Sailing across The Atlantic on the Queen Mary is a great treat.
Buffets on board ships are terrific places to observe eccentricity at play, and the Queen Mary is no exception.
Unleashed from the constraints of conventional food-pairing, buffet-grazers are free to tickle their taste buds as they fancy. One sees chicken curry sploshed on a plate alongside pizza and little pickled fish, roast beef garnished with macaroni cheese and any number of wonderfully personal combinations.
It does make one question how the more common and pedestrian combinations, so beloved of the processed-food industry came into being; certainly not from the observation of folks in a buffet line when free to choose the combination that most appeals.
Eccentricity is actually in pretty short order here; at first glance it is a fairly homogeneous crowd, particularly at dinner where 80% of the men aboard wear evening dress. However, there are glimpses of individuality; a novelty bow-tie or two, a cummerbund discreetly sporting the crest of a secret society, or perhaps a football team.
There are those who choose to dress like an old photographic negative, exchanging black suits for white, and white shirts for black; even the odd cuff-links, indicating a wearer with personality, and of course, one or two gentlemen discreetly sporting medals.
The medals are interesting and food for speculation. Are they indeed war heroes or wearing some bauble of Soviet-era industrial success picked up in a Moldovan market place? One hardly dares to ask.
Our 2,491 passengers are apparently drawn from twenty-nine countries, including, a touch mysteriously, six Maltese; Brits far outnumber the rest, with 1,488 in their number, compared with singletons from Estonia, Hong Kong, Romania, Singapore and Swaziland. Does the Estonian make up a party of four with the three identified Finns? One never knows, but days at sea sharpen one’s curiosity.
The passengers are a mixed bunch too, with a myriad of reasons to be ploughing across the North Atlantic in November. There are many who simply “don’t fly”, and for whom the QM2 is the only way to regularly get to America for business, to see family or to simply sightsee. There are those here to celebrate anniversaries or, by the disconsolate looks of some couples at the bars, to try and repair relationships. There are those who are on board, it seems, to play bridge endlessly, some dance for hours and some simply read.
It is a great attraction of this ship that so many tastes are catered to. There are no assertively smiley folks trying to make you have more fun than you might want, and the shopping is limited. It is not a circus, more a country-house hotel than an all-inclusive, and a very pleasant way to while away a week.
And not only that, but with the conquering of time and space, one is officially in the UK three days before we arrive.