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Thursday, 22 November 2007


Waiting at Aruba airport on my way home from 10 days in the Caribbean on a big white imperial destroyer of a ship, much of it between ports on "sea days". A sea day is when you're at sea all day. I know. self-explanatory. We had two sets of two sea days this trip. These are the days you become aware that you're within reach of losing it. You can't get off the ship. I can't over-stress this point. You're trapped. And all of the little places on the ship that you have discovered, that you think nobody else knows about? They're all full of passengers. The sanctuary pool? Full of blokes snogging their girlfriends in the deep end. The gym? Wall to wall old ladies going 6 steps a minute on the treadmills and their husbands reliving younger days by doing bicep curls with 2kg weights in US Navy baseball caps. Even the basketball court, tucked away high up at the back of the ship, where I sometimes go to practice my juggling - full of chefs shooting hoops. In full chef whites. Honestly, I didn't mind this last one. I'm as big a fan of a surreal image as the next pelican.

Normally I spend a good deal of my time on board these ships hiding away in my room watching TV shows and movies on my laptop while grazing the food I have scavenged from the "Horizon court" buffet. (Oh the cheese pie. That's what'll kill me, for sure). But this trip I had nice people to play with. Rupert and Danielle are lovely English folk in the early 20's who do what they describe as "Special effects puppetry". What this means to you and me, is that they play characters who walk around and interact in a charming and hilarious way with members of the public. The characters, though, are only about two feet tall, and are carrying huge backpacks in which hide - yes - Rupert and Danielle. There's actually no decent way of describing what they do, other than to say that it's completely excellent. There are a lot of what we call "walk about" acts these days, and 98.7% of them are god awful. I mean really bad. (May I just digress for a second here and say that many performers learn a skill but not how to perform, or learn how to perform but never have a skill to go with it, but walking on stilts is really, honestly, not much of a skill, so if you don't have a crapload of creative genius to add to it, then you have nothing. NOTHING. You're just a twit with wood strapped to your legs. A TALL TWIT). Anyway, the point I'm making is this: Rupert and Danielle are bloody brilliant, and as talented at performing the characters as they are at designing and making the props - which is to say, very. The characters are so good, and so unlike anything anyone will have seen previously, that they always carry in their check-in luggage a photograph of the characters posing with a real dog ("for scale", Rupert points out) with the word "PUPPETS" written in large orange pen on the back, so as to answer any questions anyone might have.

The kids, as I decide to patronisingly refer to Rupert and Danielle for the entire cruise (and something that, to their credit, they don't complain about), are very friendly and pleasantly geeky, (You gotta love a girl who brings Daredevil comics on a cruise with her) so we end up hanging out a lot together, going for meals at the posh restaurants, and sitting at the back of the big song and dance shows and giggling like children. Rupert doesn't drink alcohol, opting instead for various creative combinations of various juices and sodas. Danielle more than makes up for this, and will love me for bringing this up, I'm sure. I teach them how to play poker, and Danielle quickly shows a frightening natural talent for the game, winning over and over while cheerfully muttering "I am loving this game", at least until real money becomes involved, by which time her streak leaves her and attaches itself to Rupert and me. I can only hope that they were as grateful of the company as I was, because I really was - to the point of starting to become paranoid that I was being annoying and clingy, but that's probably more my issue than theirs. As I write this, and unless they have backed out, they are on a guided tour of an Ostrich farm. People who work on the ship, like us, get to go on the tours free if there are any spaces left after everyone else has had the chance to sign up. They put themselves on the list for Scuba diving, and Horse riding, and they got Ostrich farm, which is hilarious.

I have just noticed that the bottled water I am drinking as I write this, ("Tropical AWA Aruba water") has a large gold medal on the label which proudly proclaims that it was the "Grand quality award winner in Brussels, 2004". Clearly they mention this to impress me, but all I can think of is why it didn't win subsequent years. Did the quality of the water fall that dramatically? In which case, since I am drinking this water in 2007, what's the point in telling me how good it used to be. "Oh man, you should have been drinking this water a couple of years back, it was the cats meow. These days, meh..". Or maybe the quality of the competing brands jumped up suddenly from 2005 onwards, leaving Aruba water behind, in which case perhaps I shouldn't be buying this water since it's clearly not trying as hard as it used to. Maybe I'm going into this too deeply, it just seems like the more you examine it, the more putting the big gold medal on the bottle is lose-lose.

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