For months now I have been watching cruise ships from my window as they float at rest in Poole Bay. The shoreline separates us, of course, since they cannot venture into its shallows and I cannot swim beyond it. Usually there are four ships but recently there were six. They come and go all the time, and I can only guess at what life must be like for the crews still on board. This is dedicated to them.
This is a response to Fay Stevens’ piece about the view from Swanage. From my flat across the bay, in Boscombe, I can see the same cruise ships she describes but from a different angle. At night I can see Swanage too, its lights glimmering close to my horizon.
Alan Weisman’s 2007 book ‘The World Without Us’ has been much on my mind this year. His premise was simple: “Picture a world from which we all suddenly vanished.” “This may seem unlikely”, he wrote, “but it’s not impossible”. As an example, he asks us to imagine “a virus, specific to Homo Sapiens, that picks us off but leaves everything else intact”.
Well, that imagining has been pretty easy to do this year. Every day I see a cluster of liners waiting out the pandemic as the tide rises and falls. Each has a skeleton crew of a few dozen at most, and I wonder what it feels like to spend each day roaming that luxurious liminal space between how things were and what they may become. It’s likely that most of them will never again host thousands of passengers dancing in their ballrooms, splashing in their pools, sipping cocktails in their bars. The ships have become ghosts even before being officially declared dead.
I think of the Ancient Mariner, I think of the Marie-Celeste. But they were isolated tragedies, nothing compared to the global ravages of coronavirus.
Meanwhile, I watch from the shoreline as the present slowly becomes the past.