Between inductions, I managed to spend some time transforming the cabin. The dreary blue curtains that hung from the bunks were replaced with sarongs and scarves. Photographs of family and friends were also stuck to the walls. A print out of the ship's itinerary is attached to the space above the writing desk where Vanessa's things are piled high.
Each Saturday night that was normally spent with Iona out on the town is now a "new cruise", and a new cruise number. This is number (G201) and is my first official cruise. A CD is now a Cruise director, the lobby the atrium, the stern the front of the ship and the bow the back, my room is my cabin; a JAP is a Junior assistant purser, a masseuse a body basher and a hairdresser a hairy. Deck seven starboard is where my life raft is located should the ship sink, a little r sign circled next to a drinks order means on the rocks. A DOD is a drink of the day, a slice is to have sex, Crew rounds is a crew inspection, In port manning means staying on the ship to save the lives of others in the event of an emergency while in dock, a laminax is your ships i.d. The DP is the deputy purser, a wall is a bulkhead and sick is something you should never be. The list is endless, but nontheless necessary for me to know.
The ships itinerary tells me that in just over two months time we would be heading down to the Caribbean. My all-important personal CD player is placed on the small narrow shelf behind my pillow with my CD case open at Kenny G. I can’t sleep without plugging the earphones in my ears to get rid of all the banging noises of the ship. The ship's motion although comforting is rather hard to get used to. The noises constantly interrupt my dreams. Some times I am grateful for this, like this morning for example. I was having this really intense dream. I was dancing around the floor with a mysterious foreign looking Officer. We come to a stop and he turns around to grab two glasses of champagne from a passing stewardess (me) and when he turns back to hand me the glass, it’s no longer the handsome Officer but Giles.
Vanessa and I take turns putting the finishing touches to our faces and hair. I look at my reflection in the mirror. Not bad I think to myself as I take a good look at the new me. With a twist and turn to get a look from all angles I decide that I am pleased with the overall effect. Vanessa sits on her bunk pulling on her tan coloured tights while observing me.
“I think you should get a bigger skirt Ginny, says Vanessa, one that doesn’t make you look like your five months pregnant.”
Vanessa stands up and pulls her tights around her waist. What is the point in her telling me this now, as we are about to leave the cabin? I checked myself in the mirror again and cannot for the life of me see the stomach thing. I have always been proud of my flat stomach.
“Thanks Vanessa, I suppose this must be the right time to mention your facial hair then,” I tease while being pleasantly surprised at my quick comeback.
“Oh Fuch,” gobs Vanessa dashing to the mirror.
Vanessa inspects her face and cannot find any stray hairs.
“That’s not funny Ginny, you had me going there though”.
“Well I can’t see any sign of pregnancy either,” I say patting my flat stomach.
“I was just messing, cant you take a fuching joke,” retorts Vanessa.
“So was I Vanessa,” I say but its too late Vanessa is pissed off. She draws hard on her cigarette and goes over to the sink and drops it down the plughole. She brushes her blonde hair back into a ponytail and checks her make up. Without a word she grabs her tray off the chair and slams the cabin door behind her. I feel really bad. I didn’t mean to upset her. I thought that seeing as she was dishing out the jokes she was prepared to get something back, unless she wasn’t joking?
Vanessa has been on edge the last few days. She hasn’t been sleeping very well and she wants to hit the crew bar as soon as possible so she can start to meet other people, namely the good looking Italian from the bus. She has been complaining all week that this is not the job for her.
We have spent every minute in each other’s company since we got onboard and have learnt quite a lot about each other. Vanessa hates to sleep with any light on, I hate when she puts her cigarettes down the drain of the sink, she hates my organising the cabin around her and I hate her mess, she hates it when she’s not the centre of attention and I hate it when I am. But considering everything we still manage to laugh about things that have happened like when our neighbours forget to unlock our bathroom door when they’d finished so we end up having to pee in the sink. As long as the joke was not directly about Vanessa, we were having a good time. In less than a week I have shared things with Vanessa that I could never share with anyone except for Iona and peeing in the sink was just the beginning.
Tonight is the official start to the new job. We have all been reminded that we are the lucky ones. Not every one gets the chance for training we have been told several times. All the old and new bar staff are serving drinks at the Captain's Cocktail party for returning passengers. We are told to wear our white gloves.
"Move around with the trays as you were trained to do," instructed Andrew the Bar manager during training. The last few days have been filled with induction after induction and walking the full length of the crew bar with a drinks tray. The tray would start with one drink then two until finally the tray was overflowing. It was more difficult than it looked.
"Make sure that everyone has a glass before the speeches start, Captain Carluccio hates being interrupted," instructed Andrew while standing to the side of the crew bar and grabbing drinks off our trays without any warning. After a lot of spills we just about got the hang of it.
"These people will be grabbing drinks from your tray,” says Andrew circling around us with hands tied firmly behind his back.
“It will disrupt the balance of your tray and you are at risk of loosing the whole thing, don’t let that happen. Further more, he adds stopping in mid stride, do not let me catch any of you slouching, sitting, chatting, smoking, or being anywhere you are not supposed to be. Passenger areas are exactly that, you are here to work not to sneak in on a show when the lights go down, not to sit down in passenger areas even if a passenger asks you to and don’t even think about sneaking up on deck to use the Jacuzzi. I know all the tricks boys and girls because I have been there. The passengers are strictly off limits,” he says looking first at Greg and then at Trevor. “Whatever you get up to I will know about it, he says looking at us one by one, and then so will you," he finishes with a long sniff as if to smell the fear he has expelled in us.
Feeling like a naughty schoolgirl who has just been caught kissing behind the bike shed I almost feel guilty. So there you have it. No swimming on deck eleven, no Jacuzzi on deck ten, no moonlit walks with the man of my dreams. What are the options? There are none. The crew bar and that is it. Ah yes, there is a crew laundry and a crew gym made up of three pieces of equipment. By the time I finish work the last place I will want to be is the gym.
It has been decided that Vanessa is going to work in the Show Lounge, Greg in the Dolphin Disco and Allison and Trevor are working together in the Casino. I am now working in the Ocean Breeze cocktail lounge under bartender Jo, who just happens to be the Andrews girlfriend.
I leave the cabin and make my way up the now familiar stairwell and out of the crew area onto the M1 without taking a wrong turn. The crew lift is full of waiters in black formal uniforms. As I approach a few of them start to whistle and cheer. I look up just as one of them blows me a kiss and shouts out in a thick accent that he’s falling in love. Another one thrusts his hips in my direction before the doors slide shut and the waiters are transported to deck number seven and the passenger restaurant.
I feel slightly cheered. I look around to see if anyone had noticed but the M1 is strangely dead. With my gloves in one hand and my drinks tray tucked under my arm I make my way up to deck four. There are umpteen hidden crew stairways and pantries behind the grandiose cosmetics laid on for the passenger eye. We can go from any part of the ship to another without coming into contact with one single passenger. Extraordinarily enough I feel almost happy today. Perhaps happy is not the right word. Happy is having the comfort of my own home, Iona, my car, conversation, and my old life.
So far I have been on this ship for nearly a week and have not yet set foot on land. There have been many surprises and negative points to this week already but today I felt different. Today is a better day. Perhaps it’s the crisp uniform, my hair pulled neatly back and the two tools of the trade in hand, my tray and my white gloves. A surgeon with his scalpel, a hunter with his gun, a writer and his pen, or perhaps I have just found out who I am on this ship. Without this uniform I am no one. No one knew me, Ginny, from land. Here I have to be someone else. I have nothing in common with any of these people because no one is remotely interested in what you did or who were before stepping foot on this ship. That is why no one has anything in common because life on land is rarely discussed.
Everyone is comfortable and less nervous seeing you pigeon holed in a uniform so they can know who you are on the ship and in relation to them. I never dreamed of being a stewardess, I dreamed of working on a cruise ship, that’s the difference. This is certainly a far cry from being Team Leader and in charge of my own accounts and people. Budgeting, staff performance reports and my team building speeches seemed like a distant memory. Today is a big day for all of us. I only wish that I hadn’t upset Vanessa earlier.
The purser’s desk is the heart of the ship. It is the main link and communication between all the departments. As I approach the desk I notice there are three people standing behind the desk having a chat before the cocktail party begins when they will face yet another round of strange and peculiar questions. Each is dressed immaculately in whiter than white shirts, black skirts or trousers and a jacket with gold stripes on the shoulders.
Debra is counting out some money behind the counter in front of her. Debra and I met during yet another induction. People came in from other departments on the ship to explain their role on board and Debra had represented the Purser’s Office. She had entertainingly told us about her job. She told us about the passengers and the strange and sometimes stupid things they do and ask.
Debra was probably the warmest person I have met so far. She is funny and real. Her large breasts and broad back look out of proportion to her slim legs and arms. She has chestnut coloured hair that is cut into a shoulder length bob around an attractive face.
"Hi Debra," I say stopping right in front of her.
"Hi Ginny, wow you look great,” she says getting up and looking over the reception desk at me. “Your first captains party tonight eh?”
"Yeh,” I reply looking around the empty Atrium. “I’m a little bit nervous," I say not realising up until that moment that I was, very nervous. I stick my finger behind my bow to let some air in.
"I couldn’t do your job,” said Debra. “There is not way I could do it. Big time full of himself the old Capitano,” she confides looking up onto the balcony where the captain and the other senior officers are gathered. All the Italians are the same," she said while pressing a button on the telephone and taking a call.
"Good Evening the Purser office, she answers brightly into her slim headset, this is Debra speaking, how may I help you?"
"The midnight buffet madam, repeats Debra while rolling her eyes. Yes it is at “midnight”’ she says still smiling but her voice is borderline exasperated.
“God they haven’t even had dinner yet and they’re worrying about their next meal.” Just as she finishes the call a passenger in a gold coloured shell suit and white sun visor comes up to the desk.
"Where do I get some stamps?” drawls her lady. Her lips are dramatically painted in a bright red that bled into the crevasses around her lips.
"Right here Mam," replies Debra brightly and throwing me a sly sideways grin.
"And where’s that," shouts the woman back as if they are speaking two different languages.
"Right here madam," says Debra blinking and opening her eyes widely at the passenger but still smiling.
"Okay, okay replies the passenger irritably, gimmi twelve for the US," she demands and slaps her ships I.D card on the desk.
"Hey, do I have to lick these myself?” demands the lady as she picks up the stamps and inspects them. The passenger looks confused and quite anxious that she might actually have to lick her own stamps. .
"Why no Mam," replies Debra sitting back in her chair. Slowly bit-by-bit she starts to slide her tongue out of her mouth until it can stretch no further.
The lady looks confused for a second until Debra points at her tongue and indicates with her finger for the lady to use her tongue to wet her stamps. Staring at Debra and then at me like we are stark raving mad, she grabs her I.D, dances in a circle like a puppet on a string to get her bearings before stomping off to the front of the ship.
I stare at Debra as she puts her tongue away and shuffles some papers in front of her as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
"Well, I was just trying to be helpful,” she explains looking up innocently. Anyway she can hardly complain that I was being unhelpful, can she?"
"Debra that is bad, I say laughing, you cant do that.”
Just then the Lady appears again but this time is going in the other direction looking very lost. Debra and I just look at each other.
"You’ve got to come to the crew bar for a drink tonight, " she had said enthusiastically. “I’ve got my eye on a little Romanian Waiter. He’s really cute. If you want I can get you fixed up too, not that you’ll need any help”.
Debra picks up a bundle of the long cardboard ship plans and bends them over the top of her nose to shut so she can speak in complete privacy.
“ I heard them talking about you last night in the Crew bar, she said through the paper archway. Her eyes are dancing about in excitement.
“And, she says moving closer across to the reception desk, a couple of the bridge officers were talking about the hot new redhead in bars.”
She sat back and flattened the plans back into shape and smiled, pleased with her piece of news. Just then an Officer comes around from the back office. I’m just thinking what a nice looking man he is when he stops and stares at me with an expression that quite clearly says ‘Move.’ He stands there until Debra looks over her shoulder to see what I’m looking at.
"Yes it starts at five fifteen, she shouts turning swiftly back. “You'd better go, see you down in the crew bar about elevenish," she whispers and places two fingers on her shoulder to indicate the stripes on the man’s uniform. "Senior officer," she mouths.
Having taken the hint but not understanding what the big deal is, I collect my tray and set of on my first bar Stewardess Assignment. People are a huge bit anal around here I think to myself.
This is the first seating cocktail party, which means that these passengers will then go on to have first seating dinner. Later there will be another party for the second seating passengers. Andrew had explained to us that the dining room was only big enough to accommodate six hundred and fifty passengers at a time so that is why they split dining times.
On my work schedule for this week it has the name of everyone working in the Ocean Breeze where I will be working for the next six months and I got my first glance at just how many hours I will be working. After tonight I will be working twelve hours a day, every day and every week. Andrew had told us that time off is not to be expected but your bartenders will work the schedule so everyone will get a few hours off in port each cruise.
“Hi Jo, I breeze in, can I help with anything?” I ask smiling confidently. I really wanted Jo to see that I am both capable and willing and if she’s my boss for the next six months then I really want her to like me. I don’t foresee this as a problem as I’ve never had problems making friends in the past.
Jo looks up at and smiles, "I wouldn’t want to interrupt your cruise, eh Ginny, is it?” she says looking over at the purser’s desk where I had just been speaking to Debra. “If it wouldn’t disturb you too much perhaps you wouldn't mind garnishing those punches,” she sneered, indicating to the trays of pre prepared cocktails.
"What do I put on them?” I ask her. My nerves are on edge. I don’t understand why she was being like this. What on earth did she care if I had been speaking to Debra or not? I wasn’t late for work and I am trying to be helpful.
"Oh for God’s sake," says Jo leaning over uncomfortably and dipping her fingers into the Garnish tray.
Her bright blue bolero jacket is pulling tightly around the tops of her chunky arms causing the sleeves to sneak up. She is wearing a non-regulation black skirt that is stretched across her triplet bearing hips and almost short enough to see, what I would expect to be, a neglected bikini line, god help us. No one mentions the skirt, perks of being bar manager’s girlfriend as well as a double cabin with porthole acne Paul mumbled in my ear, somehow reading my thoughts.
"Here," she says impatiently and expertly sticks a cocktail stick through an orange slice securing a cherry in the middle and placing it over the top of a tall slim glass full of rainbow coloured liquid, now get on with it.” she snapped.
I pull on the plastic gloves and garnish for my life. I sneak a look up to see if Vanessa is around, I haven’t seen Vanessa since the episode in the cabin earlier. I desperately wanted to see one familiar face from our group. Just then another group of stewards arrive, the boys are all wearing blue formal jackets with black cummerbunds and bow ties. Paul has taken over telling Jo that he will help organise the junior stewards as she has much more important things to be doing. There must be about fifteen to twenty stewards all of whom are gathered around the gun port. Some smile and say hello while others just look stressed. Finally the new stewards arrive.
Trevor is instructed by Cruz to fill in some beakers with napkins and wooden cocktail stirrers. Greg has forgotten his white gloves and is shouted at to go and get them; he walks off half the man he had just appeared as. Passengers are slowly starting to arrive at the party and the same string quartet from my first day strike up in the Atrium. As the music starts to play the stewards fill their trays and glide out to greet the passengers.
Like a well-rehearsed play, photographers appear with cameras in hand to take formal photographs on the Atrium Steps. The social Hostess swans around with the Capitano making introductions. I load up my tray and get to work. It is difficult to move as the crowd begins to thicken and the champagne is splashing over my tray and new white gloves. Someone stops me and asks for a Martini straight up with a twist. I know I don’t have it on my tray so wade my way back through the thickening to the Gun port. Left, sideways, up and under these people who seems to be much larger than your normal person. Diamantes and Rhinestones were out in force. There was a couple in their wedding attire amongst the crowd, I momentarily feel sorry for the bride who obviously doesn’t have a best friend like I do who would tell her without any hesitation to get rid of the cowboy hat, Yuk some people.
I surface at the other side sweating and my arm is soaked. Jo bellows at me to get back out there.
“Don’t come back with any drinks on that tray next time, clear,” she yells before whipping round to face the bulkhead and quickly necking one of the drinks before turning back and dabbing the side of her mouth with a napkin as if nothing happened.
"Someone wants a Gin Martini with a twist,” I say breathing heavily.
"Don’t give them a choice,” she snaps grabbing a glass and making the drink anyway. I have no idea who ordered the drink but I had no need to worry, the gin martini was grabbed and necked by some large stetson baring red faced gunslinger. Its carnage, free drinks are a bad idea. All the money in this room did not equate to class, it was every man woman for themselves. I go back to Jo, this time with a tray full of empty glasses and sucked pieces of fruit and replensish my tray. I know my hair is sticking to my forehead and I look rattled but I am focussed on the job ahead.
A mans voice takes over the airwaves and addresses the passengers from the top of the grand stairway. He thanks everyone for joining the party and for yet again choosing Galaxy Cruise Ships. There is a round of applause as the man, who I’m told by Acne Paul is the Cruise Director, introduces the Chief Purser in charge of the hotel operation on the ship and who would like to add a few words. Another round of applause as the Chief Purser comes to the microphone. We are told to stand to the side while the speeches are on. My arm is aching and my feet are sending pains shooting up my legs.
I took the moment to stand and relax although my body couldn’t allow it. Images of the full tray of drinks crashing to the floor while the captain made his speech sent an electrical volt through my body. My mouth became dry as I concentrated on holding the weight of the tray on my aching arm that was beginning to twitch under the strain. I looked to the passengers for a distraction. They were a bizarre mixture of class and classless, all very different indeed.
There are lots of empty mobility scooters parked off to the side of the atrium. Tonight was formal night and the passengers had put on their best clothes. Some of the ladies wore simple elegant evening dresses while others wore full sized marquees and every stone in their jewellery box. The men were more low-key; some wore fantastic looking tuxedos while others wore a jacket and trousers. The average age was about sixty five. Just then a voice floats through the atrium and distracts me from the interesting crowd and brings me back to the pain shooting through my arm.
More words of welcome and gratitude are shared. I was watching the others whom were waiting in line to make their speeches when I recognised someone. Standing at the top of the elegant staircase beside the captain is a lovely looking woman in a beautiful velvet evening gown. She looked quite familiar but I just couldn’t put my finger on where I had seen her. I moved over to where Paul was standing. Seeing as there doesn't seem to be much he doesn’t know, I ask him who she is. I also sense that Paul is fairly proud of his ability to tell you everything and anything about anyone on the ship proving himself to be completely untrustworthy.
"Capitano's wife Juliet, he says. She was a shop manager on ships for years before they met. He divorced his wife and got married to her shortly afterwards.”
The final speech was being made. Jo instructs us to get our trays ready on cue. She must have done this a hundred times, as the timing is perfect. We load our trays as the Captain is congratulating Mrs Sherri Cohen for having spent the most days at sea with Galaxy cruises.
"Nearly more than the Captain himself," adds that Cruise Director and laughs lamely at his own joke. ‘306 days in Total" he goes on and invites her to receive a gift and to join the Captain for a photographic moment on the stairs.
Once again we are out and about. Drinks are spilling and passengers rudely grab at our trays without so much as a thank you. One of the ships photographers stops me and steels a drink off the tray. He looks around to make sure that no one can see him and downs a Manhattan in one. He puts the glass back on the tray, winks and turns away just in time to stop a young girl and her mother for a photograph. I recognise him as the lumberjack man from my first day onboard.
Bing Bing Bing Bong starts the shipboard announcement system.
“Gooda Evening ladees and Gentlemen” says the voice. Capatan's Dinner for first seating passengers is nowa being serv-ed in the palace court dining room on promenade deck number seven. Gooda evening and Bon Appetito”.
The passengers slowly make their way out of the Atrium to dinner. Passengers walk back over to where they have parked their scooters and drive off towards the dining room getting a head start on the others.
"You silly little idiot," an elderly women is shouting behind me. I turn round and see that a passenger is being mopped up and Allison is standing in shock. The passengers blue shimmering evening dress is hung out over two extremely large breasts and falls in a straight line to the floor. There is a wet patch on her left breast.
"It wasn’t my fault Andrew,” stammers Allison confused and flushed.
Andrew had appeared from nowhere and took charge of the situation. Room stewards are contacted to collect the ladies clothes from her cabin that the ship will have dry-cleaned. The Maitre D will be notified of the delay while she gets changed. The purser's office calls accommodation to arrange flowers and champagne and the Senior Assistant Purser in charge of the front desk credits $50.00 USD to the lady's shipboard accounts.
They are told that Allison is new to the ship and apologies are made. The woman says that she should not be let loose with a tray and that she could sue for incompetence. The elderly lady sits back down and promptly drives off. Why she would need one is beyond me. Only minutes before she was performing a rain dance about the spillage. We are both steered into Andrew office. I don’t know what I have to do with this but follow anyway to offer moral support to Allison who is on the verge of tears.
Andrews’s office is right next to the Gun port. Trevor and Greg are helping to reset the drinks station for the next party. Trevor waves at Allison as we walk past and into the office. Allison is too upset to even notice Trevor. The office is small and stinks of smoke. The Food and Beverage Director is sitting with a cigarette in his mouth and another burning away in the ashtray. He looks up briefly as we walk in and turns back to the card game on his laptop.
Andrew doesn’t shout as we thought he would but tells us firmly that a repeat performance would not be tolerated. I don’t know what I have to do with any of this but stand and listen anyway.
"These kind of passengers are looking for any opportunity to sue us, they don’t come away to enjoy them-fucking-selves like normal people, he says lighting a cigarette, it’s more like a game to them. Luckily we don’t get too many, you just happened to meet the worst kind tonight.”
"I’m sorry, cries Allison, but you don’t understand, I didn’t do anything". She bursts into tears right in the middle of the office. On a roll, she can’t stop herself. I put my arm around her and have to be careful what I’m saying. I cannot console her, as I would like to do by telling her it really isn’t important and not to worry. Andrew ignores us and is doing his best to pretend that there is no one in his office crying.
"What kind of job is this anyway?” shouts Allsion suddenly. She lifts her tear-stained face up and stares down at Andrew. "This is the first time we’ve been allowed anywhere but our cabins all week for god’s sake. Everyone is cold and unhelpful and my bed is crawling with something that has bitten my feet to death," she exclaims pulling her foot out of her shoe and waggling it about.
He is obviously feeling uncomfortable as he shifts about in his chair. His senior officer is now sitting back in his chair, blowing out rings of smoke in the air and waiting, as we are, for Andrew to say something.
Andrew looks up without any expression on his face and just studies us for a few minutes.
"No one is keeping you here, he says evenly. I can arrange for you both to be sent home, at your own expense, whenever you like. Now, the decision is yours. I have a lot to do, goodbye". Again, I don’t know where I come into this. I take Allison by the shoulders and turn her round to leave. I mutter that he’s just an ass-hole when Andrew shouts out “ I heard that McLeod”. I couldn’t give a toss, what a prat. I felt awful for Allison. She is nothing but a good person for god’s sake and he didn’t even want to hear her version of what happened out there.
Jo is standing outside the office as I manoeuvre Allison through and out to the gun port. She is smiling; her arms are folded in front of her and she is shaking her head smugly from side to side. Bitch.
I got back to the cabin after another cocktail party of large people shoving, grabbing and dodging automatic wheelchairs and sue mongrels. My shirt was stained with fruit and drinks and I looked like hell. I desperately needed a shower and prayed that the girls next door would be out. Just as I make my way back to the cabin I meet Vanessa who tells me she was told to stay up on deck five and serve drinks there. She felt as knackered and as dirty as I did so we agree to toss a coin for the shower. After winning the toss I wait patiently for Vanessa to come so I can get in. Finally she surfaces in a cloud of steam and a towel tightly wrapped around her head. Mascara is smudged all over her face. She still hasn’t mentioned our earlier misunderstanding but seems to be in better spirits. It probably has something to do with our pending night out in the crew bar. And with no one else to go with she is kind of stuck with me.