As tempting as it is to devote this column to the forthcoming festivities of the Christmas season, attempt to answer questions such as “what do the department store Santas do for the rest of the year?” and pontificate about what misery 2012 will hold for the profession, I have chosen to share with you some details of a recent trip to New York.
Ready for a break from the routine of the office and wondering how best to spend some time away, a ‘stay-cation’ in dreary autumnal London didn’t seem very attractive an option. An opportunity to rest and recharge ahead of the bleak winter months was, however, a very welcome idea. Maybe some sun to warm my bones and give me the chance of a healthy glow, good food, good company and just a little self-indulgence. What could be better? And so it was that we turned to the holiday websites and to friends for recommendations. Greece didn’t seem like a good idea. Italy maybe? No, maybe not. Then an email arrived offering a seven-night ‘cruise’ to New York City on the Cunard flagship(!) oceanliner the Queen Mary 2. Now, seven nights on a boat didn’t seem an overwhelmingly attractive option initially, having previously only travelled overnight on a school exchange programme from Hull to Rotterdam. Trying to get an idea of the typical survival rate, I was reassured that some of the crew are expected to be under 70 years old and that it was rare for all three berths in the below-deck morgue to be filled at the same time.
My second concern was that there would be little to do. No opportunities to get off the boat, and, without any comprehension of the rules of bridge, I expected to be looking out to sea, longing for something to distract me (icebergs excepted) and ample opportunity to make a tokenistic start on a poetry anthology (or at least get ahead on a few of these columns). In reality, I only made it 12 pages into one of the three books I squeezed into my case. There was an unexpectedly plentiful itinerary of activities, from films and theatre, seminars from academics to bona fide rock stars (Roger McGuinn of The Byrds), fully operational casino (although I’m not sure of the ethics of roulette on a tilting deck), planetarium, spa, RADA drama workshops and – a personal highlight – lunchtime dance classes in the world’s largest floating ballroom. Of course, the 14 bars are open 24 hours too.
I was also promised a never-ending supply of food. And it’s true. Five-star breakfasts, three-course lunches, afternoon tea, canapés and cocktails, five-course dinners and a 24-hour late-night buffet. In fact, the only thing that saved me from a fate worse than obesity was the early onset bulimia induced by the choppy conditions of the first few days. Once the ship was stabilised (not before a rush on seasickness tablets) and cutting through the waves at an alarming rate of knots, it became almost impossible to turn down the platters of food on offer. Some of the travellers were less strong willed than me. It would be discourteous to disclose that they spoke mostly with American accents.
Back in time
The trip was a wonderful step back to a time of silver cutlery, crystal glasses and white-gloved service; a reminder that the world can go on without us (or email and twitter) and that the fastest way from A to B isn’t always the best. The arrival into New York was unforgettable, and, aside from the developing Manhattan skyline, differed little from that experienced by the thousands of immigrants searching for a new life and oversized McDonald’s fries. Despite being one of the youngest there (by choice) there was a great community spirit on board and a sense of shared relief and achievement once the ship docked. This sense of relief is only reinforced when reminded that we passed directly over the rusting shell of the Titanic.
I was still surprised, however, that, in this day of ABSs and personal injury claims hotlines being advertised on TV by former officials of Sun Hill, among the high-end shops on board there was no branch of QualitySolicitors or The Co-op offering a special discount will-writing service. Surely this is an oversight that won’t be overseen for much longer. But following my first experience of life on the ocean (and the increasingly uncertain job market) I’m thinking of registering my interest for the plot next door to the hearing aid concession. Who knows, with a bout of norovirus on board, I too might be able to retire early and all my Christmases might come at once. And, if all that fails, with my new-found dancing skills I can always fall back on a career as a ‘gentleman host’ and spend my time tending to the ladies travelling alone – on the dance floor of course!
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 5 December 2011, and is reproduced by kind permission