The crossing to Cherbourg was very bumpy - an eight-hour sickerama of waxen faces and anguished retching, but we got there at last - or so we thought. "Slight mechanical problem - short delay in entering harbour." An hour later, a bad sign: "Complimentary tea and coffee will be served". Two hours of back and forth in the waves outside Cherbourg ensued. We could see cars moving beside the harbour. The cliche "so near and yet so far" bites frustratingly deep. Cabins are being issued to nursing mothers, free tea and coffee is losing its appeal, and the myth that the English never complain is exploding around the purser's ears.
Mr Polite But Firm made his point, then repeated it (fearing perhaps that the crew member had memory lapses). Mr Diffident apologised for complaining and seemed in need of the loo. Miss Isn't This Awful? simpered and sympathised with the long-suffering staff. There was a chill when we heard: "The bow-thrusters are not operating, too hazardous to risk docking in these seas". That's it! I get us a cabin (Mr I've Read a Book on Assertiveness) and we settle down for a long night. Actually, lots of people have been assertive and there is a continuous stream of announcements asking Mr and Mrs Featherstonehaugh to report to the information desk. The unfortunate French girl on the tannoy was really struggling with unfamiliar English surnames when some cad (obviously a Simpsons fan) passed her the following: "Would Mr Hugh G Rection please report to the information desk?" Followed by a repeat of the above. Chuckling passengers forgot their woes, however briefly.
One welcome hour in bed, then: "Please report to the passenger lounge at the rear of Deck 5. We will be docking shortly and disembarkation will follow." Fumbling with clothes, swift re-pack and check we haven't left anything.
Sure enough we're in the harbour now, tugs tugging, and we are approaching the dock. "Goodness! That tug between us and the dock is moving away quickly". Then we hit. Fire-doors slam from their recesses, children scream, duty- free is awash with glass and booze. The litigious wonder aloud if they can claim for whiplash; Houston obviously has a problem.
"This is the captain speaking, we will not be reattempting to dock tonight." Back to our cabin (which the ever-patient crew had just stripped and made- up). A beautiful, calm dawn broke; 750 complimentary full English breakfasts were served and we looked over the side at the Promised Land. A boring, tedium-filled wait. Mr Polite But Firm enquired whether the rumours that the captain had spent the night ashore were true? Inch by slow inch, the tugs pulled us into berth. A French docker tried, unsuccessfully, to swing a weighted line up to our crew. "Obviously never learned to play cricket," Mr Retired Colonel muttered. We drove off, reached our hotel, showered and let ourselves be pampered. It was worth it after all.