Soundings Soundings


BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 29 September 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:759
  1. James Owen Drife, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology
  1. Leeds

    Only a month ago, I had never seen the Crimea and my longest sea voyage had been on the ferry to Brittany. Now I am one of the growing number of doctors who cruise. Specialist societies are probably already being formed—the British and European College of Ancient Medical Mariners, perhaps, or the Medical Association of Sea Travellers.

    Most of the people on our ship were not doctors, but there were enough of us to cause comment. Why so many medics? One reason, I think, is that on a cruise somebody else does the driving. If your job is making decisions and implementing them yourself, a holiday means abrogating responsibility.

    Those of us still working felt rather conspicuous, but retired people are good company and fine role models. They show enviable economy of movement. They enjoy jokes without convulsing. They can fill a dining room within seconds of its opening, without apparent effort. After nightfall, they can dance the polka.

    And they don't miss much. We found that in the Ukraine it is fashionable for women of all ages to wear almost nothing as they clamber over Roman remains. Our sea of panama hats did not flicker as we gazed at the ruins, but afterwards in the coach there were murmurings of refined surprise.

    On board, we had educational lectures. Go on—ask me a question about Byzantine church architecture. Some facts are oddly satisfying, like finding the missing piece of a jigsaw. Did you know that the Black Sea is so called because to the ancient Turks, north was “black” and south was “white”?

    Tourism in the former Soviet bloc has its depressing side. In Yalta we bought a watercolour sketch from an unemployed architect. In Odessa an old lady begging at the top of the Potemkin Steps said she was a paediatrician. At the bottom of the steps we found a sign saying “Chicken McNuggets” in Cyrillic script. Go on—ask me who Cyril was.

    On a brighter note, each Ukrainian port had its own brass band. Nearly 150 years after the Light Brigade we left Sevastopol to the strains of Glenn Miller. We lined the rail, smiling and waving (in an energy efficient way) before turning and heading for the dining room.

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