During February half-term, my wife and I lived the dream. We sailed around the Mediterranean on a cruise ship that, according to a fellow voyager from Bolton, was the biggest in the fleet. “Oh aye, it’s higher than a tower block and longer than three football pitches, is this,” he declared; which is all very impressive…until you try to find your way back to your cabin, that is.
Size isn’t everything though (as I frequently tell my wife), and despite searching the internet for the best deal at the smallest price, the thing that finally clinched it for this one was the promotional video. What worn-out teacher could resist the promise of lazy days on a sun lounger? Evenings of relaxed over-indulgence? The lure of romantic destinations across a wine-dark sea?
On our first full day out of port we took a turn around the open 14th deck and discovered that dreams don’t always live up to expectations. A thousand miles south of Sheffield, February is still February, and it paid to be well wrapped up against a spiteful wind. The sky above looked as grey as asphalt while the sea below was as tempestuous as a playground full of angry children. I admit it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but it still beat the hell out of doing spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Any teacher who has ever felt the urge to put the tiny tumults and relentless turbulence of a busy school life into some sort of perspective should try being surrounded by a vast, empty ocean. It’s a humbling thought that for all our technological achievements and ability to manage the challenges nature throws at us, we are still naught but a speck in the vastness of infinity.
Even on a ship the size of a small planet we could feel the motion of the ocean beneath us. It was like tiptoeing over a sleeping giant who was restless and hungry, who might at a whim rear up and destroy us. But giants only exist in fairy tales and it was nothing more dangerous than a squally shower that forced us to take cover. Back inside our floating city with its bars, shops, gym, pools, restaurants, theatre, casino and every facility imaginable, it was easy to forget we were on the ocean at all.
Later that afternoon, my wife went for a Salsa Experience with flexible Felipe. I declined on account of an innate inability to swivel my hips or perform pelvic thrusts. Instead, I watched the BBC News in our luxury stateroom. Wedged between stories about a possible Brexit and the systematic destruction of Syria was a brief report on the latest migrant boat disaster.
In the early hours of the morning, somewhere just beyond the horizon perhaps, a flimsy craft packed to sinking point with human cargo no different from us had fallen victim to this same unforgiving ocean. While my wife and I had slept, 27 people – including 11 children – were lost, feared drowned. Their dreams for a better life turning into the worst possible nightmare.
Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield