Cabin Fever

May 1, 2008 -

John Heald

My mission should I accept it……….and I had no choice but to…………was to clean the house before Heidi came home and thus avoid an immediate relegation to the doghouse.

Heidi has not been here for over a month and even though for two of those weeks I was also not here (we were both on our Europe trip) when I examined the place last night it looked as though Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and George Hamilton had held a party there. Now, I am not suggesting that there were empty beer cans, cigarette buts, bits of Pizza and scantily clad women laying all over the floor but it certainly looked ………. well ………..not up to the standards that Heidi expects.

At this point I should add that if Heidi and I ever disagree about our living conditions it is normally based on two subjects.

Firstly, Heidi wants the house to look like the front cover of some coffee table magazine such as Country Life or Homes and Gardens. Everything has to be in its place and looking like a show home just in case Hello Magazine show up at the front door to photograph our house.

Me, well I like the lived in look and personally I don’t care if we make the front cover of Pig Farmers Weekly, a house is supposed to look like someone lives in it………….who cares if there is a cup on the coffee table overnight or if one of the sofa cushions isn’t puffed up properly?  Well, apparently my wife cares and she cannot sleep if she knows that there is a plate left over from dinner still on the table or a pair of underwear on the bathroom floor.

The second thing we always argue about is the temperature. Heidi likes a warm house and if she had her way she would have the fire on 24 hours a day even in summer …………. she is always cold. Me, I like the house cold. Now, living in a barn means that many of the rooms are naturally cool but in the summer …………….yes…………….we do have a summer in England…………..last year it was on a Thursday ……..the arguments begin. Heidi fails to realize that she has very little meat on her while I have an entire cow on me and that’s when battle commences.

Anyway, as Heidi was due home this morning I found myself realizing that resistance was futile and that was me………….puffing the pillows…………….emptying the dishwasher (I hate that thing) and vacuuming all the rooms that have carpet………….thank goodness some have wood floors.

Talking of vacuuming, I once entered a contest to write a commercial for a vacuum cleaner company…………….I really did…………….it was many years ago and I never even received a letter to say thank you but you have won nothing………………..however…………I thought as I used one of the things this morning I would let you see it.

So, picture a white picket fenced house in suburbia………………the door opens and we find the perfect North American family sitting on a couch all singing this song.
 
YOU’VE GOT A PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH
ALL MUSHED DOWN IN YOUR RUG
AND THE BECKHAMS ARE COMING OVER
YOU DON’T WANT THEM TO SEE THAT CRUD
SO YOU GO TO BUY A VACUUM CLEANER
DON’T GET A KENMORE OR ELECTROLUX
BECAUSE WHEN IT COMES TO VACUUM CLEANERS
YOU KNOW A HOOVER………………REALLY SUCKS

I think I should have won.

It was while I was cleaning this morning that my mind wandered and I found myself remembering the time when I had to clean my own cabin……………this didn’t happen for long but in the beginning of my career at Carnival cleaning my cabin was something I had to do………and this morning ……………the memories came flooding back.

I spoke a few weeks ago about how hard it was to say goodbye to family and friends and board the Continental flight to Miami for my first day at Carnival, as well as my negative experiences with the medical treatment (I still can’t say the word stool without getting cold sweats) and the lack of information and care that Carnival provided new crew members back in the 80’s. Of course, things have changed and now the crew has their hands held from arrival until they board the ship and Carnival is the trendsetter in this regard.

I remember boarding the Holiday in 1987 and waiting for ages before someone came to collect me and the other new crew from the gangway. I was shown to my cabin ………… given the key…………..and I entered the room which was the size of Heidi’s walk in closet. There were two bunk beds………….a small desk………..one chair and a small wardrobe. The two bunk beds were also small and judging by the fact that there were no bedclothes on the top bunk I guessed that’s where I would be staying.

I had primed myself up for the cabin to be small and to the fact that I would sharing a cabin but as I sat on the chair and looked around………..I felt like crying……………so I did.

You know, as I write this I realize that I have never told anyone this before……….not my parents or Heidi……………I cried like a little boy whose puppy had just been run over by a steam roller…………….I wanted to go home.

Remember, I had never lived away from home before and here I was, on a cruise ship, in a tiny cabin, no friends and about to embark on a job I had no idea if I could do or not.

As I sat there and sobbed like a big girl I didn’t think it could get any worse……………..it was then that it suddenly dawned on me that there was no toilet or shower in the room …………just a sink. When I had been dropped off at the cabin I had not been told anything …………I was literally just dumped outside the door and told to wait here ………and therefore I had no idea about the communal hell that awaited me and I shall talk more about them later.

As I sat there realizing that there was no shower and no toilet I didn’t think it could get any worse…………..it was then that Pierre Jean Le Bouef entered the cabin ………. here was my cabin mate…………..he was from Paris…………….he was rude…………….he bullied me……and he never bathed…………here then my friends was the start of my hatred for all things Parisian.

You would expect that upon meeting someone who is going to be sleeping a few feet below you that I would have received a warm welcome but he was from Paris and therefore by law……..he had to be a complete and utter bastard…………………and he was.

I will never forget his first words to me as he told me that this was his cabin and then went on to tell me the rules and as he did so he lit up a cigarette and puffed away without a care in the world……………I was actually glad as it covered up the smell of the two skunks which seemed to be living under his armpits.

I will never forget this man who was, in fact, fired a few weeks after I joined the ship for stealing a bottle of expensive champagne. He smoked in the cabin, he would play his music when I was trying to sleep and worse of all when he couldn’t be bothered to walk down the corridor to the communal bathrooms……………….he would pee in the sink ……. honestly………….I caught him doing this when he thought I was asleep and that for me was enough and after a close encounter with his face in his own pee he never did that again………..physical violence is never the answer………………unless you share a small cabin with a stinking, rude Frenchman who pees in the sink………….you then have God’s permission to beat the crap out of him………………..which is what I did.

As I said, he was fired a few weeks later and my new cabin mate was absolutely fantastic. His name was Bican Celaloglu from Istanbul, Turkey. By this time I had been promoted to wine steward as had Bican and we became firm friends. Bican taught me to love Turkish Tea which he would boil in the cabin everyday. After work all the wine stewards would get together and cook…………yes……………cook………….in the cabins on there little portable stoves.

We cooked meat, fish, even lobster and had a good old time together. Back the Wine Steward position was the easiest job onboard. I knew nothing about wine and listened and learned from the others. We would have one of the seven Wine Stewards work the lunch session and then at dinner we would pay a busboy to set the glasses and clean them away after. All we did was turn up, serve the wine and chat with the guests………it was easy and I have fond memories of those days.

I am not sure how I got through those first few weeks which were a cross between being in the army, boarding school and prison.

Nowadays it is of course so much different. The crew are welcomed with open arms and given a full orientation before they start work. Many of the crew will have had to pass through a college specific to their job before they join their ship and there is a dedicated department onboard who are there to assist with training and crew welfare. My training was the Bar Manager Colin Campus handing me a tray and a menu and off I went to serve drinks I had never heard of before…………I nearly punched a male guest who asked me for “sex on the beach!”

Today, our modern fleet have private facilities for all the crew and also provide a TV, DVD player and a refrigerator in each cabin and of course smoking in the cabin is strictly forbidden as, of course, is cooking of any kind. The reasons for this are obvious and it’s remarkable that back in the old days there were so few rules and regulations when it came to safety procedures…………….we have come a long way…………….thank goodness.

So, to be a crew member with today’s Carnival is compared to the old days ……….pure luxury and when you consider that now we have crew internet, crew gyms, crew phone rates from the ship, complimentary further education classes, a crew committee who organize constant crew activities and events as well as Carnival’s continuing policy to promote from within……….well………you can see why so many want to come and work for us. It is still a hard life living at sea……….but ask any crew member who can remember “the old days” and they will tell you that today……things are a whole lot better.

I have to tell you about a DJ who …………..ummm……….caused a bit of a fire on the Carnival Imagination in 1995. ……………nobody was hurt and the fire was confined to just his cabin………………but I will never forget this incident.

I was Cruise Director and I remember being called by the second in command who we call the Staff Captain to come down to Deck 0 to the DJ’s cabin……………..there had been a fire.

I sprinted down there…………….I could in those days…………….and discovered the fire squad leaving the area fully equipped in breathing equipment. The corridor was full of water and as I paddled into the cabin this too had been given a good soaking from the team and from the automatic sprinkler system. The walls were blackened from the smoke and it was obvious that this could have been very serious.

The Staff Captain asked where the DJ was and I had the staff go and fetch him. I asked the Staff Captain what had happened and he showed me a Bunsen burner that had been left burning on top of which had been placed a cob of corn. Well, the movement of the ship had caused the thing to fall over and the fire had started…………….this was not good.

Eventually we found the DJ and we all went up to the Captain’s cabin. The DJ whose name I just cannot remember knew straight away that he would be leaving the ship immediately and would not be on Carnival’s Christmas card list…..so he decided to confess all.

The DJ was from Haiti…..I remember he was a brilliant DJ and the guests loved him. He also loved a dancer who he dated for sometime but who left him for one of the Italian Officers.

He explained to the Captain and I that the Officer had stolen his girl and that he was using Haitian Voodoo to cast a spell on him and that he was burning the cob of corn which represented the Officer’s …………..ummmm………….thingy………….he had left the cabin for a few minutes and obviously that’s when the fire had started.
 
The Captain and I could not believe our ears. Here was a brilliant DJ who originally from Haiti and now a US Citizen was practicing voodoo right here on the ship and who believed that by burning a piece of corn the man who had stolen his girl away would wake up in the morning to find himself victim of a Haitian Bobiting.

He was fired………………..and the Captain and I made a decision not to tell the officer in question about what had happened. The officer in question is now a Captain and the voodoo never worked as he has two children.

So, the house is clean…………….ish……………..and hopefully I will pass inspection. I am off to the airport shortly to collect Heidi and bring her home…………….I missed her very much.

In the coming days I will be writing more about the old days and reminiscing on some of the wonderful stories which I hope you will enjoy.

Today, you have learned a few things about me. You now know that I cried like a baby when I first joined the company and wanted nothing more than to go home to my Mum.

You now know one of the reasons why I may now and then make fun of the French …….and you now know why since 1995…………..I have never eaten a corn on the cob.

Cheers
Your Friends
John and Heidi

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.