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Former UK200Group President David Ingall, likens fellow travellers on his recent cruise to life in ever-changing modern Britain.

My wife and I have been on one of our periodic wanders around the world, this time flying to South Africa and cruising in comparative luxury back to the UK. A fleeting visit to Cape Town taking the cable car up the mountain and a day travelling down to the actual cape to see the penguins (something of a surprise as I had thought they were confined to South America and Antarctica) and the other touristy things one does. The big surprise was the number of other cruisers embarking resulting in seemingly an entire day spent in queues. But then we were aboard to relax for 18 nights with only the worry of crossing the Bay of Biscay before we got home. In the event the crossing of the notorious Bay was a non-event with not even the slightest queasiness to concern us.

This is not a travelogue so I will not mention sailing by both St Helena and Ascension Island, two of the most remote inhabited places on earth nor the visits to the Atlantic islands off Africa. Fascinating places and the weather was English spring like, with showers, sun and wind in varying proportions.
But as always the entertainment and interest was provided by our table companions. I cannot imagine that I am becoming less tolerant (or is it more discerning?) as I get older or is it that our fellow diners displayed more than a little eccentricity due to their age? Interestingly, despite the occupants of the table being predominantly British (10 out of the 13 who were attendees at the table over the cruise) the elephant in the room was that Referendum. The word never passed anyone’s lips, not a hint, it was the none subject rather like not discussing sexual deviancy with a maiden aunt.

One American only joined us for a single evening as he was a speaker for the lectures that helped pass the sea days and he had decided to create his own tour having determined to change tables each evening. Whether this was a doubt about how welcome he might be after he had spoken I am not sure. As a former American ambassador to a small African country and with a lifetime in the US Foreign Service his views were somewhat pedantic but enlightening on the official USA view. Our other Americans were a couple who were typically nosy about us but constantly feeding us misleading information about themselves. Rather like the Referendum campaign, no clarity here or there. Della asserting that there were only two hundred or so over seventies amongst the passengers, in a clear attempt to establish the age of the rest of us but without success. She kept stating her love of ballroom dancing and indeed was to be seen tripping the floor but this view clashed with the stick she apparently relied on to walk and her use of a wheelchair to subsequently leave the ship.

Not involving her but there were a few passengers who used motorised buggies to power themselves around the ship. I have to confess a fear of the drivers of these machines having been almost knocked down on several occasions on the forecourt of our local supermarket and have had to take evasive action in my car when buggy drivers have ventured recklessly on to our local roads. The self-indulgent selfishness of such drivers was amply illustrated on board when two buggies came head to head, one seeking to enter a lift and the other to exit. Neither would give way and the resulting verbal exchange certainly made the absence of children amongst the passengers fortunate.

Our star diners were a couple from the South of England who I will for ever think of as Colonel and Mrs Blimp. I have to admit they forever blotted their copybook for me by boasting of an acquaintance with Edward Heath and singing his praises. Since I believe that his naïve single minded pursuit of membership of the Common Market is the cause of the mess we currently find ourselves in you can imagine they did not exactly endear themselves to me.

A widow/divorcee( living in South Africa) accompanied by her early twenties son plus three other couples (including ourselves) made up the complement, though one couple decided that being barked at by the Colonel and addressed in appalling German (as an attempt at humour, I think) was quite enough so they decamped to another table.

That table was a microcosm of Britain today. Aging, with a splash of youth and an ever changing personnel migrating in and out of the table. Uncertainty in the air as though an important decision needs to be made but no one either knows what the answer is or indeed what the question is. Whatever the result we do need to get this Referendum out of the way and settled once and for all.
But once we have the vote will things then be settled? A Leave vote will result in uncertainty and a year or two of intense negotiation that our government seems to be ill prepared for. A Remain decision will see an unveiling (one suspects) of unwelcome news on migration, our contribution to the common fund and other bureaucratic impositions.

Time for another, somewhat longer cruise I think.

David Ingall
Past President
UK200 Group

Tags: UK200

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