Saturday, 28 February 2009

Day Forty Nine: At last the China Sea

Finally our Captain announced today that we have left the Pacific Ocean and entered the South China Sea, Hilary and I could have told him that several days ago but there you go perhaps he hasn’t had as much sea experience as us. OK that was meant to be ironic…. It has been an absolutely glorious day at sea with temperatures in the mid 80’s and only a light breeze blowing across the decks. It has actually been a bit hard to find some shade as the sun is quite high in the sky and we have been heading roughly North West. We did the usual boring breakfast thing (I’m back on the prunes for those that have an interest in such matters), then went off to the forepeak to look for wild life. Yesterday we had a big kamikaze seabird off the starboard side and he spent most of the day flying backwards and forwards along the length of the ship every now and then plunging down as he spotted his breakfast, lunch or dinner. I have no idea what kind of bird he was, obviously a gull of some kind and with big wings and a very long beak. Not an albatross – we haven’t actually seen any of those but I am sure that they are a lot bigger than our gull. But today all we had were flying fish, quite a few shoals of those and they skimmed out from just behind the bow sometimes crashing into the next wave and sometimes flying for many yards. We watched them for 20 minutes or so and then went down for Terry Brown’s (the Brummie detective) last lecture on this ship. He gets off at Hong Kong and he will be missed by all his followers, he has consistently filled every venue that he has been sent to and has been the best guest speaker of the whole cruise. Today was meant to be a question and answer session lasting 45 minutes but as usual he overran almost into an hour which would have disrupted the next class in the Pacific Lounge. In the end he only answered 4 questions from the floor and the rest of the time he was busy telling anecdotes about his time in the force and how it had changed since 1985 when new procedures had been introduced. If I see him around the ship tonight or before he leaves on Monday I would like to talk to him again as he should definitely have his stories published.

After the lecture we found a place on the Promenade Deck in the shade and settled down with the crossword and Sudoku, Hilary completed the crossword in record time but I need to have another go at the Sudoku, I finally managed to complete yesterday’s but I need bigger squares! What I usually do is to copy the puzzle out onto the back of a piece of waste paper – we get a lot of those, usually advertising something on the ship that we have no interest in such as massages or fitness programmes. I know, I know we should try these things but there is not enough time in our day and besides we are on holiday and I would hate to sprain something…. We remained on the Promenade Deck reading and relaxing until 1.30pm or so and then I felt like a swim so we climbed the stairs to Deck 12 (see we are getting all the exercise we need with climbing all these stairs, who needs extra exercise programmes that you have to pay for) and luckily found a couple of loungers in the shade and close to the Crystal Pool. This particular pool is one of the largest on the ship but unless it is very calm it is usually divided into two to prevent the water sloshing around and today we have mildly lumpy seas so the barrier was in place. Not a lot of people like that so they head to the other pools and this means that the Crystal Pool is often empty and today I had it all to myself for the best part of 30 minutes, enough to keep me happy and to get me a bit red in the face with both the exertion and the sun. Right next to the Crystal Pool are changing rooms and showers so while Hilary did her Codewords I used their facilities which means that I won’t need to shower before dinner tonight. Speaking of that it is Casual Country and Western tonight so I will break out the Longhorns shirt that Sam bought me for Christmas.

Swim over it was a bite to eat in the Conservatory – well two bites for me – and then back to the cabin to sort out the next lot of photos to be printed in 3 x2 size for the scrapbook and finally to write this load of boring drivel for you to fall to sleep over. Now it is time to hand over to Hilary who I know wants to add to my congratulations to Julian for his exam success and to say how much we are looking forward to seeing Jess and Nathan tomorrow. Tonight the Headliners are producing a new show “We’ll meet again,” which is probably a bit of a metaphor for a good old sing-along of wartime songs, we shall see and I will append a note after the show tonight. Here’s Hilary…

Tiz I. 520pm. Once again Sam has covered almost every minute of our day! I took the memory card from my camera down to the photographer a few minutes ago – this is the best time to get good service as there are a bunch of people leaving tomorrow and they have spent the best part of today getting any outstanding prints and videos bought and packed ready for their departure. The photographers are going to be very quiet for the next two days. I’ve also discovered that I must get more information leaflets when I am ashore – I am often looking around for little bits of information after we have left port when I am starting to put the scrapbook together. Did Sam tell you that we are now sapphire level travellers? Impressive eh! We had a letter last night to tell us that we have completed 50 nights aboard and that means that we can get 7 ½ % discount from the ship’s shops. Oh, and we get a free lunch occasionally, (we actually paid for all our food with the cost of the cruise,) but it is a nice thought isn’t! We also got gifts from P and O – Sam got binoculars and I got a compact with mirror. Good hey. We also got the folder with all the menus of our dinners during the past leg of the journey. We get these at the end of every leg and they usually come the night before the tips are due! I love them and take them back to the cabin to be stored carefully, other ladies on our table complain that they have too much paper stuff already. So tonight I take an envelope down to dinner with our tip for the waiters. I don’t seal the envelope and all the other couples put their tips into it before we give it to the waiters – Derwin and Stephen are both from India and do a pretty good job of serving us dinner and clear the table in time for second sitting. Sometimes they gently clear stuff to remind us that we ought to be moving out and onto the next activity and leave them to get on with their job. They are very efficient and good at their jobs, worthy of their tips. We have not spent too much so far this leg because we wanted to keep our spending money for Hong Kong – we will probably break our good record over the next two days! Tomorrow – Jess. I was thinking this morning how lucky we are. Julian and Sammy both sent messages yesterday, great news from Julian, well done on your exam success, Sammy is working to earn enough cash to travel with us, Sharon sounded happy, Jess will be there when we get to Hong Kong, and all our family and friends have taken the time to keep in touch – life couldn’t be any better. With that I will leave you to go get ready for our smart casual dinner. Take care, God bless.

It was a real British night tonight both at dinner and in the theatre, for dinner we had Fish, Chips and mushy peas! Then of course there was the Headliners “We’ll Meet Again” concert which was a real wallow in nostalgia ending of course with Land of Hope and Glory and as we were all given small union jacks to wave before we went in it had a real Last Night of the Proms feel about it. The theatre was packed for the first 8.30pm performance and they were literally standing in the aisles, we are tempted to go back for the 10.30pm performance but as we have an early start tomorrow we will probably not do that. One of the reasons for the early start is not to do with Jess and Nathan but we have been promised a Chinese dragon to greet the ship when we dock at 7.45am so I have no doubt that Hilary and I will be up deck ready for that. It is getting exciting knowing that we have two young people waiting for us and I just hope that us two oldies don’t disappoint them, I’m sure that we will have some fun together. Whether I blog tomorrow is up in the air and it depends on how tired we get and at what time we get back to the ship tomorrow night, we have been assured by P & O that even if we roll in past midnight that there will be someone to check us aboard. Getting in that late is probably unlikely but who knows? That’s it and I will leave you with one picture and that is one side of the double sided boulder opal that we bought at Whitsunday Islands.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Day Forty Eight: Still in the Pacific? Are you sure?

I’m getting a bit worried about our Captain, in his 12.00am (6 bells) announcement he said again, in his stentorian voice, that we are still in the Pacific but if I look at a map I am sure that we are in the China Sea. Maybe one of us needs a bigger map. Anyway we are only one more day’s travel from seeing Jess and Nathan and that is good news as it seems ages since we saw them. We understand that they are travelling overnight on Friday to get to Hong Kong on Saturday so with a good arrival time for us we should be seeing them as soon as the ship has processed Customs and Immigration and that will be between 9.00am and 10.00am on Sunday.

Because we are still at sea and enjoying such good weather and flat seas there really is not much to report and today was very similar to yesterday. We went to the talk on our stop in Malaysia at Kemaman where at the moment we have booked just to do it on our own but accepting P & O’s coach service to get us to town and back. However we are reconsidering this option as there is not much to see and do apart from seeing the fabulous blue mosque so we may change our minds before we get there. As the weather has been so favourable we walked the Promenade Deck until we found a couple of shady loungers and settled down for a go at the crossword (easy) and the Sudoku (hard, will have to try it again) and to finish off the last chapter of Obama’s book. A good read Sharon, particularly the final chapter on life with his family and I think that Hilary will read that one. The man certainly has some great ideals and it will be interesting to see if he is able to get any of them passed by Congress, his Social Security reforms and Health Care reforms will be particularly hard to put into practice. When Sam and Jeff come over in the summer I will pass the book onto them as I think that they will both enjoy it. I will revert to the world of fiction with a Patricia Cornwell book that I bought in a second hand bookshop in Australia.

I can’t even report on lunch today unless you include a handful of macadamia nuts and one half of an O Henry bar that we bought in Hawaii, it is a formal dinner suit night again tonight and as I only have the one pair of matching trousers it is essential that I stay slim enough to get into them. Most of the Oriana logoed leisure wear has been reduce to half price so I treated myself to a dark blue polo shirt in XXL size, the first time that I have ever resorted to that level. In fairness the XLs look very small to me and I would hate to buy one that then shrinks in the wash….. That’s my excuse at any rate. We are looking at buying Hilary a simulated opal bracelet from a franchise that finishes tonight – he has been on board since Fiji and is leaving at Hong Kong – he is offering all his stock at 75% off but I will try for a better deal than that. If he says no there is nothing lost and we will just see what we find in Hong Kong itself.

The latter part of the afternoon was spent listening to Terry Brown the Brummie detective and I know that I keep praising him but this man is an exceptional speaker and is a man with a very forceful personality. It is his last day tomorrow and he plans to wrap up with a question and answer session so it will be interesting to see what questions he gets. I really have no more to add so I will pass you over to Hilary who I know wants to respond to Sharon’s news.

Tiz I. I have 30 minutes so here goes. Sounds interesting Sharon, I think I would echo Sammy’s sentiments and say enjoy, expect nothing and accept everything and enjoy the ride. He sounds like you might have a soul mate in that he deals in micro bugs and you have the cleanest house I know! A good starting point. Like Sammy said, Jeff was found during a free two week special introductory offer and we wouldn’t be without him now. I’ve just got back from doing the ironing and it is so hot, the sea has stopped being so lumpy bumpy – just rolling a bit, we had a good couple of hours on the loungers on deck 7 this morning but now we are up against the clock. Bill, one of our dinner companions, is singing in the Oriana choir at 5.00pm and we are all going down to support him. We have to get back to the cabin (deck 9) and ready for yet another formal dinner and back down to deck 6 by 6.30pm. My hair is always the biggest challenge so I need to get it ordered before the choir. Sam bought yet another photograph yesterday. He is a sucker when it comes to the pretty photographers and we have an album almost full of huge photos. We will have to have a very deep drawer or shelf in the cupboard to store all the photos and albums – we will review them all in our dotage I expect. We have been watching the temperatures in London on the ship newspapers’ bulletin. It seems that it has been about 50f lately which is a great deal better than a foot of snow! Liz, have you finished altogether with the shop now. What is Sheila doing, are you doing the advanced reflexology course at college? Hayley seems to be working non stop, do you want to stay and have a holiday in Chub Tor when we get back? There will be no hurry for you to leave as far as we are concerned. Anyway everyone, I have to go and get ready for the choir, keep writing the messages, I love reading them and I look forward to Sam bringing them back on the computer each night. I read far too slowly for Sam to allow me to read them when he is on line. Computer internet minutes are so expensive on board. Take care everyone, God bless.

OK final words we have just got back from dinner and the theatre show, this time it was a comedian and electric guitar player who looked about 70 years old but was an excellent musician and a passable comedian. He was one of the old school with lots of little anecdotes but the audience liked him and there were plenty of guffaws from Richard who was seated just across the aisle from us. Hilary liked his guitar selection so much that she bought the CD after the show while I came up to the cabin to grab our laptop and there I had a very pleasant surprise because laying on the bed were two gifts addressed to us and an envelope. I opened the envelope first to find a voucher for the Gary Rhodes restaurant that reduces the price from a surcharge of £17.50 to £10.00 and that is handy as we have booked to go there with the rest of our table to celebrate Christine’s birthday on March 4th. When I opened my gift it was a very nice pair of folding binoculars and when Hilary opened hers it was a silver plated make-up compact. Not very practical for her but a nice thought at any rate. So that’s it for tonight, no photos as we have been at sea and not taken any, but undoubtedly there will be a few after we have seen Jess and Nathan on Sunday. Nighty, nighty.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Day Forty Seven: Still in the Pacific?

It is a long haul from Rabaul to Hong Kong and we seem to be endlessly travelling across parts of the Pacific before we get to the China Sea, it is also a bit of a bumpy ride and I have no doubt that a few weeks back we would have looked at the sea and felt a bit queasy but now we truly have our sea legs and just take the movement in our stride. It was glorious out in the shady side of the deck today, even though the temperature was in the mid 80’s this morning there was a good stiff breeze blowing (the Captain equated this to 40mph) which kept us nice and cool as we lay on our sun beds on the Promenade Deck. We have moved away from the Lido Deck temporarily as it is more open to the sun and they have closed one of the pools (don’t know why) so it tends to be crowded. The advantage of the Lido Deck is that it is close to both the Conservatory and Al Fresco so if cups of tea are required they are easily obtainable. The flip side of this is that food is also readily available so the temptation to overeat is also there and you all know that I do find creamy cakes hard to resist, (along with apple pies, French fries, prawn sandwiches and just about anything that contains calories).
We did go to the Conservatory twice today but we were both very good, I had toast and
Marmalade with grapefruit segments for breakfast and cheese and biscuits for lunch while Hilary had virtually the same but smaller portions of course.

Our tour talk today was for Bangkok (to be more specific we moor at Laem Chabang) and we had previously booked a tour to see village life but having seen the tour for watching the elephants we decided to switch. It means an afternoon tour instead so we will have to decide where and what to do in the morning, going into Bangkok is out of the question as the coach takes two hours to get there and then two hours to get back. We think that there is a smaller shopping area close by and that P & O are organising a shuttle bus so that may be a possibility for us. It means that we will miss all the pagodas and the Buddhas but that just gives us another excuse to return at a later date doesn’t it? We have actually started to talk about where to go next and we have both said that we would like to return for a longer stay in New Zealand and Australia, then we are also agreed that South Africa needs to be seen and of course Alaska, while I think that South America has some attraction Hilary is not quite so sure on that one. Then of course there is the question of China as it seems that Jess is going to stay there a while, I will need to get over the squatty toilet situation first and also find a way round the long distance internal travel, the trains sound interesting but I would be cranky if I had to spend 12 hours on hard seats and I am not sure about the safety record or the internal Chinese aero industry.

Last night over dinner we had our photograph taken again and I have made a pretty poor copy of it to show you how nice Hilary looked in her sparkly top, it also shows off the Longhorn bowtie to good advantage. The photographers take pictures at a horrendously fast rate and we have already purchased 18 and rejected at least that number again. Today for example while we were sitting on the Promenade Deck just minding our own business trying to do the crossword and Sudoku (failed on both accounts so far) when the photographers turned up with two of them dressed in dinner suits (except that she had a swimsuit underneath and he had trunks), carrying a tray with a bottle of champagne and two glasses. They took our pictures with them, “We are not selling enough photos,” she said,” so I am pimping myself so that I can eat tonight.” Well you can’t resist a sales pitch like that can you? We will look at the prints and decide when we see them but I am not hopeful that they will be any good, Hilary was pretty windswept and I had a baseball cap on to keep the sun from my eyes.

Terry Brown the Brummie detective was moved from Chaplin’s Cinema to a much bigger venue, The Pacific Lounge, this afternoon as people have been complaining that they have had to stand for an hour to listen to him. The new venue seemed to suit him well and we were there early so as to get front row seats, he talked a lot today about body language and plans to do the same tomorrow. As I have said before he is a remarkable speaker, so natural, and it came out today that he runs a couple of companies one of which does interview techniques for bodies other than the police and these include the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise as they used to be called. The other is a Murder Mystery weekend company and his anecdotes about what has happened on some of those were priceless, we will have to look more closely at these and see if any decent ones turn up in the local area. And that is about it for my first stint, it is now 4.30pm, Hilary has the bed covered in scrapbooking stuff and I will invite her to come over and tell you about our day. Incidentally Jess we are so pleased that you are able to come and see us and bringing Nathan with you we are really looking forward to seeing both of you. If you have time let us know your travel times and plans, I got the impression that you are coming by train? Leaving after work on Friday? Already have accommodation? Fill us in on the details if you can. It’s always difficult to know how long it takes to clear the legal stuff after we arrive in port but we should dock at 8.00am and definitely be available by 10.00am. When we met Brian in Sydney we were actually off the ship at 9.00am so these things cannot be guaranteed, we will treat whatever time that we get with you as something to be savoured no matter how long it lasts. We would like to have a couple of nice meals with you and Nathan at the very least and we would also like your assistance in doing some bargain shopping – do you have any experience in that line? God bless. I might go and see The Dark Knight tonight although I doubt that Hilary will join me, on the other hand I may go and join her in the theatre to see a lady cabaret singer.

Tiz I. Well that about covers our day, we are so laid back and relaxed now that I doubt that we will ever be of any use to the world again! Sam’s haircut has turned out pretty well even if I say it myself. I’m glad he managed to get the wayward bits of hair to settle down after his shower. I’m just trying to make the pages for Sydney work in the scrapbook – it is truly more of a challenge when access to the copier and printer are not available – some of the pictures could be a little bigger while others could be shrunk- hey ho it is what it is. We are going to the elephant sanctuary (village) for our trip in Thailand and I am very happy about that. I got a letter back from the tours office today and they are refunding 15% of the cost of the other tour because we missed the animals. Actually the manager apologised to me today for the rush on that tour when I was down there arranging to see the elephants. They do try! Tonight we could be the only ones on our table for dinner. It seems that the other three couples are all otherwise engaged at dinner time. So we should have very good service and be through very quickly – plenty of time to make up our minds whether to go to the cinema or theatre or just sit outside on the promenade deck in the dark watching the sea! Choices, choices! Two days to Jess, can’t wait, I’m very excited to be seeing her again and Nathan coming too is a bonus. We have no idea where we should go but will be flexible and enjoy the day or days. I expect that we will do a little shopping. I have been thinking about you Julian most of the day and wondering how you got on. Marlene, I did not manage to get any tea tree oil in Australia but will look in Hong Kong and Thailand. Sam, give yourself a little time to get over the jet lag before you get back in the hurly burly of writing for clients, I know how much longer it takes to write sensible script while the brain is still somewhere over another land. Sleep is the answer. Liz, how are you getting along with building up your business – or are you taking a little time to recover from the shop before you get stuck in?! Everyone please take a little time to think about the folk who live in Melbourne, Australia. One of them could be Colin, I haven’t heard from Brian about that yet. Also Tony and Gae’s daughter who had to go into hospital for emergency surgery. Many thanks, I must go, Take care, God bless.

Well I did go to the Dark Knight and quite enjoyed it, I sat with Keiko the Japanese lady from our dinner table and she enjoyed it also especially the make up of the District Attorney Dent after he was burned in the fire. I can see why Heath Ledger got his Oscar, it was a bravura appearance and well deserved. OK as the film was so long and it is now well past my bedtime at 10.40pm I am going to close and hope that all of you are well.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Day Forty Six: Back in the Pacific

Well that was what the Captain told us during his noon announcement but looking at a map I am not sure that I believe it, he talked at great length about the mountains under the sea and the deep valleys that we are passing over, all of which should ensure a speedy crossing to Hong Kong. What he didn’t tell us was that there would be quite a swell during this crossing and I am having great difficulty with my touch typing as the keyboard is moving underneath me as I write.

One good thing during the night was that we had quite a downpour of rain and that has rid most of the decks of the volcanic ash that we picked up during our stay at Rabaul. The first of Hilary’s pictures that I have put up tonight shows how the ash settled all over the varnished hand rails and we did hear of one poor chap who leaned on it with his white shirt before he realised what he had done. Today has been much nicer and we have had sunshine and temperatures in the mid 80’s but we have not been out sunning ourselves. Instead we spent an hour this morning listening to Cherry talking about our stop in Nha Trang, Vietnam which will be the first stop after Hong Kong. We have a tour booked for that one where we hope to see some of the countryside that we have heard so much about and also to visit one of the schools where Hilary has some much needed pens and pencils to present to them, we were told before we came out that gifts such as these would be much appreciated as this part of Vietnam is very poor. Unfortunately we are only spending a half day here and we are going in by ship’s tender and knowing how slowly these operate it probably means that their will be few opportunities for shopping.

Most of the rest of our day was spent in the cabin while Hilary was busy catching up with her scrapbook and I finished the Sudoku – getting the hang of the easier ones now. We skipped lunch although I did open the bag of macadamia nuts that I bought in Australia and had an apple and one of the small packets of biscuits that P & O so thoughtfully provide – have to keep body and soul together somehow. Then it was off to see our Brummie detective Terry Brown and the time goes so quickly when he is talking, he concluded with a delightful story about the time he arrested both the murderer and the murdered person all in the space of a few hours. We talked to him afterwards to see if he had ever written a book about his exploits as we felt that he has so many stories they would make a great series of books similar to the Doctor in the House, or All Creatures Great and Small. He said that his only involvement was to pass on some anecdotes that had been used in the David Jason Frost TV series but that he has videos of his past lectures and that he might be able to dig into those for a book. I still think that he could sell well and I definitely plan to make his character part of Murder on the Oriana.

The only other action that I had today was to help our dinner companion Alison with her computer, she is getting better but still needs help with the basics such as moving from tab to tab to go from her email contact list to her inbox, sent box etc. Also she had never been told how to use the back and forward arrows on a website, little things like that seem to help her a lot and she writes everything that I tell her into a little notebook. Tonight is formal again so Hilary is titivating herself with a black sparkly top and black skirt and I will put on the black tux. It’s a good job that I have a white shirt on or if the lights go out people would never see us. Short blog tonight for as I say we haven’t done much to write about, I will sort out this picture for you and let Hilary add her pearls of wisdom. Tonight it is another Headliner repeat so will probably go to that, I can’t remember what the film is but it didn’t grab my attention.

Tiz I. First of all, before I forget. Jess, we should be off the ship by 10.00a.m. and could meet you outside the security area any time after that on Sunday, 1st March. Let us know when you might be able to get there. Now, the expected rain all day lasted until about 9.00am this morning. We only had two events that we wanted to go see so we decided to come back to the cabin so that I could get the scrapbook up to date as far as Sydney. Didn’t quite make it so it is done up to Auckland. Maybe tomorrow I will get to Sydney! Who knows what tomorrow will bring? It has been a very warm, sunny day but it has been nice to just relax and play with the glue and scissors. Oh, yes, I did cut Sam’s hair as ‘Grandpa had wings’ I had to use my sewing scissors, one has to use what is to hand, so he has a very modern ‘hacked off’ look which will be fine just as soon as he shampoos it and it settles down! You will see it in the next photograph that is taken – probably in Hong Kong. Hey ho. The ship shop had a ‘special’ on evening bags today so I went long to look – they are still quite expensive and none will hold two pairs of specs – now I ask you, what good is that! I think they need to think about the age and needs of their clients – we are all old and need glasses for this and glasses for that etc. Tonight is the second showing of the Headliners show. I am very happy that the last repeat performance included the boxing sequence which I just love. It’s a high energy, fast moving, great music section that just blows me away! I can die happy. We bought our Hong Kong money today so we are all set to go for afternoon tea at the famous posh hotel which overlooks the harbour with Jess. That is if we have time after our shopping. I want to buy some silk to cover some books and to have some for sewing. Sam might have a white dinner jacket made and I might have a dress or suit – depending on the time needed. We will wait to see what Jess will need! Well my time is up and Sam needs to get back on the computer. Take care, God Bless.

Just back from the Headliners and what more can I say about this group of artistes, they are the most hard working and talented bunch that you could wish for. One of the nice things that they do occasionally is to stand at the exits and receive thanks from the audience as they leave the show and tonight I spotted one of the singers who does the lead in the boxing routine “I’m Still Standing” so I was able to pass on our congratulations for this well choreographed routine. I am sitting in the CyberStudy with a couple shouting at their computer as they try to connect with Skype and it is most disconcerting when others are trying to type and I really want to go over there and tell them to shut up so I will post this and get the hell out of Dodge. Goodnight.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Day Forty Five: Back into the Northern Hemisphere

Sometime this afternoon we will cross the equator again and leave the Southern Hemisphere as we travel from Papua New Guinea to Hong Kong. A visit by King Neptune has been planned for the Riviera pool but as I sit writing this at around 1.00pm the rain is pouring down outside and we had to skirt around the very edges of the Lido deck so that we didn’t get soaked as we made our way back from lunch to our cabin. We also have a few swells on the sea which is making life very interesting for those who have braved the swimming pool as it is sloshing around so hard that huge waves are crashing out of the sides. I would be very surprised if they get many spectators for the crossing of the line ceremony unless there is a marked change in the weather. Hilary and I walked to the front deck this morning after breakfast which is what we like to do when we can as it gives us a bit of exercise and also gives us the possibility of seeing flying fish and occasionally dolphins. Today we found that it was impossible to lean on any of the varnished handrails as they were all covered in dark volcanic ash that had been deposited with the drizzle last night. Seamen were washing down the decks using the fire hoses and we saw a couple of deckhands with buckets washing all the chairs and loungers. It was interesting to see how the two of them differed in their techniques; one of them started by using a cloth dipped in a bucket of water and wiping each chair individually, then he looked across the deck and saw that his mate was dipping a broom in his bucket and washing the loungers with that. Not to be outdone he stopped the hand washing and then filled his bucket and threw it at each lounger in turn, very quick but not very effective. Not only did it not do the job very well but he spent more of his time walking backwards and forwards to the tap to fill his bucket than he did actually cleaning his chairs. Now of course most of their cleaning has been overtaken by the rain which is still coming down and washing all the ash into the scuppers (that’s a technical term especially for Julian, he will know what I mean).

We went to see a new lecturer today in the Pacific Lounge; he is from Sheffield University and lectures on Astronomy, not perhaps a subject that we would normally be interested in but he has a theory about the Star of Bethlehem and he was able to lead us through the relevant parts of the Bible and relate them to what was happening in the sky at night. His conclusion is that within the time scale that can be calculated from known records – such as Herod’s life and death – the Bethlehem star was actually the planet Jupiter which was in conjunction with Saturn and the Jesus was actually born on September 15th in 4BC. Quite fascinating and we will probably go and see him again. We anticipate going to another lecture this afternoon at 4.30pm to see the Brummie detective Terry Brown, he is appearing late because of the planned Equator ceremony and this will make us a bit rushed when it comes to preparing for dinner but if his previous talks are anything to go by it will be worth the wait. The only snag is that in order to guarantee a good seat in the cinema you have to be there at least ½ an hour early and sit in the cold. We usually take the crossword or Sudoku with us while we are waiting but we have been good today and completed them both (well we are missing one clue on the crossword but it is probably a stupid word that nobody uses in the real world.

While I remember for Jess, we arrive in Hong Kong at 8.00am on March 1st and leave on the 2nd at 11.30pm, we should berth at Ocean Terminal. One of the rules of P & O because of the security aspect is that no one who doesn’t have a pass can board the ship so that you won’t be able to see over the ship or our cabin and unfortunately we can’t put you up for the night. Let us know if you need help for the fares in getting to Hong Kong and back and if you need help with finding a place to stay and we will do what we can. Any chance that Nate will be with you (assuming that you can persuade your boss to let you away for the day)? If we are allowed to take it off the ship we have a large bottle of Ribena for you.

Sharon, if you go to or just click on this link and follow various prompts for the fleet you should be able to find details about the Oriana and there you will be able again by following their links to see the cabins via a 360 degree camera. Ours is on C deck Cabin C112 and we have an outside cabin with bath and shower, it is not sumptuous but it is adequate for our needs and is convenient in that we are only one deck above the information deck and three below the main entertainment and food deck. With that I will pass you to Hilary who has been sitting here patiently doing her scrapbook waiting for me to finish. One of her discoveries is that I have had my portrait done twice in my dinner jacket, the first time just a few days into the cruise and the second a couple of days ago. Hilary is convinced that I am fatter in the face, I think that it is a trick of the light combined with a different angle for the camera and no I am not going to post a side by side for Before and After comparisons….

Tiz I. At 5.50pm with about 10 minutes to write my bit – dinner is a pain when it comes around so quickly. Anyway here we go - For Sam, I am glad you straightened me out on the blog by Jess. I was getting worried that the university was waiting for an excuse and that the trip to Hong Kong would be a real problem. We are so looking forward to seeing Jess and catching up with her. Let’s hope we are lucky. For Pat. Brilliant, now you will be able to come to stay with us without having to think about the cost of the fuel. Good for you, the car sounds great and I can’t wait to see you and it. For Sharon, try the website for P and O and see if you can follow the links to see the virtual tour of the ship. I did make my point to the tour office – I really can’t be asked to get cross too often – it is too exhausting. The train journey and the army duck were both super rides but the rushing was more than we needed. We will wait and see what the reply from the ‘gods’ of the travel programme have to say about it. It will probably be sometime after our stop in Hong Kong in 5 days time. Despite the quite heavy rain this afternoon we have had a pretty good day. The lectures with the policeman are hilarious; he has a dry sense of humour which just keeps bubbling up throughout the lecture. He asked some people to describe him – overall it would seem that he has sticky out eyes which are blue or brown or dark. His ears stick out or lay flat and are large or round and his height varies between 5 ½ feet to 6 feet. The exercise was to illustrate how difficult it is to accurately describe anyone especially if you are asked to remember a couple of weeks after the event. He is getting larger and larger audiences and if you don’t get there early you have to sit on the floor around the walls of the cinema. Great fun. I completed 4 more pages in the scrapbook today – rainy days are good for the scrapbook! Tomorrow might be a bit stormy too so the book will be up to date in no time at all! Right it is now 6.10pm so I have to go again, take great care of each other, God bless.I

When I started to write this some hours ago – it is now nearly 10.60pm and we have just got out of the cinema having seen The Duchess starring Keira ‘Stick Thin’ Knightley – you can tell that I thought the crossing the equator ceremony would be abandoned. I was totally wrong and the announcement to “bring your umbrellas and towels” fired up the crowds and we joined them on Deck 13 where we could look down on the celebrations. The rain was light but warm and we soon got used to it and within 30 minutes it had pretty much stopped. The celebrations followed much the same pattern as the previous crossing but this time a lot more gunge was involved and so was the captain! I got a picture of him covered in stuff but looking smiling and happy and he was certainly a lot more fun than our last captain. This time the P & O side won which means we have been rescued from Davy Jones’s clutches and can proceed forthwith to Hong Kong. I will leave you with these pictures from our day and we look forward to tomorrow.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Day Forty Four: Rabaul – an active volcano

There are an awful lot of people on this ship asking the question, “Why on earth did we stop here?” We are on the northern tip of Papua New Guinea and the only claim to fame that this part of the island seems to have is that it was occupied by the Japanese in WWII and they proceeded to down a lot of US aircraft on the island, kill a lot of Australians and built a load of tunnels. Certainly the tours offered by P & O did not appeal to us but we thought that we would go ashore and see what the town had to offer.

The run in to Rabaul was pretty good even though the ship was late, due we are told to one of the daughter engines having to be dedicated to air conditioning, a strange explanation for if you looked at the TV screen which shows the ship’s running statistics we were doing 25 knots in the final approach and that is pretty much maximum speed, we usually run closer to 22 knots. We planned to get up early to do the laundry now that the Australian regulations have expired, but with one thing and another we missed the early time slot and Hilary didn’t get there until close to 8.30am and the place was heaving. Hilary got a washing machine fairly quickly but driers were a different matter entirely. I went for a leisurely breakfast of course while my wife was slaving away but we did meet up and I helped by waiting around for a drier to become available and offering moral support until someone said that the Rabaul volcano was erupting and then I went off to photograph it. By the time I got back we had acquired one of the precious driers and it was Hilary’s turn to go and get some photos. The whole washing/drying experience lasted the best part of 3 hours, just in time for us to hear the captain’s announcement that we had cleared customs and could go ashore whenever we liked.

It was interesting to see how they berthed this long ship against the tiny wharf as the boat overhung each end of the harbour wall by 60 metres each end. Instead of the little man throwing his ball and line over the side they had to send a boat from the harbour to pick up the big hawsers and then tow them 20 yards or so to the shore for three men to pick them up and loop them over a concrete post. They did this four times for the two forward and stern lines but the forward and aft springs were attached to the dock in the usual way. One of today’s pictures should show the little boat that they used for the lines.

One good thing about the berth was that it is right in the middle of a commercial harbour, but that is the only good thing to say about it for this is a dirt poor area that is constantly under threat of a volcanic explosion. The locals told us that it has been erupting like this for 14 years and everywhere we walked it was on a carpet of volcanic ash. We did eventually go ashore and walked past rusting boats, rusting cargo containers and general disrepair until we got to the exit gate of the harbour. Here there were about a hundred or so local people with their pitiful array of goods for sale, some clothes, some fabric, some shell necklaces, some shells, a lot of carved idols, masks, phallic symbols, a lot of wooden dinosaurs and a few purses and bags. We had already planned to use some of our Australian dollars in an attempt to help their economy and Hilary bought a hand made string bag and a beaded purse. The bag she chose was a pale green on the outside and darker green on the inside – at least this is what we thought until we examined it, for what appeared to be light green was actually dark green covered in volcanic ash. The bag has probably been hung on the railings and offered for sale for quite some time. The people are very poor here and I have no idea how they make a living, it can’t be easy, we made no attempt to haggle over prices, just looking at the obvious state of their health made us aware how lucky we are. On our way back to the ship we watched a number of children jumping around in the water, very happy and totally unaware that just yards away from them were broken and rusting hulks and I have no doubt that the water that they were playing in was terribly polluted.

We were in desperate need of a good shower by the time we made the trek back to the ship and in our cabin we could see how we were covered in a fine layer of volcanic ash pretty much all over our clothes and exposed parts of our skin. I chose to wash mine off with a swim in one of the ship’s swimming pools followed by a shower to get rid of the chlorine while Hilary used the shower in our cabin to not only wash herself but also to clean the bag and purse that she had bought by taking them into the shower with her. Good idea but she then discovered that the bath (our shower is over a bath) was dyed green which could only be removed by using one of our precious Persil tablets! With that I will pass you over for Hilary’s comments on the day.

Tiz I. That green dye took some scrubbing and then I had the problem of what to do with the dripping green dyed bag – how was I going to dry it where it would not drip and stain what ever it dripped on! Solution a plastic bag over the window sill and the bag placed, very carefully, on top of it. It has been a day of washing! The volcano was amazing, I never expected the ash to travel so far and be so fine – it gets everywhere. Sam is right, when I saw the conditions of the people I knew that we had to spend some money in the community to help the peoples economy. The bags are pretty now they are clean – the green one has darkened a lot without the dust on it – even the postcards I found with the tourist group were sticky with the dust. I will not be sending any cards from here, I have no idea where the people buy stamps or how to get there. The only form of mass transport I saw was an old ex army truck with seats in it – it was full of people going somewhere. The ship usually has a form of transport for us to get to town but today they had nothing – I believe there is none. So we have only seen the harbour area. Behind the harbour the island is set on a non active volcano and the village rises up about one third of the way to the summit. The hillside is covered in tropical trees and plants. Beyond the poverty is the most beautiful island in a beautiful setting but under constant threat of the active volcano (on an adjacent island) blowing out its deadly ash, smoke and lava. It has been hot and humid and dusty but I am so pleased that we washed up in this beautiful place. Now a message for Marlene. What is all this about moving back to Plymouth? I did not know that you were thinking of that. Give yourself time to really think through what you think will be the best long term move for you and Tara. Of course we would love to have you back but take your time before you make a decision. I’ll be back in just over a months’ time and I’ll be hoping to see you then. OK it is now 6.15pm and I have to be ready and down stairs (6 flights of stairs) by 6.30pm – I had better go. Take care, God bless.
What could be better than deep fried brie with cranberries, red mullet with shrimp sauce and bananas smothered in toffee and ice cream? I only mention this as Hilary and I both chose this for dinner tonight – it has to be better than Tesco kippers boiled in a bag doesn’t it? We are missing the theatre tonight, it has a classical pianist – very good I am told but not my cup of tea – and the cinema which has Mama Mia again. While I am up here writing this drivel in the CyberStudy on deck 13, Hilary is in our cabin sorting out the scrapbook photos and also putting all the ship’s photos in an Oriana album that we purchased tonight. With that I will wish you goodnight, we have 5 days at sea before we reach Hong Kong so we have the chance for some serious lecture listening and some sunbathing and swimming.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Day Forty Three: In the Coral Sea.

Not a very busy day today as it was a day in transit on the way to Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. We had no major incentive to get up early as the first of our lectures wasn’t until 11.15am today so we poodled around by having breakfast in the Al Fresco followed by a wander up to the bow to look for fish – we only saw one flying fish and it was very windy – then we wandered down to the photographers where we talked to them about the latest batch of Hilary’s 3x2’s for her scrapbook. We gave them an SD card with 76 images to be reduced and discovered last night that they had only printed 66 of them and had also charged us for 76 6x4 prints instead of half that amount. They are very good in there but they are really rushed and it is the first mistake that they have made, we are confident that they will sort it out. At the last formal night we had a picture taken with the new captain and I will post that sometime but we also had two close ups taken at the table and I have posted these today as I think that Hilary’s is the best picture I have ever seen of her. She looks really happy and is wearing the new silver and turquoise necklace that we bought in Acapulco, see if you agree with me. Just for contrast I have included the one taken of me, it is much the same as the previous one but I do have my new bow tie on.

We went to the tour lecture about Hong Kong and have seen a couple of places that we would like to take Jess to assuming that she can get away, apparently one of the best shopping streets is called Nathan Road (or Street), how can you resist that. We were advised over and over again to be very wary of pickpockets as they are abundant in the crowded streets, particularly near Stanley Market. Hong Kong by night looks especially good and it seems that we will be berthed in Ocean Terminal which is right in the centre of the mainland.

Then came the slow part of the day when we returned to the cabin so that Hilary could type up the words for the next part of the scrapbook which will take us from San Francisco to Sydney. While she was doing that I managed at the second attempt to complete today’s Sudoku, watch 9/10ths of a movie and a part of the BBC series New Tricks. We did stop for lunch but once again we either missed the lunch sandwiches or they didn’t have them today as they had an outdoor barbecue on Deck 12. Then it was time for our second talk of the day and this one was the second by the ex-detective inspector from Birmingham, his first lecture had been pretty well attended but today word had got around how funny he is and the cinema where the lecture was held was totally packed out and he even had all the aisles full of seated people. The fire regulation people would never have allowed it if they had seen how many people were in the room. This guy does not work from notes, he refuses to use a wireless microphone and prefers the old fashioned one with a trailing wire that he flaps around as he goes and is the best speaker that we have had on this cruise. I only hope that we can get in to see all seven of his talks. They are notionally about how to get the information that you need from a suspect so that you can charge him with a crime but he relates a lot of it to real day inquiries such as a husband who is having an affair arriving home late at night and the best technique for his wife to employ so that she can get the truth. Hilarious, every minute of it.

By now it was 3.15pm and my tummy was rumbling so we headed upstairs for a sandwich – well the plan was for a sandwich and Hilary stuck to that – but as usual I could not stop at one, so I had two and then a small piece of fruitcake and a mini chocolate ├ęclair. As the guy on the table next to us said, “I am a light eater. Whenever it gets light I eat.” Just about sums me up, but so far I am still able to get into my dinner suit which is the yardstick as far as I am concerned and I will need it again tonight as it is a Black and White evening. As we have not been able to do the washing for some time Hilary was able to use the “I’ve got nothing to wear that is clean” strategy to go out and buy a black top which she has decorated with a corsage made from one of our Hawaiian leis. It was not expensive and looks really nice and I will be proud to have her on my arm for then afterwards we will go to the Theatre Royal to see the Headliners, our favourite entertainment group.
It turned out that one of the best parts of the day was not anything that we did but where we happened to be. If you look at an atlas for the route between the northern part of Australia and the islands that make up Papua New Guinea you will see that the last part of our journey takes us through dozens of islands. We first noticed these while munching sandwiches but it wasn’t long before we were out on deck taking pictures but it was WINDY we’re talking Force 4 here and we were heading into it at 20knots. The picture of Hilary on deck is not the most flattering one of her that I have taken but it does show the power of the wind. Enjoy all the pictures and I will pass you over.

Tiz a very much better state of mind I. First of all I want to wish Julian a very happy birthday for tomorrow, have a great one my son. I have been able to find out that each engine has its own cooling system with a few cooling systems spare as back up, does that help at all? This is from the engineer cadet officer we met at the latest captain’s cocktail party. Also I want to say to Jeff – great news we will definitely be looking forward to receiving visitors and we hope that you will be able to stay a good long while! Let’s hope that Kelly does not freeze this time! Tonight is black and white night- they did not tell me this until late yesterday and we have not been able to use the washing machines on board for the last week! Where do they think I would find anything white at this stage? So, obviously, I had to go down to the shop and find something that would work with the black skirt or trousers. Nothing white but they did have a black top with shiny thingy on the front – it was the cheapest thing they had and it fits me so I came back to the cabin and hacked away at a white lei and made a white corsage to brighten up the black. Good hey. I feel like I should be going to a funeral in the outfit but then I am not used to wearing black. I can’t believe that Sam is going to use that photo – one more wisp of wind and I would have taken off altogether! I was wearing my skirt somewhere around my shoulders until I trapped it between my knees – it made walking difficult but saved my modesty. Tomorrow we will be in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea but not until midday so I don’t know if we will be able to get off the ship. I would like to go ashore as this is an active volcanic island and it would be quite an experience to actually touch the ground, however, as Hong Kong is the next stop and we hope to see Jess there I don’t mind leaving as soon as possible! Now it is time to get the glad rags on and get ready for the formal dinner – Sam never leaves me much time for my bit of the blog, so will talk again tomorrow, take care, God bless.
Last note before I post this with the photos, we have just come back from the theatre where they did their “We write the songs routine” which includes a fabulous number where they all wear boxing gloves and shorts etc. and they punch out the rhythm in great synchronisation, it is definitely my favourite choreography of all the songs that they do in all the shows too. We are running late not only with the ship getting into Rabaul but also with the Headliners show as well because they had a microphone problem at the start so I will get on and post this but not before I add that I have another character for the Murder on the Oriana mystery. It has to be the new Brummie ex-detective that arrived on the ship in Sydney and is now giving these fantastic talks. Methinks that he will have to be the one who finally solves the murder(s). OK Night night.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Day Forty Two: Yorkeys Knob… tee hee.

OK I know what you are thinking……. Why is there no apostrophe in Yorkeys, right? Well we have it on the very best authority that despite this town being known for a man’s appendage that there never has been an apostrophe in its name. The Knob is not what you dirty minded people are thinking either, (and again we have it on the best authority) that Yorkey was a sugar worker in the days when sugar cane was cut by hand and in an unfortunate accident he lost his………….. forearm! With the result that he had a knob of bone and muscle where his elbow ended and from then on the town was named after this part of his anatomy. See there is a clean explanation for everything if you look hard enough! We certainly drove through his town but I can’t say that we actually noticed it as we sped through due to the fact that we were running late all day.

We were at the Theatre Royal well before our allotted time and got our Tour A1-1 badges that designated which tour we were on and we joined the throngs of other A’s, B’s G’s etc. These groups were called in turn and exited down the stairs onto the tender that was to take us ashore and this is where the confusion started. We had been told that we would be using the Oriana’s lifeboats and there was a couple of them buzzing around but what did we find when we finally got down to the exit deck but a bloody great sea cruiser that was awash with all the tour groups all mixed up together. Along the way we all had to put our bag near a sniffer dog’s nose to check that we weren’t taking any forbidden food such as sweets and biscuits ashore and this was about the only efficient part of the process. You can imagine how long it takes to embark and disembark 8 or 9 coachloads of passengers, we were sitting and waiting on the tender longer than it took to get across the 2 miles of water to the waiting coaches. By the time that Hilary and I got off, and we were among the last, they were pleading with us to hurry up because the train was waiting for us, but of course there was nothing we could do about it. You move at the pace of the slowest and believe me there were a lot of people with walking sticks and wheelchairs that could not be passed. So with that we were constantly being harried all morning, the train ride was great and even though there were 3 of us sharing a bench seat those in our group were fair and even changed around so that we could all take photos out of the train windows. Some of the views along the way were spectacular and we have posted some of them so that you can share them with us but despite being promised a stop at the final railway station so that we could buy postcards we were rushed through and back into a coach so that we could then drive into the rainforest and join our DUKW.

These vehicles are ex WWII, built in 1942 by women and can run on land or water, they have been modified to run on propane so that they are reasonably eco-friendly. We did a nice tour through the rain forest although we didn’t see many animals we did manage to spot a large blue butterfly and later on a tame cockatoo. It was good fun and we had a very confident young lady about Jessica’s age who drove the DUKW and gave a running commentary at the same time. But all the time we were conscious of the fact that they were desperate for us to get back to the coach so that they could whisk us off back to the Oriana, we rushed through the visitors centre, missed out the kangaroos and koalas – at least we had already seen those – couldn’t find any postcards that were relevant to the train ride and we were generally miffed that what could have been a very enjoyable experience turned out to be only a very good one.
Once the coach got us back to the harbour the trip back to the ship was actually very good, we sat outside on the top deck of one of these large cruisers, it had been raining but we found some dry seats, and had a nice pleasant 10 minute trip back where we could have a nice cup of tea and a couple of biscuits. I will leave Hilary to tell you her version of what happened but one last thing before I go….. we went to the cinema last night to see Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in Australia, a very long film but edited for the ship down to 2 3/4 hours. It was a bit predictable but we did learn a lot about how the Australians treated the Aborigines and their children as well as about the Japanese bombing of Darwin in WWII. No doubt the invasion of Rabaul – our next stop – will amplify what actually happened with the Japanese.

Tiz a very pee’d off I. The tour office will hear about the way the tour was handled as soon as they open again. If the tender had taken the tour people ashore on time we could have had a very much better day and been able to take time to enjoy the whole experience. The train ride and the DUKW ride were excellent and enjoyable but the period between was upsetting. Enough of that. It has been another beautiful day in a beautiful setting. We are sailing between countless numbers of small islands all looking lush and very tropical. We were lucky that the rain shower today happened after our ride on the train and the views from the top were spectacular. The temperature each day is reaching close on 90f by mid morning. Sam took some great photographs of the train and rain forest ferns. The train track was built by hand with a work force using picks and shovels and dynamite starting in the mid 1880’s with the grand opening in 1887. The labourers suffered many hardships including landslides and fever. In 1911 some of the track was damaged by two cyclones and it took 800 men and 4 ballast trains 10 weeks to repair the damage. I am thankful that they did because the train makes a great experience for the traveller. The rain forest was amazing, we saw plants which were hundreds of years old and a poisonous plant which causes incredible pain if you touch it. Apparently the pain is similar to shingles and recurs every time the affected skin is made colder, warmer, put in water etc. and this can continue for up to 6 months… one to be avoided if possible. The ferns were huge and the fans were enormous – Australia is full of wonderful and different things to see and do, it is so much more than I ever imagined. The rain has set in now so we will probably stay in the cabin until we sail at 5.00pm. Dinner tonight is smart casual so, thank goodness, I do not have to dress up to the nines! Now I am off to be a very grumpy old woman to the tour office. Take care, God bless.

Apparently she had a really good go at the tours people and feels better for it now, it probably won’t change anything but she got it off her chest. I just might try and write up a procedure for them to show them how to organise their tour operation. We forgot to tell you that our last formal meeting on the Captain’s night produced some good photos and an especially good one of Hilary, I will have a go at re-photographing it and reducing it so that you can see it. Just got back from the movies again and this time it was a nice little romantic film called something like Miss Pettigrew’s Day Out, set in 1939 it was a neat little pastiche of life in the upper class as war approached. That’s it for tonight, I will add the photos and let us know what you think of them. Good night.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Day Forty One: Half way point…

It is amazing to look back and to realise that we are literally half the way round the world from England and also at the half way point of our holiday, it has been one heckuva ride so far and if the second half is anywhere near as good we will be having a great time. Hilary said today, “I can’t believe that we are in Australia, it is nothing like I expected, it is so much more tropical, I expected dry and dusty and instead we have hot, humid and beautiful.” The day started strangely actually, we stopped inside the group of islands known as Whitsunday but we are actually moored just off the coastline of Australia, “The largest island in the Whitsunday group,” as our coach driver wittily said. Our first thought, well mine actually, was to have a good breakfast, ‘just in case’ and we went to the Peninsular where we were directed to a table that had one lady on it and she was keeping the chair next to her for her husband. Now I like to sit opposite Hilary when I can so that I can see her when we are talking, just a fad of mine, and so I asked the lady if she minded if her husband would sit opposite her and there was much confusion and I don’t think that she knew what I was talking about. In the meantime Hilary had sat down and then stood up as I tried to direct traffic and then another couple came along and she sat down opposite the already seated lady and wanted her husband next to her while he sat at the far end of the table away from her. At that she stormed out, never to be seen again and left her husband on his own saying, “She’s gone, when she makes her mind up to go she never comes back,” and he proceeded to sit and have breakfast on his own, not making conversation or eye contact with anyone else on the table. It ended up with the original couple sitting side by side, Hilary and I sitting side by side and the man on his lonesome and all of us feeling awkward. Trust me to cock things up! All I wanted to do was to look at my wife….

Breakfast over we joined the enormously long queue that wound itself around Tiffany’s Restaurant to get our passes for the tender that would take us ashore, we were allocated Tender 5 and waited to be called and it was quite quick, we were on the tender by 9.30am and heading to Airlie Bay. We sat up on the top deck of the tender for the short crossing and it was very pleasant, temperatures in the low 80’s, a nice cool breeze and plenty of opportunity to take snaps as we entered into the harbour. Airlie Bay is tiny, not often visited by cruise ships but it is trying to make a name for itself as a tourist attraction, it mostly appeals to back packers and those who have come to stay on one of the 74 islands that dot the Coral Sea or who want to go out to the Great Barrier Reef. We had an air conditioned coach to take us from the landing point to the Golf Course Car Park and from there we could walk into town and see the beaches and do some shopping. Naturally there were a number of tents set up by locals hawking their goods and souvenirs but we passed them by until we got to one selling opals. We had learned a bit about them at the Opal Museum in Sydney and even bought Hilary a small necklace using what is called the triplet process where a sliver of opal is sandwiched between crystal and a base but we really wanted a true opal and this guy had some beautiful pieces some mounted and some not. He talked to us for about 30 minutes and showed us pieces ranging from $100Aus to $3000Aus and we nodded and smiled and said ‘Thank you, we will come back,’ then we continued down into the street looking for postcards. However the idea of buying a decent opal stayed with us and we talked about as we walked and eventually found ourselves at Airlie Lagoon. Before you wonder why they need a lagoon when they have these magnificent beaches just feet away let me explain. At certain periods of the year, and we are in the middle of one of them, the local beaches become infested with stinging jellyfish and the only safe way to swim in the sea is to wear a wetsuit, so to make sure that their kids and the tourists are safe the townsfolk of Airlie built an artificial lagoon that is stinger free right in the centre of the town. For me it was a welcome change from swimming in the Oriana’s pools which are shallow and small and a lot cooler than the Airlie Lagoon. I spent a good 30 minutes going backwards and forwards while Hilary sat in the shade talking to some Australian immigrants and I am sure that she will tell you all about them.
Swim over and having used their rather grungy changing rooms it was time to grab a bite to eat in another shady place as Hilary was wilting somewhat as the temperature climbed into the high 80’s so we settled for a backpacker’s paradise that offered cheap breakfasts with a free cup of tea right next door to one of their hostels. Grilled cheese sandwich, bowl of chips, cup of tea and an orange juice and we were good to go again, ready to hit the bargain shopping outlets (2 tops for $15Aus – guess who bought 4). Then it was time to go and see the opal man again where after much deliberation Hilary chose a mounted piece that is double sided and will look magnificent when she gets a gold chain for it. One snag, they had no facilities to take credit so muggins had to walk back into town to find an ATM to get cash and then walk back to the stall again. As is turned out it wasn’t too bad, most of the walking was in the shade, there was a little breeze and the only mistake that I made was in not leaving the bag containing my wet swimming things and a quite heavy Patricia Cornwell book which I bought in a second hand book shop, with Hilary. Deal done, we knocked him down $50Aus, and we headed back to the coach stop to reverse the earlier process for getting back on board Oriana and here we are now just after 5.00pm, still at anchor and getting ready to set sail at 6.00pm. The ride back was on a bigger tender and this one had an inside cabin with air conditioning that no one at first seemed to want so we grabbed a couple of seats near a window and stayed in the cool all the way back and we were virtually the last off the tender as we didn’t want to leave the nice cool surroundings. Hilary is now in the shower and as soon as she is out I will jump in myself to get rid of my sunscreen and sweat and while I am doing that she will entertain you with her version of today’s events. Tomorrow we are back in port again for our great adventure at Yorkey’s Knob where we get to ride a train and a DUKW. We will tell you all about it tomorrow night.

Tiz I. Sitting here with wet hair which I cannot dry until I have blogged – only one outlet to use and the computer is plugged into that because Sam almost ran the battery out! Hey ho here we go. The opal is a boulder opal and I know exactly where it was mined in Queensland. The man who sold the opal to us is a cutter of opals and takes them whilst still in the rock. He cuts for several miners so is well aware of the location of origin of each of his opals. He explained how the base rocks were formed back in the days of the dinosaurs and how different they are if they come from a later volcanic region. He was very interesting to talk too and as Sam left me sitting in this guys tent (in the shade) while he went off to find the bank – we talked quite a lot! Great stuff. The day has been very hot and sticky but absolutely super. I never imagined Australia to be so tropical. Live and learn they say! (Sam has just taken a shirt out of the cupboard and it matches my dress – talk about bobsie twins!) While Sam was swimming in the lagoon I sat and talked to a couple from Martin’s home town. They live in Adelaide now and absolutely love living in Australia. They were pensioners when they arrived over here and say it was the best decision they ever made. They live next door to their daughter and share gardens so that they could fit a full size swimming pool into the back yards. They take a cruise every year and many shorter trips too – can’t be bad can it? Well my hair is drying and becoming very Wurzle Gummage so I had better stop and sort it out. Don’t want to frighten the other diners at dinner do I? Take care, God bless.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Day Forty: The dolphins are back…

We have spent the day cruising the waterway between the Queensland coast and the Great Barrier Reef and it has been a day of mixed happenings. Hilary has not really been herself all day, nothing that we can pin it down to but she just feels blah. We had breakfast in the Al Fresco and today Hilary took her soya milk with her so that she could have some Alpen with added fruit, much the same as I had but I usually go heavy on the prunes and the figs. However even then she wasn’t comfortable with it and as soon as breakfast was over we followed the deck around onto the fore peak where you can lean over and watch the sea go by. It wasn’t long before we saw some flying fish and they are often a good pointer that their may be other birds and fish around. Some of the flying fish really travel a long way and they are a bit like skipping stones for they fly out across the water and just touch the top of a wave before they skip off again and they might make five or six skips before they eventually give up and dive into the water. We were just about to give up when Hilary saw something in the water quite a long way out – she does have amazing long sight this girl – and as we got closer we could see that it was a pod of dolphins playing ahead of us, unfortunately it didn’t take long and we were past them and we thought that would be our lot for the day.

As you know by now we couldn’t upload our blog last night, I had had problems the previous night but managed to get it out, but last night even though I sneaked into a deserted CyberStudy wriggling past a sign that distinctly said Closed, I was unable to connect and get the blog out. The CyberStudy is just one floor above Al Fresco so as soon as breakfast was over I climbed the two flights of stairs to make sure that it was operational again and then I nipped back to the cabin to pick up the laptop while Hilary attended the talk on Rabaul, I will let her tell you what that was like but the only two tours that P & O have are concerned with the Japanese occupation in WWII and they are of no interest to either of us.

Last night we decided to give the dancing another go and today’s lesson was the cha cha, a dance that I have never even attempted before. The preliminary lessons weren’t too bad and we both separately mastered the basic step but put together we were a total disaster and we found it much too fast for us. We were rescued in the basic step when Keiko – who usually dances the man’s part as Richard doesn’t dance at all – and a friend of hers came and showed us what we were doing wrong. Then they added some turns and that was it for us, we couldn’t do it fast enough and ended up getting in everyone else’s way so we cut our losses and left it to those with more rhythm and quicker feet than us. We will give it another go but we will probably wait for the waltz or the foxtrot which are more suited to our tempo.

We cut our losses with the dancing and knowing that it was going to be hot (81F with light airs) we worked our way down to the shady side of the Promenade Deck and grabbed a couple of sun loungers where we succeeded with the crossword (apart from one clue) and I failed miserably with the Sudoku TWICE! While I was doing and failing at the Sudoku Hilary had a tired interval and closed her eyes for the best part of an hour and that is most unusual for her. We both stood by the rail and watched the flying fish and the jellyfish go by but were horrified at the amount of pollution that there is in these waters, sometimes we were ploughing our way through oily murky water, then what looked like soap scum. Considering that the Australian Health and Safety have stopped us using the laundry until after we leave their waters we were most surprised to see what appears to be the result of tankers washing their storage containers in this haphazard way. Incidentally our bath/shower room is festooned with knickers that we have been forced to wash in the sink as we need some before the launderette becomes available again.

After Hilary woke up she was hungry so we went to the Conservatory about 2.15pm for a spot of lunch and it was when looking out of the windows here on Deck 12 that Hilary saw two whales and we both saw two very large dolphin pods, the latter were having a great time leaping in and out of the water and we can only hope that they are unaffected by the stuff in the water. Lunch over we decided on a whim to go and see a talk by an ex-Birmingham Chief Inspector who is to give seven talks about investigation techniques. It all sounded a bit dull but he was very, very funny and related a lot of his techniques to that used by wives when their husbands arrive home late from work. If we get the opportunity we will try and see his other talks. Tonight is formal and we also have to get ready to meet the new captain at 6.00pm so I had better stop and let Hilary add her replies to yesterday’s comments and tell you about Rabaul. She has been on the bed dozing ‘No I haven’t I have been listening to the TV with my eyes closed, I have heard every word!’ Here she is….

Tiz I. As you have probably gathered I have had an exceptionally quiet day with the highlights being seeing the pods of dolphins and the two whales – fantastic. The whales had practically passed by before I realized that a crowd had gathered at the window and being nosey I asked what they were all looking at? Now my faith in the Pacific showing me a whale has come true even if it has made me wait until we were almost through to the end of it! I went to a presentation on Rabaul, Papua New Guinea which is on an active range of volcanoes. The last eruption of note was just a few years ago and the main town has been rebuilt so many times that after the eruption in 1991ish the people gave up rebuilding it altogether. We do not have a trip out on this stop and are unlikely to get one. The people are not geared up to accommodate large cruise ships and to take the tours we will be depriving the local people of their public transport system for the day. There are two volcanoes which are constantly venting steam and smoke so we might be able to see them from the ship. Tomorrow we will be seeing the islands of Whitsunday and again we have not booked a trip but intend to take the tender to shore and investigate the town if it is not too hot – today has been incredibly hot and hard to breathe but then we are in the top part of Queensland so it to be expected! I believe that the general consensus that we should continue with the blog after Sam and I get home is great and I agree with you all – should be fun – but I have many more places to tell you about before I get home. Now to answer the messages. Pat, congratulations on getting that lovely cross stitch out again and almost finished. It is beautiful and well worth finishing. Sharon, I agree with everyone else, why play games that you don’t want too? Good on you gal. Jess, I agree with Nana – what a clever grand-daughter we have! You can be our interpreter in Hong Kong, hope you can make it sweetheart. Take care, God bless.

Last word from me as we have just come from another Headliners concert which was fabulous as always, we have seen this show earlier in the cruise, it is the one about Hollywood stars and the Bob Fosse numbers are exceptional, such energy that these kids have. Tomorrow it is Whitsunday Islands and we don’t have any plans other than to catch the tender ashore – this will be the first time that we have not actually stopped in a harbour – then we will decide what to do and where to go. It promises to be exceptionally hot so we may not stay ashore too long. Night for now.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Day Thirty Nine: Crikey! We went to a zoo…

Well what a day this has been, I woke around 5.45am thinking that it was an hour later (the clocks went back again last night) and worked my way to Deck 12 to watch the ship coming into Brisbane port. It was mild and muggy and I fired off a few photos as we made our way up a very winding river. Hilary planned to have a shower and then decided that she would rather see the arrival and she joined me around 6.30am, we both waited until we went under the main bridge across the river (6ft clearance) and then I went for breakfast while Hilary stayed to watch the ship turn itself through 360 degrees so that we would be facing forward when we leave tonight. I caught a part of that and it was fascinating to watch the crew in action during this manoeuvre which relied on two tugs pushing us round and completely blocking the river. We also discovered how they get the forward lines out and it starts with a man in the bow lowering what looks like a thin rope with a bag of sand on one end and a ball on the other. He lowers this bag until someone out of sight to us but lower in the forward part of the ship obviously grabs it and ties it onto a bigger rope. When the ship is close to the dock this same man throws the ball with the thin rope on it to men standing on the shore. The ball seems sticky as it doesn’t bounce and the men on shore grab this and haul away pulling the thin rope until the big lines with the loops on the end can be placed on a bollard. Pay attention as there will be a test on this procedure at the end of this blog! Whatever they did after that was just to tighten the springs and the lines so that the ship was snug against the dock and they could run out the boarding thingies. ‘Nuff said.

We did the usual Theatre Royal, pick up your sticky badge with tour B1-1 on it, sit and wait until your group is called and then follow the nice man down the stairs, off the ship – not forgetting to have your card swiped as you go so that the machine can recognize you and say ‘Goodbye’ – and onto the coach. It was a nice coach, air conditioned, the driver and the courier spoke English (well ‘Strine’ actually but close enough) and we were on it for just over an hour to get to the Australia Zoo. For those of you who don’t know it this is the zoo made famous by the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin and he poured millions of dollars into it to turn what was once a small family run rescue centre into a world class zoo involved with maintaining wild life in an eco friendly manner. We had roughly 3 hours there and this was time enough to see the kangaroos and wallabies that wander freely around the park and I even got the chance to pet one, well I sort of touched his ear while Hilary took a photo. We spent a long time with the koalas, shy little creatures that like to sleep a lot and stink like crazy, I would not fancy holding one of those although I am told that at certain times of the day this is allowed. Hilary had her photo taken by a zoo lady as she stroked a baby crocodile but when we saw the picture we didn’t consider it worth buying and then it was time for the big show of the morning in the Crocoseum. This is a huge staged arena with seating on 3 sides and you look down on a meandering pool with a concreted area that the host walks on, once upon a time this would have been Steve himself but nowadays it is one or more of the assistants. The show starts with a tribute to Steve and his conservation attempts and proceeds with shows of snakes swimming, birds flying – these were spectacular with brightly coloured parakeets and cockatoos and several other species all colours of the rainbow – just flying freely from one helper to another in search of seed. Then we had the main event which was the introduction of the salt water croc that swam silently up and down the pools jumping out for meat hung in his path and finally leaping several feet out of the water to reach meat hanging from a platform. Great stuff and all on tape – don’t worry you will see it through the eyes of our camera all in good time. With the show over we managed to see the Tasmanian Devil, some fresh water crocs and of course grab a pizza and coffee for lunch before we had to get back on the coach for the ride back.

Hilary needed to get some more scrapbook supplies so instead of getting on the ship we caught the next available free shuttle coach into the city of Brisbane where to be honest we spent no time at all looking at the sights but instead hunted for shops that might sell scrapbooks and refills. We found these in a shop called Big W and we also found some macadamia nuts (grown extensively in these parts we were told) and some curious candies called Jaffas that we were introduced to by our coach courier. These are hard shelled candies with a chocolate centre and although they sound a bit like M & M’s they taste very differently and are actually spherical. As a last minute shop we also went into Woolworth’s, yes they are still in business over here, and bought some orange juice for Hilary and some Ribena for Jess if she is able to see us and if we are allowed to take it ashore in Hong Kong. And with that our daytime was virtually over, all that was left to do was to get back on the bus, through the security procedure, listen to the ‘Welcome’ as our cards are read by the machine and drag our tired bodies back to the cabin. With that I will turn you over to Hilary who I know wants to answer some of the questions on last night’s comments and also tell you her version of today’s activities.

Tiz I. Almost got the day but with a few extra comments. The Australia Zoo is very conscious of conservation and saving injured and endangered animals – Hayles you would love this place. The enclosures are natural, open and not made to make the animals ‘on show’, in fact, in some it is quite difficult to see who lives there. Animal privacy is respected and sometimes you just have wait for the animal to come out into the open. The wallabies live in a huge area (a couple of acres at least) with natural food growing on the river bank etc. They graze most of the time and totally ignore the people who are allowed to wander amongst them – the animals have all the rights and the people have to respect that. It is fantastic. The koala bears sleep in the Eucalyptus trees and the people can walk around the trees on elevated walkways. The koala’s sleep most of the day (approx. 20 hours) and eat the poisonous eucalyptus leaves which take an enormous amount of digesting. We had to wait ages for one koala to rearrange himself in his tree so we could see his face but it was worth it. A lovely way to spend the morning and we have been so lucky with the weather. It rained a bit today but the incredible heat has gone making it much easier for us Brits to cope. Even Sydney was a lovely temperature and, of course, we had the bonus of seeing Brian there! We really like Australia. Now to answer the questions on the blog. For Sharon. The photograph was a complete fake. The bird that appears to be in our hands is a kiwi and they are nocturnal so would not be outside in the sunshine. In fact the kiwi couldn’t be asked to associate with people in the real world. The bird above Sam’s head is a wild bird but was not available when we had the photo taken so they added it later. I was back to front with where Colin and Graham live. It is Graham in Queensland – the sunshine state, and Colin in Melbourne where the fires are! – sorry folks I was tired and the senior moment memory kicked in, so switch around what I said yesterday and you will be good. For Julian, I still don’t know about the engines but I am planning to find out tomorrow! We have found that Woolworths is alive and well in the southern hemisphere and Brisbane has some great discount shops where I found the supplies I needed for the scrapbook – the shuttle bus between the berth and the city was free and extremely comfortable so an easy option to take. I would like to have had more time in both the Australian cities we have visited but the ship always leaves about 5.30 – 6pm so it can be a bit of a rush around to manage a tour and a shop. I have not sent any cards from here as I did not have time to get back to the ship, write the cards and get them into the mailbox before the ship pulled away. The engines have just been fired up so we will be leaving in the next few minutes – a long slow cruise down the river then out to sea and follow the coastline up to Whitsunday Islands, we will be there in 2 days time. Take care everyone, God bless.

Ok this may not go out as it seems we have satellite problems with the internet but I am prepared to give it a go, if not you will be reading this a day later. I won’t attempt to post any photos tonight but we have a bunch of them with pictures of the zoo and I will post them as soon as I can. Good night.

Good morning! The internet was down last night as I feared and some of you will be getting this a few hours late. We are currently cruising in the gap between the Queensland coast and the Great Barrier Reef and already this morning after breakfast we have seen flying fish and one pod of about 7 dolphins. That made Hilary’s day. Will post this now and try again tonight with today’s activities. Enjoy….