It’s a week since I returned from my first cruise-liner teaching gig and I have only just stopped walking like John Wayne. Sea legs’ give you a swaying sensation underfoot as if you are still on a gently rolling ship.   I have also had to adjust to doing my own cooking, cleaning and bed-making; unfortunately, I was not allowed to take my Indonesian cabin-boy home with me to continue his attentive care of my laundry and dusting requirements (Yudi I miss the chocolate on my pillow and the fresh towels in my bathroom.)
The teaching too was a new experience and, with the possible exception of the Puglian olive groves we gaze at on our annual writing retreat, I have never had a classroom with such a nice view, to whit miles of dark blue ocean and foam-tipped waves stretching to the horizon.
During the six-day trans-Atlantic crossing, I saw only one ship in the distance. I tried not to think about the total absence of land in case I went mad before the mast or whatever sailors do.  I tried not to dwell on Life of Pi which had been our unfortunately chosen in-flight movie (did they show Titanic and Poseidon Adventure on the other channels?)  Much as I enjoyed the avuncular Captain Torsten Olbrich’s Thought for the Day broadcasts, I wish he hadn’t done the one about a man overboard just after we left Antigua and all sight of land. The story did end happily, however, and I have made a mental note that if I ever fall overboard I must save energy by floating then kick like hell to disturb the water when I see a boat).
I thought about how the first stolen Africans must have felt as they headed into the unknown, looking back across that vast sea towards home from the sweltering, stinking decks of a slave ship.  I thought about the press-ganged eighteenth-century sailors, far from home, eating rotten food, pulling their own teeth, receiving and dishing out brutality; the alliance of rebel slaves and mutinous sailors in Barry Unsworth’s historical saga Sacred Hunger took on a whole new vividness. I thought of the colonists, planters and adventurers, like Rochester in Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, sailing home with ill-gotten gains and exotic, unhappy wives.  Then I’d glance round the sun-loungers at my reddening shipmates clutching their Kindles seemingly oblivious to the watery wastes between the photo opportunities in Caribbean ports and the duty-free at Tenerife.
Some of my fellow cruisers did embark on a new adventure, however, not a maritime one but a mental one – their first attempt at writing creatively. As always it was exciting for me as a teacher to see someone free their imaginations and push off on the voyage of self-expression. The range of work was surprising – funny, moving, inventive and the enthusiasm overwhelming.
Of course, these students couldn’t get away from me – I was able to jump out at them in the bar or buffet-queue and, “Not doing your homework I see.”  They had fewer distractions than usual (though there was a games room, spa, karaoke, bingo, quizzes, dance classes, chocolate-making, deck volleyball and much more so maybe I shouldn’t belittle their commitment).  I also got to hear an excuse I haven’t heard before, “Sorry, miss, I wrote my piece but a gust of wind blew it off towards the Azores.”  Another new experience.
Ardella Jones (pictured here with Captain Olbrich)