Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Graham Reid: Unfortunate in many ways

She was what my mother would have charitably described as unfortunate. I saw her first on the promenade deck as the ship slipped its lines and slowly headed for the open sea.

She was standing alone, but even in a crowd she would have been hard to miss: overweight, in her 30s at a guess, her dark hair pulled tight at the temples and hanging in a long and unruly ponytail, thick glasses, a sour expression on her round face ...

I thought of my mother's likely description - then thought no more of her.

Some 1200 of us happy travellers plus 600 crew were on a 10-day cruise to Vanuatu and New Caledonia aboard Pacific Sky, a ship I once knew as the Fairsky but is now refitted to traipse lazily around the Pacific offering an affordable holiday-cum-escape.

The passengers on this cruise may have been typical: the aged, the infirm and the chronically obese who would find air travel uncomfortable, if not impossible.

But there was also, to my surprise, a large number of young people who partied on the deck until well after the rest of us had made for our cabins, worn out by sleeping in the sun, swimming, eating and reading.

The mood afloat was relaxed and friendly. By day, games and competitions were held on the deck, and every night entertainment came from the band, the DJ or the energetic dance company in the stateroom. There were talent quests and karaoke, a 24-hour pizza parlour and a cinema.

At meals in the two dining rooms - the Savoy and the Regency - or at the Outback Grill on the deck you would find yourself seated next to former strangers and would inevitably chat.

I chatted with lively and good-humoured senior citizens from Otaki and Dunedin, Oamaru and Christchurch, and young people from the North Shore and Melbourne.

And as you lolled by one of the two pools, lay around on the expansive deck under a clear canopy of blue, or sat in one of the many bars, you would also chat with fellow travellers.

Late one afternoon with Auckland hundreds of kilometres and a couple of carefree, sun-tanned days behind us, I went to check my emails in the internet centre by the library.

I had a little trouble logging on and a typically helpful crew member rebooted the terminal. Behind me a woman began to complain that she couldn't get on to the website she wanted, so the young man moved on to help her.

He couldn't figure out the problem so asked if she would try another terminal. She did but again couldn't get on to the site she wanted.

He was apologetic but she was becoming increasingly annoyed. He tried again and failed, her frustration turned to anger and the small room filled with palpable tension.

He politely asked whether this website had download potential because the company didn't allow for access to such sites.

No, said the woman with a bark. And then she demanded to know why the company didn't warn people of this before they bought their access code number.

The man remained polite, but the woman turned nasty and whining.

When she explained the nature of the site she was trying to log on to he had the unhappy task of telling her the company didn't allow for access to such sites either.

Away she went: passengers deserved better and should be told this; she had wasted her time and money; she was being made to feel it was her fault because the company probably wouldn't give her a refund ...

I, like the others in the room, turned to see who was making the fuss.

And I suspect we all shared a single thought. Why, when you are on a boat of 1200 people with get-together nights and a friendly camaraderie where people ate, talked and danced with previous strangers, would you want to get into a chat room?

Do what everyone else does on board. Just chat.

She was even more unfortunate than I first thought.


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