The International Writers Magazine: A Dimplomats Diary
Diaries Part V - Gone Cruising
James Skinner is The Honary Consul
about pimps and prostitutes, this is not about any sordid sexual
experiences. Im talking about good old fashion ocean cruising.
You know, the ones described in all the holiday brochures down
in your local travel office.
The ones that show
superb pictures of luxurious liners and exotic destinations interleaved
with photographs of happy couples popping champagne over lobster dinners
just before arriving at yet another exuberant port of call. Hop on one
of these ocean liners when your over sixty and believe me you end up
exhausted and ready for a week long rest in an old peoples home.
This is what I call Gone cruising. I should know. Ive
I remember my 25th wedding anniversary when my wife and I sailed around
the Caribbean on a Carnival Cruise ship liner. Our dinner companions
were a retired couple of storekeepers from Missouri. The others were
a mother and son who were ex postal workers from the United States Postal
service, over a hundred years service between them. They were
all older than us yet kept up the daily pace of activities indulging
in the extravaganzas of island hopping spiced with midday booze and
food followed by evening dancing and general frolicking about! In fact,
now that I recall, I also travelled much later on another cruise in
the Mediterranean which I documented in a series written for Hacks about
three years ago! Only that time round, we were the oldies chasing the
youngsters from Mikonos to Crete with the odd Istanbul thrown in for
extras. Alas, bygone days! But wait, whats this got to do with
Diplomatic Diaries? Ill tell you!
There is one sordid angle related to the pleasures of taking a holiday
at sea away from your local pub and that is the sickness problem. What
happens if you suddenly come down with an itchy rash or fall down and
break your leg because youre caught in a force five gale and miles
away from land? Even worse, you may suffer a stroke or a heart attack
and curse like hell because you didnt refuse that last tot of
brandy after midnight the day before. Well one thing is for sure. Provided
you survive, the next few days or even weeks turn into yet another adventure
but this time round its no fun. Welcome to my consular patch!
Over 100 cruise ships visit both Vigo and Coruña every year bringing
with them around 100,000 passengers. During the British school holiday
time, July and August, most travellers are middle aged with hundreds
of kids. When spring or fall comes round, the average age and hypertension
rises and my fellow compatriots can be seen wandering around the city
in their shorts and Mexican sombreros when the temperature is just above
freezing! Welcome to sunny Spain said the brochure. Liars! And then
it happens. I get a call from the local shipping agent. Sorry,
James, weve just taken Mrs. Smith to the hospital. Shes
had a mild stroke. She is accompanied by her husband. I put the
phone down and enter the case in the consular log. All routine so far,
that is until I make the first call to visit my fellow compatriots.
Any British citizen taken ill abroad is considered as a Stress
Case. Quite rightly so! Nobody in their right mind wants to be
taken to a foreign hospital, stripped naked, subjected to all sorts
of medical tests, tucked into an orthopaedic bed and finally connected
to a concoction of tubes pumping liquid furiously, all the time being
spoken to in gibberish by a multitude of humans dressed in white or
green nightgowns. It can become a real nightmare. The healthy one, usually
the accompanying spouse is equally fraught. But not to worry, your consular
White Knight comes rushing to their side carrying his ID card and a
three day old copy of the Daily Mirror. With a hello,
how are you? Im the Honorary British Consul. Feeling better? What
can I do for you? the terror is immediately contained. It all
sounds corny but its the normal routine that breaks down the ice
and comforts the stricken Brit suddenly left to the mercy of the Spanish
health system. Enter the complaints!
Most, as I mentioned earlier are to do with the language problem. Here
we are, all brothers in arms and boasting to the outside world that
Europe is the best thing since sliced bread, yet travel a few miles
across a boarder and you just cannot communicate with your neighbour.
No matter how hard I shout at her, the nurse doesnt seem
to understand that I must have cold milk with my tea! Or how about,
I asked for fish and this is what they brought me! Where are the
chips? Its awful! I looked at the uneaten specimen on the
plate. It was a deliciously grilled small Dover sole. Trouble was that
it was in its original state, head, skin and bones and not even cooked
in horrible batter. I even had one passenger who demanded bacon
and eggs for breakfast.
Then you have the boredom and frustration.
Isnt there a British community or society that visits the
ill or elderly? asked one patient. Im sorry but the
Brits on my patch are scattered all over the country and dont
even speak to each other, I answered. Im it!
Or how about, the doctor says that I am OK and can leave but nothing
happens! Madam, your insurance company has not yet come
through with the travel arrangements and unfortunately its the
weekend and nothing will happen until Monday. Best of all was
the case that came through from one of my colleagues in the Foreign
Office. Ive had a call from an MP saying that a British
lady is being held prisoner in a hospital in Spain. Made it sound like
Colditz Castle! The patient in question had just been brought
ashore, suffering from a severe heart attack, was drugged to her eyeballs,
yet had that small ounce of energy to call her daughter on her mobile
to tell her a cock and bull story about one of the best hospitals in
Spain. Again, the poor woman had no idea what had happened to her despite
the doctors doing everything they could to save her life.
There are brighter sides to these hospital visits. I visited one elderly
passenger who had been a Lieutenant in the Navy during WWII. He had
been on the Atlantic convoy run for just over three years. I could just
picture him alongside Jack Hawkins and Donald Sinden in the Cruel
Sea as I spent hours listening to his experiences. Then there
was the mother who was interned with a slight respiratory problem and
was travelling with her son. The latter was more interested in the Vigo
nightlife than his mums condition. He couldnt wait to hit
the trail. Or finally the CEO of a large corporation who was most upset
because her mobile had run out of juice and she had left the charger
on board. She couldnt organise a forthcoming international conference
for her firm. Yes, Ive had them all!
By and large most of them survive to tell the tale. The real sad bit
to this sector of consular work is when the odd one passes away. The
body is immediately repatriated back to the UK. No problem here. Its
dealing with the next of kin. Only once have I had to pass on the sad
news to the spouse whilst she was waiting in the hospital aisle for
news of her loved one. They had been celebrating their fiftieth wedding
anniversary on the ship the night before his heart attack. This was
the case that left me with the greatest sadness after one of the many
visits I have made to the local hospital.
The cruise ship and its inhabitants are oblivious to these traumas that
are left behind. They just sail away into the sunset, seeking their
next destination and ongoing hoopla.
© James Skinner. February 2005.
James Skinner - Diplomatic Diaries Pt 3
James Skinner in Vigo
James Skinner on ID theft
Deakling with big crowds of English
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