At 9 am Paul, myself and the Cruise Director Kay are on stage in the Ocean Bar, about to begin an informal presentation and Q and A session with a small enthusiastic audience.
In the background I can hear announcements over the ship’s PA system, directing some passengers to the Explorers Lounge to complete New Zealand immigration forms. As it happens, the Explorers Lounge is on the same deck as our event, just a little further along the hallway.
As Paul and I begin our introductions, groups of cruisers are trundling up and down the corridor in search of the Explorers Lounge. And from time to time one or two of them take a wrong turn, and find themselves unexpectedly in the strip of no man’s land that separates us (the presenters), and them (the audience) in the Ocean Bar. But after an awkward moment or two, they quickly retreat with slightly red faces and a few mumbled apologies.
About ten minutes in, just when I’m in warming up nicely, an Australian woman wearing a blue and white seafaring blouse (you’d be astonished at how many blue and white hoops and stripes there are on this ship), and white slacks (the kind with an elasticated waist, only worn by the over 70s), stumbles into the crossfire. Assuming that she will figure it out like the previous strays, I continue to answer a query regarding the technical limitations of the iPhone in low light situations. But, instead of the usual hasty retreat, the woman stands in front of us, frozen like a rabbit in the headlights, and shouts out loudly, ‘Is this immigration’?
Now, a quick glance around would surely have enlightened even the most intellectually challenged among the population, but as she’d asked, a chorus of voices inform her that no, immigration was just down the hall.
Picking up the iPhone question again and beginning to gather momentum, the woman, who is clearly not yet convinced, interrupts me for a second time. Looking first at us, then to the audience and then back again to us, she shouts out even louder, ‘Is this immigration’?
For some reason, the weighty combination of visual and verbal cues is completely passing her by. And she hollers out, ‘Immigration! I’m looking for the New Zealand Immigration thing, where is it’? The audience begin to chuckle, and we on stage struggle to maintain straight faces and a modicum of professional decorum.
At this point a helpful member of the audience, called Anne, gets to her feet to direct her. But even this isn’t enough for the short-sighted Sheila. ‘That way’? she bellows, gesticulating somewhat wildly, ‘is it that way’? Anne kindly offers to show her and begins to lead the way towards the appropriate exit and the Explorers Lounge.
Now, finally recognising that she is in the wrong place, one would imagine that the rather loud-mouthed cruising pensioner would have the decency to shuffle off quietly and let us get on with our show.
But no, of course not.
Sheila, now displaying a complete and utter disregard for both us and our audience, turns towards the entrance and roars, ‘Shirley! Shirley! It’s this way Shirl. This lady here is going to show us.’
Cue Shirl, entering stage left, sporting a nice line in stretch shorts for the over 80s, teamed with a loose-fitting cream blouse adorned with a dusty pink Eiffel Tower. All eyes turn towards Shirl, ambling into the spotlight and gawping like a baby seal. Meanwhile, her mate is taking the opportunity to explain everything just one more time, on the off chance that there is still someone in the Ocean Bar who hasn’t quite got it yet.
‘It’s not here Shirl, this isn’t immigration, this isn’t the place, but it’s ok, this lady is going to show us the way.’
‘Aaaawww, that’s nice’ replies Shirl. ‘Good on ya!’
And with that, the two of them, without so much as a nod to our proceedings, trot off after Anne. Leaving myself, Paul, Kay the Cruise Director and the entire audience exploding with laughter.