It’s Good Friday and J and I are off to Ireland for the weekend to see friends. Miss Blonde and (the very colourblind) Miss Black have been left to protect The Bleating Sheep who has come to “look after them”. We haven’t even reached the ferry and the texts from home are becoming increasingly desperate. But we don’t care…because it’s Premium time!
We’re having Premium time together, J and I. Premium in that we are sitting in the Premium lounge on the Cairnryan to Belfast ferry along with all those who have made the trip before and wish to avoid the non-Premium knuckle-trailers that this route attracts. A number of years ago we stood on the quayside at Belfast and witnessed the ferry swaying its way up Belfast Loch, the strains of “The Sash my Father Wore” blasting out across the water courtesy of its motley cargo of Northern Irish Ranger’s supporters on their way back from the game. The Scotland to Northern Ireland crossing is notorious for the sectarian masses sweeping through the ferries like the hordes of Genghis Khan.
The Premium lounge is quietly busy, testimony to the reluctance of its occupants to chance an encounter with the great unwashed Another benefit of our Premium ticket is that the car is parked within 10 m of the door at the ship’s pointy end thus ensuring a speedy exit before Les Mis can disembark and stick up a barricade at the end of the ramp before relieving us of any valuables they might have missed during the crossing.
A pleading voice comes over the tannoy; would we all please remove our jackets and bags from the seating as the boat is very busy and there is a shortage of seats. Us Prem people grin at the empty padded armchairs littering the Prem lounge and theatrically toss a blizzard of jackets onto the seats opposite, then snuggle back into our padded perches.
“Pretty please” wheedles the tannoy voice.
“Feck off!” the cry from the increasingly pissed free wine Premmers.
We’re on the Stena Superfast ferry – which so far is failing to live up to its name…we’re already 20 minutes late courtesy of the Good Friday masses and my view out of the big windows overlooking the ferry’s pointy end has been unchanging since we embarked. The engines have attempted to “boot up” a couple of times but, down in non-Premium, it would appear they are slacking and not pulling hard enough on the oars. The Captain has already been on the blower complaining of a very heavy load so we might have to toss a few of the weaker non-Premiums overboard to allow us to get underway.
It’s time to cast off and the drum beat begins, no doubt courtesy of the local Orange Order Band. Down in the bowels of the vessel the non-Premium passengers take up their oars and p u l l; and so our crossing of the Irish Sea begins.
As I stare out the ferry’s front window I realise that I can see the Irish coast. We’ve been on this crossing a number of times in years past but this is the first time we’ve had clear weather. I’m missing out on the free wine though…but am contemplating my second courtesy cup of coffee. But there’s only so much coffee and biscuits you can consume before the onward Irish journey will degenerate into a orgy of toilet tourism. I’ve ordered Eggs Benedict for lunch though I am not hopeful. The look on the waiter’s face suggested that most of the boat had the same idea and Chef was not going to be a happy bunny. It turns out that some bright spark thought that the busy Easter weekend would be the best time ever to introduce a new menu…the staff are “overjoyed” and, as a result, the kitchen is suffering a subsequent meltdown of magmatic proportions. I reckon they did ok as the food was surprisingly well above acceptable.
The hills beyond Belfast are looking snowy and grey as the ferry nears the entrance to Belfast Loch. Shame…the trip down the Ayrshire coast to Cairnryan was bathed in bright blue-sky sunshine. I wish we had had the time to stop and take photos. I’ve promised myself for years than I would explore the coast south of Turnberry as every time we’ve passed by it has been to catch a ferry.
As the ferry begins its slow plod into the slowly narrowing Belfast Loch a somewhat forced-happy voice pops onto the tannoy inviting us to visit the wonderful shop on the deck below. The Premium peeps look at one another wondering if a big enough posse could be formed to ensure a safe visit but the thought of mixing with non-Prems is a step too far and everyone settles back down into the comfy armchairs and drops off to sleep once more.
The tannoy crackles back into life and a clearly exasperated member of the ferry staff explains that because the boat is very busy we will be disembarking in stages to relieve pressure on both the red and blue staircases to the car decks. We are then treated to a complex 5 minute discourse on how this will be achieved by detailing which groups will move to what staircase at what times. Excellent…I like a bit of order.
Two minutes later the tannoy erupts into life once more.
“Will all car drivers and passengers please go to their cars now via both the red and blue staircases.”
The entire passenger cargo charges for the 2 stairwells.
A few days later we pull up to the ticket booth at the ferry port on our way home and hand over our documents. Our man behind the counter peruses the print out and hands us our boarding card.
“Eh…my good fellow…where’s our, you know, Premium Card.”
He looks at us blankly.
“You know…the card that we hang up to get us on board before the rest of the hoi polloi.”
He grins, evilly.
“You aren’t entitled to one” he mocks
“What! We came out on one!” I splutter.
“Must have been a mistake, sorry” he says, with a smirk.
As I stare at the long line of cars I now have to join at the back he saves his coup de grace for last.
“Just a minute mate.” he says reaching behind him.
“Here’s your oars.”