching away as far as the eye could see, like some dreary desert seen from an aeroplane. On some deeper level the sight horrified me, and I'd count the days until I could get off this infernal thing for good. Once or twice, given a rare idle moment, I did lean on a rail and inhale deeply and say to myself, 'Ah! The sea, the sea!' and try to find it exalting. But far more interesting to me was the juvenile sport of watching my spit drop a hundred feet into the foam below.

The lack of any sensation of being afloat was strange, too. The only time I really noticed the motion of the waves was while singing the hymn 'For those in peril on the sea' during the ship's Sunday morning church service, led with an unmistakable Christian spirit by the ship's captain in the grand theatre. The theatre was situated low down near the surface of the sea, and the words of the hymn perhaps concentrated my mind. I felt the carpet definitely sink, and my body weight involuntarily shift from my two feet to my left foot only, then slowly and orgiastically to my right.

Also unsettling was the impeccable smartness, urbane good manners and slimness of the mainly third-world crew and staff, when compared with the hideousness, slovenliness, idiocy and shameless greed of the majority of the first-world people whom they were serving. This was particularly noticeable at breakfast time and around the cake stand at the afternoon-tea buffet in the Lido restaurant. The Cunard ethos was articulated in a printed list of promises about the behaviour, self-presentation and even 'body language' of its staff, and not once did I see a badly fitting uniform or hair out of place or a smile that seemed false. Witnessing the elbows flying at the afternoon tea, with the sweating, milling fatties jabbing madly at the gateaux with the plastic tongs provided, like chimps given cutlery as an experiment, must have made the staff wonder whether their Cunard promises to be clean, presentable and civil at all times were actually worth the effort. …

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