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DEGUSTATION

*

Shallow David was a pilot – or so he claimed.

I didn’t think they hired drunks as pilots these days. Perhaps he piloted a video game. He drank and talked and talked and drank, all the time imagining he was entertaining. Then he drank and talked some more. He was, so he thought, simply fa-a-abulous.

Shallow Dave started drinking at lunch and continued till dawn. He was a very good drinker. Obviously he’d had a lot of practice. David could control his behavior – but he couldn’t control his face. Step by step, drink by drink, his face turned redder and redder. He could drink all day and not fall over, didn’t slur his words, didn’t throw up – but he made a fool of himself, just the same.

He was accompanied by Miss Pearl, a kind woman of certain years whose job it was to be the butt of his jokes. In some quarters, she’d be known as a ‘fag-hag’ but on board she was ‘a companion’. Pearl was an elegant woman, poised and poverty-stricken. Something inevitable had happened in her life; divorce, drama, old age, personality – I never really knew. She moved next door to Shallow David and his partner. Now she’d been adopted by a couple of Californian queens. I guess they needed a woman in their life.

Poor Miss Pearl.

Our hero had a rather interesting relationship with members of the staff. He pawed them, clawed them, hung drunkenly off their arms, pulled them into his liquid embrace and patronized them relentlessly, all the time growing even more fa-a-abulous.

I was embarrassed. I pulled one aside later.

‘What do you do when somebody behaves like that?’

‘There’s nothing we can do,’ she sighed, Aza-niceness settling blankly over her face.

‘What do you think of Gore Vidal?’ Shallow David asked the table. I was allowed to speak while he gulped another glass of free wine, pawed the sommelier, shoved foie gras into his mouth and wiped the muck sweat from his face. Dogster’s calm assessment of the life and times of Mr. Vidal was dismissed immediately he lifted his face from the trough. It was evident he’d never read a book, either by Vidal or anybody else.

‘I went to his house on the Riviera years ago.’

‘Was he there?’ Miss Pearl asked dutifully.

‘No!’ he screeched, ‘I screwed the housekeeper!’

Heads turned in Aquilina. Shallow David didn’t care. He knew Gore Vidal.

The dancing instructors were a couple of shy, well-spoken Chinese full of style and grace, all uplifted elbows and glide. For any pupil who could count to five and hold a beat, they were fine teachers, easing their motley crew through every dance style in creation, step by step, cha by cha by Cha Cha Cha.

All except Brian from Wisconsin.

Today’s lesson involved one step forward with his left leg and one step to the side with his right. No need to tell you the rest of it. That’s as far as Brian got.

‘Forward…’

Brian stepped forward.

‘Step to the side…’

‘Now what?’

‘Try it again.’

‘Forward…’

The look on Brian’s face was sad to see.

‘Uh… what comes next?’

He and his wife were off at the side, lost in impossible simplicity – all the rest were steps ahead, some even finishing the sequence with a triumphant ‘Cha Cha Cha!’

Not Brian.

‘What comes next?’

Brian loved his wife. It was a measure of his adoration that he attended the Ballroom Dancing lessons with her, knowing he couldn’t dance. Each time the steps began he froze, unable to deal with the pressure. Each time his stress got worse. Finally he hissed:

‘I can’t do this. We’ve got to stop!’

‘Forward…’

‘What comes next?’

Cha Cha Cha!

‘You have no idea what I’m going through,’ he whispered to his wife, ‘I can’t do this.’

His eyes filled with angry tears. He felt humiliated. He felt stupid.

‘Please, can we stop?’ he pleaded with her.

‘Forward…

‘Arghh-h-h-h! I can’t do this!’

Frustration was turning into anger. He took a deep breath, trying to breathe away his rage, took one step forward and froze. Deep from his wounded heart I heard a strangled cry…

‘What comes next?’

Psss Psss twitterr look! Tsk tsk tsk, look at her. Peck peck peck.

Herds of elderly Australians sat chewing cud, casting antipodean eyes over all and sundry. They were all from the Gold Coast, courtesy a last minute offer and an over-enthusiastic local travel agent. One hundred and twenty of them. They’d stumbled out of the bush, crawled from apartment towers and abandoned the bowls club to arrive, en masse, for thirty-one bee-yoodiful Azamara days.

The Gold Coast is the retirement capital of Australia, not noted for its rigorous intellectual life. They swarm in after sixty, bung on a pair of shorts and check their brain at the door, choosing to live out their days swinging a club, chasing a little white ball around in the heat.  Life is a wonderful world full of sun, surf and surrender interspersed with beer, the barbie and malicious gossip.

‘A grown woman…’

The object of their attention was a British woman of certain years, a gorgeous woman with a heart as big as the Mediterranean. She came complete with a cute toy-boy, a young Greek lad of twenty. He was escorting her to dinner. They made a fine couple; he was very solicitous, very Mediterranean – ver-r-ry handsome.

‘That young boy! How could she?’

As the Aussies lacked the ability to use large words and comprehend a world outside Queensland they stayed together as a pack, preferring to talk about home rather than meet anybody with a divergent point of view. Occasionally they went ashore, but just to stretch their legs. There was nothing out there better than ‘Straya.

‘Did you see the way she looked at him?’

The toy-boy was her son. The harlot also had a Greek husband dying of cancer in Corfu. She and her boy were learning to love each other, taking that bonding break before the last act of her husband’s life.

‘Disgraceful,’ a wizened prune from Brisbane hissed.

*

Three bright Hawaiian shirts glowed around the table right next door. Six gnarled arms poked out of each shirt like sun-burnt tree trunks, three wives oozed out of their best-est dresses like blancmange; Queensland farmers and the missuses, out for a real good night. They may not have been sophisticated travelers, but what style they lacked they made up for in volume.

‘Siddown darl, siddown over there. This’ll be good.’

‘What is this lobster bis-cue?’

‘What does broiled mean?’

‘I’ll try that beer carpakkio.’

‘Arghh – it’s raw!’

‘Sh-h-h-h, behave yourself Rodney, remember where you are…’

‘Nobody told me it’d be raw!’

‘Gimme a Grand Marnier sofflay.’

I nodded cheerfully from the next table and gave them the thumbs up. Better be friendly. Offend one you offend them alll. It was either that or kill them.

‘Must be good,’ one outback oick said to his missus, ‘the Pope says it’s O.K.’

I met the King and Queen of Azamara.

‘We’ve been on seven cruises!’ Lulu trilled, ‘we’re part of the fa-a-amily!’

She was really more a Princess than a Queen.

Lulu was holding court at the far end of a long, long table. Luckily, I was at the other end. She was a short, perky perfectly good-looking Asian/American, much younger than her husband – but at heart she was pure Genghis Khan. Relentlessly upbeat, she diluted her ambition with small-talk, like a little chirping sparrow that would suddenly peck you to death.

‘We’ve just booked another four!’

Her husband complimented her perfectly. He was sitting on my left, a coiffed blur in a blazer, poised like a rat-trap, ready to snap.

Richard was prone to argument, like a reformed alcoholic who really needs a drink. Perhaps he had hemorrhoids, too – something was getting up his arse. Together, they were a force to be reckoned with, a freak of human nature. They positively vibrated disapproval. Dogster was their natural enemy.  Even before they met him they didn’t like him.  Just the idea of Dogster was enough to make them salivate.

King Richard and Queen Lulu had their pecking order, too

We have a new tragic single.

‘They’ve gone,’ he said, a look of abject misery on his face, ‘kicked off the ship.’

Cuddles has been left all alone.

‘I got a phone call first thing this morning. They were escorted off at dawn. Security dumped them and their bags on the quay. They were driving around trying to find a hotel…’

‘Wha…? Why?’

‘He threw another tantrum in the bar last night. Extreme tantrum. Luckily, I wasn’t there. Security searched their room.’

He looked at me fixedly.

‘I don’t know what they found…’

Cuddles raised one eyebrow and tapped the side of his nose.

Everything suddenly made sense. Of course, Evil’s bizarre behavior came from a little packet of white powder.

Boutique cruising is attracting a new kind of client.

Henry stood on the sundeck, a blank look on his face. He was lost.

Well, he knew he was on a ship but I’m not entirely sure he knew how he’d got there. One way or another, he’d lost his wife. Without Marjorie Mandy, Henry didn’t know where to go or what to do.  So he just stood still.

‘Henry!’ Dog to the rescue, ‘do you remember me?’

‘No.’

‘I had dinner with you last night…’

‘Did we?’

He smiled – a wan confusion that just made me want to hug him. He was a great guy.

‘Are you lost?’

‘I think so,’ he said vacantly,

‘Let’s find Marjorie. You sit here,’ I said, leading him gently to a table, ’hang on, pal, I’ll be right back…’

Back on the pool-deck the Hotel Director was sitting being nice at a table of Australians. I filled him in briefly and went back to Henry to make jolly conversation. We both heard the  announcement.

‘Would Marjorie Mandy kindly make her way to the Pool Deck. Your husband is looking for you.’

By the time she turned up, he’d forgotten why he was waiting.

*

© NIGEL TRIFFITT  2011

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