I confess I have not had a writerly thought re ‘Peril in Persia’ since I wrote last month’s blog. As I mentioned back then, I accepted a lecture cruise which meant that I would need to work flat out at the beginning of the month preparing my lectures before we left. The whole of August has thus been cruise orientated. Up until now, I have always tried to keep my blog to talking about writing and writers, but for this month’s blog, I’m going to break the habit of many, many years and write about what I’ve been up to instead.
I was asked to give destination lectures for two back-to-back seven-day cruises around Britain. The ports for the first week were Inverness/Loch Ness, Belfast and Portland and Inverness/Loch Ness, Kirkwall and Glasgow on week two. With the exception of Portland on the Dorset coast, I had been to them all and I already had presentations for four of the ports, so I didn’t think I’d have too much to do.
Big mistake. For a start, destination lectures usually cover a little about the history and the background of the area but are mostly concerned with the things you can do and sights you can see as an independent traveller. The trouble was I wasn’t sure if passengers were allowed off the ship except as part of an organised ship’s tour. All the literature I could find suggested not and in the week before our departure, I had some literature from the cruise company categorically saying no one would be allowed off independently. I redefined my destination talks as discovery lectures describing the geography of the port and the surrounding area and how that had affected the history and the impact of the area’s history and what we could see today. As the port talks I had given for another cruise line a few years before had all been concerned with the ship’s tours, apart from a few odd photos, they were of no real help. Thus, I had five talks to do from scratch and very little time to do them in. My normal practice is to do nothing related to work in the evenings but that went out the window as I worked on my presentations.
It’s not just the research that takes the time. Finding suitable pictures and maps, designing slides, creating just the right amount of animation takes time. The writer in me also means that I edit the ‘script’ several times to ensure it is as clear, informative and entertaining as possible.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make contact with the ship in advance. Apart from not knowing if passengers were allowed off the ship in their free time, I had several other questions. Although I had the dates and times for my talks for the first week, I knew that there was no sea day between Inverness and Kirkwall on the second cruise. Although I had separate 45-minute talks for each port, I had a feeling that I would have to combine the two talks as there is a lot going on in the theatre on a sea day.
As it turned out, passengers were allowed off the ship as independent travellers. Because of Covid regulations, things can change rapidly, and this was only the second week that permission was granted. Even if I’d known the week before, there would not have been time to redo my presentations.
Covid regulations were very strictly adhered to onboard as you might expect. We all had to wear masks except when eating (or I was on stage) and tables were kept well apart, though we could talk across the intervening empty table at dinner which was nice. Because the ship was only half full, there was never any problem finding a seat in the theatre (again all socially distanced with two empty seats between you and anyone not in your group) on deck or in any of the lounges.
Because I was a guest speaker and had contact with the backstage crew, my husband and I were not allowed off the ship for their added protection. We were told we could go on an organised ship’s tour which we tried to do in Belfast but when we got to the gangway, the machine wouldn’t let us off. Even the Cruise Director who happened to be there at the time thought it wouldn’t be a problem but apparently, Head Office had made a new ruling that guest lecturers had to stay on board. No real problem for us as we knew the ports well with the exception of Portland.
On change-over day, we had to be tested again. The crew get tested once a week too, which was reassuring.
If I’d known in advance it would be 14 days at sea, I probably wouldn’t have accepted the offer but, despite the teething troubles, we had a great time. It was good to get away from the monotony of 18 months confinement at home plus the ship was great. We had a lovely room right at the front of the ship with a huge window. The food was wonderful and it was one of the best ships we’ve been on for entertainment. The production shows were truly spectacular not just singing and dancing but arial and balancing acts. Truly impressive. The Cruise Director, Entertainment Manager, technical backstage crew and all the rest of the staff were great to work with – everyone very obliging – a joy to work with. The other enrichment speaker was equally philosophical about things, and we got on well, so all in all, a good experience.
I certainly came home more chilled and rested and looking forward to my next cruise!