All at Sea


Our suite came with a balcony

There were two black-tie nights during our week-long cruise

2018 was the most difficult, most draining and most frightening year of my life – but it did have one shining highlight; Polly and I celebrated our silver wedding anniversary. Anyone who knows us as a couple knows that I effectively won the love-lottery the day I met Polly in February 1991 when we were both participating in an improvisation course in Hammersmith, London. The story of our romance includes a Dundee fruitcake, a broken wheelchair, Bucharest and a £1300 telephone bill. I’ve written about our courtship on my previous blog, ‘How to be an Inspiration‘, and I will probably do so again on this blog at some point. Still, if you must know the story, it can be found here and here.

Friends and family had been very generous over the years, and we had accrued enough savings to book a week-long cruise to Spain and back on MV Britannia with P&O cruises. At a substantial extra cost, we hired in a profiling bed and an air-mattress as well as paying for one of my carers to accompany us. This on top of having to book a suite to have room for the wheelchair and mobile hoist. So, with a little over two weeks to go, it will come as no great surprise, that I found myself back in St Helier hospital being treated for yet another gallstone attack. I’d awoken in the night covered in a sheen of sweat and taking fast shallow breaths despite the ventilator. It took ten days hooked up to an IV antibiotic drip before being deemed well enough to be discharged, just four days before we were due to sail from Southampton.

A big dog made from flowers – outside the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

The cruise was almost over before it began. We boarded the ship with no problem at all and found our way to our cabin. It had been an early start to the day, and so I hadn’t finished all of the liquid food I needed via the RIG. I also needed to take some medication. Polly and Nina transferred me to the bed, and it was then that we discovered that the cap to the end of the feeding tube had jammed on and absolutely refused to come off. Remember, I’d only recently had the RIG fitted and had spent very little time at home, so we hadn’t yet learned any of the tips and tricks to dealing with it. With the ship due to cast off in less than two hours, it was a race against time to fix the problem, or we’d have to disembark and return to London. In the end, Polly managed to release the cap using a corkscrew, and we all breathed a sigh of relief that a stupid little plastic cap, the size of your smallest fingernail, hadn’t cost us our holiday.

La Coruna – MV Britannia in the background

If you are disabled and can afford it, then a cruise is an ideal holiday. Every part of the vast ship is accessible, and the crew go out of their way to make things easy for you. There were several groups of disabled travellers on board with us with a wide range of disabilities. The only slight drawback was having to wait for space in the lifts when you moved between decks.

A significant part of the cruising experience is dining. There are five restaurants onboard, as well as several cafes, bars and coffee shops. You are never more than a few feet from a dining option, and never more than a few minutes from a snack or a three-course meal; this was something of an issue for me given the fact that I was supposedly nil by mouth. Polly and I had had several tense discussions on the subject of what and how much I could safely eat. I argued for all and everything, Polly erred on the side of caution and preferred that I eat only the occasional lightly toasted ice cube. We compromised with me being able to look at and smell as much food as I liked but was only able to eat a few mouthfuls of non-flaky and non-crumbly food. The food aboard ship smelled and looked beautiful. It tasted lovely, too.

In the far-off days when I could bear to watch The X Factor a frequent criticism levelled against singers by the charmless Mr Cowell was that they sounded a bit ‘like cruise ship singers’. It was said as if to imply that any singer who could only find work on a cruise ship was somehow less talented than their onshore counterparts. My experience would suggest that this is nonsense. The entertainment was, for the most part, outstanding. There was a ventriloquist I wasn’t too keen on because I thought his act was a little derivative, but even he turned up on Britain’s Got Talent and got through to the live shows. There was a magic show

On deck

devised by Stephen Mulhern, live bands and dance shows, all of the highest standard. There may once have been a time when cruise ship entertainment was a little cheesy, but that doesn’t seem to hold today. Even the backdrop in the main theatre was a hi-tech digital screen.


La Coruna

Our voyage took us to ports at La Coruna, Bilbao, Gijon and St Peter Port although we didn’t disembark at Gijon or St Peter Port. At Gijon, we misjudged the tide, and the gangway was too steep. At St Peter Port you had to transfer to shore aboard tiny little tenders that looked to bob about alarmingly on a choppy sea. I’ve been to Guernsey before so I didn’t mind missing out on near certain sea-sickness.

At Bilbao, we travelled by wheelchair accessible coach into the town and visited the world-famous Guggenheim Museum. Boarding and vacating the coach, using a flimsy and jerky lift, were the most hair-raising moments of the holiday – but visiting the Guggenheim made the risk of plunging 10 feet headfirst onto concrete worth the risk.

I enjoyed every minute of our cruise and would thoroughly recommend the experience. It was, without doubt, the highlight of what was otherwise a terrible year. We returned to Carshalton to find the house still intact despite having been left in the care of two teenage boys for a week. On the 25th of September, Polly and I celebrated 25 years of marriage, and I can honestly say that that was the last time I would be happy for a very long time. Things were about to take a decidedly dark turn.

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  1. Alicia on 21/12/2019 at 10:57 am

    Sounds fantastic , a cruise sounds like my kind of thing ,I’d not really thought about it before .Have a very drama free Merry Christmas 🎄 x

  2. Toby on 21/12/2019 at 11:33 am

    What a wonderful adventure you had. Going to the Guggenheim must have been amazing. Being a little inspirational for us, I’d love to go but thought perhaps we were too old but after this……….. wish I had Polly to spur meon

  3. Donna on 21/12/2019 at 12:10 pm

    So pleased you had a highlight of a fabulous holiday in a tough year. I remember being at a Rob Frost event when you came in after your wedding.

  4. Tim on 30/12/2019 at 10:04 pm

    Stephen, your bravery, wit and writing are an inspiration! Thank you!

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