Helen Martin: Cruise holidays really float my boat

Some oldies, having left the real world behind, rediscover their youth while cruising. Picture: Getty
Some oldies, having left the real world behind, rediscover their youth while cruising. Picture: Getty
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THE UK cruise market is going from strength to strength with a record growth of 11.2 per cent in river cruises in the last year and 6.7 per cent up on ocean cruises, with 1.9 million passengers now taking to the high seas. And Rosyth has been dubbed “a cruise ship hot spot”.

Cruise companies might not like what I’m about to say – that the growth in business might be down in a large part to the rise in the number of elderly. But anyone who loves a cruise (like 64-year-old me) will probably agree that the majority of passengers on board most ships are at least over 50.

carers' work is far from unskilled

carers' work is far from unskilled

In fact, having just returned from a week’s voyage (Rosyth-Heligoland-Hamburg-Bremen-Rosyth), one delightful aspect of the journey was that the average age was so high, we were “youngsters”.

Walking sticks, frames and the occasional wheelchair were par for the course, none of which stopped the majority getting on and off tenders or up and down gangways in port, albeit with help from the crew.

Nor did age limit holiday celebrations. While we were usually tucked up in our cabin before midnight, some of the 70 and 80-year-olds were still giving it laldy until 1 or 3am.

And the “sail away” (that’s live music, cocktails and dancing on deck as a ship leaves port) was eye-popping with Tamla and Abba music resulting in grey and cauliflower heads throwing inhibitions to the wind (fuelled by a few yequilla sunrises), shimmying and jiving with boundless energy and fancy footwork.

The whole week was like watching a Cocoon reality show, as if some of the oldies, having left the real world behind, had rediscovered their youth, happy that they were amongst their own kind and not going to be judged by slim, young fashionistas or embarrassed grandkids.

Yes, there were a few grumpy old dears complaining about their toast being golden rather than brown, wishing they could eat their “dinner” at 5pm as they did at home rather than 8.30pm, or that crossing the North Sea left them nothing to view but, well . . . the sea.

Many people think a cruise is expensive and afternoon tea should be served on gold plates. But do the maths for a week including travel, several destinations, accommodation, fine dining, a well-equipped gym, meticulous service from housekeeping to waiting staff, entertainment from day-time activities, heated swimming pools and movies to evening theatre shows, dancing and casinos . . . and it’s less than you’d expect.

None of the hassle, baggage limitation, hanging about or discomfort of travelling by air – and for those of us who live in Edinburgh and are sailing from Rosyth, it’s one hour from home to the comfort of the cabin.

This is not an “advert” for cruising. I wouldn’t name the company, the ship or specify the cost (though I’m sure anyone could work that out). It’s just a recommendation for older folk like me. And also, a revelation for youth.

Don’t think of all grey-haired senior citizens with walking canes as dull, miserable, doom-laden, saddoes. See them on a cruise and you’ll realise how smart they are with their money and how well they know how to party. It might even give you something to look forward to.

Care workers are priceless assets

EVENTUALLY for most folk, old age does bring the need for residential or home care, which is now in crisis because of high cost, staff shortages and cripplingly low wages.

It’s always astounded me that carers’ work is seen as largely “unskilled”.

The qualities required, especially when caring for those with dementia, include compassion, sensitivity, intuition, elderly psychology, communication with someone who can’t talk, physical strength, mental resilience, knowledge of moving and handling patients, awareness of symptoms to report, a respectful attitude to “intimate” care, honouring dignity, completing all statutory documentation and much more. It’s a specialism based on character, personality and experience rather than a degree – hence the wages are peanuts. These people are priceless assets.

These two-tier services will prove divisive

EDINBURGH is a city known for its high proportion of independent school pupils. A significant number of residents also carry private health insurance. Two standard divisions between rich and poor.

Now some city residents are paying extra for basics such as additional private refuse collection, private care workers and gardeners for the elderly rather than relying on over-stretched council systems, and tenement (or “vertical street”) lighting services which the council have withdrawn.

Not only is this not fair (why pay for a service that no longer exists or is so inadequate you don’t want it?) but we’re moving towards a two-tier system where the poor rely on what little the council can provide and it becomes routine for the better off to pay extra for a superior private service.

It’s a slippery slope towards a severely divided community. As more council cuts come in (inevitable, especially with current debt let alone the tram extension), the risk is that the rich will pay out for even more privately delivered services, and the poor will just do without.

Is the council too short-sighted to see where it’s taking us?

We no sprechen sie Deutsch

EVERY German we met on holiday and every Thai or Filipino crew member spoke fluent English. How embarrassing to be a thick Brit.