1. Travelling to NYC/Publishing my book

It has taken me until now to write this first blog entry as so much has been going on – not least the finalising of my book:332


My author’s proof was waiting for me in New York ready for me to spot all the embarrassing mistakes. With the lovely and patient Stacey (who lives in Nashville…) we managed to get it into shape after several false-starts. I under-estimated how long this step in the process actually takes. Anyway, it is now on Amazon Kindle and as a paperback and I know it will help people. I shall be talking about it on my travels around the USA!

Mindfulness for a Broken Heart by Jackie Hawken

Alfie and I left Bristol on 15 December. Getting my house ready for me to leave it, packing and repacking trying desperately to reduce what I was taking to a manageable load (sadly, not achieved!) and remembering everything I needed to do, proved very time-consuming, meaning I didn’t manage to see everyone I wanted to. Again, a real learning curve!

Generous Sandy turned up at 7.50 a.m. to take me to Temple Meads. I could not have handled it on my own with my 4 pieces of luggage. At Southampton a kind porter saw me struggling on the platform opposite and rushed around to help. The pre-ordered taxi was outside and Alfie and I dumped our bags at the Queen Mary 2’s terminal so that we could go to the park opposite and play for an hour – his last unrestricted exercise for 7 days!581

I have seen videos about the Queen Mary and the way they welcome you both onboard and to the kennels. Mmmmmm – do not believe everything you see on YouTube. In the terminal, we were greeted by the wonderful Robert, from the Philippines – Kennel Master and all round lovely person. Alfie greeted a few of the dogs he would be incarcerated (yes…) with and off we went onto the boat. There was a perfunctory greeting and a photo op where they took a photo of me 377 379with Alfie cut off (why?)… Then we made our way through the Britannia Lounge up to his prison and I was not expecting the stench that greeted us along with the steel cages. Alfie fell apart and so did I. Telephoning the office of the Chief Executive of Cunard from my cabin (when I finally got in – the key didn’t work, and found one big bed when I had asked for 2 singles…) I told them that for $700 I didn’t expect conditions to be that bad. The Head of Housekeeping made matters worse by visiting me in my cabin and telling me that it was normal for kennels to smell that way. I threw her out.

383As the days went on, Alfie became institutionalised and cried less (the first 2 days were heart-wrenching) and I cheated the system by walking him up and down the back deck, being reprimanded from time to time including by the charmless Head of Housekeeping. I ignored them – I mean, an ‘exercise’ area 5 feet wide and 40 feet long for 11 dogs – really?? The kennels will be increased and expanded in June, after we return (for which I am being charged $1,000 for Alfie) but I doubt they will provide any better ‘exercise’ facilities. Robert was very patient with all of us and because Cunard had managed not provide the food I had ordered from their lists, he provided Alfie with steak, chicken fish carrots and rice at every meal. Alfie ate heartily and has found it hard to adjust to slumming-it, food-wise, on arrival in New York!

336 325The other dog owners were lovely and we managed to bond together, some with tales of other owners complaining about the facilities in the past (all ignored, I am sure – Cunard really don’t care!!). We had visiting rights of 6 1/2 hours every day. The rest of the time I ate a lot (I never thought I could get sick of smoked salmon) and met some interesting people.

351 347 341 352As neither the planetarium nor the swimming pools were functioning I asked for, and got, a pass to the spa with its ludicrous ‘swimming pool’ – basically the largest jacuzzi you have seen.  That, visiting Alfie when I was allowed to and eating, was the way I passed my days.

356 353The first night I lay in my comfortable bed in my comfortable cabin missing Alfie and wondering if I was going to die – the ship was rocking this way and that and the whole crossing was dogged by massively high winds (Force 10, Force 12) and high waves. Very surprisingly, as someone who has been sick on every type of transport (ok, not a train or bike) I had no seasickness at all – apart from 3 days with migraine headaches. So back to the eating – I ate A LOT! Everyone does, apart from the poor unfortunates who were throwing up in their cabins.

484 476 479 487The obsession with norovirus is the opposite extreme to the non-obsession with giving a shit about the conditions for the dogs. Every time you go anywhere near a restaurant your hands are obsessively squirted with germ-spray. You get used to it. And at least I didn’t hear of any cases. I know people who felt seasick who were too scared to say so, because if the word ‘sick’ is mentioned to anyone in authority you are quarantined for 2 days and fed alone in your cabin. Room service is 24 hours a day.

458 427 421 403 389 390 415 465The Queen Mary 2 is a beautiful ship with lots of lovely art-work. The staff are mainly Filipino (and lovely). They are obviously under a 3-line whip to be polite and friendly at all times because I began to feel uncomfortable: sometimes it felt like there was underlying fear that if they were not totally friendly, totally helpful and totally respectful 100% of the time they would lose their jobs: this contrasts with the arrogance of some of those as you go up the chain who often don’t appear to worry about being over-polite.

448 451 450And back to the food: wow!! just amazing. You can eat as much of absolutely anything as you like. All really lovely quality. In the evenings you get a table to sit at with, in my case, random strangers my age. By day 3 I was sitting with Laura (owner of a cute pug) and some interesting people including one of the huge number of gay men on the cruise: every day there was a meeting of ‘Friends of Dorothy’ for gay men and women and I have to say the gay guys were better looking and better dressed than their straight counterparts! As an ordinary person the many gay friends I made said I could go to the meetings but it always clashed with when I was visiting Alfie in prison.

366 363 360The first night was very interesting. On my table to the right of me was a lovely English couple that I really enjoyed talking to, to the left a very sensitive American man (one of the aforementioned community) and to his left was, amusingly as the Universe does like to have a laugh, an odious American man with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Given that this is one of my areas of expertise I watched and listened in fascination as he gave no-one else any opportunity to talk. I unwisely tried to join in with his monologue. He looked at me in disgust, cut across what I was saying and turned to the woman on his left who didn’t even try to talk. Me me me. In the end, the sensitive man to my left got up before dessert.

461 460 459 469 470 467I chose another table the next evening. Occasionally I would see him in the Chart Room bar boring the ass off a random female who usually made her excuses and left. They get everywhere!

558 503 570 567 579The morning that the Queen Mary arrived in New York I got up at 4 a.m. and joined the throng of people on the top vantage point to experience the ship making her way under the bridge with 6 feet to spare. The Statue of Liberty appeared, illuminated, on our left and we drifted silently into her dock in Brooklyn.

Coming out through passport control and using a female porter who lives in Queens, I was reprimanded for ticking ‘no’ to ‘animals’ on the customs form. I told him I thought it meant dead animals – he pointed out that live ones counted too! Alfie’s microchip and certificate saying he was healthy were ignored – all they wanted to see was the rabies vaccination entry in his passport. Despite my apparent attempts to smuggle in a live animal, they gave me a 6 months stay…

400Outside about 12 cabs refused to take me with my dog. The huge man from NYPD charged with keeping order said they were not obliged to take me. The guy managing the queue told me he would keep trying… Patiently waiting in the light drizzle and surrounded by chaos (a lot of people were on that ship!)  I knew someone would eventually be prepared to take us and then fifteen minutes later this lovely man, Manu, wearing a turban, appeared with his old yellow cab and happily allowed Alfie to sit on his back seat.

Half an hour later after driving up the Hudson River we were uptown at 116th and Broadway, where Debbie and her ‘seeing eye’ dog were waiting for us in her 2-bedroomed apartment at 15 Claremont Avenue – one of the very many apartments owned by Columbia University – the main, stunning, campus being across Broadway. We had to patiently wait again outside until a neighbour showed up so we could blag our way into the building and Alfie met his new playmate, Ellie (same name as my daughter) – a slimline German Shepherd with an adorable disposition.

We had arrived, my dog and me (and 4 cases…) in New York!!

My final picture is a nice old poster that gives a totally misleading impression of how the dogs enjoy the Queen Mary. Cunard are going to remove that poster, apparently.