Saturday, February 26, 2011

QM2 and extremely expensive pens

Thanks to Robert I have a small, and growing, collection of extremely expensive pens. The pens were actually free. It is just the places that he took them from that were costly. I have pens from two of London’s most prestigious hotels, The Connaught and Claridges, another from one of London’s most elite private clubs, The Tory Party’s Carleton Club, yet another from one of New York’s most historic hotels, the home of the famous (and infamous) New Yorker roundtable, The Algonquian, and my favourite, due to its sleek design, from Virgin Atlantic’s upper class. And now, thanks to our voyage from New York to South Hampton England aboard the QM2 on route to Venice, I have a pen from the Cunard line, with which I originally diarized the notes which have become this blog post.

If you are not aware, the QM2 is an ocean liner (the only one of her kind left, as two of the ships Officers had independently shared over dinner), not to be confused with a cruise liner. The distinction is a matter of which comes first, the ship or the hotel. A cruise liner is a hotel that just happens to have a hull, whereas an ocean liner is a double platted hull that just happens to be shipping a hotel from port to port.
The resulting difference can be summarized as follows. I have been on a cruise liner previously, the Caribbean Princess to be specific (fitting on so many levels). The suite had been large and chock-a-block with amenities including a full four piece bathroom. Comparatively, on the QM2, Robert and I were in one of the more upscale top deck staterooms. While equivalent in creature comforts to a four or five star hotel, it was not nearly as spacious as what I had experienced on the Caribbean Princes and, additionally, the bathroom was missing the tub. On the other hand, to put things in perspective, the QM2 is built to weather an ocean crossing with maelstrom seas of 90 foot waves (roughly nine stories). The Caribbean Princes, well, not so much. I didn’t miss the bathtub. I should design the Cunard brochures. “You want a tub? I’ve got your tub! It’s in your cruise liner Jacuzzi crypt on the muddy seabed of the Atlantic! There’s your tub!”
Being a British liner, the QM2 had few North American electrical sockets outside of the stateroom. Knowing that I was in the process of writing my third manuscript Robert offered to loan me a converter for my laptop so that I could have full range of the ship. Frequently traveling between England, Italy and the United States Robert has an inventory of plug converters in various permutations. On our trip he had wisely brought along one (and only one) which took the relatively delicate and innocuous North American prongs and capped them with the British, “electricity is a damn bit of serious business, and we’ll have no tomfoolery about it”, industrial strength claw-like trident.

However, it was a boomerang loan, and in short order the converter found its way back to him, for he too wanted to use his laptop beyond the confines of our room. Fair enough. It was on my first afternoon of socket scouting which found me, on day 3 at 4:00 pm, in the Golden Lion Pub on the end of a long red- leather banquette beside a tiny bandstand, where the prized North American outlet was discovered. In a Jungian case of bizarre synchronicity (the meaning of which eludes me) it was at that day and time when the QM2 passed over the wreckage of the Titanic. The sea was suddenly the calmest it had been since we had embarked and fog, seemingly from nowhere, had closed around the ship; the kind of silver-gray soup that an iceberg could hide in. Less than an hour earlier people had been sunning on the top decks. Make of it what you will. I personally had made it a double. (As an aside, the QM2 can go from top speed to a full stop in six minutes, during which it will have traveled three thousand meters. Jarring, but awesome, yet with visibility looking to be no more than five hundred meters there was a whole lot of techno-trust going on that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with. )

Whenever possible, the pub became my literary haunt of choice. With six nights at sea, and no ports of call, there is a lot of free-time to people watch should you be so inclined, which I was. And where better to do so than at a pub in the middle of the Atlantic.

As it generally was, the establishment was relatively empty one mid-afternoon when I had once again returned; just enough patrons to keep it interesting, but not enough to be distracting. No sooner had I setup my laptop when a middle-aged man, appearing somewhat worn thin, plopped himself at the table directly beside me. In retrospect I doubt that I was even noticed. With a notable British accent, he ordered a rum and coke in a tall class with a straw and lemon wedge (In hindsight I think he was attempting to camouflage it as purely a soda).

 He had managed a couple of sips before his exasperated wife, with her mother in tow, arrived (both assumptions about the relationships involved are fairly safe bets, I assure you). As the two sat down at the gentleman’s table his spine went a little rigged. His wife sniffed the drink and then looked straight at him as a prelude to her scolding.  She at once asked a question and in no uncertain terms provided the answer. “It’s a little early don’t you think?” People are the best show in town.

Neither here-nor-there I suppose, but to be accurate it was 3:30 in the afternoon. “Since I’ve been married to you there is no such thing,” would have been my answer. But then I’m not the best council in such situations.  

Of related interest, the QM2 has a theatre for live performance which seconds as a non-denominational chapel for private weddings. Conversely, the ship also has a huge expanse of railing from which to sightsee, sections of which could second as a rather secluded place for a witness free divorce.

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