Monday, 30 December 2013

Adventure on the High Seas - A True Story

Err. I shouldn't be here writing this...I should be with my family with our very good friends in Germany beginning to toast in the New Year.

Why is that? I hear you ask..... is all due to this episode - DFDS North Sea Ferry to Amsterdam which happened last Saturday evening.

I thought we could give our account of it all here:

We embarked on the DFDS ferry as normal - parked our car on the 6th deck and then went up to our cabin on the 11th deck.

[We had travelled to Holland using this route before when my sister got married in Italy in the summer of 2008. It was a fantastic trip there and back. We were also lucky enough to do a massive trip of Europe taking in quite a few countries. Wonderful memories! (Search for 'Italy' on this blog and those posts turn up.)]

Once we had unpacked our things and the children had changed bunks about five times we went up to one of the bars to get some tea and coffee. After our thirsts had been quenched we then looked around the duty free young master R (aged 7) was desperate to spend some of his Christmas present money.

The ferry sailed as normal from North Shields at 5pm on the dot. As we were leaving the port we were informed that the crew were undertaking a training exercise with a life boat for the newer crew members. We were told not to be alarmed and we were not. We were more interested in what we would be having for our meal in the Seven Seas Restaurant. It was extremely yummy and the children were incredibly impressed by having their own serving area of different foods plus open access to an ice cream making machine. Sprinkles and ice cream galore!

We were relaxing a lot as we have not had a proper holiday all year and we were looking forward to seeing our friends who live near Bremerhaven. They (G&M) met, as a couple, whilst working/visiting Nigel's scuba diving centre in Hurghada...Red Sea...Egypt where I met Nigel too...but that is a whole other story! (I have also blogged about for posts on Egypt...if you are interested.)

Once we had finished our meal...I took the children to our cabin whilst Nigel read the papers and had a nightcap. We all went to bed fairly early. K, aged 10, has a vivid sense of imagination and kept asking 'What do we do...if it sinks?' We assured her that she was not to worry and that nothing would happen.

Around 11pm or so...(I had not gone to sleep as the cabin was rather warm) there was a funny beep, beep, beep through the ship's public address system. Normally they (DFDS) make announcements a bit like 'Hi-de-Hi' with a xylophone and then a voice announcement but this time it sounded distinctly odd. Nothing was announced so I thought it was a mistake. About five minutes later it sounded again and kept going...and there WAS an announcement...I think they did say that there had been a fire on board...that we had to get ready and go outside on deck. We got out of our berths and started to put on our clothes. It was at that point that R began to cry. Nigel concentrated on calming him down and we continued to get dressed. I was glad that I had remembered to bring the children's coats, hats, scarves and those of my own. Nigel could stand in a force 10 gale and still be too hot. K insisted on not wearing any socks or tights whilst wearing her diamante sandals (!!)

We were billeted near a door to the exit and we met another young couple standing there with two very small children. They said that it was freezing outside where everyone was assembled by the lifeboats. We dawdled there for a couple of minutes but were soon ordered to go outside (on no uncertain terms) by a female crew member.

We went outside on deck. We were thanking our lucky stars that the weather was nowhere near as stormy as it had been recently. There was a fairly stiff was cold but it was OK if you were wrapped up. We had brought a fleece blanket for K. Nigel hugged R to keep him warm and the crew members came round with sheets - especially for young children and anyone who looked cold. Various 'disaster'* scenes kept playing in my head (not least The Herald of Free Enterprise disaster and the Costa Concordia debacle with Captain Rollerskate/Schettino). I tried not to let it show to the children...but standing very near the life boats...I couldn't help imagine what it would be like to actually have to get in one on the High Seas!

There was a party atmosphere if anything. People were taking photos and a well behaved stag group (who were on the other side of the corridor) were joking. They had amused me by carrying around a blow up doll and when they saw the children they kept apologising and saying please/thank you/sorry. And yes...they were British and not Dutch!

Crew members were in high visibility jackets and carrying loud hailers...occasionally they would make announcements when they had more info from the captain. We were not outside long when we were told to follow one crew member. Passengers were incredibly polite...letting women, children, old folks go first. Nobody pushed and everyone was friendly and helping one another. The decks were a bit wet so everyone calmly walked down the stairs and into the nightclub area where we had to congregate.

The time now was around midnight so we were only outside for about twenty minutes or so. Everyone sat down in a slightly smoky (through smoked cigarettes) environment in the nightclub. We sat down and soon a Dutch couple with a baby sat next to us. I had also remembered to bring a canister of water with us. Again everything was calm...everyone sat around waiting for announcements. Those came via staff with loud hailers and there were a few from the captain via the public announcement system. We were told that we had to stay there whilst they checked that the fire was completely out and contained. We were not told very much apart from that. The captain also asked if there was anyone on board who was a doctor or nurse to go and help with people suffering from smoke inhalation.  Pretty soon we did know that the fire had been quite small and contained to one cabin. Smoke had got out into the corridor on the sixth floor port side.

At first we all thought that we would be carrying on to Amsterdam as normal and it was announced that this would happen. A cheer went up. Pretty soon after we were told that other authorities were involved and that we would have to return to North Shields. People were less happy but there was no great commotion. A fight did break out but as far as we could see it was of the verbal variety under the influence of alcohol. One of that group was trying to talk down a very vociferous woman who was being antagonistic to someone else. They eventually got up and walked out.

Crew were bringing round glasses of water all the time (very sensible) and were providing free coffee. It was getting very hot as it was a cramped environment. It was announced fairly quickly that a helicopter would be winching crew and passengers off the ship who had been affected by smoke inhalation. People rushed to the windows to watch this happening. I did not move as R had fallen asleep in one chair and K was taking photos. Nigel was getting coffee. It was all calm and the Captain and crew kept us fully informed at all times. Although, quite rightly, they only told us a minimum amount of information so that no-one got panicky. All the passengers helped each other...with information and passing on of drinks and translating....

Nigel has had experience of dealing with clients on boats and he was trained, as house manager at the Barbican, to be ready to deal with mass evacuations of people. He was very impressed with how they were dealing with it all. If anything, they deliberately downplayed the seriousness of soon the Police would be involved.

We were up in the nightclub for a couple of hours. People were falling asleep in chairs and on the floor. I think in some cases they stayed there for the whole night.

Around 1.30/2.00 am we were told that we could return to our cabins and that we would be docking in North Shields at 5am. We went back to get some sleep. The children were exhausted. We had sent texts to friends and relatives that we were OK but were not sure what would happen in the morning.

Around 6.30/7.00 am DFDS announced that there would be free breakfast/brunch/lunch served to all passengers. We took turns to go and have something to eat and drink. Yes...breakfast was minimal (ish) but not surprising given that the staff had been up all night and normally you have to pay for all your meals.

From 8am I was tweeting the situation live at @hadrianasblog and would like to thank everyone again for their tweets. They cheered us up and also gave us information that supplemented that of DFDS...which was very frequent.

From 11.30am foot passengers got off the ferry first. We had a big meeting then where the Captain explained that the Police were still completing their investigations so that meant the ferry could not continue to Holland. Alternative arrangements were offered via the DFDS route today (Hull-Rotterdam). We felt very sorry for all the disruption that had been caused to anyone who had to get across to Holland and elsewhere. There was one lady who had a job interview in Holland today. Here's hoping she made that interview.

Naturally we were disappointed that we could not continue with our holiday and see our very good friends. We've not seen them since 2008...we keep talking about meeting up in the UK, Germany and diving holidays elsewhere. Govert joked with me today that we live in 'Hotel California UK' in that we can never get off the island!

Nevertheless we are more than happy to be safe back on dry land. The children are certainly fine about travelling by ferry again. K says that she will do the trip as long as it is with DFDS. Praise indeed! We cannot praise the crew and Captain enough for their even-handedness, calm and collection in the face of what must have been (for them) quite a tricky situation with almost 1000 people on board.

We finally left the boat in our car at 12.15pm yesterday. We saw sunlight and headed off to have some marvellous lunch at Vallum Farm.

All is well that ends well. Happy New Year to you all. Wishing everyone a safe and uneventful 2014!

* meaning of disaster dis=bad (Latin perjorative prefix) aster= (Latin 'astrum-a') = star (2nd declension neuter noun) so literally disaster = "bad star"

DFDS Trip to Legoland Denmark October 2012

DFDS = easy peasy! We parked right on the quayside beside the boat at Harwich and after a short wait in a departure lounge, with a café, we walked straight on-board with our bags. Our “transfer” could not have been easier.
We found our spacious en suite cabin straightaway and our children K, aged 9, (a girl) and R, aged 6, (a boy) immediately began to fight over which bunk to sleep in.

Then we went off to discover the shop, cafe, a bar/lounge and a small children’s play area. There was a buffet restaurant and an á la carte dining area too. All the staff we dealt with were very friendly and helpful. The buffet on the first and third evening was excellent. There was plenty of fish and cold meats to choose from as starters, several choices of main course and some exceedingly tasty cakes, puddings and cheese if desired. We did find that the price of alcohol was rather high. That said there was a wide choice of drinks. After dinner, there was live entertainment in the bar.

On our first day we had a guided tour around Esbjerg and then we took ourselves off to the excellent fishing On our first day we had a guided tour around Esbjerg and then we took ourselves off to the excellent fishing museum and aquarium (which had a really good play area for the children). Buses and taxies were easy to use.
 Our second day was spent at Legoland. We were taken by coach (journey time one hour). Plenty to see and do! We all loved it to bits. Our daughter loved the rides. Our son loved panning for gold and the penguins. They were both fascinated by the Lego model town and captivated by the Star Wars models.

We had an á la carte meal on board on the evening of the Legoland day and the staff made a special meal for our son as he is a picky eater.
Breakfasts were a delight, the buffet catered for both continental and cooked breakfasts and now we really know what “Danish pastries” should taste like.
Apparently in high season there is a children’s entertainer on board. When we travelled he had finished for the season, but this was not a problem as our two children enjoyed looking around the ship too much (theres a Treasure Trail of clues), and certainly enjoyed their time at sea. Our son was particularly impressed that when, on our second day afloat, he lost his first tooth. . . . .that night even the Tooth Fairy was able to find our cabin!
DFDS and their excellent staff spoilt us all rotten! “More please!”

Nigel Jarvis 12th November 2012  

First published in during 2012 
Other 2012 posts relating to this trip:

Friday, 20 December 2013

I saw three ships come sailing in....

This is Sting in 2009 with Kathryn Tickell (and more) playing "I saw three ships coming sailing in" at Durham Cathedral in 2009.

I was lucky enough to spend a marvellous week in Durham this summer brushing up my Latin at the JACT Summer School plus, as a bonus, the weather was fantastic. If you can - I do recommend going to the JACT Classics Summer School - such marvellous fun for young and old. Everybody is very friendly and approachable.

Whilst there I also got to see the magical The Lindisfarne Gospels at the exhibition near to the Cathedral. I vaguely remembered visiting the Cathedral in my childhood and it was great to renew the acquaintance. If you can visit the Cathedral - it is well worth it - it is absolutely stunning. The Lindisfarne Gospels' exhibition was very enjoyable and interesting too.

It has been a good year for us at the Four Wynds' B&B...there's been super, super weather during the main season. Our guests, as ever, have been good fun. I've done some more work with Hands-on-Latin with the teaching and touring and very much look forward to doing more in 2014!

And so.....We wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Auguri! Best wishes,

Catherine, Nigel and Family xx xx

Friday, 6 December 2013

Adoptastone of Hadrian's Wall!

Hadrian's Wall appeal launched to secure future of World Heritage Site
Hadrian's Wall needs the public to help plug a funding gap. David Whetstone looks at the serious issues behind the new fundraising campaign

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall

The guardians of Hadrian’s Wall, the most tangible man-made symbol of division on the British mainland, today utter a rallying cry, urging us to unite in protecting the famous monument.
This has nothing whatsoever to do with the looming possibility of Scottish independence and the need to bolster ancient defences. As so often these days, it has everything to do with money.
The Hadrian’s Wall Trust, the charity which co-ordinates the management of the 150-mile Hadrian’s Wall frontier (actually stretching from the Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields, across to Bowness-on-Solway and down the west coast to Ravenglass), sees a crisis looming if it can’t replace public funding which is draining away from it.

Linda Tuttiett, chief executive of the Trust, says recent severe cuts mean an extra £170,000 a year must be found in order to meet the standards essential for protecting the famous World Heritage Site - a title conferred by Unesco (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) which brings prestige and responsibilities but no money.
Hence the launch today of an Adopt-a-Stone fundraising website and a call for volunteers to join a Wall Watch scheme, which is designed to monitor the impact of visitors and climate change on our great regional asset.

The initiative, enabling individual or business sponsors to attach their name to stones or larger Roman features on a virtual wall, is fun. Children aside, a swift Google search reveals you can adopt a duck, a bat, a book, a beehive... pretty much anything. Now you can claim a Hadrian’s Wall virtual stone as your own. But the offer didn’t arise out of a sense of frivolity.
“It is a serious situation for Hadrian’s Wall,” says Linda.
“I think we were reasonably well funded by the development agencies (One North East and the Northwest Regional Development Agency) but when they collapsed we lost over £1m a year.”
Core funding this year for managing Hadrian’s Wall amounted to £440,000 but that is likely to fall to about £350,000 next year, estimates Linda.
Following the line of Hadrian’s Wall through Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear is the Hadrian’s Wall Path, one of 15 officially designated National Trails administered by Natural England, a Government quango.
More feet tramp along this route these days than ever they did in Roman times. Hundreds of thousands of them, in fact, and heavily booted rather than clad in sandals. Walkers on the trail, lured by the ancient monument, the landscape and the resonance of history, help to sustain an extraordinary number of rural businesses.
“We deal regularly with 900 businesses, including hundreds of B&Bs,” says Linda. “We’ve been encouraging these to grow their association with the World Heritage Site because it can bring them more business.”
But the path needs maintaining. According to the Hadrian’s Wall Trust, it costs £2,800 per mile per year to keep it in the condition which, in 2011, saw BBC Countryfile judge it the best walking trail in Britain.
“We asked all the local authorities along the wall if they could make a contribution to maintaining the World Heritage Site and they’ve all done that and we’re very grateful,” says Linda.
“But what has come as a real blow is there’s to be an additional 40% cut in the money for the National Trail, which costs just over £200,000 a year to keep in good condition.
“Obviously the Government is having to say no to all sorts of requests for funding and we do understand that. But we know what it costs to keep the monument and the surrounding archaeology safe and keeping the trail in good condition is key to that.”
A major challenge for any organisation charged with caring for and promoting Hadrian’s Wall is that it passes through land owned by some 300 stakeholders.
Hadrian’s Wall Heritage - it became Hadrian’s Wall Trust last year - was established in 2006 to provide unity of purpose. Hadrian’s Wall was made a World Heritage Site in 1987 – the same year as the Great Wall of China – but it had suffered because different agencies were responsible for different aspects of its management.
Lack of money threatens to undermine the achievements of the past few years, highlighting what Linda calls “the real problem”.
“We’re funded from several major sources and each funder doesn’t really understand the impact if everyone takes a little bit of funding away,” she says. “The net effect can be catastrophic.”
With the development agencies abolished and Natural England and local authorities feeling the pinch, Linda’s team at Hadrian’s Wall Trust has shrunk from 21 staff members to 16 and now 10. Another post may yet have to go.
Under these circumstances, warns Linda, it will be difficult to subject the 84-mile National Trail to the close scrutiny that makes it a favourite with walkers from this country and around the world (20% of actual visitors to Hadrian’s Wall are from abroad, as are 40% – potentially 250,000 international visitors – of requests for information).
Hence today’s appeal to our generosity. If we care about Hadrian’s Wall and our Roman heritage then the message is clear. We must unite behind it. We must give of our time and/or adopt a stone... or several. To find out how, go to