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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 72: 5 December

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysA cold, presaged by a sore throat and a thick head since leaving Aspen, has finally come out of the closet and I wake feeling dull and drained of energy. The switchback course of the weather hasn't helped, and after our chilly, dry and dazzling days across the States, we are now in the warm fug of the Gulf Stream. So warm is the current that the sea this morning steams like a Turkish bath. Wraith-like wisps of vapour drift around the boat, blotting out the horizon. Instead of being on the wide ocean we are suddenly enclosed in caves of white cloud, through which a ghostly sunlight filters, and from which you half expect to see a ship of lost souls emerge.

9.30. I'm halfway through a late breakfast when the alarm sounds for lifeboat drill. This is obligatory on all ships, but has been observed with varying degrees of thoroughness throughout my journey. It's typical of Maersk lines that they are the most conscientious of the lot, and there's clearly little chance of my resuming my breakfast. We are all given a lifeboat rendezvous position, which is not difficult to find once you've reached the boat deck. The real problem is finding the boat deck.

There are six floors of accommodation and all around us bells are ringing and doors swinging shut automatically. I find myself up in the crew's laundry with the second stewardess. Bente, the blonde first officer, clutching a two-way radio, eventually rallies us all, and we have to don chunky orange lifejackets and wait for the lifeboat's engine to be started. The engine won't start today, so we're stood, out on deck, looking like Flowerpot Men, for some considerable time. Fall into conversation with the chef (or chief steward as he is officially known) whose blue and white check trousers poke out incongruously from beneath his life preserver. He's from Schleswig-Holstein, and has a sad face but humorous eyes. Like Lillian he smokes assiduously, and enjoys a drink too.

'Last night,' he confides, 'I was quite intoxicated you know. I go to the door three times before I can go out of it.'
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 72
  • Date: 5 December
  • Country/sea: Atlantic Ocean
  • Place: Atlantic Ocean
  • Book page no: 239

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