Everything about leaving London to go on honeymoon feels like that painting of a Japanese wave. Except we’re one of the people on the boat under it. To be more dramatic, because I can be, I imagine that walking up the gangplank onto the cruise ship I can be a movie star heading to rehab. Liz Taylor in furs and sunglasses. It’s been an excellent summer for weather, punctuated by my graduation success. I just feel like I’ve been swatting things away to just keep time moving along until we can board this damn ship and get the hell away for a while. Bills, deadlines, tendonitis, work, gym, dinner, paperwork, work, family stuff, work.
I spend the entire day before we leave doing laundry, grabbing last minute things, getting a haircut, fighting with Asos over a ridiculously late order. Silly things, but things nonetheless. It starts to pour with rain. I think this is an excellent way to start a honeymoon, getting out of this grey and wet city that’s packed too tightly with tourists and men in suits who elbow you to get a seat on the tube. No matter.
John bursts through the door at 5pm and all the suitcases are packed. I may have had to sit on one of them but by God, we’re packed. I am halfway through watching Psycho 3, make of that what you will. We decide on a train picnic. We push through Victoria Station, with the zombie visitors flailing limbs attached to wheelie suitcases, out of synch with the rhythm of movement in London, dawdling along and blocking entrances. The ticket attendant screams at us, that luggage should go to the left. We just stare at her, what use is arguing? In twenty-four hours we’ll be leaving the land mass she resides on.
The train is full. John was smart enough to book advanced ticket first class, which on Southern at least gets you a seat. We share a carriage with two pleasant German ladies, and eventually three drunk middle-aged men, two of who produce full pint glasses out of plastic bags. Which I will admit I respect out of a sheer concept of balance. They spend twenty minutes talking about the subtle nuances of the beer festival they have just attended. As in, the price of a pint of beer and how the crisps they are eating, most of which end up on their bellies, taste less of cheese and more of ‘halap…jala whatever, I don’t know how to pronounce it, it’s spicy.’ John looks at me, amused, knowing that I am murdering these people with my mind. The older I get, the more I think Hannibal Lecter makes some valid points.
They leave eventually. We have a good hour of a quiet carriage, a miracle. I am reading Don Delillo’s Cosmopolis. I wrap up last-minute errands on my phone, none of which matter, mostly escalatingly pointed emails to Asos. I have decided to switch my phone off for two weeks. I promise to write this blog, and email, for anyone who cares to keep in touch. There’s also absence, and all that, making hearts hopefully fonder.
Southampton is faceless in the dark. A stretch of road outside the train station and a shopping complex of grey warehouses hosting the usual suspects. The hotel is across the road from the station, another triumph for John’s planning, especially in the rain at 11pm. There are reasons I married this man.
The room is cruise ship themed. In the morning, we see our ship in the distance, the Queen Victoria. If Queen Victoria had actually been a cruise ship, she would probably look like ours. Maybe painted in black and with a crown on its head. We also spot the Queen Mary 2. John informs me the Queen Elizabeth is also in the harbour. It will be the first time in years all three ships will be leaving at the same time. I have this sense of leaving in my head. I switch my phone off in the taxi to the ship. It’s like the boot of the car opened up suddenly and out tumbled all the silly little tensions of our life, ready to be run over by a truck. No longer my problem. At least for two weeks. I have needed this.
Getting on board is such a smooth experience, like waking up from a dream. I am already liking this. We never thought we would enjoy a cruise ship, and when we considered it as a honeymoon, we looked carefully for something that gave us freedom to roam, non-traditional destinations, and a lack of children on board. I expected to sit in a waiting room crammed with suitcases and grumpy people for a couple of hours. Not so. We leave our bags as soon as we get out of the taxi, and they disappear into a conveyor belt. We check in immediately with a pleasant woman who asks us to fill out a health card, takes our picture, and presents us with a boarding card. We walk through security where there is no need to do a thing with liquids or shoes. We walk up the winding, covered gangplank and I don’t feel like Liz Taylor heading for detox, I feel like the Pevensie children boarding the Dawn Treader.
We are inside, and the world shifts. A glittering lobby with a domed glass ceiling. A string quartet playing on a mezzanine. Fresh flowers on walnut tables. Guests putting jigsaws together, drinking coffee quietly, reading books. I spot the library, spread out over two floors. A dark-panelled traditional English pub. A maze of staterooms. Attendants following luxurious guests into expensive suites. Everything is calm on the way to our room.
Our room is adorned in something akin to Versace. All palazzo golds and blues with photos of columns and all sorts of lights. A bottle of champagne chills on the coffee table next to a sofa. The balcony overlooking the water is the size of our bathroom back home. Our housekeeper knocks on the door to introduce himself.
Invisible hands carry me along, half-awake to this other life, this temporary hold where I am not checking my phone every ten minutes and I have suspended all my duties, stresses and administrations to the ether. We are dressed in suits, heading for a three-course dinner where every whim is attended to by about four different waiters. The ship sets sail to meet the other two cruise liners as the sun begins to drop. We head to the upper deck to watch the Red Arrows fly past the now cloudless evening sky, spouting red, blue and white smoke in impossible formations. We sail past Portsmouth, and go downstairs to watch the introductory show at the fully-sized theatre. We return to our room to find it turned down, a programme of events for the day after and chocolates on the bed. I hesitate to fall asleep, lest I wake up to laundry and Psycho 3.