Five days into their trip and, quite frankly, Jane is feeling more than a little tired. When she had booked a transatlantic crossing on the Queen Victoria 2 as a surprise birthday present for Dickie’s 60th, she had envisioned lazy days with a book, regular hand-in-hand perambulations around the deck and glamorous evenings on the dance floor in her husband’s arms.
Of course, she knew that there would be all manner of lectures, quizzes and classes on board, but nothing had prepared her for the colossal programme of daily activities delivered to their cabin each evening. Having just returned from a vegetable-cutting demonstration (after all, who can resist learning how to turn a carrot into a carnation?) and with Dickie still somewhere in the bowels of the ship at his How to Make the Most of Your iPad lesson, Jane kicks off her shoes, props herself up on her pillows and gazes through her French windows at the ocean. Despite the predicted bad weather, for now the water is calm and the sky is blue. How she wishes, though, that she had properly understood what Reggie at the yacht club had meant when he said they had to go posh. Of course she was going posh – she had booked a Parlour Suite with a terrace. Only when she met sun‑kissed Linda at scarf-tying classes on day three did she realise that on transatlantic crossings Port Out Starboard Home dictated the sunny side of the ship. She and Dickie were undoubtedly on the wrong side.
If Dickie was as happy as a clam with life on board, Jane was a little more circumspect. Ever since she had turned her back on the bright lights of Manhattan and joined the queue to board the massive QV2, she had felt eyes on her back –2,500 passengers (not to mention the crew) suddenly seemed a preposterous number of people with whom to share seven days at sea.
But Dickie, the eternal enthusiast, had made her snap out of it. No time for playing Lady Muck, he had said, while squirting the first of many obligatory dollops of anti-norovirus gel into his hands and making his way to their table for six in the Diamond Dining Room. Jane had dutifully followed suit and, in her ineffable home‑counties manner, had embraced David and Rosemary from Sheffield and Terry and Lois from Bournemouth as if breakfast, lunch and dinner with them every day for a week was going to be nothing but pleasurable.
Jane was just beginning to wonder where Dickie has got to when he bursts through the door. He’s been held up, he explains, by a kerfuffle down the corridor. An old dear enjoying a final fling has flung her last and the medical team are dealing with the body. Jane feels queasy. “Happens all the time, apparently,” says Dickie. “There’s an on-board morgue for four, so room for us yet. Come on, darling, or we’ll be late for deck quoits.”
On day six, the storm hits. Wine tasting is cancelled, the ship becomes a quieter place and Jane and Dickie notice several absentees from their bridge class. Tannoy announcements declare all the outside decks out of bounds, sick bags appear at strategic points and crew members wielding strange Hoovers hover in corridors. But there’s no time to lose. Tonight is the Midsummer Ball and they have their waltz to practise.
As the swell begins to subside and Southampton beckons, Dickie and Jane take to the floor to the accompaniment of the Captain’s orchestra. Midway through a masterful quickstep, they are joined by an exuberant David and Rosemary – he resplendent in top hat and tails, she in floor-length sequins and a somewhat outlandish, flower-adorned boater. Jane is just thinking that she has no regrets about missing the hat‑decorating class in favour of a lecture on murder mysteries, when David cuts in. “It’s always the highlight of Rosemary’s cruise when she gets to decorate her hat with dried flowers from the estate,” he says as he sweeps her across the floor. “The estate?” replies Jane. “Oh, yes,” says David, “We’ve got 5,000 acres in South Yorkshire. Didn’t I mention it? You and Dickie really must come and stay.”